In the last couple of weeks, there have been a slew of amazing new albums released. From The Winery Dogs, Queensryche, Sevendust and Stryper, each have their own punch. I’ve listened to them in varying degrees and starting to think why some appealed so easily right away while others took a couple of listens to get into it more.
Music, much like horror movies, benefit from a balance of tension and release. If a metal album is too crushingly heavy non-stop, the impact of it can become stale. That’s why some of the onslaught-style of 1990s speed metal became rather stale by the end of that decade. Thundering blast beats and concussive power chords for 45 to 60 minutes got exhausting, and frankly quite boring and repetitive.
The bands who could have the occasional slower interlude or intro in a song, or a slower tempo song in general tended to refresh your listening, then crush you anew.
In the 1980s, albums like Metallica’s Ride The Lightning had Fade to Black, Megadeth’s Peace Sells….But Who’s Buying had Good Morning/Black Friday or Slayer’s iconic South of Heaven ended with Spill The Blood. It slowed down just enough with a Sabbath-esque dirge to give you a breather after one of thrash metal’s most ferocious albums.
The 1990’s also had shining example of tension and release. The classic Pantera album, Vulgar Display of Power had This Love. It slowed down just enough, for long enough that the ending of the song hits you like the album cover: A fierce punch to the face. This was the release from the previous song, Fucking Hostile. Being one of Pantera’s most intense songs, the release from This Love gives the listener a bit of a breather after the full aural assault and readies you for the heavy groove of Rise.
Stellar examples continue through the history of metal: Strapping Young Lad’s Alien, Lamb of God’s Wrath to the more modern examples of the recent Sevendust album.
This brings me to a somewhat surprising conclusion. The new Stryper album “Fallen” has almost too much tension. The singer has a higher voice to balance the heavier riffs and thunderous drums, but it felt like the slower song, All Over Again, came a little too late. For a melodic hard rock band, their new album felt more intense than a classic thrash metal album. I had to take a break at times to listen to Metallica because the intensity of Stryper’s vocalist Michael Sweet became almost overwhelming. His soaring screams, while a great representation of the overall theme of the album, the expulsion of Lucifer from Heaven, perhaps needed another slower song, or like I said, the one slower song could’ve come a little earlier.
I enjoyed their new album, it was just surprising how ferocious the music was. It led to an interesting conclusion about the music to which I listen. I need that creative force in balance. It can be as heavy as you can create it, but whether it’s a melodic element like the vocal melodies of Testament’s Chuck Billy or a slower interlude like on a Queensryche album, to really have a more potent impact, I need a break from the runaway freight train at times, so when that train hits me again, I’m not just a puddled mess from the last train 😉