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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Botanist - III: Doom In Bloom + Allies (2012)

Band: Botanist
Country: San Francisco, California
Style: Experimental Doom Metal
Label: Totalrust Music

Last year Botanist released one of the most interesting and polarizing releases of 2010. The double-album of hammered dulcimer, drums, and vocals performed black metal was easily one of the most original concepts for a band in a long while but it also had the songwriting to back up the idea. Though some found it hokey and didn't like the idea, I was very much into it and was definitely looking forward to this album.
Even though the debut from Botanist was a sort of musical revelation in the black metal genre, I'm pretty sure that this second album would move into a more doom oriented direction. With both longer tracks and more of a focus on building atmospheres it was obvious that it would take more than luck to create another great album. In all honesty, the debut, while enjoyable, was a little spotty due to some tracks being so short they barely made any impact, and it did harm my overall enjoyment of the album. In the case for this album, with every track being stretched out over the six minute mark, you really have to come into this expecting an experience and be prepared to either go with the flow of the album or just fight against the entire idea of the project. Quoth Azalea, The Demon (Rhododendoom II) is an absolutely beautiful opening track that manages to recall the majesty of a band like My Dying Bride while never in the slightest sounding anywhere close to their sound. If you can't get past that opener, I think that you should stop listening there, it doesn't get any easier after that track.
What follows is a far more varied album than I would have expected from the project, which I really have to give a lot of credit to the mainman Botanist. While most of the album is firmly rooted in doom, there is still a clear sense of black metal in there, coming through at choice spots of intensity. Which brings me to my next point, which is while the music itself, on any of the albums the project has released thus far, may be metal based, it is rather hard to say that the music is "intense" or "brutal" or even "aggressive" for that matter. It's been a project that can crank out well crafted melodies, slow or fast, but one can really only feel any sort of intensity coming through in the percussion, which I didn't get all that much from the debut(s) but actually got more often on here, an album which is far more tranquil and somber than its predecessor(s) were. As can be assumed as well, the music on here is far more spacious as well, with a lot of moments falling into silence, or near silence, which adds a great sense of dynamics to the record, hear Ganoderma Lucidum. As a whole, the entire record proves to be not only an improvement on every level from the debut(s) but also a step into a new direction.
Then we have the second disc titled Allies, which features a nice little assortment of artists taking the drum tracks from the original album and do their own interpretation over them. Compared to the standard album, this compilation (I guess you could call it) is more of a mixed bag. Stylistically, it's at least kept in a similar ballpark as the album, for the most part, with the majority of the bands on here either delivering some variation on doom metal or you have the other side who take it into almost complete ambient territory. The one that deviates from that standard is Ophidian Forest who take their track into more of an atmospheric black metal direction, and do it quite well I might add. Of all the collaborators though, I think that Arborist wind up delivering the best track. It's sort of a mix between really raw doom metal, country music, and I'd say just a hint of shoegaze as well (but that might just be me). While I didn't dislike any of the tracks, there were some that I did find to be a bit more dull than others.
Because this is essentially two different albums I feel like I kind of have to give each album a score. Personally, and this shouldn't come as any surprise, I do think the "real" album is superior to the reinterpretations the other artists give (most of which I've never even heard of) but both are well done. Both albums are well worth looking into, delivering what is probably the strongest doom metal album I've heard this year.
Overall Score: 9/7.5
Highlights: III: Doom In Bloom: Quoth Azalea, The Demon (Rhododendoom II), Deathcap, Ocimum Sanctum
Allies: Ophidian Forest - Cordyceps, Arborist - Total Entarchy, Lotus Thief - Nymphaea Carulea

2012 - Splits IV

You know the rules by now, the fourth edition of this split based series. Focusing on some interesting black metal releases for this one. All reviewed from 1-8.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Periphery - II: This Time It's Personal (2012)

Band: Periphery
Country: Bethesda, Maryland
Style: Progressive Metal/Electronic
Label: Sumerian/Century Media

I honestly do try to avoid putting certain records over other just to try and keep things fair and whatnot, but even I'm prone to get excited about certain records. I'm aware that most of the people I've made connections with aren't exactly fans of djent or Periphery, but I am a big fan, and I've been looking forward to this record. This is easily one of my most anticipated releases for this year.
I'll get right to the point and say that I am a Periphery fan. I know there are probably a lot of people who read this site who aren't fans of djent, modern prog-metal, or tech metal and more than likely hate Periphery based on the fact alone that they pretty much fit into all of those categories. I am a fan of those styles anyway, but I'll go ahead and say that when it comes to djent and modern prog-metal Periphery are near the top of the heap in my opinion. Whether it's just crafting a sound that is unique even compared to the legions of bands and projects that followed them are were influenced by them, they still stand above them both in songwriting, quality of material, and the overall sound itself. On their self-titled debut they were smart enough, I'd say, to create a sound broad enough to allow them to do a lot stylistically without really abandoning a core sound, so they could do everything from super technical material, more groove heavy songs, and then more straightforward melodic stuff as well. I thought they succeeded in that regard on their debut but on here we do have the band developing their sound into something a little different.
While all the above elements are still very present in here, this is a much more developed effort. As many have commented based on songs like Scarlet and Make Total Destroy being released, the album is not as heavy on the use of djent as it was before. It's still there, for sure, but the band have upped their melodic edge and really made an album that sounds more like a prog record than a djent record, if you catch my drift. It's far more melodic, both instrumentally and vocally, which brings me to my next point, vocalist Spencer Sotelo. While I thought he was good on the band's debut, it became obvious on the Icarus EP that he was improving and growing as a vocalist, which is always a good thing, but he has really come into his own on this recording. Both his growling and clean singing have improved enormously since the debut two years ago. While his growls are definitely good, I think I enjoy his cleans even more. I think he has a great sense of melody and throughout the album he just hits some of these parts out of the part it's ridiculous. I know there have been comparisons to Rody Walker from Protest The Hero, which I understand, though the two are obviously taking different approaches to both the music and how they sound over it. Personally, I would say that Rody is more over the top on purpose, while Spencer comes off as a lot more natural sounding.
I've been aware that the band had planned to record two albums, this one and a concept album, which from what I understand is still in the works. With that being said I was actually really impressed with how cohesive they made the album. Throughout various tracks, you'll hear repeated lines from opener Muramasa and repeated guitar phrases, which is something I thought they might do for the concept album, but the way it's used on here, I think, is really well done (I am aware that this is starting to make me sound like a kissass by the way). I also really enjoy how diverse they kept the album, it's keeps in line with the last album by allowing the diversity in songwriting to mold an album with a lot to offer. Whether it's the overt djent of Make Total Destroy, the big melodic anthems of Scarlet or The Gods Must Be Crazy!, or even a ballad Erised (my personal favorite on the album), they've made it so that, within reason, if you don't like one style of song, you'll probably like another. With all that being said, I have to say that probably my biggest problem with this album is the fact that the band intended to make it feel like an album, which I like, but they put together these electronic bits at the end of some tracks and some of them are just way too extended for my own taste. I don't need to hear a minute and a half of electronics at the end of FacePalm Mute or two minutes worth at the end of Ragnarok no matter how well it connects the songs together.
I realize that this review probably comes off like less of a critique and more like a crazed love cry, but I can't help what I like. I do think this wasn't as immediate as the debut was, but I think it did turn out even better. I highly recommend this if you haven't already heard this yet. If you dig modern prog metal, this is a must.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Glass Cloud - The Royal Thousand (2012)

Band: Glass Cloud
Country: Hampton, Virginia
Style: Metalcore
Label: Basick/Equal Vision

As most people probably know, I don't cover too much metalcore, with good reason that a lot of it is trite and boring. Once in a while there'll be a band that I like or that seems interesting to me and I'll check it out and potentially cover it. This is one of those cases.
I'm sure there are some who are probably curious as to why I'm covering this and to put it rather bluntly, I do enjoy the main bands, or ex-main band, of two of the members. I really do like The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza, and Joshua Travis' guitar playing is what first made me check this band out, and I was a fan of Sky Eats Airplane, which at one time was Jerry Roush's main band. Both bands do/did things with deathcore and metalcore, that I think were interesting and made both bands stick out from their peers. Though it was mainly Travis that made me interested and caught my attention, I do think Roush has a pretty solid voice for a modern metalcore vocalist and certainly doesn't sound as feminine as a lot of other metalcore vocalists his age. Aside from that, hearing opener White Flag when it was first released did grab me as being a pretty solid modern metalcore sort of song.
Travis brings a very different sound to this band than his main one, though he still hammers home with the low-end, I believe he's using a nine-string on here, but other than that fact, his performance is far less spastic. He brings the grooves and heaviness, If He Dies, He Dies for instance, but it's a far more restrained and toned down performance, reigning in his knack for over-the-top, technical riffing in to allow Roush's vocals to take the lead. It might not be what all TDTDE fans might expect to hear from him, but he gives a solid performance as a supporting man on here and still manages to give the record his own stamp. I also do think that Roush delivers a pretty solid performance as well. Like I said above, his voice does stand out from many other vocalists who started around the same time he did. I know the style of this sort of vocalist isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you can get past that, I think that it can be agreed upon that he does do a pretty good job on here. Having said that, aside from the fact that I think Roush is a pretty decent vocalist and that Travis brings a much needed breath of fresh air into the metalcore genre with his guitar playing, this record isn't anything all that special. A lot of these tracks kind of just went in through one ear and out the other without leaving much of an impact while others were just too underwhelming for my own taste, Fall In Style or All Along to be more specific. While I enjoyed a handful of tracks on here, none of them were so amazing that it made me forget the rather inconsequential ones. I don't mean to disregard the other two members of the band, but I can't say that Chad Hasty really did much to stand out all that much on here and Travis Sykes didn't really have any impact on the music until Memorandum, and by then it was really too late to really make much of a difference.
If you happen to have never explored outside of metalcore or deathcore, you might think this is the best thing out there or whatever, but coming from someone who already went through a metalcore phase, this just isn't anything all that special. Taking the handful of songs I do enjoy and stacking them against the ones I'm impartial on, I think results in a decent, but rather underwhelming record. Metalcore fans, definitely check this out.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Ivy & Wine, Counting Sheep, Memorandum

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sun Splitter - III (2012)

Band: Sun Splitter
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Industrial Metal
Label: Bloodlust!

Industrial metal is a sort of tricky genre to really listen to (at least for me). While there are plenty of bands doing it, I rarely come across a band that does anything worthy of merit with the style. I first found out about Sun Splitter last year through a review of their split with Bridesmaid and that's where the above comes into play.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from a Sun Splitter full-length album because I still haven't listened to II as of yet so I came into this after hearing, essentially, one song from the band. Their brand of industrial metal was something that really recalled the way the genre used to sound, in a good way, and make it sound fresh and modern in ways that I haven't really heard other bands do it today. There are clear nods to the likes of Swans, Godflesh, and Circle. Now, one of the things that's hurt quite a few albums for me is the use of programmed drums. Personally, I don't like super triggered, clicky sounding kicks or ear-piercing cymbal work, and though the latter doesn't appear on here, and the band's other material, they didn't really both me all that much. Because I know that this is supposed to have that industrial sound, that mechanical rhythm that just moves forward without any human limitations or restrictions. Sure, I do find the overly compressed sounding kick to be a little bit grating at times, hear The Serpent's Golden Death, but surprisingly, I didn't really mind it all that much on here.
It might just be me, but it took me a while to really get a feel for the vocals on here. I remember the first few times I listened to this I was like, "Ok, it's good, but I thought the band had a vocalist," and was scratching my head because I could only make out the vocals on two tracks. It wasn't until recently that I was finally able to make out the screams, wails, and roars from underneath the heavy rhythms and drones. Maybe it's just my fault for not listening hard enough, but the fact that they are distorted and actually blend in rather well with the rest of the band can make them a little difficult to make out at times. What the rest of the band is doing though is really where things get interesting though. This is certainly industrial, I'm sure I've driven that point home by now, but there's so much more to this as well. There's so much depth in the much, as well as the various other ideas that seem to come in from doom, drone, post-punk, no wave (thanks Jon!), and krautrock. It's all blended together into this murky cloud that is engulfing but not overwhelming (on record anyway). The pumping grooves that are just churned out on here are hypnotic while still being heavy and making you want to bob your head along with them, Into The Broken Lands being the prime example. Other times the band does burst out into a more aggressive riff that is more driving and, let's say, more metallic sounding, and while I would say that it doesn't hold the same impact the more groovy tracks do, I welcome the change and adaption to the quicker pacing and riffing. As a whole, it's robotic enough to feel mechanical and have great rhythms but is also organic enough to feel authentic and live sounding.
Overall, it's a very enjoyable release that is far better than I expected it to be, definitely a welcome surprise. This was definitely enough to make me into a fan and makes me want to look into the band's past material as well. I highly recommend this if you want to hear a band actually do something worth hearing in the industrial metal (among others) genre.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Parasitic Machine, Two Cold Oceans

Reverence - The Asthenic Ascension (2012)

Band: Reverence
Country: Trélazé, France
Style: Industrial Black Metal
Label: Candlelight

I've been a Reverence fan for quite a while now and it's a band that, despite their long running time, haven't really gotten a huge following. They're obviously close with the guys in Blut Aus Nord and such since they've done two splits with BAN, so you know they're at least very capable. Aside from that, it's just been an absolute ride listening to their albums.
In my experience with the trio known as Reverence, I've always likened them to a more accessible version of Blut Aus Nord, or to be more specific, what BAN might sound like if they had riffs. You see, both bands have quite the affinity for big, industrial atmospheres, mechanical rhythms, and abstract song riffs that morph from head-scratching to mind-bending, though Reverence don't focus on the last one nearly as much as BAN does. I'm sure other listeners will find even more similarities between the two as well, but what strikes me as the weird thing is that even though BAN has released two splits with Reverence and for as great as the material this band puts out, why more people don't seem to hold them in anywhere as high esteem. Sure, the band may not be as pioneering as their predecessors were or as abstract, but you'd think more people would be willing to accept a more riff driven alternative to that abstraction. Personally, I wasn't super into the band's last album, 2009's Inactive Theocracy, because it was so different to anything that I had listened to at the time. It was like the band decided to shove symphonic ideas into their already harsh and weird sound, and at the time I just couldn't comprehend it. Even though today I'd like to think that I understand it a little bit more, I still prefer their other material to that release.
What makes this record different is the power of the riff. Songs like Darwin's Black Hall and Cold Room are among the best sounding and most memorable riffs I've come across this year (no joke) and still manage to fit into the cold and mechanical world of this album without coming across like a grab at mainstream attention. This isn't a newer group that has seemingly jumped on the BAN or DSO bandwagon and started to use weird and dissonant sounding riffs, no, these guys have been doing it at least since 2005's Industrial Mental Concept. The use of guitar harmonies and bluesy solos on here also comes across as something that is more graspable than anything on their earlier material. These are the sort of songs that are memorable while still appealing to the more heady and cerebral side of black metal. You'll come back hearing little things that you didn't hear before, but if that's not your thing, as I've said numerous times before, you still have great riffs. This is also a much less dense record than its direct predecessor was, favoring bleaker and more simplistic backdrops over more lush and brighter ones, but it never loses sight of the power that atmosphere holds in a song. The simplicity of its atmosphere actually makes this a far darker and almost depressing listen at times, hear the end of Psalm IV. Though it's hard for me to say if others will perceive it the same, the depressing end of the spectrum I mean, in no way is this band anywhere near the whole dsbm scene (just to make that clear).
This is one of those albums that just everything right in my book, it ticks all the boxes and makes it an album that I just don't get all that often. Riffs are an increasingly rare thing in black metal, which I'm perfectly fine with, but this delivers riffs, weirdness, and atmosphere in a nice package. Cold, industrial black metal, the way it should be done. Get it now!
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: The Descent, Cold Room, The Asthenic Ascension.

Deathspell Omega - Drought EP (2012)

Band: Deathspell Omega
Country: Poitiers, France
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Season of Mist/Norma Evangelium Diaboli

Deathspell Omega, one of the most interesting, revered, and exciting bands to ever emerge from the black metal scene returns with another EP. Yes, by now everyone is saying that anything remotely dissonant in black metal is now a DSO rip-off but hey, what can you do. Even DSO is apparently bored with all their followers and have decided to change up again.
I guess it's only natural that ever since Paracletus came out back in 2010 more and more bands have been jumping on the DSO bandwagon and trying to ape their sound (some do it better than others, obviously), so the band that helped to start that trend is now ready to move onto something else. The six songs DSO produced for this release are among their most abstract, accessible, and interesting as of yet; and I know that those adjectives might not seem like they work together, but hearing this, they really seem to. Although it might not seem like the most obvious comparison, while I was listening to this, all I could think of was that this is what I'd imagine Neurosis sounding like if they had started dabbling more and more in the world of black metal, and that's not meant as a bad thing at all. For myself, these songs aren't as disorienting or chaotic as their more recent releases have been, though to say that it isn't either of those would be totally wrong, but it feels more controlled and there's more room and space being used. With that being said, there still isn't much on here that relents, it's pretty full-throttle, even the minute and a half long Sand is a bruiser. I know there's been a little bit of concern over the shorter track lengths, but it seemed like, at least to me, that the whole thing flowed together like a continuous piece most of the time, maybe others don't get that. Either way, the material still rules.
There was little cause for concern and hardly any indication that this would be bad, DSO have yet to not deliver. While I do wish for more, what's on here is just more fantastic material and another step forward for the band. If you're one of the few who has yet to be initiated into the cult, grab yourself a copy and prepare to enter.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Fiery Serpents, The Crackled Book of Life

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Miseration - Tragedy Has Spoken (2012)

Band: Miseration
Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic/Technical Death Metal
Label: Lifeforce

I've been a huge fan of Christian Älvestam since I first heard him several years ago when he was still in Scar Symmetry. When it comes to various forms of death metal, he is truly one of the few vocalists to really carve out a sound for himself. While Miseration has never been one of my favorites from him, I always enjoy a new album with him on it.
Now, if you haven't already figured out that this band was never a vehicle that was specifically dedicated to melody by now, I really don't know what to tell you. Sure, the debut was certainly more in the vein of traditional melo-death and had its fare share of Scar Symmetry-ish moments on it, but 2009's The Mirroring Shadow was a far cry from being a melodic album. That album took a greater leap into the realms of technicality and brutality in favor of the more melodic sides on the debut. Personally, while that album did take a little while to grow on me, it's still not a great album, not that either of them are among the best things I've heard from any of the band members to be honest, though they have their moments. With all that in mind, I can't say I was too excited to hear this album. It wasn't until I had read a review for the album that said the band brought back some more melody and expanded their sound a bit more that I decided to give it more of a chance.
Ok, so maybe I read a bit too much into that review, but taken on face value alone, this album is certainly more melodic and a lot less of a tough swallow than its direct predecessor was. The focus is certainly still on writing songs that are on the more intense side of the death metal spectrum but there are injections of more melody, atmosphere, and stronger dynamics as well thrown into these songs. I guess it's worthy of note that while clean vocals have returned on this record, they were certainly not what I was expecting and I doubt many will welcome them warmly upon a first listen. The few tracks that feature his cleans aren't what most fans have come to expect, they're not the soaring tenor choruses that have made his vocals so renowned. What you get on a track like On Wings of Brimstone, and a little bit on opener Stepping Stone Agenda, are lower, almost choir-like harmonies that still work on the level that their memorable and really catchy, but they're sure to throw some fans off. This is mainly a growl fest, with easily his best exhibition of his range in that department yet. Honestly, on the instrumental front, there isn't too much on here you haven't heard before on another modern death metal album. You have your nod to black and thrash metal, as well as the polished and streamlined production that just sort of cleans everything up (you decide whether or not that's a good thing), but it isn't anything special. There's also this weird industrial glass sound that is used throughout the album, and while it isn't really bad, when I heard it, it just made me think why the band was using it repeatedly throughout the album. I'd imagine that they could have found various other sounds to use instead of that one to make a track work. Maybe it's just a cymbal, but if so, it just kind of sounds weird and modified.
It's nothing special and even though I didn't find it nearly as boring and patience-testing as their last album was it's still nothing to go crazy over. Personally, I still prefer Älvestam's work in Scar Symmetry and his more melodic projects, but for what this is, I don't have a whole lot to complain about it. If you happen to like modern sounding death metal with some inklings of other styles and whatnot, you might enjoy it, but I doubt you'll call it amazing or anything like that.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Ciniphes, On Wings of Brimstone, Waylayer

Exotic Animal Petting Zoo - The Tree of Tongues (2012)

Band: Exotic Animal Petting Zoo
Country: Crown Point, Indiana
Style: Alternative Metal
Label: Mediaskare

I first heard of Exotic Animal Petting Zoo several years ago from a Youtube video collection (which also informed me on numerous other great bands as well) but was one of the bands that I can say I didn't wind up listening to all that often. I've had their debut album, I Have Made My Bed In Darkness, for a good two or three years (if not longer) before actually remembering the band with this album. I didn't even listen to that album before listening to this one, making it a pretty blind listen for me.
As several people probably know by now, some of my favorite bands of all time are Faith No More and Mr. Bungle. Call them what you will, but I love bands that are just super eccentric, weird, and unlike any other group and that's where EAPZ comes in. While comparing them to either of the bands I love above is certainly a stretch, they certainly are pretty different sounding. I mean, they're certainly a very modern sounding band, and you can hear a whole variety of influences throughout the record from funk rock, post-rock, post-hardcore, screamo, mathcore, alternative metal/rock, among others, but they're all shoved together into a way that just makes it sound fun, energetic, and passionate. Normally I don't hear a whole lot of "fun" music except when I decide to check out the odd thrash or punk influenced band, just because I find it easier to just get pumped up or want to move to music that has energy in it, and while it remains true for this record, none of the genre's above, as of recently, have contained that element for me. Hell, I won't deny that some of the more technical excursions on here are a bit much and that the band probably could have conveyed the same emotion without trying to run through as many notes as possible, I will say that those parts certainly add some amount of diversity to the record.
Having said all that, it's not like the band don't have their melodic and more restrained moments. Songs like Through The Thicket... Across Endless Mountains and Kaspar Hauser Could See The Stars In The Daytime aren't anywhere near as in-your-face or spastic as other tracks on here, but they still have their freak-out moments and manage to convey more emotion, at least to me. The latter half of the album does express more of these moments than the first, interweaving some really beautiful post-rock moments together with some almost jazzy guitar phrases. Vocally, while the majority of the album is screamed or yell, I did find the cleanly sung vocals to kind of have a nice sound to them. Their tone is similar to that of plenty of other modern metalcore/deathcore band's use of clean vocals, which I'm sure is bound to turn plenty of people off, but they're far more eccentric, if only to just fit the music their playing, and come off sounding not only more convincing emotionally but also less similar to the style of music I just mentioned. I'm sure some reading this just won't get what I'm talking about and will probably assume I'm just taking it easy on the band because I enjoy the screamed vocals and instrumental work or that the cleanly sung vocals aren't anything that I just made them out to be, but coming from someone who's listened to a lot of metalcore bands, lots, before ever getting into extreme metal, I'd like to think I can judge vocalists like this pretty fairly.
It's spastic, it's eccentric, it's weird, what's not to love? While it isn't exactly metal, this is the sort of band that I tend to prefer because they're always interesting and fun. Definitely look into it if you don't mind some freaky and wacky alternative (insert genre).
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Thorough.Modern, Through The Thicket... Across Endless Mountains, Whores of Babel

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cyclamen - Memories, Voices EP (2012)

Band: Cyclamen
Country: London, UK
Style: Tech Metal/Post-Rock
Label: Independent

Since their debut full-length, Senjyu, back in 2010 (not that long ago), Cyclamen has transformed back into its original one-man band form. With Hayato Imanishi being the sole creative mind left in the project, there was some question about if the quality of the project's releases would be maintained. The five songs on here should give fans their answer.
Now, to anyone who's listened to the project's previous releases, the diversity in sounds and ideas shouldn't come as a surprise. Senjyu had everything from their own Sikth-esque form of tech metal to post-rock, lite fusion, and J-rock in a couple of spots, so the fact that Hayato has taken the project into the post-rock realm shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Now, to be honest, I wasn't too keen on opener Memories, it's not a bad song, it's just sort of there for me. While the idea sounds new for the band, compared to the four songs that follow, it just sounds a bit weak and unmemorable by comparison. After that initial wave of worry passes, I do think the EP picks up a little more steam, by dropping more aggression. That's not to say the rest of the tracks lack any technical riffing or aggression, because they certainly do, but I feel as though they're not as "standard" sounding for the project. Voices opens with some crazy and frantic riffing before jumping headfirst into a melodic and post-rock influenced chorus, The Blood Rose is a straight-up post-rock song, If We is more of a jazzy influenced song that is somehow almost danceable, and closer Saviour is probably the best fusion of post-rock and tech metal the project has produced yet. The whole thing manages to turn out quite well despite the rather iffy opener.
I realize that some people just don't enjoy the vocals of Asian vocalists, but aside from that rather polarizing view, it's a pretty solid release. I think that the ideas, for the most part, are really good and a majority of the tracks on here are engaging and rather beautiful. Not for everyone, but a nice blend of post-rock and tech metal for those who enjoy those sorts of things.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Voices, Saviour

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gojira - L'enfant Sauvage (2012)

Band: Gojira
Country: Bayonne, France
Style: Progressive Death Metal
Label: Roadrunner

Gojira is one of those bands who I avoided for quite a while when I first heard their name being thrown around back in 2006. It wasn't until I heard what eventually became one of my favorite tracks by them (Flying Whales)that I finally got what all the buzz was about. Since then I've been a fan and I can't say there are very many other bands who can do what they do.
For as long as I've been listening to metal, I guess you could say that I've become immune to a whole lot of stereotypes. To be completely honest, as much as people will disagree with me, a whole lot of metal gives me no desire to headbang or raise the horns up high. I love the genre to death, but I guess that it just doesn't light a fire in me that would make me want to exert some sort of physical motion in response to it, having said that, Gojira is one of the few bands that still makes me want to do that. On every record they've put out, their riffs and grooves have made them one of the very few groups that gives me any desire to just headbang in response to what they're playing. The band has become a name synonymous for consistently high quality records/material since they first started to blow up back around 2006/7. Their riffs just carry the weight that make them feel heavier than most sludge, doom, or any variation of those sorts of bands and are by far some of the most memorable riffs I wind up hearing any year.
Having said that, I have to be perfectly honest and say that this record did not wow me. Maybe it was my fault for expecting this to be great on its own, but there really weren't too many moments on this record that hit me with the same power that previous albums have. It kind of surprised me at first, and continues to this current moment, that while I was listening to this, there really weren't a whole lot of songs that hit me and made me want to move or a whole lot of riffs that stuck with me after the album had passed. It's kind of weird because the band haven't really changed their formula too much on this record compared to their previous ones, it might be slightly more melodic, but it just doesn't feel as powerful. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this album is bad or anything like that, but it just didn't deliver the goods like I expected. I do realize that me saying things like this will have fans (who happen to read this) crying out that I'm not giving the album much of a chance or that I just need to listen to it more. I'll give them both of that, but thus far, after four listens through, it has yet to grow on me anymore than on my first listen through, I'm sorry to say.
As much as I do enjoy the first half of the album, I actually found that the last half of the album was where most of the tracks I tended to favor resided. Tracks like The Gift of Guilt or Pain Is A Master deliver something a little bit different than what I expected, and while they're aren't nearly as heavy as other tracks, they're far and away more interesting to listen to. I will give it to the band that they probably released the best interlude track I've heard for some time with The Wild Healer. While nothing stellar happens within its short time span, it's interesting enough to keep my attention, as well as others, and not manage to just be some random piece that makes a listener want to just skip over it. Also, and I'm not sure how others feel about this, but I actually enjoyed the increase (or what seems like an increase) in clean and clean-ish vocals on here. The two closing tracks on here feature some of the most melodic vocals Joe Duplantier has ever delivered, and I for one wouldn't mind hearing more of it in the future.
Overall, I was let down by this album as it just didn't deliver enough of what I wanted and did deliver enough of what I didn't expect either. It's certainly no failure, but it does not live up to the band's last two full-lengths in my opinion. Still worth checking out if you're new to the band (if you're already a fan you'll check this out regardless) but just know that there's better material out there.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Liquid Fire, The Gift of Guilt, Pain Is A Master

7 Horns 7 Eyes - Throes of Absolution (2012)

Band: 7 Horns 7 Eyes
Country: Seattle, Washington
Style: Progressive Death Metal/Metalcore
Label: Century Media

To be honest, I've been aware of this album peripherally for a little while and have sort of been interested in it. While nothing really drew me in initially about the album or band, when I noticed the bands that this one was touring with I figured that I should check it out. I couldn't pass this up after seeing that these guys were touring with some pretty big and well respected heavyweights in the prog metal genre.
I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to get musically, since everything I had read on it didn't really paint any distinct portrait of the band's sound. I couldn't really tell you what I expected to hear from this to be honest, I mean, the reviews I had read told me that it was melodic, atmospheric, some even said djent inspired at times, which could translate to some as being progressive, so I came in expecting nothing from this. Luckily for me, what I wound up hearing was better than any of the reviews had told me. Now, do not translate that into me thinking this is a fantastic album, but the descriptions I was given only gave a vague impression of what these guys sound like, and while I could see all of them being true, none of them were really all that accurate. I'll just go and banish that djent tag right away because it's completely unnecessary in this case. These guys have their modern prog metal influences down pat, they've definitely studied from the books of Opeth, Katatonia, and Meshuggah, but they're certainly no djent band. Are there off-time chugs on here, yes, but that does not equal djent from my point of view.
Now, if there's anything I have to give to these guys it's that they can play. The guitarists can shred like no one's business, but they are self-aware enough to know that a solo doesn't have to be super technical or fast to be well done, as a good portion of them tend to be on the more melodic side of the spectrum. I also have to say that I did enjoy the vocals on here for the most part, the only track I didn't care for them was Cycle of Self because that song just reminded me way too much of generic deathcore bands even though it was probably a lot more tasteful than any deathcore song I've ever heard. The vocalist maintains a pretty low and guttural style throughout the album, and those are the sort of vocals I tend to prefer anyway. Despite all of that, my biggest gripe with this album has to be said is that apart from a few songs, most of what's on here is pretty unmemorable. It just goes in one ear and out the other without leaving much of an impact. Sure, I stand by the above comments about the instrumentation and vocals, but that's after listening to the entire disc, you could figure that out after listening to a handful of songs actually, but I just don't end up remembering much about this record other than that.
While I wouldn't say that these guys are a doom metal band, the atmosphere they manage to use on here is certainly comparable to groups like Swallow The Sun or Daylight Dies, at least to me. In my opinion, the tracks where the atmosphere appears to have a higher role in the music wind up being the best tracks on this album. The likes of both Delusions and A Finite Grasp of Infinite Disillusion make good use of the more melancholic atmospheres to enhance the power of the song, and not just use it as a backdrop. Having said that, I still don't think that's enough to save the album, because that very thing I said amplifies the power of certain songs, is also what kind of ruins the rest of them for me. I just wind up wishing that more songs were like my favorites and made use of more dynamics and ambiance. Despite the more "epic" ambiance attached to a track like Vindicator, it is once again, a good example of when the band are doing things right.
In the end it's just fine, but nothing extraordinary or totally unique despite the fact that all of these guys are more than capable musicians. There are some good ideas and some great performances, but nothing really makes it stick too well. I doubt that it's going to blow anyone away, but if you happen to enjoy modern prog metal, especially the more death metal influenced side of the genre, I'd say to give this a shot.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Delusions, A Finite Grasp of Infinite Disillusion, Vindicator

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Panopticon - Kentucky (2012)

Band: Panopticon
Country: Louisville, Kentucky
Style: Post-Black Metal/Bluegrass
Label: Handmade Birds/Pagan Flames

I don't think that it's an understatement saying that if you're a fan of underground black metal, this was probably one of your most anticipated releases for this year. This album was announced early last year, if not late in 2010 even, and really set in motion a chain of events that has brought A. Lunn and this project far more attention than I ever expected. Now, the time has come upon us where this is coming out and expectations are high for what the project will achieve.
I think the best place to start with this is back when the concept and idea for this album was first announced. Back in late 2010 when A. Lunn spoke about his desire to record not only a visceral and scathing piece of black metal, which later came out as last year's Social Disservices record, but also a record devoted to his home of Kentucky, I, like many others, was anxious to hear whatever would become of this. He had said that he planned to record a bunch of bluegrass tunes and make a record of that sort of music, or at least inspired by it. When I heard that, what immediately came to my mind was that Lunn was going to record an entire album of nothing but bluegrass, folk, and country songs, no metal. By now, it's common knowledge that that isn't what wound up happening as there the first songs that were released from this album were pretty interesting black metal pieces.
Of course, while my first idea of what this album was incorrect, the majority of the songs that make of this record are in fact country and bluegrass songs. It's pretty common knowledge now that several of these pieces are traditional coalminer songs, if you couldn't figure that out from the titles alone' but I for one was absolutely blown away by not only the quality of the pieces, but also how powerful those songs happen to be as well. This isn't Lunn's first time singing on a record, he's done it on a few other Panopticon recordings and a little bit on Seidr's debut full-length last year, but his performance and delivery on here is just jaw-dropping. His voice totally personifies that old-school country sound without sounding like a deliberate attempt at a throwback. You cannot deny the power of songs like Come All Ye Coal Miners and Which Side Are You On?. Personally, I wouldn't have minded hearing an entire record of these sorts of songs, especially after hearing this record, I can only hope that Lunn decides to do more with the style in future recordings as well.
When it comes to the three metal songs on here, Lunn really upped his game, delivering not only some of his most melodic material yet, but also some of his most awe-inspiring. Also, the use of pan flute in these songs is just great, it sounds awesome. While they add intensity to what I had originally thought was going to be a pretty mellow record, the color they bring to this is also worthy of note as well. While the country tracks are by no means bright or uplifting (though the latter is certainly subjective), these black metal tracks bring a bit more darkness to the album, which expresses the rage and anger that the concept of the record needs. Having said that, the overall atmosphere of this record is nowhere near as dark as previous Panopticon releases, retaining an almost bright and sunny sound throughout, perhaps an ode to the sunshine and support that eluded the coalminers in the concept. The production on these songs is also well done, retaining the signature rawness and authenticity of the project's early records while allowing the sound of these more aggressive tracks to be a bit more even (IE. the drums are no longer at the very forefront). Though I do question the production on Black Waters, which sounds slightly out of character compared to the rest of the record, it's a very small qualm.
This is without a doubt a favorite of this year, surpassing any expectations I had for it by far. As someone who isn't too into country or bluegrass music, these songs struck a chord with me, and will hopefully strike a similar one in other listeners as well. Do not pass up the opportunity to get your hands on this record, black metal fans will love it as much as fans of acoustic based music. Do not pass this record up!
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

MAKE - Trephine (2012)

Band: MAKE
Country: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Style: Psychedelic Rock/Post-Metal
Label: Devouter

I can't say that I was familiar with MAKE before being sent an email by Devouter Records. The comparisons to the likes of Isis, Earth, and Horseback definitely caught my attention and made me take notice of the band. Even without hearing any of it yet, I knew that I would enjoy this album.
I've said before that I don't really dig sludge or stoner metal because a lot of it just sounds too similar for me and there aren't as many bands branching out and doing interesting things with the genre, so it's always great when I finally do hear a band that is doing that. Much like the bands I mentioned above, MAKE takes various ideas and blends them into a style that is true enough to the standards of stoner and sludge to keep it appealing to fans of that style, but unique enough to have fans of other genres get into it as well. Personally, I kind of view this as a more metal version of what Jenks Miller has been doing in Horseback. You have long and winding blues riffs that just cycle over and over while the rhythm section just lays on a groove until the whole thing becomes hypnotic. In addition to that, there's also that whole post-metal, or post-rock, portion of the band's sound which does add just a touch more color to their already great sound. While using it as more of a transitional aspect to their sound is all well and good, I thought it was a really smart and good idea to let that ambiance seep into some of the more groovy moments on here as well, hear Returning to The Ruins of My Birthplace for an example. You'd think that a band playing a style that I don't really care for normally that has some pretty lengthy songs (most are around six minutes, if that's lengthy) would get boring, but no, these guys manage to keep my attention fully for pretty much every track on here. It has everything a fan of psychedelic rock/metal could want and is a welcome addition to any psyche fan's collection.
While I think what this band is doing is really great, I have to say that while I was impressed by most of the record, there were some tracks that didn't exactly wow me. At first I didn't really like the clean vocals on here but they did grow on me so I don't really view that as a fault. Probably the thing the irked me the most was the fact that the band closed the album with a lengthy track but spent several minutes in silence leading up to a "hidden" track, and I never enjoy that on an album. It kind of disappointed me because when I saw that closer I thought, "Great, I get to hear the band jam out for twelve minutes," which I honestly believe would have been great, but the song is only around six minutes, so that was kind of a bummer. I also think that Valhalla might not sit well with some who would happen to want more of a straightforward song, because that song is a bit more on the psychedelic side of things. Personally, I think it's a really good jam out that displays a lot of character, but that's just me. I actually think that a bit more of that psychedelic influence could have been injected into some other songs on here and would have actually benefitted them. As you can probably assume, most of these are just small things that really don't impact my overall enjoyment of the album and are more things that I kind of wish there was more or less of, I'd imagine future recordings will only improve on these things.
I really did enjoy this album and it's really become a favorite of mine, I spin it pretty regularly at this point. There are a couple things I might tweak about it, but overall it's just a really enjoyable listen. Definitely check it out if you happen to enjoy the more psychedelic side of sludge and stoner metal and rock, you will not be disappointed.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: ...And Time Came Undone, Valhalla, Scorched Sky

2012 - Screamo

Last year I guess you could say that I had a revelation and found the joy of finding screamo and post-hardcore bands that weren't "mainstream" and were actually good musicians. (All are reviewed from 1-10)

Night Hag - Confidence Man EP (2012)

Band: Night Hag
Country: Adelaide, Australia
Style: Blackened Crust
Label: Monolith

I first found out about Night Hag last year with their first full-length Gilded Age and was really impressed with their brand of black metal infused hardcore. It was visceral but not without substance. So, it goes without saying that once I heard about this album, of course I was interested.
This is just the rush of adrenaline needed to start the day off right. Being just under nine minutes in total, these four songs are straightforward and blistering. Compared to their last record, these songs are a bit more hardcore and punk based, though the riffing is still very much in the black metal vein. Even on the most black metal song on here, Junk Science, still retains that hardcore demeanor that just makes you want to go punch someone in the face. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that the band never really moved into grindcore territory on here with the amount of intensity they play with. For how direct these songs are they still manage to retain a clear distinction between hardcore punk and grind. I kind of wish that there was more on here though because just as soon as I start getting into it, it's over.
I really enjoyed this, it's short and quick (both in time and musically). Frankly it doesn't really fill any sort of hunger for a new full-length, but for what it is I think it's just great. Definitely check it out if you happen to enjoy black metal, hardcore, punk rock, or any fusion of the three, you won't be disappointed.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Junk Science, Number Rash

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cayur - Cayur EP (2012)

Band: Cayur
Country: Columbus, Ohio/Chino Hills, California
Style: Post-Hardcore/Tech Metal
Label: Independent

I got this record near the beginning of the year so I have a hard time remembering why I decided to give it a shot. It wasn't until I was burning some stuff to listen to in the car when I had some free space and this had enough time to fill the spot that I decided to give it a shot. I honestly couldn't tell you how surprised I was when this started playing.
I think that when I first decided to cover this a couple months ago I think I might have expected it to be something more along the lines of a djent album. Obviously, with several months in between me actually getting this and finally deciding to review it, I've forgotten my original intention, so I'm kind of just guessing. What I did recall was that it was instrumental and that it was slightly on the more technical side of things. I have to say that whatever my original intention for deciding to cover this was, I was sort of let down by the end result. Not that this is in any way bad or anything, but for what's being played, these songs, most of them, feel too long. Maybe it's just how I went into listen to the album that made them feel longer, but even when I used it as background music, it just made things feel tedious. Sonically, for as much going on in these songs as there is, it shouldn't feel this tedious to listen to, you have spastic post-hardcore riffs that jump back and forth into quick snippets of blast-beats and jazzy guitar and bass interplay. Though if I give anything to the album, I will say that production is well done, you have a nice variety of effects that link these songs together.
While I don't think anything on here is in any way bad, it was just a little too tedious for my own personal taste. If it means anything, I think that everything on here is actually pretty spot on except for the songwriting, so if that was tightened up a little bit, the next release might really be something interesting. Check it out if you happen to think the mix between technical metal and post-hardcore sounds at all interesting.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Born Again, Devoid of Virtue, 1954

A Whisper In The Noise - To Forget (2012)

Band: A Whisper In The Noise
Country: Hanska, Minnesota
Style: Art Rock/Slowcore
Label: Exile On Mainstream

I have a good friend who's a big fan of slowcore and I have heard very little of the genre besides Low (his favorite band). I've been meaning to look more into the genre for a while, and while I thought this was a folk record at first, I was certainly still going to listen to it. After the initial run though I was actually pretty surprised by what wound up occurring on here.
It was surprising listening to this for the first time and having the entire thing open up with the title-track which mixes an elegant sort of string and percussion arrangement with an almost post-rock sort of build. I was definitely surprised because it was far more lush and textured than I had ever expected, and I guess I'll add orchestrated to that as well. Coming in I was expecting acoustic guitars, piano, and voice (the last two are used predominantly throughout) with maybe some percussion, and I wouldn't say that I was disappointed by what I heard, but it really did leave me scratching my head at first. I guess it'd be more accurate to say that it was a pleasant surprise to me because while this was certainly different than what I ever imagined it being when I first got it, what I wound up getting from this album was so much more than I ever imagined I would.
I think that it's pretty obvious based on what I cover (maybe it isn't for all I know) but I'm not a huge fan of women singers. I don't mean that as some sort of stereotype or in some sexist way, but coming from the point of view where I heard a lot of female fronted metal groups (and I know that has nothing to do with this review) who pretty much all sounded the same, I kind of grew to accept female vocal projects a lot more cautiously. That is something that has crossed over into other genres as well, apparent from how I'm bringing it up here. Now, while I bring this up, I can't say that I had any problem adapting to the vocals on here, either of the female or male vocals, and that was probably one of the aspects that really threw me for a loop on my first listen. In the past, no matter what style of music, even if I liked a girl's voice, it might take me a couple of listens to adjust to it, but not on here. I found the vocals, in general, to really suit the music perfectly. Tracks like Sad Sad Song, which is more harmonized voices, and Your Hand are just beautiful pieces of music that hold an inherent poppy sort of melodicism to them while being performed in a much more melancholic and mournful way.
Despite an initial shock at the overall style of this album, I have to say that in the end I was more than pleasantly surprised. It definitely surpassed any expectations that I may have put onto it and it really is an album that has stuck with me. Definitely check this out if you happen to dig more slowcore (which is something I really should look more into if this is any indication of quality) or just well composed, melancholic pop songs.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Black Shroud, All My, Your Hand

Saturday, June 16, 2012

2012 - Splits III

As the title above says, part three of this series for splits. I don't know if you could consider the first one to be a split, but both were packaged together so I'm going to reference it in here. (All three reviewed from 1-8)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Beach House - Bloom (2012)

Band: Beach House
Country: Baltimore, Maryland
Style: Dream Pop
Label: Sub Pop/Bella Union

I know it may come as a shock that I actually do own and listen to some pop music, but I do enjoy some pop acts from time to time. I was introduced to Beach House somewhere around three or four years ago but didn't really get into them until I heard 2010's Teen Dream album. Since I heard that album, I have been a fan of the band and was very eager to hear this new album.
Since being turned onto the band I'd say that they've had an influence on what I listen to in the worlds outside of metal music. While the band aren't exactly presenting a sound that breaks the norm, at least anymore anyway, for pop music, their songwriting has always been what's captured fans. Those simplistic and gentle melodies just glide through the ears of a listener and somehow wind up getting caught in the right places for them to be memorable. Granted, this is dream pop music we're talking about, so it's not like I'm venturing into pure, bubble-gum pop that you'll hear on the radio/see on tv, so there's obviously more appeal to them beyond just a hook. Besides these guys and a couple of other acts, I can't really even say that I'm a huge dream pop fan. There's just something about these guys that somehow makes their songs catchy and memorable, while also being melodically pleasing as well.
I remember seeing these guys play on Conan [O'Brien] a couple of months ago and really being wowed by them; and that was what really triggered me listening to them again. I do realize that's sort of a random point, but I just wanted to throw that in. Back to the album though, it definitely has a nice blend of moods ranging from your more typical moody pieces to more upbeat pop songs and even a full-on ballad, On The Sea, though to call it an even melancholic song would be stretching the truth a bit further than I'd ever like to do. I also really have to compliment the closer, Irene, for doing something far more interesting(?) than I ever thought to give the band credit for. That near seven minute long closer really channels the right aspects of the occasional post-rock influence and creates possibly the best song they've ever written. I have to say that when I think of pop music, usually the stuff on the radio is what typically comes to mind, and that stuff lacks variety, in a good sense, in most cases. When someone asks me about good pop music, this is a band that will usually come to mind pretty immediately. Sure, the rather unflinching way early records were just skeletal pop songs with a sound that was a lot more tolerable, it's really only been on this and their last record where they've fleshed their songs out more so and begun to spread their sound out a bit more while still having that core sound intact.
Forgive me for not having a whole lot to say on this record aside then me saying that it is good. I do enjoy the band and while my personal favorite record from them is apparently in the minority (Teen Dream) I don't think the band have put out anything sub-par as of yet. If it sounds interesting to you or if you happen to enjoy shoegazy and dreamy pop music definitely check the band out.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Lazuli, Other People, Irene

Liars - WIXIW (2012)

Band: Liars
Country: Los Angeles, California
Style: Experimental Rock/Art Rock
Label: Mute

I can't say that I've been following Liars for too long, probably under two years at this point, but are a band who I have a great respect for. Despite never really listening to them all that often, what I heard was enough to make me a fan. Since finding this record, I've gone back and listened to some of their older work in order to gain a better perspective on this album.
I wasn't even aware that Liars was releasing this album until about a week ago, watching a review of it and then immediately going out to find it. Like I just said above, I wouldn't say I've been a casual listener of the band but in preparation for writing this I went back and listened to some of their other albums and found that they were far more interesting and unique than I remember them being. Both their take of straight-up noise rock and then their more arty and experimental albums are very well constructed (though I obviously have preferences towards some over others) and even from a single listen there were a handful of tracks that got stuck in my head. I also really enjoy the fact that they managed to switch up their style, if only a little bit, on every album to give each one a different feel, whether it be the more noise rock approach on their debut or the darker ambiance on their self-titled album (my personal favorite by the way) or the moody and electronic style embraced on this very album.
While it isn't as if the band haven't experimented with more mellow tracks or darker sounding atmospheres before, they have never done an album which was dominated by tracks of this sort. I heard that this was an album that was pretty hard to get into from a couple of reviews, and while I could definitely agree that it is a grower, for myself anyway, this thing clicked with me pretty immediately. The more minimalistic electronics and post-punk vibe of these songs for some reason turns a lot of these songs into what I'd seriously consider late-night dance club worthy. Along with that, there's also this almost ethereal quality to some of these songs, which, coupled with the repetitive nature of the record, leads a good portion of these songs to really be hypnotic. Now, to say that this record is all moody electronic inflected pieces would be wrong because despite the more moody nature of the record, there are still quite a few tracks on here that are a bit more upbeat, the likes of A Ring On Every Finger or His and Mine Sensations being perfect examples of that. In fact, come to think of it, I don't think one could really call this a Liars album if there wasn't at least one track which was a bit more up-tempo. They're danceable without abandoning the mood, which leads to a diverse, but cohesive album. Even when they're being really weird, there's always that one song that sticks out as being the black sheep, and on this record, at least to me, it's Flood to Flood, which is a rather up-beat song, but feels a lot more energetic because of all the various electronics and interesting drum patterns going on throughout the song.
In the end, I was really impressed with this album and it's really become an album that I come back to quite often. Even though I've only had it for a little while now, I just can't seem to break away from it completely ever since I first listened to it. Definitely worth checking out if you're into more moody post-punk or electronic influenced rock music.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: No.1 Against The Rush, WIXIW, Annual Moon Words

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interview - Horseback's Jenks Miller

As I've said in my review for Horseback's Half Blood (and maybe even in the On The Eclipse EP review as well), Jenks Miller is easily one of the most creative minds in underground American music. Despite how much Horseback is referred to and takes influence from metal music, it is so much more than that. Jenks was kind enough to let me ask him a couple of questions and here are the results of such.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stroszek - Sound Graveyard Bound (2012)

Band: Stroszek
Country: La Spezia, Italy
Style: Singer-Songwriter/Folk Rock
Label: Hypnotic Dirge

I've been familiar with Claudio Alcara's solo project Stroszek for quite a while now and am certainly well aware of his mainstay band Frostmoon Eclipse, but this is the first time I think I've actually heard an entire album from Stroszek. I knew from the other songs I had heard that it was more of a singer-songwriter type of a vibe, but beyond that I didn't really come in expecting too much. Believe it or not, I was actually quite excited to finally listen to this (I say that because it's not a metal album).
Make no mistake, I am a big fan of music like this, singer-songwriter style material, but what was on here was a lot different than what I remember hearing from the project. What I kind of imagined was Alcara and a guitar, maybe some keyboards or some additional instrumentation, but no, this sounds like a full band playing. It sounds like a full on folk group, and none of this up-tempo party folk, but solemn and slightly depressing sound folk rock. When this thing introduced an electric guitar I was really surprised because it, once again, did something that I did not expect to hear, call me unprepared. Maybe I misspoke when I said that this is folk rock, because the rocking parts owe quite a bit to Alcara's metal background. The album is for the most part pretty mellow, even with the more electric dominated sections of songs, you'll never burst out into a full-blown rock chorus or a really heavy riff. There are riffs, but they're not really the type that will make you want to headbang, but the type that enhance the overall mood of the album, they'll usually still be backing up an acoustic guitar or there will be a great bass-line plodding along underneath it. The only time when the record actually became what I thought it was going to be is on the closing Mike Johnson cover If The World Handn't Gone Insane.
Believe it or not, I actually found a lot of the more mellow, or acoustic rather, sections of this album to be more memorable than their heavier counterparts. Maybe it's just because I haven't really been listening to too much heavy music as of lately or something that I found those moments to pop out more. That melancholy really just feels so natural and true, unfake is what I'm trying to say, and while that might not be the most enticing thing to say, it's what drew me in and kept my attention. Alcara's vocals also don't do anything to help brighten the mood either, staying with a rather monotone style of singing that really doesn't convey a whole lot of emotion, but manages to fit the instrumentals perfectly. I realize that the nature of these vocals won't please everyone, monotone sort of vocals obvious are kind of hit-or-miss for a lot of people, but I think that with the nature of this record, a lot of people will more than likely get over this problem.
Whether you happen to enjoy more folk rock sort of stuff or singer-songwriter albums or even straight-up metal, I think that you'll find something on here to enjoy. It really is an album that does have a pretty wide sense of appeal to it, despite how melancholic it is. It really surprised me and it's an album I'll definitely be returning to again for quite a while.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Shipwreck, Self Closure, Crows

2012 - Demos

Here are a bunch of demos I've found/gotten sent and because I'm bored at the moment I figured I'd just get them all out of the way at once. I was actually surprised at the quality of these releases as most of them are debuts for these bands/projects. Definitely check them out if they happen to peak your interest. They're all reviewed from 1-6.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ephel Duath - On Death and Cosmos EP (2012)

Band: Ephel Duath
Country: Padua, Italy
Style: Avant-Garde/Jazz Metal
Label: Agonia

My love for the weird and eccentric side of metal is no secret, and thus my fondness for the likes of Italy's own Ephel Duath should come as no surprise. The band has consistently impressed me on each successive recording, ever changing their sound and never staying in one style too long to really come across as any one thing. Though the band have never had the most consistent of line-ups, this is the first without vocalist Luciano George Lorusso since the band's debut full-length back in 2000.
Sonically, Ephel Duath is a strange beast and one that I perfectly understand when people claim that it's not really even metal. Beyond their Phormula, their full-length debut, the band has moved away from the more "normal" forms of aggression found in metal and have shifted into realms that are much more akin to that of jazz. What has appeared on the last few full-lengths and continues onto here is one of the most bizarre combinations of straight-up jazz, schizophrenic industrial electronica, math rock, and just a hint of black metal coming from the vocals. I kid you not when I say that it's hard to really call their last album, 2009's Through My Dog's Eyes, a metal record. Aside from main-man guitarist Davide Tiso (who is totally underrated as a guitarist by the way), we see the return of drummer extraordinaire Marco Minnemann, and the newcomers to the group, bassist Steve DiGiorgio and vocalist Karyn Crisis (who you might know from her work on the most recent Dimmu Borgir, Solefald, and Aborym records). With a new line-up, kind of, we see a shift back to more straight-up forms of aggression, at least vocally. Crisis' vocals are a mix of death growls and her usual punk-ish singing, usually overlapped over one another, while the music backing her is a bit more rock inflected than either of the band's last two releases but still retains Tiso's unique playing style. His chord voicings are remind me a lot of Ben Monder, which may speak less to my knowledge of jazz guitar than it does how great a guitarist Tiso actually is for all I know.
Overall, I really do enjoy it and there really wasn't any reason that I wouldn't, it's a great piece of music. Hopefully this is just a taste for what a forthcoming album may sound like, but even if the next album sounds nothing like this it's still a good palette wetter. Definitely worth your time if you happen to enjoy the weirder side of metal like I do.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Raqia

Monday, June 11, 2012

Double Review: Ratkiller & Whitewater Orgasm

Band: Ratkiller
Country: Tallinn, Estonia
Style: Synth-Funk/Darkwave
Label: Dipsomaniac

This is the sort of album I didn't think I'd ever really cover, stylistically I mean. The label happened to let me know that I was welcome to check out any of their releases and this one seemed like the most recent (at the time) and one of the ones that was a bit less abrasive to my ears, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Nevertheless, first impressions are more often incorrect.
Obviously, I'm certainly familiar with electronic music but this is something I can't say that I've ever listened to before, by choice anyway. I haven't listened to any of the other releases under this project but this album is just full of ideas that are strange and weird. It's a very varied album in terms of it's style, because you get everything from synth odyssey sort of stuff to straightforward synth-pop and even stuff that sounds like it could've been in an 80's B sci-fi movie but it's all been recorded in this lo-fi way where there's a whole bunch of hiss, buzz, and noise in the mix of this as well. While none of what's on here is in any way bad, I do find this to be a rather taxing album to listen to straight through. When I try and listen to this thing from start to finish, once I get to track three I can already feel myself growing tired of what's happening. Along with that, I honestly don't think that a lot of these songs really do a whole lot, and I don't mean there isn't a lot going on in the song. There's a lot to find in these songs rhythmically, along with subtle electronic touches that pop up here and there, but all of it doesn't really accomplish much. If you listen to one song on here, you've pretty much heard them all. Most songs tend to just kind of run in a circle for a few minutes and then end without ever accomplishing anything.
It's decent, but frankly it's not something I could see myself returning to again. They're ok poppy synth tracks that I could see fans of more lo-fi electronic music digging on, but it really isn't for me though. If you happen to enjoy some experimental synth music I do think that this is worth checking out, but I do think that it's more of a niche sort of album than anything else.
Overall Score: 5.5
Highlights: Inhuman Power By Magic Potion, S.P.Q.R., The Bard, The Druid & The Headhunter

Band: Whitewater Orgasm
Country: Finland
Style: Power Electronics/Harsh Noise
Label: L. White

This is yet another album I never thought, stylistically, that I'd ever cover either. I usually leave power electronics up to people who know what they're talking about, but someone told me that they were interested in what I thought of this album since it features a member of a group called Canine Court One, a group whose debut album I covered last year. Not that I was all that fond of that album either, but I was willing to see what this one had to offer.
While I can't promise that this will apply to everyone, when you start an album out with a blast of high-pitched feedback that is ear-piercing (and that's putting it lightly), it's a pretty good sign that the album will not win you over immediately. Honestly, that opening to The Fountain of Fox is easily one of my least favorite introductions to an album EVER, for me, it totally ruins any good will that I might have come into the album with. I can deal with noise, but I don't want to have my ears ringing/bleeding when I press the play button to turn that damn thing on. Luckily, the album does pick up after that atrocious opening, though I can't say that quality ever becomes great, most songs tend to range between decent and average to dull and uninteresting. Now, it's not like the whole thing is worth avoiding, in fact, nothing is, but chances are that if you're a fan of this style of music, you've heard most of what's done on here before anyway. Having said that, I can't say that I was engrossed enough in the first half of the album to care much for the thirty-six minute long closer, Memories Destroyed, which is just way too long and doesn't accomplish nearly enough to justify that length. I'm not saying you won't find change in the track, but none of it is interesting, engaging, or powerful enough to draw, at least me, in at all.
It's solid enough, I've certainly encountered worse, but like it's more metallic counterpart Canine Court One, it's just meh in the end and nothing to get worked up over. It's one of those things that I could see people checking out just so they can show their friends that they listen to really obscure music, more than someone genuinely liking what this is for music's sake, but that's just me. If you happen to be a mongrel for noise and punishment, check it out, but otherwise you can stick with your own obscure noise kings.
Overall Score: 5
Highlights: The World Turning to Salt, In The Canisters There Are People Hidden Inside, I Have Her Torso In A Suitcase

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Kyle Bobby Dunn - Bring Me The Head of Kyle Bobby Dunn (2012)

Band: Kyle Bobby Dunn
Country: Toronto, Canada
Style: Ambient/Drone
Label: Low Point

Last year's Ways of Meaning was my first encounter with Kyle Bobby Dunn and I was definitely impressed. I had first heard of him through a review that a friend of mine had done and so finally getting to hear it was very exciting. I was just as pumped when Dunn told me about his new album, this double-disc release, as it would showcase even more of what I enjoyed on the last release.
I do think that Kyle Bobby Dunn is a truly talented individual. I'm in no way a huge advocator of ambient music only because I know that I'm a total noob when it comes to that genre. I have the artists and groups I like (chances are you've heard of all of them before if you like ambient music) and then there are the artists who I'm just sort of there with, I do like Kyle Bobby Dunn though. I think his ability to craft moody atmospheres is among the greatest that I've encountered within the ambient realm. I say moody because I do think that he can craft songs that are emotionally powerful, and I'll be the first to admit that most of my ambient collection does tend to be more in the realms of downtrodden and morose soundscapes, but Dunn manages to do that, without ever sounding quite like dark ambient music, most of his pieces tend to feature more of a melancholic sort of happiness or peacefulness. Even the brighter moments feel somewhat sad, if you catch my drift. I will say that in comparison to his last album, Ways of Meaning, this is a much brighter, and longer, affair.
I guess my biggest problem with this album is with its length. Being two discs long, it's quite taxing, especially when most of the tracks tend to be over seven minutes. While long songs (in any genre) don't really offer too much of a problem for myself, I found some tracks to be rather dull and lacking in variety (it's an ambient album, what variety?), but I liked it more when there were noticeable shifts and escalations in the mood or atmosphere, tracks like Douglas Glen or The Hungover, instead of remaining rather static for an entire duration, La Chanson De Beurrage. In shorter doses, I didn't really view the more one-dimensional style as all that much of a hindrance because when a track is only a couple of minutes long, it's more like a single idea and you can get away with making that one or two ideas work, but longer pieces need, I guess you could say, more movement. I can't really say that I have a preference to one over the other because Dunn does accomplish both with relative ease and makes both sound great, but to say that the longer ones didn't drone on a bit too long for my own taste would be lying. I also have to say that in an album this long you're bound to hear some repetition in the ideas and that certainly happens in the later tracks. I can't say that any songs were bad, but some of it did feel a bit too much like filler for my own taste. The good tracks really stand out though, in both the atmospheres they set and the mood they bring to the listener, it's very calming. In my head, pretty much every time I was listening to this, I always pictured someone just floating in white emptiness, and while that may not sound great, I think it fits because every track on here, no matter how dark or uplifting, the sense of overwhelming calm remains intact.
I enjoyed it while it was on and it definitely did keep the mood rather peaceful while it was on, both when it was in the foreground and background. I don't think it's quite as accessible an album as Ways of Meaning was, but it's probably more of a rewarding listen because of that. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of ambient or drone music, it's a very solid album with some really good tracks.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Douglas Glen, The Trouble With Tres Belles, The Calm Idiots of Yesterday, Parkland

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fear Factory - The Industrialist (2012)

Band: Fear Factory
Country: Los Angeles, California
Style: Industrial Metal
Label: Candlelight

I have to be honest and say that until 2010's Mechanize, I wasn't a huge Fear Factory fan. I was most certainly a fan of their music, but I couldn't really say that I was into an entire album before that one came out. It can be assumed that I was most certainly excited when I found out about this album's release and the various concepts that the band/duo would be going into on this album.
I'm not as much of a concept guy as I once was, in the sense that I don't really base an album on it's lyrical content too much anymore, but Fear Factory has always been a band who has always made concepts that were well worth actually reading about. While I'm still not going to cover them here, I still feel it's important to take note of them because there really aren't too many bands out there who can made a concept album that is both interesting, topical, and relevant. But onto the music. All I can really say is that it's definitely Fear Factory, and if you were expecting something different or experimental, you're most likely going to be disappointed. But the band doing what they do really isn't a bad thing, at least for me, as their core sound is one that's not only good and original, but is always just a little bit different on each album. On here, this is definitely a darker album than their last couple of releases, probably going back as far as Obsolete in terms of the overall tone of the entire album.
I have to say that on my first listen, I was sort of disappointed with this album. I guess I was expecting an album that would be similar to Mechanize, but that is not what I got. Sure, you have songs like Recharger and Virus of Faith which are more straightforward and feature big and catchy choruses, but this isn't a song based album like their last few were. Due to this being a concept driven album, there aren't really all that many songs that are going to be driven by a hook, and it's more about the overall tone of the album, the way the music works with the story/lyrics, and the way various emotions are conveyed throughout instead of having songs that are just songs (hopefully that makes sense). I don't think tracks like God Eater or Difference Engine probably would have worked on a more song based album because they really aren't big or catchy songs and are probably the best examples I could give you for what I just mentioned about this being a darker album that takes a concept more seriously than individual songs. I'm not trying to say that individual songs aren't good or that they don't work on their own, but, at least to me, while some of these tracks could just as easily have been put on another record by the band while most of them most likely wouldn't work in that sort of context. A concept should rely more on flow, which is how this album works, you have a variety of moods while an overall dark atmosphere is maintained throughout.
Probably the biggest point of controversy on here are the last two tracks, Religion Is Flawed Because Man Is Flawed (great title by the way) and Human Augmentation, both of which are instrumental, industrial-ambient tracks. Now, I honestly don't think that the former track would cause as much controversy if it was by itself because it's pretty short, but the latter track is just over nine minutes long and I do not think that that's what most Fear Factory fans want to hear from the band. I think the band do a pretty solid job at the tracks, but they really aren't all that special, and I do understand the reasoning for putting them at the end of the album, but I do think it was a mistake. The placement of these tracks, from what I've read and heard from others, only leads to people ending the album at Dissemble. I definitely admire and respect the band for trying something like closing the album with ambient tracks, I just don't think it works for them.
Seeing as Mechanize was the first album that I ever reviewed, it's weird finally covering them again. I kind of wish there were more actual songs on here, as the eight that, essentially, comprise this album, do a great job at setting a dark mood and covering a really cool concept, and I just wish there was more like that on here. It's a solid album, definitely not without its flaws, but more than certainly above average and well worth looking into.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Recharger, Depraved Mind Murder, Difference Engine