Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Deadsoul Tribe: The Dead Word

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The Dead Word
By: Deadsoul Tribe
Year: 2005

The Deadsoul Tribe is another band that I would know nothing about if not for the impeccable album “The Human Equation” my Ayreon. Devon Graves (or Buddy Lackey, if you prefer) sang the part of Agony, his soothing voice belying the power therein.
But upon hearing his work with his current band, I was blown away by the (in many cases) simplicity of his music, but the raw power it held. These are albums full of crunchy guitar riffs, soothingly sung yet biting lyrics, effective use of soaring, gorgeous flute (in progressive metal, even!) and the omnipresent bass lines that would make my car shake.
Make no mistake about it: this is some powerful stuff. Graves is extremely talented, doing absolutely everything (including all guitar parts, keyboards, singing, bass, and yes, that flute) except for the drums, which are handily presented by Adel Mustafa. The whole album has an amazing sense of loss and retribution, with powerful ballads and roaring solos all over the top of Graves' soothing, ethereal, creepy voice. This is good stuff – I think “The Dead Word” is Deadsoul Tribe's best album, blending all the wonderful elements of their music into one great album.
Tracks to catch: A Flight On an Angel's Wing: The first song on the album (following the atmospheric prelude), we finally see Graves' angry chops – he sings hard and rough near the end of this track, putting aside his usually calm voice in lieu of something with a bit more force. Don't You Ever Hurt: Great solo at the beginning, starting off a rocking tune in a seven-beat meter – and that's not kid's stuff. Waiting In Line: This track is a powerhouse, one of my favorites, blending flute with scratchy guitars in a great duet. A Fistful of Bended Nails: Thumpy bass abounds in this piece, shaking my little Accent as I cruise down the road, and I do so love that feeling.
Final verdict: Adore it
This album is extremely well-made. As I stated earlier, I think it's Deadsoul Tribe's best work. Were we to reformulate the top ten of 2005, this would have been in the list. Production is great, the balance is perfect, and the tribal edge to the drums really add to the effectiveness of the album as a whole. This is quality metal. Nothing too new here, but plenty to give a Deadsoul fan a smile.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Lacuna Coil - Karmacode

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Karmacode Artist: Lacuna Coil Year: 2006 Click here for the artist's site Before Evanescence made it cool to be a rock band with a female lead singer, Lacuna Coil had already polished the sound with five solid releases. Too few people knew of the band, but that would soon change. With intelligent and aggressive touring, a strong work ethic, and stellar musicianship and song-writing, 2004 saw them joining the big leagues of metal. The band was invited to join Ozzfest, and won over the concert goers with their own brand of haunting, ethereal music. Karmacode is the band's latest offering, and what an offering it is. From the very beginning, the album catches the listener. Thunderous bass, middle eastern melodies on the guitars and Cristina Scabbia's supernal voice set the stage for the experience. Certainly not a reinvention, Karmacode serves as a subtle evolution of the sound the band has been perfecting over the course of their career. The trademark dual voice work of Scabbia and Andrea Ferro really shines on the album. With interesting harmonies, multi-layered vocals, and well-done duet passages, there is an increased use of the vocals as additional instruments, and to great effect. The vocal lines are infectious and memorable, but also have significant depth to them, allowing the listener to easily hum along while still appreciating the subtle nuances found if you make the effort to listen. Instrumentally, the album rocks. Period. The bass is very prominent (perhaps a tad too prominent), and will shake your windows if you give the album the chance. The guitars are both fierce and tranquil, at all the right moments. The music is often brooding, fitting with the "gothic" label given the band. However, a closer listen reveals hidden moments of hope and levity that keep the album from ever feeling ponderous. And it is the subtle stylistic approach that keeps the album from ever feeling old. The band doesn't tread too much ground in terms of musical style, but what they do, they do very well. The more ballad-esque songs don't work quite as well as the rockers, as they feel a bit too restrained, but they are in the minority. Tracks to catch: "Fragile" is a monster of an opener, and kicks the record off right. This is one of my favorite tracks. "Our Truth", the first single, is also an imminently listenable tune that is sure to be a hit. "Without Fear" serves as an excellent, cathartic closer to the album (as it is the last song written by the band on the disc). Finally, "Enjoy the Silence" is a cover of a Depeche Mode song that sounds great with Cristina's vocals and the punch that Lacuna Coil brings to the track. Rating: 3/5 Karmacode doesn't break new ground, but it does take a few steps down the logical path the band has been blazing for years now. Lacuna Coil is a band that deserves more attention, and I am pleased to see them getting it (touring again with Ozzfest this year). Karmacode is a solid release, with fine musicianship, great song-writing, and subtle nuances that keep the album interesting from start to finish. If you are looking for a challenging listening experience, this isn't the album for you. However, if you want great, listenable and brooding metal, you can't go wrong with this latest offering from Lacuna Coil.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime II

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Operation: Mindcrime II By: Queenryche Year: 2006 Click here for the artist's site I have to be honest right from the beginning here. Operation: Mindcrime is one of the best concept albums written. Ever. Period. The music is powerful, the lyrics both interesting and politically poignant (both 18 years ago as well as today), the story well told. But for me, the clincher that lifts Mindcrime from the level of good to astoundingly great is just how strong the songs are. One of the largest perils of creating a concept album is loss of any single great song. For example, Fates Warning's absolutely brilliant A Pleasant Shade of Gray really needs to be listened to in its entirety to be appreciated. Dream Theater's Scenes From a Memory is the same. Both are amazing albums, but lack really great singles that can stand on their own. Not so with the original Mindcrime. Songs such as "Speak", "Eyes of a Stranger", "I Don't Believe in Love", and "Breaking the Silence" are just great songs that you can listen to any time. No need to go from start to finish. That ability to tell a coherent, cohesive story while still having a whole collection of amazing singles is very uncommon. Add to that the fact that Mindcrime still sounds fresh, energetic and important, and you have one fantastic album. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that when Mindcrime II was announced I was skeptical. With recent Queensrÿche records being disappointing, I didn't have very high hopes when I gave Mindcrime II its first listen. And after the first listen, to be honest, I didn't quite know what to think. Let's get the easy parts of this review out of the way first. Yes, this is the heaviest Queensrÿche has sounded in well over a decade. It is also the most energetic their music has sounded since the original Mindcrime. However, this reviewer truly thinks that calling Queensrÿche a "Metal" band is a mistake. They are still a respectable progressive rock band, but they haven't really sounded "metal" to me in many years. Okay, those points out of the way, just how does Operation: Mindcrime II stand up to the original? Well, it isn't as good, no doubt about it. But that doesn't make it a bad album. It really did take me numerous listens to really get a feel for Mindcrime II. This is one of the aspects in which it is inferior to the original. With the possible exception of one or two tracks, there just aren't really great singles on this album. And there certainly is nothing that comes close to the powerful "Eyes of a Stranger". However, I do believe that Mindcrime II is Queensrÿche's most progressive record to date, even surpassing (and there are likely many who will disagree with this next comment) their progressive masterpiece Promised Land. There is plenty of orchestration on this album, choral arrangements, rapid and often even jarring stylistic changes, and some really interesting musical passages. The prog geek in me really appreciates those aspects of the record, while I recognize that they will likely make it difficult for some people to like the album. Lyrically, I have always thought Queensrÿche was ahead of the game. They have successfully penned lyrics that challenge political and social ideologies, and have often done it without coming off too preachy. Mindcrime II again has strong lyrics (though certainly not perfect) that deal with the political and social climate of the times, while still working to tell the story. And what of the story? It takes place 18 years after the original, with the anti-hero Nikki being released from prison, attempting to put back together the pieces of his broken life. The story doesn't flow as well as the original, but it is still interesting. Musically the album is much better than other recent efforts from the band. The dual guitars are used much more effectively, with solos from both guitarists in many of the songs. Likewise the guitars are more prominent and powerful in the mix. On a few of the tracks the guitar sound doesn't quite work for me, but on others is really great. That inconsistency definitely takes some getting used to. The rhythm section is excellent on this album, with a full, rich bass sound and thick, heavy drums. And while time has taken its toll on Geoff Tate's inimitable voice, with a noticeably decreased range, it is very distinctive, powerful and evocative. He has long been one of my favorite vocalists, and he continues to be. The guest appearances on the record are also worth mention. Pamela Moore returns to fill her part as Mary, the whore-turned-nun that Nikki has loved for all these years. She makes numerous appearances (though deceased), most likely in Nikki's mind's eye. She is the voice of Mary, and it would sound so wrong with someone else. She does a fine job. Also, filling the role of the evil Dr. X is metal legend Ronnie James Dio. "Chase", on which both Geoff Tate and Dio sing is a lot of fun, with two of rock/metal's most recognizable voices giving and taking. However, their vocal styles are not sufficiently dissimilar, and it can be a bit difficult recognizing who is whom when they sing at the same time. Tracks to catch: "Freiheit Ouverture" is an interesting, atmospheric intro that works well to start off the album. "I'm American" does a great job of capturing the current American culture of individualistic consumerism. "Signs Say Go" is probably the albums best, bona-fide rocker. "Murderer" is the most interesting and eclectic track on the album, and really appeals to my progressive tastes. "Circles" hearkens back to "Electric Requiem" from the first album. "Intentional Confrontation" is another track that almost seems confused about what it wants to sound like, but pulls the apparently disparate styles together well. Rating: 3/5 Honestly this is a difficult album for me to rate. It is not a repeat, amazing album like the first. But it is a solid, well written and composed progressive rock album that demonstrates that Queensrÿche still has energy and some interesting ideas in them. Uneven at times, I likely forgive this due to my penchant for the original. Mindcrime II is a strong album, a vast improvement over anything from the band in a decade, and just a darn good rock album. While I might wish for more metal to be found, this is a most encouraging sing of life from a band I had almost buried, and certainly worth checking out. It won't appeal to everyone, and I am sure there will be fans of the first who hate it, but warts and all, Operation: Mindcrime II is both a return to form of sorts as well as a welcome evolution of one of my long-time favorite bands.