album review

Every band lives the constant struggle to balance the reality of a band structure with the perception an audience has of the band. What that usually means is a degree of displeasure from the instrumentalists, while the singer gets the lion's share of the attention. It isn't fair, but because of how the personalities captured in voices draw the sharpest distinction between bands, it's the reality we all have to live with. Sometimes, however, the status quo isn't tenable, and things need to change.

European metal is a crowded landscape. In a genre choked with also-rans and soundalikes, every band tries to boast their worthiness as a product of their values, their image or their virtuoso guitar talent. Sirenia, the gothic band from Norway, attempts to stand out by placing all their chips singularly on vocal prowess and a sense of the moment. It’s risky roulette to play when the fans expect certain tropes to be part and parcel, but through this lens we are introduced to “Perils of the Deep Blue.”

The human voice is an instrument capable of a connection more personal than any other. Some voices are able to cut through us and reveal parts of ourselves we didn't know existed. That kind of relationship between a singer and a listener is rare, but it's the one I have with Dilana. From the first time I heard her sing on the ill-fated show “Rockstar: Supernova”, I could feel there was something in her voice that spoke to me. The road to now has not been easy, but most of the best things in life rarely are.

In recent years, we’ve witness a real revival of thrash as we once knew it. Bullet belts, gallop riff and west coast snarling are back in fashion. The more shows I go to, the more I’m seeing the return of denim, patch covered jackets and other paraphernalia ‘rescued’ from the early ‘80s that was such a part of thrash’s iconic birth. The pages of this very site have become littered with the exploits of a thrash resurgence, the genre reborn through a new generation and new eyes.

If anything has become clear from the drama surrounding Queensrÿche, it's that both versions of the band are better off this way. Geoff Tate is no longer constrained by a fan-base that blames him for not continuing to make music that sounds exactly like their classic records, while the remaining core of the band can play that kind of music without feeling creatively stagnant. The fans win as well, because they can follow either, neither, or both versions of Queensrÿche to get whatever they want out of their devotion.

Orphaned Land is a band totally consumed by their message. Normally in metal, that message has a good chance of being insipid or sophomoric. We’ve seen messages that range from “CHAOS!” to “Drink until you can’t feel feelings anymore” and let’s not forget the tried and true “all organized societal institutions are crap.” As fans, it falls on us to either embrace or, more commonly, overlook any petulance and merely attempt to absorb and judge the music.

As crazes come and go, I can usually figure out the mass-market appeal that drives people to love whatever the latest and greatest thing is. That doesn't mean I'm going to care in the slightest for any of them, but I can at least understand why everyone else trips over themselves chasing the latest fad. The one that I have yet to come to grips with is the zombie craze. The undead have become the biggest thing going, from the slower than paint drying “The Walking Dead”, to movie after movie after movie featuring the lumbering corpses rotted back to life.

Female fronted metal bands are, sadly, lumped into two categories; those who treat their singer as a gimmick, and those who provide operatic qualities men can't manage on their own. It's a gross over-simplification, but a large swath of the bands do fall into those categories. What is most disappointing is how little room there is in the current scene for a band to play classic heavy metal with a female voice. There are a few bands doing it, but none muster a fraction of the attention even second-rate male dominated bands lay claim to.

Deep breath.

This is one of things that you never think you’ll see in your life. Usually the next statement after that is some kind of unbridled joy, but the release of Black Sabbath’s “13” leaves feelings of wary confusion. Questions remain abound – What is this? Why are we here? Was this trip really necessary? This isn’t a cash grab (at least it better not be,) so why does it even exist?

Metal bands these days aren't unlike sets of Legos. Much as kids take the little plastic blocks and use the same pieces to build anything their little minds can think of, metal bands are increasingly composed of the same members, just reconfigured in different combinations. There's a double-edged sword quality about this development, as while it is welcome to have more music being made by many of the best players in the world, there's also the threat that all of these bands will wind up watering down the scene by making everything sound like everything else.