Category Archives: metal

Elantris Review: “This Sacrifice”

Well folks, I’m back in the saddle again and I’m finally reviewing again. What better way to ease back into things than an album review? This review already starts off interesting, or at least interesting to me.

Elantris, formerly Blackthorn, is a symphonic metal band out of Ohio that formed in 2014. One of their noteworthy points is how they recently toured with Lacuna Coil. The band’s new name is possibly taken from a novel of the same name, but that’s speculation on my part. What I can confirm is “This Sacrifice” is their debut album released sometime recently. I can’t seem to find anything else about them. I actually came across them in a Facebook group and they were looking for reviews to post. Naturally I’m drawn to bands with bits of mystery and thought I’d bite.

Here’s something that was interesting for me about buying this album. I searched for this album to purchase on iTunes (yes, I know you’re judging, and it’s OK. I am disappointed in myself too) and review only to find it wasn’t under their current name. It was still listed under their old name. If I recall you can find it under Elantris on Spotify and other platforms. Despite a minor incident, though, I finally got the album and gave it a listen.

The album kicks off with “Ellie”, and it barrages the listener with rhapsody of heavy tones tempered with a smooth synthesizer. One thing I really appreciated about the intro is how is gradually changes into a more complex time signature and gradually brings the listener into a battle march. I’ve come to expect many things to happen in symphonic metal, which includes complex meter, lots of bravado, but I didn’t expect other things from this song. The female vocalist was one of them. I’ll admit I’m pretty sheltered when it comes to symphonic metal but I’d grown accustomed to hearing vocalists with operatic or at least classical vocal training. The female vocalist has more of a pop star style. It is certainly different and while it jarred me at first I see how the style pairs well with the lyrics. The lyrical content was another aspect I didn’t expect. It felt like lots of angst came out with lines like “you don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me”, but again I see how it all comes together to something that foreshadows how the dark tones of the song are completely alluding to a dark nature. This dissonance carries throughout the album and adds elements that invoke doubt about the genuine nature of what’s presented without fully jeopardizing the composition of the songs.

Next up is “Ascension”, and it’s interesting to me in how it creates dissonance that’s ultimately cacophonous. It opens up with some black and heavy metal aesthetics of blast beats (though sometimes it slightly throws off the tempo), extreme vocals, and some shredding, but at times it seems to hearken back to the symphonic metal elements. At times it’s problematic as clearly the symphonic elements feel a little carelessly thrown in, though it’s clearly meant to bring a calming element to the song and allude to the lyrics about moving past terrible things. One moment where it’s problematic is when the transition from black metal to symphonic –or vice versa –prove slightly awkward as the blast beats either are a hare off or they drown out the vocals. When the same rhythm is transferred to other instruments it makes the other chord progressions awkward and feel thrown in to display skill rather than add to the song itself. Regardless of the problems I feel anyone can appreciate the powerful build ups and the earthy, aggressive tones of the instruments that pair with an airy, dolce voice. It’s as if the idea of whether the speaker can rise above the past is brought into question due to the speaker’s integrity.

Speaking of integrity I felt some parts of “Denied” may have lacked some of that. Each particular movement provides something powerful and provocative, but when placed together lacks anything cohesive to tie it together. One movement will have a powerful breakdowns paired with raw vocals and blastbeats, but other times it tries to take a legato turn with bittersweet tones. Sometimes there’s an attempt to transition between these movements with blast beats or with the synthesizer or arpeggios, but it ends up feeling out of place. I definitely see these things matching the lyrics where they sing about being broken or living moment to moment, but instead of fully conveying these ideas it feels like an awkward juxtaposition of things that were awesome that should make a song with no real agreement how to bring it together.

This disjointed composition seems to continue with other songs. Throughout “Forgotten” there are lots of things that, while cool, don’t cohesively mesh. I feel the lyrics, while superficially dark (and given the theme of things forgotten fitting) demonstrate why I personally don’t like end rhyming. Most people tend to place the end rhyming at the end of a line, and paired with the tendency for native English speakers to speak in an iambic rhythm, end up often with rhythm structure of “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum-ba-dum baaaaah”. I personally feel that particular rhythm is generic and a go-to when writing on the fly. It doesn’t add anything to the song other than leave me grasping at straws to justify the composition. I feel, however, there is a lot of potential with this song as I do notice an attempt to tie things together. The spoken part meant to bridge back into the vocals, while falling into the trappings of end rhyming, allude the most lyrically to the feelings conveyed about forgetfulness and being forgotten. The synthesizer seems to be arbitrarily thrown in, but that’s because while there is a theme and variation with the rhythm it’s marred by the lyrics and the barrage of blastbeats. Everything feels like it’s built around them, though I’m guessing it was intentional as the things pointed out are overdone and make a song forgettable.

Following such a cliché song is a more redeeming song:”Project 000”. The composition is more complex and more cohesive and more to what I’m accustomed with symphonic metal. Overall this is a song that provides the listener with more of everything. There is a more fluid transition between the blastbeats and breakdowns in the song and the chord progressions not only compliment these moments fantastically but really emphasize the mood of the song. The harmonies even help convey some sort of humanoid creature in more blended vocals than previous tracks. The synthesizer is more purposeful with its contribution to the song. While the lyrics are still lacking it feels like turning this into a disjointed duet emphasizes the internal conflict of promises from an unknown versus the promise granted, more so than other tracks. This is a song that, if I had to pick a song for radio play, would top the list.

If “Project 000” was a promise of a more complex turn in the album it wasn’t a good one when followed by “Odium”. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song, but it starts off deviating slightly from their other songs and eventually succumbing to their formula. As with the previous song, it starts of with a slow tempo, but doesn’t jump in with blast beats. However it does go into the usual pattern of having screaming vocals paired with faster rhythms and the clean vocals paired with more legato themes. It also fell back into lyrically bludgeoning the listener with end rhymes, albeit it didn’t always fall into iambic rhythm. The clean vocalist wasn’t hitting the hitting all the notes when she needed to jump up in pitch, and I suspect has to do with the fact much of the time it was lyrically when it needed a strong emphasis on the consonants at the start of the word. This is a common issue with singing, which is why many pieces tend to compose pieces where lyrically the high pitches coincide with an emphasis on vowel sounds. It provides an easier jump between high and low pitches because it’s easier to do with sounds that are more “open” and have less to push through.

The next song completely deviates from the rest of their album, let along symphonic metal, by invoking sea tunes and djent in “Seas of Torment” in the first few minutes. It does goes back into their trademark blastbeats and screams followed by melodic, clean vocals, leaving their venture into pirate metal short lived. I understand why they’d invoke those elements with a title like that but as I said with other songs it didn’t seem cohesive, even with their album. I feel like everything else with this song I’ve covered in other songs so I’ll move on…

The next few songs I feel actually go together in some fashion so I’ll deal with “Strings of Silk”, “Dawn”, and “Captivate” together. “Strings of Silk” seems to be the expected fanfare from the album with the violin setting on the synthesizer until I heard “Dawn”. The first song sets a theme that is carried into the second. The dolce voice paired with the piano really lets not only the vocalist, but the band shine. We see lyrics and composition noted of symphonic metal but also the strengths of the band as a whole. This, in turn, segues into “Captivate”. It opens up to deliver all the punches in the form of blastbeats, screaming vocals, driving tempos, and clean vocals that only warn of more to come. The lyrics talk about leaving this as a standard at one point, and I couldn’t agree more. This is the climax and standard for the album.

The album finishes with the eponymous title “This Sacrifice”. It delivers the grittiness that we saw in previous songs paired with oftentimes ballad-eque movements and a fitting conclusion lyrically and musically to the album. Rather than being disjointed and sacrificing cohesive composition it seems this was thoughtfully pieced together, knowing full well this was to end the album. The ending brings everything together in an epic piece fit of the genre and leaves me hoping that Elantris continues in this direction for other albums.

Overall Elantris promises symphonic metal but delivers something out of the norm for the genre, be it breaking from traditional vocalists or surprising elements from other genres. The big problem this serves, however, is the tendency to lean towards what sounds cool rather than bringing everything together to make the song contribute something new to the genre. Instead of sounding like symphonic metal with other elements at times it sounds like people from several metal backgrounds coming together to try out symphonic metal and creating a hodge podge of a song. Once the band does commit to being a symphonic metal band, though, the results are amazing.



My 2017 Soundtrack

I thought I’d do something, for me, a bit different to cash in on “end of the year” posts. Instead of acknowledging that another year has gone by and continue as normal I’ll put together songs from the year that I feel best serve as the “soundtrack” for that year. So I’ll use songs from 2017 that I feel best describe the year. I feel 12 songs, one for each month, should suffice for this purpose.

Now, this “soundtrack” is by no means a pick of my favorite songs or anything. It’s just a list of songs I think best describe the year and why. Admittedly it is heavily influenced by the politics of this year and I’m sure many are exhausted by it, but I still felt it set the mood for the year.

Phoebe Bridgers “Motion Sickness”

I feel the way this year has been an emotional roller coaster with everything from scandals to political upheaval we’re all a bit emotionally numb. Besides, someone somewhere is probably going through some relationship drama. It’s certainly great for capturing emotional turmoil.

Thievery Corporation “Ghetto Matrix”

The political climate of the year, especially when it concerns human rights, and the political influence that shows up in this duo’s music their latest album The Temple of I & I came to mind. The reggae influence, paired with how reminiscent it is in musical and political nature to “Get Up, Stand Up”, serves as an anthem for a new generation of oppressed and disenfranchised people worsened by corporate exploitation.

Overkill “Goddamn Trouble”

If this year wasn’t tumultuous on a sociopolitical level it certain was on a personal level. What better way to let out some old school nonsense than with some old school metal attitude, and Overkill still delivers on that front.

Lana Del Ray “Love”

OK, judge all you want. There was enough political turmoil to parallel the 60’s so I think this song with its 60’s vibe complimented it to also remind people there were elements of superficial escapism via pop culture.

Kesha “Rainbow”

This is a year where in the turmoil lots of healing came out of it. If it wasn’t healing there was some closure. Who could be better to include than Kesha, after her very public turmoil with her label?

P.O.S. “Pieces/Ruins”

There is a lot going on in this song. For many it felt like this year was a constant fight, and this song captures that aspect. They also felt like they were being pillaged and exploited like this song covers. This song also covers how many feel disenfranchised and have to pick up the pieces. Again, this was a politically charged year and the song definitely reflects it.

Björk “Blissing Me”

I think most people can relate to how a song can be incredibly intimate for the listening. The disjointed nature of the song adds another layer that I felt described this year: a search for intimacy and interconnection that ends up slightly hollow.

Poppy “Bleach Blonde Baby”

Admittedly I was reluctant to include Poppy as the whole thing is a really cool yet complex art project. Seriously, check it out. It’s a commentary on pop culture. So why did I end up including Poppy? I decided that while the commentary is not new it’s done in an interesting way, and it did sum up a lot of YouTube pop culture this year.

Julien Baker “Turn Out the Lights”

This album has an overall melancholy air and this song is no exception. This year has left a lot of unfinished business and messes to clean in the wake of the political turmoil. The overall tone of emptiness give it that much more reason to add it to this year’s soundtrack.

Alice Glass “Natural Selection”

Just as 2017 was disarming and dissonant so is this song by Alice Glass. The year was seemingly disjointed, jarring, and full of chaos with sweet tones just like this song.

Waxahatchee “Sparks Fly”

This goes back to my 60’s pop culture vibe I got this year. Unlike the other songs that I felt captured it this year this really captures both the political awakening vibe and the superficial pop culture vibe.

Mastodon “Steambreather”

Not gonna lie, I just wanted to include this song because it’s Mastodon. Plus, have you seen the video? Check it out.

This pretty much sums it up for me this year. See you guys in 2018, where I’ll have quite a few more reviews and other things happening.

Opeth Builds a World of Nostalgia and Trance

Opeth has made waves in recent albums as longtime fans noted a change in theircreative direction.  Any time Opeth is mentioned it provokes the debate of whether or not it’s for the best.  Regardless Opeth still knows how to synthesize a visually appealing aesethetic and a set list bound to appease even the most stringent fan.

I won’t deny that there is a major difference between Opeth’s older music and their newer stuff.  It’s obvious.  Their newer stuff has more pronounced jazz and rock elements and subdued more modern aspects of metal.  I feel like much of it is a nod to music from the ’70s.  Given I really enjoy music from that era I see it as a boon.  What did make it feel like a ’70s throwback were the psychedelic visuals and emphasis on red and yellow lighting.  It certainly harkens to a different period, and I question the meticulous attention to detail.  There seems to be a clear purpose in going this direction but I can’t figure out if it’s for artistic or personal preference. 

 As for their older content it stands strong in its own merit.  Ot was amazing to watch the audience dynamic go from a subtle rocking out (at least compared to the rest of the night) to the same frenzy found with the other acts.  When the older songs were played the frenzy came out.  It even led to a few hilarious moments where Mikael Åkerfeldt demonstrated just how well he can handle hecklers.  That is the first time I saw anyone handle hecklers with deft and poise.

Opeth was able to handle more than just hecklers and visuals. The set list itself was created in such a way where the audience truly gets lost in the musical experience.  It may be the answer to my earlier ramblings about why the meticulous recreation of ’70s aspects.  I’ll be honest it was just as easy for me to get lost in the moment there as it is for me to get lost in ’70s music.  It may just be about creating an experience rather than any particular aesethetic.

Whatever the reason Opeth provides powerful music tempered by melodic tones.  In doing so it provides the audience an experience that permits not only getting lost in the music but a sense of nostalgia and, for me, lots of enjoyment.

Technique- 4


Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0


The Devin Townsend Project Brings a Tour de Force of Social Awkwardness 

This isn’t my first time reviewing The Devin Townsend project, but I will start it off probably the same way.  My bias in favor of them still stands.

Musically The Devin Townsend Project offers a plethora of styles, all of which deliver with tenacity and artistry only matched by a frontman who pokes fun at his own idiosyncrocies.  The powerhouse vocals tied together earth shaking drums and rolling bass lines deliver the poetics found in prog metal with the gritiness found in extreme metal.  This isn’t easy to pull off, and sometimes the timing was off due to excessive banter or missing the high notes.  Despite overdoing it to the point of hindrance that over the top embellishment added to the songs and brought something to folks already familiar with the work. 
 Not only was it more engaging, it was obvious the years of experience brought a clear command of audience interaction.  Whenever it seemed like he was losing the audience Townsend found a way to rile them up again, be it singing along, counting down to “March of the Poozers”, or cracking jokes about being out of place and a dad possibly out of his element.  Any mishap was handled by distracting the audience so well I didn’t even catch it (I only know it happened because he admitted to it, so kudos for getting one past me).  Even the sound quality was a far cry better than last time, which I would expect from a decent venue and incredible sound engineers.  

There was something that I felt was a little off about this area: the set list.  I honestly expected more from the “Transcendence” album, though I welcomed hearing music from “Z2” and older albums.  I also didn’t expect to hear songs like “Deadhead” so soon in the set list (that song was fourth if I recall).  I surmise that it had to do with the flow of the energy, which this set kept constant.  Regardless everyone had a good time, myself included.  

Technique- 3.65


Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0.25


Overkill: 2/19 at The Granada

I’ll admit at the risk of whatever minuscule cred I had I was excited to learn Overkill was still around, as I thought they kind of faded away into obscurity. I was intrigued to learn they were touring and would end up in my neck of the woods. Then again, I’m usually intrigued when the midwest isn’t overlooked. These thrash metal veterans have been around since the 80’s, which is pretty much when thrash began. Overkill managed to avoid one of the things that more established bands suffer: a performance that’s caught in their glory days and presents a stale act. What I caught on stage was a band who didn’t act as some relic to the past, but ones who understood their history shaped who they are as performers.

This band manages to keep the old school elements of thrash metal while still keeping it fresh. It had the typical elements of thrash metal such as blast beats, fast tempos and, well, thrashing guitars. Where they tend to deviate from old school is they are willing to play with tempo and overall structure of the song,. It doesn’t randomly play in either a fast or moderato tempo as thrash metal tends to do. The lyrics, while a bit heavy on the end rhymes at times, delivered the right cadence and tone to match the genre. The music overall was paired with an electric performance.

These guys know how to put on a show. They were able to relate to the audience about their previous time stopping by the area and made it seem memorable. They also reminisced a bit about their time as a whole, but worked it in as a segue to other songs or psyching up the audience rather than ramblings of veteran musicians. This showed me how much thought and experience they have to balance that old school status without it appearing they’re trapped in nostalgia. They did, however, do some stuff that I didn’t like.

Overkill likes to build suspense, and I don’t know if it was because I knew what they were doing or if they overdid it that annoyed me. To me if felt like constant waiting. I was waiting for the set the finish checking things, I was waiting for the fog machine to deliver the right amount, I waited for the frontman to return to the stage after leaving during the interlude, I waited even more for the band to arrive on stage in the first place. I felt impatient and was wondering at some times how long I’d be left waiting again. I think, however, whatever the reason I grew impatient the payoff with the audience was enhanced despite my sentiment.

Everything about this band surged the audience into a frenzy. They were ready to thrash by the time Overkill hit the stage. It even got crazier with a few audience members sending questionable liquids flying. It got so out of hand the band had to ask people to calm down and lay off the flying liquids. Naturally a sex joke was made from it and laughter ensued. This showed me how much influence Overkill had and were aware of it. That is rare to find in a band, even experienced ones. By the end of the set the audience was calling for an encore. If it was an encore or planned manipulation I couldn’t say, but the audience felt like it was one and loved it.

Overkill has taken years of experience as musicians and performers to create an act that is still powerful and emotionally charged. In combining those experiences and willingness to be open to the audience they know the audience will be open to them and enjoy themselves. I’m not sure I can repeat myself anymore so I’ll cut to the score:



Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total- 9.5

Nile: 2/19/17 at The Granada

I’ll admit when I first researched Nile and found out they’re a metal band that blends Ancient Egyptian aspects I had my doubts. Based on my personal experience such combinations don’t work out well. It tends to be hoakey or the synthesis is clunky and incomplete. As a Kemeticist with a strong bias I knew it was going to make me a hard sell. When I saw Nile perform, however, those doubts faded and the bias moved in the other direction.

One of things I really appreciate is their blend of Ancient Egyptian aesthetics with metal in a way that felt natural. While most recognize their combination of passages from Ancient Egyptian works, namely the Book of the Dead, I recognized other elements commonly associated with Ancient Egyptian music may have sounded like (no known Ancient Egyptian musical notation survives, so most of the elements of Ancient Egyptian music are guesses). Such elements where instruments mimic the sistrum (I didn’t see one in use, so I’m assuming cymbals were used instead) really tied it together with sparing use in ways that aren’t overbearing and don’t compromise the metal aspects. I personally appreciated how it was a true blend of ideas rather than Ancient Egyptian music randomly interjected into death metal. Everything was meticulous with drawing emphasis to the Ancient Egyptian passage. The rhythm even emphasized certain phrases with accents or employed dissonance to create the necessary build up really complimented the overall work. This is probably the only way Nile deviates from the Ancient Egyptian aspects, as Ancient Egyptians were really big on balance, and anything that could promote discord was avoided. It still works.

Musically Nile really blended the Ancient Egyptian aspects with metal, but on stage they’re metal. I’ll admit the Kemeticist in me hoped they would greet the audience with “em hotep”, but that would be impractical and hamming it up a little. Regardless of my desires Nile still showed a lot of love for the audience. They made a point to not only give a shout out to Overkill, but to Whoracle and pretty much everyone. It even felt like sincere appreciation. They certainly needed grace as, like Whoracle, their songs were subjected to the lights flickering at seizure-inducing rates. They worked with it and brought not only typical metal fanfare of headbanging but fist pounding and getting the audience as excited as they seemingly were.

Nevertheless the music and stage mannerisms were well received by the audience. Almost from the very beginning of the set Nile had the audience wrapped around their little finger. There were metal horns, headbanging, moshing, and just all around moshpit frenzy during the first song all the way to the last. I feel like at any point they could have even persuade the audience to do anything they desired. I can’t remember the last time I saw metalheads act like that at a concert, if ever. I’m genuinely impressed.

Biases aside Nile blends elements that are diametrically opposed elements in a way that brings out the best in both. As performers they deliver in stage persona and energetic enthusiasm that permeates the audience. Here’s how they scored:

Technique: 3.5

Presentation: 2.75

Audience Interaction: 3

Brownie Points: 0

Total: 9.25

Whoracle: 2/19/16 at The Granada

I confess that many times there isn’t a lot of love for frontliners at concerts. There are various reasons for it, which I won’t get into as to avoid unintended insinuations. What I will say is Whoreacle did fit in well with the lineup and justified its presence among well known bands. While they had some grittiness and punk undertones it only helped Whoracle to stand out on their own.

The musical style of Whoracle, while styled as melodic death metal, seemed influenced by punk more than the usual band of this genre. One of the things I noticed was how heavily driven the songs were by the bass. At first I thought it was the usual PA system problems at the Granada (it tends to not be friendly towards metal and punk genres as those genres tend to have music more focused on midranges rather than low ranges) but I was able to rule it out by moving to other spots and with other sets. It is fairly unique to hear that in a metal band, though their compositions overall felt like it didn’t really fit the melodic death metal label. I get the impression they’re still pretty young as a band (not necessarily as musicians) given a clear divide in the music composition (and I’m surprised to see they’ve been around for quite a few years.  More on that later) . The earlier stuff follows a formula of blast beats with punk influence, an abrupt break down, then as abruptly returning to bass and drum laden composition. The newer songs offer smoother transitions and even change up the formula by combining parts of the formula to create a new one, while still maintaining the heavy bass and drum aesthetics. The development of the new music was noticed by the crowd and they seemed to like it as they moshed and overall got into the music more. That said, I feel like being the frontliner wasn’t the only whammy Whoracle had to face.

As I keep stressing being a frontliner, let alone one at the Granada , isn’t easy. Frontliners have to work with a crowded stage and, because they’re the frontliners, a rather disinterested audience. They also had the disadvantage of the engineers trying to match the lights to the rhythms, which doesn’t work well with blast beats. Instead it came off disorienting and headache inducing, and that’s if the person handling the lights can keep rhythm (which they failed to do). Regardless the band tried to make it work once they got comfortable on the very cramped stage. I will give leeway since navigating a stage full of other band’s equipment and your own is difficult enough.  The way it took them quite a ways into their set to allow themselves to get into their own music and even crack a few jokes lead me to believe they’re still fairly green as a band.  It even felt a bit awkward where it felt like they spent more time gathering a feel for the stage and audience rather than being comfortable as artists, which lead me to believe they were newer than what they were.  Now knowing they’ve been around long enough as a band where this should be established yet haven’t done so, I’m not giving them leeway in that respect.

Despite their awkwardness on stage they managed to get the audience to warm up to them. It was gradual but more noticeable as the set went on. The audience responded to their newer music better than the older stuff. Some of that response, however, is factoring in the comfort level of the band onstage. In fact the audience enjoyed the band so much by the end they called for an encore. It also helped the band to have some of their familiar fans cheering them on. I honestly have mixed feelings about it. I suspect most know the band on a personal level (based on some of the shouts where specific names were called out) and were there as moral support; in some respect that makes the audience interaction a bit disingenuous, but I also understand from a performer’s standpoint how that can help a performance to feel like someone isn’t judging you. It also can help the audience warm up to a band that isn’t quite known and invoke some group mentality to cheer them on. Since I can’t discern the real motive I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that it’s moral support.

Until I researched Whoracle I honestly thought they were newer than what they were. I now conclude they either haven’t played on stage enough to develop more experience– in spite of being around for years– or they’re in the process of expanding creatively.  Once they develop their sound a bit more and get more experience on stage I think I’ll see them around much more. On that note here’s the score:

Technique: 2.5

Presentation: 1

Audience Interaction:1.5

Brownie Points: 0