by: Chris Rigney
Vaura "Selenelion" (Weird Records)
This one is for fans of Isis, Black Math Horseman, Junius, and Agalloch. Slow to mid-tempo, atmospheric metal with haunting clean vocals and lots of mood. Lots of reverb on vocals and guitar contribute to the moodiness of the songwriting. The members of this band hail from other diverse rock and metal acts such as Religious to Damn, Gorguts, and Kayo Dot. This band really sounds like they were an indie rock band who got sick of what they were doing and wanted to go for a heavier sound. There are even some blastbeat drum patterns in some of the songs, so the musicians have no problem dropping some heavier songwriting techniques on you. Thankfully, their compositions are very thoughtful and nothing seems hurried or unnecessary. I quickly became a big fan of this band, and I think you will too if you give them a chance.
A Pale Horse Named Death "And Hell Will Follow Me" (Steamhammer/SPV)
This band is built from members of Type O Negative, Life of Agony and Biohazard. If you think Alice in Chains meets Type O Negative, then you have a reasonable idea of what these guys sound like. Very dark, slower hard rock with depressing lyrics involving suicide and drug use. Aspects of them actually remind me of what you would get if you took The Kovenant and removed all of their industrial elements in favor of gothic hard rock. Anyway, they're pretty cool all around and stand out from other hard rock acts right now. Check them out.
Dragonforce "The Power Within" (Roadrunner)
Once again Dragonforce does not disappoint when it comes to high-powered fantasy metal with amazing guitar acrobatics. The solos are great as expected, but I can't help but think that on this particular album the band is holding back a bit on the intensity compared to earlier releases. I heard they were aiming for a more varied release this time around, so if that's the case then they are certainly succesful. If you like fantasy-themed power metal in general, then you should be very pleased with this release.
From the Dark "The Answer to Infection" (Self-Released)
These guys are a pretty good metalcore/hard rock blend that accomplishes the mix of gruff and clean vocals pretty well. These guys manage to stay closer to a rock sound without coming across as one of the emo-core bands like Aiden or other such artists. This is their 2007 debut album, although they've had a release since then back in 2009. They remind me of a more aggressive version of Professional Murder Music with more aggressive vocals and a better sense of composition. Don't expect anything amazing, but From Dark help bring a more refreshing vibe to the milieu of moden hard rock bands that combine hard and soft edge music.
At the Skylines "The Secrets of Life" (Roadrunner)
These guys remind me of a much heavier metalcore version of Linkin Park. They have the same kind of occasional electronic elements and hard rock vibe, then they throw in gutteral vocals and crunchy guitar riffs. This may be good or bad depending on your tastes, but these guys pull it off pretty well. They have a very similar sound overall to Linkin Park, but the heavier parts have big breakdowns and deep, growly vocals. This is definitely a shot in the arm for nu-metal / metalcore hybrids that have a very commercial sound with heavier qualities.
Design the Skylines "Nevaeh" (Victory)
These guys are at heart a deathcore band that tries experimenting with a variety of some other influences like emo-core and post-hardcore. Ultimately, the result is decent for those folks to who enjoy quirky deathcore. Lots of breakdowns with deep growls and high-pitched screams followed by spacey passages with auto-tuned clean vocals and synth. This band is ultimately less straightforward than bands like Suicide Silence or Job For a Cowboy, but their roundabout songwriting ultimately works in their favor. While there really isn't anything original to any of the individual pieces of their compositions (and the fact that the album title is Heaven spelled backwards doesn't lend them credit), they do manage to somehow separate themselves a bit from their bloated subgenre. There is a lot of room for this band to mature, but there are sparks of interesting ideas.