Shades Of Remembrance
For years and years, there have been many progressive metal bands that have struggled to be heard. For many, they never get the chance, and therefore never truly get out there. For others, their sheer will to be known pushed them to be discovered by fans. With progressive metal, it's difficult to really make a statement about your sound. Everyone looks and claims to sound like the next Fates Warning, Dream Theater or Queensryche, but with such lofty names to put as an equal to yourself, the actual music behind it lets you down somewhat. For Cleveland's Shades Of Remembrance, they can loosely claim the name Fates Warning as somewhat of an influence, but ultimately they are not a good counter to any of those named bands. While VEIL is a very good release, it's not really comparable to big name progressive metal bands. They are much more metal; more gritty and more raw then the uber polished approach the bands listed about have exhibited. Don't take that as a bad thing either, as it's refreshing to hear powerful progressive playing without some studio engineer "cleaning it up". This is a solid listen.
There are great recordings, and then there are releases that just get better each and every time you listen to them. SpiralArms new release FREEDOM is one of those releases. I loved it the first time I heard it, and it's done nothing but get stronger with each and every listen for me. Maybe it's the mood I'm in these days, or maybe it's just that great music is coming out fast and furiously, but it seems like for the past two months, each release has been better than the last. In the last 3 months alone, I've proclaimed "album of the year" twice before...Vista Chino's PEACE and Scorpion Child's self-titled debut. Now, I'm proclaiming it once again. Full of diversity and influences from all the right bands in the history of rock and metal, FREEDOM stands as the lone perfect listening experience of 2013 for me. This one is a stunner.
DARK ROOTS OF THRASH
On my radio show, THE CLASSIC METAL SHOW, we have a long running argument about the Bay Area Thrash bands. We talk about if you could only keep one band's catalog, whose would it be. Would it be Metallica? Megadeth? Or would it be this band, Testament. Certainly there is no denying the greatness of MASTER OF PUPPETS or RUST IN PEACE. But with Testament, you have no ST. ANGER. There is no RISK. There is no sellout period, with the exception of DEMONIC where they sold out to the darker side and took a stab at being heavier than they had been to that point. It's a tough debate, really. While I think I'd still take Metallica based solely on the brilliance of the albums up to and through the Black album, there really is no way you could go wrong with the Testament catalog.
FROM BEER TO ETERNITY
Ministry has been retired before, but this time might really be it. With the death of guitarist and collaborator Mike Scaccia just three days after the initial sessions for FROM BEER TO ETERNITY were completed, this might just be the final statement that Al Jourgensen wants to make to the world under the moniker of "Ministry". If so, he goes out in very strong fashion. While certainly not the best Ministry album, FROM BEER TO ETERNITY is an angry effort that is every bit as reminiscent as anything Jourgensen and company have done.
Black Label Society
It's no secret that I'm a very big fan of Zakk Wylde. I've gotten to know him over the years, and more to the point, I've truly apprecated the music the guy creates. For many, they just love hearing him play guitar. I can see that. For me though, my go to moments are not the heavier albums like STONGER THAN DEATH or ORDER OF THE BLACK, but the stuff that strays from the heavy where Zakk just lets loose as a classic rocker. My favorite thing Wylde has done is his solo release BOOK OF SHADOWS, followed closely by BLS efforts HANGOVER MUSIC VOL. VI and THE SONG REMAINS NOT THE SAME. "Darkest Days" from THE SONG REMAINS NOT THE SAME is, by far, my favorite song he's ever done, based solely on the raw emotion he puts forth singing it acoustically. Wylde has returned with a very interesting live show called UNBLACKENED; a sort of acoustic show where he and Black Label Society rework a lot of songs from his entire career for a one night only performance. It's pretty good stuff.
...and once again I prepare for the argument that I always have when writing a review of a new Dream Theater release. It's the argument that I always make, and that every one of you musicians out there that worship this band always fight me tooth and nail on. That argument is simple - that Dream Theater are the most talented, and yet most undisciplined band in the history of recorded music. There is no person in their right mind that will say that they aren't a collection of some of the most talented virtuoso performers on the planet. With all their talent though, they are simply not disciplined enough to write songs that aren't bloated, pompous and designed to be more of a showcase of their musicianship than to creating something instantly memorable to anyone but their hardcore fans. There's a reason that casual fans don't know that they ever had another song after "Pull Me Under" - it's the lack of discipline in their songwriting to write concise, brilliant songs. They have brilliant performances all over each and every release, but few brilliant songs. I'd argue that Mr. Big was a much better band. They are a band of equal talent individually, but were also a band that honed their individual talents to create a lot more memorable songs. Let the hatred begin!