Here at Don't Count On It Reviews, you can read reviews from different artists from different styles.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

John Zorn's Moonchild - Templars: In Sacred Blood (2012)

Band: John Zorn's Moonchild
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Experimental Jazz/Avant-Garde Metal
Label: Tzadik

My relationship with the many works and projects of experimental composer/saxophonist John Zorn is very strained. There was a point where I pretty much listened to anything he released, but that only lasted a couple of months seeing as I've found the quality of some of his more improvisational pieces to be rather annoying. When it comes to the Moonchild project however, I have been a fan since I first heard it.
Let it be known that I will listen to almost anything that has Mike Patton's name on it, I might not always like it, but I will almost always listen to it once. I love his bands, Faith No More, my favorite band ever, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, Tomahawk, all great groups (to name a few). Having said that, some of the work he's done with Zorn in the past is plain and simple gibberish, whether intended to be or not through composition or improvisation. I think that of all of Zorn's projects, Moonchild has proven to be one of my favorites because the principal foundation of the project is to write more aggressive pieces, and that was certainly demonstrated on the group's debut Moonchild: Songs Without Words. Every album since then has expanded upon that foundation either by making it more "progressive" in the song structures, adding extra instrumentation, or even taking away instrumentation, to various degrees of success. Personally, I've thought that the project's best album up to this point has been 2006's Six Litanies For Heliogabalus which had the intensity of early albums with the right amount of experimentation into other sounds and ideas (and it does include the famous eight minute vocal piece which has been the subject of much mockery on Youtube).
This album follows in the footsteps of 2010's Ipsissimus album which was actually quite a good album and featured legendary improvisational and experimental guitarist Marc Ribot on several tracks. This album brings organist John Medeski into the trio, rounded out by the rhythm section bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Joey Baron, who really does add that air of medieval atmosphere to the album. Patton is a lot more wild on here than I can remember him being on the last couple releases from the project (though that might stem from the fact that there are actual lyrics on here instead of gibberish), he's screaming, moaning, chanting, whispering, and is basically the exact opposite of how his more recent albums have been (Mondo Cane or Laborintus II for example). Besides him though, the rest of the band are actually pretty restrained, pulling back a lot of the intensity that I've come to expect from the project and settling into the background on several tracks. It's definitely a lot closer to the jazz background most of the players happen to come from, though to say the project was ever strictly metal or rock in a compositional sense would be wrong.
I'm not gonna lie and say this thing is totally amazing, there were a couple of tracks that were just sort of meh to me, but I actually thought this was a pretty good album as a whole. The opening four tracks are all really solid and varied, but then the second half hits and just sort of floats along without leaving any sort of impact as strong as the first. The songs on the back half are all interesting for sure, and certainly shouldn't be ignored, but they don't have any of the real punch that the front half did. Then you get to that nine-minute long closer, Secret Ceremony, and all of those softer moments finally come together into something interesting. Being soft and transitioning, rather spastically I might add, into something heavy as the majority of tracks on here do, is all fine and dandy, but even that can wear thin on a listener if it's done repeatedly. This closer is moves along on an inclined slope, gradually gaining momentum as it moves along. Hell, there's even a reference to Black Sabbath, whether intended or not.
Zorn can be really annoying when he doesn't really give himself any constrictions, but this project has time and time again demonstrated that he is a great composer or interesting music. This is definitely not the sort of project that will appeal to everyone, but I really dig it and hopefully a few out there will as well. I'd definitely recommend this if you want to hear some experimental jazz, metal, or rock, or some variation of all three.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Templi Secretum, Murder of The Magicians, Secret Ceremony

Fontanelle - Vitamin F (2012)

Band: Fontanelle
Country: Portland, Oregon
Style: Jazz Fusion
Label: Southern Lord

Previous to being sent this album, I was not aware of Fontanelle. After a little bit of reading and finding out about Rex Ritter's tenure with the likes of Sunn 0))) my interest was piqued enough to make me want to check this out. It's kind of nice to start with the band at this point as it's sort of a new beginning after being on a hiatus for the last ten years or so.
Not really knowing what to expect from this album when I pressed the play button, I have to say that I was surprised by what I wound up hearing. I guess in my head I was expecting some sort of weird concoction of jazz fusion and drone metal, but what I got was straight-up jazz fusion. Psychedelic fusion at that. It's a definite throwback to the late 60s and early 70s sound with some very natural and spaced out modern production to give it that extra shine and make it all clean sounding. In a certain sense, the production choices do recall a lot of the jazz that I've been hearing recently, though the music is far less accessible. So even though the production does bring it a sense of bigness and space that certainly has a familiar sound to the background music in a lot of shopping centers, the music is much more adventurous and psychedelic than anything I'd imagine a mass audience would ever desire to hear.
Being a fan of 60s and 70s jazz fusion, psychedelic rock, and to an extent, funk, I just thought this album was a blast to listen to. Each track just pumped out a great groove that kept my head bobbing or my foot tapping while a lead instrument would then take over the lead and just do whatever. I don't mean that in a flippant way, but your could have everything from the horn section synchronizing with the groove to a guitar solo. Along with that is the band's skill in writing tracks that carry a pretty solid range of moods and tempos. The band pull off both the pensive krautrock-ish groove of The Adjacent Possible while still bringing the good time pop of Traumaturge with aplomb. I don't know if others will agree with the following statement, but at least for me, there were a couple of tracks on here that I thought would sound great if you played them alongside a psychedelic movie. Turn off the sound of a movie like Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man or Serge Bromberg's documentary L'Enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot and just trip out. It's not the sort of thing for everyone but I thought it was cool when I tried it, but the music is still great even if you just play it in the background while doing the dishes or driving your car.
Seeing how I came into this expecting nothing, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I wound up really enjoying this album. I've heard a couple psychedelic albums this year but this one is far and away one of the most enjoyable and memorable. I think if you dig psychedelic music, fusion, or even straight-up jazz, this is an album that you shouldn't pass up.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Adjacent Possible, Traumaturge, Ataxia

Unconscious Collective - Unconscious Collective (2012)

Band: Unconscious Collective
Country: Dallas, Texas
Style: Psychedelic/Jazz-Rock
Label: Tofu Carnage

This is the sort of album that comes along every once in a while that I have a tough time finding something to pair with it. Luckily, I actually had something waiting in the wings, so I was able to write this review up a lot earlier than I had originally planned. Featuring members from the likes of doom metal titans Dead to A Dying World, this group certainly did intrigue me.
I have to say that when I first played this record, I was very surprised by the degree to which these musicians performed. It's not so much that I expected the performances to be just average or passable, but the music comes across as a much more intense form of fusion that explores a lot of ground in each track. Sure, there's no denying that this is a jazz-rock record coming from guys who play various forms of metal, opener Gemini Croquet features a doomy introduction and an ending riff that wouldn't be out of place on a grindcore track. It's those certain parts that stick out and keep me interested in what's going on and make the project stick out from the dozens of other jazz-rock groups out there. It was the use of the vibraphone that perhaps brought the greatest surprises for me. Not only is it used all over the album, but when it's being integrated into the fabric of the work being done on the drum kit, it feels so powerful and captivating. I also thought that the band did a pretty consist job at building tension while playing, which led to several nail-biting sections that just felt like the band was going to fall off the edge and just explode into avant-garde absurdity, but that never happened (listen to it yourself to decide if that was a good or bad thing).
However, having said all of that, this record is improvisational, and on a record like this, that can often be more of a hindrance than a strength. I have no problem with improvised music, sometimes it can be very refreshing and invigorating, but more often than not, it takes just as much restraint to reign yourself in and that's something that a lot of groups just don't have a handle on. I understand it's supposed to be chaotic and off-the-hook, but it doesn't have to be uncontrolled. A track like the fifteen minute Funeralis Pachydermis is all well and good but goes on for too long to maintain interest for the entirety of its duration. It addition to that, referencing the very same track incidentally, there were several guitar runs that just made me think of the theme song to that old cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, but hearing it used repeatedly can get a little annoying. Personally, I found that when the band introduced a more rock or metal based part into the fabric of their improvisations, the result was more grabbing and made for a better listen. Some of the straight-up jazz pieces I found to be just a little on the dull side for my own tastes at certain points.
It's not a bad album, but it can grow rather tiring quickly, at least for myself. I've always said that I am no expert on jazz and recommend what I like and even though this isn't strictly speaking a jazz record, I think it can still be viewed as such in the right light. If you enjoy improvisational music or various forms of jazz rock, I think it's definitely worth looking into, but otherwise, proceed with caution.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Tranquiladora Alborotadora, Molesting Electric Walter, Peneteka

David Fiuczynski - Planet MicroJam (2012)

Band: David Fiuczynski
Country: Newark, New Jersey
Style: Jazz Fusion
Label: RareNoise

It's common knowledge that I love weird and avant-garde music, mainly metal but it shouldn't come as a surprise that I listen to other styles that are strange as well. As bizarre as metal has gotten in the last decade, I think that jazz still has the edge in degree to how cerebral it can get. This is one of those albums.
I love music, obviously, but I haven't heard everything out there, so I will make no defense for my analogies toward this album. Jazz fusion it is indeed, but it draws upon plenty of influences that stretch into the realms of absurdism and wonkiness. Ideas coming from Arabian, Middle Eastern, and Japanese music, 70s American funk, and various avant-garde styles are all intertwined and melded to one another in jarring flurries of melodies and rhythms that just clash and fight each other for space. Yes, there are just as many traditional lounge spots to fit in with your local piano bar albums, but even those tracks have an injection of brain-melting dissonance that just makes it feel so tense and on edge making it very hard to relax at any point during these songs. I have no doubt that David Fiuczynski is a fantastic guitar player and composer, but it's really hard to latch onto anything he's written for this album. Make no mistake, every single song on here is impressive and adventurous, but I don't think there was ever a moment when listening to this that I was able to just ease into and get comfortable with, things just always tensed up and started flaring spikes at you whenever it seemed like you could just sit back and casually listen.
As a fan of progressive music, I'd like to think that I can handle just a bit more pretension in my music than perhaps others would. I listen to groups like Dream Theater who go on minutes on minutes of (sometimes) endless solos, and it's fine, but when listening to this, even I began to think, "Ok, now this is starting to sound pretentious." Fiuczynski is obviously talented and he has a signature style that he plays, but that style just did not appeal to me. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it fit in the context of what the vibe of the song was, like on Drunken Longing for example, but I'd say the better majority of the album is filled with meandering playing that just clashes to the point of annoyance. In addition to that, and I realize that this is just my personal preference, I found several tracks on here quite boring. After a while, it just starts to sound like someone is jacking off in your face/ear, and that grows tiresome very, very quickly for me.
I really wanted to like this record, but even I have limits and this went right through them. I realize there are plenty of people who listen to some of the sort of stuff I recommend normally and will say this is nothing compared to that, but this just wasn't my sort of thing. Hopefully if you dig experimental jazz you'll find something in here to like.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Horos Fuzivikos, Drunken Longing, Apprehension

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Alcoves - Alcoves (2012)

Band: Alcoves
Country: Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Alternative Metal/Noise Rock
Label: Independent

I've been aware of Mackenzie Keefe (aka Mackasaur) for a few years now back when he was reviewing albums no Youtube and have kept up with his solo endeavors for a little while as well. From what I understand, the idea for this project has been around for a little while and was only expanded upon later this year. Based on his tastes, I was interested in what this album was going to sound like.
From listening to Keefe's solo ventures before it's rather interesting to hear the progression from one release to the next. From the psychedelic popgaze of his Strange Enough single to the melancholic acoustic tunes on the Companion EP and into the harder edge of this album, every release is different, and I have to give him props, if only, for that. While this isn't the heaviest stuff out there, it's a pretty unique blend of shoegaze textures, metallic heaviness, grunge melodies, and the melancholy that persisted on his acoustic EP all blend together into a strange fusion. I mean, I heard nods to the likes of Deftones, The Smashing Pumpkings, My Bloody Valentine, just to name a few and that fusion is quite different. Personally, while I'm not a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, I do think they have a few decent tracks, and I think that Keefe does do an admirable job at blending various styles together into something that is refreshing and different. Since this album is quite the departure from his other material though, as I just said, his influences are essentially worn on his sleeve so some of the ideas on here do come a bit too close to some groups more than I would particularly like. It's not going to be for everyone, but it's got charisma and personality, which is something that plenty of other more respected groups have less of.
I have to say that Keefe does have a solid grasp at songwriting and structuring though. He knows how to write songs that are exactly the right length and never overstay their welcome, which I know is something that people might just gloss over, but it's important to know when a song is long enough, and there are dozens of artists and groups out there who don't know how to do that. In terms of structuring though, what I'm referring to is how the album is put together. This is a pretty heavy and noisy album, but there are a couple of more stripped down acoustic pieces that break up those heavier moments. Having said that, I can't forget that those acoustic breaks are still raw and lo-fi, with plenty of feedback and speaker busting noise, hear Decay for a good example of such. Despite the Keefe's voice may not be for everyone, and that may be the deciding factor for some people, because his voice can be a bit monotone in spots (whether that was intentional or not, I'm not sure). His voice really calls back to those early 90s grunge and noise rock bands, and I know that's not for everyone and it does take a little while to get into. Regardless of that though, I think he has a really powerful screaming voice. When he chooses to use it, it really feels passionate and angry, hear Struggle With Permanence for a great example of such, and I sort of wish he had written more songs to use it in, or just used it in other songs on here.
There is some really great songwriting on here that is, believe it or not, among the best I've heard this year, but I can't say the entire album is always at that level. A majority of what's on here is really good and inspiring stuff, but some of it just isn't for me. If you have an interest in heavy grunge or noise inspired rock or metal, take a shot on this, you're not going to hear anything else like it this year.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Same Time Tomorrow, Dreamscape, The Underbelly

Furze - Psych Minus Space Control (2012)

Band: Furze
Country: Trondheim, Norway
Style: Psychedelic Rock/Doom Metal
Label: Fysisk Format

Let's get this out of the way first of all, I'm not the biggest Furze fan. I've listened to his last two albums and wasn't all that impressed by them, but this one did have an interesting title and the reviews were pretty solid for it. I said, "What the hell," and decided to just do a review for it.
I guess the problem I've always had with Furze in the past was that the production just didn't appeal to me. It always felt like nothing was actually mixed properly and the raw nature of the sound just turned me off. Even when he was doing his throwback, Black Sabbath doom, it just felt too raw, unpolished, and to a certain extent, unfinished for my liking. In that regard, this album really doesn't improve upon that problem. It has a sound that I just do not find all that appealing and can at times just be rather irksome. So I guess the saving grace of would have to be the music, which is where this album does succeed, in some regards. I have to say that the continuation with the throwback style with this production sound does work better than the earlier black metal recordings. In fact, just in case you weren't aware of it, black metal has been almost completely annexed out of this album. Main man Woe J. Reaper has taken the project into a sort of quasi-doom direction and it does feel and sound a lot more natural and authentic than those earlier recordings ever did to me.
Seeing how I did not come into this album with the highest of expectations, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard on here. Sure, I felt like opener Occult Soul, With Mind was a bit tedious to listen to and that Triad of Lucifer was a little too obvious in its reverence for Sabbath and Candlemass for my taste, I thought the other three tracks were pretty solid. Psych Mooz Space Control was a pretty good blend of psyche rock, space rock, and I guess some small traces of proto-black metal that just sort of plods along for just over fourteen minutes, but it works. I don't know why it works, but the end product is more of a jam than an actual song, and that's something that can turn from fascinating and hypnotic into annoying and dull very easily, but I never felt bored while I was listening to it. Even though the doom rock of closer When Always Ready was enjoyable, I did feel like it was sort of a cop-out because it's essentially the only track where the vocals are up in front. There are vocals on two other tracks, but they're unintelligible for the most part. I don't think the vocals are bad, but it just sort of feels cheapened when the closer appears to have been written with a different intention from the four previous songs.
In the end I do think it's a pretty decent album, and it is easily the best Furze album I've ever listened to. It's not masterpiece or anything, but at least I didn't feel the need to shut it off after half a song. For those who haven't been able to get into the project's past releases, check this one out, it might prove to be a gateway for you.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Psych Mooz Space Control, Reaper Subconscious Guide

Monday, September 24, 2012

Double Review: In The Silence & L'Alba Di Morrigan

I've been meaning to cover both of these albums for a little while now and after assessing a couple of other albums to possibly post with them, going back and forth between several ideas, but wound up with what lies below. Both reviewed from 1-10.

The Chant - A Healing Place (2012)

Band: The Chant
Country: Helsinki, Finland
Style: Gothic Rock/Ambient Rock
Label: Inverse

As some will have rightly assumed, I enjoy a good amount of ambient based rock music. Sure, it's more of an occasional enjoyment, not something I listen to all the time, but when I'm in the mood for it, I like to be entertained. I'm pretty sure I've heard The Chant referenced in some other reviews or have probably seen reviews for one of their previous albums but this will have been the first time I can recall actually listening to them.
It should go without saying that this is an album that isn't going to please you if you're looking for a fun or weird record, to an extent, I'd even say a serious record. For me, this is more of a relaxing record. It's not overly aggressive or soft, though it does tend to lean more on the latter of the two, but strikes for something near the middle. Yes, you have distorted guitars, but as the tag of "ambient rock" would tell you, it's not going to be used to blast you into submission. The band do tend to favor the post-rock aesthetic for writing on here, gradually introducing more intensity into a song, like the opener Outlines for example, before finishing it in spectacular fashion by breaking it back down. Yes, this is an album with a couple ballads that do break that structure and tend to favor more of a standard quiet-loud-quiet-loud format instead, which works just as well in those instances.
Despite how morose and even melancholic this album can be, I actually found it to be strangely uplifting. The atmosphere on almost every track is pretty bright and open sounding, though it's nowhere near as overpowering as I felt it could have been. It's very amorphous in some ways because it can be quite cold sounding on a track like The Black Corner, while being much more sunny and warm on another track like Ocean Speaks. I think that, for me anyway, the dichotomy between the more upbeat tracks that were warm and the darker songs that felt more melancholic did strike me as a bit unbalanced. Sure both sides are pretty strong in their own respects, but the album did begin to feel just a little schizophrenic for my own tastes (and this is coming from the guy who loves schizo bands). I feel like the album would have flowed so much better if the brighter sounding tracks were either at the beginning and the darker ones closed out the album, or even the other way around, but they way they're mixed together just sort of threw me off.
It's not a masterpiece, but for the sort of album that it is, it is enjoyable. While the dichotomous nature in the album's structure is a bit jarring, I think the songs themselves stand up. If you're a fan of more atmospheric rock, this is definitely worth a listen.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Spectral Light, The Black Corner, My Kin

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 - Progressive Metal II

Like with part one, these are all progressive metal albums, though these are probably a bit more on the underground side of the genre with most being debut releases from newer groups. Once again, all of them are reviewed from 1-10.

2012 - Progressive Metal I

I know a that this probably isn't the sort of thing that most people who come to this blog for, but there have been several releases from the genre this year from groups that I either like, liked, or thought were interesting. Hopefully you find something in either of these lists that interests you. All of these albums are reviewed from 1-10.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ehnahre - Old Earth (2012)

Band: Ehnahre
Country: Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Experimental Death/Doom Metal
Label: Crucial Blast

Since their 2008 debut The Man Closing Up was released the sometimes trio known as Ehnahre has been pushing and challenging the boundaries of death metal. Bringing in all sorts of jazz and classical inspired phrases and additional instrumentation has pushed the band into the realms of the unknown. I haven't been all that interested in the band before recently but I took a chance on this album just to hear what it was all about.
Based on the few songs I've listened to from Ehnahre's previous full-lengths, I can tell you that this one feels the least metal of them. I think it's important to establish that first because while this record certainly has roots and plenty of parts that are based in metal, it's the sort of record that throws any ideas of accessibility out the window and foregoes any sense of normality in favor of angular and dissonant song structures and riffs. Like their previous work, there is a heavy free-jazz vibe going on throughout the record, with a lot of ideas coming in not only from jazz and traditional composition formats, but also plays with ideas of sound collage, found sound, and no sound as well. The opening two to three minutes of the opening track is mainly the hiss from an amplifier with some other more avant-garde vocal exercises going on as well. It's not until about half way through the track that the entire band jump in and contribute to the weirdness. The track is insanely tense and manic. It felt like the entire band might just burst into a weird noise style "jam" at any moment and throw all caution to the wind and let the feedback and noise obliterate everything. But that never happened, god damn it! They just kept building more and more tension but it never exploded, and that was just in the first track.
I couldn't help but be a little frustrated the more the album went on. It kept restarting it's tension whenever a track ended and there was no blow up or release for the first two tracks. Now, I understand that there will be people out there who will totally dig that and think this album is genius, but I can almost guaranteeing that there will be just as many who hate this album because of it. The trumpets that emerge on Old Earth II just before the track explodes into it's third act, Old Earth III (though, the tension did reset if you actually listen to it) were well utilized and actually brought that cinematic quality to the otherwise rather unfocused structure of the track. It's important to notice that even though the third act of the album is the explosion I waited for in the first two tracks, it did not carry that tension over with it and instead went into full-on metal. Maybe it's the fact that the album is divided into four parts that's messing with my head because no matter how I try and reason through it, I know that I'm basically chasing my own tail right now, trying to convince you that each track resets it's brooding quality even though the four tracks are all connected to each other. It's weird, but there's just something about this that I can't quite grasp at the time I'm writing this. In any event, I think the cover art is great and fits perfectly with the album gradually moving from emptiness to full life.
I think it's an interesting album, at the very least, and a very frustrating one at the worst of times, but somehow it was still an experience. There's just something about it that I just can't really grab a hold of, something I'm missing. I don't know if I can recommend this for it being a really great metal album, but if you want to hear something really different and original, I'd definitely say to at least give this thing a try.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Old Earth II, Earth IV

Cryptopsy - Cryptopsy (2012)

Band: Cryptopsy
Country: Montreal, Canada
Style: Technical Death Metal
Label: Independent

Cryptopsy have returned. After the disastrous backlash from 2008's The Unspoken King album, the band pretty much withdrew from the public eye slower with each year before announcing this album was in the works. So far, it seems as though they've regained the respect they had lost from four years ago from many critics and fans.
Now, I can't say that there's been unanimous praise for this album, but from what I've read, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find someone who didn't at least think this was better than The Unspoken King. Frankly, while that album may not have been my favorite album from the band, I didn't think it was as bad as everyone else seemed to. I thought there were a few songs on there that were actually pretty solid and a few of them made use of Matt McGachy's clean vocals, which a lot of people apparently had quite a big problem with. But whatever, onto this new self-titled album. I read in Decibel, I think, that when guitarist Jon Levasseur came back into the band he made them promise that the band would make use of no clean vocals or experiment with any trends, and apparently the rest of the band were fine with that cause this is certainly not a deathcore album in any way. This is pure, unadulterated technical death metal.
When I first heard the two released songs from the album, opener Two-Pound Torch and Red-Skinned Scapegoat, I wasn't overly keen on them. They weren't bad or anything, but I didn't think they warranted the reaction they were recieving. Yet, for one reason or another, after listening to this album, I found that they had grown on me, especially the opener, which I though was a really good song. That song just brought back everything I liked about the band when I first started listening to them, catchy riffs, relentless drumming, and always entertaining bass-lines, along with McGachy's new found guttural brutality. It set the bar high for the rest of the album and luckily the rest does not disappoint. The album continues to pummel you into the dirt with some of the most frantic and brutal death metal I can remember hearing in a long while. Having said that, the band still find time to indulge their jazzier side on occasion with a couple of very short interludes found in tracks like the aforementioned Red-Skinned Scapegoat or Damned Draft Dodgers, not that you have to worry about those sections being extended, since they barely last ten seconds each. To a certain extent I almost wish those short interludes were just a little bit longer just so it wouldn't feel quite so frivolous to me, but I guess that's a minor complaint since the songs are written so well and as tightly constructed as they are. There is rarely a pause in these songs, and I am including those jazzy sections in here as well, it constantly and consistently drives you into the ground. While I hope the band continue this rabid intensity on future recordings, personally, I think I'd also like to hear them experiment in some capacity as well.
Sure, it's not exactly new territory for the band but it's some of their most gut-retching, bowl churning material in years. While it doesn't top either of my favorite releases (the top spot for me actually belongs to 2000's ...And Then You'll Beg album), it's certainly better than either of the band's last two albums in my opinion. If you like death metal, in general, this is a must for this year if you haven't already heard it.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Two-Pound Torch, Amputated Enigma, Cleansing The Hosts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stagnant Waters - Stagnant Waters (2012)

Band: Stagnant Waters
Country: Serranian, France/Clermont-Ferrand, France/Ytre Enebakk, Norway
Style: Avant-Garde/Industrial Black Metal
Label: Adversum

I've been waiting for this album for something like two years now and I'm so happy it's finally here. I knew the band would do something great from the first time I heard their 2009 split with Phlegma, Sea of Abandoned Polaroids, where they delivered just over five minute with two tracks. Finally it's here and I couldn't be more elated.
Ever since I heard that one and a half minute long track called Algea, which is now over four minutes long on here, on the aforementioned split above, I knew this band was something special. The fusion of black metal, electronica, industrial, and jazz was all thrown together into a blender and sliced apart before becoming something far more original and fearsome. Though, knowing what each of the members of the band have come from and done in their other bands and projects, I guess it shouldn't come as such a surprise. Made up from the likes of Camille Giraudeau (Smohalla, Dreams of The Drowned), Aymeric Thomas (Pryapisme), and Svein Egil Hatlevik (Fleurety, Umoral), or Zweizz as some may know him, is almost like a guaranteeing that this was going to be good. Knowing how well each of these guys crafts and blends genres together on their own, doing it together would only raise expectations for how it would sound when they did it together. I also believe that Joey Hopkins (R.I.P.) was also involved with this project early on as well, as I there are some similarities on here with that collaboration he did with Zweizz which was released last year.
Sonically, even though I described the fusion of genres, I don't think that just saying that will give you an accurate portrait of what you're going to hear on here. Each track stands apart from the next in its own way, without making that sound too redundant or hokey. A track like ССАЕР ЦНАПЯЛ ПНОИ ТАТ takes the noir jazz ideas from a group like Bohren & Der Club of Gore and absolutely destroys everything about it by cramming in distorted beats, dissonant riffs, and gang vocals along with the spastic burst of noise every now and then, meanwhile the very next track, Of Salt and Water, is a much more technical black metal track, obviously with some weird symphonic and industrial effects thrown in for additional abstraction, but if works to great effect for even those two tracks to differ so much. I guess it helps the fact that the album, for how creative and unique it is, in some regards even futuristic, it is very raw and noisy as well. This isn't polished to perfection, but left distorted, intense, and very hard to sort through. As almost a counter to that, most of these songs tend to have more atmospheric backdrops that almost underscore all the chaos that the is up top. The last couple of tracks on the album also begin to introduce more melody as well. In some ways I think that the inclusion of more melody does hinder the album because it detracts from the brutal intensity that overwhelms the listener on the first couple of tracks, but I also think that it adds more variety to the album and to the band's sound as a whole.
I know that the whole industrial black metal genre has been around for a while now, and there are a lot of really good and interesting bands doing it their own way. But I can assure you that while Stagnant Waters do share some similarities to some other groups, you will not find another band who sound like them. The fusion of electronics into the black metal is fully integrated, hence the noisy production on both ends of the spectrum. The more jazz-inflected sections are cleaner, and do reflect a more noir-esque style, but it fits well with that background ambiance, and when those harsh beats come in, they feel powerful, they feel somewhat off-putting, and they are interesting. To a certain extent, the production on the beats reminds me a little bit of Deathgrips (yes, the experimental hip-hop outfit) in how abrasive they make their percussive sounds. It's a sound that you will not find in another group, get your fix here.
As I said above, I had been waiting for this album for several years now and it certainly did not disappoint me. If anything, it actually surprised me with the directions that the band explored on several of these tracks and, if only for that, I love the album. Check this out, it's easily one of the most exciting black metal records I've heard all year.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Castles, Axolotl, From The Breaking Neck to Infinity

Self Spiller - Worms In The Keys (2012)

Band: Self Spiller
Country: Portland, Oregon/Tokyo, Japan/Chicago, Illinois/Seattle, Washington/Ytre Enebakk, Norway
Style: Avant-Garde Metal
Label: Vendlus

Anyone who's read several posts reviews from this blog knows that if a band has the words avant-garde or progressive in their genre description, I will more than likely like it. I remember hearing word of this project a year, or maybe a little bit longer ago, through an interview with Dr. Mikannibal of Sigh. Now we have this, a new album that is just sort of out of the blue with a pretty interesting line-up.
Back when I first read that interview with Dr. Mikannibal, the only other member I knew would be in the band would be Agalloch's Don Anderson. Looking at the line-up of people who are apparently a part of this collective, we have Jason Walton who's also in Agalloch and Mirai Kawashima from Sigh, as well as members from the likes of Formloff, Future Disorder, Fleurety, and Winds (among others). That's an all star group of people if I ever saw one and it's a group of musicians who know how to make some really interesting music. If you're coming into this expecting this to be somewhat Agalloch-ish, think again because this is much closer to Anderson and Walton's other band, Sculptured (who I wish would record a new album). It's much more in the avant-garde strain of metal where ideas from jazz, electronic, polka, noise, and other genres all bleed into one another in some bizarre concoction. It's a volatile mix that not everyone will enjoy, I could see some people who come into expecting that Agalloch sound being totally angry at this record, but this is the sort of stuff I love hearing and it's a part of one of my favorite strains of metal music.
Despite how weird this record is, as in saxophone solos over bongos and electronic beats with screamed vocals weird, it's all made into coherent and catchy song structures that are easy to remember. It's the sort of album that you could just as easily dance to, though I may be overextending just a little bit there, as you could scream along to some of the ridiculous lines being said. Ridiculous in the sense that pretty much anything you would say would sound a little funny over this sort of stuff. I mean some of this stuff is almost comical in how it works together, and that's probably one of the reasons why I love it so much, but it's the sort of stuff that is seriously catchy if you allow yourself to just go with the absurdity. If you fight it, you're not going to enjoy this at all and will probably be one of those people who hates it for throwing as many ideas at the wall as it does. So remember, don't hate, appreciate. I think the idea of putting the sound of, what sounds like, a metronome over what is essentially a chip-tune-esque breakdown is genius. Perhaps it doesn't sound all that great written out, but seeing as that section is like three seconds long, it works amazingly. I think putting a folky acoustic guitar part of a pulsating drum beat (that could just as easily have been put into any number of dance songs and got kids dancing along) with an organ droning in the background is great as well. If you can do anything you want and you have a group of talented friends and colleagues who are ready to help out, why not go for it? Throw everything you can into a song, and the kitchen sink and microwave and see if you can write songs with it. With all that being said, there are a couple of songs on here that did seem to go nowhere - I'm looking at you SKITE - and I think that if the various members decided to start writing songs they could have avoided an incident like that happening. Maybe in the future they'll release a record that is stellar, but unfortunately, it's not a record full of winners.
As I believe I've said before (because now I can quote myself), "Give me weirdness, or give me death," give me Self Spiller because they are awesome. It's not going to be album of the year for me (sorry to disappoint some of you) but that shouldn't deter you from checking out this great album. Listen with caution, listen with interest, and you shall be rewarded with great treasures indeed.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Folds of Skin to Lay, Therefore I Worship, I Spit In The Stomachs of Zombies

Blut Aus Nord - 777 - Cosmosophy (2012)

Band: Blut Aus Nord
Country: Mondeville, France
Style: Experimental Industrial Metal
Label: Debemur Morti Productions

As if it really needs to be said at this point, but Blut Aus Nord are easily one of the most unique bands to emerge from the black metal scene. With each release they push themselves further out of their metal "comfort zone" while retaining their core roots. After the two 777 albums from last year we have the closing of the trilogy with this album.
Anyone who's been paying attention to the last two sequences in this trilogy will be able to tell you that the 777 - The Desanctification definitely removed a lot of that metallic edge that has been present on the majority of Blut Aus Nord's material and is possibly the furthest the band had stretched their sound to that point. Having said that, I felt that that album was a bit weaker than its predecessor in the trilogy, still very good and well done, but weaker none the less. Put into the context of being the middle segment, it does feel a bit more cohesive than when it's on its own. Listening straight through from part one to this album (part three), it's place becomes more understandable. It linked the more metallic and dissonant intensity of 777 - Sect(s) with the more brooding and atmospheric industrial tendencies of this album, bridging the divide. With that being said, this album did surprise in regards to how experimental it actually is.
After listening to all three albums in a row, I didn't really feel like this album was as strange or far reaching as part two of the saga was. While it's certainly far from the dissonant black metal that the band has worked with before, it feels darker and more powerful, confident in a sense. It's a much more grandiose sounding album. To say that the album is without new avenues of exploration from the band though would be doing this album a great disservice. I've read a couple of comments where people have said that the album is great except for Epitome XV (the second track), which features a much more hip-hop influenced sound to it. Personally, I didn't have a huge problem with it as it not only fit in context with the rest of the album, but I had read an interview with Vindsval last year where he had said that he planned on experimenting with some of the ideas from hip-hop. I couldn't say I was surprised by it, or perhaps as surprised, because it still sounded like the band to me. Vindsval had said in the same interview that he had wanted to, at least, attempt to remove metal from the band's sound on a forthcoming album as well. Now, I don't know if he meant it for this album or on in the future, but this album didn't feel devoid of metal to me, and I'm glad that it doesn't feel too far removed from that sound.
This album is far less abstract sounding than some of the band's previous outputs, including albums outside of this trilogy. It's still very interesting and dense, but it isn't quite as numbing an experience as MoRT was, or as psychedelic as 777 - The Desanctification, though I think that may be the point. If the first two albums were meant to drop the listener down into the pits of human destruction, absolute chaos and despondency, and spiritual absence, than this is the blinding light of absolution. The first two tracks on here are dark and are closer to the last full-length, but the last three expand into a sort of bleak and hopeless darkness that is somewhat revelatory in its structure. I hate to mention post-rock in a review for this album, but the structures of those last three tracks really made me think of those grand climaxes that come from groups like Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Sigur Rós. It's dark and light all at once, a true revelation of sonic architecture. I also happen to think that Epitome XVII is one of the best songs the band has ever written.
I think this is a magnificent piece of work and has become one of my favorite releases from the band in the short time I've spent with it thus far. I don't know if I can really recommend it to metal fans, but I think it's an album that, regardless of what style you enjoy, is worth hearing this year. Definitely one of the best of the year in my opinion, do not miss this one.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Friday, September 14, 2012

Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud (2012)

Band: Devin Townsend Project
Country: Vancouver, Canada
Style: Progressive Metal/Arena Rock
Label: InsideOut

Based on my praise for his last two albums (with Ghost being my #1 album of last year), I'm sure it won't come as any surprise that I am a Devin fanboy. Devin is one of my absolute favorite artists in music and I think everything he's done is worth hearing, whether you're a metalhead or not. Devin is one of a very few select groups of artists/bands that can do no wrong in my book, even when his goal is to write a pop album.
What came into my mind when I heard Effervescent! open this album? Probably the exact same thing everyone else thought - Devin is really showing off his love for Queen. Apparently hiring a professional choir really has allowed him to basically show off his love for the classic rock titans in less than a minute (which is more than can be said for the hundreds of "rock" bands who site them as an influence). Aside from that, and a couple other choice spots on here where the choir show up for back-up vocals, this is more of a Def Leppard than a Queen album, but that's just me. I'm not even a Def Leppard fan, but I know that Devin says that they were a big source of inspiration for this record. I'm also aware of how much the subject matter of this record is about love and long-lasting relationships, so that does lead to quite a few cheesy lines, the chorus on Liberation proved to be a little too hoaky for my own taste. I felt like that one was probably the one that made me cringe, and I did find the rest to be tolerable at their worst.
I recently read a comment on a website in regards to Devin's output being described as musical diarrhea. You know what, it might be a little harsh, but listening to this album from beginning to end several times now, and I do think that's a pretty good way of describing the vibe of this album. Yes, this is primarily a pop-metal album, but to say that every song on here is going to be in the same vein as tracks like True North and Lucky Animals would be incorrect. There are tracks on here that are more on the heavier side of things, a bit more riff heavy anyway, like his re-recording rendition of Kingdom or More!. They may still be pop songs, but they hit harder. Then you have songs like Where We Belong and Divine where it's closer to the ideas he presented on Ghost. They're acoustic pieces that are very ambient, and while they may be very hauntingly beautiful and catchy, they did feel a bit out of place on here to me. I think this is an album of very up-beat and catchy pop-metal songs, but some of this stuff does feel like, it's good, but it doesn't really fit with some of these other tunes. I do think Devin has a similar problem to Mike Patton (and this is from Patton's own mouth) in that they both have a similar sense to over orchestrate the stuff they write. Some of the first couple of songs on here are a bit overwhelming when they first hit you and you have to just let it wash over you before you can really even grab ahold of the fact that this is a song you're listening to and not just someone throw a bunch of instruments and production tricks at you.
If there's anything I have to give to Devin though, it's that even when he puts out an album that does feel as scatterbrained as this one, he still makes it worth listening to over and over again. He manages to find that through-line that makes these songs work together in a way that I don't think any other artist could. He also knows how to write a big, melodic hook that will get stuck in your head. Even on those more acoustic moments, he still injects those huge choruses into them to the point where I was just laughing about half way through this because of how catchy he made some of these tracks. Honestly, even the tracks that I'm not all that huge on he still manages to make them listenable if only for the chorus. I do have to say that I did think that Anneke van Giersbergen was not used as much as I may have liked her to be. She's a fantastic vocalist (and one of the reasons I ever listened to The Gathering) and I felt like she had less of a role than on Addicted. Obviously they're different albums but I sort of expected her to be more present.
While it's not my favorite Devin album, it's still a lot better than a lot of albums this year and is still a great album. Scatterbrained but still great. I wasn't totally sure how poppy this was going to wind up being, but it actually turned out better than I thought. If you can stomach some big pop-metal, I'd definitely say to check this out, if not, listen to a couple of songs before you listen further.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Save Our Now, More!, Hold On

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Double Review: Terence Hannum

These reviews have been a long time coming. I've been awaiting Terence Hannum's EP for several months (I think it was mainly because of the cassette pressing plant more than the label), but I finally got it a couple of weeks back. Here are the results. First one is reviewed from 1-8, the second album is reviewed from 1-10.

Locrian & Christoph Heemann - Locrian & Christoph Heemann (2012)

Band: Locrian & Christoph Heemann
Country: Chicago, Illinois/Aachen, Germany
Style: Experimental Drone
Label: Handmade Birds

Obviously, I am a big fan of Chicago's Locrian and will support anything the band decide to do. Earlier this year, they released their amazing collaboration with Mamiffer and now we have another collaboration album. I was not familiar with German composer Christoph Heemann before hearing about this album a year or so ago, but whatever Locrian wind up putting out, it's always worth hearing.
It has to be said that on first listen through this album I was left scratching my head. What I know Locrian for being is experimental drone, which this is, I can't recall ever hearing any material from them that was in the vein of pure ambient music, which this is at times. I was thoroughly thrown for a loop on my first listen. Even the trio's work with Mamiffer was not as spacious as this turns out to be. Having said that, to say that it's a completely ambient effort would be selling this short, there is plenty of additional instrumentation coming in from the Chicago trio to balance out the more ambient soundscapes that Heemann constructs through these tracks. The best indication of this is on the opener, Hecatomb, which utilizes some really interesting drum patterns and synth work (piano and organ) to great effect while guitars are introduced only at the beginning before falling away into loops of ambiance. It's sort of an odd opener, it's not bad, but in comparison to what I'm used to hearing, even from straight-up drone and ambient artists, the first track is usually a bit more "grandiose", for lack of a better word. This track is more somber and meditative, it doesn't announce itself like a great majority of tracks do when you press play to the first song of an album, and I think that that is one of the reasons I was so confused after listening to this for the first time.
The rest of the album plays out in much the same way, with extended pieces of somber ambiance that can be just as unobtrusive as it is fascinating. The only trace of metal you will find on here are the wretched cries of Terence Hannum, and those will only be found on the second track, Loathe The Light. Like I said in the intro to this, I'm not at all familiar with Christoph Heemann's work outside of this album, but when I started writing this review I began to think of that old Friedrich Nietzsche quote, "When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you," and I think that can be applied to Locrian. As anyone who listens to their material, we know it's dark and intense, even in its softer and more melancholic moments, but this could very well be what Locrian is on the other side of that abyss. Removing all the intensity and brutality that comes from their metal influences and replacing it with pure ambiance. Sure, I'm probably exaggerating a little bit, this thing doesn't really dive into pure ambiance until Edgeless City, which is a hell of a track. It's probably the quietest track on the entire album, as well as being the longest, and is just so spacious sounding, yet also somewhat twisted and morbid as well. Whether it's the low-end drone that pretty much acts as the foundation for everything else in the track or the surges of dissonance that arise now and then throughout, it's just a marvelous piece of ambient drone. Then there's the closer, The Drowned Forest. As if to only enforce the cohesiveness of the entire record, the track acts as an almost second part to the third track, following suit in its minimalistic form of constructing soundscapes of ambient noise and texture. With vocal chanting introducing the track, which may give it a bit more accessibility than the two tracks without vocals, I'm not sure if the person who'd buy without a second thought is the type of person who'd even care if there were vocals on here at all, but it gives way to that darker, amorphous atmosphere that was heard on track three.
It's quite the interesting record that is probably even more divisive than either group/artist's usual output. With how unusual this record came out to be I can't help but ask myself questions about it long after the four tracks have ended and I'm left in silence. If you're a fan of ambient, drone, dark ambient, experimental music in general really, I highly recommend you check out this album now.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Hecatomb, Edgeless City

Asva & Philippe Petit - Empires Should Burn (2012)

Band: Asva & Philippe Petit
Country: Long Beach, California/France
Style: Experimental Drone/Dark Ambient
Label: Basses Frequences/Land of Decay/Small Doses

I've been a fan of Asva since I first heard their 2008 album What You Don't Know Is Frontier several years back. This is my introduction to Philippe Petit though, having never heard of him before finding out about this collaboration. After 2011's Presences of Absences album though, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Stuart Dahlquist has decided to branch the Asva name even further outside of the drone-doom box he first carved for himself back in the early 2000s.
I like Asva, I mean, they're not exactly my favorite of the drone-metal groups, but I do enjoy what they do and will occasionally go through bouts where all I listen to is the desert doom they did on their first two full-lengths. Personally, I still hold 2008's What You Don't Know Is Frontier as one of the best drone metal records I've ever heard, but after the more psychedelic and less metallic reinvention, of sorts, of their style on Presences of Absences, this collaboration doesn't feel quite so unfounded. Abandoning most, if not all on the majority of these tracks, metal traces from the Asva half of the collaboration, what remains is one droning epic the likes of which I can't say I've experienced before, and five smaller pieces that do well to live up to the twenty-three minute opening title-track. Let me tell you that opening a record with a track that long can be, and in this case was, quite an overwhelming experience.
This is a record of subtlety. Like I said above, I am not familiar with Petit's work but Dahlquist's work with Asva has always held large amounts of subtlety - and I know that came out sounding a little awkward. I've listened to this record many times by the time I'm writing this review and I've tried to listen to it in various ways. The first couple of times I played this, it was merely as background music, something that's on that will draw my ear every now and then while it's playing, which is how I usually approach drone and ambient records at first, and it was an interesting thing to really do. With a lot of the music I listen to, even in the background, I feel like if there's some sort of calm or a sort of tension that it should build to something, but no explosion of sound came while listening to this. I probably listened to this thing three or four times before I finally figured out that there were points of escalation on here. It was not just a static idea that very minimal ups and downs, but is in fact, if you actually listen, quite a tense and brooding little rager of an album. It builds in those respective areas very, very slowly and without really making you aware of it. I don't mean for that to be interpreted as it being dull or boring, on the contrary in fact, this is record filled to the brim with depth and ideas that should be more than enough to keep people listening in.
I guess my problem with the album is that the opener is such a slow burner that the five following tracks feel almost rushed in comparison. Make no mistake, they're all really good and interesting tracks, except for maybe A Vision, which I did find to be just a little bit irksome at times, but I think that starting the album with such a powerful and monolithic track as they did, the rest of the tracks just sort of pass by without leaving as strong an impact. Having said that, I did find that when I listened to the five tracks on their own, either just skipping past the opener or putting the album on shuffle, they did feel a lot more complete.
I really wasn't sure what I was going to end up with on this record the first time I put it on but by now it's really become something special. I think it's a really interesting album that definitely has it's own vibe going on. It's a hard album to really access at first but given time and effort it will reveal itself to be something that you'll definitely want to hear.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: And Empires Will Burn, The Star Implodes

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Maybe That's Why Humans Drink The Darkness That Is Coffee - Window to The World (2012)

Band: Maybe That's Why Humans Drink The Darkness That Is Coffee
Country: Stockholm, Sweden
Style: Experimental Black Metal/Djent
Label: Independent

Like I've been saying in many a review for djent bands, the genre is pumping out less and less interesting groups. But, like I've been saying, there will always be groups and projects that stand out from the rest by trying something different. I was always interested in what the fusion of black metal and djent might sound like, so when I saw this band tagged with both, I knew I had to listen.
Now I know that to many people out there, the idea of black metal being forcibly jammed into a sub-genre like djent is probably the last thing they'd ever want to hear, that and it mixed with metal/deathcore, but I was curious. The end result is actually pretty interesting. The guys in this band have obviously taken an influence from the likes of Vildhjarta. It's like a wild concoction of black metal's bleakness and vocals, djent's heavy rhythms and grooves, mathcore's spastic riffs, and post-rock atmospherics and clean sections. It's a totally bizarre sounding fusion of ideas that actually manages to work. I figure a lot of people, after listening or skimming through this album will say that there isn't even any black metal on it. That's debatable only because, yes, there are very few riffs that actually recall the black metal genre, but there are some ideas scattered throughout the album that do bring to mind some of the genre's more weird bands. I think that this might be more tolerable to some know that this is a mainly instrumental record, with vocals popping up very seldomly throughout the majority of the record.
I have to say that unfortunately the album is not great in the way of consistency though. While early songs blend the above genres and some others together in a way that is very disorienting and somewhat offputting manner, the quality drops on the second half as the band begin to abandon that in favor of more spacey post-rock ideas. Maybe it's just me, but no matter how much I enjoyed The Sanest Sentence or Glowing Stars, I think that it may have been a mistake to allow them to be as extended as they are. While the latter track at least opens with some of the more frenetic guitar grooves that were showed off on the first couple of tracks before diving into post-rock ambiances, the former dwells completely in that space. I don't have a problem with the tracks inherently, but I do wish that the band could have written more metal tracks than experiment so fully with post-rock. I know I'm coming off a bit harsh here but it's only because I do feel like the band may have devoted more time to those sections that the metal ones. After opener Riddle Me This, the metal tracks begin to decrease in quality for me. Tracks like Torchlight and Antitune feel like the band was just trying to be as weird as they could, throwing in all sorts of keyboard effects and weird guitar and vocals ideas that just don't work. Those post-rock sections, by comparison, are far more focused and captivating. Even though it is primarily a post-rock driven track, rather post-metal, Who Are You? is probably one of the best examples of the band performing to their strengths by combining those extended post-rock sections with some heavier (though certainly nowhere near as spastic) parts, though I do wish those parts were as extended.
The end result is a really schizophrenic album that is sure to intrigue, annoy, and baffle just as many people as many people who will be blown away by it. Some tracks feel more like exercises in weirdness than actual songs, but when the band actually throws out a song, it's at the very least interesting. If you haven't already been turned off by the idea of the fusion of the above genres, check it out, otherwise avoid at your own risk.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Riddle Me This, Who Are You?, Glowing Stars

Novallo - Novallo EP (2012)

Band: Novallo
Country: Columbus, Ohio
Style: Industrial Metal/Tech Metal
Label: Independent

Obviously, as I've said in the past, djent is getting more and more over-saturated, and that remains true still. Every day, more and more bands are jumping on that train and trying to get some hype or exposure, even if they don't do anything interesting with it, but there are still some interesting groups popping up here and there. I happened to just stumble upon Novallo several days ago by coincidence, here's what I ended up getting as a result of pressing play.
If you hate djent, I have to strongly suggest that you do not listen to this release because those noise-gates are certainly on used to maximum effect on here. Those stop-start palm-mutes are quick and spastic and I could definitely see some people getting incredibly annoyed with this band because of it. Stylistically, they sort of remind me of Monuments in that they're rapidly bouncing between djenty grooves with quick melodic phrases with great efficiency, though there is definitely a much higher use of electronic effects on here. The reason why I wound up actually really enjoying this album was because of the vocals, they're definitely the stand out for me. Since four of the five guys in the band do vocals, I can't really tell you who's doing what (or if main vocalist Sam Gitiban is simply doing everything on here), but the vocal acrobatics are just great. There's a pretty wide range of styles being channeled on here, from standard death growls, Tides, post-hardcore singing and screaming, Visually Silent and 4 Eyes Win! respectively, or even straight-up soulful singing, Angle of Perception, and those are just the few that popped into my head while listening through a couple of times. I think that some of the choices sound a bit too digital, with some of the effects on the vocals not particularly working for me, but that's just a small gripe when I'm constantly being assaulted by different vocal styles from nearly every angle.
While I don't think each track is fantastic, I think there are some really great ideas on here that show a lot of potential. I do believe these guys could go far depending on where they decide to take their sound on future recordings. If you enjoy diverse songs that still come from the djent sound, I think you'll definitely dig this release.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Angle of Perception, Level Nine

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Prison of Mirrors - Manning The Galleys (2012)

Band: Prison of Mirrors
Country: Seattle, Washington
Style: Progressive/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Independent

Last year Prison of Mirrors really surprised me with it's debut full-length. Blending the rather formulaic post-black metal clichés with more interesting ones found in the genre's more progressive and atmospheric divisions led to an impressive debut. With this sophomore effort following so closely on the heels of the debut I was wondering how much the ideas had been improved upon within only several months.
Right from the beginning of Desiccation it becomes obvious that main man Nick Brandt has decided to take a less direct approach to songwriting on this album. I don't mean that he decided to get rid of the up-front melodies or aggression, but more that the focus of the production has shifted from having the guitars hit you square in the jaw to adding more depth in the atmosphere. The mood is less visceral and more melancholic, which has made these five songs feel less "intense", which I don't have a problem with (but I guess that's totally relative), as the atmosphere that the album gives off is one of the better examples of melancholy found on an album I've heard all year. The songwriting has also become a lot more focused, trimming some of the fat from the excess of the previous album, and writing songs that are more concise, though still quite long, in their ideas. Even on epics likes Sanctity In Chains or All We Cherish In Embers, the focus is always on the song, and things never fall out of sync or control, which I could see turning some people off (maybe they like that rough edge that causes things to seem on the verge of total chaos), but for this record, it worked more as a positive than a negative. Melody is never sacrificed for brutality, experimentation, or atmosphere on here, which in my mind at least, sets PoM apart from many of his peers who seemingly forget that you can be as dark sounding and weird as possible, you still need to be able to write a good song/melody to keep your listener interested (though with weird you'd still probably get a pass from me).
My biggest problem with the project's self-titled debut was the drum sound, obviously being programmed, it sounded very plastic and unfortunately, overly fake or compressed sounding drums are something that really irritate me. was glad to hear that that qualm had immediately been removed from the equation on here, as the drums do have a more naturalistic sound to them. They're also a bit farther back in the mix, which I think helped to not make them sound as apparently mechanical. Having said that, I can't say that there aren't a few spots where this album did hit a bump that made me sort of scratch my head and wonder about. While most are rather inconsequential, the one that struck me as an odd choice to include was the sort of shoegaze section that is used throughout Galley Slaves. It isn't bad, per se, but it's one of those parts where it's like, I've heard this sort of thing done before and it doesn't really do anything for me. Maybe it's just my fault for listening to too much of the blackgaze sub-genre that I've become spoiled, it's not a flaw, just experimentation. I can respect it, but it doesn't mean I have to enjoy it. Also, going back to the drum programming thing, it occurred to me after listening to this album a couple of times that there wasn't a whole lot of variety in terms of the programming. The slower parts certainly have parts that suit them, but the majority of the faster moments appeared to just blast forward without much diversity. Once again, it's probably just me nitpicking.
It's nice to see a young artist already honing his sound into something unique after only two albums with the will to experiment still remaining. It's not perfect, but if Brandt continues on this upward path, I do think he'll create something really special in the very near future. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of the more atmospheric side of black metal, you will not be disappointed by this album.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Sanctity In Chains, Horn of Winter

Mare Cognitum - An Extraconscious Lucidity (2012)

Band: Mare Cognitum
Country: Santa Ana, California
Style: Post-Black Metal
Label: Independent

Last year Mare Cognitum released a pretty solid debut album, The Sea Which Has Become Known, which went under a lot of people's radar. I don't know how many people went out of their way to check out the project based on my review for that album, but hopefully a few liked what they found. I can only hope more people do the same based on this review.
After last year's debut which blended traditional black metal intensity with more progressive ideas that showed a project that was rooted in having aggressive riffs while still reaching for something more, this album retreats from the experimental tendencies. Not to say it's devoid of the more progressive ideas or anything, but it is less interested in having ideas in single tracks and would rather have a more cohesive album. The progressive ideas have been moved from including, or experimenting, with different sub-genres into simply having more complex song structures and more revealing forms of atmosphere and ambiance. You'll find that the backdrop of these tracks tends to unfold with every minute that passes by. Despite that, the majority of the album is made up of songs that move quickly, both riff wise and through transitions, as can be heard on Pyre of Ascendance, which is easily one of the more spastic tracks on the album, jumping from one extreme to the next effortlessly, though also somewhat carelessly as well. It's not a bad song, on the contrary actually, I think it's one of the more interesting tracks on the whole album, but it definitely sticks out as the black sheep on here as it does try to do everything a bit less naturally.
I do have to say however that while the sound throughout the album is more consistent than the debut's, the songs are not. There's not a bad song on here, but there were more instances where I did find my attention drifting off or wanting to pause the album and listen to something else for a while before coming back to it, which never happened to me while listening to the debut. A track like Degeneracy Pressure is fine for what it is, but it never stuck with me, never grabbed me in any way that made me take notice of it, and as a result, became utterly forgettable. On the other side of that you have a track like Ergosphere which does everything correctly (in my view of course) where you have an interesting build-up, solid tremolo riffing, atmospheric leads, and powerful melodies. While that's essentially the two ends of the spectrum, for me anyway, you have a track like the closer, Pulses In Extraconscious Lucidity, which sort of encapsulates everything that's both really good and disappointing about the album in one go (though it has to be said that the closer is predominantly good). So as not to give the wrong impression, two-thirds of this album are good tracks, it's just two out of six that kind of fall short in my mind.
I can't help but feel like I was let down by this album a little bit because it didn't hit me as hard as the first album did and it didn't hit me as consistently. It's not a bad album, but I don't think it's quite as powerful as the debut was. Check it out if you want to hear some solidly done black metal, with a foot in the post-bm scene to boot.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Collapse Into Essence, Ergosphere

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mole - What's The Meaning? (2012)

Band: Mole
Country: International
Style: Modern Jazz
Label: RareNoise

I don't think that there's a single person in the world who hasn't heard jazz at some point. Whether it happens to be a random band in a bar, the music playing as you walk through a mall, or to an extent, even street musicians in some foreign countries harness some of the genre in their brand of skiffle music. Without a doubt some of the most commonly known ideas about the sound of jazz comes from what is found on this debut record.
The product of a rather worldly quartet formed by Mexican pianist Mark Aanderud and up-right bassist Jorge "Luri" Molina, New York guitarist David Gilmore, and Argentinian drummer Hernan Hecht, what you have on here are extended pieces that blend various ideas into something that is, at least in my opinion, more palatable. I've said before that my knowledge into the world of jazz is rather limited, but even I can hear ideas from the worlds of lounge, funk, fusion, and to an extent prog-rock, in these compositions. I realize that this next comment will more than likely be taken the wrong way, but the sound of this record, not so much the performances, but the overall sound, made me think that this is the sort of thing that could be played in the background of a mall or restaurant. It has that very airy, but very clean and polished, sound that I tend to think of when I think of that sort of background music. Elevator music in some terms. I mean, this thing very rarely rocks out, it keeps things very much in the jazz tradition, and even when it rocks out, it balances those moments out with more of the lounge or contemporary stuff, hear Flour Tortilla Variation for an example. The few funk inflected tracks near the end of the album are more grabbing as well, as they did tend to stay with me for a while longer than some of the more "straight" jazz tracks.
In my opinion, the clear standout performance on here is Aanderud, who always keeps things moving, while not ever coming off as pretentious or audacious. He keeps things grounded with a track containing a melody while letting it move into free-form improvisation, letting it fly off the handle, and then bring it back in. I mean, I guess credit could be applied to all four members for that, but Aanderud just brought this air of tastefulness and focus to the project, which obviously stems from him being one of the founding members, that never let the songs fly off into random noodling. I do have to compliment Hecht for really keeping things restrained, for as much as I praise Aanderud for keeping these songs on course, Hecht is really the one to which that should be directed towards. His playing isn't overly flashy or technical, but restrained and controlled, though he does flex his muscles a bit more on PB or the title-track, where he does break out into some more "active" playing. Not to discredit either Gilmore or Molina, their performances are both very well done and certainly add to the album, but I found myself gravitating to the performances of Aanderud and Hecht far more often.
It's an impressive debut, but not one that's totally devoid of cliché, which, from what I've read, is part of the reason for the appeal of this. This isn't the sort of stuff I typically listen to, but it's nice for a change of pace. If you happen to enjoy modern jazz I think this is definitely worth checking out if you already haven't.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Trees and The Old New Ones, Flour Tortilla Variation, Greenland