Fistful Of New Metal: Six More Must Have 2013 Metal Releases

23 Mar

As I said in my previous post, 2013 is shaping up to be a very metal year. This time around, I’m here to extol the virtues of six (a much more metal number than five) excellent new/upcoming metal releases, ranging from the sweet old school sounds of yesterday, to new metal sounds from up and coming bands. So read on, and please turn up your speakers. For what lies ahead must be listened to loudly, the way metal mother nature intended.

Kvelertak-Meir

Kvelertak: Meir

Out March 25th, Norway’s Kvelertak will put out an impressive bit of heaviness with their second full-length, Meir. A black metal band by definition, Kvelertak (which means “stranglehold” or “choke hold” in Norwegian), infuses their sound with equal parts darkness, good old fashioned high-powered vocals, endless guitars, and Maiden-esque percussion.

Choke hold’s aside, Meir is all but clear of  black metal’s typical gloom and doom. Still, the record sounds pretty brutal. Created in the witch capital of the world, Salem, Massachusetts at GodCity Studios, Kvelertak also recorded Meir in their native Norwegian tongue. A multi-layered recording at it heart, Kvelertak seamlessly blends their  bone-crunching melodic metal groove with nostalgic sounds from metal days gone by. The power-chords and riffs are fast and upbeat, keeping Meir awash in massive waves of metal adrenaline. Simply put, Meir is the kind of record that would make Armored Saint’s collective toes curl. And, keeping true to their headbanging form, the last track on Meir heralds the band’s name, and is an unapologetic, bic-thumb-up, balls-out anthem.

Without a doubt, Meir will be on many a metal head’s top ten list this year, and has quickly become my favorite metal release to date. Norwegian based label, Indie Recordings, plans to release Meir on vinyl, worldwide. As of this writing, you can listen to Meir it in its entirety, here. Look for Kverletak live this spring with fellow heavies, Savannah Georgia’s Black Tusk, and the Cancer Bats.

VHOL-e1346361970339

VHÖL

VHÖL is comprised of members of several great metal bands. Eugene band, YOB, Hammers of Misforune, and Worm, to name a few. Which makes it unlikely that their upcoming untitled debut record (mixed by the equally metal engineer/producer Randall Dunn in Seattle) will be anything but stellar. Out on April 16th via Profound Lore Records, both of the tracks the band has generously streamed this past week on Sound Cloud, Illuminate and Grace, are swirling full of crunchy, strap-on-your-speed-belt, metal. And since I’ve already professed my love of YOB out loud, I’m ready to embrace VHÖL. Head on.

Black-Star-Riders

Black Star Riders. All Hell Breaks Loose

There has been a lot of excitement around Black Star Riders. And it’s understandable. Ex-members of the revered Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders just released the first single from their new record, Bound for Glory last week. I’m not usually a big fan of the do-it-again-band, especially when a key element in the band is gone. In this case, one of metal’s greatest frontmen, Phil Lynott. But Glory gives me enough hope that this record will be as strong as it’s first single. And Ricky Warnick’s vocals sound right and tight. Look for All Hell Breaks Loose out on the always metal Nuclear Blast Records, on May 27th.

Cover

Saxon: Sacrifice.

Saxon is back.

Yes, this Saxon. The only Saxon. The Saxon that never left, refused to cut their hair, let it turn gray, and has kept churning out great metal since they came together in 1979. Sacrifice is Saxon’s 20th studio release, and is textbook classic, head-banging heavy metal. Vocalist Biff Byford, who turned 62 in January, sounds amazingly fresh and strong. The same goes for the epic chops of guitarist Paul Quinn. If I didn’t know any better, this record could have been released in 1983, at the height of Saxon’s North American popularity. Albeit with more polish and power.

There are so many metal bands keep coming back for second and third stabs at greatness. Including Saxon. Except, Saxon has never looked for, or needs redemption. Sacrifice is a rock-solid metal record, musically and lyrically. I envy my headbanging European brothers and sisters that will get to see the band live during their epic tour of the UK and Europe this year. Sacrifice is out March 26th on UDR Music. I highly encourage you to listen to the title track, at the highest possible volume, here.

4139982991-1

Bovine. The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire.

Bovine hails from Birmingham,UK. Otherwise known as the never-metal world of Black Sabbath. Their new record, due out on FDA Rektoz April 12th, The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire, has managed to do something rather elusive when it comes to the metal realm, by paving a bit of new ground. The band could easily  juxtapose itself into various metal genres. It’s not that Bovine’s music defies description, however, I will defer any further statements, and borrow a line from the band’s short press release that describes Bovine’s sound as whatever “sludge-soaked ghetto rockers” sound like. Dirty rockers from the ghetto? Count me in. Bovine is currently streaming two tracks from Empire online, Military Wife, and Thank Fuck I Ain’t You.

Clutch-Earth-Rocker

Clutch: Earth Rocker

I’m not breaking any metal news to anyone when I say that Earth Rocker is Clutch’s 10th record. But let it be known that I will go out on a very thick, very metal branch, and say that it is every bit as great as all those moderate bastards are saying it is.

Recently, Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon was quoted, saying that the band was going for a “Motorhead vibe” with Earth Rocker. And as eager as you might be to reject such sacrilege, after listening to Earth Rocker I can honestly say I was completely dazzled by it’s spot-on production, and kick-ass lyrics. Stuff that punches its way into your ears, by any means possible.  For me, a perfect example of said ear-punching is the track, “The Wolfman Kindly Requests“. Any metalhead worth their silver bullets will dig every track on Earth Rocker, as it repeatedly hits every one of it’s metal notes harder than the last. I even caught a hint of King’s X circa 1998, loudly bent out of shape, pumping faster than it’s predecessor. Are you in? You should be. Book, Saddle, and Go, motherf*cker.

A (not so) Short History of Biffy Clyro – part 2

21 Mar

biffy_clyro02_website_image_bstc_wxga“Puzzle.” The aptly named fourth album, saw the band find that final piece and reach the commercial success their talent warrants in 2007. This was the album that brought them into the collective consciousness of the nation. It allowed their long-serving fans the opportunity to proudly talk about their knowledge of previous albums, boast of how long they had been fans for and brag about how many times they had seen them play live in small and intimate venues.

The problem with your favourite lesser-known band suddenly becoming popular, however, is that the songs are now everywhere. They get over-played on radio. People not nearly cool enough begin to express their interest in the band. They start to play larger venues. And tickets are sold out before you get a chance to buy them. Basically, it’s a nightmare.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your stance, this album achieved all it deserved. The album is brilliant and the songs are instantly accessible to new fans while being Biffy enough to please existing ones. Written in the wake of singer Neil’s mother’s death, the lyrics are so blatantly obvious about love and loss and coming to terms with death that it could easily have sounded cheap and cheesy had it come from almost anyone else. But Neil accomplishes it with style, passion, integrity and apparent ease. The band simultaneously showed their heart while flexing their muscles through their biggest sound to date. For any prospective Biffy Clyro fans, this is the place to start. Whether you choose to move on from “Puzzle” forward or backward chronologically is up to you. Forward means commercially more successful tracks with slightly more catchy choruses. Backwards means musical strangeness that will keep you coming back for more.

Start with track 1; “Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies”, and keep going.

I then had a small fall out with Biffy over 2009’s “Only Revolutions”. I felt that it was too soft, too ‘mainstream’ and lacking of that classic Biffy twisting-turning song structure which caught my attention at the start. And then, after a bit of a break, I listened to it properly. It is still not my favourite Biffy album, but it has some great songs that showed Biffy Clyro’s growth into their new success.

Tracks: “Mountains”, “Bubbles”, “Many of Horror”.

January 2013 saw the release of their most recent offering, the 2-disc “Opposites”. On this album, the band look to have found the formula that balances the technical skill and musical interestingness of early Biffy with the mainstream appeal of latter day Biff. There are songs with heavy distortion and wild vocals, and others with clean guitars, harmonies and beautiful melodies. And then there are tracks with touches of both. They seem to have delved deeper into the realm of heavy guitars and sweet, sweet melodies working together. Biffy Clyro continue to grow as stars and musicians both. They have put in the time and are now reaping the benefits. And rightly so.

Tracks: “The Joke’s On Us”, “Victory over the Sun”, “Black Chandelier”.

However far they have come up to this point, the recent announcement that they will be headlining the UK’s Reading Festival Main Stage this August has left some questioning their worthiness of this Sunday slot usually reserved for legends of the industry (previous performers include Pearl Jam, Muse and Metallica). So dedicate your ears to the mighty Biff, spend some time getting to know them and make up your mind for yourself.

A (not so) Short History of Biffy Clyro – part 1

19 Mar

BiffyClyroNMEAwardsDC250211Though you may not be aware of it yet, Biffy Clyro have earned your listening pleasure. As far as hard-working bands go, they are up there near the top. But they have not simply been putting in extra shifts to compensate for any lack of ability. Hardly. These are talented musicians who, for a three-piece, have a massive sound that has been years in the making, but has also been around for years longer than the general public might be aware.

While studying at Glasgow University, Scotland, the band gigged relentlessly, often playing five, six or even seven shows in a week. That sort of live exposure, when added to the quality of both song and performance, led to a terribly devoted fan base that was constantly growing. Their first album, “Blackened Sky”, was released in 2002 and was made up of many of the songs from this period. It is a fantastic début record showing some of what was to come from the band, containing well-crafted songs that are interesting and unafraid to be different. They work the quiet/loud dynamic brilliantly, which would be polished to a sheen in later releases, and gave us a taste of singer Simon Neil’s vocals.

Tracks worth listening to: 27, Justboy, 57.

Then came 2003’s “The Vertigo of Bliss”. The band was largely unknown outside of their home land at this time, but the album was embraced by their adoring fans. With the luxury of hindsight, however, it doesn’t seem to measure up against their other releases. Joining Simon Neil’s vocals and guitar, are (Scottish and ginger) twins James and Ben Johnston, on bass and drums respectively. When your rhythm section have shared a womb, and your band have shared stage space as much as these three have, it creates an undeniable musical understanding between the members. They are tight. Very tight. When they perform live they seem to move as one and can read each other’s playing in a way that can only come from spending endless hours locked away in rehearsal rooms and exposed on stage, and they put that to good use when recording their second album.

You see, they recorded it in a day. One day in the studio to lay down thirteen tracks. That is how tight they are. The songs that make up this album are powerful, tender and interesting, changing direction mid-song when you’re not quite expecting it. Unfortunately, though the songs are solid, the album tends to get largely overlooked by fans as it doesn’t feel quite right as a whole, probably due to the rushed nature of the recording. But it is still definitely worth a listen.

Tracks: Questions and Answers, The Ideal Height, Toys Toys Toys Choke, Toys Toys Toys.

Biffy’s third album, “Infinity Land”, is many fans’ favourite and an incredible musical achievement. The sound is different to their previous releases, but it is still unquestionably Biffy. The guitar is more angular, the sound at times heavier, the changes of direction more pronounced while still making perfect sense within the context of the songs. The album keeps you interested even after years of listening, which is not an easy thing to achieve. For me, this is the Biffy that I know and love. Biffy at their best. They may have reached higher heights with later albums, but this is their best musical achievement. It sounds like nothing else before or since and has a timeless feel to it that calls you back time and again.

Tracks: My Recovery Injection, Got Wrong, Glitter and Trauma.

Tune in again soon for Part-2..

Steven Wilson’s Raven: Haunting and Brilliant

17 Mar

Album-cover-with-titlePorcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson has a long history of surprising music releases, blurring genre boundaries and showing fans sides of him they’ve never seen before.  Just when it seemed like there was nothing new left for him to do, Wilson has released The Raven that Refused to Sing, a collection so mysterious and beautiful that it nearly defies description.

The haunting stuff doesn’t come right at the beginning, though.  To say that Raven takes the listener on a journey would be an understatement.  It starts out as a straight-up heavy prog album, with hints of Yes and King Crimson in there, but by the time you get to the sixth and final track, you’ll wonder how you were carried so seamlessly into Radiohead territory, and marvel over the steps that got you there.

And big steps they are, too.  As you might expect from a progressive rock album, Raven is light on track numbers but heavy on track duration.  The shortest track comes in at just over five minutes, while the longest (“Luminol,” the album’s opener) comes in at just over twelve.  This means that there’s plenty of space in each song to explore and experiment, which is where Wilson excels.  What may come across as aimless wandering in the hands of any other musician appears as a clearly articulated path when Wilson is the one leading the way.

Although the first five tracks are certainly essential components in the overall picture, there’s no doubt that they also serve as a framework to support and highlight the brilliance of the sixth track.  It’s no accident that Wilson saved the title track for last, and from the first dissonant strains of strings punctuated by unusual piano chords and floating vocals, it’s obvious why this song couldn’t have played any role other than finale.

There’s so much near the end of the album that’s reminiscent of Radiohead right after they shifted gears in 2000, but in a timeless rather than a dated way.  Melodies that are as passionate as they are sad are combined with rich musical arrangements and lyrics tinged with despair.  It sounds depressing, and it is somewhat, but there’s also a strange sense of hope that the future holds something brighter.

All in all, this is a beautiful album, and worth buying the special edition simply for the gorgeous work of artist Hajo Mueller, who lent his talents to the album design.  This is definitely one of Steven Wilson’s finest releases, if not the finest, and any rock fans will find something here to love.

-This article was written by BJ

When she’s not busy seeking out new music and artists, BJ spreads her love for music across the web as a blogger and small business marketer.

Bands hit the road young

27 Feb

As a twenty-something, I and most of my friends are caught in near constant crisis as to what exactly we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. It’s especially comforting, then, to discover some musical genius apparently starts young: all of the following bands formed in high school.

We may have some catching up to do.

The XX
Hailing from London, The XX (Oliver Sim, Jamie Smith, Romy Madley, and former member Baria Quereshi) got together as high schoolers back in 2005 and released their debut album, “xx” in 2009. Having seen international success, the group will be a headliner at Bonnaroo 2013.

Fleet Foxes
Founding members Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset started playing together after meeting in high school. Due to lack of funds, their first songs were recorded in houses and garages, but local shows quickly won them attention. Their debut album went platinum in the UK.

Van Morrison
Although the Emerald Isle’s Van Morrison didn’t rise to fame until the mid-60’s (after a stint with Irish band “Them”), he started playing everything from guitar to saxophone to the harmonica back as a teenager. Known for hits such as “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondanace,” Morrison performs to this day and has won six Grammy Awards. He’s been inducted into both the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Local Natives
Indie band Local Natives formed after guitarists Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn and keyboardist Kelcey Ayer met in high school in Los Angeles. After recruiting Matt Frazier (drums) and Andy Hamm (bass), the bandmembers crammed into a house in Orange County to put together their debut album, “Gorilla Manor.” The album debuted well and they’ve since toured with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and played at Lollapalooza.

The Down And Out Gospel According To Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away

23 Feb

Push_the_Sky_Away-596x250

“Well, if I were to use that threadbare metaphor of albums being like children, then Push The Sky Away is the ghost-baby in the incubator and Warren’s loops are its tiny, trembling heart-beat.”

– Nick Cave on his latest record with the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away.

Like a stalker seeking new blood on the boulevard, I am completely obsessed with the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s record, Push the Sky Away. It’s also possible that at the age of 55, Nick Cave’s 15th record (over the course of almost 30 years with the Bad Seeds), is perhaps his best work – a statement that could be considered blasphemous when considering Cave’s massive body of work. But it’s also a word Cave himself might use if you were to ask him if he ever made a bad record. Cave’s combined discography with the Bad Seeds, and the stellar project, Grinderman, have produced some of my favorite albums over the last five+ years.

As always, Cave brings his best love-sick-psychopathic-preacher-storytelling to Away, accompanied by the aforementioned, ever-present heart beat of the record, long-time Cave collaborator, guitarist Warren Ellis. Ellis helps keeps Cave’s derelict musings about hookers with hearts of gold, mermaid snatches, and rebirth, direct and hauntingly intertwined throughout the record. According to Cave, Away was inspired by his recent exploration of, all things, the Internet. In that recent interview with The Sun, Cave said that the only things he ever learned were while he was in school, while his twin boys  (now 12), “have much more interesting minds [than he did at the same age] because of the Internet.”

Away was conceived in a remarkably short period of time, only three weeks. From beginning to end, the record seems like a soundtrack to an out-of-body experience. A dream about people and places you’ve never met or been to, but can see clearly through Cave’s lyrical tapestry, whether you want to or not. Perhaps the best example of this musical imagery is the soaring track “Jubilee Street”. The song weaves a story about a man who falls in love with a prostitute. The song builds and rises with slow, sexually-charged intention. A musical style that, over the years, Cave has developed to unnerving perfection. Push the Sky Away is an indulgent treat, expertly crafted with love and malice. A “must listen” from start to finish in order to truly appreciate it’s darkly beautiful message.

Why 60’s album covers are worth it

19 Feb

“Nashville Skyline,” Bob Dylan, 1969.

While in the middle of Nothing-But-Cornfields, Illinois this past weekend, I stumbled across a book worthy enough to earn itself a mention on a music blog.

To me, one of the strongest arguments for keeping vinyl around is the art. It’s not just that many of album covers are gorgeous – they’re funky, mind-bending, and indicative of an era.  Album artwork can say as much as any piece of art in a museum, only it’s better since it comes with music. A good cover draws you in, makes you take a chance on a new band.

All of this made Storm Thorgerson’s Classic Album Covers of the 60’s a must-have. While there is some narration, this book is more a gallery of a decade, starting in the early years where bands wore suits and stood, smiling, in a line; moving through the jazz to psyychedlic to hard core psychedelic. There are pterodactyls, houses built out of grapes, musicians dressed as wizards and women floating underwater. There’s the nude portrait of Yoko Ono and John Lennon and Led Zepplin’s zephyr.

And, while the book highlights classic, timeless bands – The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimmi Hendrix and Bob Dylan – there are albums also chosen solely for the their amazing art, perhaps not well-known but still amazing to look at.

“The Fool,” The Fool, 1969.

I wasn’t alive in the 60’s. Thorgerson makes me wish I was. With every turn of the page I tasted an era and found another album I wanted to listen to. Scrolling through an ITunes library will never compare.