Monday, 11 May 2020

Ruffles Cheeseburger Snack Review

Ah, what's better than some new Ruffles flavours to survive the Covid-19 pandemic? Beer. Yes, probably beer but something better than Budweiser who aligned themselves with Ruffles. PBR isn't better than Budweiser but it's the cheap beer I had in the fridge. I'm not gonna waste good beer. Released alongside the Hot Wings flavour, can the Cheeseburger appease my anxiety? (the answer is no)

Now, for the first time ever in a chips review, here's some social commentary. The whole marketing angle of Ruffles Canada for those two flavours is targeted at "men' who likes hot wings and cheeseburger with beer while watching SPORTS and it's frankly boring and retrograde. It's 2020, guys. Girls can like shit snacks too. The catchphrase on the back of the bag saying "get together with the buds" that's then translated to "rassemblez-vous entre gars" (get together with the boys) is sexist and unnecessary. The burger on the artwork looks juicy though...but putting a pint of Budweiser on the bag itself is a bit tacky.

The same as the usual Ruffles, there's some spots/spices to differentiate them from the other sorts though. The Ruffle chips is a legendary shape that you don't change.

Ok. Even if I slapped the whole bag in like fifteen minutes, I don't think they were good. The fact I'm having heartburn right now has nothing to do with it. The bag says "flame grilled, juicy authentic cheeseburger" and if they mean hints of ketchup, relish, mustard with a fake ground beef taste, it's pretty accurate. The aftertaste is not optimal either. It tastes like the idea of what a cheeseburger should taste like based on what an otherworldly but inapt being guessed. Maybe drinking both a PBR and some Arizona green tea while devouring the bag wasn't a good idea though but that's on me. Releasing those chips wasn't the best idea either. Stick to All Dressed or BBQ for Ruffles, guys.


Thursday, 16 April 2020

Christian Mistress – To Your Death (2015) / 95%

Subtle Heavy Metal Escapism

Traditional heavy metal is not the simplest music style to play. Far from it, in fact. It takes a lot of heart to create some everlasting and outstanding music in a style that has been one of the basis of the whole metal genre for over forty years. As a benchmark example, Iron Maiden’s self titled debut just turned forty years old this week and it still shines bright due to its timeless quality. Furthermore, I do think that it takes a lot of knowledge to craft something worthwhile in that ageless genre too. A quasi encyclopedic knowledge of all the twists and turns of heavy metal is often required to be able to distinguish itself from the hungry pack. The best heavy metal bands are sometimes savants wearing arcane tomes on their patched vests but their influences don’t just remain on their sleeves. They’re being fully digested till they’re excreted into far from feckless matter.

America has a few of those bands capable to be pack leaders but in my eyes, the best ones are the tranquil types. They’re people who could care less about notoriety, personal fame and the likes. Bands such as Magic Circle, Demon Bitch and yes, Christian Mistress. To me, the West Coast band is one of the most important modern American heavy metal bands. Now on hold, three-fifths of the band is now involved in the excellent and oddly named Quayde LaHüe. Except for the fact that both bands are lead by powerful women and both play heavy metal, they’re pretty dissimilar in both their approach and established sonority. Quayde LaHüe are more into pure hard rock and are a bit more conventional. On the other hand, Christian Mistress are one of the few idiosyncratic bands playing a traditional take on metal. They have enough peculiarities and personalized details to stand their own against anyone. On their hopefully temporary swansong, the quintet was truly let loose.

Surely, you can immediately hear a few bands such as the best of the best from NWOBHM such as Angel Witch, the aforementioned Maiden or Judas Priest but there’s a lot of pure Americana in their sound. Their songs are about the great outdoors, the vast roads of North America, liberty or freedom that comes with emancipation or even death and those are themes easily associated with the United States. Heavy metal is rarely a subtle affair, it usually demands high energy and robust and daring instrumentation and while it’s certainly the case here. It’s permanently gutsy but there’s an irrevocable distinctive charm with Christian Mistress, there’s some hidden mysteries in their music and it takes several spins to uncover them. There’s more than meets the eye with them. It reminds me of, I don’t know, Bruce Springsteen hanging out with ZZ Top and Joan Jett who suddenly discovered Slough Feg and Diamond Head. There’s a lot of spirit and a puzzling but captivating blend of influences in their music.

The vocals of lead vocalist Christine Davis are phenomenal to me, she sounds honest but unhinged and there’s a warmth power to her blunt clean method. She sounds pissed off but at the same time, she invites you to follow her in her misanthropic call for freedom. Davis sounds like an enchantress in “Lone Wild”, there’s uncompromising power in her performance. She’ll bewitch you, for damn sure. Alongside Annick Giroux (Cauchemar), Elizabeth Davis (Castle), Mandy Martillo (Satan’s Hallow, Midnight Dice) or Stacey Peak (Savage Master), she embodies the power of women in today’s heavy metal
and does it with grace and valor.

The guitars of Tim Diedrich and Oscar Sparbel (not a German band by the way) are tight and recalls the mightiness of the Murray/Smith seminal duo. A traditional metal band is only as good as its riffs and leads and there’s plenty of great ones to find here. The second track “Stronger Than Blood” has plenty to like. I prefer my heavy metal to be rather slow and chunky and that’s what Christian Mistress mostly plays. They’re also pretty damn excellent at being faster and to the point on tracks such as “Open Road” of the bonus and title track “TYD”. I like when riffs have the time to breathe and let the vocals come out beautifully. There’s a great cohesion in their songwriting and the compromises between everyone involved is apparent.
The drums of Reuben Storey are bread and butter and the bass of Johnny Wulf is high enough in the mix to be one of the highlights at time (wonderful in the epic “Ultimate Freedom”)

They’re not the sort of band that will astonish you with their musicianship for the sake of it. I mean, they definitely have skills and that’s undeniable but they’re songwriters through and through. Their heavy metal is deliberately blurring the line between distinguished and raw. it’s smart, unique and has a lot of complexity hidden under layers of simplicity. They're mature musicians and most of their songs are compact five to six minutes compositions and they offer a wide variety of moods from escapism to exquisite ass kicking.

To Your Death, just like their previous two albums, explores humanity through its emotions with talent and conviction. Christian Mistress belongs to no scenes, they never surfed on trends. They’re the leaders of their own wolf pack and I hope that they’ll be back. This band and this album defines what I like in modern heavy metal. A focus on raw songwriting with strong influences but also an original re-reading of the past with a timeless attitude.

Christian Mistress on Bandcamp

In this pandemic period of our lives where we stay at home and all the gigs are either cancelled or reported, I had a burst of nostalgia for when I saw Christian Mistress play the third edition of the extremely good Wings of Metal festival (rest in peace) here in Montréal.

Christian Mistress wasn’t originally on the lineup but when Evil Spirit from Germany cancelled their appearance, they were booked to replace them. I remember being really excited when Annick Giroux, the curator of the fest, told me the news. This seems like it was yesterday. Seeing metal gigs at the now permanently closed Katacombes. Life is ever-changing.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Ranking the Beast! Iron Maiden //// 1980 to 2015! ////

Maiden's classic lineup. From left to right: Bruce Dickinson, Dave Murray, Nicko McBrain, Adrian Smith & Steve Harris.

I'm home, alone and bored so I decided to rank Iron Maiden's entire studio discography while blasting their albums all day. Follow me into Maiden's world...but at a respectable distance, please...

16. Virtual XI (1998)

I do think this is the truly only bad Iron Maiden record. The shorter songs are lame and the longer ones like The Clansman and The Angel and the Gambler in particular are the most repetitive numbers they ever did. Both soporific Harris tracks that repeat the same lyrics ad nauseam like “Don’t you think I’m a saviour/Don’t you think I could save you/Don’t you think I could save your life...” till you die or boredom.

Blaze Bayley is the Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels) of this whole affair. While not entirely blameless as his performance is underwhelming, I see him more as a victim of the bad songwriting of band leader Steve Harris. There’s some good riffs and leads from Murray and Gers here and there but not enough redeeming factors to make this a decent album. It’s the only Iron Maiden album I don’t know own, I’ll probably buy it one day for the sake of completion only...

Favourite track: Uhh? I don't know, man.

15. No Prayer for the Dying (1990)

The Maiden album that was released the year I appeared in this world isn’t totally worthless at all despite some of what people say. After Adrian Smith’s departure and Janick Gers’ arrival, Harris and company went in a more streamlined and hard rock-esque direction. Judging with Bruce Dickinson’s facial expressions in the promo pictures, not everyone were happy with that decision. While not a particularly intriguing, original or memorable album, there’s some good moments such as
Harris’ “The Assassin” and “Mother Russia” and the epic “Bring Your Daughter...To the Slaughter” which was originally a Dickinson track for one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Compared to Fear of the Dark, No Prayer for the Dying is a more direct album but it doesn’t have the same quality in its songwriting. This would had been a forgotten album if would had been released by anyone else than Maiden.

Favourite track: "Mother Russia"

14. The X Factor (1995)

The first album with Blaze Bayley turned out to be the only decent one he’ll do with the band during his short tenure as Maiden’s singer. The X Factor (X since it’s their tenth record) is a dark album with some brilliant songwriting such as “Sign of the Cross” or “The Aftermath but ultimately it’s a cluttered and overlong album.
It’s also hard to retain yourself from wishing that Bruce Dickinson should had been there despite Bayley’s more than competent performance. I also always liked Janick Gers as a composer. He brings subtlety and intelligence to the band and always did.

As Iron Maiden’s first seventy minute release, it’s the album that started that trend of wanting to put too much on their records. Nonetheless, it’s still much better than its shorter brother.

Favourite track: "Sign of the Cross"

13. The Final Frontier (2010)

The Final Frontier is their most uneven modern album. It’s overlong with its seventy-six minutes rundown and it’s hardly justified. It’s saved by some quality songwriting such as the quick “The Alchemist” or the excellent epics “Starblind” and “The Talisman” but weaker moments like the Harris-penned snoozefest closer “When the Wild Blows” makes this the weaker Maiden since they’re active as a sextet. 

Still, I have fond memories of that album as I saw them for the first in 2010 when the record was about to be released. They only played El Dorado and focused more on Brave New World and Dance of Death alongside a plethora of classics.

Favourite track: "The Talisman"

12. The Book of Souls (2015)

The latest Maiden release is the only one I actually reviewed in details so go read the full thing here. Despite some grandiose moments, it’s the weakest of their last five albums that came after Bruce’s comeback. The double album is overlong (that’s redundant to write) and shows the band not caring about editing their thoughts at all.

The album could had been pretty strong with only its four longest tracks (Dickinson’s “If Eternity Should Fail’ and “Empire of the Clouds”, its title track and one of the best Harris epics “The Red and the Black”), this would had been a great fifty minutes record but alas!

The shorter tracks are mostly forgettable (some are pretty good like “Man of Sorrows” though) and don’t add much to Maiden’s discography so it’s not as strong as it could have been. Old man Bruce sounds really great on this record too.

Favourite tracks: "If Eternity Should Fail" and "The Red and the Black"

11. Fear of the Dark (1992)
Like James Bond’s GoldenEye, this is the only truly good Maiden album released during the 1990s. While I always thought this had spectacular songs, I also found the album to be cluttered by fillers. My opinion changed a bit recently as I started to like tracks such as “Childhood’s End” that I didn’t really dig before. I still wish the album was tighter and some songs such as the clunky rocker “Weekend Warrior” could had been removed to put it in the 45-50 minutes ballpark.

The Dickinson/Gers duo shines in the songwriting department with the outstanding rapid fire opener “Be Quick or Be Dead” and one of Maiden’s only ballad “Wasting Love”. While the singalong title track is almost as overplayed as “Hallowed be Thy Name”, it’s still pretty damn good. There’s a kind of intricacy that the band will develop further when Bruce will come back but at that time, it was to be the swansong of the air raid siren as he left Maiden to focus on his solo career.

Favourite track: "Wasting Love"

10) The Number of the Beast (1982)
One of the seminal Maiden albums and the first with Bruce after Paul Dianno’s departure suffers immensely from its success. Its best tracks such as the title track but particularly “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and the catchy “Run to the Hills” are overplayed songs that I can’t really listen anymore. Combined with the fact that the album has noticeable fillers such as “Invaders”, “Gangland” or the b-side added to the 1998 remaster (which is the version I heard the most as a thirty year old dude) “Total Eclipse”, Number is simply an overrated album and Maiden’s weakest of their superb 1980s run. The power of some of its tracks is undeniable live though, especially “Hallowed...”.

Favourite track: "Children of the Damned" (nowadays)

9) Piece of Mind (1983)
The second album with Bruce Dickinson is a mixed affair. On one hand, it has two some of the best 80s track with “Where Eagles Dare”, “Flight of Icarus” and the massive hit “The Trooper” but on the other hand, there’s “Die With Your Boots On”, “Quest For Fire” or “Sun and Steel”, some of their weakest ones. I’m a big fan of the Dune epic “To Tame a Land” though
and I wish they’d play it live during their modern era. Maybe with Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune movie, they will? In the end, Piece of Mind turned out to be an unequal and transitional album for the quintet before the golden trilogy that followed it.

Favourite track: "To Tame a Land"

Maiden's lineup after Adrian Smith's departure in 1989. Janick Gers is between McBrain and Harris.

8) A Matter of Life and Death (2006)

Released a week before I started my last year of high school, AMOLAD definitely has a special place in my heart but it also has some super strong songwriting. Outside of the quick opener “Different World” which is quite ordinary, I like all the songs here but especially the jewels “Brighter than a Thousand Suns”, “For the Greater Good of God” and “The Legacy”. All those tracks are around eight and nine minutes and are some of the finest “progressive” writing the band ever did.

The biggest downfall of the album is the fact it was
n’t mastered on purpose to give it a “live” feel. While I can understand that decision, it just makes the album feel unfinished. That and the fact the middle of the album is somewhat weak is why I can’t rank it over its two predecessors. I remember playing that album for my dad in the car and he said something like “that dude definitely sounds great for his age” and he does. Bruce forever.

Favourite track: "For the Greater Good of God"

7) Killers (1981)
The last record to feature Paul Di’anno always felt like a weaker brother to the self titled debut. It’s a very good record but some of the rockier influences lose me a bit. It does mark the arrival of Maiden’s best guitarist in Adrian Smith though! It’s an aggressive album and I think it lacks nuance compared to both its predecessor and the other 1980s albums. It compensates with a ballsy semi punk attitude and strong straightforward compositions. It's still a classic moment in NWOBHM but the best was to come.

Favourite tracks: “Genghis Khan” and “Killers”

6) Brave New World (2000)

The triumphant return of both Bruce and Adrian
led to a return to form in the year 2000. It’s crazy to think that it’s already two decades ago... Brave New World is an expansive album full of twists and turns and a very dynamic feel. It has some of their more diverse compositions from the sentimental “Blood Brothers” to the ethnic/world music aspects of “The Nomad”, there’s a bit of everything on there.
The album is at its strongest in the middle with “Dreams of Mirrors” and “Fallen Angel” but I was always a bit left on my appetite with the two last numbers (“Out of the Silent Planet” and “The Thin Line Between Love And Hate”), they’re not displeasing but not on the same level as the highs of the album.

Favourite track: “Dream of Mirrors” for his unforgettable chorus.

5) Dance of Death (2003)

The worst thing about Dance of Death is obviously its unfinished artwork left uncredited because Dave Patchett (known for his outstanding work with fellow Brits Cathedral) obviously didn’t want known for that atrocious rough computerized draft. The music itself is excellent, it features one of the best mix between shorter heavier tracks such as “Rainmaker” or “Montségur” or longer numbers like “Dance of Death”, “Paschendale” or the gorgeous acoustic and orchestral number “Journeyman”. It has a pretty unique atmosphere too, it's mature heavy metal played by masters of their own peculiar style.

There’s contribution from everyone and it includes drummer Nicko McBrain’s sole songwriting credit with “New Frontier”. The trio of Dickinson/Smith/Harris and the duo of Harris/Gers definitely wrote the best things on there though.
This is best Maiden’s best “newer” album even if it’s older than any kids in high school...

Favourite track: “Dance of Death” with its distinguished lead guitars.

Dance of Death booklet band picture

4) Iron Maiden (1980)

The debut of the legends is hella strong.
It has some of my favourite Maiden songs and for a 1980 record, it’s really really diverse just like Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny was four years prior. Maiden’s first epic “Phantom of the Opera” is outstanding, the ballad “Strange World” features Paul Di’anno at his top and the quick tracks like “Prowler”, “Running Free” and the title track are pure heavy metal fun. The instrumental “Transylvania” is also bloody incredible too.

This laid the foundations of the band while being a totally unique album on its own and that’s a rare thing to see in metal.

Favourite song: "Phantom of the Opera"

Iron Maiden in 1980. From left to right, Dave Murray, Clive Burr, Paul Di'anno, Dennis Stratton & Steve Harris.

The Golden Trilogy

3) Somewhere In Time (1986)

Fully embracing synths and sci fi, Somewhere In Time is a tremendous album by a band at the peak of their abilities. It sounds somewhat dated now in 2020 but placed in its historical timeline, it’s an important album in terms of scope and vision. It did a lot for progressive metal as we know it today (see Fates Warning, Shadow Gallery, early Dream Theater...)

It’s an album dominated by the vision of both Adrian Smith and usual main songwriter Steve Harris, they basically shared songwriting duties and both of their sides are great. Apparently, Bruce wanted a more acoustic direction but was overruled by the rest of Maiden. Things would had been different!

To me, this is Maiden’s busiest album, it’s almost exhausting to listen to. Harris’ bass is loud, McBrain is all over the place, there’s a lot of synths but damn, the compositions are compact and tight.
At times, this feels like beefed up AOR and it’s wonderful.

Despite Harris’ book report lyrics, “Alexander the Great” is one of those great Maiden epics and only rivalled by “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

Favourite song: "Alexander the Great"

Band picture during the Somewhere In Time era

2) Powerslave (1984)

The 2
nd album of Maiden’s classic lineup (Harris, Smith, Murray, McBrain and Dickinson), Powerslave is as gigantic as the pyramid on its artwork. The 1984 classic has some of their best hits in “Aces High” and “2 Minutes to Midnight” and features phenomenal songwriting and musicianship by a band at the top of their abilities. 

Powerslave was the last vanguard of true heavy metal before the apparition of thrash, death and black metal in the 2nd half of the decade and it has all the required tricks and more. Strong instrumental track: check. A super heavy singalong banger (title track): check. An epic conclusion: check! In fact, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was their longest song till the release of The Book of Souls half a decade ago...

Powerslave’s best qualities are its intensity and its epic scope both included in a palpable fifty minutes masterpiece. It's possibly their most influential album as well, you can hear odes and homages to it in both USPM and European heavy/power metal but not many bands come close to it.

Favourite Track: "Powerslave". It has Maiden’s best riff.

The band in 1988

1) Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

The last 1980s Maiden record and the last to feature to classic lineup, Seventh Son is also my favourite record by the British legends. It’s Maiden at their smartest and most intriguing. Dickinson is full in force after no songwriting credit on SIT and his contributions are pure fire, particularly “Moonchild” written with Smith.

It’s Maiden at their peak at everything. This album has the best vocals, the best sound of their 1980s run and the best compositions. It also has my all-time favourite track from theirs in “The Clairvoyant” and its maddening chorus.

There's a time to live and a time to die,
when it's time to meet the maker?
There's a time to live but isn't it strange
that as soon as you're born you're dying?”

People shit on the single “Can I Play With Madness” but damn, it’s a catchy pop heavy metal song in an album full of darker, melancholic numbers such as “The Evil That Men Do”. Overall, this is a perfect album and ends the golden age of heavy metal in a spectacular way.

Favourite tracks: “The Clairvoyant” and the occult epicness of the title track

Thank you for reading! Iron Maiden is an important band for every metal fan (or should be!) and it was fun to come back to the basics in this difficult era. Staying home all day while blasting Maiden was definitely an easy but marvelous decision. Y’all should do the same. If I made you listen to one of their records then I'll be happy.

They're a band with distinct and diverse eras and like fellow metal giants Metallica or Judas Priest, they were able to keep a relatively stable throughout their history. The changes that happened shaped the band into what it is. Low points in a career are normal, it's how you rise again that defines the quality of a band. While not everyone shares the appreciation I do for their later albums, Iron Maiden didn't content themselves with mediocre attempts at rewriting the same olde formulas, they tried to push their musicality somewhere and managed to expand their horizons.

They're also still one of the best live bands in the world despite being in their sixties. I'll surely go back to see them when live gigs are gonna be a thing again. You never know when such legends decide to call it quits. I'm still mad I never saw Rush live.

Up the Irons!
-Your quarantined host, Antoine

Monday, 13 April 2020

Caskets Open – Concrete Realms of Pain (2020) / 78%

Balls to the Wall

The Finnish trio are really starting to become an entity of their own with their fourth album. While But You Rule, their 2010 debut album lacked most of the punk elements of their later efforts, their followups explored those areas in more details. Concrete Realms of Pain, their debut on Poland’s Nine Records (known for releasing quality doom such as Acolytes of Moros, Mansion or Lucifer’s Fall) shows the band moving forward in both experience and songwriting chops.

The main element that I always found displeasing in their albums is the inability to truly make a cohesive album while still incorporating the plethora of elements they want to include. I do believe this fourth full length is more successful at achieving that particular balance of sounds but it's still bothering me.

Ah yes, to give some context as to what the band plays... Imagine a long table where Glenn Danzig meets up with Albert Witchfinder who’s obviously tired of talking about trad doom and the newly revived corpse of Peter Steele who’s hiding a copy of his Playgirl issue to remember the good old times. At the other side of the table, Chandler argues with both Wino and Reagers about what Vitus era was the best. There’s also a bunch of punks in the parking lot drinking beer and not caring about the meeting.

Compared to their debut or To Serve the Collapse, the traditional doom elements are downplayed here. The opener “Four Shrines” almost cleanses the whole album from slow doom once its six minutes duration is done but there’s some other slower moments such as the first half of “White Animal”. It’s a good and bad way to start the album as it doesn’t exactly shows us the way the whole album will treat us. While still first and foremost a doom band, the whole thing is faster and streamlined for the most part. It also has the best production of their career, it’s as muscular as the bloke on the artwork.

This is how you do a tough guy album to be honest. Riffs solid as bricks, a booming unhinged bass and fast, thundering drums. No useless posturing, breakdowns or unnecessary elements, just balls of steel on the wall of the dungeon/gym. Speaking of manly, the vocals of Ketola are gruff and with the right amount of venomous might to bridge the chasm between doom and punk, mixing Danzig and trad Finn doom. Caskets Open aren’t a subtle band at all, voluntarily on the nose is their main objective and it works fine.

Overall, this is an enjoyable slab of beefy doom/punk but once again, the lack of cohesiveness and the tendency to want to do too much blurs the results. Sometimes, it’s better to focus on making one thing extremely well. I tried a mac and cheese pizza the other day and while I love both on their own, it wasn’t a resounding success mixed together.


Thursday, 2 April 2020

Caronte – Wolves of Thelema (2019) / 88%

Sleazy & Occult Cultists

I discovered the Italian quintet with this album and I’m glad I did. I think I brushed them off as another insipid doom/stoner band at first and I couldn’t be more wrong. Caronte approaches doom from many interesting avenues and always goes for the jugular with their passionate darkened take.

Mixing the larger than life Elvis memorial presence of Glenn Danzig with the English romanticism of Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost, their lead singer Dorian Bones (“Big sunglasses, cool band” - Fenriz) drives the band to another echelon. His gruff clean vocals intertwined momentarily with some harsher moments are reminiscent of Alan Averill (Primordial) at times too. It’s epic and uncompromising. He sounds like a high priest leading a procession and you know it will end up bloody as hell. They’re the doom equivalent of Luciferian unorthodox black metal, it’s good to know that you can always count on the Italians to be the most blasphemous. It must be the influence of the Vatican.

Taking cues from the now death occult rock movement and in particular from The Devil’s Blood (perhaps the best band from that whole wave, to be fair), the Italians focus on the esoteric and the dark magicks to great results. Spiritually closed to Black Oath, the best modern Italian traditional doom band, Caronte aren’t static in their doom explorations. From blackened doom to aggressive post-punky rock (it has some Beastmilk vibes), they’re happy to provide a plethora of different paints to their doomed palette. It’s mostly black though, let’s be honest. Like the golden chimera (part Lion, part dragon, part goat etc), it’s a multifaceted entity taking the strongest features of every creatures. I do think they’re a bit unfocused at times though but I do admire their willingness to navigate a lot of diverse seas.

The duel guitars provide an interesting atmosphere and considering they’re a live band too, it’s necessary to deliver the complexity of their mood swings. They’re musically intense and their eight songs are packed to the brim. They’re a band that got tighter and tighter in the songwriting department throughout the years. 2014’s Church of Shamanic Goetia had ten minutes songs and was one hour long. It seems they’re over that formula with Wolves of Thelema. They got less into stoner metal too while retaining their shamanic preaching and strong riffs.

If you like your metal dark, esoteric and with a blasphemous sleazy attitude, Caronte are your dudes.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Freeways - True Bearings (2020) / 87%

Freeways are finally here with their debut full length and I was anxious to hear it after I’ve listened to their Cold Front (2017) extended play way too many times. For those unfamiliar with the Canadian band, it was formed by the two key members of progressive thrashers Droid (worth checking out if you’re into Voivod, Mekong Delta, or Vektor) but they explore something entirely different with Freeways.

Based on what I know of Jacob Montgomery (vocals, guitar) and Sebastian Alcamo (drums), they’re true metal/rock connoisseurs and they know their stuff very well. It’s definitely reflected in the way the album is composed as it’s able to incorporate a lot of different influences in a seamless manner. Joined by Domenic Innocente (guitar) and Amar Amrith (bass), Freeways is a complete unit ready to rock your socks. Even though they’re definitely not exploring untamed musical areas, the Brampton, Ontario quartet are able to distinguish themselves from the pack by their picks of influences. Not a lot of twenty-something dudes are ready to show their love for Thin Lizzy, Blue Öyster Cult, or Budgie, they’re usually more prone to worship Black Sabbath and call it a day…

The big difference between Cold Front and True Bearings is that the band has lost some of the urgency and compact tightness the EP had in favor of a more detailed and smooth sort of songwriting. The EP was a tight affair with songs ranging from 3:30 to 4:15 minutes but they unleashed some longer numbers on the LP – “Time is No Excuse” is almost 7 minutes and it’s excellent.
I’m usually all for grand and epic songwriting (my favourite Rush record is still 2112, you know) but it took me a while to get on board that slight style change. Freeways still had the same heart and catchiness so I finally still fell in love with them again. They took risks and it was a good move. Cold Front has an 18 wheeler on the cover, it’s a fast and strong vehicle while True Bearings has a RV/camper on it, it’s more subtle and it’s perhaps more comfortable in the long run! That’s perhaps the last time I’ll use trucks to make a musical comparison, thanks Freeways!
The guitars are written exceptionally well and played with unparalleled talent for the genre. From the classical guitar bits of “Battered & Bruised” to the metallesque opening riffs of “Eternal Light, Eternal Night”. The instrumentation is rich and varied for such a genre (great keys on “Sorrow (Was Her Name)” and the production is able to compromise between a modern and a retro approach to great success. It’s dynamic, melodic and it’s just damn memorable. It takes you on a ride of feels and different moods, from soulful to driven, to dark and light. I do think they could be even more epic and unleash ten plus minutes songs but that’s perhaps best kept for the future or for bands like Syrinx.
Montgomery also sounds more confident in his clean vocals abilities here. While he’s not the most powerful singer and he’s a guitarist first and foremost if I remember correctly, he’s able to convey many emotions through his voice and doesn’t sound like most people. He’s also very capable live, I have great memories of seeing Freeways during the Trapped Under Ice tour alongside the top of Canadian trad metal (Barrow Wight, Cauchemar, Metalian, Occult Burial) and for me, they were the second best band of that evening as well (I’m insanely in love with Cauchemar).
I’d say that the main strength of Freeways is the ability to be a “retro” band and doesn’t sound like one of them in particular. There’s no pale copying here, just well written original homages to their 70s heroes. I feel Freeways are apt at bringing their blend of enthusiastic and melancholic hard rock to metal fans who are craving some AOR to go with their current black/death/thrash/doom diet. Alongside a band like Hällas, Freeways are ready to make us love vintage rock again.

Originally published on Ride Into Glory.