UG Articles Archive

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Part classic rock, part blues, part metal, Graveyard is a band to keep an eye on

I recently discovered Graveyard, an excellent band out of Sweden that plays a brand of blues-rock that hearkens to Led Zeppelin and the Stones, while also using elements of modern rock and metal similar to bands like Baroness and Mastodon.  These guys....these are the guys.

Graveyard just released their second album "Hisingen Blues" to great critical acclaim., a metal blog known for its stinginess on reviews, gave it a 9/10.  I've listened to it almost nonstop since I got it a week ago.  It's a really refreshing album, because their sound is so different from what everyone else is doing.  It's not thrash, not death metal, not really prog or stoner metal, and not any kind of -core.  It's just heavy, bluesy, rock and roll. 

Their first single off "Hisingen Blues" is the title track.  Watch this video and you may be convinced that these guys are actually time travelers from the early 70s:

They remind me a lot of The Sword, but I'm actually even more impressed by "Hisingen Blues" than I was by The Sword's 2010 album "Warp Riders," which ended up ranking in my top 5 albums of last year.  Graveyard will be supporting Iron Maiden on tour in Europe this summer.

Here's a link to a grooveshark playlist of the whole album, so you can investigate further if you're liking what you hear:

Hope you have a good weekend, and I hope you give these guys a shot, they're pretty damn good.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I love bluegrass covers of metal songs

Today, I discovered another band that plays bluegrass versions of popular metal songs: Slaughter of the Bluegrass.  I didn't even know this genre existed until a couple years ago, when I first heard Iron Horse.

Iron Horse takes an artist-focused approach to their covers.  They have 2 albums of bluegrass Metallica, one of Ozzy covers, and one of Led Zeppelin.  If you haven't heard them before, they're a ton of fun to listen to, and their production and arrangement abilities are really top-notch. 

Here's my favorite Iron Horse arrangement:

Somehow, while randomly browsing Youtube this afternoon, I came across Slaughter of the Bluegrass.  Based in Stockholm, Sweden, they take a genre-focused approach to their covers, playing melodic death metal tunes from the likes of Dark Tranquility, In Flames, At the Gates, and Amon Amarth.  They have yet to release an album, but the 6 songs they've done so far are available for download for free on their website

My favorite cover of theirs? 

I always thought Twilight of the Thunder God would work well with a clean-sung chorus, and guess what?  It sounds awesome.  Different version, different sound, still good. 

I'm trying to get into more traditional bluegrass music, not just covers.  The best stuff I've been able to find so far is Old Crow Medicine Show, but there's gotta be better stuff out there.  Anyone know of some good bluegrass?  Let me know in the comments or on the facebook page!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Stoner Metal - It's not just for potheads anymore

I've recently started getting into the Stoner/Doom Metal genre, that downtuned, downtempo, heavily distorted genre of metal that draws about 98% of its influence from Black Sabbath. 

People call it "stoner metal" because the music tends to be made up of relatively few riffs repeated over a lengthy period of time, creating a droning, trance-like effect.  Oftentimes, guitars are distorted so heavily that the tone is often referred to as "Sludge."  Vocals tend to sit relatively low in the mix, and are generally sung clean , not necessarily growled or screamed.  Stoner/Doom/Sludge/whateveryouwanttocallit metal songs tend to be quite long.  Perhaps the most celebrated Stoner metal band of all time, Sleep has a song entitled Dopesmoker that is literally 1 hour and 3 minutes long.  It's not an album, it's a single track.  Here it is if you've got some time to spare: 

Some notable bands in the genre are the aforementioned Sleep, as well as:
  • Electric Wizard
  • High on Fire (features Sleep's guitarist - Sleep is currently defunct)
  • Spirit Caravan
  • Kyuss
  • The Sword
  • Om
  • Jucifer
  • Howl
  • Earth
  • Down
  • Corrosion of Conformity
Some contend that more progressive metal acts like Mastodon, Isis, Pelican, Red Sparowes, and Baroness also fall into this category, because they write long songs with lengthy instrumental passages and heavy, droning guitars.  I don't generally lump them in with the stoner metal bands, but it doesn't really matter.  Sub-genre debates bore me, and the music is far more important than some superficial genre label. 

I'm becoming a big Electric Wizard fan.  They've been around since 1993, and theirs is some of the heaviest, Sabbath-like metal I've ever heard from a new artist. Their newest album Black Masses is receiving a lot of critical acclaim, and their 2000 album "Dopethrone" is one of the genre's must-listen records.  Here's the title track, crank the volume on this one:

So ends my very brief and kind of disorganized introduction to Stoner and Doom metal.  I apologize for kind of jumping all over the place in this piece, but there's a lot to talk about and no really good way to organize it all.  I could probably split this post into 3, and I may do that some time and really get into each of the subgenres and their major players.  We'll see.  In the meantime, keep it heavy and loud.  I'm gonna listen to some Sleep for the next 63 minutes.  Have a good weekend! 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Solo Projects: Sizzlers and Fizzlers

So you're the egotistical member of a band who was recently fired for being a total dick, or your the caged artist who left the band to spread your creative wings to new heights. What do you do? You make a solo project! Whether you're the vengeful Dave Mustaine or the bored Rob Halford, the only thing left to do with your talent after leaving your previous band is to spawn a new one. But just because you left a great band, does that automatically make your solo project a success? The answer is no, as I discover below after closely analyzing the solo projects of four musicians who have been in the rock/metal world longer than I have been alive.

Bruce Dickinson - Sizzler:

To be fair and balanced, I will say that I could listen to Dickinson sing the phone book, so anything that spews out of his mouth is bound to be gold in my book. By the beginning of the 1990s, you could tell he was putting forth only a fraction of effort in his live performances (see Live at Donnington), so rather than hollowly live the rock and roll lifestyle, he left Iron Maiden in 1993 to focus on his solo work--which he actually started while still in Maiden. Now most people will tell you (including me) that Maiden is nothing without Dickinson, and even though I think his solo stuff is enjoyable and interesting, he isn't much with Maiden.

That said, Bruce decided to stay within the genre that made him famous, but he also tinkered with genre mixing and odd song themes and concept albums. No other song sums up the weirdness but still catchiness of his early solo better than the following song.

*WARNING: the following video contains the best voice in heavy metal rapping some verses*

Over the decade, you can see that Dickinson eventually ditched the weirdness to align him self as more of a Maiden Clone, as most of his songs sounded like they could be on a Maiden album. This was probably a huge clue to the rest of the band that he wanted to come back (in 1999). Overall, Bruce Dickinson's solo project had some quirky weird songs and some memorable Maiden-esque tracks, but we all know in which band he belongs.

Paul Di'Anno - Fizzler:

You have to respect this man for laying the foundation for a band that would be imitated through three decades, but when Di'Anno was ejected from Iron Maiden (due to drug/alcohol abuse), he just could not get back on his feet. I will frequently hear some of his "remastered" versions of Maiden songs he helped write (Killers, Wrathchild, Prowler, etc.) and there really is not much to take from them. The vocals are a bit rougher, but you can tell the instrumentalists are much less skilled than the ones on Killers and Iron Maiden albums.

In addition to the Maiden remakes, Di'Anno has also covered other artists, and he even gave writing his own music "the college try." Living in America is probably his weirdest cover--not only because his voice can't save that bland song, but because his personality just does not seem like one that would be fascinated by the big cities of the country across the pond. As for his own created songs, you can easily lock on to the decade they were made, because they bleed 80s cliches from every orifice. To me, his songs sound like Poison with a rougher vocalist.
Save your time for the first two Iron Maiden albums and skip Di'Anno.

Robert Plant - Fizzler:

Even the Richard Suckers at Rolling Stone Magazine can't argue that Led Zeppelin is in the top 5 of greatest rock bands of all time, and this was made possible in portion due to Robert Plant's golden pipes (and his tambourine playing too!). With the death of John Bohnam, it's no surprise why my generation will never get to see the band live. As for Plant's current activities, he's still out on tour, but in a different direction.

Plant made waves in 2007 with his solo album Raising Sand, a duo project with bluegrass musician Alison Krauss, which ended up winning album of the year at the Grammys. Personally, after listening to some of the singles (Rich Woman and Fortune Teller), it's just not my cup of tea. It could be his obvious aging vocals, or it could be the country tone to the songs, but I did not enjoy the album.
Plant is now touring with his Band of Joy, and though I have not heard anything from this band of joy, I know from a few jilted Zep fans that not a single Zeppelin song is played at these shows--not even re-genred classic songs (easy listening Immigrant Song, anyone?). It's probably a bit ignorant to dismiss this Band of Joy because of their refusal to give us even one classic, but that's just, like, my opinion, man! I respect the man to death as a singer, but I wish he didn't have to venture away from the genre I love.

Ritchie Blackmore - Sizzler:

The man traded social skills for musical talent when he made his deal with the devil. Renowned by fellow rock musicians as a man who is short on fan appreciation, Blackmore saves his energy for writing some of the most famous riffs in rock history (dun DUN DUNNNNN, dun dun Da NUNNNN). Starting by co-founding the what I like to call "Hippie Metal" band Deep Purple, he later moved on to the just as successful band Rainbow, known for unearthing the legend Ronnie James Dio. Hopefully you know at least the bare minimum about Rainbow, because they will not be the focus of this section.

After his marriage to singer Candice Night, Blackmore crafted more gold with Blackmore's night, a medieval/Renaissance themed band with rock roots. The band has been known to make unannounced visits to Renaissance fairs across America--which is one of the big reasons I go to Bristol Renaissance Fair in Kenosha at least once a year--and like to play smaller venues. What follows is an example of their folk-rock majesty:

If you listen to one solo project after reading this article, I strongly recommend making it Blackmore's Night. It's folk-rock at its best, even if some of the videos are a bit silly.

*Bonus Section* - Kevin Federline, great solo artist or GREATEST solo artist?:
After being a backup dancer to Britney Spears and then husband, the Fedster decided his overflowing talent was not being utilized properly. Under the the recommendations of his loving wife, KF dropped some bombs on us of epic proportions!

...Okay, I can't keep that up. Any douchebag with sideways hat seems to think he's good at rapping these days, and the word douchebag would not exist in its current manifestation if it weren't for K-Fed. I admit, I can't say he's the worst rapper of all time (youtube search T-Baby - it's so cold in the D), but just because you date someone who is a pop-culture colossus, does not mean you have a green light to make middle school rap songs. Hot tip: YOU ARE NOT AMERICA'S MOST HATED, GET OVER YOURSELF. Just listen to the lyrics, and if you don't hate him by the end...well, congratulations! You are an expert at maintaining your anger.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You're gonna love Turisas

Based on a Decibel magazine review of Finnish folk-metallers Turisas that compared them to Blind Guardian, I got their newest album "Stand Up and Fight" and sat down late last night to give it a first listen.

I was blown away.  I had heard maybe one or two other Turisas songs prior to this album, and this effort absolutely blows their older material out of the water.  Like Blind Guardian's latest, "At the Edge of Time" (one of my top 5 albums of 2010), "Stand Up and Fight" makes use of a full backing orchestra on every track.  The difference between the two is that Turisas have managed to make each song distinct and memorable, with no weak spots to be found anywhere in the track list. 

The music is grandiose and powerful, and covers a variety of themes.  The band ventures into the high seas for some pirate metal a la Alestorm on "Hunting Pirates," into the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome on "Venetoi!  Prasinoi!" and out onto the medieval battlefield for the epic title track. 

It's so over-the-top epic that some may not take it seriously, but that's their loss.  This band clearly had a ton of fun making this album, and I know I've been having a blast listening to it.  I'm not gonna give it a rating yet, as I've only listened to it two or three times, but "Stand Up and Fight" is shaping up to be one of my favorite albums of 2011 so far.  Here's the title track - it took me a while to get past the warpaint and the kilts, but the music speaks for itself: