Sunday, December 26, 2010

5 Quick Album Reviews

Because there isn't enough time!

Amplifier - The Octopus
I was looking forward to this one, way back when I made the Retrospective for Amplifier, but I thought it came out in 2011, not late this year, so I was very happily surprised! The Octopus continues the group's trend of changing their style a bit with each release. While with their latest release, the EP Eternity, I wasn't sure where the future was with the band - with what direction they would head - The Octopus points the direction clearly; the arrow points directly to prog! This is by far their most genuine progressive rock sounding album so far, with almost all of the alternative sounds of the previous releases vanishing. This album is two discs and two hours long, with many songs over seven minutes in length. It also walks hand-in-hand with psychedelic music; most songs have a very trance-feeling guitar/bass/drum section bleeding into the vocal passages. It's a very interesting direction and feel, given the band's history of only touching the progressive elements a bit. This is a swan dive into the pool! The Octopus has become my favorite Amplifier album so far; it's new direction is something I love. I now await an EP in 2011 to steer the group into yet another direction, followed by an LP in 2012 or 2013 (if the trend continues), pushing that direction even further. Amplifier is a band that is continuously re-inventing themselves, and they are damn good at it!

Earthride - Something Wicked
Here is another great example of a solid stoner/doom band, one of which often crosses heavily into each of the genres. Earthride is just that; it sounds as if you are riding the waves of an earthquake, with the trudging, grinding, endless concussionary blasts of sound tearing your soul to shreds. Ok, while it really isn't that brutal (that sounding like some death metal band or something), Earthride is an an exemplary display of the ebbs and flows of stoner and doom metal. I have earlier albums from the group, but haven't had the time (or place of mind) to hear them yet, so Something Wicked is my first real taste of the group. It is a different outlook on the stoner/doom genre then most bands put out, as it doesn't very much combine the two genres together within a song - songs are either stoner or doom, with very little cross over within. This does put a unique spin on the genre, with successes and failures throughout. Many of the songs would be much better if they were just a bit shorter and focused. Within these songs, the beginning half of the track is great but then the psychedelic-trance ending begins, and it tends to get a boring and tedious. I need to listen to their earlier works, to determine if this is their style and sound, or if it is a progression from an earlier one (either for the better or worse). If it is an evolution, then it is nice for a group to try new things, to strive to either be different or to fix previous problems. If it is the same old as the other two or three albums have been then either they have a mentality of "don't fix it if it ain't broke" (hey, they've at least had three releases) or they just don't care. I can support either of these outlooks; I don't necessarily like them much, but I can support them. The jury is still out on my concept of Earthride, their newest album, Something Wicked, is a good foray into stoner/doom. I will just have to hear more from them to decide if it is something to go out and buy/see live.

Weezer - Death To False Metal
I've already done a quick Weezer review, of their latest album, Hurley, but I figured I'd do another quick one about their Rare & Unreleased album, (the awesomely named) Death To False Metal. The tracks from this release span the length of the group's history - some tracks were left overs from each recording session for each album. So if you listen through the entire album, you will hear the different eras of influence as the numbers get higher. It's kind of neat, to listen to the group age and mature, it really gives you a feeling of how far they have come as a group and act. It is obviously a collection of their less-good (??) songs; the only songs that are good are the first few, ""Turning Up the Radio," "I Don't Want Your Loving," and "Blowin' My Stack," and the very last, a newly recorded cover of Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart." The rest of the songs are dull and listless, obviously not good enough for their previous records, sounding like they'd be more at home as acoustic/unplugged tracks; not full band sounds. Death To False Metal is great for die-hard Weezer fans, the ones that think Rivers Cuomo is a god and everything he touches turns to gold, but for the more casual listener, the album is not up to par. It does keep the Weezer standard of only a hand-full of top tracks, but in this case the lesser songs fall way back. Nothing I would spend my money on, and something I did not spend my money on. That's why I review, for the free albums.

Grand Magus - Hammer of The North
Here is another album of which I have heard nothing but good things about; and are the masses right! Hammer of The North is the latest album from the legendary traditional metalers Grand Magus. Everywhere that I read about this group's past work, they are either labeled within doom, stoner, or just heavy metal, but with this newest album I feel we need to cross off the doom and stoner label and add New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) into the mix. I haven't heard much of their previous albums - just a song here or there - so I don't know if they made a change for this album alone or they have been grossly mislabeled but for Hammer of The North this is how I see it. As I said the word on the web has been about the amazingness of the music within this release, and rightfully so! Pretty much every song on the album is stellar! While the NWOBHM label best fits, there were parts that moved into power metal with just a heavier vibe. Call it epic metal I guess, the thunderous roar of power metal mixed with the heaviness of doom (without the slowness of doom), which brings a really weird, but amazing, group of sounds together. All of the songs are solid, with many of them having a gradual build-up of sound. Several tracks began with either a simple and slow rhythm, or an atmospheric blending of sounds, which would grow louder and more complex, before the rest of the sounds and the lyrics joined in! It's a hard sound to completely explain, just one of those things you'll have to hear for yourself. Grand Magus' fifth album, Hammer of The North, has been popping up on everyone's Best of 2010 lists, and it has become a solid contender for mine as well. Only time will tell what actually makes it all the way.

Place of Skulls - As A Dog Returns
Although Place of Skulls is heralded everywhere as traditional doom band, for their latest release, As A Dog Returns, I hear definite power metal influences. While some of the guitar licks sort of sound like a power doom sound, it's the vocals that do it for me. Victor Griffin (the singer) sounds very much like Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth throughout the entire album. I'm not saying that it's an obvious sound-alike, but for a good portion of most songs, I could have swore it was Mr Schaffer belting out the tunes. I like it quite a lot. That being said, this next bit is going to sound sort of like an insult but I honestly don't mean it that way, the song, "Though He Slay Me," sounds sort of like a heavier version of the 90s pop-rock style, bands like Bon Jovi or Aerosmith. It's just catchy is all. It's a rockin' song, with an easily accessible guitar riff throughout. I would not be surprised to hear it on the radio, or one one of my pseudo-rock-loving friends' stereo. It's not a bad thing - it's not - just an observation of an interesting song, that stands out as unique amongst the rest of the track off of As A Dog Returns. Place of Skulls is a great doom band, that needs more attention and time spent enjoying their work. As A Dog Returns, besides being a kind of dumb name (Edit: after looking up this album title I see is is from Proverbs 26:11, interesting), - and what is up with that artwork? - is a pretty damn good release. I wish I had started compiling this list of band I needed to hear before the end of the year earlier on, so I could have had longer to digest this group.

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