album review

Let us take a moment to stop and ask a rather odd question: what is death metal? It seems sill to be asking such an existential question about a genre that is close to thirty years old, but I'm not sure anyone has ever figured out what the true essence of death metal is. Is it the growled vocals that define death metal? The riffing style? The dark and disturbing subject matter? Some combination of these elements has been needed to truly be considered a death metal release for as long as I can remember, although I can't recall ever hearing an exact formula be spoken of.

I've got some good news and bad news for fans of the Canadian metal band The Agonist. Lead singer and founding member Alissa White-Gluz has departed the group to take over lead vocalist duties for Arch Enemy. But I said there's good news! She has been replaced by the outstanding Vicky Psarakis on the latest release from The Agonist, "Eye Of Providence".

I remember vividly getting involved in what turned into a very ugly argument over the musical skill of people involved in pop music. The majority opinion seemed to be that pop musicians must be unskilled hacks, because the music they made was so simple to play. Not that I portray myself to be a master of music, I took the opposite position, that not only is simple music deviously hard to do well, but that the amount of skill shown off during a song is a wholly incomplete way of assessing the totality of a musician's ability.

When the touring version of Thin Lizzy announced they were changing their name and releasing an all-new album, there was a huge buzz for the first new quasi-Lizzy music in a long, long time. That did not extend to me, however, as I had never been swept away as a fan of the band. So when Black Star Riders first album came out, I listened to it not with the expectations of a legacy, but as someone walking in blind. What I found was that, over time, the album grew on me, to the point where I can now say it's quite a fine piece of work.

“Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know.” – Groucho Marx

Beardfish is one of those prog bands that has gotten loads of priase during the course of their career, and again upon the release of their previous album, "The Void". While they are critically acclaimed as one of the leading purveyors of modern prog, I was less than enthused by that album. When I reviewed "The Void", I found it a needlessly dark and uninviting listen, the kind of album that does little to pursuade the listener to keep listening. Compared to what had been a strong crop of other prog albums, Beardfish was low on my totem pole of modern prog.

When I reviewed Sylosis' previous album, I came away from it thinking that Sylosis was a band that had potential, but was still quite a ways from making the most of it. They were clearly skilled instrumentalists, as it seems the majority of new metal bands are, but their songs were lacking the heart and hooks that are supposed to elevate the music above a parade of guitar store riffs.

Despite what the name might lead you to think, progressive metal is among the most static and boring of all heavy music genres. Half the bands that fall under the moniker exist merely as a vehicle to show off the skills of the players involved, which is fine in small doses, but rarely sustains a creative career. The other half of the bands stick rigidly to the blueprint of one of the fore-bearers of the genre, giving us music that sounds exactly like something we've already heard.

Sometimes when I hear a band for the first time I find myself thinking about their motivation. Why did they choose this style of music? What is their ultimate goal for the band? For example, when James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich started Metallica their stated goal was to create the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Other bands have slightly less lofty goals such as, "I just wanna rock and roll, man".

After a strong start to the decade, the thrash revival seems to be slowly fading back into the shadows.  The bands are still going strong, and are still pumping out records, but they aren't resonating the way they did just a few short years ago.  Much like the original wave of thrash, the music has become stagnant as the formulas have become entrenched, and there is little new being added to the mix.  The first albums by these bands felt fresh because thrash had been missing for so long, but now that they're common, the shortcomings are easy to see.