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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The End of The Line

After much thought and deliberation I have decided to end Don't Count On It Reviews. After doing this for close to five years at this point my energy, it seems, for it has just faded away. I'm sure everyone who runs a review site will tell you, there simply isn't enough time in a day to get to everything you want to, which certainly applies here. Last year I was left with somewhere around two hundred albums I didn't cover (regretfully) and it looks like it'll be upwards of around three hundred this year. I took some time earlier this year to try and recharge myself and when I finally did get to a point where I could review again I was supremely behind and haven't caught up yet and have wound up feeling even more drained because of it. I've run this blog by myself for all this time and while bringing on another writer or two has crossed my mind, I think I'm far too selfish to let go of this thing I started all those years back when absolutely no one read my reviews. My time has also become more and more precious as well, what with going to school (and changing majors) and trying to find a job while retaining time to actually listen to music in general, it's just become far too hard and tiring trying to keep up the pace I set early on with writing these things and it's come to a point where it feels more like work than simply having fun by talking about albums and bands I liked or felt interested in at the time.
I have to thank each and every one of the people who have come to this site and read and commented and enjoyed or gotten anything out of my reviews or interviews, but I simply can't maintain the pace I would like to in order to keep going with this blog (at least for now). I should also apologize to anyone who requested a review or that I promised a review to, as much as I would like to write something up for you, I feel it wouldn't only be disrespectful to write it at this time but a waste of anyone's time who read it. I would simply be writing a review for the sake of writing it, instead of for the music or myself and that would lead to the review being false and not worth even putting out in the first place. If I ever feel like I can continue doing this site again, I will, but as of right now I am letting this site go. If anyone will have me, I will write freelance for a while and do stuff for other sites, but as of right now I'm just going to take a bit of a break. Thank you to everyone that's supported me or this site over the years, you have truly touched me.

Maybe we'll meet again soon,

Waning - Feeding of Fragments EP (2013)

Band: Waning
Country: Gothenburg, Sweden
Style: Industrial/Progressive Black Metal
Label: Independent

Waning is a band I've grown to be quite fond of. After a strong debut full-length, Population Control back in 2008 they really showed their metal with last year's stellar album The Human Condition (which made it into my top 50 albums of the year). Because of the four year gap between the debut and sophomore albums I certainly didn't expect to see another release from this band so soon, but was definitely pleasantly surprised when it popped up while I was on bandcamp one day.

To me, Waning is one of those bands who uses industrial influences without actually coming across as overly industrial. It's more of a tonal thing than a stylistic one, at least that's the way I felt it was presented on the previous two full-lengths because on here those influences do come across a bit more obviously. Having firmly positioned themselves within the more progressive side of the black metal genre, that obviously allows them to experiment a bit more without being criticized, but on here they're definitely bringing down some of those more progressive ideas in favor of a bit more harshness and straightforward songwriting. The overall sound is more jagged and noisy than in the past, which really brings out some of the more dissonant sounding riffs used on here. But on the other side of that are the drums which, in terms of how they sound, have a much more cold and mechanical vibe to them. At times the band sort of reminded me of a slightly more polished version of Diabolicum, which I'm sure probably wasn't a reference point for them but there definitely were aspects that reminded me of that band. However, there were also a couple points, the opening minute of Faceless In Line, definitely had a Blut Aus Nord-esque kind of vibe to it that I very much enjoyed. That track in particular was quite different because it was easily the most melodic track of the four on here, it still had those occasional moments of mechanical dissonance pop up that really made it stand out among the entire band's discography and is, at least in my opinion, of the best songs they've written to date.

It's an interesting little release that definitely brings out a side of that band that, I feel, was only vaguely touched upon in their full-lengths. I'm not sure how future EPs in this series will see the band experiment but I can only hope whatever they do they keep at as high a standard as this one. This is very good, obviously, and if you happen to enjoy experimental black metal, than I don't see how you could pass this one by.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Not Among Them, Faceless In Line

Esoterica - Aseity (2013)

Band: Esoterica
Country: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Forever Plagued

I don't know Esoterica, not really anyway - I mean I'm familiar with some of the members and participants in it, but I'm pretty uninitiated with the band. I had seen a couple of releases find their way across the blogosphere last year and earlier this year but I didn't put two and two together until I finally looked up this record in particular. Knowing that an ex-member of Chaos Moon did have me slightly intrigued as to what this would actually wind up sounding like (since I wasn't the biggest fan of their records).

After dissolving Chaos Moon in 2011 and starting this new project, Alex Poole went and brought Chaos Moon back from the dead this year. Like I said above, I've never been a huge fan of that band, they just never hit me the way it hit other people. It always just sounded like another project taking ideas from bands I liked and doing absolutely nothing with them. Esoterica on the other hand takes what I would assume to be similar influences and manages to bring them together in not only an way that is well done but also engaging. After hearing Poole rip-off Lunar Aurora in his other project for numerous releases, this full-length is the first in which it sounds like he's actually done more (in terms of songwriting) than say he really likes bands like the aforementioned. And what I mean by that is that the end result, being the six songs on this album, sound like a cohesive project and less like someone throwing a bunch of ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. One could also attribute the more focused sound of the project simply due to a trimming down of other influences. When I looked up Chaos Moon I often see the tags of "blackened funeral doom" which you could break into numerous genres and sub-genres if you like that overarch it, but I think that it has been the funeral doom aspect is one of the reasons which has caused that project of feel so lackluster to me. Narrowing his focus to simply black metal gives this album a razor's edge-like ferocity that I haven't heard from this sub-genre in quite some time.

The atmosphere in question heard on here, feels far more haunting and melancholic than anything I've heard from either Chaos Moon or, on a different note, from recent groups within the atmospheric/ambient black metal sub-genre. I'm not even going bring up the whole depressive scene beyond this sentence which has all but squandered any good will left for it in these last few years by releasing nothing worthy of mentioning and creating atmospheres that are dull and lifeless (which may be the point in some instances). The atmosphere doesn't feel like it's overcoming the guitar work though, as has been the case with several bands recently, but the opposite remains true as well with the guitar work not completely overpowering the background synths. It's a balance that I can assume isn't easy to get (based on personal experience I can confirm that). It didn't even strike me as having a post-rock influence until the last track on here, Aether Communion, began using the typical tremolo post-rock guitar style, so I consider that a triumph. If there was a big post-rock influence on here it wasn't obvious (and thank heaven for that). I should also mention that the album becomes increasingly more memorable as it goes on with guitar melodies worming their way into your skull.

But overall this is a very strong debut full-length and it definitely get me interested in the new Chaos Moon album that I hear is coming out soon. Seeing as how I didn't really have huge expectations for this album when I first decided to listen to it I think it's apparent that I was very impressed by the end. Fans of the more atmospheric side of black metal should definitely check this record out.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: A Slave's Ablution, Lethe

Harrow - Fragments of A Fallen Star (2013)

Band: Harrow
Country: Victoria, Canada
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Independent

Being put into the whole "cascadian black metal" movement can be the sort of thing that has either brought bands great success or failure. While there are some who claim that this movement has provided black metal with some of it's most interesting groups since the 90s, other would say that it's a movement based off the success of a couple of good bands. So I found it somewhat interesting that bands are still being put into that movement since, as far as I knew, it had ended a while back.

There's what you could almost call an imbalance on this record in terms of how the record is laid out, with the opener being eighteen minutes long the the remaining three tracks totaling up to just over twenty. Not a problem, but it is interesting how the band decided to present themselves on here. It's a bold step opening an album with a lengthy piece like the title-track, and while bands from this particular movement have never really been ones to embrace the standard song formats, this is up there in terms of a bold opening statement. As far as what you can expect from this track, because of the movement with which I've seen this album associated with, and with good reason, you will be able to hear influences from other bands from that "scene" in this track (as well as the following three as well). I guess the main problem I have with that is just that it sounds more or less like what I've already heard from those bands, and obviously I don't have a problem with rehashing ideas if it's done well or interestingly enough, but it's just that it's introduction so much reminded me of the likes of Echtra and Skagos that it was almost off-putting. That's more or less the basis of the first half of this track. It moves from ambiance into an acoustic piece. The last half of the track is where I thought that the band really gained their own footing - when they went electric. I'm not going to pretend that once the band goes metal they suddenly become a revelation but to say that the track really picks up speed and momentum after that transition would be an understatement. Yes it's raw and gritty, but there's a real interesting use of atmospherics used throughout that was one of several things that kept me interested and engaged.

As the following three songs progress forward it becomes apparent that while I did come into this record slightly skeptical because of what these guys are attached to, they do have a sound that is a deviation from the standards. While there are hints of it used in the title-track, the blues influence in the band's playing really came out in the shorter tracks. While there's plenty of straightforward tremolo riffing and whatnot used throughout the album, it was those bluesy moments that I think really made this stand out to me. The idea of combining blues with black metal is one that, as I've said various times before, is one that seems to be getting more popular as time goes forward but the bands that pull it off well will continue to have favor (at least with me) because of how they do it. While the use of the banjo on the intro of closer If The Sky Falls, We Shall Catch Larks certainly does bring to mind the most recent work of Austin Lunn's project Panopticon, I wouldn't go so far as to call it a rip-off or a parody of that.

I think it's pretty obvious at this point that I do favor this record to many others that have been attached to this "scene" in recent years and hope that people check it out because of how well it's done. There's real talent on here in many places and though it certainly isn't perfect by any means it's for a debut full-length it's pretty damn good. Definitely give this one a shot if you're a fan of more forward thinking - but ultimately still very raw, black metal.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Fragments of A Fallen Star, Keening

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nutrition - Terminus Occultus EP (2013)

Band: Nutrition
Country: Lexington, Kentucky
Style: Industrial Black Metal
Label: Independent

I'd like to think of myself as a long time supporter of the band known as Nutrition. I've reviewed two of their previous EPs before, both varying in terms of my enjoyment, but I have liked check up on the band every once in a while and I stumbled upon this EP. The band are poised to release a new full-length soon so I wanted to rush this one out as soon as I saw it.

Unlike the more traditional and straightforward approach taken on the band's last EP, Dusk of The Hunter I, the three songs (including an interlude) on here take a much more expansive and progressive style. Perhaps this is obvious in just looking at the extended lengths of these tracks, but keep in mind that having long songs doesn't make you a progressive band. These songs, however, do bring a more winding structure to the table while still retaining the use of a solid chorus that's grounded in the style established on previous releases. Meaning that the choruses do keep things a bit more simplistic, but are fast enough to not really feel out of place. There is, at least in my mind, a few more spots that do show a bit more of a Blut Aus Nord kind of vibe - which particularly stands out against the more melodic and straightforward riffs used. Also, bonus points for the Network sample used in I, cause that was pretty cool (there are several samples used throughout these songs but that one was my favorite). III actually managed to do the most out of the three songs on here, I think, because it managed to do all the heavy and aggressive stuff, but also had a moment where things cooled down, and the riff following that section is one of the best things I think I've heard this band put down. It's instrumental but flows from a more mid-paced and melodic section into a more dissonant one then slows down again. Obviously, there's more following that, but I'm not going to diagram the whole song here. It's just great and is something I think the band should be incredibly proud for having written.

All together I think this is actually a nice return to form for the project and if this is any indication of the direction taken on the full-length, I sure as hell can't wait to hear it. There's some really nice stuff on here that shows just how far the band have come from their beginnings. If you're a fan of more progressive and industrial leaning black and death metal I don't see any reason why you should ignore this band.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: III

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoreau - IV EP (2013)

Band: Thoreau
Country: Würzburg, Germany
Style: Post-Metal
Label: Independent

Speaking for myself, after having listened to probably a couple dozen bands that are labeled as "post-metal" since first starting this blog, it's become rather hard to find standouts. There is certainly no shortage of bands with talent but bands that are doing something interesting and unique are harder to find. I more or less knew the style that Thoreau were playing when I first skimmed through their album, though the details were not revealed until I actually listened through.

The four songs that make up this full-length contain, rather expectedly, what you'd more than likely hear on any other record labeled as "post-metal." Considering that the band don't exactly go out of their way to really put the listener off balance in the leading segments of the album, it can be rather hard to say that there's a whole lot here you won't have already heard before. Isis and Neurosis pioneered, then groups like Cult of Luna, The Ocean, Pelican (to name a few) brought it to new heights in terms of popularity as well as sonic experimentation. To hear a band who really don't take many risks, if any at all, with the genre can be not only disappointing but also dull. Now, this certainly isn't a dull album but it's an album that will give you exactly what you want if and when you decide to put it on; though to say there isn't a certain amount of pleasure in listening to a band just perform a style that you enjoy would be a lie. Yes, there's nothing too original on here, but it's performed well enough and the songs are able to maintain interest for their durations so it's not as torturous of an experience as my words above may have given the impression of. In fact, both of the songs that make up the center of the album, Flut and the title-track, are, in my opinion, pretty damn solid tracks. They're mostly instrumental, which is the case for most of the album album as well, and they have a nice melodic streak to them that I found myself warm towards as the songs progressed forward. I can only hope that the band do try some more things in the future. Take note though because I would never call this record bad, it's simply lackluster. For a band who are in a genre that is all about dynamics, I just wish there was a bit more on here that I didn't expect because you can more or less tell where things are going on a given track on first listen.

I wish there was really more to say on this matter, but that's more or less it for what I've heard on here. It's a pretty typical and/or standard post-metal record without much personality or without a whole lot of risks taken. If you're a fan of the genre and/or a completest of it this would be right up your alley, but frankly it didn't really do a whole lot for myself.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Flut, Helix

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Koloss - Empower The Monster (2013)

Band: Koloss
Country: Vetlanda, Sweden
Style: Post-Metal/Doom Metal
Label: Independent

I covered Koloss' debut full-length back when it came out in 2011 and thought it was a solid, if somewhat generic record. After reviewing that record if you had asked me about the band I probably wouldn't have remembered them, and it wasn't until I saw the covered art for this record while looking through bandcamp that I thought I had covered the band before. As I have said many times in the past, a cool looking cover can definitely help as to whether or not someone decides to listen to it.

While the intro to opener From The Sea (The Birth of A Monster) may lead you to believe you're in for just another doom metal record, about two minutes in the song abruptly changes pace and your find yourself drifting not in a black sea of doom and gloom but an ocean of psychedelia. While the moment is fleeting it's probably the most telling moment about the band in this one minute long section. Anyone can do heavy, and being a post-metal band doesn't really hold the meaning it once did since so many bands have emerged and have essentially just done what all the biggest bands were/are doing. While Koloss' debut may have given glimpses of talent, it was by and large a more average album from the genre. But in that one minute long section, the revealed, to at least me, that they are capable of so much more. The use of open space and melodic guitar lines filling that minute of time in the song just grabbed me and I wish that the band had either repeated it in the song or on the album, or had just extended the sequence cause it was really that good. Though to be perfectly fair to the band, since the entire album plays out like one long song, the fact that they do at least reference it later on is at least something. There are plenty of mellow/softer moments on here with clean guitars which are well done to say the least, I just wish that one minute long section from the opener was used again. But now it probably just sounds like I'm bitching.

Beyond that the band do at least do a solid job at performing and writing the post-metal genre. If you've heard of any of the figurehead bands of the genre than you know what to expect going in, the only difference being that Koloss have obviously done the work and are trying to at least do the genre in their own way that isn't a complete rip-off of other bands. There's no faking here, nothing gives the impression of the band not liking what they're doing - and believe, I've heard several post-metal records where it sounds like people just going through the motions, so in that way I do give these guys more credit. There's also the fact that these guys do embrace the whole doom genre more than a majority of their peers. Those distorted sections have the weight that most bands in the post-metal style lack, and it actually carries through that the weight of the guitars does actually feel like a giant monster (Pacific Rim style) smashing out of the sea and smashing its way onto land. In a strange way I'd like to call this a more progressive album than the band's debut simply because they're tackling that whole "one long song as an album" concept, but musically they don't really dive that far into that sort of territory.

While this review may have come off a bit negative, I don't actually dislike this album - it's quite good in fact. There are certain aspects I wish the band had explored more of in the making of this album, but otherwise I think it's a solid attempt to make a rather stale genre their own. If you're a fan of the slower side of metal I do recommend giving this a listen and making your own decisions about it.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: From The Sea (The Birth of A Monster), Building Arks

Unmothered - Unmothered EP (2013)

Band: Unmothered
Country: Austin, Texas
Style: Atmospheric Sludge/Doom Metal
Label: Independent

There's something to be said for simply doing something heavy and leaving it at that. Simplicity is sometimes the best route to go in regards to certain genres, but apparently that isn't the route that Unmothered was interested in. When I saw the genre that people kept tagging this with (the one that I put above) I was surprised enough to that I had to check if I had the right album.

Everywhere I looked at this album had them listed as a sludge/doom metal band which I thought was weird cause when I first put it on, I thought they were closer to a death metal band - shows what I know about anything. Just for those wondering, I didn't play the wrong record. I did go back to the album though and I did identify what other people were singling out as the slower influences though, so I did get it in the end. While these guys don't necessarily bring the super slow riffs I'd immediately single out as a doom metal influence they do bring the heavy like most of those bands do. The guitar tone and production give it that heft that I think does do the band justice. I guess it was the sludge influence that I may have mistake for death metal but whatever, there is a surge of good writing on here. Because the guitar is so heavy sounding, in some instances I would give that band credit just for that, but the writing on here is pretty spot on as well, with a damn solid riff in almost every track. It's a good balance of that low-end heavy with melody and strong root in good riffing. There's also a well utilized use of reverb throughout the recording as well. It never dominates the songs but actually (in perhaps one of the few instances of it being used recently) actually enhances the power of these songs. It allows the riffs to sound so much more massive.

I expected this to be a decent record coming into it, but it genuinely surprised me and I'm glad I actually took the time to listen to this instead of blowing it off. Maybe the stupidity of me thinking this was closer to death metal may mean that these guys can cross over a bit easier into that sort of a fan base. But if you're just a fan of heavy guitars and strong sounding riffs, than definitely give this one a listen.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Solstice, Leviathan

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Marche Funèbre - Roots of Grief (2013)

Band: Marche Funèbre
Country: Mechelen, Belgium
Style: Death/Doom Metal
Label: Shiver

Like many cases recently, I was not aware of a band called Marche Funèbre until they sent me the promo for this album about two months or so ago. I've been covering a lot of death/doom albums this year and I figured I'd give this one a listen just to add to the list. I've been surprised with what the genre has produced this year, so I had some nice hopes for this one.
Unlike the last couple years I've been reviewing albums, this year has produced several exceptional records from the death/doom genre (doom in general really) so it didn't really shock me when this record actually turned out to be pretty well done, at least musically. Unlike several other records to emerge from this genre this year though, I would say that this band has crafted one of the more diverse efforts I've heard. Yes, the album and band certainly are rooted within that death/doom genre and while complete stylistic departures shouldn't be expected, there is flirtation with other sub-genres throughout. The breaks into traditional death metal as well as funeral doom definitely kept me interested. I mean, chances are you're not going to be all that surprised by what you hear on here, it's all been done before, but I thought that the blending of sub-genres was pretty solidly done and was definitely entertaining. There were times when there was definitely some early Opeth coming through in their sound on a couple of tracks which was quite nice to hear. In terms of the production, I realize we're talking about a band who's still in the early stages of their career so they might not have the money for a huge production, but it could have been better. I think that the bass tone is pretty shaky at times and sticks out a bit more than I would have liked from what the guitars are doing. It's not that the bass is badly played mind you, it's just that the tone doesn't really sit with the tone of the guitars all that well.
With all that being said however, I just can't praise the clean vocals on here. The death metal growls are perfectly fine, I have no qualms with them at all. The clean vocals however drift between tolerable and just downright awful. At their best, they can sound a bit like Jonas Renske from Katatonia, but unfortunately the majority of them are completely cringe worthy. A track like As In Autumn is rendered nearly unlistenable because of how bad the singing is. It also doesn't help the fact that the clean vocals are placed at the very front on the mix and nearly overpower anything else playing underneath them; yet somehow the growled vocals are at a normal volume and blend in nicely with the instrumentals. I don't think he's necessarily a bad singer because there is evidence on here of him being able to write some melody lines that do work and in which his voice is clearly well utilized, the main melody on Nothing to Declare is particularly well in my opinion.
While I do think this is a solid album overall, the singing was definitely the biggest weakness on here and could very easily turn people off. If you've been known to enjoy some diverse doom bands in your listening patterns, I don't see any reason not to at least give this album a shot. So, not great, but a decent little record. Hopefully the next release will see some improvements in at least a few of the areas I have a problem with because I think if things were tightened up a bit more the band's next record could really be something special.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: L'avenue Des Cœurs Passés, Roots of Grief

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mamiffer/Circle - Enharmonic Intervals (For Paschen Organ) (2013)

Band: Mamiffer/Circle
Country: Seattle, Washington/Pori, Finland
Style: Drone/Chamber Music
Label: Ektro/SIGE

For as much acclaim has been pushed (deservedly) upon Isis, Aaron Turner's musical pursuits since he left the band have been much more low-key and experimental. Having collaborated, in one form or another, with the likes of Locrian, Pyramids, Merzbow, and Demain Johnston, Mamiffer is a project that continues to grow and show new sides. This collaboration was first made mention of something like a year or two back in an interview, so it's nice to finally hear it.

Because of the more minimalistic and droning form that Mamiffer typically takes in their music, I wasn't quite sure how the collaboration between them and psyche-rock experimentalists Circle would turn out. The latter band, having worked in everything from noise rock to jam music to heavy metal to the aforementioned psychedelic and progressive rock (among others), I thought would bring an interesting counterpoint for Mamiffer's decidedly more minimalistic style - but it actually turned out to be quite the opposite of what I thought. Instead of Mamiffer taking on more of a rock based tone to accompany Circle, this album is closer to Circle taking on a more droning tone to accompany Mammifer. There is little to no inklings of rock based music in this recording, instead we get that more meditative approach that we expect from Mamiffer with traces of more psychedelic inflections coming from organ tones, occasional synth lines, and a more operatic tone taken on several songs, hear Parting of Bodies. Since I first started listening Mamiffer I've seen them called a post-rock group (even though there really isn't much rock in their music at all) but on here, perhaps due to Circle's influence, those grandiose movements and climaxes are more fleshed out and easier to really recognize. In a way, these movements channel almost Godspeed You! Black Emperor heights of emotional weight.

Speaking for myself, I honestly wasn't all that engaged with this album at first. I mean it wasn't bad, but it didn't really do much for me. The first time I listened to it, I played it in the background while I was doing other things, and it wasn't until track four, Tumulus, that my ear was finally grabbed. Before that track, the album just sort of felt really uninteresting, and frankly, while my opinion of the album as a whole has come up since my first listen, the first half still isn't really anything I consider to be particularly amazing. The second half is really where I thought that the two bands coming together found their groove, if you will. Pretty much at the halfway point, the album takes a turn from being simply two groups trying to adapt their styles together to a, more or less, seamless blend of the two. Yes, there are still holes in the fabric that show that not every idea works, but when the two are at their best, they are doing more chamber music kind of orchestrations. It's very unobtrusive (except for those blasts of feedback and distortion) but very affecting.

Overall, I wasn't crazy on this album, it was good, but I can't really see myself returning to it a whole lot. I'd really have to be in the right mood to listen to this again, even with the greatness that is (most of) the second half of the album. This has been out for a while so I imagine most have already listened to this, but if you haven't yet, give it a shot, it's quiet and moody music and that should appeal to a good amount of people.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Tumulus, Vessel Full of Worms

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cara Neir - Portals to A Better, Dead World (2013)

Band: Cara Neir
Country: Dallas, Texas
Style: Post-Black Metal/Crust Punk
Label: Broken Limbs/Halo of Flies

Since first hearing the project that is Cara Neir I've become increasingly obsessed about the material they have chosen to release. It appears as though they simply go from strength to strength (which is quite frustrating considering how many bands there are out there attempting to do one sound well) and each new release is like Christmas for me. I've had quite a while to sit with and digest this album since I first got the promo for it and so I feel as though I can now speak about it with something more of a clear mind.

After a stellar grindcore oriented release last year in the form of the Sublimation Therapy EP, it was somewhat refreshing to hear this album's more straightforward (in a sense) black metal approach. Yes, to call this a black metal record might be giving the wrong impression because there are still the intricacies and the influences from other genres coming through very clearly throughout this record, but this does feel much more in that vein than I've heard in previous releases. The record is a lot more honed in terms of style in that regard because it doesn't shift genres too often as a the previous full-lengths have, but the genres are joined together in a more mature and stable way. Some influences that have been more prevalent in the past have been reduced in favor of others while more minor ideas seem to have risen to the surface. The post-rock sound for example was something I had heard in almost every project I've listened to and on here there really isn't much of it at all, which, once I sat down and thought about, was actually quite an interesting and subversive thing to do. While that influence may not be the first thing a lot of listeners may think about (I probably think about it too much), if you consider everything, or at least a majority, of the releases Garry has done, him reducing that influence on this record is actually a really smart thing to do and I can only imagine how it changed his writing on here.

As always with Cara Neir, Garry is an absolute master when it comes to writing riffs (as well as songs). These seven songs contain more catchy riffs than I've heard in most records this year put together. Songs like Closing Doors or Red Moon Foreboding are some of the catchiest black metal songs I've heard in a long ass time. It's just incredible how this man manages to write and perform most of these songs, and produce the album, and it turns out so ahead of pretty much every other band who released an album this year. Along with that, despite the focus being narrowed down on this album, or at least I think it's been narrowed down, there's still a solid amount of variety shining through in each of these tracks. The screamo and crust punk influences definitely shine out in particular amongst all the black metal riffing on here. You get more melodic and up-tempo guitar lines that definitely don't come from any black metal that I've heard and the contrast between those super up-beat and melodic lines with the more traditional tremolo guitar ones creates some of the most interesting guitar lines I think the band has put out.

Closer 3,380 Pounds definitely needs to be singled out on here though because it really stands out on this record, not only for bringing out the most post-rock ideas to the table on here, but because of everything else the band accomplish in it. Everything from it's downtrodden intro to the post-rock climax and it's droning close works. It's some of the fastest ten minutes to pass by this year. Then there's the clean vocals and strings that are used in the final minutes that really show another side to the band that I certainly haven't heard - though I would love to hear that expanded upon in the future. In addition to that, the Melancholia sample used fits in perfectly. I'm not usually one to talk about a movie sample on a record, mainly because they don't do anything, but not only did I happen to actually know the movie in question but it fit the mood at the time it was being used. It's easily one of the best songs I've heard all year and if that doesn't make you want to listen to at least this track, let alone the entire album, I don't know what will.

Yes, you should go out and listen to and buy this album because it's amazing and among the best of the year. I have to file one complaint on it and say that I wish it was longer, but knowing more or less what the band have in store for releases in the near future I can't complain too much about that. If you haven't listened to, or bought, your copy of this record yet I don't know what to tell you other than you're missing out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Closing Doors, Exalting The Shadow Proprietor, 3,380 Pounds

Deuil - Acceptance/Rebuild EP (2013)

Band: Deuil
Country: Liège, Belgium
Style: Blackened Crust/Sludge Metal
Label: Independent

I first stumbled across this album on Cvlt Nation a couple of months ago and was very struck with its artwork. I liked the grittiness of it and the fact that there were only two songs that were both pretty long I thought was pretty ambitious so my attention was definitely piqued. However it's taken me this long to finally get around to covering this - was it worth it?

The raw, atmospheric production tone that you'll hear on this record does justice to the slow and brooding nature that this band play. It sounds like a band playing together in a cave or something, but it's not sloppy and things aren't messy sounding - cohesive is the word. As the band sound like they've been playing together for a good while, these two tracks flow from droning powerchords to doom metal chugs and even to more melodic pastures. The climaxes are big and melodic sounding black metal parts which are in contrast to the starker and droning doom metal passages that make up the majority of this band's sound (from what I can make of it on here anyway). I don't think it will shock anyone to hear that the seventeen minute Acceptance is the highlight on here - showcasing a little bit of everything the band can do. It's a pretty damn good chunk of time the band are using here but each and every second of it they use to the fullest extent they can and boy if it doesn't pay off big. I think what grabbed me most about the song was just how energetic the band got during the middle section of the song where it sounded like each member was just going off - then the song dropped into a pit of droning chords and feedback. Awesome!

Overall, it's a solid little release with two songs that are very well crafted and that I enjoyed quite a bit. There's still some work to be done in perhaps fine tuning and tweaking some of the ragged edges of their sound (not the production) but I think that these guys do have something here. Definitely be on the lookout for these guys cause based on this, I'm very much looking forward to their full-length.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Acceptance

Ancst - The Humane Condition EP (2013)

Band: Ancst
Country: Berlin, Germany
Style: Black Metal/Hardcore
Label: Independent/Dark Omen

I had actually only heard of the band known as Ancst days before I was sent this EP from them. Garry, a friend of mine, had mentioned that his project was going to be doing a split with them and days later I received an email from the band asking me about this review. Granted, it's taken me a little while to get to it, but it was going to get done god damn it!
Sonically, when I looked the band up, I saw the terms "black metal" and "blackened noise" which made me think that this band was going to be more of a Sutekh Hexen kind of band. Very raw, very noisy, very intense, only because that is one of the bands I always relate the genre to. But when I actually listened through this two song EP I was surprised to get something pretty different from that. This band actually took some pretty different genres a fused them together into something I hadn't heard before, relatively speaking. Ascetic is an interesting blend of post-metal/post-black metal with more of a crust punk approach while Entropie is much more punchy, taking a simpler crust punk-meets-black metal approach. I actually really enjoyed both tracks, because both were not only different from what I expected but the styles being melded were brought together in a way that I found not only appealing but well done to boot. I wish there were more tracks on here to be honest, but hopefully the tracks for the aforementioned split are up to the height of these great songs here.
So yeah, not much more to say than this was a great little release that I highly recommend. It's got a lot of spunk and energy within these two tracks that I found to be really engaging and fun. So if you're a fan of black metal, hardcore, or even punk I wouldn't recommend passing this release up.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Entropie

Saturday, November 16, 2013

So Hideous - Last Poem/First Light (2013)

Band: So Hideous
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Post-Black Metal/Screamo
Label: Play The Assassin

Post-black metal has really expanded since it first began only a few years back and has gone from strength to fad to lame to reinvention to wherever it's at now. Bands pop up with the intention of being original and standing out only to sound exactly like ever other band out there. So Hideous (formerly known as So Hideous, My Love...) have been a band chugging away at it for a while and it really shows.

Not that I expect anything of anyone, but for those who've read it, I wasn't a huge fan of the most recent release by Deafheaven. I didn't dislike, it just didn't do anything for me (which appears to be in stark contrast to the majority of people who have heard it). I have to be honest, I probably would have liked the most recent Deafheaven record if it sounded more like this album. Let it be known that I think this is a pretty solid album right now; and in case you were wondering I will not be referencing Deafheaven throughout this review. So Hideous are a band who seem to draw from a similar wellspring of influences as their California brothers, meaning they take from the post-rock, black metal, screamo, and post-hardcore realms of music, but unlike their more well known brothers, they bring in a less pompous style of songwriting. Instead of writing epic ten-plus minute pieces, the majority of tracks on this album are around the five minute mark, and accomplish either just as much or more than Deafheaven has - just my opinion (and I am still a fan of Deafheaven) but I think it's the truth. The addition of orchestral arrangements mixed in with the guitar parts also brings a more 3D dimension to this album that I haven't heard on many, if any at all, other records from this genre.

That extra dimension comes from the addition of The First Light Orchestra who provide a very integral part of this album's sound. The utilization of a ten-person string section, a tuba player, and a vocalist really broadens this record's sound and scope. It sounds huge (and like a lot of cash went into making it sound so good). Don't mistake this for one of those bands who use orchestral arrangements in place of actual interesting playing or in order to make up for crappy songwriting, because for as much as the arrangements are used on here, the way they are blended together with the guitars just makes it sound amazing. A song like Last Poem is the definition of what post-rock mixed with black metal should be (in my opinion), it's the epitome of what I consider the genre to be. Instrumentally it's epic yet the melody line mixed with the vocals just comes across as sounding so emotional (not emo...) and powerful I couldn't help but be swept up in it each and every time I listened to the song. So yes, I do consider this track to be the high point of an album stripped of filler and containing only the bare essentials.

This record is amazingly badass and I love it for containing only the absolute minimum of what's needed and making it sound even more substantial than the majority of their peers. Obviously, if you're not into this style of music, post-rock, post-black metal, or screamo then this might not be the record for you, but even still I'd tell you to give it a chance. So yes, great record and I'd tell you you're stupid for not at least listening to it once.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Stabat Mater, Last Poem

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dead Neanderthals - ...And It Ended Badly (2013)

Band: Dead Neanderthals
Country: Nijmegen, Netherlands
Style: Experimental/Avant-Garde Jazz
Label: Gaffer/Raw Tonk

I did a short little review earlier this year concerning the jazz outfit Dead Neanderthals for my coverage of Utech Records. Surprisingly enough, that post got quite a lot of attention and the band let me know that they were putting out this release and asked if I was interested. From my review of the album you can assume my answer, but this turned out to be quite a different beast than their Utech record.

Featuring the addition of Colin Webster on saxophone, this record starts off pretty damn intensely with two sax players spinning lines around the frenetic drum work. It's a lot to adjust to when you first press play on a record but opener, There was a great battle..., is a pretty short track that does eventually settle into a calm for the second track, Weapons drawn, blood spilled.... Though to be fair, if you know anything about this band or the avant-garde side of jazz music, you'll know that even when the dust settles after a manic burst, it never really comes all the way down. While the second track may not match the same level of sear intensity as the opener, it is just as eccentric sounding with both sax players starting on their own and eventually settling into an off-kilter improv harmony sort of thing (if that makes any sense at all...). It's quite odd sounding to hear them both aiming for the same line but one being slightly off in execution, and then the other would be. Not sloppy mind you, but very unsettling (but in a good way).

What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the record though is how the entire thing just comes down after the first two tracks; and I don't mean the entire record just stops being crazy and whatnot, but it's like there's a suck once track two happens and all the energy in the room is just seemingly sucked right out. The middle third of the record features the two longest tracks and they are by far the most engaging because the energy is more restrained, more contained if you will. It's not, crazy always, start slow then go crazy again, manic energy like that, but it feels more like they're starting slow, minimally and slowly building to a more gradual climax. It isn't an explosion of energy as much as a stream of it. They're not so much happening at a single time that it feels like you don't know what to grab onto, but more like these players are keeping things down and held back so they can exercise a more melodic side of their playing. The final third section of the record brings back the frenetic tendencies but balances them out with more of that melodic side (so it's an even blend of the two first thirds).

Overall I think it's a pretty solid little record that is definitely more palatable than their release for Utech earlier this year. It's got a little bit of everything for those who happen to like jazz music, whether it's the more spastic and crazy side or the restrained and melodic one (or just plain weird avant-garde stuff). Not a masterpiece but definitely a must listen for all jazzheads this year.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Both sides fought bravely..., And in tears... of course.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Olekranon - Danaus (2013)

Band: Olekranon
Country: Dartmouth, New Hampshire
Style: IDM/Drone
Label: Inam

Truthfully I was not aware of Olekranon before being sent this album. I wasn't even aware that Inam released anything beyond Sujo's stuff, but receiving this in the mail one day definitely surprised me. Being the side project of the interesting Sujo, which I only found out after doing some looking into the project, my attention was definitely gained.

Unlike the music I've become accustomed to from (I guess you could call his more well known project) Olekranon does away with most of the metal ideas that make up the foundation of Sujo's sound. In it's place you have a more interesting replacement of electronic and noise music. Noise has been a part of Sujo's sound for the majority of recordings I've heard from it, but this takes things to a more logical level. Dealing with a more beat based sound, the harsher electronics and noise aspects of this record come out a bit more expectedly, with distortion popping up through various melody lines and beat echoes and all that sort of stuff. I don't mean to make that into a negative because what's on here is well done and arranged in such a way that makes it more manageable to take in and absorb. It should be said that the electronic side explored on here isn't so much trance of house but more IDM, industrial, and dark ambient - just so there's no confusion as to what this actually is.

The way these pieces are constructed so that certain elements come out more than others is rather well done. Some tracks, Nine Streams for example, do make use of more of a traditional electronic music sort of construction, moving from a heavy beat into more ambient territory - but it's well done, while a track like Coerced takes an almost Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial tone. That's obviously more on the accessible side. Tracks like Crooked Wheel, Severed, and Delicate Times take on more of that dark ambient and noisier sound that is probably on the more abstract side of things. It's not for everyone, and this is, in my opinion, still a pretty hit-and-miss record. The track lengths vary meaning you'll get a more substancial track or two then a short one that feels more like an idea than anything. Honestly, I have to say that I was drawn to the more accessible tracks on here, especially a track like Marionette which sort of feels like a Sujo B-side, but is still pretty damn good. But that's just where my head was at in terms of how I was able to swallow down this album.

In the end I felt only slightly drawn to this album, there's some good stuff on here, but also some stuff that didn't really do all that much for me. I wish there was perhaps a bit more cohesion in terms of how the album was put together, it kind of just feels like a batch of tracks than a real album, but that's just me. It is what it is and I'm sure there are people out there who can digest it and really get a feel for it better than I can, and if you're one of those than definitely give this one a go.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Crooked Wheel, Coerced, Marionette

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Staer - Daughters (2013)

Band: Staer
Country: Bingo, Norway
Style: Noise Rock/Experimental Rock
Label: Horsearm

As far as experimental rock goes, I try and stay within certain bounds that I have set for myself. I learned years back that there is such a thing as going too far in experimental music, especially using the realms of rock music. I had never heard of either this band or the label that had sent it to me but I had a few more off the wall records I was being sent at the time (for some reason?) and just found myself going with it.

I just have to say that I love the press description of this band first and foremost. Saying that this band is like "two enormous dueling space-titans collide amidst the planets, hurling moons at one another, crunching their torsos across the hemispheres of Venus and Neptune whilst emitting a miasma of thunderous resonance," is nothing short of hysterical. I don't mean to offend whoever wrote that up but it is seriously funny stuff - but press releases for this sort of thing are funny anyway. But back to the music on here, which is certainly far from your typical "rock" formats. No big choruses to be found here. No huge sounding riffs either. What is huge is the sound of the band though. The band certainly make massive sounding tracks either through their droning sound or a more frenetic one. So you're essentially getting a drone group on one end and a mathcore/post-hardcore one at the other end, which sounds terribly frustrating when written down on paper I would assume. It's like, you're either going to get super slow and dull or extremely fast and quirky - I know plenty of folks who will read that and immediately take against this record. Hell, if I read I might question listening to this, but if you're still reading this I have to tell you it works rather well.

Let it be known that this is a rather raw sounding recording, though I have to tell you it still sounds pretty great. It's very clean sounding even with tones of distortion and feedback in the mix. I definitely give props to whoever engineered and mixed this thing cause it sounds great; and this is the sort of record that very easily could have sounded like crap as well. Noise rock by it's very nature comes from crap recordings for the most part and there are plenty of bands who make it work, but this record is all the better (and more palatable) because of it's cleaner production. To return to the hugeness issue that I brought up above, the record sounds big. Ok, what does that mean? For only being a power trio, and I'm assuming they don't have a budget anywhere near the size a band like Rush have, they manage to come out sounding like they're playing live. The guitars and bass just soar while the drums have an air and space to them that really works for this recording. When the guitar and bass are going from one end of the spectrum to the other the drums keep things anchored down, but it isn't mixed in such a way where it all blends into cacophony, it's clear that each instrument has it's place in the mix.

But for sure this will not be for everyone. For every track that is rocking and graspable, at least on a certain level, there's another that really goes for that experimental and avant-garde take. Songs like the opener, Flashing Teeth of Brass, definitely leans towards that drone metal sound while One Million Love Units on the other hand takes noise rock to it's improvisational side with plenty of stop-starts, feedback, distortion bleedthrough, and a real lack of direction (in terms of how the listener feels/is meant to feel not in terms of where the song is going). At times it's almost psychedelic in execution while other spots just feel like a bit too raggedy to really do anything, at least for me.

This was actually a solid record, which was definitely not what I expected to say when I first pressed play for the first time on this one. There's some real spots of genius on here that really make it worth while, I just wish the band had tapped into that side more instead of giving the listener the middle finger on a few tracks. If you're a fan of noise or experimental rock you'll probably be used to the middle finger at this point, but regardless, give this one a shot. It's surprisingly good.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Daughters I, Neukölln

Mucho Tapioca - Mucho Tapioca (2013)

Band: Mucho Tapioca
Country: Toulouse, France
Style: Jazz Fusion/Experimental Rock
Label: Independent

I wasn't originally planning on covering this album when I first got it, which was several months ago. It just looked like something I wasn't particularly interested in, but one day I had some time and I was going through various links I had been sent to listen to and figured I should give this one a go. To my surprise it turned out to be something a bit more up my alley than I would have ever expected.

Jazz rock is something I would say I'm not particularly well versed in, even though I have been known to enjoy some of it from the 60s and 70s, if it's modern, chances are I've never heard of it. Frankly I can't even remember the last time I've heard jazz rock with vocals, but I guess it would make sense that in order to accompany some weird and frenetic music, the vocals would follow suit; and let me tell you the vocals on here are Mike Patton-meets-Frank Zappa crazy. At times veering into bizarre and/or just plain stupid territory, hear opener Parano Yack. I don't mean stupid in the way that it probably comes across, but more absurd the route this guy takes to vocalizing. He can go from more high-pitched wining to gruff (think Tom Waits) moaning and it's just weird. If it was just him I could see this sort of album becoming very tiring, but luckily the instrumentalists keep things just as off-the-wall and fun as well. Though I have to be honest and say that in terms of genre exploration, they never really move into heavier territory, which is somewhat disappointing because there were several times when it felt like the music could have used a nice climax instead of just wandering around the same territories it was for the majority of the song, and I would point to the first two tracks on the album as main culprits of this. They don't really do much of anything. I mean, the band is obviously playing and making music, but at the end of these first few tracks, I never remembered anything that had just happened.

It wasn't until about track three that I really started to get into this album. That was when it started to actually sound as if the band was getting into what they were playing and not just fiddling around. It was a little bit louder (or the rock influence was actually coming through) which may have been why my attention was grabbed at that point, but I actually think the songs got a bit better as well. The band also comes across as, slightly, more serious than the earlier tracks may have presented them, which is weird that halfway through the album the band finally hit their stride, at least in terms of how they constructed the album, because the last half is really some solid jazz rock. Being quirky and weird certainly wins a band points in my book, but it only works if the songwriting isn't overpowered by it, and I think that's where this band falters. There a solid chunk of this album that feels more eccentric and weird just for the sake of it. Instead of the songwriting allowing them to be that way, it feels like they let being weird dictate the songwriting, but that's just my opinion.

So, overall, this was an inconsistent, but actually pretty solid little album. I think if the band perhaps shift focus from trying to be as quirky as possible to actually writing some good songs, their next record might be something pretty damn cool. But as it stands now, if you're a fan of more eccentric and wild sounding rock music, this should be on your list of things to listen to, though if you're not a fan, I don't see this converting you to the church of weird music.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Scrabble au Coin du Feu, Malhabile Lama, Méchant Chameau

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Peste Noire - Peste Noire (2013)

Band: Peste Noire
Country: La Chaise-Dieu, France
Style: Avant-Garde/Black Metal
Label: La Mesnie Herlequin

Peste Noire is one of those bands who I always question what they're going to do next. It appears like with each album they release they get weirder while sticking to a primal and raw aesthetic. I wasn't even aware that they had released a new album until I saw this one floating around on various blogs.

Despite maintaining a similar raw and noisy production tone through most of their their work, to call this band anything other that unpredictable would simply be false. Having heard just about everything in their previous four full-lengths, including flamenco guitar solos, electronic club beats, and polka segments, to expect anything other than the unexpected means coming in unprepared, or at least in my book it is. Despite the basement production style and the punk rock attitude, things have always turned out well in terms of how their albums come out. I'm constantly surprised by how well this band manages to fuse those two aesthetics on each of their albums. There are plenty of basement black metal and punk rock outfits who are perfectly fine with having guitar tones that are thin and weak sounding, drums that overpower a mix, and vocals that border between being obnoxious and down-right bad, yet this band, even form their first full-length was above that. Though I will say that at least on this album, the guitar tone has been stripped back to that thinner sound which can grate on the ears a bit.

To be truthful, even with the more eccentric tendencies this band has, I would still consider this to be the band's most punk recording to date. Both in terms of the production and just in execution the entire record carries the spirit of 70s punk music like Crass or Rudimentary Peni. In a certain light, I do admire that about this record because after making a record as ambitious as 2011's L'Ordure A L'etat Pur, this one really feels stripped back and more raw in comparison; but I do feel like this is not as strong a record as that one was. The songwriting on here just doesn't feel as full with wild abandon or as memorable as I would say either of the previous two full-lengths were to me. That doesn't mean there aren't highlights though, with a track like Niquez Vos Villes completely shattering any ideas of what sort of song it's supposed to be. Also, for as much as I would have preferred a thicker guitar tone, there were times where I felt like that thinner tone did work to the benefit of the song. Working underneath the acoustic guitar in Ode, it made for one of the best sections on the entire album in my opinion. But perhaps my favorite moment was on one of the album's shortest tracks, La Blonde, where about halfway through or so it transforms from a punk, almost post-punk, song into a dissonant black metal one. It's unexpected and a nice quick jab that really grabbed me every time I listened to that track.

So, overall, it's an album of hits and misses in my book, but I guess I'm more likely to forgive its misses because I do like what this band does and tries to do. It's not an album I expect a listener to be bored by because it is filled with plenty of different stylistic quirks to keep you interested. I suspect that there are plenty of people out there who won't have the same problems I did with the guitar tone on here, but I'd recommend this band's entire back catalog really.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Niquez Vos Villes, Ode, La Blonde

Blut Aus Nord - What Once Was - Liber III EP (2013)

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

It really isn't a stretch to say that Blut Aus Nord are one of the consist and interesting groups in underground metal (let alone black metal) and each new release is greeted with something approaching a fever. Having recently completed the 777-trilogy, the band have released the next installment in their What Once Was... Liber series. The previous two installments I've enjoyed very much and the promise of the band continuing along a similar path as those two is definitely intriguing.

Since the inception of this series of albums was announced to be more of a return to and an extension of the more extreme side of BAN's sound, I think it's provided some of the project's most under-appreciated recordings. When each one of these releases does first emerge it rightly gets the press going (like myself) but it does seem that over time they fade into the background a bit more. While these releases certainly aren't unlike territory covered in the band's past, they are perhaps not as experimental or grabbing; but in their own way, a retreat to more conventional, and I use that word lightly, style of songwriting that isn't meant to be as forward thinking or revolutionary. Liber I was an embrace of more traditional black metal elements and had the band at their most straightforward in a long time while Liber II was a bit more in line with the more dissonant aspects of the 777 series, this album appears to me to take on more of an atmospheric form. There are certainly aspects of this release that call back to the previous two but this one does feel slightly more droning in its structure, whether it happens to be from more droning guitar parts (but let it be known that this most certainly is not a doom metal based album at all) or a greater use of synth or just being a bit more paced, the overarching vibe I got from it was a more atmospheric listen. If anything I would attribute is to a greater use of space. While the band has worked in the world of dark ambient music before on numerous occasions, it's use on this record definitely added a greater sense of pacing in my opinion.

Perhaps I'm not the best person equipped for reviewing this release because I'm bound to enjoy and like most everything that this band puts out. While I think that I preferred the last release from this series a bit more than this one, this one is definitely worth your time if you're a fan of the band. It's plenty interesting and listening to this band experiment with new ideas can often be as enthralling as hearing your favorite band's best record on repeat.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: III, V

Monday, November 11, 2013

Postures - Postures (2013)

Band: Postures
Country: Gothenburg, Sweden
Style: Alternative/Progressive Rock
Label: World In Sound

I was sent this record several months ago and had planned to write a review for it all the way back then. But life got in the way and I forgot about it until recently when I knew there was a prog-rock band that had contacted me and I wanted to actually review their record. I found it, finally listened to it, and the rest is below.

Just to start off, I have no idea how much of this blog/how many reviews this band saw of mine before they sent me this album of theirs but it has to be said that I do consider it rather brave of them to have sent it to me at all seeing how (I'll say) unkind I have been about rock and metal bands with female vocalists who are not Anneke van Giersbergen. Maybe that had something to do with why I procrastinated for so long before finally listening to it, but thank goodness I finally did play it because hot damn this chick's got a voice on her. I'm prejudiced to female metal vocalists because they're either operatic (which I find annoying) or they try and go for more of the intense death metal approach, which is fine but regardless of sex, can make it hard to give present yourself with any personality. I've found in a lot of the female front rock bands I've heard, since maybe the 2000s, have just wanted to sound like Amy Lee of Evanescence. I've pretty much just stopped listening to female vocalists for those reasons, but Postures somehow got a girl how not only can sing (extremely well I might add) but also conveys a personality. Already I'm on their side - so you can pretty much see where this review is gonna go from here.

Focusing on the vocalist would be a dumb thing to do though because the instrumentalists backing her certainly don't let her take the spotlight despite her vocals being right up front in the mix. This is a prog-rock band, so there's plenty of showy instrumental passages, which I'm certainly not adversed to. The drums are all over the place, but in the best way possible because they're restrained when the band are either doing more of a straightforward song, Are We Still Breathing? for example, or when the band dive into those more trippy and psychedelic ideas. But just knowing that they could go off and freak out was enough to keep me attentive to what they were doing. I love how the organ tones and bass kind of melded together in a lot of spots as well. It gave the whole track this interesting vibe during those more trippy spots that was quite cool, though it doesn't need to be said (so I'll say it anyway) that they are obviously separate for the majority of the album, doing their own lines. The guitars are nicely clean, but have that retro kind of tone that I thought was pretty cool as well. So, in summary, the instrumentalists are pretty badass on here, but what I thought was pretty cool was how they actually had tracks that were dedicated simply to the instrumentalists (or instrumentals, as they're typically called). For a band that has a such a lovely vocalist, the fact that they were willing to have songs without her shows confidence, and thank goodness these guys know their stuff.

As much as I do love all of this album, I have to be honest and say that Clusters is probably my favorite track on here. The way it just grooves and pretty much lures the listener into thinking it's a straightforward rock song and then transitions almost suddenly into more of a crazy prog-rock jam before it ends is just a gut-punch and I loved it. It's probably the track I return to the most when listening to the album. But it has to be said that the last four songs on the album are some of the best rock songs I've heard all year. From the more up-tempo and rocking Clouded Sight to the traditional prog-rock sound on Undertow and the epic jam-rock track closer, Quakes. They're all songs that stand out on an album full of highlights (which I think says a lot for the band's writing in general). But there really isn't a miss on here.

But the end result is an album with strong performances and songwriting, which is much more than I came into this expecting. It's a real gem that I did not expect when I first got it earlier this year. You can certainly expect to see this album again on here later this year and hopefully you'll make the right move and listen to it.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Heavy Tremor, Clusters, Quakes

Haken - The Mountain (2013)

Band: Haken
Country: London, UK
Style: Progressive Metal/Rock
Label: InsideOut

Ever since Haken impressed me with their full-length debut Aquarius back in 2010, I've been a fan. They're style is appealing to more typical prog-metal fans but they have those more quirky aspects that harken back to older prog-rock groups of the 70s and 80s which I love. Among other things, that's what got me on board originally and that's what kept me listening up to this point.

Perhaps it's because Haken seems to bring stylistic ticks from both modern bands and older groups that they have been able to make a name for themselves despite still being a relatively young group. In all honesty, I can't think of another band that has brought the two brands of progressive styles together in as successful or fulfilling way as this one. There are plenty of bands working in the confines set by Dream Theater back with their first couple of records, as well as groups who continually ape whatever bands like Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Cynic, and Meshuggah do (among others). Then there are the older groups who more or less simply improve production to give their releases more of a sheen, or the newer groups who just prefer that older brand of progressive music that is closer to fusion. Hell, the likes of Opeth, Steven Wilson, Dark Suns, and a couple of others have even retreated to those sounds for their most recent work, so hearing a band like Haken who so brilliantly combine the two aesthetic choices into a cohesive whole is not only refreshing but strikingly original as well. There are clear lines from where the band receives inspiration but no one influence is ever so prevalent that it dominates the band's sound, there are mere glimpse of one band, then maybe another, but for the majority of both this record, and to a lesser extent their previous two full-lengths, they have been able to craft something unlike any other group.

With that being said, this album is decidedly more jazzy in it's approach towards songwriting. Where the previous two full-lengths were definitely located firmly within more of the metal world, this album definitely brings in more of the quirks from 70s progressive rock and 60s fusion. The record as a whole is definitely not as heavy as a result of that, with tracks like the first released Atlas Stone or Because It's There showing more of that fusion approach to songwriting than a metal one. Perhaps the most striking evolution I hear on this album is the band's use of sound design. It's not often that a band, from the rock based genres, makes use of something like sound design but it can clearly be heard throughout this record. Subtle little touches from the synths or various pads that are used for mere seconds, bring a lighter touch (light in the sense that the band aren't taking themselves too seriously) to certain tracks. Perhaps most notable in the epic Falling Back to Earth where these subtle touches are just sprinkled all over. The drum work on this album has also evolved to heights that make it perhaps the most interesting thing on a record full of great performances. Through the use of tabla (and what might be hand percussion) the drumming approaches more of a Tool-esque approach of intricacy and interest.

The entire record is really an achievement in modern progressive (rock/metal) based music because it captures both stylistic ticks so perfectly without ever compromising to them. It's a brave record for the band, both pushing their sound into more quirky and jazzy territory while reducing the heavier aspects that perhaps brought more modern prog-heads to the band, but one I think paid off. This has been out for a while at this point and if you haven't caught up with it yet, you know what you have to do.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Atlas Stone, Cockroach King, Pareidolia