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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The 2013 Work of EEE Recordings (Part 1)

The guys over at EEE recordings have some nice artists/groups/projects/etc. at their disposal. With the various endeavors of the duo that is better known as Njiqahdda at their disposal, they've released some quite stellar releases in the past. With how prolific those two guys are I'm surprised I ever get the time to cover anything else, but like anything else - you find the time. So without further ado, here is a short little group review for the various releases that EEE Recordings has put out so far this year. As always, EPs are rated from 1-8 while full-lengths are from 1-10.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam (2013)

Band: Suffocation
Country: Centereach, New York
Style: Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

In the last couple of years, my interest in death metal has seriously waned, but albums from bands I like and respect I will always make time for. I've been a long-time fan of Suffocation (in the sense that they were one of the earlier death metal bands I sought out and listened to) and purposely tried to find time to listen to this album. Being that it is vocalist Frank Mullen's last album before he will stop touring with the band (it will remain to be seen if he will continue to work in the studio with them), I knew that this was a death metal album I had to take a stop out for.
Anyone who doesn't know what to expect coming into this album should just stop reading right now and just pick up a handful of classic death metal albums before reading any further. I'm not going to bother explaining this band's history or how they have risen from the past and brought us some of their best material since first reuniting back in 2003. What I will say is that you will in no way be surprised by this album if you have listened to any of the band's last handful of releases. This is typical Suffocation, nothing you haven't heard before done by these guys or their peers, and while I'm not exactly giving this thing the highest of compliments, it does keep consistent in terms of songwriting in ways that many other bands just don't anymore. This is typical Suffocation, it's technical, at times brutal or melodic, but always death metal and if you don't already know what that is - like I said, go out and buy a bunch of death metal records from the 90s and have your fill.
In terms of how this stacks up to the band's work, I will say that it did not impress me to the degree that 2009's Blood Oath did. While stylistically the band haven't changed too much, if at all, since then, that album had some production choices that definitely filled out the band's sound in a way that grabbed me a bit more. This is a lot more of a meat and potatoes style of production. It's not bad, just very standard for death metal today where it's clean and polished with clicky drums, low and mid heavy guitar tones, and vocals at the very forefront of the sound. I don't have a problem with that sort of production, but it's very by the numbers for today. Frankly, I preferred the slightly more muddy production on older albums if only because it made me feel like the band were writing material that was dark and menacing, with production as clean as this, it just doesn't retain that darkness (or at least not on this record). That darker sound was what made records like Effigy of The Forgotten and Pierced From Within so iconic for me when I first started listening to death metal. For me, the highlights on here were very obvious even on first listen, as they were the tracks that actually stood out from the rest with some pretty solid riffing and some nice growls from Mullen. I've seen that some really have taken to this album, which is fine - to each their own, but this one didn't really do much for me that other modern death metal albums haven't as well. I'll return to the tracks I like and probably listen to the others once in a blue moon as well, but it's not going to be on constant rotation either way.
By and by, this is a pretty standard modern death metal album that offers little more than above average songwriting from a band that, I believe, has done far better in the past. It's not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not a great album either. If you're a fan of the band or death metal in general, you're going to listen to this regardless of what I have to say, but in closing, I guess I'll just go listen to those early records now that I'm done with this one.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: As Grace Descends, Sullen Days, Inversion

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Steven Wilson - The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) (2013)

Band: Steven Wilson
Country: Surrey, UK
Style: Jazz Fusion/Progressive Rock
Label: Kscope

I'm sure it's no surprise that I'm a Steven Wilson fan (along with many other people). I think that since he went solo, he has possibly produced some of my favorite material from him - with 2011's Grace For Drowning ranking very high on my end of year list for that year. Though this album is much more scaled down than either of his previous two full-lengths, I was still extremely excited to hear what he would do.
Wilson's first solo full-length, Insurgentes, was an album that I never found myself particularly into. I enjoy it for what it is, but it was never one of his releases that I felt drawn to in the way that certain Porcupine Tree records had before it. Then Grace For Drowning came out and just skyrocketed my view of his solo work. I think that album is easily among the best things he's ever put his name to. It took so many interesting genre ideas and just made them work as a cohesive album. Yes, it was definitely a retro sounding album that took a lot of cues from 70s progressive rock, but the occasional trip-hop and folk moment of introspection did link it to his first solo record which dwelled within the realms of shoegaze and post-punk more than any of his other work had. This new album takes whatever influence those styles had on his last full-length and almost completely does away with them, leaving a record that is pure, unadulterated jazz-fusion/progressive rock. A totally unabashed love of groups like King Crimson, The Soft Machine, and Jethro Tull (among others) comes through in every song, and you know what, I still loved it.
Obviously, fans like me will have heard the live version of opener Luminol from Wilson's last live album/DVD, Get All You Deserve, but this studio version really feels fleshed out to the max and really sets the album up to a high standard. I guess I should mention this before I forget to later, but in comparison to many of his other works, this album features a noticeable decrease in the amount of vocals on Wilson's part. You do have three shorter tracks that are more traditional in structure I guess that are more vocal led than the three epic tracks that take up the majority of this album. Though I guess to simply divide the album into two sets, the more traditional progressive songs that take long and winding instrumental segues and the more "song" based progressive tracks would do the album a disservice because every track does really have a personality of its own. Though those two overarching ideas could certainly still apply. As I said you have opener Luminol which is just a very energetic piece of jazz fusion that is just driving and propulsive throughout its twelve minute length, but The Holy Drinker is perhaps a bit more interesting because of its drifts into what I guess could be called traditional blues rock. Meanwhile The Pin Drop could be seen as a nice meeting between Wilson's solo material and his work in Porcupine Tree.
Aside from Wilson himself, the other musicians on here should not be overlooked. When you have players like Marco Minnemann, Adam Holzman, Nick Beggs, Theo Travis, and Guthrie Govan on a single record, you know you're in for some serious playing. Personally, I am in love with Beggs' bass tone on here, it's just so warm and fluid sounding while still coming across as pretty distorted, but it doesn't conflict with the crazy sax and flute playing or the more rough guitar tone. I understand this might just be a personal quirk of mine, but that was a feature that really kept me returning to this album. Govan is a beast on the guitar, obviously, but his performance is not as crazy as one might expect given the genre that this album goes for. His playing isn't bouncing off the walls in the way that it so easily could have, but plays it pretty close to the collar in most instances, preferring to keep the riffing straightforward without being boring. Minnemann also is a well recognized drummer, and whenever I found myself listening to him, he always kept me on my toes by never playing things the way I would have (and that's a good thing). But you can't underestimate the work of Holzman's keyboard playing or Travis' flute and sax work, which provide some of the best solos on the album. So, obviously, listening to any one of the musicians on here is a very pleasing experience.
While it doesn't quite top Grace For Drowning in my own view, I still thought this was a wonderful piece of work that is well worth hearing for any fan of progressive music. The melodies that Wilson sings are just fantastic while the music backing him is as diverse and wild as anything else he's ever released. Definitely a highlight for this year (even if we are still in the early stages of 2013) and not an album to pass up.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Luminol, The Watchmaker

Riverside - Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013)

Band: Riverside
Country: Warsaw, Poland
Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
Label: InsideOut

Ever since my father first showed me Riverside a couple of years ago I've had an on-off relationship with them. I have always found them to be an interesting band, but not a band that I found myself returning to over and over. With 2009's Anno Domino High Definition album, I finally found an album by the band that I could fully stand behind, and I was really curious to see if the same would be true for this new album.
From my experience with Riverside throughout the years, in my opinion, their early work sounded a bit too much like a band copying Steven Wilson's work in Porcupine Tree for me to get overly exercised about it. They weren't bad albums and I'm certainly not opposed to listening to them, but they weren't enough for me to consider myself a fan of the band. With Anno Dominio High Definition it sounded like the band embraced a slightly more metallic edge to their sound while keeping their prog-rock core in tact. It was a really interesting album that saw the band experimenting with a lot of interesting ideas, not just from metal, but other genres as well; and then pulling them off pretty damn well if I do say so. So coming into this, I had read somewhere that for this album the band were going to take in more of a classic hard rock mentality of writing and so that did pique my interest. From the couple of times I've listened to this album, I do think that it would be fair to say that this album is a bit more straightforward than their last few have been and, to my ears, the riffing on here has a much stronger foundation in blues. I also don't think this album will be quite as alienating as Anno Dominio High Definition was to some.
Tracks like the first single Celebrity Touch definitely bring that sound to the forefront with it's heavy and driving riffs and soaring chorus. It's definitely a strong track on here and really showcases everything the band does well within a moderately short time-frame (under seven minutes isn't that long). But if you're expecting this entire album to sound like that song you'll probably end up disappointed (this goes mainly for newer fans). The rest of the album definitely retains a lot of the signature ideas and traits that are present in the band's older work. Unlike their last full-length, this album isn't quite as aggressive, it has it's heavy moments, but the majority of it keeps things within that sort of atmospheric prog-rock sound. To older fans this won't provide much of a stumbling block, but for those people who might have only heard that single, I think it's only fair to warn them. While tracks like the aforementioned single and Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination) definitely bring the ruckus with some solid riffs and catchy choruses, tracks like We Got Used to Us - which is a great ballad - and even the first half of opener New Generation Slave keep things more melancholic and atmospheric.
Perhaps this album doesn't quite measure up to the group's last full-length, but it's still a mighty fine piece of work. There are some really strong songs on here, but it just doesn't keep momentum like that aforementioned previous full-length did for me. If you're a fan of progressive rock or prog-metal (to a lesser extent) you probably are already familiar with Riverside, but if you aren't this would be a fine place to start.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Celebrity Touch, We Got Used to Us, Escalator Shrine

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In Vain - Ænigma (2013)

Band: In Vain
Country: Kristiansand, Norway
Style: Progressive Death/Black Metal
Label: Indie Recordings

I have been following the band called In Vain for several years now and I have to say their progress has been a bit surprising. They're a band who started out with a very interesting debut than released a second album that was really well done but a bit of a mess stylistically. With this third album I wasn't sure where the band was going to take their sound next.
When I first listened to this album's opening track, Against The Grain, I have to say I wasn't all that impressed; but saying that doesn't mean I didn't like what I heard. It's certainly not a bad song, but knowing what the band sounded like on the previous two albums, it wasn't a big shift from the sound that they worked with on their second full-length. It was an aggressive song that had a strong foundation in black metal with some solid clean vocal sections breaking up the death growls. I have to say I my first impression was actually surprised because it wasn't a big or flashy track that demonstrated a change from their previous material (as their second album had with Captivating Solitude). Then came Image of Time, which for all intents and purposes is basically a solid blackened-doom track (nothing special) that happens to feature Lazare Nedland and Cornelius Jakhelln (of the mighty Solefald). It's not an overly spectacular track but their presence made it a track that I returned to quite often. But up to the third track, Southern Shores - an interlude - I have to be honest and say that I was actually pretty disappointed that the band were essentially rehashing the formula they did on Mantra. Open with an aggressive black metal song with a big chorus, then a slower song (by comparison), and then an interlude. In my opinion they were just doing the same thing they did on their last album and I wasn't too impressed.
The first three tracks were perfectly fine, but to be frank, the band didn't really grab me when the members of Solefald weren't performing their vocals on the aforementioned track. I'm sad to say, the band didn't even grab me like I wanted them to on here. Just to restate my earlier opinion, none of the songs on here are inherently bad, they just didn't live up to either of the band's previous two full-lengths in terms of songwriting, experimentation, or darkness. That isn't to say there aren't highlights on here, the longest tracks on here certainly show everything that I like best about the band. The double-bass pounding away under the staccato black metal chords that open up Culmination of The Enigma is really great (one of several great moments in that song actually) and the tremolo picked lines that carry Times of Yore are two of quite a few stellar moments on the second half of this album, I just happen to think it's a shame that there weren't more like them on the first half. It's actually quite a stellar second half to be honest. The four songs that make up this half of the album are strong and bulky slabs of blackened metal, which is an easier way of saying each genre that the band employ on here. It nowhere near as diverse as the band's last full-length (stylistically I mean), but it's a whole hell of a lot more cohesive. From what I've read thus far, that was the intention of the band and many people appear to like this album because of it. In that regard, it is certainly a step up from their past releases, but I can't help feeling lit down by the way this album is performed. Even with how strong I feel the second half is, the acoustic bits did feel a bit tacked on to me (like they weren't all that essential to the way the songs were progressing) but that's just me.
It's solid, but not as great as I had hoped it would, or could, have been. The band has talent, clearly, but this album seems uncharacteristically safe for them and I prefer the stylistic mess of their second album or the black metal dominated sound of their first over this one. Not bad, and clearly it hasn't let a lot of people down it has me, so check the band out if you haven't already, but this one just isn't up to par in my opinion.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Culmination of The Enigma, To The Core

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Quadrivium - Methocha (2012)

Band: Quadrivium
Country: Ålesund, Norway
Style: Progressive/Symphonic Black Metal
Label: Soulseller

I have been a big fan of Quadrivium for years now (they were one of the bands I reviewed in my first couple of months doing this actually). I've been following the release of this album for a while now and I'm glad that it's finally getting a release after everything the band has gone through. I really wanted to cover this before the end of 2012, but events out of my control led to it being written now.
Seeing that the band's line-up has changed since the release of Adversus back in 2008, it would be understandable to assume that their style has shifted as well, but it might shock you to it hasn't changed all that much. The band are definitely sticking with their very layered sounding symphonic sound, though if you're thinking this is anything like all the Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir worshiping bands, you'll be sadly mistaken cause these guys definitely have their own style. Digging into much more progressive ground, the orchestral work is not quite as overblown or pompous as many many bands make it out to be. Instead, the band take an approach which doesn't solely rely on the orchestrations to carry the song. There are certainly sections on here where that is the case, don't get me wrong, but there are just as many where the orchestrations go hand in hand with what the guitars are doing, which gives the band a very interesting sound. With that being said, you will hear quite a bit of organ on here as well, so if that sort of thing bothers you, you might not dig some of these songs, but as for me, being someone who loves the sound of an organ, I thought it greatly contributed to the band's sound. The synth-based orchestrations mixing with the organ tones and industrial effects really come together into an odd little concoction. The fusion of these synth sounds creates an atmosphere which is unlike that of almost any other bands I've heard (I say almost because there is definitely some Arcturus in there), but it stands apart from even them because of the dominance of certain tones over others.
I really have to commend Attila Bakos, the band's new clean vocalist, for his work on here. I've known about this guy for a while now because I had heard his vocal covers of Arcturus and Ulver (among other groups) and when I heard that he had been taken on board to do vocals for this band, I was very interested to see how he would adjust to the band's sound. Whereas Bjørnar Nilsen, of Vulture Industries, had done the clean vocals on the band's first full-length, Bakos definitely takes no time in making his presence known on here. The two do have comparable voices that definitely recall the likes of both vocalists from Arcturus - Garm and ICS Vortex - I will say that Bakos is much closer to the latter whereas Nilsen is closer to the former (if I had to say). Worry not if this is making you think that this is a melodic based album, because you still have several moments of aggression that are sure to please any fan of more straightforward black metal, in this case being Destroyer. This track in particular does what the title says, it just blasts and grinds and grooves from start to finish - resulting in it being the most aggressive track on the entire album. Then you have the more epic approach on The Labyrinth of Infinity, which certainly is the track to listen to if you want to hear a little bit of everything that you're in for on here. It has the quazi-death metal riffing, more spacey ambient breaks, blasting black metal, and more melodic sections that all work together in a way that would make several "progressive" bands quite jealous.
Obviously, I enjoyed this album, though it certainly was different that I anticipated it would be - though I have to say that I'm rather glad about that. It definitely is less indebted to the likes of Arcturus as an influence and shows the band carving out a sound all their own, but they're not quite there just yet. Definitely for fans of more progressive and experimentally inclined black metal.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Dead Syphon Focus, Eye of Mimas, The Labyrinth of Infinity

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Menace Ruine - Alight In Ashes (2012)

Band: Meance Ruine
Country: Montreal, Canada
Style: Experimental Noise/Blackened Drone
Label: Profound Lore

For the longest time, I've had trouble getting into the Canadian duo known as Menace Ruine. Maybe I just didn't understand them at the time, but I just found their albums to be incredibly hard to take. Because this album is coming out on Profound Lore, I actually decided to give this one a shot.
The duo of Geneviève Beaulieu and S. de La Moth have been sculpting monoliths of blackened noise for several years at this point, something even I am willing to admit about them. To me, even though I certainly respected the hell out of them, their sound was always just one of those that seemed foreign to me when I was listening. Since then I've come to listen to many raw black metal and blackened noise groups and projects so maybe if I listened to them now I actually might like them now (who knows), but it seemed rather strange to me that Profound Lore would sign them. For all the experimental groups the label appears to be picking up, Menace Ruine still stand out in their roster as one of the most abstract. I'm going to be upfront and say that for this album I actually didn't go back and listen to the duo's past material, but I was actually rather impressed with this. I think that the ideas on it are a little more towards what I'm comfortable with on a sonic level. I can appreciate the forms of harmonic distortion used on tracks like the opener Set Water to Flames or Burnt Offerings more than I remember being able to dig into the more neo-folk leanings of an album like The Die Is Cast. But maybe that's even an understatement to how much my tastes have changed since that side is embraced on here as well and I can tolerate it as well.
The aesthetic of this album contains that sort of mystical quality that I happen to find within groups of the neo-folk and martial industrial genres more than those that are typically associated with metal, but given that it's this duo I shouldn't be all that surprised. While I do remember hearing traces of it on their previous albums, once again, I didn't connect with it the way I was on here. Even though I can't say I'm the biggest fan of the duo, even after listening to this album, I will admit that this is one of the most seamless fusions of blackened noise and martial industrial music I've ever heard. Yes, I'm well aware that the number of bands who choose to embrace both those styles into their sound is very small, miniscule even, but there will be those who know the bands I'm talking about and they will understand this. And the bands who do take those two sounds, most to a smaller degree than this album does, actually do the mixture quite well, so it is saying something when I say that this is one of the best fusion of those ideas. Obviously, this sort of music is not everyone's cup of tea, and more than likely won't appeal to a huge number of people even with Profound Lore's backing, but there will be those who do pick it up because of the label and will find something different and interesting (at the very least) when they put this album on.
Frankly, my entire experience with this album is just a matter of circumstance, I used to not get them, this time, I think I do understand what they're getting at - or at least more so of what they're getting at anyway. The duo are still creating slabs of abstraction in genres that will be somewhat tough to swallow, but actually are rather interesting when you sit down and concentrate on what they're doing. If you have the patience for it and happen to enjoy more experimental depictions of metal, industrial, and neo-folk music, by all means, check this album out.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Arsenikon (Faded In Discord), Disease of Fear

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Expansion of Noise/The Destruction of Drone (2013)

This is the first time I'm really doing an article like this but recently I've gotten quite a bit of releases sent to me from different artists and have given them a little while to digest (some, obviously, longer than others). But with each new release, the urge to write an all encompassing article. Is it a cop out to do all of these releases at once instead of individually? Yes. But based on some of the compilation reviews I've written last year, apparently these bigger write-ups are quite popular and (hopefully) turn those who read it onto more than just a single artist. In the instance of these releases, all of them obviously have to do with the drone and noise genres. What each and every one of them managed to do for me was show a different perspective on those genres. Whether it happened to be through a collaboration with other artists or just a natural expansion of sound, they did leave quite an impression.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pensées Nocturnes - Nom d'une Pipe! (2013)

Band: Pensées Nocturnes
Country: Paris, France
Style: Neoclassical/Progressive Black Metal
Label: Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions

Vaerohn's project Pensées Nocturnes has proved to be one of the most interesting and unique groups to emerge from the whole "depressive black metal scene" that really grew in popularity in the late 2000s. Having been more in favor of avant-garde orchestral arrangements over repetitive guitar strumming, both of his previous full-lengths (if you don't include the troll album Ceci est de la Musique from 2011) have proved to be some of the weirdest releases of those years. Anything Vaerohn puts his name to is certainly worth hearing in my book and a new full-length from this project would be at the top of my list.
For my money, I'd say that easily one of the best bands/projects/etc. to make anything of value under the "symphonic black metal" tag in somewhere around the last decade or so, would be this project. Vaerohn is definitely a man who knows what he's doing. Instead of using simply symphonic elements to either pump up an ordinary extreme metal song, or even build a song around the orchestral instrumentation, his Pensées Nocturnes is one of the very few bands out there right now who I can say fully integrates orchestral music with black metal, and to a great degree on this album, jazz as well. On his previous two full-lengths, those of us who listened to the project were witness to one of the most abstract and well developed uses of symphonic orchestration in extreme metal since Vladimir Cochet's work in Mirrorthrone. The orchestrations didn't seem like a separate part of the music or an afterthought, but an actual extension of the extreme metal being played. Whether you had Baroque inspired movements playing against blast-beats or flourishes of horns playing over a rather slow doom part, it worked - for better or worse you can decide, but I say it worked.
On this album, Vaerohn has really brought out more of that jazz element of the project. The orchestral work is certainly still there, but, at least to me, there wasn't as much Wagner or Chopin on here as much as Piazzolla or Badalamenti. The music was perhaps even more abstract, bringing in an even wider assortment of instrumentation including an accordion during several instances. I'd also be willing to say that there's at least a bigger embrace of the work of Mr. Bungle (one of my favorite bands). With some nice funk inspired sections and some rather exaggerated wailing and operatic vocalizing on Le Marionnetiste for instance, it just struck me as some Bungle-ish influences creeping through. For as much as I dig a band like Sigh, I would say that Vaerohn manages to make better use of orchestral based sounds and instruments than they do despite working in a somewhat similar context (extreme metal with lots of outside influences). To return to the Bungle reference again, the entire album is given this live performance sort of dynamic where after certain sections of songs, a clap track will accompany a conclusion. It's silly and sort of unnecessary, but it reminded me of all those extremely silly and frankly stupid things that Bungle did on their debut full-length, yet both Bungle and Vaerohn make it work to their advantage.
Another thing I have to mention is my love for the drum sound on this record. Unlike a lot of metal records today which make use of very clicky kick drums and poppy snares, this drums on here are much more naturalistic sounding. I almost want to call it flat sounding, but that makes it sound like a bad thing, but the kicks are never intrusive of the rest of the music and the snare is nice and booming without sounding like it's reverbed to hell. The bass doesn't stick out too often, but when it comes out to play, it certainly leaves, at to least me, an impression. The guitar work is a nice blend of standard black metal tremolo picked work mixed in with neo-classical arpeggios and jazz and funk inspired chordal work and play.
It's silly, bizarre, quirky, dark, and playful all at once while never once forgetting that this is still an extreme metal project. I am well aware that this project certainly doesn't appeal to a vast majority of people, but in the past I was captivated by the oddity that this project was, now I am captivated by what the project is able to do. It's a record that far surpassed any expectations I had set for it and is one of the best things I've heard so far this year.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Benea Reach - Possession (2013)

Band: Benea Reach
Country: Oslo, Norway
Style: Djent/Progressive Metal
Label: Spinefarm

Despite really enjoying the whole tech metal and djent scenes to a pretty high degree, Benea Reach was a band I never really paid a whole lot of attention to. I was well aware of them before the big djent craze in the last couple of years, but even then, I might have listened to their 2008 album Alleviat once. But I made a conscious decision to give this album a listen when it was finally released.
I guess one could call Benea Reach a pre-djent band because, along with a few other groups, they were copying Meshuggah first. Though I don't know if I'd give them as much credit as other groups like Textures (who have a far more textured sound) or Ion Dissonance (who were far more chaotic), they certainly do deserve some respect for trying to make that sound their own before the internet exploded with one-man bedroom projects of people chugging on their low-E/F strings. But, then again, to say that what these guys were doing before this album was all that inspired would be saying a lot more about their sound than I happen to think is warranted. Their early work is very typical of what many bands are now doing in the groove metal and djent genres now and listening back to them now, they really don't sound all that special to be honest. So, with this new album, I have to say I was let down by just how typical it was. There really isn't much on here one couldn't find done better in some way by another band. The grooves aren't as complex as Monuments or Vildhjarta, the riffing isn't as catchy as Periphery or Animals As Leaders, they're not as atmospheric as either TesseracT or Uneven Structure, so what does that leave left?
The answer is not very much. This is basically a mix of modern djent tropes and melodic death metal, if that grabs you, then great, you'll probably really dig this album. I'm a fan of djent, obviously, and while I don't check out as much melo-death as I once did, I am certainly still open to being impressed by it, but the fusion that this band does just isn't good enough I'm sorry to say. I hate to just pick this thing apart but I have to say, the production is rather average, and in comparison to all the groups mentioned above, this just gets the job done and nothing more. In my opinion, it's pretty standard modern melo-death styled production, where guitars take the lead focus until the vocals come in and then fall in line with the synth during a chorus or more atmospheric part. The guitar work is more or less focused on groove, with some more melodic parts thrown in for the choruses - of which I actually have no complaints about; but the groove based riffs just do not cut it. They are very average and if you've heard any of the albums from the bands I listed above and then listen to this, I think we can reach a common ground that what is on this album is just not good enough anymore. And maybe it's just me, but I've never been particularly fond of Ilkka's vocals, so it surprised me when I actually didn't find them irritating me when I first listened to this. Then I listened to it a couple more times and it just got worse and worse for me. While I can tolerate his singing and his growling is passable, when he just lets out some of his higher pitched screams, it just irritated me to no end, which is a real shame because that's his main style on one of the album's best tracks, Crown, but my god if his performance on Constellation isn't just one of the most annoying I've heard in quite some time. I'll gladly admit that, overall, his performance on here is the best I've heard from all the albums he's been on, but I'm not sure if that's saying all that much to begin with. I really don't feel good saying that this album has more in common with a modern metalcore (melodic metalcore if that makes anyone feel any better) record than any of the best djent or melodic death metal albums out at the moment.
I hate to say it but I just found this album to be a real chore to listen to from start to finish, and that is something that one should never feel when listening to an album. It has to be said that while I find this album to be uninspired and rather dull, none of the performances are what I could call bad. This is nothing to write home about, but if you insist on listening to this, just don't blame me if you don't end up liking it.
Overall Score: 4.5
Highlights: Crown, Empire, Aura

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Vit - The Dry Season EP (2013)

Band: Vit
Country: Canal Winchester, Ohio
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal/Doom Metal
Label: Handshake Inc.

The trio known as Vit are quite the ambiguous little entity in the world of metal. After releasing their debut - back in 2010 I had come to know more about the band, but in terms of follow-up material, the stream of albums did not come. It has only been after months of waiting and of anticipation that this new EP was finally released to the net.
So what have the trio been up to since the release of their stellar debut, well... apparently crafting an album that definitely takes things into a heavier direction. This album doesn't take us down the same avenue of crusty black metal that the full-length did but instead down a slower, rawer (I'd say) and all together more doomy one. The main body of this album lies in the lengthy pieces Sixteen Bodies and A Hymn of Benediction, which both make use of this more crushing shift in direction. I know the idea of blackened doom isn't exactly a ringing endorsement on my part and aren't exactly going to sell albums or tickets, but be warned that this is some of the most grinding (you heard/read it right) doom I've heard in quite some time. The ladder track actually reminds me a bit of Sweden's Shining to be honest, with more riff driven black metal than tremolo picked to death. The title-track demonstrates a more traditional black metal style that the band has already made their fans aware of on their full-length. Despite that, there's a sense of ambiguity hanging over the almost four minute long piece that makes the whole thing feel slightly off-kilter. The real kicker is closer ...And The Rain That Soon Followed which is an instrumental bluegrass piece that in no way resembles anything the band has done before. It's interesting, but not entirely to their benefit as it feels like the sort of piece that doesn't really belong. The real test will be to see if they can do something more with that sort of sound on future releases.
This is a solid four track release that definitely brings a nice shift to the band's sound in a way I didn't foresee. It definitely has its problems, but for what it is, it's enjoyable and definitely a well executed piece of blackened doom. Well worth your time if you're interested in this sort of style done in a raw, and slightly less defined way (I mean that in the best way possible).
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The Dry Season, A Hymn of Benediction

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Ocean - Pelagial (2013)

Band: The Ocean
Country: Berlin, Germany
Style: Progressive/Post-Metal
Label: Metal Blade

As far as I'm concerned, The Ocean (Collective) is probably one of the most interesting bands to be working within the confines of mainstream metal. While their early work was dark and foreboding, very reminiscent of post-metal and straight-up sludge, their newer work has become much more adventurous since gaining a stable line-up. The concept of writing an album based on the different zones of the ocean seemed perfect for this band (and since I did a lot of research into the ocean when I was a kid) it excited me even more so.
After the duel albums of Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, which were certainly ambitious undertakings, it's nice to see the band no longer restricting themselves towards making music to fit that concept. While the songs on here certainly fit with the different layers of the ocean, the music itself does not feel as restrained as on Heliocentric or as single-minded as on Anthropocentric, and instead finds them working in the middle ground between the two, where progressive ideas exist but the band's older and more grandiose still have a place. The band feels hungry again, with The Uncanny being one of their strongest openers to date (when you take out the piano led intro Epipelagic), it's an aggressive track that doesn't just charge ahead with how technical its riffs are or how heavy it is. It's a smart piece of progressive metal that isn't showoffy. The rest of the album certainly doesn't disappoint either with the band really delivering on all fronts on pretty much every track. The band trades off between more epic sounding post-metal with their typical orchestral like brilliance, while the heavier and more technical spots are nice to drive home the more aggressive points of the concept.
While no one on here delivers a bad performance, for me the highlight was vocalist Loïc Rossetti who definitely proved himself on the band's last two full-lengths, but he really comes alive on here. He does not as reigned in because of a weighty concept, so his vocals come across so much more impassioned on here (since the concept is a bit looser). His range is also a lot more obvious on here, as he moves from his soft falsettos to his monstrous roar with ease within moments in a single track. I was aware that he was very talented but like I said, he was the clear highlight for me.
But back to the album as a whole. While it's certainly fair to say that this is the band's most diverse album yet, it still has a flow to it, and one that I didn't pick up on immediately. It was only as I was listening to it while writing this that the structure of the album hit me. The first half of the album is the more technical, more progressive, more friendly to the whole tech metal kids - and that's not bad, but the second half was where I found most of my time going back to. It's on Boundless Vasts (track six) where the band start retreating into more of a post-metal sort of sound; and while I could just as easily take against them for falling back on the technical aspects from the first half, the second half is far more somber and cold sounding. Just as the deeper aspects of the ocean would not be as raging as the top layers, this album does not retain that chaotic style but crafts a sound that is far more interesting. It's darker, the last few tracks are some of the darkest tracks the band has ever written, coming across more like death-doom than anything else. For as much as I enjoy Rossetti's clean voice, the growls he belts out on the last two tracks on here are just monstrous. It's a tone that, while not entirely new for the band, genre-wise is a side I did not see coming.
Overall, it's a very impressive piece of work that definitely stands as one of the band's best (sorry, still doesn't top Precambrian for those wondering). Definitely a very impassioned and heartfelt release that shows new sides to the band and proves that they are certainly not a group who remains in one place for too long. While I won't try and predict where the band go to next, I will say that it is going to be hard for them to top this one.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Impasses, Signals of Anxiety, Cognitive Dissonance

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ash Borer - Bloodlands EP (2013)

Band: Ash Borer
Country: Arcata, California
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Gilead Media

The guys in Ash Borer have been doing this whole black metal thing for several years at this point and have gotten quite well known in certain circles. Thanks to the release of Cold of Ages last year on Profound Lore, they gained a much wider audience then previously available to them, but I was not sold on that album. After hearing that they were releasing something special for Gilead Media, I was excited at the thought that this might see the band returning to something a bit more individualistic.
While I had no problem with the direction the band were going into on their Profound Lore release, I didn't find it to be anywhere near as powerful or memorable as their debut full-length was. I'll certainly give it to the band that they definitely advanced their atmospheric side on that album, but personally, it wasn't as dark or visceral as what had come before it. This two song EP really hits home for me and definitely delivers the goods. The band have definitely retained that more atmospheric textural side from Cold of Ages but the memorable melody lines have returned and, more than ever before, the synth textures are heard throughout. No longer are they hidden behind a fog of reverbed guitars and wretched vocals, they have found the sweet spot in the mix where the can play their role perfectly and enhance the ambiance while still shining through and being clearly audible; and boy is that a highlight on here. Those synth textures are really something to marvel at - not so much the sounds themselves, but how they're being used throughout the tracks. I know I've said it before when mentioning Ash Borer, but I've always found their work to be very reminiscent of the work of Lunar Aurora (one of my favorite black metal bands), in that their atmospheric work is just so dense while their music remains visceral in ways that many of their peers fail to even attempt. They manage to pull off the fast and slow with ease, which is another trait far too many bands never even attempt (c'mon, not every song needs to have 200 bpms), and while the former is no surprise, the band has really grown into those slower sections, listen to the extended opening on Dirge/Purgation. I think it's also worth saying that while the band have always had long songs (very few of their songs are under ten minutes) these are some of their best yet. Both tracks are long, but not once did they ever feel that way.
These are songs that really encapsulate what "atmospheric black metal" should be. This is a major step up from all their previous releases in every way (riffing, textures, mix, etc.) and you'd be a fool to pass this album up if you're a fan of the genre. It's a real treat this year and one I hope many of you will look into.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Oblivion's Spring

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Random Child - Trials (2012)

Band: Random Child
Country: Brooklyn, New York
Style: Melodic Hardcore/Punk
Label: Independent

Obviously, I haven't been writing as much as I once did for this site (I won't go into too much detail) but I should say that that doesn't mean I haven't been listening to as much music. I was sent this album by the band late last year and even though it did take me a few months to finally listen to it, I did give it several spins in the last few months. I've never called myself a hardcore or punk fan, so forgive me if my views are a bit unfavorable.
This thirteen track affair was something I was a bit trepidatious going into because punk is a genre that could go either way for me. I have never claimed to be a huge fan of punk music (I bring it up because it has been called into question before) so my tastes may not be the most interesting, but I know what I like to hear. I say it whenever I review a hardcore record, I like it when I can feel the passion of the musicians playing, when it doesn't come across to me like just another studio record but like something I could imagine being played in front of me as I listen to it.
I guess the first thing that got my attention when listening to this was how haphazard the songwriting was. Now, I don't mean that in a bad way (even though it probably sounds that way), but I think that while this record doesn't exactly put forth the energy I mentioned above in the performances, I think that the passion comes through in just how wildly chaotic some of these songs are structurally. It literally sounded to me as if the band were just thrashy wildly about while trying to play these parts as clearly as they could (once again - not meant as a criticism). The way a song like Blood, Ash, Shattered Glass just seems to disregard genre and jumps from hardcore punk to doom rock to thrash metal in the course of three minutes is impressive to say the least. The way the band manage to portray a different idea in almost every track does show how talented these guys are. I do have to say that if there was one pitfall for me it was the band's cleaner vocal delivery. In and of itself, there isn't anything wrong with it, it actually sounds quite like the sound of a lot of old-school punk groups; but that isn't a style of singing that I'm particularly fond of. On the other hand though, the harsher vocals, whether they were just shouting or the semi-death growl, I actually thought did the band more justice.
But I guess one of the best things I could say about the band is that no matter what they choose to do with a track, they manage to make it work. The length of a given song was never an issue for me in regards to this album, and I know that might sound like a rather backhanded compliment but when you consider how many "progressive" bands slog out songs that top eight minutes or how many grindcore bands pump out songs around a minute in length, the fact that this band can pull off both is a testament to their skills as songwriters. But I guess I have to be fair and say that there was one track on here that I really did not enjoy at all and that was the closer Conclusively, I Reject Instrumentality and All Was Well which was more like a straight-up, old-school, melodic punk song which is not my style at all. It sort of made the album end on a sour note for me.
So, as you have probably figured out by now, but I obviously enjoyed the vast majority of this album. This band is really talented and hopefully they don't try and simply their sound but keep pushing it into even further extremes and experimentation because that's where they are at their best. Fans of punk music, hardcore, even prog rock to a certain extent I think will dig this.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Half Dissolved, ...And Tribulations, Grey Skies Over Red Hook

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Soilwork - The Living Infinite (2013)

Band: Soilwork
Country: Helsingborg, Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

I've been a Soilwork fan since I first started getting into death metal (melodic death metal, but I digress). Despite my interest in the genre waning in the last couple of years, Soilwork are a band I continue to come back to. With the second departure of founding member guitarist Peter Wichers, I was a bit worried about how the band would adapt their sound on here.
I have to be honest about the fact that when I first heard the tracks released from this album, Spectrum of Eternity, This Momentary Bliss, and Rise Above The Sentiment, I was quite surprised by them. While all three tracks were certainly Soilwork being themselves, they were the most intense I had heard the band in quite some time. The instrumentals simply floored me with how intense the band were going with Dirk Verbeuren providing more blast-beats than I ever expected him to bring into the band and guitarists Sylvain Coudret and David Andersson bringing a much more technical and progressive flair to the riffing that the band really hasn't exhibited too often before now. But relying on those three tracks still left me feeling somewhat curious if that was the way that this entire double-album would sound because the band weren't straying too far away from their more structured approach to songwriting despite bringing a more technical flair to their instrumentals. So it is with great pleasure that I am able to say that the band definitely do make the most of both albums.
The first album is definitely the sort of album that is sure to please any fan of the band's more recent material. For me, the songs, while exhibiting that more technical flair, still share a very similar stylistic comparison to the band's last couple of albums. The songs are more straightforward and direct, with the structures not deviating too far from what the band have done in the past. I will say that this first album was certainly more aggressive than I would have expected despite the band keeping in line with the aggressive verse and melodic chorus formula. Bjorn Strid is exhibiting more intensity in his performance on here than he has in at least the last decade or so, and I was constantly being surprised by how little reliance the band was using clean vocals. Though that's not to say there's aren't exceptions on here, with songs like Tongue and The Windswept Mercy standing out on here by breaking the mold not only musically but also vocally as well, the latter - in my opinion - being among the best songs the band has ever written. We also have tracks like Let The First Wave Rise that brings back a bit of an early Soilwork vibe as well. I should also mention that no matter how many times I hear Realm of The Wasted, the chorus always catches me off-guard. Despite all that, to me, this first album is Soilwork being Soilwork. They are demonstrating great songwriting and breaking out of their boundaries just enough to make it interesting, but it's definitely still them. I've always known that Soilwork could write an album's worth of good material, the real test was going to be whether or not they could make a second album to stand up with it.
Knowing that the second album featured both an intro track and an instrumental, I was somewhat skeptical of where the band was going to take this second album. While I think that the opener Entering Aeons is somewhat unremarkable - it's not bad, just nothing amazing - that instrumental interlude, Loyal Shadow, is actually a really impressive piece of work showing off the band without the reliance of Speed's vocals to provide the main grabbing point. But frankly, the eight other songs that make up this album totally surprised me. Each of these tracks just hit me with not only how interesting the riffs and structures were but also with how powerful the choruses were. I still remember the first time I listened to Long Live The Misanthrope and feeling like I had just been hit with a ton of bricks once that chorus hit because the rest of the song is pretty winding and aggressive. In my opinion, I do think that the second album is more interesting than the first one was and has songs that I found to be more catchy. It's also a bit darker and atmospheric (in spots) than I've heard the band since Figure Number Five. Over the several times I've listened through these albums, it appeared to me that this second disc featured the band adding a slightly more progressive edge to their sound; or to hopefully clarify, I found the first disc to be Soilwork doing their style of melo-death with some more progressive touches, the second disc was Soilwork going into progressive-death metal with melo-death touches - but maybe that just sounds like rubbish to whoever's reading this. After all Rise Above The Sentiment is a pretty typical sounding Soilwork track, but when stacked up against tracks like the straight-up prog-metal (not Dream Theater sounding) Antidotes In Passing or the death-doom closer Owls Predict, Oracles Stand Guard, it works as a nice straightforward and direct melo-death track. Make of it what you will, at this point I sort of feel like I'm just rambling.
So, in the end, I can't say that I agree with the many of other reviews that have been calling this album a masterpiece, but I do have to agree on the fact that it's pretty damn good. It's definitely the band's crowning jewel thus far in their career and hopefully the band continues to pursue their more progressive side on future releases. It's definitely one of the best albums I've heard this year and I don't think I'd be wrong in assuming that it will be listed among the year's finest. Don't miss out on this one.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Tongue, The Windswept Mercy, Long Live The Misanthrope, Antidotes In Passing, Parasite Blues

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Killswitch Engage - Disarm The Descent (2013)

Band: Killswitch Engage
Country: Westfield, Massachusetts
Style: Melodic Metalcore
Label: Roadrunner

From the beginning of their career, KSE has been a band that has brought exposure by a more modern audience to the world. Though I can't really say that I have been a huge fan of their material in recent years, they will always hold a special place in my playlists because they were one of the first groups I ever listened to that made use of screaming vocals that I enjoyed. Not that it's unknown news, but this album does feature the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach after the departure of Howard Jones several years ago.
I'll get the controversial opinion out of the way first so there won't be any dependencies over it later, but my favor does tend to lean toward Leach than to Jones as a vocalist. Now, there is no denying the power and ability that Jones brought to the three albums he was a part of, arguably delivering some of the band's biggest hits during his time in the band, but I have always tended to prefer the more bluesy and passionate (in my opinion) quality that Leach brings to any album he has participated on - whether it be the stoner rock of Seemless, the modern tech-metal or The Empire Shall Fall, or the "post-metalcore" of his work on the Times of Grace record. His voice is just one I identify with more so. Now that that is out of the way, I can say that this is a far more aggressive delivery than some of his more recent performances have been - and I have to say that I was slightly disappointed by that fact. That's not taking against the more aggressive style the band chose to pursue on this record, as Leach obviously just tried to convey whatever emotions he was going for, but after hearing the Time of Grace record, 2011's The Hymn of A Broken Man, I had hoped to hear more cleaner performances than what he did on here. It also has to be said that the return of Adam D.'s vocals does bring a sense of (vocal) harmony that was missing from the band's last record, and his harmonies with Leach prove to be some of my favorite moments on the entire album.
I should also mention that musically, while this album does return to a more edgy and metallic sound, contradicting the more melodic rock sound they appeared to be going down on their last record, it did not satisfy exactly what I was looking for. The aforementioned Times of Grace record brought a fresh breath of life into a tired and worn out genre through the use of huge choruses, unexpected musical depth, and variety that the genre had not utilized in what seemed like years to me, and I had sort of hoped that with the return of Leach, maybe Adan D. and co. would choose to embrace more of the somber and atmospheric ideas used on that record and use them on here. Unfortunately, that was not the case. This is undeniably the band's most aggressive record since 2002's Alive Or Just Breathing, but it lacks the variety of even that record. I know that aggression may be enough to satisfy some people, but I had hoped for something a bit more from the band on here. But I guess for me, all this record brought to the table for me were some nice choruses and solid melodic guitar work. Maybe enough for some, but not enough for me.
If I take this for what it is, a melodic metalcore record, I think that it does succeed in what it's trying to do, but if you're looking for some fresh ideas, than this will most likely not satisfy you. If you're looking for variety, I would suggest some of the other bands that Leach has lent his voice to in recent years (I am referring just as much to musical variety as vocal variety here) because they have proved to be a better indication of not only his talent, but Adam D. (in the case of Times of Grace) as well, which is not really exhibited on here. It's solid, but nothing more than that.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Beyond The Flames, You Don't Bleed For Me, The Call

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Clutch - Earth Rocker (2013)

Band: Clutch
Country: Germantown, Maryland
Style: Hard Rock/Stoner Metal
Label: Weathermaker Music

Obviously anyone familiar with anything happening within the stoner genres within the last couple of decades will know of Clutch. Their transformation from hardcore punk to stoner rock to blues rock has been one of my favorite transformations a band has ever done. While I can't say that I was totally sold on their last full-length, I was still very anxious to hear what they would do on this new one.
By now it should be no secret to those who come to this blog often enough that I am not a big fan of stoner based music; but like most of the stuff I wind up actually covering on here, I do enjoy Clutch very much. I should also say that I am not a big advocate of blues rock either - though to a much lesser degree than I am to stoner rock/metal. But maybe it's the way Neil Fallon manages to string together words and his powerful howl that grabs me, maybe it's how Jean-Paul Gaster plays drums so simplistically but always manages to amaze me, or the guitar/bass combo of Tim Sult and Dan Maines (respectively) and how they can craft riffs that can topple over buildings while also being sultry and interesting at the same time. There are so many reasons I could list to why I dig what these guys do over anyone else's take on the style, but I guess the easy answer would just be that these guys write badass songs and deliver kick ass performances. That settles that.
As for the album in question, I do think that it is quite the return to form for the band (in my opinion anyway). It's sound is much fuller and heavy than the thinner and more somber ideas expressed on 2009's Strange Cousins From The West but is not quite as jam based as 2007's From Beale Street to Oblivion. For my money, it's a return to the straight-up rock'n'roll sound that they perfected on 2004's stellar Blast Tyrant. It's not bullshit based blues riffs with a tight rhythm section and soaring choruses that I have yet to hear matched by any other band in this genre. You just can't deny the strength of the opening title-track, or the old-school heavy metal vibe on Unto The Breach (am I the only one who thinks the main riff sounds a bit like early Dio records?), it's just a rocking good time listening to this band and album. Even when the album slows down on Gone Cold, you still get that small bit of attitude that just keeps you (or me, rather) listening. The middle section in that song in particular is quite well done, with the acoustic guitar passage just really bringing the goods, so to speak. Now, I won't go so far as to say that this is a perfect album - it isn't - but it's hard for me to contain my excitement for a record that is just so unabashedly rocking as this one. I can forget originality and uniqueness when a band writes great songs, luckily for me, Clutch has always been a band that has had both traits.
Screw all the experimental shit, this rocks my socks off and it's hard to say no when you get a band who is just all about their craft and doesn't compromise. Whenever there's a band who can make me forget all my prejudices I am always happy to hear their material. Clutch - don't ever stop what you're doing! Anyone who digs some solid rock, listen to this or die.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Earth Rocker, Unto The Breach, The Wolfman Kindly Requests