album review

There's something to be said for bands taking grand risks. It may be comfortable to pump out album after album of songs that are slight derivations and deviations of the norm, but those can't always satisfy the creative yearning to do something daringly unique, to embrace the spirit of art in a way that popular music doesn't often accept. Not all of these endeavors turn out well, but there's something intriguing about hearing music that's completely unexpected, that turns expectations on end, and delivers an experience no one could have seen coming.

There are times in a band's career when they need a shock to the system. For whatever reason, they get stuck in a rut and lose the spark that made them what they were. Fans can hear it, and when that happens, the critics begin to grow louder. Each album becomes less beloved than the one before it, there's more talk about their prime being over, and anticipation for the future begins to wane. When this happens, there aren't many things that can be done to return a band to their former glory.

What a surprise out of left field. When you look at Skeletal Remains album “Beyond the Flesh” and consider the name of the band combines with the album cover’s Cannibal Corpse motif, you think you know what you’re getting.

Yet, you would be wrong! Okay, there are the given deathmetal and grindcore standards, including the scowling vocals, nightmarish lyrical themes and generally ghoulish presentation, but the twist comes in the unexpected form of catchy and melodic riffs and purely free-form Van Halen style soloing.

When you think of women in rock, the number of names that come to mind is small. When you think of women in metal, that number shrinks further. And when you think of women in metal who have been able to survive for twenty five years, one name comes to mind; Doro. For a quarter century, Doro has been defying stereotypes and putting out old-school metal that never fails to recall the days when the star of heavy metal burned brightest. Time may not have been the kindest to the style of music Doro has always stood for, but it has been kind to her.

What makes Dethklok unique among gimmick bands (which is not an insult, merely a fact,) is that the “band” plays the role totally straight. Most metal fans’ exposure to the blend of comedy and metal comes through bands like GWAR or Haunted Garage, who make no secret of their over-the-top motives. Even the mighty Spinal Tap played up their persona, skillfully reveling in and mocking the signature characteristics of metal.

Some albums are destined to be bittersweet. No matter the result of the creative work put in, the surrounding events necessitate that the music will never be the full story. Those are albums that will always carry a label with them, the proverbial asterisk that they must wear like a scarlet letter. It's unfair to burden a work with the happenstance it emerged from, but it's something we can't help but do, and it's not something we're liable to change.

Both as a fan of music, and someone who dabbles in it, I'm a big fan of the vintage revolution that has taken hold in large swaths of the rock and metal world. There's something about stripped-down, simplified, authentic music that is appealing on a level no amount of modern flash can replicate. As more and more bands find new ways to combine computerized sounds with nearly inhuman displays of fretboard acrobatics, the old-school approach of building a song out of a riff and then playing it as a band holds more and more power.

Halloween is unique among most holiday celebrations in that it revels in darkness and quirky activity, allowing otherwise normal individuals to act totally out of character, protected by a mask. The holiday has become the rallying flag for macabre media and fascinations of all kinds and just as horror movies are stacked in the Fall, so to are goth records.

Cradle of Filth is a band with a history and track record as long and winding as the image of paths through a creepy, haunted forest that they try to capture and imprint on disc. Under the steadfast and dedicated leadership of Dani Filth, Cradle has always tried to stay one step ahead of the heavy metal game.

It seems almost impossible to think about The Sword’s “Apocryphon” without also thinking of their mammoth concept album “Warp Riders.” That record was nothing short of a modern masterpiece, masterfully blending blues-soaked doom riffs with the fiery grit of heavy metal, the end result a symphony of might and magic and science fiction. Fair or not, “Apocryphon” will be judged against “Warp Riders,” as the latter album was the exclamation point on The Sword’s rise through the ranks of metal.