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

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Buy: Berserker

Image via Metal Blade Records


Album Review: Nex – The World Collapses

Polish death metallers Nex bring to the violent table with a rhythmic and groove driven approach while still being as heavy and fast as their peers in the extreme genre. The World Collapses does somethings right by passing levels of heaviness that suit any headbangers needs but falls short in areas of doing enough that sounds distinctive.

The on the nose introduction, Introduction to the Silence, has an eerie start that feels dangerous. The drums start shooting away in the background with light guitar work starts this album off in the right direction and into a seamless transition into the first song, Silence.

The next few songs SilenceHate, and Wide Horizon blend together for the most part with similar structures and similar sounding tones of the instrumentation. Exile’s vocals have a nice blend of that classic death metal sound with a modern take. The mids are clear and as brutal sounding as I like, but nothing catches me with any of the guitar, bass, or drum work. Some nice rhythm and headbanging speed, but not much substance.

The second half of the record has some of the same issues, but the guitar work throws in some impressive solos in God and more complicated riffs in tracks like The Industrial Democracy. These last five songs all bring together more variety to the structure instead of the typical pummelling approach that too many groups tend to do in this scene.

The mix of intense speed and slow, groove and rhythm have an even blend. The closing track Circles fittingly concludes the record. The longest song that starts off ominous before pounding away at my ears with relentless violence before ending on an extended instrumental segment that slowly fades away.

The lyrics have a thought-provoking substance that is often seen in the modern metal scene. Instead of traditional brutality for shock value, something goes more in-depth to a more relatable level. While topics like religion get beaten to death, Ten Tables of Faith and God make it work without feeling redundant. The words never feel overly repetitive and weave together with the music in a way that feels right.

Nex has a lot of potential with their creative artwork and the beats that get hit just right. More ambiance and atmosphere like the intro would elevate the overall sound of The World Collapses. Nothing overly elevated or groundbreaking happens over the 33 minutes of heavy tunes, but that is okay. For those looking for something simple and fulfilling then it will be right for you.

Score: 6/10

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The World Collapses

Special thanks to Rogue PR for getting things set up for this review.

EP Review: Life Underfoot – Peaks and Valleys

Life Underfoot is a young, developing band drawing influence from rock, punk, and pop punk to create their own sound in a populated genre. Their EP Peaks and Valleys gives a light touch of what the band can deliver with its acoustic tracks. A short experience that has some emotionally, well-written lyrics and not much else to offer.

Our Swan Song opens up with a slow crawl to an atmospheric acoustic track. The guitars overpower the vocals. Some moments it feels that Andre Judge’s voice is too quiet, while others it comes out balanced with the instrumentation.

Out of the three songs, Clock Face has the most inconsistent sound. While the previous track had some issues with Judge’s voice sounding too quiet, this becomes more apparent that caught me right on the first listen. With a better mix then the acoustic song would standout stronger.

The group put away their acoustic guitars to have something maintaining the same pacing while being powered by electricity with the other guitar. Chroma has a nice contrast to the other two songs with its electric guitar. The change in sound compliments Judge’s voice much better and makes his higher pitched voice much more tolerable. Another issue with the music here except everything is too loud. Unlike the quieter tracks that sounded off, this blasts too much for a slower, somber track.

Life Underfoot has a lot of potentials, but the recording and mixing process threw off what could have been an enjoyable EP with some emotion-provoking lyrics and strong structure. The instrumentation felt too repetitive without not enough difference to make each song stand out as individuals, instead of the first two blends together. With Chroma saving the day with its different dynamics and adding something fresh to Peaks and Valleys.

Score: 5/10

Check out the band and Peaks and Valleys here and on Facebook

Special thanks to Rogue PR for helping making this review possible.

Image via Life Underfoot

Album Review: Whitechapel – The Valley

Whitechapel continues to be one of my favorite bands from high school to now. Admittedly, their last two releases, 2016’s Mark of the Blade and 2014’s Our Endless War, fell short in some areas compared to the rest of their material. Now the ex-deathcore group throws that banner away and figures out the right way to execute their new-found melodic metal sound after some misses on some previous releases.

The entire album has a central lyrical theme, something that has not been heard from them since their debut release Somatic Defilement, but instead of butchering prostitutes, vocalist Phil Bozeman lays out his childhood traumas for the world to see. He touches on these issues in almost every album, but here he details the story with a mix of great detail and thought-provoking symbolism about the death of his mother and his abusive stepfather.

The Valley sets the tone with its first track When a Demon Defiles a Witch by its ominous acoustic intro then lashes out into one of the heavier openings on the record. The song does not shy away from dangerous sounding riffs along with brutal vocals to accompany the instrumentation. The bridge also shows its fearlessness differently by introducing the clean vocals that will feature across the 10 track landscape. Unlike bands in Whitechapel’s circle, Bozeman knocks it out with his beautifully haunting voice.

Old school fans who want the most life-threatening riffs imaginable will still find plenty of gems that have that new age Whitechapel sound along with some familiar elements. Brimstone, Forgiveness is WeaknessThe Other Side, and We Are One are some of the heaviest tracks the Tennessee natives have produces in years. Pummeling drums, brutally low tuned riffs and the iconic voice of Bozeman will make any fan bang their head until they lose consciousness.

Hickory Creek and Third Depth land as the most somber tunes that put the clean vocals in the spotlight. Hickory starts with an ominous, melodic introduction then going into Bozeman’s singing. The few screams heard are precisely placed for contrast and leading into a vicious solo. Third Depth thrashes back and forth between soft verses and furious choruses that work wonderfully. The verses represent his past feelings at that time when sitting in his basement along and the choruses express his emotions about the future. Both tracks stand out as some of the most unique in the group’s entire discovery.

Much of the instrumentation continues to evolve with more melody and fewer breakdowns. The breakdowns featured changed compared to previous albums, in the best way possible that flow together with the more melodic beats. Ben Savage has the best solos in his career in songs like We Are One and When a Demon Defiles a Witch. Each solo is fast-paced, yet intelligently orchestrated from the lead guitarist.

Phil enhances his lyrical abilities further with some of the most touching and disturbing words he has ever written. While much of it comes from his experiences and creativity, a lot of his inspiration comes directly from his mother’s journal. Due to her mental health, she would write about her haunting experiences, many times coming from her other personalities. Songs like When a Demon Defiles a Witch has lines inspired by her writings like, “Burn the bed, burn everything / It’s a lie anyway.” Bozeman dives into some of his best writing in the band’s history.

The Valley outshines most of Whitechapel’s previous work, even the best of it. Each song has its own personality that stands out with no duds to be heard. While not a perfect album, some of the guitar and bass tones sound too reminiscent of other songs. Bozeman’s cleans provide some variety, but he does not utilize any range when singing. Thankfully his commanding voice on heavier parts saves the day from nothing going stale.

People might not like the band’s new sound, but it is worth to give a try with an open mind since now these Tennessee metalheads figured out what was wrong with previous releases and were able to fine-tune their new sound into something spectacular.

Score: 9/10

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Buy: The Valley

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Album Review: Disturbed – Evolution

Disturbed have always been a special band in my heart. They are my favorite band who got me into music. Sure, the group has some easy to spot flaws across their career, but they manage to deliver solid rock songs that great melodies and moving meanings. Now with the band’s new record, Evolution, they are trying to change perspectives to show they are growing. I thought I would never be that surprised by the quartet, but they manage to do more than just that. Many bands try to “evolve,” Disturbed shows how to change your sound while maintaining your identity. Rock and metal bands, pay attention to these pros.

To not scare away fans by allowing so many acoustic songs on the album, they have split it into two halves. One half is the traditional Disturbed style, while others might remind you of their hit cover of Sound of Silence. They don’t split it dead even; tracks vary throughout Evolution. You might get two or three heavy songs in a row then get a couple of softer tracks to calm you down, or make you cry. I was kept on my toes every second of the record, not knowing what will pop out of the shadows.

The record openers Are You Ready, and No More give a sense of the tone the heavy tracks are taking. A politically driven record that is perfectly timed when the world is on fire. Are You Ready is fast with some synthesizers to give for a Sickness feeling for old school fans. Much of the record gives them feeling by its aggression and use of electronics. It is 2018, so might as well use what tech giants have given us.

Speaking of aggression, two of the meanest songs are The Best Ones Lie and the bonus track This VenomThe Best Ones Lie is one of the most political songs off the album and one of the most in your face. The band has not released anything angrier since their 2008 hit IndestructibleThis Venom uses distortion while utilizing Mike Wengren’s powerful drumming to beat you down. The percussive nature and David Draiman’s vocals give This Venom a dangerous feeling.

Out of the many surprises found is Another Time. Not only do Disturbed deliver their most distorted song ever, but it also steers in several different directions that nobody can see coming. Prepare for a rollercoaster of a variety of methods for instrumentation.

The ballads are what knocks it out of the park and show Disturbed have evolved in more ways than one. A Reason to Fight is a rhythmic acoustic song that feels inspired by the band’s wildly successful Sound of Silence, while still feeling fresh. Some are more traditional in what someone might think of regarding an “acoustic song” like Hold On To Memories. Watch You Burn adds beauty to the beast by taking the regular Disturbed rhythm and aggression by turning everything upside down. The album closes (before going into bonus tracks if you choose the deluxe edition, which you better be listening to) with a somber and depressing note with Already Gone. Draiman delivers his most emotional vocal performance to date, making for a perfect balance from the explosive introduction with Are You Ready.

Usually, the biggest highlight tends to be Draiman’s animalistic vocals. Just like the previous album, Immortalized, he shies away from any of his iconic noises. He does nothing too different in the heavier tracks. He shines more so in the ballads, which was a significant focus for this record. While he is still his excellent self, I want to hear more zoo animal noises that I have come to love through the band’s vast catalog of music.

Draiman continues to deliver powerful lyrics that will move the listener emotionally and provoke from thoughts about the world. A Reason to Fight tackles addiction and depression. The main focus is the many people Draiman, and the rest of the hard rockers know who have lost their lives due to those issues. Already Gone maintains the statement after losing someone you love. Are You Ready, The Best Ones Lie, and several other heavier anthems discuss politics, something Disturbed has taken on many times throughout their career.

What shines through more than anything is guitar player Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren, and bass player John Moyer. Donegan explodes with experimental solos that will turn the heads of fans. Savior of Nothing, Are You Ready, and Another Time are some of his best solos in his career. Immortalized made for a great return for the band but lacked any superb solos from Donegan. He has always been the member to try different methods like bringing out pianos and synthesizers. Wengren shines with his tactical drumming skills that are the base for both the softest and heaviest tracks. Moyer’s explosive style stands out on several tracks, most of all on A Reason to Fight.

Fans will get familiar vibes from older styles from the band’s early work while getting a feeling from the direction from Immortalized along with brand new ideas. I am always ecstatic about a new record from Disturbed, but I was skeptical how much the band would change for Evolution, I was hoping for them to make drastic changes to keep their creative juices flowing. They put their money where their mouths are and proved the world that they are a creative force that cannot stop. New fans or old, this is a record that every follower of the group should run out to get because Disturbed are back and are taking over the rock and metal world.

Score: 9/10

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Image via Reprise Records

Album Review: Beartooth – Disease

Beartooth has increased tremendously in popularity within the rock/metal world. The band mixes a hardcore/metalcore style along with some classic hard rock thrown into the mix. The new album Disease continues their statement with their sound and Caleb Shomo’s brutally honest lyrics as he goes further into his struggle with depression.

The album starts off quite strong and intriguing with an acoustic introduction in Greatness or Death. The song quickly explodes into a relentlessly heavy track. A strong start that lends itself into the rest of the hard-driving album.

The previous material has always taken a different focus on Shomo’s struggle with depression. Disease, Infection, Clever, Afterall, Believe, and Used and Abused are the staples in Beartooth’s themes. Tackling insecurities, self-destructive behavior, and mistreatment from other people. Shomo has unleashed some of his most honest lyrics that we have heard from the band. Disease‘s heartfelt chorus, “I still feed my insecurities when I know the cost,” always guts me every time. The band always ends on their most emotional track, this time we get Clever in which Shomo gives a more somber track compared to the rest of the album. The song has its driving riffs and trembling drums but manages to stand out more. The lyrics in the ending track are some of the most candid, “Another day I’m conscious is another day I bleed.”

The heavier side of the album features Enemy and Bad ListenerEnemy has its heavy bass and speedy riffs that make it perfect to headbang while listening. Bad Listener might be one of the heaviest songs Beartooth have ever delivered. An anthem for the heavy metal fans and a statement about Shomo’s career as he belts out, “There’s an anger or passion empowering me / I’ll be bangin’ my head ’til my brain rots.” While these are some of the heavier tracks, the album generally goes for a hard-driving rock style that mostly shies away from their metal sound.

Every song is fun to listen to, but some inconsistencies are here and there. You Never Know feels the most generic from other rock songs. Switching between the distorted verses to loud and proud choruses. The other songs are much stronger, but a lot of the instrumentation blends together. Some moments in songs like Fire and Greatness or Death sound straight out of one of the band’s previous albums.

Disease continues Caleb Shomo’s battle with depression with unapologetically honest lyrics. His voice carries out so well throughout the album. He makes his already great words shine even brighter. Most of the album feels the same sadly. A lot of songs sound similar to one another or sound compared to previous albums. While the record is fun to listen to and is a solid piece of music, a lot is missing to show some growth in the Columbus based metallers.

Score: 7/10

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Song Impressions: Fight the Fury – My Demons

John Cooper and Seth Morrison from Skillet have released the first song off of their new side project, Fight the Fury. The two have started the new band to explore their heavy metal roots to deliver fans heavier music than what Skillet can provide. Now they have given the world the first taste with My Demons.

The distortion is turned up to the maximum with a speed boost. With Cooper’s vocals in moments having a distortion along with the guitars gives a heavier sound than Skillet fans are used to from the two members of the Christian rock band. Alongside the new sound, the speed is faster than a typical Skillet song. Other than that, nothing here is too different.

The song starts with a distant voice from Cooper leading into the song building up into a heavy instrumental introduction. Seth’s guitar work is some of his most entertaining in his career. While we hear something different from the guitarist, the riffs are all simplistic along with the steady drums and bass.

The instrumentation varies plenty of times from the distorted introduction to the rhythmic chorus. Nothing is too impressive with a lot of basic playing from each member. The song mostly feels like the heavier side of Skillet that has been established from previous material, especially when the chorus hits. The verses the track can get away with feeling like a different band, but not by much.

Lyrically Cooper delivers an emotionally gripping track which remains his strongest ability as a musician. “I go to sleep with my demons / Creep in my head every night / They come to shred all my dreams,” is just a sample of Cooper going over the battle with his own personal demons. He has always had a straightforward style that gets to the point quickly. Sometimes being too blunt in lyrics or too metaphorical can come off as cheesy. With his vocal delivery and skills at writing, the song keeps its momentum to bring in a powerful punch.

Cooper has never been the best vocalist on the planet with his raspy voice. While I feel him singing softer showcases the flaws in his singing, the heavier sounds he can belt out work perfectly for his sound. The mix of raspy and aggressive is easy to distinguish who you are listening to, it is hard not to recognize his vocal cords screaming at you. The level of his power that he pushes out is something Panheads rarely hear from the frontman, especially in recent years.

I am not blown away by My Demons. The track could pass as something other than Skillet, but maybe it is Cooper’s voice that I am stuck on and comparing the two so much. Maybe with other tracks, we will hear a more unique sound that will distinguish the two bands. For now, Fight the Fury sounds like an enjoyable hard rock/metal band that is fun to hear, but nothing all that impressive.

The EP, Still Breathing releases on October 26. You can pre-order the album below:

Image via Atlantic Records