Hey everyone. Lightbreaker here with a new type of article recounting some of the best releases of the month. And what a month it’s been! Already we’ve got some complete surprises, strong debuts, and a few albums that will no doubt be contenders for Album of the Year in 11 months time. At the bottom of the article, you will find a link to a playlist with a selection of the best songs of the month. So without further ado, let’s see what’s been happening in the world of heavy music in January 2022.
These days, the majority of new albums are released on Fridays to capitalise on Spotify’s Release Radar playlists and to ensure potentially strong chart positions. That meant that Friday January 7th was a very special day indeed. The first new release I heard this year was ‘Epigone’, the mind-blowing fourth album by American prog-metallers Wilderun. From its understated opening to the epic Distraction suite in the album’s second half, Wilderun offer a range of variety and musicianship rarely seen outside of Opeth’s better moments. It has been receiving rave reviews across the board and every positive word is true. I’m delighted to say that Evan and Wayne from Wilderun are my guests on the next episode of The Coffin Nail. Don’t miss it on keithfem.com on Friday February 4th. ‘Woolgatherer’ is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a few years, so don’t be surprised if this isn’t the last time you hear me singing their praises.
Another pleasant surprise in the first week of the year was OAR’s debut album ‘The Blood You Crave’. Hailing from Sydney, OAR play an emotive brand of post-black metal that takes the black metal sound into new and exciting territory. They join a small but growing roster of bands who are applying blastbeats and black metal vocals to songs that could be reinterpreted as folk or indie if given a different instrumental arrangement. ‘Perfect Agony’, ‘What Used To Bloom’, and title track ‘The Blood You Crave’ build beautiful soundscapes that feel personal and epic all at once. If you don’t usually listen to black metal, give OAR’s new album a go. You might be surprised by what you hear!
Power metal has put on a strong showing so far this year. New albums from GIANT and The Ferrymen should satisfy genre purists, but the standout releases come in the from of Battle Beast’s ‘Circus of Doom’ and Edge of Forever’s ‘Seminole’. Battle Beast merge the chromatic jazz rock of Oingo Boingo and Devo with the grandeur of Nightwish. The title track and ‘Russian Roulette’ in particular show the adventurous songwriting that sets them apart from the pack. However, Edge of Forever’s sophomore album ‘Seminole’ takes the top spot for me. The riffs reek of Zakk Wylde with their squealing pinched harmonics and headbanging classic rock pacing. Vocalists are often the star of any power metal band and Edge of Forever’s singer and keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio stands alone when compared with his peers. His comfortable high tenor is reminiscent of 80’s legends like Sebastian Bach and Jon Bon Jovi. As it happens, mid-album ballad ‘Breath of Life’ sounds straight out of the back catalogue of Bon Jovi or even Heart. I can’t recommend ‘Seminole’ enough!
An honourable mention is due to Icelandic power metallers Power Paladin. Although their new album ‘With the Magic of Windfyre Steel’ starts strong, it quickly runs out of ideas. That said, ‘Kraven The Hunter’ sounds like an all time classic power metal track and I’m sure I’ll be replaying it for a long time to come.
It hasn’t taken long for the impact of Spiritbox to be felt across the metal spectrum and it has given a great opportunity for a range of strong female-fronted bands to make an impact on the heavier side of mainstream metal. Firstly, ‘Ecdysis’ by Maldovan melodic metalcore band Infected Rain, is a strong album with big riffs and impressive vocals from frontwoman Lena Scissorhands. ‘Showers’, ‘Goodbye’, and ‘These Walls’ are solid bangers, but I couldn’t help feeling like I would have been better off listening to Spiritbox’s ‘Eternal Blue’ instead. Then I heard Kandia’s new album ‘Quaternary’ and I found exactly what I was looking for. The riffage is straight out of the djent school of guitar playing, but rather than being rigid and painfully precise, there is a bounce that will have your head nodding like you’re listening to a hip hop record. There are prominent moments of samples, synthesizers, and spoken word bordering on rap that make this album feel like a creative and overdue evolution of nu-metal. For once, describing something as nu-metal is not only referencing its origins but actually refers to a new sound. Check out ‘Quaternary’ by Kandia for yourself and tell me I’m wrong.
After a long hiatus, Billy Talent are back and better than ever. ‘Crisis of Faith’ was many years in the making and holds together very well considering the length of its production. Album opener ‘Forgiveness I + II’ was released all the way back in 2019 and I still get excited by the bouncing buzz of its main riff. The song then departs into a half-tempo introspection complete with saxophone solo which almost sounds like Pink Floyd. Each track has its own identity and the synergy of the clever track listing elevates it as a whole. ‘Crisis of Faith’ is easily Billy Talent’s best work since their first two albums.
Comeback Kid have long been one of those bands that I would never turn off, but rarely think to put on. That has definitely changed with their new album ‘Heavy Steps’. If you like punk or melodic hardcore in any capacity, this album is for you. This album holds its relentless intensity the whole way through, and may just be their crowning achievement. Having Joe Duplantier of Gojira pop in for a guest appearance on ‘Crossed’ didn’t hurt either. On the day of its release, former The Coffin Nail guests Capra tweeted “Comeback Kid just dropped album of the year in January.” Coming from one of the most promising new acts in melodic hardcore, you can take their word for it.
Death metal is also very well represented in the first slew of releases this year. Swedish newcomers Necrophagus unleashed their brutal debut album ‘In Chaos Ascend’. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it is still a strong start with a higher standard of production than most death metal bands ever accomplish. Nihility’s second album ‘Beyond Human Concepts’ is a bit more adventurous. Melding death and black metal tropes, they somehow manage to sound like Mercyful Fate, Cannibal Corpse, and Machine Head all at the same time. But it’s Needless that really lead the charge of cutting edge death metal this month with their stunning science fiction themed second album ‘The Cosmic Cauldron’. A bold record that utilises the best aspects of death metal and melodic thrash to make an album which is as surprisingly digestible as it is frantic and heavy. The second half of the album is where it’s progressive side opens up. ‘Planet Oblivion’ is a welcome change of pace from the sonic assault that precedes it, and closing track ‘Transgalactic’ has a whole album’s worth of good riffs.
Lastly, Fit For An Autopsy released their highly anticipated sixth album ‘Oh What The Future Holds’ on January 14th. They have clearly taken influence from Gojira and Meshuggah and applied it to their evolving brand of deathcore. Songs like ‘Far From Heaven’ and ‘Two Towers’ showcase a level of songwriting they weren’t capable of a few years ago. Meanwhile, ‘Pandora’ and ‘A Higher Level Of Hate’ remind long-time fans that they can still throw down some of the most brutal breakdowns and hooks going. I expect this album to have them either headlining second stages or being close to topping the bill at major festivals this coming summer.
I could go on and on from here, but it’s time to excercise some restraint. I haven’t even mentioned the excellent new albums from SETYOURSAILS, Seven Nines & Tens, Great American Ghost’s new EP, or the awesome Leatherface/Hot Water Music split album. That’s a testament to the high standard of music we have been treated to so far this year. What were your favourite releases of the year so far? Let me know in the comments. Scroll down for the link to a Spotify playlist with all the choice notes from the albums mentioned above. The Coffin Nail is live this Friday February 4th with special guests Wilderun. Tune in to keithfem.com from 6-8pm Berlin time to hear me talk to the guys about their new album ‘Epigone’ and to hear all the latest rock, metal and punk tracks. And don’t forget to check out patreon.com/thecoffinnail to get involved with the show. Keep the horns up!
On November 5th 2021, Bullet For My Valentine released their eponymous 7th studio album on Spinefarm Records. After the steady decline of positive reception from critics and fans alike over their previous few releases, ‘Bullet For My Valentine’ (referred to as ‘BFMV’ in this review) sees the band not only fulfilling the promise of their iconic debut, The Poison, but reaching new peaks of intensity and excitement. The album featured as Album of the Week on episode 26 of The Coffin Nail and I’m only too happy to explain why.
The most instantly noticeable trait of ‘BFMV’ is that it is the heaviest record the band have released to date. The brutality of the riffs on songs like ‘Shatter’, ‘Knives’, ‘Parasite’, and ‘Paralysed’ would make Machine Head blush, yet they are framed within a modern songwriting structure not unlike the latest Architects or Sylosis records. In comparison with Bullet’s last two records, the songwriting seems more considered and plays to the band’s strengths, while remaining authentic and sounding distinctly like the Bullet-of-old. Produced and engineered by long-time collaborator, Carl Bown (Machine Head, Trivium, Bring Me The Horizon, Fightstar, etc), the album has a consistent and unique sonic identity that compliments an effective and cohesive tracklisting.
Bullet For My Valentine have often been labelled a ‘scene’ band. This is generally short-hand for saying that they appeal to a younger audience, but with a heavily implied mockery. While the hooks on ‘BFMV’ are sure to snare younger fans dipping their feet into the blood-soaked pool of heavy metal, there is undeniable quality to challenge any would-be naysayer. ‘Bastards’ is a shameless nod to classic metal in the style of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, while there are also several subtle lyrical references to other classic metal tracks found in a number of other songs. How often does a ‘scene’ band use a phrase like ‘trapped under ice’?
Lead guitarist Padge’s solos have developed from lacklustre shredding to structured and vital elements of the song. Vocalist Matt Tuck is also on the best form he has been since their debut. In the relentless tour cycle that followed the band’s explosion onto the metal scene, Tuck blew his voice out and was forced to record much of the vocals for their sophomore release, ‘Scream Aim Fire’ word by word, and sometimes syllable by syllable. The charm and tone of his vocals seemed lost forever, but on ‘BFMV’, Tuck has rediscovered the uniquely endearing expression that made their early songs so irresistible to fans throughout the metal community.
Of course, there are the compulsory power ballads that are integral to any Bullet For My Valentine album. But not since their anthemic second single, ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ have the band written something as earnest and well executed as ‘Can’t Escape The Waves’ or ‘Rainbow Veins’. In particular, the slow swing of ‘Rainbow Veins’ appeals to fans of modern metalcore and groove metal alike. Both songs could easily have been restructured to a more radio-friendly format, but instead they are buoyed by heavy riffs and expansive atmospherics which favour the tone of the album, rather than the accessibility of the songs themselves.
A self-titled album is always a bold move. It is a declaration of intent and self-belief that a band makes when they are releasing something they hope will either define or redefine their place within their genre. In Bullet For My Valentine’s case, this was less a gambit than a proud proclamation of their growth. The album opens with a distorted radio cycling through short clips of their best known songs from throughout their career, before seamlessly transitioning into the heaviest song of their discography, ‘Parasite’. The album concludes 9 songs later with ‘Death By A Thousand Cuts’ which distills all the elements of, not only the rest of the album, but Bullet’s entire back catalogue, into a perfectly crafted slab of melodic death metal worthy of Children of Bodom.
While ‘BFMV’ is undoubtedly a triumph for the band, it remains faithful to the band’s classic sound and identity, which may be an obstacle for some listeners. It may not have the broad, stylistic diversity of the recent releases of Bullet’s peers such as Trivium and Mastodon, but nothing attempted on ‘BFMV’ is performed with anything less than sincerity and precision. The experience of listening to ‘BFMV’ for the first time is a lot like watching an Avengers movie – if you are familiar with the preceding material, you will revel in the progression and conclusion of the band’s artistic journey. But if you are new to Bullet, it is simply a fun, heavy record. For the first time in over a decade, Bullet For My Valentine have earned their place as one of mainstream metal’s biggest names, and it’s hard to imagine ‘BFMV’ not guaranteeing more festival headlining slots for the band next year.
Whether you are a fan who has stood by them since the start, or you’re just curious about the unexpected hype around their latest album, find 47 minutes in your day for an album that filters several decades of metal through the distinctive style that launched these four young, unlikely, Welsh metalheads into the mainstream 15 years ago.
On June 18th 2021, Hacktivist released their second album, ‘Hyperdialect’. It featured as Album of the Week on episode 17 of The Coffin Nail, where I had the privilege of interviewing Hacktivist frontmen, Jay Hurley and Jot Maxi. Since their inception in 2011, the band have released one other full length album as well as a slew of singles and EPs. ‘Hyperdialect’ makes it clear that this approach is not the band’s response to modern media consumption, but simply because Hacktivist don’t release sub-standard material. In just forty-four minutes, ‘Hyperdialect’ cycles through all the sounds that made Hacktivist who they are, while pushing those sounds into thrilling and unique directions.
The most prominent aspect of Hacktivist’s style is the vocal interplay between frontmen, Jay Hurley and Jot Maxi. Most tracks see them exchanging rapping duties on each verse, and sometimes every 8 bars within a verse, as per the classic hip hop format. Jot Maxi officially joined Hacktivist in 2017 and while I am more familiar with original vocalist, Ben Marvin, there is no doubt that Jot’s snarl complements Jay’s high-pitched, frenzied delivery much better. Jot also provides hardcore-style screams in most choruses, another natural evolution to the Hacktivist sound.
This vocal arrangement might be expected to sit on top of the music rather than within it, but Hacktivist’s songwriting favours a more holistic approach. In the demoing phase, the band members exchange ideas online which are expanded on and ultimately arranged by guitarist and producer, James Hewitt. The result is that no Hacktivist song feels like the voice of just one performer, as is often the case with most hip hop or metal bands, but as the voice of five distinct personalities, all working in synchronicity.
Lyrically, the album directly addresses many grim realities of the world, most notably on album closer ‘Reprogram’, and second single, ‘Planet Zero’. The latter’s music video adopts a confronting aesthetic, depicting the band performing against a post-apocalyptic cityscape. When I asked Jay and Jot Maxi about the album’s tone, Jay said, ‘It’s definitely a grim view of the world… but we know how to have fun as well.’ Jot continued, ‘We do talk about a lot of dark, controversial issues… but [Hyperdialect]’s meant to be a light in the darkness.’ This is demonstrated from one song to the next, as ‘Hyperdialect’ leads the listener through alternating feelings of outrage, hope, and introspection. Despite the sustained intensity of ‘Hyperdialect’s subject matter, the effect is more invigorating than draining.
‘Hyperdialect’s structure is practically flawless. The slower, more grime influenced songs like ‘Turning the Tables’, and ‘How Dare You Exist’, when compared to the relentless brutality of songs like ‘Armoured Core’, and title track ‘Hyperdialect’, provide a natural ebb and flow to the album. Opening track, ‘Anti Emcees’ tells new listeners exactly who Hacktivist are, while still feeling familiar to long-time fans of the band due to its classic Hacktivist format. However, this format is then flipped on its head with a surprising black metal-style blastbeat interlude. In its wake, the seamless transition between ‘Luminosity’ and ‘Lifeform’ adds great urgency and excitement to the front end of the album. In our interview, Jay told me that ‘Lifeform’ is one of the less lyrically involved tracks and is basically a ‘party’ song. While that is ostensibly true, it’s also one of the most sincere songs on the album. The delicate interlude after the second chorus sees Jay and Jot deliver more soft-spoken, personal verses than anywhere else on the album. And when Jot sneers ‘I was born where punk was born’, the listener can’t help but feel like he is defiantly staring down both genre purists and long-time fans who think they know how to expect Hacktivist to sound.
The most surprising and interesting moment of the album comes in ‘Ultima Dies’. While short interlude tracks to give the listener reprieve are not uncommon on extreme metal albums, Jot Maxi told me that ‘Ultima Dies’ is actually a skit. Skits are a common trope of hip hop albums, and while this serves to show the diversity of Hacktivist’s influences, it’s also the heaviest song on the album. The band were intentionally evasive with me regarding the song’s origin and meaning, hoping that fans will interpret ‘Ultima Dies’ on their own terms. Obviously, this adds to its mystique, but what I find most interesting about ‘Ultima Dies’ is that the album would still function without it, yet benefits hugely from its presence. Against ‘Hyperdialect’s anthemic mixture of riffs, poetry and hooks, ‘Ultima Dies’ stands out, while simlutaneously fitting in. The fact that I still don’t understand ‘Ultima Dies’, makes it all the more intriguing to me. When a British rap-metal band can implement skits with more nuance than MF Doom, you know this band is something special.
I could gush endlessly about every song on ‘Hyperdialect’ and how I feel the album should be seen both as an accomplishment worthy of thorough analysis and, more importantly, a fun experience. From my first listen to my twentieth, I still don’t think there is a weak song on ‘Hyperdialect’. Recently, there has been no shortage of great new metal and hip hop music, but with the exception of Protest The Hero’s ‘Palimpsest’, it’s been years since I’ve heard an album so perfectly assembled. Hacktivist’s progression over the last ten years has been from above-average crossover act to one of the most unique and exciting names in the current roster of alternative bands. This is in keeping with my impression that a Nu-Metal revival would be more likely to sound like a merging of the technical, yet groove-based riffs of Meshuggah (which are now omnipresent in almost all forms of metal), and the unapologetic authenticity of grime rappers. ‘Hyperdialect’ is confirmation that not only have Hacktivist transcended the genres they originated from, but that they are leading a new style that will be imitated for years to come.
The Double Take is a segment on The Coffin Nail radio show where I implore listeners to take another look at a song by a band that is generally either disregarded or seen in a negative light. To say that Nickelback are the most hated rock band in the world is like saying water is wet. Despite selling millions of records and repeatedly filling stadiums, mention of the band amongst music nerds almost always draws predictably sour, often uninformed slander. Nickelback are not one of my favourite bands, by any means. Nevertheless, I think they are deeply misunderstood and underrated. That’s why, on episode 17 of The Coffin Nail, I chose to focus on ‘Too Bad’ from their 2001 breakthrough album, ‘Silver Side Up’. Now, if you’re finished scoffing, allow me to explain why.
‘Too Bad’ was the second single from ‘Silver Side Up’. Released on November 27th 2001, it charted at #42 on the Billboard Hot 100, and charted in the top 20 in the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands. However, it is often overlooked becuase it was preceded by the band’s biggest hit ‘How You Remind Me’. ‘Too Bad’ is written from the perspective of a child dealing with their father’s abandonment of the family. The music video illustrates the story explicitly. The video is set in a generic rural North American town, with the song’s narrative acted out in sequence with the lyrics, intercut with shots of the band performing the song. My first exposure to ‘Too Bad’ came from watching the music video on a Roadrunner Records DVD. It’s inclusion amongst some of the world’s biggest metal bands (Slipknot, Soulfly, Machine Head, etc.) made me reconsider for the first time my teenage arrogance in automatically discounting Nickelback.
The moment I fully appreciated the song came years later, when Nickelback bassplayer, Mike Kroeger, appeared on the Doug Stanhope Podcast. Stanhope’s target audience could not be further from Nickelback’s, so when Stanhope was made aware that a member of Nickelback was a huge fan, he rushed at the opportunity to have him on the show. What ensued was a hilarious forty-minute conversation, where Kroeger held nothing back, openly acknowledging his least favourite songs and aspects of fame, while also stating his pride in the band, all with great modesty. Eventually, Stanhope made a joke about Nickelback frontman, Chad Kroeger, being Mike’s half-brother. Mike went on to explain that he is two years older than Chad, that they have the same mother, and that Chad’s father abandoned the family when Chad was two years old. The instant I heard this, I froze, and quickly reassessed the lyrics to ‘Too Bad’.
The structure of the lyrics in ‘Too Bad’ is essential to its storytelling. Unlike most pop songs, where generic verses about love could be sung in a different order with little impact on the song, ‘Too Bad’ follows a three-act story, more akin to Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’, or Iron Maiden’s ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’. The song opens with the line ‘Father’s hands were lined with dirt from long days in the field.’, which endears him to the listener, and paints the narrator’s family as poor, yet spirited. The second verse introduces conflict using this line ‘You left without saying goodbye, although I’m sure you tried’, and goes on to show the damage left behind by his absence. The third and final verse begins with the line ‘Father’s hands are lined with guilt for tearing us apart’. Personally, I get very excited when lyrics and verse structures are repeated throughout a song with slight variations which alter their meaning. ‘Too Bad’s third verse is a great example of this storytelling technique, as it revisits lines from both previous verses, highlighting the struggle and progress of the narrator and their family.
Following each verse, the chorus ends with the line ‘Let’s walk, let’s talk’, which sounds first like a plea, and later as a challenge to the estranged father. The chorus features a mostly conventional pop-rock chord progression, but ends on an imperfect cadence. The uncertainty of the final chord emphasises the line ‘Let’s walk, let’s talk’, and leaves the listener wondering if the song, and by extension its story, could resolve on a major or minor key. The song’s two guitar solos also contribute significantly to reinforce the narrative. The first solo is chaotic, with two guitars making long, sweeping bends of very few notes. This is desigend to mirror the myriad of emotions and thoughts the narrator is experiencing at this point in the story. The solo after the final chorus is contrastingly defined and powerful. Appropriately, this solo was performed by frontman and songwriter, Chad Kroeger, rather than the band’s lead guitarist, Ryan Peake.
I featured ‘Too Bad’ as episode 17’s Double Take track because I have done many real-life double takes in relation to this song. With every listen, I find something new in its construction, or about its backstory, which gives me a greater level of appreciation for it. Honestly, I intended for this article to be half as long as it has turned out, but that’s how excited I get when talking about ‘Too Bad’. I won’t go as far as to say that Nickelback are a mind-blowing band, or that you should study their discography. What I will say is that I was definitely wrong to dismiss them so readily, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
At the start of this year, if you were to ask a death metal fan which albums they were most excited for in 2021, chances are they would have said At The Gates, Cannibal Corpse, and Crypta. While the first two are legacy acts, Crypta are less than two years old and already hold the undivided attention of the extreme metal scene. This Brazilian/Dutch four-piece boast former members of Burning Witches, Hagbard and most notably, Nervosa. On June 11th 2021, Crypta released their debut album ‘Echoes of the Soul’ on Napalm Records. I was fortunate enough to interview drummer Luana Dametto about ‘Echoes of the Soul’ on episode 16 of The Coffin Nail, where it also featured as Album of the Week.
The first thing that needs to be understood about Crypta is that they love old-school death metal with the utmost sincerity. ‘Echoes of the Soul’ was made with a thorough focus on paying tribute to the sound and style of 90’s Floridian and Gothenburg-styled death metal. Before a single note is played, the album’s cover declares their stylistic intent with a beautiful painting by Wes Benscoter, who has been responsible for album covers for Black Sabbath, Slayer, and Kreator, to name a few. The amorphous collection of eyes and teeth on the appropriately focal crypt, would not look out of place on a Death or Obituary album.
They aimed to avoid having the album sounding ‘too modern’, and mostly succeeded. The drums sound refreshingly dynamic compared to the triggered hits of most recent death metal albums. However, the guitar tone is much more rounded than the abrasive, sizzling sound of classic death metal. This is best heard in the Entombed-style groove of ‘Kali’. While Entombed are synonymous with the ‘chainsaw’ guitar tone, Crypta guitarists Sonia Anubis and Tainá Bergamaschi instead refrain from using excessive distortion, keeping the riffs sounding visceral yet clear, and allowing the solos to soar rather than pierce through the song. ‘Kali’s rhythmic diversity is a welcome change of pace from the relentless assault of the first half-dozen songs, and is a definite highlight of the entire album.
Lyrically, a lot of the album is a conveyor belt of death metal tropes and buzz-words. This isn’t really a problem, as it serves the style well. But there is a lot more to be unravelled in the lyrics than may be immediately obvious. For instance, opening track ‘Starvation’ starts with the morbid fascination one might expect from a death metal song, but through each verse, the song becomes more of a rebellious and unifying social commentary on human suffering rather than a voyeuristic horror show.
Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott once said that lyrics were simply poems with music, and that good lyrics worked just as well on the page, without music. This couldn’t be more true of ‘Blood Stained Heritage’. Presumably referencing the abuse of the indigenous people of Brazil across 500 years of colonialism, the lyrics are specific enough to feel personal, but broad enough to be adapted to other examples. While there is nothing wrong with paying homage to classic death metal, especially when it is this well executed, the identity that ‘Blood Stained Heritage’s lyrics give the song suggests that Crypta are capable of not only emulating the pinnacle of death metal, but of advancing it.
Bass player and vocalist Fernanda Lira uses a very controlled ‘vocal fry’ technique throughout the album. Barely louder than normal speech, the ease of the technique allows her to quickly interchange between low growls and high screams, as well as hold great sustain. For the best example, listen to closing track, ‘From The Ashes’. ‘From The Ashes’ deals with the concept of rebirth by evoking images of a phoenix and viewing change as a fundamentally positive thing. It distills everything from Crypta’s musical influences to their personal stories, into five unforgettable minutes. Considering the band’s formation out of numerous bands, the personal implication is thinly veiled and resoundingly triumphant. Even the commercial release of the song holds a weighted impact. It was the first song Crypta released and also closes their debut album, sending a clear message about the band’s conviction and direction. The fact that it is probably their best song doesn’t hurt either.
‘Echoes of the Soul’ is an unapologetic celebration of the death metal genre and it could hardly have been made by a more appropriate collection of musicians. Any death metal purist will drool over the intensity and authenticity of the first five songs. And although ‘Starvation’ and ‘Death Arcana’ have blown me away every time I’ve heard them, there is a sense over the first half of the album that the band have something to prove. If the point is that they can make death metal as good as anyone else, then the point has been made. It is worth bearing in mind that Crypta are four exceptionally talented young women from Brazil and the Netherlands, performing one of the most white/male dominated forms of extreme metal (and that alone is noteworthy) as competantly as their musical heroes. Take a moment to consider how far Crypta’s origins are from their predecessors and you will quickly realise that ‘Echoes of the Soul’ is not just a great album, but a future landmark.
On episode 16 of The Coffin Nail, I ran through a list of iconic rock and metal albums that recently celebrated anniversaries. Against the likes of Metallica, Faith No More, and My Chemical Romance, I chose to focus on Avenged Sevenfold’s transformative third album, ‘City of Evil’. Released on June 6th 2005, ‘City of Evil’ saw Avenged Sevenfold (often referred to as A7X), transition from metalcore with a goth aesthetic, to the vanguard of mainstream rock music. In light of its 16th anniversary, let’s take a closer look at ‘City of Evil’ by Avenged Sevenfold.
The early 00’s was a very exciting time for mainstream metal. The popularity of bands like Killswitch Engage, In Flames, and Children of Bodom, proved that metal bands could produce radio-friendly choruses without compromising intensity. Faced with potentially longer careers than most of these bands thought possible when they started screaming in their garages a few years earlier, many vocalists decided to depart from the visceral screaming that made them popular, adopting instead a cleaner vocal style for both commercial and voice-preserving reasons. While many of their contemporaries chose rigid one-or-the-other approaches, A7X’s vocalist M Shadows, spent several months working with vocal coach Ron Anderson (who had previously worked with Axl Rose and Chris Cornell), to develop a soaring tenor range without losing any of the ‘grit’. The result is an unlikely convergence of Phil Anselmo’s snarl and Bruce Dickinson’s full-chested projection. Years later, Shadows would recommend Anderson to Trivium frontman, Matt Heafy, which Heafy has explicitly stated saved his musical career.
Lead guitarist, Synyster Gates’ unique approach on ‘City of Evil’ also cannot be overstated. Merging the sensationalism of Guns N Roses and Iron Maiden-style solos, the neo-classical shred of Yngwie Malmsteen, along with the clean, harmonic focus of jazz guitarists like Frank Gambale, meant A7X were often a bridging point between teenage metalheads and their classic rock-worshipping parents. This is further evidenced by A7X’s peers, Atreyu and Bullet For My Valentine, sharing the influence of hair metal bands like Bon Jovi and Guns N Roses, the former even going so far as to record a cover of ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’. But while Atreyu and Bullet For My Valentine’s fan bases continued to target a younger demographic, an adult at an A7X concert is as likely to be there alone as they are to be chaperoning their kids.
The album produced four singles, but the greatest commercial successes came with ‘Bat Country’ and ‘Seize The Day’. ‘Bat Country’ reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock charts and featured a ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’-inspired music video. But time would prove ‘Seize The Day’ to be morbidly poignant. In a notable sonic departure for the band, ‘Seize The Day’ is a mournful power ballad featuring an uncharacteristic piano at front and centre of the instrumentation, performed by drummer, Jimmy Sullivan, AKA ‘The Rev’. On December 28th 2008, The Rev died from an opioid overdose. At the time, the band were recording their 2009 album, ‘Nightmare’. Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy joined the band to complete the recording of the album. ‘Seize The Day’ has since become profoundly connected with The Rev’s passing.
To be blunt, writing commercially successful metal songs is impressive, but not unique. However, the deception of ‘City of Evil’ lies in how much experimentalism and genre-fluidity is hidden behind the memorable refrains. For example, the non-linear riffs and chord progressions of ‘Betrayed’, ‘Sidewinder’s flamenco-styled outro, and ‘The Wicked End’s transition from conventional thrash metal into an isolated choral section, followed by a swelling orchestra, are not only adventurous, but exceptionally brave for a band whose fame was built on teenagers spending their parents’ money in Hot Topic. Many songs feature minor to major key modulations, which metal bands usually avoid in favour of dominant minor melodies. When the album was released, I was used to hearing metal bands incorporate orchestras for dramatic effect. It took me years to realise that none of the undoubtedly expensive orchestral segments appear on any of the songs released as singles.
The most ambitious song on ‘City of Evil’ is unequivocally ‘Strength of the World’. Starting with an acoustic guitar, then blossoming into an orchestral crescendo, underpinned with a twanging electric guitar, the song evokes a Western-frontier Americana romanticism that the band would explore further on their next album with ‘Gunslinger’ and ‘Dear God’. The distinct key changes that recur throughout the album are more nuanced as the main vocal often leads the tonal shift. The first time I heard ‘Strength of the World’ was on a Metal Hammer DVD, which was also my first exposure to what is still my favourite album, ‘Ghost Reveries’, by Opeth. At the time, drawing any similarity between the two seemed absurd. But from a more musically mature perspective, all that is missing from the interlude halfway through ‘Strength of the World’ is a Hammond organ, and it would fit comfortably anywhere in the dark and mercurial introspection of Opeth’s magnum opus.
‘City of Evil’ sparked a commercial success for Avenged Sevenfold that hasn’t faltered since. As is often the case, A7X’s popularity has been divisive amongst the surprisingly conservative metal elite. Nevertheless, the band shocked loyal fans and naysayers alike in 2016, with the sudden release of their progressive metal masterpiece ‘The Stage’. Their departure from the increasingly simplistic stadium rock riffs of their previous two albums left many wondering how the band kept this side of themselves hidden for so long. I argue that the signs were there all along, perhaps no more conspicuously than on ‘City of Evil’. For many years, I have been listening to metal fans, who haven’t liked a new band since Sepultura, declare that, ‘Avenged Sevenfold is metal for 14 year-olds.’ I say 14 year-olds should be so lucky.
Listen to Episode 16 of The Coffin Nail: https://www.thecoffinnailradio.com/2021/06/12/the-coffin-nail-16-w-special-guests-crypta/
‘City of Evil’ on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/55tK4Ab7XHTOKkw0xDz3AA?si=STOHiuATT22gFc2MJOiGrA&dl_branch=1
German metal veterans Caliban released their 11th studio album ‘Zeitgeister’ on May 14th 2021. Caliban were undoubtedly the flagship European metalcore band in the early 00’s, largely on the strength of their now-classic albums ‘The Opposite From Within’ (2004) and ‘The Undying Darkness’ (2006). Fifteen years after the commercial peak of not only Caliban, but the genre they have become synonymous with, ‘Zeitgeister’ serves as a reflection on the growth of the band, and the sonic progression of metalcore as a whole. It sees the Essen-based metallers reimagining several songs from their back catalogue with modern production and arrangements. This fact was lost on me the first few times I heard the album, but when I realised what I was listening to, the title became all the more poignant and obvious. It is also the first studio album that vocalist Andreas Dörner has performed entirely in his native tongue.
The eponymous opening track serves as a perfect mission statement for the album. With its ascending minor key melody and choral vocals, it’s a far cry from the rough and ready production of their early work. This transitions smoothly into the explosive ‘Trauma’. Based on ‘Arena of Concealment’ from their debut album, ‘Trauma’ sounds more like Architects than the Morbid Angel meets Napalm Death sound of its origin. The almost rap-metal style guest verse from long-time Caliban collaborator Matthi (from Belgian beatdown band Nasty), is as effective as it is unexpected. It left me wondering if Mike Shinoda was right about an imminent nu-metal revival. And if a nu-metal revival is on the cards, Caliban sound primed to capitalise on it.
‘Herz’ drags the classic Caliban style kicking and screaming into a modern format with mixed results. But it’s on the following track ‘Ausbruch nach Innen’, that the album kicks into a high gear. Fundamentally, metalcore is about melding contrastingly heavy and melodic moments within each song with more severity than most other genres of extreme music. ‘Ausbruch nach Innen’ executes this perfectly, retaining all the redeeming features of its source material (‘Tyranny of Small Misery’), while still sounding not only modern, but notably creative.
The mid-point of ‘Zeitgeister’ is where the album’s consistency falls down. ‘Feuer, zieh’ mit mir’ is a solid song, but in the wake of ‘Ausbruch nach Innen’, the stylistic similarities make it feel like a lesser version of the previous track. It seems almost forgetable as soon as the next track starts. ‘Nichts ist für Immer’ delivers a steady groove made for head-banging, and an instantly memorable refrain made for a crowd to scream along to. Metal bands often need reminding that less is sometimes more, and that philosophy clearly elevates this song. I can’t help but wonder how much better the album would flow if the order of ‘Feuer, zieh’ mit mir’ and ‘Nichts ist für Immer’ were reversed.
At the time of writing, ‘IntoleranZ’ is the most streamed track from the album on Spotify. And it’s easy to see why – the simple and relatable hook is sure to have a wider appeal than any other track. Fans of early 00’s Caliban may be left unfulfilled by its lack of depth. That said, on first listen, this was my favourite track. Almost unrecognisable from its original form on Caliban’s 1999 debut album ‘A Small Boy And A Grey Heaven’, ‘IntoleranZ’ presents a more mature band playing to their strengths and making the most of Dönner’s increasingly guttural vocals.
Penultimate track ‘Mein Inferno’ is the only song that doesn’t stand up in isolation. Here, the interchange of brutality and melody that defines the sound of the album is poorly executed. The transitions feel forced, and the dynamics come across as indecisive rather than diverse. It’s a shame because the bridge section is one of the best moments on the entire album. Fortunately, ‘Zeitgeister’ ends on a high note with the only entirely new song, ‘nICHts’. All the nuance that ‘Mein Inferno’ lacked is realised fluidly as melody, groove, and aggression are integrated in a less heavy handed way than anything preceding it. The pounding final riff and chilling scream of ‘Ich bin nichts und alles nichtig’ (translated roughly as “I am nothing and everything is void”) leaves the listener both emotionally spent and gagging for more.
When assessing this album, it’s worth reflecting on the challenge the band set themselves. Dissecting and reconstructing songs that made them famous is a huge gamble, more likely to alienate old fans than to gain new ones. Though not as dramatic as Linkin Park’s ‘Reanimation’, ‘Zeitgeister’ is made with a sincerity and confidence that bands like Caliban would never usually dare to attempt. The more sonically expansive, electronic layers reflect how metalcore has changed in the last twenty years. But coming in at just thirty-two minutes, ‘Zeitgeister’ feels more like a traditional hardcore album than the introspection of Architects or latter-days Bring Me The Horizon. Caliban present ‘Zeitgeister’ as if they are catching up with a modern sound, but the subtext of the album suggests they were integral in developing that sound. There’s a reason they aren’t updating any songs from the last 10 years. Caliban’s sound has felt current for the past decade, and now they are making sure their classic songs do too. Fortunately, their newest song is their best and I can’t wait to hear more. But until then, I’ll settle for screaming ‘IntoleranZ’ with a few hundred sweaty metalheads in SO36.