Album Review: Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind

Somehow wearing masks and having nine members works because Slipknot worked up the ranks to become the most prominent metal group in about 25 years. Mixing new found inspiration and going back to their roots, these Iowa natives crafted their best album to date, We Are Not Your Kind. This strange trip packs a punch in every sense of the word, the Knot has come back again, and they are taking back their throne.

Setting the ominous tone comes Insert Coin, a simple introduction into the band’s sixth album. Giving off 80s horror movie vibes creates a frightening mood for the rest of the album. Outside of the creepy noises and electronic background, the only lyric “I’m counting all the killers,” bookends the record as the final track Solway Firth has the same line, a perfect way for Corey Taylor to get across what he needs to say about a two year period of depression as a sober man.

Children can represent many things, one of which is something chilling. Unsainted takes that to a new level as it starts with a child choir that leads into a stripped-down chorus. The first single packs itself with vicious attacks during the verse and a scream-along chorus that rivals anything the nine members have created in the past.

Taylor compared this release to both Iowa and Vol. 3, and I see why the comparisons to their third effort got made with Birth of the Cruel. An anthemic piece that goes into unpredictable directions. This is the first piece of evidence that shows some of these songs transform from one beast to another.

One of the shortest tracks, Death Because of Death, might last just over a minute, but that does not take away the strength behind its punch. Tribal beats from the three percussionists and an electric backdrop set the tone. Taylor’s disturbing singing with equally haunting lyrics makes for an unsettling experience in an incredible way.

Nero Forte might hit closest to classic Slipknot while still feeling fresh. A hard-driving animal that is not the fastest, but undoubtedly rips anyone apart who gets in the way. Taylor shows off some of his fastest screams while his uncomfortably catchy clean vocals bring a balance of heaviness and melody.

Critical Darling kept me on my toes as it makes me never feel safe. The calm before the storm comes with Sid Wilson and Craig Jones laying out more electric magic before the rest of the group jumps in for a deceivingly heavy song. The pre-chorus builds up but not to an explosion, instead, it leads into one of the most beautifully melodic choruses in the band’s history. That build to something massive comes from an intimate bridge that dives into a heavy ending.

Transitioning from Critical Darling walks right into A Liar’s Funeral. An overall naked beginning with Jim Root’s softly playing guitar and Taylor giving out an emotional performance. Other members pop up for an aggressive chorus but mostly sit back until the epic climax as Taylor unleashes his agony in an impactful conclusion.

Taking it back to 2001 or 1999, Red Flag is one of the most violent, fastest, and heaviest songs to be found here. Old school thrash metal vibes sink in with the classic Knot aggression that put them on the map.

The only issue I have found comes from What’s Next, a filler track that does not transition into the next song. It would feel right if it could adequately blend into Spiders.

An introduction that should alert Michael Myers to the area quickly goes from Halloween to reminding me this is Slipknot. Catchy drumming from Jay Weinberg compliments Taylor’s equally catchy singing. Alessandro Venturella’s bass adds that extra thickness that felt needed for comfort while light guitar action sneaks in after the bassist. While everyone has a part to play, it is centered on Weinberg and Taylor for this weird atmospheric tune.

Distortion and pounding of drums begin Orphan, a heavy hitter that takes a while to get rolling, but when it does, it becomes relentless. The remarkable aspect of this track is not its ability to bash in heads; instead, it comes from a catchy chorus that retains that aggression.

A drawn-out introduction with spine-tingling whispers sets the tone for My Pain, a title that perfectly represents what I heard. Weinberg consistently tapping a cymbal, and Taylor’s intimate performance highlights this agony. A sense of danger similar to Critical Darling except for being one of the softest songs. While a lot of experiments were done, this is equally jaw-droppingly beautiful and unique.

Not Long for This World has an unconventional structure as it starts off reserved and quiet then takes a turn for something much more melodic and less haunting. The halfway mark takes another twist from the back and forth of its first verses and choruses as things get ferociously heavy. The chaos ensues into a dramatic conclusion.

Ending on a heavy note that matches the aggression from Red Flag or early material like People = Shit is Solway Firth, a complete bloodbath of raw emotion. Initially, I thought it felt wrong to end here, but knowing Taylor’s focus on his divorce makes this final track the perfect closer. An unrelenting attack that ends the conversation of the singer’s dramatic two-year depression.

Every member has plenty to offer unlike anything since Iowa, especially for Wilson and Jones who I always felt were underutilized in the past two releases. Bashing, yet technical percussive power from Weinberg, founding member Clown, and whoever ended up track the other side of drumming since Chris Fehn was booted. Meanwhile, Root and Mick Thomson slay it on guitar while tactically reeling themselves back on some songs like Spiders and A Liar’s Funeral.

Taylor delivers not only one of his best vocal performances with new techniques, but he has also written his best lyrics across every track. Tackling one subject made for the most powerful release in his career with the masked juggernaut.

Leading up to the release, I had a sour taste in my mouth as All Out Life, the first song that came out last year announcing the return of the mighty metalheads, would not be on the extensive tracklist. After listening, I realize it is best off since it would not fit the themes tackled here. Hopefully, a deluxe edition comes for the anthemic track to have a home.

We Are Not Your Kind stands has not only Slipknot’s best release, or even the best of the year, it stands above everything in over 15 years. It has one lousy spot with What’s Next, but with that 54-second bump out of 14 songs, I can hardly complain. A mix of old school Knot and many surprises shows the group is a force that nobody can takedown.

Score: 10/10

 

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Album Review: Carnifex – World War X

I cannot think of any metal band that has transformed like Carnifex. A mediocre deathcore band that had its influence over the genre that evolved into one of the best extreme groups around since their 2014 release Die Without Hope. Some bands take years to find what defines them, and these California boys have honed in on their skills to unleash an emotional monster that must be heard by all death metal and deathcore fans.

The title track should give a sense for the whole album, and World War X certainly does. Carnifex goes to all-out war in total darkness as Scott Ian Lewis takes a different viewpoint on depression and suicide, a subject that has become a staple in his lyrics. An unapologetically heavy opener that sets the tone for the eight other beasts that are waiting in their cages.

Visions of the End dives into the apocalypse head first. The most brutal and one of the most relentless tracks off of the seventh release from the metal veterans. A black metal inspired atmosphere lingers in the background. Every member has a specific moment to shine from Fred Calderon’s concussive bass playing to one of the many impressive solos from Jordan Lockrey.

Setting aside some of the depressing tones, This Infernal Darkness brings out the hate. Emphasizing the band’s skills at creating an atmosphere to complement their skull-crushing instrumentation as Shawn Cameron smashes his drums, the Lockrey, Calderon, and Cory Arford play violent riffs. By far the most epic sounding song that has a showcases the band’s grand production.

Taking a twist on the sound from Die Without Hope, Eyes of the Executioner mixes nostalgia and the evolved style that has been formed for World War X.

Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy comes on for one of the best collaborations I have heard from a metal band in years. Instead of feeling phoned in, her cleans and screams is more collaborative. She brings a lot to No Light Shall Save Us that complements the rest of the band who already played out the groundwork for an essential track in their catalog. This is what the metal scene needs to step up, artists truly working together instead of some quick guest work that feels rushed.

Guitarist Angel Vivaldi hops onto All Roads Lead to Hell, a track that perfectly weaves surprising new sounds for the guitar work along with a vibe that blends Hell Chose Me and everything to come since that 2010 release. Melody and rhythm hold the sixth track above Carnifex standards while having one of the heaviest breakdowns in years.

Dragging my ears into hell, in the best way possible, Brushed by the Wings of Demons, relentlessly beats me down. The violent nature settles down for a methodical solo from Lockry before going back in for the kill.

Hail Hellfire matches Brushed by the Wings of Demons with a similar personality, while still pulling out some shocking sounds that I have never heard across any album from these deathcore experts. This song alone proves these self-taught musicians have come a long way from their 2007 debut, Dead in My Arms.

No big conclusion happens, By Shadows Thine Held emphasizes the stance of the album and delivers what is expected from modern Carnifex. While it might be a bit anti-climatic for an overall epic journey of extreme heaviness, this closer still stands tall.

Lewis’s continues to focus on mental health in a raw manner that gives an honest look into what depression looks like. It might be redundant after all of these years, but the vocalist continues to grow in his writing and vocal abilities to avoid overly reiterating his message. Lyrics aside, he will always be one of the strongest vocalists in metal.

World War X defied my expectations with its many surprises. It beats out the already masterfully crafted Slow Death while still not beating out Die Without Hope, which will likely stay as my favorite album due to it selling me on the band in the first place. The seventh album is a masterpiece with nonstop hits.

Score: 10/10

Buy the album: World War X

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Album Review: Skillet – Victorious

Skillet had a lot to prove with their 2016 release Unleashed. Victorious, the band’s latest effort, does not hit me in the same way, however, the group nails it by delivering a dozen powerful songs. A front to back album that I will certainly not skip a single track no matter how many times I listen to it.

Legendary opening up the flood gates is an explosive way to get started. This is the new anthem for the Christian rockers with its booming bass, heavy riffs, and proud, scream-along chorus. They could not deliver a more powerful beginning.

Possibly one of the catchiest songs in Skillet’s arsenal, You Ain’t Ready beats me with its aggressive positivity. The shortest runtime off Victorious, yet it lands every punch with its heavy industrial elements and in your face attitude.

The title track is an atmospheric ride that blends an orchestral aspect with the hard-driving riffs. One of the most complex and layered tunes in the quartet’s history. Jen Ledger’s impactful drumming, Seth Morrison’s vicious riffs, and John Cooper’s raspy voice top it off as Victorious defines what this record is all about.

Pop sounds have always been a staple in the distinct style of Skillet. This is the Kingdom is arguably the catchiest and poppiest across any previous release. More simplistic than the title song, it focuses on melody and an electronic background to give a unique personality compared to everything else on the album.

Korey Cooper keeps herself busy by whipping out her synth magic and keyboard skills for Save Me. The sporadic playing keeps me on my toes as more reserved styles blend with aggressive riffs and some crushing drumming power.

While the heavier side of the record can be relentless, nothing tops Rise Up. I got pummeled with its fierce energy. This will surely be played for an intense work out as I felt like I was going to start sweating just sitting in my chair with my headphones on.

Turning to a more somber approach, Terrify the Dark switches into a darker tone. Stripped down to the bare minimum for its instrumentation, the singing becomes that much more haunting.

Reverting back to the high energy and positive vibes, Never Going Back feels like traditional Skillet through and through. A sing-along chorus and hard-driving verses fit in the formula that feeds my addiction of this group.

Reach has a sense of never feeling safe as its verse is ready to pounce for an attack. The chorus is chaotic as every element from instrumentation and electronics come together for a wild ride.

Winding back a little, Anchor is the most emotional song of the dozen creations. An intimate feeling that has spikes of excitement while not taking away from the somber tone.

Finish Line reminds me of mainstream poppy rock bands with its electric aspects and steady pacing. A more radio-friendly song that works with the panhead style while taking me a step back to adjust as I get a taste for what I am hearing. The weakest of the bunch, but nothing I would skip if it popped on.

Bookending the record with an explosive finale. Back to Life brings out the metal influence that flows in their blood. Balancing held back verses and getting right in my face with a fearless attitude. Concluding everything with a surprisingly heavy breakdown and vicious solo, making this the perfect ending.

The latest release could use some different subjects as Cooper repeats himself on his lyrical themes of positivity and getting back up to fight. While it does not shatter the record holder for the best Skillet album, it is a contender the second place. Fans need to grab ahold of Victorious while outsiders will probably not be sold on the continued direction.

Score: 9/10

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Buy: Victorious

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Album Review: Drug Money – Science Fair Peepshow

The three-piece progressive rock group Drug Money released Science Fair Peepshow earlier this year. Elements from funk, punk, and rock meld themselves together for an experience that takes many turns. While some issues become quite apparent as I dove deeper into the record, it maintains its overall foundation with some unpredictable twists.

The opening song, 8-Bit Dream, starts the album off strong. Erik Haley’s funky bass hooked me right away while being accompanied by rhythmic riffs and technical drumming gives this opener an edge over the rest of the songs. Tim McClain’s vocals give me an old school rock vibe that still fit in the modern rock environment. No other song could have started things off this strong.

Punk Funk lives up to its name by having that harder sound you would expect from punk while having plenty of funk to spice things up. The instrumentation has cohesive chemistry that drives this hard-hitting track while slowing down for a solo that shows off more skill from McClain that what has been heard so far. Adding to the strength comes from McClain providing more variety in his singing to show he has quite the range in style.

Things go down a bit for me with the dry One Hell of a Night. The riffs have a soothing groove that overpowers all of the other elements. The long breaks between vocals and instrumentation started to get boring without enough stimulating variation.

The drumming power of Tim Dugas gets a short spotlight to open up Next World before the guitar and bass come in to back it up. I felt a jazz-inspired vibe by how each piece of the music had its own individual role. Less unison than Punk Funk with a lot more exciting paths to take. While the focus on instrumentation leaves plenty of breaks between the singing, I did not get as bored here, unlike how I felt during One Hell of a Night.

With Interest has a trembling personality with the bass and drums come smashing in while the guitar drives itself on its own road. The singing and instrumentation all have their own individual personality that stands strong without letting any other piece get in the way. To top it off, this is by far the catchiest tune on the album.

Taking a heavier turn, Eyes of God is the most aggressive song to be found here. Along with its relentless drive, the guitar work stands out as its best on the entire album. The only shortcoming here is the vocals sound too quiet while the instrumentation drowns it out.

Thoughts deceivingly start off melodic and somber but halfway through picks up its speed and dynamics to transform into something entirely different. The transition felt natural, leading to a powerful end.

Before closing down, the instrumental track Pot Brawny blends the melodic and heavier tones heard previously. A short, sweet treat right before the extensive closer.

The almost seven-minute conclusion with The Beast felt less like a beast and more like a small creature. Its slower pacing felt refreshing initially but soon started to burn out as I thought the length of the song would become too much for this style. Everything turned around during the halfway mark then another sharp turn during the final act which built up into the confident end that the record needed.

Science Fair Peepshow gets a lot right while falling short in some areas. All of the moving pieces come together in unison, while sometimes feels disjointed. What would benefit the band greatly is more diversity and not pulling back any punches. Younger groups tend to not go all out, but with more experience, I hope to see more confident experimentation out of the Southern rockers.

Score: 7/10

Buy the album here: Science Fair Peepshow

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Album Review: Fighting for Frequency – A Million Miles Away

Rock has gone through many fazes over the years, and some bands remain true to its roots. Fighting for Frequency has an enjoyable blend of the style of old school rock and the modern evolution that has taken over in the past twenty years. Their EP, A Million Miles Away, may have its flaws, but it satisfies the qualifications of a solid rock record.

The EP starts off with its catchiest song with Signs. Initially coming off a bit more generic with its guitar riffs and style, the introduction has a catchy chorus that is irresistible. While the formula feels like a lot of the other radio-friendly rock groups, the solo and bridge keep it from getting stale and saving the latter half.

Fast Forward shows these New Orleans rockers are not going for the baseline of music by crafting a much more complicated track than the first. A slow intro that transitions into a rollercoaster of variation on the instrumental style. However, I felt the guitar dynamics overpowered the vocals to the point some parts were hard to hear.

At first, the third track Ready to Fall comes in strong with a riff that tears through my headphones in the best way possible. That strength lets loose for a more subdued chorus that is carried out in a relaxing manner. While the lack of catchiness did bum me out, the storytelling with the lyrics felt more engaging than the previous songs.

Coming in for a refreshing change of pace is Still Standing. The acoustic first verse catches me off guard in a delightful way. The relationship between the instruments feels more balanced as the drums and bass get more attention, and the guitar does not drown everything out. A more distinguished personality separates the fourth song from the rest, making it the best on the whole EP.

The title track closes everything down. A collaborative sound with the acoustic and electric instruments from before coming together in unison. The verses are more somber while the chorus picks it up with the strength. The vocals seem to not change pitch or style between different stages of the song but remain fitting throughout the various changes.

A Million Miles Away is the right path for the quintet but needs some work to separate themselves from the rest of the rock world. Still Standing and the title track show they can diversify into standout songs while having more generic moments with Signs. It might be basic at times, but it is still hard-hitting rock that is hard to ignore.

Score: 7/10

Buy the EP: A Million Miles Away

Images via Fighting for Frequency

Album review: Crejuvent -Vesti La Giubba

The one-man band, Crejuvent, released a new EP recently, Vesti La Giubba. A cover of an opera piece that descends into the world of heavy metal. A beautiful and abrasive experience between the two songs.

Freddy Spera being a man who produced, sang, and did the instrumentation, everything from the trembling bass, relentless guitars, and violent drumming all comes together with its clean sound. Spera’s singing gives vibes of thrash metal while his screams take me back into old school death metal. This short, sweet introduction shows his many talents.

Blue Spirit has a much different tone than the previous. Spera shows a much greater range in his screams while the cleans take a back seat for the first couple of minutes. While the title song goes for an operatic style that blends together with metal, this goes full death metal. The saving grace for an eight-minute song like this is the variety of twists and turns it takes to avoid oversaturation of heaviness with a beautifully crafted bridge, an acoustic piece that fits shockingly well, and plenty of other surprises waiting for unsuspecting listeners.

Vesti La Giubba takes no time to consume and it will be worth every second. Having one man behind this tiny project, it has an impressive production that sounds excellent. Fans of atmospheric metal, this is for you.

Score: 9/10

You can follow Crejuvent and Freddy Spera through his bandcamp and Facebook

Buy the album here: Buy: Vesti La Giubba

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Album Review: Amon Amarth – Berserker

Only a few extreme metal bands have made the success that Amon Amarth has reached. 2019 strikes album 11, and they still manage to impress with vicious melodic death metal with the backdrop of Vikings and Norse mythology. I had my doubts since making that much music starts to make some artist tend to run into creative blocks, but I have been proven wrong and should never doubt this quintet of metalheads.

One of the most important aspects of any album is the first song. It sets the tone and gets things kicked off. Fafner’s Gold makes for the ultimate example with its acoustic beginning and transition into the sound that any fan of Amon Amarth can recognize. I heard this fierce track and immediately knew I was in good hands for the rest of Berserker.

Much of the record has a blend of the formula that has been established over the course of over 25 years that Amon Amarth has created while mixing some new ideas. Crack the SkyMjolner, Hammer of Thor, and Valkyria give me hope for the future of the group while reminding me they have stuck to their roots in delivering the best Viking metal on the planet.

Shield Wall gets the blood pumping with its fearless battle cry. A hard-driving and relentless song that will make die-hards like myself want to put on Viking armor and destroy everything in sight. A highlight that will be perfect when going into the pit at the next Amon Amarth show.

The shift in sound starts with Valkyria with its clearer bass definition and different overall pacing. The refreshing song has plenty of surprises, especially when it gets to the final moments. While the vicious death metal style that Amon Amarth has established with their melodic guitar work and iconic vocals from Johan Hegg never gets old, but this is a much-needed break from the previous few songs.

Some new ideas took me by surprise. Ironside takes the Swedish quintet into the realm of Nordic folk music that blends beautifully with their death metal style.

Like the previous album, the 2016 Jomsviking, storytelling as a concept album elevated Hegg’s lyrical abilities and much of Berserker proves that. One piece of evidence highlights this is The Berserker at Stamford Bridge. A narrative moves along in a gripping way that gets driven by the hammering drums and violently, melodic riffs.

Similar to the introduction, the closing track Into the Dark, ends the record on a somber, yet heavy note. The closer is one of my favorite tracks along with one of the most unique due to its pacing, Hegg’s immense emotion while having a lot of variation from his bandmates. The many turns across these six minutes go above the already wild ride that is Berserker.

Amon Amarth has outdone themselves with their latest release. The band has blended a mix from their ideas that came from Jomsviking and Deceiver of the Gods. A combination of grounded historical inspired lyrics of Viking adventures to mythical tales of the Nordic Gods makes for one of the most superior records of the year. While Amon Amarth have an issue with sticking to their formula, but they have plenty of moments to change things up without feeling redundant.

Score: 8/10

Buy the album:

Buy: Berserker

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