SLIPKNOT – Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)

With their original line-up (and masks) still intact, SLIPKNOT finally emerged from a three-year hiatus with the release of Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), a tasty 14-track album that combines the same intensity and musicianship the band is already known for, with a newfound sense of polished songwriting. Master producer Rick Rubin has captured a sound that manages to transcend all of the band’s previous work, and actually quite a bit of other modern metal offerings as well. The often complicated song structures can be accredited to SLIPKNOT‘s acute sense of musicianship, which is driven by unexpectedly progressive time signatures and rythymic drumlines. Those intricate moments found on Vol. 3 are a pleasant surprise and may even appease the technical affinities that fans of progressive metal might have. Moments in “Welcome” and “Opium of the People” hint at that, as well as the final 30 seconds of “Three Nil,” blending a brutally fast black metal-style blast beat on top of dizzying drum fills and sporadic starts and stops. The pinnacle moment in progression found here, however, would be “The Nameless,” a maddeningly intense track that fades from an all-cylinders-blasting rage into a soft, serene chorus at the drop of a hat. Speaking of choruses, vocalist Corey Taylor‘s vocal melodies are much improved (thanks to “the bearded one”), proving more memorable and sing-able but no less angry. The biggest surprise is that the aggression is balanced by the presence of three acoustic tracks — “Circle,” “Danger – Keep Away” and “Vermillion Pt. 2” — the latter of which Taylor describes as a “stalker’s love song…left open for you to decide.” It goes without question that these songs won’t be welcomed by all Maggots, but it provides a winning touch of diversity. Unfortunately, the band fails to finish on a strong note, tapering off at the last two songs with the weaker “Virus of Life” and mundane closer “Danger – Keep Away.” Regardless, SLIPKNOT‘s return marks them as a band that has grown musically and personally over their career, and this record is the perfect testament to exactly that. (Roadrunner Records)

MACHINE HEAD – Through the Ashes of Empires

Looking to one-up 2002’s dreadful Supercharger, the purveyors of modern-day thrash metal MACHINE HEAD come roaring back and pissed off as ever with Through the Ashes of Empires. Comparing the two albums, you’d think the band locked themselves in a soundproof room and listened to their seminal Burn My Eyes debut for weeks on end, because Empires is one tough motherfuck of an album that revisits the glory days of metal. In fact, Burn My Eyes and Empires even begin similarly, with a marching drum-and-axe crunch that draws the listener in from the moment you hit play; albeit Empires‘ opener “Imperium” takes a bit longer to build, whereas “Davidian” immediately kicked your ass. “Imperium” is a perfect taste of what’s to come, as the song is not only some of the best fare you’ll get here, but also the huge amount of improved musicianship found as a whole throughout the album. The boring, recycled riffs found sparsely in The Burning Red and frequently on Supercharger are all but forgotten, as it seems Robb Flynn and company have finally remembered that they’re among the best in the business. The MACHINE HEAD-patented guitar chirps and inventive riffage are once again firing on all cylinders, and if “Imperium” didn’t make you a believer, following songs “Bite the Bullet” and especially “Left Unfinished” will convert you. This is pure metal, embodied in a form that only the most elite can craft, but even the elite can have their awkward moments. Empires has a few traits in its duration that may turn off some fans, such as the unnecessarily seven-plus minute “In the Presence of My Enemies” and more familiar lyrical content overall than the last HATEBREED album. But, when the maddeningly quick drums of “Vim” and the infectious “All Falls Down” hit your ears, you will find yourself nodding your head and throwing the horns, and most likely forgetting about the small flaws here. MACHINE HEAD has not sounded this fired up since The More Things Change. Thanks to such strong, creative riffs, furiously energetic vibe, Dave McLaine‘s metal drum clinic and masterful musicianship from all members of the band, Through the Ashes of Empires is a glorious new-school trip back to the days of old. (Roadrunner Records)

ALL THAT REMAINS – This Darkened Heart

Coming off the heels of this much talked-about New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement, ex-SHADOWS FALL vocalist Philip Labonte and ALL THAT REMAINS have just released their sophomore album through Prosthetic Records. This time out, the band seems to have embraced true heavy metal stylings, resulting in a sound that will remind many listeners of the shoes Brian Fair is now filling with SHADOWS FALL. In other words, the hardcore influences have been all but cast aside to make way for some truly brutal and beautiful metal riffage in the vein of early METALLICA and frequent nods to IRON MAIDEN. Labonte definitely has a throat-ripping set of pipes, with plenty of melodic crooning thrown in as well; and has the rhythm section to back him up. The kickoff track “Death in My Arms” has all the ingredients for a proper taste of things to come: Lightning-quick guitar work, double-bass kicks, Swedish Metal-esque breakneck tempos and mosh parts that would make SLAYER proud. Despite a sometimes thin production in terms of the drums, other tracks such as “For Salvation” bulldoze and slaughter with adroit songwriting and technical prowess, much like labelmates LAMB OF GOD. However, ALL THAT REMAINS have crafted a record that would indicate they grew up not only listening to 80’s thrash, but spent a greater part of the last few years hanging out with KILLSWITCH ENGAGE. While the SHADOWS FALL similarities are none too obvious — a factor which might cause outcry from some fans — the proof is in the pudding with This Darkened Heart: it is, by any standard, one hell of a heavy metal record. (Prosthetic Records)

ICED EARTH – The Glorius Burden

Offering up their usual bag of Euro-flavored power metal, American power metal heroes ICED EARTH have made their return with The Glorious Burden, a powerful new album wrapped in 9/11-influenced patriotism and first to feature new voice Tim “The Ripper” Owens. The album begins with an homage to America with an instrumental of the “Star-Spangled Banner“, followed by the none-too-subtle patriotic overtones of “Declaration Day” and “When the Eagle Cries;” the latter concerning the events of 9/11. Guitarist Jon Schaffer‘s usual churn-and-burn riffs blaze with mighty metallic glory throughout this release, namely on “The Reckoning (Don’t Tread on Me)” and “Red Baron/Blue Max.” Seasoned ICED EARTH listeners, however, will probably not be able to shake a familiar feeling of deja vu (nor stomach the overt patriotism) even with Owens now belting out the words. The Glorious Burden seems to mirror 1998’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, with a reportoire of “one loud song, one soft song” alternating back and forth. Fortunately, some of the band’s best ballads are featured on this release, namely “Hollow Man” and the unplugged version of “When the Eagle Cries,” but they rely on familiar formulas that sound quite like ICED EARTH‘s past work. There’s even a three-part trilogy of songs at the album’s end called “Gettysburg (1863)” that features the parts “The Devil to Pay,” “Hold at All Costs,” and “High Watermark” and extends a seriously long 32 minutes. While the theme of war is widely conceptualized in power metal, that it’s almost fitting that ICED EARTH have coupled that with post 9/11 patriotism. Although another familiar outing, no one can doubt these veterans’ ability to craft an excellent metal album. (SPV/Hunter)

MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD – Our Lady Of Annihilation

Hardcore renegades MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD make their return with a controversial release, embodied in the ferocious but brief Our Lady of Annihilation. If nothing else, the New York City-based outfit are bound to get attention, negative or otherwise, for their daring cover art depiction, as the actual music here lacks structure and a feel of completion. Most of the songs, primarily “Quiet Pattern” and “Collusionist,” clock in at just under two minutes – brief even for the genre. This all makes for an unsatisfyingly short, albeit sonically brutal, 22-minute album. MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD is obviously influenced by their NYC peers such as SICK OF IT ALL and AGNOSTIC FRONT, only with a motif more reliant on breakdowns than on sing-along passages. The lyrics contain at times bleak and negative imagery of drug addiction, societal problems and living in a post-9/11 America; the latter found somewhat cryptically on “So Typical My Heart.” The band shows promise with in-your-face songwriting on “The Great Red Shift,” but too often repeats the same chorus in other tracks that could’ve been expanded into stronger territory. All in all, MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD‘s newest will attract fans of straight-up NYC hardcore, as the music drives relentlessly with eardrum-pounding heaviness and brutal breakdowns, but falls far short of becoming anything special. (Trustkill)

DIMMU BORGIR – Death Cult Armageddon

Emerging from Studio Fredman and with the help of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, DIMMU BORGIR charge horns-up back into the metal scene with Death Cult Armageddon. Following 2001’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, Death Cult Armageddon is as inventive as it is brutal. “Allegiance” begins the disc on a lightning-fast flurry of black metal discharge, recalling earlir DIMMU material such as 1996’s Stormblast. But, don’t expect anything traditional from that point on. “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” combines the grace and mastery of the Prague Philharmonic with DIMMU‘s brand of heaviness, creating what has become the album’s single – a beast of a classical/metal hybrid. Also, bassist Vortex uses his operatic pipes to weave a chorus that is nothing short of brilliant. “Blood Hunger Doctrine” does the same, showcasing DIMMU‘s growth as songwriters by their more subtle use of guitars and more prevalent use of the orchestra and melodic keyboard passages. All of this is a far cry from the all-out Satanic fury of fan favorite For All Tid, as vocalist Shagrath and guitarist Galder have clearly taken steps forward in the realm of metal creativity. However, don’t write off DIMMU as selling out simply because of their implementation of an orchestra. The album’s cover artwork is none too subtle in suggesting the band is still flashing their affinity for things of a darker nature, be it for image or not; along with the even-less-subtle CRADLE OF FILTH-like closer “Satan My Master.” Unfortunately, this song seems to be nothing more than an image-oriented afterthought, and Death Cult Armageddon could have stood just as well without it, as its weak and contrived structure is a bit too generic for this reviewer’s tastes. Conversely, the two-minute symphony arrangement at the beginning of “Eradication Instincts Defined” is an exercise in beauty, as conductor Adam Klemens‘ baton leads a jaw-dropping complement to an already impressive track. All of this is sure to get any metalhead’s juices flowing, as Death Cult Armageddon stands out as one of last year’s best, towering above a sea of competitors who will probably never reach DIMMU‘s level of brilliance. (Nuclear Blast)

BLEEDING THROUGH – This is Love, This is Murderous

Emerging from the increasingly-cluttered realm of Orange County’s hardcore scene, BLEEDING THROUGH have savagely gouged the competition with This is Love, This is Murderous, a dangerously heavy and visceral new album. Though having been lambasted by some in the past for trying to be Swedish or having a Hot Topic image, BLEEDING THROUGH destroys any negative criticism from the second you hear the voice of Willem Dafoe‘s character from the film Boondock Saints on the first track, “Love Lost in a Hail of Gunfire.” From that point on, tempos shift, breakdowns blast, and vocalist Brandan Schieppati emits some of the most enraged throat-bursting snarls this side of Howard Jones. The biggest point of interest found in these 12 tracks, however, is the number of influences the band proudly wears on its sleeve. The keyboards reflect recent DIMMU BORGIR material, the guitarists churn out pounding riffs akin to what you’d hear in a POISON THE WELL vs. KILLSWITCH ENGAGE impressions contest (as do the mentioned vocals), and the drums are some of the fastest and most precise in any record in recent memory. The crushing intro to closing track, “Revenge I Seek,” captures all members of the band in their prime, despite the fact that the lyrics to this one do little to defend accusations of a Hot Topic image: “Fuck you forever/I’ll despise you for the rest of these days/Fuck you forever I’ll fucking hate you for the rest of my life/Why the fuck did i let you into my heart.” Despite the over-the-top vibe, albeit sonically crushing brutality, of the closing track, the other 11 tracks are a metalhead’s dream — most noteworthy are “On Wings of Lead,” “Dead Like Me,” and “Number Seven With a Bullet.” With this album, BLEEDING THROUGH harnesses the power and fury of metal in its purest form, kicking serious ass and taking no prisoners. (Trustkill Records)

FIGURE FOUR – Suffering the Loss

With the release of their Solid State debut, Suffering the Loss, this metalcore quintet pulls no punches and delivers the goods. The record punches the listener square in the face from the first few notes of opening track “State of Mind,” one of the best cuts here, and simply does not let up from that point on. Vocalist Andrew‘s raspy growls sounds reminiscent of now-defunct Sacramento-based hardcore outfit FOCAL POINT, while the tight breakdowns mirror old school HATEBREED and even allude to some SLAYER worship, namely with the gut-wrenching “Carried Away.” FIGURE FOUR‘s rythym section, namely guitarist Metal Mel, definitely have done their heavy metal homework, expanding the realm of metalcore with some seriously punishing riffs in second track “The Loss” that sound not far from labelmates THE AGONY SCENE. However, what FIGURE FOUR have in muscle, they lack in arrangements. Song structures sometime seem a bit awkward, shifting tempos a few too many times throughout some of the songs, resulting in some moments that definitely could’ve been pulled off with more precision. Despite a few flaws, FIGURE FOUR is hot on the trails of BELOVED as being the newest band to watch out for in the coming years. “Suffering the Loss” is a crushing blend of respectable styles that is sure to entice many metalheads and hardcore warriors alike. (Solid State)

BELOVED – Failure On

Why BELOVED hasn’t blown up in the underground scene yet is a difficult fact to understand. The powerful melodic hardcore found on their Solid State debut, Failure On, explodes and crescendos with more fury and precision than most bands can muster out in three or four albums. What separates this album from the vast majority of other genre-blurring bands in this day and age is their ability to swoop deftly from an alternative rock melody into an absolutely devastating hardcore breakdown. Opening track “Failure On My Lips” is a perfect example of this quality, as it begins with a deceiving radio-friendly melody, but jumps into a harsh POISON THE WELL-like double bass onslaught before you can say “holy shit!” The trend is nowhere near from stopping there, however, because the following nine tracks are arguably among the most diverse in the hard music scene today. “Only Our Faces Hide” comes out swinging and doesn’t let you up, nor does the following track “Rise & Fall.” The album’s highlight, however, is in the unbridled fury of “Death to Traitors,” which can be most adequately described as the aural equivalent of being mauled by a sabretooth tiger. Heavy, melodic music simply does not get any better than that track, and the album seems to think so too, as it slightly drops off with a few weaker songs after that point. Regardless of that, “Inner Pattern” and “Allure” add a noteable finishing touch to an album that is strikingly good from one of the most promising bands to emerge in recent years. (Solid State)

HATEBREED – The Rise of Brutality

HATEBREED‘s hasty release of this album, following just a year and a half after 2002’s Perseverance, could easily raise some concerns about the amount of time put into the making of the record. After a thorough listen to the somewhat contrived and repetitive songwriting found on Brutality, one would be hard-pressed not to be a little disappointed. “This is Now” and “Live for This” seem to be the most well-crafted material here, with decent riffs and the usual gut-wrenching vocals and rebellious lyrics. However, other tracks such as “Another Day, Another Vendetta” and “Facing What Consumes You” rely on a tired formula and sound far too rushed in structure. Vocalist Jamey Jasta has been dubbed “the Fred Durst of the underground,” and it seems he’s let the moniker get to his head a bit. After four albums, not only would some growth as a band be nice, but so would some fucking vocal variety! The masterful and precise choruses found in such past favorites as “I Will Be Heard” and “Before Dishonor” have been all but forgotten, replaced by recycled riffs and a lack of creativity. While hardcore and metalcore don’t leave much room in the first place for creativity, you’ve probably heard HATEBREED do this before, and do it better. (Universal/Stillborn Records)