Saturday, August 31, 2013

Up From the Underground : the Mona Lisa Twins

 I was pretty shocked after hearing the guitar playing on their album "When We're Together" that these two cute Austrian girls are only 19.  Their album starts up with  the title track,  a straight forward  almost rockabilly number with unison harmonies. The guitar work is more intricate than the radio pop of the sixties that the girls wink towards.  The  crisp production  avoids being apologetic about the playing as garage rock.  The addition of  harmonica on "Won't You Listen Now"brings a more folk warmth.

Like Simon and Garfunkel , as their strength is their songwriting , which is nuanced by the great guitar playing on this album that captures the feel on the time period recreated . Early Beatles rides the boogie of "This Boy is Mine"  in the vein of  "Can't Buy Me Love" the guitar phrasing even pays homage to Harrison's playing in this era.  This is also the first song where they do not sing in unison through out and use their harmonies only as accents.

The strum of acoustic guitar has the feel more "Revolver" era Beatles, their voices never  over emote and stay honest in their inflections in a manner that would appeal to fans of indie rock. Even when things take a turn into balladry, their harmonies remind me of Rasptutina ever so slightly though it drifts on a much less quirky and much dreamier direction not unlike Joanna Newsome.

The backing band has ample chops to keep their bassist playing rolling melody patterns underneath sections simpler strum to them when their harmonies take the spotlight. Though the pre-psychedelic Beatles seems to be the rule of the day, yet the girls keep their sense of identity injected firmly into this formula. The swing of "June" helps keep them varied and continues to amaze with their smooth vocal blending.

The more Simon & Garfunkel feel returns on "The Wide, Wide Land". The guitar playing as a finer ear for detail than the folk music from this era and has a dynamic flow to it once the percussion kicks in. "All About Falling in Love" straddles the fence between folk and the 60's Beatles pop, with the harmonies leaning in the direction of the latter.  The songwriting never has a lull as their aren't anything songs I would think of as filler, staying pretty strong.

"I Wanna Kiss You" has the fun Beatles boogie to it though their harmonies are unique to them as they transition back into the verse. By the time the album closes with the closest wink to the psychedelic years it's clear these girls aren't just a sum of their influences with touches of 90's indie rock  like Liz Phair sprinkled about before the harmonica comes in.

These girls have some great things ahead of them if this is what they are capable of at 19. The guitar playing and harmonies really shine and keep the album a fun listen even more than the classic pop bounce that keeps things moving.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Oranssi Pazuzu : "Velonielu"

I have a feeling this will be the best album of the year thats not heard.  The third full length from this Finnish band who now prowl the shadowy outskirts of what could be called black metal. I'll listen to this thing a few more times through in case I missed a blast beat some where. They do not rely on speed , if we were to count straws they could be more aptly classed as blackened sludge, though someone might want to throw industrial in there as the album often pound at it much like Ministry's Filth Pig. The pacing of the album in fact is very similar, though in terms of guitar tones they go even more directions.

"Tyhja Tempelli" has some really twisted surf rock guitar playing sinewy angular patterns that I don't think even when velocity increases any one would call black metal. It very dark and very sonic two characteristics of black metal sure, but the way the bass drives everything is so much more, almost like Red era King Crimson, though with a dirty chug attached. The build in the final minute is pretty fucking majestic and these guys have really broadened the spectrum they are painting with.

"Uraanisula" takes it's time creeping to life with an almost stoner doom vibe. They guitar is layered well and the interplay with the keyboards is smart creating a dark trippy atmosphere, though the pace stay to a sludged plod it still has a swing to the groove.If the intent is to drone here they succeed as it waits til the four and half minute mark to build the climb. There is a more organic feel to this song than what was displayed earlier in the album. When the pace picks up it builds into what is closer to a frantic Tool riff or something fitting on a Mastodon album, with the vocals remaining the only harsh constant. Imagine Enslaved angrier and with out the clean vocals and your are getting warmer.

They remain in this some what straight forward beat the groove until we build from its fragments formula on the mid paced " Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silman" that comes the closest to being black metal and hits a blasty depending on how your speedometer is gauged. I like the movement and the dynamics this song carries while retaining a sense of sonics. It goes to show how letting a riff breathe can prove more effective when you ramp up its intensity and there is a diverse mix of guitar sounds.

The album closes with the fifteen minute drone epic "Ympyra On Viiva Tomussa" that recalls early Pink Floyd in the spacey first five minutes. So  if you are a fan of meat and potatoes metal you would have fallen off long ago on this one as it doesn't get metal until close to the six minute mark and then the riff is very powerful the Neurosis sense if you are thinking Through Sliver and Blood. The keyboards shoot lasers around the big riff they drone on once it all kicks in. I'll go ahead and round this one up to a  9.5 as I think it will grow on me.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nine Inch Nails: "Hesitation Marks"

Trent is back. This was bound to be a short lived hiatus after his How to Destroy Angels bombed so badly. The new album sees Reznor continuing to step away from the industrial label and towards EDM. This has some varied mixed results which come due to the rather diverse stabs in the dark to keep Nine Inch Nails relevant today. So the crunch of guitars is abandoned for an almost more Daft Punk approach, so if you want Downward Spiral then you are going to need to look else where, though there is a touch of the dirty junkie whore feeling that album had on "Come Back Haunted" though its put through a much sleeker edm filter, but carries a similar sneer.

The actual opening song " Copy of A" has a very lo-fi drum machine sound sputtering underneath some lush layers of vocals and synth.  These elements build in a dynamic enough manner to compensate for the low — fi elements and lack o  guitar.  This is a reoccurring phenomenon for the album as "Come Back Haunted" works off a similar premise, but when the guitars do show up on the album they take a very garage rock sound thats strikes me as being apologetic and would sound more at home on a Yeah Yeah Yeah's album.  So Trent is coming to terms with not being on the tip of the hipster tongue.

The funk strut of "All Time Low" takes you back towards "Pretty Hate Machine" though it carries the same groove as Bowie's Fame until it smoothes out into an introspective bridge, Adrian Belew's guitar is give more room to shine. Despite the Tangerine Dream drift of ambiance this is more likely to find it's way to strip clubs than "Find My Way" which finds Trent back on his knees in more pleading mood, though not at the low self deprecation of say... "Hurt". It is nonetheless a ballad, though even here it's still clear he knows his way around a melody and not a hack in the songwriting department but it feels like something we have already heard out of him.

He is going for the hipster dollar in a big way on " Everything" that finds him using a very Franz  Ferdinand guitar line , which in some case translates as a wink towards Joy Division but the layer vocals on the chorus bring to bright a touch to things and is a little too up beat vocally for a Nine Inch Nails album. It's understood he want to give his sound a face lift to keep the lines of age from dating him out of the current market, but she should read a page from David Bowie's book on how to stay one step ahead of the times rather than sounding like you are struggling to play catch up. "Disappointed" succeeds at staying true to himself and sufficiently dark. The guitar stays away from going metal but is a dissonant enough fuzz to do the song justice.

The booty popping beat of "Satellite" makes me think Trent is going to start shouting that he ain't no holla back girl.The song does a slow burn before building into a more sonic tension , with the vocal layers used to create this effect though subtle guitars are added to the crescendo. "Various Methods of Escape" is delightfully haunted by the ghost of 90's industrial rock, but the guitars are not slathered in thick distortion, but this could be on the soundtrack of the Crow remake.

There are more shades of house music on this album than any of his others it takes a predominant role in the color scheme of  " Running". If Reznor doesn't get the radio back he is out for the clubs. The production here reminds me slightly of the turn he took during the Fragile sessions though much less rock... ok,  no rock at all. The vocals do most of the work here but are as alluring as some of the other performances on the album .
The edm is at least back to the familiar dark and brooding on "I would For You" though brightens like Depeche Mode when he rounds the chorus. Not heavy like say "Reptile" this songs does put him in much closer classic N.I.N.

The album like his other work is cohesive in the songs transition from one to another seamlessly despite some of the stylistic jumps . The final act of the album pretty much stays true to form for what you would expect, with less apologies attached to the attack of "In Two". The album ends on a softer note than this though with "While I'm Still Here" being a more reserved glitch-ed groove that is underwhelming. So the guitar sound leaves something to be desired on this one but overall I'll give the album an 8.5 , though expect it to grow on me up to a 9 inch nail.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Cleric : "Gratum Inferno"

This is not the proggy band from Philly, the only thing progressive about this band is that they get progressively heavier as the album goes on. This is a ruthless death metal band from Dallas , Texas. My girl friend is barometer for death metal's commercial potential, this album is so heavy and old school she only made it half a verse. The deep growl made her say Dethklok, but this is nothing so refined. It has even the crude 80's snare sound that I normally hate , but I can live with it here. They take me back to the days when the fires of hell burned in Tampa and death metal was the most Satanic thing going. Before any one took at lighter to a church the trailer parks of Florida had kids spray painting pentagrams on graveyards everywhere. It's that kind of vibe as there's not a ritualistic feeling to this like these guys take the dark lord seriously.

They album runs you over like a juggernaut from the opening that has a very Deicide like trajectory or even Nocturnus without the keyboards.  Its very straight forward though the find a better groove on "From Womb to Tomb and then by 'Into Death and Far Beyond" they are ripping it with a fury that  stomps into your chest .  It is one of the best death metal songs I have heard in some time, you cannot resist head banging to the verse. The blast parts aren't their strongest moments, as they work at maximum payload when more focused on moving with one fluid motion rather than indulging chaos.

The atmospheric intros and samples they employ add depth to the album as a whole . The meat hook lumber of "Left Hand Wrath" carries doom undertones. The guitars are coated in a thick slime of grave dirt making the album dense as Disma, who is the only modern band comparison can be drawn to. They are rough and dense enough to appeal to fans of grindier death metal for sure.

This strikes me as having much more heart to it than the new Ulcerate, these guys seem to be having fun making the music and its fun to listen to as well. I prefer when they stay away from the straight forward snare patterns that are a-typical of death metal and when they default to those on the last song it's a slight  bummer, but when they turn the power on and slow it down in the final three minutes i'm appeased.

I'll around this up to a 9 because I really like the sonic sections where heavily effected guitar rings out in the distance like they are sailing off into a dark sunset. This is a death metal band that should be a must if you are a fan of the genre, since I prefer black metal, it says something when a death metal bands can impress me.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Digging Into the Covers: Kevin Jenkins Tackles "Wichita Line Man"

This song first got stuck in my head when it appeared in one of the darkest most depressing movies I have ever seen a documentary on mental illness call Tarnation that I highly recommend.
Jimmy Webb wrote the song in 1968 and Glen Campbell recorded it the same year.  Rolling Stone rated the song 192 of the top 500 greatest songs of all time and  has been called "the first existential country song"...

...Well it was 1968 and Campbell strikes me as hippie cross over country, so I'm sure they were smoking good in the studio at the time to give the song the lazy flow it has.

This song was covered by border line lounge lizard cheese balls like Tom Jones, Johnny Mathis, Rober Goulet, Anyd Williams, Bobby Goldsboro and Englebert Humperdink  who couldn't grasp the picture of loneliness this song. So I re-discovered the song when reviewing the  debut solo album  Jenkins most recently added his own touch to this song for Soletron the review of the entire album can be found here...

the album as a whole strays to far into r&b for the readers here, but if you listened to the song above you know it's as aching as anything the Cure or Morrissey have touched and I would say it's in the top 100 most goth songs that aren't goth.

What to know about Jnekins is he is a top notch go to bass player who has played with every one from Maxwell to Cyndi Lauper. He grew  tired of playing sideman and released his own work. He is very diverse ranging from soul...the real deal 70's stuff , think Commodores and Stevie Wonder, to Jazz to Blues.

His version is a little more uplifting than the original, though a call to the suicide hotline might be more inspirational than the heart jerking in Glen's voice, that was understated for the twang of most country artists at the time. Jenkins took the country out of it and proves the song stands on its own. He pulls off the vocals admirably and while there  are no real gymnastics to the melody , the phrasing is key and where the other cover versions have over played their hands. Jenkins shows his sense of  melody and control of his voice by capturing the feel of the original yet coming from a different emotional perspective.

When I first listened to his album it didn't hit me that it was the same song though the iconic "and I need you more than want you" line did stand out, I woke up the next morning with it in my head and remembered it was from the soundtrack to Tarnation when I sat down at my piano to pick it out.

Kevin's voice smoothed out the almost pleading timbre of Campbell whose voice has more of a tenor quality to it and the big Phil Spector like strings are replace by more soulful layered harmonies. The reverbed guitar is also gone from this more recent version but I think Jenkins instrumentation works well and sells it for me.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ulver: "MESSE I.X–VI.X"

This classic Norwegian black metal followed in Bathory's steps to bring the folk elements into black metal . The have long abandoned black making every thing from drone to A Perfect Circle like alternative rock. This new album goes in a more droney direction, but incorporates experimental chamber music. It opens with an 11 minute symphonic piece , people are quick to label it classical , but it has to actually become a classic to qualify for that. The more noisy elements in the second song "Shri Schneider " is more interesting that when they rely on just strings. The electronics add an eerie quality,

"Glamor Box" the electronic elements begin to take over the strings, to their credit they have retained the atmosphere and darker qualities from when they played black metal to some extent. This song has a very Sigur Rios post-rock swell to it and almost reaches the point of being heavy. The strings return for their revenge on "Son of man", but this is balance out by the fact it is also the first time vocals make an appearance on this album.  Rygg's vocals are superb as always and multi layer with harmonies. However it almost gets a little pretentious when the song closes in its grandiose instrumental fashion.

"Noche oscura del alma" is darker with the electronic elements wasting no time to creep in. Lowered effected vocals float in on this grim rain cloud of a song that looms like it needs a blast beat to bust out of it.  There is a moment of cascading samples where it reminds me of Skinny Puppy for a few seconds m which is how experimental this guys go.

The album closes with "Mother of Mercy" , thankfully the vocals are present from the beginning. The melody they take on is a little more conventional than what I expect from Rygg. A drum kit materializes in the ode to Mary. The vocals have a refined broadway quality to them. Every thing sounds good on this album and the band achieves what they set out to do on this one. I  appreciate their creative spirit but its over all not something I expect to get a lot of mileage out of it but recognize the talent here when I hear it so will give it an 8.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Up From the UnderGround: MiXE1 "Lights Out"

The last sexual revolution happened on line , Myspace took internet sleaze to a next level on your front door step and what became known as social media got real social like ladies night and amateur night at the local strip  club rolled into one, bands acquired scores of groupies these guys would have ruled in the era and I feel bad for them that they missed that window of opportunity

When I put this album on I made it a point not to google them so they would remain as sight unseen. It doesn't take but hearing this guy singing a few notes to know he does not have a beard and weighs under 170lbs, in fact that might be the combined weight of the rhythm section. Granted, when I finally saw them the singer was the only goth nancy of the bunch and the rest were just blokes in black. So you don't have to dress up like Motionless in White to do this sort of thing, though if these guys were younger ,  tattooed waifs with stock in Hot Topic they would have already been on the cover of Outburn Magazine.

Sure they are electronic , but not industrial it is devoid of rough hewn , machine like grind to this album. They have more in common with Paramore than Ministry . On songs like "Find You" there is more than 30 seconds of martian brooding.

The interplay on the verses have the feel of a more solemn Linkin Park , the few growls accenting a change here and there are not convincing, as the other wise androgynous vocals make Brain from Placebo seem like he is butching it up.

Where the loops on the first song were a little repetitious, then lend way to a more organic drum feel on  "Part of Me" the bass is beefed up and lets the whole song punch more and the girly man vocals take the passenger seat. Some of the hook could benefit from a little more push from the diaphragm. The effects on the harsher screamed vocals sell them better than they did on the first song.

The singer's  phrasing is rather Billy Corgan, but the falsettos reaches against the back drop of driving electro rock works well on the chorus. Through the hooks here not as in your face as this seems to be their more reflective moment. The vocals are well produced, the layers of sounds aren't cluttered, their bass could be boosted but it's a very crystal clear radio ready sound.

The heaviest moment is in the guitar riff to " This Time" it breaks down to leave room for the fey vocal on the verse.  If you told me this was the band My Vitriol from the 90's I would believe you as they Corgan ties sound that close, though they don't have the edge to their guitars that those guys did.  They song writing isn't shabby, though not blowing the doors off the Warp tour either.

The album closes with a remix of "Part of Me " and the original mix should have replaced its bass sounds with the thicker synth employed here. It brings up the baffling thing to me which is when the remix sounds better than the original version then why didn't they just make the re-mix the actual version and write the other off as the demo. The synth sound on the chorus builds is heavier than the guitar on this time. The effects on the vocals give them a little more bass and add meat to their bones. I think they should push for the more electronic sound of the remix and it would make the goth kids much happier in the clubs than for the band to ride the fence as a rock act.

Ulcerate: "Vermis"

The New Zealand band  has come back with an  album  even darker and denser than 2011's  "Destroyers of All" It opens with a slow sludge laden drone before it bust into the more angular death metal that they are known for on the title track.

They cleared up the problem I have with the production on "Destroyers of All" which was the drums sounded so thin I wondered if they were a drum machine. They have more bass behind them and way up in the mix , which for this band is important because the insane drumming is this bands strong point.

It does however only take me til the third song to begin to get bored with the monotone growl of the vocals. The guitars do have a knack for the eerie , though their remains a certain dissonance to them that leers away from being melodic.

The band does get a lot of credit for being technical death that doesn't get hung up on the technique and devolve into wanking. "Clutching Revulsion" is so dissonant it reminds mea little of Blut Aus Nord. While they are no black metal, I'm sure fans of Deathspell Omega will also appreciate what these guys put into their craft. On "Weight of Emptiness" they use a similar color to paint this bleak bludgeoning, though they creep into the song rather than kick in the door roaring, almost to the point of dragging as the song doesn't come to life properly until the two minute mark. They defy traditional compositional structure as they are not worried with things like hooks or choruses. The catchiest riff might be to "Confronting Entropy".

 Despite it's heaviness I find this becomes a wall of white noise at times I can simply zone out to and let coat the background with its thickness while I work. Not the face peeling affair that keep you locked in a head bang. I think this is because the technical aspects of what they do works like jazz. Theres space where they are given each other to dance around in their own worlds rather than becoming one relentless machine that congeals into the riff and slaps you with it. The playing is impressive but the song writing is back to a collection of cool dark grinding sounds happening but not always making a connection.

The pace slows to a doomier dirge with a furious under current of double bass they slowly forces the rest of the song to build momentum on " The Imperious Weak" that see the band following up for more of a one two combination than they have previously on this album. This sis where the brutality your standard fan of death metal will be looking for. "Cessation" works on a similar formula. It might be a few pounds heavier on the ears. The growl on all the songs follow the same pattern while every thing else take the ebb and flow with erratic bursts and blast jumping out at you. By the end of this song there is no denying its heavy even when it breaks down into the cleaner guitar at the last minute and thirty.

The album closes with "Await Rescission" . Like the songs before it they don't change the script to much and keep all the ingredients they have been choking you with up to this point. While the sounds on this album are perfected I think the songwriting was more dialed in on "Destroyers of All". These guys are great players and talented at the game they have mastered , but it boils down in the end to songs. There are some cool dynamic dips into the gray waters of their more sullen sections but I don't feel there is anything really being said through the music than just a heavy soundscape. If you are a fan of heavy and dark music that ultimately just drives in circles then this might be for you, it well executed but lazy song writing relying to it's heaviness alone so I'll give it a 7.5.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Up From the Underground: EdTang & The Chops "Goodbye, Zen5, Sushi Dinner"

Folk Music will never die. It the sum of it's parts and much like the new album by EdTang, there's a family tree that combines Boozy Bluesy Appalachia infused country with an almost punk rock attitude giving it much more in common with Ryan Adams than mainstream college radio faves like Mumford and Sons.

The harmonica on "Crow til we Croak" drags up the ghosts of the god father of this sort of thing Bob Dylan. Tang is much more introspective and has non of the iconic social commentary of Dylan, but then again this are less iconic times as the  beat generation is paying for their sins in nursing homes. The clever yet subtle drummer behind the song keeps this train a rolling.

There is more of a boogie to "Lincoln" that is driven more by the walk of the bass line and the piano, than the strum of the acoustic guitar. Tang's voice stays within the warm confine fines of its beer and cigarette worn baritone. The harmonica rolls out the classic era of folk again on "Recharged", ironically this is also the closest he comes to crossing over into the newer brand of commercial alt folk.

There is something about the bittersweet "My Whole Life" that reminds me of " the Drugs don't Work" by the Verve. Though when he reaches for notes there is much more of a rasp, though in the build his old high school punk rock tape collection comes out from under his bed, where he tried to hide it from his Americana buddies. This punk rock momentum carries over into "Beware of a Dog". Is he a relic of the myspace age who's manager told him to hobo his sound out and hang out in coffee shops?  There is an odd marriage here, but it's much more easy on my ears than Mumford and Sons , that is what every one I hated in High School is probably listening to now.

Things drop back down for the female sung "Pualel" that wouldn't be out of place on a Decemberists album. "Just Two Old Friends" starts with more Dylan worship and hovers around a country camp fire song, with slide guitar breezing around the chorus.  The album closes with the lamentations of " Bill, I believe this is Killing Me", leaving every one to weep in their whiskey , but I don't think this songs is as emotionally effective as "My Whole Life".

I think this will appeal to fans of alt Americana who have more rock leanings like Ryan Adams or even Hot Water Music. Folk punkers though will have to have a tolerance for country and Bob Dylan as this has nothing in common with Death in June.

Report to the Dance Floor- ESQUILLE: "Rock This Club Down"

We can relax from our normal head banging around here to indulge ourselves in a new column I'm calling "Report to the Dance Floor " where we can touch on some darker and more progressive edm, and I'll also throw industrial and the more dancey Goth in here as well.

For our first installment we are featuring Swedish artist Esquille, who blew up clubs in the 90's and early 00's but is making a come back after taking a break from music. If the title track of his upcoming e.p is any indication he has still got it. This sounds like he didn't just pick up where he left off , but has blended the house music scene he came from with something that blends seamlessly with anything else a forward thinking D.J. might want to mix this next to.

He is not trying to jump on the dub-step band wagon or thrown in a bunch of breaks for edge, but incorporates a little dub-step like buzz to the bass-lines, but without harsh glitch and grind. He keeps a chill-out touch on songs like "Musica Electronica". It keeps the funky step of classic 90's era house but is smooth enough to have bumping in the background of Tron.

The bpms pick up on ever so slightly on "Don't Stop the Rhythm". It's even funkier than what I would have expected from him, taking it back to an old school Eighties post- disco feel. The album time-warps ahead on the next song as "Moven Up". It has the sheen that typifies European house music's classier sound.  There are club moments, to  get blood pumping when the song builds and drops the beat back down.

The e.p. closes with another retro funk homage in "House Thing". The guitar sounds emulated here though bring a new take on a familiar groove. His ear for finding just the right patches and sounds are what makes this album one that play in a perpetual loop and still feel fresh. His experience is evident in the production value and innate ability to create the right balance of ambiance and groove. The down time has given Esquille the chance to get back in the game with a clear head and the energy invested into the crafting of this album shows a  creative vibrancy of a much younger artist. This is recommended if you are a fan of innovative house music.  

Up From the Under Ground: Aurganic "Deviations"

On September 24th , If any of the songs on this album sound familiar to you , you probably heard them on the soundtrack to the Mtv show "Made". The New York based band's new album is moody with the clouds blowing towards a light gray melancholy, there are a variety of elements the common ground on the first song is a similarity to the A Perfect Circle side project Ashes Divide when it comes to the underlying rock elements. The vocals of Joel Goguen from Innocent Bystander hold a much more mainstream rock sensibility serving as a counter balance against the more experimental post-rock guitar swells.

Scott Carruther's of Here Below finds his vice better suited for capturing the type of mood the music calls for on "Waking Trails" as rock is only the shadow element. His more relaxed soulful style is of a similar timbre to that of Josh Holmes from Queens of the Stone-age.  While there is no shortage of atmosphere or electronic elements this guys are hard wired to return to radio rock blue print when it comes to songwriting rather than leading you down the hypnotic rabbit hole.

They float into a more serene space on " Lucid" which falls somewhere between Smashing Pumpkins drum machine years and Savage Garden. The strum of  acoustic guitar , is an awkward contrast . It doesn't sit evenly in the mix and brings attention to the electronic elements, not by giving them a proper spotlight but implying the man behind the curtain studio trickery.

Vocalist Joel Goguen returns for "Paradigm" employing a more standard post -grunge rock baritone. The music is a flowing indie-rock in vein of Minus the Bear or Pin-back, so this creates another awkward juxtaposition. If this kinda of genre blending is what they are going for then, I suppose they succeed and need to re-examine their desire to ride the fence of commercial rock in this manner. Joel also sings on the song " Single Motion Sound", where the guitars continue to experiment with an unconventional style doing an angular dance around the beats, so his more straight forward approach to melodies works better in the power chord based choruses than it does the verses.

The other reoccuring singer on this album is Scott Carruther's gets another shot at it again with two more songs, the first being "The Lost  and Found". His more relaxed approach once again proves a better fit than the more forced arena rock style of vocals. He almost sounds like Rufus Wainwright if Rufus embraced his more Jeff Buckley tendencies rather than show tunes.

On "Swells' the guitar take on a tenser tone with their tight palm muting, Carruther's melodies are like water going down hill, there is no resistance and he should have been their main focal point when looking at singers to work with. He is not as rock n roll, but there is the moment of honesty a band has to have with themselves when they take stock and trade at what they are best at build from there. These guys are not rockers. This fact is further driven home on "Outcast" is has the lazy float of a Smashing Pumpkins ballad.

"In Deep Waters" is another ballad but with a darker more Pink Floydian tone, but structure around the piano line rather than the textural guitar. There's a weird 90's alternative soul feel to the Jessica Stuart "Easy" relation to the Commodores classic. I think over all less conventional vocal melodies would  benefit the band. Carruthers works best with what he is given, however I think a little more experimentation would take this album from being middle of the road with a slight lean towards alternative adult contemporary and give it more of a chance in the indie market. A little darker with a starker melody and they could compete with the XX.

The vocals on "Southbound" reach way beyond their means and could use some auto-tune, there is a cool guitar art that could be further up in the mix and these guys would be back in the Pinback ballpark. The title track that closes the album is an instrumental. Rather than seeing this as a freeing opportunity to cut loose and show off their chops or experiment with out having to be mindful of vocals, they merely write a song that is devoid of vocals but adheres to standard structure.

I think these guys have an ear for capturing good sounds and show promise  through out the album, but fall to neatly in the middle of the road for my taste. I think they are closer to finding their own identity than many bands that are the sum of their influences but they could stand to muster a little courage and not use experimental as a label but something they put to practice.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Watain: "The Wild Hunt"

This has to be my most anticipated album of the it has mammoth expectations to live up to. It's worth the wait, a masterful creation, the scope of what this album encompasses is going to have fans of black metal pretty divided. I not even sure it's a black metal album by most metal head's definition of the genre, but Erik clearly doesn't care. If he did the band would not have the scale of growth shown here.

It starts off with an intro track called "Night Vision" that's only a minute and a half worth  of an actual instrumental, that could have been tagged onto "De Profundis" though doing so might have diminished the bang it explodes to life with. It is bigger in production, but keeps things at the frenzied pace you would expect from Watain, though almost more death metal in feel than black metal, as they deviate from the blast beats and the song is more snarl than sonic, at time even thrashy. Not that Lawless Darkness did not have all of those qualities to production just magnifies them to epic proportions here.  The song suceedes at being heavy and does so in a manner that has a genuine enough feel to avoid the Behemoth like mall metal.

The album gets even better on "Black Flames March" it slows slightly taking on more of a black metal darkness. The chant of backing vocals joins in as the chug gets tighter and more epic, before an almost Dimmu like breakdown section, that I'm unsure how it will be pulled off live but it does help expands the songs dynamic, it doesn't stop here as dynamic shifts get greater as the album progresses. this song has enough  rotting meat to it's stomp that I think long time fans will still be able to hang with it.

One thing about the production, that works for me but the too cvlt for school kids might balk at is the vocals are often drenched in effects and the guitars are heavily layered and produced, there's none of the Varg give me the shittiest mic you find necro production here. the first single " All That May Bleed" benefits from all of these factors, the riffs are tough enough to nail Christ back onto the cross. There is still a Dissection influence here, but Erik's vocals are more fine tuned here. The attention to detail on this album is impressive from execution to phrasing. Erik's bass playing isn't too shabby either there a nice melodic run at the end of this song and I'm a fan of any time you can hear the bass in black metal or any metal , as black metal becomes a matter of counting straws.

The argument against this album being black metal stands up on " This Child Must Die" the vocal whisper  reminds me once again of Dimmu, though overall they have not dramatically changed , the signatures of their sound are intact, its just scrawled with many different colors of ink. Erik stays in his raspy croak, and the guitars pass the melodies off behind him.

Things begin to take a dramatic shift when the album reaches "They Rode On" , while having intreveiwed Erik myself, I have been aware that Fields of the Nephillim has been an influence on him and Carl McCoy is even on the song "Waters of Ain , but this gets the spot light shone on it , as the song is a dark brooding ballad. The song is entirely  clean sung, I haven't seen the liner notes on this one yet but I'm willing to bet the female harmony vocals that pop up are Farida from Devil's Blood. The guitar solos are the hair blowing back foot on the monitor variety for true rock gods and are really beautiful. I have heard a lot of people who don't know who Fields of the Nephillim are try to call this folk metal or compare it to the Unforgiven. There is no way around the fact while its odd for it to be the centerpiece of the album, its a great song and these guys are ace musicians to pull it off.

To off set the power ballad it's followed by "Sleepless Evil" the most pounding song on the album, that doesn't let up on the jack hammer skull fucking until a piano break at the two minute mark , they creep it out for a bit before blasting back at you. The title track lurches back into a slower pace and clean vocals return here , though they are darker moans and whispers at first. The raspier croak narrates their version of Paradise Lost before the choral swell of layered vocals comes in. The fact all the melodic experimentation is all so haunting is what enables them to pull it off so well.  The clean vocals reach a little higher for the brass ring as the song builds. They are not trying to be Opeth or even Shining for that matter , staying much rougher around the edges. If you are a guitarist you must own this album the playing is very tasteful. The flamenco guitar comes out of no where to end it.

"Outlaw" rolls right in with a dark chant leading the tight riffing before they go to familiar blasting territory you have been waiting almost the whole album for , but they have taken you on such a journey you for that was what you show up to the dance for , so it's much more effective. The riffs still retain a thrash feel to them. The Drumming has stepped it up to the next level on this album and are thundering. The solo at the three minute mark is the first place I hear any Metallica influence.

"Ignem Veni Mittere" returns to clean guitar at the intro but is followed by a classic thrash chug, the soloing on this somewhat Ride the Lightning era Metallica, while I'm not big on instrumentals, this one wins me over and has enough dynamics to keep my attention.  The solo that lurks behind a cavern of reverb is pretty fucking cool and has a chilling tone. Metal Guitarists take note the bar has been raised.

While My version has a bonus track, for the purposes of this review I'll call "Holocaust Dawn" the closer. It stays pretty close to what you would want from Watain. The guitars are extra melodic , once again they summon up a tangible darkness.

If you are not of the close minded  variety of metal heads who don't have anything that's not brutal enough even at the risk of all the songs sounding them same, then you will be able to embrace this as the next bold step forward for the band, there is a lot of growth for the band, so much they have out grown the constrictions of the being black metal, I'll give this album a 10 as every song works for and might just has edged out Voi Vod and Altar of Plagues as being the metal album of the year. See the whole review I restrained by fan boy adoration and was objective as possible though once it grows on me I might even round it up to an 11.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top 10 King Crimson songs

10- Frame by Frame from Discipline

The first time Fripp was willing to introduce a second guitarist into the fold and Adrian Belew would become lasting member, even after he waited out the bands 10 year break in 1984. The guitar interplay is hypnotic and dizzying. 

9- Coda, I have a Dream , from the Construction of Light

8-Elektrik , from The Power to Believe

7-Cirkus  from Lizard

6-Pictures of a City from In the Wake of Poseidon

5- In the Court of the Crimson King  from In the Court of the Crimson King


4- the Nightwatch from Starless and Bible Black

"Everything you've heard about King Crimson is true; it's an absolutely terrifying place." – Bill Bruford

3- One More Red Nightmare  from Red

From the mind blowing monster of an album to which Tool owes their existence.  Fripp withdrew his opinion and let Wetton and Bruford take charge of the song writing,  The band did not tour for this album as Fripp felt the world was coming to an end.

2-Lark's Tongues In Aspic Part 2 from Lark's Tongue's In Aspic

1-21st century

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Naam: "Vow"

This Brooklyn band's tour van must billow out enough smoke to put the Mystery Machine to shame , if these guys are living like they sound. That's not to call them stoner rock. What plays like an intro is tracked as a separate song, but it's not too much to distract me when it swells into the drone boogie of  the title track.

These guys aren't just Sabbath worshippers like the Sword , but are a lot less metal, however this doesn't play against them as the album starts of with darker pill heavy brooding. The song starts to soar sky ward  not unlike the sort of high Hawkwind would have done in their hey day.

Their grunge roots start to show on "Pardoned Pleasure" which sounds like Mudhoney jamming with the Butthole Surfers. Their trippier side wins out over the garage rock leanings this song takes on at first before the slurred desert breakdown that goes into an angular prog groove.

"Laid to Rest " carries the same twang to it as when Nirvana used to cover The Meat Puppets. "On the Hour" creeps into the rocks, falling some where between Mudhoney grunge and stoner rock, with the keyboards keeping it from tipping over too far into the Sub Pop. In the final minute it beefs up a bit as it builds.

"Skyscraper" the hypnosis of the underwater drone is laid on thick. Everything floats in this narcotic bubble in a dark "Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" manner. The stoner Sabbath thing does float to the surface in the opening riff of "Midnight Glow" though it's off set by the layered vocals in the verse, that carries more experimental resonance and the Sabbath lingers in the Geezer turn around coming out of what might be heard as the chorus, though like the keys to the van it was misplaced.  The punches in the song are more Deep Purple until the bass rumbles out from under it.

Their clouded memories are too burned out to write long prop epics but they do cram a wide range of sounds and dynamics into five minutes. "Beyond" touches the 8 minute mark but with metal these days that like the intro to other 15 minutes. The bass line to this one carries more Roger in its waters ,there is more attack but not in the metal sense. The pace picks up the most heading into the three minute mark. It's very "Obscured by Clouds" to my ears, but I have smoked a ton of pot to Pink Floyd in my day. The wink to the Violent Femmes, before the build doesn't escape me. I would like to hear them pull off that vocal break down in the middle section live. The middle eastern feel it drifts into is a winner in my book and gets them extra points. The drawl the singer takes on is weird considering they are from Brooklyn, but they might be getting their drugs from down south, gods know there are plenty of them to be had here.

Thats a rough song to try to follow up and close the album after with so they let the weird warble of keyboards serve as an outro for the final two and a half minutes . It twinkles like smokey stars but serves no other purpose. I'll give this album a 9 as some of the more Mudhoney elements might take me back to high school but they seem like a step back for a band that proves themselves capable of more , but otherwise color me a fan.

6.6 /7

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dead Letter Circus "The Catalyst Fire"

This is the Australian band's  second full length album after their debut ep in 2007. It doesn't take along after the initial riff to "The Cure" to realize that this album is going to be  waaay too happy. I can appreciate more when 30 Seconds to Mars does this sort of thing as there is some kind of darkness there, but this just sounds like a harder version of Mute Math most of the time. This conclusion was not drawn before I gave the album a solid listen after down loading it for my girl friend. I had only heard the band once before and though they were refined A Perfect Circle rip offs but worth giving a solid shot in the dark and I think I need to download that new Gorguts to redeem myself.

"Alone Awake" proves a few things, this album is well recorded big and clean like a Def Leppard album. The execution is pretty flawless as well, their wrists are too for them  muster enough testosterone to cross over into actual metal. Sure they lean towards Muse 's zip code when it comes to pacing though much less grandiose. A Perfect Circle helped solidify a space for this sort of middle of road melodic hard rock but with  A Perfect Circle who knew they were capable of being heavy they were just choosing to be more introspective. To give credit where credit is do the guitars do go into some interesting places, they just can't stomp into the build ups with any authority.  

The vocals are only making the situation worse as he flutters around his falsetto but he never commits to a full fledged balls out yodel, where you would think he foot was up on the monitor. I need some balls, Maynard has them , hell even that pansy Jared Leto is a good enough of an actor to portray a rock star enough to sell me on it and knowns how to add some angst to it melodies. You can argue stylistically the singers deliver here is a matter of choice , but that choice belong making Christian rock records. 

The vocal mix is as over the top as every thing else on "Burning Man" which sounds as if pro tools is aiding the  more progressive elements. This mix compresses the rock right out of it as well, making it sound very sterile and hard to believe there is any anger behind the distortion. The nelly rock god vocal line that raises its lighters on this one, lets the purse fall right out of his mouth and negates me taking the cool drumming on the second half break down seriously.

"Lodestar" offers a little punch under the layers of sparkling delayed guitar that sounds like the cyber love child of U2 and White Lion aiming for a slot opening for Linkin Park. What this guy hears as his urgent pleading, I hear as some one who masturbated to Jared Leto's Teen Beat pictures, though this melody has more to it and doesn't swing for the fences in such a contrived way. But once again when the bass comes in and tries to be mean, I'm not buying it, even though his voice is more masculine than say Circa Surive , their music came across as darker.

"Say Your Prayers" falls under the same poppy post-nu-metal cock rock. Now I can't get Mike Tramp out of my head when I hear this guy and these guys guys are to 30 Seconds to Mars  what White Lion was to Van Halen I suppose     

The electronics on "The Veil" help give them more of an identity rather than being such a sum of their influences. The very 30's feel to "Lost Without Leaders" doesn't really help it stand out from the other when they default into the anthem of a chorus. The drum and guitar play is intricate but doesn't hold a candle to something like Cynic.

They pace picks up on "Stand Apart" , this is the band doing thir best to really rock out and it's better than being a Shinedown clone they just can't shred the pristine pretty boy sound and  by this point the singers vocal phrasing has begun to annoy the hell out of me

It when they slow things down to a few heart beats above a Perfect Circle power ballad that make their sound work and finding a more convincing groove for their tender little souls.  Overall if you are teenage girl you will think this is some pretty progressive shit, since you already think Tool is classic rock your dad listens to. They pull off what they do but are deluded to think they are anything close to metal so I'll give this one a 5 . 


Friday, August 9, 2013

Up From the Underground:The Tomas Doncker Band - "Power of the Trinity...A Slight Return"

O.k.  We are really going past the bounds of what we normally cover but there is more common ground than you might suspect,  if for no other reason than the fact this is a Bill Laswell project who not only helmed avant garde jazz metal outfit Painkiller but worked with  John Zorn and Swans and  it's not Dead Can Dance but if you are a fan of world music, then this release is worth checking out and frankly has me thinking that I quit smoking pot a decade too soon, as I would have gotten  a lot of play from this album back in my bong's glory days. There is a coat of psychedelics over their jazz-inflected funk. It takes you back to the glory days of Parliament Funkadelic.

From the start it's evident Tomas has surrounded himself with the cream of the crop, when it comes to the players he has on this thing. Bill Laswell's  wife Ethiopian singer Gigi, is featured on the opening track "Brooklyn2Ethiopia" appear on the album, along. The more rock tinged guitars are handled by Laswell protégé James Dellatacoma. The quasi-rasta spiritual overtones to the lyrical content is much more evolved, than your run of the mill funk outfit.

Laswell's bass playing  is prominent on "We Need Justice"  along with Trombonist Joe Bowie from the fusion act , Defunkt lends his talents to the track. There is a wider exploration and emersion of genres on this song, though none of the experimentation burdens the groove but enhances it along with the more etheric touches of female vocals that glide in over the second half of the song, brings texture that takes it beyond the urban funk and into other dimensions.

Laswell returns to provide the low end Curtis Mayfeild bump of "Peace ( Hold on). The song is flawless, the layers of backing vocals are as breathtaking as they are smooth. The soulful resonance of Doncker's voice is best displayed here and shines in the call and response section.

"Habesha Girl" takes on more of an electronic element. The vocals on this album don't bother with western pop conventions, yet are not devoid of hooks. Doncker's voice shines in the layered harmonies preceding the verses. The turn to dance hall, is a little jarring despite the fluid backdrop.

Afrika Bambaataa's right hand man Charlie Funk shows up on the track "Happy" that holds a 70's funk groove and is the album's most straight forward song, relying on the elegant guitar that slides in through the cracks in the bass line, to make it interesting.

Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed appears on the blues soaked "Abet Guarage" This song seems like more of a live jam and doesn't adorn itself with the multi layered back drops the others have. It's a celebratory closer that makes sense but compared to the other songs lacks some of the surprises. I think it is more of a showcase for Doncker's guitar playing which amid all of the varied genres touched on here is most at home playing the blues as he highlighted on the Howlin Wolf tribute he released this year.

It comes down to a matter of taste, and how expansive yours is if you will dig this album, it's air tight in both execution and intention. Doncker has perfectly achieved to make the album that was in his mind and got by with a little help from his friends.

Chelsea Wolfe : We Hit A Wall

Here's the first single from the Sept 3rd release that i'm dying for. While I originally heard this was going to be an electronic album from this , it sounds like that doesn't mean electronic like industrial or dance music but unlike her last album "Unknown Rooms"  it will be a plugged in amps up to ten sort of thing.

The guitars are very dark and remind me of Depeche Mode if they were writing the sound track to a David Lynch movie. The tone is beautiful. Her melodies are haunting , and while that term is often used to describe something captivating or ethereal, it is those thing but also as in a ghost, foreboding coming from beyond the grave, a siren of suicide. This is uplifting to me when I am depressed, its very powerful with a cascade of violins in the background as the song pound for ward just not in a metal sense, so I wouldn't expect the Burzum cover album just yet.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tribulation: "The Formulas of Death"

This album came out way back in March and I didn't give the band a lot of thought until I saw they were billed as openers for Watain this fall, so I checked them out and found their newest effort a more evolved work . Truth be told I had to check and make sure this was the same band as the packaging was so different, the name written in normal font rather than the ghoulish drip of normal death metal logos and the cover art seemed pretty minimal as well.

The opening instrumental serves as more of an intro for "Wander in the Outer Darkness", the most noted change from what I have heard of their earlier work is this has less of the raw "Altars of Madness" early death metal feel to it and they have adopted more of an early Dissection sound. The production is crisper , the vocals are more refined rasp, with less maniacal gurgle to them. Like most bands of the ilk the sheer velocity of what they do always impresses in the first song and then falls on can the make it interesting and keep you listening.

"Spectres" is at a similar thrashy pace, the Dissection influence also causes them to sound a little like their tour mates Watain here, in the way they let the chords ring out. Then there is an unexpected muted  break down where the drums fall out for a breather. They come back in for an odd tempo groove before building back up into the double bass blast. The vocal approach begins to make me think of Erik from Watain in their phrasing at this point.

The ten minute epic "Suspira De Profundis" opens with a creep of reverb soaked clean guitars before they crunch into what might be heard as the chorus. While I suppose comparisons could be drawn to Watain's "Waters of Ain" it does hold more of it's own identity, than any blatant mimicry. There restrained chugs are part of their own identity, this is a drama step away from being just a retro death metal band and I am sure in some circles there are cries of sell outs.  This song goes on a jammy exploration that eventually builds up into a metal chug.

The roll drums leads right into " Through the Velvet Black" before they keep at a tense blast for a moment and leap into a gallop, so the drums on this album are killing it all over the place and perhaps this is where the most growth has taken place as there is the old saying a band is only as good as their drummer. By the two and a half minute mark this feels much more like thrash. The Dissection elements do make this blackened what ever we want to label this. Though in the more straight ahead element of what they do I'm ready for more melody by this point in the album.

"Randa"changes the pace, lets the chords ring out with more dissonance.  The chuggas that come in are very Dissection in their execution, but they do keep things up until now switched up enough to avoid being Thulcandria. I do find myself having to listen harder to find something that engages me, which is where I find myself with a lot of death metal and less experimental black metal these days. There are guitar solos but they aren't reinventing the wheel.  I can say to do steer clear of going to the guitar harmonies that annoy me with a lot of swedish death metal.

There is a trippy Pink Floyd shimmer to the intro of  " When the Sky is Black With Devils" and is the first song that returns to a more Morbid Angel sound.  Though not devoid of Watainism, it has a frantic march of "Total Funeral" , the clean break down at the end sparing it of coloring to safely in the lines , though it is a fun song.

The break neck pacing returns on "Spell", it finds the band back to the altar of Dissection/Watain. The big galloping chug saves this song, from boring me. The guitar solos on this album are a welcome addition but don't add a lot. The more sonic section that develops at the four minute mark is more what I need from them . Just playing fast doesn't equate dark to me, their needs to be some depth and Tribulation shows they are capable of finding it and not being just big dumb death metal.

The moodier clean guitar returns on " Ultra Silvam" .  The guitar tone through out the album is impressive, on the more effected sections it has the space to resonate to a greater extent.  This song proves to be the one instrumental that doesn't come across as just a transitionary piece and had the potential to be developed into something more fully realized but it's fine for what it is.

The album closes with the 13 minute  "Apparitions" that returns to their  death metal roots. The more hooky Morbid Angel riff, tags in when the song seems like it is off to bland start. The Dissection chords charge in after them, followed by a solo that puts them in Watain's neighborhood, so all the elements gather for the big finish. Approaching the five minute mark the song begins to shift into dark space, but only for a minute before charging back in. They break back down into moodier clean guitar, each time I find my self hoping for them to turn the corner into something less tedious, than the chug which we got the memo on. They do begin to introduce more exotic scales to wander around, but it's heading into the final ten minutes.

I do appreciate the direction this band is growing in and find this is a fun listen even if the influences are worn on their sleeves, I'm probably more forgiving of this because they are influenced by three of my favorite bands so will round this down to a 8.5 only because some of the pounding monotony could have give way to their more ambitious side.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Up From the Underground: Marla Mase -" Speak"

This New York based singer/ songwriter, is more than a siren or a diva, she tackles her songs with more vigor than most female solo artists who tend to forsake rock emotional introspection. It starts with ear catching intensity. It's easy to hear she is a writer as in the second song her need for prose weighs down the melody a little on " Piece of Peace."

There is something about "Open up My Heart"  that reminds me of "Riders on the Storm".  Like Morrison she wanders  from the melody into spoken word. Her voice is too good for her run from the songs in favor of lyrical indulgence.  The fact she also writes erotica plays to her advantage as the lyrics are accented in a very sensual manner to expose their exhibitionist tendencies.

"Lioness " rides the line between Chili Peppers funk and a children's song. I can see it playing as a narrative  to a puppet show. The woes and stories of cell-phones and the memories attached to them are debated on "New Cell Phone" this kind of tongue in cheek humor was often found in the golden decade of alternative music called the 90's , but how it will play to indie rock audiences  remains in question. The spoken word when it is a main stay of the song might remind younger kids of Cake, who they probably think are classic rock.  

There's a very Diamond Dogs era Bowie swagger to opening riff of "Queen of Imperfection"  and stays in a e boogie aided by the bass player, though the melodies fall prey to lyrical over load. Mase redeems her self  quickly with " She Hooked Him Up" that has the Bowie funk of Fame. The unevenness of the song writing becomes more apparent in " Divine Restlessness"  where it seems like the producer would have stepped in and given her some guidance.

Who would have thought she could pull off a convincing dance hall song? She does just that on "Anna Rexia" which shows her lyrical brilliance put to its best use rather than being somewhat cumbersome as they feel on other songs. I begin to notice Debbie Harry inflections on "Kill Love" but her voice doesn't sound as sure of its self as it did on the previous song.

The vocal layers on the more melodic sections of "Blog" do her voice more justice than it gets in other songs. The band is always pretty dead on in their constant shifting of genres. There is an 80's pop feel to the chorus of  "Dance the Tango" and the whole song moves pretty smoothly, Marla stays in a casual sing-song  monotone.

Mase's voice is effective in the slower tempo of "Smithereens" allowing her to stay safely in her breathy register, where the lyrics have more room to flow freely. There's almost an Ani Difranco feel to "Scream" , though there isn't the quirky confidence to her voice that Ani has, her musicians keep the song moving past this fact. I don't think she is convinced of what ever character she is trying to play on "Squirm" and makes it sound like she was just improvising in the studio.  I think she could condense this into a more focused effort but overall, shows a depth of diverse creative juice that could be overflowing once she realizes the most suited glass to pour it into.

Up From the Underground:Monks of Mellonwah "Ghost Stories"

 Sydney Pop/Rock act Monks of Mellonwash like many artists these days are experimenting with different ways to release music in the face of the industry wide confusion how to work around illegal downloading and keep the album a relevant format in the age of iPod shuffle, so they  are releasing their newest effort in volumes.

This first volume starts of with the sugary catchy title track. The vocal melodies are very refined, and even though this sort of thing isn't what I normally listen the hooks are addictive and to quote Scarface, "Every time I try to get out. they pull me back in." The more rock element of the song lies in the very Muse riff in the b-section, though their bass player isn't shredder like Muse's and doesn't keep up with the riff to give it the same punch, but overall it comes as a dynamic surprise after the first half of the song which is much poppier.

The Muse worship doesn't stop their, the riff to "Vanity" is coated in Matt Bellamy bravado, even in the bridge.  The very Incubus vocal styling's do help to hide this fact, though the falsetto backing vocals work like loss prevention against them.  This song isn't crafted as air tight as the title track, but has more though behind it than you would expect from this sort of thing. The line "Vanity, vanity, you're stretching my insanity, reminds me of Michael Jackson, in the way it's phrased.

They come closer into their own on "Sailing Stones" . They have a more grunge tinge to the guitar riff and the soulful vocals, invoke Corey Glover of  Living Colour. I suppose the string interlude is supposed to be a Muse thing but it reminds me more of "Kashmir" since Muse stole that sort of thing from Zeppelin in the first place.  So these Sydney boys aren't the most original but if they can replicate the type of fine tuning on the vocal lines of the first song they can dominate crossover radio.

Up From the Underground: Arc&Stones

This E.P.  from the New York band is the surprisingly  soulful "Silence".  It's  90's  vibe  brings to mind a wide array of bands who once used a similar vocal approach, Maroon 5 the most recent of these . However, Arc&Stones don't have the Stevie Wonder funk going on, and more of grunge leaning, so think somewhere between Sevendust's more acoustic based moments and Chris Cornell solo work but with none of his Robert Plant worship.

One similarity to Temple of the Dog era Cornell, is they are quick to head to the balladry. The second song of this e.p."Say Goodbye" is piano heavy until it goes to the bridge where the guitars sweep in. The vocal trills might be appreciated to some one with a secret love of radio pop. The most "indie rock" element of this band is their guitars which use ample effects. The chorus of this one busts into some unexpected  cock-rock lite, none of the Motley Crue grime, think Sixx A.M. very slick and f.m radio ready, when radio was a thing. I guess in today's terms they would pop up on your Chris Cornell Pandora station.

It stays on the middle of the road side of power ballads, by the third song , I wonder if these guys area Christian rock band , if not its a market they need to explore or add a slide to make this cross over into country markets. There isn't enough raw blues to this to appeal to the Jack White fans who even they might suspect this of being a Christian band. The singer is really missing his calling as an American Idol contestant.

They switch up the guitar tones to try and make me eat my words, but it really reconfirms my suspicions, they need to develop a drinking habit or some vices next time they head into the studio. Because rock is like funk in that you can't fake. They are talented players sure, and if they weren't trying so hard to convince themselves they are making pop music they might write a decent song or two. It's like buying a pair of 500.00 dollar per-distressed jeans, they are not going to feel the same because they haven't been worn in by hard work .

They close it out with "Rise", I appreciate the production of this one the most and there's a solid groove to it, this seems to be the direction they have been trying to achieve most of the album. Granted it  rocks  like watered down Shine Down, but is more honest and sounds like an actual rock band. They played their first show a year ago so they still have some more blood, sweat and beers to fully find themselves.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Carcass: Surgical Steel

The newest incarnation of Carcass might not be the classic line up but it rocks even with the new kids on the block in Ben Ash of Pig Iron, Desolation, and Liquefied Skeleton on guitar and Daniel Wilding of Trigger the Bloodshed on drums. This Finds Steer and Walker as the only original members.

There is the intro 1985 before the brief in your face snarl of "Thrasher's Abattoir", the solo to which is almost as long as the rest of the song.

"Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System" has the high caliber guitar playing we have come to expect from post- Heart Work era. This is however with a meaner,faster  anger fueled steam powered chug than Heartwork. This comes at the risk of losing a little of the melody the Heartwork era riff-age held and sounds more like the bands they influenced.

The melody waits to surface in the slower "A Congealed Clot of Blood' here the guitar heroics also commence , but the immediate stand out to me that goes above and beyond is " the Master Butcher's Apron" the tight punches in the first first that proceed the groove really have some nasty teeth to them. The guitar harmonies on "Noncompliance..." are pretty dead on til we get to the blast beats that seem almost to fast for what these guys normally do.  The riff here is almost overly staccato, but the vocal layers make up for it as they remind me of "Discanting..."

"Granulating Dark Satanic Mills" has a meaty riff to it, but should we expect any less from these guys ? The rock n roll tendencies of " Keep on Rotting ..." are gone in place is very sharp riffing with less anthem oriented  vocals layers which isn't to say they are devoid of hook, just not as over the top.  "Unfit for Human Consumption"  tries to take us back to the Heart Work days, and this album will be brutal enough to cause most metal heads to over look the fact that even though this is heavier than Heartwork, the song writing isn't as strong. These riffs do hold up against younger bands, but are they really just a chug or two away from the last Amon Amarth?

The title track open ion a blur of toms , the guitars take a little more of a thrash feel to this than what is typically thought of as death metal and far too refined for grind core. In some ways it reminds me of Judas Priest riffs. They are relying on a lot speed to rush some of this past you. Most of this is really straight forward, so I am not sure this album really takes repeat listens to digest. The guitar solo often wind on allowing for multiple transitions to take place beneath them.

"Captive Bolt Pistol" finds the band in very familiar territory, almost too familiar so I'm not sure what My expectations were for this one , as I had forgotten this was coming out until I cam across it . They have a very hard catalog for them to add on to even when they brought in more rock element, which i think work better than when they try to really dial on the speed here. " Mount of Execution" starts things off in a much more different fashion, with clean guitar and very almost blues based riff that sounds like its from a WhiteSnake album. the riff that comes in and crushes at the two minute mark is pretty mouth watering and this might be the album strongest song despite their John Sykes moment at the onset.

Because this who this is the album is going to get a lot of praise, so they don't need me to co-sign something for them that I would have a hard time doing when I weight it against the older albums. I feel pretty good though about rounding it up and giving them a 7.5, so it's not going to make it to any top ten end of year lists, but it is a solid album that worth a listen, Carcas just has their legacy up against them to keep me from being wowed by this.        

Up From the Underground: Liquid Casing-" Seperate/Divide"

This Texas quartet whips up an interesting blend of  jazzy post-hardcore. With a  guitar tone  best served generously dipped in reverb.  The guitar playing is smart, driving  the songs but  spacious enough to allow things like sax to come and create a very David Lynchian soundtrack to long night of  drugged delusions in the desert.

Liquid Casing forsakes convention a kick out the jams, not in the Mc5 manner but as in a free flowing jam band, like on the song ''Alambrista". If you had to slap a more modern label on this I'm sure post- rock could apply as the guitar takes to those types of swell. The sax tends to sit where a guitar solo should.

The raspy vocals often feel too rock n roll for the spastic grooves dancing around them, even when things get heavier like on " Finger Tip Armada" , for these guys heavy is more of a matter of sonic intensity. The more hypnotic grooves summoned up on " The line which divides" shows their more satisfying darker side. The Saxophone layers melody over the restless water creating an excellent juxtaposition in dynamics. This type of focus seems to not retain the same solidity when the guitars are looking to work around the vocals , even in cases where they are less intrusive like the ten minute " For a Memory Erased".

Jazz influence abounds on this album, which make the progressive elements seem more natural, since progressive rock has always been more of a marriage between jazz and classical than having anything to do with rock when you think back to bands like King Crimson. Here like that era of prog, the rock element is more of a dynamic by-product.

There is a Pinback styled groove to "Non-Linear Solution" that creates a prevasive backdrop for the sax and lets the bass player show their chops. The album ebbs and flows into more introspective landscapes with "Check Points and Borders". The vocals here, are a much lower register version of where Mars Volta used to go, as they relax into more of a croon. After the keyboard crescendo of that song arises a more 70's prog boogie in "An End to a Means", the bassist has room here to take some liberties and turn fills into almost a solo but it is done in a tasteful manner .

The closing number "Riot Path" doesn't start off with the Moltov being slung like it's name suggests, instead with a drugged sway, that lulls you into the reverb injected guitars. I think my favorite vocal melody on the album lies on this song , and makes me wish this sort of thing had been employed more through out the album.

 If you are looking for organic sax fueled prog , this is your ticket. I'll give it an 8 out of 10, excellent just wish the vocals had figured out where they wanted to go before the last couple of songsm but would expect this band to hit big on the festivals stages,

Friday, August 2, 2013

Up From the Underground: The Gabriel Construct :" Interior City "

This is an ambitious "solo" project helmed by Gabriel Lucas Riccio.  An angular mix of progressive rock with the emphasis of its angular nature resting in the odd vocal melodies. It often results in something not unlike the post-Strapping Young Lad solo work of Devin Townsend, Where the vocals are purposefully clashing with the instrumentation, some times to the point of where they fight against staying in key.

The opener is mainly minimalist piano creating a web similar to that of a spider on acid. In his more subdued vocal range Gabriel brings to mind Ben Folds, but when he belts it out , things get more Devon Townsend. His voice sits pretty comfortably in the mix until he carries his chest register up. There are moments in "Ranting Prophet" that would appeal to fans of the late Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum that builds in turbulence up from a violin melody to a blast beat, though it comes across more palatable to non-metal ears as it's buried beneath layers of vocals.

His stuff would have fit very comfortably in the rock against rock movement that came out of the late nineties with bands like Estradasphere who took what Mr. Bungle once did and ran with it. Angular and dissonant ,  this never really reaches a place of darkness despite its sardonic nature. "Fear of Humanity" retains a touch of the Sleepy Time weirdness, beneath his layered croon as it is mixed into the spotlight. Sprinkles of harsh vocals growl from behind corners of this funhouse, but not in a primal enough manner to convince any metal heads, but fans of prog rock will find plenty to latch onto .

"My Alien Father" drifts into the song on a cloud of awkward harmonies tight enough to tell me these lapses the vocals take out of key are done for effect. The instrumentation on this will win over many who find the vocals difficult. My girl friend said his voice reminded her of David Cross from Arrested Development, and I can see where they similarities lie in timbre. Perhaps, if the show did a musical parody about aliens.

"Retreat Underground" keeps similar thematic elements in place, lyrically there is an abundance of science fiction imagery, it continues on "Subway Dwellers" which skims a darker tone than most of the album, the bass line pounds against the drums a little harder and might have more impact if the vocals set back against them more in the mix.  There are quite a few intervals that wink at Frank Zappa in the background. The guitar is buried in layers of this well woven labyrinth,  not typical of most prog these days that tends to have a fixation on shred, some listeners might welcome this. Oddly this album is mixed by bass player Thomas Murphy of Periphery. Not to fear as there are no traces of djent to be found.

"Defense Highway" is the first of three epics that round out the second act of this album and break the ten minute mark. The vocal bombast starts this one off. The crescendos blare out from racing grooves. Once into the meat of the song around the four minute mark, it begins to take on a dynamic structure not unlike "Lamb Lies Down..." era Genesis.

Darkest Hour Drummer Travis Orbin, is impressive on this album but despite his metal ties and playing, he doesn't make this a metal album.  The things this album wants to keep the spot light returning to the bright melodic vocals and the jazz inflected piano playing keep it from going down the Left-hand path sonically. This isn't a bad thing, I think it should be embraced for what it is, which often takes a few listens to put the finger on, like the jazz flow of "Inner Sanctum, which has layers upon layers of  swirling  notes that spin right past on the first listen. The nuance ghosts of King Crimson float the halls even though this might be the most straight forward song on the album.

The longest song "Languishing in the Lower Chakras" takes it time coming to a boil with the piano congealing out of sparse haunting abstraction and wanders off into a experimental noise drone, that at its peak reaches a wash of vocal harmonies before disappearing into ambience, more of an extended interlude than an actual song.

The Album ends on it's heaviest note with "Curing Somatization", the vocals are dipped in effects before dropping down into a clean minimal croon. The song kicks in not really straying far from what he has established as his own unconventional style though I think it is more fully realized here. The melodies stick closer together and the vocals while still jarring in there choices of intervals to travel are more melodious and their intention to jar is either now clearer or at this point you have gotten use to it. This song does come the closest to being metal, though only by the broadest definition and not by what we typically think of as metal here, or what today's metal head who is jaded by black metal thinks of as it either. However if you enjoy Ihsahn's solo work there's common ground to be found. I have to admire his creative spirit and while his voice isn't always my cup of tea, I'll round this one up to a 6 out 10 as I can see where the appeal lies and I can approve of progressive nature even if the execution doesn't always resonate with me.

The Bellicose Minds: The Spine

The Portland band is one of the front runner in the "death-rock" revival . Their full length the "The Spine" is an impressive slab of dark punk.It opens with "Lessons" that blends a punk aggressiveness with an early cure feel. The vocals are more punk in their intonation and delivery than Robert Smith, much closer to being horror punk than death rock but I think it gives the band a unique edge. The Bass does drive the songs leaving the guitar to cut creepy sonic swathes over the music.

The title track is a sardonic social commentary, the guitar off sets the pound of the bass. The album sounds pretty great for a genre that is typically under produced , my only complaint is the drums are low in the mix making wonder if its a drum machine, because the straightforward disco patterns add to my suspicions in this area. The guitar sound is dead on, and really up front and in your face, pushing its way to the forefront even over the vocals.

In most cases I advise against naming a song after your band name, but it seems to work here. This song also begins to show hints of metal in some of the punches. The lyrics are  despondent but not in the way  goth is often thought of. The song writing on the album is stronger than that of most of their peers.

"Call to Graves" is almost to close to more traditional pun than I prefer, I think playing into this tendency forces them to dummy it down and loses some of the melody that should be injected into the chorus. "The Observer" has a similar feel, where the vocals take on more of a shout, but the guitars swoop in and say the day in this one , a solo even fires out of the darkness.

They turn to more of a goth sound on "Engulfed" that has a wonderfully bleak guitar riff and slinking bass that weaves around it. This sort of post-punk flavor remains on "Visions of Pain" with a Cure vibe draped heavy over it, it is lifted from the more abrasive Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss me and Pornography era Cure, so not the same delay drenched take on those influences. This might even be the albums strongest moment.

An almost more Joy Division element emerges on "Banished Alone" it takes a long winding road into the song, and the vocals are spat in short accented bursts closer to punk than the sort of poetry Ian Curtis once narrated.

I like the militantly anti-religious lyrics to "Bloody Hands" which lets the rallying cry simmer for a moment on the chorus as the death sentence is called out. On the majority of the album the bass tone really stands out and is given more of a spot light on "Destruct, the vocal line here is rather simple and this isn't the album best moment but even their filler is better than most. The Joy Division can be heard more in the bass playing than any where else. the album closes with " In Greed" that combines most of the effective formula, being powerful and confrontational without letting go to the chilling atmosphere, I'll go ahead on the faith that this album will continue to grow on me and give it a 9, a must if you are already a fan of the goth revival.