Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Review: All That Remains, "Behind Silence and Solitude"

I grew up on the first wave of extreme metal in the 1980s - bands like Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica and others. But by the early '90s, Metallica and Megadeth had taken a commercial turn and most of these subgenres of metal had evolved into something that I didn't recognize as music.

At that time, it seemed to me that most of the new bands were less concerned with how their music sounded and more concerned with being louder, faster and more obnoxious than everyone else.

In the past few years, though, a new trend has pulled me back into the music on the more extreme end of the spectrum.

It's a brand of music that melds the new and old sounds. It's fast and heavy, but still very melodic.

One of the newest bands on this scene is All That Remains.

The influence of the pioneers of thrash and the New Wave of British heavy metal bands are obvious on this album. The twin guitar attack of Chris Bartlett and Oliver Hebert is more than a little reminiscent of classic teams like Judas Priest's Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing or Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith and Dave Murray.

"From These Wounds," one of the strongest performances on the album, really shows off the Maiden influence - and the guitar riff behind the solo seems to me an obvious homage to Metallica, circa "... And Justice For All."

The album also contains brief blasts of the frenzied insanity you'd expect, with 100 mile per hour drumming and grinding guitar riffs. But for every one of those, there's another, more surprising moment.

Take the the bluesy break in "Home to Me," the catchy - dare I say, funky - verse of "Follow" or the crushing, Sabbath-style riffs of "Erase."

Lyrically, the band sets itself further apart from its peers. They eschew the campy and often gory horror movie imagery of other extreme metal bands in favor of intelligent statements about love, loss, pain and anger - things that are real to listeners.

Even though they're delivered in the guttural growl that seems obligatory these days, the lyrics are almost poetic - even taking on Christian overtones "One Belief."

In fact, the vocals are my only problem with "Behind Silence and Solitude" - and it's not really a big one. Philip Labonte's growls are OK, but a more expressive vocal style might have elevated this album to the next level.

A voice that could really make me feel the emotions buried in these songs, would have made "Behind Silence and Solitude" easily one of the best metal albums I've heard in years.

As it stands, though, All That Remains is still one of the best extreme metal outfits going, and they offer hope for the future of the genre.

Get "Behind Silence and Solitude."

Review: Down, "II"

Almost six and a half years after their first album hit the shelves, metal supergroup Down is back with a new album and a new sound.

The New Orleans-based band features vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown of Pantera, guitarist Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, guitarist Kirk Windstein of Crowbar and drummer Jimmy Bower.

The band's first album, 1996's "NOLA," was just what listeners might expect from bandleaders Anselmo and Keenan - a heavy blend of Pantera and Corrosion of Conformity. Despite the fact they only played 13 shows and got little or no radio airplay, the album took on a life of its own - selling a half-million copies by word of mouth.

Down's sophomore effort brings a little more to the table.

Even though they only have limited time to work together - "II" was recorded in 28 days - they've managed to find their own unique sound. With this album, they embrace the musical diversity of their native New Orleans.

Several songs seem a bit out of character for the band members, who all come from the heavier end of the metal spectrum.

"Learn From This Mistake" is a slow blues number, almost like a lounge tune. "Where I'm Going" is a laid-back twangy country blues song, and "Lies, I Don't Know What They Say, But..." is classy mix of soft jazz and Texas-style blues.

The strongest song on the album, "Stained Glass Cross," adds a heavy guitar to that mix. It's got a catchy, Southern-fried groove - with some tasty Hammond organ and a great lead break before the chorus.

Groove is the key word for "Down II." Almost every song on the album has it. For fans who are more interested in the heavy tunes featured on the band's debut, there's "Man That Follows Hell," "Ghosts Along the Mississippi" and "Dog Tired." All are crushingly heavy songs with down and dirty grooves.

Down's influences also play a very big role on their sophomore album.

The opening cut, "Lysergik Funeral Procession," is lifted straight from the Black Sabbath songbook, as is the chunky opening riff of "New Orleans is Dying."

They break out the Hendrix funk on the first single "Beautifully Depressed"; "Landing on the Mountains of Meggido" is an obvious homage to Led Zeppelin.

While most side projects are self-indulgent excursions with mixed results, Down doesn't fit that mold.

In fact, these metal all-stars have combined to produce an album that outshines the recent releases of their regular bands. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for them.

Get "II."