A lot of stuff on Frontiers Records wants to sound like Ronnie James Dio and doesn’t, especially since his death in 2010. In particular, Jørn Lande is constantly labelled “The New Dio” by fans and critics despite never really sounding like him at all. Even all of Dio’s original solo bandmates got their geriatric asses up long enough to form Last in Line, releasing a lame album last month. It all comes off as bogus. Frontiers might think these artists are all paying homage, but really they’re a gratuitous attempt to capitalize on the absence of a metal luminary.
Lords of the Black is not one of those bands. They’re a pitch perfect replication of Dio, with mammoth riffs, catchy choruses, and a perfect balance of fast and mid-tempo sections. Singer Ronnie Romero is probably the best Ronnie James rip-off in the business. A cover of the Dio-sung Rainbow classic “Lady of the Lake” was probably added to the album for comparison’s sake: the world’s greatest vocal forensic scientists could spend decades trying to uncover how Romero managed to steal Dio’s vocal cords and implant them into his own throat.
One’s the illusion of mimicry wears off, the tracks start blending together and many tracks go on far past the six minute mark. Unlike Dio, Lords of the Black has no idea how to make an awesomely absurd metal ballad, forcing them to all-out rock for the full hour run-time. It wears thin quickly, but in short one or two track spurts, they keep the blood pumping and your devil horns growing.
Amon Amarth wages an endless crusade against everything that sucks. Constantly touring and grinding out those catchy riffs, they’re as mainstream as extreme metal gets. Albums like Versus the World and Twilight of the Thunder Gods are the apex of melodic death, with bleeding guitars of tunefully wanton destruction.
Now, after decades of sticking to their guns, the band says they’re switching things up. They’re making a concept album about vikings.
For those of you not in the loop, literally all of Amon Amarth’s songs are about vikings. Being vikings, praising vikings, killing other vikings, you name it, they’ve already wrote forty songs about it.
Then it hit me once I put Jomsviking on. Concept album is another term for taking crappy risks that won’t pay off.
Thankfully, the risks are all slight changes in vocal presentation, mostly involving random spoken monologues. “Wanderer” ends with a voice-over wrenched straight from the Grinch cartoon. The diatribe at the beginning of “Vengeance Is My Name” sounds like GWAR-style self-parody. Even worse is a much bigger change: the awful vibrato-inflected female vocals in “A Dream That Cannot Be”. This woman sounds better suited for back-up vocals on a jock jam compilation that comes with your paid six month subscription to Entertainment Weekly.
Slight vocal missteps aside, Amon Amarth remains Amon Amarth. This is their best set in almost a decade, and even though there are no stand out tracks, I still felt like I was on a grand quest to desecrate my foes’ lands, smite them all, and collect their skulls in offering to Odin. Once Amon Amarth and I pass through the gates of Asgard’s golden hall, we will drink and toast to this album, shrugging off the stupid female vocals with a laugh and boasting about all the muscular melodies.
More stuff from the past few weeks that deserves no more than a brief paragraph.
Wizard Girl – Voodoo Jazz
This German jazz ensemble is very, very concerned with rhythm. In fact, with all the rock sounds the drums and guitars are letting off, it comes off more as a slapped-together tribute to ’70s psych-prog/Krautrock than a bonafide jazz recording. Everything goes at once, with flute and sax and guitar constantly wailing around, but they almost always play around the drums. Eventually, they settle into repeated lines, not really discernible melodies. They’re more like quick little blurps that usually either mimic the drum pattern or bookend it. One notable exception: track four is driven by some trippy reversed guitar part that recalls some pretty heavy psych.
Accidente – Pulso
Way too clean for my taste, although the female vocalist helps bring out the melodies over normie punk din. Think anything ever released by Epitaph Records if the Puffy AmiYumi chicks were singing over it in Spanish. Maybe these punks have a lot to say about politics and junk, but all I really hear is slightly above average generic pop-junk.
Spazz – Sweatin’ 3: Skatin’, Satan and Katin
Reissue of Spazz’s posthumous collection of compilation and split 7” material. It’s sad to think that Spazz’s special chapter in power violence history came to an end over fifteen years ago, but we’ll always have huge compilations with sixty plus songs to remind us how great their thrashin’s and bashin’s truly were. As usual, the playing is tight enough to be impressive and wild enough to make you mosh your living room to pieces. I’ve always been a fan of the cookie monster vocalist guy, but the other two are pretty good. While things tend to grow monotonous near the end, a couple iffy live tracks being the biggest culprits, the goofy “Gummo Love Theme” manages to save the day with fun for everyone.
Atrament – Eternal Downfall
Sucky Swedish death metal becomes listenable thanks to crust punk and black metal influences throughout. Unfortunately, Atrament can’t totally mask the Swedish death metal sound, so it’s still sucky.
Breaking news: Chris Cornell of Soundgarden/Audioslave fame has taken early NWOBHM band Diamond Head hostage in his underground has-been lair. He tricked the band into a forced recording session with the promise of something called grunge money.
Grunge money is a proper noun, meaning that sounding like shitty bands from the ’90s is somehow going to make you money in 2016. Songs like “Set My Soul on Fire”, “See You Rise”, and “Blood on My Hands” are all grunge-riff relics, complete with new singer Rasmus Bom Anderson imitating Cornell throughout. Stockholm syndrome at its worst.
The band eventually figured out that much bamboozling was going on. After recording ten crummy tracks, they bound and gagged Cornell long enough to record “Shout at the Devil”, an ode to Diamond Head’s three good songs from the NWOBHM era. Cornell, an esteemed necromancer, managed to call upon a horde of grunge zombies, flannel coat wearing fleshbags of men. They ate Diamond Head right as they finished mixing their one enjoyable creation.
So yeah, I’m going to change the headline: Diamond Head are effin’ dead.
Is music really underground if it reflects popular tastes of twenty years prior? Post-grunge only kinda-sorta died anyway, as most of the Foo Fighters and the Offsprings continue to have high-charting albums every few years. Here’s a brash and heavy-handed generalization for everyone: I’d say underground music is defined as experimental stuff that totally goes against all popular tastes from the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll to now. I’m leaving a big gaping hole where all that adored artsy-fartsy “modern classical music” sits, but whatever. All I mean is, anyone who thinks ska-punk or post-grunge is underground music is only fooling themselves.
I’m guessing Basement probably doesn’t think about stuff like that, but honestly, this would have been commercially viable twenty years ago. The cover screams ’90s hipness, and with a single word band name like Basement, it’s clear that these guys would need a time machine to make any money.
So they play poppy grunge music. It’s very polished and clean, and they only use screechy tones in a couple songs. If you like this, you’ll also probably like those Better Than Ezra and Semisonic CDs that are collecting dust at the thrift store. Basement’s a little louder than them, but not enough for me.
English is the universal language of metal. Even the most anti-establishment bands will pander to Anglo audiences, which makes this album peculiar. While the band name and album title are both clearly English, all the song titles and lyrics are in Spanish. Are they selling out, or are they keeping it real in Argentina? Are they incapable of pronouncing words correctly? Either way, something’s a little off about the whole thing.
Music alone, Against sounds a lot like Metallica. The singer has a Hetfield growl most of the time, and as in Justice, songs are six minute plus epics with complex compositions. Most of the time they keep the thrash torch burning in songs like “Canibal” and “Voluntad”, but there’s occasionally a dull alt-metal radio slow whiny part feel, specifically on “Sucubo”. It’s a dead ringer for Faith No More and it’s a little too jarring of a switch.
That’s Against’s problem: they flip-flop just enough to be annoying. English presentation with fully Spanish everything else? Metallica clonery with a hint of shitty System of a Down wankery? Pick one and stop surprising me so damn much.
Boring garbage. This album wants to be post-punk goodness, and instead it’s putting me to sleep. It’s one in the afternoon, I’m drinking my tea, feeling great, then I put this crap on.
Seventeen songs, all exactly the same. Inoffensive steady rock beats, guitar parts taken directly from The Cure, and dull girly-man vocals for over an hour. Evidently the recording of this album was plagued with drug abuse and run ins with the law, which unfortunately didn’t help to make their music any more interesting. Also, a lot of the Wikipedia article on the album is spent discussing the band’s Krautrock influence, but if they actually ever heard a Brainticket, Can, or Amon Duul record, they might have been inclined to be remotely creative.
Honestly, the entire wiki must have been written and sourced by the lead singer, Zachary Cole Smith. He spends so much time dick sucking his own creative vision that Zach might as well pull out his spine and pelvis and do the actual deed himself. I won’t ever service him like that. All Mr. Smith makes me want to do is put my jammies on, cuddle with my favorite stuffed animal, and pass out.
Ambient and black metal have had a long and storied relationship. Both are at their best when they’re largely repetitive, taking a good sound and letting it dig into your soul. Burzum’s Filosofem stretched the combination to the breaking point, making oppresive nine-minute tracks that repeated the same guitar riff and synth line throughout. It was ugly music.
In the past twenty years, some band’s like Eldamar have tried to take this ambient/black metal approach in a much more listenable direction. That isn’t to say the music isn’t challenging; fifteen minutes of the same bubbly synth line and three blistering guitar chords will ruin any bands chances of a conventional fanbase. It’s really more for the people who wish Music for Airports had a guy growling faintly in the background.
With that in mind, I recommend playing it while you do some other activity. By the time the album’s 80 minute run-time is up, you might be able to do an oil painting. Or write a novella.
A bunch of stuff from the past few weeks that deserves no more than a brief paragraph.
Nekrasov – Negative Temple
Blorp, scream, sizzle, yowl. Power electronics mixed with the blackest black vocals bookend this release and it does nothing to expand either genre. The middle tracks are easily the best part, with barely produced traditional black metal that peels my fingernails back just enough for pleasure. If you can make this genre sound menacing in 2016, you’re doing something right. Still, there’s another wall of noise mixed in there somewhere just to remind you that Nekrasov kind of sucks.
Scooter – ACE
This driving EDM band used to be the shit, but 1996 was quite a while ago. In between popping their gerital pills, they squeeze out some moderately danceable tracks, but the vocalist sounds like he’s practically comatose. Is he unable to shout anymore? He sort of blurts out lots of raps in a slightly raised voice. Perfect for a rave hosted at your local retirement community.
Worry Blast – Hit the Gas
Do you think Back in Black is one of the greatest albums of all time? I don’t. Worry Blast obviously does. Without any of the vocal or guitar theatrics of AC/DC’s style, Hit the Gas is relegated to third-rate chauvinist rock. This wouldn’t be so bad if the songs were any good, but they aren’t. These guys can’t do anything right.
This bruising doom metal experience frequently shifts into space territory, an approach that takes you up to the atmosphere only to pulverize you into terra firma. Track one and three are great examples of this, but two and four miss the mark by trying to stay straight instrumental doom throughout. Metal bands need to learn that slight dynamics will always make you more extreme than the dumbass who doesn’t know how to turn down the distortion.
I do not really like the first song. It might be too slow; it might be too boring; it might be trying too hard. The guitar solo in the middle is terrible. I do not have anything good to say about it except the message is clear.
Yeah, “The slate is clean/John 3:16” is definitely the grossest thing the album has to offer and it’s front and center. It definitely picks up around the third track.
The third track is good, so we are just going to skip right to it. “Two Wolves” is good because there is this reoccurring motif about two wolves inside the soul locked in a never ending feud, referring to some Native American proverb.
That’s crazy. If we’re going to keep talking about lyrics, I like the next tracks, “Cut You Loose” and “Venom”, the most. Both have a the-harsh-reality-of-being-a-Christian-in-the-modern-world feel to them. It’s great to have a band like this telling you there are challenges to the normal God is good Christian rock thing.
I agree that with what you said, however, Trashman could be the next Christian rock anthem. Campbell does not pull any punches with these rhymes.
I can’t clean up your act
I’m not a trash man or a heart attack
I got no voodoo or emergency room
To fix all the trouble that you get into
But GOD can
I just read on his lyrics page that the first track, “Break the Chains,” is actually an attempted radio edit for a 6 and a half minute epic. I kind of wish they’d left it.
For it being the only really bad song, I can’t imagine it getting better by tacking on another three minutes of chorus and solos. They also randomly play the song again at the end of the album, as though reprising it will somehow make you feel better about having to smell its stink the first time around. The last couple of tracks also feel out of place among the heavy riffing. “Glorify You” gets all power poppy out of nowhere and “The Crimson Bridge” is folky snoozer stuff.
I want to finish up talking about lyrics, but I also do not want to talk about “Weight of the World.” It is almost too cliche even for me, and since musically it seems to offer nothing I think we should skip it and move right on to Deaf Revolution.
Any thoughts on “Weight of the World?” Listening to the whole song now, the break down after the guitar solo is really cool, but then the crumby guitar comes back.
“Weight of the World” has a really cool Sabbath-sludge riff, so I can definitely stomach it.
I thought you’d like it because Campbell mentions Dio in the liner notes.
I’ve always liked the gargantuan riff type metal over the poppy polished Van Halen stuff, but most of that works really well here too. It’s funny how the whole album spans a ton of metal styles without sounding all over the place, ignoring those last two tracks I already mentioned.
The album as a whole is very pleasing. I can listen to the whole thing without skipping anything. But I would probably never drop the needle in the first or second track if vinyl ever becomes available.
There’s a hot streak from track four to track nine. It’s all tough rock with lyrics that never get too heavy-handed. Even for a man who concerns himself with secular things, it feels really honest music, which is more than you can ask from most Christian rock.
A lot of the time you just throw in a bunch of cliched garbage about Jesus and you’ve got an album for a rabid niche crowd. I can officially say that The Crimson Bridge are not posers.
Certainly not. At risk of sounding like a flip-flop, I actually think the tracks “Glorify You” and “The Crimson Bridge” are lyrically shameless and bold. I greatly appreciate Campbell’s heart rending core beliefs on those tracks.
I dunno, after being all hard for most of the album, it feels a little too soft so suddenly.
Onto the vocals. Here is from my personal write-up:
The backup vocals are elegant and punching in a sort of devil-may-care-hair-metal-Queen-parallel-fourths-all-over-the-place way. That’s DMCHMQPFAOTP for short. The backup vocals are musically the best part of the whole album.
It’s kind of funny, I think Campbell sounds really nerdy and nasal, but he sounds super tough anyway because the music is balls to the wall.
Manilla Road is a band that has a similar vocalist sound.
Another cool thing about the vocals is the interlude at the two minute mark in Deaf Revolution, the track which we have not lyrically analyzed yet. Apparently Fernando Ramirez is the troll voice. What a great break down!
That’s his name
Hey dude, we should wrap this up…
My time has come
You got big plans?
There are people in my living room
Oh wow, alright.
So I feel like I concluded a while ago by saying they aren’t posers.
That’s cool. I really think this is a killer album
The Crimson Bridge Ministry is a Christian Hard Rock project written by Greater San Diego resident, Norm Campbell. You can hear Remnant Rock on Youtube or ask politely and Nick Campbell money and an email to receive a physical copy.