Saturday, June 28, 2014

SepticFleshgod Apocalypse Concert Impressions

I'm sore and I'm tired. I barely got any sleep last night. But I also attended a concert last night, and the internet needs to know what I thought about it. So I will push on and write up a blog post for all you lovely readers out there. I was even right up against the stage for the entire show so I got a view of it all.

As I'm sure you know, Hour of Penance dropped off this tour at the last minute because of visa issues. I was definitely looking forward to seeing them but perhaps there would have been too many blast beats if they showed up. Anyway, they were replaced by the unknown Black Crown Initiate hailing all the way from USA. When I tried to look this band up, I found that the only thing they've released is a single EP. And that's exactly what they played. They started with a song from their upcoming album and then went straight into the entirety of their backlog.

Black Crown Initiate's music was alright to say the least. A little too many breakdowns for my taste. However, both the vocalist and guitarist had amazing vocals. The main vocalist had powerful screams and the guitarist had the best clean vocals of any band that played. Why was he so good?! The music itself didn't do much to hype up the crowd, It was good once it got rolling, with some blast beats thrown here and there, but too often everything would recede to acoustic set pieces. It also didn't help that they were playing to maybe 50 people. The venue filled out a bit as the night went on, but it was barren compared to how it usually is. I also didn't snap a single picture of this band so look them up if you want to see what they look like.

Luckily for Toronto's own Necronomicon, the lineup change meant they got to go on second instead of first. Not sure if this got them a longer set, but at least they were playing for half an audience. All three of them came out and put on a solid show. They didn't move around stage too much but every time the guitarist/vocalist stepped away from the mic, him and the bassist started a coordinated headbang in the center of the stage. The vocals were also very powerful for some reason. Besides some technical hiccups with a guitar cable not working, the majority of their set sounded the same. Every single song had blastbeats and that doesn't always translate the best into a live setting. Even the one song of theirs that I always recognize when I hear it blended into the rest of the noise and became much less recognizable. Everything was good, but it just all sounded the same.

Then came the half hour-long breaks in between bands in order to set everything up. Luckily, Fleshgod Apocalypse brought along a piano and opera singer again to add to their show. Also luckily, their sound was definitely better than the last time I saw them, though it wasn't without its issues. Since there were sounds from so many different places, some things had to get drowned out in the mix. I could clearly hear the drums, vocals and sometimes the guitar, but all the symphonic elements (especially the opera singer) got put into the background. It's unfortunate that not everyone got their time to shine but the only way I can see around this problem is to constantly switch the sound mixing to focus on whatever is prevalent in the song. It's possible, though probably too much work for someone to do every single night of the tour. The band played a wide variety of songs covering all of their albums. The Violation is still undoubtedly their best live song, the crowd just freaked out when it started to play. The vocalist also came out in between songs with some prop, from a book to a glass of wine, to tell some story and introduce the next song. I couldn't hear a word he said, but a guy behind me kept shouting out every song they were about to play without fail. Either he has really good ears or he looked up the setlist beforehand.

I was really looking forward to seeing Septicflesh when it was time for them to come out. Since I was learning against the stage the whole time, I still had tons of energy. And since there weren't too many people there, I wasn't sweating too much and therefore wasn't dehydrated. Septicflesh came out to a roaring audience and oh boy did they deliver! This time, the three sounds I could actually make out were the drums, vocals and orchestrations. It worked out really well because the guitar work isn't usually the main focus in their songs. And it was a nice treat being able to hear the symphonic elements for once. I was also happy to discover that my favourite Septicflesh songs are also everyone else's. In total they played two songs that I didn't recognize; one was Unbeliever and I'm not sure the title of the other. They played everything I could have asked them to play, starting from The Vampire From Nazareth and moving their way around the most recent three albums. The only song they didn't play was Sangreal. Possibly because their normal bald guitarist (who also does the clean vocals) wasn't there and that song has a big focus on cleans. Either way, all the songs sounded great and I headbanged my face off. It always feels good to say that the headliner was the best of the show. The only complaint I have is that the band didn't move around the stage too much. They went behind the stage displays for the start of each song, but that was about it. At least they came out with their costumes. The vocalist's fly was undone though.

All in all this was a good concert. All the bands put on a solid show. The only consistent problem was the sound mixing, but that seems to be a consistent problem at just about every concert. I'm not sure why so few people showed up but they definitely missed out. I wish the bands luck on the rest of the tour and I'll probably see them the next time they come back.

-Zombie Viking

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Watching Bands Through the Magic of the Internet

Today I got to watch Eluveitie perform a concert. I got comfortable in my chair, with my full water bottle and warm sweater. Then the band came out. Not 5 or even 500 feet from me, but about 4000 miles. It was 4 in the afternoon for me and 10 at night for them. I got to experience a live show through the magic of the internet. And the best part? It was absolutely free.

I don't know who started this trend or why there's no charge for it, but many festivals are starting to stream their shows in real time onto the net.  The first festival I heard doing this was Bloodstock in August 2013 when it was posted on the Metal Archives main page. Since then, more and more shows seem to be doing it. You get to watch what gets outputted to the screens beside the stage, which is a pretty good view of the show. The sound quality is often hit or miss but it's mostly excusable.

A couple weeks ago I got to witness Deals Death live in concert, a band that I may never get to actually see in person. The show ended with a fire alarm and building evacuation and I got to experience all that crap along with everyone else. It's great! Then I watched Sabaton, who I am actually going to see later this year, perform at Dreamhack (some Swedish 'computer festival'). And now this weekend I've been watching Hellfest live from France. I saw Eluveitie today and I'll be tuning in to see Equilibrium tomorrow, another band I've never seen in person.

Sound quality aside, I think all the streaming is great. It's one thing to watch a Wacken performance on Youtube, but it's another entirely to be in a chatroom with a bunch of people complaining that the show is too quiet and that the band isn't playing their favourite song. It's of course not a replacement for actually seeing a band live. If anything it makes me want to see them more because I know they can actually perform well.

I'm looking forward to seeing as many bands as I can live, even if they're thousands of miles away. Maybe I'll actually be able to go to a Powerwolf concert now.

-Zombie Viking

Friday, June 20, 2014

Out of the Ordinary #3: Septicflesh

Septicflesh is probably unlike anything you've ever heard before. They take elements of brutal death metal, technical songwriting and extravagant imagery and they fuse it with a wide variety of symphonic/classical music. Every song feels like an immense amount of work was put into it. Most of them feature full orchestras in addition to the band, so you're listening to over 100 musicians at once. And it all fits together to make something truly unique.

I'm talking about Septicflesh here, not Septic Flesh. See, the band was together from 1990 to 2003 and released a total of 6 albums during that time. They reformed in 2007 with mostly the same lineup when they released they had so much more work to do. The band had a new vision: to create the most epic music possible. They also topped it off with a name change, removing the space between Septic and Flesh because it "looked better" but "kept the same meaning". Now I have a couple things to say about that. First off, the new logo does like miles better than the old one. However, they could have kept the same band name with just removing the space from the logo. Secondly, what the heck is the meaning of "Septicflesh"? Humanity being uncomfortable in their own skin? Increasing levels of radiation in the world? Meat that's been left out for too long? Whatever the meaning behind the name, I supposed it's the music that counts. Septicflesh certainly has that front covered.

This band probably has the most distinct and largest number of transitions in their songs out of any death metal band. Yes, the band has full orchestras, but so do bands like Dimmu Borgir. What separates Septicflesh from the others is that there's sections of just metal, sections where the metal plays along with the symphonic and sections of just symphonic. It's like listening to two songs at once that occasionally sync up. They're also not afraid to fully experiment with both the metal and the symphonic. The metal ranges from acoustic guitars and slow drum patterns to technical stuff with backing blast beats. The symphonic ranges from choirs to 'all at once' instrument spurts to solo keyboard or violin. You never know what you're going to get in any given song. Everything mixes up so constantly.

Of course, the band occasionally misses. There are a good number of Septicflesh songs that I don't find myself particularly fond of. But you have to give credit to the band for trying so many things. They've got deep harsh vocals, clean vocals, male, female and child choirs and all the musical prowess I mentioned above.

Not to disappoint on any fronts, their imagery is also quite out of the ordinary. The band's songs deal with all sorts of mythology and mystical beings. Looking at anything relating to their upcoming album Titan you'll surely see the weird demon-like guy. Seeing their t-shirt designs for their upcoming North American tour, I wasn't sure what people would think about me if I walked down the street wearing any of them. They all feature crazy and/or (anti-)religious characters on them. Prometheus is a central character of the album, but instead of using an awesome Greek titan the band decides the use the idea of Prometheus. He's representative of a creator and a deceiver. It takes a bit of an understanding of ancient Greek mythology, but seeing as the band is from there I trust they have a pretty good idea.

So if you find yourself enjoying brutal and/or beautiful music, I urge you to check out one of the leading members of the ever-growing genre of symphonic death metal. You just can't beat full choirs, technical ability and wonderful mythical themes. Septicflesh is always over the top with the assaults on your ears that they call albums. Their new album Titan is currently streaming right here so you have no excuse not to check it out. You'll be glad you did.

-Zombie Viking

Friday, June 13, 2014

Upcoming Concerts

It's a good year for albums and it's also a pretty good year for concerts! I'll be attending four concerts in the latter part of the year which is a nice amount. I'll also try to post my impressions from each one here of course.

The first is coming up in a couple of weeks. I'll be seeing Septicflesh, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Black Crown Initiate (who?) and Necronomicon (awesome local black metal band) on June 27th. SEPTICFLESHGODAPOCALYPSE! I've seen Fleshgod once before when they opened for Wintersun. The show was pretty good but the sound quality ruined the whole thing. I could barely hear anything except for the guitars. It's a shame because they even brought a whole opera singer and I couldn't hear a sound she made. Here's hoping it'll be better this time. I've never seen Septicflesh so I'm really looking forward to them. I think their atmospheric style would translate really well to a live setting. Maybe even better than listening to it on an album.

Next one is all the way in September. On September 11th I'll be seeing Sonata Arctica, Xandria and Delain. I've actually never heard anything from the headlining band but I will soon be rectifying that. I don't usually go to concerts for the opening bands, but I've never actually seen any female-fronted symphonic bands live and I love both Xandria and Delain. I just don't know which band's shirt to buy! I guess I'll see what has the coolest design. There's also no tour poster yet for this one.

Then comes the epicness that is October 2014. On October 10th, Amon Amarth will be coming to Canada and bringing Sabaton with them. I've been wanting to see Sabaton live for years now and I've unfortunately missed the last two times they came here. There's no way I'm going to let anything stop me from going to this concert. And it's none other than Amon Amarth headlining! I've seen them once before when they did a double set right after Surtur Rising was released. It was one of the best concerts I've been to so that just adds to the excitement of this one. Even though Amon Amarth recently did a US tour, they completely missed Canada. Maybe they're apologizing for that.

Finally on October 29th the concert I'm most looking forward to will be happening. Arch Enemy is coming! I've been listening to Arch Enemy for longer than almost every other band I currently listen to but unfortunately I never saw them live with Angela. From what I've seen on Youtube though, Alissa does a great job covering the old songs and I'm looking forward to seeing the stuff from War Eternal. I've even got my copy of the CD in the mail currently. They'll be playing with Kreator, who I've actually never checked out, Huntress, who I saw a few years ago at Heathenfest and they weren't too band, and Starkill! I hope it goes without saying that I'm super excited to see Starkill again. They'll even be playing stuff from their new as-yet unreleased album!

It's going to be a nonstop year of action.

-Zombie Viking

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

2014: The Year of Awesome Metal

I'm sitting here listening to the new release from Equilibrium entitled Erdentempel and it's exactly what I was hoping for from this fantastic German folk metal band. I decided to start listening from the middle with the song Heavy Chill. Even from the very first note it's got the band's distinct sound. Everything is meshed together so well, nothing overpowers the other elements. I haven't listened to the entire album yet, but everything I've heard sounds good.

I was a little bit worried after the single releases. Karawane does sound like a typical Equilibrium song but it's not anything special on its own and is a bit on the slow side. With the rest of the album however, it fits in really well. I'm still not exactly sure how to feel about the second single release, Wirtshaus Gaudi, especially with the strange music video that accompanied it. I'm sure it will grow on me as it's a quick and fun song that probably does well to mix up the flow of the album a bit sort of like Met on Turis Fratyr.

The fact that another new release from a band I like is the most recent in a long series of pleasant surprises this year. I've been maintaining a list for myself of bands releasing albums within the next year. It's currently at 18 but at points it looked like it was double that length. Tons of bands have been releasing new material and it's all been awesome! I don't think I've heard a bad metal album released recently.

A list of recent albums I've added to my library is as follows: 
A New Dawn Ending by Ancient Bards
War Eternal by Arch Enemy
Babymetal by Babymetal
Carnivore Sublime by Benighted
Point Zero Solution by Deals Death
The Human Contradiction by Delain
The Quantum Enigma by Epica
Erdentempel by Equilibrium
Shadows of the Dying Sun by Insomnium
A Knight at the Opera by Nanowar of Steel
Heroes by Sabaton
Kaptein Kaos by Trollfest
Dawn of the Brave by Van Canto
Sacrificium by Xandria

At worst all of these albums have just been more of the same from the artists. But at best some of them are the best albums these artists have ever put out. There are no bad albums in the list above and if you don't listen to any of these bands, their most recent albums are definitely good starting points.

Even just quickly going through the list of artists I listen to, I saw plenty of bands that are just about to release a new album. Septicflesh for instance will be releasing Titan a couple days before I see them live. It's shaping up to be quite an album. All the songs released thus far are fantastic.

2014 is a good year for metal. It's only half over and there's already tons of great albums to check out. I'm sure I'm missing some bands, but even with the albums I got there's more than enough to listen to for now. Here's to great music!

-Zombie Viking

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Arch Enemy: War Eternal Review

Arch Enemy is back! After a quick switch of vocalist and guitarist, they've released their tenth studio album. There were certainly enough people complaining about Alissa's vocals when the singles were released, so how did the album turn out? Does it still sound like Arch Enemy? Are there any songs with clean vocals? How loud do I have to play it to blow out my eardrums? All these questions and more will be answered below.

When the War Eternal single came out, I listened to it and thought to myself "yep, that's an Arch Enemy song alright". The only thing that's really changed is the vocal style; the guitars and general song structure are all the same as they've been for the last 18 years. So if you're one of the people that were complaining about the singles, I'm sorry to say you're not going to like this album. Guess what? Alissa is the vocalist for the entire album. However, if you're a fan of Arch Enemy I definitely recommend giving the album a chance and to continue reading this review.

Though War Eternal does sound like an Arch Enemy album for the most part, there are quite a few musical differences from previous albums. It's not because of Alissa either. If you look at the writers for each song, Nick Cordle actually had much more of an influence. War Eternal and You Will Know My Name sound like classic Arch Enemy songs and I could totally imagine Angela doing the vocals for them. But songs like On and On and Avalanche (two that Alissa helped write) stray from the formula and really serve to shake up the flow of the album. On and On just seems more layered and tries interesting sounds that you won't find on previous albums. It even has a breakdown! Something very rarely found in this band's songs, if at all. There's one in No More Regrets too. And yes, Avalanche has clean vocals during the chorus. And yes, they work really well even though this is an Arch Enemy song. Now stop complaining about the vocals.

Speaking of the vocals, Alissa White-Gluz does a great job taking over vocal duties. She brings her distinct and instantly recognizable style and it just works. I don't really have much to say about the vocals. They sound different than Angela's and you either like them or you don't. Personally, I like them. There's also a noticeable lack of songs about anarchy and more focus on personal battles and triumphs.

War Eternal does a good job of playing with the Arch Enemy formula that we've grown to know and love. You never know what to expect. One minute you'll be listening to symphonic keyboards playing in the background, the next a sick solo, and after that you'll be singing along to one of the many catchy choruses. The band definitely has more cooks in the kitchen, but they're able to divide resources effectively and come out with a great multi-layered dish where everything is different but still compliments each other. It's definitely a weird first listen, but the album grows on you very quickly.

There is only one particularly irritating blemish that I need to address.The song Time is Black. It starts off with some forced symphonic elements that aren't really developed enough to be atmospheric. Then comes the main riff which is... alright. Then the symphonic elements keep coming up. They're not utilized well and it really distracts from the song. The whole song keeps going back and forth between a stripped-down sound and parts that are supposed to be atmospheric. It doesn't really fit with the guitars during the chorus or the interlude(s). Whatever. The idea could have been cool if more time was spent on it. The symphonic parts are apparently done by a full orchestra but they just sound like someone fiddling around on a keyboard. It makes the whole song come off as out of tune. Maybe it will grow on me over time, we'll have to see. A much smaller complaint of mine is that there is a slightly awkward transition between verse and chorus in some of the songs.

War Eternal manages to have a nice mix of shaking things up and sticking to the tried and true Arch Enemy formula. It's not perfect but it hits much more often than it misses. Alissa and Nick are great additions to the band and really help to make this album stand out. I recommend any Arch Enemy fan give this album at least two listens. It's worth it. I'll definitely be catching Arch Enemy live when they inevitably come play in Canada.

War Eternal gets a score of 8/10

-Zombie Viking 

PS. Long or repeated sounds above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss, possibly blowing out your eardrums if you listen to it for long enough.