This is a new segment of my blog in which I’ll be aiming to briefly skim over a few albums I didn’t get to review in depth, but where still good or just noteworthy in their own right. It will probably come out quite sparingly as it takes quite a long time to write, obviously, but hey what could go wrong. It is just more of my glorious opinion. Who doesn’t love that?
Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth
Recovering from the musical tumour that was Lasers is not something just any rapper can do. But Lupe Fiasco isn’t just any rapper, something he obviously wants to make very clear with this album. Who else would open their comeback record with the 8 minute monster ‘Mural’? Yep. No hook, no major beat switch-up, just bar after bar after bar. It’s a staggering way to open an album, and it’s not the only track here that passes the 8 minute mark. It works, for most part.
The posse cut here, ‘Chopper’, is somewhat of a centre-piece with a 6 other rappers hopping on a synthy trap instrumental. It’s impressive, but the lack of variety in the instrumental does make it drag before long. Some of the more concise songs feel a little less indulgent. ‘Deliver’ is as musically lush as it is heady and lyrically conceptual, and ‘Blur My Hands’ brings a soulful vocals and keys, not to mention one of the catchiest hooks this year. Whilst there are some forgettable tracks and mis-steps here and there, this album is satisfyingly strong for the most part (especially in the second half). Just bring along a lyric sheet because it can be a struggle to keep up with him.
Highlights: ‘Mural’, ‘Deliver’, ‘Blur My Hands’, ‘They.Ressurect.Over.New.’
Similar to: Kanye West, Schoolboy Q, J. Cole, Drake
While She Sleeps – Brainwashed
Most metalcore bands at the same level of popularity as While She Sleep have some kind of gimmick that keep people coming back. Motionless In White are all goth’d up and edgy, and Issues love clubbing almost as much as stealing At The Gates riffs, but While She Sleeps just kinda… play music. It’s not the most awe-inspiring marketing strategy ever, but that’s because they’ve clearly decided they don’t need one. And bizarrely, it’s worked out for them. This Is The Six was a smash in UK metal scene, and Brainwashed only turns up the heat more.
For the most part the formula remains the same, what’s improved is the song-writing talent. Typical crowd pleasers like ‘Brainwashed’, ‘New World Torture’ and ‘Trophies of Violence’ quickly establish the band are still about as heavy your average American citizen. The drop in the title track is particularly effective in making me want to spin-kick toddler down multiple flights of stairs. However the band really impress when they venture in more anthemic territories. ‘Four Walls’ has grown on me significantly, but perhaps the best moment is ‘Our Legacy’. It’s an emotionally charged reminiscence of the bands roots, packing in some of the most impressive lead of their career, and comes through with some of the best lyrics and lead guitar on the record as a whole.
Unfortunately it’s not totally a smooth ride to success. The band succumb to an unfortunate amount of cliched interludes that manage to kill the momentum quite effectively, and its difficult to ignore how achingly similar this record is to its predecessor. That said, unless your a UKHC elitist or a deaf person this album is very much worth your time. Not for those intolerant to chunky riffs.
Highlights: ‘Brainwashed’, ‘Four Walls’, ‘Our Legacy’
Similar to: Lamb Of God, The Defiled, Rise To Remain
Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
It hurts to have to say criticise Napalm Death at all. Not only have they pioneered an entire subgenre and had an unimaginably massive impact on heavy music in general, they have been dutifully churning out new material for the past 15 years more reliably than most bands half their age. In the new age of noise makers like Nails, Weekend Nachos and Full of Hell one might wonder where Napalm Death belong at this point in time.
But worry not, mere mortals, this is Napalm Death. And for a band who so often mentioned for their classic albums they sound refreshingly enthusiastic and experimental (or maybe the classic thrash bands just set a bad example). The album opens with an (almost) melodic baritone croon with tribal metallic clangs and eerie noise crescendoing into the ultra abrasive and lovably defiant ‘Smash A Single Digit’. This is, for the most part, the same band that wrote Scum but in their fully-evolved modern form. This can lead to them sounding a little recycled on the shorter, grind-ier tracks, which tend to blur together a little.
But the moments where the band expand their sound more than make up for these minor disappointments. ‘Dear Slum Landlord’ shows the band sounding almost hungover on their own extremity, whilst ‘Cesspits’ and ‘Hierarchies’ pour generous lashings of hardcore punk groove on their style. ‘Hierarchies’ especially is a perfect combination of the bands trademark rage and some almost rock n’ roll style swagger.
No matter what you think of Napalm Death and their brand of racket, there’s no denying this can go toe-to-toe with any newcomer. Step up, lads.
Highlights: ‘Smash A Single Digit’, ‘Hierarchies’, ‘Dear Slum Landlord’
Similar to: Extreme Noise Terror, Nails, Misery Index
Venom – From The Very Depths
It’s always a bizarre how little Venom actually have to do with black metal. Any band fortunate enough to be considered a classic (or in this case eponymous) band of a genre tend to stick with that genre they helped to build. But were Venom ever really a black metal band to begin with? Really they were just a proto band, a noisy embryo of things to come. And then when those things did eventually come, in all their fully evolved glory Venom were left by the wayside a little.
But this doesn’t mean they actually ever got worse as a band. Quite the opposite really, ever since the classic duo of Welcome To Hell and Black Metal they’ve been quietly refining their musicianship. They actually sound far less senile than you might expect, since Cronos is about as old as time itself at this point. But absolute old school rippers like ‘The Death of Rock N’ Roll’ and ‘Temptation’ still sound ferociously energetic today. But they don’t just play it safe either. ‘Smoke’ hits a stoned melodic groove that just weeps Black Sabbath from every pore, and despite it’s ridiculous lyrical content the lead single ‘Long Haired Punks’ has an irrefutable glint of a charm in its eye.
Of course nothing here is anything boundary pushing, it’s metal for metal’s sake. Which of course is fine given good enough writing, but there are a few forgettable tracks present. But by far the biggest flaw here is the albums production. The drums feel meaty enough, but the guitars feel woefully thin and weirdly scratchy. So scratchy and compressed it’s often quite distracting. Fortunately its not enough to ruin the album entirely. Get your patch jacket on and throw up over festival security to this album.
Highlights: ‘Temptation’, ‘Smoke’, ‘Grinding Teeth’
Similar to: Slayer, Kreator, Celtic Frost
36 Crazyfists – Time And Trauma
36 Crazyfists seem to have been consistently flying just below the radar since forever. They’ve been dutifully churning out good albums on a regular basis since the late 90s, but have never quite reached the mainstream acclaim they deserve. Why not? The answer might be a bit more complex than this, but I firmly believe in the importance of a gimmick. (Almost) every successful band ever has one, even if it’s just a member with a silly haircut or a piano player you can actually hear. 36 Crazyfists, as good as they might be at what they do, simply fail to inspire in that regard.
And that’s not to say this album isn’t worth at least some of your time. They’re not spiky haired and nu-metal anymore. They’ve moved their sound to a slightly grittier, riff centric sound and all the members have grown beards. It works quite well for the most part. ‘Sorrow Sings’ delivers on some chunky Pantera worship riffage and a classicly angsty chorus. In fact, pretty much everything on this album is quite good, which brings us to the first problem: very little on here actually manages to be memorable. Even after repeated listens I found myself tuning out, wondering what I might play next, or what dinosaurs might have smelt like. The harsh truth is just that this album is quite boring.
And what makes it even more disappointing, is they tease us with their capability. The final track, ‘Marrow’, actually breaks out of the mid-pace monotony and takes on a more morose ballad like form without sacrificing any of the hulking heaviness, with tastefully incorporated female vocals to boot. Which is frustratingly promising for such an ultimately bland album. Maybe next time.
Highlights: ‘Sorrow Sings’, ‘Marrow’
Similar to: Lamb of God, All That Remains, Chimaira
Xibalba – Tierra Y Libertad
Xibalba are like a musical protein shake. It’s pretty disgusting and probably not very good for you but give the right mind-set it can make you feel like an immovable force of nature. The basic premise to Xibalba is sludgy hardcore in the vein of Crowbar mashed together with old-school death metal in the vein of Morbid Angel. If that doesn’t intrigue you even a little bit, we are very different people.
But of course, what’s most important is the song-writing execution. In terms of delivering straight up, crushing brutality the band certainly don’t come up short. The first three tracks in particular make good use of the deliciously lo-fi production and manage to be quite successfully bludgeoning, if not particularly memorable. But it still has its charms with almost-experimentations; ‘Guerilla’ brings some political fury over some revoltingly heavy slam style breakdowns. The title track brings a slightly thrashy form of chugging heaviness we’ve heard before, with the awesomely evil solo screaming Slayer all over.
The big problem is for all this album does well, it never manages to quite catch my imagination in the way it easily could if it just stepped out of its comfort zone a bit more. The one instance in which it truly does, on the 12 minute ‘El Vacio’, it ends up feeling horribly uncomfortable and long-winded. For all it’s aesthetic appeal, Xibalba don’t quite make the mark with this record. It is however, a great album for a bad mood. Just try not to actually kick anyones face.
Highlights: ‘Guerilla’, ‘Enemigo’, ‘Tierra Y Libertad’
Similar to: Harms Way, No Zodiac, Suburban Scum
Melechesh – Enki
Translating metal into new cultural domains has been an ongoing effort that only really got the attention it deserved when Sepultura blew up. As art it has no boundaries or limitations of course, and there are no shortage of great bands from all over the globe, but combining Eastern folk music with a genre that came out of the deepest darkest depths of Birmingham is never going to be a simple process. But it’s far from impossible, as Melechesh pretty definitively demonstrate on this record.
Enki gets off to an especially abrasive start with the deafeningly vicious ‘Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged’. The Eastern twang is audible, but the harsh buzzsaw guitar execution is at the forefront of the all the furious racket. But it’s not all death-thrash racket throughout, in fact the band are very capable of hitting a satisfying groove. Both ‘Multiple Truths’ and ‘The Palm The Eye And Lapis Lazuli’ find a rhythm and just explore it, piling on layers of instrumentation and atmosphere. It’s these moments where the band really hit their stride.
Here’s the ‘however…’ bit. There are some songs here that simply don’t match the quality of the rest of the album, which is a pretty big deal when the album only has 9 songs. The title track takes the aforementioned method of repeating and filling out a groove, but overstays its welcome and ends up spreading itself thin. But by far the weirdest moment here is the 8 minute interlude thing that is ‘Doorways to Irkala’, which is essentially just an instrumental piece of Eastern folk music. It’s probably good Eastern folk music (not an area I am all too knowledgeable on, surprisingly), but it nonetheless feels totally out of place on this album and just serves to cripple the momentum.
But despite a few hiccups, this is undoubtedly one of the most original thrash albums you’ll hear this year. That might not say much given the creative status of thrash and it’s fixation on nostalgia, but still. You can listen to it and pretend you’re more cultured an open-minded than you actually are.
Highlights: ‘Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged’, ‘The Palm The Eye And Lapis Lazuli’, ‘The Outsiders’
Similar to: Sepultura, Nile, Behemoth
Stick To Your Guns – Disobedient
This might be the most unfair review on this entire segment, so be prepared for some extreme bias. Because I fucking loved this album’s predecessor, Diamond. It was a perfect balance of ignorant mosh-core and socially conscious hardcore, with some absolutely massive choruses to boot. Which is why I can’t help but feel Disobedient is just a bit of a downgrade on all fronts.
And yet, it’s not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. Despite the gnarly looking album cover and blunt album title, the band actually focus far more on hook writing this time round. And it pays off for them on a lot of the tracks here. ‘Nobody’ is cheesier than the entire Europe discography, but it’s catchier than the original AIDS monkey. Pretty much every chorus on the record delivers, although the incessant ‘woaaahhhhs’ really did not need to be on here; get back on the Black Veil Brides album you belong on. The best bits of melody come on the more matured moments, like the hauntingly sad ‘Left You Behind’. Jesse’s voice sounds more sincere than ever before, and the lyrics are easily the best the band have put to recording.
The real lacking thing here is the ferocious hardcore edge that made everything on Diamond so contagiously ramble rousing. Perhaps its the clean cut production or just uninspired writing, but tracks like ‘RMA’ and ‘I Choose Nothing’ just sound so flat when they try to be punishing. On top of this, there are just some straight up filler tracks. ‘The War Inside’ is just uninspired on every level, with a tired sounding chorus and by-the-numbers breakdown. It’s all well and good trying to be Rise Against, but at least sound like you care when you’re doing it.
It’s not a terrible effort but I just don’t have the heart to recommend it when there are plenty of bands out there writing the exact same kind of songs to a higher standard. It’s not a total failure, but it’d be overblown to call it a success too. For such a defiant aesthetic, this is probably the tamest material Stick To Your Guns have ever put out.
Highlights: ‘Nobody’, ‘Left You Behind’, ‘The Crown’
Similar to: The Ghost Inside, Terror, A Day To Remember
Big Sean – Dark Sky Paradise
Big Sean has somehow managed to rebrand himself as a serious rapper. I’m really not sure how anyone allowed this to happen, but it’s really worked. All it takes is a blurry album cover, an ambiguously arty title and some moody trap beats. BAM. You’re no longer Big Sean the notoriously cheesy and generally quite embarrassing Kanye West endorsement, you’re now Big Sean the bright new talent in the world of hip-hop. People are taking this thing seriously, and a lyric on the opening track actually says “I’m doing extra numbers like I’m Chinese”. I’m not even kidding.
The few good moments on this album feel quite out of place. Despite his pretty cringey guest spot, Kanye’s production spots on All Your Fault and the irrefutably catchy ‘I Don’t Fuck With You’ make for some pretty excellent fusion of bassy trap bangers and soulful sample based hip-hop. In terms of beat selection, this album is mostly pretty great. It’s just that Big Sean is on all of them. He shows some improvement on his old material, especially in terms of ambition on tracks like ‘Paradise (Extended)’ where he tries his hand at the much coveted double time flow. And it would sound OK but he manages to consistently over-crowd his lines with syllables and inadvertently throw himself off the beat like a suicidal rodeo rider. And let’s not even start on the lyrics. Safe to say, it’s horribly cheesy punchline after cringe inducing pun constantly for pretty much every track. For every genuinely clever bit of word play or well executed metaphor, there are about ten completely rubbish lines waiting to negate their effect.
Basically despite showing some progression and even a little bit of maturation, Big Sean is still by far the worst thing about his own music. Maybe next time? Nope, probably not. But he’s definitely not going anywhere.
Highlight: ‘I Don’t Fuck With You’, ‘ All Your Fault’, ‘Paradise (Extended)’
Similar to: Drake, Logic, 2 Chainz