One of the things that the digital age of music has forced artists to do is learn how to deal with the near-inevitability of piracy occurring before an album is officially released. Leaks occur nearly all the time with any album that has even the slightest anticipation built about it prior to its release. So the industry’s coping method has most often been to feature full albums as streaming content on either a band’s website or a partner site for promotional purposes, usually putting the stream in poor sound quality or adding an audio watermark to encourage people to buy the album for its optimal version upon official release. While this does not deter piracy, it does encourage more purchasing with some people, and anything that spurs the sale of music is okay in my book.
So it is with the album leading this week’s list. The debut album from Times of Grace has been hyped and promoted since last summer, with both Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz using Leach’s timely live appearances with Killswitch Engage as a jump-off point for announcing their new music venture. The album’s leak last week really upset Leach, but the leak’s impact was offset by a live stream of the album online, combined with an intense pre-order that came from multiple sources. And while several other albums on this week’s list have also garnered a lot of attention from the metal community, none have quite the novelty factor that Times of Grace does. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what metal fans have prioritized for this week:
Times of Grace, The Hymn of a Broken Man (Roadrunner)
In the nine years that separates this album from Alive or Just Breathing, the last Killswitch Engage album to feature Jesse Leach as a regular member, he and guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz have walked very different paths. But after listening to this album, you’d think this side project had formed the day after Leach left KSE. Somehow, these two outstanding musicians have found a way to not only replicate the magic of Alive or Just Breathing, but to do what was previously thought impossible – create an even better album. The musicianship is phenomenal, Leach’s vocals are rock-solid, and the lyrical message is awe-inspiring. This is an early favorite for being one of the best albums of 2011, and I say that without any trace of hyperbole or exaggeration because the album is genuinely that good. The special edition is well worth the price for those looking to add a visual element to the album’s presentation.
Electric Wizard, Black Masses (Metal Blade)
This album also started receiving a lot of attention last year, by virtue of its European release occurring in November. Lots of Electric Wizard die-hards are bashing the album for not sounding similar to older releases like Dopethrone. However, the size of that group of critics is barely a fraction of the numbers raving about this album’s stoner-laden doom vibe. Fans of Sleep, Bongzilla, and Weedeater will find what they’re looking for on this album – a substance-induced mind warp via downtuned guitars and crushing drums.
Ghost, Opus Eponymous (Metal Blade)
I think this might be the most evil album released in recent memory, and that’s saying something considering the latest releases from black metal’s elite bands. For those unaware, Sweden’s Ghost is a six-piece group that plays progressive heavy metal, melding elements of King Diamond and Voivod together in a seamless fashion. Rarely, though, does one hear such a clean-sounding band glorifying Satan in the way that Ghost does. With skeletal garb and masks to match their blackened lyrics, Ghost is a faceless entity of pure darkness, and their mysterious, unique persona has already attracted the attention of many.
Stratovarius, Elysium (Armoury/Fontana)
If anyone is left that thinks Stratovarius is worse off without Timo Tolkki in the lineup, Elysium is a bold statement to refute those statements. This album is high on quality and short on lavishness, repeating the streamlined and refined flow of Polaris quite well. The band suffered a scare recently when drummer Jörg Michael was diagnosed with cancer, but fortunately the tumor has been removed, and his inability to participate in the first leg of the band’s upcoming tour with Helloween is a small price to pay for his health and well-being.
Farewell to Freeway, Filthy Habits (Victory)
The Ontario metalcore group was shockingly good on their last album, Only Time Will Tell, so the changes on Filthy Habits already have lots of critics screaming in rage. However, fans of Farewell to Freeway will have an easier time listening to this album is they disconnect it from the band’s older material and think of it as a separate album entirely. My thoughts on the album can be summed up by this very fitting review from The New Review, which says, in summary, that this is practically an entirely new and different band from what we’ve heard in the past from these kids.
Decoder, Decoder (Rise)
Decoder can be considered a post-hardcore supergroup, since its members are drawn from now-defunct Florida screamo groups Oceana, VersaEmerge, and Of Machines. Their sound draws on all three bands that helped form them, although Decoder is significantly heavier by comparison. However, there isn’t a lot of originality in this band, since most of the innovation that could be used in post-hardcore has been dried up. This group is still pretty solid, though, and the album is worth buying if you’re a fan of any of the three bands named here or the genre in general.
Lionheart, Built on Struggle (Mediaskare)
These young hardcore kids bear many similarities to other up-and-coming hardcore groups like First Blood, Thick as Blood, Blood Stands Still…wait a minute, are we sure this group isn’t called Lionblood just to keep the trend going? All joking aside, Lionheart bears the old hardcore DIY ethic and the powerful lyrics of perseverance and self-actualization that made many bands like Hatebreed and Madball famous. However, with so many bands out there doing the same thing right now, Lionheart will have to work hard to not get lost in the crowd of similar-sounding hardcore groups fighting for one of the coveted spots in this oversaturated genre.
Corrosion of Conformity, X2 (Blind/Deliverance) (Sony Legacy)
In anticipation for their upcoming studio album, COC is re-releasing two of their most beloved albums. There’s not much to say here – if you know COC and are a fan of their music, then you have a 99.9999999 percent chance of owning both of these albums. If you don’t know COC at all, then you have a 99.9999999 percent chance of needing to get better educated about the bands that have made heavy metal as prevalent as it is today. If you know COC and aren’t a fan of their music…well, that’s just your personal taste then. What, were you expecting another percentile joke?
If you can believe it, 2011 marks the twenty-year anniversary for Dying Fetus. For a band to last that long playing extreme technical death metal, they have to be doing something right (besides having a name that no one will ever forget or mistake for someone else). As such, the band is reissuing all of their older material from their pre-Relapse. Two more reissues are coming on March 1st, but today we get the first recorded material John Gallagher and Co. ever released. Infatuation with Malevolence is a collection of the band’s demo materials, and this reissue includes several live tracks and never-before-heard demos. Purification Through Violence is the band’s punishing debut, and this reissue comes packed with three bonus tracks, highlighted by a top-notch cover of Napalm Death’s “Scum”. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the next two reissues have lined up for bonus goodies.
Next Week: Black Label Society said it best – “We are the underground!” And that’s where almost all of next week’s releases come from, so be ready for a lot of names you’ve never seen before. Rock on, headbangers!