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Metal Monday: Metal Album Remasters

If you never really listened to Megadeth or Atheist before the year 2004, there’s a fair chance that you’ve never really heard these bands as they originally sounded on their albums. Since 2000, both of these bands have undergone a serious remastering treatment (for better or worse). Capitol records released seven of the eight Megadeth records that started the band’s career”all of which sounded drastically different” though most would say the remasters were rubbish, falling prey to the loudness war like so many others.

Why exactly someone (or an entire group of people) felt the desire to remix and remaster those seven Megadeth albums is an odd question. The recordings didn’t sound all that bad before, but with that being said, they did sound a bit dated. Lots of mids, not a lot of high or low end and it wasn’t very loud (certainly not up to “modern standards”). Perhaps the decision was made from a marketing standpoint, as 2004 was the year Megadeth reformed after a two-year hiatus.

The first three Atheist records, however, didn’t sound very good at all. They were super dry, nothing really had room to breathe (even though the records were pretty quiet). Most of the albums featured a really flat EQ with almost no low end and only noise in the highs. Purists might disagree that the old albums sounded bad, but then again, purists usually do. When remastered, all the instruments were given room to breath and the records were equalized to sound more full.

Death is another band that desperately needed the remix and remaster treatment, and lately they’ve been getting it. While The Sound Of Perseverance was released this year, 2008 saw the remixing and remastering of the band’s previous six albums“all of which were drastically improved by the treatment (even though some would argue The Sound Of Perseverance didn’t need that treatment and, frankly, I agree).

Regardless of what you think about past remasters, and whether or not the changes were warranted, there’s not a thing that you can do to change the fact that they were done. With that said, you can have some input about what albums you think could seriously use the remaster treatment (even if it’ll fall on deaf ears), or state your claim about how some albums should never be remastered due to their classic nature. There are a handful of bands that have become incredibly famous, and even legendary in some respects, who have some less-than-ideal original recordings”recordings with loads of well written and performed material. Who are these bands? Well, here’s a few examples:

A Celebration of Guilt by Arsis
Focus by Cynic
Breeding The Spawn by Suffocation
Extreme Aggression by Kreator
Contradictions Collapse by Meshuggah
Follow The Blind by Blind Guardian
The Red Sky Is Ours by At The Gates
Morbid Visions by Sepultura
Every single Metal Church album

Now, what are some albums you’d love to hear properly remastered? Think that some of the suggested remasters above are sacred songs and shouldn’t be touched? Voice your opinions in the common section!

Metal Monday: Best Metal of 2010

In a year characterized by comebacks and newcomers, 2010 has been filled with solid metal releases. There were not many albums that were a true cut above the rest”most albums were in tight contention for a Top 10 spot. Really, the top metal albums this year are only a small amount better than the albums that just missed the cut. Even with a Top 10 and five honorable mentions, there are still some very good albums getting snubbed.  Usually, such a list would include some pleasant surprises and big letdowns.  You won’t find the latter here.  Instead you’ll find some consistently great performers mixed with some nice surprises.  Counting down to 2010’s best album:

10. PriestessPrior to the Fire

After making one of the better classic heavy metal-influenced albums in recent years, Hello Master, the Canadian metallers returned with a less poppy and more classic sounding album, and a great one at that.

9. Dark TranquillityEnter The Void

You can be sure of two things with Dark Tranquillity; first that they never put out a bad album, and second that they never put out the same album. Every album from these Gothenburg metal legends is a new, different, and great. Enter The Void continues the trend.

8. Dimmu BorgirAbrahadabra

Though often criticized for being a “fake” black metal band, Dimmu Borgir know what they do, and they do it well. Abrahadabra is another symphonic black metal album that’s a slight step ahead of the pack.

7. EnslavedAxioma Ethica Odini

There are a limited number of bands who can do exactly what Enslaved does on Axioma Ethica Odomi. Certainly no one does it as well. From front to back, this is a very solid album full of the best parts of death, black and progressive metal.

6. DeftonesDiamond Eyes

Deftones are back to their old form, writing ethereal music with an abundance of emotion and power behind it”only now they have a very clear and precise sound that brings it all together. Every member of the band sounds as good, if not better, than they ever have.

5. The Tony Danza Tapdance ExtravaganzaDanza III: The Series of Unfortunate Events

Danza III truly is a death/grind/core/ masterpiece, and there is little more to say about it than that. Even so, you can check my review of it from a few months prior.

Overkill Ironbound4. OverkillIronbound

Like Deftones, Overkill are another band that have returned to form in 2010, but this one in a much more drastic fashion. Ironbound is easily Overkill’s best album in nearly two decades, and is true to the band’s excellent thrash roots.

3. Blind GuardianAt The Edge of Time

After their 2002 and 2006 albums, A Night at the Opera and A Twist in the Myth, it was hard to see At The Edge of Time coming. Quite possibly the band’s heaviest release to date, the furiously heavy riffs add another dimension to Hansi Kürsh’s vocals that was never quite there before.

2. Rhapsody of FireThe Frozen Tears of Angels

Like Blind Guardian, Rhapsody of Fire have added a completely new and much heavier dimension to their music with the amount of great riffs on The Frozen Tears of Angels. Very consistent with all of their releases, The Frozen Tears of Angels is a somewhat cheesy (but totally awesome) symphonic power metal album narrated by Christopher Lee.

1. PeripheryPeriphery

Periphery hit the metal scene hard in 2010 with their debut eponymous release. They play a style of music called “djent” that’s named after the chugging guitar found in all bands that play this style. It’s hard to imagine a better album of this sub-genre.

Honorable mentions:

ExodusExhibit B: The Human Condition

As with all of the “second tier” of thrash metal bands still at it today, Exhibit B is another solid release true to thrash metal’s roots.

Fear FactoryMechanize

Featuring the legendary Gene Hoglan on drums, Fear Factory made an impressive comeback with Mechanize, an album closer in style to Fear Factory’s earlier albums, avoiding what many thought would be disastrous album after the letdown that was Transgression in 2005.

Ion DissonanceCursed

It’s hard to pinpoint, but there’s something about Canadian deathcore bands that’s just better than their US cohorts. Ion Dissonance proves this yet again with Cursed (as Despised Icon did in 2009 with Day of Mourning).

Death AngelRelentless Retribution

Another “second tier” thrash metal band from the 80’s still putting out solid releases. Relentless Retribution is no different.

SevendustCold Day Memory

Since 2000, Sevendust is a band that has continued to get better with each album. Some argue that Animosity is and always will be the band’s pinnacle, but Cold Day Memory shows us that these guys aren’t ready to hang it up” they’ve got plenty more great music in them.

Did I forget an album? Do you have any disagreements? What are your favorite albums this year? Comment below and let me know!

Metal Monday: Album of the Year Frontrunners

It’s about halfway through the year, and you know what that means ”we’ve only got 6 months left to get new album of the year candidates. There have been some surprises, both good and bad, so far this year. We saw a return to form by a few bands, and a fall from grace from others. Even so, others have just solidified their dominance on their respective brands of metal. Here are the five best albums at the crucial halfway point of the year:

Rhapsody of Fire the Frozen Tears of AngelsFirst up is Rhapsody of Fire with The Frozen Tears of Angels. Known as a band who always puts out solid symphonic power metal albums, it’s hard to really step your game up beyond “really good” after 7 albums, but somehow Rhapsody of Fire have found a way to do so. In somewhat stereotypical fashion, the album starts off with an ominously-narrated intro track before Luca Turilli’s fingers catch fire and he plays the most furious and blistering guitar riffs I’ve ever heard from Rhapsody of Fire. The rest of the band follow suit, delivering what is easily the band’s best performance since Dawn of Victory.

High on Fire Snakes for the DivineNext is the latest gem from Matt Pike, High on Fire‘s Snakes for the Divine. Though the release is a bit of a change from the band’s last effort, Death is This Communion, the band has delivered yet another solid record in very much their own style. All of the instruments, including Matt Pike’s voice, are as grimy as ever ” but at least now they don’t sound like they were recorded in a garage. The problem about this type of production is that it’s a very acquired, but fitting, taste for the music. The whole album sounds very dense”there isn’t much breathing room between instruments. Snakes for the Divine definitely shows more of Matt Pike’s influence from his days in Sleep, most notably in the slower sludge sections of “Bastard Samurai.”

Overkill Ironbound

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METAL MONDAY: REVIEW OF DARK EMPIRE'S HUMANITY DETHRONED

Dark Empire, a Jersey band signed to Killzone Records, recently won July’s Metal contest here on OurStage. Humanity Dethroned is the follow-up to Dark Empire’s very solid debut release, Distant Tides. For those who have yet to listen to Dark Empire, their sound is right in line with bands like Symphony X and Blind Guardian (Jens Carlsson, the lead vocalist, bears a striking vocal resemblance to Hansi Kürsch). Simply put, the band boasts a heavy, thrashy, power-filled sound that refuses to simply plod along.

Cover for Dark Empire's Humanity Dethoned

Cover for Dark Empire's Humanity Dethoned

When asked to pick my favorite part of the album, it is undeniably Jens Carlsson’s voice. With every line, Jens sends chills down your spine with his sinister vocals. Unlike many heavy/power singers, Jens always keeps the listener’s attention, and never ceases to be interesting. Of course, what helps Jens’ vocals stay interesting is the mixing of the record, and the presence of the rest of the band. Though the vocals are the best part, the album does not ride on them ”another folly that many heavy/power metal bands commit.

While the vocals stand out, making them the focus would sell Humanity Dethroned short. The second best part of this album is the songwriting. Unlike many power metal bands, Dark Empire does not write songs that follow a standard song structure (ie. intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus-outro). All of the songs on the album have a familiar-feeling structure, but they are not predictable or stale”a difficult feat to achieve. Matt Moliti deserves the credit here, as all of the music and lyrics on the album is attributed to him. And speaking of Moliti, it is also worth mentioning the guitar riffs on the album. Before listening to the entire album, and having only heard  “Possessed (We Are One),” I was curious how the band claimed they were “progressive thrash metal.” Upon hearing the guitar work on Humanity Dethroned, it is safe to say that Dark Empire can be associated with a large variety of metal sub genres”heavy/power/thrash metal being the most obvious. The sixth track on the album, “Salvation Denied,” is almost exclusively a thrash metal song, while others on the album (like the previously mentioned “Possessed (We Are One)”) are clearly heavy power metal songs. This mix of sub sub genres means Matt Moliti varies his styles of guitar playing throughout the album.

With few weak spots to critique, the only noticeable area for improvement lies in the mixing department. There is just too much sound everywhere, and it takes away from each of the individual pieces. A better mix that actually allows the listener to hear each individual piece with enhanced panning would help the album immensely. Aside from this, the album is stellar and worthy of a listen by all heavy music lovers (it really can appeal to just about everyone).

Overall score: 9/10

As an aside, the band recently parted ways with their vocalist and drummer, and are now seeking to replace these members. Are you a metaller in the New Jersey area? If so, give them a shout!

METAL MONDAYS: ICONIC METAL VOCALISTS

Metal Monday OurStage Blog

Run to the hills, run for your lives.

Imagine that lyric sang by say, the singer of Coldplay instead of Bruce Dickinson (of Iron Maiden fame). Not quite the same oomph huh? In some styles of metal, it is all about the power and gusto in which a singer delivers their lines. Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Matt Barlow, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, Hansi Kürsch, ” these are some of the singers who have mastered the art of true heavy metal delivery. Whether it is wailing falsettos or sinister cries, a metal vocalist must keep in mind his voice has to reach to the farthest corners of whatever venue the band is playing at, as well as make a connection to each and every audience member. More so than any metal styles, heavy metal is about emotion. Standing up and fighting for rights, feeling the pain of oppressed people (albeit real or fictional), the woe of a lost lover, epic battles “ these are the types of things heavy metal bands sing about, things that cannot be aptly expressed without an apt enforcer on the microphone.

Here at OurStage, we have some talented heavy metal bands, many of which are strongly influenced by greats such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc. (some even were around back then). After scoring through the ranks of metal here at OurStage, I’ve compiled a list of eight powerful songs featuring vocals that best exemplify the spirit and energy captured in true heavy metal.

[playliststart] [playlistend]

METAL MONDAY: SUMMER FESTIVAL OVERVIEW

osblog_metalmondays_01

Everyone knows that summertime is festival season, and whenever people think of music festivals, they think of events like SXSW and Bonnaroo. Unless they are metalheads. For hardcore rockers, popular summer festivals include Wacken and Hellfest. But, most of the time when music journalists or bloggers write about the summer touring and festival season, metal does not get its due. Sure, metal bands are in on some of these festivals, like Bonnaroo, but they certainly are not the focal point of the events. So, here is a nice summer festival overview for all you metal junkies out there:

Wacken Open Air – Wacken, Germany

Arguably the most famous and premier event in the history of metal festivals, this past Wacken Open Air celebrated its 20th birthday. Mí¶torhead reportedly put on one of the best shows in recent memory, and all the other old school metal rockers followed suit. Among these great performances were the band formerly known as Black Sabbath (Heaven & Hell) as well as Saxon. Beyond the seasoned veteran bands, word is that doom metal troop Cathedral really won the crowd over (unsurprising, since the band is led by ex-Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian).

Hellfest Open Air – Clisson, France

The second-most famous metal festival on the globe, Hellfest shared only a couple acts with Wacken this year”notably Heaven & Hell who again wowed the crowd. The fest’s the buzz bands seemed to be Brutal Truth and the loudest band on Earth Manowar, with Manowar having a slight edge (despite reports that Brutal Truth could be heard over Manowar’s set at times). Strangely, little was said about hometown giants Gojira, though there were sparse mentions of a solid set.

Bloodstock Open Air – Catton, UK

Rounding out the big three for metal festivals, this year’s Bloodstock was fodder for great stories. None more awesome than the hilarious/horrible bottling of Cradle of Filth in which the band stopped their set and left the stage without finishing the set. Blind Guardian, Carcass, Amon Amarth and the thrash bands garnered the most props for absolutely bringing it on stage.

MetalCamp – Tolmin, Slovenia

As usual, the bands who headlined this festival are the same bands that headlined the other big festivals. That’s just the way these things work. After scouring the ˜net for any opinions or reports of the festival, I only came to the conclusion that there was no real standout performances, though people were largely unenthusiastic about the lineup as a whole (Mind-boggling, really, since Amon Amarth, Blind Guardian, Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon and more were on the bill). The disappointment might have been due to the lack of great underground bands (beyond the huge names), as well as the completely unknown acts from the second stage”except Warbringer, who played before a band with only 1,000 MySpace friends. For shame.

Download Festival – Donington Park, UK

Download Festival, the least metal of all the summer metal festivals, was filled with the nu metal acts of yesteryear and all the things the kids dig today. So there was a huge variety of musical styles on this bill. No band got as much credit as Faith No More, who put on a performance referred to as brilliant by most attendees. Mí¶tley Crüe, Slipknot and Steel Panther also received favorable reviews. On the opposite side of things, a lot of festival goers hated Marilyn Manson, Limp Bizkit, Attack! Attack!, Pendulum and Parkway Drive. Unsurprisingly there was little said about the more extreme bands there like Suicide Silence, Meshuggah and God Forbid”the bill did not exactly cater to those fans. What is surprising is that I have found nothing about Opeth and Dream Theater’s sets.

In case you did not make it out to any festivals this summer, or just want to know what is coming up for metal festivals in the near future, here are two of the bigger events on the list:

New England Deathfest – Providence, RI

While not the biggest metal festival, New England Deathfest is having some of the most legendary Death Metal bands headline this year: Neuraxis, Cephalic Carnage and Quo Vadis. Also on the bill is Revocation, touted by many as the next big thing in metal and recently signed to Relapse Records. If you’re in the New England area, $50 for this weekend filled with death is well worth it.

Ilha Do Ermal Festival – Viera do Hinho, Portugal

Because I don’t speak Portuguese, it is hard to say much about this festival other than the fact that Blind Guardian is headlining it, which is almost enough reason to go regardless of who else is playing. The fact that Sepultura, Obituary, Firewind, Textures and Hatesphere are also on the bill certainly does not hurt. At 60€ ($85.35), that is a great price for three days of pure metal goodness.

METAL MONDAY: TWENTY YEARS OF METAL

Twenty years is a long time. Two whole decades. Many things can change in that amount of time, but few styles of music went through as many changes as metal.

"The flute is a very heavy, metal instrument." - Ian Anderson

"The flute is a very heavy, metal instrument." - Ian Anderson

1989 was the tipping point that steered metal into the state we know it now. The thankful decline of the hair metal plague was in full-effect, death metal was on the rise and thrash metal was still going strong. This was the year of the infamous Jethro Tull upset over Metallica for the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental in the first ever Heavy Metal Grammy (much to the dismay of the metal community and rightfully so”Jethro Tull is not even close to metal). Tipper Gore and her PMRC was bringing the hammer down on metal with their censorship threats, and Guns N’ Roses had taken over the mainstream metal territory. Metal was under fire from all angles. For the greater good of metal, however, all of these things were ultimately great. The core die hard metal community decided they had enough, and were going to take a stand by pushing metal styles to the extreme.

Prog-metal greats, Dream Theater

Prog-metal greats, Dream Theater

Dream Theater, Stratovarius and Obituary are the most notable bands who released debut albums in 1989, all of which saw moderate success, and who later came to shape their genres for the next two decades. 1989 also saw the formation of many new bands, such as Dark Tranquillity and Cannibal Corpse, who helped shape the metal world over the last twenty years. Even with the huge successes these bands saw in the 90’s, they were still not able to overcome the hip hop and grunge onslaught throughout the decade and break into the mainstream ” unless you were Anthrax and did a collaboration with Public Enemy (which ultimately led to the rap metal fiasco of the late 90’s). I’m not talking about the popular bastardized offshoots of metal (e.g. Limp Bizkit, Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Disturbed, Deftones, etc.) that developed in the 90’s. I’m talking the real metal of the 90’s”Blind Guardian, At The Gates, In Flames, Symphony X, Suffocation”none of these bands got as much mainstream exposure in the 90’s as they deserved. Instead, the less abrasive grunge style took over. The mainstream was tired of the aggression-fueled style that metal brought and grunge stepped up to the plate, switching the anger for angst which hit home for the flannel-clad teenagers of the 90s.

George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, of Cannibal Corpse

George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, of Cannibal Corpse

Ultimately, metal being a subterranean music style throughout the 90’s was for the betterment of all metal genres. Everyone saw what happened in the 80’s when metal broke into the mainstream (yes, hair metal). The same thing happens to most genres of music”evolution happens when the genre is not in the spotlight (which means grunge is directly responsible for the black sheep that is Nickleback). Without the 90’s era of metal, we could still have things like the horrid pop-punk and boy bands of the early 2000’s (we can actually thank hip hop for helping to rid of that nuisance). Slowly but surely, metal is making its way back into the mainstream. There are 14 metal albums in the Billboard Top 200 as I write this, one of which debuted at #6” Black Clouds & Silver Linings by our progressive pals Dream Theater. Metal is stronger than ever, and looks as though it is still on the rise. Lookout, mainstream media, we are storming your beaches, and about to take over your cities. Yes, those ones that were built on rock and roll.