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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Kayo Dot - Hubardo (2013)

Band: Kayo Dot
Country: Boston, Massachusetts/New York City, New York
Style: Avant-Garde Metal
Label: Ice Level Music

Kayo Dot and Mr. Toby Driver are "two" (two in one in a sense) projects that I am very taken with. Since first hearing his work in the seminal Maudlin of The Well back in highschool I've tried to learn from his various creative outlets and apply it to my own work. Kayo Dot, I would say has been a bit more challenging to get into on my part since they dropped their metal side, but their recent return to it definitely caught my ear.
Since dropping most of their metal from their sound, Kayo Dot has arguably become a more respected group in the eyes of people who dislike the genre, but have lost a good few who had followed them from early on or even from the days of Maudlin of The Well. So it was reassuring that those heavier ideas were being brought back, even in a live context, through the Gamma Knife album last year. While that was raw and felt rather unpolished, it did bring the hope that those traits might be carried through in a more complete fashion on a future release - which turned out to be the case. In the form of Hubardo, Kayo Dot have arguably created their bleakest and most bizarre record to date - which is saying something considering their past output. Though it has to be said anyone expecting a balls to the wall record (if you are, have you listened to any of this bands early work at all?) will be thoroughly disappointed. From the opening moments of The Black Stone I was seriously questioning what I was listening to because it wasn't what I had expected from all the hype I had heard and read beforehand. It was really jazzy and minimal, but with death growls and it wasn't until the closing couple of minutes where I think I got what the band were going for on that track.
But pretty much after that initial question mark for me things really took a turn to where I did grasp more of what was going on. While it's very hard to say any band sounds like Kayo Dot, there were times throughout this album where I was reminded of a couple other bands who, not only I respect very much, but are also about as interesting and adventurous as these guys. From the closing moments on the aforementioned The Black Stone, which had a strange Deathspell Omega flair to them, to the blast-off of Thief which sort of reminded me a bit of Yakuza. Granted these are more momentary comparisons than anything major, don't expect to play these tracks and hear any of these comparisons for any more than a couple of seconds. It's just those passing comparisons that I think make it a bit easier to latch onto something that is otherwise very dense, unaccessible, and progressive as this album is. That isn't to say there aren't songs that stand out as being easier to digest than others though, personally, a track like Zlida Caosgi (to Water The Earth) was one of the first tracks on here that caught my ear, it's just that I wouldn't expect people to go into this and connect with most songs on first listen.
With all that being said, despite this being the band's most metal sounding record in quite a while, it's not a total headbanger. The middle of the album definitely brings back some memories of what the band's been exploring in their more recent material. Including the synth-led The First Matter (Saturn In The Guise of Sadness) and the minimal jazz arrangement of The Second Operation (Lunar Water) that are about as far from being "metal" as one could probably be. Yet those who might think they would stand out in the middle between two more intense bursts would be rather mistaken because while sonically they are nowhere in the same area as the metal tracks on here, it fits with the aesthetic that can be found building up on the early tracks. The whole record is a rollercoaster, with each track providing a shift, whether it's a more gradual build found in the earlier songs or the jolt that happens from track The Second Operation (Lunar Water) to Floodgate. But it's also worth noting that even though some might not grab onto those more minimal tracks as immediately as others (remember what I said earlier), with time, I actually found them to be some of the most memorable and engaging tracks on here. Whether it's just a matter of them being in contrast to the heavier material or that they just have traits that I resonate more with than on some of the band's other records where similar ground was covered.
I figure it's obvious that this is a must (have) album for this year and that it's awesome. I think that even though I had imagined it being more aggressive overall than it was, I like the end product more than if it had been because it's not a total treads back towards metal and still retains some of those traits that I did enjoy from more recent material. Definitely check it out if you're one of the few who hasn't already.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Thief, The First Matter (Saturn In The Guise of Sadness), The Wait of The World

Oranssi Pazuzu - Valonielu (2013)

Band: Oranssi Pazuzu
Country: Finland
Style: Progressive Black Metal/Psychedelic Rock
Label: Svart

Ever since I heard the debut full-length from Oranssi Pazuzu back in 2009 I've been in love with what they were doing. Coming from, as far as I know, more of a psych-rock background than a black metal one that wound up resulting in a very original and unique sound. Since then they've continued to impress with further releases and this new album is no exception.
From the beginning, Oranssi Pazuzu have always been stranger than the average black metal band. Forming from the ashes of psych-rock band Kuolleet Intiaanit, this group has always felt like one of the groups who was closest to bridging the gap between psychedelic music and black metal. Because of the background some of the member came from, the resulting early work was exactly as one would expect from the fusion of those idea. It was on 2011's Kosmonument where they began to actually test the boundaries of those sounds a bit more, with tracks that oozed pure psychedelia while others featured a slightly stronger black metal edge (if only slightly) and contained some of the group's most accomplished work to date. So it was a little strange when I saw the track listing (and time lengths) for this album and it appeared as if the band had stripped back some of that more "progressive" edge, because only two songs were actually long compared to an album of extended tracks; but I couldn't have been more wrong. While the songs are certainly a shorter and more compact, if anything, the band has come up with some of their most consistent and memorable material yet while still exploring new territory.
It shouldn't come as any shock at this point since everyone was saying it when the first track had dropped from this album, but the band has embraced a far stronger new wave and post-punk influence on this record. On the shorter tracks, the band really jams out a groove that comes straight out of the 80s, and I mean that as a compliment. Unlike a lot of bands, Oranssi Pazuzu has always had an appreciation for what the bass guitar can add to a band, and on each of their recordings you can heard how they utilize it to only make them sound all the more interesting. When they're being metal, the bass only helps to thicken their heaviness, listen to the opening of Uraanisula, and when they want to get all weird and psychedelic, the bass keeps the foundation while the guitars go all trippy. But on here, with that bigger 80s influence, the bass provides a majority of the hooks. The one-two punch of the opening pair, Vino Verso and Tyhjä Tempelli, contains some of the catchiest basslines I've heard in a long time. The other standout for me was the synth work on here. Maybe I just didn't notice it as much in the past, but quite a bit of the synths used on here are place further in the front than I can recall being the case from previous material. There's less of the background atmospheric backdrops that were used in the past (though they are still used on here), the presence of more "electronic" work being done. It feels closer to what you'd hear in a new wave band honestly.
I figured, regardless of if the band had reduced their psychedelic ideas or not, that I would enjoy this album, and luckily the band is at their peak at this moment and I dig this even more than I thought. It's definitely another highlight for this year and another notch on the wall of this band's continuing progress and evolution. If you haven't checked this band out yet (and why haven't you!?), then get your ass in gear and do it now.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Vino Verso, Ympyrä On Viiva Tomussa

Fjoergyn - Monument Ende (2013)

Band: Fjoergyn
Country: Thuringia, Germany
Style: Progressive/Symphonic Black Metal
Label: Trollzorn

I first found out about Fjoergyn several years back with their 2009 album Jahreszeiten, which just blew me away. That album wound up being one of my favorite releases from that year because it was just way different from what I expected it to be. Since then I've been waiting for a new album from the band and this year, I finally got it.
I put Fjoergyn in the same category as a project like Mirrorthrone, in the sense that both projects are working within the symphonic black metal genre but actually doing something interesting with it. Unlike the dozens of carbon-copy Cradle of Filth (the 90s one) or Dimmu Borgir (the 90s one) or Emperor (all of it), a band like Fjoergyn takes that foundation and uses it as a launching pad of sorts to bring newer ideas to the table. Frankly, I would say a record like Emperor's Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise would be a much more likely starting point for a band like this one. It has all the orchestral and symphonic touches, but the guitar work definitely leans more towards the progressive and technical (to a degree) side of things. I would also argue that the orchestrations used throughout this band's work have featured more intricate and interesting symphonic parts than the majority of the band's that are labeled as "symphonic black metal", but that's just me. Variation is the spice of life, and this isn't the sort of record where orchestrations play melody because the rest of the band are only playing fast and aggressive, but are used for accenting certain parts, emphasis on others, it's used for atmosphere as well as playing a lead role - you see, it's an up and down thing, and that's what makes it interesting.
Personally, I'm a fan of when a band, despite how technical and/or progressive their music is, still knows that a good riff doesn't have to be mindblowingly hard to play. A track like Thanatos has an opening/main riff that you could probably hear on anything thrash metal record, but it's a good riff regardless and it isn't really strange or technical sounding. It's simple, straightforward, and it draws you in quite easily. It's worth a quick mention that the band make use of folk melodies on several songs as well, it's not new to the use of the genre, but it's worth pointing out. In the typical sense, I don't know if you could refer to them as progressive as a project like Mirrorthrone was, but the variety of styles used throughout the album, the ups and downs in a given song, and the give and take style of instrumentals to vocal work, certainly gives the impression of progressive music. Plus, I've termed lesser bands progressive. In terms of songwriting though, as much as I dug this album, it didn't impress me as much as Jahreszeiten did several years ago. Maybe it's because I just didn't know what the band sounded like at the time that allowed me to be as blown away as I was when I listened to it, but this just didn't match it. Don't get me wrong, this was great, but it wasn't as amazing as that record was.
Not that it's any surprise to know this but the title-track is undoubtedly the highlight on here. Yes it's the longest song on here. Yes it's the most progressive. Yes it's the one that has the most changes in it, perhaps in line with the last sentence but whatever. But would you expect it to be the bluesiest? I certainly wasn't the first time I listened to it, with some solid blues licks and a nice stripped down solo, it struck me more than any other song on here did. In addition to that it also featured the orchestrations that managed to be the most interesting - to me anyway - making more use of brass than I recall other tracks using.
I knew I would enjoy this album, it's a band I already liked, the only question was how much I was going to like it. Like I said above, it didn't do what their last album did, but this is still very, very good and definitely one of the better releases I've had the pleasure of reviewing this year. Definitely check this out if you're a fan of interesting or symphonic black metal, it's really good stuff.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Leiermann, S.I.N., Monument Ende

Thaw - Thaw (2013)

Band: Thaw
Country: Sosnowiec, Poland
Style: Industrial/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Avantgarde Music

I've known about Thaw for something like a year now and first discovered them on Bandcamp. I remember finding their last demo, Advance, and thinking that it was actually pretty solid. I was going to cover that but never actually got around to it so when I was sent this album I was quite interested in it.
Listening back to that demo, it's somewhat curious how much the band have upped their more experimental tendencies for this debut album. While the demo certainly had it's fair share of industrial and noisy elements, it was primarily a black metal record, at least to me. This new record really just amps up all that noise and harsh industrial tones though, so much that opener The Gate is entirely populated with such ideas. I mean, it is an intro, so that is to be expected, but it's not as though all those ideas are just abandoned as soon as track two begins. There's a harshness to the tones used on here, not so much in regards to the instruments themselves but to the various synths and additional effects used. The actual production itself is pretty clean sounding, with each instrument clearly having its own place in the mix. There isn't a huge amount of distortion on either the guitars or the bass, which does add a level of clarity to the playing that I think might have been obscured if they had gone for a full-on noisy, industrial black metal sound. I actually thought that the use of more low-end benefitted several of these songs because it isn't just the traditional tremolo picked guitars, though that's still here, listen to Hunted Pray if that's what you crave, and at times the band sound closer to post-metal than black metal but that's sort of adds to the appeal in my opinion.
Beyond all of that however there are some seriously interesting songs on here that call to mind a bit of Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord, but not in the way you're thinking of when I reference those names. Usually when I bring up these bands, it's usually to describe bands who make use of a lot of dissonant riffs and more chaotic sounding structures, but this record actually keeps things a lot more "melodic" in comparison to what those bands usually do anyway. I bring them up because there's an overarching industrial tone (as I mentioned above) which at times did make me think of BAN, though to be fair it's a very different sort of industrial sound, and the DSO reference comes from the more melodic parts which for which I do believe there is some comparison. Obviously this is all my opinion and I found these references somewhat interesting because they're not thrown in your face as many other bands do but well groomed influences that clearly have had an effect on this band's sound. A track like Kiara is an interesting showcase of these influences (among others, obviously) because it's a very psychedelic, moody track that shows a bit more of these experimental tendencies. The majority of the track is a repetitive guitar line and drum part but there's a middle section where the drums just go off in a way I certainly did not anticipate. Maybe I'm the only one hearing these influences but I thought it was pretty cool.
In the end I really enjoyed this album and thought it showcased a pretty cool and unique sound that I haven't really heard performed this way before. Make not mistake, it's not game changing, but it's interesting and it's a sound I'm interested to hear what the band do with in the future. Hopefully you'll give it a shot if you're interested in the more experimental side of the genre.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Divine Light, On The World's Grave, Under The Slag Heap

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen (2013)

Band: Ihsahn
Country: Notodden, Norway
Style: Avant-Garde/Progressive Metal
Label: Candlelight

For all the success that Emperor had, to me at least, it seemed that Ihsahn's career really took off once he went solo. Exploring more eclectic influences that his former band only touched in its final years, he became one of progressive metal's poster children for the extreme side of the genre. After last year's Eremita album, I don't anyone expected another full-length so soon but once I read how the man had approached this album it did become clearer.

When the first track from this album was released, I read a short article where Ihsahn said that he approached this record in a different manner than his previous work. Utilizing improvisation more so than in the past in regards to the construction of these songs gave them more room while trying less to make a cohesive to make an album that is consistent in sound from start to finish. I specifically remember him mentioning Scott Walker as an influence in his approach on here, saying he wanted each song to stand alone and be viewed as its own sonic portrait (in a sense), which does lead to a less whole feeling album but one that has more of a sporadic feeling. Having become increasingly progressive and experimental with each album, he didn't view this so much as another step forward for himself as much as a sidestep. Knowing all of this before hearing the entire record I think effected how I viewed the album because, while I certainly don't view this as the man's finest release, I think I have a higher view of it than it appears many other people do - based off of the couple of reviews I've read.

One review I read definitely seemed like the essence of fanboy-ism though (and that made me laugh). You could tell that the writer was a big fan and his review came across less as "I don't really care for these songs" as "I don't like these songs but Ihsahn wrote them so I'll give it a pass." I believe that that view will be shared by many, because about the first half of this record, while different, still has a similar through-line to the man's typical wellspring of influences. Whether it's the more symphonic approach taken on Regen or the Opeth-compared progressive tendencies on NaCl, these are ideas that Ihsahn has played around with in the past and are easy enough for people to accept. Even the trip-hop highlight that is Pulse recalls a bit of what he did in Peccatum, it's really around the halfway mark that I think things go sour for most people, or if you're like me, where Ihsahn just decides to go for broke and do whatever he wants.

The one-two pair of Tacit 2 and Tacit definitely take things into a much more avant-garde direction with drums just going wild underneath more doom-ish (I guess you could call this approach doom) guitar work. It's definitely both a stylistic departure for the man as well as a tonal shift on here. Where the first four songs, as I said above, drew from a similar pool of influences as his previous records have, from track five onward, you're getting a much bleaker and less song driven approach towards songwriting. There's very little to actually latch onto when the music decides to either take a more abstract approach or when the music becomes more ambient - as it does in the last couple of tracks. Minimalism becomes a much more commonplace in the next few tracks as songwriting appears to focus from writing songs based on riffs, hooks, or whatever to writing pieces focused on atmosphere and ambiance. Perhaps the most significant track on this second half for me was the late 60s/early 70s sounding blues sounding M. Starting off, frankly, slow and somewhat dull, once the guitar comes in it sounds like Ihsahn has been listening to a lot of Robin Trower's Bridge of Sighs while closer See is the closest thing to drone metal I think the man has even drone - coming across like he's trying his own brand of Sunn 0))).

As an experiment in songwriting and stylistic exploration I think this album works, but as a whole the back half is rather hit and miss. Many people have already written reviews/comments claiming this album to be awful and that it was a huge letdown, to each their own I guess, but this isn't a bad record, it's just a side-step away from what Ihsahn has been doing. If anyone read the article I read, maybe they'd see this record slightly differently.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Pulse, Tacit, M

Code - Augur Nox (2013)

Band: Code
Country: London/Surrey, UK
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Agonia

Back when Resplendent Grotesque was released in 2009, I was still somewhat new the worlds of interesting new black metal bands, but that record certainly showed me. That record turned out to be one of my favorite albums of the year but things were unfortunately cut short when I had heard that vocalist Kvohst had left the band. I was unsure how the band would continue but knew that their next record would definitely be a make or break one for me.

Luckily it's clear from song one, Black Rumination, that new vocalist Wacian is a more than worthy successor to the voice that graced this band's first two albums. Because I knew the band were more than capable of writing a solid instrumental backing, it was all riding on whether he could do something that would match his predecessor and Wacian, who I had not heard before, definitely picks up where Kvohst left off. His screams definitely fall into that category where distinguishing him from others may be hard but his cleans show the reason why he was chosen to fill this position. The band made the wise choice of picking someone who, tonally is very similar to Kvohst while not sounding like a copy - and boy did they luck out with this guy. In a way his voice also brought to mind a guy like Maynard James Keenan which I thought was a really interesting trait that I don't often hear in extreme metal (of any variety). He also manages to retain a sense of personality throughout, with a track like The Lazarus Chord particularly showcasing his variety and skill, at least in my opinion. He brings, I think, a more vibrant persona to the band, though he is not as theatrical as his predecessor sounded. The vibrancy comes through in tracks like Ecdysis or Trace of God where he really appears to bring an energy to the band that I haven't heard from them.

In terms of the instrumental backing that the rest of the band provide, it does sound as though they are pursuing a bit more of a melodic tone than their previous two full-lengths. The songs definitely have some really interesting chord progressions throughout but there's a greater emphasis on melodies, both from the guitar and vocally, than atmosphere. One of the more interesting things I heard on this record were the solos, which were surprisingly bluesy. I've said in other reviews how the whole black metal mixed with blues rock or rock'n'roll is something that's been picking up steam in the last couple of years, but for a band that's been more on the progressive side, I was just shocked at how bluesy they could get. I also found it pretty interesting how the album moved away from more traditional black metal ideas as it progressed. Forgive me for believing that you could call the last third of the album simply progressive metal with almost no black metal traces beyond the harsher vocals. If I was being honest I would say that if there's a weakness, this album is perhaps not as consistently memorable as the last one was, but there isn't a song on here I would call bad.

I really enjoyed this record and I think it's another step forward for the band in a continual evolution and I couldn't be happier with their progression. This, obviously, surpassed my expectations and it's very much worth your time if you're a fan of more progressive leaning extreme metal. I can only hope the band continue to make leaps forward and produce albums that surprise me. You'd be a fool not to check this one out!
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Grimlight Tourist, The Lazarus Chord, Trace of God

Monday, October 28, 2013

Merkstave - Merkstave (2013)

Band: Merkstave
Country: Salem, Oregon
Style: Post-Black/Funeral Doom Metal
Label: Pesanta Urfolk

Despite my first time actually having listened to Merkstave, this isn't the first time I've heard of them. I first heard their name about a year or so back when some friends of mine brought them up, though it took me this long to actually listen to them. From what it looks like (on various sites) this record, the band's debut full-length, is also their last album, which is a shame.
I realize this is just pointing out the obvious, but at the point of me writing this review, this is probably the best funeral doom record I've heard in quite a while - and there have been quite a few releases from bands I like this year in this genre. With only three tracks, and an album that is under fifty minutes total, Merkstave have managed to craft a funeral doom record that is both true to it's roots but is also much less monotonous and dull than the majority of their contemporaries. As a fan of funeral doom, I can put up with long songs and records, but sometimes there's just a point where it gets to be too much. Double albums where most of the songs top fifteen minutes and you're essentially listening to a band playing the same progression at a slightly different speed on each song gets to be quite boring after a while. On each of the three tracks on here, the band manage to not only change the tempo from droning to blasting, in the case of the opener, Lament For Lost Gods I, but also show a sense of variety. Black metal mixed with funeral doom has been done before, but from the majority of albums (note - not all of them) I've heard that have been called "blackened funeral doom", very few actually break away from just the vocal style and extremely atmospheric tone of black metal. While I wouldn't go so far as to say this band has a lot of black metal, it is in there. But for that matter I wouldn't say this has a bit of post-rock in it either, but there are climaxes which definitely rival those of any post-rock group - just don't assume it's the same sound of those groups though.
Granted, maybe I'm just thick because the fact that all three of these songs have already been released (on two previous demos) and I just haven't heard those yet. Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion because I haven't heard the rawer demo versions of these tracks and the cleaner tone on here might not compare to those. But that's neither here nor there because in the end all that matters is the music on here. Those who have heard the original demo versions should feel free to tell me if this does improve on them at all, but what's on here is great. It's clean, but not polished, production wise, with a nice balance of tones that don't overwhelm each other. In addition to that the melodies used, particularly on Spawn of A Lower Star, are extremely well done. I haven't heard a funeral doom record as well crafted, melodically as this one in quite a while. I mean, this band doesn't have a keyboard player, though piano does close the record, so they're channeling melancholy straight through their guitar melodies. I've said it in reviews for melo-death albums, but it seems appropriate in this instance as well, when so many bands are reliant on keyboards and synth to provide the melody of a song, it's refreshing to hear a band just use guitar melodies so well.
If this record featured only one of the qualities I mentioned above it would be solid, but the fact that sonically it is varied, the entire album isn't that long, and the sound of it isn't massively heavy (focused on low-end) or brutally simplistic (no depth) just makes it stand out that much more in my eyes. If you're not a fan of the genre I would say to at least give this one a chance because it is pretty easy to just slip into without getting bored. Don't be shocked if you start hearing this is one of the best doom records to come out this year - because it really is.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Lament For Lost Gods I

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wolvserpent - Perigea Antahkarana (2013)

Band: Wolvserpent
Country: Boise, Idaho
Style: Drone/Doom Metal
Label: Relapse

I was first exposed to the duo known as Wolvserpent through my good friends over at The Inarguable several years ago when I first started listening to what they told me to. Since then I've become rather taken with Blake Green's solo project Aelter and decided to give his "main" band a chance. Obviously I was impressed and was excited to hear what they'd do for their Relapse Records debut.
As my good friend Jon said when I first told him I was listening to this record, "Blood Seed was a great example of their ability to create these big, sprawling textures with the occasional really heavy riff, and I really dug it, but this new one is a lot more mature and varied - heavy riffs WITH sprawling textures." I'm inclined to believe him, as he is far more familiar with the band than I am, but it's obvious by the time you're two minutes into Within The Light of Fire that this is the case. As always, the band's sound takes stock from more of the black metal and doom metal realms with plenty of dark ambient, drone, soundscape, and by their own admission classical, aesthetics and composition styles thrown in as well. But this isn't anything new for the band if you've listened to any of their previous work before this album, they've maintained the balance throughout their career, it's just more palpable here. In a sense it's more accessible. The riffs are in your face while the ambiance is wide and cinematic, in a sense, and allowing the two to exist within this scope is definitely a more defining feature of this album than on previous.
Though to say this album can be defined by a single sound would be incorrect. Aside from the opener, Threshold:Gateway, which is more or less a typical intro track, the rest of the album pulls from a similar pool of influences but makes them into very different pieces. A track like the previously mentioned Within The Light of Fire takes on the most metallic tone of the four pieces on here, and it was probably a wise choice to put that one right up front. As Wolvserpent aren't your typical metal group, I'm sure plenty people who listen to whatever Relapse releases might be a little cautious at first listen. But the next three songs take on a different tone, with In Mirrors of Water taking on the most "post-metal/rock" tone of any track on here, leading from minimal beginnings to an absolutely massive final act. A Breath In The Shade of Time takes on a more meditative and somewhat ritualistic tone with a perhaps more clearly defined "classical" tone. Though I have to say this track is also the closest to drone on here; and during a particular segment in it's middle, recalls some of the recent work of drone metal favorites Sunn 0))). Closer Concealed Among The Roots and Soil returns to a more metal oriented style, though I would say it's arguably more tense than Within The Light of Fire. The entire song feels more aggressive and, in a word, angrier - or at least it did to me. It's an excellent way to close out the album as it moves from the most aggressive piece on the album into straight ambiance.
Overall it's a pretty solid, if not a bit too long for my taste, album that really gives you a nice view of what this band can accomplish while making it slightly more accessible for a more mainstream metal audience. The riffs are bigger, the atmospheres are bigger, and the song structures have not gotten shorter, so in a way they haven't compromised what they were doing before they signed to Relapse. If you're a fan of doom metal or records with extended song lengths, definitely go out and give this record a shot because if you enjoy either of those things (among others) you will have a blast listening to this.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: In Mirrors of Water, Concealed Among The Roots and Soil

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Watain - The Wild Hunt (2013)

Band: Watain
Country: Uppsala/Stockholm, Sweden
Style: Black Metal
Label: Century Media

Watain is a band that's no stranger to controversy, whether from their sound to their on stage antics, they draw attention. There's so much hype surrounding Watain for one reason or another but speaking for myself, it's always been about the music. Regardless of anything else I wanted to cover this album to hear how the band evolved from their last outing.
First off, I just want to say how hilarious a lot of the reviews I've seen for this album have been. While there's been plenty of middle ground the amount of people giving this high scores and low scores have provided me with some of the most hilarious writings I've read all year (in terms of reviews). Yes, Watain have evolved from a pretty traditional sounding black metal band into a much more melodic and, at times, progressive sounding black metal band, but by doing that the amount of people complaining is about as equal to the amount of people who just love this album. I read one review where it called this album Watain's Blackwater Park while another claimed it was their St. Anger, it's just funny is all. People don't like it when their bands evolve it seems, I mean, they claim to want a band to evolve, they just don't want them to actually change - just write different songs. Or at least that's the way it looks from a majority of those negative reviews and comments towards this album.
I mean, to be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of Watain but every time they put out an album I feel the need to listen to it. I enjoy their albums, but I wouldn't say they're my absolute favorites with the exception of 2007's Sworn to The Dark, which I genuinely do think is one of the best crossover extreme metal albums to come out in the last twenty years or so. What I think the band has going for them besides their stage show is that they do know how to write catchy riffs and construct some solid songs. They've proven that since their first release that they could grab a listener through the power of strong riffs. That's something that's still true on here. Maybe I'm ignorant on this but I can't really say this album is any less "kvlt" sounding than 2010's Lawless Darkness album was. Yes, there are certainly aspects that have almost nothing to do with the whole aesthetic the band has built up themselves, and maybe it's the fans fault for thinking that confines them to simply being another Dark Funeral-esque band (in the sense that there can be nothing beyond blast-beats and tremolo picking and snarled vocals).
In my mind, as if that means anything at all, it's the times when the band branches out, whether successfully or not, that makes me respect them all the more. Even if I wind up disliking an entire album at least they tried something new (though I will say if a band attempts to copy another band's sound, I have less sympathy towards that). But tracks like the uber melodic The Child Must Die or the title-track as well as the unexpected power ballad that is They Rode On only makes me think that Watain want to try something new. Hell, how can I not respect the out-of-character avant-garde touches on closer Holocaust Dawn. Even if they're not my favorite tracks from this album, I still think that they have something to offer. Now, if I'm being honest, no, I don't think this album is as consistent as the previous two full-lengths were, only a handful of tracks actually stick with me while the rest are just sort of on when I decide to play the album.
It's a decent enough album with some great tracks, but as a whole I don't think it's up there with, as I said, either of their previous two full-lengths. I love reading reviews and comments of what people think of this one simply because those that are on the ends of the spectrum are just so entertaining with their reviews and while mine may not be as entertaining as those, I figured at least I could weigh in with, perhaps, a less biased review. Check it out if you're a fan otherwise I don't really think it's a necessity.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: All That May Bleed, The Wild Hunt, Holocaust Dawn

Friday, October 25, 2013

Trivium - Vengeance Falls (2013)

Band: Trivium
Country: Orlando, Florida
Style: Alternative Metal/Metalcore
Label: Roadrunner

I know this isn't exactly going to be one of the popular things I wind up reviewing but I'll cover it regardless (as always) because I am a fan of Trivium. Along with several other metalcore groups, they were among the first bands I got into that featured screaming/growling/etc. vocals and so they will always hold a special place in my heart because of that. I know that this is perhaps a more controversial record because of who produced it, but I don't want that to outweigh the music that's on here.
Now, for those that don't know, the producer of this album is none other than the lead vocalist of Disturbed - David Draiman. That alone had garnered some snide remarks before the album or even a single had been released to the listening public. Now, whatever you think of Draiman himself, he is a unique presence in the world of mainstream metal and rock music because of his work in Disturbed. That band is one that still holds a place in my heart because they were one of the first groups I ever got into on my own (back when I was like in seventh or eighth grade), and have been known to place a track or two from their first three albums on occasion. So perhaps it may have been fate that his path would one day align with the much meligned Trivium - a group who have had quite a career despite their young ages. Since coming up in the early 2000s in the American metalcore scene they've transformed with each and every album, which is something that I personally find commendable. Coming from a scene where it appears most bands haven't really changed their sound since moving to the mainstream, Trivium have changed from metalcore to melo-death to thrash and onwards.
Unlike most of the reviews I write up on this site I'm going to try something a little different for this album and divide it into a positive section and a negative one. Starting with the positives it has been said in numerous reviews, and it's true, that Matt Heafy has never sounded more confident or stronger as a vocalist than he has on here. While screaming vocals have been reduced to a very minor role on this album, his cleaner vocals are definitely the best he's delivered thus far. His performance is great as a track like Incineration: The Broken World proves. Also, and this is to Draiman's credit, the album does sound huge. It's a very powerful sounding album (faults discussed later). It just sounds big, and in that regard he definitely did deliver on a production front. I mean, it's a very mainstream-y sounding production, but it's the kind that will undoubtedly find several tracks from here on the radio sometime in the future.
Then there's the negatives, which I think people are more interested in to be honest. Now, despite whatever you may think of Trivium, I always felt like they knew how to write a good song. While I disliked 2011's In Waves on my first listen, I now regard it as perhaps the group's finest release to date. It stripped things back from the much more progressive Shogun album to the bare essentials of songwriting and the band wrote a damn fine pop metal album (as much as one person didn't like my use of that term on the review for that album). For this album it feels more or less like the band took a very similar approach to the songwriting, and it's perhaps the first time I could see a definite stylistic similarity between any two of Trivium's albums. In just stylistic terms, this album is very similar to the sound found on In Waves, only the songs aren't anywhere near as consistently good or catchy. Now, while I did praise Heafy's vocals on here, it has to be said, it's impossible to ignore the effect that Draiman has had on the vocals on here. I don't know whether it was his input in the studio or if Heafy just decided to take a much more Draiman style on this record, but he is clearly doing some of his best Draiman impressions on here. Hell, To Believe could have been a Disturbed song if the instrumentation was a bit simpler. Then there's the production itself which is terribly overproduced. Yes, the album sounds huge and I can certainly appreciate the pop approach towards placing the vocals right at the forefront of the mix, the tones on this album are horribly mechanical sounding. The guitars have no heft, it's like the intention was to go for a super syncopated sound between guitars and drums (and bass) but the result just sounds so homogenized and fake sounding. Then there's the drums which are done in that horribly overproduced manner where the kick (or beater in this case) and snare are right in your face and everything else falls to the wayside. Also, I just have to comment on the fact that Draiman said in an interview (and I think that Trivium are partially to blame for only hyping his words) that this is an album that will redefine metal. Draiman has said this is the album that metal fans have been waiting for and how it's going to (and I'm paraphrasing here) that it will redefine the genre. All I can say is that it's going to come out and nothing is going to happen that hasn't happened before. Some people will buy this album, others won't, some will like it, some won't, the band will continue to tour and then they'll record another album in another couple of year. Nothing is going to change.
This isn't a bad album, it's just an average one. While the negatives I mentioned above clearly outweigh the positives, people who like the band will listen to this regardless, and since I am a fan I did subject myself to this several times before I made these judgments. It's average and nothing more, the songwriting isn't great, the riffs aren't amazing, and the production is overdone - but if you like your metal sounding very sterile this is the album for you.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Vengeance Falls, Incineration: The Broken World, Wake (The End Is Nigh)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Aderlating - Gospel of The Burning Idols (2013)

Band: Aderlating
Country: Drachten, Netherlands
Style: Death Industrial/Dark Ambient
Label: Black Plagve

Mories is a musician whose work ethic I enjoy immensely. He has various project that all exhibit a side of his sound that the other don't from Gnaw Their Tongues to Seirom, among others, but Aderlating is perhaps the most abstract of all of them. Unlike some of his other projects I am not as "up to date" with the work of Aderlating, though I am a fan, and was not expecting a new album when it arrived in the mail one day.
Aderlating has always been the project that I think is the hardest to relate to for what I assume is the usual fanbase for Mories' stuff. It doesn't contain the typical black metal elements that are present in Gnaw Their Tongues, never mind his purely black metal projects, and instead focuses on pure droning ambient. I don't think anyone could ever call any of his releases easy to digest, but from my experiences, Aderlating is perhaps the least palatable of all of his projects. It's very cold and industrial sounding, with little to no references to metal at all. Even at it's most accessible, 2011's Spear of Gold and Seraphim Bone, it was still relatively unsympathetic towards listeners. It was a long and cold journey into desolation and it was quite an uncomfortable, though certainly not unenjoyable, listen through. With this new album, the project takes on a slightly less "accessible" (and I do use that word lightly) turn, if that's how one could deem it.
This is a continuation to the more ambient tones explored on some more recent records from the project though not quite as easy to swallow, if you will. It isn't as drenched in feedback and various harsh tones as much as it just sits reserved in the corner, like some child in a horror movie that the devil or a demon of some sort is about to speak through. I've seen it described as "ritual ambient" in several places, which works, I guess, but it isn't quite as meditative as that is. Where that's more like someone connecting with nature through soundscapes this is more like someone trying to communicate with a force beyond this world through masochism or sadism, though to be fair the song titles on here are relatively more tame than they used to be. This is the sort of release that I find somewhat hard to put into words because no matter how I compare it to something else (not necessarily another artist because in this genre, my knowledge of such artists is rather limited), something will always get lost in translation. But it should be known that despite how undigestible this album is, it actually isn't that hard to listen through. None of these tracks is particularly long and none of them go out of their way to be overly abrasive, which may or may not be to your liking and what you expect. Perhaps, at it's most "accessible", once again using the word lightly, a track like Spewed On By Slaves of Inhumanity might catch your ear due to a fleeting similarity to Mories' project Seirom. It's a quick burst of a bright atmosphere that changes tone almost as soon as your ear gravitates towards it, but it may as well be a gateway into this album.
Yes this is rather short, but like I said this is somewhat hard to really describe, but hopefully this got the message across. While this isn't my favorite release from this project, it's certainly not a bad album by any standard. If you're a fan of this style of music I definitely recommend checking it out, but if more dark ambient-ish sort of stuff isn't your cup of tea, maybe listen to a track or two first before committing to hate it as much as it hates you.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The Burial Gown Reeks of Semen, Gospel of The Burning Idols

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Locust of The Dead Earth - Mithridate (2013)

Band: Locust of The Dead Earth
Country: Porto, Portugal
Style: Experimental/Drone
Label: Nostril

Locust of The Dead Earth was a project I can honestly say that I never would have heard of if it hadn't been sent to me. I don't mean to degrade it but it's the truth because it being a debut album and a rather small, experimental one, I don't think I'm wrong in saying that many others might not either. I listened to this within the last week because the title caught my eye (when I was skimming through possible review items) and it certainly wasn't what I expected.
Despite my initial hesitation over this album, and how vague (purposeful or not) the experimental tag is, this album proved to be a much more diverse and interesting release than I could have ever predicted. I had half expected this to be experiments with drone and ambient music, possibly electronic and/or industrial music, and while some of those styles are present in this album, there was a sizable amount of more guitar based musical styles on here as well. On just the opening track, Mithridate, the project draws more from the worlds of minimalist folk music and doom metal, and those ideas can be found throughout the entire album. There's just so much going on in this record in terms of genre blending, and on that level alone, it impressed me. From distorted held chords, repetitive acoustic lines, effect drenched vocals, and all the way to the watery synths, it's all a matter of making them all fall into place without making it sound like a mess, and that's exactly where this record succeeds. Plenty of bands attempt to fuse genres together, and many wind up crafting something that's barely worth the time I'm sure they invested in creating their sound, but on here, it comes across so naturally. The stylistic combinations and shifts throughout the record are pulled off effortlessly.
So I guess the question that remains is that with all of this genre fusing and stylistic shifting, is this record even all that memorable, and unfortunately, I have to say no. Aside from a few choice songs, this isn't a particularly memorable album at all. For everything it has going for it in terms of sonic craft, as a sheer enjoyable experience, it isn't particularly exciting or memorable. Mind-bending? Sure, but not breaking. And really, that's the only real fault I have with this record, it crafts moments, but entire tracks really don't stick with me after the record reaches a conclusion; and it's really a shame. I think it's also a shame that more emotion isn't expressed on here, because as The Crown of Solomon John clearly shows, there's is a breadth of emotional weight to be carried within these songs, but several of them just feel like experiments in genre fusing. Successful genre fusing to be sure, but they don't really go beyond that. I just want to see (really hear) this project live up to what tracks like the one I just mentioned showcase. There's real depth and a mood that lingers. It doesn't have a pop hook, but from a project like this it doesn't need that. To be memorable when it comes to more experimental and adventurous music like this, I just need it to create something that lingers, whether it's mood, emotional resonance (which is subjective but if it's there for me I will bring it up), or whatever. It just needs to tap into that wellspring a bit more.
So yeah, that's pretty much all I have to say on that. This is a solid record, and I really enjoy what it's trying to accomplish, there are just a few areas where I would enjoy it expand and explore a bit more. For it's exploration alone I'd say to check it out, but definitely check out the three tracks below because they show that there really is something in here that, if tapped into correctly, would transform this project into something really special.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: They Didn't Seem Miserable, The Crown of Solomon John, Spiral of Self Destruction

Lycia - Quiet Moments (2013)

Band: Lycia
Country: Tempe, Arizona
Style: Darkwave/Dream Pop
Label: Handmade Birds

Frankly, I'm not sure I'm the right audience for this sort of release, but friends of mine have given this thing much praise so I did want to give it a listen. Despite the record, Cold, which was released back in 1996, being considered a modern day classic, I had never heard of it until it was re-released earlier this year by Handmade Birds. I'm not in touch with the whole darkwave scene so I was more or less in the dark about the whole thing, but hey, why not give this one a shot and see what all the fuss was about.
To be honest, although I don't listen to a whole lot of darkwave music, I do have a couple of albums that do come from that genre so I had a slight idea of what the genre was and perhaps where this group was coming from. The early records from Dead Can Dance or Clan of Xymox for example, are more or less what I'm familiar with. Based on the cover I certainly didn't come into this expecting more of the upbeat nature (close to post-punk) nature of the early records from the aforementioned bands but this turned out to be something very different than even what I thought. I have gone back and listened to a couple of tracks from the band's album and while enjoyable to a certain extent, don't touch the same area this album does. Where that album felt, if I may make this metaphor, like a young group who were despondent and depressed, this one feels like the logical succession from that sound, it's much more brutal in its depiction of sadness and melancholy with very few lights being let inside. It's a stupid pun but I'll make it anyway, this is a cold record. It feels cold and stark, but delicate and at times very beautiful.
With that all being said, coming from the whole dreamy nature of the record, one should also know that this is an album that takes its time. The songs on here are very simplistic with repetition providing a large part of each song's running time, but the idea is more about engulfing sadness, melancholy, depression, or whatever dark emotion you feel like digging into. A track like Greenland is perfect in this way. It's so minimal in its writing that at times it feels as if the entire album may just lull you to sleep with how soft it presents itself. Now, at least in my opinion, that works as both a plus and a negative when it comes to this album. While individual tracks being that way in construction is fine, personally, at times things did feel a bit samey to me in places. The whole dreary and dreamy tone is all fine and good, but to me it sort of wears down on the listener (me in this case) after a while. Now, maybe it's just a time thing because I felt this more whenever I listened to the album earlier in the day as opposed to at night. Also, after about the first four tracks, it sort of felt like there was a bit of a lull where the songwriting sort of took a bit of a dip before coming back up at Spring Trees. Neither of the two tracks in between track four and track seven were bad mind you, I just felt like they weren't up to the same caliber as the first four tracks or what came after them.
The last three tracks on the album (making up what I would refer to as the "dead trilogy" on here) are definitely the most experimental sounding of any of the songs on here. While all the same principal elements from the previous eight tracks are still there, the tone is by far the bleakest. Honestly, these three tracks make up some of the most thoroughly depressing songs I've heard in a long time. Ideas seem to come in from more of a IDM, industrial, and harsh noise area, at least to me, and really make these last handful of tracks feel all the more chaotic and dissonant in comparison to what had come before it.
Overall, I enjoyed this album, I'm not sure I would say it was an enjoyable experience since by the end of it I was usually left feeling literally depressed and I didn't want to talk or see anybody, but the music itself is very well done. Perhaps it's not as poppy as I would have expected it to be (based on the little I had heard from the genre - obviously) but the melancholia definitely makes up for it and more. So if you're in the mood for being depressed or just like really sad music, do yourself a favor and check this one out.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Quiet Moments, Spring Trees, Dead Leaves Fall

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Owl - You Are The Moon, I Am The Night (2013)

Band: Owl
Country: Bonn, Germany
Style: Progressive Death Metal
Label: Zeitgeister Music

I am a big fan of the work of not only Christian Kolf but of the work released by Zeitgeister Music. I think that both consistently back projects that are interesting musically and manage to bring a certain level of high quality to each release that is commendable. I was a big supporter of the first Owl album released several years ago so I was extremely interested in hearing where the project would evolve from their debut.
Immediately from the opening minutes of this album Kolf makes himself and his ideas be known to the listener, what you're in for is not as brutish as the last album but a much more fluid and progressive one. The ambiance that closed out the last record is much more prominent in the death metal tracks on here instead of separate from it, whether intentional or not. Atmospheric melodies weave themselves in and out of the angular guitar riffs that create this record. While the riffs on the previous full-length certainly didn't stick to traditional low-end chugs and slams, this album breaks out into, as I said above, more progressive territory. Guitar riffs drift from the typical genre tropes of death metal, and doom metal, even more on this album and a bigger black metal influence can be heard in the style of riffs that are played instead, with what I would say is a bigger use of dissonance and jagged sounding chords. But there's also a greater use of dynamics on here as well. While it's fair to say the majority of the album is heavy in one sense or another, there are a couple of moments where things do come down, and calm down, and allow you to catch your breath.
But like I mentioned above, this album blends the ambiance and the metal aspects of the band's sound that was separate on the self-titled record. Personally, that was the biggest downfall of the last album, as much as I loved the four metal tracks, I just felt as though the closing ambient track, which was around thirty minutes long, was just too overextended for its own good and wound up bogging down the rest of the album. This album, fortunately or unfortunately closes in the same way with Levitating Into Elysium being an ambient closer as well, granted though, it is a shorter one. But you'll clearly notice that the tone of this record is less claustrophobic and bleak sounding and instead feels more airy (in a sense...) and open. At it's most melodic you have a track like Memories of Dead Dreams which has a middle section which just opens up in a way that wouldn't be out of character in a post-rock/metal song. It's just really well done and it contrasts the darker tone that came before it (both in terms of literally what happened in the song and the three tracks prior). So in that way, it's also fitting that the album's brightest moment leads into the the ambiance of closing track.
It's a great album, no doubt, but once again, I just wish it was longer or that there were more songs. Without the interlude and closing ambient track there are only three "songs" on here and I just wish there was more. But if you enjoy progressive oriented extreme metal, definitely do give this band a shot because this and the self-titled record are both great!
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: You Are The Moon, I Am The Night, Memories of Dead Dreams

Ulcerate - Vermis (2013)

Band: Ulcerate
Country: Auckland, New Zealand
Style: Atmospheric/Technical Death Metal
Label: Relapse

After a pair of early recordings that garnered some respect in the technical death metal world, Ulcerate really rebounded from some line-up changes with their 2011 album The Destroyers of All. With that album came much more attention and far more interest in what the band were doing, shifting away from many of the typical sensibilities of the tech-death genre. So after the success of that record, this follow-up had quite a lot to live up to.
Since blowing up and more or less helping to define what's becoming known as "post-death metal" with the aforementioned previous full-length it appears as though Ulcerate have taken a step back and taken perspective with this new album. Where early albums drew, more or less, from the same fountain of ideas that other band in the whole technical death metal realm drew from, the band has actually slowed things down and become more progressive by not being quite as frenetic. As much as I do enjoy albums like Of Fracture and Failure and Everything Is Fire, the latter clearly having enough spots that signaled a shift in tone even then, I don't think there's any debate that the band clearly found their sound when they stopped trying to play as many notes as possible and smash together every riff they wrote into a single song. The balance between sludgy dissonance and more traditional technical speed is one that never loses intensity, which is something I deem worthy of praise because it isn't as if the slow part is where things will calm down and allow you to catch your breath, that tension is never released but maintained throughout.
I don't think it's any shock to hear that the performances on here are top notch. As a guitarist Michael Hoggard weaves any number of spastic lines through these songs and fuses them together with some of the most dissonant and disorienting low-end slugs I've heard all year. While neither speed appears to be all that difficult for him to play it's the changing of paces at the drop of a hat that really impressed me. In the likes of Confronting Entropy it can appear as if you're listening to two different songs because of the way he interweaves the two speeds together so seamlessly. Of course saying that the tempo shifts are impressive wouldn't be worth bringing up without mentioning drummer Jamie Saint Merat, who simply owns his respective instrument. He perfectly matches with Hoggard's frenetic playing style, he can blast with the best of him but he's also more than capable of slowing down into more simplistic and doomy minimalism based on his work on here. I also have to give him credit for him being the drummer who really got me interested in the idea of slow paced riffing with intense, double-bass kicks underneath it (I'm sure other groups have done it before Ulcerate did, but I would claim that these guys do it in a way that far surpasses almost any other group I've heard do it). While I can't say that Paul Kelland's vocals stand out too much from his peers, I do think his bass is the padding between the guitars and drums. I kind of wish the bass was a bit higher in the mix so his playing could be better heard and not just his accenting (which is great, if that needed to be clarified). But there isn't a bad performance on here.
While I don't think this album will be as massive a hit as the group's previous full-length was, as a follow-up album to what could be their breakthrough release, it's very good. I feel this has sort of been overlooked and I've seen some people claim that it isn't a good as the newest Gorguts release, but if you leave that out of the equation all together, you still have a fantastic album that stands up as one of the best death metal albums to come out this year. Definitely don't pass this one up.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Clutching Revulsion, Confronting Entropy, Await Rescission

Exhumed - Necrocracy (2013)

Band: Exhumed
Country: San Jose, California
Style: Goregrind/Death Metal
Label: Relapse

As I believe I said in my review for the band's 2011 album, All Guts, No Glory, I have an instant attraction to any band that is able to pull off a Carcass-esque sound and Exhumed was at the top of the list. I really enjoyed that album, which was my first encounter with a full album from the band, and it lead me to anticipate this album. I refused to listen to any tracks released before I could hear the whole thing because I wanted the whole thing to sound fresh to me, as their last album did.
There is not a single second wasted on this album, much like the last record the band put out, that doesn't just ooze aggression and talented songwriting. Each of these nine songs is just death metal at it's finest in terms of songwriting. I've said it many times, in my review for the aforementioned previous album as well as during several other albums as well, but the Carcass vocal styles on here (guttural growls and more raspy screams) is a style that has worked for me in the past and continues to be a dynamic that I love. But aside from that, I'd say that the band has pursued a bit of more a technical direction, instrumentally, on this record than the more straightforward and at times very melodic sound on All Guts, No Glory, with the main example being the likes of (So Passes) The Glory of Death, which is easily one of the best songs on the album in my opinion. Though that isn't to say that this album is without a fare share of melodic guitar lines and harmonies, but it's significantly less than before. The song structures are a bit more schizophrenic sounding, with a track like The Shape of Death to Come jumping between a pretty melodic and thrashy verse riff and a slower, but almost more grinding chorus one. This is not the only instance of a song jumping around though, as several songs jump between sections, even if the tempo or style may change all that significantly, it feels less cohesive, in a sense, and more like scattered, which certainly isn't a problem in regards to this album.
On my first listen though this album, while a majority of the songs did hit me in a great way that made me think this would match the band's last full-length, there were actually a couple of tracks that left me cold. Over time I have grown more warmly towards those songs, but even still they don't quite match up to some of the clear highlights on here. Not every track has to be a barnburner mind you, but some tracks, for example the brutish Sickened just didn't stay with me as much as either the title-track did or Ravening later on. That's nothing against the track(s), with the aforementioned track perhaps showcasing some of the most intense sections on the entire record, it just felt relatively similar to some pieces I've heard the band do before. I think it's merely a matter that I've grown used to the band's sound more and that several pieces feel much more similar to others, and those proved to be the ones I was less drawn to, but the pieces that either hit me with something new or just kick me in the gut with a strong hook, I'm all the willing to sing praises for. But it's like I continue to say, you don't need to reinvent the wheel on each record, if you can write good songs and make it sound like you are having an ounce of fun performing them, I'll be there to listen. Exhumed, you have had my attention, and with this you continue to keep my ears tuned in.
Regardless of certain songs hitting me harder than others, this is still a kickass record that has everything I look forward to from the genre. If you've heard any of the band's previous work, you know what you're in for, and hopefully, that excites you (because it does me). Fans of death metal need to check this record out, because it is surely one of the most fun and catchy to come out this year.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Necrocracy, (So Passes) The Glory of Death, Carrion Call

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Ruins of Beverast - Blood Vaults (The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer) (2013)

Band: The Ruins of Beverast
Country: Aachen, Germany
Style: Atmospheric Black/Doom Metal
Label: Ván

Like most people who have a vested interest in "underground" black metal, I'm a fan of Alexander von Meilenwald's now ten year old baby. Through three incredible albums and some solid material released on splits and/or a compilation, the project had a strong body of work. Although that compilation did come out in 2011, it was new material that I anxiously was awaiting to hear.
I know that I'm not the only one who's been anticipating this album since it was first announced, I was honestly losing hope as to whether the project would ever release any more "new" material before the preview for it was released. From what I can tell, both Unlock The Shrine and Rain Upon The Impure are considered to be kvlt classics of atmospheric black metal while 2009's Foulest Semen of A Sheltered Elite fell just short of achieving that same status, which pretty much means that this album had a lot going against it from the beginning from fans. Granted, I dig all three full-lengths, but the debut is probably the one I'm still most attached to. Over time the project had evolved from more traditional atmospheric black metal sort of sound into one that draws from, what appears to me, more of a death-doom sort of style. That's not to say aspects haven't always been in the band's sound to begin with, but on here I think that they are arguably at their peak to date.
What with a very paced drums performance, guitar riffs that go back between low-end tremolo picked parts and held chords, and a much more guttural vocal performance, it all struck me as sounding closer to doom metal than black metal, but like I said, it's not as if these are new to the band's sound either. These are all traits that have been a part of this band's sound since that first full-length, so maybe it was the fact that the production on here heightened my perception of them. One could say that this is a "clean" sounding album in as much as, each instrument can be heard and that the reverb isn't as engulfing as on previous releases. I would also say that the scope on here is perhaps a little bit bigger as well. While earlier records perhaps felt somewhat limited in terms of such an aspect because it was a rougher recording and maybe Meilenwald wasn't as sure of his direction as he is now (obviously this is just me speculating), but the album feels more focused and, I hesitate to use this word but, epic as well.
I think the aspect of this record that I find most appealing is it's patience. That isn't something I bring up in these reviews very often, but unlike many (and I mean MANY) records from whatever genre, this record knows how to use time to its advantage, whether consciously or not I don't know. When listening to this record, I never got bored, and this is a long album, it's almost eighty minutes in total, and yet it never particularly felt all that long. The lengthiest pieces on here, tracks like Spires, The Wailing City or A Failed Exorcism don't lose the momentum of a track like Ornaments On Malice, my personal favorite track from the album, despite dragging the running time out. As someone who listens to a lot of doom metal, and slow music in general to be honest, and as someone who does consider this to have its feet within that style of music as well, this is one of the more entertaining releases to come out from that world this year. I just said it above, but I'll reiterate, it never bored me over time through multiple listens, and it didn't lose momentum in extended and drawn out passages that came after more "brutal" black metal ones. I just think it deserves praise for that, if nothing else, it deserves the respect for keeping interest over it's entire running time and feeling very dynamic.
Overall I think this is a solid and really interesting record, and if I consider it a doom metal record (which I do) it's probably one of the most unique records to come from that genre this year. Sonically, it really doesn't sound like any other record that has come out this year and considering where this project came from (production wise), I think that's pretty impressive. Definitely check it out if your'e interested in some unique doom or black metal.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Malefica, Ornaments On Malice, Monument

When Bitter Spring Sleeps - Coven of Wolves (2013)

Band: When Bitter Spring Sleeps
Country: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Style: Folk/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Pagan Flames Production

When Bitter Spring Sleeps have had quite a bit of mystery surrounding themselves since they first started releasing music. Since their inception they've only released a demo and split (with the always amazing Panopticon) so material has been relatively slim from them. It was only recently that I saw this album posted on Facebook that I even remembered the band and realized that it was worth looking into.
I think that the first thing that has to be said about this full-length is that the production value of this thing has drastically improved upon the sound of the split with Panopticon. While the band may have been in control of their sound and knew how to write on that split, the songs were buried underneath ambiance, field recordings and vocals so it sounded quite unrefined at the time. The songs were ok but the production ruined them. This new album definitely has a higher quality to it, and the instruments (for the most part) come out and shine. Granted, the whole thing is still pretty rough, with distortion just eating away at the guitars and the drums still being quite muddy in the background, but more things come out and demonstrate just how well the band are adept at their craft. The first thing that hit me was definitely the melodies. Whether it's a guitar or a vocal melody, the band shows that they are highly skilled at creating lines that stick with you long after the song or album has finished. Usually channelling a more morose and melancholic tone than might be anticipated, or at least I anticipated.
But I guess the thing that proved to be the most surprising about this album is how diverse it was. Yes, this band is based in black metal, but plenty of folk and alt. country influences come through on various tracks as well, but those weren't the surprising elements. Plenty of bands fuse those elements in various ways, to varying degrees of success, but it was the more traditional heavy metal ideas that came through on a song like the title-track that grabbed me from the first listen. Musically, this refers to more simplistic, but actually very well done and quite catchy riffs being intercut with more traditional black metal parts. Vocally though, that's perhaps where this album impresses the most. The majority of vocals are done in this sort of bellowing croon that is just so unexpected, but in a great way, that it really makes the album. I won't lie, there were a couple of spots, listen to the end of The Sky Has Not Always Been This Way, that are a bit cheesy sounding. I also thought that the use of field recordings did overstay their welcome on here as well. I didn't really need an entire track dedicated to it either, I don't have a problem if they're used sparingly, but I just felt like they took up too much time on this album and didn't really add too much to the vibe of it either.
Overall, this was quite the little gem in the rough that I didn't expect to grab me as strongly as it did. I haven't really heard another band fuse genres like these together like this before, so hopefully that's an endorsement that will turn you on to check this album out. It's not going to be for everyone, some of the traditional heavy metal aspects may throw some who want more of a usual black metal style, but for those interested in something a little different, this is well worth your time.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Coven of Wolves, The Sky Has Not Always Been This Way,

Monday, October 14, 2013

Lustre - Wonder (2013)

Band: Lustre
Country: Östersund, Sweden
Style: Dark Ambient/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Nordvis Produktion

What is there to say about the one-man project that is Lustre that hasn't already been said before? Nachtzeit has been keeping this solo project going for several years at this point, to some might say that the "gimmick" of the band has long since past its sell by date. Despite that it's a band that I do have a fair amount of admiration towards after releasing several albums.
The style that Nachtzeit has created for this solo project is one that, I think, when he first revealed it on his first couple of recordings, did impress and interest a lot of people. In recent releases though, I do think that some have become somewhat fed up with the style though. I mean, I can recall looking into Lustre before ever having listened to any of their albums and it was described, as above, as "atmospheric/ambient black metal," which to me puts it in league with the likes of Lunar Aurora, Burzum, and Darkspace, but obviously that's not the sound of any of Lustre's albums. To an extent I guess you could say it's closer to the work of projects like Paysage d'Hiver or Velvet Cacoon. While extremely distorted guitars and bass are present in nearly, if not all, of the material released thus far, it rarely moves out from the background of a track and takes a leading role. Instead the synths have always taken the lead through melancholic and rather hypnotic melody lines that run through an entire track.
I get it, it's not exactly the most meaty of soundscapes to dive into. There isn't a bunch of distortion and what not to look further into. If you pay attention you can hear a majority of what's going on in the synth department while what happens in the background isn't all that different from song to song, to be honest. In terms of depth, I wouldn't come to really any of Lustre's albums, but that's just me. So when I do put on a record from this project what I want is to hear melancholic atmospheres with, I guess what I consider to be poppy lead melodies playing over top. I've learned from previous albums, and this isn't a great thing to really say but, if you dig the melody that's being played for the first minute or so, chances are you'll dig whatever the rest of the track has to offer. That's not a great thing to say about an album at all, but if this is the way that Nachtzeit is going to continue making albums, that's going to be the way I keep judging his work. I knew from my first listen that the two tracks mentioned below were going to be the highlights. They stood out over the other two, and it's not that these other two were bad, but to me it was obvious which tracks were going to stick with me longer. After a while it sort of becomes one of those things where you start to wonder if there is anything more to this project. With the band's I mentioned above, they experimented a lot more with various textures and soundscapes, and with Lustre (and feel free to disagree with me here) it sounds like it's a one or two track pony and Nachtzeit is just repeating himself.
To me, this doesn't exactly rival the originality I heard on, or the experience I had with, albums like the Welcome Winter EP or A Glimpse of Glory. What's on here is perfectly solid material, but not really much more than that. If you're a fan, chances are you'll dig this as well, but if you are getting tired of this style from Lustre, this won't be the album the one that'll regain your faith in the project. It's not bad, just average I guess.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Moonlit Meadow, A Summer Night

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Blackfield - IV (2013)

Band: Blackfield
Country: London, UK/Ramat Gan, Israel
Style: Art Pop
Label: Kscope

When it comes to the various projects of Steven Wilson, Blackfield is one that I'm stuck in the middle when it comes to an actual opinion. I certainly don't dislike them, but I can't say they've released an album that I've liked from start to finish yet. And from the feedback of people who have already heard this record, the signs didn't appear to be good for this one either.
Before I listened to this album I went onto a couple of sites that I visit regularly and read the comments of people who had heard the record because I had read that because of his successful solo career, Steven Wilson's involvement on this album had been severely lessened. It's understandable that he wouldn't be as involved after releasing two widely acclaimed solo records and touring off them, in addition to producing and remastering records for other bands, but I think it did affect the perspectives of those who knew that before listening to this. When they finally heard it they knew his involvement wouldn't be as present and already had taken against it for that. This might be totally off base, but I can say for myself that I never really listened to Blackfield for Aviv Geffen's songs but rather for Steven Wilson's; and maybe that was it for a lot of other people as well. With only two songs on here being completely sung by Wilson (though Pills did come across sounding more like Geffen than I would like) I think it seemed somewhat daunting that Geffen's presence would be even more overwhelming than it was on Welcome to My DNA back in 2011. Even longtime fans of the project wouldn't say that that was the project's finest hour, and this new album once again continues that trend of degenerating in songwriting quality.
To be fair, in lack of Wilson's lead vocal and songwriting presence on here, people like Vincent of Cavanagh, Brett Anderson, and Jonathan Donahue have come onboard to bring some more "credibility" (if you will) to the album. While I'm not overly enthusiastic about Anderson's or Donahue's presence on here, Cavanagh's track, XRay is a brilliant, if all too abrupt song that perfectly suits his voice and sounds like it could have fit in with any of Anathema's more recent work (even if the lyrics are completely cringeworthy). But to address Wilson's performance for another few seconds, even though his vocals only really lead two songs on here, the rather average opener Pills and the stellar art-pop Jupiter, you can clearly hear him on back-up throughout the album. His guitar playing is also all over this album as well.
But in the sense of being fair, because Geffen did write all the material on here, it would be a crime not to acknowledge that he can write some nice hooks. Tracks like the artful and orchestrated Jupiter, the cinematic The Only Fool Is Me, and the album's biggest success, Sense of Insanity, show that he does indeed know how to write beautifully written and, at times, extremely poppy songs. The last track in particular stands out as being one of the project's most poppy tracks to date, with a chorus that just sticks in your head. Although it reminded me a bit of U2, a band I'm not all that fond of, I would be lying if I said I didn't put the song on repeat several times after I heard it for the first time. But like everyone else has mentioned, there's some serious dips in the album. I know some people like the opener, but I didn't particularly care for either of the first two songs on here, and frankly after Jupiter, you should just end the album because the last four songs are pretty much just a waste of your time; and it's not for lack of catchiness, as a song like Lost Souls isn't bad, but it feels hollow in comparison to all that came before it. Songs like Kissed By The Devil and Faking feels even more phoned in, with the former appearing to just end before it even gets going. Closer After The Rain is the biggest offender on here though, being just shy of a minute and a half long and not even sounding like it belongs on this album at all.
This isn't a terrible album but compared to the group's first two full-lengths, this almost feels like a different band entirely. I seriously hope that either Wilson will return to a more prominent songwriting member of the band or they will just let the project die, because it seems like they are just sliding down a slope with these last two albums. There are some good songs on here, and if you're interested in this album I would suggest just going for those rather than suffering through the entire album.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: XRay, Sense of Insanity, Jupiter