Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Iron Maiden: Killers

A word of warning before I start, I may overuse the term 'underrated gem' here and I apologise in advance for this.

As I said in my review of Maiden's self-titled debut (link here) I would be looking into each one of Maiden's studio releases and now we look into their sophomore effort, always a testing time for any band especially after a debut as good as theirs.

There's been a bit of a lineup up change since we last heard from our heroes as Dennis Stratton is out and Adrian Smith is in on guitar. Adrian is still a member of the band to this day but he did leave at one point which we'll get to in a future album review. This would also mark the last album recorded with vocalist Paul Di'Anno before he was fired due to drug and alcohol issues causing problems with his stage performance and we'll get to his replacement soon enough. According to Paul, he wanted to leave the band due to missing home and needing a break from the tour schedule so believe who you like.

This was also the first album produced by Martin Birch who would remain with the band until 1992 and you can already hear the improvements from the last record as the instruments are so much clearer than before, and Martin was smart to keep the vocals sounding similar to the last album as Paul's raspy, punk rock voice is once again a highlight and making it any clearer would have ruined it in my opinion.

Killers was released onto the world on February 2nd 1981 and ended up being the album that made them a big deal in America and Japan whilst also growing their fanbase at home in Britain. The artwork is quite simply gorgeous and is one of my favourites that the band has ever released, showing beloved mascot Eddie with a sadistic grin on his face after cutting down a victim in the middle of the night. Yeah this is one you're going to want to get on a t-shirt.

Just like the last review I'll be looking at the vinyl album version which is the same as the ones that can be found on streaming sites like Spotify and Amazon Music as it features the original 10 songs, so no 'Twilight Zone' here unfortunately.

So how did this release match up with their spectacular debut? Let's take a look.

The first song is strangely quite a well covered song despite being an instrumental track that only lasts about a minute and a half but bands like Arch Enemy have featured this on recent releases so it must have had a bit of an impact. 'The Ides of March' is a cracking start to the album and really builds up your expectations as to what's coming next and sure enough we're greeted with the Maiden classic 'Wrathchild'. This is one of the bands shortest ever songs clocking in at just under 3 minutes, but it definitely leaves an impact in that short amount of time. Right away you're hit by Steve Harris's bounding bassline before a guitar riff comes in out of nowhere to tear your face off before Paul's harsh vocals appear to sing about a boy looking for his estranged father in a quest for vengeance. This is how you start a Maiden album off right and it's no wonder why this is still a track that is played live to this day and I've had the luck of being able to experience it in person.

Next up we have 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' and my isn't this an underrated gem of a song. It sounds like it could have been a backup opener for the record with it's slow, atmospheric start before bursting out like an Alien from John Hurt and hitting a fast and furious verse that could quite easily cause a rare Maiden mosh pit if they wanted. This is a song they haven't played live since around 1982 and I really with they would because it would be such a set highlight due to how much energy there is here. The song follows a man that has discovered two butchered girls by the side of the road, and as he's the only person there, the police believe he's responsible and he runs away from a crime he didn't commit. Fun stuff that would be continued later on.

Next up is 'Another Life' and I'm sorry but this is another underrated gem from the band and another one I'd love to hear played live again. The song starts with a great little drumming intro to really show off the skills of Clive Burr before another awesome guitar riff keeps your attention. The song only has three repeated verses with no chorus but it still has a fascinating little story here as a man is lying in bed, going insane with voices running through his head and contemplates suicide. Great little track here.

Up next is another instrumental track called 'Genghis Khan' following in the vein of  'Transylvania' from their last album. I'd say it's a slight step down as this new one isn't nearly as memorable as the old one, but it's not bad at all. I mean it's a galloping Iron Maiden with more great guitar work so you can't really go wrong.

'Innocent Exile' is the next track and follows on from 'Rue Morgue' earlier in the album as we continue with our framed protagonist as he continues to run away from the law for a crime he had nothing to do with. While not as energetic as it's predecessor, this is still a good little track that can be filed under the 'underrated' songs. It keeps the flow of the album going well and onto the title track which is probably my favourite of the entire record. This track is just so good and those twin guitars before the verse are just heavenly. This song was made for Paul Di'Anno to sing and it's one he continued to play even after leaving the band. The song follows a madman stalking the underground and killing anyone he comes by. I'm starting to see a theme with this album. The guitar work here is just fantastic and you could see how Adrian Smith and Dave Murray would become as legendary as they did with their dual axe attack. Just terrific and highly recommended if you haven't heard it already.

The next two tracks are 'Prodigal Son' and 'Purgatory' that have always just came across as filler tracks to me. Don't get me wrong they aren't bad songs in the slightest and they certainly have their moments, but 'Prodigal Son' sounds like they were trying to redo 'Remember Tomorrow' from their first album and it didn't work out quite as well. Outside of a damn fine chorus and some great guitar work 'Purgatory' doesn't have much else going for it and becomes a bit forgettable. I'm sure there are some people that consider these two to be underrated gems themselves but I'm not one of them.

Finally we end the album with 'Drifter' and this is definitely an album highlight and the best note to end proceedings on. This is yet another one that could make a comeback in their live set and it would blow everyone away. After all the murder on all the previous songs, this one is more about a band on the road singing their songs so it does stand out a bit due to that and just due to how much fun it is. The instrumental sections are especially good after the first chorus with guitar and bass just working so smoothly together that you can't help but tap your foot along. A great ending to a great album.

Overall I had a blast reliving this album as I always forget how good it is. It's always been considered their most underrated by their fans and while it does rank as the weakest of their 1980s output (which is freaking mindblowing) it's album definitely worth checking out for some songs that deserve a second look. While it might not be as good as their first release, it was still one hell of a way to follow it up and things would only get better from there.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Gig Review: Overkill presents Killfest 2019

Gig reviews: Overkill presents Killfest 2019

On Sunday March 24th, I descended upon the Glasgow SWG3 venue in the TV Studio room for a night of thrash metal goodness. This was kind of a last minute gig for me as I only found out about it the Friday before on Facebook so I scrambled to buy a ticket which thankfully wasn't yet sold out.

This was my first time in this particular part of the venue as I'd only been in the larger room for a Powerwolf gig in January (joined by site owner Joanne, link to her review here:   ) and this room was about half the size of that room and made for a better sound overall in my opinion. Although after being there and standing almost right next to the speakers, I would definitely advise on wearing some sort of ear protection, because I sure as hell didn't and was half deaf the next couple of days. Lesson learned and warning passed on.

So now onto the bands and we have three bands in total here, starting with Flotsam and Jetsam

Flotsam and Jetsam are an American thrash metal band that formed in 1981, just a year after our headlining act. They are a band I wasn't too familiar aside from knowing that their bassist from 1981 to 1986 was former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted as he left the band to replace the at the time recently deceased Cliff Burton (RIP).

The band started of well with their first 2 tracks Prisoner of Time and Desecrator, but had a bit of a struggle with getting a crowd that was unfamiliar with them into the tracks, but due to just a great musical performance with soaring guitar solos that Iron Maiden would be jealous of, the crowd quickly came around. Mosh pits and a ton of crowd surfing followed (man that kept his pint intact, my hat is off to you) as the cheering and reactions grew louder and louder as the band became visibly more comfortable onstage, even bantering with Overkill's crew who were viewing from the side of the stage. It was a pretty a short set with 8 songs played in total, but it left me wondering why a band that has been around for so long is stuck on a gig opener like this. I could easily see these guys on headlining tours having an absolute blast and earning more fans along the way. The made one with me on this night.

Band tracks to download: Iron Maiden (not a cover), Hammerhead, No Place for Disgrace

Next up was Destruction.

Destruction as are a German thrash metal band formed in 1982. Out of the 3 bands on this bill this was the only band I had never heard of before and researching them I've found that they are considered part of a 'Big Four' of German thrash metal with Tankard, Sodom, and Kreator. I'm aware of these bands so it's strange that I've never come across Destruction. Due to the last minute purchase of a ticket I didn't have the time to familiarise myself with any of their work and was essentially going in blind for the first time in a while.

It was obvious that the crowd was aware of the band as you could hear the excitement in the room with the set up of their equipment, complete with microphone stands that had flaming skulls on them because why the hell not? I think these guys may be the reason why I went slightly deaf for a bit as their set was pretty damn loud with duelling guitars and a booming bass right next to my left ear. This set was just chaotic in the best possible way as these guys played for around an hour with barely any stoppage time between tracks and the pace was just so fast and furious that I could barely keep up with it. Every track played was an absolute headbanger and the mosh pits were largest I'd seen all night. The whole show was practically stolen here and I'm pretty sure I heard a wall crashing down next door due to the sheer impact of the songs. If the gig had ended here, I would have walked home satisfied with my night and now I have a new band to check out and enjoy. I'm going to relish the chance to see them again. Check them out if you haven't already.

Band tracks to download: Release from Agony, Nailed to the Cross, The Butcher Strikes Back 

And finally we have the headliners: Overkill

I recently reviewed the band's most recent album Wings of War (link here:   ) which I still love and was my main reason for buying a ticket. After the onslaught of Destruction, I didn't think Overkill would be able to match up, but all doubts were erased from my mind when the band rushed the stage to recent single Last Man Standing and blew everyone away. Bobby Ellsworth's vocals blew me away as he's as good singing live as he is in the studio. Even when talking to the audience between songs there was just this intensity to his voice that demanded attention. I did notice that he ran off the back of the stage quite a few times during the more instrumental moments and I wouldn't be surprised if he had to quickly rest his voice for the next bit of screeching. The latest album was presented well in the form of the previously mentioned Last Man Standing, Distortion, and fantastic set closer Welcome to the Garden State. Seriously, I couldn't get that song out of my head for ages. Classic songs from the band's past were in full force like the thrashy goodness of Elimination, the crowd singalong of Hello from the Gutter and the fury that was Mean Green, Killing Machine. For the encore they even managed to pack in what has become my favourite song of theirs: Ironbound and it sounds like it was meant to be played before a live crowd. Overkill proved why they are one of the best bands going in the thrash metal scene and they are bringing it screaming back with a vengeance.

Band tracks to download: All the ones I just mentioned

Overall I had a blast at this gig as all three gave me my moneys worth and the ticket price was actually very good for a show like this as I would have paid even more for the experience. I do advise to check out all three bands if you're a fan of thrash metal or even if you're just looking for something new to try out.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden (1980)

Ross here again with yet another retro review. Don't worry I know I said I would be looking at the all the Slipknot albums but we have plenty of time until the new album comes out and I'm still working on it. There's just too many albums I want to look at right now, starting with this one.

Now that I'm more comfortable with music reviews having written a few of them now, I wanted to start looking into the full discographies of my favourite artists starting with my all time favourite: Iron Maiden

Now this isn't going to be me just gushing all over the band, as I want to go over the history of the albums and the band at the time of release so that I can give my personal views on each one. There's no such thing as a perfect band and Maiden are no different as I will definitely be critical whenever is necessary. Just wait 'til we get to the 90s albums. It's like a goddamn minefield. I'll just be focusing on the studio albums though rather than the live albums but if we do come to certain points in time where live albums were released, I can certainly recommend them. Once I'm finished I might even rank all the studio albums.

Now as far as being as critical as possible goes, I don't get to start with one with that much in the way of criticism towards it, but I'm getting ahead of myself. How does the album hold up almost 40 years later? Let's take a look.

Iron Maiden first formed in Leyton, East London on Christmas Day all the way back in 1975. After five years of lineup changes, including longtime guitarist Dave Murray even leaving at one point before returning, their self-titled debut album was released to the world on the 14th of April 1980 through the EMI label. The record did surprisingly well for a metal debut as it peaked on the UK album chart at number 4 when it was first released and his since went platinum.

While reviewing this, I'll be going with the version that appears on both Spotify and on the vinyl as these exclude the B-Side track Sanctuary and while this is a good track, I feel like it's the true version of the album that needs to be looked at and it'll be the same on the next two albums since they're in the same situation.

Out of the five band members credited on the album, only two of them are still with the band to this day and the three of them that left the band would be gone by the time the band's fourth album was released.

Of course Maiden's most famous member is lead singer Bruce Dickinson, but he wouldn't join the band for another couple of years and so here we have Paul Di'Anno. While Bruce is known for his almost operatic voice, Paul sounds more like a singer you'd find in a 70s punk band which sounds weird for Maiden, but in the early days it worked surprisingly well. This album would be guitarist Dennis Stratton's only credit on a Maiden album as he was fired from the band shortly after the album's release.

The album cover designed by Derek Riggs, is also the first of many appearances of Maiden's belived mascot: Eddie. Riggs would would design each album cover up to 1990's No Prayer for the Dying before being replaced, and each of his covers has to be considered iconic and worthy of a t-shirt (of which I have a few).

In terms of the album's sound, it does have a distinct lack of polish that would be found on each following album, I do enjoy it as it gives the album a slightly edgier, punkier feel to it even if that wasn't what the band was going for as founder Steve Harris has said that he hates how the album sounds and that they hated punk music so hated being compared to the punk bands of the time. He may not have enjoyed it but the fans, myself included, still adore the album as I have read quite a few rankings of the band's discography and this album is almost always in the top five.

The album starts with the track Prowler and I don't think you could have picked a better intro to a debut album. Every time I start listening to this record, this track gets me pumped up for the rest of the album and it's one of Maiden's more underrated tracks. The song was originally recorded back in 1978 for the band's Soundhouse Tapes. The song is a short one but a great intro to a great album and right away you could tell that the band's guitar work alone was something to be feared from the twin axe attack that has now become legendary to a face-melting guitar solo. While the topic of the song leaves a bit to be desired (a man stalking a woman and flashing her), I can't help but love this.

We move onto Remember Tomorrow which starts off on what seems like a more melodic and ballad-like note, but then by the time we reach the chorus the band reminds you of who they are and burst in with a big guitar riff and another epic guitar solo that keeps you coming back for more. This is a song I've appreciated more with each listen and I'd definitely consider it another underrated gem. It's been covered a couple of times as well, most notably on the deluxe edition of Metallica's Hardwired to Self-destruct. Singer Paul Di'Anno has said that the song was about his grandfather who passed away the year this album was released, as 'remember tomorrow' was something he used to say to Paul as a kind of catchphrase.

Next up is Running Free as this is a track that has become a bit of an anthem for the band and is a track they still play as a gig closer to this day. This is where the comparisons to the band being a bit punk come from, due to the bouncy sounds to the track, and the theme of running away from the law definitely goes with that. A short track with great musicianship from everyone involved and the guitars just can't be stopped at this point and Steve Harris is making damn sure that his bass can be heard from all angles. A fun track and a fan favourite.

Track four is Phantom of the Opera and is of course about the novel of the same name. Apparently this is the song that made Bruce Dickinson fall in love with the band so it definitely earns extra points for that. This is Maiden's first attempt at an 'epic' style of song, something they would become the masters of in later years, and even now this is one of their best ones. After a fast and furious start with a fantastic riffing intro, the song slows down and allows for more instrumental time which I absolutely love as the twin axe attack is in full force here. This is the kind of song you can listen to a few times over and find something new to love each time. This is another that's still a live favourite and for good reason as the song sounds even better with Bruce on vocals. Best song on the album for my money.

After that track, a break is needed and I think the band knew this as well as Phantom... is followed up by Transylvania, a rare Maiden instrumental track. I'm not usually big on instrumental tracks that last over four minutes, but this is an exception as it's Maiden at their best. When it's just the band and their instruments, magical things happen and it's no different here. The song starts slightly slower than some of the other tracks before building and building to massive finale that could easily spawn a mosh pit. If you're a fan of guitar play, then it should be obvious by this point that this album is for you, and we're not even done yet! Another gem and this wouldn't even be Maiden's best instrumental track but we'll get to that another time.

To bring the adrenaline back down again, we now have Strange World which is a song I didn't really like all that much when I was younger due to it's slower nature , but it's one I've appreciated much more as I've gotten older and can appreciate how well it works to the album's pacing as there was no way they were following the last two tracks so it was best to slow things down a bit. The song almost has a Pink Floyd quality to it with dreamlike lyrics that no one can agree to what they actually mean, as well a great guitar solo that will stay with you for some time. Paul's singing is at it's best here as his voice is quite beautiful when a more melodic sound is needed. Another gem of a song that deserves more attention.

Immediately after, we being the saga of Charlotte the Harlot, which would be revisited on a few albums for the next twelve years. This is rare track written by Dave Murray as he doesn't get too many writing credits. Of course this song is about a man in love with Charlotte and can't seem to get over the fact that he can't have her to himself as she needs to be with other men to make ends meet. A short, fun track that's a very easy listen and yet another underrated gem on this album that doesn't get enough mention. I mean I'm pretty sure my face is now melting after hearing that intense guitar solo so excuse me while I go clean it up.

And finally we end with the song Iron Maiden, on the album Iron Maiden, by the band Iron Maiden, because confusing the Spotify search bar is fun. Anyone that knows Maiden knows this song as it's the only song of theirs that has been playing in every gig they've performed since they started releasing albums. The riff at the start is just so iconic at this point as we then burst into the first verse with Paul threatening to kill us in his room. Fun times ahead. Again the guitar work is just flawless and I can't help but headbang along. This is the point in a live gig where Eddie would come out to terrorise the band and the audience so I have fantastic memories of this song. A perfect closer for a practically perfect album.

Overall, I can't find anything to criticise here as everything just works and flows so well and it might just be the best debut album by any band ever. There isn't a bad track on here and it has a something for everyone vibe to it. Want some ballads? Covered. Completely instrumental? Covered. A longer epic track? Covered. The album is full of timeless classics and underrated gems that are worth more than a glancing look. If you haven't heard this album before, I urge you strongly to pick it up. It's a short album at only 37 minutes total and it might just convert you to one of the greatest bands in existence. Somehow they would only get better after this! Up the Irons.

Tracks to Download: Just all of them, but if I had to choose three I'd go with Phantom of the Opera, Iron Maiden, and Prowler. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Bring Me The Horizon: amo Review

amo is an album that I never planned on reviewing as I felt my personal tastes would have clouded my judgement of the full experience. When it comes to Bring Me The Horizon I consider myself a big fan of theirs and have been following them since their 2010 release There Is A Hell.... which blew my little teenage mind at the time and it's a record that I still consider a favourite to this day. 

Then within the next 5 years, Sempiternal and That's the Spirit were released and while I wasn't sure about their much softer sound, they won me over with superb musicianship and and lyrics about dealing with the darker side of life that really stuck with me and kept me coming back whenever my heart needed a glowing light to come back to. Without getting too personal, I adore That's the Spirit for this reason as the songs have a real emotional connection with me that have helped me through some tough times when my head wasn't quite in the right place. That's why the album was on my top 10 list a while back and why I have album cover tattooed onto my left arm. Because it means something important to me. 

Now when I heard that the band would be releasing a new album in early 2019, I was over the moon and couldn't wait to hear what they had up their tattooed sleeves this time. They also announced a live tour that I bought tickets to on the first day of sale so I could experience them for the first time. Despite being surrounded by teenagers, I had a blast of a time and it's a gig I'll hold close to my heart for years to come. Then we reached January 25th 2019 and amo was released to the public. While some had commented that the band had gone pop, I wasn't worried in the slightest as That's the Spirit had some poppier elements that didn't bother me. What I didn't realise was how far into the realm of pop they would go. 

After only one listen I felt saddened by what I had just heard. What happened to the band that made me feel something and could have me headbanging at the same time? The album seemingly offered neither of these things. It's only now that I have decided to review the album that I have listened to it in full more than once and I think I'm finally ready to talk about it from a fair perspective. 

The album starts with i apologise if you feel something which is more of an introduction to a bigger song rather than it's own song and it works well in this fashion as the few lyrics presented focus on the theme of love (the word amo is Portuguese for 'love') and it has a nice synth effect to it that sticks in your head after the song has moved on, and continually grows louder and louder, heightening the tension of what's to come. 

That brings us onto the first single from the album MANTRA which is most likely the most popular song from the album and it is one I really enjoy. It's one of the heavier songs on the album with a killer riff and fantastic opening line of "Do you wanna start a cult with me?". This song is great and a proper opener that almost sets the tone for the rest of the record. The chorus is massive and was meant for a big live crowd to sing along to. I do love the lyrics as well as it focuses on someone starting a fake cult for the money and the fame, and knowing people will follow him out of the concept of faith. Definitely one to check out. 

After a very promising start, we hit a massive brick wall in for the form of the track nihilist blues. Now I'm sure this a good track if you're into rave music or an Ibiza Clubland soundtrack but after so many listens I still just find this song so forgettable. It's like every other pop song you hear in the charts that'll be forgotten by everyone in a few years. This was the 5th single released for the album and the first that really threw out some red flags as to the direction the band was going in. And it's just so damn LONG. Over five minutes is way too long for this kind of track. After a rocking start to the album this just threw the whole thing left field as the tone is just all over the place and we're only 3 tracks in!

Next track is in the dark and has some of the same issues I had with the last song but at least this one has less of a club vibe and more of an Ed Sheeran vibe that I can get behind a little more. It's one I've found stuck in my head a little more due to a catchy chorus, but again there's just not much substance to it and it ends up as another forgettable track. While the earlier albums dealt with depression and dealing with it which I adored, I'm not really getting into the theme of love in this album as it's not a subject I really care about personally. 

Thankfully we move onto the second single wonderful life and this is one of my favourite songs from last year and this is easily the heaviest track on the album. Hell there's even a guest appearance from Dani Filth! The song delves more into the themes of mental illness and is just way more interesting than the last 2 tracks combined. The chorus is gargantuan and I can't help but scream along with it. It also really helps in a gig setting. 

'Lone getting high on a Saturday night
I'm on the edge of a knife
Nobody cares if I'm dead or alive
Oh what a wonderful life'

This just builds and builds to an adrenaline fuelled finale that I love more everytime I hear it. Love it. 

After a transitional track reminiscent of the first track in the form of ouch, we hit the third single in the form of medicine. This was the first track from the album that people accused of being pop and while it definitely has huge pop vibes, it really reminds me of Follow You from That's The Spirit which I love so it gets a pass from me. It does help that the chorus is catchy as hell and finds the band getting a little more aggressive. While I'm sure the song is about a lover causing pain to their ex, I related with the lyrics at the time as I was just getting over a toxic friendship and the aggressive nature of the lyrics helped me through a tough time. 

Next up is sugar honey ice & tea, and while this is another of the albums heavier tracks due to a nice guitar riff and the pre-chorus sounds like it would fit right on That's the Spirit, but it's the main chorus that ruins it for me. This song could have been another hit, but the chorus is just ear-grating to me due to what sounds like an auto-tuned voice singing the thing. I really want to like this one for it's fun heavy elements, but sadly it's one I'll most likely end up skipping over on another listen. 

I'm skipping over the next 2 tracks because I have the same feelings to them as I had towards nihilist blues and I'm not a fan. Even after listening to the album around 6 times in full now, I can still never recall how these songs sound so I think that tells you all you need to know. 

After these 2 mistakes, we hit the fourth single mother tongue. It's a song I wasn't a fan of on first listen, but after quite a few since then, I'm quickly becoming a fan and I'd say it's my guilty pleasure of the record. It's poppy as fuck and almost like something Justin Bieber would release (excuse me while I throw up violently for even suggesting that I'd like a Bieber track) but it's just so damn catchy and is guaranteed to be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. I mean I'm still listening to it regularly even after it's been out this many months. It does hurt my Extreme Metal cred a bit, but fuck it. I dig it. 

And now we come to heavy metal and this track...... oh boy this track. Oli what were you thinking? This song is basically a fuck you to people that don't like the bands softer sound (because apparently customers aren't allowed opinions of products they purchase but hey ho what do I know) and this track almost shits out any goodwill that the band had produced up to this point. I mean I know I'm not the target here since I enjoy their music even if they've gone soft, but there was really no need for this. 

"I keep picking petals
I'm afraid you don't love me anymore
Cause a kid on the 'gram in a Black Dahlia tank 
Says it ain't heavy metal"

Real mature guys. I don't remember Linkin Park making diss tracks when they went soft, but hey at least their later albums were consistent. Songs fine but I don't think it needs much attention and is a definite low point for the band as they even decide to have a breakdown at the end for another middle finger. 

Final song is i don't know what to say and thankfully after all this it does end on a high note as this is a great, emotional track as the song is about Oli's friend Aidan who tragically to cancer and this song feels like a tribute to him. The song feature's an orchestra that works very well with the themes of the song and some of these lyrics are just heartbreaking:

"How a flower in the rain
Only grows more when it's grey
You just shined on brighter
Making gold out of the pain"

Not only that but we get a pretty terrific guitar solo that mixed in with the orchestra just sounds fantastic and gives me chills when I hear. After a low point for the band we hit a highlight as this is one of the albums best tracks and one of the best they've ever written in my opinion. 

Overall I still have very mixed feelings on this album as there's a lot I do like and it's some of the best the band has ever recorded, but the rest is just so forgettable and sometimes just downright bad that it makes listening to the whole album a chore so I can only recommend a few tracks to go out of your way to hear and leave the rest. Easily my least favourite the band has released to this point and while it's not a bad album at all, it is a bit all over the place with it's style choices as it's trying to be something for everyone but comes across more like splitting a few genres together for the sake of it or to a reach a bigger audience to leave the one they had originally behind in the dust. Sadly that may include me. If this is the direction they're going, I'm just going to stick to the songs I know and love. 

Tracks to download: MANTRA, wonderful life, medicine, mother tongue, i don't know what to say

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Resident Evil 2 Review

It's been a while since I did a game review as the last time I tackled one was back in August last year with the Silent Hills teaser, P.T, as I do tend to stick to reviewing those in the horror genre and nothing had really whet my appetite until recently.

Resident Evil 2 was released by Capcom on January 25th this year, and has become one of the most talked about games of the year so far.

I myself am a big fan of the franchise and have been since my first experience of Resident Evil 4 almost 15 years ago which is mad to think about. I even have the Umbrella logo tattooed on my left arm. Sure the series morphed into something really silly by the time the sixth instalment in the main series was released, but I've always had a blast with these games.

Back in January of 2017, Resident Evil 7 was released to a huge amount of hype as the series was going back to it's survival horror roots and it's a game I still pick up to try again time after time because I love it so much. It was pretty common knowledge that fans of the series had been crying out for a remake of the second game from 1998 after the remake of the very first Resident Evil proved that there were still plenty of scares to be had from the old days. Our wish was granted and Capcom totally outdid themselves here.

As well as this being the best looking game in the series by far, it might just be the best one we've had yet in terms of gameplay. The series has gone back to the over-the-shoulder perspective rather than the fixed camera angles of the previous remake and it makes all the difference as it's the smoothest it's ever been.

In terms of the story I only know bits and bobs from the original as I haven't played much of it despite owning a physical copy of the original game so I can't comment too much on the similarities but from what I've heard, most of it is intact like the original bosses and layouts of the maps.

As you begin the game, you have 2 campaigns to choose from as you can play as rookie cop Leon Kennedy, or Claire Redfield who is searching for her brother Chris from the original game. After having played through the campaigns around six times now, I don't really have a recommendation of who to start with as both campaigns are pretty similar but I think Leon is perhaps the best place to start as Claire has to deal with tougher enemies early on. Playing as Leon first will give you a chance to have some experience with these enemies.

Both characters aim to get to the police station to get off the zombie infested streets and find a place of sanctuary. Sadly the police station may be just as dangerous. As well as having to fend off the undead found inside, you find that the police station used to be a museum which is why there's so many strange puzzles involving old statues that unlock underground tunnels to sewers and other items you need. I did say that this series is a bit weird.

As you explore the police station you start to find branching paths between the rooms and after a couple of playthroughs, I knew the layout of the station like the back of my hand and knew which areas to avoid and which ones I needed to get to for vital items. It's pretty fun to start trying to speedrun and now that I know my way around I've been able to complete one run in less than 3 hours which isn't very impressive now that Youtube is filled with people finishing a run in less than an hour.

Let's talk about the enemies. I'm of the opinion that zombies aren't scary. I've never found them scary and my interest in them has only waned with pop culture's obsession with the undead freaks in the likes of The Walking Dead and so, so many games involving them. That being said, I've never been more freaked out by zombies than I was here. These things are just spot on with the sickening sounds that they make throughout the station and their movements are just so unnatural. Seeing the shadow of one stumbling across a hallway towards you while you try to decide if it's worth it to waste the few bullets you have left is nightmare fuel that'll stay with you. They aren't as dumb as they used to be either, as you can risk just trying to run by them to conserve ammo, but some will just immediately lunge right at you and take a chunk out of your neck. They also like to stay silent behind corners until you blindly walk into them and jump out of your skin in fright. Some like to play dead and only wake up when they have you trapped. They're fantastic and I want more games with zombies like these.

The Lickers have also made their anticipated return and my god these things are terrifying. When you know you have to deal with one, it becomes a game of choice as you can either try to take it out which will most likely end in your death or a lot of health and good ammunition lost, or you can choose to sneak by them as they are blind, and that is a tense experience you won't soon forget as you're just waiting on them to suddenly realise you're in the room with them and slice your head from your body. Or you can get to a point where you have to fight two of them at once and you turn the console off for a while because you really don't need that kind of stress in your life.

In terms of bosses, the one that appears the most is William Birkin, also known as 'G', as he has infected himself with the G-Virus and is slowly mutating into something almost unworldly. He's the first boss you face in the basement of the station and it's like a game of cat and mouse except the cat is a mutated man with a big eye protruding from his right arm and trying to hit you with a pipe. It's an easy fight if you know what to do but can lead to your death if you're not careful. The future battles with Birkin do get progressively more difficult as the mutation increases each time, but I always have fun with these.

And now we have the star of the show: Mr X. Oh how I love you Mr X. I'm not gonna lie, I did laugh a little when I first saw him as he looks adorable in his little fedora and trenchcoat (Pink Panther theme playing in my head the entire time), but once you realise he's a total bullet sponge and will stop at nothing until you're dead, he can become a pretty scary Tyrant. After you first encounter him, he continues to stalk you throughout the station and you now need to plan your routes in order to avoid him. Hearing his footsteps echo through the halls and sounding like they're coming ever closer to you is some unnerving stuff and trying to avoid him can lead to some fatal moments like running through a hall that also has zombies and a Licker you forgot about which quickly becomes instant death.

In my fourth playthrough while playing as Leon, I found for the first time that Mr X can burst through an area on the ground floor to get to you and I have to say that many bricks were shat in that one moment. The game's filled with moments like this and I love it.

The only real complaint I have is more of a nitpick, but I do wish that the 2 campaigns could be just a bit more different to each other. Thankfully it's not exactly the same as there are different enemy placements, item locations, and new puzzle solutions to keep it feeling a little fresh, but it's annoying having to kill the same enemies or unlock the same doors as you did the first time. Still though at least it feels different in a few ways and even has a different final boss and story elements that do help a lot. Plus walking through a hallway expecting a Licker and instead having Mr X head straight for you out of the darkness is an "Oh fuck" moment I'm sure a lot of players have had.

Outside of the main campaigns, you can also unlock a bonus mode known as '4th Survivor' where you play as Hunk and have to get through to the police station with only the items you have on you. I've only played it the once and need to try it again, but it is a good bit of fun and a good way to test your skills. Capcom has also recently released free DLC with 'Ghost Survivors' which is similar to the other campaigns but with different characters, pickups and even new enemies to deal with. In today's world of microtransactions it's nice to see game companies do something for free for once.

If it isn't obvious I totally love this game and I really feel like it could revitalise survival horror as it has become a bit stagnant in recent years with only games like Alien Isolation and Outlast keeping it going. With Silent Hill now out of the game (fuck Konami), Resident Evil can stay happy in the knowledge that it's still the master of the genre. It's the first game I've had a proper obsession with in what feels like forever and I'm happy to have that love of gaming back again.

I urge you to pick this game up if you haven't already, whether you're a horror fan or just love games, this is a game you need to try. You won't be able to put it down and you get so much for your money in terms of replayability and unlockables. This is a remake that is going to hold all future remakes to a higher standard and I can promise you won't be disappointed. Welcome to Raccoon City.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Slipknot (1999)

Today I thought I'd try something different since I'm still mulling over a couple of recent releases as I think I need more time with them before I start giving my opinion on them. Recently, Slipknot announced a massive American tour (please come to the UK) even being joined with the likes of Volbeat, Gojira and the mighty Behemoth. Not only that, but they've finally given a scheduled release date of their highly anticipated 6th album which is now set to explode onto the scene on August 9th this year and I cannot wait.

I'm so excited about this that I plan on revisiting all five of the Knot's previous releases in celebration of this wonderful news, starting with this little release you may have heard of. As well as this being the year of a new Slipknot album this is also the year that they are headlining the Download festival in Donington and I'll get to see them live for the first time. Not only that, but June this year marks the 20th anniversary of this release which is mental to think about.

As far as the band goes I've been a big fan of theirs since high school after my first time listening to Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Verses) and have listened to them ever since. They seem to get trashed on by metal 'purists' but you can't deny their genuinely good songwriting and overall creativity. There's a reason why they're still massive today.

A little background on the album. It was released on June 29th 1999 by Roadrunner Records and of course was a huge hit and made the band instant stars on the metal scene. Of course it wouldn't be Slipknot without a little controversy but we'll get to that as I go through the whole album. After a re-release following a lawsuit to remove the song 'Purity' from the record, it ended up going double platinum in the US and is still the bands best selling album today. But how does it hold up almost 20 years later? Let's take a look.

For context, I'll be looking at the 10th Anniversary version of the album on Spotify up to the song 'Eeyore' as I believe this is how the original album was meant to be heard (even without Frail Limb Nursery) and every song after this just sounds like a B-Side bonus, so sorry fans of 'Me Inside', that won't be mentioned here.

The intro track is '742617000027' and is 36 seconds of a screeching DJ track with the words "The whole thing, I think it's sick", preparing you for what's to come and what I think a lot of teenagers parents were thinking of the album at the time.

Right after this intro we explode right into '(sic)' and what might just be Slipknot's greatest moment so I can't think of a better way to start things. This is a song I've been able to listen to over and over again for years without becoming tired of it and it still holds up as an absolute adrenaline pumping anthem of a song that makes me want to start a one-man mosh pit in my bedroom. This is where the Maggots are born and try singing "You can't kill me cos I'm already inside you" without growling your vocal chords out of existence. I dare you. Here comes the pain!

You'd think the momentum would stop here but Slipknot had other plans with 'Eyeless'. Starting with a high pitched guitar riff and Corey Taylor letting you know that he's not fucking around, this is another win. Slipknot has always been against the fakeness in the world with an example being Hollywood, and this appears here with the chorus line "You can't see California without Marlon Brando's eyes". And how about that screaming of "Motherfucker" at the end? I'd swear someone was being murdered inside my speakers. Another fast and furious track that's an album highlight.

Things slow down a bit with "Wait and Bleed" but that is by no means a bad thing as this another one of Slipknot's best ever songs and is the first one to really let us hear Corey's fantastic clean vocals that he would utilise more on later releases. According to the band, this song is about a man who has constant dreams of suicide by slitting his wrists. One day he does it and it's not a dream. He tries to fall back asleep but it turns out that this is the end for him. Dark stuff and yet somehow not the darkest this album would get. The song was also nominated for a Grammy and for good reason. This song, while short, is fantastic while it lasts and is probably the closest this album comes to a mainstream song and yet still manages to keep it's edge all the way through.

Any thoughts you might have had about the band going a little more clean are absolutely vanquished by 'Surfacing'. This is a live favourite of the band and is usually used to close their sets and for good reason. With their entire discography this might be the most vicious, brutal and bombastic song the band has every recorded and I love every second of it. It takes me back to my days of teenage angst and is still good for getting out any frustrations with our cesspool of a society.

Fuck it all, fuck this world!
Fuck everything that you stand for!
Don't belong, Don't exist,
Don't give a shit, don't ever judge me!

Just wonderful. The band likes to announce this as 'your new national anthem' and I would be happy to sing along with my hand on heart and a tear in my eye. Another highlight in an album full of them.

If you needed a bit of a breather after that, you're in for a bit of hard luck as 'Spit It Out' is up next. This is another setlist favourite and is famous for having the band have an entire audience get down on the ground only to jump back up and cause chaos as the drop hits. Not gonna lie, I cannot wait to experience this in June. This is a nu-metal gem complete with rapping verses that I do wish the band would bring back at some point and a catchy as hell chorus that was designed for stadium play. We're five songs in and already have five classics. This is mental!

And along comes 'Tattered and Torn' to ruin the hot streak. It does have it's moments like Sid Wilson getting a chance to shine on the turntable but it's just not a very pleasant song to listen to. It feels like the band phoned it in here to give us something a bit more experimental that doesn't really work after the last five songs and kind of drains the adrenaline away. This isn't one I go back to listen to when I put the album on and is completely skippable.

Thankfully we're brought back to the light (poor choice of words for this track) with 'Purity'. So this song is involved with the controversy I mentioned earlier. The song was inspired by a story about a girl called Purity Knight who was kidnapped and buried alive. The band thought the story was real but it turns out it was a work of fiction and so the original writer threatened to sue the band and the song was removed from the album. Thankfully it has been allowed to be released onto newer editions of the album because this song is great. It's one of the slower ones on the album but ends up being one of the band's darkest songs due to it's subject matter and the fact that we're put in this girl's shoes while she's trapped in a coffin and can't breathe. It's almost claustrophobic and I'm surprised that the chorus is as catchy as it is. Another gem in the band's catalogue and one that wouldn't be out of place on 'Iowa'. Check it out if you haven't heard it before.

Next up we have 'Liberate' and once again it's another live favourite for the band as I'm guessing having an arena full of people screaming "Liberate my madness!" is as fun as it sounds. It also helps that the verses are bouncy as hell and perfect for a good bit of headbanging or jumping. Mosh pits were made for songs like this.

Following this we have 'Prosthetics' and this another slower one, though not as fascinating or as engaging as the likes of 'Purity' and only really succeeds in draining the adrenaline from the room once again. The song is based on the 1965 movie The Collector which is about a man that collects butterflies as well as humans. More nightmares! Yay! I'm not a big fan of this song which is strange since the subject matter is a serial killer which is right down my alley, but it just doesn't resonate with me. It's too long, the chorus is pretty bland and it only really kicks into gear in the last minute when it speeds way the hell up and makes it sound like we're in the psyche of a psycho. Not the worst song on the album but nowhere near the best.

Next is 'No Life' which I do enjoy but it can't help but feel a little generic compared to the rest of the album and comes across more like a lovechild of 'Spit It Out' and 'Liberate' with a rapping verse and screaming chorus. I won't lie though, that chorus is fun to sing along to. I'll give this one a pass since it's an easy listen, it's just I don't have much to say about it.

Next up is 'Diluted' and this one continues the trending topic of self hatred on the album that made this album so popular to us angsty teens back in the day. It still holds up as a good track with some great songwriting as the person in the song has given up on their disappointing heroes and all the phonies of society. Some fast-paced nu-metal and a banging chorus gives this one a thumbs up from me.

We're coming close to the end and the next track is 'Only One'. This one bucks the trend a bit as it has a fast, rapping verse and then a slower chorus which I'm pretty sure hasn't happened on the album yet. It feels like this one was designed for a live audience as I can imagine a few thousand people singing along to the chorus "Only one of us walks away!" and I'm kind of sad it's not gotten the setlist attention it deserves. It's also short enough not to overstay its welcome at all and comes across as another good track.

Now we have the track 'Scissors' which usually ends the album but with 'Eeyore' now being a separate track this isn't the case. Due to the latter being a secret track, the former would normally go for over 16 minutes, but now on it's own it's a doable 8:26. This is another slower track but for good reason as it explores the themes of self harm (try to think about the scissor sound effect without cringing) and drug abuse. Another dark moment for the band but one that is harder to revisit due to it's length and pace. Definitely not a bad song, but not as memorable as it maybe could have been. If it was shortened to the length of 'Purity' it definitely would have some major potential. I know there are fans of this song, but for me it's another skippable one.

Finally we have 'Eeyore' and is a short, frantic, secret track that the band still likes to play live from time to time. They really don't fuck around and go all in and almost go to the realms of death metal here. A fun track and a great note to end things on.

Overall this album is still a classic, and is still a favourite of mine. Sure it's not perfect with a couple of tracks bringing the tone way down and a couple of generic ones that aren't too memorable, but there is way, way, way more good than bad and so many songs that recommend listening to and songs that are still considered Slipknot and nu-metal classics. Check it out and be converted into a Maggot if you haven't already.

Tracks to download: (sic), Eyeless, Wait and Bleed, Surfacing, Spit It Out, Purity, Liberate, Eeyore

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Rotting Christ: The Heretics

The Heretics is the most recent album from black metal stalwarts Rotting Christ and was released on February 15th 2019 by Season of Mist Records.

The Heretics is the 13th studio album released by the band and one I've been keeping an eye on for a while now since the first single The Raven was released. I'm not too familiar with the band's previous works and the only other album I've listened to is Theogonia (2007) which I did enjoy and will need to give it another listen at some point.

For a bit of a background on the group, they are a Greek black metal band formed in 1987 and they are considered to be one of the first black metal groups in this region at the time, and are still regarded as one of the more influential bands as well. They have attracted a bit of controversy due the bands name and an incident which nearly resulted in them being banned from playing in Malta due to a fan putting one of their posters on the door of a catholic church. That did not go down well at all. Personally, the anti-religious stance of the band doesn't bother me at all and if anything only attracts me to them even more.

This year I am going to get a chance to see the band perform live twice, once in April at the Lord of the Lands festival and then again at Bloodstock in August, so it's a band I've been looking to get to know better so I can enjoy their performance a little more when the time comes. With this album's release I decided to jump in head first and I'm glad that I did.

Let's take a look and see how good this one is.

One thing to note before a delve into the tracklist is that this is a surprisingly accessible album. I know people seem to hate that term when it comes to metal music, but here it's definitely a good thing as this album is a great chance for anyone new to get themselves interested in the bands other material.

The first track is In the Name of God and is a great opener for the album. It starts with a spoken word intro which becomes a bit of a theme of the whole record which I'll get into later. This is a track that let's you know what you're getting into when it comes to the rest of the record, from what sounds like a haunting church choir in the background to the anti-religious message as the song appears to be mocking those that pray to God for the death of their enemies which is obviously against what their beliefs should really be:

O'Lord our God, help us to tear their bodies to bloody shreds with our shells. 
Help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded. 

The music helps to back this up to with the drums playing like a marching band from hell is on it's way to war with the world. Great start.

The next track is Vetry Zlye and I have no idea what that means. This might actually be the most accessible track on the record and it's one of the better songs. The haunting choir returns and this time we even have female vocalist to help the band out on the chorus which is spoken in a different language. It actually reminds me of Swallow the Sun's most recent album and works well because it's the only time she's used so it gives the song a more unique feeling to it and stands out from the rest as a result. This one also ends with spoken word, but again I'll get to that later.

Up next is Heaven & Hell & Fire, which is a bit of a mouthful of a title and hey! another spoken word intro! My favourite. Another good track here as we get something a bit different with that pesky haunting choir covering the verses, and Sakis Tolis's growling vocals taking care of the catchy chorus. More spoken word sections which 3 songs into the album are starting to get a bit tiresome, but some great guitar work brings it back around along with the fun chorus. Right at the end we get another bit of the bands seemingly controversial message:

I do not believe in the creed professed by the church
By any church that I know
My own mind 
Is my own church

Next song is Hallowed Be Thy Name and no this is not a cover of the Iron Maiden classic, but is an original song and what might be my favourite of the entire album. It's quite slow and very atmospheric, almost like a church hymn in reverse. This is one I'd like to hear live because having the crowd sing along to the chorus could be a lot of fun. This is another one that seemingly takes a dig at religious warfare with the mentions of war and fire in between the chanting of a prayer.

Up next is Dies Irae, which disappointingly almost starts in the exact same way as the opener just without the spoken intro. I can't say too much about the lyrics here as only the chorus is in English, but just like Heaven & Hell & Fire, the verses are sung by that background choir with the chorus being an entirely spoken word section. This isn't a bad song by any means but is one of the more forgettable tracks that the album has to offer and comes across as filler. On an album that's only 43 minutes long, that's not a good thing.

Sadly things get a little worse on the next track I Believe as this is easily my least favourite song on here. It is a shorter song sure, but I just find it so uninteresting with the same riff throughout the full song and the whole thing is done in spoken word with some background singing that also doesn't change throughout. Definitely a track to skip.

Thankfully we pick things up again with Fire God and Fear, which ends up being one of the best tracks on the album. Another spoken word intro and this one brings us back to the anti-religious message:

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities. 

The song keeps it's momentum going throughout, until it builds up to an absolute belter of a guitar solo that gives me goosebumps and is an album highlight for sure. This is more like it!

Up next is The Voice of the Universe and this is another that leaves a lot to be desired. It starts off well enough with a heart-pumping guitar and drum combination that feels like it's building up to something explosive but never really goes anywhere. The chorus in the middle does save it slightly as the sound picks up a bit, but before it can go anywhere more interesting we just go back to where we started and I'm left disappointed by a pretty mediocre track.

The penultimate track is The New Messiah and brings up back up to speed again. This is the shortest track on the album at 3:07 and I adore the background chanting of Neo-Messiah as it just sounds so satanic and I'll admit that it's fun to sing along to. Hopefully it's one they add to their setlist. While short, the album is surprisingly atmospheric and it's one worth listening to again. Even with yet another spoken word outro.

Finally we have The Raven which was the main single from the album and possibly the best song on here. The guitar riff is godly, and this is the one of the only times I enjoy the spoken word sections as the come from the Edgar Allen Poe poem of the same name and really adds to the atmosphere of the whole song. The instrumental sections are breathtaking and the guitar solo is just fantastic and I only wish there was more of this to find throughout the album.

Overall I had a lot of fun with this album and it's one I'll definitely be revisiting as time goes on. It does have it's issues like a few forgettable tracks and WAY WAY too many spoken word sections that almost get annoying as the album goes on, but there's a lot here to like too.

Like I said at the beginning, this is quite an accessible album for those looking to try the band out and there's a lot of songs on here I truly enjoy. There's more good than bad and that's enough for me to give it a recommendation.

Tracks to download: Hallowed Be Thy Name, Fire God & Fear, The Raven 

If you have any albums you want me to review, let me know! I'm always keeping my out for new stuff to sink my teeth into and might revisit some older albums for some fun or to tie in with a new release.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Top 10 Albums of all Time

So I figured since I may be doing more regular music reviews (here's hoping) I thought I'd do a post that lets you get to know me a little better and where my musical taste really comes from.

These are the 10 albums that I've ranked as my all time favourites, and while I may now be delving into the abyss of much heavier music and so this list may change with my taste, I'm pretty sure most of these will stay fixed in place for the foreseeable future.

My only rule for this list is that I'm only allowed one album per artist otherwise the list would be filled with albums by my number one choice. Next to each album I will include honourable mentions that were close to the top spot and before I start the top 10, I'm just gonna make some honourable mentions with artists that didn't make the list but deserve some recognition. Here we go:

AC/DC - Back in Black

Anthrax - Among the Living

The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Def Leppard - Hysteria 

Dio - Holy Diver

Ghost - Prequelle

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV

Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory

Motorhead - Overkill

My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade

Nirvana - Nevermind

Opeth - Blackwater Park

Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz

Power Trip - Nightmare Logic

Trivium - Ascendancy 

And without further ado, here's the top 10.

10. Slipknot - Iowa (2001)

Honourable Mentions - Slipknot (1999), Vol 3 (2003), .5 The Gray Chapter (2014)

Slipknot is a band that I started really loving towards the end of my time in high school and I did think they were one of those bands I would grow out of, but in nearly ten years it still hasn't happened and if anything has only grown stronger. The band have never put out a bad album with All Hope Is Gone being considered the worst and yet still being a damn good record that's worth a listen.

After a career full of highlights, Iowa has always stood at the top of the mountain and for very good reason. It's definitely the most consistent album of the band's catalogue as there's no bad songs to be found and for an album that's over an hour long that's pretty commendable. It's the most brutal and twisted the group have ever sounded and with it they created a masterpiece that people can relate to even today. Plus it's a pretty great choice for a gym playlist and it's one to throw on whenever you're feeling down. I'm finally getting my chance to see them live at Download this year and I cannot wait for the Disasterpiece that awaits.

Tracks to download: People = Shit, The Heretic Anthem, Everything Ends, Left Behind

9. Bring Me The Horizon - That's The Spirit (2015)

Honourable Mentions - There is a Hell.... (2010), Sempiternal (2013)

Now this is one that's definitely gonna divide opinions. And before anyone asks, no, I did not like amo. At all. As far as I'm concerned That's The Spirit is their last great album. If you want to know how much this album actually means to me, I actually have tattooed on my left arm. This albums main theme is dealing with depression and the negative feelings in your mind, and without getting too deep into my own story, it's an album that has helped me with my own mental health issues when I was feeling at my worst and I am eternally grateful to the band for that.

Aside from that, the music is just insanely good. It doesn't matter to me that it's not deathcore or even as heavy as some of the stuff on Sempiternal, this is still rocking enough to enjoy and every single song stands out on it's own. After seeing the band live, I can attest that most of these songs were created especially for a stadium atmosphere with some of the catchiest and adrenaline-pumping choruses you'll find anywhere else. If you didn't like amo and haven't heard this, definitely give this a try.

Tracks to Download: Doomed, Happy Song, Throne, Avalanche, Drown, True Friends, Follow You, Oh No

8. Death - The Sound of Perseverance (1998)

Honourable Mentions - Every other Death studio album

I'm not kidding when I say that Death have never released an album that can be considered any less than brilliant. I don't think I could even rank them worst to best as I would feel too guilty about calling any one of them the worst. I can, however, call this one the best. Even the hoodie I wear daily has the album cover adorning the back of it. It's almost like the band knew that this would be their last album and went all out in creating the final piece of their legacy to make it as epic and memorable as possible.

As well as having 8 outstanding original tracks, the album even ends with a great cover of Judas Priest's 'Painkiller'. Death have long been known as one of the greatest death metal bands of all time, and if you want to check them out, I would highly recommend starting with this classic. You can't go wrong.

Tracks to download: Scavenger of Human Sorrow, Bite the Pain, Spirit Crusher, Flesh and the Power it Holds, To Forgive is to Suffer

7. Judas Priest - Painkiller (1990)

Honourable Mentions - British Steel (1980), Screaming for Vengeance (1982), Firepower (2018)

This was a pretty hard choice to make between this and Screaming for Vengeance, but it terms of pure heavy metal, I don't think Painkiller can be beaten. When anyone mentions metal music this is one of the first albums that comes straight to mind. It starts off with the title track and the best song on the entire album which you might think would dilute the rest of the record. Far from it as every other track holds its own and just adds to the barrage of pure heavy metal as it assaults your ear drums in the best way possible. Plus, Night Crawler is almost the perfect metal song for Halloween. Don't listen with the lights off.

Tracks to Download: Painkiller, All Guns Blazing, Metal Meltdown, Night Crawler, A Touch of Evil

6. Mastodon - Emperor of Sand (2017)

Honourable Mentions - Leviathan (2004), Blood Mountain (2006), Crack the Skye (2009)

Again, this was another tough choice as I was tempted to put the epic Leviathan here, but Emperor of Sand is the album I've easily listened to the most as it's my album of choice when I just want to relax. This is another case of every song on the record being a winner, and the concept of the desert wanderer that's been handed a death sentence and how it ties into real life hardships of the band is always fascinating to me. After a couple of albums that were  at the lower end of Mastodon's discography, this was the band back on top where they belonged. Sure they aren't as heavy as they used to be, and the song Show Yourself has some poppy elements, but you cannot deny the songwriting skill of this group. After seeing them perform last month I can attest to the crowd-pleasing moments of Steambreather and Ancient Kingdom. The album also has my favourite Mastodon track in the form of Roots Remain which is definitely a recommended listen. The band may have a new album out this year and I can't wait to hear what they have in store.

Tracks to Download: The Sultan's Curse, Steambreather, Roots Remain, Ancient Kingdom, Clandestiny, Precious Stones, Jaguar God

5. Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction (1987)

This is the only band to not have any honourable mentions because I don't think they've ever came close to matching it, and while the Use Your Illusion albums may be good, they aren't close to being mentioned in the top albums.

Anyway this album will always have a lot of love from me as Guns N' Roses were the first rock band I really got into when I was much younger, as pop music was just boring to me (moreso nowadays) and I needed something different. Enter Guitar Hero 3 and the first playthrough of Welcome to the Jungle had me hooked and I had to hear more, and the rest is history. I might not even be writing this right now if not for this album. The album itself is a tremendous piece of 80s 'sex, drugs and rock n' roll' style of hair metal and still stands out even today. It's helped by the fact that every song is in your face and has some of the all time great rock songs in form of the previously mentioned Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City, and Sweet Child of Mine.

Last year at Download, I got the chance to truly enjoy their fantastic 3 hour set and I hope it isn't the last time I get to see them. Easily one of the best days of my life.

Tracks to Download: Welcome to the Jungle, It's So Easy, Nightrain, Mr Brownstone, Paradise City, My Michelle, Sweet Child of Mine, You're Crazy, Rocket Queen

4. Slayer - Reign in Blood (1986)

Honourable Mentions - Show No Mercy (1983), South of Heaven (1988), Seasons in the Abyss (1990), Christ Illusion (2006)

Even putting this at number 4 I feel is too low, but given the next 3 albums on the list, it'll need to settle in here. I feel ridiculous even explaining why this album is here as it may be the most beloved by metal fans, and everyone already knows that this is one of the best thrash metal albums to listen to in it's entirety. I honestly don't think we'll ever get another album like this in our time, as much as great bands like Power Trip may try. Given that the album is also bookended by 2 of the greatest metal songs ever recorded only adds to it's legacy. If you haven't listened to it already, what the hell is wrong with you? Go listen to it and be converted like the rest of us.

I did get to see the band perform last November and it was one of the best gigs I've been to and I'm hoping I'll get to see them one last time at Download this year.

Tracks to Download: The full album but especially Angel of Death and Raining Blood

3. Black Sabbath - Paranoid (1970)

Honourable Mentions - Black Sabbath (1970), Master of Reality (1971), Vol. 4 (1972), Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), Sabotage (1975), Heaven and Hell (1980)

Yeah this is a pretty cliche album to have on a top albums list but I can't help it. I love it too much and along with Appetite of Destruction and the next 2 albums, it's one of the biggest influences on my musical taste. I've been listening to a lot of doom metal lately and I can't help but think of Sabbath whenever I listen to them. This is another album that doesn't need much explanation as just about everyone has to be aware of it's influence on the metal genre. And who doesn't know the riff of Iron Man at this point? An all time classic that needs to be listened to if you haven't before, and if you have then just throw it on for old time's sake.

While I've never gotten to experience the majesty of Sabbath live, I did get to see Ozzy Osbourne at Download last year and he played a few of the songs from this album with War Pigs being a definite highlight.

Tracks to Download: War Pigs, Paranoid, Iron Man, Electric Funeral, Hand of Doom, Fairies Wear Boots

2. Metallica - Ride the Lightning (1984)

Honourable Mentions - Kill 'Em All (1983), Master of Puppets (1986), ...And Justice for All (1988), The Black Album (1991), Death Magnetic (2008)

As easy as it may be to make fun of Metallica, they were one of my first metal bands that I fell in love with when being introduced to the metal genre and this album has always been the main highlight. While Master of Puppets is always considered the favourite (and for good reason as I really considered it for this list) I've always felt that this was the superior album as it was the most diverse with songs like Fight Fire with Fire and Creeping Death opening up the mosh pits, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Call of Ktulu (goddammit guys it's Cthulhu) bringing the atmosphere, and Fade to Black giving what I believe to be the best song in the bands massive catalogue. The worst song on here is probably Escape and even that one is worth a listen as it's pretty underrated. A career highlight for one of the biggest bands in the world.

I'm getting to see Metallica live in London this year and I cannot wait to hopefully hear some of these songs played live. A tremendous achievement.

Tracks to Download: Fight Fire with Fire, Ride the Lightning, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Fade to Black, Trapped Under Ice, Creeping Death, The Call of Ktulu

1. Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast (1982)

Honourable Mentions - Iron Maiden (1980), Killers (1981), Piece of Mind (1983), Powerslave (1984), Live After Death (1985), Somewhere in Time (1986), Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988), Brave New World (2000), Rock in Rio (2001), Dance of Death (2003), A Matter of Life and Death (2006), The Final Frontier (2010), The Book of Souls (2015)

As those honourable mentions and 3 of my tattoos can attest, Iron Maiden are my all time favourite band and this is the album that started it all. Powerslave may be technically better, but this one has always been my favourite and the one I always go to when I'm in the mood to listen. The album is known for having 3 of Maiden's mainstay live songs, but there's so much more to it than that. Children of the Damned is dripping in atmosphere with one of Bruce Dickinson's best vocal performances, and we also have underrated gems in the form of The Prisoner and 22 Acacia Avenue. Gangland and Invaders may not be the greatest Maiden songs but they are great placeholders in between the bigger songs and so serve a great purpose. Hallowed Be Thy Name has long been considered the greatest metal song of all time and I have to agree and the title track might just be my favourite song of all time. I don't think anything will ever take this album's place here.

I have gotten to see these guys twice live, and last year in Newcastle is what I hold as the best gig I've ever been to and I doubt it'll ever be beaten. Up the Irons.

Tracks to Download: Children of the Damned, The Prisoner, 22 Acacia Avenue, The Number of the Beast, Run to the Hills, Hallowed Be Thy Name

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Ross's Album Reviews - Swallow the Sun: When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light

Well this here is my first foray into doing a review for a full album. I've done many movie reviews and a few game reviews in the past (cheap plug for if you want to read them) so this is a little daunting as I want to do the material justice.

If this is shit, I apologise but I'm hoping I'll get a proper grasp of the concept once I've had a bit of experience with it. Anyway enough about me and onto the music.

First a little background on the band. Swallow the Sun are a Finnish band and I want to say that their style is melodic doom metal but I can't vouch for their previous records as I haven't actually heard them.

This album is their seventh studio album since their formation in the year 2000 and was released by Century Media Records just over three years after a titanic triple album known as Songs from the North I, II, & III which I do plan to power through at some point.

This is my first experience with Swallow the Sun as I only really discovered this album after seeing that the band had been announced for the Bloodstock festival in August and I wanted to check them out since I'm going there. I have to say that I made a great decision in starting with this album.

Sadly, three years before this album's release, guitarist Juha Raivio lost his life partner and Trees of Eternity bandmate Aleah Starbridge to cancer. In the time after her death he formed a new band known as No Stars Upon the Bridge with lyrics based on poetry she had written.

I mention this because it does feel like the grief that Juha still held was poured into practically every song here and it almost comes across as a tribute to her memory as well as some catharsis for the guitarist.

The album kicks off with the title track and in my opinion it was definitely the best choice to start things off as it immediately lets you know what you're in for in the remaining 45 minutes of the album. The song is 7:27 in total and does not drag at all for a longer song with a nice mix of slow, almost Sabbath-like riffs before seamlessly shifting to acoustic guitar with clean vocals before hitting us right in the chest with a booming chorus with growling vocals that could fit on any black metal album and yet still completely understandable. Easily one of the best songs on here and we're just getting started.

I also really like the addition of a background female vocalist as it almost feels like Aleah is there in spirit and it really complements Mikko's vocals when appropriately used. It really feels like all the emotions are coming out here and the 'Shadows' coming into the light represents the grief from Aleah's passing coming out to us on this record.

Next up is The Crimson Crown and is the longest song on the album 7:57 and while I would I would have preferred a shorter song after the first one was already that length, it's still not a bad place to have it on the record. The song definitely has a more melodic, folky feel to it and the bass gets more of a chance to shine in the quieter moments. The female vocalist returns as well for some enchanting duets with Mikko. I was even getting some hints of Iron Maiden with some of the softer guitar picking before the volume is turned up again. I'm a sucker for a good guitar solo and there's a spine-tingling one as we near the end.

While I prefer the first song, this is still a song worth checking out and the near 8 minutes passes by in a flash.

Up next is Firelights and is one of the shortest songs on the album at 5:41 and is one of my favourites. It starts with a haunting melody that sticks with you even after the song is over. It can be quite chilling to listen to, especially when we reach the backing vocals whispering 'The phantoms, the nightmares' before hitting a chorus that may be destined to be a live favourite as it's so easy to sing along to and will get stuck in your head. This is the first song that brings up a constant theme of the album in the form of 'water' or 'drowning' which I do think ties into the theme of grief as Juha is being dragged down to the depths by his emotions. The female vocalist and black metal style of singing are used sparingly and to good effect.

Track 4 on the album is Upon the Water and seems to be the album favourite according to the Spotify download numbers but it's not hard to see why. This is yet another album highlight for sure. The song starts with a lovely dual guitar riff before switching a very melodic verse. Another big chorus is here and it's one I'd imagine sounds terrific live, especially if the harsher vocals are on point. Another one that hits all the emotional high points as well with more lyrical choices that seem to point towards the passing of Aleah such as 'Low tide is gone forever' and 'I want you to bury me'. Strong stuff.

Next up is Stone Wings and wouldn't you know it we have another fantastic song. You can tell that the band has found a great formula here with many quieter moments leading to a big loud chorus to really get your blood pumping. It's reminiscent of the Blackwater Park days of Opeth. This might be the best big chorus on the entire record which is saying a lot.

It might be the most melodic song here and yet also still has perhaps the heaviest moment on the album with a bridge that has lyrics that feel like they came from a death metal album while also mixing in the earlier harsher vocals. Best song on the album for my money and the one to really check out to see if you like this.

Next up is Clouds on your Side and is the shortest song on the album at 4:47 and it might be my least favourite song on the album, but is still a good song showing just how great this record is. While the formula is getting slightly repetitive with the softer verses, another memorable chorus is more than enough for me to also recommend this.

The penultimate track is Here on the Black Earth. This is one of the more emotional songs on the album as you really feel Juha's heart breaking here and some of the lyrics break my own heart listening to it.

'Death tore out the flesh from my bones
Left my soul so pale and hollow
My hands reach into the void
Where you used to be'

Very powerful words that stayed with me. I also can't help but fall in love with another great little guitar solo. Another album highlight after a slight disappointment in the previous track.

And that leads us to the final gut punch on this journey in the form of Never Left. Ending where we started off, this is one of the longer songs at 7:50 and easily the most powerful song on here. Through the lyrics you get a sense that Juha is questioning his reason for going on without anything to fight for. The song ends on a sad note:

'Empty rooms
But you never left
Empty house
But you never left
Empty heart
But you never left'

If you've lost someone close to you, this song is a hard one to get through, nevermind the rest of the album. While the title track was the perfect opener, this is the perfect ending and I couldn't imagine any other song being placed here. Just pure beauty here.

It may seem obvious that I'm in total love with this album and it's so true. I can see this easily making it to the top of 'Best of 2019' list when I eventually get there and I'd recommend this to anyone looking for something with some real heart to it and one that will require a couple of listens to really get the full effect.

While it's just barely a 'metal' album due to a lot of softer moments, there's enough here to keep even the most ardent metal fan invested. Hell I listen to a daily dose of Cannibal Corpse, Behemoth and Anaal Nathrakh and I still found this to be a beautiful album worth listening to over and over again. Give it a try.

Rating: 9.5/10