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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Hexvessel - No Holier Temple (2012)

Band: Hexvessel
Country: Helsinki/Tampere, Finland
Style: Psychedelic Folk/Rock
Label: Svart

As I said in my review for last year's Dawnbearer album, I am a big fan of Kvohst. Ever since I first heard him on Code's Nouveau Gloaming and have been a fan and have followed him through every project and band he's participated with. I still think it's a shame that he quit most of his metal bands/projects but I can't say that the quality of his material has deteriorated in this style shift (if you wish to call it one).
I'll just say this right up front (as after now I won't mention it), I still think it's a shame that Kvohst has abandoned most of his metal projects and I can only hope that he does continue to work with the few he's still listed as a member of. Moving swiftly on from that to this record. I was a big fan of last year's Dawnbearer record and thought it was a great occult folk record that had some really fantastic songwriting and well developed ideas. It's just a little surprising as to how much of a throwback this new record is compared to what I actually thought was a pretty contemporary sounding debut record. This one really recalls old-school 60s and 70s psychedelic and acid folk, as well as some nice psychedelic rock as well at times, but listening to Wood to Conjure, I was just in a state of wow, those trumpets really fit in fantastically. In the press notes they make reference to the works of Miles Davis, and while I certainly understand them putting that in there, it's nowhere near as experimental or jazzy as any of his works. Using horns in this genre isn't huge, but it's certainly been done in the past before. Having said that, as someone who is not huge on the sound of brass instruments, the way they were used in here was just great.
Looking back at Dawnbearer, for what it was, I now see it as more of a foundational record. The songs and ideas present on that record were short and concise pieces, they really took that 60s and 70s version of psychedelic folk music and made it something that sounded authentic and modern. This new record, while sounding far more retro, benefits from that first album acting as more of a stepping stone before diving into this more traditional (for the genre) sound. A couple of tracks on here top the seven minute mark, only one track from the debut crossed over five minutes, and that should give you some indication of how some of these songs differ in approach. Sure, you have shorter pieces, to which they are more like interludes featuring spoken word, though no expense has been paid to making those interludes as interesting as the regular tracks. The variety of instruments used on here is just amazing, and great, especially considering how many folk acts (or folk metal/rock acts) rely on using the same instruments over and over again to the point of redundancy (maybe it's just me who gets annoyed by that, but whatever). That is no such problem on here as everything from background noise and found sounds to additional percussion, accordions, and fender rhodes piano, among others, can be found in these songs, and they happen to be used to great effect.
I can't help but love how these songs utilize everything from the range of instruments to the various style explorations in each track. When the band decide to just play a straight-up acid folk tune, A Letter In Birch Bark, they'll do it, and they'll do it well, when they feel the need to go off a a small krautrock groove, Sacred Marriage, they'll damn well do, and when they decide to go into full-on psychedelic head-trip mode, Unseen Sun, they'll make you envious when they smack you down with how well they do it. It's also worth saying that when the band do a cover, they'll make it their own. Closer, Your Head Is Reeling, originally done by Ultimate Spinach, is far less of a psychedelic trip as the band has fixed the problems that plagued the original (namely the production) and made it just as catchy, if not more so. The songwriting has only been heightened from the debut, with melodies becoming even more infectious, though that might not be the best way to describe this record, and ideas blooming forth into songs that are beautiful and melancholic.
It's a great record, and while I sort of wish there were more "actual" songs on here, I can't fault it for trying something a little different with the flow of a record. Kvohst has yet to disappoint me, and this is no exception. Definitely check this record out, you're more than likely going to see this on several end of the year lists come December.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Woods to Conjure, His Portal Tomb, Unseen Sun

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Primate - Draw Back A Stump (2012)

Band: Primate
Country: Atlanta, Georgia
Style: Grindcore/Crust Punk
Label: Relapse

Featuring members from Brutal Truth, The Despised, and more recently, Mastodon, all the pieces are in place for a rip-roaring punk album. No, I don't really get that once Bill Kelliher became involved, but that is what this is. Besides him coming on board, I do believe that these guys are doing a throwback crust punk record.
Since this is essentially just a reissue of the EP that was released last year by the band, I wasn't originally going to cover it, but because it has three new songs I just said what the shit and am doing it anyway. Musically, to say that there's anything groundbreaking on here would be a total lie, this is retro crust punk. The sort of stuff I'd imagine all five of the guys in the band listened to when they were growing up, only it's done in their own way, which means their mixing in some extra hints of things here and there as well, if only to spice it up. That extra flavor comes in the form of heavy metal, or NWOBHM sounding guitar lines that pop up in a track like Global Division and end up making that track so good. The songs are driving, quick, and aggressive, but that little dose of harmony does wonders for memorability here. I have a hard time faulting any group that pulls off a Black Flag cover without making it sound contrived or distancing it from its original intentions and energy (I'm looking at you Hatebreed) and I feel like these old crusties did Drinking and Driving justice. It's just as fun and snarky as the original, but has that additional grit that only experience can give you when delivering those lyrics, thanks to Kevin Sharp. While I was certainly skeptical of how Kelliher would adjust his sound to playing with these guys, I think he does mask it pretty well, blending in with what the other guys are doing, but there's no hiding his influence on a track like March of The Curmudgeon, which has Mastodon written all over it in its main riff.
While I severely doubt this is going to blow anyone away, it is certainly enjoyable and fun. I don't take this sort of stuff as seriously as a lot of people (I'm assuming here), but if this is meant to be fun for the members, why can't it just be a fun listen for me as well? Fans of crust punk, old-school hardcore, and early grind will definitely enjoy this.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Global Division, March of The Curmudgeon, Get The Fuck Off My Lawn

I Am War - Outlive You All (2012)

Band: I Am War
Country: Orange County, California
Style: Metalcore/Hardcore
Label: Razor & Tie

Truthfully, I have no idea why I am covering this. I mean, I like Bleeding Through (though their last two albums have been a bit on the dull side), but I've outgrown my love for Atreyu long ago. I wasn't huge into the single they released several months ago, but here I am, reviewing this anyway.
I know the point of this project was so that these two guys, and maybe Mick Finney (who for some reason has become increasingly involved with these sorts of projects), was to write some really aggressive, energetic hardcore songs. What that essentially means is that they decided to write a bunch of short, pretty fast paced tracks that feature quite a lot of gang shouts, breakdowns, and thrash influenced riffs. It's pretty much the standard of modern hardcore or metalcore, nothing stands out too much. I do understand how this sort of music can make people feel energized and pumped up, but personally, there were very few instances where I felt any desire to get up and mosh, which I'd assume is something that both of these guys had in mind while writing these songs. As the lead vocalist Alex Varkatzas certainly does have a style that is somewhat polarizing. I'd totally understand if someone told me they found his throaty yell irritating, but I was actually quite surprised by the amount of diversity he used on here. Personally, I enjoy Brandan Schieppati's vocal style, his guttural style of hardcore growling is very distinct and whenever he pops up, I do think he reinforces whatever point Varkatzas is trying to drive home with his lyrics. I do think the two work quite well as a pair, a lot better than the single, Bat Out of Hell, had lead me to believe. I'm assuming that since Finney did the production on here, he also helped sample the drums on here, because it's become a problem that is becoming more and more prominent in his recent jobs. The kicks on here sound terribly compressed and mechanical, and while that might not bother some people, I find it to be incredibly irritating since it clashes with the more organic sounding guitar tones. I'm glad it hasn't seeped into Anaal Nathrakh too much as of right now anyway. Seeing that Schieppati did play guitar on here, I think it is worth noting that while none of these songs feature riffs that will surprise you, he knows how to write songs that are direct and to the point. They are metalcore songs, but coming from someone who has listened to a lot of bands, both old and new, I have to at least give him credit for not trying to make this into something it's not. This album is thirteen tracks long and not a single song crosses the three minute mark. These guys aren't out to write something unique or original, this is a straightforward metalcore record, that's it, though I do appreciate the few black metal riffs that pop out throughout.
I have to be honest and say that even though I was skeptical, and that might be underestimating it, this album did wind up impressing me. I don't think this is a great album, but there are tracks on here that quite good for what they are. It's not going to wow you, but if you want to hear some quick metalcore songs, check it out.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: The Poisoning, I Don't Know Anything, Lead By Liars, My Love Affair With Disaster

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Double Review: Wildernessking

Months and months after the debut full-length originally was released, I'm finally taking a chance on covering the band. It feels a bit more comforting (to me) knowing that their EP is still pretty recent.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kristoffer Gildenlöw - Rust (2012)

Band: Kristoffer Gildenlöw
Country: Eskilstuna, Sweden
Style: Progressive/Symphonic Rock
Label: Independent

As some people already know, I am a fan of progressive metal, which is relevant in this case because it means I am a fan of Pain of Salvation. Being that Kristoffer used to play bass in the band and was the brother of the band's figurehead, Daniel Gildenlöw, I was really interested in hearing what he would do on his own. That was after the album had already been released however (I had no knowledge of this prior to that).
I feel I should warn anyone who checks this album out that if you are expecting anything remotely similar to the albums of PoS that Kristoffer participated, you will be sorely disappointed. Nothing on here is even remotely close to the experimental prog-metal of that band's early albums or the more experimental nature it began to take around the time of Kristoffer's split from the group. This is an album full of soft, somewhat progressive, ballads. I was certainly surprised the first time I listened through this album at how calming and almost melancholic these tracks are. Even though it is quite far from the work he did in PoS, you can certainly hear remnants and traces of ideas throughout. Several progressions in these tracks do indeed remind me of some of PoS's material and Kristoffer's voice certainly does sound similar to his older brother's, to the extent that when I first heard it I wondered if Daniel was guesting on here. I looked at several sites and it didn't mention anything of him being on here, so all I can say is that Kristoffer does have a good voice that I genuinely found quite surprising (because I am a big fan of Daniel's voice).
Because this entire album is populated by what are essentially ballads, there are a few tracks where it could be argued differently but I'll continue to refer to it as a album of ballads, it can feel a bit dreary at times. A couple of tracks just sort of pass on by without leaving much of an impression, though I'll certainly give it to Kristoffer for at least giving an emotionally captivating impression whenever he opens his mouth. If there's anything that can be said about this record is that you can certainly feel the emotion in each song, whether it's the a capella Längtan, the instrumental title-track, or my personal favorite on the album, the morose piano driven Overwinter, they all convey that very tricky sense of melancholic hope that is so hard to find in music, let alone find someone who does it without sounding contrived or cheesy. Having said that, I could see how some people could say that this is a depressing album, there really aren't too many moments where it moves out of that dreary melancholy, but I do think that if you can connect with it in some way or view it in a different light, you could see it as somewhat hopeful. Obviously, I can only speak for myself in the regard to how I connected with several of these tracks on an emotional level, but I think that everyone could at least find respect for the arrangements on here.
This is more than certainly not for everyone, but I still recommend at least listening to a track or so before making up your mind about it. Coming in expecting something a little more "rock" inflected, I was genuinely surprised by this record and can say that there are some really powerful songs on here. I realize this is being pretty specific, but if you like ballads, you'll have a field day with this, but I think it's worth a listen for anyone.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Rust, Heroes, Overwinter

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Faceless - Autotheism (2012)

Band: The Faceless
Country: Encino, California
Style: Progressive Death Metal
Label: Sumerian

I have to say that back when I was first getting into the whole tech-metal, tech-death to be more specific, one of the earliest groups I remember getting into was The Faceless. I can still remember, very vividly, the day I went to the store and bought 2008's Planetary Duality and as it stands, I still find that to be one of the most memorable albums I've heard from that genre (ever!). Four years, three new band members, and a hand injury later, we finally have that album's follow-up.
Yes, maybe the above statement seems a bit naive of someone who hasn't listened to a whole lot of tech-death (I'm perfectly ok if you think that) but it's a genre that I do have trouble remembering songs from, and Planetary Duality is one of the few albums that I actually can remember songs, not just ideas. But we're talking about this new album. With a four year gap in between albums, expectations were quite high, and personally, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the hype, I was going to cover this album regardless of if it was just another tech-death album, a djent album, a deathcore album, or whatever, because I like the band. So, I can say quite sincerely that when I pressed play for the first time and I heard Michael Keene's singing introduce Autotheist Movement I: Create, I was not only surprised, but actually excited for whatever would follow.
It's quite obvious that the band has taken a far less authentic approach to tech-death, because no matter what is said about Planetary Duality, you have to say that it was a full-on tech-death album in the vein of groups like Necrophagist or Spawn of Possession. This is far less of deliberate copy of that style and more of an interpretation of what I can imagine came from groups like Opeth, Devin Townsend, and Septicflesh. There are certain riffs and ideas that you can see a through line from where the band did take their inspiration and how they made it into their own. There are more than a few guitar lines that sound very much Opeth-like, Keene's vocals at times to sound like he has taken inspiration from Townsend, and the symphonic work is very reminiscent of the most recent releases from Septicflesh. Whether or not the band actually took some sort of inspiration from a group like Mr. Bungle or not, Autotheist Movement III: Deconsecrate definitely made me think of them and that did bring a smile to my face. Any reference to that band gets a thumbs-up in my book automatically (whether intentional or not). It's a very noticeable shift, and as I've noticed from my fan's reactions already, there appears to be a pretty decent amount of people who aren't really feeling this new direction. I understand that the shift into a much more typically "progressive" direction might be a bit much for some people who liked the band's rapidfire tech-death approach, but speaking only for myself, I prefer this album to their previous two. It doesn't have any impact on how much I like Planetary Duality, I still like that album, I just like this one more.
In addition to the above, it's not like the band have lost their death metal edge. Geoffrey Ficco is more than a suitable replacement for Derek Rydquist but brings with him a much wider range of styles. He does the typical guttural growls but now there are various pitches of the growl, there are screams, and various other forms of intense vocals. Instrumentally, I'm more than happy to tell you that, yes, I'd say the first half of the album is dominated by more technical-progressive metal that isn't specifically designated to the realms of death metal, the last four tracks (three if you exclude Hail Science) are certainly closer to the band's previous work, at least in my opinion. I'm fine with the band using less typical ideas from death metal just to keep them in touch with the genre, there are enough bands doing that already, I'd rather have a band break out from the genre's confines and do something that makes them stand apart from other groups.
I was certainly impressed with this album and definitely surpassed my expectations for what I thought the band could achieve. This is the band at their peak as of right now, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here. It's not for everyone, but I think that if you're willing to hear a new band's take on prog-death, it's definitely worth it.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Autotheist Movement II: Emancipate, Autotheist Movement III: Deconsecrate, The Eidolon Reality

Monuments - Gnosis (2012)

Band: Monuments
Country: Milton Keynes, UK
Style: Tech Metal/Djent
Label: Century Media

Back in 2008, a band called Fellsilent released their debut full-length called The Hidden Words which was one of the first albums to really show the forthcoming wave of djent. Soon after, the band dissolved and both guitars from that band formed new groups now known as TesseracT and Monuments. After a very long and highly anticipated build up, we finally have the debut full-length from Monuments.
There's been quite a few things that have been holding up this record, which, from what I understand, has been ready since early last year or so, including, but not limited to, finding a new vocalist, which took up the majority of the that time. Enter Matt Rose. I really have to give it to the band because they have taken a shot on Rose filling the spot(s) of vocalist which was previously taken up by two vocalists. So, even if I wound up disliking his vocals, I'd still have to give him props for just filling the space. Luckily, Rose actually does a pretty solid job at filling their spots, actually trumping them in some regards. Previous vocalists, Neema Askari and Greg Pope, were certainly talented, taking the whole SikTh, or Fellsilent to be more specific, approach to vocals where they were both delivering rapidfire vocal lines and bouncing off of each other and occasionally harmonizing, which was cool for what it was. But, I actually do prefer the more direct and singular style that Rose brings to the band, though it did take a little time to adjust to it after getting used to listening to some of these songs with Askari and Pope on them. Hell, Rose channels his inner Jeff Buckley on a couple tracks throughout the album, which I'm more than happy to accept.
As for the instrumental side of the band, John Browne has definitely continued with the sound he helped to pioneer with Fellsilent. What that happens to mean, for those who aren't aware, is that you have very fast, staccato riffs that bounce back and forth between djent rhythms and progressive melodies. These aren't the standard Nothing-era Meshuggah style rhythms by the way, every track on here is fast paced and the rhythms don't stop or give you a second to breathe. Granted, as the record progresses, more space is injected into the songs, which does bring out more melody, ala 97% Static or Denial for example, but even those tracks still have faster sections as well. One of my favorite things about this record is that, in a similar way to that Vildhjarta record that was released last year, it isn't a clean sounding album. For this sort of sound, it's very heavy and punchy, with a pretty clear distinction between crunchy low-end and high-end pristine. I don't know if you could call it raw, but it's certainly not polished to a metallic shine like a lot of other bands. Even if you can't get into the music, I think you have to at least acknowledge the talent it takes to play these songs without making them sound random or chaotic. The rhythm section, and I mean the bass and drums here, made up of Adam Swan and Mike Malyan are more than earning their keep. I actually really like it that I can hear Swan's bass lines consistently throughout the album.
The songs on here turned out a lot better than I expected coming in and it's an album I've found myself returning to even more than I anticipated, both pluses. I'm really anxious to hear where the band go in the future after hearing this. If you don't have an interest in djent or complex rhythms, I highly doubt you'll enjoy this album (maybe I'm wrong), but if you do, you'll get a hell of a record.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Doxa, Blue Sky Thinking, Denial

Stealing Axion - Moments (2012)

Band: Stealing Axion
Country: Tacoma, Washington
Style: Progressive Metal
Label: InsideOut

I first heard about Stealing Axion a couple of years ago through their self-titled EP which was actually really good. The ideas they utilized were pretty refreshing in that their sound was both a part of and separate from the djent sound. With this full-length we finally get the realization of what the band can really do.
I guess the first thing I should point out is that all five songs from the band's self-titled EP do appear on this full-length, though I'm pretty sure they've been remixed. My opinion of those five songs was pretty high, not only because I do happen to enjoy djent, but the fact that the band fused together this semi-djent sound that definitely came from the likes of Meshuggah, but fused it together with this Devin Townsend-meets-TesseracT ambiance that just brings this sense of beauty to the background of the tracks. I'm not sure how long the band had been together before they released that EP, but by then they had already developed a pretty strong sense of songwriting, with a song like 47 Days Later being a solidly aggressive track from start to finish, Eventide was very melancholic and melodic, having more ups and downs. The point being that they were experimenting with ideas while still having a unifying core, which is something that I definitely give them credit for. The other three tracks happened to dwell more in the middle realm in between those two.
Now, those five songs really haven't changed, I knew I already liked those songs, but it's the six new tracks that are really where the party is on here. Sure, the style isn't all that different from what the five tracks from the EP set the groundwork for, but there is far more exploration of expansive atmospheres and "traditional" progressive metal song structures. The reliance on those djent ideas becomes less and less prominent, with melody becoming increasingly prominent as the album progresses. While I'm not huge on the first half of Solar, I think that it's closing minutes are really, really good, straight-up, modern prog-metal and I think that that second half is more indicative of where the album goes in its second half. I guess I should make it clear that to say there is no djent after the halfway mark would be incorrect, as a track like Collapse will demonstrate, that is certainly still a vital part of the band's sound, but it's not the main focus. Obviously the biggest focus of my own attention, and I'd assume many others as well, is the two part, closing title-track, Moments. These tracks deliver what I'd imagine every fan of progressive metal (and it's various sub-genres) would want from a track. You have the chunky metal parts, which come in djent and non-djent for those who were wondering, really melodic sections, long and winding instrumental passages, and huge sounding ambient ideas creeping up throughout both tracks. Part one includes nice moments of sludge and death metal which really didn't show up too much throughout the rest of the album but work really well in the context of this extended track. Frankly, it's everything that I would want from a progressive metal song.
I really think the band's sense of atmosphere is one of the reasons why they stand out so much in the prog and djent world. That backdrop is just huge sounding, but I don't know if I'd ever go so far as to say that this could be called "ambient metal" of any kind. It sort of reminds me of the Terria record from Devin Townsend, but not quite as organic or earthy sounding. There's an almost lazy quality to it, and I don't mean that as a negative, but it's very melancholic and withdrawn vibe that really accommodates to whatever else the band happen to be doing. It also really works with the clean vocal used throughout as they help to bring a real sense of emotion and passion that might otherwise not feel quite as powerful. On a side note, and I only bring this up because I am a total nerd, for those who know about it, does the piano melody on It's Too Late Now remind anyone else of the closing theme from the anime series Trinity Blood? It might just be me.
Even though I wasn't crazy on this album on my first listen (I think it was more my state of mind than a problem with the record) I have grown to really enjoy this full-length. I think the band are doing something different from their peers and that stands out in the modern prog-metal world. I highly recommend this album if you happen to dig progressive metal, in general, I think you'll really enjoy this.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Eventide, Moments I, Moments II

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hypomanie - Calm Down, You Weren't Set On Fire (2012)

Band: Hypomanie
Country: Arnhem, Netherlands
Style: Blackgaze
Label: Valse Sinistre Productions

In the world of one-man black metal bands, Hypomanie, despite what a lot of people say, is one of the more stylistically impressive groups to emerge. When the project was first starting out it was much more in line with the depressive trend of black metal that was rather popular in certain circles at that time. Since then it seems that with every new album Hypomanie is moving further and further away from his black metal roots and into something much more in the realms of straight-up post-rock and shoegaze.
I know it might be overly optimistic (that would be a first) when I say that this project is more impressive and adventurous stylistically than other bedroom bands that emerged around the same time, but I think that if you've listened to enough of this stuff you begin to appreciate evolution all the more. I mean, the move from extremely raw and, in my opinion, pretty average depressive black metal into blackgaze isn't a big stretch, tons of bands move farther in between each album, but I admire the desire to change, even if it isn't a big change. The fusion of post-rock with black metal, though referring to this as black metal may be stretching that genre a bit too far at this point, will never be thought of as a new thing anymore, and this is the sort of album that doesn't throw in any new ideas or try and advance the fusion of those two ideas, so don't come in expecting your be blown away. If there's anything stylistically impressive, or individualistic rather, about this album it's that it does try to embrace a little bit more of a post-punk vibe on a couple of tracks, hear Alissa Loves Perfume, which I thought was pretty well done. Most of that sound tends to come through in the warm bass tone, but it occasionally does actually make more of an impact.
The production on here is the best yet for the project, it retains its raw distortion but blends that aspect with the cleaner guitar sound in a more effective way than 2010's A City In Mono did. I'd say that it benefits the songwriting on here in a way that I don't remember there being in the past. There's a much better sense of cohesion between the straight clean moments and the ones where distortion appears, take note that there are very few moments on here where a clean guitar is not the main focus of the song though. In my opinion, if you took out the distortion, this album would probably be just as effective as it is now. Granted, it might not reach as wide an audience since as of right now it can still be called blackgaze, but I think that if this was a straight-up post-rock album it would still work. Even on the album's most aggressive track, Pale Blue, which does contain a bit more edge and bite thanks to the driving drum patterns, it's still hard to call it "metal" beyond it's opening minute or so.
It's a pretty solid album, it's not amazing but for what it is, it is enjoyable. If you've heard a handful of albums from this genre what's on here will not surprise you, but it's still worth a listen if you those sort of ideas. If you happen to dig blackgaze or post-rock you'll probably like this in some capacity.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Alissa Loves Perfume, Pale Blue

2012: Atmospheric, Post, and Gaze Black Metal

I know I'm kind of just lumping together a bunch of releases that are debatably related stylistically, but it's an easy way to mention a bunch of smaller groups in the same review as some bigger releases from this year. Hopefully you'll find something interesting in here. Demos rated from 1-6, EPs rated from 1-8, and full-lengths from 1-10.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Skarab - Skarab (2012)

Band: Skarab
Country: Bonn, Germany
Style: Avant-Garde Metal
Labal: Zeitgeister Music

Like many others, I'm a big fan of Klabautamann. That fandom led me to eventually becoming a fan of Zeitgeister Music, who are actually quite consistent as a label in terms of releases, which eventually led me to this album. Since Zeitgeister tends to release, for the most part, albums from those in the Klabautamann and Valborg circles, you can probably guess where this album is coming from.
Depending on what your thoughts are when it comes to the term "avant-garde metal" you could either think this is completely interesting or a total misuse of the genre (which is a total joke if I'm speaking honestly, anyway). Featuring Tim Steffens of Klabautamann on guitar and Christian Kolf of Valborg, Owl, and others on vocals, you know that at the very least you're going to get something interesting. Personally, knowing how broad the "avant-garde metal" genre is, it's still a bit hard to really put this album in that category. When I think of that genre, bands like Mr. Bungle, Sigh, or Arcturus come to mind, this really doesn't sound anything like them, though I guess you could say there are some similarities with Arcturus' later work, but you'd really have to stretch it to justify that. This is more like some weird fusion of Nevermore, Confessor, and a small bit of Tool, but that's just me. I guess the term "avant-garde" works because I can't really think of another band that sounds exactly like this one, but I think that tag will more than likely throw some for a loop if they come in expecting something like the bands I mentioned above.
I really think Christian Kolf does a good job on here. Considering the music is weird, but in no way overblown or crazy, he delivers a very convincing performance on these songs. It's definitely a more restrained performance than what he's done in Valborg or Owl, keeping his vocals pretty somber sounding and not really ever belting it out. There isn't even much use of growling or screaming on here either. It really fits the music because, and to clarify why I compared this album to sounding like the three bands above (Nevermore, Confessor, and Tool), was because the band has a similar kind of idea to Confessor. It's a rather doomy, but progressive sound that is unusual and definitely unique, maybe even polarizing to some degree, but it's just that oddness. I mention Nevermore because some of the riffs do sort of remind me of the slower and more melancholic songs produced by that band and Tool because of a similar kind of atmosphere. Sonically there isn't much in common with Tool, but there's just this mood that sort of reminded me of the darkness produced on their records. Like the vocals, musically, it feels very restrained most of the time, rarely launching into a more aggressive section, it's first heard on Sunset (track five). From then on you do get a bit more aggression, though if you look at it in comparison to the member's other bands, it really isn't all that brutal or intense, though I will say it is consistently entertaining and engaging.
It's certainly interesting and for that I definitely give it props, though it is more than likely not going to be for everyone. I will say that if you wind up deciding to listen to this that it is a grower and it might take a while before you adjust to it. If you want to hear something unique, weird, and somewhat doomy, I definitely recommend this, you will not find another record like it.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Island of Birdmen, The Rabbi of Weeds, I Am The Winding Stair

A Forest of Stars - A Shadowplay For Yesterdays (2012)

Band: A Forest of Stars
Country: Northwest, UK
Style: Psychedelic Black Metal
Label: Prophecy Productions

As much as I like to think I have diverse tastes, I am pretty predictable in regards to what I like. If I happen to see the words "psychedelic", "progressive", or "avant-garde" next to the black metal genre, no matter what the band is, I will check them out. That's how I first heard of AFoS a few years ago with their first album.
As anyone who's listened and read an interview with AFoS before should know, they're weird people. They're one of those bands that you either actually like because of how left-of-center they are or one of those bands that you pretend to like and show off to your friends and other people in order to show them how weird and experimental your tastes are, or you just don't like them. I guess it's a good thing that most of the people I know who actually know the band do genuinely enjoy them and all their extravagant forms of madness because this album is probably their most diverse as well as their most accessible release yet. If only because there's only one song on here that actually crosses the ten minute mark that makes it more accessible, but there are a couple tracks on here that could be appealing to people who just like folk metal or psychedelic rock, in addition to us weirdoes who enjoy the rest of it.
The band have always experimented with the fusion of black metal, psychedelic rock and folk, neo-folk, and other styles, but on here they really just throw everything at you, and they're not pulling any punches. I somehow doubt the band intended any of this to work on a first listen, I mean, within the first two tracks you have more ground covered than most bands ever do, opening with spoken word and found sound samples on opener Directionless Resurrectionist before transitioning into Prey Tell of The Church Fate which is one of the most perfect blends of psychedelic music with black metal that I've ever heard, fusing blasting black metal sections with melodies that are more neo-folk sounding than most metal bands but have it work so well is just mind boggling. But it's on that ten minute track, A Prophet For A Pound of Flesh, where, I believe, the band are at their best. It's easily the best fusion of black metal, krautrock, neo-folk, and psychedelia I've ever heard. The band move from section to section in ways that aren't jarring or odd, though you'd think that fusing all those ideas would lead to at least a little bit of that, but they do it so naturally, it really is worthy of praise.
With all that being said, I can't deny that the band do have trouble balancing their ideas with the following three tracks. While I have no problem with the band having the band focusing on more of their black metal side on a track or more of their psychedelic and folk on another, I did find that there were some tracks where my attention did drift away from what was happening. I would never say that a track on here is bad, but they don't really live up to what the band presented up-front for this album, and luckily, they do bring themselves back on track on Gatherer of The Pure. They bring back that sense of oddity and psychedelia that the three tracks before it were missing. It's that sense of classy, but totally retro and weird, atmosphere that makes the band who they are and makes them entertaining, and those three tracks (four through six if you didn't get that already) just didn't have enough of that for my own tastes. Even when they do completely instrumental tracks like Left Behind As Static for instance, it works so well because the band are fusing ideas that are interesting and it doesn't sound like anyone else. They don't need the over the top vocals to convey their originality, it's how they take these ideas from various genres and give them an atmosphere that is retro, classy, and modern that gives them their sound. That's what makes them unique, and that is what makes them great. (I do realize I got a bit sidetracked in this last paragraph, but I think it still works)
Even including the three songs that I wasn't too fond of, I still think this is a really great album and easily the band's best. I think that if the band continue on improving as they have, we'll have a masterpiece really soon from them. This is a must for all fans of weird black metal (like myself), do not go through the rest of this year without hearing this.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Prey Tell of The Church Fate, A Prophet For A Pound of Flesh, Left Behind As Static

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Double Review: Disaffected & Will'O'Wisp

I had searched through numerous albums that I had in my review file and these were two that didn't really fit in with the rest so I figured I'd just put them out now. This one's for the fans of tech-death. Both reviewed from 1-10.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Katatonia - Dead End Kings (2012)

Band: Katatonia
Country: Stockholm, Sweden
Style: Depressive Rock/Alternative Metal
Label: Peaceville

Let me just make something clear, I love Katatonia. Ever since I heard My Twin several years back they've been one of the most important bands in my life. They are a band who have yet to put a step wrong in my opinion and every new album is a treat.
If I may be allowed to go off on a small tangent to start things off, I thought 2009's Night Is The New Day album was a masterpiece. If it means anything, it was my album of 2009. It's an album that means an incredible amount to me and I think still holds up to this day and there is not a weak song on it. In addition to that, The Great Cold Distance and Viva Emptiness were no slouches for albums either, with each one improving on the sound of the last until they hit the pinnacle of Night Is The New Day. I know that some people weren't all that excited or into the more ambient and electronic ideas that the band embraced on that album and I think that it's fine if they couldn't play the majority of those songs live because they weren't as guitar based as their older material, they still crafted an amazing album. So, with that being said, I tried to come into this with actually pretty low expectations, knowing that it was pretty unlikely that the band would top their last album in my eyes, it's best to expect the least and be surprised (maybe it would be their best album yet).
When Dead Letters was first released, I know that pretty much everyone was excited and really liked the sound the band took on that track, I can't say I was anywhere near as impressed. From the first time I heard that song to the point when I'm currently writing this review, I still think that song is a mess. To me, it sounded like the band just had a bunch of random riffs and decided to mix them with some mellow parts, I just did not like it and it really did make me wonder about the sound of this album. On my first listen, I have to say, I was incredibly disappointed. Not only had the album failed to live up to the low expectations I had set for it, it didn't even meet the level of the last three full-lengths from the band. I realize that that's a pretty unpopular opinion from what I've seen and heard thus far, but listening to it multiple times now, I can't say I've warmed to it all that much. Every site I typically read reviews from seems to be giving this album top marks, with the exception of Decibel, who gave it a 6 out of 10, who I have to say I'm closer to in this case than I would have liked to have been. Don't get me wrong, I certainly do think the album has gotten better, and perhaps it will continue to grow on me, but I still can't help but feel disappointed by it.
But to actually talk about some of the things I did enjoy about this album. I can safely say that it does sound good, it's nice and polished sounding while being really dark and atmospheric. I don't think that it's a heavier album than Night Is The New Day or The Great Cold Distance, and I do realize that that is perhaps a reason why some people do feel like it's an improvement, though there are still a handful of tracks that do recall similar ideas from the last album. One of my favorite tracks, The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here, definitely sounds like a continuation from the last album while doing something a little different with it. The harmonies Jonas does with Silje Wergeland (of The Gathering) are simply beautiful and the track manages to give me goose bumps every time I listen to it. I should say incidentally, that I do think the first five tracks on here are good and very enjoyable. The Parting and The Racing Heart do a nice job at bridging the gap between heavy and atmospheric sides of the band, with both hitting me on an emotional level that I do look for in music/bands like this. Buildings is a nice and solid metal track that just brings the heavy in a way that is refreshing to hear from the band. Then I think Hypnone is just a solid track, the weakest of the five, but still pretty decent. You have no idea how depressing it is to say that the following six tracks are just dull and feel rather uninspired, in terms of songwriting. I think that the sonic ideas on Ambitions, Undo You, and First Prayer are interesting, but as songs, they're just not memorable. Leech feels like an unfinished song and I Lethean just makes me think of other Katatonia songs that I happen to enjoy more. I asked a couple of people recently a what they thought was worse, an album that you think is bad or an album that you think is uninteresting. They all responded with the latter, and I have to say that I agree, I would almost rather hear Katatonia put out a bad album than one that I happen to think half of is just banal.
I really wish I could give this a really high score because I really want to, I love Katatonia so much and it breaks my heart to have to say that this album just didn't meet my expectations. Like I said above, I realize that this is a pretty unpopular opinion, so feel free to disagree. I wish I didn't have to say this but as of right now, this is probably my biggest disappointment of the year.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: The Parting, The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here, Buildings

An Autumn For Crippled Children - Only The Ocean Knows (2012)

Band: An Autumn For Crippled Children
Country: Friesland, Netherlands
Style: Experimental Black Metal/Blackgaze
Label: A.T.M.F.

I guess by now I've become a regular promoter of AAFCC since I've covered all three of their albums (including this one) now. They're a lot more prolific than a lot of other black metal oriented bands tend to be which is a little surprising. I wasn't even aware this album was coming out until it was sent to me.
I wasn't really sure where the band were going to be taking their sound after last year's, Everything, album. That album had the band trading in black metal intensity for a more traditional shoegaze, or blackgaze, fuzziness and atmosphere. It was not a very aggressive album, and while it still featured screamed vocals, pretty much everything else on it reflected a greater influence coming in from the realms of shoegaze, post-punk, post-rock, and even synth-rock. By comparison, their debut, Lost, was a fuzzy piece of atmospheric, if slightly depressive, black metal. I just assumed that the band would continue down the more "accessible" path until they would rid themselves of their black metal background completely, maybe even hit it big one day with an album, but I guess not. With this album we see the band embracing both their black metal roots and their more recent shoegaze tendencies, finding a middle ground between the two without coming off as an Alcest or Sleeping Peonies rip-off. Though Sleeping Peonies is one of the closest comparisons sonically. The fusion of these sounds is not going to shock anyone, though I will say that given what this trio are actually doing with it, I do think they're giving the genre some new energy. It's not original, but they have something there that makes them stand out, makes you (or at least me) interested in seeing where they're going.
While the somewhat poppy melodies and driving bass-lines move the songs forward, the guitars are a bit more distorted and the vocals are just a little more up-front than they were on the last album. I don't know if you could say it's a complete re-embrace of the band's black metal roots, but I would definitely say it's a more "aggressive" album than their last. To an extent, I'd would even say this has the best band dynamics on an album, with a couple of tracks having a pretty clear division between the more danceable (that's right danceable) shoegaze parts and the harsher metal ones. I do sort of wish that the band had brought in more of the blasting that they had on their first album, if only to bring some sort of intensity to these songs. Quite a few songs make regular use of dance-beats, or at least beats that I find danceable, hear This Garden These Tree for example, and I just would have liked to have heard the band ramp up the velocity a little bit more. However, I do have to applaud the band for going out on a limb and at least trying to try something different, in the form of In February, which is the closest thing to a power-ballad I've heard from a band in this genre. It's a very post-rock inflected track, but it has those keyboard textures that made it feel more like a ballad than the other tracks. Before I forget, I do need to say that if there was anything that I think the band have a handle on, it's synth. Throughout the album, the synth and keyboard textures, and occasional melodies, are really well done. They're simple, but really help to set a mood underneath all the distortion.
Obviously this isn't going to be the sort of record for everyone but it does hold quite a bit of merit within the genre. It's not going to blow anyone's mind, but for what it is, it's an enjoyable album from a band that is slowly coming upon a sound all their own. I think that if you enjoy blackgaze or depressive black metal (on the extreme side of things) or if you happen to dig post-rock, post-punk, or shoegaze (on the less extreme side of things) you'll find something on here worthy of your time and attention.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Yes I Know... Love and Death... Always, Only The Ocean Knows, The Rising Tide

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Double Review: Eitarnora

Eitarnora is a little folk duo from Illinois who I've been somewhat familliar with for a little while now and they've recently played their first show and are going to be releasing their new full-length soon so I figured I'd share two of these newer albums with you.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Evoken - Atra Mors (2012)

Band: Evoken
Country: Lyndhurst, New Jersey
Style: Funeral Doom Metal
Label: Profound Lore

I have to say that when I was first discovering funeral doom several years ago, Evoken was one of the first bands I got into. I feel like they may have even been the first or second, but I'm not completely sure. But I do think that it's great to wind up hearing new material from them on a label like Profound Lore, who will give more exposure to these titans of doom.
In the pantheon of great funeral doom, Evoken are a band who have made their mark a while back with 2005's masterwork, Antithesis of Light, but have never been a band to simply rest on their laurels. Throughout the band's history, they've managed to make each recording slightly different, either through sonic experimentation or just production, enough to make every recording stand on their own without sounding too much alike, and let's face it, being a funeral doom band, a lot of your songs are more than likely going to sound somewhat similar anyway. In the past the band has worked with more traditional death/doom on their early recordings, hear their 1994 demo Shades of Night Descending for the most clear appearance of those ideas, some of which made it onto their 1998 full-length Embrace The Emptiness, as well as the occasional gothic and symphonic ideas as well, which were clearest on their 2010 split with Beneath The Frozen Soil. This release sees the band stripping their sound back to basics, delivering a powerful, if a bit unremarkable, funeral doom record. I don't mean for the term unremarkable to be taken as a bad thing either, but this is the band somewhat returning to the blueprint for what the genre sound is at its core.
While I enjoyed the more pristine and fuller sounding production on the Beneath The Frozen Soil split, and was a bit put off by the more stripped down sound of this record, by the end of the first listen through I had gotten adjusted to it. The recording is very thick and dense sounding, even with all the reverb on the drums, and is sort of a tough nut to crack at first, but the melodies performed on here do make it a bit easier. I will say that given this more primal sounding recording, I'm not sure if you would want to call it that, I do think that it was a wise move for the band to explore more melody on here than I can remember hearing from them. Whether it happens to be the slow-build of An Extrinsic Divide or the more seismic crush of a track like Grim Eloquence, which has a great bluesy solo near it's conclusion by the way, the melodies serve somewhat different purposes all that while still keeping the band firmly within their own sonic realm. Hell, even the old-school death/doom side of the band comes out on The Unechoing Dread, which, quite frankly, is refreshing at that point in the album, because even I can only take so much of slow paced doom. It's just a nice change of pace to have a track that has a bit more groove to it, something that is rarely heard within the funeral doom genre. Along with that, and I will say that I have only listened to this album a few times so far, but it does get better with every listen. I wouldn't say it's a grower, but I do feel like parts just stick with me more each time I listen to it, and I have to say, it's perhaps one of the few times a funeral doom album has made me want to return to it, rather than me returning to it simply to remind myself of it.
I think it's a really well crafted funeral doom album that shows the band at what might be their most accessible while not really changing their sound. I think this is a far better album, for Profound Lore, than that Aldebaran album they released. Evoken are easily one of the most respected groups in funeral doom, and with this release they continue to impress. If you happen to be a doomophile like I am, do yourself a favor and listen to this album.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Atra Mors, An Extrinsic Divide, The Unechoing Dread

Fire In The Cave - Fire In The Cave EP (2012)

Band: Fire In The Cave
Country: Orlando, Florida
Style: Doom/Sludge Metal
Label: Independent

Sludge and Doom metal fusions are sort of tough for me. As I've said numerous times, I'm not a huge sludge or stoner fan, but I do really love doom, so fusions of the two (and I am simplifying the genre here) can be hit or miss for me. I got this EP a while back, hopefully you'll still find it relevant.
With only two songs to grab a listener's attention, for me, it really does impact how you approach any future material, if something in at least one of those songs catches my attention. Fire In The Cave immediately grabbed me a couple of months back when I first skimmed through the album, it just had that spark that I couldn't place. Their sound was a blend of doom atmosphere and heaviness, stoner riffs, and black metal bursts but it worked seamlessly together in ways that don't come about too often, and coming from someone who has heard that fusion done before, can turn into a mess. I also liked how there was a tonal difference between both songs as well. Civilized Swamp was a more riff based song, or at least that's how it felt to me, and it had more groove, more bounce to an extent, but Aeden Carr felt more melodic and a little bit darker. In a certain way I'd even say that Aeden Carr was a more focused track because it was as jarring in its shifts from one shape/style to the next, even though there are plenty in that track, it was a more fluid listen. In the end though, you can't go wrong with either track.
It's definitely a great EP from a great up-and-coming band with a lot of talent and originality. Both tracks really show a lot of promise and hopefully the band can live up to the potential they show on here. It's definitely worth checking out if you're a doom, stoner, sludge, or even black metal fan, it's got a little bit of something for everyone.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Aeden Carr

Blood of The Black Owl - Light The Fires! (2012)

Band: Blood of The Black Owl
Country: Seattle, Washington
Style: Funeral Doom/Dark Ambient
Label: Bindrune/Handmade Birds

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I was first introduced to BoTBO through my father (a power/prog metal fan). I say I'm embarrassed because this the sort of band/project that I usually find on my own and it kind of makes me feel a little bit disheartened about my ability to find unique artists in the underground (not that my dad even likes BoTBO anymore). But, aside from that, after Chet W. Scott's supposed hiatus of this project after 2010's A Banishing Ritual, here we have another BoTBO full-length.
For those that weren't aware, Chet Scott had said after the release of A Banishing Ritual that he was going to take some time away from BoTBO in order to focus on his other projects like The Elemental Chrysalis. Last year we saw Handmade Birds release his split with At The Head of The Woods, which wasn't new material, in the sense that it was more of a B-side from the 2010 recording sessions, but throughout the latter stages of the year we got previews foreshadowing the eventual release of this record. I have to say that from what I remember of the trailer for the album, I heard some pretty savage metal bits. Now, I don't know what might have happened between the release of that trailer and the final release of this final end product, but something definitely occurred. The sound of this album is far more in line with the more meditative and ritualistic ambient ideas explored in newest outputs from BoTBO as well as Scott's more ambient projects. What I expected was an album that would embrace a bit more of the metal side of the project, heard on the first two full-lengths, but this is definitely not that.
As opener Caller of Spirits clearly points out, if you're looking for any sort of "traditional" form of metal aggression, you better look elsewhere, because it's not on here. That opening thirteen minute epic is a somber ritual full of chanting, wind instruments, field recordings, and various forms of hand percussion. While following tracks do bring in the use of traditional rock instruments (guitar, bass, drum kit) I can't say that it ever achieves any form of metallic aggression. Instead what appears to have been conveyed through several of these tracks is a more vengeful melancholy. Each track is very pensive and, in a sense, withdrawn, if there is rage or anger on here, it's not shown very often and instead favors the repetitive nature of melancholy. Stylistically, it tends to draw more from folk and ambient music than any form of rock or metal, though there are a few instances of those influences popping through, as expressed on the most outwardly violent track Sundrojan. You'd think that by the time this electricity was finally brought in I'd be excited, but for myself, I found that to be the most dull track on the entire album. It's like, "Yeah, you brought in a distorted guitar to do some droning doom parts, and you sound a bit more angry, but what does it amount to?" Not very much. It's just sort of listless and drags it's feet compared to the other songs, and this song is only seven and a half minutes long, meaning there are five tracks on here that are longer and far more engaging.
Surprisingly, the lengths of the songs on here didn't provide as much of a hurdle for me to get over as some previous outings have been from the project. It's not like these tracks are extremely progressive and forward thinking or even uber droning, they have ideas, some better than others, but each track has its own kind of evolution, whether it's the more subtle one expressed on Rise and Shine or the more typical soft-to-heavy on Soil Magicians, they have an idea and each track sort of just runs with it. The shorter tracks, like the aforementioned Sundrojan is probably the weakest track because it just feels so bland in the middle of more powerful, but softer instrumentally, pieces. Wind Eye may be structurally rather uninteresting, but the idea is simple and consistent, creating a hypnotic atmosphere that draws you in, and ultimately is a better track than the above Sundrojan. The album's opening and closing tracks, which are the most meditative on the album, reflect the journey that is the album (I'm not going to even begin to touch what that journey might be, you look into it/make your own assumptions for yourself there). It's the opening chant that brings you into this world and the droning electricity that sends you out of it.
Unfortunately, I have never been the biggest fan of Chet Scott's work (I know, big shocker), I think what he's done musically is interesting and certainly worthy of praise, but I'm not so impressed with it that I would say I not bored with some of it. I think that while the majority of this record is actually really good, there are a couple of tracks that I just couldn't get into during numerous listens through. I'd still say that if you're interested in folk, doom, or various forms of ambient music to definitely look into his material though.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Rise and Shine, Two Ravens At The Tree Line, Disgust and The Horrible Realization of Apathy

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Om - Advaitic Songs (2012)

Band: Om
Country: Oakland, California
Style: Psychedelic Rock/Stoner Metal
Label: Drag City

In all honesty, I'm not much of a stoner fan, both the drug or the form of music. I don't have a problem with it, but there hasn't been all that much that I come to the style for, and that includes the highly applauded groups like Om, High On Fire, and yes, Sleep. I've neglected Om for a while and because I was asked what I thought of this, I did indeed give it a chance.
Let me make it clear that I have no problem with any of the bands I mentioned above, I just have no interest in them. Call me shortsighted or ignorant, but I have little patience for stoner rock/metal and I have records that I love and enjoy far too much in other genres that I would prefer to listen to, but that's just me. So, after all the hype which has accompanied this album, which I was initially just going to pass over, a couple people (maybe they were all the same person under different names, I don't know) said they'd like to know what I thought of this record. Seeing as that is the first time a "reader" has asked me to cover something, I took the chance and got myself a copy (I did actually buy it just to be clear about this) and listened to it a couple of times throughout the week to get a feel for it and make up my mind on it. I do not think that my thoughts on this should impact how you feel on the record if you already like it or not, but I'll come out and say right now that it was better than I expected it to be.
Even with all the praise this album has received, I try to let that influence my own thoughts on records as little as possible, so on first listen I was actually quite surprised by how strong the majority of these tracks turned out to be. The use of piano, cello, sitar, and Indian rhythms throughout was well executed and worked with how minimal the actual performances of each player actually was. Even for stoner, the actual performances of the actual band members is kept in the lower register in terms of complexity (I realize that probably comes off sounding really pretentious even though I don't mean it to), but for how little is actually being done in these songs, they work mainly because of Al Cisneros' hypnotic bass lines and Emil Amos' groove oriented, but always interesting, drum work. Tracks like Gethsemane and Sinai work because of how understated the performances on them are, they lock into a groove and it draws you in. By comparison, State of None-Return just feels unfinished and too short and uneven in it's ideas. It was just a little too busy to really feel like it worked cohesively with the songs that followed it. I understand the aesthetic of the band and I do get how a lot of people can, and do, find the band's music to be spiritual and transcendental in some ways. Personally, I don't, I just don't gel with the band in that way to really hit some sort of connection with a higher plane of existence or something like that. It's certainly better than I ever expected it to be, but I can't view it as anything more than a well done psychedelic stoner rock album with some really cool ideas.
Like I've been saying, it's better than I thought, but it's nothing I can see myself listening to once I'm done with this review. It's enjoyable, not amazing, maybe it's just not for me. I respect it, but I just didn't find it anywhere near interesting enough to keep me engaged. For what it is, I do recommend it, if only because it's rare that you hear ideas from Indian and Arabian music used in this context and it is well done.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Gethsemane, Sinai

Bilocate - Summoning The Bygones (2012)

Band: Bilocate
Country: Amman, Jordan
Style: Progressive Death/Doom Metal
Label: Code666

I have been peripherally aware of the existence of Bilocate for something like two or three years now because of a short interview they happened to do for a magazine that I used to read (I don't remember the name off the top of my head). They were one of those groups who I was sort of curious why no one else had really covered them (that I had seen at the time). I'm glad that they're finally getting a lot more press thanks to them moving to Code666.
I have to say that I'm glad the band don't try to come off sounding like some third-rate Opeth ala early Katatonia sort of band, which this very well could have turned out sounding like, and instead bring their own color to the sound. They definitely don't make an attempt to hide the influence from their country, as the opening guitar line on The Tragedy Within definitely reflects that Egyptian flavor that most certainly comes through in the traditional music of Jordan. Along with that, the influences from groups like the aforementioned Opeth and Katatonia, along with some healthy doses of Edge of Sanity, the obligatory Paradise Lost (found in their cover of Dead Emotion), and even a little bit of Emperor, the classic sort of stuff. The stuff I'd definitely hand over to a person who wanted to start a progressive extreme metal band; and that's not to undermine the band's sound because they've certainly chosen themselves a very solid and diverse range of influences to draw upon and I definitely enjoy hearing them all being intermingled with each other in ways that other bands don't come anywhere near to achieving.
Of course, I can't talk about this album without at least mentioning the presence of the man himself, Dan Swanö (a personal favorite of mine). The three tracks he provides clean vocals for really do stand out as some of the better ones on the album, and it's not even his appearance that raises them to that level (in case you were wondering). Though his powerful baritone voice certainly does make the more melodic moments feel a wee bit more foreboding and epic. Aside from his appearances, the vocals are kept within a standard sort of death metal growl. In all honesty, when it comes to expressing depth, the death growl is sorely lacking in expressing much more than various degrees of anger, so in that regard that growl only dynamic does hurt the overall product. Having said that, I actually found Ramzi Essayed's growls to be well done and they had a sort of timbre that I tend to have more fondness towards. So, I wish that the vocals from him were a bit more dynamic, but because I actually like the sound of his growl, I can accept it for what it accomplishes. It's only because the music backing the vocals is so dynamic that I wish the vocals would follow.
As I have said numerous times in the past, and will say it many times in the future as well, I love long songs, but to be a bit more specific, I love long songs that are interesting and that work. This album is littered with long songs, with half the album's tracks hovering somewhere around the nine minute mark, but it's the last three tracks, the A Desire to Leave trilogy that really got me excited. These are the sort of ideas that I really love hearing in progressive bands, tracks that ebb and flow back and forth from calm and tranquil beginning into epic sounding instrumental passages and then into brutal death metal ones. The three tracks manage to flow into each other without much trouble, but the thing that struck me the most was that each had its own identity, Obscurity is an intense, progressive burst while Surrounding Hell is a more melodic track that favors more of an instrumental route and Of Leaving is the soft closer that makes full use of Swanö's powerful and emotional voice. As a whole, it is the most well crafted piece on the entire album and is hopefully a sign of things to come.
It's a really well crafted album with a lot to offer fans of more progressive leaning metal. While there are a couple of things that bothered me about certain tracks, there was never a point where I disliked what I was hearing. Definitely check this out if you have not already (which is unlikely based on the reviews I've seen/heard for it).
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: A Deadly Path, Hypia, A Desire to Leave - Surrounding Hell

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Evan Caminiti - Night Dust (2012)

Band: Evan Caminiti
Country: San Francisco, California
Style: Ambient/Drone
Label: Immune

Ok, I covered Jon Porras' solo record last year, let's cover the newest release from the other half of Barnowl. This will be the first "new" album from him that I've heard (I have yet to hear Dreamless Sleep) because I ignored When California Falls Into The Sea last year. I'm been trying to come in fresh to this so I have not listened to any of his previous work in the past couple of weeks in order to "prepare" for this.
When it comes to drone based ambient music, Barn Owl are arguably one of my favorite groups so I have tried to look into both Evan's and Jon's solo material. I did enjoy Jon's solo album last year, but I have stayed away from Evan's only because I've recently gotten a couple of his records around the same time I got this one and I wanted to come into this with no prior knowledge of what his older albums were like. So, putting the needle to wax for the first time, knowing nothing of how his other records led him to this point, I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what could have been the worst. I'll admit, as an opening track, Near Dark is a bit unremarkable, not bad, but nothing to grab your attention, which is where Returning Spirits succeeded. The soft plodding that brought a very slight form of rhythm to the track's soothing atmosphere is what I needed to hear from Caminiti.
The rest of the album continues in a similar fashion of slow-moving ambiance that feels like your standing under a streetlamp at night just staring into the abyss of space. It's dark sounding, without a doubt, but it's also very vast and open, to an extent I'd almost call it beautiful. I say it's like looking into the night sky because you just feel like your witnessing/listening to something that is just beyond perception and the only real way you could describe it is beauty. Despite that, the album has a nice degree of variety on it that I have yet to hear from other groups and projects that are of a similar nature. The opening track of side B of the album, titled Moon Is The Hunter is a very interesting piece that has a semi-guitar solo over the standard ambiance. That sort of idea could come off as really pretentious if it was overdone or it could come off really lame if it turned out to be half-assed and out of place, but Caminiti pulls it off. Also, am I the only one who heard a comparison to Angelo Badalamenti's score of David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me score on Star Circle. Maybe it's just me, but the mood and progression of that track really reminded me of that score. Those are just two of the tracks on here that really stood out to me, but really, with the exception of perhaps the opener (which isn't bad, just lackluster), all of these are gems.
It's hard for me to really talk about these sorts of albums, and I do realize that my reviews for them wind up coming off very similar to each other, but I do enjoy this stuff when it's done well and makes me feel something. Caminiti is obviously extremely talented at writing ambient based pieces, as demonstrated in his work with Barnowl, but on here he really achieves something more formless and dream-like. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of ambient guitar based music.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Star Circle, Last Blue Moments, Slow Fade of Stars

Saturday, August 11, 2012

2012 - Splits VII

Yes, another split compilation, but this one's focused on noise. These three are a few pretty cool noise releases that I can only hope you wind up checking out. Reviewed from 1-8.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Syqem - Reflections of Elephants (2012)

Band: Syqem
Country: Hamburg, Germany
Style: Progressive Rock/Alternative Metal
Label: Independent

Previous to seeing this album cover on Got-Djent.com, I wasn't aware of this band, despite them apparently being around in some form or another for eleven years now. Despite what you may think, they are not just another carbon-copy djent group, despite what you may think of my previous reviews of bands who come from that style. Needless to say I was quite surprised when I first pressed play on this album.
When I think of a djent band, and I think that when most people think of djent, they think of Meshuggah and the many offspring that they've produced, Syqem are a band that appear to come from a different background. Unlike the many of the typical progressive, or -core depending on the band, leanings that most of these offspring bring to the table, the quartet that make up Syqem take those heavy 8-string grooves and put them into a very modern sounding alternative rock kind of context, fused with a health helping of modern electronica. It's a rather interesting sound because throughout the album you will hear almost no screams, and Daniel Bernath's voice is very striking in its emotive and melodic delivery. I knew it would happen one day when a fad became big enough that a band would have the idea to mix those djenty rhythms with more radio rock, or alt. rock in this case, but I honestly did not expect it to turn out this well done. While I guess saying that this is progressive might be stretching it for some (me included), more reasonable comparisons that came into my mind while listening to this were groups like Deftones, Dredg, and Memfis. I don't know if you could call it arty or experimental, but Syqem definitely have similarities to those groups at their most intense or metallic.
What make this record so striking, in my opinion, is how palatable the band made these songs. None of the tracks on here are all that complex in their structure, most follow a standard verse-chorus-verse sort of pattern, but it never feels boring or recycled. Opener, Attack of The Elephants is a perfect example of what the band can do, striking the right balance between low-end grooves, anthemic choruses, and an overall upbeat mood. That actually brings me to my next point, how upbeat and up-tempo this album is. This is not a dark album, I mean, subject matter is in the eye of the beholder, but musically, I didn't find this to be all that dark or foreboding. It's really melodic and groovy, delivering some pretty well-written, poppy alternative metal songs that are far more appealing than most groups in that genre usually are. Unfortunately, I'm not going to lie and say that there weren't a few things that bothered me on here. While I praise the band's use of electronics throughout, there were some ideas that I'm just not a fan of. I just have trouble finding anything to enjoy in dubstep, so the use of it on tracks like You Phone or Siamese (In Theory), specifically, kind of dampened my reaction to their otherwise extremely catchy and upbeat ideas. Sorry, I just don't dig the wub-wub. I will give it to the former for otherwise having one of the best choruses on the entire album though, I'm a sucker for a good (power)-ballad. I guess I can be glad that they didn't go full-bore with the dubstep metal like Korn recently did.
Perhaps this is a bit too sugary or poppy for some people's taste, but I thought it was a really well-crafted album from a band with a sound that is pretty unique as of right now. It's pretty rare that I enjoy something that has the potential to be this mainstream, but I can't deny the strength of these songs. I think you'll find something to like on here whether you happen to like djent, alt. rock/metal, melo-death, or (imo) terrible electro-core.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Attack of The Elephants, The Artist, S.O.S.

Aerodyne Flex - Transmissions (2012)

Band: Aerodyne Flex
Country: Blue Springs, Missouri
Style: Progressive Death Metal/Djent
Label: Independent

Yes, yes, I'm covering yet another band that can be found on got-djent.com. I got this one a little while ago and thought that it stood out enough among the other djent groups popping up as of recently. I also thought that the cover art was pretty interesting (as it kind of recalls Meshuggah's Nothing).
I know I cover quite a bit of this stuff but I think that by now if you've figured out you don't enjoy it, then you'll wind up ignoring these reviews anyway. So, with that being said, I'll get on with the review. What struck me enough about Aerodyne Flex's debut album was that it surprisingly didn't rely solely on the Meshuggah low-end chugtastic form of songwriting and instead took a similar approach to groups like Periphery, Haunted Shores, and Animals As Leaders. Sure, it's not devoid of your low-end chugs or djenty palm-muted sections, but there's a lot more progressive and melodic ideas that obviously come from groups like those. Some of the chord progressions sound like they came straight out of the Periphery playbook while the certain clean sections owe a debt to the like of Tosin Abasi. But I will say that these guys definitely do have a sound that is different from any of those bands, whether that happens to be good or bad is up to each listener, but I did find it quite grabbing. I have to give the band props for relying on the whole Meshuggah influence very little on here, with Requiem being probably the biggest use those ideas coming in over halfway through the album, and not even dwelling on it for too long before shifting tone. Plus, by the time we get to that track, with everything else the band has done on the album, I think they've kind of earned a chance to just do a groove track.
Ok, it's obvious that these guys can play, without question, they fuse technical sweeping and djenty chugs with more melodic and semi-electronic inflected calmer parts with ease, but there are a few weaknesses on here. First of all, I do feel like the vocals are a bit too one-dimensional for the majority of the album. While there are a few tracks where he does break from the standard hardcore/metalcore growl, I feel like with music as diverse and progressive as what these guys are pumping out, the vocals should follow suit. Unfortunately, they are just average and don't stand out from other vocalists enough to really fit with what these guys are doing instrumentally all that well, though I do give him props for at least trying to do new things on a couple of tracks. Secondly, the production. While it's not bad, it does have that extremely high-end sounding production which does prove to be a bit annoying when listening to the entire thing. The low-end just didn't have enough power to hit me as hard as I would have liked it to. The last problem is more of a personal one and it has to do with the production as well, which, for me, sounded a bit too bright. The whole high-end style is fine but there really wasn't a whole lot of dark moments on here. The band have plenty of dynamics, but it's a pretty upbeat album for the most part, which I have no problem with, but I would have liked to hear the band make use of some darker sound riffs or sections just to kind of make this album less sugary (if that makes sense).
With the last four tracks making up the title-track suite, you'd imagine that this is pretty much the deciding factor of whether or not you'll like the band (if you so happen to listen to the album) because the tracks that preceded them, while I praise the band for their ideas and originality, aren't the best of songwriters as of yet. Quite a few parts are very well done but don't really stick with me, then we get to the title-track suite and boy was I surprised when the band actually pulled it off. While Air is a pretty stereotypical clean intro, Lose is a nine-minute prog track that really shows off what the band can do. Musically, the band demonstrate all of their strengths, which include some really great solos, from the previous eight tracks (I am excluding the first part of the suite here), but vocally we actually have the introduction of clean vocals. Honestly, they are not the best, but seeing as this is the only time they were used, I can't say that they ruined the song for me or anything like that, but they are weak sounding and I think that they do need work. Gain is a pretty schizophrenic track with ideas coming in from djent, death metal, prog metal, and metalcore before transitioning into Endless which closes things out nicely by recalling a lot of the ideas present earlier on in the album.
There are some really killer ideas on here, but they just aren't that memorable. I think the band do have a well developed sound, now they just need to work on their songwriting a bit more and I think they'll have a winner on their hands. If you happen to enjoy djent or modern prog-metal I do think this is worth checking out.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Carbon, Requiem, Transmissions II: Lose

Cloudkicker - Fade (2012)

Band: Cloudkicker
Country: Columbus, Ohio
Style: Post-Metal
Label: Independent

Ok, let's get to some nice djent. Well, maybe not anymore, despite originally coming from that sub-sub-genre, Ben Sharp appears to have moved on past that into something else. After last year's rather insubstantial Let Yourself Be Huge album, I came into this being happy that it at least crossed the half hour mark.
I think that after 2010's Beacons, it was pretty much assumed that Ben Sharp would be taking Cloudkicker into a different direction. Though that album was still based within the polyrhythmic djent sound found on his debut, that album featured more atmosphere and post-rock influences than the releases up to that point had showcased. Then, after the release of both Let Yourself Be Huge and Loop last year, I think most fans were kind of left scratching their heads as to what Sharp was doing. Both albums featured softer, more simplistic post-rock tunes, ideas on the latter album, that were more Explosions In The Sky than Meshuggah. Speaking for myself, I can say that I was disappointed by both because I did feel that Beacons was a really strong album that really stood out in the whole djent realm, and still does I should point out, and turned out to be one of my favorite releases of that year. I could understand the djent, but I didn't really get why Sharp would abandon the heaviness of previous releases in favor of these softer tracks. I think my impressions of those albums resulted from not expecting such a sudden shift in the project's sound.
Luckily for me, and maybe others as well, Sharp has returned to the realms of heavy on here. Though it's not the return of djent as I'm sure some fans may have wished, and is more along the lines of a really song-based post-metal album. I say it's more song based because, at least when I think about post-metal bands, groups like Isis, Neurosis, or Cult of Luna for example, their albums are more like albums, each song works in connection with the next and it isn't simply one song following another. For me, even though there are some ideas that are sort recurring through certain tracks, it still feels more like a collection of songs, each track has its own place but it isn't as "single-minded" as albums from the above bands. But back to the actual style of the album, while it isn't quite as frantic as his earlier material, I think that it makes up for it in other ways. One of the first things my ear was drawn to when I was listening to this was the bass tone, which is really warm and fluid sounding and is always great to hear on a record (of any style). Tracks like From The Balcony and LA After Rain make good use out of the bass-lines, which I actually enjoyed listening to more than the guitars but that's just me. I also think that the album is much more warm and positive (if you could call it an atmosphere rather than a state of mind) than any of his previous work, something that was foreshadowed on his last album. I think that the album as a whole is pretty solid, with the sole exception being the closer, Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, which feels rather dull and useless at the end of the album. I couldn't help but feel a little let down by the way that track left things on a pretty anticlimactic note.
In the end I am a little bit disappointed by this because I was hoping for something a little bit heavier, but for what it is, it is enjoyable. It's better than I hoped, but not really up to the level I wish it was at. Definitely worth checking out if you like the more post side of metal and rock music (but definitely check out Sharp's other releases as well).
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The Focus, Seattle, Our Crazy Night