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 The result is quite nice, though arguably outdated.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”.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Killing Joke - Absolute Dissent (2010)

1. Absolute Dissent
2. The Great Cull
3. Fresh Fever from the Skies
4. In Excelsis
5. European Super State
6. This World Hell
7. Endgame
8. The Raven King
9. Honour the Fire
10. Depthcharge
11. Here Comes the Singularity
12. Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove

Killing Joke’s True Comeback – 9,5/10

Oh how a feast it always is when an ‘old’ band reunites in its original line-up again. It’s often even most successful. See the return of Dickinson to Iron Maiden, the return of Halford to Judas Priest, the reunions of Black Sabbath, Kiss and many more acts. Killing Joke has never been truly gone as they continued making high quality records even on different line-ups. Nevertheless, after the somewhat disappointing Hosannas from the Basement of Hell from 2006, you’d like to think the reunion is the best that could’ve happened to the band.

The last record Coleman, Geordie, Youth and Ferguson played together was 1982’s Revelations. Youth’s last appearance was on the heavy self-titled release from 2003, while Ferguson was last heard on 1986’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns. Killing Joke has always been known for that punch and drive in their songs that’s sometimes very danceable, but at other times very raw, mean and relentless. They sound like an odd combination of post-punk, new wave, metal and dance music. While the previous records focused a lot more on industrial metal, Absolute Dissent proves the joke is still as deadly as ever. The trademark sound from the eighties has returned, combined with the harder sound and better production of 1990’s Extremities and with the rawer and monster-like voice of the aged Jaz Coleman. This highly unique combination of the said genres still works and still showcases much more power than the hardest of metal. Killing Joke have been an influence to numerous of bands, like Nirvana, Ministry, Lamb of God, Nine Inch Nails and to industrial rock in general. Still, none of the industrial/alternative acts knows how to bring the music as persuasive as the original Killing Joke.

Absolute Dissent is a highly varied album. It opens with a clash of melodic, heavy new wave that truly shows signs of the classic Killing Joke sound, while “European Super State” is a lot more dance-influenced with the catchy beat reminding of the Night Time record from 1985. As a counterpart to that eighties sound there are some heavy-as-hell metal songs like “This World Hell” or one of my favourites “Depthcharge”. The monstrous voice of Coleman plays a great part in these heavy tracks. Then there’s a catchy anthem called “In Excelsis” with its somewhat hypnotizing vocal melody. It’s a true sing-along song. A track like “Fresh Fever from the Skies” sounds like a clash between the eighties Joke-sound and the 2003 self-titled album: heavy industrial rhythms with the new wave-esque keyboards on the background. This band’s reunion was actually caused by a not so great event. Long time bass player Paul Raven died in 2007 and on their funeral they met and decided to reunite. The result of that event is audible in the epic “The Raven King”. Never has a tribute to someone’s principles been such an emotional song. Those soft of heart, including myself, will shed a tear or two when hearing the powerful vocals of Coleman, sung from his heart, about everything that Paul Raven stood for. The songs not mentioned would have formed a decent album, but this song takes it all to another level. Album closer “Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove” holds a powerful ambience and ends the record on the highest level possible.

In short, Absolute Dissent is a Killing Joke fan’s wet dream. The original line-up and the best of every sound they ever had are featured here. There not one weak song to be found. Personally, this is the best Killing Joke album I’ve heard. Therefore I highly recommend this to each and every fan of Killing Joke, industrial music, new wave, post-punk and good music in general. This is your must-have album. One of the best full-lengths from 2010.

Strongest tracks: “European Super State”, “Depthcharge”, “Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove” and “The Raven King”.

Maximum the Hormone - Buiikikaesu (2007)

1. Buiikikaesu
2. Zetsubou Billy
3. Kuso Breakin Nou Breakin Lily
4. Louisiana Bob
5. Policeman Benz
6. Black Yen Power G-man Spy
7. Akagi
8. Kyoukatsu
9. Bikini Sports Punchin
10. What's Up People!
11. Chu Chu Lovely Muni Muni Mura Mura Purin Purin Boron Nururu Rero Rero
12. Shimi
13. Koi No Mega Lover

ADHD Japanese Band on Crack – 8/10

Sometimes we meet bands or artists that produce music we deem classics. These are mostly very serious artists that make their work sound very thought out and brilliantly composed. Well… Maximum the Hormone sure isn't anything like that. In case the front cover didn’t already tell you, this is freak rock at its freakiest and at its most Japanese. In their spontaneous enthusiasm, Maximum the Hormone cover more musical styles and genres one this single album than most bands do in their entire career.

The sheer image this band has adopted is one that makes anyone smile: a big friendly guitarist, a psycho metal-rapper frontman, a bass player with a strange haircut and a female drummer with dyed hair. They each represent one element of the band’s sound. The friendly guitarist Ryo Kawakita stands for the friendly sound they adopt when they go punk rock all the way; the psycho rapper Daisuke Tsuda comes in when they’re up for some serious ass kicking metal; the bass player Futoshi Uehara shows they go know what they’re at when you hear him slapping in a metal song and the female drummer Nao Kawakita represents the softer side with her voice. On drums on the other hand, she is as crazy as the others. The band flies from one style to the other and adopts many faces without losing their own face. Musically they have a real chemistry as they easily know how to perform these weird pieces live on stage in the same insane atmosphere. Technically, they all know what they’re doing. Combine both and Maximum the Hormone becomes one of the better bands from Japan you’ve heard.

With “Buiikikaesu” we are immediately exposed to the band’s inventive sound. Heavy guitars, the weird rap-grunts and a really funky bass underneath. If you thought that was it, they go towards a catchy punk rock in the chorus. We get to hear the Ryo’s more friendly voice on “Zetsubou Billy”, which is more or less part of the soundtrack to the famous Death Note anime. Nao’s voice on “Kuso Breakin’ Nou Breakin’ Lily” instantly turns the song into a cute children’s anthem and the catchy punk rock once again takes over in the chorus. After that “Louisiana Bob” shows the real metal side of the band with the harsh vocals of Daisuke Tsuda spicing up the song. The chorus once again takes the song to a happy end with punk rock influences. Basically the album further consists of these metal/punk hybrid songs, executed in a crowded and energetic way. The exotic sound of the Japanese language helps providing the uniqueness in the songs. Further highlights include the heavy-as-hell “What’s Up People!”, another song from the Death Note soundtrack, the childish-sounding “Chu Chu Lovely […]”, which just brings a smile to anyone’s face, and my personal favourite “Koi No Mega Lover”, which starts of with a punk riff, until a dance-theme takes over in the chorus and then goes heavy metal. The quick pronunciation of the Japanese language adds a lot to the metal part.

While basically every song is worth listening on this album, as a record it becomes a little tedious on “Kyoukatsu”, “Akagi” and “Bikini Sports Punching”. Every album has its weaker tracks and these songs just lack the inventiveness and intensity the other tracks have so much. What more can be said about an album that’s basically a great album? I’d recommend this to each and every fan of experimental music genres and J-rock in general. Personally, I would love to hear more of this unique band.

Strongest tracks: “Buiikikaesu”, “Louisiana Bob”, “What’s Up People” and “Koi No Mega Lover”.
Weakest tracks: “Akagi”, “Kyoukatsu” and “Bikini Sports Punchin’”.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! And of course welcome to 2011.

What will happen on this blog this year? As you might have noticed the amount of reviews coming in has dramatically decreased since we finished the Kayak/Queen months. With an average of 3 reviews per month since, that's a difference of about 15 reviews. I hope to increase the amount of reviews again. I won't be getting to 18 reviews per month anymore, but more than 3 must be possible, don't you agree?

The hardest part of maintaining such a review blog is often "what album must I review now?" In the beginning of the blog I received a very few requests on which full-lengths I should consider writing a review for. These were the sole Amon Amarth review I did and the Perfect Symmetry by Keane review. Therefor I would like more readers to request a review by simply e-mailing me through this blogspot site. If the album is way out of my taste I would reject it, but if it is not then I will probably take the request. I would encourage all you readers not to hesitate to request reviews.

That being said, enjoy the new year 2011 and hopefully you'll all be reading this blog same time next year.