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When a band proclaims that their latest album is a return to their classic sound, the initial response must always be skepticism. Generally, when a band is in dire straits they'll profess to be returning to their roots on their next release, but there's seldom any substance to such statements.

Bands long divorced from the public limelight or critical establishment make a career out of such meaningless boasts, insisting time and again that their latest release will indeed recall the style of their glory days. Such hype only contributes to the cynicism of their audience, already jaded from being burned once too often by the same old trick - hardly conducive to commercial success.

The reason for such a charade varies from band to band. Some bands simply cannot revert to their classic sound, having deteriorated far too much over the years to return to their past glory no matter how hard they try. Others have merely lost sight of what made their peak material so strong, having forgotten their own strengths and weaknesses. Those possibilities tend to be far more plausible than an actual return to form, and there's no shortage of band histories to demonstrate that.

Metallica themselves had already perpetrated this fraud on the debacle that was St. Anger. Having been promised a triumphant return to the days of Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, listeners were instead the unfortunate recipients of aural effluvia that easily constitutes the nadir of Metallica's catalogue.

So the band making precisely the same claim on this their subsequent outing almost comes across as an insult; expecting listeners to fall for the same trick again so soon is the height of absurdity and disrespectful to the intellects of the bulk of Metallica's fanbase (which admittedly, in some cases, is saying quite a lot). Nevertheless, Death Magnetic was touted as a return to form, a statement that elicited little more than ironic smirks and contemptuous sneers.

That reaction only lasted until most had actually heard the CD however, as - amazingly - Death Magnetic is one of the few such albums that actually fulfilled its seemingly impossible promise, rendering it one of the most unanticipated comebacks in the history of rock.

It had been decades since a Metallica album of this caliber had been released, and even more impressively it's actually a worthy follow-up to the band's first four outings, especially given that those albums were undisputed Heavy Metal masterpieces. Death Magnetic may not reach the dizzying heights of Ride the Lightning or Master of Puppets, but it is on a comparable level with such classics as Kill 'Em All and And Justice for All, which is no small accomplishment (especially in light of what the band had degenerated into in recent years).

Metallica's classic style has at last been restored, leading to the type of vicious yet catchy and immaculately performed riff-fest that's rarely been encountered at all in recent years. No one can pull off this brand of music quite like Metallica in their prime, and while they're hardly in their prime now, on Death Magnetic they've made great strides toward duplicating their past successes.

Death Magnetic is devoid of filler. There are a few lesser tracks, and one may question the impetus for producing yet another sequel to "The Unforgiven", but overall the album is remarkably consistent, particularly for such a late-period release. Each track boasts a plethora of innovative, clever riffs, and while there's no pandering to the casual crowd that joined the ranks of Metallica devotees in the wake of the MTV generation's beloved 'black album', there are certainly pop hooks, like the infectious refrains of "All Nightmare Long" and "Cyanide".

Also, in the hands of many copycat rock artists, the Thrash genre tends to preclude catchy imaginative riffs, instead simply favoring speed and precision. This has obviously never been a problem that afflicted Metallica, and on Death Magnetic there are plenty of instances, like the stellar riff on the opener "That Was Just Your Life", that were conceived in the tradition of immortal Thrash riffs from such songs as "Fight Fire With Fire", "Battery", and "Blackened".

As far as the performances are concerned, Death Magnetic is unimpeachable (barring the usual complaint that the bass guitar is buried far too low in the mix) ... Hetfield is in top form, eschewing the self-indulgent excesses that have occasionally marred his work. And Hammett - after being criminally underutilized on St. Anger - emerges as a tremendous force in the band once again, playing myriad flawlessly-executed guitar solos that add immeasurably to each track.

The album is not without its flaws however. It almost goes without saying that - as usual with Metallica - the lyrics are abysmal, with some cringe-inducing lines. Still, any fan of the band has long since accepted that aspect of their work as inescapable.

What is a problem however, is that - for what is a stylistically uniform album - Death Magnetic is gruesomely overlong. Although on an individual level each track is strong and eminently worthy of inclusion, when taken as a whole the album tends to get rather monotonous, simply bombarding the listener with an endless parade of distorted riffage and pounding drums. That invariably grows both tedious and exhausting, perhaps even headache-inducing, and seriously undermines the overall quality of an otherwise impeccable album, and by album's end even a fan of metal will ultimately feel as if he's being abused by the sheer loudness of Death Magnetic.

Nevertheless, Death Magnetic is still a very good album (albeit one that needn't have been over 75 minutes in length), and a triumphant return to form from a band that had long since been dismissed as over-the-hill and irrelevant.

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Posted: Thursday 9th May 2019 10:53 AM

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album review
While Whiskeytown were one of the most highly regarded acts in the alternative country scene, garnering effusive praise from the critical establishment and cultivating one of the largest cult followings within their genre, they were as much known for the escalating tensions between their members as they were for their music.

The catalyst for those tensions tended to be the infamous youth who helmed the band as lead songwriter, lead vocalist, and guitarist - the ever volatile, alcohol-abusing Ryan Adams - who was a mere 20 years old at the time of the release of this the band's debut.

Not yet the critical darling who would be touted as the savior of rock and roll, Ryan Adams was better known for his alcohol-fueled antics, which resulted in the band's revolving door system of members during their short 5 year lifespan ... Adams would regularly break into violent clashes with his bandmates both on and offstage, altercations that would often degenerate from the verbal to outright pugilism.

Adams became notorious for both his alcoholic excesses and his short fuse as much as he was renowned for his songwriting brilliance, critical flaws that made him not only incompatible with his bandmates, but often incompatible with his audience too, as his intoxication led to erratic showings at the band's concerts.

Fortunately, Adams' vices never manifest over the course of Faithless Street - a solid alt.country album - one that showcases his considerable strengths even at such a tender age. An accomplished songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist even from the beginning, Adams has a flair for the genre, which is something of a surprise given that he'd just left a punk band prior to shifting his creativity to alt.country.

Due to a surplus of bonus tracks, Faithless Street is mildly overlong, but the length is more than justified given that some of the extra numbers rank amongst the best songs on the album, particularly the stellar material culled from the Baseball Park Sessions, which account for five of the CD's strongest alt.country anthems.

Indeed, the bonus tracks dilute some of the album's most egregious faults, defects that could otherwise have sabotaged it. For while Adams' songwriting tends to remain strong, there are certain tracks that simply come across as generic alt.country, albeit with an intelligent edge - Adams' lyrics are already rather sharp and literate, and his abilities in that department would continue to grow in time. Nonetheless, they're not yet enough to sustain a lackluster song, ergo when the music lapses into bland territory it can't be salvaged by even the most penetrating lyric.

Most of the tracks are however quite strong, ranging from minimalistic beauty to brooding hardluck reminiscences. And despite the generally mellow tone of the music, some even rock, like the classic opener "Midway Park", and the slight but energetic bonus track "Revenge".

Thus while the album is marred by its erratic character, it tends to remain a high quality affair, and it's certainly an auspicious debut by any standard. It never rises above the level of 'good', but it's still an entertaining and moving experience, and a testament to the brilliance of Ryan Adams - his grasp of the style is truly impressive given his novice status, such that he knows how to fashion the kind of warm penetrative beauty that only exists within country music.

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Posted: Friday 31st May 2019 12:26 PM

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