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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 50 Albums of 2012

I think this year has held a lot more surprises for me than the last few have, with a lot of unexpected gems popping up in favor of some of the bigger and more pronounced releases. Unfortunately I didn't get to every album I would have liked to, but I'm going to try a little harder to prioritize things in 2013. Having said that, I'd like to thank some people for turning me onto more than a few releases on here. Thanks to Jon and the writers at The Inarguable, Harold over at Hammer Smashed Sound, Anthony Fantano at TheNeedleDrop, Jolocho, and then to all the labels, bands, and PR companies who have sent me stuff for review. On with the list!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 EPs of 2012

Here we go, my favorite EPs of this year. I have to be honest and say that this was a pretty tough list to compile because there were some really great EPs released this year. I thought about expanding this to a top 15 but wound up not going through with it (obviously). If I compromised my list, that'd mean that I would have to compromise reviews, and I just won't do that. But enough of that, let's get on with the list.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top 5 Splits of 2012

Originally, I was going to do a top 10 splits but (honestly) I don't think I covered enough splits to justify that with a list that was ten releases long and that I could back without any regrets. I'm gonna try to cover even more splits next year but hopefully these releases will give you a nice window into some really solid smaller releases.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Netra - Sørbyen (2012)

Band: Netra
Country: Quimper, France
Style: Experimental Black Metal/Trip-Hop
Label: Hypnotic Dirge

About two years ago or so Netra released its debut full-length Mélancolie Urbaine into the metal underground to a pretty select audience. I don't mean that in a bad way, but it was a pretty interesting little album that was not for everyone. Now we have the follow-up to that album with a sound that mainman Steven Le Moan experimenting even further with the tricks of black metal.
I think it's fair to say that Netra's first album was a more honest fusion of trip-hop and black metal. It fused those two styles together in a way that was not done before and was very unique, if a bit uneven in spots. This new album is not as spiky as that album was in its fusion of the two genres and feels like a less true fusion of the two styles, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Though I hesitate to put this album into this category, it seems oddly appropriate to call this album progressive. The black metal side from the first album is definitely clearer and a lot more well honed in its use, and the trip-hop beats are used to create some rather well placed atmospheric moods, but there's a lot more going on in here than just those two styles, as I said before. There's quite a strong blues and prog-rock influence coming through in a lot of these tracks, especially in the vocal melodies and synth tones, perhaps no more so than on the power-ballad (sort of) Wish She Could Vanish. It's actually really interesting because the ideas are really solidly constructed yet being very fresh as well.
As an entire album, this album works a lot better than its predecessor did in the sense that that album was very uneven in its album structure. It was more that the track placement seemed to place more emphasis on the trip-hop side of the project than the black metal side. This new album really corrects that by not only making the fusion a lot more fluid, but allowing the ambient and trip-hop based tracks to stand alone in several tracks. It feels a lot more authentically put together where as the last one just felt like an assembly of tracks put together, at least in my opinion. Also, the songwriting on this album is far superior to that of the debut's. Not only are the vocal melodies on tracks like opener, A Dance With The Asphalt, and Crawling great and memorable, but they are also quite different from many other vocalists. Le Moan's screams remain as desolate as they were on the debut, which isn't a bad thing in my book. Obviously, a progressive influence is something I'm never opposed to in a project, and the later tracks on this album definitely demonstrate that Le Moan does have talent for writing progressive songs. I wouldn't have thought that blues guitar licks would go over trip-hop beats, but this album has certainly proved me wrong. The bass work is also very worthy of note on here as well, as it becomes especially jazzy in the last couple of tracks, hear closer I Shall Slay The Monkeys. Yet, it never feels like an exercise in fusing genres, as this album so obviously could have become. It all works together, and if only for that, my view of the album is positive.
I think this was a really strong piece of work and an album that really surprised me with how far ahead it beat out its predecessor. This is easily among one of the most surprising things I've heard this year. Definitely check this out if you're looking for some more experimental black metal projects/records.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: A Dance With The Asphalt, Concrete Ocean, I Shall Slay The Monkeys

Epitimia - Faces of Insanity (2012)

Band: Epitimia
Country: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Style: Ambient/Post-Black Metal
Label: Hypnotic Dirge

My relationship with Russian bands has really decreased in the last year. When I first started this blog, I remember that I covered a lot of really bad Russian one-man groups and last year I covered a handful as well, this year I don't think I've covered all that many. With Hypnotic Dirge releasing this album though, I did have faith that this would be worth hearing though.
Honestly, I wasn't quite sold on this album when I first listened to it. Maybe it was my prejudices towards Mother Russia or something, but it just didn't strike me as a group that was doing anything interesting. At the point where I am now, several listens later, I have to say that I'm pretty much in the same general area in terms of how I feel about this record. It certainly has it's good points, but there wasn't anything on here that ever connected with me, or even made me want to return for follow-up listens to be honest. These songs just didn't do anything I ever found all that interesting, and it's never a good sign if a listener's attention fades from the music, and my attention drifted quite a few times when I listened to this. It just felt so unoriginal and lifeless to me, the melodies were very uninspired, in my opinion, and I didn't care all that much for the vocals at all. I know this is coming off extremely negative, and I really wish I could be more positive, because I really wanted to like this album, but it just did not do anything for me and really only made me incredibly depressed while listening to it. I don't mean depressed in the sense that the music had power over me though, depressed that the music never took me anywhere I haven't already been to many times before.
The band's fusion of black metal with post-rock and classical melodies is well executed, but often leaves a lot to be desired in the realms of actual interest. Like I said above, I found my mind wandering many times while listening to this album, which is a shame since a melody like the one in Epikrisis IV: Jamais Vu is actually very good, it's just a shame that the majority of the song didn't actually go anywhere. The intro to Epikrisis V: Rorschach Inkblot, I thought, showed some promise and demonstrated a bit more of a strangeness to the group that I thought the track would embrace, but it really didn't do much with those ideas after the real track kicked in. With the concept that this album is said to embrace and explore I really thought it would have been a lot darker or more interesting, but in the end all I found was an album of pretty by-the-book post-black metal. It was not until DS: Shizophrenia where I found myself engaged with this album. The nine-minute long piece features some nice bass lines and guitar work, and is the most interesting piece on here. I still wasn't completely sold on the vocals on the track, but it stood out as the clear highlight of the disc.
Personally, I was really not into this record all that much, and I am disappointed by that. I can't vouch for a release I don't believe in but I can hope that those of you who listen to this record do find some connection with it. If you like post-black metal in any way, check it out.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Epikrisis I: Altered State of Consciousness, Epikrisis V: Rorschach Inkblot, DS: Shizophrenia

Blutmond - The Revolution Is Dead! (2012)

Band: Blutmond
Country: Olten, Switzerland
Style: Avant-Garde Black Metal
Label: Code666

As everyone who reads this site will have come to expect, I love experimental black metal. It's easily one of my favorite "sub-genres" to listen to and it's a genre that I tend to praise. This new record from Blutmond follows their 2010 effort Thirteen Urban Ways 4 Groovy Bohemian Days, which I actually wasn't overly positive on (though I still liked it).
Even though the term avant-garde can still be applied here, I will say that this is not so alienating or cerebral and weird that it would turn off those who like more melodic forms of metal. With this album Blutmond have essentially taken on board all the weirdness and eccentricities they need to stand apart from other groups while maintaining a pretty melodic and accessible sound. Tracks like opener Putting Hearts Together or Moonlit Chair™ contain their fare share of experimental tendencies, like a saxophone solo or , but they don't veer off course into straight-up jazz or electronic sections as one might expect. The record keeps that metal sound central, not deviating enough to really break up the flow so the record never comes off as jarring or schizophrenic, you decide whether or not that's a good thing. Having said all that, I do commend the group for throwing in various genre tropes into their sound and making it all sound cohesive, with ideas coming from the likes of jazz, blues, post-hardcore, electronic, among others. Making several tracks touch upon being straight-up melodic metal doesn't hurt them either, allowing their more experimental tendencies seem all the more bizarre when put alongside a more straightforward and catchy track.
I know the above paragraph probably comes off as rather unimpressed, but on the contrary, I actually really enjoyed this album. While it isn't the most ambitious of albums to carry that avant-garde tag, I admire the band for taking on board all things that are associated with that label stigma and doing things their own way. It's an uncompromising record in terms of how it plays things to the beat of its own drum. Plus, any band that manages to make thoughts of Mr. Bungle appear in my head automatically gets bonus points in my book, and the intro to Absolution Lies In Evolution definitely got my thinking of one of my favorite Bungle tracks. While I can get off on bands being solely weird and experimental and pretty much enjoy it for what it is, if not more than it should be appreciated for, when a band can actually be quirky and still pump out some consistently good and catchy songs, they're free to count me as a member of their fanbase. Personally, I felt like the first half of this album delivered a nice aggressive sound that will definitely be enough to draw in many people to this album, the second half is where I happened to feel like the band started showing off more of their experimental side. Pretty much from Breakdown 2012 onward, the band start bringing out more of a darker and creative set of ideas. Though the most melodic track on the entire album, Attention Whore! (Lost In Bliss), it still features a bit more of a dissonant and progressive slant that made it stand apart from the tracks on the first half. It wasn't quite as straightforward, which might sound a bit odd, but if you listen to the track I think you'll understand what I'm talking about.
After my not so pleasant introduction to the band with their last album, I think they really got it right on here. They're still not quite hitting all the high-notes in my book, but they're onto something special in here and I hope they continue moving forward as they did on here. If you enjoy experimental black metal, I suggest you begin looking into this album.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Pas De Deux, Birds of Prey, 21st Century Prophets

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sum of R - Ride Out The Waves (2012)

Band: Sum of R
Country: Bern, Switzerland
Style: Post-Metal/Drone
Label: Utech/Storm As He Walks

I received this a couple of months ago and was wondering exactly what kind of album it was. I knew it was a doom metal album because of the description I got along with the album, but it was being distributed (soon) by Utech, and is the first release of new, up-and-coming label Storm As He Walks. Utech doesn't put out metal albums too often, so whenever they do, it's worth looking into because it will be interesting.
Besides the fact that this was a doom metal album (yeah, like that's going to tell you a whole lot), I left myself completely open to whatever this album was going to sound like. I knew there was a video floating around of a song from the album, which I ignored, I knew there were some reviews for it, which I also ignored - for once, and I knew that from trying to find a picture of the whole band that they were a trio, aside from that, I tried to keep myself completely neutral on what I would hear. Seeing that this is quite the deviation from Utech's usual batch of releases and is the first release for a new label - which happens to be run by Todd and Crisne of Architeuthis Rex and Kapustin Yar, I did suspect that this wouldn't be the standard doom metal record, there's no way it would be with labels like those backing them. When I finally did get around to playing this thing, I can honestly say that I was surprised by the sound but somehow not totally amazed by it. And just to clarify, I mean that with the labels backing this record/band, I wasn't shocked by its less than standard approach to the genre.
The sound in particular on here is quite the treat. It's like someone took old-school doom and psychedelic rock and blended them together with some traces of krautrock, drone music, and ambient soundscapes. In a way, it's related to the whole post-metal genre, but it's a lot less reliant on a particular song format. Opener Growing Into Something Special does demonstrate that post-metal soft into loud structure, but Mist of Tears is a piece of pure, depressing of clean guitar noodling. While I know that doesn't sound like the most enticing thing in the world to hear, and personally, I'm not all that favorable towards the injections of amp noise scattered throughout the track, but the guitar lines themselves are actually quite well done. They set a mood and carry it through without sounding like it's just a soundcheck. But as you might expect, the album's highlight is quite clear, being the one-two combo of Echo/Captured Lightning. It's a track that, in my opinion, recalls the rawness and intensity of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but compresses it into a much shorter piece, and makes use of less instruments. That may be setting the bar a bit high, but the track is good enough to at least match some of GY!BE's material in my opinion, and obviously, that's no small feat.
While I don't think it's a game changer as some other release from the doom genre this year, this is a very promising debut. I will look forward to future material from this duo based on what this album demonstrates. It's a great slab of post-modern doom that should not be missed if you're a fan of the genre.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: In The Fields of Trust, Echo/Captured Lightning

Indesinence - Vessels of Light and Decay (2012)

Band: Indesinence
Country: London, UK
Style: Death/Doom Metal
Label: Profound Lore

Earlier this year (and probably at the end of last year as well), I complained that Profound Lore was releasing a lot of doom metal albums and I was sort of getting bored by them. I think Profound Lore is a great label (even if they won't respond to my emails) even though a lot of what they release is overhyped (even by me). I had actually heard good things about this record from two people who weren't critics who urged me that it was top caliber stuff, so I figured I'd give it a whirl.
What do you look for in your doom metal? Do you like slow, bowl-churning riffs, occasional blasts of double-bass, guttural death growls, and humongous reverb? If you do, you're certainly in for a treat with this record, well maybe not the humongous reverb part. Aside from that though, what you have here is some old-school doom-death, the way it was meant to be played. A month or so back I reviewed the most recent My Dying Bride album and was very disappointed by how uninspired the band's songwriting was, this is the sort of album that I wish they had made. This is an album full of vitality and energy, despite being so slow. With the possible exceptions of the intro and interlude, this is a very youthful sounding album, like a young band making a record, which is sort of strange since the band has released an album back in 2006, Noctambulism (which I have not heard). I think it's sort of a tricky thing with doom metal bands to convey energy because they're playing so slowly and propelling a track forward at slower tempos can be rather arduous if not done carefully. Younger bands, like early My Dying Bride, or even early Paradise Lost records were able to convey that, and even though this is Indesinence's first release in six years, they convey a similar energy.
I think one of the reasons why I enjoyed this album so much was that, much like the early material from those old-school doom-death bands that I just mentioned, they're not so set in their ways that they have abandoned actual death metal from their sound. A track like Communion sounds exactly how doom-death should, like death metal but slower. There are so many bands who essentially just do doom metal with growled vocals, it's nice to hear a band do doom-death right for a change (or at least right in my book). Granted, I'm not going to pretend that this was the most memorable piece of doom I've heard all year, but it's definitely one of the better slabs of it. I listen to a decent amount of doom this year and I have listened to a lot of it in years past, so I'd like to think I know what I'm talking about (some may beg to differ and I welcome them to) so it really pleases me when I hear a band that clearly has a grasp of the sound they're going for and knows how to make it. A track like Fade (Further Beyond) builds so well and pretty much single-handedly leaves all the majority of other doom metal releases in the dust.
It's clear to me that this is the sort of record that gets me excited to hear new material from Profound Lore. Although I don't think it's been quite as hyped as some of their earlier releases, this is definitely one of their best this year. If you dig doom metal in the slightest, definitely check this record out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Communion, Fade (Further Beyond), Unveiled

Saturnus - Saturn In Ascension (2012)

Band: Saturnus
Country: Copenhagen, Denmark
Style: Melodic Death/Doom Metal
Label: Cyclone Empire

It's been six years since Saturnus have released an album and I for one am glad to just have some new material from them. I remember several years back when I was really first getting into doom metal I was looking for any band that reminded me of melo-death (because that was the thing I was heavily into at the time) and Saturnus was one of those bands for me. But listening to their changes over the years has revealed a band far more unique than I originally gave them credit for.
I remember being so blown away by 2006's Veronika Decides to Die when I first heard it and thought it was one of the best doom metal albums I had ever heard. Since then, obviously I have heard many other albums from other doom bands and heard the rest of the band's discography, but I do still think that that was a pretty damn good release. With that being said, this new album continues exactly where that previous album left off, and takes them further down their gloomy hole. This is the sort of release that I could see the band making after shifting members and trying to write this album, meaning, it isn't drastically different in tone or style but continues in a similar vein as their other material. I don't think it's quite as interesting sonically as their previous effort, but will more than please fans - and in case you were wondering, I was pleased with this as well. Despite the rather lukewarm the above statements may sound, I actually did enjoy this record. I don't think it's as good as the aforementioned Veronika Decides to Die, but I still think it's very good, if not a bit stereotypical sounding. It has all the traits one associates with the genre, and I guess that's what I'm a little disappointed with, that it doesn't have those occasional moments that break out and make you think that this is something special. Having said that, I do think of the band as quite the gem in the rough of death/doom acts.
I think that the band's usage of acoustic passages is one of the best in the genre. They really know how to make an album, and song, flow very well through the use of electric and acoustic passages and don't make them feel over or underused. Tracks like A Lonely Passage and Call of The Raven Moon are absolutely beautiful pieces of music that are among my favorite things I've heard emerge from the doom genre this year, despite the fact that their acoustic songs. The heavier moments, the parts that I'm sure the majority of the band's fanbase is made of happen to love, I'm more lukewarm towards because they feel pretty standard to me. They don't stand out quite as much, but they are still very well performed. Tracks like opener Litany of Rain and closer Between are excellently performed, and written, songs that lean more on the band's heavier side but don't fall into stereotypical slow chugging or drawn out chords. It's a album with melodies, and frankly, it's nice to hear something like that come from guitar since it seems like most newer bands who are labeled as "melodic" are just chugging death or doom bands who use synths to play all their melodies.
I thought this was a very well done and put together doom metal album that goes above it could have. I wasn't quite sure how much I was going to enjoy this album since the band had two new guitarists writing for them, but it turned out to be a strength on their part. If you enjoy doom metal of any kind, check this album out.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: A Fathers Providence, Call of The Raven Moon, Between

AstorVoltaires - BlackTombsForDeadSongs (2012)

Band: AstorVoltaires
Country: Santiago, Chile
Style: Progressive Doom Metal
Label: Rain Without End

AstorVoltaires may be a new name for some people reading this site, but is not a completely new act. Those of you who are familiar with the act Mar de Grises will know of Juan Escobar's work in that band. Since leaving this band this has become the main focus for his doom metal tendencies.
To the people who know what Mar de Grises sounds like, this album shouldn't be too far a stretch for you to latch onto. The fusion of melodic death, doom, and post-metal that that band happened to combine was praised not only by many a listener, and Escobar doesn't shy away from that sound too much, but instead makes it a bit more accessible (though if you like your lyrics in English you won't get very far into this) and even a bit more progressive as well. All the traits on this record you've heard in Escobar's former band, but the songwriting is a bit more catchy and not quite so guitar oriented. Opener Rosas Y Fuego is a very slow and atmospheric track that really doesn't rely too heavily on crushing guitars and roared vocals and that may not sit well with some who like an album to get off the ground fast (not so much in speed but in the sense of things starting off heavy immediately). I'm not familiar with Escobar's musical background, but from what it sounds like on here, he is more adept at synth than other instruments because it tends to play the biggest role in the album's sound except for his own vocals. And that isn't to say that the playing on here is bad or anything, it's actually quite the opposite. This record contains some of the best guitar playing I've heard on a doom metal album this year. The guitar work on this album often bounces between typical doom metal slowness and more surprising bouts of progressive/tech metal wizardry, which was something I can't say I've heard in a long while (if ever).
Personally, I'm not crazy on Escobar's roared vocals. They sound strained and somewhat forced, which didn't really sit all too well with me, but his clean voice is very good. He manages to channel subtlety and emotion through his clean singing in almost every track he uses it on, and I do think that it is his strongest trait. Every time I get to track five, Tummasilmäinen, I swear that I think Tomi Joutsen (of Amorphis) is doing the clean vocals and have been trying to find proof of that since the first time I heard the track, but it appears as though it really is Escobar. That really blew me away because he really gives off a very different presence on other songs from this album and it didn't really sound like him at all. His songwriting is also, I think, far more consistent on here than it was on the Mar de Grises albums he worked on, meaning that I found more songs on here memorable and catchy. I'm not sure I could say that it's more diverse, but I found it more enjoyable than the majority of their work. I hate to keep comparing this album to the Mar de Grises albums that Escobar worked on, but it's the best way to I can describe getting a measure of this album's quality - but just to be clear, so far I have yet to hear a bad album from Escobar.
Aside from knowing that this was a doom metal album, I really wasn't sure what this album was going to sound like and I was very pleasantly surprised. If nothing else, I think that Escobar should be proud for making an album that doesn't conform to genre stereotypes and has a sound all it's own. I look forward to what he releases in the future.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Nexo Estelar, Tummasilmäinen, Donde Nada Existía

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Daylight Dies - A Frail Becoming (2012)

Band: Daylight Dies
Country: Asheville, North Carolina
Style: Melodic Death/Doom Metal
Label: Candlelight

There was a point about four years ago when I was absolutely obsessed with Opeth (though I'm sure most metal with brains have gone through that phase) and searched for any band who sounded like them. It was around this time that I found Daylight Dies. It's been four years since I've heard new material from them, and I was very excited when I finally got a copy of this a few months ago.
I don't think it will come to anyone's surprise that Daylight Dies are among the best bands doing anything with the melodic death metal genre to emerge within the last decade or so. Sure, they're influences clearly come from Opeth and Katatonia as much as Dark Tranquillity, but the influence is there, and that's what drew me in when I first heard them. The band value melody and mood over simply being catchy and they don't resort to clean vocals on a chorus because it's "the way to write a song", if they use clean vocals, it's because they fit the part. This is something they've demonstrated on pretty much all of their full-lengths, and I bring it up because not only is it still true for this album, but it's a lesson that many, many bands don't yet know - whether they happen to be playing doom or melo-death or prog-metal, or whatever. Learn from a band who knows what they're doing, listen to Daylight Dies. More specific to this album is the shifting tones in atmosphere, from uplifting to melancholic, though honestly, the shades of melancholy are varied enough to where it doesn't sound like a single continues loop. This is an album where the band clearly stay within a certain frame of mind, the doomed, depressive, and morose one, but are starting to see the light, and that comes through in a few choice tracks on here.
When I listen back to this album, and think about how it compares to the band's past three full-lengths I actually think I can say with confidence that this is the band's best. It's a tough call because I think that Dismantling Devotion is one of the best modern doom metal albums to come out in the last decade and is a real unsung gem in my opinion, but this one is just as good, if not a little bit better. The melodies are stronger, the atmosphere is more varied, and the vocals are a lot more powerful. Nathan Ellis' growls are just so much more robust sounding, and don't sound as though there's as much reverb placed on his vocals as there has been in the past. In addition to that, tracks like Sunset and Ghosting, which are primarily led by Egan O'Rourke's clean singing, are nice little treats, providing some great Katatonia-ish tunes that would put almost everything on their newest album to shame. I mean, there's no denying the power of tracks like Hold On to Nothing or closer An Heir to Emptiness, with their weighty guitar riffs and progressive attitude towards melody. I happen to think that the latter track is the among the best tracks the band has ever written.
As much as I love Daylight Dies, they're a band I find somewhat hard to market to friends who like certain sounds (IE. they like melo-death but this is too slow, they like prog, but it's not techy enough). Despite that, I do hope that if you're one of the few people out there who hasn't heard them by now, you go out and listen to this. There's something in here for fans of all things melancholic and slow, so go out and add this one to your collection.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Sunset, A Final Vestige, An Heir to Emptiness

Guzzlemug - To Leave The Earth EP (2012)

Band: Guzzlemug
Country: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Avant-Garde Metal/Progressive Rock
Label: Speaks Volumes/Bad Human

It was only a couple of months ago that the group known as Guzzlemug first came to my attention. I was pointed in their direction thanks to a release by the name of Nervously Counting Rosary Beads which I was told was quite good (and they were correct). I never got around to doing a write up for that release but I figured that this newer EP was well deserving of one.
To be frank, this four song release really swept me off my feet. Although I had heard that aforementioned single before, I found this to be a completely new experience all together. The trio really have a sound that is hard to put my finger on, it's definitely rooted in progressive and jazz rock for sure, but there are ideas that also come at me as strange abstractions of ideas found in metal. There's definitely some Neurosis in there, as well as a little bit of Enslaved here and there, but it's definitely not something that is immediately noticeable - if they happen to be there at all. Essentially, there are two tracks on here, with an intro and interlude which are by no means throwaways as they help break up the more psychedelic ideas found in the two larger tracks. Dust On My Tongue is a long, winding piece of progressive rock that is one of the most refreshing takes on the genre I've listened to recently. The band take well worn traits from the genre and really breathe new life into them. The drumming is bonkers while the guitar work is psychedelic and bluesy, with bass and synth work providing a nice grounding in between. The second "real" track is closer Io which is closer to the metal side of the band. It's an extremely weird blend of sounds as the track opens as it's both warmly beautiful and aggressively dissonant. It's like the Dillinger Escape Plan with less distortion and vocals.
This is a great piece of work and should not be missed. I know plenty of people are doing their end of year lists, but don't miss out on this one just because it's late in the game. It's truly a stellar piece of modern progressive rock/metal. Highly recommended.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Dust On My Tongue, Io

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Eldrimner - Inom Förloppet Av Ett Liv (2012)

Band: Eldrimner
Country: Gothenburg, Sweden
Style: Groove/Black Metal
Label: Independent

I had seen this album a couple of months back and had been going back and forth as to whether I wanted to even listen to it or not. I guess the thing that pushed me over the edge was a comparison that was made that said this was like Shining (Swe) doing Meshuggah. Personally, I think that's an interesting fusion of ideas.
I know the idea of black metal with groove more than likely won't appeal to a large amount of people, but to me, it was a sound that intrigued me. There are a fair amount of black metal groups who do embrace groove as a part of their sound, Shining actually being one of them, but I was curious what a band who took the atmospherics and darkness, and maybe even the vocal styles, of black metal and applied them to a more groove oriented style of songwriting would sound like. Suffice to say, that the comparisons made to the two bands above may have been overestimating the style on this album. Saying that a band sounds like a combination of Shining (Swe) and Meshuggah, at least in my book, would set the bar pretty high, and even though I wouldn't exactly be able to formulate a clear sound for a band actually doing that style in my head, I would be able to hear a very general sound in my head. This album does take elements from black metal and more groove oriented metal (though to say it's djent sounding would undermine what is actually on here), but after listening to it a couple of times, I can say that I don't think I would have made comparisons to the above bands. The band do borrow from more than the above styles though, with just ideas coming in from post-metal/rock as well as metalcore.
This album is actually quite an interesting little piece. The entire album is constructed as if it's a single, long song where each track flows into the next, and seeing that every track on here is actually quite short, I think that it actually works to the band's benefit. It would have been interesting to hear an album of songs, but to the band's credit, they do pull off this sort of flowing songs pretty solidly. While the majority of the album is pretty heavy, I happened to think that the band pulled off their mellower spots pretty well. They didn't abandon atmosphere, dynamics, or even melody in favor of groove, which might come as a bit of a surprise to people who might have thought that this would be all groove and blast-beats with no substance holding them together. While I'm not completely sold on the clean-ish vocals on Plågor För Glädjen, I thought that the entire post-rock section in which they were used was otherwise really well handled. The short acoustic track Mitt Sista Kapitel is especially worthy of note, and praise, for its downplayed songwriting which sort of reminded me of early Opeth records.
For a debut full-length, I think that it's a solid effort, though not without its flaws. The ideas are there and I think what I'd like to hear more of in the future from these guys is just more focus on songwriting, but that's just me. If you happen to be intrigued by the idea of blackened groove metal (or whatever genre tag it'll come up with) as I was, look into this.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Livsflykt, Ditt Sista Andetag, Plågor För Glädjen

Friday, December 21, 2012

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch (2012)

Band: Scott Walker
Country: Hamilton, Ohio
Style: Experimental/Avant-Garde
Label: 4AD

Scott Walker is easily one of my favorite songwriters (ever). The way his career has changed from his early art/baroque pop into this strange avant-garde composition he's been working with on his last couple of releases is awe-inspiring. I was really surprised when I first heard this album was going to be released this year since anyone who's followed his release schedule recently knows that his last three albums have all had ten-plus year gaps in between them.
As soon as I knew about this album, it pretty much rose to the top of my "must listen to immediately" list. Scott Walker has released two of my favorite albums of all time with Scott 3 and Climate of The Hunter (a record I think was one of the best to come out of the 80s) and so I hold him in very high regard. There is no other artist out there quite like him, and it seems that with every record he releases, his mind just goes more and more bonkers. In an interview talking about this album, he said that he tries to match the music behind him with whatever he has painted in his lyrics. What that means, for those who have yet to hear this or either of his last two full-lengths, is that you'll get his baritone croon atop some of the most absurd combinations of sounds you might ever hear. Listen to this record for the first time took me back to the first time I listened to groups like Mr. Bungle and Maudlin of The Well. When I first began listening to the record from those bands, and this one, I just started laughing because of how weird and foreign it sounds. It's not straight sounding music by any means.
I can't think of another artist who could make the sound of, what appears to be, an arm-fart sound somewhat coherent in a song. In addition to that you have swords slashing against one another, metallic guitar riffs, free-jazz inspired drumming, pulsating electronic beats, breaks into samba rhythms, among many other ideas. It's worth pointing out that these sounds may overlap but more often than not are separate from each other, making the entire thing very disjointed. In addition to how laughably absurd some of this is, it can also be just plain jarring. Where Walker's last two full-lengths were, to a certain extent, based in the world of orchestration and symphonic music, in which it pushed and tested the boundaries of that style, this new album actually doesn't stick with a singular sonic pallet. The album's longest piece, SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter), is easily one of the strangest pieces of music I've heard in a long time. Being twenty-one minutes long is no easy task of sitting through, but Walker manages to put together an assembly of sounds that range from being dark and dissonant to being downright scary. It's also, in my opinion, the catchiest song on the entire album, as if in some sort middle finger to the listeners. It's the sort of song that could be called progressive in some sense, but if you're coming into this expecting anything coherent, you're going to be sorely disappointed. The track is so all over the place that if I tried to describe everything that happens in it, even with its length, it would sound like a mess.
By now, I'm sure most people with an interest in experimental music have heard the album's anti-single, Epizootics!. While that track may as well be the easiest point of entry into the record, it's still by no means easy listening. It's the type of track that contains some of the most melodic lines, instrumentally anyway, from the entire album, with a synthesized horn section that's pretty much the most memorable thing from the entire album. In regards to the whole album, I do think that it is a bit front loaded, with the first five tracks really being among the strangest and most out-there stuff Walker has ever done, and while the last four tracks are still well done and strange, it isn't quite as intense. At least in my case, I think it resulted from my ear growing accustomed to the sort of sounds he was working with, within a reasonable extent of course, that it just loses a bit of that unwieldy quality.
As much as I love the likes of mad geniuses like Mike Patton, Devin Townsend, and Steven Wilson, none of them can hold a candle to Scott Walker. For as often as this record is head scratchingly absurdist and over-the-top, it's also elegant and bold in all the wrong ways. It's one of those records that doesn't make sense in the slightest, but works in spite of that. Listen to Scott Walker, listen to this record, and prepare for one of the strangest listening experience you will likely ever have.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight(?)

Circle of Ouroborus - Abrahadabra (2012)

Band: Circle of Ouroborus
Country: Tampere, Finland
Style: Post-Punk/Shoegaze
Label: Kuunpalvelus

Obviously the ever prolific duo Circle of Ouroborus have released many a recording this year, with this being, I think, the second full-length this year. Among all the other demos, splits, and EPs they've released this year, I'm sure my review output for them is quite minimal, but one has to pick and choose in these sort of situations. I don't think I could write reviews to keep up with their output.
I don't know why, but based on the cover art for this album, I had expected it to continue CoO's trek into raw black metal. Because I've brought that up, it obviously means that it wasn't, it instead is one of the more aggressive takes on post-punk I think the band has done yet. The production isn't quite so hazy and murky as it has been on some of their more recent full-lengths, with the drums coming through very clearly, sometimes to the point of covering the guitar and bass lines. I'm not sure if I was disappointed by this album or not though because I sort of wanted it to be a more metallic record, similar to the route they've been heading on their recent EPs and demos. Obviously I can't say that I've heard everything they've put out recently since it all sells out quite quickly, but that's what I can at least assume from what I have heard. Granted, this does feel closer to their metal side than some of their more recent post-punk endeavors have been and I did think that was a nice treat. The album is also surprisingly diverse for one of their albums. I've found in some of their more recent work that most songs will follow a similar slow tempo, and while I have no qualms with that, listening to an album like this, which contains songs that actually are faster, just makes you appreciate that attention to album diversity more. The contrast between the sort of black metal guitar style on These Days and Years to Kill really contrasts well with the much slower and doomy style on Remembrance, and that's something I don't remember getting on the last couple of releases from the band.
I think what surprised me most about this record, apart from the sound of it, was how immediate I found it. Unlike some of their more recent work (in any format) which I have found somewhat difficult to really latch onto right away, this was actually pretty catchy on a first listen. Now obviously this was just my experience with it, but I actually found these songs to be quite memorable, which is a trait that I can't say I would apply to many releases in the group's discography if I'm being honest. I think Like Silent Meadows is one of the best songs the band has ever written. The melody on it is just so catchy and interesting that it got stuck in my head for hours (to the extent I tried to play it on guitar because I couldn't get it out of my head). But I think that the brevity of the record also helps with its charm. It's actually quite short, with tracks tending to be in the five to six minute range but sticking to pretty simplistic formulas. None of the songs go on and on, another trait which can be found in their past work, and even the nine minute closer, Dementia Praecox, manages to accomplish quite a bit without falling into self-indulgence. Personally, I think this is one of the group's strongest records to date.
I happened to think that this was a really solid piece of work and one of the bands more immediate and consistent records. I don't think it's a masterpiece, but it is probably the best thing I've heard from them this year. If you're a fan, you'll more than likely have already listened to this, if not, give it a whirl, it is a nice place to start.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: These Days and Years to Kill, Six Hands, Like Silent Meadows

Double Review: Jute Gyte

Adam Kalmbach is a pretty prolific musician, releasing several experimental releases under the Jute Gyte name in a year. Both of these albums are obviously somewhat old news by now but hopefully you might find them still relevant to your listening habits if you haven't yet listened to them. Both albums reviewed from 1-10.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Austrasian Goat - Paved Intentions (2012)

Band: The Austrasian Goat
Country: Metz, France
Style: Neo-Folk
Label: Vendetta

Julien Louvet's project The Austrasian Goat has been one of the most consistently interesting projects to emerge from the funeral doom genre in recent years. With each new release expanding his own sonic universe and playing around with various genres all the while never alienating his audience. This new album popped up on Bandcamp a couple of months back and really threw me for a loop when I first gave it a spin.
Since I have not heard every single piece of material that The Austrasian Goat has released, you'll understand if you look at all the splits that the project has been a part of, I can't say with certainty that this is Louvet's first exploration into the world of neo-folk, but what I can say is that he does a very convincing job of it. As much as I love metal, neo-folk is a style of music that I have developed a great fondness for in recent years and I was extremely surprised when I first put on this record and that was what I heard. The previous black metal and funeral doom outings that this project has released have all been rather well done and have earned the project some well deserved praise from those who listen, but just because you're good at playing fast or playing really slow doesn't mean that you know how to write good songs or even write songs on acoustic instruments. Personally, I've always found The Austrasian Goat's more metal outings to be more intriguing than engaging, they keep me interested, but I can't say that I've ever found them to be particularly memorable once an album ends. This, on the other hand, was quite the little gem.
These songs recall that really genuine sense of melancholy that the project's most powerful doom metal pieces conveyed but without all the distortion. It's somber and very morose, in some ways almost heartbreakingly so, but it's kept at a level which is very accessible to anyone who's already a fan of the genre. Whether it happens to be the very pensive and hypnotic Nizkor or the more minimal melancholy of Curtain or the spacey and ambient Reality Is A Miserable Dream, I was really impressed with Louvet's handling of the genre. The twelve songs that make up this record all maintain that same dour atmosphere and mood, but each track brings with it a slightly different array of ideas. Along with that, and I guess this is to be expect in the genre, but there is also an array of instruments used on here, from the standard acoustic guitar and piano to what sounds like glass jugs and timpani. Obviously that's not all of them and there's a plethora of various synths used on here as well, but it's just so refreshing to hear someone take on board unconventional instruments and make them more than just another sound in a song.
I think that this is a really well developed piece of work that really is something special. In a world where so many metal and rock artists think trying out acoustic music (folk in this case) is easy to do, this album shows just how powerful and well crafted it should be done and sets a new bar in quality for these sorts of albums from metal artists. Definitely check this album out if you're a fan of neo-folk or just pensive and melancholic music in general.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Ban The Hours, Broken Yad, Reality Is A Miserable Dream

Double Review: Joe 4

I was emailed a few months back by this band called Joe 4 asking me for a review of their EP. I've said numerous times that I'm not a big fan of stoner rock, nor am I huge into noise rock either, but occasionally there are bands who do keep me interested in the genres. The first album is reviewed from 1-10, the second from 1-8.

Control - Longino, K EP (2012)

Band: Control
Country: Madison, Wisconsin
Style: Math Rock/Noise Rock
Label: Science of Sound

Earlier this year I did a short little review for Control's previous EP, Schulte, A, and was pretty impressed with it. Despite not really being a huge math rock guy, I did think what the band was doing was pretty cool. So when I was sent over this new EP I was certainly more eager to listen to it more immediately since I was aware of how much I already liked the band.
Right from the get-go, this new release had already surpassed my expectations. While their previous EP was good, it was more in that math rock vein, as style that I don't have the greatest of fondness for - though it's by no means a bad style, where as the four tracks that comprised this release had that same sort of precision, but, I thought, were a lot more fun. It's a little bit heavier and not quite as difficult, in a sense, to get into. It also appeared as though the band were breaking out of their comfort zone as well, experimenting with elements of fusion on RE - I'm Freaking, more-noise rock on Same Clothes Same Time, and even a little bit of psychedelia on Horn, as well during a couple of points on here as well. Maybe not enough to really consider it a major draw, but certainly a nice little treat. There are plenty of other one-note math rock bands playing it safe, these tracks prove that the band are worth keeping an eye on. Each track was entertaining to listen to and I happen to think that it's quite the improvement from their last EP and can only hope the band continue to experiment like this in the future.
While it's not the most original thing I've heard from either genre, the band do a very good job at making each track fun and enjoyable. There are enough bands trying to do serious music, and while I'm sure these guys are serious, the four songs on here at least sounds like three guys are having fun playing these tracks. If you're into math rock or noise rock, check this EP out.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Same Clothes Same Time, Horn

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Obsidian Kingdom - Mantiis (2012)

Band: Obsidian Kingdom
Country: Barcelona, Spain
Style: Progressive Metal
Label: Independent

I had been seeing this album around for a little while but never got around to covering it until now just because I've been sort of lazy. I had actually wanted to cover it when it first came out because it was an interesting release. So, enough with the intro, let's get to the meat of this review, the music.
The cover art alone for this album was enough to get me interested, but once I had seen some people mention the likes of Ihsahn and Steven Wilson, I knew this would be an album I had to hear. It is one of those albums where it flows from start to finish as a continuous piece of sorts, and unlike some other albums I think this is one of the better examples of a band doing that this year. This isn't so much a record of individual songs since you get just as many short instrumentals on here to make up a small EP. The songs themselves are actually quite well done stylistically as well, though some may be disappointed, maybe even shocked as I was when I first put this on, to find out that this isn't a particularly heavy or aggressive album. It certainly has its aggressive and metallic moments, but I do think it's one of those records that owes just as much to progressive rock and folk music as much as it does to black and doom metal. While I don't think it'll provide a stumbling block once you get through your first listen, I know that there are some who won't be into the softer and more acoustic driven tracks on here. Only because it sprung into my mind now, the mellower moments on this album actually reminded me of mid-period Amorphis records with Pasi Koskinen on vocals.
As for the more metal moments on here, the band do a pretty solid job at keeping things interesting. The band do take the route of not opting to stick to a single style on here, which does work in their favor most of the time. I'm not sure how I feel about the break into what I guess could be called djentstep on Cinnamon Balls, but otherwise I was pretty into what the band were doing on most tracks. When the band go heavy, they certainly know how to make an impact. A track like Last of The Light is probably one of the best examples of that on here because it is a heavy track, but has this extended sort of jazz section in the middle of it that is much more moody and not heavy in any way; but, it's the contrast with the heavier beginning and ending of the track that shows how great the dynamics are on here and how the band know how to use them to their advantage. Being that this isn't really a vocal driven album for the majority of its running time, the music really has to carry you through the journey that is the album and the band do a rather admirable job at giving the listener a diverse range of ideas. With ideas coming from the aforementioned genres like jazz, dubstep, progressive rock and folk, but also small hints of funk, ambient, and to a much lesser degree, modern classical as well, you can imagine how interesting it is to actually listen to this album. Obviously some genres are given more room than others in the mix, but I thought that the band's use of folk and jazz on a few of the tracks in here were particularly well done. In addition to that, the band actually don't sound quite like any other band (despite that comparison I made above) and manage to pull off a really convincing go at multiple ideas and pulling more off than one might think for how young the band still is.
I thought this was a really well crafted and put together piece of work that shows real potential. The band are obviously very talented and I can only hope they continue to hone their craft for further releases. If you like progressive metal (in one capacity or another) I urge you to check this album out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Answers Revealing, Last of The Light, Endless Wall, Ball-Room

Khors - Wisdom of Centuries (2012)

Band: Khors
Country: Kharkiv, Ukraine
Style: Melodic Black Metal
Label: Candlelight

I've vented my frustrations at the Eastern European metal scene (black metal more specifically) so I'll try to contain myself here. But in the pantheon of good bands from that area, I do regard Khors to be one of the better ones, if not among the best from that area of the world. I really enjoyed their 2010 album Return to Abandoned so I was really interested in where they would take their sound next on this album.
I'll get my major complaint about this album out of the way first. This is an album with eight songs, and four of them are instrumentals. I don't have a problem with instrumentals, but I just think that it's a waste when you have a band who are so capable at writing songs to simply put out instrumental tracks. Maybe it's just me, but the inclusion of four instrumentals (two of which being the intro and outro) on an album so short is sort of disappointing. Even if the four major songs are quite lengthy pieces for the band, I found it a stumbling block that I was not able to overcome. With that being said however, all of the instrumentals (interlude or otherwise) were very well done and quite well crafted. The band have reigned in the more synth based elements from their last album and have developed their more progressive guitar melodies, which I actually think is an improvement on their part. Tracks like The Last Leaves prove to be more effective due to being the middle ground between more traditional black metal playing with the occasional progressive guitar riff thrown in to spice up the mix. I happened to think their blend was quite tastefully done.
In the context of where they're from, the Ukraine, I have always thought that Khors were up there with Drudkh, Hate Forest (and it's offshoot Blood of Kingu), and Astrofaes in terms of actually being quite proficient in all aspects of their sound. This album features all the quality elements that I've come to expect from them including some well suited clean production, nice atmospherics, clarity in each instrument, and a polished sense of songwriting. None of it feels rushed or simply thrown together haphazardly - which is more than I can say for many of their peers in the same region of the world. There's also a sense of pace that the band have, especially in regards to this album specifically, where each song feels like it has a place. I know that contradicts with my first statement about questioning the use of having four instrumentals, but my gripe is more with the there being just as many instrumentals as actual songs rather than them being any good or fitting in with the album. But the band know how to keep an album interesting to their listeners by having songs that are more straightforward and aggressive but also having depth, hear Black Forest's Flaming Eyes and The Only Time Will Take It Away and you'll hear the difference.
I thought this was a really well done piece of work that stands tall with the rest of their discography. Though this review is coming pretty late into the year, I still think that it's worth your time if you may have missed it. Black metal fans take notice, because this is not a band you want to look over.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Black Forest's Flaming Eyes, The Last Leaves, The Only Time Will Take It Away

2012 - Splits X

Here are some of the last splits for this year, hopefully you might find something in here interesting. As always reviewed from 1-10.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Yakuza - Beyul (2012)

Band: Yakuza
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Progressive Metal/Jazz Rock
Label: Profound Lore

I'm a big fan of Yakuza. I think the band are easily one of the best and most exciting metal groups to come out of the US, let alone Chicago, for years. 2010's Of Seismic Consequence was my favorite album of that year and so I had high hopes coming into this new album.
The thing that really made Of Seismic Consequence such a great album for me was how it balanced post-metal moodiness and sort of loose song structures with more aggressive moments that were somewhere between extreme jazz rock and grindcore. It somehow found a middle ground in between the two area, though the album was evenly balanced with tracks showcasing both sides of the band on their own as well. The first thing I noticed about this album was how it was much shorter than a lot of their other works, clocking in a just under forty minutes, which I was sort of surprised by based on their past excursions. But once I put this record on I did understand why pretty immediately. This is a much more aggressive record than the band's last couple have been, so, combine that with shorter songs, and it should become pretty clear that a longer album most likely would not have worked. The band have never been completely about brutality, but I think this is their most "metallic" record yet with tracks like Oil and Water and Mouth of The Lion easily being among the band's most aggressive songs to date. The production is also very natural, as always, which continues to give the band a very distinct sound. It never feels like the band are overdubbing their instruments, with the guitar tone coming across very rough around the edges while the bass and drums are clear and fluid. It sounds like a band playing live in front of you, even with the extra instrumentation.
The band have always balanced riff oriented metal with open spaces where improvisation could later be used to expand upon and this record doesn't feel like there are as many of those spaces, but maybe that's just me. While faster tracks are certainly fun and a part of the band's sound, the more "progressive" and sludgy paced ones were always where I thought their talent shined through the brightest. So I guess it was only natural that the longer pieces like Man Is Machine (which sort of gave off a bit of a Mr. Bungle vibe, so a major plus there) and Fire Temple and Beyond appealed to me over some of the shorter tracks. Personally, the biggest letdown for me on this record was the shortest track on here, Species. Musically, I don't have so much of a problem with it, it's fast and chaotic, as it should be since it's just under a minute and a half, but it's Bruce Lamont's vocals on it that provide the problem for me. Now, I really like Bruce Lamont, I think he's a great vocalist with a great amount of range and he uses it fantastically throughout his various projects. But on this song in particular, he just really irritated me because he distorts his voice and it sounds like he's trying to growl but just can't, it just didn't work for me.
Beyond my one gripe, I thought this was a great piece of work from a band that is as consistent as they come. Yakuza have yet to fail me and definitely do Chicago proud (I only wish they got the respect they deserved) and this is another fine notch on their headboards. Definitely check this out if you are interested in experimental metal, rock, or jazz music, this is one of the best bands experimenting in those areas today and you'd be foolish to overlook them.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Man Is Machine, Fire Temple and Beyond, Lotus Array

Animation - Transparent Heart (2012)

Band: Animation
Country: New York, New York
Style: Jazz
Label: RareNoise

I first found out about Animation a while back when I was sent their reinterpretation of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew album. I really enjoyed that release and it really changed that album into something modern and morose sounding. I remember first seeing this cover art and I just knew that this would appeal to me.
Unsurprisingly, this is the sort of record that really makes jazz worth listening to, at least in my opinion. As it should, the music reflects what I liked about the cover art, it's dark, moody, very atmospheric, and relaxing all at the same time. Now, of those four adjectives, the one that will more than likely pop out as being out of place is relaxing. I use that term because, unless it's really abstract or free-form, I do find a lot of jazz music quite relaxing, and this album is no different in that regard. But as for the other adjectives, I think that all those people who listen to this record will agree with them. There's a darkness to this album that really works in its favor. While I was listening to this I could easily picture the empty streets of New York City at night, sort of like a 50s noir film. I could just see those flickering street signs to underground clubs, lone prostitutes and criminals wandering the streets, that occasional guy leaning against a building smoking wearing an overcoat. For me it was sort of like what the soundtrack might have sounded like if David Lynch remade The Man With The Golden Arm with Angelo Badalamenti doing the score for it. Ok, maybe I'm going a bit overboard when it comes to the pictures I imagine, but it's great because I don't often get that from jazz music and find it more in other styles.
Sonically, despite being a jazz record, there were several points where it almost felt like trip-hop. Granted, the drums never fell into electronic percussion, but the beats that were played had that sound to them. The sort that just give the music this sexy kind of vibe that I don't typically associate with jazz. I just really have to give it up to Matt Young for doing an excellent job on the drums. In addition to bringing that sort of trip-hop kind of drum style to some of these songs, he also brings a lot of energy to the group. I found myself repeatedly being drawn to what he was doing over what the other four members were. In a sense, and it's only striking me as I'm currently writing this, but some of the playing on here did remind me of another jazz group who I thoroughly enjoy, Bohren & Der Club of Gore, but nowhere near as ambient as that group can get. While the entire album was well crafted, I found that the track where everything fell into place was on Provocatism. That track probably featured the best of everyone in the band. The drum and bass work were spot on, providing an absolutely killer groove for the other three guys to work off of. The sax solos were great and the keys really helped to underscore everything and give it a sort of melancholic kind of vibe. The song is really just a fantastic piece of music.
Even though I came into the album knowing that I would like it, I was actually really surprised by how it exceeded my expectations. This was a very pleasant surprise for me and is definitely among the best jazz albums I've heard in a long, long time. If you dig jazz or dark music in general, I'd say that this is a must listen for this year.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Terra Incognito, Seven Towers, Provocatism

Naked Truth - Ouroboros (2012)

Band: Naked Truth
Country: Italy/Norway/US
Style: Jazz/Progressive Rock
Label: RareNoise

In the last year, RareNoise Records has supplied me with some of the most recent releases in jazz music and has certainly expanded my view of the genre. Frankly, I was always more interested in older jazz and fusion records, but they've really helped to broaden my horizons with all of their releases. Naked Truth is the most recent of those releases.
Recently, the releases that I have been receiving from RareNoise have been increasingly experimental, and this one is no exception. This record really got me interested from the get-go with skittering electronic effects and some nice soloing from each player in the band. The saxophone was melodic and spacey while the drums were energetic but very controlled. The band go between playing straight-up lounge styled jazz and more avant-garde and progressive fusion, which were the parts that really got me interested. Opener Naked is a nice attention grabbing track but in no way prepares you for the detour you're going to take on Dancing With The Demons of Reality. It's a totally bizarre and psychedelic sort of funk-fusion track that is really quite disorienting but also totally amazing sounding. I should point out how rarely jazz actually excites me to write about it, but this was some really good stuff. It's hard for a jazz album to get me really excited or enthusiastic about it, and I'm honestly surprised by how much I wound up really enjoying this album.
I think what I really enjoyed about this album so much was how much the musicians knew to give the songs space. In every track they never tried to overwhelm you or make you pay attention, but if you did you were rewarded with good and interesting material. But whenever they would bust out into a more frantic part, they would equal it out with more ambient breaks that were smoother and more atmospheric. They'll also balance out a more intense track with calmer ones, which works to their advantage (though it's a trait that works to many a group's advantage), specifically in the case of the funk-based Rite of Nightly Passage leading into the progressive Yang Ming Has Passed. Another aspect I thought helped the album was that it wasn't overly long. None of the tracks topped ten minutes, and as much as I love long songs, there have been times in the past where I just thought that some guy soloing on his sax (as much as I love the instrument) is enough when you've been doing it for several minutes. This album had pretty concise tracks where they all expressed an idea, ran with it, and then moved on, they didn't dwell on it and make it run around in circles. A trait many a band/artist could learn from.
As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed this album and I think it's a really great piece of work. I don't hear a whole lot of jazz music beyond what RareNoise sends me and this was a surprise to me even among the high caliber stuff they put out. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in jazz, fusion, prog-rock, or any sort of middle ground between them.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Dancing With The Demons of Reality, Garden Ghosts, In A Dead End With Joe

Monday, December 17, 2012

S U R V I V E - HD009 (2012)

Band: S U R V I V E
Country: Austin, Texas
Style: Ambient/Witch House
Label: Holodeck

A reissue of sorts of the group's original limited batch of tapes with tracks that come from their original debut. I don't typically cover reissues but when I skimmed through it, it had some pretty nice ideas. Plus I thought the way the band titled themselves was sort of funny.
When I was doing initial research for this group, I was actually a little surprised to see that they were associated with the whole "witch house" scene. When I originally skimmed through the album, I didn't get that vibe at all. Listening through from start to finish though, there are actually clear echoes of ideas that can be found in that genre on here as well. Sure, it's not quite as navel-gazing as some other artists I've heard in the genre, and it's certainly just as indebted to ambient and 70s and 80s synth based music, but more than likely if you can chill out to the artists associated with that scene, you can find this entertaining as well. Being divided into two halves, it was actually quite nice to hear two halves that did feel quite separate from each other. I'm all for cohesion, but sometimes a release of individual pieces can be just as effective.
The first half of the tape is definitely the side that leans heavier on the witch house tendencies of other releases. It's reverbed out with smooth beats propelling the track forward and dark synth lines that provide both ambiance and the melody throughout. It's a dreamy track but one that I did find rather tiring at times. When used as background music, I found myself simply absorbing it and really enjoying what I was hearing, but when I focus solely on the music I began to feel bored and somewhat tired by it before it could even reach its half-way mark. And that isn't even to say it's all that monotonous because the structure of it is very up and down with various sections of pure ambiance, more danceable beat oriented points, or almost industrial tribal slow sections, but unfortunately that didn't help what I thought of it. By comparison, the second track feels a lot more varied. Opening up with some bubbling synths and then evolving into some low-end drones and constantly shifting textures the track soon turns from a sort of witch-ambient kind of sound into a full blown 70s-esque synth odyssey. Of course, there is more to the track than that, with plenty of droning low-end popping up quite early on in the track.
Though the first half of this did prove to be a bit monotonous for my taste, the second half really did redeem it. Both tracks are very well crafted soundscapes that could prove to be just as appealing to both sorts of crowds as they could be polarizing to them. If you dig ambient or drone based electronic music this is a music for this year.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Cschz02

2012 - Holodeck

Holodeck is a pretty interesting little label I've recently established contact with. I meant to do single reviews for these three but because the end of the year is coming up, I figured I'd just introduce whoever's reading this to several albums at once instead of one at a time. Full-lengths reviewed from 1-10 and the EP is reviewed from 1-8, as per usual.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Forgotten Tomb - ...And Don't Deliver Us From Evil (2012)

Band: Forgotten Tomb
Country: Piacenza, Italy
Style: Progressive Black Metal/Doom Metal
Label: Agonia

Ever since I first heard of Forgotten Tomb several years ago, I have been waiting for them to reach the same heights as the album I first found them on, Negative Megalomania. After last year's rather unremarkable Under Saturn Retrograde album I didn't expect the band to be releasing more material so soon (though based on their early track-record I shouldn't have been all that surprised). I was rather trepidations coming into this though.
Before Under Saturn Retrograde, I probably would have told you that Forgotten Tomb were on an inclined slope because each album they released only got better. While I can't say that their last full-length was a bad album, it was in no way their best work and felt like a less personal effort, with the band drifting a little too far into their punk and rock'n'roll influences for my tastes. The cover of The Stooges on that album and the G.G. Allen covers on the split with Whiskey Ritual didn't do them any favors either, though, again, they weren't bad, just rather tiresome in my opinion. So when I heard that this album was going to be Herr Morbid's most personal album since 2003's Springtime Depression, I was rather curious to hear what sort of sound that would entail. Was it going to be even further down the sort of black'n'roll road they appeared to be travelling down in their recent releases, or back to a more doomy and atmospheric black metal one from their earlier albums? Surprisingly, it is actually somewhere in between.
This album is definitely more engaging than their last album, the songs are more fluid and feel more powerful. They've maintained that sort of drunken rock'n'roll kind of vibe, but the songs are a lot darker and make use of more dissonant riffs. It also brings back a lot more of that doomy atmosphere from earlier albums, though it never quite returns to the slower doom tempos that those releases made use of all too often - listen to Cold Summer for an instance of that doomy side in full effect. To be perfectly honest, I did have some high hopes for this album, they weren't huge or unreasonable, but I did want this album to be good and, unfortunately, it did not meet those expectations. Make no mistake, this is not a bad album, and I enjoyed this more and think it has more replay value than their last full-length, but it still isn't quite up to the heights that they set themselves up on with early albums. The songs just come across to me a bit too much like the rock'n'roll sort that plagued the last album where I think the band were at their best writing more depressive and melancholic pieces - but that's just me. I'm not going to pretend that that rock tendency doesn't work at times, a track like Let's Torture Each Other is definitely well done, but more often than not, it just made for some rather ill maneuvered shifts in tone that did not sit well with me at all. Adrift is really where the band are at their best, melding morose melodies with big choruses and riffs that jump between black and doom metal.
It's a solid album, not great, but a step into the right direction. I think that there will be many other people who will enjoy this more than I have, that tonal shift is one that I just have trouble getting over. Anyway, if you like progressive black metal or even black metal that has a bit of that punk rock kind of attitude, you should dig this.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Cold Summer, Love Me Like You'd Love The Death, Adrift

Dark Opus - Ignominious Fundamentals EP (2012)

Band: Dark Opus
Country: Paris, France
Style: Black Metal
Label: Battlesk'rs Productions

I've said several times in the past that I really love the French black metal scene and I think a great number of interesting groups come from the country. But then there are those who prescribe to the whole early-to-mid 90s Les Legions Noires mentality (sonically, not ideally). I'm not huge into that sub-culture/genre of the genre, but Dark Opus sounded interesting enough on paper to make me interested.
If you come into this expecting anything resembling the experimental, you'd best look elsewhere because you will not find it here. This is one of those records where once you press play, you are assaulted with tremolo picking, wretched vocals, and a big atmosphere. Luckily, each of the three tracks on here does have it's own personality, with opener Poisonous Shapes being a pretty mid-paced track that is directly followed by the far more intense and boisterous Crawling Barillus, which is a pretty much what anyone who listens to black metal would expect. Closer Insidious Curse is a nice blend of the two ideas, the more mid-paced atmospherics and the blazing aggression, and is easily the best track on the release because of it. It's not the sort of track that will take the world by storm but there's a few nice ideas sprinkled throughout this track that hopefully acts as an indication for where the project might go in the future. But it isn't overly raw, you are able to hear quite a lot of what is actually being played on here. It's by no means as raw as the Les Legions Noires, but there atmosphere that surrounds this recording is slightly reminiscent of some of the groups that I have actually heard.
Each track is pretty solid, so there really isn't anything to hate about these songs. I'd be nice to hear something a bit more individualistic coming from the project, but for now, this is just fine. Sure, it's nothing a black metal fan won't have heard before, but if you're in the market for some more traditional black metal, maybe try this one out.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Insidious Curse

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Yurei - Night Vision (2012)

Band: Yurei
Country: Norway
Style: Progressive Black Metal/Jazz Rock
Label: Adversum

When I first found out about Adversum records about two years ago, one of their first releases was Yurei's Working Class Demon album. That album was a strange and odd mixture of black metal with a lot of jazz, resulting in an album that was as strange as it was dark. Now, Yurei returns with an even stranger piece of work.
Like I said of Yurei's debut album, it's a project that will more than likely polarize half of the people who listen to it. Bjørge Martinsen is extremely talented at taking the black metal sonic palette and essentially filtering it through extremely strange jazz, among other genres. If you aren't totally turned off by the one-two combo that begin this album, instrumental opener Insomniac Bug Hunt and Reborn In Reveries, you should pretty much be fine with the rest of the album. The chord voicings on here are just crazy dissonant and weird that it makes these relatively simple songs (structurally speaking) so much more interesting to sit and listen to. In addition to that Martinsen has one of those voices that is extremely dramatic, I'm sure to some over-dramatic, and over the top, which is something all of my favorite vocalists manage to have and use to their advantage, though it could just as easily backfire and become incredibly annoying and aggravating. What perhaps makes Yurei such an interesting project is that Martinsen never tries to obscure anything he's doing on here. This is a very stripped-down album, you have your basic set-up of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, so all the ambiance on this record is created naturally. That ambiance is very tense and claustrophobic by the way, making the album all the more difficult to get into. There are some ideas on here that do make me remember another Adversum band (who have yet to release their debut album) M. in certain points.
This album does make things just a little more interesting than the debut album though. The use of organ and synth as a prominent instrument in the mix really does make a difference on a handful of the tracks on here. A track like the Sleepwalkers In Love dance over into waltz territory that change the otherwise rather strange track into something perplexingly memorable and catchy. It's so weird that this album is probably a lot more accessible than the debut, but I found to be a more challenging album to listen to. The ideas ranged from being extremely tough and at times rather grating, 3.00 a.m. Revolt, to being very unique and grabbing, Ditt Monument; and I don't mean for that to give the impression of bad songs, they were just very hard to get into. Personally, I found the vocals and guitar lines to be more infectious than the bass work, which has been turned down quite a bit in the mix on here, which is kind of the opposite from how it was on the debut record for me.
I was strangely captivated by this album, much more than I thought I would be actually, and found myself rather enchanted with it even after the first listen. It's something I don't expect to find a huge audience, but will be loved by those who do grasp what it's trying to do. If you're a fan of experimental jazz or really out-there black metal (to the point of not even being metal anymore), than definitely go out and seek this record. Or if you're just a weirdo like me who goes out of their way to look for stuff like this.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Reborn In Reveries, Dali By Night, Ditt Monument