Arch Enemy

Review: The Black Dahlia Murder – Abysmal (Deluxe Edition)

Location: Waterford, Michigan
Genre: Melodeath
Released: September 18, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC

By: Kris Kotlarik

For many years, I was unimpressed with The Black Dahlia Murder’s output. I tended to write them off as some Hot Topic butt metal band. But when they were in Columbus during the Decibel Magazine tour featuring Noisem, Carcass and Gorguts, they more than held their own as a live band in a lineup full of impressive performers. So I decided to look into their output further and I found that for me, their music has a niche. And that niche is workout music. Their seventh full album, Abysmal, fits that same mold.

This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. If I’m running a 5/10K, this is exactly the kind of album I would want to play. It doesn’t let up at any point in time from start to finish, which is fantastic. But at some point, when you dig deeper into the album’s sound, you start to realize that all the tracks kind of sound eerily similar to each other.

After the third track, I drifted into daydream mode because nothing was standing out as anything different from what I had already heard. So I had to go back again several times and listen to it, and each time, I had the same thing happen: I would zone out with Abysmal playing in the background.

You’re probably thinking I have ADD or something like that, and you’re probably right. My brain loves music that goes in a bunch of different directions throughout an album. But to be fair, this is a marked upgrade over similar albums by Arch Enemy and In Flames. In this case, being consistent and not letting up is to the album’s benefit. And although it’s difficult to remember standout tracks, there are plenty of standout moments, such as the fun dual-channel guitar interlude towards the end of “Vlad, Son of the Dragon,” and the impressive title track’s unrelenting blasts.

There aren’t any bad tracks, but there are very few that stand out among the others. The vocals remind me somewhat of The Dillinger Escape Plan mixed with a metalcore element. The production is also crisp, in line with their previous works. But the bonus tracks merely feel like an extension of the record itself. They don’t add much substance, but like the rest of the record, they are fun. And that’s what counts, right?

The last thing I want to point out here is that the run time (under 43 minutes counting the bonus tracks) is just about perfect for an album like this. If it were any longer, listener fatigue would set in. The band and label know that they don’t need to put 70 minutes of material on an album in order for it to succeed, and they got the run time here exactly right.

Overall: If you’re looking for a constant rush of energy, look here.

Rating: 3.0*

Buy the album here.

Advertisements

Review: Sylosis – Dormant Heart

Location: Reading, England, UK
Released: January 12, 2015
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Sylosis is a band I have heard a lot of good things about, but not from. Their fourth album, Dormant Heart, doesn’t do much to change that perception for me.

That sounds harsher than it actually should be taken; I don’t think Sylosis sucks. But they sound too much like Machine HeadArch Enemy, and Insomnium, among other bands that I don’t particularly like. These bands’ footprints are all over this record, and because of that, the good parts are only in bits and pieces. The titular track has a great intro to it, while “Victims and Pawns” and “To Build A Tomb” each have some nice riffs and guitar work that don’t last nearly as long as they should. Most of the other songs don’t develop into anything special and are entirely unremarkable; “Leech,” “Harm,” and “Mercy” come to mind as tracks to avoid.

All that said, the nine-minute “Quiescent” is an all-around good track that is more experimental than anything else on this album, yet still accessible for most metal audiences. It explores the more melodic aspects of their sound and is fairly light in comparison to what the rest of this disc puts in front of it, but reaches a nice fever pitch close to the end on a nice, lengthy crescendo. “Callous Souls” and “Indoctrinated” are also good tracks that sustain a more uptempo, aggressive energy throughout the song.

There are two bonus tracks; “Pillars Erode” is so Machine Head that it’s uncanny, and “Zero” is a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ original hit. It’s not a good cover, although it did give me inspiration for another death metal karaoke rendition.

Overall: Very average, although “Quiescent” is one of the better tracks to be released recently.

Rating: 2.0*

Review: Allegaeon – Elements Of The Infinite

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
Genre: Technical Melodic Death Metal
Released: June 23, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: National Uprising – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

In the (American) football multiverse, a player’s third season is supposed to be their big breakout into stardom and/or notoriety. Elements Of The Infinite is Allegaeon’s third release, and while this won’t crack my charts for now, it’s still a solid effort. The band’s sound has improved on several facets; there’s some significant instrumental diversity, the dual vocals are effective by this genre’s standards, and the guitar work is, well, technical. I also came away quite impressed with new drummer Brandon Park’s skills.

The album starts on a high note (once we get past the Epica-esque intro) with “Threshold Of Perception,” which never lets up once it gets going. The same can be said for “Our Cosmic Casket,” which features some of the most progressive rhythms on here. The almost 13-minute closer, “Genocide For Praise – Vals For The Vitruvian Man,” is all over the place with regards to both tempo and style and is considered a must-listen by any metric.

The only two songs that didn’t strike my fancy were “Gravimetric Time Dilation,” which sounds far too much like new-era Arch Enemy for my liking. “Biomech II” would otherwise have been among the top tracks, headlined by a highly notable bass line, if not for the “Goddamn you” growls that don’t add anything to the rest of the song.

The rest of the tracks have their share of solid moments; “Tyrants Of The Terrestrial Exodus” boasts perhaps the best example of Allegaeon’s dual guitar solos. “Dyson Sphere” has a particularly nice guttural blast following a guitar solo; “The Phylogenesis Stretch” also possesses a slight Arch Enemy vibe but is executed in much better fashion; “1.618” is a solid track that came close to cracking the top 3; and the penultimate track, “Through Ages Of Ice – Otzi’s Curse,” is a surprisingly effect (mostly) instrumental track with a weird outro that sounds like a mix of Asian/Middle Eastern wind instruments with African tribal drumming.

I think the best comparison I can connect this to would be the Mafia EP by Italian decimators Fleshgod Apocalypse, who were just beginning to explore with their symphonic components at the time following their straightforward tech-death debut, Oracles. I don’t expect to see Allegaeon touring with a live pianist and soprano singer any time soon, but they did show with this release that they are not afraid to take the traditional “all technical everything” approach to modern death metal and use some left field ideas to bolster their overall sound.

Overall: Adding in more of that creative process will most likely lead to a near-elite rating on future releases.

Rating: 3.5*

Review: Arch Enemy – War Eternal

Location: Halmstad, Sweden
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Released: June 9, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

The news that longtime Arch Enemy lead singer Angela Gossow would no longer be singing for the band took me by surprise, but the band’s studio efforts have become increasingly stale over time. This culminated in their previous release, Khaos Legions, which had some things going for it but not enough to draw me back for multiple listens. Replacing Gossow is The Agonist‘s Alissa White-Gluz, which resulted in a reaction of complete indifference from me. I’m not well-versed in their work and most of my reliable sources said this would have little effect on Arch Enemy’s future sound. They were wrong; War Eternal  further declines from where Khaos Legions left off

The sad thing is, it actually starts on a fantastic note; following an uninteresting orchestral intro, “Never Forgive, Never Forget” comes in and kicks your ass with a blend of different guitar hooks, several noteworthy solos, and a deathrashing feel that reminds me of fellow Swedes The Crown. That’s the highest praise I have given Arch Enemy in recent memory, as Crowned In Terror would almost certainly make my top 50 all-time albums list.

Unfortunately, War Eternal begins spinning off the tracks almost immediately with the title track, which has good solos but a completely generic chorus, complete with the change in key signature on the final go-around. “You Will Know My Name” and “Stolen Life” are both awful; “On And On” has a cringe-worthy breakdown,  and “Not Long For This World” closes the album off with a slow instrumental that doesn’t really go anywhere. Out of the others, “Time Is Black” would be a solid song if not for a weird intro that comes back later on. The rest are entirely forgettable, as are the lyrics. Granted, Arch Enemy has never been known for putting amazing lyrics in their writing, sticking to their general formula of rising up and fighting back against oppression, so it would be rather unreasonable to expect much of a change at this point.

But wait, there is one last bright side! Arch Enemy decided to cover Judas Priest‘s Breaking The Law as a bonus track, and it’s actually pretty damn good. Otherwise, I can’t say many positive things about this one.

Overall: The only reason this doesn’t score a 1 or lower is because “Never Forgive, Never Forget” is that good.

Rating: 1.5*

Bonus Thoughts: The studio albums may not be as great as they once were, but Arch Enemy is still an excellent live draw. I was lucky enough to catch them in Finland with Gossow still at the helm. For those concerned about White-Gluz’s impact on the band’s live shows, she appears to be singing live with broken ribs, gutturals and all. That’s dedication.

Review: Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

Location: Joensuu, Finland
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Released: April 25, 2014
Format reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Anyone who has talked to me for five minutes probably knows that Finland is my home away from home. I love it there; it’s a place where education actually makes sense, and it’s possible to get highs in the 60’s in the summer. Add Finland’s love of heavy metal (particularly its folk metal bands) to the mix, and it makes me wonder why I haven’t simply just moved there already.

During the summer of 2012, following my semester in Tampere, I went to Tuska in Helsinki. Insomnium played the smaller tent stage to a packed house and had a great set. While their newest release, Shadows of the Dying Sun, brought back some of those moments, many parts of Shadows didn’t resonate with me as much as I would’ve liked. The parts that did resonate with me, however, represent a big step forward for the band.

The bottom line is that this album sounds a little bit too much like a less anarchic/angry version of Arch Enemy. Depending on how you feel about Arch Enemy, this might be a good thing.

The main offenders are the ballad tracks and occasionally repetitive lyrics. Take these lyrics from “While We Sleep,” for example:

“When your heart gives out and your love collapses
When the hand that never lets go is there no more
When you reap and sow only throe and resentment
When there’s no one else but you to blame it for

When all you ever wish for is to go back once more
When all you ever wish for is to change it all
When all you feel is remorse, pain and regret
When you dwell in the past unable to move on”

The lyrics are relatable, but they don’t really go anywhere. With that said, there is a lovely guitar break towards the end that I’ll probably revisit several times.

“Lose To Night” and “The Promethean Song” are two balladesque tracks that feature minimal progression lyrically and are the two most skippable songs on this album. “Ephemeral” is rather poppy in its structure, which I can somewhat understand given the chorus:

“Dying doesn’t make this world dead to us
Breathing doesn’t keep the flame alive in us
Dreaming doesn’t make time less real for us
One life
One chance
All ephemeral”

Ephemeral means “lasting for a very short time.” Given the sound, I interpret the lyrics as making the most of what little relative time we have, which again comes across as very poppy. That’s not inherently a bad thing; it just doesn’t feel right in this song.

My favorite songs on Shadows are “Revelation,” “Black Heart Rebellion,” and “The River.” The latter two tracks sound like they could have been paired with Die Apokalylptischen Reiter’s “Auferstehen Soll In Herrlichkeit” from Licht. Both tracks contain some pummeling blast beats, and “The River” in particular has a fantastic layered vocal bridge.

“Revelation” is another uptempo song to a lesser extent that features some of the best all-around drumming on Shadows and also features some fantastic use of vocal dynamics. Other strong moments include a nice guitar melody in the back half of “Primeval Dark,” and the title track is a solid ending to this record.

The production here is well done and in addition to the multiple examples of vocal dynamics, the musicianship is also excellent and is surprisingly diverse as far as melodic death metal albums are concerned.

Overall: Although large chunks of this album are at least somewhat forgettable, “Black Heart Rebellion” and “The River” are more than enough to salvage it. “Revelation” and the title track further bolster Insomnium’s sixth album. 

Rating: 3.0*