Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Atlantean Kodex - The Golden Bough

Atlantean Kodex
The Golden Bough
Cruz del Sur

The Golden Bough, the latest record from Atlantean Kodex, is a concept album that uses a story of Atlantis to talk about the pagan/ Neolithic magic roots of European Christianity and how it all relates to peace, love, community and equality for all mankind. Got all that? Me neither. But the kind of epic metal the German quintet proffers here is more about the color and the pageantry than the storytelling, and the band certainly has that down. Huge, soaring melodies, arrangements so widescreen your local Imax theater couldn’t hold them, twin guitar harmonies painted on every surface, a clean-voiced singer who somehow avoids histrionics – these are the things that make The Golden Bough interesting. Disciples of the Iron Crown, The Atlantean Kodex (yes, the band named itself after one of its own songs) and Temple of Katholic Magick are meant to be enjoyed while holding one’s head high, swinging one’s arms about dramatically and lip-synching passionately, one foot on the nearest monitor (or ottoman, whichever) – any philosophical underpinnings will just have to sink in over time. Hell, if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re better off reading Sir James George Frazer’s original tome anyway – The Golden Bough is best served by epic headbanging, rather than furrow-browed contemplation.

- Michael Toland

The Might Could - s/t

The Might Could
Small Stone

After the rather sudden and sadly unheralded demise of the great Alabama Thunderpussy in 2008, I wondered how long it would take sparkplug Erik Larson to start something new and, given the eclectic nature of his solo records, what it would sound like. The answers can be found on this here self-titled debut from the Might Could. Taking on the lead vocals (am I the only one who wonders why he didn’t do that in ATP with all their lead singer troubles?), Larson doesn’t stray that far off the thrashgrunge path ATP pioneered – anybody who digs Staring at the Divine will get a familiar buzz from the blazing Stone Colossus and Coming Clean and the slow grind of The Widower. But Larson’s apparently been giving his old blues records a few spins in his down time, as he and fellow picker TJ Childers add plenty of Dixie boogie to Let ‘em Up Easy, Wretched Wraith and the blatantly Skynyrd-baiting When the Spirits Take Control. Put it all together with The Night They Shoot Ol’ Dixie Down, The Fall and I Don’t Even Like Pantera Anymore (and why should you?) and you’ve got a wickedly thunderous jug of riff-mongering metal moonshine that’ll peel the skin right off your buttocks. The loss of ATP was a shame, but the rise of the Might Could makes it all better.

- Michael Toland

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bison b.c. - Dark Ages

Bison b.c.
Dark Ages
Metal Blade

Bison b.c. (the “b.c.” refers to the band’s home state of British Columbia, not the time before Jesus) is one of the latest stormtroopers in a new wave of North American heavy metal that have taken the lessons of Mastodon – be omnivorous in your musical appetites but don’t forget to rock, bitch – to heart. The Vancouver quartet’s second LP Dark Ages boasts a full coterie of memorably massive riffs, enough to rival their spiritual mentors’ already impressive catalog. Bison leaves out most of the proggy bits, but its ability to seamlessly transition from sludgy to soaring, atmospheric to annihilating, thuggish to thrashy, pensive to powerhouse on Die of Devotion, Stressed Elephant (which adds a melancholy trumpet to its intro) and Wendigo Pt. 3 (Let Him Burn) makes the music both impressive and entertaining. The sore-throat shouting gets a bit wearying after a while, but it’s also hard to imagine the songs without it. Besides, it’s the instrumental work that’s the point here, and in that sense Bison b.c. is so deadly you should call the coroner before the sound starts to spin.

- Michael Toland

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Black Crowes - Croweology
Silver Arrow

Well, well, well weeeell well, I guess it's 2010 & so la Crowe Bro's (cos it ain't a Ruseell Crowe covers album, just to get kak joke pointlessly aired & right out the way with a curt Chris backhand & Rich curtsy) continue corralling la differences into distances for this surely not coincidental acoustical back-porch, main bar, side street honk through their (largely) early catalogue to commemorate the two decades since their marvellous admittance to stages & hearts of SHAKE YOUR MONEY MAKER. It's a mellower, maturer reflective crawl - with added (many, too many) meanderings - which isn't always a good thing, being that some (eg Ballad In Urgency, Wiser Time, Good Friday) were stony enough in the first incarnations & the Stonesier ones (Jealous Again, Hotel Illness, Downtown Money Waster) however still-enjoyable they are here, could still stomp more acoustic or not (hazy memory heralds the acoustic Jealous Again, b-side of something or t'other, p'raps Hard To Handle) though there's never any denying the authentic sweet home soul & bitter swings they bring in even their bus-ticket pocket. Tis just as was signposted on third album AMORICA their indulgent side is a cross bigger than Brazil they brandish on their backs with Baptist relish. There's only Welcome To The Good Times from BY YOUR SIDE , an album they seemed to dismiss themselves but I remember fondly, being a fan of band-derided albums (rocket forth THE PRIMAL SCREAM, top of an occasional list - which on no account covers Rolling Stones albums, except maybe BETWEEN THE BUTTONS - by far their best output by anyone's shades & smack habits). While none of it - bar the breakdown boogiebilly interlude on Morning Song (still unsurpassable from it's SOUTHERN HARMONY blast-off) -comes near the mainly blistering originals, veering too easily into over-accomplished vague-ness with any real transcendent rawness ironed out, the ardent will adore it as the devout do, anyone else should get that box-set of a few years ago, chuck the SNAKES album & worship Johnny Colt's hat. Age may bias me but held against any currently revered denizens of planet denim-rock this still wins for leisurely homely, or -looking, Sundays, always drunk or not.
Stu Gibson

Monday, December 13, 2010

Therapy? - We're Here To The End

'Happy people have no stories...'

'There's a big riff approaching' states Andy Cairns matter-of-factly at the start of Enjoy The Struggle. And by the Lord's fuck-forks they continue in this two-disc celebration of their two decade (christ on stilts I remember seeing 'em at Hull Uni on the back of Pleasure Death / Baby Teeth - wow, those names sprung from nowhere of a sudden!) span. Eschewing the trite trappings of playing a classic album (which depending what it was would have made the set even shorter than that they played at Hull way back when, when we were severely disgruntled by the brevity where now with the tyrannical cynicism overdose vs addictions of oldness it would possibly be a blessing) they choose instead a thundering, clanking, tumultuous tirade through their colossal back catalogue. Tis a cauldron seething with the caustic stench of maturing angst steaming painfully wry nihilism, bittersweet turmoil & savage humour with strafing tracer riffs slashing down like steel rain to spice old wounds strapped in for dear life for trips to the darklands by their trademark drum commandments. Here the whole broadswording rampage is honest to lusty goodness & god bless yer horror liver than you possibly want it but should need it, it's all head at the front monitor intestinally-dismantling & swirling ceilings with distended walls. Definitely liver than bombs. Untouched but utterly true, a trait evident in their innate ability to never seemed contrived even in the most possibly whinge-cringey & managing to remain inventive even in the chuggiest detuned metal moments, deftly stomping all over Marylin Manson & Pantera twaddle in the process with nary a bead of sweat in sarcastic salvation. But that's the same as a Thunders ballad & some emo crime statistic. Facing shit head on. In a sprightly aside of fence-sitting, this really would suit the archivist of therapeutic remedies or serve several purposes as a viable collection of vaguely revealed half-hits & smashed-chest pieces.
Stullysses S Gaunt

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Flash Metal Suicide, Manic Street Preachers "Postcards From A Young Man"

Manic Street Preachers
"Postcards From A Young Man"
Columbia Records, 2010

"I'm no longer preaching to the converted, that congregation has long ago deserted"-- Manic Street Preachers, "All We Make Is Entertainment"

Truer words have never been spoken.

Usually as bands age, they lose that fire that they once had. It's inevitable. It's easy to lose perspective of what made you great in the first place, because your life changes, and usually as we age, our perspective of the world changes. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's for the worse. Maybe becoming a parent mellows you out a bit. Maybe there's certain events that happen that make you realize that maybe you can win the battles, but not the war. But I guess that the idea is that there's progression, and/ or that the younger version of you was naive and asked all the questions, but didn't necessarily have all the answers. But you can go more wrong in answering the question than you can in questioning the answer.

Some artists and musicians look back on their early careers with disdain and contempt; citing naivety or youth as cause for the disowning and embarrassment. In most of those cases, I don't really understand why they're that put off by their works.....those songs are still crowd and fan favorites. Sometimes those bands throw out one or two of those songs from those whole periods in a setlist, to satisfy people, while there's numerous "album classics" that aren't necessarily singles on the classic rock radio rotation, but still are favoured by diehard fans. The Stones follow their template a bit too well--you know they'll play "Paint It Black" and "Brown Sugar", but they'll never play "Let It Loose" or "Monkey Man" (I guess you can only play one epic song from an album; "Gimme Shelter" is the obvious choice, but I like "Monkey Man" as much). When I saw AC/DC on their "Black Ice" tour last year in 2009, they'd got it right--several album classic cuts like "Dog Eat Dog" had the crowd curiously baffled, and they probably played about half of their new disc, which was about equally as baffling to the audience.

Needless to say, sometimes it's hard to recapture that earlier spirit, and when you try too hard to revisit that after an extended period of making albums that strayed from the audience's expected formula, sometimes it's welcomed as a "return to form", and other times, it simply doesn't ring true. In some cases, you wonder if a band wouldn't just be better off issuing an official greatest hits album, rather than a half baked attempt to recapture what they did best. Some bands like Blue Cheer, I like the early stuff more, because they didn't have alot of time to overanalyze things or worry about what's "right".....those things that you do because maybe you can't do them exactly like other bands, forms the nucleus of what makes you different and great and gives you your own style. It's when you try to get someone else's style down pat that you almost become a cover band. Mick will tell you that the new Stones album is the "best since 'Exile On Main St'", but you know the guy doesn't actually like hardly any of that album anyways....so the words don't have an honesty to them. It's a sales pitch. But i'd wager that most of my favorite bands made their best music early on in their career and then called it a day before they got too stale, to even worry about issuing such statements. Sometimes as a band, your main competition and nemesis is yourself and your own history.

Some bands have or had overstayed their welcome....and the Manics sometimes leaned dangerously close to that line. As is the case with any political band, the Manics never had lost a political presence, but after awhile, perhaps, there's only so long that you can revisit the same themes and atone that with your experience in life, in that maybe there's small hypocrisies that arise. I dig the nihilism of punk and the idea that you have your ideals intact and that you can question what the world gives you, but as soon as you release any music, it becomes a product. Whether it's "That's Show Business", or the Jam's "That's Entertainment", it's correct to a certain extent. You can rail about the system, but eventually you're part of it, digested and spat out. Punk itself has gone through numerous changes--the transition into post punk from the late 70's to early 80's wherein bands like Joy Division, Magazine, The Saints, The Damned all had undergone pretty radical changes in their sound from the one that they'd started out as.

All topic related prefacing aside, originally, and getting to the bulk of the core topic here, I wanted to do this writeup as a lone "best album of 2010" feature, but thought that it would fit into the Flash Metal Suicide category for a variety of reasons. Normally I don't consider something an instant classic, and in some ways, writing about an album that you're sure to be a later classic isn't maybe the best idea. We've all had bands and records that we were sure was the "greatest ever", upon looking back in hindsight in question of what we were thinking. All I know is that i've listened to this record a zillion times already, and that sometimes all we have is the moment right now, anyways--we're not guaranteed another day here. But one reason for this writeup is that I can't see them following this one up--even the weakest tracks on here would be most other bands' best material, and if at the very worst in future days upon my own reflection, this writeup can function if nothing else as a salute to the bands' later career as the third in a trio of great albums that display a revitalized band that normally isn't seen for bands as late into their career as the Manics are.

But needless to say, some fans and critics aren't impressed with this album.....and if the band is phoning in faux inspiration that's supposedly dwarfed by past accolades with the exact same template, then dammit, i'm fooled. Guilty. But great music is usually part fantasy anyways, so as long as that attempt at a fantastic, magical adventure is there, i'm usually game for it. Speaking as someone who plays and writes music and can appreciate the smaller nuances of things that maybe get lost in the shuffle, the playing and songwriting are nothing less than top notch on this record. My reasoning is that at least you attempted greatness. That's the best that you can ask. Whether or not you achieved it doesn't necessarily matter as much as the attempt, the intention of greatness. There's no denying that from the strings and backing choirs, that it's still an attempt at an overblown, over the top rock album. That sort of thing these days ain't exactly in large supply, especially with the industry's budgets for albums shrinking all the time.

Pepsi had already wrote a FMS about the earlier days of the band (which I can't seem to find right now), so I thought that another one from later on in their career would be fitting, too. And also--as of the time of this writing and not being able to predict the future--this album seems like the band's trump card, that they've exhausted every card in the deck and had put all their chips in for one last gamble. Or in other words, you could say that the band's statement for this album, something like "one last shot at mass communication", may preface my speculations and point towards this being that last gamble at trying to unify everyone that they wished to. In fairness to the Manics, it's hard to combine politics and rock music, because rock music has typically been about simplicity and things that are easy to comprehend. It's usually been more about making noises that fit to the music---most people, when they sing along, just sort of make noises that fit, even if they don't know the words. The Manics have been an anomaly, because they've always wanted you to know the words.......and admittedly, sometimes rock n' roll just functions best on a primal level where you're inspired more by the overall sound, than what the message is. And to the Manics' credit, alot of bands have failed at properly getting audiences into some sort of proactive, social or political awareness. But sometimes it's as important to question the answers, and the Manics have never been ones to shy away from questioning what they've been told was right to accept.

It makes it all the more astonishing for the Manics that any band at about 20 years into their existence can make an album like this that flat out pulses with inspiration and invigoration. In some ways, it was the record that they were always destined to make, from their earlier glam rock days, through the harrowing darkness of "The Holy Bible", to the "Everything Must Go"/ "This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours" days, through the albums of varying quality since then. I have to give credit to the Manics, because most bands break up before they embrace a proper synopsis of their previous greatness that is informed by enough of a similarly weary but different world view. "Send Away The Tigers" is an amazing return to form for a band that was considered to be finished--albums like "Lifeblood" didn't do much to convince diehard fans that the band was on cruise control. "Journal For Plague Lovers" is a pretty good return to "The Holy Bible" type sound, and a good closing of the Richey chapter. Most of the tracks on this one have that huge, bombastic Queen/ ELO/ Beatles grandeur to 'em, slathered in strings and while that may be pretty cliche for them, when it's done well--as in the case of this record-- it always still has that magical quality to it.

The album starts off with "It's Not War Just The End Of Love", a huge majestic rocker that ascends to all the expected heights with the choruses and a massive James Dean Bradfield guitar solo in the middle, then feeds into the album's title track (which is probably this album's version of "A Design For Life"), closing out on the refrain with Bradfield reassuring us that he "...won't betray your confidence, this world will not impose it's will, I will not give up and I will not give in". "Some Kind Of Nothingness" is a more upbeat song--a duet with Echo and the Bunnymen's Ian McCullough (the first of two big guests on the album, the second being Duff McKagen on bass in "A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun"); eventually ending off in a repeated sunnier choral crescendo of strings and choir vocals. Highlights later in the album are "Auto Intoxication" with it's Neu! styled art rock emphasis (and excellent chorus with a shift into a slower tempo and more melancholy vibe with some space-y effects), and the aforementioned "All We Make Is Entertainment"--an excellent rocker closed out by a huge Brian May type guitar solo, with a more mellow verse, along with the Manics' atonement with themselves that maybe, in the end, they are primarily entertainers rather than political activists.

All the other tracks are great too, but with the risk of sounding redundant, it's safe to say that they're appropriately rocking, melancholic, or majestically inspiring in some way or another. Nothing detracts from the previous song, but they all move the album along well in pace and flow. You won't find anything quite as arena rocking as the "Generation Terrorists" or "Gold Against The Soul", though the rocker type songs do have a renewed ferocity to them that enhances the slower, feeling songs, without sounding too out of place or forced (something that "Send Away The Tigers" also does well, yet "Journal For Plague Lovers" sometimes sounds like they're trying to be a bit too aggressive or intimidating for the sake of intimidation). The early Manics' rock power sometimes dwarfed their slower songs, although they were always adept at combining the two extremes even then, and agreeing on something like "Motorcycle Emptiness".

Or you know, when I think of it, when we're talking about simplicity, perhaps Eddie Spaghetti and the Supersuckers summed being a rock band up best in "My Kickass Life", reflecting upon things about ten years into their career, on their version of an equally as revitalized album in "The Evil Powers Of Rock n' Roll":

"Through it all, I can see through the smoke and these lights....it's all bullshit baby, but I do it night after night after night after night, ah yeah"

-Ryan Settee

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Darkblack - Midnight Wraith

Midnight Wraith

The hipster town of Portland, Oregon, is not the place one might expect to find a metal band as straightforward, bullshit-free and traditional as Darkblack, but here we are. Midnight Wraith is five fist-raising, sword-swinging, fire-eating epic anthems that come on like hair metal, grunge, blackened death and whatever that shitty hip-hop/metal hybrid Limp Bizkit played never happened. Taking off from the sound of NWOBHM but giving it a gritty, American spin – analogous to 80s metal gods like Trouble and Cirith Ungol – Darkblack blazes through the firmament with knotty guitar riffs, thundering rhythms, squealing solos and a soaring vocalist just that side of intelligible. Power Monger, Golden Idol and the title track will make you want to buy a blue jean jacket just so you can sew Darkblack’s patch on it. Put these guys on tour with Iron Maiden or Metallica and watch the headbanging hoards fall to their knees in gratitude.

- Michael Toland

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Electricutions - Locked Gates / Lonely Roads
Big Neck

A tad more trad p'raps from Big Neck's backyard with this distinct blast of angularly jangly DC chaos. Nine songs & 21 minutes of rabid rough 'n' rumble righteous rancour & hell, ain't it about time somone started saying something more than politics is pants & the church's solace is incontinent. You could argue with the punk diaspora since Dischord's heydays it's a step backwards to revisit the old basements but that would bely the urgent intelligence offered here, as well as glory-trashes like Occupied and desparate piledrives like Radio Washington. Nay, I say nay, empty political prattle from some campus twat that heard California Uber Alles once or twice at some really 'out there' party & while it isn't maybe gonna (re)define your doctrines it more than merits a plug. Sounds like it was scratched out in a room, making The Clash seem big budget, so why not submit it to your own.
Stu Gibson

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Urban Junior - two headed demon
Voodoo Rhythm

More one man band adventures via the ever-vauntable VR vaults to shatter shelves alongside Schooley, King Automatic & the Rev Beatman himselvis & what an amusing multitude of mellifluous-massacring arousement it is. Superscuzz Sonics garage guitar swill with organ-agitational Beasties electro-scrunch for some supremely soddem (? sodden but sod-'em works as well) momentousness amid slight graceless garage gamut (man on the run) & electro-hash of the title track, but with the opening Panzer-klank hot shit from switzerland & gargantuan with the idiots via middle riff-manacles girl like you & mensch oder tier plus the cutest kiss-off final cut ever this sure is something to swing the heartache a million miles away to. One of the only times ever self-hype will out, for tis surely as the opener decrees, & you'll cleave Saturday's hangover with closing nursery rhyme we love urban jr.
Sturban Gibson Jr

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Spiritual Beggars - Return to Zero

Spiritual Beggars
Return to Zero

What with guitarist Michael Amott and bassist Sharlee D’Angelo’s main band Arch Enemy finding international stardom, keyboardist Per Wiberg joining Opeth and singer JB concentrating on his main gig Grand Magus, it’s a wonder Spiritual Beggars could get its shit together to make another album. But, five years after the last one, the Beggars are indeed back, boasting a new singer (Apollo Papathanasio of Firewind, who apparently has some time, since Firewind guitarist Gus G joined Ozzy Osbourne – ain’t heavy metal incestuous?) and a new LP. Return to Zero follows in the footsteps of the last couple of Beggars albums: brick-smashing 70s-style riffs tagteaming with 80s attitude, with plenty of leadfooted rhythms, generous guitar riffing and vocals so macho leather would be too wimpy for them. Kind of like Deep Purple crossed with Judas Priest. Pitched somewhere between Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan, Papathanasio sounds more comfortable with the classy power metal of Coming Home or the dreamy anthem Spirit of the Wind than with the brawny biker metal of We Are Free or the 80s flash of Concrete Horizon. But there’s nothing here that would set loyal Beggars fans off their feed, and fans of 70s/80s retro metal will find plenty to bang heads about as well.

- Michael Toland

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Astrosoniq - Quadrant

Exile On Mainstream

With one foot in the mud and the other kicking comets out of the way, Astrosoniq comes blasting out of the Netherlands with its third LP Quadrant. The band reaches for the stars, gulping acid by the fistful, but can’t seem to completely let go of its earthbound roots. Cloud of Decay, Downfall Lover and Play It Straight (quite) mix the swooshing propulsion of space rock with the dirtier slam of power rock, riding huge, jagged riffs and theatrical vocals that inspire more headbanging than navelgazing. Bloom adds some pedal steel and redneck rock & roll to the mix, as if the aliens landed in the middle of a Confederacy of Scum convention. Sin mixes acoustic guitars, a melancholy melody and an added dollop of sleaze. The acid does kick in, though, especially on the 14-minute As Soon As They Got Airborne, a freaky psychedelic anthem that shoots every arrow in Astrosoniq’s quiver and comes up aces (and spades). Pure cosmic crunch, emphasis on the sound of bones cracking.

- Michael Toland
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