Album Review: Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King”

Avenged Sevenfold albums are usually hit or miss, but the metalcore/hard rock favorites from California have developed a decent track record as of late.  This continued, full-album resilience is more than evident on “Hail to the King,” the band’s latest record.

Unlike the entirely-modern roar of past works like “Nightmare” and “City of Evil,” “Hail to the King” pays a massive amount of tribute to the band’s heavy metal predecessors.  An immediate Metallica influence can be traced to the blistering intro, “Shepard of Fire, ” and is later carried on through “Crimson Day” and the pulsating Lar’s Ulrich-esque beat of “This Means War.”

There will be some who point a finger at A7X and yell “plagiarism,” but the open-minded will be able to recognize the original spin the band puts on each of the album’s tracks, homage or not.

Truth is, there is actually a notable amount of originality on “Hail to the King.”  “Coming Home,” “Requiem,” “Planets,” and the medival-themed title track transcend nearly every element of the band’s past material.  Furthermore, the album’s conclusion, “Acid Rain,” is one of the most beautiful and charged ballad songs the band has ever attempted.

Take the ambition of “Nightmare,” the hooks of “City of Evil,” and the dark subject matter of the self-titled album, compliment it with a healthy dose of classic metal homage, and top it off with something fresh and demonic.

What you’re left with is one of Avenged Sevenfold’s finest albums in quite a while.

All in all:

Standout Tracks:  “Shepard of Fire,” “Hail to the King,” “This Means War,” “Coming Home,” “Requiem,” “Acid Rain”

Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King:” 4.5/5

Song Review: Nine Inch Nails- “Came Back Haunted”

Lately, Trent Reznor has been up to a lot of different things:  strengthening his career as a composer by scoring the very successful “The Social Network” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” forming the side project, How to Destroy Angels, contributing to Dave Grohl’s “Sound City” project, and even winning an Academy Award.

But Reznor’s musical claim to fame, Nine Inch Nails, has remained untouched since 2008’s “The Slip.”

Not anymore.

Nine Inch Nails have returned with “Came Back Haunted,” the first single off the forthcoming and newly announced “Hesitation Marks” (or “HALO 28”).

The song- a partial hybrid of “Pretty Hate Machine” and “Year Zero-” buzzes with twisting synth beats and is driven by a creeping undertone. Reznor’s voice is, for lack of a better word, haunting and eerily calm in melody.  A churning guitar breakdown echoes “The Downward Spiral” and tops the song off in a powerful way.

It’s clear that Reznor’s success in his other musical endeavors has maximized his confidence and ambition as an artist.  He has poured this newfound creative energy into Nine Inch Nails in a very logical manner.  The result is a song that respects the past, but is not afraid to take a big experimental step into the unknown.

“Came Back Haunted” is no “Head Like a Hole,” but it’s pretty close.

Nine Inch Nails- “Came Back Haunted:” 4.5/5

Listen to “Came Back Haunted” here:

Album Review: Alice in Chains- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.”

Writers tend to used a lot of recycled adjectives when discussing the music of Alice in Chains: grungy, grimy, sludgy, dark, harmonic…etc.  And it’s safe to say that all these overused, yet appropriate words still apply to the band’s newest material (and then some).

The Seattle legends have continued their post-90s “comeback” with a logical and bold next step in “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.”

If 2009’s “Black Gives Way to Blue” was Alice in Chains’ healing process for their tragic past, then consider “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” their first post-therapy breakthrough.  The album is far from nostalgic, but still manages to pay homage to the band’s roots.  Fans will find moments to reminisce the days of “Dirt” and “Facelift.”

New and old fans alike will mutually enjoy the pulsating palm mutes of “Hollow,” the bellowing main riff of “Stone,” and the chaotic arrangement of “Phantom Limb,” among many others.

Content-wise, Jerry Cantrell and company- at times- venture into territory never explored in-depth on past albums.  The best example of this is the album’s  title track, a tell-it-like-it-is evaluation of the overly-religious.   Cantrell’s songwriting also soars on the acoustic/electric balancing act of “Voices,” a song seemingly about helplessness and confusion that plays like “No Excuses” with attitude.

In general, the album succeeds in building an overall sense of thought-provoking emotion and anxiety, all while maintaining a confident, triumphant tone.  No song ever comes off as out-of-place or forced.

“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is the quintessential modern Alice in Chains experience: rough, loud, beautiful, and more ambitious than ever.

All in all:

Standout Tracks: “Hollow,” “Stone,” “Voices,” “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” “Low Ceiling,” “Scalpel,” Phantom Limb”

Alice in Chains- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here:” 5/5

Album Review: Volbeat- “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies”

Lately, Volbeat have been setting the bar high for modern hard rock- bringing a heavy and experimental, yet radio-friendly sound to a genre desperately in need of some variety.

Now, the genre-mixing virtuosos from Denmark are back with what is likely their best album to date.

“Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies,” the follow up to 2009’s successful “Beyond Heaven/Above Hell,” carries the band into a zone of noticeable focus and further experimentation.  “Lets Shake Some Dust” sets up listeners with western-style twangs and harmonica chugs that brilliantly foreshadow “The Lonesome Rider,” a later song that takes this style choice and runs with it in the most beautiful way possible.

The remainder of the album is the full package:  solid track after solid track, with very little dead space.  The infectious hooks of “Lola Montez,” an impressive cover of Young the Giant’s “My Body,” and a vicious collaboration with King Diamond on “Room 24” stand as some of the album’s major knock-out moments.

The album occasionally rings with a tone reminiscent of past Volbeat records, but for the most part, it is a total game-changer for the band.

Volbeat have, once again, done little to disappoint listeners.  “OutLaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” is just the next step in an uncontrollable creative ascent.

All in all:

Standout Tracks:  “Cape of Our Hero,” “The Nameless One,” “Room 24,” “Lola Montez,” “My Body,” “The Lonesome Rider,” “Our Loved Ones”

Volbeat- “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies:” 4.5/5

Song Review: Volbeat- “The Hangman’s Body Count”

Volbeat have always been about pushing the boundaries on what is considered conventional for a major rock band, blending inventive metal riffs with just about every genre imaginable.

Where their latest single, “The Hangman’s Body Count” is concerned, however, the band takes a much more straightforward hard rock approach, using shifting time signatures and impressive lead guitar solos to keep things as fresh as possible.  Michael Poulsen keeps his James Hetfield/Johnny Cash hybrid vocals on a leash, but he still manages to whip up some pretty catchy hooks.

“The Hangman’s Body Count” isn’t the most astounding of Volbeat’s singles, but it is still a solid effort that will certainly please the band’s fans.

Volbeat- “The Hangman’s Body Count:” 3/5

Alice in Chains- “Hollow” Song Review

In 2009, Alice in Chains released “Black Gives Way to Blue,” a masterpiece that ultimately marked their comeback.  It sent shockwaves through the rock world with its powerful riffs and “no filler” consistency.  Clearly, the band was back and (arguably) better than ever.

“Hollow,” the band’s latest single, explores this newfound potential even further.

“Hollow” has everything that one would expect from an Alice in Chains song:  a bellowing Jerry Cantrell guitar riff, reverberating, harmonized dual-vocals, and hard-hitting lyrics that are free of cliché and packed full of dark imagery.

The late Layne Staley can never be replaced.  However, William Duvall has established himself as the absolute next best thing; the moment he and Cantrell mutter “turning in circles, slowing down,” it is evident that they generate a chemistry reminiscent of Alice in Chains’ 1990’s glory days.

In a world of copycat artists, Alice in Chains continue to stand as true innovators.  “Hollow” is not only a lesson in structure, it is a model of perfection.

Alice in Chains- “Hollow:” 5/5

Drowning Pool- “Saturday Night” Song Review

Ten years ago, Drowning Pool unexpectedly lost their original lead singer, Dave Williams, to heart failure.  Since Williams’s passing, the band has gone through a roulette of different vocalists over the course of three albums.

Now, following Ryan McCombs’s departure, the band has returned once again with new vocalist, Jason Moreno, and hopes to solidify a permanent line-up.  “Saturday Night,” a heavy, feel-good party anthem serves as the lead single off their upcoming, currently untitled fifth album.

The song’s lyrics aren’t exactly clever, but its arrangement masks this notion for the most part; surprisingly, despite legions of similar, contemporary bands, Drowning Pool’s signature style is still very easy to identify within seconds.  However, Moreno’s voice, though similar to McCombs’s at times, alters the band’s usual mudslide sound.  He sings with a rough, slithering draw that sounds like a fusion of Taproot and Rob Zombie.

“Saturday Night” barely compares to past Drowning Pool material, but it teases listeners with fresh potential.

Drowning Pool- “Saturday Night:” 2.5/5