Dark Tranquillity—The Mind’s I (2007)

Dark Tranquility—The Mind's I (2007)

Dark Tranquillity—The Mind’s I (2007)

Details

Recorded at Studio Fredman, summer 1996. Produced by Dark Tranquillity and Fredrik Nordström.

www.darktranquillity.com

Band

  • Mikael Stanne—Vocals
  • Niklas Sundin—Guitars
  • Fredrik Johansson—Guitars inc. acoustic guitars
  • Martin Henriksson—Bass and acoustic guitars
  • Anders Jivarp—Drums
  • (Fredrik Nordström—Occasional keyboard overdubs)
  • (Sara Svensson—Backing vocals)

Tracks

  1. Dreamlore degenerate
  2. Zodijackyl light
  3. Hedon
  4. Scythe, rage and roses
  5. Constant
  6. Dissolution factor red
  7. Insanity’s crescendo
  8. Still moving sinews
  9. Atom heart 243.5
  10. Tidal tantrum
  11. Tongues
  12. The Mind’s Eye

Review

You know how they say you should never judge a book by its cover? Well, that’s exactly why I bought Dark Tranquillity’s 2005 opus Character. I was up for trying out something new and so I employed the same technique that I employ when buying wine: I judge it entirely on the label, or in this case the album cover.

It’s a method that has turned up some pretty decent music in the past (e.g. Lamb of God, Towering Inferno, Architects). Character was ok, a decent melodic death metal album with good production and solid song writing.

The first thing that struck me about The Mind’s I was the album cover. It’s terrible! Like some kind of gothic party game where a tray is littered with common, every day objects (parchment, pens, dead roses, a jawbone, chiffon that’s arranged to look half like a pair of sunglasses and half like a tiny bra, a ball of barbed wire).

Then there’s the font used for the CD label and inlay booklet. You know how designers say you should never use too many fonts and don’t use fancy ‘display’ fonts for text you actually need to read? Yeah, this is why. My eyesight is bad enough as it is recovering from meningitis, I don’t need to have to put up with some artsy 8pt font on top of that!

Aesthetically, I would never buy this album on a whim. Not a great start, but it’s the music that really matters…

I’m still trying to put my finger on which bands this album reminds me of. There are elements of Iron Maiden’s twin-guitars approach but my memory won’t allow to extend much beyond that at the moment.

The Mind’s I is quite a mid-paced album throughout. The odd clean guitar is thrown in here and there, and there’s quite a proggy feel to some of the songs in the way they ramble. But there’s not much here that stands out for me except for one of the riffs in “Atom Hert 243.5” which isn’t much more than a chugging power chord… but the overdriven amp just sounds so cool!

So, the artwork is disappointing, the music is fairly ‘stock’… Where Dark Tranquillilty do rise above many other bands, however, is the quality. The song writing is pretty good, even if the lyrics are clichéd angst-filled gothic/black metal nonsense, and the musicianship is on top form. A lot can often hang on the quality of vocals and Mikael Stanne certainly rises to the occasion. They are gruff but comprehensible and crucially they are not annoying!

My only criticism in terms of quality is that the production isn’t as clear as it could be, and certainly as Character is. It’s quite muffled in comparison, and too quiet.

Conclusion

All in all, The Mind’s I is a decent collection of melodic death metal tunes. But it didn’t set me on fire.

Review score: 70%

Video

Arch Enemy—Wages of Sin (2001)

Arch Enemy—Wages of Sin (2001)

Arch Enemy—Wages of Sin (2001)

Details

Recorded at Studio Fredman, Gothenburg, Sweden, in December 2000. Produced by Fredrik Nordstrom and Michael Amott. Mixed by Andy Sneap and mastered at Backstage Studios, Ripley, England, in January 2001.

There were huge problems with the release of the album in the American and European markets. The release date is for the Japanese version by Toy Factory and that version only had one CD with the first eleven tracks and no video. That is the version we have here. The two CD version for Europe and the Americas wasn’t released until 18 March 2002.

Band

  • Angela Gossow—Vocals
  • Christopher Amott—Guitars
  • Michael Amott—Guitars
  • Sharlee D’Angelo—Bass
  • Daniel Erlandsson—Drums

Tracks

  1. Enemy within
  2. Burning angel
  3. Heart of darkness
  4. Ravenous
  5. Savage messiah
  6. Dead bury their dead
  7. Web of lies
  8. The first deadly sin
  9. Behind the smile
  10. Snow bound
  11. Shadows and dust

Review

Arch Enemy are one of those bands that most people just assume I’m already into, and they often express surprise when I tell them that other than four tracks ripped from magazine-cover CDs I have never really listened to them. And they would be right, of course. I too have often felt that I should listen to them, but like many things in life it comes down to priorities and I have chosen to spend my money elsewhere. It turns out, though, that I may have had my priorities in all the right places.

Wages of Sin is Arch Enemy’s fourth studio album, and their first with (then new, now former) vocalist Angelo Gossow. And that’s where my main issues lie, to be honest. It’s not that she’s a female vocalist—there are plenty of female vocalists that I like. I would be saying the same if the vocalist had been male: I just don’t enjoy the vocal performance on this record.

The music is great: it’s heavy, it’s melodic, there are some amazing hooks and dynamics. And then this brutal vocal track bores through the middle of it all. In places it’s like an incessantly barking dog or a gurgling sink. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate growling death metal-style vocals. I love Opeth and Lamb of God, for example. But the vocals on this recording are so monotonous. It is such a wasted opportunity to add something amazing to this amazingly powerful music. As I listened to this album I could hear the vocal melodies that got away: something powerful, something bombastic, something that fuses the clean with the gruff. This album calls for a mixture of Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) meets John Bush (Armored Saint/ex-Anthrax) meets Michael Åkerfeldt (Opeth/Bloodbath/Storm Corrosion).

So… I don’t like the vocals. We’ve established that. On to the music.

The opening track “Enemy within” has a staccato-ed start but builds nicely. “Burning angel” has the feel of “Hanger 18” by Megadeth. “Heart of Darkness” is a solid song, with enough twists and turns to make it interesting. “Ravenous” has fleeting moments of Helloween and some crazy Whammy pedal-inspired widdles. “Savage Messiah” opens with an Alice in Chains-inspired groove picked out on a clean guitar. “Dead bury their dead” has a Kreator vibe to it.  “The first deadly sin” has an old-school thrash-tastic opening and one where to be fair Gossow’s vocals work a treat where she is able at last to find a way to change the pitch of her gruntings. “Behind the smile” has a brilliant stop-start riff that probably makes it my favourite track on the album. “Snow bound” is a short instrumental acoustic track with a rather predictable melancholic solo over the top; but it is still rather pretty and a welcome change from the onslaught. “Shadows and dust” reminds me something else but I can’t quite put my finger on it—it’s been bugging me all week, please put me out of my misery and tell me in the comments. “Lament of a mortal soul” closes the album with a solid track that chugs us along nicely to the terminal.

Conclusion

Despite my grumblings about the vocals, this is a pretty solid album that gets better the further into the recording you get, and the more familiar you become with the songs. Rather than putting me off, it has rather made me want to check out their later recordings to see how Gossow’s vocals have matured. It should score more, but there you have it.

[UPDATE: Erm… it turns out that I have listened to then before. In fact, I reviewed them on this here blog only a few weeks ago. And I gave it 90%. Oops!]

Review score: 75%

Video

This is a live version of “The first deadly sin”, showing just how much better Gossow’s vocals were towards the end of her career with the band.

Arch Enemy–Rise of the Tyrant (2007)

Arch Enemy–Rise of the Tyrant (2007)

Arch Enemy–Rise of the Tyrant (2007)

Details

Produced by Fredrik Nordström and Michael Amott. Co-produced by Daniel Erlandsson. Mixed by Fredrik Nordström. Recorded and mixed at Studio Fredman, Sweden (March, April and May 2007).

Arch Enemy official website
Arch Enemy on Encyclopaedia Metallum

Band

  • Angela Gossow—Vocals
  • Christopher Amott—Lead and rhythm guitars
  • Michael Amott—Lead and rhythm guitars
  • Sharlee D’Angelo—Bass guitar
  • Daniel Erlandsson—Drums

Tracks

  1. Blood on your hands
  2. The last enemy
  3. I will live again
  4. In this shallow grave
  5. Revolution begins
  6. Rise of the tyrant
  7. The day you died
  8. Intermezzo liberté
  9. Night falls fast
  10. The great darkness
  11. Vultures

Review

Arch Enemy are ones of those bands who have been around for years—they formed in 1996—that I’ve just never crossed paths with, not through any determined avoidance on my part I’ve always had my attention drawn elsewhere, keeping up with other bands and interests.

Out of curiosity I checked the mountains of magazine-mounted CDs that I’ve collected over the years and I actually have four tracks by Arch Enemy:

  1. Blood on your hands (from this album!)
  2. Dead eyes see no future
  3. Let the killing begin
  4. Symphony of destruction (Megadeth cover)

I’ll have to give the last three a spin later. But first, back to this album, their seventh studio offering. The album opens with a siren and then a very latter-day Megadeth-style arpeggio-ed riff builds until Gossow’s throaty vocals kick in.

Track two, “The last enemy” is another high-octane track. You can imagine a swirling mosh pit soaking up the energy, even through the melodic riff that weaves itself through the chorus .

This is officially classified as ‘melodic death metal’ but it draws on so many influences that it’s not quite so easy to pin down. There are elements of various thrash bands in there, to my ears Megadeth and Kreator are the two most obvious. But then there was virtuoso passages that remind me very much of mid- to late-90s Steve Vai.

The third track opens gently with float melody played on keyboards but within thirty seconds a stabbing riff punctuates the calm. This song got me thinking that I would be really interested to hear Angela Gossow follow suit and sing, rather than growl. Something akin to what Opeth do: that mixture of melodic and death-metal growling vocals.

Track six, the title track, “Rise of the tyrant” opens with this film dialogue from Caligula (1979):

One of my favourite tracks is “The day you died” (track 7) probably because it reminds me of a more-melodic Coma of Souls-era Kreator. “Intermezzo Liberaté” (track 8) is very Steve Vai and then the album begins to see itself out in style with a couple more thumping tunes. The final track though, remarkably, reminds me of a heavier Helloween. Until the vocals, of course. Boy that girl can growl! (There’s a sentence I’ve never written before.)

Conclusion

As my first proper introduction to Arch Enemy I was really impressed. This is an album that I could put on any time I was looking for some more than decent melodic metal.

I’ll definitely be on the look out for more.

If you are into Arch Enemy, please tell me where I should begin. What am I missing?

Review score: 90%

Video

Gob Squad—Watch the Cripple Dance (2008)

Gob Squad—Watch the Cripple Dance (2008)

Gob Squad—Watch the Cripple Dance (2008)

Details

Mixed and produced by Jacob Bredahl at Smart in Hard Studio. Mastered by Ziggy at Zigsound. Words and music by Gob Squad. Album concept and album by Anders Ladegaard.

Band

Remarkably, the album doesn’t list the band members. How punk is that! One website lists them as:

  • Thomas Bredahl—Guitar and vocals
  • Anders Albrektsen —Guitar and vocals
  • Jimmy Nedergaard — Bass
  • Soeren Jensen — Drums

Another as: Thomas, Stauning, Terp, Sogge. Who knows?! Their website isn’t available either.

Tracks

  1. Unconscious souls
  2. The tyranny in good intents
  3. Stop pretending
  4. The white flag help up high
  5. The reason…
  6. Same old street
  7. Stand up and fight
  8. Vacuum of my own
  9. Time to be
  10. Reflection of youth
  11. Watch the cripple dance

Review

When the first track on this album from modern Danish punksters Gob Squad bounced out of my speakers my initial fears about this album were put to rest. Well, for the first 3′ 24″ at least.

‘Unconscious souls’, that opening track, is a tremendous song, and one of my favourite tracks from this project. It has a fantastic guitar hook that bounces along throughout the entire track, taking everything and everyone. The song carries a catchy melody, it has dynamics and movement, and the vocals are sung (not shouted). The perfect pop-rock song.

Sadly, though the album gradually goes down from there. Track two, ‘The Tyranny of good intents’ almost carries an element of the same riff as its predecessor. Track three ‘Stop pretending’ has a disco feel and kind of lost me when the shouting began. The next track ‘The white flag held up high’ begins with pounding drums that put me in mind of early Adam and the Ants.

By this point, however, it’s all become rather punk-by-numbers. The songs morph from one to the next and begin to sound a little same-y, and for me this style of half-shouted vocals just doesn’t work for me. Instead, I find myself returning again and again to track one and wondering what could have been.

Conclusion

I haven’t come across many albums like this, where really I like just one song. But I’m happy with that, to be honest. Artists are free to do what they want, to carve their own path, to play what they like. I respect that. I love their first track, the rest to my ears is mostly disposable.

For that reason I will need to mark the review score fairly low. But, Gob Squad for that first track I thank you. So you get a score that’s the same as my favourite number. That’s got to count for something.

My review score: 45%

Video

The video of my favourite track from the whole album ‘ Unconscious souls’ by Gob Squad.

Somnae—Forever More (2010)

Somnae—Forever More (2010)

Somnae—Forever More (2010)

Details

Recorded and mixed at the Darklab and SCC Studios, Seattle, USA, summer of 2009. Produced by EJ Oropza. Mastering by Dan Swano at Unisound Studios, Örebro, Sweden. Drums engineered by Brian Stephens at Eternal Beat Studios. Music and lyrics by EJ Oropza.

Band

  • Jesse Heidner: Vocals
  • EJ Oropza: Guitars, bass and synths
  • Brian Stephens: Drums

Tracks

  1. Forever More
  2. An Ominous Strain
  3. Fragile Tomorrow

Review

Somnae hail from Seattle, Washington but don’t fall into the stereotypical ‘Seattle-sound’ genre forged by the likes of Mudhoney Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, or the like. Encyclopedia Metallum categorises them as melodic/progressive death metal.

To date this appears to be their only release, a three track EP from 2010. Their website hints at a full-length album in the works, but it also hopes that this will be available at the beginning of 2011; that was two years ago. So what has happened, where are they? Their website doesn’t seem to give any hints.

Somane’s sound falls somewhere between Opeth (but without the clean vocals or more quietly acoustic sections) and Paradise Lost, and I’m sure a million bands in between. Heavy but melodic; the fusion of a doom-like pace with a death metal attitude.

The title track opens the EP with a dischordant riff that quickly morphs into a pretty recognisable death metal chord progression for about 30 seconds before the vocals join in: throaty, growling lyrics that aren’t always easy to make out. The remaining two songs follow a very similar vein.

“An Ominous Strain” kicks off with a very energetic riff that promises an up-beat, up-tempo song. But when the vocals grind their way into the mix at around 27 seconds the pace slows down to an almost dirge that is held up by the constant kick drums in the background.

“Fragile Tomorrow” begins quietly, with a rather too slow a start, taking almost a minute to warm up to full speed and volume. Then it’s more of the same: growling vocals, ponderous melodies, grinding riffs.

The trouble with this EP is that in my mind one song merges into the next. I’ve just listened to the disc three times back to back and I still find myself thinking, “isn’t that the same riff as the previous song?” At least I can now distinguish the intros.

This isn’t a bad release per se. The musicianship and production are very good, and the songs are very well crafted; none of that gets in the way as can sometimes happen. The problem is though that I’ve heard it all before. If I wanted to listen to a band that sounded like Opeth or Paradise Lost then I’d listen to Opeth or Paradise Lost. Somnae haven’t really brought anything new to the table with this EP, they don’t yet seem to have stamped their own unique mark of identity on their sound. Maybe the last three years have changed some of that. If they have then I wish they would tell us.

Conclusion

This is a solid EP with three very finely written songs. But it’s almost progressive metal by numbers which kinds of lets it down a bit. I certainly wouldn’t fast forward any of these songs if I heard them on a random-play playlist on my mp3 collection, but I’m not sure I would make the effort to look out the album to play it specifically.

Review score: 60%

Video