Monday, April 30, 2012
Country: Birmingham, UK
Label: Century Media
Yes, I'm covering Napalm Death and yes this review is late (as will be a couple of other albums). Of course I'm a Napalm Death fan, I think you kind of have to be to enjoy grindcore (I could be wrong), but that's how I've always seen it. After two really great previous albums I was certainly interested in hearing if these boys could keep up their trackrecord.
I can't say I've listened to every Napalm Death record they've ever released, despite calling myself a fan, but over the years I've certainly listened to various tracks from each full-length. I don't know if you could call me a true fan since I can't say I've listened to every single one of their releases as of yet, but in preparation for writing this I think I listened to more Napalm Death in a couple weeks than I've listened to in previous years. So, in terms of this, the band's fifteenth album (I believe), the real question is what have the band done to set this one apart from the others. Well, to put it simply, to say this one is a huge difference would be grossly incorrect and inaccurate, seeing as the band really haven't changed all that much since the early 2000s. Call it a refinement more than an evolution.
Like I mentioned in the intro, the last two full-lengths records, Smear Campaign and Time Waits For No Slave, I thought were both really solid records that had great songs and were simply pummeling. Sonically, this album doesn't distant the band from the core sound you heard on those albums and the hanfull they've released since the beginning of the 2000s. Having said that, it's not like each album doesn't have at least a few standout moments on it that make it stand apart from the rest and on here you have the likes of Everyday Pox or The Wolf I Feed. While Everyday Pox really isn't all that different from any other song on this or the band's previous releases, the guest saxophone solos provided by John Zorn bring back memories of Naked City. The Wolf I Feed on the other hand is strangely melodic and industrial, with clean vocals (I believe that Mitch Harris did them) that recall the likes of early Fear Factory. But I have to say that even when the band are simply pumping out more grindcore, or deathgrind, songs, they still pull it off with more conviction and energy than many of their contemporaries. They manage to provide that sense of fire and momentum that even newer bands can't manage to muster up (which is as much a mystery to me as it probably is to you). Personally, give me Napalm Death doing nothing original but still writing badass grind songs for the rest of their days over boring and unenthusiastic newbes who try and be all spastic and weird for no reason any day.
It's not a masterpiece and it's not going to be an album that's going to change the world, but it's another solid album from grindcore masters Napalm Death. The whole thing may not be as entirely memorable as Smear Campaign was (to me at least), but this has more than enough really good songs to keep it in rotation for a while. It's a good time record to put on when you want to mosh and have fun, enjoy it for what it is.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Everyday Pox, Collision Course, Think Tank Trials, Analysis Paralysis
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Country: Östersund, Sweden
Style: Dark Ambient/Ambient Black Metal
Label: Nordvis Produktion
Nachtzeit's work with his solo project Lustre is one that has really challenged the sound of black metal since its inception back in 2008. With every release, his sound grows into something far more mystical and distinct, with many praising his work on 2010's A Glimpse of Glory. Though I somehow doubt that this short EP will show that much development from his last full-length, I think it's acting more as a prelude to the next full-length (to be released in a few months).
The four tracks presented here are some of the most ambient that Nachtzeit has released with the project. It's rather debatable whether you could even call most of what's on here even metal to be honest. When I look back at the previous releases that I've heard from Lustre, there was always that harsher underbelly that made his tracks black metal, no matter how slight that distortion might have actually been; but on here, aside from Part I and sections of Part III, this release is even more in the vein of dark ambient, so, as it should rightfully be assumed, this is softer than ever. This still brings that almost ambient electronica sense of melody though, which was one of the most appealing elements to the project in my opinion. The other two tracks, Part II and Part IV, are essentially ambient pieces that were just sort of there for me. Personally, these shorter pieces, not a single song crosses seven minutes, don't really do it for me in the same way that some of the project's extended pieces do, but for what they manage to accomplish it's fine.
I really enjoy Lustre and I think that Nachtzeit is a musician who's been involved in some interesting projects and bands, but this is just sort of there for me. I enjoy it, but somehow I doubt that this is going to go down as a masterpiece, maybe the full-length following this will (and I hope it will be great). Having said that, I still very much recommend checking Lustre out, if not this release than one of the others because all of them are interesting at the very least.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Part I, Part III
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Country: Grenoble, France
Style: Progressive Death Metal
You know, I really haven't covered too much "prog-death" within the last year or so, and looking back I'm a little disappointed in myself. I suppose you could trace it back to 2009 and 2010 when every band labeled as "prog-death" was trying to sound like Opeth that the genre started to get stale for myself and others that I decided to stop even trying to find new bands. This year has provided me with quite a few new groups that are doing interesting things with the genre and this is the first one I've decided to post about.
To be honest, when I first heard about this album I had imagined it being just another djent record. I could've sworn that I listened to it maybe a month ago or something like that and it didn't really impress me, but having listened to it several times now, I can assure that this is no djent record. This is very much a progressive record, and not only that, it's a record that leans very heavily on the likes of jazz, fusion, and other various forms of those styles. In many ways this record made me think of what it might sound like if the guys from Atheist decided they wanted to start playing like Meshuggah, and I don't mean in a djent way, but more to just incorporate more groove into their songs. After the initial intro of Abiotic Landscapes, the first real track, Sphenoid, is pretty overwhelming. It just bursts right out of the gate and jumps around various ideas including Latin jazz, straight-ahead death metal, math rock, and I wanna even say a little bit of funk. Depending on your point of view, this could either be the perfect way to introduce the album or a real headache inducer in the works; and it was the former for me. I'll admit that it isn't the most accessible, or even the most memorable, track on the album, but for myself, it's the type of opening track (when you exclude intros) that just gets in your face and lets you know what you're in for. If you can't take this opener, I somehow doubt you'll enjoy the rest of the album but I'm really just guessing here.
Following tracks are far easier to take in, mainly because they aren't as long, but are a bit more melodic in comparison. Songs like Monism Needs A Ro or The Divine Phenomenology of Cold Fire are easier to take in on first listen and are probably some of the more accessible tracks on the entire album. Having said that, as the album progresses, the band explore even more musical territory, never to the extent that I would call them an avant-garde group, but other forms of jazz, rock, and metal are thrown into the melting pot of ideas. If you think I'm joking, listen to the prog-metal gone spastic electronic remix that Igorrr (of Uneven Structure) provides for Kubark near the middle of the album. It's a total curve ball. By the way, listen to the bass on here, it's just as great as the guitar is on several tracks, if you wind up liking the guitars anyway, and is just so ear-catching but in no way overwhelming or overpowering. I'll go back to the djent thing really quick and say that the only tracks that I'd say even reference djent are the last two on the album, Qualophobia and Innate Anamnesis, and both don't even use it ways that will make you immediately think, "Oh, that's a djent riff." So, it's there, but it's really not enough for me to think of this as a djent record, and I somehow doubt others will think that either.
I think one of the more eye-catching factors on this album will be the title-track trilogy near the end of the album. I'm not saying that this is going to apply for everyone, but I've known some people (prog fans) that are more excited when a longer track is broken up into smaller segments because it makes the entire track more digestible for the "regular" populace to consume than a single, long track. I'm not really opposed to either, personally, but seeing as this album employs both methods, I would say that splitting the title-track into three separate parts was a good decision. Both the first and third segments are calmer, more jazzy pieces that are nice little breathers when listening to the entire album. The middle/second part is a nice little piece that isn't overly complex when compared to some of the other tracks on the album, but features some of my favorite instrumental parts from the entire disc. Every member of the band is in top form on this short four and a half minute long track, it's just great.
This is good shit right here (I don't like to swear in my reviews, but this really calls for it) and I am most certainly impressed with this album. This is definitely one of the more impressive debuts I've heard so far this year, and one that I haven't seen that much about. I definitely recommend checking out this album. So to answer the question, yes, we certainly are amused.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: (Enter The) Void, The Divine Phenomenology of Cold Fire, Tabula Rasa II - Noesis
Country: Melbourne, Australia
Style: Progressive/Melodic Death Metal
You know, I really wish that I was more into the whole melodic death metal genre than I have been the last couple of years. Beyond the first couple of months of last year, I don't think I covered too much, if any, other melo-death albums last year, which should give an indication of both, how much I care for the genre, and how much I found interesting in the genre last year. This little independent album has been getting quite a bit of good press recently, and caught my attention before I read any of the press anyway, but of course I need to chime in with my thoughts.
In my opinion, it's so hard to find a good, modern, band doing melodic death metal well. Sure, groups like Dark Tranquillity, Amon Amarth, and Hypocrisy are keeping it alive and fresh with every new album, though I can't say I'm all that much a fan of Amon Amarth, there haven't been that many newer groups who I appreciate as doing anything interesting with the genre. Though that's not to say that there aren't any out there. Elysian prove with this debut full-length that they are one of the few groups nowadays who actually play melodic death metal in a way that doesn't just sound like a metalcore band with keyboards, but like a band who are very conscious of using guitars to create melodies, which I have to say I have found sorely lacking in many newer so-called melodic death metal groups. The guitars manage to provide melodies as well as riffs, which is something I've noticed guitarists getting away from within the genre for some reason. On a side note, I also feel that since it could be a deal breaker for some people, though I thought it was a good move, there are no clean vocals on here, or rather, nothing is obviously sung. There are a couple of background vocals, and I mean background, not back-up, that are chanted.
With all that being said, Elysian stand out not only because of all the above, but also because they are somewhat progressive as well. There are plenty of moments on this album where I can heard traces of bands like Meshuggah and Extol, though I wouldn't say it's limited to those. The whole progressive element is one that isn't super strong on here, despite being there, it's to the degree where even if you totally disliked prog-metal, of any kind, but liked melo-death, or bands that made use of strong melodies, you could still get into this album. I mean, in the longer tracks like The Climb From Fear or A Cry From The Hopeless, you're obviously going to hear it a lot more than in the shorter tracks, though the entire record is not exclusively like that, but like I said, it doesn't hold a huge presence in the band, and they don't push it in your face either. The use of cleaner guitar solos during the aforementioned The Climb From Fear or the more tribal drumming during the opening of Play The Hand may be small pieces when you look at the album as a whole, but those small bits in individual songs manage to boost this album up from being simply a melo-death album.
Personally, I think this is the first real good melodic death metal album of this year and it has surpassed even my expectations for it. I think that this is a great debut that is definitely worthy of all the good press it's gotten, and will hopefully continue to get. I think that if you're a fan of good melodic death metal that makes use of both melodies and riffs, and maybe even if you dig a little progressive influence as well, you will find this a very enjoyable album.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Climb From Fear, Sense Offender, Conquest
Friday, April 27, 2012
Country: Brighton, UK
I've been following Marc Le Cras' project El Scar pretty much since its inception a couple years ago. Back when he was doing metalcore and straight-ahead djent sort of releases it really wasn't anything too special, but recently he's been developing a sound that is more and more of his own. This new release is his first full-length since his since 2010 and sees him finally bringing his own sound to the world.
With this new full-length we see an expansion on the ideas that Cras was experimenting with on his last two EPs, 2011's God's In His Heaven, All's Right With The World and Drowning In Information, Starved For Knowledge which was released last month. Though still very much a djent album, the post-rock ideas he began exploring in his more recent material makes more of an appearance on here than ever before, with a much larger impact on the songwriting as well. While a song like II is pretty standard for the genre and really doesn't do anything too original, there aren't many other moments on this album where you get more typical ideas like that. Even if the post-rock ideas are just enough to turn a regular instrumental djent track into something resembling that of ambidjent, the ideas are far more interesting and engaging, to me anyway. Though I will warn you that this is a long album, and it's the type of album that proves to be taxing on the listener. In all honesty, it might even be a bit too long, with some tracks sounding a little too much like filler and not really fitting in with the rest of the album.
I know that the project itself is influenced by the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, a show I'm only vaguely familiar with despite being quite the anime fan when I was younger, but having watched a handful of episodes on television recently, I can say that there are several tracks on here where a similar mood is evoked. Honestly, the longer songs tended to have a much wider score of atmospheric qualities, not sticking to being only a djent song, or being a post-rock song, or an ambidjent song, but sounded like a middle ground between all three. It's on songs like IV or VI where I could finally see the project as something unique and original, sounding like something unlike other groups/projects that the genre has produced. The ideas used in those songs manages to convey a sense of coldness, darkness, and, as the title of the album suggests, extreme depression. I won't go so far as to say that every track captures the feelings and atmosphere that I saw when I watched the anime, but those handful of songs on here that do capture it, are songs that stand out as some of the best songs the project has produced. I'm fairly certain that a good majority of people might not view this in the same way that I do, but as someone who has pretty much followed the project since day one, I can tell that this album is considerably more advanced than his previous work and, once again, is much closer to being a completely unique project.
By the end of it, I do feel as though I have been through an awful lot, which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you wind up feeling about the album. It's definitely a mixed bag, and while above I will say that this is the project's most complete sounding vision to date, it's not going to go down as a masterpiece. I definitely look forward to hearing what Cras manages to do in the future with the project as this album does give hope that he is coming into his own.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: IV, VI, X
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Country: Delhi, India
Style: Progressive Metal/Djent
I remember back when I was first getting into the whole "djent" scene back in 2010 and I discovered a project by the name of Hydrodjent. I remember thinking, at the time, that the project was one of the better one-man bands from the genre and it was a shame that more material wasn't really being put out by the project during that period. Well, a couple of years later and we have the debut full-length from Hydrodjent or, as it's more commonly known as, Skyharbor.
I guess I'll just start this review off with a rant because this album is doing something that I find completely unnecessary. This entire album isn't even fifty minutes long, total, but somewhere along the line it was decided to put this out on two discs, which I just find absolutely ridiculous. I understand that this is supposed to be a concept album and that the two sections that make up this album are quite different from each other, in terms of their approach, but there is no need to put this out on two discs. I really hope more bands don't think this is a good idea because I don't want to start seeing bands release double albums because they think their ten minute long epic should be separate from the thirty minutes that make up the rest of their album (neither length represents the actual lengths of the sections on here by the way). Sorry if you disagree, but I just find this idea irritating.
But onto the music itself. If you're a fan of groups like Periphery or TesseracT this is going to be right up your alley because main man Keshav Dar brings a sound that is comparable to both groups on here. Instrumentally, it's more in line with the likes of Periphery because the riffs are less focused on djenty chugs and feature more interesting guitar playing while still providing songs that are quite direct. Though I would say that it's probably not as rich with various textures as either group, I somehow doubt that this album was meant to be looked at in that way, it's more about providing catchy and interesting songs rather than lush musical soundscapes. Vocally though, the TesseracT comparison should come as no surprise seeing how ex-TesseracT vocalist Dan Tompkins provides vocals for the first seven tracks. Personally, I'm a fan of his vocals and I think he has a really good sense about writing melodies that are ear catching and memorable. Having said that, there are songs that he's on that I don't think quite work. Opener Dots feels a bit too technical and fast-paced musically for his vocals to really soar over and I just was not into the chorus on Aurora at all . Along with him, you also get guitar solos from the likes of Marty Friedman and Vishal J. Singh on two tracks as well, which wind up being the only real guitar solos on the album, and are just as well played as you might expect.
The last three tracks (or disc two) feature Sunnieth Revankar on lead vocals, and you get a very different approach from the first seven songs on the album. Personally, I'm not really all that into his metalcore-ish shouting style of vocals, though his style does fit more with the more technical approach on the songs he's on. When he actually sings, he pulls it off pretty well, if I may say so, and find that his style of singing is quite unique and impressive. The chorus of Aphasia I found extremely catchy and the melody he sings on Trayus really stuck with me. Musically, I guess I find these last three songs a bit more interesting because there is more going on with the guitar work, though one could argue that it's not as "original" sounding as the material on the first disc of the album.
The album is solid enough, I've seen a lot of people give it really high scores and saying that it's such a refreshing and original album, so I guess I'm in the minority in that regard. Frankly, it's not great, but it's by no means bad in the slightest, just not nearly as good as I guess I wanted it to be. Djent and modern prog-metal fans will surely enjoy this to the fullest no matter what I say anyway.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Order 66, Catharsis, Aphasia
Style: Raw Doom Metal/Noise
Label: BadGod Music
I'd like to think that I'm pretty good about reviewing stuff people send to me, I honestly try to get everything reviewed that people send to me but I do have to admit that timing isn't really my greatest strength. I've had this album for the last couple of months and had kind of forgotten about it until only recently. I did listen to it when I first got it, but with other stuff kind of coming along, this album kind of just fell to the wayside, but hopefully this will correct that.
When one thinks of doom metal a certain sound will come into one's head, obviously depending on certain tastes and sub-genre preferences, but a sound that is pretty overarching nonetheless. The slow, dark, and, a good portion of the time, atmospheric qualities are all traits that can be found in most bands no matter their sub-genre. When I put on this debut from Black Crow King, those traits are certainly visible within each track, but you'll notice right away that this is far from your standard doom metal album. While I'd put this album firmly within the doom metal camp, you'll find plenty of references to the likes of raw and lo-fi black metal, noise, post-rock, dark ambient, and drone as well within each of these six tracks. It's pretty disorienting stuff when you first listen to it. I have never heard anything quite like it before and I'm sure that not everyone will agree that that is a good thing. One thing that is most certainly going to piss off some people is the fact most of these tracks rarely stay on a singular course. I have no idea whether or not these songs were improvised, but there are segments that certainly come straight from the left field and are real head scratchers. The Shadow Falls manages to include psychedelic drone segments, odd keyboard and organ solos, and electronic percussion on top of a funeral doom foundation, and I'll tell you that this is probably one of the easier tracks to actually get into, but is still jarring as all hell. The whole album is full of enough ideas to put a band like Mr. Bungle (a personal favorite of mine) to shame.
Probably the hardest thing for me to overcome while listening to this album was the production. Because of how raw and lo-fi it is, it leads to a lot of this album kind of sounding like mud with the guitars often blending into each other, which may very well be the point for all I know. There's also no reason not to say that with everything going on within some of these tracks, the guitars often fall into the background while the noise or ambiances, or random sounds, take the majority of attention. In addition to that, a lot of the synth choices on here are quite odd, as I referenced above, with everything from organ and string samples to stuff you'd hear a B horror or sci-fi movie soundtrack. The choices are totally weird, and the production on them makes them sound eerie and bizarre. But if there's one thing on here that got my attention from the first listen on, and this is all subjective whether or not this is a complaint or not, but the mix is just all over the place. You'll hear sounds moving in and out of sonic portrait with guitars starting up front and winding up way in the back behind drones and more ambient ideas by the end of the track, Crowbait. It's something that's going to throw a lot of people for a loop. I actually can't wait to hear what more people think of this album actually. You'll understand why it took me so long to cover this thing when you finally do listen to it.
It's hard to really recommend this to anyone because it is so "out there" that there will be just as many people who will detest this as those who love it. It's the sort of album that a metal fan might hate but a drone and noise fan would love, or vice-versa, despite no one genre really taking the center stage on here. It's an odd album for sure and if you want an experience I definitely think you should check this out, but if you're not ready for long listening sessions or bouts with headaches, stay away.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The Shadow Falls, Excarnation Ritual
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Country: Tampere, Finland
Style: Funeral Doom Metal
Label: Weird Truth/Contagion Releasing/Rusty Crowbar
From the couple of funeral doom releases I've covered/listened to this year, the genre is proving to come back to some form of relevance as of late. With numerous bands either getting better at what they do or newer groups putting out records that are challenging the stereotypes of the genre, thus far, the genre's had a pretty good year thus far. It's probably a bit late in the game at this point, but here's Profetus' take on the genre.
While crushing and mournful mood is nothing new for the funeral doom genre, or doom metal in general, there really hasn't been that many bands that have expanded upon those moods very much. Sure, we get that you're sad, but you know what, there are about a dozen other bands that are in pretty much the exact same boat as you. This year has produced some really good funeral doom records thus far, and Profetus is the latest to join that list because they build upon ideas that the likes of Skepticism have been perfecting for the last decade by bringing synth all the way up in the mix as a prominent instrument and allow the atmosphere to build from long and extended droning passages. Though the sounds used are symphonic in nature, but are by no means overpowering or cheesy, steadily gliding along with the guitars, creating a very cold and chilling atmosphere. I will admit that this is very much a mood based album, at least for me it is anyway, because throughout various listens, there were times when songs did feel a bit too extended in length, but when you're in the mood for funeral doom, I have to say that this album really hits the spot.
For all the funeral doom out there in the world today, I think there should be one question that really separates a good album from a bad one. Is there anything memorable about the album at all? Whether it's a mood or a feeling that the album leaves on you when you're done listening to it, or a melody that sticks with you from a certain song or songs, in my opinion, a good funeral doom record and/or band should evoke something that makes you want to listen to them again. Like I said above, this year has, thus far, delivered some great slow paced albums, and Profetus deliver in a much different way than others have, for myself anyway. This is the first funeral doom album in a while that has had riffs that have stuck with me for longer than the length of a song. Sure, I'm not going to go out and say that this is going to be the catchiest funeral doom album of all time (which is really more of a personal issue) but it's one of the very few I've heard in a very, very long time that has stuck with me. The last few minutes of The Watchers Dusk is just haunting and stuck with me for days after listening to it and the section around the twelve minute mark of The Shoreless is epic. I guess I would have liked some more singing or growling, since most of the vocals on here are done in a low, spoken word fashion, but that's really a minor complaint on my end because the music is as powerful as it is.
I urge all fans of doom and all fans of slow music to give this album a chance. It's very rare that a doom metal album, once again, especially funeral doom, proves to be as ear-grabbing and memorable as this one is. This has not received as much acclaim as it has for nothing. Definitely check this album out.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Watchers Dusk, Burn, Lanterns of Eve
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Obviously I'm a fan of the sub-genre/sound of djent bands and have covered more than a few bands, but among the larger artists/groups gaining critical acclaim, there are also smaller artists bringing some interesting ideas to the table as well. I'll admit that finding a good band in the sub-genre is probably just as hard as finding a good band anywhere, but with the sound quickly degenerating from a form of progressive metal into something resembling nu metal and rap metal (in some cases) interesting groups and projects are becoming harder and harder to come by. (all of these are reviewed out of 8)
Monday, April 23, 2012
Country: Bordeaux, France
Style: Atmospheric/Post-Black Metal
Label: Acteurs de l'Ombre
There was quite an interesting reaction last year when The Great Old Ones released their first EP on Bandcamp. The whole Lovecraftian subject matter has been covered quite extensively throughout the history of metal so for a band like this to receive such acclaim from it really did create quite a stir throughout the interwebs. It's nice to see that a band get signed and produce new material so quickly after an initial release.
With all the bands and projects that constantly reference the work of Lovecraft (not to mention various films and books), very few manage to ever come close to the majesty that his stories inspire. Not to say that there haven't been groups who've done justice to his work, but those who do achieve anything worthy of merit are sorely unappreciated by the greater majority of fans who have probably been brought up on references made by the likes of Metallica or Cradle of Filth. So, it's with great pleasure that a group has emerged that can actually bring a new light to his stories and make, at least me, feel like Lovecraft's work hasn't been totally disgraced by the metal genre.
But onto the sound of the band, which is, for all its varying degrees of depth, can and most likely will be placed into the whole post-black metal movement. There is a definitive post-rock influence within the band, but I'd be more likely to place them alongside groups like Altar of Plagues, Fen, and Lantlôs than among the hordes of followers and copycats who, while they may be enjoyable and good bands, ultimately don't bring any new ideas to the table or have an original sound. Like the three groups I just mentioned, TGOO have a sound that is recognizable from others within their scene and one that, while it doesn't stray too far from what a lot of bands are doing within the sub-genre right now, is still unique enough to set them apart from others. The post-rock sound feels more than just another group copying and pasting together black metal parts and shoegaze/post-rock parts, or having someone scream over post-rock, it's a more natural fusion of the two sounds. Tracks ebb and flow between more intense moments of black metal blasting and softer post-rock ambient soundscapes, often joining the two together as oppose to keeping them separate.
Despite all of that, each track does have its own trait that manages to set it apart from the rest. Being that there are only six tracks, all of them quite lengthy, the ideas present in each track are ultimately quite minimal despite how much the band pull off. While no track abandons the main ideas or sounds the band works with, hence minimal, each song expands upon them in a different way, allowing each one to shine through. Whether it's the more tried and true post-black metal sound of Visions of R'lyeh or the far more progressive and adventurous sounds explored on Rue d'Auseil, you'll find a unique experience within each track. With all that being said though, this album is most definitely a grower. Despite how I used the term minimal in relation to the ideas and sound, each track is filled with layers and textures of ambiance and guitars that are not going to be revealed within a couple of listens. Probably the one track that managed to stand out to me from first listen though was closer My Love For The Stars (Cthulhu Fhtagn) which was the one track that hit me immediately as being memorable. Something about the riffs in that song and the way it's arranged really stood out, to me at least, and made it sort of the defining track on the album for me.
Though I didn't enjoy this immensely when I first listened to it, like I said, it grows on you, and as you can probably tell by now, it definitely grew on me. Please give this album some time to grow, even if you're not big into it on the first listen, give it the time it so rightfully deserves to grow on you. I can only hope you enjoy this album as much as I have.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Jonas, My Love For The Stars (Cthulhu Fhtagn)
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Country: Genoa, Italy
Style: Brutal Death Metal
Label: Comatose Music
I've said multiple times in the past, and I'll mention it here as well as probably a couple more times when I cover these sorts of albums, that I'm not a huge brutal/slam death fan. There's just sometimes about the simplicity, in some cases, and lack of any real dynamics that really just does absolutely nothing for me when it comes to those sub-genres. But once in a while I'll come across a band that looks interesting enough to peak my interest and I'll wind up giving the album a chance despite my preconceived notions.
When it comes to the whole "brutal" death metal genre, along with slam, probably the thing that turns me off the most are the vocals. I can get behind them in some cases, but a lot of it just sounds like someone pitch-shifting their growls, gurgles, etc. down and even when I know that's not the case the vocals just don't appeal to me. Don't get me wrong though, I love a good guttural growl or toilet bowl gurgle, but I've heard so many bands do vocals that I just find intolerable. Because I like to check out what I'm getting myself into before I check out a lot of bands I've never heard of before, I naturally looked up this band and found their vocals to not only be tolerable, but I actually thought they were enjoyable. They weren't overly guttural but were still quite low and powerful sounding, reminding me more of a death growl than any sort of inhuman sound-effect.
Much like the film of, relatively, the same name, Antropophagus: The Beast, this band pump out non-stop brutality. Though I wouldn't say that this album is as uncontrolled and cringe-inducing as the film, the band still do an adequate job at keeping up the intensity. Musically, the band certainly bring the whole brutal aspect of death metal, but also have a solid amount of technicality within their songs as well. While the band never crosses over into Origin territory in terms of technicality, there is quite an abundance in guitar sweeping and other stuff guitar nerds will freak out all over this record, hear Demise of The Carnal Principle. Granted, those moments are interspersed with your more standard slow breakdowns (think more traditional death metal over deathcore) that I found a bit more enjoyable. Also, when the band do channel a more straightforward, I guess you could say more brutal than technical if you wanted to here, song, I found that they were able to pump out more pummeling and memorable riffs, Exposition of Deformities for example. To be honest, this album is pretty straightforward in terms of its intentions, with the closer, Det Helgerån Av Häxor, being the only real point where more dynamics are demonstrated. This is the track where the band use a more sluggish sense of intensity as oppose to throttling you over and over with blinding technicality or hammering brutality, I'd much rather hearing death metal bands make use of slower tempos anyway, it usually makes for a more memorable song.
It's better than I expected it to be, but in the end it is still an album that's going to get fans of the more "extreme" side of death metal (if you want to call it that) excited more than a traditionalist like me. I certainly prefer this band over many other groups that I've seen put in the same league and genre as these guys. If you're into that more underground death metal, I don't see any reason why you wouldn't find something on here to like.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Lament Configuration, Sadistic Illusive Puritanism, Det Helgerån Av Häxor
Country: San Diego, California
Style: Death Metal/Grindcore
Label: Metal Blade
I'll admit that I've never been a huge fan of Cattle Decapitation in the past. Not to say I certainly wasn't aware of them, anyone with an interest in disgusting album covers, like I do, was certainly bound to cross paths with the band at some point. It wasn't until The Harvest Floor was released that I can say that I became interested in the band, so after hearing a few tracks from this album I was certainly awaiting to see where the band would take their sound next.
I think I've mentioned it before that I'm a sucker for any band that attempts to rip-off or has owes any sort of debt to Carcass. I love original and unique groups but the sound of Carcass, or a Carcass clone is something that just gets me every time. Having said that, it's obviously been a long while since Cattle Decapitation has sounded like Carcass. It's at the point where the band has become something far more original and it's hard to even tell that they were a clone band at one point in their career. So, here we have the band's fifth full-length and it's following up what many consider to be their masterpiece (personally I still enjoy Karma. Bloody. Karma. more, but that's just me), but when it comes to this album though, I can honestly say that I feel it's the band's best, but it surpasses any and all expectations I had for the album.
The entire band has really outdone themselves on here, vocally and instrumentally. Even on The Harvest Floor I didn't find the band this catchy and there were some songs on that album that I found to be forgettable, but on here there's something that keeps me returning to each song. To me, this album finds the band bringing forth not only some of their most brutal and heavy material but also some of their most melodic. Tracks like Forced Gender Reassignment and Projectile Ovulation are absolutely crushing and have some of the band's most intense moments (I'd say in their entire career) within; but then you have tracks like A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat or Lifestalker which have Travis Ryan embracing more melodic moments with some of his cleanest vocals yet (though they're still not being sung). At least to me, it sounds like Ryan is making use of his lower and more guttural growls, which I've always been more partial to, on here than his higher screams, which might seem like a mistake to some, but I think has actually increased the variety in his vocal assortment because he's brought back those toilet bowl gurgles that the band haven't used too much on the last couple of releases. Meanwhile Josh Elmore pumps out some of his best riffs to date on songs like the aforementioned Projectile Ovulation, which throw elements of death, thrash, and black metal into a whirling grindcore blender. The end product in more than I ever expected.
What I've come to appreciate about Cattle Decapitation is that despite their roots in the whole goregrind and brutal death metal scenes is that in recent years they've gotten away from all out assaults. They've realized the power that a good riff or song can have on a listener and have really developed that on the last few albums. I really don't think that the band could have released songs like Lifestalker or Your Disposal back when they first started putting out full-lengths. Melody has become an integral part of the band's more recent sound, perhaps just as much as brutality. To an extent you could even say atmosphere has become a bigger and more integral part as well, with The Monolith really standing out as an interesting prelude to Kingdom of Tyrants, as a very dark and moody piece that from my perspective builds off of what they did on the title-track of their last album.
Like I said, I'm really impressed with this album and it has to be my favorite thing the band has ever released. Now I can finally appreciate that whole "Gore Not Core" logo I've seen on t-shirts, and it's definitely a reason to always give something a chance. I hope that even if you're not a huge Cattle Decapitation fan that you'll check this out because it is really good.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Forced Gender Reassignment, Lifestalker, Do Not Resuscitate
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Country: Miami, Florida
Style: Sludge Metal/Pop-Punk
Anyone who's paid attention to sludge metal the last couple years will, and should, know of Torche. The band's unique take on sludge has helped to define what's been defined as sludge pop, which is a fitting title. The band is one of those groups that I was actually able to turn on some of my non-metal friends onto back in high-school.
Since this album was initially announced, there really hasn't been too much about it really surfacing (before the stream that is), which seems odd seeing as I've always thought that Torche were a pretty big band. Ever since Meanderthal was released back in 2008, the band has really blown up with each release seeming to only get more and more praise than the last (at least where I end up reading reviews of their work). As someone who really has never enjoyed pop-punk music, I would have probably told you that any band that even attempted to fuse doom/sludge with that genre would be simply out of their minds, and yet, I'm still a fan of the band. The whole sludge fusion of sludge metal, and doom, with pop-punk is a fusion that I probably wouldn't have told you would have worked if I hadn't heard Torche before, but here we are, three full-lengths in and Torche have pretty much defined a new sub-genre of music. Granted, if you've heard the band's last couple of releases, than this album won't surprise you too much.
While I personally don't find this album as immediately catchy as Meanderthal was, I actually think that the riffs are better. There's still a pretty even mix between the more "metallic", or doomy I should say, songs which are a bit more riff driven and the more up-beat punky tunes that are faster and more melodically inclined. The likes of Kicking or Sky Trials are the types of songs that the band has become known for, those up-beat anthemic type of songs that are fast and driving but lend themselves towards being live favorites. Then you have the slower songs, which in the past have been more hit-and-miss for me, but on here are actually some of my favorites. Like I said above though, the band really hasn't changed their sound up too much from what they've done on the last couple of releases, but I'd like to think that they have refined some elements of their sound. Like I just said, I feel that some of the doomier tracks on here are actually some of my favorites on this album, so I see that as an improvement. I also think that a track like Solitary Traveler shows some growth as well. The band has always included at least one track that was sort of a "ballad" on their albums, and this is definitely the one for this album, but while it still very much sounds like Torche, it also kind of reminded me a little bit of Jesu. It's a lot more dirge-like while bringing an almost shoegazy type of backdrop to the song. I think it's the most ethereal I've ever heard the band. I also think that the instrumental title-track is also their strongest instrumental to date (not that there's a whole lot to compare it to in their discography, but still); it's dynamic and has a cool main riff.
Overall, I think it's another winner for the band. I certainly enjoy it more than Songs For Singles, but I don't think it tops Meanderthal for my favorite of theirs. It's solid, sludgy pop songs the way that only Torche can do them. If you're a fan of the band, this will not disappoint you.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Reverse Inverted, Snakes Are Charmed, Solitary Traveler
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Country: Los Angeles, California/Finland
Style: Hardcore Punk/D-Beat
Label: Hydra Head
When Split Cranium was first announced, I, like many, was probably curious about what the group was going to end up sounding like. I remember listening the first track that the band released from the album and thinking that it was an interesting direction, though the song didn't really do much for me. I'm willing to see if the remaining tracks from the album are any better.
You know, despite listening to the song Tiny Me when it was released, the last thing I ever expected to hear Aaron Turner along with members of Circle and such do was an old-school hardcore/d-beat band. I mean, this is no-frills, straight ahead punk and hardcore, with most songs not even crossing three minutes in length. These things just take off and don't stop. It was kind of a weird experience putting this record on for the first time and realizing that none of these songs were going to slow down or move into a more dreamy or melodic section. Having said that, there's still a great appreciation for something called "the riff" in this band, with songs like Tiny Me or Sceptres to Rust bringing something more than aggression to the table and putting forth something that can actually stick with a listener. I guess I should also point out how fun these songs are to listen to. I mean, because they're so short and fast, there's just something exhilarating about listening to these songs just drive forward.
With all the above still remaining true, the members of this band are still guys who love experimental music and just cause they're doing a straight-up hardcore punk sort of band doesn't mean those influences aren't going to come through. Obviously, it's going to be on the longer tracks where the band's more experimental nature is going to show through clearest, but even with that in mind, they always keep that punk energy going. The likes of Blossoms From Boils begins as a no-nonsense punk song before morphing about midway through by bringing in a sort of stoner rock groove, which is just catchy as all hell I should add, and some eerie vocal chants in the background. It's probably my personal favorite track on the entire album. Similar chants reappear in Yellow Mountain as well. But the most obvious occurrence of experimental tendencies coming through on this album are on Retrace The Circle, which mixes, at least to me, driving, thrash-influenced hardcore under Isis-esque vocal lines. It's probably the only track on this album that I heard any semblance of Turner's old band, and it's rather fleeting at that. Most of the track is that, with a middle section that descends into noisy soundscapes that won't be unfamiliar to those who've followed other Turner projects like House of Low Culture or Mamiffer, though it is by far more accessible.
I'm not sure what more to say other than it's just a fun record, nothing more, nothing less (to me anyway). While I'm sure it's gonna turn off those who enjoy Turner's more experimental projects, those who enjoy a short and fun hardcore record will find something good here. It's the sort of record that you'll put on when you don't want to listen to something too serious and just want to have a good time listening to a record.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Blossoms From Boils, Black Binding Plague, Retrace The Circle
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
This is going to be the first in a series of reviews dedicated to split albums that are coming out. I have unwittingly come upon quite a few splits this year that are quite interesting and instead of posting individual reviews which would probably end up sounding repititive if I did one for each album, I'm just going to compile three albums at a time and talk about them here. Hope you enjoy! (Remember that splits are graded from 1-8)
Monday, April 16, 2012
Country: Burnley, UK
I have to say that before checking out this album, I had never heard of The Boats before, so this was a new experience for me. The whole folktronica sub-genre is one that I can't say I've heard too much about, or from, besides The Books, and I knew that even before listening to this that this would sound much different than The Books. But, I was intrigued enough by the premise of what I saw from this album to want to check it out.
Obviously, by the name itself, folktronica is obviously a mixture of folk music and electronic music, but that's still pretty open to interpretation. While folk music is pretty easy to wrap your head around, while there are numerous ways of approaching it, most people can at least gather an assumption to what folk music is going to sound like before they hear it. Electronic music is far less defined, and so when I was coming into this I really wasn't sure if what I was going to hear was going to be more in the vein of techno music, house music, dubstep (God-forbid that), or even glitch or industrial music. Luckily, this happened to fuse folk music with I guess could be seen as trip-hop and ambient music. But I guess a better way of describing this album would be to say it's an ambient album with traces of trip-hop and folk music. I really was not expecting this album to be as ambient as it was when I first decided to check it out. I mean, there are parts where acoustic guitar, cello, violin, and piano come out and are easily heard, and the same can be applied to the electronic beats as well, but for the greater majority of this album, you're going to be listening to washes of bright ambiance.
The four tracks on here range in the amount of folk/electronic presence. I would call this an ambient album above all else, but each track really does stand apart from the others around it. So you have opener The Ballad For Achievement which is by far the most ambient piece on the album, and is probably the most relaxing of the four on here. The Ballad of Failure on the other hand features a much larger folk presence, with acoustic guitar plucks and whispered vocals that guide the song through its first half before it descends into the album's noisiest moment. The Ballad For The Girl On The Moon is probably the most "electronic"-based piece on the whole album, and is where the beats really stand out the most. Closer, The Ballad of Indecision, is a piano led piece that really reminds me of Ólafur Arnalds' work, which I happen to love, which makes use of a minimal piano arrangement with melancholic strings providing the majority of the movement and shifts within the piece. Each track happens to be just different enough to make each stand alone while allowing each to flow into each other and making the album feel and sound cohesive. The last two tracks especially flow together as a single piece, more so than the first half of the album, which is maybe why I prefer the second half to the first on here.
I really enjoyed this album and found it to be rather engaging for how quiet and peaceful it is. I know that ambient based folk and electronic music isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I didn't think it'd be mine and I wound up really liking this. The Boats really made an impression on me with this album and I look forward to going into their back-catalog and seeing how the band moved towards this album.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Ballad For The Girl On The Moon, The Ballad of Indecision
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Country: Atlanta, Georgia
Style: Modern Classical/Industrial
I'm not going to hide the fact that I love my heavy music, which should be obvious for anyone who's just browsed through this site, but it's nice to check out other styles as well. I'm all in favor of musical exploration, and if I ever find myself bored, I'll skim through various musical databases to see if there's anything un-metal that's looks interesting. That is how I found Saltillo, which aside from a cool looking cover, sonically was something I really haven't covered before.
The fusion of industrial and trip-hop styles with more orchestral based arrangement really sounded interesting to me. Personally, I've always liked darker and more melancholic sounding string arrangements, so this album naturally appealed to me right away because they are used to create mood as well as melody on here. Menton J. Matthews III is definitely a very skilled arranger/composer as each track on here really manages to evoke a different kind of vibe, while the entire album maintains a pretty consistent atmosphere through it. In order to contrast that, the beats used on here are very mechanical and robotic sounding, which is very much in the vein of industrial music more than trip-hop. The clashing of the more morose arrangements with the mechanical beats might be a bit jarring for some, but proves to actually be a melding of ideas that works out more than it fails. Sure, you'll get some obligatory turn-table-ish stuff and softer beats on They All Do It The Same for people who want a bit more of trip-hop kind of vibe, but you won't find a whole lot on the rest of the album that presents that kind of approach again.
While this is by no means a mainstream sort of album, there are a few tracks on here that do stand out, at least to me, because of the vocals that are present on them. Tracks like the stellar If Wishes Were Catholics evokes a great atmosphere that recalls a bit of the style that Michelle Richfield brought to the first Antimatter album while Veil is a bit more of a somber track that might get lost in the shuffle if you're not paying attention because it is in the later stages of the album. It's not as memorable a track as the former one I mentioned, but is a lot more propulsive due to the heavier beats used on it. Most of the other tracks are divided between being instrumental pieces and using samples that definitely thought provoking, which is more than I can say about a lot of other artists. It's a very cold album that from what I read was supposed to accompany a comic, which would be quite an interesting thing to read in unison with this album I should say. Tracks like Gatekeepers and I Hate You are two of the tracks which feature samples that happened to stick out to me, with samples that were really grabbing and managed to convey a dark and almost chilling nature to those tracks. The samples are dark enough that you could either take them as being straight-faced and serious, in which case they are actually quite chilling, or more sarcastic, which, personally, I think would still make them interesting to listen to.
I think that, overall, it's a solid enough album that is more than likely going to appeal to people who enjoy a darker atmosphere to their music while still being able to engage with it. It's not perfect, there were a handful of tracks that I wasn't particularly fond of, but the majority of it is well put together and arranged. If you're a fan of modern classical music or more moody forms of electronic music, I'd say to give this album a shot.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: If Wishes Were Catholics, Gatekeepers, Forced Vision
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Progressive Metal/Electronic
Label: Metal Blade
When I was going through my progressive metal phase a couple of years back, back when I thought Dream Theater was the be all and end all of music, I went scouring through anything that was attached to them. It was only a matter of time till I got to OSI, which at the time still featured Mike Portnoy on drums, though my first "real" introduction into the band did come in the form of 2009's Blood. Since then, I have enjoyed the band off and on throughout the last couple of years, but was definitely interested in seeing what they'd do on this new album.
I have to say based on first impressions, I was very impressed with what this album brought to the table. While previous albums were fine and dandy, I don't think that they gave me, personally, all that much to really return to aside from a couple of songs or so from each album. So when this thing started with Cold Call, I was really impressed. While the riffs that Jim Matheos brings to the table for this project have never really been all that progressive, when you put them up against the work he did in early Fates Warning records or even the Arch/Matheos release from last year, they're groovy and thick sounding enough to stick with a listener. Really, that is one of the strengths of the band, rather simplistic sounding riffs that just stick with you for longer periods of time. From my point of view though, the project is really made from the Kevin Moore's input. I don't think anyone would say that he's a great vocalist, but his monotonous and deadpan, near spoken word at some point, vocals help give the band a unique flavor that really hasn't been done in a lot of other groups. But the sound of his voice isn't why I believe he's the group's greatest asset, it's his sense of melody. For someone who really isn't a "vocalist", he has a really good sense of melody and that has led him to create some really catchy parts that I don't think people would really expect. Not to mention the effects that he uses on his vocals that do make them a bit more interesting.
But to return to this album, I think it might turn some fans off because it isn't as heavy as the band's previous releases. Don't get me wrong, this album is still made up of predominantly heavier tracks, songs like Indian Curse or For Nothing are calmer and more melancholic pieces that are probably more engaging than most of the heavier songs are. It's much more interesting, and entertaining, from my point of view to hear a band do something that they haven't done too much in the past before than hear them do the same thing over and over again. If you've heard OSI before, you know they can do prog-metal from the first album, which is arguably their most "traditional" prog-metal album, and we know they can be heavy based on Blood, but we haven't heard them keep a more melancholic mood throughout an album and put out just as many softer pieces as heavy on an album before either. I remember watching an interview with both Matheos and Moore where they had said something to the regard of this being the first OSI album that maintained a mood and atmosphere from start to finish, and I definitely agree with that. While it's not the sort of thing that is immediately apparent, by the time you get to the Enemy Prayer, track four, you will start to recognize a certain mood that has been carried over from the other tracks.
I thought it was a great album that really puts a lot of other so called "prog" albums to shame. Like I mentioned above, I thought the calmer and more somber atmosphere of this album was a big step up for the band and I can only hope they continue with this sort of consistency in the future. If you're a fan of more moody based progressive metal, or progressive metal in general, I don't see any reason why you wouldn't enjoy this album. Hopefully you'll give it a chance.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Cold Call, Big Chief II, Invisible Men
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Country: Fort Worth, Texas
Style: Experimental Post-Punk/Krautrock
Label: Handmade Birds
I have to say that aside from the rather ambiguous name, Pinkish Black is a band that is unlike any other I've heard (leave it to Handmade Birds to find and sign another band like that). I was really excited when I saw a video of them playing live, I don't usually read too much into live performances from bands to give me an indication of how a record's going to sound, but they just sounded great. So it's with great pleasure that I can now present you this album.
Of course, playing live is one thing, a studio record is a whole different beast all together. I'll just come out and say that the intense, metallic energy that the band had live has taken on a much different form for this record. Instead of full-volume noise, we have a band that channels the spirits of groups like The Birthday Party (I've taken that band from the press notes), but more strikingly Nick Cave styled post-punk and filtered it through a sort of krautrock kind of musicality. The duo channel the sort of dark and moody atmospheres, along with the vocal style and bass-lines from post-punk music, a couple of the bass-lines on here I actually think could work in a funk context to be honest, but it's put alongside the hypnotic and repetitive nature of psychedelic krautrock jams. Tracks like Passerby or Tell Her I'm Dead, which also channels some black metal into the mix as well, really hit that fusion on the head, perfectly nailing both sides of those genres to the point where it'd be near impossible to tell someone exactly what "style" they're listening to.
I was very taken by Jon Teague's drumming on here. He really brings that old-school krautrock sort of vibe to these songs by constantly maintaining a rhythmic pattern throughout a piece but adding more intensity, and obviously there are fills and breaks in there as well, to it as a track moves on. In the live video I watched when first hearing about this band, he was wearing a Magma shirt, to which I mentioned to someone (don't remember who) that that inherently made, not only him, but the band awesome. There are hints of Magma here and there, but they're more fleeting, and in his drumming I can really hear throwbacks to the likes of early Birth Control and Can, drumming wise anyway. The way he just jams out on a single groove throughout a track and just makes it sound so amazingly hypnotic and psychedelic is simply awe inspiring. But, to mention only him would be a disservice to what Daron Beck brings to the table. His synthe tones and vocals are what will draw people to this album. Like I mentioned above, his voice does recall the likes of Nick Cave, though I hear a bit of similarity between his voice and the guys from This Heat as well, while his synthe choices are far more varied.
It is perhaps the range of sounds that emanate from the synthe that allows this record to move across multiple genres so well. While the post-punk/krautrock idea I talked about above is the most common idea on here, as well as the two sonic traits that can be found on every track, this becomes far more interesting on its last three tracks. On those last handful of tracks, the band starts to throw in elements of black metal, mentioned above, doom, drone, and synthe rock, among others that really makes this album even harder to describe to people. I mean, you're not going to get average synthe-pop kind of sounds on here, except for maybe on Everything Went Dark, but that might be stretching what the definition of synthe-pop is. Sure, there's piano and organ, but there's also heavily distorted chords that you can feel in the jaw by how powerful they're hit, and the bass-lines provided actually sound better than a lot of modern post-punk throwback bands provide with a real bassist.
Overall, I really enjoyed this album, and with nary a flaw on it, it's rapidly becoming a personal favorite, getting constant rotation pretty much since I first started listening. It's a total blast to listen to and it's really hard to find an album that does that while being as odd as it is. Do not miss out on this album, for sure, one of the highlights of this year to be sure. Go and buy this now!
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Country: Los Angeles, California
Style: Progressive/Experimental Rock
Label: Warner Bros.
There was a point a couple of years ago when The Mars Volta was pretty much the only band I listened to. Back when The Bedlam In Goliath was released, I was introduced to the band and I was totally enamored with the elaborate and incredibly complex sound that The Mars Volta had introduced to me. Since then, the band has gone through numerous line-up changes and various albums that may or may not have been planned in place of this, but we have finally arrived at this sixth album.
I'm not really sure what to make of this album really. I heard in one review that the band called this their pop album, while in an interview with the band vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala called this the band's krautrock album, at least in spirit anyway, so I'm not completely sure which route the band were attempting to take on this album. From my point of view, I could see this record coming much closer to the krautrock idea than the pop one. The synthe and electronic oriented songwriting does lend itself more towards old-school krautrock groups though to say that the band haven't simplified their sound for this record would be lying because a lot of the songs on here are a lot more straightforward and direct than anything the band have put out on their last couple of records. These are certainly not the crazy post-hardcore by way of Latin jazz fusion freakouts that made the band known early on in their career. I know a lot of people got a little pissed off when the band claimed that 2009's Octahedron was their acoustic album and it turned out to just be the band streamlining their songs a bit more, retaining just as much distortion as previous recordings, but this is definitely the calmest record the band has churned out to date, at least to me anyway.
Though I know that the band's last two full-lengths weren't exactly as well received as their early records, I enjoyed the intensity and sheer aggression that The Bedlam In Goliath had and thought that most of the songs on Octahedron were some of the band's catchiest and most memorable tracks they had written up to that point. Maybe it's the fact that those records were the ones that really got me into the band, as oppose to their first three records, that I may enjoy those more so than other people have. I can understand the approach the band has taken on here, and I like krautrock, but I just don't see what a lot of people appear to have seen in this record. The more simplistic take on songwriting on here has certainly allowed the band to release one of the most unique releases in their discography (again), but where a lot of people have called most of these songs catchy or really memorable, I just found repetitive. Tracks like Dyslexicon and Lapochka were especially monotonous to me with their rather lackluster vocal hooks. Having said that, I thought that calmer and near ballad-ish Empty Vessels Make The Loudest Sound and the full-on krautrock embrace of In Absentia did stand out, in a good way, to me. I felt as though there was a good mix, in terms of diversity, throughout the album between more traditional songs and more experimental ventures (which I just so happened to enjoy a little bit more).
Granted, I might be simplifying the term freakout just a little bit when you take put it in context with the rest of the band's discography. Because there really aren't that many songs where the band break out into more jam based territory and just go off on long instrumental tangents, I feel that when they are used, it is sort of a freakout moment. I mean, the only tracks where the band recall some of their previous work can be found is on tracks like Molochwalker or Zed and Two Naughts where a lot of the band's more "rock" based influences emerge in full.
As an entire album, it's probably one of the easiest to digest, especially when listening in large chunks of it, which certainly does have its own appeal to it. While I enjoy the band's more eclectic and sort of berserker style more, even I will admit to enjoying a good portion of the songs on here. If you're new to the band or always wanted to try and get into them, I'd say that this would be a good place to start because it's not overtly in-your-face and is more song-based.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Aegis, In Absentia, Molochwalker
Country: San Diego, California
Style: Progressive Rock
Label: Metal Blade
I wasn't even aware that Astra was putting out a new album until maybe a week or so ago to be honest. It's one of those things where I listened to their debut, the appropriately titled The Weirding, when it was first released but really haven't kept up with the band since then. So, when I found out they were putting out a new record, I obviously wanted to cover it.
As many people probably know by now, I'm a big fan of 60s and 70s progressive and psychedelic rock and folk music. I love that stuff, whether it be the more classic and well known groups or more obscure bands that might have only released one album before dissolving, so as much as it pains me to say this, I dig groups that can pull off that retro sound well. As their first full-length demonstrated, these guys know how to channel the mood and sounds from those days correctly, without making it sound too cheesy (there's always going to be cheese if you're playing retro, especially prog music) but they give it a slicker and more modern sounding production. I mean, that description is probably a bit more fitting for the band's last full-length because the definitely amped up the retro production on here, and it definitely sounds more analog than digital, but it's still crisp and clear. It doesn't sound like a band trying to sound like they recorded in the 70s and more like a band striving for a sound that is more warm and natural. It feels like that was brought about by natural means rather than contrived ones, if you catch my drift.
Though I'm sure the band is striving for an original sound, their influences come out clear as day, whether they like it or not, on here. Probably the biggest and most obvious comparison is to Yes, to the extent that I actually wish modern day Yes actually sounded like this. It's classic prog-rock with extended solo passages and strong instrumentation. Besides that, there are also nods to the likes of early Genesis on the ballad sections of the album, Hawkwind, listen to the first third of opener Cocoon, and ELP (Emerson, Lake & Palmer for those unaware) in some of those more interesting guitar and organ solos. There are numerous other groups one could mention, but this review is meant for Astra, not hidden prog gems. Even though their influences shine through extremely clearly, I still commend the band for writing songs that don't rely too heavily on a single influence or at the very least, rely on them in ways that make me think that these guys are simply ripping off all of the bands I just mentioned. There's a nice balance between more rocking moments, psychedelic jams, and more somber balladry on here, all of which is expressed within the title-track if you want a good summary of what this album is really about, but I personally felt like the band was at their best when they were working with either a single idea or a couple. The title-track felt a little too monotonous for me (and this is from someone who loves it when bands are all over the place and love lengthy pieces of music) and didn't wow me as much as some of the shorter tracks did. Tracks like Quake Meat and Drift work because they're principally based on only a couple of ideas, the latter being a well executed ballad while the former is a great psyche-rock track that goes into a really cool jam near its conclusion.
Is it cheesy, is it over the top, is it probably going to turn a lot of people off by how unabashedly retro it is? The answer to all three is yes, but that doesn't stop the record from being extremely fun to listen to over and over. I doubt that this record is going to go down as a classic, but it's certainly a nice record that I got a good amount of enjoyment and entertainment from while listening through it; and I hope others have a similar feeling towards it as well.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Cocoon, Barefoot In The Head
Monday, April 9, 2012
Country: Athens, Greece
Style: Melodic/Progressive Death Metal
Label: Indie Recordings
When I first hear Mencea, they were getting lumped in with the whole djent scene, at which time I was probably even more into than I am now, and decided to check them out. It seemed strange that they were signed to a label like Indie Recordings that was known for signing more "progressive" black metal and rock groups, but after listening it is easy to see why they stood out. Even on their debut, it was hard to really call Mencea a djent band, but I wasn't sure how they had evolved after four years.
I have to say that with all the good will in the world that while Mencea's debut full-length, 2008's Dark Matter Energy Noir, was a nice change of pace when it comes to Meshuggah influenced bands, I didn't find the record to be all that interesting. Luckily enough, the line-up change that occurred in the band has really re-energized the band cause this record just rips from the get-go. The debut was fine, don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad album, but very dull, I found that it was in one ear and out the other, with nothing all that interesting going on, but on here, the band really strike a good mix at the Meshuggah grooves mixed with more modern melodic death metal. Personally, I like the shift, vocally, that the band have taken on here. No longer are mid-range screams the dominant style, but lower and more powerful growls, which really do fit the band's style a lot more.
I feel the need to discuss the djent tag attached to this band because, at least to me, there's quite a difference between this band and many groups that have that tag lumped onto them. Where many djent groups have very polished and clean sounding records that are very precise with the whole stop-start riffing patterns, Mencea have a much more natural sounding production that has more low-end crunch to it than mid-range punch. The grooves are also not as fast, favoring more mid-paced head-bobbing grooves over technical and overly staccato patterns. It may be the more melodic influences bleeding through that makes the more mid-paced songs work, but the band's use of melody really strikes an interesting chord with me because while I said above that the band had more of a modern melodic death metal vibe on here, it's probably not in the way many of you are thinking it is. This isn't modern in the sense that it relies on keyboards for melody and has guitars just chugging away, this is modern melo-death because it's a band obviously taking influence from the genre but applying it in a more interesting, and modern, day context, which is how I feel the term should be applied. A lot of the melodies on here actually remind me quite a bit of the Deftones to be frank with you, which is quite an interesting thing to hear, but I thought it was really cool.
Having said that, unlike their debut, this album, while melodic, is still very much a death metal album. While it doesn't rear its head all that often, there are moments on here where the band channel straight-up death metal within their percussive delivery, mid-way through Beheading is probably the clearest. and it totally works. In fact, I'd actually like to hear the band make use of pure death metal a little bit more on future releases to be honest, but what they have done on here most certainly works to their benefit.
I really enjoyed this album, a lot more than I expected to actually, and thought it was a really nice surprise. Definitely a band to not overlook if you're looking for bands that use melody in an interesting way, or bands that use interesting melodies, either or both, because these guys definitely have a unique perspective on the whole melo-death sound. It's great to see a band evolve into something unexpected, but most certainly welcome, and this is the result of a band evolving and growing into something great.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: CCC, Beheading, Pyrophoric
Country: Paris, France
Style: Black/Death Metal
I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned in the past that I've never been one for black and death metal hybrid bands. Personally, I find that separately, the bands are a lot more interesting, but the fusion of the two always leaves me wanting more, and a lot of the band's I've heard doing this sort of hybrid sound have a lot to be desired in terms of dynamics as well. But with my love of a band like Blacklodge came me learning about Vorkreist and finding a band that could actually pull off the fusion of the two genres.
I have to say that if you're going to use movie quotes in your music, especially to open up your album, it's best to use a movie that is not only amazing, but also a section of the movie that is memorable, and that's something that Vorkreist do to open up this album. I applaud them for not only using a portion of The Last Temptation of Christ, but using a section that has Willem Dafoe in it, inherently giving that intro a much more eerie vibe to it. But onto the music itself. Like I said above, I'm not usually one that's all that into the fusion of black and death metal, but then again, a lot of band's I've heard do the fusion never strike any sort of interesting balance between the two. Being brutal is all well and good, but songwriting and catchy riffs should still have a place in the blend, and for crying out loud, I have heard very few bands come close to the memorability of tracks like Maledicte or Dominus Illuminatio Mea. But to be honest, most of these tracks wind up being top-tier level songs that far exceeded what I had expected from the band.
Like I just mentioned above, the use of good riffing is hard to find in bands that try to fuse death and black metal together, for one reason or another, I don't know why a lot of the band's just can't put two and two together, and it's always great to find bands that know how to put together a memorable track. Aside from the two obvious genres I've mentioned throughout, it's also good to hear an embrace of the likes of thrash and sludge in here as well, which add the necessary variety to this album to give the faster songs that jolt of adrenaline need to propel them ahead of the pack on here, while giving the slower songs more weight and atmosphere. When I say atmosphere, don't expect some dense backdrop though, I'm not referring to the kind that sticks out obviously when you're listening to a black metal record, the atmospheres on here are the sort that creep up on you when the band is making more use of their dissonant and slower side, hear Memento Mori for an example. Like the sample used to introduce the album to us, the atmospheres are more eerie and chilling than overpowering or intense. Of course, I then have to mention the epic of the album, Scalae Gemoniae, which has no build up to its ambiance at all, and just bursts out of the gate with a haunting backdrop. While it probably isn't that great a surprise that I happen to like longer tracks, when it comes to longer death metal songs, it can be hit-or-miss with me; but of course this was a hit.
I'm seriously not kidding when I say I want more albums like this. There needs to be more bands who know how to write interesting songs that are still catchy as all hell out there, this cannot be the only one out there. If you like extreme metal bands who can actually write riffs, than do not ignore this band. More people need to hear this band and more bands need to know who to look to for influences. I wish I had more to say, but I guess the last thing I really can say is that you need to hear this album.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Deus Vult, Memento Mori, Scalae Gemoniae
Sunday, April 8, 2012
Country: Flemington, New Jersey
Style: Symphonic/Progressive Metal
Label: Impulse Music
I've never claimed to be the biggest fan of what I guess could be considered "traditional" prog metal, so this review may seem a bit strange to some. Having been brought up listening to power, symphonic, and prog metal I guess I can consider myself lucky that I got a good education in that stuff early on so I've really been able to find some diamonds in the rough that still manage to intrigue myself. Suspyre is one of the few bands that I've kept from those days when all I listened to was power metal (not that they're really a power metal band).
As someone who grew up listening to prog-metal, I'd like to think that I know a thing or two about a good portion of bands that play within that genre. Having heard dozens of groups who sound like Dream Theater, I have to say that even though I am a Dream Theater fan, I do happen to prefer bands that are doing their own thing as oppose to simply ripping them off. Suspyre is obviously one of those bands that falls into that category. While there are obvious links to the likes of Dream Theater, as well as the likes of Symphony X and even old Fates Warning, there's still a much higher degree of originality that Suspyre have that allows them to stand out from their peers. In a sense, I'm almost more likely to compare Suspyre to a band like Green Carnation than any of the bands I just mentioned, at least for a couple of tracks on here.
Probably the most noticeable thing that made Suspyre stand out to me were their tendencies to break out into a more tech/math metal sort of section or just go into more of a fusion type of part at the drop of a hat. Sure, there's plenty of technical riffs and playing in the prog-metal world already, but it's rare that I hear bands from that scene embrace the likes of Meshuggah or Dillinger Escape Plan (I don't actually know if the band sites either as influences) in ways that make any sort of difference in their sound. In addition to that, they have the more symphonic aspect, which again isn't all that original an idea, but it's never overpowering or dominating the rest of the instrumentation and instead plays a more atmospheric role, most of the time anyway, and adds a more classy air to these songs. The fusion of these two ideas, along with a prog-metal backbone, naturally allows the band to sound a lot more interesting than a lot of their peers because they have the potential to just go into a freak out part that is more spastic while still retaining very melodic song structures. I actually didn't remember the band being as wild as this on previous albums, but listening back they have always had those moments in their songs. But, probably the song that sticks out on this album the most, perhaps surprisingly, is the short little Cancún, which sticks out like a sore thumb on here. I'm tempted to call this the "ballad" of the album, even though it's by no means a ballad, it just seems like the sort of song that would get lighters out when the band is playing live to me. Unlike it's more metallic counterparts, this short little track is actually more of a mix between neo-prog, barely, pop, and bossa-nova, but turns out to be so freaking catchy that I just couldn't help but listen to it on repeat pretty much for the entirety of yesterday.
I have to say that since my father is a fan of prog-metal, I've heard a lot of bands start adding death growls and screams into their music as of recently (within the last couple of years or so I mean), and I have to say that the growling used on Tranquility and Stress is one of the few times I actually thought that they were not only well used, but well performed as well. A lot of bands that add growling into their sound seem to either do it in a half-assed way so the growling sounds really lame and contrived, or they'll modify with effects or pitch-shift it lower to make it sound more brutal than it actually is. Trying to appeal to a wider audience is fine, but if you're going to add something like death growls into your style, don't do it in a way that makes it seem like you obviously don't want it in your songs. But to actually mention the vocals, since growls are actually only used on the one song mentioned above, once again, they stand out. They remind me, more in performance than tone, of Russell Allen of Symphony X, which is by no means a bad thing. There's a lot of variety in the vocals, ranging from more sultry and subdued to the more powerful and gruff screams, or yells.
I was extremely surprised by how much I enjoyed this, but I am glad I gave this album a chance. Even though it's not typically a style I tend to cover, there's always a diamond in the rough waiting to be found, like this one, that just stands out and shines even brighter than the stones surrounding them. If you're a fan of progressive metal, and any of its various splintered factions, I definitely recommend checking this album out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Tranquility and Stress, Cancún, The Man Made of Stone