Monday, 23 January 2012

Lamb Of God - Resolution [8/10]

Lamb Of God are one of the biggest metal bands of the last 10 years. No, seriously. Grammy nominations, consistently name-checked by (and subsequently taken on tour as main support with) Metallica, and 2009’s Wrath debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Chart in the States. NUMBER. FUCKING. TWO. This is a band that are the bastard child of Pantera and Black Flag, a band who release singles with nary a hint of clean singing, a band that have never written a ballad in their entire career. And yet there they are, rubbing shoulders with the Nickelback’s and Linkin Park’s of the world. It’s enough to keep your faith in metal firmly attached. Bands like Lamb Of God shouldn’t be this big. A lesser band would’ve sought to repeat their success on their next album by replicating the last one. Not Lamb Of God though. Instead, they’ve thrown caution to the wind and released their most experimental album to date. Don’t let that throw you though. This is LOG at their most quintessential, it’s just that there’s now flavours on the plate you didn’t know they had.

Nowhere is that statement of intent more apparent than on album opener ‘Straight For The Sun’. Where most metal bands opt for the “eerie” intro or the fastest song, this is the sludgiest and most doomy thing Lamb Of God have ever conjured up. But at a substantial 2 and a half minutes in length, it isn’t long before the Lamb Of God you’ve come to love rears its ugly head on ‘Desolation’, the “true” opening track if you will. This one-two opening couplet is going to be one of the defining moments of Download 2012, as is lead single ‘Ghost Walking’, one of the album’s more traditional moments, with its slithery ‘Redneck’-style riffs and an unbeatable hook in “You lived through hell, now you’re trying to die”. ‘Guilty’ showcases a more violent side to the band, while ‘The Undertow’ and ‘The Number Six’ (especially) prove once again that Lamb Of God make catchy, indelible metal better than any other band on the planet. Acoustic instrumental ‘Barbarosa’ serves as something of an intermission, separating the album neatly in half before ‘Invictus’ levels you with an absolute cavalcade of holy-fucking-shitballs riffs and a ridiculously impassioned vocal performance from Mr. Randy Blythe. Elsewhere, ‘Cheated’ is the sound of Lamb Of God going seriously punk rock, with a “one, two, one-two-fuck-you” intro straight out of the Pantera bible and even referencing Johnny Rotten with a chorus of “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”. ‘Insurrection’ is one of albums many highlights, which see’s some full on clean vocals in the verses from Randy and one of the albums biggest choruses. This is where the album starts to veer just a tad off course however. The triplet of ‘Terminally Unique’, ‘To The End’ and ‘Visitation’ may boast some strong riffs, but there’s not a whole lot to keep your attention, often appearing a little samey and just standard fare for Lamb Of God. But this is what makes the impact of album closer ‘King Me’ so unbelievably fucking colossal. At 6 minutes and 37 seconds in length, it’s the second longest song LOG have ever penned (behind Wrath’s ‘Reclamation’), and it is by all accounts an epic, combining all the distinctive traits that made you fall in love with this band in the first place with brand new textures and atmospherics, including (but not limited to) the use of an orchestra in the mammoth choruses. It is almost certainly the most structurally adventurous outing Lamb Of God had had to date, and like all album closer’s should, it brings an overwhelming sense of finality to one of Lamb Of God’s finest efforts as Randy’s stunted breaths linger in your ear long after the song has reached its climax.

The sad realisation however is that even with an album as strong and overloaded with punk rock spirit as this, it’s arrived at the complete wrong time in the music industry. Things are frankly worse than they’ve ever been before. If this album had have landed even five years ago, then it would’ve catapulted Lamb Of God into the major leagues the world over, not just in their native homeland. If the trajectory of success is to be trusted, then the follow up to their most successful album to date should see them landing headline tours at Apollo-sized venues, graduating to a “logo band” on festival line-up posters and, finally, hitting that coveted No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts. But the truth is, all of this is vastly unlikely to happen. In a world with no justice, Lamb Of God can only go so far in the commercial ranks. But, let it not go unrecognised that it’s a miracle they’ve even got this far in the first place. Even with the music business in the sorry state it’s in, this band have managed through dogged perseverance and pure work ethic to make the creation of music and touring behind it their living. That’s all a full-on heavy metal band can aspire to in this day and age. If you can reach that level, you’ve cracked it, and you are one jammy little fucker. So even if Lamb Of God unjustifiably move no further up the ladder on this, their sixth album, just remember that they are an inspiration to metal bands the world over. The time may have long passed for a band as ferocious as this to reach even their meagre level of success, but they are poster boys for hard work, determination and stubborn loyalty to the cause. As long as we have bands like Lamb Of God keeping the floodgates open albeit narrowly, we’re probably going to be alright. Raise a glass to the spirit of heavy fucking metal. It still can’t be beaten.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Enter Shikari - A Flash Flood Of Colour [8/10]

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the influx in the last few years of rock bands utilising electronic elements in their music can be attributed largely to Enter Shikari. While the anti-mainstreamers may jump to decry their efforts given half the chance, it’s easy to forget that what Enter Shikari have done to the modern scene is, in all honesty, punk as fuck. If you’ll all just cast your minds back for me, you’ll remember that Shikari first burst onto the scene back in 2006 with the now-classic “Sorry, You’re Not A Winner”, an absolutely gigantic anthem that perfectly fused the angular post-hardcore riffs of early Alexisonfire with straight up dance music and synths. It IS a classic. Everybody knows that song. EVERYBODY knows the clapping bit. That’s just fact. Are your minds still in 2006?


Then you’ll know that Enter Shikari emerged from out of nowhere into a landscape where, at the time, metal was all the rage once again in the UK. Trivium were the band on everybody’s lips after their landmark Ascendancy album, Dragonforce achieved runaway success with their equally classic “Through The Fire And Flames” and Metallica were out on the road performing Master Of Puppets in its entirety. It’s just unthinkable that a band like Enter Shikari could find a place at the time. And yet they did. And with no effort whatsoever. This is where the scene started to take a turn once again, albeit subtly at first. But fast forward six years, and what have we got? Every modern metalcore band you can think of is overloading their music with synths, Skrillex is accepted in as equal a measure as Bring Me The Horizon and it’s now not out of the ordinary to find bands like Pendulum and The Prodigy occupying huge slots at predominantly metal festivals. A strange opinion though it may be, you can’t deny Enter Shikari’s influence on the modern era of the heavier side of rock. They have punk in their veins through their ardent determination to constantly do their own thing, and with A Flash Flood Of Colour, they’ve delivered their most concise, most experimental and most defining collection of songs.

The segueing one-two punch of ‘System...’ and ‘...Meltdown’ turns out to be a fairly accurate indication of the direction Shikari have taken with this album. Their electronic side is now far more in-keeping with drum n’ bass but there’s also now an overwhelming pop influence shining through. While there has always been poppy sensibilities and radio-friendly melodies, this is the first album where it’s been moulded so succinctly into their music that it’s now just a part of their sound as opposed to being a standalone section. ‘Sssnakepit’ is monolithic as you’ll already know, transitioning in and out of multiple genres with what might be the biggest chorus of their career in tow. ‘Search Party’ is going to take on a life of its own on the live stage, with its gang vocal chorus and catchy refrain, but it’s these new found commercial tendencies that allow the angrier side of the album to make itself unavoidably known, and gives the album true light and shade. ‘Arguing With Thermometers’ is like a distant cousin to ‘Sssnakepit’, boasting an equal amount of schizophrenic stylistic shifts but exaggerating them far more than the aforementioned lead single. The aggressive parts sound like Every Time I Die and the poppy bits sound like Take That, and the dichotomy works to startling levels. Elsewhere, ‘Stalemate’ is absolutely spine tingling. Beginning with one acoustic guitar and Rou’s uncommonly subdued voice, it twists through a multitude of luscious melodies and creates a positively dreamlike atmosphere, showcasing a side to Shikari you never knew they had. You’ll have already heard “Gandhi Mate, Gandhi”, and will most likely have been taken aback by how frenzied and unformed it sounded. Fret not. All these issues resolve themselves in the context of the whole record and as a result it becomes an album highlight. And if you can’t get off on the inspired lyric of “Yabba-dabba do one, son” then you officially hate fun. Pay attention to the guitars too. It has one of the darkest and most unconventional riffs Shikari have ever penned. “Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here” and “Pack Of Thieves” deftly recall the bands earlier work but with not a hint of nostalgia, still sounding like the redefined Enter Shikari of 2012, and “Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide” rounds off the heavy portion of the album before the soothing “Constellations” completes what will almost definitely be one of the most interesting albums you’ll hear all year.

That being said however, I’m not going to round this off with some kind of spewing hyperbole like “This is the definitive Enter Shikari record” or “This is their masterpiece”. The best thing about this album is that while it’s undoubtedly the best thing they’ve ever put their name to, all it does is add more weight to their promise. There is so much more to come from this band, and the infinite creativity on show here should excite us all for their future. Never have they sounded this cohesive, this strong, and this unrestrained. Lyrically, compositionally and atmospherically, it’s their most original offering to date. They still wear their influences on their sleeves, it’s just that now they’re so teasingly close to what will one day only be described as “the Enter Shikari sound”. Enter Shikari will be on tour this Spring, playing the biggest venues they’ve ever headlined. These could be the most intimate places you’ll see them in for a long time, because if Shikari nail it on album number four, we could very well see them finally make the jump up to arenas. It’d be about time too. A UK rock band, with all the commercial components to satisfy the radio-huggers and all the balls to satisfy the hardcore-heads. Miss out on the party at your peril.

Monday, 9 January 2012

They call it a wasteland: Why you should all shut the fuck up and start giving a shit about At The Drive-In

9th January 2012 will forever be remembered as the day the hardcore scene had to get its shit together. It was a fucking monumental day, ladies and germs: after years of requests, months of awkward silence and a few weeks of unstoppable rumour, At The Drive-In, one of the most important punk rock bands of all time, finally set aside their squabbles and reunited.

Y’know the way people say that every metal band to have ever existed owes a debt to Black Sabbath, whether they were directly influenced by them or not? Well, you can apply that to every hardcore band, punk rock band, and every modern band with the audacity to call themselves “hardcore” when it comes to At The Drive-In. Y’see, more than Glassjaw, more than The Blood Brothers, more than Refused, At The Drive-In were truly one of a kind. The fire in their bellies that typified the sound of what became known as post-hardcore was always omnipresent, but it was how they made their music truly danceable with an almost unsettling funkiness that set them apart from a very competitive pack. However, if you listen to ADT-I pre-2000, you’ll realise quite quickly that this could’ve been a very different story. Their previous two full length efforts, Acrobatic Tenement and In/Casino/Out, and a handful of EP’s, while impressive, didn’t make much of a dent in the grand scheme of things. Unsurprising really for a band notorious for a whole dictionary’s worth of surrealist lyrics and completely nonsensical guitar structures. Their legend, their reverence, and their legacy, you can all put down to THIS record.

Relationship Of Command was more than just an album. Not only did it very suddenly and to the surprise of everyone involved AND on the outskirts elevate At The Drive-In to the very top of the pile, but it instantly forged its position in music history. Here was an album chock full of anthems that had an identity all of their own. They were immediate, hooky and completely commercial beneath its unorthodox facade, but they were red-blooded, intensely passionate, and above all else, absolutely fucking flawless. It was a masterclass in moving towards the future while keeping one foot in a million other parts of the past, from the punk assault of ‘Arcarsenal’, ‘Sleepwalk Capsules’ and ‘Mannequin Republic’ right through to the unforgiving infectiousness of ‘Pattern Against User’, ‘One Armed Scissor’ and ‘Rolodex Propaganda’, and even pointing the way to Cedric Bixler-Zavalar and Omar Rodriguez’s future in The Mars Volta on experimental outings like ‘Invalid Litter Dept.’, ‘Enfilade’ and ‘Non-Zero Possibility’. It was timeless upon impact. As important to its scene as Nirvana’s Nevermind to the entire alternative genre, it remains just as vital and urgent today as it always has been, if not more.

What At The Drive-In were really renowned for however were their live shows. A quick scour over YouTube will tell you all you need to know about their unbelievable live prowess. They were the quintessence of punk rock for our generation. It never mattered if it all matched up perfectly (see: Big Day Out performance), it never mattered if Cedric was so out of breath he could barely get his words out (see: David Letterman performance), it never even mattered if the guitars were in tune! (see: Jools Holland performance). What mattered was that their spirit was always conveyed as purely and honestly as it could be. And there isn’t a documented instance in their short history where they were ever going through the motions, even amidst often glaringly obvious band turmoil. This is why everybody with a pulse should be excited by an At The Drive-In reunion, even the most cynical of souls. Because you shouldn’t doubt them for one second. Just like Faith No More before them, there is no way they would even consider getting back together if they even slightly thought they were going to half-arse it. They know their heritage is far too important to risk it. Make no mistake, despite the obvious fervour surrounding their return, they will be met with overwhelmingly high expectations from a legion of fans spanning multiple generations. In spite of their ego’s, they of all people know how many people they would be letting down if it couldn’t match up to their gloried past. A new album will not be necessary here, boys. Just get on stage and do what you always did better than anybody.

It all starts on Sunday 15th April 2012 at the Coachella Festival in Indio, California. God knows what kind of chaos they’re going to incite when they finally hit our shores (rumours abound for summer festival appearances).

At The Drive-In, boys and girls. Welcome back, you crazy cunts. It’s time to show the posers how it’s done once again.