Category: Review

I give my weird take on things that I’ve seen or heard recently.

Album review: Marconi Union’s “Weightless (Ambient Transmissions Vol. 2)”

I admit that I’m not as into electronic music as I let on, but occasionally something comes along that I just have to investigate. The main track on this record achieved mainstream headlines last year praising its incomparable tranquility. This whole album is, to me, not just listening to high-quality, meticulously-crafted music – it’s a mood and mind modifier, an entry into a different plane, a way of making myself and the world around me alterable at my leisure. I can sense my body loosening itself, as if physically affected by some foreign substance – morphing, visiting another state, being washed clean of the dirt of doubt and dredged-up memories. This record has got me through some remarkably stressful or uncertain situations.

All technically one piece, the album is divided into six movements which each offer a different flavour of personality and mood, but all of which indubitably assist in the erasure of unpleasant feelings and the bringing of lasting peace.

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Album review: Dream the Electric Sleep – Heretics

An interesting article today – rather a few moons ago (due to my incredible knack for time mismanagement), a band who are apparently actually quite well-known and well-regarded in the metalsphere actually e-mailed me asking for a review of their sophomore album. Let me just say that I was pleasantly surprised to receive this e-mail and that I’ll be happy to do any further reviews by request like this – time permitting, of course. I have been very preoccupied with various projects and commitments lately, which I will be sure to post about in the near future.

Vocals and Guitars: Matt Page
Bass: Chris Tackett
Drums: Joey Waters

Website: http://www.dreamtheelectricsleep.com/
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/DTESBAND

I also listened to their earlier work, “Lost and Gone Forever”. They’re a progressive band, for sure – they’re a group with points to make and stories to tell, and they do so through the medium of thought-provoking, lovingly and elaborately constructed music. There’s a great deal of emotion on display at every turn, every chord carrying the appropriate weight to it, major or minor (and these two opposites are utilised excellently in the compositions themselves), and singer Matt Page’s voice complimenting the music brilliantly. If you’d like to take a look at a review for that you can find one here – a seemingly well-received release – it was named Album of the Year 2011 by this blogger!

The band has published a guide to today’s album, their second release, on their website. To summate its artistic purpose, it draws inspiration from the ideals of women over the ages who have sought to improve the world, in spite of adversities or social stigmas. This is cemented by the album’s cover artwork:

History buffs will notice that all these women are signficant – Virginia Woolf, Faith Wilding, Emily Dickinson, Faith Ringgold, Dame Ethel Mary Smith, Helga Birgitta, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and Christine de Pisan.

The album, having 11 songs, but boasting a running time of 73 minutes – is divided into five segments, which make up two songs each, apart from the final segment which makes up three. “Heresies”, “Introductions”, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, “Cornered”, and “Waiting”. The lyrical themes across the tracks, backed by the instrumentation, seem to start off jolly and upbeat, but soon progress into despondency and despair, before becoming strong and empowering again by the time the album is over.

It’s an album that doesn’t pull any punches, and is a pretty epic journey of heart and mind. Let’s venture forth then.

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EP review: Bad Salad – Puzzled

Greetings, prog metal fans of all sorts! Today I have very special treat for you, a review of the latest musical venture by the exceedingly talented folks of Bad Salad, whom you may remember I covered a little while ago in a review of their fantastic debut album “Uncivilized“.

“Blahhhhh” to you guys, too.

Vocals: Denis Oliveira
Guitar: Thiago Campos
Bass: Felipe Campos
Keyboards: Junghwan Kim (guest)
Drums: Caco Gonçalves

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BadSalad
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/BadSaladOfficial

Now, I present to you my second review of their work, which has me very excited, as they currently have a three-track EP in the works, entitled “Puzzled”. They announced this via their Facebook page and have been giving almost daily updates to the project since then, as well as setting up a donation drive on PledgeMusic.com to entice their fans to donate to further the EP’s development.

A fantastic idea, I think. It was to be an extensive and expensive undertaking, and they had to do it fast, too – the keyboardist, Junghwan Kim, flew to Brazil from South Korea especially to be a part of the writing and recording process for the EP, and could only stay for two months. The band then reached out to their fans to help them make the project a reality. It’s great to see bands, especially those of this amount of talent, using the internet to such great advantage like this.

As a pledger to the project myself, I was eligible for the sneak preview of the tracks the band offered, and I also volunteered to offer them feedback as a reviewer before the EP’s official release. So with all that said, let us proceed with it!

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Album review: Bad Salad – Uncivilized

Been a while since I posted anything of value here so let’s kick off with an in-depth look at one of my favorite bands to imitate one of my favorite bands.

You guys are silly. You’re in a publicity shot. That’s not posing dramatically.

Vocals: Denis Oliveira
Guitar: Thiago Campos
Bass: Felipe Campos
Keyboards: César Zolhof
Drums: Caco Gonçalves

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BadSalad
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/BadSaladOfficial

A Brazilian progressive metal band initially conceived in May 2007, their debut album “Uncivilized” has apparently been in production for two years, and the sheer amount of care and effort they put into it over this time period shows. As I listen to the album, it seems to me as though they’ve been composing progressive metal for decades. There’s experimentation, sure, but these guys are definitely seasoned songwriters.

Bad Salad cite many bands as their influences, but are obviously madly in love with Dream Theater, because they pretty much imitate every iota of the band’s style. And while the guitarist isn’t quite John Petrucci, nor is the keyboardist exactly Jordan Goddamn Rudess, they come pretty damn close.

The band’s guitarist Thiago Campos set up this YouTube account to which he uploads “split-screen covers” of various songs, which are, and I say this in no uncertain terms, impressive as fuck. Every song that has been covered thus far that I’ve heard is absolutely note-perfect. And these guys do really complex stuff as well – mainly Dream Theater’s stuff, which is often very technical and meticulous, so their combined musical prowess is an undeniable trait.

I must concede that I find “Bad Salad” an odd name for a prog metal band. But bands names are by definition odd, so I’ll let it go. (Edit: It appears the name came from the initial writing sessions, during which every member of the band would toss an idea into the pot.)

Let’s take a minute to observe the album’s artwork:

Anyone want to play hot potato?

Alright, metal genre, I think this obsession with skulls is getting slightly ridiculous.

Regardless of the clichéd skull, this cover, to me, is immediately interesting, and puzzling. There seem to be a number of conflicting ideas within the image (the appearance of a skull, a symbol of death, but no blood; the dissonance between the bright background and the rather morbid imagery in front of it; the realistic representation of the Earth versus the clearly fake appearance of the gentlemen having his face scorched off).

On close examination, the man is dressed in a suit. He is suspending the planet Earth just above his hand in a Jedi kind of way, appearing to have a kind of gravity-defying physical control over it, rather than hold it like an ordinary object. As the hovering planet burns intensely in the palm of his enormous hand, its skin is seared away, revealing a hollow skeleton – no blood, muscle or any other kind of inner tissue; and his visage incinerates likewise, peeling away to betray a complete lack of flesh beneath his face, too.

Perhaps this image represents the corporate leaders who control this world, and indeed the very way we live, who are personified here as a giant, fleshless beast, possessing no humanity, showing zero compassion for the human race as we die helplessly, our cries unheeded, on the burning earthen orb he observes.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into it and I’m not listening to the music and I should be because THAT’S WHAT I’M HERE FOR AFTER ALL so let’s go.

1. Crowded Sky (6:31)

Oh my. What a goddamn beautiful album opener. It’s like Dream Theater condensed all the awesomeness from all of their shortest songs into an even shorter track. I can hear a tribute to “A Rite of Passage” in the opening chords and “Lost Not Forgotten” in… most of it, actually.

Lyrically, it’s about as anti-faith as you can get without mentioning actual religious practices. In fact it seems to be a big old “fuck you” song to not only God, but the people who worship His image. Here we get a glimpse at what vocalist Denis Oliveira is truly capable of – his throaty growling style is prevalent through most of this album, and while it’s certainly metal as hell, it’s still very clean and clear.

We start with a tolling bell… pretty cliché, but then HOLY CRAP a 15/8 dominant phrygian guitar riff comes in and this immediately tells me that this is what this band is all about. Denis sings with a decidedly sinister echo effect on most of this track which makes him sound as though there’s a whole choir of him singing in a massive hall.

The pre-chorus features some aggressive doubled-up monosyllabic shouts from Denis and Thiago (“Hail, fight, fear, pray”) which just sound cool. Then the chorus comes in, and the evil chord progression, complemented brilliantly by Denis’s angry melodies, is an immediate hit with me. After two of these choruses there’s a short middle section with some hugely dramatic string arpeggios courtesy of guest keyboardist Junghwan Kim, followed by an absolutely excellent keyboard riff and a blinding guitar solo from Thiago.

If it weren’t for the fact that this song is meant to serve as a kind of short introductory track to the album, I’d place it as my personal favorite. But that would be unfair because there’s still so much more to go.

2. Nemesis (11:33)

This is a truly evil track. The opening riff is the epitome of the heavy metal riff. E minor, slow and grinding, with chromatic bits inserted to add dissonance. Brilliant. I reckon the band listened to plenty of Train of Thought when they wrote this song in 2010 (particularly “This Dying Soul”).

The keyboard work in particular really shines on this track, with César using dramatic string chords in concordance with the guitar work, and a really cool square wave and Hammond organ lead sounds to overlap the awesome riffs and add his own, very Jordan Rudess-y twist to the music.

The first verse is almost as evil as that opening riff, with multiple layers of subtle sounds playing in the background to amplify the sinister ambience that the lyrics (to do with slavery and imprisonment) are laying down.

After the chorus, Denis delivers more epicness, singing in every vocal range he’s capable of as he switches between Matt Bellamy-esque falsetto and metal growl/scream (it’s alright – apart from this one deviation, his vocals are completely clean for the rest of the album). Some excellent solos from the rest of the band give him plenty of breathing space during this section.

The outro (ie. the final three minutes) is really cool. The tempo slows down, but the riffs coming from Thiago actually seem to get a whole lot madder. César goes especially nuts on the keyboards at this point, playing dissonant chords on an electric organ and then a crazy piano solo. The finale of the track, during which the strings beautifully complement an oddly-rhythmed guitar riff, is especially sweet, and well worth the 11-minute build-up.

3. Mourning (10:09)

Conversely to the last two tracks reducing my brain to a thin goo, here we have something of a breather track, although that doesn’t stop it from still delivering some face-smashing powerful guitar chords overlaid with some beautiful string orchestrations (as the previous ones did).

It opens with… I don’t know what that is, actually. I think it’s a heavily-echoed acoustic guitar with all trace of the frets having been erased completely from the recording, giving it a haunting feel. This continues for about a minute before the track opens properly with a short, ominous piano chord progression which just screams Opeth – the number of nods towards some of my favorite artists just keeps on climbing, and props to Bad Salad for pulling them off so well.

The lyrics deal with the loss of loved ones, and are worded very poetically (though you might find some bits to be clichéd) with an almost uplifting undertone. The chorus is very nice, playing off the myriad minors and majors in a very expert manner, but the cream really comes with the section after the second chorus, which is copied for the outro. The chords and the overlaying melodies are just delicious.

While this track is the least extreme on the record, there’s plenty of progressiveness in here from the erratic time and tempo changes delivered, and the work from keyboardist César Zolhof really shines here. The middle section soon devolves into something more bluesy, à la the monstrous instrumental section from “Beyond This Life“. There are certainly also elements borrowed from “The Ministry of Lost Souls“. However, Bad Salad are above copying the work of their many influences note-for-note – instead they interpret the stylings of said influences in a way that combines into something which, while not entirely original (but what is, these days), is still beautiful.

4. The Second Calling (12:37)

While this song’s triplety, guitar-driven intro sounds almost identical to A Dramatic Turn of Events‘ “Bridges in the Sky”, I’m reliably informed that the song was written in 2007, before DT’s song, and the similarity is pure coincidence. It starts out with a groovy B minor riff which soon transitions into C# minor and back again. After the strangely familiar two-minute intro, the verse begins, and the lyrics talk about the possibility of a second life.

There’s really no word to sum up this song other than “badass”. The guitar work from Thiago is just unceasingly awesome and he often seems to almost drown out the backing from the keyboard. The chorus is possibly the best one on the album. The middle section seems to do all sorts of crazily clever things with the song’s rhythm and tempo and has to be heard to be believed. It’s all kinds of “Glass Prison”-esque awesome.

The outro is a long one, spanning three whole minutes. It’s prefaced by a short but beautiful solo from Thiago, and has Denis singing three more verses while staying at a consistently dramatic level, before the music builds up into an impressive crescendo. The last minute or so is more or less a reprise of the intro with a few extra bits thrown in, but it handles the final chord very well.

5. Damned (9:29)

The intro of this song is an awesomely creepy minute and a half (is that a waterphone?) before the excellent guitar riff kicks in. The pre-chorus features some nice downplayed piano work from César.

The chorus kicks in and plays half in common time, half in 7/8, and once you get your head round the rhythm, it’s catchy as hell. After this, Denis returns to his excellent growling vocal style as the lyrics get darker and darker.

Six minutes in, Thiago introduces a fast, very DT-esque phrygian riff, and then proceeds to solo over the top of this with some expert assistance from César. The ensuing two or three minutes is basically a bunch of hectic key changes during which Thiago and César battle to see who’s the most Dream Theater-y, reminiscent of the insane solo section from “Fatal Tragedy“.

If it weren’t for the unusually long intro and middle solo, this track would actually be kinda short (relatively speaking).

6. Sights from Within (12:37)

Here we have another very long number, but it’s nowhere near as extreme as the rest of the songs. In fact, it’s comparatively slow and subdued, but it has a strange double-refrained structure to it, which might explain its length. The lyrics deal with an impending apocalypse that only the protagonist is aware of.

We open with a mellow acoustic guitar and a riff that I swear I’ve heard before – it’s almost “Through My Words” but not quite. The instrumentation slowly builds up into a beautiful symphonic breakdown, and about a minute and a half in, the tempo picks up a little bit and Thiago introduces a jaunty, simple chord progression. Before long, however, the chorus arrives, allowing room for the distorted guitar to come in, and things really begin to get dark as Denis once again returns to a low growl.

Things calm down again, though, and Denis returns to his serene tenor. However, with the advent of what appears to be a second chorus and a short interlude, things soon get evil again and the first chorus repeats with even more dramatic impact than last time, followed by a powerful Thiago solo and some sinister orchestral stabs from the keyboard.

The final verse is simply amazing, a wonderfully orchestrated finale to what has been a heck of a journey of a song.

The track ends with the same guitar playing the same two chords repeatedly (with some sweet birdsong in the background), gradually fading out as ominous machinery noises and American news reports begin to amplify, which segues nicely into the album’s epic closer…

7. Dawn of the Machine (15:29)

This track is just evil and cunning. Various bits of it, particularly the chorus, remind me heavily of Muse’s “Map of the Problematique“, but it’s just a beastly track on its own. Lyrically, it’s divided into two parts, and opens with a minute or so of ambience and crackly voices (I. “Release”). After that, the bass guitar comes in and plays some seriously weird chords, before being joined by the drums and keyboard playing some more dissonant and syncopated stuff over the top.

After another minute of this, the lead guitar comes in. And that riff. Dear God, that riff, I could bathe in it. The opening verse has Denis growling like a demented cyborg over some ludicrous power shredding from Thiago. This alone is brilliant, but then the chorus comes in and the Muse chords play off each other so nicely – in other words we get both the thrashy and melodic sides of the metal spectrum executed almost side-by-side.

Meanwhile, the lyrics are beautifully written, appearing to be told from the perspective of the Machine’s creators.

After the second chorus we get some lovely rocky riffs from Thiago interspersed with some unpredictable rhythm jumps assisted by Caco. Then madness descends, as the song progresses into a beautifully constructed “Dark Eternal Night“-esque instrumental frenzy, as Thiago just decides to fuck around for about two-and-a-half minutes. And what awesome, impossible-to-headbang-to fucking around it is.

For the second “part” of the song (II. “Revision”), the music takes a back seat for a little while, opening with a wonderful acoustic guitar playing a strange minor-augmented-minor-diminished chord progression. Denis soon comes in again, now singing with a far lighter tone, and with far more sombre words, now addressing the listener as the Machine itself, an artifical being of unfeeling metal, unable to comprehend the emotions that humans feel. However, things pick up fast again, with a monstrous guitar solo giving rise to a fantastic crescendo. Over the final chord, Caco decides to bash the everloving snot out of his drums and ends his impromptu solo with a phased snare that echoes out for the final minute of the song. What an ending.

Overall Rating: 4.8/5

I really have absolutely no major complaints about this album – it’s one of the finest I’ve heard in a long time, and is in fact a worthy contender for Dream Theater themselves. The band has immense talent behind them and I can only hope that they capitalize on it as much as possible. They have the werewithal to imitate Dream Theater, the technical expertise required to do it properly and also the imagination needed to give it their own unique twist.

They have balls.

Let’s hope this beast of a debut album serves as the launch pad necessary to catapult them into prog metal stardom. I for one will be watching their future endeavours like a hawk.

Outstanding stuff, guys.

Arise!

So they’re remaking Rise of the Triad.

THIS IS AMAZING.

For those of you not familiar with this absolutely brilliant game, it was released in 1994 by Apogee Software (aka 3D Realms), who you might know as being the creators of Duke Nukem. It was a first-person shooter in which you took the role of a group of anti-terrorists infiltrating an island full of Nazi monks, and scattering their various body parts across the place with an improbable arsenal of completely ridiculous weapons.

…That’s all that needs to be said, really.

…Oh, you want more? Fine. Glutton.

Now, I haven’t played the game terribly much – mostly due to the fact that I never got into it in the same way that I got into Doom, on account of one of the many ludicrous weapons offered by the game actually terrifying me as a child (that is, a 2- or 3-year-old child who quite honestly was frightened of anything that moved a bit funny). The “Hand of God” turns you into an invincible, monstrous hulk with the ability to blast your enemies into atoms with a swipe of your fists. It was the eerie, incredibly loud reversed groaning noises it made randomly that for some reason scared me to shit.

Nowadays, of course, I think it’s hilarious. And it is, because the whole game is a non-stop pixellated marathon of ridiculously over-the-top, almost cartoony violence and gore. It’s not for the weak-stomached.

Good me: Ewwww.  Evil me: Hahahaha!

In this game, you can lure enemies in spinning blades, riddle them with bullets, blow them up, set them on fire so their charred skeletons collapse into a disintegrated heap, evaporate them, club them to death with an enchanted baseball bat, and you can also turn into a dog and make them explode by barking at them. It is all kinds of gratuitous awesome.

However, my personal attachment to this game comes not from its gameplay. My love for it is due (almost purely) to its music. Each track in the soundtrack to ROTT is a masterpiece in its own right, and perfectly fits the quirky but stupidly hectic feel of the game. Most of them are a neat blend of fast, synthy, melodic rhythms, coupled with awesome string-and-timpani orchestrations and even some Latin influences – and together these elements work brilliantly. All of the tracks were written as MIDIs (eeeeee!) by MIDI virtuoso Lee Jackson.

Just one of the tracks used in the game can be listened to below – and this particular track I think is quite possibly the best track to have ever featured in any video game ever. EVER. I say that with absolutely zero fear of hyperbole.

The great thing about ROTT’s music is that it’s completely timeless. Whether you listen to that track under the original OPL synth, in a modern soundfont, as a bitchin’ rock ‘n’ roll remix, or in a completely different style altogether, you can’t not fall in love with music like that. I only wish they made most video game music like that nowadays…

But hold the phone, maybe they do! Interceptor Entertainment, the outfit behind the upcoming remake of this classic, have promised a full revamp of the entire game’s soundtrack courtesy of musician Andrew Hulshult… in the style of electronic metal.

Holy crapola.

So far, the only music track I have heard is the one used in the trailer, and can be viewed below.

Now, if I were to be brutally honest, I’d say that this remake of the track, while undoubtedly awesome, feels a bit “empty”. I think some of the harmonies from the original are missing here – although those were programmed by hand by Mr. Lee Jackson, rather than being played on an actual live instrument (you’ll notice that all the remakes I linked to above use the original MIDI as a base, so they are all exactly the same composition-wise). There’s even some kind of new bit added on at the end that I’ve never heard before – are you allowed to take a track like this and tack something “extra” onto it? I can’t be sure whether it does the song the full justice it deserves, but I can stand to listen to it – at least it has kept in that orgasmically awesome melody.

In summary, I am very excited by the news that such a loveable, classic game is getting a modern reboot, which, if you’ve looked at the trailer, actually looks as though it will retain all of the weird arcadey elements of the original that made it so unique – the mysterious floating platforms, the stupidly overpowered weapons, the fast gameplay… it’s all there. And apparently we might see a PC release by the end of the year.

…’Scuse me while I just go change my undergarments.

If you’ve been Affected by any of these issues…

…then chill and just listen to some metal.

Controversy is something I routinely try to avoid. I despise the idea of making enemies, and causing conflict with my own opinions. As a result, I tend to keep my mouth firmly shut on big and unpleasant issues like inequality, abortion and religious conflicts. But sometimes my fairly reserved attitude towards them just has to take a sharp and sudden turn.

When I saw on Dream Theater’s website that keyboardist Jordan Rudess was involved in a collaboration with Michael LePond, the bassist from Symphony X, I fanboyed momentarily (I’m not entirely sure what that action entails). This was basically my two all-time favorite bands coming together in an all-new project which I had spectacularly managed to miss since its formation in 2011. The band in question is Affector, and after a small amount of investigation I found that they had put the thirteen-minute-long title track of their debut album Harmagedon on SoundCloud to listen to absolutely free of charge.

I listened, then thirteen minutes later my music collection was one album greater.

I excitedly hit play and started to document my thoughts as the ensuing notes swarmed my skull. What I ended up with was an opinion I found myself reluctant to share, on the grounds that doing so would probably… well, spark some controversy, which, as already stated, I am terribly averse to doing. But I have attempted to be as objective as possible in my overview of this album, and tried not to let my own beliefs (or my lack thereof, if you like) interfere with my approach to reviewing a piece of musical work by a group of musicians whose skill in the art far exceeds my own. Far be it from me to act superior to them.

As I did with my Adrenaline Mob review, I’ll first take a look at the album’s cover art. Seems only fair, that way.

Not fair on this guy, though.

Ooh, gritty. A ruined city, viewed from the perspective of who is presumably the sole survivor, crawling up the side of the enormous burning crater where his home once stood. The fact that we don’t see who this person is – only his frail, bloodstained hands – adds a nice little extra to the disastrous, post-apocalypic air that’s evoked, as well as the ominous clouds of smoke covering the top half, and half the bottom half, of the image.

I like what’s going on with the logo and font, as well – it’s adorned with some very nice smearing, almost like it’s caked in blood or something.

Now, onto the tracks themselves. Some of them are pretty massive, so brace yourselves for a wall of text reflective of their massiveness.

  1. Overture Pt. 1: Prologue
    Well, I’m really liking the sound of this so far. From the opening chord, to the marching middle melody, to the foreboding flute finale, this is a massive (but short), orchestral introduction which evokes a real sense of dramatic tension purely through the instrumentation. Suitable for the “end of the world” concept that this album focuses on, really – a sense of loss and desolation, with the occasional faint shimmer of hope for its survivors. Seems odd calling it a prologue when there doesn’t seem to be any kind of narrative whatsoever – only music. No personal qualms with that, though. Let’s move on.
  2. Overture Pt. 2: Introduction
    Oh, so, this is the introduction? Okay. Another instrumental track but this one is nearly six minutes and features all three of the band’s instrumentalists (Daniel Fries on guitar, Michael LePond on bass, and Collin Leijenaar on drums) performing what seems to be the actual album overture, judging by the numerous jumps to different motifs that we will no doubt hear later. There’s several very clever riffs and gripping melodies, replete with odd time signatures and very clever layered sections. Towards the end there’s a really cool dominant Phrygian section accompanied by a manic keyboard solo courtesy of Dream Theater keyboard god Jordan Rudess. A very good and very well-composed opener – this really sets me in the mood for some serious progressive rock/metal!
  3. Salvation
    Opens with an exceedingly cool mellow acoustic guitar line (which also closes the track very nicely). Here we witness Ted Leonard’s vocal skill for the first time on the album. Throughout the whole album he remains fairly consistent in his delivery. His harmonies are super-smooth and his phrasing is often clean and clear. As soon as this section is over, suddenly Collin starts hammering the drums and Daniel brings in a killer guitar melody offset by some odd drum rhythms from Collin, which was heard extensively in the overture (it’s in 4/4 but its rhythm syncopation makes it hard to follow). The chords that follow this are rather excellent, with Ted’s harmonizing staying strong over the insanity that Daniel’s laying out. He seems to be singing about something fairly fantastical, but right now I’m taking a power shower in the veritable barrage of notes flying my way from Fries and LePond. Who actually cares about the lyrics, anyway?!
  4. The Rapture
    This track opens with a catchy guitar riff overlaid with a really cool organ courtesy of Alex Argento, who seems to be the band’s “unofficial” keyboardist for this album. The song screams progressiveness right from the outset, with the opening verse changing time signature and even tempo quite erratically. The chorus jumps in soon after that with a really nice dominant Phrygian guitar riff accompanied by some orchestral strings, prefaced by some lovely licks from Daniel Fries. Possibly one the album’s many musical highlights. After a short interlude during which Collin takes a quick break and allows Argento and Fries to have a subdued battle against one another, the song continues belting out the notes. However a lot of it sort of washes right over you instead of blowing you to bits like the first three tracks did.
    Jordan friggin’ Rudess features as a guest musician on this track as well, and lays down some wicked keyboard solos over the top of all this musical madness.
    Wowzers, this song is long. At 14 minutes 5 seconds, it’s longer than the title track. What’s Ted even going on about? *flicks open the album leaflet* Hang on, these can’t be the lyrics, these are just…
    … Oh.
    Now, obviously Affector are a Christian progressive metal band, and the idea surrounding the album is clearly a religious one, what with armageddon being one itself. But what Affector have decided to do, to that end, is forego traditional lyric writing processes and instead make everything that Ted Leonard sings a direct quote from the Holy Book. That’s right; virtually everything on this album is Bible verses.
    There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose. I won’t judge these guys on their religious practices. I will judge them on their ability to take this slightly unorthodox approach to songwriting and turn it into something impressive. So far they seem to have done a good job, although I haven’t been paying much attention to the lyrics so far – I will be keeping a watchful eye on them from here onward.
  5. Cry Song
    Hmm. I think by this point, Ted Leonard – and maybe the rest of the band – are actually getting a bit bored. That title is about the most unoriginal thing you could possibly call a song. It’s on par with “This is the Sad Bit”.
    Talking of originality, it seems this is the only song on the album to have unique lyrics. But there’s not a lot of variation in the words, and over the period of the five-and-a-half minutes this song goes on for, every word gets repeated. I mean every word. The chorus is the same thing repeated twice – and each time it’s repeated (three times over the course of the song), only the last line changes. It’s a bit tiring – you just want the band to get to the next section and past all this repetition.
    This song is relatively short (compared to the other tracks on the album), but actually quite nice. The chords are very pleasing to the ear, and the three separate time signatures (5/8, 6/8, 7/8) help to keep the musical variation at an interesting level. It’s just ruined by Ted’s needlessly repetitive vocals. Without them, this song would totally be no worse off. It seems to serve as a light interlude for the middle of the album, anyway – and Daniel Fries even dedicates it to his late father. It’s a very beautiful song in its own right. If not for the awful lyrics, this’d be my favorite on the album.
  6. Falling Away & Rise of the Beast
    Here we have a slightly longer track (just over eight minutes in length), but there’s really not a whole lot to say about it. It follows exactly the same formula as Salvation and Rapture – Ted wails about the goodness of the Lord while Daniel, Mike, and Collin all thrash their respective instruments impressively.
    About a minute in, the song seems to continue the ending chords from “Cry Song”, which I have no objection to, but still Ted sings over them, at one point proclaiming how “there will be famines, plagues and earthquakes in various places”. A lot of the Bible verses used throughout this album obviously weren’t afraid to be vague, and as they are, really weaken parts of the songs.
    That said, there are some really cool ideas going on in this track thanks to Daniel. One of the better tracks – definitely on par with Rapture in terms of coolness.
  7. Harmagedon
    We have another monster of a track here, clocking in at precisely 13:00. Once again, the musical capability of the band members is undeniable – we get some nice little neoclassical flourishes, some heavy Metallica-esque thrash riffs, and some cool acoustic sections. For that we have to commend Daniel Fries, Mike LePond and Collin Leijenaar for their combined musicianship.
    But dear me, is Ted still yammering on about the Lord Almighty? Admittedly, he does try to conjure up some doomsday-like imagery (mouth of the beast, white horses, unclean spirits, lakes of fire), but like many of the other songs on this album, Ted’s performance relies overly on breaking the song’s flow/structure in order to fit the entirety of the Bible verses into one section. The verses are comprised of 18 bars instead of 16. On top of that, he’s definitely struggling with his phrasing by this point. In places, even the melody gets the better of him – and if any of the previous tracks are an indication, he has an arguably rock-solid voice. Right from the start of the song, he sings in time with the fast guitar riff coming from Daniel Fries, but he virtually spits the words out because they just don’t really go with the melody. I get the feeling that it’s not his fault, like the other band members kinda just shoved him into the recording booth and said “Here’s the bit from the Bible we want you to do. Sing it or the baby Jesus will cry”. It’s pretty clear that he had to improvise with the phrasing on some of those “lyrics”.
    But going back to the music itself, this song seems to have two different refrains. One is considerably better than the other, but both are definitely repeated a few too many times as though to very deliberately pad the song out past the 10 minute mark. Oh, and we get that syncopated riff from Salvation once again. On the upside, this track features a few more mind-destroying keyboard solos from Jordan Rudess, who also does the outro of the song a fantastic justice with his Haken Continuum.
  8. New Jerusalem
    Starts out nicely with another acoustic introduction, which quickly descends into a mad crescendo of heavy guitar riffs, and more Hammond organ madness from Alex Argento. The chorus sounds nice as well. A nice, power-ballady track which serves as a break from the musical insanity of the previous two tracks.
    Hang on, why is this the album closer? It’s only six minutes long. The ending chord isn’t even a proper cadence! Oh, dear. Things really have gone downhill since the beginning. You set my expectations so high, Affector. You’re capable of so much more consistently quality work than this. All of you are incredible musicians but you really couldn’t deliver your absolute best under the restrictions you set yourselves.
    …Jesus, is this chorus over yet? It seems to have repeated about four times now, and isn’t showing any signs of stopping. GOD, SHUT UP. Literally, God – I’m talking to you, you big beardy man in the sky. Shush. Stop making Ted shout your words over and over and over again.

After these, two more tracks follow: acoustic versions of “Harmagedon” and “New Jerusalem”. I won’t bother reviewing those because they’re cut-down versions of the last two songs and, while clearly excellent compositions, are simply boring to listen to by the end of the album.

So as you might’ve been able to gather, Affector’s Harmagedon is definitely a musical journey – after all, the whole album is just over an hour and a quarter in length. But if you were to expand on that journey metaphor, listening to the album would be akin to a 75-minute car drive through the middle of the desert with four evangelists sitting in the back, constantly playing the works of Bach on electric guitars. It’s tiresome, with a tendency to just drag on without bringing anything terribly new to the mixture.

Would it honestly have been that sacreligious to give your own spin on the Good Book’s words, Affector? You obviously only quoted passages that you’d specially selected yourselves – would it have been too much of a stretch to modify them at all, as per your personal standards?

Overall Rating: 3.0/5

Three stars for some absolutely exceptional music, but minus two for the needlessly imposed limitations placed on Ted Leonard. I’m pretty sure even he was sick of the sound of his own voice by the end of the recording sessions – his sole contribution to the album leaflet is:

Ted wants to thank:
My wife and kiddos for putting up with this near profitless pursuit, and God for not ditching me a long time ago.

Those are the words of a man who is clearly now completely jaded to the holy word of the Lord. And who can blame him? He’s had to yell them into a mic for weeks on end, take after take, harmony after harmony, and it shows in the music itself that he was thoroughly bored and drained by the end of it. Honestly, this whole album feels like a particularly loud and extended sermon, all due to its lack of lyrical originality.

They all look so incredibly bored. …Though still quite badass.

For those of you seeking to write new material based on existing works, please take note: If you want something that befits the metal genre, then try something like The Divine Comedy, or a John Milton poem. And even in the case of literary works which are considerably darker in content than the Holy Book, definitely don’t quote directly from them. A little creativity tends to (and does) go a long way.

Adrenaline Mob: An actual review

Seeing how I’ve already ranted indirectly at the various vitriolic reviewers decrying the latest venture of two of my all-time modern metal heroes in something that seems to be a radical departure from what is considered their “norm”, I thought I might as well give my take on the album, to see if I can relate at all to their complaints.

Hey look, a smoking corpse. Ha ha ha ha.

First off, the album art. A lot of critics have actually called this out to be one of the many faults of the entire album.

Hang on, you’re attacking an image. That’s like ordering a sandwich at a bar and complaining that it’s the wrong shape.

To examine it in finer detail, it appears to be a skeleton dressed like an Italian gangster holding up a flaming tarot card, his mobsters gathering ominously in the background (it’d be pretty funny if those turned out to be the skulls of all of the band members!). Now, okay, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – for instance, I don’t exactly know how a skeleton is able to smoke, given that he has no lungs, but (Earth to critics!) …this is an album cover. Album covers are explicitly designed to make absolutely zero sense, unless there’s some kind of deep, metaphorical context. You won’t find any of that on this album, though, and given the Mob’s use of the Godfather font for their official logo, I think they’re entitled to use something like that just looks cool. I’m not entirely sure how it harms the quality of the music. (Again, MUSIC reviewers, are you receiving this at all?)

I will say, though, that it does remind me slightly of Skulduggery Pleasant.

…Anyways, onto the music itself. As I established in my initial post on the Mob, they’re primarily hard rock/heavy metal. Their music isn’t super-clever, like that of the progressive metal bands that two of their members (Russell Allen and Mike Portnoy) came from. It’s just straight out, balls-to-the-wall RAWK. Let’s dive in:

  1. Undaunted
    The album opener, and for good reason, too – the main riff is brutal, the chorus is catchy as hell, and the guitar solo in the middle is an amazing example of Mike Orlando’s technical mastery of the instrument, and possibly the highlight of the entire album for me. (Stick with me – the face-blasting awesomeness doesn’t quite end there.)
  2. Psychosane
    Actually quite a bit of a drop in quality compared to the last track – in fact this is probably my second-least favorite on the album. The title is not the best portmanteau I’ve ever heard. The lyrics are a bit silly and clichéd. The guitar riffs are comparatively forgettable. The bridge to the chorus is pretty cool, though, with Russell’s harmonies staying fast and firm.
  3. Indifferent
    My third favorite on the album. I know just from the opening guitar riff, as simple as it is, that I’m going to love this one. Allen’s soaring layered vocals really do this one justice and Orlando’s solo is probably the second-best on the whole album (behind Undaunted’s).
  4. All on the Line
    This one has to be my favorite track on the album, yet it’s so different from all the rest. Russell Allen’s voice really, really shines on this one. Lyrically, it isn’t anything terribly new, but it’s delivered with such style and substance that I’m willing to forgive that. Stylistically, it’s a far cry from the preceding three tracks, starting out with some very nice mellow acoustic arpeggios, and it’s a bit slower. A very nice “breather” track, which is just as well, because…
  5. Hit the Wall
    At six minutes, this is the longest song on the album, and perhaps the fastest, tempo-wise. Overall, this one isn’t bad. Heavy as shiz, and the solo in the middle is just plain ludicrous. The latter section of this song is taken up with a heavy breakdown, with Allen screaming over a destructive guitar riff, almost to the point where he seems to be subjecting himself to physical torment. A really good effort from the entire band, nonetheless.
  6. Feelin’ Me
    This one almost seems to segue in from the Hit the Wall (although not quite, due to the fade-out at the end of it). This is without doubt the most aggressive song that the album has to offer, with the highest cuss count of any of the tracks so far. S-bombs and F-bombs are tossed about by Allen as he bellows some fairly melodramatic anti-government sentiments, and Mike Portnoy pounds away on the snare as if to literally hammer the points into my ears. The guitar has a really nice groove to it, though, resembling Stone Temple Pilots, and the solo is pretty crazy.
  7. Come Undone
    This is a cover of a Duran Duran song. It’s a blistering remake of the original featuring Lzzy Hale on the female vocals. Russell sings at the lowest I think I’ve ever heard him, while Lzzy takes up the soprano-screamy end of the vocals. Orlando does a great job at keeping the guitar work interesting while staying faithful to the chord structure of the original. It does seem to go on a bit towards the end, though – I get the feeling that the song should start fading out a full minute before it actually ends, although the way the track actually finishes is pretty cool regardless.
  8. Believe Me
    My second favorite on the album. It’s got exactly the right blend of thrashy riffs, powerful shreds and melodic vocals from Russell Allen. His performance isn’t quite as impressive as the beautifully harmonic “All on the Line”, but he doesn’t sound as though he’s straining himself quite as much here.
  9. Down to the Floor
    The Black Sabbath-est track on the album. There are some interesting key changes between the chorus and the verses, but apart from that this is a fairly standard affair. Features a very powerful melodic solo by Orlando. Allen belts out the lyrics fast and furious, which makes sense, given that it seems to be a song all about racing.
  10. Angel Sky
    A waltzy, power-ballady song which features plenty of screaming layered riffs from Mike Orlando. Resembles some of Symphony X’s more melodic numbers (like “When All is Lost”), but obviously not as progressive or complex. It’s definitely heavy – in fact it’s more like a barrage of notes. You almost get the feeling that you’re hearing every single part of the scale at once as you listen to it.
  11. Freight Train
    In my opinion, an odd way to close the album. It’s the fourth-shortest song on the album at just over 4 minutes in length, and seems to be about Russell Allen declaring how he is a train and he’s going really fast. The chorus seems kinda hacked together, with Allen actually struggling over the syllables in places, and barely pausing for breath. I kinda wonder whether this was added onto the album as some kind of in-joke. That’s why this is actually my least favorite track on the album.

In summary, it’s sort of what I expected. It’s definitely not Symphony X. It’s definitely not Dream Theater. It’s just pure hard rock. In some places it’s downright silly. But nonetheless, I hope the Mob continue with this sort of stuff if they choose to write another album – overall it’s very enjoyable and great for when one just needs to crank up the volume and headbang mindlessly.

Overall Rating: 3.8/5

I maintain my opinion that the “professional” reviewers whining about how generic the album is, and how they were expecting some kind of two-disc, seventy-five-minute progressive metal opera with a bazillion meter changes, are still just whining about the fact that their ham-and-cheese isn’t triangular enough. It would be nice to see a reviewer for a change that doesn’t hold an obvious bitter grudge against the whole genre of the thing he’s reviewing and choose to just rate something badly for the sake of it. How is anyone meant to make a judgement for themselves if the whole critique is rooted in self-centered partiality?