Tuesday, December 27, 2011

And the 2011 world champions are…

I’m a big fan of those “end of the year best-of lists”. After an entire year of frantic listening to new records it’s always good to look back at all of them and to select the ones that truely made a difference (and to basically forget the rest…). And I have to say I enjoy selecting my own favorite records just as much as I enjoy going through other people’s lists.

Some of the records listed below may not necessarily be among the best I heard this year. It’s just a selection of albums I think you should consider checking out, because to me, this year, they mattered more than the others.

There is no ranking here; the 20 records cited below are all winners and they’re simply listed in an alphabetical order. That’s easy to understand, since the selection extremely eclectic, and it would obviously be absurd to compare a brutal death metal record with a stoner album!

Band: Autopsy
Album: Macabre Eternal
Style: Death Metal Institution
Autopsy’s return was a bit of a surprise last year, and many wondered how the new record featuring the legacy line-up (Reifert, Cutler, Allen, Coralles) was going to sound. And the debate never even started, as Macabre Eternal showed to be just as awesome as in your wildest dreams. Macabre Eternal is a lesson in Death Metal, and Autopsy reaches indescribable morbidity on the epic (and horrific) final track called “Sadistic Gratification”. Macabre and Eternal Indeed. 

Band: Battlecross
Album: Pursuit Of Honor
Style: Pure Metal
Every year on earth comes with its load of new “Metalcore” bands. But this new band from Michigan is like no other. Their secret? They simply display more energy than anything you’ve ever seen. This is 100% pure Metal power, with killer riffs and amazing melodies. These guys can rock and they sure can write some great songs. Pursuit Of Honor is one the albums I listened most to this year. Check out my detailed review right here.

Band: Disma
Album: Towards The Megalith
Style: Death (Doom) Metal
Towards The Megalith was one of 2011’s most anticipated albums. The first record from this new death metal band HAD to destroy all competition. And when it came out last summer, it just did as expected. All the excitement born after the release of some demo tracks and a fantastic split CD with Winterwolf was totally justified, and this album just crushed everything on its way. Some songs like “Of A Past Forlorn” are one of this year’s best songs. You like your Death Metal slow and dominating? Then you need to possess this album (reviewed here)!

Band: Dornenreich
Album: Flammentriebe
Style: Classy Black/Prog Metal
I have to admit I didn’t really know Dornenreich before listening to their new album earlier this year. And this record really struck by with its beauty and it’s intelligence. This is some finely composed Black/Prog’ Metal, believe me. The music is extremely balanced, with a perfect “beauty/beast” aspect creating such a visual music. A tremendous introduction to the very demanding and refined Prophecy Production catalogue…

Band: Farsot
Album: Insects
Style: German Black metal
Farsot has probably become, alongside Secrets Of The Moon, the best illustration of what “German Black Metal” is about. It’s dark, cold, methodic and intelligent. Each song is perfectly balanced, dynamic and with a clear focus on elaborating of a specific atmosphere. “Insects” deals with the earth, the way we treat it and the way we’re probably going to end. Guess what; just listen to it and you’ll have that persistent taste of soil in your mouth. Impressive.

Band: Forgotten Tomb
Album: Under Saturn Retrograde
Style: Gothic Black Metal
Just to get things straight: I usually hate gothic black metal. But somehow, this band talks to me. The poppy and gothic black metal these guys have to offer is unbelievably catchy and disgusting at the same time. They used to illustrate their music with “arty” shots of decadence, and no matter how silly it might seem, it really does represent their music perfectly. So disgusting yet so sweet!

Band: Lifelover
Album: Sjukdom
Style: Gothic/Nihilistic Black Metal
Just like Forgotten Tomb, Lifelover perfectly masters the art of disgusting beauty. In fact, they perfectly MASTERED that art, since frontman “B” was found dead a few months ago… A terrible loss to the scene. Their final album was released with some accessories: barbwire, syringe…

Band: Mastodon
Album: The Hunter
Style: Mastodon Rock
You know what’s so strange with Mastodon? Sometimes you can’t stand listening to their music, and you still have to recognize the fact that this is genius stuff. These guys are unbelievably talented and ahead of their time. I also saw them live on Sonisphere this summer, and they rocked the place really strong. Badass stuff.  

Band: Miasmal
Album: Miasmal
Style: Swedish Death Metal
I told you about Miasmal earlier this year in a blog crowning them as “2011’s death metal champions” with Disma. And I still believe these young guys from Sweden produced the BEST Swedish old-school Death Metal album this year. The groove and the urge on their self-titled debut are utterly outstanding and you’ll keep pressing “play” over and over again. It’s like an addiction. I even got caught dancing on that shit!

Band: Myrath
Album: Tales Of The Sands
Style: Progressive Metal
I once lost faith in prog’ metal. All of the Dream Theater and Symphony X clones nearly got me to quit the genre completely (I blogged about that this summer). Then a new generation rose, and Myrath, a band from Tunisia, blasted through the “Arab Spring” with their new album this year. Energy, technique, emotion and oriental melodies; you’ll get all of that wrapped up in a perfect mix of Dream Theater and Symphony X. I also got to see the band on their first real tour this year, and trust me; they have a brilliant future ahead of them.

Band: Obscura
Album: Omnivium
Style: Techno-Death
Don’t you think that the bands that really matter are those who make you enjoy a musical style you didn’t appreciate before? And that’s precisely what Obscura did to me this year. One quick listen to Omnivium and I was under the spell. I ran out to the store and bought all their records. These guys are insane, and their music is just “art”.

Band: Premonition 13
Album: Premonition 13
Style: Wino’s Rock
Okay, I confess. Anytime Wino will put out a new CD, you’ll find it in my best-of list. I can’t help it. This guy is a rock genius, and no matter what band he plays in, his music rocks, grooves and will give you gooseflesh. And guess what, the Obsessed are coming back next year!

Band: Revocation
Album: Chaos Of Forms
Style: Techno-Thrash
Revocation may sometimes be described as “prog-thrash” metal. Why not. I simply adore this band because they are technical enough to express their madness through fast, crazy and boiling Thrash Metal. And the key-factor here is that these guys never forget that they’re playing Metal as they keep focused on what matters most: HEADBANGING!

Band: Rival Sons
Album: Pressure And Time
Style: Hard Rock
A lot of new “retro” or 70’s hard rock bands have appeared lately, but this new Earache rooster has something special. They just sound so genuine and pure! This is an awesome record here with plenty of instant “hits”. Check out their video for the song “All Over The Road” (right here) and you’ll get my point instantly.

Band: Sinister Realm
Album: The Crystal Eye
Style: Heavy Metal
Now you’ve all noticed there’s a heavy metal revival going on, as many new and young bands are coming from out of everywhere, trying to recapture the ancient’s magic for heavy metal. Most of them fail, some succeed, and some come up with Classics. And John Gaffney’s Sinister Realm just crushed all sorts of competition with their second record; The Crystal Eye. This album is built like a Classic and does sound like one. Everything is perfect on this album, and I just keep on listening to it over and over again! Make sure to read my review as well as the interview conducted with John.

Band: The Devil’s Blood
Album: The Thousandfold Epicentre
Style: Occult Rock
After the inexplicable hype around their first LP, The Devil’s Blood’s second album was highly anticipated. And instead of playing it safe and recording something similar to their successful first album, our satanic friends took things MUCH further with a fantastic second album full of top-notch musicality. You’ll also find some insane and weird psychedelic passages on this one. Top quality stuff.

Band: The Haunted
Album: Unseen
Style: Metal
If only one was to remain, it would be Unseen by The Haunted. This is without a doubt my favorite album this year, the one I listened to the most ad the one that impresses me the most. I thought I knew the band before, and I completely rediscovered it with this album. Unseen is heavy, melodic, sexy, groovy, dark, bright. Everything you love about music is in here, look no further, this is the ULTIMATE record.

Band: The Wounded Kings
Album: In the Chapel Of The Black Hand
Style: Dooooom
The Wounded Kings is a band that I love, because they make you feel exactly what they want you to feel. On their previous record, “The Shadow Over Atlantis”, you really felt you were under the sea. This new album is not as gloomy; this time around it’s occult, groovy and ritualistic. Great great doom from the UK!

Band: Vektor
Album: Outer Isolation
Style: Thrash from outer space
Wow, where can I start? These insane dudes rock. Crazy Thrash Metal that is technical, furious, fast, weird, full of sci-fi madness. If you like your metal original and hectic, then make sure to check these guys out!

Band: Wolves In the Throne Room
Album: Celestial Lineage
Style: Black Metal
Wolves In The throne Room is one of the most interesting New Black Metal Bands from the US. The band somehow managed to use the Scandinavian heritage of BM and to adapt it to their US roots. It’s about nature and religion, and it’s definitely something you really have to investigate, especially that the album comes out in some really fancy CD and LP editions.

The Outsiders:

If you’re a real psycho and if you’ve already dissected all the albums listed above, here’s a suggestion of serious outsiders that could have made it into my list:

Torchbearer – Death Meditations
Exaclty the kind of Metal I Love. Epic stuff from Sweden that will drag you into the battlefield. This supergroup isn’t the most productive one, and their new record has a more symphonic edge that I really appreciated.

Gregor Mackintosh (Paradise Lost) wrote old-school death metal songs as a catharsis after his father passed. A Fragile King by Vallenfyre is the demonstration that the man still masters the art. A Perfect exercise in style.

Fantastic Thrash Metal from Sweden: nervous, fast, aggressive and nasty. You like Thrash, you like Entrench! Really love the artwork as well.

Rotten Sound – Cursed
No presentations needed for the Finnish institution of Grind metal. Only this time around, their new record is so groovy and so heavy that it reminded me of the very early Finnish doom/death metal bands. Awesome!

Yob - Atma
The thing is, I still haven't had the chance to listen to that one yet! However, I'm a big fan of Yob, and I just know that this record is at least as good as the previous ones. Plus the artwork alone is worth investing in that awesome 2LP edition. 

The Jokes:

Lou Reed & Metallica’s Lulu
Lame story and horrible music. Claiming that this is “misunderstood art” ain’t enough anymore. The music SUCKS, end of story.

Korn – the Path Of Totality
J.Davis apparently stated that “Dubstep is the future of Metal”. Yeah right! One thing for sure though: Korn is no longer the future of Metal…

Here we are! Another year of great Metal has passed, and it was once again very tough to select the "best" albums. There are so many records coming out every month (way too many in my opinion) and it's become impossible to listen to all of them. I hope that selection will give you hints about some cool bands that deserve your attention! 
Happy Holidays everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thousand Year War : Viking Death Metal from Alaska

Tyrants & Men, Thousand Year War's first LP, is an album that will inevitably create a conflict between you mind and your heart.

Your mind won’t take more than half a listen to analyze this one. Tyrants & Men is a very typical Viking Death Metal record, and you’ll immediately think of a bunch of Swedish Death Metal bands like Amon Amarth. 
And I think Hiral Lohr -the guitarist/vocalist/composer- is totally okay with that. Then of course, your mind will tell you to forget about that generic and useless record and to go find something new to listen to. Coz' “Who the hell needs another Viking Death Metal album?” right?

Rise, warriors!

And that’s where your heart will intervene. Your mind might tell you not to, but you’ll want to listen to this album, simply because it is VERY good and VERY pleasing to listen to.

In fact, Tyrants and Men sounds exactly like a homage done by a fan and for the fans. It has all the clichés and all the elements of a record composed by one guy that is totally in love with one specific type of metal. All the songs kind of sound the same, with big catchy headbanging riffs and killer grooves. You also have those warrior and epic melodies that will drag you onto the battlefield. Don't forget to grab the armor and the helmet, just like the epic guy on the cover of the cool digipack released by Abyss records.

No wonder Hiram caught a lot of attention after releasing his first EP, called “Shadow Of The Colosus” (available for download right here). The man came up with some awesome tunes! I personally love the songs 'No Gods, No Masters" and "The Storm I Ride" (yep, the song names are unbelievably cliché as well). 

Hiram Lohr, the man behind Thousand Year War, hails from... Alaska!

As a conclusion, I can tell you that between my mind and my heart, I have definetly chosen to trust my heart. When it comes to music, you don’t want to constantly analyze everything and rationalize what you’re listening to. All you need to do is to play records that give you pleasure. And believe me, if you like Epic and Melodic Death Metal, then do what it takes to check out Thousand Year War, because Tyrants & Men happens to be a VERY pleasant release.

That’s a nice [3.5/5] !



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vallenfyre – A Fragile King: Gregor Mackintosh still masters the art of Death Metal

It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s therefore worth being signaled; the sticker on the cover of A Fragile King, Vallenfyre’s debut, says it all: “A Rotten mix of Autopsy, Celtic Frost, early Entombed And Paradise Lost”. 

Vallenfyre is Gregor Mackintosh’s (Paradise Lost) side-project. And it’s a very personal one. In fact he started composing very dark and violent Death Metal songs when he father passed away last year. These songs weren’t meant for a release, they were just a catharsis for his very deep pain. But he eventually created Vallenfyre, finalized the songs and recorded them alongside Adrian Erlandsson (ex-Cradle Of Filth, At The Gates, The Haunted, Paradise lost and a dozen other bands) and Hamish Glencross. 
And the clear danger in that case was for the songs to sound “fake”. We all know that Paradise Lost has quit being an "all-extreme" metal band years ago, and it was surprising to see Gregor coming back with something that raw and old-school.

Gregor Mackintosh has teamed up with Adrian Erlandsson (drums), Hamish Glencross (guitars), Scoot (bass) & Mully (guitars)

But all your doubts will be swept away as you’ll press play. A Fragile King is a fantastic old school Death Metal record, just as the sticker says, with doomy elements that will indeed remind you of Autopsy and early Paradise Lost.

Gregor himself produced the album, and it he gave it that filthy fuzz on the guitars that makes it sound so organic and raw. It’s even better if you purchase the vinyl, believe me. A Fragile King grooves from A to Z, with awesome riffs and bombastic drumming by Erlandsson. Each song has it’s own dynamics and it’s own highlight.

Now that's a true Death Metal artwork!

Just like on every good record, everyone will have his favorite songs on the album. I personally prefer side two (songs 7 to 11), even though side one has it's moments as well (“Desecration” has this really sick melody). Some songs will immediatly remind you of Paradise Lost, like “The Grim Irony” or “Seeds” as they carry some very emotional melodies. Some other songs are just pure rockers that will make you helplessly bang your head, like “My Black Siberia” or the very much Bloodbath-like “The Divine Have Fled” and "As The World Collapses". And of course you’ll find some fast suckers that will blow your mind like “Humanity Wept” and “Ravaneous Whore”.

The official video for "Cathedrals Of Dread", one of the album's strongest tracks

There’s not much more to say really; A Fragile King is a terrific exercise in style performed by talented and experienced musicians. The surprise is that Gregor reveals so much of his deepest feelings (the lyrics are very powerful as well) making A Fragile King a genuine highlight this year. And guess what, this album is a such a success that the band has already confirmed some live shows!

To make a long story short: if you like old-school Death Metal, then you HAVE to get a copy of this album.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

Megadeth’s Th1rt3en : STILL, ALIVE …AND WELL!

Do you remember that completely useless compilation Megadeth released in 2002, called “Still, Alive...And Well?”? It’s the only Megadeth official release I decided not to buy. But I have to admit it has a cool name. It’s always been the case with Megadeth. At least until Thr1rt3en came out. In case you didn’t get it, Th1rt3en is Megadeth’s thirteen’s album. It’s also got 13 songs, which is not a coincidence, since 3 of the songs are older songs that were actually re-recorded for this album. And just to make sure you get it, the last song on this album (the thirteen’s song) is called…”13”. Thank god there are only 12 months on the calendar, otherwise I bet the record would’ve been released on 13/13/13.

Not only a useless content, but also a nasty cover...

But then we would have had to wait another 2 years to listen to Th1rt3en; which would have been a damn shame since that new record from Mastermind Dave Mustaine is one of Megadeth’s best efforts since Cryptic Writings. In other words, this album is the best thing Mustaine’s produced since Marty Friedman left the band and since Mustaine decided to get back to his Thrash Metal roots.

Don't have that one yet? Go get it!

What I’ve always loved about Megadeth is that Dave Mustaine manages to write excellent songs that perfectly express his anger, and his extreme feelings. I’ve also always appreciated the fact that the songs nicely blended melodies and wild riffing. And that’s precisely why the Mustaine/Friedman team was so special: Mustaine is one hell of a riff-player, probably the best in Thrash Metal, and Marty Friedman is one of the best solo guitarists out there. When these two reached the peak of their symbiosis, they simply produced one of Metal’s all-time best: RUST IN PEACE. Not to mention a more mainstream but still amazing album: YOUTHANASIA, their biggest success so far (and probably their biggest ever). Some see that record as being a little bit too commercial. But guys: don’t forget that when it came out it was immediately praised as the best album of 1994, ESPECIALLY by the specialized Metal press.

One of my favorite covers 

Th1rt3en really reminds me of Youthanasia. The balance between melodies and pure thrash fury is perfect and very efficient. The songs are full of cool choruses and heavy riffing. And the special Megadeth feeling (emotions, melodies, cool solos, Dave’s voice) is definitely there, stronger than ever. Which brings me back to the beginning of my post: this album could have been called "STILL, ALIVE….AND WELL!"!

Yes, Dave Mustaine is definetly BACK!

It now seems obvious that after the not that bad Risk (1999), Dave Mustaine spent a lot of time to recapture Megadeth’s true spirit. I think the album THE WORLD NEEDS A HERO (2001) is very weak, musically speaking. It’s one of Megadeth’s only true failures (that last song called “When” is a disaster!).  The album was just a way for Dave to say: “Hey, I’m still around, and I can still play some electric guitar!”.
Things got a little better with The System Has Failed (2004), after Dave started to heal from his arm injury.  But that record is no more than a collection of B-sides and leftover riffs that Dave has recorded on his own. What the hell, at least it sounded like Megadeth…
The album United Abominations (2007) however was much better and more consistent, Dave started to stabilize his new line-up, and wrote some pretty awesome songs.
Then Endgame came around (2009) and once again, Dave came up with some line up changes, as he hired young guitarist Chris Broderick, and things really started to become exciting again. Endgame is a great record, very dark and full of insane riffing. Megadeth was definitely back.

He's young, he's extremely talented, and he plays in Megadeth: the best is yet to come whith Chris Broderick

And it seems even more obvious now as Th1rt3en has been spinning on my record player for a few months: this is Megadeth’s strongest album since the 90s. The songs are consistent, they are very well balanced and each one of them has a special feeling, or a special feature that makes it stand out.

“Sudden Death” has a killer riff, “Public Enemy N°1” is one hell of a hit (the video of that song is also awesome), “Who’s Life Is this Anyway” has a cool rock’n’roll vibe, “Deadly Nightshade” has a typical dark Megadeth feeling…I could go on like that for ages telling you about each song on that album.

I also love the song “13” as it is a typical "Mustaine" song where he kind of speaks about his own life. It’s not as cool as “Victory” from Youthanasia, but as a fan of the guy, I really liked it.

People seem to think that the return of bassist David Ellefson to the band is the reason why Th1rt3en sounds so good. I don’t really know, to me it’s always been about Dave Mustaine and his own inspiration. However, the return of “Junior” may have helped Mustaine feel more “comfortable” and confident about his new songs.

His return is probably one of the reasons why Mustaine was so inspired on Th1rt3en 

Just remember that this album is seriously awesome, that it has the potential to make you a Megadeth-addict and, that it will definitely be featured in many 2011 best-of lists.

One last word about the re-recorded songs, because they also stand out here: “New World Order” is from the Youthanasia sessions, it was released as a B-side on the “A Tout le Monde single”. “Millenium Of The Blind” is from the same sessions and was released on the remastered version of Youthanasia. As for “Black Swan”, that killer track was also released on the special edition of United Abominations.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ENTRENCH – INEVITABLE DECAY: Awesome Thrash from out of nowhere

It doesn’t really happen that often anymore; but receiving such an unexpected record from a totally unknown band is still one damn pleasure.
Entrench hail from Sweden, and they have an awesome name and an even cooler logo. Now that’s rare for a new band, as all the cool-sounding “Metal” names seem to have been taken.

Entrench was born in 2006, and after a few line-up changes and obscure demos, the band's just released it’s first album, called Inevitable Decay, through the US-based Abyss Records.
First observation: the cover of the CD is strange, absolutely not your usual Thrash Metal art (apparently done by bassist Joel Sundin). The rest of the artwork is more conventional with live pictures of the band and the lyrics. I also like the nice purple color on the back of the CD, really reminds me of those old Thrash CDs I used to buy back in the 90s.

Some might find this artwork horrible, I think it's just fantastic

Musically speaking, Entrench is a Thrash Metal band, or should I say a Scandinavian Thrash Metal band.
When it comes to Thrash Metal, we usually mention the American scene and the German scene. And that’s pretty unfair in my opinion as the Scandinavian scene’s contribution to Thrash Metal is equally as important. Some speak of Black/Thrash (we’ll discuss this soon with an interview of the band Nekromantheon) or Death/Thrash, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing else but pure Thrash Metal to me.

Entrench's audience: who needs anther proof that this is pure Thrash? 

The fact that Entrench come from Sweden means a lot though as it does influence their Thrash. In fact, the guys say it themselves: they play Thrash Metal with early Death Metal influences. And that’s absolutely correct, as listening to Inevitable Decay feels a little bit like listening to the first Swedish Death Metal bands. There is that particular feeling of emergency and insanity, just as if the musician’s lives were at stake. And that makes the music sometimes sound clumsy, particularly when it comes to leads. Now if you play in a Metal band, please do remember that sounding “clumsy” or not being technically sharp sounds nice when the music you’re composing is genuinely inspired, otherwise, you’ll just sound shitty.

Hey, that's a typical Death Metal Scenery! 

Entrench’s Thrash is very sharp, aggressive, hysterical, very epic and so nicely composed. Each song contains tons of variations, different riffs, and cool melodies; in one word: that album is extremely DYNAMIC. A little bit like early US thrash, particularly bands like Forbidden who also play a “clinical” and complex kind of thrash.

To this, of course, you need to add the screamed vocals and that “Scandinavian Touch” making the music more aggressive, and very dark, just like your early Death Metal used to sound like.
All the 8 songs on this album are very cool, but 2 of them really caught my attention: “Portrait Of A Phobia” and “Where Only Ruins Remain”. Maybe coz’ they’re even more epic than the other songs.

All you need to remember is that if you like Thrash, than I really think you should check this band out. Their Thrash is authentic, original, and therefore different from all those hyped retro-thrash bands the bigger labels are trying to make you believe in.

To Entrench means "To provide with a trench, for the purpose of fotifying or defending". Watch out guys, these warriors are here to stay, and they are heavily armed.

Easily one of my favorite albums this year!