I was originally not going to post about this first album only because I didn't think I could really do justice to it but after recieving this second album I decided to just throw them together into a single article.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Country: Wellington, New Zealand
Label: Handmade Birds
In the world of noise and drone music, OLWDTW has to be one of my personal favorite projects. I couldn't tell you why, but I was able to grab onto the music in a way that I couldn't for other projects and groups. Ever since I heard that HMB was going to be releasing an album from this project of Campbell Kneale I was anxiously awaiting to hear what it would sound like.
Now, I'll just make a statement right now that is pretty irrelevant to the rest of this album, but I am not Birchville Cat Motel. With that being said, I'm going to move on. I haven't heard most of OLWDTW's albums that were released in the last two years or so, for one reason or another mainly having to do with how I distribute my cash flow, but that's beside the point, so I can't say how the project's sound has really expanded or been explored since 2009's Fucking Dracula Clouds. Listening to this album, there are definitely similarities between the two stylistically, but not so much that it would seem like no progress has been made. What with this being a double-album with nearly two hours worth of music and ideas, you're obviously bound to hear both new ideas and ones that are more similar to older material.
Personally, this album was a lot different from what I initially recalled the project sounding like. So I went back and both listened to and skimmed through various other albums by the project and found that I wasn't so far off the mark. Once again, I haven't really heard a whole lot of the material that OLWDTW has released in the last two years, but what's on here is far more percussive and less noisy and less stereotypical of "drone" than the early releases were. This is far more in the realm of IDM, at least to me, and is always what I thought it might sound like if a drone artist took up making electronic music. There were also a few moments where the choice of beats and the noise around them also sounded surprisingly hip-hop like, that might just be me, but listen to the end of Forgotten Stormbringer and tell me if you happen to hear it as well. It's very repetitive, obviously, but the noisy soundscape that hides behind the beats is constantly shifting and changing. There are still a couple of tracks on here that are without a doubt more of what you'd typically expect from a project like this, the noise/drone type of stuff, as well as the shoegazy, semi-Loveliescrushing sort of stuff that Kneale experimented with for a little while. All three styles are done well and pulled off interestingly enough to keep your attention while always kind of teasing towards something more elaborate.
With all that being said, I can't lie and say that I wasn't a bit disappointed by this album. I hold OLWDTW to a pretty high standard, in comparison to other noise and drone based artists that is, and this did let me down in some ways. Maybe it's the fact that there was that two year long gap where I really don't know what the material sounds like so this surprised me, or maybe it's the length, because it does begin to drag near the hour point, but there were just some aspects that let me down. While I do enjoy a good portion of the material on here, tracks like the bouncy Zine Boredom or the schizophrenic arcade machine that is Icy Reptile Swastikas just go on and on. Since most of the tracks on here tend to hover somewhere around the nine minute mark, which isn't all that long considering tracks in the project's discography have topped the thirty minute mark in the past, so the length of them doesn't bother me as much. I just think that some of the ideas, like on the two tracks mentioned above, are just bad and are not all that interesting, which leads to them just being boring. A track like Blindness Black Battalion, which is one of the shorter tracks on the album, winds up being one of the best because if feels more focused and is pretty abrasive without going overboard into full-blown noise. It's a nice blend of both old ideas and newer ones. I really wanted to love this record, but it wound up just failing to live up to my expectations (yet another reason I should try and cast those aside to begin with, but what can you do at this point).
I hate to say it because I really like OLWDTW and I love Handmade Birds, but this was a disappointing album for me. It's not bad, I want to make it clear that this is not a bad album, but it is over long and I do think that a couple of tracks could have been removed. I still recommend checking this out because everything HMB puts out is worth buying and I still hold OLWDTW to a high standard in the noise/drone styles.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Forgotten Stormbringer, Blindness Black Battalion, Thousands Raised to The Sixth
Monday, July 30, 2012
Country: Santiago, Chile
Style: Alternative Rock/Folk Metal
Label: A Sad Sadness Song
For many of you, Bauda will more than likely be a new name, but if you happen to have listened to the right album recently, the name might actually ring a bell. It's not their debut, 2009's Oniirica, that will likely stick out to you, but more the song they contributed to the Whom The Moon A Nightsong Sings compilation a few years ago. Maybe now the band's name will ring a bell?
I'm not actually sure how much acclaim the project, now band, had gotten thanks to the exposure from being a part of that compilation, but this new album definitely has a different approach from the work that preceded it. Stylistically, the band has grown, but the biggest shift from past material is the use of vocals, they're actually used. Stylistically, the band combine elements of post-rock, folk music, alternative rock/metal, and ambient music into a sound that is quite unique. While the last full-length kind of expressed these sounds intermingled together in an ever flowing album, this album tends to favor a more song-to-song approach where some ideas may be more present than others depending on the track at hand. Some tracks on here are very calm and mellow, not really reaching a breaking point until the last minutes of a track, like opener Ghosts of Phantalassa for example, but on the other side of that you have a track like Silhouettes which is one of the more "aggressive", and I use that work lightly, tracks on the album. It's very straightforward in comparison to other tracks, and it kind of reminded me of what it might sound like if the Deftones (or maybe it's more like Porcupine Tree) ever decided to try and write a pop-punk song. It's very up-beat and danceable, but still interesting, not at all one-dimensional like most pop-punk, if you could even call it that.
It has to be said, this is not a heavy album, while distorted guitars are given a fare-share of time in tracks, I'd really have to call into question what you consider metal if you said this was heavy. A lot of the record's structures come from post-rock, where the majority of a track will be kept at that mellow, dreamy, sometimes folk-ish pace until you reach a climax and distorted guitars will enter into the picture. Now not every song on the album is that way, obviously, based on what I said above, but about half of it is. Personally, while the distorted moments are nice and all, they certainly spice up the picture that is this album and add that extra color that's needed to keep a listener's attention (at least my attention), the softer passages were the ones that wound up being some of the best on here.
This, at least in my opinion, is an album of moods and an album of melodies. Like I mentioned above, each track does have its own kind of idea going for it, The Great Escape is more of a calm and straightforward folk rock tune while Acension, the track that directly follows it, is a very dynamic sort of progressive post-rocker, with really nice melody flowing through it while shifting textures throughout. I could also say that the former is more of a somber and very direct kind of track while the latter is, and I'm kind of hesitant to use this word but, inspirational, or uplifting.
In the end, it's an enjoyable record for anyone who happens to enjoy post-rock or more modern progressive rock leaning (Porcupine Tree worship bands I mean). The record has a few tracks that don't really do much for me, but the greater majority of tracks are all interesting and enjoyable. Definitely a must for fans of progressive music, even if this is a bit more of the mellow side (even with distortion).
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Humanimals, Silhouettes, Acension
Country: Lawrence, Kansas
Style: Stoner/Doom Metal
Label: 20 Buck Spin
I've been waiting for this album for a good while. Samothrace, believe it or not, was one of the first stoner/doom based groups that I ever got into. Since my first discovery of them three or four years ago I've been waiting for new material, and here it is.
I'll just start off by saying that I am a bit disappointed by the fact that there are only two tracks on here, regardless of the quality of the either of them, I do feel a bit let down by that. For both tracks topping ten minutes, they both pass by almost surprisingly quickly and it's almost a shame that they do because at the end of the record you're just left wanting more. Aside from that, there is very little to complain about on here musically. The band is in top form delivering, easily, some of their best and most interesting material yet. The quality of both tracks is definitely above par and surpasses their material on 2008's Life's Trade album, which is no small feat in my eyes since that was one of the albums that first got me into any form of stoner metal/rock. Granted, since this is just my opinion here, it's hard for me to say this next statement will apply to everyone, but this is the sort of quality I like material from the stoner inflected genres to be at. Not all of the ideas on here are original, but the way they're constructed, performed, and arranged makes them work in ways that very few other bands from that genre manage to.
Opener When We Emerged is an interesting pieces that channels more of a traditional doom sound than the band's crust and stoner inflected ideas would initially suggest to a listener. Not to say that they aren't there at all, but for me, it's more Candlemass than Sleep, though that may be like splitting hairs in this case. This track is the heavier of the two, with the band staying pretty crushing aside from the track's introduction. The closer, A Horse of Our Own, by comparison does call upon more of that stoner vibe, once again, I'm just splitting hairs, but definitely has more blues oriented riffs. The incorporation of a calmer and more atmospheric sections definitely does wonders for the song's structure, lending more weight to the heavy parts. I'd also say that calmer section will do wonders for all smokers out there, as it just sort of has this kind of hazy ambiance to it that makes it feel almost psychedelic. The whole thing ends with this passage that sort of jumps between doom and drone while still maintaining that trippy atmosphere from earlier on in the song. I really don't have a whole lot to complain about with either of these songs, they're both great.
As you probably deduced from the opening of this review, I am a fan of the band and this album didn't let me down, except on one front. It's a great stoner/doom album that is head and shoulders above the band's piers. Definitely do yourself a favor and check this album out, you will not regret it.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: A Horse of Our Own
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Country: Seattle, Washington
Style: Death/Doom Metal
Label: Dark Descent
Time for another death/doom album, though one that's been getting a bit more praise than others as of recently. I wanted to cover this for a long while but just kept putting it off until now. I recently put on my Ipod and began listening to it and I think it's about time I finally get to it.
What with the whole cavecore sound going around, any band playing death/doom is subject to a bit more skepticism, and prejudice (but that one's more subjective), than they perhaps would have had placed on them a couple of years ago. Though Anhedonist don't strictly adhere to the same code of conduct that other cavecore groups like Impetuous Ritual or Antediluvian do, preferring for more of an emphasis on slug-paced intensity over atmosphere and angular riffing patterns, they still have similarities between them. There's no denying that the atmosphere on here is very similar to that dank and cave-like ambiance that the groups above, as well as many others, have. What I will say in the band's favor though is that in crafting an album with only four songs that is just over forty minutes, that sound doesn't really become stale or tiring. Along with that, I have to say that when the band pump out a melody, it actually works. Most cavecore groups (and I do apologize for bringing that up repeatedly) don't typically make use of melody, and if they do, I obviously don't remember it, but it works well when it's used on here.
Probably everything that this album is about is all in the last song, Inherent Opprobrium. Being a fifteen minute closer, it should come as no surprise that it does contain a little bit of everything in the band's arsenal thus far as well as experiment a bit more, show a little bit of where the band might go in the future. The short little clean passage that opens up the track is something that I could definitely see the band embracing as a bigger part of their sound in the future, though I doubt they'd ever take it as far as Ahab did on their new album. Once you get into the meat of the track though, the dirge grooves that the band pump out are top-notch and definitely pump the track up to a higher level than the first two tracks would have you believe, but melody is still maintained. I think that it's sort of interesting how the band have been compared to the likes of Mournful Congregation, because the band's are somewhat similar, but as of right now, I don't think that Anhedonist is at the same level of songwriting as their Australian brethren are, though they've had more than a decade to craft their sound so it shouldn't come as any surprise. I do think that Anhedonist could certainly reach a similar level in time though, as this song demonstrates.
Overall, it's a really enjoyable album if you happen to like death/doom. I wish I had more to say on this album, but it's just sort of there, laid out on a plate in front of you and I hope you enjoy it. I can't really think of too much to dislike about it.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Carne Liberatus, Inherent Opprobrium
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Country: Szeged, Hungary
Style: Technical Thrash/Death Metal
Like I've said numerous times before, I'm not a huge advocator of thrash metal, that remains true. However, as of recently, I have been becoming more aware of more interesting thrash acts out there. Farcry sent me their album a few months ago, and now I think I'm ready to talk about it.
I will say that much like the Aggression album I covered a couple of weeks back, this band also has a heavy Atheist influence coming through their sound. While I don't think the guitar riffs are as technical or "progressive" as the likes of Atheist or even Aggression, the bass work more than makes up for it. There are jazzy lines thrown into nearly every song and some nice fill on a couple of tracks as well, and I have to say that the bass work is easily the highlight of the album. The only time I had a problem with the bass work was on The Surgeon, where it just felt like the bass was sort of hindering the more straightforward nature of the song by plucking it in the verses. The guitar work is more of a fusion of ideas from groups like the aforementioned Atheist, Meshuggah grooves, Exodus and early Metallica speed, and maybe some death metal palm-muted stuff as well. It's a pretty wide selection of ideas coming through on here and the band pull it off with relative ease. But like most thrash based bands, there are some things lacking in terms of diversity from song to song. With only ten tracks, one being an intro, most of these songs are quick and snappy, but I kind of like it when there's perhaps a song that's a little bit slower, or just shows a wider array of tempos explored on here; but, it's a debut so I guess I shouldn't expect so much.
In terms of songwriting, I think that the band do have a lot going for them. By making use of, at least what appears to be, a wide variety of influences, they can write songs that are more straightforward thrashers as well as more technical ones that make use of more stop-start riffing patterns and they pull both off rather well. As the album progresses, the band begin demonstrating a higher degree of proficiency in the songcraft, really living up to the progressive influences. Riffs begin to become more technical, harmonies begin to pop up more, songs begin to become more complex structurally, and there's more room give to instrumental passages, all in all, the band just up their game. I will say that tempos also become more varied (with more progressive songs, I would hope so) but I still think I would like to hear the band tackle a straight-up mid-tempo or slow track, even if it's mediocre, I think it would just really spice up their sound, remember, death-doom is still good. Longer songs do wind up showing the best sides of the band's sound and I think that exploring lengthier tracks would not hurt them, if the songs on here are any indication of where the band is heading for the future.
Definitely a solid and interesting thrash metal album that is far better than anything else the genre has pumped out recently. Both this and Aggression stand as some of the best newer thrash acts and I can only hope that more bands like this continue to spice up the genre. If you dig thrash or even death metal, I think you'll enjoy this album quite a bit.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Awakening Under Stones, Reflections, Being Under
Country: Mawson, Australia
Style: Blackened Thrash/Death Metal
By the name alone I knew that I had to cover this album. How could I resist a band with a name so blatant and blasphemous, it was like a no brainer. It's extreme metal, it's a middle finger to all things Godly and virtuous, of course I'd have to at least listen to it.
Maybe it's just me who thinks this way but as someone who's listened to a decent amount of bands with names as blatant as this one, I was expecting something pretty straightforward, brutal, and intense. I was thinking of something more along the lines of bands like Angelcorpse, Dark Funeral, or Blasphemy, that's not what I got. Sure, this is still pretty straightforward and the tricks used on here aren't going to surprise you if you've heard bands like the ones above and explored the death and black metal genre to a pretty good extent, but this was surprisingly varied. As the bands above should exemplify, I was thinking this would be like non-stop blast-beats, or at least constant intensity, but the band exhibit a good range of ideas on here, through the use of dynamics, technicality, and melody. Granted, there's still a very healthy dose of your traditional death and black metal blasting on here, but it's nice to hear a band mix it up with some different ideas now and then.
While the first two songs on here are pretty full on blackened death metal tracks, with traces of the aforementioned other elements thrown in here and there, track three, Litany of The Wretched, is really where the band started to grab me. This song in particular is what made me sit up and take notice of what the band was doing from this point on, and is what made me return to the album again. The song isn't all that fast and is far more spacious with an eerie sort of atmospheric lead melody driving the song forward, I just thought it was a really interesting track. The same sort of atmospheric guitar tone is used later on as well, but more in a typical lead sense, but is still pretty effective. With all that being said, I'm certainly no snob (despite what some may say), I'm perfectly satisfied with simplicity in songwriting. Immaculate Deception is a pretty standard mid-paced black metal song, with slow middle section included, and is one of the best tracks on the entire disc. There honestly isn't a whole lot going on in the song, but it's really well executed and performed and manages to stand out. Hell, the second half of the album has plenty of thrash riffs scattered throughout, and they're not exactly super technical, but they're still catchy. I thought the band managed to mix the three styles (death, black, and thrash) together pretty well, and even though they all borrow from each other often enough, I still feel like being able to transition from an up-beat thrash riff into a more melodic one, hear closer Thy Kingdom Undone, while still bringing in plenty of black metal tremolo picking is an impressive feat.
I wasn't really expecting a whole lot from this release coming in but I was really surprised by it. By the end of the album I could safely say that I enjoyed a very solid blackened death metal album, if nothing else. I highly doubt it'll blow anyone away but it you happen to dig extreme metal (it's pointless for me to be more specific than that) than I think you'll probably find something on here to enjoy.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Litany of The Wretched, Immaculate Deception, Origins of Iniquity
Country: Soenderborg, Denmark
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Hell's Headbangers
I wasn't really sure where to begin with this one. When I saw the cover I imaged that it would be some sort of retro death metal album, little did I know that the band was actually a black metal band after looking them up. Even coming into the album though, it was a lot different from what I expected.
This was sort of a weird little album for me because with the above statement leading me to believe this was one kind of album and it really being another, and then me actually listening to the album and it being different than I expected, it's been a rather odd experience. Musically, these guys bring an interesting, at the very least that's what you could call it, version of the atmospheric black metal sound. In a way, it kind of reminded me of last year's Stained Glass Revelations album from Negative Plane in that it was a black metal album that had all these weird psychedelic and progressive kind of ideas, though this album isn't nearly as overt with them as Negative Plane was. Sonically, this is still pretty rooted in early Venom, Burzum, a little bit of Mayhem, along with some other stuff that is a bit harder to really place, there are ideas that definitely belong to the first-wave of black metal, what with a ton of thrashy riffs being used throughout, but there are also ideas that are very modern as well. Some of the tremolo sections reminded me a lot of a group like Krallice while a lot of the melodies are actually quite neo-classical like, which was a little odd. It was a very strange mixture of ideas.
I was quite impressed with the diversity exhibited throughout the album, each track has its own feel and vibe while it's consistent in mood throughout. Whether it happens to be a straightforward early blackened thrash kind of track, hear Funeral, or a more progressive track that utilizes space as much as intensity, The Cursed Chamber, the band is well versed in their craft and know what to do show it off, and I mean that in the best possible way. While I do think that some of the tracks are a bit too long, most of them are around the nine minute mark, they all at least bring some thought provoking ideas and structures to the table. Chances are that if you're not keen on one section of a song, another might entice more, at least that's how it was for me. The band always try and mix things up by including things like cleaner passages, more doomy riffs, neo-classical melodies, more trippy atmospheres and stuff like that into the mix, so I think the longer song lengths are justified, but whether you can endure a song for that long is another problem. These aren't like super progressive or avant-garde epics where you have multiple ideas coming at you in the same song. Most of these tracks have several ideas and a central theme that they return to, hence, you could say that it's more of a song than what many avant-garde groups tend to produce, but I do think that there are moments that do drag on here.
I think that if you're a black metal fan and you can accept a healthy dose of experimentation in your albums/bands, you'll find a pretty cool album here. Though it did take me a little while to really get into the album, it did turn out to be an interesting listen. If you like black metal records, check this one out.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Behind The Coffin's Lid, Bones Turn to Dust, Pendulum Swings
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Country: São Paulo, Brazil
Style: Post-Black/Funeral Doom Metal
Label: Solitude Productions
Despite being aware of Abske Fides for a little while now (I'm pretty sure I first found them when I went through that whole dsbm phase a few years back), this is the first time I've actually listened to them. I saw this album around the blogs but didn't wind up checking it out till one of the band members told me about it. I came into this thinking I knew what I was getting myself into, obviously, I was wrong.
Based on the fact that I had seen the funeral doom tag attached to them I expected them to sound like that, slow and heavy, maybe with some more atmospheric stuff. As I, and you as well should you decide to check out this album, found out, this record is so much more than your standard funeral doom record. Sure, it's roots are certainly in the Esoteric and Shape of Despair kind of vein, but influences from the likes of Lantlôs, Blut Aus Nord, and to an extent even Isis come through. While I almost always skim through an album before I decide to review it (just to see if it will interest me) I was genuinely surprised by the riffing on here when I was going through it because it was really cold and sort of mechanical sounding, hence the BAN reference, but was obviously rooted in the doom spectrum. I'd also say that the atmosphere on here is very urban and melancholic, which only adds to uniqueness of those mechanical riffs. I won't deny that some of that could have come from the band's experiences working in the depressive black metal genre, but luckily most of that sound has been weaned on here, making only subtle appearances in some songs through certain vocals, samples, or guitar passages. To reference the vocals quickly though, it's worth mentioning the variety used throughout the album, you have the standard black metal screams but there's also a few uses of guttural growls and whispering, as well as some surprisingly well done singing.
Based on what I had originally skimmed through which was the first few tracks, it was a little weird when the tracks that were closing out the album showed a much more restrained take on post-rock. The influence of post-rock can be heard in all the tracks on the album, to various degrees, but a song like Embroided In Reflections really embodies straight ahead, no nonsense post-rock. It retains the same atmosphere from the rest of the album but is very calm and steadfast in its direction and performance. Though that's probably the clearest and most well defined post-rock track on the album, The Coldness of Progress demonstrates it's influence in a different facet. Taking the rise-and-fall element from the genre and essentially transferring it into a very clean sounding doom song that is somewhat reminiscent of a group like Mourning Beloveth, proves to be a definite standout on the album with its bluesy leads and crushing climax. It's a very interesting track that definitely shows a strong sense of songwriting, though the whole album really shows that if I'm being honest about it, and mood that is rarely found on anything coming from the dsbm scene or new funeral doom groups. It's a very impressive debut.
I really enjoy the album, and while I think it could be a tad more memorable, I can't say I'll hold that against them because the album is just that well put together. Each song has its place and is different from the one before it just enough to make them all stand out in their own way. Definitely a really great first full-length for these guys, here's hoping they can write another album like this for the follow-up.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: The Coldness of Progress, Aesthethic Hallucination of Reality
Country: Zurich, Switzerland
Style: Death/Doom Metal
Label: Totalrust Music
Before I was told about this album by Totalrust Music, I had never heard of Shever before. Apparently the band is pretty well respected from what I've come across, which is a surprise to me. An all girl death-doom band, somehow it's not all that surprising nowadays, but I guess it surprised enough people when they first came out to get them noticed (because obviously people don't listen to music anymore when girls are involved - sarcasm).
Not that it really matters now, but the fact that I even told you that this was an all girl band probably would have surprised you if you had listened to this album before reading this because, honestly, lead vocalist Alexandra has a nice feral sounding scream that sounds a whole lot more brutal than anything I've heard someone like Angela Gossow ever do. I'd actually say her voice, singing/chanting included, is much closer to someone like Ludicra's own Laurie Sue Shanaman, who I have a lot more respect for incidentally. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that I actually like the music backing her more. It's death-doom without sounding too much like the classics, it doesn't hold the sort of primitivism or romanticism that we like to associate with the classic bands and instead has a much more naturalistic kind of atmosphere to it. I don't mean naturalistic in the sense that the production is raw and live, but more that I could perfectly imagine the band writing songs that portray their home environment. Tracks like opener Ritual of Chaos or Souls Colliding were extremely vivid in the world that they managed to convey through the music, it was beautiful but cold and empty. Having looked up photos of the band's home city, I'm actually a little surprised that this doesn't sound all that urbanized.
That sense of majestic beauty coming from huge landscapes is conveyed through riffs that maintain the weight of doom but are perhaps more active (not sure if that's really the right word) than your standard band. There's also a nice balance between the heavier riffs and the more clean passages, which I actually found to be a lot more melancholic for some reason. I think that the band have a nice blend when it comes to the two and it works in their favor especially when it comes to channeling this sort of landscape into music. I know I've brought that up a lot, but the music on here does actually make me envision the mountains, forests, and grasslands that come from their homeland, as cliché as that might sound. Having said all that, there are some moments on here that I just found to be really bland and dull. When this band is good, they are really good, but when they're bad, they're just boring. I guess you could call it lucky that it's actually the shortest track that are the most average and dull of all the songs on here. Je Suis Nee isn't bad, but is just really forgettable and doesn't really do anything extraordinary with the whole death-doom sound. That's not even saying that it needed to be unique, a track like (You Are) The Mirror is a pretty standard affair, it's nothing new stylistically, but it's well done and the main riff and vocal melody are solid and pretty catchy. I think that it's just a shame that there's one song on here that sort of holds back the rest, because aside from that one track, the rest of the album is really good.
As a whole, I really do like this record, which is saying a lot considering I thought half of it was boring on my first listen. It's not the kind of record that'll change the world, but for what it is, it's pretty damn good. I think that if you like doom metal, forget sub-genres, I think you'll find an enjoyable record here.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Ritual of Chaos, That He Na Te
Monday, July 23, 2012
Country: Portland, Oregon
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Dammerung Arts
Well I guess it was as much of a welcome surprise to me as to everyone else when the men in Agalloch decided to release a new piece of music so soon after 2010's critically acclaimed Marrow of The Spirit. I mean, expectations for any new material from Agalloch are high so it's sort of hard to expect anything bad coming from them. All you can do when approaching new material is come in with an open mind and hope for the best.
It may sound a bit odd to say this but this track comes off as being perhaps the most "progressive" the band has ever produced. While it's still pretty far away from any form of guitar wankery, the various ideas that cycle through this one track show the band at their most varied, from blasting black metal to cold acoustic folk passages and krautrock interludes. Not that the band are strangers to making long, winding pieces or anything, but writing a song that tops twenty minutes and make it interesting throughout is a challenge (I don't even find Opeth's Black Rose Immortal to be that interesting and I love that band) but there wasn't a single point during this track that I ever found myself bored or thinking of other songs the band had written before. The band are just masters of dynamics, shifting fluidly and effortlessly from one section to the next without so much as even touching wrong footing. Along with that, this is also another example of the band pulling off their material live, because this is a pretty raw sounding recording, and correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the band say that they recorded this straight through? If they did, props to them because this thing moves so naturally it isn't even funny (though I did laugh at how amazing the track is during the various times I listened to this). I love how the bass is so clear and warm sounding on here as well, it's probably one of the best bass tones I've heard on a record this year, but that's just me being picky. It's near flawless and is another crowning achievement in the band's diamond studded list of albums.
It's great, not that I expecting anything less than that from the band. If you haven't already checked this out, please do so, Agalloch are easily one of the most consistent and impressive bands to have emerged from the black metal scene and you are seriously missing out if you have not heard them yet. This is a great place to start if you haven't heard of them yet though.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Faustian Echoes
Country: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Style: Post-Black Metal
New bands abound, it's always great when a new band turns out to just grab you. I knew from this cover that this album was worth checking out, not knowing anything about the band at the time. It was pretty much a bonus when the band actually contacted me about covering it.
Based on the above and the fact that the band site groups like Opeth, Katatonia, Alcest, and Agalloch as influences, I'd assume that like me, you'd think that this would naturally be good. Interesting at the very least. Well, you'd be half-right. It's really surprising how divided this album is, it's pretty much split down the middle, at least for me. Let's talk about the band's sound first, because they really do have some nice ideas, and since it is a debut album, if there are more obvious references to their influences I'm not gonna hold it over their heads. The influences definitely come through, there's a bit of a Cascadia sort of vibe going on in a couple of tracks while some others are more direct and come off a bit more in the style of melo-death, and that isn't even a bad thing in this case. Instrumentally, the band is really pretty solid, the riffs are pretty decent and the softer passages are nice and beautiful. Despite the Alcest influence, which I guess I thought would have had a bigger presence on here, is pretty minimal, with the band favoring calm acoustic passages over lush clean ones with tons of layers. Tracks like Red Sun Rising or Fragments of A Day have great soft passages that work fantastically, though the mood of the latter track is ruined by the band deciding to crank up the volume in the track's last two minutes, if they stuck to a full acoustic or clean song, I think they could pull it off. There's also a nice use of dynamics in these songs, with the exception of that ill-judged closer, the rest of the album features songs that have ups and downs, with each track providing something just a little bit different than the last.
Now for my problems with the album. My biggest complaint winds up coming in the vocal department, and it's a problem big enough that it nearly crippled the album. The clean vocals on here are just bad, I'm sorry to say, but they are just not well done. I can kind of see what they were going for and in a way I can kind of see how some people could say that they have a sort of Jonas Renkse-like montonal quality to them, but they just come off as really emotionless and lifeless. Now, if the screams or growls were this way, I think that I could just say that the vocal department has a sort of direct blandness to it, which in some cases has its own charm and merit to it, but the more intense vocals actually sound convincing and passionate. Hell, even the whispered vocals, cliché as they might be, have are nice in comparison to the cleanly sung vocals. I realize that I may be coming off rather harsh, but tracks like Trees and the aforementioned Red Sun Rising were pretty much ruined for me by the clean vocals used on them. Having said all of that, the second half of the album really picks up the slack and really shows a better and more unique sense of songwriting than the first half did. While they aren't quite as up and down as songs from the first half, they are more engaging and have more of a personality, with Pillars really standing out as the best track on the album with a very well done Kveldssanger-esque chanting section being incorporated near the end.
In the end it's sort of a mixed bag for me, some tracks really are very good, while others are hindered by an extremely weak vocal performance. I know there will be some who think I'm being a bit overly critical of one part of this album, but it just did not sit well with me and hurt the album in almost every track it was used on. Aside from that, if you happen to enjoy Cascadian-ish melodic black metal, I'd say to at least give this album a shot, you might enjoy it quite a bit.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: A Great Leap In The Dark, Only The Wind Calls Back, Pillars
Style: Black Metal
Despite my love of black metal, I very rarely listen to, whether by choice or otherwise, bands from South America. Even the classic bands aren't really all that appealing to me but this did grab me, conceptually, before I ever listened to it. I'm really late in covering this one (among others) but it's still relevant.
Coming into this EP, I kind of knew that it was on the rawer side of the production spectrum, and I was right, but that has little impact on the power of these songs. Despite being rough around the edges, in terms of structuring, some of the transitions are a bit rough, which is most apparent on opener I, but aside from that the band have a pretty solid range of ideas on here. While the base foundation is definitely black metal, and that's the majority of where the ideas come from, I heard a little bit of post-rock in some of the climaxes of these songs, I'd say tech or more progressive oriented bands as well because there are riffs on here that go way beyond your standard tremolo picking and are quite elaborate. Songs often start one way and shift into another idea rather quickly, II is a good example of where the band is essentially playing with a pretty standard black metal formula but breaks it up with very melodic, and I'd say uplifting, riffs that stand apart from not only other songs on the album but a lot of other groups as well. Certain parts remind me of Krallice while others bring out an almost Peste Noir (Thanks Lurker for that one) kind of vibe to them. More than a few riffs are memorable and, despite how abnormal some of the ideas are for a regular black metal band, stick with me for more than the duration of a song. I don't know how many members are in the band but I kind of wish the bass was a louder in the mix, if they even have a bass player that is.
For a debut from a band from a country (or continent) that I don't tend to enjoy a whole lot from, it's really impressive and interesting. I honestly wish I could hear more bands like this from South America. With a few improvements they could really go places (though even with this they're far above many newer bands). Definitely check it out if you enjoy some mixture of raw production and more progressive sounding black metal, it's really good.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: III, VI
Friday, July 20, 2012
Country: Sydney, Australia
Ok, this appears to be the year where I give a crap about deathcore at all because this is the third album from the genre I've covered/am covering. This one is probably a bit more popular than the other two but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I heard one song and thought it was decent, maybe the rest of the album will surprise me.
I'll just point out that the song I heard that made me want to check this album out in the first place was In Trenches, which features Kevin McCaughey of Ion Dissonance on it. The reason I even listened to that song was because the album was being compared to Ion Dissonance's brand of chaotic techcore, which I can't say I'm a gigantic fan of anyway, but I think they're an interesting band. On the strength of that song alone, I did think that the album was worth looking into because it had that sort of chaotic kind of vibe that Ion Dissonance has but was more groovy, djent based with a lot of Meshuggah worship going on. I'm not going to bother saying that it was an original fusion of ideas, but it was pretty well done and I thought that song was kind of interesting, and if I'm being totally honest, I kinda got what I expected to get from the album. There are a couple of surprises in here, but djenty, somewhat chaotic deathcore is what I expected, and djenty, somewhat chaotic deathcore is what I got. As you'd expect from a record like this, there's a real lack of variety. Personally, the first three songs all just sort of blend together, and if you weren't paying attention, you'd probably think the same for pretty much the entire album because there is a real reliance on low-end throughout. I don't know if it's the fact that these guys just really like Meshuggah or what but nearly every riff that isn't a melody or atmospheric part is on the lowest strings. While there are bands who can, and have, gotten away with that, this is not one of them. There just isn't enough different in each track to really separate them from one another.
Those few surprises come in the form of three tracks, which include Sachael, Lagrange Pointe, and Obstruction. I'll say right away that they were surprises because I thought that they were experiments that turned out rather well all things considered, but having said that, the ideas are not original in any way and you'd have to have never heard any other djent or progressive-ish band before to think they were original. The use of more atmospheric elements and clean vocals on Sachael definitely made the track for me. The clean vocals aren't really standout worthy, though I can't say the growls are either, but they were utilized well to make the chorus stand out and is one of the more memorable parts on the entire album. Lagrange Pointe brings a nice change of pace to the album by actually maintaining a pretty calm and melodic tone for pretty much its entire running time. It's probably the most progressive track on the entire track, maybe because it's an instrumental the band thought they'd just branch out and do something interesting, I don't know, but I really wish they had done more of that on songs with vocals (it's ok to write a song that's longer than four minutes if you do something interesting like this in it). Finally, we have closer Obstruction which is a whopping eight minutes long, and actually manages to do something with that length. Unlike pretty much every other track on the album, there's an actual build-up before the band jump into their tough-guy deathcore beatdown stuff. The doomy passage that helps to introduce the track is pretty well executed, and the track is pretty slow in and of itself. It really recalls a similar style that Meshuggah did, and pretty much perfected, on Nothing. It's slower, but is easily one of the most interesting tracks on the entire album because of it.
It's all right, I got pretty much what I expected so I can't say that it let me down or anything. There are some tracks that do show potential and I can only hope the band actually do more with those ideas on albums to come. If you happen to enjoy the more djenty side of modern deathcore or some variation on that, chances are you'll really dig this album.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Sachael, Lagrange Pointe, Obstruction
Country: Frederick, Maryland
Style: Progressive Metal
I've been following Dan Dankmeyer for something like a year and half now and consider myself a pretty big supporter in what he does. When it comes to solo instrumental metal guitarists, it seems like more and more pop up every month, but Dankmeyer continues to be one of the few who know how to write songs. This is his first album this year, after the two he released last year and has a much larger gap in between the dates, was it worth all the time he invested?
So, what can you expect to hear from this album that's different from his last few is what you're probably asking. Well, the most obvious thing that stuck out to me on a first listen was the production sound of the album, which is far and away Dankmeyer's best. The album is so big sounding, but with multiple layers of guitars interweaving with each other, but it never really sounds messy or dense, but very open. While I wouldn't say it's on par with the work of Devin Townsend or Misha Mansoor, Dankmeyer has definitely carved out an album with a very nice sound that brings out his songwriting talents even more than previous albums have. I'd say that it's a much needed improvement since I felt that after multiple spins, Origin wasn't all that different, sonically, from what I thought he had done on Arcologies, which I still think is one of the best albums from that sort of instrumental djent guitar style. With that being said, I have to bring to light what is probably the biggest problem with the record, the mixing. This is a guitar album, there are no vocals, but a majority of these songs suffer from having multiple lead lines intersecting and weaving together so it can be a bit difficult to really decipher when you're getting a repeated melody or entering into a completely new section, something I found especially hard on a track like A Scene From The Lid of The Sleepers Eye. It's not a bad thing, but I do think balancing the guitars out a little bit more to emphasize certain parts more than others.
A couple of days ago I had read an article talking about how some bands/artists aren't so happy with the whole extended range phenomenon and while there are plenty of arguments against their use, there are just as many that will show the naysayers that extended range doesn't just mean lower chugs. An album like this one shows an almost surprising level of restraint when it comes in that department. As Dankmeyer said in an interview I did with him last year, a lot of his influences come from metalcore groups like Unearth and Darkest Hour, among other styles as well, but while there are chugs on here, on an 8-string, they are almost never the focus of a section and act more as a backing, percussive instrument than a lead guitar part. Low-end is used less to chug and more as just a part of a riff (hopefully that makes sense).
But I guess I haven't really touched on what really makes this album different from Dankmeyer's previous efforts yet so let's touch on that next. Obviously his progression from more djenty metalcore songs, hear X for his best work in that area, into more melodic progressive metal has been one that's been in development now, but it's on this record where I really got the sense that he's come into his own as a songwriter. What struck me as a bit odd was that his best side is shown on both the longest and the shortest songs on here. For me, most of the songs in the seven-to-eight minute length were not as engaging as the ones that were closer to seven or the ones that topped ten, which might come as a bit of a surprise to some. Sure, he still makes use of the occasional breakdown and there's still some stuff on here that recalls Meshuggah, hear The Long Song for both, but it's a far more melodic record than I expected to hear. Personally, based on the fact that he actually made use softer and more cleaner guitar parts near the end of the album, hear closer The Air At Midnight for a good example, I would love to hear Dankmeyer utilize that even more on his next release(s) cause they really add another color to his style.
It's a really solid album from a guitar player that is hopefully getting more and more praise and attention with each release. So far, this is the peak of his creative and songwriting abilities (which I know some consider to be one and the same). If you happen to dig instrumental prog-metal, definitely check out this album and Dankmeyer's back catalog, you won't be disappointed.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Lethargic, Hologram, The Long Song
Thursday, July 19, 2012
What we happen to have here are three pretty old albums that I've wanted to cover for a while, and had planned to get to earlier, but you know, one thing leads to another and time got away from me. Anyway, here's some nice semi-new death metal for you to enjoy if you haven't already.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Country: Beirut, Lebanon
Style: Alternative Rock
Label: Serjical Strike
Yes, I am indeed a fan of Serj Tankian. Much more than any of his other companions in SoAD, I've always thought Serj had not only the most unique voice (vocally) in the band, but also musically. Though I wasn't a huge fan of his last full-length, the two songs I had heard released from this beforehand actually made me interested.
I have to say that I was a little shocked when I first heard Cornucopia and Figure It Out because based on what Serj had done with not only Elect The Dead and Imperfect Harmonies, sonically, I didn't really expect him to put out songs that were pretty direct and rock based. On his debut solo album he had some more standard sort of alt. rock songs but he mixed them in with some more experimental tracks and ballads, and on his last album he abandoned most of his rock leanings in favor of more of an experimental album that took influence from jazz, classical, and electronic music. Having since listened to this entire album, it's apparent that he hasn't totally forgone his experimental tendencies, but this is a much more up-beat rock record that is probably going to be a lot more accepted than his last release.
Personally, I think opener Cornucopia is probably my favorite track on this entire album. I just think that the sort of eccentric main guitar line that is used throughout the track is a little weird while the chorus is just huge and sounds very fun and I'd venture to say even sunny, sort of like something I could hear a sunshine pop group singing (the melody, not the lyrics). But it's not even like that's limited to that one track, numerous songs on here are very up-beat to the point that it might even freak out some people who aren't familiar with how serious the lyrical content is. It isn't hard to imagine some of these songs winding up on mainstream radio (no doubt they have already been on already) but the dark subject matter and the up-tempo music accompanying it could prove to be more than a little jarring for a new listener. Not to discredit tracks like the very direct and punk-esque Figure It Out or more melodic stylings of Butterfly, but they just don't live up to the monolith that is the opening track. But then you have the more experimental tracks that really stand out. Unlike previous albums, the weirder aspects of this album are pushed a little farther back in order to try and make the songs a bit more accessible and immediate, nearly experimental track still manages to make room for a more rock-based chorus, which is a little disappointing considering how interesting songs like Ching Chime and Deafening Silence are. The latter features a strange mixture of beautiful acoustic passages with trance electronics while the former is primarily electronic, but is eccentric enough to recall some of Serj's early work in SoAD. To be honest, there's a big section of this record that is almost out of place, because there's a clump of four experimental tracks in a row that stand out quite a bit after the initial rock songs open the album up. It's not bad, but I do think that the track listing could have been worked on a bit more to mix them up (which I think would have worked for the better, but that's just me). I don't think that saying Serj sounds great on here will surprise anyone, but I'll throw it in just in case you were at all worried. He sounds great.
While I'm personally not all that into some of the trance synths Serj chose to use on here, I don't think that they wound up hindering the album too much. While it isn't quite as catchy as I would have liked it to have been (based on the first two tracks), but I think that if you happen to enjoy Serj or alt. rock, it's a solid record nevertheless. I think that whether you happen to like the more straight-up rock or the more experimental Serj, you'll find something to like on here.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Cornucopia, Harakiri, Occupied Tears
Monday, July 16, 2012
Country: Bay Area, California
Style: Post-Black Metal/Screamo
Label: Profound Lore
I used to give Profound Lore a lot of credit for signing really awesome bands that I had never heard of before and basically showing them to hordes of new people, I don't really feel the same anymore. It seems like as of recently they've been picking up dozens of newer groups who've been making a name for themselves either on smaller labels or on their own. I certainly still respect the label (even if they won't respond to my emails) but I don't hold them as highly as I used to.
But really, this is a review for Bosse-De-Nage, not Profound Lore, so I'll get to talking about the band and this album instead. By now the band have gotten arguably bigger than I think was foreseen even based on the hype and success of last year's album ii. The range of sounds ranging from Slint-esque post-rock to pageninetynine styled screamo being filtered through the guise of black metal riffs and vocals (to a degree), along with a more poetic lyrical approach that definitely makes them stand out from their peers, it's going to be hard to really say anything that hasn't already been talked about when discussing this album. I mean, I guess all I can really speak about is how I thought this worked out being because factually, there are many other reviews out there that will give you far more insight as to the lyrical approach on here and more in-depth genre descriptions.
For me, this album is a pretty big step up from ii, which doesn't even seem like it was released just about a year ago. I remember that album was certainly impressive, but it wasn't something all that great (to me anyway), this album really feels a lot more interesting and less of a black metal record than the first two full-lengths exhibited. Sure, there were obvious inclinations towards shoegaze, post-rock, and screamo, hell, even post-hardcore in the band's sound since day one, but here is where it really feels like they've embraced them into their songwriting. Desuetude feels more like screamo than black metal, it's so upbeat and energetic, but still very controlled, it never feels like it's going to go over the edge into chaos. The guitars and vocals are just out of control while the drumming keeps the song going while showcasing a sense of personality (something that isn't heard very often from someone behind the kit) while the bass keeps groove and delivers perhaps the most memorable parts on the entire album. Despite the fact that I was just describing that one song, it could really be applied to the entire album. Even on the quiet and morose Cells, there's a tension that is lurking underneath it just waiting to pour out, which happens on the following track, The God Ennui. A band embracing post-rock isn't a new thing anymore, but when there's a band like Bosse-De-Nage who manage to not only give the sub-genre, but the entire genre of black metal, a new perspective on both post-rock influence and more poetic, I'll leave the sexual nature of them for others to discuss, lyrics, it's exciting. Sure, it's not really as intense as their first two full-lengths, but exciting doesn't have to mean intense or brutal, what makes me excited is hearing a band do something interesting with their sound that is different from what I've heard before, even if it's only a minor change, it can make a world of difference. That's what we have here folks, a band doing something just a little different but breathing new life into a genre that is dying very quickly.
This is a post-black metal (post-rock influenced black metal) album that stands apart from others in the genre, which at this point is not only a good thing but surprising as well. It stands alone in the genre as a pyre of resolute defiance and artistry that the genre has yet to embrace, or rape. Definitely check this album out if you haven't already.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Desuetude, An Ideal Ledge
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
I don't really like covering reissued albums just because they really aren't "new" albums and I just feel like it isn't really worth promoting stuff that is technically old. I'm kind of making a one time exception for these albums because they're albums that I haven't seem a whole lot of exposure for. (all of these are reviewed from 1-10)
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Style: Blackened Noise/Funeral Doom
Who can really say what Venowl really is? Throughout their relatively short history they've released numerous small albums that range from extremely raw black metal to funeral doom to straight-up power electronics, saying what any new release will sound like can be kind of like shooting yourself in the foot. So when I got this copy of the group's first "full-length" I kind of had to let any preconceived ideas fall to the wayside.
For those who haven't been following the sonic trajectory of the band known as Venowl, I think it's time to get acquainted with it. Their start in the realm of power-electronics meets black metal harshness is easily some of the most powerful music to emerge from the blackened noise sub-genre, though to say it isn't headache inducing in large amounts would be lying. Their evolution into Senthil-esque blackened funeral doom has been a turn for the better, in my book, and while I don't particularly care too much for the music Senthil have released, I find that Venowl take a much more visceral approach to their performances. For those who aren't aware, this is improvisational stuff, so if you're not into that, you've been warned. The three tracks that comprise this debut full-length are long, ill-disciplined, and unruly pieces of blackened funeral doom, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Ok, I know that saying a song or album is long probably isn't going to bother a whole lot of people, it's more than likely going to be the ill-disciplined and unruly part, so let me explain. I say it's ill-disciplined and unruly because it's freeform music, to say there's anything on here that is meant to be ear-catching, memorable, or melodic would be a far cry from the truth if I ever heard it, and while I, and I'm sure some others as well, find elements of that to be a rather endearing quality, I doubt that it's something that's going to grab a bunch of people. Oh, and before I move on, I guess I should clarify that when I say it isn't memorable, I mean that unless you find droning guitar riffs, vocals that sound like a person being murdered, and slow-paced drumming catchy, you aren't going to remember a single part of this album, if you're anything like me, you'll remember, and come back to this album for, the experience of it. A lot of what's played is really slow, and when it speeds up it does have the tendency to turn a bit chaotic (which may have been the point). I don't dislike it for the fact that it comes off as messy, I just think that it could have come out so much more cohesive (once again, maybe not what they were aiming for) and cleaner which could have benefitted those sections.
In saying that, I find it almost odd how the shortest track on here is also the most diverse. Hung Alive By The Ribs to A Gallows is slow, just like the other tracks but shows a bit more of that black metal side that Venowl have been toying around with in some other recordings. Closer The Bounded Are Loathed is an epic, reaching almost thirty minutes, that really shows not only that Senthil influence but I'd also say a bit of Khanate as well, especially in its second half. The long droning section with screams coming at you from seemingly everywhere really reminded me of the horror that Khanate fills me with at times. It's not the section where a bunch of stuff is happening that is the most exciting but the parts where very little is that just send that shiver up your spine because you're not exactly sure what's going to happen next or when it's going to happen.
It's an interesting album because for all its flaws I still have to give it to the band that they always kept me interested and wanting to listen. Call me crazy for saying that this actually can be an enjoyable experience. It's definitely worth checking out if you happen to enjoy extreme forms of doom and black metal. Not for the faint of heart.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Bounded Are Loathed
Country: L'Aquila, Italy
Style: Dark Ambient/Industrial
I had never heard of this project before being sent this album and it was one of those times where I knew I had to hear it because of its cover. It's bleak and dark and that just bodes well for this style of music. The concept also struck me as working really well, especially in the state of mind I was in when I first listened to it.
With an album like this one, I wasn't really sure how to approach it. It's dark ambient music, so it obviously requires the listener's patience and attention, or no attention, in order to just soak it in, but seeing as I don't have a lot of time, I have to kind of listen to it here and there. What resulted from that is me gaining an experience from this that I have not gotten from other albums of a similar style. For the dark ambient and industrial noise based genres, from the handful of groups that I've listened to from it, I haven't found too many that ultimately connected with me on a higher level than just enjoying it. Now, despite what you may be thinking, I'm not going to say that this connected with me on some pseudo-intellectual or spiritual level, but what I will say is that it's probably one of the most entertaining and deep records I've ever heard produced by the genre. Now, I'm gonna guess at what you're probably thinking now, "Dark ambient music, entertaining, don't make me laugh (or some variation on that)," but believe it or not, this is an entertaining record that is quite interesting to listen to.
Each track on here contains a rich and complex musical soundscape that is deeply engrossing. It's a cacophony of various ideas coming together into tracks that explore themes of madness, paranoia, and terror, among others, and is one of the few dark ambient albums I've heard that manages to actually convey any sense of that within me. Usually it's just, it's dark, and I'm totally fine with that, but it's nice when music can give you a feeling of dread. It also helps that there's always something happening in these songs, with the exception of Night 3: Magmatic Resonance, which I found to be a bit too cold and sparse to really keep my attention, I never found myself getting bored and was instead actually drawn into the soundscape. Probably the most surprising thing to me while listening to this was that it never felt long. This is two discs worth of music, and not the sort of music that is all that active either, but it seemed to feel like I had actually been listening to this for around an hour and forty minutes.
Ultimately, it's the longest track on here that makes this worthwhile though. For all the reasons that I enjoy the first disc, the second disc, which contains the forty-five minute Last Night: Late Summer Ceremony, is pretty much everything that I liked, but in a single track. You have extremely unsettling electronics, bouts of noise abuse, disturbing ambient sections, and it's just so pitch perfect in that regard that it kind of makes the first disc feel rather uninspired by comparison. Hell there's a small bit near the end that almost makes me think of really raw black metal, it isn't by the way, but it makes me think of it. Sort of Sutekh Hexen-ish in a way, but more atmospheric, either way, it's a great track that really personifies everything that I like about this album.
This thing gets a big thumbs-up from me, it's easily one of the most exciting ambient/noise/etc. albums I've heard in a long while. Once again, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I still think that at the very least the second disc is worth hearing this year. Definitely check it out if you're a fan of this sort of stuff, you will not be disappointed.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Night 2: Invocation, Last Night: Late Summer Ceremony
This year has produced a number of interesting releases but here were a bunch of releases that fell somewhere in between the black and doom metal genre enough to make me want to just group them all together. Maybe it's a bit of a cop out but it's likely that someone will find a new band if you lump them together with a bunch a band they might already know about.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Country: Adelaide, Australia
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal/Funeral Doom
Label: Osmose Productions
Back in 2008 or 2009 I went through a phase where I listened and looked into a lot of depressive black metal and funeral doom. Looking back, I couldn't tell you why, but I have since been a bit more picky about what I listen to from those genres. When I was really invested in the genre though, Elysian Blaze was a project that definitely stood out on both sides of the genres.
When I first got into the project I think this album was either just being announced or something like that. I couldn't tell you how many times I checked the Myspace page of Elysian Blaze hoping for some sort of update as to when this was going to be released. The album cover was released at that time, and I'm pretty sure the song titles were as well, but there were very sparse updates until I just sort of gave up and thought that the project had either been put on ice or had dissolved all together. Now, here it is, something like two or three years after I had thought that Mutatiis might have just ended the project and I see this album pop up. Was I shocked? Most definitely and no matter the quality of it, I knew it was an album I had to hear.
I guess the first and most definable feature many will notice about this album is the fact that it is a double-album that contains three tracks that top twenty minutes each. I was certainly shocked when I saw those track lengths, and probably just as surprised, if not more so, when I actually listened to them and found out that they were actually good. Don't misunderstand my intention, I did not come into this thinking it was going to be bad, not by a long shot, but in genres like funeral doom, like depressive black metal, like ambient black metal, tracks like that are often overrated, sometimes overhyped, but don't really ever accomplish too much. While songs this long often have a very narrow range of appeal, even in this style of music for that matter, these songs are quite interesting and have some really interesting ideas. I'll admit that I haven't listened to this project a quite a while, but what I remember hearing was a lot slower and more in line with funeral doom, this album is much more of a black metal album. Very ambient black metal mind you, but black metal nonetheless. Having gone back and listened to some of the project's earlier releases, I don't know what I was remembering because those albums certainly had quite a big black metal sound as well, but this album is far more bleak, I guess would be the most fitting word.
The range of ideas present on here is quite shocking if you've come to expect little from any of the genres I mentioned above. I really have to give Mutatiis a lot of credit for pooling these influences together in a way that is surprisingly original; and while mixing funeral doom, depressive and atmospheric black metal, ambient (or dark ambient), noise, and I guess classical music together has been done here and there, I can't say I've heard another album where they've been blended to a similar degree with as high results as this album. I really have to say that the closers for both albums are really well done. The title-track is a lengthy piano piece that works rather well for closing the first disc while Void Alchemy closes the entire album with an eleven minute ambient/noise piece. Unlike Fear Factory's recent use of this technique on their most recent album, this works far better. After the blistering assault the rest of the album has put you through, closing the entire thing with an ambient piece doesn't sound so bad. But I have to say that the metal tracks are the standouts on here, as if that should really come as a surprise to anyone. The first disc's metal tracks are a bit more visceral, despite their lengths, while the two on the second disc are a lot more imaginative. There are more detours and variety within these two tracks. While Pyramid of The Cold Son is quite an interesting track with a lot of cool atmospheric and ambient stuff popping up throughout, I think that the clear highlight of this entire album is, once again I'm sure it's no surprise, the thirty-six minute Blood of Ancients, Blood of Hatred. It's an absolutely haunting piece of music that, personally, I could just get lost inside.
I know that the length and style(s) of this album might put some people off, but it is truly a great record and it far surpassed any of my expectations. Hopefully it doesn't turn out to be an overlooked album this year, because this is the sort of release that could easily fall into the forgotten realms (do not let that happen!). It's a great album and one that I recommend not missing out on this year. (On a sidenote, if you decide to buy a copy, definitely go for the vinyl. I got mine a couple of days ago and it looks just fantastic).
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Sigils That Beckon Death, Pyramid of The Cold Son, Blood of Ancients, Blood of Hatred
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Style: Post-Black Metal
Label: Music Ruins Lives
Book of Sand has been on quite a bit of a buzz since the project's first album, How Beautiful to Walk Free, several years ago. Since then we've had four other albums, including this one, released and apparently even more are planned to be released soon as well. It's not exactly easy coming into a new album from this project (which is why I've prolonged this review) but if you come in expecting anything, you always know it's going to be interesting.
Just to clear this up right away, for anyone who got the same idea upon seeing the track list like I did when I first saw it, opener The Face of The Water is a different track than the title-track of the project's last full-length album. That aside, for anyone who thought that last year's The Face of The Waters album was perhaps more accessible due to its cleaner production and far more jazz based sound, will more than likely be put off by this. The same could be said of those who enjoyed the metallic energy of 2010's How Beautiful to Walk Free, though in retrospect, every album released by this project has been different, but it's a very weird album and I was certainly taken aback whenever that first burst of distortion comes in. Though this is certainly more "metal" than his last album, to say that it's any more accessible would be one of the last things I would choose to describe this album. It's really bizarre and disorienting, not something I expected, even based on hearing several of the project's past releases. It's by no means an easy album to get into.
The sound really makes me think of what it might sound like if someone like Ben Monder decided to join a group like Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, it's really off sounding, dissonant and weird, but for some reason it works. Those more metal based parts are really strange and odd, but I love it all the more because it doesn't sound right or even all that great on first listen, but as your ears begin to adjust to what you're listening to and your mind loosens up, it begins to become more coherent. Interspersed with those shots of metal are more genre bending ideas, from folk to ambient and noise. I'll admit that it might have just been the pair of headphones I was using at the time, but the first time I listened to this I felt like there were long stretches of blank silence, and I didn't get it. After listening to it on another pair of headphones as well as in the car and on my computer, I have realized that that was not the case. There are some long moments of more ambient kind of material, but it's not silence. There's also no shortage of extra instrumentation on here either, with the use of what sounds like violin (which is the only one I know for a fact is actually on here), and what sounds like piano, among others.
I don't know about how others feel about this but I thought that the album kind of feel off a bit after the epic Planet SUV. While neither of the tracks that follow it are bad, I feel like because they're shorter, by comparison they just don't feel as complete or grabbing. The ideas are interesting and I like where they were going but I think that they could have helped introduce Planet SUV rather than come after it, or at least one of them could have. Closer, That Tearful Day, does its best to try and bring back some of strange metallic quality from earlier in the album but by then it's just too little too late. Besides that, I can't really say that I was disappointed by anything on here actually.
As a whole, I think it's actually a pretty strong album with a lot to like about it, but there are some flaws that keep it down in my own opinion. It's really interesting and if I could love it just for that I would, but there's so much more on here to hear and reflect on. This is definitely recommended if you happen to like really weird and left-field black metal records.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: The Face of The Water, Fits and Starts, Planet SUV,
Monday, July 9, 2012
Country: Östergötlands län, Sweden
Style: Death Metal
Label: Hellthrasher Productions
I've said multiple times in the past that I'm rather picky when it comes to the whole brutal death metal subgenre(or maybe I just don't have taste for it) and it remains true. Having never heard of Intestinal before and seeing their song titles, that's the style I imagined them playing. I still gave it a chance though because the band was nice enough to send it to me though.
Now, when I actually looked up the band, they weren't really tagged as a "brutal" band, and since it just said death metal, I kind of just took it for what it meant. Having listened to this, yes, it's not brutal in the sense of overly simplistic slam or other stuff like that, which is a good thing. While influences from tons of classic death metal groups can still be heard on here, the one band that this album really reminded me of was early Blood Red Throne (and I love BRT) and at times a bit of more recent Severe Torture. Modern death metal is sort of a hit-and-miss with me, I used to totally hate it, but when I listen to death metal, I like there to be grit and filth on it. Production wise, clean is fine, but there are albums which are far too clean (and I may like them in spite of it if the songwriting is good) but a death metal band has to sound like a band for me to really get into it. While I can't say the sound on here is my personal favorite (on headphones it just sounded weird for some reason) I like that the guitars actually sound distorted and the drums sound real. I could have used more bass, but for what this is, it's fine.
I can't say a lot of what's on here is surprising (it is death metal after all), but it is well done. It's pretty standard death metal stuff, and I don't mean that to be a negative thing, but for some reason I had a hard time penetrating this record. There are some really solid riffs, I love the vocalist's growling style (except for the pig squeal on Eating Your Inner Organs), and I think that the songs are compact enough to grab a listener right away, but I just couldn't seem to get into it. The faster parts just sort of flew by, but the more groovy, I don't know if you could really call them slow, but the more mid-paced parts where the band settled into a groove really worked well with the production style they have on here. Tracks like Vessel For The Dead or Undead Unleashed which seem to have more emphasis on either more drawn out riffs or groove, hit harder and wound up being more ear catching. I'm not saying the faster tracks are bad though, honestly, I still rather listen to this than a lot of other very stereotypical death metal, but I think it's just a case where one aspect of the band's sound happens to be more appealing to me, than another. I can't really fault a band for that now can I.
Overall, probably the best thing I can say about this album is that it's fun. It's not something that you have to think about too much, it's just aggressive and high-energy stuff that managed to put at least me in a good mood after listening to it. Definitely check it out if you're a death metal fan, it's good stuff.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Vessel For The Dead, Undead Unleashed, Slaughter
Country: San Francisco, California
Style: Raw Black Metal/Dark Ambient
Label: Magic Bullet/Wohrt
By now, Sutekh Hexen has made quite a name for themselves so saying you've never heard of them before is getting to be less of an excuse for not having heard them. By now, their discography is getting more and more lengthy and the same could be said of their sound. With Larvae being breaking open their sound earlier this year, I was quite curious what they would do on here.
Returning to the two track only strategy of their previous work, this album shows the trio of Sutekh Hexen expanding their sound in a different form than Larvae did. When I first saw this album, I was sort of expecting something more intense, more or less in the vein of the band's earlier material, and while I. does bring in some similar ideas from earlier material, this is a very different beast. There are certainly intensely distorted screams and layers of distortion and noise on here, traits that have become intensely important in the band's sound, but instead of blazingly fast black metal riffs, we see the band embracing more of a ritualistic kind of doom and drone style for this release. I. is certainly more "metallic" with long, drawn-out guitar chords ringing out into the abyss, but it's by no means as intensely brutal or exhausting as their other work, and while we do see the band speed thing up near the middle of the track, it just is not the same. There's a melancholic ambiance hanging over the whole thing. It actually reminded me a bit of the Shadows single they released a little while back which had the single track that was a lot more quiet and ambient for the most part. The second track, obviously titled II., is even more in the ambient vein, abandoning most of the traits we've come to expect from the band. In exchange for the aggression, the brutality, the metal, and a good portion of even the noise, we get a very chilling, minimalistic sort of neo-folk-esque dark ambient track. Yes, we still have noise, that's still there for all of you who were freaking out. There are freak-out moments where we get shots of distortion, if only to draw those back in who might have wavered while listening to this, they act as a sort of grounding point, at least to me, which keeps the band's sound tethered to a single point. While the overall sound on this track is very different in comparison to most of what they've done, that distortion and noise keeps their sound controlled, so it doesn't become so overwhelmingly different, you still know who you're listening to. Personally, while I respect the band for exploring this kind of territory, I can't in all good conscience say that it's my favorite. It's well done, no doubt, but maybe it just needs to sit with me longer to have a greater impact on me.
As with previous Sutekh Hexen material, it's obviously very high quality stuff and well worth whatever you pay for it (especially since it comes in so many formats). As with Larvae, this might throw some people off, but if were one of the many who actually really enjoyed that album, you might enjoy this one just as well. Definitely pick up your copy while you still can.
Overall Score: 8.5