Reviews for November 15th, 2012

Graveyard – Lights Out

Graveyard is a Swedish retro hard rock band, and “Lights Out” is their third album. Their second album, “Hisingen Blues” was released early in 2011 and made big waves with their 70s styled blues rock. I for one was fairly surprised to hear a band named Graveyard playing such brilliant hard rock music. I thought perhaps they would be doom or stoner, but no, this was pure blues rock without a hint of irony.

A year and a half later and they are back with “Lights Out”, another album full of modern classic rock. The success of Sweden’s Ghost has unleashed an army of imitators jumping on the retro-we’re-so-evil-but-we-sing-pretty bandwagon and I could just throw up (though I still like Ghost), but Graveyard is a completely different beast all together. Despite the grim sounding name, Graveyard does not put forth an image or songs that have any hint of real darkness. This sounds to me exactly like what it seems: fun rock and roll music with an emphasis on catchy songwriting and cool riffs. How refreshing is that?

If you’d told me two years ago that I would be totally enjoying a song called “Hard Times Lovin’” I would have laughed in your face. Yet now here I am sitting back and falling hard for just such a song. Amazing.

One thing that always bothers me about so many retro hard rock acts these days, is that rather than creating music in a particular style and leaving it at that, bands will dress down the songs in poor, muddy production and spend more time on sounding retro than on good songwriting. These are the posers looking to capitalize on a current trend, and I simply cannot stand them. Graveyard does not suffer from these missteps. I listen to the songs on “Lights Out” and I get the impression that these guys are writing the songs for themselves rather than trying to conform to expected genre guidelines. That is the key difference between songs that make up a great album, and derivative drivel.

“Lights Out” is another winner from Graveyard. Check these guys out and hear what hard rock is supposed to sound like. Here is the video for “Endless Night.”

Skálmöld – Börn Loka

Last year I reviewed Skálmöld’s first album, “Baldur.” This year these Icelandic Viking/Folk metal lads are back with their second album, “Börn Loka.”

I recall liking the first album, despite lyrics that are not in English, and it really took no time at all for me to make the same assessment of “Börn Loka.” The lyrics still sound like they are sung in what I expect is Icelandic, but metal, it transcends language. There is enough imagery created by the different folk elements in the songs that it still paints me a mental picture. Perhaps not the one they are singing about, but regardless, this still works for me.

The music is less heavy than say death metal, but heavier than power metal. There is a lot of folk sounding instrumentation which give songs that dancing-around-a-fire-drinking-horns-of-mead feel. The vocals have a heavy edge on them, but I would not go so far as to call them death metal-harsh. Group vocals get the clean treatment.

So the songs are killer, what about the sound quality? I am happy to report that the production sounds very well done as well. I do not hear a single thing I would do differently if I were at the helm of this ship.

Chalk this up as another win for Icelandic metal. Do not shy away from this album if you do not know the language, there is still plenty of good things to take away from this album.

Aonia – City of Shadows

Next up we have UK symphonic metal band Aonia and their six-track debut EP, “City of Shadows.”

The music on “City of Shadows” juxtaposes thrashy riffs with melodic, operatic female vocals. I often complain about albums that have less than stellar production. I also complain about symphonic bands that are too over-produced. (Those who complain well are known as critics, hehehe.) There is always a middle ground, and Aonia just happens to fit there.

I believe “City of Shadows” was financed by the band, and given that piece of information I think they did a great job with it. These songs do not have that over-produced quality which gets old for me real quick; rather they have a raw sound which, while less than pleasing for other metal styles is actually quite refreshing for a symphonic release. These songs have a much more intimate feel than an album that sounds like it was recorded with a huge orchestra. Another thing I like about this is that the metal feel of the songs does not get lost in the over-the-top pageantry I find on some symphonic albums.

In summary, we have cool metal music, clean and operatic vocals, and songs that sound like metal songs rather than fluff. To steal a phrase from Kevin Smith, this sounds like a big bucket of win to me.

SKurL – Au Bord De La Nuit

“Au Bord De La Nuit” is, as best as I can tell, the first album from one-man French band SKurL.

SKurL plays a dark/gothic metal. The music has a dark atmosphere without sounding too reverb-y and distant. The vocals are mostly harsh and the music has a somewhat thin sound that speaks of low-budgets and basement recordings. That is not necessarily a bad thing though, because while this does not sound like a huge production, it sounds raw and primal. The one thing that turns me off to low-fi productions is when they soak everything in way too much reverb. This guy doesn’t do that, and thus proves it is possible to make a low-budget metal album that actually sounds good.

The more I listen to “Au Bord De La Nuit”, the more it begins to grow on me. First time through I was impressed with how good it sounded with a low-fi production, but now I am starting to appreciate the songwriting and other nuances as well. As a former one-man band myself, I can appreciate what it takes to put something like this together. I wouldn’t mind hearing a bigger production, I’m sure the songs would only benefit from it, but as it stands, I am perfectly happy with “Au Bord De La Nuit.”

Make sure to give SKurL a listen. Here is “Dirty Queen.”

Tsar Bomb – Neowarfare

Tsar Bomb are a blackened death metal band from Spain and “Neowarfare” is their first full-length album. According to Encyclopaedia Metalum, “’Tsar Bomba’ was the nickname for a Soviet hydrogen bomb. With a yield of over 50 megatons of TNT it was the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated.”

Right off the bat I was impressed with Tsar Bomb. With music that does manage to bounce back and forth between a black metal sound and death metal, and vocals which do the same, I wanted to hear more. I would say most of this material, or at least the vocals, tends to lean a little more in the black metal direction.

For a three piece they have a very full sound. The production is not quite as thick as I would like, but neither does it have that too-tinny sound of low budget black metal. Listening to the album I would never guess it was a trio.

I don’t expect this will make the 2012 best of list, but “Neowarfare” proves Tsar Bomb is more than capable and I have no problem recommending them. Check out the track “Victorious Death” and see for yourself.

Beastmilk – Use Your Deluge

Svart Records puts out a rather diverse and interesting array of music. Some of it is just beyond me at this point in my musical evolution, but I thought Beastmilk was interesting enough (and by interesting I mean I could wrap my little brain around it) to include it here.

“Use Your Deluge” is a four-track EP of what Beastmilk dubs apocalyptic post-punk. So, yeah, it isn’t really metal, but it has distortion and it is kind of weird, so whatever. The vocals are clean and almost 80s Britpop. (Which reminds me, these guys aren’t British, they are from Helsinki, Finland.)

I guess I do not really have all that much to say about this, other than I thought it was interesting and wanted to share. With so much of the same old, same old gracing my headphones day after day, something a little different is always welcome. Have a listen to “Children of the Atom Bomb” and see if these guys tickle your fancy.