AC/DC-PWR UP

POWER UP

To say that I was conflicted about seeing this one pop up on the release calendar would be a bit of an understatement. Skeptical would probably better a better way to characterize my reaction. Look, AC/DC was a huge influence on my early headbanging days. Highway to Hell and Back in Black are two of the definitive hard rock/metal albums of all time. Their legacy is just solid and they are a very important band to me. However, let’s face it: modern day AC/DC has been a bit of a shitshow for quite some time. The creative force of the band, Malcolm, has died. Lead singer Brian Johnson lost his hearing. Drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for attempting to hire a hit man to kill a dude who used to work for him. Bassist Cliff Williams retired. And then the band went through this weird phase touring with Axl fucking Rose on vocals. Such a fucking abomination. I figured AC/DC was simply destined to end its long career as a circus sideshow.

Well, some good things did manage to fall into place prior to this album being produced. First of all, Axl Rose does not sing on this album. So, already off to a positive start. Johnson had some sort of successful treatment on his hearing which led him back into the fold. Phil Rudd cleared up his legal issues and Cliff came out of retirement. Stevie Young, nephew to Malcolm and Angus, has taken over on rhythm guitar. So, we’re pretty close to having the Back in Black lineup intact. And that’s cool. But, it’s still not like these guys have put out anything decent or relevant in decades. I was still pretty skeptical about this album being anything decent. But, in light of the many deaths we’ve suffered in the metal world in 2020 (especially Eddie Van Halen), I really wanted to have this be a cool piece of nostalgia.

And you know what? It is. Sure, this is nothing approaching Highway to Hell or Back in Black. Hell, I’m not even sure it approaches Flick of the Switch. But, it fucking rocks. It’s fucking catchy. I found myself repeatedly jumping up during the playing of it and doing a mock Angus goose-step around the room. It’s not groundbreaking (this is AC/DC we’re talking about…kind of goes without saying), but it’s a damn fun album. Another bonus is that a good chunk of the riffs on here were written by Malcolm before his death.

I don’t know. In light of all the bullshit of this bullshit year, it’s kind of nice to finish it out with a solid fist-in-the-air rockin’ album by one of the best bands to ever do it. The old guys made me feel a little less cynical about things. And that’s no small feat.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Mors Principium Est-Seven

Mors Principium Est is out with what I’m thinking might be their seventh album. Not entirely sure. It’s a little unclear from the album title.

So, these guys are basically down to two permanent dudes in the band at this point. They are listed as a Finnish band and they may have started out that way, but I think it’s one Finnish dude and one English dude left. At any rate, you’ve got a European hard driving melodic death metal duet at this point, I guess.

So, in a way, it’s kind of hard to slag on this one. Technically and professionally, this one shines. The issue with this album is that there isn’t anything that distinguishes it as being memorable at all. As I said, it is a very hard driving album. Heavy on the speed and lots of flourishing guitar and keyboard fills throughout. But it just never stops. Every song on here seems to have the same tempo, structure and flares. I can’t tell where one song ends and another begins. The entire thing just runs together in my mind when I try to think back on individual songs.

Ultimately, this is kind of the issue with Mors’ entire career up to this point. Their output isn’t bad by any stretch. These guys are fine musicians, but there’s just nothing special to grab hold of on here. It’s a nice effort, but one relegated to remain amongst the rabble of other melo-death bands.

3 flip flops out of 5

Infera Bruo-Rites of the Nameless

Every time I come across a new black metal band, my first thought is “Well, from which dark corner of Scandinavia is this band crawling?” I sort of feel like a perpetuator of stereotypes every so often when a blackened band comes out of a weird locale. All I really know about today’s featured band is they hail from Boston and they have created a crusty black slab of metal that rivals anything coming out of the Scandinavian north. Hell, I guess Boston could muster up enough of a winter hellscape to inspire this much of a paean of misanthropic desolation as Infera Bruo has produced with Rites of the Nameless. The only other fun fact I found researching these guys is that Infera Bruo means “hellish noise” in Esperanto. At least that’s what the internet tells me. So, you know, obviously a true claim.

This album feels like a bit of a progressive spin on the traditional black metal sound. Sure, there’s your blastbeats and typical black metal guitar stylings, but they include enough interesting atmospheric touches and more melodic sections to keep things from getting too bogged down in the blackness of the thing. Overall, this is really a very enjoyable listen for such a hellish noise. (See how I circled back there)

4 flip flops out of 5

Fates Warning-Long Day Good Night

Man, I’ve been kind of hesitating on this review. Fates Warning is such a huge band for me. Their catalog is probably one of the classier ones in metal and they are one of those few bands that has managed to create their own unique sound over the years. You can pretty much count on that when they release an album it is going to be chock full of creative musical ideas and intelligent and emotive lyrics.

Now, that being said, I’m not giving a band a free pass simply because of the goodwill they have garnered with me. You’ve got to merit each album on its own. So, in all honesty, this feels a like a middle of the road release by the men of Fates. That’s not to say there are some extremely bright spots on here (I’ll get to that later). I think overall I liken this one quite a bit to 2013’s Darkness in a Different Light. That album just kind of sat there for me and really never lit much of a fire under me. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t quite live up to the standard Fates set for themselves. I really feel the same sort of way about this latest album.

My first impression is that this one is really a much more straightforward Fates Warning album. There’s not a whole lot of serious progression or risk taking going on with these songs. Perusing the liner notes, it does appear that this album is very much a team effort between Jim Matheos and Ray Alder. Album opener, The Destination Onward, starts things off in the right direction with some clever riffs and Alder’s ever-reliable croon. But there are some downright stinkers on here, especially in the ballad department. Now Comes the Rain and Under the Sun sound like cuts that could have been left on the floor during the Inside Out sessions. When Snow Falls sounds like they are trying to recreate the vibe of a Road Goes on Forever, but it just doesn’t quite reach the level of magic of that song. On the positive side, you got a great, hard-driving lead single in Scars and The Way Home showcases that classic start/stop odd timed riffs that Fates is famous for.

Now, overall, I feel this album would have been solidly placed in the mediocre category save for the second to last cut on the album, The Longest Shadow of the Day. This might well be the best song written this year. This song really feels like it is one where Fates is flexing it’s creative muscle and I really wish a lot more of the album was in this vein. From the downright Floydian opening segments to the crescendo building sections when the vocals kick in, this is a prog opus in the best possible way and a hell of a way to close up the album.

All in all, I have to put this one in the decent category. The bright spots are very bright, but they are kind of tarnished by the paint-by-numbers feel the remaining songs contain. Good, but not great. And from this band, I expect great.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Carcass-Despicable

It looks like COVID -19 scared the bejeezus out of Carcass and they decided to push back the release of their new full length album, Torn Arteries, until 2021. I hate to break it to them, but 2021 is going to suck just as bad as 2020. Hopefully they decide to finally release the new album anyway because it has been a really long gap between their last blistering release, Surgical Steel. Hell, it’s not like these guys are overly prolific. So, having a long wait is not a huge surprise.

At any rate, they have decided to dump out this four song EP to tide the masses over. You’ve got one track from the forthcoming new full length in Under the Scalpel Blade along with three other new tracks that didn’t make the final cut of the new album. Carcass still manages to cobble together the best song titles in the business with The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, The Long and Winding Bier Road and Slaughtered in Soho added to their list of gems. It’s all standard Carcass gore-inflicted death thrash. It’s fine for what it is, but ultimately this is one for you Carcass completists out there in the void. I bought it. So, I guess you can tell what that says about me. Good, but in just an appetizer sort of way.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Pallbearer-Forgotten Days

The first thing you’re going to notice on this one is that there are a whopping eight songs on here. I know. Weird, right? For a normal band, that may seem like a normal number of songs for an album or even a little on the low side. But, we’re dealing with Pallbearer here. This band has never met a double digit length song that they didn’t fully embraced with open arms. But don’t let that scare you off if you’re a Pallbearer purist. The sludge of Arkansas doom is still fully intact, albeit in a more manageable or accessible manner, if you will.

I’ll say this about Pallbearer: it’s hard to describe just how lush and massive the sound the guys create on this album. They have an uncanny ability to create a fuzzed out harshness that still conveys aspects of gentleness, delicateness and heart-wrenching emotion. There’s a subtlety to their sound that I believe is the key to why Pallbearer is such a special band. There is just this weird dichotomy between the grandness of the riffs, the deliberate sludgey pacing and the absolute angelic croon of vocalist Brett Campbell. Putting their distinct spin on the doom metal genre has resulted in some of the more goosebump inducing moments of 2020. Even with some touches that lighten the funeral mood a tad, Forgotten Days feels right up there with Pallbearer’s best material. This feels like a special album. I feel this is one we will look back upon in a few years and realize what a masterpiece this one truly was.

5 flip flops out of 5

Armored Saint-Punching the Sky

So, I guess the lesson here is that if Armored Saint includes a song with some sort of iteration of “Fly/Flies” in the title and it refers to the insect instead of soaring through the air, chances are the album is going to be pretty damn good.

If you get that line, hooray! You’re an Armored Saint fan. If not, go back and do some homework, loser. (Hint: Dropping Like Flies and Fly in the Ointment)

It’s downright amazing that we are getting a new Armored Saint album in 2020. Seriously. Think about it for a second. What are the chances that a band the level of Armored Saint should still be kicking around as an entity this late in the game? Sure, they were as talented as any of the other traditional heavy metal acts of the 80s. And their material from the 90s and 00s have been outstanding. But, they never really broke through to the mainstream amongst the heavy hitters from the thrash or the hair metal realms. Armored Saint was always a band that seemed be on the outside and had more of an impact in their influence on other more famous bands and for John Bush’s stint in Anthrax. At any rate, it’s a credit to the stick-with-it-ness of the dudes in this band that they are still a living entity and that they are still rolling out albums that simply bang.

John Bush and Joey Vera deserve a lot of credit in being the driving forces behind this band, but I think a major high five is deserving to the guitar work of Jeff Duncan and Phil Sandoval. These guys have got to be one of the most unsung guitar tandems in metal and they have been cranking out tasty riffs and lead for years. I just hate it that more people don’t know these guys’ names.

Punching the Sky is just vintage Saint. I would put this one ahead of both La Raza and Win Hands Down in terms of quality. Probably not quite as good as Symbol of Salvation, which was the pinnacle album for this post-Dave Prichard version of the band, but it still rips as a solid entry into the overall Saint catalog. As I said, it’s simply an achievement for a band this far into their career to even put out an album, let alone one that sounds this invigorated and relevant. Cheers!

4 flip flops out of 5

Spirit Adrift-Enlightened in Eternity

If you’re keeping track, this album is brought to you by the letter “E”.

Spirit Adrift feels like the belle of the Headbanger’s Ball of late. It feels like everything Nate Garrett touches these days is heralded as gold. And rightly so. He and his cohort, Marcus Bryant on drums, have amassed an extremely solid catalog for Spirit Adrift in only five short years of existence.

I love that Garrett has been so prolific in his output. It feels rare these days when a band attempts to put out an album every single year. Last year’s Divided By Darkness was an absolute masterpiece of molten metal. Topping it was going to be a tall order. This latest album is a nice solid release, but seems to be missing a bit of that magic something that makes an album transcend into the realm of legendary. As expected, the guitar riffs and solos are there, but the songs themselves just don’t quite come together as much as they did on the previous album. Additionally, it kind of feels like Garrett’s vocal delivery is a little different on this album. On past albums, he has a very distinct croon. His voice feels a bit rougher on this album than in past efforts. However, these critiques are nickpicky at best. As stated, attempting to outdo the preceding album was going to be a tough task. Spirit Adrift is still one of the shining young stars championing the classic heavy metal sound. It feels like they are filling that void left by Dio and other such classic metal bands from the 80s. This album is still very worthy of your time.

Fun fact: The two dogs shown on the album cover are the dogs of Garrett and Bryant who both passed away earlier this year. As a dog owner, I can’t think of a nicer tribute to two fallen friends.

4 flip flops out of 5

Zeal & Ardor-Wake of a Nation

Wake of a Nation [Explicit]

Well, it seems very appropriate that Manuel Gagneux and his Zeal & Ardor project throws down a new release in light of all of the racial tension and upheaval of 2020. Wake of a Nation comes as a stinging statement of the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests that engulfed much of the nation in the subsequent months. The album cover art of an upside down cross composed of police night sticks is just perfect.

For those not in the know, Zeal & Ardor was conceived as a very avant-garde metal project that attempted to fuse black metal with Slave-era Negro spirituals and field songs. Ultimately, the project was best summed up by Gagneux’s statement, “What if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?” The combination of the two styles sounds odd on paper, but the resulting sound is captivating. You’ve got a foundation of jarring blast beats, extreme tremolo guitar picking and harsh industrial noise with spiritual and gospel inspired vocal harmonies over top. This stuff is for you more adventurous tastes in metal.

The latest EP doesn’t mince words and doesn’t pull any punches. If you’re the sort to discount the Black Lives Matter movement or believe that there’s no such thing as systematic racism in our county’s institutions or police forces, then you should probably just move on along. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ll learn something from these lyrics. As a middle aged white guy, I can’t speak as to the black experience in America. I’ve got no frame of reference. I don’t worry about being fucked with by the police when I leave my house. I never had. Hell, I’ve been flat our disrespectful to police that have pulled me over for speeding in the past. I did so without fear of repercussion. I can’t imagine what it is like to never know when a simple trip outside of one’s home could turn into a fatal encounter simply because of the basis of one’s skin color. That’s why this EP, and other forms of art like it, are important. It gives a glimpse into the experience of someone unlike me. It serves an a reminder that not everyone experiences the world in the same way that you do. You can discount this movement as championing something that is not real, but I think you do yourself and this country a disservice by doing so. These things are real regardless of whether you believe in them or not. These voices are important. This is a collection of songs that is worthy of your time.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Gargoyl-Gargoyl

If you guys read this thing regularly, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Dave Davidson of Revocation. To me, he’s this generation’s version of Jeff Waters. He just a dude that has riffs and leads galore. So, when I heard he had joined up with some dudes from a band called Ayahuasca, I was pretty excited to see what they would come up with.

I find that a lot of times when dudes branch out to side projects there isn’t a lot of variation between the side project and the main gig. This is not one of those projects. Not only is the music on here completely different from the techno-neo-thrash death metal of Revocation, Davidson’s style of playing is just completely removed from the style he is known for. This album just further solidifies in my mind of what a genius Davidson is.

From the opening acapella track, you can tell that this one is going to be kind of different. My first listen through I was kind of struck by a modern post-Layne Staley Alice in Chains vibe running through the thing. Vocalist Luke Roberts has a bit of a William Duvall croon. However, the sound is not quite as caustic or bleak as a lot of AIC material was. There’s also a bit of modern era Opeth running through here. I guess the best way to describe this thing is a modern sounding progressive grunge album. It’s a very different and very original album. I can’t say that it has completely gotten it’s hooks firmly in me, but I do really dig what they are attempting on this debut. I look forward to spending some more time with it in the hopes of it growing on me more and more.

3.5 flip flops out of 5