Showing posts with label alternative metal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alternative metal. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

video review: 'fear inoculum' by tool

And this is going exactly as I predicted... go figure.

Anyway, the disappointments might keep coming here - and this one is going to sting for me, so stay tuned?

Monday, September 2, 2019

album review: 'fear inoculum' by tool

So last year I made a fateful hot take tweet that Tool would never make another album - or even if they did, it would never live up to the expectations of fans. As of now, it seems like both statements are untrue, as there's a new Tool album and the fans seem overjoyed - hell, it might even be true for me... but that's more because I never had any expectations for Tool to begin with.

Yeah, let's get this out of the way now, I've danced around it for years and it should be on the record: I'm not much of a Tool fan. Of the "big four" in progressive metal, I've typically ranked Tool as my least favourite among Queensryche, Dream Theater, and Fates Warning, and revisiting their entire back catalog for this review has only cemented that opinion. And there's no easy way to approach this opinion in a way that won't piss off the legion of Tool fans - which if I had less tact, boy would I have words for that crowd - and let me stress that I get Tool's appeal and influence; it's just that most of appeal and influence doesn't work for me whatsoever. And I don't even think that should be surprising - you all know how much of a fan I am of melody and tight song construction, two things that Tool seems to treat with disinterest at best as they lock into extended polyrhythms amidst a load of dated alternative metal downtuning which is technically complex and impressive, but emotionally unengaging. And this would be where the band would point to the songwriting... which is the definition of two-dimensional, soaking in try-hard nihilism and abstraction - a shame because there can be a real emotional core and idea to some of these songs bowled over by hamfisted lyrical bluntness - and quasi-spiritual pseudoscience that either is more impressed with its cleverness than its depth or only bothers to make sense after several bowls and a handful of caps! And yet it's absolutely no surprise to me that Tool became by far the "biggest" of the big four coming out of the 90s - they certainly sound most 'of the time', and to their credit they're absolutely a band with a lot of talent that took risks, even if its not my thing I can appreciate what they were trying on a project like Lateralus, especially when they actually embraced some convincing heaviness - but it also put to mind a common observation: a lot of progressive metal fans are also Tool fans, but not nearly as often the other way around. 

And normally this wouldn't be an issue - I prefer the more tuneful side of prog metal and there's normally a ton of that, I can leave Tool's bloated song structures and edgelord deflection and sloppy vocal mixing for the fans - except that Tool has been influential, and while it's inaccurate to blame the spread of utterly tedious focus on polyrhythmic groove patterns and djent over melody through progressive metal on them, on a compositional and structural level they share some DNA. And then factor in the structural disinterest in hooks and concepts that don't hold up to much intellectual rigor, especially when channeled through increasingly blunt poetry... look, I wasn't cheering when Tool went on indefinite hiatus, but I wasn't exactly cheering for their return either. So with all of that context established and all the dislikes firmly given, what did we get out of Fear Inoculum?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

video review: 'amo' by bring me the horizon

And there you have it... a bit surprised I haven't seen a hardline bit of backlash yet, but we'll see how this goes.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN - stay tuned!

Monday, January 28, 2019

album review: 'amo' by bring me the horizon

So this conversation is long-overdue.

And as such, it's difficult where to begin, especially as my lack of coverage of Bring Me The Horizon, especially in recent years, has felt conspicuous. Hell, I wound up seeing them live at a festival last year before I actually covered any of their albums, and while I've talked around them at very points, I've rarely addressed them directly. 

So let's piss off everyone all at once: Bring Me The Horizon is the classic example of an act that got a lot better by selling out, and selling out hard. They started off as a middling deathcore act that was about as intolerable as they came, but they quickly made a hard pivot towards regular metalcore and as early as 2013's Sempiternal began pulling from more accessible pop rock and electronic music. And while the content still wasn't all that gripping - lyrics have remained consistently underwhelming for this group, at least for me - it was the pivot that won the band a lot of traction, helped along by a major label contract with RCA and Sony. And from there, with every layer of electronics and softening of frontman Oliver Sykes' voice, the band saw more and more success, and by the time That's The Spirit dropped in 2015, they were getting critical acclaim to boot... and I just couldn't get into them. Yes, like everyone I can admit that 'Avalanche' is a fantastic song, but I've already mentioned my issues with the lyrics and I've never quite been grabbed by their hooks and I'd point to the larger issues being one of dynamics. For as anthemic and huge as Bring Me The Horizon try to be, the production rarely showcased the subtlety or colour to drive it home, and for all the symphonic bombast... look, I come from symphonic metal, I've seen it done right, and Bring Me The Horizon just never stuck the landing.

But hey, apparently with Amo they're going even more mainstream with even more synthetic layers, 'eaten by the Imagine Dragon' to quote my friend and fellow critic Crash Thompson aka The Rock Critic - go check his stuff out, it's excellent - and other critics have already started over-praising it, so what the hell: what did Bring Me The Horizon bring with amo?

Friday, February 3, 2017

video review: 'vessels' by starset

You know, I wish I could say this was disappointing... but the truth is that I didn't really have many expectations to begin with on this one. Just kind of a slog all around.

But next up, this Julie Byrne project looks interesting, so stay tuned!

album review: 'vessels' by starset

Space rock. Perhaps one of the oddest subgenres of rock I've ever covered, it's never amassed huge popularity or become widely recognized... mostly because unlike the majority of musical subgenres, the term is based on subject matter rather than sound. Well, okay, that's not quite entirely true - musical tropes like huge waves of synth, muted electronic touches to distort human presence, and a commitment to gigantic expansive mixes do tend to crop up, but it's generally used as a catch-all term for music that focuses on science fiction and space. And it's included a surprising breadth of artists, from 70s acts from David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Hawkwind to the 90s resurgence among acts like Failure, Flying Saucer Attack, and some records from The Flaming Lips, to the growth and success of acts like Star One, Angels & Airwaves, and Muse at one end of quality and Thirty Seconds to Mars at the far other end - and that's before you factor in the huge number of progressive acts who have helped develop and expand the sound into a recognizable aesthetic.

In other words, it should be no surprise that I'm a fan of this genre - not just because I'm a sci-fi nerd, but also because the commitment to bombast and big ideas can be pretty compelling if well-executed. So enter into that scene Starset, an Ohio rock band that wanted to tell those big sci-fi stories with the sort of midi-touched cinematic swell that could make for potent space rock - hell, the frontman had a PhD in engineering, this should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the more listens I gave to their debut album Transmissions the less I liked it, mostly because the band was a lot less Ayreon and a lot closer to Thirty Seconds To Mars and Breaking Benjamin of all people, who they described as their primary influences. And that definitely shows through in underwritten songs, underwhelming lyrics, and a lot of space rock touches and textures that didn't really have the compositional strength in the melodies and performances to be more memorable - I appreciate spacey bombast, but there needed to be more heft in the writing and storytelling for it to really stick with me or rise to the best of the genre. And when Starset announced that their sophomore album Vessels was going towards pop instead of heavier metal... well, okay, that wasn't precisely bad, it'd certainly be defining its own unique lane. Hell, it could even work with their more basic lyrical construction and delivery, so how does Vessels turn out?

Monday, November 28, 2016

video review: 'you can't kill us' by icon for hire

Well, this happened... my god, I wish this was so much better, especially as their first independent release. Instead, we got an only decent record combining the most frustrating elements from their last two records and none of the justifications. Joy.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'you can't kill us' by icon for hire

This will be a bit of a weird review - and not just because I have a history with this band, but also because hindsight is one of those things that can shift one's opinion on an act pretty dramatically. 

And as much as I don't like to admit it, Icon For Hire often falls into that camp for me, mostly because they can be a difficult band to really categorize. Many people thought when they signed to Tooth & Nail - a Christian label - that they'd fall into that disreputable subgenre of badly produced crap, but Icon For Hire actually rose a fair bit above their contemporaries to make some pretty solid alternative rock and metal, with a knack for solid writing, good hooks, and the tremendous talents of frontwoman Ariel. They infused a lot more pop and hip-hop elements into their self-titled - basically to satirize all of them - and I liked that record so much in 2013 that it ended up on my top 25 albums of that year. In retrospect... I'm not at all certain I could justify it on that list now, mostly because the production the label gave them was pretty flat. Their producer Mike Green had worked with Pierce The Veil and Paramore - which has been a comparison that has been made with Icon For Hire their entire careers and not exactly a promising one - but it did not help that record and it has aged pretty poorly.

And then everything went to shit. They ran into serious conflicts with their label - probably because they've always kept Christian subject matter at arm's length, which was probably smart - went independent, and dropped an EP back in 2015... that got some polarized reactions for 'Now You Know', which railed hard against music industry sexism. And yeah, I appreciate the bluntness of the message and the deeper attempts at subtext, but the delivery did not work - Ariel's less-melodic rapped delivery, the grating synths, the flat production, it did no service to an important message. And when you hear they funded their new album through Kickstarter, raising over a hundred thousand dollars to get Mike Green back and pull it together... look, deep down I still like this group, and they've written strong hooks and smart songs, I wanted to really like this. Did You Can't Kill Us deliver?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

video review: 'clearview' by poets of the fall

...yeah, it's a good record, but man, I wish I liked this a lot more. Why couldn't they have just kept the production in house like every other time before, they could have saved this...

Eh, whatever. Next up, time to see what all the fuss is about surrounding Solange, so stay tuned!

album review: 'clearview' by poets of the fall

If you've been following me since 2014, you should all know how much I've been looking forward to this record.

But for those of you who haven't, and might not otherwise be familiar with this band, let me add a little bit of context. Coming out of the alternative metal scene in the mid-2000s, Poets of the Fall is a Finnish band that immediately made a lot of impact for me thanks to a melodic focus, strikingly well written lyrics, and arguably one of the most versatile and expressive singers in the genre courtesy of Marko Saaresto. Their first four records might not have always been consistent, but you could at least count on at least three or four songs that kicked all amounts of ass, and would be frontrunners for some of my favourites in that given year - never quite as immediately abrasive as their contemporaries, but their knack for hooks and power ballads made them favourites of mine all the same.

And yet in 2014 things seemed to be changing. For one, coming after the damn near untouchable Temple Of Thought in 2012 there was a marked shift in direction towards more experimental pop sounds, which was a bold move. It's probably their most polarizing record - although for me it didn't shy away from any of their strengths and remained pretty damn kickass, landing on my list for my favourite records of 2014. But I'll admit I was going into their newest album Clearview with no real view into it, or any idea where the band would take their sound next. Would they continue down a pop path, venture back to alternative rock and metal, or do something unexpected altogether?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

video review: 'delirium' by lacuna coil

Man, this pissed me off so much. I was legitimately hoping for quality here... and it did not happen at all. Gah.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

album review: 'delirium' by lacuna coil

It hasn't been easy to be a fan of Lacuna Coil.

And the sad thing is that most of the fanbase seems to be in agreement that starting with Shallow Life the gothic metal band became a less-interesting shadow of what they were. I'll be honest and say that while I got into them when I was a teenager, I would never consider Lacuna Coil one of my favourite metal acts, but throughout the late 90s and most of the 2000s they were a solid group that had potent melodies and a cohesive sound. And even if their writing has always been a little spotty, there was a lot to like about those records... and then Don Gilmore showed up. With a more commercial-leaning mix, Shallow Life was a pivot towards the mainstream that was too little, too late, and only served to alienate a fair chunk of Lacuna Coil's fans. They made a modest return with Dark Adrenaline, but by the time they released Broken Crown Halo in 2014, having booted Gilmore for Jay Baumgardner, it became apparent that the problem wasn't so much the production but by-the-numbers composition and writing. And yes, that's even with the admission that 'Die & Rise' remains one of the best songs of 2014 for taking a unique point-of-view and twisting it into a kickass song.

So one could argue Lacuna Coil needed a dramatic shake-up - and from all accounts they got it. Both guitarists and the drummer retired from the band, which led their bassist Marco Coti Zelati picking up guitar work along with new arrival Diego Cavallotti, along with hiring drummer Ryan Folden. It rapidly became clear that Lacuna Coil was heading in a new direction, and with lead-off single 'The House Of Shame'... well, they certainly got there, with chugging, borderline metalcore riffs and a much heavier focus on the growled male vocals. And... look, I'm not a metalcore fan, but I was willing to give this a try, especially considering Zelati was handling all production work in-house. So did this work?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

video review: 'sol invictus' by faith no more (ft. myke c-town)

Yeah, we might be a little late to the punch here, but the album only just dropped last week and we had a complicated shoot to work with. In any case, I'm really proud with how this turned out, and thanks again to Myke for joining me here!

Next up, A$AP Rocky needs more listens, but I think I'm finally ready to tackle LMNO - stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

video review: 'into the wild life' by halestorm

Goddamn it, I wanted this album to be better. Joyce, you've had your chances - three strikes and you're out.

Next up, I think I'm finally ready to talk about Tyler. Stay tuned!

album review: 'into the wild life' by halestorm

You know, at some point I'm going to have the time to sit down and make an extended Special Comment on Glee and the effect it has had on popular culture. On the one hand, it cultivated one of the most rabid and insufferable fanbases you could ever find - and this is speaking as one who was once part of it - and the show's treatment of social issues could be questionable at best, even inside the LGBT sphere. Hell, it's one of those shows where the more subtext you extract, the more unsettling it becomes. But on the other hand, it was a show that did play a role in shaping popular music, especially during its prime days on the charts, and it's undeniable it played a role in the indie resurgence that managed to take root in 2012, which I do see as a net positive. Hell, the show even began to build a reputation for breaking indie rock acts, and there was a period for a few seasons where up-and-coming indie acts could have a chance for mainstream success if a Glee cover got traction.

But when I heard that Glee was covering Halestorm, I was a little amazed. See, Halestorm played closer to hard rock and even alternative metal at points, and Glee's refusal to touch most of those genres beyond the safest of possible covers - and the fact that certain rock bands outright refused to be featured - meant that Halestorm was an anomaly... albeit not by much. Their first, self-titled album dropped in 2009 mostly playing as a solid four-piece hard rock act that incorporated some decent sizzling grooves and the impressively versatile and raw vocals of Lzzy Hale. The frustrating thing about that first album is that it was playing very much in the groove that Evanescence and similar acts carved, and the by-the-numbers production and co-writing courtesy of Howard Benson didn't help them stand out. Their second album The Strange Case Of... did show an improvement, if only because the compositions had more variety in the writing and did a lot more to show off Lzzy Hale's range, but again, it was a record that only managed to connect with me in moments, and I'd probably blame Howard Benson's by-the-numbers production more than anything.

In any case, Halestorm is now back with a third album Into The Wild Life, and a new producer: Jay Joyce. To say I have mixed feelings about this is an understatement - for one, he's a producer who has the majority of his credits in country music, and while he has pushed towards experimentation with Eric Church and Little Big Town, I'd argue his production has been hit-and-miss at best, often heavy handed when it doesn't need to be. That said, he might be a solid fit with Halestorm, and in more of a rock environment, his trend towards heavier, thicker sounds could be a natural fit, and give Halestorm some much needed unique instrumental identity. So did we get that with Into The Wild Life?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

video review: 'no fixed address' by nickelback

Ugh, that should take care of the duds this week. Man, what a mess.

Okay, next up... hmm, either that Savages/Bo Ningen project, that critically acclaimed Lucette debut, or that Leighton Meester album everyone keeps yammering about. Decisions, decisions. Either way, stay tuned!

album review: 'no fixed address' by nickelback

I know a lot of people who hate Nickelback.

And here's the thing, most of you don't get it if you don't live up here in Canada. For as much as Nickelback ruled the radio across the Bush administration, they were much more omnipresent here in Canada, where regulations require the radio play a certain amount of Canadian content. And sure, we get Metric, Marianas Trench, Serena Ryder, and a slew of other great Canadian acts, but it also means that of the many singles Nickelback charts, they all get airplay up here.

And it's probably from that broader point-of-view that I can say this with certainty - trust a guy who knows, there are a lot worse bands than Nickelback. The band got hit with the 'worst band ever' label not because they were legitimately that much more terrible than their peers - when Three Days Grace, Creed, Seether, Hinder, and Theory Of A Deadman have produced far worse music - but Nickelback were everywhere in the 2000s and that's made their mediocrity a lot easier to hate. Now granted, Nickelback have written some terrible songs, especially when they were trying to go for any pretensions of depth, but there was a place for a few of them, when they catered to the lowest common denominator of hard rock debauchery and sleaze. And to be fair, it was a much better fit for Chad Kroeger's voice than the insufferable bitching of songs like 'This Is How You Remind Me' or 'Someday' or 'Saving Me' or the pretentious platitudes of 'Gonna Be Somebody', 'If Today Was Your Last Day', and especially 'If Everyone Cared'. To me, Nickelback worked best on grimy tracks about fighting, drinking, screwing, and behaving like swaggering rock star assholes, completely awash in bad taste almost analogous to Katy Perry.

Now some of you are inevitably thinking, 'Wait, you rip on bro-country all the time when it gets sleazy and ignorant in much of the same formula, are you seriously giving Nickelback a pass'? And let me make this clear, I'm not doing that - catering to the lowest common denominator will only get you so far, and Nickelback can get away with more than most mostly thanks to Chad Kroeger having a lot of presence behind the mic, the band developing more of a rock edge, and some genuinely solid songs like 'This Afternoon' and 'Burn It To The Ground'. But there are huge tracts of their discography that pushes the sleaze into uncomfortable territory, and it's rarely enough fun to back it up. But most of the hatred they get isn't for that reason - no, it's not about hating Nickelback but hating the fans of Nickelback for supposedly giving them a free pass - something that rings more than a little hypocritical from some critics who have praised similar brands of vulgarity when it comes from hip-hop or metal or R&B. Say what you will about Nickelback's Dark Horse, for as gross as most of the album is, at least it's honest and knows what it is.

That being said, with Nickelback's commercial decline in the 2010s, they have aimed to diversify their sound a bit. Recruiting Joey Moi to produce for their 2011 album Here And Now proved surprisingly effective in adding some punch and meat to their usual formula, although that album felt bogged down in unnecessary and really quite embarrassing ballads. In other words, I had no idea how good their newest album No Fixed Address would turn out to be - so what did we get?

Friday, September 19, 2014

video review: 'jealous gods' by poets of the fall

Dear god, this album kicked all amounts of ass. Epic and yet accessible and somehow making it all work, it's easily one of the best of the year. GO GET IT ALREADY.

Okay, next up - finally - is U2. Stay tuned!

album review: 'jealous gods' by poets of the fall

There are some bands that when you look through their discography or their charting singles, you wonder why on God's green earth they became famous. Because even bucking the trends of the time, even without a catchy or interesting song or even good song to their name, there are acts that will somehow rise to the top of the charts. And then five years later people will look back on that time and wonder why the hell these guys became popular.

And then there's the opposite case. A musical act that for all intents and purposes should have been huge - maybe the trends were on their side, maybe they had infinitely catchy hooks, maybe they just made awesome music - and yet for no discernible reason, they never blew up in the mainstream the way they should. And we're going to be talking about one of those bands today, the Finnish alternative rock act Poets of the Fall. These guys released their first album Signs of Life in 2005 and ever since then have been releasing record after record of quality music that pretty much encapsulated everything I liked about alternative rock and metal. They had a great melodic focus and the instrumental heft to back it up, they wrote fantastic, hook-driven songs with introspective and emotionally compelling lyrics, and lead vocalist Marko Saaresto had one of the most compelling and expressive voices in the genre, a rich liquid baritone capable both of grit and melody.

So why didn't Poets of the Fall become huge in the US? Well, I've got a few ideas, the first being that the band opted for a more sophisticated and melodic presence when alt rock and metal of the time was going in the exact opposite direction. And with the decline of mainstream rock radio, I'm not surprised that Poets Of The Fall never blew up beyond their home country. The other thing - and this is coming from a fan of the band that thinks they've never really made a bad album - is that Poets Of The Fall didn't really make consistent albums. Their early output, especially their third album Revolution Roulette, was pretty uneven as the band worked to strike a balance between gorgeous melodic ballads and their more hard-edged material. 

But in 2012, the band seemed to finally hit that sweet spot with Temple of Thought, a strikingly potent release that fused their melodic focus with sweeping heaviness that made the album one of the best of the year. So you can bet I was hotly anticipating their newest record Jealous Gods - so how is it?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

video review: ' clockwork' by queens of the stone age

Well, that should take care of the last of my major retrospectives, and it's a great one to end off on, I think.

This is the last big week for album releases, so I'll endeavor to knock back some of the big ones and a few last retrospectives before my year end lists, so stay tuned!