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.

Advertisements

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

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

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

Carcass’ Swansong: The album everyone loves to hate

People don’t seem to slate Carcass’ Swansong as much these days. Probably because they can now accept that it wasn’t the band’s swansong after all, (hello Surgical Steel!)

But let it be known that I’ve always really liked it. Even being aware of its flaws. This is something I wrote back in 2010 after seeing Carcass at Hellfest.

carcass-swansong

Have you ever felt the urgency to justify your love for a particular album? Perhaps the band in question has a reputation for being a ‘guilty pleasure’ within metal? Or perhaps they’re just downright talentless? Well Carcass are anything but and carry a reputation for being legendary. They’re highly respected for their massive contribution to early death metal. Yet I always feel reluctant to admit my love of Carcass’ final studio album.

There’s a common tendency for fans to turn their noses up at Swansong. But is it as bad as they make out? Not really.

Frontman Jeff Walker introduced the opening track as being from the album that everyone “hates to love” when they played at Bloodstock. Not me – I love to love it and after seeing them perform at Hellfest earlier this year, I was a little disappointed not to hear any tracks from this particular album. Nevertheless, Swansong is always left in the dark and fans are so hasty to disregard it.

Of course there are a few factors as to why this is the case. Swansong stands out as being the ‘softest’ of the death-grind pioneers catalogue and strays quite drastically from the band’s signature sound. This alone appears to be a good enough reason for many extreme music lovers to instantly disregard it. But you’d be a fool not to consider Swansong as a separate piece, without the renowned discography as a backdrop for assessment. Whilst Swansong is by no means Carcass’ best album, there’s something to be taken from their final effort. So don’t cast it aside and label it as a failure.

Listening to Swansong, it seems as though the band were attempting something completely fresh and a completely unique sound has been captured. One that’s more rock’n’roll based, yes. But very dark in its own right. The hauntingly catchy riffs alongside Walkers rough vocals and strange lyrics create an eerie and interesting new sound which is still as edgy as ever. Songs like ‘Childs Play’ stand out to me as possessing a very sinister undertone. Even the artwork on the cover veers from Carcass’ typical theme of autopsies and gore and portrays an abstract family scene; one that is not wholesome and warm, but quietly disturbing.

Whether Carcass managed to execute their vision successfully or not is another matter for consideration. In fact, I think there is a good chance it was the latter. It has come to light that there were a handful of problems during the albums production which may well have affected the overall outcome and prevented Swansong from reaching its full potential.

‘Keep On Rotting In The Free World’ is a fantastic opening track and never fails to draw a positive reaction from the fans at live shows. However it’s evident throughout the course of the album that the momentum and aggression of the first two tracks slowly fades out.

Yes,  other tracks stand out, but maybe this loss of spark is evidence of the band’s problems beginning to take their toll; personal and with the production. Distractions and pressures in and out of the studio would jeopardize the writing and recording of the album and could have left Carcass more inclined to rush, or at least finish it as soon as physically possible. Certain band members have expressed in interviews how they were already becoming “tired of each other” and were aware that their run was coming to an end.

Already possessing this knowledge then, it’s no surprise that a feeling of abandonment might radiate through the piece. Perhaps if the guys had felt it possible, they could have provided fans with a more well-rounded and polished final effort. As a big fan of Swansong for what it is, I think it’s a great shame that this wasn’t the case.

One year with Rock’n’Reel Reviews

Whilst reviewing Lost Society’s new album, it occurred to me that my review of their début was the first thing I wrote for Rock’n’Reel Reviews exactly a year ago.

Time really does move quickly. Especially when assessing so much awesome music!

Here are my metal review highlights from the past year:

Children Of Bodom – Halo Of Blood 4/5

They’re my favourite band, so of course this was excellent. The Finnish heavyweights’ most exciting work in ten years. I’m massively biased and would have loved to award it five stars. It is an excellent album though.

Havok – Unnatural Selection 3.5/5

Along with a select few, Colorado thrash pack Havok are dominating the scene and are one of my personal modern favs. Unnatural Selection may not be as frantic as its predecessor, but is packed with great tunes nonetheless.

Morgue Orgy – The Last Man On Earth 4/5

This album was an amusing surprise. Not only did it break up the colossal amount of thrash I listen to, but this groovy death metal and its spooky vibe was an entertaining and impressive début album from an unsigned, homegrown band!

Behemoth – The Satanist 4.5/5

The Satanist is an evil masterpiece and already a firm contender for album of the year. Basically everybody needs to hear it.

Savage Messiah – The Fateful Dark 4/5

Definitely another thrash recommendation, this time from London. The Fateful Dark is the most recent album that was an absolute pleasure to review. I officially label Savage Messiah under Excellent!

Review: Savage Messiah – The Fateful Dark

My four-star review, written for Rock’n’Reel Reviews.

savagemessiahfatefuldark

Could this be the album that launches Savage Messiah into stardom? The Fateful Dark certainly has the great songs, awesome shredding and irresistible hooks to do so. It’s an exciting release – one these London metallers must be very proud of.

There’s a quality across this creation that’s so alluring and professional sounding, one could easily envision the band absolutely dominating large venues in the near future. The ten songs are packed with memorable riffs, (I’ve had ‘Iconocaust’ and ‘Hellblazer’ earworms for days now,) captivating melodies and topped by a souring vocal style from frontman Dave Silver. His abilities add a rather epic dimension to a fierce musical backdrop that’s full of passion.

The title-track is one of the slower paced, sing-songs on this thrashy opus; another opportunity for Silver’s vocals to shine, especially at the song’s climatic chorus… Not to everyone’s taste, but so what? ‘The Fateful Dark’ is a soulful and instantly likeable listen.

With this offering, Savage Messiah will win the hearts of curious listeners who are yet to be converted into fans.

Personal Score: 4/5

Review: Behemoth – The Satanist

Behemoth’s new album is my favourite release of 2014, so far. Below is the introduction to my review of The Satanist for Rock’n’Reel Reviews…

TheSatanist

The Satanist has been one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Fans of the mighty Behemoth have been waiting for the triumphant return of Nergal and his band since the frontman’s battle with Leukaemia began in 2010. After his incredible recovery, their tenth release has been a long time coming. Yet, remarkably, The Satanist has finally reached us and, what’s more, may be the band’s most impressive work.

Personal Score: 4/5

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑