Discography Ranking: All That Remains

Happy Friday everyone! Jesus Christ (Kanye pun intended), there are a LOT of new releases to get to today! Of course, Kanye West finally dropped the Gospel-themed Jesus is King, but I’m also chomping at the bit to hear the new Cigarettes After Sex. And then in the Metal world there’s Mayhem, Fit for An Autopsy, Sunn O)), and I’m also planning to review Bad Wolves, who are a massively popular band I have yet to dive into. Oh, and that Alter Bridge review is coming. I double pinky promise.

But for now, I had a lot of fun traveling down memory lane to rank the discography of the Massachusetts Metalcore powerhouse that is All That Remains. As I discuss in the video, there’s nothing quite like listening to a band with the context of their entire career arc at the forefront of your mind. For me, it totally transforms the way I see certain albums.

And All That Remains was an interesting one to do because of how MUCH and how LITTLE I regard different parts of their catalogue. It’s a topsy-turvy ride. And of course, I got to squeeze in a tribute to the late great Oli Herbert. Watch the full video below:

NAME THAT KILLSWITCH ENGAGE SONG!

Alright guys, time for another edition of Name That Song! I figured since I just reviewed their new record Atonement, Killswitch Engage would be the perfect candidates!

What I really enjoy about doing these videos, besides testing my knowledge about some of my favorite bands, is that I get to squeeze in quite a bit of commentary too. While I’ll never be a “Reaction Video” guy, there is admittedly something totally different about talking about music while you’re listening to it. And I had a lot of fun doing this one, as I did with Slipknot, Machine Head, and Trivium in my previous installments of this segment.

Be sure to comment below the video with your score! Best of luck!

Killswitch Engage – Atonement Album Review

Another album review! It feels so good to be back doing these, I can’t even tell ya. This week I’m digging into the brand new Killswitch Engage album Atonement, the band’s first for Metal Blade records, third since the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach, and eighth overall.

Based on this record’s singles, one of which I reviewed here, I gotta say, I was a little nervous. Atonement follows two SUPERB Leach-fronted albums (2013’s Disarm the Descent and 2016’s Incarnate), and I was anxious to see if the band could keep the momentum going and score a little hat trick here.

Full review below. Thanks so much for watching!

Killswitch Engage – Unleashed Track Review

What’s up guys! Brand new track review for ya today!

So as of this week, Massachusetts Metalcore veterans Killswitch Engage have officially announced album number eight (and album number three since original vocalist Jesse Leach rejoined the band). It’s titled Atonement (yes, like the killer Immolation album from two years ago), and it’s coming later this summer! The LP will feature guest appearances from Testament frontman Chuck Billy (which I’m especially curious to hear!), and none other than former KSE singer Howard Jones.

And on Tuesday, Killswitch kicked off the rollout for Atonement by unveiling its lead single and opening track, “Unleashed”. Being the longtime Killswitch listener that I am, I couldn’t resist chiming in, offering my thoughts on the song, and making more jokes at the expense of the band’s awful 2009 self-titled record, which happens to turn ten years old this Sunday.

Atonement will drop August 16th via Metal Blade Records. In other words, in 51 days. Mark your calendars and look out for my full review! In the meantime, here are my thoughts on “Unleashed”:

 

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

 

 

Anthrax’s “Evil Twin” Single

More than four years removed from one of metal’s most epic comebacks and a possible career peak in 2011’s Worship Music, a new Anthrax album is imminent. Man, it makes me tingle writing that. With what will be the band’s eleventh studio album slated for a 2016 release, classic thrash fans have a lot of celebrating on the horizon, with Megadeth’s Dystopia album also dropping in early 2016 – January to be precise (read my write-up of the “Fatal Illusion” single HERE). And this past Friday, fans got their first sampling of the as-of-now untitled release from Scott Ian and Co., a single entitled “Evil Twin”.

Immediately noticeable in “Evil Twin” is a new and improved rhythm guitar tone from Scott Ian – while Worship Music was a near-masterpiece, the rhythm tone did lack a certain thrash metal punch, reducing the power of pedal tone riffs on songs like “The Devil You Know” and “The Giant”. With an opening riff centered on pedal tones, “Evil Twin” serves as the perfect comparison, and the improvement is quite evident – the guitars sound heavier this time around. I realize some would considerate it disrespectful, ignorant – as well as a bunch of other useless adjectives I don’t give a shit about – for me to compare a veteran band to their metalcore offspring, but the main riff is very much an Anthrax’d version of Killswitch Engage’s “Rose of Sharyn”, at least before it bursts into punk-influenced rage.

Elsewhere, Joey Belladonna continues to contend for the G.O.A.T. spot among thrash metal vocalists (what’s up Bobby Blitz?), and delivers the thoughtfully-penned, topical lyrics in a way only he is capable of. I know this lyrical comparison is painfully obvious, but…”Holy Wars”, anyone? Newcomer Jonathan Donais (formerly of Shadows Fall) also delivers an appropriately shred-laced solo, although I am definitely going to miss Rob Caggiano.

My one gripe with this track is Charlie Benante’s choice not to sync the verse riff with double kick drums. Perhaps my neurological pathways are overrun with Fear Factory jams lately, but I can’t help but feel like locking in that guitar and bass groove with the kick drum would push the verses to an even heavier place.

It is no secret that Worship Music will be tough for Anthrax – and, quite frankly, any modern thrash band – to top, but “Evil Twin” effortlessly reaches the high bar set by that album and arguably lifts it higher. It is, simply put, a clinic in thrash metal circa 2015.