Slipknot: 15 Years On

Fifteen years ago yesterday, one of the last truly ‘massive’ albums, both in terms of critical acclaim and impact on musical history, was released. Slipknot’s self-titled debut was the catalyst required to reignite heavy music from the doldrums of grunge and it became a blueprint for many bands to follow. Upon release, Slipknot were branded as a nu metal act, but apart from the genre’s characteristic raw aggression, their music shared little similarity with their rap-rock peers such as Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Papa Roach.

The truth is they had invented their own genre: Slipknot. A genre formed around the unique bond between the nine members.

Slipknot stands the test of time because of this brotherhood. The record is as energetic as their hectic live shows (show being the word of choice – Slipknot’s stage antics often resemble late night wrestling) and the songs were written for themselves, not to appeal to an audience or to satisfy a musical vision. Because of this, the soul of Slipknot (and as many interviews tell, a lot of spilled blood) is on the record, caught painstakingly by producer Ross Robinson, who was the man responsible for acquiring them a deal with Roadrunner Records.

15 years on, the band are still at the forefront of metal, albeit limping slightly from the loss of key writers Paul Gray and Joey Jordison. To mark this anniversary, this blog will detail what I believe are the five most important songs from Slipknot’s debut album.

 (sic)

(sic) begins with a barrage of percussion, a barrage the band would come to define themselves with. Slipknot have a startling three percussion players and alongside the scratches and scrapes of DJ Sid Wilson,  they have a unique sound dominated by chaos rather than melody. On (sic) Corey Taylor’s vocals really shine, his delivery is ferocious, mixing whispers with almost delirious screams.

Wait And Bleed

All albums, no matter what genre, require a sense of dynamics in the flow of the track listing. Although Wait And Bleed isn’t quite a ballad, it is a track that shows Taylor and co. can deliver melody and it would also lead the way for the more commercially orientated singles of the future. Wait And Bleed still features plenty of noise, but it is organised in such a way that the aggression is channeled, rather than allowed to spread aimlessly through the song.

Purity

Although Purity features on the original release, all subsequent pressings (excluding the 10th anniversary edition) omit this track. It was removed due to a copyright claim that argued that the song’s concept was stolen from a fictional story. The case would eventually be won by the band and the song would later appear on 9.0: Live and Antennas To Hell, whilst also becoming a fan favourite. Most new bands wouldn’t bother to get involve in big copyright cases and would simply give in, but even as a young band Slipknot showed they meant business and wouldn’t take no as an answer.

No Life

No Life is arguably the one track that earned Slipknot their nu metal tag. It features several rapped verses from Taylor, as well as clean sections, over rolling percussion and an array of buzzing and scrapes, reminding of Korn’s early nu metal style.

Spit It Out

Spit It Out is the most focused track on the album. It also showcases everything that is Slipknot within one song; there are wild turntable scratches, bizarre effects, heavy guitars, a cacophony of drums and plenty of vocal variety from Taylor. Despite the eclectic mix of sounds, Spit It Out is a refined effort that might just be the Iowa nine-piece’s greatest achievement.

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Introducing: Shining

Band evolution is an interesting thing. Last week I reviewed Anathema’s tenth studio album Distant Satellites, a masterpeice of progressive, almost ethereal music, but a million miles away from their origins as a doom metal band. However, the band I want to introduce to you today, has come on perhaps an even further journey through the jungle of genres.

Shining are a Norwegian band, heavily based in avant-garde and jazz, who formed in 1999 as an acoustic jazz quartet led by the multi-talented Jorgen Munkeby. Their first two albums (Where The Ragged People Go and Sweet Shanghai Devil) stuck to an energetic brand of modern jazz, which remained solely acoustic, despite the band learning to incorporate a wider range of influences on their second album.

Their sound underwent its first major transformation before the release of their third record In The Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster. The double bass was now an electric bass, electronic beats were introduced, electric guitars and synthesizers invaded the woodwind and Shining’s jazz origins had become tainted with experimental progressive rock. The change proved to be successful, as the band were awarded the Alarm Award for the best new jazz album in 2006. The follow up, Grindstone, kept with this unusual marriage, making the music harder and weaving elements of drone into the sonic, odd-ball barrage they had come to specialise in.

However, come their fifth album, Blackjazz, Shining would once again evolve, increasing the heavy aspects of its predecessors, so that they resembled something similar to black metal. Unfortunately, the introduction of frantic guitars, industrial synths, screamed vocals and a double bass pedal assault, left little room for the woodwind to shine. However, Munkeby’s writing remained firmly based in the jazz realm, so that traditional jazz elements do still remain; disguised cleverly under the dark cloak of black metal.

Their sixth album, One One One, was released in 2013 and once again shows the band refining their sound, due largely to producer Sean Beaven (who mixed and produced a significant portion of Marilyn Manson & Nine Inch Nails’ catalogue including Antichrist Superstar and The Downward Spiral) who gave the necessary polish required to their sound, whilst helping to highlight the industrial elements of their new ‘blackjazz’ direction. Upon first listen of tracks I Wont Forget and Off The Hook, it is immediately obvious that Shining have worked harder on melodies and on more easily digestible tracks, resulting in an album that somehow combines raw aggression with experimental instrumental passages in a very accessible way.

From acoustic modern jazz to black-tinged, industrial metal, Shining have come along way across six albums, but in doing so have managed to keep themselves sounding fresh and unique. Whilst I think we have probably witnessed the last major stylistic change of the band, I have no doubt that Munkeby’s writing will continue to deliver the quality that fans have come to expect of the eccentric four-piece.

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Album Review: Anathema – Distant Satellites

Originally a doom metal band, Anathema have undergone two transformations, the first into an alternative rock band and the second into a fully fledged progressive rock act. Since the second rebirth of Anathema in 2010, the British band have been on a upward trajectory with their ethereal brand of progressive rock. We’re Here Because We’re Here found the band playing around with ethereal elements, before 2012’s Weather Systems fully embraced the post-rock and orchestral ideology.

Distant Satellites, Anathema’s tenth album, once again sees the band evolve their sound further. Like Weather Systems it is an album of beauty, but with more dark corners and creeping shadows than its predecessor. Another similarity to 2012’s release is the inclusion of a multi-parted track to introduce the record. The Lost Song is this record’s Untouchable, with aural crescendo’s, an uplifting atmosphere and the beautiful marriage of the voices of Lee Douglas and Vincent Cavanagh. However, the third segment of The Lost Song, which is separate from the other two, feels isolated and lost within the record. It is more rock-orientated than its sister tracks, with chugging guitars, a prominent bass line and a driving drum beat, but the track feels tired as it reaches its climax and sadly exhausts the Lost Song theme.

Thankfully, Dusk and Ariel keep Anathema’s sprawling imagination in a tight package. Dusk is a song of two halves; the first harder hitting, with Cavanagh’s frantic vocals in the chorus contrasting perfectly with the piano-led beauty of the second half. The piano foundation continues on with Ariel, which takes a simple motif and moulds it into an epic piece topped with Douglas’ gorgeous vocals.

As the record progresses into its second half, the darker aspects of Anathema’s sound began to creep in. Anathema has a dark and brooding atmosphere underneath a repeating and haunting piano arpeggio, which is mirrored by a clever drum beat that begins with a tom roll. Naming a track after the band is a risky decision, but on this instance it paid off, as Anathema perfectly defines the band. Cavanagh’s vocals in the verse are superb and the track is concluded with a striking string riff and a signature sustain-dripped guitar solo from Daniel Cavanagh.

This darkness is carried through onto You’re not Alone, which besides the heavy distorted guitar riff that concludes the track, also features Cavanagh’s faster whispered vocals, which haven’t appeared on record for over a decade (since Panic and Pulled Under at 2000 Metres A Second from A Fine Day To Exit and A Natural Disaster). This track also expands upon the electronic aspects that appeared on The Storm Before The Calm, by successfully weaving electronic drum beats into Anathema’s atmospheric sound.

This almost-Radiohead dynamic continues on with Distant Satellites, which is preceded by Firelight, an atmospheric instrumental introduction comprised of sustained swells. Distant Satellites is the highlight of the album and is almost unrecognisable from the Anathema heard on Weather Systems. The track is heavily based in trance, utilising repetitive structures and a bass groove to make the longest track onto the album seem half its length. A similar theme is evident on the final track Take Shelter; a Sigur Ros post-rock sound evolves into an orchestral haze accompanied by more electronic beats.

Although Distant Satellites begins with an almost identical sound to Weather Systems, Anathema quickly begin to incorporate a darker musical tone, made up of sinister atmospheres, haunting vocals, the inclusion of electronic beats and a greater reliance on some of the elements from their alternative rock days. Distant Satellites is the most comprehensive album they have produced since A Natural Disaster, but manages to stay focused by gradually evolving their sound throughout the record, resulting in yet another sonic masterpiece.

Overall: 8/10

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Album Review: Mushroomhead – The Righteous & The Butterfly

The Righteous & The Butterfly is the eighth full length effort from industrial metal band Mushroomhead and it signals the return of original vocalist J-Mann, bringing their member count up to nine; three of which are just pure vocalists.

They say variety is the spice of life and Mushroomhead’s trio of vocalists definitely give great diversity and depth to many of the tracks. One of the (many) issues with the predecessor Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children was a lack of vocal creativity, especially on Jeffery Nothing’s part, as his wailing vocals were too prominent and lacked the aggressiveness that many of the songs required. Thankfully on The Righteous & The Butterfly there is an equal sharing of vocal duties and more importantly a wiser selection of vocalist for each part. The verse sections on Out Of My Mind are the best example of this; J-Mann and Jeffery Nothing take alternate lines, creating a juxtaposition between J-Mann’s harsh raw with Jeffery Nothing’s wail. Combining these elements with a driving guitar riff bring back memories of their superb fifth album XIII, making Out Of My Mind one of two standout tracks from the album.

The other standout track is For Your Pleasure. This opens with a piano riff that provides the backing for one of J-Mann’s rap-styled verses, which is a technique used very often during the early J-Mann days, most notably in The Wrist and Fear Held Dear. The old-style Mushroomhead doesn’t finish there; Jeffery Nothing’s vocals are brilliantly chilling and the pre-chorus utilises thumping piano staccato combined with guitar chugs, like those littered across their compilation album XX.

However, his vocal performance across the album isn’t flawless. Often his performance feels weak, as his voice has to really strain to sustain notes, making many sections feeling less-than-coherent. On the bridge section of World’s Collide he sounds like a parody of himself, as he warbles through every note, leaving you wondering whether he will collapse before the guitars take over again and this issue of forced vocals reappears during This Cold Reign and to a lesser extent on How Many Times.

Along with Graveyard Du Jour, World’s Collide and This Cold Reign make up a trio of disappointing songs. Aside from the vocal problem, This Cold Reign fails to get started. The song’s whole structure and content is generic and repetitive, producing a track that ultimately doesn’t really accomplish anything, apart from merely existing. The same problem bogs down World’s Collide; a track that after my second listen I had to skip altogether. Graveyard Du Jour suffers from a different problem though. It begins as a chilling take on a nursery rhyme piano motif, but doesn’t make the most of the opportunity. The horror aspect feels gimmicky and is quickly left behind, leaving something that is akin to winning a relay race, before releasing you dropped the baton half-way around.

But there is a lot to celebrate on this record too. Qwerty shows that Mushroomhead can still experiment successfully like they did on the earlier albums. A sinister orchestral riff soon evolves into crushing guitars, meanwhile J-Mann gives a fantastic vocal performance that might as well be him screaming “did you miss me?”. His contributions to Devils Be Damned have a similar effect; his aggression throughout the verse is almost disturbing, meanwhile Waylon shows his vocal versatility providing both his clean and screamed voice.

Portraits Of The Poor and Childlike are the two mellower cuts from the record and show Mushroomhead can also craft beauty. On both tracks Shomtz’s piano takes centre stage and combines well with Jeffery Nothing’s powerful melodies on Portraits Of The Poor and also with guest vocalist Just Mic’s voice on the short ballad Childlike. The other guest vocalist contribution comes from Jackie LaPonza on We Are The Truth, who is almost outshone by the superb guitar work, especially the rolling, Led Zeppelin-style guitar riff. Elsewhere Church‘s guitar doesn’t stand out too much, except for the solo sections of Son Of 7, which unfortunately can’t be truly appreciated, as guitar leads tend not to gel well with the percussive march of Mushroomhead’s brand of industrial metal.

The album closes on an almost unrecognisable cover of Adele’s Rumour Has ItThe backing vocals in the introduction are replaced by growling synth swells and at the ‘rumour has it’ sections of the original are replaced by a dubstep inspired riff. Aside from the comedic value of the chorus, Mushroomhead do a good job in creating a cover that could pass as an original song and unlike most metal pop covers, Rumour Has It actually adds something to the album.

The Righteous & The Butterfly shows Mushroomhead that have had their creativity and passion re-ignited. Whilst many are attributing this change to the return of J-Mann, I believe its source is in the new writing unit of duo of Church and Dr. F, who are both performing for the first time with the band. Whatever the reason the record feels like a new group and gives us confidence that Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children was a one-off, not a downward spiral. Sadly the album’s overall score is let down by a handful of unnecessary tracks and some vocal imperfections, but I believe with a revision to the playlist The Righteous & The Butterfly could sit happily alongside fan and critic favourite XIII.

Overall: 6/10

Just in case you were wondering, here’s how I would order the album:

  1. Out Of My Mind
  2. Devils Be Damned
  3. Qwerty
  4. Portraits Of The Poor
  5. Childlike
  6. How Many Times
  7. Our Apologies
  8. We Are The Truth
  9. Son of 7 (minus the guitar solos)
  10. For Your Pleasure
  11. Rumour Has It

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Not long ago I gave a brief overview of Mushroomhead’s history, whilst also looking forward the release of their eight full length effort: https://rockatlantic.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/a-short-history-of-mushroomhead/

Album Review: Killer Be Killed

There are two things certain with supergroups: they will have a silly name (I’m looking at you Chickenfoot) and be comprised mainly of the lesser known musicians from the bands which the group claims to made up from.

Fortunately, the new metal supergroup Killer Be Killed only suffers from the former, because the lineup is nothing short of incredible. The group consists of Max Cavalera (Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy & ex-Sepultura vocalist and guitarist), Troy Sanders (Mastodon vocalist and bassist), Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist & guitarist) and Dave Elitch (ex-The Mars Volta drummer).

Killer Be Killed’s self-titled is primarily thrash-orientated, but offers much more creativity than typical efforts from the genre. Snakes of Jehovah‘s pulsing guitar riffs wouldn’t sound out of place on a Slayer album, indicating that Cavalera had a heavy say in the musical direction. This is even more evident on I.E.D. and Face Down, which compresses his Brazilian groove and aggression into a brutal attack, that hits harder than a derailed freight train. As the only thrash-orientated musician, Cavalera naturally sounds most at home throughout; spitting venomous lyrics on top of chugging open-sixth string riffs. Surprisingly Puciato’s hardcore-style screams work equally as well alongside Cavalera within the high-octane Fire To Your Flag. Unfortunately, but rather predictably, Sander’s slower, bellowing vocal style fails to assimilate on the faster tracks, with the only exception being on I.E.D.

However Sanders’ weaknesses stop there. On Curb Crusher he takes charge of the chorus, providing a wonderful melodic hook amongst the Fear Factory-like assault. Sanders is also exceptional in the sludge-inspired verses of Wings Of Feather and Wax and Dust Into Darkness, ultilising a vocal style that was predominant on mastodon’s earlier records. These two tracks feature the most melodic choruses on the record because Puciato takes over, producing similar results to The Dillinger Escape’s Plan’s most accessible songs, Black Bubblegum and Milk Lizard.

Across the album Elitch works hard to showcase his talents, but avoids overtaking the song or overpowering the guitars. It’s not until the trio of vocalists step away from the microphone that he truly comes to life, such as his magnificently hectic drumming during the instrumental bridge of Save The Robots; a skill picked up whilst playing the technically demanding music of The Mars Volta.  

The collective progressive influences of the four members were always going to end up scattered throughout Killer Be Killed’s debut effort. The album closer Forbidden Fire uses haunting, clean motifs as a foundation to build the heavier chorus sections upon, whilst the experimental Save The Robots features electronically altered vocals in the intro and the second bridge, and a chorus driven by a wah-based guitar lick. However, there are times when the mixing of styles doesn’t quite pay off, such as the third track Melting Of My Marrow, which sounds like a Mastodon chorus, a Soulfly pre-chorus and a melodic ‘Dillinger’ verse have been awkwardly sewn together, creating the aural equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster.

Lyrically Killer Be Killed is politically charged, but also makes many references towards Greek mythology, such as the story of Icarus in Wings of Feather and Wax, the Twelve Labours of Hercules in Twelve Labors and a reference to Medusa in Snakes of Jehovah. The strong concepts of each song really help to bind the album together, creating a work that is clearly focused and easy to digest.

Killer Be Killed is easily the strongest metal supergroup debut since Down came out with NOLA in 1995 and is bound to feature very highly on end-of-year album lists. This record somehow manages to amalgamate each member’s ideas and skills in a succinct fashion, producing something that will invite you in with tantalising vocal hooks, before pummeling you round the head and kicking you to the floor.

Overall Score: 8/10

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