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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Flourishing - Intersubjectivity EP (2012)

Band: Flourishing
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Technical Death Metal/Post-Hardcore
Label: The Path Less Traveled

Last year Flourishing really made a big impact on the death metal world with their album The Sum of All Fossils. That album got so much good praise, and with good reason, for pushing the death metal genre into boundaries that were much more unique. I'm pretty sure that my review for that album is where I brought up the whole post-death metal thing as well.
Much like their debut full-length, these three new songs continue the band's evolution of death metal. This is raw and very amorphous in its form. The riffs are dissonant and strange while the drums are going crazy and the bass just lurches in the center of the mix. Combine that with an atmosphere that sounds huge but feels extremely claustrophobic, and you've got one of the weirdest releases I've heard all year. The band just push these ideas through various tempos, from spastic black metal runs on The Petrifaction Lottery, to the more plodding sludge on A Living Sundial. It really makes me think of Deathspell Omega (and I know I'm not the first person to say that) if they decided to go death metal. These riffs are just crazy and then you have to throw into the mix all these weird mechanical sounds and swirling feedback and the result is some totally WTF music. I will warn you, if you had trouble getting into either of the band's previous releases, this one will be an utter nightmare for you. So proceed with caution.
I really enjoyed this record because it was really interesting and it made me totally uncomfortable while I was listening to it. You're not going to find another record like this one, and if that isn't reason enough to check this out than I don't know what is. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of interesting and unique sounding death metal.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: A Living Sundial

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aeon - Aeons Black (2012)

Band: Aeon
Country: Östersund, Sweden
Style: Death Metal
Label: Metal Blade

I think Aeon are a great band. In the pantheon of modern death metal groups, Aeon are one of the best groups to emerge from the late 90s/early 00s. They were probably one of the first death metal groups that had a big impact on my listening habits as well, so I do rank them very high in my death metal lists.
I still remember listening to Rise to Dominate back when it first came out for the very first time and just being blown away by how good it was. Even though the band were categorized as being a technical group, to me they always struck me as being more focused on songwriting than demonstrating how proficient they were on their instruments. Pretty much every song on that album is a great example of how modern death metal should be done and was easily one of the finest examples of the genre that year - 2007. I then went back and listened to Bleeding The False, which was a very solid debut and it was easy to see the evolution from that album to Rise to Dominate. Unfortunately, Path of Fire which was released back in 2010 did not live up to those albums. After several listens very little actually wound up sticking with me. Though it is certainly a solid album, it had none of the staying power of either of its predecessors. So I was a little nervous coming into this album because I really wanted it to be another winner. Whenever I had a friend in high school ask me about death metal, pretty much every time I would pull up a song from Aeon's first two albums and I wanted to include this album. So, I pressed the play button for the first time and prepared myself.
And it turned out to be another winner. Song after song, this is another stellar piece of death metal that shows all these newer groups how the genre is meant to be played. Maybe it's blasphemy doesn't need to be repeated lyrically, but sonically and vocally, this is the sort of stuff that I will always go back to the genre for. I have, and continue to view Tommy Dahlström as one of the finest vocalists in the death metal genre. His delivery is powerful and very intimidating, filled with force and malice, and emotion is something very, very few vocalists who growl/scream/etc. manage to convey. That's not to undermine the rest of the band, because drummer Arttu Malkki is already known as an absolute force behind the kit, and this album does nothing but reinforced that statement. Then the three axe-men pound away with riffs that are not only catchy but more brutal than almost anyone in the "brutal death metal" subgenre. Let them know songs like Still They Pray and Sacrificed are how death metal songs are to be written if they want to be any good. I mean the entire album is killer. I do love it when the band specifically attack preachers and priests on their albums, only because they have a trend of being one of the best songs on their albums, and this album once again continues that trend with Blessed By The Priest. I'm not sure about the interludes on here, as they seem rather unnecessary, but they are short and well performed.
It's a great piece of work, and that's really all I can say. Aeon have a great way of playing death metal where it sounds old and traditional but also very fresh and unlike anyone else, and I have nothing but the highest respect for what they do. If you're a fan of death metal, I seriously recommend you check this out, as it is one of the finest examples of its genre to be released this year.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: I Wish You Death, Aeons Black, Blessed By The Priest, Die By My Hands

Hour of Penance - Sedition (2012)

Band: Hour of Penance
Country: Rome, Italy
Style: Death Metal
Label: Prosthetic

As I've said many times before, I'm not a huge fan of the brutal death metal sub-genre. There was a point something like three years back when I was looking into it for some reason and tried to find some good bands, in that search came Hour of Penance. This release comes after the line-up change which wound up replacing half the band's member.
Personally, I was big fan of the group's two previous albums. While I did find them originally in my search through the brutal sub-genre of death metal, the band showed significant growth with the entry of Francesco Paoli on vocals back in 2006. Both of the albums he did with them showed a great range for not only the vocals but also the instrumental delivery. It was still fast and brutal, but there were more riffs coming through and melody was starting to be significantly introduced into the picture on 2010's Paradogma. I was quite worried when I found out about his departure from the band later that year. He really had personality and style and I was unsure if the band was going to be able to find someone to match him. Enter Paolo Pieri who brings a similar style of growling to the band, but a much less clear style. Personally, what I really enjoyed about Paoli's vocals were that they were brutal and low but you could easily pick out what he was saying, I didn't get that from Pieri, unfortunately. His vocals definitely maintained the brutality and girth, but was much less clear - that may just be a problem with me having grown used to the band's sound with Paoli, but it was a problem for me.
Other than that the band did somehow shift back into straightforward brutality and decimation on this album. I expected a continuation of the more melodic ideas from their last full-length, but this album backtracks into the realms of endless blasts and low-end heaviness. This leads to my biggest problem with the album, and it's a problem that has applied to bands far less brutal than Hour of Penance as well, and that is lack of tempo variety. Pretty much every song on here starts off blasting, and continues onward doing so from there, and that not only lead me to feel rather bored while listening to it, but it also caused the album to feel rather one-dimensional. It wasn't until track five, Ascension, that the band slowed things down a bit and allowed melody to enter into the picture again where I felt like they had finally done something memorable on here. Granted, opener Transubstantiatio is just an intro track, the three following tracks felt more like a flurry of low-end and blasting that none of it stuck. There are a couple of other gems on the latter half of the album, but the band do return to the tried and true "destroy everything through blasting" mentality a little too often than I would have liked.
This isn't a bad album, but I do wish that the band had focused less on blasting the listener into submission and more on writing songs that stuck with them. It's not that I think the band need to necessarily slow down, I just think they need to find a balance between brutality and songwriting again. If you're a fan of really intense and brutal death metal, I don't see any reason not to check this out if you're not already a fan of the band.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Ascension, The Cannibal Gods, Deprave to Redeem

Monday, November 26, 2012

Worship - Terranean Wake (2012)

Band: Worship
Country: München, Germany
Style: Funeral Doom Metal
Label: Weird Truth/Endzeit Elegies/Bubonic

If you know about funeral doom, chances are you know about Worship. They are easily one of the most well known and respected groups in the genre (whether due to the quality of their material or their history). I remember hearing whispers about a new album from the group like two or three years ago (or something like that) and was utterly surprised when I finally saw this album.
It should be said first and foremost that this is not the same sort of album that 2007's Dooom was. Whereas that album felt like the band's most put together collection of tracks up to that point, making use of additional instrumentation including organs, bells, and piano, this is a much more stripped down effort. It feels more like a return to their early days where it was just droning guitars and monstrous growls. It's very open and sparse sounding, meaning that when I listened to it, pretty much everything that I heard was created by the four musicians in the band and their instruments - though I'm not going to deny the use of vocal harmonies and the end of End of An Aeviturne. I didn't hear much use of keyboards or other instrumentation, which not only feels like a return to their early sound for the band but also a return to the primal ethics and ideas of the funeral doom genre itself. So many bands, for better or worse, are experimenting with the genre and bringing in new elements, and sometimes the most primal exercise in the genre's parameters can be just as exciting. Now, I was sort of harsh on Aldebaran's Embracing The Lightless Depths album earlier this year because it didn't do anything I hadn't already heard before with the genre. The difference, at least for me, between this record and that one is that this album feels primal and very true to the genre's sound, where I felt like Aldebaran were just testing out the whole funeral doom sound and not really attempting to put their own stamp on it. Worship obviously have the established sound already.
Like most funeral doom records, there aren't any real "songs" on here, more long and drawn out compositions, which would apply even more to this record because it does fit together as a single listen. Not in the manner of every track connecting together into a single track sort of way, but rather each individual track has its place in the record as a whole. It's less of a singular focus and more of a divided one if you get what I mean. On a side note, Fear Is My Temple is probably the bluesiest funeral doom song I've come across in a long, long time (if not the first time I've come across such a song). The atmosphere is pretty consistent throughout, but I did find the aforementioned Fear Is My Temple to actually be quite brighter, almost uplifting in some spots despite following those moments with some of the darkest on the record (the power of contrast my friends). The record is pretty solid at hammering away at you with its rather oppressive, and depressive, atmospherics and heavy as balls bass (both guitar and bass in that regard) to the extent that on my first listen through I just had to turn the record off because I just couldn't handle any more doom and gloom.
If you're a fan of the funeral doom genre, you obviously already know about Worship and this will be at the top of your priority list, if not, go out and listen to them. I honestly don't think this is a masterpiece, but as a piece of stripped-down and primal piece of doom, it's pretty damn good. A must for doom fans, but if you're looking for something else a little different, a little slower, than check this out as well.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Second Coming Apart, Fear Is My Temple

Amenra - Mass V (2012)

Band: Amenra
Country: Kortrijk, Belgium
Style: Doom/Sludge Metal
Label: Neurot

I really wish I remembered where I first heard of Amenra because it's been bugging me ever since I first listened to this record. It's had to be something like two or so years back because I know it's been a while. I like to try and remember where I hear things so as to properly credit a source, but this one is really making me cross.
Amenra, to me, has always been to sludge what Converge have been to hardcore. Both bands have that same visceral quality to their music where it never feels polished but is very poignant and direct. Of course, Amenra certainly have their feet well within the post-metal and hardcore realms as well, as we've seen on their trilogy of splits from last year, so their songs are considerably longer and take a few more detours from the path than other bands, but emotion always comes through. The passion has never come across to me as being contrived or phony. That, in turn, has allowed many of their songs to work even during the more plodding sections, listen to the last few minutes of opener Dearborn and Buried. You can't make a section that is that plodding and minimal without earning it and doing something with it, and they're certainly are aware of that because even within the realms of distortion, there's subtlety in their playing.
The four songs that make up this record all follow a rather similar formula of starting off quietly and building up to a heavy section before quieting down again and so on. Now, that is by no means an original formula anymore, there are dozens of bands that come out every year who do that, but once again, it isn't so much about the formula itself, but how the band use it. A track like Boden is actually quite standard fair for the genre itself, but comes across as exciting and tension building from its beginning all the way to its conclusion because the band have yet to remove that edge from their sound. It's that grit and passion that I've always enjoyed from them. I would find it strange if the band suddenly put out an album that was clean and polished and featured big ambient sections that break up the heavier ones. The band have essentially crafted their sound around being as natural sounding as possible, to the extent that these tracks could very well have been performed live during the recording of the album. The band also shows some signs of growth as well, with closer Nowena I 9.10 really coming across as a sort of Neurosis-esque kind of track. It has that sort of stark and minimal kind of atmosphere that definitely made me think of the most recent Neurosis record, not to mention Scott Kelly is on the track as well. It's not a bad thing though, because the band are still doing it their own way but that influence just really hit me during that track specifically.
I didn't expect anything bad coming into this but I was surprised with how consist it wound up being. When it comes to modern sludge and post-metal, these guys still reign supreme in their craft. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of all things slow and morose.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Boden, A Mon Ame

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Double Review: Monolithe

Monolithe is one of those funeral doom bands that has really gained some real status despite putting out very few releases. Whether it happens to be the inclusion of Blut Aus Nord's Vindsval for a little while or the sheer epic nature of the music they put out. Here we have both releases they put out this year. As always, the full-length is reviewed from 1-10 and the EP is reviewed from 1-8.

Subterranean Disposition - Subterranean Disposition (2012)

Band: Subterranean Disposition
Country: Melbourne, Australia
Style: Experimental Doom Metal
Label: Hypnotic Dirge

Terry Vainoras is a very interesting man for those who know about him. His experimental doom group InSomnius Dei put out one of the most interesting doom records of the last decade. I was really looking forward to hearing this album ever since I first heard about it last year.
I wasn't exactly sure what sort of doom based project this was going to turn out being, because if you've heard InSomnius Dei, you know that it isn't just a singular style that they're playing around with. Pretty much the only thing I came in knowing was that this was a record based in doom metal and I was hoping that Vainoras was going to do something interesting with it. When an album happens to open with the sounds of howling and screaming monkeys, you know that you're going to get something that isn't exactly typical. The music that follows is just as interesting and experimental as the use of those samples might indicate. For me, the entire record really reminded me of My Dying Bride, but in a good way. Or, to be more specific, it's sort of what I'd imagine My Dying Bride sounding like if they had continued to experiment after 1998's 34.788%... Complete (which I don't think is nearly as bad as people make it out to be). The entire record could have come off sounding like MDB clone if it wasn't for those experimental passages that really brought out unique character in the songs. I have yet to hear MDB experiment with stoner rock, post-rock, or industrial music in their music; and frankly, as much as I love that band, Vainoras does more with the sound they pioneered in the mid-90s than they have done in the last several years.
But as I always say, experimentation can only carry a band so far, and Vainoras knows how to write a good song. Each of the five songs on here has either a melody or a chorus that sticks with you and while it is something I did expect from this record, I don't think I could say with certainty that it was in the same form that I expected. The melody on Seven Sisters of Sleep is simply exquisite and quite elegant, in my opinion anyway. It's one of those rare melodies that reminds you why doom metal can be so addictive; and in the case of this melody it's spacey and trippy but also sort of progressive as well. But if that track was the project's melodic side, then The Most Subtle of Storms shows it's progressive side. Making use of various vocal effects and styles through the track in addition to an extended saxophone solo in its middle section, among other ideas, it proves to be the most adventurous track on the entire album. Frankly I did not care for the spoken word chorus of this song at all and found it rather irritating, but if that's the only thing I can say bad about the song, than I'd still consider it a winner.
Aside from a few minor gripes, I thought this was just a terrific piece of work. It's a brave album that takes risks and plays around with different ideas, but still keeps songwriting close to the vest, and it winds up succeeding because of it. If you like doom in any fashion, I definitely recommend you look this album up.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Seven Sisters of Sleep, Wailing My Keen

Blood Folke - Blood Folke EP (2012)

Band: Blood Folke
Country: St Paul, Minnesota
Style: Sludge Metal
Label: Small Doses

Small Doses is not a label I usually associate with metal music, but once in a while they'll put something out. This is one of those instances. Joe had praised this band back when he originally put this out and it immediately interested me because of his description of it.
I wasn't totally sure what style this band would be, I mean obviously it was going to be metal, but aside from that, I was going in pretty fresh. Oddly enough, this is not the straightforward metal group I thought it was going to be. The band channel some interesting influences from what I can tell, taking an almost post-metal sort of aesthetic towards songwriting while sonically actually owing more of a debt to progressive rock and sludge metal. The four songs that make up this album are all quite well put together with some excellent violin passages that definitely add that air of chilly atmosphere to the otherwise rougher tone the rest of the band give off. Merzerum is easily the highlight of the release, diving into multiple different pools of sound including a Mastodon-esque grooves and more of a psychedelic jam during its conclusion. They have a lot of talent but the rough around the edges production job might turn some people off if they're looking for something a bit more polished. This sounds like a band's early recordings, it's not perfect and feels kind of brash at certain points, but that's why it works.
It's a very solid debut release and I look forward to hearing more from this band in the future. There's a lot of talent in these four songs and it's actually quite difficult to predict where the band will take their sound next. Definitely look into this if you're a fan of sludge, doom, or even some of black metal's slower side, I don't think you'll be disappointed with this one.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Merzerum, Termination Shield

Friday, November 23, 2012

Centurion - Serve No One (2012)

Band: Centurion
Country: Płock, Poland
Style: Death Metal
Label: Wydawnictwo Muzyczne Psycho

You know, no matter how much weird and experimental music is out there, sometimes all you want to do is listen to something aggressive and direct, like death metal. When I'm in the mood for that stuff, I could spend an entire day listening to it. That recently happened about a week ago and so I got to listen to a bunch of albums like this one.
Looking for brutality? Looking for intensity? Looking for death metal? Well this is the album for you, and it's under thirty minutes long. That's about how you could advertise this album since it essentially bare-bones death metal and nothing else. Sure, there are a couple of more melodic sections, a few guttural growls, some more thrashy riffs, but this is no-frills stuff and if you come in expecting more than that, you may be disappointed. It's really hard to try and sell this album to someone when it is basically so standard in so many ways. Yes, if you like death metal, you will like this, but it's hard for me to say that it stands out in any particular way. Sure, a track like Gateways to Condemnation has a pretty solid melodic intro but that soon gives way to standard death metal riffing and doesn't return to that melodic idea again. I almost felt cheated in that regard because the intro got my attention and then the band just did absolutely nothing else to differentiate the track from any other song on here. I realize this review is pretty short, but there really isn't all that much to work with on here, it's your stereotypical, modern death metal album. From the sleek production to the Cannibal Corpse worshiping riffs and bass lines, it does almost nothing to actually stand out from all the other death metal bands to put out records this year. Maybe next time they'll strike gold but not this one.
Frankly, I wish I could be more positive about this album, but it just sounds so average in too many ways for me to ignore. Death metal from start to finish and not much else. Like I said above, if you like death metal in general, check this one out, you don't have anything to lose by listening to this.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Gateways to Condemnation, Cut The Throat, No One to Serve

Pandemonium - Misanthropy (2012)

Band: Pandemonium
Country: Łódź, Poland
Style: Blackened Death Metal
Label: Pagan

On a stylistic level, I'm not sure why I agreed to review this album. I don't mean that in a negative way, but I had read a few reviews of this album when it was released a couple of months back and they were being compared to Behemoth, a band I'm not really huge on. Still, I said I'd cover this, and I was seriously hoping for the best when I pressed play for the first time.
When first listening to this, and even now several listens later, I have to say that the Behemoth comparison is not completely unfounded. Pandemonium certainly do take after their elders sonically and perhaps ideally as well (though they are by no means as refined as Behemoth are in that regard). What you get here is a pretty idealized version of blackened death metal with a few glimmers of ideas that are slightly above the norm. I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't enjoy a few of the riffs on here, because they are quite enticing, granted, most of them tended to be more on the black metal side of the spectrum, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. I'm not sure I really understood why there were effects used on the vocals, listen to God Delusion for an example of what I'm talking about. They were by no means bad, but the screams that backed up the effected vocals fit fine and I just wondered as to what purpose it served to morph the voice from its original form. I read in another review that the vocals were similar to that of Peter from Vader, and in comparing the two, I could agree, but I did actually find Paul's vocals on here to be far more tolerable than that of Peters, which is one of the reasons I have never been able to get into Vader. Nevertheless, I do think the vocals are quite well done throughout, even with the effects used on them.
I guess where this band differs from many of their peers is in the more grandiose nature of their ideas. Whether it happens to be the more symphonic intro to Necro Judas or the female vocals on Stones Are Eternal, they strike me as ideas that the band would like to expand upon on future releases. Having said that, they are also ideas I have heard done before by the aforementioned Behemoth as well. While certain parts of the song didn't really do much for me, I did think that the majority of what the band did on Everlasting Opposition was quite interesting and well done. It's by far one of the most ear-catching tracks on the album, making use of multiple layers of guitar variations and synth washes to create a very pervasive sense of morbidity, if you will. Several guitar lines, as well as the role the female vocalist, bring a sort of Arabian tone to several of these songs. The second half of the album is a lot more apparent in its exotic influences, which is sort of disappointing in a way, since the first half is a lot more direct and straightforward in its sound without much exploration. But that second half is rather impressively done regardless of how much the first half tends to favor traditional extreme metal ideas.
In the end, it's a solid album, though it isn't much more than that. I would have liked to have heard the band explore even more interesting melodies and textures on here, but if this just happens to be what it sounds like when the band are taking a step into new waters, I can't wait to hear what it sounds like when they dive in. If you happen to be in the market for some black/death metal with some nice exotic influences, I'd point you towards this album.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: God Delusion, Avant-Garde Underground, Misanthropy

Sphere - Homo Hereticus (2012)

Band: Sphere
Country: Warszawa, Poland
Style: Death Metal
Label: Masterful

Sometimes there are albums that you just forget about and have to return to in order to remember why you wanted to listen to it. This was one of those albums for me. I've had this album on the backburner for several months already so I figured it was about time I get around to covering it.
I read a review for this album back around the time it was originally released, which is what originally got me interested, and it grabbed me because it made it sound like a modern death metal album that actually had some substance. A lot of modern death metal has become rather dull and bland, and in the case of newer groups, overproduced or under-produced. So it's become rather hard to find a band who has a production job that isn't polished nor muddy, and frankly, this is not an album that does that - as it does fall more on the polished side, but it's not going to offend anyone with its production sound. While that isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, it does work for the band because it really brings out all the aspects of their sound without one dominating. The bass is really crisp and clear (though it is definitely taking some cues from Cannibal Corpse in that area) while the drums are nice and propulsive. I do think that the drums sound the best on this record simply because they aren't overly clicky or flat sounding and they don't dominate the mix, but still have that sound that cuts through.
The band does take several chances, stylistically, on here which was rather interesting. They are a death metal band, yes, but there are some jumps into guttural pig-squeals on a few tracks, some well performed melodies, a couple of interesting grooves pop up on a couple of tracks, as well as some more technical bursts, among other ideas, but it's nice to hear a band so willing to experiment with their sound. It's not going to be enough to bring in the prog-heads, but if you like variation this will more than satisfy your appetite. I really dig how the band can go from a more groove based death metal song on one track, the title-track, to a more dissonant sounding (and black metal influenced) one the next, Holistic Paralysis. It also has to be said that these guys know how to write some killer riffs. It's been a while since I've found a record that I've wanted to headbang along with, and this one really made me want to (even though I was in school the first time I listened to it). The last half of the album really shows some potential for where the band could really expand into something special. Songs like Grave's Cold Darkness and Devils' Reunion definitely have traits that showcase a lot of promise.
Frankly, even though I enjoyed this album, I realize that those who are looking for something more unique might be disappointed by this. If variety doesn't interest you, this is just a damn fun album to listen to, so whatever floats your boat. Definitely check this out if you're looking for some solid death metal though.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Sadistfucktion, Holistic Paralysis, Devils' Reunion

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Aberrant Vascular - Aegisthus (2012)

Band: Aberrant Vascular
Country: Helsinki, Finland
Style: Avant-Garde/Symphonic Metal
Label: Independent

I've been following Aberrant Vascular for years now and it's great to finally see they have a full-length out. For years I've been waiting for a new release from the band after being very impressed with their three previous demos. I wasn't even aware they were working on a full-length but when I saw this I was beyond excited to listen to it.
Now I'm sure there will be a few people who look at the above genre "symphonic metal" and wonder what in the world I'm covering this for - because I cover almost nothing from that genre for good reason, but don't judge this band before you listen. If bands like Kamelot, Rhapsody (of Fire), Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, or groups of that ilk come to your mind when you think about the genre, put them out of your mind because this band is far more interesting and enjoyable (at least in my opinion anyway). These guys take many more cues from the likes of Arcturus than any of the bands above, coming across like a not so distant cousin to Vulture Industries. Like that band, the sound of this band lies somewhere between the the operatic extravagance of La Masquerade Infernale and the spacey ambiance of The Sham Mirrors but obviously with their own turn. Frankly, I love any band that channels those sorts of ideas into their own because extremity mixed with oddity is probably the thing all of my favorite groups have, and it's why I first latched on to this group several years back. I love eccentricity and weirdness and vocalists who exhibit these traits while not coming off as pretentious or just plain tuneless, always get me - whether that's good or bad, you decide, but it's a trait that has lead me to more great and interesting bands than I could have ever imagined - once again, including this one.
Sonically, while I did give a basic description above, I know that that will more than likely still leave many people still scratching their heads in bewilderment over what this album actually entails for them. If you can count yourself among that group, listening to this will bring you a mixture of orchestral arrangements, trip-hop-esque beats, industrial synth ideas, operatic vocal acrobatics, and simplistic metal riffing. Honestly, this isn't an album that's dominated by the guitars and has more emphasis placed on the vocals and arrangements, so in that sense it is comparable to a lot of symphonic metal. It's a trait that may turn off some people, but if you can get over that aspect, you should be good. I also do think that the occasional growled vocal on here could have been mixed better because they do seem to overwhelm the mix when they're performed, and I can't say that that did the album any favors. The growls themselves aren't bad, but they could have been mixed down a little bit more. But probably the element that will annoy the most people who listen to this will be the presence of chanting sections in several of the songs (and I mean Gregorian influence chanting sections by the way). A track like Truten for example, is primarily synth and vocal driven, and that may not exactly sit with people who like what they hear in the first three tracks. Personally, I always thought that they were always really interesting and brought a sense of character to the band that I wouldn't find in other bands. The true highlight of the album is obviously the twelve minute closer Le Temps Donne Naissance À Tout which not only features some of the best guitar work on the entire album but some of the best orchestrations and synth work as well. It's really the track that shows what the band can do and is hopefully a direction they continue in the future.
I thought this was a great piece of work that really shows a lot of range from a band who I haven't gotten the exposure they deserve. I hope that many people go out and check these guys out because this is an album that should be heard. Definitely, if you dig experimental metal, orchestral arrangements, or atmospheric based rock and metal, check this out, you will not be disappointed.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Verum Pro Totus, Le Temps Donne Naissance À Tout

Devilish Impressions - Simulacra (2012)

Band: Devilish Impressions
Country: Opole, Poland
Style: Symphonic Black Metal
Label: Lifeforce

I've been following Devilish Impressions for several years now waiting for their next release to finally come out. Ever since I heard 2008's Diabolicanos - Act III: Armageddon a few years back, I've known this band had something special. So, after a couple of years of side projects and other detours, this new full-length finally comes out.
When I listened to Diabolicanos - Act III: Armageddon for the first time several years ago, I just thought it was a brilliant piece of work. It took the standard formulas and ideas from symphonic black metal but removed all the cheesiness and cliché and replaced it with a more interesting progressive edge. They took chances and experimented with more left-field sounding riffs and a variety of vocal styles from death growls and black metal screams to what could be called post-hardcore yells, and it all worked together. Listening to this, I somehow was left rather disappointed. I'm not sure what happened to the band in the time between records (I know there was a member change recently) but this sounds like a major step backwards to me. Even their 2005 album, Plurima Mortis Imago, wasn't this stereotypical and formulaic sounding. I'm not saying that there aren't good songs in here or that the riffs aren't proggy sounding in spots, but there's a real lack of adventure and experimentation that I felt made the band something special and without it, they sound like another modern symphonic black metal group. The orchestral work is nice and I'm sure a lot of work went into the arrangements, but I can't say that they're particularly revolutionary for the genre or anything like that and are merely above average at best. I hate to say this cause in the past the band really had something, but this just sounds like a poor man's Mirrorthrone.
To return to the actual songwriting though, the album does start off rather well with Icaros. This was the first song I heard from the album and I was actually really impressed with it. It wasn't overly complex or anything special, but the chorus was pretty solid and catchy, and I thought that maybe the rest of the album would follow suit, which unfortunately didn't happen. While I wouldn't say that any of the material on here is bad, I did find a lot of it to be rather unremarkable and not particularly special. It wasn't until Vi Veri Vniversum Vivus Vivi where I felt the band were doing something a little more interesting and drew my attention. That track took a much more technical approach that grabbed me from the moment it started and manages to also play with some ideas I haven't heard the band experiment with, though it is somewhat unfortunate that it is so close to the end of the album.
Well, like I said, it's not a bad record, just disappointing based on how much hope I had in the band based on their first two full-lengths. Maybe their next album will do something more in the vein of their older work. If you happen to enjoy symphonic black metal, this record will probably interest you, but I'd say that if you're into stuff that's more progressive to give this a listen as well.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Icaros, Vi Veri Vniversum Vivus Vivi, The Last Farewell

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2012 - Handmade Birds

Obviously, I'm a big fan of all things Handmade Birds (as with most people with a wide array of tastes) but there have been some releases that I just haven't been able to get to, whether it be from laziness or otherwise, so I just decided to put them together. All of these releases are cassettes and releases which I haven't seem a whole lot of press for beyond what Mr. Loren has done himself. All releases here are reviewed from 1-10.

Double Review: Theologian

I remember hearing some pretty solid things about Theologian back in 2010 from various sources but never wound up checking the project out simply due to laziness on my part. But with two pretty big releases coming out this year, I consider myself lucky enough to get the chance to get acquainted with both of them. Both reviewed from 1-10.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Velnias - RuneEater (2012)

Band: Velnias
Country: Boulder, Colorado
Style: Blackened Doom Metal/Neo-Folk
Label: Pesanta Urfolk

In the world of underground black and doom metal, Velnias is a group whose name means a lot to a lot of people. Their dedication to their craft and slow pace for releases has led to a strong and passionate fanbase. Earlier this year they created a Kickstarter campaign which resulted in the creation of this record.
Velnias is a group who have quite an interesting kind of style that to me has always been more inventive in its performance than its actual genre. At their core, the band has taken ideas from black and doom metal, as well as neo-folk and drone music, and blended them together, which even at the time they released their Sovereign Nocturnal full-length back in 2008 wasn't all that original a style. What makes their combination work so well is the way they play it and the way they have obviously recorded it. Recording this album to 2" tape nowadays almost seems like a waste when dozens of bands have taken to recording albums in their basements with pristine quality, but doing cutting it to tape does give this album various traits that could never come from a digital recording. That's where the performance aspect comes into play, the band play the style in a way that ebbs and flows between various styles, which is why they have been regarded as the not so distant cousins to Agalloch in some circles or even a successor to the sound Opeth started using on their first couple of full-lengths. It's the sort of sound that would still work on digital but wouldn't convey the same sense of emotion or atmosphere that tape does. There's a sense of coldness in the atmosphere while the recording itself lends itself to quite a warm and very authentic sound.
I have to admit that for all the praise that Velnias has gotten, I was never fully on board with all of it. Don't get me wrong, I certainly thought they were talented and were a cool band (still are by the way), but they just didn't have that special something that made me really invested in them the way several others around me were. Regardless of that I was going to listen to this album and cover it, but the first time I put this on I was struck by an album that had surpassed any and all expectations that I had for it. My expectations weren't even all that low due to the few comments and reviews I had read for it beforehand that had praised it for being a powerful album, but I never expected this sort of album. Each track moves from section to section, with the exception being the centerpiece Velnio Ugnis which happens to be a short acoustic interlude (that I wish was longer), without so much as a hiccup. Each track retains that chilliness that I mentioned above, but is able to convey that atmosphere differently in each of the tracks, from the melancholia of opener Velnio Maldavimas-Desolation of Grandeur to the more grandiose and triumphant Reclamation of Valour. What I find the most fascinating is the ability to convey such variation without relying on any sort of pristine sound, the guitar tones are raw and unpolished, the drums very natural sounding, and vocals that are primal and guttural. It's an album of heart and sorrow, and that isn't a combination often heard together all that often.
The end result is something quite powerful and at times rather overpowering. It's certainly the sort of album that should be commended for because you rarely see a band so dedicated to their craft that they even focus on the sound of the record as much as the songs themselves. Do not pass up on this record if you are a fan of black and doom metal.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Reverend Flames of Antiquity, Iconoclast

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Behold The Arctopus - Horrorscension (2012)

Band: Behold... The Arctopus
Country: New York, New York
Style: Progressive Metal/Mathcore
Label: Black Market Activities

Though they were in existence years before, I remember hearing about Skullgrid back when it was released in 2007 and almost immediately had my mind blown away by it. It was one of those releases that just destroyed whatever I thought music could be and did things I never imagined at that time. But in five years what progress has been made?
Obviously, coming into this album expecting anything other than technicality that makes groups like Twisted Into Form or Spiral Architect look simple is a given, so, with that being said, I was actually surprised by the growth that I heard on here. Granted, I'm not sure how much growth could actually have been made to a group that was essentially made to push the boundaries of technical composition in metal/rock music, but I heard some significant shifts. First and foremost, I would say that this record leans a bit closer to the extreme side of the metal genres. Skullgrid, to me, felt like straight-up, uber technical, progressive metal, but on here there were several more spots that recalled elements of death, thrash, and black metal, with a couple choice moments drawing similarities to other projects Colin Marston is involved with including Gorguts, Krallice, and Dysrhythmia. Maybe it's just because I've become more acquainted with his other projects in the years since Skullgrid, but I can hear his influence all over these tracks. The extended tremolo section on Annihilvore was very reminiscent of his black metal projects and is a sound I personally find very pleasing (so big ups in there). Weasel Walter brings a far more intense drumming style to the band, which may be the reason for the amped up aggression on this album, featuring a less jazzy style that Charlie Zeleny had brought to the group on previous recordings. I really liked how the sound of this record was very clear and crisp sounding, every instrument could be heard, and I thought that the distinction between the tones from the bass and guitar notes of the warr guitar was very well handled. Probably my only complaint was that the drums were a bit overwhelming on Putrefucktion, but that's more of a compositional preference than a production one.
While I'm still not quite sold on the album cover, the music inside is certainly among the most interesting you'll hear all year. It's hard to say my brain has been scrambled since I've grown more accustomed to more technical varieties of metal music since first hearing the band several years back, but it's still a very enjoyable listen. If you enjoy more progressive or technical music, I highly recommend you look into this, but it is quite a polarizing sound and is certainly not for everyone.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Monolithic Destractions, Annihilvore

Rxyzyxr - LMNTS (2012)

Band: Rxyzyxr
Country: Worldwide
Style: Djent/Tech Metal
Label: Independent

With what is possibly one of the most ridiculous band names I have ever seen, I entered into this group with caution. I've been aware of the existence of these guys for a few years now because they released an instrumental EP back in 2010 and have sort of kept them on the periphery since then. Now they have a full-length after gaining a vocalist in the last year, so I decided to see if any progress was made.
I honestly wasn't expecting this album, I just so happened to stumble upon it and remembered the band, but my interest in seeing what the band would do on here drew me in. I remember when they posted the video for the first song they had vocals on and I was mildly impressed at that point because, even though the music was all well and good, and the vocals were well done, the thing that was off-putting at that point was how the two didn't really sound mixed together all that well. So when I pressed play for the first time on here, my biggest question was if the mix of the two would be accomplished on here. I'm happy to say that the two are certainly blended together and fit as a single piece. Unfortunately, with that kind of bringing my hopes up, they soon gave way to disappointment again. Maybe it was that vocal mix problem had prevented me from really noticing it when I first watched that video they posted, or maybe I just didn't care at the time, but this is not a diverse album. Musically, it's hard for me to even say I was impressed by this.
This is essentially the stereotypical djent sounding record. It's pretty much a band taking as many cues from Meshuggah and some of the other groups in the sub-genre as possible without really adding anything original to them. A great majority of this album is low-end, 8-string grooves and chugging. Yes, there are some more melodic sections used here and there, and there are some more tech metal ideas used as well, and even some cleaner, jazzy sections but it's not like those brought anything to the table that I haven't heard done better before by someone else. It sort of just sounds like they took Meshuggah and decided to throw in some Animals As Leaders inspired parts just to spice their grooves up. Do they succeed? In a way, I'll say yes because those cleaner moments are certainly well done, but when none of the grooves are particularly memorable or all that interesting, it's hard to say that a part that's well done doesn't make things at least partially more interesting. I felt that pretty much the entire first half of this album was bland, uninteresting, and featured some really boring songwriting. It wasn't until track seven, Polar Knights, that I felt even remotely engaged by what the band were doing; and I shouldn't have to say that that's a big problem.
I do have to give it to the vocalist though because despite being given some pretty uninspiring material, he at least tries to do something with it. The reason I didn't check out this group's first EP was because it was instrumental, and even at that point I realized that a band who are basically just trying to rip-off Meshuggah are quite dull. Why would I want to listen to a lesser instrumental version of Meshuggah when I have the real thing I already regularly enjoy? I was really curious to hear if the band would have moved on and tried to do anything that sounded even remotely unique on here, and the answer to that is, not really. There are those very small glimpses of originality that shine through, especially through the vocals (because this guy is clearly very talented, though maybe still a bit polarizing due to his clean voice), but there was nowhere near enough to maintain any interest. Tracks like Locked Inside and The Things show real promise and are actually pretty solidly written songs, but when your best and most interesting sounding tracks come up in the last third of your album, you do have a problem.
Personally, I was left quite disappointed by this album. There are several problems that plague this album, but based on a few select tracks on here I do have hope that this band can evolve into something interesting in the future. If you dig djent, check this out, but otherwise I doubt you'll get very much from this.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Denial of Death, Locked Inside, Nonzero

The HAARP Machine - Disclosure (2012)

Band: The HAARP Machine
Country: London, UK
Style: Progressive Death Metal
Label: Sumerian

I first found out about The HAARP Machine something like three years ago through a friend of mine (the same one who introduced me to Periphery) back when these guys only a one track up on their Myspace page. Obviously, a lot has happened since then, writing more songs, getting signed, losing some members, gaining some new ones, the usual. But now their first album has come out with quite a bit of hype behind it.
I think the first song they posted was The Escapist Notion and to be honest, while I thought the musicianship was really great, the vocals were just sort of average and didn't really do anything for me at the time. I remember reading things here and there saying about how far the album had progressed, how they had gotten signed to Sumerian, and all the typical press stuff leading up to an album's release but it wasn't til I heard that Michael Semesky had joined the band and they released Pleiadian Keys that I really became interested in the album. That track was very different from what I remembered the band being because it was far more melodic and atmospheric and exuded this personality that I don't think I could compare to another group. Thanks to guitarist Al Mu’min's use of sitar and koto all over this record, and a special use of koto at the end of Lower The Populace in particular, as well as additional hand percussion from Alex Rüdinger, the band have a very Arabian vibe going on that definitely stands out from what other bands are doing, let alone other bands on their label.
With that being said, this is not a perfect album. Personally, I found the first two songs to be the weakest on the entire album, but for completely different reasons. I felt like opener Esoteric Agenda was great but I couldn't help but feel like the song was cut short and could have gone on for another few minutes, Lower The Populace on the other hand felt like it just a bunch of ideas thrown together and it didn't really lead anywhere, they were enjoyable ideas, but only ideas. The remaining six tracks do pick up the pace though, showing the band including more melody and groove into their songs while maintain the same high-energy use of technicality. Which leads me to my next point, despite how technical a lot of the guitar parts on here are, Mu'min never appears to jump off into sheer wankery, which is something that plagues many bands attempting similar styles. Several of the more frenetic riffs he plays throughout the album actually wind up being some of the most creative riffs I've heard all year. Personally, there are a lot of great moments throughout the album, but possibly one of my favorite parts on the entire album came at the end of From Vanity to Utility where the band introduced a piano section before closing the track out with one of the more melody driven guitar lines on the entire album (which actually reminded me quite a bit of Dream Theater). While that part is very isolated, I would have loved to have heard the band do more with ideas like that on here, as well as expand on many of the ethnic ideas they use to introduce and close tracks. With the exception of the closer, Machine Over, the majority of tracks on here are very concise and compact, fitting ideas into quick three or four minute bursts.
Despite not knowing exactly how this album was going to turn out, I was really quite enchanted with this end product. The album is quite short (just under thirty-four minutes) and I really wish there was more material, or longer songs, on here. Regardless, this is a very promising start for this young band and I look forward to hear what they do in the future.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Pleiadian Keys, Disclosure, Extension to One

Friday, November 16, 2012

Klone - The Dreamer's Hideaway (2012)

Band: Klone
Country: Poitiers, France
Style: Alternative/Progressive Metal
Label: Klonosphère

Back when I was going through France's metal scene (about the same time when I first started getting into Gojira) I found a bunch of groups in their relative circle, one of those groups was Klone. Since hearing their 2008 album All Seeing Eye I have been interested in their progression as a group. I wasn't even aware that this album was in the working until after it had already been released, but I was very excited to see what the band were going to do.
I remember reviewing 2010's Black Days album and being really impressed with the development the band had made. They had really embraced the Tool influence that on previous releases was only occasionally referenced to and took on a less aggressive approach towards songwriting. But my main problem with that album was the fact that it was very inconsistent, it started off really strongly but didn't maintain that quality throughout. So, coming into this album, I sort of expected that the band would probably continue in the same sonic vein as that album, but was more curious to hear if they would up the ante in regards to the songwriting. As I soon found out, that was exactly the right state of mind to come into this with, because it's pretty much exactly what the band themselves have apparently done on here. It's certainly not recalling their more thrash background and continues to travel further down that sludgy alternative one where groups like the aforementioned Tool, Mastodon, and Intronaut reign supreme.
Consistency is the strength of this record. Unlike Black Days where the band had found their sound and decided to tinker around with it, as if they were perhaps a bit unsure where to really go with it, this album simply delivers a batch of songs that are all in the same general vicinity of each other stylistically. Yes, there's that smooth sax solo on the title-track, the industrial touches on Siren's Song, or the more traditional prog structure that pops up on Walking On Clouds, but the degree to which one track differs from the next is much less common. I'd also say that the group's songwriting in general has gotten better as well. Personally, I think that the experimentation on the previous album had hindered their songwriting and on here, consistency has bred a stronger and more memorable batch of songs. It's also strangely alternative for how heavy some of the riffs are. There isn't a whole lot of mellow parts on here but in almost every track, when the main riff hits, it hits pretty damn hard. The last four tracks on here are really some of the strongest material the group has ever put out, seamlessly blending groove metal aggression with more progressive melodies and soaring choruses.
I was thoroughly impressed with the album as it does channel a nice blend of influences that aren't often blended together in a way that maintains its metallic edge while still being readily appealing for a mainstream audience. It's still far from a masterpiece, but it is an improvement and the band's crowning achievement thus far. If you like more melodic or alternative forms of progressive metal, this is the sort of release that might interest you.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Corridors, Walking On Clouds, A Finger Snaps

Eryn Non Dae. - Meliora (2012)

Band: Eryn Non Dae.
Country: Launaguet, France
Style: Progressive Groove Metal
Label: M&O Music

Not that it was all that big a deal but I remember being surprised when back in 2009 Metal Blade records released Hydra Lernaia. I figure a lot of people probably didn't pay that much attention to it, but to me it sort of stuck me as odd that Metal Blade was signing a band like Eryn Non Dae. It seemed to me like they were trying to find their own Meshuggah or something, but now the band are on another label with a new album and it doesn't bother me.
To be completely honest, I was never completely sold on what exactly Eryn Non Dae. was trying to accomplish musically. Their sound basically took the fundamentals of groove metal and post-metal and tried to do something interesting with them, which is something I'm all for, but from what I wound up hearing on Hydra Lernaia didn't completely sell me the idea. It's like the band had a sound in their heads and were working to try and achieve that sound, but it only came together in spots. There was also the matter about the more ambient sections that were not only tedious, but rather inconsequential on their last album. I remember reading several comments about the record where people were basically saying that they were just skipping over those sections so they could get back to hearing the actual songs. So right from the offset of this album, it is clear that the band have gotten much better at fusing those ideas together into something which is more cohesive and natural sounding. Songs flow from mid-paced grooves to more experimental ambiances with ease, appearing to showcase a stronger post-rock/metal sense of dynamics on here than previous speculation would have led me to believe.
I was aware pretty early on, before I had even listened to the album, that this was structured for every song to flow into the next like a continuous song. The band sort of did that on their last album, which, as I mentioned before, was sort of a mixed bag in the end, but on here it really did work out for the better. I don't know if maybe I just got more into the grooves or whatever but even the longer tracks like The Great Downfall or Black Obsidian Pyre which relied heavily on long builds, I was able to listen to without getting even remotely bored. It also worked in the context that while those longer tracks were less intense and did focus more on reaching that eventual climax, the shorter tracks were just explosions of energy for the most part.
Personally, for all the dynamics and interesting structures happening on here, what stuck out to me, even after numerous listens, was the bass. It's very nice and thick sounding, but very clear in the mix. I actually don't think there was a time (during the metal sections) where I couldn't hear the bass, and that was great. It moved between being more of a foundational sort of instrument to one that felt a lot more expressive and powerful. When it comes to the part that I found the most irksome however, it lied in the sound of the vocals. Personally, I thought that they sounded strained at times, like the guy's throat was going out. That's just the guys style, and my taste doesn't really draw me towards that kind of style of growling, but it does grow on you after a while.
It's a solid step for the band and is clearly something that a lot of time and effort went into. There are some really strong moments that I did not expect from this band and that has me excited to hear even more from them in the future. If you happen to dig more groove based metal bands, from nu metal to post-metal to djent, I think you'll really dig at least some part of this record, so definitely check it out.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Great Downfall, Ignitus, Hidden Lotus

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Soundgarden - King Animal (2012)

Band: Soundgarden
Country: Seattle, Washington
Style: Alternative Rock/Hard Rock
Label: Mercury/Seven Four

I'll be honest and say that I've never been particularly fond of the semi-metal groups that came out in the grunge era. Alice In Chains were a cool band and I put Soundgarden on a similar level of, I like them, but they're not a band I listen to a whole lot. When I happened to stumble upon this new album, I just sort of thought that I'd give it a listen and see what it'd sound like.
Pretty much as soon as opener Been Away Too Long began I was sold on this album. If you had asked me what expectations I had for this album coming in, I guess I would have told you that I would have liked to have heard a handful of good songs, since this thing is thirteen tracks long, but much to my surprise this thing was like hit after hit. It's been one of the few times this year that every single song has stuck with me after the album has finished, and that's saying something since I wouldn't even consider myself a big Soundgarden fan. This album is also an album that has a very strong foundation from the blues, and as much as I love a good old-school doom or the occasional stoner record, I don't listen to a whole lot of blues, but this album took all the great ideas from it without making it sound cliché or boring. I think that what's great about this record is that it's the sort of record that I think even a fan of modern radio rock and metal could get into despite not being all that heavy or aggressive. It's certainly calling back to more of an old-school style of hard rock, but has that modern sheen that makes it accessible to that wider audience. I think it's sort of a brave thing for the band to decide to take this route after bringing the heavy back on their Live to Rise single for The Avengers movie, they decided to take things back to a more old-school rock kind of vibe where it's all about songwriting over heaviness. I've always thought Chris Cornell had a good voice, but he really sounds in his element on here. I know that his adventure into pop on his last solo record, 2009's Scream, wasn't exactly a success, but if that record was necessary for him to eventually make this record, I can certainly live with that. I can't think of a single person that wouldn't accept a flop if it wound up leading to a great album like this one.
In addition to all of that, the band know how to make each song stand apart from others in tone. There's just something on every song that makes it feel fresh and interesting even though these are very simple songs that don't divert from the pop structure. There's a clear distinction between pretty much every song on here, from the doomy Blood On The Valley Floor to the highway swagger of Attrition and the uplifting acoustic rock that is Halfway There. There's also some interesting additional instrumentation on some songs as well which sort of caught me off guard, like what sounds like some hand percussion on Non-State Actor or the horns and sitar drone on A Thousand Days Before or Black Saturday. They're not huge, and I can't say that I even noticed them on my first listen, but they just add that little extra something to those songs that it would seem silly to say they're irrelevant. Of course now that I've brought them up, everyone reading this will try and pick those things out, but I think it's important to not try and find those things consciously, because then you're distracting yourself from the power of the song itself, and there are plenty of songs on here that are written from a rock band only kind of vibe, where it's just the four main guys playing the song with nothing else added in, and those work just as well as the tracks with the more subtle elements. It's almost strange for me to say that an album from Soundgarden has turned into one of the best releases I've heard all year, but in the end that's really all I could say about this.
In the end this wound up being not only one of the biggest surprises for me this year, but is also turning into one of my favorites. There just isn't a weak song on here in my opinion. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes rock or metal with good songwriting, or if you're into more experimental and heavy stuff, maybe this'll just act as a change of pace for you. A must for this year.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Deftones - Koi No Yokan (2012)

Band: Deftones
Country: Sacramento, California
Style: Alternative Metal
Label: Reprise

There wasn't any way I was going to miss this album. Since practically having a rebirth of popularity with the release of 2010's Diamond Eyes, the band has just blown up, and with good reason. This was easily one of my most anticipated releases of this year, did it live up to expectations or was it another disappointment?
After the success of Diamond Eyes, it's great to hear the Deftones continue on a similar path with just as much energy and passion as ever. For a while it did sort of seem like they were more interested in experimentation than writing good songs, but they really came back to it, though it unfortunately involved bassist Chi Cheng falling into a coma in the process. But, if you were like me and thought their last album was one of the best things they've done in years, then you'll like this one just as much. The band honestly hasn't shifted too much from the sound of that album but has actually modified it just enough to make it feel like a different record. From my point of view, this is a heavier record, but it has a lot more dynamics than the band has showcased in a while. Previously, the band has had songs that were heavy or songs that were mellow, but on here it feels more like a fluid balance between the two. Sure, tracks like the fantastic Entombed or closer What Happened to You? do stick to a more atmospheric and reserved approach, but the majority of the album does make a lot of use of the power from the 8-string Stephen Carpenter wields. A song like Romantic Dreams really does a nice job taking both the dreamy ambiance and the low-end heaviness of the band and carving out a nice middle ground. Though Chino Moreno does make use of far less throat screeches than he did on Diamond Eyes, his performance on tracks like Leathers and Gauze showcase some of his darkest melodies to date - even though the former does actually make use of some screams.
For me, despite being a heavier record than even Diamond Eyes, the record, I felt, was less accessible. Personally, it wasn't as immediate of an attach to this record as it was to the last one. I don't mean that the album is not catchy or anything like that, but it did take another listen or two (so around my second and third listens through the entire thing) for me to really get into some of these songs, and now those are the songs that I come back to. Obviously, this was just my experience though and I have read several other comments and reviews where people have latched onto it very quickly, if not on the first listen. From those very same comments and reviews, I've read sentiments that rang true with me after I had finally listened to the album that this was among the group's best material. Then, there was just the aspect to where I felt more connected to some of the songs on here than I have towards any other song the band has put out.
As much as I love how every member of the band really supports each other and it's never been about having one guy be the spotlight, I think that the real star of this album is Frank Delgado. His synth work on here is top-notch and I think that he's the reason why this album feels so cohesive at balancing heaviness with ambiance and mood. I found his role on the last record to be a bit more minimal, but on here he really shines and he brings out some really amazing textures in these songs. His work on the aforementioned Gauze is just as important as Stephen's guitar riffs. Even more minimal additions to some of the tracks on here seem to feel even more important to the majority of songs on several previous albums.
Once again, I think the Deftones have crafted and released another stellar piece of music that easily ranks among their best work. Perhaps it won't leave the impact that their last record did, but you'd be a fool to not at least consider this a worthy follow-up. If you have yet to listen to the band, this would be a great place to start, but you definitely don't want to miss out on this album.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Song Is A Highlight

Stone Sour - House of Gold & Bones: Part 1 (2012)

Band: Stone Sour
Country: Des Moines, Iowa
Style: Alternative Metal/Post-Grunge
Label: Roadrunner

To me, Stone Sour is just one of those bands that I'll listen to every once in awhile when I want to hear something catchy and, to me, poppy. Over the years, I had sort of grown bored with Slipknot and had moved on to other, far more experimental and extreme forms of music, but I still maintained an interest in Stone Sour because they wrote solid songs. As always, Stone Sour write eclectic albums so it's hard to assume what it'll sound like but the only thing I wanted when I came into this was that it needed to be better than 2010's Audio Secrecy.
When I listen to Stone Sour, I don't come in expecting something profound or extremely interesting, but I return to them because they know how to write songs that are pretty varied stylistically while containing them to pretty short lengths. They're pop songs, essentially. Now, speaking as someone who has listened to quite a bit of mainstream alternative rock in my time (this was back before I was into a vast majority of what I listen to now) I've thought, and continue to think, that the band's 2006 album Come What (Ever) May is one of the best mainstream rock albums I've ever heard. That album came with a lot of passionate lyrics and vocals and a wide range of musical styles from semi-thrash to alternative rock and power ballads, but it worked as a cohesive album. But as I said above, aside from a few choice songs, I did feel like Audio Secrecy was a disappointment. It was overly produced and felt like the band were spreading themselves a bit too thin, trying to cover too many bases at once and wound up doing very few of them justice. It didn't have any of the power or darkness from the debut or the songwriting chops of Come What (Ever) May and felt more like a straight-up pop rock album in more cases than I would like. Whether the band had learned anything from their experiences with that album, this album is a return to the heavier side of their sound and focuses less on polish and perfection.
As someone who comes to Stone Sour simply for songs that are dark, big, and catchy, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed by this album. In terms of the songwriting, this is leagues above what was showcased on their last full-length, and the sound is closer to what they had on their self-titled album than either previous album was, but it just doesn't quite accomplish what I wanted to hear. Though there are multiple tracks from the self-titled album that I return to from time to time, I don't really come to Stone Sour for their metal side, which happens to dominate the majority of this album. I do like the heaviness presented, but the hooks just don't reach out and grab me either like those early songs or like their more pop influenced tracks. Songs like Absolute Zero and Last of The Real are certainly well written songs but they just didn't stick with me like I would have liked them to. Though I certainly have to give it to the band for at least trying to craft an album that is heavier and darker than I'd say 90% of their peers are doing. David Bottrill production on here is stellar, with every instrument coming across as clear and powerful, the guitar tone is worthy of note for being so chunky and thick sounding for a record as mainstream as this one is. Corey Taylor's vocals also come across as sounding as impassioned as ever, with his screaming and growling on RU486 coming across like he's spitting it in your face. So, if nothing else, the production job on here is really well done.
It will be interesting to see what the second part of this album will demonstrate, but for this album, it is just sort of there for me. Sometimes I just need to listen to something where the hook is the most powerful part of a song and doesn't require a whole lot of effort to enjoy, and that's sort of what this record is for me. It's solid and if you aren't that into the more experimental or underground side of metal than this is certainly worth checking out.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Tired, Taciturn, Influence of A Drowsy God