Testament – Titans of Creation Album Review

What’s up guys! Time for album review number seven for 2020. This time around I’m digging into the thirteenth studio album from Thrash Metal legends Testament, who seem committed to only dropping new music while the country’s trying to pick a new president.

Looking back at 2016’s Brotherhood of the Snake (or in Testament’s terms, the “Trump album”), I significantly overrated it in my review. It was actually the band’s weakest release of the 21st century thus far, and I’ve been crossing my fingers that Titans of Creation (the “Trump v Kamala” album….ok fine, the “Trump/Biden/his secret female VP” album) blows it out of the water.

Well, did it? Is this Testament’s lucky thirteenth album? Check out my detailed thoughts below:

Discography Ranking: Lamb of God

Happy Friday guys! GOD, I’m so happy to finally release this video. See what I did there? No? It’s ok, neither do I most of the time.

Lamb of God has such a fascinating catalogue. They are the PERFECT band for a Discography Ranking because across all seven of their albums, there not a single undisputed “dud” nor “masterpiece”, which lends itself to incredibly rich discussion and debate, and a massive range of opinions.

I definitely make some controversial picks here, and I can’t wait to see what people think. If you watch this, do me a favor and leave a comment below the video with YOUR ranking of the band’s discography! Above all, I hope Lamb of God fans really enjoy this celebration of one of Modern Metal’s elite:

Essential Metal: Testament – The Gathering

What’s up, guys! Hope you’re having a great Labor Day weekend.

Today I’m super excited to resurrect my Essential Metal series, in which I dissect Metal albums from all subgenres that I believe every metalhead MUST own! This time around it’s Testament’s stone cold classic The Gathering – which, as I explain in detail, is a modern Thrash Metal benchmark that directly paved the way for The New Wave of American Heavy Metal, as well as supercharged Thrash revivalists like Vektor.

I also dig briefly into some Big Four talk, as well as Testament’s broader history as one of the so-called “Next Big Four”. You don’t want to miss this one! Check it out here:

 

2017 Grammys Rundown: Who Won, Who Should’ve Won, and More Angry Thoughts

If you’re anything other than the most casual, Kool Aid-chugging Z100 listener, you’re probably aware that the Grammys suck massive amounts of dick a good amount of the time. I’m not going to get myself all worked up here with a Grammy Awards: Cluelessness and Disrespect 101 history lesson, but you get my point. (Side note: Sometimes I wonder if film buffs feel the same about the Oscars, but I’m as fair weather a moviegoer as they come, so if that’s the case, I’m part of the problem.)

Of course I love music too much to look away, and every year my morbid curiosity gets the best of me.Here’s a cathartic synopsis of some of my most primitive thoughts: the right decisions, the wrong decisions, and some additional commentary about the show itself. So I’ll begin with a dissection of the categories relevant to this blog, and end with a bunch of self-absorbed opinions. Enjoy!

Category: Album of the Year

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why: Ask Adele. She’ll tell you.

 

Category: Song of the Year

Winner: Hello – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Hello – Adele

Why: Despite my personal distaste for it, “Hello” has been a ubiquitous radio monster for the last 18 months, and with its success we saw Adele reach an even higher echelon of stardom than on her tremendous 21 album cycle.

 

Category: Best New Artist

Winner: Chance The Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: Anderson .Paak

Why: Chance is not NEW you fucking idiots. Since Acid Rap dropped in 2013, he has been the de facto face of independent Hip-Hop and a massively influential force in the industry’s ever-evolving approach to music distribution. But hey, I guess when you’re half a decade behind, he IS new.

 

Category: Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

Winner: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Who Should’ve Won: “Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

Why: So we could see one of the best acceptance speeches of all time.

 

Category: Best Pop Vocal Album

Winner: 25 – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande

Why: Beyonce may have had the artfulness and critically acclaim, but Ariana had the hits! Not just one or two, but a whole album full of them! Like it or not, Dangerous Woman is such a flawlessly executed Pop record that it’s still dominating airwaves EIGHT MONTHS after its release.

 

 Category: Best Pop Solo Performance

Winner: “Hello” – Adele

Who Should’ve Won: “Dangerous Woman” – Ariana Grande

Why: Far and away the better song! Plus, it was so cool to hear some bluesy guitars make it onto the charts.

 

 

Category: Best Rock Song

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: Even though this is classic “better-late-than-never” posthumous appreciation from a clueless institution, “Blackstar” is an amazing song. Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” gets a close second here.

 

 Category: Best Rock Performance

Winner: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Who Should’ve Won: “Blackstar” – David Bowie

Why: What a joke that Bowie’s competition for best ROCK performance was a fucking Beyonce song and Disturbed’s Simon & Garfunkel cover. Fuck the Grammys.

 

 Category: Best Metal Performance

Winner: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Who Should’ve Won: “Dystopia” – Megadeth

Why: Would’ve been happy with Megadeth, Baroness, or Gojira on this one. All three are favorites of mine! The Grammys are so historically clueless with Metal that you just hope the dice land in a reasonable place (i.e. NOT Motorhead winning for a Metallica cover, or Tenacious D beating out Slipknot, Mastodon, Motorhead, and Anthrax).

 

Category: Best Rock Album

Winner: Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage the Elephant

Who Should’ve Won: Weezer – Weezer

Why: Weezer was a Top 5 Album for me last year. Cage…maybe in the top….300? Haha. Oh, and Gojira is not a “rock band” guys. The Grammys’ ignorance would almost be cute if it wasn’t so upsetting

 

Category: Best Urban Contemporary Album

Winner: Lemonade – Beyonce

Who Should’ve Won: Lemonade – Beyonce

Why:

 

Category: Best Rap Album

Winner: Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

Why: MASSIVE respect to Chance for his much deserved win! Couldn’t be happier for him. It’s a big moment in Grammys history since Coloring Book is a “free project” and all. I just preferred TLOP.

 

Category: Best Rap Performance

Winner: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Who Should’ve Won: “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper

Why: One Summer ‘16’s most irresistible and inescapable bangers. Blows the other four nominees out of the water (let’s face it, the nominees themselves are the real issue a lot of the time).

 

Category: Best Rap song

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Famous” – Kanye West feat. Rihanna

Why: Drake did crush it with “Hotline Bling”. He really did. But it’s another in a long line of petty bitter ex-boyfriend-isms from Drizzy that glorify controlling, chauvinistic nonsense. So I guess I’ll go with the less concealed chauvinism on “Famous”.

 

Category: Best Rap/Sung Performance

Winner: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Who Should’ve Won: “Hotline Bling” – Drake

Why: I HAVE to give him this. Much more appropriate in this category anyway ‘cause he’s barely even “rapping” on this track.

 

Some More Thoughts:

  • A Tribe Called Quest’s performance was one of the greatest moments in Grammy history. So powerful, so true to their legacy, and so NEEDED. Please watch it if you haven’t yet! They call Trump “President Agent Orange” on national television.
  • Say what you want about Adele beating out Beyonce, but to her credit, she did a HELLUVA better job being a white apologist than Macklemore did when he beat out Kendrick. I still cringe so hard when I think about that.
  • The Chainsmokers need to go away. I’m praying that they’re relevant by the 2018 show. Unfortunately I’m an Atheist, so Closer 3.0 and Closer 4.0 might be up for some awards next year (Closer 2.0 is “Paris”, in case you’re wondering).
  • Twenty One Pilots gave one of the most memorable, touching acceptance speeches I’ve ever seen. Though I’m beginning to grow out of their music, I’m so happy for those guys and all their much deserved success.
  •  Putting aside the two things that everybody was upset about – James Hetfield’s mic being turned off and the tranny forgetting to mention Metallica’s name when he/she introduced them – the Metallica/Lady GaGa collaboration was fucking wack. Having been not only a fan of GaGa, but aware of her unabashed Metal fandom for quite some, I had high hopes, but it was as awkward and forced as an Anakin/Padme love scene in Attack of the Clones. Bummed me the hell out.
  • Lastly, to all you Metalheads getting your studs and leather in a wad over this shit – the Grammys have NEVER showed one iota of respect towards the genre. This is not new. You can get as pissed as you want, but what you should really do is focus your attention on bigging up the true METAL awards shows hosted by REAL members of the faithful like Revolver and Metal Hammer. Let’s put our energy into making these awards shows a cornerstone of the genre! Forget the Grammys. In Metal, when you’re not invited to the party, you start your own.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Megadeth’s “Dystopia” Single

Yesterday Megadeth released the title track and single number three from their upcoming fifteenth (!) studio album Dystopia, due out January 22nd.

Interestingly enough, after the near-universal panning that 2013’s Supercollider received from fans and critics alike, Megadeth have once again found themselves in the underdog position with album number fifteen, one in which they have tended to thrive throughout their career. And with the three singles unveiled thus far, the band is certainly showing a lot of promise. First the thrashy “Fatal Illusion” (which I wrote about here) and “The Threat is Real”, and now “Dystopia”.

To my ears, “Dystopia” is the strongest of all three, but perhaps most notably, it’s the most tuneful. See there’s a period in Megadeth’s career – the one metalheads tirelessly and (mostly unjustly) rail against – in which their brand of metal became more song-centric. It began with Countdown to Extinction and progressed through Youthanasia and Cryptic Writings (both of which I earn minority status by holding in high esteem), before crashing and burning with Risk. But here’s the catch: despite much of the Thrash being absent in Megadeth’s mid-90s output, Mustaine’s songwriting was exceptional. The well-crafted hooks – whether on vocals or guitar, mind you – are light years beyond the capacities of most bands of the Thrash persuasion. But with the breakneck pace and sneering confrontation of Megadeth’s early years missing, it’s understandable why these albums didn’t fare too well. In reality, what truly needs to happen for a stellar Megadeth release is a fusion of the aforementioned song construction with balls-to-the-wall, guitar-driven speed metal. And “Dystopia” might be the closest we’ve gotten to a sonic manifestation of this dream in quite some time.

The track opens with a mid-tempo groove and a simplistic, ear candy guitar melody a la Youthanasia. From there, hasty yet modestly concise verses allow the guitars to take center stage, the long solo section after the second chorus being Exhibit A. In general, “Dystopia” is peppered with the most exciting guitar solos that have been on a Megadeth track in God knows how long. Let’s be honest, Kiko Loureiro SMOKES every Megadeth guitarist since Marty Friedman. I don’t care what you think. Like what the actual fuck is he doing with those octaves at 1:43??? I really hope an official songbook comes out for Dystopia so I can give some of these mind-blowing licks a spin.

But “Hangar 18”-style extended leads aside, Mustaine and Co. still bring the riffs. The winding groove after the solo section is classic Megadeth before the song is given a dramatic send off with an dopamine-pumping dual guitar harmony that crescendos beautifully to wrap everything up.

A Megadeth diehard, I’ve been in a state of “eager anticipation” since the announcement of Dystopia back in October. But the title track, which balances out the energy of “Fatal Illusion” and “The Threat Is Real” perfectly – clueing us in to what has the potential to be an excellent, well-rounded release – has allowed me to say I’m “excited” now for reasons other than just being a fucking stan. January 22nd, I’m ready for you!

UPDATE: Full Dystopia review here

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.

Megadeth’s “Fatal Illusion” Single

In the Megadeth world, the last year or so has been a PR whirlwind. There was the failed reunion of the Rust in Peace lineup, the sudden departure of guitarist Chris Broderick and drummer Shawn Drover, the exciting replacement drummer no one saw coming in Lamb of God’s Chris Adler, and a whole lot of sensationalized Blabbermouth headlines. In all fairness, it’s publicity like this that keeps a band relevant after releasing an album that was truly a skid mark on their legendary discography. Being the Megadeth diehard that I am, Super Collider remains the only album by the band that I cannot listen to (yep, Risk included – without Megadeth’s name on it, there’s some decent alternative rock hidden in there). The only thing that could’ve possibly ignited my interest in Super Collider’s follow-up was if the band recruited one of my favorite drummers and potentially my favorite guitar player of all-time…. wait a second, those would be Megadeth’s brand new members, the aforementioned Chris Adler and Angra’s Kiko Loureiro! Based on this alone, Megadeth’s instant jump in my mind from “washed up” to “I can’t wait for their new album” makes me feel like such a wishy washy hypocrite.

This past Thursday, Megadeth’s fifteenth album became public knowledge, with the title, release date, track list, and some truly awesome cover art all revealed, along with the premiere of first single “Fatal Illusion”. The album will be called Dystopia, and won’t be out until January 22nd of next year. I’m not sure whether to be charmed by Universal’s traditional album roll out or concerned by such a resistance to industry change. Either way, we now have the first Megadeth song since June 2013, and I couldn’t have been more curious to hear it.

“Fatal Illusion” is – at a minimum– the best Megadeth song since 2009’s Endgame. After a well-executed intro that allows the song to gradually build, we’re greeted by one of the meatiest bass tones I have ever heard, as David Ellefson introduces the main riff “Peace Sells” style. After that, it’s everything that makes Megadeth great, and everything Super Collider was missing. The song’s powerful main riff is amplified by Chris Adler’s hard-hitting double bass, which segues into a catchy verse groove straight out of the Rust in Peace playbook. Kiko Loureiro and Dave Mustaine sprinkle some indulgent lead playing throughout, adding some spice to the song’s structure. By the time the band erupts into the breakneck bridge section, “Fatal Illusion” has already sold itself. Megadeth are not fucking around this time.

Sonically, “Fatal Illusion” is along the lines of United Abominations and Endgame – the production strikes a successful balance between polish and edge. In addition to Ellefson’s stunning bass tone, the guitars and drums sound like Megadeth again, as opposed to the muddiness of Super Collider and its predecessor, Th1rt3en. Perhaps the biggest critical headache on Super Collider was Dave Mustaine’s lazy, painfully corny lyrical content, but “Fatal Illusion” makes significant strides in this department, despite the backseat role lyrics often assume in Megadeth. If you ask me, “It’s a fatal illusion that evil never dies” is pretty fucking badass.

With “Fatal Illusion”, Megadeth have made quite the statement. Super Collider is already disappearing from the rear view mirror, and the band’s new lineup gives the metal community – young and old – something to be truly excited about. I’m eagerly anticipating Dystopia’s January 22nd release. Well, either that or its inevitable leak.