Cannibal Corpse-Violence Unimagined

Whatever you do, don’t look up the uncensored version of the album cover. I know, I know. The above image was deemed palatable for public consumption. Let’s just say the unedited artwork on this slice of gore harkens back to the good old The Wretched Spawn and Tomb of the Mutilated-era artwork of Cannibal Corpse. It’s equal parts grotesque and offensive. I guess you can say the run of understated album covers by Cannibal Corpse has come to an end. At any rate, if you do buy the album or find yourself Googling the unedited artwork, don’t say that I didn’t warn you. It’s pretty fucked up.

And I think in light of all things 2020 and 2021, I think we simply deserve some fucked up shit. I feel Cannibal Corpse really missed an opportunity in not releasing this festering wound of an album in such a festering wound of a year (2020). It could have been the soundtrack to the pandemic.

This latest slab feels pretty much like Cannibal Corpse on autopilot. These guys do what they do and they are really good at it. The biggest difference on this current album is the addition of Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan on guitar after Pat O’Brian had a complete meltdown a few years back. Things don’t miss a beat at all in that the chemistry between Rutan and Rob Barrett feels seamless. Rutan also steps up to the plate with quite a few songwriting credits along with Barrett, Alex Webster and Paul Mazurkiewicz.

Verdict: just a great Cannibal Corpse album for the fans of the genre. Nothing spectacular, but just a reliably solid release by one of the godfathers of gore.

4 flip flops out of 5

Liquid Tension Experiment-LTE 3

Well, this is the one all the little prog nerds have been waiting on with baited breath: the reunion of Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci. Would they be able to recapture their past Dream Theater/Liquid Tension chemistry or have the years apart and acrimonious split dampened their creative teamwork? The album is finally here and we have some answers.

First, it’s nice to hear them together again. Dream Theater just hasn’t been the same entity since Portnoy left the fold. I think there is a very solid argument to be made that Portnoy is the glue or foundation that helps reign in the excesses of Petrucci (and Ruddess for that matter). Dream Theater has just been a rudderless ship without him

Second, this is kind of a weird album. First off, they’ve split it into the main album LTE 3 and then included a second disc entitled “A Night at the Improv” which is comprised of a bunch of excerpts of their jam sessions that took place in the lead-up to recording the new album. You would think this second disc would be just overindulgent bullshit thrown on to sell a “special edition”. Usually, that’s the case with these additional discs. However, in this case, I’ve got to say: I think the bonus material may actually be stronger than the album proper.

The main album is fine. It feels like they have tried to recapture the magic of the first Liquid Tension album in both musical feel and in the structure of the songs. Album opener, Hypersonic, is a blistering technical virtuosity barn-burner right in the vein of prior album openers, Acid Rain and Paradigm Shift. You’ve got a Portnoy/Levin odd bass/drum duet in “Chris and Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey”. You’ve got an overly melodramatic Petrucci/Ruddess composition. However, they do make the ill-fated decision to include their take on “Rhapsody in Blue”, the George Gershwin composition. For those of you my age, this tune simply bring memories of a United Airlines commercial. This ends up being a 13+ minutes snoozefest. Just a terrible inclusion on the album and it just brings the album flow to a screeching halt. No one likes United Airlines and their skies have not been friendly for some time now.

All in all, it’s fairly straightforward prog shit that is good, but never really reaches the high points of the first two Liquid Tension material. That being said, it is still light years ahead of anything Dream Theater has done post-Portnoy. The highlight of this album is closer “Key to the Imagination” which is the most forward thinking and innovative track on the album. Just a great riff and feel. It is complex without being showy or over-the-top. Seriously, I think if they had paired this last track with the songs included on the bonus disc, they would have had a much stronger album.

So, what’s up with the bonus disc and why do I like it so much? I’m not entirely sure, but it is just a much more enjoyable listen than the album proper. It’s like they were in a more relaxed mood during these sessions and the songs just seem to flow together more. It doesn’t feel like prog metal done by numbers and it doesn’t feel like virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake. So many of the tunes on the album proper feel like they are trying to check all of the boxes to get nominated for best guitarist/drummer/keyboardist in the various music rags. Sure, it’s impressive, but it all feels like we’ve heard it before. The bonus disc doesn’t feel this way. It just feels like musicians completely on the same wavelength and exploring where the vibe takes them. It’s an inspiring listen.

So, verdict: Happy to hear Portnoy and Petrucci together again. Really wish Mike Mangini would just step down from Dream Theater for the good of the entity so they can bring Portnoy back to where he belongs. Album is decent and the bonus disc pushes the entire thing to a higher rating than it deserves on its own.

4 flip flops out of 5

Transatlantic-The Absolute Universe (Forevermore)

Super groups are kind of like porn stars. Bear with me here. Much like it seems everyone who acts in pornographic movies is labeled a “porn star”, it feels like every time members of already established bands get together on side projects they are automatically dubbed “super groups”. I feel like this is a stretch on both counts. Whereas there have to be character or supporting actors/actresses in porn, there have to be side groups that fall into a category other than “super”, right? What are the qualifications that make a side project “super”? Is it just the collective resumes of the band members? Is it that the music created by said side project is so magical as to elevate the side project to “super” status? I don’t have any answers to these questions. Just something for you to ponder as we get into this latest installment of the Void.

Transatlantic is the prog “super” group made up of Neal Morse (ex-Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse Band), Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater and every other prog project on earth right now), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Pete Trewavas (Marillion). All prog royalty indeed. We’re on to album number five for these guys which evidences some staying power. I guess it’s fairly safe to credibly characterize these guys as a super group simply based on the backgrounds of these guys. All of their albums have been decent, if not completely memorable, on their own. It feels like the latest album leans more into The Flower Kings sound more so than their past efforts, which felt more like celebrations of all things Yes. There’s just bit of hippyness to the proceedings here and there’s almost a Beatle-esque sound to some of the harmonics they are trying to pull off. Overall, there are some bright spots, but it kind of feels like the songs on this album have already been hashed out by the group. For a progressive group, the songs feel a bit, well, stale.

It kind of feels like this release is for those of you who have already been on the Transatlantic bandwagon. If you’ve enjoyed their past efforts, your bound to enjoy this one. Weirdly, they released two different versions of this album (I guess in the hope of getting uber-collectors to purchase both). There is the extended version called Forevermore which is a double album and then an abridged version called Breath of Life that is not only shorter in length, but also contains different versions of the songs that appear on Forevermore. I only purchased and listened to Forevermore and therefore, cannot comment on the quality of the abridged version.

3 flip flops out of 5

Baest-Necro Sapiens

Fairly straight-ahead grindy gore driven death metal out of Denmark on this one. It feels like we should be getting a lot more metal out of Denmark than we do. I’m sure there are a shitload of bands that I am forgetting, but off the top of my head, I’m thinking Mercyful Fate/King Diamond and fucking Lars. So, hooray for Baest for upping the count on badass metal coming out from one of my favorite countries. Seriously, if it wasn’t so damn cold there, I would really be seriously looking into becoming a Dane.

That was a bit of a digression. Sorry. My brain goes places, you know. Anyway, lyrically these guys are in the Cannibal Corpse/Exhumed realm of all things gross and disgusting. The difference here is that Baest is fairly accessible musically. Not a lot of surprises, but the guitar work is not so grinding as to make thing messy or unlistenable. Hell, there is almost a NWOBHM vibe in places on here. All in all, this is just a nice slab of death metal that doesn’t get weighed down by a sense of super seriousness. This is a fun one.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

LizZard-Eroded

I wish I knew a bit more about this band. All I really know is that they are a three-piece prog metal band that hails from France. Their sound is a bit of a balance between technical flashes and accessible melodic metal. In a way, it feels as though they fit in that same world of softer metallic prog populated by artists such as The Contortionist or The Pineapple Thief. The vocals are very much on the emotive side. I’d say this album is mainly for prog nerds, but I think there is enough cross-over appeal that should give these guys a wider mainstream audience. Definitely a more hopeful sounding album during a time that has mainly produced depressive and angst driven screeds.

4.0 flip flops out of 5

Pupil Slicer-Mirrors

This band name is just too graphic. Too ick inducing. Sure, it’s metal as fuck, but Jesus. Pupil Slicer? It honestly might be pushing it a bit far.

You ever see a heist movie? Sure you have. You know those flash bang charges either the bandits or the cops will throw into a room to disorient whoever is unlucky enough to be standing in there. Well, that’s this album. It comes out of nowhere quick and will completely incapacitate you. It’s fast. It’s abrasive. It’s caustic. It’s a downright hideous album. And that’s not meant as an insult. You name your band Pupil Slicer and this is pretty much the music you have to produce.

The best way to describe Pupil Slicer is by way of comparison. You’d have to say Dillinger Escape Plan is a touchstone for these guys. So many herky-jerky stops and starts and simply spastic outburst of noise populate this one. It’s kind of jazzy in some places and an ammo dump full of bombastic riffs in others. It’s a lot of damn noise produced by a trio, that’s for damn sure.

In the end, I kind of like it. I think. I’m not entirely sure though. I mean, it’s packed with talent, but I’m just not entirely sure it’s exactly listenable. Brace yourselves and cover your eyes. You’ve been warned.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Acid Mammoth-Caravan

This album sounds exactly like you would imagine it would. Set your bongs to stun, boys. It’s going to get a little foggy in here.

Yeah, these dudes are bringing a stonery doom metal sound from Greece. How does that differ from stonery doom metal from other parts of the world, you ask? Well, not much different in turns out. Stoners speak the same language and produce the same sludgy sound all around the world. Acid Mammoth sounds about like if Sleep was fronted by Nate Garrett from Spirit Adrift on vocals. That kind of sums these guys up in a nutshell. Decently produced slow dirges. Interesting note in that it appears that this is a father/son venture with son on guitar/vox and dad on lead guitar. I think this may be the only time I’ve run into something like that. The metal genes are obviously strong within this clan. For some reason, I just can’t imagine me and my old man coming up with something this cool

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Evergrey-Escape of the Phoenix

I have a feeling that this is going to come across as a negative review and I promise it is not intended in that way at all. Evergrey is such a polished and professional musical group that it almost feels like their music comes slickly packaged out of a factory. Look, this is a very solid album. But it kind of feels like the band is a bit on autopilot at this point. The songs are quality. The vocals are soaring and tremendously emotive. The guitars are blistering. The keyboards are wistful. The drums are cannoning thunder. All the things are there, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be able to distinguish the songs on here from those on The Atlantic or The Storm Within a year from now.

OK, that did sound pretty harsh. It’s still a damn fine album and there are some really standout songs on here. I guess, in a way, I’m comparing these latter era Evergrey albums to the groundbreaking albums from their early career where it really felt like they were pushing boundaries and creating something new. Hell, I kind of wish they would get back to lyrical content of worldwide conspiracies, alien abductions and terrifying religious cults. Those albums gave me goosebumps. These latter albums, including this latest one, haven’t had as deep of an impact on me even though they are still fine albums. I will say that I think this latest platter is a step forward in quality over The Atlantic or The Storm Within. It’s just not in the same ballpark as The Inner Circle or In Search of Truth.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Harakiri For the Sky-Maere

Harakiri For the Sky comes back this year with a follow-up to their successful 2018 release, Arson. Harakiri is a two-man operation and both dudes only go by initials. So, I’m not really at liberty to speak much on the background of these guys since I haven’t been granted security clearance as of yet. All I can say is that JJ provides the lyrics/vocals and MS brings all of the musical arrangements and instrumentation. Oh, and they’re a couple of long-haired heshers from Austria.

The latest opus is simply that. It is a double album that is jam-packed full of blackened death metal that embraces all that is melancholy and depressing in the world. This is not an album to help you feel anything close to optimism. A sampling of song titles: “I, Pallbearer”, “Sing For the Damage We’ve Done”, “Three Empty Words”, “Us Against a December Sky”. Yeah, this shit feeds my worldview. Musically, this one feels a little more straight ahead than Arson did. The meat of the songs is fairly driving and crusty death metal. Hell, there’s even a bit of hardcore undercurrent to the thing in places. To me, the album really shines during the quieter and more atmospheric interludes and breaks within the songs. To me, it feels as though the album would have benefitted from a bit more experimentation and flushing out of some of these more melodic breaks. But, that’s just me.

All in all, not a bad follow-up to a stellar prior album. I will say that it has grown on me more and more with each listen. A solid release.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Cult of Luna-The Raging River

This felt like a pretty quick turnaround for a new Cult of Luna release since it was toward the tail of of 2019 when their last full length, A Dawn To Fear, was released. This one is technically an EP, but with a total of five songs you get damn near 35 minutes of new Cult of Luna music. Hell, that’s damn near seven minutes longer that Reign in Blood.

Not much of a revelation here. This is vintage Cult of Luna. It feels like you either dig these guys or you don’t. Count me solidly in the “Dig It!” camp. You’ve got four really long songs of the classic Cult of Luna dirge-tinged soundscapes of the apocalypse with an interesting Mark Lanegan fronted interlude smack dab in the middle to separate the four longer songs. Cool little release that should quench fans thirst until their next full length release.

4 flip flops out of 5