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Metal Monday: Katatonia's Dead End Kings

In Katatonia‘s 21 year career, they’ve managed to avoid putting out a single subpar album; even with a slowly rotating cast of members ” vocalist Jonas Renske and guitarist Anders Nystrí¶m seem to be the only permanent members. On their new Dead End Kings, they’ve even played without Fredrik and Mattias Norrman (yes, they’re brothers) for the first time in about 13 years. It would appear that the supporting cast for Renske and Nystrí¶m isn’t of much consequence, as they haven’t skipped a beat with their followup to 2009’s Night Is The New Day.

On recent albums, Katatonia developed a truly unique sound, a perfect blend of sulking heaviness and shimmering beauty. Combining the thick, heavy riffs and chords of Nystrí¶m with the clear, haunting vocals of Renske, Katatonia create deeply emotional soundscapes on just about every track of Dead End Kings. Frank Default contributes a lot to the atmospheres and textures that coat many sections of the album, adding some sparse percussion, keyboards, and strings. As on Night Is The New Day, producer David Castillo aptly handles the mixing and production of the album, and the overall sound is second to none.

Perhaps the biggest difference for Katatonia on this record is the songwriting. While the album is not at all a sonic departure, many of the songs on Dead End Kings feature elements that Katatonia have shied away from on their last few releases. The most obvious changes, as heard on the lead single “Dead Letters,” are the inclusion of more groovy riffs (likely to the extreme pleasure of Tool fans). But it’s not just heavier, groovier parts they’ve added, either (granted, it doesn’t get much more heavy and groovy than “Forsaker“). Songs such as “The Racing Heart” and “Leech” show us that Katatonia are also quite capable of moody, somber passages.

Ultimately, Katatonia aren’t adding anything particularly new to the mix, but rather are refining and perfecting what they’d already achieved on Night Is The New Day and The Great Cold Distance. In 21 years, they’ve managed to very slowly evolve into something uniquely their own in all the right ways. When you’re so far ahead of the curve, does it really matter if you’re not constantly making massively different music? I’m not so sure it does. I’ll be happy if Katatonia keep making only slight tweaks to their current formula, as they’re already in a league of their own. One listen to Dead End Kings further drives this point home.

Dead End Kings comes out at the end of August worldwide. You can grab your copy from Peaceville Records’ online shop. Get a taste of the new album below with the lead single from the album, “Dead Letters.”

Exclusive Q&A: Opeth Unleashes Their Heritage

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsA few months ago, we featured a post celebrating twenty great years of music by Opeth (which you can read here ). Obviously, we have lots of respect for Mikael í…kerfeldt and company. They’re progressive death metal juggernauts who never seem to disappoint fans and critics. Despite numerous great albums, amazing tours and boatloads of positive critical reception, they’re still hard at work, releasing their tenth album Heritage earlier this year. Not too long after our article was published, we were able to put together an interview with the frontman of this iconic band, and it was well worth the wait.

OS: Opeth has been in the metal world for quite some time now, and you’re considered by many to be one of the best metal bands of all time. What helps you put out such great material so consistently?

Mí…: Well, we don’t really regard ourselves in any way as one of the best bands or whatever, we just try to write and record music that we want to hear, and I guess the big difference is that we have a wider range of influences than your regular metal band. I mean, we’ve been around a while of course, but really we’ve just been putting out records we want to listen to, first and foremost, and I guess we’ve just been fortunate that other people like that shit as well.

OS: Speaking of that, the critical reception of Heritage has been pretty great, and it sold pretty well, even though it’s quite different than your other material. How do you feel about the album’s reception so far?

Mí…: I’m pretty happy with it I think, but I don’t really go looking for it. I’m not really seeking approval from anyone. You know, even if I like getting good reviews and people telling me they like the new record, it doesn’t really matter so much for me anymore, I can’t really say why. I love it, you know, and that’s all that matters.¦If you go on the Internet looking for some type of approval you’re gonna end up with a lot of shit too, and I don’t really need that in my life right now, to be honest. (more…)

Musical Chairs

We recently caught wind of vocalist Joey Belladonna talking about his concerns over being a permanent fixture in Anthrax during his third tour of duty with the band. As unfortunate (and probably well-founded) as Belladonna’s concerns are, we won’t be focusing on his particular case today. His statement got us thinking on how commonplace lineup changes really are; we’re interested in how bands, especially those considered seminal in their genres, are able to maintain their sound and fanbase throughout the years with completely different members. After some research and many generalizations, we have made this list of what can happen to a band when new members are recruited.

Nirvana

Stroke of Luck Bands: AC/DC, Nirvana, Pantera

AC/DC was a band that had an established position within their scene, but would Back In Black have been so immensely successful if Bon Scott had still been on vocal duties? Would Nevermind be the grunge postersong if it weren’t for Dave Grohl‘s performance on the skins? Would the Cowboys From Hell have exploded onto the metal scene without Phil Anselmo‘s growling screams and falsetto? Probably not.

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Metal Monday: 20 Years of Opeth

Just over twenty years as a band and coming up on eleven studio albums, Opeth have almost guaranteed their spot in the metal hall of fame given the legendary status of many of their albums. Though formed in the fall of 1990, the band’s lineup wasn’t really solidified until a couple years later. Opeth’s musical style has mostly been the brainchild of Mikael í…kerfeldt, the only constant member of the band appearing on every Opeth release. As members have shifted, so has the band’s sound (even if it’s been a subtle change). At this point, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a metalhead who wouldn’t bestow the progressive death metal crown atop Opeth’s head.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Opeth is their consistently great releases and continually evolving sound. Unlike many metal bands, Opeth don’t really have an album that is uniformly respected and beloved above their other albums (for example, Slayer’s Reign In Blood or Judas Priest’s Painkiller). When asking Twitter at large to name their two favorite Opeth albums, the first four tweets mentioned six different albums (Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries, Still Life, Damnation, Watershed and Morningrise)”a testament to this notion of slight style changes and a fantastic catalog. Still need more proof? Well, on MetalStorm.net, Opeth has seven albums in the site’s “Top 200 albums of all time” list, which is no small feat, with all of their albums receiving above an average score of 8.5, as rated by users of the site.

Opeth Decibel Magazine coverBack in 2003 Opeth released Damnation, which was a rather bold move by the band. Damnation, as an album, isn’t metal in any way. It’s not just acoustic rehashes of old material, either. It was totally new, non-metal songs. Perhaps Opeth fans are just a different breed, but for most highly-revered metal bands, major deviation from the path doesn’t really go all that well (just ask Morbid Angel). Damnation, however, was incredibly well-received by the (usually close-minded) metal community, and rightfully so“it’s a masterfully done album.

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Metal Monday: Mini Reviews Of June Releases

June was a pretty gigantic month for metal music, with upwards of twenty-five notable releases, some by pretty powerful players in the metal world in recent years.  Not everyone has the time and energy to check out all the big releases week to week and month to month, so I’m here to help you to stay on top of this busy time. Here’s a collection of mini reviews covering a bunch of June’s metal albums to help you figure out where to begin:

In FlamesSounds Of A Playground Fading

In Flames, one of the more famous names in the metal world, has seen their fair share of disappointment in recent years due to the flops that were A Sense Of Purpose and Soundtrack To Your Escape. Sounds Of A Playground Fading falls in line with those releases in terms of style, but is much less disappointing. Still not great, though.

Jungle RotKill On Command

If you’re a regular reader, then there’s a pretty good chance you already saw my full review of this album. Still, to sum it up: this is a straight-forward, stripped down metal album in time when they are few and far between. If you haven’t read the post yet, check out the in-depth version from a few weeks back.

Devin TownsendDeconstruction

Regarded by many as one of the most talented individuals in the metal world today, Devin Townsend rarely disappoints audiences with his music. And Deconstruction is no different. Though musically brilliant, it may take some people a bit of time to become accustomed to his odd themes, lyrics and humor. If you already know and love Devy, Deconstruction will absolutely make your day.

TombsPath Of Totality

Tombs’ second (sort of third) full-length album is definitely their best work to date, and quite possibly one of the best records of the year. Their signature mix of black and sludge metal meld flawlessly when taken to a new, extreme level. Fifty-eight minutes of pure metal awesomeness with not a single dull moment.

Morbid AngelIllud Divinum Insanus

I’m still not sure if Morbid Angel are just executing the biggest troll on the metal community or not, but there’s no denying that Illud Divinum Insanus is just plain not good. Trying out a new style of music, or trying to fuse new styles into a genre in which you’ve already proven your worth is admirable, but in this case it went horribly wrong. It’s not a good death metal album, it’s not a good electronic album, and it’s certainly not a good mix of styles. If you’re looking for electronic/metal combinations, maybe try “Self Vs. Self” by Pendulum and In Flames.

August Burns RedLeveler

August Burns Red’s fourth full length album sees the band departing even further from the somewhat standard brand of metalcore that propelled them to success. Leveler incorporates a litany of different musical styles, such as a nice flamenco guitar interlude, within their signature level of tightness and high energy.

Arch EnemyKhaos Legions

The extra time Arch Enemy took between albums, along with Michael Amott’s short stint reuniting with Carcass, clearly had a huge effect on the band. Khaos Legions is a bit of a departure from the band’s other recent works“and for the better. Each member’s best efforts focused into one album makes for a really solid listen.

Fit For An AutopsyThe Process Of Human Extermination

Every now and then a band tries to do something interesting with the currently played-out, generic deathcore sound without falling into the very well-defined box that deathcore has become. Fit For An Autopsy gets points for their effort, but there are still traces of the cookie-cutter style. A solid listen, though I’m not so sure that this is even close to the best the band can offer.

Job For A CowboyGloom

With every new release, Job For A Cowboy make a case for being one of the best pure death metal acts and Gloom is no different. As an EP, it’s only four songs, but each of those songs is remarkably well-executed and shows the band isn’t even close to done yet.

Limp BizkitGold Cobra

Calling Limp Bizkit a metal band that this point is really more of a joke than it is a serious claim, but this record is worth noting due to the fact that it perfectly sums up all of the music Limp Bizkit has made to date, except for their first (and best) album, 3 Dollar Bill Y’all. From the high energy tracks with angry raps to the somewhat ballad-like tunes, you get to hear a little bit of everything Limp Bizkit is known for.

Here’s a few other June metal releases that I’ve heard some good things about:

Symphony XIconoclast

From the looks of comments and ratings around the Internet, most people seem pretty pleased with this album. After 194 ratings on metalstorm.net, Iconoclast sits at an 8.5/10 rating, which isn’t too shabby at all (but is lower than the respective ratings for each of the three albums prior to it). It would appear that Symphony X have put out yet another solid album.

OriginEntity

Like Symphony X’s latest effort, most opinions of Entity seem to be very positive. It’s averaging an 8.4/10 after 57 votes, which is right on par with their last record. The only real complaints I’ve seen seem to be that some of the songs are quite short, and the album can get a bit lost in its overly-technical style at times.

AmorphisThe Beginning Of Times

The Beginning Of Times is the follow up to this Finnish monster band’s great 2009 album Skyforger, and by most accounts, is equally as good. Described by some as being a bit more melodically complex and reaching, Amorphis is not, historically, a formulaic type of band so overlooking a release is usually a folly.

June really turned out to be quite a climax in an already fantastic year in metal, and the releases keep rolling out. There are at least a few more albums coming out in 2011 that could very well dwarf the rest of the year’s releases (such as Revocation, Decapitated, Opeth, All Shall Perish, Skeletonwitch, etc.) but we’ll have to wait and see.

Any June metal releases you’re especially fond of that you think people should give a listen to? Post it in the comments section!

Metal Monday: Are The Swedes Best At Metal?

There are certain countries that are considered to be a cut above the rest in terms of the metal they produce. At the top of the metal food chain are countries like Canada, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Norway, the UK and the US”but who reigns supreme in the metal world? There is a strong case to be made for each of these countries, but in the last two decades it’s hard to argue against Sweden as metal’s capital.

Alternative metal band, Katatonia

Though Sweden might not have the most metal bands out of all these countries (that title probably belongs to the US), they have birthed a few bands in the last few decades that have gone on to pioneer, revolutionize, or create a new sub-genre of metal. Bands such as In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and At The Gates are the forefathers melodic death metal (and what would be come to known as the “Gothenburg sound”). Meshuggah are often considered one of the most unique metal bands of today, inspiring countless bands to come after them are”they’re also often cited as the main influence for the recent trend of “djent” bands). Opeth is largely considered the pinnacle for progressive death metal bands, with each of their nine full-length albums earning extremely positive critical response. Candlemass is one of the original epic doom metal bands that would carve the modern and current definition of doom metal.

The legendary Dark Tranquillity

Even if you take out the list of heavily influential metal bands that shaped the current lay of the metal land, you’re still left with a list of massively talented bands: Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Katatonia, Bathory, Hypocrisy, Bloodbath, Soilwork, Scar Symmetry, Cult of Luna, and the list goes on. One of the biggest deciding factors, in addition to the quality of these bands, is their longevity. Even pioneering bands like Dark Tranquillity, Opeth and Meshuggah are still putting out landmark releases. That’s what it’s all about: sustained, high quality, albums year after year.

Of course, there can be strong arguments made for any of the aforementioned countries”the UK produced Motí¶rhead, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and creating the entire genre of metal. The US can be credited for producing the “big four” of thrash, among countless other great bands. Still, even considering all of the arguments for other countries to reign supreme, it’s hard to argue against Sweden.

Metal Monday: Metal Preview 2011

While providing some solid albums, 2010 was a fairly lackluster year in metal. Given only the short list of albums slated to come out in the first three months of 2011, it could very well eclipse all of 2010 in just a couple months. Many 2011 albums have been announced, but many of them have tentative or inexact release dates. First, let’s take a look at albums we know release dates for:

StratovariusElysium [January 12]
CrowbarSever The Wicked Hand [February 8]
CauldronBurning Fortune [February 14]
NeuraxisAsylon [February 15]
DeicideTo Hell With God [February 15]
DevilDriverBeast [February 22]
Darkest HourThe Human Romance [February 22]
Amon AmarthSurtur Rising [March 29]

It looks as though, at least early on in 2011, death metal will be reigning supreme with releases from Neuraxis and Deicide” two of the most well-renowned artists in death metal’s history. Crowbar’s Sever The Wicked Hand should also be a monster record, as they’re one of the most legendary sludge metal bands ever.

In terms of anticipated releases with little to no detail and no cemented release date, there are also some heavyweight releases anticipated in the first quarter of 2011: Anthrax, Obscura, The Faceless, Symphony X, Textures, Born of Osiris and Protest The Hero.

Licking your chops yet? This is shaping up to be quite the year if the first quarter is an indication what the rest of the year will look like. And if that isn’t quite enough, there are also rumors of albums from All Shall Perish, Sanctity Opeth (which is most likely happening late 2011), In Flames, Tool (though it’s never easy to know with these guys), Unearth and Hammerfall.

Know any albums that slipped under my radar? I’d love to find out what other metal albums to look out for in early 2011!

Metal Monday: 1990, A Great Year In Metal

Though the metal genre has had many landmark years, no year in it’s musical history matches 1990 in terms of legendary and influential record releases. At a time when metal was starting to explore heavier sounds, such as brutal death metal, and bands like Judas Priest were evolving, the incredible album releases across the metal spectrum was an integral part of metal’s evolution. The year was epic in terms of both metal releases across sub genres and overall history.

For the new wave of British heavy metal, Judas Priest released their monster album Painkiller, which is considered to be one of the best metal albums of all time. It’s a considerably heavier sounding album than most Judas Priest material, and certainly heavier than their most famous songs such as “Breaking The Law” and “Hellbent for Leather.” Painkiller is the album in which Rob Halford finds his most sinister place, K.K. Downing finally breaks loose of the cheesier guitar riffs from the earlier days and Scott Travis adds more attitude on the drum kit. A true metal masterpiece.

Candidate for most metal artwork ever

The thrash world also had an all-time great album released in 1990 courtesy of Megadeth. Rust In Peace is a fairly short album, clocking in at just under forty minutes, but those forty minutes are densely packed with great riff after great riff, and blistering solos to spare. You also can’t forget Dave Mustaine’s incomparable voice, which is at its absolute best here.

That same year saw the debut release of the now legendary Atheist album Piece of Time, as well as Deicide‘s eponymous debut“both of which put a clear stamp on the death metal that would follow them. In a completely separate area of metal, Primus also released their debut album Frizzle Fry, considered by many to be their best album to date.

Splitting the top of the 1990 release charts with the powerful debut releases by Atheist, Deicide and Primus were bands like Pantera and Kreator. Both bands found the perfect formula for their very distinctive thrash styles, each releasing what was the best album of their careers (and still might be). Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell is certainly the band’s best known effort, boasting one of the most distinctive opening riffs in the history of metal. Even Bathory was on board with the year 1990, releasing Hammerheart, an album considered by many to be the first true “Viking Metal” album.

Less serious, but plenty awesome

In terms new metal bands, the “class of 1990″ list is pretty extensive: At The Gates, Converge, Kyuss, Opeth, Dark Tranquillity, Tool, In Flames, Fear Factory, Lamb of God and more. Many of these bands would go on to be extremely influential in their respective sub genres. In fact, the bands from Gothenburg (At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, and In Flames) went on to define a scene and sound for Swedish melodic death metal for the two decade to follow.

The year was marred by tragic events, such as Judas Priest being sued when their song “Better By You Better By Me” allegedly prompted a kid to commit suicide (the band won the case) and the attack and ensuing paralysis of Possessed frontman Jeff Becerra. Still, with landmark release after landmark release, 1990 will go down as one of the best years in the world of metal.

Metal Monday: Jack Ketch Q&A

Neighbors to one of the decade’s biggest and most prominent areas for brutally heavy music (aka: the Bay Area), Sacramento is trying to put itself on the map, and death metal band Jack Ketch is helping the city to do just that. With two incredibly strong and heavy releases in the last two years, Jack Ketch is pulling no punches and is out for blood. We chatted with them to see how things were going, and where the band is headed next.

OS: Your album Bringers of the Dawn was released in October, it’s a bit different than 2009’s In Articulo Mortis. Do you attribute this more to lineup changes or a conscious decision to vary your sound?

JK: I think a little of both really. We are constantly experimenting and growing as a band. When we made the lineup change towards the end of 2009 we just wanted to come out fresh. We felt we had so many great ideas we didn’t want to limit ourselves to the old sound and just create a whole new beast. We are not even close to done yet, we just keep on writing and evolving.

OS: You’ve drawn comparisons between your band and bands like Opeth and Between the Buried and Me, whom are significantly more progressive than your two albums. Do you see your band moving more in that direction in future releases? How about clean vocal parts?

JK: Those are two huge influences on us and helped push us in the more progressive direction we have gone. As far as future releases, who knows where we’ll go? We have been working on some more progressive stuff as well as more brutal death metal stuff. Incorporating clean vocals is something we have been working on with some of the newer songs also. We write constantly and have so much depth and options that we can really take this any direction we decide, so it will probably come down to just which songs we feel are the best.

OS: Both of your albums have been released through Transmedia Records. How did you link up with them, and end up being their first release/band?

JK: Transmedia Records is a great start up label and fully supports us in everything we do. We recorded both albums up in Portland, OR at a studio called The Magic Closet. While up there we were referred to these guys in Berkley that were starting up their own label. We talked for a while back and forth about music, the industry and what we were both looking to get out of it. We just felt everyone was on the same page and could really benefit from working together and helping each other out. It’s kind of a family and I see big things for both of us coming in the near future.

OS: You’ve played a lot of shows on the west coast. How long until you start planning shows further to the east?

JK: The west coast is our home and we’ve just been working on building that solid foundation here before we start moving outward. I feel it coming soon though. Moving east is definitely something we are going to be looking to do, but it’s nowhere near the end of the line for us. I just spent some time in Germany last month and talked about maybe heading over to Europe for a tour possibly next year. We were also hit up to play a huge festival in India this November, but unfortunately because of the dates we had to decline. Anywhere in the world is a possibility for us, we are just building up our name and trying to do things the smartest way possible.

OS: The artwork for Bringers of the Dawn is pretty intricate. Is there a story behind it and, does it coincide with the album’s content?

JK: Oh definitely, everything about this album coincides with one another. We wanted to create not just a concept album but a bit of an experience. We put a ton of work into it and wanted to tell a story, not only with the lyrics, but also with the songs and the imagery. Reading through the lyrics it’s a story of an invasion of the Earth with a battle for the survival of humanity. The natural balance of life and the struggles between the perception of what really is good or evil. In the end you’re left to think, is this the end of the human race, or really just a new beginning? There are many more underlying ideas hidden within there also, but that is for the listener to find and decide upon for themselves.

OS: After going through various lineup changes in your few years as a band, do you think you’ve finally settled on a more permanent one?

JK: Well we’ve actually only gone through one lineup change, but it consisted of the guitarist and drummer at the same time. We were surprised how quickly we picked up two new members and got back to things. But that just shows you how perfect this line up is for us. With everyone so focused and on the same page we couldn’t be happier about the current lineup and have gotten such a great response from the new music.

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Metal Monday: Metal Essentials – Progressive Metal

If a person is to consider themselves a metalhead, they had best know the roots”the basics. Be aware of all subgenres, who dominates them and know the albums that helped shape that subgenre. For the next few weeks, I’ll be schooling you on some essential metal albums from metal’s biggest subgenres; making sure you know the biggest and the best in the metal world while giving you some essential albums to add to your metal collection.

This week’s topic seeks to stretch the genre boundaries of metal, and, quite literally, the length of songs.  I’m referring to progressive metal.

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