Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Top 20 Albums of the Year - coming soon!

Howdy y'all,

At some point in December, most probably half way through, I'm gonna make a list of my top 20 albums of 2012. Seeing as a lot of my favourite albums were from earlier this year, and I started my blog in August/September, I would like to share my opinions on some of my favourite albums that I've yet to mention on this page.

So keep a look out for my Top 20 list soon!

Tom

Monday, 19 November 2012

Example - The Evolution of Man

An Example of progress

This is a special occasion for my blog; this is my first non-rock album review, in the form of singer/rapper Example. Assuming that you didn't know, I have an expansive range of musical interests, anything from Rap to Rock, from Hip-Hop to House, I will give it a listen. So when I stumbled across Example a few years ago, it opened up my range of tastes that little bit more. Being from the London area, I listen to a fair amount of Grime music (imagine Rap, but with faster flows and harder hitting lyrics). I remember a while back when Example tried his hand in that industry, all to no avail as that wasn't his true scene. So when he became popular and 'commercially acceptable', he was making music that suited him perfectly. Slightly light-hearted rap mixed with dance and dubstep elements, and the catchiest chorus melodies.

I was in love with his last album 'Playing in the Shadows', it was a banger and it proved Example was ready to climb to the next level. So he didn't waste any time on working quickly on album number four, 'The Evolution of Man'. The main thing with Example is that he is fairly unpredictable with what he puts into his songs, no two songs sound completely the same. So bearing this in mind, I listened with an open mind to his newest effort.

To start off with, we hear 'Come Taste The Rainbow', produced by dubstep artist Benga. It kicks off with palm muted guitar, supported with a melodic motif. Example's vocals join in, low in pitch, which for me isn't his best vocal range, he has a great mid range voice. Then the typical drum roll appears and Example begins rapping. He has a fantastic flow and intricately weaved lines. However the further we get into the song, when the rapping stops and practically the same hook repeats throughout the rest of the song, it feels slightly dull, and not necessarily the best tune to have as an album opener. Second song, and second single of the album 'Close Enemies' picks up from where the last album left off. The opening hook is typical Example, catchy vocals, attached with a solid, bouncy dance beat. This song would have fitted perfectly on 'Playing in the Shadows' and shows how Example has kept his best elements and used them on 'The Evolution of Man'. Clever wordplay such as 'She was a girl on film, Duran Duran' keeps the music exciting and displays Example's lyrical skill.

As the album progresses, I noticed a lot of guitar being used. He always used it in a couple of songs, but on this album it seems to be in a fair amount of songs. It supports the dance beats and dubsteps moments well, even though the dubstep moments seem slightly weaker on this album than the last one, but they were used sparsely on 'Playing in the Shadows', which made it seem more effective. Every song seems as if it would be played in a club in Ibiza, each song has a strong, pounding beat that would get you jumping. The song 'Queen of Your Dreams' has emotional lyrics, obviously about love. But it is effective and shows Example being diverse in what he preaches about. The title track 'The Evolution of Man' is the song that is least like the rest on this album. It's slower, with no real dance features. The equivalent of the song 'Microphone' on his previous album. In general seems darker and dare I say 'heavier'. It's not as soft as anything he's done before, but the fact it's edgy means it makes it so much more interesting. The anthemic song 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?' has for my money one of the best producers; Skream producing the track. It is an aggressive, eerie tune that shows Example stepping up his rap game.

This album to me is about Example doing what he does extremely well, but mixing it up a bit more. To the ignorant critics, it would seem like a generic dance influenced rap album, but once you delve in and give it a couple of listens, it is completely full of energy and shows Example doing his thing successfully. The highlight for me is his first single 'Say Nothing', it is a breath of fresh air for modern music, and possibly Example at his best. Other than that, I wouldn't say this album is as good as his previous album, but it surpasses his earlier albums and shows how much he's progressed since the 'Kickstarts' days. Definitely worth a listen and a guaranteed grower.

Stand-out tracks on this album: 'Close Enemies', 'Say Nothing' and 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?'

Rating: 7 out of 10

Monday, 12 November 2012

Deftones - Koi No Yokan

WARNING: Contains Killer Songs

They're back! Deftones have returned with their newest studio album 'Koi No Yokan' - which translates as 'promise of love' (taken from a Japanese proverb). Although it's only been 2 years since their last album 'Diamond Eyes', some fans felt it was a bit lacklustre and that the band had found it incredibly tough to continue writing epic songs without bassist Chi Cheng, who was in a severe coma, but fortunately has recovered now. So they made this new album hoping that it would gain Chi's approval, as well as the fans.

To start with, I will say it's different to the majority of their other albums. They have taken an approach of a more relaxed and melancholy sound which works very well. It almost seems trippy in parts, like a cross between Tool and Opeth, just without the progressive elements. The album begins with the track 'Swerve City'. It's an incredibly bouncy tune packed with a punch. It's the kind of song that you'd expect them to open with in their live shows. The transition from song to song on this album is possibly the smoothest on any Deftones album ever, as the whole record seems immensely cohesive, like an epic voyage. The heavier moments, such as the songs 'Leathers' and 'Gauze' have solid chugging guitar riffs, empowered by vocalist Chino Moreno, blasting out ominous lyrics such as “Time to let everything inside show” in the song 'Leathers'. The screams are gritty, full of passion. However, not all the songs contain screaming, the clean vocals give the album a calmer vibe at times and make the album that bit more accessible. Every song has a distinctive part about them, they all sound fairly different, yet you can tell that they all belong on the same album. Deftones have basically perfected mid/slow tempo metal music, it doesn't ever sound boring or repetitive, simply blissful.

Usually, albums with a similar sound to 'Koi No Yokan' are hard to get into on the first listen as they generally require more concentration and exposure. However this album, each song hits you with full force instantly. It completely surprises you because every song is pure genius. As they say; "All killer, no filler". I was partly a Deftones fan before this album, we all knew the classic songs such as "My Own Summer", but after hearing this record, I am completely converted. The song "Tempest" is a genuinely amazing song, the sound is like a mixture of "Sober" by Tool with Dream Theater-esque vocals.

This is undoubtedly one of the only albums I've heard this year with an 100% classic song rate, there is not one song on this album that wouldn't appeal to any metal or rock fan. Deftones have covered all bases on the album and will definitely bring in a new audience. For me, it is such an improvement on their previous albums, and the best thing they've released since 'White Pony'. Hopefully people will agree with me on that statement after listening to 'Koi No Yokan'. It will be on repeat for at least a couple of weeks. Now you've read this review, stop wasting your time and go listen to the album now! An amazing comeback from one of the most underrated metal bands of all time. One day they will reach the dizzy heights of huge arenas and headlining festivals, we can all hope.

Stand-out tracks on this album: I would like to say every track, but if I had to pick a top three I'd choose - "Swerve City", "Tempest" and "Leathers".

Rating: 10 out of 10 (Probably my first and only 10 this year)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

All That Remains - A War You Cannot Win

A War of Metalcore

I've got another metalcore review for you guys, this time in the form of the American band All That Remains, with their sixth studio effort called 'A War You Cannot Win'. For those of you who aren't familiar with 'metalcore', it is basically a sub-genre of metal. It is a mixture of extreme metal and punk/hardcore. All That Remains are one of the most successful metalcore bands, with their style edging towards the more 'metal' side, as opposed to the punk side. This album is a prime example of how metalcore should be done. But I will elaborate on how it is both successful, and some of the downfalls of 'A War You Cannot Win'.

Firstly, I will start with a criticism, and it is only one word; Generic. The album opens with what is possibly the most repeated metalcore riff ever, or at least sounds like about 90% of existing metalcore riffs. However, that can be a good thing because it makes the songs much more memorable, and I suppose catchy too. The upbeat nature of the album means that it's one of those that will lift your spirits and get your head banging up and down, fairly rapidly. The rhythm section of All That Remains is definitely one of the best components of the band, it is unbelievably solid, the drummer gets a round of applause for the pure stamina he must have when banging out them beats accompanied with the ferocious double bass pedal. Even the simple drum beats provided swagger to the songs. I particularly enjoyed the 'gang vocals', it gave the album an underground vibe and created a sense of built up anger that has been waiting to be unleashed. Both the screaming and clean vocals were surprisingly as good as each other. The clean vocals at times sounded like Corey Taylor (of Slipknot and Stone Sour fame) only with more of a twang. The screams are spine tingling, raw with pure emotion. All That Remains seemed to have a point to prove with this album, and they fulfilled it. The guitar work on this album is particularly outstanding, although simple at times, the harmonising is effective and shows a classy side to metal.

Their single 'Stand Up' is an anthem about ... well ... standing up. It conveys a powerful message, and this song seems to be the most commercial on the record. Therefore this will be the song that gets played at the rock clubs around the world, as well as on all the rock music channels and radio stations.

The main thing that I can say is that if you're a fan of Bullet For My Valentine, you'll love this band and this album. I believe this to be true because I am a huge Bullet fan. All That Remains just seem to be the American equivalent, only with a heavier influence (I hear elements of Pantera and Lamb of God in 'A War You Cannot Win'). For me, Bullet have marginally better songs and sound slightly less generic. Also to add, 'A War You Cannot Win' has one of my favourite album artworks this year, I'm a sucker for any war-related album covers. But anyway, if you enjoy short and sweet, but powerful songs from bands who are breaking through in the 21st Century, then this album is for you. All That Remains shall remain around for a while.

Stand-out tracks on this album: 'A Call To All Non-Believers', 'Asking Too Much' and 'A War You Cannot Win' (Title Track)

Rating: 8 out of 10

500 Page Views!

My blog has reached 500 views! Thanks to everyone who's read it, whether it's only once or regularly. I will continue to post reviews regularly for all of you to enjoy and I will be setting up a Facebook or Twitter page where you can send me your thoughts on my reviews, as well as albums you'd like to see me review in the future!

Thanks for reading!
Tom

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Neurosis - Honor Found In Decay

Doom and Gloom

It's always fun when you discover a band you've never really come into contact with before. You've heard the name, but never the music. Well this is what happened to me with Neurosis. I did some background research on them and discovered that they've existed for a mighty long time, since 1985. They originally were a punk rock/hardcore band whose sound diverted to doom metal with a folk influence.

Their new album called 'Honor Found in Decay' was released in late October and is their tenth studio album. It is most definitely a doom metal album, very dark and ambient sounding. Honestly it's one of the slowest metal albums I've ever listened to. Most of the album sounds like someone playing an old Slayer vinyl on the slowest setting. In a way it's a good thing because it fits the concept of the album completely, however I prefer the upbeat, and speedier side of the genre. The sludgy, down tuned guitar and hard-hitting drums accompany the pain-filled, shouting vocals in a way which sounds pleasing to the ear. Additionally, the use of dynamics throughout the record, but particularly in the 10 minute epic "At The Well" are so precisely placed. The louder, heavier parts hit you with full force, whereas the softer moments are delicate, like it's music that can aid stress. The closing song on the album entitled 'Raise The Dawn' was the highlight for me. It was a shorter track that had a sudden energy burst, I would consider it a better track to open the album with though.

It's unfortunately not an album I can spend a lot of time talking about because there is not a lot that goes on throughout it, despite its length of an hour (and 47 seconds). I think you a specialist taste or requirement to be able to consider the album a classic. For most fans of rock and metal music, it is an album that can be appreciated as a good effort, but it's nothing ground-breaking, nor that exciting. I understand that doom metal needs to be slow and 'ploddy', but there is no reason why it can't contain elements of excitement, just something slightly edgy that can make the genre, or particularly Neurosis, be seen in a whole new light. To conclude, it had moments of promise but generally it felt like I was listening to the same song for an hour. This will definitely appeal to doom metal fans, but for the rest of us, it'll just be seen as an average album.

Stand-out tracks on this album: 'At The Well' and 'Raise The Dawn'

Rating: 5 out of 10

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Aerosmith - Music From Another Dimension!

Who Said Rock Was Dead?

Two concepts I never thought I'd see together; Aerosmith and 2012. Not only that but a new studio album, aren't we in for a treat! I must say, I was very, very sceptical when the news broke about Aerosmith making and releasing their 15th, yes 15th, studio album; their first in 8 years. It was purely because of how old and worn out they've become over the last decade or so. There were a number of difficulties amongst certain band members, for example Steven Tyler's clash with the band after the hospital/falling off stage incident a few years back. Also the throat surgery he had made us all worried that his voice wouldn't be able to hold up for much longer. Although I was sceptical, I can't pretend that I wasn't eager to hear 'Music From Another Dimension!'. Here's what I had to say:

Aerosmith are by far one of the most successful and well-known rock bands of all time, anyone who argues that it is a complete moron. They have maintained this sense of prestige, and rightly so. But the question still remains as to why they have decided to put out an album in an era when they are not seen as relevant? My answer is that are still seen as vital, maybe only to some, but they have decided to release this record to prove that they are still the greatest in the Rock world.

The album begins with your typical Aerosmith guitar riff, supported by Steven Tyler frantically expressing his feelings on love, hence the outlandish name 'Love XXX'. You would be correct in saying that this song had a Beatles vibe to it, and that's because Mr Lennon's son Julian features on the track with his backing vocals. As we progress through the album, there are key features we can pick up on that are typically rock'n'roll. For example, the swagger-filled, swinging drum beats, the screeching vocals, that sound brilliant for an old man, the guitar and bass contains that 'old school' Aerosmith tone, but you wouldn't have it any other way. It creates a 70's/80's atmosphere that would take you back to your Rock party days and this album is purely nostalgic. Another surprise on the album is Mr A-Lister himself, Johnny Depp provides further backing vocals on the track 'Freedom Fighter', a politically fuelled song, it resembles something of a parliamentary debate, only with added guitars. The catchy tune entitled 'Legendary Child' reminds me of 'Paradise City', and this is because of a particular nuance in the song. Even the ballad moments (such as 'What Could Have Been Love') are fairly similar to their classic 'I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing', but obviously not quite as good.

I think the main thing that stands out on the album for me is that although you can tell the album is primarily aimed at an older generation of music fans, the lyrics strike me as being current, and relevant to a younger audience. As a whole, the album doesn't sound forced. It doesn't sound like a band who hate each others guts have entered a studio and have made an album just to gain a few quid. Even if that potentially may be the case, it is safe to say we can enjoy the album for what it is.

My only criticism will be, some of the songs seem a bit too long, and slightly repetitive, but they may become better and catchier with a few more listens. OK, and maybe there are a  couple too many ballads. Apart from that, Aerosmith have produced a decent album in 2012. Not many people would think that could happen, but it certainly has. Well done old geezers.

Stand-out tracks on this album: "Oh Yeah", "What Could Have Been Love" and "Street Jesus"

Rating: 7 out of 10

Monday, 5 November 2012

Parkway Drive - Atlas

New Parkway Drive album, At-las(t)

Hopefully you've forgiven me for the terrible pun and now you've convinced yourself into reading the review, undeniably the heaviest album I have reviewed. So let's begin!

It is the return of the Australian metalcore band Parkway Drive with their fourth studio album 'Atlas' and they have 'mapped' themselves back onto the current metal scene. Again, sorry for another awful pun. Their previous album 'Deep Blue' was well received and generally loved amongst hardcore fans of the band, so a follow-up of the album had to be just as solid as 'Deep Blue' with promises of it surpassing and becoming the band's best album to date.

Well the first comment I have to make about 'Atlas' is that the beatdowns are back, and better than ever. They don't all feel repetitive, each one has its own flair and sound more edgy than their earlier attempts. It is fair to say that when it comes to metalcore, Parkway Drive are renowned as one of the greatest to do it. I have to agree, especially after hearing this album. The brutality of each song is exciting and feels like a sudden adrenaline rush that makes you want to punch a lion. Of course, I don't condone hitting mammals. The record seems more diverse than their other records. They have slightly stepped out of their comfort zone and what would usually be seen as 'generic' has been greatly developed and thought through to make it sound as unique as possible, yet still recognisably Parkway Drive.

The ferocity of the instruments is simply outstanding, however there are melodic nuances that intertwine with the heavier riffs perfectly. The guitar solos are both energetic and refreshing, you feel like headbanging when they kick in, but also the melodies are a pleasure to hear. The drums pound through your entire body, just as you would expect. There are a couple of tracks on the album that are extremely reminiscent of a 'Dark Side of the Moon' era Pink Floyd. The opener 'Sparks' and the introduction to 'The River' have sublime acoustic/clean moments which sound as soothing as can be. Also, to be noted, lead vocalist (screamer) Winston McCall's voice is very dynamic and fits in brilliantly with the band, as well the backing vocals in some of the songs. They are executed perfectly in my opinion, most metalcore bands sound forced and have no real passion or emotion, but Parkway Drive seem to have a real determination to make their music the best. Their work rate is commendable.

The lyrics suit the general vibe of the band, they talk about the world with a pinch of hatred. It presents an overall emotion that flows through the rest of the album.

Overall I would say this is a relatively enjoyable album, a very good comeback from Parkway Drive.

Stand-out tracks on this album: 'The River' and 'The Slow Surrender'

Rating: 8 out of 10