Category: Reviews


Linkin Park - The Catalyst

“The Catalyst” manages to sound enraged and thoughtful at the same time, a very difficult combination to pull off. All accusations of selling out and going pop seem naive. Just because a song doesn’t have a heavy guitar upfront doesn’t mean it is pop for a song that is 6 minutes long is the farthest thing from a radio friendly song. “The Catalyst” can be interpreted as a litmus test for their audience where the band is testing their fans.

Akhil Kashyap

Ps. The above review (abridged version of my original review) was published in the Delhi edition of The Times of India.

The Catalyst review, as published in the Delhi edition of The Times of India

The Catalyst Review, The Times of India, Delhi edition

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The Final Frontier

Artist: Iron Maiden

Album: The Final Frontier

Genre: Heavy Metal

Length: 76:34

Producer: Kevin Shirley

Release  Date: 16th AUGUST 2010

Recorded At: Compass Point Studios, Nassau; Caveman Studios, California

The Lords of metal return to the battlefront with an album to blow away any non believers.
It has been four long years since the band amazed us with an album so fierce and mighty, it grabbed us by the balls and didn’t let go. Since the mid 90s, the band has shown their ability to write longer prog-rock influenced songs with great results, and with A Matter… they took it to a whole new level. Flash-forward to 2010, they return with an album so epic and experimental that the band break into a realm seldom breached by any of their contemporaries. The album bears shades of classical music, derives heavily from prog-rock of the 70s and takes some huge leaps into the domain of folk metal, but don’t get me wrong, it is all done with their omnipresent trademark gallop and signature guitar riffs, making it one of their most reflective yet progressively heavy offerings.
The progressive nature of songs has always been the epitome of every Iron Maiden album, which can be traced back even to their debut, and in this very respect, “The Final Frontier” is not overtly different from their previous recordings. From the very first note, you get a feeling that this is not gonna be your usual run-of-the-mill Maiden album. The 4 and a half-minute intro on “Satellite 15… The Final Frontier” strikes as the weirdest and perhaps the heaviest instrumental opening that the band has ever recorded, or ever dared to record in their career. Some sinisterly spoken “words of wisdom” by Bruce Dickinson give way to the mid-tempo title track. The song provides an insight into the laments of a space traveler wishing to say his final farewell to his loved ones and has all the makings to be a crowd favorite with it’s infectious chorus line.  One can also imagine Maiden opening their sets with this one on their world tour. Starting off with the easily recognizable bass lines of Steve Harris, followed by the wailing vocals of Dickinson, the second song “El Dorado” is signature maiden.  It features a narration about the pyramids of gold and the current economic crisis. The song which was released as a free download was seen as an odd choice for the album’s lead single in the context of the album, but upon repeated listens the song’s true essence shines through. A couple of nice back to back solos seal this one as a bona fide hit.
The album is truly diverse as it contains 2 songs which can even be described as power ballads. “Coming Home” is sure to be a crowd pleaser and it belongs completely to Dickinson, giving an insight into his experiences as a pilot returning home and being dazzled by the roaring engines and runway lights. “Mother Of Mercy,” however is punchier and has a satisfying second verse describing a tale of warfare. “The Alchemist,” the shortest and the simplest offering could very well have been a song on Brave New World, and heavily derives from songs like “The Mercenary” and even “The Pilgrim” from their previous album. “Starblind” is the only song which seems a bit out-of-place here, and the album would have just been the same without it. At almost 8 minutes, the only highlights here are the back to back solos which attempt to lift the whole song.
By now it is pretty much common knowledge that 8 minute plus epic masterpieces have become a staple ingredient of most Maiden albums, and it is these songs that are the epitome of this album. Not only do these songs portray the band’s maturity, they also provide the listener with a sense of joyful bewilderment and a heartfelt relief. It is while listening to these diamonds that all fans know for sure that there’s never going to be a half-arsed attempt by this band.

The creme de la creme of the album is served in 4 full doses. Two of these four, namely “When The Wild Wind Blows” and “The Man Who Would Be King” are very similar in design. Yet lyrically and musically, they are so unique, it makes one wonder how many more gems these Brits have under their sleeves even after 35 years of their existence. “When The Wild Wind Blows” sums up the album and is without a doubt Maiden’s greatest song ever written, bar none. Every aspect of this song is perfectly delivered by a band whose members are in complete control of their individual and collective skills. The beauty of the song lies not only in the top-notch vocal performances, but also in the aptness of the lyrics, describing a couple who rely on rumors about the impending doomsday due to a cataclysmic event, mistaking an earthquake for a nuclear catastrophe. This song is Maiden like you have never heard before.

The precision with which each of the last four songs is delivered is not only a testament to the freshness of the album, but also provides a certain longevity to the songs and the band as a whole, especially when you have to make room for 3 guitar players in the fold.  “The Talisman” follows in a similar vein, another classic which has the uncanny ability to be etched on to the listener’s mind for a long time. A nice mid tempo intro transforms into a graceful melody of epic proportions. “The Isle of Avalon” begins by creating an atmosphere of tension before exploding into a superb progressive section which is stitched quite intricately with the grand chorus verses and keyboards providing an unmistakable yet new edge to the song. Even the guitar solos on this one are sure to bring an everlasting grin on everyone’s faces. All in all, the album has all the makings to be a Maiden classic that can safely rank amongst their best.

[9/10]

Track Listing:

1. “Satellite 15… The FInal Frontier” 8:40
2. “El Dorado” 6:49
3. “Mother of Mercy” 5:20
4. “Coming Home” 5:52
5. “The Alchemist” 4:29
6. “Isle of Avalon” 9:06
7. “Starblind” 7:48
8. “The Talisman” 9:03
9. “The Man Who Would Be King” 8:28
10. “When the Wild Wind Blows” 10:59

Download These: When The Wild Wind Blows, The Talisman, The Man Who Would Be King

Saurabh Zutshi

Artist: Blind Guardian

Album: At the Edge of Time

Genre: Power/Symphonic/Progressive Metal

Length: 63:58

Producer: Charlie Bauerfeind

It’s 2010 and symphonic metal and power metal have all diversified into infinite sub genres, yet only some bands can pull off a solid album which highlights the uniqueness of both. Blind Guardian’s new album is all that every fan of the band expected and more. If you were disappointed with their last offering, rest assured the band have more than made up for it. The first thing about the album which stands out is that it is way more progressive than their previous stuff, yet it has elements which make it comparable to “Nightfall In Middle Earth” coupled with some neat orchestral arrangements.

The album starts of on a high note with “Sacred Worlds” where a prog-symphonic orchestral arrangement leads in to some captivating and exhilarating rhythm section work. Although the song, which has elements of Dream Theater, provides a decent start to the proceedings, it feels somewhat stagnant and repetitive after the initial buzz. “Tanelorn (Into the Void),” probably the most commercial song from the album is up next. Again, what threatens to hamper the song in the end is its repetitive nature. But it’s fast tempo mixed with a catchy and addictive chorus makes one “cry for Tanelorn.”

A keyboard solo and vocals might not always be a great way to start off a song with, especially straight on the tracks of a fast one, but “Road Of No Release” builds up to become an epic (of sorts) filled with melodies. The song also reminds us of Guardian’s yesteryears. “Ride Into Obsession” has definite shades of thrash mixed with old school German power metal beats. Along with the final track “Wheel Of Time,” this song is also based on the “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan. Coupled with nice thumping bass work, some strong vocal performances create a truly scintillating listening experience on this one.

The fifth song “Curse My Name” starts off in the same vein as their most popular and well know song  “The Bard’s Song.” Some amusing, tongue-in cheek lyrics along with some folk metal elements are all that this album needs at this point to lighten the mood. The song is based on “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates,” a political writing by John Milton where he legitimizes the killing of a king who didn’t carry out his duties. However, the drums feel just a little out of place on this one.

Half way through the album and in come the Norse Mythology references with “Valkyries.” The drums are much more pronounced here and feel apt for the varied vocal styles being put on display by Hansi. Lyrically quite straight forward, a couple of good guitar solos seal this one as a definite live hit. Up until this point, “Valkyries” is easily the standout track with its infectious choruses. In striking contrast, “Control The Divine” is probably the most monotonous song on the album and might make you push the skip button more than once. On the up-side, vocals again are top notch and the chorus is the only thing saving this song from going under. The second ballad of the album, “War Of The Thrones” (different from the version on the B-side single), is miles ahead of  the first (“Curse My Name”) in terms of its lyrics while also surpassing its predecessor musically. Some good piano work helps transform this song from just an ordinary one to a good sing-along.

“A Voice in the Dark,” released as the first single from the album, is what can easily be labelled as an instant classic and the album’s masterpiece. It possesses the ability to be embraced instantly by all fans of the band. The bass is up front and on some occasions even overshadows the lead guitars. The guitar solos, although short and scattered, have a Celtic feel about them which wraps in nicely with the overall feel of the song. The finale in the form of “Wheel Of Time” continues the story arc from “Ride Into Obsession” and unexpected time-changes galore. Starting off with an Arabic feel, the song builds into a sort of  warcry-esque epic with excellent choruses and neat solos all around, making it a befitting album closer.

Although the whole album might be too hard to get into in one go, especially with all its progressive leanings, a couple of spins and soon enough it promises to become one to be revisited rather often than not. Once again Hansi’s powerful vocals steal the show and in a way guide the fans safely through this new progressive territory. Definitely a much better effort than 2006’s “A Twist In The Myth,” the album is a step in the right direction for the Germans and it won’t be too much of a stretch to label this one as a return to form.

[8/10]

Track Listing:

  1. “Sacred Worlds” – 9:17
  2. “Tanelorn (Into the Void)” – 5:58
  3. “Road of No Release” – 6.30
  4. “Ride into Obsession” – 4.46
  5. “Curse My Name” – 5:52
  6. “Valkyries” – 6:38
  7. “Control the Divine” – 5:26
  8. “War of the Thrones” (piano version) – 4:55
  9. “A Voice in the Dark” – 5:41
  10. “Wheel of Time” – 8:55

Download These: Valkyries, A Voice In The Dark

Saurabh Zutshi

Artist: Lostprophets

Album: The Betrayed

Genre: Alternative Rock

Length: 47:01

Producer: Stuart Richardson & Justin Hopfer

“The Betrayed” marks the return of the Lostprophets and is the band’s first new offering since 2006’s “Liberation Transmission.” Although the band had recorded an album’s worth of material in LA spending around $500,000, their dissatisfaction with those recordings led to the material being scrapped. And let me assure you, not many bands can pull that off without facing dire consequences, especially in this day and age. The very fact that folks at their record label stood by them even while they were busy burning a hole in their pockets highlights the position that the band has established in the alternative rock scene.

Instead of the usual go-for-the-jugular approach, the album starts off with the two minute introductory “If It Wasn’t For Hate, We’d Be Dead By Now.” Right at the outset, what catches the listener’s attention is that the drums have been kept up-front in the mix and this is a welcome change from the common practice of guitars dominating other instruments in the mix only to make the sound “heavier.” The aggressive “DSTRYR/DSTRYR” with it’s funk-metal a la Rage Against The Machine comes next and is an all-out rocker. We can find a juxtaposition of such angsty, adrenaline pumpers with songs that possess a more pop-influenced melodic edge (“Darkest Blue”) on every Lostprophets album. However, the presence of these pop sensibilities on a rock album has at times resulted in the purists depriving them of the credibility of a rock band. So, while Ian Watkins makes it clear on the album opener itself that the “uncool” tag that has been thrust upon them by the naysayers has only  strengthened their resolve to stick around even longer (“If It Wasn’t For Hate, We’d Be Dead By None”), “DSTRYR/DSTRYR” seems more like him showing them the finger – “every time you think you’ve stopped us/we’ll rise up stronger from the dust/Turn around motherf**ker/coz we ain’t done.” It is this defiance that has fuelled the band’s musical rage all along and has helped them make some of their best music.

The next two songs – “It’s Not The End Of The World, But I Can See It From Here” and “Where We Belong” have “radio hits” written all over them. The U2-esque “Where We Belong,” especially runs the risk of sounding too radio-friendly and mainstream. Interludes were an important part of the band’s sound on the first two albums but went missing on “Liberation Transmission.” They make a return on “The Betrayed” and certainly add to the album’s overall cohesiveness. So, at the end of “Where We Belong,” just as we are expecting another brief interlude, the drums hit us right in the face. The stop-start screamo of “Next Stop, Atro City” highlights the brilliance  of the young  Ilan Rubin on drums. He was only twenty years old while  recording this album and his powerful drumming literally drives the first half of the album. He is a genuine talent and has all the makings to be one of the best in years to come. No wonder he was invited by none other than the great Trent Reznor to join Nine Inch Nails soon after the recording of this album.

There is a change of gears with the ska-influenced “For He’s A Jolly Good Felon.” The song reflects the band’s diverse sound and their desire to cater to a varied fanbase. The choruses seem tailor-made for sing-along live performances, particularly on this track (along with “Streets of Nowhere”). And it is precisely on such songs, especially in the later half of the album that they sound a little contrived. Good thing that the somber “A Better Nothing,” undoubtedly the highlight of the set, in a way redeems them. With Ian Watkins’ vocals delivering brilliantly in the backdrop of synth-heavy textures that are blended seamlessly with slick yet soaring guitars, this song ranks among the band’s most passionate and genuine works. In keeping with the band’s practice of keeping the last song of their album different from the rest in terms of arrangements, “The Light That Shines Twice As Bright” traverses from a moody, melancholy and layered sound in the beginning to a synth-heavy rock sound towards the end (Depeche Mode comes to mind), all the while retaining it’s melodic core.

So while “The Betrayed” might not be a striking departure for the band as they never stray too far away from their core sound, yet it captures what made them so successful in the first place. With the new album being a synthesis of the sounds of both “Start Something” and the more mainstream “Liberation Transmission,” it would be quite interesting to watch out for what the band has to offer next. When the Lostprophets first burst onto the UK scene back in 2000, they were lumped in with the nu metal brigade. But then they devised their own unique sound that set them apart from the rest. And even now, the Lostprophets undoubtedly provide a welcome change in the alternative rock scene that is decaying with the generic Nickelbacks, the Daughtrys and the Hinders.

[7/10]

Track Listing:

1. “If It Wasn’t for Hate, We’d Be Dead by Now”   2:19
2. “Dstryr/Dstryr”   4:29
3. “It’s Not the End of the World, But I Can See It from Here”   4:19
4. “Where We Belong”   4:37
5. “Next Stop, Atro City”   3:02
6. “For He’s a Jolly Good Felon”   4:41
7. “A Better Nothing”   4:45
8. “Streets of Nowhere”   3:26
9. “Dirty Little Heart”   5:42
10. “Darkest Blue”   3:51
11. “The Light That Shines Twice as Bright…”   5:52

Download These: Next Stop Atro City, A Better Nothing, The Light That Shines Twice As Bright…

Akhil Kashyap

Linkin Park - The Catalyst

LINKIN PARK had revealed their intentions of not returning to their nu-metal roots along with their willingness to experiment even more quite explicitly in the interviews leading up to the release of “The Catalyst.” But nothing could have prepared their fans for this new anthem of raw and untailored sonic aggression. The song manages to sound enraged and thoughtful at the same time, a very difficult combination to pull off.

I don’t expect majority of the band’s audience nodding their heads in approval, but accusations of selling-out and going “pop” seem very ill informed.  Just because a song doesn’t have a heavy guitar upfront doesn’t mean it is pop, for a song that is almost 6 minutes long is the farthest thing from a radio friendly commercial song. Selling-out, for me, would have been releasing Hybrid Theory 2.0. Hats off to the band that is willing to risk so much, and at such scale too, only to stay true to their art.

“The Catalyst” can aptly be called a litmus test for the band’s audience where the band is testing their fans, and not the other way round. And I am proud to have passed the test.

Akhil Kashyap