Friday, 18 December 2015

Baroness – Purple (2015) / 91%

Motherfucking Mace Windu would be proud!

After the ambitious Yellow & Green (2012) and their tragic accident, John Baizley and Baroness decided to streamline their sound and come back to the structure of Blue Record (still perhaps their best record as far as I'm concerned) and it was for the best as Purple is a grand record and a testament to the band leader of putting adversity behind him and move forward.

The main draw for this album is the automatic enjoyment you'll receive when you'll hear it, it's catchy as hell. Not that Y&G wasn't but it was more subdued and harder to grasp due to its somewhat tedious format. It all starts with the sludgey “Morningstar” before going to many places. I've rarely heard an album this varied that keeps things so focused and condensed. From their typical sludge rock to grungey accessible rock of the highest quality you can find, “ If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)” is absolutely stunning. Baizley's vocals also never been that good, his delivery is excellent and there's a truly memorable urgency to his voice (see “Try to Disappear”). There's an hetfieldian influence (no wonders “Tallica likes them) and it's awesome. Long gone are the days where they use harsh vocals but they're not needed anymore, their sound has evolved into something else, something not as “red”, something more hopeful. They still have loud guitars, good riffs (“Desperation Burns) but it's possibly heavier than Yellow (the heaviest half of their predecessor) and I mean, it should be after what happened to them. Music is always therapeutic (for the musicians and the fans alike) and it's obvious that the writing process was influenced by their bus accident.

When I called on my nursemaid
Come sit by my side
But she cuts through my ribcage
And pushes the pills deep in my eyes
Baroness has always been a highly intricate band and has been known to push the limits of the traditional metal or rock instrumentation and it's the case here as well. The drums are inventive, there's almost a Christmas bells influence on the aforementioned closer “If I have to Wake Up” and this is appropriate since the album was released in December! There's this shoe gaze/dream pop intro to “Chroline & Wine” and a wide range of rock influences ranging from hard rock to alternative rock. The interlude “Fugue” is basically R&B and it's glorious! They even channel their inner Thin Lizzy and unleash some solid licks. There's not a lot of bands who are successful at integrating the mainstream rock scene while retaining their identity, Baroness did it and they're now on the verge of stardom. They're hard working, super talented and with a clear and distinguished identity. In my eyes, their transition towards a rockier and more accessible sound was even more outstanding than Opeth's (a band with a similar progressive ability).

The guitars are singing their songs and I'm surprised by the amount of hope and 
positivity this record has, it's not always dark and this speaks wonders about John's thought process. Keeping the usual Baroness aesthetic (naked women, flowers, birds), the quartet has released another strong album, their fourth in a row.

Risen Prophecy - Into the Valley of Hinnom (2015) / 81%

The prophecy that will bring balance to metal?

...well, maybe not but it's not still super cool metal!

These Brits sure like their metal American and it's certainly a good thing. Their second full length was a late 2015 surprise for me, I wasn't expecting much as I thought the cover art was a bit silly (done by Jowita Kamińska, co-head of their label Metal on Metal) but this freaking rocks. Composed of four songs ranging from 6 to 11 minutes and 2 short instrumentals acting as an introduction and a conclusion, this album is a strong piece of superbly crafted epic metal with thunderous riffs and quality vocals.

I'd say the biggest influences are Iced Earth's early material mixed with an healthy dose of Manowar, Testament or also some german speed steel. It's high octane metal with blistering blastbeats, technically apt and old school soloing (“To the Wolves” has a cool one) and a varied and talented lead singer who intertwines between deep manly vocals and high pitched Kingdiamondesque ones. Dan Tyrens is a well rounded singer with a lot of range and he's much better at the violent thrashy groove vocals than Russell Allen (please stop, dude). There's also some well placed gang shouts to emphasize certain lines from these biblical and mythological lyrics.

The riffing of Ross Oliver (the sole guitarist in the band) ranges from super heavy and Jon Schaffer only wish he had his skills. The production is mighty and helps the music a lot, the two most epic tracks (“Brood of Vipers” and the title track) keeps a well balanced sound between the atmospheric epic sound with some subtle symphonic arrangements and heavy riffage throughout the whole songs. There's no moments wasted and the 4 tracks are all excellent, no filler, all killer like it should be. The 35 minutes album isn't too short though, I feel it's an appropriate duration for an hybrid genre like theirs as some of their influences kept unleashing overlong albums that were repetitive and in the end, dull.

Risen Prophecy is a band that doesn't mess around and delivers extremely well written thrashy power metal with a distinctive feel combining many classical influences that most metalheads can enjoy. It's epic, fun, well composed, not much more to ask for this sort of traditional metal.

Garden of Worm – Idle Stones (2015) / 85%

Edgar Allan Poe Dameron - Doom-Wing prog leader
Perhaps that these stones are idle but this Finnish trio is far from being static. Half a decade since their debut self titled album, we're offered this new sacrifice to the gods of doom and compared to their previous full length, this is much rooted in progressive rock and quite a bit softer.

The four songs and forty something minutes record is divided in two parts : the first being two introspective long tracks and the second being two shorter yet atmospheric numbers. It took me a while to fully appreciate the release as it's nowhere near as automatically rewarding as their debut but after four or five spins, I was slowly getting entranced into the dark yet comfortable world created by these guys. The guitars have this exploratory feel, it feels like some sort of psychedelic improvisations at times and it's quite soothing. This combined with the reflective clean vocals of guitarist Erno Taipale (also in the excellent psych band Seremonia), this creates an album that really distinguish itself from the traditionally traditional doom scene. It's sad and feels like a lonely night on a frozen lake and somewhat acts as a interpretation of Finnish woes about solitude.  Kudos to the use of Edgar Allan Poe's poetry for the last track as well, well done.

Emptiness was gathered
As a token, an epitaph
In the end it's all we have

Despite the seriousness of the themes, the riffs feel loose and almost gentle in college rock kind of way. They still unleash the hard goods like with the superb opener “Fleeting are the Days of Men” or the enormous bass lines of “Desertshore” but there's many moments where the three main ingredient of rock and metal do their own thing for an extended period of time like on the prog “Summer's Isle” and its glorious final instrumental section. If bands like Saint Vitus aren't weird enough and you dig the likes of Revelation or most of the Finnish scene, step into the garden of ghargh.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Local Sounds: Volume 4.0

Christmas is near even if there's snow decorating the streets of Montréal and I felt it was time to deliver the fourth volume of this Local Sounds series. It's a series of short reviews about the best and most interesting non-metal music of Québec and its surroundings, sometimes it's artists in French, sometimes they sing in English but it's always meaningful and deep music. Also, I always try to focus on up and coming bands offering their music for free or pay what you can online. This edition has 4 unique projects all living in the province of Québec.

Le Pélican Noir - Le silence tendu au dessus de nos têtes comme un orage en suspens (2013)

The debut EP by this francophone collective is some sort of highly atmospheric instrumental indie rock/post with slight electronic touches. There's a lot of piano, accoustic guitars, synths, violin and a bunch of other weird instruments. They have the rich, entranced feel of Sigur Ros, the song “La quadrature du cercle” really reminded me of the renowned icelandic band with its subtle keys arrangements. Highly recommended release, it's relaxing in a strange way.

I'm excited to hear their 2015 record that I'll get on Christmas due to the very cool initiative of Poulet Neige. The platform is basically a bunch of local artists giving their music, you pick the number you want and you'll receive the files on the 25th.

More info here : POULET NEIGE

Free download : Le Pélican Noir on Bandcamp

Les Passagers – Le ciel est noir (2014)
Speaking of Poulet Neige, it's because of this website that I've discovered this next band! This quintet led by Andréanne Muzzo (vocals, synths) et Nicolas Ferron (guitars, synths) plays a form of ethereal indie pop with soft and cute vocals by Andréanne. The lyrics in French are lovely, poetic and full of imagery (especially “Acheter ta peau” or “Buy your skin”) but the band is never kitsch or too much despite the 80s synths influence. This will make you feel good in less twenty minutes. It's sunny but not overly so and fits all the seasons we can experience in Montréal.

Free download: Les Passagers on Bandcamp

Barricade – Rapide Sept (2015)
From Rouyn-Noranda (7 hours north of Montréal), this instrumental trio is quite interesting. They're groovy, atmospheric somewhat metallic post hardcore with a lot of feel and a solid, airy production. The songs, almost all titled with names like Tony, Max or Cindy are all quite short and never waste any time getting their point across, they're not a meandering band like many of the post-whatever acts we can encounter nowadays. They remind me a bit of Karma the Burn but without the stoner metal elements, just blistering instrumental energy thrown at you for a short while.

Free download: Barricade on Bandcamp

Nüshu – EP 2014

Sharing two members with Politess (a band featured on Local Sounds volume 3), this unisex project is also fairly weird. The noisy punky alt rock band has shouted, piercing vocals, flowing post punk riffs and groovy drumming. The lyrics in French are absurd or amusingly vulgar (like the surprinsingly aggressive song about the color blue). Fast paced blurbs of controlled insanity is what you'll find here and it's pretty enjoyable! This 10 minutes or so EP is promising and Nüshu is currently working on something new based on their Facebook page

Free download: Nushu on Bandcamp

Stay tuned for volume 5.0 due in early 2016!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls (2015) / 77%

The Lack of Editing

It's sort of funny to hear the term “modern Maiden” as Brave New World was released fifteen years ago, that's older than many popular bands nowadays! I guess that's a testimonial to the brits' long and thunderous career? Anyhow, the fifth album since the return of Bruce “badass” Dickinson, The Book of Souls is certainly an adventurous album but there's some issues plaguing the ninety plus minute trip to really achieve the double album nirvana, it's still a pretty good album though.

The usual argument against double albums is that fact that most of them would be much better as a single disc and this is true for this record too. If they had to learn anything from Judas Priest, it was obviously to never do a double album. Too bad. The four previous Maiden (and also The X Factor) could had seen their lengths considerably reduced and I was hoping that after The Final Frontier, Harris and the boys would finally write a more concise release. Nope, it's their longest and most tedious one ever. The length is not necessarily the issue here, the problem with many of these songs is that they're just way too long for their own sake like “The Red and the Black” and its thirteen minutes. It's like good meat but with way too much fat that your butcher forgot to remove. With a career spawning many decades, they decided to do whatever the fuck they wanted and I must salute this even if it didn't work.

Nevertheless, it's still Maiden being Maiden, there's many brilliant moments here such as the psychedelic almost western spaghetti intro of “If Eternity Should Fail”, one of the best songs on the album and the first out of two to be written solely by Dickinson. The other being their longest song ever, the eighteen minutes epic closer “Empire of the Clouds”. The use of piano on this track is interesting and it's some sort of subtle historical opera, it's not the disaster I was expecting, really. It's one of the only track that actually feels shorter than it truly is and I liked how it's built. Outside of the long tracks, the shorter ones doesn't always work quite well (“Speed of Light” is underwhelming) and some of these were also disposable. “The Man of Sorrows” or “The Great Unknown” are pretty damn great, the whole thing could had been tighter, it's all.There's no superb fast paced tracks like "The Mercenary" here and it's a shame.

It's a varied and dark album but the classic Maiden leads are always there to lift your spirit. The instrumentation is once again top notch and I appreciate that the bass isn't in your face as much as on some other of the albums. Since Steve Harris is less involved than usual due to some personal issues, it's a more democratic effort and it's a cool thing. We have the acoustic leanings of Janick Gers (a totally underrated guitarist) on the title track, the proggy AOR approach of Adrian Smith on “Speed of Light” or the long-winded epic formula of Harris. It's a vast album and has everything to please everyone but it's hard to digest as a whole in one sitting, it's like stuffing your face with fifteen hot dogs.

I like Bruce's rough and mature voice, I think he aged well and isn't straining too much. The lyrics are also great (most of the time), they're not too cheesy and deals with death in a meaningful way. Maiden at this point is an experienced band and I can't quite say that they sound tired, they're not exactly rehashing ideas even though most of the album is nothing new. It's hard to find a band this old who's still able to be as invigorated except maybe for Rush.

As a fifty minutes album, this would had been spectacular but ninety-two minutes is just overwhelming. I tend to listen to my favorite parts and ignore skip some of the weaker moments, that's something I hate to do since I love listening to albums as a whole. Can't we just get a short album for once, guys? A new Maiden album remains a big event but I can't say that I was completely satisfied with this one. Nonetheless, when it's good, it's freaking good.