Saturday, March 21, 2015

Enslaved - In Times

The release of an Enslaved album is pretty much an event for me, as these guys are quite possibly in my top 5 favorite bands of all time. In my eyes they have done no wrong in their impressive 24 year career. From the very start you could tell that these Norwegian's were something truly special. And to think that these guys were merely teenagers when they recorded their demo and not much older when they released their legendary debut, Vikingligr veldi. Over the years their sound has matured and the band has managed to outdo themselves with each release while expanding their fanbase.

So here in 2015 we have another event, the release of their thirteenth full length album, In Times. As always, this band has reinvented themselves to release an album that is more magical than the last but still subtly hanging on to some of the older elements that have been in this band since the beginning. Their uncanny ability to meld blasting aggression and haunting melodies has been something this band has always been able to do, and this album is no different. From the immediate blasting of "Thurisaz Dreaming" you hear the familiar sounds if blasts, tremolos, and Grutle's signature rasp...that seems to sound much better here than on the previous couple of releases. But then the haunting melodies come in and create such an atmosphere. I've heard some say that they are not all that keen on Herbrand Larsen's clean vocals but I find them to be the perfect contrast to Grutle's rasp. He reminds me of Mikael Akerfeldt a lot and on here it not much different. He seems to actually expand his range a bit here showing us what he truly is made of. But if you think you have this album figured out based on this song, think again.

"Building With Fire" is unlike any Enslaved song I've ever heard. If the tempo and melody could be compared to anything, maybe Isa would come close. It's a mid tempo song and has an almost straight ahead rock riff going on to start it off. Clean vocals introduce the melodies. Then it goes into some interesting riffing with the keys providing another layer to this song along with Grutle's rasp. This song seems to actually build from it's rather simple opening to become a favorite song by this band. Atmospheric lead guitars provide another layer to enjoy. This is the band doing what they do best, not allowing themselves being put in any genre box but, instead, choosing to just be Enslaved. Each song is an epic composition that has it's own personality but at the same time is also absolutely necessary for the flow of this album. "One Thousand Years of Rain" shows this band's progressive side with the multiple time changes and some strange tempos. Mostly a mid to fast paced number with the vocals alternating with Grutle's rasp leading the way and Herbrand's cleans adding melodies there are some strange riffs and time signatures thrown in. Once you think you know what direction they are taking a song, they take into another.

The title track needs some special mention because, I think, this is quite possibly the most ambitious song the band has created since "793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne)" from their 1997 masterpiece, Eld. As a matter of fact, you can hear Grutle's chants in there as the song builds almost reminding me of said song. Then some interesting riffing takes over giving this epic life. It's all the elements combined that make this song truly special. A strange melodic part with vocal harmonies comes in in the middle of the song taking you further on the journey as it then slows with piano, acoustic guitars and atmospheric leads that give it an almost psychedelic feel. Then you have this blast that builds to take the song to it's bombastic completion. "Daylight" rounds out the album and is song with so many layers that it's hard to give an accurate description. The contrast of aggression and melody is profound on this song as spaced between blasting and harsh vocals are some soft acoustic moments that lead into beautiful melodies and atmospheric leads. This is the quite the fitting way to round out this musical journey.

Enslaved is a band that has never disappointed me and this album is another masterpiece that they should be proud of. Their progression never seems to stop and with each release they seem to raise the bar even higher than the last.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Storyteller - Sacred Fire

It's hard to believe that it's been almost 15 years since I discovered The Storyteller, a great metal band from Sweden that played heavy metal the right way! I instantly fell in love with their first album and followed their career for a bit before they kind of fell off the radar after 2005s Underworld, which seemed like the apex of their career. They returned in 2013 but, for whatever reason, that album completely blew by me. Imagine my surprise when I see that they released their sixth full length, Sacred Fire, last month. And what a release it is. When most of the European heavy/power metal bands are experimenting with their sound...and sucking at it, these guys delivered!

When they first arrived on the scene, some of their detractors were saying that they were nothing but HammerFall clones. My thoughts were, "What's so wrong with that?" Up until that time, HammerFall were one of the leading bands putting out speedy riff laden heavy metal. The difference is that the hammer fell hard and The Storyteller still has a few more stories to tell. This album comes out of the shoot strong with the riff heavy "As I Die." The lyrics are cheesy as fuck stories about dying in battles, Northmen, etc. and man do I love that shit! But it's the riffs and the hooks that pull you in here. And those gang "whooooaaaaa" backing vocals in the chorus are metal as fuck. The solos are just incredible and L.G. Persson's vocal delivery sounds better than ever. Then you have the galloping tempo, dual leads and catchy riffs of the title track. The verse has a nice melodic clean part in it adding to the old metal feel. Once again, the solo here is just awesome and the guitar tone is just perfect. The chorus is catchy and the gang backing vocals are just beauty to this old metalhead's ears.

"Serpent Eyes" just fucking slays with it's speed and overall guitar work. The chorus has wonderful melodies and just pulls you in. These songs are so well written and that it's just so refreshing. Once again, these guys are living up to their name because each song seems to tell a story. But nothing can compare to the epic "Sons of the North." This song just reeks epic metal. Going from slower to mid paced in places this song is the perfect metal song. All the elements that make this the perfect song are here. The chorus is slow, epic with choir backing vocals and a feeling that you are going into battle. This song gives me the chills. The speed picks up with the dual leads in the middle all culminating into a solo that is just amazing. This is the best song on the album let alone one of the best metal songs I've heard in a while. Then you have another galloping metal anthem, "Curse of the Seven Seas." this is another stand out track just because of the riffs and melodies and, once again, those gang vocal "whoooooaaaas" coming in at the beginning of the chorus and after the solo. I don't know about you but I fucking love that shit.

There are a couple of moments on this album that are weaker than others. "In Search for Treasures, Stones and Gold" comes after "Sons of the North" and, maybe because it does follow such an epic, it just doesn't stand out to me. Not that it's a bad song but after such an epic you need something to stand out. Maybe they could have something that stands out more after that epic like "Let Your Spirit Fly," which is a speedy number with all the aforementioned metal as fuck elements. Then you have "Coming Home," which is your obligatory metal ballad and even though it's not horrible as some of the more recent metal ballads have been, it just didn't seem necessary on an album like this. "God of War" rounds it out and does so in the best way you could possibly end and album like this. Speedy and melodic this is another song that is a stand out that just screams "metal" when you hear it.

This album slays, there is no other way to put it. This is the definition of heavy metal. Maybe this can put this band at the forefront of metal, where they have always belonged. No experimenting with more progressive or modern sounds, this is how metal is done...period!