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About five or six years ago when I first discovered this website, there were a few reviewers I discovered that made me realize music reviews didn't have to be bland and descriptive and could take on a personality of their own. This in turn inspired me to write my own reviews for this website- BastardHead is and continues to be one of my main inspirations. His Five Finger Death Punch review (now lost somewhere in the annals of the internet since that band was undoubtedly deemed way too reminiscent of Limp Bizkit to deserve a spot on this site) is still among one of my favorite music reviews ever, and I'll admit to ripping him off as much as I can without being noticeable in my own reviews. The fact that this fine man proposed a taste swap challenge in which we pick an album out of the other person's element for them to review gave me one of those fawning fanboy moments. Now that I've got that obligatory sucking off out of the way, onward to the review! While I surprised him with some underrated maximalist black metal, I've got...
Thrash? Japanese power/thrash? From 2000? Did thrash metal even exist in 2000? Perhaps this is much more of an outlier to me because I am unfamiliar with Gargoyle; the main band of She-ja, who is, the apparent driving creative force of this album. The consistency in aesthetic and songwriting suggests no more than one person it at work writing the songs here. Considering this comes from a country where visual kei is a thing and Maximum the Hormone, Dir En Grey and Sigh exist as well as a host of other bands that use a similar broad range of styles and techniques, often in the same song, this is a remarkably refreshing amount of restraint. All of the songs generally end up having the same overarching theme; normally that's something that really turns me off of thrash but coming from a place where word salad songwriting is the norm, this seems more like the exception than the rule. The small little diversions to perk your interest are much more fresh; the intro is very well done (especially considering most metal spoken word intros are complete dogshit), there's a piano part on "Fear of the Scarlet" that hits you out of nowhere, and then they just play a straight-up southern rock song in "I Am What". The little quirks and oddities are in much better moderation and it's much more fresh and drawing for me as a result.
Even though this band is technically power-thrash by intent and definition, this ends up sounding a lot more like melodic death metal. There's predominantly aggressive thrash riffing at the forefront, and the slick, modern production values and the mid-90s turgid groove that seeped into metal from all angles that lurks in fits and starts makes this sound like a precursor to modern melodic death- The Crown jumps out to me as an immediate comparison, and I could see a band like The Black Dahlia Murder listening to a lot of stuff like this, but at the same time, there's not a moment on this I wouldn't say draws from anything other than old thrash or power metal. Although the songs do end up all having a similar overall goal, that's not to say there's not riffs within each of the songs that aren't memorable in their own right; I really like how this manages to be heavy without resorting to any sort of outright extremes. Riffs are clearly the focus of the album, but no one component of the music is outright ignored, and how little they are noticed but how much they are felt contributes much more to the album's weight than any sort of focus on extremity or brutality could. The title track's opening riff is a straight-up Metallica ripoff, and goddamn is it ever heavy as balls.
The vocals shine at their brightest during the second half of the album, which seems a little more geared towards power metal in songs like "Cloud Covers" and "Devil-May-Care-Boy". The fact that I've been finding myself humming vocal lines from someone in a relatively inaccessible genre with such odd word enunciation is a feat in and of itself. Nov has a very consistent grit to his voice and maintains that natural rasp even in the higher ranges of notes- that and the diversity of his range suggest to me this guy has quite extensive vocal training. Very impressive, holds the album together and gives the choruses the staying power they need. Every song is composed succinctly and efficiently; there are no stinkers on the album, but the caveat is no songs really hold their own outside of the context of the album. This is an album for fans of the style and will never likely reach a fanbase beyond that, but the actual style bears similarity to a plethora of different subgenres of metal and it's even just an interesting historical piece because this is probably one of the most genuinely thrashy things I've heard coming straight out of the turn of the century, but then again, the whole reason I'm writing this review is because I don't listen to a lot of thrash in the first place, so what the fuck do I know?
The best summation of this album I can give is "if Metallica listened to a lot of Sex Machineguns and At the Gates". I'll admit it's not something I get a craving for often, but I can't say I've disliked this at any point when it's on. Gargoyle's got an extremely daunting discography, but this little glimpse into a very specific style exploration makes me want to see a little bit more of where this She-ja guy is coming from.
BastardHead writes his reviews at his lair (lairofthebastard.blogspot.com) and if you haven't already, check his shit out, asshole.
This album always astonished me. When it came out, it was one of the greatest surprises for the metal journalists everywhere and, surely, also for the metalheads that loved thrash/speed metal with melody. Well, with member from Gargoyle and Youthquake you could expect something like this but anyway, I was really surprised. They are all great musicians and this album is surely one of the greatest metal outputs of the new millennium.
Their style is, as I said, a hyper dynamic, technical and melodic thrash metal. Sounds good? OK, now try it. The classic thrash metal influences come from the Bay Area, from the bands-originators in California and, mostly, from the more melodic bands in this field. The lead guitars are essential to give the melody in this sound and the lead guitarist She-Ja can be seen as a total worshipper for the Alex Skolnick style that is expressed in the sense of melody that comes along with the hyper technical and melodic parts.
In several parts you can really hear the resemblance to early Testament for the always well balanced brutality with the melody. The speed is always quite high, like in “Ghost” song for example, but what astonishes the most is the intensity of this sound. Even when they are not on up tempo, the songs result equally powerful and full of tons of catchy and excellent riffs. “Brain Dance” shows several stop and go with a schizophrenic end and a beautiful melodic solo.
The singer is truly in U.D.O. style for the tonality and the raspy vocals. The melodic thrash and these vocals are perfect in this mixture and give variety to an already great sound. The melodic guitars break can be found in different parts, spread all around the CD. The production is truly clean and pounding and it’s sufficient to look where the album was recorded to have an idea of the power these Japanese guys can put out.
It’s useless to mark out every single melodic break because it’s impossible but “Fear Of Scarlet” and “Cloud Covers” could sum up everything on this field with the piano parts and the awesome solos. The melodies and the angry parts run after each other in a circle of pure pleasure for my ears. Believe me, this is a non common album for thrash metal, especially when it comes from the year 2000. Sometimes it has been too overlooked just because it came from Japan but these guys could seriously kick asses to the most of the modern thrash metal bands from other countries. Give them a chance and they won’t disappoint you.
When I first heard this album, I was sheerly blown away. Every aspect about it is superb. Each and every member is incredibly talented and deserve much praise. Nov has a rough voice which tends to go harsh at times. In my opinion, his voice makes this band one of the manliest bands out there. She-Je is just an amazing guitarist. His style tends to change from traditional solos straight to mind-blowing neo-classically influenced solos, then back to traditional. Every note is perfect. Their drummer also has massive hordes of talent and he has excellent timing as well. When the solos pick up at their best part, he'll rapidly hit the double bass pedals and blow your ears away.
Each song in itself is rather unique, but utilizes great moments from other songs in the album. The solos don't sound the same, but they definately have the same feel to them: awesome. Overall, the vocals aren't the high-point; She-Ja and the drummer are, but the vocals fit very well and are much unlike most clean vocals. There's not a moment of this album you'll dislike, unless you hate Nov's great voice. I suppose some peopel may, if they're not highly into harsh vocals, but that's what makethis band great.
I highly recommend checking this album out, as it will own you in every way possible. Possibly Japan's best thrash band in a long time.
Volcano play a power/thrash hybrid with a great sense of melody, especially apparent during solos. The sound is overall very guitar centrered, coming pretty close to Annihilator at times. The songs follow a simple verse-chorus-verse scheme and are mostly mid- or fastpaced. Despite this Violent never gets monotonous or old as the band throw in spoken passages (in one instance a child reads parts of a poem, but don’t be deceived, no other comparisons to Nightwish and their Dead Boy’s Poem can be drawn), piano and violin. But those things don’t really matter in the end: this album is all about solid riffs, shouted vocals (which remind me of Udo Dirkschneider, only more indecipherable) and catchy hooks.
Guitarist She-ja deserves special mention since his solos often constitute the highpoint of the songs. He’s obviously studied the old guitar heroes but I’m pretty certain there’s a place in his heart for the first In Flames albums as well.
Violent was mixed by Fredrik Nordström of Studio Fredman fame so similarities in sound between In Flames and Volcano are to be expected. As far as the music goes the two don’t have much in common, apart from the aforementioned sense of melody.
A great thing about Violent is the lack of filler material. Pretty much any track apart from the intro (The Present) and the outro (Unchained) would serve as a good introduction to the band. Personal favourites include Brain Dance, Cloud Covers (which has the most In Flames-sounding lead of the lot), Devil-May-Care-Boy and The Prayer.
The booklet deserves special mention for its hilarious mini-interviews with the band members. You get to learn the guitarist’s blood type and that the drummer enjoys fishing, reading comics and driving. Priceless!