A Matter of Life and Death (AMOLAD) is the second and latest album released by English thrash metal band Puritan Slain. Released in 2011 to absolutely no fan or critic reception at all, which may make a review of this album seem pointless. But after hearing it, I knew I needed to talk about it somewhere.
It draws inspiration clearly from the likes of Metallica and Pantera, and clearly takes influence from the more modern metal releases like Machine Head's "The Blackening" or "Unto the Locust". Perhaps one of the few criticisms I have is it can sometimes seem a little bit *too* influenced by those records. However it is still original and worth a listen no matter what you think of Machine Head, because let's face it, the majority of us won't want to hear anything too similar to them more times than we must. Plus this is probably a better album than either of those anyway...
Based on the title of the album itself, and of its songs, it seems to tell a story of the emotional stages of a saddened and troubled life. But not only this, a few of the songs could be perceived to have double meanings. Whether this was intentional or not I don't know, but it's worth noting either way.
The whole album is recorded on seven string guitars, and from what my ears are telling me, in OPEN G! If you want heavy, that'll give it to you. This album is mostly on the slower ends of the thrash scale, with a few exceptions, so with slow tempos and tunings like that, you'll be in for one hell of a heavy ride! The riffs chug like an oiled machine through each song, better than most of those written by chart topping metal bands. The vocal performance, while not the best I've ever heard, is by far good enough for the album, and certainly fits the raw aggression and power of the album. The drummer is an absolute machine as well, genuinely some of the best I've heard in a while. The lead guitarist, Shaun, has a perfect way of constructing his solos for the songs. None of them are overly flashy, or technically mind-blowing, but I feel this is a stylistic choice and not due to a lack of capability. Each solo fits with each song, and is beautifully subtle, choosing to convey the feeling of the song instead of conveying how fast Shaun can or can't play. The only real musical complaint I have is that some of the lyrics can fall into being rather cliché, and sometimes quite hammy, but that doesn't degrade my view of the album at all.
Track By Track Review
A short minute-and-a-half intro piece to the album. It starts with ethereal sounding picking, floating it's way through a heavenly euphoria as it builds and builds into a fantastic eruption of slow and pounding drums and soaring guitar riffs for the last thirty seconds, really making sure you know you're about to be in for a ride.
Overall a great intro but since there isn't a lot to it, there isn't a lot to say about it or garner it a high score. Fitting on the album but would not listen out of context.
Best Moment: The kick in of the distorted guitars
The first real song on the album, and man what a kick start, transitioning from ITL. 1 with such a level of smoothness I actually had to double check it really was the next song. That riff is incredible. The way it builds layer by layer with the harmonies, and then BANG! It drops, the drums kick in and the seventh string makes it's TRUE debut. It pounds into a verse that loses no intensity, with the vocalist screaming war cries of rebellion, with group vocals in between lines chanting their angriest approval. It builds into an incredible chorus that I can't help but scream my soul out along to whenever I hear it.
That structure repeats again before it reaches the breakdown. Man that breakdown killed me. Chugging on the seventh string, flowing into yet more of those ethereal chords over the top. This travels into my favourite moment in the whole song. At 2:59 exactly, it transitions back from the breakdown into the main riff with everything suddenly stopping for the coolest lead part on the highest octave of the main riff, laden with wah effects before kicking straight back in again to the main riff on the seventh string. Another repeat of verse and chorus, this song is in dire need of a solo by now. Finally one hits. Again soaked in wah effects, it shreds and screams the song to it's very high paced and heart thumping end with the final group vocal "We are going to rise, and we are coming for you!", summing up the whole song in one line.
Overall a fantastically great way to open the album. Heart pounding and adrenaline pumping from start to finish.
Best Moment: That lead transition at 2:59
If you're gonna break your neck at any point, this'll be it. A true head pounder, this song is skull crushing. From start to finish it rides on the same spine of doubles and dissonant chords with a few breaks into pure insanity as the nightmares the song talks of finally takes a violent control of the protagonist.
The first moment of insanity also holds my favourite moment in the song, the transition back into the chugging main riff blows my mind. At 2:41 the guitars spawn the most incredible scratchy chugging sound before dropping back into the verse.
After the song finished for the first time, I felt a bit robbed due to a lack of any guitar solo. But upon re-listening a few times, I can tell you it certainly is a good thing. A solo would only dilute the dark and chugging nature of the song.
Overall a good follow to Rebellious, if a little bit lacking in the same heart pumping excitement held in the album's opening track.
Best Moment: The transition at 2:41
So far the songs have been great, but this is a new level, in fact a new dimension. I'm not sure who's responsible for the song writing but whoever wrote this needs a medal.
Opening with sinister, yet still heart-tugging, emotional clean picking to tell you you're in for something different. It builds into more of the chugging greatness this album will build itself over throughout it's full duration. But it feels different, yearning and sad with the clean picking still going just underneath it in the mix. It comes down again, back to just the clean picking guitar, with sinister spoken vocals telling the sad story of a protagonist in love with someone they want so deeply but who doesn't want them back. It throws you into the bridge and chorus sections, where the protagonist's emotions seem to reach their peak, his anger and sadness caused by his unrequited desire leading him to an explosion of emotional insanity.
And then again, it comes back down. But this time it's different. A different picking riff, and you can feel tension in the air of the song. And so comes the solo. Starting with the most incredible, sad harmony section that builds layer by layer as it progresses. The bass guitar kicks in properly about half way through, really adding to the thump of a section so subtle yet so powerful. After the perfect amount of time the drums kick in and the distorted riff builds back up and the solo rockets into another euphoric explosion of intense sadness and weeping anger before ending on a huge bend, a wailing cry to bring the song all the way back to the beginning with that sinister clean picking.
Again, there is nothing flashy about this song, nothing too technical. But like most of the album, that would ruin it. Everything about this song is perfect. I think it's the most defining moment on the album. It shows best that the album is going to choose subtlety and genius over blind-flashiness and technicality. And I think we can all agree that's the better of the two.
Overall a fantastic song, the first show of how properly genius the song writing is. A must listen for anyone.
Best Moment: The whole damn solo
I was a bit worried about what was going to follow one of the best songs I'd ever heard. Sadly I was right to be...
The song, which contrastingly features some of the best lyrics, just feels too emotionless and two dimensional to follow Obsession. Perhaps being right after Obsession is what makes this song seem so pale, it could be getting overshadowed by its predecessor. Either way, it just doesn't have anything fascinating about it, or any truly standout moment apart from that one bit where it's just the bass guitar, drums and vocals. But other than that it's just a bit mediocre, and about a minute and a half too long.
Overall, I don't think it's bad. It's perfectly acceptable with no actual faults. But while it lacks any faults, it also lacks any highlights, leaving the listener a bit let down after a song as great as obsession.
Best Moment: The bass-only section
I needed something epic after Determination to pull me back into the album.
This is intense. The lyrics are about as messed up as they get for this record, telling the story of a madman, with a mind lost to something like schizophrenia, who's perhaps only seconds away from committing mass murder. Which brings me onto the coolest thing about the whole song. Throughout all the verse sections there's a backing vocal chanting "TICK, TICK," switching from left to right each time, as if counting down the seconds to complete insanity.
Which does eventually come in the chorus. A full explosion of pure madness, violence and aggression screaming through the whole section as James tears the microphone to pieces with the sound of hatred burning the lyrics into our brain.
It hits the first transition with breakneck pace into awesome power chords and a screeching lead section that brings you straight back around into another verse and chorus section before repeating the transition piece and lead section again.
The whole song comes to a close with the main riff stomping to the end with the "TICK TICK TICK" louder than ever, and getting ever louder right until the very last tick where it all comes to a screaming halt.
Overall a definite pick up over the lacklustre Determination. Intense mania from start to finish with no let up for a listener now feeling bruised from such a heavy pounding. Totally awesome.
Best Moment: The tick-tick-tick-ticking
I will describe this song with one noise. AAAAHHHHH.
Now you've got an idea, let's talk about it. Starting with some off-key sounding lead harmonies, it builds and builds with thumping chugs and pounding drums. I won't spoil how it kicks in for those that haven't heard it, because it's so good I actually laughed out loud for about ten seconds. But dear lord, when it does kick in, you'll want to mosh like it's your last chance.
Rage races through the progression with break-neck pace, letting up at nothing. The song is packed with aggressive rage and a loss of all self control, spinning with violent speed through the verse and chorus repetition. Before suddenly coming right down after the second chorus, to just one little guitar riff, "Breathe, Breathe". I started to get very excited very quickly when I heard that. And then "LET IT OUT"! The breakdown to end all breakdowns. A seventh string has never sounded heavier. Chugging relentlessly with the dissonant riff over the top of it, and out of nowhere, just when you least expect it, BANG! Guitar solo. Pure shred, but still stylistically controlled, keeping in theme with the rest of the album. The intensity and manic pace of the solo directly after the sluggish breakdown is enough to make any metal head soil themselves (myself totally not included). The solo ends on the guitar's huge wailing cries before coming right back to the start again with the lead harmonies.
Once again it repeats the intro riff through verse through chorus. All before ending on a chug chug chug before the sound I can only describe as a crash on the guitars finally stops the relentless piece.
Overall the most manic song on the album for sure, the most unchained and unpredictable. Yet still stylistically controlled with nothing being there just for the sake of it.
Best Moment: The breakdown
What I was not expecting, nor did I want, from this album was a ballad. But the moment this song started, with a title like that and an intro such as its own, I tensed up knowing that I was going to get one.
However, as soon as the intro riff finally kicked in, with that pinch harmonic on the second rotation, I knew this was going to be different.
It falls into the verse, with a solid dose of actual singing from James, as opposed to his consistently awesome, however less appealing screaming. Similar to the "Tick" in Madness, this song has whispers in the verse repeating each line, once in the left and then again in right. With the haunting vocals ringing out, it builds, a strong chord rings out and James brings the vocals up a notch and tells through the bridge. The chorus finally hits and for a slow song with such emotion, is surprisingly catchy. This pattern repeats as James pours the emotions of a person left behind after the death of the person they clearly love most into a song that's instrumental does a good enough job of that on it's own.
The song reaches its fifth minute and despite how great the song sounds, it's starting to drag a bit with no change ups. However, just as I was starting to see my fears of this being a bad-ballad come true, it rings out, comes right down. With a different chord progression being picked clean, with occasional thumping drums, becoming louder and more common, I knew something great was coming. I could feel it...
Then it erupts. A huge climax with a fantastic lead riff over a great chord progression, it builds again, the lead riff moving up an octave before it kicks up a notch once more into the solo. And boy this solo is incredible. Again so subtly done, nothing about it is flashy or technical, it just works. It slams you straight through the chest like a hammer, packing all the emotion of the song into one immense punch as it builds and builds with intensity screaming back into that lead riff that repeats and brings you down to the end, still pumping with adrenaline.
Overall a ballad done well. In fact I'd call it a model for how all metal bands should do ballads. The perfect balance of meaning and emotion with power and intensity. And that solo man, that solo is just incredible.
Best Moment: The whole damn solo (I know it's the second time I've said that about a song on this album, but the solos are just so damn good!)
What on earth could follow Loss? I was hoping this wouldn't be another Determination. But not even nearly. Regret is a fairly short piece featuring only guitars. With that it feels empty, hollow, but in the best way possible. It follows on from its predecessor perfectly, if Loss is the death song, then Regret is the funeral march. No vocals, no drums, not even a bass guitar as far as I can hear. Just the most ethereal, atmospheric and sorrowfully yearning guitar arpeggios that progress until a lead guitar echoes through, harmonies in each ear. Still building, and progressing through the chord arpeggios for just shy of three minutes, the song has no climax. But it doesn't need one. For that would only kill the emotion and sorrowful nature of such a stunningly crafted guitar piece, still perfectly metal but tinged at the edges with slight hints of classical influence.
It ends as quietly as it began, fading away into the distance from where it feels it came from.
Overall an incredibly constructed piece of music, again though due to it's short nature, there isn't much to say about it or garner it a high score. But don't think that takes anything away from how amazing this piece really is.
Best Moment: Lead guitar harmonies
Being the final proper song on this album, I knew it had to be good.
Death starts with a droning bass note, repeating over and over. The first sign of life in the song being a very evil sounding lead riff over the top, repeating and progressing into the first verse. James’ vocals are produced in such a way that it sounds like softly chanting monks. The words of a man on his deathbed, aware that his end is nigh, praying that God is coming to save him from either becoming nothingness, or far far worse…
The song, nearing its second minute, has built such a wall of nervous tension. Just when you let your guard down, it hits you. Like a train in the chest, everything kicks in. Guitars repeating the lead section from earlier, but on a much lower octave and much, much heavier. James, now in a full scream, repeats the lyrics from the start. But the new intensity makes it seem more like a dire scream for help, than a prayer.
The chugging riffs follow a simple, yet probably the most effective drum beat on the whole album. It progresses through a repetition of the verses before hitting the solo. The solo starts with more sinister harmony work than ever before, running down the harmonic minor scale. This leads into some intense tremolo picking that’s once again packed out with wah. The solo marches on alongside the never ending machine of the riffs below it, wailing over some incredibly evil sounding licks. Once again, nothing overly technical or flashy (except one fairly fast run towards the solo's end), but the simplicity and brute force of the solo by far outweighs the feel of what any shredding could achieve. The solo screams to an end and once again we get a repeat of the verse section. The song ends with a haunting dual harmony solo over some heavy, pounding drums and rhythm. The final blast being a run of power chords, slow and sluggish, heavy in all ways.
Despite the fact the song is fairly repetitive, it never gets boring. Something about the brooding, sinister intensity and deep emotional worry that packs this song from start to finish means it never grows old. And while the song is not my personal favourite (that would be Obsession), I can not deny that this is by far the most well constructed song, and is definitely each band member at their peak. This song is their Master of Puppets, or Holy Wars. A song that, while perhaps not everyone’s favourite, is undoubtedly the best. And earning the title of “the best” on an album this consistently great, is one hell of an achievement.
Overall a fantastic way to end the album, a technical masterpiece and what should be a fan favourite if the band had got the recognition they deserved.
Best Moment: The harmony section that preludes the first solo
Much the same as ITL. I, a very short instrumental piece just to work as a fade out. My only real criticism is that while ITL. I does a perfect job of building the tension for Rebellious, I can’t help but feel that Death would be a far better way to end the album than this. ITL. II brings down the adrenaline and excitement from Death meaning the last thing the album made you feel is a bit more released. Luckily Death is a good enough song that it manages to overshadow ITL. II as the closer and stick in your mind as the last thing you remember hearing and feeling much better than this.
Overall, it works as a closer, but also works to dilute the power of Death (a much more suitable closer). Not much to compliment, or to complain about.
Best Moment: The ethereal lead section
The fact this album has not been recognised by anyone at all in its almost eleven year existence is truly sad. It's such a great record, and if you haven't already gone and downloaded it (AGAIN, IT'S FREE FROM THEIR WEBSITE!), for heaven's sake go get it now. A Matter Of Life And Death is a must listen for anyone who likes metal, in fact, I'd say for anyone who has ears. It's a shame it's just become another album lost to time and failure of recognition found so commonly with this kind of music.
It's been a very long time since this was released, and since they showed any sign of action on their YouTube channel, but even if I'm completely alone in doing so, I'll certainly be waiting in excitement for something new from Puritan Slain.