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

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

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: Device (Self-titled Debut)

An brief glance at “Device’s” opening tracks shows a collection of songs that sound all too familiar. Heavy, chopping guitars, angry lyrics, and tribal-esque chants and growls?…Surely this must be a new Disturbed album.

Nope, it’s not.  It’s only when the whistling synthesizers of “Villify” kick in that it becomes clear this is actually something different.  Device, David Draiman’s first project since Disturbed began its hiatus, grinds through songs slightly in the same vein as Nine Inch Nails or Marylin Manson.  Songs like “War of Lies,” “Haze,” and “Hunted” find Draiman plastered atop a factory of crunchy guitars and industrial-inspired loops and beats.

A closer look at the album reveals some memorable collaborations with other musicians.  Lzzy Hale plays Lita Ford on a beautiful, stand-out cover of “Close My Eyes Forever,” while Serj Tankian’s rebellious vocals provide extra edge to “Out of Line.

Other notable guests include Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows, Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, all of which pair very well with Draiman.  Shadows and Draiman’s combined vocals, in particular, are a match made in hard rock heaven.

It is pretty hard to listen to Dramain’s commanding, blast-beat style vocals without immediately thinking of Disturbed.  The vocalist is guilty of occasionally using recycled hooks from the “Believe” and “Indestructible” sessions, but he does take periodic strides outside of his comfort zone.

“Device” toes the line between expected and experimental more than it runs past it, but it still stands as a strong sampling of what is currently a growing thought-pool of potential.

All in all:

Standout Tracks:  “Villify,” “Haze,” “Close My Eyes Forever,” “Out of Line,” “Opinion”

Device- “Device:” 3.5/5

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

Song Review: Alice in Chains- “Stone”

Lately, a considerable portion of Alice in Chains’ fans have remained skeptical about the band continuing onward without the late, great Layne Staley.

But if there was ever a time to leave the past in the past, that time is now.  And “Stone” is one of the main reasons why.

The successor to the chart-topping hit, “Hollow,” “Stone” kicks off with a thundering bass line before segueing into one slimy three-ton behemoth of a guitar riff.

The beauty of the song is that while it does evoke fond memories of “Dirt” and “Facelift,” it stands as its own unique piece of Alice in Chains material.  The band’s trademark mucky guitars are complimented with a crisp, modern sound that packs an unbelievable punch.

If “Stone” does not get your blood boiling for Chains’ upcoming album “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” there is a strong chance you may not have a pulse.

Alice in Chains- “Stone:” 5/5

The Ten Best Songs from Green Day’s “Uno, Dos, and Tre” Trilogy.

Green Day is a band that has been admired since the early 1990’s.  Known for their snotty, sarcastic lyrics, hard hitting riffs, and machine gun drum fills, the post-punk trio have appealed to a large variety of listeners during their career.  However, a common complaint among fans is that the band has been unable to live up to its magnum opus, “Dookie,” since its release in 1994.

The debate over vintage and modern Green Day still rages on, but however you look at it, the band has never come close to overshadowing their impressive past until now;  “Uno, Dos, and Tre” the band’s recent trilogy of new albums, provide some of their best work in quite a while.

Here are what I believe to be the ten best tracks from the trilogy:

1. “Let Yourself Go”– Fast-paced, edgy, and at times, pretty humorous, “Let Yourself Go” is one of Green Day’s best singles in a long time.  The song deserves to be considered alongside the classics from “Dookie” and “Insomniac.”

2.  “X-Kid”“X-Kid” is a perfect radio single and one of the best moments of the trilogy.  The song includes the catchiest hooks of the entire “Tre” album.

3.  “Fuck Time”– Green Day play with pleasing, classic rock-style energy throughout “Fuck Time,” a song that swings on like a flaming pendulum.  “See You Tonight” may be “Dos’s” opening track, but “Fuck Time” is the real attention-grabber.

4.  “Nuclear Family”The initial indicator that vintage Green Day had made a partial comeback, Nuclear Family kicks the trilogy off in the best way possible:  with a memorable lead guitar riff and a furious drum performance from Tre Cool.

5.  “Oh Love”One of the most recognizable of Green Day’s newer songs, “Oh Love” swings the door shut on “Uno” with its choppy scratches and captivating guitar solo.

6“Kill the DJ”- “Kill the DJ” may be a little unconventional for a post-punk band like Green Day, but they nail it anyway, jamming in a style akin to the Strokes or Arctic Monkeys.

7“The Forgotten”– Yes, it is easy to question “The Forgotten’s” substance due to its inclusion in the “Breaking Dawn Pt. 2” soundtrack, but, this notion aside, the song is a well-written, emotionally-charged ballad that finds Green Day channeling their inner Elton John.

8.  Carpe Diem– “Carpe Diem’s” opening chords sound all too familiar in Green Day’s catalog, but the song still manages to ring with an original tone.  The song continues to stoke the fire started by its predecessor tracks, “Nuclear Family” and “Stay the Night.”

9.  “Troublemaker”– Green Day chip away at “Troublemaker” in a controlled groove.  The song’s purposely ridiculous lyrics and well-placed “hey!” hooks make it a staple of “Uno.”

10.  “Stray Heart”– Despite opening with the exact same bass line as Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” “Stray Heart” quickly becomes its own song.  A distressed Billie Joe Armstrong sings of love and longing during the song’s chorus.