Skindred – ‘Kill The Power’

Continuing last week’s theme, I’d thought I’d review the new album from genre-bending monoliths Skindred. Kill The Power is their fifth full length effort and sees Benji Webbe and co. provide the expected mesh of reggae, hip-hop and metal, whilst building upon the success of its predecessor Union Black.

The most noticeable change to their sound is immediately apparent during opener and joint-lead single Kill The Power; an increased reliance on the electronic and hip-hop elements that have been more sporadic on previous outings. The opening track’s bridge section and verses are carried by backing singers and processed drum beats, whilst elsewhere on the album Playing With The Devil drips with dubstep heaviness (reminding of Korn’s Path Of Totality) and Ruling Force‘s verses take pages from grime, UK garage and to a lesser extent dancehall.

Although the electronic aspect is almost ever-present, Mikey Demus’s guitar trickery doesn’t take a back seat. His repertoire includes beautiful delayed arpeggios and stabs In We Live and Playing With The Devil, a gorgeous solo in The Kids Are Right Now and straight up riffery in Ninja.

Unfortunately the album isn’t flawless. We Live is decidedly underwhelming, its potential never really becoming realised and its lyrical nature coming off more as a parody of late 60s flower power. Like many of their previous efforts, Benji Webbe’s vocals vary from emotion-provoking brilliance to shallow ramblings which border on meaningless. Saturday comes close to being a sequel to Rebbecca Black’s infamous viral-single Friday, which is a real shame considering it plays after the vocally outstanding Dollars and Dimes, which is one of the many highlights Kill The Power has to offer, characterised by Demus’s leads which ooze with sensual overdrive.

These flaws aside, the album still has a lot to offer. Open Eyed is definitely single-potential, made brilliant through guest vocalist Jenny G’s contributions and along with Proceed With Caution and Worlds On Fire, it displays similarities to their third record Shark Bites and Dog Fights. More Fire takes Skindred back to their inherited reggae roots, but instead of sounding forced or fake, it plays like a relaxed band jam, concluding the album perfectly.

Kill The Power was always going to struggle to keep the momentum which Shark Bites and Union Black helped create, yet Skindred somehow managed to outdo the critically acclaimed predecessors. The key to their continued success lies in their ability to cut out what didn’t work and evolve the elements that were successful, producing a record that will become the industry standard for amalgamating multiple genres within a single song.

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Introducing Deafheaven

It’s not often you come across a band who you can honestly say are unique, but Deafheaven are one of those rare bands who have managed to carve their own niche in an overly-saturated music scene.

Deafheaven’s sound is distinctly black metal, but they intertwine elements of post-rock and shoegaze into their sound without leaving the scars of their combination behind. Previous efforts (an LP and several EPs) have shown signs of potential, but like with most young and ambitious projects, the tracks were overtly claustrophobic and tried to convey too many ideas in the time available. However, their second album Sunbather, released last year, shows no sign of this problem, instead Deafheaven have opted for expansive tracks that allow themes and motifs to breathe and develop before they are switched. In fact Sunbather only has seven tracks, but still comes in at an hour, allowing four tracks to reach the ten minute mark – of which three surpass it.

All of the long tracks have enough musical changes to keep the listener interested and contrast the often ferocious attack with mellow clean sections. Opener Dream House is supplemented with glorious tremolo guitar lines, which soar high above the traditional black metal underbelly, which is replicated by the final track The Pecan Tree helping to conclude the album. Elsewhere Kerry McCoy’s guitar is laced with bright delays and reverbs, and even follows a more traditional lead approach on Vertigo, which reminds of Mastodon’s Crack The Skye mixed with the darker sounds found on Remission.

However, it is during the shorter tracks where Deafheaven allow themselves to loosen their grip on black metal and explore the post-rock and shoegaze elements which are often more subtle on the longer cuts. Irresistible is a beautiful instrumental featuring gentle guitar work and will please fans of Sigur Ros’ introverted soundscapes, whilst Please Remember utilises noise and spoken word, before transforming into a hypnotising acoustic passage. The final short track Windows is the darkest on the album, taking sinister cues from the album Ghosts on Magnetic Tape from Steven Wilson’s drone side project Bass Communion.

George Clarke’s vocals, whilst completely uninterpretable, provide a massive sonic presence and guide the song more through raw emotion than any tangible meaning. However, this is not to say that the vocals are pure nonsense, for anyone who takes their time to read the lyrics they will be able to pick up the loose concept weaved throughout the record.

The post-rock/metal genre is a surprisingly hard sound to stretch over an entire album, due to its often minimalistic and repetitive nature, however on Sunbather, Deafheaven manage to keep their sound fresh and inspiring throughout its entire length by juxtaposing passages of beauty and bleakness cleverly and by knowing when it’s time to attack and when it’s time to withdraw. Sunbather is easily the best and most inventive record to come from the black metal genre in years and for a three piece (as they appear on the album) it’s surprising just how much sonic space they can fill.

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this week’s blog please like, comment and subscribe to email updates. Apologies for being a day late – I spent the whole of yesterday traveling to and from Wales!

A Very Metal 2014

It is that time of year again where we look to the twelve months ahead and try to predict which upcoming releases will be topping the end of year polls and leaving a mark on the music scene that will last for more than just one month. In this week’s blog I have decided to look at five of the most anticipated metal releases of 2014, regardless of whether they have been confirmed or not.

Machine Head – 8th Studio Album

I’ve recently found myself listening to a lot of Machine Head, especially since they announced that they will be entering the studio next month to record their 8th full length record. This album will be the follow-up to the highly successful pair of 2011’s Unto The Locust and 2007’s The Blackening and if their incredible form continues through, then this release will conclude a trilogy of albums that will acclaimed in the metal community for many years to come.

Tool – 5th Studio Album

Tool haven’t had a new release since 2006’s 10,000 Days and finally after a period of noticeable activity from the band, it seems the music for the album has been written and when vocalist Maynard James Keenan has finished writing the lyrics, the band can finally re-enter the studio and perhaps have the album released before 2014 draws to a close. Although this album has not been announced, if it doesn’t drop this year is almost guaranteed to be out in 2015, a mere nine years after their fourth album surfaced.

Skindred – Kill The Power

Reggae-metallers Skindred arguably pushed themselves into their widest audience yet with 2011’s incredibly hard-hitting Union Black and have the unenviable task of bettering it with this years Kill The Power, which is due out later this month. The Welsh five-piece announced this album back in April last year and have since been hard at work recording what is promised to be another massive record in Britain’s biggest growing metal band’s back catalogue.

Mastodon – 6th Studio Album

Although it’s a minority opinion, I personally felt Mastodon’s last album, The Hunter, suffered from a lack of direction both conceptually and musically. This isn’t to say it was a bad album, in fact it had may stand out tracks including Curl Of The Burl and Dry Bone Valley, but as a cohesive unit it didn’t hold together as well as a Mastodon album should do, especially when compared to the likes of Crack The Skye and Leviathan. Nevertheless a new mastodon album is always a welcome thing and with their drummer Brann Dailor finally adopting more vocal duties (as arguably their best vocalist), their sixth effort is bound to launch them even further into progressive metal royalty.

Opeth – 11th Studio Album

Opeth’s 10th album Heritage was a severe detour away from their progressive death metal style which they have been refining since 1995’s Orchid. Band leader Mikael Akerfeldt has announced that the new album will go in a heavier direction than Heritage but won’t be returning to the extreme levels that previous albums have reached. I personally doubt that Akerfeldt will ever return to sounds similar to those featured on Blackwater Park (probably due to the continual working relationship with prog-genius Steven Wilson), which whilst a shame, will only push him into new genres, producing more unique and unexpected records that allow his creative talent to be used to its full potential. In the meantime go and listen to Storm Corrosion (his collaboration with Steven Wilson) if you still haven’t!

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What was in my Christmas stocking?

As well as being a time for family, Christmas is a time for new music, and as normal I got through a fair amount of new records and I thought I’d share three (well four if you’re being pedantic) of my favourite ones from over the festive period.

Pain Of Salvation – Road Salt One & Two

Born from the fire of nu metal, the Swedish four piece have finally emerged as a proper progressive act with their seventh and eighth studio effort; a double concept record called Road Salt. The incredibly ambitious album sees the band taking all manner of musical styles in their stride, making use of a wide variety of instrumentation, producing an album that is simultaneously both eclectic and focused. The album follows a rough concept about choosing the right road to go down and whilst it’s not essential to follow, the odd repeated theme and lyric help to bind the diverse record together.

For fans of: Riverside, Porcupine Tree, Opeth

North Atlantic Oscillation – Fog Electric

Fog Electric is a modern rejuvenation of classic progressive bands such as King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd. Adding electronica elements such as dance-orientated drum beats and a heavy reliance on bass lines, to traditional progressive sounds, is an almost impossible project to get right, but somehow the Scottish threesome have achieved a perfect combination. The album could, and arguably should, have sounded like a nasty collection of remixes, but instead the result is a fresh revision of what the progressive rock genre can offer, with uplifting, hazy tracks like Soft Coda and contemporary electronic sections, such as those found within Empire Waste.

For fans of: Radiohead, Steven Wilson, The Pineapple Thief

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Bordering somewhere between pop and art rock, Alt-J manage to combine the intellectualism and pomposity of the progressive genre with the accessibility and charisma of pop. Whilst at times their grand ambitions can detract from the outcome, most tracks on An Awesome Wave are a successful marriage of the two distinct genres. Breezeblocks and Tessellate are perfect examples of this union, providing addictive melodies alongside experimental musicality and a desire for the bizarre, especially where the vocals are concerned.

For fans of: The xx, Radiohead

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