Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lightning Round Record Reviews, vol. 1

So, I've picked up quite a bit of new music lately. I'm so far behind that I decided to do a round of quick-hitter reviews to catch up. I hope to do more long-form reviews down the line. Each of these records deserves that treatment. And I may do more Lightning Rounds as I pick up new records. Not just brand new records, just new to me. We'll see how this goes...

Baroness - Purple


I tried Baroness out a few years ago when they had just release their Red record and just couldn't get into it. Boy was I a fucking dummy. Baroness is arguably the best stoner throwback metal/prog rock bands going right now. Purple proves that point.

Purple is a portent mix of passion and energy, guts and talent, texture and brute power. From bludgeoning riff rockers like "Morningstar" and "Chlorine and Wine" to poppier numbers like "Shock Me", Baroness pours every ounce of energy and passion they have into their songs. And the closer, "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)" is just majestic. For inspired music that fills your ears with a terrifically varied soundscape and that burrows into your bones, you'd be hard=pressed to do better. 

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "Morningstar", "Shock Me", "If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain)"

Megadeth - Dystopia

I wasn't keen about the prospects of a new Megadeth platter after the last one, Super Collider. Perhaps that's because Super Collider was a steaming heap of pig shit. Then half the band walked away and formed the pretty damn awesome Act of Defiance. But Dave Mustaine shrugged off those losses and recruited a new drummer (Chris Adler) and lead axeman (Kiko Loureiro). The resulting record, Dystopia, is a giant bounce back from Pooper- I mean Super Collider.

Dystopia finds Mustaine still piss off about war and politics, but his voice isn't as strong or menacing as it once was and his lyrics are more infantile than they should be. Dystopia is saved by the performances. Mustaine still has it as a guitarist, meaning an avalanche of killer riffing. Loureiro shreds with fury and grace, and he pushes Mustaines solos to new heights. Adler is the best drummer Megadeth has had since Nick Menza, and maybe ever. And bassist David Ellefson is the secret weapon, holding down the bottom end with skill and tasty bass licks. 

RATING: B-

BEST SONGS: "The Threat is Real", "Fatal Illusion", "Conquer or Die" 

Anthrax - For All Kings


Who thought Anthrax was still capable of being this good? 

So, Anthrax's last record wasn't horrible, but it got way to close to Halestorm and Nickleback-style FM radio rock at time for comfort. And this is Antrax we're talking about. They're on of the Big fucking Four thrash bands. Not some pussy-ass modern rock outfit. Thankfully, the band pulls out of that nose dive and gives as For All Kings.

For All Kings finds Anthrax switching out lead guitarists, bringing in Shadows Fall axeman Jon Donais. Donais gives the band a firm kick in the ass, help sharpen the edges of the band's sound and bringing much-needed energy. The foundation of this band is still the trio of riffer Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello, and drummer Charlie Benante, and they mare sure the song sound like Anthrax, but Donais makes them a leaner, meaner band. And singer Joe Belladonna hasn't sounded this good in years.

I may sound a little crazy for saying this, but For All Kings not only smokes anything Anthrax has done since Persistence of Time, but it also smokes anything any of the other members of the Big Four have put out since the early 1990s. Believe it.

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "You Gotta Believe", "Breathing Lightning", "Evil Twin", "Defend/Avenge"

Killswitch Engage - Incarnate


Jesse Leach's second record since returning to Killswitch is a moody, varied affair. It's pretty clear that Leach is a lot more comfortable with his bandmates than he was on Disarm the Descent, and he owns this whole record. From his passionate delivery on "Alone I Stand" to his more melodic moments like "Until the Day", Leach is magnificent. 

Leach's bandmates don't let him down. Adam D and Joel Stroetzel crank the riff machine up to 13 and dish out tasty fury like like McDonald's slings shitty burgers. Meanwhile, Mike D and Justin Foley keep the bottom end rumbly and tight. The bottom line is this: As Daylight Dies is my favorite Killswitch record and always will be. But Incarnate isn't far behind.

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "Hate by Design", "Strength of the Mind", "Until the Day", "Ascension"

Babymetal - Metal Resistance


Metal Resistance is a more mature record than its predecessor. Producer Kobametal and the songwriters have taken a big swing at being taken more seriously as a metal band. As a result, the band freewheels through more metal styles than before, and there's less youthful exuberance in the music. But that's okay.  Bands that don't grow musically become boring. Fast.

And while Metal Resistance may not be the sugar rush that the last record was, there's still plenty to enjoy. From the hard-grooving "Karate" to the rampaging "GJ!", Babymetal keeps things interesting. This is one record that never gets boring. I could do without the power ballads, and all the EDM flourishes seem out of place on an album that wants to be taken seriously by the metal community. Still, this is a fun listen and I'm already looking forward to where Babymetal's gonna go next.

RATING: B+

BEST SONGS: "Karate", "Mata Taro", "GJ!"

Amon Amarth - Jomsviking


Amon Amarth's past couple records, while far from bad, have felt a little too samey and safe. This is one of the best fucking bands on the planet, and you expect them to be nothing less than stellar. Thankfully, the band decided to tell a narrative story on their latest record, and they find what's been missing on recent records.

Jomsviking tells a tale of unrequited love, but there's still plenty of the bad ass lyrical imagery and references to Norse mythology that makes Amon Amarth Amon Amarth. Soncially, the band has slowed things down a tad to facilitate the story telling, but they've lost none of their brutality. And when the break into a gallop, it's devastating. Then there's "A Dream That Cannont Be", which features vocals from the legendary Doro Pesch. In a word, magnificent! Amon Amarth takes a chance by giving us a concept album, but, goddammit, they hit it out of the park.

RATING: A

BEST SONGS: "Wanderer", "On a Sea of Blood", "At Dawn's First Light", "The Way of Vikings", "A Dream that Cannot Be"

Weezer - The White Album


Weezer was nearly dead, at least as far as most fans were concerned, when something strange happened. They released Everything Will Be Alright in the End and, suddenly, they had new life. They were still capable of producing some pretty awesome rock music. Their latest record, The White Album, continues their comeback with a platter full of sunny, fun power pop tunes.

Despite its title, The White Album has a lot more to do with the Beach Boys than the Beatles. Weezer set out to create a collection of cheery, breezy songs about summer fun, and for the most part, they succeeded. Songs like "Wind in our Sail" and "(Girl We Got a) Good Thing" are insanely catchy songs that just begged to be sung along with. It's not a perfect record. The moody "Do You Wanna Get High" seems out of place among the rest of the happy pop rockers on this record, and I can't stand "Thank God for Girls". Still, with choruses like "Summer Elaine and Drunk Dory", The White Album is infectious fun that begs to be the soundtrack to your summer road trip.

RATING: B

BEST SONGS: "Wind in our Sail", (Girl We Got a) Good Thing", "King of the World", "Endless Bummer"

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