Ancient Ascendant-Raise the Torch

I stumbled across these dudes a few years ago when they released their Echoes and Cinder album and I was really blown away by their ability to combine serious technical chops with a decent amount of grove.  So many times, it seems like dudes that are really technically proficient get too focused on that aspect and forget that having a catchy hook or creating a nice groove is really the key to writing a really good song.  These English blokes just get it as their latest release proves over and over.

I’m not really certain what sort of sub-genre of metal you should even pin on these guys.  Death metal?  Black metal?  It’s sort of a blender full of Lamb of God riffs, Opeth-type acoustic interludes, Behemoth-esque intensity and a Kvelertak’s sense of rollicking fun.  It’s definitely a mish-mash of influences.  The resulting sludge is just about downright perfect.

Oh…and I totally forgot about the handclaps!  This has got to be the only death/black metal album to feature a song (Scaling the Gods) with some downright infectious hand claps.  Yeah…death metal hand claps.  I know!  Fucking weird, right?  And it totally works!  It’s like they were totally listening to More Than a Feeling by Boston during the recording of the album and were like, “You know what?  Fuck it…we’re going with hand claps, dammit!”  It’s this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that I absolutely love.  Greatest death/black metal innovation since Ihsahn decided to go full on black metal sax on some of this solo albums.

Anyway, I’m really hoping this album does well for these guys.  It’s a wonderful slab of songs.  I’d really love to see them make the trek across the pond and pound out these songs live.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Hand claps!  Dig on this and tell me it doesn’t make you want to boogie.

Mastodon and Russian Circles at ACL Live, Austin, TX, 5/20/2017

Mastodon is a band that has come a long way over the years.  The first time my punk rock fiancee went to a Mastodon show with me she turned around during their first song and asked, “Are these guys homeless?”  When they first started out, they were just flat out harsh.  They were just scruffy looking dudes laying down brash vocals and sludgy-as-hell riffs.  I never really pegged these guys as a band that would ever achieve wide-spread acclaim and acceptance outside of the underground metal world.   How things have changed.  Playing the Moody Theater at ACL Live is truly a mark of “making it”.  This is just as beautiful and best sounding venues a band can play.  It was an appropriate venue for Mastodon to put on what was probably the best performance I have witnessed by the band.

This show was a band completely on top of their game.  There have been shows in the past where Mastodon’s live sound was not completely up to par.  A complaint bantered around was that their live sound was just a bit muddy in comparison to their albums.  Maybe it was playing in a venue with superb acoustics, but Mastodon just sounded crisp on this night.  Also, the visuals the band brought with 6-8 video towers were sufficiently trippy to match the songs.  For those of Mastodon’s fans concerned about the softening of their sound over the years, this performance should put such fears to rest.  All of the earlier albums were well represented on the setlist.  This show was a statement by a band that is operating at a peak and it bodes well for these guys going forward.

An added bonus of this show was getting to see Russian Circles play a large venue.  Russian Circles is truly one of the special bands operating in the underground metal scene.  I always love seeing small bands getting an opportunity to play a venue other than a small club.  Their sound was simply powerful to behold in this venue and from the response of the crowd, it seems like they may have made a few new fans.

The Eagles of Death Metal were also on the bill, but their performance really didn’t warrant a serious mention.  It would have been nice to see a better band filling their slot on the bill.

Some samples:

Sultan’s Curse (excuse the initial focusing issue…it clears up)

Divinations

Megalodon

Oblivion

Circle of the Cysquatch

Russian Circles-Deficit

Chris Cornell, 7/20/1964 – 5/17/2017

Dammit.  This one was a surprise.  My alarm went off at its usual 6:05 and I check my news feed.  Ugh…I’ve spent the morning trying to process this one.  Cornell wasn’t a mess.  He seemed to be in really good health.  52.  This really sucks.

Whenever playing the game of naming which musicians would make up your fantasy all-star band, Cornell was always my go-to guy on the mic.  This dude’s pipes were so strong.  I think he’ll be known for the high notes he could hit, but to me his voice just had that heft that most singers will never have.  It had substance.  It had weight.  There was a power there that just pushed Soundgarden and Audioslave to places they couldn’t have reached without him.  I’ve always said that of the Big 4 grunge bands to come out of Seattle, Soundgarden is the one that always stood out above the other three.  Cornell was the main reason why.  I’m glad I got a chance to see the reunited Soundgarden play live a couple of years ago.  I will cherish the memory and will really miss never getting to hear him sing again in a live setting.

I’ve seen a lot of people posting songs and videos.  Here’s mine.  I remember hearing this song for the first time while watching Headbanger’s Ball on a Saturday night during my early days of college.  It was just fucking weird and intense and chaotic and dangerous and unlike anything I had really heard before.  I honestly wasn’t sure I even liked it, but I certainly couldn’t get it out of my head.  This is the song that has been rolling around in my head since I heard the news this morning.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Cornell.  We will all be forever looking California, but feeling Minnesota.

Pallbearer at Barracuda, Austin, TX, 5/13/2017

Pallbearer just seems like one of those bands that might have a chance to breakthrough to some mainstream success.  I get a sense from reviews of their albums that the media has a soft spot for these guys.  It really reminds me of Mastodon’s rise in fame over the years.  Looking back at the first couple of Mastodon albums, I never would have predicted how big of a band they have become.  I have a feeling I’m going to be looking back in a few years and have the same exact feeling regarding Pallbearer.  Their first album is damn near inaccessible in its dreary presentation of doom metal.  It is pure sludge and pure despondency.  However, they have lightened the sullen weight of their presentation over the last couple of albums (see review of Heartless from April 10).  I could be wrong, but I can see heady days coming for these guys.  All they really need is some decent exposure from a nice supporting slot for a larger band.

I’ve seen Pallbearer a couple of times in the past, but this was the first headlining show I’ve seen them perform.  It was nice to get a full presentation of songs from them instead of the usual short opening set (which were normally only 3 songs long due to the epic length of most of their songs).  I have to say that the band’s performance radiated a new level of confidence from the prior times that I have seen them.  This is a band that is in complete control of the stage and you can tell that their past touring has resulted in a tighter live band.  I have to say that it is sometimes jarring hearing the voice of an angel come out of lead guitarist and singer Brett Campbell, who bears a striking resemblance to Dewey Crowe from the TV show Justified.

Some samples:

Thorns

The Ghost I Used To Be

Worlds Apart

Evergrey at The Rock Box, San Antonio, TX, 5/11/2017

On my way out the door to hit the road for this show, my punk rock fiancee asks derisively, “Is this going to be one of those weepy, emo-metal shows?”  My response was a somewhat defensive, “Ummm, NO!  Whatever. Your face is emo-metal.”  Of course, after listening to a shuffle of Evergrey tunes on the way down to San Antonio, I kind of had to be honest with myself and say, “OK, maybe they are a little on the emotive side of metal.  There may actually be some weeping this evening.”  So what?  Metal dudes can be in touch with their feelings, too.

At any rate, I’ve been waiting to see these guys for some time now and they did not disappoint.  This band has been creating a solid catalog of progressive power metal for close to 20 years now.  Even though their lyrical content does center more on the emotional side of things, these guys create a wall of crunchy guitars that are as heavy as any other band going today.  I would have enjoyed hearing a few more songs from their earlier releases, but the songs they did play were delivered in a very strong fashion.  The only real downside to this show was the paltry size of the crowd.  There were probably less than 50 people in attendance.  However, the people that did show up were apparently huge fans and still managed to supply a fairly boisterous response that the band clearly appreciated.

So, did I embrace my inner emo and openly weep in public during the show?  Ummm…NO!!!  Your face is weeping!

OK…maybe I did.  Piss off.

Here are some samples.

Passing Through

The Grand Collapse

A Touch of Blessing (along with a squawking parrot-like creature)

King of Errors

 

The Sword at Mohawk, Austin, TX, 5/5/2017

After this show was over, I really had the feeling that our little band from Austin is all growed up.  These guys put forth a set that proves that this is band with some heft.  After watching these guys come up from the local Austin scene and blossom into an international act, it is impressive to see them at this stage in their career.  No gimmicks.  No b.s.  No cheesy crowd banter.  Just song after song after song.  These guys have become a truly professional band with serious musical chops.

The Sword is still out promoting their High Country and acoustic re-imagined Low Country albums in addition to last week’s release of a live album entitled Greetings From…  The set list pulled heavily from the latest album with a fine sprinkling of classic tracks.  I was somewhat on the fence when High Country came out.  The marked change of direction from their earlier albums didn’t quite click with me.  However, the more I hear these songs and, especially hearing them in a live setting, I really believe that I kind of missed the boat on my early impressions.  The newer material seems to have more in common with ZZ Top or Molly Hatchet than the Sabbath influences of the earlier albums.  Even the older songs were delivered with a dash of southern fried flavor. The new direction just works really well and the songs really exhibit a diversity that bodes well for The Sword going forward.  I think they’ve made the move to distinguish themselves from the rabble of Sabbath-influenced bands active today and are beginning to create a more original space for themselves.  I really believe that good things are coming down the road for these guys going forward.

Some samples:

Arcane Montane

Tres Brujas

Mist & Shadow

Mother, Maiden & Crone

Lawless Lands

Cloak of Feathers

Labyrinth-Architecture of a God

Italian power metal is what we have here.  Bombastic vocals, breakneck riffs, serious guitar wankery, over-the-top orchestral keyboards and melodramatic emotive lyrics are the order of the day.  If you’re looking for subtlety, you should probably pull your horse up to another saloon.

I think I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with power metal over the years.  On the one hand, this style of metal was inspired by the bands that had a massive influence on me becoming a metalhead…namely Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.  So, there’s a part of me that is going to be drawn to this style of music.  On the other hand, it really feels like the great majority of bands that deal in this style of music go way over the top with the grandiosity of the lyrical themes, the soaring vocals and the pure saccharine gloss of the music.  Sometimes the proceedings just veer into cheese.  It’s kind of like watching Nicholas Cage in Con Air.  It’s entertaining to listen to in small doses, but after a while the extravagances can start to induce eye-rolling.

Labyrinth has been one of those bands that always seems to walk right up to the dividing line between cool and cheese.  By and large, they have managed to stay on the cool side. There’s nothing on this album that is breaking any new ground as far as the Labyrinth sound goes, but it isn’t just a paint-by-numbers job either.  I have to say that upon the second listen, my reaction to the album as a whole really improved.  So, I’m saying give this one some time and it might just sink into your brain as it did mine.

3 flip flops out of 5