Short Cuts: Yob, DragonForce, Circle II Circle

CD Review: Yob – Clearing The Path to Ascend
All Access Rating: A-

Yob - Clearing the Path to Ascend 2014
Ascension is, undoubtedly, part of the plan for Yob, as the Oregon doom-metal destroyers prepare the release of their first full-length for Neurosis's Neurot label.

An ambitious work, full of cataclysmic guitar riffs, writhing dynamics and long, slow death marches into bleak, unforgiving sonic territories, Clearing the Path to Ascend is alternately ponderous and tumultuous, ethereal and alien. And as prone as Yob is to doling out methodical, malevolent poundings like "In Our Blood" and "Unmask the Spectre," it's the ferocious tempest "Nothing to Win" – the drumming is superhuman – that truly awes, as does the trio's supernatural atmospherics.

Comprised of only four tracks, the shortest of which clocks in at 11:37, Clearing The Path to Ascend is nightmarish and intense, but it's also a daunting listen, although the variety of vocal treatments – the primeval shrieks and growls sometimes giving way to sinister whispers – captivates, adding interesting textures to what is already a strangely hypnotic and enveloping blackness. Yob is on a righteous path.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Dragonforce – Maximum Overload
Metal Blade Records
All Access Rating: B+

Dragonforce - Maximum Overload 2014
What DragonForce does to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" on the British power-metal dynamo's latest Metal Blade Records release Maximum Overload won't win them any friends among country music traditionalists.

An odd choice to say the least, given their fondness for video-game sounds and electronic blips and snorts, this version of the Cash classic is easily the most bombastic ever recorded. Making it their own, in DragonForce's nimble hands, "Ring of Fire" actually seems built for speed, transforming into a soaring, frenetic epic of high-velocity guitars, jackhammer blast beats and Mark Hudson's clear, spiraling vocals.

Interestingly enough, it's the first cover song ever to be included on a DragonForce record. And there are other noticeable differences between the aptly named Maximum Overload and its predecessors, this outing being heavier and more thrash-oriented, as stampedes "The Game," "No More" and "Defenders" – it's no accident that Trivium's Matt Heafy contributes powerful backing vocals to all three – set pulses racing with adrenaline-fueled riffing.

Nevertheless, this is DragonForce we're talking about, and, as per usual, iconic shredders Herman Li and Sam Totman throw themselves headlong into an endless series of blindingly fast, hyper-kinetic guitar solos while glorious melodies fly overhead. Maybe DragonForce has become formulaic and predictable in always going for the big climax, but every track on Maximum Overload is a whirlwind of dazzling activity – "Three Hammers" and "Symphony of the Night" being the album's purest specimens of full-on, triumphant power-metal found here.

With their fantasy-based lyrics and "Guitar Hero" shredding, DragonForce is not everyone's cup of tea, but their attention to detail, overblown production values and insane technical skills make for an entertaining ride. It's like Disneyland for guitar fanatics.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Circle II Circle – Live At Wacken (Official Bootleg)
Armoury Records
All Access Rating: B+

Circle II Circle - Live at Wacken
(Official Bootleg) 2014
The plan was to play as much of Savatage's classic concept record 1998's Wake of Magellan at 2012's Wacken Open Air as humanly possible, given the time constraints of festival performance slots.

That was the last Savatage record Zak Stevens sang on before departing from that league of progressive-metal masterminds. Revered for its compelling story, stormy riffs, rolling emotions and maze-like arrangements, Wake of Magellan is a theatrical tour de force, a rock opera that connects two real-life incidents – the Maersk Dubai Incident and the story of Irish reporter Veronica Guerin and her tragic journalistic crusade against drug trafficking.

Circle II Circle doesn't shrink form the challenge, even if they do only manage to fit in eight of the 13 tracks on the original LP. His colossal vocals pushed way up to the front of the mix, where they belong, Stevens is a born storyteller, his power and expressiveness adding nuance to an already gripping morality play.

From the uplifting, piano-driven power ballad "Anymore" to the tension-packed pounding of "Complaint in the System (Veronica Guerin)," the golden folk of "Morning Sun" and the sweeping, melodic build of the title track, Circle II Circle follows the winding map laid out by Savatage with a bold, adventurous spirit, paying all due respect to the original source material while, at the same time, breathing new life into it. A rich pageantry of instrumental prowess, resonant sound and wonderful drama, Live At Wacken (Official Bootleg) serves as an ideal companion piece to Savatage's unassailable masterpiece.
– Peter Lindblad

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