Trivium-In the Court of the Dragon

I really want to like Trivium more than I do. They seem like good dudes. They are all very talented musicians individually. They seem to be a very popular band. But, it always feels as if there is something missing from the whole that keeps them from becoming one of the truly great modern metal bands in my eyes. I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out exactly what is missing, but I just can’t come up with a way to articulate it. I don’t know. I guess their sound is just missing that special sort of “it factor”. Whatever that is.

At any rate, Trivium has a new album out. On the positive side of things, they decided to go heavy on this one. The last few albums has seen Matt Heafy focus on using his melodic voice rather than the harsher death-influenced growls. It’s not like they have been going for a more pop oriented sound, but they’ve definitely been presenting a more palatable-for-the-masses sort of production of late. It feels like In the Court of the Dragon is an attempt to flash more of a grittier metal sound. I welcome this direction because Heafy has a great growl and the combination of the growls and melodic voices gives Trivium a more complex and interesting sound. On the musical front, this album is pure sensation overload. At time, especially with the drums and the soloing over the vocal parts of songs, things can get a bit overbearing and the density of the notes and beats going on can simply overwhelm the song itself. As stated, these guys are great musicians. But, it feels like they need to reign in the impulse to shred indiscriminately. I think these songs may have been better served by focusing more on the riff backbone of the song and using their flash to add color and texture to the songs rather than have the flash simply take over the entire song. It’s just too much at time to be completely enjoyable.

Hell, maybe I’m just getting old. I used to be impressed as all get when someone would just shred like a maniac. There are some really tasty songs on here and I applaud the heavy turn, but it just feels as though there is just too much going on at times.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Between the Buried and Me-Colors II

Revisiting a classic album with a sequel is a fraught proposition. The only albums that I can recall off the top of my head didn’t leave much of an impression in light of the majesty of the first album. Queensryche attempted to craft a continuation of their Operation: Mindcrime storyline with Operation: Mindcrime II and it was a terrible decision (even with the addition of Ronnie James Dio as Doctor X). King Diamond attempted to go back to Abigail with Abigail II and, although it wasn’t terrible like Queensryche’s attempt, it certainly wasn’t really memorable in any way and didn’t come close to reaching the heights of the first album. Iced Earth tried to expand upon their Something Wicked Trilogy with a double album that expanded upon the mythology, but it also fell flat in comparison to the initial three song arc. Also, on this front, go fuck yourself, Insurrection Jon.

So, here we are with Between the Buried and Me going back to their 2007 album Colors. The first album was one of those touchstone moments where this band really started to make a statement that they were a prog metal force to be reckoned with. It was a massive slab of frenetic metal with odd segues into odd world music and other sorts of musical nerdery. It felt at the time that this was a band who was picking up the mantle that Dream Theater had started in the late 80s, early 90s of becoming the trailblazing prog metal band of their era. What Dream Theater was to the 90s, Between the Buried and Me has become in the 2000s.

So, I opened this package with extreme hesitancy. And, though there is much to like on this latest attempt at a sequel, once again the follow-up doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original. The feel of the music between the two albums is there. They’ve managed to capture the same sort of sound on this new album. However, it feels like those special emotional elements that make Between the Buried and Me such a great band are missing to some extent on this one. I can usually count on a few true goosebump type moments on each Between the Buried and Me albums and I just never found the music on this album pushing those buttons for me. Also, it feels like there were just a few too many quirky segues with cartoon/arcade noises thrown in at random places. I know this is kind of a thing they do, but it’s really starting to wear a bit thin. Hell, when they broke out the “Chugga, Chugg-owwwww” soundbite from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I damn near had to pull the album off the player. This kind of stuff may amuse these dudes, but it effect o the listener is just jarring and, at least from my perspective, completely pulls me out of the vibe of the song.

All in all, a nice attempt, but not a completely satisfactory revisit of a classic album. I think I’d prefer a band to just keep progressing forward rather than revisit the past glories. The track record bears it out that it’s just not a great idea.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

KK’s Priest-Sermons of the Sinner

It’s almost as if the name KK has chosen for his band is aimed at something in particular. It’s subtle. Give it a bit and see if you can figure it out.

Damn, where to start with this one? There’s is a lot going on here. And, not much is good.

I guess the best place to start is with KK himself. Look, Judas Priest was a seminal band in forming my musical taste as a youngster. And KK was a huge part of that classic Priest sound. I’ve always loved the dude’s guitar playing. He’s simply a legend. Now, when he left Priest ten years ago, it sounded like he was just tired and done with the whole scene and was ready to retire. Cool. No problem, man. You’ve earned it. However, since Priest has gone forward without him and has even replaced him with a damn capable lookalike in Richie Faulkner, it feels as if KK has just turned into a jaded and bitter old guy who can’t stop bitching about how badly Priest fucked him over. Granted, when Glen Tipton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and had to step back from playing live, I can understand why KK was upset and disappointed that Priest didn’t contact him and see if he wanted to rejoin the band. But, ultimately, KK was the dude that decided to walk away from the band. I think he kind of needs to take some sort of ownership in that.

So, it is in this light that we have the resulting band and album put out by KK. It’s ultimately a statement by a guy who feels as though he wants to remind the world that he is out there and that he can deliver the goods better than the current version of Priest at this point. Now, on the positive side, KK’s still got his guitar chops. There are frenzied riffs aplenty and searing leads for days on this thing. Lots of nods to Painkiller era Priest soundwise. Kudos to a dude who just turned 70 for being able to still blister a fretboard. On the negative, the songs just aren’t there. Lyrically, this thing is just cringeworthy. Lots out songs about being metal and about driving fast and kickin’ ass. The mindset on here is more 17 than 70. Some bands are able to pull this kind of thing off, but here it just feels sad. I mean, when the lyrics are “We’re Brothers of the Road….And we Rock! ROCK!!!! (revving engine sounds)” and “We’re Rule Breakers!! Hellraisers!!” I just want to curl up in the fetal position. There is one song called Hellfire Thunderbolt. I guess that’s cool. I’m not sure what it is, but sure, Hellfire Thunderbolt, indeed. Album closer is an attempt to revisit The Sentinel off of Defenders of the Faith. It’s probably the best song on the album, but it was still an interesting choice to include a direct companion piece to a classic Priest song.

The cherry on the top of this entire mess is the selection of Tim “Ripper” Owens as vocalist. Look, Ripper has a fine metal voice. But, at this point, he’s basically that retread, journeyman vocalist that everyone immediately thinks of whenever there is a vacancy in a metal band. He’s been in so many bands at this point and I have been racking my brain and I can’t really think of one that he has made better by joining. Look, I understand KK picking him since Ripper was the dude who replaced Halford in Priest and KK is trying to make this his definitive Priest statement, but honestly, the pick just feels lazy. I don’t know. It just feels like he could have spent a bit more time before making this decision. As to his performance, Ripper is set to maximum screech on here. He’s in the high register from the word go and he really doesn’t let up.

When I originally saw this album announced, I really had a bad feeling about it. And now that I’ve heard it multiple times, it pretty much lives up to every bad assumption I had made about it. And that makes me sad. KK, you’re better than this. I don’t see this tarnishing your legacy at all, but it’s not good. It feels like a desperate attempt to recapture past glory and to marinate in some old personal slights and grudges. Just not a good album.

2.5 flip flops out of 5

Rivers of Nihil-The Work

By and large, the albums that come out during a given year are just fine. There are a few good songs, a few mediocre ones and some filler. Most of the time, the albums all follow a familiar formula. Rivers of Nihil is turning out to be one of those bands for whom the standard is unacceptable. Each one of their four albums has seemingly upped the game from its predecessor. In a world of typical and uninspired releases, The Work feels like an important piece of art.

Rivers of Nihil began life as an extremely talented technical death metal outfit. They managed to turn the metal world on its collective ear when they released Where Owls Know My Name in 2018 simply for the progressive metal left turn it marked for the band. They added clean vocals, they brought in a saxophone player and they simply changed up their sound into something quite magical and unique. The Work continues to build on the framework laid down on Owls and simply takes it to further unexplored sonic territories. Hell, while listening to it I kept thinking to myself that we are witnessing the birth of the death metal Pink Floyd. Seriously. I say that with zero hyperbole. This is a band to be reckoned with not only in the death metal world or the metal world at large, but they should be held in the highest esteem in the general music world. These guys’ forward vision and willingness to takes risks puts them squarely in vanguard of bands at the forefront of metal.

You should be proud of this one, Rivers of Nihil. It is a fucking masterpiece.

5 enthusiastic flip flops out of 5

Ex Deo-The Thirteen Years of Nero

It seems like there was a joke going around a few years back that had the basic gist of “everything I know about history I learned from Steve Harris”. You’re reading a heavy metal blog so I’m assuming you get the joke, but if not, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden writes a shitload of songs centered on historical events. Ex Deo feels like a chop off the block of Mr. Harris.

Ex Deo is Maurizio Iacono’s (vocalist of Kataklysm) Roman Empire obsessed side project. In theory, I really dig this project. It’s an obvious passion project for Iacono and it feels like he puts as much effort into it as he does with his main gig. However, in practice, I’ve been quite critical in that, despite the differences in subject matter, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell where Kataklysm ends and Ex Deo begins. Musically, they are extremely similar in their very He-Man approach to death metal. Plus, a good chunk of Ex Deo’s lineup is composed of other members of Kataklysm. It’s really not much of a shocker that the two projects kind of blend into one another.

The latest album may be my favorite of the Ex Deo releases up to this point. The main reason being that this one stands further afield from Kataklysm than the other Ex Deo albums do. There are more orchestrations and use of traditional world instruments are this album that give it a bit more of an authentic feel than their past albums.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Insomnium-Argent Moon

Yet another pandemic resultant EP release. Seems like so many bands used their forced time off the road to write a few songs and we are now seeing a bunch of these songs being released in EP form. Insomnium has released this gracefully melancholy four song mini-album as their response to the pandemic shut down. It’s been one of the better direct responses to the uncertainty felt by many of us during this time.

Musically, this is pretty much straightforward Insomnium fare. It’s beautifully lush melodic Scandinavian death metal. They are continuing to incorporate more and more clean vocals into the proceedings.

I think the best summary of these songs comes from band leader Nille Sevanen in the liner notes. “In the spring of 2020 the world shut down. Everything was cancelled. Everyone was forced to stay home. Every fragile morning was full of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. As a band, we soon realized that we need to keep working. We need to keep writing music if we want to get through these strange times. And somehow the mood and atmosphere of those months were channeled into an idea of making an EP of ballads. Four songs, four videos. Something a bit different. Something we had not done before. These dreary tales and songs may seem desolate, but they really have the opposite purpose: to bring hope. For music, art and stories will carry us towards the new dawn.” I don’t get inspired by much, but this passage hit home with me. Listen to these songs and see if they don’t inspire you as well.

4 flip flops out of 5

Carcass-Torn Arteries

Finally. Feels like we should have already had this album in our grubby little hands for a year at this point. This was was in the can last year, but was put on hold due to the pandemic. Instead, they put out the Despicable EP as a tide-me-over until the proper album could be released.

It’s been quite a wait for them to follow up the stellar comeback album, Surgical Steel. This latest release doesn’t have quite the ferocity of the prior release, but it is right there in terms of quality. Feels more like a mid-tempo thrasher on this one rather than the all-out blitzkrieg of Surgical. Subject matter is the technical surgery-flavored splatter-fest you’ve come to expect out of these dudes. Song titles again are among the best in the business (Eleanor Rigor Mortis, Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited, Kelly’s Meat Emporium, Wake Up and Smell the Carcass). Bill Steer still remains one of the unsung guitar heroes in metal. He just manages to come up with creative riff after creative riff.

And how’s that for a different sort of album cover. It’s not everyday we get a sculpture for an album cover; let alone one made up of veggies. Rest assured, by the time you make it to the end of the liner notes, the veggie heart has decayed into a putrid, blackened mess.

This is just a classic thrashy death metal album. One designed to be played loud and to definitely annoy the neighbors.

4 flip flops out of 5

Hooded Menace-The Tritonus Bell

I always hate it when bands slip under my radar. Hooded Menance is one such band. It looks like these guys have been plugging along since 2008 and have produced a number of albums in that time. It is only now with this latest release that I have had the pleasure of filling my earholes with their wonderful mix of NWOBHM/thrash inflected death metal.

Seriously, this album simply feels like coming home. It feels familiar in all the good ways. The riffs are just classics. The leads are warm and friendly. Damn. I really don’t know what else to really say about this one except that this is how I like my death metal done. It’s not grinding to the point of aggravation. It’s not obsessed with the grotesque. It’s just a classic metal album that tells some tales of the darker corners of the world and mind.

I guess I’m going to have to go back and explore the back catalog. These guys are keepers.

4 flip flops out of 5

Wormwood-Arkivet

Pure white cover outside. Bleak ruins of mankind inside.

Yeah, right up my alley.

This is another of those albums which took a long time for me to actually get my hands on a physical copy. This one came out in August of this year and I’m just now in a spot to review it. Not sure if this is a problem in the supply chain due to the pandemic or what. At any rate, it’s here and I managed to score a signed copy of the album as a neat little bonus.

On to the musics. Arkivet is the follow up to 2019’s Nattarvet. Musically, the band is humming right along with a melodic black metal sound with some influences of a pagan/folk nature in places. My only complaint regarding the album might be the production value and the sheer lack of any bottom end to the sound. The production just gives the album a slight tinny sound. The general gist of this album is about mankind’s impact on the world and the damaging influences we have raged on our planet. From self-inflicted environmental and pandemic related catastrophes, Wormwood do not shy away from castigating mankind as a whole and ultimately lands on the premise that we are pretty much getting what we deserve. As said earlier, for me, this album is preaching to the choir. Album closer, The Gentle Touch of Humanity, is a perfect indictment of us all.

Not exactly a heart-warmer, this one. But, in times like this, maybe it’s important to have art that is courageous enough to look at the bleak underbelly of our existence. Hell, it might just help wake some people up.

4 flip flops out of 5

Panopticon-…And Again Into the Light

This one has been a long time coming. Originally released back in May, I am just now getting my hands on a physical copy of this album. There was an initial run of LPs released that were completely gobbled up during pre-sale and I was only able to get my hands on a copy after the record company found a few additional copies from the initial pressing. I guess that’s a sign that your cult level band has an extremely rabid fan base.

After the expansive and ambitious double album, The Scars of Man…, this latest release feels more like a traditional black metal album. The last release showcased a separate album of bluegrass, acoustic and country inspired songs along with one centered on a more black metal focus. This new album only has one full song in the bluegrass vein in the title cut which opens the album and one acoustic interlude about midway through the album. Austin Lunn again handles all instruments and vocals on the album with the exception of the violin and cello parts. It feels like this album is centered on the struggle with mental health and the ongoing deterioration of the natural world. Even though some of the songs are simply brutal (Rope Burn Exit and Moth Eaten Soul, for example), it feels like the message contained herein is more one of hope than of despair. The liner notes from Lunn recount going through personal struggles and that this album is the result of attempting to navigate through some rough waters.

In all, I feel like this is a solid addition to the Panopticon catalog, but not one of the strongest attempts. I miss having more of an interplay between both the black metal and bluegrass/country elements. However, I can understand the decision to pull back a bit and return to basics after the ambitious Scars of Man double album.

3.5 flip flops out of 5