Iron Maiden-Senjutsu

Senjutsu (Black Vinyl)

Look at that magnificent bastard. Fucking Snaggletooth Samurai Eddie is the thing that I never knew that I needed in my life. And now that he’s here, I’m completely in love.

The new Iron Maiden album is here! The new Iron Maiden album is here! (You’ll have to picture me dancing around like a raving lunatic)

OK, look, this is my favorite band of all time. I have Eddie tattooed on my left calf and I’ve seen them live more times than I can count. But let me dispel you of any notion that I’m going to take it easy on my dudes. Quite the contrary. I hold these guys to a very high standard. They’re the band that truly turned me into a metalhead and I expect them to deliver even if they are in their sixties and 17 studio albums in at this point.

So, let’s get to it. Starting with the artwork. Eddie is always a key component to every Maiden release and I think they just knocked it out of the park. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Eddie wielding a samurai sword (see Maiden Japan), but this is the first time he’s sporting the full samurai regalia. And those teeth!! Goddamn, that’s just a tasty addition to his trademark sneer. They’ve kind of stuck with the Eddie on a stark black background on the front cover as they did with Book of Souls. I kind of wish there was a bit more of a background, but the inner gatefold photo of Eddie basking in his glory of battle in front of a temple brings the goods as far as detail. Also, inside the packaging you get multiple shots of the new Eddie in various poses. All in all, Maiden is just the best when it comes to packaging and presentation. Top notch job.

So, how are the songs? Man, I wish I could say that this one lives up to the promise of the artwork. Overall, it’s kind a a retread. The performances are all top notch, as to be expected, but the songwriting just doesn’t feel all that inspired. There are quite a few songs and riffs on here that feel like they have been stripped straight from previous Maiden songs. Also, this is a very mid-tempo Maiden album from start to finish. There’s no Aces High or Trooper-style ripper on here. None of these songs just come charging out of the gate and grab you by the throat like some of those early albums. Maybe its the age setting in, but hell, I would have even taken a Be Quick or Be Dead on this thing just to get the blood pumping a bit.

As with a lot of the more recent Maiden albums, there are a lot of really long songs on here and most of them start out with a clean guitar/Harris bass intro/prelude thing. Hell, it seems like they’ve been hitting this song structure hard since the Blaze Bayley days. I don’t know if it was written into a contract when Dickenson and Smith came back that Harris gets to fuck around with some bass line intro shit at least five times an album or what, but it is really starting to feel like they need a producer with the balls to step in and say “Enough.” There is just a decent amount of fat on some of the longer songs that really needs to be trimmed. And I say this as a fan of long songs! However, if you’re going to have a 12 minutes opus, you’ve got to make sure that every part of it serves a purpose. The Time Machine, Darkest Hour, Death of the Celts, The Parchment and Lost in a Lost World all suffer this malaise. The title cut is a nice bit of majesty and a grand way to start the album. Stratego is a nice cut for a single. It has a trademark bouncy Harris galloping bass line and a nice catchy chorus from Bruce. Lead single, Writing on the Wall was an interesting choice. I can’t quite nail down what sort of influence this one came from, but in a weird way, it kind of reminds me in places of Kvelertak when they are at their most folksy. I have no idea if the dudes in Maiden are listening to Kvelertak, but it would be kind of cool if they did. This has to be the most unique song on the album or at least the one that strays farthest from the formula. Lost in a Lost World kind of sounds like a retread of something like Sign of the Cross. Days of Future Past is a nice little Smith/Dickinson composition. It’s one of the short songs on here and I think this one really works because it is just tight in its delivery and it has a really cool Smith riff that doesn’t feel like something we’ve heard before. Starting with The Time Machine at the end of Disc One, the album kind of just grinds to a halt. All of the remainder of the songs kind of fall into the pattern of the modern Maiden formula as described above. Slow clean start, some Harris piddling and then crescendo into a mid-tempo gallop. Darkest Hour came about because I’m guessing Bruce went to the movies and was impressed with Gary Oldman. Death of the Celts is basically The Clansman, Part II. The Parchment feels kind of like it features a watered down version of the riff from To Tame a Land. I would really like them to play this one live, however, just to hear Bruce introduce it with something ridiculous like, “And now! It’s time! To write! On! The PAAAARRRRCCCCHHHMEEENNNTTTT!” Album closer, Hell on Earth, is in the same formula as the preceding songs, but for some reason this one works better than the others. It’s probably the best of the bunch of long songs. The opening clean guitar part is truly goosebump inducing.

All in all, this one is a bit of a disappointment. Any other band I may have given a bit more of a pass to, but as stated before, the bar is very fucking high for Maiden. If we’re looking at the post-2000 Maiden, when Dickinson and Smith rejoined the band, I’d probably end up slotting this one down with Dance of Death as my least favorite modern Maiden album. I’d probably end up giving this one a bit of a leg up on Dance simply because of the artwork.

A very lukewarm 3.5 flip flops out of 5

Sprit Adrift-Forge Your Future

Brought to you by the letter “F”, Spirit Adrift has dropped this little EP as a “everyone-is-stuck-at-home-and-can’t-tour” in-between meal snack. Nate and his homies must have been Morbid Angel fans to keep rolling with this alphabet album title thing they’ve got going.

So, you’ve got three songs to tide you over until the next proper Spirit Adrift release. I’ve got to say that at least two of the songs on here, the title cut and album closer, Invisible Enemy, are better than anything on their last release, Enlightened in Eternity. They both have that classic unapologetic 80s metal-up-your-ass riffage. The middle song of the bunch, Wake Up, just doesn’t quite measure up to the other two songs on here. Kind of feels like something one of the also-ran NWOBHM bands like Tokyo Blade or Tygers of Pan Tang would have put out.

Not a bad little release overall. However, much like most EPs, it just leaves me wanting a bit more.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Wolves in the Throne Room-Primordial Arcana

I hope you got your pelt cloaks washed. You want to look your pagan best for the dropping of a new Wolves in the Throne Room album.

Yep, with the dissolution of Agalloch, it feels like the Wolves are the band to carry the mantle for the Pacific Northwest vein of black metal. These guys bring a bit more mysticism and embracing of nature than some of their Norwegian brethren. This latest release feels a bit like a centering album for the band and an almost stripped down rendering of their sound. It feels like this album brings an equal level of brutal and ambiance in presenting their embrace of the primitive. Although it doesn’t possess the ambition of some their earliest work, this is still a very solid selection of songs.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Deafheaven-Infinite Granite

I’d say this album is a left turn for this band, but it kind of feels like this album is Deafheaven finally embracing who they actually are as a band. Infinite Granite sees the band finally becoming the post-rock shoegaze band that was always inside of them. The black metal sound is nowhere to be found on this album (well, maybe just a couple of nods here and there at the end of a couple of songs). The crunchy guitars have been completely replace with a clean sound. George Clarke’s distorted shrieks have been replaced by soft croons and whispers. The vocals are probably the most jarring aspect of this new direction.

As different as this album sounds on the surface, to me it’s not all that unexpected of a departure for the band. Like I said at the outset, I think Deafheaven has always been this band. That’s why they courted such controversy when they put out Sunbather with it’s glorious pink album cover. Purist could see the emo-esque shoegaze band lurking under the style of black metal these guys were peddling. Look, the Mayhem and tr00 black metal fans are going to be tsk-tsking and gloating about “I told you so” regarding this album. And, those guys were kind of right. But, honestly, the Mayhem fans were never listening to Deafheaven anyway. So, who gives a shit about them, right?

So, that being said, I don’t see this as a sell-out album. It just kind of feels like these guys were following the creative forces inside of them and this is where it led them. I have to say that I don’t really like this new direction as much as their past efforts. The dichotomy between the black metal foundation with shoegaze flourishes are kind of what made them a unique and dynamic band. By stripping away the harshness, there is just this sort of hippie fluff that is left. It’s not bad. It’s just not necessarily my cup of tea. There are a couple of decent songs and melodies on here, but it just doesn’t have that special something to make this a memorable experience overall.

High marks for the bravery in going this direction. But, not my favorite album by the band.

3 flip flops out of 5

Agrypnie-Metamorphosis

Everything on this album is a bit of a mystery. From the name of the band (no clue as to what it means or how to pronounce it correctly) to the fact that the entire album is sung in German, it’s all a bit of guesswork as to exactly what is going on here. But, here’s the weird thing. Even with all the obstacles, I have found this to be one of the more engaging releases I’ve come across of late.

I say it every year. There’s always some black metal band that I’ve never heard of that ends up putting out an album that knocks me for a loop. It seems that Agrypnie is that band for 2021. This feels like a journey album. See that dirty looking dude on the album cover. I think this album revolves around his journey into either some sort of pagan-inspired enlightenment or his actual physical manifestation into a pagan god or creature of the woods. I’m taking a lot of this from the album booklet and accompanying artwork that shows this dude having visions of a human-like creature with antlers and then follows him into a woodland journey through much turmoil and searching which culminates in him changing into the very creature of his vision. Hence, the Metamorphosis! Like I said, for not speaking a lick of German, I got an awful lot from this album. Even though I don’t know for certain my theory of what this album is about is correct, the emotion conveyed through the vocals and music are so engaging that I was just sucked into it from the get go.

This is a good one. Give a listen and see if it doesn’t speak to you in some weird pagan vibes as well.

4 flip flops out of 5

Lantlos-Wildhund

If you’re going to say that this doesn’t look much like a metal looking album cover, you would be correct. And the album contained within is not very metal either. You’re probably wondering why this album is being covered on a metal-centric blog such as this. Well, let me explain.

So, let’s go back a bit here. Lantlos was the brainchild of a German boy named Markus Siegenhort a/k/a Herbst. This project began as a bit of a mixture of black metal and shoegaze and had a very prominent DIY work ethic on its first few releases. Siegenhort recruited Neige of Alcest to take over vocals for the project in 2010 and he appeared on the next two Lantlos albums. In 2014, Lantlos released Melting Sun and that album simply blew my mind. Gone was the blackgaze sound and in its place we were treated to an expansive, lush and progressive masterpiece. The breadth and depth of this album simply floored me when it came out and if memory serves me, I believe it ended up in my Top 5 albums of that year.

So, here we are seven years after the release of Melting Sun and Lantlos has finally dropped the follow-up. To say my expectations were high would be a bit of an understatement. So, how did they do? Meh. Man, this album just never takes off. It feels as though he had ditched a bit of the progressive nature of the sound and has settled into more of a post-rock bent. It’s not bad, but there is just nothing that stands out. The riffs feel generic and the songs just seem to run into one another without much differentiation. The resulting album is just flat and listless. After the lofty heights of Melting Sun, this is simply a bit of a disappointment.

Also, word of warning. The album comes in deluxe edition with an extra disc entitled Glitchking. I can’t recommend buying this version of the album. Glitchking feels like a compilation of dude just fucking around in the studio. There is nothing of merit on this bonus “album”. If you’re going to lay some of your cash down on this thing, just get the standard version.

3 flip flops out of 5

Sun Crow-Quest For Oblivion

When I first saw the name Sun Crow pop up on the release calendar, my first thought was, “Sabbath.” I didn’t even see the album cover or know what kind of band this was, but the name just screamed doom and gloom and everything heavy.

Well, I am a soothsayer. Because this debut album from Seattle’s Sun Crow indeed kneels at the alter of Iommi, Butler, Osborne and Ward. The riffs are thick and slow. The grooves are massive. The wails are tortured. What these guys miss on originality they more than make up with a total buy-in to delivering this sound and style of metal in a perfect form. This is one to crank. So, fill a bowl, find an easy chair to fall into and let this one wash over you in a blanket of sound.

4 flip flops out of 5

Scale the Summit-Subjects

Scale the Summit announce new album 'Subjects' with guests vocalists - The  Prog Report

Scale the Summit has gone for something a little bit different this time around. The long standing prog instrumental outfit (basically the Chris Letchford project at this point) has enlisted a group of guest vocalists to join the fray. While I appreciate the attempt at changing things up, the resulting project doesn’t quite work 100%.

Ultimately, this feels like an instrumental album upon which vocals were simply wedged in at the last moment. As a result, the songs don’t feel cohesive at all. I believe Letchford knew this going in as evidenced by the fact that there are two versions of the album included on this release: one with vocals and one without. I’ve listened to both versions a couple of times now and, if I’m being completely honest, you should just chunk the vocal version. It just doesn’t work. The instrumental version of the album is fine and is basically what you would expect from a Scale the Summit album. It has all the proggy guitar wankery you could possibly want. Hell, the reason you’re probably buying a Scale the Summit album is to hear that wankery. Shoehorning vocals onto these tracks simply takes away from what is clearly the showcase of the album: the guitar work. There are no natural settings for the vocals in these songs. When the vocalist is delivering their performances, you can just hear Letchford tweadling away madly underneath. The vocals simply don’t work here and take away from Letchford’s performance. And that’s not a slam on the quality of the vocalists involved. The performances are fine and the vocalists should be applauded in trying to fit vocal melodies over some of these prog wank fests. But, ultimately, these songs just don’t work well for vocals.

Look, I like the idea. But, if you’re going to have a vocal focused album, you’ve got to write the songs with those vocal harmonies in mind. The instrumental flash is going to have to take a bit of a backseat if this is the route you are going to go.

Ultimate verdict: Instrumental good; Vocal bad.

Instrumental version: 3.5 flip flops out of 5

Vocal version: 1.5 flip flops out of 5

At The Gates-The Nightmare of Being

Damn. I’m always impressed when a band really goes for it. I mean, for the most part, bands that have been around for 20+ years tend to get into a groove with things. It’s not necessarily that they get stuck in a rut or that they recycle similar ideas. But, there’s usually a formula for things. Album to album, especially in the latter era years of many bands, things may not seem as fresh or as daring as they were in their early days. Hell, that’s just life, ain’t it? We get comfortable. We slow down. We cease to grow. And that’s fine. It’s expected.

So, it gets my juices going when a long time band just tries some new shit out of the blue. At The Gates broke up in 1996 after releasing the landmark Slaughter of the Soul album. They reunited in 2011 and released two albums prior to this latest one. These two post-reunion albums were both very solid releases and really felt like the picked right up from where the band was in 1996. They were very listenable albums, but didn’t really break any new ground.

So, it was a surprise to hear some pretty creative and innovative stuff happening on post-reunion album number three. I would really love to know the backstory to the creation of this album because it feels like such a departure from any of their prior albums. What prompted the band to go out on a limb this time? I mean, it still sounds like At The Gates. It’s not that radical. But there’s a deliberate attempt at changing things up. Lots of clean guitars. Multiple songs with an almost spoken-word type delivery by Tomas Lindberg. Hell, they even jumped on the becoming-ever-more-prevalent-use-of-a-saxophone on one song. It honestly feels like a good portion of this album could be viewed more as a post-rock/metal type album than the traditional Swedish death metal sound that At The Gates helped establish.

There are probably fans out there that won’t like this album due to its different sound. I, for one, think it really works and is a breath of fresh air for the band. This album brought excitement to me when I first listened to it because it just wasn’t what I expected. It’s always a gamble to stray from the well-tread path. But, as At The Gates has shown, rolling the dice can sometimes result in some magic.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Darkthrone-Eternal Hails……

Man, not to go all Strunk & White on their asses, but were six ellipses really necessary? I mean, I hate to get all critical on artistic choices, but those things just kind of hang there going on and on and on……………………. Hell, maybe that’s the point. See, they’re Eternal Ellipses.

So, Fenriz and Nocturno Culto are back and they’ve seemingly regressed in regard to sound production on this one. That is the very first thing that you’ll notice on this one: It’s back to sounding like they recorded this in some deep cavernous void located in some remote frozen fjord. Just like the classic old days. I don’t know. I guess it is a stab at nostalgia, but it just doesn’t work so much. They have used better production on past albums. We know they know how to put a bit of a polish on their sound. Frankly, in the end, it just takes away from the songs in my opinion. Both guitars and drums just sound like shit. The songs are fine. They’re nothing spectacular, but I can’t help but feel that they would have benefitted a bit from moving away from the unfrozen caveman schtick.

In the end, I have to get all critical on the artistic choices going on here. It’s my job. It just feels like a case of a band sabotaging the work they put into these songs by attempting to remain “Trve” to their black metal roots.

3 flip flops out of 5