Friday, September 19, 2008

In Living COLOUR

COLOUR HAZE – “All” CD ’08 (Elektrohasch, Ger) – It’s true that COLOUR HAZE began as a unit steeped in a German interpretation of the early Sabbath sound. They had the feel, the vibe of guys who had found a copy of Hairy Chapter’s “Can’t Get Through” and Scorpions’ “Lonesome Crow” and forged an amalgam of these. Good stuff, yet the band weren’t content to rest on these 1971-styled laurels. Instead, over the last several years, they’ve evolved in a way that’s allowed this heavy base to remain while freeing themselves up to shove off into the universe as major astral travelers. In a sense, the COLOUR HAZE of today reminds me, not so much in style but in exploratory ease, of an English band called Ozric Tentacles. Both units are so comfortable in their skins as musicians that they can move into deep space directions with an effortless glide. With the ‘HAZE, they really love that trippy, psych-y feel indicating they may not have heeded the acid warnings at Woodstock. Hmm…come to think of it, they’re probably too young to have gotten that memo anyway. But listen as Stefan Koglek’s guitar leads the shroom-a-ganic trio (completed by Philipp Rasthufer – bass and Manfred Merwald – drums) into lengthy workouts like “Silent,” “Lights” and the sprawling title number. And the truth of the matter is, “workouts” is probably not the best word as there is such a calm, flowing continuum here. This is floating, pulsing music that somehow retains enough of a form and shape to be both calming and invigorating at the same time. Koglek’s liquid guitar lines stretch like strands of plasma and mingle with his mid-to-high vocals in a way that the entire thing fuses as one cosmic instrument. Don’t get the idea that this music is boring, though. While it’s not going to be in rotation at a party where people are screaming for the first Van Halen album or The Chuck Norris Experiment, you might find yourself spending several hours with it, reclining on the couch the next morning. Sweet stuff. 8.5

TESTAMENT – “Formation Of Damnation” CD ’08 (Nuclear Blast, US) – It must be an interesting time for a band like TESTAMENT. They’ve surely been through their fair share of down times, what with Chuck Billy’s cancer, and now they’ve come back with “Formation Of Damnation.” The dumb title aside, they’ve assembled a classic line-up, released this record and what happens the same year? Metallica has climbed out of a long, deep hole, dusted themselves off, laid the wood to 74 minutes of recordable plastic and asked a very simple question of other bands in this genre: Who’s your daddy? While it took them 20+ years, the fact remains that they’ve raised the bar and bands like TESTAMENT, Exodus, Death Angel and such are left looking a bit like deer in the headlights. Sure, these groups all took up the gauntlet during the nearly 2-decade period that Metallica schlepped around from rehab to shrink and released some pretty damn good records in the process. Nobody on my watch is gonna dis scorchers like “The Gathering” and “Shovel Headed Kill Machine.” The problem here is, despite it being nice to hear Billy actually singing again at times, TESTAMENT sounds largely tired and by-the-numbers on this release. Sure, “More Than Meets The Eye” and “Fear” get the juices flowing a bit but in all most of the songs on “Formation…” seem to congeal into a formless blob of riffs that have been heard one too many times and all the Alex Skolnick lead fireworks in the world just can’t raise the excitement meter. Simply put, in the wake of not only the old masters’ return but also fresh & energetic new blood on the thrash scene like Fueled By Fire, it’s simply got to be better than this. 4.5

GROUP DU JOUR – “Listening In…To The Past 25 Years” CD ’08 (New Weave, US) – I just love “genres” sometimes, and the creative descriptions people have for them. In the case of Oregon’s GROUP DU JOUR, they consider themselves to be “experimental-techno-ethnic-rock-based.” That’s quite a mouthful but, despite the awkward label, I understand what they’re talking about. Think, on a known scale, the Afro Celt Sound System or perhaps, for those who’ve read this page awhile, Mawwal (keep reading for news on them, by the way). Now I’m not going to kid anybody into thinking that GDJ is on the level of that New England outfit. Still, this unit, formed in 1983 by Daniel Crommie, Bo & Paul Parker has put together a worthy career and this “best of” disc is a nice overview. While the band’s beginnings can be traced to a more folk/pop leaning (listen to “Romance Demystified”), the style alluded to above can be heart mightily in “We Built The Machines” & “Listening.” All in all, this is a good collection and introduction for the open-minded listener to GROUP DU JOUR. 7.0

AIRGED L’AMH – “Ode To Salvation” CD ’08 (Private, Gre) – I remember back in the days when I used to collect a lot of rare metal vinyl, man, the Greek guys were really somebody to talk to. Sure, they knew about records from their own country, like Vice Human & Vavel but they could also talk a blue streak about stuff like U8, Sorcery and White Boy & The Average Rat Band as well. That’s why I was a little excited when I read something online about this here Greek band AIRGED L’AMH, who were supposed to combine classic/power metal with a Celtic vibe…hence mixing a couple genres that I’m just a little fond of. So, I contacted the band to ask them to send out a CD. Of course, as always happens, in the middle of a splurge of similar contacts, this one, which I anticipated the most seemed to take the longest to arrive (does anybody else have this happen?!). As it turned out, this band had a reason for the delay as they were taking the time to assemble for me a really nice promo pack, including the CD, a DVD, etc. Was it worth the wait? Oh, yeah! Too many times, you wait by the mailbox for shit you think will float your boat and too many times, the boat takes on a likeness disturbingly similar to the Titanic. This time, thank God, we get a supercharged hydroplane. First off, the cover artwork of this thing has the look of a rare metal LP from 1984. Secondly, they’ve got 2 guitar players. That’s generally good, but the proof is in the pudding and this pudding is being stirred viciously. Without a hesitation, this 6-piece charges into an album replete with 5-7 minute tracks that simply captivate the listener. There are lots of things going for AIRGED L’AMH throughout this disc. First, the guitar work of George Sofikitis & Alexander Vasilopoulos is great, and at times breathtaking, as they move from heavy-handed riffing to elegant lead harmonies with a deft finesse. Secondly, I’m always a bit skeptical when I hear the term “power metal,” thinking I’m going to be in for a teeth-grinding trip through Bland Guardian “national anthem” metal. Fear not, here, though as the aforementioned guitars are way heavier & ornate than that, and Steve Vanardo’s vocals are everything from deep to mid-ranged, adding to the fierce power here. In fact, even the keys of Manolis Gaudlas do nothing to lighten things, actually helping to lend some of the more haunting, Celtic vibe to the proceedings. As a metal fan, you simply can’t lose as cuts like “The Hunter’s Path,” “Dine In Hades” & “The Ritual Lair” chug & crunch by, and I can even see those into a more doom-laden path being taken by some parts of this superb record. In all, “Ode To Salvation” is a smoking, top-notch metal ripper through and through, with tips of the hat to everyone from vintage Manowar to Thin Lizzy. With that in mind, I have no qualms in giving this one an extremely high rating (it’s a grower every time), and saying, with horns held high: BUY! 9.5

MAWWAL – “This Is All There Is, There Is No Other Place” CD ’08 (Ancient, US) – When it comes to ethnic, world, etc. whatever-ya-wanna-call it music, there has been no single person who’s impressed me over the last several years than Jim Matus. His bands Paranoise, and now MAWWAL have been head & shoulders above everything else I’ve heard in this area, doing so by gleaning the essence of music from the world over, then somehow fusing them to modern rock in a seamless flow. His ability to then go further and add an element of forward-thinking intelligence, based on the world condition makes his stuff truly appealing to me and, that trend continues on this latest release. Always an innovator and one to surprise, this time Jim has taken the sound that was present on MAWWAL’s last amazing effort, “Black Flies” and given it a different spin by removing the electric instruments and going for a far more wooden sound. It’s a move that works well and reaches it’s apex in numbers like “Ho Gaye,” replete with instruments like mandocello & violin, plus the title cut & “Agg Damen.” I must admit that I miss the sting of Matus’ electric guitar that spread a Gilmour-esque tone over a lot of “Black Flies.” Still, don’t take that as a detractor, just personal preference on my part, as there’s plenty here to get excited about if you’re an adventurous music fan. 8.5

MOTLEY CRUE – “Saints Of Los Angeles” CD ’08 (Eleven Seven, US) – I won’t make any bones about the fact that I really liked THE CRUE’s “Dr. Feelgood” album…back in 1989…the year I married my first wife…yikes! Anyway, unlike a lot of metallers, who’ll give the band props for the first 2 records but never admit to liking any others, I thought “…Feelgood” was…er…pretty damn good, driven along by a killer production job and some truly kick-ass songs like the title cut and “Kickstart My Heart.” In fact, show me a time the latter comes on the radio & I’m not pounding the dashboard along with it. The point is, all things considered, this is probably the first “real” CRUE record since then and…well, they shouldn’t have bothered. From stem to stern, there isn’t one song I can remember here after 4 or 5 listenings. Granted, “Down At The Whiskey” isn’t bad but that’s absolutely all there is. Other than that, “mediocrity” would be a good-day compliment to “The Animal In Me” and the frankly embarrassing, “Girls, Girls, Girls” wannabe, “Chicks = Trouble.” Sure, “Motherfucker Of The Year” may be a great title, but it fits this album perfectly. Style over substance. 3.0

DARSOMBRA – “Eternal Jewel” CD ’08 (Public Guilt, US) – DARSOMBRA is basically a one-man project from Baltimore native Brian Daniloski, who also serves a guitar post in the angular heavy prog band Trephine. With his most recent effort under the DARSOMBRA name, Daniloski lays down 5 tracks that have the word “atmosphere” written all over them. Take a bit of Thrones and even some of the more audibly clear moments of SunnO))), then perhaps stir with one of the more disturbing horror soundtracks you can find and you might be on the trail of this dense, threatening music. DARSOMBRA is surely not for the faint-hearted and it’s also not something I can listen to every moment of the day, for instance, like I might pull out a Thin Lizzy album. Still, there are times, possibly more than you think, that a journey into a dark, deep forest of sonic fear like this might be well in order. 8.0

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