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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Utopiae - EP 1 (2013)

Band: Utopiae
Country: Rome, Italy
Style: Singer-Songwriter/Experimental Folk
Label: Independent

I didn't quite remember how I first obtained this little EP when I first put in on my Ipod a few weeks ago. I remembered that it was a folk release before I even put it on, but I didn't remember that Konrad had actually sent it to me in an email months earlier. It wasn't until I skimmed through my emails that I remembered what this was and was actually quite surprised by it.
Knowing that it was folk inspired didn't lessen the impact of these four songs once I finally pressed play to listen to them. Being a "singer-songwriter" technically isn't that difficult to do, it doesn't requite even that much skill of talent, but becoming more than just that one guy with a guitar singing in his bedroom or in a studio does take more. Reading that this guy listed this EP in the indie folk style kind of scared me for a second because that's the sort of sound that I expected to hear, sort of a lo-fi or at least unpolished attempt at folk music, but to my surprise, this turned out to be so much more. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give to Konrad is that these four songs reminded me a little bit of the group Kiss The Anus of A Black Cat, a group who I am a big fan of. Much like that group, Konrad uses the whole singer-songwriter style more as an anchor while bringing in some additional instrumentation from electronics to piano to make his sound so much rounder and more expansive than your everyday guy on the street with his guitar recording. I think the somber tone of the four songs definitely benefits from the addition of these extra elements, it doesn't feel like a Konrad is attempting to break into the realms of indie folk (at least the sort of indie folk that I'm familiar with anyway) or mainstream listenership. The four songs maintain a pretty bleak and, in some spots, downright depressing atmosphere that I find quite entrancing and well done.
While the songs themselves could have been a bit more catchy, I'm not sure whether that was really the point since atmosphere is the most powerful aspect on this EP. For sure it isn't for the typical folk or singer-songwriter fan, you're not going to find vocal hooks or lavish production on here, but for those who enjoy this style a bit darker and melancholic I definitely suggest you check this out. Not perfect, but a nice starting point for sure.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: My Clouds, In Circles

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Norma Jean - Wrongdoers (2013)

Band: Norma Jean
Country: Douglasville, Georgia
Style: Metalcore/Post-Metal
Label: Razor & Tie

I obviously don't cover a whole lot of metalcore on this site (regardless of what you think of the djent genre), which should give you an indication of my feelings towards the genre. While I don't have a problem with it, I have grown rather tired of all it's repetition in ideas and bands and style, so very few bands manage to keep my attention. Norma Jean is a band that I've been following ever since high school (or maybe just before) and are one of the few bands from that time that don't make me cringe when I listen back to them.
Since released Redeemer in 2006 I've felt the band has been on a bit of downward slide. While The Anti Mother from 2008 had it's moments and showcased a more experimental and melodic side to the band's sound, it ultimately didn't do much for me. Meridional was released in 2010 and showed a bit of a return to form to a more chaotic sound that I originally fell in love with from them, but it wound up feeling a bit half-hearted to me, the album was split between shorter chaotic hardcore songs and more melodic songs that seemed like the band was more interested in. I was sure the band would just keep going in a more melodic direction, which would have been fine, but it wouldn't keep me as interested. That's pretty much what I was expecting when I first pressed play on this album for the first time. Sure, I had heard the single If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty, but releasing one intense track doesn't mean the entire album is going to be that way. I figured it was the album's intense track and that the rest of it, or at least the majority of it, would be more melodic songs. Damn if I wasn't surprised when the album began to unfold before me.
Yes, this isn't as chaotic as the band once was, it's clean and more polished sounding. It's heavier as well - but that's something that's happened simply due to the production. But song wise, this album was much more aggressive and driving than I had any right to expect from the band. While the band's last record had it's fare share of songs that were hardcore, they balanced it out with more melodic songs, on here, it feels more like they blended the two together. Yes, you have tracks that still exhibit one in favor of another, whether it's the more grinding tone of The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind or the extremely catchy melodies of the Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes, but most of the other tracks feature a fusion of the two ideas. It's the best fusion of the ideas I've heard a metalcore group do in a long time simply because it isn't the typical screamed/yelled verses and then sung choruses. Sure the band apply that brand of songwriting, but they also keep things varied. In addition to that, this band does two things on here that really appeal to me. While I don't usually expect it in metalcore, this band's first couple of records featured such a raw and live sound that feedback just roared through their songs, and that's something that just roars throughout several of these tracks. In addition to that, vocalist Cory Brandon just gets on my good side because he is one of the few vocalists within this genre who can emote any sort of passion or emotion in general when he's behind the mic, and boy does that come through on here. Two bonus points added on for those two simple things, because I they're that important to a record like this one in my opinion.
Along with all that, the band also manage to channel, whether intentionally or otherwise, a bit of an experimental flair on here. Several tracks on here channel quite a bit of stoner rock into their riffs, adding a nice swagger to the songs in question. It's been a while that's I've heard a band outside of the straight ahead hardcore or stoner rock/metal genre generate swagger, and I am damn pleased that a band like this one was able to use it well. There's also a bit of a post-metal-esque vibe on closer Sun Dies, Blood Moon. I'd go so far as to say as it's the most ambitious piece of music the band has written to date.
So yeah, I never expected to like another metalcore release this much again, but hot damn if this isn't a great record. It's everything I think metalcore was meant to sound like and it's been a while since I've heard a record that I thought could channel what those original feelings were. Hopefully if you're a fan of hardcore, metalcore, modern metal, stoner/sludge, perhaps post-metal(?), and really just a slew of other stuff, please check this one out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: The Potter Has No Hands, Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes, Sun Dies, Blood Moon

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hivelords - Cavern Apothecary (2013)

Band: Hivelords
Country: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Style: Blackened Sludge Metal
Label: Anthropic

I wasn't familiar with Hivelords before deciding to give this album a listen. Blackened sludge/doom is a genre that I actually enjoy quite a bit, though when I finally decided to listen to this album I didn't know what genre it was. I simply had a block of time and this album stuck out from my list (so as you can imagine, the process for deciding what to cover is fairly strenuous).
Starting with a riff as unsludgy as the one that opens up Atavus Lich on here immediately threw up some signs that this would have more going for it than the typical blackened sludge metal band would. I mean, yes, stylistically, I don't think I could call this anything but what it has already been called, in terms of sub-genre categories, but I would argue that these guys are doing a bit more to stick out from the average band doing this style. For one, while it has plenty of slower moments that are heavy and all that stuff as well as your faster black metal ones with scowled vocals and tremolo picked guitars, there's a bit more on here that just puts it over the top. Maybe it's the riff choices and how they do occasionally pick some parts that sound a bit less expected and the vocalist does feel a bit more wild and more free in his style than the average one from many bands. He explores clean vocals that actually have more range than one might expect throughout the album, at times channeling ideas that reminded me of Bruce Lamont while at other times sounding like someone who might fit over pageninetynine or something. It's an interesting style that he brings to the table.
For myself, this was more of a visceral sort of album. There were spots that were memorable no doubt, a track like the slow and plodding Antennae Manifest for example, but whenever I listened to this it never struck me in that way that another record of this sort might. Songs weren't particularly riff driven, or at least it didn't feel that way to me, and appeared to focus more on atmosphere. Every song on here is drenched in a cavernous reverb that makes the whole thing feel dank and dreary. But when I listened to this, even for how slow some of the songs are, they had a very authentic visceral quality to them. With other bands in this genre they usually have a good riff or something going for them, but this band was able to do more and write songs that channeled a gut reaction from me, which isn't something I can ever remember having from a band of this sort. So, if all that made no sense, what I'm trying to say is that despite being able to write solid riffs, what stayed with me more was how naturalistic and authentic the band's performances were.
But yeah, I dug this album... actually a lot more than I expected to given the style of music that the band play. It's made me curious to listen to the band's previous two EPs to see if they have the same power that this full-length had. But on the strength of this album alone, I'd certainly be willing to bet that this is a band who will go on to produce even more interesting work in the future.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Antennae Manifest, Cavern Apothecary

A Storm of Light - Nations to Flames (2013)

Band: A Storm of Light
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Post-Metal/Doom Rock
Label: Southern Lord

From my perspective, A Storm of Light has been a somewhat misunderstood and/or overlooked band since their inception. I recall the first time I ever heard of the band was through a review where they were, more or less, called a Neurosis rip-off group (isn't like there aren't dozens of those out there already). But recently, their 2011 album As The Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade really blew me away and wound up being in my top albums of the year so when I first heard about this new album, I was very excited to hear what they'd do next.
I remember on my first listen through this album that when I got to track four, Omen a question arose in my mind, "When did ASoL start wanting to become Mastodon?" And that's a question that continued to pop up in my mind throughout the album, during various listens through it. I mean seriously, this sounds a lot like Blood Mountain musically and Crack The Skye vocally, it's like what the hell. I mean it's not like this band was the most progressive or unique band to emerge from the "post-metal" realm, but I dug what they did on their first two full-lengths and thought they really came into their own on the aforementioned third album above. They took the post-metal sounds from their first two records but infused it with more of a grunge and traditional heavy metal sense of songwriting style. Riffs and vocal melodies were more catchy and memorable than ever before. I continue to think that that was a very underrated album from that year. So I'm curious if I missed some sort of transitional release between that album and this one and where this shift occurred.
The riffs on here are obviously simplified since the band have become a three piece, but a hell of alot of the grooves on here sound like they were taken straight out of a Blood Mountain and Leviathan guitar tab book. It also sounds as if Josh Graham is doing his best Troy Sanders impression as well. He has almost the exact same tonality in his voice and appears to be using the exact same vocal effects on it as well. For a large majority of my first listen through I honestly thought that maybe Sanders was guesting on here as a vocalist or something. After a while it did just start to grate on my nerves because it's like, I already like Mastodon, both their old and new material, so why do I need a good band trying to do a poor job imitating them. I say poor not because the songs on here are inherently bad or the production is bad but it seriously sounds so much like that band that it just seems so pointless. There are plenty of bands who rip each other off, which is fine because I don't have to listen to those bands, I know they're hacks and chances are a lot of those bands are just starting out (some aren't) so they may find their feet eventually. But here, I honestly thought ASoL had found a sound that was unique and interesting on their last album and on here is sounds like they just wanted to stop being that band and wanted to cross over and be the band Mastodon stopped being due to a record like The Hunter.
In addition to all that the songwriting on here isn't even half of what it was on previous records. The band stipped things back, making the riffs simpler and groovier, making the songs more simplistic and shorter, but the end result just sounded uninspired, at least to me. Coping another band's style may have just been a gut reaction to not coming up with anything interesting enough on their own, I don't know. I said above that the songs on here were not "inherently band" and what I mean is that taken for what they are, they are not terrible songs, they're just lazily written, rather uninspired riff wise, and not very memorable beyond the song's title usually being yelled at your repeatedly at some point during the song. Seriously, this is just one of the biggest disappointments to me this year. For a band I had so much respect for and for what they were doing, this album felt like a spit in the face and then them taunting me.
This record just wound up pissing me off a whole lot because of all the aforementioned reasons above. Frankly, by the time I listened to this enough to write up this review I didn't even feel like writing it anymore and it took awhile just to finally decide to do this write up. You know where this is going, if you're a fan check it out, but otherwise listen to their previous work, this is just poor.
Overall Score: 3
Highlights: The Fore Sermon, You Are The Hunted

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lantern - Below (2013)

Band: Lantern
Country: Kuopio, Finland
Style: Black/Death Metal
Label: Dark Descent

In the last couple of years, I have been more willing to check out the whole "blackened death metal" genre then I previously have been. Before I had heard bands who really underwhelmed me but in the last few years I've become rather impressed with several groups and have gone out of my way to check some groups out if their covers are interesting enough. This was one of those cases.
I have to say that the first time I put this record on, I was highly disappointed. I just didn't connect with what the band was doing, which is strange because it isn't immensely unique or abstract or anything you couldn't find in another group playing death metal nowadays. The overall sound is murky, but not overly atmospheric or muddy sounding, preferring to stay somewhere between the Incantation-esque brutality-meets-atmosphere and the early Amorphis take on melody. This results in the overall tone being somewhat inconsistent, or at least I felt that way on my first listen. That's not meant as a diss to the band, but I think I was so used to an album sticking with a sound, whether it was a melodic album or a brutal album or an old-school album, whatever that means, but this took sounds that were quite different tonally and blended them. The melodies take a more open and melancholic sound while the majority of the rest of the instrumentation remains aggressive and grinding. In a sense it's was like putting a crown of gold on a pile of dirt (or that's what I would relate it to anyway) in that the main instrumentation just sounded so rough while the melodies just soared. It was odd. Take into account how rough the production sounds on here as well, the tinny drums, cranked up guitars, and the barked vocals, along with a hell of reverb, it's just weird sounding, or at least it was to me, but like I said, many bands have done this sort of sound before as well. It was just blended on here in a way that didn't mesh with me.
I guess it's easy to see why this band was tagged as "blackened death metal" since their fusion of ideas does merit that genre tagging, but unlike some of the other albums I've listened to in recent years from this genre, this does not hold the same spirit or songwriting abilities. While I have become more accustomed to what the band is doing on here after several listens, I have to say that my opinion is relatively the same. There just isn't as much here as I would have liked in terms of substance. There's aggression, grit, atmosphere - yes, but beyond that, the songwriting is lackluster, the melodies don't stick with the listener (being me obviously), and after a while the sound the band are selling just grows stale. I mean, there is a certain novelty towards listening to this album and what the band are doing, but I've heard bands do this better, and once you've heard better bands, there really isn't any reason to settle for this - even for all the effort I'm sure went into this. There just wasn't enough to hold my attention throughout the entire album. I often found my attention drifting off and then remembering that I had an album on that I was supposed to be listening to and preparing to review. Now, if that's how I feel now, imagine how I felt when I first listened to this.
I don't mean to hate on anyone liking this, as this is clearly just my opinion, but this just didn't meet the needs I required of it. There's nothing wrong with what the band is doing, and there will be plenty who dig it, but it just wasn't for me. Give it a listen if you like old-school death metal with a bit of a doom and black metal vibe as well.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Entrenching Presences, Below

Monday, September 16, 2013

Dressed In Streams - Dressed In Streams + Azad Hind (2013)

Band: Dressed In Streams
Country: USA
Style: Black Metal
Label: Handmade Birds

The entire Colloquial Sound Recordings catalog is filled with releases that are interesting and worth hearing (though I frankly haven't heard all of them), and Dressed In Streams is no exception. Having impressed Mr. R. Loren enough with their couple of tapes, he has decided to re-release them on vinyl. Since I haven't covered any of them I wanted to take the time to cover this new release.
In regards to Dressed In Streams you have a project that takes that traditional style of black metal, so raw, distorted, and atmospheric, and melds it with almost The Cure-esque melodies and synth tones. No surprises in the realms of originality, but this isn't blackgaze, this isn't post-black metal, this just happens to be traditional without actually being traditional. Melodies are perhaps the most important aspect to the songs on here, but sonically, it's a lot closer to the whole basement recording jobs that you heard in the 90s. The songs retain that intensity and necrocity that feels closer to that 90s sound, rather than the basement Darkthrone clones that really popped up at the beginning of the 2000s. There's an authenticity there that has been present in all of the Colloquial Sound releases. Most of their releases have had a tendency to take a punk-esque energy and inject it into that lo-fi black metal style, along with some other elements as well depending on the project, but in the case of this project, it gives it a sense of naturalism and energy that is almost never found in a record the sticks this closely to ways of old.
But it's perhaps the moments where it drifts outside of typical black metal is where I enjoy the songwriting most. The second half of The Breastplate Shine or a track like A Quiet Place definitely up that post-punk and/or goth rock influence. The synths come more into the forefront of the sound, the guitars take up a less rigid picking pattern, meaning that it isn't straight tremolo picking for that part of the song. Seriously, it's 2013 now and how many black metal bands have shed their facepaint and spiked armbands for leather jackets and Joy Division t-shirts? Many, but how many have actually fused the two sounds together in a way that even resembles authentic playing and not just studio trickery. Very few. Dressed In Streams appears to me at least to be a project capable of taking the two ideas and actually bringing them together in a way that is unique and is refreshing to hear. It's harsh and aggressive, but also very melodic and, at times, poppy and fun. Between the two sides there is a clear sonic distinction, with the first half having, at least in my mind, a much more varied sound, drifting between black metal and more of that goth rock style, whereas on the second half the styles feel more cohesively fused into a single entity.
Even having heard half of this release already, when it was released on the self-titled tape, this entire album is a great revisitation for me. The songs are fun and aggressive while being incredibly melodic (and not sounding contrived or cheesy in the process), which is more than I actually could have asked for from this project. It's definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of either black metal or goth rock.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Breastplate Shines, Leaping Tiger

Friday, September 13, 2013

October Falls - The Plague of A Coming Age (2013)

Band: October Falls
Country: Helsinki, Finland
Style: Folk/Progressive Black Metal
Label: Debemur Morti Productions

I've been following October Falls for several years now, it I remember correctly, they were actually one of the first "underground(?)" black metal groups I first got into. Having compared them to Opeth early on, the project immediately appealed to me. It's taken me quite a while to get to this album, but better now than never I guess.
For all of that I began to feel the "gimmick" ran a bit thin after 2010's A Collapse of Faith where the entire album was made up of extended tracks that really act as a whole (one) track. That's not a gripe against either of the albums that M. Lehto did like that, but I felt like after two full-lengths like that, I wanted to see him get back to writing songs that were a bit more stand-alone. Luckily that's exactly what this album is. Featuring nine stand alone pieces that perfectly channel that melancholic atmosphere the band has developed and making it work within shorter song lengths. Besides that simple adjustment, I think that the songs are generally more accessible melodically as well, as the influences from and comparisons to melodic death metal can be heard throughout the album. In the past, I have found that the aspect I connected with the most from this band was it's melancholic atmosphere, no surprise that they site Katatonia as an influence, but rarely have I felt so invigorated by their melodies as I did when listening to tracks like The Verge of Oblivion or The Weight of The Fallen, which were surprisingly up-beat and driving songs.
I also have to say that the production on here is rather well constructed as well. I can't say offhand that I remember the bass coming through as clearly on the band's last full-length, but on here, it has quite a bit of crunch. You can just hear it punch through the guitar tones and while that may not matter to some, I've always admired a band that isn't afraid to put their bass in the mix of an album, and it certainly gave me even more enjoyment while listening to this. In conjunction with the huge sounding drum tone on the record, you get a rhythm section that really pumps. I hate to say that the guitars don't have the same sort of vibe, but then again, they probably weren't meant to. The tone is a bit less crunchy and is much more modestly distorted. It's not massively heavy or anything like that, so it's perfectly clear that making an all around intense sounding guitar tone wasn't on the band's mind but rather one that is clear enough to allow the melody to be heard it the best way. Finally there's the vocals, which are all fine and good for the most part but really come alive once Tomi Joutsen (of Amorphis) comes into the picture. While Lehto's screams are perfectly fine, Joutsen's resonant cleans just soar over the songs he's on. His work on Boiling Heart of The North is one of the most soulful tracks I've ever heard him on. His cleans actually are a nice contrast to Lehto's more intense screams.
So yeah, overall this was a nice solid album, definitely a nice change of pace from the typical style the last two full-lengths have been in my opinion. This is a lot easier to digest and grasp as well, with more immediate songs and solid songwriting. Definitely a nice treat if you're in the market for some more melodic black or death metal.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Verge of Oblivion, The Plague of A Coming Age, Boiling Heart of The North

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Barrow - Though I'm Alone (2013)

Band: Barrow
Country: Greensboro, North Carolina
Style: Screamo/Sludge Metal
Label: Mayfly

I don't recall off the top of my head how or why I decided to write about them but for some reason they wound up on my Ipod so I just said what the hell. I was not familiar with the band before listening to this record, but upon looking them up I was taken aback with the fact that they were a screamo group. I don't listen to a lot of screamo, but that certainly did pique my interest.
Compared to last year, my coverage of screamo music has seriously been put on hold. I like the genre enough and I really do wish that I could cover more of it than I do, but I can only cover what I find interesting and worthwhile. This, I think, is the first screamo record I've covered all year, and it's actually quite an abrasive record. I've heard a couple of screamo records, in general, that are really just pop-punk with terrible vocals and then I've heard screamo that is essentially post-rock with vocals. I prefer the latter but the former is where you can get onto Warp Tour and appeal to all the teens in their skinny jeans. Obviously there's plenty of middle ground in between those two but I didn't think that Barrow would be a band to occupy that middle ground when I first pressed play. I said this record was abrasive and I meant it. These guys find comfort in making noisy, and actually quite bleak sounding sludge metal instrumentally. I should be clear that when I say noisy, I don't mean like there's a lot of distortion but more in a sort of noise rock way where you have a lot of dissonant and sort of bizarre sounding parts. The guitars aren't even that distorted for most of the album, relying more on dynamics and intense builds and hard playing to make up for that loss.
These guys do that sort of style where the heavy parts will be quite hard-hitting and alternating that with somewhat jazzy cleaner sections. But it always maintains this very, to use the word again, bleak atmosphere that sounds more like it belongs on a funeral doom band than a group like this. It's quite oppressive how it's utilized in each song, so even if things lighten up for a minute there will still be this brooding quality lurking in the background waiting for things to explode again. Then there's the more somber post-rock sections of the album, like on Wither, in which the band are definitely channeling some of their inner Envy, to good effect I might add. But really the variety that this band channels through their instrumentals was quite impressive. Some parts were clearly post-rock/metal oriented, others were more straight-forward sludge metal kind of stuff, then you had almost jazzy prog-rock leanings during some tracks, while other moments recalled the dissonance and craziness of noise rock. It can be chaotic as well as beautiful, heavy and soft. These traits are nothing new to people who read this blog and listen to more than what's on the radio, but the way this band pulls it off still managed to impress me.
I was really impressed with what this band was able to pull off in each of these songs and the end result is an album that is wildly fun to listen to as well as somewhat depressing in its tone. That isn't meant as a diss, but there were some spots on this album that did feel genuinely depressing in their performance. I know screamo isn't exactly the genre of choice when coming to this blog (but what really is anymore), but hopefully you'll give this record a chance.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: A Dead Hum, Echoed, Fed (Choking, Retching), God's In His Heaven - All Is Well

Northless - World Keeps Sinking (2013)

Band: Northless
Country: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Style: Sludge Metal/Post-Metal
Label: Gilead Media

I've been following Northless for a couple years at this point and have yet to be disappointed with their brand of sludgy post-metal. While it was never the most unique sounding on the block, in terms of just utilizing their sound to various extremes and sonic weight, they were certainly one of the few able to achieve that. Their split with Light Bearer last year was one of my favorite splits of the year and hearing them follow up was definitely enticing.
Up until this point in their career, in my mind Northless has always been a sludge metal band. Yes, they've flirted with doom and post-metal, but at their heart they were a sludge metal band. They were also heavy as all hell, with absolutely weighty and bass rumbling guitar tones, but on this album the completely blew me away. Sludge metal bands, post-metal bands, and to a certain extent doom metal bands, have never been the most adventurous genres. They're slow and heavy, for the most part, and they like it that way, but with this album Northless has really taken a big step forward by choosing to expand their sound and play with some other genres as well. Whether it's through the use of black metal or math rock or prog-rock the band hit each genre inclusion with confidence and the skill one wouldn't expect from a band within this genre. But make no mistake, just because the band are playing around with some new ideas doesn't mean that older fans should be weary of what's on here. The band still keep things heavy and crushing, only now it's more exciting.
There's also no denying how strangely catchy this album is. As someone who's a fan of angular and dissonant sounding riffs, this album really hit a sweet spot with me. It was channeling all those bands that I love (Deathspell Omega, Gorguts, Blut Aus Nord, Ulcerate), whether intentional or not, and doing something a bit different by melding similar ideas with their own previously established sound. The title-track really got me, with that simplistic but extremely piercing main riff, I found it impossible to not put that song on repeat. Though to be fair, merely comparing the band to those would do a discredit to what they're doing on here, it's simply a frame of reference thing. For as much dissonance and chaos as there is on this record, there is also melody and beauty, a call back to more of the band's post-rock/metal traits exhibited in the past. A song like Passage perfectly encapsulates that more tranquil sense of beauty while still bringing the heavy when the song climaxes. Yes it's a genre trope that we're all familiar with at this point but when I'll keep bringing it up as long as bands like Northless keep doing it well. But it's worth noting that for as much beauty can be heard in the album's two longest tracks, Communion and Passage, the rest of the album keeps things nice and aggressive and tense. I'm serious when I say that some of these riffs are irresistible (at least to me) because they balance heavy with dissonant so well.
As much as I dug what the band was doing before, I certainly did not expect an album of this caliber to come from them, which resulted in my mind being blown. I can't see this record not being somewhere in my top albums of the year in a few months. This is such a good and well crafted piece of work, so do yourself a favor and check this one out as soon as you can.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: World Keeps Sinking, Passage, Wither and Escape

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Agarttha - A Water Which Does Not Wet Hands (2013)

Band: Agarttha
Country: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Style: Krautrock/Post-Rock
Label: King of The Monsters

I have been meaning to cover this record for quite a while now and it's an album that I have heard nothing but praise for since it first came out. It's also been an album that I've had a couple of people ask me why I haven't covered it yet, so I figured I better get my act it gear. However I also had to give it a number of listens to give it the respect it deserved.
I've seen several comments from friends and acquaintances claiming that this is one of the best records to come out this year, which really surprised me. It wasn't that I didn't believe them but that I had had this record for quite awhile at this point and hadn't really given it a proper listen, and these people who I like and respect are telling me that I've been missing out. I remember hearing the first track that was released for the album but at this point it had still been out for quite a while and I had the full album so I really wanted to see what the hype was about. All I could have told you about the track that first came out, was that it was heavily synth driven music that recalled some of the greats like Can and Popol Vuh in my mind. I've actually described Locrian's sound by referencing both those bands in the past as well, but as you might imagine, there is quite a bit of separation between those either Can and Popol Vuh as well as between Locrian and Agarttha; but it is fair to bring up both groups when talking about either band because they take ideas from classic krautrockers like those and adapt them into something fresh and interesting.
I really don't want to make this whole review about a comparison between Locrian and Agarttha but to sum it up rather briefly, and at least in my book, unjustly, Locrian is obviously more metallic sounding but also tends to ride out on more interesting groove (because they have a real drummer), whereas the six songs on this album tend to find an atmosphere and the drums don't provide as strong a backing, and it's not as metal. That's a pretty rushed and, as I said, unjust difference between the two because obviously both projects have their moments where they will do what I said the other one does, but if I had to point out a difference at the moment that would have been it. I think it's rather crude but it should separate them enough for people. But to return focus to this album, it genuinely shocked me at how much this album did take from the likes of doom metal. Storms As He Walks, which is also the name of the record label run by Crisne (in association with Todd - you guys know who you are), definitely channels the genre in a way that I actually haven't heard done before. It takes that low end rumble and sets it against this very textured synth background before adding in a guitar and vocal part that would sound like a perfectly fine folk song on it's own. While I think wrapping ones head around the first part wouldn't be hard, the idea of imagining a folk guitar and vocal part riding on top of textured synth and droning, distorted guitar chords might strike some as being odd. But it's so awesome that it works and I haven't heard anything like it.
The first half of the album, in my opinion, is a bit more synth driven, with watery sounding pads and chords being played. That's where that Popoh Vuh comparison came in, there's a lot of droning synth scapes that just sort of play out in a way that can recall psychedelia the 70s and 80s but also sounds modern and slightly indie as well. Mind you it never becomes dull or boring because Crisne really knows her stuff and quite rightly is able to keep most of the tracks on here rather short and compact, so as to not overstay her welcome in your speakers. And yet when it all finishes up, you (or at least I) just want to put this record on again. It's entrancing but not engulfing, it's, like I said, psychedelic but also somewhat indie, raw and yet produced. All that and there are ideas I've never heard done before that make this a sure fire winner in my book.
I'm not gonna lie, I did come into this record a bit skeptical that it wasn't going to live up to the hype I had heard about it, but it surpassed it. Honestly with how I feel about it right now this review probably is still somewhat meager in quality when living up to what this actually is. I'll continue to praise this record later on in the year as well, so you can expect that. Definitely do yourself a favor and check this one out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Visions of Alina, Storms As He Walks

Oikos - Solve Et Coagvla (2013)

Band: Oikos
Country: Madrid, Spain
Style: Drone/Industrial
Label: Land of Decay

Okios is a project I wasn't really sure what to expect from when I got the promo for it a couple of months ago. Simply knowing that it was being released by Land of Decay and featured André Foisy himself on a track was enough to get my attention for sure, but I was still trepidatious. It was only after listening that I realized that there was no reason for that hesitation.
I've made it pretty clean (I'm assuming) in the past that I'm not a really huge fan of industrial based music, or at least in the sense of the really extreme and underground stuff. Once in a while I'll get really impressed with what an album and/or project is doing and that's great, but I'm always somewhat cautious about these sorts of albums because just as often as I find a project that's really interesting and cool, I'll find an album that's quite bland and really quite boring. Granted, Land of Decay doesn't put out "industrial" records in the same way that some other labels do and tend to focus more on the experimental side of drone (if I'm trying to stereotype them that is) and that's more where this project's focus appears to lie. In that regard, I'm actually happy, simply because for one reason or another drone is something I can get into, industrial, in some respects, is not. Not to say that there aren't some harsher tones on here that could fit on some of the more warped ideas that I find from those underground projects (just to be clear, I'm talking more about projects like Steel Hook Prosthesis rather than Nine Inch Nails - for those that might get the two confused when I say industrial), but they never breach outside of more steady pace that the drones create. You don't get the harsh clangs and effect-laden vocals, but rather occasional effected "beat", and I use that word lightly in the case of this album, or the tone of the feedback, but that's very nit-picky things. The best example of this release even going for that sort of a sound would be on the shortest piece on here, Solve, which I would say definitely takes at least a bit of an influence from glitch based music. But then there's a track like the closer, Vimana, which appear to take a bit from shoegaze and/or ambient music, contrasting the harsher and more abstract tones heard on the track that came before it with more of a lush sounding soundscape. Omniscence, the track featuring André Foisy actually sounds closer to his work in Eolomea than what he's done in either Locrian or Kwaidan; and that's pretty much the closest sonic comparison I could actually make for this entire release, though it honestly doesn't strive for the intensity that Eolomea does.
So yeah, it's a solid little album, not sure why there's a radio edit of a track on here though, but aside from that it's a very solid slab of drone. It's pretty confident in the choices that it takes on here, whether it's though various subtle effects or Foisy's contribution, it feels very well thought out and well planned. It's a nice little diamond in the rough for all those people who are looking for a new drone project to keep an eye on.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Omniscence, Vimana

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots - Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots (2013)

Band: Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots
Country: Denver, Colorado
Style: Alternative Country
Label: Pesanta Urfolk

I don't know what I was expecting from this effort from Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots but I can say that it wasn't what I wound up hearing. For good or bad, Pesanta Urfolk is a label that I don't have a whole lot of contact with but I was reliably informed that this was a good album so I gave it a chance. Boy oh boy was it something different than what I thought.
Simply based on the cover art I figured this wouldn't be more of the metal side of Pesanta Urfolk, what with the more vibrant colors, but that was about it when I first got it. I was later informed that it was a re-release of this band's 2004 album, obviously expanded and remasterd, but I gave it a listen because of the praise that friend of mine gave it. Pretty much from the tone and vibe of Amen Corner alone I figured that this would be up my alley. I'd like to think that I've loosened up in the last year or so and am a bit more open to country music, so when this just kept hitting it out of the park I let it just hit that sweet spot in me that I reserve for this sort of music. When I hear a country record that's done poorly or just doesn't live up to what I want(ed) it to, it's very disappointing, but when I hear a good/great record, it just fills me with that warm and fuzzy feeling because I know that it is genuine and whatever emotion that is being conveyed in a certain song is resonating with me.
This album really goes through some pretty radical tonal shifts throughout from up-tempo fun and what I would call more lighthearted tracks like Old Service Road to much darker and introspective ones like Cassius Castrato The She-Male of The Mens Prison. But between those two extremes there is much ground covered from scathingly cynicism to brutal realism to more subtle bouts of comedy (whether intentional or not, those exist on here), each idea from a given song managed to his home and hit hard. Yet despite all the highs and lows on here the general tone is more up-tempo and fun sounding, with the majority of the darkest and most introspective "man and his guitar" moments leading into band grooves that will worm their way into your head despite the morbid lyrics. But don't think that this is all country stuff, stylistically this album takes several ideas from other genres as well, such as obvious ones like blues and folk rock, but also less expected turns like cajun and pop music as well. While the entire record is catchy, the latter half definitely brings some very pop sounding vocal hooks to the table, Of Silas Fauntleroy's Willingness to Influence The Panel being a prime example of such.
It's all well and good until it's not though, the few tracks that don't lead to that more anthemic tempo and stay morose and low for their duration, the brutal Goose Walking Over My Grave for example, perhaps stick out the most. Because they don't have that, for lack of a better word, poppy sensibility, it just drags you down without any real saving graces, but is stronger because of it. Yes, the chorus of that particular song is strong, like most tracks on here, but because it's so somber and bleak, instrumentally as well as lyrically, it's even more haunting.
It isn't a stretch when I say that this album is really good and good fun to listen to. It's filled with soul and passion but also incredibly dark and morose when it needs to be, and if that isn't a sign of good songwriting than I don't know what is. Perhaps the average person who visits this blog might see this as a strange little detour from what I usually cover (do I even have a style I cater to?) it's well worth checking out because it's got plenty to offer any person willing to listen.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Amen Corner, Ragin' Cajun, Goose Walking Over My Grave, Jacob Dumb

Mount Moriah - Miracle Temple (2013)

Band: Mount Moriah
Country: Durham, North Carolina
Style: Alternative Country
Label: Merge

Mount Moriah's self-titled album back in 2011 really blew me away and was the album that really brought me a new appreciation for country music. I was a fan of the genre as a young kid but grew out of it even before the teen years. I never thought I'd appreciate it, as I do now, again until I heard this band.
Having only initially listened to the band because of Jenks Miller's presence I was definitely blown away by the authenticity and genuine emotion that the music expressed. It felt a bit more stripped down from the country(?) that is usually played on either the radio or television, which is what I had always associated the genre with. Despite the songs having huge hooks, they never had that overproduced feel that is so common in mainstream country music. Heather McEntire's voice leads the group though each song but it never feels as though it's the sole focus, as in, the music doesn't feel as though it's simply backing her up. Her voice is soft and gentle throughout, which, once again, contracts what I hear from radio country because it isn't loud and in your face. I've always viewed it like singers in those sorts of groups were saying, "Pay attention to me, I'm singing right now! Hear what I have to say because it's really important, way more important that what's going on behind me. C'mon everyone and listen to me!" Which is not what I get from this record, or really country music that is less played on the radio that is, where the vocals fit more snug in between the instrumentation. But enough of me ranting about mainstream country (or acoustic pop music).
One of the things I admire about country music is it's variety in instrumentation, which is no exception on here. To fit a variety of moods, the instrumental accompaniment definitely shifts, from the more simplistic rock tone on Eureka Springs to the more hopeful vibe where strings are used on I Built A Town. Whether you enjoy the style of music or not, I always found it a point of admiration that the genre would use whatever it could to get the song sounding good. Regardless of all that, the resulting song may not be a hit or resonant for whatever reason, and that's what happened to me on here. I want to make it clear that there was not a song on here that I did not like, these are all perfectly pleasant songs, but unlike the first record, there weren't as many that hit me as powerfully. The majority of tracks on here are perfectly well done little country songs, but there are a handful that really just get everything right. When I hear the likes of the aforementioned Eureka Springs or the title-track is just hits that spot where all good songs do for me. Yes, I know that sounds weird. It's just one of those things where the instrumentation, the mood, and the vocals just hit all the marks and resonate correctly (for me).
Like I said in the beginning, I owe my "modern" appreciation for country music to this band and even if this album doesn't do everything that the first one did for me, it's still great regardless. The songs on here are some of the catchiest and most memorable I've heard all year. Definitely worthy of checking out for those of you who want to take a chance and listen to something that isn't related to metal or avant-garde music (in regards to those people who tend to read these reviews).
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Eureka Springs, Connecticut to Carolina, Miracle Temple Holiness

Friday, September 6, 2013

Gorguts - Colored Sands (2013)

Band: Gorguts
Country: Richmond, Canada
Style: Technical/Progressive Death Metal
Label: Season of Mist

Gorguts are pretty much a legend in the death metal genre at this point so the arrival of a new album comes plenty of hype. I'm no exception towards excitement towards this album, I was looking forward to this (probably) just as much as anyone else. The three new members of the band only increased my interest in hearing how this album would sound like.
I don't think it's any stretch to say that this album lives up to all the hype it's been getting. Everyone usually (but not always) comes into reunion albums with a certain amount of skepticism, and that's fair, many reunion albums have failed to live up to the hype, but there are obviously those that do live up to it. In the case of this new album from Gorguts, it surpassed any of the expectations I placed on it. Apparently influenced by groups like Opeth and Porcupine Tree, Luc Lemay set out to write a more progressive oriented album, and boy did he ever. Even if those are the bands he took influence from, the links I drew sonically were more towards groups like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, and Ulcerate (but that's just me). The songs have a frenetic quality to them but always feel in tune resulting in a sound that feels like every note is bringing the song ever so closer to just teetering on the edge before falling off. It's a sound I've fallen in love with in recent months and this is probably one of the best instances I've ever heard it used. Plenty of groups are ripping off the groups above, trying to do chaotic and dissonant black metal or do the whole "post-death metal" thing, but this is by far one of the best examples of a band embracing modern sounds while doing something completely fresh without abandoning their older, trademark (if one could say that) sound.
The addition of Kevin Hufnagel, John Longstreth, and Colin Marston have greatly added to what makes this album so great. Even though Lemay has said that he wrote everything (with the exception of Forgotten Arrows, which I think was written by Marston) and the rest of the band simply added in their own flairs, what an impact they leave on each song. Just the tones on the instruments clearly give a indication to what player brought to the table. They bring small traits that you can link back to their other groups, for instance, all throughout the record, Marston's bass tone always had me thinking back to his warr guitar work in Behold The Arctopus. But really that's just one aspect to this record, the performances. The production on here is just stellar. It's so naturalistic sounding, the guitars aren't uber distorted, at times they sound cleaner than distorted. I love the way the bass cuts through the mix while not purposefully attempting to stick out for the majority of the album. And then there's the drum tone which is nice and naturalistic sounding. The kicks aren't overly triggered sounding, the snare is nice and poppy, and the floor tom(s) just boom. The entire things sounds so amazing.
The songwriting is perhaps the one thing that's lacking, in a sense, because I didn't find that there were any moments where a song just stood up and said, "Remember me!" But this isn't really music that is supposed to do that. However, that isn't to say that these songs aren't memorable, I found plenty a riff to stick with me after the album had finished. Guitar harmonies that weave in and out of each other with bouts of dissonance as well as hard bass lines have proven to have stuck with me longer than several catchy melodic songs I've heard this year. There's a quality to the songwriting that is just so intriguing and memorable that I can't help but love it.
Frankly, this is an album that just gets better and better each time I listen to it. I love the sound of it and I love the way the songs are constructed in ways that are always keeping the listener interested and on edge. It's great, and that's about all I can say. If you haven't heard it yet, what the hell are you doing?
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight

Carcass - Surgical Steel (2013)

Band: Carcass
Country: Liverpool, England
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

I know I'm not alone in saying that Carcass is one of the finest groups to ever emerge from the death metal/grindcore genre. They were a band who always took chances with their sound and made each album different from the last. Now, after seventeen years they come out with a brand new album - the pressure is mounting.
I didn't listen to any of the tracks that were released before the entire album came out simply because I didn't want to be pushed to either side of the argument about which direction the band were going to take. Was it going to be a return to the more technical grind/death of Necroticism, the classic melodic style of Heartwork, or the more straightforward melo-death/rock of Swansong? I didn't want any of the singles to put me on the path to any of them and I wanted to come in open minded. So when I pressed play for the first time, I was extremely anxious and nervous that it wouldn't live up to the hype. So it was with pleasure that for nearly the entire album, song after song, I was blown away. Those who have heard the album already will already know that while the album is probably closest to Heartwork, it contains a nice amount from the other two albums I mentioned above as well.
While only half of the original/classic band remain for the album, both new members drummer Daniel Wilding and axeman Ben Ash successfully earn their places on here. With Wilding dutifully backing up the band while not overshadowing Ken Owen's work, he brings a much more modern style to his drumming (IE. more metal less punk), which definitely gives his performance a different vibe. As for Ash, he definitely keeps up with Bill Steer. The two of them playing riffs that are quick, melodic, and thrashy for more of less the entire record. The two of them are lightning fast, and whether or not it was the fresh blood of Ash or not, the riffs have an urgency to them that really hasn't been present on any of the band's previous work. Tracks like The Master Butcher's Apron or Noncompliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard are just furious while being incredibly precise. Then Mr. Jeff Walker who has been one of my favorite death metal vocalists pretty much since the first time I heard him. His rasp is in perfect shape and his bass playing, while not overly emphasized, when heard definitely gives a nice thump to the music.
Anyone who's heard a Carcass record will tell you just how precise and on the band are, and have been, in terms of their songwriting. While stylistically they varied, the songwriting always retained the same high caliber throughout their career. Whether they were writing short, undecipherable (gore)grind songs, more technical death metal, or uber melodic metal, they always managed to construct a song that was memorable and stayed with you long after an album had finished. In that regard, this album is no different with just about every song hitting hard with catchy riffs or melodies that are total earworms.
As if you needed another person to inform you that this album is great, but if you had any doubt remaining, throw it aside. It's strange that after years, decades really of bands getting back together and doing reunion albums that were sub-par, this year we've gotten several that have been right up there with the band's older work. Carcass were always fantastic and it put a great big smile on my face knowing that they surpassed my expectations.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: A Congealed Clot of Blood, The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills, 316 L Grade Surgical Steel

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Palms - Palms (2013)

Band: Palms
Country: Boston, Massachusetts/Sacramento, California
Style: Post-Rock
Label: Ipecac

Now this was an album I was excited about. As someone who is a big fan of both the Deftones and Isis, the thought of members from both bands collaborating was genuinely enthralling. I had high hopes for this (as much as I know I shouldn't come into an album with any expectations at all) and really wanted it to live up to them.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this album is not that it works but that it sounds more or less like what one would expect Isis to sound like(without Aaron Turner or Michael Gallagher) with Chino fronting them. It's spacious and moody musically while Chino's vocals draw upon more of his more melodic and breathy side. I don't have any problem with this sound mind you, because in my head I liked how these two sounded and on here it's more or less the same. I guess the biggest difference is simply in that there isn't as "metal" vibe going on in this album. It feels more like a dreamy/shoegazy post-rock album. I sort of expected more heavy climaxes to these songs but they remain pretty moody throughout. In a way, it's better because it separates this band from the heavier leanings of 3/4ths of the band's former group. But in the end I just gave in and accepted that it sounds exactly as one might expect 3/5ths of Isis would sound. It is slightly more stripped down and not quite as powerful or lush sounding, but the central pieces are still there.
My biggest problem with this album is entirely separate from the sound of this record though and has more to do with the sound of Chino's vocals. While I think his melodies are great, it sounds as though he recorded his vocals in a bathroom. It's just odd. The delay time on his voice is probably what's the cause behind it, but for all I know Chino actually did record his vocals in more of a confined, but reverberant, room. From what I had heard in an interview, Chino recorded his vocals separately from the band's parts, so he might have actually recorded them while on tour wherever he could. I mean, that's just the main problem with this record. Personally I don't think that the additional effects used on Chino's voice were the best decision either, but I don't think they're as irritating (though that word is probably too harsh) as the delay on his vocals. In terms of his actual performance though, I increasingly found myself thinking that his vocal lines recalled that of mid-period Deftones work. It's not all that intense or upbeat, but it carries with it more of a freeness and/or looseness that I haven't heard in a lot of his main band's work recently. I also have to say his work on Tropics is some of my favorite work from him ever.
So while this album does have it's faults, I think that the finished and complete project has far more positives than negatives to its name. I think I expected it to be a bit more song based while this feels, more or less, like what Isis did in terms of structure, but Chino manages to make it into something more appealing to people who would like more songs. Definitely an album you don't want to miss if you're a fan of post-rock, shoegaze, or even dream pop.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Mission Sunset, Tropics

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Solothus - Summoned From The Void (2013)

Band: Solothus
Country: Turku, Finland
Style: Doom/Death Metal
Label: Memento Mori

A few years back I covered the very impressive debut demo from Solothus, which obviously I really dug. It was only recently that I was sent an email by the band where they informed me that they were finally releasing a full-length so of course I was gonna cover it as soon as I could. I've been anxiously awaiting the right time to listen to this/review it ever since I got it.
I've been writing a lot of reviews for doom based albums recently so I think it says something when an album still manages to keep my attention and stay with me after listening to so many other records in relatively the same style. What kept me so interested in the band's demo was that they were playing doom/death in that 90s way where it was more about blending death metal and doom metal and achieving an atmosphere where bands were able to utilize both styles without keyboards. The band didn't have to commit to simply playing in a single speed, they could have faster tracks as well as slower ones, but they were able to craft this dank and bleak atmosphere that somehow neither genre achieved on its own. The early records from My Dying Bride, Katatonia, Paradise Lost, and Anathema come to mind for me, and while those influences were plain as day on the demo, they are less obvious on here. Though the fact that I even bring them up here will undoubtedly keep them in readers heads if and when they listen to this album, but honestly this is better than most of the material the above bands have put out recently.
The band's demo also showcased a style of songwriting that I think allowed them to create songs beyond their years and several leagues above their contemporaries. What I mean by that is that their songwriting on the demo was stylish and yet primal at the same time. They were heavy and atmospheric without conforming to the whole "cavecore" subgenre of bands that were either just blatantly ripping off Incantation and Immolation or just playing death/doom or blackened death metal with loads of reverb on their instruments. There were riffs in here, perhaps because the band take just as much from groups (outside of their genre of choice as well) that their riffs vary from hauntingly slow to strangely technical as well as perfectly melodic. Their songwriting chops are leagues above what I've heard many other bands in their genre doing, and that's not even limiting it to just this year, I'm saying these songs are superior to what many bands have been putting out in the last several years, if not in the last decade or so. Obviously this is just my opinion, but hell, I can't think of the last time another band from this genre was able to write riffs that stuck with me beyond the length of their own albums. But like I said above, the band don't just do the slow and plodding doom chords but actually throw in a few tasty chug patterns and some nice atmospheric chords progressions as well, just listen to the title-track for an example, among other things.
This is a group who have talent and, whether or not they know it, are probably one of the best bands doing this genre today. For myself anyway, it's quite hard for doom metal to get much better than this because it's got just about everything one could want from a band in this genre. It's stylish without putting style before songwriting; and while I wish the vocals were perhaps a bit more varied (if I had one complaint it would be that), I really don't have much more to say about this other than you need to check it out.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Plaguewing, Magus of Doom

Coffins - The Fleshland (2013)

Band: Coffins
Country: Tokyo, Japan
Style: Death/Doom Metal
Label: Relapse

When it comes to the death/doom genre, very few bands are as prolific as Coffins. I remember first finding out that they were from Japan and being shocked because they didn't give off any indication, sonically, that they were from the far east. I've been a casual listener throughout the years but I was certainly interested in what sort of album they would do for Relapse.
It's worth saying up front that while I am a casual fan of the band, I wouldn't exactly say I'm a huge fan. I certainly like what they do and they are incredibly prolific in what they do, but like so many other bands who have many, many releases, songs, and entire albums, can be hit and miss. I listened back to the band's 2008 album Buried Death to prepare for this review, and was actually surprised by how many good songs there were on that album, despite the really awful kick drum tone. So I came into this hoping to be impressed yet again, and in a way I was both surprised and disappointed. I was surprised because of how uptempo several of these songs are, which is nothing new for the band, they've done more traditional death metal songs along with their doomy ones, but this album opened up with several of them, which hit me in a way I didn't expect. Even several of the slower paced tracks, The Colossal Hole for example, don't feel quite as downbeat as they have on previous records. The entire record actually is a lot more evenly mixed as well. It doesn't have that really crushing sounding guitar tone or thumping drum sound, the entire thing is a lot more evenly distributed. In a sense, more palatable.
The disappointment came in that after this album had finished, almost nothing stayed with me. While a song was playing I could be just fine, but I wouldn't be able to tell you anything about it other than if it was a death metal song or more of a doom metal one (fast or slow basically). I've got nothing against this album or band, but this album just didn't do anything for me. It was just one of those records I would put on and whenever I was meant to be listening to it, my mind would deviate and wander towards other things, which isn't exactly the desired effect for a record of this sort. There are some noteworthy things that happen in a couple of songs, but the vast majority of what's on here just isn't really anything you either haven't already heard before or done better, both by this band. The band has made slower songs more crushing and heavy and made their death metal songs faster, more crusty, and catchy in the past. This had it's moments but was by and large forgettable. With the exception of closer Tormentopia, the rest of the album is also devoid of anything "quirky", and I do use that word lightly. It's not as though one should ever come into a Coffins record expecting that, but for them, this song did stand out as being a more fun.
In the end I guess the best way to describe my feeling towards the album was indifference. It wasn't good but it certainly wasn't bad, it was just sort of bland and unmemorable. If you're already a fan or if you dig death/doom give it a chance but I got nothing out of this. I would recommend their last full-length over this one.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Hellbringer, Dishuman, Tormentopia

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Extol - Extol (2013)

Band: Extol
Country: Bekkestua, Norway
Style: Progressive Death Metal
Label: Indie Recordings

I, like most people who enjoy some good progressive oriented extreme metal, enjoy Extol. I remember I found out around the same time I was really getting into the genre and groups like Opeth and the like and just being blown away by albums like Undeceived and Synergy. Of course I found out about them after they had broken up so finding out that they reunited for a new album was just great.
Knowing that only three members have returned to form the Extol we now see before us is a bit disheartening knowing that it isn't a full-lineup but whatever, I should be thankful that they even brought the band back instead of complaining. Sonically, this album definitely shifts from the tone that it seemed as though the band was moving towards on The Blueprint Dives back in 2005. While the riffs certainly have flairs of technicality, this is far from the more progressive metal/rock approach taken on that album, which I'm sure pleases many a fan who disliked that album. As someone who liked that album to a degree, I can see why they shifted back towards a sound like the one they wound up with on here, which is to say a very modern sounding melodic death metal album. This is clean, the guitars are clean and thick sounding while the drums are nice and propulsive without sounding overly triggered, hell the bass can even be heard on here, it's a solid production job for sure if not a bit cleaner than I would have preferred. This isn't quite as "progressive" as the three full-lengths that have come before it, opting to take a more melodic approach towards songwriting.
I think that despite the praise being heaped upon this album, something has been forgotten along the way. In the time between The Blueprint Dives and this album's release, several of the band members who are not on this album and yet were in the band at one point created a group called Mantric. Now, I'm not saying that the album that band released back in 2010 had any impact on this album's creation, but it needs to be mentioned that none of the members involved with the band are on this album, which may explain the lack of more progressive elements. But let me make this clear, despite how much I've been talking about it, I have no problem with the direction the band have taken on this album, it's perfectly fine. If I had one complaint about it, it's the lyrics, which, in my opinion, feel a bit overtly religious for my own tastes. Songs like Open The Gates and Behold The Sun just come across as a bit "preachy" to me - in the clean vocals anyway. Strangely enough though, the album's title-track didn't bother me for some reason. This is something that obviously hasn't effected other people as much as it did me, so you can make of this information what you will.
In terms of songwriting, I guess it might disappoint some people to know that I found this album somewhat lackluster in that regard. It's not lacking too much, but there were a few songs that I just didn't really connect with in the way that I thought I should have. I mean, there are some really great songs on here, Ministers for example is a great piece of work that I think really stands up to the band's older work, but then there are other songs like the first single, the aforementioned Open The Gates, which I just found sort of lame and uninteresting. Honestly the greater portion of the record is great, but the best songs, for me, were found on the second half of the album.
So, overall, I was only slightly disappointed by this album, but even then I still dug the majority of it. More than likely it will bring in a whole bunch of new fans to the band who listen to modern metal (the production job on here screams that sound) but should more than likely still appeal to fans of their older material. Give it a shot if you're a fan or not, it's solid and deserves your ears.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: A Gift Beyond Human Reach, Ministers, Unveiling The Obscure