album review

Dan Swano is as much an extreme metal legend as you can get. From his work with the seminal Edge Of Sanity, to his years spent behind the desk making every band he worked with sound better than they ever had before, he is one of the key figures in the history of European extreme metal. And all of that is before even mentioning “Moontower”, his solo triumph. That album, in my eyes, is the single greatest death metal record ever made, and a towering achievement that single-handedly proves the merit of growled vocals.

What can I say about "Winter Kills", the latest release from "Devildriver", except "holy crap!". These guys are really pissed off. "Winter Kills" is heavy handed, aggressive and at times, dare I say, even melodic. I listened to this album while attempting to do some household chores and damn near put a lamp through the window and kicked over the couch.

If you’ll be kind enough to indulge for a moment, I’m probably about to sound like the metal Garrison Keillor. You remember back in 1988 when Metallica released “…And Justice For All” and that album, in a much simpler time, gave rise to the concept of experimentation in thrash and sparked the genre’s first debate about the nature of production?

I've opined before about a certain type of metal vocalist whose appeal I can't quite understand; the classical female singer. I sort of understand the philosophy of combining the straight-laced approach of opera with the anything-but ethos of metal, but to my ear, the two have never fit together as anything more than a thought experiment. Even the biggest, brightest example of this is something I never came to terms with. Tarja set the standard for all female vocalists who weren't trying to be the next Joan Jett.

Being the kind of person who dwells on semantics, a band like Thränenkind bothers me even before I've heard a note of their music. Described as 'post-metal', the label leaves me scratching my head. Metal is still alive and flourishing, and it shows no signs of going anywhere, so what does post-metal even mean? In the other arts, post-modernism had a point; it was a deliberate realignment of what art was supposed to be, taking it back from the modernist school, which was both unified and generational. Metal is not like the other arts, however.

Our friends at wikipedia define thrash metal this way; "Thrash metal generally features fast tempos, low-register, complex guitar riffs, high-register guitar solos and double bass drumming. Vocally, thrash metal can employ anything from melodic singing to shouted vocals. Most thrash guitar solos are played at high speed, as they are usually characterized by shredding". I'd like to add another entry - See: "Fueled By Fire".

In the spirit of honesty, I have a confession I must make; there has never been a black metal album I have enjoyed. While I can understand the mental state that leads to its creation, and the ethos is not philosophically unappealing, the actual music that falls under the banner has the same effect on me as fingernails streaking across a chalkboard (a sound that, ironically, does not bother me). I have tried listening to modern black metal, the 'classics', and random recommendations I've picked up in various places, but the end result is always the same.

James LaBrie's last solo album, “Static Impulse”, answered a question I'm not sure had ever been asked: what would it sound like if LaBrie fronted Soilwork? Far from his progressive metal roots, “Static Impulse” was a modern metal album in every facet, blending melodic choruses to state of the art riffing and juxtaposed screaming vocals. More than a shock to expectations, the album was a surprisingly effective vehicle for LaBrie, and was better than I could have ever imagined such an effort being.

It's the simple pleasures that help make life worthwhile. For me, there's the anticipation of listening to a new CD and the impossible wait just before the opening track starts playing. Generally, with my hand on the volume knob, I turn it up for maximum effect. When the first few notes begin there are three possible reactions - "Ooh, that's not very good. Let's try track two", "Eh, that's kind of what I expected" or "Hell yeah!".

Metal is not known for its beauty. It can be many things, beautiful included, but if there is one thing metal is known for, it's stringy-haired heaviness. Metal is not the music of the beautiful people, and we wouldn't love it so much if it was. But somewhere in calculations, the balance needed to keep metal from falling off the edge of relevance gets lost. Hearing as many albums a year as I do, which is still but a fraction, there is a titanic chasm of possibility few bands have jumped headlong into.