Saturday, May 25, 2013

Alice in Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013)
After the masterful "Black Gives Way to Blue" of 2009 (one of my all-time favorite records), my expectations for Alice in Chains' new release were incredibly high albeit somewhat tempered by lingering doubts over whether they ever top or even match that phenomenal album. Well, I can't quite say that those doubts have been put to rest but this is still a monster record that is likely to be my album of the year. There are so many jaw-dropping moments on this album that I don't want to spoil for you in case you haven't heard it, but I will mention a few of them. Some of the things that stick out most to me are the beautifully dark and epic ending to "Lab Monkey," the infectious riff in "Stone," the uplifting, anthemic ending to "Breath on a Window," and finally the beautiful "Down in a Hole" vibe of "Choke."

Alice in Chains' fifth album is certainly a worthy addition to the band's discography, but I feel that are a few shortcomings which prevent me from either giving it a 10 or liking it as much as "Black Gives Way to Blue." One of these is the sameness factor. Now, this isn't a huge problem by any means but it is there and makes it so some of the songs lose some of their uniqueness. Compare this to "Black Gives Way to Blue" where each song, in my opinion, has a unique identity and stands on its own two feet so to speak. Tying with that issue is my feeling that some of the songs, especially the title track, feel too long for their own good whereas BGWTB felt nice and concise. Finally, William Duvall simply doesn't have enough solo vocal parts. In fact, that's really my main beef with this album since I was hoping to hear him more than on BGWTB.

All this may sound like nitpicking and I admit they are minor issues in comparison to how pleased I am with this album, but I was hoping for perfection and didn't quite get it so I feel that I have to point them out. Overall, this is a brilliant achievement for a legendary band and I find myself coming back to it again and again. Hopefully you will too.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Leprous - Coal (2013)
Leprous' third album sees them showing off their more melodic/atmospheric side as opposed to the technicality of "Tall Poppy Syndrome" and "Bilateral" but, as expected, it's still a phenomenal work and is sure to be one of this year's best prog metal albums. Like Devin Townsend, Leprous have always had a penchant for the bombastic side of metal and it absolutely shines through on "Coal." Take for example the soaring chorus on "Chronic"or the uplifting epic "The Valley" which are some of my favorite parts on the album. Or consider the gorgeous ballads "Cloak" and "Salt" where vocalist Einar Solberg is at his best. Finally, consider the mindblowing closing track "Contaminate Me" which features an astounding performance from legendary Emperor vocalist Ihsahn and you'll most likely be tempted to conclude that this is a masterpiece of an album. It's certainly Leprous' catchiest album yet though it doesn't stray too far from the style they established with their two previous records. If you're looking for a unique, quirky album that stands out from most other prog metal releases then this is definitely up your alley.
Dark Tranquillity - Construct (2013)
As a veteran band of the melodic death metal scene, Dark Tranquillity had a lot riding on this record especially after the rather mediocre "We Are the Void" which didn't really do anything to advance the band's sound. Fortunately, DT have remedied that problem on "Construct" and decided to try something new. The songs are more focused on atmospherics this time than catchiness. This approach is risky in that it distances the band somewhat from their roots, but it pays off in terms of both reinvigorating their sound and simply putting out a good album. Musically, "Construct" is a very dark, synth-laden record that can, in some respects, be compared to modern Katatonia. One can see this most clearly on tracks such as "Uniformity" and "State of Trust" which both feature stellar clean vocals and both have a nice doomy tinge to them. On the other hand, "Endtime Hearts" and "Apathetic" are excellent, aggressive nods to old-school fans. While it does take time to get used to this record's style, I can safely say that this is a great album and another artistic achievement in this band's storied career.
Deafheaven - Sunbather (2013)
Well, it looks like we have yet another contender for black metal album of the year. Besides Alcest, I don't think I've heard any other band that mixes black metal and post-rock with the incredible knack for balancing beauty with brutality as this band does. The metal parts on this album just ooze intensity and emotionality with vocalist George Clarke absolutely destroying his throat with atmospheric, semi-melodic riffs and manically fast drumming accompanying him. The clean parts are, for the most part, absolutely gorgeous and flow quite nicely into the metal mayhem. Some of the best post-rock moments on this record include the middle section of "The Pecan Tree" and the intro to the mammoth "Vertigo." I'm not sure  how this stacks up against the debut as I haven't listened to that one very much, but "Sunbather" is an incredible and unique album in its own right. Like most black metal, it's not an easy listen but it's thoroughly rewarding and at least worth giving a shot.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Spiritual Beggars - Earth Blues (2013)
As much as Sabbath/Purple/Zeppelin imitation is a tired cliche in the stoner rock world, this is one album that you can't help but enjoy no matter who it sounds like. The riffs are simply outstanding. All the songs are foot-tappingly catchy and oftentimes headbangable. Michael Amott, both here and in his previous band Arch Enemy, is an absolute riff-machine who delivers the goods on this very straightforward, no-nonsense rock n' roll album. The singer (too lazy to look up his name, previously from power metal band Firewind) does a great job as well sounding much like a cross between Ian Gillan and Glenn Hughes. As a little twist, there are some fantastic keyboard solos and acoustic sections that give a distinct prog twinge to the songs they feature on. Another strength of the album is the superb bluesy solos that sometimes even rival those of the master Ritchie Blackmore himself. In all, "Earth Blues" may very well be my pick for stoner record of the year, and it's my sincere hope that this won't be as underrated/unknown as Spiritual Beggars' past albums.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Queens of the Stone Age - Like Clockwork (2013)
After the rather disappointing "Era Vulgaris,"QOTSA have reinvigorated their sound with guest musicians and a lot of new, interesting ideas. From the dark, experimental "Keep Your Eyes Peeled" to the infectiously groovy "Smooth Sailing" to the haunting title track, this is a very diverse, intricately crafted record meant to showcase the full extent of the band's musical talents. Another particular strength of the album is how the guests' parts don't outshine the band and really just flow naturally with the music. "Like Clockwork" won't have the revolutionary impact that "Songs for the Deaf" did back in 2002, but it does show that this band is still relevant and can still pump out great tunes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tesseract - Altered State (2013)
With only their second album, Tesseract have not only proved themselves as one of the giants of the djent movement, but have also made one of the best albums of the year. Dan Tompkins' harsh vocals may be gone, but new vocalist Ashe O'Hara makes them rather irrelevant and unnecessary with his incredibly fitting and beautiful vocal melodies. O'Hara's style is catchy, yet very expressive and emotional. But that's not the only way in which Tesseract have matured as a band. Musically, they gotten a bit less heavy and a bit more atmospheric. In particular, there are some rather lengthy ambient sections on this album along with groovy, technical clean parts and even some delicious saxophone playing on tracks 8 and 10. Like Periphery, this is a band that is clearly forging their own path in the djent world and coming up with highly innovative, gratifying music. If there's one negative thing I have to say about this album, it's that it can be a bit samey at times and I caught myself drifting several times. However, that's nothing that a few more listens can't remedy. For now I'll say that "Altered State" is an gorgeous, layered piece of art that prog fans shouldn't miss for the world.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Immolation - Kingdom of Conspiracy (2013)
As with the Dillinger review, I'll start by saying that I've never been a big fan of Immolation. In fact, their music bores me more often than it impresses me. That said, I did enjoy Majesty and Decay quite a bit and it's remained my favorite in their discography. Kingdom of Conspiracy doesn't change that view at all. Immolation's trademark dissonance and dark brutality are, of course, dominant features of this album which is sure to please hardcore fans. In that respect, it's another very solid release from this legendary death metal band. On the other hand, there's no sense of progression whatsoever here so those who aren't fans of the band to begin with probably won't change their mind after listening to this album. For casual fans such as myself this is a grower and I can't see why I won't be liking this better after a few listens (though I doubt it'll ever measure up to Majesty and Decay.)

Edit: I have indeed been liking it better after more listens so I'll bump it up half a point.
Dillinger Escape Plan - One of Us is the Killer (2013)
I've never been a huge fan of this band, but this album might just help to turn that around. It's an aggressive, technical, chaotic, in-your-face thrill ride that left me seriously impressed with the band's incredibly tight playing. I have no idea how they stay in formation with all the insanity going on, but they do and it all works out to form some pretty awesome music. What's really the selling point for me is how they blend the mindbending riffs with really catchy, melodic moments which appear frequently throughout. In fact, I don't think I've heard any other band do that quite so well. Then again, I don't know if I've even heard anything similar to DEP. If you want to hear some unique, highly unorthodox music then this is the ticket.