Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Static-X - Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)

1. Push It
2. I'm With Stupid
3. Bled for Days
4. Love Dump
5. I Am
6. Otsegolation
7. Stem
8. Sweat of the Bud
9. Fix
10. Wisconsin Death Trip
11. The Trance is the Motion
12. December

Industrial at its best – 8,5/10

In the late nineties there was a major uprise of industrial metal bands and within the genre a lot of albums within the period of 1997 to 1999 are classic industrial albums; among them Wisconsin Death Trip. Few fans of the genre have not heard of Static-X and their promising debut. This is arguably one of the best albums the genre has to offer and the best album Static-X would release until this very date.

We’ve seen a lot of ‘classic’ industrial albums on this site such as Rammstein’s Sehnsucht or Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe. Needless to say all three albums rely on the brilliant combination of heavy metal and dance rhythms by means of metal guitars and computer samples; Static-X is no different. We’ve also seen that vocalists never really sing, but merely emit the lyrics as monotonously as possible; Wayne Static is no different. Then what makes this album so much better than most of its contemporaries? The difference lies in a few corners. First, Static-X is much heavier than other industrial acts and therefore a lot less commercial. They call themselves ‘evil disco’ and that is only the right way to describe them. Where Rammstein or Rob Zombie still sounds disco-friendly, Static-X distances themselves from the mainstream sound and becomes more of an underground industrial act. Second, Wayne Static has a lot more ways to express himself than the other vocalists I’ve heard in this genre. He combines raw vocals with various emotions and tone-heights, while not really singing. Apart from that, he has a loyal bassist at his side in Tony Campos who adds some extra dimensions with his low growls. All these elements combined make Static-X one of the most unique bands in the music world.

There’s also a lot more variation among the tracks themselves. While the first ten tracks are basically to-the-point industrial tracks with heavy riffs, groovy rhythms and unique vocal performances, with a few absolute highlights such as the classic “Push It”, “I’m With Stupid” and “Otsegolation” with its killer groove. Near the end we see some atmospheric industrial, which I’ve never heard before. “The Trance is the Motion” takes us to a relaxed track with soft grooves and a sudden outburst of Static’s vocals. The so beautiful “December” ends the album with style in an industrial ballad. It’s a very silent track with softer vocals than heard before and a bit of an epic feel to it. I believe this is the first industrial ballad I’ve heard. The rest of the album mostly continues to combine simple-but-heavy guitar riffs with the most extreme of grooves. The unique combination of that type of songs and Static’s vocals is certainly promising, but it’s hard to think of what the band would do next as this is one of the hardest genres to be inventive in.

In short, this is the best industrial album I’ve heard so far. It’s got everything a typical album of the genre needs and way more than that too. I would gladly recommend this to any fan of industrial metal or to people who are new to the genre. It’s a perfectly accessible album if you can appreciate the vocals.

Highlights: “Push It”, “Otsegolation” and “The Trance is the Motion”.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe (1998)

1. Call of the Zombie
2. Superbeast
3. Dragula
4. Living Dead Girl
5. Perversion 99
6. Demonoid Phenomenon
7. Spookshow Baby
8. How to Make a Monster
9. Meet the Creeper
10. The Ballad of Resurrection Joe and Rosa Whore
11. What Lurks on Channel X?
12. Return of the Phantom Stranger
13. The Beginning of the End

Horror Metal...?! – 7/10

In search for some good industrial metal, I came across Rob Zombie’s debut album Hellbilly Deluxe. While this album is mostly industrial in terms of style, Zombie’s name already suggests he won’t be singing about ladybugs and flowers. The lyrics are true horror tales in itself, which gives a dark-but-not-depressive tone to the album. As for the music; it was probably one of the biggest industrial metal albums to be released in the late nineties. Let me tell you what to expect...

This is industrial in the very meaning of the genre. It’s metal to dance to. It mostly relies on grooves and rhythms that encourage you to dance. Think of offbeat drums, cool keyboard samples and simple catchy anthems. That is basically what every song on this record is about. The riffs are very simple, quite heavy and undeniably catchy. Now, all you need is a simple and obvious song structure and you’ve got your average Rob Zombie track. This all sounds pretty plain, but that’s exactly what this album is, which makes sure you will like this album but later totally forget about it. As for Rob Zombie himself; the man has a very low, bluesy and raw voice. Basically he can’t sing, but he can hold the tone, which is alright for this kind of music. Still, he can be a real pain in the ass when you’re not in the mood for his voice.

What could have made the album more interesting or more memorable is more variation among and more substance to the songs. Now, “Superbeast” is an excellent opener with its drum-heavy verses and brilliant build up. From here on we get a lot of tracks that in essence sound the same, such as “Dragula”, “Living Dead Girl”, “Demonoid Phenomenon” and “Spookshow Baby”. I’m not the type of listener that’s easy to please with ‘more of the same’. Every time the songs begin with some theme that’s alright, and then go to the monotonous but groovy verses with low vocals from Zombie, we sometimes get a pre-chorus of some sort and then there’s the chorus with that temporal attractive force. There are not really songs with reasonable sustainability. “Return of the Phantom Stranger” on the other hand is clearly different with at least an attempt at creating an epic in the industrial genre. Furthermore there are some fragments of uselessness like “Perversion 99” or “How to Make a Monster”. Personally, if one song on the album is not a song but some intermezzo, I don’t mind, but there are at least three of them on here. A bit too much for me that is.

In the end, it’s a solid industrial album, but not really fascinating on the long term. That being said, it is a must have for any fan of industrial music. If you expect ear candy rather than food for the masses in the disco, then you shouldn’t try this album.

Strongest tracks: “Superbeast”, “Dragula” and “Return of the Phantom Stranger”.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Judas Priest - Jugulator (1997)

1. Jugulator
2. Blood Stained
3. Dead Meat
4. Death Row
5. Decapitate
6. Burn in Hell
7. Brain Dead
8. Abductors
9. Bullet Train
10. Cathedral Spires

There’s no excuse for this – 3,5/10

When you say Judas Priest, your mind instantly travels through time and you name up classics like “Tyrant”, “Beyond the Realms of Death”, “Metal Gods”, “Love Bites” or “Painkiller”. Without hesitation you think about Rob Halford’s high-pitched vocals and the superb guitarduels between Glenn Tipton and KK Downing. But there’s a darker side to this band and it came right up when Halford called it quits. As a result Tipton and Downing, both accustomed to writing good songs, took Halford-wannabe Tim Ripper Owens to replace the Metal God on vocals. Don’t you want to know how that turned out? No you don’t. I usually dig albums other people loath, but Jugulator just lacks creativity in every corner and sounds terribly uninspired. It’s been seven years since previous album Painkiller, which everyone remembers as one of Priest’s greatest. Whether Downing and Tipton wanted to create something in the same vein or something totally new is not clear. The music sounds like a parody of what Priest was before and I daresay the band just needed a reason to tour. And of course, there are enjoyable parts on this album, but most of it’s pushed towards the end of the record or it’s ruined by what follows.

Let’s begin with Halford’s replacement Tim “Ripper” Owens. Some people praise his vocal talents and his range, saying he resembles Rob Halford. Well, he tries very hard to resemble the man, but he does not really succeed. Halford could actually sing in the higher regions of his range, while Owens only screams and he doesn’t even hit half the height Halford does. Not that it matters, but the man really is annoying to listen to. His screams sound fucked up, his lower voice sounds cheesy as hell and sometimes he just sounds like a barbarian that’s about to attack a wild boar. Then there’s the boring songwriting. There are riffs I made up the first year I picked up a guitar. The best example is the opening track “Jugulator”. It begins with a nice machine-like rhythm (could make you think Priest is joining the industrial rise), but is quickly ruined by a cheese-evil theme and eventually bursts out into a three chord riff that is just too ridiculous for words. The lyrics on the song are so wannabe Halford, about freaky monsters and terribly beasts. But this is not convincing. The same formula of boring riffs and annoying vocals is used at tracks like “Dead Meat” or “Decapitate”. It sounds just so unprofessional it’s like a textbook “How to make my first metal song”. Then there’s “Death Row”, which actually flows pretty well if you don’t count the tiresome fragment at the beginning... that is, until you hear the chorus. Are we listening to a band playing (or trying to play) metal or is this a child’s party and we’re singing nice cozy songs?

Then the positive side of the album... I’ve been negative for far too long now. As I mentioned before there are some better songs near the end of the album with the exception of “Blood Stained”, which is number two. The said song is not really different from the others around it in terms of sound, riffage or structure, but the major difference is: it flows and stays cool ‘til the end. This is also what makes “Abductors” and “Bullet Train” more successful creations than crap like “Burn in Hell” or “Dead Meat”. And if a song doesn’t flow, it’s not a good song. If it does, then you can be proud like on “Bullet Train”, which is full of adrenaline and deserves to be written by Judas Priest, and “Abductors”, which begins evil and stays evil. And when you’ve achieved that, you find you can also like Owens’ vocals. Then there’s “Cathedral Spires”; the long song of the album. Peaking at a little over nine minutes, this song is a true epic consisting of three parts: the first part is a ballad, the second a rocker with an anthemic chorus and the third is a mesmerizing continuation of the anthem from part two. And when you’re done listening to these tracks, you begin to wonder why they didn’t bother to write more songs that actually sound good?

In short, Jugulator is a bad album with some positive surprises. This is Judas Priest being totally confused about what the hell they are, what they’re supposed to do and what the hell metal is. Still, I would recommend the last three tracks to any Priest fan, since they are really good tracks. As for the overall album; avoid it. Don’t be seduced by the cover.

Strongest tracks: “Bullet Train” and “Cathedral Spires”.
Weakest tracks: “Jugulator”, “Dead Meat”, “Death Row” and the others minus “Blood Stained” and “Abductors.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Amy MacDonald - This is the Life (2007)

1. Mr Rock 'n Roll
2. This is the Life
3. Poison Prince
4. Youth of Today
5. Run
6. Let's Start a Band
7. Barrowland Ballroom
8. L.A.
9. A Wish for Something More
10. Footballer's Wife

A Young Scottish Guitar Girl with Talent – 7,5/10

Back in 2008, it was very hard not to have heard of Amy MacDonald. Her big hit “This is the Life” was played to death on every radio station and no matter where you were, you were bound to at least here her name. At such a point, it is impossible to ignore the release of her promising debut album, released a year before the single under the same name. The question you will ask yourself at first listen is: will this be a one-off artist or will she come back strongly on her next album?

Amy MacDonald herself is playing the acoustic guitar and mostly bases her songs on what she figures out on that very instrument. This keeps the overall ambience very acoustic, even though the electric guitar regularly bumps in for additional accompaniment. Her voice sounds quite raw and relatively low for a female voice. This whole combination of acoustic elements and this rough alto voice sounds quite unique and differ her from most pop bands and artists, and above all distances her from all the other female solo artists such as Beyoncé, Rubyn or Lady Gaga by not adding elements of R&B. Add a good amount of catchy chord progressions, upbeat rhythms and tempting arrangements and you’ve got a #1 album, which is exactly what this album was destined for. The album opens with the swinging “Mr Rock ‘n Roll”, which is a perfect introduction to MacDonald as a singer. Her voice sounds very powerful as she reaches for the higher notes. Her trademark type of song must be the four-chord acoustic indie rock tracks like “Poison Prince”, “This is the Life” and “Let’s Start a Band”. These tracks are all uplifting in both the drums and the vocals, but sound a bit similar as well, which is something MacDonald needs to watch out for. There are some very powerful ballads like “Youth of Today” or “Footballer’s Wife” with lyrics that sound a bit oddly critical towards certain types of people, but it’s not disturbing.

The downside of the album is the compactness of all the tracks. While some tracks are really outstandingly performed, it’ll always remain very compact as most of it is just intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-end. Sometimes I could use some more listeners challenge in the songs, but of course, one cannot expect that from simple pop music. Overall it’s highly recommended to fans of the genre.

Strongest tracks: “Mr Rock ‘n Roll” and “Footballer’s Wife”.
Weakest tracks: none.

Keane - Night Train [EP] (2010)

1. House Lights
2. Back in Time
3. Stop for a Minute
4. Clear Skies
5. Ishin Denshin
6. Your Love
7. Looking Back
8. My Shadow

Musical Confusion – 6,5/10

After hearing 2008’s Perfect Symmetry, I was positive about following further Keane releases and when I heard they would release a new EP entitled Night Train, I was pretty curious. The mini-album on the other hand was pretty much a letdown. I bet a lot of fans wanted to hear more of the great piano rock the guys made their mark on the music world with. But unfortunately, Keane tried very hard not to use their trademark here. The positive step: they try to renew their sound.

It’s pretty much a continuation of what we’ve heard on Perfect Symmetry’s lead single “Spiralling”. A lot of synthesizers dominate the scene combined with bombastic, sometimes beat box-like drums. Actually, most of the material on this EP sounds like recycled 80s synth pop, with a dash of Keane, mostly only to be recognized by the voice of Tom Chaplin, which saves most songs from being totally unbearable, and the trademark bombastic drums by Richard Hughes. On one particular song, keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley even takes the lead vocals, to even take away from the song what it needed the most: a sign to make sure this is Keane. Rice-Oxley does not have a bad voice, but it sounds a bit too standard, whereas usual singer Chaplin has a very unique voice with lots of possibilities and even some similarities to early Freddie Mercury. More songs feature different vocalists as Keane chose to collaborate with other artists. Japanese pop artist Tigarah features on the abominable “Ishin Denshin”, which has the most annoying and happy chorus in the world and is not at all enjoyable in the verses, where Tigarah groans a few words in Japanese. This song of all makes it clear that Keane is just trying to find the boundaries of their can, which in itself is not bad at all.

Examples of good or at least better collaborations are those with Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan. Now, I’m not at all a fan of rap music, mostly because it’s all just some beat and some rambling about chicks. K’naan is different; on the lead single “Stop for a Minute” for example, he sings a verse which he does very well, and later he raps the bridge. His voice is not low and pimpy like most rappers, but rather high-pitched and fragile. It really fits the song, which is easily one of the best of the mini-album, not because it’s so much trademark Keane, but because it’s very catchy. The second collaboration with K’naan is “Looking Back”, but this one is not as mighty as the other. As with “Your Love”, as with “Back in Time”, as with “Clear Skies”, the song has some nice hooks here and there but in fact it’s just a piece of 80s synth pop with a modern touch to it. And this really does not attract me. Especially “Your Love” is the worst, due to synthesizer overload. The EP ends with traditional Keane style in “My Shadow”. At first it’s a ballad but later the epicness of the chorus embraces you.

So in fact this EP is not really a worthy follow-up to Perfect Symmetry, mostly because it is influenced too much by the 80s synth pop bands like Duran Duran, early Talk Talk and Ultravox. Still, Night Train contains enough to fascinate for a few listens. Afterwards, you’ll just put it in a drawer and never take it out again. Recommended only to die hard Keane fans.

Strongest tracks: “Stop for a Minute” and “My Shadow”.
Weakest tracks: “Ishin Denshin” and “Your Love”.