Steffan Chandler's Reviews

Bleeding Through - “The Great Fire”

7 albums in and Orange County sextet, Bleeding Through, are showing no signs of lightening up. Revered as forefathers of the metalcore genre alongside the likes of Killswitch Engage and Chimaira, Bleeding Through are arguably solely responsible for the explosion of the genre tagged, “deathcore” Mixing black metal, death metal, thrash, hardcore and almost every other sub-genre thinkable, Bleeding Through have, over the years, made quite the reputation for themselves. The previous self-titled album was somewhat of a revelation for the band and although “The Great Fire” picks up where that album left off, it becomes clear throughout the album that something is indeed, lacking.

Opening with gloomy intro, “The March”, Bleeding Through once again set the landscape for their signature mish-mash of melodic death metal meets hardcore before launching head first into first single and hair-raiser, “Faith In Fire” A myriad of blackened hardcore songs follow with Marta Peterson lending her graceful yet menacing keyboards at regular intervals along the way and the results are more or less the same that you’d expect. Where the band really flourishes however, is when they lean more towards their black metal sentiments and manage to create a sonic whirlwind of traditional “kvlt” skank-beats fused with tremolo picking and haunting keyboard melodies. Nowhere is this more apparent on the album than on the tracks “Walking Dead” and “Step Back In Line” the latter of which sounds distinctly like it could have been on Behemoth’s last album.

Credit has to be given to Brendan Schieppati for all that he has achieved during his musical career, but on this album, some of his lyrics, whilst generally quite strong throughout, do - at times - sound as though he’s going through the motions. Both “Declaration” and the self-titled were lyrically top-notch and whilst “The Great Fire” doesn’t necessarily contain “bad” lyrics, you can’t help but feel as though you’ve heard it all before already.

If there’s one thing that drags “The Great Fire” down, it would be the fact that it’s just simply not as strong as it’s predecessors. Moreover, it lacks ambition and musical flare, which makes for a rather a bland listening experience by the time you’ve reached the latter half of the album. It does, therefore, beg the question: “have Bleeding Through reached the end of their musical progression?”

6.5/10

Download: “Step Back In Line”, “Walking Dead” or “Faith In Fire”

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Review by Steffan Chandler

Lamb of God - “Resolution”

I have to say, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to say about this album when it came to writing a review. Since it’s release on the 23rd of January, I’ve listened to it perhaps 4 or 5 times in it’s entirety - possibly even more. Whilst I knew it was a great record from the very start, there was something about it that has, for the past couple of days, eluded me. I can’t place my finger on what it was exactly, except to say that it perhaps wasn’t as “immediate” as its predecessor, "Wrath" On the topic of the previous albums, many people still see career-defining "Sacrament" as the moment when Lamb of God hit the big time; I would contest this. For me, "Wrath" was the moment when Lamb of God cemented their position as heavy metal titans for years to come, and although it perhaps wasn’t as good as "Sacrament" it most definitely did what needed to be done in order to land them in among the ranks of the metal “elite”…in other words, they got to tour with Metallica. Having watched and read interviews with the band of late, I was interested to see what the band had to say for themselves when the subject of touring with Metallica came up. After all, where do you go when you’ve toured with the biggest band in the history of metal? Fortunately for us, Lamb of God have answered that question with their latest slab of “pure american metal”, "Resolution" 

Kicking things off in style with sludge-tastic head-bobber, “Straight to the Sun” is the sound of a band shitting on everyone’s expectations. With the opening track clocking in at 2:29, the band waste no time in opening the floodgates in the form of anthemic home-wrecker, “Desolation” The riffs in said track are aplenty and serves as a perfect reminder of why Lamb of God are one of the biggest metal bands in 2012. First single and soon-to-be career hit, “Ghost Walking” is devilishly fun and recalls the band’s more southern tinged side, whilst fourth track, “Guilty”, shifts things up a gear and pummels your senses in a mind-blowing display of technicality. Groovy, crushing and sporting a somewhat hardcore vibe, “The Undertow” is a heavyweight superstar, the likes of which could easily hold its own in the band’s set-list for years to come. A more interesting proposition, “The Number Six” starts in traditional fashion and before you know it, erupts into a soaring chorus, courtesy of Randy Blythe’s most excellent vocal performance.

6 tracks in and aside from track 7’s acoustic interlude, believe me when I say, this band are not lightening up. In particular, track 9 (“Cheated”), is for my money, one of the best tracks on the record. Starting in true punk style, Randy Blythe grabs the song by the throat and makes it his own from the first to the very last note. The guttural delivery alone of the lyrics “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” is some of the most memorable material (vocally speaking) that features on the album. Another highlight has to be “Insurrection” which sees Randy once again push his boundaries as a metal vocalist and adopt an almost clean singing style; a decision, I think some other songs could have benefited from. All of this, however, rather fades in comparison when you eventually reach the end of the album and are treated to one of the most epic Lamb of God songs to date. There’s been a lot of talk about album-closer, “King Me”, and all of it’s justified. The inclusion of a female soprano voice over Lamb of God’s moody composition is the definition of perfection. It really is a stunning piece of music and needs to be heard to be be believed.

In the dictionary, the word “resolution” refers to the “state or quality of being resolute; a firm determination” If this is Lamb of God’s “resolution” in sonic form, then bands better watch out, because at this level, Lamb of God are nigh on unstoppable…

9/10

Download: “Desolation”, “Cheated” or “King Me”

Review by Steffan Chandler

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Enter Shikari - ‘A Flash Flood of Colour’

The third album is always the game changer. Never mind the sequel - they often stick relatively close to what made the first album successful. No, it’s the third album that really matters. It marks the point at which a band either disappears into the void of the 21st Century music industry or bursts forward into the limelight and leaves their mark for years to come. On ‘A Flash Flood of Colour’ Enter Shikari have achieved just that…

'A Flash Flood of Colour' comes at a time when things in the world are taking a turn for the worst. It’s no surprise then that lead singer and frontman, Rou Reynolds’ lyrical content has also become, at times, equally as grim. That said, this band aren’t all doom and gloom. The quirky and self-deprecating nature alone of ‘Gandhi, mate. Gandhi’  is enough to add the much required levity to the album.

Enter Shikari have always stood for innovation. And although they have their fair amount of haters, there’s very little room for people to argue that Enter Shikari are by any means, an unoriginal band. Indeed, ‘A Flash Flood of Colour’ captures Enter Shikari at their most creative and mature point to date. Songs like ‘Search Party’, ‘Stalemate’ and ‘Pack of Thieves’ showcase a level of songwriting unparalleled by previous releases - and for that matter - any of their peers too. On the heavier side of things, fans of the band’s debut ‘Take to the Skies’ will rejoice upon hearing tracks the likes of ‘SSSNAKEPIT’, ‘Arguing with Thermometers’ and ‘Warm Smiles Don’t Make You Welcome Here’ 

Arguably the band’s least heavy album to date (at least in the traditional sense of the word) Enter Shikari have seemingly shed all affiliations with the world of “metalcore” and have instead, over the years, evolved into what can only be described as an “electro/dub step rock” act. Yes, there is the odd breakdown here and there, but the proportion of drops to breaks is definitely leaning more heavily towards the prior of the two - and rightly so.

Everything that the band has hinted to up until now has come to fruition on ‘A Flash Flood of Colour’ The vocals are stunning, the songwriting is superb, and best of all: the drops are bowel-disturbingly low. Without a shadow of a doubt a contender for rock album of the year, Enter Shikari have dived into the deep end and only time will tell if they sink or swim.

9/10

Download: ‘Arguing with Thermometers’, ‘Gandhi, Mate. Gandhi’ and ‘Stalemate’

Written by Steffan Chandler

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GgTgQM5D0M

Top 20 of 2011 - No. 6-1

It’s finally here - the moment that you’ve all been waiting in feverish excitement for. Yes, it’s the last installment of my Top 20 of 2011! Today’s edition will cover the greatest of the great and reveal the highly anticipated number 1 album of the year. So, with all self-infatuation aside, let’s get this show on the road!

No.6. THE DEFILED - ”Grave Times”

Wow…Just wow. How on earth did this band make an album this good? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a minute think that the Defiled used to suck, it’s just that before this album dropped, they really weren’t even remotely on my radar. The first time I heard of them was back in the good ol’ days of Myspace (lol) Back then, they seemed to be doing alright for themselves, and although they didn’t by any means have a huge following, they definitely had the potential to become bigger. Then some years passed by and I just kinda forgot about them. Maybe the time wasn’t right, or perhaps they just weren’t focused enough…who knows? In any case, when I heard that the Defiled were back and were releasing their debut album for free via Metal Hammer, I was midly interested to see what the band had in store after all these years. To say that this album is a comeback would be an understatment. This is a full blown ressurection in every sense of the word. The image is still the same but the sound has been monstrously updated. Sporting a Meshuggah/Fear Factory guitar tone, this band has placed themselves firmly in among the heavy weights of the genre and by the sounds of things, plan to stay there.

There have been many bands this year for whom 2011 has been a truly astonishing year; The Defiled are at the top of that list. Moreover, going on what I saw of their performance at Sonisphere and the amount of love and critical acclaim that ”Grave Times" has recieved over the past year, there is now no doubt in my mind that this band will go on to bigger and brighter things. Look out 2012…

9/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaHdzo2__Gw

No.5. TESSERACT - "One"

I think it goes without saying when I say that Tesseract are one of the most promising britsh heavy metal bands to come out in recent memory. The plethora of headline gigs and well-booked support slots speak for this alone. Indeed, I can think of very few bands who managed to do a headline line run in their own country, let alone in the U.S., within their first album cycle. Given the current state of the music industry, that really says something for the future prospects of this band. Then again, considering just how good this band is, none of this should really come as a surprise.

Somewhat of an internet phenomenon, interest grew rapdily in this band even before they had released their debut album. When they eventually dropped their EP, "Concealing Fate" excitement went into overdrive and by the time "One" had come out, the success of the band was already a foregone conclusion. Speaking of success, one of the key reasons why this band have seemingly blown up over the past couple of years has undoubtedly to  do with the astonishing work of none other than Mr. Dan Tompkins. Prior to him lending his soothing tones to the crushing weight of Tesseract’s music, the genre of “Djent” bore very little in potential and was almost guaranteed to die out within a year or two - but not anymore. If there was one thing that I take away from this album, it’s the fact that, unlike many of their peers, Tesseract have taken their influences and created their own sound. That in itself, deserves a medal.

Aside from the wonderful, musical journey that this album takes you on, Tesseract are also a mind-blowingly brilliant live band. Having had the opportunity to catch them when they played one of the tents at Sonisphere, I can firmly say that, as much as I welcome the addition of new vocalist, Elliot Coleman, I’m uncertain as to whether that “magic” can ever be recaptured. I suppose only time will tell…

9/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grwmUTrO180

No.4. LOWER THAN ATLANTIS - "World Record"

2011 has been a great year for british music. The fact that 5 out of my top 10 albums of the year are from british bands says a lot. I’m not quite sure why we all of a sudden have so many great rock bands but I guess the time was just right and I’m hardly going to complain, am I? So, anyway, it turns out that one of these great british rock bands just so happens to have sneaked into my top 5, the reason being that…well, it’s just a great album. I know that it may seem odd, given the fact that up until now, my list has mainly consisted of metal but truth be told, I love my rock. After all, some of the first albums I bought were straight up rock albums. So, if like me, you bought “The Colour and the Shape” and “Bleed American” when you were 11 or 12, then you’ll most definitely find something you’ll like about Lower Than Atlantis.

Admittedly, I didn’t give this album the listen it deserved when I first came across it. I saw the video for the single “Deadliest Catch” and really enjoyed it but for some reason or another, when it came to actually listen to the album in it’s entirety, I kinda just switched off. Having decided to go back and give it another listen towards the end of the year, I can now say that it has fast become one of my favourties and really gets me excited for when I next happen to cross paths with the band live. Having said that, I did catch them briefly at Sonisphere and wasn’t particularly impressed by the frontman’s stage banter. The performance however, was top-notch and so ultimately, I can’t really fault the band.

With great songs and great lyrics, this band is fast on their way to becoming one of the U.K.’s biggest bands. With competition from the likes of Deaf Havana, Twin Atlantic and We Are the Ocean, LTA still have a way to go before they cement their domination on the genre but provided they keep progressing at their current rate, I doubt that should be problem.

9/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naNYu4KOvBw

No.3. NEW FOUND GLORY - "RADIOSURGERY"

File this one under “most listened to album of the year” Seriously, I couldn’t get enough of this record. New Found Glory have always written brilliant albums but none of them have ever been quite this listenable before. More than once I found myself hitting the repeat button after the album had ended; such is the infectious brand of pop punk that this band blasts out. What I love about this album the most is the fact that it’s so damn catchy! The lyrics and choruses are bang on the money and the songwriting is direct and to the point.

There’s an absolute shit tonne of bands doing the same thing out there right now, but no one comes close to New Found Glory these days. Even the mighty Blink, for all their hardcore worshipers and hype of the latest offering, can’t claim to have written an album this good since “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket” All that aside, this is as pure as pop punk gets and "Radiosurgery" is a stunning reminder of who wears the trousers in this family.

p.s. I by no means profess to have an inside out knowledge of pop punk, I just fucking love NFG.

10/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNQ-DUab3i0

No.2. MACHINE HEAD - "Unto the Locust"

Burdened with the mammoth task of topping career defining album, "The Blackening" "Unto the Locust" was never going to be an easy sell. It’ just as well then that Machine Head have happened to put out another stonewall, heavy metal classic. Of course, not everyone was convinced; even I had trouble getting to grips with it on the first couple of listens. Had I written the review then, I would be giving the album a notably lower mark than I am now. So what is it that made this album for me? Well, it was seeing it performed live. I have to say, I’m slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t seen Machine Head prior to this album cycle. I always wanted to but the timing never seemed right or perhaps I was just lazy…Either way, I finally rectified that mistake and went to see them for the first time in a German town called, Ludwigsburg. Now, I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this show. First of all, I had never heard of Ludwigsburg and thus, had no idea whatsoever as to what the venue was gonna be like and whether anyone would in fact, turn out. These concerns however, soon faded when I saw the masses of black shirts and facial hair. It was then that I realized that Machine Head fans are Machine Head fans, irrespective of what nation they come from. Given the amount of Blackening t-shirts I saw at the gig, I was curious to see how the new material would go down. What I found out was that, out of all tracks that were played that night, it was the tracks from "Unto the Locust" which truly stood out and connected with the audience the best. Alongside anthems like “Imperium” and “Halo” that was truly something to behold…

It’s clear to me now that Machine Head aren’t just a band, they’re a fucking institution. That gig in Ludwigsburg was probably one of the few gigs where I outright enjoyed myself and felt like I was part of something bigger. I’ve been known to rant about festival headline choices before but what really irritates me is the fact that bands like Machine Head have come through hell and high water to be where they are today, yet still they are playing second fiddle to the likes of Metallica, who win the award for “longest amount of time spent doing nothing and still making money” What on earth are festival organizers thinking?!! It’s a disgrace and it’s pathetic. Machine Head are one of the biggest names in heavy metal and they’ve got the tunes to pull it off. Let’s stop digging up bands that used to be big in the 80’s and 90’s, and let’s give a relevant band a shot at the glory, OK? Sonisphere make it happen.

10/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJtt02uYo_c

Alas, we’ve finally made it…My number one album of 2011 is…*drum roll*…

MASTODON!!!!!!!!!!!! with their spectacular album, "The Hunter"!!!

Mastodon are a phenomenon. Once hailed as lords of the underground, Mastodon have risen up through the ranks due to their undying commitment to their art and the creativity to pull off something truly magical on each album "The Hunter" is such a case. Paralleled by none, not even it’s mighty predecessor, "Crack the Skye" Mastodon have strayed beyond all expectations and boundaries and have seemingly done it without even breaking a sweat. Amazing…Put simply, "The Hunter" is the ultimate Mastodon album.

11/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_AG4w7CW0g

Phew…finally done. If you’ve stuck with it this far, then thanks for reading. I hope it wasn’t too unbearable for you. Next on the agenda are the albums that deserve an honourable mention and the bands/albums to look out for in 2012.

Steffan Chandler

Top 20 of 2011 - No. 7-12

Seeing as I’ve been rather slow to put up new reviews recently, I’ve decided to instead publish the remaining reviews in small, bite-size chunks so that we can get to the juicer bits quicker and find out what lurks in the top 5 (not that it’d be much of any interest to anyone but anyway…) So, here’s albums 12 to 7 in descending order:

NO. 12. Dead & Divine - "Antimacy"

I have to say, of all the albums to come out this year, this one truly came out of nowhere. I barely knew the band before I listened to this album but once I gave it a listen, I simply couldn’t stop. The riff power on this album is off the charts, and at times, the vocal delivery is truly remarkable. It has all the components of that southern tinted metalcore that people know and love, and although the comparisons to Cancer Bats and Every Time I Die are sure to arise, I think it’d be fair to say that Dead & Divine more than give those bands a run for their money…Here’s to keepin’ things groovy.

8.5/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtaAAikUjF8

NO.11. CHIMAIRA - "The Age of Hell"

Well, Chimaira have had a hell of a year…see what I did there? Funny, wasn’t it? But seriously, this band have had it bad. Having lost 3 of their long-standing members all in quick succession, many thought that it was all over for this band and to be fair, so did I. Then, what do they do? They release a fucking awesome album, that’s what! "The Age of Hell" is by far the best material that this band has put out in recent memory and although I really loved what they did on the last album, "The Infection", this album is simply on a different level. Meaner, heavier, more atmospheric and more experimental, Mark Hunter and his boys deserve a good old pat on the back for this one. God knows what’s going to happen next what with both guitarists leaving, but my guess is that this band will do what it’s always done: take the hit, recover and evolve. METAL.

8.5/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trSCOOQ9EXM

p.s. Check out the dub step version of this track. It’s a blinder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ImWGsfODQI

NO.10. EVILE - "Five Serpents’ Teeth"

I have to be honest, I’ve always had a soft spot for this band. I think that if I were to ask most people who listen to metal what they thought (provided they had heard of the band) the likelihood is that they would be inclined to say the same. I guess my love for this band stems from the fact that they were one of the first thrash bands I ever listened to and thus, in a way, acted as a gateway band to the bigger names and indeed, some of the smaller ones too. In fact, since their inception, they’ve often been credited with reviving the genre of thrash, which, if we’re being realistic, did take somewhat of a downturn during the 90’s. Yes, there were still bands thrashing away in the underground but even Slayer’s relentless grinding couldn’t halt the decline in the popularity of the genre. In any case, the point I’m trying to make is that Evile, to a certain extent, have renewed listeners’ interest in thrash - in particular - Bay Area style thrash. This band have come a long way since then…The unfortunate passing of bassist, Mike Alexander, came as a heavy blow to their morale but the band strived on nonetheless and have released a fitting tribute, which thrashes with all the intensity of the band’s earlier material whilst managing to shine with a renewed hope and optimism. Simply put, this band have matured gracefully and have put out an equally majestic album. Well done, lads, well done.

8.5/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTTrfQq9EJk

NO.9 SAVAGE MESSIAH - "Plague of Consciousness"

Once again, another totally unexpected entry, which took me by utter surprise. Released late in the year for free from the Earache official website, this band should be applauded for not only taking a risk by handing out their product for free but also for writing such a bloody, good album. If you haven’t checked out this album yet, you’re really missing out. Influenced largely by the brand of thrash that Megadeth blasted out in the mid 80’s, this band draw rather spectacularly from other metal greats such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and the sadly no longer with us, Nevermore. If you still have feelings of despair about the thought of potentially never seeing Nevermore play together live again, then fear not because this band will soon fill that music shaped hole. Why? you say. Well, ‘cos it fucking rocks, that’s why! Unlike other albums, which took me 2 or 3 listens to get into before I really started to enjoy them, this album was an absolute joy to listen to from the get-go. In fact, one of the main reasons it’s so high up on my list is because it takes me back to the time when I was first getting into this style of music and reminds why I liked it in the first place. The riffs, the drums, the Mustaine/Halford-esque vocals - it’s all there; and that’s not mentioning the absolutely stellar production! All in all, this a remarkable step-up in quality from the last album and is sure to garner fan and critical praise alike. All that’s left to say now is, get on Facebook and like their page, you cretins!!! 

9/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6znFEJXBJLo

NO.8. TRC - "Bright Lights"

I remember back in 2006 when I was 15 that I came across a certain hardcore band called Gallows, whose debut CD "Orchestra of Wolves" I had heard mentioned in among the pages of Kerrang! and on occasion, in passing when chatting to friends. Moreover, the album itself was somewhat of an eye-opener for me and more importantly, introduced me to the world of hardcore. Raised primarily on Nu-metal and hard rock, that was a pretty big deal for the 15 year old me. Now, I have yet to check out the latest Gallows EP but from what I’ve heard, it’s basically just a standard, meat ‘n’ potatoes hardcore album with nothing particular remarkable about it. Considering how revolutionary they sounded to me when I first heard “In the Belly of a Shark” that doesn’t bode particularly well for when I do eventually get round to listening to it. With that in mind, I’m not sure I really will ever have to - not when TRC are around anyway. For me, TRC are the logical successors to Gallows. They have the sound, they have the attitude and boy, do they have the anger. The song titles “Define Cocky”, “H.A.T.E.R.S” and “Go Hard or Go Home” say it all really…Funnily enough, and this isn’t something I can say for a lot of hardcore bands, the thing that I like most about this album, were the lyrics. Equally memorable as they are venomous, the delivery is top-notch and utterly believable. In a world where both metal and hardcore are regularly subjected to cliches and half truths, it’s really refreshing to hear a band say ”how it is and not how it might be”

9/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nb3ZY37uVMw

NO.7. THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER - "The Ritual"

If I were to pick a band that I had known about for a long time but had never really “got”, then it would almost definitely be the Black Dahlia Murder. I don’t know what it was exactly that prevented me from liking them as much as I do now but one thing’s for sure, “"Ritual" stands head and shoulders above the rest of their albums - even the mighty “Nocturnal” More melodic death metal than they are “core” (in fact, if anyone still calls them “deathcore” then they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about…) the band really flourishes because they’ve seemingly embraced their more death metal side and thus, have offered up an album the likes of which deals in devilish riffery, guttural vocals and pummeling blastbeats. In addition to this, the lyrical content is somewhat removed from that of what’s currently going in the American death metal scene and although it’s arguably not of the highest importance, it is nice to be able to read about something other than the inevitable demise of humanity for once. On the matter of lyrics, I often compare this band to Cannibal Corpse in the sense that they’ve never strayed particularly far from their brand and yet have also managed to offer up a bludgeoningly brutal album each time round. If you need any further proof, you need only watch the “Centuries of Torment” Cannibal Corpse DVD in which the lead singer, Trevor Strnad, talks about his obsession as a young boy with the band’s music. A pure, unadulterated homage to the death metal of old, this album is a real landmark for the band and is sure to set the bar for all future modern death metal bands to come. SICK.

9/10

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDEvqdw2fmA

13. Textures - “Dualism”

If I was asked to describe the single, biggest metal-related thing that happened in 2011, it would undoubtedly be the rise of “Djent” The number of bands alone that have spawned under said moniker defies belief. Moreover, if I were to remark on anything in particular, it would be the speed at which this genre came into being. Indeed, some have argued that the “Djent” movement is in fact not even genre and is simply just a guitar tone. Whilst I agree that this is mostly the case, there’s no denying that with the likes of Animals As Leaders, Tesseract and Periphery leading the pack, the term “Djent”, has already started to take on a different meaning. Textures and their latest release "Dualism", is an example of this in action.

Hailing from Tilburg in the Netherlands, these Dutchmen play a style of progressive metal, which is stereo-typically Meshuggah yet manages to draw on a plethora of other influences such as: Devin Townsend, Mnemic and Faith No More; the latter of which is due in large to vocalist Daniel de Jongh’s diverse and colourful range. In fact, now that I’m on the matter, Daniel’s debut on this album is rather stunning. I have to admit, I haven’t listened to this band’s previous work but having read numerous comments and reviews online, I have yet to come across any negativity towards this man’s work. In today’s world of internet shit-slinging, that’s really saying something.

Produced by guitarist and founding member Jochem Jacobs at Split Second Studio Sound in Amsterdam,"Dualism" is the kind of album that I’d put on in the background when I’m doing work or simply chilling in my bedroom - such is the blissful quality of the production. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of riffs on this album…it’s just that I seem to enjoy the album most when I don’t over-analyse it too much. By this I mean that unlike other heavy metal albums, it’s not about the riffs or the hooks - it’s about the atmosphere and feeling that the music creates. The first track “Arms of the Sea”, encapsulates this perfectly for me. Every bit ferocious as it is melodic, the song starts with dissonant strumming and erupts into a nauseating, sledge-hammer like riff, the likes of which could rival the combined weight of a horde of elephants surfing a tsunami. Daniel de Jongh’s blistering screams fit perfectly into the mix and are pitched to brutal perfection. Similarly, his clean vocals are sublime and bring a whole new level to the complexity of the song-writing. Nowhere is this more true than on the single and vocal powerhouse that is “Reaching Home” Full and rich, the song displays the band’s ability to string together an array of ideas without it every sounding forced or choppy.

Whilst not as structurally sound, “Sanguine Draws the Oath” does well to showcase the band’s heavier side and manages to dish out some monstrous riffage. “Consonant Hemispheres” on the other hand, retreads the “dreamy” and fluffy sound scape that this band is capable of creating yet keeps things nice and short and allows the vocals to take precedence. “Burning the Midnight Oil” is a master class in instrumental prog and “Minor Earth, Major Skies” is the band’s own personal take on metalcore; benefiting largely from the inclusion of keyboards and samples.

By no means, weak - just slightly less-ambitious in comparison - are “Stoic Resignation” and “Singularity” A shame when you consider what the band have already accomplished by this point in the album “Foreclose” and “Sketches from a Motionless Statue” however, are a real delight and offer up some of the album’s sweeter and more satisfying moments; notably the awesome Sikth-esque groove towards the end. 

Few “Djent” bands have really impressed me this year. Textures is one of them. “Dualism” isn’t just a triumphant for the band, it’s a triumphant for the genre that they’ve had a hand in creating. Like many other bands, Textures still have a way to go before they carve out their own identity in the world of metal but that said, I’d say that they’re more than well on their way to achieving that goal. That is, before Meshuggah comes along and destroys everything again… 

8.5/10

Download: “Arms of the Sea”, “Reaching Home” or “Consonant Hemispheres”

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14. Times of Grace - “The Hymn of a Broken Man”

From here on out, shit gets real…In all seriousness though, everything that I review from 14 on wards has pretty much been played in some form or other throughout the year on a day-to-day basis whether on my ipod, at home or even at the library when I was supposed to be doing work. That said, this particular album did come out pretty early in the year and thus, naturally began to fall off my playlist sometime around the summer. Nevertheless, it speaks for the strength of the album to have reached the position that it has in a year where there have been a number of great records; many of which I unfortunately didn’t get round to listening to fully but have heard endless news about nonetheless. So, if anything, I suppose what really brought me back to this record, as opposed to the many others of the same ilk, was the fact that it was so obviously heartfelt and emotional that you couldn’t help but feel a certain connection to it upon listening to it for the first time. Reading about the album’s back story, it’s not hard to see why…

Written during his recovery from extensive back surgery in late 2007/early 2008, Adam “D” soon found himself reunited with former bandmate and KsE vocalist, Jesse Leach. Renowned for his vocal contribution on genre defining and metalcore classic, “Alive or Just Breathing”, the meeting of these two musical minds is a match made in rock heaven. Jesse’s astonishing return to form is reason enough for you to check out this album and if that doesn’t entice you to listen to it then you might, on the off-chance, mistake this band for a Neurosis tribute act and check ‘em out anyway. Failing that, I guess you could always just stick to your Asking Alexandria records and wait for the next 8th generation metalcore band to come along.

Like most side projects, this band was supposedly meant to transcend their metal roots and although it does venture - at times - into the post-rock, blues and country vibe, it mostly stays within the boundaries of metalcore; something, which I feel both serves and detracts from the record’s overall success. Nevertheless, if you love KsE then you’ll almost certainly love “The Hymn of a Broken Man” Some will remember this album as a good stop gap release for the Killswitch camp but I would argue otherwise. In my opinion, this album represents the reaffirmation of Adam D as a songwriter and a return to a state of solemnity and grace. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that the architect behind this record is none other than Mr. Adam “D” himself. Revered as somewhat of a metal “guru” within his genre, this album proves more than anything why this man is the go-to guy for metalcore; the production alone is argument enough that his in-between job as a producer is well and truly justified. On that note, Let us not forget however, the efforts of the new and improved Jesse Leach. Having suffered from vocal strain and the stress of the touring life back in the early days of the band, this album marks somewhat of a rebirth for Mr. Leach too. The signature scream and emotive lyrics are back but so is the clean singing that made us all fall in love with this band’s brand of metal in the first place. Put simply, Howard (current KsE vocalist) really has something to prove if he wants to maintain his position as king of the metalcore choir boys.

Kicking things off in suitably anthemic fashion is the first single and Maiden inspired “Strength In Numbers” Harking back to the old "Alive or Just Breathing" days, Jesse Leach preaches his words of unity and compassion over a militaristic drum roll before the song lunges head first into an Adam D Olympic riff-athon. Gritty and bluesy is the order of the day for next song, “Fight For Life”: it’s bass intro leading effortlessly into a pummelling display of what happens when you get a proportionate measurement of heaviness to melody. Lyrically, it’s strong and hooky throughout, providing much of what makes the song and for that matter, the album, truly great. “Willing” treads familiar territory with riffs that sound not too dissimilar from the likes of those that feature in “End of Heartache” and “Rose of Sharyn” but who cares when the song-writing is this good! Indeed, much of what makes this album stand out, is its hawk-like attention to song-writing. As I have said in previous reviews, a large majority of metalcore these days is very “by the books” and doesn’t really contain much soul. Adam D on the other hand, does well to remind us what can be accomplished with little else than a hooky riff, a heavenly guitar melody and some sublime vocals.

Enter track four and the duo show no signs of letting up. Personal favourite and second single, “Where the Spirit Leads Me” is a moody and epic song, which marries together some razor sharp riffing with some crushing rhythmic chug and a stadium sized vocal hook. “Until the End of Days” takes this formula and goes a step further, delivering some of the most punishing and atmospherically heavy sections on the album as a whole. In contrast to the last two tracks, “Live in Love” is poppy and sweet with a chorus that is bound to lull you quietly into submission. “In the Arms of Mercy” ticks the instrumental track box and manages to fortunately avoid the tag of “song that only really had one idea worth recording” Having said that, it does feel a tad too short and could’ve done with a little more attention. Title track “Hymn of a Broken Man” doesn’t suffer from the same problem, yet doesn’t particularly do anything new or exciting either “The Forgotten One” however, is everything that “In the Arms…” wasn’t quite and everything that some other songs on the album (“Hope Remains” and “Worlds Apart”) should aspire to be. Comprising almost entirely of acoustic guitar, Adam D and Jesse’s vocals take on a whole new level of quality and in doing so; achieve what they set out to do in their mission statement. Bluesy and melancholic, it has a strong whiff of Johnny Cash about it and is the one moment on the album where the band truly sheds its musical affiliations.

“Fall From Grace” draws the album to a close with a faint post-rock vibe but like a couple of other tracks I’ve mentioned, doesn’t quite fulfil it’s potential and ends up fizzling out towards the end. It’s a shame really ‘cos I really feel as though this band has the potential to outshine the likes of Killswitch and its peers. In fact, one of the great things about this album is that it transports you back to a time when metalcore was fresh and exciting and had a lot to prove. This however, does mean that you can’t ever fully escape from a sense of nostalgia. All too often I found myself thinking that some of the material could all too easily be passed off as songs that never quite made it onto a Killswitch record. Then again, that shouldn’t really come as a surprise when you consider who’s actually in the band. If this band has another record in them (which I hope they do) then hopefully they’ll be more adventurous the next time round. Huge choruses are all well and good but there’s only so much you can accomplish with that before you have to start thinking outside of the box. Putting it succinctly: solid debut but I want much, much more.

8.5/10

Download: “Fight For Life”, “Where the Spirit Leads Me” or “The Forgotten One”

~ Steffan Chandler

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15. Five Finger Death Punch - “American Capitalist”

As I write this review, I can’t help but feel as though I should be choosing some more sophisticated, proggy albums to feature in my top 20 but the truth of the matter is, I enjoyed this album - a lot. Now, say what you will about Five Finger Death Punch but when the chips are down and you find yourself in a live environment, you can bet your money that from the word “go” the death punch crew will almost certainly put on a stormer of a show. Moreover, this band are prolific song writers and deal in big, hooky, melodic choruses, the likes of which could easily stand toe-to-toe with the big guns in the industry. Indeed, there are few metal bands to have come through in the late 00’s who have managed to rocket into the radio charts as well as Death Punch have. “The Bleeding” was the first of their hits and each album since then has steadily built on their reputation of being able to construct simple melodies with big vocal hooks; accompanied by some of the finest “hard rock” soloing you’ll find around. If however, you’re not interested in any of the above and would rather spend your listening time, stroking your chin and admiring the key change into a saxophone solo, then this band is almost definitely not for you.

"American Capitalist" is a good album - plain and simple. There’s nothing on here which surprises or shocks, nor does it really hint at there being any foreseeable change down the line. If anything, what this album proves is that the Death Punch formula, which has served them well over the years, is still alive and kicking. My only problem with this album (something which is a recurring problem in my opinion) is that there are often moments where you feel like you’ve heard a particular riff, lyric or idea before; contributing to the growing theory that this band is simply recycling songs. Whilst there may be some truth to this with regards to certain riffs or lyrics, I think for the most part the band are simply doing what they do best and writing Death Punch songs. I mean, it’s not like they’re the only band that can be accused of sounding too similar to themselves. No one complains that Slayer wrote a Slayer riff, do they? So, accusations aside, let’s actually review this bugger.

Title track and opener “American Capitalist” bursts out of the gates swinging with some signature death punch riffing and a godzilla-like chorus to boot. The lyrics are a point of contention on this album and it’s very much a love/hate thing. I’ll admit, some of the lyrics on this album are quite naff but I reckon if I were to go through the lyric booklets for most of the bands I listen to, I’d find that 70-80% of the lyrics I read were guilty of the same crime. Nevertheless, one thing you can’t fault (frontman and vocalist) Ivan Moody for, is his singing. This guy really does have a set of pipes on him and it’s made very clear for all to know throughout the course of the album. “Under and Over it” is a case in hand and also happens to be the first single off the album. Directed unashamedly towards the worldwide internet phenomenon known as the “trolls” the song showcases that the band are more than ready to take the fight to the so-called “enemy”. “The Pride” takes a short breather before lunging head first into a verse, which could quite easily be accused of sounding a little too much on the bad side of nu-metal. On the other hand, lyrically, it’s probably the most adventurous that the band have been to date (and I say that lightly) The pop culture references, whilst amusing, do make the band sound as though they’ve been watching a little too much Team America…

Presuming you’ve stuck with the album thus far, you’d be interested to know that by this point the album takes things down a couple of notches and belts out it’s first ballad. As I mentioned before, this band are great at writing rock songs “Coming Down” however, is not a particularly good example of this and I think that fans of the band would agree with me when I say that the band have written far better ballads on previous releases. “Menace” and “Generation Dead” tap into the band’s love for Pantera by taking a slightly darker and grittier approach to song-writing whilst “Back For More” (featured on the recent Madden Football game) is a pretty straight-forward Death Punch song, albeit with some wicked hot soloing by none other than lead gunslinger, Mr. Jason Hook himself. On the topic of solos, this band has them in spades. Often when I found my attention lapsing during a song, it was Jason Hook’s soloing that drew me back in (no pun intended) I’d even go as far as to say that Jason Hook is the best thing about Five Finger Death Punch.

Where “Coming Down” was a bit of a disappointment, “Remember Everything” makes up for it tenfold. It’s the most ambitious track on the record and I guess it could be classified as a “power ballad” In addition to this, unlike some of the previous songs, the lyrical content is much more earnest and from the heart, thus making the vocal delivery ever more poignant. 3 tracks left and instead of taking any gambles, Death Punch keep it safe and bang out some more heavy hitters in line with the established formula. It’s a shame because “If I Fall” starts promisingly and then gets mired down in “filler” interweaving parts A to B and C without really sounding like much of a song as opposed to a collection of riffs. If only they had thought a little more outside the box, they might have had another “hit” on their hands. “100 Ways to Hate” closes “American Capitalist” with what is essentially a verbal attack on what I can only assume to be bands such as Black Veil Brides and Asking Alexandria. Again, the lyrics sound somewhat contrived and come off sounding more Limp Bizkit than Slipknot, which I guess isn’t such a bad thing. I suppose it’s just bad in the sense that unlike Limp Bizkit, Death Punch do take their music relatively seriously, or at least I think so…

I have to be honest, this whole top 20 shizz has really made me question why I like the albums that I do. On the matter of Five Finger Death Punch, all I can say is this: they write heavy, catchy and melodic songs, which for the casual listener who wants to bob his head and sing along, are perfect. It’s not great and it’s most definitely not innovative but unlike a lot of the metalcore crop coming from America these days, it had me coming back for more. Do this band have a future? All I’ll say is that time is running out and although “American Capitalist” is by no means a bad album, it’s not spectacular either. If Five Finger Death Punch truly want to capitalize on the world of metal then they better start churning out some anthems. Sharpish.

8/10

Download: “American Capitalist”, “Menace” or “Remember Everything”

~Steffan Chandler

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16. Trivium - “In Waves”

Where do I even start with Trivium? The band that were largely responsible for the popularization of metalcore as we know it today and the band that in many ways, got a whole generation of people into metal. Put it this way, I know people who don’t remotely like metal and even they know who Trivium are - why is that? My best guess is that they just so happened to explode around the time that metal was becoming “big” again. Moreover, I seem to remember seeing a lot of “emo” kids wearing their t-shirts and professing their love for the whole “scream/clean singing” combo. I suppose it kinda makes sense seeing as the likes of Slipknot were at that point topping charts with the horrendously brutal, yet at times, overpoweringly melodic, “Iowa” When you take that into account, bands like Trivium, were quite literally only a step away. Now, I guess I could go on about how amazing and genre defining "Ascendancy" was but to be quite honest, I’ve tired of discussing it with fellow heavy metal fans and thus, would rather save myself the time and energy by cracking on with a review of Trivium’s latest effort, "In Waves" 

The way I see it, Trivium are still recovering from the career flop that was "The Crusade" Admittedly, I do actually quite like a few of the tracks off that album but I can understand how after an album as big as "Ascendancy" why it was considered to be such a disappointment by fans. Unfortunately, whilst "Shogun" was a good return to form, it seemed that it would never quite achieve what they wanted it to and thus, feeling the pressure, Trivium returned two years later. In the run up to the album’s release, guitarist Corey Beaulieu noted in interviews how the material was reminiscent of the band’s earlier sound and how there was a stronger sense of melody and song-writing than ever before. Naturally, this sent fans into a craze. Well, they got what they wanted…or at least, mostly.

Opening with the moody “Capsizing the Sea” listeners are soon treated to the anthemic and crushing title track, “In Waves” The first single to be released online, the song was met with mixed emotions; the main criticism being that the band had essentially written a generic metalcore song. While this may be true to a certain extent, there’s no denying the impact of that initial riff following the intro build. In addition, the song serves as a good template of what’s to come with a healthy balance between screaming and singing, an ear for short and sweet solos and a production, which arguably, provides the band with it’s most fully rounded and best sounding record to date.

Intense, melodic and heavy, “Inception of the End” serves as a reminder that when they hit their stride, Trivium are force to be reckoned with. Making his debut on the record, drummer Nick Augusto does well to drive this point home by inserting a number of accents, fills and on the odd occasion, blastbeats. “Dusk Dismantled” keeps the brutality levels high with some suitable bottom end chug interlaced with “kvlt” like swagger before jumping genres and upping the tempo with an At the Gates/In Flames inspired melodeath riff. Ending on a rather bleak note, the next track “Watch the World Burn”, comes as somewhat of a surprise and shows the band straying into the Bullet For My Valentine territory with it’s bluesy, Black album era Metallica riffing and rather unfortunately, lame lyrical content. “Black” follows in suit, once again busting out some simple, head-nodding, sing-along song structures before descending into some more mosh-worthy groove. “A Skyline’s Severance” although heavy and persistent, lacks direction and would have been better served had it been two minutes shorter; something which I feel is applicable for some of the later songs on the album.

Dropping in more than half way through the record is perhaps the strongest song to feature on "In Waves" Sounding like the cousin of Ascendancy’s "Dying In Your Arms", "Built to Fall" underpins Trivium’s ability to write great and catchy songs. It is without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of the whole album and provides a solid basis for Trivium to further develop their song-writing chops on future records. Supposed fan favourite "Caustic Are the Ties that Bind" bursts to life with a riff straight from the Maiden school and proceeds to evolve into a genre mash-up between In Flames, Killswitch and weirdly enough, A Day To Remember. This however, is well tread ground and begs the question as to whether they are trying to in fact emulate some of their favourite bands - it wouldn’t be the first time…

Rounding off the album, “Forsake Not the Dream” and “Chaos Reigns” are the light and darkness of Trivium’s sound whilst “Of All These Yesterdays” plays with the idea of sounding like Opeth and then discards it to return to more familiar ground to write, admittedly, one of the better choruses on the whole album. “Leaving the World Behind” although at times sounding a little to close to Slipknot’s “Pulse of the Maggots” has it’s place and keeps in theme with the ambiguous concept of the record.

As you can probably tell by the length of my review, this is a seriously long record - and that’s not even including all the bonus tracks that they threw on there! The good news is however, that there are some really great tracks on here and what “Shogun” lacked in the way of songs, “In Waves” most definitely makes up for. Is it better than “Ascendancy”? No, but it’s a good addition to an already (with the exception of one record) solid back catalogue. Only time will tell if that’s enough…

8/10

Download: “In Waves”, “Inception of the End” or “Built to Fall”

~Steffan Chandler

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17. Revocation - “Chaos of Forms”

Let me start off by saying how bloody brilliant this album is. As some of you “faithful fans” have remarked online, I seem to only be giving out 8/10s; The reason being that, albums such as this and the three preceeding it really have little separating them. Indeed, I can probably name at least another ten records that I would’ve loved to have included in this list (perhaps something to think about when I finish this malarkey and get bored) Either way, Revocation’s “Chaos of Forms” landed at No.17 for the sole reason that it’s a kick-ass collection of songs with some of the best production I’ve heard to date.

For those unacquainted Revocation, they’re a three piece technical death metal band from Boston, Massachusetts and are fronted by possibly (seriously) one of the best modern metal guitarists of the 21st Century, Mr.David Davidson. The first time I crossed paths with them was at a gig in Birmingham where they were the opening act for Dying Fetus on the “Thrash ‘N’ Burn” tour. At the time, I had only heard snippets of their music from the last album "Existence is Futile" and sadly didn’t think much of it. So naturally, when it came to checking them out live, I really wasn’t expecting anything amazing…If ever there was a moment when the phrase “you’ll eat your own words” was applicable, that surely had to be it. I guess the best way to describe the mix of emotions that I was feeling at the time would be to say that I LITERALLY couldn’t take my eyes off the band - the only moment where I did manage to do so was when I turned to my mate and said “How fucking awesome are this band?!!” Needlessly to say, they pretty much blew away the rest of the competition that night, including the highly revered, Origin.

Anyway, getting back to business, "Chaos of Forms" is a resounding triumph of an album, which soars, dives, swoops and ducks in a fashion that only an out of control roller coaster at Chessington (lol) could achieve. “Cretin” is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best album openers I’ve heard all year. The opening riff alone is enough to make the likes of Hetfield think twice about recording another album with Lou Reed. Moreover, unlike a lot of modern metal these days, the band taps into the old-school death metal tradition and pieces together songs in a way that allows a natural flowing progession from idead to idea - a rarity in today’s world of Pro Tools. Moving on, I have to take a moment to say just how astounding the production is on this album. Words can’t really do the album justice but all I’ll say is that it’s an almost perfect mix of guitar, bass and drums. Everything’s crisp, everything’s clear but more importantly, it doesn’t sound clinical and it most definitely doesn’t sound like they’ve recorded and pasted parts together.

Something which I have already alluded to but have yet to go into full detail is the sheer brilliance of the guitar work on this album. This is almost certainly an album for guitar freaks. Even if you’re not a big fan of the brand of death metal that this band pumps out, you have to stand in awe of David Davidson’s soloing chops. They truly are something else. If you need proof, I direct you to the track “Cradle Robber” The solo section is pure, unadulterated sex and that’s just the solo section. The amount of riffs on this record is just unhealthy; couple that with some truly inspired and inventive song-writing and you’re well on your way to a full cardiac arrest. I mean, seriously, have you ever heard a band successfully fuse blues, jazz, death metal, thrash metal AND POWER METAL? I for one, know that I can’t. The first seven tracks do the aforementioned beautifully and somehow manage to cite about a BAJILLION musical references, ranging from the likes of Slayer and Suffocation to the Dillinger Escape Plan and Steve Vai. “Conjuring the Cataclysm” does this particularly well and is the true standout track on the record.

To be quite frank, I could go on for hours about how awesome this album is. The awesome vocals, the crazy jazz interludes, the undeniable virtuoso guitar melodies, it just keeps getting better and better. O.K., yes, it isn’t by any means perfect, there are some pretty throw-away tracks on there and parts of some songs do sound like they’ve been thrown in there just for the sake of it but crack this motherfucker of a shell open and you’ll find yourself bathing in innovative death metal until the cows come home.

Reading this review back to myself, it seems as though I should be giving this album a ten but in reality, I did get quite bored by the end. If anything, I think this album would have been better served if it was 10 tracks instead of twelve. One’s thing for sure, I most definitely did NOT enjoy the fade out at the end of “Reprogrammed” A word of advice to bands, don’t be all arty and create an atmosphere by fading your music out, put a sample of people having sex at the end of your tracks like BMTH and you’ll get all the pussy. Sorted.

8/10

Download: “Cretin”, “Cradle Robber” or “Conjuring the Cataclysm”

~ Steffan Chandler

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