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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Reviews: Amon Amarth, Queensryche, Orphaned Land

Amon Amarth: Deceiver Of The Gods (Metal Blade)

Viking's Amon Amarth load their longboat full of songs and have once again come to pillage the metal hoards with another collection of metal anthems about war, drinking and pillaging! This is their ninth album and features more of their signature brand of melodic death metal, Amon Amarth have always sounded to me like Maiden fronted by seven foot Viking, which is by no means a criticism as the band are a ferocious live act that have always managed to still be as powerful on record. The title track gets things moving with the traditional dual guitar attack that merges trad metal and thrash with Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen pulling out the heavy riffs and shredding solos on top of the powerhouse blast beat drumming and Johan Hegg's powerful death vocals that boom through the maelstrom of metal. Deceiver Of The Gods is another strong album with the melodic As Loki Falls coming next ensuring that the full force attack along continues with Father Of The Wolf, the galloping Under Siege (not about the Segal movie unfortunately) and the Slayer-like Blood Eagle which has a lovely gory beginning full of squelching gory death! The band also mix things up a bit on the industrial sounding Hel which has lots of samples and keys as well as a guest performance from Messiah Marcolin from Candlemass who brings his high pitched shriek to dual with Hegg's guttural roar before the album wraps up with the 8 minute Warriors Of The North which ends the main bulk of the album. With its powerful guitars, heavy death metal rhythms and Hegg's great vocals this yet another excellent album from Amon Amarth with Andy Sneap giving his perfect production job. It is on the bonus disc that things get interesting it is called Under The Influence and it features four songs done in the style of classic bands, first is the Priest-like Burning Anvil Of Steel, then the Sabbath doom of Satan Rising, the snarling Motorhead bass riffage of Snake Eyes and finally Stand Up To Go Down which is AC/DC by another name. This little detour is a very interesting and adds to an already great album full of Norse thunder as it gives the band a chance to flex their muscles and Hegg to adapt his voice to those that he is emulating showing they are more than a one trick pony. 8/10

Queensryche: Queensryche (Century Media)

So after Geoff Tate left/ fired the band the mudslinging and back biting of the whole thing was in full swing leading to two bands and two albums. The first out of the blocks was the Tate fronted version who unleashed Frequency Unknown first and while that was not bad it was a little bit weak in places and was essentially a Tate solo record featuring the experimentation that made the last two Queensryche albums a challenge to listen to and made Dedicated To Chaos frankly crap. So it was up to the other version of Queensryche to redress the balance and show which version can be considered 'definitive'. This version is essentially the instrumental part of the band with founding members guitarist Michael Winton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield providing the same melodic metal that Queensryche have always been so good at (showing who was the cause of the experimentation) after the evil metallic intro of X2 the twisting rhythm of Where Dreams Go To Die kicks things off in a powerful style having all of the hallmarks of classic 'ryche, the melodic guitars that switch instantly to some heavy riffrery, the technical bass foundation and the thick drum sound. Key however is new frontman Todd La Torre who thankfully sounds almost exactly like Tate but has enough of his own inflections and vocals nuances to stop him sounding like a tribute singer, he also has a few stylistic similarities to Nils K Rue from Pagan's Mind. What is noticeable about his album unlike the latter Tate years is that the band have gone back to their earlier more metallic roots, the band are once again mixing strong powerful riffs with anthemic choruses and melodies, with songs like Spore, the stirring orchestral ballad of A World Without and the propulsive Vindication all of which have the guitar harmonies that the band are known for. This is most definitely a strong album full of the complex, melodic metal that Queensryche have always done so well. It is not perfect however the production is a bit bass and drum centric, and the album is a wee bit short clocking in at just over 35 minutes meaning there doesn't seem to be much room for the more progressive sides to Queensryche's sound, still this is good album and more importantly it seems far more authentic than the Tate fronted band, which was probably the ultimate intention. 7/10

Orphaned Land: All Is One (Century Media)

A major question arose on when I got this album: How do they follow the last one? Well by doing almost the opposite of their last opus, this time the Middle eastern band that contains both Jewish and Muslim members have released a focused, dark but and accessible album devoid of a lot of the death metal growling present since their debut The Beloved's Cry. I for one loved the previous effort The Never-ending Way Of ORWarriOR it was the perfect mix of death metal, progressive rock and Middle Eastern culture, so this release caused a lot of interest for me. The album explodes from the off with the traditional instrumentation of Ouds, Bouzouki’s, Saz's all combined with the persistent riffage of the electric guitars. Both string players Chen Balbus (rhythm) and Yossi Sassi (lead) provide some massively heavy riffs and Sassi's solos are sublime. The opening title track also features a choir that increases the scope of the track tenfold an makes it an uplifting opening to the album that continues on The Simple Man which is far more folky than the heavy opening track and prominently features the Middle Eastern chants and instrumentation. Kobi Fahri's vocals are excellent and even without the guttural roars his melodic croon is haunting and enchanting and evokes the spirit of his heritage; however the roar does reappear on Fail but for the most part its clean vocals all the way. Much like most of Orphaned Land's discography the lyrical content focusses on the mixture of Jewish and Islamic culture (the band is notably made up of both) and denotes the struggles between the two culture but ultimately their similarities something which is used to great effect on the orchestral Let The Truce Be Known. These strong lyrics are matched by the extremely strong musicianship which features the aforementioned guitars and traditional instruments but also some strong bass runs from Uri Zelcha and also some very excellent drumming from Martan Schmuley, the band have also the occasional female vocals, this time performed by Mira Awad (who herself was the first Israeli-Arab to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest), she features prominently on Through Fire And Water. This is another superb album in the Orphaned Land discography the sound of a band that is bringing their heritage together with metal to create a very unique sound continues to inspire on every album. Truly a testament to the all-inclusive power of music! 9/10 

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