Friday, June 14, 2019

Album Review: Baroness - Gold & Grey

I would like to think all that matters when it comes to music is the music itself, that we can look beyond the individual performances, and the recordings, to hear the core of the song. That's what we should be judging, not everything else. Of course, that's not how things work in the real world. When we listen to records, we have to consider everything about what we're hearing, because sometimes we're not allowed access to the core of the songs. Sometimes, we are locked out by a band that, either by choice or by lack of talent, puts up a wall between their music and the audience.

That's what happened with the previous Baroness album. "Purple" was a record I thought was fantastic when I first heard it. The arrival was late in the year, and I didn't have much time to digest it, but it was so strong I gave it a slot on my top ten list that year. What I couldn't have known is that the issue I had at the time with the record would become overwhelming. Since writing that list, I have not listened to "Purple" a single time, nor have I wanted to. Despite the record being excellent, the listening experience is so dreadful I have no desire to revisit it.

That record was even worse than "Death Magnetic" as the embodiment of The Loudness War. Baroness pushed everything so far past its limits the entire record was awash in audible distortion, the guitars and vocals shrill and buzzing as the limits of technology cut off a significant portion of the sound waves. It literally hurts to listen to that music for more than a few minutes at a time, and it was fully intentional. I can't imagine the band, the producer, the mixer, and the label all suffering the same kind of hearing loss that would allow them to not hear what I did. They put out a record that intentionally sounded like garbage, which led to serious questions about how they would move forward.

The answer is that they haven't. The first thing notable about "Gold & Grey" is that the sound is just as bad as purple, audibly distorted at every turn. The guitars can barely be made out above the clipping, which makes them the least heavy guitars I've ever heard in my life. All the work the band put into these songs is for naught, as the details might as well not exist. You get a vocal singing over noise, or a lead guitar so far out in front there's nothing else to the mix. Balance is completely absent, and it gets old before the first song is over, let alone the entire hour long run time.

"I'm Already Gone" is supposed to be a softer song with a spacey atmosphere, but the mix muffles what could be a really good track by not giving the instruments any room to breathe. The guitar figures in the background could be adding texture, but they are swallowed by the wash of distortion. Music that is supposed to be deep is reduced to surface-level. It's a waste, and a shame. Like "Purple", there is good and interesting music on this record, but I can't hear it. Or at least I can't hear it without feeling like I have a migraine coming on.

The music here is a nice blend that retains the sludge Baroness started out in, but has melodic and progressive elements that expand in directions both unique and captivating. With bellowing vocals and powerful arrangements, Baroness is far more interesting a band, to me, than Mastodon are. They both tread in the same style of dirty yet accessible rock/metal, but Baroness does it with a deeper sense of feeling. This album, along with "Purple", would absolutely win me over to a genre I'm not a fan of. It would, if not for everything I've already said.

"Tourniquet" is absolutely amazing. Building from a dreamy acoustic section (the lone but on the record that sounds good) to a roaring full band epic, it's five minutes of music that does everything it can to prove Baroness' chops. It's the complete opposite of "Throw Me An Anchor", which is short and damn catchy, but both can sit side-by-side on the record and work together. Baroness is writing the best music of their career.

Which is why I could say something more positive here. I want to tell you this album is a must-hear, but I would be lying if I did. Not because the album doesn't deserve praise, but because I don't want to hear it again, even though I think it's great. I'm not exaggerating when I say halfway through the record, I felt like I was getting a migraine. It became actually painful to endure the rest in one sitting, which is perhaps the most damning thing I've ever said about an album.

I pretty much said the same thing when "Purple" came out, but I feel like I have no other choice now. Baroness is really good, and they're riding a winning streak, but unless there is an improvement in how they produce their records, this is probably the last time I'm going to give them a chance. Good or not, no music is worth feeling pain to listen to.

So there's what you need to know about "Gold & Grey". It's a great record that I can't listen to. Maybe my ears are too sensitive. Maybe you won't notice the problems I do. If so, good for you. You get to enjoy some good music. I'm not going to lie and say I'll be among you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Album Review: Sweet Oblivion - Sweet Oblivion

It's been a rough time for Geoff Tate. Since his split with Queensryche, he has put out three awful records under the Operation:Mindcrime moniker, his voice has continued to rot away, and his former band has gotten a fair amount of acclaim for returning to decency. I have to imagine, no matter how much of his own wine he drinks, it can't be easy to swallow losing a split so badly. He's had help trying to rehab his image with guest appearances on the last two Avantasia records, but this is the step that is so obvious, and so cynical, it's amazing it didn't happen sooner.

Sweet Oblivion finds Tate singing a record provided to him that tries to more or less clone Queensryche's period of commercial success. Sure, it might please his old fans, but it also flies in the face of everything he's said over the years about following his muse and evolving as an artist as Queensryche's career fell to pieces. Yes, he can say he didn't write a note of this, and he's only a hired gun, but to knowingly put himself in this situation shows what I believe to be a recognition that the only interest in Tate, at this point, is nostalgia.

That's what this album delivers. The music is that somewhat airy, slightly progressive type of rock/metal that sounds a bit less straight-forward than the usual, but sits in four minute chunks that never ask you to consider if 'prog' was a label thrown on to make the musicians seem more intelligent than they actually are.

The album is centered around Tate's voice, as you would expect with his name singled-out on the front cover. That's going to help sell copies of the record, but it also puts all the emphasis on the weakest aspect. The playing is flawless from the band, and the songs are better written than anything Tate has had his name on in decades (if I'm honest, maybe even ever - I've never heard the appeal of Queensryche), but Tate's voice is still a flawed vehicle. He was sounding better on his Avantasia appearances, but that is likely due to Tobi understanding his limitations and writing simple material for him to sing.

What I can say with certainty here is that this record would be close to something great if anyone other than Geoff Tate was singing it. He tries here, but his vocal tone is now so strained I find it unpleasant and difficult to listen to. These songs are good enough to help a career more deserving than that of current-day Tate. What that means is that for all the people who still love him, and Queensryche, they are going to be thrilled by what they will be hearing. Sweet Oblivion sounds as much like classic Queensryche as the band themselves do these days, and these songs are hookier and more memorable than what his former mates are up to.

I really want to say this album makes up for the last few years of strife and drama surrounding Geoff Tate, but I can't. It can't take back the time that was murdered by those Operation:Mindcrime albums, nor can Tate's voice sound good enough to make me eager to listen repeatedly. Sweet Oblivion has given us a very good album that has one giant, glaring flaw I, personally, can't look past. But hey, if you like Geoff Tate, this album is everything you could ever want.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Album Review: Neal Morse - Jesus Christ:The Exorcist

Neal Morse has made a lot of religious music, which makes it a bit odd that I've been as much a fan of his as I have. I could tell myself that "Sola Scriptura" and "?" were just stories, even if I was deeply uncomfortable with the line about the Catholic church being a whore (not because of my faith, or lack thereof, but because of the intolerance it reeked of). It was harder to understand why I loved "God Won't Give Up", but I could tell myself the songs were just too catchy and wonderful to quibble with the preaching. Yes, I would cringe every time he uses Jesus' name in a lyric, but it was such great pop music.

But what happens when all the good parts of the music are stripped away, and all we have left is the evangelical preaching? The answer is this record.

Neal Morse has put together a double-album rock opera telling the story of Jesus, with a large cast bringing the characters to life. It's clearly a passion project of Neal's, and his faith means everything to him, so I don't want to sound like I'm taking a giant dump on his heart's work. That said, it's pretty much exactly what I'm doing.

Neal is a great songwriter, one of my favorites, but you wouldn't know that from this record. The stage production feeling takes away all of the prog flair and pop hooks his music is known for. Those songs wouldn't work as well in a stage setting, and by writing more generic theater material, Neal has turned himself into everyone else who produces musicals. So unless you already love musicals, this is going to sound incredibly hokey, and a bit like an after-school special.

Even as a stage production, this doesn't make a lot of sense. Neal can't resist, so he throws in a couple of longer prog numbers. Why would there be a two minute keyboard solo while the characters are standing on stage? Unless I'm mistaken, there is no story of Jesus playing a wicked arpeggio in any of the gospels. And that does point to another issue I can't overlook; this is the most overbearing Christian record Neal has ever made. There is no way to tune out the religion, or reinterpret it as metaphorical in your own mind. This record is getting beaten over the head with a Bible, getting a concussion, and then waking up to someone praying over you. I have no issues with anyone having their faith, but there's a line where I feel it gets pushed too hard on others, and this record crosses well over it.

But even with all of that, I would still be able to forgive Neal if these two discs were filled with great Neal Morse songs. They aren't. This is, in addition to the insufferable religiosity, the worst material he's ever put out. Even the weaker stuff he's put out in recent years has been good, so I assume this is because he was writing for a different audience that doesn't translate to record. Regardless, there isn't a single track among these two dozens I would put on any of his best albums. The pop doesn't pop, the prog is out of place, and the rock is so ham-handed.

Due to the subject matter, I wasn't expecting anything going into this record, and that was the smartest decision I've made all year. If I thought I was getting a more traditional Neal Morse album, I would be depressed after listening to this. At least this way I can write it off as a one-off experiment, and push it out of my mind.

I'm sorry to say it, but this experience was one of the worst I've had this year. Roughly two hours of being preached to about Jesus through mediocre songs is not something I ever wanted to sit through. I tried because of Neal's track-record, and I'm sorry I did. I am not a convert.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Album Review: Walkways - Bleed Out, Heal Out

Does it matter where a band comes from? In general, I would say no, it shouldn't make any difference what corner of the world a band happens to call home. Music is music, regardless of where it's made. Of course, that doesn't mean there are times when you're surprised to see some countries pop up on a bio sheet. Take, for example, Walkways. They hail not from any of the usual hotbeds of metal, but from Israel. That is an unusual place to hear this music coming from, and sadly it invites the opportunity for discussions of geopolitics I don't want to get into. Their home is a controversial subject, which may or may not come into play as they carry on and potentially grow their audience.

Walkways has a little bit of everything that currently makes up mainstream metal. There are low-tuned chugging riffs, vocals that range from gruff shouts to falsetto crooning, and a focus on giving every song an appealing hook. It's a strategy that is supposed to spread the band's potential audience by giving everyone something in the mix they can enjoy. That's not wrong, but it also leads to an album that can spend too much time veering away from the band's strengths. When they try to inject atmospheric sections into the songs, it detracts from their more energetic moments.

The other aspect that gets in the way is the band's interpretation of what it means to make emotional music. They take that to mean peppering songs with slower moments, and giving the hooks backing vocals that are soft and somber, which don't boost those parts up the way a chorus should. The songs build to what are supposedly big moments, and the way the vocals are put together sound sad and small compared to what they could be.

Sometimes we complain about music being formulaic, but there's a reason why bands stick to what works. It helps us, as listeners, know whether or not we're going to like what we hear. The singles Walkways put out for this record were solid tracks that sounded interesting enough to get me to listen to the whole thing, but they didn't indicate the full array of sounds the band was going to be using. When we experience the full gamut of vocal stylings, they aren't what I was expecting to hear. Yes, expectations do matter.

But what this record comes down to is a fundamental question, one I'm not sure they resolved. Can modern metal and atmospheric dreamscapes coexist? This album struggles to get the balance right. There is certainly an ebb and flow, a diversity to the tempos and feelings, all of which is a good thing. There is also, however, a disconnect between the parts that are almost dream-pop and the parts that are full-on metalcore choruses. I don't hear quite enough connective tissue holding the two sides of the equation together. This is where a formula would help, where it would be obvious exactly what the aim is.

Walkways do give us some solid hooks through the record, and the idea of emotional heavy metal is one I can get behind. The choruses here give me the same feeling as Light The Torch's album from last year. That's the potential, but the route to get there is blocked off for Walkways right now. "Bleed Out, Heal Out" has moments of potential, but it's not there yet as a whole record. With a little more focus, they might be able to get there.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Album Review: Chaos Magic - Furyborn

A couple years ago, Chaos Magic released a debut record that was supposed to be the launching pad for Caterina Nix. However, the album was a product of Timo Tolkki, a man of zero ideas, so it's no surprise that it has disappeared from our collective conscience. I wish we could make Timo himself disappear, but that sadly doesn't seem to be the case. In a lucky turn of events, this sophomore effort finds Caterina working with new people, which gives us at least the ability to have hope for something better. I've heard more than enough of Tolkki's material to know he's not capable of writing a good record at this point, so kudos to Caterina for being free of him. At least I hope it was her choice.

The result of the changes is an album that is heavier, and more modern than before. The riffs have more of a grinding quality to them, and less melody, which leaves more room for Caterina's vocals to carry that burden. In the same way an album that is relentlessly heavy all the time loses its impact when there are no dynamics, if every instrument is trying to carry the melody, none of them stand out. This record tries to put the focus firmly on Caterina's voice, which is where it should be.

For the most part, that approach leads to an album with meaty riffs and soaring melodies. It's the kind of album that sneaks up on you, and you don't quite realize how much appeal it has at first. Songs like "You Will Breathe Again" and the ballad "Beware Of Silent Waters" have big, bold melodies that are far more epic and memorable than anything from the first record. They fit nicely in the context of what melodic metal is supposed to be at this point in time. It's not enough to just have a pretty voice singing something sweet, which is a mistake a lot of bands haven't yet realized is a mistake.

The best songs on this record are really good, but this isn't without missteps. The middle of the record, when we get to "Falling Again" and "Bravely Beautiful" gets bogged down in songwriting that loses the steam powering the great opening run of tracks. Also, I'm not a fan of half the record featuring guest singers. Having so many of them gives me the impression someone didn't think Caterina was enough on her own, and that's not true. Her duet with Tom England on the title track is great, because of the contrast in their voices, the rest of the duets don't sound necessary to me. If this is Caterina's band, which the branding of "Chaos Magic featuring Caterina Nix" indicates, there shouldn't be so many guests pulling the attention from her.

Those preceding two paragraphs are a mixed bag, and that's what the album can be summed up. The beginning and end sections are really good melodic metal that hits all the right notes. Unfortunately, the middle third drags things down considerably. It makes a good first impression, and a good last impression, but that's only some comfort for the lethargy I had between them. Look, this version of Chaos Magic is an improvement, that's for sure, but there is still work left to be done. The good on this record makes it clear they can get there, but it hasn't happened yet. This is a step forward, but it's still only a good record, not a great one.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Album Review: Timo Tolkki's Avalon - Return To Eden

The comparisons between this project and Avantasia are too many to ignore. You have a power metal band leader who wanted the credit and/or the freedom of breaking away from their original group, you have names that share the same first syllable, and you have a concept album cycle where each record brings in a different cast of vocalists to make everything sound more grandiose and important than another record from the starting point would have generated. Of course, in Tolkki's case, he's doing this because he burned the bridges with everyone who's worked with him before, and his reputation is one that practically requires him working on his own. Still, part of me thinks about this and considers Avalon to be a pale imitation, if not a complete rip-off, of Avantasia.

With the first two Avalon records, Tolkki produced one great song that I still remember, which happened to be the very first one released. "Enshrined In My Memory" was fantastic, and it's funny now to see how much bigger Elize Ryd and her band have gotten, when compared to where Tolkki is. In the Alanis Morrisette sense of the word, isn't it ironic?

For this chapter of Avalon, you need to be deep in the power metal weeds to know the full cast. Of course Anneke Van Giersbergen needs no introduction, but the profiles of Zachary Stevens, Todd Michael Hall, Mariangela Demurtas, and Eduard Hovinga are not going to get anyone but the most hardcore excited. The same can be said of Tolkki, at this point, so maybe it's more fitting than I initially thought. Tolkki shredded his own reputation with the questionable choices he made in his last years leading Stratovarius, and further diminished when that band rebounded without him. On his own, he hasn't made any music approaching his former stature, so I'm afraid he's still treated as a curiosity.

"Promises" gets things started with some generic power metal. We get the fast keyboard runs to kick off the song, and then Hall is led into melodies that are trite, and fit that "Eagle Fly Free" mold that power metal hasn't been able to break out of for nearly thirty years. It's fine, but incredibly bland, and Hall's voice doesn't have the personality to give such a cliche song a character of its own.

The title track improves things, both by replacing the standard keyboard sounds with bagpipes, and with the interplay between the singers. Trading lines back and forth, even if they're not the strongest material, gives the song some give-and-take. Of course, after the solo, there's one section where Stevens' voice has so much echo on it I swear it had to be a production mistake. But that couldn't be, could it? Surely, someone listened to this more than once before signing off on the final mix, so why that effect was chosen is beyond me. Tolkki must have no idea what to do with a voice that isn't ear-piercing, since Stevens' solo outing finds him mixed further back than any of the other singers. If Tolkki was going to bury him, why even put the guy on the record? Maybe he's the only other one willing to return his phone calls.

The best song on the record is easily "Hear My Call", which lets Anneke have the stage all to herself. It still isn't top-tier Tolkki material, but it's the closest he comes. A bit slower, Anneke has enough room to let her voice float above the music, and that tempo also lets the hook dig in, rather than skid off the listener's ears because it's moving by too fast.

The most frustrating thing about this record is the mediocrity of it. Most of the songs are just fine, but when you go through the trouble of bringing these singers in, and your aim is to make something epic, that's not enough. If this was Tolkki's attempt at starting a new band, and there was one voice he was still learning the ropes with, I could see it being a decent starting point. But this is him picking and choosing who he wants to work with for every song, which leads me to believe he considers this material as good as it gets. He's never going to create chemistry with his singers this way, and any future Avalon records are going to suffer the same fate of ill-fitting choices.

So if you're a power metal junkie who can't get enough, sure, check out this one. It'll satisfy those people who happily consume as much power metal as the scene will create. For the rest of us, you can skip everything other than Anneke's songs. The rest of this album is indeed what I thought all along; a second rate copy of Avantasia.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Album Review: Majestica - Above The Sky

This is a bit of an odd case. Majestica is a 'new' band that is a continuation of Reinxeed. These are the same guys playing the same type of music, but after being busy with other projects, they regrouped under a different name. I can't say I understand why you would put yourself back at the starting block for a new album, rather than use the name and stature you had already built, but the business of music is none of my business. I'm here to talk about the music on the record, not the name on it.

It's been quite a while since I reviewed a record that was so purely, traditionally power metal. Majestica is paying tribute to everything about the renaissance of power metal, which just so happened to be when I was getting into the genre. Contrary to what you might think, that does not give the album an edge in my mind. Nostalgia has only made that time feel even more formulaic than it did back then. Hearing some of the same tropes for the hundredth time isn't necessary.

The opening title track throws them all in. There are the faint notes of a harpsichord in the instrumental section, to go along with some symphonic backing, and Tommy Johansson delivers a vocal that goes from almost baritone to the rather painful sounding highest ends of his range. There are bits I'm glad to hear, like a guitar solo that plays an actual melody rather than shredding arpeggios, but at this point I don't know if you can write a traditional power metal song that doesn't feel stale. And those high vocals. Oh god, are they an unnecessary blight on what would have otherwise been a pretty good song, as well as a couple more along the way.

Why did power metal ever decide super high vocals were a good thing, anyway? Yes, it set the genre apart from more traditional heavy metal, but it gave it a reputation for being too light and fluffy for any 'serious' metal fan to enjoy. It's a bit of cartoonishness that wasn't necessary, sort of an inverse to the growling that defined death metal as 'cookie monster' music for so long. What's worse is that Tommy has a good voice when he stays in his natural range. His voice is a bit deeper, and if you remember a band called Keldian who made a big impact with their first (and only good) record, he sounds quite a bit like that.

Now we get down to the crux of the matter. This album is one that plays right into the blueprint of traditional power metal. Since the aim is to recreate that period of time once again, I can't fault them for sounding like a dozen other bands from the early 2000s, themselves included. If you want to hear more of that kind of music, Majestica is very good at it. Since they were a part of the scene, they know what to do. Myself, I don't particularly want to hear a resurrection of that resurrection of power metal. When you're trying to bring back an old sound, it's going to sound old, and that's what I get out of this record.

People who are still into power metal will disagree with me, and that's fine. Majestica is doing their nostalgia well, so good on you if that's what you're into. I'm not, at least right now, so my praise will be more tempered.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Singles Roundup: Doll Skin, Pinkfly, Corpse Flower, & The 69 Eyes

We're still a few weeks away from the beginning of the summer release schedule, so things are a bit quiet coming off the holiday weekend. Before we start drowning in big releases, let's talk about a few new songs that need to be addressed, for good and bad.

Doll Skin - Empty House

The first single from their upcoming record showed Doll Skin stepping up their game significantly. Their second single shows that wasn't a fluke. Like "Mark My Words", this song is led by a propulsive chorus that lets the energy of the song pour through the speakers. It's not easy to have attitude and still write sticky songs, but Doll Skin is doing just that. This song moves their upcoming record up to the top of the list of anticipated June releases.

Pinkfly - Happy

It wasn't too long ago I discovered Fit For Rivals, specifically the "Steady Damage" album, which I have grown quite fond of. The timing was precipitous, as the voice of that band is getting her new project off the ground. This is the first song from the new, all female, LGBTQ positive group. Renee Phoenix still has that lovely, rough in all the right ways voice, which embodies the attitude in the song. It's almost mechanical, as the song hammers the hook again and again. It's a solid first statement, and it will be interesting to hear what other paths the group decides to go down.

Corpse Flower - On Top Of The World

The latest project featuring Mike Patton, this is a song that quite pissed me off. It's a more direct and immediate form of art rock, which has melodies that would make it an easy winner.... until the lyrics take us tumbling to the bottom of the barrel. He sings "if I was on top of the world, I'd take a shit on the earth". That line is so childish and immature it ruins every good aspect of the song. Patton's mean-spirited crudeness might be intended for shock, but only in the sense that I never thought he was that stupid. Screw this.

The 69 Eyes - 27 & Done

I'm not sure how it happens that every genre established a blueprint, and then it seems liek countless identical voices pop up. When it comes to gothic rock, The 69 Eyes have the trademark sound, which is on full display here. This song is well-written, with a solid melodic foundation, but there's one glaring flaw. The morose feeling of gothic rock is so subdued that there is absolutely no energy here at all. I know that's mostly the point, but the snap and sparkle it could have are dulled, which renders everything flat. They tied themselves to a leash, and then started running. Obviously, they're not going to get far.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Album Review: Diviner - Realms Of Time

Either I have fallen out of 'the know', or the first half of 2019 has been terrible for power metal. Other than Avantasia, which at this point isn't really power metal, I can't think of a single power metal album that has made any sort of noise this year. I've been feeling the genre's stagnation for several years now, but the tide is so far from the shore right now that it's hard to remember when the waters were drowning us. That resurrection of the genre has since passed, and now we're faced with two types of power metal, each becoming insular and self-referential to the point where nearly none of the albums are able to feel special.

Diviner is in the heavy power metal camp. They use the heavier, more modern take on the sound, which is the one that theoretically should feel less played-out at this point. That sound, however, has shinier gems to live up to. Considering the albums Orden Ogan and Nocturnal Rites have put out lately, heavy power metal is where the competition is.

Opener "Against The Grain" storms out of the gates with a riff that is more old-school thrash than power metal, which sets an aggressive tone. It's plenty heavy, and the vocals that bear a slight similarity to Hansi Kursh are interesting, but the song lacks any sort of hook whatsoever. Power metal, even of this kind, is still all about the big choruses, and the first statement this album makes is a weak effort.

Things get better as we move along. "Heaven Falls" is just as heavy, but with a much stronger melody, even if the backing vocals should have been on the chorus rather than the pre-chorus. I think I know why they went that route, but it winds up making the main thrust of the song sound smaller than what came before it. That's not how you properly build drama. The climax of the plot can't come in the first act, and the chorus of the song is what needs to be the high point. It's 'Songwriting 101', and it's surprising how often bands don't understand it.

Diviner proves a point I've argued for a long time; writing songs is easy, but writing great songs is hard. From a musical standpoint, the band is giving us some solid heavy metal. It isn't nearly as hard to crank an amp, play a few riffs, and call it a song. What is difficult is crafting melodies, whether vocal or guitar, that are memorable. Diviner doesn't give us many of those over the course of these ten songs. They will scratch the itch if you want to hear something heavy, but not if you want to hear great songs.

All you have to do is look to Nocturnal Rites' "Phoenix" to see my point. That album, like this one, was modern and heavy power metal, but it was bursting with huge choruses and sing-along hooks. You could listen to that album once and start singing the choruses by the end of each song. This album, however, you could listen to several times without being able to pick each song out from the others. "The Earth, The Moon, The Sun" stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest of them, and is quite good, but the remainder of the album blends together into a wash of decency.

Diviner has a good sound, but so do a lot of bands. They need better songs, because this record is only ok.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Singles Roundup: Slipknot, Volbeat, Blink 182, & Pattern Seeking Animals

There aren't many interesting albums to talk about this week, so let's look at some singles instead. We have a few bit names to tackle, and some conclusions to draw about records that are going to dominate the summer.

Slipknot - Unsainted

This is an improvement over the lackluster "All Out Life", but it still succumbs to the issues I've always had with Slipknot. Corey Taylor has pushed enough Stone Sour into their sound that the chorus is a solid, melodic effort, but it sits in a song that doesn't want that sort of hook. The rest of the track is their usual groovy aggression, which gets a bit boring even on a four minute track. They try to combine the anger and ferocity of their ugly days with something more mainstream, and I don't think it works as a whole. Two tracks have shown me all I need to know to avoid the full-length.

Volbeat - Leviathan

There's no denying Volbeat has been getting poppier. Their previous album was one I loved, but split fans by being their most overly mainstream record yet. This first taste of their upcoming record is in the same style, and unapologetically so. There's also the creeping sense of deja vu that comes through the verses, where it's so predictably Volbeat that it sounds like it could be four other of their tracks. The song is good, and it points in the direction I want to hear, but I'm worried Volbeat is starting to repeat themselves.

Blink 182 - Blame It On My Youth

What year is this again? Blink 182 and Backstreet Boys both have new music on the airwaves, and it's hard to tell which one of them is heavier. This is such a departure it's truly shocking. Gone is virtually any semblance that they are a rock band, instead replaced by modern pop that doesn't give the fans anything they want to hear. The first album without Tom Delonge was a mixed bag, but it sounded like Blink. This is worse than that, and doesn't even have the saving grace of satisfying an old itch. What a weird, confusing song.

Pattern Seeking Animals - No Burden Left To Carry

Speaking of confusing, there's this one. This band is made up of a bunch of current and former Spock's Beard members, plus the guy who's written a lot of the recent Spock's material, but it's not Spock's. They talk about this being something different, but it sounds pretty much exactly like the last couple of Spock's records, but with even less melodic edge to it. "Brief Nocturnes & Dreamless Sleep" was phenomenal, and features most of this lineup. This is staid, boring prog that created a new band where one wasn't needed. Last year's Spock's album was disappointing enough. I didn't need even more of it.