Album Review: Fastkill - Bestial Thrashing Bulldozer

Japan in general is not known for their heavy metal. Bands from the west have always enjoyed a degree of popularity there, though; bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Deep Purple have recorded some of their best material on live albums from there, and western releases in Japan almost always come with a couple of bonus tracks not available in North America. It’s only recently, though, that Japan has begun to export its fantastic music on a wider scale worldwide. Thanks in part to the internet and to organizations like Next Music From Tokyo, Japanese music is growing in popularity worldwide, but few Japanese bands ever enjoy true international success, remaining known only in Japan itself and among a select few cult followers.

Japanese metal, however, is often far more extreme than its North American or European counterparts. The bands take the western sound and take it to its logical conclusion, recording material that ascends to levels of heaviness, extremity and aggression that most western bands would kill to attain. This is true for many bands, but nowhere is it more obvious than on Fastkill’s latest album, Bestial Thrashing Bulldozer.

Everything on this album’s package screams 80’s thrash metal. From the excellent hand-drawn cover, depicting a rotting half-skeleton with a rocket launcher and a pint of beer riding atop a bulldozer-tank amid the ruins of a city to the parody of Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love album on the inside to their song titles, like “In Thrash We Trust,” “Toxic Tormentor,” and “Guillotine Attack,” this band makes no illusions about what they play. From the album’s first beat to its close, the tempo rarely strays from breakneck speed, pausing only occasionally for an 80’s-style riff oriented breakdown, devoid of the chugging riffs that too many modern bands employ. Maniacal vocalist Toshio Komori delivers lyrics with a vicious ferocity reminiscent of early Exodus or later Death, and each song is practically overflowing with spectacular, lightning-fast riffs. This album is so fast, in fact, that the tracks rarely extend much past the four minute mark. At this speed, the musicians’ arms would probably fall off if they played for much longer.

Despite several thrash releases so far this year, Fastkill manages to blow each and every one of them out of the water. The fact that this album wipes the floor with releases by Kreator, Testament, and others this year is not meant as an attack on their great albums, but rather as proof of just how fantastic Fastkill’s output is.

For an extreme thrash fest, check out Fastkill’s latest album. Whatever you’re listening to right now, trust me: this is heavier and faster. It’s not for the faint of heart, but those who enjoy this style will find Fastkill’s latest album is more than up to par with modern thrash metal, and can swing with the best the genre has to offer.

Anonymous said: I liked your review of Motorhead's "The World is Yours" a lot. It's nicely written and rightfully honours the contribution of Filthy to what makes their early albums so special.

Thanks dude. Motorhead has some pretty distinct phases that some don’t really notice, but from a drumming point of view it’s hard to miss.

Anonymous said: goat horn live cassette?! what's the deal with that...i was at that show i had no idea a bootleg was made and printed...where'd you get it?

I grabbed mine at Hits and Misses dude, check it out. I got it a while ago and I think it’s limited to 100 copies so I’m not sure if they still have any.

Album Review: The Hives - Lex Hives (2012)

When The Hives entered the public consciousness with their hit Hate To Say I Told You So, it was part of a garage rock revival in popular music that came to be known as the era of the “the” bands. around the same time, The Strokes hit it big with their single Last Night, The Vines were flying high with the grunge-influenced Get Free, and Jack White’s blues-soaked madness was introduced to the world with the deceivingly simplistic Fell In Love With a Girl. While some groups would end up being more successful than others, each of them continued to write material long after their popularity had begun, and in many cases, long after it faded. So, to call this album a return is a bit of a misnomer, since The Hives never went anywhere in the first place.

The album opens with an intro track, which isn’t much more than the band members yelling “come on” to a recorded audience, a reference to their reputation as one of the best live acts in pop music. From there, the band gives us the material that we’d expect, with fast-paced, fun songs influenced as much by garage rock as it is by the 80’s. Their image and attitude is similar to the self-aware ironic kitsch of Devo, but their music is a hodgepodge of influence, some obvious and some less so. This album is hardly anything particularly new, even within The Hives’ discography. The Hives have never been particularly about innovation though, and as a result, many of the songs on this album sound the same. As a band, though, they prefer to let the live show speak for itself, and The Hives have won over many more fans through their performances than they have their albums. Not that their albums aren’t strong enough to stand on their own, but expect much more people to be talking about The Hives if they’ve played a show in your town than upon this album’s release.

This album is a worthy successor to their previous work, and shows that despite having scored their last major hit a decade ago, they are still a force to be reckoned with.

Album Review: Tom Jones - Spirit in the Room (2012)

I know what you’re probably thinking. Tom Jones? He’s about as relevant today as Mickey Rooney, a relic of the past and a style of music that won’t likely ever see a resurgence in popularity. Mr. Jones occupies an important place in musical history, but while there was once a time where he would take the stage of a stadium only to be bombarded by the panties of every young girl in the audience, these days it’s more likely to be a pair of Depends. So, why should anybody care about a new Tom Jones record?

The days of songs like It’s Not Unusual are, of course, far behind us, and Tom Jones must realize this as well. His session at Third Man Studios with Jack White where he recorded a fantastic cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s track Evil, must have left an imprint on him. His latest album, Spirit in the Room, is a collection of covers by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Blind Willie McTell and Tom Waits, among others. The tracks have a rootsy, down to earth feel to them, much different from the elaborate, over the top production of the work for which Jones is best known. The standout moment of this album, though, is his take on the title track from Tom Waits’ last album, Bad As Me. The strength and passion of his vocal delivery is something that I never considered Jones to be capable of. He channels an old southern American bluesman, each line dripping with soul and ferocity.

This album might not win over Jones’ old fans, but they aren’t generally the demographic known for being interested in new music in the first place. What this album will do for him is prove that even an aging, cliche, shmaltzy, Vegas-type act can be vibrant and creative when surrounded with the right people.

Album Review: Kill Devil Hill - Kill Devil Hill (2012)

The band Kill Devil Hill’s debut album couldn’t look less appealing if it tried. Its album cover is disgustingly plain, the back cover is a badly photoshopped inverted image of the front, with a font thrown over top without much attention paid to how it looks or even the legibility of the words. The inside is even worse, with plain white Arial font over a boring black background. Everything about this album’s packaging begs you to pass it by. In fact, the amateurishness of this album’s packaging is astounding. At first glance, nobody would suspect that the members of this band’s pedigrees include bands like Pantera, Black Sabbath, Down and Dio. In defiance of the old adage, I judged this album by its cover, and was fully prepared to give it a negative review before I even heard it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I listened to the album and my instincts were absolutely right! Save for a couple of heavier, more Black Sabbath sounding moments, this album more closely resembles late-nineties radio-friendly nu metal. It sounds like a bunch of middle-aged dudes trying to make something that’s dark and aggressive but marketable at the same time, but the unfortunate part is that the band’s idea of what “marketable” means is about ten years stale at this point. The only noteworthy thing about this album is how incredibly uninteresting it is. In this case, the cover speaks volumes more than the album ever could.

What a surprise that they’re touring with Adrenaline Mob!

Album Review: Kimbra - Vows (2012)

In what might be the most anticipated North American release of a New Zealand act, Kimbra’s debut album hit shelves this week, but the material on it is nearly a year old. It’s likely that this album would never have received much attention in North American if not for the runaway success of the song Somebody That I Used to Know by the artist Gotye off his album Making Mirrors, which featured Kimbra. Thanks to that, and the relative scarcity of Kimbra’s material outside of New Zealand, the album received much more fanfare.

There is an interesting mix of influences on this album, but many of Kimbra’s songs are reminiscent of Amy Winehouse’s jazz-soul style. The energetic vocal delivery, occasionally evoking a young Michael Jackson, is the highlight of this album, but the instrumentation shines as well. Though its range isn’t quite as pan-genre embracing as Gotye, it does give a nod to many styles, including jazz, funk, synth-pop, electronica and even a bit of show tunes. Clocking in at nearly an hour, it’s a little longer than most albums these days, and unfortunately in the age of tl;dr, many audiences might be put off by its length, but none of these tracks are throwaways. This album might not be as big a hit as Making Mirrors, but it’s a very good, lushly produced album that perfectly showcases Kimbra’s vocal range and creative songwriting.

Album Review: Sonata Arctica - Stones Grow Her Name (2012)

Power metal has always had trouble expanding into new sounds. Bands like Stratovarius have tried it, and in the process they ended up alienating their fans. On the other hand, if they stick too religiously to the same formula, they end up sounding tired and cliche by the third album or so, which is how many feel about Dragonforce.

To their credit, Sonata Arctica has tried to stave off stagnation and try  something new on this album without straying too far, but the results vary from track to track. This isn’t anything new for Sonata though; most of their albums have at least a couple of stinkers on them, buried amongst the excellent riffs and soaring vocals of their more standout tracks. What’s different with this album is that the powerful, epic songs for which the band has come to be known aren’t as strong, and the weaker songs are far weaker than anything the band has done so far. There are a few good tracks that I can see becoming standards in Sonata’s live set, but it’s hard to make an album feel glorious and epic with lyrics like “she got a shitload of money,” and a bunch of children reciting their rights over a weak bridge. The most bizarre moment of this album, though, is the track Cinderblox. In what must be a a first for the genre, the band has combined power metal and bluegrass, and it doesn’t necessarily sound horrible, but it could have been done much more effectively. Unfortunately, the bad tracks on this album drag the entire thing down, and even the better tracks here are no match for their previous work.

Concert Review: Next Music From Tokyo, The Rivoli Theatre (19/5/12)

The city of Tokyo, Japan, boasts one of the world’s most vibrant, interesting and unique music scenes in the world. Its many bands enjoy a respectable amount of success in Japan, but unlike North American music, they have trouble finding a strong fanbase outside of their country. Enter Steve Tanaka, a Canadian doctor who discovered this music by chance, and fell in love with it. He’s arranged for the bands to come to North America, where they play shows in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. These annual events are, sadly, one of the best kept secrets in the Toronto music scene. It’s one of the most unique events in town, and though it always fills the Rivoli to capacity, given how unique an opportunity it is, it should fill a much larger venue. Last year the acts were excellent, and I was looking forward to another great experience this year. 

The first band to take the stage was called Charan Po Rantan & CANCANBALKAN. Six girls took the stage, dressed in similar skirts, straw hats and orange scarves, and armed with an accordion, trumpet, sax, double-bass, clarinet and drums. Their music was a sort of klezmer style, not too far off Gogol Bordello without the guitars. After a stellar instrumental tune which allowed each member the chance to show their chops, the singer took the stage, along with a stuffed pig and a boatload of energy. They had a lot of audience interaction as well, encouraging them to sing and clap along, and at one point they began promoting their merchandise, sticking giant price tags onto the things they were showing. Their show was energetic and exciting, and the musicianship was incredible. 

Next up was Group_Inou, a two-piece electronic-hip hop group. Their music was completely driven by beats, with no physical instruments at all. It was fast-paced and fun, a little reminiscent of Crystal Castles. Their beats sounded like a mix between anime music and hard industrial, with a little hip hop mixed in for good measure. The vocalist danced his heart out, and had an incredible amount of passion in his delivery, and the crowd reacted with equal furor, jumping, dancing and cheering. Once their set was complete, they dropped their equipment and walked off the stage instantly, without pausing for a moment to absorb the cheers.

After a few minutes, Steve Tanaka announced Zazen Boys as “one of the best bands in Tokyo” and I can see why. From the moment they started, their fantastic musicianship was obvious. They were incredibly tight, never missing a beat, and with no gaps in their playing whatsoever. From machine-gun stop-go riffs to chaotic dissonance in unusual time signatures, this was one of the most unique bands I have ever seen. As their set went on, the songs incorporated a bit more melody, but the focus was usually on the rhythm. They ended their set with the frontman playing conductor, and the rest of the band following his hand signals. Each one of them was incredibly talented, but the bassist in particular stood out for me. I have never in my life seen someone play that fast, and with so much complexity at the same time. At the end of their set they promised that they would come back, and I hope they do. 

The final band, Praha Depart, had a very difficult act to follow. At that point the crowd was thinning, and those who were left seemed a little weary, but the band still performed with passion. In contrast with Zazen Boys’ controlled chaos, Praha Depart was much noisier and aggressive. The reverb-heavy guitar created a spacey, psychedelic feel, and while their songs dragged on a little too long at times, they were excellent. 

One of the most amazing things about this whole experience was how a handful of musicians from Tokyo that most people in the room didn’t know existed before they took the stage could fill a room with so much energy, and have it reciprocated by the audience. As each band left the stage drenched in sweat, it was clear that they gave their performance everything they had, and they must have been just as excited about this tour as the audience was, if not more. Each one of these shows is a rare opportunity to experience the music of another culture without leaving your own, and should not be missed by any music lover

Album Review: Jack White - Blunderbuss (2012)

When The White Stripes announced that they were disbanding in early 2011, after more than a decade and half a dozen albums,it by no means meant that Jack White would be finished making music. Rather than turning to either of his already-established bands, The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather, Jack began focusing on his label, Third Man Records, recording artists as diverse as Tom Jones and Insane Clown Posse. But when RZA wasn’t able to make it to a recording session, and Jack had a band that traveled to his studio and set up, he didn’t want that time to go to waste, so he decided to record some songs that he had been working on himself. Those ended up becoming Blunderbuss, Jack’s first solo album, and as soon as it was announced it became one of the most anticipated releases of 2012. 

Like any White Stripes album worth its name, the tracks have a wide range of style. It’s the most eclectic work he’s ever done, using a wide range of instruments, including fiddle, mandolin, lap steel, double-bass, clarinet, and three different types of organs, on top of the usual guitar, piano and drums. The individual tracks really do shine, and there isn’t a bad song on this album. The unfortunate problem with this album, though, is that it doesn’t flow together very nicely. These songs were recorded at the spur of the moment, without much thought as to how they would work as a collection, and it shows. If RZA had shown up to his recording date, would this album have existed in its present form? It’s difficult to say, but it’s likely that a little more thought would have gone into it, and it would have ended up a much stronger album.