Showing posts with label prog metal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prog 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?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

video review: 'empath' by devin townsend

And here we go - a little late here, I understand, but still a really damn good album, and fascinating enough to be worth the time.

Next up, continuing through my list of projects I should have covered before...

album review: 'empath' by devin townsend

So I'll be very blunt here: I've long ago stopped having any expectations for a Devin Townsend album. I can't know how it'll sound or even what genre it'll be as he'll flit between a half dozen different subgenres or even step out of metal entirely for ambient music or pop or even country! All I know is that the tones will be polished to a mirror sheen, there'll be scattered moments of indulgence, and while he'll bring in guest stars, there's no real clue how much they will be emphasized, especially if some of the tightness goes out the window. And to be very blunt, while I got a lot of backlash to my harsh review of his last album Transcendence in the Devin Townsend Project, going back three years later I don't think I'm all that wrong, especially in comparison with the other standouts with that group.

But fine, this is a brand new solo album from him - and when I say solo, I mean bringing together many of the same guest stars that he's been consistently working with, such as Anneke Van Giersbergen and Che Aimee Dorval, along with a few surprises like legendary guitarist Steve Vai and even Chad Kroeger of Nickelback! Apparently that was a result of Townsend mashing all of his disparate influences into one project, which to me suggests a glorious mess that at least might feel more dynamic than Transcendence, but okay - what did we find on Empath?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

video review: 'distance over time' by dream theater

So this was a lot better than Weezer, but I wish I could have loved this one. Good, not great.

Next we're going to Billboard BREAKDOWN - enjoy!

Monday, March 4, 2019

album review: 'distance over time' by dream theater

Am I the only one who feels like something weird is going on with the hype cycle for Dream Theater this time around?

Seriously - I know the band has been long-running and many could make the argument their last truly transcendent album was over ten years ago and that they've just not been the same since Portnoy left and the vastly overpolished but kind of underwhelming 2016 project The Astonishing had pushed many of the casual fans away... but even with that, a new Dream Theater album didn't use to feel like a surprise from out of nowhere!

And yet here we are: maybe I'm just not attuned to the hype cycle but Dream Theater has released their fourteenth album and it's their shortest since 1992's Images And Words. They have described it as a stream-lined release clocking under an hour with only nine songs - which for a band like Dream Theater who will release EPs longer than some bands' albums is indeed a thing. And when you see the amount of critical acclaim the band has received - which absolutely surprised me, given Dream Theater can be a polarizing act in certain substrata of progressive metal - mostly surrounding how accessible the album is... well, maybe the benefit of lowered expectations had won people over? Honestly, I didn't know what to expect with Distance Over Time - a cute way to say 'speed', although the lack of direction means we're not getting velocity - but enough bad jokes, what did we get?

Monday, November 26, 2018

video review: 'cease the day' by in the woods...

So here we go... yeah, kind of disappointing with this one, but it happens, I guess?

Next up, new season of Billboard BREAKDOWN, and hopefully it'll be something interesting in the next week, so stay tuned!

album review: 'cease the day' by in the woods...

So it seems like for the past three or so years I've reached the end of the year to discover I haven't covered as much black metal as I'd like to, and in 2016 I was relatively enthused to discover that the 90s atmospheric black metal group In The Woods... had reformed with a new vocalist and a new album Pure that year. I was a little bit less enthused to discover while listening to the album that Pure wasn't exactly a straightforward black metal album by any stretch. If anything it felt like a bait-and-switch - I remembered the huge melodic swells of Omnio and I had high expectations... only to get a project that was just as melodic, but also way more contemplative, clean, and owing more to both progressive metal and doom metal along the way. And here's the thing: in comparison to a lot of fan response I'd seen, I was a lot more positive on it than most, as I thought the writing put in a lot of heavy lifting and the melodies were as strong as ever - even as somebody who isn't really into doom metal or its offshoots, In The Woods... clicked for me.

So fast forward to now, I still have the feeling I haven't covered enough black metal, and out of nowhere I discovered In The Woods... was putting out another project! Seriously, I put this on the schedule myself, and I was excited for this: from the track listing it seemed more streamlined, reportedly they had increased the tempos and brought back more of the black metal elements with even some death metal touches... yeah, I had every reason to believe this could be great, so what did we get from Cease The Day?

Monday, July 16, 2018

video review: 'automata i & ii' by between the buried and me

I keep thinking that this review is going to wind up more controversial than it probably will be... eh, still interesting enough to talk about, I guess.

Next up, hopefully a quiet week of Billboard BREAKDOWN and whatever else will show up this summer - enjoy!

album review: 'automata i & ii' by between the buried and me

So I've made it no secret that I don't tend to be a huge fan of death metal, especially once we get to the more technical, punishing territory, but I've always had one big asterisk in that category and that was Between The Buried And Me. As I've said before, I got into the band in university, and while the wild tonal shifts and overall presentation took a while to grow on me, I still stand up for Colors and Alaska to this day.

And yet a bizarre parallel to Opeth, as Between The Buried And Me shelves more of their heavier side for progressive tendencies, I've tended to like them a lot less, as those shifts seem to have come at the cost of smart mix balance, intensity, and with the addition of synthesizer tones I don't think anybody wanted. And I can't tell you how aggressive irritating that is, because it's clear that Between The Buried And Me is trying to get more experimental and incorporating a richer cross-section of sounds and progressions, but more often than not those sounds wind up not complimenting the compositions nearly as well as they should. And I'll say it: I was probably too nice to their 2015 record Coma Ecliptic when I reviewed it formally, because while it was not a bad record, it was absolutely a measurable step from the band at their best and really has not been anything I've wanted to revisit

And I'll be blunt and say I had big concerns about this project too: a double album, the first half released in early March of this year with the second coming out now, and while I've never liked it when bands pull this release strategy for double albums, it did give me some forewarning that Automata might be a bit of a mess, especially with some of the wilder rumors I had heard about the second half. But hey, maybe Coma Ecliptic was transitional and they'd stick the landing here, right?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

video review: 'prequelle' by ghost

I have to keep remembering to post these video updates here... anyway, solid record, but it should be better - enjoy!

Monday, June 4, 2018

album review: 'prequelle' by ghost

There's a part of me that finds it really weird how big Ghost are becoming as a band.

That's not to disparage the talent behind the group, of course - in terms of metal they've hit the increasingly rare sweet spot of being able to merge progressive and heavy tendencies with actual melodies and hooks and a commitment to a gimmick that I respect a great deal. A little over-the-top and theatrical, sure, but if the music remains kick-ass like it did on the self-titled debut and Meliora, I wasn't going to complain. But that sort of theatricality tends to ostracize bands, especially with Ghost tilting so heavily into blatantly Satanic material - say what you will about Black Sabbath and classic metal bands, if you dug into their content they tended to avoid that, and even for an act like KISS that leaned even harder into their image, the content rarely backed up the spectacle.

And yet Ghost has doggedly remained committed to the content and the gimmick, and with their rising fame and in the age of the internet, that's genuinely impressive... although I had to question how much longer it would last, especially as the frontman's identity was leaked and all his former bandmates quit and then sued him for treating Ghost like a glorified solo project. And yet after a tumultuous few years for the group - including winning a Grammy - Ghost has recruited a new set of musicians and have a new record, one that was reportedly aiming to be their most accessible to date... which can be a loaded qualifier when it comes to any metal act looking to make a pivot towards mainstream rock radio, but I was curious where the hell this could be going, especially given how awesome their last record was, so how is Prequelle?

Friday, April 27, 2018

video review: 'the shadow theory' by kamelot

Well, this was... mostly disappointing, but I'm happy I got it off my schedule all the same. Eh, let's just move on.

Next up, I've got Resonators and finally some Janelle Monae, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the shadow theory' by kamelot

So when a band gets twelve albums into their career... hell, what is even left to say? Their high and low points are well-known, as are their moments of genre experimentation and flair. They've become an established quantity, and unless there is a massive paradigm shift, there becomes very little for critics like me to say...

And yet Kamelot has been different, mostly because their past few albums have been a pretty stark departure in sound with new frontman Tommy Karevik. The symphonic bombast had been ramped up, the tones were more aggressive and borderline progressive, and while Silverthorn was pretty damn solid in its own right, their 2015 follow-up Haven featured two of the best songs of 2015 and easily one of the best power ballads of the decade! It was a height that Kamelot hadn't reached in any capacity for me in over a decade, and thus I was genuinely curious how they could follow that up or if the album could match the extremely high quality of some of the individual cuts that came before. Granted, this was also coming with the departure of their longtime drummer Casey Grillo, but replacement Johan Nunez had a respectable pedigree and I was confident that Kamelot could still deliver. So, what did we get with The Shadow Theory?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

video review: 'pacifisticuffs' by diablo swing orchestra

Ugh, I wish I had liked this more... but it happens, I guess...

Anyway, next up is a record I'm a little unsure if anyone beyond the Patron who requested it cares about, but we'll see - stay tuned!

album review: 'pacifisticuffs' by diablo swing orchestra

I get the feeling that just about every element of this particular act is going to require an explanation, including why in the Nine Hells I'm covering them in the first place - because while there are weird metal acts, Diablo Swing Orchestra sits in a category mostly by itself.

And the bizarre thing for once is that I can say I've mostly been a fan of this Swedish group for years. I was introduced to their debut and arguably best project The Butcher's Ballroom in university by a friend given my liking for symphonic metal, but that's only a component of the madhouse of this group, which blends in elements of swing, jazz, and classical music to their sound with a manic vaudeville approach, blending male and female vocals of all varieties against some pretty aggressive and yet remarkably catchy progressive metal, complete with strings and horns sections to boot! And yet at the same time they were always a band that I kept a little at arm's length, mostly because they could slip towards the deeply silly despite their wit and vaudeville kitsch does tend to test my patience, even though I would say all of their work is remarkably accessible all the same. Still, I did appreciate their follow-up records in 2009 and 2012, and I was curious to check out their newest project, with a new female singer stepping in. Granted, I was a little concerned that this record had to be delayed for a year in order to correct mixing issues, but hey, we've got it now, how is Pacifisticuffs?

Monday, October 23, 2017

video review: 'of erthe and axen: acts i & ii' by xanthochroid

Have to be honest, this one took a lot out of me, but a worthwhile listen all the same.

But now something light...

album review: 'of erthe and axen: acts i & ii' by xanthochroid

So here's one of the little benefits that comes with working in genres like black metal: given that you have no real obligation to fit to a radio sound or song structures or topics, you can pretty much write about whatever you want and audiences will typically be receptive of it. Granted, there are certain themes that have been present in black metal for some time and you typically want to work in similar territory to avoid being branded a gimmick, but you have more wiggle room than your average overmanaged pop or country or hip-hop act.

And into this scene comes the American progressive black metal band Xanthochroid, who broke out around the early 2010s with an EP and a debut record in 2012, but actually ended up gaining more traction and notoriety thanks to a couple of covers they put up on YouTube of acts like Wintersun and Opeth. But if you only know them through the covers you're missing a more ambitious band, one that in the grand tradition of metal groups has constructed an ongoing story arc behind their releases that seemed at least interesting. They also seemed to have a sense of humor and they made all of their lyrics readily available so I was definitely curious to check out that debut, and... well, it was certainly ambitious, that's for damn sure. It's also - like a lot of the black metal I've covered this year - pretty far away from the conventional sound, utilizing extensive clean vocals that for me can be hit-and-miss, overdubbed male choirs, acoustic sections, organ, and even flutes. And given the focus on building more of the grand narrative of their story, I was almost certain that they'd wind up in power metal eventually... but not just yet, because five years after that debut we have a double album followup, the first disc released in mid-August and the second just this week. And again, double albums can be tricky, and while I was convinced Xanthochroid could bring enough ideas to the table, it was still likely to be pushing it. So what did we find on Of Erthe & Axen: Acts I & II?

Monday, October 2, 2017

video review: 'futility report' by white ward

Yes, I know I'm late to this, but it was still pretty fascinating to dig into.

And speaking of lateness...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

album review: 'futility report' by white ward

So I've said before that I'm never quite certain of the best place to look when it comes to new black metal, and thus when I heard the new Wolves In The Throne Room was dropping, I was excited to cover it... only to discover that it never made my schedule on Patreon. Now at first I was a little annoyed about this - I do like older Wolves In The Throne Room records, they're one of the groups that got me into the more atmospheric side of the genre - but considering the general critical response to the record has been mixed to say the least, I figured I might want to back off - it's not like I'm not busy enough already.

But still, I had an itch for some black metal, so what about this debut record from White Ward? They're a Ukrainian group known for blending in elementIgos of extreme metal and progressive metal into their atmospheric sound and the buzz had been really promising. On top of that they also posted all of their lyrics in English to Bandcamp, so a big step in the right direction for me. So yeah, late to the punch again with this, but it's not like anyone else on YouTube has reviewed this record in depth, so what the hell: how is Futility Report?