Friday, June 28, 2013

Inter Arma - Sky Burial (2013)
After hearing a lot about this album, I decided to check it out and I have to say I'm pretty impressed. It's a really diverse, interesting record that sways back and forth between feelings of utter bleakness and despair, and consolation and resignation. What I really love is how the record is so all-over-the-place in terms of influences (black metal, Neurosis, High on Fire, Earth, Mastodon etc.) yet it feels so coherent and flows so naturally. Another noteworthy talent this band possesses (and this kinda goes for all good post-metal bands) is the ability to forge a close connection between the lyrics and the music. The lyrics evoke a post-apocalyptic landscape and the music perfectly follows suit. The vocal style is one of the key elements here that not only helps bring to life this landscape in the listener's imagination, but also help give the band a unique identity. The lo-fi, black metal-esque vocals really help make the music all the more desolate and inhuman while simultaneously bringing the issues raised in the lyrics to the forefront and dealing with them in a direct, uncompromising fashion. If you still aren't convinced that 2013 is a renaissance year for post-metal then I highly suggest you check out this dark masterpiece.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shade Empire - Omega Arcane (2013)
Finland is known in the metal world for its melodic metal sensibilities, producing such heavyweights as Insomnium, Swallow the Sun, and Amorphis. While each band has is amazing in its own right, none of them have the sheer ambition and audacity to produce something this epic. And I do mean epic. Shade Empire take all the best elements of their influences including Dimmu Borgir, Septic Flesh, Emperor, Behemoth, Opeth, and Fleshgod Apocalypse, and throw them in a blender with a dash of doom and a heap of steroids. What results is a dark masterpiece of extreme metal with some truly awe-inspiring classical orchestration, gargantuan riffs, jaw-dropping drumming, moving solos, and gorgeous acoustic parts. Some of the parts are absolutely mind-bending in their grandiosity and depth. How this band even wrote these insane songs, I haven't the foggiest idea. What I can say is that this is one of the best albums I've heard this year and that you should hold on to your jaw when you're listening to this.
Pomegranate Tiger - Entities (2013)
Previously unbeknownst to me, Scale the Summit already had some competition this year from this excellent upstart instrumental band out of Canada. While the two bands are very similar in many respects, Pomegranate Tiger focus more on the riffs and "metalness" of their music as opposed to StS's emphasis on melody and atmosphere. And I must say, PT do write some awesome riffs; some of them are even quite groovy. The songs here are incredibly well-constructed and nothing feels out of place. There's even a nice bit of atmosphere in the form of three or four acoustic tracks. I'm really impressed by this album though it could have been even stronger if they had cut out one or two songs because it feels a tad long to me. I can't say Entities matches up to The Migration, but it comes close and definitely warrants many repeated listens. This band quite clearly has loads of potential and I'm excited to see what they do next.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Progenie Terrestre Pura - U.M.A. (2013)
Another unique black metal release, U.M.A. blends together the atmospheric harshness of something like Burzum with beautiful ambient synths. The end result is something like Summoning or Blut Aus Nord except not quite as dark. It's a really cool concept and the music's good, but at times it feels like there's a bit too much going on and not enough in the way of actual song development. That said, the wall-of-sound production on this album is just massive and rivals anything Devin Townsend or Wintersun have done. In terms of innovation, this sets a milestone in the history of black metal but it still has a lot of room for development.

Sleep White Winter - Dreamscapes (2013)
While blackgaze in 2013 may be dominated by Deafheaven's Sunbather, an excellent record entirely worthy of its praise, this obscure album comes awfully close to rivaling it. The music is at once haunting and ferocious; beautiful and cathartic. It's quite easy to imagine listening to it in the middle of a forest during winter or, alternatively, in a vast meadow during summer. As the title suggests, this is an album that takes you wherever your imagination wants to go with some of the dreamiest, most majestic black metal I've heard. With any luck, this album will become as least as popular as Sunbather; I certainly think it should be. If you're a fan of Alcest, Lantlos, Coldworld etc. then this phenomenal album should be right up your alley.
Purson - The Circle and the Blue Door (2013)
Along with many other genres, psychedelic music has been seeing a sustained revival in recent years. Purson is a newcomer to this revival and they're one of the best best I've heard. Everything you love about classic bands such as Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Beatles, Deep Purple etc. is here plus Purson's unique twist. The hazy, seductive vocals, swirling guitars, gorgeous keys, and catchy, theatrical melodies all make for an engrossing listen that is sure to appeal to fans of vintage music (such as myself). The closest modern comparison I can make with this album is to Blood Ceremony although Purson focus more on psychedelia than heaviness and have much more limited folk elements. This is undoubtedly one of the best psychedelic records to come out in recent times. Lovers of all things classic will most thoroughly enjoy this album as I did.

Monday, June 24, 2013

In Vain - Aenigma (2013)
One of the most overlooked prog metal albums of the year, In Vain's Aenigma is an epic, dense album that takes some of the best elements of Opeth, Leprous, and even Gojira and blends them together into a coherent and immensely satisfying whole. If you're looking for prog technicality, then look elsewhere because this album focuses on melody and atmosphere with little in the way of complicated time changes and the like. Much like Devin Townsend's style, the music is straightforward, punchy, yet very uplifting and beautiful at the same time. Also like Devin Townsend (and Leprous), the choruses throughout are infectiously good and serve as the pivot of the songs. The production is excellent and does a great job at establishing the wall-of-sound effect necessary for epic music such as this. Finally, the riffs, vocals and melodies are all excellent and nicely blend death and black elements together. Aenigma is one underground gem you shouldn't miss out.
Sirenia - Perils of the Deep Blue (2013)
After a somewhat disappointing, yet still not bad release in 2011, Sirenia have returned with what is their most ambitious album to date. Incorporating classical/power metal elements is just what the band needed to kick them out of their slump. Songs like "Seven Widows Weep," "My Destiny Coming to Pass," and "The Funeral March" are some of the best songs they've ever written. Ailyn really shines on this album pushing her voice into the operatic realm and doing an ace job at it. The growls fit perfectly and really enhance the melodramatic quality of the music. There's lots of really good, heavy, dark riffs here as on previous records and most of this album actually is still gothic. While some may consider it good that they've kept much of their old sound on this album, I was slightly disappointed that it wasn't as bold a leap as I was expecting. That said, even the more old-sounding songs on this record are still very good. If they continue in this direction on their next album, they might even rival the mighty Nightwish or Epica.
August Burns Red - Rescue and Restore (2013)
Metalcore usually doesn't interest me, and after the painfully average BFMV record of this year I was hesitant to check this out yet the hype and popularity of this band pretty much compelled me to. Fortunately, I can say that this record blows the new one from BFMV clear out of the water. It's a very melodic record though not quite as much as Killswitch Engage usually do things. The songwriting is really tight without an over-reliance on breakdowns or emo lyrics. The vocals are awesome though some cleans might have made for a bit more diversity. The riffs and melodies are really good with the music sometimes bordering on prog and even occasionally featuring classical elements. Besides Disarm the Descent, this is one of the most technically competent mainstream metalcore bands I've heard. In all, it's a very solid record that should change many a metalhead's opinion about metalcore.
Havok - Unnatural Selection (2013)
Thrash metal has been in revival mode for a few years and this band is quickly rising to the top of the movement. Havok's third album doesn't really see any innovation in their sound i.e. towards something more progressive like Vektor. Rather, it's another album chock full of awesome riffs, awesome solos and loads of fun. It may not be quite on the level of Time is Up, but it's still a thoroughly enjoyable record that should please the fans and serve to remind other thrash bands (I'm looking at you Megadeth) how it's done.
Mouth of the Architect - Dawning (2013)
Post-metal masters Mouth of the Architect have returned for their fourth outing and while it may not be as good as The Ties That Blind (my favorite record from them), it's still a solid and 100% worthwhile entry in their discography. As with their past three records, MotA construct epic, atmospheric tracks that are so tension-filled that you feel an incredible sense of catharsis by the end of them. Dawning flows very naturally; in fact, it's so seamless that the whole thing almost feels like a single song with different movements. The melodies are very simple, but quite powerful and gripping in the context of the songs. The harsh vocals on this record are simply fantastic and just what you'd want from any post-metal release. The clean vocals, on the other hand, are nothing to write home about and don't really seem to jive with harshes at times. That aside, I highly recommend this album. "How This Will End" and "The Other Son" alone make this an awesome listening experience to say nothing of the other great songs on Dawning. As this record shows, 2013 continues to be a great year for post-metal as well as metal in general.
Dark Moor - Ars Musica (2013)
Spanish power metal band Dark Moor have already made a name for themselves with their bombastic, classically influenced, Rhapsody of Fire-esque wizardry, but on Ars Music they decided to go in a different direction. This time, they've greatly pared down the shredding and focused on simply making good, catchy songs. As much as I like their previous albums, this one resonates with me more because of its emotionality and utter catchiness. In fact, this album contains some of the catchiest songs I've ever heard from a power metal band. If I had to compare this to anything, it would be to Kamelot's Silverthorn albeit not as dark. There's still a bit of wizardry on this album, particularly on the superb instrumental "Asturias" but even there it's quite restrained compared to some of Dark Moor's older songs. This may not be a popular opinion, but I think this album is the best so far in Dark Moor's discography. Check it out if you like well-written, highly catchy symphonic metal.
Deeds of Flesh - Portals to Canaan (2013)
Along with last year's Incurso by Spawn of Possession, this album is one of the most mind-meltingly technical and brutal things I've ever heard. The riffs and blast beats just pummel you almost non-stop like a swarm of arrows piercing you one after another. Everything is done with such insane mathematical precision that you wonder how this band can possibly remember how to play these songs live much less write them in the first place. The vocals are just perfect for this type of music and the lyrics are cool (no gore, just awesome sci-fi themes). One downside of this album, and this goes for a lot of tech death, is that it does get kind of samey and doesn't always hold your attention. Of course, that's to be expected when we're dealing with super-complex music like this so many repeated listens are required just to even start to wrap your head around this behemoth. Otherwise, this is a true feat of technical mastery that will leave you out of breath and craving more.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Amon Amarth - Deceiver of the Gods (2013)
This album is probably my most anticipated extreme metal release of the year on account of Amon Amarth pretty much being the band that got me into extreme metal in the first place. I was also rather nervous about it because I found 2011's Surtur Rising to be noticeably lacking compared to its predecessor so I wasn't sure if they would continue to stagnate or make an awesome album again. Well, it turns out they did neither with Deceiver of the Gods. They've definitely made a more consistent and, perhaps, better written album than Surtur Rising, but this one doesn't live up to Twilight of the Thunder God or With Oden on Our Side which are my two favorite AA albums.

Now, many people may understandably criticize the band for making pretty much no innovation with their sound and being overly consistent (some have even referred to AA as the "AC/DC of death metal"), but I'm willing to overlook that and focus on the quality of the songs. Do they excite me? Are they memorable? I think the answer to both those questions is yes for most of the album. Songs like the title track and especially "Coming of the Tide" are really catchy and just what I was hoping AA would make. On the other hand, there's "Hel" which even though it features Messiah Marcolin (ex-Candlemass) who's one of my favorite singers, it's just not a very interesting track. Similarly, "Warriors of the North" is basically just an average length AA song unnecessarily stretched into an 8 minute epic. Contrast that to the epics "Under Siege" on this album and "Embrace of the Endless Ocean" on Thunder God. Both those songs are 6 something minutes long which seems to be the right length for their epic tracks. But "Warriors of the North" is still a good song of course; it just could have been pared down. Back on the positive side, we have "We Shall Destroy" which probably has the best riffs of any song on the album. The intro alone is just awesome. Another very positive point is that Johan Hegg's vocals haven't noticeably deteriorated as many other extreme vocalists' vocals have.

Besides the main album there are the 4 bonus tracks which are a really cool tribute to classic metal bands such as Maiden, Priest, Motorhead, and even AC/DC. Johan Hegg adopts a rather different vocal style in these tracks which makes him sound not too far from Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto on this year's The Underground Resistance. It's a very interesting and surprising move by the band and I applaud for them doing it.

To sum up: Deceiver of the Gods is as solid an album as you'd expect of one of melodeath's biggest names and while it's not breaking any musical boundaries or changing the band's sound in any way, it's still a really enjoyable listen that will undoubtedly continue to grow on me.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iron Maiden - Powerslave (1984)
For my 400th post, I decided to review another one of my all-time favorite albums. Enjoy!

All the 80’s era Maiden albums are such classics. It’s hard to choose my favorite, but I had to choose Powerslave because Aces High and the title track are my two all-time favorite Maiden tracks. Plus it has one of the best metal album covers of all time. What impresses me the most about Iron Maiden besides their rock-solid songwriting abilities and the legendary vocals of Bruce Dickinson is their lyrical topics. They write songs about such a wide array of literary, historical, military, political and even philosophical subjects which adds an extra level of power to their music. Powerslave discusses such subjects as ancient Egyptian mythology, the Doomsday Clock and fencing. Oh and let’s not forget that they have one of the best drummers of all time as well as some of the best solos. As on all their albums, Nicko McBrain and the three guitarists shine brilliantly and make some incredibly ambitious music. All these elements coalesce into a perfect package on Powerslave. With Powerslave, as well as with Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden cemented themselves as the leading NWOBHM band and one of the best and most influential heavy metal bands of all time. 
Orphaned Land - All is One (2013)
After 2010's spectacular Orwarrior, my expectations for Orphaned Land's fifth album were incredibly high, and I'm happy to say that by and large they have been met. All is One goes in a somewhat different direction than Orwarrior in terms of scaling back the heaviness and growls and relying heavily on orchestration. The orchestration, for me, is the real highlight of this album as it's done so beautifully and forms such an integral part of the music that you couldn't imagine it not being there. It's a bit disappointing that Shlomit Levi isn't featured on this album, but the female singer who is present here as well as the choir are quite good in their own way. As for the songs, the title track shows the band band at their most progressive and is one of my favorites from the album. "Brother" is a gorgeous, emotional ballad that is one of the best songs they've ever written. "Children," the epic album closer, is another highlight of the album and seems to summarize everything that came before it. In all, even though this album doesn't quite live up to Orwarrior or Mabool, it's still an amazing accomplishment for the band and demonstrates yet again that Orphaned Land are the cream of the crop when it comes to Middle Eastern metal. All is One is their most emotional album yet and if you're already a fan or are just gettting into the band then you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blackmore's Night - Dancer and the Moon (2013)
Many people have been clamoring for Ritchie Blackmore to return to his hard rock roots and he kinda does that on this album. His work is, unsurprisingly, fantastic especially on the last track "Carry On Jon" which, of course, pays tribute to the late and great keyboardist Jon Lord. And then there's Ritchie's wife Candice who performs marvelously per usual with her voice well-suited to Ritchie's gentle folk melodies. However, one thing does drag this album down somewhat. Having two versions of the same song on it. I wouldn't mind if they kept one of the versions as a bonus track, but they don't and it clutters up the album somewhat. Besides that, "Dancer and the Moon" is a really enjoyable, beautiful album that will probably end up as my folk album of the year.
Enshine - Origin (2013)
And now for what will probably be my death/doom album of the year. Enshine differentiate themselves by adding in ambient electronic electronics to complement the heavy riffs and beautiful melodies. The atmospherics are simply some of the best I've heard in the death/doom genre, and the production is crystal clear. If you're a fan of Daylight Dies, Swallow the Sun etc., then by all means give this album a shot. You most likely won't be disappointed.
Lacrimas Profundere - Antiadore (2013)
It's not very often I listen to goth metal and I've heard good things about this album so why not review it. Overall, it's a pretty enjoyable listen. The singer reminds me a lot of Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride which is always a plus, and the music doesn't sound too far from Katatonia. The songs are all catchy and well-written. What drags this album down though is the lack of variety. After having heard "My Release in Pain" which is an excellent track that's very dynamic both musically and vocally, I expected the rest of the album to be along similar lines but it's not for the most part. (Perhaps some 6+ minute songs could have helped). That's not to say it's bad, but it feels like more of a grower. But definitely check this out. It's as solid a goth release as I've ever heard.
Aquilus - Griseus (2011)
Ladies and gents, this isn't your grandma's symphonic black metal. No, this is hands-down one of the most ambitious, creative black metal albums ever made. Unlike most other bands who approach symphonic BM from a metal mindset, Aquilus reverses the process and uses the BM parts to enhance the classical compositions. And speaking of the compositions, they're some of the most beautiful and well constructed I've heard in either metal or classical. Unlike the cheap synths some other bands rely on, there is nothing hackneyed, cheesy, or lazy on this album. This is the work of one man who's truly dedicated to his music and has made an absolutely spellbinding masterpiece of an album. "Griseus" should be the textbook standard when it comes to mixing metal with classical though I highly doubt any other band can make music of such a high caliber as this.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise (2013)
Like Blood Ceremony, Jex Thoth have a deep appreciation for all that is vintage, psychedelic, and doomy. Their main talent lies in creating hypnotizing, engrossing songs whose magical keyboards, leaden riffs, and seductive, haunting vocals all combine to create some very powerful, trance-inducing music. Another noteworthy feature of Jex Thoth is their keen sense of just how heavy to make a song and thus perfectly balance the riffs with the melodies, atmospherics, and emotions. "Blood Moon Rise" is a perfect example of retro-doom done tastefully in terms of having a sound that is both influenced by older bands and original. It will certainly make my list of top doom albums at the end of the year.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Palms - Palms (2013)
When I first heard about the collaboration between Deftones singer Chino Moreno and several ex-Isis members, I thought it was a brilliant idea as I'm a huge fan of both bands. Even though this album might not stand up to the best of either band's discography, it's nevertheless a beautiful piece of post-rock and something these highly talented musicians should be proud of. My favorite tracks are "Future Warrior" with its simple, yet hypnotic melody that flows throughout, and "Shortwave Radio" which has a very catchy and uplifting chorus. I wish some parts of the album were developed a bit more in terms of adding in more heavy parts, yet it's understandable that the band wanted to take their sound in a somewhat different direction than of Isis. Regardless, it's an excellent album that Isis fans and post-rock fans in general should enjoy.
Blood Ceremony - Living With the Ancients (2011)
Since I haven't had a chance yet to review their latest album and since I just got into this band via this record, I figured I'd give it a review. Wow. Just wow. I don't think an album has blown me away like this in quite some time. What this band represents is the perfect blending of Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard's doom onslaught, Jethro Tull's frenzied flute playing, and the psychedelic keys of The Doors. Some might say that wearing their influences so blatantly on their sleeves makes Blood Ceremony an unoriginal band, but I think that the blending of these influences plus the inclusion of a female singer makes for some of the most original and awe-inspiring music in the stoner/retro-doom scene. The flute and keys on this album are absolutely breathtaking in their ability to evoke nostalgic sentiments. The singer has a subdued, rather eerie voice that perfectly matches the music. The occult/pagan lyrics and imagery are a brilliant touch. Finally, the riffs and solos are great, yet not too heavy as would be expected of a vintage-sounding band. This is one of those rare albums that you pretty much instantly fall in love with. I'm already kicking myself for not discovering this sooner and I absolutely can't wait to listen to and review their new one (as well as their debut).

Pagan Altar - Mythical and Magical (2006)
And now for another little gem I discovered: Pagan Altar may not be the most famous NWOBHM band of the 80's, but they are certainly one of the most unique. Their keen sense of melody, a hallmark of the NWOBHM sound, in addition to their penchant for atmospheric doom and incorporation of folk (reflecting the pagan motif of their band name) all make for a highly rewarding and engaging listen. It has a distinct vintage, proto-metal feel to it even though it's most definitely a metal album. If there's anything that drags the album down, it's Terry Jones' vocals which take some time getting used to after which they seem to fit the music. Minor complaints aside, this is a really strong, even addictive record that hearkens back to 80's metal while subtly incorporating the style of Black Sabbath. Not only is it an intriguing musical experiment, but it's also a great record that metal fans of all stripes should hear.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Saxon - Sacrifice (2013)
Somehow, I've been missing one of the most important traditional metal bands of all time and have only gotten into them within the past few days. I'm glad to have discovered them now because this legendary band's 20th album is everything you'd want from a band such as them: pounding, heavy riffs, nice solos, good vocals, and all around fun, rocking music. You might say that it's surprising to hear men in their 60's playing metal so well, but then again we just had killer albums released from Deep Purple and Black Sabbath so it's not all that surprising anymore. This is a band that clearly have not forgotten their roots and can still please their fanbase. If you're looking for a solid, straightforward slab of heavy metal then this album should be on your list.
Sigur Ros - Kveikur (2013)
Post-rock legends Sigur Ros have a knack for being one of the most innovative and groundbreaking bands around, but on their seventh album they have pushed themselves even further into uncharted territory and made one of the most creative and unique records in post-rock. While last year's Valtari is undoubtedly a great record, many fans including myself felt that Sigur Ros were playing it a bit too safe in terms of rehashing their established sound. On Kveikur, the band have remedied this problem by experimenting with industrial rock and pop and blending these sounds into their post-rock template. What results is the band at their most upbeat, passionate and playful. This can be seen on tracks such as "Rafstraumur" which has a distinct post-punk vibe, the title track with its thumping drums and aggressive droning (quite possibly the loudest track SR have ever written), and "Hrfantinna" with its eclectic mix of chimes, saxophone and an uplifting chorus. "Yfirbord" is quite a curious track in that it mixes the band's old, melancholic style with subtle electronic beats and is somewhat reminiscent of Radiohead. The gorgeous closer "Var" could have fit well on Valtari; this is something that really rounds out Kveikur nicely and connects it with the band's older material. Sigur Ros should be immensely proud of themselves for not only having the courage to experiment with their trademark sound, but also for simply making one of the best records of their career. I'm really excited to see where they go from here,

Friday, June 7, 2013

Scale the Summit - The Migration (2013)
As one of the most talented prog metal bands out there, Scale the Summit had a lot riding on them after the incredible "The Collective" which seemed to be the pinnacle of instrumental prog metal. I certainly didn't see how they could top that album, much less move forward in new directions. On "The Migration" they have certainly accomplished the latter, if not the former, and have once again proven themselves as accomplished musicians and made a superb record. The most noticeable way in which StS have progressed as a band is with the inclusion of numerous post-rock elements, the most obvious of which is on the breathtaking "Atlas Novus" (already one of my favorite songs of theirs). Elsewhere on the album, post-rock elements blend nicely with some of the heaviest riffs StS have ever done. A shining example of this is "Oracle" which features beautiful acoustic passages as well as headbangable riffs. Now, post-rock elements may have featured on "The Collective" as well, but not to the extent and not of the same quality as they do here. As you can probably tell, "The Migration" is the band's most diverse record to date. That said, "The Traveler" is probably the song that sounds the most like their early days and therefore "traditional." But it's still great as well even if a bit too long. All in all, this is a phenomenal album that prog fans will probably enjoy immensely. Unless Animals as Leaders pulls off something stupendous (which I don't really doubt will happen to be honest), this will be my instrumental album of the year.
Kalmah - Seventh Swamphony (2013)
2013 has been a banner year for melodeath and this album is no exception. Like Children of Bodom, Kalmah started out with distinct neoclassical/power elements. Unlike Children of Bodom, Kalmah never really lost these elements even as they started writing heavier, more riff-based material. In any case, I think that Kalmah have done a better job than their Finnish compatriots in both staying true to their roots and delivering a solid album that fans will appreciate. "Seventh Swamphony" is chock full of heavy riffs, catchy melodies, and epic choruses. "Deadfall" and "Windlake Tale" are simply some of the best songs they've ever written. The quality is so consistent here even on their more experimental track "Hollo" which features clean vocals for the first time. I'm not sure how it matches up to their past albums as I'm not super familiar with Kalmah's discography, but it's definitely a great release and something I'll be coming back to.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Black Sabbath - 13 (2013)
Can't even believe I just typed that heading. The first Sabbath album with Ozzy since Never Say Die! in 1978 was one of my most anticipated albums of the year. Therefore, like the Steven Wilson record, I'll post a track-by track review and then try to get a sense of how everything fits together.

1. "End of the Beginning" - First thing you notice when this song comes on is the crisp, clear production thanks to (surprisingly) Rick Rubin. Next thing is the fact that this sounds a whole lot like the self-titled track from 1969. That's not a bad thing actually. I mean, most bands repeat certain elements in their music and do a good job at it. This is certainly the case here, and it's great that Sabbath are making actual doom again. As for Ozzy, he sounds pretty good even if the vocals sound a bit too forced in this part. Iommi's work is great both here and throughout the entire album. The part that starts around 5:30 really sounds like classic Sabbath as does the second solo.

2. "God is Dead" - The single we've all heard. The structure is pretty similar to "End of the Beginning" and the lyrics are quite dark as expected from Sabbath. There was mixed reaction to this song when it first came out and I think it's the weakest of the bunch. Still very good though.

3. "Loner" - Here's where things really pick up. It has a great driving riff with incredibly catchy vocal melodies and fabulous acoustic interludes. Structurally, it's very creative and diverse and recalls some of the most creative moments of early Sabbath. Plus, the production on the solo makes it sound very vintage. "Loner" may not quite fit with the rest of the album, but I just really love it. For me, it's already a classic.

4. "Zeitgeist" - This song not only serves tribute to the timeless "Planet Caravan," but also takes the sound in new directions and adds a lot of intricacy to it. It's an absolutely gorgeous tune which is capped off by Iommi playing a wonderful acoustic solo - something Sabbath fans aren't used to hearing. This is definitely a highlight of the album for me and one of the best ballads by a metal band that I've heard in recent times. It may not have the same nostalgic magic that "Planet Caravan" has, but it's still incredible as a modern expansion on that song.

5. "Age of Reason" - This one sounds like it was ripped right out of the Dio/Heaven & Hell era. It's an epic song with a big riff that morphs into an even bigger one complete with an orchestral backing track. Then it actually gets a bit proggy with some interesting time changes and complex drumming. It's definitely the most epic song on the album and probably my favorite of the longer tracks.

6. "Live Forever" - Extremely dark lyrics here, probably the darkest on the album. The chorus is very catchy and Iommi delivers yet another awesome solo. As one of the shorter songs, it's not quite as appealing as "Loner" in terms of creativity but it's still a great song.

7. "Damaged Soul" - This song is truly one of Iommi's finest moments in his entire career. For the first time in many years he's back to playing straight-up blues and he's doing a fantastic job at it. Ozzy's harmonica work perfectly complements the guitar as does Geezer's free-style bass playing. All in all, this is the original stoner band showing the modern stoner bands how it's done. Absolutely amazing song.

8. "Dear Father" - This is probably the heaviest song on the album. It has a really mean riff that recalls Iommi's more recent work. It's pretty cool how they repeat the intro to the self-titled song at the end of this one. It's a good track, but I think it could have been a bit more dynamic and not quite as long.

9. "Methademic" - Wait did I say "Dear Father" is the heaviest song? Nah, it's this one. Iommi lays down an absolutely monstrous riff here. This one is an upbeat, headbanging type of song that most fans probably think the band didn't have in them. Hats off to Sabbath for such a wicked track.

10. "Peace of Mind" - This is another Dio/Heaven & Hell era sounding song. It's decent, but nothing really special to be honest.

11. "Pariah" - This track features another awesome, heavy riff and is about as good "Methademic." Iommi really belts it out here especially in the solo. This song's lyrics deal with religion, perhaps, in the most exclusive way of any track on the album. It's another rocking tune that Sabbath should feel proud to have created.

So what's the final verdict on this album? Well, it certainly exceeded my expectations as far as what a group of 60+ year old men (and a 40-something year old drummer) could create. It takes some of the best elements of classic Sabbath and modernizes them. It's an amazing accomplishment for this band and if it's their very last album then they went out with a hell of a bang. 

On the other hand, I'm not prepared to give this album a perfect score as there are some faults. For one thing, I was hoping there wouldn't be as much Dio/Heaven & Hell era material here as there is since it's just not as innovative as the early 70's stuff both in terms of riffs and overall structure. However, there is still some of the latter which makes me very happy. 

Another issue, and this ties in with what the last one, is that there could be more variation. I think there are one too many long songs that could have been shortened down and packed with more varied and interesting material. For example, if you compare any of the epics on this album to "War Pigs" or "Hand of Doom" you'll see how much more inventive the band was back then. I'm not saying they should copy the exact same formula they had back then, but they could have spiced up the songs just a little bit more.

All these issues pale in comparison though to the sheer greatness of this album. It may not be pioneering an entire genre like the first six albums did nor can it match up to those records music-wise, but it's still an incredibly strong effort by a band that has beat the odds to deliver what is certain to be one of the best metal albums of the year and one of the best in Sabbath's discography. 
Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest (2013)
After a quite lengthy absence, one of the most renowned electronic groups (and one of my favorites) has returned with another amazing, meticulously crafted piece of art that is a more than worthy addition to their stellar discography. It's also one of their most unique records in that the overall sound is noticeably darker and colder than their past works. In fact, BoC even go so far as to experiment with dark ambient on "Semena Mertvykh." However, Tomorrow's Harvest is still plenty beautiful and emotional per usual, and longtime fans will certainly not be disappointed. Tracks like "Reach for the Dead," "Cold Earth," "Split Your Infinities," and "New Seeds" are simply some of the best tracks the Scottish duo have put out. While this album probably won't displace The Campfire Headphase as my favorite BoC record (admittedly a minority opinion amongst BoC fans), it already feels like a close second after just a few listens. Potential electronic album of the year here, folks.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The National - Trouble Will Find Me (2013)
It's not everyday that an indie rock album manages to blow me away, but this one did exactly that. Inspired by post-punk bands such as (perhaps especially) Joy Division, The National's artistic vision is based on minimalistic, emotional, but also dark songs that convey exactly what vocalist Matt Berninger intends them to. If there's one song that brilliantly sums up the poignancy and immediacy of this album, it's "I Need My Girl" which is a truly captivating ballad. In all, "Trouble Will Find Me" is a no-frills, honest album that I'm sure many people in a relationship can relate to. I haven't listened to the band's other albums save a few songs, but I'm intrigued to see if they match up in any way to this one. This will certainly end up on my list of top 5 indie/alt rock albums of the year.
Children of Bodom - Halo of Blood (2013)
First of all, sorry for the lack of updates recently. Second of all, this is definitely the best CoB album since "Are You Dead Yet?" if not since "Hatebreeder." CoB have long been chastised for abandoning the power metal/neoclassical sound they had developed so well on their first three albums. With this album, they go just about halfway toward reviving that sound on such complex, highly melodic tracks as "The Days are Numbered" and "Bodom Blue Moon" (my personal favorite on the record.) Then there's more familiar sounding songs such as "Transference" and "Waste of Skin" as well as some bold experiments such as the black-metal tinged title track and the ballad-esque "Dead Man's Hand on You." Thus, "Halo of Blood" winds up being their most diverse album to date with songs sure to please fans of any era. While it doesn't quite live up to the first few albums, it's still a very impressive feat from a band that everyone thought had gone stale long ago.