Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Review: Opeth, "Lamentations"

Always evolving and moving forward, Opeth takes another chance on their latest release, the live DVD "Lamentations."

Recorded at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, the DVD features a real rarity, a complete performance of the band's mellow 2003 release "Damnation." That album, the companion piece to 2002's heavier "Deliverance," showcased the band's melodic side in a way that fans had never seen. It's a blending of folk, psychedelic rock and other influences with no distorted vocals and little distorted guitar, a stripped-down declaration of the band's talents.

The show chronicled on this DVD is a gutsy move for the band. It takes some moxy to take the stage in front of a group of rabid death metal fans and play what is, in essence, an acoustic set. Singer Mikael Akerfeldt makes reference a couple of times from the stage to the band being a little nervous, and well they should. Extreme metal fans are known for their fierce loyalty, but they're not known for embracing change in their favorite bands.

Opeth has always been the exception to that rule, though. They built their name on 10-minute epics with complex arrangements and strange musical shifts. Over the course of a 10-year career, the band has been constantly on the move, and most of their fans have followed. The evidence is on this DVD, as fans pump their fists with just as much vigor to the slower songs in the first set as to the metallic second set.

The band's performance is note perfect. There's not a lot of stage show - no pyro, no elaborate set, no rock star posturing. It's an honest performance from a band that's just happy to be doing what it does. (When was the last time you saw a rock guitarist take a minute to tune on stage, rather than just trading his guitar for a new one?) For Opeth, it's all about the music. But the live show is no less entertaining for that - in fact, it makes it all the more powerful, highlighting the band members' superb musical skills.

The band also uses the first set masterfully to build excitement, tension and drama for the second set. It comes to a head when the band launches into "The Master's Apprentices," throwing fans into a frenzy for the second helping, which focuses mainly on the "Deliverance" and fan-favorite "Blackwater Park" albums.

As an added bonus, the DVD contains a 65-minute documentary about the making of the companion albums "Deliverance" and "Damnation," which gives fans an insight into the internal workings of Opeth.

Get "Lamentations."

Review: God Forbid, "Gone Forever"

With their latest release, God Forbid join the ranks of a new breed of American metal bands like Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and Chimaira that don't mind mixing and matching their favorite parts from all the various subgenres of heavy music.

To see a perfect illustration of this, you have to look no farther than the first single off this album, "Better Days." It pummels you into submission during the verse, then lifts you back up with a melodic chorus that will burn its way into your head and get stuck there.

The whole album follows suit. It takes elements of hardcore, death, thrash and good old-fashioned melodic metal and creates a Frankenstein monster that's just as volatile and just as fascinating as Mary Shelley's creation.

I can't resist a good melodic vocal with a vicious call-back scream, and this album is packed with them, most notably "Washed Out World." But the band can also rip out a good straightforward exreme metal number, too. Check out "Anti-Hero."

The New Jersey-based quintet tears through nine songs on "Gone Forever," each as good as the last. From the thrash of "Force-Fed" to the bludgeoning "Judge the Blood," the album is outstanding from start to finish. Welcome to the future of extreme metal.

Get "Gone Forever."

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Review: Damageplan, "New Found Power"

Pantera fans, rejoice. Founding brothers Vinnie Paul and "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott have called in reinforcements for their MIA bandmates and recorded an album that will have Pantera fans asking one question - Phil who?

They had big shoes to fill on vocals, but former Halford guitarist Patrick Lachman was up to the challenge. Lachman can do a spot-on Phil Anselmo impersonation in case the band wants to roll out some Pantera tunes, but he's also got a versatility that allows him to do much more than just be a clone of his predecessor. (Take a listen to "Reborn" or "Soul Bleed" to hear another side.) The band's tattoo artist Bob Zilla takes over on bass, laying down a solid bottom end.

With song names like "Breathing New Life," "New Found Power" and "Reborn," it's not hard to figure out that a lot of the songs are about new beginnings and reflect the band's struggles over the past few years. (There's also a very pointed jab at Anselmo.)

The album is a new beginning in more ways than one, though. Without the expectations of a Pantera album, Dime and Vinnie took the opportunity to stretch their songwriting skills, resulting in a much more varied album.

While numbers like the title track, "Breathing New Life" and "Explode" are ripped straight from the Pantera songbook, there are songs you'd never hear on a Pantera album, like the acoustic "Soul Bleed," the earthy "Moment of Truth" or "Pride" and "Save Me," which come down more on the commercial side of today's metal scene. In essence, they can have their cake and eat it, too, with pummelling songs that will satisfy Pantera fans and a few that could find crossover success.

Is it a new Pantera album? No. Half the album is too mellow, and it just doesn't have the same spark. But it's as close as we're likely to get.

Get "New Found Power."

Review: Into Eternity, "Buried in Oblivion"

Into Eternity first wowed me with their 2002 release "Dead or Dreaming." Its high-powered blend of progressive and extreme metal was surprising and refreshing.

The Canadian quintet returns with a much more ambitious offering for their official Century Media debut. "Dead or Dreaming" was all about the hooks, focusing on the progressive side and melodies that stick with the listener. There's nothing on this album that I'll hum for weeks like "Absolution of the Soul" from the last record, but the songs here are much more complex and engaging.

The focus on "Buried In Oblivion" is fully on the heavier side of the band, even veering a bit into the black metal realm on songs like the outstanding "Dimensional Aperture" and "Beginning of the End."

The band also embraces its Canadian roots. "Point of Uncertainty" sounds so much like Canadian thrash legends Annihilator that I had to check the liner notes to make sure Jeff Waters hadn't joined.

For those who prefer the progressive side of the band, there's a treat in the companion pieces "Buried in Oblivion" and "Black Sea of Agony." The first is a soft song with some nice orchestrations which leads perfectly into the second song, which would have been right at home on "Dead or Dreaming." There's some very nice vocal play on this album between Chris Krall and Tim Roth with interesting swaps and harmonies. The clean vocals sound at times like Geddy Lee and at others like a young Geoff Tate and the death vocals run the gamut from shrieks to rumbling growls.

With this album, Into Eternity shows that it has more to offer than a few catchy hooks. They're definitely a band to watch.

Get "Buried in Oblivion."