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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Andromeda - Manifest Tyranny (2011)

Band: Andromeda
Country: Malmö, Sweden
Style: Progressive Metal
Label: Inner Wound Recordings

As I've said in the past, modern prog metal bands don't really bring a whole lot of interesting or original ideas to the table anymore, with most being pretty content to rip-off Dream Theater's first four records. While I don't know if I'd put Andromeda above that, they've been a band that I have kept my eye on because of positive past experiences with them. In my opinion, their first two records were some of the best pure prog-metal albums to be released in the last decade.
For all my admiration of these guys, I will admit that despite the fact that I do think they're a very good band, my taste for them has waned in the last couple of years. I do still feel the above about their first two albums being some of the best the genre had produced in a younger group at that time, but I found that after their third album, I kind of found myself a little less than interested in them. This reached the climax point when their last album, 2008's "The Immunity Zone," was released and I don't think I even made it through the entire album. So I had to make a choice whether or not to give this album a shot or not when I found it, and you can obviously tell what I wound up choosing. As far as I can tell, and this is coming from someone who will listen to the first two albums almost exclusively at this point, if only because I know those albums so well and hold them in high regard, this album doesn't show a whole lot of difference in sound.
When I listened to this album, I found it rather difficult to not just turn it off and return to the tried and true first albums. That's not to say this is bad though, because like always, it's performed really well, the production is solid, but not over-produced, but it's just a matter of most of these songs lacking a whole lot of new ideas and melodies. A lot of these songs feel like they've been done before, either by the band or other groups, and that's disappointing. It's also a bit depressing when songs like Survival of The Richest or Play Dead feel much longer than they are, and they aren't long songs to begin with. It's also a very bad sign when the opening track, Preemptive Strike, feels nearly twice as long as it actually is, and it actually is just over two and a half minutes.
I guess I'll have to continue listening to the first two albums, and occasionally the third, and wait to see if the band eventually impress me again. Check it out if you're a fan of prog-metal in general or a fan of the band, but beyond that, chances are you're not gonna find a lot on here you won't find on another prog-metal album.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: False Flag, Asylum, Antidote

Ebonylake - In Swathes of Brooding Light (2011)

Band: Ebonylake
Country: West Yorkshire, UK
Style: Avant-Garde/Black Metal
Label: Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions

Here we go, over a decade after their debut full-length, the second release from forward thinking metallers Ebonylake comes out. Their debut is one of those albums that isn't all that well known and is often overlooked when it comes to unique metal records from the 90s. Having, essentially, fallen into the depths of obscurity, the band now return with an album that might finally get their name out there.
The first Ebonylake record had a sound that mixed the likes of Meshuggah-esque grooves, Gorguts technicality, mid-era Dimmu Borgir symphonic tendencies, and vocal acrobatics that brought in everything from death metal gutturals to female singing. But when looking at that album compared to this new one, you'll notice a big leap forward in many ways. Compared to this new album, the first one is almost laughably tame, the orchestrations and overall complexity in composition on this release is near staggering. It's one of those albums that really took me aback when I first pressed play. Opener And From The Seas The Sickening Things sounds like several songs being played at once, and it took me a while to really get a grasp on what was happening. Also, the way the album is structured, as a whole I mean, is pretty interesting because the first half of the album is extremely intense and densely layered while the second half expresses a lot more ambiance and is a lot more open and somber, though neither side ever rids itself of its freak-out moments entirely. As the album progresses, the overall craziness and incoherence, and I do use that term lightly due to some parts literally sounding almost nonsensical and coming from way out in left field, even for me, does decrease and while I never recommend listening to an album from the end to the beginning, because who would really do that anyway, if you're not sure about this album, I'd definitely take a listen to songs from the back half of the album before going in further.
One of the things I admire about this record though is that despite upping the ante on almost every level, they've kept the same romantic atmosphere. Even with how the complexities that are exhibited on most tracks, the air of that sort of classical and orchestral nature is spread across this album. Maybe it's the more avant-garde compositions that recall bits from Arvo Pärt and John Cage at times that help to bring, or at least maintain, that sort of ambiance throughout the album. I found that these influences came to a head on the minimalistic ambient piece The Theory of Sexual Carvings which really does help to bring things down to a calmer, though no less creepy, level before closer A Voice In The Piano. For myself, it's on this closing track that the band finally piece together a song that is their most coherent and melodic; granted, it's far from being straightforward, but compared to what came before it, I was able to sink my teeth into it within the first listen.
Now, I'll make no claims that I even begin to really understand what most of this album is about, I certainly have no idea what's happening in some spots. This is an album that, even after three solid listens through I still have a bit of a hard time really picking things out, some songs more than others, so it does take time. I highly recommend you checking this out though if you're into avant-garde metal or at least avant-garde composition.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: I Painted The Suicide of Neptune, Licking At The Nesting's of Young Fledglings, A Voice In The Piano

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cynic - Carbon-Based Anatomy EP (2011)

Band: Cynic
Country: Miami, Florida
Style: Fusion/Progressive Metal
Label: Season of Mist

Cynic is one of those prog metal bands that is widely accepted among people who aren't even fans of metal or prog music and we've seen them evolve into quite a different band. Since last year's release of "Re-Traced," we've seen some drop off the bus, for some reason. This new EP contains the first new material since 2008, because Wheels Within Wheels was from the same session as "Traced In Air," remember that.
To me, it seemed as though the acoustic and electronic reinterpretations of songs from "Traced In Air" didn't really sit with people, stylistically it was different, but I think it also had to do with Paul Masvidal not using his trademark vocoder vocals that also kind of distanced people from that EP. This new album features him moving even further away from that, making use of harmonies between himself and female vocalist Amy Correia as the prominent style. From what I've read so far, reactions to this little album have been rather mixed, and I can certainly understand that. On here you get no growling vocals and a lot of the metal elements have been stripped away as well in favor of more prog-rock sort of tendencies that lean closer to fusion than ever before. I can also understand the frustration or annoyance that people might feel toward this album having only three real songs, making half of this release instrumental interludes that, while they're interesting, don't really do a lot for a listener. The ideas are there but it doesn't go anywhere, I thought the sitar and piano on Bija! would be really cool if integrated with the band's style, but as of right now, nothing. Having said that, I do believe that the three songs on here are constructed pretty well, they're not the best songs the band has written, but they're solid, except for Box Up My Bones, which I think is just great.
In the end it's just a short little expedition into the world of Cynic. Whether or not this is an indication of where they are going to go into the future or not, this EP is just alright for me. Check it out if you're a fan, otherwise go for the full-lengths if you want to look into Cynic.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Box Up My Bones, Elves Beam Out

Uneven Structure - Februus (2011)

Band: Uneven Structure
Country: Metz, France
Style: Ambient/Progressive Metal
Label: Basick

I've been waiting to talk about this album because I've been looking forward to it for quite a while. When I first found the whole "djent" scene, pretty much every band I found was doing something interesting, which has since died down, both my interest and the band's originality. Uneven Structure was one of the first bands I found with that tag and are still one of the handful that I hold to a much higher standard than the rest.
What interested me in the first place with these guys was their use of great ambiance and atmospheres while still creating heavy grooves. The comparison to TesseracT is apparent and does fit, but I'd say that these guys have a much more beefier and bulky sound. These guys make a more balanced sounding record that combines the pretty ambient soundscapes with heavy and djent based guitar riffs, which written out might not sound all that exciting, but works surprisingly well, especially if you might be new to these guys. This is, in my opinion, a massive step up from their EP, "8," which was released back in 2009, in almost every sense of the word. The band has done away with the blatant Meshuggah worship sound present on there in favor of a far more original and interesting sound. I also give these guys a lot of credit for creating a double-album that features two very different aspects of their sound, the first, being the djenty metal album, and the second, a drone and ambient based one.
What is perhaps their greatest strength is that there is a very clear post-rock/post-metal influence in their sound. Unlike TesseracT, where you kind of had songs that maintained a more ambient soundscape throughout a single track, on here you get build ups and falls that create a better sense of contrast. The contrasts between the heavier Awaken and Frost and the more melodic sensibilities swirling beneath songs like Buds or Quittance are the types of ideas I look for in a band that associates itself with the whole "post" sort of ideal system. Adding to that aspect would have to be that since the entire album is pretty much a single piece of music, you really get the ups and downs when you listen to the whole thing from start to finish. But it's the fact that on their own, these songs still work and manage to provide memorable sections without ever making use of the tried-and-true method of a chorus that makes it all the better. As a sidenote, I'm partial towards music like this that sounds huge and has a great atmosphere surrounding it; the Devin Townsend influence rings true on here. But I'm sure it's the second disc that will turn some heads, cause I think, if you did already know of the band beforehand, the first disc will be exactly what you wanted from the band, but the droning ambient soundscapes might turn people off, since those aren't really styles that get people excited, for the most part. I'll admit that these last three tracks are more background music, but they are well suited and interesting pieces of sound and texture with various noises and voices being heard throughout all of them.
I think these guys did a great job, and the wait was definitely worth it in my opinion. This is what djent bands should be striving to accomplish, originality in sound and memorable parts. Definitely check this out if you want to hear a great new progressive djenty metal band with a lot of experimentation and atmosphere.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Frost, Quittance, Plentitude

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Airs - Gloomlights (2011)

Band: Airs
Country: San Francisco, California/Florida
Style: Shoegaze/Blackgaze
Label: Music Ruins Lives

Within their short existence, the duo known as Airs has evolved from a rather unoriginal solo project into a very interesting duo. Their last album, "Rainclouds Over The Remains of Hope," was released earlier this year and they've been pumping out material quite frequently ever since. Each release has brought them a step closer to this double-album, where one could say they've found their sound.
Taking into account their former black metal leanings, the duo known as Airs decided to craft an album dedicated to both sides of their sound. This double-album features an album of melodic, poppy shoegaze material while disc two features more of their black metal sound. The first disc, titled "Lights," opens with the post-rocky Harvest Moon before diving into more poppy and upbeat material with Scott Pilgrim vs. You. A lot of the songs on this first album are more in the direction various smaller releases have seen the band looking into more and more, with songs being more simplistic but just as catchy. When I look back at their past flirtations with this style a noticeable trend seems to just pop out at me, the band sounds their best, when they're doing the poppy numbers anyway, when the songs are very short and concise. On here, and keep in mind this is just my opinion, but the band sound their best when they're doing really short songs, as in, the shortest songs on here, White Rose and Caves for instance, because the melodies are a lot more immediate and the music is more up-tempo. Having said that, there are more instances of longer tracks, but not a lot longer, being having similar impacts. This first disc is a bit inconsistent to me, the first half is a little disappointing, but the second half is full of really solid shoegaze and post-rock material.
As for the second disc, titled "Gloom," where we have more of the band's black metal side coming out, it's not exactly as full frontal as I expected it to be. Instead of blazing tremolo picking and blast-beats, what's on here is more apt to be in the blackened doom category, with a lot of the blackgaze style coming through as well. In some cases it's similar to what might happen if Nortt began taking an interest in Alcest. In that regard, songs like the title-track, Gloomlights, is a nice blend of the two styles working together. A lot of what's on here is more mid-to-slow paced with a similar sense of atmosphere to the first disc but with a lot more feedback and distortion used. A track like Movement is pretty slow for the most part and just seems to chase it's tail for about thirteen minutes, unfortunately, and contains very little "black metal" tendencies. On a sidenote though, I did enjoy the drone doom conclusion of Shift (Repeat) and found it to be a fitting ending to the album.
In the end I think it's a pretty strong album as a whole, but not without it's weaker moments. I definitely would have loved to hear the duo go a bit more intense with the black metal portion of their sound, but thems the breaks. Check it out if you're into poppy shoegaze, blackgaze, atmospheric black metal and the like.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: White Rose, Knee-Deep In The Dead, Feathers, Velvet

Lonesummer - There Are Few Tomorrows For Feeding Our Worries (2011)

Band: Lonesummer
Country: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Style: Raw Black Metal/Post-Rock
Label: Music Ruins Lives

Lonesummer is one of those bands that just has a sound that would sound really bad if it didn't have great songwriting. Being part of the whole blackened noise, sort of, movement that's kind of been going on underneath black metal subculture, the sound established can be pretty off putting on first listen. After several demos and splits, we finally have a full-length from the band, and it promises to re-establish it's sound.
In their short existence, Lonesummer has evolved from being an almost unlistenable form of black metal into something has has morphed into a more melodic form of black metal that resembles post-rock and noise that is more of an addition to the sound rather than most of the sound. In early recordings, the harshness of the noise was pretty overbearing and at times almost intolerable, but on the split released last year with Planning For Burial, we saw the intensity give way to more beauty and melody. This full-length continues the trend with even less noise, it's very much still there, but it cascades more than it overwhelms now. There are songs on here I would dare to say are actually beautiful and touching, which may not please fans of the high-pitched screeching noise from his early work. The likes of Tobacco, Gin and Bile and The Sweetest of Sweet Dreams are far from the project's beginning and might throw some for a loop, but prove to be a lot more approachable due to their softer and more stripped down approach. Maybe I shouldn't mention this, but there are moments on here where I distinctly hear an almost indie rock kind of melody going on.
With all the above being true, it should still be said that the black metal influence on the project is still very much in tact on here, Ghost Stories for example. The use of less piercing distortion and noise on here also allows the black metal passages to have more melody and clarity, despite what some may want for it to be, it comes across a lot more emotional than abrasive. While the subtle and quieter moments are a lot more prominent on here than ever before, the contrast made between the brutality of the black metal style and more indie and post-rock one makes this album a lot more dynamic and enjoyable. It's an album that will most likely piss off those who enjoyed the harshness and intensity of the noise aspect of the project, but will turn on a lot more people due to the melody and dynamics throughout it.
I enjoyed this album, a lot more actually than previous releases. The songs are a lot more memorable and interesting while still retaining the project's unique sound. Definitely check this out if you're in the market for some nice noisy black metal mixed with emotional post-rock.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Ghost Stories, To Make Things Good Again, There Are Few Tomorrows For Feeding Our Worries

Friday, October 28, 2011

Tom Waits - Bad As Me (2011)

Band: Tom Waits
Country: Pamona, California
Style: Experimental Rock/Blues
Label: ANTI-

As ignorant as it is to say it, until about a year ago, I always lumped Tom Waits in with the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, two singer-songwriters that I've never particularly cared for. It wasn't until I listened to "Mule Variations" that I finally got what I needed from an acclaimed singer-songwriter. I got someone who took chances with every release and had songs that ranged from noise rock to piano ballads and everything in between.
Since the first song I heard, I've loved Tom Wait's voice, that smoke and whisky sound that just makes it sound like he's spent his childhood in jazz clubs smoking and drinking at the bar. It's a sound I never grow tired of and I love how he mixes it up on every record. Even though he's never come close to sounding metal, I just love how his work crosses boundaries and genres as straightforward as blues to the weirder polka. I won't say that I've listened to every record the man has put out, unfortunately I don't have that kind of time on my hands, so this album still sounds fresh to me. I hear that this album isn't a direction that's new for Waits, more a retracing of familiar steps and looking in some different directions, and I can certainly see that. The songs this man writes are unlike anyone else though, so him doing himself is still probably better than most artists copying each other.
But when you listen to a singer-songwriter album, of any style and artist, what really matters are the songs. This album just features some nice, catchy songs, both ballads and regular rockin' songs. The likes of Pay Me is a nice ballad that just sways and moves in comparison to the somber nature of Back In The Crowd and the starkness of Face to The Highway. But it's on songs like Chicago, Raised Right Men, and the title-track, Bad As Me, that I really get off on, the gritty blues and smug attitude found in those tracks is just the sort of stuff that I love from Waits. The songwriting is just as good on here as it's been on the other albums I've listened to so far, which is still better than most artists out there during most points in history. I actually find a song like Hell Broke Luce to be one of the most intense songs he's ever done, with an almost industrial feel utilizing barked/shouted vocals, pounding percussion, and clanging guitars in the background. In the end though, it is Tom Waits, and this is a Tom Waits album, something no one else can do.
I don't see why if you're not a fan of Waits why you wouldn't like this, it's a little bit of everything. Good songs like always, so far there hasn't been an album Waits has released that I don't like. Definitely look into it if you're a long time fan or interested in an good, experimental singer-songwriter.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Raised Right Men, Bad As Me, Hell Broke Luce

Björk - Biophilia (2011)

Band: Björk
Country: Reykjavík, Iceland
Style: Art/Ambient Pop
Label: Polydor/Nonesuch

If you're into experimental music Björk is one name that you pretty much have to have at least heard of. Her work is some of the most unique and interesting "pop" music that has come out within the last couple of decades. This album is the very first I-pad album, whatever that is, so it's meant to be an even more original album if you buy the apps that go with it.
I just want to say right away that I didn't buy any of the apps for this album mainly because I just wanted to music, I didn't need anything associated with it. This new album takes Björk's work in the past and makes it look simplistic in terms of experimental tendencies compared to this. Whether or not you find it ambitious, pretentious, or whatever, this new album moves away from formatted songwriting and into more soundscapes that encompass Björk's ideas and concepts. As you might imagine, this leads the album into very weird directions. You'd be right on about that. Musically, it's very diverse, ranging from minimalistic organ passages to breakbeat drums, along with that, Björk's voice continues fluttering between her voice alone and large choir harmonies. A lot of these songs feel more like stories rather than songs, if you get what I mean by that, Cosmogony should demonstrate it.
I totally get why people would hate this, I mean it's abstract and totally out there, and there really isn't a whole lot of melody besides Björk's voice, and even that's not the easier point of entry on here. Even compared to an album of hers like "Medúlla," this is still very left-field. This is not the type of album with tons of memorable hooks and musical passages that'll make you want to return to it over and over again, there really aren't a whole lot of hooks or catchy melodies, there are some, Crystaline for example, but for the most part these songs are pretty hard to get into. In my opinion, while most of these songs have at least one element that is easy to get into, I found Hollow to be a head scratcher, cause I really, REALLY, didn't get the intention behind it. The song just sort of drones along for almost six minutes without a whole lot of coherence and there really isn't a whole lot that made me want to listen to the song continuously like some of the other songs on here did. Despite the more minimal approach on here, like I just said, there's usually at least one thing that should be a point of entry for a song, I found a lot of the instrumentation was actually quite fitting for what she was going for lyrically, Mutual Core is possibly the catchiest song on here in my opinion, because musically, I find it quite dynamic between the droning organ during the verses and the heavy electronic beats during the chorus, which itself is pretty memorable.
In the end, while I did enjoy it for the most part, I'd still rather listen to her other material before turning to this one. There are several songs on here that I do like very much, but I don't find this to be her best record, but that's just my opinion. If you like Björk feel free to disagree and like this album as much as you want, but if you've been looking for a point of entry into her music, you best look to her early albums, not this one.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Thunderbolt, Cosmogony, Mutual Core

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Locrian - The Clearing (2011)

Band: Locrian
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Experimental/Drone
Label: Fan Death

At this point in Locrian's career, this is their fourth full-length and they've released somewhere around a dozen other releases throughout their career, you'd think they might release something that's below brilliant, but not yet. This new record may be their shortest overall full-length, both in number of songs and total length, but you'll come to see that it is probably their best. A new Locrian release is always a reason to celebrate.
In the past, with the material that I've actually heard, Locrian has always been a dark band, but I feel like on here they're really pushing it into almost depressing territory at times. The opening piano line on Chalk Point just sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear it. There are moments on here that are just brutal and intense as the stuff on the last half of "The Crystal World" but this is even more focused in my opinion. It's been honed to a very fine point where there isn't a weak spot in sight, or in sound if you will, on here. Much like my favorite bands of all time, none of which remotely sound like Locrian by the way, Locrian transcends the description of a genre term, morphing the extremely chaotic and noisy with beautiful and tranquil sounds while all the while shifting their sound in one form or another to bring out new elements or highlight certain aspects of their sound.
In my opinion, and I know people will disagree with this but, this record has a lot more of a post-rock kind of vibe to it than their other work. In the past the krautrock, dark ambient, black metal, etc. were all kind of melded together and filtered through a drone sort of filter, but on here, I feel like they added more of that beauty and light from post-rock, not so much in instrumentation as much in crescendos, climaxing, and contrasting sides, to their sound. But even saying that, the lines are probably just as blurred, if not more so, on here than on their previous work, where you can have a sort of slow and very tense synthe piece in the foreground that's just bursting at the seams with black metal underneath, Augury In An Evaporating Tower. This record also doesn't feel as noisy to me, it has a lot more atmosphere and ambiance covering the layers of noise, cause it is still there, but it's definitely not as up front and in-your-face as earlier records. To an extent, the entire record could be seen as a build-up to the concluding title-track, The Clearing. There are times when that krautrock comes out a little bit more and things tend to feel a bit more "jammy" than others, but I feel that it's this sort of record that I love, personally, and I hope others feel similarly about as well, where you can have very dynamic and structured pieces while other have sections that are more open to interpretation.
This is a record that it's hard to really describe in words simply because there's a lot to really try and sum up in a couple of paragraphs. It's record you have to hear to really believe, it's really awe inspiring to be honest. Pre-order, order, buy, whenever you look at this, do it so you can get a copy of this as soon as you can, it's that good.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Venowl - Untitled (2011)

Band: Venowl
Country: Illinois
Style: Blackened Noise
Label: Ivory Antler

Venowl is a group that I first discovered probably about a year ago, give or take a couple months, but only started listening maybe once we were into the better part of this year. As one of those projects that's in it for outright destruction, I'll admit that it's not the type of band I, or a lot of people, probably listened to every day. I knew going in this was going to be something special.
If you haven't even come into contact with the noise that Venowl creates, consider yourself lucky, it's a brutal and challenging listen, though the ladder varies. On previous releases, the sound has been heavily reliant on a mixture of dense sound collages and intense feedback and noise, but on here, the sound is a little more tangible, if not more intense. I is an intense track that is a tough nut to crack open, but thanks to added percussion and the feedback provided from the bass, it is a still a lot more tangible than previous efforts. It's a song that is constantly shifting between avant-garde noise and droning doom metal. Retaliation on the other hand is a more comprehensible "metal" track. The short opening black metal tremolo picking sequence gives way to droning doom while occasionally lapsing back into black metal territory. To an extent, a Locrian influence can be heard a bit throughout this track. Personally, I prefer the ladder track more if only because there is a more definable core, if you will, that keeps the track a bit more focused throughout it's eight minutes. Thanks to a nice mastering job from Collin Marston, the album feels a lot more balanced, with not everything hitting you at once. I've actually been processing this album for a little while now and it's still one of those albums that I don't think I totally understand it.
Brutal, unnerving, chaotic, and challenging, if you like simplistic music without experimentation, this is obviously not for you. It's a record that throws genres away and sort of throws away any real sense of boundaries and luckily it's only a recording because this the sort of record that would just break all your teeth and give you a black eye if it were actually happening in front of you. Noise for everyone, check it out if you're can actually get on board with that.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Retaliation

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Hysteria - Paradigm of The Faith (2011)

Band: The Hysteria
Country: Minsk, Belarus
Style: Mathcore/Experimental Rock
Label: Independent

I wasn't really sure whether or not I was going to cover this when I was sent it because it really didn't look like something I would be interested in. I'm sorry, but I will and have judged bands baised on how they look in a photo, and these guys looked like a -core band. But I decided to give it a chance to see if maybe it was worth while.
This is a very interesting sounding record. I come straight out and say that it's a lot better than I expected it to be, proving once again that judging a band based on imagine is an amateurish mistake. It's sounds a lot more like a rock, math rock mind you, record than a metal record, which for all I know may have been intentional, but it certainly isn't all that heavy. The musicianship is well done, I have to commend these guys because they clearly love groups like Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan, as they make use of quite a bit of dissonant riffs, jazzy interludes, and punkish fury. The instrumental, The End of The Road to Golgotha II - Beginning, really showcases a little bit of everything these guys can do. There's also a little bit of a -core kind of influence on here as well, obvious from the mathcore tag, but I didn't actually expect breakdowns for some reason, but they're on here, infrequently though. I do think that these guys have interesting ideas though, they really seem to just want to explore all sorts of sounds, which is a good thing, I just wish that they might eventually leave behind some of the duller aspects of their sound.
Probably the biggest problem for me with this record would have to be the vocalist, not that he's bad, but I feel he's a bit out of place. For the majority of this record he's either yelling or growling, which doesn't sound all that great over a jazzy section, as you might imagine. I also found that when the band tried to go really heavy, the beginning of 9(Nine), it sounded a little contrived and the low growls just didn't seem to work. I should say that's it's not even that I don't like his vocals, I just think that he's a little off at times. I think that his style definitely compliments the less metallic aspects of the band's sound, but his growl just doesn't work when there isn't a whole lot of distortion.
It's a decent debut, but not great, it could definitely stand to undergo some improvements. These guys are certainly very talented and they have a lot of potential. Definitely check them out if you like more experimental math rock sort of stuff.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Algiophobia, Paradigm of The Faith

Without Waves - Scab Platter (2011)

Band: Without Waves
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Progressive Metalcore
Label: Independent

Now, as I believe it's showcased on here, I don't cover a lot of "metalcore," or at least what is more defined as modern-day -core bands. There are multiple reasons for that but when I received this album from a Chicago band I figured I'd give it a shot. As a fellow Chicagoan I'd give these guys a chance.
Now, the first thing I noticed about this band was the vocals, which might be a little odd because I usually focus on the music first. Now, several years ago, there was a band called Ekotren, I think they might even still be around, but the vocalist on here kind of reminds me of the vocalist in that band, but another comparison that came to mind was the first singer of the band Drowning Pool. These might seem a bit random and unorthodox, but their styles sound very similar, where it's more of a throaty snarl and hoarse yell than a growl or scream. Also, when he sings, he definitely has more of that kind of nu metal kind of vibe going on. Having said that, I do think he sounds best when he's singing, a track like Dhyana really shows a nice clean voice that at times can go a little smoky, which fits the more mellow and quieter track.
Musically though, these guys are pretty decent and interesting. They definitely take from the more spastic and frenzied approach towards metalcore, a lot of what the instrumentalists are doing is very quick and jumps between technical assaults and more mid-paced grooves, Tradition of Fear. In all honesty, this really doesn't hold much ground in modern metalcore, they're way too varied in terms of performances, and I don't mean for that to sound negative. What you get here is, as said above, more of a math metal-meets-nu metal sort of vibe, to which I know some will vomit by the notion of the two coming together in any way, but that's honesty what it sounds like. Now, I don't think the album needed two instrumental interludes on it, since they really didn't do anything but break up the title-track, Scab Platter, from the rest of the songs on here. This really narrows the eight song album down to six, and one of them is more of an intro than anything else. Sativa Sunrise, the album closer was an instrumental track as well, which shocked me because it kind of feels like they're trying to appeal to the more proggy crowd with this track, and it should work because it's a cool song, but it just seems like this album was put together with a bunch of odds and ends material to me because there's a real lack of focus and direction.
In the end I was impressed with this album, these guys are definitely talented and have an interesting sound. While this really isn't the sort of style that I listen to all that often, being metalcore or nu metal, I do think there will be quite a few people who will enjoy this. If you like more simplistic metalcore or nu metal done in the way of tech or math metal, than this is for you.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: The Ways to Crash & Burn, Dhyana, Sativa Sunrise

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Insomnium - One For Sorrow (2011)

Band: Insomnium
Country: Joensuu, Finland
Style: Melodic Death/Doom Metal
Label: Century Media

If you're anything like me, you went, or are currently going through, a melodic death metal phase. It was during this phase where all my favorite bands were bands like Dark Tranquillity, Soilwork, Hypocrisy, and the like, but I was constantly searching out other groups and I stumbled upon Insomnium. I found them back when their third album, "Above The Weeping World," was just coming out.
I'll be honest and say that I haven't listened to Insomnium for a good year or so before first listening to this album. So for the purposes of actually trying to hear an evolution from where they started, I actually went back and listened to the older stuff, for the first time in a while. I have to say that it sounds pretty similar to what they've done in the past, in my opinion, but a lot more catchy. Musically, I don't really hear that anything has been changed or shifted for the most part with the exception of there being a lot more clean singing than I remember the band having. Like I've said in the past, a band doesn't need to change their sound if they can at least hone in on and/or create good and catchy songs, and that's pretty much what Insomnium have done, they've focused more on writing good and catchy songs rather than trying to push their sound into another direction.
For me, all these Finnish melo-death bands always have more atmosphere in their sound than bands from other countries playing in the same sub-genre. I know people are gonna go, "Duh, you just realized that now," but I feel it should be mentioned because the atmospheres that Insomnium craft on here are just great, Song of The Blackest Bird for example, starts off pretty much as a regular melo-death song, but by it closing minute and a half, this huge and grandiose atmosphere just encompasses the track, it truly changes the song from above average to epic in my opinion. When the band hit that sweet spot in a song that escalates it from being good to great, as with the one I said above, that happens a lot more often on here than on previous albums. I was surprised to hear a very soft interlude track, Decoherence, that actually reminded me a little bit of post-rock. I truly admire these guys because I don't listen to a lot of newer melo-death groups, and it's pretty obvious based on what's reviewed here, but these guys still manage to craft interesting and catchy records that actually make me want to listen to them over and over again. Now, not every song on here is a masterpiece, there are a couple on here that are just average for the band, Every Hour Wounds or Regain The Fire, but the goods still outweigh the bad by quite a bit for me to think that they really hurt the record too much.
This was a really solid record, more so than I actually thought it would be, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Sure, there isn't a whole lot of new ground covered, but the songs manage to stand strong on their own. Definitely check this out if you want to hear some strong melo-death this year.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Through The Shadows, Song of The Blackest Bird, One For Sorrow,

Fornost Arnor - The Death of A Rose (2011)

Band: Fornost Arnor
Country: Peterborough/Colchester, UK
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Witch-King

Back when I was trying to find every band that was put under a genre tag that I like, in this case "progressive black metal," on last.fm, I found Fornost Arnor. Now, to say that I listened to the debut a lot would be overestimating me, I think I might have listened to it once. Once I got this new one, I kind of felt that I had to look back on the debut as well.
When I went back and listened to Fornost Arnor's debut "Escaping The Abyss," I felt similarly about that as I did about the debut EP from UK Talanas. In both cases, you got bands that had sounds that owed a lot to other bands and influences worn on their sleeves, but it was the bands that I heard in both these debuts that make me compare them here. Within both you got elements of Opeth, Emperor, Necrophagist, and even Meshuggah and in the case of Fornost Arnor, their sound was very unpolished and rather disorganized.
On this new album, the band continue melding frantic technicality with softer and more melodic Opeth-ian moments. If you're a fan of Opeth, you'll recognize several riffs and patterns on here that call back to heyday of that band, but when it comes to this band, these guys put a lot bigger emphasis on technicality and odder sounding riffs. Now, personally, I found that I enjoyed the band when they were went on more melodic tangents instead of showing off their more tech-y side. Even their acoustic side, The Death of A Rose II, showcases an impressive songwriting side of the band where it is simplistic, melodic, and atmospheric; and it's really a side I would have liked to have heard them explore more of actually. Closer, Farewell, has a great sort of Pink Floyd kind of vibe to it, note that it doesn't sound much like Pink Floyd at all, but the atmospheres and solos that are used throughout it have a similar sort of psychedelic and ambient nature. Now, when I first heard opener Rogue, I really thought I was going to hate this album, because that track feels very unfocused and sounds like a bunch of random riffs and ideas thrown together, but the album not only feels more focused after that song, but you also get better songs as well. One problem that I still suffer with, and others might have the same problem as well, are the vocals, the growling vocals are performed in this tone that sounds very forced and feel a little off while the clean singing doesn't really sound like a type of voice you'd hear in a metal band, which could be a good thing, but sometimes just struck me as a little odd. Granted, some tracks do work better than others with the vocals, obviously.
I think besides the opener, this is a very solid album that should impress fans of the more proggy side of death and black metal as well as Opeth fans. There isn't too much besides that to complain about, it's definitely an improvement over their debut. Like I just said, check it out if you're into the proggier side of extreme metal.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Nameless Fear, Lady Heresy, Farewell

Monday, October 24, 2011

Krigsgrav - Lux Capta Est (2011)

Band: Krigsgrav
Country: Keller, Texas
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Deadspace

When I saw this album cover, I knew I absolutely had to hear it. I know I've said it numerous times before, still true, but this just looked dark and twisted sounding, kind of like a H.R. Giger painting, or really any of his art. Plus, I saw the song lengths, and I just thought, "This has to be good."
This is an interesting little album and I'm sure it will have a lot of haters out there for the sound I'm going to describe, but it's still very solid. Sonically, this has quite a bit in common with groups of the Cascadian scene. The utilization of acoustic guitars, harsher black metal riffing, and more mid-tempo riffs are all used, and while that shouldn't immediately flag a band as being a part of that scene, you can hear elements of groups like Wolves In The Throne Room, Panopticon (who aren't really even a part of that scene anyway), and a bit of Skagos in there as well, though whether or not they were influences is debatable. In addition to that you have the heavy atmosphere which at times does recalls aspects of nature, like rain, mountains, or forests, but that's just me. While that might sound bad, the whole Cascadian sound, compared to some other groups I've heard debuts from this year, and this is a sophomore album, with the debut full-length being released last year by the way, this is a lot more focused and less constrained to simply being another Cascadian band, or project.
Perhaps it's because there is a bit more vitality in here that I feel it separates itself from some other bands in that scene, since the riffing on here, which definitely owes a debt to WITTR, make no mistake about that, is a lot more up-tempo and melodic, which gives it a lot more of a vibrant and youthful sort of sound. Now, I won't lie, there are certainly moments on here that are more exciting than others, the first two tracks are definitely the two that have the most interesting variations in them, with the shortest track, Mourner's Requiem, being quite average and underwhelming in comparison to the other four tracks before and after it. Some tracks do get a little tedious at times though, since all but one track actually top the ten minute mark, and it can make it very difficult to try and not think of this band as simply another Cascadian rip-off group. I actually wanted to stay excited throughout this if only because I do feel that there's some interesting ideas that come up now and again that bring up more originality than simply being more energetic. I feel like the closer, Hollow Verses, does a good job of kind of doing what WITTR did with their most recent, and last, album by having more epic sounding keys used to accentuate the song at various points throughout the song.
In the end, I wish I could work up more enthusiasm about this album, because it certainly has moments that are great, but others are just painfully average. I do look forward to hearing the next album from this project because I do feel that this album does bring forth some nice ideas. Definitely check it out if you like the Cascadian sound, but with some additional elements thrown in there as well to spice it up.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Tongues of Traitors, Hollow Verses

Heilig Tod - Heilig Tod EP (2011)

Band: Heilig Tod
Country: ?
Style: Blackened Punk
Label: Wands

This year has seen an increase in the number of bands fusing black metal with punk, to more critical acclaim or just being signed to more labels I listen to, in my opinion. Wands has been releasing several really solid releases, I think this is their third or fourth overall release and it keeps in their tradition, so far, of releasing black metal with attitude. This debut tape from a band I can't find information about made it interesting to write this review, as you can see, I do not know where they're from.
This four song EP is ten minutes of blistering blackened punk that sounds probably like how it was actually recorded, live in someone's basement. The drums are very loud and propulsive with the guitars and bass are really distorted, but still clear enough to make out what they're doing, and thank god for that. Finally you have the vocalist, who sounds like he's bouncing off the walls, since his vocals just go everywhere, in the mix I mean. These songs are short and simple, with the riffs being pretty immediate, even though they all do it, Raped By Sin would be a good starting point since it's the shortest song on here. This is the sort of record you put on when you want to go break stuff or go fight someone, or just get pumped up, whatever works for you, cause it's just no-nonsense, fist-in-the-face, blackened punk.
Overall, it's a nice starting point for a new band, there really isn't anything wrong with this EP if you know what you're getting yourself into. Sure, the recording is a bit loud and can be overbearing at times, but that doesn't really matter too much when you imagine these guys just assaulting the live stage, like I do, when they're playing this stuff. Check it out if you're into loud and abrasive black metal or punk, Wands has it up for free download.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Erde Verfault, Motherless

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Encoffination - O' Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres (2011)

Band: Encoffination
Country: Georgia/San Diego, California
Style: Death/Doom Metal
Label: Selfmadegod Records

Wayne Sarantopoulos, otherwise known as Elektrokutioner, is a busy man, he easily has over five bands going at the moment, this one being one of them. In the last decade his many bands have been pumping out old-school variations of death metal into the underground for dorks like me to just eat up. After their praised debut last year, "Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh," we have this new album which I've heard is just as good.
One could make a case that Encoffination has actually undergone a sort of transformation or evolution since their debut last year. Unlike several of Elektrokutioner's other bands, make a note that they're not all like that though, there is a shift in the sound on here, and it's more than one based on production. Some of his other bands have remained pretty true to their old-school death metal sound without much variation, but this one really sees a sort of change. Sure, it's still death/doom, that hasn't changed, but I feel like the first album was kind of like listening to a band play in a cave, with everything sort of reverberating and bouncing back at them to create a giant wave of sound that was more than a little messy sounding, this sounds more like they're playing in a church or cathedral. The sound is a lot clearer, but retains a similar sense of cacophony and reverberation. The use of tubular bells and gongs throughout several of these tracks only adds to that feeling. The open sounding, reverbed-as-hell drums on the last two tracks are great additions into the fold as well, they just echo out and create this monstrous atmosphere and raddled behind the guitars. I should make note that those instruments were used on the debut as well, I just found them more poignant on here.
I felt this was a much more graspable album and it was a lot easier to kind of digest than their debut. The songwriting is a lot clearer as well, the riffs, while still being really thick and distorted, are a lot easier to make out. When the duo go doom, hear the end of Elegant In Their Funebrial Cloaks, Arisen for example, that's when I really got excited, because that's really what I feel the essence of death/doom is, and there's even a bit more of that romantic feel that was present on the early albums by the Peaceville three on here as well. As I'm writing this it just struck me that you actually can hear more of that early My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost kind of vibe in there, not a lot mind you, but it's definitely in there. But I can't discount the other half of the duo, Ghoat, who does pretty much everything but the drums, definitely brings the greatest elements to the album, the riffing and the low-gurgling vocals. Without him, I do not believe that this band would differ from other death/doom bands, much like their other collaboration, Father Befouled does. The album really moves further into doom territory in it's ladder moments, which I personally enjoyed, but definitely show why this band differs from Elektrokutioner's other bands, his use of extremely dense and huge sounding atmospheres absolutely covers this album, which might be a turn-off, but if you love atmosphere, much like I do, than this is a must.
This is the type of death metal that I love to hear, it's old-school, low and slow, but with plenty of dynamics. It's a great slab of death/doom that should definitely appeal to any fan of death metal. Definitely check this out if you like your death metal brutal, atmospheric, and crusty.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Rites of Ceremonial Embalm'men, Crypt of His Communal Devourment, Annunciation of The Viscera

Malignant Christ - Forever In Chaos (2011)

Band: Malignant Christ
Country: Knoxville/Morristown, Tennessee
Style: Atmospheric/Brutal Death Metal
Label: Forbidden

For me, notice I'm only referring to myself here, I don't hear/listen to a lot of bands that come out from Tennessee, let alone extreme metal bands. I mean, based on the cover I could kind of guess what kind of sound these guys would have, but that doesn't really matter in terms of how their home has shaped their sound, like some bands. I was actually quite intrigued, before hand, as to what these guys would do with extreme metal.
This is an odd one for me because I've never heard of the band before, which is fine, usually a good thing actually, but after listening to it a couple of times through, it's still a little weird. This is a death metal album, stylistically, the vocals are guttural and low, the guitars are tuned really low, and the drumming relys on a lot of blast-beats. But what's weird about this is how much of a debt it owes to bands like Portal or Impetuous Ritual in terms of how this record actually comes out sounding. This is very atmospheric and the guitars are really, and I mean really, muddy sounding. The whole thing, the guitars and atmospherics kind of blend together into this really dense sort of low-end distortion that can make making out riffs a little difficult at times. As I said, the drums rely heavily on blast-beats, to the extent that I read someone say that it kind of referenced the brutal end of the death metal sub-genre, which I could certainly agree with, not only in term so playing but also the tinny sound of them as well.
In all honesty, this thing can be a real bitch to listen to if only because of how how it was mixed. If you picture it as a latter, for example, the guitars and bass are way on top with the vocals, which in all honesty are pretty low and are near indecipherable, if lyrics matter a lot to you, you're gonna need a lyric sheet for this one, and the drums are near the bottom, very loud and clear sounding in comparison. I found it a lot easier to get into a song if the drums broke out of a blast-beat every once in a while, because the guitars wind up sounding like mud for the better part of the album, so it's hard to really say they're coming up with anything memorable. I don't consider this to hurt the album too much, after having listened to it a handful of times, but when I first listened to this, I'll be honest and say I hated it for production and mixing reasons alone. Just to give props on them for something, it wasn't until track five, Mutilation Ritual, that I actually heard the drums as a drum-machine, which I have to say, usually it's quite easy to make out, but these guys did a good job of keeping things in the realms of possibility on here, as well as not making it really, really annoying. In terms of songwriting though, I think it's about average for a band like this, you find little riffs or drum patterns that catch your ear, but it's still pretty naive compared to a lot of other groups.
I don't ask for much, but I would love it if the band would take a little bit of a cleaner route to recording their guitars on the next album so I could make out what the low-end it actually doing most of the time. Besides that, check this out if you like really atmospheric death metal.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Escape The Torment, Mutilation Ritual, Torches of Sodomy

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hammers of Misfortune - 17th Street (2011)

Band: Hammers of Misfortune
Country: San Francisco, California
Style: Progressive/Heavy Metal
Label: Metal Blade

If there's ever been a metal in the last decade to avoid categorization, while remaining metal mind you, it would have to be Hammers of Misfortune. Very few bands have the sound that this band has managed to capture. Having said all that, they're still one of those bands that I enjoy only once in a while.
I have to give credit to where credit is due, Metal Blade, a label I had pretty much written off in the last couple of years due to the majority of their releases being pretty sub-par metalcore/deathcore albums that I had no interest in, have really done a good job this year of expanding outwards into some other styles. But onto the band at hand, HoM is one of those bands that just defies all categorization. In the past, and on here as well, you get a mix of folk rock, traditional heavy metal, 70s prog rock, and a little bit of extreme metal thrown in there once in a while as well, giving you a band that just transcends genres. They're one of those bands that came out a little too late, because it they had come out in the late 70s or early 80s, these guys would be lauded as pioneers, which they are anyway, but would probably be a lot more known and respected, those who know about them do hold them in the highest regard anyway.
I've perceived this record as a little bit of everything they've done in the past kind of thrown into one record with a few new twists thrown in there as well. You have the great guitar harmonies that they've used in the past, but this record is slower, in my opinion, than their last one, and is probably more in line with "The Locust Years" in terms of how doomy it is, but it also keeps more of that old-school prog element from their last record, "Fields/Church of Broken Glass," in the songwriting as well. You can count on the great choruses and fantastic solos throughout, which isn't really anything new, but something that has not stagnated at any point in the band's career yet, and this record just shows a further strengthening of those elements, hear the likes of first single(?) The Grain. One of the absolute highlights on here is The Day The City Died, which I've heard was at least inspired somewhat by soul music, and it's totally obvious listening to the vocals and keyboard lines throughout the song, it's absolutely fantastic. But, I will admit to this record going a bit overboard sometimes, I found the weird 80's sounding prog-ballad Summer Tears to be a bit too long and a little too cheesy for my own personal taste. After that track, Grey Wednesday feels a bit boring in comparison, but closer Going Somewhere totally picks up the slack with it's more proggy direction, and it doesn't get boring at all.
This is a really good album with a lot of really good proggy, heavy metal songs that just click right away. I do think the album does fall off near the end, but it does redeem itself with the last track. Definitely check this out if you want to hear some really good metal, maybe approach with caution if you expect it to be extreme, but if you can handle a more old-school approach, highly recommended.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: 17th Street, The Day The City Died, Going Somewhere

Iced Earth - Dystopia (2011)

Band: Iced Earth
Country: Tampa, Florida
Style: Power/Thrash Metal
Label: Century Media

Iced Earth is one of those bands that I've grown up with since I was little. My father being a fan of theirs so I have listened to them for quite some time before I ever even got into "metal." Later getting into Into Eternity, I was quite excited to see what Iced Earth would do with Stu Block as their new vocalist.
Stu Block is a great vocalist, I'll say up front that he does a great job on here, there's little question about his range and performance, but it'll take more than this album to convince me of his place in the band. I'm a fan of his voice, as I just said above, I like Into Eternity, but I was also a fan of Tim "Ripper" Owens and of course Matt Barlow. I'm sure like me, many fans will always find Barlow to be the true vocalist of Iced Earth if only because of his presence on some of their classic albums, his tenure in the band did earn him that title, so I'm only a little skeptical because this is Block's first album with the band. I'm sure by the next album I'll start to acknowledge his presence as a key part in the band and not just another singer. But like I said, his voice is great, and he is obviously gifted with a fantastic range that has brought him much fame, but on here, he esques the harsher side of his range in favor of a more mid-range style that definitely sounds like Barlow in many spots. He does bring out his trademark dog-whistle highs in spots, trumping Ripper in that style, but luckily those aren't overused. His entire range is perhaps used best on a track like Boiling Point or Dark City where he goes from lower, Barlow style to really high falsetto at the snap of a dime.
As many others have noticed with this album, the entire band sounds revitalized and much more on point than on their last couple. The songs on here are much more energetic and full of energy, even the softer moments, Anguish of Youth, that hasn't been found in their albums for several years. The songwriting is also much better, with the opening four tracks just nailing you over and over with great hooks and riffs. Now, after those initial four tracks, the album does fall off a little bit, V sounds a little too cheesy for me, a little too power metal if you will, and feels like it would be more appropriately performed by a group like Gamma Ray. Now, I'll freely admit that when it comes to modern thrash and power metal, I've totally out of the loop, but from skimming random albums from the genres throughout the year, this is one of the most memorable and energetic releases from those genres this year, in my opinion.
As a whole, this is definitely one the band's better albums in a while, but it's still not a masterpiece. I know other reviews and people who have heard it are in a similar spot that I'm in, it's good but not great. Definitely look into it if you're a long time fan of the band, you will not be disappointed, or if you want to hear a very strong sounding power/thrash metal album.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Dystopia, Anthem, End of Innocence

Friday, October 21, 2011

Matt Stevens - Relic (2011)

Band: Matt Stevens
Country: North London, UK
Style: Experimental Rock/Fusion
Label: Independent

Earlier this year I reviewed Matt Steven's band, The Fierce and The Dead, and was pretty impressed with what they were doing. Recently, Matt sent me this, his third full-length solo album. Now, when I got this, I thought it was just something he was doing for fun, but finding out it was actually his third, I was a little surprised.
Now, having only heard The Fierce and The Dead album, which was a rather experimental take on post-rock, coming into Stevens' solo material was even more shocking. As a solo record, there isn't really a single cohesive style really blending these songs together, as you'll hear a wide range of styles from post-punk to folk rock to flamenco. There's even a bit of a trip-hop vibe coming through on a couple tracks as well, which was quite interesting. There's really a little bit of something for everyone in here. I mean, this is an instrumental, guitar based album, so by everyone I do mean people who can tolerate instrumental music. In my opinion, and this is coming from a person that likes instrumental music, so I'm bias, but there's enough variety to not get bored with the album, but you'll obviously have your personal favorites.
But like I said above, it's really not all that cohesive, sounding more like a bunch of different songs that Stevens had written and he just put them all on here. I mean, the underlying jazz and fusion influence in his playing could be seen as the adhesive to link these songs together, but it doesn't quite feel connected enough to really do that for me, and that's not to say that the jazz influence isn't well done enough to be justified. The likes of Rusty and are well done, really all the songs are, but the album lacks the distinct characteristic among them all to really feel like a whole and not just a bunch of parts. I guess one could also counter the cohesion thing with the point that most of the instrumentation on here is acoustic guitar, but once again, that's not really the sort of cohesion I mean. This record rarely goes into any sort of "heavy" territory, with the only exception being the very fusion-esque Frost, which moves back-and-forth between jazzy leads and thrashy bursts.
I know the last paragraph was kind of a rant but I do actually enjoy this album quite a bit. I do think it's more of a collection of songs rather than a full album, if that makes any sense, but that's just me. Check it out if you like some experimental and instrumental rock.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Relic, Scapegoat, 30 END

Of The Wand & The Moon - The Lone Descent (2011)

Band: Of The Wand & The Moon
Country: Copenhagen, Denmark
Style: Neo-Folk
Label: Heiðrunar Myrkrunar

Let's talk about a group that's become quite well respected in the world of folk music. The long running project from Kim Larsen has grown from a little project in the realms of neo-folk into a project that is considered one of the most popular in the sub-genre at the moment. Having been around since 1999, it's obviously changed from straight-up neo-folk, but you can always expect quality from Larsen.
Now, I'll just say right up front that I have not heard everything released under the project, I do have a quite a bit of the material released and I've listened to it whenever I've been going through a neo-folk binge, but not really besides that. But when I listened to this album, I was quite surprised by the poppy nature of it. Not to say that other discs haven't had their fare share of catchy material or songs that stuck in your head, but albums like "Lucifer" or ":Emptiness: Emptiness: Emptiness" always felt like there were more focused on maintaining a dark atmosphere rather than having songs that just stuck in your head. Having said that, there's something to be said for the atmosphere that Larsen has created for the project over the years. Very few other bands manage to create an atmosphere that is both desolate, mournful, and dark but also beautiful, romantic, and heartbreaking at the same time, and that can be found on here as well.
The use of more eclectic instrumentation has aided this album in bringing some of the darkest soundscape created within the project yet. Several songs on here feature instrumentation that comes across much more uplifting and almost jazzy in a way, the trumpet solo on Absence, having said that, I'm reviewing this after listening to some jazz so make of that what you will. That, as well as near electronic influence, in the percussion of some tracks, A Pyre of Black Sunflowers, brings a texture that hasn't really been used in the project before this album. Like I said above, the ambiance remains, but is perhaps more solemn in places than ever before, the dark ambient piece Is It Out of Our Hands? really fails to stick in my mind as a whole, but the soundscape created has stayed with me long after the album closes.
This is a very solid album that is sure to please long-time fans of the band and should hopefully turn on others as well. I don't think that what's on here is mind blowing in any way, but the songwriting is good, and the ambiance is pretty original, to me anyway. Definitely check this out if you like folk, neo-folk, or acoustic based music, you won't be disappointed by this.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Sunspot, Tear It Apart, The Lone Descent

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Melted Cassettes - The Real Sounds From Hell Recordings (2011)

Band: Melted Cassettes
Country: West Glendale, Arizona
Style: Noise/Noise Rock
Label: Mind Flare Media

Right here we have another piece of interesting sound from the likes of Mind Flare Media. After listening to that Cheezface release earlier this year, which I was pretty luke-warm on, I could have only guessed what kind of noise this was going to be. Though, like I just stated, I did imagine it was some sort of noise.
Now, the first time I listened through this, I was quite shocked, because this was a lot better than what I had expected. I never much cared for the whole porno-grind aesthetic of some of these power-electronic groups and projects and luckily, this album makes almost no reference to those cheesy, stupid, and rather annoying sounds. Instead, what you get is a much more organized and interesting mix of noise, grindcore, electronic and industrial music, and at times even punk. I was quite entranced because the mixture, despite sounding rather random and unorthodox, actually managed to be pulled off convincingly for the better part of this album. A lot of these songs are short and thus manage to retain a high level of intensity consistently without loosing much steam along the way, which is something I don't really bring up all that often in these reviews, but I think it's important to say that even when these guys go full bore into noise, they're only in shorter bursts that are usually intermingling with more electronic sounds and beats.
This is just one of those albums that is going to make you rethink what noise rock technically is and can be. The genre of noise rock is pretty defined in this day and age, with some groups going out and exploring other territories, but I don't think I've heard anything as strange and bizarre as this coming from a noise rock sort of territory. I'll admit that a lot of these tracks do blur the lines between being "rock" based and electronic noise, but tracks like Altered Beatststs and A Year On The Toilet really bolster some interesting rhythms that just stuck with me as soon as I heard them. The distortion that is used on here just makes it sound very uncomfortable and uneasy, I don't think there's an instrument on here that isn't distorted in some way actually.
It's a very interesting album from a young group that has a lot of potential. This album is pretty broad, sonically, which could see them moving into any number of directions in the future, and I look forward to hearing them. Definitely check this out if you'd be interested in hearing noise rock go into electronic and noise, real noise, territory.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Shining Figures, Altered Beatststs, Xzrzrz

A Winged Victory For The Sullen - A Winged Victory For The Sullen (2011)

Band: A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Country: New York City, New York/Los Angeles, California
Style: Modern Classical/Ambient
Label: Erased Tapes

This year I've found some really good drone and ambient records, which have subsequently not been reviewed, but none the less been living with me. This is a collaboration between Stars of the Lid member Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran. Last year Ólafur Arnalds gave me one of my favorite records of that year, I was curious if these two would perform similarly.
Whether or not it comes as a surprise to you or not, I am a fan of classical and orchestral music and an even bigger fan of piano based music. This album, which focuses on the piano and other ambiances created around it is the type of stuff I absolutely love to hear. In addition to that, the somber atmospheres on here accompanied with strings turns out to be some of the most moving musical effects out there for me. I know it sounds odd coming from someone who listens to as much dark and heavy music as I do but I find music that is perhaps softer and more simplistic to often contain even more emotional depth than a lot of metal records for example. Now, this album varies a lot in song lengths, ranging from one to twelve minutes, but one thing remains the same throughout, they are all good. It's consistent from one track to the next, which is good for a record like this, which remains engaging with it's listener, me in this case, for it's entire length.
This is a very cold and dark record, there isn't a whole lot of light, but there is beauty. In my head, while I was listening to this, I just pictured arctic landscapes at different points in the day. With a track like the opener, We Played Some Open Chords and Rejoiced, For The Earth Had Circled The Sun Yet Again, bringing to mind the sun rising over the barren and icy landscapes of the arctic while Steep Hills of Vicodin Tearstrack feels much closer to the sun setting and I just picture the cold ocean below the ice-caps and the life underneath the water. In a sense, this does recalls a bit of that post-rock vibe that Ólafur Arnalds gave with his last album, but this album is not nearly as repetitive and minimal as that one was. If there's a flaw to be found on here it would have to be that these tracks can blend together at times, which isn't necessarily a negative depending on who you are, but I kind of wished that each track was a little more separate from the others.
This record blew me away, it's the type of music that just struck me as the perfect soundtrack to a rainy day, which it happens to be while I was writing this. Like I said above, I'm a big fan of this sort of stuff, I love ambient based piano music and this is totally up my alley. Definitely check it out if you're into piano based music, somber orchestral music, ambient, or even post-rock, I think you'd be able to get a lot from this record.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Minuet For A Cheap Piano, A Symphony Pathetique, All Farewells Are Sudden

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dream Affair - Endless Days (2011)

Band: Dream Affair
Country: Philadelphia, Pensylvania
Style: Post-Punk/Darkwave
Label: AVANT!

When I was first notified of this album, and band for that matter, I think it was my first encounter with the group. For some reason I think I might have heard the name through last.fm on the Cold Cave page, but I'm not certain. But, as for the album, I was certainly not expecting what I got.
I'll readily admit that when it comes to post-punk, I'm nowhere near being an expert, being a casual listener, though it has been a style that's been more prominent in my rotations that usual in the last several months. But when I first skimmed through this album, I was very impressed. The hints of the likes of The Cure and early Death In June can be found throughout this album, which I really enjoyed, but this group really has it's own take on the genre, in my opinion. The melodies are very simplistic and most songs retain a pretty up-tempo style that make these songs very anthemic, but it's still quite dark and melancholic. This still makes plenty of reference to gothic and synthe-pop, but I kind of expect that in bands of this nature.
While most of the songs, vocally, are performed by Hayden Payne, the founder of the band, occasionally keyboardist Abby Echiverri will step up to the mic and add her voice into the picture, Lucid, creating a nice contrast between her very and Payne's punkish baritone style of singing, Drifting. A lot of these songs are really nice and catchy, as I said above, a lot of them feature quite bit and singable choruses, and I feel that that is ultimately what sets this apart from some other records, and bands, that focus more on mood and look rather than songwriting. I really have to compliment Frank Deserto for his bass-lines which really hold the songs together, even though I kind of wish they were just a little bit louder in the mix. Now, this isn't a perfect album, I did feel that some songs were just average and not that extraordinary in comparison to others. I also would have wished there was a bit more guitar leads on here, when they're done well, they just make the track so much better and effectively more memorable, in my opinion, hear tracks like Silent Story and Parting for good examples of what I'm referring to here.
Overall, I really enjoyed this album, it's just got some really great songs and a nice personality. I look forward to hearing what this trio does in the future and hope that their songwriting is honed to a fine precision in the future. Definitely check this out if you're into the whole 80's sort of gothic and post-punk movements.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Endless Days, No Use Hiding, Parting

King Dude - Tonight's Special Death (2011)

Band: King Dude
Country: Seattle, Washington
Style: Neo-Folk/Martial Industrial
Label: AVANT!

When I first saw this album, I had no idea what to expect, I mean the cover screams one thing while the music itself is another. Sole member Thomas Jefferson Cowgill comes from blackened death metal group Book of The Black Earth, which he is apparently no longer a part of, but he demonstrates something much different in this project. I was actually quite excited to listen to be honest because I wasn't sure what to expect going in.
Unlike his previous band, which I never cared for to be honest, the now solo Cowgill is able to craft some rather haunting songs. These are some reverb-drenched folk songs that recall elements of country and martial industrial styles from time to time and influences from the likes of Death In June and Current 93 seeping through as well. Cowgill has a good grasp on making songs that reflect different sides of emotions, there are more upbeat tracks, River of Gold, as well as more down tempo ones, No One Is Here. Despite there being ten songs, this entire release is just under twenty-five minutes, which should tell you how brief these songs are. In addition to that, the production is also pretty raw, giving these songs that lo-fi sort of quality that makes so much indie folk praised over, but makes it interesting with various atmospheres coming in and out.
I wasn't sure what to expect upon first listen, but with each and every listen it just grows on me. It's a very enjoyable experience that I expect to be headed for my end of the year EPs if even more listens bring a similar sense of fulfilment through listening. Definitely look into this if you like more neo-folk/martial industrial sort of stuff, you won't be disappointed.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Witches Hammer, White Hands, Love All Around You