Saturday, August 16, 2008

War of Ages - Arise and Conquer (2008)

This album has been long-awaited by fans, at least from the standpoint that they've been waiting for a new album since 2006's "Pride of the Wicked". 2007's "Fire From the Tomb" was a solid stab of metalcore, but it was a re-recording of the bands eponymous debut with one new song added, rather than a proper new album. "Pride of the Wicked" is an album that metalcore fans have embraced & lauded, with many in the "metal" camp who don't embrace metalcore even enjoying it due to it's strong riffs and solo work. In a way, "Arise and Conquer" has a lot to prove, as much as "Pride of the Wicked" has been praised. Do they live up to this promise? Read on!

The CD pulls no punches & immediately begins with a shout of "All consuming fire, burn!" followed by the primary riff of the song. There's good guitar work here, with melody woven into the heaviness. It's not bone-crushing, but it's heavier than your traditional tough-guy hardcore. Actually, it's reminiscent of As I Lay Dying's latest stuff from the standpoint that it is heavy & driving without losing its sense of melody. "When Faith Turns to Ashes" has a great fast riff that recalls AILD even further, with it's fast drum beat & the degree of complexity in the riff work. The dual-guitar harmonizing is also a nice addition, giving the sound some depth. The "bridge" riff has some thrash feel to it; matter of fact, the whole song has a bit of a thrash feel to it. The song is incredibly short, however, and feels like it's over too fast. "Through The Flames" starts with a nice double-bass rhythm, some nice harmonized guitar work, and a hefty scream. Again, the dual-guitar work here works well and the players complement each other well. The gang vocal in the chorus shows the group wearing their hardcore influence on their sleeve a bit, and is a nice melodic bit. The breakdown in the song is a tad also-ran, but that's forgivable considering the rest of the guitar work is well done. The solo here is also good, serving the song well but showing the talent of the guitarist as well. "Salvation" begins with a nice riff that echoes a bit of thrash, and has a bit of dual-guitar work. The opening solo work totally screams 80's heavy metal, which is a nice nod to the progenitors of the genre that this is leaning toward. The verse riff is interesting with a nice minor chord progression that isn't typical. Again, the center section wears the hardcore influence firmly on the band's collective sleeve with the spoken-word vocal bridge, but the riffs come back in shortly thereafter to re-affirm the metal influence that is definitely felt here. This isn't Bay Area thrash, by any means, but it is certainly leaning in a more thrash-oriented direction than many of their metalcore brethren. "Sleep of Prisoners" starts with a more typical metalcore riff than anything thus far, though the dual-guitar work at the end of the riff pattern certainly throws a dash of spice in the mix. The melodic segue between verse portions is well placed, and the vocal layering here works well. The pinch harmonics nearly half-way through sound great as well. The drumming here is solid, nothing spectacular, but sounds good in the context of the song. The breakdown toward the end is again, nothing special, but it does the job well enough. "Wages of Sin" begins with a guitar sound that makes one think it might be from a different era, but when the vocal yell kicks in, it brings you back to today. The riff sound here really conveys a "metal days of yore" feel. The drumming here is well matched to the material without being showy. The guitar work is solid, and there's some nice licks going on, even if they're not overtly technical. The section that might have been called a short breakdown is filled with a cool higher-pitched riff that offsets the "hang out on the low string" thing that breakdowns often end up being, making it unique. The riff before the slowed down bridge section (with actual singing!) is nice, and has a nice classic metal feel to it, but with a modern sound. "Yet Another Fallen Eve" begins with a nice semi-technical guitar intro that becomes a nice harmonized piece for a short time. The main verse riff echoes this harmonized pattern with a crunchier sound. Again, the band opts for some nice harmonized semi-technical guitar work during the "breakdown" section, making more than just a standard breakdown. The slower pace of this song lends itself to the more hardcore feel, but the double-bass drumming & faster pace of the segue bits help break this up nicely so it doesn't sound like they're slipping into the "sameness" that many a hardcore band easily do. The bridge riff has a good sound - they're not relying completely on power chords here; there's a bit more texture to it than normal which works well, giving it a quiet dissonance. "Generational Curse" ups the tempo again and brings back a more thrash-influenced riff, followed by a nice melodic metalcore bit segueing between verse sections. Good double-bass work here in the beginning of the pre-chorus as well. The short breakdown works in context here without being too long. Great solo here toward the end of the song, which has a nice classic metal feel to it. "The Awakening" (which was the song the band first briefly previewed on their Myspace page prior to the album's release) opens with a fast riff that is reminiscent of some of the band's older material, and is probably the song that sounds the least like the rest of the material on the album. It has a bit of the As I Lay Dying melodic metalcore sound to it, but it's not a carbon copy. It just has that vibe throughout, without the pacing that AILD drummer Jordan Mancino would normally employ. The drumming here is tasteful and works well within the song, however. The guitar work here isn't quite as intricate or interesting as many of the previous songs, opting for a more "reserved" approach. The screamed vocal brought to the fore 3/4 of the way through the song helps break up the song a tad, and foreshadows the breakdown & the end of the song well enough. Closing track "The Deception of Strongholds" opens with a clean guitar riff & some cymbal work before bringing in a heavier guitar sound & some nice solo work to get things going. The pace picks up with a nice lick, and some harmonized guitar work in behind. The song travels along at a good clip, with plenty of melody in tow. The solo work here is tasteful, and doesn't take over, merely serving the song while providing a nice brief centerpiece. The song closes with the last note slowly fading out into the background.

Lyrically, this is very bold. Many passages are taken directly from scripture, and there's absolutely no question who this band serves. Lyrics are well written & easy to follow, but they're not childish or simple either. They are "just right" for this album. The artwork by Dave Quiggle is great, and continues the style he started with "Pride of the Wicked" in fine form. Production is strong, and while reminiscent of As I Lay Dying's latest album (thanks to AILD front-man Tim Lambesis), doesn't sound like AILD-lite, but retains the band's own sound & feel.

This is a winner, and no fan of metalcore should be without this album. I would go so far as to say any open-minded metal fan who isn't tired of the "core" aspect of metal or is willing to branch out should also own this - it brings some classic metal touches into a modern framework & does it with panache & style. Definitely a worthy follow-up to both "Pride of the Wicked" and "Fire From the Tomb". I look forward to their next album with even more anticipation, and hope that they find a way to make it to Nebraska on one of their next tours.


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