Monday, 17 June 2013

AMON AMARTH - DECEIVER OF THE GODS ALBUM REVIEW

Known by metal fans alike as probably being the most reliable melodic death metal band currently in existence alongside acts such as Dark Tranquillity and Kalmah, Amon Amarth have hacked, slashed and burned their way through their 20-odd year tenure talking about vikings, viking raids and, err, more viking related stuff. Even on their weaker albums, generally regarded as 1999's "The Avenger" and 2001's "The Avenger" there was still some good material and tales of everything Norse to keep the listener entertained. And of course, since then the trajectory for Amon Amarth has only ever been up. Better production, ventures into slower, more melancholic and more cohesive material have been trademarks of the band since 2002 when they released the excellent "Versus the World" so its time to see if "Deceiver of the Gods" (probably their best album title to date, by the way) continues this trend.

Well, if first appearances were anything to go by then no. The bands previous two releases had absolutely incredible artwork, featuring the mythical giant Surtr pillaging some poor bastards village and Thor, the god of thunder battling Jormungandr the sea serpent (three guesses as to which cover related to which album). This cover is much more simplistic and while it is still very pretty, detailing the battle of the gods and Loki at Ragnarok, it just lacks the epic nature present on the previous two records. And does the simpler cover translate to the music? Well yes and no. 

Deceiver of the Gods: Pretty, just not as good as previous efforts

The faster numbers feel much more stripped down and more akin to the faster moments of "Versus the World", only somewhat less cohesive than "Surtur Rising" but the slower songs feel much more fleshed out and developed. The band did mention how they wanted a change from Jens Bogren (Katatonia, Opeth, Symphony X) , one of extreme metals most acclaimed producers so they decided to go with Andy Sneap of Arch Enemy and Megadeth fame; so it is a little odd how a producer better known for his pacier records has pulled this feat off. Either way, there is little to complain about with a lot of the slower songs containing the biggest grooves the band has ever written, especially on album highlight "Under Siege" which has an absolutely world beating riff and one of the albums best instrumental passages halfway through. "We Shall Destroy" follows in the same suit, sounding like this albums version of "Guardians of Asgaard" with Johan Hegg utilising a slightly higher pitched vocal performance than we are used to. 

The real treats of the album are however located in the final three songs, namely "Hel" and "Warriors of the North". "Hel" features a very notable guest performance from the ex-Candlemass singer Messiah Marcolin, with his vocals really complimenting the near-middle eastern atmosphere the band shroud the song in. And it really does work, layering Johan Hegg with clean vocals. "Warriors of the North" is the of the longest songs that the band has recorded and has suitable warrior rallying lyrics with a very traditional Amon Amarth sound, despite what the opening Dark Tranquillity-esque riff will have you believe. Its an excellent throwback song to what the band sounded like on "Versus the World" and "Fate of Norns" in particular with some of the records best riffs after the two-minute mark. Of the faster songs, "Father of the Wolf" is the definite highlight with an awesome chorus that basically lists off all the awesome creatures of Norse mythology. 
Amon Amarth: Do NOT steal their mead. Johan Hegg will literally tear your head off

For once, the songs with the greater pace on an Amon Amarth record are the only real problems because they are simply not that memorable. While the title track serves up a healthy dose of thrashing Norse metal, "As Loke Falls" and "Blood Eagle", despite the latter opening with what sounds like an axe splitting bone are just more Amon Amarth songs for the ages. The first half of the record is also much less memorable than the second half, but whether this is a testament to the strength of "Under Siege" onwards remains to be truly seen. 

"Deceiver of the Gods" is far from Amon Amarth's best album. But is also far from their worst. Songs such as "Hel" and "Warriors of the North" are some of the strongest songs the band has ever recorded and in "Under Siege" they have written one of their heaviest ever songs which is an achievement in itself, plus it helps the song is a definite album highlight. Its somewhat sad that the faster songs, traditionally some of the best in the bands extensive catalogue are also the weakest here but when you have tales of castles under siege and frost-bitten warriors slaying beast and man alike, its hard not to succumb to the Amon Amarth charm. Here's to another great album, chaps

7.5/10

Saturday, 8 June 2013

CHILDREN OF BODOM - HALO OF BLOOD ALBUM REVIEW

For any seasoned fan of more extreme metal circles, then Children of Bodom do not need an introduction. Becoming famous in their early formation days for playing a ferocious, yet incredibly melodic brand of death metal with more seemingly in line with Sonata Artica than Six Feet Under (not that that is necessarily a band thing) courtesy of Janne Wirman's insanely catchy keyboard melodies and Alexi Laiho's guitar skills, this Finnish five peice seem to have very slowly ran out of steam over the years. Much like the proverbial faithful old dog, the band struggled to capture their early intensive fire that saw them release albums such as "Hatebreeder" and "Follow the Reaper", regarded as two of this particular niches finest albums, especially on 2008's "Blooddrunk" (let's just say the band were certainley drunk on something when they released the somewhat half-baked affair). So enter "Halo of Blood", featuring the producer of what is generally regarded as the band strongest material (Peter Tagtgren of Hypocrisy for those unaware) and an album promising a much more blackened and serious approach than previous releases. 

If first impressions are anything to go by, then Children Of Bodom are certainly going about it the right way

Of course, the sound of old Bodom was still present on all of their records from "Are You Dead Yet?" onwards. It was just never there in the full force present on any album up to "Hate Crew Deathroll", instead tending to lurk in the background and occasionally rear its ugly head to provide glimmers of the part. Well, the good news initially is that this is the closest that the band has sounded to "Follow the Reaper" since, well, that album. Melodies from Laiho in particular are forced to the forefront of the bands sound, especially in extensive instrumental passages and song openings while Janne Wirman's keyboards are just placed a little further back into the mix, coming to the forefront for the bands trademark guitar/keyboard solo duels that have defined their career. Songs such as "Waste of Skin", "The Days Are Numbered" and "Scream For SIlence" all feature multiple solos and heavy hitting riffs, making the instrumentation some of the bands most impressive since "Hate Crew Deathroll". It should also be noted that sonically and both technically, this is by far the most competent drummer Jaska Raatikainen has ever sounded, especially on the title track and "Damaged Beyond Repair, almost sounding progressive in nature.. While blast beats and numerous instances of double bass are almost a trademark on Children of Bodom albums, here the drumming is tighter and much more inventive. The bass, courtesy of Henkka Seppälä is also solid and driving which helps a lot of the songs gain, or in most cases maintain momentum. 

Children of Bodom; instrumentally on top of their game

For many, the make or break point with any of the bands albums seems to be the vocals of Laiho and he once again utilises his "barking" technique (I honestly could not think of a more technical way to describe it" but the delivery is clearer than in previous outings, especially 2008's "Blooddrunk" where he was virtualy unintelligible. This actually turned out to be something of a blessing, as the vocal passages for "Lobodomy" showed;

"You motherfuckers wanna give me, a lobodomy?Fuck no, then you know who I am?Well we're about to fucking seeYou started messin with deathNo one said?I'm a ManiacFuck yeah, you have no power to ask why!
Then I will give you a turn"

If nothing else, props for adding 3 swear words into 20 seconds of music. But in all seriousness, this is actually an are that has seen some improvement. Gone are many expletives, and sure while the subject matter is still somewhat cliche'd at least it is being delivered with greater conviction and clarity. The gang vocals, typical of this subgenre are still fist-pumping enough to rile a crows, and there is even some ominous spoken word in "Dead Man's Hand On You" that sets the atmosphere for this Bodom-by-Paradise Lost affair. 

This is really something of a pleasant and unexpected surprise. This far into their career, many fans know what to expect from the band and on "Halo Of Blood", their expectations are met by the bucketload. Great instrumentation, good production courtesy of Tagtgren and an ominous blackened atmosphere lurks around a lot of the albums darker moments making everything seem more thought out and sincere than their last few studio outings which only serves to benefit the album. If the band can maintain this momentum and push forward from here, then we could all be in for even more treats. 

8/10. Halo Of Blood is out now in Europe via Nuclear Blast Records