Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini (Nuclear Blast)
I think September 28th is going to go down as the finest week for new metal releases in 2010 and I have been anticipating none moreso than Axioma Ethica Odini by Enslaved.

I’m not really sure if Enslaved has ever actually released a bad disc and I’m pretty certain that every album had somewhat of a different sound than its predesessor of which their new release is no different. 2004’s Isa, 2006’s Ruun and 2008’s Vertebrae all were kick-ass expanding on their new progressive black metal sound. They began as a viking metal band and slowly moved closer to black metal and then progressive black metal as the years moved on. By the time Vertebrae rolled around they were flawlessly combining black metal with softer moments throughout the album. Enter Axioma Ethica Odini to continue expanding the sound.

To me, this feels like the culmination of a series of albums including elements of all of the previous three. Very few groups can pull off the rawness of the black metal sound while throwing a ton of melody in the mix like Enslaved and “Waruun” takes that, adds heavy progressive leanings and an atmospheric breakdown in the middle to create something that sounds totally unique. “Raidho” (download) will probably go down as one of my favorite tracks of the year as a cool chainsaw buzz permeates the loud and super melodic black metal elements and the clean breakdown in the center is totally smooth. “The Beacon” starts off with a very typical black riff duping you into thinking it might be more traditional but it eventually changes gears to actually get kind of groovy before leading into a full chorus of voices. “Night Sight” actually starts out with clean vocals (there’s a lot on this album) and a mellow vibe but blasts your eardrums out before long.

Axioma Ethica Odini is the perfect album at this point in Enslaved’s career, one that feels like it’s come to a peak right here. If I’m right then in two years we should get something very different and 2012 can’t come soon enough for me.

October Tide, A Thin Shell (Candlelight)
October Tide took an interesting path to get to 2010 and their third release, A Thin Shell. The group started out as a side project for Katatonia members Fredrik Norman and Jonas Renske in 1995 when they recorded Rain Without End which was a masterpiece of death-doom. The album wasn’t released until 1997 and they followed it up in 1999 with what appeared to be their final album, having never done an interview or tour to promote themselves.

Norman decided in the past few years that he wanted to get the group back together although that meant him and four other musicians not including Renske – so “back together” isn’t exactly accurate. But this is now Norman’s full time gig and having already done interviews they are one step ahead of where they were before.

So can the album stand up to the hype that Rain Without End got? Fuck yeah. I’m continually amazed at how remarkably easy it is to determine a band is Swedish, but once again October Tide bring that unmistakable sound to the table throughout the record. They mix death metal growls and hard hitting guitar work with melodic dark doom passages. Although not as progressive, it’s very easy to compare A Thin Shell to Opeth as throughout the disc you get the mellow intertwined with an immense amount of power. “The Nighttime Project” is a track that stays melodic and mellow throughout its entire length, while “Deplorable Request” begins with a slow death grind, transitioning into some straight doom before a shocking display of total power brings the sound to a head.

I haven’t been the biggest fan of Candlelight releases this year but they’ve got a total winner here. If you like melodic Swedish death or Opeth, then this album should easily be on your want list.

 

Swashbuckle, Crime Always Pays (Nuclear Blast)
Arrghh! Pirate metal in full force! Crime Always Pays is the third release from New Jersey thrash metallers Swashbuckle and they’ve opened up a bit more than the past two releases. The album has more of a speed metal feel this time around with elements of black metal in some tracks (“We are the Storm”) and death metal elements in others (“This Round’s on YOU!”, “Where Victory Is Penned”).

Just like the previous two, the album is very long at 16 tracks and has the given pirate theme throughout with titles like “You Bring the Cannon, We’ll Bring the Balls” and “Crime Always Pays.” They certainly aren’t the first band to have a strict theme around their music, but thankfully they aren’t regurgitating the same  lyrics and songs across the discs like most of the others.

2006’s Crewed by the Damned was a great record but had the downfall of a sea shanty as an interlude between almost every song which didn’t let the album flow very well. 2009’s Back to the Noose cut down on those to only six in 21 tracks which helped out with the flow greatly. Crime Always Pays has an intro an outro and only two interludes in the middle but now of course they don’t seem to be as um, shantylicious (damned if you do…).  These couple minute acoustic ballads also kill the momentum a little bit, but that is what it is.

As I mentioned the album is 16 tracks long, which with the four interludes leaves 12 rippin’ tunes and while there are one or two that just don’t seem to go anywhere (“The Gallow’s Pole Dancer”) tracks like “Surf-N-Turf (For Piratical Girth)” and the two minute almost hardcore track, “Powder Keg” are killer. And lyrics like “Hey you / you got green to spare / fifty bucks is a lot of wealth to share / we know you wanna drown your past / when your broads just slobbered down our masts,” from “This Round’s on YOU!” are friggin’ great.

Overall, it’s the most brutal disc from Swashbuckle yet and if they’re going to keep cranking out the yo-ho-hos and the bottles of rum, then I’ll keep listening.

 

James LaBrie, Static Impulse (InsideOut)
I suppose there are going to be two very different opinions about James LaBrie’s fourth album away from his main duties as Dream Theater lead singer (2 with MullMuzzler and two under his own name). The album is a blistering metal record complete with genuinely blazing riffs, clean and screaming vocals and a shit-ton of amazing melody.

So, I’m going to assume that the many Dream Theater die-hards are going to find this album way too generic for their liking. This is definitely technical metal, but it is not progressive and this is not a rock record, it’s all metal baby.

I on the other hand have never given a care in the world to Dream Theater. People have tried getting me into them over the years and I have yet to find much of anything I can hang in for. The only progressive rock group I ever really liked was early Genesis and I do like progressive metal bands like Opeth, but Dream Theater always toed that rock-metal line never fully committing to the harder end and while I have listened to every single one of their albums simply because I like knowing what everyone raves about, I haven’t yet found one that I can go back to. I will go back to Static Impulse.

LaBrie has brought along both Matt Guillory on keys and Marco Sfogli on guitars from his first solo disc back in 2005. But the key addition here is Darkane drummer Pete Wildoer on drums and screams. Outside of Darkane, Pete’s been somewhat of a session drummer performing on many metal albums in recent years. LaBrie begins the album very smartly by having Wildoer’s voice the first one you hear. “One More Time” begins the disc with about two seconds of a progressive tease before Sfogli kicks in the power chords and the screaming begins. It’s instantly known that this is not a Dream Theater album.

“Jekyll or Hide” is another key track on the album which alternates LaBrie’s clean vocals with Wildoer’s growls during the bridge and features the catchiest chorus on the disc. There are some tracks like “Who You Think I Am” with its slight electronic touches that sound way too much like metalcore, but for the most part it’s a pure blast of technical riffs and sweet choruses that keeps you headbanging right up until the end. And the final track is the only ballad on the disc and even that’s pretty killer.

With Dream Theater in shambles right now maybe this is the project James LaBrie should be focusing on as Static Impulse is pretty damn killer.

Del Rey, Immemorial (At A Loss Recordings)
This is my first post-rock record in ages, at least I think. In the past, I’ve expressed my lack of knowledge of what “post-rock” even really means but somehow I think I totally get it by listening to Immemorial. It doesn’t hurt that this is an instrumental record as are the majority of great albums labeled with the post-rock genre.

The album sort of transports me to another place. It’s like a giant bird grabbed me by the shoulders and is taking me on a trip over the earth, looking down one minute at beautiful landscapes and people having the time of their life and the next car crash after car crash, people running for their lives. Over the course of the entire record I got this same feeling, a happy space followed by a troublesome space. And I think this is what post-rock is supposed to do – transport me to other places while I’m listening.

I just love the mixture of heaviness with the melody that’s present in “E Pluribus Unicorn,” (download) a track that has worn me out each time I’ve listened to it. Starting off with some sparse electronics it alternates between subtle melody and a fierce wall of sound that builds until it slams you over the noggin’ at the very end.

“Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars” is also a highlight for me with beautiful melancholy rhythms leading into a blur of riffs all the while showcasing the element that makes these guys a little different, duel drumming. In fact, the drum sounds on the entire album are pretty remarkable including some Asian elements into the mix as well.

I own nothing from Pelican, Mogwai or anyone like that but I plan on keeping Immemorial in my collection which very well might make it the breakthrough post-rock CD in my world.

Bad Religion, The Dissent of Man (Epitaph)
It’s about time that Bad Religion put out another greatest hits disc with their later, more commerical work on it. The last one was back in 2002 which included… wait, what’s that Mr. Brett? It’s not a greatest hits album? It’s actually 15 brand new Bad Religion songs?

[Face turning red].

This is a pretty simple and quick review for me because as I’ve been listening to this for the past few days now I realize I have lost the ability to tell the difference between one Bad Religion album and the next. Starting with The Grey Race in 1996, I swear to God they’ve just been making the same album over and over just changing the lyrics. The Dissent of Man has the 100% unmistakable Bad Religion commercial pop-punk sound and the same biting political lyrics and social commentary that has been on every record.

Weirdly enough though, this is the best album since 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction. I’m not sure I know why though. Every song is catchy as hell but none really sound any different than what you’re used to at this point. I think it’s three tracks at the end which are almost straight pop songs (“Cyanide”, “Turn Your Back On Me” and especially album ender, “I Won’t Say Anything”) that really excite me the most. But if it’s not that then I really can’t explain it. The simple reality is that if you didn’t already like Bad Religion you wouldn’t be listening to this anyway. And if you’ve liked anything they’ve done since 1994 then it’s impossible to not love the new album. I like their pop-punk sound — always have, so I love The Dissent of Man as well. Just don’t ask me to say anything more about it.

One Fatal Punch, Songs To Go To Sleep To (self-released)
One Fatal Punch is Matt Bentley, a one man band out of New Zealand that has created a widely varying array of tunes on his debut album. The general feel is that Songs To Go To Sleep To is a rock album, though I’d place it more on the industrial side of the spectrum.

Lead track, “America” (download) sounds remarkably like vintage KMFDM and could very well be better than anything Sasha and company have put out in years. “Penetration, 9th Inch” sounds very much like Depeche Mode and “Every Time I See Your Face” is more in the vulgar, bat-shit crazy Mindless Self Indulgence realm.

There are 16 total tracks on the album and really almost everyone has a different feel to it. “Shiva Furnace” sounds like a traditional Indian song until it breaks into scraping industrial noise while “Black Winter” and “Destruction of a Newborn Star” are mellow ambient soundscapes.

For a debut from a one man band, produced by himself in his own studio, it’s pretty clear the dude has some talent. And taken song by song most are good (save “Story” which is an ill-conceived rap song, whispered almost Andy Samberg-ish style) but the biggest drawback for me is that as a whole the album never gets a chance to flow and gain momentum. There are just so many different styles of music being played that it’s really tough to see the connection between the tracks. Personally, I’d love to hear an EP of his industrial stuff, an EP of his snyth-pop and an EP of his mellow tunes. Grouped together I think this could be very enjoyable. Either way, I think there’s definite promise for the future.