The Perfect Metal Band

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There is no such thing as a perfect band–until now. Here I’ve assembled the All-Star team of metal; these are the best of the best. In a perfect world, these five players would unite on stage and melt metalhead faces for all of the eternity. Alas, this is just fiction… but it sure is fun to dream!

Vocals: Bruce Dickinson

What hasn’t this man done? He’s been the frontman of Iron Maiden for decades. He battled tongue cancer and won. He flies planes. No one in metal sings like Bruce; he can hit notes that make opera singers jealous. It’s impossible to give him enough credit, so fronting this band will have to suffice.

Rhythm Guitar: James Hetfield

Riff life. Those are the words tattooed on the Metallica legend’s fingers. He earned them. No metal guitarist can rival the sheer amount of amazing riffs written by this God; from the garage band beginnings of ‘Kill ‘Em All’ to the hit factory that is the ‘Black’ album, Hetfield is the true king of riffing.

Lead Guitar: Dimebag Darrell

Cemetary Gates. Walk. Floods. Cowboys From Hell. Need I continue? The late great Dimebag Darrell penned some of the best solos in music history. He played rhythm guitar too, but his true skill was heard in his blistering solos that featured the perfect mix of shredding while balancing feel. Gone too soon.

Bass: David Ellefson

Megadeth has been a revolving door of band members; only Dave Mustaine and David Ellefson have stood the test of time. There’s a reason for that. Ellefson writes riffs that do something amazing for their respective songs. Imagine ‘Peace Sells’ without that intro riff… no thanks!

Drums: Danny Carey

There are so many drummers who could have made the cut. However, of all the drummers I’ve heard (and seen live) Carey is the best. He has an unmatched level of precision and creativity. Carey has anchored one of the most progressive bands on Earth (Tool, of course) for years–he’s incredible.

What do you think? I’d go see _____ live, wouldn’t you?

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Concert Talk: QOTSA

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I recently got the chance to catch Queens of the Stone Age in Toronto (playing apparently their largest North American show ever!). It was cold. Me, not bothering to think, only wore a t-shirt to Budweiser Stage and nearly froze to death. However, I won’t hold my own stupidity against Queens, who put on a great show.

The set started with my new favorite song, ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ before transitioning into some more classic tracks, like ‘Turning On The Screw’ and so on. Overall, Queens played 21 (!) songs for a very full crowd, most of which done impeccably. They only got sharper as the night went on. Maybe they were cold, too.

I have a confession to make: I’m a ‘Songs For The Deaf’ purist. I love that album so much; it’s heavy, but not heavy at the same time. You want to bang your head but swings your hips and sing along all at once. They satisfied my thirst for 2002 masterpiece with ‘No One Knows,’ ‘Go With The Flow’ and for the encore, ‘…I Feel Like A Millionaire,’ and the amazing, ‘A Song For The Dead.’ No ‘A Song For The Deaf,’ but I wasn’t it…

But where the f-%$ was ‘Burn The Witch’?

Or ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’!?

Those two classics were curiously absent from the setlist, as was ‘3s and 7s’. I guess when you have so many great songs, some won’t make it… but still. I would have traded ‘Leg of Lamb’ for ‘Feel Good,’ and basically anything for ‘Burn The Witch.’ From the research I’ve done, it seems Queens change their setlist on a nightly basis to keep things fresh–they better play those songs next time I see them!

Overall, besides the few notable omissions, I have few complaints. Queens did their thing, and I was happy to be there. Picked up a cool shirt, too; shoutout to them for not criminally overpricing the merch!

Album Review: Will To Power

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Death metal giants Arch Enemy released their second album of the Alissa White-Gluz era on September 8th. Guitarist Michael Amott once again handled the bulk of the writing, however, the album features new addition (and super-shredder), Jeff Loomis. With all that talent, how is the finished product?

The album’s first few tracks are exactly what you would expect to hear on an Arch Enemy album. ‘The Race’ is fast and frenetic. ‘Blood In The Water’ slows thing down a bit and features a great main riff. ‘The World Is Yours,’ sounds straight off the War Eternal album. It, along with the second single, ‘The Eagle Flies Alone’ feature incredible musicianship–and some cheesy lyrics. The messages of independent thinking and self-empowerment are great, but the lines often come off as simple (or even juvenile). This doesn’t detract from the songs; it just isn’t the best it could be.

‘Reason To Believe’ is where listeners are thrown a curveball. This is the first Arch Enemy track to feature extensive clean singing. I have mixed thoughts about the track; Alissa has a great voice, but again, the lyrics let the song down. However, because the instrumentation on this track is more subdued, those awkward lyrics are front and center, unable to hide behind the incredible guitar work.

Fortunately, the album finishes strong. ‘First Day In Hell’ slows things down to a crawl, giving the song a doom-metal vibe. ‘Dreams Of Retribution’ and ‘My Shadow and I’ are two of the heaviest tracks on the album, while the closer, ‘A Fight I Must Win’ is epic in every sense of the word; the song features an orchestral opening and some blazing leads from the band’s two guitar virtuosos.

Overall, fans of Arch Enemy will enjoy this album. Despite the lyrical shortcomings, the albums shine as a cornucopia of riffs and solos. ‘Will To Power’ is produced to perfection, and should hold up well through the upcoming touring cycle.

Verdict: 7/10

Review: Villains

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Queens Of The Stone Age are back!

Of all the rock bands accepted by metalheads, Queens tend to find themselves near the top of the list. Their older music, while saturated with ‘radio rock’ tropes, had a dark, gritty, edge to it. Albums such as ‘Rated R’ and ‘Songs for the Deaf’ are classics. Their more recent work, 2013’s ‘Like Clockwork’ was a much more subdued effort and one that didn’t really interest me as a listener. The talent was there, but many of the songs came off as extremely mellow and even boring.

‘Villains’ is a good (albeit not perfect) step forward.

The intro track ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’ is my hands-down favorite song off the album. It makes you want to get up and dance, all while having a bit of bite. It transitions nicely into the love it or hate it ‘The Way You Used To Do.’ After that is where the album becomes very divisive.

‘Domesticated Animals’ is a politically-charged track with a simple but catchy riff. ‘Fortress’ scales things back and offers a very ‘Like Clockwork’ feel–by that I mean I found it boring! ‘Head Like A Haunted House’ brings back the uptempo mood of first two songs off the album, only too see things slow down again with the tracks ‘Un-Reborn Again’ and ‘Hideaway.’

‘The Evil Has Landed’ was the second single off the album, and is full of great riffs. The song builds toward a great, satisfying ending. However, the closer “Villains Of Circumstance’ is the exact opposite; a slow burn that amounts to nothing. It feels like a disappointment compared to the song before it.

Overall, there is a lot to like on this hodgepodge of an album, but not much to love. Fans of ‘Like Clockwork’ will probably enjoy the slow songs, while fans of the bands earlier material will dig the more exciting songs–all while wishing they’d tune their guitars back down to C-standard and get Dave Ghrol on the kit.

But hey, they can’t all be ‘Songs For The Deaf.’

 

Metallica Albums Ranked

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The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s time to rank every Metallica studio album (no live collections, and no collaborations!) in order from worst to best. You probably have a good idea how this list is going to play out… or do you?

St. Anger

This one was a given. Metallica’s songwriting hit an absolute low. The lyrics and this album are downright painful–take this line from ‘Frantic’ as an example: “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle.” Gross. And where are the guitar solos? Metallica, so set the trends, don’t follow them.

Load

Chalk this one up to a disappointment, however, there are a few bright spots on this otherwise unspectacular album. ‘Fuel’ is fun. ‘King Nothing,’ while a complete rewrite of ‘Enter Sandman’ is catchy. The rest? Ugh. There are some questionable decisions on this album too…

Re-Load

…Like making it a two-part album. I think if you cut the crap from both of these albums, you could make one half-decent effort. Sure, it still would have pissed long-time fans off, but it would have at least featured better songs. I don’t care about the hair cuts, or about the fur coats–to me, the music is key. Here, the music wasn’t great.

Death Magnetic

Good songs, bad production. The guitar tones are so incredibly compressed that all the heaviness is sapped out of the songs. It’s frustrating considering tracks like ‘Cyanide,’ and ‘The Day That Never Comes,’ and ‘All Nightmare Long’ are great. If Metallica decided to re-record this album, I would be ecstatic!

Hardwired… To Self Destruct

There are five songs on this album I really like: ‘Hardwired,’ ‘Atlas Rise,’ ‘Now That We’re Dead,’ ‘Moth Into Flame,’ and ‘Spit Out The Bone.’ If Metallica had ditched the entire second disk besides ‘Spit,’ and added ‘Lords Of Summer,’ this would have been one of my favourite albums in their entire discography. However, despite some of the songs dragging on for too long, I can’t help but enjoy the great guitar work, and a return to form from vocalist James Hetfield.

Ride The Lightning

A lot of people would have this higher, I know. The album is a classic, but so are all the albums ahead of it on my list! Overall, this album set in motion what was to come for Metallica, and featured some of their best work. ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ will always be one of my favorites, while ‘Fade To Black,’ is legendary.

Kill ‘Em All

There’s something to be said about the raw energy featured on Kill ‘Em All. The songs are aggressive, electric, and simple. The message is clear: metal up your ass! This has to be the greatest debut album in metal history. The songs have stood the test of time, including the likes of ‘Seek and Destroy,’ and ‘The Four Horsemen.’

…And Justice For All

Metallica reached their musical peak on Justice. The songs are long, brooding, and extremely complex. The album spawned ‘One,’ arguably the best showcase for the band’s immense musical talent. ‘Blackened,’ is my favorite is my all-time favorite Metallica song, so there’s that too!

Metallica

Ah yes, the controversial ‘black’ album. And yes, I ranked it above their the previous three albums. Why? Because this album re-defined a genre. It changed music forever, and whether you like it or not, it opened the door for so many bands that we would never have gotten otherwise. ‘Enter Sandman’ is the biggest metal song in history. The other singles–‘ Sad But True,’ ‘Unforgiven,’ ‘Wherever I May Roam,’ and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ –are all classics and live staples.

Master Of Puppets

Greatest album in metal history? Quite possibly. The title track is the song all metal bands aspire to write, while deeper cuts like ‘Disposable Heroes,’ and ‘Damage, INC.’ are true headbangers. The guitar solos are some of the best Kirk Hammett has ever written, James Hetfield’s lyrics are sharp, and Cliff Burton’s bass work is exceptional. ‘Master’ deserves all the praise, and then some more.

Machine Head Albums Ranked

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I’ve gone too long without talking about Machine Head on this blog! These guys are the kings of the down-tuned chug. Over the years, their style has seen a bit of change (including a rough stint at the turn of the century), but overall, they’ve delivered plenty of great metal music over the years. Let’s rank their albums from worst to best:

Supercharger

Ew. This was that aforementioned rough point. It’s obvious Machine Head was trying to keep up with the ‘nu-metal’ trend of the time, but it didn’t translate well to their sound, coming off as forced–and just plain bad. ‘Bulldozer” has a cool riff, but other than that, this album is thin on positives.

The Burning Red

This album led into Supercharger, and some of the influences can be heard. However, it was more of a blended sound. Songs such as ‘The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears’ and the title track have held up well, and are still performed live– more than what can be said for the follow-up album.

The More Things Change

Now we’re into the good albums. This one, while disappointing compared to their excellent debut album, was strong. Highlights include ‘Ten Ton Hammer,’ and ‘Take My Scars.’ The album is simple, but very heavy.

Unto The Locust

This epic album really drove home the band’s new progressive direction, and featured some sprawling tracks like ‘Locust’ and ‘Pearls Before The Swine.’ The album is packed full of great riffs, excellent compositions, and grandiose displays of the band’s growing musical talent.

Bloodstone & Diamonds

2014 saw Machine Head release a monster! The album featured ‘Game Over,’ a song about broken friendships. It resonated with everyone and proved to be one of the best songs in the band’s discography. However, that can be said about almost every track on ‘Bloodstone,’ an all-around great album.

Through The Ashes Of Empires

What nu-metal? Machine Head roared back to form with this amazing collection of songs in 2003. ‘Bite The Bullet,’ and ‘Imperium’ launch the album with a bang, while the emotional ‘Descend The Shades Of Night’ closes things out. In-between, we get a whole lot of classic Machine Head; huge, chugging riffs, growled vocals, and guitar solos.

The Blackening 

Things got even better after ‘Through The Ashes Of Empires’ as Machine Head stepped things up a notch. The songs became longer and more complex, while the musicianship reached an unforeseen level. Look no further than tracks such as ‘Halo,’ ‘Wolves,’ and the Dimebag Darrell memoir ‘Aesthetics Of Hate.’

Davidian

Seven words: “LET FREEDOM RING WITH A SHOTGUN BLAST!”

What’s The Future Of Metal?

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This is a frequently asked question: what is the future of metal music?

The best answer: no one knows.

However, it’s fun to try and predict what the coming years will bring, even if any predictions made may be laughably off the mark. To do this, we have to start by looking at the current trends. The most successful (non-legacy) bands right now are the likes of Gojira, Trivium, Mastodon, Ghost and Avenged Sevenfold. The list goes on, but what defines these bands are they broke onto the scene around 2000 and have been building a steady following ever since. However, each has a distinct style.

What is apparent is this: metal is still very popular, which means bands will keep emerging with no sounds. The eighties saw a thrash-metal revolution. The nineties and early two-thousands experienced the dawn of ‘nu-metal,’ while recently, a new wave of thrash has emerged fronted by bands like Havok, Warbringer, and so on. Personally, I don’t see the future being the second coming of thrash. The genre is great, but the giants all reside in the past. The best has already been done.

I’m looking at bands like Gojira for the future. See, complex, mechanic metal like Meshuggah has been making rounds for a good two decades now, but bands like Gojira have taken that style, streamlined it slightly and added a bit of commercial flavor. That is in no way a diss, as it has made the music more accessible. We only need to look at the success of Gojira’s ‘Magma’ album for proof. It fared well with fans, critics, and even with the Academy, as it was nominated for a Grammy award. This is a style of metal that seems to please fair weather fans and purists, alike. My guess is that we will see more bands in the style of Gojira in the next few years. They might add more traditional guitar solos–imagine Gojira with Marty Friedman style soloing? Or what if we see more bass involved in the mix… interesting.

It’s hard to predict, the future that’s for sure. Don’t count out a revitalization of seventies-style metal in lieu of Ghost’s recent success. Satanic elements aside, their music has the potential to reach the masses, with the clean sung-vocals, yet chunky riffing. I would not be surprised to see that grow even more popular as the years go on.

Or who knows, maybe we’ll get something crazy.

Imagine death metal with metal like choruses? Mixing anthem metal with blast beats and tremolo-picked guitars… we’ve seen a bit of that with the new Trivium song ‘The Sin And The Sentence.’ It’s fun to think about, that’s for sure.

What will the future bring? Only time will tell!

 

Better Than You Think

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Death. First, they popularized death metal, then they evolved their sound into something increasingly complex, progressive, and mystifying. Albums like ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ are rough (but iconic), while masterpieces like ‘Human’ and ‘Symbolic’ are true showcases for the late Chuck Schuldiner’s musical genius. However, Death’s final album, ‘The Sound Of Perseverance’ is often held below the others–in my opinion, this is wrong, as the album is just as exceptional as the rest of their catalog.

The first thing you hear is the drums. Crazy, crazy, drums. They pop up throughout the album and wow every time. The same goes for the guitar work. Part of what makes this album so great is the musicianship. Not a single note is wasted. Every single section matters, and it’s only possible because the band is so tight.

Oh, and the bass. The bass sounds absolutely amazing.

One of the things I like the most about the album is how good it sounds. Finally, Death was mixed exceptionally well. You can hear all the instruments, the tones are great, and there is great balance throughout the recordings. Listen to ‘Voice Of The Soul’ and try to deny it’s a masterclass in the recording. The acoustic guitar is so full and beautiful, while the treble-y lead guitars are sharp, but not too harsh.

Another thing: the song writing.

Take the insane ‘Flesh And The Power It Holds,’ for starters. The intro builds so chromatically into the much more chaotic verse of the song. I just love the way you feel like you’re climbing. The band knows exactly what notes to play. This is also present on the opener ‘Scavenger Of Human Sorrow’ where we get great music along with some razor-sharp lyrics from Evil Chuck.

All around, ‘The Sound Of Perseverance,’ is a great album. It really is. The performances are terrific, the recording quality is the best in the entire Death discography, and the mixing is top notch. The songs are more abstract than they ever had been, but they don’t lose the sense of melody at all.

Give it another listen; trust me!

 

The ‘Black’ Album Turns 26

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One of the biggest albums in music history turns 26 today. This polarizing album needs little introduction–with it, Metallica crossed over to the mainstream, alienating elitists while making millions of new fans in the process. However, the album undeniably features a ton of great songs. Let’s break it down.

Enter Sandman

Sandman is arguably the most famous metal song of all time. Honestly, is there anyone who hasn’t heard it before? It can be heard at sporting events (Yankee legend Mariano Rivera used it as walk up music for years), on the radio, the Internet, your dad’s car, your mom’s old record collection. It truly is everywhere!

Sad But True

The first Metallica song written in D-standard tuning, this is a crushingly heavy track. The riff is brutal, the lyrics are sharp, and the solo is fantastic. A case can be made for this as the best song on the iconic album!

Holier Than Thou 

James Hetfield got a lot of crap for saying “crap” in this song because that’s not metal! Where’s the real cussing? Indeed, this was a sign of the commercial decisions to follow, however, it can’t ruin a fast, fun song.

The Unforgiven

A fan-favourite track, Metallica took some risks here that paid off in a big way. Instead of a soft verse and loud chorus, they flipped the script. Here, the verses are loud and heavy, while the choruses are soft. It’s some nice variety and a change in the tried-and-true formula we’ve seen on other Metallica ballads.

Wherever I May Roam

The last of the five singles starts with a sitar. Yep, a sitar. However, the track quickly turns into what we expect: heavy, booming, low-string chugging. One great part of ‘Roam’ is the solo, which sees Kirk Hammett diving into some very exotic scales. Overall, his guitar work on the album is better than ever.

Don’t Tread On Me

The ‘Black’ album is packed with sing (or shout) along choruses, and ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ is no exception. Personally, I really like this track and feel like it gets lost among the more well-known cuts on the album. The main riff is great, as are the lyrics.

Through The Never

This song spawned a movie, so there’s that! And is it just me, or does the main riff sound like half of the spider riff in ‘Master Of Puppets’?

Nothing Else Matters

Ah yes, the song that really pissed people off. See, unlike ‘The Unforgiven’ which still featured plenty of heavy, ‘Nothing Else Matters’ is all acoustic until the very end where James Hetfield (?!) plays a simple, but satisfying solo. Songs like this helped Metallica reach a new audience.

Of Wolf And Man

This song is about being a werewolf. Solid.

The God That Failed

This track is one I really like. The message is sent is deep, and relates back to James Hetfield’s childhood where he subjected to different treatment because of the religion his parents practiced. He struggled with the separation, and here he pens a letter to the God that essentially failed him. Deep stuff.

My Friend Of Misery

Is that… bass? ‘My Friend’ starts with a great bass line that plays well into the moody, somber feel of the song. Again, here we get some more dep lyrics from Metallica centered around cyniscm, and the way it weighs on people and also those around them. There are some truly great songs on the ‘Black’ album lost among the controversey.

The Struggle Within

Unforetunately, things end on a low note. ‘Struggle’ feels like a song cut from one of their earlier albums and doesn’t fit in. It doesn’t help that it’s not a great one either. Personally, I would have ended the album with ‘Misery’!

 

 

 

 

Metal Isn’t Mainstream–And That’s Okay

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Metal doesn’t belong on the charts, the radio, or in the public eye. Sure, some bands have broken through and helped the genre grow, but at its core, metal is not the ‘popular’ music– and that’s perfectly alright.

You can’t have a chip on your shoulder when you’re popular.

See, my biggest complaint regarding ‘popular’ music is that it’s lifeless. It’s got no soul, no passion. Metal is full of passion. While it’s often so-typed as straight rage, there are so many emotions that go into it, positive and negative. If you want to channel those things, you can’t do it through a three minute, radio-friendly song. It’s impossible.

So many metal bands thrive on that determined, underground mindset. Take a band like Hatebreed for example. They’re full of passion and intensity. Imagine them on the pop charts, getting the same kind of attention given to Drake and the Weeknd. They would lose their edge, their grit. Imagine if Death had been popular like Eminem? Or what if Opeth was treated like Kendrick Lamar?

It’s just not meant to be.

Metallica can do it. They’re my favorite band of all time, but I’ll be the first to admit that they are extremely commercial, a giant, well-oiled, money-making machine. For bands that are less radio-friendly, it’s a good thing they aren’t mainstream. These bands shouldn’t try and go popular, they don’t need to.