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Friday, September 18, 2009

Ear Candy: Megadeth's Endgame and Shadows Fall's Retribution

Whether you love or hate metal music, there is no denying that it is not an easy style of music to play and that some degree of technical proficiency, inventiveness and (perhaps most importantly) heart and feel is required to be considered one of the premier players in the genre (or any genre for that matter). From Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi to Eddie Van Halen and Ace Frehley to Dimebag Darrell and Kerry King to relatively newer faces like Mark Morton and Alexi Laiho, metal has produced and will continue to produce many a guitar great. Two recent releases are prime examples of overall great playing from a metal band, but more specifically, really great technical guitar playing that has all the flash and over-the-topness traditionally associated with the genre without being gaudy.

I've loved Megadeth since I was in junior high and picked up a copy of their album So Far, So Good...So What! Megadeth is considered part of the "Big Four" (along with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax) of the original thrash movement. And for good reason as Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? and Rust In Peace are landmark metal albums. In 1999, Megadeth derailed with the release of their 8th studio album Risk. I had been a fan of every Megadeth album up until this point, but the album was panned so badly by critics and fans when it came out that I never even bothered listening to it. By all accounts they "sold out" and went for a commercial hit with disastrous results. The band released three studio albums after Risk that were all a return to their metal roots, but nothing that quite captured the magic of the glory days (and some may argue this is due to the departure of original bassist Dave Ellefson Jr., but Megadeth has always been singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine's band). Now comes the fourth release since Risk, Endgame. While not quite back to the glory days, Dave Mustaine and his band of hired guns are certainly pointed squarely in the right direction on this album. Marrying the thrash assault of Rust In Peace with the more commercial leanings of Countdown To Extinction and Cryptic Writings, this release is probably the most listenable Megadeth album since the aforementioned Cryptic Writings. If you are a fan of the band's studio efforts up to, but not including Risk, then this is an album you must check out.

"Head Crusher":



In 2000, a friend working at the label Century Media sent me a couple new releases that they had recently put out. One of them was Of One Blood by the MA band Shadows Fall. I put on the cd not knowing or expecting much, but it wound up being love at first listen. While not technically their debut album, it was the first with new singer Brian Fair (they had one album prior to this with a different singer) and the band would release two fantastic albums after it, The Art Of Balance and The War Within, that firmly established them as leaders in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement. Growing record sales, bigger tours and video airplay led to the band signing with a major label and in 2007 they released Threads Of Life on Atlantic Records (who, major label or not, have released some legendary metal records over the years). It wasn't a bad album per se, but it just didn't feel like the logical next step in the direction that had been established by prior releases. The band wound up leaving Atlantic and starting their own label, Everblack Industries, for which they partnered with Ferret Music to release their latest album Retribution. Not unlike Megadeth (but not nearly on the same scale, as Threads Of Life was not even close to as dramatic a failure and fall from grace as Megadeth's Risk was), Shadows Fall is releasing an album that is a step back in the right direction. I like that they made a solid 10 song (is anyone else sick of these 14 - 16 song albums...it's too much!), straight to the point quality metal release. The band is known for playing thrash mixed with touches of hardcore and tastefully incorporating plenty of melody into the mix. Most of these newer metalcore bands incorporate melody into the mix and it sounds formulaic and uninspired, whereas the Shads use of melody comes from a clear and obvious admiration for the great (and talented) hair metal bands of the '80s and thus sounds unforced and genuine. The guitarists, Matthew Bachand (who provides the clean vocals) and Jonathan Donais, are absolute shredders and put on quite the show on this release. Highly recommended whether you already dig the band or have never heard them before.

"Still I Rise":

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