New CD reviews - June 2000

Iron Maiden - Brave New World

So, in the review of the single I stated that yes, I am a fickle fan. But I was actually excited prior to this album for the first time in probably a decade. Which is funny as it coincides with a total lack of enthusiasm for a vast majority of the new stuff going round at the moment. Fickle? Showing my age? Too many bands rehashing very few other bands sounds? A bit of it all really.

So, I bought it. Virtual XI was the first, in fact the only studio album by Maiden I've never bought. Yeah, I was a big fan. They were the first band I ever saw live. Steve Harris is THE bass player. Bar none. I never actually made it in to being able to actually play an instrument, but when I was at that stage of "hmm, should I try and learn guitar or bass?" it was Harris that swung me towards the bass. To this day, although I have other favourite bassists, there's just something so right about watching the way the guy plays the bass. His attitude, approach, enthusiasm, even in the way he holds the bass and plays it. With the "reunion" - the wrong word as they never split to reunite, I was sceptical. Partly because I know it will never be the same for me, because I'm older now, and I now know how naieve I was when yonger, so some of the things the band say, any band says, I know take with a pinch of salt - it's the marketing, it's the rhetoric everyone uses. So I approach with enthusiastic caution.

Ok, as I start writing this, I'm pretty sure this is going to be a long review, and I've got a lot of things to say, so let's start by trying to do an overall summary of my feelings.:

A good album, very good. Bit fucking special actually. Absolute corker. I know I know, that shouldn't come from a zine, after all, the underground is all that counts right? Well, yeah, a lot of the time it's the important area, but you know, being honest, all of us have something "mainstream" that does it for us, that moves us. Maiden are the band for me. Or at least they were. Then Faith No More came along. But that's another story. Anyway, the new album. There's a lot here I like. There's also some things I dislike, some things I want to comment on. How does it rate to the rest of their stuff? Well, it's too early to say. I'm listening to it a lot at the moment, but will I be in 6 months time? That's when the test comes, that's when I can really place it with respect to the rest of their stuff. So we'll wait on that.

Ok, let's do my gripes first. There's a lot of times on hear when I find myself trying to decide which song or which riff something reminds me of. Some feel more obvious than others. Is that bad? Well, for those who don't like the band, it's obvious ammunition. But there again, tell me that other bands don't rehash riffs. Pants tearer have on their new album, Korn do, RATM rehash Deep Purples riffs for them, etc etc. And really, I mean, what do people expect, Maiden to sound like those bands? Be as stupid as any of those bands trying to sound like Maiden. I mean, if that happened, what would people say? Exactly. And so although I keep starting to sing Invaders at the start of Wicker Man, or a combination of Can I Play With Madness and Ozzy's Crazy Train during Ghost of the Navigator or any host of others, what matters most is that the music drags me back. Yeah, unlike a lot of albums these days, I keep reaching for this and putting it on. It's doing what music should do, it's grabbing me, it's reeling me in. So as far as I'm concerned, any criticisms are almost irrelevent.

Another gripe is the lyrics. It seemed that the Blaze era Maiden got lambasted for the repetitiveness of some of the lyrics and choruses. Well, despite the return of "the saviours" (pah), that repetitiveness is still there. Too much so sometimes, and it gets a little embarrassing. But the music behind it holds it together and keeps it going. In fact, let's sort it out. Blaze got a raw deal. Lambasted by many. The facts? It was the music and the production that was the problem, issues Blaze had zero to do with. I took a listen to X Factor the other day to compare. The guitars are AWOL. There's repetitiveness in the lyrics. Basically, it wasn't all his fault, and although a number of the flaws have been repaired, some still show their head here. In fact, there's a number of times where Bruce sings in a manner that is more akin to Blaze than necessarily to what Bruce is renowned for.

But the positives? Well, it's a little more in your face than they've been in a loooong time. Nicko turns in some of his quickest bass drum work ever on a lot of the tracks, and it gives everything a kick that's been missing. There really is some nice fast stuff in here mixed into the longer, twisty, almost progressive material. Bruce IS singing better than a long time, forgoing the gruff sub AC/DC thing that he tried on his last two studio albums before leaving the band. Of course it's a style that's completely at odds with current fashion, there's real singing here, which means that many people will almost call it pop in comparison to some stuff. But boy it sounds refreshing. For all the talk of "feeling" and "torture" some bands use, it kind of makes you think that's all a cover maybe for the fact that, like me, they just can't sing. The guitars are a bit more upfront, though I feel they could've used the three guitar attack a little better in places. There are times you can here the three of them, but they're not distinct enough to take advantage, yet they're not that heavy that it makes you think "wow, three guitars makes a sickingly heavy sound".

Ok, Wicker Man, you've probably heard. Not the best thing on here by a long way. No, no sireee. Neither are The Mercenery and Fallen Angel. By numbers, and they could've been left off the album with no real loss. Though Fallen Angel sounds like one of the heaviest things they've ever done. But let's get to the decent stuff. It's the long tracks. The more exotic ones. The likes of Ghost of the Navigator, Brave New World, Blood Brothers, Nomad, Out of the Silent Planet and personal fave at the moment, The Thin Line Between Love And Hate. Understand this, these take a few listens to sink in. First time round was hmmmmmm, but, the important thing, for some reason, I pressed play again, and again, and again. There's tragically few bands that really have that effect on me these days.

The title track opens out with a guitar and bass passage that has me thinking of some parts of Marillion, before it picks up the pace and unfurls through various twists and turns. But the chorus is a bit too repititous.

Blood Brothers has the Celtic feel to it. A few times I found myself thinking of some of the music from Fish's first solo album after leaving Marillion, and Jannick Gers played on that. There's a hint of Jethro Tull there as well (yes, I do have some of the albums, I'm fairly old and like to think I can appreciate a fairly wide range in music and not just what people consider credible), and some orchestration thrown in. Probably find many people decrying it for not being metal enough. The same people that will overtly complain about some of the riffs being rehashed. So what do you want? It's the band exploring, in a way they've actually done quite often, yet never been given any credit for.

Dream of Mirrors. Hmmm. Still working on it. First few times, well, it were a bit crap really. Now, it's getting there. There's too much repetition, the intro sounds a bit cack sometimes, a bit good other times, depends on my mood. It speeds up to a degree which feels too fast, it's long. It's another of the songs that gives a feeling of mid way between the 7th Son and Somewhere in Time albums.

Nomad treads the line. I'm sure those that hate it will have the suss to rename it Gonads. But, after a few listens, it works. The Eastern sound, there's parts in there reminiscent of the quiet section of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, a bit of Alexander the Great, and also the start of Afraid To Shoot Strangers, but it's got an instrumental section that works and Bruce's vocals in the chorus make it. Many people these days will hate it, it's cheesy and all that. Pah, fucking lovely stuff.

Current fave though it The Thin Line Between Love And Hate. The first time it feels clumsy. I've read some peoples opinions that it's an end of album filler. But there again, look at some of the album closers they've done in the past, Iron Maiden, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Only The Good Die Young (one of their most underrated songs ever, I'll never forgive them for not having played it live!). This one feels the same way. The lyrics feel cumbersome, but then after a while, you adjust to the melody and the feel. The feel. There's more of that in here than there's been for many a long while. Then, around the 5 minute mark it turns into something spectacular for my money. There's a bluesy guitar lick, the tone is so clean and pure, not normally my thing, but it's spine tingling. Then there's a guitar melody that, ooooh, it's one of those things, you hear something and it just immediately hits you as being right. This one of those moments. Perfect. The last times it happened was earthtone 9's Tat Twam Asi and Billy Mahonie's We Accept American Dollars. Both different styles, but just that feeling. It's a guitar melody that lasts 10 seconds only and is repeated twice. Nothing in an 8 1/2 minute song, but man oh man, I just love it. Blackrock have suddenly got a contender for my favourite solo of the last year. Lovely. It's an awesome way to end the album as far as I'm concerned.

Is it relevent though? Should they have given up? Well, those who like extreme will laugh at it. It's not extreme. There's talk of its intentsity, but it's intensity in a different way to say Medulla Nocte. This music isn't extreme. Maiden NEVER were really. So those people who don't want to give it a chance will mock it. Me, well it's relevent to me because for all the reassuring familiarity of it, and nods to the past, it's WAY FUCKING BETTER AND ENGAGING THAN HALF OF THE SHIT THAT'S BEING PUT OUT BY SO MANY UNORIGINAL, COPYIST, TRENDY, 'HA, LET'S LAUGH AT MAIDEN COS THEY'RE SO OLD FASHIONED' BANDS AT THE MOMENT. Sorry for shouting, but had to make a point. They're more relvent than half of the "relevant" bands. And fuck anyone who wants to mock me. I've never had any credibility anyway. At the end of the day, music is simple, it comes down to one thing and one thing only, music. Not fashion. Not trend. Not credibility. Just music. And Maiden have made an album in which 7 of the 10 songs are over 6 minutes long. That, for all your claims, ain't commercial. The music wins out, and Maiden have produced a stormer. My initial suspicians in the reunion remain, I'm just a cynical old fuck, but boy, they've only gone and produced the album they said they would.

Ultimately for me it's like this, after a few listens, as that magical part of TTLBLAH unravels, my hand clenched into a fist and I find myself shouting "yes, go on my son". You either understand that and the reasoning behind it, or you don't. It can't be explained. And a month on, I'm still playing this album loads, probably more than any other so far this year, almost in fact to the extent that I used to play their albums. Except I skip Wickerman, Fallen Angel and The Mercenery. I really wish I wasn't going to be working on the night of that gig. I can only hope that they play Nottingham in the rumoured regional dates towards the end of the year. Up The Irons.

Medulla Nocte - Dying On The Inside.

I remember my first encounter with Medulla. Shortly after witnessing a scarily intense performance, I did an interview with them. As usual for an interview, I was bricking it. Would they think I was a jerk with the crap questions I was asking? Would they be a bunch of arrogant arseholes. Would they care? All the usual things. Increased following what I'd just witnessed on the stage.

As it turns out, they were extremely accomodating and gracious. During the interview, a word was used on a number of occasions by the band. Intense.

The album review? Well, it was "wow". One word. That's effectively all that was needed. This time. Something akin to "awww foooooooooooooooooooooooook" as you're pushed backwards against the wall. It just hits you with such a massive jolt.

Nearly every time that I've seen them gig since, the first word that's come to mind, even though it's predictable and cliched, is intense.

Speaking to the band at a gig in Nottingham shortly before they were due to record the new album, they were talking about the intensity of the new material.

Intensity. It's a word used all the time to describe Medulla. So what about the new album? Well, guess. It's intense. Just look at the title. Dying on the Inside. Look at the cover. A pretty apt picture of Dying on the Inside.

So, you set yourself up for intense, BUT, did you really expect anything quite like this. Take the first album, double it's intensity, then add some. I really can't remember the last time I heard something like this. Put it like this, Medulla Nocte have just made Pantera and Machine Head sound like infants crying for attention from their parents. I've not heard Slipknot, but they would be hard pressed to match the intensity of this. And all without gimmick. Medulla simply let the music do the crushing.

Of course, let's face it, some people will hate this. Can't be helped, and has to be expected. This is extreme and some will say it's simply noise. Each to his own.

So, 9 tracks, 41 minutes. Absolutely no letup.

Anyways, the songs themselves. Fast, in your face. Aggressive. Deafened By The Sound of Silence starts up, Jammer laying down the double bass drum fills all over the place, but there's a surprisingly melodic slower passage in there - it's brief, you'll need to be on your guard to catch it. And listen on headphones and there sounds like there's a few vocal overdubs going on meaning that you've actually got Pauls vocals attacking you from all directions. Close your eyes, blank out the light, and it's like one of those moments from films where the victim is looking all around, and everywhere they're surrounded by monsters, no escape. This is the aural equivalent. Scary and rather tasty both at the same time, with a nice evil melodic guitar solo from Neal.

Twice The Trauma reads like a viscious reltationship break up, exorcising the demons, culminating with the vitriolic screaming "it's all your fault, it's all your fault". There sounds like a few effects on the vocals, giving them a darker tinge, but still exploring those extreme Patton shouting moments. The Nervous Reaction stars because of the main content, more peering over the edge of sanity, but also because there's a gentle shimmery summery chord right at the end of it. A ray of hope? A nod towards Mr Bungle perhaps?

Has the Penny Dropped? feels like the closest the Nocte come to a singalong - this albums All Our Friends Are Dead perhaps. Singalong that is if your still standing after the initial onslaught from the opening drum salvo. Fuck me, it came on as I was writing this. Listening on headphones. I knew what was coming, after all, I've listened to the album a fair few times already, but it just felt like I was being lifted off my feet and thrown backwards into a brick wall. The bridge to the chorus has a great guitar riff going on in there, the bass is everywhere trying to keep up. Big time change as well. The drums just reminded me of Voivod on the Nothingface album, one of my faves. I don't know why. It just happened. They were never this aggressive though.

Nothing For Second is re-recorded from the Freebase split EP, it's a massive song. One of their best. I'm going to nick what I wrote from the review of that EP - cheap I know, but it still applies. Just a mo. Nothing For Second. It's been pulverising in their gigs all year now, so it's nice to finally be able to sit down and look it fully in the face in the comfort of your own room. Or work as it is at the moment as I'm listening to it and typing this. And be scared shitless by it. Crikey, I probably need to take that "wooargh fooooook" out of the thesis. It's the band pushing back the boundaries for themselves. It's intense but refrained. No, it's not refrained, it's I dunno, it's them but it's more. "I'm sorry" hollers Paul, something he shouldn't be. Sorry that is. Not when you?re producing sounds as awesome as this. It twists, it turns through different time changes, it riffs and it grooves, it nuts you in the face. To me it's the sound of a band who could now truly make the transition to real headline status. Man is this a fucking great track? Yes is your answer. It?s 5 1/2 minutes of majesty. And the bass is huge in this - massive bass chords - evn if bass chords are the same as guitar chords - I dunno, I'm uneducated when it comes to music theory.

And it sounds like somethings registering on the richter scale with the opening bass sounds to Outcast. "I don't fit in" is this songs cry. A drawn out sustained riff, there's still elements of Slayer in some of the riffs, but they've also got a shitload of their own. I'm trying to think of how I can pidgeonhole them by saying they sound like soandso. But I can't. They create a sound that is purely their own. We've hit the breaks on this track, crushing intsead with power and groove, and another effect being applied to Pauls vocals. Listening to this, it'd be great to actually see the guy do a live set using lots of different vocal effects to augment his own natural scream. Broken State of Mind brings up the speed and pile driving drums again, there's that effect of overdubbing the vocals, hemming you in just like on Deafened.

The best in some ways, is left to last. Inside I'm Dying is a 7 minute monster. It's huge. Paul drawls over the intro. It's the closest he's got to singing in the Nocte. It's slow and doomy, twisty and turning all over the shop. Paul even croons before unleashing yet another torrent. Each album in amongst the viciousness of the riffs, they manage to conjure up some that the likes of Machine Head, Pantera or any of that ilk would cream themselves to have written. Welcome to yet another of those riffs. It's the most progressive adventurous track they've done. In some ways its disappointing that they didn't explore even more of this vein on the album, as it was written a while back because they've played it live at a number of their gigs over about the last year. But there again, maybe it's a nod from this album into the next. Who knows. Maybe it's just me, it's a massive evolution, a massive song. And in all honesty, they're probably not even thinking that far down the line, because they've created this piece of viscious thuggery to promote first.

'Scuse me now. I'm going to lie down and let my ears recover. Listening on headphones, it feels like my ears are smoking.

It's no good how hard you try, you can't really describe music like this. You can only experience it. But seriously, be warned, if you've not experienced something like this before, you will need to wean yourself on to it. Some will love it. Some will emerge shellshocked and quite possibly scarred for life. And scared for life. I played a bit of it in work. It got about 30 seconds before someone pleaded for me to stop playing it, "that's not music, that's pain". In many ways, there's no better summing up and recommendation all in one.

Automatic - 3 track sampler

I know absolutely nothing about this. It arrived with a note saying that it was 3 tracks from a forthcoming album. Who they are, when why and all that sort of thing, no idea. Listening to it though, there's a hint of Wildhearts / 3 Colours Red to the sound, and I'm wondering if it's the band that were formerly the Hang-Ups from Newcastle, or at least some of the people associated with that band. It's treading similar ground. Very melodic, bouncy, big searing chorus to first track New Gods. This whole sort of thing got pretty boring about 15 months ago, but I've not really listened to much of its ilk in the meantime, so although this isn't necessarily brimming with originality, it actually sounds quite fresh and entertaining. Second track Sycophantic is carried along on a simple bouncy riff, the production shines quite a bit, you can pick everything out in there, it suits the musical style. Final offering is Building Bridges, which doesn't deviate much from the path of the first couple of tracks, bouncy riff, melodic vocals with just a tinge of aggression being kept tightly underwraps - kid of often makes me curious to hear what tracks like these would sound like if the patented melodic vocals approach was discarded. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes it feels like the musical equivalent of the mullet. I mean, keep it short on top and sides and the length at the back it will be acceptable to the public by and large. So, musically, have some decent riffs, a tinge of heaviness, but keep the vocals on the melodic side, don't give the chance of the old "you can't understand what they're saying" rearing its head, and you should be acceptable to the public. Sorry, off on a tangent again, I've got to learn to stop being so cynical about everything and everyone. Will be interesting to how well an entire album of this stands up to my current lack of attention span, but for people who like regular fixes of the pop punky kind of thing, and who maybe found the Jellys just a little too sacharin like for their tastes, then Automatic might be the solution.

Stampin' Ground - Carved From Empty words

So the change is complete. I may get some flack for this in terms of it being not relevent to the music, but hell, this for my money, no questions asked, no doubt about it, you can argue 'till you're blue in the face. This is a metal album. The guitar tone, the drums, the break, time changes, even now, the vocals. Yes yes yes, all those elements happen in hardcore, but this is just so metal I can hardly believe it. I'll be interested to see how exactly it goes down in hardcore circles, and if it goes down well, how accomodating they are to say the new Medulla album. See, I'm interested because I am curious as to where the line is sometimes drawn. I hear that hardcore is it's own culture, and the ethics and the lyrics are what set it apart. Maybe true. But that's not the music is it? See, here I'm listening to this in my own home. The review copy has no lyrics, and I can't make out what's being said in order to say if the lyrics are more intelligent than metal ones. And being in my own home, I'm not part of any community at this point, it's me and the music, at one if you like. Ultimately what it all boils down. Sorry, it's just a curiosity of mine you understand - not a criticism. After all, Stampin' Ground contain Ian Glasper, a man who sold his vinyl to set up his own HC label and has put out over 10 releases in a year sold at realistic prices - which I guess is one of the examples of some of the virtues HC prides itself on.

But enough talk that has nothing to do with what counts, the only thing that counts really for me - the music. 10 tracks of molten metal would be the cliched way to describe this. It's chock full of full tilt head on riffs, often feeling like they're derived from the Slayer school. There's plenty of twists and turns, time changes, it sounds like drummer Ade is playing double kick drums, though live I'm sure he only ever does a single kick drum. The vocals are more rounded for me. They still holler and shout in your face, but there's just a hint more variety, and the holler isn't quite as shrill as some hardcore sounds to me. For my money, you knew it was coming didn't you, go on, admit it, you knew it. Yep, I'd like to have seen a little more variety, heck, variety in this instance being to throw in a completely off kilter old school style track just to throw a spanner in the works, though Everybody Owes a Death comes close.

Officer Down starts it off, a bass drum barrage that comes out of the Pantera / Slayer school, married with a Slayer like riff and Anselmo like vocals, Adam really sounds different to the last album, more confident, in some ways, more at ease with his vocals. Mind you, when he does the spoken word section mid way through, there's absolutely no mistaking it being American, there's a good old English accent cutting right through. But anyway, that kind of musical description fits for the remainder of the album, so there's little point me trying to do a track by track breakdown, because then it'll just read like I'm being harsh. The opening to The Symmetry of Hatred is particularly enjoyable, whilst other highlights are the more straightahead Everybody Owes A Death and Funadamental Truth. One complaint is that the bass seems pretty much lost in the mix, which is a real shame, the only time it's really evident is at the start of Nothing Changes Nothing. And Mid-Death Crisis is such a great name for a song, decent riff running through it as well.

It's a good album, doesn't outstay the welcome (it's done dusted and closing the door on it's way out after 36 minutes). It's just not what I was expecting, part of me wonders if it's what they should've delivered. But, I'm sure I've said it before, if you are a metal fan wondering about hardcore, then Stampin' Ground offer a gentle way in. Gentle in the "rip your 'kin face off hard" manner of course. They've made the gulf that wasn't really there in the first place even less now if you ask me.

But boy am I going to be interested to see what everyone else writes and has to say about this album - both the metal and hardcore people. Hopefully it's a quality release that will build some of the bridges.