Good Albums I Didn’t Review in April 2020

You know the drill! Another month has come and gone and that means that I’ve listened to a lot of good music that I couldn’t dedicate an entire review to. I really don’t want good things to go unnoticed, so here are some albums I thoroughly enjoyed from the month of April. As always, these albums would have received a score of 3.5 or higher if given a full review.

Warner Music Nashville

ASHLEY MCBRYDE – NEVER WILL–I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it. A lot of the best country music these days is being made by women. This new album from Ashley McBryde is the latest bit of evidence helping to prove my case. Not every song on it might be a winner, but the good songs on it more than make up for the weak ones. Sounds range from old-time bluegrass to modern, rock-tinged outlaw country and everything in between. Just another album proving to me that modern country isn’t a lost cause.

Freeways

FREEWAYS – TRUE BEARINGS–These guys are almost occupying the same realm as the Gygax album from last year. This is some old-school, Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock with riffs and dual guitar leads aplenty. The songwriting is really solid here and there’s really no filler on the album. If ’70s hard rock does it for you, you don’t want to miss this album. Maybe add it to your list for the next Bandcamp day.

Chrysalis/Partisan

LAURA MARLING – SONG FOR OUR DAUGHTER–Laura Marling’s music in recent years hasn’t done much to grab or hold my attention. This new album has changed that. Song For Our Daughter is some of Marling’s best work in years. The arrangements are more stripped back like her earlier albums, and her songwriting is incredibly strong and compelling. I wasn’t bored once in any of my listens through this one.

Horror Pain Gore Death

MOONS – GO OUT SWINGING–Okay, I’m more than a little biased with this one because I happen to personally know this band. But I wouldn’t be sharing it if I didn’t really think it was good. This is their first full-length album and they bring some truly heavy sludge metal riffs to the party. It’s not very long, but they make their time count. They’re also the type of band to use feedback as its own instrument. If you’re in the Philly area and you see these guys on a show bill, go check them out. Good time will be had.

4AD

PURITY RING – WOMB–Five years after their last album, Purity Ring have finally delivered their third full-length. I was beginning to get worried that we wouldn’t hear from one of the most unique synth-pop groups ever again. Womb doesn’t quite have the same hard-hitting trap EDM sound that their first albums had, but the ethereal atmosphere and creepy lyrics are still there. It’s nice to have new music from them, and I hope we don’t have to wait so long for more.

Dirty Hit

RINA SAWAYAMA – SAWAYAMA–This is one of the more interesting pop albums I’ve heard this year. Rina brings so many various styles together like dance pop, J-pop, and even nu-metal. She also pulls inspiration from some of the best pop acts of the ’90s and early ’00s. But none of these styles and influences clash with each other. Rina manages to mix and meld it all together in an ultimately impressive album.

Gates of Hell

SÖLICITÖR – SPECTRAL DEVASTATION–This is some old-school speed metal with badass female vocals, and it’s some of the best traditional metal I’ve heard this year. They manage to sound classic without sounding derivative and their songwriting is so good that they never sound samey over the course of their 40 minute album. This is definitely another one to keep in mind for the next Bandcamp day.

Brainfeeder

THUNDERCAT – IT IS WHAT IT IS–Funk fusion bassist extraordinaire Thundercat returns with a project that’s a bit leaner than 2017’s Drunk, but still packed with sub-2-minute jams. And that’s really one of the album’s weaknesses. A decent chunk of it feels like it was built around sketches and jams that weren’t fully realized. But when a fully formed track comes along, it’s great. The shorter tracks are still fun, just not as good as they could be.

Fat Possum

X – ALPHABETLAND–The legendary west-coast punks have come together and delivered their first studio album in 27 years and the first with the original line-up in 35! The formula really hasn’t changed for the band either. Along with classic punk, this album has their raw takes on classic rock and roll and rockabilly, much like their albums from the ’80s. The album ends with an observant spoken word piece recited by Exene Cervenka, giving a perspective of a punk who was there from the beginning.

Quarantine Quick Takes, Part 2: Heavy Stuff

As is typical for me, the majority of what I end up listening to falls into the category of heavy music. So far this year, the ratios seem to be a bit more balanced, but heavy stuff is still the clear leader. As such, we can’t leave them out to dry so here are some quick reviews of heavy albums that came out in the month of March.

Century Media

BODY COUNT – CARNIVORE–Ice-T took a little break from the SVU and got his metal band back together to record an album. That’s right, Detective Tutuola fronts a thrash metal band, and has since the early ’90s. Early in his career, Ice-T noticed the similarities between the attitudes of gangsta rap and thrash metal and started his own band. And they’re not too bad, honestly. Some of the tracks on this album go straight back to old school thrash. There are features from Riley Gale of Power Trip, Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed, and Amy Lee of Evanescence. There’s also a pretty spot-on cover of “Ace of Spades.” It’s not perfect, some tracks fall into the tropes of modern alternative metal, and I could do without the spoken intros on a couple tracks. But the good stuff is pretty good. 3.5/5.0

Roadrunner

CODE ORANGE – UNDERNEATH–I’m just going to say it, these guys are the future of metalcore. There are very few bands out there being as creative and forward-thinking with the genre as Code Orange. Underneath takes what they started with their last album and takes it even further. They incorporate elements of industrial metal, alternative metal, glitch, and even a touch of harsh noise into these tracks. The result is a wild ride from start to finish. The textures and riffs and movements in these songs are so varied that they come and go before you realize it. Seriously, I never had a moment where I felt like a song spent too much time on a particular thing. This album is the fastest way to pass 47 minutes. It’s not perfect, there are some instances where the glitch elements are a little too jarring and sound more like a genuine flaw in the audio file rather than a musical glitch. But otherwise this thing is great. 4.0/5.0

Century Media

HEAVEN SHALL BURN – OF TRUTH AND SACRIFICE–I went into this one without any prior knowledge of Heaven Shall Burn, but I listened to quite a bit of metalcore back in my day. When I saw this was a double album that ran 97 minutes, I had my suspicions that it was going to be an overall “meh” experience. Turns out, I was right but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bright spots. After the intro track, the first part of the first disc is made up of some of the best things about metalcore. They also manage to have a track over 8 minutes that isn’t a slog (however there is one on the second disc that is). And on the second disc the experiments with industrial metal are interesting and the Nuclear Assault cover is decent. Otherwise, the second half of the first disc falls into metalcore tropes and the second one feels like it’s full of B-sides. If they kept it to one disc, it might have been a lot better. 2.5/5.0

Season of Mist

HYBORIAN – VOLUME II–This! This is what I look for in my stoner and sludge metal! Just riffs, riffs, riffs, riffs, and more riffs that are dirty, sludgy, and greasy. Tempos that range from ponderous swagger to blistering thrash, and lyrics that tell stories of sci-fi and fantasy. (Seriously, the band’s lyricist wrote a companion novel telling the story of this album… I want it.) Another thing that makes this album great is that Hyborian avoids the pitfall of being over indulgent. The album is only 40 minutes long and the longest track is 8 minutes and change, and even then, the last 2 minutes are taken up with a weird, reversed dialogue and Morse code. The only thing keeping it from being exceptional is that the dynamics are pretty flat and if you’re not paying attention, a couple tracks kind of blend into each other. Otherwise, I like this one a lot. 4.0/5.0

Metal Blade

IGORRR – SPIRITUALITY AND DISTORTION–Where do I even start with this one? This is probably the most fun and wildest ride I’ve had all year with a metal album. Igorrr is primarily the project of French musician Gautier Serre. With this project he combines a couple different metal subgenres with breakcore, trip hop, classical baroque, and Romani folk music. This ain’t your dad’s industrial or symphonic metal; this is a different beast altogether, and boy is it fun. What’s really impressive is Serre doesn’t try to cram every one of his influences into every track. Some lean on certain influences more than others, and he knows how to spread these variations out over the course of a 55 minute album. And the juxtaposition of accordion and double bass and black metal on a couple tracks alone is worth the price of admission. This is easily one of the most interesting and best albums I’ve heard all year. 4.5/5.0

Atlantic

IN THIS MOMENT – MOTHER–Heavy bands with female singers usually go two ways. They’re either a fantastic example of their subgenre and they don’t have to use the singer as a selling point, or they play average symphonic or power metal and have to lean on their singer’s exceptional voice and affinity for costumes or gowns. This album from In This Moment feels like it’s trying to do the second and failing. Maria Brink’s vocals feel lazy and over-indulgent throughout this, and with the exception of one or two tracks, the instrumentals are pretty boring. Then it also has three covers that just don’t land at all, and the “Fly Like An Eagle” cover feels like it was just tacked onto the front of the album with it’s own intro track because it’s followed by another intro track for the first original song. I’m sorry, I just wasn’t feeling this one at all. 1.0/5.0

Century Media

LUCIFER – LUCIFER III–There’s something about old school hard rock and doom metal that the female voice just complements so well. If you don’t know what I mean, this album from Lucifer is a great example. This band got on my radar with a strong single from their last album, but the rest of it left a bit to be desired. Nothing else really stood out on it. This third album fixes those problems. It feels like the band got into a groove with each other this time and the songwriting improved greatly. Old school riffs abound on this album, and there’s at least one moment in each song that grabs your ear. Vocalist Johanna Sadonis has exactly the effortless kind of voice that you want with these kind of tunes, too. 3.5/5.0

Shadow Kingdom

TEMPLE OF VOID – THE WORLD THAT WAS–I suppose getting into death-doom metal is a logical move considering my obsession with stoner and doom. I’m still new to it and there have already been a couple good releases in the genre this year. This is one of them. Temple of Void bring a balanced mix of fast(ish) and slow riffs and make interesting use of atmospheric synths. They very effectively evoke the right mood for this kind of album. Some moments can be drawn out a little too much, but I’ve heard worse. Also, there appears to be two versions of this album out there. If you’re listening on Spotify, make sure it’s the one that says Shadow Kingdom Records at the bottom, the mix is way better. 3.5/5.0

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – F8 album review

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – F8

Better Noise Music, 2020

Alternative Metal/Groove Metal/Hard Rock

Normally, I don’t review metal albums so close together, but sometimes the universe throws something your way that you just have to comment on. Five Finger Death Punch have bestowed their eighth album upon the world and it’s…. well it’s something. The album is called F8, pronounced “fate,” and that should tell you everything you need to know about it. FFDP is the kind of band that thinks naming an album F8 is clever and a good idea. And they make music for the kind of people who believe the same thing.

If you can’t already tell, I didn’t really like this at all. And I know it’s the popular thing to hate on Five Finger Death Punch. But before you write me off as just another hater, please allow me to at least try to explain why I don’t like it. And yes, I’ll go beyond the fact that I think FFDP is the favorite band of the guy whose favorite movie is any of the Fast & Furious movies after Tokyo Drift and now thinks that F8 of the Furious would have been a better title.

As usual with my negative reviews, I will try to start with something that I like about the album. On F8, FFDP move away from the groove metal of their previous albums and lean even harder into alternative metal. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit that alt metal can produce some seriously badass riffs, and a few show up on this album. “Full Circle,” “Bottom of The Top,” and “This Is War” in particular have some riffs that just absolutely rip. There’s no denying that the members of FFDP are talented, Jason Hook and Zoltan Bathory especially. It’s just a shame that their talents are often undercut by other things.

The most glaring of those things, as is typical with a Five Finger Death Punch album, are the lyrics. And even more frustrating is the fact that the songs with the worst lyrics, are the ones with the best riffs! Yes, yes, people hate on FFDP because of the “tough guy” lyrics and image, but it’s getting to a point where they’re almost a parody of themselves. The first verse of “Living The Dream” clumsily name drops comic book heroes and has a robotic vocal effect when Moody sings the name Iron Man. “Bottom of the Top” hints at self-awareness with lines asking if the song is metal enough, heavy enough, and destructive enough, but then turns right back around to the same defensive, tough guy rhetoric.

Even the slower moments on the album, when they’re not just fading into the background, put the blame on other people and never on the narrator. This is music for the guy who drives a lifted pickup to the gym and tries to start a fight when he’s confronted about dropping weights and grunting too loud. I’m not saying music can’t be cathartic, but if your response to any kind of hardship is to throw up defenses and shout “This is war!” you should probably consider getting professional help. Even the angriest emo songs have some kind of self-reflection in them. And I don’t care who you are, no metal band that wants to be taken seriously should use the word Google in their lyrics, let alone sing it with harsh vocals!

Good grief, I could write another paragraph on the lyrics, but I need to move on to other things. A slightly smaller issue I have with the album that probably wouldn’t bother most listeners is how inconsistent the mixing is. I think this album has some of the lowest guitar tunings the band has ever used, but the production doesn’t do it any favors. Things are compressed to hell and sap any definition from the guitar tone. Yeah, it sounds heavy, but there’s no texture. Along with that, the drum mixing seems to change from song to song, and where certain instruments sit in the mix changes too.

Overall, this album… just… it isn’t good. There are some cool riffs, but even the tracks with them are hamstrung by bad mixing and cringe worthy lyrics. The quieter songs are forgettable and I remember the louder ones for the wrong reasons. With this new stylistic direction, I keep finding similarities with Demon Hunter. Depending on your opinion of that band, this is either like Demon Hunter but bad and with awful lyrics and they say fuck a lot, or it’s like a worse version of Demon Hunter with awful lyrics and they say fuck a lot. When I imagine a FFDP fan, I see a guy who wears a Realtree hoodie all year, spits tobacco out the window of a rusty Camaro IROC-Z, and tries to race people at every red light. I guess as long as those people exist, we’re going to keep getting FFDP albums like this.

1.0/5.0

Great Heavy Albums of 2019

Much like last year, the majority of all the music I listened to this year fell into what I call heavy genres. These include heavy metal and all of its sub-genres as well as other stuff that might not necessarily be considered “metal” but is still heavy. Examples would be things like hardcore, industrial, the black metal inspired electronic of Gost, and the brutal experimental noise of Lingua Ignota. This year, heavy music accounted for over 40% of everything I listened to, which translates to over 400 albums. It didn’t seem fair to limit this to what managed to make it to my overall favorites list, so here are ten other heavy albums that I believe are worth your time.

Relapse

COFFINS – BEYOND THE CIRCULAR DEMISE–Death/doom metal is a genre I’m pretty new to, so my enjoyment of death/doom albums pretty much comes down to the sound and how well it can keep my interest. This Coffins album does a very good job combining the brutality of death metal and the crushing heaviness of doom. They know when to take it slow and when to speed things up, and they choose their riffs wisely for each case. There’s also this weird sound that I’m not sure if it’s some instrument or some kind of vocal processing, but it works and it’s one of the ways Coffins is setting themselves apart.

Inside Out

DREAM THEATER – DISTANCE OVER TIME–The prog metal pioneers return yet again with their 14th album. It also happens to be one of their shortest with the standard version clocking under an hour of run time. Despite the length, there’s no shortage of impressive musicianship to be found, as can be expected from Petrucci and company. What’s most impressive is that they avoid a lot of excessive self gratification and give us some very tight and focused metal performances instead. And this one gets nice and heavy with some decent riffs and solid grooves on some passages. They’re among the best and this album just continues to prove that. Watch my full review here (yes I know the intro is creepy).

Roadrunner/333 Wreckords Crew

FEVER 333 – STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS–I’m not sure why, but nu-metal is trying to make a comeback. But if it means we get more bands like Fever 333, it might not be such a terrible thing. This is a very angry and visceral brand of rap metal that I can’t help but compare to Rage Against the Machine at times. Not just in sound, but also in message. Instead of shallow, tough-guy bravado, Jason Aalon Butler sings of the injustices and difficulties he’s witnessed and experienced as a person of mixed race. This album will really get your blood pumping in more than one way.

Creator-Destructor

GYGAX – HIGH FANTASY–As this band’s name implies, they are heavily inspired by tabletop RPGs like D&D. While that sounds supremely nerdy, even to me, these guys are just about the best old-school hard rock band I’ve heard this year. They’re so old school that I almost wouldn’t consider them heavy metal, but some of their riffs push it just over that line. For a little more reference, they give off some heavy Thin Lizzy and Blue Oyster Cult vibes at times with their rhythms, guitar tones, and dual guitar leads. So if you’re itching for something new in that wheelhouse, give Gygax a try.

Southern Lord

HIGH COMMAND – BEYOND THE WALL OF DESOLATION–This decade has seen a bit of a renaissance of crossover thrash come bubbling up from the underground. The success of bands like Power Trip has allowed more great bands to come into the spotlight. High Command is one of those bands. Despite the name and album art seeming more appropriate for epic metal or stoner rock, they deliver some wonderfully punishing thrash riffage. The lyrics however have more in common with bands like Iron Maiden or Sabaton, telling stories of medieval fantasy battles. Look no further for good thrashy fun.

I Built The Sky

I BUILT THE SKY – THE ZENITH RISE–I know I literally just talked about this one at the end of November, but as far as instrumental guitar music goes, it really is the best of the year. This is a genre that is really difficult to stand out in, especially now that the internet has been flooded with bedroom musicians and producers. Rohan Stevenson excels because he holds to the guitar philosophy that man cannot survive on shredding alone. Yes, he’s very talented and his shredding is impressive, but what really impresses me are the hooks and melodies between the solos. I Built The Sky is one to watch in the new school of instrumental metal music.

Flightless/ATO

KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD – INFEST THE RATS’ NEST–One of two albums released by King Gizzard in 2019, and the better of the two in my opinion. This album finds the psych rock chameleons trying their hand at thrash metal, and they do a pretty dang good job. Keeping with their psychedelic foundations, this album is produced to sound more like an early thrash album from the late ’70s with heavy Motörhead influences. The lyrics tell an apocalyptic sci-fi story of life after the Earth’s climate collapses and how the same greedy practices exist even after they’ve caused irreparable damage. Not every King Gizzard experiment lands, but this one certainly does.

YLYLCYN

LITURGY – H.A.Q.Q.–Yes, it’s another album I just covered in November, but this thing made a big splash when it landed. With H.A.Q.Q. Liturgy continues to push the boundaries of what black metal can do. Depending on who you ask, that’s a really good or really bad thing. Either way, you can’t deny how brutal and heavy these tracks are, using their musical heft to emphasize the emotional weight of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’ lyrics. The way they incorporate classical instruments like chimes, glockenspiel, and harp is genius, and piano interludes serve as nice little retreats from the insanity before diving back in. Overall it’s just a very satisfying and cathartic experience. Read my full review here.

Silent Pendulum

POUND – ••–This is easily one of the most unique releases that I heard all year. Pound is a guitar and drums duo who play what they call “experimental, instrumental grind, math, dbeat, and sludge.” But hints of prog and djent show up from time to time. Guitarist Ryan Schutte plays a 9-string baritone, so there’s no lack of low end. Riffs zig and zag all over this album, but it’s not all prog weirdness. There’s a bit of melodic structure here too. You won’t find them on Spotify, but if you’re looking for something different, the whole album is on their YouTube channel, or find them on Bandcamp.

Southern Lord

SUNN O))) – LIFE METAL–This wasn’t a particularly fantastic year for slow metal, but we did get not one, but two Sunn O))) albums this year. Of the two, I prefer Life Metal. I know a lot of purists aren’t big fans of it because it’s less experimental than their previous work, but I personally love it for being a more back-to-basics approach. It’s also about as positive or uplifting as a Sunn O))) album can be. The second album, Pyroclasts is also very good, but it’s more meditative and improvisational. If you like your metal slow, it doesn’t get much slower than this.