Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wovenhand: "Refractory Obdurate"

If Wovenhand's albums easier to find in the nooks and crannies ,I leech my music from off the inner webs, I would have them all. So I was delighted to find the leak of their newest album.They open things up with a similar blend of the dark and hypnotic Americana David Eugene Edwards the former front man of  16 Horsepower, (which if you are reading this you are aware of) maintains his smooth baritone even as this album takes him further into more rocking territory.    "Hiss" gets well... pretty metal. It is driving and sonic. More metal than say Swans , but in a similar sonic sphere.

"Masonic Youth" has a pretty straight forward upbeat indie rock feel to it, though its much darker than your typical Coachella fare. It comes across much closer to Nick Cave, than not. The narrative has the same grim authority to it. " the Refractory"  hit the perfect balance of the projects Americana sound and the heavier hard rock direction they seem to be leaning towards on this one. The melodies are ungodly strong, sung with loads of conviction. He has such a unique quality to his voice, telling stories but not forsaking a melodic nature.

The drumming takes a more prominent role in the song wirting on this album, which is why they tend to have more of a rock groove to it. It sounds like the songs were written with Edwards jamming along with a band rather than on an acoustic by himself. The "Good Shepard" chugs along like it's radio rock until the final climax builds

Edwards doesn't stray to far from familiar territory not only sonically but lyrically  on "Salome" which recalls some of "Threshingfloor's " darker moments."King David" keeps with his biblical themes as well. There is a more organic feeling to this as Appalachian sounds coat the edges of the song.This is oddly followed by the fuzzed bass on "Field of Hedron" which I would expect from say Queens of the Stoneage, but seems are more rock device than what Edwards normally delivers, but they are on Deathwish now so maybe a heavier turn was expected by the label.  Not to say it doesn't work well because it does and makes the more rock moments on the album stand out.

"Obdurate Obscura" goes heavily into the mesmerism, as it eaves it's hypnotic drone around his melody that is almost like a chanted mantra. His narrative crawls underneath the dark swirl. "El-bow" is constructed with a similar intention to lull you into it's ritual throb. It is dark enough that it works and the climax makes it worth it as the drums build up in the background . They use a measure of restraint here not exploding like you think they will.  

This album is much deserving of a 10 and I can bestow a perfect to it with little reservation. I know there are times where droney bands have scored low, this album shows when and where drone works best and how it can be applied to actual songwriting rather than a device unto it'self. This album has it all for me. If you can't find something on this album you like, then it's time to thin the herd, so go kill yourself.

Lantlos : " Melting Sun"

Despite the Niege connection the band has only dabbled in black metal and was more of a post- rock band at heart as most members came from Liam. I really liked "neon" and never gave "Agape" much of a listen , but was curious about this one , so I'm guessing if I had paid more attention to "Agape" this might not seem like such a hug leap into prog shoe gazing.

Each song is labeled as another part of the album which can me seen as one piece if this were classical music or just pretentious. Supposedly six parts one of them is a two minute noise interlude which got deleted as soon as it was discovered on my ipod and truth be told the final song, ' Golden Mind" is so shoe gazing it has a hard time holding form or my attention for that matter.

The shimmer to "Azure Chimes" is breathing in a way I haven't heard since the golden days of Jesu, which is the best comparison to where these guys are now headed. Though they embellish the hypnosis the beautiful drone induces by jarring you with angular syncopation of math rock more along the lines of older Minus the Bear. The metal moments are still there, the distortion is lower and thicker giving them a tone more like Katatonia's heavier moments of "Night is the New Day" , though there is a liberal dose of Hum influence on this album.

With out the benefit of Niege's delicate tenor the vocals default back to the slacker post-rock approach derived from the 90's. The vocals are generally sparse , but their inclusion is important as they ground these songs into being songs rather than a soundtrack.

The guitar tone on this album is remarkable. Not only from a production aspect , but what these guys to with the effects at their disposal using them to shape their playing rather than hiding behind all the delay.Things break from just shiny melancholy into a darker The guitar parts get pretty incricate in many of the long sprawling passages they wander trying to find their way back into the song. They linger in white noise before draping themselves into  "Aquamarine Towers". This has one of the more alternative rock moments in terms of accessibility, just because they are not has heavy the songs are still pretty dense for your average radio listener , so they are not selling out by any means.

They employ a more Minus the Bear in the guitars approach to "Jade Fields". They delve into a much darker place than your average mathrock band would dive. The angular accents on this song make it stand out from the other wise dreamy float of the album. I will go ahead and give this one a 9.5 , as they have grown in a way that makes them more current in their sound and shows a lot of growth in the adventurous way they prog out. The lulls some of the shoegazing takes it what keeps it from being perfect.    


Black Anvil : " Hail Death"

This New York band with black metal leanings, has matured a lot since their last album. There is still a strong thrash influence , at first they show little of their old hard core roots back from when these guys were Kill Your Idols,until the gang vocals of "Redemption Through Blood", there are also hints of break down through out. The vocals are more black metal meets the kind of rasp old Kreator used top employ. Clean vocals lining the edges of the songs is one change. This is done to infuse melody, but doesn't really come across as they are selling out, it is used in a similar fashion to what Woe has done in the past.

 The opener covers a lot ground in it's 9 minutes at times touching on almost Iron Maiden ground in place. It is a much bigger sound. When the hard core elements start coming in the spot light it reminds me of the golden days of thrash where bands like Anthrax were less removed from the hardcore street smarts. When the step back into their more black metalish sound on "Eventide" it is less inspired, they forsake the knack for cool hooky riffs for speed and negate the dynamics that are their strength on this record.

After repeat listens you can detect a formula not unlike the one employed by Watain on "Wildhunt" though more apparent here as most songs seem to start with a slow clean intro and then rumble to life, this varies in it's effectiveness, there is some good guitar playing on "Seven Stars Unseen" , but the riffs don't rock my socks off for the bulk of the song like the initial punch the album packs.The thrashier riffing that many of the songs build into often saves the day.

They carry the most power in the more deliberate chugging that accompanies songs like "G.N.ON", which could be called blackend something or another , it's pretty in your face metal, reminding me a little of Arsis, who I thought of as a thrash obsessed death metal band.The main harsh vocals have a midrange asp that begins to sound the same once you get half way into the album

In the album's  final 4 songs the melodic nature comes further into the forefront, this works really well, though slower and more melodic the emotional intent behind "Until the End' makes for a darker and more sonically heavy offering. The guitar riff in this song sounds like the riff they use in the Kiss cover that closes the album. Being a huge Kiss fan as a child this erans big points for me because not only do they cover Kiss , but they cover a song from "the Elder" . The melodic dynamics don't carry the same level off efectiveness on "My Hate is Pure" that falls back on the black thrash during the verses and lets the guitar ring out in a more acoustic tone on the chorus, which lose a little of the momentum for me a falling back into blasties doesn't make up for it.

Slowing things down does work pretty effectively on "N", the clean guitar here is creepy and dark, but no matter how the experimentation falls on this album win, lose or draw, the fact they are taking chances here is a bold move and I love the fact they are allowing themselves room to grow. The 11 minute track "Next Level Black" opens with clean vocals, they are low sullen barren baritone, the rather monotone style of slacker singing where you are not trying to sing that Helmet and Justin Broadrick employ is the style , it builds up into the harser vocals that are more dominate in the bulk of the song.

I will go ahead nd give this album a 9 , as it has endured multiple listens and is well crafted. This might alienate fans of the older albums but is a marked creative achievement this band should be porud of. The harsh vocals make some of the songs sound similar which keeps this from a perfect 10.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Iced Earth @ the Masquerade

The gravity pulling against to me to attend week night shows played into my favor , as I narrowly avoided the openers, as like Kamelot, Iced Earth are one of the rare bands in a genre normally heavy on cheese I like .So taking that into consideration, Sabaton would have been too much for me in terms of the level of dungeons and dragons like pageantry.  I heard they went over well with the crowd , that was more of a white trash meets the geeks of progpower sort of affair. The size of the crowd surprised me ,but aside from Dragon-Con and Prog Power, the band hasn't really been through Atlanta much.

Stu Block was in the hot seat in my book. He had the most to prove.  Having to fill Matt Barlow's shoes, is no easy feat, not that Barlow is in my top ten metal vocalists, but he has some pipes and more than that a distinct sound. Sure he can nail the metal yodel, but he does it not in the Star Search or Journey manner many progressive metal singers do , but with some balls.

I notice Block's, upper register is pretty piercing in falsetto, but he goes from chest register right into it and doesn't go into the more Paul Stanley sounding rock strained rock tenor that Barlow bridges his head voice into.He was able to fire off piercing highs on command with a lot of power and his voice did not wane as the set progressed.

It made me happy to hear Vengence is Mine from Dark Saga, which is my favorite Iced Earth album as it defines what sets them aside from other power metal bands in that they are also firmly rooted in thrash. There was a pretty decent pit , though small compared to say Morbid Angel, but better than any moshing that would not erupt at a Hammerfall show.

The only drop in energy was the power ballad off the new album which came way earlier in the set than I would have expected., The gritty baritone approach Block went with on this one made it seem to much like Shinedown for my taste buds, aside from that the set was largely in your face. John Schaffer has preserved his trademark crunch, not feeling the need to pull out Orange amps or detune as trends over the years have shifted.

So this performance won me over to accept the current incarnation of the band as it carries on their legacy. If straight up metal with no apologies is your thing it is highly reccomended that you give te current line up a shot.These guys recapture the feel of Preist and Maiden era classic metal in a way thats their own and are all the more authentic in doing so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Obsequiae: "Suspended in the Brume of Eos"

This is folk metal done without the larp like cheese added.You do not need to play Dungeons and Dragons to like this, though this would provide a pretty rocking sound track to a game if you were playing it. The opener "Altars of Moss" set you up for the frosty landscape that is not unlike many of the snow covered plains that Moonsorrow navigates their thematic riffing over. The emphasis seems to be placed on guitar melodies rather than beating you in the ears with heaviness, this strength will be seen as an annoyance to those who are not fans of this sort of thing, but if you are these guys are worth giving a listen

The vocals are anguished enough to be convincing black metal on "Wounded Fox", but the more epic folk metal swing behind it cavorts with the guitar harmonies in a way that is devoid of the dissonance attributed to black metal though the momentumof  "In the White Fields" comes closer to a place where black metal might meet a band like Tyr.

Agalloch comparisons could be made at times, they certainly have somewhat similar standards for composition and dynamics , though Agalloch's leanings toward clean vocals make them more keen songwriters ,where the screamed vocals here seem more like a coating applied like an after thought with the emphasis placed on the riffs.

Some of the more Arthurian intervals they return to cause some of the guitar parts to sound similar, the title track takes on a heavier chug at times to help set it apart."Atonement' goes into the medieval waltz with more meat on it's bones than the frolic laced guitar lines of some of the other songs. They are out to shred on the frantic pacing of "Arrows". "Starlit Shore" launches into a similar pace before returning the regal gallop the band is most comfortable with they speed up to hyper pace like some Dragon Force might do, but with more sincerity and black metal leanings.

There are quite a few cool punches and rhythmic nuances sprinkled about the closing intrumental, that would have been cool to have been used with more frequency in the album as whole, but at least you get a parting taste of them here. I am not a fan of instrumental so it's a credit to their playing they were able to hold my interest here.

.The emphasis seems to be placed on guitar melodies rather than beating you in the ears with heaviness, this strength will be seen as an annoyance to those who are not fans of this sort of thing, but if you are these guys are worth giving a listen  I will give this a 9 as for what it is, which might be too happy for my taste at times is masterully crafted viking/folk infused metal, that gets it right with out tripping over their chainmail and there is not enough of that in the world of metal.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thantifaxath: Sacred White Noise

Canada is cold enough to get black metal right. The chill to these songs is convincing. There have been other angular and progressive black metal bands to come out, even recently These guys got the hint that ambiance is as important as all the blasting, with it the heaviness loses it's effectiveness and becomes annoying, there is enough abrasion to scare away poseurs , but that doesn't mean they skimp on the song writing. Their brand of dissonance has been touched on by other bands who tread same dark waters, there are angular moments that recall Ulcerate, but it has the sonic layers of black metal those guys lack. They marry technical skills with waves of sound. A band like Liturgy or Krallice could also be common ground here. They are darker than either.

 There is a strange soothing white noise static to the beginning of "Where I End and the Hemlock Begins" I know bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, spawned a trend of bands that called them selves cascadian black metal, but these guys souns like there riffs are falling over you when they launch into the section of octave tremolo picking, they return to the angular shifts in the landscape, with forward propulsion but never boring you with the blur.

The weird instrumental "Eternally Falling" falls somewhere in between Tangerine Dream and King Crimson and doesn't have enough meat to warrant me putting it on my iPod and feels more like a long interlude than a song. "Panic Becomes Despair" sees the band sticking to more conventional black metal for the first half and leans on the blasting, which they have spoiled you at this point by not doing, it does have some angular accents that retain their sound, but creatively isn't the albums highest point.

It takes around three minutes for the big epic closer "Lost in Static Between Worlds" to blast off. It hints at their math rock side , but fires off pretty furiously when it is time for them to show their teeth. I am sure alot of purists will try to dismiss these guys as some sort of hipster affair, but they have chops that can't be denied. In this day and age I'll take black metal that is actually touching on something differently no matter where the source comes from. They prove Chicago's Murmuir isn't the only black metal band to dip into their King Crimson Collection.

I will give this album a 9, its worth a listen if you are an adventurous fan of black metal or like math rock and metal, it will be a good common ground. I think this album might grow on me over time , but don't think I will regret cutting the instrumental from the iPod.    

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sargeist: "Feeding the Crawling Shadows"

The raw black metal band out of Finland is comprised of members from Horna and Behexen. The production is lo-fi and cvlt enough for anyone, if it was many more under produced the guitars would sound like static. There are elements to this I like like as the dark vibes coming off of this. It adheres to the metal rule of the intensity of the first track smacking you makes it hard not to like the first track then the challenge is to keep my interest once that wears off. The approach here is what you would expect from raw black metal, blasting and a few gallops here and there.

"In Charnel Darkness" doesn't veer too much of course from where the first song went, though there is a slightly rowdier element to their charge forward. They are not re-inventing the wheel, just making it spin faster. No new tricks are being introduced to this style of black metal, though it does sounds to be a little more feral and triumphant than what I have heard of their previous work. The singer does go into a lower death metal type rasp at times that has some power to it and seems to vary the tone of the song.

Some of the tremolo picking is cool on "Unto the Undead" , but the guitar tone is so tinny, it doesn't bring out the qualities.The vocals are mixed back into the cacophony on this one. Its not until the pace slows in the breakdown of the songs final act that it is able to establish an identity.There is more of the same from "Snares of Impurity" though the approach to the vocals here reminds me more of Mayhem. By this point its all starting to sound the same to me so I find myself forcing my ears through the album.

I love black metal so I want to like this. The blistering fuzz of what is passing for guitar here makes that difficult and " Return of the Rats" is running down the same hill these guys tend to stumble down.Things are more blurred due to the rapid blasties of this one. The half time march these guys gallop into is the only real dynamic element in this one, otherwise it's one dimensional.

There is a little more of a sonic drone to the white noise of " the Unspoken Ones' the speed becomes a mute point , as when every thing is a blast it doesn't seem like it's as intense as it numbs you. The vocal accents are the only thing that lets you know you are where the chorus should be and then the stompy march begins. "Shunned Angel' picks up where the previous song left off , though the vocals are  little more frantic here. The death metal vocals appear sooner here than they do in previous songs, the alternation between the two is back in effect.The lyrics are almost decipherable on this one as well.

Its about time all the songs didn't star the same so "Inside the Demon's" maze does it's job.This is my favorite song on the album even when it accelerates back into the blast they have been at all along. The riff somewhat modulates around the gallop. At four minutes long all of these songs tend to drag despite being so fast.The vocals take a little more of as variance in their phrasing on " Kingdom Below" , but once the momentum blisters this one away you are lost in its storm. Midway into this one there is a somewhat Watain like riff , thats is pretty cool.

When I think "Funerary Descent" it's not as fast as this song. But I don't hear them slipping into doom anytime soon. This one is another blur of guitar, that over powers the drums here. The accents on the end of this one are pretty cool and the riff they chug out on works better than most of this album. I'll give this a 5.5 as most of it sounds the same if you are a fan feel free to round it up a point and take some time to contemplate why you like it when all the songs sound the same and is it a reflection on your lack of depth and layers as a person.  


This Cold Night: s/t

The next entry in the post punk revival is This Cold Night, which has a more lo-fi approach to the genre. It is almost too rough shod for me but I'm going to give it a listen. Coming from a more dark wave place than Joy Division, it's evident from the vocal approach that Ian Curtis and company are a big influence.

The bass line to "D.c.D. S" is convincing . Which is what I need from this guy, to be convinced he is not some hipster brat playing goth to be ironic. The vocals attempt to sing more or at least convey more emotional than a Ian Curtis impersonation, while they are not totally removed from that, they come across more genuine.

The awkwardness returns when the synths do , so the more darkwave elements might not be coming from the most genuine place, though the vocals show improvement as the song "Cemetary" continues to unfurl. The synths sound better on "Yelva' as well as the more dramatic approach to the vocals. This is more on the money than say She Wants Revenge was back in the day.

The songs are all short and to the point most under the three minute mark. The vocals sound better with the effect draped over them on "Corporate People" and the path the Melody takes works better. The sparse guitar is pretty effective here.

The synths take on more of an edge when it comes to "Lust". The beat is more deliberate but the reverbed vocals don't do much to contribute to where the song is going, though the synth sounds on the chorus are pretty cool. As the longest song at just under four minutes the keyboards seethe with layers that would be cool if the vocals were keeping up some how.  

I like where this album wants to go and think some of it executed well, the vocals are the weak spot when the don't hit the mark , but they also hit the sweet spot half the time to. So I am giving this album a 7, if you are hungry for darkwave infused post- punk this is worth a bite.  

Report to the Dance Floor - The Faint : "Doom Abuse"

It takes them about three songs to get into the darker almost angular cold wave sound I want for them. The hint of euro-trash via Omaha doesn't coat the album and they had already taken a turn from that back on "Wet From Birth". The first two songs are more pop though not unlike some of the more electro tinged indie rock these days.

The lead single off the album " Help In the Head" has enough off of their signature sound to pacify, the likes of me.The chorus hook is catchy enough to offset some of the craziness fluttering chaotically about the rest of the song in a more reckless fashion than they have flirted with in some time. There is what strikes me as more of  B-52's new wave feel to "Mental Radio".I don't think the melody to this one is as strong as "Help in the Head".

It took a few listens to really get a grip on what I thought off the fairly straightforward dance punk of " Salt My Doom". "Animal Needs" sounds like it could have been a b-side from the Wet From Birth days. The lyrics are ripe with social disdain . There is a touch to the glitches of " Loss of Head" that makes this sound like the track to be voted most likely to be played in the clubs. It is also the song that reminds me the most of "Danse Macabre".  There is a more synthesized coating to the approach of " Dress Code" m, that sounds like droids covering Devo.    

"Scape Goat " is first song where the real instruments really stand out to me , and the song has more of a punk rock attack to it. "Your Stranger" touches on similar lines , though is higher in the quirk quota. It has their typical disenchanted lyrics over otherwise , peppy poppish electro.

The Kraftwork like tension to " Lesson From the Darkness" creates great atmosphere , but as as song it doesn't grab you as much as some, though it's drone works on you like a piece of 80's darkwave. "Unseen Hand" strikes me the most like classic Faint, but they are utilizing sounds at their disposal in 2014, which gives a wider scope of sounds. "Damage Control" evokes a more modern almost witch house sound in the murk coating the 808 beat.The melodies are very carefully placed, it shows songwriting is where these guys really excels, rather than being the master of instruments they are more about capturing sound, this album is less organic than previous efforts and makes it harder to see the line where real instruments come into play

Not a perfect album ,  much less the best one they have released, but it offers so well written songs, that step forward into todays sounds while being true to their identity, I think it upholds the band's legacy well and I will give it a 9.5 and see how it holds up over time, I recall Wet From Birth and Danse Macabre growing on me over time.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lord Mantis: "Death Mask"

Faster than sludge should be , but not quiet black metal by the standards of most, though this album moves the band closer to the blackness. I really liked "Pervertor" it hung tough in my iPod for some time, because not many other bands summoned up the mean streak these guys have.With that said it raises the bar on what I expected from this album and so far it seems to deliver, though is requiring a few listens to solidify my opinion.

There is little debate on the opening track which comes in with the sonic vomit similar to Neurosis on Through Sliver and Blood , but more like if they had rabies when they recorded it. Metal bands do have that advantage where the first song they can really slam you in the face by the intensity and there is no way not to like it then the challenge becomes how to make every song that awesome without being one dimensional. The title attempts to show how it's done, but even then in the immortal words of Spinal Tap, when  you are at 10 where else is there to go from there?

The blurred frenzy that ensues sounds like a collision of Today is the Day with Eyehategod. The vocals are wretched and scathing, just like on the first album, the main change seems to be the need for speed as this albums gets much more blasty. Not unlike the Great Old Ones I just reviewed , these guys have gotten heavier on this one, here it is much more of a feat and makes them less accessible , where it had the opposite effect on the French band.

There is almost an industrial feel to the chant that opens "Possession Prayer" This once stomps with machine like deliberation and I like the fact it sounds little like the two previous songs providing  more depth to their sound. "Negative Birth" lumbers in at an even more sludge like pace, almost bordering on doom. It's pretty fucking apocalyptic, though the most like Neurosis in its lumber. When the need for speed kicks in picking up the pace doesn't add a lot to the song.In fact it makes the band sound like every other death metal band just without the guttural vocal and a more screamed approach. By the end of the song it hits the point of being white noise.

"Coil" has a darker slink to it that I like. The vocals start with a weird robotic effect on them. Its cool, but kinds stays on the same thing and feels more like an interlude than a fully developed song. Though this is made up for in the 10 minute "Three Crosses". When its a ten minute song you better believe they are going to take their time launching into it/ The intro is the most black metal section on the album. At around the minute mark the vocals come in to herald the song is under way, though it lingers with a pounding rumble. The guitars actually achieve some melody on this one even if it is a fleeting refrain. The song can not resist their new found urge to fly off into blasting , but established enough element to where when this happens it's alright.  

I will give this one a 9.5 and see it it can stand the test of time, the more blackened approach seems to be balanced out with the sound we know they are good at and makes this a good listen in the days where new heavy music is slimmer picking.  


Katatonia : "Kocytean"

Well it's a new Katatonia, was my first thought only to find this ep is a collection of b-sides,   I  gave it a shot. Released for record store day as a 12", the album Unfurls with little evidence this was ever a metal band, it's even laid back for Radiohead. There is a melancholy to this more Massive Attack sort of affair. Things don't get more rocking as the bonus track from the Longest Year" ep  "Sold Heart" continues the drift into electro ballads.

If I was feeling really depressed and sensitive, which is not out of character, then I could be more appreciative of this. The Cure,. comes across heavier than this.I am fine with moping about and being sad. I like melody, but I also like dynamic and this is where these songs seem to suffer. Granted this is from a band the bar should be held high for, as they have dazzled us in the past with superior song writing. It's not until "Ashen" a song from Night is the New Day appears follows the first two songs that any rocking shows up, but we are talking a song written back in 2009, so it doesn't offer any hope for the future. However the songs inclusion here serves as a good reminder to what I like about the band when they are doing it right.

"Second" was a bonus track from "Dead End Kings" so its cool to have and is not far removed from what you might expect from the band's more recent direction.The chorus doesn't soar as much as you think it might. Even older rare tracks show up with the "Code Against the Code" which goes back all the way to the Deliberation ep" . It is more Cure like for sure but is closer to what I want from the band, I suppose if the band handpicked these songs, then it's encouraging they remember where they came from, even if the songs all have the depressed drone.

The other bonus track from Dead End Kings, has a more Porcupine Tree feel to it.I like the way the vocals are layered even if this song is a little weird in it's feel. The build in the string section reminds of the Verve. For what this is I'll give it an 8 as it's cool to have all these songs together, even iof some of them are a little limp in the wrist .  


The Great Old Ones: "Tekeli - Li"

The French Lovecraft worshipers are back and heavier , the more Alcest leanings have given way to a more churning almost atmospheric death metal element. They share more in common with their country men in Deathspell Omega on this one. From the onset the riffs are catchier pit churners like if Behemoth stumbled upon shoegaze. Sure the black metal elements are there but only in the same way Deafheaven is at times black metal...o.k maybe more black than that as they won't be playing Bonnaroo anytime soon. But this album will open them up to a wider audience as the riff have more meat to them, the kind most metal heads can head bang to without the atmospherics taking away too much of the thunder.

They are heavier , but there is a certain dark and ethereal sprawl that seems to have been a little more streamlined,as the song writing process here is refined. It's taken more listens for this album to click with me than their previous efforts.The more I listen the more the balance of the heavier direction seem to make sense, it's much more intense listen , though less moody which is what I normally go for in music.

They toy around with atmosphere on the beginning of " The Elder Things" the piano line gives way to a more Enslaved crunch, though in some ways it reminds me of a less viking Moonsorrow as well. Fans of more straight up cvlt black metal will be pleased by some of the more blasty moments.These capture the type of drone early Darkthrone had been with more technique.  I can also hear shades of  Negura Bunget here, but there is little that really makes you say "oh, those guys must be from France they sound like Alcest or Deathspell". Which is one of the strengths to metal coming out of France is the highly creative nature and the embracing of the individual voice.

"Awakening" has more of the moody doom creep to it, as they sludge out the dismal clamor of the chords, before building it up into a very deliberate pound. One thing I like about these guys is for a black metal band you can hear the bass.The begin the ebb and flow that is more familiar on this song , dropping down into more sedate and droney passages of darkness. Though here they pound out of them with a renewed fury.

They waste no time getting back to the blast in "the Ascend" which at this point for me is like a band reverting to punk rock.The velocity is deafening and some of the chances at melody get lost in translation. The drumming is impressive there is not doubt the dude had monster stamina.It's just very one dimensional.

They redeem themselves on the monolithic 17 minute epic "Behind the Mountains". They blur into a pretty mean quick paced assault but it has enough tempo changes and accents to make it interesting.It dives down into a more brooding and beautiful section at the 5 minute mark, giving room to breathe and allowing space for dynamics. There is some really expressive guitar playing in the middle of the song, the growled vocals begin to all sound the same midway in. They are an anguished mid-range, well done for what they are , but what they are is only one shade. There is some spoken word narrative.

One of my favorite moments is when they reach the sweet spot more metal bands need to aim for in the songs final six minutes , where they are heavier sonically than they are metal. It brings a beautiful transcendental quality to the music and is one of the things I love about black metal when it is done right. It make the blasts that follow a little more palatable.A minute at that speed goes a long way. I will give this album a 7 as the defaulting into the blastiness, seems like taking the easy way out ,when they shown the greatness they are capable of.    


Monday, April 7, 2014

Report To the Dance Floor : Lael Summer's "Burden to Bear"

Before house music there was disco, which took funk and soul and kept it up all night long snorting coke and rolled up in polyester. If you think disco isn't my thing, know that I'm a sucker for female vocalists, so I took notice when  my friends over at True Groove out of New York brought this  young singer Lael Summer whose influences are clearly dipped in the soul classics of the 70's. Sure, there is a disco queen feel at times , but Lashe is not too divalicious. This is not all peppy pop as She does have a mean streak like the line 'we both know/ that I've got twice the balls that you do."

"Too Much" groove into an almost Alicia Bridges feel..you know "I love the Night Life"   These are real instruments played by real musicians, so they fact that these beats are not a by product of a computer program might be a turn off, but even if you like Bowie's Young Americans album, you will find some common ground, as the sax lines are very Bowie to me.

The obligatory piano ballad comes on "Make You Whole". It is well sung, and leave no doubt in your mind that she has some pipes on her. The grooves come back on "It's About Soul". To her credit Lael has hooked up with the right posse to achieve the sound she is going for. The sass of the melody could be something Christina Aguilera might have done at one time, but with a more organic and authentic sound to it. She dips back down and gives you a breather on the more Norah Jones flavored "In Time".

This album sounds great, it recreates the warmth of the era it takes the most from without being a total backward glance into retro nostalgia. The more Diana Ross flair rears up again on "Kiss and Tell" , it also reminds me of Olivia Newton John...post-grease of course.

The more Sade classic torch song meets soul comes in the powerful cover of  Hall and Oates "Do What You Want" ends up with the sultry punch of "Is It a Crime", which is a pretty high compliment as I place Sade in my top ten female vocalists of all time. Her knack at vocal over dubs help establish her identity here. Her upper range that she projects from her chest voice is pretty impressive as well.

The disco funk heats up on " What Do I Know (about love)" , the chorus isn't as strong as the verses here, but they create such a tension until it doesn't have to have a big build to be dynamic and is really capturing more of a sixties feel. There is fittingly a more of New York groove to "Look Around" that brings to mind the days when G.e Smith was leading the Saturday Night Live Band . Tomas sets his blues influence on the back burner for the majority of the album letting it surface on "Unconditionally". It's less dancy than the more disco like numbers, but she is backed by such competent players the music alone keeps you grooving.

There is a more Alicia Keyes element to the closing ballad "The Good Fight" which seems to have a 12 step element to the lyrics, but hey it takes one to know one.The guitar solos add the best colors to this song and her harmonies help the dynamics bring this song up to the level of the others when some of the cumbersome lyrics seem like they would weight the her phrasing down, but she pulls through and the song ends up with a more 80's feel to it  but with an almost Broad way bravado.        

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Up From the Underground : Plastic Yellow Band "Breathe Air"

If South Carolina is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of Brit Pop, its for good reason. As Plastic Yellow Band proves by holding a ghost of a country influence haunting on the outskirts of this low key psychedelia not too far removed from Pink Floyd's more radio friendly moments or Jeff Lynne .There is more of a solo Beatles feel than the Fab Four together, like "She's My Woman" that sounds more like solo Lennon, but with a dirtier blues sound.

Singer songwriter Gerald Jennings has a straight forward approach that is at times decorated by the twinkle of sitars. More often less Rubber Soul and more focused on the Tom Petty like strum of the guitars. In many ways this album reminds me of the Travelling Wilburys, in the scenic route it steers itself. They do take steps forward into a more modern sound on " Nervous Stuff" which sounds more like some of the Adrian Belew penned King Crimson, but with liberal winks to Hendrix in the manner the solo rolls out backwards and forward in a wavering wall of trippy haze.

I was not expecting the female vocals on "I Want to Feel Your Love" they fall some where between Christine Mcvee Fleetwood Mac and Nico. Though the guitar on this song would appeal to the fans of the new wave of alternative folk and sounds like it would grace coffee house everywhere. The more modern sound re-emerges with less intensity on " She Let It Down" . The melody more solo David Byrne than any shades of Liverpool, which is cool a it allows the band to broaden the spectrum of what they do.

There more rock moments of "Oil Kings" remind me of Lenny Kravitz's cover of American Woman, though the vocals are more prog quirky, until the build into a more John Lennon like flow. The guitars on this al;bum are well recorded and thought out. The album returns to the often angular melodies that remind me of Adrian Belew or even Utopia era Todd Rudgren. This territory leaves room for guitar heroics like those seen on " Alone(It's Hard) ".

The piano balladry on songs like "Climate Change" don't play upon the bands strengths.The guitars do drift into post- Roger Waters era Floyd, but without the melancholy of the Division Bell. The album takes on an ambitious third act with the "Sunlight" trilogy of songs.The idea of this is more proggy than where they take this. I can hear elements of XTC, on this sort of thing. It's not until the guitar solo pops in that the first part of this trilogy ever reaches a dynamic shift.

On the second part of  Sunlight variations, they band strikes a more flowing stride and the piano parts work with the song to create a sense of movement. The piano part takes off into a solo section that leads into another guitar solo. The guitar solos enhance the album rather than take the spotlight away from the song's momentum. The guitar tone is very David Gilmore, which is am impressive feat.

The drum solo that's lead into the third movement of the Sunlight variations, is a little more Beatlesque. This is due to the tight harmonies that are well produced. This further emphasizes the Jeff Lynee element that haunts this album. Which in turn brings about these Travelling Wilburys comparisons. The harmonies achieve the intended goal and the album as a whole finds a more authentic place than many of the alternative bands who flirts with such aspirations.

This album is slickly produced and well written , fans of the more radio friendly era of later period psychedelia so give this album a listen. The focus is more on melody than bathing you in dripping sonic head trips. There is a great guitar sound on this and any aspiring guitarists might take note of the dynamic yet tasteful playing on this album.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Taurus: " No/Thing"

Yes, I know finally some reviews, had some personal issues, and to be honest there really hasn't been much new music coming out. I have sat on this album for a while before giving it a listen to realize it is pretty dark and rocking. There is a very spastic element to this as well, the screeching vocal's of Dark Castle's Stevie Floyd, blurt oddly out from from the corners of the angular and almost industrial sludge fest.

Of course I am going to like the clean vocals blended in to the harsher elements. The guitar playing is creepier than your average band of this ilk. What ilk might this be..well sludge is the closest cousin we can draw comparisons to. The tempo tends to linger on the slower side. There are thematic elements that bleed over into other tracks, samples string the songs together, almost working like an Acid Bath album, though much more angular.

There are droning chants that bathe this often hypnotic album that feels more like movements than songs. This is night listening and seems better music for colder and dreary weather. Bouts of depression might make this find heavier rotation. Often finding it self as one of the few albums these days that earns the right to be experimental, I can hear shades of King Crimson on "Set Forth the Path of the Infinite" and I suppose there is some Swans influence as well. It does tend to wander given the space of the ten minute running time.Like wise "Increase Aloneness' comes on like a Dead Can Dance outtake. It takes six minutes for the metal to erupt, but how cool would it be if Dead Can Dance erupted into an industrial beat.It sounds like the good ritual music , but for casual listening driving around , only for road trips.

"RECEED" closes the album out with a drone.The drumming is abstract here and leaves similar space through out the album. but is more of an outro than a real song.The droning nature of this album does raise the question how much will I actually listen to this, despite the fact this is a very well crafted and executed piece of work. Only time will tell, so I will go ahead and give it a 9 for craftsmanship.