Saturday, October 18, 2008

BYZANTINE - …And They Shall Take Up Serpents

…And They Shall Take Up Serpents
Prosthetic Records

A new dawn in the existence of heavy metal continues to emerge in 2005 with Byzantine cementing their position as one of the brightest young acts alongside bands such as Trivium and Biomechanical. And much as those two breakout groups of artists, Byzantine wisely take cues from the best in all styles of heavy metal in order to fashion a sound that is powerful, inventive and highly relevant in today’s musical climate.

Each of the tracks on “…And They Shall Take Up Serpents” stands on it’s own musically, you’ll find no filler material or poorly thought out songwriting here, as the group have carefully considered each piece with the utmost degree of songwriting proficiency.

From the highly technical power groove of opening track “Justica” to the wonderfully dynamic “Ancestry Of The Antichrist”, this talented trio of thrashing forerunners convey raw, aggressive emotion as well as any other band out there, balancing their overall sound with a strict attention to the little details that make all of the difference in pushing their songwriting and performance to the maximum.

“Taking Up Serpents” rests somewhere between Lamb Of God style bashing and growling and the precision attack of Megadeth, succeeding on all levels as a song that will have many a metal fan wildly pumping their fist in the air.

A complex time signature lies beneath the surface of “Temporary Temples”, a cut that will have a bold appeal to those who appreciate progressive thrash. Tony gives a blistering solo on this track that serves to further highlight the manic intensity that the group provides.

The ambience during this song’s latter stages is boldly affluent, lending further credence to the group’s proficiency. On “Pity None”, you’ll find the band churning through a grinding riff as OJ lets loose with a substantial vocal melody that is in no way short on antagonism.

It must be said that the driving, skilled drumming of Wolfe places him amongst the best of the young drummers pounding the skins today. Providing concrete-solid beats and unpredictable accents, the drummer gives the band’s songs a distinct edge that is all their own.

To add value to this recording, the band went so far as to include the guitar tablature for the entire record on the disc. Guitarists would do well to brush up on their chops before attempting to play much of the material as the guitarists in Byzantine are well-schooled and possess a high degree of technical aptitude. Make no mistake. “…And They Shall Take Up Serpents” is without a doubt one of the top ten metal albums of the year. Anyone who knows their metal will surely agree with that.

Written By: The Thrash Commander

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

HURTLOCKER - Fear In A Handful Of Dust

Fear In A Handful Of Dust
Napalm Records

Slayer, Pantera, Hatebreed - Hurtlocker fits right in there with all of them. On their Napalm Records debut, the band gets down to some serious thrashing that is of the caliber that doesn’t come along every day. Man, are these guys vicious! The blasting new age thrash metal of symptoms simply blazes with intense ferocity as axeman Tim Moe displays an affinity for completely ripping the fretboard apart. There haven’t been this many great thrash riffs on a single record since the days of pre-Lombardo departure Slayer and a touch of death metal influence on Moe’s part doesn’t hurt the sound of Hurtlocker either.

Vocalist Grant Belcher is a ballsy screamer, screaming like a banshee throughout the album with just a touch of hardcore making his voice sound gravely enough to make Hurtlocker a very deadly weapon indeed. “Painted Red”, “Symptoms”, “No One, Now What?” – each song flat out slays, between super-chugging riffs, intense double-kick blasts and anguished screaming chants, Hurtlocker get right down to business and rip your flippin’ head off with an unforgiving penchant for aural brutalism.

Stand back and witness the relentless pounding of “Goddamn Reflection”, where Belcher branches out and becomes a bit more diverse in singing style, or consider the maximum damage onslaught of “I Don’t Need You”, as Belcher totally unloads vocally, sounding like Phil Anselmo on steroids atop a galloping Slayer jam.

Music this intense is hard to accomplish with such precision as Hurtlocker manage. But even more important, the group shoves enough emotion into every single note to leave a very strong impression with the metal follower. “Fear In A Handful Of Dust” carries the impact of a daisy-cutter bomb and your soon-to-be ruptured eardrums are their ultimate target. Let ‘er rip!

Written By: The Thrash Commander

EXODUS - Tempo Of The Damned

Tempo Of The Damned
Nuclear Blast America

Exodus marks its comeback from a lengthy absence with “Tempo Of The Damned”, a decent return to the metal arena. This album is very similar to the band’s Fabulous Disaster production wise. The mix is solid and the record sounds great when you turn the volume up loud. On balance, Exodus have slowed a bit in comparison to previous releases, however every track bears the unmistakable Exodus sound and the music is still powerful, heavy and strong sounding. Many riffs on the album sound as if they were written with more of a hard rock vein in mind, but they are nonetheless infectious and fitful. Don’t worry, Exodus fans, there’s still plenty of thrash here to go around (circle pit, anyone?).

Vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza is a poignant lyricist using humorous plays on words and catchy passages that will have you singing along by the end of each song. My personal favorite track is “Throwing Down”. On this song the vocals sound much less forced and I favor this style of singing as opposed to Zetro’s trademark wail. “Culling The Herd” is a bit slower and features a memorable chorus line, while “Scar Spangled Banner” is an up tempo anthem which will no doubt incite uncontrollable moshing in a live setting. The guitar attack of Gary Holt on this track is frantic and vigorous.

On “War Is My Shepard”, the vocals are a bit varied with Zetro venturing into deathy territory on the chorus. With poignant phrases like “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”, the lyrics to this tune focus on a topic that rests on many people’s minds today – War. “Blacklist” has a nice crunchy feel and another war themed song, “Forward March” chugs along at a good rate while Souza chants the words in a military manner.

These guys are masters at creating catchy riffs that make you want to get up and move, but this being said, I would have expected a little more speed and power from a new Exodus release.

If you’re a previous fan of the band that wasn’t offended when they drifted from their more aggressive “Bonded By Blood” style, you will surely find this interesting. However, there's no new ground broken here… Recommended for serious collectors and fans of straight up mid-tempo thrash only.

Written By: Rick Rattlehead


Flotsam And Jetsam
Live In Japan
Crash Music

Flotsam And Jetsam will always be best known as being the band from which Jason Newsted graduated from in joining Metallica. That said, the Arizona-based group still managed to kick out an impressive run of albums in the late eighties and early nineties, carving out a niche for creating intense metal with an increasingly progressive twist emerging as their career progressed. This DVD puts the spotlight on the band’s most current incarnation as the group runs through a 40-some minute set of live cuts before a fairly enthusiastic Kawasaki, Japan crowd. Cinematography here is decent but one major flaw is the noticeable unfamiliarity with Flotsam’s material held by a lighting engineer that offers random, anti-dramatic sequences throughout this almost hour long film.

Erik A.K.’s voice has held up marvelously over the years and the singer demonstrates that he continues to possess the ability to hit dead-on, piercing high metal screams. Although the band doesn’t give the impression of being extremely warmed up during the first couple of tracks, they appear to be much more comfortable as “The Master Sleeps” kicks in. Unfortunately, “No Place For Disgrace” becomes a sacrificial lamb as a result, with the band earning a 7 out of 10 in matching the stunning intensity of the original. By the time Flots tears into “Hard On You”, however, the entire band is on target as well. Interestingly enough, this short set includes very little of the band’s most recent material, which has been largely met with little response from fans. Being that this live document captures one of the only Flotsam performances of 2005, common sense would dictate a wider variety and certainly, the inclusion of more material. As a bonus, fans also receive the group’s latest video, “Straight To Hell”, a well-shot clip of one of the more impressive offerings from the band’s latest disc, “Dreams Of Death.”

As exciting as it is to finally have the convenience of watching the revered thrashers rip through classic cuts such as “Hammerhead” and “Doomsday For The Deceiver”, most fans will expect more for their hard-earned dollars than what is offered here. Consequently, Live In Japan will only be of interest to the most passionate Flotsam And Jetsam fans, those seeking to get a hold of absolutely anything and everything the band has to offer. More discriminating metalheads will point to recent releases by Testament and Megadeth as examples of metal DVD done properly, but there’s still enough that’s interesting about this effort to at least grant it an once-over.