Category Archives: Review

Ensiferum’s “One Man Army.” Reviewed by Luis Balderrama

ensiferum_one-man-army

I am going to come clean. I am not the biggest fan of the albums after Iron. I am one of those people that really dug their teeth into their self-titled album Ensiferum (2001) and Iron (2004). The “post-Iron” albums, although not bad by any means, were lacking something; some factor from their first two albums. However, that is to be expected when the majority of the band members are changed from the original line up. The band is not going to be the same. [2005-2007 saw the change of 4 of the 5 members of the original band.]

That being said, One Man Army really challenged that opinion of mine. This addition to their album lineup went in a much different direction than previous albums from the “post-Iron” era. There are a lot of vocal ensemble components mixed in and a lot more composition and thought in the writing. Not that their songs aren’t composed, but it really sounds as if they took that extra couple minutes to perfect every part of the album.

The title song “One Man Army” fits the current Ensiferum formula. It’s well written, it’s high energy, and it will get you head banging pretty hard. There is plenty of thrash influence mixed in with melodic riffs, ensemble vocals, and their usual Viking Kalevala lyrics. Petri’s intro scream is nothing but epic, and the rest of the song follows that same intensity. But, oddly enough, what really caught my ear was farther down the song list. The real gem of this album is actually “Descendants, Defiance, Domination.” Let me explain.

“Descendants, Defiance, Domination” is not just a run of the mill song, it’s one of the best written and musical compositions I have heard from Ensiferum to date. It’s got all the right stuff: older Ensiferum style riffage mixed in with the multiple sections of obvious musical differentiation, bridge sections, and a recitative. The exposition hits you with a very western Clint Eastwood style melody. I could almost see the tumbleweed rolling by. The sections have a perfect mix of clean and dirty vocals that complement each other while blending with the rest of the bands supporting and melody chords. The vocal ensemble at 5:10 is such a great counterpoint to the rest of the song. The more I think about it, the more I understand how odd it is, but it flows flawlessly and bridges the gap between two musical sections and statements. This example among more really showed me that Ensiferum can, not only write, but compose a 10+ minute song and keep the listener intrigued the entire time. All in all, this piece is very impressive and it’s a great mix to One Man Army. I really hope Ensiferum lean more in this direction for future works. They really have a knack for it. This isn’t the only notable piece on the record though.

The beginning of “Cry for the Earth Bounds” was a nostalgic throwback to “Into Battle” from Iron. So I was VERY pleased to hear that first epic vocal chord once again. The song itself has lots of layered rhythms and melodies intertwined with the clean vocals of the band as well as Petri’s epic lyrics. This song seems to be another obvious draw away from just pure dirty vocals and more of a mix of clean vocals, acoustic sections, and epic chords from the vocal ensemble, which closes out the piece. The ending of this song could be the end to the album. It brings that sense of closure to it, like an intermission during an orchestral concert.

“2 of Spades” is the comedic break in the album, but, oddly enough, it fits right in with the rest of the album. It still has that folky upbeat sound, but it’s mixed with a Techno drum beat and some killer funk-guitar lines. It’s a great piece to head bang to with a giant smile on your face. It just makes you laugh. When the first lyric of a song is Petri screaming, “I go all the way” you know it’s going to be good.

My complaints on the album are few are far between. The obvious one is that this is not old Ensiferum. As much as I would love to hear Jari Maenpaa at the helm once again, it’s just not going to happen. Another complaint I have about this album is, oddly enough, what I was praising the album for. As much as I enjoy this new direction and musical influences, the album is highly produced. And that removes some of that gritty-ness heard from the older albums. It had a slightly raw feeling that just is not existent in these new albums and this album is a heavy offender missing that aspect.

Overall, One Man Army is a great addition to their album line up. Ensiferum have a solid grasp on their musical identity and the more I listen to this album, the more I am coming to like the band as a whole and the musical direction that they are going.  I hope to hear more of this in the near future.

Strung Out’s “Transmits.Alpha.Delta,” reviewed by Doug Peyton

"Transmit.Alpha.Delta," by Strung Out
“Transmit.Alpha.Delta,” by Strung Out

Originally scheduled for release in 2014, Strung Out’s Transmission.Alpha.Delta recently hit air waves on March 24, 2015. Despite the six years that have passed since the band’s last full-length release on Fat Wreck Chords, Strung Out wastes no time reminding listeners how easily they jump genres, like a bunch of kids playing punk-rock hopscotch.

The opening track, “Rats in the Walls”, lights up like a firecracker with speed-punk backbeats,  smoking metal-tapping riffs, plus a stand alone bass fill from Chris Aiken that states his refusal to thumb along on root notes like most punk bassists. From the gate, Strung Out sets a fast-paced tempo, sonically landing Transmission.Alpha.Delta somewhere between their millennial releases like Twisted By Design, and Exile in Oblivion.

At the forefront of the record’s more melodically driven tracks, “The Animal and the Machine” and “Spanish Days” seemed set up as the single-worthy material, but they weren’t the ones that caught my eye. “Nowheresville” and “No Apologies” felt like the classic Strung Out I used to bump in my shitty sound-system; supercharged punk beats, catchy melodies, and layers upon layers of relentless guitar noodling in the background, while “Rebellion of the Snakes” and “Black Maps” showcase their metal-influence sound–adding guitar solos and gang vocals like a cut of a classic Iron Maiden LP.

For all the band’s musical merits though, there were a couple tracks that sounded like they’d been picked up from the cutting floor: “Modern Drugs”, a track that seemed like the band’s version of a ballad, came off a bit forced and disorganized, and the intro to “Magnolia” sounded like the start of a Rocky workout montage. “Tesla” was just plain filler. Rant ended.

However, to make up for these shortcomings,Transmission.Alpha.Delta had one last little gem, buried at the end of the track list: the guitar intro on “Westcoasttrendkill” felt as thought it had been lifted from the soundtrack of Castlevania: Simon’s Quest. In this humble reviewers opinion, that’s the hallmark of a kickass metal riff.

Children of Bodom’s “Halo of Blood,” Reviewed by Luis Balderrama

"Halo of Blood," by Children of Bodom
“Halo of Blood,” by Children of Bodom

First impressions of this album were absolute joy. This is why I became a fan of Children of Bodom (COB) and this is the COB I knew. COB has been, at least in my head, the standard for melodic death metal, and their earlier albums are a solid example of that. But lately their albums have been very heavy on the, well, heavy and death metal side of things. And that’s fine. Bands change their direction and their sound as their members grow up and mature. That’s not news to anyone. With that said, “Halo of Blood” was a sigh of relief, that, “Ahh yes,” type of thing. This is not, much to the despair of some die hard COB fans, classic COB. This is more of a throw back to their older style mixed in with their recent musical ventures. I like that. I enjoyed the incorporation of other genres into this album.

The opening song “Waste of Skin” is a great example with some amazing melodic riffs, thrash sections, and slightly black metal influences. It’s very impressive to see such a seamless mix of these genres into just one song. The title track “Halo of Blood” really took a lot of black metal influence. Blast beats, dissonant guitar riffs, and that COB touch? Years ago I would have said that COB and black metal wouldn’t have worked, but I stand completely corrected. It’s a great mix. In contrast, “All Twisted” has a very thrash feel to it, but again with that COB touch. This may not be old COB, but their ability to take bits and parts of other genres and make them their own has been impressive.

All in all, my only complaint would be that not one of the songs sticks out to me more than the others. All the songs are at a great level and the album as a whole is very well done, don’t get me wrong. But I always find it nice to have one song on an album that is just, your favorite. I could listen to this album through and through and I would not be disappointed, but there wouldn’t be any time where I would crank it up for that one song. Other than that, this is a great addition to the COB album line up and it will be something I will listening to a lot.

Napalm Death’s “Apex Predator – Easy Meat,” Review by Nic de Sena

"Apex Predator - Easy Meat," by Napalm Death
“Apex Predator – Easy Meat,” by Napalm Death

Napalm Death may be one of the most seminal bands in aggressive music and I doubt many would argue the influence that the name alone carries. Whether they appeal to you or not isn’t the question, their impact has been widespread.  Apex Predator – Easy Meat is the fifteenth addition to a career spanning well over three decades at this point. Take a moment and consider that, this is a grindcore band with now fifteen full length records and yet, they’ve remained the leaders of the pack. It’s remarkable for any band to have a career this long but even more so for the forefathers to remain relevant and progressive. This is exactly what Apex Predator – Easy Meat intends to showcase.

Let’s be perfectly honest, you most likely knew what you were getting into prior to reading a review for Napalm Death, but with age comes a refinement. In more recent records, Napalm Death have chosen to blend what you’d expect from the grind stalwarts, with more progressive and experimental takes on songwriting. The opening and title track “Apex Predator – Easy Meat” is a primitive, mechanical, and methodical track with vocal deliveries that have a distinct industrious feel to them, utilizing non-conventional procession work to drive that effect home. It is disorienting on first listen, leaving you unprepared for “Smash A Single Digit.” A blazing follow up, full of what you’d expect from Napalm Death: blast beats and anti-capitalist messages. Is that a criticism? Not at all, that’s what I go to Napalm Death for but do you get that with Apex Predator – Easy Meat? Not in the least. “How The Years Condemn” is a punishing dissonant mid-tempo track, a pace that I personally feel ND does best.  While this album certainly has no lack of burners, “Dear Slum Landlord” could be taken as the most progressive of the lot and perhaps even for ND in general. It’s a slow, melodic track with vocals that do not quite hit the clean range but aren’t what you’d expect and they’re most certainly not out of place.

What binds this record is the willingness to expand and experiment with a sound that was already completely of their own design. While this record has no shortage of unorthodox songwriting, “Hierarchies” can be seen as stand out in those terms. Musically, “Hierarchies” is a fast paced trash riff, but what makes this track truly special is the leftfield injection of harmonized vocals.

Napalm Death
Napalm Death, courtesy of Return to the Pit. See more at http://www.returntothepit.com/.

The production is massive, nothing is buried or lost in the mix. The instrumentation is flawless and in no way does it fall flat due to overproduction and studio wizardry. This isn’t something that should be overlooked in the least bit. While ND has always pushed their own personal boundaries in terms of musicianship, this record has some of their finest work. First and most notably is Greenway’s vocal performance. At forty-five years of age, one would think that he’d be slowing down but this record is the antithesis of that in every regard. As he’s aged, his vocals have become more coarse, frantic and desperate. In terms of drumming, I think this might be some of Danny Herrera’s finest work with ND yet and that is most likely a reflection of the shit in songwriting. It’s catchy, clever and perfectly executed. Tracks such as “Cesspits” illustrate this combination of technicality without overplaying excellent. Of course, one would be remiss to not acknowledge the work of Shane Embry (bass) and Mitch Harris (guitar). The guitar work is crushing, dissonant and uncompromising in every possible way but what supports this is the juxtaposition of Embry in the slower, more methodical tracks where he carries the workload.

Apex Predator – Easy Meat is a welcome addition to a catalog that is already overflowing with untouchable content. It’s immensely difficult for any band to stay relevant, let alone groups from niche musical genres. Not only that but one of the most outspoken, politically motivated and lyrically volatile acts that aggressive music has ever seen. The fact is: They helped build grind and this is a much needed reminder.

This Legend’s “It’s In The Streets,” Reviewed by Doug Peyton

“It’s In The Streets,” by This Legend

Assembled from the ashes of the SoCal skate-punk scene, This Legend is comprised of some of the genre’s best. Founded by former Yellowcard drummer Longineu “LP” Parsons III, and guitarist Ben Harper, This Legend marks the duo’s first musical reunion in nearly ten years. At the suggestion of Warped Tour compatriot El Hefe–aka, the guitarist of a little punk band called NOFX–LP and Harper recruited Chris Castillo as their lead singer, along with former Craig’s Brother/Hey Mike! member Steven Neufeld, now slappin da bass.

This Legend’s first album, It’s In The Streets, released on Hefe’s label Cybertracks in November 2014. In the opening song, “Lyrics With My Pen”, Castillo makes it clear that

This Legend intends on reviving 00’s era melodic-punk: “Shut up and take this / Cause I’ll never stop / It’s not too late / Just make it or not”. Although songs like “Holiday From Crazy” and “Skin and Bones” carry on the musical traditions of Blink 182 and Lagwagon, It’s in the Streets feels less like a pop-punk time capsule, and more like a reinvention of the genre.

“My City” and “Get Fast”, while examples of the band’s superior musical skills, embody the evolution of modern punk rock–likely influenced by the album’s producer, Sam Pura, known for his work with The Story So Far. Full of angst and intensity, incorporating dark overtones and heavy breakdowns, much of It’s in the Streets is a welcome departure from pop- punk’s typically upbeat nature.

The members of This Legend have certainly paid there dues, travelled the road, and witnessed the rise and fall of mainstream pop-punk, but with such a stellar lineup, perhaps these line lifted from “My City” prove there’s still hope for the future of melodic punk-rock: “House shows every fucking week / Yeah sure the future’s bleak / But our hope will guide us”.

Barren Earth’s “On Lonely Towers,” Reviewed by Zachary S. Valladon

"On Lonely Towers," by Barren Earth
“On Lonely Towers,” by Barren Earth

This is the first record that I have ever heard by the Finnish six-piece, Barren Earth, but I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s like someone finally decided that turning the guitar distortion up to 11 isn’t necessary to make good metal. I mean, for fuck’s sake… it’s 2015, and the current state of metal would suggest that bands have forgotten what a riff is, or what music sounded like before it was 100% guttural noise. “On Lonely Towers” is a breath of fresh air from music that has had listeners’ faces thrust forcefully into the garbage man’s asshole for WAY too long. I can hear every plectrum with every note on this record, and what’s this? Is that actual singing?! Yeah, it is, and it’s fucking fantastic. The guitar- work in songs like “Howl,” “Frozen Processions,” and “On Lonely Towers” is profound in a very individual way. Where has this group been all of my life?

My current favorite off of this record is the final track, “The Vault” — it’s equal parts heavy, experimental, progressive and in some ways, reminiscent of Strawberry Alarm Clock/Thin Lizzy type bands. You can hear the organ absolutely soar in this track, which is an amazing feat in a death metal record. It IS a death metal record, right? I’m not sure how to peg this one, and I still can’t get the musical boner down, so I’m giving “On Lonely Towers” a solid 4.5/5.

Marduk’s “Frontschwein” Reviewed by Zachary S. Valladon

Marduk’s “Frontschwein”

Swedish black metal outfit Marduk do everything right with their brand new record, “Frontschwein” until vocalist Daniel “Mortuus” Rostén opens his mouth (which happens fairly early in the record, unfortunately). We last heard from Marduk in 2012, when they dropped “Serpent Sermon,” a fairly progressive record for a band considered to be black metal. “Frontschwein” finds the regularly blasphemous band critically analyzing death, war and the chaotic interplay of the two — give track number three, “Afrika” a listen… are they talking about the fallacious nature of early imperialism in Africa? “Desert Fox versus Desert Rats,” cries Mortuus, possibly juxtaposing the indigenous people with the religious land-scavengers. Nothing is really solid about Frontschwein, and that sucks balls

since this band has been around since the early 90’s, making some of the more widely respected black metal. To me, this has way too many regurgitated metal chord progressions and less-than-good-more-than-bad lyrical content. Mortuus is starting to sound kind of weak, and that’s okay because after 11 years of recording and touring with Marduk, his testicles must be ready to squeeze right through his vocal chords. It doesn’t sound like his technique has changed or is going to. “Frontschwein”

is passive for a metal record, and it sounds like they might have recorded Rostén’s vocals in someone’s bathroom before layering them purposefully behind the rest of the music. This serves as a solid performance by the instrumentalists, but the writing is lacking, and for that I award “Frontschwein” with a 3/5.