500 Word Review: Mastodon “Emperor of Sand”

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When “Once More ‘Round the Sun” dropped, I was still in shallow denial of Mastodon’s new direction. But after the release of “Sultan’s Curse”, I had to cast aside all delusions of bearing witness to the return of their unstoppable sludge. Those days are long gone, and it’s impossible not to hold them over what Mastodon has become.

Mastodon took nearly 3 years to put out this album since their previous release. During that time, the band was dealing with family issues, a problem that has never stopped them before. Instead they took a lousy situation and turned it into musical inspiration again. Despite that, my first impression of “Emperor of Sand” was that it felt rushed. More specifically, it sounds like the band barreled through the writing process and rushed on to recording and production. It has some telltale qualities of an album put out to satisfy the requirements of a record deal. There is filler at every turn. They kill time with uninspired guitar solos lacking class and containing too many pinch harmonics, reminiscent of the ostentatious shredding cherished by Avenged Sevenfold. Such douchery is available in “Word to the Wise.” There are two, or even maybe three respectable solos on the eleven-track album, but none of them are particularly memorable. In other cases, halfhearted guitar parts and mediocre verses serve as a vehicle for a more compelling vocal section or instrumental feature. “Roots Remain” fits that description well, containing two clunky verses sung by Troy Sanders backed by an unpleasant guitar riff and an acceptable solo to pad the rather excellent vocals of Brann Dailor. Unfortunately, this gives similar songs on the album the vocal driven, for-the-masses rock experience heard on albums like Queensrych’s self-titled 2013 release. These have the regrettable quality of predictable track structure. The lyrics should be well inspired, but there are plenty of lazy rhymes like in “Ancient Kingdom.” The narrative is hindered by offending lazy lyrics, but it still captures a mournful tone. The vocal delivery is inconsistent, ranging from passable to excellent, but they, along with everything else on the album, seem a bit artificial. This gives the drumming, the most consistent element of the album alongside the unfaltering bass guitar, a very subtle case of metalcore drum kit.

Returning to the idea that “Emperor of Sand” sounds rushed, I am reminded of problems with transitions and pacing. “Show Yourself” and “Precious Stones” begin abruptly, as if they had their first half spliced away. The rapid and awkward verse/chorus transitions, while not limited to these tracks, are distracting. When each song ends, something seems to be missing.

There are satisfying parts here and there, like the refreshing guitar lead in “Scorpion Breath” but a comparable number of poor sections. In “Andromeda” the band seems to mistake loud and ugly for heavy. Where “Crack the Skye” is elegant and “Leviathan” is powerful, ‘Emperor of Sand” is choppy and weak. To wrap things up, I thought the mixing was representative of the Mastodon experience, except for the volume of the lead guitar at times. While this was a critical review “Emperor of Sand” is still a decent album, I just happen to be disappointed with the lack of sludge metal.

 

Score: 7/10

 

Album Review by Zachary Norton, April 2017

“Emperor of Sand”:

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Track(s) of the Day Tuesday: PANOPTICON Into the North Woods, BLACK TONGUE In The Wake Ov The Wolf, PROTEST THE HERO Yellow Teeth, and SEVDALIZA That Other Girl

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After missing the first few weeks of 2017, we’re finally back with one of our favorite segments, “Track of the Day Tuesday”!  Usually, every Tuesday we post about what track you absolutely need to listen to today and why.  Since we had a slow start to the new year, we decided to make up for lost time and give you FOUR tracks that you need to give a listen to today!  Unfortunately, all of the songs, except for “That Other Girl”, are metal tracks, so there isn’t much diversity in the group.  However, each track and artist listed is fantastic and I highly suggest you give each song a listen today!  Here is our largest “Track of the Day Tuesday” segment ever!

First I want to discuss American Black Metal act, Panopticon’s, “Into the North Woods”.  Panopticon is one of the US based Black Metal groups that I have heard nothing but positive reviews about, but have continued to procrastinate with giving them a listen.  In fact, I first heard about how phenomenal Panopticon’s “Autumn Eternal” was through CountBlagorath’s Youtube channel.  After finally giving the Black Metal band a listen I can agree with all the hype that Panopticon is a fantastic band.  Despite only hearing a few projects by the Minnesota based band, it is obvious to any listener that their musical ability and skill in songwriting surpasses the standards set by modern Black Metal.  If you love melodic Black Metal with heavy folk influences, then you not only have to check out “Into the North Woods”, but the entire “Autumn Eternal” album.  Panopticon might be one of the greatest American Black Metal bands of all time, and I highly suggest you don’t sleep on this group like I did!

Next up on the list of tracks you need to listen to today is Black Tongue’s “In The Wake Ov The Wolf”.  If you’re familiar at all with the deathcore band, Infant Annihilator, then you will know that after the departure of Dan Watson, guitarist and drummer Eddie Pickard and Aaron Kitcher, went on to form a separate, downtempo deathcore group called Black Tongue.  Black Tongue, in the 3 years of being a full time band, have already seen an immense amount of success in the metal community and in their own songwriting.  Releasing 2 EPs and a full length record titled “The Unconquerable Dark”, Black Tongue have begun to solidify themselves as a prominent leader in the continuously growing sub-genre that is downtempo deathcore.  As you might have guessed, I also slept on their full length record despite the fact that I absolutely loved their fist two releases.  After finally checking out “The Unconquearable Dark” I cannot stop listening to the entire 2015 album.  That being said, this is a record you need to give a listen to as well, and I suggest you start off with the track “In The Wake Ov The Wolf”.  “In The Wake Ov The Wolf” was one of the first singles released off the debut full length and it has easily become one of the catchiest songs on the entire record.  I know it might be hard to imagine downtempo, beat down deathcore to be labeled as “catchy”, but the leads and chord progressions heard, especially in the chorus, are absolutely addicting and get stuck in your head immediately after listening to the entire track.  If you are not familiar with the new Black Tongue album, or the sub-genre they write in general, “In the Wake OV The Wolf” is the perfect place to start.

For those who have been reading the blog for the last few months you will remember that I wrote a blog post about the upcoming August Burns Red tour.  Last year, Lancaster’s own, August Burns Red, announced that they would do a North America tour performing “Messengers” for its 10th anniversary.  Recently, the 10 year Messengers tour went through Denver, Colorado and I was able to attend the show!  Of course, the concert itself was phenomenal, but what truly stuck out was actually Protest the Hero’s performance.  Once again, Protest the Hero was another band I heard great things about but never thought to give their discography a listen.  However, I was completely and absolutely blown away by their seamlessly flawless performance.  Every song was perfectly crafted with face melting riffs, intricate drumming, and (for a lack of a better term) impressive vocals that made me listen to the Canadian group non-stop for days after the show.  So far I can say that “Yellow Teeth” is my favorite track by Protest the Hero.  The high pitched vocals cry out as a speedy instrumental section burns through chugging and melodic shredding riffs.  If you want to be blown away by insane musicianship, then stop reading this post right now, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and listen to “Yellow Teeth” by Protest the Hero and enjoy one of the best Modern Progressive Metal acts.

Finally, the last track I want to share with you today is an experimental pop track by the Iranian upcoming pop artist, Sevdaliza.  Sevdaliza’s music, and the music videos that accompany her catalog, are mesmerizing to put it simply.  Sevdaliza’s approach to her songwriting and how she visually portrays these tracks is something that not only makes her unique, but will also allow her to reshape and change the genre of experimental pop completely.  There isn’t a single bad place to start when first listening to Sevdaliza, but I must say that Sevdaliza’s “That Other Girl” is one of her masterpieces so far and is a track that you must listen to, regardless of what other songs by the Iranian pop artist you’ve heard so far.  Plus the 2000s-esque style of animation featured in the music video for “That Other Girl” is not only trippy, but extremely nostalgic and entertaining.  I guarantee I’ll be writing a lot more about Sevdaliza in the future, so if you really enjoy this track stay tuned and I’ll be sure to post about other songs in her discography.

Of course, every song mentioned is attached below.  I know this is a lot to take in all at once, but these four songs are tracks you absolutely need to give a listen to today.  The “Track of the Day Tuesday” segment is a segment I greatly enjoy writing and the staff here at Erik’s Album Reviews is extremely glad that we can continue this segment into 2017.  Check out the songs mentioned below, let us know what you think of the tracks, and of course, let us know what songs you would like to see featured on future installments to “Track of the Day Tuesday”!

 

Panopticon’s “Into the North Woods”:

Black Tongue’s “In The Wake Ov The Wolf”:

Protest the Hero’s “Yellow Teeth”:

Sevdaliza’s “That Other Girl”:

The Thursday Ten: 11/15/16

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For those who visit Erik’s Album Reviews regularly, you will know that the staff has been very busy for the last two weeks.  Because of this we unfortunately missed the last two “The Thursday Ten” segments.  However, last week we announced that in order to make up for this lack of album ratings, we will give 20 album ratings for this week’s installment rather than the usual 10!  This week’s post features various releases over multiple genres covering everything from Black Metal to EDM.  Even though twice as many releases are feature in this installment, the rules to “The Thursday Ten” haven’t changed, and of course, we encourage you to check out every album listed on any of the major music streaming platforms.  Let us know what you think of the ratings, which albums you want us to rate next, and don’t forget to check out the previous installment to “The Thursday Ten”.  Here is this week’s post:

  1. Skeletonwitch – The Apothic Gloom EP: 8/10
  2. The Acacia Strain, Thy Art Is Murder, and Fit For An Autopsy – The Depression Sessions: 9/10
  3. Power Trip/Integrity Split EP: 7/10
  4. Dan Mason – Summer Love: 7/10
  5. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool: 7/10
  6. Aborted – Termination Redux EP: 8/10
  7. Lamb of God – The Duke EP: 7/10
  8. Jason Richardson – I: 8/10
  9. bl00dwave – Distance: 8/10
  10. Defeater – Abandoned: 8/10

 

  1. Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine: 8/10
  2. Blink-182 – California: 8/10
  3. Balance and Composure – Light We Made: 8/10
  4. Moose Blood – Blush: 8/10
  5. Wakrat – Wakrat: 4/10
  6. Tesseract – Polaris: 7/10
  7. A Day To Remember – Bad Vibrations: 6/10
  8. Adventure Club – Red // Blue: 5/10
  9. PZA – AMERICAN RITUALS: 9/10
  10. Vaerbitt – Tid: 9/10

The previous “The Thursday Ten”:

https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/the-thursday-ten-112416/

Vinyl and Cassette News: Between The Buried And Me Release 7″ Record For Their Cover Of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”

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In case you missed it, last month Between The Buried And Me announced that they would be releasing their cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on 7″ vinyl.  The record, which has the track “Vertical Beta 461” on the b-side and is also their version of Paul Waggoner’s “Boot Dagger Boogie”, is the latest vinyl release from the North Carolina based prog metal band.  The EP was first released as one of the items received from buying a VIP ticket to one of the shows on the Between The Buried And Me and Devin Townsend tour.  The latest BTBAM project has since been released to the public, and can now be purchased on vinyl.

After listening to the two tracks I can actually say that I enjoyed the cover EP.  Usually I am not a fan of covers of any Queen songs, but BTBAM did a great job of mixing in their signature sound to write this cover that I actually found it to be pretty enjoyable.  Also, if you didn’t know that “Vertical Beta 461″ was a reworked version of a Paul Waggoner song, then it would be easy to think that this track is a brand new Between The Buried And Me song.  The instrumentation and vocals heard on this cover are so similar to the unique song structure and sound heard on past BTBAM projects that its hard to distinguish that they didn’t actually write this song.  In conclusion, both of these tracks are great and I highly encourage picking up a copy of this 7″!

The link to purchase the vinyl 7″ is attached below with the stream of the EP.  If you are unfamiliar with BTBAM I definitely recommend listening to literally anything from their discography.  Between The Buried And Me is one of the great modern progressive metal acts and if you like any artists in the prog metal scene, then you need to give Between The Buried And Me a listen.  As stated in earlier blogs, a ton of posts for vinyl and cassette news will be released this week so be sure to check in frequently for more updates about vinyl and cassette releases!

BTBAM 7”:

Between the Buried and Me – Bohemian Rhapsody 7" Vinyl

“Bohemian Rhapsody” Cover:

“Vertical Beta 461”:

Classic Album Review: MASTODON Crack The Skye

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Of all the albums in Mastodon’s vibrant discography, “Crack the Skye” is the most distinctive. Its distinction isn’t due to a higher level of quality or a lack thereof, but its departure from Mastodon’s original identity. The unreserved sludge held in common by their first three records makes a precious few appearances in “Crack the Skye”. Interestingly enough, the occasional bellow and plundering guitar riff seem even more powerful among the often churning album. The grumbling bass guitar in “Ghost of Karelia” and the familiar screams of the album’s title track, are no exception to that. Instrumentally, Mastodon has demonstrated their instrumental prowess once again, delivering precise riffs, solos, and drum fills that outclass the efforts of other sludge metal bands. Nevertheless, “Crack the Skye” is best described as progressive metal with a healthy dose of space rock; certainly not sludge metal. The mash up of genres grants the record an immersive atmospheric quality which is deliberately broken to lend a commanding air to their guitar solos and vocals. For the first time, singing has taken center stage over Mastodon’s signature guttural shouts. Their harmonies can be glorious, but are sometimes awkward such as in the pre-chorus of “Oblivion”. Despite their relative inexperience with singing, it still manages to add to the record’s synergy. Each song flows seamlessly into the next.

“Crack the Skye “continues on with the bands tradition of following a concept. However, never have they undertaken one so personal. Make no mistake, the album may be chalk full of topics like astral projection and the legendary Rasputin, but its true inspiration was the early death of a bandmate’s sister. Unfortunately, the concept is a bit too fleshed out and outlandish. The band may have overdone it in this aspect. Apart from this, there is little to complain about. The album starts off strong and ends even stronger: in a thirteen-minute epic. There is hardly a low point besides a couple of transitions featuring over repetition, something that could be mistaken for laziness. Given the emotional investment in the album it is more likely a thorough attempt to stick to the albums unique tone, which the band does very well. They put their fan base at risk with this album by changing their sound, but musically it is a success.

Often when a metal band lightens up their musical palate, it is seen as an attempt to reach a larger audience or “sell out”, despite what they may claim. It is not uncommon for the quality of writing to decline too. The reasons for Mastodon’s decision to move away from their roots in “Crack the Skye” is unclear. The personal investment they have in the record, and its overall quality suggest that it could be their earnest attempt at something a little different. It’s not uncommon for artists to experiment with their ideas occasionally. However, looking at Mastodon post-“Crack the Skye”, it seems certain that the album was intended to test the world’s reception of a new sound before they committed to what might be called hard rock.

Score: 8.5/10

Album Review by Zach Norton, November 2016

Update: Animals As Leaders Release Third Single Off New Album “The Madness Of Many”

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The anticipation continues to grow for the new material by instrumental prog metal group, Animals As Leaders.  If you have been following the page lately, you would know that the genre-defying band, Animals As Leaders, are releasing their fourth studio album a week from today, and it is on pace to be their greatest release to date.  This is an extremely significant statement, especially since “The Joy of Motion” was such a stellar album.  The group originally announced the upcoming release with two singles; the first being a lighter, soothing track titled “The Brain Dance”, and the second single, released shortly after, was a far more heavy and aggressive song called “Arithmophobia”.  These two tracks appear to be the most polarizing songs on the project and give the listener the full range of how light or heavy any track on the album will be.

The third single, released this week titled “Inner Assassins”, appears to be the middle ground of the two singles previously mentioned.  It features both the light sounding, complexing riffing and the upbeat, heavier sections that were emphasized in the first two singles.  “Inner Assassins” sounds like classic Animals As Leaders with the superb songwriting we’ve heard so far on “The Madness of Many” mixed in, which is an extremely prominent sign that the rest of the album will follow this already fantastic song structure.  I will say, however, that the most impressive aspect of this track is actually the mind-numbingly intricate drumming.  Artfully mastering odd time signatures and polyrhythmic sections, while simultaneously adding character to the track and essentially becoming the backbone to the song itself, the performance by Animals As Leaders’ Matt Garstka, is easily my favorite part of the third single.

A handful of phenomenal albums will be released this month, and “The Madness of Many” is sure to be one of them.  If you are equally as excited for the latest record by Animals As Leaders, be sure to visit the site next week to check out the album review for “The Madness of Many”.  Check out the posts about each previous single off the upcoming album below and give “Inner Assassins” a listen as well!

“The Brain Dance” Review:

https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/update-animals-as-leaders-release-first-single-off-upcoming-album-the-madness-of-many/

“Arithmophobia” Review:

https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/update-animals-as-leaders-release-second-single-off-the-madness-of-many/

“Inner Assassins”:

The Thursday Ten: 11/3/16

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Last week saw an extreme lack of content, and as a result, the week of 10/23-10/29 was the first week without a “The Thursday Ten” post since the segment was first announced.  However, we are back this week with the latest “The Thursday Ten”.  For those of you who read the last installment to the segment, you will remember that the ratings for the 10 records mentioned all received scores within the range of 7/10-9/10.  Even though these ratings are a representation of my honest opinion of the albums, I understand that the ratings from the previous post might seem inflated, and that an average reader might think that almost every album receives around an 8/10.  In order to disprove this assumption, I decided to rate some albums that were released this year that I was not very fond of, in order to show a more broad spectrum of where certain records may fall on the rating system for “The Thursday Ten”.  The rules for giving these ratings have not changed and each album mentioned can be listened to on any major streaming service, and I highly encourage you to give them a listen!  Also, the previous “The Thursday Ten” is posted below and of course, if you disagree with any rating or want to submit a record to be rated, let us know in the comments or shot us an email!  Here is this week’s “The Thursday Ten”:

  1. Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty: 8/10
  2. D.R.A.M. – Big Baby D.R.A.M.: 5/10
  3. The Word Alive – Dark Matter: 5/10
  4. Chelsea Grin – Self Inflicted: 5/10
  5. River Oaks – River Oaks – EP: 6/10
  6. Desiigner – New English: 7/10
  7. I Prevail – Lifelines: 7/10
  8. AlunaGeorge – I Remember: 4/10
  9. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues: 6/10
  10. Drake (singles) – Fake Love: 6/10 – Sneakin’ (feat. 21 Savage): 7/10

The previous “The Thursday Ten”:

https://eriksalbumreviews.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/the-thursday-ten-102016/