Monday, June 30, 2014

The Top Ten Metal Albums of 2014 .... so far

Metal Sucks has put out their progress report card for the year, and gods know the sort of  mall metal those guys are pushing, with exception of our friend Grim Kim . So it is time look at whats the best of real metal, according to my Last FM, this is based off of what has been in the heaviest rotation on the ole iPod so here we go.

10- Black Anvil's "Hail Death"

It is losing a little steam with me now , but when it came out this slab of hooky black thrash with the hardcore leanings the band tried to deny got quite a few spins.

9- Young and In the Way -  'When Life Comes to Death"-

Not sure if this one will make the purge for the road trip to the beach this week, but it's dark metallic hardcore tinged with black metal, that is darker nastier and heavier than the Black Anvil album, often making me think of what Converge might sound like if they were less spastic and into black metal.

8- Hexis-" Abalam"-

This might be the heaviest album of the year. That doesn't mean it's the most well written, but to be as heavy as it is there is something there in the songs to have earned this many listens or I was a lot angrier earlier in the year.

7-Kampfar -"Dejevelmakt"

Behemoth might have made it on many lessor lists, this album hit the place for me that Behemoth use to when they were worth half a shit.

6- Cynic -"Kindly Bent to Free Us"

Since coming out of the closet, you have to rethink the meaning of the album title. This almost isn't metal , but it is well written and well played and likely to see a return for the beach trip.

5- Alaskan - "Despair Erosion Loss"

The vocals are what hinder this album for me , but there are some great riffs and dynamics other wise that had me returning to it. Not sure if this will make it to the top ten of the year or not.

4-Night Fell- the Living Ever Mourn

So here we get into the following four bands that have the staying power to make the end of the year list. This hits all the right dark spots for me to have staying power.

3-Mayhem- Esoteric Warfare

The best "real" black metal album thus far as the two after this one only have elements or used to be black metal. Mayhem keeps it as true as fuck with out sounding shit , nor are they afraid to try new things.

2- Hail Spirit Noir-"Oi Magoi"

This one was crazy in all the right ways. Taking what a band like Opeth does and black metalling it up a t bit without resorting to all the tired old tricks of the trade.

1- Agalloch-"the Serpent and the Sphere"

The mood of this album has earned it a lot of listens and I am a fan of their past work so was eager to hear this one.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

the Atlas Moth: the Old Believer

This band brings mixed responses from people as they occupy a middle ground also walked by bands like Isis and Baroness. At this point any sludge elements have been rock n rolled out.  I like the fact these guys are not afraid to experiment and try different things, how ever things re being done a lot different here.

The clean vocals in the background are lower and more mournful. almost making this sound like a different band if not for the angular stabs of guitar that bear a similar distortion. They are heading in a much more melodic direction and I think who have not like them in the past won't find their minds changed as these guys are headed down the road to radio the die-hard metal crowd might shun. They don't launch into the opener with the same aggression they once attacked their songs with.

The lower vocals sound like they should be on a doom metal band's album as they are slightly My Dying Bride.There is a good groove to "The Sea Beyond". but the guitar tone is beginning to sound thinner on this one. Some of the chords even have a more romantic almost goth feel to them. Going back and listener to "Collider" the thinness in the guitars seems to be due to the guitars never crunching down on the same riffs, they noodle in opposing directions making this more angular and dissonance, but loses sonic heft.  

Some pretty good screams echo out of "Wynona". I can hear the Myspace metal elements that turn off some. But I appreciate these guys are writing actual songs and not just trying to re-vamp what Morbid Angel did in the 80's. This does sometimes find  time coming across like a darker version of Mastodon, as guitar lines jut out from every corner.

The weird change in the vocals works on "City of Light", but if you played this song for me I would not have guess this was the Atlas Moth. When the harsh vocals come in it creates a greater dynamic. The palm muted chugs are also more on point here. Even on "Halcyon Blvd" it's hard to argue to with the new sound, but it sounds like Killing Joke meets Fields of the Nephillim. So if you are a fan this might be hard to swallow and easier for me as I never had much emotional investment in this band. A wise move on my part as they will sound totally different if they make to another album judging from this.

The doomy sluggishness haunts "Sacred Vine" as it tries to gain momentum. Is this Paradise Lost? I find myself going back to check to see if the file is labelled correctly. I can swear the words, damsel and castle have both come from the singer's mouth. The hipster math rock elements are twinkles in the back ground here.

The title track starts of with the guitar making you think they are going to kick into their old sound, but sooner than later mellotron comes in over the guitar. They do have a little bigger sound on the Mastodon like track that closes the album.

Metal Sucks ran an article asking what happens when you run this album under water. Apparently the cover changes, but I thought it was a joke in regard to how vampires can't cross running water, due to the goth shift they have taken. I also thought it said how do you ruin the Atlas Moth's new album. So the reaction this album gets will interest me.  I'll round it up to a 7.5 , it's not going to make any album of the year lists as it could use some balls to it tonally.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Agalloch @ the Earl 6/24/2014

I had high hopes for this show. The Portland based band was pretty impressive when I caught them a few years back when they were touring to support "Marrow of the Spirit". While excited to catch Agalloch again, I also have developed a keen sense for missing openers, so made it to the Earl a little after ten. This is proably survival skill set in motion by my subconscious in hopes of conserving my hearing. So Vex was just a rumble coming from the other room while my girl friend ordered food. The crowd was a good size for the venue , on par with what Agalloch drew the last time I caught them at the same venue.

They took the stage with  lead growler Jon Haughm carrying a bowl of incense to create a ritualistic feel, though this was not done with the same dark occultic intensity as what say Watain or Atriarch do. I think it was more for the bands benefit to get them into the head space to preform. The bulk of their set was from the newest album. Bringing the front man to joke they were going to play something that no one wanted to hear from the new album. However they respectfully gave the fans what they wanted with a few tunes off "Ashes Against the Grain" and "Marrow of the Spirit", leaving "Pale Folklore largely neglected.

 "So this is the future home of the zombie apocalypse" Jon quipped in his first interaction with the crowd." At least you guys get a cool show. We get Porlandia, which is almost a documentary." He later asked if we wanted to hear something from the Mantle. This brought a decent roar of approval. Jon then stated that they had never played "I am the Death of the Earth" in Atlanta before, though that fact wouldn't matter to people catching them for the first time. This song was also the only moment in the show where he attempted clean vocals. On the newer songs which have more layered growls, the other guitarist Don Anderson stepped up to the mic and lent his throat.

 Playing for almost two hours, the band kept their energy level steady. The only dips were in the more ambient portions of songs which sprawled out into the more post-rock like middle sections. Drummer Aesop Dekker, who also drums for such acts as Vhol and Ludicra played a large part in the propulsion of the songs. His preformance really stood out. The veteran drummer had his signiture precision, but tirelessly handled double bass and blast beats. He made what he did look easy , despite the thunderous sound he created.

 I have always felt lead guitarist Don Anderson is one of modern metal's most under rated guitar heroes. He once again, show cased the dexterous chops that he employs so tastefully into the context of what Agalloch does and works well with Haughm. They intertwined the sonic layers perfectlly. One reason for this also seemed to be a smart stage volume. They were loud, but also very clean tonally. Many metal bands make the mistake of cranking up their stage volume until the by product is a muddy swamp of distortion and no discernable notes. This was not the case with Agalloch, who made each guitar melody count. Anderson also took the lead when it came to the band's  stage prescene goes. He worked the stage in a manner most metal bands of their ilk would not have half the charisma to execute, without coming off as trying to hard. He seemed very natural. This left John snarling at the mic center stage. Both he and the bass player did not shy from the obligated headbanging when the dynamics called for it.

Overall they met might high expectations and continued to defy description, even with the reduction of clean vocals , the guitars compensated well when it came to melody. I would go see them again if they rolled through town next week. Though they tend to make summer jaunts due to some of the band's work schedules, so next summer it is. With that in mind make sure to catch these guys live when they roll through your town and it will embed your fandom if you have been on the fence with them in the past.

Mournful Congregation : "Concrescence of Sophia"

Easing the wait until they release the follow up to their classic "the Book of Kings"  the Australian doom lords  have released a two song ep that still clocks in at 30 minutes.  They don't try to fix what's not broken in their brand of melancholy funeral doom, in fact they march on and drone less.

The hefty title track is 21 minutes.The gloomy hesitation they hit each note with is intact, as are the floating guitar melodies that cry out into the gray sky.The vocals retain the trademark gurgle. I think the main difference is the guitar harmonies are more polished and sound more regal and metal than the sonic element that coated the "Book of Kings", sometimes they even take a soloish kinda of flair.The actual guitar solo doesn't kick in until the 12 minute mark.  At the six minute mark it breaks down into an acoustic interlude, with some breath taking guitar work. The tone on the chops these guys have are both under rated.

For another three minutes they ebb and flow , back and forth between acoustic guitar passages and the doom chords ringing out, not unlike the approach Agalloch took on their newest, though both might be inspired by Evoken here. The tide of double bass that flows in underneath the guitar that picks up the pace in the ten minute mark is effective and holds the bar high along side the rest of the bands material.

In comparison the 9 minute "Silence of the Passed " is like a pop ballad. The guitars do most of the talking for the band at the song's onset. They did for lower notes, until a grave is ready for the more whispered growl of the vocals to rise from. The guitars build into a bitter sweet soaring. The song comes crashing down into a quieter moment that build into the crawling chug they are known for.The gurgling rasps reaches out further from it's growl. So this one does it's job and whets the hunger for the full length I am hoping they release before the end of the year, but early 2015 seems to be much more likely at this juncture.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Godflesh: Decline & Fall ep

Eps seems like a waste to me. But music is being consumed differently these days and if it is going to be stolen anyways, why not just have it taken four songs at a time I suppose. Sometimes you just have to take it anyway you can get it, this is after all new Godflesh, something I didn't think was ever going to happen. I am not sure why I put off giving this a shot for so long, but here it is.

"Ringer" opens things up on a very metal vibe. Almost like Front Line Assembly in the way the very stiff guitars drone on. Justin's vocals of course retain the feel of Godflesh and have a lazy punk sneer to them, while as dead pan as anything we have heard previous from him, and less emotive than Jesu. I think I expect more experimental elements to be in place , but it does fall in line with the projects body of work. The production is a little dry, though everything gets whole lot cooler in the pound of the final minute.

Most bands never got the industrial metal thing right. They often went to Fear Factory with it and reduced it to mall metal. Pitchshifter is a example of this , or at least how I remember Pitchshifter. The tone drops lower on the mechanical thump and pound of "Dogbite" . but Justin continues to school all the mall metallers and sludge hipsters who tried to jump in on this sort of thing. His vocals go into the throatier bellow, not unlike Ministry or Helmets heavier moments. This does carry the taunt syncopation, Helmet used to, but is more like a sci fi robot in Godzilla sized armor trudges through a post apocalyptic wasteland.
"Play with Fire" allows the bass to gurgle in hyper space , while the guitar bends around the throb of the riff, but also finds a melodic sense to it all . The title track is much more up in your face with the beatdown. The almost hardcore half time drop might seem neanderthal like when you forget after years of Jesu that Justin ever had this much testosterone to contend with. This gets the job done and I can live with this as acceptable Godflesh, I don't however feel it is fair to rate this , though if I had to it would be around a 9 or so, but since it's only four songs it doesn't develop which is the nature of an ep , but for the most part these songs stand up well on their own two metallic feet.

Marissa Nadler:July

On Sacred Bones your first thought might be... they want another Chelsea Wolfe. Words like dark folk are also thrown around ,  leading you to believe they are in the same vein. This is only true in the broadest sense of what they do, but you could also compare Nadler to Lana Del Ray.  Marissa has been at this for some time she released her first album "Ballads of Living and Dying" back in 2004. She also has a metal connection having contributed vocals to Xasthur's final album "Portal of Sorrow".

The opener drive to me feels like dark dreamy country. Her subtle use of melodies grow on you. They hooks are laid back in the flow of the song rather than screaming "Here's the fucking chorus".The delicacy of what she does is spotlit on "1923" , where the chorus reminds me of  Mazzy Star or even Cowboy Junkies. This album sounds really good , most of the time she uses a very minimal accompaniment, but what she does use is very well placed in the mix.

Most of  this album finds her vocals beautifully layer, in a way that solidifies the Cowboy Junkies comparison.Her lyrics are most pronounced in the lower vocal, where the higher head voice floats above it. Her lyrics are more reflective than despondent or tortured. This is great rainy day music or a soundtrack to my first cup of coffee.

"Firecrackers" strikes me more camp fire country than folk, despite the strum of the acoustic guitar. It's an alright song, but I think her talents are better displayed  on "We Are Coming Back" . It carries more of her signature, utilizing the layered vocal harmonies that give these songs their most haunting qualities. The guitar lines are more of often than not pretty simplistic, leaving her vocal chords to the heavy lifting when it comes to holding the weight of the song.

The first single off the album was "Dead City Emily" and I think it paints a pretty accurate portrait of what Nadler does best. It might even lean more towards the ethereal side and away from the country undertones.
The simple guitar lines form drones and the drifting is really amplified by the swirl of sonics that echo into this song.

The most movement stirs in the strum of " Was it a Dream", which is a pretty flawlessly penned tune.The strings setting the background are a welcome element that makes this song stand out. The piano on the slightly poppy "I've Got Your Name" takes on a more morose Lana Del Ray or Norah Jones vibe. These are at times weepy break up songs, but not in the teen angst way that makes you feel like it's the soundtrack to a vampire drama on the CW.

The darker echo of  "Desire" returns to the sound that first drew me into this album.The regretful contemplation seems to be lyrically in the same vein. "Anyone Else" brightens it up a tad. This is mainly in the chord progression though her voice does take on a more Joni Mitchell tone until the familial layers of ghostly coat the over dubbed vocals. The lighter tone continues on "Holiday In" this one has a little more of a country twang hidden in it. It has also become evident that what you see is what you get here. There are no hidden surprises that jump out midway into the songs.They never veer into unexpected territory once the mood is established.

Despite the lyrics "Nothing in My Heart" seems to be a sweet note to end the album on. I expected it to get darker as if progressed, but that isn't always the case.It's just her voice with a little piano and organ  sprinkled in sounding like a ballad from the pop days of the 50's. At the end of the day however I like where this goes, it's go subtle songwriting that grows on me so I will give it a 9.5.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Goatwhore: "Constricting Rage of the Merciless"

Stripped down to a four piece, the thrash leanings of the last album are being trampled under foot by a more blackened death metal sound. Being a big fan of Acid Bath, I have tried to get into these guys for sometime and own two other albums. So they can be a little on the hit or miss side. The production on this album is more like Skeleton Witch and not as dense as their last one.

The more gurgled Incantation like vocal I like when it belches up from the hell fire of  "Unravelling Paradise". They feel the need for speed, which is handled in a more brutal death metal manner than the groove they hit on " Blood For the Master". This is the same line up that recorded that album. The thrash element does not die off as it rears it's corpse up on "Baring Teeth For  Revolt". This also carries a hint of swampy rock n roll

The brutality commence in a very dense manner when the riff to "Reanimated Sacrifice" cuts through . They don't default into blasty mc nasty, causing this album t o lean more towards the death metal side of the fence. Four songs in and I am wondering what offer tricks that have up their spiked gauntlets and the answer is "Heavens Crumbling Walls of Pity" that pulls out the blasting. The section the guitar solo slides over is pretty  sonic leaving the rest of the song to tremble in the sort of 90's death metal Deicide use to conjure.

The pace changes on the doomy death rattle of "Cold Earth Consumed by Dying Flesh" . The gurgled death vocals return here as the song stalks around itself like a serpent contemplating how it's tail might taste. So fat this is my favorite song on the album. "FBS" carries hints of 80's metal along with a punk like attack. It's a little too straight forward for me.

The mean riff to "Nocturnal Conjuration of the Accursed" is classic metal and the gallop that follows is a lot of fun, This album grows on me as it progresses."Schadenfreude" gets darkly melodic for these guys. The ripping for thrash of "Externalize This Hidden Savagery" lives up to its name.Overall  these guys did a great job of capturing the sound they are going for and it was flawless for the perspective of execution, my only qualm is this kind of thing gets to be one dimensional , but leave it to death metal to beat a dead horse. I will give it an 8 as it excels at what it does, I just don't see myself having the greatest need to return to what it is for second and third helpings, but fans should consider it a masterpiece.  

Lower:" Seek Warmer Climes"

This Dannish Punk band gets this years most improved award. Vocalist Adrian Toubro has really found his voice on this album. It's the same melodic growth Beastmilk saw last year, but these guys come from a different corner.

The opener "Another Life" still carries the lingering scent of their punk roots, but could be seen as equal parts Joy Division or post -punk. The lyrics to this album are really great. Sense of songwriting and use of melody is where most of the growth has occurred, though the improved production quality works well to capture the proper sonics and still give the songs room to breath. "Draft Persuasion" keeps with a similar propulsion. The bass line kicks in with a similar cadence as" Romeo's Distress".Its not trying by any means to be death rock, but does have an emotional desperation that keeps this from really being punk.

The post rock elements come further into the forefront on " Lost Weight, Perfect Skin". The guitar wanders into more shadow filled corners than they band had on "Walk On Heads". The guitar almost reaches a Pornography era Cure place here. Gloom continues to consume of " Unkempt and Uncaring" . The chorus is pretty much perfect on this one with the melody locking in where it needs to be. Toubro hasn't suddenly become a great singer he is just taking more notice to where he puts what he has to work with.

"Expanding Horizons" takes it's time brooding in the beginning letting the song warm up as it goes. This kind of drones on until the "caress your self " line comes in to give the song a more congealing sensibility. The driving bass of " Bastard Tactics" take them back closer to their more punk days. This is further explored as the song gradually becomes more volatile. There is still a certain restraint used, that is more mature than most punk.

My favorite song on the album  is "Soft Option" which :has a touch of Smiths like jangle to it. Carver carries a similar bounce  finding the middle ground between post- punk and punk rock, its the dissonance that crashes in and is the deciding blow to make it more post-punk than what is considered punk. The bass line at the intro of "Tradition" reminds me of Fugazi, but is makes it self know when the vocals come in that this is darker and more dramatic than  the D.C. take on hardcore. This build after the naked vocal break down is particularly  impressive. I like where these guys are heading and the growth they have made I will go ahead and round this up to a ten. It's worth checking out if you like punk that has more emotion than one - two - three go...

Die Antwoord ;" Donker Mag"

The anticipated follow to their last album "Ten$ion" that  kicked doors open for them. They have more to prove here . They need to show that they are not just a novelty, but are able to make lighting strike a third time. I am not looking for them to become serious artists, but to at least make something as fun as what they brought to the party last time.

"Ugly Boy" is more electronic than it is rap, with Yolandi singing in a mock Asian manner.The synth line leading into " Happy Go Sucky Fucky" hearkens back to Lords of Acid's "Lust" album and many of the albums sounds return to the early Rave til Dawn days.  The second verse finds more originality in Yolandi's approach.

The interlude skits almost out number the songs."Raging Zef Boner" is a silly as something from the first Marshall Mather album. The reggae inflection of this one does give it more of its own identity as long as this is is the only flirtation with this style. They do switch it up and go with more of a dance hall feel on "Girl I Want 2 Eat U". Ninja's raps work better on "Raging Zef Boner" , but this one isn't a fast forward classic.

As far as the singles we have already heard I prefer "Cookie Thumper" over "Pit Bull Terrier"  and hearing the album versions of those songs doesn't change my opinion.Things get weird when they shift into the slow jam of "Strunk". This is not really a direction I would encourage them to go into, but the novelty on it works for this album. Setting a song like that before the darker " Rat Trap 666" works really well in the albums flow. This one reminds me more of something Tricky might have done at one time.

"I Don't Dwank" has one of the albums best beats. Yolandi's rhymes do it more justice as Ninja seems to be dialing most of his verses in this time around. Things drop down into a more bubbling chill beat , that Ninja redeems himself from his other lack luster flow he showcased earlier in the album, but by this point I am well aware this is not going to rock the house as hard as the more focused "Ten$ion".The interlude "Moon Love" had some interesting sounds that could have been turned into a cool song , so it leaves the title track to decide this albums fate.

It starts off with Ninja once again trying to sing. By first minute and a half you are waiting for the beat to come in rescue this song.It is the sort of thing some one like Zola Jesus could have soared over , as the dark synth accompaniment is well crafted it just doesn't work for Ninja's voice or lack of one.

I'll give this one a 7.5, as it has its moments and even a few really cool songs, but I think despite the improvement in the backing tracks they are doing their thing over, these guys are capable of doing better as they have already shown us.

Mastodon: "Once More Round the Sun"

It seems like this album came out with less fanfare than their releases are normally heralded with. Though living in Atlanta it is kinda hard to gauge how the rest of the world sees the band. "Crack the Skye" has been my favorite album thus far and this album is a slight return to the more prog side , but with a more economic time frame when it comes to the songwriting.

The opener "Tread Lightly" opens with the strum of an acoustic guitar that builds into what you expect from these guys. The riff falls closer to some of Tool's more straightforward moments. They are much more metal than Tool, particularly in the bombast of attack when it comes to the guitars. The harmonies are much more calculated here, and leaning in the direction of past tour mates Alice in Chains, with the build in the last minute and a half reminding me of the Deftones. So touring is a big influence on these guys.

This is a very guitar oriented album, it seems like where all the attention to detail went was into their production and it shows as they sound great tone wise. The vocals are heavily layered, though the way the melodies fit around the riffs don't carry that same hooky sensibility of  previous albums from the era of cleaning singing. The exception to the rule is the very commercial "the Motherload" that would not sound out of place on a Coheed and Cambria album. It is however a pretty decent song , despite the blatant pop leanings.

The slick production elements are balanced out by some pretty meaty metal riffs on songs like " High Road". The melody on the chorus is rather Thin Lizzy of them, but works for this song. The title track retains the bands sounds but is much more of a rock n roll sort of vibe, even in such a way that it could fit on modern rock radio. They delve back into a more thrash like attack to the verse riff of "Chimes At Midnight". This song is decorated with a dizzying prog syncopation to the guitars dancing around the song.

There is a little more of a classic 70's metal feel to the groove of "Asleep in the Deep". This is not unlike some of the more moodier moments on "Crack the Skye". They stick to a similar groove so the prog doesn't really progress a whole lot on this one, though the one groove is pretty cool. "Feast Your Eyes" is a pretty straight forward rocker, speeds ahead like a Hawkwind song, building steam as it charges off into space.

Their songwriting clicks with me on "Aunt Lisa" as it has pretty much every element I like about the band. The twists and turns still retain the focus of the song. "Ember City" works in a similar fashion though despite some of the metal tension on the verses, it could almost be a burlier take on what Muse does.

"Halloween" feels the most like filler. At first I hoped this would be a cover of the King Diamond song of the same name from Fatal Portrait, but no such luck. The chorus works , but nothing else really catches me on this one. They close out the album with the longest song 'Diamond in the Witch House" , which is darker than the rest of the album. It doesn't cover any new ground, and is the obligatory Neurosis crossover. So it takes the band a little closer back to their roots. Overall I don't dislike this at all, some of the songs I don't hear sticking with me, so I will give this one an 8.5.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tombs: "Savage Gold"

The first thing that strikes me about this change in direction for the bands is the precision, especially in the drumming that conjures forth a more Ulcerate like vibe. They lurch out of the darkness, so while I am happy the band retained their darkness, I am still worried they might have abandoned the post- rock leanings of the last album. Hill's rasp is more conventionally black metal setting it against a dense blend of doom and technical death metal.

"Portals" is more straight forward than the cavernous sound you might remember Tombs bringing in the past, in fact their is almost hints of thrash in it. It's metal not doubt, and retains the stain of the blasting.The arrangements have some winding moments of dynamics this one stay in a similar blackened sphere of heavy with varied levels of hooks coating the riffs. "Seance" is arguably more black metal than the previous track. The elements of shadowy melody  haunt this one is a manner that is more familiar with the sound you know these guys for. The groove creepier and the raspy vocals carry more purpose. The guitar tone thickens with the punches as the song drifts forward.

Fours songs in and my fear about the purging of post-punk from the bands sound is rectified."Echoes" the guitar gets gothy and his vocal tone takes on a more death rock like quality. It does eventually launch into a hardcore tinged black metal. This is also where I begin to notice some of his gruff vocals begin to sound like Neurosis."Deathripper" also indulges their darker side. The bass line takes a chilling chug and the guitar cuts like Robert Smith on "Pornography". The first hints of more Neurosis trickle in as the song builds, though Neurosis has similar Killing Joke and Swans influence.

The pace picks back up on "Edges of Darkness"/ This touches on the more hypnotic elements of black metal groove that Watain dabbles in.The meat of the song is a mean creature. It's equal parts dark and driving, which is a perfect combo in my book. Some of the riffs might be catchier than black metal is supposed to be if you are questioning purists. To me it's the dissonance that makes it black metal. At times the density and the tempo flirts with sludge but I recall this being present with the last album.

"Ashes" takes of on a rapid blasty course.The vocals return to the Neurosis like gruffness, almost painfully narrating. This articulation makes the lyrics stand out and the song touches on more sonic passages, which create even more of a Neurosis element though the speed of their attack counters this comparison.Sure it gradually gets even more Neurosis, but it also becomes hard to argue with the chug they take on.

They flip back and forth from the speed driven pound to a more ominous bellow on  "Legacy" that maintains the momentum of its forward charge while loses some of the more nuanced moments that come with such a sacrifice for rawness. The transitions from song to song are a little off. Sure it's fine how "Severed Lives" drops the bottom out to dip into a moodier moment with Hill singing rather than bellowing. The whispered moments are more Neurosis here.

The album ends with the pound of "Spiral". It comes as a blur that attacks with jack hammer like intensity. The blasting fury countering again the more Neurosis roar. The production is tight , not letting anything echo out like the last album and the drums benefit the most from this and show their chops as thanks.

I will give this one a 9 it's a fine chunk of metal, but I wanted them to dig even darker into their black hearts, some of the more Neurosis like moments left me puzzled with how to take them so this album might grow on me  in either direction.

Up From the Underground: AUG- "Be Careful What You Wish For"

I have often wondered  why every bands draws influence from Black Sabbath, but no one ever tries to emulate solo Ozzy, well the opening riff to "Be Careful What You Wish For " helps rectify this. It carries a similar cadence to the riff to "Bark At the Moon", though the chorus shifts into a more "Ozzmosis" era Ozzy.

"Little Green Fairy" is more of a straight up Bullet Boys take on rock n roll. This could be their attempt to touch upon a Guns n Roses direction, and while the bass line that takes over mid song has some balls to it , the sleaze factor of Axl and the boys isn't there. The Sabbath train is jumped on in the "Fairies Wear Boots" like chug of "Devils Rejects." There is no denying that these guys are great musicians with the bass player and drummer taking the lead in this regard. The guitarist is no slouch , but this sort of thing demands a guitar hero in the vein of Randy Rhodes or Zakk Wylde.

This style of hair metal was the lynch pin of 80's rock, the production is slicker than the reverb heavy boom that Ratt albums had and allows for a denser guitar sound and heavy compression giving a fuller sound. Speaking of Ratt the intro riff to "Light of Day" reminds me of Ratt despite the drummer attempting his best Iron Maiden gallop.The harmonies of the chorus are a change of pace from their earlier sound, which I can appreciate, as they have like Steel Panther taken a wide variety of sounds from this era and blended them together, so this is more like Night Ranger or Extreme. The keyboards are really the only Ozzy element on this one.

They latch onto more of a Maiden like attack in the riff to "Coming Home", the vocals don't soar up like Bruce Dickinson,remaining in the more Ozzy like mid range, double tracked and coated in chorus to further capture the sound. The singer does reach higher on "Forever Goodbye" which has more of a Scorpions stomp to it.  The chug to "All I Can Be " carries a more Judas Priest like aggression. This song also features what I consider to be the albums best guitar solo, that propels

The inclusion of "Africa" by Toto seems a unlikely choice of covers by the band, but it manages to work. It's impressive that vocals drop down on the verses, the return to Ozzy on the chorus fits more solidly in his range and makes the song click together for me. I have never listened to much Toto , so was only vaguely familiar with the song to begin with. The extended version of  the albums opener that bookends ends its it with a "Frankenstein" like jam that pops up in the middle of the song.

Compared to what is defined as metal to day this would not  be metal, but hard rock. If you are like me an grew up on this kinda thing , then it will take you back in the best way possible before metal became jaded by grunge and was just about having fun., this makes the often juvenile lyrics more tolerable given the context of the time they invoke. This is recommended for fans of the more arena friendly era of classic metal, as most bands who try to do this get stuck on the  New Wave of British Heavy Metal and never show what was going on in otherside of the pomd as hair got bigger on the Sunset Strip.   .     

The Lost Poets : "Insubordia""

This rock band from Sweden  released a new taste of darkness in "Insubordia" . Ths ep opens with "Ode to K" a melancholy yet driven tale of  selling of the soul to the devil .It swells in a way that recalls bands like Ours. It has grunge edges, if we are thinking Screaming Trees and a Dax Riggs like brooding to the baritone vocals. The Kyuss by way of more recent Queens of the Stoneages vibe strikes on "Lying Down", this song uses the well worn loud to soft dynamic that Nirvana helped spawn in the 90's and the guitars carries the recklessness of "Bleach " era Cobain, as much as it does a stoned sludge swagger.

Three songs in and a blues kissed ballad merges, it swirls together the Josh Homme delicacy of the vocal delivery with the more romantic edge of Ours, yet without the trapping of Jeff Buckley in the vocals. Some of the lamentations carried in the vocals phrasing reminds me slightly of Chris Cornell, but with out as much flexing of the vocal chords. The song reaches a crescendo, and the vocals howl into a filter of distortion.

This is well produced every things sit where it should in the mix. Some of the vocal effects are used to better results than others at times. The guitar tone which sometimes raises a clamor on a song like "Die to Live" never gains the thickness that would justify calling this metal, as these guys seem to draw more inspiration from blues influenced grunge that flirts with the Sabbath like contrast of powerful riffing.

The title track that warns to be careful what you wish for and think of holds a taunt tense vibe that hovers over the rhythm section like a storm cloud blowing into town, as the threat of the down pour is worse than what happens. The explosive moments of heaviness are sparse and serve the songs well for what these guys are trying to create. The songs are all rather brief. They stick to  establishing the mood from the get go and build from their. All  successfully convey the intended emotions which sticky in a close proximity of gloom, making this darker than most of the grunge that came out of the 90's and not carrying the same drugged lethargy that Homme and company go about this sort of thing with.

Don't let the Ghost by way of the Residents image turn you off to their sound that is devoid of gimmicks and some of the best New Orleans rock to not come from the French Quarter, but instead lurch out from the cold of Sweden.Less pretense than Ghost and more honest in their flattery.  

Ode to K - The Lost Poets from The Lost Poets on Vimeo.

Report to the Dance Floor: Andrea Remondini's "Non Sequitur"

I have use to be into trip-hop . Regular readers know the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance are two of my favorite artists, so I appreciate ambiance. This album is not a melancholy as either of those, those it does have a similar fey skip in its step as some of Cocteau's more playful moments. Andrea is not creating pop music, but a soundscape that has symphonic aspirations.

The piano is the dominant instrument in this work. Synths of various flavors and shades help  paint this picture, but this is a piano album, which is fine with me as I'm a keyboardist myself so it's easy for me to appreciate thia.  This is dance music in the way most people think of it , but I think fans of electronica will find a lot to latch onto here. There is an under current of groove that most modern classical music is devoid of. With that being said I think this falls under modern classical as it shares the most common ground with the works of John Adams. Remondini doesn't get mired down in dissonance, though  embracing a few exotic scales giving this work at times a world music feel.

I generally am not a fan of instrumental music. Even John Adams , who is my second favorite classical composer after Phillip Glass, employs vocals, so the fact she does not create the strange hypnotic vibe of Glass , but stays fairly grandiose , begging to become a soundtrack for something along the lines of the Neverending Story or Avatar. It acknowledges the baroque beginnings of classical music, but is very modern.

Prog fans will find the virtuoso nature of her piano lines enticing and the winding movements the kind of challenging listen they long to play D&D to. The most rock moment comes around the 15 minute mark as the tempo takes a more driven focus. The melodies spin around each other like something from a Dream Theater song.

At the 16 minute mark  only bells chiming hold this together as the song breaks down into a more subdued passage. This swells into a very Tangerine Dream like vibe, which not many classical composers can lay claim to, so Andrea obviously has a grasp of many forms of music. Often Yes reminds me of the kind of music elves would listen to in their ethereal forest homes and at the twenty minute mark a similar feeling is invoked. So fans of folk metal who appreciate  the more Game of Thrones moments this work tips toes into.
This is a very unique album and is recommend for anyone who enjoys music of a majestic scope that moves you, if not to dance then to think.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Heylel's "Nebulae"

Portugal's Heylel, have crafted an album with more depth than some of the bands they have taken cues from. This is apparent right from  opening notes that drift into your ears with an almost Pink Floyd like ambiance the  super clear tone that David Gilmore used on the bands' latter material, think "Division Bell" more than the Wall"

The second song  leans into a much more Nightwish like arena of prog metal , though I tend to think of this sort of thing as symphonic power metal. There is no shortage of melodramatics and theatrics. The vocals come across crystal clear, the synth sounds are sometimes thinner than I would like, but I get the idea.Sure the Gathering is a reference point, in the way there is some distance given to the chug and the empty spaces help create the melancholy.

The riffage sticks much closer to arena radio metal than the heavier sound Nightwish uses, Lacuna Coil comes to mind in this regard. I think they are darker and have a more sonic and gothic sound than Lacuna Coil. "Alter Ego" finds more soul being infused in the vocals , some of the intervals that creep in bring back the memories of the Pink Floydisms in the intro, though this time it is more "Wall" . It is in these moments where the band steps out from behind their influences and claims their own identity.

The more blatant ballads like " The Sage" I don't feel add as much to the album as a whole since they have already established themselves with this dynamic. The guitar does shine here, but the whole neo- classical thing doesn't really add anything to the scope of there sound since they have already flirted with it so heavily.

Sparse whispered male vocals haunt the periphery of the songs. They work best on "Deeper", which finds the female lead once again wowing you with the more emotive approach to her melodies. The lyrics however don't hold as much weight as her voice , but the harmonies that come in distract you from that fact. The build towards the end of this song seems like it has been a long time coming, as you find your self in need of more rock moments. This even makes me reluctant to call this a metal band.

The "Scarborough Fair" tinged "Wings of Eternity"  showcases her voice, but feels like it needs more of the band behind it. They do finally join in, this occurs in  manner that is not expected as they sway behind the solo rather than crunching into it. This finds the vocalist taking on more of a pop cadence until the chorus finally surfaces, and here their is almost a folk element.

These guys lack little in ability, some of the production choices might have made this a thicker more metal album if  done differently. Not sure how some of this transitions over live as the bulk is power-balladish. The most prog moment on the album would be the cover of King Crimson's "I Talk To the Wind". This version is more lunge crooned and floats over the back drop of shimmering post-rock like guitar. So the artistic choices they made here are impressive because they don't play it safe with this one. Anyone capable of covering King Crimson, has to get some props for doing so in the first place.

The darker groove to "the Great Abstinence" works well. The songs crawls in-between jazz and metal. The syncopation on the verse the singer uses really feels original and fresh.The band works best the more they think out of the box and leave the safe confines of their influences behind. "Sometimes" finds the singer somewhere in-between and Ani Difranco folk and blues.I guess more recent Pain of Salvation could also be a reference point for the direction these guys are heading in, as it seems they started off as a metal band and are wandering into different territory.

With a title like "Embrace the Darkness" you expect the metal to come out in full force. It does capture a dark ambiance, almost like Dead Can Dance.However this song serves is more intro than metal. More doomy chords ring into the climax , but it never explodes like you suspect it will.

I think finding a balance between the metal and more progressive elements they are embracing is going to be where the ext album takes these guys , but for what this is it was still an entertaining listen.The metal moments might not have paid off as much as they hinted at, but with that out of the way I can now listen to this with a better set of expectations, hopefully this review cleared that up for you as well, though taking a listen for yourself  is going to be the only answer, but over all what they do works way more than it doesn't.

Larusso: " Life In Static"

This takes me back to the late 90's before Jimmyeatworld was a house hold name and pop punk had merged with the form of introspective punk Rites of Spring spawned that would be called emo. A word that now creates images of dyed hair teenagers that cut themselves, which looks more like goth, than where bands like Sunny Day Real estate came from. This band doesn't have as much in common with Sunny Day as they do bands like the Get-Up Kids and perhaps even the more refined pop hooks of Dashboard Confessional.

The lyrics are sung with conviction. I think this kind of pop music is a much more welcome memory than what currently resides on the radio. The vocals are sweeter than monotone , but there is the reluctance that characterized some of the more indie rock flavored flavored bands of this type, like Taking Back Back Sunday's less frantic moments or Sparta.

"the Voice might be the lead single from this album, but much like early Taking Back Sunday, every song tends to hit with a blend of punk punch and pop hooks. Bands like La dispute and the World is a Beautiful Place, also help propel the sort of emo revival that this band could benefit from, though they are more middle of the road and less experimental than either of those bands not venturing into the more screamo elements that were sometimes married with this sort of thing.

It only takes me until "Daniel WIth an L' to be convinced these guys are more effective than original with what they do. I like the very sonic chords they use. The vocals work around them  in a keenly honed ear for detail when it comes to the composition of these songs which is pretty air tight. Sure back in the days of Myspace, you could find a hundred bands that tread similar ground, but they have since all grown beards after they bought the second Brand New album and are off making post-rock now.

Often these guys are too optimistic for me both lyrically and the general feel of the melodies.But at one time I would have more eagerly latched onto this sort of thing, so I can appreciate what is going on here, I think I prefer the more bitter approach the Get Up Kids took. Sure more teeth could be used at times, but the songs ebb and flow well and they capture some pretty interesting guitar sounds in the more shimmering moments. So if you are currently not medicated for depression and you do not require such chemical enhancements then you might find this inspiring. You will find it an even better soundtrack if you live somewhere on the west coast, as the forecast is pretty sunny with a twenty percent chance of romance. Though the ambiguity in the metaphor of the lyrics keeps this from being just for teenage girls.

It's on "Places" where I realize the more straight up pop rock elements of what they do , were out hipstered by bands like Pinback and Minus the Bear, who introduced a more math rock element to this sort of thing, so it might sound a little straight forward if you are a fan of things that teeter more closely to the progressive elements of math rock as these guys root their sound more firmly in 4/4. I think where their chops are most polished is in the songwriting department.

The sugary strum of acoustic guitars on " Set Phasers to Stun" shuts the door  on any expectations for hardcore roots that once linger beneath this sort of thing . So no break down or gang vocals , some oohhs and ahhs, but this is about having fun more than making a rebellious statement. Its highly doubtful that any of these guys own any Converge. At their most rocking moment on "Collision Course" they are only as punchy as Jimmy Eat World or Saves the Day..

The balladry on " Take Me Away" costs these guys a little bit of their momentum and takes them closer to Postal Service's musical zip code, but it is well written and the addition of the female vocals doesn't come across as too melodramatic, though I can hear these guys providing the back ground music to CW shows to come Even the attempts to rock with conviction on "Dear Pandora" only further the hypothesis that I am too old and jaded for this sort of thing, but I suppose that is what comes with music journalism. . This does not take away from what these guys do, as they do it better than many of the Myspace bands that had a million of friends back in the early 2000s.

I was positive they were saving the breakdowns for the albums closer and give a big stag diving finish on "Chemical", but instead they go more the Dashboard route, but with some cool and well thought out harmonies coating everything. This lets me walk away knowing that if I am ever in a great mood and want something that is super catchy then I know where to look. However if you are under 30 and didn't catch the this sort of thing on the first go around then it's worth your time. If you did catch the first wave of this kind of Myspace rock and miss those days then it is also worth your times as these guys are pretty legit when it comes to capturing that vibe and giving their own well written spin to it.