Volbeat Deserving Of “Next Big Thing” Status; Amaranthe Presents Unique Sound

One of the things I enjoy in my well-rounded life is some great music. There are things that I come across that I simply cannot stand (such as Taylor Swift’s caterwauling…seriously, can someone give the girl a gift certificate to buy a voice?), but when I come across something I find great, I like to tell people about it. As my general preference is for harder edged rock, it will often go in that direction (but not always…).

Of late, there are several bands that I am very high on. Previously I told you about Halestorm and, if you want to get on that train, they should have a new album out towards the end of the year (meanwhile, jump on their ReAniMate 3.0 covers album). Here’s two more that you should be considering: one is a major opener for one of the biggest tours of the summer and the other presenting a different sound, if you will, in the hard rock genre. As always, I don’t claim to be on the band first, but I do think they’ve got some legs to them for the future!

Volbeat

Volbeat is a band out of Denmark that has been a 16-year “overnight success.” Despite having great success in Europe with their mixture of rockabilly, hard rock, and punk – surprisingly, the band rarely embraces a hard-core metal or thrash sound – Volbeat was unable to penetrate the U. S. market to any great extent. That changed with their latest release, Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie, which debuted in the Billboard Magazine‘s Top Five Albums the week of its release last year. As we speak, Volbeat is joined by Avenged Sevenfold (on some stops) as the warmup acts for the massive Metallica “WorldWired” tour that is hitting stadiums in the U. S. and worldwide.

That they all are considered hard rock acts (Metallica delves into thrash metal and A7X crushes their more metalcore sound) demonstrates the diversity of the hard rock arena. Volbeat, as stated before, aren’t your typical metalheads, incorporating sounds from across the spectrum into their particular brew. On earlier efforts, Volbeat’s sound was more inspired by country music such as Johnny Cash (their effort previous to this, Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, had a theme to it that gave you impressions of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western). With Seal the Deal, however, Volbeat has a sound more reminiscent of The Offspring than anything else.

The first song on the album, “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” was a very strong effort that just didn’t seem to click with U. S. audiences when it was released as a single. It wasn’t until the eponymous title track was released that some success occurred for singer Michael Poulsen, guitarist Rob Caggiano and bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen. “Seal the Deal” was a powerful piece of music that rumbled from the speakers, with the guitars provided by Caggiano being particularly notable. Since then, hard rock radio has been all over “Black Rose,” which may outdo “Seal the Deal” in popularity.

Surprisingly, Volbeat can sound almost melodic with the music they create. Do not be fooled, however, they do have an edginess to their lyrics that can be surprising and, in some songs, imagery of Hell and the Devil are implied. There are tunes about darkness, redemption and “selling the soul” that some might not like. That would be their misfortune, because most of the songs have a finish where, if the protagonist doesn’t emerge on top, they are at least fighting towards the future.

Along with the songs mentioned above, there are a couple other efforts that are noteworthy on Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie. “The Gates of Babylon” is a very good track from the album, but it is a cover song on the album that is even more surprising because of its quality. Taken from the Georgia Satellites (an 80s outfit that is highly underrated), “Battleship Chains” demonstrates that Volbeat takes their inspiration from a wide assortment of musical genres. The future is going to be fantastic for this band and, with the next couple of years, I can easily see them becoming a huge part of the music scene in the U. S.

Another great foreign act that has been chipping away at the walls in the U. S. (the metaphorical ones, not the ones some idiot wants to put up) is Sweden’s Amaranthe. Another one of those multi-year “overnight sensations,” the band actually started in 2008 and has been pretty much non-stop touring and recording since then. They had a bit of success in 2013 with the song “Drop Dead Cynical” from their Massive Addictive album, but they have found their stride with their latest release, Maximalism.

Pinning Amaranthe down to a “sound” is roughly like trying to give a cougar a bubble bath in a thimble. First off, the band encompasses some elements of EDM but loves to roll out a metal guitar assault to go over the hypnotic background. They can sometimes veer into the realm of “pop” music, which may offend some of those who are more hardcore, but they always seem to be able to bring it back to a more “hard rock” sound when necessary. That may be because of the triumvirate of vocalists that Amaranthe employs.

Amaranthe

That’s right…three vocalists. First there is Elize Ryd, who gives an ethereal quality to some songs when she’s not rocking out with an unbelievable voice. Ryd gives credibility to the Amaranthe sound whether they are in their more experimental modes or they are driving the guitars down your throat. A nice meshing with Ryd WAS Joacim “Jake E.” Lundberg, who had a voice that harmonized nicely with Ryd as they performed the “clean” vocals (Lundberg, after the release of Maximalism, left the band and was replaced by Nils Molin).

There’s a reason I say “clean” vocals. The third vocal effort on the album is Henrik Englund, who provides the “death growl (a guttural vocal styling where it sounds like the beasts from Hell are emerging from your speakers)” or the “unclean” vocals on the record. While it may sound like it is a complete mess, Amaranthe has been able to put together songs that perfectly accentuate the stylings of each of their singers and, likewise, the other members of the band (Olof Morck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Lowe on drums).

Of particular excellence is “Boomerang,” an effort that would have been perfect on pop radio had it not been for the crushing guitars and Englund’s growling of his lyrics. A song about how someone tries to put another person down – but the person keeps coming back “like a boomerang” – it is an outstanding tune that epitomizes Amaranthe very well. Two other songs, “That Song” and “21” are also excellent, but most surprising is a ballad that demonstrates the abilities of the band quite well.

Supersonic” is a tune that Englund takes a break from and let’s Ryd and Lundberg exercise their vocal abilities on. Yes, it is a ballad – and everyone usually HATES a metal ballad – but it works for Amaranthe because of the dual vocals (not a duet – each vocalist has a lyrical segment written for them). Using some orchestral instrumentation along with the band’s musicians, it may give some a comparison to Amy Lee and Evanescence, but “Supersonic” soars in its own right and serves as an excellent “palate cleanser” for an outstanding record.

You may not have heard of them yet, but they’ve got the potential – especially with Ryd’s photogenic qualities and the power of the band – to be a breakout act, possibly even on the pop charts (bands always appreciate crossover success, not to mention their record companies). They’ll have to get control of some of their personnel issues – not only from Lundberg’s departure last year, but Englund replaced original “unclean” vocalist Andreas Solveström in 2013 – to fully realize their potential, but if they can record more albums like Maximalism, it will push Amaranthe into the stratosphere of the hard rock/metal world.

Advertisements

Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time – The Final Battle: AC/DC vs. Metallica, Part One

HardRockMetal

Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last week alone, such as his rewriting of the history of the Civil War, not only in interviews but on his own fucking golf course), I’ve decided to do something that will be much more fun. Since college basketball completed the NCAA Basketball Championship in April, I thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

Here we are – we’ve finally made it to the Final Battle for the right to wear the crown of the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time. Both bands have slogged through their respective regions – including knocking off the #1 seed in both regions – to meet on this hallowed battleground. Without further ado, here are your two heavyweights vying for the championship, with a brief history of each combatant. In Part Two, we will see how they match up with the criterion we’ve set for determining the victor and crown the champion.

AC/DC vs. Metallica

AC/DC – The True “Thunder” Came From “Down Under”

ACDC

AC/DC was founded in the wilds of Sydney, Australia, by the Young brothers, lead guitarist Angus and rhythm guitarist Malcolm, in 1973. In their early years, they tried to perfect the “three chords and thunder” sound that would become their trademark, but they also needed the right personnel to bring that sound to the people. Their first break came in finding their rhythm section in Phil Rudd (drums) and Cliff Williams (bass), but it was the vocals of Bon Scott that started the group on its way to glory and success.

AC/DC received some accolades for their early work, particularly High Voltage in 1975, but it was their 1979 album Highway to Hell that broke them as an international superstar act. With such songs as the title track, “Girls Got Rhythm,” “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” and “Touch Too Much,” AC/DC would eventually sell eight million copies of the record. It would also mark a moment that shook the band to its core.

BonScott

As they were in the studio creating their next album, Scott would die of accidental alcohol poisoning. The band briefly considered breaking up but, encouraged by Scott’s father, decided to soldier on with the band. With new lead singer Brian Johnson at the front of the stage, the band released what would arguably be their masterpiece, Back in Black. The record featured no noticeable change in the style of the band and the title track, “Hells Bells,” “Shoot to Thrill“ and the legendary “You Shook Me All Night Long,” became staples of classic rock stations. The success of the album has been seen in its longevity – it is second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in worldwide album sales and been certified double diamond (20 million sales) in the States of America. It is also arguable that AC/DC is now known more for Johnson’s voice than for Scott’s.

CONCIERTO DE ACDC

Over the next 30-plus years, AC/DC continued to pound out classic hard rock for its legion of fans around the world. This would eventually lead to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, but they haven’t even come close to slowing down since then. Lately they’ve gone through some issues – in 2014, Rudd was replaced after being charged with a litany of offenses, including “attempting to procure a murder;” also in 2014, Malcolm Young cited his health in departing the band; in 2016, Johnson was replaced (by Guns ‘N Roses singer W. Axl Rose) after doctors said his hearing could be permanently lost if he continued touring; following the final show of their 2016 “Rock or Bust” World Tour, Williams announced his resignation, citing that the loss of Johnson and Rudd made AC/DC “a changed animal.” But the constant of the band has been the sight of Angus Young, in his schoolboy outfit, still doing his modified Chuck Berry “duck walk” to the delight of crowds worldwide.

Metallica – Bay Area Thrashers Fueled by Inner Demons

Metallica2

Metallica was founded in Los Angeles, CA, in 1981, but for the entirety of its career has called the San Francisco area its home turf. The band’s drummer, Lars Ulrich, put an ad in a local newspaper looking for a singer/guitarist for the band he wanted to found. That band would take on a new form of hard rock/metal, the skate-community inspired “thrash metal” and the pieces of the band had to fit perfectly together. When guitarist James Hetfield– and fellow original members in lead guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist Cliff Burton – all came on board, the band Metallica was born and exploded on the music scene.

“Exploded” is a rather tame term for the power and aggression that Metallica attacked the then-Euro-driven synth pop and “hair metal” of that era. From their first album, Kill ’em All, in 1983, the band’s in-your-face approach was evident:  hard core guitars crashing around machine gun drumming and the angry growl of Hetfield crushing anything in its path. The aural assault also brought something else that hadn’t been a part of the hard rock/metal scene:  lyrics delving into issues such as isolation, religious issues, anger, militaristic thought, drug usage and the damage of such usage, not exactly the thing that the “hair metal” acts were singing about on the Sunset Strip.

HetfieldAndMustaine

With these demons, however, came changes to the band. Mustaine was ejected from the group allegedly because of his drug usage and would be replaced by Kirk Hammett. As their star was on its ascendance, tragedy would strike the band in the death of Burton while the band was touring in Sweden in 1986. After receiving the blessing of Burton’s family, the remaining members of Metallica decided to keep the band going, replacing Burton with Jason Newstead, at which point they would enter arguably their most creative and successful era of their career.

In 1988, Metallica released …And Justice for All, arguably their most creative work, and the music world responded. The album, driven by such songs as “One“ (it’s video, splicing scenes from the film Johnny Got His Gun in with band performance, is considered one of the Top 100 videos of all-time), “The Frayed Ends of Sanity,” “Harvester of Sorrow“ and the title track, rocketed the band into notoriety. It was also one of the first competitors in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental category at the 1989 Grammy Awards, but was comically bested by Jethro Tull‘s Crest of a Knave for the inaugural honor (something that is recognized as one of the greatest gaffes in the history of the Grammys; it was corrected somewhat the following year when Metallica won the Grammy in the category).

Metallica3

Not content to sit on that success, Metallica would next release arguably their masterpiece. The entirely black cover – hence many fans and others calling it “The Black Album” but officially an eponymous album – sparked even bigger things for the band. Through such songs as “Enter Sandman,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “The Unforgiven,” “Sad But True,” and others, Metallica solidified its place in the pantheon of “thrash metal” gods (alongside Mustaine’s Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax). It also etched its place in music history; Metallica would be the band’s first #1 album, has sold 16 million in the States of America, and started their consecutive streak of studio albums that have debuted at #1 (six, including their latest Hardwired…to Self-Destruct).

To this day, Metallica continues to pound out their brand of metal to an appreciative audience, even though Newstead left the band in 2001 and was replaced by Robert Trujillo. They have also brought attention to many social issues, including mental illness, often depicting their own struggles with those subjects (mental problems and drug and alcohol abuse) in documentary fashion. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009 (first ballot), but Metallica shows absolutely no signs of slowing down as we get deeper into 2017 (and the “Hardwired” tour rolls along with two bands they’ve influenced, Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat). In fact, if the Hardwired record is any indication, it is possible they still can get better – hard to believe, but potentially true.

Now it is up to you, the voters. We will break the competitors down by the criteria in our final essay and make the decision – who is the greatest hard rock/metal band of all-time? Vote, argue, fight about it (just keep the chains, brass knuckles and knives out of the battle, thank you!)…just let us know who the ultimate champion is going to be!