Album Review: Chasing the Dream – Skull Fist

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Album: Chasing the Dream

Artist: Skull Fist

Year: 2014

Genre: Heavy Metal

Songs: 9

Heavy metal. It means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some, it’s a catch-all term for any and all loud, angry music with distorted guitars, lots of solos, aggressive drumming and a weird subculture of fashion that seems to involve only denim, leather and spikes. For others, heavy metal means a specific type of metal, different from all other forms of metal, with its own sounds, themes and musical lineage. It conjures the image and sound of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (or perhaps Samson, Angel Witch, Jameson Raid and Tygers of Pan Tang, among others, for the connoisseurs). Unfortunately, this is a sound now mostly consigned to the history books, with only the older bands still flying the flag. Thank God then, for the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, a movement of upcoming bands who take it upon themselves to hearken back to that golden age of metal. Some do it spectacularly, like the mighty White Wizzard. And it is to this re-invigoration that Canadian band Skull Fist are pledged.

However, with taking on the mantle of the genre comes a certain set of expectations about your band’s music. We, as fans, expect awesome guitar work – and Skull Fist deliver. We, as fans, expect a powerful back line, with pulsing drums and driving bass and hopefully the odd fills from both – and Skull Fist deliver. We, as fans, expect lyrics dripping in machismo and creativity, possibly about challenging people to fights, victory in fights and something at least vaguely related to themes you’d find in any given fantasy novel – and Skull Fist deliver. And we, as fans, expect above all an amazing vocalist, who never threatens to slip into growls (which are wonderful but they have their place and that place is not traditional heavy metal), who can go from regular singing to ear-curdling, head-splitting wailing that cause us all to throw the horns as had as we can. Above all, they must be real – that must be the singer actually singing and if they can’t do that live God help them. Don’t. Fucking. Use. Autotune.

Ah, you’re looking a little sheepish there Skull Fist. You looked away for a second then. Why? I mean, come on, you guys are standing up for heavy metal. You didn’t? Don’t tell me you did? A little? Fuck, that’s bad enough! But you know, your music is superb and it all fits together nicely and sounds pretty awesome, as long as you didn’t saturate your entire bloody album in enough bloody autotune to make a pop producer blush then I’m sure it’ll be just about passable…

Oh, fuck.

Chasing the Dream is Skull Fist’s second album, following on from 2011′s Head of the Pack. It disappointed me. Severely. I didn’t think that was possible. I mean, when I went into the album I literally knew nothing about Skull Fist, other than the fact that Wikipedia told me they’re a metal band trying to recapture the classic heavy metal sound. Sounds fine to me, that’s a good thing. The album begins, the guitars start up on Hour to Live, the opener. Not bad. Actually, pretty good. Yeah, this is going well. And in come vocals. Ah. Not to my taste. High-pitched, but sounding slightly forced, maybe a little lacking in substance. I’ve certainly heard worse vocals, but I’ve definitely also heard much better. At best, they’re slightly sub-par, lacking the power of the great metal vocalists. Suddenly, at the edge of hearing, a familiar, telltale mechanical and tinny edge to the vocals. Nah, can’t be autotune, this is heavy metal. Whatever, the next track is up. Ok, Bad for Good. It’s much the same as before, great music, so-so vocals and then bang! Falling with an audible clunk, like a keyboard falling down a flight of stairs, the chorus is laden with autotune. It is metaphorically dripping with it. And that is offensive. If you cannot sing, don’t. If you need autotune, especially if it’s that bloody obvious, then don’t bloody sing. Because you can’t. Sorry, but no. It’s either that or the vocalist of Skull Fist genuinely produces naturally autotuned vocals, in which case I feel so sorry for him. Neither possibility helps the album.

And so begins a theme with Chasing the Dream. Great music, wonderful guitarwork, spectacular solos, fantastic drumming, solid bass. Easily the standout track is Shred’s Not Dead, a 3 minute instrumental demonstrating everything I mentioned above and blissfully free of singing. Some of the other tracks in the middle of the album - Call of the Wind, Sign of the Warrior – feature passable singing but nothing on the album stands out as brilliant as a whole. Were the album entirely instrumental, it might be a fantastic album. But, alas, it is neither of these things. And, to make matters worse, right after Shred’s Not Dead, the final track, Mean Street Rider, begins with a heavily autotuned vocal line. It sounds abysmal. Appalling. Disappointing.

It’s a real shame. The vocals mar what should be a superlative album. They stick out so much that they completely distracted me from the rest of the album. The all too brief moments where there were no vocals I could feel myself falling into the album, enveloped by the masterful music on display from four clearly incredibly talented musicians. If they found a new vocalist I’d be right behind them, pushing them alongside bands like White Wizzard (who I mentioned earlier, who have had a series of blisteringly good vocalists and who you should definitely listen to) but until they do I cannot recommend anyone listen to them.

Best Song: Shred’s Not Dead

Worst Songs: Bad For Good, Mean Street Rider

Recommendation: Avoid.

Cheers,

Jim.

Hail to the King – Avenged Sevenfold; Album review

A7XHailtotheKingAlbum: Hail to the King

Artist: Avenged Sevenfold

Year: 2013

Genre: Heavy Metal

Label: Warner Bros.

Songs: 10

OK, so I thought the album was going out in a week. Turns out, Avenged Sevenfold decided to release the entire thing for streaming on iTunes. And thank God they did, else I’d have to have waited another week for this generally well-written album that features Avenged Sevenfold’s trademark blend of classic and modern styles of metal.

The album opens, Black Sabbath-style, with the deep and sonorous chime of a funeral bell and the ambient crackling of flames before our opening riff kicks in. The song is mostly written in a metalcore vein, with the verse featuring powerful chugging riffs throughout, though lead guitarist Synyster Gates gets an impressive melodic solo in before we return to metalcore (framed with a lovely deep brass section for the bridge). It’s a good start to the album, and certainly bodes well for what’s to come. It’s followed up by lead single Hail to the King. As I’ve expressed before, I think the song is generally a pretty good example of Avenged’s attempts to blend modern and classic metal, though I think it’s a tad dull and suffered from bad production in the version released for the single. While my opinion of the song remains unchanged, it’s worth pointing out that the album version seems slightly better mixed, though the rhythm is still lost at key points, leaving the song without any sense of power.

Doing Time is almost certainly drawing from Danzig, featuring as it does M Shadows singing like a modern day Glenn Danzig, especially in the chorus. Again, the song wears its classic metal roots on its sleeve (even featuring solos that sound like they’ve been ripped straight out the 80s wave of heavy metal). It’s essentially a perfect fusion of classic and modern metal, and one of the best tracks on the album. It’s followed up with Sad But True This Means War. I kid of course, but the verse does sound like a slightly altered version of the Metallica Black Album single. It thrashes its way through a verse over which Shadows snarls angry lyrics before rising up and out into a soaring chorus. Again, it’s a highlight of the album, and well worth a listen.

Requiem opens with a Latin chorus before crashing straight into an opening that promises an awesome thrash-style track like the previous song. Unfortunately, it gives in to a standard metalcore song that offers the first real disappointment of the album. Requiem certainly isn’t a bad song; no doubt fans of older Avenged material might appreciate it for sounding at least a little like their older style (musically I mean, Shadows doesn’t return to screaming – and thankfully, I might add since his singing is brilliant) but for me it’s a shame that this follows such pumping tracks like Doing Time and This Means War. Next, Crimson Day is the standard slower, oh-so-emotional song in the same vein as Seize the Day and So Far Away. In fact, it sounds like a mix of Seize the Day and Dear God musically and vocally respectively, as the guitars swing back and forth between crooning arpeggios and crunchy distorted riffs over which Shadows sounds like he couldn’t decide if he was singing a rock song or a country ballad. The one saving grace the song has is the fantastic solo, but it’s over all too quickly and swiftly forgotten both times it shows up.

Heretic is another metalcore track that sounds like it walked straight off City of Evil and while that is a compliment  I can’t help but continue to be a little disappointed (never mind the fact the song is well put together, with an effective, if predictable, mix of light and heavy sections and harmonised, melodic solos). Before the album’s release, the band claimed they were really going to play up their classic metal releases but shy of a couple of tracks, the album seemed to have returned to standard Avenged riffing. That’s not technically a bad thing, of course, but it’s not exactly what was claimed. That said, the next track, Coming Home, is far better, sounding like it was written while the band was listening to Iron Maiden’s The Final Frontier. It’s a fantastic love letter to the NWOBHM, featuring harmonised riffs, fast-paced and crunchy rhythm riffs and possibly Avenged Sevenfold’s best chorus. Everyone in the band is on top form for this song, but I think shout outs must go to Shadows who easily carries the song and new drummer Arin Ilejay who, after a mostly standard album, does manage to show his chops here.

Coming Home fades out into Planets, possibly the oddest track on the album. Whereas the rest of the album is either metalcore or drawing from heavy metal, Planets instead seems to draw from thrash metal for the main riff that runs through the game, with ever-so-slightly discordant chords behind them so that it sounds like a modern thrash band who decided to draw some inspiration from progressive metal. The prog influence only gets stronger after the chorus, particularly while Shadows sings about the destruction wrought when planets crash into one another. The end result is that the song sounds distinct, in a place of its own on the album. Finally, we end with Acid Rain, a haunting and brilliantly-crafted finale. From the morose opening piano chords and wailing cries of the violin to the smooth solos and restrained vocals, Acid Rain just oozes style. One just can’t help but be caught up in the huge sweeping chorus and then brought down as the verse returns, or rise slowly along with the marching drumbeat in the bridge into Gates’ best solo on the album. He shines here, not because of his technical ability, but because he, like Shadows, demonstrates he knows the power of restraint, holding back on his impressive abilities in order to instead write a soulful solo that is more powerful thanks to it. As the white noise of rainfall sedately leads us out of the album, we are aware we have just listened to something fantastic.

I admit, after the Hail to the King single, I was worried about this album. I needn’t have been. It’s not perfect. It has a dud track or two. Some tracks return to the comforting familiarity of metalcore. But, overall, the album is more than happy to experiment with classic and modern styles of metal, offering some of Avenged Sevenfold’s best writing to date. I might not be the one to stand up and enthusiastically hail to the kings, but I’ll certainly offer a salute to an impressive album from a band that seems to go from strength to strength.

Best songs: Acid Rain, Planets, Coming Home, Doing Time

Worst songs: Crimson Day

Recommendation: Buy it.

Cheers,

Jim.

Hail to the King – Avenged Sevenfold; Single review

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See the video on YouTube here.

 

In just over a week (at time of writing) American metallers Avenged Sevenfold’s new album, Hail to the King, will be dropping. It’ll be their first album with brand new drummer Arin Ilejay (ex-Confide) and has been promised to be a throwback to classic rock and metal bands such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The single arrived last July and on the 16th August the music video (linked above) was shown. So, how does it hold up and does it bode well for the upcoming album?

…Not really, I’m afraid.

You can indeed see the influence from classic metal in the song, that much is true. It was clearly written with the NWOBHM style in mind, but unfortunately it’s filtered through the wringer of modern metal, which has rendered it devoid of the melodies, harmonies, powerful rhythm and soul of one of metal’s greatest ages. Lead guitarist Synyster Gates constantly noodles away underneath the band, playing a riff that sounds like a slowed-down lick from one of the great German speed metal bands, while bassist Johnny Christ lays down a muddy and indistinct bassline to go along with Ilejay’s basic rock beat.

It’s worth pointing out that the band did say prior to the release that Ilejay decided to play in a more conservative and toned-down manner than to previous drummer the late-Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan’s incredible drumwork, which is fair enough, but he could’ve at least tried to play something interesting for the lead single.

The rhythm guitar, provided by Zacky Vengeance, is scuppered by the efforts of producer Mike Elizondo (producer of Avenged’s previous album Nightmare, as well as Mastodon’s The Hunter and a plethora of hip-hop albums), who lets him be heard briefly in the intro before all but mixing him out entirely. He can be heard far off in the background during the choruses, but otherwise he might as well have not bothered showing up for recording. Finally, vocalist M Shadows delivers a decent performance here (his singing really has come on leaps and bounds over the last few albums) but he’s let down by the lack of power in the song. As the chorus comes in, he wails “Hail to the King, hail to the one!” but the lack of a rhythm guitar behind it means the chorus is left bereft of any crunch or power it might have had, while the volume of the gang vocals that follow it up, shouting “Hail!” are turned down so low that all it results in is a pathetic background shout.

All said, the song isn’t bad, per se. Sure, it’s a little dull, but I think that’s really more down to the awful mixing than to any fault of the band. The rhythm ought to have had a greater presence, giving the chorus more power and the verse more structure and the gang vocals ought to have been louder in order to give the post-chorus more strength. The solo could’ve fitted more with the song (it’s more like a metalcore solo than a heavy metal one) and perhaps harmony lines or more varied rhythms could’ve helped the song escape its drudgery. In the end, I worry that the album will be as dull as this single. Thanks to the presence of Elizondo as producer, I certainly don’t hold out hope that it will sound better.

Cheers,

Jim.

Super Collider by Megadeth – Album Review

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Album: Super Collider
Artist: Megadeth
Year: 2013
Genre: Heavy Metal, Hard Rock
Label: Tradecraft/Universal
Songs: 11

Megadeth get a lot of bad press. In fact, they get bad press almost every time guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and all-around I-am-the-band guy Dave Mustaine opens his mouth and says something. Usually it’s something controversial. Generally it’s something political. Every now and again it’s about another musician, though those days seem to be behind him now. And yet, it’s surprising that a man who talks so often, with so much gusto for talking and so many opinions to share manages to actually say absolutely nothing over the course of 11 songs and 45 minutes.

Yeah, it’s time for another Megadeth album.

I’ll admit, I went into Super Collider with good expectations. As a rule, I like Megadeth – albums like Killing is My Business… and Countdown to Extinction are both fantastic thrash albums, and their last two albums, Endgame and Th1rte3n were decent-to-good albums in my opinion. So, forgive me for expecting something good from their latest offering. Had I paid any attention to reviews – which I don’t – I’d have known it has been received with a less-than-lukewarm opinion. More fool me, since I could’ve saved myself from this.

And yet, when the album fires up with Kingmaker, I was enjoying myself. The riffs were powerful and thrashy, the solos were impressive and the backing bass and drums were nice and heavy. But then, like a tone-deaf siren looming through the murk to taunt the beleaguered Argonauts, Mustaine started singing. Flat? Flat isn’t the word. Steamrolled perhaps. The vocals form an awful top layer to the song, drawing attention away from the glorious thrash metal goodness underneath so that by the end of the song you’re more than happy for it to end.

Next up is the lead single Super Collider, followed by Burn, Built for War and Off the Edge. I’m bunching all four together because they form their own little quartet of tediousness, kind of like a movie marathon of the Star Wars prequels followed by Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but with less good music. Super Collider is an utterly bland hard rock track, perfect radio friendly fodder, shovelled out the door devoid of any soul or life. Burn is equally tepid, but this time laced with the worst lyrics on the album, lyrics which abuse the “fire = passion” metaphor. Like Super Collider, Burn sounds churned out, a vacuous filler track that doesn’t deserve yours or anyone’s time. Built for War is actually a solid thrash track, but once again Mustaine ruins the track both with his out-of-time singing and repetitive lyrics that deal with aggression using the words of a tantrum-throwing teenager. Finally, Off the Edge continues the wearisome wave of vapid vocals, with Dave complaining that “this world’s gone crazy”. I’m not sure how – perhaps it’s a form of cabin fever where we’ve all gone mental listening to this album. Either way, it’s still a dull track, from the lazy soloing to the bog-standard riff that runs behind the entire song.

Following that cavalcade of mediocrity we have Dance in the Rain. I’m not sure whether the song is decent, or if it’s just good enough, coming as it does after that last barrage. I’m quite a fan of the verse riff, and for once Mustaine’s singing works very well, this time properly complimenting the music. It’s refreshing to actually hear a verse segue neatly into chorus, chorus to solo, solo to verse once more – you know, like proper song writing! I do have an issue with the latter third of the song though. Around 3-and-a-half minutes in, the tempo abruptly shifts, as does the music. The change heralds Disturbed and Device frontman David Draiman’s guest spot on the song, and unfortunately his section of the song is the weakest. His voice doesn’t really suit the song, and the change from Dance in the Rain to this forms a messy schism, and while it doesn’t kill the song it does mar it.

Despite that, Dance in the Rain signals a change in the album. Beginning of Sorrow is a serviceable thrash track – it doesn’t stand out and it’ll never be counted amongst Megadeth’s greats as far as I’m concerned, but by this point I hardly cared. I’d found two – well, very nearly two, call it one and a half-ish tracks I didn’t hate, so it was good enough for me. Try not to listen to the lyrics though; aside from the repetition of the chorus – the last minute of the song is essentially a constant chorus – there’s also bad grammar, which just offends me to my very core. I mean really, “one of you was have to go”, “the doctor says she got to go” and “soon he get revenge”. If you’re going to write contentious political opinion, at least express it properly, else pedantic arseholes like me will never respect your ideas, Dave. In any case, it’s all just heavy-handed political allegory anyway, so you’re better off letting Dave warble away and just plod onto the next song.

Onwards, then, to The Blackest Crow. This is easily the best track on the album. First off, it begins with a banjo, which runs throughout the entire track and actually works with the music. Hell yeah. There’s also this nifty little southern guitar chord pattern on the rhythm guitar, which I love, not to mention the awesome slide guitar solo. Basically, it’s thrash metal mixed up with a southern rock style, and I love it. Add to that decent vocals, pretty bleak lyrics and actual pacing and you have one good song. Admittedly, it’s basically this album’s 13, but whatever, it’s still good.

The album wraps up with Forget to Remember, Don’t Turn Your Back and Cold Sweat. Forget to Remember has a neat riff framing it, and a pretty good upbeat heavy metal style chorus. It’s nothing special, but still worth a listen; again, probably a case of being just good enough given the rest of this album. Don’t Turn Your Back starts with this weird guitar noodling that sounds like a clip accidentally left in, but it segues into the track, so I suppose it was supposed to be there? Don’t know why, it sounds unprofessional. In any case, Don’t Turn Your Back is pretty much dull hard rock and would probably more at home nearer the start of the album with the rest of its kin. Finally, the album ends with a Thin Lizzy cover, Cold Sweat. Perhaps an odd choice, but Megadeth produce a crunchy, heavy version of the song that works quite well, and it’s a great song regardless of who plays it. It ends the album on a high at least.

All said and done, Super Collider is a bit disappointing. The majority of tracks are tepid hard rock with nothing to recommend in terms of vocals, music or lyrics. There are definitely some stand-out tracks on the album, whenever Megadeth return to thrash and heavy metal – The Blackest Crow, Forget to Remember and the first two-thirds of Dance in the Rain would’ve been right at home on either Endgame or Th1rte3n, possibly even Youthanasia. Overall, it’s a poor performance from Megadeth. On Kingmaker, Dave shouts out to us “I want to be the King” but really he’s more like the jester.

Listen to: The Blackest Crow, Forget to Remember
Avoid: Burn, Off the Edge
Recommendation: Best to give this one a miss.

Cheers,

Jim.

Bill Bailey in Metal by Bill Bailey – Album Review

ImageAlbum: Bill Bailey in Metal

Artist: Bill Bailey

Year: 2011

Genre: Comedy, Metal (sort of)

Songs: 9

It has to be said, I do love Bill Bailey. To be fair, there are a lot of reasons to. Aside from the fact that he’s an incredibly funny comedian, he’s also insanely musically talented, able to whip between multiple instruments and genres in his shows to produce hysterical and satirical comedy, often set to music and accompanied by Bailey’s whimsical persona. But, does this attitude successfully transfer onto a CD?

Not entirely, I’m afraid.

Bill Bailey’s Bill Bailey in Metal is a collection of some of Bailey’s more famous songs from across his career that he used at Sonisphere. The name suggests the album would be metal, a suggestion made all the more plausible by Bailey’s appearance at Sonisphere; in reality only a handful of tracks can really be called metal or hard rock of any kind. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the album is bad, or that the songs don’t live up to expectations. In fact, some of them are brilliantly reworked into their new rock trappings, while others display a flair for electronica. Perhaps this is the point; in his live shows Bailey delights in playing with his audience’s expectations, and he continues to here.

The album opens with the instrumental Lazer Gazer, a neat electronic-rock fusion that feels at times eerie and melancholy thanks to the high-pitched beeps of the keyboard and the dark, mournful violin backing. The opening is underpinned by a nice crunchy guitar, although this is replaced halfway through by a screeching lead lick. All of these together not only make for a lovely sounding track, but it all combines to form a crescendo before a prerecorded female voice exclaims that there’s an unexpected item in the bagging area. While it’s not a great guffaw of laughter, it’s a fantastic sounding track and elicits a little chortle before the album kicks off for real with Leg of Time, a tribute to the fantasy-fuelled prog-rock of the ‘70s. Like the greatest tracks of the genre, it constructs a narrative; in this case, it tells the tale of Terry the thief who steals one of Time’s titular legs. It revels in its absurdity – of course it does, it’s a Bill Bailey song. From lines such as “Ride a white pig to the edge of Lapland/Why did I do that? I don’t know” and “Magical chanting is no crime/When you’re suckled by a blind Alsatian”, to the absolutely wonderful non-sequitur Cockney middle 8, the song is consistently funny as well as fantastically constructed and forms the first highlight of the album.

Following this is Love Song, an at first morose, then sickly sweet ballad that highlights and then parodies typical love song clichés and phrases before descending into a furious and heartbroken hard rock finale complete with a rock-and-roll scream and solo. Again, most of the comedy here comes from Bailey’s lyrics, which gleefully tear apart typical protestations of love. For example, the protagonist’s love is likened to that most romantic of animals, a duck, clumsily falling over its own feet while it tries to stand on ice. However, by the end of the song the duck now “lies shredded in the hoisin of your lies”. While it’s not as funny as Leg of Time, and nor is it as musically engaging, it’s still an amusing song and you’ll find yourself both horrified at and furious with the protagonist by the end.

Apocalyptic News is an odd track. Another instrumental, it plays off an idea Bailey mentioned in his earliest stand-up shows; namely, that the opening to the BBC News sounds like it is the harbinger of the end of times. To that end, Bailey frames that opening with an odd medley of creepy chords, effects ripped from an early science-fiction show and funk guitar. If that sounds like it shouldn’t work, that’s because it kind of doesn’t. The song shifts from genre to genre abruptly, and each section is overlaid by a different effect that sounds separate, creating a strange dissonance. After that, we’re treated to a cover of Scarborough Fair, but with a twist – this version is Bill Bailey pretending to be German industrial metallers Rammstein, and so the song features a chugging guitar riff underlying an electronic lead while Bailey sings along in broken German. While the song is amusing the joke does wear thin and it ends up being not quite as funny as Leg of Time or Love Song. The same issue happens with Cars, a French language cover of Gary Numan’s Cars and Das Hokey-Kokey, a German cover of the Hokey-Kokey (unsurprisingly). Again, the music is fine (and Cars even features a car horn solo) but the joke wears out quite soon.

The penultimate track is Oblivion, Bailey’s take on emo. While it may be crass to laugh about self-harm, you can’t really help but chuckle at the protagonist (who works at a coffee house) slapping himself with a flapjack or fumbling over the word “Why?” because he’s used a coffee stirrer to stab his tongue. The main musical draw comes from the fact that around a minute-and-a-half in Bailey switches to an almost death metal genre, with a powerful guitar rhythm and growled vocals. Ultimately it ends up being an average song – a bit bland in terms of the music (death metal break notwithstanding), but the piano-led outro does lead nicely into the final song, Pot Plant Elegy, which combines a morose piano with the strange sci-fi effects from Apocalyptic News to form a beautiful and surreal ending to a surreal album.

With 9 songs the album sits at just under 25 minutes and I can’t help but be glad. While the stand out songs are clustered at the start it does mean the latter half of the album is a little flat, but I can’t but be impressed at it as a whole. The music is superbly crafted and it does manage to capture, at least in part, Bailey’s absurdist humour. While it’s obviously not an acceptable substitute for his stand-up, Bill Bailey in Metal is still a decent album for fans and might help introduce one or two new listeners to that wonderful part-troll comedian.

Best song: Leg of Time

Worst: Das Hokey-Kokey

Recommendation: Buy it if you’re a fan, listen to it on YouTube first if you aren’t.

Album Review: Temper Temper by Bullet For My Valentine

ImageAlbum: Temper Temper
Artist: Bullet for My Valentine
Year: 2013
Genre: Metalcore
Label: RCA Records
Songs: 11 (Standard edition)

If I were asked to name the biggest codifiers of metalcore, I would probably point to Bullet for My Valentine. Opinions of the genre and the band aside, I would argue that the Welsh quartet are easily one of the biggest names in modern metal, responsible for popularising a sub-genre and bringing it into the realms of the easily marketable. Their 2005 debut The Poison was particularly successful (and not without reason, either) and their popularity has generally continued to rise with each new record they release.

This album might change that.

Temper Temper is the fourth release by the band and it’s easily their weakest. We’ve had 4 albums now. We’ve had our fill of teenage angst over lost girlfriends who cheated. We’re good for songs about our levels of pent-up rage and how much we really like this new girl. Unfortunately for us, Bullet for My Valentine haven’t had enough of writing about these subjects and so we must be subjected to another 45 minutes of grown men whining about teenage problems.

We begin, then, with Breaking Point. A loud and raucous scream heralds the beginning of the new album. We get a standard tremolo picked intro riff and a stuttering guitar line to back the verse. It builds up to a big chorus where vocalist and guitarist Matt Tuck gets to sing in tandem with the rest of the band. Rinse and repeat for 4 minutes, don’t forget to add in the whispered breakdown and a technically-proficient-but-devoid-of-soul solo and bang, done. Lyrically, the song is about pent-up anger, with choice lines written by master poet Tuck such as “It’s an eye for an eye/It’s an eye for an eye/It’s an eye for an eye/It’s an eye for an eye”. Everyone might well indeed have a breaking point, Tuck, and it seems you’ve almost found mine. Not a good start.

We continue with Truth Hurts, a song about how drugs are bad which features the brilliant song structure employed by Bullet for My Valentine, in which the chorus is repeated no less than 4 full times in succession. In its favour, the song does feature a strong octave-based riff that belies the band’s hardcore punk origins, but it’s utterly unmemorable and is quickly forgotten. We move onto the title track, Temper Temper. It’s a song about pent-up anger and utterly bland metalcore riffs. Ho hum. If I must say something positive about this song (and it is a struggle) it’s that the video that debuted with it does feature Kyle Gass of Tenacious D running rampant hitting hordes of stereotyped teenagers with a plastic baseball bat, and I think we can agree that’s basically a good thing.

Track 4, P.O.W., opens with an eerily familiar riff and takes the spot of the designated slightly-quieter and slower song. In fairness, despite the fact that the music feels too familiar for comfort, it features Matt Tuck’s best singing so far on the album and is a welcome change of tone and pace. It’s still a standard metalcore quiet song, but it is better than the previous three songs. It’s not exactly high praise, but it’s the most this album can aspire to. Dirty Little Secret is also a slow song; it features the exact same song structure as P.O.W. (slow intro/verse, heavy chorus, slow verse, heavy chorus, breakdown, chorus, like every uninspired slow metal song since Metallica’s Fade to Black) and the same attitude to lyrical repetition as the rest of the album – in one section, the line “Dirty little secrets” is repeated no less than 8 times. Full marks for originality, guys.

We follow these quieter moments with Leech, a song about someone who gatecrashes a party. No, really. Here, a couple lines of lyrics to illustrate the point: “Your invitation, it doesn’t exist/So tell me why you keep crashing the party”. Now, I’m sure you could argue a deeper metaphorical meaning to this, but given the track record set by the album thus far I’d be inclined to disagree.

The next track is Say Goodnight – sorry, Dead to the World. Lyrically, it’s not the worst of the album, although it does feature the awkward lines “Lost without hope/Hope is now lost”. Other than that line, it’s fine; inoffensive, but it pushes no boundaries and recycles the standard tropes you’ve come to expect from the band. It does have a pretty good solo though, even if it only stands out by dint of being one of the only solos on the album.

Next we’re treated to Riot and it’s pretty much the worst song in Bullet for My Valentine’s discography since – well, since Leech, to be honest. The main riff is awful and hits true heights of repetition, while the lyrics alternate between the standard full-band “Woahs” to lines like “Here comes the sirens, here comes the law/Run from the sirens, run from the law”. Musically, it is the absolute nadir of the album, and it’s almost hard to believe it came from the same band who crafted the brilliant riffs of The Poison.

I’m almost glad to listen to a track like Saints & Sinners after Riot. It’s honestly almost pleasant to be back to the comfortable territory of mediocrity, with forgettable lyrics about whatever Matt is warbling about this time. Anything to escape from the call to anarchy that permeates Riot, because that’s what kids want to hear about these days. One of these days I’d like to hear a band that calls for anarchy by singing about actual anarchic theory, rather than this utter tripe of affected anti-authority that record companies and bands shovel out to the masses. Give me a band that sings about Kropotkin, please.

Tears Don’t Fall Part 2 is, clearly, a call-back to the hit single from The Poison. It plays with the same lyrical themes, acting as a loose continuation of the story of Matt Tuck trying to get in touch with a girl. Not only does it continue the lyrical themes, but it also follows the song structure and music of the first song; where the first song is quiet, so is this one. Where the first song is loud and heavy, so is this one. Where the first song features screams, so does this one. This would be, in a small way, kind of clever, had it not been something that has been done many, many times more effectively by far better bands – Metallica’s Unforgiven trilogy leap to mind. In fact, by the end chorus, this song even tries to do the Unforgiven II thing of echoing the original’s lyrics between the lines of the actual chorus. Again, Tears Don’t Fall Part 2 is inoffensive and forgettable, serving as a bland filler track in an album constructed entirely of bland filler tracks.

Finally, mercifully and with a long-awaited sigh, we come to end of the album. Livin’ Life (On the Edge of a Knife) is another boring example of how mediocre metalcore can be when it is filtered through so many layers of what is decreed popular by record labels and then attempted to be played by a band who seem to be utterly devoid of passion. Like the majority of the album, it washes over you with nary an echo remaining in your ears. As the song ebbs away, and the album with it, I’m left with nothing but a sense of blissful silence.

Make no mistake, Temper Temper is not a good album. Bullet for My Valentine have produced some good stuff before – personally, I rate The Poison rather highly and I enjoyed both Scream Aim Fire and Fever though neither had quite the energy and creativity of the debut. But this, this is bad. It is boring. It is saturated in what record companies deem “edgy” enough to appeal to the teenage market while still being radio-friendly. I’d say it’s an insulting mess of an album that has no shred of creativity, passion or soul in it, but even now, barely 10 minutes after it has finished playing for the fourth time, I can’t even remember it. That’s what this is, more than anything else – unmemorable. And from a band like Bullet for My Valentine, I think that’s a true shame.

Best songs: P.O.W. and Dead to the World
Worst songs: Leech and Riot
Recommendation: Avoid.

Cheers,

Jim

(Originally published on The Escapist: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.401629-Music-Review-Temper-Temper-by-Bullet-For-My-Valentine)

Live Music Review: Cancer Bats (with Mitzi’s Revenge, Turbogeist and Shock Horror)

Live Music Review: Cancer Bats (+ Mitzi’s Revenge, Turbogeist and Shock Horror)

Venue: Fibbers, York, UK

Date: Saturday 8th December, 2012

I think, as I write this, I’ve decided a few things. First, clubs are the best place to see bands. The atmosphere and proximity are unmatchable by any other type of venue. Second, punk rock acts are brilliant live thanks to their vivacity and how they interact with their crowd. And, finally, Cancer Bats are one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen.

Fibbers, in York, is one of those bars that runs underground. It’s dark, dingy and you’re crushed up against everyone. In other words, it’s perfect for a lively gig. I arrived about 5 minutes after the doors opened to a pretty lengthy queue in the freezing cold. Thankfully, the guys at the box office were rather efficient and ushered us through the doors nice and quickly. As I walked in, the merch stands were already swarming with activity and a crowd were hanging lazily around the bar getting drinks and half-watching the first support band, Shock Horror, get ready to begin.

New Punk is old-school

New Punk is old-school

Shock Horror are a Huddersfield-based band playing old-school punk rock in the style of the Sex Pistols, or the countless other punk bands who cropped up during the 80s in Britain both musically and in dress and attitude. They cite influences including Black Flag and Green Day, and although their sound is different, they exude the same energy in their performance. The band were clearly enthusiastic at getting to support an act as big as Cancer Bats and they took the opportunity to aggressively advertise themselves between songs in an attempt to build a name for themselves. Personally, I thought their opening was weak, suffering from a ‘wall-of-sound’ problem with no real definition between instruments and some slightly off-beat drumming but they rallied magnificently and ended up putting on a wonderful, if criminally brief, show. India Mycock provided a barrage of rather impressive screams supported excellently by the two guitarists and backing vocalists; speaking of them, both guitarists managed to pull off a series of searing solos, batting them back and forth easily. My only real complaints were probably the already-mentioned slightly-off drumming and the lifeless bassist, who stuck out in amongst an otherwise energetic band thanks to his determined effort to not show any enjoyment in his otherwise solid playing. The lyrics were also sort of hit-and-miss. On the one hand, some songs featured rather simplistic lyrics – “Fashion following fuck!” was repeated a good few times serving as a chorus to one song – but really these suit the style of punk rock they played and lent themselves well to crowd participation.

Definitely not the punk spirit

Definitely not the punk spirit

Up next were Turbogeist, a London-based band who describe their sound as powerpop-thrash. Personally, I disagree. I’d simply call their sound a massive disappointment. As they walked on, I admit I was filled with a sense of dread. First on stumbled the singer and guitarist, Jimmy, sporting chinos and a long Sherlock-style coat. Looking out from behind his hair his eyes were unfocused and his speech slightly slurred as he gurgled into his microphone that they were indeed Turbogeist. Now, I know punk bands tend to eschew conventional ideas of image, but clearly these guys were so self-reflexive that they had gone full-circle and come out looking like a Killers cover band. Still, image means bugger all really – I’m really just picking on them for having an apparently-stoned frontman and a listless rest-of-band with no stage presence. Then they start playing. Oh dear. The crowd falls silent quickly as they turn out to be an experimental band – they possibly consider themselves avant-garde, but all they really turned out to be was bad. Awkward key changes, badly played out time-signature shifts, guitarists who couldn’t manage to play the solos they’d written and mashing together different genres so that a song that started out in punk could abruptly switch to a blues riff before turning again to a prog section. Ultimately the end sound was jarring and awful to listen to, although I can’t fault them for taking the risk and trying something experimental.

As if that weren’t enough, the band’s stage performance was laughable. The aforementioned stoned Sherlock impersonator vocalist-guitarist spent his time awkwardly and half-heartedly hopping, rubbing his guitar neck up against the mic stand to make some terrible sound and lifting his leg like he was one of those women in old movies who’ve just kissed their new-found love. The other guitarist also pulled some vocals duty, breaking out some decent screams. However, the effect was mitigated by his face turning bright red and puckering up while his legs crossed and he stood up on tip-toes. Really, the only solid performance was the bassist, who spent his time grooving out on stage left, almost a separate entity to the rest of the band. Finally, a last nail in the coffin – their set finishes, the feedback rings out and Sherlock decides the best course of action is to crack the mic stand one and smash it to the ground. Nice move, dude, break a microphone why don’t you? Be disrespectful to the staff at the venue, that’ll gain you brownie points.

Standard band pose; awesome band performance

Standard band pose; awesome band performance

The third and final support act were Mitzi’s Revenge, and were a welcome band after the preceding travesty. Possibly the best way to describe their sound is as a Yorkshire version of Cancer Bats themselves. In fact, they list some of their influences as Cancer Bats, Gallows and Slayer and boy does it show. Fast-paced and unrelenting, they dominated the club from the second they started playing. Opening up, Rich Goss let out an incredible scream and threw himself over the barriers and right into the middle of a newly opening circle pit while guitarist Ryan Duggleby laid down an awesome barrage of head-destroying riffs. Once he’d returned to the stage Rich threw himself into his vocals with the same vigour, jumping around stage and riling up the crowd. At no point in their criminally short set did they let up in their energetic performance, even managing to form the night’s only wall of death – and it was a rather impressive one as well, managing to enlist the entire crowd minus the front row who were all staunchly refusing to move, and in the face of this performance who can blame them? Again, they seemed to suffer from the curse of the invisible bassist who was standing directly in front me the entire set but seemed content to not move from his little corner spot. Still, nothing could spoil this performance – Mitzi’s Revenge were simply fantastic.

A rare sight: Liam not diving headfirst into the crowd

A rare sight: Liam not diving headfirst into the crowd

Finally, it was time for the main event. After teasing the crowd by flashing the lights in their prep room while the crowd were enjoying the venue’s Rage Against the Machine setlist, Cancer Bats came out to the expected massive cheers. All the band members were at the top of their game tonight as well; Mike Peters’ drumming was bombastic and constantly pounding the stage to bits, Scott Middleton’s guitarwork was as powerful as ever and Jaye Schwarzer’s distorted basslines drove through the entire crowd. In fact, he was equally as energetic as vocalist Liam Cormier, getting up on the barrier and jumping down in front of the front row in amongst dealing with a dodgy microphone stand (possibly the one damaged earlier by Turbogeist). And, of course, Liam was thoroughly at home throwing himself into the crowd and around the stage all the while dealing out an array of screams. He’s a fantastic frontman, perfectly riling up the crowd and leading the entire band. They played a large array of songs from across all 4 of their albums, as well as a track from their first demo. They also included some of their most famous tracks, leading out the end of their set with their cover of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage and single Hail Destroyer. I have only one nitpick, really – that for the entire set the band were hocking all over the stage. Chalk this one up to my sensitive English need for manners. I mean, I don’t suppose it really matters, but it was kind of disgusting. Not that it affected their music or performance in any way. In the end I came out deafened, neck-aching, bruised along my ribs, drenched in sweat and water (cheers to Mike for upending a bottle of water on my head, I was pretty much entirely dehydrated by then and it was a lovely experience) and having enjoyed an incredible 3-and-a-half hours.

So, overall:

Shock Horror – a great new old-school punk band; recommended
Turbogeist – rubbish experimental noise; avoid
Mitzi’s Revenge – the UK Cancer Bats; recommended
Cancer Bats – strong, lively and great interaction with the crowd; recommended

Cheers,

Jim.

(Originally posted on The Escapist: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.395685-Escapegoats-Live-Music-Review-Cancer-Bats-Shock-Horror-Turbogeist-and-Mitzis-Revenge)

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