Wednesday, August 31

Devin Townsend Project - Ghost

Devin Townsend Project

Devin Townsend is a Canadian madman/genius who released Deconstruction at the same time as this album, Ghost, and I must warn you, they are polar opposites. Where “Deconstruction” was very, very heavy, this is an extremely light acoustic (mostly) ambient album.

As usual, Hevy (not so much this time around) Devy does almost everything himself, playing acoustic guitar (no electrics this time) banjo, vocals, and synths. He does however, employ a female singer, flautist and a drummer to fill in parts that he cannot.

Frankly, I don’t know much about ambient or new age music: I’m a metal head, I listen to mostly metal. The only reason I bought this was because Devin Townsend was in charge (not to mention that it came with “Deconstruction”). That aside, I mostly enjoyed this. There’s a very positive vibe emanating from this disc, whether it be loving, happy, or just plain reflective the entire mood of this was just uplifting.

The first half of this album is very much driven by the acoustic guitar, Devin’s soft, heartfelt vocals, and the flute. Whereas later, the guitar takes a bit of a backseat as the synths do a lot of the work. This whole album isn’t one song after the other, it’s everything combined that makes this special. We ease in with Fly and slowly build up to Blackberry, which is easily the most “exciting” song on here. And then we slowly fade down until the end of As You Were, with some shorter energized parts on the way.

I couldn’t listen to this album by its self, I’d get bored. But as a companion to a book, or as you lay in bed before going to sleep, this album is absolutely perfect. This is acoustic ambient/new age built in a way that is just so beautiful, no music fan could refuse it. Even the most tr00 kvlt black metaller could sit and listen to this, and enjoy themselves fully. I honestly recommend this to everyone.


Claus’ Rating 4.25/5

Tuesday, August 30

Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction

Devin Townsend Project

Devin Townsend has made his name known over the past 20 years by masterminding Strapping Young Lad, and his solo projects Devin Townsend and Devin Townsend Band. In 2009 he set up a four album project called the Devin Townsend Project that would showcase the many corners of his musical identity. He released “Ki” and “Addicted” in 2009, and this year has released the concluding chapters, “Deconstruction” and “Ghost.”

Deconstruction features much of what Mr. Townsend has been showcasing on the previous efforts of his solo career. This is a very heavy progressive metal, with some orchestral effects thrown in for an appropriate level of bombast, and some techno beeping around the edges for additional variety.

Hevy Devy’s vocal prowess is practically unheard of. He switches from operatic singing to vicious growls and screams. Apart from a superb vocal performance, his guitar playing is awe inspiring. His riffs are just magnificent, and could easily stand alone as fantastic pieces of art, but combined with the rest of the components makes everything even more amazing. Just listen to the opening riff to Deconstruction or Planet of the Apes, and you’ll see his mastery. He plays all of the instruments and does all of the vocals except for the drums and choir.

This is an almost overwhelming album, not just because it’s amazing, but because it is so very dense. There’s a lot of multi-layering, so you get the “wall of sound” effect. I have always been a fan of this, as it makes everything much heavier and more powerful. There are multiple sections where there are multiple voiceovers talking at once and it gets really confusing. But if you listen carefully, you can isolate one and listen to it, and then listen to a different one another time. Either way, it’s very entertaining.

Deconstruction is a concept album that follows a protagonist (no, not The Protagonist) who dies. He then goes to hell, where he is given a cheeseburger that will grant him ultimate knowledge. The protagonist replies, “But I don’t eat the cheeseburgers guys, I’m a vegi-ma-tarian!” With a story as bizarre as this, there is bound to be some hilarious quotes and there are I literally laughed out loud on many occasions through this album. There is a Ziltoid reference in The Mighty Masturbator, which is hard to catch, but it’s there.

Ultimately, this album is amazing, plain and simple (even if the music isn’t plain or simple). There is something for every metal head here. If you like extreme metal, there’s plenty of that, if you’re more into the progressive/power/heavy metal there’s lots of that too. I suggest all who read this get up and quickly run to get Deconstruction as soon as they can.


Claus’ Rating 4.75/5

Monday, August 29

Svartsot - Maledictus Eris

Maledictus Eris

Taking the listener back to darkened medieval times, Svartsot invite the listener on a juxtaposing journey of the lyrically somber theme of the Black Death in Denmark mixed with their brand of mostly cheerful folk-death metal. Released only 14 months after the lackluster Mulmets Viser, there was skepticism as to whether this material would follow suit, but the band have greatly improved in their sound, even if the formula of folk-infused death metal with low growls and traditional instruments is getting a little worn.

Frederiksen, as the only remaining original band member, has done well in preserving the Svartsot “feel” in his roles as guitarist, lyricist and composer. The sound has barely changed since Ravnenes Saga, but what has changed is the integration of the 'folk' instruments in the metal, rather than polarized opposites, such as in “Om Jeg Lever Kveg” (If I Survive My Cattle) and “Dødedansen” (Dance Of The Dead) where the bodhrán, mandolin and whistles' melodies interweave with the distorted leads and rhythm, with the unflinching drum patterns holding the structure down. Despite vocal changes, Bager bears similarities to Gnudtzmann in his Johan Hegg-like grunts and rasps that are made incomprehensible by both his delivery and choice of native language over English. As a result, any non-Danish-speaker automatically focuses on the music over the lyrics, hearing a mix of Amorphis and slower Equilibrium with a pristine production, a marked improvement over previous efforts.

The band takes a very interesting turn on “Spigrene” (Spears), with a very stripped down acoustic sound and low cleans (I assume provided by Bager), sounding more akin to a campfire song and would have been an interesting closer, were it not for the actual more mediocre closer of “...Og Lander Ligger Så Øde Hen” (...And The Land Lay Barren), which is a good song but a reminder of the by-now tired formula. The strongest songs are ultimately the ones that stick out most from the formula; “Spigrene” aside, this leaves “Holdt Ned Af En Tjørn” (Kept Down By A Thorn) and “Den Forgængelige Tro” (The Fading Faith) to hold up the flag for the rest of the album.

All in all, Maledictus Eris is not a bad album per se but hardly going to rock the already-brimming folk-metal bandwagon led by Eluveitie, Equilibrium, Moonsorrow. It is certainly an improvement on Mulmets Viser, and perhaps the variations in the formula will result in a differing album again next time around.

Angel's rating: 3.5/5

*Song translations provided by the wonderful photographer Tora Aarum.

Sunday, August 28

Edguy - Age Of The Joker

Age Of The Joker


Tobias Sammet has been popping out one album after another these last three years, so you’d think the quality had to drop some time. And in a way, it did. Last year’s double Avantasia-effort failed to be impressive all the way through and could’ve been cut down to one really great album. The promise of a new Edguy-record the next year had me psyched, but also raised some concerns that it would be rushed. Unnecessary, so it seems, because “Age Of The Joker” is a welcome and fresh addition to the Edguy-back catalogue.

Of course, your idea of what’s a fine Edguy-album will depend on the “camp” you’re in. You see, there are people who hail the band’s classic power metal period, from “Vain Glory Opera” up until “Mandrake”, as the best they ever did. Others, like me, appreciate them branching out into hard rock-territory with “Hellfire Club” up until “Tinnitus Sanctus”. Even though Sammet is on a (grossly exaggerated) crusade against the metal press and refuses to conform to anyone’s preconceived ideas of what Edguy should sound like, “Age Of The Joker” sort of bridges the divide between these two groups of Edguy-enthusiasts. And for that, it should be welcomed by anyone who loves at least one of their albums.

Let’s break it down. Without wanting to push every last song on this thing into this or that category, there are some clear back-to-the-old-days-tracks and some that continue the experimentation heard on the previous three albums. Opener and first single “Robin Hood” is miles away from the darkened groove of “Ministry Of Saints”, and is a more basic, straightforward power metal track with a typically anthemic chorus. For some reason it’s eight minutes long, and it does drag a bit between another of Sammet’s humorous voice-overs and a most excellent bridge. As far as opening tracks go, this is not the strongest one. Verses and pre-chorus are outstanding, but the chorus is somewhat of a letdown; and I had a similar impression with Avantasia’s “Stargazers” from “Angel Of Babylon”.  Follow-up “Nobody’s Hero” is a rocking track, reminding of Avantasia’s “Scales Of Justices”, with some nice keyboard-work in the chorus.

It’s not until “Rock Of Cashel” that Sammet shows he’s still one hell of a songwriter. His Celtic edge traces back to “Jerusalem” and “The Scarecrow”, but here he goes all out on it, weaving delicate folk melodies into a big refrain and a very atmospheric bridge. A similar thing happens in “Pandora’s Box”, but here country music is the biggest influence. Not in a silly way like “Aren’t You A Little Pervert Too?” from “Tinnitus Sanctus”, but in a way that fully integrates the country-styled guitars into a metal sound. This song changes moods more than Sammet changes leopard-skin pants, and it’s one of the absolute highlights of this album.

Power metal-fans losing their patience are rewarded with the combo of “Breathe”, an infectious power metal romp if there ever was one, and the slightly boring and overly juvenile “Two Out Of Seven”, that’ll probably become a live-favorite anyway, as it is the next single. Luckily it is followed by the ambitiously dark and heavy “Faces In The Darkness”, that boasts the album’s greatest riff and another splendid chorus. “The Arcane Guild” is another old-fashioned power metal track, more hard rock-ish is “Fire On The Downline”, which has the misfortune of being stuck in between two far superior songs, because it’s not bad on its own. It is outshone by “Behind The Gates To Midnight World”, though, a semi-ballad packing a lot of great riffs nevertheless, and a chorus for the ages. Sammet may blow his own trumpet a little too hard from time to time, but the man cranks out this kind of immortal melodies like he’s just making a sandwich. Closer is the ballad “Every Night Without You”, which is just as cheesy as it sounds and while it’s alright, it doesn’t hold a candle to “Save Me” or “Thorn Without A Rose”.

Diversity abounds, so much is clear. Now where does it rank among the Edguy-discography? Hard to say, because Edguy-albums generally don’t show such a variety of style. It doesn’t have that careless-for-what-everyone-thinks-honesty of “Tinnitus Sanctus” and despite its title, it isn’t half as goofy as “Rocket Ride”. If anything, this resembles “Hellfire Club” the most, with the exception that the aforementioned album didn’t have any clunkers, while “Age Of The Joker” has a few weaker cuts. It’s not a return to former power metal glory, not an ill-disguised Avantasia-album, it’s simply an Edguy-record that has something to offer for everyone. The joker smiles once again.

Update: I kind of forgot there was a bonus disc with an additional six songs, so let me say a few words on that as well. The two single cuts of "Robin Hood" and "Two Out Of Seven" are useless, and the Slade-cover "Cum On Feel The Noize" is irrelevant after the superior Quiet Riot-version. The main attractions here are the extremely catchy "God Fallen Silent," which could've replaced a number of inferior songs on the main album and the Hammond-organ-overloaded "Aleister Crowley Memorial Boogie", which is also interesting enough to deserve better than bonus track-status.  The "Rocket Ride"-leftover "Standing In The Rain" doesn't and makes some of the extra material on the "Lost In Space"-EPs seem look very good. Worth the few extra bucks for the first two songs, the rest is kind of bland and superficial.


Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5

Wednesday, August 24

Shining - VII: Född Förlorare


VII: Född Förlorare



Black metal is a tricky thing. I have started to realize that it is very much like modern art in the way that, either you get it, or you don’t. One black metal band may have a tremendous effect on someone, while another band would have none, just as modern art effects people. Luckily enough for me, I found this album to be fascinating!

Shining is a Swedish black metal band, that is really making its mark in the scene. This is, as the title may give away, their seventh album, and my first experience with them. However, this sounds like a seventh album, it’s very mature, well thought out and all around fantastic. Instead of falling victim to the tight constrains of the black metal genre, Shining has a different take on the style.

The riffs are actual riffs, not the tremolo picking galore, the drums have interesting patterns, not just blast beats, and the vocals growl, shriek, and pull out a bit of singing from time to time, to keep it interesting. Acoustic guitars also make a few appearances, and they add a real reflexive feel they appear. Probably the best thing about this album is the fact that there are guitar solos! Yes a black metal band with guitar solos. I never thought I would see the day. They do use them sparingly however, as there are only two or three on the album. They follow the golden rule of solos: Only solo when it fits the song. Too many bands are infected with an unnecessary-solo-addiction, but Shining show a level of finesse when it comes to their solos. The drums sounded very good here, very natural, but still powerful.

Apparently, this band is famous for their extremely depressing lyrics. However, this didn’t affect me in the least, as I don’t speak Swedish. But if you do, and you don’t like depressive lyrics, check them out before buying.

This band brings the general atmosphere of black metal, with an increased level of musicianship and maturity than the average hordes of bands. This is what black metal strives to be.


Claus’ Rating 4.25/5