Auditory Assault

Intro …

A complete break from the norm this week …

The end of June draws closer and the year is already half over. What better time for a “mid-term” report card, a quick look at the hits and misses of 2006 up to this point?

To keep the length down, I had to overlook some stuff … albums I might have enjoyed or hated. But I think overall, I hit what I thought were notable releases for the first half of ’06, some stuff to pick up (if you haven’t already) and some stuff to avoid. So, without further ado …

High marks …

Nuclear Blast

The first outing with new frontman Tomi Joutsen, “Eclipse” was a make-or-break album for Amorphis. After two solid outings (albeit, in a different direction), the band incoporated the classic Amorphis sound with the band’s more contemporary leanings. The result, one kick-ass rocking, metal outing, with glorious hints of the past (a death metal growl here and there; some extreme, speed breakdowns) and focus on a new, yet comfortable direction for the band. Every song is a barnburner. Some call it melodic death metal; I call it a hit.

Rio Grande Blood
13th Planet

Somewhere along the way, Ministry head-honcho Al Jourgensen must have decided he wanted his band to go out on top. While the band lost its way after the phenomenal “Psalm 69” album (way back in 1991) and meandered through the rest of the ’90s, 2004’s “House of the Mole” was a true return to form for the band. “Rio Grande Blood” picks up right where “House…” left off. It’s tight, abbrassive and chock-full of venom toward the Bush adminitration. If the politics are your cup of tea, just sit back and enjoy the frantic guitar bursts and industrial bliss. “Rio…” will end up being one of Ministry’s finest moments.

Rebel Meets Rebel
Big Vin Records

It was going to be hard to hate new (and potentially final) material from the late Dimebag Darrell. Still, there was room for hesitation: three members of Pantera teaming up with country legend David Allen Coe? The result was nothing short of astounding, even if it took a spin or two to really get into Coe’s voice meshing with the band’s sound. Country Pantera this ain’t. It’s 12 rip-roaring tracks covering ground from metal to country to rock and all points in between. Of particular note, the album’s closer “N.Y.C. Streets,” a spontaneous recording of Coe and Darrell jamming in a hotel room.

Pearl Jam
J Records

Leaving long-time label home Epic Records was a breath of fresh air for Pearl Jam. After a handful of hit-or-miss albums, some fans were ready to sign the band off. Instead of the usual meandering affair, Pearl Jam put together one of its strongest outings since “Vs.” The band is absolutely blistering on tracks like “World Wide Suicide” and “Life Wasted.” The political stance is more subtle (see songs like “Unemployable”) and lead singer Eddie Vedder thankfully toned down the bluesy, wondering vocal style and returned, somewhat, to his voice of old. I’d rank “Pearl Jam” up there with one of my biggest, welcome surprises of the year.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stadium Arcadium
Warner Bros. Records

Double albums are a daunting affair, whether its recording them or listening to them. most times its obvious there were plenty of places to trim the fat, so to speak, and be left with a solid single-disc outing (see Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” Nine Inch Nails’ “The Fragile,” Foo Fighters’ “In Your Honor”). People were quick to jump to the same conclusion with “Stadium Arcadium,” but I just don’t see it. Each disc has a feel/mood, and every song seems to tackle a cerain aspect to the band’s sound. There’s the funk, the melody, the rock, the hints of metal … and I never seem to get bored with the proceedings. Josh Frusciante has never sounded better (check out that killer solo on “Dani California”) and the band is as tight as ever. Clever lyrics and expansive songs … add this to the list of unexpected surprises of the year (I had written the band off after “One Hot Minute.”)

Pushing average …

Lacuna Coil
Century Media

As I stated in a review of Lacuna Coil’s latest album earlier this year, Lacuna Coil is a master at creating subtle albums that grow on the listener over time. Lacuna Coil stayed the course, following in the footsteps of “Comalies” but incorporating a more commercial feel to the proceedings. Nothing on here is completely a blowaway hit, but there isn’t a weak track on the album either. With each spin, “Karmacode” becomes more and more comfortable, each song blending into the next (I especially like the trio “To The Edge,” “Our Truth” and “Within Me”). I see this album making my “best of” list by year’s end. For now, I’ll be content to let it keep growing on me.

Universal Records

On the group’s fourth full-length offering, Godsmack seem more comfortable in the niche its created for itself, finally willing to move away from the tired template the “Awake” and “Faceless” were molded in. In turn, Sully Erna and the rest of these Boston bad boys rock as hard as they have since their independant “Smack This” release in the late 90s. The band is even able to take a tongue-in-cheek stab at themselves and turn it into a hit (see “Voodoo Too”). There’s a couple of weak moments on here, but “IV” definitely ends up being a step in the right direction for Godsmack.

In Flames
Come Clarity
Ferret Records

Confusing fans with the one-two punch of “Reroute to Remain” and “Soundtrack to Your Escape” (the simliar-sounding albums were a step away from the band’s earlier, more brutal material), In Flames simply confounded the problem with “Come Clarity.” Not quite “Reroute…” but not a step backwards either, this new album sees a band struggling with a choice of direction. “Come Clarity” has it’s hig points, and is a far better follow-up to “Reroute…” but just doesn’t make the right connection of melody and metal. The band needs to figure out where it’s headed and stop treading water.

Rob Zombie
Educated Horses
Geffen Records

I wanted to love this album … and for the most part, I did. But with each subsequent listen the album sounds a little too loose. Zombie does a fantastic job of moving away from his earlier work (read: growing as an artist) while still retaining his core sound, but it seems like the album starts to get a little bland toward the later tracks. “The American Witch” and “The Devils Rejects” are fantastic, as is the reoccurring horse theme, but it seems like there’s a lot of filler on here.

Evans Blue
Melody and the Energetic Nature of Volume
Hollywood Records

More of a power-pop/rock-metal release, Evans Blue takes a standard niche genre (in the vein of Shinedown, Breaking Benjamin, Strata) and add enough of a spin to the sound to not only be unique, but also crank out an impressive debut. I’ve been giving this one a lot of spins recently. From the desperate strains of “Cold (But I’m Still Here)” to the torturous “Beg,” the band shows nothing but promise. Throw in a rocking cover of Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” for good measure.

Expecting more …

10,000 Days

Fans were salivating for this album for years. But instead of anything groundbreaking or new, listeners are treated not only to “Lateralus” part 2, but an exercise in excess as well. With nothing more to prove and no one around to reign things in, Tool meander through track after track with no clear direction. Sure, it’s nothing terrible, but we expected so much more.

A Death Grip on Yesterday
Victory Records

Atreyu showed so much promise between “Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses” and “The Curse,” stripping back on the hardcore backbone of its sound in favor of a more classic, old-school metal approach. Instead of taking that final step, the band treads water and comes up with an empty album. The songs are weak, the sound stagnant and the lyrics hollow. Don’t get me wrong, I love this band, but this was as far away as what I was expected as the band could have produced.

Dante XXI

There’s been a glimmer of hope here and there, but each release following the departure of Max Cavalera shows that it may be time for Sepultura to hang ’em up. “Dante XXI” is a fantastic idea in theory (with all the literary connections), but in execution it just falls flat. Perhaps if Soulfly wasn’t around as a reminder, but the writing is on the wall for this one-time pillar of the metal scene.

Operation: Mindcrime II
Rhino Records

Another one of those “sounds great on paper” ideas, this follow-up to the mega-hit “Operation: Mindcrime” seemed like a sure hit, sure to win back lapse fans. The band just never seemed able to pull it off. Even with high-profile guest stars, Queensryche failed to capture the magic for a second time. This has to be one of my biggest disappointments of the year.

City By the Light Divided
Island Records

The odd man of the list, Thursday never fell into the metal catagory, but the band always had a heavy element to its sound. That gritty beauty was what made “War All of the Time” and “Full Collapse” so powerful. This time out, the band decided to pull out an homage to the 80s new-wave scene. An album I could never really get into, “City By the Light…” didn’t appear to be the commercial break-through the band and fans might have been looking for.

Looking ahead …

There’s plenty more to look forward to before the year is out … new material from Hatebreed, Slayer, Dry Kill Logic, All That Remains, Unearth, Black Label Society, Stone Sour and Lamb of God … not to mention Roadrunner Records will once again be dipping into the already released pile with a handful of greatest hits packages and a double-dip on Opeth’s “Ghost Reveries.”

So keep your eyes peeled and take it easy. Until next time …

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