Archive for Progressive Metal

Album Review – Mares of Thrace “The Pilgrimage” 2012

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , , on October 3, 2013 by Lightning Slim

335141  Any fans of Death From Above 1979, Rush or even Danko Jones know that we Canadians have so much angst in our souls that it only takes a couple of us to create a full-sized rock band. Mares of Thrace bear out this theory on The Pilgrimage, with only two young ladies on drums and baritone guitar making a hellish and compelling amount of noise.

Sonically, the album bears a good deal of resemblance to other prog/sludge acts like Baroness, with abrupt time changes, whisper-to-scream vocals and lyrical paeans to the uglier side of human nature (in the case of The Pilgrimage, the narrative framework is the story of David and Bathsheba).

Mares of Thrace will be ones to watch in the years ahead. Any band that can tour in a minivan and still have their own driver has the opportunity to cultivate a fanbase nationwide and beyond. 8 out of 10

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Album Review – Amorphis “Circle” 2013

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , on May 18, 2013 by Lightning Slim

AmorphisCircle.jpg  Twenty years and no bad records. I don’t know that there are many other bands in this scene that could claim the same, and I don’t know what else to say here besides: Amorphis has done it again. Circle might be their best yet, a powerhouse recording that combines the ferocity of Tales From the Thousand Lakes with the sophisticated direction they’ve been following since Tuonela.

The first thing you’ll notice is the album’s almost shocking heaviness. Producer Peter Tägtgren throws a wall of noise up in front of other sounds, and you’ll have to fight your way past the massive drums to find the folk-inspired guitar melodies for which the band is known. However, those melodies are most certainly still there (not to mention the best flute and sax solos you’ll find on a metal record this year), and Tomi Joutsen gives a true showman’s performance to bridge the space between the weight of the mix and the light touches necessary to tell the story of Circle. That story is an original, and not taken from the Kalevala, although it shares the Finnish Epic’s interest in death, rebirth and the healing power of music.

The band has always had a great ear for a catchy chorus and a good head for selecting a single. “Hopeless Days” is as good a choice as any – and I say this out of admiration, not ennui. Record companies need singles; the album doesn’t. Once it’s in your ears, Circle will become a compulsive front-to-back experience where each track makes the next even more necessary.

In this age of single downloads, Amorphis has produced one of the best full-album experiences I’ve heard in years. Circle is their heaviest, most tuneful and most addictive work. Baroness and Mastodon fans, why aren’t you this train yet? 9 out of 10

Album Review – Nightwish “Imaginaerum” 2012

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , on March 8, 2012 by Lightning Slim

  There isn’t much on Imaginaerum that we haven’t already heard on Dark Passion Play, and Dark Passion Play was itself an extensive upgrade of Once, so expect few surprises. You can probably guess where I’m going with this review, just like you can anticipate with great certainty where Nightwish is headed on this album from note one onward.

I don’t wish to denigrate the level of craft involved; this is complex material delivered with intelligence.  Imaginaerum spends much of its running time at the intersection where symphonic bombast meets cinematic embellishment, AKA the corner of Elfman and Burton. This is not unexpected from Nightwish, although it certainly pulls down the heaviness quotient. More bothersome is the mix, which, while clear and balanced, manages to bring an air of mechanical sterility to the usual warmth of a full live orchestra.

I have a feeling that Imaginaerum and its predecessor will become something of a Puppets vs. Lightning debate amongst hardcore Nightwish fans. I consider it a remake, perhaps with the addition of a check mark next to “Sink, kitchen (1)” upon inventory. 6.5 out of 10

Classic Album Review – Nomeansno “Wrong” 1989

Posted in Album Reviews, Perfect Tens with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2011 by Lightning Slim

  There is no end to the good this record can do with its mystery. Is it Prog-punk? Art metal? Industrial jazz? It could be all or none of these things and it would still demand attention – Wrong is a heady brew which is granted power through its own  indeterminacy, and demands repeat listens to plumb the depths of its dark heart.

Working as a three-piece at this point in their career, Nomeansno would draw inevitable comparisons to a certain other megalithic Canadian power trio. To be sure, there are jazzy, virtuoso bass licks and complicated time-changes galore to be had here, and being the Rush of punk isn’t a bad mantle to wear, but the influences run towards the raw and bleeding on Wrong. Tracks like openers “It’s Catching Up” and “The Tower” snarl their way through the angry territories traditionally occupied by Big Black, and tour-de-force “Rags and Bones” marries whimsy to heartbreak in ways that would garner approval from fans of both Tom Waits and REM.

Nomeansno, by channeling all this existential dread and forcing it to contend with an exuberant, almost joyful delivery have created a timeless and genreless classic. Great records have come before and after (some of them by Nomeansno!) but Wrong is the unforgettable flag planted as the expedition reaches a new summit. If you’ve heard it, you likely understand. If you haven’t, do yourself a favour. 10 out of 10

Album Reviews – Baroness “Red Album” 2007 & “Blue Record” 2009

Posted in Album Reviews, Deals & Steals, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , on June 15, 2010 by Lightning Slim

Long the darlings of the indie music magazines, Baroness finally piqued my interest when I saw both releases side by side* at Vortex Records. The surprised clerk declared this a shopping victory, and both records criminally underpriced at $7.99 apiece. “Blue is better than Red“, he said, “but both are pretty great”. Leave your Matrix jokes up here and proceed to the land of Baroness:

  My first listen to the Red Album  didn’t go so well, as I became infuriated by the sheer excess of the proceedings. Red sounds like Master of Reality, Opiate and Moving Pictures fighting in a burlap sack with the first Killing Joke record standing outside and beating them with a stick. Just when the head begins to nod to any particular beat or riff, or you attempt to puzzle out some of the deceptively simple lyrics, Baroness are off and running to new musical locations. There is beautiful musicianship here, but grasping it is for those with patience, as Red is going to steamroller towards its thundering conclusion with or without you, fueled up for the long haul and wearing a catheter. Recording is of the expensively shabby variety, with drums exhibiting a retro-cavernous feel that puts your melon right inside the kicker. Right around the fourth listen is when I started to get into the groove of things, although I think my perceptions were made more accommodating by having Blue on hand as well.

  The Blue Record is immediately more accessible, with more attention paid to traditional song structures, attempts at vocal harmonies and smoother transitions throughout. There’s a bit less noodling and a bit more engagement, playing fetch once in a while rather than merely inviting chase. The twin guitar attack is as precise as before, but it feels more like something Baroness are sharing with you rather than keeping to themselves. One less majestic thing Blue shares with its spiritual predecessor is a lack of direction to the vocals, almost as if it doesn’t matter to the band whether the tracks have a singer or not. It’s not poor singing or lack of intelligibility (I like grindcore, remember?), just a bit of a void on lung detail. Try to imagine the bummer if some of the bands responsible for the grab-bag of heaviness I mentioned earlier had a mediocre approach to vocals. I know it’s a convention of the sludge/doom/shoegaze scene to just stand there and yell, and not everyone is Serj Tankian, but music as sweeping, complex and mind-bending as the opus Baroness create on Red and Blue deserves hall-of-fame expression at each and every station.

Baroness are not every-day material, nor should they be. This is strong, heavy music that demands full attention. I suppose I could have just said the store clerk was right. Red: 7 out of 10 / Blue: 8 out of 10

*It could have been two hours of someone recording their farts and I would have made the effort to review these records, if only to get that fantastic artwork up. Band leader John Dyer Baizley is a polymath indeed.

Classic Album Review – Primus “Frizzle Fry” 1990

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2010 by Lightning Slim

 People call Pork Soda the “dark” album, and Brown the “heavy” one. How soon they forget that Primus’ full-length debut was such a weird, compressed ball of danger. Trippier than metal but angrier than hippies generally get, Frizzle Fry remains the lone Primus release on my shelf, as I feel that despite having little interest in jam bands, getting rid of it would mean losing something important.

The lyrics manage to be mundane and frightening at the same time, reminiscent of fellow Rush-inspired post-punk trio Nomeansno.  Production is crisp and loud, even by today’s jacked-up standards, and it pretty much goes without saying that if you care at all about the bass guitar you should check out Les Claypool on this record. 

Definitely jam-scene influenced and mellow at times, Frizzle Fry still displays the aggression of youth and an un-cuddly ambivalence that appeals to the metallic soul. 7 out of 10

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