Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Katatonia - Tonight's Decision

With Dan Swano atop the drum stool and back in the producer's chair, Katatonia have added a bit of metallic urgency to their evolving despondent prog metal sound, more cymbals, more hard churn and burn groove. Jonas is now focusing on his vocal work, something that is apparent on his less timid, more eccentric and more emotional deliveries here, matching chord for chord the new complication and overall power of the assembled labyrinth of tracks, tracks which include a Jeff Buckley cover, Nightmares By The Sea, the record's oddest arrangement, somewhat recalling Smashing Pumpkins but with underground metal attitude. All told, it's quite a multi-hued masterpiece, many guitar sounds, a constant, recurring and forward-thinking metal drive, enveloped by a Floydian importance that finds Katatonia sounding like a harder working Amorphis.
Rating 9

Running Wild - Death Or Glory
Running Wild - Blazon Stone
Running Wild - Pile Of Skulls
Running Wild - Black Hand Inn
(all Noise)

Rock 'n' Rolf and his wily band of pirates, along with Grave Digger and Sinner, are one of the German institutions lesser known stateside, mainly due to spotty distribution of their vast catalogues over here. But Noise has somewhat remedied that situation with these remastered reissues, three (!) with bonus tracks (basically their EPs), full-on booklets and an essay by Rolf (identical in each reissue). Early on, the band was somewhat derided for their stiff, uncommitted metal, a sort of aseptic, meat and potatoes sound that wasn't fast enough to be speed metal, but not dirty enough to be thrash. Later records, like these ranging from '89 to '94, found Running Wild climbing the ladder of critical and commercial success, to the point where they are considered a worthy enough middle ground operator, a storehouse of meticulous, machine-gunned riff rock that is a slightly less intellectual version of Riot, although fussier than Accept, sort of blue collar guys working their way up to partying with Priest. The band's pirate image turned out to have more mileage than anybody thought, the band making sure to use it sparingly and selectively, circling back to the well when they had to. I mean, what better topic of conversation for a metal band? If you succeed in ignoring the band's impossibly metal Armored Saints costumes, you will find yourself rewarded with a solid lesson in pure pioneering power metal that has gotten less than its due, given that most of the big power bands of today, being German, have probably gotten a little tired of Running Wild's permeating presence throughout all their lives since they were teenage pups. Contact: www.us.noiserecords.com
Rating 7,8,7.5,8

The Desert Sessions - Vol V/VI
(Man's Ruin)

Cool to see stoner rock veterans stepping out of a rusted genre they helped cause, Kyuss' Josh Homme and an army of bud-luvin' buds turning in a daft smorg of punk metal grunge alternative joke rockthat is primal and light-hearted, tossed off and so creatively sequenced, teenage and wise, hooked and hammered. It's like Ween crossed with Camper and Mudhoney and Firehose, finally buffalo burgered by Fu Manchu, snobby rock rot injected with the spring of youth. All I know is that as a fatigued stoner rock fan, it's nice to hear the rumble of the opening track followed by the sick piano tinkle of 'Letters To Mommy', before diving back into the Barney and Fred club-over-the-head whack tracks. There's a bit of anti-band performance art spontaneity that comes with all this (Remember Hater, or worse, Hoovercraft?), but that's the price you pay when stoner rockers get bored with their rep and go searching through the scrub.
Rating 7.5

Arch Enemy - Burning Bridges
(Century Media)

Michael Amott's pedigree and that of Sharlee D'Angelo combine quite neatly to make up the sounds on this supergroup's third album in four years. Most pertinently, you'll hear Carcass and Witchery, with an up-the-dose of drummer Daniel's In Flames thrown in for good measure. Filling in the gaps efficiently (a little too smugly, I might add) is Entombed, Slayer, At The Gates and The Haunted, along with these weird, almost jokey little bits of mainstream metal (most sounding close to Lizzy and Dio quotes), wedged in with none too much logic. Arch Enemy is ultimately quite entertaining though, a sort of masterful primer on pure metal as it exists at the front edge in 1999, highly Swedish with that in vogue dose of retro, specifically, a disciplined progressive thrash that quickly garnered this band some effusive press with its predecessors Black Earth and Stigmata. Love that record-ending title track though, a sort of doom indigestion piece that performs a slow, futile and ultimately tragic thrashabout in thick mud. The record as a whole packs in up front as the mean average of my favourite metal styles right now, a good thing, because it's directly coursed to the heart of my satisfaction, bad because it is in the middle and not at any imagined eccentric edge, somewhat recalling my vague distaste but repeated patronage of a band called Stone Temple Pilots.
Rating 8.5