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: Korn- “Never, Never”

Korn fans rejoiced after the band recently rejoined with one of its key members, Brian “Head” Welch.  Absent for four albums, Welch previously helped give Korn classics like “Freak on a Leash” and “Got the Life” an extra kick with his dark, down-tuned playing style.

Naturally, as the band announced that they were working on a brand new album with Welch, fans grew increasingly eager to get a dose of vicious, guitar-heavy throwback Korn.

Instead, fans have been given “Never, Never,” a song that has carried on the dubstep-infused, pseudo-industrial experimentation of the band’s last album, “The Path of Totality.”  The resulting track is truly a head-scratcher.

 Though “Totality” was interesting, its appeal stemmed from the notion that the band was just trying a one-off experiment.  Now, with two guitars and re-charged batteries, it seemed like Korn was ready to return to their roots- the kinds of roots that turned them into a metal sensation in their hay day.

The untapped potential of “Never, Never” is frustrating.  The song could be worse- and it certainly has a catchy chorus- but all-in-all it comes as a slap in the face to those craving a “Follow the Leader” dual-guitar assault.

“Never, Never” builds little anticipation for the forthcoming “Paradigm Shift.”  The song-writing is there, but the arrangement makes no sense.  Welch has been under-utilized, which makes about as much sense as the Minnesota Vikings benching Adrian Peterson.

Korn- “Never, Never:” 2.5/5

Song Review: Pearl Jam- “Mind Your Manners”

When it comes to keeping things fresh and unexpected, Pearl Jam stand as experts.  The band has one of the most versatile catalogs of any band rooted in the Seattle grunge scene- ranging from the all-out furious (“Do the Evolution,” “Why Go”), to the beautifully melodic (“Just Breathe,” “Light Years”), to the emotionally powerful (“Black,” “Come Back.”)

Now, in wake of 2009’s smoothly-produced masterpiece, “Backspacer,” the band has called yet another audible- they have recorded a punk rock song.

Well…okay, “Mind Your Manners,” the band’s latest single, isn’t COMPLETELY a punk rock song, but it might as well be.  It’s fast, to the point, and plays like a backhand to the face.  Think “Spin the Black Circle” with a touch of Black Flag.

The song is like a 3 minute joyride in a hot-wired war vehicle – kicking into high gear with sputtering guitars and never stopping for air.

“Mind Your Manners” makes it clear that anything can happen on the forthcoming “Lightning Bolt.” Major Pearl Jam fans will immediately love the song.  Casual listeners might be a little confused at first, but will slowly conform to the track’s appeal.

Pearl Jam- “Mind Your Manners:”  4.5/5

Listen to “Mind Your Manners” Here:

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

Avenged Sevenfold arguably has one of the most loyal and passionate fanbases of any modern heavy metal band.  So naturally, there should be a reasonable level of elation from deathbat worshipers everywhere in response to the band’s newest single, “Hail to the King.”

The song- hot off the presses as of two hours ago- is like a three-way hybrid of Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses, and Metallica.  It includes much of what one would expect from a standard A7X tune:  and a gravely M. Shadows vocal performance, a powerful rhythmic backdrop from Johnny Christ and Zacky Vengance, and a collection of Synyster Gates lead riffs that will hurt the fingers of the guitar-illiterate.  The only notable deviation from the band’s  typical metalcore/classic metal formula is the contributions of Arin Ilejay (who replaced the late James “The Rev” Sullivan earlier this year).  Ilejay pounds away at his kit and makes it clear that he is a solid replacement for a nearly irreplaceable musician. 

“Hail to the King” packs a punch, but not a wallop.  It lacks the overtly-dominate hooks and stand-out guitar riffs displayed on older songs like “Beast and the Harlot” and “Nightmare,” but it still gives listeners a strong sampling of the upcoming album’s potential.

Avenged Sevenfold- “Hail to the King:” 3.5/5

Listen to “Hail to the King” here:

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:

Song Review: Stone Temple Pilots- “Out of Time”

It’s been a confusing and pressing time for Stone Temple Pilots.  The band recently fired (and brought legal action against) their centerpiece lead singer, Scott Weiland and- to the surprise of many- quickly replaced him with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington- an odd front man choice for a grunge-inspired alternative rock act.

Then, to make matters even more bizarre, the band’s remaining members went ahead and recorded brand new material with Bennington.  This has sparked a firestorm of various opinions within STP’s fanbase.

It’s interesting (to say the least), it’s- for some- tough to swallow, but regardless of how you perceive it, here it is:  “Out of Time.”

The song’s opening is pleasing- jamming onward with a bubbling Deleo brothers riff that seems to re-visit the momentum ignited on 2010’s self-titled effort.

However, Bennington’s contributions to the track quickly distort this euphoria.  Clearly, he has studied Weiland’s vocal mannerisms and phrasing to a T.  The result is something undeniably artificial.  This sticks out like cancer when plastered atop the song’s impressive instrumental coagulation.

Though the remaining members of STP were probably justified in firing Weiland and are brilliant musicians in their own regard, their decision to continue the band in its current state was an unwise one.

“Out of Time” is not a bad song, but it’s hard to listen to without imagining the perfection that could have been reached with Weiland on vocals.   Some will be able to look past this, but either way, Stone Temple Pilots have inevitably stained their consistency and legacy as a band.

Stone Temple Pilots- “Out of Time:” 2.5/5

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