Breaking Benjamin Goes Crazier For DARK BEFORE DAWN

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Often, when a band takes a long hiatus, their return to the recording world isn’t relevant. Or good. Generally this is because they stopped taking drugs, their time off attributed to legal issues surrounding them or a loss of a key member or two because of their abuse. Drugs, hate them or leave them, are one of the back bones to the music industry. The old adage and battle cry of music; Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘N Roll wouldn’t be complete without the drugs. I’m not condoning illegal drug use here, but let’s face it, Guns ‘N Roses sucked after they stopped doing drugs. Once Metallica removed booze from the equation (and their name is an amalgam of metal and alcohol!), we got ST. ANGER. Seether’s best material came from the darkness of drinking, and the magnificent opus that is FINDING BEAUTY IN NEGATIVE SPACES is the result of years of abuse Sean Morgan put himself through. Drugs are bad, hmm…kay. Unless they make music, then I’m all for the tragic bard, ala Jim Morrsion or Kurt Cobain. There is a flip side to this, which involves people not taking drugs when they should be. These are the members of the music community that are fucked up in the head without the need for substances. Axl Rose falls into this category, his special kind of crazy combined with the abused spirits and junk that were prevalent topics throughout Guns ‘N Roses’ library of early songs created magic. As does the ever neurotic hypochondriac, Benjamin Burnley of Breaking Benjamin.

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This review is not here to extrapolate on the issues behind the band’s five year absence from music, yet we can’t tell this story without touching on it in some manner. Burnley went a little nuttier than his normal whacky self, his friends and former band mates were lured into the deceptive web of record company bullshit. This led to Ben gaining a moment of clarity (?) and shit canning his band after winning a legal dispute over the band’s name. Ben replaced them with what is essentially a super group of musicians, including former members of Red, Adelita’s Way, Forever Oeuvre and Picture Me Broken. The outcome of this, DARK BEFORE DAWN, is a literal phoenix rising from immolation, a melodic modern emo-metal masterpiece, ripe with hooks and harmonies, drenched in Breaking Benjamin’s familiar, melancholy sound.

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Throughout DARK BEFORE DAWN you can feel Ben and his troubles, his angst isn’t that of being young. It is a consequence of his personal madness. And it’s something any fan of music can relate to. We’ve all got our own crazy, and Benjamin Burnley has been able to build a bridge between himself and his audience through his depressing lyrics and the symphonic morose of the instruments. We’ve had teases of the album throughout the year, leading up to last week’s debut of the completed record. Failure, Angels Fall and Defeated were a sampling of what was to come. The final product is as good as you would assume, confirming that 140,00 people weren’t wrong when their purchases of the album catapulted DARK BEFORE DAWN to the top of the Billboard Hot 200.

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What concerns me is the 140,000 sold, yes that was enough to give the number 1 album, but it’s a small number, considering we have over 300 million people in the United States alone. It is a testimony of the swan song of the old music industry, and the only way to survive in this horrible economic climate is to produce quality music. Ben Burnley has done it again on DARK BEFORE DAWN, and with only five albums of original material, he has entered Breaking Benjamin into a select group of bands that have survived the test of time.

Death Metal Essentials by Walt Hades and The Maxx Axe

Mortician_-_Hacked_up_for_BarbecueIf you want to combine Horror with metal, then look no further than Mortician. This Yonkers, NY based death metal group has everything every good-hearted metal/horror fan could want; aggressive songs, brutal lyrics sung in true death form and an overall aura of blood curdling horror. “Hacked Up For Barbeque” is the 1996 debut album for the band. Not only does it include the criteria above but they also include various samples from some of the more famous, and infamous, horror movies around. For example, the title track includes sampling from the 1974 film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” where Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) discovers Pam (Teri McMinn) invading their home and disposes of her on his favorite meathook. This scene directly influences the lyrics of the song and personifies it’s intense brutality. If this tickles your horror bone (directly adjacent to the funny bone) then this album is full of those choice bits to satisfy your hunger. Mortician have gone on to create 7 more albums and many demos/singles to quench the bloodthirst of their fans. You can find out more about them at their website, http://www.morticianrecords.com.

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So you have a taste for some Swedish Death Metal? Then Hypocrisy can be your main course! Formed in 1990 by death metal pioneer Peter Tägtgren, Hypocrisy were one of the forerunners for the Swedish Death Metal movement in the 90’s. Their songs present simplicity and brutality. “Osculum Obscenum” is their 2nd album which exemplifies the classic death metal formula with it’s riffing and lyrics. However, it takes a bit of a turn as not all songs are the stereotypical 240bpm. Various tempo changes are showcased on several songs including “The Pleasure of Molestation” where you go from sick brutal beats to slow methodical grooves, but never lessening the aggression. Peter Tägtgren has also worked with and produced some of the biggest metal bands to ever come screaming out of Europe including Immortal, Children of Bodom & Celtic Frost. Learn more about the band, it’s line up changes and influence on the swedish death metal scene at their site http://www.hypocrisy.cc.

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In Flames-The Jester Race. Considered by many, including myself, as arguably the most perfectly produced death metal album. The Gothenburg, Sweden based outfit’s sophomore album incorporates things hardly found in standard death metal albums at that time, such as intricate acoustic interludes and instrumentals, heroic dual lead guitars, deep melodic grooves and well-crafted songwriting that doesn’t primarily consist of topics like death, dismemberment, autopsies, rape and necrophilia. With classic fan favorites that include “Moonshield”, “Lord Hypnos”, “The Jester’s Dance” and the title track, the album is completely lacking of a dull moment, sending the listener into a full-speed-ahead blast into hyperspace that will leave them exhilarated and wanting more.

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Opeth- Still Life. Opeth is what you get if you take the brutality and malevolence of death metal and blend it with the technical complexities and structure of progressive rock. Songs can range anywhere between 5-11 minutes, filled with crushing guitar riffs, acoustic passages, middle eastern influence and bluesy 70’s-esque guitar solos, as well as guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt’s ability to transition from deep, deathly growls to a clean, golden voice similar to that of The Moody Blues’s Justin Hayward. The band is a unique creature of its own kind, developing and progressing with each passing album. This album, released in 1999, is a strong exercise in musicianship and storytelling, as it tells the tale of a godless man’s return to his home village after a 15 year banishment, seeking out his long lost loved one. This kind of story seems to come right out of a Tigon Productions or American International Pictures film (see the ARKOFF formula). However, its compelling and each song matches the mood for what is being told. Other recommended albums from Opeth include My Arms, Your Hearse and Blackwater Park.

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Cannibal Corpse- The Bleeding. The Maxx Axe and I both have a mutual love for  he band that is considered the measuring stick of all traditional death metal. We also both feel the same when it comes this album. With every album of theirs filled with the same brand of violent, graphic artwork, stomach churning lyrics and brutal, neckbreaking, fast paced metal attacks, why do we feel 1994’s The Bleeding is their best work? The reason for me is it sets a change of musical direction, songs have slowed down, making the guitar riffs a bit groovier and more “Sabbath-esque”. Vocalist Chris Barnes, in his final work with the band before departing to form Six Feet Under, possesses the same timbre in his growls but has definitely modified the cadence, producing a much more decipherable effort (that way we can understand all of the juicy, violent, murderous, necrophalic details). Musically, it is a true headbanger’s delight, ending their initial era with what still remains their best work.

So there is just a sampling of some essential Death Metal. We could have gone on and on about some more of our favorite death metal bands, but that will have to wait for another time. Until then, keep it brutal. \m/!

FLASH REVIEW – IT’S WAR EP

 

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IT’S WAR’s debut EP marks the return of a vocalist singer-songwriter, Lennon Murphy, after a nearly five-year hiatus.  As some of you are aware and some of you are not, the music industry hasn’t been very kind to Ms. Murphy.  She’s had her first hit song, “My Beautiful” (aka “Where Do I Fit In”) re-recorded into nearly every genre of music and ultimately mis-marketed  by A&R reps.  Then, in 2008, she was pulled into a legal court battle for…well…using her birth name. The plaintiff?  None other than Yoko Ono. This article is not here to dwell on that matter, however.  Lennon has moved on and so shall we. If you wish to know more, Google. This article is, instead, here to discuss the resulting aftershock of what she has gone through in her life and career; a 5-song EP filled with melody, energy, rage and an aftertaste of revenge.  IT’S WAR is more than this, though.  The collaboration with Frank Shooflar is a bold statement that Lennon is back and the Lzzy Hales and Maria Brinks of the world should take notice.

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The opening track “Bitterness” seems to be an angry retort to those who attempted to rip her dreams and aspirations right out of her hands, as well as the losses she has endured.  The lyrics spit off of her tongue like pure venom.  IT’S WAR is a clown car stuffed with confessional verses, hard rock energy and hooks so deep they will make your head spin.  The lead single, “Heart” is an arena sized anthem with a video featuring animated, chimeric animals performing the song. The lyrics again delve into the song’s titular heart breaking and our obsessions with what we desire, a subject many of us can relate to. Lennon has a gift with her prose that many modern song writers have forgotten how to utilize.

While the subjects that Lennon covers (resent, regret, heartache) are found within many other bands of the genres, she finds a way to make it work. With a vocal style that I would best describe is the sharpness of Pat Benatar meets the cadence of Ian Astbury, Lennon takes a stand, forcing her way back into the limelight that should’ve been hers so many years ago.

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IT’S WAR’s debut EP is a quick 5-song glimpse into a woman who felt the scorn of the music industry and is ready to hit back. It’s short, quick paced and hits you like a million bee stings and is readily available on iTunes. If you have not listened, take the time, you have it. It will be the best $4.00 you spent today. Check out IT’S WAR online here: http://www.its-war.com/

Essential Doom Metal, My Favorite Albums Of The Genre

Doom Metal is an extreme genre of Heavy Metal, with the foundation for it set by the Black Sabbath….who pretty much set the foundation for all things metal.  Pioneer Doom Metal bands such as Candlemass, Saint Vitus and Trouble rose to metal audience’s attention in the mid to late 80s.  Characteristics of Doom Metal include a slower tempos, lower tuned, sludgy sounding guitars, complimented with lyrics and an atmosphere of despair and impending…uh…doom.  Vocals can be clean or similar to that of death metal,  Its those primary elements listed above that matter.  It has nothing to do with the leader of Latveria.  Sorry Victor….

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Whatever plateface.  Anyways, the following five albums are my favorites of this genre, which I was exposed to in the early 90s in much thanks to the aforementioned bands, along with a wave of more modern Doom Metal which came about in the years to come.  Some people will agree with these choices, many will likely disagree.  Take it as you will.  To me, these albums are essential listening

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Candlemass-Epicus Doomicus Metallicus

The quintessential Doom Metal album.  While Black Sabbath laid down the Doom Metal foundation, Sweden’s Candlemass put up the framework with their 1986 debut LP.  6 man-sized tracks that come at you like bulldozers.  With hard, crushing, fist-breaking riffs, powerful vocals filled with despair, and an apocalyptic ambiance make this the perfect starting point for anyone interested in the genre.

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I’m pretty positive that longtime fans of this band who are reading this article are thinking “This is not a Doom record.  Why is this guy not listing Lost Paradise?  Icon?  Gothic?”  Well, to ME at least, it most certainly is a Doom Metal album. How Doomy you ask?  The inspiration behind this album was the MS Estonia catastrophe (Google it). This 1995 classic shows the West Yorkshire-based band at a transition point in their career.  While they still display the brutal riffs and gloomy aspects found in the previously mentioned albums, they enhance the experience with clean, yet aggressive vocals, a Gothic tinge similar to that of Sisters of Mercy and a slick, top-notch production value.  The end product is, to me, their finest hour; a sonic onslaught that will leave the listener forever changed.  Paradise Lost has recently made the return to the Death Doom sound of their heyday, but nobody will forget this classic, quality album.

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The Gathering-Mandylion

That same year, a barely known death metal band from Holland rolled the dice, completely modified their sound and replaced their cookie-monster grunting vocalist with the polar opposite.  Enter Anneke van Giersbergen, a fiery-haired beauty with a set of golden pipes.  Fueled by the new vocalist, the band went from a run of the mill Doom Metal band with growling vocals to a soulful, ethereal outfit.  Behind the crunching, heavy-laden wall of sound, Anneke enchants you with her lucid, dreamstate vocal stylings, creating some of the most beautiful Doom you will ever hear.  This album paved the way for other female-fronted bands like Nightwish, Theater of Tragedy and Leaves Eyes and also allowed other Doom/Death Doom Metal bands like My Dying Bride and Anathema incorporate the use of female vocalists.  Anneke has long left The Gathering, embarking on a rather successful solo career.  However, the impact of The Gathering’s Mandylion rings very strong to this day.

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Amorphis-Tales From The Thousand Lakes

Now I’m really taking this beyond the points of standard Doom Metal.  I promise, this will be the last “crossover” album listed.  The unique thing about Amorphis is the complexity of their songwriting.  Tales From The Thousand Lakes is based entirely of the Finnish epic, The Kalevala.  While this approach (the use of classic literature) is common amongst Scandinavian bands, it was an eye opener to me.  It opened me up to other bands of the region and their approach to their songwriting crafts and use of regional instrumentation.  Everything about that is found within this album, coupled with some pretty kickass Sabbath-esque riffs to go with it.

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Pallbearer-Sorrow And Extinction/Foundations of Burden

Pallbearer has been considered by many as the future of Doom Metal and with two very strong back to back albums, I couldn’t agree more. Pallbear takes the “low and slow” approach and builds upon with lengthy, epic tracks that come to the same levels as progressive rock.  If you were to walk through a neverending graveyard, shrouded in mist, with a cool dampness in the air, Pallbearer would provide the soundtrack to that walk.  Beneath the melancholy, sorrowful sounds lies an everlasting beauty.  Its as if this walk through this maze like graveyards ends with a sunrise in the distant.  I know I am getting quite deep here but there really is no other way to describe these albums.  Sorrow and Extinction is masked in death and gloom while Foundations of Burden could easily serve as a homage to kings of a glorious time.  Despite being the most recent releases on this list, they belong here.

There are probably a dozen more albums I could to this list.  However, if I had to be stranded in dark, dank dungeon and was only allowed to listen to Doom Metal, then these would be my choice.s

5 Metal Albums of 2015 That You Should Be Listening To……

We’re about halfway through the year and there have been a good amount of good albums that have been unleashed upon the “metal world”.  Here are five albums released this year that I have enjoyed immensely and I honestly feel that you should give them a listen to…..

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Soilwork-Live In The Heart of Helsinki

Yep, starting off with a live one.  If you are familiar with Soilwork, you should already be well aware of this monster.  If you are not, this is a perfect starting point.  A heart racing, 23-track tour de force spanning the Swedish metal outfit’s entire body of work, Live In The Heart of Helsinki is a perfect display of the raw, adrenaline induced energy the band gives off in their studio recordings.  Guest appearances from Floor Jansen of Nightwish and Nathan J. Biggs of Sonic Syndicate further compliment this amazing set. .  I can give you guys a whole lesson on the Swedish metal scene but I’ll save that for another time.   Don’t just get the album, grab the blu ray as well. Fulfill the experience.

Haven

Kamelot-Haven

Haven is the Florida-based power metal band’s eleventh album and the second to feature vocalist Tommy Karevik, who replaced the very popular longtime vocalist Roy Khan in 2012.  Their previous effort, Silverthorn, was an enjoyable record but seemed to lack a sense of solidarity, perhaps due to Karevik’s abrupt arrival.  However, “Fallen Star”, the powerful and majestic opening track of Haven, is an indication that Karevik has found his niche and comfort zone within the band.  This, along with a handful of wonderful, memorable moments, makes this Kamelot’s best work since 2005’s The Black Halo.  Notable tracks include “Insomnia’ ‘Veil of Elysium” “Under Grey Skies” (a medieval-tinged ballad featuring Charlotte Wessels of Delain) “Liar Liar” (featuring Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy) and “Revolution”.

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Night Demon- Curse of The Damned

This album is going to be very much discussed on next week’s Necrocasticon podcast and its also going to include an interview with Bassist/Vocalist Jarvis Leatherby, so I’m going to keep this brief.  Night Demon’s Curse of the Damned pays true homage to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the early days of the 80s thrash movement.  Neck snapping guitar riffs, tight production and great vocals.  If you love classic metal pick this up.  And tune in next week for more on this!  Metal!!!!!!

The next two albums I’m going to present are not released yet.  However, once they are, I DEMAND you get your hands on them.  Trust me…..

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High on Fire-Luminiferous

On June 16th (my wedding anniversary), Matt Pike and company are going to once again unleash their hellacious, skin-scorching brand of doom upon the world!  If you have never experienced the brutal awesomeness that is High on Fire, START NOW!!!  The best way I can describe them is to imagine a giant running full speed across a valley laden with skulls.  Take the doomy elements of bands like Trouble, Sleep (Pike’s former band) and Saint Vitus, the sludge of Mastodon, Clutch and the Melvins and the kick your ass rock and roll aggression of Motorhead and this is what you get.  Be ready…..

And now ladies and gentlemen….

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Paradise Lost- The Plague Within

On June 2nd, witness the return of the kings.  I have witnessed very few bands go through so many transitions and come full circle.  When Paradise Lost arrived on the scene in 1990, they were one of the founding fathers of the dark, slow, doom-laden style of death metal.  By the mid 90s, they evolved, moving to clean vocals, cleaner production and a more gothic metal based sound reminiscent of The Sisters of Mercy. At the turn of the new millenium, their sound became that of a melancholy synthpop, heavily influenced by such acts as New Order and Depeche Mode.  With each passing album, they slowly inched towards their roots, blending elements of each era with another.  Enter The Plague Within, the return to the sound that grabbed the metal world by its throat and demanded its attention.  I, amongst other fans of this band, can barely wait!   June 2nd……

This is not the be all end all of great new stuff released (or soon to be released this) year.  If there is anything that you guys have been listening to, share it with us.  Like you, we are fans and we are open to new stuff.  Until next time……METAL!!!!!