Tuesday, 28 May 2013

MEGADETH - SUPER COLLIDER ALBUM REVIEW


Is Dave Mustaine metal's best troll? After splitting Megadeth's already dwindling fan-base with the title track from the bands fourteenth studio effort entitled, of all things "Super Collider" he then split them again by announcing David Draiman, best known for impersonating an infuriated monkey during nu-metals heady years as a guest vocalist on not one, but TWO songs on the album. Megadeth are of course no strangers to new musical ventures. After releasing two of thrash metal's most important (not to mention best) albums in "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?" and "Rust In Peace", they decided to take a melodic, more traditional heavy metal approach on albums such as "Countdown to Extinction" and "Youthanasia". Both were hard hitting and well composed metal albums, catchy enough to produce hits while heavy enough to keep Megadeth firmly planted in the "metal" category. Then came "Cryptic Writings". And "Risk". And, to a lesser extent, "The World Needs A Hero". Metal was out and rock was in, hardly surprising given the metal climate at the time and something that could probably be argued was inevitable. But the worrying thing was Megadeth had seemed to loose their fire, their drive. 

Now one string Megadeth have always been able to have to their bow is that they have been putting out decent material on a regular basis in the 21st century with some of the said fire re-bottled, unlike the other members of the so-called "big four". Slayer, until the recent tragic passing of Jeff Hanneman seemed more intent on internal conflicts than producing new music and Metallica produced one of metal's worst albums in St Anger and one of metal's worst produced major albums in "Death Magnetic". "Worship Music" was an excellent disk from Anthrax but it was 8 years in the making. The real test will be whether that band can actually stay together for one (something already hanging in the balance), and write just as good an album in the process. After the pinnacle of their comeback period, 2009's "Endgame" Megadeth announced the return of original and longest serving bassist Dave Ellefson. To many fans this signaled a move even further in the right direction  but "Super Collider's" predecessor, 2011's "Th1rt3en" but that was a record of two halves. One full of good, but unnecessary rerecorded material from the bands classic line-up era and one of mid-tempo, somewhat boring metal. So is this album a return to the bands previous fine form, or was "Th1rt3en" a sign of things to come?

"Super Collider". Is it a scientific term for trippy as all balls?

The album opener "Kingmaker" seems to suggest the former. After an eerie opening of echoing bass lines, it blasts full force into a selection of riffs that, while being far from the bands most technically demanding material is still a good opener continuing the trend established on post-millennial Megadeth openers such as "Sleepwalker" and "Never Dead". Fast, aggressive and multiple solo's. But its a false start, signaled as soon as the albums title track and "Risk" b-side begins to play. This is the worst song Megadeth has released in a while and is also the most marketed one from the album thus far, leading many to question whether claims of the record sounding akin to "Peace Sells" and "Countdown" was merely the band's illusions of self grandeur. Where they?

Well not entirely but this is once again an ordinary effort from Mustaine and co. with one good song outweighed by two mediocre ones. "Kingmaker", as talked about is a decent opener for the album. "Burn" is instrumentally okay but the lyrics when removed of the music sound like something Liberty X or any other turn of the millenia pop-artists would sing about:

Burn baby burn!
'Cos it feels so good!
Burn baby burn!
Like I knew it would

Funnily enough, in the same song Mustaine admits he has "a desire to burn". Down in flames? If this record is any evidence to go by, most probably. 

And now for a controversial statement. I like the song "Dance In The Rain", featuring David Draiman of Disturbed the most. I will let that sink in before continuing. And its not by a small margin either. Its by far the best song here. Dark, moody and introspective, this has something resembling the Megadeth of old, especially their "Countdown to Extinction" days combined with more modern records such as "Endgame". Draiman's part in the song is not even substantial, its essentially four lines in the song during its climax when the song speeds up significantly and his vocals are also pushed backwards into the mix. Once again, this great little number is followed with an absolute clunker in "Beginning of Sorrow" which seems like the albums attempt at "In My Darkest Hour" with none of the conviction of emotion. "The Blackest Crow" is an odd but interesting piece, featuring slide guitar and is once again a little darker, with the proverbial crow seeming to be an ex-whim who screwed Mustaine over. And "Don't Turn Your Back" is a decent enough closer, being one of the faster songs present with some nice instrumentation. 

"Hey, we're Megadeth and we love puppies and marshmallows"

The biggest problem on this record, as alluded to in the song "Burn!" (seriously, who puts exclamation marks in their titles? Oh, wait...) is in the vocals. Both delivery wise and lyrically. Mustaine can believe in whatever he wants and at least he is upfront about what it. But some of the lyrical content present on "Super Collider" is laughable and at some points tragic. The section from "Burn!" above is just one of many lyrical cliches lying throughout the album, which range from substance abuse (Kingmaker) to lost friends (Don't Turn Your Back) and to starting a war (Built For War) which is, at some (edit: make that multiple) points downright hilarious. And these are all the albums stronger songs instrumentally. When mixed with a song such as the title track or "Beginning of Sorrow" it just makes you wonder as a listener whether Mustaine actually listened to this album from front to back before releasing it to his new record label. His melodic high range he became known for is devoid on this record but given Mustaine's recent health problems this is hardly a surprise. Drover's drumming is also incredibly mechanical and lifeless, but this nowadays almost goes without saying. The same snare hits, fills and bass patterns are all over the record which definitely doesn't help but in truth, the whole band sounds half assed. 

Megadeth has always been Mustaine's vision and it always will be. Trying to dispute this fact would be like trying to convince Lars Ulrich that "Death Magnetic's" production is, in fact absolutely terrible. But it is no surprise that musically, some of the strongest songs on the album also feature credits from the other band members or bring new factors to the Megadeth sound. At its core, "Super Collider" is not a terrible album. It is just incredibly sub-par compared to the bands previous five records, with lifeless production courtesy of Johnny K who seems incapable of getting a substantial guitar sound and lifeless riffs courtesy of Mustaine. Based on this evidence, Megadeth's claim as the most relevant of the big four is in serious jeopardy. 

5/10

"Super Collider" will be available on June 4th

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

DARK TRANQUILLITY - "CONSTRUCT" ALBUM REVIEW



Dark Tranquillity, more well known to many as the last of the Gothenburg big three that anyone gives two hoots about anymore since In Flames decided to release radio-friendly crap and At the Gates stopped making music some 18 years ago. Oddly for a melodic death metal band, they have also managed to fill up their catalogue with very solid enjoyable material; even their transition records "Haven" and "Projector" still contain stellar cuts of music that ranks up there with the 5 pieces strongest work. 



2010's "We Are The Void" was an interesting affair for all the wrong reasons. Gone was the strong tremolo riffing and winding melody, instead replaced by gothic keyboards and less interesting song structures, especially in the records first half. While "Iridium" was a chilling piece hearkening back to the bands darker days present upon the masterful "The Gallery" and "The Minds Eye", most of the joy was found in the "Zero Distance" extended play that featured 5 cuts of music removed from the album. Alongside the catchy title track was the brilliant "Out Of Gravity" that sounded more sincere and developed than the whole album save for "Iridium" as well as the brilliant instrumental "Star Of Nothingness". So enter "Construct", described in press releases as the groups most diverse album since "Projector", which became renown for the bands most prominent use of clean vocals and progressive tendencies yet. It was also an excellent disk so many were immediately excited. 
And the award for the most boring and nondescript artwork of 2013 goes too...


The three tracks that were released before the whole album showed a lot of promise, especially "For Broken Words" which sounds a lot like "Out of Gravity" mixed with one of the stronger songs from the previous effort, "Iridium". Mix with some tremolo picking akin to "The Minds Eye" and even melodic black metal and you begin to get the idea. And while "The Science of Noise" was very much Dark Tranquillity doing what Dark Tranquillity do best, it was a solid song much more reminiscent of "Fiction" than "We Are The Void". "Uniformity" was the most projector sounding song, featuring long, drawn out melodies and a prominent use of clean vocals in the chorus. So all looked good. And then you listen to the album as a whole. 


I will start by saying "What Only You Know" is one of the worst songs the band has recorded in a while. It has absolutely no direction and the transitions from light to dark (clean to harsh vocals especially) sound incredibly lumpy. I always liked Stanne when he dropped in some excellent Depeche-Mode vocals in his work but this song sounds incredibly forced. Also, the track placing seems off. While it makes sense to place a song such as "For Broken Words" at the beginning of the record to signal a new path being forged, placing "None Becoming" after "Weight of the End" seems somewhat odd. Because the latter sounds like a much better ending track and because, as far as ending tracks go then "None Becoming" is just not very good. "We Are The Void" had the brilliant "Iridium", "Fiction" had "The Mundane and the Magic" while "Character" closed with "My Negation" which summed up that whole album brilliantly. "None Becoming" does none of this. While far from terrible, it just doesn't fit right with the flow of the album, something more upbeat and dark like "Weight of the End" with its shifting dynamics would have been much more effective. 
Dark Tranquillity: Cheery Chappies obviously

When Dark Tranquillity actually play to their strengths and spread their wings however, the result is more than satisfying. "For Broken Words" is incredibly atmospheric and tells the listener almost immediately they are in for something a little bit different. "Apathetic" has blackened choruses not sounding too dissimilar to bands such as Dissection on their final studio outing and a pissed version of "Amon Amarth", while "Endtime Hearts" is probably the strongest song overall. Setting out at a fair pace with an excellent mixing of the sound present on "Character" with the blackened atmosphere that the album possesses, this is Dark Tranquillity at their brooding best. 

As far as individual member performances go, then surprise surprise Mikael Stanne's vocals are as strong as ever. On "Endtime Hearts" he combines a full death metal roar with nice mixes of his higher harsh register with sinister whispering in the pre-chorus, while "Uniformity" is one of his stronger showings in clean vocals. Sundin and Henriksson on guitar are much more present than in "We Are The Void", returning to tremolo picking which contributes to the more sinister atmosphere rather well while Anders Jivarp has a strong outing on the drums, slotting into the rythmn section very well. The bass is somewhat non-descript but it was never a focal point in Dark Tranquillity's music anyway so no major qualms. Jens Bogren's mixing is also very good, bringing clarity out in the guitar and vocals while keeping the synth work and bass bubbling away in the background. 

Overall, this is a strong album from Dark Tranquillity and is undoubtedly better than their previous effort. It is also more engaging than "Haven" and at times, probably a little better than "Character". But it is far from their best work. ou can clearly tell the effort has been put in and when the record works, it is excellent. But there are just too many bumps in the road, just one or two too many forgettable songs to make this an instant classic. Its not even the best melodic death metal album of the year. Dark Tranquillity fans and In Flames detractors alike will lapse this up and call it truly amazing. For many, this is just another strong outing from a strong band, adding another strong addition to their catalogue. 


7.25/10



"Construct" is unleashed on May 27th via Century Media