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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 50 - Albums of 2011

Well here we are, another year has gone by and another great year of music has come out. This list was by no means easy to compile, I've written, edited, re-written, re-written again, etc., so this did not just happen overnight. I should say that this year's list was even harder to compile than last years. I have to thank great reviewers and sites for helping to turn me onto some artists who would wind up on this list (Jon and the guys from The Inarguable, Harold at HSS, and Anthony Fantano/The Needle Drop). Keep in mind that this is only my list, feel free to post yours below. Thanks for a great year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 10 - 2011 EPs

Here's a list of my favorite EPs that have been released this year. There were a couple of other EPs that I would have liked to have put on here, but heard too late in the year for them to really leave an impact like these did. Keep in mind that this is just my personal list. Please feel free to list your own list below.

10) Corelia - Nostalgia [Independent]
A band lumped in with the whole djent scene but is closer to that of a modern prog-metal band with leaning into the more technical realms, ala Sikth. Very melodic with mostly clean vocals that remind me a bit of a young Geoff Tate of all things. It's the type of record that vocally might turn some people off, though I personally enjoy them, but enjoy the music.
Highlight: Blood Petals

9) No Funeral - No Funeral [Wands]
A definite highlight of my entire year has been the discovery of many groups that have been put under the category of "blackened punk." No Funeral's debut six song EP definitely left an impression with me due to it's straightforward nature of songwriting, extremely raw production, and spit-in-your-face authority. Blown out and just nasty from start to finish. You really have no idea what you're missing out on if you haven't checked these guys out yet.
Highlight: Cancer

8) Seirom - Seiromistkrieg [Independent]
Mories of Gnaw Their Tongues, among others, comes out with a new project that blows away most of the post-black metal releases this year. Breaking away from his usual nosier work, this release is more beautiful than hideous due to it's focus on layers of ambiance and post-rock influenced guitar lines. While it most certainly contains tons of noise, the vacuum of space can become engulfed by the more melodic and ambient tendencies that these songs exhibit. An absolute marvel of post-black metal/blackgaze that does away with most of the competition in a single swoop. A full-length next year is surely near the top of my most anticipated albums for next year.
Highlight: Istnichtkrieg

7) Between The Buried and Me - The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues [Metal Blade]
Following up what was their most progressive effort yet, 2009's "The Great Misdirect," this new EP continued the band's trend of becoming even more of a progressive metal group by crafting three of their most interesting and memorable songs yet. Delving into the world of concepts with this release, each song retains the band's signature unpredictable style of songwriting while molding songs into more straightforward-ish structures whilst not making a single song sound the same. Easily their most expansive and mature effort yet.
Highlight: Lunar Wilderness

6) And The Giraffe - Something For Someone [Independent]
I'm obviously not a huge fan of indie music, let along indie folk, but this record just blew me away. I've gotten a couple of requests to review indie music in the past, and I've always had to turn it down because it doesn't really appeal to me at all, but this thing was just great. The songwriting is very well done, simplistic but super catchy songs, what more could you want from an indie folk record?
Highlight: Underground Love

5) The Ash Eaters - The Cruel Side [Independent]
A rather new addition to the list but one that definitely stood out this year. These guys obviously know how to write songs that are attention grabbing, but the nods to groups like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord are clearly referenced within both tracks. Unlike the other bands who just copy those bands, these guys obviously have their own sound and take on the more chaotic side of black metal. Raw and interesting black metal for people who like it weird and intense.
Highlight: We Want Oblivion

4) Agrypnie - Asche [Supreme Chaos]
Agrypnie is a group that has grown tremendously since their debut full-length back in 2006. With each release we've seen them embrace more and more the influences of industrial and progressive music and mold it into something uniquely their own. On this EP however, we see them take on a stronger element of post-rock and shoegaze, or at least black metal influenced by those sounds, and pull it off better than a majority of their piers who supposedly specialize in this realm. It's a record that will confound all those fanboys/fangirls who flock to Alcest-lite bands due to it's progressive and harder edge, but might actually make them take a second look at the sub-genre call "post-black metal."
Highlight: Augenblick

3) Circles - The Compass [Basick]
Who knew the blending of modern prog rock, djent, and electronica could produce such a catchy record. While the whole band is great, vocalist Perry Kakridas is undoubtedly the star of the show with his Mike Patton-esque croon. The songs on here are all of a high caliber and have interesting rhythmic patterns whilst being incredibly catchy and memorable. Not a song on here isn't memorable in some way. The vocal melodies on here are nearly impossible to rid yourself of once you hear them.
Highlight: The Design

2) Horseback/Locrian - New Dominions [Utech]
This is a collaboration that was bound to produce results that would both intrigue as well as amaze; and it didn't disappoint. The two tracks on here exhibit traits that do call back to some of the work both groups have done on their own, but create an interesting hybrid when combined. It goes above and beyond the reaches of drone, black metal, and post-rock into a whole new plain, and elevates it into a place I have yet to hear repeated. An absolutely essential piece of music from this year.
Highlight: Our Epitaph

1) Ólafur Arnalds - Living Room Songs [Erased Tapes]
With his second full-length, "...And They Have Escaped The Weight of Darkness," Ólafur Arnalds had solidified a place within my favorite albums of last year. This new EP sees him expanding on the sounds of that album while performing all the material on this it live in his living room, with accompanying strings and an electronic producer. While not quite the emotional roller-coaster that his last album was, the songs on here all express a wonderful sense of emotion while being very minimal in their composition. Emotional, minimalistic, orchestral, and beautiful, what more could you ask for? This is an absolutely mesmerizing record.
Highlight: Lag Fyrir Ömmu

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blutvial - Curses Thorns Blood (2011)

Band: Blutvial
Country: Hampshire, UK
Style: Black Metal
Label: Haintic

Here is yet another release that I was unaware was coming out, but was obviously gonna cover it. Aort is a guy who's been in a lot of bands that I enjoy quite a bit, so I was obviously going to get to this record eventually. Seeing as I don't think I ever listened to the band's first album, I had to do my homework for this one.
If there was ever a way to grab my attention to start off a black metal record it would be the opening thirty seconds of At The Stones We Gather. It's just explodes with blast-beats, tremolo picking, and is nearly impossible to really make a single thing out, but it's great. The track then precedes to go into full-on blackened thrash, great. After that, the record does not stop, it just keeps pumping out intense black metal songs, of various sub-genres, and repeatedly hammering away at you. In these eight songs you get black metal that goes anywhere from it's more traditional form to blackened thrash, post/progressive influenced riffing, and the occasional sludge metal and industrial influence popping up as well.
You know I have to say it's about time I heard a black metal record with riffs on it. I haven't heard one of these for a couple of months and this thing really does the trick. There isn't a song on here that doesn't have a riff worth remembering on it. Whether it be the black-thrash of the opening track, as mentioned above, the doom closing to Conspiracy of Optimism, or the more mid-tempo sludge of Tirade Against Oversocialisation, it's all done with skill, precision, and care. I was actually surprised that this sort of record managed to accomplish what I many, and what I mean is nearly all, more straightforward black metal records never do, take you on a journey. There were moments on here, the longer tracks, that really felt like you were hearing more than a band just playing.
Excellently crafted and performed with the skill that has come to be expected from Aort. This is a record that will have just as much appeal to the kvlt kids as much as to the guys who are into more experimental black metal groups. Definitely check this up if you like black metal that experiments just enough to not be standard.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Immutable Hammer, Three Curses, A Light In The Forest

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Carcharoth Λ.V. - Transcendvm Monolitvs Xvl (2011)

Band: Carcharoth Λ.V.
Country: Gera, Germany
Style: Atmospheric/Ambient Black Metal
Label: Independent

I was really surprised when I saw that Carcharoth Λ.V. had an album out this late in the year. I am, and have been a fan, for a little while but I guess I'd be surprised by any album that's released this late in the year. Whatever the case, it's great to hear new material from these guys no matter when it's being released.
I should warn you before you come into this album, this is a long album, it's nearly the full eighty minutes long. I know I've covered double-albums that have topped this in length, none of those albums was ever filled to the brim with music, you could listen to about an hour, and maybe take a break or whatever and come back to it, this was one album that's just completely full. Beyond that, these guys, much like their brothers from Switzerland, Darkspace, focus on creating huge pieces of atmosphere that is all encompassing in size, mass, and sound. I have, in the past, referred to this duo as the more scrappy little brother to Darkspace, due to their sounds being relatively similar, but much more raw and, in a sense, personal. From what I understand, I believe that this album is somewhat conceptually based on black holes, or at least inspired by them, which is an interesting idea. I do have to say that the samples on here range from unintelligible to really good, with the best being found in the title-track, Transcendvm Monolitvs Xvl, referencing vampirism as well as soul transmigration and death, it's actually pretty cool.
I have to be honest, when you listen to an album like this, remembering songs really won't happen. There really isn't a whole lot in the way of catchy riffs, memorable hooks, or engaging interplay, this is a very cold, bleak, and chaotic album. It's almost all about the atmosphere, making this sound absolutely gigantic and monstrous. In fact, the most memorable thing about this record is the atmosphere, and it's really more subjective if that's what you would term as "memorable." It's records like this that aren't about each individual part so much as the whole they create when they're all together. There's almost an industrial vibe to how the drums are played, or rather programmed I think, because of the tone of them and how they're used more to accent certain sections of the music rather than others. Other times it comes from all the reverb on here, where certain guitars just seem to be locked into a cacophonous state of echo that it creates an almost industrial kind of noise. A lot of this album appears to have been written in spurts if only because of shifts where one thing will be playing out and then cuts to another section completely, which is a bit off-putting when you realize you're really engrossed in a section and then it just stops.
For all it's flaws, I still really enjoyed most of the album and thought it's ideas were interesting. This is the best release from the duo thus far so this would be the best record to start with from them, if you plan on doing so. Check it out if huge, cosmic, atmospheric black metal is up your alley.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Astral Projection OJ 287, Silentivm Vltima NGC 6240, Viator Vacvitas 777

Reverorum Ib Malacht - Urkaos (2011)

Band: Reverorum Ib Malacht
Country: Uppsala, Sweden
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal/Dark Ambient
Label: AJNA Offensive

If I remember correctly, I was informed about this release a couple of months ago, it not being out at that point, but my interest was piqued. At the time, I had never heard of the project before but I was told good things. I've covered a few "ritualistic" groups this year, and only a couple have actually lived up to that term, but I had high hopes for this release.
When you open an album with what I could only describe as a shamanistic ritual happening in a cathedral, you better follow that up with something interesting. The ensuing black metal passage that follows in In Blando Xpi Sibilo proves that this is indeed a very interesting piece of work. Breaking into various tremolo picked passages throughout the course of it's nine minutes, it is interrupted and broken up by some far more odd choices of instrumentation during it's opening segment. It's a trend that you'll notice throughout the album. That, along with the rather hazy atmosphere that surrounds the whole thing makes it sound like a ritual is happening while this is playing.
Throughout the entirety of the album there is a solid amount of black metal parts and more ambient ones as well. I have no idea if this was written chronologically as it appears, but it certainly feels that way to me. Each piece flows into one another fluidly whilst providing something different with each track. I rather enjoyed the lurching bass on Sermon Below The Mount, which is something that you won't find in the faster and more aggressive black metal on Omen, which follows it. There's a fair amount of ideas on here that definitely pull from various sources, there are traces of blackgaze within some of the guitar playing on The Lord Is... II, as well as obvious inclinations towards drone music with the more ambient pieces. The final and untitled track that closes out the album definitely closes it with style. Unlike the more ambient based interludes that preceded it, here you have an extended drone segment that completes the ritual. Having said all that, this release is rather impersonal, which makes it loose some points with me, though I realize that this was probably intentional. What's going on in these songs feels way too far away, or mystical maybe, for me to kind of relate to and draw any sort of connection from it. Not to say the ideas aren't there, because I do like what these guys are trying to do.
In the end all I can really say for it is that I liked the ideas but it felt a little isolating. I realize that this is more of a personal problem I have with the album, and I'm sure that many others will find something here that will keep them intrigued, but I just couldn't get into it. Check it out if you're a fan of ritual ambient or more atmospheric based black metal.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Ecclesia's Call II, Sermon Below The Mount, Urkaos

Monday, December 26, 2011

White Ring - Hey Hey, My My + Felt U Single (2011)

Band: White Ring
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Witch House
Label: Handmade Birds

When I look back at 2011, I can honestly say that I haven't covered as vast a variety of music as I would have liked. Last year I managed to cover quite a few electronic albums, this year, I don't think I've covered any. While me doing this won't really make up for me not covering any of it this year, here's me covering something I thought I never would.
I can honestly say that this release is what got me into witch house, though whether or not I'm a huge fan of the genre or not remains to be seen. But onto the release itself, what you in here are two songs, a Neil Young cover, Hey Hey, My My, and Felt U, a song by the duo. I can honestly say that I'm not a Neil Young fan, never have been, but I think that what this duo manage to do with the song is turn it from, what I consider to be, a more uplifting song into something much more introspective and haunting as well as morose, but that's probably expected. The band's own track demonstrates a more ambient kind of idea, while still making use of house beats and synthesizer sounds. I think I do prefer the original to the cover on here, but I can't say that either disappointed me in the least. Yet another win for Handmade Birds, and this was probably the release I was most worried about.
Like I said above, this release did turn me onto witch house, a genre I thought I would get nothing out of after some rather bad experiences with it. I definitely have to check out the duo's previous material after hearing this. Definitely pick it up if you're interested in more introspective electronic music.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Felt U

Cloudland Ballroom - Illusion Circles (2011)

Band: Cloudland Ballroom
Country: Ambient
Style: Ambient
Label: Aguirre

I admittedly have never heard of this project before I decided to review it and was really just diving head first into it. I just so happened to read a review of it and thought it sounded interesting so I looked it up. It turned out to be a lot different than what I thought it would be, actually.
When I first looked into this, and based on the review I had read for it, I was expecting some sort of spacey, krautrock record. That's not what I got. What you find in here is some trippy, ambient music that would be fit for a 70s sci-fi movie. At times, the sounds on here are a bit cheesy and certainly do fit the mold of a 70s movie, but I'd say there's a lot more purposeful depth on here than most of those movies ever used. There are times when this thing gets totally ambient, The Ponds, and then there are times when it goes really cheesy sci-fi synthe worship, Faculty X (Phase One & Two), but both are pulled off really well and are extremely enjoyable. Personally, I think I would have loved to have heard some of these tracks go on for longer periods of time, I think the longest is somewhere around five minutes, and I think if it was stretched out for longer, you'd really get one of those amazing synthe odyssey sort of albums.
It's really hard for me to try and get someone excited for stuff like this because it's ambient music, a genre that really doesn't allow someone to be really enthusiastic about it. Ambient music is, more or less, thought of something to put in the background and kind of just left to hang there while you do something else. It's hard for someone to just let themselves become enamored with soundscapes, but I can say about this is that this is the sort of album that can provide great background music, but it's also something you can just focus on and listen to directly. Tracks like Time-Flight or Last Seconds of Lucidity are just captured my attention and made me listen intently as they just sort of vibrated around this one central idea for several minutes because they were just great sounds. I realize a lot of people may still ignore this album because of what it is, but I really think that fans of both ambient music from today and fans of the more synthe odyssey kinds of records will both be able to get something out of this.
Like it's probably inferred from the above, but I really enjoyed this album. It's a solid slab of interesting synthesizer worship that manages to take the listener on some short journeys into the cosmos. Definitely check it out if you're a fan of ambient music and sci-fi soundtracks.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Sender, Faculty X (Phase One & Two), Illusion Circles

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Woburn House - Sleep Summer Storm (2011)

Band: Woburn House
Country: Bonn, Germany
Style: Post-Metal/Sludge Metal
Label: Zeitgeister Music

Klabautamann really opened my door to a lot of other really cool bands back when I first discovered them. Since I found Woburn House, I have been a fan and I have really been looking forward to this release. Now that's it's here, did it live up to my expectations?
Right from the beginning, before even pressing play on this album, there's a noticeable change in this album from the previous two. The last two full-lengths have had pretty epic songs that have topped ten minutes in most cases, not one song on this release gets near ten minutes, staying well below the eight minute bar. The post-metal element is also a lot more up-front on here than in the past as well, with quite a few songs remaining in softer, but still distorted, guitar driven territory for the majority of the album. You'll notice that even though the guitars are heavy, the don't really do any of the typical doom and sludge chugging or let a single chord ring out for a while all too much; instead you'll find a lot more single note picked chords on here, which does give the album a very different feel than a lot of other post-metal, sludge, and doom records. I'm not gonna lie, there are moments where this thing can get pretty epic sounding, as songs do tend to actually build momentum throughout however long they are, the climaxes do have a more reserved sense even when unleashing it's power.
Despite it's tag, it isn't all that heavy, but appears to focus more on atmospherics instead. I also don't want to give the impression that the band have gotten rid of their more psychedelic influences because they are most certainly still a big part of this album. What I found to be quite interesting was the use sythes being played underneath the band, which gives the songs an almost spacey quality. They don't really come out and play a big part in the song, but instead drone on and bring a sort of ethereal atmosphere to the track, hear Rain Keeps Falling Down for example. It really isn't a "heavy" album in the traditional sense of the word, but more foundational heavy, with thick, low bass grooves and the occasional heavier guitar part, which finally happens on A Simple Man. I am aware that waiting just over half an hour for this record to finally go metal, really go metal I mean, will not be appealing to some, but the songs are well written and until that explosive finale, you do get some nice atmospheric songs.
I think this album lived up to my expectations, despite the fact that originally I found it to be a pretty disappointing first listen. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure if I can say it's better than their older material at this point or not. Definitely check it out if you're a fan of post-rock, prog-rock, or post-metal, this is actually a record I could see appealing to quite a few different ranges of people actually.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Willow, Clash, Sleep Summer Storm

Stone Angels - Within The Witch EP (2011)

Band: Stone Angels
Country: Christchurch, New Zealand
Style: Sludge/Doom Metal
Label: Satan City

In all honesty, the name Stone Angels was one that I considered naming my own project, then I saw that this band had already taken it so I guess I credit these guys to helping me find another one. Granted, they obviously play a completely different style than me, I found myself interested then not with them over the course of the year. This is me finally giving in and being interested.
I somehow doubt that if you come looking for doom and sludge in this record, you'll be disappointed. These guys tackle a bit of everything that's slow, heavy, and sad with this release. You'll hear your typical doom/sludge stuff with the title-track, Within The Witch, but you also have some bouts with funeral doom on White Light, White Noise and more blues oriented stylings on Withdrawing The Jinn, all of this, including various other takes on the genres, leads to a diverse piece of work here. Probably my main complaint about this was that I found it a bit odd that the vocals were pretty low in the mix, with the guitars and drums nearly overshadowing them. Having said that, vocals aren't used all that often in these songs, with about half of them making use of none at all, so it's a pretty ignorable trait if you don't mind that. I also found the use of noises and ambiance in the background during Grave was really cool and really brought a new kind of atmosphere to the track.
In the end it's a pretty solid debut release that shows a lot of diversity and a willingness to explore various sounds, which is plus in my opinion. It's definitely a fun little release that is well worth looking into in my opinion. Definitely check it out if you have an interest in things of the slow persuasion within the metal genre.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Within The Witch, Bleeding Black, Coffin Cross

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Stielas Storhett - Expulse (2011)

Band: Stielas Storhett
Country: Murmansk, Russia
Style: Progressive/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Code666

I'm not gonna lie when I say that I was originally not going to talk about this album. I remember reviewing the EP that this project released last year and was quite impressed with it, but I didn't remember the project when this album was originally released. It wasn't until I watched a review, of sorts, on youtube for it that I looked the album up and remembered the band and was like, "I have to cover this."
To anyone who's read this blog for a while, you'll know that I haven't had the best relationship with black metal from Russia. In all honesty, a lot of it may have interesting ideas, but often comes across as terribly under produced and lackluster. When I heard Stielas Storhett's EP last year, "SKD," like I said above, I was impressed. Though it did dwell within the depressive sub-genre, it had quite a few elements that made it stand out and break out of character from that style. This new album retains very few traits from the more depressive background of the project, with sole member Damien T.G taking the project into a much more exciting direction. It's really shocking to know that this is the same band that released that EP last year, because it almost sounds like a completely different band.
When was the last time you heard a new band that was tagged as depressive with actual riffs? Throughout this album you get a great blend of ideas that channel more progressive and experimental elements than I ever expected. There are moments on here than bring to mind groups like Enslaved, Opeth, and Shining more than any group like Lifelover, and it continually blew me away, All Paths Lead to Oblivion is a great example of such. More than anything else, I would call this a progressive album, from the just the structures alone, you get a lot of very fluid dynamics between the more aggressive sections and the softer ones, but there's here as well. The instrumentation is fantastic, Damien manages to channel those great acoustic sections that Shining has, while bringing his own flair to them, which I think comes from the bass-lines he provides underneath them. The saxophone lines delivered on the title-track, Expulse, I thought were fantastic and totally fit with the mood that the album was at when it came on. With all that being said, it's also a very natural sounding album, nothing feels forced or really out of place anywhere, it all comes together on point and works together as a song. As a side note, at this point in the year I pretty much had my end of the year list completed, this thing made me delete most of it and start from scratch because this thing is that good.
I've been listening to this thing almost non-stop since I first got it, it's literally jaw-dropping in how good it is. I can't recommend this highly enough, this thing absolutely blew me away from first listen onwards. If you like progressive black metal, do not hesitate, find this album now.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Dead Reptile Shrine - The Sun of Circles and Wood (2011)

Band: Dead Reptile Shrine
Country: Vuokatti, Finland
Style: Raw Black Metal/Folk
Label: Weird Forest

S. Devamitra, the sole member of the project known as Dead Reptile Shrine has been at work throughout the last decade releasing some of the weirest black metal you've ever heard. When I say weird though, I'm not talking about progressive or avant-garde, I'm talking about straight-up raw, noisy, and nearly impossible to tell what's going on weird. This new album is obviously his most ambitious undertaking yet, being a double-album that trumps two hours.
When you come into a Dead Reptile Shrine album, the best frame of mind is to approach it with an open mind, because most likely you will have no idea what to expect, whether or not you've heard/read anything about it. In this double-album, you'll hear some of Devamitra's signatures like the really lo-fi black metal-meets-doom-meets-noise and the demented acoustic songs, but you'll also find some of the darker and more ambient sides of the project as well. The drone and dark ambient sides of the project aren't used as regularly as the others are, and were most utilized on the collection of demos that was released back in 2001. The comparisons to groups and projects like Dead Raven Choir and Circle of Ouroborus are inevidable and have been used before, though this project feels a bit more of the punk side of things, and has for a while.
So, with this album, with it's extended running time, what makes it different from the other releases Devamitra has put out? I'd say it's a bit more chaotic than some of the other stuff he's done in the past, in terms that he actually sounds psychotic during several of the vocal tracks. There are also more than a couple of tracks that feature riffs and melodies that are considerably more catchy than a lot of the older material the project has generated. Having said that, this album also holds some of the project's most out-there moments yet. There are also some quite odd nods to the depressive black metal genre, Solstice d'Hiver for instance really made me think of Lifelover. There are moments where it reaches into more ritualistic ambient sort of vibe, Summer Forest's Magic also has the boogyman vocals. I'm not gonna lie, some of the stuff on here is a bit silly sounding, but there wasn't any part of it that I thought was comical or bad enough to laugh at.
I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed this album, considering I'd like to think of myself as only a casual listener of this stuff. While it isn't exactly mind-blowing, most of it is well written and it's constructed in a way that doesn't make the album drag. Check it out if you're into raw black metal, punk, noise, dark ambient, folk rock, etc., chances are you'll find something in here that you'll enjoy.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Weapon, Crucifixion and Drowning, Beholding The Necrocult Relic, Summer Forest's Magic, Possessed By Infinity

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ebony Sorrow - Narcotic Funeral Demo (2009)

Band: Ebony Sorrow
Country: Syracuse, New York
Style: Black Metal/Grindcore
Label: Independent

I know I'm totally breaking my own rule not to review albums that weren't released this year, but I'm really busy and didn't have the time to say I wasn't going to cover it because of a limitation I usually abide by. It's the end of the year and I'm feeling lazy so don't expect me to do this sort of thing again. Plus this is a demo, so this is gonna be a one-time exception.
Now that that's out of the way, and I don't intend for that opening to as rude as it probably comes across being, we can discuss the music that's performed here. This four song demo comes across as a hate-fueled fist in the face of all things unkvlt. At times recalling a less industrialized, or less urbanized, version of Anaal Nathrakh, this thing just goes intense, goes brutal, and goes fast, and doesn't slow down. Though firmly rooted within black metal, the thrash and grindcore, and to an extent you could even say punk rock, influences are undeniable, like on Defile The Lambs of Christ, an absolutely blistering song if I ever heard one. I was impressed that despite how fast these songs are, the bass actually stuck out from below them, which I particularly enjoyed hearing.
I hope my intro didn't scare you off from listening to this, because it really is very good material. I enjoyed the release, but I would prefer if people didn't start sending me old stuff to review, it's honestly not what I do here. Besides that, I definitely recommend you check this out if you like brutal black metal.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Defile The Lambs of Christ, The Prophets of Sodom

Nachzehrer - Pestilence Hungers In The Shadows EP (2011)

Band: Nachzehrer
Country: Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Blackened Thrash Metal
Label: Independent

If you had spoken to me maybe three or four months ago, I probably could have spoken to you about blackened thrash, but wouldn't have been able to really tell you a band that I really enjoyed. Since then I've really found myself enjoying quite a few groups from the sub-genre and I grown to really become a fan, despite not being a huge thrash guy. So when I was sent this album, it was obviously gonna get covered.
It's hard to say what I was expecting when I pressed play on this. I knew, sonically, what the band was about and stylistically what they were, but coming into a record actually knowing what a band you've never heard before can be a bit odd. I think these guys are a bit more black than thrash, in my opinion, as opener The Awakening demonstrated to me. I'll admit that it might just be my taste being a bit unrefined when it comes to blackened thrash and I haven't listened to enough of it, but I came in thinking there would be more thrash, just because most of the bands I enjoy tend to have more thrash than black. Not to say that this record didn't excite me, because there were songs on here that definitely made me want to bang my head and punch a hole in the wall (that's meant as a good thing in my book). I do have to say that there were a couple of spots on here that felt a little awkward to me, the opening riff of Howling At A Winter Moon for example just sounded a little off, but that might just be me.
Overall, I think it's a strong release that has a lot to offer a listener if they're into this style. It's a strong little release that shows a lot of potential for the future if they continue to harness their songwriting chops the way they demonstrated on here. Definitely check it out if you like black metal, thrash metal, or a blending of the two.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Barsarkar-Gang, Black Order of The Goat, Atavist

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Deschain - Sea of Trees Forest of Gallows (2011)

Band: Deschain
Country: Bloomington, Indiana
Style: Progressive/Melodic Black Metal
Label: Independent

Deschain was a group I stumbled upon earlier this year who's debut album, "Upon The Oaken Throne" was pretty impressive. I received an email a few weeks ago about them releasing this album. I was more than interested in seeing how they had progressed within less than a year after their debut.
Probably one of my main complaints with the group's debut was that it was a bit too long, being over a hour, with most songs topping in at over ten minutes, there were times when it was a bit taxing to get through. On here, the band have elongated their songs further, but made this entire album around thirty-five minute with only two songs. The difference, while some might see it as a negative, is that it is a lot more tolerable as a whole and a bit easier to digest as well. The band has also improved on the technical side of things as well, with the production being a lot clearer and not nearly raw as like the debut was. It's hard to say that a record is consistent sounding, mixing and production wise, when there's only two tracks, but both tracks on here do trump any of the production decisions on the debut, with both songs never dipping in quality or going into a weird place. The drums also don't sound nearly as triggered or clicky as the debut and instead have a much more natural sound to them, which really works well with the tone of the guitars and bass.
As with their debut, the songwriting on here is very strong. The riffs still channel a variety of genres, from black metal to doom, death, and prog, but never sound rehashed or just crammed together. I'd even say that there's an increased influence of traditional heavy metal, ala Iron Maiden or Diamondhead, styled guitar harmonies being used in here as well. Both songs demonstrate an even stronger songwriting ability, in my opinion, than the debut as well as just having catchy riffs in their songs too. Obviously the band have carried over their sense of dynamics, though it has improved, with songs being able to convey various emotional states, from anger to more uplifting, whether or not that was intention I'm not sure. I have to say, guitar solos in black metal are often not the greatest and can sound out of place, but that's not the case with this band. Every solo on here feels like it's in the right place and there's variety in them as well, from the more shredding and show-offy ones to more soulful and emotional with more feel.
Overall, it's a very strong piece of work that definitely has the band at their peak, as of right now. Both songs on here are very well written and it excites me to see where this band goes in another year if they made this great a leap in just about ten months. Definitely check this out if you're at all interested in progressive black metal.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Forest of Gallows (Cast Down The Sun)

Lugubrum - Face Lion Face Oignon (2011)

Band: Lugubrum
Country: Lovendegem, Belgium
Style: Experimental/Avant-Garde Black Metal
Label: Aphelion Productions

Lugubrum is one of those band's who's just always been odd, but in a good way. It's a band who has a pretty wide discography, seeing as they've been around since 1992, but haven't had the time to really go back and listen to it all the way I would like to. From what I have listened to though, I can tell you that you will be hard pressed to find another band that sounds like them.
Within this album's opening track, El Arish, you will find several ideas that will most likely turn you off if you like aggressive and more traditional forms of black metal. The post-punk-ish guitar riff, jazzy bass-lines, breakdown, and solo, and what sounds like hand percussion with your normal black metal rasp over the top of it, signaling all kvltists to stay away. This is just the opening track mind you, the rest of the album doesn't get any clearer in terms of style. Lugubrum have, for about for about the last decade or so, been juggling various influences and mixing them with black metal, from ska to electronic, and none of it normal sounding. Tracks on here often shift around from style to style, some more radically than others, hear the folk/psychedelic black metal/electronic fusion on Jaffa. Though that's not to say you don't have more straightforward, almost punk-esque, moments on here, but straightforward in the case of Lugubrum is still strange compared to many other groups.
When I was looking up stuff for this review, on last.fm, where they list similar bands, I saw Circle of Ouroborus and it struck me that they might be the only band that is really comparable to Lugubrum. While I can say with certainty that Lugubrum is a lot more experimental than their Finnish counterparts, the raw production, and this is nowhere near as lo-fi as CoO's stuff, but there are similar sort of tendencies toward bleak atmospheres and extremely weird vocals. Various vocal styles are utilized from guttural growling to typical black metal rasps to what could be described as drunken throat warbling, as well as a couple others. So I would say that Lugubrum is the weirder of the two bands, but that's what probably makes them harder to get into.
This is certainly a weird record, and that's only one reason to love it, the ideas are just so weird I can't help but not like it. This is my bread-and-butter in terms of music, I'm naturally inclined towards liking stuff like this so I'm biased. If you want to hear some pretty weird, kind-of black metal, definitely check out Lugubrum.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Acre I, Acre II

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

His Electro Blue Voice - Dead Sons EP (2011)

Band: His Electro Blue Voice
Country: Como, Italy
Style: Post-Punk/Krautrock
Label: Brave Mysteries

I'm sure my first introduction to His Electro Blue Voice was similar to a lot of other peoples, through their split with Nuite Noir. I'll admit that I was more interested in Nuite Noir's material at the time so I don't remember listening to HEBV, but we all make mistakes. But after actually looking, and eventually listening to this album, I will tell you that I've had a change of heart.
When listening to this EP, which I can say was my first time actually listening to the band, it was quite a, let's say, different experience. Since it does come from a vinyl, the three songs are divided with two on side A and one on side B. Opener Dead Mice is a mad piece of music that just throws elements of sludge metal, post-punk, and flares of avant-garde jazz together and it rips your face off before falling into a more folk inspired ending. It's the type of song where the music is very controlled sounding, but it's just blistering and in-your-face at the same time. Eat Sons follows a similar style to the first, but doesn't fall down into the folk ending. Side B is where things get interesting though, Zum is an extended krautrock jam session that just plods along. As the track progresses, you get a repetitive bass-line that plods along until about half-way through when the whole track just stops, before picking up again in another post-punk-esque section.
Great EP, I really can't say enough good things about this, except that now I have to go back and listen to all their older stuff. I have totally been converted into a fan of this band and I look forward to what they do next. Definitely check this out if weird krautrock and post-punk is at all appealing to you.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Zum

Red Orchid - Blood Vessels & Marshmellows (2011)

Band: Red Orchid
Country: Vienna, Virginia
Style: Progressive Rock/Post-Rock

I've realized that beyond a couple of albums, I really haven't covered too much straight-ahead progressive rock, if you want to call that straight-ahead. While it's certainly too late to really make amends, here's something. When I was sent this album I was originally going to post it in conjunction with something else that didn't wind up working out so this kind of got delayed until now.
I should say that while I would definitely call this record a progressive rock album, it is more in line with modern prog than 60s or 70s prog. The comparisons have already been made by others to groups like Rush and Porcupine Tree, and those are definitely influences, this never really reaches into the same darkness as Steven Wilson's work and isn't quite as epic as the stuff Rush has released in their past. I mean, it has it's own identity, but those are two bands I saw it was compared to and it's obvious that there are sonic comparisons to them. Sanmeet, the guy who wrote and performed most of this album, does have a voice that when it's used in a more spoken word kind of way does recall a bit of Steven Wilson, but when he's singing, he actually has a more dynamic voice that kind of made me think of Ian Gillan a little bit. Being a prog album though, I'd say the album is about fifty-fifty in terms of vocals.
It should be said that for the majority of the album, it tends to dwell within the softer realms of post-rock, hear Glass Woven Yarn for instance. While there are sections of the album that bring a heavier sound, it really isn't put to the best use. The riffs aren't anything special and I think that it doesn't really need to be used, White Mist, Black Widow makes it work mind you, but I feel like in other tracks it's just out of place and unnecessary. In it's dreamy sections, or for the majority of the album, you get this dreamy calm that works at building a sort of psychedelic peace. I think that's where this album's greatest potential is at, keeping the listener focused on the music as it subtly shifts around. Ultimately, I think the fact that the post-rock element is not so much used to build crescendos is a weak spot in that a lot of the album just winds up sounding pretty flat. Don't get me wrong, there are songs and spots that do utilize that effect, and it works, Astronomicon, but for me, that's kind of the essence of the genre, and it doesn't really feel like goes anywhere otherwise.
I think it's a pretty solid album, a lot of it demonstrates that Sanmeet is skilled at writing stuff like this. While I would remove the metal bits or work on them even further, I think when he does prog, he excels. Definitely check it out if you're into calmer forms of prog-rock.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Release, White Mist, Black Widow, Flabbergast Butterfly

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Now Exploding In Saigon - Vigil (2011)

Band: Now Exploding In Saigon
Country: Athens, Greece
Style: Experimental Black Metal/Grindcore
Label: Independent

This year has provided some great debut albums from a lot of underground bands, when I came across this one, I was hoping for another. The cover really intrigued me because it doesn't look like your typical black metal album cover. I just can't ignore something that peaks my interest.
There's something to be said for making something interesting musically, whether you know you're actually doing it or not. When I listened to this album, there's an almost naive charm to it because there are points on here where you can tell what the band was going for in a certain part, but they wind up making something that's well beyond that. There are moments where it's obvious that these guys were going for a more traditional sort of black metal, tremolo picked section, but it winds up sounding more abstract and interesting, kind of in the same vicinity of something you might hear from a band like Krallice or Liturgy. There are also those breaks where it sounds like the band are attempting to go into a more grinding section, but those parts actually interrupt the flow of the black metal ones which gives the entire song the feeling as if it could all just fall apart at any moment, which I enjoyed.
I think it's interesting that while these guys do have that black metal and that grindcore part of their sound, this album is nowhere near as distorted as a lot of other bands. Each riff is pretty clear and dry sounding, it's not a full and rounded tone, but it works. The production is also pretty raw as well, giving the band a bit more of a live feel during these songs. It's an authentic feeling record, it sounds like the band knew these songs are were really rehearsed when they're were playing them. Sections are well paced and flow together nicely, through the more traditional paced In Bright Colours that moves into a pretty melodic bridge before closing with a more Krallice-esque tremolo pattern. Other more experimental sections are used in the album as well, with a more dissonant harmony section moving into a sludge passage on Space of Exile or the spoken word used on Joy In Fear being of note.
I really enjoyed the album and it really shows a young band with potential. These guys are definitely doing something a little different from the rest of the black metal pack, and it's actually good. I hope that you check this band out if you're into more experimental black metal groups.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Volatile & Senile, Space of Exile, Now Exploding In Saigon

Pulsar Colony - Snowball Earth (2011)

Band: Pulsar Colony
Country: Fayetteville, Arkansas
Style: Progressive/Post-Black Metal
Label: Independent

I'm a big fan of nature photographs, thus, when they're used for album covers, I'm naturally at least very impressed with that aspect of a group. While they certainly don't have to be the be-all and end-all of album covers, obviously, I do find them to especially appeal to me. When I saw this album cover, I immediately thought of Njiqahdda.
I can say the when I just skimmed through the album, before actually listening to it once, as I usually do with most albums, I could tell that this was going to be a really interesting album. There's a lot of different ideas on here that I immediately knew would appeal to me. Stylistically, this record makes use of a lot of different ideas. Throughout the album you'll hear traces of some of their influences, Enslaved and Alcest come through quite clearly, Calypso clearly nods it's head to those bands, while the Tool, Opeth, Mastodon, and Emperor influences are more fleeting in their appearance. The longer songs, the shortest of which proves to still be just over eight and a half minutes long, are actually justified with various trips into interesting patterns and riffs, thus creating a song that is not boring, though it wouldn't have hurt if a couple of tracks were just a bit shorter as some ideas due tend to run on for a bit too long. The entire album also could have been shortened as well, being nearly eighty minute in total, it is a tough one to listen to all the way though, though it is not without it's rewards.
I think one of the most intriguing aspects to this record is the drum programming, which does not simply make use of a "traditional" sounding kit. Throughout the record you'll certainly hear all manner of percussive drums, from those found on a drum kit to hand percussion. Granted, the setback of that effect does lead to a very mechanical sound that makes it easy to tell that it is a drum-machine. I also think that the keyboards used throughout the album give it a very unique feel as well, at times bringing in an almost new wave kind of vibe to a couple of tracks. They shift between simply providing atmosphere and lurking beneath the guitars to providing an actual melody, Absolute Zero for instance. I'm also quite partial to the bass work on here, as it's always audible, but often sounds like it was performed acoustically, but that may just be me. What may intrigue people is that while elements of this album certainly fall into the whole post-black metal sub-genre, the Alcest element where you have intense black metal parts that fall into softer post-rock and shoegaze parts is not really as limiting as it might appear, on here anyway. Instead of falling into those genres, when this thing goes soft, you get a bunch of different ideas ranging from sitar and bass solos to sections that recall more of a psychedelic folk kind of sound.
By the end of it, I was very impressed with the songs and ideas on here and I look forward to seeing what Charles Sabo does with the project next. I don't see any reason why you wouldn't like this album if you like forward thinking black metal groups. Definitely check it out if you want to hear some pretty cool experimental black metal.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Wounded Animal of The Four Elements, Pillars of Creation, Of Frostfang Origin

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ash Eaters - The Cruel Side EP (2011)

Band: The Ash Eaters
Country: Austin, Texas
Style: Noise Rock/Black Metal
Label: Independent

I doubt a lot of people who are reading this know who The Ash Eaters are. Those familiar with the amazing blackened doom group Brown Jenkins should take notice that this is the next chapter of the members of that band's chapter. This is the band's second release, following a demo released earlier this year.
Coming from the droning and trippy ideas that were present on Brown Jenkins albums into this might be a bit of a jarring experience for some listeners. This is far from the dank and cold place that those recordings left you, with the two tracks that comprise this EP, you're brought into a much more chaotic and unstable state of mind with riffs that are dissonant and noisy. These songs are also have a clear punk edge to them, with certain drum patterns just sticking out from below the noise of the ringing guitar chords. While guttural growls and layered clean chants provide the voice for the chaotic undercurrent, the entire recording just undergoes a transformation into something far more bleak. While the music itself reflects chaos and disorder alone, the vocals bring even more bleakness and a palpable sense of disharmony. At times, it does bring groups like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord to mind, but this is a far more raw and visceral assault rather than a cerebral one, at this current moment anyway.
I really enjoy it, though I imagine it'll be a tough pill to swallow because it is different, especially from Brown Jenkins. It's a very good piece of work that I can only hope is developed even further and worked into a full-length. Definitely check this out if you want to hear some really crazy black metal.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: We Want Oblivion

WOLD - Freermasonry (2011)

Band: WOLD
Country: Regina, Canada
Style: Blackened Noise
Label: Profound Lore

I'll admit that I've never been a huge WOLD fan, if only because my first experience with one of their albums was less than pleasurable. Maybe last year's "Working Together For Our Privacy" was not the best place to start my listening career with WOLD, but what can you do. Two people whose views on music I respect very much have given very conflicting views of this album, so going into it, I wasn't really sure how this one was going to go.
Now, I'll freely admit that I'm probably a bit ignorant when it comes to WOLD, among other groups, so I kind of approached this thing cautiously. Really the only thing I knew this album was gonna be about was that it was nearly rid of all of the band's older black metal influences and was pretty much embracing their noise traits. Like I just mentioned above, I was not particularly a big fan of "Working Together For Our Privacy," so I was aware that the band's exploration of pure noise wasn't one that was all that appealing to me, but I had no idea what I was in for with this album. I have to say that SOL pretty much told me everything I was going to get from the rest of the album, the good and the bad. I'll say right now that I've fallen somewhere between the two people I mentioned above in my perspective of this album.
I guess I'll start by accentuating the positive aspects of this album. First off, the noise, I think that for the most part, it is enjoyable and pretty well done. Each track features a different kind of chaotic distortion backing it, so each track can at least be seen as different entities. The brutal noise of Free Goat of Leviticus is very different from the electronic influence on Working Tools For Praxis, whether or not you want to think of diversity as a positive or not in this case is subjective. I do think that the intention of this was all well and good, but the execution is frustrating because these tracks wind up being very uninteresting, no matter what the difference between them is, it doesn't help if the ideas are just dull. Probably the most irritating thing about this recording though were the vocals. I thought these totally ruined the record for me, they were just terrible. It honestly sounded as if whoever recorded them was sick and was yelling, or screaming, while they had a sore throat, it's just bad. Now, this might seem odd, coming from a guy who advocates repetition to bring about a meditation state from the music, but there's a difference between repeating an idea and making it hypnotizing, and repeating an idea until it's utterly dead and in the ground, or in other words, boring. A lot of what's on here is just boring and dull as all hell.
I don't know, I think I got pretty much what I expect to get out of this, not very much. I'm disappointed mainly because this came out on Profound Lore, a label that has a pretty impeccable catalog thus far, and this is just a bomb. Disagree if you like, but unless you're already a fan, I don't really recommend checking this out.
Overall Score: 4
Highlights: Free Goat of Leviticus, Dry Love, Free Eyes

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Заводь - Ягна (2011)

Band: Заводь
Country: Kharkiv, Ukraine
Style: Blackened Punk
Label: Independent

Since first discovering Заводь earlier this year, I have become a big advocate of them. Their EP that came out pretty early in the year really got my attention and then their split with Axidance, for which my review was deleted by Blogspot during updates, really made me into a fan. I was not expecting another release, let alone a full-length, from this band this year, but lest to say, I was definitely excited to find it.
In every release thus far from the band, it must be known that they've improved on all fronts. In terms of production, from even the EP that was released earlier this year, the production is much cleaner, the music is a bit more melodic, and the vocals are less black metal and more screamo and hardcore-esque. Previous releases from the band has been a bit more raw and aggressive, very primitive, even while they continued to grow, but this album shows probably the biggest leap, in terms of quality, I've heard from the band yet. The songs on here are arguably the band's most melodic yet, and while that might not sit well with some people, these are without a doubt the most memorable songs the band has written yet. Besides that, these songs are just really fun to listen to, the second half of Колопола in particular just put a grin on my face every single time I listened to it.
One of the things I've come to love about this band is that on all of their recordings, it sounds like a band playing live, albeit a bit cleaner than a rehearsal room recording. Every one of the four musicians on here can be heard clearly in the mix and it really plays a role into them being a four piece that every member helps to make these songs as good as they are. When I said this sounds like a real band playing I meant it, you can clearly hear vocal cracks on a couple of these songs, and that sort of thing adds a bit of a charm to the recording that you don't get from ultra polished releases. This album also has some of the band's most diverse material yet, with clear nods to other genres including folk and post-punk. I also love how the band just go into some really dissonant and chaotic passages that wouldn't be unheard of in a noise rock song, hear Голоса. Don't get me wrong, the band's sound is still heavily rooted in black metal and hardcore punk, but these songs are less in-your-face, more stick-in-your-head types of songs. You still have plenty of fast, short, and aggressive songs on here, like opener Проклятие for example, that recall a bit more of the band's older material, but even songs like those that are a bit more simple-minded in their approach are still the best the band have written to date.
This is a great album that demonstrates this band at their definitive peak as of right now and with every member firing on all cylinders in their respective roles. While I was a fan of the band, I never expected this great a leap in quality from them so soon. Definitely check this band out if you want to hear some fantastic blackened punk that knows how to write good songs.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Колопола, Гори, Гори, Гори, Утро

Altars - Eulogy (2011)

Band: Altars
Country: Dayton, Ohio
Style: Raw Black Metal/Noise
Label: Triangulum Ignis

Around this time last year I covered the split between Altars and Halla, so it's only appropriate that I cover this new release from them. Yet another awesome release from Triangulum Ignis, quickly becoming one of the better labels covering underground experimental black metal. Along with their first full-length earlier this year, this second album proves to be more of a summation of the year.
Let's just set this straight, I'm up for any new releases from Altars, because they're a great band, but I'm not really sure why this exists. This three track affair features two tracks that have already been released, The Slain God on their first full-length, "Live On Pure Hate," earlier this year and Serment De Sang from their split with Hella. I don't mean to hate on the songs themselves, because pretty much like everything else the band has released, it's of a high quality, I'm just not sure why we need a compilation of this nature. Both songs are quite melodic, by the band's standards, and the band pump out some pretty memorable riffs in both songs. The third track, Something In The Way, is a Nirvana cover that's pretty good, not as good as their Swans cover, but still worth hearing. This track in particular continues the band's recent trek into doom metal with slower overall speed and more a much more dreary atmosphere than any of their past material. By the way, just as a side note, the entire length of this release is just under fifteen minutes, so it is one of the band's longer recordings.
It's a good release from a good band, and shows that Triangulum Ignis do have their ear to the underground and have a good intuition when it comes to releasing good material, I'm just not sure why this release was necessary. I don't cover compilations, and this is one of the few instances I'm doing so because I missed the boat when it came to their debut earlier this year. If you want to hear some great, aggressive black metal, definitely check out Altars in any form.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Something In The Way

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dichotomy Engine - Mass Desolation EP (2011)

Band: Dichotomy Engine
Country: Kula, Serbia
Style: Shoegaze/Drone
Label: Independent

There's always room for something different to close out the year. This Serbian project has been releasing albums for just about three years at this point in various styles, what wouldn't be intriguing about that. This was my first encounter with this project and I was intrigued to say the least upon just looking it up.
Coming into this with the idea that the project supersedes any single genre, I wasn't sure what to expect from this three song EP. Once Consequences began plodding along, you can be sure that this is an interesting idea that project figurehead Dražen Đorđević has come up with. The mixture of shoegazing textures with heavy and plodding guitars is an idea that at times calls back to artists like Jesu and The Angelic Process. While the material on here isn't quite as sonically complex as those groups, this project has a rawer and more visceral noise aspect to it that adds a layer of more rage and anger, as opposed to sorrow and melancholy. Personally, I found the more atmospheric and shoegaze sound on closer Barren Fields to stick out among the three tracks the most with a much clearer sense of identity, if that makes sense. I think that this element really is the project's strongest trait.
It's a decent release that demonstrates some interesting ideas, but doesn't really create a definitive sound on here. Each track does showcase a direction of where the sound could be taken in the future, but nothing is concrete on here. Check it out if dronegaze sounds appealing to you.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Barren Fields

House of Low Culture - Poisoned Soil (2011)

Band: House of Low Culture
Country: Los Angeles, California
Style: Experimental Drone/Ambient
Label: Sub Rosa/Taiga

Maybe four years ago, if you had asked me to name you a drone artist or group, the only group I could have told you would have probably been Sunn 0))). My appreciation and enjoyment of the style has probably experience the greatest leap this year. Being a huge fan, like many others, of Aaron Turner's work in Isis, I can safely say that this was another one of the earlier drone acts I found out about.
I can't say how much of this album is based on improvisations that Aaron Turner and wife Faith Coloccia performed or if it's entirely arranged and performed in this manner in mind, but I can tell you that it is an interesting listen. This is an album that abandons most instances of structure in favor of archetypal foundations of noise and ambient soundscapes. You'll find that on these three tracks, you will have a base, or foundation, laid out somewhere near the beginning of the track, and that foundation will usually remain the only constant in the song. While various idea pop in and out at seemingly random instances, that noise remains a constant. Be it loud blast of feedback, the pounding of piano keys, or a choir of voices chanting, that foundation remains the same whilst everything on top shifts and moves around. I will admit that several moments on here can be quite jarring and more than a little unnerving at times.
It should be noted however that while all three of these tracks are foundationally similar, they are all quite different from each other. Opener Spoiled Fruits of The Kingdom is quite schizophrenic in it's arrangement, with that ambient noise base holding the track together. The Ladder That Leads to Nowhere on the other hand is much more rounded and less free-flowing, in my opinion, with a louder and much more aggressive noise being the base giving way to monolithic sized ambiances through choral-esque chanting and synthesized strings. Inappropriate Body acts as an appropriate closer with possibly the most chaotic arrangement on here, though none of it feels as random as the opener. Like I said above, I have no idea how much of this record was improvised and how much of it was arranged, but the fact that only one of these tracks, the opener, feels at all like it was improvised, whether or not it was intended to feel that way, I think is an accomplishment. The randomness of that one track gives way to the more avant-garde arrangements that the other two tracks embody. The album, in my mind anyway, works by moving from random to arranged and structured before giving way to a more controlled chaos in the end. It's an album that is quite hard to digest in full, and I found it best to focus on one track at a time, before finally diving head into the whole thing.
It's an interesting listen that I both enjoyed listening to and thinking about due to it's various sounds. In my opinion, at least some of this had to be improvised, but it's performances like that that kind of give another color to these tracks. Check it out if you think experimental drone, noise, ambient, or maybe even post-rock sounds interesting to you.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Inappropriate Body