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