A Perfect Circle-Eat the Elephant

Well, what can I say about this one?  It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly great.  Ultimately, this album really makes me wish even more that Maynard and Tool would finally focus on finishing their new album.  So, I guess you can say that I’m somewhat underwhelmed by the material A Perfect Circle has come up with on Eat the Elephant.

This really isn’t a guitar album in any way, shape or form.  This is firmly in the alternative realm.  You’ve got a great deal of keyboards and programming dominating the sound.  You’ve got some fairly melancholy lyrics that are pretty spot on regarding many of the social issues going on today.  Maynard’s vocal approach is very subdued and finds him exploring a little more of his higher range than usual.

I think if you’re a bigger fan of A Perfect Circle’s past output than I am you’ll find a lot to like about this album.  It just didn’t hit me in that sweet spot that Mer de Noms did.  Like I said, it’s not bad.  It just fell somewhat flat for me.

3 flip flops out of 5

Panopticon-The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness

It seems that there has to be a gateway band that propels a listener into the realm of the more extreme sub-genres of metal.  Some of the bands of the brutal death and black metal genres are just not real approachable without an access point.  For me, that band was Opeth.  I had always been a huge thrash fan growing up, but wasn’t able to get past the guttural vocals of death metal and some of the more evil-influenced black metal.  Opeth’s earlier work presented extreme death elements combined with more progressive and acoustic aspects.  The level of musicianship and creativity of their early work showed me that some of the most forward-thinking musicians were working under some of the furthest reaches of the metal umbrella.  From catching the Opeth bug, my understanding and appreciation of the extreme side of metal grew.

I feel like Panopticon is another of these groundbreaking bands that could easily be such a gateway band for someone just starting an exposure to black metal.  Panopticon is the creative outlet of a dude named Austin Lunn.  He performs pretty much every instrument and vocal on every Panopticon album.  He has found a way to blend traditional American black metal with bluegrass and Americana style music.  In the past, his topics have ranged from the labor movement in the Kentucky coal mines to various environmental topics.  The combining of black metal and bluegrass doesn’t seem to be much of a match on first glance, but the traditional use of acoustic passages in much of American black metal really lends itself well to the melding of the two.

For the current album, you have Lunn attempting something similar to what Opeth did with their Deliverance and Damnation albums.  They attempted to showcase their two sides with the death metal-centric Deliverance and the more acoustic-focused Damnation.  In this vein, Panopticon has released a double album.  The first part contains songs that are all of the American black metal vein, while the second is composed of songs entirely made up of bluegrass and Americana.  Lunn has stated that the two parts of the album are intended to be viewed together as one single work and after listening to them both a couple of times through, it is really a monumental and groundbreaking work.  That being said, if you haven’t yet acquired a taste for black metal and the first part of the album just doesn’t work for you, the second part is so accessible that I feel anyone can find something to like about it.  The album takes its inspiration from the writings of an environmentalist named Sigurd Olson, who was instrumental in attempts to preserve the wilderness of northern Minnesota.  The album is really a lamentation about the encroachment of the modern world and its constant cacophony and its impact on areas untouched by the modern world.  It provides a clarion call to preserve the many untouched treasures of the natural world before it is too late.

This is a special one created by a thoroughly thoughtful dude.  Do yourself a favor and see if this can pull you over to the extreme side of metal.  Some really wonderful things are happening here.

I’ve included a song from part 1 and part 2 of the album to give you a feel for the different sounds presented.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Kamelot-The Shadow Theory

Well, howdy there, folks!  The new releases have been a tad on the slow side of late.  Hence, the scarcity of posts.  Leave it to power metal stalwarts Kamelot to break the drought.

Kamelot is just one of those consistent metal machines.  Every couple of years or so, you can count on them to rally their majestic forces and create another platter of glistening power metal.  These guys are going to be your cup of tea or they aren’t.  I really don’t think there is going to be much middle ground here.  You’ve got to buy into the majesty and regal stories/imagery presented by these guys or the whole thing is just going to fall flat on your ears.

Main creative force, Tomas Youngblood’s guitar work just continues to shine and is getting better technically with each new release.  Vocalist Tommy Karevik, who is on his third album with Kamelot, provides the silky smooth vocal style that has become synonymous with Kamelot since the Roy Khan days.  Kamelot also continues the tradition of having multiple female guest vocalists in Once Human’s Lauren Hart and Beyond the Black’s Jennifer Haben.

All in all, this new album is a solid and impressive show of musicianship.  Just top-notch performance and production all around.  However, even though the presentation is stellar, the material still seems a bit forgettable.  While in the middle listening to the album, I’m enjoying it well enough.  But it feels as if I’m more impressed with the individual performances than I am with the album’s overall impact.  It feels like this is an album that is more rote in nature than delivered from a true inspired place.  Kamelot is a great band, but it almost feels as though they are a bit stuck in their formula.  Granted, the formula they have pioneered is a great one.  However, I feel that this is an album that is going to fall somewhere amongst the less memorable of Kamelot’s albums rather than their more celebrated albums.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

The Sword-Used Future

On their previous release, The Sword decided to change things up a bit.  Their sound evolved from full-on Sabbatherian-influenced sci-fi/fantasy metal-in-your-face to a more throwback organic Southern-influenced groove metal with a little bit a western flair thrown in for good measure.  Used Future sees the dogged little band from Austin further exploring the new sound foundation laid on the previous release.  Whereas a lot of bands that rely heavily on the influence of the forebearers from 1970s start to sound a bit like clones or cover bands, The Sword has managed to walk that fine line of wearing their influences on their sleeves, but still retaining an original element to their sound that is uniquely their own.  So, you can hear the ZZ Top, Skynard  and Thin Lizzy touches in these songs, but overall the songs are still The Sword.  The album doesn’t feel copycat in any respect.  It sounds like a band that has organically found a way to stay true to both their roots and their original vision for the band.

I’ll admit that my first impression to The Sword’s new direction they debuted on High Country was a little tempered.  It was just different than I had expected going in.  However, that album has just continued to ripen over time and it really feels like The Sword is on the cusp of something really special.  This latest release continues the expansion of the ideas presented on High Country.  Interestingly, it seems like nearly half of the album is made up of instrumentals.  They also seem to be exploring the addition of some seriously funky keyboards.  Give this one a fair shake if you’re new to this band.  I guarantee that it will grow on you like a fungus.

4 flip flops out of 5

Rivers of Nihil-Where Owls Know My Name

You’ve got to give it up when a band decides to go in a direction that has the possibility of seriously ending in disaster.  Rivers of Nihil is an up-and-coming technical death metal band from Pennsylvania who is coming out with their third full length album.  This is a band that has garnered some fairly solid underground buzz through their impressive musicianship and their relentless touring.  Their previous two albums were both very solid albums.  Very technical.  Very fast paced.  However, the technical death scene has a multitude of bands that all feature very proficient musicians that all pretty much produce very similar sounding albums.  It’s sometimes hard to distinguish a lot of the rabble in this sub-genre because everything seem to fit into very tight formulas and traditions.  I’ve said it before:  in many, many instances, metal is a fairly conservative art form.  Deviance from the norm can end up in a band being shunned and ridiculed.

So, here we have Rivers of Nihil with two forward thinking, but still very traditional technical death metal albums under their belt.  I would have loved to witness the discussions and the creative process going into this third album because Where Owls Know My Name is a serious statement of “Fuck it!  Let’s push the boundaries on this thing and see what happens.”  And, god dammit, if they didn’t just knock it out of the park.  They have managed to stay true to the core sound of Rivers of Nihil while adding some very progressive elements to the songs that really pushes their music into something completely different than what is generally heard in this genre of metal.  You’ve still got the artillery blasting of death metal, but overall, the tempo has been pulled back.  You’ve got numerous quieter melodic passages throughout and even a few clean vocal sections.  They even enlist Andy Thomas from Black Crown Initiate to provide some of the clean vocals.  Of course, the big change everyone will be talking about is the addition of a great deal of saxophone to the sound, courtesy of Bruce Lamont.  There are sections on the album that I swear could pass for an adult contemporary kind of sound.  I don’t mean that as an insult at all.  The progressive, jazz and death metal portions of the sound are so ingeniously woven together that it all just melds into something new that really works.

This is one that is still working itself around in my brain and I think it is going to take some time for me to fully grasp it’s implications.  This was a hell of a gambit and I really think it is going to do well for Rivers of Nihil going forward.  I mean, you’ve pushed it this far.  The boundaries have been shattered for these guys for wherever they decide to take their sound in the future.

4 flip flops out of 5

Harakiri For the Sky-Arson

This one is pretty bleak.  I mean, you’re putting Harakiri in the name of your band, so it’s not going to be puppies and rainbows.  You’ve got a pretty traditional black metal album in Arson from what is ultimately a two person endeavor from Austria.  This album was my first exposure to these guys and I’m pretty impressed with their effort.  I’m curious to go back and visit some of their earlier albums.

Even though they hail from Europe, I get a very similar vibe from Harakiri to the American black metal bands from Pacific Northwest like Agalloch and Wolves In the Throne Room.  Maybe there is something similar in the environments of the mountains of Austria and those misty rain forests of Northwestern U.S. that helps produce this flavor of music.  The music is fairly straight ahead black metal with multiple layers of guitars over the screeching wails of the vocalist.  Song titles such as Heroin Waltz and You Are the Scars should give you a feel for where this album lies emotionally.

It looks like the two main members have assembled a full touring band.  So, we can hope they are able to bring their live show over to the States.

4 flip flops out of 5

Judas Priest-Firepower

You know, honestly, what can you really say about this one?  It’s 2018 and Judas Priest has released a new album.  And it fucking rips.  End of review.

OK, I’ll go into a little more detail.  It boggles the mind that a band whose first album was released back in 1974 can still manage to create music that sounds this vibrant.  Granted, this isn’t Stained Class or Screaming For Vengeance, but it will definitely make you want to participate in a vigorous bout of headbanging.  Firepower is right in line in terms of quality with recent Priest albums Angel of Retribution and Redeemer of Souls.  Halford just hasn’t missed a beat at all.  Whereas some singers start to lose the high-end of their range as they age, Halford just keeps piercing the high notes.  The man is just a machine.  Sadly with the announcement of Glenn Tipton’s progressing Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis preventing him from touring, this may well be the last album in which he is physically able to contribute.

This is one of those albums that starts out really strong and loses a bit of steam as it goes along.  At 14 total tracks, there’s probably a handful that are filler and could have been left on the cutting room floor.  However, they aren’t enough to dampen that overall celebration of new music from one of metal true founding fathers.  Hail to the Metal Gods!

4 flip flops out of 5

Between the Buried and Me-Automata I

It seems like Between the Buried and Me is at a point in their career where they can push their musical beast in any damn direction they wish.  Watching them over the course of their existence, it’s been amazing to see what a distinctive path these guys have chosen.  Not really a death metal band.  Not really a prog band.  Not really a hardcore band.  Not really a electro/new wave band.  It’s really just a culmination of all of these elements and synthesized into something new and exciting by a group of musicians who individually can match up with anyone in the business.

This latest release sees the guys exploring more of the progressive territory than even their last two albums have.  This one isn’t nearly as heavy or aggressive in its tone as some of their earlier material and, even though death growls are still used throughout the album, it doesn’t feel like a death metal album at all.  It honestly struck me to be as close as BtBaM has ever come to Dream Theater territory.  And, by that I mean good Dream Theater.  “Scenes From a Memory” and “Images and Words” Dream Theater.  Not the staid and uninspired Dream Theater of today.

I think my only real complaint with this album is its abbreviated length.  Granted, this is only part one of a double album (I believe part two comes out later this year), so it feels more like an EP than a proper LP.  It is a breezy little album.  Blink and it will be over before you know it.  I think it will be cool to view the two halves together as a whole when the second part finally comes out.

In any respect, this is another solid piece to the BtBaM discography.  These guys are among the treasures of the metal world.  Cherish shit like this.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

 

Oceans of Slumber-The Banished Heart

I’ve got a soft spot for bands hailing from the City of Houston.  I’ve been lucky enough to see these guys perform live in Houston a couple of times opening up for Pain of Salvation and Khemmis.  Both shows have showcased a band full of emotion and depth.

Their latest album is a classic doom declaration of loss and heartbreak.  The music is lush and hits all of the hallmark doom elements with some unexpected soft moments throughout.  Standout on this album has to be the performance of vocalist, Cammie Gilbert.  A lot of doom bands employ a clean vocalist with a higher range.  Gilbert brings all of the necessary range plus a sultry soul to the proceedings that gives Oceans a different feel than a lot of the doom bands going today.  Her voice just has a heft and an elegance that a lot of vocalist can’t capture.

This is another of those band to keep an eye on.  Here’s to hoping this new album increases the exposure they get on this latest touring cycle.

4 flip flops out of 5