Archives For album review

It was a frigid, gray morning as I drove down a long, empty stretch of the Massachusetts Turnpike. Idle snowflakes fell down around my car as I settled into the home stretch of the drive to Boston. I needed some noise to power me through the last leg.

Looking down at the shotgun seat next to me, I caught sight of Lemmy Kilmister and his two bandmates standing in a desert landscape, bedecked in a combination of black leather and old West cowboy gear. Why not?

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The finest heavy metal record of 1979 opens with the song that many of us Motorheadbangers know as the ultimate live show closer: “Overkill.” A metal classic for the ages, the song “ends” three times, with that screaming, high-bending lead guitar, which is such a key part of its concert appeal. We fans are delightfully attuned to it, some of us having had the pleasure of hearing it for decades.

But imagine what it must have been like to first hear it in 1979: the most popular airplay was all about New Wave, punk rock, and The Wall. Then seemingly out of the black comes this Northern English trio with a wild Snaggletooth for a mascot, with a frontman who’s not quite singing but not quite growling either. Who could have imagined that, like the Snaggletooth charging out of the album cover, that this band would continue on for over 36 years, bulling over everything in its path, and serving as a respected inspiration by every genre from punk rock to death metal to thrash metal to alternative rock?

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It was fortunate indeed that prog metal fans like me didn’t have to wait another nine years for the next Fates Warning album.

Like the entire record, opening cut “From the Rooftops” has all the ingredients I admire most about Fates Warning’s approach to the subgenre. It starts out sounding like a Bond theme; I can even picture the curling smoke and opening credits. It morphs into tight interplay between the rhythmic chugging and drummer Bobby Jarzombek’s expert hi-hat work. Always a delight to listen to, always complimenting the other music, Jarzombek is the ultra-precise, unsung hero of Theories of Flight for me.

The song also has the melodic mid-range chorus by Ray Alder, and a trademark Frank Aresti guitar solo. It is the perfect, seven-minute middle ground between the more compressed, chorus-centric tracks on Theories of Flight (like “Seven Stars”) and the extended suites (like “The Ghosts of Home”).

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2016 was not off to a good start for us headbangers with Lemmy Kilmister’s passing, but I am happy and proud to say that this latest Megadeth statement helped jerk me out of my mourning phase.
More than thirty years into their career, Megadeth has managed to craft one their stronger all-time records. As the excellent cyborg-apocalypse album art shows, the band has its finger on the fear and anger over the state of our world in 2016, with strong, tight, relevant music to match.

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Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt 2,Scenes From A Memory (1999)

The cinematic, extravagant metal album of the year 1999, the close of the century.

It’s hard enough to create just one new paradigm of progressive, heavy music…but two?

Interestingly enough, Scenes From A Memory would not have happened without the difficulties of the prog metal giants’ previous record to this, 1997’s Falling Into Infinity. On that record, there was stressful label interference and a generally difficult writing and recording process. Among other things, it meant that shorter, more accessible songs would be the focus, at the expense of longer tracks. Clearly, the suits believed nobody liked progressive music anymore because everyone has ADD. Some things never change.

One of those “it’s too long, scrap it” tracks that didn’t make the cut for Falling Into Infinity was “Metropolis, Pt. 2.”

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August 2002 would seem a strange time to release a record so steeped in the eerie beauty of winter as The Mantle. But released it was, and fans were treated to an ambitious 70-minute winter landscape set to metal music. Even the term “metal” is used very loosely here, so varied are the songs. With generous sections of strummed acoustic guitars, folk instruments and ambient sounds, Agalloch is sometimes deemed to be a progressive band. Even the most straightforward metal-type song here, “I Am the Wooden Doors,” still indulges in twin acoustic guitar backdrops and solos to go along with its double-bass drum attack and rasping black metal vocals. To me, the doors symbolize the stoutness of the human spirit, a break in the overall wintry melancholy of The Mantle.

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I wrote this in late 2015, only a few weeks before Lemmy passed away. I have left it unedited since then, as a tribute to memories of a better time when he still walked and rocked this earth. Godspeed.

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Coming up with a truly definitive heavy metal album (that most headbangers can generally agree upon) is a dastardly difficult thing to do. It’s difficult because of the rich variety of sounds falling under the metal umbrella, and also because of metalheads’ passionate loyalty to their favorites.

That being said, in all the discussions I’ve had over “the” metal album, I have found minimal resistance to this album, “The Number of the Beast,” taking the prize. That’s the kind of power this album has.

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