Monday, 30 November 2009

Album Review: The Atlas Moth - A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky

Sometimes, the best things happen by accident, and trust me, the best band you’ll ever hear, you haven’t even heard of yet, they probably haven’t even released their first record.

Now, I’m notoriously bad at listening to those free sampler CDs you get with most music magazines for two main reasons i) they’re normally full of stuff you’ve either already heard or don’t want to hear and ii) I generally have other things I’d much rather listen to, old favourites or new records personally recommended to me, so time after time, these sampler CDs go down the bottom of the priority pile, some of them are still collecting dust, completely unheard. So imagine my surprise when, listening to a several month old sampler CD from Terrorizer magazine I stumbled across a band called The Atlas Moth. The track on that CD was the title track from the Chicago lad’s debut album: A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky. What’s more, I was so impressed that I logged straight on to iTunes to buy the album and I can honestly say, it’s rarely been off my stereo since!

A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky may only contain 8 tracks but don’t let that fool you in to thinking this is a short album, running at roughly 50 minutes it’s the same length as Mastodon’s latest 7-track offering Crack the Skye. And that’s not where the similarities between these two modern masterpieces end. Like Mastodon, The Atlas Moth draw their influences from a mixture of southern Sludge and the gods of experimental/prog metal themselves; Neurosis.

It should be no surprise then, that opening track A Night In Venus’ Arms... is a 6 minute sampler of what’s to come, building from soft static fuzz at the opening till it’s crescendo of pounding, feedback laden guitars and harsh screams. Next up is the title track, another 6 minute journey through a mire of heavily distorted guitars and guttural screams. Like those who came before them, The Atlas Moth, despite this being their first album, seem adept at using tempo,peddle effects and mixed vocal styles as a way of telling stories within each song. And that’s one of the things that make this album, for me, an instant classic, the fact that not is just the entire album a journey, but each song has a different story to tell. It should also be said that whilst each song on the album has been finely crafted in to a unique sonic beat down, like A Sun That Never Sets (Neurosis - 2001) or Crack the Skye (Mastodon - 2009), this album is best appreciated in its entirety, and it is an album that deserves to have that time dedicated to it.

The Atlas Moth are currently trekking around the States in support of this album but I’ve spoken to them and they assure me that they’ll be gracing our fair shores here in the UK in 2010 and I, for one, cannot wait!

If you don’t own this album, well... you should. For me, it’s one of the best albums released this year, perhaps second only to the aforementioned Crack the Skye. The album is available from iTunes or from the bands store:

Album rating: 9/10
For fans of: Neurosis, Mastodon,
Best tracks: A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky , Jump Room to Orion

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Gig Review: Five Finger Death Punch / Shadows Fall - Manchester Academy - 26/11/09

It’s 2:55 and I text Pete to ask what time we’ll be heading up to Manchester to interview/watch Shadows Fall and Five Finger Death Punch. 3:30 he says. That’d be fine were it not for the fact that I’ve not long crawled out of bed and still need a shower (breakfast at this point, it would seem, will not be an option.) So, a brief panic and a lot of rushing later it’s off to Manchester and for me this’ll be the first gig at the new Academy since it was finished (I was there a few years ago to see Within Temptation, but it was still mostly a building site back then.)

So roll on half 7 and we head from the pub over the road to the venue only to find we’ve not been put on the guest list! Well a quick phone call to the Death Punch tour manager sorts that out. Sadly, due to all this faffing around we miss the opening band, MagnaCult.

Next up are Rise to Remain. Now, I’m not going to rant too much about these lot, I’m going to save that for a separate article you’ll see from me in the next few days. Let’s just say that I thought these guys really, really sucked. And that was before Pete informed me the lead singer is Bruce Dickinson’s son. Yeah, I’m sure I could get gigs at Download, Sonisphere and supporting 5FDP if my dad was in Iron Maiden. But like I said, more on that later.

So after the annoyance of having to stand through half an hour of possibly the worst Metalcore band to have ever graced Manchester, the light’s fall and it’s time for Shadows Fall. The Path to Imminent Ruin hits the speakers and SF hit the stage to follow it up with My Demise, which is, as Brian told us earlier “a 7 minute intro to everything you’re going to hear over the next hour.” The crowd seems fairly muted at first and Shadows seem to get a rather understated response, surely pointing to the fact that the majority of people here tonight are here to see 5FDP. Personally, I think this is a shame as Shadows Fall are, for me, one of the best bands of the last 10 years. The lack lustre attitude from the crowd doesn’t last long and by the third song in they’re starting to wake up and really get in to this. Brian does a good job of interacting with the crowd, getting down from the stage to sing on the barrier and crowd surfing as per usual. Tonights set sees a good mix between songs from the new album and enough old classics to keep everyone happy. What Drives the Weak is dedicated “to the ladies" and is followed by a tribute to Dimebag in the form of the band playing the intro to A New Level. Brian demands to see the “biggest circle pit the venue has ever seen” and during Public Execution, that’s exactly what he gets. By this point pretty much everyone in the room is getting in to the groove of things and having a great time. The set ends with The Light That Blinds and Shadows Fall have once again proven why they are one of the best live Melodic Thrash bands out there.

Shadows Fall’s gear gets carted off the stage and the backdrop gets changed and for the next 20 minutes or so, most of the 1,800 fans in the building are chanting the name of tonight’s headliners. A brief intro with sound clips of George Bush stating that “war is the answer” is followed by Five Finger Death Punch storming on to the stage and blasting straight in to Burn It Down from the new album. On a side note, if you weren’t aware of the extensive range of 5FDP merch that’s available, the band do a pretty good job of being a walking advertisement, with all but one of them sporting their own various t-shirts and jerseys. Salvation is up next and Zoltan doesn’t seem quite with it tonight, though I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise seeing as he’s been ill lately (to the point where the band had to cancel some of their European dates earlier this month.) The band head off stage for a minute and when Ivan comes back it’s to a Five Finger Death Punch chant from pretty much the entire crowd, he soaks up the adoration and thanks tour mates Shadows Fall before the rest of the band join him on stage and we’re treated to Way of the Fist and the new single Hard To See before Ivan divides the crowd in two and White Knuckles sees a massive wall of death. Another interlude and they’re back with Never Enough and Ivan offers to shake the hand of anyone who’ll crowd surf to the front, mayhem ensues as many fans rush forward to take up his offer. Meet the Monster is cut short when a crowd surfing fan appears to get dropped by security and seriously injures themselves. Ivan stops the song and goes over to check on the fan and refuses to resume the song till the fan is taken care of. I’ve got to say, this act of kindness and concern has earned the singer, and band, even more respect than I already held for them. After finishing the song and giving a rendition of their latest cover, Bad Company’s track Bad Company the band take a final break and come back on for their encore, The Bleeding, which is my personal favourite 5FDP track (a feeling apparently shared by most others in attendance) and a great way to end the night.

Gig rating: 8/10. All in all it was an excellent gig, with both headliners living up to their reputations for fierce and impassioned live shows and I think it’s safe to say all in attendance had a great time (well, except for the dude who ate concrete.) If you’ve missed Five Finger Death Punch this time, you’ll be able to catch them at 2010’s Download Festival.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Interview: The Black Dahlia Murder

I recently got to do my first e-mail interview, with The Black Dahlia Murder, you can read it below. For more reviews and interviews you can check out The Metalheadz Website.

1. You're new album, Deflorate, came out in September, how would you say it's been received by critics? And more importantly, the fans?
The reviews have been pretty good. I’d say this is probably our best reviewed album so far. The fans seem to like it too. They keep requesting “I Will Return” and “Denounced, Disgraced” at the shows. I am happy that they like the record.

2. How would you say this album differs from your past releases?
I think it’s the result of more completely developed ideas… I think we are older and wiser as writers, and its shows. The songs are catchy, but also demand repeated listens to hear all of the little intricacies that are involved, the technical bits, so to speak. I think its also the most varied album we’ve written, each song has more of its own identity than ever before. “Growth” and “variety” are words that can scare long time fans, but I assure you when playing as fast as we tend to do, you really have to pay attention to dynamics to make an album worth listening to all the way through.

3. This is your first album with new guitarist Ryan Knight, what do you feel he brought to the the writing/recording process for the new album?
I think a lot of the enthusiasm came from our personnel change... Ryan Knight brought a lot of energy and positivity into the band that was lacking with John’s departure… we were really excited to get Ryan on our album and see what he was capable of… he definitely exceeded our expectations on all fronts. He even felt confident enough in spite of the tight schedule to contribute the bulk of two songs for the album, which turned out absolutely killer.

4. This is your 4th album with Metalblade and your first to break in to the top 50 on the Billboard 200, your previous two albums placing 118th and 43th, does it mean a lot to you to see that sort of commercial progress with each album?
Its not important to me but it’s been cool as far as measuring our success… it means we are reaching a lot more people with every year, and that all of our hard work touring has not been in vain.

5. The cover of the new album has some pretty interesting art, can you tell us more about it?
It was influenced by a dream I had… was a really intense nightmare. The bright look of the piece is inspired by “Powerslave” and the awesome art of the early to mid nineties old school death metal releases… right down to the choice of a yellow logo for the cover. I wanted to do something different from “Nocturnal” that would give it a strong identity of it’s own and also do something that would stand out on the shelves when stacked next to a hundred other metal cds. I am happy with the cover, it came out awesome.

6. You're currently touring in support of Deflorate with Skeletonwitch and Toxic Holocaust, how's the tour going? What're your plans after this tour finishes?
The tour was awesome. I like and respect the bands. Its extra fun to be on a tour where you can have a lot of pride in the package that you’ve assembled. I think it was a good mix of different aspects of the underground metal scene.

7. You'll be touring the UK as part of the Bonecrusher Fest in February. Are you looking forward to that tour? Seven Bands for £14 seems like a bargain for the fans!
Yeah that’s the idea, to have a really kick ass varied lineup and expose the kids to some new bands they may not have had the pleasure of hearing. I really like a lot of the bands on the bill so I am personally very excited.

8. How do you find playing to UK and European crowds, compared to American crowds?
I think the vibe is generally the same worldwide. People come to a show to have fun, and we try to encourage that.

9. What does the future hold for The Black Dahlia Murder?
More tours and more albums as long as you’ll have us.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Gig Review: Shinedown – Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall - 10/11/09

Tonight was always going to be an interesting night. There are few gigs I really look forward to, but this was most defiantly one of them. The usual pre-gig ritual was attended to (me and Suuze, down the pub for a few beers) followed by a trek down to the Wolves Wulfrun Hall, a venue I’ve been to many a time before, to see a band I used to love and have seen a couple of times and a band I’ve loved for a while and until now not had the privilege of seeing live. I must apologise to the opening band, as we arrived half way through the set and didn’t bother watching them (though from the bar they sounded OK.)

Shinedown are a band that have done all the groundwork and are finally getting the pay off. This is their second time touring the UK. The last time they played the Midlands was at the Barfly, a gig that attracted just over 100 people. So it’s safe to say that tonight’s sell-out performance will see them play to one of the largest indoor crowds they’ve had this side of the pond.

But first, the evening starts in earnest with the main support, as SOiL hit the stage. And what a disappointing start it is. Few people in the sold-out venue seem to know SOiL’s new material, half the people here remember the amazing quality Ryan McCombs voice used to bring to the songs but most people are just here to see Shinedown. As much as AJ Cavalier might try and mimic and match McCombs vocals, the new songs simply don’t hold up live and the old songs seems like lacklustre, unimpressive cover versions. It’s no secret that my biggest pet peeve is bands who replace their lead singers after they’ve broken through and this current incarnation of SOiL does nothing to alleviate those feelings. Tonight’s poor rendition of the classic Halo does well to sum up how far this band have fallen, a song that with McCombs at the helm would have had the entire venue bouncing tonight gets a half-arsed response from an otherwise disinterested crowd. How very disappointing.

All of a sudden things get a bit odd. We’re all used to having fairly dodgy music played between bands but when BeyoncĂ© hits the PA, it confuses every single person in the room. Either something has gone very wrong at the sound desk or something is about to go very right. After 3 minutes of sonic torture, the lights drop and the crowd goes wild. Now, it has to be said that this is the first sold-out gig in Wolverhampton that I’ve been to in quite a long time, so when I say the crowd went wild, it really was something special. Shinedown hit the stage and start things off with a fierce rendition of the title track from their new album: The Sound of Madness. This really does well to set the tone for the hour and a half that is to come.

It has to be said, at this point, that tonight is a night of great irony. Until tonight, the best performance I’ve ever seen from any band was at the first Download Festival in 2003, when SOiL (the original line-up) absolutely decimated the Scuzz stage. That was a performance of raw brilliance and emotion that drew an uninhibited response from the crowd. Tonight, a night when the current incarnation of SOiL fails to impress, Shinedown perform with as much gusto and emotion as that SOiL performance 6 years ago.

A few songs in and Shinedown play one of my personal favourits, .45 , and it’s easy to tell the people who have only recently jumped on the bandwagon but for the rest of us this is a beautiful and heart wrenching rendition of an emotional song. It’s not hard to see why Shinedown manage to sell out arenas back in the U.S. with their mixture of hard rock anthems and acoustic ballads, their catchy chorus’s combined with pounding rhythms make for honest, yet crowd friendly tunes. It feels like it’s the fans who’ve flocked to the band, mostly due to the heavy airplay of the new album, that’ll propel the band to the heights of stardom this side of the pond, but it’s the long time fans, the ones who know the words to every song and have done since Leave A Whisper, that’ll keep the band there.

A brief interlude is followed by a piano/vocals only rendition of Call Me, a chance to showcase one of the slower, more moving tracks from the new album. Brent Smith is the consummate front man, controlling the crowd like a veteran and after a brief speech to get the entire capacity crowd revved up it’s on with the remainder of the set. The Crow & The Butterfly is the last song before another brief break and the band are back for the encore. Few songs will ever evoke such a personal, emotional response from me as Second Chance and to see it played live was an awesome thing. After giving heartfelt thanks to the sold out crowd the band plows in to a rendition of the first track of the new album, Devour, to finish the night and with that, we’re done.

Tonight, Shinedown have managed to make an excellent set, made of a majority of new songs to keep the majority interested, whilst throwing in enough classics to keep the old fans happy. I can honestly say this is best live set I’ve ever seen from a band, and as a veteran of literally 100’s of gigs, that’s saying a lot. This is a band who’ve come so far in the last year and will be going even further in years to come, mark my words on that!

Gig rating? That’s an easy 10/10 (and don’t expect to see that rating again for a very long time!) If you missed Shinedown on this tour then you’ve truly missed out on one of the best bands of the decade, make sure you catch them the next time they come around!

Checking in.

Hey guys,

Muchos apologies for the near month-long silence! Been having computer issues.
Thought I'd stop by and let y'all know I'm not dead!

I'm off to see SOiL and Shinedown tonight in Wolverhampton, should be ace! Never seen Shinedown live (though this is only their 2nd time on our fair shores anyway) been a long time fan of their records. And haven't seen SOiL in a long time, last time was down in London, they were supporting Damage Plan and still had Ryan McCombs on vocals. So definatly an exciting night! And shall have a review up for you shortly.

Also in the pipeline are album reviews of Ensiferum, the latest Amon Amarth re-issue and a look at the debut album from The Atlas Moth (a band you really need to check out!)

Right, I'm gonna go grab a beer and chill out before the gig!

Laters all.