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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cult of Luna - Vertikal (2013)

Band: Cult of Luna
Country: Umeå, Sweden
Style: Post-Metal
Label: Indie Recordings

It doesn't feel as though it's been five years since Cult of Luna's last full-length album. I've been a fan of their ever since I first got into post-metal and have taken quite a while to try and digest this album. Even though this album has been out for quite a while now, hopefully there are still some people out there who haven't heard it yet and give enough of a shit to read this review.
As someone who has been a fan of CoL for several years at this point you would think I would have covered this album already, unfortunately not, but it's still relevant so I've still covering it. Too bad if you disagree because, and I'll just say it now, this is a great album. Unlike the heavier, what I would claim to be more doom metal sounding Eternal Kingdom from 2008, this album brings a bit more ambiance and a deeper, more resonant industrial tone to the band's sound. What I only found out recently was that this album was said to be inspired by the Fritz Lang film Metropolis from 1927, which I thought was quite ironic since at the point I am writing this review and listening to the album at the same time, I happened to have that exact film on as well. After finding that out, the more industrial tone definitely does seem to hold more meaning to the bleakness that the film exhibits for most of it's running time (granted the film is about twice as long as this album is). I definitely found the darker tone to sit well with me, considering I found, for all it's great ideas and concept, the band's last full-length to be a bit too claustrophobic given the style the band play. The production on this is a lot more roomy, with most of the instruments coming through clearly, while others come in and out when needed - as in the additional percussion or the synthesizers.
Obviously the biggest point of interest for this album though is the third track, Vicarious Redemption, which is nearly nineteen minutes in length. Now, even with a band like CoL who have released albums where there is always at least one track that is over ten minutes, I was somewhat weary of this. A track this long, for any band, is tough to pull off. Yes, I'm a fan of longer tracks myself, but having a song this extended definitely has to make some sort of progress and keep the interest of, me in this case, but in general the fan, for all that time. And nineteen minutes is a long time. But, as I'm sure you can guess, the band pull it off with aplomb. The eight minutes it takes to move the song from a slow, minimal crawl to a heavier and more metallic chug isn't boring in the least. Though the dubstep inspired middle section wasn't really my bag, what it leads into is easily one of the best climaxes on this entire album, and I would actually rank among some of the band's best in their entire career.
But that is not to discredit the other songs on this album. There is definitely a lot of interesting ideas on here, and if one thing had to be said about this band, it's that they certainly aren't lacking in ideas. Whether it's the straight-up industrial Synchronicity or the ambient noise that is used on the closer of the album on Passing Through, the band are always attempting to do something different. Even if the style is relatively the same, the sound on here is far colder and darker than on their last few records. Personally, my favorite record from the band, 2004's Salvation, tended to dwell within softer and more atmospheric realms that didn't showcase as much of the band's heavier side as earlier or later records would; and while this is by no means as gentle or moody a record as that one, I enjoy the more varied approach towards songwriting and sonic architecture that was used on here.
So yeah, nothing new here, I agree for the most part with what almost everyone else has said of this record - meaning it's great. There's a lot to love on here, from the various electronic and industrial influences popping up to the cold production to the strong builds, you name it. This is easily one of the best records I've heard this year - even if the closer is a bit weak.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Vicarious Redemption, Mute Departure, In Awe Of

Refraction - Hexilian EP (2013)

Band: Refraction
Country: Dublin, Ireland
Style: Post-Metal
Label: Independent

Recently, as in the last few weeks, I just received an email by this band called Refraction who asked me to cover their album. Being a cynical and skeptical person by nature, I checked out the link they sent me to their bandcamp page and initially thought it was a djent project. The cover definitely made me think of that, listening to the music though, that is not what it is.
Although my impression from the cover was wrong, I do have to say that the style of music that Refraction have chosen to play is still rather stagnant in terms of quality. Post-metal is not exactly a genre that has changed too much since groups like Isis and Neurosis popularized it and brought it into the mainstream consciousness back in the 2000s, but while listening to this four song EP I have to say that I was never bored. In fact, I was actually quite captivated with these tracks. Sure, if you've heard a handful of post-metal, instrumental or otherwise, you could pretty much guess how this band is going to play and write songs, but there's something just a little bit different about this band, at least on these four tracks anyway, that does separate them from their many peers. For one, none of the songs on here are particularly long, the longest is just at six minutes, or is a second or so off, which definitely does change the effect this release can have on the listener. I never felt all that hypnotized by these songs because of their length they don't have as much time to really just draw you in and lock into a groove, but they are certainly a lot more fun than a lot of other bands in this style. But the aspect that really got me was how up-beat this album sounded. It never felt all morose or dour, but felt a bit more up I guess. I felt as though I was in a good mood whenever I listened to this album, and when it finished, I stayed in a good mood. Maybe it's just me, but I hope not.
Overall I have to say that I was certainly won over by this EP. Despite the first impression being completely wrong and the band playing a style that is quite hard to make interesting anymore, they pull it off quite well. Definitely an album you might want to check out if you're a fan of post-metal, or even alternative music for that matter.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: (C)ytosine, (G)uanine

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Acolyte - Alta (2013)

Band: Acolyte
Country: Manchester, UK
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Mordgrimm

I don't even remember how I first heard of this album or why I decided to cover it to be honest. It just happened to be in the file where I keep albums I plan on reviewing and so I just put it into my Itunes library and decided to give it a spin to see what it even was. I have to say after that initial spin I was thrown for quite a loop.
The tag of being progressive has expanded in recent years, so, as much as I love the genre, even I have to be a bit cautious when approaching a band I have no prior history with. Most of the time, they pay off, sometimes they don't, this is one of the times it paid off. Like I said above, I just happened to find this in my library of files of things to review and decided to give it a spin and not remembering what it was at all, but that turned out to be a benefit when finally listening to this because this is a damn fine example of a good album. Acolyte manages to bring in some ideas that I didn't expect to hear, which is always a good thing in my book. As much as I love bands like Enslaved and Ihsahn, this band is coming at things from a pretty different angle. I'm sure progressive rock has had some sort of an influence on this band, but the ideas seem to be coming from places like stoner rock, shoegaze and/or dream pop, and death metal, among other places, which makes for a strange amalgamation of ideas. Granted, it is all nicely packaged inside of a tight black metal wrapping, but the riffing and atmospheric ideas give it more flavor than the typical black metal/progressive black metal record. While I do wish the vocals were a bit more varied, the main style is black metal wretches with the occasional death growl thrown in, but since this is the band's debut full-length I can let that slide. I only wish for that because the music is dynamic and is able to make use of softer sections but the vocals don't appear to be able to just yet.
With that being said, the band is still able to write parts that are more straightforward and direct. Most tracks on here have at least one section where it's just aggressive black metal, tremolo picking, screamed vocals, double-bass drumming, just direct and in your face. In that regard, I think that this band does have the ability to crossover and appeal to fans of more traditional, or at least more straightforward, kinds of black metal. It's not progressive enough to alienate the fans who only like their metal intense and aggressive yet, so those fans could certainly pick out something in here to like. I think it's also very possible that fans of death metal will be able to pick something out in here that is appealing to them as well for the very same reason.
Another reason I think I'm so taken with this record is the production. It feels very direct, like there wasn't a whole lot of reverb added to the instrumentation or mix after the initial tracking was done, which gives the record this very tense and somewhat uncomfortable closeness kind of vibe. Even when the band goes into cleaner sections, it still feels quite uneasy, which I liked, there aren't a lot of bands out there who go for this sort of production, most want a bigger and, at least in the case of black metal bands/records, more atmospheric and reverbed sound. I'm glad that this band didn't go for that because it does allow this record to stand out. For as much as I praise bands who are able to write songs that are tense and claustrophobic, it's getting hard to tell if that's genuine or not. I'm sure that for as many bands who actually do accomplish it because of their songwriting, there are just as many who create it because of engineering and production tricks. In the case of this band, because of the very unreverbed sound of this record, I can almost guarantee that theirs is an authentic tension.
I really enjoyed this, and it far surpassed any and all expectations I might have set for it. For a debut full-length I definitely cannot sing enough praises towards this band's songwriting, and hopefully future releases will see them only increase their versatility and sonic palette. Definitely check this record out if you are a fan of forward thinking black metal.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Leng, Sunrise, Epistle

Abbey Ov Thelema - Liber DCLXVI (2013)

Band: Abbey Ov Thelema
Country: Zvolen, Slovakia
Style: Avant-Garde/Progressive Black Metal
Label: Wraith Productions

Abbey ov Thelema really blew me away with their 2011 self-released debut A Fragment Ov The Great Work. That record had all the pieces in the making for a great and experimental black metal act which really got me excited. When I finally found out about this sophomore effort I was extremely interested to see how the band had progressed their sound.
It has to be said, the band has definitely upped the ante when it comes to complexity and consistency when it comes to this album. I had a problem with the debut being a bit too naive when it came to a consistency of sound. The band definitely had talent in their songwriting efforts, but a couple songs on the debut didn't really work for me. This album really solves that problem by essentially making the entire album into a single track, more or less, through intros and interludes that sort of link one track to the next. Apart from that, the band also decided to make this album incredibly dense and compact sounding, with many things happening at once creating this weird sense of dissonance and bombastic orchestration that I have not heard in quite a long while. The band has taken on board a much stronger jazz fusion and/or progressive rock flair, which is most noticeable in the bass work, while also increasing the theatrics through a larger symphonic presence as well.
Stylistically, this record really takes that black metal sound and fuses it with the aforementioned symphonic and jazz fusion and/or progressive rock genres, and that's the main sound, but obviously, since I'm bringing it up, there are others. Flights of fancy bring out the occasional flair of technical death metal, electronica, industrial music, along with the occasional bout of circus based ideas. If you're familiar with avant-garde metal in any way, you already know how this goes, though it has to be said that these guys tend to throw in those other genres in the occasional instance instead of constantly shifting from idea to idea. Each track certainly expresses a unique sound for what it's worth as well, with I - De Apocalypsi Ioannis being incredibly chaotic and dissonant sounding while the likes of III - De Ascensione Imperii Peccati is a much more melodic and romantic (in it's orchestration) sounding. I will admit that some of the orchestration is a little bit cheesy and can definitely be called over-the-top in multiple spots, but I can forgive it for all of that because of how enjoyable that cheese is. I also have to mention the vocals which reminded me of Kvarforth (of Shining) for some reason whenever the vocalist was bellowing instead of screaming. Maybe it's just me.
I would say that the greatest downfall of this album is simply how consistent it is. For how dense the music is and all the various interludes and intros and outros that occurs throughout a given track, each track really could have been divided into smaller tracks (several smaller tracks in some instances). Most of the tracks on here top the ten minute mark and there are spots where a one section ends and another will begin where the track could have been separated. I'm not saying this is a necessary thing that needs to be fixed, but I just thought that knowing that a break was coming would have made it a little easier to sit through some of these epic tracks. Some of the abrupt shifts from blaring orchestration and blast-beats into solo piano might have been a nice point to cut a track into a smaller length, but that's just me, not a problem, just a preference.
It's a fun record, or at least I found it a fun record to listen to. It's definitely a bit too long and a bit bloated and dense with it's own ideas - so I think things could be pulled apart a bit either in just track lengths or in the actual compositions, but I can still dig what these guys are doing. Not for everyone, but if you happen to be a fan of more interesting forms of progressive and/or symphonic based black metal, than give this band's work a listen.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: II - De Septem Signis et Septem Salpinibus, IV - De Condemnatione Magnae Babylon, V - De Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pryapisme - Hyperblast Super Collider (2013)

Band: Pryapisme
Country: Clermont-Ferrand, France
Style: Avant-Garde Metal
Label: Apathia

A couple of years back I had discovered a little band by the name of Pryapisme and found out about their love of cats. I was lucky enough to not only buy a copy of their debut full-length (in which I got a nice meow note included) but interview the band as well. I can assure you that this was a pretty hotly anticipated album for me.
There's just something about quirky bands like Pryapisme that I just really dig. How they are able to go between so many different genres and make a coherent (which is debatable depending on who you ask) song is a complete mystery to me. I loved their first record because it took all of the great elements that I love from groups like Mr. Bungle, Maudlin of The Well, Naked City, among others and just threw them into a literal blender and the result was a given song. Tracks would jump between blasting black metal sections, smooth jazz piano lines, bouts of dance music, and the occasional reggae part; but this new record just builds upon that by making things even more insane. This thing combines so many different ideas it's hard to make it through a single minute of a song without hearing something new. It's a mindfuck of an album pushed to the extreme and I just know that there will be many people out there who will absolutely hate it, while weirdos like myself will continue to praise what guys like these do with a band like this. This is a sort of band and record that I just love to listen to because every second holds another surprise. I could listen to this album a dozen times and still be shocked by a sudden shift.
Because this is the sort of record I'm pretty much predestined to like, I'm not sure how much you want to buy into this review since I can assure you right now that I love pretty much everything about this album. From it's schizophrenic song structures to it's maniacal atmosphere down to all the different genres it plays around with throughout its ten tracks. There's 8-bit keyboards, salsa inspired guitar solos, thrash and sludge metal riffs, blast beats flowing into four on the floor dance beat, and orchestral strings happening on here, and that's just in Random Jean Vigo. It's like listening to Mr. Bungle on speed for the majority of this album and I can't help but love that idea. Yes, there's some flirtation with some genres that I'm not particularly fond of (dubstep and ska) but I can get past it because it's like the band will play it, then four seconds later it will shift to something else entirely. There's also variety in the track lengths, from more epic eight minute tracks to shorter one/two minute long bursts, each track has relevance, and there aren't a whole lot of albums like that.
Also, not that it particularly matters too much, but because this album is almost entirely instrumental (there are a couple of vocals and samples used on here) it really frees the music up to just push down all the boundaries. The band still manage to keep some semblances of songs during some instances, but for the most part it's loose. For me, I found it to be quite freeing to hear a band shift from one idea to the next without so much as a pause in between. I think that the music might not be quite as unrestricted as it is if there were vocals used on top of the it as often. There might also have been a need to reign in and maybe write something a bit more structured, or at least have parts repeat a few more times. Regardless though, as an instrumental group, this is some of the most liberated and fun music I've heard all year.
So yeah, not sure how much you'll end up reading into this since this is the sort of music I love to hear so I'm naturally very biased, but hopefully you'll still give this album a chance. If you can handle the abrupt genre shifts and the frenetic nature of the music, I think you'll really be able to get into this album. It's a total blast to listen to and one hell of a ride if that's what you're into. From me though, I don't recommend passing this one up.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Servile Sect - Glowing EP (2013)

Band: Servile Sect
Country: New York, New York/Humboldt, California
Style: Psychedelic/Raw Black Metal
Label: King of The Monsters

I think by this point, anyone who's heard of Servile Sect knows that they're a killer duo. With each release, the band seems to experiment and play with their sound even more, which usually results in some of the best black metal a year has released. So hearing that the band was releasing a new album, I definitely had to jump on it as soon as I could.
On first listen, I knew this was a good little release, but upon further listens, it's revealed itself to be even more of a freakish little bastard than I first thought. Opening up with Frenzy of Cubensis, the band show off some of their rawest and most abstract material to date. This short, little piece shows the band playing with what could, more or less, seem like their interpretation of Deathgrips. Making use of a simplistic and noisy industrial beat, the duo proceed to then wretch all over it with their distorted screams. The track ends and gives way to a more "traditional" Servile Sect piece, Evoke, which brings a minimalistic black metal riff into the picture over a skippy beat. While I don't have a problem with hip-hop or rap music, it is certainly a bit odd to see a band like Servile Sect embrace what appears to be influences from those genres, but it would be weird to see any black metal band embrace those influences. Closer, Blasting Beyond Vortex, takes the band out of realms of familiarity and takes them into, as my good friend Jon said in his review, the realms of Paysage d'Hiver and Vinterriket territory. Where a distorted guitar turns into droning noise and feedback and vocals roar into the abyss, these groups reign supreme and Servile Sect does an excellent job at adapting to that landscape and making it their own.
So if you are one of the few people out there who isn't yet familiar with the work of Servile Sect, you definitely need to correct that and check this release out. While it isn't as mind-bending as TRVTH proved to be, it's still miles beyond what most bands are attempting to do. As a fan of experimental and weirder forms of black metal, I can assure you that these guys are a real treat/diamond in the rough if you will and you do not want to miss what they are doing.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Evoke

Thursday, June 27, 2013

BadGod Recordings

I've been sent various albums by BadGod Music over the last year (but have covered very little of it to be honest). I'm actually quite shocked by the rate at which their albums are released, but not everything they put out has really been for me so I decided to do this short little write up for some of their recordings. Hopefully this will turn you onto some new releases from an up-coming label.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

[ówt krì] - The New Seed (2013)

Band: [ówt krì]
Country: Helsinki, Finland
Style: Dark Ambient
Label: Alrealon Musique

I was not extremely keen on Kenneth K.'s last release as [ówt krì]. Despite an alright review he decided to give me another shot by telling me about this new album of his and I was eager to hear if I would enjoy this one more. In addition to that, I just really dug the cover of this album as well.
I've never been all that keen on the whole ambient and industrial fusion genres, which may explain why I didn't particularly care for [ówt krì]'s (no)DOOM album last year. Whether if just by accident or if on purpose, the industrial tones have been softened on this new album in favor of more droning pieces of ambiance - which is much more my speed. There is also almost no metal influences coming in through these ten tracks as well, which removes that sort of Sunn 0))) quality about the aforementioned album above that I did find somewhat endearing about it. But just because the endearment that I felt towards that album was removed does not mean I feel nothing towards this album, quite the opposite in fact. This album really hit me (softly) with just how directly ambient it is. Yes, there are definitely traces of the more industrial edge from previous releases from this project, but I really enjoyed the ambient approach delivered on here.
While not perfect, the ideas that are expressed on this full-length, I think, are far superior to that of the other recordings I've heard from Kenneth thus far. The somber tones that open the album on Deep South give way to a more orchestral touch on the title-track and then into the spoken word/kind-of-rapped vocals that course over the feedback on On Hostile Ground. Three different sort of ideas that, while the last doesn't really work for me, certainly show a nice perspective on experimentation. In general, I tended to prefer the more strict ambient pieces to the ones with vocals on them, but that's just me. The Patton-esque vocal squawks on Abandoned Path were slightly intriguing though. It is perhaps the albums greatest weakness that the balance between the two sides, the ambient and more more industrial vocal lead pieces, don't coexist side-by-side in a more harmonious fashion. As independent tracks I can take the ones I like and just skip over the ones I don't particularly care for, but as an entire album, it did feel to me that I was listening to two separate albums, or two EPs that were just joined down the middle. Whether the two sides were joined in actual tracks or through just through a more cohesive sounding record, I'm not sure which would work, but either might lead to a record that works better as a whole. The best example of both sides coming together would be on Darker Sensation, in which the spoken word-ish vocals are done on top of a more ambient backdrop, and it actually works.
Overall, this was a solid enough record, definitely an improvement over the last recording I heard from this project, but improvements can still be made. There's just something about those more industrial parts that I don't really dig. I'm not sure this will provide fans of ambient or drone or industrial music anything they haven't heard before, but it's nicely done.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The New Seed, Dance In Silence, Darker Sensation

Aidan Baker & A-Sun Amissa - Scarpe Sensée (2013)

Band: Aidan Baker & A-Sun Amissa
Country: Toronto, Canada/Leeds, UK
Style: Ambient/Drone
Label: Drowning

Obviously anyone who knows about the drone metal genre beyond Sunn 0))) will have heard of Aidan Baker, or at least his band Nadja. Apart from that gig, Aidan does a lot, A LOT, of solo and collaborative work with other people and bands. I was not familiar with A-Sun Amissa before hearing this track so I can only come into it with what knowledge I have of Baker's past work.
This one, long track which totals out at about twenty minutes, is definitely an experience. Much like with the best of ambient music, or drone music that isn't based in distortion, this is the sort of piece that just settles you down and lulls you into a state of blissful ignorance. It immerses you in it's atmosphere and just sways you with it's subtle, but powerful ambient textures. The buzzing hiss of amp noise that is prevalent throughout almost all of the track, acts as a grounder for the more spacial sounds that would otherwise drift into oblivion. At times it's incredibly cinematic in nature, recalling the work of something I'd hear in films like Duncan Jones' excellent Moon or, to a lesser extent, Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men. At times recalling the emptiness of space, at others the darkness of horror, and at it's best, the majesty and beauty of life itself - though I'm getting way too philosophical here. I think that one of the benefits of this release is it's short length. Because it's only twenty minutes long, you can become drawn in and engaged with it without feeling like you've wasted an entire day floating on a cloud up in the sky (less so if you're not using drugs while listening), though, to be honest, I'd be perfectly content on listening to this for an entire day and feeling like I was on a cloud.
Overall, I thought this was a very solid piece of work. It sounds more like a score to a short film than a real album to me, though I don't consider that a bad thing. Either way, if you enjoy more cinematic and spacious forms of music, I'd definitely tell you to give this release a listen.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Scarpe Sensée

Nadja - Flipper (2013)

Band: Nadja
Country: Toronto, Canada
Style: Drone Doom/Post-Rock
Label: Independent/Oaken Palace

Over the several years I've been running this blog I have only covered one release from the prolific duo that is Nadja. That one release was their collaboration with Picastro, Fool, Redeemer, and I was not overly keen on that record. So, with this coming out on an upcoming label (Oaken Palace) I decided this would be a nice record to start covering the band again.
I will make no claim to have heard the majority of Nadja's extensive discography. The duo that is Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff have been releasing material on a consistent basis for just over a decade now. From their many full-lengths to smaller splits and EPs to the collaborations with artists like Pyramids, OvO, Black Boned Angel, or the aforementioned Picastro, the duo have enough material out in the world to rival bands who have been going at it for more than twice as long. Not all of it is great, some of it is, some of it is alright, and some of it is fantastic, but I can only speak for myself when I say that fantastic has not been as common as of recently. I'm not even going to pretend that I was going after the recordings the duo put out in the last few years, but when I read a piece on this over at HSS I instantly knew that this was something that interested me.
The first time I pressed play on this record I wasn't sure what to expect. Just because the duo are bringing in a violinist and cello player, Peter Broderick and Angela Chan respectively, doesn't even mean they would be heard. Was this going to be a huge wall of droning, dreamy distortion like the duo's classic (and my personal favorite from them) Radiance of Shadows? Or was it going to be more of an orchestral type of piece with the two string players taking the lead from the main duo. Surprisingly enough I was blown away by how neither of my predictions were true. Well, maybe I was 95% wrong, there is a nice blast of distortion at the end of Drown, but the rest of this album is very, very restrained. It almost felt like I was listening to some sort of noir-ish jazz group play in a low-key club somewhere with the lights down low. All four players on here keep things very quiet and somber and very rarely go above a low drone, and when it does, hear the post-rock-esque climax on Wrapped In Plastic, it feels so seamless. Compared to all the other records that I've heard from Nadja, one could be forgiven for mistaking this as a whole new band entirely. The vocals are slow whispers that feel more like someone singing a lullaby to a child than any sort of singer one would associate with either drone or metal music. It's so quiet and morose I found myself actually focusing on the music more than just let it fall into the background, which is what I will usually do on the first few listens through an album.
In a way, this was just the perfect album to just mellow out to. After a long day at work or school or whatever, you can just put this record on, lay back in a chair or whatever, and then just let it wash over you. While listening to this, my mind was always so clear and I found myself constantly relaxing into my chair (or whatever I was sitting in). It's calming and delicate, which isn't a word I would typically associate with Nadja, but this was just something else. For the most part, the strings don't even come above the low-end drone that makes up the majority of these four tracks, but when they do, it really evokes a sense of mood and place. It feels like your floating on the ocean. That might not be for everyone, but whenever I finished listening to this album, I felt refreshed and in a good mood!
So yeah, I really wound up enjoying this one. I wasn't sure if this would be some sort of weird collaboration that sounded cool on paper but wouldn't actually work out, because Nadja has been a part of a few of those in the past, but this was really delightful (which is not a word I use very often). Not for everyone, but if you're interested in hearing some more low-key and drony sort of music, I'll definitely recommend this onto you.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Song For The Sea, Wrapped In Plastic

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Steel Hook Prosthesis - The Empirics Guild (2013)

Band: Steel Hook Prosthesis
Country: Arlington/Mansfield, Texas
Style: Power Electronics/Death Industrial
Label: Malignant

Until receiving this album in the mail, I was not familiar with the band that is known as Steel Hook Prosthesis. Frankly, I've waited for something like a month or so before even covering it because I was a bit apprehenscious about it. So, finally, I'm giving in and attempting to write about this album.
Before even pressing play on this thing, I looked the band up and was shocked to see their rather extensive discography. The number of their releases is quite daunting for someone who (as I have said and will continue to say) is not into power electronics. So, because I know those who will most likely be reading this are already fans of the band and will more than likely jump down my throat for not knowing enough about them or what they have done, I'm simply going to judge this album based solely on listening to this album. Nothing from their past material has had any influence on what I'm writing here/you're reading here - and obviously it's my own personal opinion so get over it if you can't deal with that. But onto the actual album itself.
Since I'm not a huge power electronics (or death industrial) fan, and from the various albums that I have been sent and that I have covered from Malignant Records, I have become more acquainted with these genres that I think I ever would have been if they had not first contacted me. While listening to this album though, I have to say that I was actually sort of surprised by the amount of restrained shown by the members. One of the most annoying things I've found within this genre has been the use of effects on the vocals. All the chorus, distortion, and other effects are all well and good for a little while, but I have not found an album yet where they have been the primary use on vocals that I have liked. After a couple of songs it not only gets old, but it just becomes extremely annoying and quite aggravating; so when I say that this album actually did that and still managed to win me over, I think you can guess about the rest of this review. I should also mention that unlike many other projects that attempt this, the vocals on this album, particularly on Disease Incubator, actually came across as menacing. I mean, musically, it's pretty standard fair, you have plenty of clangs, bangs, yelling, and screaming, among other ghastly things being played or shouted in a dank basement, but where this album succeeds is in it's restrained, as I mentioned above. This album keeps things pretty controlled and ambient for the better part of it's running time. It feels more like a dark ambient record than a power electronics one during most tracks.
Of course there are some blasts of distortion, of course there are samples, and of course things go out of control and the album is too long for my taste in this music, but to return to restrain, none of the songs are that long. Based on those previous albums that I've heard from this label and these genres before, songs tend to get thrown to the wayside, which is fine if the project in question can actually craft something interesting and unique throughout an extended period of time, but most don't. Either by choice or coincidence, this album is made up of songs that are around the four-to-five minute mark, with the exception of two tracks. That allowed me at least to remain engaged in a given song without becoming completely bored with it. Normally, I'm all for long songs, but when a band can write a short song that accomplishes just as much as a longer track, that impresses me even more. Songs like Gula and Disfiguring Aesthetics are some of the best pieces of music I've ever heard from these genres of music (up there with the likes of early Prurient in my opinion) and that isn't something I would say lightly.
So, in the end I was really impressed with this album. While I wouldn't claim that it blew me away, it certainly did surpass any expectations I had for it by far. This might not be for everyone, I know a lot of people out there aren't into these styles, similar to myself, but this might actually prove to be a solid little gateway album to at least check out if you're at all interested in these styles.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Sadomedica, Gula, Disfiguring Aesthetics

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

EEE Recordings - Part II (2013)

That's right, time for another go at the latest batch of releases from EEE Recordings! This time the focus is on a handful of releases from two of the label's main priorities, Njiqahdda and Oaks of Bethel. All the releases listed below are EPs, so they are all rated from 1-8 as usual.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Empyrios - Zion (2013)

Band: Empyrios
Country: Rimini, Italy
Style: Progressive/Groove Metal
Label: Scarlet

I remember back in the sophomore year-ish of my high school career, one day my dad happened to be playing this one record that caught my ear one day when he was driving me to school. That record turned out to be Empyrios' 2008 record, The Glorious Sickness. At the time it shocked me because, now looking back, it was a record that definitely predated the rise of a genre called djent.
So, with that statement above, one should be able to get a nice and clear image of what this record sounds like, more or less. This is a groove based prog-metal record. Now, the reason I don't necessarily view this record as "djent" so much as many others is simply because of a few very minor factors which first, and probably most importantly, are the vocals. While there are a couple of growls on here, the majority of vocals performed on here are cleaner - and more importantly they fall somewhere between power metal and thrash metal sort of singing. That doesn't mean high-pitched and annoying so much as aggressive, but very clean, and very clearly showcase an accent in the guy's voice. It's not for everyone and frankly, not every song on here features a great vocal performance from him, but it is a distinction. Next is the more industrial tone that a couple of these songs have. Again, not a big difference from other djent based groups, but they aren't quite as over the top you could say as many younger groups. Now, this is obviously only my opinion, so feel free to tell me I'm full of crap if you feel the need to do so.
To be completely honest, even when I initially heard this group I wasn't quite sure why I liked them, and to this day I'm still not sure. Musically, there are bands who do this sort of sound better, there are better vocalists out there, and there are bands who write more interesting and catchy songs than these guys do - yet I still take time to listen to this album and dig what they are doing. There's just this sort of quality about this band that somehow appeals to me and keeps me listening. But enough of me rambling, and back to the album at hand. This album does probably the worst thing a band could do when releasing a new album and open the album with a pair of pretty weak tracks. In my opinion, Nescience and Domino are two of the weakest songs on the entire album and they both open up the album. Obviously this is just my opinion, but doing that can prove to be a failure of an album to many people who will judge an entire disc based off of those initial tracks - so if you can get past those first two songs than you'll actually get some rather badass, groovy progressive metal. I'd say the shift into some great material is rather immediate. Pretty much as soon as Masters opens up, you're going to hear some of the best material the band has written to date (despite the rather ill-judged dubstep conclusion of this aforementioned song). These songs aren't going to change the game of prog-metal or djent or whatever, but I do feel like they are catchy little numbers that have stuck with me since I heard them.
For me, the clear highlight has to be the album's centerpiece Renovation, which isn't all that different from the other tracks so much as everything just works. Instrumentally, you get some solid grooves, but both the synths and vocals take a more atmospheric approach that definitely shows during the chorus in particular. This chorus just soars and is easily the catchiest song on the entire album. The middle section also brought to mind a bit of Deftones as well. On a side-note, maybe it's just me, but does anyone else hear Gillaume Bideau (of Mnemic) providing some guest vocals on Square One - I could swear he's growling and singing on it?
Overall, I was pretty impressed with this album and found myself replaying it several times. There are a couple of weak spots here and there, but the songs are strong and catchy to overcome that for the most part. If you're not a fan of more groove based metal, chances are you aren't going to dig this, but it's a nice meeting point between power metal (for one reason or another I see more fans of power metal embracing this than other groups - go figure) and modern metal.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Reverie, Unplugged, Renovation

Hacride - Back to Where You've Never Been (2013)

Band: Hacride
Country: Poitiers, France
Style: Progressive Death/Groove Metal
Label: Indie

For as much as I love the French metal scene (whether it be the black or progressive styles) there are always some bands who I just have problems with. I found out about Hacride, originally, back when they were mentioned in an interview with Gojira, and have been trying to get into them ever since. They're just a band I have had trouble getting into in the past so I had hoped that this new album might finally provide me with a way in.
I don't know why I've always had such trouble getting into this band. Their take on the whole progressive groove metal sound was one that I think Gojira had mastered and thought these guys did well but nothing ever seemed to stick. I respected the hell out of the band's last record, 2009's Lazarus cause I thought it had some really cool ideas and songs on it. But since the release of that album, the band has replaced half the band - bringing in a new vocalist and drummer. With that shift comes a bit of a departure sonically for the band. It's not a big shift, but it's one that definitely caught my attention. I know that it's been the biggest topic of debate when talking about this album, but the biggest difference is definitely the vocals. While the band's previous vocalist was pretty consistent with a harsher delivery for the most part and cleaner vocals being used sparingly, clean vocals have definitely come up since the last album. Now, that's not a bad thing in my book, but this new guy's clean voice definitely reminded me of the sound of the first singer of the band Drowning Pool (yes, I listened to them back in grade school). I never meant it in a bad way (frankly, if I'm going to listen to Drowning Pool, I'd have their first record over any of the other crap they've put out since). You can decide whether or not you find that as a plus or a minus when it comes to the album, but it definitely threw me off at first.
Musically, the band hasn't changed too much, though this album is definitely more straightforward and driving than their last two have been. Songs are shorter and more direct rather than the longer and winding tone that was taken on their last album and the more experimental one on 2007's Amoeba. At times it does hint towards a bit more of a hardcore sound than previously known, as well as an occasional nu metal one from the vocals. Granted, there are just small things that can be heard every now and then throughout the album, as a whole, the band still remain true to their more groove metal sound. I don't have much of a problem with the route they've taken, it works, though I have to say that neither the more direct nature of the music or the more varied vocals did anything to increase my enjoyment of this album. I do have to say that the bass tone on this album was well done and there's some really well done guitar work done on Ghosts of The Modern World. I actually wish more features from that track had actually appeared on the rest of the album because there was some really cool progressive riffs on that track that make it the clear standout on this album. Album closer Requiem For A Lullaby also has a bit of a Deftones kind of a vibe at times as well - another feature I kind of wish there was more of on here.
Frankly, I wish I would have enjoyed this album more than I did because I know Hacride is a good band, but this album just did nothing for me. Like I said in the beginning, I just have trouble getting into this group for some reason, and unfortunately this album did not heal that problem. If you're a fan of more progressive forms of groove metal (not djent) than give this one a go.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Introversion, Edification of The Fall, Ghosts of The Modern World

Saturday, June 15, 2013

2013 - Splits I

That's right, I'm bringing back the split reviews! I got a pretty good response from this last year so I've been collecting, and receiving, some nice splits over the months since the year started and have finally started getting enough ones that I want to cover to start this section again. As always, these splits are reviewed from 1-8.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Seirom - Sparkle Night EP (2013)

Band: Seirom
Country: Drachten, Netherlands
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal/Shoegaze
Label: Sulphurous Productions

Mories is a very talented man in my humble opinion. I think that his various projects, from Gnaw Their Tongues to Aderlating to De Magia Veterum to Cloak of Altering, the man knows how to write unique music that can disturb and disorient any listener. Seirom has showcased a different end of his sonic palette and with each new release I get another surprise.
Where other projects have, more or less, expressed Mories' disdain, hatred, and disgust with the human race and all things alive and breathing, I read in an interview that his work with Seirom was to show off more of his lighter side. You can't have all darkness, all day, everyday, and Seirom does show more of a hopeful side to the man in question. Of the various releases he's put out under the project thus far, I have actually found myself in a state of hit-or-miss with them, and always surprised by what he does next. The Seiromistkrieg EP definitely showed a more post-black metal side to the man, and it was one of my favorite EPs to be released that year. It was something I didn't anticipate hearing from Mories but he was able to show that there was still some ideas left in the post-rock inspired black metal world. Then there was the Forest EP, which was definitely more of an ambient-noise release, still good, but not quite as satisfying. Then came last year's full-length, 1973, which showed a wider breadth of sonic experimentation from the project. From witch-house like electronic pieces to dreamy ambient ones, post-black metal aggression as well as shoegazing melancholy. That was the first I was more meh on. This EP definitely returns to that whole post-black metal sound that I first fell in love with the project for. While the title-track definitely takes the whole post-black metal style and just runs with it, Only Miss You When It Snows takes a slower, almost ballad-esque thanks to the piano used in it, approach which certainly made it stand out to me. Both tracks on here take that sound and just run with it. Despite both being around the ten minute mark, the time just passes by.
So yeah, great little cassette EP that is definitely a return to form for the project, at least in my opinion. This is dreamy, melancholic, beautiful, and noisy all at the same time and I love it. If you're a fan of post-black metal or any of Mories' other projects, definitely do yourself a favor and check this tape out!
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Sparkle Night

De Arma - Lost, Alien & Forlorn (2013)

Band: De Arma
Country: Sweden/UK
Style: Shoegaze/Post-Black Metal
Label: Trollmusic

I had only heard about De Arma though their split with Fen back in 2011. Even then, I didn't really pay much attention to either their material or to the band simply because they featured a member of Fen in their ranks, and I was having sort of a love spat with the band at the time. Since then, Fen has released a record that is actually long lasting (more than a few listens) so I decided to give this album a chance.
Sonically, I have to say that De Arma isn't a drastic shift from Frank Allain's work in Fen. I mean, of course there are some difference, but there isn't as big a change as I think I expected. I remember reading some reviews of that split and hearing that De Arma's material was actually the highlight on it. Before listening to this album I went back and listened to the three songs from that album and frankly I didn't think they were anything special. They were alright, but I wouldn't say they outshined the songs Fen contributed. The sound of the band is, at least my opinion, Fen with a lot less metal. For the most part it's very atmospheric metal, sort of like Katatonia actually, and after thinking about it, it does actually sound as if Allain was going for a similar style of singing as Jonas Renske from that band. That in and of itself isn't a bad thing, Katatonia are a great band even if I really disliked their last record, and De Arma do try to add a bit more of a post-rock and shoegaze influence into their songs, but I wouldn't say it was enough to really grab me either way.
This isn't a bad record, but frankly, it shares almost the exact same flaw I had with Fen's 2011 album, Epoch, which was that, while I can't say any of it was bad or not enjoyable, after a while the flatness of the sound just put me to sleep. If an album puts me to sleep, I have to take that into account in my review. I don't have any qualms with what these three guys are trying to do musically or aesthetically or anything, but the sound on this album just lacks the right dynamics to keep me interested. The album never really gets loud or gets soft. I'm sure the band have parts where both those things happen, but the sound of this album just makes it sound so one-dimensional it lulls me to sleep because there are no blasts of aggression (which this album doesn't really need) and there are no contrasts with sections where the music becomes even softer. It doesn't help that Allain's voice isn't the most dynamic or expressive out there, so his imitation of Jonas really just adds to the flat production tone. When he lets out a black metal snarl, I will certainly say that it makes a difference, if only because it means the band is trying to make their song a bit more intense or aggressive. The only track that really got my attention for being a bit more interesting was Behind These Filth Panes which had an interesting riff in it that made the song stand out from the more shoegazing atmospheric metal that the rest of the album is filled with. Also, I just need to say that drummer J. Marklund is a beast as always behind the kit and was easily my favorite parts of pretty much every song on here with his various fills and interesting approaches to how dull the pace of some of these songs can be and probably would have been without him backing them.
So, overall, this was an album that did pose a problem for me in reviewing it. I wound up listening to it many times before I could finally gather an opinion that might be worthy of some substance. The album and band aren't really anything special, at least in my opinion, but the problem for me lies in the production. I hope if you decide to listen to this album you do not encounter the same problem I did with it.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Left to Hide, Behind These Filthy Panes, Wretch

Deafheaven - Sunbather (2013)

Band: Deafheaven
Country: San Francisco, California
Style: Post-Black Metal
Label: Deathwish Inc.

What can you say about Deafheaven that hasn't already been said by hundred of people already. Whether you believe they're hipsters playing black metal or one of the most exciting groups to crossover from black metal into the "mainstream", you have to admit that they at least get reactions from people. This new album has been highly touted by many respected blogs and zines so far, let's see if it is actually up to the hype.
Frankly, even since I first heard Deafheaven's demo I've been impressed with their work. Their combination of black metal, post-rock, screamo, and to an extent even shoegaze may not have been an original one, but it was a sound that they managed to make fresh with those first couple of releases. Praise has been heavy on this new album, with many people claiming it to be one of the finest releases of the year thus far. It's gotten to the point where I just started thinking that this album had to great simply because people I respected had been saying so many great things about it since Dream House first came out as a single a couple of months back. I didn't listen to the song back then simply in order to try and keep things fresh for myself. I wanted to see if I could avoid all new tracks until the album had been released in full so I could judge it based on the merit of the entire album, and now that I've been able to listen to the full album, several times now, I have to say that I was left rather unimpressed by it.
Now, make no mistake, I'm not saying this is a bad album, but for all the high praise that it's been receiving I just don't appear to have gotten it. Yes the band are combining the aforementioned elements and styles together again, as they did before, but the songs on here just feel a lot less interesting. What happened to all the dynamics? They replaced songs that went up and down with songs that went hard and then interludes that went soft (for the most part). I just don't get it, why do that for an entire album. Frankly, I think that most of the material on here is actually pretty forgettable. It's certainly not throwaway material - I have heard worse (this year even) - but for a band who was so impressive at writing these sort of songs that really did blend the above styles together in a way that made it appealing to fans of screamo and emo music as well as black metal fans (who weren't too caught up in their kvltness), these songs just feel so uninteresting. I get it, you want to go hard for an entire song, that's fine, I got no qualms with that, but I really don't want to hear this band go hard for nine-plus minutes at a time. After a while I just got bored. If anything, the thing that made me even return to this album was that the band actually managed to infuse this album with a brighter and more "beautiful" atmosphere. They create more uplifting melodies than almost anything else I've heard a "black metal" band create before and for that I'll certainly give them praise. It's more akin to post-rock than black metal actually, and that was something that I thought had improved for the better on here.
I actually found myself struggling to even stay interested in this album while I had it on. That's a huge problem when listening to any piece of music, especially one that makes it so obvious that each song is supposed to work as a part the whole. Most of this just felt stale and rather boring to me. Not bad by any means, but certainly not up to what I was expecting based on all the praise this thing has gotten thus far. In addition to all of that, as soon as this album ended (or rather, each time it ended) I found myself at a loss for what I had just listened to. I couldn't remember a single vocal line, guitar melody, drum pattern, or anything for the life of me. With all that being said, and I do realize that this review did come off pretty negative, but while this was on I did enjoy it.
So yeah, despite the mountains of praise that have been shoveled upon this album since before it was even released, I thought this was pretty average stuff. Definitely nowhere near that "album of the year" comment I've seen so many reviews make. It's certainly worth hearing this year, perhaps if for no other reason than to say you have actually heard it, but aside from that I can't really say much more in it's favor. Fans of any of the genres I mentioned throughout this review, you should give this a shot, make your own calls about it.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Vertigo, The Pecan Tree

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Asofy - Percezione (2013)

Band: Asofy
Country: Milan, Italy
Style: Post-Black Metal
Label: Avantgarde Music

I have known about Asofy for longer than I think I've actually listened to the project. I first discovered the project back around 2010 when I cover a release from Sleeping Village and later found out that that project had done a split with Asofy (which is just the solo project of one of the members of that band). It's been a long time since I even listened to this band and when I got this album I was sort of taken aback before I remembered who it was.
In retrospect, this album picks up exactly where that split with Sleeping Village left off. For as much as I admire this project, I have to say that the early recordings were kind of... bad. I don't have a problem with the split, or even the rough around the edges of the Lento Procedere Prima Del Sonno EP, but the ebYm full-length was really a mess of an album. Sonically, all the albums have drawn from the same sort of wellspring of ideas, which seems to primarily result in recordings that are held within the blackgaze, post-black metal, and blackened doom genres. That first full-length featured an extremely raw production sound, with very noisy guitars and terrible sounding programmed drums. Luckily, since that album, each release has consistently improved and the three years it's been since this project released anything have really showed. The production is more polished, the drums sound a lot more natural (for programmed drums that is) and guitar work is a lot less all over the place. Even the vocals have improved, which is a hard thing to say for a vocalist who's primary method of vocalizing is screaming.
All the is admirable and definitely an improvement but I have to say that for as much as I actually enjoyed this album, it was not particularly memorable. Each track is definitely it's own little morose painting in a sense. You look at it, and when you walk away you might remember certain details but not the entire portrait. I'm certainly not above saying that for all the improvements there aren't faults still to be had, but I will say that that's about as far as my qualms with this album go. For a "post-black metal" record, this is surprisingly dark and menacing. There are plenty of calming clean guitar parts on here, but even then the mood never really shifts towards something brighter - as many bands would have done; and have done before. There seems to be a focus on making this a record where the tone is meant to keep the listener down and not give the impression of hope, although I would imagine that some of the guitar melodies on this record, if played in a different context could actually be rather upbeat. But the way they are used on here, they come across as rather depressive and dissonant at times. It's an odd little bug because for all the bands who are in this style, very few have dared to take their songs into areas where they could alienate their listeners with through the use of dissonance. I admire the sense to use it because it is different, and it actually works as a way to make the melancholy feel all the more oppressive. Take that all you DSBM bands out there!
So yeah, like I said above, I enjoyed this album, I just wish I could remember more of it after the album finished. With the improvement that has been shown on each release up to this point, I am actually excited to hear what the next release will sound like from Asofy. I don't think fans of this style of black metal will be at all disappointed with this album, even if it is darker than your typical fair.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Saturazione, Oscurità

Galaktik Cancer Squad - Ghost Light (2013)

Band: Galaktik Cancer Squad
Country: Hamburg, Germany
Style: Progressive/Post-Black Metal
Label: Hypnotic Dirge

I can recall first hearing Galaktik Cancer Squad. I just remember stumbling across some random user's page on Last.fm (great site even if there are a lot of trolls and they won't let me post links there anymore) and finding a link to an album by a project called Galaktik Cancer Squad. I downloaded that link and since then, the project has released three full-lengths (including this one).
In the past, specifically when I heard that first album, I have had a bit of a problem getting into GCS. While I'm all for instrumentals and progressive playing and whatnot, instrumental progressive black metal of this nature just felt a bit aimless on it's own. It was not until Argwohn began adding vocals into his songs that I really began to take an interest in his work with this project. Sure, the playing was always good, but I guess it just went over my head and just never came across as well put together as it should have. With this album, I think he's really come into his own as a songwriter though. Yes, he still provides us as listeners with plenty of blasting and traditional tremolo picking, but as with his other material, he throws in even more technical and progressive riffing than many of his peers do. At times channeling the spirits of groups like Necrophagist or Martyr into his style of playing. The riffing at the beginning of Hypnose is definitely bringing to mind those artists and should certainly bring in some fans of those bands even if they might not exactly be the biggest black metal fans.
The biggest success this album achieves is simply in memorability. Obviously this is a subjective thing, but I found several guitar riffs getting stuck in my head, the chorus riff in When The Void Whispers My Name for one is just a great progressive lick that is just quick and efficient at worming it's way into your head and then burying inside. Now, that's not to say the entire album is just catchy riff after catchy riff, it has to be said that there is at least one spot in each of the five tracks on here that I find to be memorable and/or catchy in some way, but along with that, since these are longer songs anyway, there is some filler. While some tracks manage to come out on in the end just fine, other tracks don't fare so well. In my opinion, the first seven or eight minutes of In Lichrwelosen Weiten is pretty uninteresting stuff, and then once you hit the piano section near the end it all just picks up. I don't think it's so much that there's filler material on here (there's only five songs) as much as that there are certain parts in songs that are filler. While the tremolo picking sections are certainly well done and definitely help maintain this as a black metal project, I think that it is ok to make tracks without them, or at least as much of them.
So yeah, in the end I was certainly impressed with this album. I was sort of excited to hear another album from Argwohn with vocals on it and I don't think it's a stretch to say that this is the best album he's released under this project so far. It still has some problems with filler material but aside from that, he's getting better at his craft. Definitely something you might want to check out if you're a fan of technical or progressive forms of black and death metal.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: When The Void Whispers My Name, Ghost Light

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Černá - Restoring Life (2013)

Band: Černá
Country: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Style: Post-Black Metal
Label: Domestic Genocide

I was not familiar with Černá before receiving their album. I had been hearing the project's name mentioned by the guys in Súl ad Astral on their facebook page, and in the press release statement for the album it mentioned Cody McCoy's association with The Omega Experiment. Those two factors led me to give this album a shot despite not knowing anything else about it.
I pretty much figured out what sort of record this one was by the time opener Woken In Prague had finished. Frankly, while another post-rock inspired black metal record isn't a bad thing, another instrumental one is sort of boring at this point for me. So many one-man bands are popping up doing this style that it just feels like any life it had once had has now withered away. Sure, there are some clear highlights of people doing this blackgaze/post-black metal style, but a lot of it is faceless and lacks any sense of unique characteristics to set it apart from the dozens of other projects and bands out there. When it comes to McCoy's work in this project, I hate to say that I isn't exempt from that stereotype. If you've heard Deafheaven, Heretoir, or even Cold Body Radiation, you'll have heard pretty much everything this record has to offer.
Now, that's not to say that McCoy doesn't present a version of the style that is a bit more well conceived when it comes to the production side of things. In all fairness, this album is much crisper and cleaner than many other one-man, bedroom black metal bands sound. The drums are nice and punchy - though the kick is a bit too mechanical for my taste, the guitars are beefy and I'd actually say a bit heavier than many other bands would probably have made them and the cleaner tones are nice. I should also say that the album is not without it's highlights either. Since the majority of the album is dominated by the Společně tracks, most of the best things I can actually say about it come from that area of the album. With the opener just sort of being an average opener and the two "bonus" tracks (not sure why they're bonuses if they're listed everywhere as being a part of the actual album and I don't imagine this being the sort of album that they would release two versions of - one with the "bonus" songs and one without them - but that's just me) being rather dull. The point at which I found myself most engaged with this album was during these five tracks that make up Společně. McCoy does an effective job at crafting a very melancholic atmospheres throughout these five tracks, either through the use of cleaner guitars or piano. While the entire piece as a whole is not a winner, Part IV: Embrace The Stars goes on for far too long in my book, I will say that the album's best moments are contained within these five tracks.
I don't mean to trash this album, because it certainly isn't bad, I just can't say it's very original or all that grabbing. McCoy's take on the genre is unfortunately one that at least I have heard done similarly by many other bands and projects (though to varying degrees of success and failure). Maybe in the future McCoy will produce an album that really knocks me off my feet and really does something special with this genre, but until then I will wait patiently. If you enjoy post-black metal or blackgaze give this a listen, for others, if you haven't enjoyed the genre in the past, I doubt this will convert you.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Společně II: Laying Down In The Rain, Společně III: Night Sounds, Společně V: Lullaby

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dark Tranquillity - Construct (2013)

Band: Dark Tranquillity
Country: Gothenburg, Sweden
Style: Atmospheric/Melodic Death Metal
Label: Century Media

As I mention on nearly every review I do for a melodic death metal album, my interest in the style has waned recently, but there are still several bands who can keep me interested. My relationship with Dark Tranquillity is one of the longest I've had with a band in this style. While many of the groups that came up with the band have either disbanded or stagnated in their evolution, this band has always released albums that I consider to be top caliber work.
For a band that has been around for as long as Dark Tranquillity, it's actually rather surprising that they haven't released a bad album yet. Sure, 2010's We Are The Void was a bit sub-par for them, and 1999's Projector wasn't exactly an album that garnered a whole lot of praise, I actually really like that album, but they haven't released a bad album yet. While their most well known peers in In Flames have drifted into the realms of radio metal and alternative metal, and At The Gates seem to have found comfort in simply playing reunion shows without the need of recording new material, but these guys in Dark Tranquillity have always stayed the course and released some of the best melodic death metal of the years when they actually released albums (at least in my opinion), and this album is no different.
I remember reading a review for this album where it compared it to Projector in the sense that that album was released at a point in time when the band were deciding how to progress their sound, and how the same sort of ambition came be seen on this record. To a degree, I can agree with that feeling, though the sound on this album is not as drastically different as it was back on Projector. This album definitely has all the traits one has come to expect from a Dark Tranquillity album, catchy guitar riffs, strong choruses, and a tone of melancholy, but it does definitely showcase a slightly different variation on that sound. Where the band pretty much nailed their sound down to a pat on the trilogy that was Damage Done, Character, and Fiction, this album definitely can be seen as the band moving into a slightly different direction. All the traits of those three albums can be seen on this record, but the mood is more pervasive than ever more. If previous albums maintained a melancholic mood consistently throughout an entire record, this album just overflows with that mood. It's easily the band's most moody album to date, which is no fault in my book.
It's actually a good thing in my opinion because as I stated above, the band's last full-length was not exactly up to the high caliber that many of their previous ones had been. It appeared as though the band were almost stuck in a rut with their style at that pointed and weren't really sure where to go sonically after that trilogy, but on here we can see them clearly moving into a direction that is not that dissimilar to (atmospherically) Katatonia. Tracks like Uniformity or What Only You Know definitely showcase this overpowering mood that was perhaps always in the background of the band but has now reached critical mass on here. For a band that has been going for over two decades now, it's amazing to me that these guys are still finding a way to make melodic death metal sound fresh (at least to me). There are so many bands who stop writing "aggressive" songs after making several records, and while these guys are certainly no exception, when they do craft a faster and more intense song, Apathetic, it really hits hard - which is exactly how songs of this nature should sound. On a side note, while I have always been a fan of Mikael Stanne's vocals, clean and harsh (and lyrics for that matter), his performance on here is most definitely up there with the best he's ever given. His clean vocals in particular deserve a special mention as they are his most well done to date.
Maybe you're not into melodic death metal, which is fine, but I still recommend checking this album out simply because there are very few bands out there who are as consistently great as these guys are. While it isn't their strongest album, it is certainly up there with many of their other releases. I honestly cannot wait to hear what the band does next and how they will evolve in the future. Definitely an album not to miss.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Uniformity, The Silence In Between, State of Trust

Hypocrisy - End of Disclosure (2013)

Band: Hypocrisy
Country: Ludvika, Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

I've been a long time fan and supporter of Hypocrisy. In my opinion, they are one of the long standing melodic death metal bands to not actually sell out in favor of a more commercial direction. While I can't say each of their albums is fantastic, they're a band who I hold in high regard.
With this new album I can't really say I was expecting too much going into it seeing as I actually wasn't aware that the band were recording/releasing this until I saw it. I mean, for all the commercial accessibility that Peter Tägtgren has had with Pain, I have enjoyed his retreat into more traditional death metal and melo-death with recent Hypocrisy albums. While he can get out all his commercial and pop ideas out in that project, with this he can indulge in more aggressive tracks that deliver the goods. So, in that regard, this album isn't so dissimilar to that of the last couple of albums the band has released because it is a straight-up, no bullshit, modern, melodic death metal album. You're not going to get soaring clean vocal choruses, synth heavy melodies, or super polished production; but having said that, it's not a retro sounding album either. It rides that balance between being modern while playing a the style in a way that if the production was a bit more raw or messy, it could have been released in the 90s.
In my mind, this album is a lot closer to an album like 2004's The Arrival than either 2005's Virus or 2009's A Taste of Extreme Divinity. The sound on here doesn't tread into straight-up death metal, or even brutal death metal, as those two albums did and instead finds solace in a sound that is driven by guitar melodies over almost anything else while adding in a somewhat more epic sounding backdrop using synth tones, which is something that really made The Arrival sound the way it did. But I wouldn't call this a retreading of the band's sound by any means. I would actually say this album is less atmospheric than that album was while having a guitar tone is a bit more chunky. It's obviously not a huge departure, but it's enough to keep each album a bit different. Frankly, in terms of the songwriting on here, I was actually surprised by how consistent the band were. I honestly haven't been this impressed with a Hypocrisy album since I first heard 1997's The Final Chapter. Now, what that means is that each song actually manages to be quite well written and quite catchy, and for all the respect I give the band, their albums have not been this consistent in a long while. Whether it happens to be the epicness of the opening title-track, the more direct approach of 44 Double Zero, or the highly atmospheric nature on closer, The Return, pretty much every track on here is a fierce punch to the gut without relent.
This album did surprise me seeing as I didn't expect all that much coming in. It's another worthy addition to the band's catalog of solid albums. Honestly, if you haven't been impressed with the band up to this point, then this album won't change your mind, but if you've been on the lookout for a solid piece of melo-death, this should be pretty high on your pick-up list.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Tales of Thy Spineless, When Death Calls, The Return

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kwaidan - Make All The Hell of Dark Metal Bright (2013)

Band: Kwaidan
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Dark Ambient/Drone
Label: Bathetic

Kwaidan is a band who I first covered last year in a rather short little review dedicated to the work of André Foisy. Since it was a live recording, it was sort of difficult to really get a vibe for what the trio was really going for at the time and I said that I would love to hear what they would do in a studio setting. Well, the time has come to finally tell you about what that band did in a studio.
While the debut live recording was dark and very ambient based, this album really expands that into something far more engaging. I know it can be rather hard to understand whenever I say that an ambient based record can be engaging because, if it's ambient and devoid of melody or rhythm, how can a listener really engage with it. Sure they can be absorbed with it and become hypnotized or entranced with it, but you can't really say that you are vibing off the record like you would a pop or rock based record. In many cases I say that ambient records can engage you, and while those record usually don't contain any sort of percussion instruments, it is possible to really interact with them, and this record is a prime example of an ambient based recording being fully engaging. Because of Foisy's tenure in Locrian, he obviously knows how to create drone based music that pushes boundaries and that can actually grab people who many otherwise not listen to drone based music - and even though I would primarily call this record ambient, it is certainly droning as well (God, I feel like I'm running around in circles here, so I'll stop rambling like this!).
The six tracks that make up this album is easily some of the best ambient-drone I've heard in a long time. The opening trio of tracks, which make up the Three Empty Rooms of Light and Space trilogy, really progress and flow into one another which I think is a great way to open up the album. While the opener and first part of the trilogy, Evening Bell is truly a spacious and low-key track, Gateless Gate picks things up with some interesting percussion playing and some really spacious guitar lines before settling back down on Ostension. In a way I'm inclined to mention post-rock because of the way the tracks manage to ascend and descend with such clarity and subtlety; and there were a couple of guitar lines that did bring to mind the build-ups that are found so often in post-rock groups. But this trio of tracks is far more pensive and reflective than any post-rock group I've ever heard. Even when things get louder, like when the drums begin to actually play rhythms, it's hard to say it ever moves past the realms of meditative calmness.
The last three tracks take things into a slightly more "accessible" direction, at least from my point of view. If such a thing could exist as an ambient ballad, it would be The Iceberg and Its Shadow on this record. I'd call it a ballad simply because of the more melancholic atmosphere that is used throughout the track. It's incredibly somber, even for the album, with piercing piano keys, spacey atmospherics, and some rather off-putting low-end drones dominating the three minutes it's available to be heard. The final two tracks are, in my opinion, two of the best tracks I've heard all year. The bleakness of Space As Support and the more uplifting (in a sense) of closer The Sound of This Bell really just encapsulate everything I want to hear from a record. That's not to discredit the rest of the album (or even any other album I've heard this year for that matter) but these two tracks give me exactly what I crave from music at this point in time. These two tracks manage to take me to the pits of despair and then bring me back up again within the course of about nineteen minutes, and by god if I don't want to just replay those two tracks over and over again!
So yeah, you should get by now that I thought this album was just amazing. It manages to cover a pretty wide spectrum of emotions and tones throughout it's six tracks and bring me to a place that I have not been taken to by another record, ever. It's great, and even though I wish that everyone would go out and listen to this album as soon as possible, I know that this sort of stuff is not for everyone. Fans of experimental music should definitely seek this one out though, one of the year's best.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Locrian - Return to Annihilation (2013)

Band: Locrian
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Krautrock/Blackened Drone
Label: Relapse

It actually strikes me as odd how in the course of only a couple of years, the trio known as Locrian have become one of my favorite musical acts working today. In addition to that, it appears as though with every full-length they release, their popularity just grows (which is always a good thing). But even I was surprised when I heard that they were signed by Relapse Records.
When I heard The Crystal World back in 2010 I was not all that familiar with the worlds of noise or drone based music that also had elements coming from extreme music and so I wasn't quite sure what it was that I was hearing at the time. By the time The Clearing was released back in 2011, Locrian had developed quite nicely and in my mind their sound had evolved into something much less definable to a genre, and my ears had become far more accustomed to their sound at that point as well. Then there were the two collaborative albums they put out last year with self-titled Locrian & Christoph Heemann and the collaboration with Mamiffer, Bless Them Who Curse You. It was obvious the band was pushing their sound even further on both those albums, which could be seen on the collaborative EP they did with Horseback back in 2011 as well. Whether it happened to be the more ambient based sound of their work with Heemann, the more meditative work with Mamiffer, or the pushing of their blackened noise sound with Horseback, the trio was moving into a realm of even further genre unclassification (not a word but I'm sticking with it). When I heard the band was going to be embracing influences coming from 70s progressive rock on this album I was very interested to hear what they would do with it.
It doesn't really surprise me in the least that the first time I heard opener and lead single(?) Eternal Return I was thrown for a bit of a loop by it's short length and relatively upbeat nature. In comparison with the work of their last four full-lengths the track was relatively speaking closer to synth-pop/synth-rock than the blackened drone they had come to be so closely associated with. The rest of the album fortunately, or unfortunately - depending on how much you dug that track, digs further into that progressive rock and krautrock sound. While I'm certain that the band has embraced ideas from the likes of Genesis and King Crimson, this record came off as much more of a krautrock sound - though that's more likely due to the band's adaptation of the ideas more than an actual taking on of one style over another. For me groups like Can, Popol Vuh (who the band has covered before), Ash Ra Tempel, and Amon Düül II all over this record. The hypnotic drum patterns, the spacious guitar work, and the huge synth tones and drones just brought back the sounds of those groups, among others, but not in a bad way. Much like the band's cover of the Popol Vuh song Dort Ist Der Weg, on their single for Flingco Sound System back in 2011, the band certainly take on the sounds of those bands, but they are certainly not copying them.
Even though these songs are definitely more palatable than much of what is held in the group's back catalog, that does not mean it's easiest to absorb. The repetitive rhythms and chanted vocals are certainly less abstract but they lull you into a state where a song can just breeze by you and you don't even realize what you just heard. I found myself having to revisit tracks like A Visitation From The Wrath of Heaven and Panorama of Mirrors many times before I even got a handle on what the band was doing. The grooves would just lure me in and hook me and before I knew it the track was finished and I would be left wondering how eight minutes (in the case of the former track) had just past me by. That's not to say there aren't tracks that are gateways into the album. I found tracks like the aforementioned Eternal Return and even the the boisterous title-track to be the places I went to after the first listen through because they were much more immediately grabbing and, in a way, poppy. But obviously, with many more listens, those songs that are tougher to crack do become more revealing each time I listened to them.
So, the question remains, have Locrian topped themselves yet again? The answer, at least to me, is most definitely yes; and in my opinion that was no easy task seeing how much I loved their last handful of releases. Despite being signed to a bigger label than I think many ever imagined the band would be on (I'll admit to being one of those people) the band have not softened their sound but actually made it even more expansive. Definitely a must for this year and certainly among the best albums you'll hear all year.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight