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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Reviews: Opeth, Overkill, The Dagger

Opeth – Pale Communion (Roadrunner) [Review By Paul]

Heavy metal. How do you define the genre? With a myriad of dazzling combinations and off-shoots, it is virtually impossible. From Death Metal through to Progressive Rock, from stoner to Djent, it simply defies categorisation. And with that gibber jabber we move seamlessly to the 11th studio album by those brilliant Swedes Opeth. It is no secret that I adore this band. I’ve seen them numerous times and have marvelled at their evolution from 1994’s Orchid through to the Eastern jazz fused progressiveness of Heritage. Every release has built on the previous offering, which in recent years has alienated sections of their hard core devotees who wished that Opeth would remain rooted in the 1990s with death growls and vicious bowel ripping delivery. Unfortunately for them, this band are not one to stand still. Pale Communion has been already been described as the missing link between Damnation, Ghost Reveries and Heritage. I can’t argue with that. It is a simply stunning piece of work, intricate and delicate, delicious and dreamy and stands alongside releases from Anathema, Triptykon and Alcest in my top ten of the year. It might well have reached number 1 already.
Opener Eternal Rains Will Come kicks off with a groove laden jazz style intro, with some classic mellotron chord work from Joakim Svalberg, whose keyboard playing is excellent throughout. He’s been with the band since Heritage was released in 2011 although it was Per Wiberg who contributed to that album. The track then mellows with a gentle piece of piano and guitar providing a calming presence before the mellotron kicks back in and the track builds with some delicious harmonies from Mikael Akerfeldt. This has the hairs on your neck standing on end and demonstrates the progressive influences of Camel, King Crimson and even Van Der Graft Generator. The melodic delivery from the band’s driving force is another reason why this album is so good. Akerfeldt’s voice when singing clean is beautiful. The album is laced with string instrumentation, a new step for Opeth but something that Akerfeldt has been interested in for a long time. The first release from the album was track two, Cusp Of Eternity, should be a familiar tune to Opeth fans by now. It crashes along with Akerfeldt’s delivery combining with the powerful rhythm section of Martin Axenrot’s drumming and Martin Mendez’s hypnotic bass. Svalberg’s keyboards underpin the track whilst there is ample opportunity for Fredrik Akersson and Akerfeldt to show off their sublime axe work. Cusp Of Eternity also displays heavy leanings towards Eastern musical influences which are noticeable in many of the albums songs. Moon Above, Sun Below is a natural progression from Heritage. A ten minute meander through numerous time changes and tempos, it ebbs and flows like a great river, combining all of the elements of the band into a stunning piece. This track has many of the characteristics of Storm Corrosion, the side project of Akerfeldt and the masterful Steven Wilson, who has provided mixing duties for this album. At six minutes in the track goes quiet and an eerie evil atmosphere takes over. Who said you had to play at 900 mph to create the shadow of death? This is sinister stuff at its best. Elysian Woes opens with a combination of Akersson’s acoustic guitar and Akerfeldt’s harmonies (which with Svalberg can now be recreated live). This is a delicate track with some lovely melodies that still have the distinct Opeth guitar sound. Waves of keyboards wash gently over the guitars as the track develops and the story is told. At a mere 4:47 this is one of the shortest tracks on the album but one of the most beautiful. Goblin is the album’s instrumental and whilst it is still very much on the melodic side once again it has the clearly defined Opeth sound. Much more of a progressive jazz feel about this one, combined with the 70s groove of Deep Purple, Camel and others of the genre. More acoustic work at the start of River, with the harmonies and melody combining beautifully as it increases in volume and momentum; some sterling guitar work lifts it higher before Svalberg’s keyboards once again provide the underlying current. Penultimate track Voice Of Treason is a progressive epic, weighing in a mere eight minutes. This track is laced with an oriental feel, moody and full of emotion; a slow burner with a hint of Deep Purple alongside the Eastern promise. The final song, Faith In Others merely rubber stamps yet another masterpiece from a quite astonishing band. Astonishingly structured, intricate, sensitive and perfectly layered. The evolution of this band continues apace and I for one am enchanted. This is a stunningly perfect album and once again demonstrates the evolution of a band who clearly refuse to be shackled or stereotyped. 10/10

Overkill – White Devil Armory (Nuclear Blast) [Review By Paul]

The opening strains of intro XDM leave you in no doubt where this album is going. The 17th album from thrash legends Overkill is yet another bristling release in 2014 that smashes your face in and leaves you smiling even though you are spitting out your teeth at the same time. Armorist kicks of the album properly, a full frontal thrash attack, peddle to the metal as the band demonstrate that they don’t give a fuck. This is an old school thrash assault. What grabs you immediately is the intensity of the band’s playing. A battery of drumming from Ron Lipnicki combined with the driving bass lines of original member D.D Verni and the snarling aggression of Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth. Down To The Bone continues in the same vein with some terrific soloing from Dave Linsk and all round solid guitar work of Derek Tailer. You can’t argue with any of this album; it simply does what it says on the tin … if the tin said blow your bollocks off and nail them to a tree. Pig is five minutes of all out blasting delivery. The irony of writing a review of Overkill at the same time as I've been waxing lyrical about the evolution of Opeth is not lost on me. Overkill do thrash. Fact. That is all. Bitter Pill has all the riffs that Dave Mustaine could ever need. You can listen to Overkill and never need to listen to any other thrash bands. 34 years and counting, this is almost the blueprint of thrash. Stomping Anthrax/Metallica type riffs, the Slayer balls out onslaught, the visceral vocal delivery of Exodus, it is all here. There is little left to say. This is an album that demonstrates that true legends just get better. It slays from start to finish and the bonus track Miss Misery is a crushing Nazareth cover enhanced by the guest vocals of Accept frontman Mark Tornillo. Just a shame we can’t have a face melting at BOA this year. 8/10

The Dagger: The Dagger (Century Media)

Sweden seems to be the home of rock at the moment especially late 70's early 80's sounding retro rock packed with riffage. The Dagger are a band cut from the same cloth of as Graveyard, Freefall And Troubled Horse, which is odd when you find out that three of the members are from brutal death metal bands like Grave and Dismember. As I said The Dagger have a similar sound of riff fuelled rock that also straddles the NWOBHM boundaries Ahead Of You All shows this with a riff that comes out of the Maiden/Priest/Saxon school. Quite frankly this album rocks! It is a a riff filled hard rock album that harks back to a simpler time when bands didn't need studio trickery just great songs and a heap of attitude. The Dagger are not just another NWOBHM revival band though they are nearer in style to the late 70's hard rock bands like Rainbow and Deep Purple, much of this comes from the driving rhythm section, of Tobias Cristiansson on bass and Fred Estby on drums that have a force and power that means all the songs have a huge bottom  and rhythm even the slower songs like Ballad Of An Old Man. This song in particular shows off another one of The Daggers musical traits as it has a real  Rainbow vibe with its Blackmore style guitar solo and big organ stabs. In fact the spirit of Blackmore looms large over this band as I have alluded to with all of David Blomqvist's guitars emulating the Man On The Silver Mountain and with Drummer Fred Estby contributing the amazing Jon Lord style organs to tracks like the bouncy Skygazer which has the title and also the lyrical content of Dio's work. Much of the Rainbow/Purple sound comes from vocalist Jani Kataja who is a dead ringer for Gillan albeit without the ear piercing highs however he can also channel both Dio on Call Of 9 and Biff Byford on the NWOBHM thrust of Electric Dawn and the fist pumping 1978 which is surely this bands call to arms and also their main period of influence naming many of the classic rock and metal albums that came out during that year with special mentions to Priest a band that has obviously influenced the track, this is followed by Dogs Of Warning which must be from Mob Rules or Heaven And Hell with it's Iommi-like chug. This album truly rocks it full of massive songs that like I said hark back to better time but don't stay in the past they are brought bang up to date by this young band. If you are of the opinion that Judas Priest sold out after Killing Machine, Rainbow ended when Dio left and the only vocalist for Purple is Ian Gillan then you will lap this album up! Everyone else still buy it and play it loud, proper rock the way it used to be!!! 9/10       

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