Tag Archives: Front Line Assembly

The Albums of 2019

Back in July, I observed that the music of 2019 consisted largely of music I missed from 2018; and that continued through the rest of the year. However, new music also continued to appear, and most (but not all) of the expected releases finally materialized (exceptions: the new Body Count, and the oft-delayed new Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster, theoretically due early in 2020).

 Overall, I find the musical year has been a bit lacking — almost all of the albums range from definitely listenable to very good, but none of them strayed into Great territory. Even the best album of the year has a handful of songs that could have been left off. Out of the 10 in the final list (and a shorter list this year than has been the case lately), I can listen to only 4 others in their entirety without my attention drifting; the rest are either solidly competent without being outstanding in any way, or have some excellent tracks among general indifference. This may be the first year where this has happened.

 At any rate, on to the list, from 10 to 1.

 

10. Queensrÿche: The Verdict

 My first Queensrÿche album; I have avoided them largely for the same reason I do not listen to Iron Maiden: I cannot stand operatic metal vocals. However,  the tracks are solid, listenable, professional hard rock, the sort of album you can play when something is needed that isn’t quite aural wallpaper but also doesn’t demand a lot of attention. Satisfyingly heavy and melodic.

 

9. Torche: Admission

 If you like it short, no pretensions, sludgy and heavy, these guys deliver. They can certainly settle into a groove when needed, but most of the songs here are brief and to the point.

 

8. Front Line Assembly: Wake Up the Coma

 The return of the Canadian industrial stalwarts, first new material for a few years, and a few guests included. I still don’t think FLA is as good as Noise Unit (another Bill Leeb project) at its best, but they are legends.

7. 3Teeth: Metawar

The third album from the guys on the front lines of industrial metal, presenting their dark vision of the state of the world today. It is a hard, polished album, perhaps less gritty and fierce than their last one (<shutdown.exe>) and honestly I think it suffers for that.

 

 6. Pelican: Nighttime Stories

 It’s hard to believe these guys have been around for almost 20 years, but they are indisputably one of the best known instrumental post-metal outfits in the world, and this new album just reaffirms why.

 

5. The Tea Party: Black River EP

 This year marks 30 years of existence (more or less — there was a hiatus for a few years) for this Canadian trio, although they have not been very active lately. A new album in 2014, few shows here and there, a Canadian tour in 2016, but little else. Late in 2018 they played a few gigs (I caught them in Toronto) in support of a new EP called Black River, and this was released at the end of November.

 Generally I like songs here and there across their discography but nothing like an entire album, but this EP — six tracks over about 20 minutes — is surprisingly good. Very strong bluesy rock, rather less pretentious than is often the case with Jeff Martin; there really are no weak songs at all. I’m almost tempted to move this EP up a slot in the ratings, but for sentimentality’s sake I will leave it here.

 

4. Pretty Maids: Undress Your Madness

 The fourth album of all new material since 2010, the year of their resurrection; it is safe to say that this past decade has been one of the strongest in their career, which says something considering that career spans damn near 40 years. I discovered them in 2016 with their album Kingmaker, (review here) and it was a revelation.

 The Pretty Maids formula remains untouched: intersperse killer hard-rock stompers with monster metal face-melters, toss in the occasional hard rock ballad (which these guys do so well), keep melody to the forefront, and feature the work of Ken Hammer, probably one of the best and most entirely-overlooked guitarists in all of hard rock/metal. Overall, however, I think this album lacks some fundamental grittiness and drive that is present in Pandemonium (2010) and Motherland (2013), and to some extent Kingmaker. It seems a bit smoother, maybe looking back to an earlier era. It starts out with a huge bang, but it is hard for the rest of the album to live up to those three opening tracks. It is a very good album, but not the best they’ve done these past 10 years (that title track, though…!!). One does hope for the best of course, given that Ronnie Atkins was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019.

 

3. Russian Circles: Blood Year

In the July post, I observed that I had only heard the new Russian Circles once, but it certainly held a lot of promise; I think it is safe to say (seeing where the album landed in the top 10) that it has lived up to that promise. Blood Year consolidates the band’s reputation as maybe the best out there at what they do, uncompromising instrumental post-metal, delivered with all the professionalism and passion the guys are capable of. I’m not about to argue whether it is their best album, but there is very little wrong with it. And the accompanying tour may well be one of the best I’ve seen from them.

 

2. Klone: Le Grand Voyage

The Frenchmen have surely delivered this year. Back in 2015 they released Here Comes the Sun, which marked a rather new prog-driven sound for them, and gained them a whole new following. Le Grand Voyage continues even farther down that road; they have left most traces of their metal past behind and have thoroughly embraced the lush, orchestral sound of the last album while completely avoiding the self-referential prog tropes that mar the presentations of so many current “prog” outfits. Le Grand Voyage is gloriously melodic, cinematic in scope, with some very immersive tracks (“Yonder”, and “Breach” particularly); alas it is not completely consistent in quality but definitely one of the best albums of the year in any genre.

 

1. New Model Army: From Here

 NMA: another of those outfits that has existed for more than 3 decades, with a solid and dedicated following; this time however I wasn’t completely oblivious to their existence since a good friend happens to be a fan, and had recommended them before this, but somehow the appeal passed me by. But again, Spotify to the rescue: a song from their 2016 album appeared in my recommendations, and playing that led me to try the new album.

 Which intrigued me enough to play it again, and then I noticed the lyrics.

 At this point (due to space constraints) I’ll just observe that I tend to be fairly critical of lyrics and with few exceptions I don’t spend much time with them. But I am happy to be surprised by the exceptions.

 Justin Sullivan is a master lyricist. I am extremely impressed, enormously captivated by his narrative power, his irony, his acute ability to grasp and illustrate relationships with a few well-placed words. The full review of this album will follow, and I could probably just write the whole thing with quotes from the songs. But of course, they are songs, and one cannot neglect the music: the album is almost entirely bass-and-drum driven, with acoustic guitar laid over that foundation. On this spare core are layered plenty of orchestral effects, heavy guitar, lots of density where needed … and entwined throughout are those words, telling us things about ourselves that we often don’t want to think about.

 It is not a perfect album; there are a few tracks that could easily have been left off to the overall benefit of the album — they just are not up to the quality of the rest and end up as distractions.

 I’ll leave you with “The Weather”. I’ll let you cogitate on it yourself, but if there is any song out there that is a song for our current times, this is it.

The Music of 2019, such as it is.

Here is a rundown of the the Albums of 2019, which are so far mostly the Albums of 2018 I should have found last year. Well, I suppose better late than never and all that. Interestingly, most of these finds have popped up in my weekly Spotify Discovery list, so I must be tweaking it right. Yes, the platform comes in for a lot of grief from some of my acquaintances for its pathetically low payouts to artists, and if streaming is your primary listening source then you need a good kick in the ass. However, it has done a pretty good job at turning up music that has led me to buy albums. Some of its suggestions are entirely unexpected given that it is an algorithm, and it is nice to have an alternative source of new music, because quite honestly I think I have exhausted the musical possibilities of most of my FB friends; I can often predict whether their recommendations will work or not, and there is not a lot of convergence any more between their tastes and mine, with one or two exceptions.

As well, I will do a quick run-down of the anticipated releases for this year. If even some of these albums live up to the potential of the last ones the bands released, it could be a pretty mighty year for new music.

So … starting with what came out in 2018 that I didn’t find:

Illusion: Anhedonia

 Illusion is a post-punk/grunge metal quartet from Gdańsk, Poland, founded in 1992 and with a rather on-again off-again career; Anhedonia came out early in 2018 and is their sixth album. It is a brief album, a shade over 30 minutes long. The songs are short, straight-up grunge rockers, nice and heavy but still quite melodic; these guys get right to the point without too many frills. This is not intellectual music by any means, but I find myself playing the album quite a bit. I have to say, the vocalist is excellent — some serious chops lurk beneath that gritty grunge style.

 

Author and Punisher: Beastland

 When this one turned up in my Spotify Discovery list, I was a bit surprised. I happen to love drone metal, but admittedly I don’t search it out much in Spotify and as far as I know there is none in my playlists. But for some reason, Spotify suggested a little ditty called “The Speaker is Systematically Blown”… and, well, “brutal” is one of the milder descriptors for what came blasting out of my headphones.

 Turns out that Author and Punisher is one Tristan Shone, who has been around for a while, a former mechanical engineer who has designed and made his own industrial musical “instruments”; Beastland was released in October of 2018. It is hard to describe exactly what we have here, except to say … imagine what a dozen drill presses might sound like wired up to a vocoder and run through a MIDI controller, turned up to eleven. Which isn’t to say that it is just noise. It’s not: it is industrial metal, and it sounds exactly like it should — a massive wall of rhythm and melody and a LOT of weighty drone. I love it.

Continue reading The Music of 2019, such as it is.

Albums of 2018: Numbers 6 – 15

As noted in the Introduction (which I hope you read first, link here),  I have not actually ranked these albums, they are listed in alphabetical order.   They do not differ from each other enough for a ranking to even make sense.  They are albums that I play reasonably often, and/or have qualities that make them interesting, enough that others might find them worth pursuing (in fact some already have — some of these albums rank pretty high in other people’s lists).  And fully seven of the ten here are instrumental.

Dead Letter Circus: Dead Letter Circus

This Aussie post-punk/indie bunch burst onto the scene in 2010 with a powerful first album, which contained some thoughtful, heavy tracks and a lot of promise.  Alas, they never really seemed to be able to live up to that promise.  Their second album, The Catalyst Fire, quite frankly was a mess, while the third, Aethesis, was about halfway listenable.

This, their fourth,  finds them converging towards shorter pieces that are focused on their strengths: intense melodic rock, nicely-constructed, very consistent, even if the tracks begin to sound a bit the same towards the end.  If they continue in this direction they may finally come up with the album they are capable of making.

Continue reading Albums of 2018: Numbers 6 – 15

Looking Ahead: The Music of 2018

Two reasons for this post:  1) to make a list of the stuff that is out/will be coming out/has been rumoured might appear at some point this year; and 2) to keep the blog alive.  I really do need to actually write stuff for it…otherwise why am I dishing out $150 a year?

It might be a bit early to talk about new releases (for me; I do not accumulate new music at the pace of some others I know), but there does seem to be enough interesting stuff upcoming to make it worth taking a look to the future.  There is a spate of albums coming out this spring, and then we wait for the fall season.  If certain rumours/promises come true, it could be another epic year.

So far in 2018:

The Temperance Movement:  A Deeper Cut : This album is seriously kicking my ass.  Great blues rock from England.  These guys are sharp and tight as hell, and clearly know what they are doing.

 

Dope Default: Ofrenda: Loose and dirty hard/stoner rock from Greece.  Ofrenda is their debut album, and it sounds like a debut album, but it is certainly listenable and has some good moments.  They are worth keeping an eye on.

 

 

Upcoming for sure/preordered (or will be):

Riverside:  I have heard one track from this album, in demo form … and ohboy ohboy ohboy.  If the album lives up to that promise…well, The Boys are Back. Fingers crossed.

 

Lunatic Soul: Under the Fragmented Sky (EP) – tracks that did not make it on to Fractured but are worth a release.  As above – I heard one track from this, and it revives my hopes for a return to the LS of old—or more precisely the LS that sets hooks deep in my soul.

 

Solar Fields: Ourdom – time for some classic industrial electronica.  I like some of his stuff more than others; I preordered the album on the basis of the youtube preview. I hope it is worth it.

 

Amorphis: Queen of Time.  One track (“The Bee”) released so far.  The Finnish folk-metallers sound much more symphonic and expansive, while retaining the heaviness and their signature growl/clean vocal tradeoff.  Based on this track I’m not sure it will equal the last album.

 

Awooga: Conduit – nice heavy metal/hard rock, they had a great EP from 2016 which I would play more often if I didn’t have to switch to 45 rpm (details details…).  A couple tracks already available to preview, they seem to have developed a more spacious sound.

 

The Fierce and the Dead: The Euphoric — I like them, but often what they do tends to get a bit too far into the technical/alt/art-rock region for me to love them.  But when they are good they are great, and I think the new one holds some promise. Preordered based on the released track.

 

Toundra: Vortex – I have all the previous albums from these Spanish post-rockers, that I don’t play all that often…but once in a while they hit the spot. The single “Cobra” sounds pretty much like Toundra, dense and heavy.

 

Front Line Assembly: WarMech – new soundtrack for a new game.  I find myself kind of up and down about these guys, I much prefer Leeb’s other project Noise Unit, but on the strength of the previous game OST (AirMech, which is pretty nice) I sprang for the preorder.

 

VNV Nation: Noire – Out in October, described as “dark and intense”, first studio album since Transnational in 2013.

 

Leech – The only Swiss band in my collection. It has been what – 5 years since their last one?  Six?  Anyway, it was a pretty nice post-metal album, and the  only album I tried purely because of the cover.  Be interesting to hear what the new one will sound like.

 

Nordic Union: wherein Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids (Denmark) lends his iron pipes to the sound of the hard rock outfit Eclipse (Sweden). At this point it is just the promise of a new release, no other info.  But that is enough for me: hopefully it will be the same kind of straight-up kick-ass hard rock as the first one, which I love.

Rumoured for 2018:

 Au4: Last fall an American internet radio guy scheduled a playthrough of 2014’s …And Down Goes the Sky, and had the guys live on the air to talk about it.  They said a new album should appear this year.  I surely hope so…if it is anything like that last one, it will be a strong contender for album of the year.

Missed from 2017:

 Hypergiant: Father Sky – interesting doom/psych rock.  It has its moments, and the track “Colossi” is truly epic, but the album might be a bit too much all at once.

 

Believe: VII Widows – a band that has been around for a while, in various incarnations, guitarist Mirek Gil’s vehicle since the end of Collage.  I am not a fan of long-winded modern prog, as many of you know, but VII Widows is surprisingly good, very nice arrangements and passages, and I must say beautiful guitar themes (Gil on here reminds me of Steve Hackett, and there is nothing wrong with that). I am not crazy about the somewhat overblown and mannered style of the vocalist, but there are few enough vocal sections that he ends up intruding less on the experience than would otherwise be the case.  Nice and listenable.

 

Decapitated: Anticult – I confess that I checked this out mostly out of morbid curiosity; the band found itself in deep shit in late 2017 while on tour in America (i.e. they were tossed in jail in Seattle for three months; charges were all dropped).  Not generally being a fan of thrash metal (or so I thought), I had not paid them any attention.  Well, you just never know: when I listened to Anticult I found, inexplicably, that I liked it a whole lot: in fact, it would have been one of the stronger releases of last year had I found it sooner.