Saturday, 17 November 2018

Old Tower "Ruination" (2017)

In the age of ever changing release formats we have Ruination, The New Darn Cometh, simply a lone nine minute track of meditative Dungeon Synth, the defining style of Dutch musician Old Tower. Its another gloomy and atmospheric piece of brooding, darkly synth that could be placed right alongside The Rise Of The Scepter, released earlier that year. Its pallet and range of events are limited in scope but its sense power to conjure rural visions of dark, foreboding medieval times are on form.

Horns and trumpets of isolated glory sound of the song as a familiar vale of deep foggy synths mystifies its leading melodies, one can see a stoic castle being consumed by heavenly clouds sweeping in over cold and unforgiving moors of a harder time for man. Its crawling pace steadily brews its way towards a break of soft choral choirs that allure in gong strikes and a sense of epic that drifts gently out of focus without a peak. At its end a murmurous melody of lonely mischief winds out the last minutes of the song on a whimper. As a reasonable song packaged within a short project, the music yearns to be part of something bigger but is lonesome. Old Tower has a spell bounding and wondrous sound that I wish to indulge in for far longer.

Rating: 2/10

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Underachievers "After The Rain" (2018)

I was dead excited to see this in my inbox. Rap duo AK & Issa Gold are two bright sparks among a young generation of rappers. Their dark and esoteric Cellar Door - Terminus Ut Exordium was a distinct introduction to the duo however opening half of Evermore - The Art Of Duality has become a favorite a frequent back to. Its lyrics of overcoming struggle and rising up hit me hard. We get a little of that youthful wisdom on the opening Downpoor as the pair exchange themes of changing the world with positive metal attitudes in the face of a materialistic world that can consume a person.

After The Rain has been an enjoyable, reasonable listen where the instrumentals define most talking points. Lyrics circle the waters, recycling familiar topics with a lack of hard hitting lines as the vocals are mostly linear expressions with less wordplay than I would of liked. The production sounds expensive, a step up that might be sideways. It elevates their sound to a crisp, glossy tone that's a tad over polished, squeaky clean samples and drums come close to peaking in a vivid construct.

Its all mostly warm, bright and sunny sounds. A lot of colorful, jazzy and soulful instrumentation with a crisp punchy audacity. A plethora of guest singers gives many songs agreeable choruses with powerful, harmonious singing that steers in a pop appeal direction. Nightmares & Dreams, plus a couple others too, push it a little to far with the broad allure. When either of the two are not on the mic, it can be an unrecognizable sound with guests flexing their prowess with some beautiful singing.

Its a hard record to be dismissive of, The Underachievers pack a lot of powerful, potent empowering lyrics in the run time for a warm, uplifting listen. The instrumentals aim high, a very crisp production with some fantastic Jazz Hop beats. All the pieces are in place but something in the chemistry is just missing something. Perhaps it lacks some urgency or struggle about it. Everything is just to neat and nice, so its hard for any truly memorable songs to emerge. It lives in the shadow of their former works.

Favorite Tracks: Downpour, Let It Rain
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Strapping Young Lad "City" (1997)

With their first step a machination of musical extremity was haphazardly birthed and with the next it was mastered. Strapping Young Lad's and Devin's debut album Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing was an embryonic folly, glowing in the light of retrospection and with this next stride Devin Townsend recruits old time band mates Jed Simon and Byron Stroud alongside Metal veteran, beastly drummer and essential component of the SYL chaos, Gene Hoglan. Their first effort as a cohesive unit was defined as "the heaviest record of all time". Despite many bands attempts to further extremify Metal aesthetics, none have brought with it the pure ecstasy of a truly emphatic emotional experience. In my opinion, the heaviest album claim still holds up to this day.

Opening with Velvet Kevorkian and All Hail The New Flesh, City quickly establishes its grandiose sense of self exaggeration and drastic emotional need. With the wobbling of dense electronic noises between Dev screams of intent, the thick wall of sound aesthetic makes itself known before the song kicks in with an absolutely punishing flurry of sound that Dev emerges from with a triumphant roar. Gleams of colorful light burst and tidal grooves erupt from guitars, crushing riffs through punishing distortions. The song elevates these aspects with Devin soaring his stunning voice high above as the music peaks into the heavens before collapsing from above into more over the top sonic guitar grooves. Its all stunning but the pure emotion in the voice of our Canadian genius is something never to be forgotten.

"Well gentlemen, a great amount of money has been invested into this project and we can't allow it fail". We have heard soaring melodic beauty dancing through duality with the primitive powers of groove and with Oh My Fucking God we descend into the madness of the latter. Dev takes all the extreme ideas of Death, Thrash Metal and Grindcore and throws them in the trash can, unleashing his trump card. Led by spurts of maniacal, schizophrenic screaming over hyperactive fretwork we are swiftly led to the mid track mania of over bloated industrial noise dispensing itself into every crevasse of space as all the instruments ramp up into a tornado of utter madness. Through the insanity Dev's nutty, deranged "la la lala" singing just peaks the madness with a cherry on top of this frothing cake of non-directional fury.

The madness isn't over yet! Detox returns to the opening formula of vocally led melodic soaring as Dev cries for his wishes of sleep. Bouncing back and forth with jugular grooves the song hides a trick up its sleeve as when you think it can't get any better he unleashes a rip roaring, pop sensible power chord riff that peaks another sense of emotional purity emanating through the vocal chords. Its a gracious moment. Home Nucleonics sounds like a race of a cliff. More berserk guitar riffs rival up against the unrelenting feet of the beast Hoglan. The song fires through its arsenal of neck snapping riffs like a drill, whilst smothered itself willingly in industrial dissonance.

With its finest of extremities unleashed, the rest of the runtime gets to mature in various directions. AAA dials back the over the top nature, teasing it with its build up of suspense, letting the band show the building blocks of their sound. Great riffs, stunning screams, still with a dense web of electronic noise and powerful drumming, it draws that line it the sand to prove both the music and aesthetic at play is brilliance. Underneath The Waves has a more traditional metallic tone at first but Dev once again fires up the sparks with his neurotic, demented singing that swiftly ramps up the musical energy to the SYL elevation. The synths get more involved in the wall of sound here, a fitting tone to passionate screams from a tiring soul.

Room 429 is the track to make a separation from all heard before. A theatrical approach is taken by the group to create a circus of distant dread that lets some less exhausting ideas flourish. It does sound like the perfect stage for Dev to unleash his humor but fortunately he steers from any cheese. City closes with Spirituality, a slow morphing of atmosphere that sounds like a Post-Metal approach to the wielding density of this Industrial soundscape. Slow chugging stomps of guitars march through apocalyptic soundscapes of warfare as electronic synths let off like missile strikes. A couple of minutes in the song attempts to turn pace with vocals and sludgy grooves. It slowly builds, unable to unleash as the steady march confines it to being a sign off song. Its a really fantastic note to end a remarkable record on.

My passion and enthusiasm for this record is obvious. I only hope a reader could find this connection too. Of the best of the best, City has held up over the years as an unending source of adrenaline release and deep emotional resonance. Its such a dense sounding record that its masterful manipulation of sound waves has me forever engaged with that textural space between all the obvious. There is so much going on it can sound fresh with every listen. Devin Townsend is an utter genius and even under the guise of over the top Metal extremity can he make it truly meaningful. All that's left to be said is Strapping Young Lad rocks my hairy anus!

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Logic "Young Sinatra" (2011)

I'm glad Ive worked through Logic's discography in reverse. This third mix tape, Young Sinatra, would have had a hard time luring me in without knowing whats to come. This is that point where a notable dip in quality occurs, or better stated, an artist in their infancy yet to fully blossom. Its a bloated seventy two minutes where Logic's reoccurring themes seem to regurgitate themselves several times within this one project itself. Ive heard so much of the Maryland rappers self assertion and tireless ambition that its getting a little tiring at this point, mind the pun.

Its an enjoyable project but the production is on the mediocre side. The beats tend to set an easy going tone within simple constructs of repetitive drum loops and warm sampling leaning to summery, jazzy vibes most the time. There is an undeniable 90s influence firmly in its stride and Logic too shows his influences lyrically. A lot of his future rhymes dazzle and impress on their own but unfortunately the best words heard on this project are mostly straight rewording of Nas and other classic lines of that era. To young fans they must sound killer but to an old Hip Hop head they don't get past. It leaves much of his lyricism firmly capable of getting a point across but the word play and attempts to be clever are often hit or miss.

Young Sinatra has a handful of tracks like "Are You Ready" that give of strong pop appeal vibes with overtly simplistic hooks and repetitive beats. There is also a sample picked up by Kendrick Lamar on Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe that can be heard on Addiction. Like the Young Sinatra: Undeniable mix tape, he has cuts rapping over classic East Coast beats from Craig Mack to Jay-Z and Nas to Mobb Deep. This time around he doesn't gives very little to the originals. As stated at the beginning this is an obvious drop in quality which of course is actually a step up on the next project. I enjoyed it when in the mood but this project doesn't leave much to be taken away.

Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Strapping Young Lad "Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing" (1995)

At the time it was musical genius Devin Townsend first solo release under the Strapping Young Lad moniker that would go on to become a fully functioning band by their sophomore album City. I'm astonished as to how far Strapping Young Lad has slipped from my mind, its been over a decade ago since I last binged on them. Its understandable how this embryonic sounding debut has drifted the furthest but Ive had a fantastic time rediscovering these oldies and the calamity of good and bad it is.

Reading into its backstory as the first Dev album, I discovered that it was born out of frustration with working for the likes of other musicians, Steve Vai and The Wildhearts. Devin wanted to write his own music and only Century Media would offer him a five album deal on the condition of making extreme music. The result is this mesmerizing, botched brew of angular ideas that would fail to capture anyone's attention, barely selling any units before future releases would bring retroactive attention to it.

Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing has all the hallmarks of an SYL record. An over the top wall of sound aesthetic. Stomping, slamming, brutal chugging guitars. Fierce and frantic screams, coupled manic roars and the occasional soaring of Devs clean range. Frequently synths wail in to further the thickness. Its a fusion of Death, Thrash and Industrial that has got all the right ingredients but its preparation and cooking is a botched brew. Its hard to praise at its surface but given a few spins there is plenty that's enjoyable and many familiar riffs, lyrics and moments reworked for later songs.

The production is sloppy and chaotic at best, the wall of sound comes together not through craft or design. Its slapped together with deliberate volume wars that more often that not find some haphazard cohesion. Distortion guitars often falter into choppy thuds of sound that loose sense of notation and become like a percussive instrument. Its mostly the ideas that lay themselves bare. When the guitars, drums or screams are being extremified its all to obvious. A majority of these moments tend to not lead anywhere but further into a sprawl of chaotic ideas. It even extending to a cheesy 80s synth beat on Cod Metal King but most his ideas will be heard with far greater execution on following projects.

These criticisms were more apparent at first glance but if you try to love something you often find reasons. Given how much I adore Devin's music it was all to easy to hear the links with whats to come. For a first timer tuning in it will be a much harder task. I'm a sucker for these songs, there is objective criticism all over yet through it I always hear something worthy of charm. Perhaps Drizzlehell is an exception. I really don't get along with that one. Otherwise its all fun, it has a mood, persona and strange vibrations that occasionally descend one into maniacal listening.

Favorite Tracks: SYL, In The Rainy Season, Happy Camper, Critic, Filler
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 11 November 2018

At The Gates "With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness" (1993)

Stripping back on some of its Avant-Guarde songwriting and non-metal instrumentation, bar sparing acoustic guitars, Swedish outfit At The Gates return with a sophomore album just doesn't spark any magic within me. Its dated, dull and dingy aesthetic dominates the mid ranges leaving a narrow feeling in the ears. Its a firm step backwards compared to The Red In The Sky Is Ours. The approach to riffing clearly has a keen experimentation in mind but not as fortuitous as before. Dissonant and moody tunes, plaid mostly through tremolo picking shapes up a resemblance of melody within its gloomy and pale tone. Sudden riff changes and energy shifts gifts the music when the chemistry works but dispels charm when the shifts make little sense, which is more often the case. Its such a consistent approach that the result is constantly hitting and miss. The good bits get buried fast.

I really gave this one a good go. Theie previous album revealed itself after some time listening but I believe the poor production value is a true hindrance in this case. I used words like gloomy and dingy in an unflattering sense. Often low fidelity aesthetic sparks imagination and vision when done right. In the case of this record it holds back the music with an uninspired tonality. Sunken within are a couple of good grooving riffs and gothic atmospheres but these are also in competition with the harsh and unfavorable howls that salt the wound of this ugly sounding record. I'm being harsh because this could of been much more. Its not awful, I can sit through and enjoy it on a mediocre level but ultimately is a disappointment worsened by its dreary production.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 9 November 2018

Turnstile "Nonstop Feeling" (2015)

One of the years wilder records has been Turnstile's cracking Space & Time. As the months rolled by its weight has grown, the blossoming familiarity of these infectious songs has had me on the binge many times. Its will probably make my favorite albums of the year list and so Ive been prompted to go back and give their older records a try. Upon first checking out the Maryland based Hardcore act, I found these older songs to be a little stale but understanding their intent and musicality better now this previous record sounds like a whole new beast! One i was totally wrong about.

Their vein of Hardcore is so clearly rooted in the guitar groove and Crossover camp, baring some momentary resemblance to the likes of Biohazzard. They have two things that make them stand apart and have gone on to master with Space & Time, curation and eclecticism. Firstly the band have a lot of riffs in the arsenal that they churn through. Its exciting and energetic but with short songs and linear structures they burn through a lot of fantastic composition swiftly, leaving your appetite ripe for another spin. There is something to be said about hearing the same riff over and over in the context of listening to a record three times, or the verse chorus structure.

On the second note, the band shake up their sound with passageways that deviate from distortion guitar led riffage. Sometimes colorful inflections diversify the tone and with a couple of songs they drop the core identity entirely. Its always an organic transition that seems shaped up to dull the monotony that half an hour of straight Hardcore can bring. Bleach Temple's effect soaked guitar leads are uncannily akin to a Killing Joke record and it perfectly fuses a chugging guitar beat down and gang shouts. With clean melodic singing Blue By You transforms into a Pop Punk song, the decent sort of course. The influences they show off manifest wonderfully.

Another thing that has struck me about this band is the lyrical maturity. Ive heard some lines that resonate with me greatly. The angered approach to real emotion reminds me fondly of the Rollins Band and some true wisdom shapes up in the words "There is no such thing as truth. We all have a filter. Got to let it through". This record sounded deceptively straightforward at first. Turnstile continue to impress me, I hope more of their back catalog reaches this level of flavorful  artistic output.

Favorite Tracks: Gravity, Can't Deny It, Bleach Temple, Addicited
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Strapping Young Lad "Alien" (2005)

Brainchild of musical genius Devin Townsend and emotional vent for his negativity and aggression, SYL stands alone as a vessel of extremity that other bands simply can't come close to. He is known as Hevy Devy with good reason, this is his domain where heavy goes above and beyond the sonic expectations of the time. His groundbreaking record City still holds up today and deserves its merit as one of the heaviest records of all time. Pioneering a modernized wall of sound production for Metal music, Devin has not just peaked the aesthetic approach but his unique personality and niche for composition emanates through the music. It puts him into that unchallenged place in the hearts of listeners. Alien is the only other SYL record to give City a run for its money and births one of Metal's best ever songs with a truly epic fusion of sing along hooks and monstrous grooves on Love.

Alien is a sonic experience, a whirlwind of fire and fury channeled through rhythmic grooves, exaggerated in the calamity of instruments howling together. If Dev has a partner in crime its Gene Hoglan. His distinctly jolting playing from behind the drum kit reinforces every strike and rhythm with endless flashes of dexterous rolls, hammering out maddening intricate patterns from atypical beats. He is a perfect complement to Devin's wall of sound approach, as its dirty crunching distortion guitars slam up against pounding baselines and a haze of industrial electronic sounds buried in the loudness. Its all propelled onward by slick pedals thumping in more electricity to the overflowing mess. I'm in awe of Hoglans machine like drumming.

The songwriting is prodigal. There is tandem between aesthetic and music, both extreme in nature, which can easily leave a record lopsided but the frustration and passion in Dev's immediate roars and blunt language, cries of "I hate myself" and the shrieking "fuck you" of Shitstorm mirrors all the emotional immediacy. Right as his scream burns every ounce of feeling, a sonic flood of high pitched synths fill the space as its the textural experience ascends. The path these songs take are sublime, fast turns through soaring heights into dizzying plummets cohesively following a narrative while bringing about an arsenal of unique riffs. When its applied in a more palatable sense with a formulaic song structure and a catchy hook you get the brilliance of Love.

With clattering drums,a scattering of subtle industrial noises and cutting synths the guitar plays a very centralized roll as the instrument pulling it all together. At times thick distortions play power chord arrangements but most impressively is the ramping up of production to extrapolate dense, gurgling chugs from palm muted picked grooves. In time with the guitars direction it can take on Djent like tones as Dev throws in obnoxious riffs that relish in the simplistic pleasures of absurd, over emphasized bends and open string chugs. Its a true head banging delight as its stamina charges through fields of unrelenting madness over and over again.

Alien kicks of with a racket. Front loading its most absurd, attention grabbing songs to then lead us though a more melodic pass for lack of a better word with Love and Shine. We Ride goes all out crazy with a battering of hard grinding riffs to unleash an unusual solo, clearly taking a different approach to the lead guitar that grows into the song. Then Possessions hits another climax with Devin deploying stunning infectious sections and continually upping the anti on them. In those two songs I feel like we hear more of the Dev you might expect on a solo project, except the music is extremified. Two Weeks give us a breather with a gorgeous, exotic and peaceful instrumental, it breaks the flow and the last two songs step in directions that don't quite come full circle.

With every listen I feel like its the type of record that needs to go out with a bang. There is no denying how utterly fantastic this record is and I am humbled to spoiled by rediscovering it. SYL will always be a favorite but with such a sea of music to drown in its amazing how much time can pass distant from music that's truly riveting. Strapping Young Lad where a huge deal growing up and I feel it is only right to do the rounds on their back catalog and cover a couple of records I never quite got to grips with. Looking forward to it. Can never get enough of the genius Devin Townsend!

Favorite Tracks: Skeksis, Shitstorm, Love, Shine, Possessions, Two Weaks
Rating: 9.5/10

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Soulfly "Ritual" (2018)

The years roll on by and Metal legend Max Cavalera, approaching fifty years of age, continues onward, devoted as ever to his distinct sound. This time the Soulfly project gets project some love, working with his son Zyon who delivers a battering from behind the drum kit. Much like Cavalera Conspiracy's Pyschosis, Ritual picks up some shared ideas in advancing the aesthetics of a style aging through this era of crisp production. It all sounds good but as the eleventh record of a relatively stagnant Groove Metal fusion, this latest Soulfly record has little in the way of surprise.

Born of the Nu Metal boom, Max's departure from Sepultura had him home in on the Groove Metal charm they helped pioneer with Chaos AD and Roots, while embracing Metal's latest trend of the time. As it died out the Soulfly project found its way through embracing elements of Thrash and Death Metal that solidified a distinct, settled indentity a decade ago. Any record since has felt without progression beyond that comfort zone but there is no denying Soulfly is fun and worthy of a good listen. Ritual however front loads the record with its best song, dropping its most infectious, groovy slamming riffs to bop to right at its opening. The rest of the music lives in the shadow of a cracking song worthy of the classics Max has composed over the years.

Everything else of the record is business as usual with a couple of stand out moments. Typical song structures and arrangements of bouncy, energetic, aggressive riffs go through the motions. Tracks like Under Rapture muster some excitement as the song erupts into fast thrashing guitars, engulfing vocals roar gritty, monstrous cries over a guitar shift, getting sinister with evil tremolo shredding. Feedback goes a different direction with obvious Motorhead vibes but its mostly the Pychosis blunt force approach to aesthetics in "over the top" moments that catch the ear here. Unfortunately its all a little to predictable to become more than the sum of its parts.

Rating: 5/10
Favorite Tracks: Ritual, Under Rapture, Demonized, Soulfly XI

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Iron Reagan "Dark Days Ahead" (2018)

If your looking for a fast and furious eight minutes of fist pumping mania, then Crossover Thrash outfit Iron Reagan have got your covered. Well beyond the heyday of Hardcore and Thrash Metal music meeting in the mid eighties, the five piece thrashers from Richmond Virginia revisit the sound with a modernized aesthetic, unrelenting intensity and bloodthirsty attitude. This is the best of them Ive heard so far and its a little jarring to think such high quality tracks wouldn't make the album cut.

From Authority to Watch You Die, the band lay down a furious pace spurred on by a thunderous snare that ricochets off lively, razor sharp distortion guitars, thrashing power chords back and forth, dizzying around the fret board. With songs lasting between one to two minutes they blitz through the riffage without circling back to the verse chorus formula. It propels the music forward, which is already running itself in a race of the cliff. Gang shouts and throaty yells of frustration and anger just further this rebellion of youthful energy and anger.

In the short space it occupies, the music finds degrees of techniques that span both edges of the Crossover sound. My favorite song, Patronizer, brings out some classic Slayer riffing style that leads into a wonderful explosion of ferocity as the gang shout cries out "pat-ro-niz-er". The following track also utilizes some of the Thrash Metal veterans sounds, its suits this band so well. Its five songs all offer something great and ultimately its too short for its own good! Can't wait for the next album.

Favorite Tracks: Patronizer, The Devistation
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Lycia "In Flickers" (2018)

I'll always be interested in some Ethereal Darkwave from Lycia. If its their classic Cold or the more recent A Line That Connects, it conjures a meditative mood Ive truly grown to love. They were one of a handful of bands to drew me to this cold, soothing and introspective sound that tinges on psychedelia. In Flickers has the experience I expected, forty three minutes of bleak, gloomy and forever drifting music. Its gentle and sombre in its pacing, soothing and indulgent with its reverb soaked instruments. We float precariously in a stasis of limbo, with purgatory just beyond our vision. Its a beautiful place that does not need anything happy or upbeat to be so.

For a moment the record surprised me as its second song, A Failure, includes the use of bold buzz saw synths and a punchier precussive beat that gives it a little feet moving dance and gusto. This shaped up my expectation to potentially hear an unleashing of a potent twist on the bands well defined sound. Unfortunately it wasn't so. Another one, Mist, returns to the idea for its almost five minute duration but two out of ten tracks leaves a musical idea that clearly works thoroughly unexplored. The chemistry only seems to give another dimension without taking anything away.

Through its shades of intensity and reworkings of the slow, dreary gothic soundscapes each song possesses, Rewrite stands out for its embracing of of a thick, distant and haunting sound at the heart of the song. Possibly a distortion guitar, the sound is lavished in effect pedals and comes through dense wall of ambiguous shadows. Its climatic melody soars with an unsettling darkness. Its forever marching baseline drives the song stride forward through this darkness in epic wonder.

In Flickers has all the hallmarks, slow and soft drums patter at humble pacing. Reverberated synths build snowy, chilling atmospheres and the singing of duo Mike and Tara bring arcane chorals and deeply spoken words to the fold within the composition style. Its very enjoyable and suited to its particular mood, with only a few sparks that transcend expectation Id say its a fair record, one for fans of the sound and a great introduction for those curios in Darkwave and Ethereal music.

Favorite Tracks: A Failure, Mist, 34 Palms, Rewrite, Autumn Into Winter
Rating: 6/10