Top Five: Shows of 2017

I went to a shit ton of shows last year.  Because I’m a soon-to-be-graduated graduate student with teaching and course pressure, I unfortunately lacked the drive and, well, simple energy to write out reviews.  The passion just wasn’t there.  I got…myself to feed, damnit!  Now it’s back. So, sorry, but not sorry.

Okay, time for a more coherent lead.  I attended and indulged mostly metal shows last year with the exception of Loufest (a trust fund Coachella clone) a couple indie rock/electronic shows, a post-punk show — speaking of which, we probably should’ve warned Ian McCulloch of notorious, trash smelling St. Louis summers — and started off 2018 with the radical punk extravaganza, Propogandhi.  Fuck the border!

Have a taste of my experiences and enjoy your vicarious skimming because here is a list of my top five shows (in no specific order). Oh, and disclaimer — I guess — I’m employing full bias, because people apparently care about that shit.

Gojira

These guys tour.  A lot.  I saw them twice last year, once at Indianapolis’ Egyptian Room with Opeth and the Devin Townsend Project, the second at Pops, supported by Code Orange (meh) and Torche (cool stoner dudes).  Unfortunately, I was unable to jump into the Indy pit.  Not to mention I was the only person headbanging.  That was just a generally unfortunate experience (I’ll get into why during the Devin Townsend Project fanboysturbation).  The Pops show, on the other hand…Let’s just say my ankle still pops and I still find sticky shit in random places.  Yeah, Pops is gross, but perfect for an explosive metal atmosphere.  Wall of Death, circle pit, St. Louis had it going!  What a show.  What an experience.   Also, the post-Code Orange karate was kept to a minimum.  St. Louis metalheads, I salute you.

Karate.jpg

Find me this shirt in an XXL.  I need it.  Also, go to a Havok show.

Gorguts

This was my first show at Fubar STL and it certainly won’t be the last.  The beer is cheap, the stage close and intimate, if a little sticky (apparently that’s a trend in St. Louis). If you attend a Fubar show, pay the ten bucks for parking in the lot across the street. The, um, guard(?) is a super nice and friendly guy who knows St. Louis, in and out, and will get you woke.  Back on topic.  The pit was brutal.  And I’ve been in a Slayer pit.  At 270 plus, I was thrown around like MDMA at an EDM festival.  +1,000 points for the analogy/acronym/alliteration combo.  Gorguts played an extensive set, including cuts from The Erosion of Sanity, the avant garde bomb, Obscura, before closing with a full rendition of the 30+ minute epic, Pleiades Dust.  Just…holy shit.  Luc Lemay is so fucking cool.  I’m just going to leave it at that.

Amon Amarth

What do you get when you mix viking-themed melodeath, booze, drinking horns, and…Colombia, Missouri?  Closure.  Wait…wha??  I look at this show as a kind of personal redemption.  My first experience with the bearded Swedes occurred during a particularly hectic semester of graduate school.  At some point, right before “Guardians of Asgard,” I decided to leave early to finish an essay.  Yeah.  The things I will do for an opportunity-spare Masters degree.  Life decision rant aside, let me just say that Amon Amarth live performances are the definition of tastefully excessive showmanship, complete with smoke, giant phallic hammers (yep, went there), fireworks, topping it all off with a horned-helmet drum platform design (pun intended).  Definitely one of the best live metal acts out there.  Raise your horns!

By the way, the Viking horned helmet is a myth.  Jus’ sayin.

 

Devin Townsend Project

As previously stated, I saw DTP twice last year.  I’m gonna rant a little on The Egyptian Room real quick.  To those who scheduled stage times, please start future shows at the scheduled time.  I drove five hours, almost got stuck overnight on the highway due to a horrendous semi/car wreck (yeah, I know, super inconvenienced. My condolences to those involved in the wreck), and showed up at the scheduled DTP showtime.  And, of course, I missed almost the entire show because DTP started almost an hour early.  So yeah, fuck that place.

Ahem, DTP at the Ready Room? Hell yeah.  If Amon Amarth are the masters of tasteful excess, Devin Townsend holds the PhD.  Fuck, I really need to tone down the academic puns.  If I were to summarize the show in two songs, I’d have to say, “Deadhead” and “March of the Poozers.”  “Deadhead” put the crowd into a meditative, emotional trance, while “March of the Poozers” brought out laughter and smiles; that, my friends, is all you need to know.  At one point you will cry, the next roll your eyes as the  comedian/metalhead/singer/guitar virtuoso moves through his extensive, non-genre specific discography.  What else can you expect from the guy who shat in Steve Vai’s guitar case? I guess you could call him…

*puts on glasses

**pauses

…a shit show.

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Explosions in the Sky

There’s something about this band’s sound that stands out from the typical quiet intro –> loud climax postrock standard.  No lyrics.  Completely instrumental.  That’s pretty typical, is it not? But, unlike, let’s say Mogwai or Canadian anarchists, Godspeed You! Black Emperor — who have their groundbreaking postrock foundations, don’t get me wrong — Explosions in the Sky is somewhat accessible.  And by accessible, I mean instantaneously engaging.  I’m not discrediting Godspeed, but ya gotta be in a specific, fuck the world mood to listen to them, ya know?

During their St. Louis stop at the Pageant, Explosions in the Sky thrust listeners through waves of emotive passages, accented and emoted through an impressive light show and charismatic-but-silent stage presence.  Okay, you know what? Stop here.  Go to Youtube.  Type in “Your Hand In Mine.” Now, imagine that shit being played in a concert hall, while you enjoy a couple drinks.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Return of the Gangsta, Thanksta…The Gorge, Seven)Suns and Cleric (Live Review)

After an extended break due to graduate school, teaching and writing academic things (woo!), I have decided to return to the game…of unpaid, thankless blogging.  Such competition.  Much fun.  Okay, bad meme and misconstrued references aside, I’m glad to be back.  These past couple years have been filled with concerts and various musical adventures, so strap in! It’s going to be…a ride.

Skateboarder

Because apparently we’re about to go punk.  And that means skateboarding images! Because I’m one of those “damn millennials.”

I’m going to call these past couple years, at least from my super relevant perspective, the United States era of sludgy, grimy and depressing as shit doom, funeral doom, and stoner metal.  Pallbearer, Bell Witch (Mirror Reaper is album of the decade, change my mind), Mastodon, Sleep (new tour!) and all those masturbatory Black Sabbath startups…each have pulled, or continue to pull, the boundaries of metaldom back to its slow, riff driven blues and stoner roots.  Specifically, in St. Louis, there is an interesting development of punk attitude and grungy, working class, almost Birmingham-esque live trend, providing a widening space for road warriors Weedeater, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, Black Label Society and, most recently, Pallbearer.  Because, when the levee breaks…

Okay, so, in this scene, where does the jazz, the technicality, the Djent! belong?  Apparently in the St. Louis, Cherokee coffee house, Foam.

“What a transition!” — Nobody

I had the pleasure of attending the Cleric headlining tour, opened by tech metallers, The Gorge, and string quartet, Seven) Suns, at the Foam coffee house in St. Louis.  That’s right,  a coffee house.  Metal and hipsters.  Fuck yeah!  The venue is intimate — I couldn’t think of a better word for small — and run by some fabulous baristas/bartenders.  I only wish I got their names.  Poor journalism on my part, but oh well.  What’s important is the beers were cheap, the coffee hot, and the atmosphere warm, inviting.  Perfect for some twisted, weird ass metal.

Disclaimer: A major label needs to sign The Gorge.  Seriously.  If some Nuclear Blast intern is looking for some mobility, here’s a tip: put The Gorge on the executive’s table and drop that fucking mic in your new office space.

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Did I mention this was at a coffee house? Look at that face…

I’ve been following The Gorge for about a year now.  I saw them open for Weedeater back in, I believe, August 2017.  I’m too lazy to look so just take my word for it.  The Gorge adds some melody to the djenty meshuggah framework, all the while maintaining a jazz-conscious feel for groove.  Their live performance is cathartic, culminated in politically-driven and emotionally jarring lyrics.  I mean, their album art for Thousand Year Fire is a drawing of the Cahokia Mounds!  How else to bring attention to the voices of a colonized and destroyed culture than through some djenty, emotionally jarring metal? So, in a postcolonial perspective, besides the album being written and performed by a juxtaposed personality of bearded and clean cut white dudes, The Gorge brings some cultural and political significance to the table.  Told ya I’ve been in academia for a hot minute.  Don’t be surprised when I go there, metal bros.

String quartet, Seven)Suns, added discomfort to this cathartic atmosphere.  One of my biggest complaints regarding the venue is the layout.  There is no “stage,” but who can blame em? It’s a coffee house. However, it’s kinda hard to see the performers, especially when the audience, including myself, are mostly around or over six feet tall.

A toast for the short folks and those who would rather sit at the bar! 

String quartet, Seven)Suns has worked with Dillinger Escape Plan, and have an energetic live presence, breaking dissonant and melodic runs with passionate grunts that do not feel out of place or forced.  Each string could be heard, and I’m not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for the cello.  Its sound is just too damn beautiful for its own good.  If I were to describe Seven)Suns’ stage presence, it would be creepy.  Beautifully unsettling.  A nice transition from The Gorge’s brutality into Cleric’s…I don’t even know.

I’m not gonna lie, I only started listening to Cleric earlier in the day.  I heard their name cast around in internet forums of the most obscure and pretentious sort, but, as usual, I cast them into a general, maybe later part of my brain.  But, Fuck, was I blown away.  As soon as Larry Kawartowitz set up his fucking obnoxiously large china symbol, I knew the room was in for an experience.  Drum lord, Lars Ulrich, would faint at the sight of that behemoth.

I can hardly describe Cleric’s sound.  A little Gorguts here; a little Frank Zappa there.  And a large helping of general holy shittery that is just Cleric.  Keyboardist, vocalist, second base, guitarist — pretty much everythingist — Nick Schellenberger took full advantage of the space.  His dual microphone rig and passionate stage presence brought even the sound guy (mustachio’d, dressed, roller bladed, and fuzzy hat guy, you the best) to the front, headbanging and bouncing.  This band is tight, folks.  Think of a metaphor for tight and Cleric will shatter it with two synchronized doom chords.  The bass (Daniel Kennedy) and lead/rhythm guitarist (Matt Hollenberg) were synched perfectly with the drums, casting aside count downs in favor of good ol’ fashioned, felt nonverbal communication.  And, punctuating the evening, Cleric played an extremely emotive rendition of, I believe, “The Treme,” a nine minute piece transitioning from technical what the fuckery to an existential sense of doom.  Incredible work from everyone involved.

Again, this venue creates and maintains community.  The openers, the staff, the small, but passionate crowd, were caught in Cleric’s strange, chaotic apocalypse.  Check out their groundbreaking underground album, Regressions sometime for a general feel before the record goes out of print.  Also, make a trip to Foam if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Next week:  Weedeater (Round Two)

Final Verdict:  I’m done assessing shit.  Just take what you want from the review.  The venue was accommodating.  The show was kick ass.  

 

 

 

 

Top Ten: Autumn/Winter Albums

As I’m all hopped up on caffeine and waiting for the time change — yes, adulthood makes you excited for an extra hour of sleep — I was hoping I could get in a list of albums to listen to over Halloween.  Or, this could be thought of as a list of Autumn/Winter albums if Halloween stops on, well, Halloween.  So, if you can’t get enough of the chills and general creepiness, look no further.  Sit back, rub on some corpse paint, grab your skull goblet, pour yourself a nice helping of wine, and enjoy.  Oh, and please do not debate the rankings, as this list reflects no order.  Let’s go!

10.  Ulver (Shadows of the Sun)

Kicking off, we have one of the more interesting bands to grace the music industry.  These guys debuted as a blackmetal/folk band, evolved into an industrial/electronic outfit, then peaked as an ambient/experimental group.  Shit, have you ever tried finding so many different forms of the word, “band?”  Back to the subject, Ulver’s 2007 LP Shadows of the Sun serves as a great transition album from summer to autumn, hinting at rainy days and darker nights, but still possessing a sense of hope.  This hope climaxes during the vocal crescendo in “Vigil,” a truly breathtaking moment. I apologize for the early pretentiousness.  Don’t worry, cussing and jokes are not far behind.

9.  Opeth (Blackwater Park)

Let’s pick up the volume a little bit.  I’m thinking a demonic roar in the vein of Mikael Akerfeldt within Opeth’s signature record, Blackwater Park.  Spin this LP during those rainy, miserable days, the moments requiring “Bleak[‘s]” crushing riffs and the subsequent track, “Harvest[‘s]” acoustic beauty.  Then, when the storms come, blare the title track and piss the fuck out of your neighbors.  That’s okay though.  They’ll be headbanging after the acoustic interlude.  You metal heads know what the hell I’m talking about.

8.  Simon And Garfunkel (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme)

Yep, that’s right; Simon and Garfunkel, the pop-folk artists of the 70’s.  These goofy lookin’ fellas are directly below two extreme metal juggernauts.  Reviews From the Other Side don’t care about genres.  Anyways, this is one of the more overlooked S&G LP’s, and evokes a beautiful autumn sensibility, especially in album opener/cover, Scarborough Fair. If Transylvanian Hunger is great for a nighttime stroll, then this is perfect for a morning hike through the woods. Beautiful harmonies, folky acoustics, and Paul Simon songwriting make this the fall record.

7.  Summoning (Dol Guldur)

Possibly the only good result of combining Cassio Keyboards and programmed drums, Summoning’s Dol Guldur brought Tolkien’s epic musings to black metal.  This is a mysterious set of tracks chock full of black metal tremolo picking, but delving more into atmosphere than sheer coldness, as evident in the slow tempos and echoing drums. As the weather cools and the fires start burning, the reverb-heavy atmospherics of this Swedish duo makes for a rewarding listen, preferably in a mountainous setting.

6.  Nas (Illmatic (What else?))

Generally, Nas’ monumental debut LP is praised for its storytelling ability. Yet, few have discussed the MC’s knack for writing and performing dark lyrics. DJ Premiere cannot be overlooked, as his highly layered beats and apocalyptic soundscapes make “N.Y. State of Mind,” and “Memory Lane” truly haunting.  You don’t have to live in New York to feel the hardship Nas experienced, nor the dying feeling evoked by the record.  Illmatic is best listened to during the transition from fall to winter.

5.  Darkthrone (Transylvanian Hunger)

Transylvanian Hunger is an album that’s so cold, it made Burzum’s Hvis lyset Tar Oss look like a carnival tune.  I’m assuming whomever is reading this knows the black metal scene, at least somewhat, to know the impact of this record.  Part of Darkthrone’s Unholy Trinity, Transylvanian Hunger is great for cold walks in the woods, wandering aimlessly while moonlight peeks through the trees.  That is, if you don’t mind a little Lo-Fi production, shrieked vocals, and repetitive riffs.  A great start to the fall season.

4.  Agalloch (Ashes Against The Grain)

Boy, was this a challenge.  I was torn between The Mantle and Ashes Against The Grain because, let’s face it, the soundscapes in both albums make Everest look like a dream vacation.  I know, that’s pushing it slightly.  However, my decision came down to one track:  “Falling Snow.”  For some reason, this song only affects the listener when its snowing, transforming with every crescendo, every chord, every raspy lyric, but only with the falling snow; otherwise, it just sounds like any other Post-Rock piece. That’s being harsh, but you get the point.  To truly feel the effect of winter, Agalloch is your best bet, an experimental, American black metal band unafraid to explore regions of metaldom too taboo for the average kvlt fanatic.  Mayhem fans, steer clear.

3.  Immortal (At the Heart of Winter)

What do you get when you mix thrash and good ol’ fashioned black metal? Immortal, of course.  These guys have a knack for writing freezing, complex riffs and do so with actual, top notch production value!  Blustery winter days demand the playback of At the Heart of Winter, preferably a full front-to-back with plenty of crab walking/headbangingas is common amongst black metal thrashers.  Well, maybe Abbott, anyways.  For maximum scale, crank the amps to eleven during “Solarfall.”  When that second riff hits, you’ll feel like you’ve been struck by a blizzard with gale force winds.

2.  Burzum (Filosofem)

Despise the guy, love his music. That’s all I gotta say about Burzum.  How does Filosofem sound so terrible, yet so brilliant at the same time.  This album is the definition of hopeless, a purely atmospheric effort scattered with catchy melodies and haunting, distorted vocals and guitars.  Think of it as more of a meditative, ambient listen for those long winter nights, you know, the nights that seem to go on forever, with only a wall between you and the bitter cold.  “Beholding the Daughters of the Firmament” — English translation of the title —  personifies snowy, windswept plains, while “Dunkelheit,” brings forth feelings of longing and sadness. Break this out mid-winter, but do your best to listen to something a little more upbeat later.

1.  Emperor (In The Nightside Eclipse)

Two steps and that’s all you’ll need for this one:

1.  Stare at the album art.

2.  If your iPod/music player can handle it, play “I Am the Black Wizards” when the temperature drops below zero.  You’ll thank me later.

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of the header image belong to its owner. Image found at http://fotonin.com/data_images/out/10/833027-immortal-wallpaper.jpg.  I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Review: Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls

If Eternity Should Fail, at least we were able to hear The Book of Souls.  Is it safe to say Iron Maiden made a second comeback with their 16th LP?

Again, I apologize for the long lapse in reviews.  I had some personal issues, a move, and general writers block to attend to.  However, this is a metal review, damnit! Ain’t nobody got time for excuses.  So, let’s go!

Here we are, the peak of 2015’s metaldom. On one end, you have good Queensryche (and…well, Geoff Tate’s solo project) pumping out a new record, then you have Nile, Slayer, Motorhead, Soilwork, Ghost, even Coheed and Cambria — we can count them as metal, right? — upping the ante.  Shit, even Disturbed decided they weren’t going to sit quietly while the cool kids got to play. The list goes on and on. So, what better way to kick off the fall season other than Iron Maiden’s double album machine, The Book Of Souls?

My expectations were strangely low for this record. Perhaps a result of Maiden’s irrelevant, lack of inspiration in their predecessor, The Final Frontier.  Perhaps I was just pissed that Derek Riggs checked out of another Eddie opportunity.  Whatever, it doesn’t matter.  The first notes of, “If Eternity Should Fail,” grabbed that cynicism and castrated it.

Attribution: mirror.uk

Credit: mirror.uk

Yep, sit on that metaphor for a minute.  Oh, right, this isn’t a death metal review; my fault.

Initially, the band’s creativity returns with trademark energy and galloping riffs, all the while holding onto the darker, fuller sound of their post-Blaze era songwriting.  There are even hints of Seventh Son keyboards, serving the sound tastefully without delving into cheese territory.  You’d expect Steve Harris’ songwriting ability to falter, especially after the Maiden sound collage in The Final Frontier, but here, the structures, melodies, even the instrumentals, feel fresh and purposeful. I mean, each member — sans Niko McBrain — has multiple songwriting credits throughout the LP’s 11 monstrous tracks.

Maiden CD

Credit: Cover Dude

There’s no clever reason for this picture.  Eddie is just fucking awesome.

To put this in perspective, Steve Harris rarely attributed more than a few tracks to other members throughout Maiden’s tenure.  Such a melting pot of ideas breeds countless opportunities for failure.  I’ll admit the variety of credits turned me off at first, especially the Janick Gers note attached to “Book of Souls.”  Boy, was I wrong.  The album flows with the gallop of Harris, punctuated by Dickinson’s typical lyrical expeditions.  I say expeditions because, let’s face it, the guy cannot develop a typical verse/chorus/verse about cliche metal nonsense.  He’s the fucking Air Siren! If he wants to talk about triplanes in “Death or Glory,” then he damn well please!

Some may call The Book of Souls a pointless cash grab, but there is no way, no way epics, “The Red and the Black,” and the double LP’s title track reflect an uninspired effort. Sure, it’s hard to believe, other than contractual reasons, that Iron Maiden needs a third guitarist — no disrespect to shredder, Janick Gers — but solos are half the makeup of Maiden’s general sound.  So, to that, Reviews From the Other Side says, “The more, the merrier!”

Although the band’s songwriting takes a fresh breath in Book of Souls, there are moments of career-repetition scattered throughout the record, from copycat riffs to all-to-familiar song structures.  Luckily, we don’t get another, “Blood Brothers,” clone.  I’m looking at you, “No More Lies.” However, instead listeners suffer through a “Wasted Years” ripoff introduction riff in “Shadow of the Valley.”  This is more of an annoyance than a crutch. What else can you expect from a band whose discography stretches over fifteen LP’s, not including EP’s or live recordings/bootlegs?

Also, as is the bane of most double albums — unless we’re talking The Wall or any given Who rock opera — The Book of Souls suffers from the scope of its vision.  There are times, as in, “The Red and the Black,” where the need for epicness outweighs the will of short sighted listeners like myself.  I’m all for an epic sound, but when every track goes for that giant sound, the overall feel of the album starts to feel overblown. Iron Maiden successfully blended epic structures in the past, but practiced restraint, confining those over-the-top tracks into a section of the album.  Here, the band pushes extended running time over the cliff.

That said, each member contributes their talents with technical, musical prowess.  What else could you expect from these guys?  They’ve experienced the ups and downs of metaldom.  Shit, the band went through a mid-career lapse in musical inspiration, thanks in part to the Air Siren and Adrian Smith’s departure.  Yet, they bounced back, not once, but twice.  The Book of Souls places the spotlight on each member’s contribution, serving as more of a historical insight to Maiden’s discography than as a progression.  To that, I’ll say it again.  Lean in close so you can see the screen.

16 albums!

RATING:  4.5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, property, and content of header image belongs to the artist.  Image found at http://www.ironmaiden.com/thebookofsouls/img/og.jpg.  All rights, property, and content of body image 1 belong to the artist.  Image found at http://i3.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article5190628.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/Bruce-Dickinson.jpg. All rights, property, and content of body image 2 belong to the artist.  Image found at http://www.coverdude.com/covers/iron-maiden-the-book-of-souls-2015-cd2-cover-215640.jpg.  I have, in no way, used said images for profit. 

Review: Symphony X – Underworld

With their latest LP, Underworld, Symphony X taps into their neoclassical roots to create one of the more entertaining listens of 2015.

Yep, I’m doing a 180 here. When a band does what they do best, it’s hard not to appreciate their effort.  Because, let’s face it, Symphony X lays it all down on their latest studio album, combining past and present influence into one of their more consistent records.

Now, before you get all “Make up your damn mind!” on me, know that this is a record burdened by familiarity, pushing more of an Iconoclast sound over, say, their coined The Divine Wings of Tragedy’s Gregorian, neoclassical epic approach. However, where Iconoclast felt pointlessly heavy, Underworld amplifies that heaviness, all the while grounding listeners with the complex, beautiful, and might I say “cleaner” songwriting of their past.  There’s reason to Romeo, Allen, Pinnella, and Rullo’s style again. This is a testament to Romeo’s obsession with Christian mythology.  Look at it this way, when a prog metal album’s concept is loosely based on Dante’s Inferno, how can you not make the material heavy as shit?

“Underworld,” with its punchy, galloping chorus, accented by Russel Allen’s binary vocal style, complements this sound realization, reminiscent to Paradise Lost’s symphonic numbers.   Now, with that in mind, you won’t get anything new on this album.  That’s where this album suffers most.  Underworld feels more like a continuation of Symphony X’s newfound appreciation for metaldom, rather than a musical progression.  At this point, you must ask:  What else do these guys have to prove?  They rode Dream Theater’s wake, producing an organic combination of power, prog, and neoclassical metal, then darkened the progressive genre further, incorporating harsher vocals, blast beats, and heavier riffs.   And, hell, the blast beats in “Underworld” will most definitely take the casual prog listener out of the equation. But, to say Underworld is uninspired is an insult to the band’s legacy and meticulous effort to separate itself from dreaded Dream Theater imitation.

symphonyxwithoutsingle

Credit: Blabbermouth

Does the album feel Nuclear Blast-esque?  Metal heads will understand that statement.  The LP, as feared, suffers from the band’s overwhelming metal obsession,  “Without You,” condemned as more of a sellout, derivative “Paradise Lost” clone, contains some of Russell Allen’s most passionate vocals.  So, power prog Symphony X fans listen up.  The clean voice has returned! That’s enough to give Underworld a star in itself.

“Without You,” brings back the band’s classical influence to the forefront, replacing complexity with good ol’ fashioned emotional songwriting.  Same with “To Hell and Back.” The track’s introduction adds atmosphere to the LP, then leads to guitar, vocal, and rhythm excellence, courtesy to each band member’s famous precision.  Again, “To Hell and Back,” is more of a listenable track — oh God, not melody! Melody doesn’t belong in metal! — but the band was known for melody, never brutality. “Swan Song,” continues this trek into melodic territory, alluding to “The Accolade.”  Atmospheric, complex, melodic, beautiful, heavy in an ideological sense, rather than in a “smash your face” sense. That’s something I thought I would never hear after Iconoclast.

*On a side note, has anyone ever wondered how chaotic it is when someone asks for Michael in the band?

Meanwhile, Romeo, with his blistering fretboard control, continues to wow listeners in tracks like “Nevermore” and “Charon.” Now, I’m on the fence with these two tracks.  Remember that little “Nevermore” single review that Reviews From the Other Side composed a month or so ago?  Obviously, Symphony X wanted to continue their “guitar first” philosophy, sacrificing chorus and general appeal in the process.  This leads to disenchantment from the source material.  I appreciate a kick ass guitar performance, but when everything around that guitar performance is, well, for lack of a better word, boring, then it’s easy to forget said tracks. Disenchantment and boredom is the bane to progressive metal. Even as a fan, I can admit that. Michael Romeo and Michael Pinnella tend to noodle, it’s a known fact!  “Nevermore” is a studio single, for crying out loud! For an album that promises a collage of influences, “Nevermore” fails in that the track sounds like nothing more than a Iconoclast bonus track.  That’s what is so frustrating with this album.  It tries to move past the heaviness of Paradise Lost and Iconoclast, but for every melodic, neoclassical passage, there’s ten overwhelming, “What the fuck? Should I bang my head or air guitar?” metal wanks.

It’s in these metal passages, however, that the band’s rhythm section pulls through. Michael Romeo and Russell Allen are awesome! Who in metaldom doesn’t know that? Pinnella is a little too Rudess for me, but does his part nonetheless.  Hell, the guy even has a couple credits to his name, so kudos, good key meister. In previous recordings — especially their rendition of The Odyssey — Jason Rullo’s drums came across as flat, even mediocre at times, but Underworld brings the best out of our little mountain mover.  It’s an understatement to say Rullo was made for explosive passages, complemented by Michael Lepond’s, as-always, moving rumble.

Symphony X, with their 11th studio album, Underworld, force listeners to gaze into the looking glass of their discography, exploring their descent from neoclassical, power prog to straight forward, kick ass metal. Fans, indulge. Casual listeners, think of this album as a focused, greatest hits record.

Credit:  Skullsnbones

Credit: Skullsnbones

P.S. That album art…

Ugh.

RATING:  4/5

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Review: Paradise Lost – The Plague Within

After a series of more commercial airings, Paradise Lost returns to their gothic/doom roots with their 2015 LP release, The Plague.

Doom metal is one of those metal subgenres that should stand higher amongst the metal community.  Black Sabbath basically coined its inception in Master of Reality: slowed, downtuned tempo, and lyrics exploring melancholic subjects, i.e. “Into the Void.” However, the genre remains a backdrop to the waves upon waves of hardcore/metalcore/posthardcore/whatever-core outfits.  But, that’s okay.  Over here at Reviews From the Other Side, that’s just the way we like it.  At least the doom movement produced some of the heaviest sounds in existence, if not in sound, then attitude.  Even HIM — or more specifically, Ville Valo — tries, every now and then, to mention their “doomy” sound.  To which Electric Wizard comes out, and with three earth shattering notes, sends the Hot Topic fiends back to their holes.  I guess it’s an understatement to say the entire doom genre is respected, but popular? Okay, that’s enough ramblings with the word doom.  Well, maybe a couple more times.

Out of the doom movement came a trifecta of sad sacks, who aspired for melody atop the mother genre’s head lowering riffs:  Paradise Lost, Anathema, and My Dying Bride.  Coining “gothic metal,” Paradise Lost stands as one of the most inspirational doom metal outfits of the 90’s.  The band always walked the lines of gothic metal in albums Icon and, you guessed it, Gothic.  They solidified that desire with Draconian Times.  As their songwriting matured, the band then explored more commercial territories, leaving behind the slow, plodding death/doom riffs and growling vocals of their namesake.  Even vocalist, Nicholas Holmes, started to stagnate, his performances uninspired and directionless.  He’s always been too Hetfield for my taste, so it’s not like I listened to Paradise Lost for their powerful, soaring vocals.  2015, however, saw a return to form.  With The Plague Within, Paradise Lost crushed metaldom with lead single, “Beneath Broken Earth,” a straight, doom metal track serving as a memento to the despair of the 90’s death/doom movement.  The single promised slow, heavy, dark.  And, boy did they follow up.

The Plague Within is a record blessed with an ear for its fanbase.  Straight from the get go, “No Hope In Sight” alludes to Draconian Times, with poison-laced guitar melodies and an overarching doom riff.  Short, sweet, hopeless. That’s the Paradise Lost fans were screaming for.  That’s the record they got, well, with a little — and by that, I mean a lot — of exploration and experimentation.  Now, for a band as experienced as Paradise Lost, I originally expected more evolution, something fresh separating The Plague Within from its predecessors.  Sure, there’s the return of Holme’s growls, even some double bass and plodding tracks throughout, but the album doesn’t progress musically.  The band promised a return album years ago.  Perhaps, the band discovered, four albums later, they were alienating their fanbase.  Or, probably the easiest guess, perhaps the record label was tired of their shit.  Either way, all I can say is: welcome home.

By the time “Eternity of Lies” hit its climactic, catchy midsection, I remembered why I listened to Paradise Lost in the first place.  Paradise Lost embodies the romanticism of goth and buries it behind layers death.  This binary of musical emotions, complete with powerful drums and the occasional piano melody, returns in The Plague Within, ultimately sounding more Paradise Lost than, say Believe In Nothing. You get every metal influence in this album, from the brutality of “Flesh From Bone,” to, as previously stated, pure, unadulterated doom in “Beneath Broken Bone.”  “Eternity of Lies” is a future Paradise Lost classic, embodying the band’s trademark descent into beauty.  For the first time, I actually enjoyed Nick Holmes’ studio performance.  Throughout the album, the veteran vocalist tackles multiple styles, showing versatility not seen since pre-Icon. Yes, his growls have aged, but what can you expect from an aged growler.

Axemen Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy are the unsung heroes of Paradise Lost.  “No Hope In Sight,” for instance, exploits the band’s mastering of the acid riff, a “less is more” approach.  They play off each other seamlessly, and when they find that “sweet” progression, they attack until the music bursts with catharsis.  Go back and listen to “Yearn For Change,” from Draconian Times — I apologize for the frequent mentions — and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s only fitting that closer, “Return to the Sun,” pushes the album to its creative heights, highlighted by Holmes’ emotional clean/harsh vocal combo.  Oh, and I guess the choir and symphony helps.  All around, a complete, metal performance.

Overall, Paradise Lost’s The Plague Within succeeds in its nostalgic quality, a worthy return to form after a set of directionless releases.  Although the album lacks musical progression, the band continues to remind listeners of their influence on the metal community.  A solid production, through and through.

RATING:  4/5 

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Review: Death – Leprosy (Reissue)

Death’s Leprosy changed the game of death metal.  Despite its fiscal intentions, the album’s reissue emits a balanced and polished re-imagining of Schuldiner’s groundbreaking early career.

That last review left a bad taste in my mouth.  There’s only so much mediocre popular music I can take before I want to bash my head into a wall.  Just thinking out loud here, man.  I’m a hipster, metal elitist, remember?  To combat music withdrawals, I decided to shake some things up by putting my iPod on shuffle — I mean, whose iPod ever failed them? — and reviewing the first result.  “Pull the Plug,” it told me. Nah, let’s go!

Reissues, for the most part, are usually low on my scale of “Holy shit, I need to buy this.”  For one, they’re an obvious cash grab, and in the case of Death, it’s not hard to profit off of one of metal’s legendary songwriters, Chuck Schuldiner.  It’s a difficult truth, but come on!  I mean, throw in some bonus tracks, muddy live recordings, turn up the volume, slap on a remastered label and…money! I get it.  Honor, love, nostalgia, they’re all buzzwords to open wallets.  Leprosy and all of Death’s reissues are simple milk jobs designed to tap the metal market. Metalheads will probably burn me at the stake for damaging such a brand, but at Reviews From the Other Side, we analyze the entire aspect of the music industry.  So, here’s to you, Relapse Records.

Fuck, I must just be in a bad mood.  Let’s talk about the goddamn music.  Leprosy is, by and by, as brutal as they come.  From the get go, Chuck belts out one of his most demented screams, and that alone is a highlight and point producing moment.  I hate to open every album review with the first track, but the album’s opener — and title track — is Schuldiner’s traditional death metal peak, where everything, from the solo, to the simple, driving riffs, even the boom-hiss drum pattern, melds together.  If you don’t thrash after hearing that opening scream, then…this music isn’t for you.  Ha, thought I was going to say something witty, didn’t you?  Yeah, “Leprosy.” Fucking death metal, man! The album then rides “Leprosy[‘s]” wake with “Born Dead,” a never-ending onslaught of ascending guitar patterns and Chuck’s evil vocals.

There’s something unique in Chuck’s voice.  It’s not quite a growl, and it certainly isn’t by-the-books singing.  Hell, it isn’t even a Hetfield “shyeah!” Where Michael Akerfeldt overwhelms, Chuck Schuldiner strikes the soul, even thrashes in Death’s debut, Scream Bloody Gore. What’d you expect, with a title like that? But here, Leprosy, brings out the best of his screams, growls, shouts, and groans, throwing down one hell of an atmospheric performance.  “Pull the Plug,” one of Death’s more recognizable tunes, utilizes this excruciating experience in its simple chorus — which, you guessed it, just repeats the title — with chilling precision.  For 1988, Chuck’s voice was a horror show and influenced an entire, extreme metal genre.  Kind of funny that the “godfather of death metal” donned cat shirts while his contemporaries spawned camo and dreadlocks.

The drums, although muddled — something I didn’t expect in a “remaster” — work well for what they are, not too complex, but not simple, either.  As previously stated, the only issue is I can’t hear Bill Andrew’s performance!  Behind thrashing guitars, the drum performance is as follows: rumbles followed by a snare/high hat alternation. What’s with that snare sound, anyways? Gene Hoglan comes in later, so that piece of the puzzle gets fixed.  Meanwhile, the guitars are exactly what you’d expect from a Death record.  Outstanding. “Pull the Plug,” “Born Dead,” “Leprosy,” and “Choke on It,” have their moments of slayer-esque nonsensical noodling, but as the riffs progress, Schuldiner adds some foreshadowing prog into the mix.  The guitars never stop, and every lick, riff, solo, and interlude are thought out with the mind of a thrasher-gone-death-head. Don’t believe me when I say Chuck is one of music’s greatest guitarists? Check out “Leprosy.” If the riffs don’t get you, then the solo most certainly will.

I won’t go into the album’s mix. It’s a louder version of the original recording. That’s it.

Summary:  Brutal, brutal and brutal.  Death’s 1988 LP, Leprosy, is the definition of death metal.

RIP Chuck Schuldiner.

RATING: 4.5/5

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