Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell 3: The Monster is Loose (2006)

1. The Monster is Loose
2. Blind as a Bat
3. It's All Coming Back to Me Now
4. Bad for Good
5. Cry Over Me
6. In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King
7. Monstro
8. Alive
9. If God Could Talk
10. If It Ain't Broke Break It
11. What About Love
12. Seize the Night
13. The Future Ain't What It Used To Be
14. Cry to Heaven

Third Time's The Charm – 8,2/10

Meat Loaf was just doing his thing with all kinds of other albums when suddenly, out of the blue, the third installment in the Bat Out of Hell series was announced. Even noted composer of the first two albums in the series Jim Steinman was apparently caught off guard as lawsuits between the two occurred soon after. What was Meat Loaf thinking using the Bat Out of Hell name for a third time, and this time without new genuine material from his longtime friend Steinman?

Our dearest Meat Loaf has carefully picked a few Steinman songs from the past that he would cover on this album. It was a Bat Out of Hell album after all and it required some over-the-top rock ’n roll epics. Most of it, however, was taken from Steinman’s solo record Bad for Good from 1981 and Pandora’s Box’ sole album Original Sin from 1989. Other tracks like “Cry to Heaven” or “In the Land of the Pig” were demos for a Batman musical due in 2003, but which was cancelled eventually. Steinman’s songs are huge and make the Bat Out of Hell part of this record. The other half is taken care of by notable songwriter Desmond Child and his team. This is what makes the Monster Loose. They introduce a new, catchy, modern rock sound for Meat Loaf that makes him almost sound nu-metal at times. The combination is very refreshing and actually just what the Bat-franchise needed. Where Bat 1 was a downright classic, Bat 2 was a dull attempt at copying part 1 and Bat 3 makes a suiting close to the series and ends it on a high level.

“The Monster is Loose”! Deep, heavy guitar riffs welcome us into this dark track and a bombastic chorus totally masks Meat Loaf’s usually light and cheerful atmosphere. If the name wasn’t on the album cover, we’d hardly recognize his voice. “Blind as a Bat” continues on the dark, modern vibe the title track ignited and shows us Desmond Child has penned Meat some tunes totally equivalent of the post-1977 songs by Jim Steinman, who debuts on this album with 1989’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”, made famous by Céline Dion. Meat’s rendition sounds very theatrical as he engages in a duet with Marion Raven. The second Steinman track is “Bad for Good”, featuring Brian May on guitar. This track was actually meant for the second Meat album and you can hear this old school rock ‘n roll vibe throughout, but the modernized sound doesn’t conceal the song’s a downright epic with energetic themes. Had they used this for Bat 2, that album would’ve been a lot better. These first four songs show the beautiful contrast between Child’s darker, heavier and more modern songs and Steinman’s over-the-top stash of melodic, theatrical rock ‘n roll.

Other notable moments on the record are the previously unheard Steinman track “In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King”, featuring the celebrated Steve Vai on lead guitars. It contains some good punch and a haunting atmosphere that fits this record’s dark environment. Desmond Child delivers to highlights with the catchy “Alive” and the gripping “If God Could Talk”. These songs have those bombastic choruses that get stuck in your head without becoming nuisances, if you know what I mean. Steinman again proves himself a master with 1989’s magnum opus “Seize the Night”; a beautiful orchestra introduces the piece that goes through many themes; from small piano-driven passages to dark symphonic rock riffs; from traditional Steinman verses to Latin-choirs at the chorus. From the songs not mentioned, they are almost all a joy for the ear. With talented songwriters like Child and Steinman delivering some of their finest works on this record, you will hear only one track you might want to skip. “If It Ain’t Broke, Break It” is a rock song by Steinman, but has a very weak chorus trying to be heavy and hard but failing completely on both platforms.

In the end, Bat Out of Hell 3: The Monster is Loose is the ultimate classic of modern Meat Loaf. It contains al the Steinman-ness of the previous Bats in high quality, but doesn’t lose its potential of being a rock album first and foremost; something which Meat Loaf is focusing on a lot on his newer records. It’s what I’d call a suitable disclosure for the Bat Out of Hell series and I would highly recommend it to any fan of this singer.

Strongest tracks: “Bad for Good”, “Alive”, “If God Could Talk” and “Seize the Night”.
Weakest track: “If It Ain’t Broke Break It”.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Wayne Static - Pighammer (2011)

1. Pighammer
2. Around the Turn
3. Assassins of Youth
4. Thunder Invader
5. Static Killer
6. She
7. Get It Together
8. Chrome Nation
9. Shifter
10. Slave
11. The Creatures are Everywhere
12. Behind the Sky

Static without the X – 7,2/10

This little piggy had candy…
This little piggy comes home…
This little piggy went around the turn…
And this little piggy went …!

And with this twisted version of the famous little piggy poem Wayne Static introduces us to his long-awaited solo record Pighammer. After the sad breakup of Static-X, Wayne decided to go solo and if anything, Pighammer testifies how Wayne was responsible for Static-X’s trademark sound. The album might not be covering a lot of new territories for Static, but honestly, did anyone ever really expect that?

Static’s career with Static-X had seen highs and lows but ended on a definite low with 2009’s Cult of Static. They were out of fresh ideas and the whole band sounded tired as well. Maybe the breakup was necessary. With Pighammer, Wayne definitely proves he is not weakened by the break-up of his former band. In fact, he just goes on where Static-X left it: heavy industrial metal. This time around, the elements that required the other members have either been erased or replaced. The low growls of Tony Campos, the guitar solos by Koichi Fukuda and the drums of Ken Jay are all gone. Instead we have a drum computer throughout the album and increased electronic elements are passages. This last element is actually quite refreshing and even a little experimental in some tracks.

Wayne doesn’t want to alienate us loyal fans. “Around the Turn” features his trademark barking and a march-like industrial tune to warm us all up for the adventure that is Pighammer. Though the song stands its ground, things are getting more intense with the single “Assassins of Youth”, a song about Wayne’s drug use and how he got rid of his addiction. It’s very powerful and full of adrenaline, which is continued by the energizing “Thunder Invader”. “Static Killer” takes us back to Wisconsin Death Trip-styled industrial with the typical computerized keys and the sexual moans of pornstar Tera Wray-Static in the intro. The song itself is okay, but with “She” the album steps up again. With the spoken word-styled verses and a danceable groove at the chorus, it’s quite a unique song for this record. Further highlights include the hard-as-hell “Chrome Nation” and the very experimental “The Creatures are Everywhere”, which makes more ambient use of the electronic elements. The other tracks are all fine, except for “Get It Together”, which gets on my nerves.

In short, Wayne Static got himself a nice solo record out and it’s not bad at all. If you like Static-X, there is no reason why you wouldn’t like Pighammer, because it has the typical Static-X vibe to most of the tracks. It’s actually a whole lot better than 2009’s Cult of Static and in a way also it’s follow-up. There’s nothing more to say about this album than I already have.

Strongest tracks: “Assassins of Youth”, “Thunder Invader” and “She”.
Weakest tracks: “Get It Together” and “Slave”.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell 2: Back into Hell (1993)

1. I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)
2. Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back
3. Rock 'n Roll Dreams Come Through
4. It Just Won't Quit
5. Out of the Frying Pan (and Into the Fire)
6. Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are
7. Wasted Youth
8. Everything Louder Than Everything Else
9. Good Girls Go to Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)
10. Back into Hell
11. Lost Boys and Golden Girls

A Pathetic Attempt at Reliving Old Days – 6,5/10

Not many will have forgotten the huge impact the first Bat Out of Hell made on the music world. Well, at least Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf haven’t. After Meat Loaf’s announced hiatus from recording in 1987, he said he wanted to wait for more Steinman material to work with. While some of his albums since 1981’s Dead Ringer did feature a single Steinman song, he thought it was time to record another full Steinman album. And what better way is there to attract attention than to name your new album to the most successful one?

Seriously, what does album have to do with the first Bat Out of Hell? Apart from Steinman and Meat Loaf, absolutely nothing! It’s not as if the first part was a concept album to be further explored on this release. It’s a purely commercial move. And that just stinks. It makes the listener expect the album to be just as good as the first part, which… it just isn’t. It’s not a bad record, but not quite outstanding either. Jim Steinman was even that lazy that he used songs from his 1981 solo album Bad for Good for this release. He only wrote half of the songs especially for this album. How motivated was he on this reunion? Seeing as he hasn’t released anything significant since, we might as well conclude he was hoping to get one more quick cash grab and then disappear. It’s really a shame, but Meat Loaf is not to blame. While all Steinman does nowadays is boasting about the first Bat Out of Hell and its success, Meat Loaf still releases good records and updates his sound every time.

Bat Out of Hell 2: Back into Hell doesn’t start off that disappointing actually. The intro to “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” is a downright reference, or copy, of the intro to the title track on the 1977 album. The rest of the song takes a different approach though; it’s a twelve-minute over-the-top piece with gentle, epic, obligatory and wilder passages. It basically contains all the composed elements that made the first album so great, but it just sounds forced on a certain level. The spontaneity is gone and the two are turning into a cliché. “Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back” travels down the same road, but instead of piano-driven rock ‘n roll we get a mean guitar riff instead. That sounds quite refreshing, but the song continues for eight minutes, which is actually a little too much for this track, although it’s quite a good one. Absolute highlight of the album and one of the best tracks Steinman ever penned is the classic “Rock ‘n Roll Dreams Come Through”. Not surprisingly, it’s been released by Steinman himself on his solo record back in 1981 before, so this one hasn’t been put together hastily for a commercial cash grab. No, this song sounds honest, pure and Meat’s voice just sounds so beautiful on this song. Now this is what we want. Is the album getting better now?

We basically had the three best songs of the album now. From now on we mostly get mediocre concepts and agreeable melodies stretched and repeated to death on songs that peak on mostly six, eight or ten minutes. While not all of them are truly bad, it’s not enough as a sequel to one of rock’s most classic albums. “It Just Won’t Quit” has a nice melody in the chorus, but really mostly plods along without ever really bursting out. “Objects in the Rear View Mirror…” tries to crawl into the skin of “Heaven Can Wait” and would’ve succeeded at that if it wouldn’t last over ten minutes with the last three minutes being solely repeating of the chorus over and over again. “Wasted Youth” is a monologue of Steinman that serves as an intro to “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”, which is quite a good rock song not unlike “All Revved Up…” from the first album, except for the stretched structure. “Good Girls Go to Heaven” is the worst song on this record and is so terribly happy you’d just want to skip right away… to the title track “Back into Hell”; an instrumental interlude echoing the main melody of the previous track, which makes it an instant failure. So many fine melodies on this album to chose from and then they pick the worst one to reprise here. Luckily “Lost Boys and Golden Girls” ends the album on a relatively high note, even though it’s another “Heaven Can Wait”-clone.

What happened after this album? Meat Loaf went on to release more albums, each one better than this one as a whole and reinvented his sound, trying different things and styles and different songwriters. What about Steinman? Well… see his website and conclude how he is living in the past… We all know he can write another good album, but if one isn’t trying to, one will never succeed. This album is only to be recommended to big fans of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman. Don’t be deluded by the title; this comes nowhere near Bat Out of Hell. I guess with some editing here and there, it’d still be an enjoyable record, but in current shape it is one of the weaker Meat Loaf releases.

Strongest tracks: “Life is a Lemon”, “Rock ‘n Roll Dreams Come Through” and “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”.
Weakest tracks: “Good Girls Go to Heaven” and “Out of the Frying Pan”.

Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell (1977)

1. Bat Out of Hell
2. You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth
3. Heaven Can Wait
4. All Revved Up With No Place to Go
5. Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
6. Paradise by the Dashboard Light
7. For Crying Out Loud

Classic to the Bone – 8,6/10

Nothing is more justified to start a string of Meat Loaf reviews with his most successful and unquestionably classic debut album Bat Out of Hell. This legendary album was the brainchild of composer Jim Steinman, who also performed keyboards on a few tracks. It was the first, but certainly not the last time Steinman and Meat Loaf would work on an album together, but I think it’s safe to say the two of them never succeeded topping the very first Bat Out of Hell; a milestone in the history of rock ‘n roll.

What is it that makes this classic album so worthwhile? Where Steinman’s trademark songwriting is a little too calculated and too forced on later efforts, Bat Out of Hell captures a few of his most spontaneous compositions in the genre. The songwriting is very over the top to begin with. These melodies are very catchy and the arrangements show a bombastic sound, but Steinman never finishes a song until you’ve got the tune in your head. This results in lengthy tracks that never get boring, because they all remain catchy as hell in every verse, chorus or interlude. Another nice flavour to the album is the theatrical influences. Steinman is a composer for musicals as well and it shows. The title track alone is a long, twisted tale about a motorcycle-crash; changing in tone from rebellious to heroic, from sad to real rock ‘n roll and overcoming death. Another sign of Steinman’s musical career is the club favourite “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, whose epic boy/girl duet has become a standard in rock ‘n roll history. And the second mainman of the album is of course Marvin Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf. The man has a voice so unique and so strong; he’s bound to get your attention on this album. Since he too was involved in musicals a lot, his voice tells a story so powerful you don’t need to pay attention to the lyrics. Unfortunately, Meat Loaf suffered vocal problems not long after this album and his voice never returned to the magnitude it portrays here.

So, what does this supposedly amazing duo bring us on Bat Out of Hell? Let’s begin with the amazing title track. A few numb chords enhanced by drums welcome us into the album until a loud piano takes over from the drums and the song turns into an almost ten-minute piece of melodic and heroic rock ‘n roll. This is one of the best songs ever penned by Steinman and ever sung by Meat Loaf: epic guitar leads; soaring high vocals; catchy chord progressions; and a story that strings every theme and every melody together. A dark, somewhat creepy conversation precedes “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”, which explores more cheerful melodies and more contemporary atmospheres that don’t question why this became a hit at the time. It’s a simple tale of love, but the way it’s packaged and sung, it becomes much more than that and it holds epic lyrics such as in the chorus:

"You took the Words Right Out of My Mouth
Oh, it must’ve been while you were kissing me"

“Heaven Can Wait” brings us the first ballad and proves Steinman also knows how to maintain enchanting atmospheres on quieter songs. Meat Loaf’s voice guides us gently, but steadily, through this landscape of powerful pianos, soft string ensembles and gospel-esque backing choirs. “All Revved Up…” brings back the 70s spirit we also found on the second track. It’s tracks like these that make the album one of a kind, even within the Meat Loaf discography. Again, Meat’s voice is the main attraction, especially in the pre-chori. The epic acceleration at the end just gives me shivers. Another hit single we find in “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and again does the trick. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” needs no further introduction; it’s the most well-known rock ‘n roll anthem and frequently played on radio station to this very day. “For Crying Out Loud” ends the album on a high note with another piano-driven power ballad that unfolds into a bombastic epic later up.

Honestly, the way Meat Loaf sings on this album is just amazing. Such a shame he suffered vocal problems a short time after the release of the record. He still sings very well nowadays, but the energy isn’t as pure as on Bat Out of Hell. If you haven’t heard this record, it’d be time for you to finally do listen to this. This is a classic through and through and deservedly so. I highly recommend it to fans of music.

Strongest moments: “Bat Out of Hell”, “All Revved Up…” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Queensrÿche - Dedicated to Chaos (2011)

1. Get Started
2. Hot Spot Junkie
3. Got it Bad
4. Around the World
5. Higher
6. Retail Therapy
7. At the Edge
8. Broken [*]
9. Hard Times [*]
10. Drive
11. I Believe [*]
12. Luvnu [*]
13. Wot We Do
14. I Take You
15. The Lie
16. Big Noize

Very ‘Now’ Indeed – 9/10

Merciless have the ‘fans’ and critics been as they relentlessly denigrated this album and the band’s current status, citing reasons as ‘weak, boring songs’ or ‘commercial sellout’ for the album’s lack of quality, or even the ‘lack of metal’. How could Queensrÿche, which should be a metal band, make fine albums if it’s not metal? And then there are people claiming the lack of metal is not why they failed on this album. Want to hear my side of the story? These ‘fans’ and critics don’t have large fantasy or the capability to empathize with a band or that band’s full-length, when it doesn’t quite match their expectations. Allow me to explain to the very detail.

How many times have (or haven’t, takes less time to count) we read how weak and useless opener “Get Started” is and especially as the opening track for this infamous record. Reasons as ‘mellow riff’ or ‘no balls’ were used to point out that the song is quite numb. Well, the song indeed doesn’t kick your balls off and it doesn’t go right in your face. Even more, it’s not metal. The Rÿche have made albums before that evaded the metal genre, but never have they sounded so tame, especially not on an opening track. What is wrong here? And have you heard that single? “Wot We Do” is its name. I have read tons and tons of people hating that song for the very R’NB influence that flows throughout. How on earth could the creators of masterpiece Operation: Mindcrime (only the first part) have decided to throw in a brass section and to leave out the distorted guitars? I have also seen multiple criticisms about lyrics to the song “Retail Therapy”, which deal with apps on a phone. It is said this item is not worthy to put in a song as lyrics and it might be proof that Queensrÿche is trying to connect to the younger audience, thus selling out commercially. That statement would be supported heavily by the popular song titles (“Hot Spot Junkie”) and especially the wrongly (read: popularly) spelled ones like “Big Noize”, “Luvnu” and the previously mentioned “Wot We Do”. And if that wasn’t enough, we would be to believe that the album wouldn’t get exciting at any point and that, an essential piece of criticism, the guitar sound is weak and forced to the background or even replaced (by a brass section for example). Michael Wilton even stated in an interview that he didn’t really like the album, but was reprimanded by the rest of the band and was forced to state on the band’s site that he enjoyed the album a lot.

Phew… if that all were to be believed, one was to think Queensrÿche lost their mind; made one hell of a sucky album; were no longer a cohesive unit as a band; and were trying to connect to younger audiences and to make hit singles. It probably takes a very strong and open mind for a Queensrÿche-fan to be able to like this record. I guess I probably am. Let me explain to the very detail why Queensrÿche chose this direction and let me explain as equally detailed why I like it so much.

Queensrÿche is a band with the will to experiment. They almost never do the same thing twice and the one time they did try to with Operation: Mindcrime 2, they failed shamefully. No, this band is better off treading new grounds and finding new ways to play music for themselves. If they left the metal scene it’s because they have nothing more to say in the metal language and learn to speak new languages. The experiment of 2011 is the present. The now. You walk around town in a random street. Look around you, what do you see? A car driving past you; the wind blowing; the occasional passer-by, possibly with headphones plugged in; mothers that just dropped off their kid at school, determined to quickly pick up some groceries and then head off for an appointment with a good friend, a dentist or a pedicure. Either way, you’ll get my point: life is hectic nowadays. It moves fast and there’s little time to just do nothing. With internet, everything is possible and within reach. There’s no excuse not to have done something these days because it is all possible. Everyone is reachable at all times, as everyone carries their mobile phones with them day and night. The band took this very theme as the main theme for the album and you must understand it is a very important aspect of Dedicated to Chaos. Today’s life is fast and we find ways to speed things up: faster internet; multi-tasking; special abbreviations and orthography for text messages and chat sites and what not. To capture the spirit of the themes, song titles in these so called ‘popular languages’ were used. The title “Luvnu” for example fits perfectly within this concept.

‘Rock music is no longer the music of the times,’ said Geoff Tate in an interview. He is right. In order to stick more to the concept the band decided to structure their songs around the rhythm of the now. Drummer Rockenfield and bassist Jackson have developed a rhythm section as solid as ever, but now built around the alternative world of today. Guitarist Wilton might not be as much in the spotlight as he was back in the metal days, but he plays a role reminiscent of any guitar player in a alternative/pop band and even though his playing is more subtle here, it adds so much to the music and he has a beautifully tight guitar sound. Vocalist Tate is in an ever-inspiring shape as he leads us through this new-found landscape with his warm, recognizable and above all outstanding vocals. If there’s any singer who I’d never get tired of it’s Geoff Tate. He’s really got the groove. The multicultural, ever-changing society of today results in the huge diversity of the songs themselves. We have laid-back grooves on “Got it Bad”; a Coldplay-ish pop song in “Around the World”; alternative rock on “Hot Spot Junkie”; classic Queensrÿche on “At the Edge”; a funky track with “Drive”; the hip-hop/R’NB influenced single “Wot We Do”; and an atmospheric, hypnotizing and very intense album closer “Big Noize”. It requires a tolerant taste, but if you can let go of your stylistic principles you should find yourselves enjoying the album, even though “Wot We Do” sounds sinful at first.

Yes, it’s chaos. Life is chaos. Queensrÿche dedicate this album to chaos. But it’s albums like these that make this band to one of my all-time favorites. Experimental to the full and totally dedicated to the concept. The most important part of the album for the listener is to understand the concept before criticizing lyrical content. As a suitable close to the review, let me cite a few of the lyrics, which are by the way outstanding, that can be interpreted to be about the album.

“We can’t get what we’re looking for unless we break some rules.” – Get Started
“All these changes, all these re-arranging starts with me if I want more” – Around the World
“Time to look at what’s behind closed doors” – At the Edge
“When you’re backseat driving keep your hands off the wheel” – Drive
“It’s much more fun when everyone surrenders” – Wot We Do
“Time to change the view” – Get Started

Strongest tracks: “Hot Spot Junkie”, “At the Edge”, “Drive” and “Wot We Do”.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

System of a Down - Hypnotize (2005)

1. Attack
2. Dreaming
3. Kill Rock 'n Roll
4. Hypnotize
5. Stealing Society
6. Tentative
7. U-Fig
8. Holy Mountains
9. Vicinity of Obscenity
10. She's Like Heroin
11. Lonely Day
12. Soldier Side

Mezmerize Part Two – 6/10

Alternative metal giants System of a Down released two albums in the same year. First came Mezmerize, which is arguably their finest album, and second came Hypnotize… their final album before their long hiatus, which has ended a few weeks before I type this. It certainly matches the success its predecessor had, but does it match its quality?

No. Where Mezmerize sounded new, fresh and inventive, Hypnotize sounds like the band going through the very same motions, with a few exceptions of course. The good side is that the album is not really bad either. It’s actually quite ok from a certain angle. It contains the same formula of wacky, psycho metal as Mezmerize, with perhaps a less slick production. Malakian and the guys give us time to adjust with the bombastic “Attack”, which attacks you right in your face with the blastbeat intro. Its verses are very catchy and melodic, but the chorus is once again aggressive and bombastic. “Dreaming” is equally aggressive and bombastic with blastbeats and all, with a catchy hook hidden within. The middle section features an attempt at en epic bridge; something which works quite well. The shared vocal duties of Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian work remarkably well here, and on “Kill Rock ‘n Roll” as well. The latter track is comparable to the last few tracks of Mezmerize, with a very melodic and light ambience throughout. The title track “Hypnotize” is a lot more ambient and to the point than the tracks before and perfectly paints the face this album is about to adapt.

It is at this point that a few tracks start to become tediously dull and would receive the ‘filler-tag’. This tag will be awarded to: “Stealing Society”, which is a rather standard System song with nothing really memorable except for a short Malakian-rap about halfway through; “Tentative”, which actually reminds of the very first album in its intro, but quickly takes the modern System route; “U-Fig” … just another System song without anything memorable, which by the way also has verses that remind of the debut album; and “She’s Like Heroin”, with highly annoying vocals by Malakian. These songs aren’t necessarily bad, but are dull, unmemorable and forgettable. Furthermore we have System going for longer tracks with epic structures, as previously heard on songs like “Forest”, “Lost in Hollywood” or “Streamline”. This time that song is “Holy Mountains”. The track unmistakably has a killer chord progression as the main theme, but sounds a little forced throughout and never really stands out. “Vicinity of Obscenity” is one of the weirdest songs I ever heard and I wouldn’t know how to describe it. I can just say it’s wicked and features many weird and odd themes that are seemingly impossible to coexist within one song, let alone in less than three minutes. It is one of the few good tracks of the album’s second side though. All that is left now is the very commercial and somewhat tedious single “Lonely Day” and the epic album closer “Soldier Side”, with its strong lyrics.

I don’t want to dedicate more time for this album’s review. It’s pretty much System doing what System does. The result? There’s a few outstanding tracks, a couple of nice songs and a lot of forgettable tracks. I wouldn’t really recommend Hypnotize to anyone unfamiliar with the band. You’d have a better start with Toxicity or Mezmerize. If you know the band this album definitely got some gems on it.

Strongest tracks: “Attack”, “Dreaming”, “Vicinity of Obscenity” and “Soldier Side”.
Weakest tracks: “Stealing Society”, “Tentative”, “U-Fig” and “She’s Like Heroin”.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Gothminister - Gothic Electronic Anthems (2003)

1. Gothic Anthem
2. Angel
3. The Holy One
4. Pray
5. The Possession
6. Devil
7. Shadows of Evil Sins
8. Hatred
9. March of the Dead
10. Wish
11. Post Ludium
12. Angel (Club version)

The Gothminister’s Debut – 7,8/10

The first album of Gothminister finds the man still having some kind of one-man-project with a message to all Goths in the world. He boasts heavily to be proud of what you are and to face the darkness within on this first album, which is appropriately entitled Gothic Electronic Anthems.

As you might expect, the album features a strong blend between electronic music and gothic rock. Gothminister’s use of a drum computer adds more to the techno-feeling throughout the album. Especially the first few tracks feature a heavy dance-beat with a strong offbeat computerized hi-hat to begin with. Strong trance-like synths bring an even more techno feel, but are often compromised with a heavy guitar riff underneath. Alexander Brem’s deep, low, crunchy voice makes it sound like another Rammstein-clone, but this act is surely bringing some new sounds to the table. As for the gothic elements; especially in the more quiet parts choirs attend to add more ambient backing vocals and of course the lyrics are all aimed at Goths all around the world. The booklet is filled with text about being proud of what you are and not letting anyone exclude you for being different. And they are told that interest in the dark and unknown will make you stronger than avoiding the unknown, which I guess is true. The fact that Brem calls himself the Gothminister would appeal to some, but would sound very arrogant to others, so this preaching to Goths perhaps doesn’t really appeal to non-Goths like myself, but I respect his vision Happiness in Darkness. It fits the music as well and at least this is not depressive dark metal.

The album kicks off with the peculiarly titled “Gothic Anthem” which kicks some serious ass with the heavy techno-beat underneath and the simple-but-effective guitars. The barbaric voice of Brem gives the song some extra kick a clean voice wouldn’t have been able to. “Angel” and “The Holy One” continue in the same vein, both being really worthwhile and some of the album’s finest tracks. “Pray” finds Brem going all-electronic with an even harder beat, which is a little too electronic for my taste. I find it to be one of Gothminister’s weaker tracks. “The Possession” blends nicely with “Devil”; a more upbeat track with another great offbeat industrial beat. This one has a really nice riff as well, which kind of makes up for the weak chorus. “Hatred” and “March of the Dead” both carry on with the goth/industrial blend, but lean more to the gothic side of the mixture. Then there are ballads. “Shadows of Evil Sins” feature a soft guitar plucking at the background with choirs performing and a dirty, evil whisper on the foreground. Since the song doesn’t really build to anything beautiful, it sounds more like Brem telling a ghost story over a backing track. The man has written way better ballads with “Wish” and “Post Ludium”. On “Wish” we have a beautiful chorus sung by female choirs and a definitive building within the song and a nice instrumental part in the middle. “Post Ludium” features these auto-tuned vocals like in “Pray”, but this time around it blends in nicely with the epic instrumentation. That’s a satisfactory disclosure to the album of anthems.

All in all, Gothic Electronic Anthems is not a bad debut album at all. While Gothminister presents himself as a teacher and preacher, he does know how to write good music with a good blend of gothic and industrial. The man has a vision with his music and that is respectable. This album is heavily recommended to fans of the goth/industrial genre.

Strongest tracks: “Gothic Anthem”, “The Holy One” and “Post Ludium”.
Weakest tracks: “Pray” and “Shadows of Evil Sins”.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Gothminister - Happiness in Darkness (2008)

1. Dusk Till Dawn
2. Darkside
3. Your Saviour
4. Freak
5. Sideshow
6. The Allmighty
7. Beauty After Midnight
8. Emperor
9. Mammoth
10. Thriller

Gothic Electronic Metal – 8,6/10

Though this album is by no means the first Gothminister effort and therefore not at all the first album to combine trance-infused industrial with a dark gothic flavour, it is by far the best I ever heard. The band and the genre are very much underground now about ten years after their peak, but there’s still some high-quality music produced here.

The band, usually dressed up like any gothic band, with white faces and dark accents, has blended the pumping industrial with gothic on this album better than ever. There’s a great balance between danceable tracks and metal tracks, which means more diversity and that is mostly what makes or breaks an industrial record, although I must admit vocalist Bjørn Alexander Brem’s low, crunchy voice is a love-it-or-hate-it factor. Opener “Dusk Till Dawn” reintroduces the trademark Gothminister sound with trance-rhythms covered with a heavy metal guitar to make the metalheads approve it as well. The explosive sing-along chorus makes a fine and memorable opener to the band’s finest album yet. Lead single “Darkside” totally differs from that formula and sounds more like a radio-friendly but very catchy single with a stronger gothic ambience. It is however the song that got me into Gothminister and still stands tall with its amazing chorus and climax. We get back to the pumping industrial with “Your Saviour”, which plods along nicely in the shadow of “Dusk Till Dawn”, whereas “Freak” sits strongly in the shadow of “Darkside”, both sharing a similar structure and atmosphere. “Sideshow” finds good compromise between the four tracks and has really commanding verses with a chaotic and symphonic chorus and features, once again, a great climax in the bridge.

The second half of the album is a lot more experimental for Gothminister’s customs. “The Allmighty” is a resting point on the album with a small choir of female voices taking care of all the vocals, which they do very nicely. Even better is the transition to “Beauty After Midnight”, which amplifies the contrast between the nice and peaceful and the once again pumping trance-like fury. This is my favourite song of the album as it features once again a great danceable rhythm but soon turns into pure metal fury in the verses. The chorus is good, but I feel it could’ve been better as Brem doesn’t really sing as powerful here as he does on practically every other song he recorded, which is a shame. We are given an electronic ballad with “Emperor”, which starts off with a peaceful melodic theme before it goes into the hypnotic electronic beat that lays the foundation for the verses. The melodic intro is eventually used as a bridge, which is the intro to a very powerful chorus, thus making this one of the album’s highlights as well. And before we know it we have arrived at the album closer “Mammoth”, which has a much more conventional industrial vibe to it, but still carries that Gothminister sound and an even epic ambience in the chorus. It also features this powerful line in the chorus: ‘the Minister will watch over your soul’. It was a rather short album, perhaps due to lack of material, but clearly the band saw this too and recorded a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and included it on the album. This song is perfect for the band to convert it to their sound, but I wouldn’t have missed it.

In the end I am more than thrilled for having met the music of Gothminister. It is by far one of the more original and inventive industrial acts today. I highly recommend the band and their sound to anyone in for danceable metal and gothic looks.

Strongest moments: “Darkside”, “Beauty After Midnight” and “Emperor”.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

System of a Down - Mezmerize (2005)

1. Soldier Side (intro)
2. B.Y.O.B.
3. Revenga
4. Cigaro
5. Radio/Video
6. This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song
7. Violent Pornography
8. Question!
9. Sad Statue
10. Old School Hollywood
11. Lost in Hollywood

A Few Changes Here and There – 7,7/10

And here we have another album by nu-metal giants System of a Down. Will they have changed their sound now? Toxicity and Steal This Album! looked a lot alike in terms of sound and production. I’m glad to say Mezmerize shows progress in the band’s writing process. Where the first three albums were mainly focusing on head banging and primitive riffs that were heavy is hell, Mezmerize focuses on other things. Read on if you’re interested.

Let me begin with informing you that either the band collectively decided to try something new or that Daron Malakian’s arrogance has grown enormously. Serj Tankian has to share his lead vocal duties with main songwriter and guitarist Daron Malakian, which is good for a change, but Tankian remains a way better vocalist. Malakian has a very sharp voice and it doesn’t sound cool at all. He sounds wacky and like a joker. Which brings us to the next new element. There is way more emphasis on wacky songs and jokes. Of course, there wasn’t much seriousness about “Deer Dance” or “Prison Song”, but they showed the band being original and raw. It’s beginning to sound a little forced here, but since it’s System, I’ll cut them some slack. The production has been altered as well, with the band sounding really tight now. Toxicity sounded very loose, raw and primitively spontaneous. Mezmerize sounds more contemporary in terms of sound, very tight and still spontaneous, but also less heavy. It might also be noticed that Tankian no longer shouts primitively. He now is a civilized vocalist with vocal techniques and range. Actually the new sound is quite nice at times, especially with the high-quality material the disc is filled with.

True album opener is “B.Y.O.B.”; a heavy, wacky track that goes from aggressive verses to a dance-vibe in the chorus. It’s still amazing what these guys can do in a short track of three minutes. They blow every minute full of energy, literally jump from theme to theme, make sure every second is stuffed with sound and then put it on an album. And the funny thing is it doesn’t get old. Never. One thing that will be noticed is the more radio-friendly choruses on the songs like “Radio/Video”, “Revenga”, “Violent Pornography” and “Sad Statue”. While the riffs are still brutal and heavy, the melodies are increasingly sweeter and soft. Especially when sung by Malakian. Notable tracks include the two album closers. “Old School Hollywood” is surprisingly synthy, which is a fresh sound on the album, while “Lost in Hollywood” is not a Rainbow cover, but a true attempt at an epic album-closer. Maybe if Serj Tankian would have sung it, it could have been a classic.

Well, I’m done. I have nothing more to say. It’s basically System doing what System does, with the few changes I indicated. If you love the band and their sound, you will still love this record.

Strongest tracks: “Cigaro”, “This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song”, “Sad Statue” and “Old School Hollywood”.

Wintersun - Wintersun (2004)

1. Beyond the Dark Sun
2. Winter Madness
3. Sleeping Stars
4. Battle Against Time
5. Death and the Healing
6. Starchild
7. Beautiful Death
8. Sadness and Hate

The Epic Definition of Scandinavian Metal – 10/10

It’s not very often that I reward an album with a perfect score, but Wintersun’s debut album really earns it. As we’re all still waiting for over seven years for the second album to be on the way, just one glance at this record reminds us why the hell we still hope for that second album to come out. But most of all we want to know how the hell Jari Mäenpää can top this masterpiece of epic power metal.

Nothing but good words from me about this record. From the opening track “Beyond the Dark Sun” on you will be bombarded with epic chord progressions, strong melodies straight from the gut and in-your-face heaviness combined with virtuosic solos. Mr. Mäenpää sorted his songs from short to long and released them in exactly that form and surprisingly the winning formula of variation coincides. After the fast, epic introduction of “Beyond the Dark Sun” we get to know the heavy side of Mäenpää and the true nature of drummer Kai Hahto as furious blastbeats dominate the track, ironically topped with a melodic, icy ambience. Mäenpää’s screams sound very convincing and full of emotion; not something I often experience when hearing screams, growls or grunts. The great solo in the middle also deserves a little mention. From fast and melodic to heavy and aggressive to the third song of the album: “Sleeping Stars”. As the title might suggest this song tends to be an epic ballad-ish type of song. Given that Mäenpää still uses his screams might indicate this is not truly a ballad, but we also get to hear him sing here and he does it alright. Too bad his singing voice is mixed a little to the background so it doesn’t fully come to its right. With these three first tracks, we’ve seen the many-sidedness of Wintersun and the next few tracks will blend these elements to longer tracks with worthy mentions being the epic ballad “Death and the Healing”, the progressive “Starchild”, the blackened “Beautiful Death” and the beautiful album closer “Sadness and Hate”. I could write another paragraph to describe each and every one of them, but it will contain the word ‘epic’ a little too many times.

Instead, I’ll focus upon what makes this album thrive so much. The concept of a dark sun, a winter sun, is nothing new within the Scandinavian metal acts, but I have rarely seen an album so obsessed by eternal winter, by epic darkness, that it actually brings a melancholic element to the band. Within this aggressive record of despair, grief, anger and regret there’s a very strong longing for light; a desperate cry to reach the warm sun, which is a source of positive energy. I think it might very well be a feeling familiar to many inhabitants of northern Scandinavia and other countries close to the North Pole. For me, someone who doesn’t know the effect of the dark winter sun in my country, the feeling is still familiar, but not the literal phenomenon. On pictures it always is a beautiful sight to see such an image, but in reality, such a long period of darkness affects your mood. This album totally captures that mood. Its melodies and sounds are beautiful, but in reality Mäenpää and Hahto want to make us feel like they do and the lyrics are as dark as the night. I think it’s a really thrilling concept and they did a good job bringing that concept to a credible and terrific end.

In short, if you want an album that not only sounds original, but also has a thrilling concept combined with excellent music, executed by virtuosos, this album should be on your ‘to-get’-list. Today, almost five years after I discovered this album, I still listen to it and enjoy it to the full. I have different favourites every time I hear it though.

Strongest moments: “Winter Madness”, “Death and the Healing” and “Beautiful Death”.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Earth & Fire - Song of the Marching Children (1971)

1. Carnaval of the Animals
2. Ebbtide
3. Storm and Thunder
4. In the Mountains
5. Song of the Marching Children

Makes me Proud to be Dutch – 8,8/10

If I look at the music artists from The Netherlands, I’m not quite a patriot. Most of what I like to listen to comes from abroad. But there are a handful of Dutch bands or acts that really makes me proud to share their nationality. Of course, Kayak is one, but Earth & Fire certainly is too. Or at least early E&F… I’m not a fan of their post-1975 works. I know I’m a little late with discovering a masterpiece from 1971, but good quality prog never gets old, which only proves how well this record has stood the test of time.

It’s only been a year after their debut album, but you can already see changes in musical style… for the better. There’s a big emphasis on the building of the songs and there’s a strong symphonic edge to the album. Big orchestra’s and old synthesizers often take an important role in texturing the songs, but not as much as Gerard Koerts’ little organ, which leads every track to a satisfying end. It’s also notable how Van de Kleij’s drums sound very powerful and bombastic, which brings me to another powerful side of the album: its production; it’s easily one of the best productions possible in 1971. Every instrument sounds clear, powerful and authentic in the way it’s supposed to sound. And then we have Jerney Kaagman providing lead vocals to the music; she sounds quite odd, but after a few listens she really fits to the music. Her voice is technically not the best you’ll find, but she certainly has the power to bring Song of the Marching Children to a more than satisfying end.

The album opens with the cheery “Carnaval of the Animals”; it has a theme you’d hear through merry-go-round speakers on a fancy fair. It is on this song that Kaagman makes a somewhat weird first impression; a soft and subtle voice on the verses, but a hard and shrill falsetto at the chorus. It is mostly her voice why I think this song is the weakest on the album. But don’t worry, it’ll all go top notch from here. “Ebbtide” is beautifully peaceful with Chris Koerts’ vibrato guitars and the softer side of Kaagman’s voice, however, the best is yet to come. “Storm and Thunder” enters with a strong but calm organ solo by Gerard Koerts, before starting a gentle verse part. But don’t be fooled, for hell breaks loose afterwards in a powerful, bombastic part that finishes this song off in epic mode. Kaagman proves she can sing powerful in her higher regions, as long as she doesn’t go falsetto. The band showcases their instrumental magic on the magnificent “In The Mountains”, which features a brilliant shifting of lead patterns by organ and guitar. Then there is the magnum opus of the album: “Song of the Marching Children”; an eighteen-minute piece with many different faces. It starts off with a calm intro tune, but quickly turns into the symphonic bombastic verses and chorus of the second part, before going completely off the chart. With that I mean the song falls silent and begins with completely different themes. They can be forgiven for merging it into one track by adding part A to G on the track list description. The other themes are adventurous, but the song won’t reach the quality of the first few parts again. The end of the march-like snare-hits does give a possibly desired feel at the end and making it fade out slowly automatically makes you silent for a while.

The album is a true adventure and gets better with every listen. It screams masterpiece at every note. I strongly recommend this record to every fan of early progressive and/or symphonic rock. As for me, I’ll probably be off to listen to other Earth & Fire albums.

Strongest tracks: “Storm and Thunder” and “In the Mountains”.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Killing Joke - What's THIS for... (1981)

1. The Fall of Because
2. Tension
3. Unspeakable
4. Butcher
5. Follow the Leaders
6. Madness
7. Who Told You How?
8. Exit

Well… what is this for? – 7,2/10

For the real Killing Jokers! It’s the year of 1981 and there are a bunch of frustrated adolescents with a record deal and a debut album just released. They’re about to release their second LP and are confident about putting their frustration in that record. Yet, they do not want to get enormously heavy and/or turn their sophomore album into metal or hard rock. How did they do this? In a way only Killing Joke can.

Killing Joke is a very fascinating band at every stage of their development. Especially the early albums in the original lineup, including this one, share a very interesting atmosphere, mixing anger, frustration, disappointment and pure, primitive emotions with the hypnotic, entrancing rhythms of tribal drums, 80s dance-beats and hooligan-like vocals on top. They emit the all-for-one-attitude. Top that of with Geordie’s high, soaring guitar riffs and Youth’s independent bass lines and you have a very intriguing result. What I find really well done was the inclusion on this record of frustration and anger, without making the music too heavy and hard. We are taken into a trance by the monotonous, tribal drums of Big Paul Ferguson while being brainwashed by the rebellion-lyrics of Jaz Coleman, whose vocals are mixed surprisingly to the background of the music. As if he is not the main focus of the album. While I first disliked it, it actually added to the atmosphere of hypnotism. After the classic debut record this album really was a lot less accessible partly due to the vocal mix. Other reasons are probably the lack of hit singles.

But a lack of hit singles has never stopped us from liking a record before. “The Fall of Because” is threatening throughout, but never bursts into the explosions you’d expect it to. “Tension” showcases a catchy drum rhythm, very similar to Queen’s “Party” of their 1989 album The Miracle. Coincidence? Anyway, the ambience is similar to the opening track and never bursts out into that aggression you just feel there is. Especially when Coleman tells us that ‘the tension builds’. But then comes “Unspeakable”; a song lead entirely by the tribal rhythm our dearest Mr. Ferguson brings us. The riff is just furious here and the chorus also has difficulties containing the fury of the band. But then “Butcher” takes a few steps back. Instead of finishing what they started, they backfire before the anger really comes out. It’s still a threatening track though, but quite a relief after “Unspeakable”. Back to the concept we go with “Follow the Leaders”; a danceable and catchy song that certainly doesn’t have the threat of the first few tracks, but does contain the magic of the previous moments. “Madness” is one of my least favorite songs of What THIS for… and it sounds like it’s a leftover from the debut album for good reason. It peaks almost at eight minutes and is monotonous and totally unadventurous and especially throws away all the frustration built up by the previous few tracks. The meaningless instrumental “Who Told You How?” is followed by “Exit”, which closes the record at a high level, re-establishing the threat and reminding us of the Killing Joke.

This album is a fine record, but not one of Killing Joke’s finest. They are clearly frustrated and found a unique way to let us know, but the fact that there’s a constant threat, a constant tension that builds, builds and builds but never unleashes the fury, never reaches its peak is quite unsatisfying. The inclusion of a few mediocre tracks even more diminishes the quality of the listening experience. This is an album I’d only recommend to the real Killing Jokers, to the die-hard fans.

Strongest tracks: “The Fall of Because”, “Tension”, “Unspeakable” and “Follow the Leaders”.
Weakest tracks: “Madness”.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

System of a Down - Steal This Album! (2002)

1. Chic 'n Stu
2. Innervision
3. Bubbles
4. Boom!
5. Nüguns
6. A.D.D.
7. Mr. Jack
8. I-E-A-I-A-I-O
9. 36
10. Pictures
11. Highway Song
12. F**k the System
13. Ego Brain
14. Thetawaves
15. Roulette
16. Streamline

Turn in the Thieves – 7,8/10

The follow-up to System of a Down’s breakthrough record Toxicity had an odd story to accompany its unique packaging, which was to mimic a burned disc. I won’t bother you with that tale, but I can assure you those who stole this record have now sinned even worse for Steal This Album! turns out even better than its predecessor. Since it was not supported by a tour, some people believe this to be a bunch of leftovers from the Toxicity sessions. It’s partly agreeable, for this album is not very coherent, but it’s mostly very disagreeable since this record contains some of the finest System tunes you’ll ever hear.

Demos of this album once surfed on the net as Toxicity II and that still left its marks on the final album. It literally picks up where Toxicity finished. It’s equally barbaric, primitive and heavy, yet also mean, political and thought out. Even the structure of the album shows similarity. Opener “Chic ‘n Stu” is as wacky and chaotic as “Prison Song” and “Innervision”, “Bubbles” and “Boom!” show equal amount of barbaric metal as “Needles”, “Deer Dance” and “Jet Pilot”. Then “Nüguns” parallels with “X”, and so on. If you’d mix up the two records, you wouldn’t tell which song is from which album production- and sound-wise. It really looks like they were trying to get that sound they got famous with one year ago.

The main difference is the amount of tracks on this record, which is a lot and which does mean a higher amount of filler tracks. Tracks like “Mr. Jack”, “Pictures”, “Highway Song” or “Thetawaves”, but also the very short “36” just don’t add a thing to the record and become sources of irritation for your ears. That is quite a lot. Luckily the other material is very strong and original. In particular the politically aggressive “A.D.D.” is very powerful, as well as the anthem “I-E-A-I-A-I-O”. Towards the end the songs start becoming a bit mellower but also a little flash-forward to the Mezmerize/Hypnotize records is being given in tracks like “Ego Brain” or “Streamline” where they tend to focus more on song structure and melody rather than the barbaric power of “A.D.D.”. What also adds to the flash-forward is the increasing presence of Daron Malakian’s voice next to Serj Tankian’s, which blend uniquely if you can bear Malakian’s sharp voice for so long. Near the end I find the wacky “F**k the System” and the ballad “Roulette” to be the highlights.

In the end, Steal This Album! may well be System of a Down’s finest moment if you reduce the amount of tracks to twelve. I recommend, however, not to steal this album but to buy in your local store if you love System of a Down or nu-metal.

Strongest tracks: “Chic ‘n Stu”, “A.D.D.”, “I-E-A-I-A-I-O” and “Roulette”.
Weakest tracks: “Pictures”, “Highway Song” and “Mr. Jack”.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ultravox - Vienna (1980)

1. Astradyne
2. New Europeans
3. Private Lives
4. Passing Strangers
5. Sleepwalk
6. Mr. X
7. Western Promise
8. Vienna
9. All Stood Still

This Is How It’s Done – 7,7/10

Let me take you back to the very early eighties and the very beginning of the eruption of many so called new wave and post-punk bands. Though in my reviews I often referenced to these genres simply as synth-pop, there’s a lot more to them you might think at first sight. Take Ultravox, one of the most well-known eighties new wave groups with extensive use of the synthesizer as a prominent instrument. Their most successful full-length release to date is and will possibly always be Vienna.

I personally found it hard to believe, but Ultravox actually began their career as a punk band. Their first three albums had a slightly different lineup as well, with the most notable difference the vocalist. Vienna marks the debut of new guitarist/vocalist Midge Ure; a man whose vocal talents would take Ultravox up the charts. There are still traces of the punk-past to this album and then I mean the less-is-more attitude in rock songs like “New Europeans” or “Private Lives”. The entrance of Billy Currie’s synthesizer is what makes Vienna stand out as well. This is innovating because never before has the instrument been used to texture the songs this way before. It can be on the background filling up the emptiness with soft chords, but it more than often treads to the foreground to dress the song up with a catchy theme or a modest solo. Currie sounds more comfortable in doing solos on his violin or piano though. But what makes me happy the most is the combination of a raw guitar sound with these synths. Ure throws in some really raw riffs to, in turn, texture the background while Currie is on the foreground. And there’s where the strength of this record lies. On Vienna, Ultravox know how to combine the raw sound of rock with the newer, more robotic sound of the synthesizer.

Opening track “Astradyne” is the perfect example. It’s a seven-minute instrumental which perfectly gets you into the Ultravox mood. There’s interchanging catchy synthesizer themes all around and a brooding solo at the end to top it off. The guitars have not yet kicked in on this song yet, but they are bound to blow you off your chair when “New Europeans” kicks off… at least, if you play it on high volume. The riff is delightfully punchy and very catchy. The warm voice of Midge Ure invites us further into the song unto the climax and a very melodic instrumental theme completes this track. Currie’s synths really shine on the rocker “Private Lives”, whereas the guitar riff and offbeat drums in “Passing Strangers” blows you away. It’s been a pretty powerful start of the album and “Sleepwalk” doesn’t let you rest in an upbeat synth-rock track; or more an experiment to rock without guitars. Surprisingly it sounds very fresh and uplifting. On “Mr. X” I think the experiment has been taken too far. It’s a dark, synth-only track (even drums have been mimicked) that stays the same for six minutes long. This is the reason why I usually don’t listen to eighties new wave. Fortunately we have the strongest song of the record straight ahead: “Western Promise”. The violin leads us to a beautiful exotic theme, right before we crash into one of the most powerful, almost industrial, themes that are the verses. “Vienna” needs no introduction; it’s a very atmospheric pop song with a catchy chorus and a classic right after it was released. With “All Stood Still”, a track that tries to go back to the power of the first four tracks closes the record, but it’s not one of the most memorable tracks on this album.

All in all, Vienna is a pretty solid record. With only one real flaw on the album I can really recommend it. If you are really into the genre you probably have already heard this album but if you haven’t, you definitely should check it out.

Strongest tracks: “New Europeans”, “Private Lives” and “Western Promise”.
Weakest track: “Mr. X”.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

System of a Down - Toxicity (2001)

1. Prison Song
2. Needles
3. Deer Dance
4. Jet Pilot
5. X
6. Chop Suey!
7. Bounce
8. Forest
10. Science
11. Shimmy
12. Toxicity
13. Psycho
14. Aerials

Political, Wacky and Heavy – 7,6/10

System Of A Down really need no introduction, yet I will still give one. Founded in the nineties, they did not need long to convince the world they were one of the most relevant nu-metal bands from their time. The very heavy sound of the band sometimes even resembling barbaric wardances combined with the often political lyrics of frontman Serj Tankian, but melted into one insane, wacky formula by guitarist and main songwriter Daron Malakian, has laid a powerful mark upon the music business with their self-titled debut album from 1998. It was heavy as hell, made a clear political statement and was very, very original. Its follow-up, Toxicity, was, however, the main breakthrough for the band, both critically and commercially.

Yes, this was commercially successful indeed, especially with the two hits “Toxicity” and “Chop Suey!”. The big change from their debut is immediately noticeable: it’s less heavy. How else can you make hits of course? Still, this is a heavy record and even primitive at times. Take for example the main riff of “Prison Song” or “Deer Dance”; they clearly show the more-is-less attitude of the band and the production adds to that a very back-to-basic feel, especially in combination with Tankian’s barbaric shouts. But it’s all less primitive than the debut album still, mostly due to the clearer production by the famous Rick Rubin. They clearly commercialized the sound they established on the debut album, but still tried to keep the essence of that sound intact, which succeeded quite well and made the sound more accessible. Not to mention Tankian’s grunts have decreased notably. Only “Prison Song” features those grunts and they sound more like someone left the window open on a windy day. What stays the same from the debut is the wacky song structures, the chaotic variation of lots of different themes all stuck together in a two- or three-minute song.

With “Prison Song”, the band creates the perfect ambience for the album: heavy, aggressive, crazy, wacky, and of course topped with a spicy political theme. The wacky structure of this track and the merciless heaviness is the true charm of Toxicity’s strong opening phase. “Needles”, “Deer Dance”, “Jet Pilot” and “X” all plainly exist just to pound your brains out with simple, primitive riffs and mad shouts, but somewhere also with sheer genius. Middle-eastern melodies like those on “Deer Dance” or “Jet Pilot” give more credit to the band’s Armenian origin. “Chop Suey!” is righteously a hit with its extremely catchy chord progression, speedy lyrics and of course great chorus. In between the heaviness of this record so far, it’s really refreshing to hear gentler verses that actually sound very well. It’s the proof this band can do more than just make your head bang. Later on “Forest” is a relatively lengthy track with its four-minute length. Its vocal melodies are very praiseworthy as this song sounds close to being an epic. Later on we get pounded once more with “Shimmy”, the popular “Toxicity” and “Psycho”, which has a title that suits the track rather well. “Aerials” closes the album rather well with a threatening attempt at going epic.

You may have noticed I skipped a few tracks. That was not by accident. “Bounce” is a short track with nonsense lyrics that I find hard to enjoy as it doesn’t really have a head and tail to it and seems just plain noise. “ATWA” or “Science” really fail to deliver as well as they have gone by so many times and still I have not noticed a hook or a catchy fragment on those tracks. In a defined music style as the one System Of A Down has, this is essential. Every song has to matter or else the album has a sleepy moment. The biggest downside of this, rather good nu-metal record is not the lack of good tracks. No, quite the contrary. The main problem is the lack of variation and the feeling the follow-up to this album should be really special and new again. Steal This Album! is a really fine album, but doesn’t add much new to the sound established on Toxicity and therefore they will always belong together.

In short, Toxicity is quite a good album. Though lack of variety and repetitive moments may occur, there are not much weak tracks and especially in the first half it’s extremely useful for wrecking someone’s mind. This album is absolutely essential to fans of the nu-metal genre.

Strongest tracks: “Prison Song”, “Deer Dance”, “Chop Suey!” and “Toxicity”.
Weakest tracks: “Bounce”, “ATWA” and “Science”.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Static-X - Machine (2001)

1. Bien Venidos
2. Get to the Gone
3. Permanence
4. Black and White
5. This is Not
6. Otsego Undead
7. Cold
8. Structural Defect
9. ...in a Bag
10. Burn to Burn
11. Machine
12. A Dios Alma Perdida

Machine Metal – 7,3/10

As industrial metal gained popularity in the late 90s, most bands of the new industrial released their first album in that decade and so made a footprint. The follow-ups to those records, however, are almost notably worse. Why? Mostly the bands seemed to be one-trick ponies or they did try something new but failed horribly. Machine is definitely no competition for Static-X’s debut record Wisconsin Death Trip, which is a very powerful milestone in the industrial metal genre. Yet Static-X was no one-trick pony and Machine doesn’t completely fail. Then what does the album do?

They basically saw the path they walked on with Wisconsin Death Trip and walked a lot further down the same road. Machine clearly builds on the grounds made by the debut album, but yet takes it to newer areas as well. The album’s title perhaps best describes what it contains. The band sounds way tighter and the electro samples have become more dominant. The riffs are all very… angular… very choppy and above all aggressively heavy. At times it sounds more like a machine making music in a factory than in a band, which at itself is quite a nice concept and its fairly well executed as well. After the goofy intro “Bien Venidos” the extremely heavy “Get to the Gone” literally kicks in with machine-like riffs and the equally machine-like monotone voice of Wayne Static, which only adds to the concept and also to the listening experience. Tracks like “This Is Not”, “Black and White”, “Structural Defect” or the danceable title track really expand upon the machine concept and are downright Static-X classics. “Permanence” features hard industrial at its best.

While the entire record basically consists of killer industrial tunes and rhythms there is an overall vibe to the album that doesn’t make me want to rate this higher. The concept is a machine and they mimic machinery very well and combine it with music perfectly, but a machine-vibe to your album makes it sound a little artificial. This is great music to kick ass to on some action video game or something, but to regularly listen to this adrenaline-filled hyper-angular type of industrial… it mostly gives me headaches… I also get headaches in factories when the machines make huge noises.

In short, as a sophomore studio album, Machine is not a very disappointing record. It does not match the brilliance of the first album by far, but we’re not given a bad album at all. I highly recommend this to fans of the industrial genre and fans of Static-X in general.

Strongest tracks: “Black and White”, “This Is Not”, “Structural Defect” and “Machine”.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Killing Joke - Killing Joke (2003)

1. The Death and Resurrection Show
2. Total Invasion
3. Asteroid
4. Implant
5. Blood On Your Hands
6. Loose Cannon
7. You'll Never Get To Me
8. Seeing Red
9. Dark Forces
10. The House That Pain Built

Manic Maniacs Maniacally Making Memorable Music – 8.5/10

Alright, all jokes aside, prepare for Killing Joke’s ruthless comeback after a short time of absence. After Democracy, which I see as one of their weaker efforts, the band disappeared into the clouds again only to emerge fresher, more powerful and above all heavier than ever before. That’s right. Killing Joke are taking their trademark danceable vibes more into the savage world of metal than ever before on their self-titled eleventh full-length. Most bands that emerged in the early eighties are not really adding anything memorable to their often impressive catalogue, but Killing Joke never stops writing new classics.

And so we have another terrific album by industrial rock pioneers Killing Joke. Do they ever stop? Not if it’s up to them. Coleman, Geordie and both Youth ánd Raven, which is odd since they’re both bassists, have reunited only to show that Killing Joke is still as relevant in 2003 as they were back in 1980 when they released their self-titled debut, which still holds the most classics. With Coleman slowly turning into a monster by increasingly using his bellowing voice, this album is very aggressive. They hired Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl to play drums on this record, which sounds very good. The combination of Killing Joke with Dave Grohl turns out to be aggressive with very punctual rhythms without losing that dance-vibe the band always had. Perhaps this is also the most industrial album they’ve recording, after 1994’s Pandemonium of course.

So then as “The Death and Resurrection Show” kicks in it sounds like an occult ritual. A threatening monotone voice takes you into a trance with the punctual vibes of the guitars on the background. Quickly enough the drums join in and Coleman turns into a monster, giving the song a bit of ‘summon-the-beast’ ambience. One song you can’t evade is the in-your-face “Asteroid”, starting of quite chaotically before an aggressive load of choppy, punctual riffs and rhythms kicks in. With “Implant” we once more have a similar riff and rhythm and the trick is getting old here. When the chorus mainly features Coleman bellowing without the music underneath the track really can annoy me. “Blood On Your Hands” is a totally different kind of song and is mainly driven by the anger about the way of the world in 2003, which is exactly the entire feel of the song and provides it with a lot of energy. One of my personal favourites would be the single “Loose Cannon”; it’s very industrial, very groovy and has a slow but certain headbanging-vibe to it. This track really stands for ‘simplicity is the key’. There’s a ballad in “You’ll Never Get To Me”, but it doesn’t stop the band from making it rough. It’s slightly more melodic and gentler than the other tracks and at times even tends to be epic, but is not at all a black sheep on this album, for it’s equally heavy and anger-fuelled. “Seeing Red” also sounds like a single and is similar to, but notably less than, “Blood On Your Hands” as it has the same upbeat rhythm with aggressive tone. The album does end on a high note with the, yes, epic “The House That Pain Built”. It so powerfully concludes Killing Joke’s plea of anger you’d instantly want to put the album on repeat again.

You might have noticed that I ‘accidentally’ forgot to mention two tracks. Don’t get me all that wrong, they fit well within the concept of this record and there is some very nice riffage on “Total Invasion” as well as a great dark atmosphere in “Dark Forces”, due to the low orchestral themes of the intro. But they both contain a new experiment by vocalist Jaz Coleman: the whisper-grunt, as I like to call it. He never truly grunts, but likes to bellow monstrously every now and then… now imagine that in a whisper. I absolutely hate it and I’m glad he didn’t do it more often.

In short, Killing Joke for a change decided to make another great album with again a very distinct sound and its fair share of classics. It’s not sure to please Killing Joke fans of the early hours, but those that loved their 90s work should definitely dig this. Highly recommended.

Strongest tracks: “The Death and Resurrection Show”, “Loose Cannon” and “The House That Pain Built”.
Weakest tracks: “Total Invasion” and “Implant”.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Steven Seagal - Songs from the Crystal Cave (2004)

1. Girl It's Alright
2. Don't You Cry
3. Music
4. Better Man
5. Route 23
6. My God
7. Lollipop
8. Not for Sale
9. Dance
10. Jealousy
11. War
12. Strut
13. Goree
14. The Light

Spiritual Steven goes music…?! – 6,5/10

Yes, you are right. This is an album by the infamous martial arts fighter and actor Steven Seagal. This guy can fight like no other, he can produce movies like farts in terms of quantity, originality and quality, and now he’s into music too?? Mostly, actors that go music I hear and after five minutes I shake my head and turn it off due to a big lack of catchiness or originality. You’d be very surprised, but Steven Seagal’s debut album Songs From The Crystal Cave is somewhat different from albums by… say Bruce Willis or Jennifer Love Hewitt. I feel this album should be taken seriously.

What?! Did he say Seagal must be taken seriously?! Yes, for he is not immortal on this album and most importantly he does not practice the martial arts here. But do not get me wrong. I am extremely generous with this rather high rating. This is nowhere near a classic album, nor has it any potential to be and as for Seagal, it’s nice that he can show us some of his hobbies outside of acting, but we could live without it. That being said, what does our Under Siege-star do? Steven likes playing guitar and though it seriously looks very clumsy on stage (thumb-plectrum and holding his guitar with pink and ring finger), he clearly knows his instrument and provides solid backing for melodies. He also goes lead guitar at times, which he does well, but it’s nothing really spine-shivering. But most importantly, the man sings on this record. How does his voice sound? Ever seen his movies? He talks with a husky voice, almost a whisper. That’s exactly the way he sings, but for the music he likes to make, his voice actually fits very well. Seagal jumps from style to style on this album, most notably country, blues, soul and reggae. That makes this album a bit of a mash-up and it’s hard to find cohesion. Not to mention he only takes the clichés of each musical style, which is actually plain boring, but if you’re not a regular listener of the genres, like me, they might not be all that bad.

Seagal opens the album a little country-ish and could be mistaken for a singer-songwriter on the catchy, radio friendly “Girl It’s Alright” and “Don’t You Cry”. The former most notably features a gospel-esque backing choir, while the latter was the lead single of this album and it’s not too hard to know why. The arrangements sound very acoustic and intimate, with Seagal’s voice clearly on the foreground. With “Music” he shifts the direction a little more to soul or reggae with a bluesy and gospel-esque ambience. Say what you want but Seagal’s got some soul in his voice and the backing choir really adds to his voice as a counterpart. Highlight of this track would be the break in the middle with a Jamaican reggae vocalist called Tony Rebel, who does a little rap, before the song goes back to the chorus, after a little guitar solo by Steven. “Better Man” goes a little back to what the first two tracks stood for, but this time it’s less interesting, though still a solid track. “Route 23” is the first real low. Steven Seagal goes total blues here, but it can’t possibly be more cliché. The overload of guitar leads here seriously gets annoying, not to mention Seagal’s voice doesn’t match the song. After that track the music style changes to some uplifting world music or reggae. “My God” is a real relief after the boring quiet track before. This song is really uplifting and its lyrics are remarkable, to say the least.

Now, the second half of the album isn’t half as good as the first. Not to mention the lyrics quality is going down fast, most notably in “Jealousy” or “War”. Talk about cliché. Now, that is not to say all is awful after “My God”. Seagal performs the traditional “Lollipop” with Jamaican reggae vocalist Lieutenant Stitchie and it has this so-bad-it’s-good touch to it. With “Not for Sale”, we have really one of the stronger songs from the crystal cave. It starts with these (cliché) eastern percussions but has a really nice groove to it and there’s one of Seagal’s strengths again. The chorus, and especially the guitar-driven pre-chorus, is definitely one of the strongest of this album. With “Dance”, the bad side of the album really kicks off, but whether it’s bad or not really depends on your mood. “Dance”, “Jealousy” and “War”, all suffer from clichés, both musically and lyrically, but don’t really harm anyone, unless you’re in a bad mood and can’t find the skip-button. The latter two feature more Jamaican guest artists, respectively Lady Saw and Lieutenant Stitchie again. Lady Saw also features on the second single “Strut”, which seems to be a reggae-hip-hop hybrid. This is one song that brings me headaches. Seagal really sound poor next to the mighty voice of Lady Saw. Then the album ends more like it started with the very poor “Goree” and the very strong “The Light”. Seriously, if he’d just stick to that genre this album could have become very known.

In short, yeah I’m very generous when I give this album a 6,5. Yet I think going lower wouldn’t do justice to this album. It’s really not that bad as a whole, if you can overcome the lack of cohesion, of professional musicianship and original ideas. This is just a feel-good record, not made to be groundbreaking. It’s just a man’s hobby and at least it sounds like he’s having a lot of fun.

Strongest moments: “Don’t You Cry”, “Not for Sale” and “The Light”.
Weakest tracks: “Route 23”, “War” and “Strut”.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Killing Joke - Pandemonium (1994)

1. Pandemonium
2. Exorcism
3. Millenium
4. Communion
5. Black Moon
6. Labyrinth
7. Jana
8. Whiteout
9. Pleasures of the Flesh
10. Mathematics of Chaos

Long Live Industrial – 9/10

Killing Joke is one of those bands that never let you completely down. Okay, perhaps some considered the 1988 album Outside the Gate as a letdown, but all the others are never total disasters. Still, they manage to release totally stunning albums from time to time and Pandemonium is definitely one of those. With 1990’s Extremities album, the band wanted to return to form and show the fans they were back to making anger-filled rock again. Its success gave them more room to engage new experiments.

The band has always been a major influence to industrial rock and metal, mostly because they were making danceable rock in the 80s long before the genre came to exist. By the time of this album, bands like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Godflesh had grown out to be the big industrial rock acts, but Killing Joke shows with Pandemonium that they are absolute masters of the genre they helped arise. This album shows clear signs of adapted 90s dance influences, which might make it sound a little outdated, but if that doesn’t bother you it makes you move. Within the danceable riffs and tunes lie the anger, frustration and dark fantasies we know so well from previous albums. To this date, Pandemonium stands as one of the strongest Killing Joke full-lengths and certainly as one of the most classic ones. It also marks the first return of original bassist Youth to the band since he left in 1982 and the album features multiple drummers after the departure of Martin Atkins in 1991. The record features middle-eastern influences as well, spread throughout the record, but most notably found in the title track’s synthesizer intro.

As soon as the drums and lead guitars kick in at the opening and title track and the rhythm section slowly builds up you know you can’t escape. It cools off a little in the short verses, but the chorus only adds to the groovy madness, which goes on for about six minutes, which might seem to long since the song doesn’t change, but this is all about ambience. Same goes for the very aggressive “Exorcism”, which peaks at seven-and-a-half minutes. This is a very strong way to kick off the record. With the heavy “Millenium” the band got themselves a single. It’s basically a very heavy, dragging track, leaning a lot to metal, with a catchy chorus… if you like Jaz Coleman’s bellowing voice. This is by the way the first Killing Joke record where he regularly uses that bellowing voice of his instead of a clean voice. “Communion” drags along nicely with the eastern influences clearly audible here. Then there’s “Black Moon” to raise the tempo a little. It really sounds like a song from the classic Killing Joke from the early 80s. You’ll be confused by the chaotic synthesizer theme of “Labyrinth”, which makes you feel like you’re in a maze and you can’t get out. It even tends to go as far as being annoying. You’re glad you’re out of that maze when the song is over… but the album quickly recovers itself with the ballad “Jana”, about a girl that’s been tested positive on AIDS. You can hear the despair in Coleman’s vocals.

More towards the end of the album things are getting more and more serious. On “Whiteout” we are being tempted to dance with a serious beat and a delightful guitar riff, but as we dance you’ll see how dark this really is when you read the lyrics. “Pleasures of the Flesh” is one of the more passionate mid-tempo tracks with its very powerful chorus. If you think nine of the ten tracks is about the best it can be, you should hear the tenth track, for it takes the whole record to a new level. “Mathematics of Chaos” extends what we’ve heard on “Whiteout” to an epic level. Prepare for another delicious guitar riff accompanied by true dance beats. The chorus is downright epic. There’s absolutely no better way to close this album.

Without a doubt, Pandemonium is one of Killing Joke’s strongest releases to date and that says something, especially because the band very rarely releases weak albums. I highly recommend this album to fans of industrial rock and to fans of Killing Joke. This album is definitely a must-know.

Strongest tracks: “Pandemonium”, “Exorcism”, “Whiteout” and “Mathematics of Chaos”.

Killing Joke - Outside the Gate (1988)

1. America
2. My Love of This Land
3. Stay One Jump Ahead
4. Unto the Ends of This Earth
5. The Calling
6. Obsession
7. Tiahuanaco
8. Outside the Gate

Killing Joke’s Black Sheep – 7,8/10

Every band intending to sound different with each new record will have an album almost officially declared as ‘the band’s worst’. In a time where a lot of rock bands included more synthesizers to smooth productions to their music, Killing Joke, or at least Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker, become creative with this synth-full sound they developed on 1986’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns. Instead of replicating “Love Like Blood” a couple of times again, they took a radical step into experiment.

It is often said this should have been a Coleman/Walker collaboration and not a Killing Joke record, which I agree with most dearly. This simply does not sound like Killing Joke at all, except for Coleman’s ever-threatening voice. Here, you won’t experience the fury of the wardance, the call for help in desperate situations or the feeling that something is not right. That is not to say they delivered a bad record here, but it’s just a black sheep in the Killing Joke family. Coleman and Walker took a conscious step to experiment with different, less obvious song structures, more focus on melody and odd time signatures. This album heavily leans towards progressive rock. That said, I don’t think Coleman’s voice has ever sounded as beautiful as on here, where he actually sings melodies. Drowning these ideas in a pool of synthesizers and 80s slick production and there you have Outside the Gate. Though it will never be one of my favorite Killing Joke records, it’s certainly not one to be forgotten. Sadly, the band is not proud of this record. It was the time original drummer Big Paul Ferguson was kicked out of the band and bassist Paul Raven (R.I.P.) asked to remove him from the credits.

The album begins with two singles that flopped. “America” has a catchy synth-theme and has a driving pace throughout. A good candidate for a single it is for sure; it is catchy, short and probably the most straightforward track on this album. “My Love of This Land” then shows a continuation of the sweeter side of Brighter Than a Thousand Suns and turns out to be a nice gentle track. Then the album becomes more inaccessible, starting off with “Stay One Jump Ahead”; a really funky track with slapping bass underneath all the time and with Coleman sounding like Freddie Mercury on his solo record. It’s certainly one of the more kick-ass tracks. “Unto the Ends of the Earth” really steps into the prog direction with its weird song structure and rhythm changes. It’s quite atmospheric, but is possibly the least song on the record, though far from a bad track. Mysteriously “The Calling” sneaks into your ear and continues in the same vein as the previous track, but leaves a more spontaneous impression. “Obsession” is as an uplifting track, but not as catchy as “America”. It’s rather prog-esque and has a powerful chorus. The last two songs are probably the best. “Tiahuanaco” is one that comes to your attention immediately with its catchy melody and its bombastic nature. But still, the title track is the most bombastic track on the album. It lasts over eight minutes and its eight minutes of pure ear candy. It starts off gently with water sounds and when the music kicks in the verses create a mysterious ambience until suddenly the mighty chorus kicks in. The bombastic, instrumental theme easily takes you into hypnosis and if you weren’t attracted by the other tracks, this theme will make you want to give the album another chance. The piece closes with a beautiful classical guitar-piano piece.

Yes, I think Killing Joke fans who dislike this record should give it another chance. If you don’t like progressive rock, there’s a good chance you will never get the feel of this record, but I hope fans of prog will once find this album and give it the credits it deserves.

Strongest moments: “My Love of This Land”, “Tiahuanaco” and “Outside the Gate”.
Weakest moments: “Unto the Ends of This Earth” and “The Calling”.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

White Lies - Ritual (2011)

1. Is Love
2. Strangers
3. Bigger Than Us
4. Peace & Quiet
5. Streetlights
6. Holy Ghost
7. Turn The Bells
8. The Power & The Glory
9. Bad Love
10. Come Down

Even Music is Plagued by its Past – 7/10

The White Lies are your best example of a today’s band with a yesterday’s sound. Having released merely two albums, To Lose My Life from 2009 and this one, it’s safe to say the 80s synth-pop is on full comeback now. Ultravox got back together in 2010, Duran Duran is back in the picture with All You Need Is Now, Keane has dropped signs of 80s synth-pop on their Night Train EP and of course the White Lies have been given a record deal. There’s nothing wrong with a little nostalgia, is there?

“Not at all”, you’d say when you hear the White Lies. On their debut album To Lose My Life they showed a good combination of today’s Britpop mixed with the 80s synth-pop style, which was to large success. Heavy guitars, dominant synths, explosive choruses and a typical 80s pop-vocalist. To big fans of To Lose My Life, Ritual ought not to be a disappointment, although some changes have occurred since 2009. Most notable are the even more dominant synthesizers. A lot of these songs are downright Ultravox songs in terms of sound. You could wonder if you are listening to a new album by a relatively new band or to Rage In Eden. Nope, this is definitely a new band, says the front cover. The guitars have also been mixed a lot more to the background, letting the synthesizers gaining the upper hand on rhythmic and melodic ground. The vocals by McVeigh are still as dreamy and typical as before and also the choruses are still as explosive as ever. But, this album has one problem… it is a lot less catchy.

Yes, you need to listen at least a couple of times to each song to ‘get’ it. It’s a lot less straightforward than To Lose My Life, which opened massively with “Death”. Ritual’s opening track “Is Love” doesn’t brag strength or fire power at all, but rather takes it the ambient way. Actually, I would not say it’s a good way to open the album. It’s a real fine track, but does not set a mood at all. The bridge of this song is really annoying, courtesy of McVeigh. With “Strangers” the White Lies perfectly introduce their newer sound by using a chorus of the type that featured a lot on the debut record, but infusing it with the Ritual sound. The result is quite nice, though arguably outdated. The same goes for lead single “Bigger Than Us” with its grand chorus. “Peace & Quiet” takes things into the new direction. Computerized drums open the song and the sound becomes more subtle and relies on the cold atmosphere of the synthesizers. This is followed with the equally cold “Streetlights”, which is notably less notable than the previous track. “Holy Ghost” and “Bad Love” are two highlights on this cold album, each standing out for, respectively, their danceable rhythm and nostalgic ambience. “Turn the Bells” and “The Power & The Glory” are two nice examples of ‘how to create your atmosphere with synthesizers’. Perhaps it’s a bit lame to constantly mention the synths, but at times when listening, that’s all you really hear. “Come Down” ends the record very gently and ambient, but not very strong. It seems the bad side of this album is the weak start and the weak end.

In short, I think this album should not be neglected by the fans of To Lose My Life. The album is weaker at the debut’s strongest point, but this shows other strong sides of the band, which makes it worth listening to, though I must warn you, don’t expect anything highly original. Most of it you could have heard in the 80s a thousand times or so. Still, I recommend this to fans of synth-pop and to pop/rock fans in general. It’s worth a few listens at least.

Strongest moments: “Holy Ghost”, “Bad Love” and “Strangers”.
Weakest moments: “Streetlights” and “Come Down”.