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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

All Pigs Must Die - Nothing Violates This Nature (2013)

Band: All Pigs Must Die
Country: Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Hardcore Punk/Metalcore
Label: Southern Lord

A couple of years back, All Pigs Must Die really impressed me with their first two releases. In terms of modern hardcore/metalcore(?) they are by far one of the most engaging and intense bands to emerge in years. Not only with their sonic, but their whole presentation of albums and their sound also impressed me which lead to immense anticipation for this album when I first heard about it.
Not as though it was a problem on either of the band's last two outings but, they did play with songs that were in the "typical" song length (4-ish minutes I guess is what I consider to be such a thing) and a few that were a little bit longer as well. Thing new album surprised me when I saw just how short it was. The band has opted for as little fat as possible on this new release, going for songs that are even more immediate and direct than I expected. While several of the songs are still around the four minute mark, they retain the more visceral intent that is heard on shorter pieces, like the opening pair Chaos Arise and Silencer. I hate to make this comparison because a lot of people will do it and I know the bands are quite different from each other, but the more visceral and chaotic tone that the majority of these songs take does remind one of Converge (in a good way). Obviously APMD takes a bit more of a metallic flair than I would say Converge does, utilizing several black metal sections throughout the album for some nice variety between the more hardcore punk d-beats and crusty riffs; and I hate to belittle the band by saying that they're like that because there's so much more here than I just described, but if it intrigues at least one person I won't feel like such a douche.
As I have always said on here, I prefer hardcore/metalcore/etc. genres to feel energetic than almost anything else. While originality is appreciated, I prefer genres like this to feel like the band is just pummeling me into the ground. I want to feel the passion from the musicians and I want to feel the aggression/anger/etc. when they play and feel that rush when I listen to it. Even when the band take their sound into a sludgier and/or slower direction, the same energy should come through. An added bonus would be if the entire album feels like a cohesive piece, and I'm not opposed to if it doesn't feature a song leading into another, but on here each song just comes in, one after another in a furry that is just intoxicating to hear. Once again, it's a rush to hear. A track like Bloodlines which features something a little different through the utilization of an acoustic guitar would sound, on paper or typed out, as though it would ruin the flow from track to track a bit, but it doesn't because the energy is maintained. I really admire the ability to make an acoustic guitar retain a sort of tension in between agressive passages, if only because it isn't done all that often, and is rarely done well. But there's also the more grinding tension during the slower sections, which is something I bring up a lot in relation to these sort of bands as well, but to reiterate once again, it works.
So yeah, nothing much more to say except that this is a fist pumping, rage inducing good time. This is exactly what I like from a "hardcore" record and while it's far from being innovative, it's exactly the sort of energetic boost I need when I put it on. Definitely do yourself a favor and look into this album if you dig crusty hardcore/metallic hardcore or you need an album to keep you awake.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Silencer, Of Suffering, Faith Eater

Woe - Withdrawal (2013)

Band: Woe
Country: New Jersey
Style: Black Metal
Label: Candlelight

I've been following Woe for quite some time now and it was only recently that I realized how long I've been following them. Though it was on Quietly, Undramatically from 2010 that I found I got something special I had been with the group since the first full-length A Spell For The Death of Man first came out. It doesn't feel as though it's been three years since that second full-length but it has.
When I first saw the cover of this album, I pretty much guessed that this would not be a continuation of the more atmospheric and somewhat progressive ideas that the band experimented with on their last album. After reading a couple of things about it, I managed to find that my intuition was pretty close to the money. What I learned before listening was that the band was returning to the more straightforward and direct black metal sound of their first record. Now it has to be said, although I do find that the band dropping the progress they made on their last album to be disappointing, I do think that they did, at least, improve upon the sound that was on the first album. I have to admit that straightforward and traditional forms of black metal (or at least modern takes on the traditional formula) isn't really something I'm a huge fan of. I can get behind all the old-school stuff and some of the newer albums, but this album is cleaner than I would have liked that sound to be heard, though it is much more preferable to the sound on the debut.
Where this album's strength is found, or at least where I found the band were at their best, was when they were channeling some nice thrashy and crust punk and hardcore influences into these otherwise standard black metal tracks. I can appreciate the blasting and the tremolo picking, but it's those hard hitting thrash riffs and punk attitude that grab me and make me want to listen. I've watched plenty of live videos of black metal bands looking tough and attempting to look evil and demonic while performing these sort of songs like and it just looks stupid (to me anyway) but when I think of this band, I could see them just trying to have fun and rock out while playing live. I have no idea how thrilling it may or may not be playing black metal live, but I can imagine that playing songs with fast and aggressive riffs that actually make the audience headbang would provide a lot of fun. So, having said that, tracks like Carried By Waves to Remorseless Shores of The Truth and Song of My Undoing sound to me like they were specifically written to be played in a live environment. In fact, I'd say the last three tracks on here are among the best the band have written. That means that tracks like This Is The End of The Story and Ceaseless Jaws are songs that don't really do much for me and I only point that out because they lack that real powerhouse riff that brings me into either track.
It's a solid enough album, there are some killer songs and some tracks that I could do without. Obviously there are plenty of people out there who will dig the more traditional black metal songs more, which is fine, but those tracks just don't do anything for me and aren't unique enough for me to at least say they're interesting. So, if you're into black metal but aren't really a huge fan of experimentation, you could still get into this record.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Carried By Waves to Remorseless Shores of The Truth, Song of My Undoing

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Meads of Asphodel - Sonderkommando (2013)

Band: The Meads of Asphodel
Country: Herts, UK
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Candlelight

What can one say to start of a review for the UK's most well-known chainmail wearing extreme metalists? Despite my general good will towards the band, I've often found that I have a hard time enjoying their full-lengths as a whole album. I came into this with an open mind, as always, hoping that this one would prove to be the album that would work entirely for me.
In the past, I have found the EPs and splits that The Meads of Asphodel have released and been a part of to be more consistent in material than their full-lengths. That's more of less going to be because there is less material, but for me it has also had to do with the band not spreading themselves too thin. On past full-lengths that I've listened to, it hasn't been so much that the material has been bad, it's been more that some songs are really good, while a majority of others are either only just ok or just uninteresting. I don't understand the band's fascination with narrative tracks, whether they're doing a concept album or not, they seem to be an ever-present part of the band's sound. Frankly, I've said it before for other groups that do it, I'd rather let the music speak for itself rather than have someone tell me exactly what is going on. If you're going to do that, sing/scream/growl/etc. to me instead. Though I do have to say that the first half of Lamenting Weaver of Horror is down right hilarious.
When discussing the actual songs on here though, I have to admit that even I was surprised by how consistent this album was. The opening title-track, despite it's rather cheesy chorus, it extremely catchy and progressive. It does a little bit of everything the band have become known for, traditional black metal aggression, a driving punk groove, the occasional power metal vocal part, and some nice acoustic playing. For me, it was everything that I expect the band to sound like. The following handful of tracks continue in spectacular fashion, with the punky Wishing Well of Bones, the black metal-meets-psyche rock Silent Ghosts of Babi Yar, and the epic progressive-ness of both parts of Children of The Sunwheel Banner. These are tracks that show the band at what is arguably their best. I often wonder why the band just can't continue writing songs that keep in the same vein as tracks like these which are diverse, fun, and exciting to listen to and while there aren't too many songs on here that are just forgettable, they are there. I can get behind what the band is doing but the tracks that are just forgettable just drag the album down from being otherwise quite good.
But as the album progresses, the band begins to trip over itself again. Sins of The Pharaohs is a perfectly solid song, but it's overextended and feels longer than it needs to be, Last Train to Eden falls into psychedelia that sounds more like a mess than an actual well-constructed part. It's a shame because the first half of the album is so well constructed and fun to listen to that because the second half just sounds like a mess in more than a couple of spots it makes listening to this portion of the album a drag.
I wish I liked this album more, but I can't ignore the problems with the second half of this album. I'd definitely say that if you like your black metal weird, listen to the first half of this album because those first handful of tracks are really, really good. But aside from that, listen at your own discretion.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Sonderkommando, Children of The Sunwheel Banner II, Hourglass of Ash

EEE Recordings - Part III (2013)

It's been a little while since I caught up on EEE Recordings. Five of the releases below I've had for what seems like quite a while, and am finally writing up about because three new releases came out recently. Hopefully, if you haven't listened to or heard of some of these releases yet you'll still give 'em a shot. As always, all of these are reviewed from 1-8.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Apocynthion - Sidereus Nuncius (2013)

Band: Apocynthion
Country: Madrid, Spain
Style: Atmospheric/Post-Black Metal
Label: Pest Productions

About a year or so ago I was skimming through bandcamp and looking at different groups and projects that just happened to look interesting (in terms of cover art work) and stumbled across a song by the group Apocynthion. I was very interested in the progress of a upcoming album that the band would/was working on at the time because that song was impressive, to say the least. Now, some time later I just happened upon this album and was definitely going to get down and cover it as soon as I could.
To be fair, stylistically, this band is not totally dissimilar to many other post-black metal bands out there, you have post-rock sections and the black metal ones as well. If you've heard groups like Lantlôs or Fen, you know the general sound on here. So really the only difference I could offer those who feel like this isn't anything special is that the songwriting is slightly more interesting than the typical group ripping off ideas from groups like the aforementioned two above. Granted, songwriting is somewhat relative to this situation because the majority of "songs" (excluding interludes and intros/outros) tend to drift more around the ten minute mark on this album, the band keep a pretty consistent and even pace to the album throughout while giving each song at least one thing that will allow the listener to latch onto a piece that long. It has to be said that despite the actual lengths of the songs, the band don't lean too far into the "progressive" genres and stick more towards a doom-esque melodic side (though not actually doom).
While the band tend to stick to the dynamic established by many other groups (mellow/harsh - going back and forth between the two) one of the things that particularly stuck out to me was how well the clean vocals fit in with the band. More often than not in bands of this style, vocals almost seem irrelevant, not in the sense that the music doesn't need them but more that if a band uses vocals they use almost no thought of how they should actually be used. There are dozens are carbon copies of the aforementioned groups above who just do the instrumental thing, which is fine, but is very hard to establish a sound that is your own. Then there are bands who do use vocals and that is where most people's ear will naturally gravitate towards. Some bands manage to work out a way for the vocals to remain consistent in either style while others just tack in on like it just needs to be there. In the case of this band, the vocals fit the tone of the music, in both clean and aggressive styles, which is something that definitely worked out in their favor at least in my opinion while listening to this. The clean vocals are sort of monotone while the screams feel grossly exaggerated, but it works well within the context of the sound the band created. The cleans don't need to be really varied to fit in with the melancholic and moody tone of the instrumentals while the screams do what they need to when used and don't feel quite as forced as so many other bands tend to make them feel.
In the end I was rather impressed with how the band constructed their sound on here. While I do hope that future releases will see them expand and experiment with their sound more, for a debut this is solid and well crafted. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of more of the atmospheric and post-rock influenced side of black metal.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Nothing Important Happened Today I, MDSCC

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sonic Reign - Monument In Black (2013)

Band: Sonic Reign
Country: Mellrichstadt, Germany
Style: Black Metal/Black'n'Roll
Label: Apostasy

I was not familiar with Sonic Reign before being sent the promo for it. I happened to be out of town for a couple of days so I decided to put it on my Ipod and give it a few spins while I was away. There were some breaks in there but I think I am now ready to talk about this album.
This is totally going to give away the punchline for this review but I'm someone who is not a huge fan of Satyricon, which was something that ultimately impacted my enjoyment of this record. I have not heard Sonic Reign's first full-length, Raw Dark Pure, so I can't say how much of an evolution this album is from that one, but this album takes a lot of cues from Satyricon's "breakthrough(?)" to the mainstream album Now, Diabolical. What you get on this record is black metal being done in a very rock'n'roll-esque fashion, meaning you get straightforward song structures which attempt to be as catchy and accessible (the latter comment I'm willing to be called out for) as possible within the confines of black metal, and clear production. You still have the aggressive guitar playing and drumming along with the wretched vocals, but if you came into this expecting more Darkthrone (early Darkthrone) than Satyricon, you may be disappointed. Now, to be clear, I have no problem with this black'n'roll style or Satyricon or Sonic Reign. I think the style itself can produce some quite good songs and I think both bands can deliver on that front at times, but I have the same problem with this record that I did with the aforementioned Satyricon album above, and that is that the songs are just too extended. When you're writing a song which is pretty much just verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus, it doesn't need to be five-plus minutes long.
But as I said, this band can write solid songs, and riffs that are quite well done as well. Damn near every track on here has at least one solid riff in it and while not every song is a winner, it's better than many other bands do. Tracks like Clouds Above The Desert and A Doctrine Unreachable are prime examples of this, with the former reaching a state of headbanging glory during it's second half and the latter track being some killer instrumental sections that were bogged down by more simplistic chugging parts during the verses (though the background effects on the latter track certainly keep things interesting for its running time). Daily Nightmare Injected is a song I actually have no problem with, along with my track picks below, simply because it's a out and out anthem of a track that I'm sure will be great performed live. Then you have a song like the title-track which, in my honest opinion, does absolutely nothing for the album. It's eight minutes long and really goes nowhere. Now, it's certainly entertaining while it's on, but it really does nothing worthy of that eight minute length. But really, you'll be able to figure out what tracks you like and want to return to and or keep after your first listen. That's not a knock to the album, but this isn't much of a grower. You get most things up front, with the exceptions being some background effects and guitar work, but chances are that you won't find yourself returning to a track because you missed that one guitar line in the background, it'll be because of a catchy lead guitar part or a vocal rhythm.
So in the end this isn't a bad album, but it certainly has its flaws, at least in my opinion. After my first listen I kind of figured out what I was going to say about this album. If you're a fan of more straightforward and song based black metal, give this one a shot, you'll at least get a couple of solid songs out of it.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: The Whisper In The Dark, Soul Flagellation

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Amorphis - Circle (2013)

Band: Amorphis
Country: Helsinki, Finland
Style: Progressive Rock/Melodic Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

I am a fan of Amorphis, despite my waning interest in the melodic death metal genre (in addition to death metal in general) and do think that they are one of the better groups from their region of the world. They have also been a band more willing to experiment with their sound than other bands that came from their genre which is something I respect. I was hopeful that this new album would correct the misstep I felt the band took with their last full-length.
Back in 2011, I was in the minority when I said that I felt that Amorphis' last album The Beginning of Times was one of their weakest albums to date. Personally, I felt as if the band was running low on ideas on that album, and were more or less repeating the same things that they had done on the three albums prior to that one. It was a melodic death metal album with folk influence, and while most places I looked claimed it was one of the group's strongest release at that point, I couldn't help but feel as though I missed something. I have gone back to that album several times since initially reviewing it and I have yet to find anything praise worthy to say about it. So I was interested in what the band would decide to do for this album when I first heard about it. I didn't listen to the single that was released beforehand, deciding to avoid all songs until I could hear the entire album in order to avoid all preconceptions about what this album may or may not be. I was hopeful that the band would return to the strong songwriting that they had shown on albums before that misstep, but sonically I didn't really hold my breath for a huge genre shift.
Pretty much after getting Tomi Joutsen on vocals back in 2005 the band has ridden their folky melo-death sound for four releases til now, and I wasn't expecting a massive shift like the ones they did back when Pasi Koskinen was the vocalist for the group, but I was actually quite surprised when I listened through this album. Yes, it's not a massive shift, but it's certainly not as straight as their previous four albums have been. The riffing is a bit more, and I hesitate to use this word, progressive on here than on their last handful, while the overall sound is still very much akin to that of their last four full-lengths. It's not enough to scare off those who were introduced to the band in this current era and find it to be their best. It's not that alienating as tracks like The Wanderer and Narrowpath definitely play up to that very melodic sound the band has used on previous singles. Personally, I thought that the band peaked using this sort of sound on 2007's Silent Waters and have since then just been using the same ideas over and over, but this new album is a nice shift on that sound.
As a whole, and as many other people have rightly said, it's much more cinematic than any of the group's previous work. While it isn't quite as powerful on the first half of the album, which is the most similar to their recent albums, when it comes out in full, it really grabs you. The songs, even though they aren't all that long, feel more epic and grandiose than anything else in the band's discography. In addition to that, this is the band's most consistent album in terms of the quality of material. As I said above, I felt as if the band peaked with their folky melo-death sound on Silent Waters, and that included memorability and songwriting as well, not just my patience. While the first half of this album is certainly strong in terms of songwriting and memorability, that's what it seems to be there for, to grab those fans of more recent material but as soon as Hopeless Days opens it's like a punch in the face with how massive those keys sound, making the guitar riff in question sound even more powerful. For me, this is where the album really got me excited. The following four tracks bring a similar sense of joy and anticipation from me, each showing a side of the band that I either have never heard before or that they had left behind long ago. The likes of Nightbird's Song show the band at their most interesting and hardened vocally while still delivering strong melodic guitar work as a foundation. In addition to that the likes of Into The Abyss and Enchanted By The Moon feature some of the biggest hooks in the entire band's career.
I do believe this is the band's best release for several years and is hopefully a sign for future sonic explorations like this. They are really at the top of their game here, and this is strong enough for me to say it's up in my top 3 albums from the band (with Elegy and Am Universum). Very strong and definitely one of the best records I've heard to come out of the melo-death genre for quite a while.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Hopeless Days, Into The Abyss, Enchanted By The Moon

Mercenary - Through Our Darkest Days (2013)

Band: Mercenary
Country: Ålborg, Denmark
Style: Melodic Death Metal/Power Metal
Label: NoiseArt

I remember first being turned onto Mercenary by my dad several years back when I was still really into melodic death metal bands. While I wasn't overly enthusiastic at first, once I heard records like The Hours That Remain and Architect of Lies I was hooked. However once the band was reduced to a four-piece I felt a weakening become more apparent.
The aforementioned albums above I think are some of the best examples of melodic death metal in the 2000s, the songs were catchy, the albums were consistently strong, and the sound was a nice blend of heavy and melodic. The resulting album from when the band shifted down to a four-piece, 2011's Metamorphosis, I didn't get into. In comparison to the two albums that came before it, it was extremely weak and uninteresting. It sort of felt as if the band were struggling to find their place again, they were on a new label, working with a smaller line-up, and trying to stay true to the sound they had really perfected on the previous two full-lengths (but had been playing with since Everblack back in 2002) while doing something different. While there were some ok songs on there, as a whole it just didn't match up and I know that at least I was disappointed by it; and the signs coming into this album didn't appear all that strong either.
I listened to Generation Hate when it was first released and just didn't care for it all. It's one of those power metal-ish sort of songs where the lyrics are all about standing your ground and standing apart from others while being really angsty. Musically it was alright but lyrically and vocally it just irritated me. So my impressions when I decided to actually listen through the whole thing were not high at all, however by the time A New Dawn finished I was on the band's side. That opener is easily the best song on the entire album. It's really a callback to their older ways in the way the chorus just explodes when you hear it and it just gets stuck in your head. Not only that song, but there are actually several songs on here that match up to that one in the realms of catchiness and memorability (but that one is by far the strongest, at least in my opinion). From my point of view this is a bit closer to a power metal album than the last two full-lengths have been, at least vocally. There's a lot of harmonies on here (which is something I'm always keen to hear if they're done well) and the general range appeared to me to be a bit higher as well. Instrumentally it still keeps things pretty close to the modern melo-death style with plenty of keyboards and chugging riffs. I mean, I'm no snob, if it works, it works, and for me, this worked for the majority of its running time.
So yeah, even though my attitude and expectations going into this were extremely low, this managed to keep me entertained throughout and turn me to its side by the end. I don't think it measures up to either of the albums I mentioned in the intro but this is certainly a catchy and fun little melo-death album. If you're a fan of the genre I definitely recommend giving this a shot (as far as I know these guys are getting more press since switching from Century Media so maybe you'll already have seen or heard of this album already).
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: A New Dawn, A Moment of Clarity, Beyond This Night

James LaBrie - Impermanent Resonance (2013)

Band: James LaBrie
Country: Toronto, Ontario
Style: Groove/Melodic Death Metal
Label: InsideOut Music

Can someone explain to me the shift that occurred at some point within the last four or five years or so where James LaBrie suddenly jumped into the world of more aggressive metal? He's obviously most well known for being the vocalist in Dream Theater, but his last full-length, as a solo artist, Static Impulse, sounded like a modern melo-death album. With the success of that album he's kept himself within the same territory for this new album as well, what happened?
When I first pressed play on this album and Agony opened up I seriously questioned if the file I had gotten wasn't from another album. It didn't bear any resemblance to what I imagined a James LaBrie album to sound like, it was aggressive, with harsher vocals, and some very electronica-esque synth lines flowing throughout the verses. It wasn't until the chorus that LaBrie really even made himself known. On following listens it is apparent that he does whisper a couple lines during the verses, but it's hardly enough to make you think, "Oh yeah, that's James LaBrie of Dream Theater." I mean, I remember thinking that it was strange that 2010's Static Impulse felt closer to melodic death metal and modern thrash metal than anything else LaBrie has participated on before. It was more direct and aggressive than even some of his most metal work in Dream Theater. This album ups that aggression while actually making the songs even more chorus driven than on the previous album. It has a very pop-esque immediacy to it that wasn't present on any of his solo records.
One could present an argument that this is one of the most "pure" or "seamless" fusions between melodic death metal and pop rock from any band. There are plenty of groups who attempt to fuse the intensity and harsh nature of melodic death metal with extremely poppy choruses in an attempt to cross over to a mainstream audience, In Flames was trying to it before all but abandoning any trace of their death metal sound while a band like Sonic Syndicate pretty much decided to pursue more of a heavy pop rock sound. I don't want it to sound like I'm blowing smoke up his ass, but this album manages to fuse the two together in a better and more convincing manner than either of those groups ever have. Yes, there are songs that focus more directly on melody and feel more fitting to the sound LaBrie typically works in, Back On The Ground or I Got You, while songs like the aforementioned Agony and closer I Will Not Break, or, to a lesser extent, Letting Go feel more closely linked with drummer/screamer Peter Wildoer's work in Darkane. Granted, the album as a whole does lean closer to the melodic side because, obviously, look who's solo record this is. But the fusion is a lot better than a lot of other bands coming at it from a background in melo-death.
Overall I really dug this record, it was catchy and immediate while still having a nice bite to it on several tracks. Obviously there will be a stigma because of who this is, but if you're interested in some pop-metal songs I'd recommend this over a bunch of other records attempting this sound. I'd say if you're a fan of more melodic metal, but with some more aggressive tendencies, to give this a chance, as well as if you're a fan of the opposite side of the spectrum of that.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Undertow, Slight of Hand, Holding On

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Acherontas - Amenti (2013)

Band: Acherontas
Country: Athens, Greece/Germany
Style: Black Metal
Label: World Terror Committee

Since I covered Theosis back in 2010, I've been keeping tabs on what Acherontas has been releasing (though I have not covered any of it). When I listened to Vamachara in 2011, I didn't find much to be worth covering at that time but consciously tried to make time for this album this year. With some definite shifts in tone since both of those albums, this one definitely got my attention.
It has to be said right away, this album is too long. While I certainly admire the band's penchant for writing lengthy pieces that really do conjure up a nice and dark atmosphere, some tracks just go on for far too long. Because the length of most tracks is around the seven or eight minute mark, you can guarantee that you will get some good and some bad. Just knowing about the band's last two full-lengths did prepare me somewhat for what they were going for on here. It's always appeared to me that the band has tried to achieve a more ritualistic atmosphere in their music, whether in their more traditional black metal pieces or in straight-up ritual ambient, dark ambient, or drone pieces. Some work, some don't, but I can tell you that for a band that is primarily known for their black metal songs and for working on splits with other black metal groups, their interest in those other styles certainly comes out on their full-lengths, for better or worse.
From my point of view, while I do admire the dedication to one's craft enough to construct lengthy pieces like Nebt-Het - Divulgence of Ηer Sacral Temples or Wines of Blood & Pestilence on here, I just can't say that they add much to the album. While the former definitely improves in it's second half through the use of chanted vocals and acoustic guitar runs, the ladder just feels so average for that style of music. It's not badly done or anything, it's just so meh to me. If you've listened to ritual ambient music before, then the ideas present on this track in particular is nothing to get excited over. Also, I fail to see the point in making these tracks top seven minutes. It might just be me, but I felt like both tracks in particular definitely could have been cut in half and still have achieved pretty much the same ideas. Having said that, the black metal bits are just as fierce as ever. When the band are delivering these tracks, they hit them home - even if some of them go on for a bit too long. Tracks like the title-track or Set Triumphant - Nubti just blast forward, yet manage to retain the ambiance from the aforementioned ambient pieces. The band can certainly be straightforward and menacing when they need to be (which is, more or less, the majority of this record) but it's when they show their more jagged and slower influences, like on Dissolution (In the Sands ov Time) - Νεκροπολις, where things really get good. It's not genre defying or anything, but it just comes across as a bit more diverse and interesting (at least to me). In addition to a general slower tone on the second half of the album, these more metallic tracks also begin showing a bit more melody as well.
I'm not claiming this is some revolutionary black metal album that is going to get your knickers in a bundle over, but it's solid and well meaning (take from that whatever you will). There are some solid songs on here that really mean to create something dark and morose, and for the better part of the album's running time - the band succeed in doing just that. So, if any of that appeals to you, and if you can deal with some more ambient pieces, than give this album a listen.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Amenti - The Lamp Ov The Desert, Dissolution (In The Sands Ov Time) - Νεκροπολις, Erset La Tari - The Red Temple

Friday, August 23, 2013

Blood Red Throne - Blood Red Throne (2013)

Band: Blood Red Throne
Country: Kristiansand, Norway
Style: Death Metal
Label: Sevared

Blood Red Throne was once one of my absolute favorite death metal bands. The three releases they put out with now ex-vocalist Vald were some of the best and most catchy modern death metal I've ever heard. Though it saddened me to hear that he and bassist Erlend Caspersen had both departed from the band I was still interested to hear what the band would do next.
I'll start out simply by saying everything that I liked about the band, originally. On the band's previous three full-lengths with Vald at the vocal helm, I felt as though the band were one of the best modern death metal bands. They were able to channel various sub-genres from technical to brutal to more melodic while always retaining a sense of self in their songs. They didn't sound like hundreds of other bands, as surprising as they may sound, that, if nothing else, was something they had going for them. In addition to that they had a feature that just happened to keep them on my good side and that was their use of bass guitar. Much like a group like Cannibal Corpse, the bass was always present in their songs, it stood out and wasn't simply backing up the guitars. As for Vald, while he was never the most versatile of vocalists out there, his guttural growls and more monotone growl fit with the band's style and was able to enunciate so that lyrics could be clearly heard. Now, with both Vald and Caspersen gone from the band, both of those traits are gone.
I came into this record with high hopes, granted they were lower than in the past because of the aforementioned members leaving, but this just left me disappointed, I'm sorry to say. While the and still have a penchant for writing some solid riffs, both the vocals and the bass aspects that I always gravitated towards are now gone. The bass' presence on this album is pretty much delegated to the background, rarely coming out from behind the guitars to do anything worthy of note. Though to be fair, it can be heard if you actually listen for it. As for the vocals, let me make this clear and say that while I think Vald is the best vocalist the band has had at this point, Yngve Bolt Christiansen's performance on here clearly shows him to be the most versatile of all the vocalists the band has had. He can do the guttural lows, the monotone growls, the rather annoying high-pitched screams, and more typical roars. He is clearly talented, but he just doesn't fit as well in with the band as either of his predecessors did, at least in my opinion, and that isn't something that's brought up a lot in discussion, how well a vocalist fits in with a band. In the case of death metal, it could be argued that it really doesn't matter, how many vocalists are all that distinct in the genre anyway, but for what Blood Red Throne does, they had utilized frontmen who were more proficient in guttural growls and stuff of that style. They weren't the most varied or whatever, but for the band's style they worked. I just never felt that Christiansen fit with the rest of the band, but hey, that's just my opinion.
As for the rest of the instrumentals on here, it's ok, I guess. There are some solid songs on here, nothing that lives up to tracks from three-album run of Affiliated With The Suffering, Altered Genesis or Come Death but they're solid. Even the band's last two full-lengths weren't up to those standards, but they were still great albums. This one feels a bit more pedestrian. Even if tracks like Deatholation or closer March of The Dying are great and rank up with some of the best tracks the band has done recently, the rest of the album doesn't match up. In fact, the closer is the best track on the album not only because it's devoid of Christiansen's god awful ear-piercing scream but also because it's a little different from the typical style the band pursue. Spoken word in almost any metal genre is pretty cheesy in my opinion, but on here it actually stands out and comes across in an almost industrial (can I use that word here?) way that I haven't heard the band use before.
I definitely recommend checking out this band's older work for sure, but this one is up to you. If you like death metal give it a shot, but it really does get better if you go back. It's not bad, but more average for my liking and when you've come from doing above average work for the last decade or so, average is just not enough.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Deatholation, Torturewhore, March of The Dying

Beyond - Fatal Power of Death (2013)

Band: Beyond
Country: Mainz, Germany
Style: Death Metal
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions

This is my first encounter with Beyond. For a modern death metal album, where album covers are meant to be "brutal" or "weird" or whatever, this one caught my attention because it was actually pretty simplistic and it wasn't pristine looking. Sometimes that's all it takes to get me interested in your album, and in this case, that was what did it.
After opening with actually interesting intro, Beyond actually jump straight into some blackened death metal riffing. I usually don't care for intros that much when it comes to death metal albums, albums in general really, but occasionally they are worthy of actually taking up space. While the spacey synths that open this album, Expressions, aren't particularly inventive (chances are you've heard this sort of intro on several albums of this sort before) they do at least set the mood for what follows about two minutes in when the actual track kicks in. I'm not gonna lie, Beyond play death metal, with quite a bit of black metal influence thrown in as well, but it's death metal at it's core and chances are you have heard many a band play the same style as these guys before. Now, that's not meant as a dis to the band in question, but it's a fact. If you've heard any number of bands that play death metal and aren't signed to a huge label like Metal Blade or Century Media, you'll have heard this more old-school death metal meets occasional black metal riffs and mounds of reverb before. But, as is always the case, there are bands that do play this style better than others, and I'm willing to say that Beyond are one of those bands.
I like to think that I'll find at least one album each year that will make me feel good for giving it a chance even if I'm not that ecstatic about the genre in question. As I've said many times before the whole sub-genre of "blackened death metal" is one that I'm not overly crazy for and I've covered a few bands that really show why I don't care for the genre that much. But I've found that there is usually at least one album to come from this sub-genre from a band I've likely never heard of before that makes me want to retain my faith in the genre. Beyond really capture that sound perfectly. Unlike many of the cavecore bands which just drown out their riffs in reverb til they sound like mud, Beyond actually keep their riffs at the forefront of their sound. I'll be honest, while not every riff is a winner, there are some on here that are great and really kick ass. In addition to that all the reverb that's used on the vocals and is placed in the background of the album actually works as something other than murky fog to make the band sound dark. There really isn't anything obstructing the guitars or vocals or drums or bass on here so the atmosphere in the background actually feels less like a crutch and more like an accessory. I also thought it was pretty cool how the band actually used synths to beef up some parts, hear the bridge of Fatal Power of Death; and sure, it may come across as a little bit cheesy but it works. It doesn't really distract from what came before the track but works in the context of that one section. The band also aren't afraid to branch out and hit you with a lot of ideas in one track either, Schizopsychotic Eruption is exactly what the title says, it's frenetic, jumping between black metal blasts, technical guitar interplay, and some more straight-forward thrash riffing. It's quick and gets the job done the way a good schizophrenic track should.
I was really impressed with this album, it's the sort of album I hope to find from the death metal genre each year. I only listened to this because I thought the cover was sort of cool but wound up finding a kickass band that really knows how to fuse death and black metal together while still retaining a sense of personality and not losing themselves in reverb. Definitely worth checking out if you're fans of death metal (of any sub-genre) because this is a pretty badass release that will hopefully knock you for a loop as much as it did me on my first listen through.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Whirlwinds, Fatal Power of Death, Consuming Black Void

Immolation - Kingdom of Conspiracy (2013)

Band: Immolation
Country: Yonkers, New York
Style: Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

Immolation was one of the first "true" death metal bands I can remember getting into. Back when Headbanger's Ball used to be on tv late at night and they'd show music videos I saw one for one of Immolation's songs and was struck by how well crafted the song was, even for my lack of "taste" in the genre at the time. Even with my rather disinterested view on death metal today I still wanted to make time for this new album from the band.
In the world of death metal today, there appears to be a trend in production to move back to the sound of the early to mid 90s, which I'm perfectly fine with. Several of those bands go the extra mile and try and tackle the whole cavecore sound or just try to rip-off Portal, whichever, depends on the band. The other trend is for more of a sterile sound, which, once again, I'm perfectly fine with. This, to me, seems more popular among older bands who probably got their bad production phase out of the way earlier on in their career and newer groups who have only heard records from the last ten or so years from these older bands and are busy listening to the likes of the new Black Dahlia Murder and other bands of that ilk. That leads to more of a positive view on clean production from their part. Personally, I'd rather have a dirty and messy sounding death metal album to one that is polished and extremely clean sounding. I think Immolation is a band that has struck a nice balance between the two. While the production on their more recent albums, including this one, definitely leans more towards the cleaner side of things in this regard, their more dissonant and atmospheric ideas have yet to be snuffed out.
This record maintains that streak of their for keeping a record clean while allowing their sound to remain aggressive and dark (I'd say Immolation is one of the darkest sounding death metal bands around, but that's just me). On this record you have the band in top form again, doing what they do best. But I have to say that I just did not get into this record as much as I wanted to. I certainly didn't hate it or anything like that, I actually like all the tracks enough, none of them would be what I consider to be bad, but it just didn't stick with me the way their last couple have. It doesn't have the scope of Majesty and Decay or the tension of Shadows In The Light, it certainly didn't have to have either of those things, but this record just didn't stay with me. Believe me when I say that the highlights on here are certainly highlights though. Songs like Echoes of Despair and closer All That Awaits Us are simply stellar pieces of death metal. They capture so perfectly what this band does, the brooding atmospheres, the weird sounding riffs, and the catchy songwriting and wraps them up finely in small packages.
So keep in mind, this is by no means a bad album, each and every track is perfectly fine, this just did not resonate with me as strongly as some past records have. I'd still say this is much better than a lot of more modern bands are doing (modern meaning newer in this case). If you like death metal please check this out regardless of this review because Immolation is a great band who deserves your ears and attention.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Echoes of Despair, The Great Sleep, All That Awaits Us

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Returning We Hear The Larks - Far Stepper/Of Wide Sea (2013)

Band: Returning We Hear The Larks
Country: Bristol, UK
Style: Djent/Progressive Death Metal
Label: Independent

I have to say that it's a real shame that Jak Noble has decided to put an end to his solo project Returning We Hear The Larks now that this album is released. Up until this point I've felt that he has slowly been crafting a sound that is unique and interesting within the djent genre. He has said that he will continue onward with new projects, but it's just a shame seeing how far he's taken this one.
As someone who's been following the project's evolution for several years at this point, it's somewhat disappointing to hear that it's ending after releasing what is its best album. After several years of releasing instrumental albums and EPs, including the excellent progressive rock found on Ypres in 2010, Noble decided to begin including vocals into the project, which manifested in the slightly more metalcore direction on 2011's Proud England EP, a release I wasn't especially fond of. That record felt like a disappointment to me, it abandoned the more interesting features of the previous full-length and began moving into a more accessible and less exciting direction. I wasn't sure what to expect from this full-length when it was first release. Yes, the song lengths were longer, but I knew that there were vocals used on it, and despite Noble's variety as a vocalist, he isn't the strongest singer - which resulted in some very irritating autotune on the EP. His harsher vocals were definitely stronger. His style was closer to deathcore vocalists than many pure death metal vocalists (but that's just me being picky) which I wasn't overly keen on there as well. I took a chance and downloaded the vocal version for this review, and damn was I surprised by the improvement.
Both vocally and instrumentally, this is a major step up from the project's last EP. I'll start with the vocals, which, while aren't drastically different to the style found on the EP, certainly fit better. The growls are lower and is the style used for the majority of the album, which is definitely a positive in my book. When singing is used it didn't sound as autotuned as it was previously, or at least that's what it sounded like to me. What I can say for sure is that they aren't as up front and in-your-face (the clean vocals I mean) as they were before and now appear to have been used more as an atmospheric device. They're softer and lighter, in a sense, but also higher in pitch, which is something I could see annoying people, but I thought it worked.
On the instrumental side, this album feels a lot more inspired by the likes of Vildhjarta than I expected. The grooves are a lot more staccato, if you will, for several tracks and more simplistic during other, but the overall tone of the grooves chosen is darker. It doesn't feel quite as stereotypical as many other djent projects and groups use (or maybe I'm just more fond of the style that I associate with Vildhjarta). You also get some more dissonant riffs, which is something I'm always fond to hear, listen to A Dæmon Hunted/The Flight of Perseus for the best examples of such. The atmospheres throughout recall Noble's work on the lighter Ypres, which is a good thing. While this record is definitely heavier and darker overall, it's nice to hear that Noble was able to retain the more melodic and gentle atmospheric touches from his past work. The bass is also nice and tumpy in the mix as well, though not entirely present in every song; but to be fair, it certainly sticks out when it needs to.
Obviously the beginning gave it away that I really dig this album. I think it's a major step up for Noble's writing and style and it's a shame that he's leaving the project behind almost as soon as he's found a sound that perfectly encapsulates what appear to be his influences (demonstrated through various covers he's put out). Definitely for the djent and progressive metal fans out there, but I'd recommend it to anyone who just wants to hear an interesting modern metal record this year.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Prologue: Stheno; Slain By Hand of Gods, A Dæmon Hunted/The Flight of Perseus

Uneven Structure - 8 (Reworked Version) EP (2013)

Band: Uneven Structure
Country: Metz, St-Etienne, Montpellier - France
Style: Progressive Metal/Djent
Label: Basick

Before Uneven Structure was the powerhouse they are today in the djent world, they were a small band who were known for working within the confines set by Meshuggah. The band have acknowledged this and had even said they weren't trying to be all that groundbreaking on the original 8 EP but simply wanted to put something out into the world. With the addition of an actual vocalist (who was present on their full-length) and a new drummer, the band decided to amp up the original recording with plenty of new features.
For as much as I admired the original version of this EP released several years ago, I think it was the charm and potential that stemmed from those original songs. The fact that the band just wanted to put something out despite knowing that it wasn't all that original a style at that point. The fact that it also featured Daniel Ädel of Vildhjarta on session vocals also brought out a bit more of a charm about it. But this new version of that EP features the band's actual vocalist(?) and extends the original length by a few minutes. While I don't think the original, raw charm is retained on here, it's a much more clear picture of where the band are at now. This is definitely a more polished sounding, more epic and ambient, and more dynamic version of what that original EP was. It feels like a more natural succession from Februus. But I have to say that I think the band has actually made the release better with since I don't remember the original version of The Designer's Lead being quite as catchy as the way it is on here.
So yeah, it's a solid little release that is sure to please both longtime fans and those who only recently came on board. While the original charm has given way to more polish and clarity in the actual songwriting, the band sound more alive than ever before. Hopefully this will grab those who missed out on it the first time around.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Higher Quiddity, The Designer's Lead, 8

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Eibon - II (2013)

Band: Eibon
Country: Paris, France
Style: Doom/Sludge Metal
Label: Aesthetic Death

I was rather impressed with Eibon's first full-length album Entering Darkness back in 2010. Since then I haven't really kept tabs on the band too much, but I did remember them when I saw this album. Obviously I thought the cover was pretty cool, so I took the opportunity to finally review this.
It has to be said from the offset that this album definitely takes the sound the band had established on their debut and really makes strips away the fat of most other genres gave the debut full-length. This new album sees them take most of that away and simplify things to the palette of doom and sludge metal. By doing that however, they've managed to write two tracks that both top the eighteen minute mark. These tracks, despite actually making use of some pretty badass riffs, like to stay within the realms of slow, droning chords. Coming from someone who has enjoyed quite a bit of funeral doom from time to time, I don't have a problem with extended and/or drawn-out chord sequences, but rarely have I encountered a band who could make time pass by as quickly as this one did by doing that. Granted, they don't stick to that for an entire song, but there's an entire section in The Void Settlers where that's done before each instrument begins to go off on its own tangent and it just captivated me. Rarely has a doom/sludge metal track of this length passed the time so quickly for me. The band manage to shift speeds and tempos without even coming off as an attempt to even cross pollinate into another genre, which is weird to me. They increase in speed and intensity, but it never comes off as a death metal, hardcore, black metal, etc. part but more like an actual sludge metal part. It's intense and grinding, and that is something that has been lost in the sludge genre in recent years, or at least from what I've seen of it anyway.
Elements of Doom returns to a more dissonant black metal style that was toyed with on the last full-length. With it's twenty-three minute length, it has plenty of room to draw itself out, but actually keeps things engaging for the better part of it's running time. With nice and bright distorted chords being set against the lower and drawn-out doom parts, something that was used on the previous track as well, there becomes this crystal clear sense of dynamic songwriting. The band doesn't jump into calmer or softer sections but instead just knows how to moderate their intensity instead of pounding away in the doom world for an entire song or blasting in with the black metal one. The fact that they remain distorted and heavy for the majority of the record, if not the whole damn thing, and still manage to make these epic songs interesting and dynamically involving is impressive. While I could have done without the extended intro and outro to this track, which equals out to about six or seven minutes when put together, everything in between is damn good stuff.
So yeah, overall this was a pretty killer piece of doom/sludge metal. I'll be hardpressed to find another album in the sludge world, maybe even the doom one, that manages to top this one in shear quality. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of heavy, dynamic, and aggressive, but still slower, forms of metal, it's one of the best things I've heard come out from those genres so far this year.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Void Settlers

2013 - Split II

It's been awhile since I've done one of these split articles. Honestly, I've been busy trying to keep up with everything else I plan on covering and this article has sort of been pushed to the wayside but I promised to cover one of these so I needed to at least do one of these. Aside from that I just haven't come across as many splits that I want to cover this year. But here's a couple for you to check out here. Once again, rated between 1-8.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Combat Astronomy - Kundalini Apocalypse (2013)

Band: Combat Astronomy
Country: Saint Paul, Minnesota
Style: Avant-Garde Metal/Experimental Rock
Label: Zond

I've known about Combat Astronomy peripherally, for maybe a year or two at this point. I had seen them listed on a couple of lists of experimental and avant-garde metal groups but never got around to actually listening to any of their albums. So the day I happened to be scouring blogs to see what was out, I happened upon this and figured that I'd give it a shot.
For some reason when I looked this album up it was categorized as djent, which I don't really get. There is definitely synchronization between the guitar, bass, and drum parts but I can't say it ever really approached what is typically associated with that sub-genre. The grooves that this album approaches, I would say, are less Meshuggah rip-offs and more like Meshuggah was jamming with some sort of avant-jazz group. Aside from the use of horns and reed instruments on here, a lot of the drumming itself takes a more jazzy approach. It's less straight groove and more free, at least that's what I got from it. But the guitars and the bass definitely go for that bottom-heavy tone, without a doubt. The first time I listened to this album I didn't even think that there was guitar on most of the album because the 8-string was just so low and has this tone that really locks it in with the bass tone. It sort of confused me at first because when I looked the band up, the credits to this album clearly state that a guitar is used on here, but I really had to listen to it and try to find the different tones between the guitar and bass. In addition to that, there's so much stuff going on on here that you'll actually question what you're hearing if you're in a public place or anywhere where you can't simply focus on the music. On the second track, Path Finders, I can remember listening to it while I was in school and I kept looking over my shoulder because I kept hearing this organ tone but when I paused the song, there was no music playing (people were talking) but it's one of those weird experiences.
With all that being said, solely in the regard to songwriting, this album is a bit lackluster. That's not to say I don't like the sound of the album, because it's really interesting and strange, but the problem is just that I didn't think any of the songs stuck with me. None of the grooves really kept me as interested as what all the additional instrumentation was, from the drumming to the saxophone and clarinet solo to the organs and various electronic effects being played throughout. I found those to be the real highlight of this disc. When the guitars break away from the typical low-end grooves, I did find that it benefitted the band. Being less reliant on just low-end definitely did lend a sense of character to the songs that featured that element. But I have to be fair and honest and say that the lack of memorable songwriting did impact my overall enjoyment of the album. It also didn't help much that the album is pretty samey throughout, you don't really get a major shift in tempo (things are pretty mid-paced for the entire record, for the most part) or departures into either straight-up jazz or ambient or whatever, but you stay within this very, I hate to say it but, monotone sound for the better part of ten songs. Yes there are certainly parts where you get saxophone over ambiance or an almost trip-hop-esque intro, hear Wrong Wheels, but neither last long enough to really shift the impact of what you're hearing. The trip-hop beat eventually gives way to what you heard on the previous six songs and the sax solo eventually turns into a guitar drone that doesn't really shift the tone either. It isn't until the last two songs when things take more of a tonal shift as well as a sonic one, but, at least for me, by then it was too little too late.
So, while that last paragraph certainly was a bit negative, I have to say that I still enjoyed this record. It was fun and quirky and interesting to listen to even if it was a bit too samey for my own tastes. Hopefully some of you wind up checking this thing out and find out about a cool band though, if you're interested in jazz and metal fusions.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Quiet Mutiny, Telos, Cave War

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bangladeafy - The Briefcase EP (2013)

Band: Bangladeafy
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Jazz Fusion
Label: Nefarious Industries

Bangladeafy was a duo I had never heard of before being sent the promo for this EP. The title of it surprised me enough to make me want to cover it, as weird as that might sound. The Briefcase is just such a strange title for a release that I was very curious what the band would actually sound like because of it.
This was very interesting because when I put this on I didn't know anything about the band but by the time those twelve minutes finished, I was left with smile on my face and a feeling of utter joy. This drum and bass duo play just that, drums and bass (with occasional vocals, and some addition flairs thrown in as well) in a very aggressive and somewhat spastic way and yet never once did I feel bored. Maybe you can blame that on the fact that this release is six songs long and only the closer, Pest Control, tops three minutes. It's a lesson in frenetic songwriting because these two guys take what is essentially some of my favorite ideas and do them. It's jazz, it's fusion, to an extent, it's funk, it's progressive rock but it's done in a way that definitely pushes towards the intensity of metal, at times sounding like a collaboration between Les Claypool (Primus) and Billy Rymer (The Dillinger Escape Plan) might sound like. There's also a bit of weirdness that I almost relate to Tom Waits as well, I don't even understand that, but there's a similarity in the absurdity in here and the kind expressed on Waits' material. Tracks move from surprisingly danceable to headbangingly aggressive, and there's plenty in between for your listening pleasure.
This was an absolute treat and is definitely one of my favorite EPs to drop this year. Certainly didn't expect this one but so glad for the opportunity to find out about this really awesome duo. If you have some spare time, do yourself a favor and give this twelve minute release a listen, I highly recommend it. It's awesome, not much more I can say besides that.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Dumpster Fire, Tubes

Serj Tankian - Jazz-iz Christ (2013)

Band: Serj Tankian
Country: Beirut, Lebanon
Style: Avant-Garde/Jazz Fusion
Label: Serjical Strike

Though I don't think he needs any introduction at this point, for those who are unaware, this is Serj Tankian and he sings/sang in System of A Down. It's debatable that he's had a more successful career as a solo musician than he did when he was with his band, though he certainly couldn't have had this without the band. But for those who think they know what he's all about might be a bit shocked by what this record actually is.
As you could probably already tell from just the cover art and album title, along with the style description listed above, this is a jazz record. But to be accurate I guess, it's a jazz fusion record. It's certainly worthy of note that this isn't Tankian's first venture outside of the metal/rock style that he originally made his name from, whether it was 2010's Imperfect Harmonies, which blended elements of jazz, electronica, and orchestral music with his more standard rock base, or Orca from earlier this year, which was a strictly classical record, he is certainly a musician who wants to explore different styles of music. Genre matters little to him and it's apparent from track one on here that he has no intention of limiting himself to a simply rock/metal. Though to be fair, this is not a strictly jazz record (it is fusion remember) because he certainly still manages to throw in a bit of a rock flair into a couple of tracks as well as a pretty decent amount of electronic effects throughout. But those expecting this to suddenly burst into a big rock riff or for him to start screaming or yelling will be sorely disappointed by what they find on here. Tankian actually doesn't even sing for about half of the record to be honest, and that's just fine.
In addition to just the style on here it has to be said that Tankian did a fantastic job putting all of this together. From the production to the actual performances, this is as convincing a style shift as I've ever heard. There isn't anything on here that goes against that jazz sound that he was clearly going for, even when he does dip into other genres, there is never any doubt that you're listening to something other than a jazz (fusion) record. In regards to the production, it's very clean but not slick, which I was actually surprised by. I expected more of a pristine sound to this (maybe because of all the jazz I've reviewed on here I've become accustomed to that sound) but this is very open sounding. It sounds like a performance was captured and there wasn't much additional processing done to it besides panning and mixing, at least for the better part of this record. It also flows pretty seamlessly from one track to the next, giving it the vibe of a single piece of music.
I also have to give it to the man that he was able to create a jazz record that doesn't get stale after a few listens. Each track is pretty short, most are under five minutes so despite there being fifteen tracks on here, each one is relatively short. He also managed to assemble a variety of instruments for these pieces; so whether it's piano, organ, or electronic synthesizers or drums, bass, and sitar, or even trumpet, saxophone, and clarinet (among other instruments) each track has a variety of sounds to access. On Balcony Chats in particular it almost felt like Tankian was channeling a bit of Devin Townsend's acoustic and new age material as well. While vocals are used on End of Time, his vocals don't even appear until track seven, Distant Things, which, once again, may disappoint some fans.
Surprisingly enough I actually really dug this album. I don't think it's my favorite album that Tankian has been a part of (so solo and SOAD) but it is certainly a well intentioned and successful shift into a genre I don't think many fans expected from him. Hopefully if you dig any sort of jazz you'll give this one a chance.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Arpeggio Bust, Yerevan to Paris, Balcony Chats, Miso Soup

Brainkiller - Colourless Green Superheroes (2013)

Band: Brainkiller
Country: Texas/Mexico/Tokyo
Style: Free Jazz/Experimental Rock
Label: RareNoise

Coming from someone who never intended to originally write reviews for jazz-based albums, I still find it somewhat odd that I've wound up covering the style as much as I have (especially this year). Since the review will talk about the music on this record I'll just get it out of the way first and say that I really don't like this cover, not that it has any impact on what's inside. But to say that I was slightly more apprehensive when first listening to this wouldn't be an understatement.
A cool cover can greatly increase ones own interest in an album and I did put this one off for a while longer than I probably would have otherwise had it not been for that (among other things not having to do with music at all). But like many of the records that RareNoise has put out, things are not as they appear. Jazz it certainly is, but it's certainly not dull or traditional to be sure. Much of this plays out like pop music, in the sense that it does not really segue too far into improvisational sections without returning to the original idea and keeps things compact and melodic, albeit more offbeat and quirky than pop music. There's an electronic quality to the performances (granted the use of electronics are used throughout the album) but it feels less reliant on such tricks to make the songs interesting or appealing. If you stripped away the vocals and electronics you'd still have a fun and poppy fusion record that could probably still appeal to a random person on the street. It's a nice bridge between more traditional jazz tunes and more friendly pop music, Top of The World for example, and despite my love for much of what RareNoise releases, this is probably the one I could give to some of my friends and they could get into the easiest.
There are plenty of times when I listen to a jazz record and it's all fine and good, obviously the players are talented and highly skilled, but at the end of the day, once a song finishes, I couldn't really tell you anything much about it. That's where this record succeeds. At the end of the day it's all about how well a song you've written, really how memorable it is, and this is a record that all three musicians should really be proud of. This is catchy without being overbearing or "obviously" catchy - hopefully that makes sense. Some of it is more traditional than others, being the sort of stuff you might hear if you walk into a clothing store and they have a player piano just sitting there, but I never found that to be as irritating simply because it was contained. It didn't feel like I had to endure this long and drawn out piano solo with accompaniment. On the flip side of that you have those more fun, quirky, and poppy tracks, songs like Scribble or Secret Mission that really stick in your head because it's more upbeat and melodically grabbing. Obviously I have my own favorite tracks, but really it's hard to pick highlights here because there were so many tracks that were damn catchy and fun to listen to on repeat.
So if you have any doubt about this being interesting, you can throw that to the wayside because this does not disappoint. It's seriously relaxing, catchy, and quite captivating throughout, which are three adjectives I usually use separately when talking about jazz (but most genres really...) but this one really does impress. If you've ever been weary about jazz, this might be a good place to start as it really does make itself pretty palatable while still retaining it's traditional sensibilities.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Scribble, Plates, Otaku Goes to A Rave

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Artaius - The Fifth Season (2013)

Band: Artaius
Country: Sassuolo, Italy
Style: Progressive/Folk Metal
Label: Moonlight

I don't really know folk metal too well, for better or worse, it's not a (sub)-genre I'm particularly invested in. There are certainly some very good bands, but they are far and few in between all the repetitive groups who continually rehash each other. I'm taking a gamble here, I was sent this album and want to give it a chance (as always, this preamble... was written before everything else).
I'm not going to pretend that I like folk metal, as I said above there are some good bands out there, but I've had a few too many encounters with groups that sound exactly like Korpiklaani or Finntroll for my tastes. If I'm sent a folk metal album, I'll listen to it, but I'm very wary of how much cheese there is and how "happy" they sound. I'm all for sounding joyous and whatever, but there's a point when I'm listening to it when I just can't take it seriously anymore and I just turn it off. I get bored and I get irritated. The press release I was sent with this album claimed it had some more progressive rock leanings as well as the typical folk metal ones, which was enough for me to at least press play on the first track. Honestly, when this thing began, I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by what the band displayed on here. Yes there's cheese and all the stereotypical folk melodies that you and I and your sibling/parental figure/friends have heard done dozens of times before, but unlike those bands, this felt much less "metallic" and much less "happy".
I'll start with the former first. In terms of sheer heaviness, this band won't be high on your list. They have distortion on their guitars and bass, but honestly, it's more like rock heavy rather than metal heavy; and before you over-think it, I don't mean modern rock, think 90s rock - and not like hard rock. Think progressive rock here. Though the band still try and appeal to modern fans by adding in some rather odd sounding death metal growls throughout the album. I don't mean it's odd that they're using them, but they just sound odd in conjunction with a band that isn't all that heavy. It just sounds weird. When it come to sounding happy, I think it's all a result of the heaviness not being super heavy (man I'm using heavy so much in this paragraph) that this record doesn't sound exactly the same as every other cooky-cutter folk metal group in terms of sounding happy and already half-drunk. This has a bit more of a serious tone to it, the tone isn't quite as lighthearted. Listen to a song like Over The Edge for example, a track like this could be the prototypical folk metal song, with a poppy chorus and simplistic riffs - excluding the jazzy interlude - but the tone doesn't ever shift it into parody. The keyboards used throughout the album have a very particular tone, and for the longest time I couldn't place why they sounded familiar. In the closing section of Wind of Truth it finally hit me, the keyboard sounds reminded me of those used on Ayreon albums, which isn't a bad thing in my book at all.
Frankly, the main female vocals (since two of the women in the band perform vocals I won't say which is which) at times were a bit annoying. I don't get into the operatic style all that much (a reason why I don't listen to power or symphonic metal too often) but it was definitely more tolerable on here than many other bands make it, not simply due to the death growls used, but because the clean singing wasn't always delivered at that operatic range. There are plenty of spots on here where it straight melodic singing, not all this over-the-top stuff that is so commonly associated with female singers these days. It's a stereotype for sure (one that I'm certainly guilty of putting on bands) but I'm glad that there is at least one band who's singer knows that that style isn't required on every song.
This is definitely one of the best records I've heard from this genre in quite a long time and I'm glad that it came from a band I was not familiar with rather than one I was. I know some people won't give this record a chance because of the style the band play but if you're open minded, you give this one a shot. Fans of folk metal/rock as well as prog-rock fans should definitely give this one a shot, I seriously don't think you'll regret it.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Over The Edge, Horizon, Wind of Truth