Sunday, 11 December 2016

Metallica - Hardwired... To Self-Destruct (2016) / 83%

*Insert witty joke about Dave Mustaine here*

James and Lars are back in full force after the insanely fun train-wreck of Lulu and Hardwired is perhaps the best thing Metallica could had done in 2016. Say what you want about the quartet, they never gave up and they’re always willing to experiment and renew themselves. At this point, they just do what they want and they earned this right.

Considering Kirk lost all his riffs in an iPhone incident (how fucking dumb is he?), the whole album is a collaborative effort by Metallica’s eternal duo. The tall blond rhythm guitar god basically lifts the album to another level and the Danish tennis legend keeps things rooted in an efficient simplicity. Kirk is alright at times but he rarely has the place to shine and I’m not even sure Metallica has or even need a bassist. Use Robert’s skills, dammit.

This is a frustrating record since it's easy to identify what was necessary to make it a great one. The main faults are once again the overindulgence the quartet has and their complete lack of editing. This could be seen as the "old metal legend" syndrome as Priest and Maiden did it as well. Metallica's arch nemesis Megadeth's recent endeavors (except for Dystopia actually) sucked but for other reasons.

I thought Death Magnetic was a fine record plagued with a messy loud production but Hardwired managed to sound renewed without compromising the identity of Tallica. It's just four guys having fun playing a style of music they like and I believe this is the biggest strength of this album. The biggest metal band on Earth sounds confident, powerful and convincing. I have no issues with the production either, it’s heavy without being brick-walled.

One of the consensus that I've been seeing online is that it would had been a strong eight songs record and that most of the second disc is sort of weak. While I agree for the most part, I do think that the 12 songs (13 if we consider the new version of Lords of Summer as part of the record) are all solid and interesting. It’s just too much to take in.

The first disc is catchier and faster while the second has this groovy doom approach but the entire opus is cohesive in its sprawling length. This is a feat in itself since I feel this is a song based effort. A compilation of new material if you will. It's self contained well-written numbers of mostly 6-7-8 minutes alternating between the eras of the Californian icons. Mixing the rock sound of the Loads, the thrashy comebacks of Death Magnetic and a fair share of the groovy heavy metal of the self titled, Hardwired is ultimately a fun album with strong songwriting and diverse footings. Metallica never wrote an uninteresting album and that's one of the reasons they're metal's biggest band. This one is no exception.

-The Lovecraftian Alice in Chains-esque vibe of “Dream No More”.
-The excellent leads at the end of “Halo On Fire”.
-The aggressiveness and riffs of “Spit Out the Bone”
-James’ vocals
-The RJD medley on the bonus disc is awesome, especially "Tarot Woman".

CD1 85%
CD2 79%

Monday, 5 December 2016

Demontage – Fire of Iniquity (2016) / 90%

Not yet extinct

The best metal band from Toronto is back with their third album and the first since their fantastic 2010 opus The Principal Extinction. While I have certain reservations concerning this new record, it’s still one of 2016’s best moments and, in the end, was far from disappointing.

Based on the psychedelic and progressive tendencies of their previous work, I thought the trio were gonna keep exploring this path and go full bonkers. I mean, there’s still similar moments here like the glorious “Untame Iniquity” or “Cult of the Meteor” but I think the focus is elsewhere, it's perhaps a bit more rooted in metal than ever. The tracks are mostly shorter and punchier but they still include lot of epic heavy metal,possibly more than ever before. My reservations are purely personal since I really like when bands go all out and release meandering (in the best sense possible) pieces and it’s not what this album is about. Oh well, there’s still the new Cultes des Ghoules for crazy black/heavy metal if I want to hear such a thing! I guess that I considered this new record as a sort of stagnation but after a while, I kept hearing new subtle and intriguing details. It’s just much more dense and compact and is more surprising than you’d expect from a band with this aesthetic.

The production while still on the lo-fi side is a bit better than it was before. Regardless, I don’t want a thoroughly clean Demontage album like I wouldn’t want a Nuclear Blast produced Darkthrone album. The gruff style works well for them and is an essential part of their identity. They’re obscure minstrels from an old, mystic aura where metal was still embryonic and genres were blurry.

The musicianship is also one of the aspects that put Demontage over their peers, The Lout is a riff machine and an inspired vocalist who channels the chaotic evil gods of old and the Abominable Reverend pounds the drums like a raging madman. There’s no disposable moments here and the album’s flow is precise and balanced as they alternate between mid-paced insanity and fast-paced attacks with ease and experience. The guitars are the clear highlights of this full length, they do so much while keeping things neat and their sound is fully devoid of any gimmick and unnecessary fluff. Demontage is a band relying on extremely addictive leads played by a single guitarist who just hammers riffs after riffs like it's nothing. Furthermore, the additional keys here and there certainly add a certain epic flair but they were able to convey this grandiose feel with their usual metal lineup. Not unlike the masters of metal themselves, Manilla Road.

From the thrash attack of the appropriately named “Mad Thrasher” to the Dark Quarterer-esque instrumental conclusion of “Into the Fire”, Fire of Iniquity is a tour-de-force. It’s a challenging record successful at mixing a lot of traditional metal styles in one potent formula. The first wave black metal meets the Greek scene and pure heavy metal is just something that barely anyone else is playing nowadays. Demontage are just as good as Zemial and Agatus, two comparable bands and influences. At times, they could be seen as a crazier and more elaborate Venom as they’re full of spite but also quite thoughtful and intelligent. We have the best of both worlds. Metal is at its finest when there’s no pretension involved but also when primitive posturing is removed from the equation. One thing is certain though, Demontage still freaking rules.

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Snack Series - Sriracha Popcorn

The Snack Series :

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Popcorn by Pop Gourmet Popcorn

Price: $4.50 for a 127g bag. It was pricy but eh, the temptation was too strong to resist. The bag was bought at Bulk Barn alongside gummy bears, peanuts M&Ms, BBQ bits & bites, Oh Henry pieces and Reese pieces. Fuck off, it's Halloween and I wanted to make myself happy again.

Packaging/extra information
 : the bag is gorgeous. It looks like the Sriracha bottle with the green cork and the red body. If you're a fan of the popular hot sauce like I am, you'll notice the bag immediatly.

Texture: Well, it's popcorn and like it's written on the packaging, the color is natural and there's tiny bits of Sriracha flakes on the pop corn. It's high quality stuff.

Taste: If you have a cold, eat those. As it was expected, they're pretty damn spicy. I currently have the sniffles while I'm writing this review but I just can't stop eating them. Precise and identifiable, the Sriracha taste is in the spotlight.

Great but a bit too pricy. You could possibly make them yourself too but ehhhh, probably not worth the hassle.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Barrow Wight – Knights in Saurons Service (2016) / 79%

"Wicked men. Servants of Sauron. They are called to Mordor. The Dark One is gathering all armies to him. It won't be long now. He will soon be ready."

Barrow Wight is a band in constant evolution, maybe because except for Andrew (bass/vocals), their lineup has been grandly unstable or maybe that’s just what Middle-Earth metal deserves and Saruman keeps killing their drummers and guitarists. Anyhow, on their debut album released on the great Australian label Heavy Chains, the Canadian trio unleashed their strongest slab of material yet.

Even if this has the best production they ever had, Knights in Saurons Service (an homage to Kiss?) is still a primitive affair as far as heavy metal is concerned. The love for proto extreme metal is clearly in the center of those compositions but there’s an obvious depth found on this record. This can be heard in the “intro” mixing the atmosphere of Lord of the Rings with this cryptic and apocalyptic aura, there’s more than meets the eye on here.

The core of their sound are those super catchy short tracks like “No Sleep Till Gondor” or “The Cult”. They’re bangers full of the punk fueled heavy metal aggression of Venom, Motorhead and even Amebix. This approach combined with the lore of Tolkien works so well. They’re the exact opposite of Summoning but this universe is large enough for both sides of the spectrum to exist.

In my review for their 2014 EP, I said that there was a “certain will to push the boundaries of their agenda” and I was right. They’re starting to experiment with some slower tempos (“Grond” or the excellent “The Palantir”) and it pays off. There’s also some unorthodox moments like the The Doors keyboard break on the title track, this was an insane surprise. To round off their experimentation, there’s subtle nods to 80s goth rock here and there and this just adds to the experience. I think they’re not done experimenting with their blend of proto black metal and heavy metal, they’re still not daring enough!

Andrew’s vocals are blackened croaks and they often lack in power but they really fit the “don’t fuck with me” attitude of his bass licks (check out “Dwimmerlaik”!) No frills guitar riffs, thunderous drums and groovy headbanging is what you’ll get here. It’s not perfect yet but it’s really damn fun and that’s one of the reasons we listen to metal, right? They always give a good show too, they’re charismatic Canadian Hobbit bards who are at their most powerful on stage. Like “Grond” (a battering ram made to look like a wolf head by the Orcs”), the album shatters everything. After Bolt Thrower, it’s pretty much what the Uruk-hai would listen to to motivate themselves.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Ezra Brooks – Target Promo 2016 / 82%

Bourbon Whiskey infused with Arcane heavy metal

Originality in heavy metal is often hard to reach or achieve without losing the essential traits of the classic genre. To distinguish themselves from the masses, the artists must deliver a distinctive sound within the confines of the style, bands like Borrowed Time, Demon Bitch or even Darkthrone with The Underground Resistance managed to reinvigorate the genre. Ezra Brooks, with their debut release, successfully wrote fresh and exciting heavy metal made for connoisseurs.

The arcane heavy metal path is one I've been following for a while now. It's often mixed with doom and sword or sorcery (see Atlantean Kodex or The Gates of Slumber) or it's simply slower than your usual trad heavy metal. The main characteristic of this abstract sub genre would be the mix of high octane riffs and an occult and elegant atmosphere. The sole album of the aforementioned Borrowed Time or Howie Bentley’s Cauldron Born and Briton Rites are good examples of arcane trad metal. In Solitude’s Sister wouldn’t be a bad choice either. Emotional weight through uncompromising heavy metal riffing, basically. I believe that's what Ezra Brooks plays too.

Following the Canadian path created by Tales of Medusa (the last track is a cover of this mysterious band), Shawn Vincent wrote subtle but engaging metal with hooks and depth. Only joined by Jan Loncik, his companion in Hrom (power/speed/heavy), who handled the guitar solos, this is a one-man band project but with an interesting narrative.

I recently reviewed Lascaille Shroud's latest album and while we're in completely different territories musically, the science fiction story-line involving the character Ezra Brooks has the similar feel. This pulpy sci fi/fantasy setting works really well with the style, it’s fun without being saccharine and smart without being pretentious. There’s a cerebral edge to Ezra Brooks’ music but it’s never turning into a “progressive” mess.

The production is great and everything sounds good, I dig the guitar tone a lot. Nevertheless, there's still a definite will to make this sound timeless or unpolished and this what makes me really dig the approach. Vincent's voice is quite buried underneath the mix, he's not the most talented vocalist but the material is written and played with this in mind. The most important aspect of music is that you must know your strengths and weaknesses. His strength is writing tight epic riffs without unnecessary garnishes.

The material’s main inspiration is perhaps the ballsy sound of USPM but there’s nods to other scenes such as the early 80s German power scene. Considering Vincent is a bassist in his other two bands, the instrument certainly has a place of choice here but it’s not overbearing or anything. The drums could had been heavier and faster though but overall, it doesn’t feel like it’s only one dude at all. The longest track “Weilding the Mirrored Gauntlet (Escape The Labyrinth)” also has some synths elements adding a certain sci fi flair to this epic number without any cheese whatsoever.

2016 is a year with great heavy metal on the lo-fi side of the spectrum (check out Scalare, Barrow Wight or Angel Sword) and Ezra Brooks (the name of a Bourbon Whiskey brand!) definitely brings something interesting to the table. I’m pretty excited to hear the future releases.


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows (2016) / 89%

The International Armada of Southern Post-Metal

After the impressive one-song extended play The Cavern released two years ago, Inter Arma doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone. They’re one of the best american metal bands of their generation and their third full length will only solidify their status as a genre bending and untamable epic beast.

The first noticeable aspects of an album are always the artwork and the title and there’s a clear newfound identity found in the cover art of Paradise Gallows. Compared to Sundown or Sky Burial, it’s full of colours and could almost fit an indie rock band but the scene illustrated is bleak and ultimately fits the sound of Inter Arma. Compared to its artistic rendition, this album is far from being a shipwreck. It’s probably more the large rocky island in the background which is known for leading ships to their demise. Just like the crew of a well-managed ship, the songs on Paradise Gallows are fairly diverse but they learned to work well together to maintain the deck and ride the sea like no one else.

While somewhat sunnier than Sky Burial and overall perhaps softer, it’s still pretty heavy at times. The big Southern melting pot is the basis of their identity. They mix this depressive but warm and dirty sludge sound with healthy doses of black/death metal recalling the elusive Bölzer full of cavernous vocals but they keep things mid-paced or hellishly slow. Songs like the nine minutes “Transfiguration” bring forth the gloomy atmosphere while never losing the focus on tight and riff based metal. I guess we could say that their approach seems all over the place, right?

Maybe... but wait, there’s more! The combination of the massive Neurosis-like riffs with hints of funeral doom/death works quite well. The integration of psychedelic elements also feels natural (listen to the droney but catchy “The Summer Drones”) and there’s a slight nautical aspect to their compositions. It feels like you’re on the Atlantic, near the state of Virginia while listening to the darkest Nick Cave albums but your buddy suddenly plays his Eyehategod mix-tape on his boombox.

“Potomac” (speaking of said nautical feel) is this gorgeous instrumental song full of clean proggy guitar leads and piano and it’s a soft interlude before we’re served two extended heavy numbers.They’re all over the place with their styles of riffing and melodies but they’re surprisingly able to have a clear and solid direction while battling the intense waves made by the aggressive kraken.

Mike Paparo’s presence is outstanding in its richness and diversity. From the harsh yet deep black metal growls to the Mastodon-esque rough delivery of “Violent Constellations”, he’s a gifted metal singer. He’s also great at other styles including the tragically romantic vocals neo-folk of acoustic closer “Where the Earth Meets the Sky” and this sort of entrancing quasi spoken word (check out “Primordial Wounds”).

The guitars of Dalton and Russell range from megalodonian to intricate and psychedelic. This album is long (71 minutes) but it’s always inventive and spectacular. Their weaving of calmness and bludgeoning intensity has reached its peak on Paradise Gallows and the evolution of their sound since their 2010 debut has been an enjoyable process to follow. This is a great album.

Inter Arma on Facebook
I can't wait to see them Saturday in Montréal.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Mountain Dust, Zaum & Chronolith @Turbo Haus, September 30th 2016

Mountain Dust, Zaum & Chronolith @Turbo Haus, September 30th 2016

To end this warm month of September, I had to choose between three interesting gigs happening on the same evening. It wasn't an easy decision to make since I'm a big fan of Toronto's Demontage who were opening for DBC at the Piranha Bar and the Red Bull Academy drone gig seemed pretty attractive as well. In the end, I went with the style of music closer to my earth, doom metal. After a long commute to the south west of Montréal, I arrived in time to see the first band on the bill.

Chronolith are a fairly new local band and based on their singer, they play some form of sludge. I guess they do but they're not your usual run-of-the-mill sludge band. The guitar is fairly inventive and sometimes inflicts ethnic influenced leads with a progressive precision and the bass was quite loud with a clean and heavy sound. They're not the dirty, heroin-addicted style of sludge, they belong to the psychedelic school that Kylesa used to teach at. On some of their songs, they had a violinist who added some richness to their sound and it wasn't too dissimilar from what SubRosa are offering us. The singer was pretty generic and didn't offer much as far as stage presence is concerned but maybe he wasn't feeling well that night. Anyhow, I liked their compositions and I'm looking forward to their studio releases.

ZAUM: The duo from Moncton are about to release their second full length (once again on Sweden's I Hate Records) and they decided to do a short two dates Québec trip before going overseas to play a massive European tour. The metropolis was to first to host those two bearded gentlemen and they didn't disappoint. They opened with "Influence of the Magi" the first side of Eidolon, their new album, an extended twenty minutes track full of twists and turns before playing two older tracks. Zaum consists of drummer Chris Lewis and bassist/singer Kyle McDons and those two guys are able to convey an impressive sense of mighty power with their interesting formula. McDons is using a wide array of pedals and his abilities exceed the comprehension of mere mortals such as myself. He's also a sound engineer so he knows exactly what to do to make his project sound great. Decorated with their numerous personalized candles, the stage was blown to bits by the subtle yet captivating red lights emanating from underneath Lewis' drums and the whole setting really managed to give the necessary aura their middle-eastern influenced approach to doom metal needs. Thunderous, simple but not lo-fi, Zaum are all in and they always deliver the slow, tasteful goods.

Previous reviews of Zaum: Oracles (2014) and Himalaya To Mesopotamia (2015)

Mountain Dust are perhaps Montréal's current best rock band and they closed the evening. I had to miss their album release gig so I really wanted to see them play their new songs live and it wasn’t disappointing. The quartet plays heavy rock with an amalgam of influences from diverse eras. You get the lap steel from the blues or country scene, the keys from the Deep Purple and the presence of guitarist/singer Brendan Mainville can recall everything from the grunge era to the early proto hard rock days of the 60s. Speaking of this decade, the band did a fantastic super heavy cover of The Doors’ “Waiting For the Sun”. The dudes are all coming from a metal or hardcore background so there’s this added heaviness to their vintage rock and it’s highly fun to hear and watch. It’s authentic without sounding like a pale copy of your dad’s record collection

Review of their debut album Nine Years