Sunday, October 19, 2008

TRAIL OF TEARS - Free Fall Into Fear

Free Fall Into Fear
Napalm Records

Trail Of Tears relies on astute riffing to be the backbone of their sound, the huge guitar tones on this record being a testament to the importance said riffing holds in this seven piece.

Mashing Mercyful Fate, Entombed and At The Gates is a job that Trail Of Tears takes seriously, employing tones that are eerie and shadowy with a suspenseful vibe. On the ravaging “Carrier Of The Scars Of Life”, the group blends a super furious blasting pattern with a memorable, airy hook that bridge that song’s foreboding dynamic wanderings. It is during this track that Trail Of Tears show that they have matured into their own gritty, textured sound with grace.

At different points in the song, “Frail Expectations” is splendorous and coarse, the piercing keyboard harmonies jutting out like wicked icicles in the midst of a hailstorm.

The biggest complaint about this record is that with so much going on, it can be quite difficult to sort out what is happening through the cacophonous din. Trail Of Tears can blast with the best around, but the band actually has enough members to keep those rhythms up while adding tint through accents and overlays. This is effective much of the time, but in the example of “Cold Hand Of Redemption” the technique can be a touch overbearing at times, taking away from the more melodic song parts a bit.

You have to have a lot of respect for the album’s engineer, it must be more than difficult to have put so many sounds together in the first place and a majority of the time, the group blares through successfully.

Ultimately, Trail Of Tears come across as uncompromising and definitively furious in the manner in which they approach the songs which grace this album.

The group is surely trying to be different and their collective originality scores them much more praise than the performance of any one musician on “Free Fall Into Fear.”

Written By: Shovelhead

Friday, October 10, 2008

ANGEL BLAKE - Angel Blake

Angel Blake
Metal Blade Records

After hearing both this solid, self-titled debut from Angel Blake and the initial offering from Johan Lindstrand’s new outfit One Man Army And The Undead Quartet it’s fairly obvious that the members of The Crown were very hung up over musical direction when they decided to split up. Although Lindstrand’s current group may be a bit more reminiscent of The Crown, “Angel Blake” is easily the better offering.

Marko Terovnen formed Angel Blake in 2004, right after the break up of The Crown. Not only will close followers of Danzig note that the moniker Angel Blake betrays a deep Danzig influence, but the sound of the former singer of The Misfits’ solo formation is also drawn upon at times on “Angel Blake”, making for a dusky melodic journey that is fused with massive metal guitars and a penchant for timely dramatic shifts that underscore the veteran songwriting status of Tervonen.

Recorded solely by Terovnen (who performed all instruments on the album) and vocalist Tony Jelencovich (ex-Mnemic), “Angel Blake” packs a powerful punch, with tracks such as the tuneful “Lycanthrope” and the five-feet-thick “Retaliate” placing an emphasis on brute force without sacrificing melody in the process. Generally, Angel Blake stays in the mid-tempo range. You won’t find very much thrashing going on here, but you will discover plenty of hard-hitting, darkly melodic metal that is both contemporary and highly relevant in a scene overburdened with same-sounding acts.

Although the album’s lone cover track, a beefed-up rendition of Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” has been well overdone, its theme of war fits in with the world’s current political climate and Angel Blake do as good a job as pulling it off as anyone. Meanwhile, “Solitude, My Friend” imparts a doomy vibe, yet stands up as being a crucial modern rock track at the same time. Bold choruses such as the one you’ll find on this track further underline the importance of Terovnen’s skilled song craftsmanship.

All in all, this is a very good record that fans of mid-paced metal would do well to pick up. Don’t be surprised if a track or two from this disc makes it onto the radio airwaves, and take comfort in knowing that if you do hear Angel Blake on the local hard rock channel that you could be hearing something much, much worse in its place. A strong first outing that shows much potential for the future, “Angel Blake” is most certainly worthy of headbangers’ attention.

Written By: Ghoul of Grimnosity

Thursday, October 9, 2008

IHSAHN - The Adversary

The Adversary
Candlelight USA

Approaching masterpiece proportions, “The Adversary” is both brilliant and intelligent, compelling and simply fucking crushing. Expectations were set high for this, the first true solo outing of Ihsahn, the famed frontman of black metal pioneers Emperor. In many ways, “The Adversary” takes up where the last Emperor record. “Prometheus – The Discipline Of Fire & Demise” left off, but expands upon that record’s progressiveness. Painting a lush musical tapestry that’s beholden to everything from Mercyful Fate to ‘70s era progressive rock, tracks like the deeply tuneful “Caught By The Fire” are unexpected in their depth. While the musicianship of Emperor was long hailed by the metal community as being dazzling, the sheer complexity and profound arrangements found on this record take the progressive standpoint of that band’s proficiency a step further.

Of course, all instruments, including drums, guitars, keyboards, bass and vocals were written by Ihsahn. All are performed on the record save the drums, which were laid down with plenty of skill and emotion by session skin-basher Asgeir Mickelson, whom many will recognize from his efforts with Vintersorg and Borknagar. “Citizen” is complemented by some powerful classical inspirations and King Diamond-style vocals, this is a very solid track that will please fans of a thrashier style. But it’s the soft-spoken, atypically commercial-sounding “The Homecoming” that showcases the development of the musical palette of Ihsahn more so than any other track on the album. Spacey, Rush-type instrumental passages coupled with smooth, soaring verses and a hugely memorable chorus make this track a champion, but one that will likely be a dark horse with fans looking for black metal leanings. Even so, this is perhaps the best representation of the sheer diversity of Ihsahn’s musical leanings to be found on “The Adversary.” Although this song is appropriately dark, it is one that would hold appeal to listeners outside of metal. Yes, there’s a touch of the atmospheric leanings of Peccatum contained here, but it’s more evil and convoluted, introspective and stone-faced.

Ihsahn also shows a mellow side on the morose and avant-garde “Astera ton Proinon.” But this track is complemented by a much heavier chorus than “The Homecoming,” creating an interesting paradigm shift that’s a great representation of this artist’s development as a songwriter. Using dynamics for mood and effect, Ihsahn provides listening entertainment that’s properly intense when need be and melodically balanced. Overlaid with passionate, fiery lead guitar work, this track is one that a band like Pink Floyd would have written had they been subjected to influences as intense as the black metal Ihsahn has become renowned for. As it is so rare for any purely extreme musician to graduate to such a level of artistic proficiency, music with such widely sweeping emotions is all the more attractive.

While the sound of “The Adversary” is more than adequate, production is the only flaw to be found on this record. It simply does not have the punchy thunder an album that’s so well-written deserves. When hearing a track that’s more along the lines of black metal like “And He Shall Walk In Empty Places,” (which could have just as easily been a new Emperor cut) the lack of low-end power is evident. Also of note, this record is a touch low in volume in comparison to many big-budget records. Much of this could have been fixed in mastering and for any Special Edition of this record that may come in the future; it would be wise to consider giving this mix a bit more heft on the whole. If these songs were simply a touch beefier in terms of mastering, it would be nigh impossible to not consider this as a perfect record.

Ihsahn’s voice seems to keep getting better over time. In addition to his soft-spoken, melodic, sanitary singing on cuts like “The Homecoming” and “Astera ton Proinon.”, his King Diamond leanings on several tracks and his classic black metal snarl on tunes such as “Will You Love Me Now?” and “Empty Places,” he also explores a variety of other voices. Such diversity as a singer is worthy of comment and it is very commendable for a vocalist from the black metal scene to strive toward multi-dimensional singing. When the songwriter combines the styles at once, as he effectively does on the chorus of “Will You Love Me Now?” – the impressiveness of the approach is multiplied even further. Employing simultaneous duality between a vicious, raspy snarl and a solidly tuneful mid-baritone croon, Ihsahn’s adept placement of vocal melodies on this particular track is quite extraordinary.

Closing out with the epic opus “The Pain Is Mine,” Ihsahn explores textural diversity on an even deeper level, hinting at even more complex and creative projects to come. In balancing keyboards with subtle guitar harmonies, the talented Norwegian carves out a unique sonic sculpture. During the track’s doomier passages, Opera is thrown into the mix as well. Unique scalar movements and guitar interplay that boarders on genius is firmly accented by starkly contrasting keyboard accompaniments and hauntingly soaring vocals. No one can accuse Ihsahn of not putting a great amount of thought behind his work. No matter the frame of reference, the player excels at conjoining musical pieces together like a puzzle, and in the end, each and every part fits perfectly.

Rarely is any solo record as engaging as “The Adversary.” Musically, there’s not a single low point on this record. More importantly, the instrumentation, arrangements and performances to be found here are so lavishly entertaining, this album enjoys a high amount of repeat playability, ensuring fans will not only get the most for their cash, they’ll also get a record that will literally being countless hours of listening gratification.

Written By: The Wizard

TRAIL OF TEARS – Existentia

Trail Of Tears – Existentia
Napalm Records

Overall, the sound of Trail Of Tears has changed quite a bit over the years. With “Existentia,” these dark metal champions once again redefine their sound, with tighter arrangements, better production and a refined focus that belies their considerable effort to craft an album of monumental proportions.

Certainly, many fans will look back on the band’s younger days with much respect, but the simple fact is that cuts like “Venom Inside My Veins” and “Deceptive Mirrors” lay their prior works to waste, hands down. Out of the gate, the band launches a vicious bombardment of gothic themes and wall-of-steel metal might.

Changes experienced along the way have only served to strengthen the will of Trail Of Tears and here we have what may very well be the group’s crowning achievement. Dominant male/female vocal interplay, gigantic riffing, thundering beats and welcome keyboard accompaniments combine to form an enormous sound on “My Comfort.”

Primed for headbanging, fist-pumping and plenty of audience participation, tracks like these emphasize this band’s maturity and newfound confidence. Filled with plenty of heart and no shortage of power, this mashing of melody and metal is one that unequivocally deserves to be heard.

Napalm Records continues its strong start in ’07 and Trail Of Tears comes away with a winner. Without a doubt, seek this one out.

Written By: Withered Corpse