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Tom Chase (London)
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Down III: Over The Under
Down III: Over The Under

5.0 out of 5 stars Mighty Return, 24 Oct. 2007
The members of Down have been through a deal of hardship since their last release five years ago. Mother nature's swipe of New Orleans, the shocking murder of ex-Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, and singer Phil Anselmo's personal battles, such as being shut out of Darrell's funeral and struggling against the lures of drug addiction. These issues made me sceptical that the music would become unfocused or overly aggressive. I am overjoyed to say that this scepticism was unjust, as Down have responded to these hardships and returned with a superb album, showcasing some of the band's best work to date.

As Anselmo promised in the build-up to the release, "Over The Under" shows a great deal of pride and determination, but also of overriding anger. Songs such as "Pillamyd", "Mourn" and "I Scream" rank up there with the most aggressive of Down songs, and even touch the brute visceral levels of Pantera. Determination is equally constant, depicted from the get go with the "Three Suns And One Star" - "The old dog has to learn a new trick and more / Or the next trick will be on him." And best shown through the galloping "On March The Saints", proclaiming the bands deep seeded pride and onward thinking from hurricane Katrina.

Musically the album matches the engulfing themes. Once again Pepper Keenan (of Corrosion of Conformity) comes up with some of the most badass riffs around. From the sharp opening of "Three Suns And One Star" to the almost Pink Floyd stylings of the moving "Nothing In Return", the music hits home hard . His combination of Sabbathian bluesy grooves and thundering classic metal cuts gives Down a unique and unforgettable sound. While Down II seemed to venture off into new territories, "Over The Under" seems very much a continuation of "Nola", with simpler structures and greater emphasis on groove. This should please the die-hard fans of "Nola", and also be more accessible for new fans than Down II was. Overall another superb outing from one of my favourite bands around.


Death Is This Communion
Death Is This Communion
Price: £12.20

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continuing Excellence, 18 Oct. 2007
This review is from: Death Is This Communion (Audio CD)
"Death Is This Communion" is nothing new from High on Fire. It does not forge a new direction, it does not reinvent the wheel, it does not outdo past albums...but it doesn't need to. I am pleased to say it is Blessed Black Wings Pt. 2 - equally powerful, equalling thundering and gripping. It slays. Simple.

For those unaware of the HoF sound- they fuse the powerful dirges of Sleep and Sabbath, the rampaging onslaughts of Slayer and stunning guitar heroics from Matt Pike, truly one of the best leads in metal today. For "Death Is This Communion" the band brought in some new flavours to the mix, such as bursts of 12 string guitars and some middle-eastern instruments to give a more international feel. This works very well, especially when juxtaposed with crushing metal, such as with one of the album's highlights "Waste of Tiamat" and the short excerpt "Khanrad's Wall".

This is not to say HoF have branched out and beyond their sound. Having such a unique sound in the first place, it would have been difficult, and potentially ruining to attempt a dramatic shift. The classic HoF tones are there in full glory. Opener "Fury Whip" immediately recalls the raging "Devilution", and the title track's monolithic doom harkens to the bands origins. "Turk" is the standout track for me as it combines everything great about the band, and sees Pike experimenting with a little bit more melody with his vocals.

For fans of past releases this should not disappoint. Every box is checked for the HoF fan. For those new to the band I would suggest starting with "Blessed Black Wings", as it is the band's most accessible, and often most inspired work.


Perdition City
Perdition City
Price: £14.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moody Electronica, 14 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Perdition City (Audio CD)
To clear up any possible confusion this is not a metal album, such as Ulver's earlier works ("Bergtatt", "Nattens Madrigal"). "Perdition City" is one of Ulver's electronic based albums, such as the most recent piece of work, "Blood Inside".

Whether they are playing metal, folk or electronica, Ulver create some wonderful music, and this is no exception. Even if you were directed to Ulver by their metal fame, I recommend trying this, as they create the same dark and menacing atmospheres found in their earlier releases, just without the instrumentation of metal.

Unlike most electronic music I have heard, "Perdition City" is not repetitive, monotonous, and doesn't contain silly robotic noises that become ultimately annoying. This album is something wholly different. With its dark and creepy atmospheres it is instantly engulfing and a thoroughly pleasurable experience (especially when following the instructions on the cover to listen with `darkness and headphones'). Generally the music is slow to mid-tempo, often minimalist, washing over the listener with a trance-like quality, only to be hit by perfectly executed climaxes. "Lost In Moments" is a fine opener, mostly consisting of soothing drum and saxophone playing. The song weaves in and out of solos and calming atmospherics until it breaks down into an eerie spoken section by singer Garm, followed by a huge climax with tasteful operatic vocals and crashing drums. "Porn Piece or the Scars of Cold Kisses" follows a similar pattern, its highlight being a wonderful vocal section in which Garm soothingly describes a cold, dark city. Such vocal style is visited again, but at its pinnacle with "We Are the Dead", a chilling piece consisting of Garm whispering about spirits and voices in dark desolation.

Most of the songs follow the progressive styling I mentioned earlier, and other solid album tracks include the somewhat trippy "Future Sound of Music" and the ethereal "Hallways of Always", both evolving around piano/synth themes that are constantly varied and progressed, eventually reaching climatic finishes full of lush drum loops and seemingly endless texturing.

This is not the usual electronic piece of work. For those that are new to Ulver, and were unaware of their electronic works, I strongly recommend this. Ulver can play many types of music sprawling various genres, but every album they put out contains their crucial atmosphere.


Staring At The Divine
Staring At The Divine
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £19.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly Average Release From A Great Band, 14 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Staring At The Divine (Audio CD)
I was disappointed with this album. Compared to other ATP releases (for those new to the band - they play an excellent, if not slightly derived, breed of `down-south' stoner rock) it seemed a little bland and uninspired. Perhaps this is due to the messy break-up of recording parts with the now defunct Man's Ruin label, or perhaps due to line-up differences. Whatever reasons, "Staring At The Divine" isn't quite the monster I was expecting.

To be quite blunt the album takes too long to get going. This is not to say the opening tracks are bad - they just don't grab me. Firstly, Billy Anderson took charge of production, which is usually a good thing (for those unaware, Anderson is THE stoner/doom producer these days), but I'm surprisingly disappointed to say that his work on this one is sub-par. The sound is just lacking for such a band, with many of the guitar licks not hitting home due to the lack of tone, and the drums are just completely lost. This means that songs such as "Ol Unfaithful" and "Motor-Ready" just become very loud hazes, with a real lack of dynamics.

The album does improve though, thankfully. "Hunting By Echo" is the first song that I really enjoy, and the first time the band use dynamics properly - by complementing a catchy chorus hook with some quieter and subdued licks. Similarly "Twilight Arrival" uses a brooding verse, which slowly grooves and builds into a powerful chorus. The paramount song on the album is "Esteem Fiend", which sports the best vocals and the best riffs (particularly the huge closing riff). This song is why I bought the album, and pains me to think they couldn't repeat this excellence.

The album does improve towards the end, and the last half certainly spawns some memorable moments. But the lack of these moments and the annoyingly standard production means I cannot give this more than an average 3 star rating. Disappointing for one of the best bands in the stoner rock scene.


I
I
Offered by Giant Entertainment
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Classic From Stoner Rock's Most Overlooked Band, 14 Sept. 2007
This review is from: I (Audio CD)
To put the band in some context - Goatsnake spawned some big names in the stoner/doom rock genre, namely the mighty guitarist Greg Anderson, the unique bluesy vocalist Pete Stahl, and the rumbling fuzz of Guy Pinhas. All of these members have other commitments nowadays, most notably Anderson with Sunn O))) and Pinhas with Acid King, but Goatsnake was where it all started.

Goatsnake are one of the few bands in this genre with a bold sense of originality, and therefore stand above the masses. This is due to a few fundamental aspects. Firstly, the guitar work of Anderson and Pinhas - these guys create a very unique sound, partly due to a mystery tuning that has never been revealed, and partly due to their rather different take on the classic stoner guitar riff. They create many riffs with a very bluesy feel, emphasised by Stahl's vocals, but simultaneously retaining an extremely heavy classic doom vibe. The almighty lead riff of album highlight "What Love Remains" is a typical example, combining huge punishing walls of guitar tone, recalling the most killer riffs of Sabbath or St. Vitus, but using a very bluesy range of notes that sounds more like Kyuss or Sleep, which is reflected by Stahl's call and response vocals.

It's not just the riffs that make Goatsnake special. They have an excellent understanding of composition - something that many stoner/doom bands seem to sacrifice for finding that one killer riff. Many of the songs weave in and out of sections, combining heavy riff-fuelled onslaughts, swaggering bluesy moments and even some piano/violin additions. Examples of this include "Mower" which starts off in classy doom style before sliding into a verse/chorus repetition, showcasing some quirky off-beat rhythms and some good old-school galloping drive. This section reminds me very much of Led Zeppelin when they chop-change bluesy riffs and tempos (and of course Stahl's somewhat high pitched vocals give that Plant edge). This all slows back down again, and reverts back to the crawling pace of the opening, with some menacing Stahl vocals and huge Anderson chords.

Similarly "Lord of Los Feliz" uses contrasting sections, and can be basically split into two main sections - an elongated intro and a closing section. The closing section is perhaps the highlight of the album, with some absolutely sublime vocals from Stahl. His vocal harmonies here are both beautiful and unhinging at the same time, and make for a grand climax. And talking of climaxes, the album's closer "Trower" is something of a weird song, beginning with some rather generic stoner rock riffing (for the first time on the album), but then kicking into some truly inspired writing with a great jam section and violin/female vocal section, which is patiently faded out to reveal a huge punishing final riff.

I cannot recommend this album enough to fans of stoner or doom rock. If you are unsure on these genres, then think of this as Zeppelin and Sabbath's quirky child, combining the blues and vocals of Zep and the downright mean riffing of Sabbath.


Dog Days
Dog Days

4.0 out of 5 stars Short & Sludgey EP, 14 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Dog Days (Audio CD)
"Dog Days" is not as consistent as "1" or "Flower of Disease", despite having less tracks. The highlights include the opening track "The Orphan" which uses dynamics to great use, mixing big doom riffs with some eerie hypnotic vocals, and the absolutely gigantic cover of Sabbath's "Who Are You?" This is probably the best Sabbath cover I have ever heard, as the band doesn't fall into the trap of simply re-hashing the song with their own sound, a mistake too many bands make. Instead they have retained the main theme and melody, but have transitioned it into a huge wall of guitar drone and some echoing trippy vocals from Stahl. This song makes "Dog Days" a worthy buy by itself, and is up there with my favourite Goatsnake songs.

I cannot recommend this band enough to fans of stoner or doom rock. If you are unsure on these genres, then think of this as Zeppelin and Sabbath's quirky child, combining the blues and vocals of Zep and the downright mean riffing of Sabbath. Go and get "1" and "Flower of Disease" immediately.


Big Black (Re-Issue)
Big Black (Re-Issue)
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £25.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Orange Goblin At Full Flight, 14 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Big Black (Re-Issue) (Audio CD)
While "The Big Black" hardly re-invents the wheel in the realm of stoner rock, it is a sophisticated and undoubtedly fun blast, and has rightly become one of the most revered albums in the genre in recent years. It is something of a transition album for the band, echoing the spacey soundscapes of their early works, and moving towards the no-nonsense, more "metal" approach of later and more recent works (this year's release "Healing Through Fire" is a perfect example of this sound). For me, this makes it the most interesting and multi-faceted of their albums.

Of course all good stoner rock bands can execute big Sabbathian riffs, and Orange Goblin give perfect example to this, but what separates the best of the genre from the run-of-the-mill is song writing. Orange Goblin has an excellent understanding of composition and how to manipulate dynamics, shown instantly by the fine opener "Scorpionica". The song showcases the band's ability to create adrenaline-pumping gallops full of booming riffs, slick wah-pedal guitar solos and roaring John Garcia-esque vocals. It also slips into a grooving quieter middle section, slowing the tempo down and acting as a perfect contrast to the thick fuzzy heavy sections. Only the best of the stoner rock genre implement such refined writing. This approach is executed numerous times throughout, creating epic anthems such as "Hot Magic Red Planet", "King of Hornets" and the doom-laden groove of the title track, which instantly reminds me of heyday Electric Wizard.

Special mention has to go to the song "Cozmo Bozo" - for all massive Kyuss fans out there...this is about as good as it gets. This song sounds remarkably like a lost track from "Welcome To Sky Valley", fusing those sumptuous grooves, thick tones, raspy vocals and space-rock effects. The song completely blew me away upon first listen, and remains one of my favourite stoner rock/space rock anthems.

"The Big Black" can also boast the rare feat of having no filler, and therefore runs very smoothly from start to finish. Songs such as "Quincy The Pigboy" and "Turbo Effalunt" act as perfect injections of pace and flurry through no-nonsense onslaughts reminiscent of Unida's "Coping With The Urban Coyote" approach. These more aggressive and riff-fuelled songs are boosted by the production of the album, which puts great emphasis on the fuzzy guitar tones (a necessary thing for any band of this ilk) and the huge booming vocals. This is made without disregarding the drums completely, an easy and irritating mistake made by lesser contemporaries, as they are balanced just behind the guitars to keep groove and timing tight.

For fans of the stoner rock genre this is a must-have. It shines out as a trip back to the glory days of Sabbath and Kyuss. Vastly superior to the genre's fields of mediocre bands, Orange Goblin forge power and atmosphere with class.


Dust
Dust
Price: £3.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Swansong From The Most Overlooked Band In The 90s, 12 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Dust (Audio CD)
When I listen to "Dust" nowadays it really makes me question why the Screaming Trees never received the recognition of their contemporaries. While Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam surged into the limelight with passionate grit and angst, The Trees forged their own loyal allegiance through low-key yet equally admirable releases. "Dust" was the last of these releases, and proved to be a glorious swansong and the band's best.

For those unaware of the band's style and sound, I would urge you to try and separate them from their grunge era tag. Do not expect raging distorted guitars and aggressive vocals. Instead Screaming Trees fuse soaring melodies and harmonies, infectious chorus hooks and 60s psychedelic rock into their sound. The result is intriguing and unique, and is given further prowess and individuality by front man Mark Lanegan. Lanegan's wonderful gravely and brooding tone is sumptuous throughout, elevating the band's music.

What makes "Dust" such a special album for me is its consistency. The band was always able to write excellent songs, but always seemed to struggle to recreate this consistently throughout an album. "Sweet Oblivion" touched on the consistency needed, but still contained the odd lacking track that I would always skip. With "Dust" I can simply press play, sit back and enjoy its entirety. There are still standout tracks however, such as the stunning "All I Know" which has the most glorious of chorus harmonies. "Make My Mind" is one of the band's classic songs; showcases great pop sensibility in the main hook. "Dying Days" is perhaps the band's most well crafted song, shifting between subtle slow-burning verses and uplifting choruses. More psychedelic tinges are introduced with the swirling ballad "Traveler" and the intense closer "Gospel Plow".

For fans of the band's earlier releases "Dust" is a must have. It contains their best and most consistent writing, and remains one of my favorite albums from the Seattle era.

Also, its just £4. Four measely pounds for a stunning album. BUY!


Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada
Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Up To The Skies, 11 Sept. 2007
"Slow Riot" showcases what GYBE! are capable of - expansive post rock that rises to the heavens in crescendos of thick instrumentation. Many imitate the same ambitious and monumental style, but few, if any, come close.

The band has a collection of consistently wonderful releases, including their most acclaimed and defining moment "Lift Your Skinny Fists". "Slow Riot" displays the same approach found throughout their works - the tendency for sampling, quiet and brooding sections building up and shifting into intensely layered climaxes. This is the case with "Moya", which moves through variations and ideas until the main melody is given a sharp tempo change, uplifting the song and forging one of the finest moments in the GYBE! catalogue. "BBF3" takes a long time to get going, opening with lots of sampling addressing political and social states, a theme the band often depicts, until the pace and layering is increased, culminating in severe blasts of guitars and strings.

The two songs rank among the band's best, and while "Slow Riot" is only an EP and half the monster of "Lift Your Skinny Fists", it is still a fine outing. Highly recommended for fans of the band and the genre, and a god place to start for newcomers.


Those Who Tell The Truth
Those Who Tell The Truth
Price: £13.25

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eh? I Feel I'm Missing Something..., 10 Sept. 2007
I really don't understand the massive acclaim this album receives. I would go as far to say it's...boring!!!

GAH strike me down, (and I'm sure this little review will be...) but I find this album way too monotonous to be interesting. This review may come across as scathing, but don't get me wrong, I think this is decent (hence 3 stars), but I will explain why I don't understand the mass of 5 star reviews.

I am not an expert on post-rock, but I do very much enjoy a selection of bands from it. The best, and probably most obvious choice, being the mighty Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who always manage to create epic, sprawling pieces with monumental climaxes. Bands like Mogwai, Silver Mt. Zion and Fly Pan Am also very much interest me, but this album just doesn't come close.

After giving it repeated listens, and really wanting to like it, I cannot fool myself. My biggest disappointment was the lack of climaxes in songs, not one song here takes me to that 'different level' - that disorientating adrenaline rush that the best of this genre can create. The loud rocking sections are just too generic and the band do not build them up enough, shown instantly by "Greet Death" which just thunders in with a barrage of boring guitars and drums after some ambient (what I originally thought was going to be build-up play) noise.

Too often in the quiet sections the guitar motifs are simply boring. I mean, just noodling slowly up and down a scale is atmospheric to a degree, but quite simply DULL. And then all of a sudden the listener is hit with massive noise, again highlighted in "Yasmin The Light" which farts around for a couple of minutes, then all of a sudden the band just crash out a fast-tempo section with no notable riff or motif, just lots and lots of drums.

And this is another problem for me, the drumming. This guy must be in a marching band, because he ALWAYS opts for the drum roll march build-up, which is frankly repetitive and unoriginal.

The only song that I really enjoyed here, and can easily listen to again is "Have You Passed Through This Night?", with its brooding spoken-word intro which leads to a crushing finale. This song is how the band SHOULD be doing it, creating atmosphere - building - climax, instead of noodling around and then banging the life out of everything.

Disappointing album for me, showing potential to be great, but just never quite reaching it.


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