Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Country: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Style: Dark Ambient/Drone
Label: Handmade Birds
Last year, William Fowler Collins made quite a little impact on me with his two releases (and I do mean that in a good way). Handmade Birds has been advertising (in a sense) about this album pretty much ever since I found out about them and only now has this finally come out. While Collins is very skilled, will this top either of his two releases from last year?
Let me just get it out of the way first, this is not an album you would want to listen to while doing other things. I have a lot of free time in-between (and in some cases during) classes at school, so I'd often play this album whilst either doing homework or other projects. However when I was doing that it literally made it seem as though this album just had a lot of open space with nothing happening. Maybe it was the hum of a computer or the hustle and bustle of other people around me, but there are some low end drones on here that I completely missed during those initial listens. It wasn't until recently that I actually sat down and listen to this album that I heard all those drones, which was actually a relief because I would have been quite irritated if there had been as much empty space on this album as I had presumed it had. Now that I'm aware that they're there, it's sort of hard to remember what I actually thought about the album during those initial first listens through. It wasn't as if I thought the album was just an hour of silence though, as some of the more "obvious" drones were audible to me during those times.
As I've come to find from listening to Collins' past work, his albums are very somber and quiet, so I don't blame it entirely on my listening environment for me missing a lot of what the album was saying. The soundscapes he carves are not loud and cacophonous which may have been what I was sort of expecting and led me to false assumptions about the album in question. Like his previous work however, Collins does leave his listeners in the dark most of the time, weaving dark storms of distortion and loops into portraits of desolation. In a way it's almost like watching a really good horror movie, not the ones with a big, bad monster or the grotesque torture-porn kind, but more like the psychological ones. Films like Pascal Laugier's Martyrs or Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On: The Grudge, the ones that just stay with you after you watch them. This is similar in the respect that it's just dark and I'd say angry. Though it's more like repressed anger because there really isn't a release until the closing moments on Devil, but it's like it's just seething and almost rabid but it is being repressed for as long as possible. I'd also say melancholic in some ways, though I hesitate to use the actual word melancholia because I'm aware that I do use that term a lot and it isn't quite appropriate here - though I could definitely see someone finding that in here.
What perhaps caught my attention the most was the subtle hints of black metal I got from tracks like Tapeta Lucida. It's an epic piece that is probably the most grabbing due to those bouts of distortion that weave their way into the otherwise ambient based soundscape. While other pieces on here are definitely dark, and as I said above quite desolate in the imagines they portray, this one in particular just filled me with this sense of hopelessness. It is, without a doubt, a track that perfectly portrays destitution and hatred, more so than plenty of black and doom metal bands who may be sonically heavier and denser, but don't seem to channel that seething rage that this track appears to have.
It truly is one of the darkest records to come out this year, and if that interests you, I highly recommend it. However, I don't know if I could recommend it to a metal or rock audience because of how ambient it is. Regardless, I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a dark and highly cerebral album. Make your Halloween a darker one with this record.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Tapeta Lucida, Devil
Country: London, UK
Style: Art Pop
I, as most people with some sort of taste, am a fan of Ulver, and as a result of new people entering into the group's fold, became aware of Daniel O'Sullivan. Looking into his background, I actually found a wealth of interesting material. This album comes four years after the project's debut and comes as a bit of a genre switch.
Obviously anyone familiar with O'Sullivan's background will know that this is not his first foray into pop music. Having co-written songs with The Big Pink and released an EP with Steve Moore of Zombi in the form of the synth-pop Miracle last year, he's obviously quite comfortable writing in the format. It's also been well documented that both he and Ulver's Garm wished to record pop albums as well, I guess he just thought Mothlite was the right project to experiment under that format with. In that regard, one could very easily say that this is far from being a regular pop record, with stuttering electronics, big spaces of ambiance, and weird vocal harmonies, it isn't exactly your typical Katy Perry or Lady Gaga pop. It might just be me, but the comparison that popped into my head whilst listening to this album was Animal Collective. Both the weird choices for electronics and O'Sullivan's vocals did remind me quite a bit of that group's melodic tendencies, though this album is nowhere near as textured as theirs is. While the Animal Collective was the group that popped into my head as a big comparison for this record, other groups that came to mind were The Talking Heads, Talk Talk, and Portishead just to name a few that I noticed throughout. But these are actually very simplistically written songs, they rely on the beat to carry them from start to finish while O'Sullivan croons over them to provide the main source of melody for a given track.
This is quite far from the direction present on Mothlite's previous album, 2008's The Flax of Reverie, which happened to draw more from the worlds of post-rock and chamber music, instead of electronic, indie, and pop music. It's not exactly the easiest transition to jump from, and from some of the reactions I've read from others, it hasn't exactly been received the best, and that is quite understandable. This is not as consistent of a record as their debut was, featuring tracks that rely on the vocal and beat to get stuck inside of your head in order to provide a hook, which is a difficult thing to do for someone who works in experimental music and decides to limit themselves to the constraints of the pop format. In some way I guess this could be seen as the direction O'Sullivan might have taken Ulver with had Garm and the others in the group not constrained his talents. I am not saying that this is a self-indulgent record, but the balance between pop and experimental can be very thin as well as broad depending on how it's being used, and on here the line tends to fall more on the latter rather than the former more often than not. The biggest offender is, in my opinion, Dreamsinter Nightspore which is almost a complete flop of a track by managing to accomplish almost nothing in its five minute running time meanwhile songs like absolutely fantastic Something In The Sky and the morose ambiance of Milk fall more on the pop side of the spectrum, delivering huge hooks in short spaces of time while still being quite intriguing to listen to.
The album is hit-and-miss, and I do wish I enjoyed it more. There are definitely a handful of tracks on here that are really worth hearing, but then there are others that just sort of fiddle around with an idea and don't really do much else. If you happen to enjoy more experimental pop and electronic acts like the ones I mentioned above, I'd say to give this a shot, or at least go for the tracks highlighted below.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Something In The Sky, The Underneath, Red Rook
Country: Baltimore, Maryland
Style: Psychedelic Pop/Experimental Pop
Label: Domino/Sound Improvement
Despite all the praise and attention that a group like Animal Collective receives for their material, I still think that they're worth talking about here. There are a bunch of groups doing what's called "neo-psychedelia" but very few of them are actually doing anything worthwhile like these guys have been. Having only been recently acquainted with the band something like two years or so ago, this is the first time I'm talking about them, hopefully it won't be the last.
I'm not going to pretend to be someone who's really knowledgeable about Animal Collective, because I'm obviously not, but I do dig what they do - so don't eat me alive. I think I was probably one of the few people who didn't think 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion was a masterpiece. It was their pop album for sure, but the problem I had with it was that I didn't find it all that catchy, it was more like a soup of ideas. Nothing really stuck with me, including the singles. I preferred albums like 2005's Feels and 2007's Strawberry Jam because the songwriting on those albums, I felt, were just so much more eccentric and fun. The latter even had that soup like quality where sounds and melodies were being blended together ad nauseum, but still managed to somehow make something coherent and interesting. The latter also happened to have a more rock backbone to it that make the songs feel more aggressive while the latter felt more psychedelic - in a traditional sense, while still conforming very much to the band's own sound.
I was very glad when I had heard that this album had the band returning to the sounds of those albums instead of continuing with the poppy sounds on their last full-length. Moonjock is a great opener that really has the band firing on all cylinders, it's catchy and fun but also totally eccentric and disorienting. From there though, I did feel like the next couple of tracks just weren't as energetic. Were they catchy and fun - for sure, songs like Today's Supernatural and Applesauce are actually exemplary displays of everything that the band do but there was just a lack of that energy that the opener brought that was missing. It's only on the Deakin-led Wide Eyed that I felt like the band had written something just as grabbing as the opener was, but by making it much more restrained and emotional. But it's worth noting that every song on here is at least a buffet of sonic ideas. Nearly every song on here is bubbling from how many various effects and sounds come at you in a given moment. With that being said though, I did feel that from about the middle of the album to its conclusion, the album did drop in quality for me. Tracks like New Town Burnout and Mercury Man just did absolutely nothing for me and it was just in one ear and out the other without leaving much of an impression. It wasn't until closer Amanita that I felt like the band had picked up steam again (too little too late for my liking but at least they did pick up steam). It's a smoother and less dense track that features some nice rhythmic patterns cycling throughout it.
I wouldn't say any of these songs ever struck me as being bad or dull, but it is not as strong as either of the albums I have a preference towards that I mentioned above. There are some very catchy and fun tracks on here, and even if it doesn't top some of their older work, it's still worth hearing. Still, if you happen to enjoy lush and eccentric bands and artists, definitely check these guys out.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Moonjock, Wide Eyed, Amanita
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Country: Halmstad, Sweden
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Let's make this clear, I think Niklas Kvarforth is a pompous asshole. I have not met the man in person, but from what I've seen of him in interviews, he's a guy who likes to stir up controversy, and not in an admirable way. Having said that, I think that he actually can write great music.
I'm not sure whether to take what Kvarforth says seriously anymore, he's really turning into the black metal version of Lars von Trier - in that you can't take anything he says seriously. He's been saying for a while that last year's VII: Född Förlorare was one of the band's softer and more progressive outings and that this album would be a strong return to black metal for the group. From recent tours with the likes of Watain and recent videos of him proclaiming his love for the darkness and how he would like to spread the word of his dark majesty to the world over, I was willing to take it at face value and assume that this was going to be a really aggressive black metal record. I'm willing to look past Kvarforth's shift from proclaiming violence and suicide to proclaiming the dark word of Satan, but it just struck me as odd while listening to this that this may be the band's most "traditionally" black metal, but it's actually probably their most progressive work to date. Plus, this is the first release with Shining where he's used English lyrics, something I figured he wouldn't do until he decided to sell out and make a pop album (or at least until that Christmas album he's promising to do).
I do think that this is actually an improvement over their last album in terms of production. The drums have a much more natural sound on here and don't sound overproduced like they did on their last full-length. While opener Du, Mitt Konstverk is probably the most traditionally black metal track that the band has ever released, other songs return to the more melancholic progressive style they've been playing with over the course of the last couple of albums. In fact, with the exception of the opener, one could easily claim that this is the band's most accessible material to date, which may indeed be the purpose, as well as their most varied. The use of saxophone on The Ghastly Silence, the Ved Buens Ende influenced sections on Hail Darkness Hail - co-written by Vicotnik no less, and the traditional metal harmonized guitar outro of For The God Below all come as new ideas for the band but are far from making this seem more black. I'll certainly give Kvarforth by saying that the majority of riffs on this album do appear to have come from a more black metal mindframe, as in more tremolo picked sections than ever before in comparison to more recent material. It feels like a less riff based album and more like an embrace of just letting ideas roam wherever they may - if that makes any sense. Even if this is the band's most black record to date, it's also their weirdest and least traditional (beyond the opener) as well.
Like I said above, I can't take anything Kvarforth says too seriously but his musical output is getting more and more interesting with every record, this one being no exception. If this is the band at their blackest (for now), I'm certainly interested in hearing where they go next. This will definitely appeal to current fans of the band and maybe if you're into some weirder stuff as well you might find something on here appealing.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Hail Darkness Hail, For The God Below
Country: Birmingham, UK
Style: Industrial Black Metal/Grindcore
I remember it took me so long to get into Anaal Nathrakh because I just didn't get what they were doing. Their early albums just had covers that made me think it was so violent and extreme I didn't even want to hear it. It wasn't until I heard, I think, In The Constellation of The Black Widow that I thought, "Wow, this is a really good band."
I have to say, the first two tracks that were released from this album, Forging Towards The Sunset and Of Fire, And Fucking Pigs, I was not huge on. They weren't bad songs, but they didn't really do anything for me, they didn't do anything I haven't heard the duo do on previous albums before. The former was one of their standard melodic tracks with a big chorus and the latter was intense and raging from start to finish. I was actually a little worried about how the rest of the album would turn out because I didn't think those songs were all that great. Luckily, the rest of the album is better. This is an album of blatant rage and force, no relenting at any point. Last year's Passion felt like a more black metal sounding album and featured what I felt was a more atmospheric sound; and this album continues in a similar vein, in the sense that it's more black metal than grind or crust influenced. It feels less reliant on atmosphere and returns to the more brute force and intense speed of earlier albums to an extent that it sort of feels like a natural successor to 2006's Eschaton album. The likes of opener The Blood-Dimmed Tide or Feeding The Beast bring that sense of total self-annihilation that I've come to expect from the project while always presenting it in a song form. The use of electronics feels far more apparent on this album as well, with various electronic and industrial beats popping up throughout various tracks and giving them a more tense and almost schizophrenic kind of vibe at certain times.
Personally, I've always found V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (Dave Hunt) to be a hugely underrated vocalist. He has one of the best ranges in extreme metal in my opinion, bouncing between torturous, throat-shredding screams, guttural death growls, and operatic clean singing with ease. On the last few albums from the band, Hunt's style has typically followed suit with the songs that Irrumator (Mick Kinney) has written, and has thus delivered more melodic performances, delivering perhaps a more accessible (though I highly doubt it was purposefully) sort of album with more focus on catchy choruses. I've always found it both entertaining and slightly shocking whenever I hear Hunt bust out into a absolutely insane scream like the one he does in In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas, and yet he still had the ability to sing/scream/growl after doing that. Then there's Kinney's production. Personally, I felt like on Passion, Kinney had made the album a bit too clean and polished, for my liking anyway, but on here, he returns to that clean, but very noisy sound of an album like In The Constellation of The Black Widow, where it's very clear and easy to listen to, but very chaotic and natural sounding. Also, before I forget, I should mention that this album sounds HUGE.
It's a very good album, though it isn't my favorite record, it is another notch in the band's already stellar discography. I like the fact that it doesn't rely as much on clean vocals to drive it's point across and focuses more on ferocity and intensity to get the job done. I think that whether you're an older listener or a newbie to the band, this would be a great place to start.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: To Spite The Face, Todos Somos Humanos, You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying
Country: Bergen, Norway
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
It feels so strange to me as I listen to several of the albums in Enslaved's back catalog that without knowing of it, Enslaved has actually become one of my favorite "black metal" groups. I remember discovering them a little while after I first got into Opeth and thinking they were a cool band. It wasn't until now that it hit me that I can't really say they've ever bored me or done anything bad in my eyes.
Enslaved are really a band that you can count on to deliver, at the very least, thought provoking material for each and every release they put out, whether you like it or not is another story though, and this album is no exception. After the return to a more aggressive black metal sound on 2010's Axioma Ethica Odini and a couple of side ventures into more atmospheric driven material on The Sleeping Gods and Thorn EPs last year, we have the band shifting yet again into possibly their most progressive form to date. Taking the aggression from their more recent material and essentially sticking it into a modern prog-rock/jazz-rock format that is just as intense but less direct in its emotions. It throws a bunch of ideas at you all at once including, but not limited to, metallic hardness, progressive riffs and structures, post-rock influenced climaxes, and folk melodies, and expects you to keep up. There's no track on here that is "single" material in the sense of it being more accessible or out of place, even though opener Thoughts Like Hammers was indeed released as a single.
I've always thought Enslaved knew how to write great and memorable riffs, and they are at the top of their game on here. They're not exactly the most typical riffs, meaning, they take a rather typical sounding idea and will just slightly mess with it, causing it to sound completely fresh. Tracks like Veilburner or the title-track do this with aplomb, taking pretty standard black metal riffing tropes and making them just slightly more jazzy or progressive. In addition to that, no matter how weird the riffs are, they are always kept in the format of an "actual song" and never fall off into straight-up wankery, which is what an album like this could have quite easily have become if it wasn't Enslaved playing these songs. Being progressive and different never comes at the expense of the song or a melody. Let them go off the reigns and they will come back, and that's something I admire greatly about the band. In addition to that is the use of keyboards and synths on here, which perhaps drew more of my attention than on any other record from the band. Yes, there are the standard mellotron, piano, string synths, and various ambiances, but some of the arrangements on here just blew my mind, like the harmony done with the guitars on album centerpiece Roots of The Mountain. Though my favorite album from the band has been their 2003 masterwork Below The Lights, this one might just rival it, and that's saying something seeing as these guys have yet to release anything I consider even standard.
From my point of view, not only is this one of Enslaved's most accomplished albums musically, but vocally as well. Herbrand Larsen's vocals have really come a long way from when he started in the band. You can practically hear the confidence he exudes when he starts singing, and he really brings those choruses to life on here. His evolution has really been one to marvel at, starting rather withdrawn and gradually becoming more and more powerful to the point where a majority of the choruses he sings on here are actually quite anthemic. This is also the most varied I've heard Grutle Kjellson in a while, bringing back some of those lower growls that were used a lot more during the band's middle period.
This turned out to be a better album than I had any right to expect, and is up there with the best of the year. The streak of great albums from this band continues as they have yet to put out anything that I find in anyway dull or even average. If you enjoy progressive and powerful music, in any way, I have to recommend this to you, it's great and you should listen to it. That is all.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Style: Krautrock/Experimental Black Metal
Label: Norma Evangelium Diaboli
I first found out about Aluk Todolo some time just over a year ago and have been a fan ever since I heard them. Their unique blend of black metal and psychedelic rock, among others, really blew my mind (and I'm sure many others). I really enjoyed their collaboration with Der Blutharsch and The Infinite Church of The Leading Hand last year and that only added to my anticipation of this album.
In the past, while they've certainly taken plenty of influence from doom and black metal, I can't say that the trio of Aluk Todolo had ever really performed it. I don't think I could say that it's ever been a problem, there are plenty of other bands that fuse black metal with psychedelic rock, and Aluk Todolo had a nice take on that by making use of almost no metallic elements at all. That has now been rectified for this album. The opening two tracks on here, Occult Rock I and II respectively, take a much more active black metal element, as tremolo picked guitar lines and blasting drums (not blast-beating in case you were wondering), and translate it into their sound. In the past, the most "metal" I had felt the trio had gone was resigning waves of distortion to create a black metal-esque atmosphere, but there were several sections in these tunes where a person could clearly headbang to what the band were playing. It easily some of the most intense and aggressive material the band have written together, though somehow that in itself is somewhat unsurprising given the members tenure in long running black metal outfit Diamatregon. While the rest of the album treads more familiar, and perhaps less intense, territory, it's all a joy to listen to.
As always, groove is a given when listening to the band. No matter how experimental and psychedelic the band are, the bass and drums just maintain a groove that moves and propels the song forward while never feeling dull or monotonous, and that's saying something considering how long they wind up holding onto some of these grooves. Whether the band are just rocking out like on the closer of III or getting lost in a groove on , they know how to get your attention and keep it for the duration of their songs, which, with the exception of one track, all happen to be around the ten minute mark. With that being said, experimentation is always happening on each and every track, whether the band start out blasting and mutate into a heavily atmospheric groove piece, opener I, or gradually building up from an eerie groove into a huge metallic climax before breaking it back down and rebuilding again on another, ala Godspeed You! Black Emperor style, on IV. It's even possible to say that the incredibly barren style of VI is new ground for the band, and, in my opinion, is actually the most alienating track on the entire album. With entire sections of the track being only bass and drums and the guitar being absent. It builds this tension that I found quite clammy and almost stressful before a burst of noise was used to reintroduce guitars into the track. To mention only three tracks (out of eight) seems a bit like I'm shortchanging you, but hopefully someone will find this interesting and check this album out and discover all its intricacies and ideas for themselves. Every track is a gem in its own right and it's great to hear a band try something a little bit different on each track while making it sound consistent and flow as an entire album.
It's a very admirable and unique piece of work that stands up alongside the best releases of the year. As a double-album, I did feel like it was a little too long at times, which is weird considering this just tops eighty-five minutes (so it's not that long), and proved to be a bit too much to take in a single sitting, but that might just be me. It's definitely worth your time if you enjoy psychedelic music, jam rock, or more experimental forms of black or doom metal.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Occult Rock II, Occult Rock IV, Occult Rock VII
Friday, October 26, 2012
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Country: Vitré, France
Style: Psychedelic Folk/Ambient
Label: Handmade Birds
My first introduction to TwinSisterMoon was several months ago when a good friend of mine (J. Rosenthal) was posting about how great this project was. Like most things he recommends, I looked into it and found quite a plethora of material to listen to. Having said that, I only just started listening to the project's stuff when I found out about this album.
Being the solo project of a one Mehdi Ameziane, this project has gained some notoriety for its rather wide spectrum of ideas on albums. Taking cues from haunting pieces of ambient music, lo-fi folk tunes, or the occasional extended drone track can all be found in the project's back catalog, and is essentially what you'll find on here, minus the drone songs. In a way I'd call it a schizophrenic sort of album because it jumps back and forth between the ambient pieces and folk songs with little to no intermingling between the two on here, though, in a way, it's also what makes the album quite the endearing little bugger that it is. By switching between the two styles for every other track it does provide a sense of relief, of sorts, in that whether or not you enjoy the ambient parts, a short folk tune will follow, or the other way around. Sure, the pattern is a bit predictable, but it works for what the album was set out to do. In a way it almost felt like someone got Brian Eno and John Darnielle in a room together and told them to write songs completely independently, and this record is the result of it. It's really only on The Mirror Land where you get a seamless transition from one style to the other with no gap or break in between, just effortless fluidity and beauty tucked into a six minute package.
It has to be said that no matter whether Ameziane is doing ambient or folk tunes, there is an inherent beauty in his writing. In the handful of times I've listened to this album, whether it was during the day or at night, I never felt any sort of darkness or anything that sounded like it was influenced by anger or sadness. Yes, there's a certain degree of melancholy, but it's sort of a joyful melancholia that isn't found on a whole lot of releases. I don't expect a bunch of people to rush out and check this out right away, it really isn't an "exciting" album, but what it does have on its side is beauty. Yes, I say a lot of albums are beautiful, but there's an innocence and naivety to it that gives it an almost childish sort of vibe; and I mean that in the best possible way. Ameziane's voice doesn't help in the childish vibe either, being very feminine sounding at times, though that isn't a bad thing when it comes to this style. It's very delicate and unassuming, and could easily fall into the background if you're not paying attention - which could be applied for both his vocals and the music itself.
In the end, the best that I can say about it is that it is a fantastically beautiful album that will stay with you if you let it. If you have the intention to just come into this and expect it to move or impress you, chances are that you will be disappointed, but if you come in with an open mind, you might just find a classic on your hands. If you enjoy folk or ambient music this is a must, but I'd say that if you just like beautiful and relaxing music in general this is worth checking out as well.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Colony Amnesia, The Mirror Land, Tunguska
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Psychedelic Folk/Ambient
The work of the one man involved in this project has been quite busy this year with his various projects, and this is simply the latest in his string of releases. Taking his work in folk music into a more drone and ambient based direction, as opposed to the typical folk style. After hearing this project's rather well done ideas on the split with Bunrage earlier this year, I was very intrigued to hear these new songs.
On that aforementioned split release, Footpaths showed us a calming, ambient take on creating folk music, but it was still essentially that, folk music. An acoustic guitar and various other droning instruments. In that sense, this full-length is no different as you have an acoustic guitar (three different actual guitars but regardless), harmonium, melodica, pennywhistle, and voice, but the output has shifted slightly. For myself, I felt as if this was a more ambient and droning batch of songs with more tracks tending to wander off from softly plucked guitar passages into straight-up ambiance on several occasions. The opposite happens as well, where ambiance will lead into a guitar led part as on the beautiful Deepwater, MO. More often than not though, the songs feature a nice balance of the two. The production has also taken a step up from the material on the split as well. While it's still rather lo-fi and unpolished sounding, there aren't as many pops and hisses of distortion on here as there were before, which does up the ante in that regard.
Whether intentional or not, the album flows together as a single piece of music quite well. I had a problem mistaking where one track would finish and another would begin several times when listening to the album. Now, I wouldn't call that a problem but I do know that some people like a bit more separation in their tracks so they can figure out what track is which, I don't bring that group a lot mainly because I don't think that an album would be hurt by them, but this one might hit some of them the wrong way. I mean, yes, there are some notable differences in the playing styles from track to track, but if you're just casually listening to the album, as I was the first time I put it on, you'll press play and think to yourself, "How long was this track again," only to see that you're on track four of the album. In some ways I guess that could almost be seen as a benefit because when that did happen to me, the only real thing that guided me through was the atmosphere that each track created. I was not listening actively to what the guitars were doing, but the ambiance and background drones that drifted gracefully from ambitiously uplifting to calmingly melancholic.
In the end I guess the best I can say about this album is that it sets out exactly what it means to do, and that's an achievement into and of itself. It's not overly ambitious or groundbreaking, but each track sets a mood, whether that mood happens to be uplifting or melancholic, and paint portraits of a setting for the listener. Fans of the aforementioned folk, ambient, and drone genres will undoubtedly enjoy this, but if you dig more psychedelic music as well, you'll probably get a nice kick out of it as well.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Fort Lonesome, FL, Sacred Heart, OK
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Country: Gävle, Sweden
Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
There are obviously hundreds of retro bands trying their hand at 70's psychedelia and prog-rock but Beardfish always stuck out to me. They may not have had the most original of sounds but they knew the style, and they did it well. So I was rather taken aback by this album when I first started reading things about it and wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
As I'm sure I've made clear in past reviews, I really love progressive music, and I am a fan of 60s and 70s prog-rock, so saying that I have been a fan of Beardfish shouldn't come as some sort of surprise to anyone. But putting on this album after reading that this was the band's most metal influenced record, I couldn't help but feel some sort of apprehension towards what I was hearing. I've always enjoyed Beardfish because they had that very quirky, almost laughable sense of stringing certain melodies together into sections that were just fun and interesting, but the first few tracks on this album didn't give me any sense of that. Yes, they were definitely some of the heaviest material has written, but they didn't have that sense of fun that I liked about the band. That's not even saying they abandoned that progressive sound, because there are several riffs that come from that side of their influences, but the first handful of tracks just didn't do anything for me. There were some metal influences on last year's Mammoth album, but that album was still very much in line with what the group had been doing for years. I'm a metal guy, I really love the stuff (obviously), but this just did nothing for me. I listen to Beardfish because I want to hear quirky, fun, and somewhat lighthearted prog-rock, not some kind-of serious metal mixed with prog-rock.
It isn't until track five, This Matter of Mine, that something managed to grab ahold of me. I guess I should make it clear that even though this is by far the band's most metal influenced record, it is still a record that draws from prog-rock, classic rock, blues, and jazz fusion to name a few - but those are the moments and tracks that I would much rather hear. I'd much rather hear the band rip-off Zappa than rip-off Sabbath. Luckily, from pretty much that point on the album does improve in both songwriting and interest, with much more fun melodies popping up and destroying the whole serious mode that the album had been in for the first few tracks, perfectly demonstrated in the instrumental Seventeen Again which has all the tropes that I love from the band all wrapped up in a nice seven and a half minute package. But for all of what this album is and isn't the biggest shock came in the form of Ludvig & Sverker, a song that sounds like it could have come out of some rock opera or musical theater production. Despite my aversion to musicals, it is arguably the best track on this entire album because it musically captures everything that the lyrics are describing. I don't talk about lyrics too much in my reviews but this is one of the few cases where they are married to the music to near perfection.
It's a decent album, but far from being my favorite from the band. I miss the embrace of humor and fun in their music, this album just felt a little too unremarkable for my tastes. Nevertheless, I'd still suggest at least going back and listening to their back catalog if this one doesn't catch your fancy.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: This Matter of Mine, Seventeen Again, Ludvig & Sverker
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Country: Atlanta/Dacula, Georgia
Style: Progressive Death Metal/Metalcore
Label: Solid State
In my opinion, I've always thought that Becoming The Archetype was a badass name for a band. I didn't care about the reasons why it was chosen or it's religious and spiritual connotations, it just sounded really cool. In addition to that the band have always put out some of the best metalcore-esque I've heard, so I was really looking forward to this album, even knowing that like half the band had been replaced.
Despite how much I was looking forward to this album, I have to say that from the first listen onward, I was only disappointed. I'm not sure how much input the three new members had on the writing of this album, but this is a huge letdown in so many departments, songwriting included. So, I'll address that first. In the past, regardless of whether or not an album was more original or interesting than others, I've always held the belief that the guys in BTA knew how to write really good songs. Their first three full-lengths, Terminate Damnation, The Physics of Fire, and Dichotomy, I think are all great albums that each express an idea and show a different side to the group. Now, I wasn't overly crazy about last year's Celestial Completion, but it was plain to see that the band were at least going out on a limb and trying out newer ideas that included elements from post-metal, ska, and symphonic music so I accepted that that was more of an album based on experimentation rather than on strong songwriting, which was fine. Leading up to this album, obviously with the inclusion of a new rhythm section and vocalist, the writing would differ in some sense, and the band came out and said that this would be a return to their older sound and would feature some of their most technical material yet.
I'm not sure if I feel lied to or just disappointed by that statement. Yes, this is a somewhat technical album, and I'll come out and say that it may just be my fault for thinking that the entire album would be reminiscent of a track like The Time Bender, which was released early on. Sure, the track wasn't anything all that special, but if that's the route that they were taking on here, fine, but aside from that track and a few other on here, this album did not live up to what I expected. The Physics of Fire, I think, is a far more technically proficient and interesting album than this album. This is also the closest album I think the band have ever put out to sounding like a stereotypical metalcore group. That tag has been with the group since day one, but on all four previous full-lengths they've managed to always put that "progressive" tag at the forefront either through experimentation or technicality, this just feels very safe and uninteresting. The band have used breakdowns in the past, I don't have a problem with breakdowns inherently, but I feel like you need to earn the right to use them in a song, not rely on them as a crutch, but this album has so many that are just so dull it's almost depressing. By the way, there's also a bit of a djent thing on a couple of tracks on here, something I really didn't need to hear from this band.
But, and this was probably one of the most irksome things when listening to the album, new lead vocalist Chris McCane has absolutely no personality coming through his growls and yells. Former vocalist/bassist Jason Wisdom may not have been the picture of originality, but he had a tone that was very powerful and direct, McCane just sounds very faceless. Guitarist Seth Hecox has performed clean vocals in the past, but I've always found his voice more grating than enjoyable; and on here he's at his peak of annoyance. The clean vocals he delivers fall flat on so many occasions it seriously made me wonder if he was even trying. The chorus on The Sun Eater was spectacularly irritating to listen to and was probably the most annoying chorus I've heard all year.
This was an incredibly disappointing album from a band that I actually consider to be one of the best groups to emerge from the early 2000's metalcore scene. It's totally uninteresting and rather dull in more than a couple spots. If you're a fan of the band, check it out, but otherwise go listen to the group's other full-lengths before you even consider checking this out.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: The Time Bender, The Planet Maker, I Am
Country: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Style: Progressive Metal
Label: Profound Lore
I have to be honest and say that this is my first Dysrhythmia album. I've certainly been aware of them due to Colin Marston's involvement with them, but I've never taken the time to really look into them. I actually wasn't even going to cover this originally, but I had space on a CD and put it on so lo-and-behold, is a review for it.
Honestly, I'm pretty much at the point where I could listen to anything Marston puts his name on or associates himself with and be impressed by it in some fashion, this album being no exception. I was somewhat apprehensive to listen to this band simply because it's an instrumental progressive metal band, and god knows how many of those there are out there, and how many are actually worth your time, but I finally gave in and listened to this album; and you know what, it was actually pretty good. It's certainly a far cry from the Dream Theater worship of most prog-metal outfits, not that that was what I expected from this band at all, but there was always that sense of worry that it would just dive into needless self-indulgence and wankery. I was actually pretty surprised by how focused the band was on songwriting, these are all songs and never felt like a rhythm section backing up a guitar player who wants to solo a lot or show off his chops. It's very tastefully crafted with plenty of trademark ideas from both Marston and guitarist Kevin Hufnagel's other gigs. Opener In Secrecy was a great place to start this album off with some great Krallice-esque sliding harmonies though keeping the track noticeably shorter and slower than any of Krallice's material. The title-track opens up with some very bassy tapping sections that recall a bit of Behold... The Arctopus' legendary technical status. Those are just the first two tracks, and I can assure you the album becomes less similar to other groups as it goes on - but that's a good thing.
This was definitely a grower of an album though. I did enjoy it when I first listened to it, but I was definitely less enchanted with it than I am now. There were several more songs that I didn't quite grasp but have since grown on me. Probably the first song that struck me and I connected with almost immediately was the melodic Running Towards The End which just has one of the most beautifully crafted guitar melodies I've heard all year. There are similar moments on other tracks that strike a similar chord with me but that was the first track that really caught my attention and made me want to continue to listen to the album. But to say that this is a melodic record would not be entirely correct, while I didn't find it all that heavy, there are certainly parts of dissonance that I really enjoy. Those short bursts of technicality that just remind you that these guys aren't just making another melodic instrumental record, these guys like to make something a bit more challenging for the listener.
I was very impressed by what the album wound up being and I'm glad I took the chance to actually listen to it. This is also the sort of album that makes me want to go back and listen to the group's older material to see what I've been missing out on for so long. Anyway, if you dig progressive or jazz influence metal or rock this is an album I definitely recommend checking out.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Line Always Snaps, Running Towards The End, Like Chameleons
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Country: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Post-Rock/Chamber Music
Label: Temporary Residence
In the world of post-rock, I think that you'd be hard pressed to find a band that is as respected and well liked as Mono (other than GY!BM). I actually found Mono much more accessible than GY!BM back when I was first getting into the genre and so I obviously liked them first. Plus, they're from Japan, and music from Japan is usually interesting at the very least, and Mono is no exception.
I think Mono are a great band. They've really carved out a sound for themselves which is very emotionally engaging, unique to themselves, and yet still very accessible to the everyday person. Though they've moved away from the straight-up post-rock sound that they first started with and have evolved into some far more grandiose and lush through the incorporation of a live orchestra, they've always maintained that huge melancholy that is so heartbreaking in their melodies. I remember the first time I saw the tag "chamber music" attached to them I was a little surprised but after a minute I did actually think that it worked. Since they brought in a pit orchestra on 2009's Hymn to The Immortal Wind they've changed into something a lot more cinematic and powerful sounding but have retained that emotional quality that makes it feel so personal and intimate. I think that's the key to what's kept them so readily appealing to so many people despite not being quite so "hip" as a group like Explosions In The Sky or something like that.
I have to say that even though I really liked and enjoyed Hymn to The Immortal Wind, I do think that this album tops it. It feels more refined and focused. There aren't as many shorter breaks that act as interludes on here, just five straight songs and I think that works better. The songs are just so powerful and breaking them up has worked for other albums, I think it was a good choice to just let each one stand up on their own without giving the listener any time to breathe in between. It gives off a very calming sense of sadness and melancholy that might not have been so powerful if you had those two or three minute interludes on here. To return to the use of the orchestra for a moment though, I've read a couple of reviews and comments where people have said that this is less of a "rock" album and feels more like a score, so they didn't feel as involved when listening to it. That is a very valid point and criticism of this album, if you are looking for more of a "rock" listen, I'd say go back and listen to the band's early albums because this isn't rocking in the slightest. It could certainly work as a score, and there were a few points that did remind me of Icelandic pianist/composer Ólafur Arnalds' recent material, especially on album centerpiece Dream Odyssey. So even though I have no problem with the fact that this is less rock and more chamber (I hope that makes sense), I could certainly see that not being the case with others.
I think this is a great piece of work and the band's crowning achievement thus far. For me, Mono is a group that just seems to get better with every album they put out and this is certainly one of the best albums I've heard all year. For post-rock fans, this is a must, but I'd strongly recommend it to anyone looking for some deeply emotional and atmospheric music as well. Do not pass this album by.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Nostalgia, Unseen Harbor
Country: Montréal, Canada
This one really came out of nowhere and has pretty much just blown up since people found out about it. Obviously the regard in which GY!BE is held in the music world is one which is quite hard to rival in modern bands of a similar style, as well as being the first new release in ten years, made for a perfect storm of hype. Even if this is somewhat old material, any new material from GY!BE is good.
Now, I think it's probably well known at this point that this is actually not technically new material from the band since these tracks have been around since back before the band originally separated and were going to be on the follow-up to Yanqui U.X.O but since that's only now just happened, these are fresh songs to at least most of us. I mean, even though this is old material for the band, to myself, it's new and quite a bit of the material on here is up there with some of my favorite songs the band have put out. Opener Mladic is quickly becoming one of my favorite tracks from the group. Starting off with a somber drone and quickly escalating into a super noisy climax that just screeches and moans with distortion and feedback, but it's awesome. I have always loved how so many post-rock groups have that very clean sound, maybe not polished but definitely very clean and presentable, and that's sort of become the norm, but GY!BE just has no interest in that and will freely dive into straight-up rock moments with no regard to it sounding presentable or accessible (after all, this is the band who makes albums full of twenty-plus minutes songs). This track features all the staples of the band's past material, perhaps a bit more noisy during some of those rock inflected parts, but the Arabian melody used is just totally engrossing. There was not a single point during that opening track that I ever felt bored or uninterested (and after all the post-rock I've actually listened to this year, I'll tell you there've been five minute long tracks that have lost me).
I wasn't overly crazy about the two drone tracks, Their Helicopters' Sing and Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable, but they were far from being bad. In fact the latter track is actually quite good, but when you stack either track up against the two giants that make up the majority of the album's running time, they just don't match up. As for that second giant, We Drift Like Worried Fire, it's less of a burst of raw energy and feels more in the mold of ideas the band have worked with in the past and have heard many other bands try their hand at. Granted, GY!BE still top the majority of those bands and add their own stamp to the equation, but it feels more comparable to your everyday post-rock track. It's not quite as aggressive or noisy, but perhaps more appealing to new fans because of it. I will say that the second half of the track struck me as being more powerful than the first due to the inclusion of the additional percussion and the heavier emphasis on the strings in during the build.
I sure it's no surprise that I think this is a great piece of work, like everyone else seems to think as well. I'd love to hear even more material from the band and can only hope that this reunion will lead to even more material being written and released. Anyway, if you haven't checked this out already, definitely do it, you don't want to miss out on this album.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Mladic, We Drift Like Worried Fire
Friday, October 19, 2012
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal/Drone-Doom
Label: EEE Recordings
As far as I know this is the first recording of this southern Illinois group, but there is almost no information out there on them so forgive me if I'm incorrect. It's really hard for me to come up with things to open up a review when there's almost nothing out there for me to comment on or introduce my perspective on to you (the reader). So let's just get right into it.
It's been a little while since EEE Recordings put out a release that wasn't from one of the Nji-related bands (as far as I know, this band has nothing to do with them), so I was unsure what sort of style this was going to be. The short description describing the album basically said that it was ambient black metal with spoken word vocals; and in response to that all I can say is, that's true marketing for you. That is exactly what this album is. Frankly I can't make out a word of what the vocals are actually saying except for maybe the odd line here or there, but it's so processed that it kind of makes it hard to even hear the vocals at times. I'm not saying that as a fault, because for all I know that may have been the intention of how the album was mixed, but they're hard to make out. They sort of have that boxy kind of phaser effect on them which sort of makes them sound almost industrial-ish in a way. If vocals and lyrics help to reaffirm why you like a certain band or album, this one might cause you a bit of trouble.
On the instrumental side of things, this band definitely likes to take a pretty aggressive style of black metal and wave it in the listener's face/ears because they totally screw with the production. Once again, not meant as a negative. Four of the five tracks on here are short, aggressive bursts of black metal with touches of doom thrown into the mix, with the last track veering off into droning territory that isn't all that different from what Oaks of Bethel have been doing on their records. But the entire thing has that sort of signature EEE production sound where it sounds totally reverbed out and everything just sounds so hazy and thick sounding that it can become difficult to pull things apart. Black metal gives way to drone and drone turns into a psychedelic soup of sorts where various effects all intermingle with each other and blend into trip, if nothing else. It's a hard record to get into, from my experience because the first four tracks are just so driving and aggressive, for the final track to just sort of derail and fall into psychedelic drones felt a little unsatisfying personally. Maybe it's just me who felt this way, but it was a problem that I could not get past.
Unlike the work that the duo in Nji do, I found this a rather bitter pill to swallow, not because it was bad or anything, but it is quite different. It's certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea and might piss a few people off but it's at least worth hearing this year. If you like drone-doom or ambient black or something in between the two, this is an album you're going to want to buy, otherwise, look into it first before buying.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Little By Little, Bound For Zar
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Country: Arcata, California
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Profound Lore
Last year, Ash Borer made quite an impression on the underground metal community with their self-titled full-length. When I heard about the band being signed to Profound Lore I was both happy and disappointed. Happy that they were making a name for themselves and going to get bigger, disappointed because now they're not the same unknown little band that I sort of held close to my heart.
Right from the get-go, let me just say that I think it's great that even though Ash Borer signed to a label as respected and well known as Profound Lore, they actually made a record that's even more atmospheric than their self-titled, they didn't conform to the style of other groups on the label. While previous recordings held this sort of unhinged aggression that was channeled through these epic pieces of atmospheric black metal, this new album experiments with more variation in that sound. The majority of the album is still fast and direct black metal riffing, there are more spaces of open synth and slower doom passages. I was a little surprised to find that the role of synth and keyboards had a much larger role on this album than on the band's previous material, or at least that's the way it seemed to me. Not only are there entire sections that are devoted to synth but there are several points on a given song where they'll emerge from the background and carve out a far more epic soundscape. Just because I know some people were really excited about it, I didn't think that Jessica Way's presence on the album really did anything for me. She wasn't bad, but I didn't really think she added to anything on it. In addition to that, as I said above there are more slower passages on here than I can recall previous tracks containing, and I think that does add to the impact of this album. High speed tremolo picking can only take you so far (unless you're Krallice, because then apparently you can do high speed and higher speed and still make it work) and the incorporation of slower doom parts really does help to make the album feel more well rounded.
In the past, Ash Borer has maintained a pretty rough and raw sound, in regards to the production on their tracks. It felt very natural and authentic without coming across and lo-fi or underproduced. This new album is cleaner than their past recordings, but still maintains that authentic sound that doesn't sound, at least to me, like it was tampered with too much, if at all, after the initial tracking was finished. When performing long tracks like this, I do think that it's important to keep the sound pretty clear so the cleaner parts don't simply fade into the background, like on Convict All Flesh for example, the clean melody played during the bridge of the song comes out sounding very clean and not overly loud or compressed. It doesn't mesh with the distorted guitars at all. Personally, I did think the snare sound was a little loud at certain times, but I'd assume that that's just from hitting it harder than an actual mixing problem.
While I don't think I was hit with the same impact that I was from the band's debut full-length, I still thought that this was a great piece of work. It's an album that does have a wider margin of appeal because it is more varied in style and it'll be interesting to hear where they go next. If you like black metal in any form, I highly suggest you check this one out.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Phantoms, Removed Forms
Monday, October 15, 2012
Country: Sydney, Australia
Style: Stoner/Doom Metal
Label: Art As Catharsis
I don't listen to a whole lot of stoner influenced music (obviously if you look back on my reviews) but I do enjoy quite a lot of doom. So when I was offered this, though I was initially a bit skeptical, I decided to give it a shot. Needless to say this did turn out to be more my speed.
This was one of those albums that intrigued me based on a profile that mentioned stoner, doom, drone, and sludge, granted my interest in those varies, but a band who just mixed them all together just made me want to listen. Not a unique fusion at all, but I like the idea of just taking the four styles and crafting something slow, hulking, and heavy; and that's exactly what this turned out to be. This is one of those bands that seems to know how to blend the above styles into something palatable but also quite different. It's not a sound that's going to win over any people with prejudices towards these genres, but if you're a fan already of any of them, you're going to get a real treat in this album. The bass tone is very fuzzy and distorted, but the guitars are very clear and heavy, drawing their riffs from many tried and true blues lines that, played in a different context than this album might come off as hokey or redundant. In all honesty, while listening to this album the only band that came to mind that sounds similar to what these guys are doing is fellow Aussie's Whitehorse, who are equally as interesting a band. If you listen, the production on both this album and Whitehorse's material is slightly similar, very heavy and open sounding, which works. I'll let you decide who's better or which you like more.
However, while the lumbering grooves of the heavy sections are great, when the band move into cleaner and slightly more atmospheric tones, it becomes a far more grabbing listen. Those cleaner tones are far more psychedelic than they really have any right to be. There are many other bands who could take the same principle structure the band use on here (as indeed, many post-metal groups do) and turn into something very stale and trite, enjoyable maybe, but redundant of other groups for sure. While I wouldn't go so far to say that the boys in Adrift For Days have much in common with post-metal or post-rock, those cleaner sections have a similar tone to many of those bands, but is far more reminiscent of groups who tend to jam out on elongated sections like that. A track like House of Cards is pretty much the epitome of that idea, with the group basically just drawing out this clean and atmospheric phrase for the majority of the track before busting into a huge drone-doom passage that just smacks you in the face with it's weight. Perhaps the short The Stormbreaker is a better indication of simplistic songwriting with the cleaner tones, but is a lot less of an indication of what the band actually sounds like. Though I have to say that track in particular is the one that springs into my head when thinking about this album because it is easily the most accessible and immediate track. If what you're looking for is a jam piece, definitely go for closer Eyes Look Down From Above, which is an epic piece that is probably the slowest track on here and is the most connected to the ideas from drone. This was the track that gave me the most difficulty while listening through, mainly because of how restricted the track felt. Having more atmospheric moments on the few tracks to come before it, I did kind of feel like this epic had lost something by not including something as ambient or atmospheric into its structure, but that's just me.
It's a pretty damn solid album, a bit too long in some spots for my own personal taste, but it's never a dull moment. I would definitely say that if you're going to listen to this, give it time because it is not an easy album to get into from my experience with it. Definitely a must for all fans of slow and heavy music this year, do not skip this over!
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: House of Cards, Back of The Beyond
Country: Romania/Salem, Oregon/France
Style: Drone Doom Metal
I've been meaning to get to this release for a while now because I think that it is worth covering (duh). I have not heard the demo that was released back in 2009 but I am assured that it is very good, so based on that alone I decided to pick up a copy of this. Being over two hours long I knew I was in for one hell of a treat when I pressed play on this for the first time.
Now, I don't care what style of music you make, but when you release a song that's just about two hours long (and I am certainly aware that this was split into two tracks so it could be on two sides of a tape) you better make it good. Obviously this isn't The Flaming Lips here, it isn't as if I've reviewing a twenty-four hour long song, but two hours is still long and, frankly, longer than a majority of people would want to spend listening to a single track. Then you realize the style with which this group happens to play, drone-doom, funeral doom, and whatever other uber slow forms of doom you want to throw into the pot as well. These facts alone are enough to scare of the typical listener, I mean, sure, there are people who love drone-doom and will listen to it all day, but I think that even they might find it a bit taxing to just sit down and listen to a two-hour long drone-doom album while doing nothing else. Personally, and I'll just come out and say it, this was a huge pain in the ass to sit through. I love drone-doom as much as the next weirdo who couldn't get a date in high-school, but I can only tolerate so much before getting fidgety and needing to get up and actually do something. Maybe it's just me, but when I sit still for too long I get tired, and there were several points when listening to this where I did feel my eyelids getting heavier.
With all that being said, I'm not going to pretend that there isn't a unique charm to this album. As I repeatedly made note of above, I do think that the length is a problem for me, but I do understand that there will be some who can and will listen to all two hours straight through and enjoy it. While I found it hard to remain engaged for the entire duration of the album, I also understand that those who really enjoy this sort of stuff will find it interesting and possibly even hypnotic. The main melody on the first half of the track is quite reminiscent of early 90s death-doom, sort of My Dying Bride-esque in my opinion, so I did enjoy whenever that popped up. The second track dives much further into the drone realm, which I will say I did not enjoy as much as the more drone-metal of the first half of the track. It's much noisier and, in a certain way, psychedelic that just sort explores this emptiness created by feedback, noise, and ambiance. It really isn't until the last twelve or so minutes during the second half of the song that return to the main theme from the first half.
In the end, I couldn't help but feel bored at certain point while this was playing. I think it was the overall length of it rather than the music itself, which I think would be more tolerable if I had just listened to the two halves separately. If you like drone doom, funeral doom, drone music in general, or other really slow stuff like that, you'll probably get quite a lot of enjoyment out of this.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Maurerische Trauerdrohne I
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Country: New York City, New York
Several years ago when I got a new computer, I was delving quite heavily into the tech metal genre. That's where I found djent groups like Periphery and Vildhjarta, fusion metal bands like Spiral Architect, Twisted Into Form, and Linear Sphere, and more spastic math groups like Car Bomb. I reviewed Car Bomb's 2007 album Centralia back when I was first getting started with reviews (I'm sure you find it if you look back far enough) and how surprised was I when I saw this new album was released something like a week or so ago.
I'm not sure what changed in the five years between records, but Car Bomb has really altered their sound. Centralia was a record that was full of spastic, uber technical playing that was all over the place. It was extremely jarring record when I first listened to it, though I did eventually come to enjoy it, but this record is much more groove based. Yes, there are still freak-out moments of dissonant guitar riffs and crazy slides, but like I say in the genre header above, this recalls ideas that many djent groups are working with. It's weird because whenever I thought about Car Bomb, I always assumed they'd keep doing the really weird ideas of The Dillinger Escape Plan doing tech-death, but this takes more ideas from Meshuggah than Cryptopsy (who I only mention because I know the band really likes them). I'm not saying the band do this style badly, but it's the sort of change that I wasn't expecting and didn't really want to be rather blunt about it. When I listen to Car Bomb I want to hear insanely crazy and brutal metal not groovy, somewhat technical metal. It feels like the band is simply jumping onto the hype train and trying to get some exposure by putting out a djenty record. It doesn't feel like a natural progression from the last record is what I'm trying to say.
With that being said, I'm not going to pretend like there weren't things on here that I didn't like. I thought that the more melodic and straightforward ideas on Lower The Blade was really well done and the chorus was actually pretty catchy. Michael Dafferner's clean singing has a Mike Patton sort of quality to it, and as a MP fanboy, anyone who has a similar style to him wins points in my book. I almost wish that clean vocals were used more on this record because aside from the song I just mentioned, they are used pretty sparingly throughout, popping up only every now and then. Another track worthy of note is Third Revelation which features Gojira's Joseph Duplantier performing some guest vocals on it, though that's not what makes it worth paying attention to. This track is one of the few moments where it feels more like a natural fusion of the spastic technicality of Centralia and the more rhythmic ideas of this album. I also thought that the short acoustic break in Magic Bullet was a nice addition to the song in question. But aside from those tracks and a couple of others, I can't really say I was all that impressed with the album, unfortunately. I read a comment where someone described this album as Car Bomb's Miss Machine, and I both agree with that statement and disagree with it. I think the statement is correct because this album does have the band trying out a few new flavors, but I disagree with it only because I thought that Miss Machine had several songs on it that I really enjoyed and come back to, this album has very few of those.
It's a decent album, but I kind of wish that the band had a few more references to their previous sound on here. It just feels too much like an unnatural shift to me, if you feel differently good for you, but I couldn't get past that aspect. If you like technical metal, djent, or even groove metal, I think you'll probably find something on here that you'll enjoy, but I'd recommend Centralia over this any day.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Lower The Blade, Third Revelation, This Will Do The Job
Country: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Label: Black Market Activities
Of any year end list I've made in the last several years (I did start doing it before I started this blog so there are more that are not posted), one of the few things I regret not posting was 2010's Danza III: The Series of Unfortunate Events. I thought that was a great record and so I was really looking forward to this album when they first announced it's progress around the same time Danza III was about to be released. Here we are, two years later and the band are now saying this is their final album.
I'll admit it, I think Danza (which is what I will be referring the band to in this review) is a good band. It took me several tries to get into them, but in the end I actually found a band that did make leaps forward with every release they put out and managed to finally impress me with their last album. With the addition of Josh Travis to the band on guitar, he really upped the band's game and made it into something unique and really interesting, something that was only hinted at on releases prior to his arrival. His recent album with new band Glass Cloud shows that he is certainly capable at writing more straightforward and accessible songs, but that album didn't have the personality or charisma that Danza has and I think that it was simply a lack of him throwing in more spastic and dissonant riffs, and obviously the lack of vocalist Jessie Freeland. He isn't the greatest vocalist out there, and frankly, if you put him into another band, he'd probably just come off as just another deathcore vocalist. But the thing I've found listening to Danza is that while his style isn't all that original or unique, what he happens to do is deliver and convey a sense of passion that many of his peers do not. Unlike many other vocalists who growl/scream/yell/etc., when I listen to Freeland, you can hear that he is putting everything into what he's saying, and that's something that I do not get from many other bands.
But, onto this album. Before it was even released, the now duo had said that they had focused on writing songs for this album instead of trying to cram as many notes and winding dissonance into a track as possible, and that definitely shows. Sure, there are the obligatory non-stop freakout of You Won't and This Is Forever, but then there are the more interesting and thought provoking (for this band) tracks like Hold The Line or the eerily melodic This Cut Was The Deepest. While the overly technical nature that the band exhibited on early releases was what initially drew me to them in the first place, I do think that it is fitting for them to have grown to the point to where even they adhere to more conventional song structures and ideas. Also, I have to say that this is probably the only time I've ever appreciated the vocal stylings of Alex Erian or Phil Bozeman. I was never a Despised Icon fan and never saw much of the appeal of Whitechapel, but I actually think they do a solid job on The Alpha/The Omega. Bozeman actually does a really good job in my opinion, really bringing in some guttural power and intensity to the track which was genuinely surprising. However, to say that this album is up with Danza III would be lying, for in my opinion this is the more flawed album.
While that album was full of songs, one after another, that just repeatedly hit the listener in the face with impressive songwriting and technicality, this one is full of tracks that either act as filler interludes or in the case of Paul Bunyan and The Blue Ox, a strange instrumental. Obviously, I have no problems with instrumentals, but there were two things that really proved to be rather irksome while listening to this track. One, why is Jesse not on it? I'm serious, because I don't see any reason why he couldn't be on this track, and it's the longest track on the album. Normally this wouldn't bother me, but I hate it, HATE IT, when a band with a vocalist makes an instrumental track the longest song on the album. To me, it's like a waste to not to have Jesse on it. Secondly, it's a bit too disjointed for my taste. The first five or six minutes work fine, but then it just skids into random ideas that sound like they weren't finished and were just tacked on because the band thought they were cool. No, no, no, don't do that, it doesn't work! Obviously these are just personal problems I have with the track, but boy did they annoy me. I can get past all the interludes, except for maybe Some Things Better Left Unsaid, which is genuinely pointless to the album, but that instrumental just really irritated me.
In the end, it is a flawed, but still very good album. The actual tracks themselves are actually really good, but they're broken up by repetitive filler and two lengthy and rather inconsequential tracks. If you're a fan of the band, you'll listen to this regardless of what I have to say, but if you're new, I'd say to stream it before you buy it.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: You Won't, This Cut Was The Deepest, The Alpha/The Omega, Don't Try This At Home
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Several of these are new, some of them are older, but I think that they're all at least worth talking about. Some of them are a bit more in the progressive/tech metal realm, but they all reference the djent sound at some point. EPs reviewed from 1-8 and full-lengths from 1-10.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
As it's probably become common knowledge at this point, I enjoy a good helping of post-rock in my music, and post-rock in general really. I've been a pretty big fan of Devil Sold His Soul for a couple years now and think that they are a really cool band but The Elijah is a new group to me, but I've heard and read reviews where the two bands are mentioned together in terms of style, so I figured I'd just post them together. Both reviewed from 1-10.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Since I first heard last year's stellar The Cruel Side EP (which wound up in my top 10 EPs of the year) I have been a fan of The Ash Eaters. Forming from the remains of Brown Jenkins and expanding upon the black metal side of that project and into the more raw and dissonant one expressed on that EP. I was sent this first EP a couple of months ago but found the album rather quickly after that, so I just figured I'd cover them both. As per usual, EP reviewed from 1-8, album from 1-10.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
I'm very bad at keeping up with release dates. I really try to put things out in a timely manner, but this year (what with me trying to actually give albums more time and attention) it's been harder to keep up with them. I got these a few months back and I just sat down recently and told myself that I was going to do a special review just for these albums. All reviewed from 1-10.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Country: Raleigh, North Carolina
Style: Progressive Metal
Label: Metal Blade
For as much as I love progressive and avant-garde groups, it took me quite a while to get into BTBAM. I don't think it was until I heard the second half of their 2008 album Colors that I really began to understand what they were going for (this was also about the same time I was really getting into groups like Opeth and Dream Theater as well). Now, several years later and we have the band expanding their sound even further into the realms of concept driven albums.
Personally, ever since I started listening to BTBAM, I've felt like they've been on a consistent upstroke. Both Colors and The Great Misdirect were great albums that really expanded the accessibility for progressive and experimental tendencies in the modern metal world (or at least that's how I see it). With the release of this album, we see the band streamlining their sound into a much more cohesive beast that is less frenetic and spastic and more melodic. Granted, anyone who says the band has abandoned their quirks obviously hasn't listened to the album because they're all over, they're just not quite as blatant. Also, while I never found them to be so, I am aware that there are some people out there who do find BTBAM's older material a bit too jarring and don't really get the whole genre shifting thing, and I do think that this album is more palatable despite still being quite experimental in the grand scheme of things.
Even though this album isn't quite as eccentric as either of the full-lengths that came before it, the band still manage to fit in those quirky melodies that remind me of why I love them. That Mr. Bungle influence is something that they just can't seem to get rid of, and I hope they never do, as exhibited on the short Bloom. In addition to that, the incorporation of extra instrumentation like a violin, tuba, and flute (just to name a few) really does add that flair of color that makes certain parts stick out. I can't recall the band actually going out on a symphonic kick before this album, but those parts do feel grandiose and powerful, which is far more than I can say for plenty of symphonic metal groups. There's also several more dissonant and crazy riffs, hear Silent Flight Parliament, which I've always been a fan of, and it's great to hear them still included in the equation.
I can't say that I was overly hyped on this album when it was first being announced, probably the thing that got me interested was guitarist Paul Waggoner's response to the question of how this album differed from their other material and he responded with, "It's our longest album." No, "It's our heaviest. It's our most melodic," or whatever, but that seriously make me laugh out loud and was enough to get me interested again. While I can't say I was overly impressed with the first track that was released, Telos, not that it was bad, but it wasn't ever going to be my favorite track the band has ever released, I have to say that it's placement in the album does work. This album definitely follows in the footsteps of Colors in the sense that the entire record is cohesive and fluidly transitions from one section, and song, to the next without any slippage. There really aren't that many bands that I can think of offhand that manage to make interludes so poignant and actually worth listening to on an album, and whenever I pressed play, whenever one of those one-minute, two-minute long tracks, I never felt the need to skip over them.
I know that BTBAM isn't everyone's cup of tea, but this album is, at least to me, their most accessible release to date. It's new territory for them but is also a good entrance for newer fans. Check it out if you have any interest in more progressive forms of metal, or if you're a long time fan - in which case you've probably already heard this.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Lay Your Ghosts to Rest, Bloom, Silent Flight Parliament