Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Country: Muskegon, Michigan
Style: Progressive Metal
The Omega Experiment is a group that I only recently got into. I saw the cover artwork which was done by Igor from Uneven Structure and saw that it was mastered by Acle from TesseracT and I took interest and began to wonder what this project was if it had those two attached to the project. It wasn't until I heard a preview track for this album where I first took notice of the duo and became a fan. I feel like I had heard of the duo when their first EP was released but didn't end up taking real notice of them until listening to that preview track for the first time.
From the second that Gift opened up, I knew that this would be an album that I would wind up enjoying. Despite being attached to some big names within the djent community, this album contains very few segments of that sound and is closer to sounding like a modern progressive metal album. Probably the most obvious influence is Devin Townsend, which at times is very clear and can dominate some of the actual originality in the band's sound, but any reference to Devin Townsend isn't a bad thing in my book if anything deserves more praise than scorn from me. The hugeness of this album, both in terms of atmosphere and layers is very reminiscent of Devin's work and is very, very impressive. I love it when a band has a sound that is distinct, and while I do believe that a lot of The Omega Experiment's sound on here can be traced back to Devin, or more recently TesseracT or Uneven Structure, I would say that the hugeness on this album has a more up-beat vibe to it. Despite the dark subject matter that the album discusses, I wouldn't say that this is a "dark" album per se. It has dark moments, most notably Furor, but the majority of it is fairly up-beat and uplifting.
Probably one of the best things I found about this album was the songwriting, which is just stellar in my opinion. Despite being a progressive metal album, there is a very "pop" approach to the melodies, vocally anyway, that makes them just stand out so much in comparison to the dozens of Dream Theater rip-offs out there in the world today. There are songs on here that are actually, in my opinion, straight-up progressive pop because the melodies on here are just so bubble-gum catchy it's not even funny and they just got stuck in my head, hear closer Paramount for example. It's honestly something I don't find in a lot of groups and it's great to find a group that isn't afraid to acknowledge a pop influence in their music. I really give Dan Wieten a lot of credit because he's said that he wasn't really comfortable doing vocals on here, but he sounds fantastic on here, and his voice is sort of a blend of Devin Townsend's eccentricities, more traditional power metal vocals in his range, but at times channeling a pop-punk vocalist in style, it just struck me as a very unique performance and I was very impressed. It's also worth mentioning that despite being a prog album, there's never a tendency to really go overboard, only one song on here tops ten minutes, and just barely, with other songs actually being quite short. There was never a sense of the duo wanting to stretch a song out longer just to make it longer, and felt like they had condensed it into songs just long enough to express several ideas but not enough to overwhelm a listener.
Possibly my only real complaints about this album is how it ends and some of the interludes. I find that closer Paramount is a fantastic song, make no mistake that I do find it to be skillfully written and executed, but it feels rather anti-climactic after the epic Terminus. I can compare this to one of my favorite albums of all time, Devin Townsend's Terria, and how it ends with a more up-beat pop song; and in all honesty, I wouldn't fault an album too hard just because it's last song isn't as epic as the one before it, especially if the song is as well written as it is on here. As for the interludes, my only problem is that I thought they went on for a little too long, and that they could have been shortened a little bit, but beyond that I really don't have anything bad to say about the album.
Like the above should indicate, I really enjoyed this and thought it was really fantastic debut. I'm surprised that this is an independent release with how well it's recorded, performed, and how well it's been recieved thus far, but I doubt these guys will remain independent for long if they keep putting out music as good as this. I definitely recommend this to anyone who like melodic, progressive music because this is very good and I am looking forward to the next album from these guys for sure.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Stimulus, Furor, Karma
Country: London, UK
Style: Tech Metal/Progressive Metal
In what I've noticed to be a similar occurrence among many fans of this band, is that there is an initial difficulty in getting into the band due to the vocal style of Sean McWeeney. After getting over that first hump you find a large group of fans who a seriously dedicated to this band and are fiercely devoted to them, which is good, but can be a bit overwhelming. While I wouldn't classify myself as one of those fans, I am certainly a fan and was anxiously awaiting this album throughout all of last year when it was originally slated to be released.
While I first found out about TSF through a friend of mine who was very into djent, and wound up turning me onto bands like Periphery and Cloudkicker, among others, musically they stood out because none of their songs really ever focused too much on groove. There was much more of a technical and progressive edge to them that made them lean more into those styles than djent for me. The obvious comparison with groups like SikTh or more recent groups Aliases or Cyclamen but once again, I'd put TSF further into the straight ahead tech metal and prog-metal genres than either of their contemporaries. There is almost no trace of djent or -core on here beyond the couple of tracks that were from their Sections EP, Sections and DMP (FDP), which do venture into more groovy territory than the newer tracks, but even then, they don't dwell on them. Throw into the mix McWeeney's distinct vocal style which features an interesting clean vocal style, but more grabbing are his screams, which are one of the most polarizing things about the band because it's not guttural or raspy like many of his peers. His screaming style is more in the vein of old post-hardcore bands, where it's more of an harsher version of yelling.
In my opinion, this album does a fantastic job grabbing you with opener Huge Hammers. It's the type of song that just makes a great first impression, at least for me, because it mixes together a little bit of everything from the album, though it is one of the more aggressive songs in my opinion, and is a fairly immediate song with quite a few good melodies and riffs sewn throughout. Even before the album was released, the band had stated that this album was going to have a bit more of a focus on harmony and melody than their EP, which is noticeable right away. While there is still plenty of aggression, especially within the older tracks, most of the tracks on here feature a greater emphasis on what I guess could be called a more alternative influence. I say alternative because there are quite a few sections where the band tread into territory that doesn't sound all that metallic and, I'm very open to being corrected in this regard, that doesn't sound like anything I've heard another band do in quite this way before. Despite how technical a lot of the musicianship is, it manages to always stay melodic and provide an interesting riff that I, personally, find quite memorable. Derya "Dez" Nagle and Joaquin Ardiles do a very fine job at creating riffs that are mind-boggling as well as catchy. In addition to that McWeeney's vocals have improved greatly since the release of their EP, both his clean singing and his screams.
I feel that I should also mention something that I didn't expect from this album was the sort of ambiance that creeps up on you while you're listening to it. While the first handful of tracks are pretty intense and aggressive, by the time you get to songs like Animal King or Circassian Beauties, there's an interesting atmosphere that just seems to have popped up while you weren't paying attention, or while I wasn't paying attention, I should say. I found it extremely interesting because in addition to all that I've mentioned above about how this album has exceeded my expectations, the use of ambiance was something I never expected at all from this band. I think it also kind of reinforces my idea of how there is a more alternative kind of vibe from this album that distinguishes this band from others. While their "djent" peers have certainly made use of atmosphere in their music, hell, even some tech/math-metal bands have done it, none of them really evoke the same mood that this album does, and I find that commendable.
Personally, I really enjoyed the album and it did things I really wasn't expecting from the band, which is always a plus from my point of view. I don't think it's a perfect album, but it is really good and it gave me more than I wanted from it, and from what I hear, the band is already a good way through writing the follow-up to this anyway. An album that is as instrumentally as technical as this one is but also as melodic might throw some people off, I know some of those tech-death heads don't like anything messing around in their brutality and technicality, especially melody, but if you're an open minded person who can accept the two intermingling, definitely check this one out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Huge Hammers, Circassian Beauties, Grind The Ocean
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Country: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Shoegaze/Doom Rock
Label: Handmade Birds
Coming across unique albums is something I don't take for granted, since starting this site/blog I've been exposed to many, many groups who never cease to impress me and I realize I never would have listened to them if I didn't have this site. Handmade Birds is a label who has had a very good track-record of releases in its relatively short life thus far and has turned me on to more than a couple of really good bands, Dreamless being the latest. This was streaming for a little while before it was actually released but I wanted my first listen to be from the album itself so I waited, so what I expected it to sound like was not what I got. This time I think it was an incident of miscommunication rather than me just being ignorant or reading something wrong.
I had a lot of trouble trying to get into this album. It's the type of album is just so dense and full of sound and layers that at times I just couldn't penetrate it. In addition to that the songs on here are all pretty long and are pretty slow going for the most part which made it all the harder to try and get into. The entire record comes across as this wall of sound that is quite daunting, and I found it pretty intimidating on my first listen through because everything just sort of hits you at once and is a lot to take in. For some reason, I was under the impression that this record was going to be more of a psychedelic, drone-ish, metal record, which really surprised me because I didn't expect anything like that to come out from Handmade Birds. As soon as I started listening to it, it became apparent that what I had imagined this record being and what it actually is were two completely different things. I had imagined a sort of trippy, doom metal-ish sort of record with traditional prog-metal (that's the part that I would've found surprising) parts, Instead, it is actually closer to a heavy and doomy shoegaze record.
In my mind, this thing comes across as what I could imagine a collaboration between Justin Broadrick and Robin Guthrie would sound like. It's got that really heavy and industrial-ish vibe that both Godflesh and Jesu have but has a lot of the textural things that I tend to associate more with bands like the Cocteau Twins or Slowdive. In a way, there's even a resemblance to Nadja in some of the heavier spots because of the wall of sound effect. Despite what I'm comparing it to, it really does have something all its own. There are just some qualities to this album that you can't compare to other artists, or rather, I can't compare to other artists because I haven't heard every album ever made. For instance, I would say that despite how heavy and slow a lot of these songs are, they are more "rock" based than than "metal" in my opinion, they just don't have that crushing doom metal kind of vibe, more of a doom rock if you ask me. I remember reading that this band was originally supposed be, more or less, a black metal band, and there isn't really a whole lot of that in here, but where I could pick up some black metal influence, it seemed to be done in an almost post-rock fashion.
Despite how I feel towards variety and experimental music, there were points when I listened to this where I questioned if I was actually enjoying what I was hearing. Because of not being able to listen to the album in a single sitting in quite a few instances, I was forced to listen to two or three tracks at a time in between classes or drives home from school or work and it was really troubling. It really made me wonder if this was the first bad release I had heard from this year and from Handmade Birds. I was seriously worried. I've come to realize 1) that this is a very good record full of lots of great moments and stellar songwriting, 2) Handmade Birds is a fantastic label and R. Loren has fantastic taste in music and this only reinforces it, and finally 3) I really only have one problem with this record and that's with the last song, Drown My Soul, being too long. Even that one gripe is fairly minor because it being too long isn't because the track is boring, but the energy used in it gives the track an almost punk kind of vibe, and I don't think that sort of energy can be maintained for seven minute without seeming a little contrived and stretched.
Like I said above, I had to work at this album, I didn't find it instantly memorable or catchy, it took several listens. Even now as I am writing this review I'm hearing things I haven't heard before and finding it even more appealing than the last time I listened to it (which happened to be two days ago), so it is definitely a grower. I got a lot more out of this record than I ever expected to, even when I thought it was going to be a different record sonically. I definitely recommend this to anyone who's interested in experimental music, in general, because this album really could appeal to people who aren't into metal or drone music at all.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight
Country: New York City, New York
I don't claim to know anything about shoegaze as a genre, I know what I like to hear, but as for the genre as a whole, I wouldn't ever say that I'm the right guy to consult about your questions for the genre. Having said that, I am very interested in the genre of shoegaze, possibly from my interest in blackgaze, but either way. What drew me to this release was the fact that it's an album that was written by a writer, and while that's probably a stupid reason, it made me want to listen to it.
As a genre, at least in the band's that I've enjoyed that is, most of shoegaze band's don't appear to dwell too long within melancholy, which can be a plus, though I do happen to find the layers of sound can do wonders for darker emotions. While this release doesn't differ that much in regard to the emotions it appears to present, I did find that it's more upbeat and dance-esque nature made it a bit more fun. As someone who loves layers of sound, I realize that it can be difficult to try and convey emotion through lot of textures, so I have to give credit to where credit is due in that regard. While I understand that getting into an album like this can be a bit tough to really penetrate, I do think that the songwriting is actually pretty solid. While they are certainly written pretty simply and don't really make any move towards being progressive, the melodies didn't strike me at first. It took a couple of listens before they sort of wormed their way into my cranium and I actually found them quite catchy.
For a genre that I am only relatively interested in, which may be simplifying it a bit, I enjoyed this album. For what could essentially be called a "pop" album, I thought that this was pretty solid. Definitely check it out if you're a fan of shoegaze, dream pop, or stuff like that, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Witchcraft Recharge Center, Beating The Shell Game
Country: Bloomington, Indiana
Label: Sister Cylinder
No matter how cheesy or lame it sounds, I really owe my interest in post-punk music to The Cure. I'm sure it's not uncommon for that to be the case, but it just seems like such the stereotypical answer to give when someone asks you what you know about post-punk bands. Having said that, I've been lucky to know some people who have done nothing but give me good suggestions and have expanded my library for the better. Although they weren't around back in the 80s, when I first heard about Kam Kama, believe it or not a month or two back I was first spoken to about them, I was very taken with them, even though the band didn't even contact me till about a week or so ago.
This six song EP is pretty upbeat for a post-punk album and lends itself to being a more regular listen. I don't mean that in the negative way of it being a regular album but for me, I was more inclined to listen to this album as oppose to some others because it isn't as dark or morose as a lot of other groups I happen to enjoy. There's a sense of vitality and spunk within the performance of these songs, even the slower and more moody ones, that just makes you want to bob your head along with it. What struck me, perhaps surprisingly, was the track Means, which sounded like some long-lost Rush song from their 80s period. It might just be me, but once that comparison popped into my head I just couldn't stop thinking about how much (better) it sounds than the albums Rush released in the 80s. The dreamy guitars and subtle synthe lines bring this closer to a shoegaze record some times and I actually found that quality kind of endearing about the band. I can venture to guess that these guys aren't the type to create songs with layers and layers of texture but add just enough to kind of blur that line. The fusion of all these things, to me, in addition to rather good and catchy songwriting does put this release above many others I've heard around the net as of recently.
Overall, it's a solid piece of work and I hope that more people check these guys out because they are quite good. I mean, I enjoyed this and found it to be a fun and enjoyable album, and it works well at putting me into a more positive-ish (because I'm a pessimist) mind state, which I don't have any problem with. I don't know how much traditional doom and gloom post-punk fans will get from this but if you want a short and fun little album, I'd definitely tell you to check this EP out.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Means, Shaky Convalescent
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Country: Thessaloniki, Greece
Style: Psychedelic/Progressive Black Metal
I don't think it's any secret that my tastes tend to lie in weirder bands. Personally, and putting genre tags on them is gonna sound really lame but, I find that albums that are termed as progressive, psychedelic, experimental, or avant-garde oriented black metal are albums that I'm most likely going to enjoy. Finding out about this project only a couple of weeks ago and finding out that one member is Theoharis of the mighty Transcending Bizarre? just made my ears perk up. I knew without even hearing a single song that this would be up my alley.
The word progressive and psychedelic can mean a hundred different things when you put it onto a black metal band, which can be a good and a bad thing; but unfortunately, it leads to a lot of very uninspired bands playing nonsense and thinking they're playing a cool and unique brand of extreme metal. That's not the case with this album. This album is progressive, this album is psychedelic, this album is unique, and this album is inspired. When I hear any of those terms, I expect some form of interesting songwriting and instrumentation, I'm not saying there needs to be a random accordion solo or anything, but I'd like to hear a band use an odd riff or create a section in a song that is just totally off-the-wall, and I got all of that from this album. In addition to that, this is an album that just sounds fun, especially in the bass lines, and there are some spots on here where you could dance to them if you wanted to, though those parts don't ever last all that long. There were spot on here that just sounded so great that it put a big smile across my face, and that doesn't happen unless I'm really getting into what I'm hearing.
I mean, there's definitely a black metal core to this, but it's being filtered through 70's progressive rock and jazz-fusion. I'd even say there's a good helping of post-punk thrown into the mix on here as well in some spots, Against The Curse, We Dream for instance. Obviously Theoharris' work with Transcending Bizarre? has helped him in creating the orchestrations on this album because the more symphonic aspects of these songs, when they're used I mean, they are interesting and creative, but they do differ from what you'll hear from TB?. The orchestrations aren't as overpowering, in a sense, as the work in TB? and work more to accentuate certain parts of the song rather than give it a more overblown and theatrical vibe. Even the vocals on here sound pretty unique to me, in the context of the album I mean. While the black metal oriented snarls are about what you'd expect to hear, the clean vocals really struck me because they had more vibrato on them than a lot of other vocalists I've heard, there were times when I was actually reminded of Hansi Kürsch (of Blind Guardian), which I find especially unique. I realize that I have overused the words unique and original in this review but I really can't find enough good things to say about this album because I've never heard anything that sounds like it before in my life.
I'm sure there are people who would say that the putting black metal through a filter of more experimental based music like the ones I just mentioned would diminish the overall quality and intensity of the record, and while I wouldn't say this is an intense record by any means, it is something I've never heard before. I mean, this isn't a heavy or super aggressive album by any means, but I don't think this record is meant to be. For as weird and progressive as it is, there really isn't any need to be brutal. I also am aware that the fusion of 60s and 70s prog, and even post-punk, into black metal isn't a new idea, but if you can tell me another band that sounds like this one does, you're probably going to be stretching the comparison because I've never heard another band sound like this one before.
While avant-garde, progressive, experimental, psychedelic metal bands are pretty standard in this day and age (yes, I do happen to enjoy most of them) I think it's hard to come by a genuinely original sounding album like this one. Sorry if you're a purist and you hate adventure, but I happen to love stuff like this. Creativity excites me and I rarely get to hear such an original album as this one. I think that it's pretty obvious at this point that I really enjoyed this album and that I'm a fan of this band, so it should come as any surprise that I do highly recommend this to fans of experimental metal.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight
Country: Gothenburg, Sweden
Style: Progressive Black Metal
I know I can't speak for everyone but I certainly forgot about Waning for a little while there. I remember finding their first album when it came out, 2008's Population Control, and enjoying it, I even revisited it for the purpose of this review and it's still a very enjoyable album by the way, but I have to admit that I kind of lost track of the band in recent years. It wasn't until I saw a review for this album which made me take notice of the band again.
I don't know how many other people have wondered what certain genres would sound like together, but it's something I usually think about quite regularly (usually at work). Two genres that I don't recall thinking about fusions for were industrial and post-black metal/blackgaze, but low and behold this is what I've gotten. When I listened to Waning's debut full-length, there's a definite industrial edge to it that set it apart from many other progressive tinged black metal bands. That industrial and urban sensibility is retained on here, but when listening to this album it's very apparent that the band has taken in influences from post-rock or blackgaze/post-black metal bands. There is a higher degree of melodic similarities between this and some other groups that have branched out and included those elements into their sound as well but I'd definitely say that these guys have a better grip on their sound than most of those other bands. Unlike many of their peers (if you could call them that) it seems to me that Waning has a better grip on what they want to do stylistically because even though this album certainly has more of those cleaner, dreamy, guitar parts than their debut, it's still a lot more gripping and intense, even dissonant, album. It's an album that manages to retain its integrity whilst experimenting with softer and more moody atmospheres, and to me, that's both worthy of respect and praise.
Forgive me for sounding redundant but this is an album that really excited me. Due to me not really considering the fusion of these two sub-genres, among others mind you, this album came off as a very unique and powerful album. I find that while a lot of bands can certainly be industrial, not all of them have that sort of urban, dark underbelly, that this band maintains throughout their album. Unlike a lot of other black metal bands, in general here, the atmosphere on here is something more slimy and mechanical, I think of the image of a person walking through the city late at night during the winter with no one around. It's cold and dark out, but the world around you is very mechanical and bleak. In my opinion, the music on here reflects the sound of a person being trapped within a modern world and just aching to get out; but, and what ultimately helps to make this record so impactful for me, is that despite that feeling, it is in no way claustrophobic feeling. The ambiance that just permeates the background and helps to provide the album with that cold aura is something truly special and unique. I remember reading one comment someone made about this record saying that it was like a standard, or average, hipster post-rock record with black metal vocals on it, and I didn't get that at all from this record. This is a far more aggressive album than many post-rock influenced black metal records I've heard and is a lot more mechanical sounding as well. This is a far more original beast than I think it may get credit for.
Once again, this is the sort of record I just love hearing and finding out about. Although I let Waning slip through my memory before, this record will definitely keep them near the front of my memory for some time and hopefully this album brings them to a wider audience. It's got enough melody and moodiness for the hipster fanboys and girls but enough heaviness and edge to please your average black metal fan. I definitely give this record a high recommendation to anyone who likes experimental black metal.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: End Assembly, Continuum, Through Fields of Mercury
Country: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Avant-Garde/Symphonic Black Metal
Let's get this straight, I am a fan of Sigh, despite my feelings toward their last album, and have been a big fan of the band since I first heard them back in 2008. I'm a big advocater of Japanese music in general, so at the time, finding a black metal band from Japan was just amazing and Sigh is just a totally off-the-wall sort of band, I was fan right away. Since exploring their other albums, I've obviously been drawn to some more than others, but I can't say I was ever not a fan of the band. With this new album, I had only heard two songs before hearing this entire album, and I just knew it was going to be fantastic.
To start off, I'll just speak my complaints towards 2010's Scenes From Hell. In my opinion, musically, I think it's a pretty solid album, not the band's best, but still a very solid album. My problem lies more in the production, mixing, and mastering which I feel pretty much ruined the album. The guitar and drum sounds on that album are terribly tinny and lackluster when put up against even the band's first couple of albums. Then there was the matter of the orchestration, which happened to feature quite a lot of brass, which I'm not exactly the biggest fan of in heavier forms of music, which dominated most of the foreground of that album along with the vocals. The mixing and mastering job was totally botched in my opinion and it left that album sounding really corny and synthetic, and they used a real brass section, in my opinion. But let's move onto this album.
Once opener Purgatorium begins, there was an immediate smile put upon my face. I knew immediately that this was going to be an album that encapsulated everything I love about Sigh and wrapped it up in a concise package. In my opinion, while every Sigh album is different, I have felt that every two full-lengths they release can kind of be placed side-to-side before they shift, whether it be their first two albums which were arguably their most black metal releases, then Hail Horror Hail and Scenario IV: Dread Dreams which in my opinion their most progressive and avant-garde, followed by their two more progressive rock and traditional heavy metal influenced records, and then their last two which were more in the symphonic and orchestral style. This album has a bits from all of them and just makes it such an enjoyable album. I also have to say that before writing this review I had gone back and listened to a lot of the band's older albums, and while all of them have that blues-esque sort of riffing to them, there are songs on here that are the most bluesy I've ever heard the band. I also have to say that I never expect Sigh to ever experiment with sound collage music either, which is used to close out a couple of tracks on here.
Personally, I love records and bands that are just quirky, hence two of my favorite bands are Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, and this record has that quality down pat. There are moments on here that are straight-up weird and insane sounding, The Transfiguration Fear Lucid Nightmares for instance which features hand-percussion, hand claps, and 70's organ and sax solos among other things all within it's just under five minute running time. There are songs on here that sound like Sigh lifted a page or two from Mr. Bungle in my opinion, and that's not a bad thing at all, where they just change things up so much it's almost absurd and laughable, but all the while absolutely amazing. Tracks like Somniphobia or Far Beneath The In-Between just throw any and all ideas of being straightforward out the window and are pretty much the epitome of avant-garde metal in my opinion. However, with all the above being no less true, I feel that it should be said that no matter how off-the-wall most of these songs are, there are always melodies that recall NWOBHM or even classical music which allows most of these songs to be inherently catchy in some way, at least that's how it worked for me. All throughout this album there are certain melodies and orchestration choices that definitely made me think of noir film making. Amnesia just screams of 40s late night vibe from films like They Drive By Night or The Woman In The Window; and I just love that vibe from it.
Screw traditional songwriting, this is the sort of record I get a rush off of listening to over and over. The excitement of things always changing and just sounding so bizarre just gets me off and is a thrill that only avant-garde music has provided me with. I'm fully aware that this won't be for everyone, but this is the sort of stuff I just love so I have to give this the highest of recommendations to anyone who likes their metal weird and totally experimental.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Song Is A Highlight
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Style: Blackened Death Metal
Label: Ahdistuksen Aihio Productions
What we have here is another product from Atvar of Circle of Ouroborus, but as you'd most likely expect, it is a different beast than his other bands. I've covered both Circle of Ouroborus and Rahu more recently, but even including this project, he still has a couple more groups that you could look into, all of them actually standing apart from each other stylistically as well. I won't go into the other bands, but I think that if you want to hear some interesting black metal you should definitely look into them, but onto this album.
This was my first encounter with Venus Star so I really didn't know what sort of project it was going to be. I had read a review that had said that it was more death metal oriented than some of Atvar's other projects, but beyond that I was coming in pretty fresh. Listening through to this album, it's actually a little surprising because it really doesn't go out of its way to be as weird as CoO or as melodically direct as Rahu, or as chaotic as even Vordr, and is instead a more rough and ragged take on old-school death metal, with obvious inclinations toward black metal. Most of these songs are also pretty short, with most not even topping four minutes, so you're going to have to be into it to really get anything from this other than a kick in the head. Granted, it isn't devoid of atmosphere, so there are some notable links that do bind this to his other work.
I was a bit surprised by how the album was structured because the opening two tracks are quite doomy and slow going, which isn't typically the case for a death metal oriented band, you'll find a sort of old-school Paradise Lost-esque kind of vibe to them in my opinion. Following tracks switch up the tempo a bit more and bring to mind everything from material that reminds me of early Cannibal Corpse to something that I'd expect to hear from God Dethroned. Now, I want to kind of make a point by saying that there is a definite Incantation kind of vibe going on throughout this record, but I would not compare it the new wave of bands who attempt to sound like they're playing death/doom in a cave because what's on here isn't as muddy or cacophonous as that. The only reason I feel like the Incantation comparison can be made, for me, is because both groups have a sort of animalistic sense of rabidity while also being a lot more moody and allowing atmosphere to guide a song instead of intensity, which obviously can work hand in hand. Personally, while I do admit that I do happen to enjoy quite a few bands who are essentially aping Incantation's sound I do think it's nice to come across a project like this that manages to take certain traits from the band without sounding like carbon copy of them.
Overall, this was a pretty solid sophomore outing and one that I can imagine being a bit more accessible than some of Atvar's other projects. I certainly enjoyed it while it was on but it isn't as cerebral as Atvar's other musical endeavors can prove to be and is more bulky and visceral. Like I said, it doesn't really ever move into pure Incantation worship, but fans of bands that do that sort of style could certainly enjoy this record.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: The Abyss Opens, The Vesica Tempest, On The Path of Return
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Country: Traverse City, Michigan
Style: Raw/Atmospheric Black Metal
Ah yes, finally I can talk about the demo release from the newest-ish project from Austin Lunn of Panopticon, Kólga. This demo was first announced around the middle of last year (I believe) and has been delayed and delayed much to my dismay and was finally released last month. This three song debut from Austin, along with Jack Hannert of Seidr and Marty Rytkonen of Charnel Valley, proves to be everything I expected it to be and more, which should give you an indication of how I feel about it right away.
If you're familiar with Austin's work with Panopticon within the last couple of years, the sounds you'll encounter on this demo shouldn't surprise you. What the three songs on here bring to the table are essentially an extension of what he did on his second split with Wheels Within Wheels or the on 2010's compilation On The Subject of Mortality, it's the post-rock and shoegaze influenced black metal that isn't so much blackgaze as much as something between the modern post-rock influenced/post-black metal groups and more classic atmospheric black metal groups. As much as I love his stuff, this isn't just Austin's project, and Harnnert and Rytkonen do help to bring a different flare to the record that does separate it from Panopticon. The sound on here is closer to more modern post-black metal than what I mentioned above for Panopticon, but it's more raw and cold sounding. Due to how raw the recording is, and it's been a product that has, in my opinion, hindered Lunn's work in the past, the drums stand out and are quite loud in the mix and can overpower some of the quieter moments on the record. Having said that, to say that the drums ruin the record would be false and beauty can always be found within each track, no matter how loud the drums are, it always shines through.
Nothing super original here but performed and written in as expected high quality. It's a solid debut that definitely has the potential to grow into something far stronger and more interesting if the trio decide to keep the project going. If you happen to be a fan of post-black metal or black metal that is focused more on atmosphere, do yourself a favor and look into this quickly.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Out of The Wood
Country: Portland, Oregon/Seattle, Washington
Style: Post-Rock/Dark Ambient
Label: Handmade Birds
Within the underground black metal community the two artists on this split are held in quite a high regard. Though I am not all that familiar with At The Head of The Woods' album, I know that it is thought of very highly, and I am a fan of Blood of The Black Owl and I am aware that it is a project that has garnered quite a notable amount of acclaim for their last few releases. This collaboration has been planned for a little while as far as I know and the always great Handmade Birds was able to get their hands on it to release it.
Since there are only two tracks on here, it should be obvious that each project contributed a single song, so starting the album off is James Woodhead's At The Head of The Woods. This track, the shorter of the two by about a minute, is the first new material, I believe, he's released since the project's debut in 2008. The track itself is very solemn and contemplative but instead coming off as more ritualistic piece of doomy post-rock. Like post-rock, the track builds, but it's more of a subtle build that steadily climaxes and falls throughout the course of its twenty-four minutes. I won't deny the influence and inclusion of drone and ambient music in the track though, as the track contains large portions of relative minimalism within it. What probably caught me most off guard about the track was the almost Led Zeppelin-esque guitar sound that was used throughout the second half of the track. I'll admit that it might just be me, but it really did bring to mind Zeppelin for me and I found that entire second half of the track to just come alive in part because of that guitar sound and how it was played. I really enjoyed the track even though it was pretty different from what I was expecting it to sound like.
By comparison, Chet Scott's Blood of The Black Owl track is far more solemn and meditative than Woodhead's track. If you've heard 2010's The Banishing Ritual, the project's latest full-length (though the new one was supposed to be released last year), it becomes clear that this track was definitely recorded during the same session. It contains similar ideas while not being as "heavy" as that album was, but definitely retains the cold and dark atmosphere from that album. Despite the project's beginnings in funeral doom and black metal, and various combinations of those genres and sub-genres, the project's most recent outputs (once again, haven't heard their supposed 2011 album yet) has been dwelling much more within the realms of ritualistic ambient music, dark ambient drones, and the occasional heavy doom part, but metal has been left, for the most part, behind with the recordings from at least this session. While most of the track is, honestly, pretty monotonous, there were a couple of things that did catch my attention and perk up my ears when I heard them, including the sparse acoustic guitar, organ, theremin, and flute lines that littered the track.
I do like this release, overall, though I definitely see that it can be a bit lengthy and a bit of a tiring listen if you're not all that into slow moving, rather quiet music. Despite it's good intentions and interesting ideas, it will likely be more of a fan-favorite sort of release, and most likely won't end up being a huge mark in either project's discography. It's certainly not a release for everyone, but if you can appreciate what I think can be termed as "ritualistic ambient" music, or my own term "shamanistic doom", than I think you'll definitely find something in either, or both, tracks to appreciate.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Here I Stand
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Country: Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Experimental Metal/Chamber Music
Yes, yes, I realize that I'm more than a little late in posting a review for this album, but I had other things to do before finally getting to it. If you're a fan of experimental, progressive, or avant-garde music, mostly metal but not excluding other genres, you've probably come into contact with Kayo Dot, or at least Maudlin of The Well, before, so I won't go into too much depth about their past. If you haven't heard of either one, go listen to them right now, because MoTW is pretty much legendary at this point, and Kayo Dot is always an interesting listen.
Obviously it's pretty common knowledge right now that the three middle tracks of this album were recorded live, while the opener and closer were done in the studio, so they do have noticeable differences, sonically. While this is supposedly the band's return to their more metallic roots, which surprisingly meant shorter songs for them as well apparently, don't think that Toby Driver and co. have left behind their experimental tendencies. Kayo Dot has always been a group that's walked the fine line between avant-garde metal and modern classical/chamber music; and if you've heard their last two full-lengths, you'll know that they've been embracing the chamber music aesthetic into their conceptual headspaces a lot more than the metal recently. It seems weird to be listening through this album at how metallic it is, but when you compare it to the group's earlier albums, especially Choirs of The Eye, these songs are especially straightforward for them, not that that's a bad thing, just surprising. I can certainly understand how shorter bursts of intensity like these would work more effectively in a live setting than longer and more winding and extended pieces, but there were certainly some parts that did, honestly, feel like they could've been extended even further.
One of the main critiques I've heard thrown at this album is that the production on the middle three track is muddy and that it has apparently ruined the album for some people. Now, obviously since this was recorded live it's not going to sound perfect or anywhere near as clear as the studio recorded tracks, but I didn't really have any problem with the production on the live tracks at all. In my opinion, and it might just be me, but the live atmosphere kind of gives these tracks an almost black metal-ish kind of vibe to them. They have that sort of wildness that only a live show can really give songs, in compared to the studio tracks with sound a lot more orchestrated and contained, which should be expected. I guess the fact that the studio tracks are also more in the vein of traditional chamber music would give off a more precise and less wild atmosphere than the metal songs would anyway. Personally, I would actually like to hear what the band would do if they combined the metal moments with the chamber music ones on here to see what the resulting sound would turn out as, because, in my opinion, I actually think that mixing the weirder metal styles with the church/cathedral atmospheric and dynamics from the softer songs would be incredible, but it's just a dream.
While I don't think that this is up to the level of mind-bending uniqueness(?) that the group's first two albums were, I still think that these five songs are very well constructed pieces of experimental music. Unless you have some predisposition towards weird music or slightly muddy production, chances are you'll enjoy this album like I did. I figure most people have already heard this by now, but if you haven't definitely look into it. Until the next record, I hope you enjoy this one as much as I have.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Rite of Goetic Evocation, Gamma Knife
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Style: Atmospheric/Raw Black Metal
Label: Ahdistuksen Aihio Productions
Hearing someone talk about cosmic black metal can be a very odd thing. The cosmos, so vast as it it, seems like it'd be hard to try and personify within a black metal context, yet plenty of bands do it, several do quite well actually. While various styles of bands have attempted to give a sound to the infinite blackness that is space, Rahu has definitely been one of the most traditional in their approach, which might sound odd seeing as it houses a member from Circle of Ouroborus.
You'd think that for how prolific Atvar has been in his other projects that Rahu would have built up a larger discography by now, but what we have here is the project's debut full-length, following the self-titled compilation from 2010 which included the project's first two demos on it. In the four years since their last demo we have heard nary a peep from the project until this full-length was announced. Upon listening to it, it becomes obvious that a sizable improvement has been made to the band's sound. Musically, the duo still retain their raw and melodic take on black metal, but it's a lot more focused sounding than their previous work. In my opinion, this album sounds like the result of the duo taking elements from their first two demos, mixing them together, and getting some better production. It's an album that retains the melodic guitar lines from their Ride of The Eight Black Steeds demo but has the better songwriting from their Caput Draconis demo. The production, while still fairly rough and raw sounding, is a lot clearer than their demos and does provide a more accessible listening experience and one that is certainly a lot easier to get through on a single listen, in my opinion.
Despite only housing five songs, this album is actually quite strong; and with every track topping six minutes, each and every moment is used efficiently and to bring about nice dynamic shifts within a song. It's obvious that the duo are capable musicians as they know that blasting and all-out aggression for a full forty minutes (in this album's case) is just boring and can leave an album feeling very one-dimensional in some cases, but the use of more mid-paced passages and more melodically driven parts do help the more straightforward parts to drive the songs forward. Despite how straightforward these songs are, don't expect any left-turns on here cause it does stick pretty close to the traditional black metal sound here, they all carry with them a weight of good songwriting and precise melodies. Personally, I actually enjoyed Kobalt's drumming on the album as he made good use of his toms to add some nice tribal patterns to otherwise rather standard black metal parts. While his rasps are far from unique, they are by no means bad and certainly stick out when he decides to start screaming. It might have served the album better to mix up the vocals a little bit more, but it's a black metal record, it's gotta have at least some screams.
I was actually very surprised by how much I enjoyed this album, despite coming into it expecting it to be good, I was very impressed by it. It's not a huge departure from their older material but I don't think it's really meant to be, and it succeeds at pumping out five solid, melodically driven, black metal songs. It might not describe the bleakness of the cosmos, but it's certainly going to be an album that I'll be replaying for a while. Definitely check this out if you're at all a fan of underground black metal.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Ordeal of X, The Serpent King
Style: Jazz Fusion/Remix
I know that I usually don't review this sort of thing, reissues and such, but the premise for this release just seemed really interesting and cool to me. The idea to get together a group of musicians and sort of reinterpret Miles Davis' classic album Bitches Brew and then have a handful of electronic producers and such remix that album just seemed too good to pass up on. In addition to that, the whole thing was mastered to give the album a sort of 3D effect when listening, which just sounded awesome to me.
I don't think that debating that Bitches Brew by Miles Davis is a hands down classic album of all time, a stone cold album for the ages. The first of the two discs on here is a group of musicians coming together and basically interpreting it in their own way. Obviously, if you come into this believing that it will even touch the originality and master craftsmanship of the original, you'd be fooling yourself, so the only real way to come into this, at least for myself, was to view it as a completely different recording. So, based on that train of thought the only thing I can really say about this album is that it's an honest and well performed reenactment (if you want to call it that). But, as for the production, which is meant to give the whole thing a sort of 3D kind of stereo effect that makes this an ideal listen on headphones, does indeed make the entire record listening experience all the better. Musically, it's fine and there really isn't anything wrong with it if you're into jazz, but the production aspect really gives it an almost electronic kind of vibe. You'll get all sorts of different effects playing out in the background that just pan around your head throughout the entire album. I hate to compare a reinterpretation of a classic album to another group but the title-track, Bitches Brew, manages to channel a very dark ambient feel that definitely made me think of Bohren & Der Club of Gore's classic Black Earth album. It's very ambient during its softer moments and can feel like you're sitting in a hazy jazz club late at night, ala David Lynch's Blue Velvet, and when it gets intense it's like a free for all and is nearly impossible to grab onto a single player.
The remixes were the first of the two discs I listened to and pretty much acted as my introduction to the first disc. I won't claim to know who any of these guys are who remixed these tracks, people like DJ Logic & Grant Phabao or Gaudi, but I have to say that on the sheer strength of this album alone, this would have been guaranteed a good score. I'm not one for remixes, usually, only because I don't need to hear a metal or a rock song messed with to fit into a club scene, and I do feel relatively the same about remixes for jazz, but these six remixes aren't so, stereotypical or, how should I say, obnoxious. While there are obvious thing done to change the songs into different forms, whether it be more electronic, or even hip-hop-esque one could say, it really isn't the type of shift that would make me, or I believe anyone else, cringe when listening to them. They are very tasteful and happen to keep rather faithful to the original reinterpretation by adding more background textures than club beats or sampled vocals. I mean, no matter how you look at it, this disc is going to be the one that is easier to digest and get into if only because they've been changed to include a bit more of a driving quality to them that kind of propels them forward instead of the jazz idea, or improvisational jazz idea really, of having everyone do whatever they want.
Overall, I really enjoyed both albums very much. My only complaint is that they are quite long, both, though that's more of a problem with the original as well, but I do think that even though both discs are considerably shorter than the original, it still feels like a long listen. They're both very entertaining, and if you have even the slightest interest in jazz music, whether it be the traditional and classics, or through someone like Squarepusher, you'll find something in here to like.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Pharaoh's Dance, John McLaughlin, Pharaoh's Dance (Bill Laswell Son of Panthalassa Remix), Miles Runs The Voodoo Down (Gaudi Remix)
Friday, February 17, 2012
Country: Chicago, Illinois/Seattle, Washington
Style: Blackened Drone/Post-Rock
Label: Utech/Profound Lore/SIGE/Land of Decay
What we have here is a collaboration between two of the most interesting and exciting groups within the underground (insert genre names here) scenes today. Both Locrian and Mamiffer released great records last year (both of which wound up within my end of the year list by the way) and exhibited musicians at the peak of their musical creativity and performance abilities, so to hear this was coming about after those stellar releases did nothing more than make my heart just about jump out of my chest in anticipation. I don't think there was a fan of either band who will come into this with anything less than the highest of expectations, does it meet them?
I have to admit that until earlier today when I was listening to the album through in my car, I really didn't get the whole collaborative vibe of this record, then, it just snapped and hit me. It was like a revelation and I finally heard it, I could hear what both bands were bringing to the table on a given track. Before, while I certainly enjoyed the album, without question, I did feel like there were some spots that did just feel like both bands were kind of doing their own thing, with opener In Fulminic Blaze being the only real point where a collaborative nature felt palpable. The title-track made me think more of Locrian's blackened drones that kind of took off from where The Crystal World album left off while the closing epic Metis/Amaranthine/The Emperor felt more or less like Mamiffer and House of Low Culture. Like I said, none of it was bad in the slightest, but the air of collaboration didn't hit me until earlier today.
Aside from that one problem which I have overcome, I do feel like this album's true potential has just been thrust upon me and I am only now seeing it for the masterpiece that it truly is. Since this morning I have been listening through this album, being sick and staying home does have some perks since I've been able to listen and ponder over this album for pretty much the entire day, I believe I have only scratched the surface of the majesty that this album evokes. It is truly a spectacular listen with both sides coming together and really creating something extraordinary. Like I said above, I had initially viewed this more as a handful of odds and ends kind of material that didn't really reflect a collaboration, but that revelation revealed to me that air and those traits that neither band on their own really has. The air that just permeates these six tracks just pushes the album into a realm that I do believe neither band could have harnessed on their own, despite how amazing they both are. It is that air that holds these tracks together in my opinion since no one piece is exactly like another on here.
In my opinion, it honestly feels like working with each other kind of reigned in both group's tendencies to kind of craft long and winding epic pieces of music. The music on here doesn't have the intensity or brutality that Locrian have been able to utilize in their work, but it isn't as noir or sensual as Mamiffer, and not as free-minded as I personally believe House of Low Culture is on their releases, but it provides a sense of melancholic calm within the listener while listening, and I don't think I have ever felt such a feeling when listening to an album before. The entire atmosphere that surrounds this album, from the artwork to the music, is deeply chilling, and I don't mean that in a bad or cheesy way, but more in the way that the music really does sound like how the cover looks, bleak and haunting, memorable, but instantaneous, natural but controlled. If this is the void staring back at you, don't ever look away from it because it is a magnificent sight to behold. Though it probably isn't the most going to be the most obvious choice, I actually found that the shortest track, Lechatelierite, was possibly the most effective track at harnessing emotion from me. It's cold and somber instrumentation combined with an overall quiet and simplistic performance really struck a chord with me and hit me in a way that no other track on here did.
I expect that those who dislike freeform and structureless music will most likely hate this album, which is a real shame because this is one of those albums that I truly believe works best when you aren't trying to find something to like about it. In my mind, I see it more as a sort of shapeless album that is able to morph itself into whatever you happen to be feeling when you listen to it. I don't mean for it to sound like it will conform to you, but depending on how you approach will shape what you hear in it, and that is a truly rare and magical thing to find in music. It would be a shame if you didn't take the time to listen to this album, it's beautiful and haunting in all the right ways and I don't anticipate many other albums coming anywhere close to this one if a very long time.
Overall Score: 10
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Country: New York, New York/Humboldt, California
Style: Ambient Black Metal/Psychedelic Drone
Label: Handmade Birds
This one is for all those people who wonder what the two guys in Servile Sect do on their days off. Between their work in the fantastic Servile Sect, the experimental noise of ITHI, or atmospheric black metal in Ash Borer, both members, Nate and Luke, have solo projects. As far as I know, both projects are still very unknown, and I believe it's actually Golden Raven's first release (please correct me if that is not the case), and Sadness Saturn's first release in a couple of years.
I guess the most natural place to start is with Sadness Saturn, Luke's project. Of the two projects on here, it is easily the most aggressive and harsh. The two tracks that comprise Sadness Saturn's material is a pretty far cry from the work that Luke has helped to produce in Servile Sect, it's far more lo-fi and cold sounding, recalling a bit of that great sound that comes from groups such as Trist (Ger) or Lunar Aurora in its atmospheric qualities. Though it's hard to say these songs are really black metal per se, they certainly have more of a black metal mindset. While Impermanence In Chains is a rather quality piece of black metal for the most part, the use of an almost doom-esque breakdown near it's end does draw attention than perhaps any other point during that track, while The Dark River of Self-Destruction retains a more droning noise quality. The entire A Side of the tape which houses these two tracks does an excellent job at presenting them as a single unit, of sorts, that does allow the two tracks to feel rather destructive when listened to from start to finish.
Golden Raven is a far more abstract affair in comparison though. Removing pretty much any sense of black metal, or metal in general I should say, from his sound, the four tracks that comprise Golden Raven's side of the split are much more mysterious. Focused, more or less, on droning synthe lines and haunting ambiances that really do bring back memories of the cosmic trips that Servile Sect has explored throughout their career. Closer to the synthe odysseys of the late 70s and early 80s than anything else he's done before, Nate proves with these four tracks that he is truly a master of synthe textures and cosmic soundscapes. It's a trip through the universal ocean, ebbing and flowing, never staying in one place, and I do mean that as a compliment. Don't come into this expecting to hear tracks that are like the A Side of Servile Sect's TRVTH, as they really are different beasts, but think of this as another conquest into the unknown spacial drift.
Who among us is going to deny that even if you're not a fan of these tracks that the projects themselves are interesting and at least have a good range of ideas. I'm not sure if it's gonna be for everyone, even the diehard Servile Sect fans, but those who are into more spacey forms of ambiances in two different forms will surely get enough bang for their buck. Not quite as mind-bending as their main squeeze, if you will, but definitely a worthy addition to any abstract black metalhead's collection.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Impermanence In Chains, Bear Forest
Country: New York, New York/Humboldt, California
Style: Experimental/Psychedelic Black Metal
Label: Handmade Birds
Time and time again since my first encounter with the duo known as Servile Sect I have been proven wrong on my initial review of their Realms of The Queen album. The couple of releases since then have turned me into a huge supporter of the band and I am now eager to hear anything the duo release. Once again released on the always amazing Handmade Birds, this new tape is considered the companion piece to last year's highly lauded TRVTH that was a huge critical success.
It's important to note that if you are expecting this release to be similar to the sounds found on TRVTH, you will most likely be disappointed because this is not the same release done over, but an extension of similar ideas. If TRVTH was a journey into the unknown realms and reaches of space, than SVRRENDER is a trip into the void, a black hole of sorts. This release is much darker and is far less psychedelic than its companion and thus leads to a very different response from the listener's standpoint. I would venture to say that the eight tracks that comprise this release are darker than that of their companion record as well. Musically, when it goes black metal, it's far less of a mindfuck and tends to sound much more noisy and traditional, in a black metal sense. Like I said above, I'd compare this to going through a black hole, this first half of the cassette is a rather harsh and chaotic listen where black metal, noise, and dark ambiance blends together and winds up pooling together into a spiraling burst of hatred and disgust. It is, all together, a more rough going and abrasive experience than any of the duo's past material in my opinion.
The B Side of the cassette is apparently what most are eager to discuss though, which I can certainly understand. While the first half of the album is an assault that more or less would define the physical transformations one might encounter while travelling through a black hole, the last three songs, Side B, are what I'd relate to the mental shifts. If you thought the psychedelic headtrip on their last album was a nightmare, you'll find that these last three songs are far darker and less "accessible", if you could even use that word to describe what the duo is doing. You'll find less of a krautrock-meets-spacey synthes that really helped to define their last record, or even their use on the A side of this cassette, the soundscapes found on the end of this release are much more in the vein of what has been accurately compared to that of Locrian's blackened drone. I wouldn't say that the ideas themselves are that foreign to the band, obviously if you've listened to any of their previous work it's obvious that they've been playing with drone ideas since their first album, but here it's less of a stylistic influence and sounds more like they've finally fully embraced it into their sound.
As always, Servile Sect never fail to impress and continue to expand the sonic territory they work within, making it ultimately harder to try and describe exactly what they play to others. Fans of trippy, weird, and forward-thinking black metal are probably already aware of this band, but if for some reason you have yet to come across them, you'll have definitely found a new favorite band. If you haven't listened to them yet, I'm really not sure what to tell you except that you are sorely missing out on one of the most exciting black metal acts I've come across in some time.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Sinning In Space, Cut The Root, Neon Gates of Hades
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Country: Barcelona, Spain
Style: Doom/Melodic Death Metal
I don't know how other people view the whole death/doom genre of metal but personally, I've been waiting for a new band to really impress me for a while. I'm not saying there haven't been good bands to come out from the genre recently, but I'm still waiting for a band to really blow me away like I was when I first listened to bands like My Dying Bride or (early) Katatonia. Though it doesn't look it from the cover, which I found an interesting choice for the style the band play, this is actually a doom/death band, and one from a country that I don't tend to review stuff from, favorably anyway.
When I initially started listening to this album by just sort of skimming through tracks and seeing what an album sounds like, I was a little worried because what I was listening to sounded different from any sort of death/doom band I had heard, and it actually wasn't all that metal. It wasn't until I started listening to the entire album, from start ot finish, that it all sort of fell into place for me. Yes, this is certainly a death/doom band, so I wasn't wrong on that front, but what I wound up listening to was surprisingly good. It's rare that I come into an album with bad intentions, though caution is certainly used for some releases, I did not expect this album to sound as great as it turned out to be. I'll come out and say that this is not the band that blows me away in the same way as the bands I mentioned above, but they certainly did blow me away in different way. In no way did I anticipate this album to be as diverse as it is, and for the band to pull it off so well.
Sonically, this band certainly draws from the early death/doom bands of old, Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Anathema, My Dying Bride, among others, but there's a significant alternative and post-metal, or post-rock, influence in here as well. Like you'd probably expect, this isn't an album that is going to be all that fast-paced, I was actually surprised how mid-paced several of these songs were, but these aren't going to be your typical death/doom riffs, they are more melodic, and like the style label I post above says, I would definitely say these guys fall more into the melo-death realm than pure death metal. Among the more brutal and slow paced death metal sections of the album there are cleaner and more atmospheric moments that definitely bring to mind Anathema at times as well as a lot of post-metal bands. I don't mean that in a bad way because like I said above, this is really good stuff, and the band combine these elements in a way that really made me take another look at them. The alternative influence in the band brings a unique array of electronics into the band's sound which I did feel set them apart from many of their peers as the electronics weren't simply reduced to background ambiance, but had a place within the foreground and were pretty integral to the band's overall sound. There are sections, listen to Sleepy, on here where everything but the keys cut out and leave a huge and morose ambient soundscape remaining, to positive effect I should add. I will admit that not everything on this record is fantastic. To be perfectly fair, I did feel like some of the clean vocals did fall a bit flat at times, though they actually managed to present them in a way that is pretty distinct among the genres and I do commend them for that. I also felt that the title-track did feel a bit out of place, stylistically, on here as it was more of an ambient-electronic piece.
It's definitely a very impressive full-length debut from this Spanish group and it does prove to be a very exciting listen. I do believe that this album has the potential to appeal to a pretty broad variety of listeners who may be interested in one aspect of the band and be turned onto other styles because of this. I realize that because this isn't strictly speaking a death metal or doom metal band, some might find my descriptions misleading, but I can guarantee you that this is a killer record and I highly recommend it.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Tryouts, Lost Again, Inside
Monday, February 13, 2012
Country: Colchester, UK
Style: Progressive Metal
The rise in popularity of instrumental progressive music seems to have come about, either in part due to or at least at the right time, for Paul Ortiz's Chimp Spanner to blow up. From my point of view, 2009's At The Dream's Edge was a huge success in the rise of modern prog-metal but also helped to introduce djent to a new audience. After taking to the stage and starting life as a touring band, opening and touring with some of the heavy hitters in progressive metal may I add, we have this follow-up EP. If you happen to buy the vinyl version of this release, it also comes with a few remixes as well of a track from his last album, just to make you aware of it.
Despite what many think about djent (I won't go into my thoughts on it too deeply in here either), there are good bands that either play it or make use of it within the context of another sound. Paul Ortiz is a great guitarist and him making use of polyrhythmic grooves and that djenty sound doesn't really hinder his sound at all and he doesn't rely on it as a way to fill in the gaps in his songs. A person would really be doing this project a disservice by simply tagging them as a djent band, because Chimp Spanner certainly has Meshuggah in its DNA, but the project is so much closer to what a band like Scale The Summit or someone like Keith Merrow have done musically, and is a lot closer to being a straight-up prog-metal band. But as for the EP itself, what you get here is a much more atmospheric side of the project coming through. The six songs have less of a melodic edge in my opinion and are, for the most part, more aggressive songs that are a little bit faster. Ortiz commented that he did make use of a little bit more improvisation during the recording of some parts on here than he has in the past, and it does lead to some tracks definitely coming out being a little bit more djenty than on his full-length. All of these elements somehow lead the record to having a much more epic and huge sound that paints a grand picture in your head.
Overall, I thought it was a solid EP that showed a bit more of an aggressive side to Ortiz's playing and one that he'll hopefully embrace on the next full-length as well. This most likely isn't gonna be a game changer like his last album was for prog fans, but it's certainly a work that should be admired as it accomplishes a hell of a lot more than some of his peers are doing. If you're oppose to modern prog or djent bands, I doubt that this record will change your mind, but if you haven't listened to this band yet, this would be a good place to start.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Möbius II, Möbius III
Style: Progressive Rock/Post-Rock
Label: Cool Green
I, probably as many others, first discovered Crippled Black Phoenix through their connection to Mogwai and expected something relatively similar musically from them to begin with as well. As anyone who has listened to an album by this supergroup will tell you, if you're expecting a post-rock band, you will be disappointed because that is not what this band sounds like. So after a brief period of separation from each other for creative differences, I was finally able to overcome my adversities to the project and become a fan.
My first experience with Crippled Black Phoenix came with their last album, 2010's I, Vigilante, which was quite the odd little album in my collection at that time. Like I said above, I was expecting, more or less, a post-rock album in the vein of Mogwai, maybe a little more progressive or experimental because of those tags that were put on the band, but a post-rock album nonetheless. What I wound up listening to was an album that was soaked in influences from blues, classic rock, and psychedelic music. Sure, that album had a couple of instances that reminded me of post-rock, but those were few and far between. I have yet to hear more than a couple of tracks from the band's previous albums so I can't really say too much regarding those, but what I can say is that this album does feel like it's moving down a very similar path to the band's last record, perhaps more progressive and jammy, but otherwise a very similar path.
When listening to this album, I was consistently surprised with how well several of these songs were written and performed. The first real song on the album, The Heart of Every Country, is a fantastic piece of prog-rock that doesn't even feel half as long as it actually is and just flies by with stunning performances and intricacy. I've seen a few people commenting that this album sounds like King Crimson and Pink Floyd, and while elements from both bands are certainly heard throughout, especially in the David Gilmour-esque vocal delivery, I would still say that these guys aren't as intricate as King Crimson or as atmospheric as Pink Floyd. Like the previous album, to say that this album is devoid of post-rock would be incorrect as there are a couple instances throughout that do hark back to that genre's signature sounds. A couple of the interludes, the ones within the actual songs, not the ones that act as their own songs, definitely have a bit of the atmospheric qualities you'd find from that genre. Ultimately what I love about the band though, is how much they can just lay on a simple groove and just play it out and just make it sound so killer, Laying Traps for instance. It's not about overplaying or cramming in a bunch of different styles, but writing songs that you can just bob your head along to and have a good time listening to while still being interesting. The entire first disc is, more or less, along these lines of just being fun, groovy songs that are just fun to listen and rock out to.
The second disc is a bit less of a fun ride however. Disc two contains five songs that tend to focus more on the band jamming more than focusing on a song. The album becomes less "heavy" and begins to mellow down and provide a lot more room for guitar solos. I would definitely say that it was a lot harder to really dig into and enjoy this side only because songs don't feature a whole lot to really grasp onto and the soloing and sort of psychedelic influences are much more of a focus. On its own, I will admit that there are moments that sound like they go on for too long, but listening to the album from start to finish, both discs, it actually flows together a whole lot more than even I originally thought on my first listen.
This is most definitely a retro sounding prog-rock album and you'll find very few elements on here that sound anything like the modern prog-rock groups, and, personally, I prefer it that way. Despite how other people view all these bands releasing what are essentially retro prog albums, I've enjoyed this one, and when it comes to Crippled Black Phoenix's take on it, I think it's very admirable and definitely one of the better takes on it. Definitely check this one out if you're a fan of progressive rock, I don't think you'll be disappointed at all.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Heart of Every Country, A Letter Concerning Dogheads, Release The Clowns
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Country: Orange County, California
Style: Symphonic Black Metal/Metalcore
At this point in my musical life I can honestly admit that I once listened to metalcore, I think it's a natural step in a lot of kids my age to listen to metalcore before delving into more aggressive or interesting underground bands. Though I have lost interest, for the most part, in a lot of the bands I used to listen to, there are a couple that I do still put on from time to time. Bleeding Through was always one of the bands that stood out to me as being a bit different from their peers in the metalcore world and so, obviously, they are one of the few that I will listen to every once in a while.
I think it's important to say first off that this is not the same Bleeding Through that gave us, in my opinion, metalcore classics like The Truth or Declaration. I figure it's pretty widely accepted that the latter album is the band's best release thus far, and that the self-titled album that followed it just didn't live up to it. Four years later and listening back to that album, I do still believe that it is the band's best, but how does this new one stand up in comparison to it? Well, I think to say that it's as dull and uninspired as the self-titled would be doing this album a disservice because it is a better album in my opinion. First off, while vocalist Brandan Schieppati has never been the greatest of lyricists, I have always respected the honesty and passion that he brings to his vocals, which, once again, aren't the greatest, but are actually distinguishable from pretty much any other metalcore vocalist in my opinion. I was disappointed that the last album featured very little of him actually singing, and while this one still sees him focusing more on growling and screaming, he does sing on a couple of tracks. As for the keyboards which definitely began to take more of an up-front role in the band's sound on the last couple of releases, we have a rather mixed use of them on here. Some tracks definitely feature them very high in the mix, which usually means that that track is going to be more or less of a black metal track, and then you have the tracks where they're a bit more in the background and pretty much disposable, the hardcore/metalcore-ish track. That sounds a bit harsh, but excluding a couple of standout songs, Trail of Seclusion for instance, I did feel that that's where the keyboards stand on here.
Now, I don't know if this is just me, but I found this album to follow along the same path that the self-titled took in terms of songwriting, which means boring and uninspired for me, until about half-way through. Once Walking Dead hit, I did feel that that was where the band was showing more interesting and memorable songwriting and took a step up in quality. While none of the songs really ever equal that of some of their greatest work, there are tracks on the latter half of the album that definitely prove to be the strongest on the entire album. Tracks like the more atmospheric and melodic Trail of Seclusion definitely stand out above other tracks, hell, even The Devil and Self Doubt stood out because it sounded, more or less, like an older Bleeding Through song.
But with all that being said, there are still negatives to this album. Probably my biggest problem with this album is the production, which is fine for the most part, but the drums are just way too triggered and way too loud in the mix for my taste. They stand out too much to simply be ignored and it is the biggest flaw with the album, in addition to otherwise passable drumming, for what the band is doing. There are seriously moments on here, Everything You Love Is Gone, where the triggers are louder and clearer than what the guitars are doing. Another one, though not nearly as big as the last one, is the fact that this is a mix of symphonic black metal with metalcore, at least to me, that sounds terrible, and though the band did pull it off on Declaration, the self-titled and this album just seem to fall short in the genre-fusion department. In all seriousness, there is nothing inherently bad about the band's songwriting, but the fusion just seems unfocused at times and you end up getting a bunch of what sounds like random hardcore and symphonic black metal-ish tracks. As a side-note, I still do believe that these guys play this style (blackened metalcore?) than a band like Winds of Plagues ever have or will.
I was impressed with this album, seeing as I didn't come in with high hopes after the let down that the self-titled was, but this is not masterpiece and I doubt it will be the album that the band will be remembered for. I'm really not sure what path Bleeding Through are attempting to follow with their most recent releases because they do sound like they're having a bit of an identity crisis, but I do hope they are able to find a sound that they can work more cohesively within the very near future. Like I said above, it's definitely better than their last effort, but it's not their best and I'm hoping that after this the band will finally start blending black metal and metalcore more than leaving them separate. If you're a fan, chances are you'll enjoy it, but if you insist on checking this band out, go for their older material.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Walking Dead, The Devil and Self Doubt, Entrenched