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It’s new music time! Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, metal veterans Stone Sour, industrial pioneer Nine Inch Nails and Belgian power-trio Triggerfinger.

New Album from an Old Artist

Stone Sour: Hydrograd

For a band that many people consider a side project of mask-metal juggernauts Slipknot, Stone Sour have done pretty well for themselves. Originally formed is Iowa in 1992 (three years prior to the birth of Slipknot), they have released half a dozen albums and found their own heavy yet melodic style.

With the ability to write soft, heartfelt songs that (mostly) don’t sound like '80’s power ballads, Stone Sour offer something of a challenge to traditional metal fans, who generally only like music if it makes their ears bleed. While Stone Sour certainly have the ability to make this happen, their choice to make something a little softer often pays off.

New album Hydrograd is more rock oriented than previous releases, notably the sprawling double album House of Gold & Bones that saw some fans accuse the band of Guns ‘n Roses style opulence. Fortunately, Stone Sour seem too self-aware to travel the self-destructive road of GnR and the work ethic of frontman Corey Taylor puts Axl Rose to shame. Of course, a stoned sloth has a better work ethic than Axl Rose, so that’s not really saying much.

Covering familiar Stone Sour themes of loss, loneliness and alienation, Hydrograd still manages to be an enjoyable listen, proving that modern heavy rock doesn’t need to be done ironically or wearing scary masks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Standout tracks: Taipei Person/Allah Tea, Song #3, Mercy

Sample Lyric: “I doubt I’ll ever get this close to what I was.” (The Witness Trees)

Verdict: 7/10 – it’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it.

What Ever Happened To…

Nine Inch Nails: Add Violence

If you are of a certain age, there is a fair chance that you have had sex to a Nine Inch Nails song. The song in question is Closer, released in 1994 and still the band’s biggest hit, if you don’t count Johnny Cash cover versions.

Founded way back in 1988 by proto-goth Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails is something of a vanity project, in that Reznor is the only permanent member of the band and often handles multiple songwriting, producing and performing duties himself.

This was the case with 1989 debut album Pretty Hate Machine, a blast of electronic anger driven by the raging single Head Like a Hole. Categorised by some as a synth-pop band, Reznor got into a fight with his record company and was subsequently "slaved traded" to Interscope — a move that Reznor railed about, but still resulted in Nine Inch Nails' most successful album to date.

The Downward Spiral was released in 1994, going on to massive international success off the back of massive single Closer and a brutal, crunching approach to composition. Somewhat ironically, Reznor’s own downward spiral occurred following the release of 1999 double album The Fragile — a period which saw Reznor release a bunch of poorly received remix albums, overdose on heroin and, possibly worst of all, date Courtney Love, which resulted in the super-classy breakup insult: “More like Three Inch Nails”.

At only five tracks long, Add Violence is a nice reminder of why you liked Industrial music in the first place, but doesn’t really hang around long enough to wear out its welcome. The possible exception to this is the final track The Background World, a near 12-minute dirge that repeats the same beat sequence so often I had to check if my stereo was broken.

Standout tracks: Less Than, This Isn’t The Place

Sample lyric: “You can always justify the missile trails across the sky.” (Less Than)

Verdict: 6/10 — if you hate sunlight and think music peaked in the late 1990’s, this EP will make your week.

Album I Expect to Suck

Jay Z – 4:44

Oh, Jay Z. Aren’t you the ironically self-deprecating billionaire? Releasing your new album on your exclusive (and financially circling the drain) streaming service Tidal, taking potshots at Kanye and outing your mother — one wonders if you feel at all inferior to your highest-earning-artist-in-the-world wife Beyonce?

Opening track F**k Jay Z sets the pace, with the rapper taking on the role of a critic, tearing down his career with some humble bragging, while The Story of O.J. relies almost exclusively on the N word for lyrical content. We get it, Hova. You know a bad word and you’re taking it back.

For an artist known for his production skills, 4:44 is somewhat uninspired, with Jay spitting angry rhymes over tired beats, hoping for a guest star to inject some life into the proceedings. Artists including Frank Ocean, Damian Marley and Beyonce all make an effort, but it’s the brief appearance by Jay’s mother Gloria Carter on Smile that has the greatest impact.

At its best, hip-hop can be exciting, challenging and educational. 4:44 is none of the above. If you want to listen to a billionaire rap about how hard life is, then this is the album for you…

Standout tracks: Smile

Sample lyric: “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian.” (Smile)

Verdict: 2/10 — if I was paying for Tidal to get this album I’d demand a refund

Ch-check It Out…

Triggerfinger: Colossus

Formed in Lier, Belgium in 1998, Triggerfinger spent six long years honing their craft before releasing their self-titled debut album in 2004, the experience earning the band a dedicated live following across Europe. Led by singer/guitarist Reuben Block, with bassist Paul Van Bruystegem and drummer Mario Goosens, the power trio quickly drew comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Queens of the Stone Age.

In 2012, the band did a cover of Lykki Li’s I Follow Rivers for a laugh and found the track becoming their biggest hit to date, attracting new audiences to the band and setting Block the challenge of following up a surprise novelty hit. He did this by building his own studio so the band could play as loud as the liked until the early hours of the morning in the midst of conservative Antwerp and inviting producer Mitchell Froom along for the ride.

Froom, who has worked with bands from Crowded House to Pearl Jam and Paul McCartney, sent the band in a new direction, embracing a deeper groove. This evolution is most evident on title track Colossus, which ditches the traditional guitar/bass/drums combo for a bass/drums/bass approach. The result is heavy yeat indisputably groovy, like Stevie Wonder going through a Black Sabbath phase.

If you’re a fan of heavy music that isn’t afraid to experiment, give Triggerfinger a listen.

Standout tracks: Colossus, Steady Me

Sample lyric: “Shiny shackles in an endless chain.” (Steady Me)

Verdict: 7/10

Books by John Turnbull are now available on Amazon and Kindle. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in the IA store HERE. (Free postage!)

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