About Me

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Greetings! My name is Matthew, and I love to listen to all types of metal. Since I’m a Christian, most of the bands that I listen to reflect my faith or have positive, uplifting lyrics. The other thing that you should know is that I love to write – in fact, I want to write epic science fiction for a living.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Becoming Saints - "Oh, the Suffering" Review



     Becoming Saints wear the label of metalcore on their sleeves, but their debut album Oh, the Suffering boasts moments of melodic hardcore, metalcore, and post-hardcore.  These elements all weave together to create a diverse record that unapologetically grabs the listener by the throat and hurls them into the most pit.  Moments of melodic intensity appear between the brutal breakdowns, and in the tradition of the spirit-filled hardcore bands of the late 90s and early 00s, Becoming Saints is a band that is as much about the message as they are about the music.
     With an EP under their belts already, Becoming Saints doesn't waste any time, but gets right down to business with the first song on Oh, the Suffering.  The strength of Oh, the Suffering is felt in the opening two songs.  "Built for War" hits heavily and lingers, and its melting pot of stylistic choices are reminiscent of Onward to Olympus' This World is Not My Home.  The ending of "Built for War" is stunning.  An anthemic clincher segues into a creative breakdown that perfectly juxtaposes against a slamming bass riff.  In fact, if more bands created breakdowns in this manner, the current hardcore scene wouldn't be so dull.
      It's unusual that I'm able to compare a song to Life in Your Way, particularly because that band has constructed a unique and fresh version of melodic hardcore, but the dueling sung and growled vocals on "Push and Pull" definitely give off that vibe.  Unfortunately, the band begins to slip toward mediocrity with the song "Lost."  While the chorus is solid, the track is brought down by generic breakdowns.  Even crushing vocals from Living Sacrifice legend Bruce Fitzhugh barely pull this one out of the mire.  I'm sure that the breakdowns are more invigorating live, but in the end they are the Achilles' heel of Oh, the Suffering.
     "Oath" is an adrenaline-soaked rendition of hardcore with snippets of melody that offset the more brutal portions of the song.  "Mother Teresa" features spoken lines from the miracle-working lady herself and serve as an interlude on Oh, the Suffering.  Unfortunately, it's difficult to understand what she's saying. 
     "Vox Mortem" is a warrior's anthem.  One conjures up an immense Viking warrior, his great red mane flowing in the wind, his bulky frame overshadowing lesser men.  With one stride he clutches two of his enemies together; with one swinging motion he crushes their skulls in his callous hands.  Then it's on to "Unbroken" and some stellar riffing by guitarist Kory Olson.  The atmosphere in the background of this song creates an almost epic feel, and parts of it draw influences from Soul Embraced. 
     "This Heart Yours" is plagued by too many breakdowns; even so, it boasts one of the best choruses on the album.  Ready for another sonic break?  "De Paso" is an instrumental that shelters the listener from the ravaging gusts of the world.  The spoken passages on "My Fall Your Gain" create a somber mood.  These lines transition into a soaring chorus that is filled with passion and panache.  You can really feel the intensity of a focused group of musicians on this song.
     "One Shot" is exactly that -- a bullet straight to the chest, one that knocks you out every time.  The cyclical nature of the chorus and the intricate background melodies are marks of advanced musicianship.  The guest vocals by Emily Wold also serve to make this song one of the strongest on the album as the band pushes the envelope of post-hardcore.  The denouement of Oh, the Suffering is an intriguing choice, but the almost stoner vibes that the song gives off would probably be best served as a melodic interlude elsewhere on the album.
     At the end of the day, Becoming Saints is doing a lot of things right.  Fans of bands like For Today, Life in Your Way, and Your Memorial will find portions of Oh, the Suffering to fall in love with.  Oh, the Suffering is a promising debut album, and if the band continues to improve in its musicianship and vision, they may become one of the top contenders in the metalcore scene.  

Rating:  7.5/10

Monday, October 31, 2016

Theocracy - "Ghost Ship" Review (Halloween Special)


     It's All Hallows' Eve, the time of year when ghouls and goblins dance on top of graves and in the middle of our streets.  Jack-o'-lanterns leer at us around every corner, and children bounce along on hay rides in the settling gloom.  So let's kick back and turn up the volume as we stuff our faces with delicacies of every chocolatey and sugary stripe, sipping cider next to a roaring flame.  As your ears perk up, you hear the first notes of Theocracy's fourth album Ghost Ship sailing out of the dense fog, tantalizing us with its strong brand of melodic power metal and eerie album art.  The cover is something right out of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and like the namesake in that series of films, it's a classic for the ages. 
     Many critics have harped on the fact that Theocracy draws from a well of influences that include European power metal bands such as Sonata Arctica, Edguy, and Blind Guardian, but the band doesn't merely ape these artists.  They have formed their own brand of power metal here in the United States, and have dared to dream of a musical vision that is known both for its epic songwriting and its grounding in the Christian faith.  Hot off the heels of its predecessor, As the World Bleeds, and daring to challenge Theocracy's opus, Mirror of Souls, the new album Ghost Ship does a more than adequate job of living up to the band's stalwart legacy.
     Ghost Ship leaps out of the gate with the opener "Paper Tiger," and while the title of this track suggests a dual fragility and ferocity, the ferocity wins out in the end.  It's immediately apparent that guitarist Van Allen Wood is no slouch.  Accompanied by Jonathan Hinds on rhythm guitar, he capably shreds his way through the first track.  Theocracy also experiments with what I will tentatively call a "rap" at the end of "Paper Tiger."  It's similar to a vocal style used on the song "I Am" from the previous album, except this time it's grittier and faster. 
     Then it's on to the title track, "Ghost Ship."  This song is strongly influenced by the past musical styles of the band, featuring obvious thrash roots and a crunch that has been present on songs like "Laying the Demon to Rest" and "30 Pieces of Silver."  But there's also a raucous posturing by the lead guitar as it whizzes overhead (show off!) and eclipses the other instruments on the song.  Arguably, it's one of the standout efforts on Ghost Ship.
     "The Wonder of It All" continues in this thrashy vein, and Matt Smith demonstrates why he is one of the premier vocalists in metal today.  His voice soars between lower and higher octaves with ease.  Personally, I'm a huge fan of the lower, more baritone aspect of his voice.  "Wishing Well" begins with orchestration that segues into an anthemic monster.  It will certainly give me pause the next time I cast a penny to make a wish.  Theocracy shows off their song writing skills on "Wishing Well" as it builds to a crescendo and then backs off into a melodic bridge, but the ending is pure angst framed by pointed drumming.
     The beginning of the song "Around the World and Back" comes off as a bit gimmicky with the sound effects, and the band arguably loses a bit of steam at this point.  But Theocracy "Stirs the Embers" again, as guitar riffs surge like waves slamming into the shore on the next song.  The two dueling guitars bounce off of each other with perfect timing, and some of the riffing on this song puts modern-era Metallica to shame. 
     "A Call to Arms" features heavy syncopation, which gives the song a pointed edge and musical focus.  The chorus is one-hundred percent "We Will Rock You" material, and you'll be singing it as you drive to work and humming it as you take a shower.  "Currency in a Bankrupt World" slacks off the pace for a moment, but its rolling melodies and impetus are as infectious as The Walking Dead
     "Castaways" heralds our ears with an aggressive early '90s thrash riff, and as the bass guitar kicks in, it's clear that even Fast and Furious can't hold a candle to this pace.  The imagery on this song does an excellent job of complimenting the album's nautical theme. 
     "Easter" is the band's opus, and while it's obvious that this is one of the most technically proficient and passionately inspired songs on the record, it doesn't quite hold up to the epic qualities of "Mirror of Souls" or the frantic pace of "I Am."  After debating inwardly with myself about this track, I've come to the conclusion that what bothers me is its lyrical content.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not critiquing the band for what the lyrics represent, but rather their approach to it.  They come across as rather cookie-cutter in the end.  It lacks the originality of the lyrics of the two aforementioned songs.  Of course, this is merely a quibble, as the tremendous uplifting atmosphere of the song wins out in the end.
     By any standard, Ghost Ship is a phenomenal album.  Fans of power metal, thrash metal, and heavy metal will find moments to enjoy on Ghost Ship.  Theocracy is a talented bunch of musicians, and it's hard to believe that this vision started with just one man, Matt Smith.  So, let's not wait any longer.  Grab your headphones and a cup of cider or ale, as it's time for the ride of a lifetime.  Hold on to the nearest railing or spirit (on second thought, you might want to just grab the railing).  All aboard the Ghost Ship!

Rating:  9.5/10

Monday, October 24, 2016

Amos - "Jade" Review


     After a considerable hiatus, the Brazilian metal band Amos is back with their unique brand of uplifting Gothic metal.  Jade is an album that was recorded around 2009 as the band's third full-length record, but since Amos broke up, it was put on the shelves to gather dust.  With the reformation of the band, fans get a chance to listen to the album that they never knew existed.  Jade is a powerful Gothic metal album that evokes strong images of stirring hope amidst despair, fear, and loss.  It's arguably their strongest material to date, perhaps even pushing out A Matter of Time due to its focused and thematic songwriting.
     Amos doesn't hold back any punches, but bursts out of the gate like an enraged bull surging towards the matador.  "Still Believe" has a comforting Paradise Lost One Second-era vibe to it, and the chorus will percolate into the back of your mind and stay there.  "Devotion" emphasizes the band's strong roots of faith and melodious, creative guitar playing.  Amos also features the bass guitar on this song, setting up and then accentuating the pervading rhythm.  Bravo!
     "Called From the Dark" could easily be a B-side from A Matter of Time, but the throwback also hints at the complex range of singer Rodrigo Shimabukuro.  His deep baritone is an expansive well drinking in water.  Then, just when the listener thinks that they've found the groove of the song, "Called From the Dark" breaks into a heavy metal onslaught that sounds like it belongs on a Maiden record.  "Stranger Loves" dips deeply into the band's Gothic roots, as Shimabukuro slurs the vocals to create an almost melancholic, moody vibe.
     If keyboards are your jam, then "Lost Essence" will be a song that you want to check out.  The breakdown almost two minutes in, framed by the keys, is perfect.  The symphonic outro to the song conjures up the blissful image of a maiden resting beneath the shade of a forest canopy; a waterfall nearby thunders and swirls into eddies, which gradually make their way into into the gently running rivulets of a murmuring brook. 
     "Surrender" begins with an atmospheric guitar lick and then segues into a sorrowful song reminiscing about love.  Shimabukuro shows impressive range with his pipes as he transitions into an almost falsetto chorus, and the shredding guitar solo makes this a standout track on Jade. While a lot of bands lose steam at the halfway point, Amos proves that they are seasoned musicians.
     "Infinite" is a heartfelt ballad that wouldn't seem out of place on a Red record.  The keys are featured heavily on this track, and it's a respite from the angry surging of the guitars.  The title track "Jade" is an intriguing song from both a musical and a lyrical standpoint.  As the child in the song hides from the dark angel, her struggle can be felt in the swirling keys, which is juxtaposed against darker, more sober elements in the song.
     The last two songs on Jade are pure adrenaline.  Channeling their inner musical guides, Amos gives us "Prodigal Girl," which is chock full of pounding drums and aggressive guitar licks.  As the closer "Wait for You" begins with a gritty and memorable guitar riff, I had to double check and make sure that I wasn't listening to To Hell With the Devil.  The chorus on "Wait for You" is old school rock 'n' roll framed by teenage angst. 
     Jade is surprisingly good.  In fact, after listening to the record almost a dozen times, it was difficult as a critic to find any discernible weakness.  There's nothing that can be labelled as filler, and while the production quality on the symphonic parts is a bit thin in places, it doesn't detract from the overall atmosphere of the record.  I only hope that the album gets the credit and audience that it deserves.  Jade is a heartfelt Gothic monolith mixed with elements of heavy metal that will stand that test of time in Brazilian metal for years to come.

Rating:  4.5/5.0

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Narnia - "Narnia" Review




     The lion is roaring again!  Swedish power metal band Narnia has released their seventh full length album amidst unbridled anticipation from fans across the world.  The self-titled album boasts Christian Liljegren back on vocal duties, which is more than fitting.  German Pascual did an excellent job in the interim, but it just wasn't the same -- similar to how Iron Maiden just wasn't quite Iron Maiden without Bruce Dickinson at the helm.  The album Narnia stands as a statement of both musical quality and bold integrity.  As the band's twentieth anniversary approaches, it's apparent that Narnia isn't backing down or giving up.
     The album begins with "Reaching for the Top," a typical Narnia offering that immediately brings to mind Enter the Gate material.  The swirling guitar and backing keyboards, all framed by a catchy rock anthem, will have you bobbing your head along in no time.  Then it's on to what is arguably the strongest song on the entire album.  "I Still Believe" boasts an introduction with strong folk influences.  The song structure and memorable chorus brings to mind Golden Resurrection, one of Christian's other bands.  Tight drumming and a standout performance by the keyboardist propels this song into legendary territory. 
     With the first two tracks being home runs, it's difficult to stay on par, but the band manages a solid number with groove-laden "On the Highest Mountain."  The song "Thank You" is an interesting experiment in production.  The first part of the song is somewhat muted and laid back, which helps to emphasize the shredding guitar solo in the second half of the song. 
     "One Way to the Promised Land" would have fit well on Course of a Generation.  Featuring another strong chorus and some of the best fret-work on the album, it's a testament to the band's penchant for skilled songwriting.  "Messengers" lags a bit behind the rest, and while I don't quite want to call it filler, there's not much that stands out.  "Who Do You Follow?" is an indictment of the Swedish church.  Like the prophets of old, Narnia is not afraid to both admonish and encourage an establishment that has long been in decline.
     "Moving On" is a fitting name for the next track.  Drummer Johansson is a monster on this song.  In many cases power metal underutilizes percussion, but that's not the case here.  Out of the breakdown soars the electric guitar, thrumming with chords of palpable energy.  Narnia ends the album with "Set the World On Fire."  While it's a solid track, the end of the album isn't quite as strong as the beginning.  The band does end up losing some steam on the last number.  I was also disappointed that the band decided not to craft a lengthy epic on this album.  Narnia would have benefited greatly from a track similar to "The Great Fall of Man" or "Trapped in This Age."
   Narnia's return is a convincing one.  Longtime fans of the band, power metal fans, and advocates of metal in general will find something to enjoy on Narnia.  As the band progresses, it will be interesting to see where their next endeavors head. C.S. Lewis, progenitor of the world of Narnia, once said,  "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."  The band captures this sentiment perfectly in their seventh studio album Narnia.

Rating:  4.0/5.0

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Morrow Review on Metal Utopia

 Hello everyone!

In addition to writing reviews for this blog, I am going to be splitting the duty and also writing for the webzine Metal Utopia.

I am pretty excited about this, as it will expand my metal horizons and also allow me to reach a larger audience with some of my reviews.

You can read my first exclusive Metal Utopia review for the band Morrow here.  If you like Crust or hardcore, be sure to check it out!



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pÿlon - "A Lament" Review



     If there's a best kept secret of the Swiss metal scene, it might just be the doom metal band Pÿlon.  They've been pumping out solid albums for years now, with A Lament measuring in as their seventh full length release.  Heavily influenced by the likes of Black Sabbath, Candlemass, and Trouble, Pÿlon nonetheless brings their own cathartic brand of doom metal to the scene.  Crunchy, driving riffs compliment Matt Brand's soaring, Ozzy-influenced vocals.
     A Lament begins with the track "Cosmik Lizard," a psychedelic, Sabbath-influenced tune.  The experimentation on this song works well as it creates an epic atmosphere tinged with sorrow and anticipation.  Pÿlon is back on track with their second song "Desolation is Divine," which is filled with chanting and stalwart doom riffs.  "The Day After the War" begins with an intro riff that is no doubt influenced by guest musician Ian Arkley of doom metal outfit My Silent Wake, then transitions into a tingling lament of a soldier facing the lingering atrocities of war.  The atmospheric lead guitar and time changes, coupled with the heavy subject matter, make this one of the most poignant songs on the album.
     Pÿlon does an excellent job of keeping the middle of A Lament interesting.  The two tracks that stand out are "Lazarus" and "Fair Haven of Thesterness."  When most people think of doom metal, they think of long, epic tracks breaking the ten minute mark.  "Lazarus," clocking in at 9:35, is just a few seconds short of that mark and is without doubt the opus of the album.  It follows the story of a wealthy man who dies and faces the fiery pits of hell.  He is denied even a drop of water; he begs but is not given the opportunity to warn his family of the impending torment.  The lead guitar on this song gracefully garnishes the swelling riffs of the rhythm guitar, culminating in a soft, atmospheric ending.  "Fair Haven of Thesterness" starts with some thumping bass notes that compliment the haunting nautical imagery in the song.  About two-thirds of the way into the track, the tempo kicks up a notch with a pace more akin to thrash metal.  Then the shrieking guitar and slamming drums back off, and the track ends much where it began.
     The ending is perhaps the weakest part of A Lament.  While "The Lone Rider," a tribute song to Clint Eastwood, goes off without a hitch, "A Lament" is a fairly insipid outro that leaves the listener wondering what happened.  Instrumentals are fine -- but they have to do something.  This track doesn't serve as a bridge between tracks, can't really justify standing on its own as a unique artistic composition, and is generally unremarkable.  "Lazarus" as the closing track would have made a much more lasting statement.
     A Lament is a solid offering of doom metal inspired by many of the greats in the subgenre.   In the future, it would be interesting to see Pÿlon branch out more in the direction of "Cosmik Lizard," a unique track that really helps set the album apart.  If you like any of the bands mentioned in this review, or need some comfort music on a dreary, wet day, then Pÿlon's A Lament is a solid option.

Rating:  3.5/5.0
   

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Indominus - "Legion Within" Review




     We all come to turning points in our lives, and the same can be said of the Irish band Indominus.  Bands usually undergo name changes when they experience member fluctuations or sound changes.  The latter has surely happened to Indominus, formerly known by the moniker ForChristSake.  With any such change, there is a question as to whether the new band will perform as well as the old.  Indominus boasts a heavier sound, plays more cohesively as a unit, and has chosen a sonic avenue that harkens to the likes of bands such as Broken Flesh, Suffocation, and Cannibal Corpse.  Shredding guitars, shrieked death growls, and on-point drumming have all become hallmarks of the band's first release, Legion Within.
     The album begins with "Leeches," a track that sets a frantic pace that doesn't let up throughout the course of the EP.  Throughout the album, the band manages to be heavy while maintaining musical direction.  We've all listened to death metal bands and simply tossed them aside because there was no originality or drive to the music -- you won't find that here.  Frequent changes in pace and rhythm, soaring guitar solos, and gritty drumming all lay waste to the listener's sonic awareness.  The second track "Backbone" begins with a thrashy rhythm that propels the song forward into a blistering rendition reminiscent of Impending Doom with its driving force and catchy lyrics. 
      Certainly the high point of Legion Within is the track "Shadow."  This is the song that I keep coming back to.  It has a tinge of melodic death metal to it, as the overarching electric guitar truly shines on this track. "Shadow" seems like it should have been the finale on the EP.  "Fragile Existence" is perhaps the most technical song on the album, and it evoked the feel of As Hell Retreats.  Legion Within ends with its title track.  It begins with a "core" feel, with numerous breakdowns, but then flowers into a monolith of chugging guitars and frantic drumming.
     All in all, Indominus hit the mark with their debut EP.  It will be intriguing to see which route the band takes next -- it seems that either becoming more technical or adding more melodic overtones would both suit Indominus fine.  Featuring the bass guitar more often could also benefit the band.  Earlier this week, I came across an interview with death metal legend Steve Rowe of Mortification.  His Scrolls era work is known as some of the best Australian death metal to date.  He said something surprising in that interview -- namely, that there really isn't a Christian metal scene right now.  I have great respect for Mr. Rowe, but it's quite possible that he hasn't given Legion Within a listen...

P.S. -- Did I mention that's some killer artwork on the cover?  \m/


Rating:  4.0/5.0

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