STAROFASH – Ghouleh

Twelve years after STAROFASH‘s excellent debut, Iter.Viator, the brainchild of Heidi S. Tveitan proves to only reach new heights over the course of time.  Ghouleh, featuring a song for every month of the year plus one bonus track, is an imaginative, ethereal album.

Unlike Lakhesis, Ghouleh‘s foundation is not entirely dependent on a traditional band configuration (drums, guitar, bass).  Instead, a portion is based on electronic/programming in addition to the trademark STAROFASH classical instruments of pianos and synth.  New dimensions of the band’s sound are sometimes obvious yet often subtle.

The variety of the material is wide yet cohesive.  A song like “Shimmer” is on the grandiose side of things compared to the minimalist electronics of “Draum.”  The results are always beautiful, delicate, organic soundscapes.

What really matters most with Ghouleh is that the music is compelling and straight from the heart.  STAROFASH directly communicates with the listener on a deep level.  With music this good, it’s so easy to just drift off to another place.  One of the best albums of the year.  (Mnemosyne Productions)

CANNABIS CORPSE – From Wisdom to Baked

Cannabis Corpse - From Wisdom to BakedIf you’re unfamiliar with the band, the most fatal mistake you could make is to not take them seriously.  Of course, the band embrace humor and parody but CANNABIS CORPSE are focused on making killer music.  With From Wisdom to Baked, the band have jumped to elite status.  Prime classic US death metal.

CANNABIS expand their sound from being a predominantly Chris Barnes-era CANNIBAL CORPSE clone to one that incorporates more influences from all the classic US death metal bands, such as DEATH and MORBID ANGEL.  Not only that but they explore the spaces for nuances within these established styles of death metal.  Thus, avoiding sounding like a compilation CD mash up.  CANNABIS CORPSE answer questions like, “How would CANNIBAL sound with good drumming?,” and “How would DEATH sound with gutteral vocals and more mosh-friendly parts?”

As with every CANNABIS release, fans can quiz themselves to figure out which album and song titles each song is derived from.   What other band provides the additional value of metal trivia with every album?

With endless hooks, killer playing, and no discernible weak points, From Wisdom to Baked ranks as a pure gem in an oversaturated market filled with mostly irrelevant metal.  Buy or die.  (Season of Mist)

ARCH ENEMY – War Eternal

Arch Enemy - War EternalSo big news over this album is the debut of new (female) vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (ex-THE AGONIST).  Did you really think that ARCH ENEMY would ever replace Angela Gossow with a male vocalist?  C’mon, man.

So how does Alissa stack up?  Her voice is stronger than Angela‘s.  Thus, you don’t hear the blatant studio magic used to cover for the shortcomings in Angela‘s abilities.  As War Eternal progresses, it is easy to grow weary and tired of Alissa‘s vocals because they are simply not that good, and her vocal inflections and patterns are repetitive.  Don’t get me started on her laughable, over exaggerated facial expressions and stage moves.

On the other hand, as can be expected, the instrumental components of War Eternal are as rock solid and as technically proficient as they’ve always been.   The band stays true to their trademark melodic death metal sound.  Expect much of that killer ARCH ENEMY-level musicianship.  There are many absolutely fine riffs and solos.  You cannot deny those melting, sweet Amott-style melodies.  While Nick Cordle is no Chris Amott, he gets the job done.

Overall, War Eternal is what it is.  Nothing more, nothing less.  As longtime metal warriors, we know one thing: Michael Amott‘s music is something that is always worth checking out.   (Century Media Records)

VADER – Tibi Et Igni

Vader - Tibi Et IgniTo understand VADER‘s Tibi Et Igni is to know a few key facts. First, this is their best album since 2002′s Revelations.   Second, Tibi Et Igni features the best collection of guitar solos in the band’s history.  It’s a complimentary mix of intense, fast solos with whammy bar action (Peter), and PRIEST-style classic heavy metal soloing (Spider). New comer James Stewart is unquestionably the VADER‘s best drummer since the legendary Doc (R.I.P.).  And most importantly, the album rules.

You get the famous VADER-style combined with songwriting magic that takes it to that special place.  There’s a good balance of the blasting, ripping tracks, intensely catchy fast-mid tempo ones, and epic ones.  Throughout the band’s history, they have released so many killer songs and many of the ones here rank among their best.  This speaks to just how good Tibi Et Igni is.

Hexenkessel” features some new dynamics for the band as the song has a great sense of tension that is built and released throughout.  The guitar solo that comes in later really takes it to that next level.  The album goes to another level with the eighth track, “The Eye of the Abyss.”  The serene orchestrated intro and the undeniable sense of urgency and doom are excellent.  The following track, “Light Reaper,” races to the finish like a one-way trip to hell.  Closer, “The End,” may be the crown jewel of the VADER catalogue.  Emotionally powerful and full of a sense of hope against a backdrop of finality , the song absolutely shines.  It’s definitely the band’s JUDAS PRIEST-moment.

The bottom line: Buy it.  (Nuclear Blast Records)

MARTY FRIEDMAN – Inferno

Marty Friedman - InfernoAs a fan of metal, you love Marty Friedman by default.  But since his move to Japan 10 years ago, can we all say that we’ve kept up with what he’s been up to?  Thankfully for everyone Marty has come to us with his best solo record to date.  Inferno is full on metal or said in another way, full on Marty Friedman.

The title track starts things off and he wastes no time in blowing up your mind with a roller coaster of guitar wizardry.  The song quickly re-reminds you that Marty can smoke any guitarist on the planet.  Inferno is about diversity of flavors as many of the songs are co-written with some of today’s most well-known artists.

Wicked Panacea” features RODRIGO Y GABRIELA doing what they do best mixed in with Marty‘s frenetic playing.  It makes for a very unique and excellent hybrid.  “Meathook” with SHINING (NO)’s Jorgen Munkeby on vocals and saxophone is a balls out, off the wall number not unlike SHINING‘s work.  Hearing Marty and Jorgen trade leads is a thing of beauty.  “Hyperdoom” is a mere 1:55 and takes a little less than a minute to build up before Marty just goes off (pun intended).  While the vast majority of Inferno is pretty damn heavy, REVOCATION‘s Dave Davidson and Marty take it more extreme places with “Sociopaths.”

The beauty of the album lies in not only its diversity but also running order.  Just the listener may need a change up from all the full-out metal, the slower, mellower “Undertow” comes in.  Huge, melting melodies say so much with way less notes than are found on the previous songs.

The biggest deal surrounding Inferno has to be “Horrors,” which was co-written with still guitar god, Jason Becker.  This epic has it all – the peaks and valleys, acoustic guitars, and mind bending leads.  Simply awesome.

Inferno is an immediate and overwhelmingly clear reminder that we have indeed been pining to hear from Marty Friedman.  (Prosthetic Records)

BLOODY HAMMERS – Under Satan’s Sun

Bloody Hammers - Under Satan's SunUnfortunately for some of us, it took three albums to find out about the light of BLOODY HAMMERS.  The important thing is that we are all here now to enjoy Under Satan’s Sun.  The band’s sound is an amalgam of doom, psychedelic rock, gothic rock, stoner rock, and various classic rock/punk influences wrapped in vintage horror aesthetics and fuzzed out guitars.  The most important thing is that BLOODY HAMMERS focus in on creating catchy, memorable songs.  Their song structures are straight forward (think DANZIG) and their sonic approach is intentionally understated.

Having said that, Under Satan’s Sun succeeds when the big, catchy songs hit.  Thankfully, this occurs frequently.  Killer songs like”Spearfinger,”  “Death Does Us Part,” “Welcome to the Horror Show,” and the title track are the same level as the legendary SENTENCED.

Vocalist/bassist Anders Manga is undeniably the key.  His charismatic voice and hooks often remind one of PARADISE LOST‘s Nick Holmes.  Lyrically, he is a storyteller that easily transitions between morose and lighter tales.  Anders is a special talent for sure.

BLOODY HAMMERS have done a fine job in crafting Under Satan’s Sun.  If this doesn’t bump them up a few notches in the heavy music scene, I don’t know what will.  (Napalm Records)

SHINING – One One One

Shining - One One OneThe final chapter of SHINING (Norway)’s Blackjazz trilogy is unnerving, volatile, and unsettling.  And this is likely what the band set out to do.  SHINING take a decidedly more rock-based approach on One One One compared to the record’s two predecessors.

The level of musicality on One One One is a great testament to SHINING‘s masterful understanding of music theory, songwriting, and artistry. One One One is in perpetual motion powered by an engine teeming with energy. Don’t wait for quiet or segue tracks. Expect lots of dissonance and chaos.

The characteristic that stands out the most and runs through each song is an overwhelming sense of tension. Even when things seem relatively straight forward, SHINING will break it apart and bring a bit of controlled chaos to it (i.e. “You Won’t Forget“). While they build and release tension throughout the songs, that tension is never completely released. Second track, “The One Inside,” really takes this pressure to another level and the album never comes down from it.

Vocalist/saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby‘s vocal performance reaches a new level here – think Al Jourgensen-territory. The magic is really in his delivery rather that just vocal quality. Check out “Off the Hook” for an example. But let’s not give the frontman all the credit. The rest of the band have great chops.

One One One is solid for what it is (and not for what it isn’t), carries the essence of the band, and is a good ending for the Black Jazz trilogy. (Indie Recordings/Prosthetic Records)

MANES – Teeth, Toes, and Other Trinkets

Manes - Teeth, Toes, and Other TrinketsAh yes, it’s been a long wait for anything new from Trondheim, Norway’s MANES.  As a nice stop gap measure before they release their upcoming work, Be All End All, the band have released a compilation entitled Teeth, Toes, and Other Trinkets.  The comp is a mixed of alternative versions, unreleased, studio recordings, live recordings, and other nuggets in the MANES collection.  You’ll get a unique and wide spectrum of sounds within and overlapping rock, electronica, and metal.

So does it stand on its own as a worthy release?  Absolutely.  Teeth, Toes, and Other Trinkets is wonderfully morose and soulful in that way.  It starts more uptempo but eventually falls deeper into despair towards the conclusion.

Most tracks have vocals with a few scattered instrumental ones.  The biggest standout is the live version of “Ende” which is just so passionate.  “One More Room” and “Nobody Wants the Truth” are the kinds of great songs that prime RADIOHEAD used to dish out.  The way second to last track, “Diving With Your Hands Bound [Nearly Flying],” pulls the listener down into the depths is profound to say the least.  Final track, “Deeprooted [8-bit],” is given the classic video game-style treatment and more or less diffuses the atmosphere that the previous songs created.

To say that Teeth, Toes, and Other Trinkets is “mood music” is an understatement.  If you’re not in the mood for this, then it’s best to save it when the mood strikes you.  The best aspect is the fact that the material here is good enough for you to be chomping at the bit for their forthcoming record. (Debemur Morti Productions)

ANIMALS AS LEADERS – The Joy of Motion

Animals As Leaders - The Joy of MotionTo be totally blunt, ANIMALS AS LEADERSThe Joy of Motion is a flawless album for what it’s meant to be.  From basically every aspect, the band has achieved pure prog bliss.  Expect the band’s technical wizardry to provide a nice range of different sounds and vibes all in perpetual motion.

Songwriting is the priority throughout The Joy of Motion so you won’t find self indulgent song sections that are there just for the sake of showing off.  Fans of the heavier end of the musical spectrum will enjoy the heavy MESHUGGAH-inspired riffs and the nods to technical death metal found scattered throughout.  But for the most part, ANIMALS AS LEADERS keeps it light and bright.

Prog nerds will differ on what they like best about The Joy of Motion but a personal favorite is the string slapping.  Who needs bass when you’ve got 8-string guitars?

Deep analysis or discussion is totally unnecessary.  ANIMALS AS LEADERS have made it as easy as possible for you to just sit back and wholeheartedly enjoy the album.  Flows like melted butter.

If you want to hear from one of the best prog bands around, then look no further.  Prog the fuck out. (Sumerian Records)

AMON – Liar in Wait

Amon - Liar in WaitIt’s been a very long time since the metal world heard from the Hoffman brothers following their departure from DEICIDE.  Using the pre-DEICIDE band name of AMON, they are back with a new style of death metal.  AMON is now more technical than the first four DEICIDE albums ever were.

Brian and Eric Hoffman go for a technical death metal sound that varies between off-time dissonance, melodies, more technical solos, and straight forward brutality.  It is cool to hear new sides of their playing after all these years.  Who knew they could solo like this?

However, there is so much shit packed into each song that the cohesion or flow is often broken or thrown out the window at seemingly random times.  There are plenty of good sounds throughout Liar in Wait though. And there’s no denying the KRISIUN-like approach to pacing and intensity. Don’t expect any breakdowns or any breathing time.

The production leaves something to be desired as it sounds like high quality demo recording rather than a record from two guitarists who helped to pioneer the death metal genre.  You will be hard pressed to find a more frequently used crash symbol in metal than on Liar in Wait.

It’s going to take many spins to remember much of what AMON has recorded due to the combination of riff overkill and more or less “standard” death metal stylings.

Overall, Liar in Wait is raw and rough in obvious places.  But the bottom line is that two guys that played on some of the most groundbreaking albums in metal should do better.  (Amon Records)