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”.