Dark Tranquillity’s “Atoma”: Three Singles Deep

DT season approaching!

Swedish Melodeath legends Dark Tranquillity are one of the most consistent bands in Metal history. Not only did they kick start their career by leading one of the genre’s most influential movements, but they’ve churned out album after fucking album of world-class Extreme Metal for over two decades without so much as a slight misstep. Their forthcoming LP Atoma (out November 4th on Century Media) will be their eleventh full length, and they’re going into it with a ten-album winning streak.

One of my personal Mount Rushmore bands, DT are completely singular in the world of Melodic Death Metal. Their unique take on the genre is to be more somber than seething, more unassuming than technical, to sprinkle in keyboards and clean vocals without ever veering in a commercial direction. Vocalist Mikael Stanne’s signature snarl is somehow inviting and menacing at the same time.

I can’t say enough about how much I love these guys. But on the flip side, their sound hasn’t fluctuated significantly, and there’s only so many ways you can describe how head over heels you are for Welch’s fruit snacks. After a while, all you know is that you’ve loved them since you could remember, that life is always better when they’re around, and that they’ve never let you down. But with Atoma ten days away (!), I wanted to check in and see how these three pre-release singles are stacking up.

“Atoma”

 The first single I heard, the title cut is far and away the best of the three. The keyboard-centric intro bears a slightly resemblance to “Endtime Hearts”, a career highlight off their last record Construct, so this track was immediately in my good graces. Mikael Stanne’s clean vocals – something bands like Killswitch Engage credit him for popularizing to this day – are some of the most powerful he has ever delivered. His deep baritone has a bit more force behind it, stripping back some of the croonage (definitely not a word) that he has dabbled in. Though the lyrical themes aren’t transparent here, the chorus has a certain triumphant and motivational feel to it as he growls , “hold your head up high”. I’d also like to point out that DT are a band that thrive on subtlety – notice those quietly-mixed harmonized guitars in the chorus that boost the keyboards and create an incredibly FULL sound.

“Forward Momentum”

 “Forward Momentum” trades off between bleakness and aggression. The gloomy keys in the chorus are desolate and We Are the Void -esque, but elsewhere the guitars roar with chugging riffs. For Melodeath fans, that combination of chords in the post-chorus should be quite familiar (see: every Trivium song ever), so this track offers up no surprises. It’s run-of-the-mill DT, although “run-of-the-mill” generally bears a positive connotation for these guys.

“The Pitiless”

 A big factor in Dark Tranquillity’s singularity is that Mikael Stanne’s vocals are so easily deciphered through his raspy screams. It makes DT a bit more lyrically centered than other bands of their ilk, and “The Pitiless” is a prime example. I’m definitely curious as to what Stanne is specifically referring to in the chorus when he delivers the lines: “Alone in silence/Yes I am frightened and so are you/against pitiless indifference/we stand alone”. But either way, the sentiment of taking action in the face of apathy is heard loud and clear.  This song is also the most aggressive of the three singles. Not necessarily known for their riffing, that harmonized hammer-on section at 0:37 is the catchiest guitar part these guys have played in some time.

Essentially, these three tracks sound like a fusion of the last two Dark Tranquillity albums (2013’s Construct and 2010’s We Are the Void). They find the gents going about business as usual, and indulging in absolutely zero experimentation. That’s totally fine for three tracks, but I’m hoping for a curveball or two come November 4th.

August 2016 Album Round Up!

Hey guys! Hope your summers went out with a bang and the whole death-of-fun-and-sunshine-and-continuation-of-your-shit-life thing isn’t getting ya too down! As expected, August was relatively slow on the new music front. But in terms of new music, shit’s about to get crazy so I didn’t mind a quiet month. I got to chip away at my never-ending quest to “catch up” on classics, I got to drink excessively, and I got to put together a bit of a game plan for taking on the musical insanity that’s headed our way. Still, in any given month, there’s never a COMPLETE shortage of high profile albums. In fact, I think Frank Ocean and Young Thug purposely waited for a commercial lull to drop their hugely successful new projects. Not that either of them needed it, but it’s that much less space they have to share with their peers.

I’m so fucking psyched for the Fall. SO MUCH shit is dropping. Kinda like hanging out by the Seagulls at the beach. (Don’t worry, I didn’t actually just make that joke, it’s all in your head.) But for now, here are my thoughts on nine of this past month’s releases:

Emotion: Side B – Carly Rae Jepsen

That we didn’t get this earlier in the Summer is a travesty, but Carly Rae’s b-side collection from last year’s phenomenal Emotion LP is a rarity in that it’s as great as the main event was. Seriously, Emotion was in my Top 5 albums of 2015, and I’m enjoying these 8 tracks JUST AS MUCH. Carly’s songs are just as infectious when she’s bubbly and optimistic (“First Time” and Higher”) as when she’s down on her luck (“Cry” and “Roses”). As with Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered release earlier this year, Emotion: Side B proves that following a critical triumph with its leftovers actually HELPS rather than hinders its legacy. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Slow Death – Carnifex

I expected to hate the shit out of this. Deathcore is potentially my least favorite style of Metal – more often than not, it’s brute force over nuance, nihilistic ranting over thoughtfulness, and aggression for aggression’s sake. But I’m so glad I gave this new Carnifex LP a shot. It’s hardly the one-track minded Deathcore of early Whitechapel or Job for a Cowboy – rather, it’s a formidable amalgamation of a few different Metal niches. Standout “Drown Me In Blood”, for instance, is more of a brutal Death Metal/Deathcore hybrid, with some seriously catchy riffing in the chorus, and “Black Candles Burning” brings a touch of blackened Metal to the table. Not to mention the keys throughout the album on cuts like “Pale Ghost” add a slight theatrical element. Sure, there’s an abundance of low brow lyrics (check the refrain in “Six Feet Closer to Hell”…eeek), and Slow Death isn’t a Metal Album of the Year or anything, but it’s a friendly reminder that genre elitism is the worst offense a music fan can commit. RECOMMENDED

Fishing Blues – Atmosphere

 These prolific indie Hip-Hop giants followed up 2014’s Southsiders with a set of tracks that showcase Ant’s midas touch for slick, tuneful beats far more prominently than Slug’s rhyming skills. The instrumentals on Fishing Blues are spot on, while the lyrics are spot-TY in places. Slug drops some questionable bars, like “I wanna put my DNA in your American Pie”, or the entire track “Next To You”, which is about jerking off next to his sleeping girlfriend, and is as painfully cringeworthy as it sounds. But as expected from an MC of Slug’s caliber, he also has moments of greatness, like the self-aware “Everything” or the elegant scene-setting in the title track. All things considered – barring a few skip-worthy cuts – it still adds up to yet another solid Atmosphere project. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

No, My Name is JEFFERY – Young Thug

The Atlanta MC’s latest mixtape has earned him unprecedented acclaim, and for good reason. Tracks like the funky “Wyclef Jean”, the uber-melodic “Swizz Beatz”, and the impossibly smooth “Guwop” are some of the best Hip-Hop songs of 2016. Jeffery’s track list is not bulletproof (exhibits A and B: the obnoxious voice cracks on “RiRi” and the plodding “menace” of “Harambe”), and there’s still a part of me that’s irritated as fuck with Thugger’s whole schtick – the squeaky delivery and the unimaginative sexual vulguarity in particular – but that part of me is quieter than he’s ever been with Jeffery. It’s just too damn catchy. I’d go as far as to call it the best Young Thug project to date. RECOMMENDED

Echoes of the Tortured – Sinsaenum

I will admit, upon hearing Echoes of the Tortured , the debut from this Extreme Metal supergroup (featuring ex-Slipknot skinsman Joey Jordison, Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq, and vocalists Attila from Mayhem and Sean Zatorsky from Daath), I felt mislead, and to a lesser extent disappointed. On The Jasta Show, Joey and Frederic sold their new project in a manner that had me thinking it would be a Black Metal and Death Metal hybrid, equal parts Darkthrone and Morbid Angel. In reality, they’ve unleashed eleven tracks of Death Metal and ten tracks of campy keyboard interludes. That being said, despite a few lyrical clichés (the Deicide homage “Inverted Cross”), it’s flawlessly executed. Check the middle of “Condemned to Suffer” for some amazingly catchy riffing, and check tracks like “Army of Chaos” and “Final Curse” for stripped-back headbanging grooves that recall the early ‘90s. If you’re at all into Death Metal, this is a great listen. RECOMMENDED

Encore – DJ Snake

Fuck, I did this one to myself. Electronic Dance Music is the latest “genre project” in my obsessive music nerd manhunt – I’ve been falling deeper and deeper in love with its many subgenres and the 40-year history of Electronic music, determined to become qualified to review and write about it in the next six months or so. Unfortunately, this means I’m giving every EDM release a listen out of sheer curiosity, even total nonsense like this. DJ Snake ironically titled his debut album Encore, which I suppose is encouraging for us in his case because an encore usually signals the end. Either way, the flavors on this LP range from plain Vanilla to Sweaty Butthole (to clarify for any sexual deviants, that is a NEGATIVE thing). The Skrillex collaboration “Sahara” features the most obnoxious EDM drop I have ever fucking heard. “Pigalle” is a close runner-up. That’s all I’m willing to share. NOT RECOMMENDED

Blonde – Frank Ocean

Listen to this. It’s fucking beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Home of the Strange – Young the Giant

Young the Giant’s third LP comes with no major surprises – sauntering grooves (“Amerika” and “Something to Believe in”), reverb-soaked choruses (“Titus Was Born”) straightforward lyrical content (“Mr. Know-It-All”), and, periodically, some glossy synths playing back up (“Elsewhere”). I enjoyed the hell out of this band’s self-titled debut back in 2010 – it fit right in with Alt-Rock acts that I was into like Band of Horses, Cage the Elephant, and soon after, Imagine Dragons. For better or worse, Young the Giant are another agreeable indie Rock band. The (minor) issue that pops up with this particular sound is that Young the Giant and their peers tend to be pretty faceless and mild. Home of the Strange is often a fun listen, but it’s like wandering into a delicious pizza place in New York City- another block or two and you can find a similar experience. RECOMMENDED

SremmLife 2 – Rae Sremmurd

When I think of Rae Sremmurd, their music isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. I think of Complex magazine controversially ranking their Sremmlife debut the third best album of 2015, ahead of Drake, Vince Staples, A$AP Rocky, and, well, every other album that came out that year except two (Future’s DS2 and Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly). On their sophomore effort, the two MCs are a banger factory once again– there’s no denying that – but I find myself indifferent because there’s so little to explore beneath its charismatic surface. As a result, the record as a whole has had little replay value for me. But I will say that “Look Alive” is my favorite Rae Sremmurd track yet, and I totally understand why tons of fans are likely head-over-heels for this album. NOT RECOMMENDED

July 2016 Album Round Up!

From a record label perspective, July is one of the worst times of the year to release new music. High schoolers are at camp, Jewish high schoolers are DEFINITELY at camp, college kids are grinding it out at minimum wage jobs to pay off their gargantuan student debt, and everyone else is cashing in on their vacation days. There’s a reason this coming September is STACKED with exciting albums – the industry’s waiting for all these fuckers to get back in their groove and start shelling out cash in search of an escape.

Still, July isn’t the wasteland that the end of December is. For those taking a crack at radio, the enticing pursuit of a summer anthem remains, and for others, summer tours like Warped and Summer Slaughter are in full swing and those merch tables look awfully nice when they’re adorned with brand new albums. In the end, July 2016 actually blessed us with quite a bit in the new music department. Below are my thoughts on nine of the records that came out:

California – Blink-182

This much-anticipated comeback from Pop-Punk’s most celebrated band was the first record I snatched up this month. It didn’t matter that Tom Delonge was gone and replaced by Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio, which would likely water things down. I just had to hear it, and I expected greatness. Well, “greatness” was not quite what I was greeted with. It’s a fairly enjoyable listen, but there’s so little on here that doesn’t already exist in a superior form on Enema of the State, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, or the self-titled record. Still, I will recommend 1) the lovably sappy ballad “Home is Such a Lonely Place”, 2) the mellowed out title track, which is littered with awesome vocal harmonies, and 3) “She’s Out of Her Mind”, which is vintage Blink. Oh, and the chorus in “Los Angeles” is fucking enormous. But other than that, there’s not much here in the way of replay value. NOT RECOMMENDED

Great Is Our Sin – Revocation

Boston, MA’s Revocation won me over in 2011 with their excellent third LP Chaos of Forms – some adventurous, versatile Death Metal that was tech-y at times, Thrash-y at times, and often dipped into Melodic Death Metal territory. Albums four and five (2013’s Revocation and 2014’s Deathless) were less experimental and more generic, but still solid. Great is Our Sin is the happy medium – straightforward and well-executed like its two predecessors, but it does a better job of breaking the monotony when needed. Case in point, the album’s closer and undeniable apex “Cleaving Giants of Ice”, which utilizes a – well, giant – melodramatic chorus in the Insomnium or latter-era Enslaved vein. For something more more technical, check “Crumbling Imperium”. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Summer Songs 2 – Lil’ Yachty

An 18-year-old Atlanta MC and freshly anointed XXL freshman, Lil’ Yachty blew up with his debut mixtape Lil’ Boat back in March. Naturally, I ignored it. But Summers Songs 2 came, and curiosity got the best of me. This is Yachty’s sophomore effort, and one key ingredient is egregiously missing: talent. Listen to him deliver the hook to “Life Goes On”, an otherwise decent song with a bright and bubbly beat. Does he realize how off-time his flow is? Even if he does, purposeful does not equal good. Yachty’s the product of the last decade of rap’s more “ignorant” side, and he may be a weirdo like Young Thug or Lil’ Wayne, but he’s nowhere near the former’s charm or the latter’s cleverness. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Wildflower – The Avalanches

Sampling savants The Avalanches far surpassed ScHoolboy Q for the honor of most anticipated album of July 2016. We have waited longer for the follow-up to 2000’s Since I Left You than we did for Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy. But Chinese Democracy was an egomaniacal mess and Wildflower is mind-bending, staggering, awe-inspiring, and every adjective that makes me sound like I’m getting paid off to write this. As with Since I Left You, Wildflower is going to take quite some time to fully process, but it took virtually no time to start enjoying. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Snake Church – Ringworm

Over 25 years into their career, these Cleveland Hardcore vets delivered a ripping eighth LP! Snake Church is a fantastic listen if you’re looking for a Metalcore record that’s truly an audible blend of Metal and Hardcore Punk, and not just a Groove Metal record with a handful of breakdowns. James Bulloch a.k.a. The Human Furnace is as visceral a frontman as ever, and he’s backed by a barrage of (mostly) great riffs. In particular, the track “Shades of Blue” is an uncharacteristically sludgy mid-album highlight that adds another dimension to an oft-monotonous style. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q

Q’s follow-up to 2014’s Grammy-nominated breakout project Oxymoron HAD to be worthy of “Top 5 Most Anticipated Hip-Hop Records of 2016” inclusion (perhaps alongside Kanye, Chance, Anderson .Paak, and maybe Kid Cudi because of how hilariously bad Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was). For me, Blank Face LP turned out to be excruciatingly difficult to review; its stark inconsistencies nearly gave me a brain tumor. There’s pure genius like the jazz-tinged boom bap of “John Muir”, or the g-funk influenced “Neva Change”, a collaboration with R &B and soul singer SZA, but then Q turns around and gives you utter landfill like “Overtime” an insincere swipe at radio, or “That Part”, a dull and predictable club song. Oddly, it’s all neatly divided up into thirds in order of the track list: a disappointing first six tracks, a stellar middle section, and a decent but inconsistent final four songs. Pretty strange. But the heart of the album was banging enough to (mostly) compensate for the record’s egregious misfires. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Retrograde – Crown the Empire

In the five plus years they’ve been active, Crown the Empire have made zero effort to distinguish themselves from their Hot Topic-core contemporaries. But with 2014’s The Resistance: Rise of the Runaways at least they executed the formula admirably. Retrograde, their third full-length, finds them attemping to replicate the success of Bring Me the Horizon’s 2015 commercial powerhouse That’s the Spirit to mixed results. The first half has a couple decent singles like “Hologram” and “Zero”, but even then, these songs are like chugging a bunch of girly cocktails – they’re sweet, sugary, and go down easily at first, but you’re gonna puke them up and have a massive headache eventually. And there’s downright atrocious stuff on here too, like “Signs of Life”, which begs the tired old questions: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

The Poison Red – Nonpoint

YUCK. Granted, Nu Metal and Alternative Metal were before my time so I have no nostalgia to swoop in and rescue this album for me, but STILL…I’m having a hard time understanding how there’s an audience for this in 2016. A flaccid guitar tone, cringeworthy lyrics (“so you wanna be the type of motherfucker that person to person is personally an asshole” is an actual verbatim lyric), and unimaginative riffs are the stuff this record’s made of. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 

Major Key – DJ Khaled

You can hate on Hip-Hop’s favorite Snapchat goon all you want, but this time around, DJ Khaled actually delivered a solid Pop Rap album! Since a Khaled LP is essentially a singles compilation, that’s how it ought to be judged, and there are more hits than duds on here. “Do You Mind” is one of my favorites. It’s smooth as hell, featuring a sensual piano line and one of the best guest spots Future has ever recorded. And if you’re a fiend for bars, there’s the fiery anthem “Holy Key”, on which Kendrick and Big Sean drop some serious heat, there are entire songs by Nas and J. Cole to munch on, and the track “Don’t Ever Play Yourself” boasts the best verse of the entire album courtesy of Jadakiss (“put me in the Hall of Smack”, anyone?). And the bland stuff, like “Fuck Up the Club”, is fairly inoffensive. RECOMMENDED

 

 

The Top 10 Alter Bridge Songs

Two weeks ago, TeamRock released their list of The Top 10 Alter Bridge songs. It was wrong. Very fucking wrong, to the point where I immediately started brainstorming my own list. And given that “Creed plus Myles Kennedy” just released lead single “Show Me a Leader” from their forthcoming fifth album The Last Hero, the timing feels appropriate.

Cherry picking songs from Alter Bridge’s four studio albums proved to be a strange process, because of their four existing LPs, two of them are excellent and two of them are aggressively mediocre. Fortress, the band’s latest and crowning achievement thus far, is the sound of a Metal-tinged Hard Rock band making a thunderous leap into Metal territory without abandoning their core sound. Blackbird, the band’s sophomore effort, is chalk full of tasteful anthems.

That leaves their debut LP One Day Remains and AB III. The former a) sounds incredibly dated in 2016, and b) though I nowadays refer to Alter Bridge as “Creed plus Myles Kennedy” in a facetious manner, it’s essentially just Creed with better vocals and a bit more edge. Hella boring. As for AB III, many of its unnecessarily high number of tracks just present themselves as Blackbird b-sides, and formulaic and repetitive ones at that. But AB III does have a chunk of good tracks, and if we did a Top 15 I could definitely squeeze a few more in. But having established the lopsided nature of Alter Bridge’s catalogue, it should no longer be a surprise that their four records are disproportionately represented here.

To be fair, I now have slightly more empathy for TeamRock than when I first gawked at their list, because putting this together has been like being stuck in a cesspool of second guesses and mood swings. I’m practically tortured by how much I’ll likely disagree with these picks in a matter of days or even hours. But that didn’t stop me, ‘cause I’m the Little Engine that Could of pretentious music writers. So, without further ado, here are the CORRECT Top 10 Alter Bridge songs! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

10. Ties That Bind (Blackbird)

A fan favorite and the explosive kickoff to the band’s most successful LP, “Ties That Bind” maintains an urgent intensity throughout and does so without sacrificing hooks or memorability. It’s also a sneak peak at the Metal-leaning approach Alter Bridge would explore more fully on Fortress.

9. Still Remains (AB III)

Unfortunately, this is one of only a handful of highlights on the band’s third record. Is it “Come to Life” part 2? Sort of. But its stadium-sized chorus and roaring stop-start riff are nothing to scoff at. Not to mention the Thrash-y bridge section at 2:40 foreshadows what Tremonti would later pursue with his solo band

8. Bleed it Dry (Fortress)

 “Bleed It Dry” is the closest Alter Bridge have gotten to a full-on Metal assault. Shouldn’t be a shocker that it’s one of my favorites. But it’s not just an aggression-fest; the track features an Opeth-style clean guitar break followed by Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti’s best solo section since “Blackbird” (spoiler alert!).

 7. Farther Than the Sun (Fortress)

“Farther Than the Sun” is what Alter Bridge attempted but failed to accomplish on AB III: a seamless synthesis of bright radio rock choruses and crushing, detuned Groove Metal riffs.

6. Open Your Eyes (One Day Remains)

The flawlessly executed radio hit that launched the band’s career still holds up. The beautifully delicate vocals at 2:40 and the ripping guitar solo from Tremonti helped it stand out from the Crossfades and Stainds of the world.

5. Calm the Fire (Fortress)

The intro to “Calm the Fire” is the band’s most adventurous musical passage to date, with Myles Kennedy’s ethereal, neoclassical-tinged vocals sitting atop a brooding acoustic guitar. The dramatic mood continues through a switch to distorted guitar, and the track is kicked into high gear with the pre-version section, which remains one of my favorite moments in all of Alter Bridge’s catalogue.

4. Cry of Achilles (Fortress)

The surprisingly ferocious opener to Fortress quickly informed listeners that this was going to be a different record. After a dark acoustic guitar passage sets things up, the band launch straight into a high-octane riff fest that never lets up.

3. Watch Over You (Blackbird)

“Watch Over You” is the tender, tear-jerking ballad to end all tender, tear-jerking ballads. Kennedy’s warm falsetto in the first chorus yanks at the heart strings, but it’s a dynamic track too – when given a distorted Rock and Roll push, the song not only holds up but builds towards a mountainous climax before settling back into its humble acoustic beginnings.

2. Come to Life (Blackbird)

The quintessential Alter Bridge jam. There’s a lot to love about this track, but its the vocal interplay between Kennedy and Tremonti in the chorus that ultimately makes it.

1. Blackbird (Blackbird)

Well, I guess the folks over at TeamRock did get one thing right. It’s difficult to dispute this one. Powerful and moving lyrics, stellar instrumental arrangements, and a solo section that Guitar World literally voted ONE OF THE BEST OF ALL TIME help “Blackbird” slide comfortably into the number one slot.

Published on Metal Injection!

What’s up everybody! This past week I celebrated a significant milestone for my scribble scrabbles – Metal Injection published an editorial of mine! It’s entitled “To Snob or Not to Snob: An Exploration of the Metalhead’s Relationship With Gateway Bands”, and you can read it here!

It was seen by hundreds of people – most of whom I’ll probably never meet – who might’ve loved it, loathed it, scoffed at it, cried at the very sight of it, or most likely, couldn’t have given less of a shit.

Of course, since the checks don’t exactly pour in from an un-monetized blog by a nobody, I write about music because it’s my undying passion (and frankly, it helps me unload all those obsessive thoughts that would otherwise become neuroses). That being said, however, writing for a legitimately sizable audience is a whole other feeling. This first editorial for Metal Injection gave me a teeny tiny taste of what I work toward every day. To think that one of my dumb jokes could contribute positively (or negatively, I suppose) to someone else’s day is unfathomable. It’s inspiring, actually. At the moment, all I can think is I can’t wait to do MORE! More with this blog, more with my YouTube channel, and more for awesome outlets like Metal Injection!

Thank you so much for your support, and here’s to decades more of frenzied music talk!

June 2016 Album Round Up!

What a month June was. The back end of the month saw me frantically putting together my Mid-Year Album Lists (check my YouTube channel for the video versions or check back with this blog in the next few days), and the month of June itself spawned five releases that ended up beating out albums I’ve been living with for months! Garbage, Gojira, Nails, Apathy, and Be’Lakor all wound up on my Mid-Year lists! June couldn’t have ever topped May, but it was an excellent month for new music! Here are my thoughts on ten albums that dropped:

Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie – Volbeat

Unfortunately, it is no easy feat to follow up a pair of excellent LPs (2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies) that blurred the lines between Rock and Metal and nudged both genres forward in the process. Alas, the Danes have returned from half a decade of triumphs with something less exciting and more repetitive. But Volbeat retracing their steps still entails a solid helping of fun, catchy, immediately satisfying Rock songs. I especially dug “The Bliss”, the title cut, and the closing duo of tracks, “You Will Know” and “The Loa’s Crossroad”. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Why Are You OK – Band of Horses

When I sit and consider some of my favorite Alternative music that has ever been made, Band of Horses’ third LP Infinite Arms almost always springs to mind. It’s just a special record for me. Thus it’s a high water mark I can forgive them for failing to reach again on album number five, which otherwise performs as advertised.As Band of Horses continue to execute on their winning formula, much of these tracks wash over you with waves of mellow, calmly reassuring musical passages that occasionally pick up their pace and crunchiness, but still retain that same good-natured vibe. Standouts include beautiful ballads like “Hag”, “Lying Under Oak”, and lead single “Whatever, Wherever”, as well as the bouncy boardwalk soundtrack “Solemn Oath”. Overall, Why Are You OK is not necessarily the type of music that invokes an impassioned response in either direction . It’s pleasant, it’s unassuming, and if it were playing in my childhood home, my mom would walk by and go, “oh, that’s a nice song”. You can flip that evaluation to mean something positive or something negative. I definitely choose positive. RECOMMENDED

The Human Condition – Jon Bellion

Jon Bellion’s debut LP has got to be one of the highest anticipated releases of the summer. His mixtape buzz has been years in the making, and he’s already built quite a loyal fanbase for himself through both his Visionary Music Group affiliation and his ties to several gargantuan hits like Zedd’s “Beautiful Now” and Eminem’s “The Monster” (he co-wrote the latter). The Human Condition, the end result of all this hype, is enjoyable and well-thought out, but pretty spotty. It’s tough for me to sit through sappy, well-worn Pop terrain like “Fashion” or the One Republic knock-off “Maybe IDK” in order to get to tracks I dig like the rap-heavy “New York Soul, Pt. ii”. Nevertheless, these 14 songs have more successes than failures – not to mention these lyrical themes are so millennial-centric – so it gets overall approval from me. RECOMMENDED

Magma – Gojira

With Magma, these French extreme metal masters made the mainstream-ish gateway album that they only hinted at on 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage. And guess what?? They’re just as convincing playing concise and simple music as they are being epic and long-winded. In fact, borderline Hard Rock track “Stranded” is potentially my favorite! Magma might be slightly flawed and not completely live up to the masterful trio of LPs that came before it, but that’s like saying Megadeth’s awesome Countdown to Extinction doesn’t live up to Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? or Rust in Peace. One of the best Metal albums of the year thus far. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rude Awakening – Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, & TM88

I should’ve learned from Collegrove (this past March’s collaborative mixtape between 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne). I suppose I didn’t. But at least Collegrove carried with it the possibility of hearing an occasional flash of brilliance from Wayne reminiscent of his mid-00s mixtape run. Rude Awakening, however, is a different story. I could almost feel the neural pathways in my brain writhing in agony as I got clobbered with one rudimentary turn-up rhyme after another. On the track “All Night”, Wiz Khalifa actually says “I got bars like a jail”, making other lines like “Don’t SnapChat me that pussy, I want it for real” sound like Langston Hughes. Avoid this thing at all costs. NOT RECOMMENDED

Strange Little Birds – Garbage

I got into these beloved ‘90s alt heroes (specifically their self-titled debut) JUST in time for Strange Little Birds, their sixth LP overall. Admittedly, I’m riding a bit of a “discovery high” so check back in with me in a few months, but Strange Little Birds is fucking awesome. It manages to fit in with its modern contemporaries and avoid sounding derivative, yet it successfully recalls greatness of two decades ago. “Blackout”, ripping lead single “Empty”, and “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” – the latter which gracefully addresses growing pains – are among my favorites, but all 11 tracks hit their mark. More thoughts in this video. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Handshakes with Snakes – Apathy

Words can’t express what this album means to an old-school Hip Hop head like myself. Handshakes with Snakes is Apathy’s 5th studio album, but the CT veteran’s copious releases are well into the double digits. What we get on this LP is knocking, boom-bap production and thoughtful, lyrically complex bars. A song like “Pay Your Dues”, with a sweet Phil Collins sample, finds Ap railing against entitled, unoriginal new rappers, telling them “you can’t win wars if you ain’t swung swords” and reaffirming his commitment to the craft: “what’s love? Studying Illmatic like the Bible.” “Rap Is Not Pop” is another killer cut, with the MC boldly claiming he’s “Too Kool G Rap for these new school cats.” I’d fucking agree. There’s even a reference to Big L’s “H-E-double hockey sticks line” on “Blow Ya Head Off”. You can’t miss if you’re a fan of gritty 90s Hip-Hop, and for me, this is a contender for indie Rap album of the year so far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Unden!able – Hellyeah

This Metal supergroup began their career with three albums in a row full of cookie cutter, throwaway Groove Metal and lyrics that made Fred Durst and Five Finger Death Punch’s Ivan Moody seem tolerable. Occasionally a song would find its way onto my work out playlist, but I was not a fan. Their fourth LP, 2014’s Blood for Blood, was a noticeable uptick in production and songwriting, with a decent chunk of the corny cut out, but I still wasn’t convinced. Unden!able is an ever-so-slight improvement on Blood for Blood, weighed down by several cringeworthy moments but featuring Active Rock radio slam dunks “Human”, “Leap of Faith”, “X”, and the soaring ballad “Love Falls”, which are juuust enough to tip it over the edge for me. That being said, every now and then I give something the benefit of the doubt and regret it later, and it remains to be seen if Unden!able fits that narrative. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

You Will Never Be One of Us – Nails

 The third record from Nails is a fucking exhilarating listen. Before the sludgy eight-minute closer “They Come Crawling Back”, it’s 14 minutes of pummeling Powerviolence/Grindcore/Thrash Metal/Death Metal combos that leave the listener gasping for air. The guitar tone is absurdly heavy, yet the production doesn’t muddy up any riffs or grooves. If you like music that inspires you to grab the cutest baby and just start violently shaking it, this is for you. Personally, it made my Metal Mid-Year List. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Still Brazy – YG

I just don’t see it guys. The hype behind YG’s follow-up to his breakout My Krazy Life album isn’t warranted to me. It’s definitely an improvement on that LP, but it’s not the West Coast Hip-Hop landmark that people are making it out to be. Sure, there’s some menacing bravado on “Don’t Come to LA”, and “Gimmie Got Shot” is a satisfying conceptual listen about mooching, but there’s nothing spectacular. But a track like “Bool, Balm, and Bollective” has such an unimaginative hook, and “Why You Always Hatin’” finds YG getting bodied by a singin’ nigga (Drake shows up for a feature and up-stages him). The best thing about this record is the production – “I Got a Question”, for instance, has to be one of the more interesting combination of sounds I’ve heard this year. The 1500 or Nothin’ beat sounds like DJ Mustard meets “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” meets a laser gun from an arcade game. It’s definitely not a BAD album, but it’s pretty good at best, and to my ears, it’s fairly non-essential. NOT RECOMMENDED

March 2016 Album Round Up!

What did I think of what the music industry had to offer in March 2016? Meh. There was the excitement of some new Kendrick Lamar (which I didn’t include here since it wasn’t an official LP per se) in addition to a few other high profile Hip-Hop releases. There was a pair of excellent albums from Metal staples Killswitch Engage and Amon Amarth. There was The Knocks. And then there was a whole lot of uninteresting shit. Regardless, below is a recap of eight records I was checking out in the midst of obsessing over my college basketball bracket.

Incarnate – Killswitch Engage

The roaring return of original vocalist Jesse Leach for 2013’s Disarm the Descent set a new standard for Killswitch Engage. Incarnate, that LP’s follow-up, smacks its remarkably high expectations right on the nose. Tracks like “The Great Deceit”, “Hate By Design”, and “Alone I Stand” have the makings of future Killswitch classics. And while Howard Jones-era albums The End of Heartache and As Daylight Dies are excellent, the three Leach records (not including the original self-titled effort) have floated to the top of the KSE discography for me. Here is a full review (I also did a print one here). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

This Is What the Truth Feels Like – Gwen Stefani

Between “Naughty” and “Red Flag”, Gwen Stefani has two of 2016’s worst pop songs, and we’re only three months in. The latter is an especially horrifying Iggy Azalea-meets-Fergie attempt sure to leave helpless ears in varying states of deformity. It’s a shame, because “Make Me Like You”, “Used to Love You”, and “Truth” are all highly listenable, radio-ready pop tunes. But then the 46-year-old Stefani makes a cringe worthy song like “Send Me a Picture”, and any album highlights are immediately drowned out. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED.

3001: A Laced Odyssey – Flatbush Zombies

Full disclosure here. I am brand new to Flatbush Zombies and have yet to hear their highly regarded BetterOffDead mixtape. But an act’s full-length debut is as good a place to start, isn’t it? Well, maybe not in Hip-Hop, but you get my point. Anyway, it didn’t take long for Flatbush Zombies to win me over, as Zombie Juice attacks the album’s first verse with a frantic inflection and a Grandmaster Flash shout out. Erick the Architect and Meechy Darko immediately follow with nimble flows and I was swoon. I have no context surrounding this LP aside from the group’s association with high profile collaborators like Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson (appearances they shy away from on here). What I can say, however, is 3001 is chalk full of charisma, grade-A lyricism, and unique production. If this is the future of Hip-Hop, the genre is in quite capable hands. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

55 – The Knocks

It’s hard to believe we’re a year and a half removed from when “Classic” dropped, isn’t it? Either way, a fuck ton of A-listers grace this duo’s highly anticipated debut. While there’s certainly tracks like “Tied to You” and the X Ambassadors collaboration “Comfortable” that I don’t care for, 55 has a remarkably high batting average. The track list comes out of the gate 5 for 5 and doesn’t really slow up. And most importantly, the guest appearances actually do the LP a service rather than simply get in its way. Cam’ron kills it. Wyclef kills it. Later on, Carly Rae kills it. 55 is diverse yet focused. It’s instantly likeable. It’s truly how EDM and Pop SHOULD merge (I’m looking directly at you, Avicii!). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jomsviking – Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth’s tenth studio album and first full-blown concept record just might be their best in a decade. The Viking Metallers’ tried-and-true formula is accompanied by a trio of stylistic risks – the singalong chorus in “Raise Your Horns”, the blatant Maiden worship of “At Dawn’s First Light”, and a vocal duet with Doro Pesch in “A Dream that Cannot Be” – that ultimately pay off and help diversify the band’s sound. The cohesive storyline enriches the listening experience, recalling Amon Amarth’s best story-based moments (“Prediction of Warfare”, anyone?). Doro’s guest vocal appearance at the narrative’s climax (the aforementioned “A Dream That Cannot Be”) generated perhaps the most unique moment in Amon Amarth’s discography to date. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Black – Asking Alexandria

Sometimes a simple lineup change is enough to shove a new record into my ears from a band I have loathed from the beginning. And many a time I regret this morbid curiosity getting the best of me. Such is the case with Asking Alexandria’s fourth album The Black, their first with new vocalist Denis Stoff. Despite all the hype about stylistic departures and whatnot, it’s still more or less the faceless Metalcore of their first two LPs, albeit with a bit of traditional Hard Rock and Heavy Metal hastily thrown in. For instance, those chunky verse riffs in “Just a Slave to Rock ‘n Roll” have no business alongside the overly sappy melodic chorus – the track is completely Frankenstein’d together. In general, The Black offers a lot in the way of melodrama, but little in the way of thoughtful song construction or compelling musicianship. Hey, I did give this one a fair shot though. NOT RECOMMENDED

Collegrove – 2 Chainz & Lil’ Wayne

2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne’s collaborative album (on 8 of the 13 tracks, at least) feels more like a mixtape most of the time, but in 2016 what the fuck is the difference anymore? Whatever label you feel is appropriate, this project is jam packed with lazy fucking hooks that tested my attention span and my nerves (see “Blue C-Note”, “Bentley Truck”, or “Not Invited”). It’s especially disappointing since the effective lead single “Gotta Lotta” surpasses any post-Carter IV music Wayne has dropped. And I did enjoy the cinematic trap beat and clever Weezy verse on “Smell Like Money”, as well as the production on “Dedication”, which sounded like something Wiz Khalifa would’ve spit over five years ago. But beyond that, Collegrove didn’t hold my interest. But I did learn the magnificently pretentious word “portmanteau” from its title. NOT RECOMMENDED.

That’s Hip Hop – Joell Ortiz

The four members of Slaughterhouse have been dropping projects as if they’re actively trying to outpace each other. Joell Ortiz did the !llmind collaboration Human last summer, Joe Budden dropped All Love Lost, Crooked I (aka Kxng Crooked) put out Statik Kxng with Statik Selektah, and now Royce da 5’9 has a new mixtape Trust the Shooter out that directly precedes Layers (out April 15th), and supposedly has ANOTHER full-length album on the way. Whew. I’ve never had to take a deep breath after typing something before. What caught my eye about Joell Ortiz’s new record That’s Hip Hop– aside from my Slaughterhouse fandom – is that he coaxed one of my favorites, the legendary Kool G Rap, onto a song with him! So I had to listen to the album. At 30 minutes and nine real songs, it’s got the feel of either Illmatic or a brief mixtape – whichever comparison you goons prefer. It’s also exponentially more aggressive than 2014’s House Slippers ,the last Ortiz project I gave thorough, repeated listens. While I did enjoy House Slippers, the Puerto Rican is rapping like he has something to prove again. That’s Hip Hop lives up to its name and then some! RECOMMENDED.

 

 

 

Killswitch Engage – Incarnate Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

With Incarnate, the Massachusetts quintet’s seventh full-length LP, Killswitch Engage faces a similar challenge that Thrash Metal veterans Anthrax faced on last month’s For All Kings. In 2011, Anthrax’s reunion in the studio with classic-era frontman Joey Belladonna yielded Worship Music, an album that shot past its impossible hype and thrust itself into the top tier of their storied discography. But once the reunion magic fades, delivering an equally worthy follow-up is the ultimate test, one that Anthrax, by all accounts, passed with flying colors on For All Kings.

Despite Killswitch Engage being part of a different generation of Metal, 2013’s Disarm the Descent was, in a sense, their Worship Music – the riveting return of original vocalist Jesse Leach that exceeded all expectations, wrestling its way into consideration for KSE’s best since 2002’s groundbreaking Alive or Just Breathing, the landmark that established a blueprint for the entire Metalcore genre. Arriving in the wake of such a triumph as Descent, Incarnate is thus a pivotal record, as the band has the opportunity to reassert their staying power, something they achieve in superb fashion here.

Before the band streamed over half of Incarnate ahead of its release in true 2016 fashion, the two initial singles were “Strength of the Mind” and “Hate By Design”, both quintessential Killswitch: delicate balancing acts between rage and beauty. Riff-wise, “Strength of the Mind” is pure Pantera, with an uplifting Jesse Leach chorus slapped on top, while “Hate By Design” takes an impassioned stand against the destructive legacies that prejudice and discrimination can leave, urging listeners to “redefine your life”. Both tracks undoubtedly hinted at greatness, a standard that is upheld by the majority of the remainder of the LP.

The aforementioned singles – both standouts in their own right – are surrounded by a remarkably consistent track list. There’s the defiant opener “Alone I Stand”, the soaring “Cut Me Loose”, and the sludgy “It Falls On Me”, which brings sharp contrast with its desolate aesthetic. “Embrace the Journey…Upraised” is perhaps the album’s apex, boasting one of Incarnate’s most crushing guitar riffs, a chunky bass riff, and an impeccable mixture of heavy and melodic, which is perhaps Killswitch’s strongest asset when firing on all cylinders. “Until the Day” is another highlight as the band channels Colony-era In Flames for the song’s lively refrain. Elsewhere, the riffs continue a familiar Thrash worship, answered with thunderous double bass drums and the occasional blast-beat. Even when Incarnate does lose momentum, it’s not until the final pair of tracks – the relatively forgettable “We Carry On” and “Ascension” – which by then are easily forgiven. And perhaps most importantly, from a sonic standpoint, the listener has access to every instrument; the production doesn’t stray from guitarist Adam D.’s winning, accessible modern Metal formula – crystal clear and pristine without being glossy.

Where Incarnate shines brightest is vocalist Jesse Leach, who outperforms himself as a clean singer, as a screamer, and as a lyricist. Lyrically, Incarnate is a deeply moving affair, transitioning from an empowering, hopeful first half to a bleak, despair-ridden second half (Leach spoke about this here). What makes his lyrics resonate with such strength is that Leach is the everyman when it comes to depression and mental illness – Incarnate finds him seeking solace in his pen and paper in the same way his fans seek solace in him. The aura surrounding Leach’s words is that of a very public exorcism of demons, of a man determined to conquer his own internal struggles through occasionally brutal but thoughtful catharsis. And his intense soul baring allows listeners to have a similarly powerful experience. By the LP’s conclusion, one particular lyric embodies the Incarnate journey for both fans and for Leach: “Ghosts of the past no longer torment me/I release the anguish”.

Score: 4/5

 

 

February 2016 Album Round Up!

We’re just over two months into 2016, and we’ve already – somewhat surprisingly – been blessed with a ton of exciting releases in the midst of typically low-key winter months. When this calendar year is in the books, will we be looking back at January and February as the peak of 2016? Pretty unlikely. But I still feel like I’ve had a fairly reliable, steady stream of high-profile albums to look forward to (some delivered, some did not). And yes, Kanye dropped. But I’m fucking determined to go as long as I possibly can without hearing it. Not for lack of interest either. Just ‘cause. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of nine albums NOT named The Life of Pablo that I spent some time with this past month. Looking forward to what March has in store!

Khalifa – Wiz Khalifa

In the first project of his I’ve enjoyed since 2011’s smash hit Rolling Papers, Wiz dropped some…well, smoking and drinking music. The production and hooks are significantly more effective – to my ears, at least – than O.N.I.F.C. and Blacc Hollywood (save those two albums’ singles). If you’re looking for great lyricism, steer clear, but I definitely found myself coming back to this record quite a bit for some day drinking and pregaming, especially two exceptional, Kush & OJ-style tracks, “Zoney” and “Elevated”. RECOMMENDED

For All Kings – Anthrax

Welcome back Anthrax! About ten listens in, I’ve evaluated For All Kings as “dangerously close” to the Thrash mastery of 2011’s Worship Music. The difference is really just a filler track or two. But the middle chunk of this record is some of the best Anthrax music I’ve ever laid ears on. Joey Belladonna gets the MVP. My full review is available here. YouTube review here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Day One – From Ashes to New

This studio debut from Lancaster, PA outfit From Ashes to New made me want to vomit. They’re like an even more cheesed-up version of Twenty One Pilots meets Crown the Empire. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it just made me cringe. This guy Matt Brandyberry sounds like an even more melodramatic Mike Shinoda when he utters (well, raps) the words: “I lay awake and look at the ceiling and wonder why/I’m so afraid to face all these feelings and want to die”. And that dubstep-y breakdown? Fuck outta here wit dat. Not to mention the clean vocalist sounds fucking IDENTICAL to the guy on Escape the Fate’s self-titled album. I mean, is Day One heavy and appropriately angsty? Passionate even? Sure. And it’ll dominate with the Hot Topic crowd. But holy fuck is it not for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck

Simply put, this band’s sophomore effort is the best fucking throwback hard rock record I’ve heard since perhaps Kyng’s Burn the Serum. It’s all there: it’s energetic, passionate, and wholeheartedly convincing. Fans of ‘70s and early ‘80s Rock should check it out immediately! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one certainly hurt. Macklemore is someone I really root for, if not always for his talent but for his passion, honesty, humility, and sometimes ruthless self-awareness. The Language of My World is phenomenal, The Heist is a near-classic, but Mess, his second with Ryan Lewis, is a huge disappointment. Save a few shining moments (“Light Tunnels”, “Kevin”, and the must-listen “Need of Know”) this thing is all over the place in a BAD way this time. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

I Like it When You Sleep – The 1975

Ok, LP number two for these guys, who seem utterly ubiquitous at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the tracks “This Must Be My Dream” and “Somebody Else”. On the latter, those snare drums with the 80s-style reverb are borderline euphoric. While we’re on the topic of the 80s, the standout “She’s American” could’ve squeezed right into an early Huey Lewis and the News disc. But we didn’t need 17 frickin’ songs here. “UGH!” kind of drags in the wake of hit single “Love Me”, and are BOTH “If I Believe You” and “Please Be Naked” necessary when the title track brings all the dynamics this album needs? Still, at a bare minimum this is a wonderful soundtrack to a night drive in the city. Though I tend to think it offers a whole lot more. And yes, I do think Matt Healy eerily resembles Patrick Stump at times. But we’ll agree to disagree. RECOMMENDED

Victorious – Wolfmother

Ugh. This record has one of the strangest dichotomies in any track listing I’ve ever encountered. The first 5 songs are excellent and on par with some of the best moments on Wolfmother’s debut, and the second 5 songs are pure throwaway filler garbage. “Uneven” is an understatement. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

X (No Absolutes) – Prong

Album number 11 for Prong – but their 10th of original material – wastes no time with opener “Ultimate Authority”, some excellent Crossover Thrash which would be right at home on a classic like Cleansing (although I know mentioning that record is understandably played out). I love the dissonant yet super-catchy riff in “Without Words” (and, for that matter, “Soul Sickness”) X (No Absolutes) has an impeccable combination of melody and heaviness that all these scream/sing Metalcore bands can only dream about. It stays completely true to the Prong aesthetic, and it’s a set that is sure to devastate in the live environment. I have yet to catch these legends live, so I’m hoping to get the chance on the cycle for X. RECOMMENDED

Dead Dawn – Entombed A.D.

Dead Dawn (Deicide anybody?) is the second album from Entombed 2.0 since the legendary band’s legal battles and break up. One of Entombed’s distinct qualities is how much more groove-oriented they are than the majority of Death Metal, showcased in the title track, and they’re not afraid to get downright melodic, like in that song’s bridge, which sounds like something Arch Enemy would do.There’s nothing in these ten tracks that’ll blow your mind, but there’s some certainly some heavy-ass (surprisingly fun) metal! I’m especially a fan of “Down to Mars to Ride” and the dynamic “Hubris Fall” And it’s still really not THAT far off from Left Hand Path, so there’s that. RECOMMENDED

 

 

Anthrax – For All Kings Review

Evil Twin Write-Up

The official edited version of this review is available here.

Four and a half years ago, after enduring a messy revolving door of singers for nearly a decade– featuring reunions, re-reunions, and one virtual unknown in Dan Nelson – Anthrax mustered up a modern Metal classic against all odds. 2011’s Worship Music, the band’s first with ‘80s-era frontman Joey Belladonna in over 20 years, marked not only a return to form for Anthrax, but arguably a career peak. An album that once threatened to become the Chinese Democracy for headbangers emerged as a definitive statement from one of Thrash Metal’s Big Four.

The genre’s notorious Mount Rushmore – rounded out by Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth – historically joined forces on stage for the first time in Summer 2010, celebrating nearly 30 years of American heavy metal’s most essential movement, culminating with a show at Anthrax’s hometown Yankee Stadium the following year. In addition to capitalizing on an increasing nostalgia for the art form, all four groups have enjoyed reinvigoration in the studio as well, with Slayer and Megadeth both unleashing new albums to critical acclaim, and Metallica’s follow-up to the platinum-selling Death Magnetic due out later this year.

Anthrax once again enters the fold with For All Kings, their 11th full-length and a worthy successor to the monstrous Worship Music. One of the main ingredients that ultimately distinguishes the New Yorkers from their Bay Area peers is having a melodious, powerhouse singer in Joey Belladonna. As opposed to the gruffness of Metallica’s James Hetfield or the snarl of Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Belladonna’s vocals are akin to hearing Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson backed by speedier, more muscular riffs. His pipes afford Anthrax the ability to be noticeably more tuneful in some instances, albeit still ferocious.

At fifty-five years of age, For All Kings finds Belladonna delivering his most commanding vocal performance to date, elevating these meaty chunks of speed metal to astonishingly anthemic heights. Even when the rest of the band seems to briefly lose a step, an impossibly huge chorus always seems to be lurking around the corner, showcased best in the otherwise run-of-the-mill “This Battle Chose Us” and the non-essential but excellent title track.

As a five-piece, the middle of the album is where Anthrax make a seriously convincing case for their place on the Metal pantheon. “Defend Avenge” gets the gold medal in the riff category with rhythm guitarist Scott Ian’s uptempo Black Sabbath worship. “Evil Twin” and “Breathing Lightning” both turned out to be excellent choices for singles, as they contain some of the record’s best moments. “Lightning’ is equipped with an almost radio-ready chorus and infectious riffing from Ian, and “Twin” is the Thrash Titans at their most pummeling, also making some poignant political statements about “ideology used as a weapon”. Belladonna once again asserts his crucial role on “Blood Eagle Wings”, a thunderously epic masterwork that, simply put, none of Anthrax’s peers could pull off.

For All Kings is also the band’s first LP with former Shadows Fall axe man Jon Donais, who replaced the talented Rob Caggiano in 2013. Donais proves himself more than a worthy addition and an exceptional fit, especially on the appropriately larger-than-life solo in “Blood Eagle Wings”, the squealing, harmonic-laden licks in “Monster at the End”, and an extended lead that gives album opener “You Gotta Believe” a sharp kick in the teeth just as it begins to coast. As for the Anthrax rhythm section, legendary blastbeat pioneer Charlie Benante continues to be unparalleled in his line of work, maintaining a breakneck pace alongside his nephew, bassist Frank Bello.

The lackluster moments don’t emerge until the final three tracks. “All of Them Thieves” is the sole glaring piece of filler. “This Battle Chose Us” simply underwhelms in the wake of the murderer’s row that occurred in the middle of the album. Chaotic closer “Zero Tolerance”, while certainly a battering assault, occasionally feels like aggression for aggression’s sake, but is a satisfyingly jolting conclusion nevertheless.

While For All Kings might not have quite the staggering greatness of its predecessor, it comes dangerously close. It’s an affair that should leave fans fully satiated, and it sits comfortably in the upper echelon of the band’s celebrated discography.

Score: 3.5/5