CD REVIEW: Storm Corrosion

Porcupine Tree and Opeth are both bands with distinctive sounds – Pink Floydian prog rock on one side, and sprawling progressive death metal on the other. So you could be forgiven for expecting a collaboration between each band’s masterminds (Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt) to be a progressive death metal epic full of odd time signatures, crushing riffs, growled vocals and ambient guitar solos. But for hints as to what you can expect from Storm Corrosion, you need to look into each artist’s most recent works. Wilson’s Grace For Drowning leans more towards lush soundscapes and psychedelic ambience, while Opeth’s Heritage could have come straight out of the seventies, with its vintage progressive rock (rather than progressive metal) elements that share more in common with King Crimson and Yes than Dream Theater and Symphony X.

And it’s here, in the middle of these two releases, that we find Storm Corrosion. The album’s six tracks – the term ‘song’ doesn’t quite cover it in this case – typically end up in a very different place to where they start, with structures that seem dictated by the previous note rather than any adherence to accepted song structures. And that’s a big reason why it’s such an engaging experience.

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REVIEW: Van Halen – A Different Kind Of Truth

Fourteen years since their last full album of original material and 28 since their last album with David Lee Roth, Van Halen finally, triumphantly returns with A Different Kind Of Truth. Sure, Michael Anthony is no longer there, sure Dave’s voice sounds a little more weathered than it did during his original run, and EVH’s guitar tone is fizzier and more distorted than it ever was in the early 80s, but hey, you can’t have everything exactly as it was three decades ago.

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CD REVIEW: Mollo-Martin – The Third Cage

Tony Martin has always been a hell of a singer. He has to be: in Black Sabbath he needed to compete with the legacies of predecessors Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan, in both sound and charisma. And he nailed it. Albums like Headless Cross, Tyr and Cross Purposes are crammed full of incredible performances and thoughtful lyrics. Martin has teamed with Dario Mollo a few times before, but with The Third Cage the duo really get it right.

This is that rare album that freely moves from melodic hard rock to dark heavy metal and back with effortless ease, with witty lyrics, engaging performances, strong vocal melodies, and some blindingly cool guitar work. The material veers from darkly majestic (“Still In Love With You,” “Oh My Soul”) to driving metal (“Cirque De Freak”) to upbeat hard rock (“One Of The Few”) and all points in between. Lead track “Wicked World” is a fine kickoff which gives you a taste of the brilliant overall sound of the album from a production perspective, but as a straightforward energetic rocker it tends to get swallowed up by the deeper material that follows it. The video is below and it’s a heck of a song, but there’s even better throughout the album. Martin has rarely sounded better than this vocally, and Mollo plays like a man possessed, with chunky rhythm work and firey lead work. He combines bluesy phrasing and a traditional European metal approach with flashes of modern flair as well.

It’s easy to throw around claims like “this is one of the best hard rock albums of the last few years,” but that’s pretty much what you have here. All of the elements fall right into place, with Mollo and Martin delivering a close to perfect album. Whether it catches on is anybody’s guess, but it deserves all the praise I can heap upon it and more. Check it out.

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MUSIC REVIEW: Megadeth – Th1rt3en

I loved Megadeth’s previous album, Endgame. Freaking loved it. It was extremely aggressive, angry, passionate, smartass, dark, brooding and bloody – y’know, a really good thrash album. But these same qualities made it a pretty intense listen, and I find I don’t return to it as often as I do other albums of similar impact. It just bums me out too much. Megadeth running on pure dark energy is a splendid beast to behold, but I’m firmly of the belief that you need a little light to go with the shade. Endgame is so dark that I need a bit of a break in between listens otherwise it starts to get kinda overwhelming.

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CD REVIEW: Joe Matera – Slave To The Fingers

The tricky thing about making instrumental music is this: do you make it ultra technical for the musician crowd, or do you make it more accessible for the average punter? Every once in a while someone finds the perfect balance – Satch had it on Surfing With The Alien – and that’s what I dig about Joe Matera’s EP, Slave To The Fingers. Joe has captured that elusive middle ground where melody and musician-impressing meet.

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CD REVIEW: Atomkraft – Cold Sweat (EP)

British heavy/speed metal pioneers Atomkraft were formed by Tony Dolan (Venom) in 1979. Part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, they make a welcome return with the Cold Sweat EP, which will be available in two formats: a 7″ EP limited to 200 copies only in colored vinyl and insert, and a CD limited to 1000 copies with two bonus tracks. The EP’s centrepiece is a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat” with I Heart Guitar’s good buddy Joe Matera contributing a ripping lead.

Oh and did i mention it features the most brutal cover art ever? Check it out.

Scared yet? You should be! The guitar tones are raw, dirty and unmistakably metallic with a sort of homespun vibe that works really well with the material and is in keeping with AtomKraft’s NWOBHM roots. In fact, the “Cold Sweat” cover almost has a Motorhead-meets-Rammstein vibe, with its Lemmy-esque vocals and fuzzy, fizzy rhythm guitars. Matera’s solo packs in some cool pentatonic legato licks and some tastefully-applied tapping, by the way – check it out.

Meanwhile “Dead Again” is classic speed metal, blisteringly fast and aggressive. “The Darkening” kicks off with the sound of angry dogs giving way to an angry riff and the sounds of an even angrier mob. Some almost Slayer-esque speed metal (and some very cool ‘angry bee’ guitar work) follow as the song twists and turns through evil forests of doom and other awesome metal stuff. Finally, “Gripped” opens with delicate Iommi-esque acoustic guitars before rocket fire and ominous industrial-edged riffing take over.

I love that bands like Atomkraft are still around. The Big Four of Thrash regularly pay tribute to NWOBHM these days, but live covers of “Am I Evil?” aren’t enough. We need the real deal to keep the sound alive. Hail Atomkraft!

Buy the EP here.

CD REVIEW: Queensryche’s Dedicated To Chaos

After the pervasive darkness of Operation: Mindcrime II and American Soldier, it’s understandable that Queensryche would feel like exploring a lighter vibe on Dedicated To Chaos. Whereas the previous two releases were particularly guitar-driven, Chaos is built around riffs turned in by drummer Scott Rockenfield and bass player Eddie Jackson, and adorned with layers of sound that only seem to reveal themselves on repeated listens.

“Get Started” is a suitably uptempo opener which recalls some of the vibe of 2000’s Q2K, with bright overdriven rhythm guitars and up-front drums, and the quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic is not entirely removed from the structures of Empire. But before long the album moves more into groove-heavy territory. At times sounding like a heavier version of singer Geoff Tate’s 2002 solo album

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CD REVIEW: Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction & Ghost

It’s one of the amazing musical moments of 2011 so far: after various levels of straightforwardness in the first 10 minutes of Deconstruction – some heavy, some restrained – Devin Townsend demands ‘show yourself!” and all the savage energy left dormant since the dissolution of Strapping Young Lad is unleashed, grabbing you by the throat and dragging you back to its skull pit before you know what the fuck happened.

The minutes leading up to that moment – “Praise The Lowered” and “Stand” – leave hints at what’s going to happen next. The former gradually increases in intensity from floaty electronica to metal screams, never dropping the steady but restrained tempo even as the death screams build up. The latter sounds like the spiritual cousin of “Destructor” from Ki (the first album of the Devin Townsend Project tetralogy), and it also drops little crumbs of heaviness behind it, leading up to that ‘Show yourself!’ moment. From then on, anything goes. Crushingly heavy rhythm guitars. Choirs. Blast beats. Death metal. Fusion-tinged chord progressions. Spoken word interludes. Fast passages. Techno beats. Someone taking a particularly cathartic shit. A cheeseburger.

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