Thursday, 15 December 2016

Magic Circle – Scream Live EP (2016) / 95%

Magical object from another era

The quintet from Boston is currently the best American metal band. Yes, yes, I know, this may seem a hyperbolic statement but their blend of high octane doom metal furled with heavy metal is just so damn contagious and mesmerizing. I had the opportunity to see them live twice so far and they’re even better than on record and that’s no small feat considering the quality of both the self titled (2013) and Journey Blind (2015.) This limited live tape (also available as a digital download) captures their stage energy quite well.

The EP was recorded live on a local Massachusetts radio so it’s not the exact same thing as a full blown live album with an audience but it’s simply a joy to listen to those guys play that it doesn’t really matter. Brendan Radigan is an absolute beast of a singer and he’s always stepping his game live. I think I prefer the tone of the vocals found on this tape than the ones of the studio albums, they’re a bit more upfront. Radigan is just an unhinged force of flawless manliness, he makes the entire band rise to an almost unmaintainable level of quality. His best performance is perhaps the title track of their newest full length album where he declares dark poetry with the conviction of an enlightened madman.

Ancient heroes from ancient wars.
In the arena the lions roar.
Fed to the fires they'll surely die.
Life to the wind. They journey blind.

The guitar duo of Ducas and Corry is so dynamic and busy that the strength of their abilities almost outshines the tremendous compositions they’re playing. The bass of DeTore (you can also hear his drumming skills on the Sumerlands’ debut album) is unfortunately not loud enough and that’s one of my only complaints about the sound of this recording. Their dense doom approach works very well in the live setting, their tracks full of twists and turns, slower and faster moments are just astounding.

Five tracks for thirty minutes is just enough to get you started for the day since their sound is so rich and complete. We get three songs from their sophomore, “Scream Evil” and “Rapture” from their magical debut, a good balance. Their albums aren't too long either and it's perfect since their music while captivating drains you of your energy as it's so emotional and powerful!

The band was apparently so happy with the results of this radio show and that’s why they decided to release it as a physical object. I can see (and hear!) why as it reflects the kind of guys they are. Magic Circle are a band without any frills, they’re like a beautiful woman who doesn’t need makeup to truly shine. Natural, honest, hard-working traditional metal is what they play and that’s what we get. Great live tape.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Quicksand Dream – Beheading Tyrants (2016) / 87%

Atmospheric sword and sorcery metal

The elusive Swedish duo surprisingly decided to release a second album after the underrated and cult-classic to be “Aelin – A Story About Destiny” released a good sixteen years ago. While the album is short based on our arbitrary full length standards (to hell with ‘em, I say), it doesn’t disappoint at all.

While 2016 offered us a bunch of excellent traditional albums such as the unhinged weirdness of Demon Bitch or the Phil Swanson heavy metal love affair of Sumerlands, Quicksand Dream has nothing to be ashamed of in terms of both quality and vision. With this new opus, we’re served six mid-paced epic songs culminating with the fantastic and highlight “To Kill Beneath the Sun”. The thirty minutes record  has an appreciable balance between fast and slow elements and a track like “The Shadow That Bleeds” demonstrates how well the band masters both the quiet, soothing moments as well as the riffy rockier ones.

Their blend of doomy epic metal is certainly something a bit more common than it was back in 2000. Bands like Atlantean Kodex, Sons of Crom or even Visigoth released strong, timeless metal while Quicksand Dream were slumbering in the shadows. Fortunately, it’s great to hear that they didn’t lose their edge. The riffs and huge bass lines of Patrick Berlund are catchy as hell, alternating between sorrowful, powerful and heavily evocative. His leads are also super interesting and captivating (check out the introduction of “White Flames on Black Water”. Göran Jacobson is still a tremendous force with the microphone but the production on his vocals is a bit underwhelming as it’s full of echoes. Despite this technical issue,  he still delivers a truck load of emotional heroic and manly bardic moments.

Their take on the genre could be qualified as an intelligent and atmospheric sword and sorcery epic heavy metal. It’s crushing but offers soft, gentle blows instead of a full blown barbaric attack and prefers relying on escapism than straight off beheading tyrants with a great axe. Quicksand Dream is both for those who like their metal full of powerful hymns and for those who also like to drink tea and read some Robert E. Howard. That’s a very particular niche occupied by the late The Gates of Slumber but also the epic doom pretenders to the throne Lord Vicar.

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.