Deftones – Gore

2016, Reprise

Deftones are undoubtedly one of the most enduring success stories of the mid to late-90s nu-metal explosion; the Sacramento, CA, 5-piece are arguably as popular now as they’ve ever been. It’s not been an easy ride though, with delayed album releases, personal problems and of course the tragic coma and death of founding bass player Chi Cheng making things particularly tough in recent years.

While preceding albums Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan retained much of the excitement and dynamism from the earlier releases that made Deftones such a big name, 8th album Gore is unfortunately nowhere near as engaging. Creative differences and disagreements within the Deftones camp about the direction of the music on Gore had been widely reported leading up to its release, with guitarist Stephen Carpenter apparently being particularly displeased with several aspects of the album. Having given Gore a few listens now, I can sadly say that he’s not the only one.

Credit where credit’s due though, there are plenty of positive elements on Gore that can stand proudly alongside much of Deftones’ earlier work. “Doomed User” conjures up memories of Grammy-winning “Elite” from White Pony, with a punchy post-thrash riff that will work well live. At the other end of Deftones’ musical palate, “(L)Mirl” is a great example of the shoegaze/post-rock side of their sound, with lush, evocative guitar melodies blending well with the vocals; if nothing else, Chino Moreno’s still got it. The album also ends pretty well with the one-two punch of “Phantom Bride” and “Rubicon”. Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell pops up to deliver a great guitar solo that dovetails well with a good, atmospheric chorus on the former, while the latter hearkens back to the heyday of nu-metal, when Deftones built a strong reputation of blending intricate, thoughtful melodies with the genre’s more standard elements.

These few tracks aside, there’s not a great deal to write home about elsewhere on the album. “Hearts/Wires” is an introspective number, but lacks any kind of hook to sustain the listener’s attention, whereas “Pittura Infamante” contains a distinctly uninspiring, droning riff; this is where Stephen Carpenter’s alleged boredom and dissatisfaction is most painfully apparent. Elsewhere, we have various shades of atmospheric post-rock, industrial and nu-metal elements with the occasional positive moment (“Geometric Headdress” has an alright chorus melody, and the title-track has a good heavy riff), but the overwhelming feeling, I’m afraid, is that this is a very DULL album. Occasional good moments do not a good album make; there just aren’t enough ideas here to sustain an entire album.

I’m someone who’s enjoyed much of Deftones’ earlier work, so this is not an attack on their general style; it doesn’t bother me that they’re arguably more introspective and less in-your-face than several other bands of their generation. But they have done much, MUCH better than Gore in the past. Hopefully, by the time Deftones come to record their next album, the creative differences they suffered here will have dissipated and they’ll be back to doing what they do best. Regrettably, Gore is a generally forgettable album that is far from essential listening; NOT recommended if you’re new to Deftones.

Verdict: 5.5/10

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Babymetal – Metal Resistance

2016, Ear Music

Has any band EVER divided metal fans more? Should this J-Pop crossover trio even be considered “metal” at all? How does a manufactured YouTube act manage to appeal to young pop fans and beardy metal fans alike, to the extent they can sell out Wembley Arena? These questions and more have baffled the rock/metal world for 2 years now, since Babymetal’s “Gimme Chocolate” video was unleased on an unsuspecting and very confused world. One thing’s for certain: what many people dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan gimmick has proven to be anything but that. With the release of their second album, Metal Resistance, Babymetal has the momentum of a runaway freight train and soon they will rule the world. And I for one welcome our new Japanese overlords.

For anyone who was unconvinced by Babymetal’s self-titled debut album, it’s worth stating that Metal Resistance has a distinctly different feel to it. There seems to be a concerted effort to create a more mature sound, perhaps due to the increase in the girls’ ages. The songs on their debut album were written over a period of 5 years or so, with Su-Metal, MoaMetal and YuiMetal’s ages ranging from about 10-14, and as a result there was a distinct lack of stylistic cohesion. Now aged 16-18, they’re not little girls anymore; there’s much less of the cutesy, bubblegum stuff that typified their earlier music, with their producers/musicians no doubt realising that a more serious metal sound would be needed in order for Babymetal to have any kind of long-term appeal. Rather than just indiscriminately splicing J-Pop and metal elements together, the music on Metal Resistance features the different styles being blended together much more intelligently, and it is a far superior artistic and cultural statement as a result.

Just about every shade of the metal spectrum is explored here, and there isn’t a track where Babymetal’s idiosyncratic style doesn’t work. Track one “Road of Resistance” will be familiar to many, as it has already appeared as a bonus track on the UK version of Babymetal. Guest-starring Dragonforce guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman, it is essentially a Dragonforce song with Babymetal singing over the top of it. A million miles an hour with an earworm of a vocal melody, it gets the album off to a gloriously epic start. Follow-up track “Karate”, the album’s lead single, shifts to a 90s nu-metal/industrial mood, with heavy guitar riffs and a catchy chorus interspersed with plenty of mellow, introspective moments; sort of like KoRn meets The Cranberries. The one-two punch of these opening tracks show how much Babymetal have evolved since their debut album; there’s much, much more to them than sugary J-pop chirpiness.

Traditional J-Pop elements are still very much present throughout the rest of the album, but they blend with the heavier metal aspects much better than before. “Awadama Fever” is simultaneously upbeat and harsh with a BEAST of a riff kicking in halfway through that will surely convert even the most cynical of “true metal” fans. “Meta Taro” is an anthem made to be performed live, one you’ll be singing for ages; the kind of catchy vocal melody J-Pop is famous for combines with a great militaristic rhythm a la Rammstein and the sort of catchy keyboard riff many European power metal bands spend their whole careers trying (and failing) to write. And “Sis. Anger” doesn’t mess about at all, launching into full on Cannibal Corpse territory with its death metal intensity, and it’s no less brutal despite the catchy chorus. You find yourself forgetting that Babymetal are manufactured; this may be the product of a record company rather than the organic work of young musicians, but who cares when the results are this good!?

The best is saved to last though, with the 3 closing tracks being amongst the most enjoyable metal tracks I’ve heard for quite some time. “No Rain, No Rainbow” is unashamedly a ballad, with a gloriously camp guitar solo. It manages to stay just the right side of cheesy; expect to hear it over the end credits of a big anime film soon. “Tales of the Destinies” is a big polyrhythmic ball of prog-metal weirdness, with the likes of Dream Theater and Dillinger Escape Plan clearly being influences here; its sheer audacity is nothing if not impressive. And then, to close, there’s “The One”. Sung in English on the album’s international version, the girls of Babymetal show off the full power of their voices on this epic metal anthem. A great call-to-arms, it leaves the listener wanting more, intrigued as to what may follow on future releases…

Whereas Babymetal was an interesting experiment to mix together J-Pop and metal, Metal Resistance takes the concept to a much higher level; this is J-Pop-influenced metal, perhaps the start of a new genre of music. I would strongly encourage all those who wrote Babymetal off as a cheap novelty act to give this album a go; unless you’re as stubborn as a mule, you will find plenty to enjoy here. Novelty acts don’t attract this level of sustained attention without the songs to back up the concept. Metal Resistance shows that Babymetal and their producers take this endeavour deadly seriously, and this is surely only the beginning (sorry haters!)

Verdict: 9/10

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Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika

2016, Century Media Records

It’s an oft-quoted statistic that Finland has more metal bands per capita than any other country in the world; its population is smaller than that of London, yet you can’t move for top quality music in the land of a thousand lakes. It takes a lot to stand out and attract attention in such a fertile environment and, over the past 15 years or so, Moonsorrow have received wide praise and adulation for their idiosyncratic brand of “epic heathen metal”. Borrowing various elements from Viking/black metal, traditional Finnish folk music (they famously sing almost exclusively in their mother tongue) and progressive rock, they’ve done more than most to maintain Finland’s prominent place in the metal world.

Jumalten Aika [The Age of Gods] is Moonsorrow’s 7th full-length album, their first in 5 years and first for new label Century Media. It’s an ideal opportunity to attract new fans, but luckily there’s plenty here to keep long-term supporters happy too. In standard Moonsorrow fashion, 4 of the album’s 5 tracks are over 12 minutes’ long, and a mixture of natural sound effects and various folk music elements are used to blend one track into the next, with the presumed intention that the album should be best enjoyed when played continuously as a whole. The title track kicks things off with several Moonsorrow hallmarks: a brooding folky intro, traditional percussion, chanting, a catchy marching tempo and frontman Ville Sorvali’s trademark anguished howl. It’s a perfect start to the album and is destined to become a fan-favourite. It also reaffirms the fact that Markus Eurén is perhaps the most underrated keyboardist in metal. By virtue of his catchy, bombastic keyboard riffs, his playing is arguably the central part of Moonsorrow’s music; he shows that keyboards can be used in metal for more than just flashy solos or a bit of background noise.

Second track “Ruttolehto” [Plague Grove] starts with an upbeat section that you’d more commonly associate with Moonsorrow’s compatriots Ensiferum or Finntroll (then again, Moonsorrow guitarist Henri Sorvali plays in Finntroll as well). There are plenty of emphatic and uplifting choral and chanting sections here, though these don’t cohere perfectly with the heavier parts, meaning that this doesn’t flow as well as many of Moonsorrow’s better songs. Still it’s an enjoyable enough listen, and writing 15 minute-long songs that don’t outstay their welcome is no mean feat!

Third track “Suden Tunti” [The Hour of the Wolf] is a departure from most of Moonsorrow’s music; at a mere 7 minutes long, it’s the shortest song they’ve released in over a decade. I don’t know if the intention was to create a “hit single” (though they have made their first ever official video for this track…) but it does a neat job of encapsulating many typical elements of the Moonsorrow sound into a (relatively) compact package. Henri Sorvali and Mitja Harvilahti’s guitars are at the forefront here, with plenty of great old-school riffs reminiscent of the likes of Darkthrone and Candlemass, backed up by drummer Marko Tarvonen’s pounding rhythms. It’s the kind of track that can easily attract new listeners who are less accustomed to Moonsorrow’s epic sound, though the shorter running time may not be to all long-term fans’ tastes; some may consider it restrictive and inhibiting.

Tracks four and five “Mimisbrunn” and “Ihmisen Aika” [The Age of Man] recall several elements that made Moonsorrow’s particularly epic 5th album, V: Hävitetty, so popular. There are plenty of prog-influenced, melancholic folk melodies throughout both tracks (imagine a Pagan Pink Floyd if you will) interspersed with old-school black metal and fist-pumping Viking rhythms. Pummelling drums and doom-laden guitars bring final track “Ihmisen Aika” to an emphatic close, fading to the sounds of a crackling log fire and natural song of a northern forest. It’s a thoroughly satisfying way to end an album.

There is little on Jumalten Aika that will disappoint old or new fans of Moonsorrow; all the classic elements of their unique sound are present and accounted for. It’s very much a case of business-as-usual, though the flipside of that is that there isn’t really anything new here; there’s barely anything that the band haven’t done before. Is that necessarily a bad thing though? Not in my book; you might know what you’re getting but you also know that, with a band of Moonsorrow’s talent, energy and ambition, you’re not going to be disappointed. Jumalten Aika is a worthy addition to an already impressive catalogue.

Verdict: 8/10

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