Random album reviews

The vocals are pure Ghost, but with the sneer of Dave Mustaine.
I can accept that description, though I personally hear it as Mustaine first with Ghost-like smoothness, rather than the other way around.

The music is far bluesier than Megadeth, but certainly breaks into those spider riffs and chromatics that Megadeth thrives on. I wouldn't compare anything here to early Megadeth, though.
“I Ain’t Superstitious” and “Sweating Bullets” are certainly reasonable reference points for the swinging rock n’ roll bits, and I think almost all of the guitar work is a direct channeling of Mustaine’s early style. This is definitely not a thrash album, though, and maybe that’s where the connection is faltering for you. To my ears, if you mix that swinging rock n’ roll approach from some of the early Megadeth tracks with the more commercial Countdown/Youthanasia songwriting approach, but keep the complex riffing of the earlier Megadeth albums, you land at something pretty close to the Doctor Smoke album.

But regardless of how one chooses to describe its style, the album is really great, and that’s what matters most!
“I Ain’t Superstitious” and “Sweating Bullets” are certainly reasonable reference points for the swinging rock n’ roll bits, and I think almost all of the guitar work is a direct channeling of Mustaine’s early style. This is definitely not a thrash album, though, and maybe that’s where the connection is faltering for you. To my ears, if you mix that swinging rock n’ roll approach from some of the early Megadeth tracks with the more commercial Countdown/Youthanasia songwriting approach, but keep the complex riffing of the earlier Megadeth albums, you land at something pretty close to the Doctor Smoke album.
I guess I can hear that! There's definitely a part in (I think) the second song that reminds me of something off of Rust in Peace, too.

Anyway, killer album, awesome find!
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Inspired by your reviews, I'll check them out tonight
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It's also hip, and groovy.

I got to song 4 yesterday and will resume today.

Pros - excellent playing, interesting arrangements and mix of styles
Cons - vocals (I don't care for Ghost), and it takes a while for hooks to arrive. I think first riff that hooked me into listening was in song 3. Everything prior was, "this is nice and it nicely flows with the thing before it". Not wow nice riff.

Weird - production. There's no punchy dynamic in the guitar. Seems a bit flat. This Megadethy sections style would appreciate a more old school approach.
What Lies Beyond - A sparse opening reminiscent of Gamma Ray’s “Razorblade Sigh”...

22 Acacia Avenue came to my mind. :lol:

I'll add my thanks for introducing this album, I've been listening to it for the best part of a week and really enjoying it. Even as a casual fan of Megadeth I caught the influence (though dare I say I'd take this over most Megadeth) and I really dig the Mastodon-esque sludginess. Reborn into Darkness, Been Here Forever, The Rope and This Hallowed Ground are my favourites so far, Been Here Forever being a particular highlight, the synthy lead line in the verse and the soaring chorus are 100% Mastodon.
Even as a casual fan of Megadeth I caught the influence (though dare I say I'd take this over most Megadeth) and I really dig the Mastodon-esque sludginess. Been Here Forever being a particular highlight, the synthy lead line in the verse and the soaring chorus are 100% Mastodon.
I'd take this over any Mastodon any day. :D
Opiate (1992)
  1. “Sweat” - Tool’s most straightforward song? Great riffing, super fun. Love Maynard’s extended post-chorus sections. Very simple and to-the-point compared to almost all their other songs but it’s very effective. 9/10
  2. “Hush” - Love the bass intro. Very groovy verses. Maynard does go hard man. Fun shit. Good early Tool even if Maynard goes overboard at times here. 7/10
  3. “Part of Me” - Not only is the riff meh, but the song never goes anywhere. Boring and forgettable, among the worst songs in the Tool catalogue. 4/10
  4. “Cold and Ugly” (live) - Great, heavy riff to this one. For a live recording, the sound is immense. Love the variations in the verse. The way the music drops out under “Scared as hell!” is great. The bridge change-up is pretty pointless and undercuts the song’s build. Wild solo section for Tool. Doesn’t completely pick up again after the bridge unfortunately and feels a bit like wasted potential. The beginning was great though. 7/10
  5. “Jerk-Off” (live) - Intro riff isn’t my favorite from them. A lot of the main song feels like stuff early Tool did better elsewhere. I’m impressed by just how far they went lyric wise. I like the “If consequences dictate…” section though, it’s pretty cool. Maybe if they repeated that I’d like the song more. 6/10
  6. “Opiate” - The intro tricks you into thinking that the band has a lengthy one up their sleeve. I love the quiet way it starts but we almost enter the main too early, more buildup would be great. The song really gets good during the “rape you” section. You can definitely hear a lot of future Tool in this song, but it really should’ve been more fully developed than the five minutes they gave it, making it a little disappointing in this form. Maynard’s scream is iconic though, and it’s definitely among the better songs on the album. 7/10
  7. “The Gaping Lotus Experience” (hidden) - Weirdly psychedelic. Some funny lines but not what I listen to Tool for. The epitome of a hidden track that should stay hidden. 4/10
A strong start to the Tool discography, but a bit inconsistent with only one truly great song (although “Opiate” has the makings of another within it). The bad tracks are among the band’s overall worst, but it’s still a fun listen to come back to every once in a while.

Total: 63%
Undertow (1993)
  1. “Intolerance” - The record opens to the sound of pigs, to underscore the packaging, before we get a great opening riff and a catchy verse. And the chorus? Man, I just mumble this to myself without thinking on the daily. Thematically this song sets up the rest of the album: almost every song is a rant against someone who’s pissed him off. And I dig these vibes. The post-chorus we get introduced to later on is great too. And I love how he gets progressively more aggressive in the final chorus, culminating in a fantastic outro. An excellent way to open the album. 9/10
  2. “Prison Sex” - I love the way this song opens; in my mind it sounds like the band is ripping up piano strings. And the riff! One of the best in the Tool catalogue. Maynard is all over the place vocally on this record but that’s more of an observation than a complaint; he just gets better with singing with time. Here he works with the subject matter to provide a hide-and-seek approach to back the lyrics, which are some of the band’s darkest and yet most brilliant. It’s a raw look at the cycle of abuse and I admire how frankly he tackles the subject matter. Lots of great moments throughout, like the “do unto others” refrain and the awesome chorus. And then the song takes a dark shift which comes out of nowhere but thematically leads us further to the demons hiding in our souls. The vocals are desperate and despairing yet the narrator also knows he can’t escape the cycle and we end in darkness. Awesome track, one of the best of early Tool and a great foreshadowing of what’s to come. 9/10
  3. “Sober” - The first of many great Tool bass intros. The riff we’re led to never seems to stay the same throughout the song (even if musically this is one of their most straightforward). Love the way they play with the heavy and quiet moments. You feel the hit when the guitars hit. And the chorus! The music backing it just slides you into a crashing of waves. I feel the movement of the iconic music video every time I hear this song, but that more speaks to how well Tool crafted this one than how good the video is. Because this is a song that feels like there’s constant camera pans into corners we’d rather ignore just through the sheer rhythmic panning we get throughout. So good. The comedown in the middle maybe isn’t the most necessary thing here but the way Maynard’s vocals darkly lead back to the chorus is immense. And I love the outro, where we get the riff from the beginning stripped of everything but it’s essence: driving bass, smooth driving, dashes of guitar. And then silence. This is the most ‘different’ song of the album, none of the others sound anything like it. And it’s so good. Compact, hard-hitting, and leaves you wanting more. 10/10
  4. “Bottom” - None of the songs on this album come close to the lengths the band will hit us in future, but this is the first of the two ‘mini-epics’ the album has stowed away, both around 7 minutes in length. The intro instantly shifts us away from the dynamics of “Sober”; now we’re back to visceral Tool. I dig the way we shift through verses and choruses with precision and speed in the first act here. And then the song crashes down into a slower pace before we get an extended quiet section. The MVP here is Danny Carey, I love the way his drumming keeps things moving. So smooth. Henry Rollins has a cool spoken word piece here which culminates with Maynard rushing him from behind and kicking him off the stage. The following section may run a little long but it’s not bad at all. A return to the pre-quiet section part for a big ending is all that’s left. This is a song that definitely has its share of Tool-isms but for the most part does everything quite well. A pretty great song, I like it quite a bit more now than the first few times I played it. You have to get used to the structure here to really appreciate it. 8/10
  5. “Crawl Away” - The least ‘Tool’ riff the band has ever done? The first time I heard it I was wondering if I’d put the wrong CD in. But once the vocals come in you recognize it’s just the band being different here. It’s a pretty fun song really. More Maynard ranting which ain’t a bad thing. I dig the ‘breakdown’ here quite a bit. The next section gives more “man I can’t believe this is in a Tool song” vibes, it’s very different from their usual style. But I like this song. It’s good. 7/10
  6. “Swamp Song” - Groovy fuckin’ opening. I like everything about this. The chorus is GREAT. “I hope it sucks you down!” And after that’s repeated a few times we get a great change up with music that feels very much like a boggy wood excursion. Not much to say here, I think it’s a great song, well-composed, and underrated to boot. 9/10
  7. “Undertow” - Another Tool song that sounds pretty unique for them. Love the beginning, feeling like a slave crashing on a server. And then the deliberate pacing of the next section, where the guitars sound like a current moving the listener. This is another song like “Sober” where I see a lot of imagery here, almost like a music video, and this song didn’t even have one. The peak is with the verses; not that the rest of the song is bad, but it can’t quite match how much I like the verse music. It sounds exactly as it’s supposed to. Great chugging until we get slow and shifty with music and a bunch of Maynards swarm us. I like how this song doesn’t return to the beginning and instead forges a new path with a crash and a bang instead. Pretty good shit. 7/10
  8. “4°” - Man, I can’t hear these lyrics the same way since I learned it’s about anal. “Stinkfist” does it SO much better on the next album. There I find it humorous but here it’s icky. They also hit the chorus far too many times, in my opinion. And I love a good sitar but I’m not thrilled with the use in the intro. The bridge is the best part of the song. (Why does Maynard sound like he’s about to take a shit?) Anyway, hot take? Worst song on the album. It’s not bad, I just am not enthralled with it and find it the least interesting of the bunch. It’s OK, but all the other songs here have some that really hooks me and this one kinda just goes on without doing much at all for me. Oh well. 6/10
  9. “Flood” - Ambient, disembodied intro, and then crashes of waves beat us down as the band floods the fucking stereo with heaps of heavy instrumentation. I like the intro, but it does get kinda long. Could’ve cut it down a bit and wouldn’t have lost any of the song’s vibes. But the way its length adds to the overall picture helps paint an air of mystery for when the song is really going to get started. And we’re kicking off with bass! And now we’ve entered a typical Tool riff, and now we’re in a typical Tool song. Good good. The chorus sounds like something we’ve already heard before (probably the better chorus of “Swamp Song”). There are some cool dynamics to this one that I like. The ending feels very much like a flood indeed. This is a good song for sure, but it feels like it’s missing that X factor to put it up with the greats from the record. 7/10
  10. “Disgustipated” - I don’t think the childish excitement of watching the CD player race up to Track 69 will ever go away. It’s such a simple pleasure. We’re clearly out in a different land than the rest of the album, with mourning animals bleating bleakly as the great Reverend Maynard preaches about the worth of carrots. God. A swirl of blackness and we’re now hit with the ultimate Tool mantra: “This is necessary. Life feeds on life.” Ad infinitum. It’s simple and effective and the instrumentation is so industrial and mechanical, it’s brilliant. In the third repeat we also get shattered glass and the legendary “we shot a piano with a shotgun in an empty studio”. And the ending where the music drops out and Maynard lets out a howl? Hell yeah. At first I was a little disappointed at how little they did with this song, but now I’m at a point where I actually genuinely enjoy it. It’s simple but effective. And I don’t mind the sound of crickets either. The phone call at the end is bonkers. Anyway, underrated song. 8/10
A really strong debut album that works as a big step up from Opiate. There’s a lot of anger here, more so than on the other albums, and the songs are a lot less expansive, but in spite of being their weakest album, it’s still really good.

Total: 80%
Ænima (1996)

  1. “Stinkfist” - Such an off-kilter intro that swings right into a fantastic, groovy riff that I adore. Maynard uses all the vocal effects on this song, which takes getting used to, but once it does, it fucking does. Fuckin’ banger. The song sets up a great verse/chorus structure in the first half, and then switches things up with a jungle of noise, quiet at first and progressively heavier, before erupting in absolute blissful riffage. “I’ll - keep - digging!” climaxes the song, complementing the cheekily sordid lyrics about self-discoveryyy. What a great way to kick off the record. A truly incredible step forward for the band. 10/10
  2. “Eulogy” - Already the band has learned from their previous album; where the lengthy intro to “Flood” ended up being a bit too much, here the two minute intro continues to build, with more and more elements sliding in a pristine polyrhythmic section that leads us to a great eventual riff and verse. More vocal effects: this time Maynard sings into a megaphone to symbolize the quasi-preacher figure he’s writing about. The song finally explodes with a great chorus that holds itself in check for a moment — buildup for when the song gets really raw later on. This is some methodical pacing on Tool’s part. A tsunami of guitar and we’re surfing on top of it. All the riffs in this song fucking kick ass. When we finally get another comedown we’re still on the edge of our seats, waiting for what’s to come. Man, the bass is just drivin’! Justin Chancellor was a killer addition to the band (not that Paul wasn’t also a great bassist himself). The song finally builds to a peak with “Don’t you fuckin’ lie!” and then bounces around with some killer pieces. “You… claimed… all… this… time…” is one of the best moments in the band’s discography, I love how proggily it’s constructed and how the instruments swap in and out behind it. Maynard’s anger continues to build right up to the end, when he lets out one of his best howls. The song switches gears and returns to heavy riffing before reaching the end. A perfect Tool track with so much happening throughout its eight minute runtime. 10/10
  3. “H.” - Love the distorted intro before the groovy, quieter verse. This is another song based entirely around incredible buildup. After playing with our anticipation for a bit, we hit that payoff in the hard-hitting chorus — and then the buildup returns for a fantastic, triple bridge section. Constantly rising up. Danny’s drumming is so crucial here, leading us through wonderfully. And then Maynard voice rises up as the guitar drops out and then swings back in a crashing of waves. I love it. Thus far the album hasn’t let up at all; another excellent song. 9/10
  4. “Useful Idiot” - A cool bridge between “H.” and “Forty Six & 2”. The fuzz works quite nicely. 8/10
  5. “Forty Six & 2” - There’s so much to love about this song. The opening bass riff. The groovy buildup. The phenomenal chorus. The awesome, shadowy lyrics. The fantastic guitarwork. Maynard’s hard-hitting performance. The instrumental interlude. Danny’s precise yet zany drumming. The climactic ending. This song is a masterclass in composition and perfect in absolutely everything it sets out to do. Really, only “Lateralus” rivals it for the title of best Tool song. It fucking SLAPS. 10/10
  6. “Message to Harry Manback” - The piano in this piece is awesome, and I love the seagulls. Wish they’d built a real song out of that. But the Italian curse-laden phone message is pretty cool too. 7/10
  7. “Hooker with a Penis” - Man, what a heavy riff to start with. And then Maynard just fucking goes all out, ripping forty six and two new assholes for a fan that’s pissed him off. It’s just so funny to me, while also being pretty accurate to describing what ‘selling out’ actually means. It’s just so well constructed too. The ranting style is much better executed than on Undertow — this is a proper banger, slamming through second after second. And the culmination of “Buy my new record! Fuck you, buddy!” Jesus. A hilariously raw track that works somewhere between a joke and a proper song. Truly unbelievable. 9/10
  8. “Intermission” - We’re at the part of the record where every other track is an interlude, and actually they’re not bad. This one is a cartoony remake of the melodies of the following song, and I love the way it sets things up… 8/10
  9. “jimmy” - …before the riff kicks in. Man does it sound so cool. Yet another song where the buildup is key to the song’s structure. I love Maynard’s emotional yet disconnected vocals; a great start to the recurring saga about his mother that also branches into A Perfect Circle’s discography. There’s some driving music here that I really dig. And the song really hits its peak in an utter maelstrom of riffage during a sort of bridge section, which gets repeated after the final chorus. A great, underrated Tool song. The title might be the least good thing about it, personally I’d have preferred “Eleven” myself. But no matter, this is great stuff. 9/10
  10. “Die Eier von Satan” - A very industrial interlude with a German orator reading a recipe for ‘special’ cookies made without eggs, backed by chanting resembling a Nazi rally. A super-deep metaphor? Or just the band pissing around? Regardless, I like it. 8/10
  11. “Pushit” - A slow-building epic about domestic abuse, with lyrics that reflect the feelings of being trapped in a toxic environment. This is a song built around three acts: The first is a moodier piece built around verses and refrains, which sets the narrative up nicely. The next is a sort of interludal sea of music representing the mixed emotions of the situation. This builds into the final section, where the gloves are off and the narrator comes to the realization that relief can only be attained through killing their aggressor. And to match this, Maynard really gets into things, with an incredible and emotional performance with some of his best drawn-out notes. The song ends with us knowing what’s to come, but without actually seeing the violent result. This is a song that took a while for me to get, and I don’t think I’d consider it one of the very best of the album, but it’s still a well-composed track that doesn’t feel its ten minute runtime. 8/10
  12. “Cesaro Summability” - Baby shrieks. Revving guitars (I think?). It’s fine, but the worst and most pointless of the interludes here. 6/10
  13. “Ænema” - Ah goddamn, here we go. Maynard’s whispering in our ear and Adam drops a fucking baller riff. I love how fucking straight these lyrics are. It’s just a really fun song, man. A true banger. And that’s only in the first half, because in the second act we move through a river of verses and mantras (“Learn to swim!”). There’s something cathartic of hearing Maynard tell everyone to go fuck themselves, and the payoff with the “Cuz I’m praying for rain…” section is awesome and one of my favorite Tool moments. Finally, the buffeting, apocalyptic guitar winds of the outro are killer and a perfect culmination of a truly ripping song. Fucking awesome. Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! 10/10
  14. “(-) Ions” - A building sandstorms besets us under total blackness. And then sparks of electricity zap in and out. There’s not much to this ‘bug zapper song’, but I love how it works in the context of the album, pushing us into a different plane of existence entirely than everything we’ve heard before. Sometimes a good soundscape is a good soundscape, even if that soundscape is simple and four minutes in length. I really like it. The best of the album’s interludes. 9/10
  15. “Third Eye” - Building heartbeats, then a Bill Hicks soundbite to demonstrate what the band is getting at with their first true monster epic. Hicks returns a couple more times as the music continues to build before hitting a truly blazing riff that has me completely hooked. The first verses continue this wonderfully. There’s so much buildup here, it’s great. Maynard throws out some cries that are distorted to hell and super trippy, man. I love this whole first section of the song. After that, we head into an extended guitar-led instrumental section. There’s a lot of layers to this song that make it seem like it would be lots of fun to hear while high. Maynard comes back with whispers after the chorus is foreshadowed, and we get a first taste of the refrain (“Came out to watch you play”) before things get quiet as if we’re heading through on a journey towards light. The chorus comes in slamming! And there’s some trippy, ‘60s psychedelia shit hidden in here as well that makes for a lovely musical nod. As a whole, while I don’t think this is a perfect song, and could’ve used some refinement in certain places, I do love how involving it is and how Tool didn’t hold anything back musically. You hear new stuff every time you go back into it. A great extended epic closer to the album. 8/10
This is pretty much without a doubt my favorite Tool album, although I’m not sure if the ratings accurately reflect my actual opinion of it. Everything here is great to fucking awesome. Even the interludes work really well in the context of the album for the most part. A really magnificent record that bridges the gap between raw early Tool and later expansive ‘transcendent’ Tool.

NOTE: For clarity, I’ve rated the songs as songs, and the interludes based on how much I like the core components and how they work within the album. I’d rather listen to “Third Eye” than “(-) Ions” if we’re talking about tracks by themselves, but I really like them better when they play off each other.

Total: 86%
Total w/o interludes: 93%

I’d probably actually gives this record a 96% because I think the sum of it far exceeds its individual parts. I really love it.

Orden Ogan - Final Days (2021)

Orden Ogan is a band that’s been around for a while, but they hadn’t ever fully caught my attention until the release of this apocalyptic sci-fi power metal album, where all the pieces finally came together for me.
  • Heart Of The Android - A pulsing rhythm gives way to a more atmospheric verse with electronically distorted vocals and a memorable melody. This builds into a catchy chorus 1 with some slightly odd phrasing. Another round of verse and chorus 1 leads into a more rhythmic chorus 2, then a nice melodic interlude that builds into a great guitar solo. A final round of choruses segues into a quick finish. Great song, 8/10.
  • In The Dawn Of The AI - A robotic ascending riff is joined by ethereal synths before breaking into a scream and percussive riffing. This cuts into a driving tradeoff verse and a cool pre-chorus with distorted vocals that builds tension, leading into a big, memorable chorus with a slower feel. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get an awesome computery interlude with synths and modem noises(!), leading into an epic vocal bridge and a return to the computery interlude to set up a giant guitar solo. Another pre-chorus and chorus lead into a more percussive outro. Excellent stuff, 9/10.
  • Inferno - A fat synth intro leads into a foreshadowing of the chorus melody. This gives way to a great atmospheric verse and a heavier pre-chorus before breaking into a big, booming chorus. Great vocal melodies throughout. Another round of verse through chorus leads into an atmospheric interlude bringing together pieces of the intro, pre-chorus, and chorus before exploding into a sweet extended guitar solo that builds back into a modulated chorus, segueing into a concise ending. Another excellent track, 9/10.
  • Let The Fire Rain - A staccato harmonized riff leads into a strong verse that builds into a huge, catchy chorus. Another round of verse and chorus leads into a nice guitar and synth interlude, followed by a cool “woah-oh” bridge that leads back into the chorus, which goes through some variations as it winds to a close. The excellence continues, 9/10.
  • Interstellar - A melodic trilling riff leads into a more space-piratey bit, then dives into a solid verse and pre-chorus and a pretty good chorus. Another round of verse through chorus leads into an interlude reminiscent of the opening of “Wasted Years”, followed by a strong guitar solo. A return to the chorus adds some rhythmic changes and transitions into an extended outro. Very good, but some roteness and phrasing issues hold it back from greatness. 7/10.
  • Alone In The Dark - An ominous verse accompanied by clean guitar and heartbeats leads into a memorable chorus. Bass and drums join in for a brief interlude, then guest singer Anneke van Giersbergen handles vocals for the next verse and chorus before main singer Seeb Levermann returns to make the chorus a duet. This leads into an epic vocal bridge and an extended interlude that returns to the duet chorus before ending on a reverberant heartbeat. A great ballad with some really stellar parts. I think this sticks the landing well enough to round it up to a 9/10.
  • Black Hole - A driving, percussive riff leads into a busy harmonic lead. This breaks into a decent verse, a solid pre-chorus 1, and a more Maidenesque pre-chorus 2 before delivering a pretty good chorus. An atmospheric interlude circles back to another round of verse through chorus. A reprise of the harmonic lead develops further, then cuts into a decent guitar solo. Another brief interlude builds back into pre-chorus 2 and the chorus before a quick ending. A good song, but not on the same level as the previous tracks. 7/10.
  • Absolution For Our Final Days - A gentler, clean guitar rendition of the chorus breaks into a big, beefy riff to finish the chorus. This leads into a catchy verse with percussive flourishes before quickly returning to a heavier rendition of the chorus. Another verse and chorus gives way to a brief atmospheric break, then some nu-metally riffage and a strong guitar solo before returning to the chorus, which gains choral accompaniment before a brief denouement. This song has a lot of great parts, but it feels a little undercooked in the songwriting department, so I’m going to round it down to a 7/10.
  • Hollow - Some oscillating riffage and industrial noises are joined by choral accompaniment, then return to a more driving version of the oscillating riff. This leads into a pulsing verse and a pretty good chorus. Another round of verse and choruses flows into a reprise of the opening riffage, then some cool harmonized soloing and a harmonized interlude. This leads into a pretty good vocal bridge that finds its way back to the verse and chorus before an abrupt finish. Generally good, but it wears out its welcome a bit by the end. 7/10.
  • It Is Over - Synths and piano paint a somber mood, with some percussive electric guitar accents eventually breaking into a more driving rhythm. A soaring verse eventually leads into a giant melancholy chorus. Another round of verse and chorus flows into a harmonized trilling guitar interlude, then a reprise of the intro with more melodic leads plays out as the final messages from people on Earth are delivered to the small handful leaving the planet, counting down to the meteor impact that will end all remaining life. A final round of choruses with nice guitar flourishes gives way to an extended outro with nice “woah-ohs” before percussive chords end the album. Greater than the sum of its parts, this track leaves a…deep impact. 8/10.
Average: 8.0/10
Weighted: 8.0/10

A great slab of power metal with an oddly specific lyrical theme. Every song is about some sort of sci-fi apocalypse, running the gamut from personal to planetary; but this allows for some genuine pathos on tracks like “Heart Of The Android”, “Alone In The Dark”, and “It Is Over”, which work to the album’s benefit. The theme spills over into the sound of the album as well, which uses synths, vocal distortion, and various industrial noises to sell the sci-fi subject matter to great effect.

The music itself takes clear inspiration from the band’s German power metal forebears, most notably Blind Guardian, but with some nods to Gamma Ray and Running Wild as well. That said, they fold those influences together in a way that still feels like their own unique sound, especially with the sci-fi elements on this album.

The best tracks are a little front-loaded, but everything on here is at least solidly good, and most of the album is great or excellent. An easy recommendation for fans of power metal.

(Master review index >)
My partner has mentioned them liking “In the Dawn of the AI” before, but I don’t think I played it till now. It’s not really my thing, but there are some cool bits within and I can see how a fan of power metal would love it (that’s the metal genre my partner likes most anyway).
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Lateralus (2001)

  1. “The Grudge” - The sound of a machine starting — and then plunging directly into a fantastic, otherworldly bass / guitar riff. It’s clear that Tool have leveled up in crafting sound since Ænima. This sounds pristine. The verse we reach after swirls of buildup is one of the smoothest in the band’s discography. And the way it intensifies as the song continues, before we climax in terrific chorus-esque refrains — all before we hit a proper drumbeat with the “sinking deeper” section — there is sheer brilliance in all these layers. And I love the parts where Maynard really goes for it. And the lyrics? Such a poetic way of describing the toxicity of harboring grudges. Things almost seem to quiet down about midway through, but this lets up into a swirling river of droning guitar. Maynard begs you to “give away the stone” before the song returns to the original riff and then makes its way up to an awe inspiring peak as Jimmy lets out one of his most impressive screams ever. Jesus Christ! The song comes to its obvious conclusion as the listener is urged to “let go”, and then is hit with a torrent of music, in a crushing and crashing wave of excellence. An incredible piece of music. What a way to open an album with a fucking statement. 10/10
  2. “Eon Blue Apocalypse” - A nice piece of guitar work to complement the following song. 8/10
  3. “The Patient” - This opening feels like what I imagine being caged up in a hospital must be like to some extent. It sounds like time is ticking away with the staccato picking of the guitar. Maynard is emotional and moving in his performance, attempting to sing from his mother’s perspective, keeping the faith while in an awful situation. The music rises up into a crashing wave of guitars as the narrator tells themself to “be patient” and “wait it out”. I love the drumming in this song, all sorts of flourishes and cymbal crashes to complement the music. What acts as a chorus here reflects the narrator’s hopeful sense of survival, even though the option to walk away from this existence is always there. But by the end, after the torrent of emotions has subsided, they decide to hang on until the storm is over. Another excellent song. 9/10
  4. “Mantra” - It’s a slowed down recording of Maynard squeezing a cat. It sounds eerie and works in the context of the album, but there’s nothing else to it. 6/10
  5. “Schism” - And here it is. The best bassline of all time? Tough. I met personally go for “Forty Six & 2”, but this is clearly in the Top 5. I love the way this whole song is constructed around the bass and how essential it is to the piece as a whole. Another poetic offering from Maynard, as the lyrics are metaphorical representations of a relationship falling apart. This song is built through the verses, but I love the break we get partway through with “the poetry” section; it helps anchor the mood before we head back to the song’s normal setup. We get another break as things quiet down and represent, to me, the ticking of a clock, as time passes in monotony as the relationship stagnates. And then there’s more buildup to a terrific finale as the song comes to a close. It surprises me how popular this song is; aside from the bass riff, it took me a long time to really get into it. But it truly is an awesome song, well worth the praise. 9/10
  6. “Parabol” - Sorry, you CANNOT play “Parabola” without “Parabol”. It’s one song. It begins with a beautifully quiet build up, as Maynard enters the scene in almost embryonic fashion. We’re in a world that hasn’t been fully formed yet. The pieces are still coming together. It all builds up anticipation perfectly before rising… 10/10
  7. “Parabola” - …and EXPLODING into a world of light with a fantastic, groovy, hard-hitting guitar riff. We have been born. The verse features a swirl of drumming before spiritual circles envelope us in the pre-chorus — leading to the actual chorus, which just fucking SLAPS. This feels more straightforward than Tool usually is; it’s more anthemic in quality and stands out for that reason. They could continue with this for the next four minutes and I genuinely wouldn’t mind, but instead they fill out the runtime by taking another path. The bass dwindles us down into a new environment. After being born, we must find our path in life, the next journey. The music gets proggier to reflect this. Everything leads up to a terrific outro, where we have that fuckin’ galaxy brain moment as the guitar ascends us into a higher dimension and we become one with the world. Listen, this thing is an experience. Flawless, and one of the band’s best compositions for sure. 10/10
  8. “Ticks & Leeches” - Oh man, time for a fucking drum clinic with Danny! He really dominates with precision here, before the bass and guitar come in to lead us to the angriest song on the album. Maynard rips a whole in his fucking throat here, throwing out some of his harshest screams ever (no wonder they rarely play this song live, I can barely imagine how painful it must have been in studio, let alone on stage). It’s a nice return to edgy early Tool and even if it interrupts the sophisticated nature of the rest of the album, doesn’t feel out of place at all. But the song isn’t wholly heavy rage, because we get an extended interlude that’s pretty quiet and moody (reminds me of the intro to Maiden’s “The Edge of Darkness”). But it does build back up to intensity with plenty more Maynard screeches before cycling back to the chorus. And the whole time, Danny doesn’t let up at all; one of the best drum songs in their discography. It’s great, but maybe a notch below the other songs we’ve been through so far. 8/10
  9. “Lateralus” - Tool’s masterpiece starts innocently enough. Quiet guitar opens the curtain as the drums rise behind them, eventually launching us into a bangin’ riff. Maynard’s verse is so magical; building the song around the Fibonacci sequence works more than just to make them seem like smart and serious musicians — it helps the song move through its sections and keeps the listener’s intention as well. The chorus begs listeners to avoid overthinking things, and implies that they should just embrace the music for what it is (ironic given that this is one of their most heavily detailed and intricate compositions). After repeating the cycle, the song begins its spiral outward, quieting down and repeating the melody of the intro (this time backed by some of Danny’s most magical playing). Maynard comes back and reflects on embracing life swinging “on the spiral of our divinity” before Adam lays down a solo that feels very much like a swirling spiral sending us on a journey through space and time. Then a killer riff muscles through the speakers — and we reach the final verse, as we have another galaxy brain moment while Maynard sings of going “where no one’s been” while the music creates a sonic tunnel of wonder. This comes to a crescendo with cries to “Spiral out, keep going!” And the song drifts to a close with a classic, big rock finish. What an incredible song, intricately layered — and I haven’t even mentioned all the minute details that others have already analyzed to death. Even divorcing “Lateralus” from the almost scientific way it was crafted by the band, it’s still a masterpiece. A truly phenomenal, one of a kind experience. 10/10
  10. “Disposition” - To move beyond the game-changing title track, the band starts their album-closing sequence quietly. There’s not a whole lot to “Disposition”, it’s mostly based around light but intricate drumming, cool bass flourishes, and layered guitars, but the result — especially with Maynard’s repeating mantra of “watch the weather change” — is actually very hypnotic and I think it works great. I view the “D/R/T” sequence as three separate songs personally, and I don’t think it stands alone as well as it does in the sequence; but the way it sets us up for “Reflection” is pretty awesome. It does exactly what it needs to do to. 8/10
  11. “Reflection” - Oh man, I love the way this song starts, with Danny sliding around the drum kit beautifully before Justin lays down some fantastic basswork and the synths womble about in the shadows. Feels extra-ordinary in the literal meaning of the word. I assume this is the part of the album where the aliens come down and explain all of life’s solutions to the listener? Maynard’s vocals are like ghosts in the wind, and reflect a soul searching for meaning. I think the chorus of the song is super underrated; I love how it builds further every time we hear it. The song remains rooted in the same bassline throughout most of it, but keeps the attention through little changes within its other layers, which is a skill few artists are capable of succeeding at. Maynard sums up the album’s central theme by begging us to “crucify the ego” and “let the light touch you” “before we pine away” in a beautiful thematic close to the album. I really like this song, every time I hear it I like it more than the last time. Maybe not at the same level as Lateralus’s best three, but certainly excellent all the same. 9/10
  12. “Triad” - Leaving behind the quieter musings of the first two songs in the sequence, “Triad” enters to wrap things up in much heavier fashion with an instrumental rocker just for good measure. This one is based primarily around Adam Jones’s squealing and screeching guitar, and it’s pretty good. It has some quieter, more ethereal moments towards the end, too, but primarily doesn’t have much in the way of dynamics. I think it’s a good closing track, but it’s also the weakest song on an pretty much stellar album. Good, but not quite great. 7/10
  13. “Faaip de Oiad” - And the final track on an incredible record is an experience unto itself. Weird distorted synths buzz around the speakers and Danny works himself up into a sweat while a mysterious voice tells us of the frightening discoveries of Area 51. It’s honestly a terrifying track and I love its place on the album as a sort of hidden message. And the final swoop out almost mirrors the start of “The Grudge”. It’s great. 8/10

Lateralus is an incredibly immersive listening experience. This is when Tool shed most of their early form and crafted their most serious, involving stuff to date. All the songs are great, the presentation and production is impeccable, the lyrics reflect the ‘deep’ nature their hardcore fans herald — it’s truly amazing record. I know I said Ænima was my favorite Tool album, but every time I hear Lateralus I question that. Both records are awesome and among my favorites overall.

Total: 86%
Total w/o interludes: 88%

I think a more accurate rating would actually be a good 95%, I think the way this album works as a unit is great. As much as I love Ænima, cutting down on the interludes here was a terrific decision. It feels way more streamlined.
10,000 Days (2006)

  1. “Vicarious” - Groovy, building intro, and then we plunge into one of the most pumping Tool riffs to date. I think the lyrics to this one are fantastic, highlighting how people greedily use tragedies to line their pockets while pretending to adhere to morals. The verses themselves are awesome, and the chorus hits even harder. After the second chorus there’s a really cool section where the guitar, bass, and drums leave empty space between them before coming together and delivering some pounding music as Maynard sings of death rattles and bloodlusting chants. Some faux news reporting thrown in, and then a “Disgustipated”-esque buildup as we are called to just take life for what it is. And then the final chorus!!! Holy shit does Maynard go for it. The song comes to an end in a spiral of light, a twirling cycle of death and profiting before we blow ourselves to bits what a way to start an album. Fantastic song. 10/10
  2. “Jambi” - One of the best guitar passages in any Tool song — the opening to “Jambi”. It’s so good. But when Maynard comes in, he moves the song to a different dimension. He sings of riches (his money and fame via the band) and how he’d give it all away to see his mother again. Because on this album the saga must finally conclude, in an epic three tracks. On this one it’s a fight to keep what must soon be taken from him, damn the vanity of the situation. It’s such a cool track. Adam lays down a cool, drawn out solo in the middle too. There’s mystique here, like the summoning of a genie who can’t step into affairs of God, based around blaring riffage. And at the end, he calls for his mother to shine on forever, and for the vicarious not to use her death for their own means and purposes. The way it gets really heavy at the end is awesome, a fucking tempest of sea and sky. Another awesome song to keep the album moving in style. Love it. 10/10
  3. “Wings for Marie (Pt 1)” - In contrast with the previous songs, this one starts out quiet, with a subtle ticking in the background like that of a clock, counting down the seconds until the end comes to claim its victim. Then Maynard comes in, and we realize he’s speaking to his mother as she lies on her deathbed. He observes her state of serenity and it continues to confuse him. Conflicted in thought and emotion, he lets go of her as she slips into the next life as the door slams shut on her life. It’s not a very heavy song except for one stretch before the end, and while a good start to the two part saga, isn’t as good as the following song. 7/10
  4. “10,000 Days (Wings Pt 2)” - Bass enters the scene as the cloud darkens and rain begins to fall — the scene of a funeral. Maynard’s lyrics act as a sort of personal eulogy to one who became his hero. He remains bitter towards the people who use his mother’s death to push their own religious dogma. They, healthy and never having been through true tribulation, could never understand just what Judith Marie has been through. Without having been stricken through such detailed trials, can anyone know their faith is strong like she did? In this sense, after having lain in paralysis for 10,000 days, she is worthy to collect a pair of wings in Heaven. It’s some beautiful imagery, based around droning music and emotional vocals. “Give me my wings!” is a terrific moment. This isn’t a very varied song; it continues to build on the blueprint “Wings for Marie” had and pushes things to their further potential. The song peaks as Maynard lifts his mother up as a strong witness even if he doesn’t believe what she believed. The song retreads the ending of “Wings”, but with a change. Now he asks his mom to head into the afterlife with nothing left to fear, and claim the reward she rightly deserves. Highly poetic. I think this is a great song, although maybe not up to the excellence of some previous greats. It’s still growing on me, I think. In time I might go higher. 8/10
  5. “The Pot” - Well, now things are back to a banging swing. If the previous three songs hadn’t been a blunt enough critique of religion, this one surely is. Why is the pot calling the kettle black? Maynard’s spoken intro is awesome, and the thumping bass in the verses slaps. When the guitar comes in, it hits HARD. Maynard dips into the same lyrical a couple times too many (the bridge is kinda pointless), even if lines like “Who are you to wave your finger?” and “You must have been high!” are, admittedly, cool as fuck in the context. But otherwise this song fucking ROCKS. I especially love the instrumental section, filled with chugging and guitar squeals. The ending is fantastic, a great, pounding finale to an excellent song. I don’t think this one is quite perfect, but it’s definitely a song I play when I want to listen to Tool and just fucking rock out. 9/10
  6. “Lipan Conjuring” - The “Rosetta Stoned” saga begins here! It’s easy to call this track pointless, but I love how it works in the context of the album. Simple, but an eerie start to Tool’s weirdest song. 8/10
  7. “Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann)” - Oh yeah, now we’re talking. This intro track begins with a droning… I think it’s guitar? The proper guitar enters soon after, very simply playing to the scene, which is revealed to be that of a hospital. A man is shaking and out of his mind as a nurse calls in a doctor to help him. It runs maybe a little too long, but provides perfect build up for the monster that follows it. Who knew that asking “tell me everything” would lead us on such a crazy journey. 9/10
  8. “Rosetta Stoned” - Holy fucking shit. Holy fucking shit. Holy fucking shit. Holy fucking shit. Holy fucking shit. Holy fucking shit. Was about my first reaction to this goddamn, shit the bed, song the first time I heard it. Tool finally take the experimentation to the utmost extreme and “Rosetta Stoned” is the result. A tale of a man tripping hard outside of Area 51 and seeing an alien who gives him a message to tell the world — what could possibly go wrong? Everything. In the best of ways. This is such a zany fucking composition. It’s built around heavy riffs and warped vocals. The speedy delivery of the first two verses zooms past you with such wonder, and then things get more meandering as the narrator continues to mumble about how crazy this experience was without actually telling us anything. Maynard throws so many pop culture references into this song it’s kind of ridiculous. But man, especially when you listen on headphones, the nutty construction and layers really pull together brilliantly. And don’t forget Danny’s drumming! He goes fucking octopus-style at points here. What a legend. “Goddamn, shit the bed” is such a legendary refrain. The instrumental section starting after the first chorus and lasting all the way to the bridge is one of Tool’s best musical moments ever. The building riffing under Maynard’s hazy vocals, and then the drop out to bass and drumming before Adam lays down a distorted solo that almost feels like a harmonica — it feels like being stuck out there in the desert with the narrator. And then the build back up to a crashing peak as Maynard comes back to reveal that the hero forgot his pen and couldn’t write down jack from his journey through space and time — one of the best moments in the entire Tool catalogue. I wonder if this song isn’t a larger metaphor about Tool fans finding hidden meanings in these songs while high that don’t exist. It’s such a joke of a song but written so elequently and majestically that I can’t help but treat it as seriously as any other. It’s fucking awesome. Screams of tortured bewilderment and a last refrain of how the narrator will never remember what he was told finish us out, and as with every time I listen to this song I’m just in awe of how fucking wild it all is. One of the band’s best, but it deserves time to invest in it. It didn’t become my favorite on the album overnight — it took dedicated listens to figure out what was even happening in it. But now? I adore it. 10/10
  9. “Intension” - The opus that is “Rosetta Stoned” is hard to move past, but Tool manage to do it with one of their quietest songs. It’s like watching evolution leading to humanity in sonic form. Interestingly we also get some electronic percussion in the second half of the song, which is an odd choice but doesn’t not work. Ultimately this is a song that in spite of its seven minute runtime doesn’t do enough for me to come back to it outside of within the album. It feels more like an interlude than a proper song. It’s alright, but nothing special. 6/10
  10. “Right in Two” - The final song on 10,000 Days opens with methodically picked guitars before Maynard comes in, singing of “angels on the sideline, puzzled and confused” about humans and their bloodthirsty nature. It’s a great lyric about the pointlessness of the wars we constantly wage, or as Maynard sings, “monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground”. It’s resoundingly pertinent now, with war being actively waged in Eastern Europe. The chorus slays. The instrumental section is something of a foreshadowing of what lengthy instrumental passages lie ahead on Fear Inoculum, many of which feature intricate drumming like here. It’s very tribal, leading the way for Adam Jones’s heavy guitar creating the sounds of war zones and destruction just as Maynard’s voice hits like falling bombs as the Earth endures more and more tragedy in the name of mankind. By the end it’s as if our idiotic need to “divide it all right in two” is the very reason that Heaven now severs its ties with Earth. When will mankind change? When we learn to appreciate that “Eden has enough to go around”, and stop tearing up the world. Excellent song; not quite up there with the album’s three best, but just a notch below. 9/10
  11. “Viginti Tres” - A cool and creepy outro track, nothing more. 7/10
A good chunk of this record had to grow on me before I really appreciated it. “Vicarious” and “The Pot” clicked right away, but the other tracks all needed time to sink in. At first I thought that the album’s setup made it a bit disappointing in construction and almost incomplete, but as time has gone on I like it more and more. It’s got some killer songs and while not quite up there Ænima or Lateralus, is really only a notch below.

Total: 85%
Total w/o interludes: 86%

Powerwolf - Call Of The Wild (2021)

The German power metallers return with another set of overly familiar but high-quality songs, including a number of crackers.
  • Faster Than The Flame - For 10 years running, the first full song on a Powerwolf album has always fit a certain mold, and this one is no different. Fast-paced, ascending melody, catchy chorus, and completely interchangeable with any of those other openers all the way back to 2011’s “Sanctified With Dynamite”. Still good, but utterly derivative. 7/10.
  • Beast Of Gévaudan - Choral and symphonic accents greet a werewolf’s growl before breaking into a staccato melodic line. This leads into a catchy atmospheric verse, a punchy pre-chorus, and an epic, bombastic chorus. Another round of verse through chorus flows into a driving melodic interlude with dramatic choral flourishes, then a tasteful guitar lead. A softer variant chorus builds back into the full chorus before a quick finish. The use of a full coed choir adds a lot of drama and bombast behind Attila Dorn’s already great baritone vocals here, and gives a taste of the sound to come on the rest of the album. Excellent song, 9/10.
  • Dancing With The Dead - Gregorian chanting and bells give way to a catchy melodic guitar lead that explodes into a full band assault. The intensity pulls back for an atmospheric verse with a great vocal melody, then a quick pre-chorus builds tension before breaking into a giant, glorious chorus with full choral support. Another round of verse through that awesome chorus, then the opening melodic lead flows into another great guitar lead that reprises the chorus melody with some nice flourishes. An abbreviated verse quickly returns to the chorus, then closes out with another reprise of the opening guitar lead. Powerwolf has leaned in a slightly poppier direction on its last two albums, always to great effect — and this song is pop metal perfection. 10/10.
  • Varcolac - Choral singing on top of some percussive accents leads into a stomping rhythm that underpins a strong verse. The pipe organs intensify for a great pre-chorus. Another round of verse and pre-chorus and we get a solid but not amazing chorus. More verse through chorus, then we get a nice choral interlude and an effective harmonized guitar lead followed by a brief but strong vocal bridge. Another round of verse through chorus and we wrap up on the title lyric. I’m on the fence here, but since this isn’t quite on the level of most of its peers I’ll round it down to a 7/10.
  • Alive Or Undead - More Gregorian chanting gives way to an electric piano lead for the album’s mandatory ballad. The verse has a great, memorable melodic line, and the pre-chorus elevates things with a great ascending vocal and sweet pipe organ support before breaking into a huge, soaring multi-part chorus. This is followed by a nice melancholy guitar lead with chanting, then another round of verse through the two choruses. A brief but sweet guitar solo leads back to chorus 2 with some guitar fills before a quick piano outro. Excellent stuff, 9/10.
  • Blood For Blood (Faoladh) - In recent years Powerwolf has started experimenting with some Celtic sounds on one song per album, so this one meets that new quota. A bagpipe intro leads into an interlude that foreshadows the chorus melody. A memorable verse with bagpipe support leads into a powerful pre-chorus and a pretty strong chorus. Another round of verse through chorus breaks into a nice synth and guitar interlude. A stripped down vocal and bagpipe verse cuts to a brief but good guitar solo before returning to the chorus and a quick outro. Rousing and effective, great stuff overall. 8/10.
  • Glaubenskraft - Another recent trend of the band is to throw one German language song on the album, and this checks that box. An atmospheric choral and pipe organ intro breaks into another foreshadowing of the chorus. An atmospheric vocal and pipe organ verse cuts into a huge pre-chorus and a big, satisfying chorus. Another round of verse through chorus flows into a pipe organ interlude, then a nearly a capella verse before rolling through the pre-chorus and chorus to an abrupt ending. Another great track, 8/10.
  • Call Of The Wild - A guitar and pipe organ intro once again presages the chorus melody. A driving, catchy verse with choral support gives way to a more subdued pre-chorus before blossoming into a big, catchy chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a sweet harmonized guitar interlude and a nice vocal bridge before returning to the chorus and a quick vocal outro. More great stuff, 8/10.
  • Sermon Of Swords - Bells and percussion lead into a choral intro. This breaks into an appealing verse and a strong pre-chorus and chorus. Another round of verse through chorus follows, this time with a sweet rhythmic change-up in the chorus. A nice harmonized guitar interlude leads into a chorus breakdown before returning to the full chorus with some nice vocal flourishes and a quick finish. The greatness continues, 8/10.
  • Undress To Confess - Another recurring theme with recent Powerwolf albums is having at least one song with a gratuitous sexual reference, so here you go. Atmospheric sounds paint the picture of someone entering a church before an upbeat pipe organ and guitar interlude hints at the chorus. A cool vocal and choral tradeoff verse leads into a catchy pre-chorus and a gigantic chorus. Another round of interlude through chorus flows into a sweet synth and harmonized guitar instrumental, then some more churchy atmospherics, before breaking into a modulated chorus to finish things off. Cheesy but excellent, 9/10.
  • Reverent Of Rats - A big vocal and pipe organ intro rolls into a catchy, pumping verse that breaks into a giant chorus. More sweet verse and chorus leads into a nice melodic guitar interlude. A brief variant verse quickly moves back into the excellent chorus before a short vocal outro. I’m not sure what these lyrics are trying to say, because they’re using “reverent” as a noun, but whatever. This song is very short but very sweet, another excellent track. 9/10.
Average: 8.4/10
Weighted: 8.4/10

At this point you more or less know what to expect from a Powerwolf album. They’re going to do the de rigueur peppy opener, one or two killer singles with an explicitly poppy feel, a strong but sappy ballad about brotherhood and duty, a German-language song, a Celtic-flavored song, a stupid song about sex, and then fill the rest of the space with more incomprehensible tales of virile werewolves who kill for Jesus, or something. They have their schtick, and they…uh…schtick with it.

That said, there is still some glacial evolution in their sound. They’ve been leaning more and more in a poppy direction over time, with shorter songs and fewer actual guitar solos, but an even heavier focus on melodic hooks. The Celtic experimentation is also fairly recent. On Call Of The Wild, the most noticeable evolution is the inclusion of a full coed choir on many of the tracks, which adds some truly epic bombast to the songs.

While I prefer their old-school gothic trad metal sound from 2007’s Lupus Dei, this poppy power metal sound they’ve settled on since at least 2013’s Preachers Of The Night has brought them broader success, and I still enjoy their new flavor. Call Of The Wild is a particularly strong latter-day entry from them, certainly their best since Preachers Of The Night, and possibly their best since Lupus Dei. Another easy recommendation for power metal fans.

(Master review index >)
No review of the hidden track you get from compositing “Wings For Marie” and “Viginti Tres” on top of the title track…?
Haven’t found a proper upload of them synced with each other.

Helloween - Helloween (2021)

After a decades-long absence, Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske rejoined the existing line-up of Helloween to deliver an album that looks heavily backward while also taking a few steps forward.
  • Out For The Glory - Ominous atmospherics welcome a dark guitar lead. The melodic line meanders as the band joins in, eventually bursting into a more upbeat riff. A pleasant but rote verse is delivered by Kiske, followed by a strong, uplifting pre-chorus and a good but also rote chorus. A trade-off vocal bridge between Hansen and the other singers leads back into another round of verse through chorus with a nice down modulation. Another taste of the vocal bridge and we get a nice melodic interlude with some good guitar leads. A strong second bridge delivered by Kiske flows into a bizarre distorted spoken word section before awkwardly transitioning back into the chorus, which morphs into a nice outro. Some nice parts here, but also some missteps, and an overall feeling that they’re just going through the motions for most of the track. Going to have to round this one down to 6/10.
  • Fear Of The Fallen - A gentle acoustic opening greets a nice vocal intro delivered by Deris and Hansen. This kicks into a more driving riff that propels into a great verse sung by Deris with callbacks from Hansen. This blooms into a gigantic, soaring chorus from Deris and Kiske. An extended bridge that alternates between heavier riffage and clean notes has Kiske and Deris trading off on the softer vocals with callbacks again from Hansen. This rolls back into the excellent chorus with staggered multi-part vocal harmonies. A sweet harmonized guitar interlude flows into a series of great solos before returning to the harmonized interlude. This gives way to a variant bridge that stays gentler throughout, eventually building up to a soaring pre-chorus with more excellent staggered vocal harmonies from all three singers, spilling back into the glorious chorus. More aggressive riffing eventually slows into a deconstructing outro. Now this is more like it — excellent songwriting, superb and surprising use of all three singers, and a chorus that brings the house down. Fantastic, 10/10.
  • Best Time - Atmospheric synths are greeted by a driving muted riff, then soaring harmonized guitars. This breaks into a Kiske verse that’s way too reminiscent of “I Want Out”, followed by a brief but cool Kiske/Deris pre-chorus and a nice soaring Kiske chorus with some vocal callbacks that sound a bit like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a strong Deris bridge and a great harmonized guitar interlude before returning to the chorus and an abrupt ending. Aside from the obvious recycling of the verse, this is a great song. 8/10.
  • Mass Pollution - Deris handles all of the vocals here. Guitar feedback is joined by a bass lead before breaking into an aggressive guitar riff that drives a solid verse. An odd, distorted spoken word pre-chorus breaks into a big, catchy chorus. The lyrics are particularly dopey in this song. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get an extended multi-part guitar interlude with some nice soloing. This breaks into a great driving vocal bridge, then slows down for some silly crowd participation “make some noise!” bits with prominent drums. This builds back into the chorus, with some more crowd participation exhortations on top of the verse riff before a quick finish. Dopiness aside, this is another great track. 8/10.
  • Angels - A driving synth line underpins a gentle Kiske verse. Pipe organs join in, then guitars drive a heavier version of the verse. A brief pause, then we get a soaring, catchy chorus from Kiske. A rhythmic guitar break flows back into the verse, suddenly aborting into a gentle piano-driven Kiske bridge. A subdued interlude with some nice guitar lead work eventually builds into a bridge 2 duet between Deris and Kiske before returning to the chorus. Some high notes give way to a brief reprise of the gentle verse to end the song. Another great one, 8/10.
  • Rise Without Chains - Some low notes break into an upbeat guitar riff and a tradeoff verse between Deris and Kiske. A less driving Deris pre-chorus builds into a strong, soaring Deris chorus with support from Kiske. Another round of intro riff through chorus, this time with Kiske taking the lead and Deris supporting him, and we get a nice harmonized guitar interlude and some pretty good soloing. A gentle bridge with Deris and Kiske overlaying vocal harmonies blooms back into the chorus, then some great ascending layered vocal harmonies give way to a long decaying outro. Good stuff with a number of great parts, but it doesn’t feel like it’s quite on the level of the preceding tracks, so I’m going to round it down to a 7/10.
  • Indestructible - A drum fill breaks into a thick guitar riff and a descending lead. This leads into a pretty strong Deris verse with support from Hansen, a more uplifting Deris/Hansen pre-chorus, and then a catchy Kiske chorus with some callbacks from Hansen. More especially dopey lyrics in this song. Another round of verse through chorus, then a nice harmonized guitar section flows into a series of decent solos, then back to another pretty strong harmonized guitar interlude. A good tradeoff bridge between Kiske and Deris returns to the chorus and a brief outro. Another very good track, but not quite great. 7/10.
  • Robot King - An aggressive harmonized riff and some wails lead into an OK Deris verse. This blossoms into a brighter Kiske pre-chorus. Another round of verse and pre-chorus, then we get a pretty cool ascending vocally harmonized pre-chorus 2 from Kiske and Deris which breaks into a shouty Deris chorus. A great multi-part harmonized guitar interlude follows, leading into a more relaxed neoclassical guitar lead. This flows into a great rising harmonized vocal bridge with all three singers, leading back to pre-chorus 2 and the chorus, then a descending vocal outro. Kind of a weird cookie, with some really great parts and some more awkward ones. Let’s say 7/10 overall.
  • Cyanide - An ascending melodic guitar lead gives way to a driving riff, leading into a solid Deris verse. An OK pre-chorus flows into a more soaring but not fully successful chorus. Another round of verse through chorus, then we get a decent solo and guitar interlude before returning to the chorus and a quick finish. A few good ideas here, but it needed some more time in the oven. 6/10.
  • Down In The Dumps - Another atmospheric synth opening greets some reverby guitar and a sparse riff. This eventually breaks into more aggressive riffage, leading into a melodic Kiske verse and a solid Deris pre-chorus, then a Hansen/Deris pre-chorus 2 before a decent Deris chorus. Another round of pre-chorus 2 and chorus, then we get a soaring vocal bridge from Kiske and a nice harmonized guitar section with some “woah-ohs”. This breaks into a more rock n’ roll riff with some melodic lead work that flows into a busier harmonized guitar interlude. Kiske takes the lead on the next reprise of pre-chorus 2 before returning to the chorus to wrap things up. This song is structurally interesting and has a number of cool parts, but the melodies aren’t all that they could be. Another 7/10 overall.
  • Orbit - A synthy intro to “Skyfall” with some atmospheric guitar leads. Nice enough, 7/10.
  • Skyfall - The album’s 12-minute epic kicks off with Kiske delivering a subdued version of the chorus. Melodic chorus guitar gives way to aggressive riffage and a great Kiske verse. This builds through a great melodic pre-chorus from Kiske into a big, soaring Kiske chorus. The next verse becomes a tradeoff between Deris and Kiske, with Deris and Hansen handling the pre-chorus and Deris and Kiske singing the chorus. Percussive guitars lead into a jangly interlude with some bass and guitar tradeoffs. This leads into a more subdued, spacy interlude and a melodic vocal bridge from Hansen, then Kiske. A more driving bridge 2 cycles through all three vocalists, then leads into a great extended solo section with a spoken word overlay. A subdued bridge 3 features Hansen with support from Kiske, breaking into another guitar and synth interlude with spoken word overlays. This returns to a modulated chorus with all three singers, then yet another bridge with vocals from Kiske and Deris before an extended guitar outro with vocal flourishes from all three singers, including a callback to Gamma Ray’s “Somewhere Out In Space” at the end. This song is bloated in the best kind of way, once again showing the very cool things that can be done when you use three different singers and play to their strengths. This is a recognizable Hansen epic, and there are a couple of recycled Gamma Ray melodies in there, but overall it’s extremely effective and something special. 9/10.
Average: 7.5/10
Weighted: 7.7/10

I was always more of a Gamma Ray guy than a Helloween guy, and I wasn’t exactly wowed by Deris-era Helloween in general, so I wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of Kai Hansen taking a long break from Gamma Ray to do this whole Helloween reunion deal — but the proof is in the pudding, and this “Pumpkins United” line-up actually delivered the goods.

The songwriting style makes some obvious nods to early Helloween, and in some cases Gamma Ray; but it also embraces the possibilities of using three singers with very distinct voices, and it does so to great effect on “Fear Of The Fallen” and “Skyfall” in particular. If this band line-up continues to write new material I hope they’ll lean even harder into the possibilities there.

Most of the tracks are good to great, with a couple of real gems; but there are also a couple of weaker tracks, and some half-baked sections in otherwise strong songs. Still, this is probably Kai Hansen’s strongest studio effort since Gamma Ray’s Majestic from 2005, and it’s the first time I’ve been interested in Helloween this millennium, so that’s saying something. And the album is still great overall, even if it’s not as consistent as some of its peers.

(Master review index >)