My Futures Game preview went up this morning, and I did a Klawchat on Thursday. I’ll be at the Futures Game, of course, and will head to the Butcher & Boar stand out by right field after BP, around 3 pm. Hope to see many of you there.
The Dagger’s self-titled debut album (due out July 22) is one of the strangest releases you’ll hear this year – the music itself isn’t odd at all, as the eleven tracks are all very straightforward blues-rock songs, the kind of tracks you’d expect to hear on a classic-rock station. What’s strange is that the trio of death metal musicians in the band have produced a record that, if you didn’t know it was new, you’d assume was written and recorded in the late 1970s. It’s not especially innovative and a little lacking in certain areas, but if The Dagger wanted to bring the New Wave of British Heavy Metal back to life, they’ve succeeded.
Three of The Dagger’s members were once part of the defunct death metal band Dismember, and here they’re joined by Swedish vocalist Jani Kataja, who sang in a pair of stoner-metal acts before joining the Dagger in 2010. (It’s not that strange a transition for Kataja; Bill Steer, co-founder of Carcass and former Napalm Death guitarist, had a blues-metal side project called Firebird before Carcass reunited a few years ago.) Their bio specifically refers to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Rainbow, and Deep Purple as influences, although I also hear a lot of lesser-known acts from that era like Saxon and Quartz, bands that leaned toward the less heavy, more melodic end of the range. You’ll hear that especially on The Dagger‘s best tracks, “1978” and “Inside the Monolithic Dome,” songs driven primarily by brief, pronounced guitar riffs and mid-tempo rhythm sections.
As a whole, however, the album feels far too familiar, as if these are actually songs we all heard in the late ’70s or early ’80s but haven’t heard much since because they were overshadowed by stronger tracks. There aren’t enough memorable hooks, and the lyrics vary from weak to embarrassing (“Nocturnal Triumph” is just cringe-inducing, which is too bad as the guitar lines behind the verses would make it a great driving song). The Dagger appear to be more influenced by bands that drew from blues-rock rather than acts like Maiden or Priest that used faster tempos and, in Maiden’s case, more technical skills that came down from classical roots.
The Monuments’ sophomore album, The Amanuensis (for the people who like country music, amanuensis means “the secretary”), melds progressive metal with heavier “groove” elements – I hate the term, but it does fit here – like a blend of early Fates Warning and peak Pantera, with both clean and screamed vocals along with fugal guitar lines. There isn’t enough variety across the entire album, with many of the guitar melodies sounding too similar in structure, but it’s a highly precise, almost severe album, with appropriately serious lyrics. They also get bonus points for naming a song “Horcrux.”
That song and “Origin of Escape” are among the highlights of Amanuensis for the variation within each song – changing tempos, lyrical styles, but still relying on the same staccato-picked guitar riffs that populate the entire disc, so the second half of the album starts to sound too much like background noise. “Atlas” begins with the clich&ecaute;d death-metal growl but morphs into a jazz-metal track, a little less experimental than Cynic or Atheist might have produced but in a similar vein, with a seamless transition into the very similar “Horcrux,” which makes better use of undistorted passages to break up the monotony of the austere up-and-down lead guitar lines, concluding with the counterpoint pairing that makes the song the strongest on the entire disc. (It doesn’t hurt that the song also includes the highest ratio of clean to growled lyrics of the eleven tracks here.) But by the time we get to track five, “Garden of Sankhara,” the lead guitar riff style, both in meter and technique, has become too familiar already. Using the same motif across an entire album can be clever, providing a measure of artistic unity to a set of disparate songs, but the Monuments take it too far.
The Monuments rose from the ashes of English experimental-metal act Fellsilent, who had a cult following among fans of extreme metal but lacked enough of a melodic component to find a broader audience or to appeal to me. The Amanuensis is a significant step in that direction, even further towards the commercial end of the extreme-metal spectrum than their debut album, Gnosis, although it’s best consumed in small chunks, with a focus on the first four tracks of the disc – which on their own would have made an outstanding EP release. It’s not up to the standard set by Insomnium earlier this year but worth the $6 amazon is asking for the album right now.