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  • Watch SEBASTIAN BACH Perform SKID ROW's Entire Debut Album In Charlotte
    Sebastian Bach performed at Amos' Southend in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 31 as part of his tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of SKID ROW's self-titled debut album. Bach opened the 15-song set with "Tornado" — the LP's final track — and "Forever" before the singer performed the rest of "Skid Row" in order. As an encore, Sebastian played two songs from SKID ROW's 1991 album "Slave To The Grind": "The Threat" and "Monkey Business". Setlist: 01. Tornado 02. Forever 03. Big Guns 04. Sweet Little Sister 05. Can't Stand The Heartache 06. Piece Of Me 07. 18 And Life 08. Rattlesnake Shake 09. Youth Gone Wild 10. Here I Am 11. Makin' A Mess 12. I Remember You 13. Midnight Encore: 14. The Threat 15. Monkey Business Fan-filmed video footage of the concert can be seen below (courtesy of YouTube user "Unicorn Spirit"). In June, Bach issued an "open invitation" to the other members of SKID ROW's classic lineup to "get onstage and jam" during the vocalist's current tour. Drummer Rob Affuso — who left SKID ROW in 1998 and claims to be "the only former member that keeps in contact with all former SKID ROW bandmates and is still good friends with them all" — subsequently responded to Bach on Facebook, writing, "Sure! I'll be there dude." A few days later, during an interview with Finland's Kaaos TV, guitarist Dave "Snake" Sabo confirmed that he would not accept Bach's latest overture. "I'm working with my band," he said. "This is SKID ROW, and this is what I do." Asked by Rolling Stone if he thinks his former bandmates are offended that he put his invitation out there publicly, Bach said: "No. I think it's an ego thing. They don't like when I get attention, and they don't get attention. It's always been like that. I can already see them getting mad, because I'm selling out shows, and they're not part of the show, and blah, blah, blah."
  • Extreme Power Metal - DRAGONFORCE
    It had to happen eventually. Tucked away at the end of "Extreme Power Metal", not so much as an afterthought as a mischievous sting in the tail, is an absolutely hysterical and very, very DRAGONFORCE version of Celine Dion's immortal "My Heart Will Go On". Played at the band's trademark top speed, it's over and done in just over three minutes and yet, within this explosion of knowing silliness and exuberant cheese lies the entire secret to this band's enduring appeal. While also confirming that DRAGONFORCE are having a fantastic time right now, "My Heart Will Go On" is a perfect fit for power metal's premiere velocity warriors. With those soaring melodies and its underlying, misty-eyed but uplifting sentiment, it's basically a DRAGONFORCE song anyway, albeit with fewer guitar solos and lyrics that actually make some vague sense. In reality, novelty codas notwithstanding, the most interesting thing about "Extreme Power Metal" is the fact that it is so obviously and undeniably stronger than anything the band have released since 2006's "Inhuman Rampage". Not that the three albums DRAGONFORCE have made with vocalist Marc Hudson were in any way substandard, but where the likes of 2017's "Reaching into Infinity" ticked all the boxes without delivering any new information, their eighth full-length is instantly recognizable as DRAGONFORCE in real-time upgrade mode. From its preposterous but irresistible cover art to the record's title, this feels like some kind of bold but cheeky statement of intent: a goofily futuristic re-setting and reassertion of values, both musical and aesthetic. But maybe that's analyzing DRAGONFORCE a bit too much. What really matters is whether these songs (a) tear your face off and use it as a frisbee, and (b) make you grin like you're being fellated on a rollercoaster. There were plenty of songs on this album's immediate predecessors that fit that bill, but the unconfined joy and metallic braggadocio were never quite sustained for an entire record. The great news about "Extreme Power Metal" is that it hangs together like metal records should, flowing seamlessly from the explosive kick-off of "Highway to Oblivion" to the teary grandeur of "Remembrance Day", delivering a steady stream of intense melodic thrills along the way. With countless bombastic crescendos, (very occasional) moments of elegant restraint and enough synapse-tweaking fret gymnastics to satisfy even the most ardent shredhead, this is clearly not a radical departure. It's just that DRAGONFORCE haven't touched upon these levels of mad-eyed intensity since the glory days of "Through the Fire and Flames" and they haven't really ever produced such characterful, dynamic songs before. Even more mid-paced material like "The Last Dragonborn" and "Strangers", once an anomaly but now an essential part of the band's armory, feels punchier and more muscular than past efforts. Hudson has never sounded better, either: still an unsung hero to a great extent, he thoroughly deserves to be hailed as one of power metal's most distinctive singers, with a towering performance (wild multi-part harmonies included) on the crystal-meth-AOR of "Heart Demolition" providing particularly compelling evidence. If you've never enjoyed DRAGONFORCE before, there is nothing here that will change your mind, but for the rest of us, new anthems like "Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shred Machine" and "Troopers of the Stars" will be as instantly addictive as anything in their creators' now substantial canon. Easily the band's heaviest record yet, it's also impressively diverse by modern power metal standards. And yes, as the blastbeats at the start of the subtly blackened "Troopers of the Stars" and the pummeling gallop of "In a Skyforged Dream" confirm, this is definitely extreme power metal, with balls the size of Jupiter and melody delivered like a dropkick to the jaw. Throw in that Celine Dion cover as a truly inspired bonus and it's hard to imagine how any metalhead could come away from "Extreme Power Metal" without feeling considerably better about life in general. The force is with us. Enjoy it.
  • Sunless - PSOTY
    Bands will pay the price for picking a shit name. It may have seemed terribly post-modern and in-jokey at the time, but being lumbered with a name like PET SLIMMERS OF THE YEAR was never a smart move. Sensibly, this UK-based post-metal crew have trimmed that unwieldy tag down to the simpler PSOTY: still a clumsy mouthful, if we're being honest, but a much more artful and therefore fitting moniker for a band that seem to have blossomed beyond all measure in the five years since debut album "Fragments Of Uniforms". "Sunless" emerges into a year that has already been blessed with preposterous quantities of high-quality post-everything heaviness, but within seconds of its whirring into life, the second PSOTY album exudes a steely eyed determination to mesmerize. First single and album opener "Oil Blood" offers immediate evidence that the Brits have embraced a new mission over the last few years. Although this is music firmly rooted in some hazily defined notion of adventurous post-metal, there is a heaviness, bombast and simplicity behind PSOTY's rejuvenated sound. Where before they may have relied heavily on the riff-driven slow-build with a side order of post-rock's prettiness, "Oil Blood" is less abstract and far more direct than anything the band have released previously. As it builds from anguished beginning to menacing denouement, it feels like a bullish statement in and of itself. "The Yawning Void" is gnarlier still, with one of those gutter-level, bowel-rattling chug riffs that echoes time's inexorable forward crawl, haunting melancholy keys and several blissful moments of resonant respite appearing from the melee like beams of sunlight through a clouded sky. The post-whatever wheel is not being reinvented here, incidentally, but PSOTY are blurring lines between micro-subgenres with the zeal of true explorers. At a hefty ten minutes, "Watcher Of The Abyss" is the album's grandest epic and its most emotionally devastating moment, its creators' bloated wall of guitars morphing and churning through several distinct vistas, TOOL and PINK FLOYD proving to be as much of an influence on this band as anything from the post-NEUROSIS set. The band's use of vocals hits a peak of efficacy here, too: a more characterful singer than many in this genre, whoever it is that is singing here (PSOTY are reluctant to provide such details, it seems) makes intermittent contributions that give "Sunless" a humanity and vulnerability that are so often lost when bands are trying to outdo each other in the crushing riff stakes. Following the reverbed sky-ride of ambient interlude "Acheron", "Queen Of Hades" is a funeral doom waltz with cosmic leanings; the icy isolation of slow-motion atmospheric extremity, filtered through cinematic glacial drift and pumped up on sludge metal steroids. "Charon" is another shimmering vignette, all OPETH elegance and woozy, MOGWAI fog leading into the crushing, stately squall of "King Of Ephyra". And if you're not fully won over by this point, the closing "Obscura" is a brilliantly overwrought finale that switches from all-out attack to miasmic psychedelia and back again, sucking the last remaining slivers of light from the room and ending "Sunless" on a bruising and unforgettable note.
    Metalcore and deathcore may not be quite as "hip" as they were ten, or even five, years ago, and they have certainly fallen out of favor with many. Yet the styles remain popular worldwide. France's notable export on that front, BETRAYING THE MARTYRS, has garnered praise and maintained attention and momentum by virtue of a solid work ethic and willingness to fine tune its approach and tech-centric leanings since their 2008 beginnings. The Parisians hard work has certainly paid dividends, as their fourth long player, "Rapture", finds the band at their greatest point yet in terms of composition and performance. The aforementioned "core" styles are typically encased in chest-thumping bravado, at least as far as surface aesthetics go, but aside from the Swedish-influenced melodic runs and melodic vocal choruses, these modern takes on heavy music are decidedly limited in scope. This makes it all the more bold of BETRAYING THE MARTYRS to focus so heavily upon symphonic metal, an area primarily commandeered by "clean vocalist" and keyboardist Victor Guillet. His centerpiece contributions stand out most notably on "The Sound Of Letting You Go". Generally speaking, the boldness pays off, setting them apart from the pack of third-rate AT THE GATES rip-offs. "Rapture" certainly does not start off on the right foot. The minute-long instrumental opening track "Ignite" does anything but what its name claims. But the filler is not at all representative of the whole, as the by-the-numbers build-up does lead to "Eternal Machine", a proper song that adequately sets the album in motion with a groove metal bounce that's inherent to the band's identity. "The Sound Of Letting You Go" initially comes across as an obligatory slow-burning ballad of sorts, presumably placed to provide contrast; however, the dramatic breakdown and ferocious vocal assault of primary singer Aaron Matts render any initial, preconceived notions as flawed in a track that proves to be an album highlight. "Rapture" is, thus far, BETRAYING THE MARTYRS' crowning achievement. In spite of its questionable track sequencing and relatively lackluster start, the Frenchmen's improved technicality and more prominent black metal inspired symphonic flourishes successfully augment the act's bedrock of bruising breakdowns. In short, the ingredients are familiar and par for the course, but like any veteran chef would do, the tailoring of expected flavors is thoughtful and consequently memorable. Perhaps most importantly, "Rapture"'s diversity opens the door for a variety of approaches that will likely make sense their next go around.
  • Dawn Of Infinite Fire - ASAGRAUM
    It says a lot about the strength of frontwoman Obscura's vision that ASAGRAUM are currently being talked about as major black metal contenders. As much as I'm sure the band don't need a white, middle-aged man to congratulate them for making fantastic music and possessing vaginas at the same time, it would be disingenuous to pretend that there isn't anything startling or, perhaps more significantly, refreshing about the ongoing rise of this all-female crew. The conversation changed almost immediately, upon the release of 2017's "Potestas Magicum Diaboli", from "Ooh, girls playing black metal!" to "Satan be praised, this fucking rips!"; subsequent live shows only adding to the band's aura and renown. Two years later, it's not easy to think of many young extreme metal bands that can boast the terrifying levels of confidence and command that course through every second of "Dawn of Infinite Fire". Still firmly wedded to notions of keeping the spirit of black metal '90s heyday alive, with a generous dose of claustrophobic psychedelia thrown in for bad measure, ASAGRAUM haven't so much evolved as expanded, edging ever closer to the monumental atmospheres of the EMPEROR, GORGOROTH and GEHENNA records that created the rudimentary framework for this incendiary din. Wisely opting for a big sound that packs a huge bassy punch, ASAGRAUM share a lot of musical DNA with black metal's epic, symphonic and ambitious wings, but there is nothing polished or overly accessible here. Instead, from the abyssal eruptions of opener "They Crawl from the Broken Circle" onwards, Obscura and drummer A. drag the listener into a swirling, suffocating vortex of riffs and feral roars, powered by a percussive battery that frequently sounds like a war breaking out in hell. It's undeniably brutal and intense, but where many contemporary black metal bands are perfectly happy to charmlessly repeat a revered formula, ASAGRAUM side-step every cliché, with melodies that crackle with eccentricity and arrangements that never quite do the obvious. Ultimately, "Dawn of Infinite Fire" looks likely to be one of this year's most hallowed black metal records simply because ASAGRAUM are so utterly convincing. You simply can't fake the bug-eyed violence that informs the album's most unrelenting moments, and the sinister vibes that leak from every calloused sonic pore are often genuinely unsettling. Even when channeling more prosaic, traditional influences, as on self-evident neck-wrecker "Abomination's Altar", Obscura's delight in corrupting cherished tropes for her own nefarious ends is obvious and quite infectious. Grotesque centerpiece "Beyond the Black Vortex" is a case in point: ostensibly one of those doom-laden black metal deep cuts that ladles on the atmosphere while giving the drummer a break, it swiftly morphs into something profoundly left field and disorientating; dynamics employed as weapons of war and a vocal performance so incensed and that they might make your eyes pop out, let alone Obscura's. The closing "Waar ik ben komt de dood" brings this stupidly exhilarating record to an end on an atypically restrained, sorrowful note, but that spectral spite is still there in plentiful supply. ASAGRAUM really do seem to be the real Luciferian deal.