Thursday, 21 October 2010

Halford - Made of Metal (2010)

1. Undisputed
2. Fire and Ice
3. Made of Metal
4. Speed of Sound
5. Like There's No Tomorrow
6. Till the Day I Die
7. We Own the Night
8. Heartless
9. Hell Razor
10. Thunder and Lightning
11. Twenty-Five Years
12. Matador
13. I Know We Stand A Chance
14. The Mower

Better Than I Expected – 8/10

A new Halford album… what could we expect from the Metal God at this stage of his career? Would it be as heavy as his previous two solo efforts? Will it be as cheery as Winter Songs? Will he continue what he did on the latest Priest release? When “The Mower” was released I had almost lost hope for a decent album. It seemed obvious his voice was gone; the live performances were dreadful… how the hell could a next solo release from Rob Halford be good?

Apparently, I was very mistaken about the Metal God. His voice is not gone; it’s just as good as it has been on a release like Painkiller. Only his high-pitched trademark screams are not as good as before, but hey the man gets older too and luckily there’s only one track with these screams and that would be “The Mower”, a track full of bland low e-picking and directionless screams. But apart from that, Rob Halford is absolutely not a has-been singer. He sounds so alive and fresh on here, at times you’d even forget he is close to 60 years old. At tracks like “Hell Razor” he even sings like he did in the 70s. Combine these fresh vocals with a very fresh sound of the instruments. Unlike on Crucible or Resurrection, the main focus is not a heavy guitar-sound. Made of Metal sounds very much like 80s Priest classics like Screaming for Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith. Tracks like “Speed of Sound” or “We Own the Night” might as well have been Priest classics. I think a lot of people who hear this album will feel this should have been the previous Judas Priest effort, and not Nostradamus, even though I really liked that one. This is also the first album to feature tracks that have been written entirely by Rob Halford. Mostly he co-writes them with his band mates. Talk about his band-mates, they are in great shape too. The album is full of inspiring riffs and terrific solos, especially on “Fire and Ice”.

Unlike the previous solo efforts, this album does not begin with an in-the-face heavy killertrack, but with “Undisputed”, featuring lyrics about boxing, Halford presents us the intro to a more melodic release with still enough power to fill your veins with adrenaline. A track like “Fire and Ice” sounds like an Yngwie Malmsteen classic, probably due to the neoclassical riff combined with the epic vocal melodies at the chorus. The title track is quite a standard track with a four-chord chorus and monotonous verses, but later on we’ll be pleased with superb tracks like “Speed of Sound”, “Like There’s No Tomorrow” and “We Own the Night”. “Till The Day I Die” is a real stand-out track. It’s very bluesy and clearly shows Halford’s interest in the genre. With tracks like “Heartless” and “Hell Razor” the album collapses a little. These tracks suffer from less originality and have a ‘been-there-before’-feel to them. With “Thunder and Lightning” Halford gives us another epic with certainly one of the finest choruses on this release. “Twenty-Five Years” is the only ballad on the album. It lasts seven minutes and perhaps that is a little too long for this song, but then again, it’s a good track and a very personal song. With “Matador” we get another track about racing, but it has these very catchy melodies and even reminds me a bit of “Nostradamus” in the chorus. The final epic “I Know We Stand A Chance” could’ve been expanded upon, but it’s a good track and should’ve been the last track. “The Mower” closes the album, and surprisingly the song is a grower. It’s obviously the least interesting track of this release, but the quality of the album lifts this song up and makes me able to enjoy it even if only a little.

In short, Made of Metal is nothing like Resurrection or Crucible in terms of sound. It sounds a lot more like 80s Judas Priest with a dash of new Halford. Were you disappointed with Nostradamus? Do you want some more kickass old school metal? Then you’ve got to listen to this record, ‘cause it’s Made of Metal!

Strongest tracks: “Fire and Ice”, “Like There’s No Tomorrow”, “Till the Day I Die” and “Thunder and Lightning”.
Weakest tracks: “Heartless”, “Hell Razor” and “The Mower”.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Scorpions - Pure Instinct (1996)

1. Wild Child
2. But the Best for You
3. Does Anyone Know
4. Stone in my Shoe
5. Soul Behind the Face
6. Oh Girl (I Wanna Be With You)
7. When You Came Into My Life
8. Where the River Flows
9. Time Will Call Your Name
10. You and I
11. Are You the One?

Hidden Genius – 9/10

Isn’t it surprising how almost every 90s album by an 80s metal band gets bashed nowadays? And you should know most of that isn’t even deservedly. Take this album for example; the Scorpions take a different step in their career than cheap, commercial hair metal and in an instant the fans bombard this album as one of their worst. Lucky for this album there is still someone like me to stand up for this hidden gem.

Hidden behind the abominable cover art are eleven great tracks; all of them containing a lot of colourful themes and arrangements. There’s just one problem for our everyday Scorpions fan: there’s a certain lack of heavy rockers. Predecessor Face The Heat had enough of them and is perhaps the heaviest Scorps record to date. What better solution for a follow up is there than to release the inevitable opposite? Oh yes, there are a few rockers on the album, and probably some of the best the Scorpions have written. “Wild Child” with its drum-heavy verses and very catchy chorus is an instant Scorps classic, “But the Best for You” rolls on tightly with a friendly riff and “Stone in my Shoe” is a relaxing track with a typical 90s-Scorpions feel to it. Said quite blandly: the rest of the songs are all ballads. Now don’t you dare to trash this album just because of that. These eight ballads happen to be some of the finest the Scorpions have ever put together.

The first you’ll come across is “Wind of Change”-clone number two: “Does Anyone Know”; to sum this one up it’s a sing-along track with similar styled lyrics to the aforementioned track and is probably one of the less original songs on here, but still not bad. “Soul Behind the Face” takes the album to a whole new sound with its bluesy lead guitars at the intro. Given the often cheesy lyrics to ballads, it’s safe to say this one features some of the most thoughtful love-styled lyrics they’ve written. A lot of arrangements have been done with the clean and acoustic guitars, though the electric guitar still mostly blinks at us from the chorus and the solos. “When You Came Into My Life” is a very passionate one with a great build-up with very persuasive spine-shivering vocals from Klaus Meine. That brings us to another element in favour of this album: Klaus Meine is in a great shape. Combined with the very colourful and intimate arrangements of the songs, the result is breathtaking. We are surprised by Matthias Jabs when he plays some slide guitars on “Where the River Flows”, my favourite track off the album. In this track Ralph Rieckermann proves that he is the only worthy successor to Francis Buchholz and his bass-lines make the song. He does so much more than just accompanying it.

A little bit of guts are added with the acoustic swinger “Time Will Call Your Name”. Very catchy chord progressions vary with the inventive vocal melody in a way that is neither cheesy nor cheap. Note that this track’s chorus is one of the catchiest on Pure Instinct. “You and I” is the lead single from this album and somehow the Scorpions always succeed in writing an amazingly catchy ballad and making it so memorable at the same time. This is one of their finest ballads ever, even topping classics such as “Still Loving You” or “Wind of Change”. The almost orchestrally arranged “Are You the One?” closes this album and might seem like a weak track, but when you listen the album as a whole it perfectly closes the album as it actually sums up the record.

So in fact we have a pretty good Scorpions album here. Hell, on of the finest they’ve released I’d say. They might not be playing metal here, but that shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t. This collection of pop/rock tracks deserves to be much more than just another album in the Scorpions discography nobody knows. Underrated and highly recommended.

Strongest tracks: “Where the River Flows”, “Time Will Call Your Name” and “You and I”.

Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns (2010)

1. The Requiem
2. The Radiance
3. Burning in the Skies
4. Empty Spaces
5. When They Come For Me
6. Robot Boy
7. Jornada Del Muerto
8. Waiting for the End
9. Blackout
10. Wretches and Kings
11. Wisdom, Justice and Love
12. Iridescent
13. Fallout
14. The Catalyst
15. The Messenger

Best Surprise in a Long Time – 9/10

How everybody had lost hope for the American sextet known for combining electro, rap and metal under the name of Linkin Park. After Meteora, which sounded almost exactly the same as the debut album Hybrid Theory, the band really needed something new to their sound and they knew it. In 2007, they released Minutes To Midnight and it was one of their biggest mistakes. You don’t change your style from kickass nu-metal to cheap radio hits… that’s just unethical. But then they said they were going in a completely different direction again and at that point you have got to stop hoping for Hybrid Theory III. A Thousand Suns is totally different from anything Linkin Park has released before, but it’s still unmistakably the same band.

It’s really a shame a lot of “fans” gave up on this album after only a few listens. I have reasons to believe this is their strongest album to date. The approach for this album is without a doubt very different than their previous efforts, with Mr. Hahn in the leading role. The entire album is very dominated by electronic sounds, drums and effects. It seems drummer Rob Bourdon and especially lead guitarist Brad Delson were on holiday during the recording sessions for this album clearly was not in need of a lot of drums and guitars. Most drums are done by the band’s DJ Mr. Hahn. A more positive move from the band is the more dominant position of the band’s rapper Mike Shinoda. After having very few space on Minutes To Midnight it is a good move by the band to bring the raps back in. It’s one of Linkin Park’s trademarks to mix the raps with rock and at least they didn’t give up on that. Mr. Hahn’s DJ-scratches have returned from absence as well; even as far as a scratch-solo on “Wretches and Kings”. Chester Bennington’s screams have not returned as persuasively as on the first two albums, but they did return on the aforementioned track and on “Blackout”.

In order to embrace this album you need to understand it and I think that’s where most fans decline. A Thousand Suns is a concept album and it deals with quite a serious, though not original, subject: a possible third world war, which would be a nuclear war. As a concept album, it’s brilliantly built up. Of the fifteen tracks present there are only nine full songs, but it doesn’t disturb because the album feels as one. The many interludes really add to the concept and to the feel of the album. Loose excerpts will not be half as impressive as the album in its entirety. Once you get that, you can enjoy this.

The journey begins with the electro-dominated introludes “The Requiem” and “The Radiance” which set the right atmosphere for the modest opener “Burning in the Skies”. This modesty of this opening track is a real strength of A Thousand Suns; it keeps the mystery of the album intact and brilliantly introduces the concept. Mike Shinoda gets to dominate on the drum-heavy “When They Come For Me”, featuring middle-eastern rhythms and chants in the chorus. A track like “Robot Boy” doesn’t really add a lot on its own, but in the flow of the album is fits perfectly. The song itself is mostly electronic with the exception of Bennington’s mellow vocals. My personal favorite part of the album begins with “Waiting for the End”, a great duet between Bennington and Shinoda. It opens up with some experimental electronic rhythms and Shinoda imitates a Jamaican accent for some catchy raps, only before Bennington takes the song and turns it into an electronic rock track. The reprise of Shinoda’s intro is the highlight of the track. Next is “Blackout”, probably very notable due to Bennington’s aggressive vocals like he did them on the first few albums, but this time the background music is not guitar but some kind of beat or autotune, which only adds to the concept and the atmosphere of the album. About halfway the song turns into chaos and after that into a gentle track. The album does not handle with standard song-structures.

One of the best moments on this record is “Wretches and Kings”. It takes off with a long speech by Mario Savio before we begin with the first and only guitar-heavy track on this album. It’s a bit of a catchy hip-hop beat portrayed by a heavy guitar and computerized drums. Shinoda handles the verses extremely well with some inventive raps before Bennington gets his chance to scream at the chorus. This song truly feels like the good ol’ Linkin Park. After the second chorus we get a small sort of bridge before the speech returns and a good scratch-solo by Mr. Hahn. A speech by Martin Luther King Jr is included in the interlude “Wisdom, Justice and Love”; a real resting point after the violence of previous songs. Here is where the album reaches its climax. The rest of this speech is reflected in the Coldplay-influenced “Iridescent”. And then the interlude “Fallout” reprises some of the most important lyrics from earlier tracks before we enter the grand finale “The Catalyst”, which begins with electronic beats and some panicky vocals by Shinoda predicting our end. Bennington joins him and the panic starts to rise until halfway the song where the full band joins them in some sort of prayer for survival. Album closer “The Messenger” features nothing but acoustic guitar and Chester Bennington with his very powerful voice; this time preaching there’s still hope for mankind.

Now, I see in my enthusiasm the review has been given quite a length. I will say no more. A Thousand Suns is not for everyone, but only for those that can look beyond what they hoped it would be. This is not Hybrid Theory III and there never will be. Accept that and take Linkin Park for what they are now. This album is a grower and will grow on you if given the chance.

Strongest moments: “Waiting for the End”, “Wretches and Kings” and “The Catalyst”.