Lamb of God – Resolution

Lamb of God
Resolution
Roadrunner

I had a personal epiphany about Lamb of God whilst watching them at Download 2010. Having watched them devastate the festival three years prior to that, on this occasion I wound up with an enormous sense of underwhelment about their set. I perhaps put this down to my evolution in musical tastes, but even so, it was perhaps a sign that I had tired of the Roadrunner approach to metal, that being to make it as mainstream and friendly as possible in the majority. I don’t for a second consider Lamb of God to be friendly and they haven’t really compromised much to get to where they are. But the last couple of records haven’t exactly blown me away either, or at least made me go ‘damn!’ to the extent where I could care too much about them.

So would ‘Resolution‘, their new album, change any of that? It starts promisingly enough, with opener ‘Setting of the Sun’ an all too short sludgy number that had me dooming out like never before to LoG, before getting nitty-gritty with ‘Desolation’ and ‘Ghost Walking’. The latter is the lead-off single and its easy to see why – its as good a song as Lamb of God have ever pulled out of their repertoire, with a chorus that will stick with you.

The problem is that as per the last couple of LoG records, it inevitably ends up feeling very samey, one-track and a little uninspiring. Occasionally there’s a standout moment here, ‘King Me’ being one example with its operatic backing, but these times are too few. What they’re doing isn’t necessarily bad, but there’s not to make you sit up and take notice. Songs like ‘The Number Six’ and ‘Invictus’ are all well and good but for sounding like a discarded cut from ‘Wrath‘ or ‘Sacrament‘, which had their fair share of filler themselves.

Of course, what does my opinion matter? The mainstream will still inflate it to and lap it up in unimaginable levels. Lamb of God’s status as one of the biggest metal bands of the modern era than most, and they make a damn better fist of it than most as well. In this day and age though, bands have really got to push themselves to excel. Lamb of God appear to have got themselves to the top and simply accepted it, rather than striving for all out domination. ‘Resolution‘ is a solid record – just not one to get me overly excited about Lamb of God again, and like it or loathe it, the shackles of ‘As The Palaces Burn‘ still grip them tightly.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Resolution‘ here

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Megadeth – Th1rt3en

Megadeth
Th1rt3en
Roadrunner

Dave Mustaine might have turned 50, and might have found God, but he’s not reaching for the pipe and slippers yet. After he and Megadeth were suddenly rejuvenated by the masterclass in thrash that was 2009’s ‘Endgame‘, they return, with Dave still angry as ever, with a cunningly-titled 13th album that proves that Megadeth still reign supreme above the majority of metal bands, even if ‘Th1rt3een’, as I’m about to describe, is a little hit and miss at times.

Megadeth’s thirteenth studio album starts off on a mission, with the solo fest that previously tested Guitar Hero fans, ‘Sudden Death’, and the lead single, ‘Public Enemy No. 1’, which, had it been recorded at their peak in the early 90s, would have been hailed as a classic ‘Deth track. However, it also signifies at a groove-laden approach, which benefits and hinders the album at the same time.

Much of the opening exchanges  follow the groove-thrash track, giving returning bassist Dave Ellefson plenty of room to get his bass to the fore, though that said, this approach isn’t giving the enjoyable shredfest that took place at times on previous album ‘Endgame‘, and results in some patchy work in places – ‘Guns, Drugs & Money’ in particular just feels lacklustre. Thankfully, the pedal is floored again for ‘Never Dead’, where the classic shred tone that Megadeth make their own appears again, and songs like ‘Fast Lane’ and ‘Wrecker’, presenting itself as a venomous ode to a woman scorned, are quality songs, despite their throwaway lyrics, thanks to some phenomenal guitar interplay from Mustaine and fellow guitarist Chris Broadrick. The slower approach doesn’t always prove to be a burden, picking up as the album draws to its close, particularly on ‘Black Swan’ and the closer, the semi-autobiographical(?) ’13’, is quite simply incredible.

Josh Haun of the metal zine That’s How Kids Die stated in his review of ‘Th1rt3en (recommended reading) the pointless nature of comparing new albums by legendary metal acts such as Megadeth to their considered classic works, a notion I completely understand and support. There is no point expecting 50-year old Dave Mustaine to go all out for another ‘Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?‘, and the sooner the fickle Metallica fans stop comparing everything to their first four albums or complaining about similar acts being supposedly over the hill the better. They grew up a long time ago and likely don’t have the same world viewpoint they had thirty years ago.

All things considered, that still won’t make ‘Th1rt3en‘ eligible for classic status, as it simply isn’t up to that standard owing to a couple of bad apples, a few dodgy lyrics, and ultimately being unable to meet the bar set by ‘Endgame‘. Other than that, its another solid return from Mustaine and Megadeth, arguably faring better than any of the Big Four in terms of critical reception at the moment, and you can’t see where this journey ends for them, so long as business is still good.

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Opeth – Heritage

Opeth
Heritage
Roadrunner

Some people may well have been alarmed at Opeth’s decision to move away from the progressive death metal which they originated, in favour of exploring even folkier and more traditional proggier influences. Vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt had long stated previously that ‘Heritage‘ would be far removed from Opeth’s previous works, stating a boredom with extreme metal and that he felt the band had outgrown its roots. He’s certainly not wrong there – ‘Heritage‘ is a progressive rock album, with none of Åkerfeldt’s trademark death growls to be found anywhere.

Initially, all is good. We’re already familiar with ‘The Devil’s Orchard’, which was released to the public seemingly ages ago now. The incorporation of King Crimson, Yes, etc. references is already apparent here, as the song metamorphoses during the final third. Prior to that, some satisfying vocal work from Åkerfeldt, particularly the delivery of the line ‘God is dead!‘. The good work continues through ‘ Opeth then unleash a cracker in ‘Slither’, which Åkerfeldt dedicated to Ronnie James Dio, and with good reason – the first three minutes seem very much in awe of the great man and while its unusual for Opeth to simply be rocking out like this, its a damn good tune.

From that point, the album starts to meander a little too quietly for my liking. And by quiet, I don’t mean not heavy. I mean it actually feels like very little is happening. ‘Heritage‘ really enters its dark and gloomy phase as ‘Nepenthe’ literally creeps into view, occasionally ebbing into life as the band breaks into a jam punctuated some crazy soloing from Fredik Akesson. This occurs a couple of times within the song, which doesn’t do much else besides. This quiet patch stretches all the way through ‘Haxprocess’, which really does very little for me, right through to ‘Famine’, which itself opens with a flute solo and some ominous bellows and tribal percussion, which all of a sudden stops with a section consisting solely of piano and the vocals of Åkerfeldt. It finally livens up as a lively technical riff comes to prominence, and the song rocks up a bit. It later finishes with a Moog-driven heavy breakdown. As welcoming as that is, this is ‘Heritage‘ also falls down. Put simply, not everything they’re striving for gels together very well, and ‘Famine’ is a prime example of that – lots of interesting ideas, just not ones that should have featured in the same song.

Where I feel ‘Heritage‘ does excel is when it comes to life. The earlier songs manage to hold the interest, and there’s moments later on when the Opeth magic is there to see. ‘The Line in my Hand’ is another of Opeth’s shorter songs but still fantastic, picking up pace throughout and bounding away in still unusual, but definitely excellent fashion, and there’s moments in ‘Folklore’, particularly Åkerfeldt’s vocal of ‘and you will see what you mean to me‘, which are truly majestic.

Heritage‘ is unquestionably Opeth’s most adventurous work yet, and I for one couldn’t be happier that they tried. It doesn’t entirely work, but its certainly a grower and one I feel will take several repeats listens to fully appreciate. The Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, etc. influences loom large over the whole thing, but I wish Opeth had just been a little more themselves, to allow room for those influences to bloom within successive releases.I don’t for one minute miss the death growls, although they really do complete a lot of classic Opeth songs. In the context of this album, they wouldn’t work. But that said, I wouldn’t have minded just a little more beef. Some more prog metal sections. At times, particularly in the middle, it’s borderline coffee shop than jazz lounge, and that’s not something I’d ever seen myself saying about any metal record, let alone an Opeth record.  Hence, it feels as though they splurged them all over

Alas, Opeth’s vision was to leave their past behind, and leave it behind they have. Where they go from here is the next question, possibly even further away from the metal element. The album artwork itself is indicative of that – the sun represents their future, the current band members sitting in the tree, which represents ‘the present’. The faces in the tree represent the current line-up, with ex-keyboardist Per Wiberg’s head shown falling off the tree to symbolise his departure from the band. The roots represent the band’s death metal history, “going down to hell”. Deep indeed, and you have to suspect that Åkerfeldt and Opeth are on this road for good.

For now, ‘Heritage’ is a curious work. Not a bad album at all, and one that may mature like a fine wine over time. But at this point in time, I’m still scratching my head about it, whether I like it, or whether it’ll be the last in line when I decide which  Opeth album I’m in the mood for.

Peter Clegg

Mastodon – The Hunter

Mastodon

The Hunter
Roadrunner

When Mastodon announced that this album was to be free of concept and more of a straight-up rock album, one or two eyebrows may well have been raised, although given the band’s dabbling in ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy and Melvins worship it may not have been entirely surprising. Still, a Mastodon making a record not based on the elements is certainly an enterprising one, and for the band that Time magazine voted their number 3 album of the year (2009’s ‘Crack The Skye‘), this meeting the mainstream in the middle has come about at roughly the right time.

That said, their past sound has far from been forgotten – opener Black Tongue rips into life in much the same way as past Mastodon openers – but nor has their present sound been allowed to stagnate, as evident in ‘Curl of the Burl’, probably one of the best singles all year. Underpinned by a sweet bass-driven riff, you can feel every groove in the song, and the chorus is instantly recognizable. It should come with a warning sticker as it may make you shake in numerous ways! The new found melodicism continues on ‘Blasteroid’, a distincting different Mastodon continues to stamp its new found presence with dual-harmony verses from guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds and bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, albeit soon swiped away with the howl of ‘I wanna taste your fucking blood!‘ in the chorus.

The album continues to improve as it progresses, as songs such as the title-track and ‘The Octopus Has No Friends’ still retain elements of ‘Blood Mountain‘/’Crack The Skye‘-era despite the straight ahead nature of the album. ‘The Hunter’ in particular is a standout track. Composed as a tribute to guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds’ brother, who died whilst on a hunting trip, the sludgery takes a backseat, making way for spacier guitars, softer vocal harmonies and a journey of melancholia throughout.

Mastodon have always been capable of providing real WTF moments, on this occasion the brilliant ‘Creature Lives’, with an intro consisting of maniacal laughter before turning into perhaps Mastodon’s happiest sounding song yet. Entirely sung, written, composed etc. by drummer Brann Dailor, it’s a triumphant moment and perhaps one of the most uplifting songs you’ll hear all year, albeit slightly bonkers as well. They follow this up with ‘Spectrelight’, a punchier number and harks back to ‘Leviathan‘ territory. Its still got the accentuated melodicism present on the majority of the album, but rampages delightfully throughout its three minutes.

The album finishes with yet another incredible track, ‘The Sparrow’. Dedicated to the band’s accountant, who passed away to stomach cancer during the recording of the album, the song’s only line utters her motto: ‘pursue happiness, with diligence’. Its a sombre but beautiful way to end ‘The Hunter‘, and that line will echo out beyond this record.

I was worried Mastodon may have dropped the ball when they said they were making a straight-up rock record as opposed to a concept album – they always excelled at befitting the story they’d mapped out and really didn’t feel confident in ‘The Hunter‘ meeting the lofty standards of their previous body of work. I’m glad to be proven wrong, although the goal has been achieved much differently this time. Having shunned the multi-part, ten-minute plus epics in favour of a more streamlined approach, it proves they’ve managed to switch over with the greatest of ease, even occasionally becoming dancable without sacrificing quality. And still, they managed to squeeze in plenty of elements of progression. Viewers of Later with Jools Holland – are you ready?

Peter Clegg

Machine Head – Unto The Locust

Machine Head

Unto The Locust
Roadrunner

The world at large went positively nuts when Machine Head released ‘The Blackening‘ in 2007. It was positively great, although comparisons to the great ‘Master of Puppets‘ were a little over the top. Needless to say, anticipation for new album ‘Unto The Locust‘ has been feverish to say the least. Following years of touring for their previous record, how has it shaped their new release?

Well, for starters, there’s some choiral harmonies from the band at the start of the three-part ‘I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)’. It’s definitely not like ‘Burn My Eyes‘. It’s certainly not ‘Supercharger‘. It’s certainly an eye opener in some senses, but not in others – it shows how far the band have matured that they are willing to incorporate such an influence. It soon heavies up though, with a real thrashy section soon to follow the intro, and a massive slow groove to finish. The album’s most epic track, covering more ground in one song than most bands of their ilk can cram into one album.

The album’s title track, ‘Locust’, starts with a real hard-rocking riff, twisted into metal form with a crunch punctuated by Flynn’s harsh vocals. When Flynn finishes the chorus with the words ‘suffer unto the locust‘, it’s a proverbial call to arms; that riff will devastate moshpits all over the world. That’s pretty much my favourite song on the record – that’s a proper metal anthem that will surely soon become recognisable on many a night out. ‘Darkness Within’ is another outstanding track, opening with a long intro consisting of a solitary simple guitar riff, and a slow building Flynn vocal. It’s so rewarding when the rest of the band do come in because from thereonin its massive. It eventually does reach a heavy breakdown reminiscent of early Machine Head, before closing in melodic fashion again. It’s in the same vein as ‘Halo’, only with broader shoulders.

Machine Head still possess that ability to suckerpunch you at numerous points in the album. The aforementioned intro in ‘I Am Hell’ and groovy riff in ‘Locust’ aside, ‘This Is The End’ begins with a classical guitar intro in much the same way Metallica used to make ’em, before launching a full on assault of the senses, mixing some breakneck speed riffs with more trademark pounding grooves; perhaps the only downside to this broadened scope is the children who turn up singing on closer ‘Who We Are’. I’m not too big on this song – it’s not bad but the children bring it down a touch and it’s not as strong as the darkness and devastation that prevailed before it.

I am still one of those who hankers for Machine Head’s early days. And by that, I mean the vibe you got from ‘Burn My Eyes‘ and ‘The More Things Change‘ – that being the streetwise, pissed off with the world vibe that you got from the sound, the production, from the bile in Flynn’s voice. Although there’s still hints of their original sound abound, there’s nothing here with quite that same vibe, and nothing like the pure rage possessed on ‘The Blackening‘ with songs like ‘Aesthetics of Hate’, where you could positively feel every word of hate Flynn spat out.

That said, that doesn’t mean ‘Unto The Locust‘ is a bad album. The Maiden-esque riff prevalent in ‘Be Still and Know’, and the intro to ‘This Is The End’ further underlines the band’s nod to their ascendants, and their continuing ability to fuse these influences into their own sound, as well as drawing upon other, non-metal elements, is what keeps Machine Head on top of their game, displaying a level of maturity the newer bands either haven’t yet fully realised, or simply don’t have at all. That is a testament to how far Machine Head have grown as a band. They fully deserve their status, their fanbase, and the acclaim they receive. I’ve moved on from a lot of mainstream metal, but albums like this one will keep me coming back.

I’ll say ‘Unto The Locust‘ is at least on a par with ‘The Blackening‘. Nay, its better.

Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events

Dream Theater

A Dramatic Turn of Events
Roadrunner

Since founder member Mike Portnoy decided to up sticks and leave Dream Theater, there’s been two side stories to go along with the whole debacle – firstly, the remaining members long drawn out and highly publicised search for their new drummer – eventually settling on former Annihilator/Extreme sticksman Mike Mangini – while Portnoy still continues to try and hog the spotlight, filling in for Avenged Sevenfold before they too ditched him. The amount of spotlight that Portnoy seems to be trying to obtain is a little hard to digest. I’d rather he kept quiet rather than becoming something of a sideshow – particularly in light of the recent development in which he apparently issued a notice of summons on his former band mates over the use of the band’s name.
That drummer mystery aside, Dream Theater have otherwise got on the with job in hand of making their first album without their Portnoy, conjuring up ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’. The first thing I would note about this record is that – personally at least – Portnoy isn’t missed. Anyone who doubted Mangini’s skills before will surely be shushed as he at least matches Portnoy’s standard throughout. As a whole, Dream Theater are still Dream Theater, progressive, complex and dynamic as ever, and while ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ isn’t going to be held as their greatest achievement, it’s still very much business as usual, and business right now is pretty damn good.

Most of you will already be familiar with ‘On the Backs of Angels’, the lead single from the album and most likely to join the DT setlist. Much like recent past singles (e.g. A Rite of Passage’), it sticks out as a lead single material right away. Not too long or drawn out, even nearing nine minutes, it reins in the urge to go over the top and benefits as a result. However, the album really picks up a notch or two once ‘This Is The Life’ comes into play, as the respective members show numerous technical flashes of brilliance that have trademarked Dream Theater’s career over the years.
‘Bridges In The Sky’ ratches up another count on the ‘epic’ scale, replete with some tribal bellow to open and close the song, cracking Petrucci riff, and ridiculous showmanship from Petrucci and keyboardist/synth man Jordan Rudess. And then yet more of the same skillful musicianship on ‘Outcry’, featuring a huge technically innovative midsection and a perfect balance been Mangini’s thudding beat and the greater overall sense of melody. Of course, ridiculous showmanship could be taken as a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective of Dream Theater, but that’s what makes them stand out in one form or another.
Four of the album’s ten tracks clock in past the ten-minute mark, and if that midsection isn’t grandiose enough for you, ‘Breaking The Illusions’ certainly will be; coming across as a bit of a ballad at first, before heading into a stop start section highlighting Rudess on various keys, and then yet more duelling by Petrucci and Rudess – eventually plunging into a suitably epic orchestral finish.
I can still pick at one or two facets of the album, and ironically it’s the less than ambitious tracks – ‘Build Me Up and Break Me Down’ is reminiscent of the track ‘Caught in a Web’ from ‘Train of Thought’, and is relatively structured and short compared to the rest of the album. There’s nothing wrong with its melodicism but it’s a little forgettable. The ballads on the album (‘Far From Heaven’, ‘Beneath The Surface’) aren’t bad by any stretch break up the action sufficiently enough, allowing room to breathe. But they didn’t do anything for me other than that. The constant duelling of guitars and keys risk the album becoming the Petrucci and Rudess show, although more often than not they get the balance just right.
It doesn’t stand out as vibrantly as other DT albums either – twenty-six years in, that’s perhaps to be expected, but the previous album ‘Black Clouds and Silver Linings’ was a true monster in terms of progressiveness and ambition, something I feel lacks a little here. Ironically, that’s most likely down to Portnoy – but that’s nothing against Mangini, who I must again state at least matches Portnoy for ability.
Those concerns aside, this is still a damn good album and the more progressive elements here show why Dream Theater are masters of their craft. ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ may well take a few listens to fully appreciate it, but any fears DT fans may have had about since the departure of Portnoy have been truly swept aside. It’s a bold new chapter for Dream Theater and there’s plenty within this release for them to build upon.
Peter Clegg