This repost is of fairly fresh material, but it's still more album review snippets.
God Forbid - IV: Constitution of Treason [6/7]
"...a strong pickup for open-minded metallers who aren't afraid to thrash, full of clean grooves and lyrical depth as well as annihilating riff blasts. ... One of the best records of 2005."
Anthrax - Stomp 442 [5/7]
"...there are some good songs on this one, but the band should have been able to muscle up and do fully committed work without wasting time agonizing about how much or little it was going to sell. The reissue has some good bonus tracks, but the sound on their Celtic Frost cover is far too clean for the material. Anthrax being Anthrax, as usual..."
Arch Enemy - Stigmata [5/7]
"The instrumental work is still incredible, but in places there's a sense that it might have been better with a little more focus or commitment to the music. It certainly doesn't sound mailed-in, but there's a certain degree to which the riffage exists as a necessary superstructure for the soloing rather than as the point and bones of the song. You can deal with this, of course, because it's the Amotts wielding the dual lead guitars..."
Arch Enemy - Burning Bridges [5/7]
"Arch Enemy's writing and focus take a step up here, but the punch of the riffs and the overall quality of the material aren't quite up to the standard of their previous release. The songs aren't so much forgettable as non-memorable; on point they're really good, but you won't be humming anything from this out of the blue..."
Black Sabbath - Headless Cross [4/7]
"...the music is flatly uninteresting and the result is 40 minutes of boring that nobody would care about, let alone waste cash on, if not for the Black Sabbath name on the front cover. Tony Iommi is a better writer than this, as attested by earlier Sabbath material and some of his later solo stuff, but you'd never know from the quality of the junk here."
Cannibal Corpse - Gore Obsessed [5/7]
"Cannibal Corpse often faces accusations of writing the same record over and over again, and this will certainly be the case here. It's nice and brutal, and on the whole well turned-out, but completely inessential if you've already got a Corpse disc or two. Among fans, this is not well-regarded, for these reasons, but there's nothing specifically wrong with it as such."
Damageplan - New Found Power [5/7]
"...Pantera was one of the revolutionary forces reshaping modern thrash, and Damageplan was at this point a work in progress, with the Abbotts still firming up their lineup and trying to work out what exactly they were as a band. Maybe, if Dime had lived, Damageplan would have gone on to equal their best work with Phil and Rex, but as it stands, this record is all there ever will be, and it has to be judged on its own merits, as a decent but not superlative modern thrash disc, inheriting from Pantera like so many others."
Extol - The Blueprint Dives [6/7]
"...there has not been a Christian band this smart and aggressive since Believer hung it up, and given that there have been few bands as brutally and fanatically progressive since Believer, this is quite high praise, which should turn around all but the most committed Satanists. It's not a perfect record, carrying too many soft, almost emo passages for my liking, but the great majority of it kicks ass, and most thrashers or metalcore aficionados with a taste for prog will enjoy it abundantly."
Impaled Nazarene - All That You Fear [5/7]
"...the world's best...grindblack band...continues to pound ahead. After a while, it gets old, but the individual components of the record are still good stuff. Among bands globally, it's pretty original...but still does sound largely like everything else Impaled Nazarene has done lately, making its value questionable to those who already have several of the band's discs."
In Flames - Colony [6/7]
"...this is the disc that broke In Flames first, such as that breakout was. At present, it kind of falls between the cracks, with a foot in each era of the band but not strongly a member of either, and it's lost its relevance as an index record of the band's greatness in favor of earlier stuff. It's still a good album, still worth picking up if you're into the band, but there's an argument to be made that it's among their less essential."
Korpiklaani - Voice of Wilderness [5/7]
"...this band is still under development, still trying to prove that Finnish bands can be folkish without sounding exactly like Finntroll. The success rate at this point is uneven, but they do show promise in their as-yet familiar-sounding mix of folk and black metal. In other places they sound much more like In Extremo, but they do it well enough that theyll be a real band to watch for as soon as they get their sound nailed down..."
Grave - Back From The Grave [6/7]
"...with this one Grave returned from an extended layoff with all the drive and firepower that made them one of the most influential Swedish bands in the first age of brutal death. ... There's not a lot of variety, and this isn't going to reach out and convert those not already into the brutal underground, but at they end of the day, that's not who this record is for..."
Grave - Sick Disgust Eternal [5/7]
"The recording quality isn't always the best, as there are a few sections where the master tape apparently got fucked up, but this is some damned prime brutal death metal, and recorded fairly well to boot. The influences are mainly Floridian, with Death being prime, but there's already original ideas taking shape and pushing the music heavier and more brutal from the springboard of Leprosy."
Grave - Sexual Mutilation [4/7]
"...similar to the prior demo, but the music isn't quite as memorable. There is less of Death and more of Grave in this one, but this one is probably going to be of fan interest only, without as much general appeal."
Grave - Anatomia Corporis Humani [4/7]
"...anticipat[es] early Mortician with deeper tunings and tinnier drums, but doesn't manage to recover the genius of their first demo. The print on this is a little beat-up as well, with frequent distortions or drops in the sound. While it's an interesting take on the band that they didn't end up pursuing, the production damage will probably mean that it's of interest to collectors only."
Dismember - Indecent & Obscene [5/7]
"...probably the least essential, but it's still some pretty cool stuff, less bottom-heavy and with a sound more along the lines of old Sodom than you might expect from a Stockholm band. People will want to start elsewhere with Dismember, but for fans this will still be on the list."
Dismember - Pieces [5/7]
"...goes down just right, with a little bit of solos and twist as well as the characteristic Dismember abrasion. Thoroughly good stuff, as with everything else these guys do, and just as accessible to dirt-thrashers as to death heads."
Airborn - Born To Fly [4/7]
"This demo is mostly 'just there' in the same way that a lot of power metal is 'just there'; it's decent enough musically, but not really inspiring or compelling. ... [P]ower metal fans of the German school may want to look into this group..."
Am I Blood - The Truth Inside The Dying Sun [5/7]
"After being dropped by Nuclear Blast, this band went on, but in a fashion most reminiscent of treading water rather than continuing the interesting style of their earlier work. ...this is as close to the clinical definition of 'Metalliclone' as I've heard in a long while, that same blend of aggressive but accessible mid-tempo thrash, but unfortunately not particularly inspired."
Aska - Avenger [5/7]
"The influences are the same (the opening track is largely stolen from Judas Priest's ''Desert Plains''), but the way in which they're being applied is different, and the result is a more serious, less jingoistic Aska that was probably aiming for the European markets... Fine for genre fans..."
DragonForce - Valley of the Damned demo [6/7]
"Principally the same as their Noise debut, this demo (originally issued under the name DragonHeart) is a little rawer and slower, but still managed to totally blow the band up in the underground. For better or worse, they have basically not changed since then; what remains on this one is awesome pyrotechnic power metal of fair creativity and loaded with solo hooks, but not the reality that the band has essentially stagnated since creatively."
Cianide - The Dying Truth [5/7]
"...people tend to forget the Midwest when it comes to death metal. This one ought to push them away from that mistaken thought pattern: the relentless, leaden, brutal grind here is an excellent representative of the ultra-slow, ultra-downtuned sound that also serves as the calling card of Broken Hope and Incantation, among others. Of course, the fact that this style of death metal is so grueling to listen to is probably a major reason why Cianide never broke out..."
Eyescale - Overexposure [4/7]
"...a decent work, though barely more than peripherally metal. Darkwave counts, but there is too much space in the sound and not enough chaos for this to push to the levels where most metalheads will listen to it."
Eyescale - Neogenesis [5/7]
"Though this is an electronic project, it'd probably be better recommended to fans of Burzum and the eastern school of black metal rather than to people into new Ulver, but you really never can tell. It's highly interesting musically as well as compositionally, and while there isn't a lot of metal punch in it, the misanthropic spirit of black metal is present in abundance..."
Gamma Ray - Alive '95 [5/7]
"This is a decent album, once you get past the fact that it's basically Land Of The Free Live .... Of course, the real reason that most people buy Gamma Ray live discs is to hear the band rip up on classic Helloween material, and they certainly don't disappoint with ''Ride The Sky'' and ''Future World'' here, for once not stuffed into a medley."
Gamma Ray - Who Do You Think You Are? [4/7]
"...a 3-song release consisting of the unexceptional and unduly Helloweenish title track, a version of ''Heaven Can Wait'' available on another EP, and, you guessed it, yet another version of ''Heading For Tomorrow''... The music is decent enough, but at this point, only die-hard Gamma Ray fans and collectors will want this -- though it's debatable who else would have wanted it in the first place."
Gamma Ray - The Spirit [4/7]
"With Helloween losing their way in the early '90s, Kai Hansen and Gamma Ray stepped in to fill the void. And fill it they did, though some stuff, like this ten-minute live single, is simply filler... At present, this one is mainly of interest to collectors; the music's good, but the cost of obtaining it is utterly out of proportion to both the quality and quantity of music offered."
Gamma Ray - Somewhere Out In Space [6/7]
"Fortunately, when Gamma Ray stepped up the UFO/sci-fi themes in their work on this one, they also took the music up a notch from their earlier output. There's a lot of interludes on this one, and it sprawls a bit, but there's a lot of really good power metal on here, the balladic material just as much as the light-speed hyperblasts."
Gamma Ray - Silent Miracles [4/7]
"...even 24 minutes is a little too long to spend in the company of four slow ballads without the slightest sign of anything fast, heavy, or really metal. However, the musicianship is good, so it's not a total waste, but I would absolutely not recommend this one to anyone but Gamma Ray completists, or to those who need a dramatic illustration of how power metal can lose its mind at times."
Gamma Ray - Rebellion In Dreamland [5/7]
"...23 minutes of sheer unimpeded nift, and while most of the record is available on the main album, ''Heavy Metal Mania'' isn't, and by itself it's nearly worth the price of entry. It's not a substitute for Gamma Ray full-lengths, but it's a pretty cool disc if you can manage to hunt it up."
Gamma Ray - Powerplant [7/7]
"Gamma Ray covers about the full range and breadth of the power and melodic metal genres on here, and integrates it seamlessly enough that the asskickers and ballads both feel like integral parts of the same whole. Along with Land of the Free, it's the essential part of your Gamma Ray collection..."
Gamma Ray - Live [6/7]
"If you're into old Blind Guardian and Running Wild but want to spread out your taste in German power metal, this is the disc to get into Gamma Ray with, and fans will also want to hunt it down."
Gamma Ray - Insanity and Genius [5/7]
"...at this point, before the fantasy paradigm took over power metal, they're still writing about just anything and everything, and cranking it over cool, tight, melodic structures which, on this one, are difficult to reconcile with modern definitions of the term ''power metal''. It's pretty cool, and a nice pickup for fans of melo-thrash who aren't exactly crazy about the knights-and-dragons school..."
Yes, that's a long streak of Gamma Ray at the end. By accumulating 62 points on 12 records, they moved from a tie for 37th to undisputed 2nd place on the total-points leaderboard, but they will probably not surpass Hypocrisy on the final record from them that I have in the queue. This project is telling me a lot of interesting things about my CD collection and my attitudes to it, but often the most surprising is seeing exactly how many records I have from this or that band. I didn't know that Hypocrisy had that many releases out, but I apparently own 15 of them...and still need to get Penetralia.
Dissection's cancellations of their US shows and Emperor's recent tour as the Ihsahn and his Amazing Sidemen Show have vindicated my compulsion for international travel to see bands. Condolences to anyone who was looking forward to Dissection, but in what world are you living where INS lets a rock musician with a murder conviction and ties to wannabe terrorist groups into the country? I was surprised enough to see Dissection actually playing Wacken last year. Emperor, though, will be no problem, especially as none of the current members have ever killed anyone, and Samoth was just around last year with Zyklon.
On a somewhat-related travel-related note, please enjoy this excerpt from this article, presented exactly as found:
"Many Qingdao citizens share the love for beer, especially Tsingtao Beer. Wherever they go, they order Tsingtao Beer. In the places where Tsingtao Beer is not available, they drink beer of other brands, but complaining, 'It does not taste as good as Tsingtao Beer.'
It is common to see people drink beer with bottles, straw pipes, steins, and even bowls, but containing beer with plastic bags should be a special habit of Qingdao citizens and is considered one of the eight strangenesses of Qingdao.
In summer, after getting off from office, people tend to find a nearby store, turn on the tap of a beer barrel, use a plastic bag to contain liters of beer, and take it home.
Some people spear a hole on the bag with a finger at a place above the upper line of the beer and use another hand to support the bottom of the bag, so that beer flows out from the hole, and one can drink the beer with his face turned upward. This also show the forthright character of Qingdao people."
"Forthright" is an excellent word to use to describe the willingness to drink beer out of a plastic bag. This is also seven flavors of awesome, and really makes you wonder what the other 7 strangenesses of Qingdao are. We don't have any tools there, but if I get sent over again and have some down time, it might be worth going to find out.
And to drink Tsingtao out of a plastic bag.