Thursday, December 31, 2009

Latest Concert News

A numbers of show have been changed and announced since my last general update, so here's the latest concert news around the Twin Cities:


Shining has dropped off the Behemoth tour due to work visa issues and has been replaced with Metal Blade recording artist Lightning Swords Of Death. Septicflesh now moves up into the direct support slot. The Behemoth tour lands in St. Paul on Monday, January 25 at Station 4.


Reunited Christian death metal gods Living Sacrifice will be appearing at The Vault in Buffalo, Minnesota (of all places!) on Valentine's Day.


The next night (Monday, February 15) Winds Of Plague headlines a massive festival-size lineup at Station 4 in St. Paul.


Perhaps the biggest news is that original Iron Maiden singer Paul Di'Anno will be playing at Station 4 in St. Paul on Sunday, February 28. Does anyone even know the last Paul Di'Anno toured the US? Iron Maiden fans will not want to miss this!!

Swallow The Sun Album Review

Swallow The Sun – New Moon
Spinefarm, 2009


9/10



It’s difficult to find fault with the latest album from Swallow The Sun, as these Finnish doom merchants weave another intricate tapestry of sound that embraces many extremes. Their sound can best be described as the slow, dreary heaviness of early work from My Dying Bride incorporating the acoustic and progressive elements of Opeth. One of the great things about Swallow The Sun is that their songs never get drug too deep into their slow, plodding parts. Just when you think your mind may start to wander, a crushing riff or an acoustic break is interwoven into the song to leave you hanging in anticipation of the next move. The vocals can be gruff and indecipherable at times, but they fit the music well and are sung and whispered when appropriate. “Sleepless Swans” is a great example of what Swallow The Sun is capable of. After opening with a soft, acoustic melody, powerful guitars take over and launch the song into an experience between these two styles. Other stellar tracks are the title track, “Lights On The Lake (Horror Pt. III)”, and “…And Heavens Cried Blood”. Really, the entire middle of the album is amazing. This is moody, depressing, and evocative music that drips with substance and character. Swallow The Sun are one the most interesting bands in the gothic/doom realm, and come highly recommended, especially to fans of recent material from Opeth. This band is a titantic force on stage and blew the crowd away the last time they came to Station 4. New Moon is an album not to be missed.

Swallow The Sun will be appearing as support to Finntroll at Station 4 in St. Paul on Saturday, April 17. Additional support will come from Moonsorrow and Survivors Zero.

Epica Album Review

Epica – Design Your Universe
Nuclear Blast, 2009


9/10



Holland’s Epica have released their best work to date with a magical, varied sound that amazes me with each listen. Their last album, 2007’s The Divine Conspiracy, was a bit of let down from prior records, and I was worried that the band would continue in a more pop-oriented direction. Design Your Universe seems to combine all of Epica’s signature sounds into a well-written, focused effort. Everything you would expect from this symphonic metal outfit is here – seamless incorporation of an orchestra, operatic choir vocals, and epic song structures. Following a short opening instrumental, “Resign To Surrender (A New Age Dawns Part IV)” makes a statement that Epica hasn’t lost any of their aggressive fire as guitarist Mark Jansen takes over most of the song with his death metal vocals. Simone Simons steps back into the spotlight with her beautiful, soprano voice featured in “Unleashed”. Most of the songs are mid-tempo, with fast guitars and strings interwoven with soaring melodic choruses. A great example of this formula is “Our Destiny”, a song that really takes off when the chorus explodes into a massive vocal performance by Simone. The absolute highlight of the album is “Tides Of Time”, a ballad that begins with nothing but piano and orchestral accompaniment to Simone’s soft voice that builds toward a grand climax in the final two minutes that makes your hair stand on end by the time the guitar solo begins. Other stand out tracks are “Deconstruct”, “Martyr Of The Free Word”, and the title track. Design Your Universe is the ultimate statement of Epica’s vision, executed nearly flawless. My only complaint is the length of the album – at 79 minutes this is a bit much and the album seems to never want to end (the 13:35 minute “Kingdom Of Heaven” doesn’t help in this regard). The production and entire performance is perfect, and an ideal balance between the bands, Simone’s vocals, and the orchestra is found. Design Your Universe is the definitive work to date from Epica, and their creative spark continues to burn strongly. This is undoubtedly one of the best symphonic metal albums of all time.

Epica will be appearing at Station 4 in St. Paul on Saturday, February 6. Support will come from Threat Signal, Blackguard, Echoterra, Gracepoint, and Dread Veil.

Threat Signal Album Review

Threat Signal - Vigilance
Nuclear Blast, 2009


9/10



It would be too easy to dismiss Threat Signal as a metalcore-type Pantera clone, but man I have to acknowledge that Vigilance is one monster of an album. Sure, the Pantera, Fear Factory, and thrash metal influences are obvious, but Threat Signal brings enough interesting melodies and guitar work to the table to allow the album to stand on its own merits. Aggressive, heavy riffs are the first order of business here, while clean vocal sing-alongs are kept to a minimum. This is what really separates Threat Signal from poser bands such as Avenged Sevenfold. “Beyond Recognition”, “The Beginning Of The End”, and “In Repair” are my current favorites from the album, but easily half of the record has been a favorite during one listen or another. The only misstep is “Another Source Of Light”, one of the slower numbers that features melodic singing that sounds too whiney. What pushes Vigilance up into potential classic status is this element of not knowing exactly what will come next. There are so many little twists in rhythms and riffs at unexpected times in each song that I find myself listening with rapt attention, and multiple listens become a pleasure. There’s little to find fault here as Threat Signal has delivered one of the best albums of 2009.

Threat Signal will be appearing as direct support to Epica at Station 4 in St. Paul on Saturday, February 6. Additional support will come from Blackguard, Echoterra, Gracepoint, and Dread Veil.

Megadeth Album Review

Megadeth - Endgame
Roadrunner, 2009


7/10



With all the hype about this being a return to legendary form and Dave Mustaine’s complaining about Roadrunner’s of lack of promotion you’d think Endgame would rival Rust In Peace while being loaded with potential radio hits. There’s some bit of truth in this, but it’s a stretch to say that Endgame meets the hype. The first half of the album left me disappointed and wondering what all the fuss is about. Sure, there are great solos all over the place, but the songs plod along, feeling forced and a little lifeless. Thankfully, the second half of the records kicks into gear and saves Endgame from mediocrity. The last four songs of the album are some of the best material Megadeth has produced, and why they are dumped onto the end of the record is beyond me. “The Hardest Part Of Letting Go…Sealed With A Kiss” begins in the fashion of a ballad, then erupts with whirlwind force into a rocker with drum fills accentuating the song’s dynamics. The fury of classic Mustaine riffage finally appears on “Head Crusher”, and “How The Story Ends” has infectious beat that immediately induces head banging. There’s certainly nothing awful here, but the first half of the album sounds simply uninspired. I’m going to register a minor complaint about the album’s mix because Dave’s vocals are a bit buried, and I’d prefer his distinctive snarl to be more up front. The biggest downfall is the ordering of the tracks. This would be a much more enjoyable listen if the best tracks were spread throughout the album rather than being clustered at the end. I can’t say that Endgame is an essential purchase for most metal fans, but this is probably the best record from Megadeth in the last ten years and long time fans will definitely want to give this album a chance.

Megadeth will be performing at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul on Thursday, February 4 with co-headliner Slayer. Support will come from Testament.

Halford Album Review

Halford – Halford 3 – Winter Songs
Metal God, 2009


8/10



Since it’s holiday time, I’m going to break with tradition here and feature an album despite no plans to promote it here in the Twin Cities. Rob Halford has resurrected his Halford band for an unexpected Christmas-themed album that succeeds in delivering a serious album suitable for any fan of Judas Priest. Winter Songs features five original songs and five Christmas standards. My favorite aspect of the Christmas standards is that these aren’t tongue-in-cheek joke versions. Halford treats these with respect (not reverence, like Trans-Siberian Orchestra) while arranging them into enjoyable, rocking songs. “We Three Kings” gallops along with a classic heavy metal rhythm, and “Oh Come O Come Emanuel” sounds like it meant to have guitar solos all over the place. “What Child Is This?” and “Oh Holy Night” are treated to a more traditional, grand interpretation, while “Come All Ye Faithful” is a bit subdued to wind the album down. The original song “Get Into The Spirit” opens the album with a speed metal intensity that reminds of Virgin Steele with its unrelenting, driving rhythm. “Winter Song” is the clear highlight of the album, a sad ballad about experiencing the emptiness of a lost love during the holiday season. It’s hard not to be touched by this song, and it’s probably the greatest ballad Rob has written. The remaining three originals are enjoyable, but frankly don’t hold up as well as the other seven tracks. Everything Rob Halford touches oozes with quality, and one listen to Winter Songs tells you that this isn’t a quick, slap-dash affair in the quest for a quick buck. The band performing this album is outstanding, including Roy Z. and “Metal” Mike Chlasciak on guitars and Bobby Jarzombek on drums. If you enjoy Christmas music this time of year and aren’t sickened by the thought of Halford performing a diversionary release, you should thoroughly enjoy Winter Songs. This has turned out to be one of the most pleasantly surprising releases of the year.

Earshot Single Review

Earshot – The Ugly Truth single
Self-released, 2009


8/10



This hard rock outfit seemed to disappear from sight after putting out a couple quality albums filled with made-for-radio rock. Back in October the band announced their intentions to release future material for free through their website, www.earshotband.com, and “The Ugly Truth” is the first song to be released in this manner. This song is what you would expect Earshot to deliver – a heavy, mid-tempo rock song that could easily be played on any rock radio station. Earshot has a knack for writing catchy, tuneful songs, and “The Ugly Truth” continues this track record. It’s not going to change the world, but it’s hard not to enjoy this song. The distinctive vocal stylings of Wil Martin have always been the most compelling feature of Earshot’s sound, so it’s great to hear his voice still in fine form. If you can appreciate bands like Sevendust, Staind, and Stone Temple Pilots, you can’t go wrong here. Getting this song is simple – go to the band’s website, sign up for their email list, and you get an email with a link to the song. As a nice bonus, the download includes a lyric sheet, artwork, desktop wallpapers, and mp3 and iPhone-compatible ringtones. The band promises that new music will be available in this manner every two or three months. I admire Earshot for taking this bold step in distributing their music (similar to what Smashing Pumpkins is now doing), but I suspect they’ll have a hard time getting their new music on the radio now that they lack major label muscle.

Earshot will be performing at The Rock in Maplewood on Sunday, January 17. Support will come from Wither The Tide and Third Supply.

3 Inches Of Blood Concert Review

3 Inches Of Blood, Saviours, Holy Grail
Friday, November 20, 2009
Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis, MN

A packed house greeted me as I squeezed my way through the door as “Battles And Brotherhood”, the lead track from Here Waits Thy Doom opened the show. It’s been a while since 3 Inches Of Blood had been through town, and their underground popularity certainly has not waned judging from the huge response from the crowd. The only constant in the band the last few years is vocalist Cam Pipes, but the band sounded tight as they wasted no time and roared through a large selection of their latest album, Here Waits Thy Doom. “Call Of The Hammer” and “Execution Tank” were especially impressive, and “Silent Killer”, “Snake Fighter”, and “All Of The Witches” were also thrown down to the crowd’s delight. Only three songs were Fire Up The Blades were played tonight, but the oddest part of the show was the unusual song selection from Advance And Vanquish. Of course, “Deadly Sinners” was saved for the end of the set, but “Wykydtron” and “Swordmaster” seemed like odd choices for the only other representation from that fine album. I supposed I’m nitpicking here because the band was in town to promote Here Waits Thy Doom, and what a job they did. My review of this album was less than enthusiastic, but I must admit that these songs carried a much greater impact live. A large part of the crowd seemed to also be familiar with Here Waits Thy Doom, so the band was greeted with rousing cheers and fierce mosh pit action throughout most the 60 minute set. The only misstep was their cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Cities On Flame With Rock ‘N’ Roll”. A great step, but it’s slow, deliberate pace deflated the crowd as the band neared the end of the set. 3 Inches Of Blood have been around long enough to have earned a loyal fan base, and tonight’s show satisfied all as the night drew to a close.

Click on the photo to see more pictures of 3 Inches Of Blood (6).


Vreid, Kivimetsän Druidi Concert Review

Heathenfest – Eluveitie, Belphegor, Alestorm, Vreid, Kivimetsän Druidi
Monday, November 9, 2009
Station 4, St. Paul, MN

No promotion existed for Century Media recording artist Kivimetsän Druidi, so I was surprised to see this Finnish band on stage as I entered the venue. I only caught the last couple of songs, but the band seems to have an interesting, powerful take on folk metal. Their female singer is certainly captivating on stage, and her high trills and dancing kept the audience’s attention. Kivimetsän Druidi was well-received for an opening act, so maybe we’ll get the chance to see them again soon.

Norway’s Vreid next took the stage, and this black metal outfit was the reason I came out to this show. Both in attitude and style, Vreid comes across as militaristic, hatefilled-steamroller. Their aggressive, confrontational demeanor caught the audience by surprise, but the response was enthusiastic. The band had a generous 40 minutes or so, and used it to maximum advantage in showcasing material from throughout the catalog on their first tour of the United States. “Speaking Goddamnit” and “Milorg” from 2009’s Milorg album were featured. It was a little surprising that the set wasn’t heavily slanted from Milorg, instead, older songs such as “Raped By Light” and “Pitch Black” were placed alongside a few other catalog tracks. All in all, Vreid put forth a powerful display of their talents and seemed to win over a large number of converts this night.

Home duties called, so unfortunately I was required to take an early leave and missed the remainder of the show. The entire lineup of Heathenfest was quite diverse and the attendance was excellent for the early part of the show that I caught, so hopefully more interesting tours like this will be coming through the Cities in the near future.

Click on the photos to see more pictures of Vreid (6) and Kivimetsän Druidi (3).



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End Of The Year Rush

December's been a busy month and the posts have been light lately! Throughout the day today I should be able to post a slew of recent concert announcements, show reviews, and album reviews. I also hope to fix the Google concert calendar, which has not been syncing properly in recent days.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More Concert Announcements

A couple more new shows for 2010 have been announced recently:


Earshot will be appearing Sunday, January 17 at The Rock in Maplewood.
Also appearing at The Rock will be Cold and Nonpoint on Friday, March 5.
Lastly, the Experience Hendrix tour will stop in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday, March 17. This tour is officially sanctioned by the Jimi Hendrix estate, and will feature an all-star slate of guitarists, including: Joe Satriani, Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Jonny Lang, and many, many other guests.

Abigail Williams EP Review

Abigail Williams – Tour 2009 EP
Candlelight, 2009


5/10



This 5-song EP is featured as a bonus disc to the reissue of Abigail Williams’ debut album In The Shadow Of A Thousand Suns, but can also be purchased separately as Tour 2009 EP from digital retailers. Seeing as the tour to promote the reissued album doesn’t begin until January 2010, it’s curious that this EP isn’t titled Tour 2010 EP. Oh well. If you’re new to Abigail Williams, they play a late-90s style Norwegian black metal in the vein of Dimmu Borgir, Covenant, and Emperor. These guys have it down pat, complete with buzzsaw guitars, parched vocals, and atmospheric keyboards and a clean, heavy production. It’s easy to view this EP as a holdover while awaiting a new full-length, since this contains four new songs (one being a short instrumental) and a demo version of the previously released song “Flood”. Opener “I Am (God)” showcases the promise of the band as its combines a symphonic black metal sound before launching into a vicious groove the second half of the song. “In Death Comes The Great Silence” is a fast wall of cacophony of noise that slows down mid-song, while “Infernal Divide” is slow, dreary-sounding track that has a fast rhythm section underneath haunting keyboards. The new songs are interesting and show a lot of potential for Abigail Williams, but it’s probably best to wait and see how the next album turns out. Right now I’m content with going back and listening to Dimmu’s Spiritual Black Dimensions.




A review and pictures from Abigail Williams' show opening for God Dethroned on October 10 can be viewed here.



Abigail Williams will be supporting Nile at Station 4 in St. Paul on Saturday, January 23. Additional support will come from Immolation, Krisiun, and Dreaming Dead.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Marduk Album Review

Marduk - Wormwood
Regain, 2009


5/10



Long-running Swedish black metal band Marduk has long been the source of controversy, and their output in recent years has been becoming more prolific. Their latest album, Wormwood, is a split affair. A bare majority of the ten tracks are simple, dready melodies draped over blinding-fast drumming and buzzsaw guitars. A short interlude is thrown in, and the remaining songs are somber, slow dirges. Unquestionably, the highlight of Wormwood is “Phosphorous Redeemer”, a fast, technical blitzkrieg whose ominous bell tolls evoke dark forebodings. The remainder of the album doesn’t hold up as well, as the slow songs bored me and others simply didn’t grab my attention. What I find interesting is the loose, punk-like feel of many of the songs. By punk I mean the chaotic, discordant songs of older bands like Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. The production of the album is fantastic, and seems to capture the raw heaviness of Marduk well. There’s many positive attributes to Wormwood, and I have a gut feeling that long-time fans of Marduk won’t be left feeling disappointed like I am.

Marduk will be appearing at Station 4 in St. Paul on Sunday, December 13. Support will come from Nachtmystium, Merrimack, and Mantic Ritual, Mashu, and Wraithian.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Primal Fear Concert Announcement

Way back on October 29 I reported here that Primal Fear would be coming to town. Their 2010 North American tour in support of their latest Frontiers album, 16.6 - Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, has now officially been announced. This tour includes a stop at Station 4 in St. Paul on Sunday, May 30. The only support band announced so far is Madison, Wisconsin's Century Media recording artist Luna Mortis. Check out the review and pictures of Primal Fear's show at the 2009 Minnesota MetalFest.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finntroll Concert Announcement

The concert announcements for 2010 continue to pour in, and the latest tour to roll through The Cities is the so-called Finnish Metal tour. This month-long tour of exclusive Finnish bands will be headlined by Finntroll, with support from Moonsorrow, Swallow The Sun, and Survivors Zero. They will be playing at Station 4 in St. Paul on Saturday, April 17.