Metal

Korn’s first album cover

When I was first getting into metal during my mid-teens, buying CDs was still really popular. The cover of a CD would be a significant factor in drawing me towards new music or influencing my next album purchase.

Nowadays a good album cover is a bonus. With streaming and illegal downloading the primary way we consume and circulate music, it’s arguably not as necessary to create decent art alongside an album’s release. There’s a lot to be said for a cover that’s visually appealing, whilst adding an extra dimension to the overall product.

Korn – Self-titled, 1994, Sony Music Entertainment

Photographer: Stephen Stickler

kornselftitled

I was only four when Korn released this groundbreaking debut, but after bangers like Freak On A Leash and Here To Stay drew me in as a teen, I backtracked to this release and subsequently discovered this image. It’s still one of my all-time favourite album covers.

Sinister, is the word that best sums it up.

The little girl is the centrepiece and it’s her who influences our whole perception of this image and the negative meaning that stems from it.

Here she is, in the park – a place normally associated with playing, children’s laughter and happiness. But this girl is alone. She’s not swinging and in fact appears to be frozen to the spot. She’s visibly disturbed by whatever faces her, screwing her face up and shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare. It’s jarring to see a child look so uncomfortable in this environment.

Of course, it quickly becomes apparent why this is, as soon as you notice the omnipotent presence casting the giant shadow beside her.

Like the girl attempting to gain clarity, we also know little about the shadow. It’s not just the figure’s anonymity that’s disconcerting. Is the figure really that tall? Or is the shadow warped? Why do their hands look like sharp objects or hooks? Why are they here and what do they want?

It’s obviously bad news. That is the dominant feeling.

I fear for the girl in the picture. It wasn’t until recently that I read that the girl is hanging in the other shadow, so confirming these dark interpretations. The cover has some evil connotations such child abduction and predatory behaviour.

Given the subject matter presented throughout the album, specifically frontman Jonathan Davis’ anger channelled from his own childhood experiences, the cover is undoubtedly an extension of these themes stemming from abuse and the corruption of innocence.

It’s a powerful image that induces anxiety. To me, the unknown identity of the shadow represents a universal, continual presence of evil among us. Figures that cause pain, suffering and who prey on the vulnerable. It shows an abuse of power and recognition for other young victims out there.

Metal · Reviews

Review: Ensiferum – One Man Army

My review of One Man Army, written for Rock’n’Reel Reviews.

OneManArmy

A lot of metal’s appeal has always been the sense of escapism it provides. It’s the fantasy, encouraged by musicians through their dramatic and elaborate concepts, that sometimes has as much to do with alluring listeners as the music itself.

Perhaps that’s why so many enjoy folk metal. Because even if the music is sub-par, hordes of fans lap it up for the mythical references, the dramatics, advocacy for alcohol and tongue-in-cheek approach.

Finland’s Ensiferum are a shining example to rise from the genre, with a fourteen year run proving their talent. Album six, One Man Army, is the epitome of how heavy metal and folk instrumentals can be unified to great effect.

Guitarist and primary songwriter Markus Toivonen and his bandmates have done a great job on this one. The versatility and colour within the music speaks for itself; every track possessing its own memorable melodies, story and emotional delivery.

The more obviously inspired folk, multi-instrumental songs are dispersed throughout the album and performed as usual by keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen. Intro ‘March of War’ is the first example, before the listener is hurled into ‘Axe of Judgement’, a stark, speedy contrast to enter battle with.

Later tracks like ‘Heathen Horde’, ‘Cry for the Earth Bounds’ and ‘Two of Spades’ are worth picking out for the their uniqueness and startling contrast in comparison to each other. There’s definitely a lot to experience throughout the album. Who knows, maybe even the cynics will allow themselves to be taken in by it.

Personal Score: 4/5

Metal · Reviews

Review: In Flames – Siren Charms

About once a year, give or take, I fall in love with In Flames all over again and listen to their back-catalogue continuously. Here’s my review of their latest release.

SirenCharms

If fans of In Flames are to stand any chance of enjoying Siren Charms, they’d better embrace change and accept the band’s ongoing evolution into milder realms. Perspective is key when assessing this release. Alone, the Swedes’ eleventh creation is a decent piece of work, but frankly it’s an utter disappointment in light of their past and a painful reminder that their firey, melo-death metal foundation has been truly extinguished.

Whilst remnants of the band’s core sound are present, through their ability to engage the listener with signature atmospheric highs and lows, on the whole the latest offering feels frustratingly tame. A softer, slower musical approach runs throughout and demonstrates a permanent trajectory into rock, even borderline pop at times. Siren Charms is incredibly easy on the ears.

The title-track captures this shift in style and energy perfectly. Anders Friden’s soft, emotive singing voice draws the listener in with a feeling of heartfelt authenticity, as though he’s revealing true secrets and builds up to a soulful, crashing chorus. The following track ‘When the World Explodes’ is one of the heavier picks and compliments its predecessor. Growls return to the fold and a rhythmic metalcore style dominates. Guest vocalist Emilia Feldt also lends her delicate vocals to wrap up the album’s mid-section; the most interesting, mysterious and indeed charming.

Nevertheless, there are far too many songs here that are mediocre. Thrills are scarce, unfortunately. And knowing what wondrous sound and invention In Flames are actually capable of means that this reality is a little hard to bear. The album does possess a certain subtle character, however. One can only hope that it’ll introduce new listeners to the versatile beauty of this acclaimed band.

Personal Score: 3/5

Metal · Reviews

Review: Iron Reagan – Tyranny Of Will

Another review written for Rock’n’Reel Reviews.

TyrannyofWill

It was only last year that punk-thrashers Iron Reagan impressed everyone with their début full length Worse Than Dead. Now they’re back with a second album that’s bursting with energy and just as ballsy. Tyranny Of Will continues exactly where the Richmond ragers left off and may well be more abrasive than their first export.

Like the first, it has a youthful feel; like a band making awesome, aggressive music because they damn well want to. The twenty-four tracks encourage you to let off steam through the rhythmic aggression and catharsis of hardcore punk, while frontman Tony Foresta, clearly indulging in his love of the genre, injects his humorous personality into the band’s sound and approach. Fans of Municipal Waste are bound to adore the ferocity of this record and their beloved vocalist and bassist’s (Landphil Hall is on guitar) more rough’n’ready project.

If anything, the thrash component has been amplified slightly on this one. Songs like ‘Eyeball Gore’ and ‘Nameless’ pack the speed and tenacity of old-school icons. ‘I Won’t Go’ has a particularly Slayer feel to it. As electrifying as these full velocity moments feel though, it makes for a fuller, more interesting listen when broken up with punchy beats and basic, satisfying riffs. Songs like ‘Close To Toast’ and ‘In Greed We Trust’ possess infectious, fist-pumping grooves.

The fivesome’s follow-up effort is fast, frenzied and a hell of a lot of fun. Dive in head first to this one.

Personal Score: 4/5

Metal

Bloodstock 2014 Photos

Bloodstock was cracking this year. Compared to the overall intensity of doing Hellfest, it was actually a relief not having to travel very far, see some of my all time favourite bands and just completely relax.

There were so many excellent performances at the UK’s premier metal festival and I wish I’d been able to capture more of them. But here are a few photos from across the weekend.

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Metal · Reviews

Review: Suicide Silence – You Can’t Stop Me

Another review written for Rock’n’Reel Reviews.

SuicideSilence

Deathcore, as a sub-genre, has somewhat of a bad reputation within the broader metal community. And whilst there are many bands within the scene where criticism is justified due to brutish simplicity, uninspired song-writing and a lot of style over substance, there are shining anomalies.

As major players in establishing deathcore’s popularity circa 2007, the name Suicide Silence is unfortunately met with casual dismissal or even unabashed, unjustified hate. Yet as the band’s third full-length proves, this is wholly undeserved.

You Can’t Stop Me is a powerful output from a five-piece who show us exactly how meaty, metalcore fused rhythms can be sliced and diced with the blasting speed, down-tuning and the vital injection of nastiness that death metal offers. The title track captures this recipe perfectly and has one belter of a chorus. What’s more is that apparently previous vocalist, the late Mitch Lucker, apparently had been working on the lyrics to this song before his tragic death. If you only listen to one track from the album, make it this one.

New vocalist Eddie Hermida has laid down some impressive work here. Switching between gutsy, death metal growls and harrowing shrieks, the duo vocal effect makes for a deeper impact, as opposed to a harsh wall of sound and I actually prefer Hermida’s emotive style. George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher of Cannibal Corpse and Greg Puciato of Dillinger also lend their talent and aggression to this record, so be sure to listen out on ‘Control’ and ‘Monster Within’.

As my first proper exposure to the band, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Clearly Suicide Silence can’t be stopped. The album is full of strong songs and it’s impressive to see the band moving forward.

Personal Score: 4/5

Work

Do More Magazine: David Gray Review

Another live review published in Do More Magazine, this time of singer-songwriter David Gray and his performance at the Bournemouth Pavilion.

DavidGray

As soon as David Gray and his accompanying band of seven entered the stage of the Bournemouth Pavilion on Wednesday night a warm, lively reception greeted them from a packed crowd.  Already well-respected for his back-catalogue of indie – folk rock, it’s safe to say that Gray would have been welcomed just as enthusiastically prior to this year’s new release. Yet armed with fresh material from new album Mutineers, his audience were clearly in the mood to celebrate.

Wasting no time in promoting new tracks, the singer-songwriter started the night’s proceedings with ‘Birds of the High Arctic’, a beautiful introduction followed by a handful of other Mutineers tracks. At the start of songs like ‘Gulls’ and ‘Back in the World’ murmurs of appreciation within the transfixed crowd was indicative of their early familiarity with the star’s latest work.

Following shower upon shower of warm applause, we were taken through a meander of older material, revisiting well-loved songs from breakthrough album White Ladder. By this point people were making their admiration heard with cheering, shouts of “Brilliant!” and even a few ladies waving and swaying in the aisles. Maintaining a sophisticated demeanour throughout, Gray seemed delighted by the response to his first ever Bournemouth performance. His talented band members also visibly loosened up as the set progressed, clearly enjoying their own musical delights.

As the show came to a close, an exuberant plea for an encore brought about three more tracks from the talented front-man and co., at which point the majority of the audience were standing and embracing the opportunity to sing along to their favourites. Of course ‘Babylon’ made an appearance as the evening’s finale.

Judging by the overall age-range of the crowd, the night’s performance was occupied by long-term fans of Gray’s work. But if he continues to perform shows of this stature, then new generations of music lovers are sure to be entranced by his distinctive style and genuine persona for years to come.

Metal · Travel

Hellfest 2014 Report

That’s it for another year. I’m exhausted, sunburnt, skint and the countless performances are yet to sink in, but already I’m brimming with excitement for next year’s Hellfest announcements.

Having missed the French fest last year, I was a little concerned that its dramatic expansion in size since 2012 may have warped the overall experience into something unrecognisable from my beloved memories. My doubts were needless however as Hellfest is still a thriving metal utopia. You have to appreciate the rarity of a festival that consistently boasts such a high-calibre of extreme music alongside an unbeatable atmosphere.

This year Hellfest really lived up to its name due to an intense heat-wave across the whole weekend. You’d think weather like that would be ideal, but this was overwhelming. For someone used to the drizzle of England, the relentless heat actually made the long days quite hard. At times I found it too hot to think and generally couldn’t muster the energy to really lose myself every day. So yeah, I will definitely be better prepared for the possibility of another scorcher next year.

ToxicHolocaust
Toxic Holocaust

It’s a shame the heat got the better of me because we were spoilt for choice with places to be and bands to see. To sum-up all the best moments would mean writing about ninety-percent of the line-up. As such, this is only a taste of my 2014 experience…

On the Friday my first highlight was Toxic Holocaust on the mainstage. I’d wanted to see them for ages and the three-piece lived up to my expectations with a spot-on set. Being unfamiliar with the work of Nocturnus, the uniqueness of Nocturnus AD made quite an impression on me. Later we saw Slayer (or rather, half of Slayer) before dashing over to the Warzone stage to watch headliners Kvelertak kick serious ass. That was a treasure.

Like the previous evening, Saturday’s schedule consisted of an unbelievable sequence of death metal and we made the most of that by hanging around the Altar, gradually leading to the finale of Nile then Carcass – both always exceptional. One of the only mainstage bands we checked out that day were Hatebreed. Their tunes always work up a storm in Clisson and they got me sufficiently pumped for the evening’s headliners.

I don’t know if this year’s Behemoth performance rivalled the time they headlined the Temple stage in 2012, which sent shivers down my spine, but after the release of The Satanist it was excellent witnessing them tackle the mainstage. Watching the mighty Emperor was pretty special too and they were the last of the extreme bands on my list before chilling to Sabbath, arguably the perfect candidates to wrap-up a glorious three days.

Nocturnus AD
Nocturnus AD

Even if the heat did make me feel decrepit, the weekend was so sweet overall. What’s also cool is that surrounding businesses in Clisson continue to embrace the festival. The supermarket nearby, which often has queues for entry full of Hellfest punters looking to stock up on supplies, now decks the place out with Hellfest banners, promotes food and camping equipment for the crowds and the shop-floor staff even don Hellfest t-shirts. It’s nice to see them getting into the spirit of things and welcome us with open arms.

In terms of sales, it must be equivalent to Christmas week in UK supermarkets. But the members of staff clearly adopt an open-mind to the whole event, which is how it should be. Being immersed in metal culture and experiencing great festivals like these, it’s easy to forget that externally ridiculous prejudices still exist and that people aren’t always so sound. French politician Christine Boutin of the Christian Democratic Party once tried to have the festival cancelled and appealed for sponsors like Kronenbourg to pull out, claiming that the festival’s imagery would scare children and that the music encouraged violent acts.

Considering I’ve yet to encounter a single ticket holder who looks as though they’d hurt a fly, you have to laugh. Here we are in 2014 and Hellfest’s popularity continues to spread with fans and bands internationally. I truly believe that the Hellfest experience is unrivalled by any other festival.

Until next year!