Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Encoffination:'Hear me, O'Death"

The full title is 3..Hear me, O'Death(Sing Thou Wretched Choirs). That's a little long for my taste, but their hearts are in the right places as this album is meant to exhalt death. Death worship is a worthy cause in my book so here we go. This American project crawled out of Father Befouled. With heavy Halloween window dressing, they launch into some pretty deathly doom. The vocals are so low they sound like dying breath of an Elder God echoing up from the bottom of the sea. The guitar lays a faster layer of tremolo picked guitar over the slower dirge pounding. This is very effective to create a dissonantly eerie mood. In many ways this band reminds me of Loss.

 There's a chord change and the next thing we know the album has moved onto 'Cemetaries of Purgation". it gets denser and darker like you have been buried alive by these thick riffs and the drums are shoveling the dirt down onto the coffin. As impressive as it is to create this feeling of claustrophobia, something can be said for songwriting and dynamics. This song really only digs deeper into the dynamics already established."Crowned Icons" play with similar frequency , but employs more atmosphere. The heavy chords thud out into the ether. The drums play around the sluggish low end of the guitar  that sounds to have swallowed their bass player whole.

"Rotting Immemorial" crumbles out of the preceding song. The vocals keep to the same patterns through out the album. The faster almost black metal guitar trembling over the hesitant beat, until it all comes once again to a crawl.There is something to be said about this albums drone, even if none of the parts to these songs are particularly memorable, aside from one section in "Rotting..." that sounds like Mary had a little lamb.

It begins to sound like down tempo black metal once we get to "From His Holy Cup Drink, Come Death." The vocals rise out of the submersed gurgle that they have plagued this album with. Cold melodies seeps from the corners of the feedback. Drums lead of 'Pale Voices' rather than the crunch of guitar that has dominated the album. 'Mould of Abandonment" finds the album fading out with more ambiance. The chords find grim beauty, but it is almost to little too late to really have made this one memorable. The funeral march of song does gather some steam in it's death throes, the drums vary and guitars space themselves out allowing a more comprehensible picture of what is going one.What this lacks is the very element that causes funeral doom to excel, that's the mournful guitar melodies. Instead we get a dense pounding, which is fine in some cases, but in others it causes things to drag. So due to this I'll give the album a 6. I like where these guys want to go with it, but with out proper shading in the realm of dynamics the songs sound like one slush heap of a riff. Still if you like straight forward and really slow doom it's not a bad listen. S

1349 : "Massive Cauldron of Chaos"

When you have been around since 1997, you are entitled to go through some changes. This album might please some fans who did not like some of their more experimental moments on albums past, but they have still not returns to the traditional first wave of Norwegian Black metal. What grim old timers might frown upon is how this albums sounds good and is loaded up to the gauntlets with catchy riffs.

'Cauldron" opens the album as in your face as you can get. The drums hammer at you head like a migraine. This becomes another case of the opener bowls you over with it's intensity, until it is hard to imagine the band being able to keep it this hard hitting for the duration, without devolving into noise. The album holds a similar hateful streak as the last Hod album I reviewed on here not too long ago, so if you liked that one then skip the rest of this review and give this a listen.

The riff to "Slaves" is so slick it's almost rock n roll at time and very much holds a thrash bent in the tight palm muted attack. The chorus of "the slaves shall serve" is delivered in varied degrees of snarl.The drums are not only giving a rapid beat down  but they are very precise and not at all sloppy with blast beats tripping over themselves from the momentum like some bands. There is a pretty straight forward stomp to "Exorcism". The double bass flows like lava underneath it until they blow up into blasty mcnastiness.

In places "Post- Mortem"  has more groove than I remember these guys having, not to the extreme of pussing out like Satyricon.  In fact  it surprising how often they hit a place that sounds like the cross over days of punk and metal, than anything resembling say Darkthrone. They play fast but don't default to blast beats. Harkening back to the 80's the guitars are tight with the thrashing. Slayer is one of this album's predominant influence. The monstrous drumming helps to further force this into your face and shove the songs down your throat. Normally this would be too straight forward for me but something about whats happening works here. They cling to similar pacing on "Mengele's" an ode to the man who earned the name Angel of Death. The vocals spew forth with a renewed scathing to them. They way the chorus hit's it reminds me more of Deicide.

The band launches full force into the speed demonics of "Golem". This makes me wonder if the WWII themed titles are intentional. The lyrics are audible within the throaty screams, but not to the point where the lyrics really leap out at you, unless he goes into more of a croak. It wasn't until the bass break down on "Chained" until I realized I was no longer listening to "Golem". "Chained" has more inventive guitar playing than the previous song, though they are not trying to break a whole lot of new ground. The octave chords that accent the verse riff are pretty fucking cool.

 They rival Immortal's most epic battle gallops on "Godslayer". They are not indulging into much fantasy with their occult imagery, but have a passion for being this pissed. Listening back to this one a few times I can hear the "Show No Mercy" era Slayer ghosts haunting this chapel of ghouls. The creepy spoken vocals are a nice touch and keep the fury well paced. They keep with the 80's thrash theme by covering a Possessed song. Of course they pull this one off and pretty much nail it to the cross.

I will give this one a 9 as it's pretty much what you see is what you get thrashed out black metal, which at times is a little too straight forward for me to imagine cranking this for the rest of the year, but I have gotten several good listens out of it already.

Esben & the Witch: " A New Nature"

Formed in 2008 this is the band's third full length. While it might not be as ethereal or experimental as their previous album, the songwriting has been fine tuned.  the more doom folk elements are set against post-rock in the same zip code as Russian Circles. The focal point of there sound is
Bassist Rachael Davis' vocals are a smooth cynical croon.

 This band gets compared to Chelsea Wolfe, because she does have a somewhat ghostly quality to her voice on their earlier efforts, this album finds her voice stripped and pushed naked out in center stage. They would be shades of gray if you are comparing the brand of darkness this British band invokes versus that of  Chelsea Wolfe. While she doesn't have the pipes of Wolfe, Davis is no slouch, her honest and passionate delivery picks up the slack when her melodies laze about some of the throbbing riffs.

After the ten minute epic opening, when they drop down into the hushed "Dig Your Fingers In" the results seem at first a little underwhelming as it takes the bulk of the song for it to build. Though once you go back an give the album further listens this is not as jarring. The song is carried by her voice and rather minimal instrumentation just providing enough of a pulse to keep the song alive until the final minute and a half when it kicks in.

The burly bass of "No Dog" really serves as a sonic bulldozer to push the song along. Dynamics are one of the bands strong points, they drop the barreling bass down into a faint creepy plea. By the end of the song this band is beginning to remind me of Forget Cassettes, though more droning . The fourteen minute "the Jungle" begins with her fragile vocal . The lyrics seem to be somewhat inspired by the movie Antichrist as the line "Chaos Reigns" appears and it seems to be centered around the dark side of nature. The first half of the song stays on a hypnotic course, before the trumpet comes in.

The doomy vibe rears it's head on "Those Dreadful Hammers". The trumpet wails out in the distance from behind the feedback like a post-apocalyptic take on Miles Davis.The album creeps back down from this on "Wooden Star". The brooding on this album is on a much different frequency than would be found on a metal album or in a manner that might be though of as goth. The jazz swagger of "Blood Teachings" find the band continuing their surreal sprawl into the drugged glow of the early morning hours. It lingers rather than plods, which keeps this band from being actual doom, along with the hesitance to really stomp into the distortion, however it makes when they do that much more effective.

The two minute "Bathed in Light" sounds more like an outro than a fully formed song, as it hangs on a similar melody. So for the point of scoring this album I am not counting that one. The album is lush and ambitious it deserves to be rounded up to a 9.5. Worth your time if you like dynamic and moody indie rock with a morose slant.

A New Nature by Esben and the Witch

The New Flesh : "The Absurd"

I you can't wait for the new Bellicose Minds , well there's good news the new album by New Flesh is here to tide you over and they can't wait for it either so they are taking another step towards sounds like Bellicose Minds themselves. On the punk side of the post-punk equation, they get the dark element right. The throw in some thoughtful vocal hook, but the monotone shout of their lead singer's baritone further cements them into sounding like Bellicose Clones on this one.

This style of post-punk comes really close to sounding like horror -punk, the Misfits elements are strong. These guys aren't bad song writers, it just I have a creeping feeling I've heard this before. I don't remember their previous album leaning so far in this direction.Not until the third song"Bound By Flesh" that I feel they are searching for their own sound. Even here we have the archetypal death rock bass tone leading the way.The guitar follows behind and I think if the vocals had more though and nuance behind them then they could really have sunk their fangs into something here.

The more thundering punk of "No Way Out" carries a mid night train of weight behind it's drive and compensates with sheer energy alone. The similarly paced"Blood and Sweat " doesn't come across as being as inspired.They bounce back with "This Crushing Fate". The guitars wander off into some interesting places. The vocals continue to hold the songs back. The does variations of the same thing though out the album. The one trick pony he rides takes to "This Crushing Fate" better than some of the other songs on this album.  does. The title track captures the album's best mood and goes into the darkest place yet for the band. From the effects on the bass to the distant scarping of the guitars you wonder why they were not doing this all along. The singer's vocals benefit from the distant catacomb like production they sit back into.

The bands best effort almost proves to be too little too late.It's even more of disappointment after they say good bye by letting you know they could have made other choices the whole time. I'll give this album a 7, if you like the more punk side of post-punk some of the problems I had with this album my not phase you.

Okkultokrati : "Night Jerks"

Part of Norway's Black Hole Crew a scene of metal tinged Hardcore, Okkultokrati is often labelled black metal just because they are from Norway and their earlier work might have played into this more , but the opener to their new album "Night Jerks" comes closer to being post-punk. The vocals are a cold croaked croon choking on it's on disdain.Some what lo-fi in the way they bathe these songs in re-verb, this albums also finds the band delving into some pretty bleak noise. Songs like "Zero Kulto" indulge in this excessively and become little more than interludes.

The title track reminds you their hardcore label has more to do with Black Flag and not so much to do with Converge.The post-punk elements are more along the lines of the Damned here. The vocals don't commit to fully being a growl nor are they really sung, almost like  early Cro-mags at times."Moon Daggers" comes the closest to having a black n Roll feel if you are think say "Cult is Alive". The snarl in the vocals carries a little of  Venom's poison to them here.

"Rose Crux' is a more balatant step towards post-punk. Straddling the fence between Killing Joke and a grim Swans drone.The vocals chant rose crux and the drums have a militant industrial snap to the snare."the Ladder" takes a cold hollow clang to it that is not far removed from industrial either. The more Henry Rollins like barked narrative sits on a odd blues lumber. The album ends with a 16 minute blanket of noise called "Cosmic Wynter". It's more like a long drawn out outro than a song. Really I would prefer to have had two more real songs from these guys rather than to have them, use noise as filler. I never count these types of things as songs when I rank albums because I normally delete them and this is proving to be no different. I will give this album a 9 as I really like the actual songs that are on here, I think they are wonderfully mean and dark combining many elements I seek out in my music. Hopefully these guys will get over there noise fixation and write a proper album based off the elements working so well here.

Iceage : "Plowing the Fields of Love"

The opener proves the rate of growth from this band has accelerated tremendously since their last album "You're Nothing". It's a much wider leap forward from  "You're Nothing" to "Plowing the Fields of Love" than it was from their first album to "You're Nothing". They still bang into their instruments with a drunken clamor, the sounds are warmer crisper and coming from a wider range of places.

Vocalist Elias Ronnenfelt comes much closer to actually becoming a singer, his voice carries a huskier tone with melodies drifting towards almost a darker Americana tone like Nick Cave. There is still his trademark slurred moan to the vocals , He sounds more adept at singing in English now. The approach to the vocals is similar to their approach on all other aspects of this album in the fact it's more maturely crafted.Still punk in the way New Model Army held on to their roots, the country element to the first single "Lord's Favorite" stands out almost jarringly if you were to listen to this album right after listening to "You're Nothing". My first listens had me thinking they sounded almost like an entirely different band, but after repeat listens I began to hear where their sound was still intact despite the sonic re-modelling.

The guitar is more intricately picked than what we have heard from the band before on "How Many". The addition of piano parts not only adds a more melodic element , but does so in a way that adds to the drunken chaos the band is know for. The darker element the band has held as a under current takes a bigger role on "Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled ". The guitar tone now includes cleaner strummed passages , more like Cult of Youth, so this discards the more jagged jangle of the first album. The inclusion of instruments like the trumpet here also draw more comparisons to Cult of Youth.

Ronnenfelt's voice shows it's range expanding on the lower end of his register on the ballad like "Stay".The post- punk element is set against this more organic turn, the stark tension is captured with the opening bass line to "Let it Vanish" before the band throws a rambling barrage of guitars at you. Even when the band builds up into faster section, they don't default into the brainless one, two, three beat of punk.There are still noisy elements but never do they not serve the song. They even take a more rock n roll approach to "Abundant Living", that finds a stomp that slightly echoes Led Zeppelin's "Bring it on Home". The title track that closes the album also has a more rock n roll feel along the lines of the Rolling Stones.

The more Nick Cave elements surface again in the brooding swell of "Forever". The strings that come into the songs middle section add a darkly romantic ambiance to the seething build that is held at bay."Cimmerian Shade" gets even darker in it's pounding march .Elias' raw voice takes on  more of a choked growl.This is contrasted against the tenderer sentiment of "Against the Moon", that feel more like an interlude than a fully developed song. "Simony" makes up for this carrying both snarl and a reflective nature to it's emotional depth.

This is one of the most creative albums to come this year and it's a must for fans of punk or post-punk or rawer experimental rock n roll. It's easy for me to give this one a ten. This is the album I could tell this band had in them even it meant totally abandoning the colder more Joy Division like direction they could have taken instead. It will be interesting to see how these songs are pulled off live.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Oxford Coma: "Morphine ep"

In the beginning  was noise, samples and feedback. On the sixth day they got to the  meat of the matter. Angular and husky guitar playing uncoils the frayed edges of riffs. They stab out at your ears  like the Amp Rep bands from the late 90's. The grooves tightly wound around the over wrought vocals. Singer Billy Tegerhoff flirts with wild man howling though not really harshly growled. Hailing from Phoenix the band's density of the flailing chaos is well calculated.  From the taunt bass thump of "Tradition" that recreates more of a latter era Kyuss feel. Plenty of post-grunge angst coats the melodies. "Tradition" also holds a slight Clutch like bounce offsets the more sludgey leanings.

The Killing Joke like chant to the verses of "Grindstone" drift the song in a more post- rock direction. There are echoes of the Catherine Wheel, in drone of the riffs  stoney haze. It finds its self more unwittingly post-punk, really the vocals are what gives it a more accessible mid ground almost drawing it back with the more Mike Patton like moments to the border of falling into a Primus meets System of  A Down sort of thing. The roughened up production saves the day here to hone it's edge.

Slightly to the right of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum when it comes to the cerebral leanings of their proggy spasms. The singer's choices of melodies border something Filter might have done early on.
"Black Balloons" starts of with an almost ballad like quality. The sound effects zooming around faintly behind the mix, keeps you from pulling out your lighters like this was  Stone Temple Pilots song. It straddle the line between being grunge and something more Sunny Day Real Estate here.

Tegerhoff has said they are not really a metal band, but a throw back to Nirvana's Bleach Days and Eyehategod's  Dopesick album, along with Steve Albini and Neurosis. It's good to know I am not crazy for hearing some sort of grunge thing going on. Vocally  Black Balloons  carries a Cobain quality . Otherwise the sound of this album is centered on the live feel . It's the noisey gift wrap this thing is tied up in as musically, they share little common ground with Neurosis aside from being more about heavy sonics than heavy metal. Eyehategod , one can assume the same thing as the New Orleans band was more jarring and almost punk in it's explosive sound, the punk element to these guys is minimal at best, due to the fact they wind things up in more of a Jesus Lizard or Tool like manner.

Overall these guys have a pretty raging machine going. The rawness keeps it in check from becoming too Arena rock grunge ala' Filter and they stay the course. Hope to hear more from these guys in the future . If you miss the big throbbing over drive of underground 90's metal then you would be a fool not to check these guys out, you'll be surfing the crowd in your Doc Martens all over again.  

Baptists : "Bloodmines"

This Vancouver band  tries to cover some of  the same ground Converge does, they are dark, angry and angular at times.This fact is further pushed into the spot light by the fact that Kurt Ballou. Their debut album "Bushcraft" was met with tremendous buzz and it really depends on how much you ask of you hard core as to if you consider this to be a sophomore slump.

When they are more straight forward like they are on "String Up" they capture the things I tend to fast forward past on a Converge album.These songs are so short they seamlessly pass from one to another.The thick meaty bass line opening "Vistas" really helps set it apart. The song takes on a stompier doom vibe, with some impressive guitar melodies lingering about. The rabid bark of  "Harm Induction" digresses into the more punk roots."Festered" follows a similar path, but both songs have a cool riff here or there, but the rule around here is that cool riffs alone don't make for a good song.

On the title track they slow down to catch a groove and slip up and write a good song. The guitar has tension. The vocals come close to singing and not just barking with abandon. "Calling" has more of a Amp Rep like feed backed bluster to it. There is also a Black Flag like element to the vocal assault.The album closes with the band back at the altar of Converge. The lower growl helps vary things a little,  but drumming is a little to simplistic.

Converge has already spoiled me on this kind of thing, so the bar is raised pretty hard. The title track tells me these guys are capable of greatness if they can calm down and focus on it. It does have it moments and I will give them a 6 for those. Not something I would listen to on a regular basis , since if  I was in the mood for this I would pull out "When Forever Comes Crashing", but you might be too young to know better if that's the case go ahead and around this up to a 7.

Vajra : Blind/Inside the Flame

What is goth? This has been argued over forums for years. I have sat across from signed touring goth bands who argued among themselves this question.Anything from Type o Negative to Cocteau Twins to Death in June have earned the title, neither sound anything a like. Vajra fall more on the rock side of the equation. Less down cast and doomy than Type o more on the metal side, but not in the overtly romantic metal mode of Nightwish. Vast's harder moments or even Switchblade Symphony's come to mind along with a health or unhealthy dose of 90's metal depending on what your view of that decade is like.

Sometimes I contemplate if Tool released another album after this seven year wait will anyone care. This band also wonders this as they enlisted Tool producer Sylvia Massey to mix this. It reminds me more of Concrete Blonde if they enlisted Tool's producer, and were trying to recreate the feel of Los Angeles rather than New Orleans. I can also hear some SwitchBlade Symphony in this. The tribal elements could stand to go further in the Dead Can Dance than the Parabola direction, so while it's cool Tool's producer is getting work I think this might have benefited from a more organic sound in places , as it sounds like you would expect something along these lines to sound like if Massey had mixed it.

There is potential here as their chops are undeniable, I think putting her on a steady diet of bands like Soap&Skin and Esben & the Witch, would sway their favor into heading into a darker direction. Former Mars Volta drummer Blake Flemming plays on this and the pedigree of the musicianship is at least able to hang with him on this.Not that this heavy prog feel, isn't an enjoyable listen, it just makes me feel like I am partying in 1999. Their song writing and goth tendencies, keep me engaged, I liked "Inside the Flame" better than Blind, as it doesn't have as big of a rock sound. Something more re verb drenched hollow and colder would benefit not only her voice. She has power and range, over all her voice is impressive and unique. I look forward to hearing what this gal does in the future as she matures and hopefully abandones some of the rock star production for a darker tone,

Panopticon : Roads to the North

Pushing past what you thought blackened folk metal was a step further than Ifing recently did. The first song opens with a brutal blend that is thrashed against the rocks. This is the 5th full length Austin Lunn has released and it's also the most baffling that it is the work of one man rather than a band. Sure with the technology to overdub infinitely is not inconceivable, yet impressive none the less. More impressive when you take into consideration all the varied instruments played on the more organic passages.

When Lunn is indulging in metal it blends Thrashy black metal with post- rock and  a few almost hardcore break downs . At 12 minutes"Where the Mountains Pierce the Sky" holds plenty of room to explore, yet the song never wanders to far from it's original intention. With a song of this magnitude it requires a few listens. I have been sitting on this album for some time digesting it in rather piece meal portions.

The "Long Road" is split into three songs. The first of these is rambling bluegrass, sure it descended from the Appalachians but it's bluegrass just like the kind Jerry Garcia used to play, so put that in your bong and smoke it.The second song is sweeping metal. Not really super blasty all the way through instead kicking the blast beats beats in for quick spastic accents. He lets it breathe with the more post rock interludes. The third seeps out of the post-rock element Lunn established in the previous song, so these are more connected than the first song was to the second.This one is more shoegazey and dream like, very much like somewhere Alcest or Deafheaven would considering how it builds into a more black metal section.It rallies into a pretty powerful chug. The vocals lower into more of an effects coated death metal roar.

The ballad "Norwegian Nights" is well executed and sung rather well in a passionately hushed Baritone almost like Brand New. It is not something that I would feel the need to listen to on a regular basis, but it was pulled off  to the degree Lunn wanted, so it succeeds on that level.The pummeling black metal of "In Silence" speeds by in a snarling blur.It smooths out into Moonsorrow like a epic soaring. Clean vocals around faintly layered around the rasp and slowly move to the forefront. The song slows almost back into the post-rock thing , but much more of a say Agalloch pace, then blasts back off.

The album closes with "Chase the Grain"Epic metal cruncher set against an orchestral synth backdrop. The guitars carry the melody like progressive death metal as the vocals rant and roar further back in the mix. Midway through the symphonic elements become even more heavy handed like something Dimmu Borgir might do. The song builds into a very At The Gates like section. Pretty engaging listen I'll give it a 9.5, as a song like the ballad I probably won't be listening to much, nor the first song in the Long Road trilogy, but the album nails it pretty hard when it's on and is an outstanding piece of work.


Report to the Dance Floor- Aphex Twin: "Syro"

For some  this has been along wait. I'll admit I was never their biggest fan by a long shot. I  appreciated what James does . I stumbled upon his music n the 90's, when  I was on enough drugs to kill a polar bear, so my familiarity has blank spots. I have always thought of this project as the Butthole Surfers of electronica. So it was a surprise to hear the opening song sound like something from Ogre's solo albums if it was remixed by Daft Punk. It way more chilled out than the Windowlicker/Drukgs era, I consider to be the peak of his work. The manipulated vocals are not new  but they are less harsh than "Come to Daddy".

 The smooth ride continues on "Xamasevet10".  This beat is a little more quirky, almost like Herbie Hancock trapped in Zelda. I begin to start missing drugs half way through the second song. This is a much different use of robots than dub-step. This is a smacked out R2d2. The 808- ish plastic thump continues down it's wobbly path. Trippy synths abound. This would make a great sound track for another Neuromancer if the movie ever sees the big screen. Euro trash samples jive in the background with a glaze of deep space house over them.

By "Produk 29" you resolve your self to the fact this is not going to be a return to the harsher grit of their but is coming back full circle to his more Brain Eno influenced days.Not to day he doesn't catch a good groove here and there, but age is being to show and he is wanting to relax. What plays into James favor is that by being so far ahead of his time, his music now fits nicely into mainstream edm, This might come across as less progressive to me since I have spent the bulk of my adult years listening to Frank Zappa, so the jeking time changes that flip on a dime stroke me as more jazzy.

The pace picks up slightly on "180db" and thing Jame's weird streak comes back on "Cirlont6a". It's an up beat stuttering video game like groove interspersed with samples.There is also something darker about this song. A lingering morose feeling from one of the synth melodies .

So if you are an addict this album might be triggering for you so remember not to listen to it if you are Hungry angry lonely or tired. There is an interesting blend of sounds used to off set the next Cirlon movement called the Shrymoming mix. The female vocal chant that is sample has a haunting effect on the song. The title track has a glaze of funk mixed with the same sci-fi barrage of blips and bleeps.It ebbs and flows dynamically, the same female voice is also sampled in this song.

"Papat4" is upbeat yet ambient. The deeper I get into this album the more I find it to be easy listening. It is pleasant to have in the background, but even less engaging than say Underworld, whose music is more vocal based and resonates with me more.There is a slightly grittier and darker sound to the Earth Portal mix. The beats are more breaks. The closer is a disappointment of a piano piece that really goes no where slowly. Like I said it's good easy listening I'll give it a 7.5 , but it's not something I need on the ole iPod.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Report to the Dance Floor : Alice Sungurov 's "So Blind(C)

If you are old enough to remember a time when dance music didn't have to sound like robots vomiting during sex or you frequent 80's night at you recall when in days post-disco and pre-Rave Til Dawn, when dance floors bumped with actual bands playing real instruments. New York's Alice Sungurov harkens back to a more organic time. If you are a slave to D.j.'s then you might not get it and truth be told it's much happier than my normally listening, but there is something very curiously unique about what this youngster is doing.

 There is a ska influenced air of new wave, not unlike what would have been pumping out of CBGB'S in the mid-80's. Gwen Stefani is what you might be thinking from that description, but there are elements of 50's girl group pop...think Grease, mixed with angular synths that would sound at home on a Blondie album. Her punchy alto falls slightly short of the Runaways in attitude. The twist given the effects at certain point of time are really the only that even keeps it in the same ball park as Katy Perry. Fun pop punk, would imply a likeness to Avril Lavigne, but Alice's vibe is more than dawn of Mtv than it's late 90's death throes.

The puzzling thing is how did a girl her age stumble into this sound? More than likely Lil' Ms. Sungurov is too young to have heard the Vapor's song "Turning Japanese", so the similarities are part of the collective consciousness. Sungurov recently took a trek around India to study yoga, so transcendental meditation is not far behind. If you have ever read David Lynch's book "Catching the Big Fish" the surreal film maker denies being an avid drug user like his films suggest and actually derived his weird creative streak via transcendental meditation. So Alice could have tapped into something deeper here or it could just be a fun song.

 This song could easily be mixed in on an 80's night, so if you are going to dismiss this as pop at least it gets filed under 80's pop like Madness and Cyndi Lauper, who also had a 50's girl group vibe going on with the song "She-bop". Madness and Cyndi Lauper bring us around full circle to No Doubt, and this is despite her appearance not as bubble gum as "Tragic Kingdom", but not quiet rock.

If this collage of comparisons has you confused then click on the song below and it will all make more sense. Truth be told it took me a few listens to really get what is going on here, so don't dismiss her as another kid with too many You-Tube views, she has a knack for songwriting and hopefully stays on this path to 1982.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New Model Army : "Between Wine and Blood"

I have always has a funny relationship with punk rock aside from maybe six or seven bands, the majority of the punk I listen to is from bands like TSOL, the Damned, or New Model Army that learned to play their instruments and became "goth" or "Death-rock". The label post-punk gets tossed around these days like the morning paper, but in most cases this means, influenced by Joy Division,where and no offense Warsaw, but the Englishmen of New Model Army really defined the term. They started off as a punk band and each album that followed was a darker step forward into increasingly lush musical ground. "Between Wine and Blood" is a double album or rather an EP with a live album attached. I can name the number of live albums I like on one hand, so we are just going to focus on the new stuff since this is 2014, and the songs you wrote yesterday only account for you legacy and not your destiny. The rock swing of has the rugged Social Distortion shuffle . There is more of a rock swagger than the brooding post- punk pound. The chorus almost like something Thin Lizzy or mid-period Alice Cooper would have done.  Justin Sullivan's baritone sounds increasingly leathery on this one , but is more of a smoothed out croon by the following song.

There is an almost metal chug to "Angry Planet".  It rocks, but the most noticeable change to me and granted this is the first time I have given their more recent more chance, is that bassist Dean White who is also credited as one of the album's producers falls dramatically short of the chops Nelson their bassist of 22 years possessed. This gives the songs a much more straight forward feel, yet songs like "Angry Planet derive their power from other sources.

There is a thunderous charge to "Guessing" that finds the band plowing away like much younger punks. Sullivan's voice showing little change from the bands glory days. His vocals are also strong, though showing a much different side when they take on a very Nick Cave like quality on the lonely high way ballad "Happy to be Here". The lyrics alone make the song work, voice warms the darkness around them. His voice shows a little of the age it's  weathered on "Devil's Bargain", though he shakes this on a few crooned notes he sustains. The drumming and feel of the song reminds me of the dark ages of the band that I hold the closest.

It's on "Sunrise" that finds the band back at their more progressive side. The bass line grows adventurous, recalling Nelson's style of playing. The backing vocals are the only odd element as they sound like they would be more at home on one of Sting's solo albums. But this is me holding the band up to a precedent set in the 80's. They have been through as many line-up changes as Spinal Tap at this point. Sullivan gets credit for upholding his vision for the band blending elements of moody punk with the band's ever progressing desire to out do it's self musically. I'll give this a 9.5 and get used to the background vocals.

Sept 27th

Total Control : "Typical System"

This band from Australia has been around since 2008.This is their second album. Leading you to believe changes have been brewing in the past six years. The album starts of with some very new wavey keyboards, very Gary Numan. It's hard to believe that at one time they were a punk band upon hearing "Glass". Saying it's like indie rock dark wave would imply that they sound something like the Faint. Which they do not unless by the fact they have synths.

 The punk band returns with in the span of a song. "Expensive Dog" is very straight up garage punk. It jangles ahead, until the song slows into more of a lurch as the keys return.If not for this jarring bridge the song would have come across as to simplistic, this also serves as a warning that you should not expect anything from these guys. "Flesh War" hits the kind of taunt Echo and the Bunnymen like post- punk I went into this expecting. Then they jangle back into the more Television like angular garage rock, which sounds like a step backwards, by going so lo-fi after the previous song. This song might be a clearer indication of what they sound like live. So when the Casio driven lounge lizard new wave of "Liberal Party" follows you give up trying to figure out who this band really is as it is like the parable of blind men and the elephant. Some of these hats fit better than others, they all sound authentic to the styles of music they are either mocking or paying homage to.

 "Black Spring" strikes me as the middle ground between the garage punk and new wave elements the band has toyed with up to this point. There is a slight Sonic Youth vibe to this one as well. The production is a good balance of rawness and pleasure to the ear so all instruments come across clearly.The odd instrumental "the Ferry man" dips into some minimalist cold wave. It's at this point in the album where some of the Joy Division creeps in, mainly evident in the bass playing. They stay the course with a very early German new wave feel on "Hunter". This sound works much better than the previous song as that sort of thing has to have vocals to be engaging.

 There is a more down trodden Ice Age sort of vibe on "Safety Net" if the Danish band explored more 80's synth pop. The song kinda soars away in an almost cheese filled Syd Barrett psychedelic explosion. Stylistically this is like the post-punk version of the Residents. I think it works more often than it doesn't so I am going to give this album an 8. If you are into garage punk then round it up a bit, either way give it a listen, especially if you are into bands like Nouns or Liars.  

Instinct of Survival : "Call of the Blue Distance"

This German band's sound is so impressive it kicks you past points of contention such as song writing. The opener ends rather abruptly . They seem to want the death-rock and the melody to the riff in "Salvation" comes the closest to being death-rock. Not unlike Cemetery, they do not relent on the more bombastic elements of punk, yet these guys are not as creepy as Cemetery. The crusty punk vocals punch their way out from the metallic riffs. Sure Killing Joke is one influence that stands out and the band comes from that forgotten purgatory where punk and goth met. They carry much more Exploited than Bauhaus. A darker version of Hotwater Music is how it hits me at other times, with dashes of Motorhead and Hawkwind are scattered about like ashes along the way. On "Walls" is obvious the guitars carry some great dissonance to them and these guys have a knack for coming up with good heavy riffs.

"To Forget" is almost like old Voi Vod, but without the prog leanings. Imagine an angrier take on "Nothing Face". The songs are very straight forward despite some of the sonic innovation found in the way the chords are sprawled out with the eerie tone of the guitar that like Atriarch can flip from overt metal to something closer to death rock with a click of the drum sticks."Violence Silence"carries some moodiness in with it's full frontal assault. At it's heart it still hits me like punk rock. "Lapsed in Absurdity" tests the bounds of how much punk I can endure. The vocals begin to sound like the late Oderus from Gwar.

They find a better balance on "Drown in Sorrow". I can hear how this sort of thing relates to old "Pain of Mind" Neurosis. Some of the sing song chants of course carry a more drunken punk cadence. To my joy they step into the more shadowy nature of the now defunct Alaric on "What will you Do?". Even then their punk roots are not going any where. I think it's fortunate that they play a thrashy metal infused brand of punk. At times sonic throb alternates with the chug to make the most of their darker leanings. The thrashier elements are highlighted on "Fading Footsteps". It almost touches on Cro-mag's like hard core. But you would still be hard pressed to call them a hard core band. They have more metal moments, but that tag doesn't really apply either.

They take the album out on a more dismal note with "Endzeit". The song has a stomp to it, but is still down trodden in it's contemplation. I'm am not sure how this can be lumped in with positive punk, as these guys seemed morbidly pissed. I will give this one an 8.5, I like where they are headed, it just is a little too straight forward when it reverts back into the more punk rock moments of this album, and with all the hype it had gathered before hearing this I was hoping for something much darker. Not that it's not darker than most punk out there that doesn't rightly earn the goth title. So give these guys a listen.

Interpol : "El Pintor"

Not sure why this new Interpol has been getting dismissed as inferior to their earlier work by some critics. This is coming from some one who certainly wouldn't have minded if these guys had gone in a darker direction than what seems to be unfolding here. On first listen I haven't decided what I think of it, but I have learned ever since first hearing the band that they always deserve a second chance.

When I first heard Interpol I thought they were an indie rock band trying to be Joy Division. I later heard a song that made me re-consider this. Then I saw them open up for the Cure and my opinion backslid again. Fast Forward a few years and I down loaded "Turn on the Bright Lights", thus hooking me in as a fan. They are in the rotating cast of second tier bands, who unlike Swans or the Cure, do not have a permanent place in the old iPod. Granted if I get a 64 gig iPod this could change...(consider this shameless self promotion if any one has an extra they would like to donate to the cause).

Singer Paul Banks might not be as glum since he started dating super models in 2008, so expecting him back at the place he was for even "Antics". Pondering might be a better way to describe the mood. Now on the second listen of the album one things are becoming more evident. The opener " All the Rage Back Home", is much less sardonic and pretty damn up beat. The catch is it's also it's well written and well executed, so hard to argue against it. Production wise there is a broader sonic range in the colors used on the guitars.

The shades close on the more morose "My Desire" which touches on more familiar places for the band, without totally retreading the same ground. One again the varied levels of shimmer and sparkle that the guitar captures continues to take you further into this dream land. It's not the same type of dream land the Cocteau Twins float to , but a wandering wonder-lust for the New York skyline before dawn.

"Anywhere" is a very contained Pixies like stomp, that drives forward while looking inward. The gift of great song writing is the strong point for this band. The are less about chops and more about employing the sounds to craft these songs.The drumming is pretty strong and some intricate symbol work takes place under the pocket grooves. I didn't start asking questions until "Same Town, New Story". It has more of an electronic feel than what I think the band does best, almost to a Beck level.The chilled out disco beat doesn't do much to convince me otherwise. They are coming from a similar chilled smooth place on "My Blue Supreme", but it works better here as Banks sounds more committed to the song.

The bass driven "Everything is Wrong" could very off into U2 or Cold Play territory, but it's the feeling in Banks voice that saves the day. As all the elements to make this that kind of radio rock are in place, but it's Interpol's smirking personality that retains the integrity. "Ancient Ways"  is another step closer to perhaps the Antics era. The guitar has a surf rock elements that is not unlike the Edge's post -War style of playing.    

There is an element to the solemn melody opening "Breaker 1" that is some what R.E.M to me, but even when it builds into more of a dance floor throb, it doesn't feel like pop. I can hear comparison to the last Arcade Fire as they both employ seedy grooves. "Tidal Wave" another ode to Banks' surfing addiction is not as thoughtfully constructed as some of the albums more air tight moments. "Twice as Hard" also stands out from the rest of the album, but in a much better way. It's more desperate sounding, a pondering space ballad, with echoes of something like Broken Bells or the Gorillaz, minus any hip-hop elements.

I'll give this album a 9.5, for a mainstream band of this ilk it says a lot that they are not totally rolling over and abandoning their sound to jump on the next passing band wagon, there is no edm or dub-step, nothing auto-tuned or folky, yet they are not rehashing past albums.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ifing:"Against This Weald"

A black metal band that takes it's name from Norse Mythology, in this case the river that separates Asgard from the realm of giants, is about as new as one that releases thirteen minute songs. The opening four minutes is ambiant passage that's slightly more Lord of the rings than Newer Burzum. When the actual metal enters it gallops in on a blast-ridden cascade. The vocals work with the music more like Immortal but with much less of a croak and more of a dry rasp. The folk elements will bring Agalloch comparisons galore I'm sure, especially the use of clean vocals. It's fine by me as Agalloch has evolved past this sound so it's good that some body is doing it.

"The Stream" carries all the glorious epic qualities one might ask for from folk metal, but like Agalloch. The acoustic passages, where the guitar strums along while intricate soloish passages and ethnic instrumentas flow over head. The thing that normally cheeses out folk metal to me is how it takes on a polka like quality and frolics like Viking drinking songs, which is too celebratory for me. Two things are surprising about this band . One is that they are from Michigan, the other is that they are a two piece.

The formula  in place on this album is working like a charm as they have already sold out of the 1,000 copies of the limited edition cd for "Against the Weald" which they were selling on the Bandcamp page. Granted the album has been out since May, but for a debut, that is still pretty impressive. I noticed seeing these guys pop up on pages that were pretty selective in what metal they covered, so expect this album to push the band into a larger audience. The Bathory comparison is getting thrown around a lot already, as is the Moonsorrow. I would say Moonsorrow is a better comparison than Bathory, as the do not have the raw aggression of Bathory.

The longer of the two actual songs is "Realms Forged".  It continues with the sweeping European feel. This does kinda hit that Moonsorrow spot where, my ears know it's well played and good , but my attention can be drawn away from it allowing it to become background music rather easily. This was not the case with the first song which I was more engaged in. There are some cool and powerfully preformed punches along the way, that might make you look up from what you are doing. When these guys are left alone to pretty much rely on the mid range raspy vocals it all begins to blend in.  At the ten minute mark the break down almost makes me think I am listening to "Ashes Against the Grain" as the same synth break with water sound effects begins to flow. They come back blasting in a way that is unique as is under the keyboard and the drums and bass go in first . The bass doesn't follow the drums instead holding the root accent down. Guitar comes back in to employ more of a soloist riff.

The clean vocals return in a choral swell in the final mintues of the song, which does redeem itself in the end. The thing with long epic songs is if any of it is going to drag, let the producer listen and tell you and cut that part out. I would rather have twelve solid minutes rather than eighteen, where I'm during six of those to enjoy the other twelve. Water would be a good place to start. If you are thinking "You know I really enjoyed the sound of water flowing it relaxed me." Then you should go flush the toilet with your head in it and listen to that. The sound you will here is the sound your parents should have made when they brought you home from the hospital.

As a general rule I enjoyed this album and could appreciate what was going on even when lulled away from it. I will give it a 9, as it is pretty solid and die hard fans of folk metal that takes it self seriously will get a hard on the size of Thor's hammer for this. Check out the Bandcamp stream, as you aren't going to find a physical copy of this any time soon as their label is in Finland.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Privacy//Policy : "This is Our Mandate"

The trend in the post-punk revival is you either cop the sound of Joy Division or Siouxsie, if you are creative enough sometimes both. It could be argued this Cleveland band as picked the Joy Division side. They do capture the taunt cold tension of Ian and the boys, but they also stir the sonic soup with a few more spices. Killing Joke being one of the more notable. They snuck a pretty impressive album in under the radar back in June.

The bass sound is dialed in, the vocal performance more nuanced than Ian Curtis karaoke many bands seem to play. Their guitar tone is a thick any two indie goth bands of the week put together. The production is dirty , but in all the right ways. Over driven around the edges to roughen it up and add balls instead of hiding behind re-verb so thick the sound loosens.

From a song writing perspective they know where to put the hooks and punches. Compositions are simplistic in the punk rock manner this music sprang from. Not unlike the Estranged on songs like "Time" they are not afraid to add a more rock n roll element, or even surf rock for that matter. It's on time that I also begin to hear a little Love and Rockets creep.

They know how to use their effects well, they could easily cop the Robert Smith trademark sound, but instead they mix all their influences together to create something that is familiar, but not borrowed. They even jump into a more New Order like new wave on "Whole". Though they do so without the use of synths. The swing to the melody recalls Modern English's "I'd Stop the World to Melt With You." This direction doesn't sound as inspired when they go for a similar vibe on "Waiting For the End" the vocals remind me of Brett Michaels for some reason.

They get a little more upbeat and punk rock than I prefer on "Total Control" which has a too much booty shaking for me. This song is also one of the more rock n roll moments the two just oddly collide. "Drive" puts this more rock leaning into better use. It is also the first song where I hear a noticeable Cult influence. The rock god screams are very Billy Idol as well. These guys have 80's night covered all the way around.

The first song with a noticeable keyboards in it is "Rtul", the organ is supplied by their bassist. The guitar sound in this song is pretty close to perfect as well. I was not prepared for this song to be an instrumental, as they are by no means a prog band, but they pull it off, grooving at times on a drone driven pound.

The groove to the closer " In the City" hits like a more punk rock version of Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song".  The pinnacle of the Ian Curtis worship surfaces here as well. They had gotten away with the entire album with out, and even when it comes there are still some Stooges like screams thrown in for good measure.

I'll give this one an 8 and see where it grow on me from here. The more dancey numbers killed the vibe for me when they went back to that well one too many times, but over all the album is a lot of fun and you should check it out below if you are into this sort of thing.

Anopheli: "A Hunger Rarely Sated"

Things might confusing, but in doing so they will only make more sense. This band is from Oakland California, via London, England. So the transplanting has merged a wide variety of sounds into this entity called Anopheli. You could get bogged down trying to fit these guys into a neat little category. Sludge is one name that might apply to what they do until the pace picks up and then the more hardcore elements kick the door in. Their songs do share similar rumbling vibes with a coating of cello over them to add the melancholy.

The crustier punk edges is more prevalent on the second song "Incompetent Sires" than it is on the opener. Buried some where in there I hear a little Hot Water Music,  perhaps some Coalesce as well, this could have very easily stumbled out of the metal hardcore merger of the late 90's Victory Records played such a big part in. The hard core ramble gains more momentum from there, as "Forest of the Genocides" really runs away with itself. The very punk rock way the snare is hammered here is the main deterrent for me. The emo like break downs where the cello gets to soar, creates a vast almost post-rock feeling,

The vocals are varied shades of pissed. It seems as if three voices are joining in.One  carries a more hard-core lumberjack gruffness. Another is a higher pitched punk shriek, that has a slight black metal sneer to it. The other sounds like a woman, though carries a pretty tough early Kylesa like punch to her voice. They are devoid of contracting melody and thus negate any chance for other emotional layers to be place upon what they are doing here.

A brief instrumental piece precedes the final song. "Rime" is a eight minute journey. I like the feeling they have captured here, it is very dark and down trodden, they kinda take the easy way out by just barreling into a more hardcore section at the three minute mark where the vocals kick in.They do an excellent job of creating the build towards the end. The band utilizes many different elements of what heavy could look like and boxes your ears with them.

I'll give this album an eight it's a little more on the crusty punk side than what I normally listen to. I think there are great things in store for us as to where this band goes in the future. There execution is flawless and the album sounds great from a production stand point,  it has a  big cinematic sound, that some of the moodier passages really need to carry the scope, so I will give this one and 8. If punk is more you thing you can round this up a point perhaps. It's worth giving a listen for sure.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Underpass : "Assimilation"

This band from Vancouver/ Olympia released this lp on desire Records a couple of weeks ago. I like where "Pain of Trust" is going right from the first few chords, it's dark like Pornography era Cure. They get right into the goth here. It's the first song where I was a hundred percent sold on these guys, after jumping around on the album, thanks shuffle mode. Darkness is in degrees here, but I'd say they are more punk than the post part of that equation. But the Cure started off as more of a punk band as well and they have skipped past the Boys' Don't Cry era.

 "Side" is pretty straight forward, more Joy Division if it wasn't for the heavy effects on the guitar, but the bass drives in a more Joy Division like manner. It's starkly taunt almost to the point of being militant."Yesterdays'Violence" holds similar elements. More Love will Tear us Apart...though the vocals find more melody. Hesitant to hit all the notes, but that makes it more punk I suppose than if the croon was more elegantly coated."Stranger" sounds like some one else takes the mic, but it could be the production. Lyrically this song and the her encompass love being lost, so it's that goth feeling of yearning. The bass line to "Stranger"is pretty powerful.The way the song briskly tenses into more of a punkish Joy Division feel works well.

 They take a dip in a more synth laden dark wave type feel musically on "the Eternal Now". It is one of the more dynamic songs, as it starts at more of a dark ballad and begins to pick up speed midway through. The vocals are earnest, fans of punk rock will give them more leeway, than I might, they are rather monotone and reaching higher than it sounds he's comfortable singing as they are slightly flat. The thump of bass and is followed by a monotone punk rock vocal on this song. "About Violence" drones on, but it's dark and they have a cool guitar tone that could stand to be more present in the mix. Said guitar mix varies from song to song, tonally there are slight shifts,some worshipping Robert Smith more than others.

With further listens I begin to get the creeping feeling these guys are like Iceage if they weren't afraid to indulge their new wave side by using keyboards. Which is a good thing for fans of older Iceage, as I have hear the new Iceage, but I'm not allowed to review it until closer to the release date, but I will say it doesn't sound much like their earlier work, even having country elements, but in more of a Nick Cave way.

 This album has grown on me and may continue to do so. It's more punk than expected going into it as the initial buzz this was getting made it sound like this was the second coming of the Cure. I'll give this one a 8.5. If you like the whole 80's revival thing or just a fan- of post-punk that emphasizes the latter part of that equation than it is certainly worth a shot .

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Aevangelist: "Writhes in the Murk"

It's amazing that two dudes are responsible for this slab of nocturnal emission. It's a radical departure from "Omen Ex Simulacra". The album starts with a burst of spastic darkness that slowly begins to take form. True to it's title the guitar riffs writhe together. This is as dark and murky as any of the occult death metal that began cropping up a few years ago after bands began re-discovering Incantation. At first It seem like this chaos is just the intro and you are waiting for every thing to congeal together, but it stays loose and noisey like a jazz album. Abstract death metal coming together for one mammoth chug at the end of the song, but with so many bizarre over-dubbed tracks swirling around it.

"The Only Grave" spills out of the opener like the guts of a slaughtered pig. There are blasty section cut into this slab of dinosaur meat, that is almost to tough for your ears to chew. Not unlike that Hexis album this is so heavy it takes several sittings to fully digest. The vocal are inhumanly guttural, just a sewer drain of a gurgle bubbling into a microphone. In a similar fashion the next song spills out of it. This album comes across as feeling more black metal to me due to the dissonance and the ambiance, despite the gore ridden take on the spewed vocals.

With a casual listen this might sound like a tangled mess, but these guys have not forsaken their chops. The drumming might be even more technical than their previous work. The riffs when they do come together are crushing. There are sections that you almost don't want to listen to in your house alone at night, they are so creepy. Clean vocals moan out from under the gurgling. "Aelixir" has a coat of white noise over it, before morphing into a John Zorn like jazz exploration churning in hell.

"Harken to the Flesh" plods from a cess pool of lurching doom. The growls are more haphazard it reminds me of a section from "My Ass is on Fire" off the first Mr. Bungle album. The more black metal element slither in as the song spirals down into a denser climate not unlike Deathspell Omega. This lead to the most traditionally metal song "Halo of Lamented Glory" which at first seems trite compared to some of the sonic filth this album has already unleashed upon your ears. It is the most death metal song of the album.

The title track actually includes some clean guitar that rings out into the dissonance and at other time offsets a heavy groove that takes place in the distance behind it. The sample of a girls voice speaking fades in out of the din. This almost takes the place of the vocal which gurgle here and there out of the shadows.

They have transcended death metal here and fans of Industrial and harsher noise, should try this on for size. It's extremely an dense listen which catches you off guard. I'll give it a 9.5, though I might grow to appreciate more with each listen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Salvaticus: "Hidden Manna"

I stumbled upon this Virgina band today, they released "Hidden Manna" back in May and I am not sure why it hasn't generated more of a buzz in the under ground circles, unless the fact that it is well recorded and actually sounds good , turned purists off. They make the most of the four songs presented here.  "Breeding Ground" has liberal doses of blasty mcnasty, giving way to their strong thrash roots evident in the fine art of galloping riffing. The clean middle section didn't surprise, it's rather Tribulation like in it's dark wanderlust. These guys are much more tightly coiled than Tribulation, their songs do not feel like they might just be jamming, the heavy parts are very blatant.

As with most metal of this ilk, the drummer Kevin Ardrey steals the show. I would not lump these guys in with technical black metal, such as Death Spell Omega, but they do showcase a finely tune sense of intricate punchy passages, that do not shy from spotlighting their chops. The big sound of the album doesn't hide this with cave like reverb for the sake of earning their corpse paint. Not that any American black metal aside from Wormreich is really slathering on the corpse paint, but these guys seem like they wouldn't be opposed to the idea. They are unapologetic for metal with a capital M , and not the west coast brand of navel gazing desert hipster black metal. Not that I don't some times enjoy good beardy black metal, I'm just a little over the 14 minute song that drones for seven of those minutes, unless we are talking doom.

With that being said these guys aren't writing three minute punk rock jams either and are more progressive than not. They just have more power than math. On songs like "Further" they balance a seething darkness with the urge to blast. The rasped vocals compliments of their bassist Alex Lee are largely a mid-ranged and more hateful than anguished. They are screaming real words and not just gurgling for sounds like the new Mutilation Rites seems to.

"Dark Rift" makes you think it's going to be run of the mill, blast right past you black metal and they go and stick a pretty catchy groove in it. It's the kind of songwriting that tells me these guys are going to heading to bigger audiences in the not too distant future. They are even able to convincingly drop down in an ominous doom lumber on command. Ardey pulls the Morbid Angel trick of speeding up his double bass under the slower riffing.

They do hit the atmospheric white noise drone of traditional black metal on "A Vulture's Feather". Hurtling at warp speed into a frenzied abyss of tooth gnashing tremolo picking. They eventually find their gallop to reclaim their knack for riff craft. By this time the ears have begun to numb, they can pick out an audible bass line that is keeping up with the guitars. The clean break, that seems to be another ingredient in their recipe shines out from the melee. They hang on this strummed part for a tad longer than suspected building it up into the kinda of ending this album deserves. As it takes what they have done thus far and makes it bigger sonically, even if for only a fade out.

I'll round this up to a 9, seems like those are being handed out left and right these days, but these guys earned it, since they came out of no where. They are hipster enough to let you name your price on their Bandcamp page below, so you have little to lose checking them out.  They also released this on limited etd cassettes , so they only handle their business like hipsters.

Cold Specks : "Neuroplasticity"

Interesting hearing a singer that Siouxsie would admire rather than one trying to emulate her. This Canadian singer , whose name is Al Spx  belts out odes to  New Orleans Southern Gothic  feel rather than the witchy cackle of a Diamanda Galas, but the album is dark enough so that when Micheal Gira of the Swans shows up it doesn't feel out of place. She is no stranger to working with Gira as she contributed vocals to the song "Bring the Song" on "To Be Kind.

It kicks off with what prove to be one of my favorites "A Broken Memory", sort of a funeral in the Garden District feel , but despite even the pounding interlude in the middle of the sax solo in "Old Knives" I think it might be wishful thinking to call her "doom soul". She is darker than Lana Del Ray musically, perhaps not lyrically and no where near the type of oppressive emotional climate of Chelsea Wolfe.

"Bodies at Bay" has more of an indie rock feel, the guitar tone is a cool post- rock ring to it. The vocals might be poppy perhaps if they were set against a different landscape. Despite the pounding interlude in the middle of the sax solo in "Old Knives" I think it might be wishful thinking to call her "doom soul". The indie pop flirtation does come closer to Gira's other friend St. Vincent on "A Quiet Chill", which even with its drumming that has a "Running Up That Hill" type build doesn't hook me as much as the first three songs.The ghostly backing vocals oohing behind her giving it the most atmosphere,

Despite it's indie rock radio crooner intro "Exit Plan" does darken up enough for Gira to come in and layer his vocals behind her, then it takes a more radio rock feel after that. It it a much better use of his voice than when he appears later in the album. "Let Loose the Dogs" pits her soulful voice against a minimalist electronic piece that is colder than her voice , until it goes in a more Gary Numan direction in the chorus.

The Lana Del Ray comparison's carry more weight on "Living Signs". She employs harmonies differently than Ray , but approaches things when taking a more straight forward path in a similar relaxed disposition. There are still some surreal flourishes , but this song and many others on here turned out to not be as experimental as the opening track led me to believe. So the fact she challenges your preconceived notions of her from song to song, is certainly a positive quality for any artist. It does darken slightly as shadows creep from the corners of  " A Formal Invitation". Her choice of melodies even strays from the more soulful elements that despite the ever shifting dreamscape of sounds behind her seems to be the trademark of her sound.

The sax intro to "A Season of Doubt" could be on a David Lynch soundtrack. Gira's voice takes a low croaking harmony under Spx's. The song is otherwise pretty minimal. She isn't quiet goth, though I suppose some might consider Concrete Blonde goth, and for me aside from the vampire song, they are just another alternative band from the 90's . I would not lump Cold Specks in with the other riders on the  Amy Winehouse bandwagon, as she is genuine with what she does and she does it well. I think the expectations that come with her Swans associations colored the first few listens. I will give this one a 9 , now that I know what she's about.

Far Beyond Dragon-Con : An Interview With Claire Eddy of Tor Books

Now that I'm rested from 2014's Dragon-con, I'm ready to look back at some of the Con's wonderful moments. One of those moments was  meeting the Senior Editor of Tor Books Claire Eddy. Sword and Sorcery novels played a big part in why I got into metal as a kid. Before the internet you had to go into record store and search through bins of albums. A few had metal sections, but for every Celtic Frost there was a Bang Tango. It was the album art that most resembled the covers the jackets of Conan novels that caught my eye. From Iron Maiden to Hawkwind to Anthrax and Voi Vod, Sci-Fi and Fantasy have been the subject of metal songs for decades. It's no surprise many of us have turned into avid readers. If you check the spines of many of the books we read growing up, most bear the the Tor Logo. So, as a long-time reader of epic-fantasy and an aspiring dark fantasy writer myself, this conversation was extremely insightful and one of the highlights of this year's Convention for me.

Wil - With the rising popularity of shows like Game of Thrones are you seeing an increased interest in Epic Fantasy?

Claire - I think it's always been there. It's becoming more mainstream. We are going to be seeing more of it. We at Tor we've done...Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind... we've been in the business of epic fantasy for a long time.We are really excited. George is an old buddy of mine. He's an amazing writer and I'm so happy for him. This confluence of events happened and people who have never read epic fantasy are now reading it.

It's like "Yeah, here we've got this guy Robert Jordan,  we've got this guy Brandon Sanderson ..."so it's a whole new audience and that's really exciting. It's like what we were talking about outside with Big Bang, the mainstream in starting to pay attention to genre issues and frankly I think you can also make a case that the explosion of technology has helped. Because Silicon Valley, you scratch them and there's the nerd... and they have lots of money. They are interested in this sort of stuff and then it becomes more and more mainstream when you have people go..."Oh, the cool kids are interested in this, I want to check it out."

Wil - What are some of the trends you guys see selling today?

Claire - Character driven, large sweeping epic fantasy. I was just on an Urban Fantasy panel and someone asked "What do you think the future is going to hold?' I always feel odd when I am on that kind of panel, because the answer is I'm booked solid through 2016. So if I get something right now and it needs work I may not be able to get to it til fall of 2016. So not writing to any particular hook or trend, because in two years it may not be there. But good character driven stories, darker, darker is more acceptable now.

We are actually looking at our back list in a different way, because we published a lot of science fiction and I have been with the company for 29 years. So alot of science fiction and fantasy that when you look at it now, and we can do it in YA. Now more goes, it can be grittier, you can have sex, there's a lot of stuff you can do now that you couldn't do as recently as ten years ago. We are looking at a back list and going"You know what this could appeal to a wider audience."We are looking to piggy back and open those markets. We are also in the process of working on building the brand. Tor has a recognizable image as being one of the premiere publishers of science fiction and fantasy and  we are building the brand with sister companies in Tor Uk and Tor Germany, so that when you pick up a Tor book you kinda sorta know what you are going to get.

So re-branding older titles to a YA audience and growing in other countries. There's a lot of countries that aren't English speaking, but they can read perfectly well and a lot of our stories are broad enough that it can cross the ocean.

Wil - I know growing up there was a Norse Translation of the Hobbit , but not for the other books so that's how I kinda learned the language.

Claire - Wow, we are having the other cultural event where as you know a lot of Americans have English as there first and only language.  I know quite a few people who are studying Japanese , because they want to read the manga in it's original form. I thought "Wow that's amazing", cause it's not an easy language to pick up. But people are dedicated enough to do that because they want the cultural experience. They want to watch anime and not deal with the subtitles, they realize that the subtitle and the actual dialogue can be wildly different. Therefore imparting a whole different world view. I find it fascinating.

Wil - What about steam punk, do you think it's going to lose it's steam or is there still a lot of life left in the cogs?

Claire - I think it does. Somebody asked this question at the panel I was just on. I think it might plateau a little maybe. But in someways it has the potential to become a true sub-genre. I have been thinking about this a lot and I had this idea that there are parallels you can make between the beginning of the 20th century and now. You have got a lot of religious conflict, Looking at the modern news now and  all the things going on with Ebola. You've got the world health organization saying that first world nations must pay attention to this, because if you do not pay attention to this it can come back to bite you in the butt.  We should be doing it for the simple humanity, but you have a clash between first world and not first world. You have got an explosion of technology where people are thinking any thing is possible. You've got stem cells, genetically engineered mice, there's all this stuff going on and there are people who are embracing it and there people who are afraid of it.

There's this possibility of endless wonders, coupled with, watching the problem of an empire that's going through the evolution stage and we don't know what will happen. I adore my country, I'm as patriotic as the next person, but there are problems and how we react to those problems. People are going around saying this is wonderful this is incredible. So when you see people dressed in steam punk, I'm not at all surprised seeing them wearing Victorian London clothing. humans are humans, our reactions to stressors are sometimes pretty predictable. I have to wonder if that's a fuel. One of my colleagues, Diana Pho is doing some marvelous academic work. You should go to some of her panels she is talking about the non Victorian. There are a lot of people doing really fine steam punk stuff, in a non-European, non Victorian atmosphere. There are a lot of parallels between the beginning of the 20th century that I think are drawing people to this sort of fiction.  I don't think its going to go away any time soon.

Wil - Who do you think are some of the up and coming horror authors?

Claire - I don't do a lot of horror and the horror I am doing is more established authors . I just bought a Ramsey Campbell I'm loving to pieces called, "The Kind Folk".

Wil - What about dark fantasy ? Where do you think the lines are drawn between dark fantasy and horror?

Claire - That's a good question. You can have elements in dark fantasy, that you wouldn't have in horror. One of the things that appeals to me in horror, and I do read quiet a lot of horror, is the ambiguity. Some of the best horror is where you are left wondering. Is this all in the guys head ? or in fact a ghost, a possession, or is he off his nut and it's a serial killer. With dark fantasy it's not as ambiguous. With horror you can kinda of play around.

Horror, which was very big in the 80's and 90's, you can have splatter punk. A lot of blood and guts and thunder, but horror can be very cerebral as well.  Fantasy can be cerebral, but I often think it's a little more straight forward.

Wil -Yeah, and some of the cerebral element got added from people who take influence from Hp Lovecraft. What elements do you think make for great epic fantasy?

 Claire - World building and more of a sense of scale. The difference between regular fantasy and epic fantasy is it's all about the journey, but with epic fantasy so much more is at stake. I don't know if you have ever watched the Kevin Smith Clerks movie, but there is a scene where Randall is working at a fast food place. He's a Star Wars fan and he gets into with a Tolkien fan. The Tolkien fan says,"No, No Star Wars is this silly little thing."  Randall says "This is the Lord of the Rings...and we're walking and walking and walking. Book two and we're walking and we're walking and we're walking. Three and we're walking and we drop the ring in."

Yeah, but there's all the other stuff, there's the clash between the various cultures, the whole rise of the human genome, the political battle between that. At one point Tolkien even gets the p.o.v of one of the orcs, this poor grunt. You've got the elves who are failing and fading and their time is ending. It's a great big epic sweep. Some people gravitate towards Aragon and some people will gravitate towards Frodo, there is something in it for every one. You may be wedded more to one particular storyline but you are along for the whole ride. Its lush and complicated.

To talk about George Martin's books. George is an amateur, and I'm using the term amateur as someone who has a passion for a thing. He's an amateur historian, that is not to say he is not as good as some professional historians, he's a voracious reader he's taken bits and pieces of cultures and ideas and practices and made them his own. It's not stealing if you make it your own. So he created this amazing world that also happens to have a climate hook and dragons. People will root for various different characters. People who read the book know that x character is going to die. People who watch the show are like "Oh my god, you killed so and so"... Because in true history not all the good guys win. People die. People who you really care about die. By doing that it takes you on an emotional roller coaster, because you don't know who's going to live. You have got to read that next sentence. General fantasy can have those components but epic fantasy its a hundred times more.  Its bigger it's more. I've had conversations with authors, where they thought they were writing epic fantasy and I was like "No not so much". Its not a smaller story. Its not simple story. Its one level of the journey but when you add on all the other things, and you do it well, then it becomes epic.

Wil - Tolkien was a mythology professor before

Claire - Yes, and in many ways he was writing the books because he was fascinated by the language. The idea of language, of the Icelandic, tale how could take that formula and bring it to a modern sensibility. He was coming at it from some levels from an academic prospective and it grew and grew and grew.

Wil- What is the quick nickle advice to someone trying to break in the business ?

Claire - Read in your genre, decide on your genre, and have an avid curiosity. Talk to other writers, go out in the world and live, don't have a tunnel vision, and be fascinated by the world. One of the cornerstones of every author I have ever worked with is they are fascinated by the world