Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pursuit Of Honor by Battlecross: More METAL than METAL itself

Now that's a cool Metal Band logo

This band is called “Battlecross” and they named their second album “Pursuit Of Honor”. Battle, Cross, Honor: 3 Metal keywords.
And then look at the cover of the album: there’s a sort of mutant (half muscle, half skeleton, how is this possible??) that is carrying a machinegun and it’s wearing bullet-belts. It’s also got a gasmask and there’s some sort of mutant army under his command. Wow. You’re thinking pure Metal Clichés right?

Who dares to say that Metal music is only about violence?

And the music is EXACTLY the same way: 100% Metal & Muscle, nothing else. There aren’t even hard-rock influences here, it’s like Battlecross has chosen to play a blend of Death, Thrash and Metalcore. It’s also obvious that he guys like both the American scene and the European Melodic Death Metal bands. They kind of mix the American natural groove with the European science for epic melodies. A guy who reviewed the album found some similarities with another cool band called The Absence, and that is signed on the same label (Metal Blade). The comparison is completely relevant as both bands are absolutely unoriginal but very talented, and they display an unbelievable amount of energy. Their sound is however pretty different as The Absence has no Metalcore influences at all. 

But let’s get back to Battlecross’ main strength: ENERGY. Their music is fast, groovy, powerful, everything we love about Metal. Bassist Don Slater also shows some impressive talent as his groovy lines really stand out. I also love the fact that the band has injected some very fast & brutal parts and cool guitar solos.

Pursuit Of Honour is short (hardly more than 36 mins) and full of clichés. It’s also unbelievably dense and it’s like an energy-shot that will give you that stupid yet fantastic feeling of "liquid metal flowing through your veins".

Push Pull Destroy's cool official video. Don't expect an arty black&white clip

Battlecross is an embodiment of everything you love about Metal. Metalcore has gone silly, some Metal bands like to add progressive influences and everybody’s crazy about hard-rock these days. Meanwhile Battlecross are still on the field, and they are defending the Metal Flag with impressive power, commitment and of course honor.

This is an easy [4/5].

PS: make sure you check’em out right here:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Orphaned Land + Arkan + Myrath + Artweg @ Rennes (Ubu) – Nov 15th 2011

I’m not going to tell you again how much I enjoyed Myrath’s latest record "Tales Of The Sands". Therefore I immediately seized the opportunity to see them live when I heard they were coming to town. It’s their first real tour, and it was interesting to see how these very gifted young guys from Tunisia were handling a long tour with an important band such as Orphaned Land.
The whole caravan is going by the name “Oriental Tour 2011”. Myrath comes from Tunisia, Arkan is an oriental-Death metal band and Orphaned Land, as you all probably know, hail from Israel and are now famous for playing oriental prog’ metal.

First thing I noticed: the venue is actually a bar, with a very small stage and a limited audience. Perhaps about 200 hundred people only. Another reminder for those who might have forgotten how much times are tough for Metal bands. Orphaned Land seem so respected, so admired and yet they have to play in ridiculously small venues… Also, for those who complain about bands touring the whole world and not coming to France, this is a very clear explanation.

So just imagine the audience attending Artweg, the totally unknown opening act. But that didn’t affect the guy’s motivation as they hit the stage with passion and professionalism and their performance was full of energy. To be honest, their groovy HXC is no special or revolutionary. From what I understood, the lyrics are about anti-racism, freedom, and brotherhood…You’re thinking “completely cliché”, right? Wait ‘till you hear about the rest of the show. Besides, when singer “Mugen” says “headbang”, regarding the man’s actual size, you better obey.

Artweg's show was very energetic, despite the tiny crowd

The band I was most looking forward to seeing is without a doubt Myrath. And they sure didn’t disappoint me. The 5 guys hit the stage with radiant smiles, and you could feel the tension in the beginning of the show. It’s so refreshing to see a band so eager to play live and to transmit their passion and energy. The songs are solid and Myrath sure know how to compose progressive Metal with oriental hooks. On record, Myrath sounds like a blend of Symphony X and Dream Theater but on stage, they specifically made me think of Symphony X as they clearly chose to focus on the “heaviness” of their music. The guitars are so powerful and sharp and the crowd headbanged all along the show. The Arabic choruses and the very cool keyboards of Elyes are the things I’ll remember the most though. The closer “Beyond The Stars” was one fantastic moment enjoyed by everyone in the audience. The performance was short, intense and full of passion. WOW. I think that after some more touring, this band is going to kick some serious ass.

 Great Performance by singer Zaher, not the kind of singer that will let you down on stage

Their music reminds my Of Symphony X, and guitarist Malek kinda looks like Michael Romeo...
Setlist Myrath
Sour Sigh
Braving The Seas
Merciless Times
Under Siege
Wide Shut
Tales of the Sands
Beyond the Stars

I really had no idea what Arkan sounded like. I’d heard of the band, and I also knew that their drummer, Foued is very talented. He used to play in The Old Dead Tree. One thing I knew for sure: Arkan really needed to be awesome to step up to Myrath’s performance. The crowd got thicker and the guys hit the stage with their very heavy Death Metal. All of a sudden, some chick dressed up in a white traditional dress pops out of nowhere and starts dancing on stage. Talking about clichés! The “chick” is in fact Sarah, the lead singer of the band. And she’s also very good at adding that oriental/mystical touch to Arkan’s Death Metal. Again, nothing totally original here, as there are a bunch of bands that play that kind of Metal with gothic elements and a female singer. But the energy and the professionalism of the band struck me again, and the crowd went fully insane during the entire show. Their position right before Orphaned Land is well deserved regarding their awesome performance. I might give their pretty cool oriental/death metal a chance as well. Cool Show.

Sarah: the lead vocalist and bellydancer of Arkan

James from Metallica? Michael from Volbeat? No, Florent from Arkan

Bassist Samir really had a connection with the crowd. He still looks like the bad guy in Aladin

Setlist Arkan
Blind Devotion
Tied Fates
Inner Slaves
Groans of the Abyss
Lords Decline
Deux Vult
Chaos Cypher

Now I didn’t really know what to expect from Orphaned Land. On one hand, everybody keeps telling how much this band is awesome, both on stage and on record. On the other hand, I was very disappointed by their performance at Hellfest earlier this year. They’d focused on the “catchy” elements; and they had a Lebanese belly dancer on stage (almost caused a diplomatic incident, remember?)…That show was just a failure.
But tonight, the environment is completely different. The stage and the audience are small, the atmosphere is intimate, and the crowd is already satisfied. Orphaned Land walked into won ahead territory.
They still kicked ass. Ok, I must admit I didn’t watch their entire show (I had school the next day, had to go to bed early) but what I saw was already tremendous. These guys play some pretty complex tunes, but they manage to make it sound catchy on stage and they display this positive energy all along. Although their whole concept and imagery seem naïve, they still make you believe in it and you can’t blame them for trying to transmit a positive message after all…

Why so sad Uri?

Kobi, headbangin' with attitude

Maybe progressive, maybe oriental, but this was still a METAL show!

Setlist Orphaned Land
A'salk [intro tape]
Halo Dies (The Wrath of God)
Birth of the Three (The Unification)
Olat Ha'tamid
The Kiss of Babylon (The Sins)
From Broken Vessels
A Neverending Way
The Path, Part 1: Treading Through Darkness
Ocean Land (The Revelation)
Vayehi Or
The Warrior
El Meod Na'Ala
In Thy Never Ending Way (Epilogue)
The Beloved's Cry / The Storm Still Rages Inside
Norra el Norra (Entering the Ark)
Ornaments of Gold

All in all, this was a fabulous evening, with 4 very passionate and professional bands at their best. I also enjoyed the intimate atmosphere linked to the size of the venue. The bands communicated very easily and the crowd’s response was awesome. It’s pretty sad to see these guys playing on such a small stage, but you cannot blame them for that. In fact, we should be thanking them for coming up, and for being both talented AND humble.

It’s really time that French Metal fans, that love to criticize and to praise their favorite bands online, start showing up to concerts. There are less and less bands touring this country, and the few brave ones who take that chance have to deal with pretty shitty conditions. If you still want to see other bands than AC/DC in France (not only Paris) move your ass and attend the damn gigs!

Thanks to Anita & Fred for inviting me to that cool evening.

Note: Apologies for the lousy quality of my pictures. I only had a small digital camera that night, and unlike other disciplines, size does matter when it comes to shooting a live show. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Heritage by Opeth – Have they gone mad??

Absolutely not. Although Heritage is different & somewhat surprising, it’s still Opeth.
The band clearly reached it’s maximum potential on the album Blackwater Park (2001), probably one of the most influent records of the past decade. After that masterpiece, Michael Åkerfeldt tried some different things but you could tell he really wanted to switch to something completely different.
I remember that after Deliverance/Damnation, he was already speaking in interviews about making a drastically different record, only back then, he was thinking about a totally Black Metal record! That gave birth to the very dark and occult Ghost Reveries, probably Opeth’s vision of Black Metal.

Now let’s get back to Heritage. The artwork is completely 70’s, like a homage to Deep Purple, a band Opeth had already referred to on the cover of the Royal Albert Hall DVD. The message here is clear though, no more Death Metal. A shocker for the fans! The most appreciated thing in Opeth was the mix between heavy and melodic music. And it was extremely interesting to see how the band was going to manage to stay attractive without it’s “heavy” component.

The Hommage

The Original

First thing you need to do is to erase Damnation from your mind, almost completely. Heritage is totally new Opeth, not just the Opeth you know stripped out of it’s heavy riffs and growls. And that precisely is what I like about Heritage. The guys (I mean Michael Åkerfeldt) really dared to blow everything away and to start over. Heritage is an occult 70’s rock/hard-rock band. With the typical psychedelic elements and sense of humor bands used to have back in the day.

 Damnation = Opeth - Heavy side

The songs sound like a mix between prog-metal, hard-rock, psychedelic-rock, the older Opeth and…Nick Drake! And that is what’s so cool about Heritage. It really sounds clumsy, a little naïve, full of ideas and stuffed with free inspiration. Wow, we’re talking about a 20 year-old band sounding so fresh! Hats off to the band guys, they DARED!

The music itself is also good. Not a masterpiece, as I was saying, Heritage is still too clumsy to become a reference, but it really has its moments. Personally, I prefer the second half of the record. Things really start to become exiting with the song “Nepenthe”, really love that refined beginning. After a few minuets the songs switches electric and goes totally prog’. “Haxprocess” is awesome as well, more typically Opeth and psychedelic. Very cool drumming by “Axe”, and fantastic singing by Michael Åkerfeldt on this one. But my favorite song is without a doubt “Famine”. The heavy guitars that come out of nowhere will tear you apart, and the crazy keys & flute are simply mind-blowing. Ironic that my favorite song on Heritage is the one with the heaviest part! I also love "Lines In My Hand", the dancing groove on that one is deadly and it underlines another inspiration for Opeth: scandinavian prog-folk bands. Everybody knows Michael is friends with the guys from Anekdoten, but on that song, it's definetly  Landberk I first thought about. 

Can you believe a band sounds so fresh and inspired after 20 years?

All in all, Heritage is a good album, albeit being a little bit confused AND confusing. It’s amazing that such an established band dared to release such a courageous record.

What’s even more encouraging is that now that the door is open, there is a sea of possibilities for the band. Their inspiration is free, and knowing their talent, we should have some fantastic things to come. After over 20 years of activity and several memorable records, Opeth are opening a new chapter that looks at least as promising as their first one. Wow.