TRIVIUM – WHAT THE DEAD MEN SAY album review

TRIVIUM – WHAT THE DEAD MEN SAY

Roadrunner, 2020

Heavy metal/Metalcore

This past week, metal was only a few albums away from being literally half of the new releases I listened to. Given that ratio, it seemed fitting to review a metal album. Choosing what to review was surprisingly difficult as there were more than a couple releases that stood out for different reasons. I finally landed on Trivium for a few reasons, and I’d be lying if I said one of them wasn’t the fact that you’re more likely to click on an article with Trivium in the title than you are one with Sölicitör or Warbringer.

Another thing that I will admit is that I went into this album without the highest expectations. I know that Matt Heafy and the other guys in the band are all solid dudes, but Trivium is a metalcore band that broke out and gained popularity while I was in high school. Most bands that fit that description aren’t making the best music this far along in their career, especially ones that got as big as Trivium. They’re usually making very safe but ultimately bland music that will satisfy longtime fans, but won’t do much beyond that. So that’s pretty much what I expected when I hit play on What the Dead Men Say, and boy was I wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

One of the first things you notice is that this album just feels tight and lean, not just in size, but in sound and structure. Guitarist Corey Beaulieu told Loudwire that this album came out of “a highly-inspired and fast-paced writing and recording process…” and you can feel that urgency in these songs. There’s no real fluff here, no grand arrangements; just four guys making some badass metal music. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking, but that’s by design. Matt Heafy said in the same Loudwire article that this album “is everything that is Trivium.” To use an automotive metaphor, Trivium doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel because they’re like a company like Enkei or BBS; they’re just really damn good at making wheels.

This translates to every single song having at least one attention-grabbing moment. This is still metalcore music, but it doesn’t have the tropes and cliches of the genre that other bands fall prey to. They also pull off the very impressive feat of having not one, but two songs that are 6+ minutes long and not boring. “Catastrophist” in particular plays almost like a prog metal track, switching up its riff structures and rhythms to keep things interesting. Even slower songs come and go without overstaying their welcome. The albums is also lyrically relevant with one song coming across as anti-war and a few others being about marginalized people and standing up to those who take advantage of them. And going back to “Catastrophist,” while Heafy doesn’t really give any details, it’s not hard to see similarities between the catastrophist in the song and a certain public figure.

As much as this album surprised me and as much as I enjoyed it, there are things that I think could be better. Despite being very good metalcore, there was never really a “wow” moment for me. There was nothing that stopped me in my tracks while I was listening. Second, while there are songs that touch on heavy and relevant subjects, there are moments where the lyrical content can get a little light. And there’s even a track where the second verse is a repeat of the first. Finally, I have a little nitpick where I wish the guitar tone and mixing was a little beefier. It felt like it just lacked that lower end that gets you hooked into the riffs.

Overall though, this is a very impressive album. To have a metalcore band this far in their career release an album that can hold my attention with no fluff or filler is quite an accomplishment. Trivium have been honing their skills for nearly two decades and What the Dead Men Say is a good example of how that hard work can pay off. Trivium is good at what they do, but they don’t use that as an excuse to get lazy. There are aspects of the album that I think could have used a little more spice or something, but otherwise it’s a very solid release.

4.0/5.0

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

Top Favorite Albums of 2019

Alright, we made it. The final list of the year, my ten favorite albums from 2019. Unlike other sites, I do not rank my top ten. These are just the ten albums that stood out to me for one reason or another and have endured through the year as my favorites. Since half of these were not officially scored by me, score isn’t really the most important factor, but you can safely assume that everything on this list would be scored a 4.0/5.0 or higher. I also try to represent as many genres as I can. But enough explaining, on to the musics!

AM Taxi

AM TAXI – SHIVER BY ME–I came across this album because another band I listen to were being good bros and gave it a shout out. I did not expect to find one of the best albums I’d hear all year. I previously described this album as punk attitude with a bit of heartland rock and that combination just really works for me. There is zero filler, and when you think you can predict the direction a song is going to go, they take a left turn and make you believe that’s the way you should have expected it to go all along. I wish I could go into more detail, but the bottom line is that this is just some great rock music done very well.

Zappo Productions/Thirty Tigers

BRUCE HORNSBY – ABSOLUTE ZERO–After over 30 years and ten albums, veteran soft rock and Americana singer-songwriter Bruce Hornsby takes a surprisingly experimental turn on his latest album. You might expect an artist like Hornsby to just release a collection of piano ballads that old fans will buy but otherwise won’t make too many waves. Instead, he’s teamed up with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, yMusic, and others to actually challenge himself and put out something really unique in his catalog. Even though this leans experimental, Hornsby’s strong skills in songwriting and melody still come through, making this album still very listenable. This was a surprising release, and easily one of my favorites. Watch my full review here.

Triple B

FUMING MOUTH – THE GRAND DESCENT–Now for one of my favorite extreme metal releases of the year. Fuming Mouth play a combination of death metal and hardcore, but like Venom Prison, they never go full deathcore. It’s more like death metal with the raw energy and breakdown riffs of hardcore. This album just comes right out of the gate with the brutality and lets up only a few times over its 33 minute run time. Some say the band is a little one-note, but I personally think they manage to vary the dynamics from song to song enough to keep it interesting. But if we’re honest, sometimes we just want to listen to metal for some intense brutality. And Fuming Mouth brought it this year.

Elektra

THE HIGHWOMEN – self-titled–I’m not entirely sure why, but I often find that in the world of modern country music, a lot of the best albums are made by women. That trend continues this year with The Highwomen. This is a collaboration between Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby and is a loose tribute to the Highwaymen collaborations of the ’80s and ’90s. The songs on here are inspired by folk and the sounds of previous generations of country music, but have lyrics with very modern sentiments, including what I imagine is one of very few lesbian country love songs. The songs are great, the harmonies are sweet, and every member brings something to the table that makes this album rise above other country releases this year.

Dirty Hit

THE JAPANESE HOUSE – GOOD AT FALLING–First off, shout out to Josh Scott of JHS Pedals for turning me on to this artist on his YouTube channel. Second, if I picked an album of the year, this would easily be a front-runner. Good at Falling is The Japanese House’s debut album following a quartet of fantastic EPs and it is indie pop brilliance. At times the sound reminds me of “Hide And Seek” era Imogen Heap, but it doesn’t sound dated. The songs sound fun but the lyrics cover dark, personal, and emotional topics at times. The production is spot on for every track and even when it doesn’t sound fantastic, you know that it was intentional. You don’t want to miss this one. Watch my full review here.

AGE 101

LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA–This is not only the best British rap album of the year, but the best rap album of the year in general. The first thing that grabbed my attention was Inflo’s production, pulling obvious influence from jazz rap of the ’90s but with enough forward thinking to keep it from just being a throwback sound. Then there are the lyrics. Simz delivers smart and conscious lyrics in fantastic flows. The features are all great too. Every guest delivers something that adds to the song instead of feeling tacked on. This is the rap album where everything fell into place; the beats, the flows, and the features all work together and every gamble payed off.

Ghosteen Ltd

NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – GHOSTEEN–Nick Cave and company continue the themes of 2016’s Skeleton Tree and conclude the trilogy started by 2013’s Push the Sky Away. This album finds Cave still processing the grief of losing his son, and while the lyrics are still dark and poetic, the music has taken on a more hopeful feel. Vintage synths and strings and the occasional piano dominate the soundscapes created by long-time Bad Seed Warren Ellis. This album isn’t exactly easy to listen to, and it takes a few spins to really dig in. But once you do, the beauty of the work as a whole becomes apparent. Read my full review here.

Century Media

THE OFFERING – HOME–Here is a band whose sound is so hard to nail down that they misleadingly get categorized as power metal on some websites. A more accurate description, and I’m not joking, is a combination of death metal, deathcore, groove metal, hard rock, heavy metal, metalcore, nu-metal, power metal, prog, and thrash. I know that sounds like a metal version of that game kids play where they mix every kind of soda at the fountain, but believe me when I say that the end result tastes way way way better. I don’t know how these guys do it, but they make it work. The songs are the right amount of catchy and brutal, and, oh yeah, they pull it off in a fucking epic 14 minute album closer! My words will never do it justice. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself.

Prosthetic

PALADIN – ASCENSION–Rounding out my metal picks for the year, and speaking of clever blending of sub-genres, we have this album by Paladin. Now, they don’t go quite as crazy as The Offering, but what they accomplish is almost as impressive. Ascension flawlessly blends the styles of power and thrash metal. Within each song, they jump from thrash to power metal bits multiple times, vocally and instrumentally. But the transitions are never jarring in an awkward way. If it’s jarring at all, it’s more in a pleasantly surprising way. And the jumps change from track to track. One will have thrash verses and power choruses, where another will have thrash choruses and power solos. It continues to impress me every time I listen to it. Watch my full review here.

Wilsun

SHEER MAG – A DISTANT CALL–Sheer Mag is a band that is rather unapologetically inspired by ’80s power pop. But they’re more than just an ’80s cover band or an uninspired throwback. They take the things that make you love ’80s music and turn them into solid rock songs. You get hints of glam, Cheap Trick, a dash of punk, and a pinch of Judas Priest. Top it of with Christina Halladay’s awesome voice, and you’ve got one fun rock album. The songs are catchy and they remind you of the best tracks from the past without sounding like cheap ripoffs. It’s like the first time you heard The Darkness back in 2003.

BABYMETAL – METAL GALAXY album review

metal galaxy

BABYMETAL – METAL GALAXY

BABYMETAL/Amuse/5B, 2019

Kawaii metal

BABYMETAL is a Japanese group designed to combine the images and sounds of J-pop idol groups and heavy metal music. They are the first group to perform this specific brand of “kawaii metal” and have inspired the creation of similar groups in the Japanese music scene. Their popularity in the United States started as a viral novelty when a video of their song “Gimme Chocolate!!” was posted on YouTube. But it stuck around as the combination of J-pop song-craft and the heavy metal instrumentation ended up being pretty appealing to quite a few people.

Their stateside publicity grew when Rob Zombie showed his support for them in 2016, garnering some… less than encouraging responses from his fans. But Zombie doubled down, and if the guest list on this new album is anything to go by, he’s not the only big name in metal paying attention to them. The tracks on Metal Galaxy include guest appearances from members of Sabaton, Arch Enemy, and Polyphia among others. Does all this mean that BABYMETAL has moved on from their viral novelty and are now a group to be taken seriously? I’m not so sure.

Metal Galaxy is BABYMETAL’s third album, their first in three years, and the first without vocalist Yui Mizuno (known as Yuimetal in the group) who left the group in 2018, citing poor health. Other changes that come with this album are improved production, continuing the progress from their debut to 2016’s Metal Resistance, and a wider range of influences with songs drawing from Latin and Indian music among others. Unfortunately these new directions end up spreading the band’s already shallow depth of substance a little too thin.

 

The worst offenders are “Oh! MAJINAI,” which features Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén, and “PA PA YA!!” with Thai rapper F.HERO. The former is a folk metal tune about 45 seconds too long with an extended chorus of non-lyrical vocals from Bodén and an odd vocal from one of the girls in the second verse. “PA PA YA!!” feels like it’s too long due to highly repetitive chorus and a poor choice of where to use harsh vocals. Another attempt at international influence that works a little better is “Shanti Shanti Shanti” which has an Indian influence. And while it’s fun on the first few listens, it ends up coming across as a cheap and stereotypical imitation, not unlike any other metal band trying to introduce other influences, but not committing to a deep dive into the source material. 

Another weakness is the bizarre “IN THE NAME OF” which features the first instance of prominent harsh vocals on the album, but it’s in the form of nearly unintelligible, low, guttural chants along almost a march of heavy guitars. There’s also “Kagerou” that hits pretty much all the beats of an alternative metal radio rock song, a la Breaking Benjamin. Then “Shine” is nearly six minutes of more somber J-pop that happens to have heavy guitars in it. The sentiment of the song is nice, but it overstays its welcome. Finally, the intro track “FUTURE METAL” just seems like a 2 minute afterthought that teases something akin to Sleigh Bells, but nothing else on the album sounds like it.

The album isn’t without its highlights, though. “Brand New Day” with Tim Henson and Scott LePage of Polyphia offers a brilliant combination of the two groups sounds, with Henson and LePage bringing some refreshing complexity to the table. The Latin influenced “Night Night Burn!” brings in mariachi and flamenco influence, and at times sounds like a metal version of the theme from Neon Genesis Evangelion. “Distortion” with Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz and “Starlight” return the band to the whiplash inducing juxtaposition of J-pop and metal that put them on everyone’s radar.

The remaining songs aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just not really all that special. “DA DA DANCE” and “Elevator Girl” are more examples of just blending J-pop and metal rather than creatively placing the genres opposite each other. The latter is presented in an English language version on the U.S. release of the album, and I almost wish it wasn’t. You really don’t gain anything from knowing what they’re singing. Finally, the album’s closer, “Arkadia,” is just blistering fast power metal in the style of DragonForce, and not a particularly noteworthy example of it.

At the end of the day, everyone knows that BABYMETAL aren’t critical darlings. We shouldn’t expect too much of them. And honestly, I’m impressed to see some attempts at growth on Metal Galaxy. There seems to be a conscious move towards broader influence and more cohesive song structure. The band and their producers know that the gimmick can’t sustain them forever. Unfortunately these attempts led to some disappointing tracks and a couple moments of cringe. 

2.5/5.0