Monday, November 30, 2009

Fields of the Nephilim - Intro

Fields of the Nephilim weren't one of the better known gothic bands of the 80's, but they were excellent nonetheless. Combining hard rock with jangly guitars, spaghetti western soundtracks and epic progressive rock suites, their sound was fairly unique if not that influential, and their material from their classic era is so wonderfully consistent that it's a shame they're not more famous.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Slayer - World Painted Blood

7/10

World Painted Blood isn't quite as strong as Christ Illusion, but it's still pretty good. I have to say that once again, the solos are the strongest part of these songs- I'm glad that Slayer didn't try to pull a St. Anger and release an album without any soloing at all; if they'd done it on Diabolus in Musica or God Hates Us All, those albums could have been even worse than Metallica's disaster. The solos are the heart of Slayer songs; they're some of the only parts of metal songs that ever sound legitimately scary to me (other extreme metal bands can sound angry, but never quite scary). That's not to say that the rest of the songs are horrible, but those leads are just something that I've never heard anywhere else.
I do have to say that I don't like the fact that Slayer's lyrics have gotten more political in recent years. I listen to music to get away from stuff like politics, so it's understandable that I'm not into that stuff. Even with my bias about political lyrics, though, "Americon" is just stupid as hell ("It's all about the motherfucking oil!"), and should've been re-written so it was about gore or Satan or something cool like that.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Van der Graaf Generator - Live at the Paradiso

6/10

I really, really hated this live double album after hearing it the first time, but subsequent listens have improved my opinion of it a bit. Live at the Paradiso is a recording of one of the earliest shows performed by the trio version of VDGG, and it gets off to a pretty bad start with a performance of Lemmings where Hammill's voice is just terrible. Fortunately, the later songs are played much better, and there's considerably more guitar here than on the studio versions of the older songs (to make up for the lack of David Jackson, no doubt).
It's just a shame that there weren't any VDGG live albums recorded during the band's heyday, as all we have are the Maida Vale sessions, the godawful "Vital" with the Van der Graaf lineup and the reunion albums to go on, so there aren't any good documents of what a live show during the 7os with the classic lineup would've been like. I can't really recommend this album except for the more devoted VDGG fan, but it's not horrible and the fact that the songs are rearranged somewhat makes it interesting.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death - Live in LA

6/10

Live in LA was recorded under less-than-ideal circumstances during a less-than-ideal period in the band's history (in my opinion) with a less-than-ideal set list, but I still think it's worth a listen. This was recorded during the tour supporting The Sound of Perseverance, and Chuck uses his high-pitched shriek that I find a little annoying. As a result, the setlist is heavy on songs from that album, with just two songs from the first three albums ("Zombie Ritual" and "Pull the Plug"). The recording quality could be better, too; the guitars sound pretty good for most of the way through, but the drums are extremely tinny, and there are some notable jumps between songs when the band members were tuning up. I release that this album was a last-minute release of a forgotten soundboard recording to raise funds for Chuck's cancer treatments, but the drum sound takes quite a bit away from the quality of these songs and the obvious between-song edits destroy a sense of immediacy.
Still, the instrumental performances are great and spot-on, even if they don't improve on the original studio versions in any real way. It's a shame that they couldn't have released a live set from an older incarnation of the band, but any existing recordings from back then probably had considerably worse quality than this.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Death - The Sound of Perseverance

7/10

The Sound of Perseverance is a pretty overrated album, although it's still decent. Basically, there are too many sections which coast by on speed and technical ability rather than interesting songwriting; Chuck hasn't lost his touch completely, but a lot of these songs have passages that are just dull. Also, his vocals aren't nearly as good as before; they're way too high-pitched. There's a really good cover of Judas Priest's "Painkiller" at the end, but from the way Chuck was shrieking, one can't help but wonder if a rendition of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Constipation Blues" would have been more appropriate. There are also a few questionable songwriting decisions (for example, those bass runs on "Bite the Pain" sound just wrong, and not in a good way, and there's a pretty mediocre semi-acoustic instrumental), but there are plenty of awesome parts like the mid-tempo but insanely powerful intro to "Flesh and the Power it Holds" to balance them out.
I think that a lot of the praise that this album gets is based on the fact that it's the last album recorded under the Death name, and that it's not an emabarrassment or anything like that. I just think that it's one of the less interesting Death albums, but it's a huge compliment to Chuck and co. that an album like this pales to the rest of the Death discography.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Death - Symbolic

9/10

Symbolic isn't quite as strong as Individual Thought Patterns, but it's still pretty good. It suffers from a few overproduced echoey parts (could this be what the people at anus.com are referring to when they call later Death albums "commercial?), and a few sections which stick out as a little too simple for an album this technical (the very beginning of Zero Tolerance, for one). Also, the basslines aren't nearly as awesome since DiGiorgio left (although there are a few great moments), and some songs go on a little too long. There's also an acoustic part at the end of the otherwise-awesome Crystal Mountain that's just dumb.
However, this is still a very strong album. Some of the other songs that go on a while don't drag at all, and the soloing is never less than brilliant. The guitar solos are prominent without taking the songs over entirely (although most of them aren't particuarly scary and would sound just as at home on albums in other metal genres). Gene Hoglan also puts in another strong performance on the traps; there are lots of incredibly interesting drum fills, and even the more routine drum parts are played very well (unlike some other death metal drummers who just make CLANK CLANK CLANK sounds over and over again). Symbolic is a fine album that anyone who appreciates technical skill in death metal will love.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Death - Individual Thought Patterns

10/10

This is my favorite of Death's albums, and the biggest factor is probably the rhythm section. Steve DiGiorgio, who was on Human but not that audible for most of the time, completely steals the show on fretless bass here with his ridiculously good performance; it's a shame that this would be his last album with Death. Meanwhile, new drummer Gene Hoglan (of about a million different bands, the most recent of which is Dethklok) absolutely tears it up as well; together, Hoglan and DiGiorgio have to be one of the best ever rhythm combos in the history of extreme metal. Other than them, Individual Patterns has typically strong guitars, although they're more in the technical style of the second half of Human than the more brutal style of the first few albums. Some of the wailing parts on "The Philosopher" are just completely golden
Although I like the later, technical Death about the same as the earlier, rawer Death, I can't say I'd recommend the later albums for death metal newbies. I personally got interested in the more old school style of death metal first, and while technical stuff can be rewarding, it's awfully hard to follow at first. I had to give Individual Thought Patterns the 10 over Scream Bloody Gore, though, because it's a lot more varied.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Death - Human

8/10

This is Death's transitional album. The first four songs are fairly straightforward Death songs that are perfectly fine, but par for the course. However, the last four are much more technical and progressive than what had came before it. The instrumental "Cosmic Sea" is my favorite track; it's not really a death metal song, but it's wild and just as spacy-sounding as its title, with keyboards that enhance the atmosphere without taking total control of the song.
Some people and sites (anus.com in particular) have claimed that Death's output including and after this albumwas "commercial," but I think they've been listening to nothing but extreme metal for wayyy too long; I certainly can't see stuff like this topping any charts any time soon. I can understand why some people would prefer the band's earlier, rawer material, but this is still metal through and through.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Death - Spiritual Healing

7/10

Spiritual Healing basically follows the exact same formula as Leprosy, to the point where one could easily mix and match songs from the two albums without any songs seeming out of place. There's a little bit of extra production here that wasn't on the last album (stuff like phase effects shows up in a few places, and the guitar in an early part of the title track has a weird scratchy sound that you don't hear often in metal) and the lyrics are more political and less horror-based than the first two albums. However, the sound is remarkably similar in almost every other way, from the guitar tones to the song lengths to the soloing.
That doesn't make Spiritual Healing a bad album, though, and anyone who liked the first two albums will find much to enjoy here. It's just that someone listening to Death at this point in their career would get the impression that they were one of those bands that wouldn't change much at all. However, with their next release, that would all change.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Death - Leprosy

8/10

Leprosy doesn't really build a whole lot on the sound that Scream Bloody Gore pioneered, but it's not stale or anything. This was one of the very first albums produced by Scott Burns, who would become a legendary producer in the death metal genre, and he does a pretty good job; the drums are a bit overcompressed at times, but other than that, it's better sounding than Scream Bloody Gore. Then again, it's kind of hard to screw up a death metal album short of overproduction, which barely ever happens in the genre anyway.
I find it kind of hard to review death metal albums by bands which didn't change a whole lot; the first three Death albums sound pretty damn similar, so picking out the differences can be tough. I think that having Rick Rozz, an actual second guitarist in the band made the guitar interplay a bit more prominent, but the "toy monkey" style drum playing is still too prevalent. The songs also go on a bit longer here, but that didn't really affect my opinion of the album either way.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Another break

Having my Phillies in the World Series has been taking up a lot of my time (I stagger my posts about a week in advance- should I say "will be?") so I decided to take the week off. I stand by my decision to take weeklong breaks just once per season, though. My Death reviews will continue next Monday.