Atheist, Jupiter (Season of Mist)
Can you believe it’s been 17 long years since the last Atheist studio album? Travel back to 1991 real quick and think about Unquestionable Presence which today is considered by many people to be a benchmark release for technical death metal. They followed that up with another technical record called Elements two years later with quite a bit of jazz influence in it. The band had already pretty much broken up by the time the album came out and didn’t reunite until 2009 when they played at the Wacken Open Air festival and released that as a live disc. After a great reception from that show, of course a studio album was needed, thus the highly anticipated Jupiter.
Only vocalist Kelly Schaefer and drummer Steve Flynn remain from the original lineup with Jonathan Thompson and Chris Baker from Gnostic taking over on guitars. The result of a 17 year wait is not necessarily all you’d hope it would be coming from a band so loved back in the day, but also is quite intriguing.
If you think they were technical years ago then you’re going to be blown away by the amount of time changes and juts and jolts present on this album. You immediately get a weird taste in your mouth with the first two tracks (“Second to Sun” and “Fictitious Glide”) as the technical elements often sound like utter randomness without any direction. But the more straightforward attempts at melody in these tracks work very well. But then later in the disc, “Tortoise the Titan” starts off boring, continues to be boring before ending really boring. Now though, flip the script to “Live and Live Again” and “Faux King Christ” which combine the technical elements with melody and power really perfectly. But I think the key track to determine if you like this disc or not is “When the Beast” which tries combining some of the jazzier elements with only part of the success the band was able to pull off back in the day and a breakdown that is the least technical thing on the album. The first time I listened I thought the track was extremely dull and then I’ve been hearing it differently each time I’ve listened to it since and it’s intriguing me more and more.
I actually listened to Jupiter three times before writing this and each time I hear something different overall, which to me is what a technical metal album should provide the listener. This is not a car listen, it’s not background music – it’s put in some earbuds, drown out the world and catch all the little nuances music. If you do that you hear all the anger and challenges of “Third Person” to close out the record and a lot of moments that really work wonderfully in the first few tracks on the album.
You also get to hear the negative elements of the disc which seems to be that the new lineup just doesn’t seem to completely gel in many parts and that the production of Jason Suecof is horrendous. Everything is pushed up to 11 so you lose a lot of the sonic elements that make technical death metal interesting. It’s all just a sonic blur at times which I know is the latest trend in music but in reality someone (anyone!) needs to put a stop to this bullshit technique as it’s just out of hand. I want to listen to this album as loud as I possibly can and that’s impossible as I lose any and all sonic quality at the volume I want it at.
The true end result of Jupiter is interesting though. There are elements that suck and elements that are pretty damn great. It isn’t anywhere close to the quality of Piece of Time or Unquestionable Presence but I keep listening to it over and over again for some reason. I have a feeling this is an album that I almost have to re-review in six months. Over time it’s either going to wear me down to the point where I never pick it up again or wow me completely once all the pieces hit me correctly. So right now that puts me in the weird position of shrugging my shoulders, not really knowing if I like the album or not.
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Nails, Unsilent Death (Southern Lord)
Sometimes I wish my music could talk. I’m sure most of it would tell me that I’m going to blow out my eardrums eventually or that the Lil’ Wayne disc keeps jackin’ my Sugarland album but if Unsilent Death could speak, I have a feeling that the conversation would go something like this;
Nails: You ready for me fucker?
Me: Who you calling fucker, fucker?
Nails: Dude, just pop me in and hold on.
Me: What do you mean “hold….” oh, shit!
Nails: Yeah, I told you dude. Brutal isn’t it?
Me: Mother of Lucifer you’re loud. I feel like I just got hit by an 18-wheeler. And I’m already on track 3?
Nails: Yeah, 10 songs in 14 minutes man. We don’t fuck around.
Me: Sounds like Napalm Death once they became good, some crust punk, the best parts of Entombed and a barrel of angry weasels gnawing at my nads.
Nails: You know the sound of weasles chewing your nads?
Me: Doesn’t everyone?
Me: At just :33, “Conform” sort of feels like you just stabbed me in the gut and left me to bleed out.
Nails: Mission accomplished.
Me: And how about that title track? Fuck, at 2:42 it’s like your epic. And it’s melodic.
Nails: Fuck off, it’s total brutal.
Me: Chill, “melodic” isn’t a dirty word.
Nails: You realize you’ve just listened to me four times right?
Me: (turns car off, walks into work, kisses someone’s ass, fucks around writing review to new Nails’ record)
Summary: Fuck yeah!
Footnote: Yeah, go ahead. You write something good when it takes longer to formulate your first sentence than it does to listen to the entire disc.
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Drudkh, Handful of Stars (Season of Mist)
Drudkh has always brought a little something different to the metal world. They root their sound in black metal but with each album they change the surrounding tones a bit. 2009’s Microcosmos turned the sound up a bit on the group to be the most rock record they’ve put out. Handful of Stars is Drudkh bringing it back down a notch again.
This is a group that is loved in the underground metal scene despite not touring, doing no press and not even having a band shot out there. Most of the draw comes from the excellent compositions, but certainly some from the mystery behind the group.
Handful of Stars has been out for a few months now and I’m just getting to it because it really took that long to sink in. There’s a heavy amount of shoegaze and post-rock in this album, moreso than on any other Drudkh album which is what makes this particular turn unique for them. When singer Thurios belts out his vocals you hear more of the black metal sound, but the surrounding moments are mostly mellow and remarkably clean. And it’s really these moments that shine. The instrumental passages in pretty much every song are epic and moving and while they are definitely clean, there’s something still extremely menacing about the sounds. I keep losing myself in the music and yet I still feel like I want to kick someone in the head. And I think this is why it took me so long to figure the album out. It makes me feel at ease and angry at the same time sort of like a tug-of-war of my mind. You gotta dig into this one, sit in the dark and put some headphones on and let yourself go. If you do, you’ll find a gem in there no matter what direction you get pulled in.
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Yngwie Malmsteen, Relentless (Rising Force Records)
Yngwie! Here’s a guy that certainly needs no introduction in the world of metal. Yngwie Malmsteen is a guitar virtuoso, a neo-classical force of nature that sometimes no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get away from. Just like his peers Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, every album is a wankfest of the most over-the-top riffage you could possibly imagine. If you go back to the early days of his solo works you’ll find excellent albums like Marching Out and Trilogy which really put him on the map. Since that point, there has been less emphasis on really cool hooks and more thought put into furious fretting and the simple reality is that pretty much every Yngwie Malmsteen album is just a slight variation of the last one.
For the second album in a row he’s employed Tim “Ripper” Owens as his vocalist, a guy that I have never liked but fits relatively well with Yngwie’s style. But forget about that, because a Yngwie Malmsteen record is about no one but Yngwie Malmsteen and thus the continual problem with his music. His playing style just overpowers everything else on the album to the point where it’s a bit overwhelming at times. The other issue with Relentless is that there would be no way of knowing this was a new record unless you were told. There is nothing at all on this disc that sounds like it was made later than 1995. One listen to his attempt at really rocking out in “Enemy Within” will confirm that and the mid-80s ballad “Look At You Now” is shockingly devoid of any melody at all.
That’s not to say Relentless doesn’t have its moments. “Shot Across the Bow” is like any other classical composition that he’s done – nothing unique but still good. And “Into Valhalla” is one of the better riff-fests on the disc, but the end result is the same as it has been for 20 years now. After all these years mastering the art of playing guitar we all know that he can run circles around almost anyone in that field, but it would still be nice if he could just write some really good songs to go with that talent.
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