2 + 2 Reviews: Thanksgiving Week Edition

Pardon our lengthy delay on this column. Both George and I got incredibly busy over the last few months but we’re back just in time for the holiday week. We decided to cover one album and one song each. George covered Mastodon’s new album and one song from the recently released Iron Maiden album. I covered Between the Buried and Me’s Colors 2 and one song from Dream Theater’s latest album. Anyhow, get that last minute turkey/Tofu Turkey shopping done and settle in for a few reviews from us.

Mastodon: Hushed and Grim

GF: A new Mastodon release is always something that I look forward to.

Have their last three albums measured up to their first three? Perhaps not, but at the same time, even those have tended to get at least a solid few weeks of constant listening from me… sometimes more.

While a bit too long and slightly unfocused, I thought, “The Hunter,” had some magnificent music on it— including one or two of the band’s best songs. “Once More Round the Sun,” was pretty underrated for my money, and perhaps the album where they figured out that they could write arena-worthy hooks with the best of them. “Emperor of Sand,” was something that I enjoyed quite a bit too. The quieter moments almost outshone some of the heavier stuff, and Brent Hinds continued to solidify his status as modern day metal’s most exciting soloist.

Those releases bring us to today, with, “Hushed and Grim,” an album that has rightly been hailed as their best work since, “Crack the Skye.”

This is a long album, but it goes down easy. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, I feel like it touches on just about everything the band has done, and done well, over the course of their career. 

While Scott Kelly’s once mandatory guest slot is dearly missed here, new collaborators pop in to fill the void, chief amongst them young country phenom Marcus King, and OG metal titan Kim Thayil.

In both cases, these gentlemen provide some rather brilliant lead guitar work, with the former injecting some down-home flavor into the Brent Hinds-led, “The Beast,” and the latter, adding a patented sonic exorcism, to “Had it all.”

As this album is so long, there are AMPLE opportunities for solos, and Brent Hinds plays like a man possessed all throughout the album. His uncanny, one-of-a-kind, fretboard slip-and-slide routine is still unlike anything practiced by his contemporaries. Here, he’s as good as he’s ever been, turning in career-best performances on songs like, “More Than I Could Chew,” and the album’s final three songs, most notably, closer, “Gigantium.”

Though the album has its more uptempo numbers, its overriding vibe is heavy, and sorrowful. A tribute to late band manager Nick John, these are sad songs reflecting on loss: songs that sound most honest when they’re crawling as opposed to running. The melancholy found on the slower numbers is beautiful in its own particular way, and the half-time numbers allow Mr. Hinds his best opportunities to flay his guitar alive.

While Hinds is certainly the star of the show here, it’s a bit of a bummer that he only has a few vocal turns on the album. Mastodon has become the Brann Dailor and Troy Sanders show in the singing department, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I do miss his voice. Dailor in particular is more than happy to pick up the slack, and his singing only continues to improve. If he’s not the best singer in the group at this point, he’s just behind Hinds.

With its greyscale cover art, save for a spare hit of gold, “Hushed and Grim,” is not only an astonishing piece of metal, but the perfect soundtrack for the bleak skies that we experience here in the midwest, during the fall. If you’re feeling down, this is an album that invites you to lean into your feelings, and be at peace with them.

Where the band goes from here, I’m not quite sure, but I feel as though they have certainly come upon a new stretch of their path. I’m very excited to hear what’s next, and I’m very thankful for the fact that they were able to channel their grief into such a tremendous piece of art.

Iron Maiden – The Parchment

GF: I feel like sometime around 2006, Iron Maiden very comfortably glided into what I’ll call mid-tempo Maiden mode.

This might sound like a knock, but it’s not. Save for the opener, “Different World,” their album, “A Matter of Life and Death,” was almost exclusively, full of numbers that stopped just shy of the band’s trademark gallop.

The frantic speed under which the band used to operate had been replaced. Here, in its stead, was epic proggy grandeur. It was a cool transition that 100% worked– it allowed the band to continue to make thoughtful and exciting music at a point in their career where most folks have run out of gas.

The music found on their most recent album, “Senjutsu,” cruises very comfortably in the new lane that the band carved out for themselves 15 years ago. These are long songs… knotty songs… that feature ample fireworks from the band. Of particular note, is the playing that we’re treated to, courtesy of Janick Gers, and Nicko McBrain, who steal the show.

While it’s ludicrous to expect men in their late 60s to go at things with the fury that was on display for songs like, “Gangland,” “Aces High,” or, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” I did find myself wanting to hear the band mount up just ONE more time on the album, and I feel like they got as close as they’re going to get during the grand finale of, “The Parchment.”

The song has three guitar solo sections. The best of course is the final one, and the proceedings kick off at the 9:52 mark. After a particularly epic, and proggy climb to the top of the mountain, (aided by a motif that recalls the verse riff of, “Hallowed be Thy Name,”) the band is finally ready to plant their flag, and show everyone what the business is.

As time has gone on, it’s become a bit harder for me to discern Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s leads, so until we’re graced with a live version of this, I’m not gonna know who plays the second solo (but it’s probably Murray). That said, I think we can all safely say that it’s Mr. Gers who fires the first shot across the bow in the song’s final solo section.

And wow-wee, what a shot it is.

In the past, I’ve seen mumblings criticising his soloing within the band, as folks say it sounds a lot like Rainbow-era Ritchie Blackmore. I don’t think that’s necessarily unfair, but in recording this, he’s proven that he’s transcended.

Even Ritchie wasn’t cooking this kind of shit.

Here, rampant whammy bar abuse, and speedy runs galore, feel like a shotgun blast to the head, as Gers’ tone is absolutely WHITE HOT. It sounds like perhaps he’s playing through a cocked wah, but whatever it is, he’s rolling out the most vicious shit of his life. At its most frantic, it sounds like he’s trying as best as he can, to literally disembowel his guitar. 

It recalls Pete Cosey, when he played the Osaka afternoon show, back in 1975– fully diabolical.

Against a boosted tempo, and killer rhythm work from the rest of the band (check Nicko McBrain’s Bill Bruford-indebted cymbal work) it might be his most picture-frameable moment as a soloist within the band E-V-E-R.

The solo that follows is more tempered, and reminds me of the spaced-out bliss that we were treated to on “Powerslave.” It’s classic Maiden, and the ideal piece of punctuation for the longest (and for my money) most epic cut on the album.

Between the Buried and Me – Colors 2

BH: I recently got back from seeing the band in my first concert since the Before Times and boy did they put on a show.  While the setlist mostly focused on celebrating The Great Misdirect record and their 21 years of being a band, they’re clearly excited about the new record.  And they absolutely should be.  This may very well be the Paddington 2, T2, Empire Strikes Back-all rolled into one-best Sequel we could have possibly been lucky enough to receive.  

While it’s somehow not the only sequel record of the year (I’m looking at you The Night Flight Orchestra), Colors 2 has been easily one of the most anticipated albums of 2021.  Any time Between the Buried and Me put out a new record, it’s reason for excitement but Colors 2??  Colors is not only one of the bands best efforts but also one of the defining prog metal albums of all time.  

“Monochrome” starts off the album in a somewhat traditional manner for the band (and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all).  A soft key-laden intro that eventually gives way to the overall heavier direction this album will go in.  It’s a really nice lead-in to one of my favorite tracks on the album, “The Double Helix of Extinction”.  Tommy’s vocals are as harsh as ever and then how about that break around the two minute mark with the basketball game sound fx, mixed with some great percussion work from Blake.  Also, while I wouldn’t normally be into a band shouting their name on a song, it works really well in this instance.  It feels like a perfect live song too.  Next up is the single, “Revolution in Limbo”, which was really the track that made me feel most confident about a Colors sequel pre-release.  It reminds me of elements from “Sun of Nothing” from the OG Colors but is really its own thing.  

The other single, “Fix the Error”, we covered a bit here but I’ll just say it has only grown on me further since then, particularly as the band played it live.  Blake nailed the solo section all by himself and it was glorious.  “Never Seen/Future Shock” is one of the two longest songs on the record but it glides by for me.  There’s also an Affinity era Haken section here in the first four minutes that made me super amped.  Paul’s guitar work on this song is really impeccable.  I would say this album is loaded with memorable riffs and licks but really dig everything he does on this particular track.  Oh and then there’s the incredibly beautiful final two minutes of the song that remind me of sections from the Alaska era.  “Stare Into the Abyss” feels like a transitional song leading into the back half of the album but it certainly makes an impact with a catchy chorus and a brutal final minute. “Prehistory” AKA the song with Crash Bandicoot SFX!  I love this track and it pairs really nicely with the following track “Bad Habits”.  This song is another favorite and has a great callback to “Ants of the Sky” from Colors I both lyrically and in the structure of the song itself.  Tommy once again delivers great vocal lines throughout this track.  Also at the five minute point of the song, there’s a really top-tier bit of musicianship with everyone that takes us through to the final minutes of the song.  

I’m not sure why “The Future is Behind Us” became initially controversial between fans but for my money it’s a definite favorite song here.  The 80’s vibes here kick so much ass.  The keys mixed with Tommy’s vocals and chorus is so insanely good.  Plus any song with a Ferris Bueller reference gets major props from me.  “Turbulent” feels a bit like a second act to “The Future is Behind Us” and has Blake go properly mad on his kit in the second half.  “Sfumato” is a one minute track that primarily sets us up for the finale similar to what “Viridian” did for “White Walls” on Colors I.  

The final song on Colors 2, “Human is Hell (Another One With Love)” doesn’t attempt to be “White Walls” part two.  Instead it sets its own path of monstrous destruction with a fifteen minute runtime that never overstays its welcome.

I’ve got to say Colors 2 is one of my favorite albums this year and this may be one of the best albums the band has done to date.    

 

Dream Theater – Answering the Call

BH: I thought about reviewing the entire new Dream Theater album as it’s really good (and who knows maybe I still will) but in the meantime, highlighting one of my favorite cuts on it entitled Answering the Call. 

Before I jump into it though, I want to point out that this is the fifth album since Portnoy left the band and fifteenth overall.  It’s impressive that the band keeps creating innovative new music and pushing their boundaries.  It’s not easy losing such a key member of the band and fortunately at this point, drummer Mike Mangini has really gelled with the group.  He’s a phenomenal player anyhow but between this album and their previous, Distance Over Time, he’s really come into his own with the virtuoso musicians in the band. 

Anyhow, this song is one hell of a banger and actually has some Octavarium vibes on it which as a long time fan, is greatly appreciated.  That opening riff is super catchy, the chorus is strong and the outro (and build to it) might be one of the strongest moments in a DT song in some time.  It reminds me of a Gojira outro and is really heavy.

When I gave the new album its first spin, I was immediately drawn to this track.  It’s classic DT through and through.  I also noticed that not only with this song but the majority of the album, the band is doing a great job of balancing the technicality with accessibility. 

Jordan’s keys here are mostly subtle layers and work nicely alongside Petrucci’s riffs.  Also, Myung is really crushing it.  I really dig his interplay with Petrucci on the previously mentioned outro. 

For whatever reason, part of the fanbase has felt Labrie is the weak point with the band but quite honestly Dream Theater wouldn’t be the same without him.  He has a knack for catchy vocal lines and he still sounds top-notch.  Particularly on this track he’s really on his game.

Dream Theater remains one of the most important bands in the prog space and Answering the Call further proves this is the case.  

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2 + 2 Reviews: Record Store Day Weekend Edition

Apologies for the lengthy delay.  Both George and I have been swamped with our day jobs but glad to be back for a new batch of tunes on Record Store Day weekend.  Speaking of, if you haven’t gone and supported the artists and your local store, now is as good of a time as any.  Personally, I nabbed the Soen special RSD release and also Opeth launched their Blackwater Park 20th Anniversary vinyls on Friday which is one of my all time favorite albums.  Check out my Insta (@concertcam) to see my posts coming soon. Anyhow, this week we have new cuts from Between the Buried and Me, Deafheaven, Whites Stones and…checks notes and eardrums…IRON MAIDEN!! 

Between the Buried and Me – Fix The Error

BH: Ok first things first…Between the Buried and Me is releasing Colors 2 in August.  This is not a drill.  It is very ballsy though, particularly since Colors is widely considered one of the band’s best albums.  Fortunately, BTBAM doesn’t release anything less than stellar so even if the album doesn’t end up being as good as Colors, it’ll still rule. 

Which brings us to the first single, Fix the Error.  I’ve spun this probably fifteen times since it dropped and it just gets better with each listen.  I will say the first few listens, I didn’t quite know what to make of it.  

The guest drum solo section featuring Mike Portnoy, Navene Koperweis, Kenneth Schalk and of course, Blake Richardson was immediate for me though.  Each of them are phenomenal here and at this point I can tell who is playing each solo but they all blend together perfectly.  

The “have you seen the rainbow” section is probably the most baffling initially but I really enjoy it now.  It actually plays nicely off a few sections from their classic song, Selkies, in my opinion.  

George, what was your first reaction to Fix the Error?  I know you’re familiar with the band but what’s the last album you’ve heard from them?  Are you a fan of Colors?

GF: I’m not gonna lie the first time I heard this, I raised my eyebrow at a couple of things, but the more I thought about it (and listened) it felt like the band was being very true to themselves. If this song is any indication of the album as a whole, I expect Colors 2 will be a worthy successor to the first album.

My history with the band is a little funny, as I didn’t actually give, “Colors,” a full listen until last year.

Sacrilegious, I know.

Here’s the thing though– “The Great Misdirect,” is one of my favorite metal albums OF ALL TIME, I was kinda scared to listen to what most people considered BtBaM’s masterpiece, lest it dethrone an album I held so dear.

I still like, “The Great Misdirect,” better, but, “Colors,” is worthy of its acclaim– this is a metal album that has a hoe-down section after all. 

Yes, you read that right– go listen to, “Ants of the Sky,” and make sure you have your cowboy hat ready for when the banjos come out.

In any case, there were a few things that made me pause in here, as I thought they were tending a little more towards silly than I would have liked: the bass solo, and what we’ll refer to as the song’s, “twisted carnival,” sequences.

Hearing these, I was like, “really?” but then I realized that BtBaM had precedents for both of these things in their previous songs, and they were simply building upon what they’d established on earlier albums.

While I prefer the fretless (or double-bass?) action heard within, “The Great Misdirect,” the bass solo on here is actually pretty gutter. It’s some nimble shit, and the tone is a bold statement for a metal song. I’m with it.

Re: your mention of the drum solos Brandon, that was the first thing about the song that I fell in love with. I didn’t know that they got Mike Portnoy to provide them with a BLESSING, and the other gentlemen who feature on here are throwing it down too. It’s definitely my favorite part of the song.

For the same reason that I was afraid to listen to “Colors,” I’ve not sought out the band’s more recent releases, but I’ll have to do so now. 

Like you, my appreciation for this song has only grown as I’ve listened to it more, so I think we’re in for a treat.

Between the Buried and Me’s Colors 2 will release on August 20th which you can preorder here: https://www.betweentheburiedandme.com 

Deafheaven – The Gnashing

GF: I feel a bit bad giving Deafheaven two slots in a row, but they keep bringing the heat, so that’s just what it is.

It seems like the internet has been evenly split on the band’s new direction, and I’ve had a little waffling since these songs have come out, but I’m firmly back in the camp of, “this is great.”

More propulsive as a whole than, “Great Mass of Color,” this song is a pretty straight-ahead rocker. The choruses are big, the guitar leads start in, “meltdown mode,” off the bat, and the band seems like they’re really enjoying what they’re playing.

These are all good things, and it leads me to discuss what we’ll call the song’s, “cookout,” section.

As with “Great Mass of Color,” the band saves it’s most powerful moment for the tail end of the song. Here, it arrives in the form of some severely deep-fried reverb/wah action that recalls some of both, “Baby Blue,” and, “Canary Yellow.” It’s funny as this song has no sort of color in its title, but so it goes.

In either instance, the fleet-fingered, back-mixed lead work that closes the song out is just an aural feast for anyone with a good sound system or headphones. I’m hoping they’re able to keep things this exciting as they release more from the album.

Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite arrive on August 20th and you can pre-order here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/deafheaven.  I grabbed the picture disc which is just so slick.

White Stones – Chain of Command

BH: If you don’t know already, I’m kind of a die-hard Opeth fan (and perhaps my intro clarifies this).  This includes being a fan of the side bands from the respective current and ex-members.  I’ve written about Soen several times on Indiepong but not too much on White Stones.  

WS is Martin Mendez’s other band and it’s clear that since Opeth is no longer releasing even remotely death metal albums now, White Stones will take on the role.  

Chain of Command hits really strongly right out of the gate so I’m increasingly excited to see what else awaits on the second album from the group.  Yes, this sounds a lot like Opeth used to, particularly the bass tone and guitar riffs.  And that’s pretty great by me.  

I love the eerie whispers at the beginning of this track and man alive, that lead riff is super catchy.  I dug the debut album a lot but this song *might* be better than any of the songs on there. 

The vocals absolutely crush and I love how tight the drumwork is.  Other than Mendez, I wasn’t too familiar with the other members of the band but he certainly surrounded himself with top-notch musicians.  

White Stone’s second album, Dancing Into Oblivion, will release on August 27th, which you can preorder here.  

Iron Maiden- The Writing on the Wall

GF: When Brandon sent the link through for this song, I was both excited and nervous at the same time.

Excited because… well, new Iron Maiden.

Nervous, because… I feel like the law of averages is going to have to catch up with the band at some point, and they’re going to *winces* release some music that’s *double winces* not very good.

Thankfully, that’s not the case here, and Bruce and the boys are back in business.

This seems to be cruising pretty comfortably in the lane of what Maiden put out back in ‘06, with, “A Matter of Life and Death,” an album that just so happens to be my favorite Maiden studio release when it comes to their 21st century output.

That’s no knock against “Book of Souls,” or anything else that they’ve put out since Bruce re-joined the band either, I just feel like, “A Matter of Life and Death,” was a pretty special album. Its strength is especially impressive, considering that they recorded it so late into their career.

In any case, this is mid-tempo Maiden with a bit of groove to it. Bruce it still giving it everything he has, and it sounds like both Dave and Adrian get to spin the wheel when it comes to the guitar solos?

It sounds like whoever bats second throws a little half-cocked wah and some slight inflection into the mix which is always appreciated, and the solos in general serve as a marvelous set of exclamation points in the song.

The chorus is probably going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the evening, and perhaps, well into tomorrow too, so I’d say mission accomplished, if these gentlemen were looking to put another notch on their belt of anthems.

Brandon, what are your favorite parts of the song? Did you know that Maiden was even going to put new music out? How does this compare against what the band has put out these last 20 years in your mind? Where does it fall in terms of your appreciation?

BH:  So I did know that Maiden was up to something because they had made a few hints recently on social media but it wasn’t really clear what exactly they were doing.

Then they drop this rad new song on us and well…as usual for Maiden…it’s super good.

Before I get too into it though, this song got me psyched to go back through their discography yet again.  I was starting to go in order but now I’m kinda jumping all over the place.  I’ve got to say that their debut album might be one of my favorite debut albums out there.  It’s almost perfect even without Bruce.  

That all said, nothing quite compares to some of the classic Bruce albums like Powerslave, along with the “Return of the Bruce” albums from Brave New World and on.  

Very interesting to hear how connected you are with A Matter of Life and Death, George.  I like that album a lot too, though Dance of Death was actually the album that I’m closest to from the “Return of the Bruce” period.  To clarify, it’s not my favorite of this batch (that would be Brave New World) BUT I snuck out of high school with some friends to grab this album on release day so it’s near and dear to me regardless of that godawful cover art.

Anyhow, this new song definitely has me eagerly anticipating the next album.  I love the opening Western-ish guitar lick.  Feels like something different for Maiden.  When it kicks into gear, the song reminds me of a track from The Final Frontier sessions in terms of build up and pacing but it’s really quite different too.  The chorus feels like a standard one for the group but that’s not a bad thing.  

I also really appreciate the more progressive second half with the killer guitar solo. 

To answer your question George, I tend to be an album guy particularly with Maiden in the sense that the single is usually just one small piece of the bigger picture.  It’s a little hard to gauge how this will stack up on the upcoming album, but I’d say it would have fit nicely on the last couple of albums.  Is it better than tracks like If Eternity Should Fail from The Book of Souls…eh maybe not but that’s no slight as again this is a damn solid song and I think as I hear it in the context of the new album, it’ll only grow for me.  Up the Irons!