Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Country: Lower Hutt, New Zealand
Label: Handmade Birds
Campbell Kneale is a prolific and well respected artist who has crafted quite the niche for himself in his twenty-plus years of activity. Black Boned Angel has been his metal outlet for something like a decade now and this album brings that era to an end. What did these three tracks have in store?
Is there anything more terrifying than the absolute disillusionment of being? When you think about the end of your existence, what is it that comes into your head? As I am writing this, a snowstorm is outside of my window and is covering the world in white; and while that may not be what I think of when I think of the end, it certainly sets a mood for when I press play on this album. Drone-doom by nature isn't a genre that presents a listener with thoughts of pleasant ideas and a world view of flowers and nice things. Those long and drawn out chords with feedback engulfing the background, the drumwork that typically follows a style that is just as patient and restrained, and vocals that just seem to be howled from the bowls of hell (or someone's basement - you decide which is more frightening). As someone who wasn't too well acquainted with the back catalog of Black Boned Angel, I knew this would be an album that would certainly take time to digest, but I didn't expect it to take me over a month to finally collect my thoughts on it.
The three tracks that make up this sixty-plus minute album are exactly how the above paragraph described the genre. Those extremely drawn out and patience testing song lengths reach over twenty minute mark for two of the three tracks and the one that doesn't is still just as excruciating; but I mean that in the best possible way. Before listening to this album I tried to get myself used to the sound I would be hearing from the band in question, listening to the likes of the downward spiral of 2006's Bliss and Void Inseparable, 2009's epochal Verdun, and 2010's more atmospheric venture from The Witch Must Be Killed as well as a little bit more of Campbell Kneale's work in Our Love Will Destroy The World (I don't care for Birchville Cat Motel in case you were wondering), but I don't think that that did me much good in preparation for this album. The sound, for me, is somewhere in between all three of the albums I mentioned above, but still kind of it's own beast. You can definitely tell that it is still the same band, but it's not quite as collected as I feel the last full-length was or as destructive as the first two mentioned were - instead it's more of a statuesque portrait of the genre. I know that might not sound like the most positive or complimentary thing for me to say, but for me it was more of an anchored sort of sound. Like the band were returning to a more conditioned sound, not experimenting as much with ambiance and they weren't trying to utterly destroy or dominate you either. They were sticking to the sound that they know and sort of serving it to you, unfettered, on a platter.
Having said that, to say that this album doesn't feature it's moments of either full-blown ambiance or absolute destruction of sound would be incorrect. The End II features some brilliant (that's right, brilliant) usage of ambiance. It's bleak and utterly melancholic in tone, keeping with the overall vibe from the album, but acts as a sort of relief from the torturous first movement of the album and before the void that awaits in the second half. I'm not going to pretend and say that I didn't feel like I was in hell while listening to this album - and maybe that was the point, to make the listener feel like they were being tortured while listening to this. Granted, I'm sure there are a lot of people who enjoy that feeling, but for me - as I am now - I just could not deal with listening to this entire album in one sitting. Don't mistake this for me saying that I didn't think this album was well done though. I think the performances on here are well done for what they are and I think that when put into the context of what this genre is doing, this is a well done piece of work, but this was just a little to much for me to listen to in a single sitting - hence why it took me so long to write up this review. It was just one of those albums where it was like whenever I would play it on my Ipod, I would end up listening to the first track before changing to another band or song because I just couldn't deal with listening to something this oppressive for more than that. When I would put this on my turntable, I would be able to sit through more of it, but still not the entire thing. Normally, I would take this as a bad sign, but when I think about how this album made me feel while listening to it, I can't help but to actually admire it. I should also say that when I did play this album on vinyl, it did rock my speakers.
This definitely isn't the sort of album I think I could recommend to everyone, but for fans of the genre I think that this would be up there in the project's best work. Personally, I have preferred a few of the other releases done by this project in the past over this one, but when I think of what this album represents, I don't feel badly towards it. It's not one of my favorites, but from the genre, and from Kneale himself, I have heard worse. Damning with faint praise, but I respect this more than I enjoy it.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The End II
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Style: Progressive Rock/Post-Metal
I'd like to think that I'm a pretty big supporter of Njiqahdda's work. I think that the duo are really interesting and continue to push themselves into new sonic directions and while being extremely prolific. After a year (being 2012) where the band released material on smaller formats like EPs and splits, it's nice to have them releasing a full-length again.
Those people who have been following the duo that is Njiqahdda over the course of their recent releases will know that a shift has occurred. No longer do we have long and winding pieces of progressively tinged black metal that wandered into the realms of krautrock and soundscape music but more of a straight-up progressive sound. The black metal element of their sound has gradually been replaced with more of a sludge and/or post-metal sort of vibe. Over the course of recent smaller releases the band has played around with elements from symphonic music, traditional sludge metal, electronic music, and more obvious progressive metal ideas that, at least for me, were hit and miss in terms of how much I actually enjoyed them. They were all interesting for sure, but I can say that not all of them were my cup of tea. With this full-length, the band have already polarized quite a few of their fans with some really enjoying this change in their sound while others are extremely disappointed by the shift away from black metal. I have to say that on my first listen, and I'm sure it was this was with most people who have followed the band for a while, I was surprised by the sound of this album.
For me, The Path of Liberation From Birth and Death was an album that really saw the duo transcend into realms that no other bands or projects had reached with black metal. Perhaps the reason for the shift was because they felt they could no longer progress beyond that point within the confines of black metal and have moved into slower and more groove based territory. There aren't as many frantic paced riffs that run circles around the listener's head like they did on the aforementioned album above, but instead more repetitive cycles of groove based riffs that bring to mind Horseback more than Meshuggah (hopefully that helps clarify what groove means in this case). You also have more obvious inclusions of choruses, The Veil of Allaeius for example, that may turn the heads of some fans for the band's shift into more straightforward songwriting styles. But probably the most glaring shift will be the use of clean vocals for the majority of this record. Whereas in the band's early releases, vocals were obscured, whether they were sung, growled, or screamed, they felt more like a part of the music that a point for which the listener could gravitate to for an easy entrance into the music. In more recent releases, the vocals have moved up and have become clearer in the mix, but it wasn't until last year's To Escape The Tide EP that I really became aware of the shift into these cleaner sort of vocals. Granted, they are by no means soaring; but every time I hear them, the cleans and the growled vocals, I always get reminded of the vocals of guys like Aaron Turner of Isis or the early vocalists in The Ocean. More of a throaty growl that comes from the pit of one's stomach than a full-bodied death growl - if that makes any sense.
While the first three tracks on here are full-on metal tracks with occasional flourishes of technical guitar play, on She Which Water Holds, the album takes a turn into the realms of psychedelia. Yes, those grounds are by no means new for the band, but whereas the two have coexisted somewhere in similar planes on previous releases (metal and psychedelia I mean), on here, the band descends from plodding heaviness into more moody psychedelic rock and folk ideas that I can't recall hearing from them before - even on their fully folk based releases. The album shifts from that of being more of a "post-metal" (overarching term applied here) into a heavier progressive rock album. For me, listening to this, it made me think that this is the perfect blend of the two aesthetics and styles and I constantly found myself thinking that this would be the perfect album to term as "post-progressive", but hey, that's just me.
I thought this was a really stellar and unique jump for the band, taking their sound into new areas that I surely never expected them to go down. Personally, I preferred the winding esotericism of The Path of Liberation From Birth and Death more than the psychedelic journey that this album takes, but both stand as formidable pieces of modern metal transcending simple genre tags. Definitely an album worth listening to this year, though if you're new to the band it might not be the best of places to start.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: The Veil of Allaeius, She Which Water Holds, ...And The Men Behind The Sun
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Country: New York/New Jersey
Style: Post-Black Metal
Last year I wrote up a small review for Black Table's first single, Heist. I was very positive towards that one song and knew that the band were definitely onto something unique after listening to it. The real test was going to be whether they could craft an entire album/EP/demo worth of material that would stand up to that one song, and late last year, I got my answer.
With the release of this four song EP, the sound that the band were aiming for becomes a whole lot clearer. As much as I enjoyed Heist, which also opens up this EP, you really can't judge a band based on a single track - no matter how good that track is. It was all going to be down to how those other three tracks would come across that would really show if Black Table was onto something. Though it shouldn't come as much of a surprise, the band do pull off a pretty interesting blend of ideas that really works. I remember first hearing about the band and I was told that they combined elements of grindcore into their style, and while there are some more dissonant sounding riffs, I really didn't hear much of anything that would truly hint towards that sort of an influence. It made me think more of Deathspell Omega than Extreme Noise Terror - but that's just me. Aside from that though, the band do a pretty damn good job at playing a more progressive influenced form of mid-paced black metal. Yes, there are blasts for those of you wondering, but it rarely came across as a fast paced release (or song). One thing I really liked about this album was how clear and fluid sounding the bass tone was. The way that it stands out in the mix and doesn't really clash with what the guitars are doing is certainly to the band's credit for having enough confidence in their playing to allow the bass to actually lead certain sections of these songs, hear the title-track. Closer 1942 definitely left the biggest impression on me though, with the clean chanted vocals that opened the track that then just morphed into a more angular black metal piece, it has everything that I would love to hear the band experiment more with in the future. It's those smaller touches that may seem like simple experimentation now, that may eventually blossom into something quite extraordinary in given time.
Though I was hardly skeptical about whether the band could pull off material that would match their first song, this definitely went above my expectations. There are some really interesting ideas on here that set the band apart from their peers and do hint at something special. With a debut release as strong as this, I have high hopes that future material will be just as good, if not better, than what the band have demonstrated on here. Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Sentinel, 1942
Friday, February 15, 2013
Over the past two to three years, I've been following the musical projects of a Mr. Tim Yatras. After first hearing the last Austere album, To Lay Like Old Ashes, back in 2009 and then finding out about Grey Waters' EP, Below The Ever Setting Sun, in 2010 (a release which was in my top 10 EPs of that year), I'm somehow become a fan. I've had these Germ releases for a while and have been meaning to cover them for just as long, but as many people will know, life gets in the way, and now is the time I've finally been able to make room for them. First album is reviewed from 1-10, the EP is reviewed from 1-8, as usual.
Friday, February 8, 2013
Style: Alternative Rock
Big surprise here, I'm a huge Mike Patton fan. There really hasn't been a release from him that I haven't liked (though I certainly still have my own preferences towards some projects/albums over others), and he is probably my favorite musician of all time, so me reviewing this was inevitable. I've been awaiting a new rock/metal album from Patton for years and with this I've finally gotten it.
Now, if only to complicate things, I have to say that among Patton's various projects, Tomahawk was never one of my favorites from him. I've never disliked the band at any point, and I think they write some really good songs, but in terms of writing complete albums, I've always felt that they've come up a bit short, making really great single songs but not albums. They didn't weren't weird or experimental enough to match Mr. Bungle or Fantômas and their songs never quite stood up to those from Faith No More, but I read an article about this record before it was released where the writer had said that this album featured songs that conjured memories of the big choruses that Patton provided for FNM. That obviously got me excited. So, after listening to this I had to question whether that article was true or not, and, for the most part, I actually do agree with it. I mean, Faith No More is my favorite band ever and it's hard for anything to ever match the strength of those songs in my mind even from another Patton project, but a good portion of these songs do match up quite well. I remember listening to the album's first single, Stone Letter, when it was first released and getting really excited about this album because that song had everything that I enjoyed from the project. It was short, punchy in delivery, and had a big soaring chorus that I could hear hundreds of people just singing along to at a concert.
With that being said, no album from the band has contained all short bursts of energy like those. They all have tracks that just drive forward with that punk energy (Flashback or Rape This Day for example) but the band has yet to put out an entire album of tracks like those. So there are tracks like the eponymous title-track which is a more moody track that recalls guitarist Duane Denison work in his old band The Jesus Lizard with it's off-kilter riffs and pacing drum work. Then there's songs like A Thousand Eyes or Typhoon which bring out more of that atmospheric side of the band that recalls a more surf rock vibe that anything rocking, but unlike their previous albums where I had felt like the slower tracks didn't match up to the faster ones, on here I felt like they were actually just as good. But for me it's always been those faster and more intense tracks that I find myself returning to the most, so tracks like the soaring White Hats/Black Hats or South Paw were where I found most of my attention being drawn to. Possibly the weirdest track on here is the sparse dustiness of I Can Almost See Them, which really paints an odd picture in the listener's mind (or at least mine) of those old Ennio Morricone western scores. I really stands out on here and is quite an odd little track. Frankly, this is the strongest collection of songs I think the band has ever put together. Whether that's due to the addition of Trevor Dunn on bass and his relationship with Patton or just the band making a conscious decision to write more straightforward and anthemic songs, I don't know, but it resulted in their strongest release to date.
I'm not sure I could sum up my thoughts any more clearly than I just did in my above sentence but to wrap up I guess I could say that this was a little surprise for me. No matter what I may have expected, or wanted from this album, it did give me something different, and I'm always grateful for that. Maybe not for the uber heavy fans out there, but if you like interesting rock music, definitely give this one a spin or three.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Stone Letter, White Hats/Black Hats, Waratorium
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Country: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
I had first heard of this project when I got an announcement about Debemur Morti several months back. I had never heard of the band before that point and was pretty interested in what they were going to sound like. The reason it's taken me forever to finally write a review on the album is simply because the album is long.
Being my first time with the band I wasn't quite sure what the outcome of these lengthy tracks was going to be like. It could go any number of ways, granted when I looked them up it did tell me they were categorized as an "atmospheric black metal" band - but still, that doesn't give a precise indication of what's in store. After reading a few reviews about the album here and there, I've gathered that this is somewhat of a new direction for the band after doing some more traditional sounding material and is them taking up a more modern sound. Listening to the album, it certainly wouldn't be out of place in the collection of someone who enjoys the whole post-rock influenced black metal scene. It'd fit in nicely between a collection that included both Lantlôs and Midnight Odyssey, and sonically it does sort of fit between them as well. Essentially what you have here are all the trademark ideas found on both sides of the spectrum, meaning you have extended ambient intros, post-rock interludes, black metal sections that are repeated in the usual hypnotic fashion, and vocals that are howled from the abyss (or the bottom of someone's basement - you decide). Make no mistake though, while I may be saying that none of these ideas are original in the slightest, they are by no means badly done on here.
The fact that all but one song on here tops ten minutes is a hump that was not easy for me to cross - and I like long songs, but time wise didn't exactly make it the easiest of albums to listen to from start to finish. I'll give the members of the band credit because they certainly do know how to write songs that move forward, I don't recall ever being bored while listening to the album. I think that several moments on here express some rather expertly crafted post-black metal, and would rank them among the best things I've heard from the genre. Unfortunately they are just moments and they are surrounded by well crafted, but ultimately standard, ideas. I thought that a track like V did a good job at bringing in some nice ideas that channeled a bit more interesting influences and did them in a pretty decent and abstract enough way to grab me, but everything before it just felt rather pedestrian and average. I guess I shouldn't complain about the whole thing though, the bass work on here is rather well done. I thought that it really came through in the mix in a nice way that allowed it even lead the song on several occasions.
I think that there's definite talent in here, but the band definitely do need to try and rid themselves of all the filler they try to stuff into their songs. There were several spots on here that made me think that if those bits were expanded upon or experimented with, these guys could really come out with something really interesting. But in regards to this album, there's something for whatever type of black metal fan you happen to be, but you really will need an attention span for this one.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: II, VI
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Country: Oslo, Norway
Over the past year or so, I've been lucky enough to become aquainted with Kim Solve. I think he's done really great things with his label Adversum and so when he sent me this new project of his, I was definitely interested in hearing what it was. He also managed to gather some really good and interesting musicians to play with him on this album - which always helps entice me.
Based on the material that Kim releases under his label, I was expecting this album to be some really freaked out industrial metal project, but when I finally listened to it, I was surprised to hear almost nothing that I had imagined. This is, for the majority of it's running time, a pretty heady industrial record. Not industrial rock. Not industrial metal. Just industrial, with plenty of ideas coming in from dark ambient and noise music as well. The album just brings that sort of early industrial edge that one would find in a project like Pigface or even earlier and purer like Coil. It's dark and edgy without conforming to set heaviness or aggressive tendencies, choosing slower beats and droning noises to create an eerie and bleak atmosphere. The members who comprise this project (which happen to include Bjeima, Plenum, Anders B., and Alan Belardinelli definitely know how to convey a sense of menace, with a track like Stalker being quite creepy and unsettling in it's use of monotony. Allowing the beat to pound continuously while the synth and strings rise and fall in harmony and dissonance. At times this sounds more like a score to a really deranged horror movie (think Gnaw Their Tongues but a lot clearer and less noisy) than any sort of straight-up industrial based project.
All that being said, that isn't to say that the record doesn't have it's moments of avant-garde tendencies. Short interlude tracks like Disneyfied, Delirius and HIV+ or Amputease bring me fond memories of groups like Idiot Flesh or early Mr. Bungle recordings the use of carnival sounds would run rampant. The addition of the early Nine Inch Nails or Ministry styled track Fuck Me Like You Hate Me will certainly be the gateway many fans will find into the album, as it was mine, because it is a more direct and intense type of song that isn't as quite so abstract. There are times when I'm reminded of power-electronics during some of the noisier moments on here. The album never reaches that same level of "rock" aggression after that track again, and so that might deter you from listening, but I do think that this is interesting enough to hold you attention even if you're not much of an "experimental" listener and do prefer heavier pastures. The more atmospheric passages, honestly, I doubt will appeal to the "strictly metal crowd" but I think that even if you can't get into those sort of tracks, the more orchestral based tracks like the aforementioned Stalker or Slasher could appeal to their sense of darkness and weightiness from music.
It certainly isn't what I expected to hear from Kim, but it does keep in line with the set of releases he's been a part of in the last couple of years. It's a record that keeps you on your toes because it the next song could very well sound like a completely different group. If you're interested in dark ambient music, industrial music, or even film and game scores, definitely give this a listen.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Pig Boy, Fuck Me Like You Hate Me, Slasher
Monday, February 4, 2013
Country: Timișoara, Romania
Style: Progressive/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Prophecy Productions
Obviously with the separation of Hupogrammos and Sol Faur from Negură Bunget several years ago scared many fans into thinking that band was done. Shockingly enough that band bounced back with (in my opinion) a really great album, and then it was announced that Hupogrammos and Sol Faur were forming a new group, the pressure was high as to whether it would live up to their work in the aforementioned band. The two song Valea Omului EP did bring with it a lot of promise but it was this full-length that would ultimately prove if the band were up to par.
Somehow the fact that opener Jind De Tronuri set the pace for the rest of this record isn't as surprising as the fact that the majority of the rest of the record actually manages to match this massive track. As an opening track, it really should get your attention, if not for the fact that it tops sixteen minutes, then for the fact that it has everything you'd expect from former members of Negură Bunget and more. For me, while that band has always been progressively inclined, I think that Dordeduh exceeds them in the capacity of writing songs that are winding and interesting. There isn't as apparent an of a focus on atmosphere, though it is certainly a major part in this band's sound, the songs don't dwell in pools of ambient and field recording based sections. More often than not, Dordeduh wound up sounding more like early-to-mid period Enslaved than Negură Bunget, at least from my perspective, with their sound being far more riff based and with plenty of vocal chants that sounded eerily reminiscent of the whole "viking metal" kind of style. Despite all that, the track managed to end on a note that was, perhaps the most surprising of everything else in it, somewhat uplifting. It did not retain the darkness and foreboding nature it had at during it's introduction, but moved into a completely different realm all together - which is what I'd call great songwriting right there.
It should come as not surprise that the rest of the album proves to be just as diverse as that one track. With a personal highlight coming in the form of the softer, psychedelic E-an-na, which is a very atmospheric track that never really bursts into a heavy part but keeps things interesting through tempo changes and synth passages that are top notch. The inclusion of bass-led passages, more folk driven interludes, symphonic synths, and riffs that dance between being traditional black metal and more progressively inclined are sewn throughout the entire album, and it's a treat to listen to each song because so many ideas are thrown into each one. The extended versions of both Cumpăt and Zuh are very well done on here as well, both making use of their elongated time frames expertly. I thought the originals from the band's EP were well done but here they feel even more fleshed out with the latter being almost twice as long with a great folk interlude being used as a bridge and it's just great.
The band have definitely succeeded at writing an album that sets them apart from their former group while still maintaining all their hallmark traits. It's the type of record that I could see working for older fans and newer fans equally. If you're a fan of progressive and atmospherically inclined black metal this is an album not to pass up.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Jind De Tronuri, E-an-na, Zuh
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Country: St. Louis, Missouri
Style: Math Rock/Progressive Rock
Label: Skin Graft
I was first notified about this band by one of it's members due to my Guzzlemug review. Any band that would associate themselves with Guzzlemug (a band who I now have a great amount of respect for) gains some interest from me immediately. I was quite impressed with what I heard on first listen and decided to give the entire album a go.
As I happened to state in my review for Guzzlemug, I thought that what they were doing is what modern progressive rock should sound like - challenging and unique; and while Yowie are very different from Guzzlemug, the same thought can be applied to both groups. The members that make up Yowie obviously play less with metal ideas and more with spasms of math rock influenced quirkiness. It's the sort of sound that is quite off putting on first listen because each member appears to be playing something completely different to what the other members are doing only to reconvene occasionally and bring the song together. Each song just sort of scrambles your head while all you as the listener can really do is sit back and try to absorb everything that's being played. So, with that in mind, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that there really isn't a whole lot of memorable songwriting on here - and to an extent you'd be correct in that assumption. Frankly, however, with how out of control some of these songs were I could really care less because they were frenetic and intense as anything you'd hear from the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan but without the vocals or as much distortion. The sound comes across as all the stranger due to the rubbery sounding guitar tones. To go back to the whole progressive rock thing for a second though, while this band is clearly indebted to the sounds of math rock, I do think that they bring more of that jazz rock intensity which isn't found so much in math rock. Like I said, there isn't that heavy rock or metal distortion on here, but there are several tracks on here where it could match any tech metal or grind band in a contest for intensity (I'm not saying blast-beats though). They switch tempos and patterns so frequently it's actually quite jarring - but I think that there isn't enough of that in modern progressive rock.
I thought this was a pretty damn impressive piece of work - not perfect, but definitely interesting. It has all the intensity needed to satisfy fans of more aggressive music, but isn't heavy enough to scare away more "arty" fans. It's certainly worth looking into if you're up for some strange sounding progressive rock.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Whippersnapper, Shriners Sure Do Cuss A Lot