Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Bathory "Blood On Ice" (1996)


Relinquishing the failed detours of Requiem and Octagon, this ninth installment, supposedly compromised of mostly unreleased material from the era post Blood Fire Death, it marks a return to the much adored Viking Metal sound Quorthon pioneered. Although similar in overall length, its eleven tracks feel clunky, alternating in temperament that breaks up its flow. This falls inline with a statement that forty percent of material was was reworked for this release. The swan songs Man Of Iron and The Ravens, One Eyed Old Mans Motorhead energy, the galloping pace of Gods Of Thunder And Of Rain and the Progressive riffing of The Stallion stick out with a keen shift away from the established sound of heathen cultural inspiration.

The rest of the record however carries over much of what was heard on Twilight Of The Gods with far more gusto in its meaty distortion guitars and epic drums lavished in reverb, with exception to the tom drums which are claustrophobic on some tracks, as if recorded in a cupboard. Choirs of human voices with a rural burden return and Quorthon mostly delivers his cleaner style blemished in authenticity as he tangles with notes just beyond his grasp. Its mostly charming, at least I've heard him do worse with this unfiltered approach.

After many spins Blood On Ice still plays like a fractured record with a shared vision. The Lake takes merit as a stand out track, its dragging discordant guitar chords provide an epic drone for gloomy voice to be counteracted by frays of glossy acoustic chords plucked slowly. Its an epic with a guitar solo to match, which bring me to another point, his lead guitar work on this one isn't as sharp. The record was shelved unfinished in 1989 and its resurrection doesn't make it feel anymore complete.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Dan Terminus "Last Call For All Passengers" (2020)


 Its been a few years since I last checked in with the French musician Dan Terminus. Back then the Synthwave scene was still emerging and this darker flavor caught my ear. With only a few songs making marks, much of those early records have faded from memory. This particular niche in Electronic music is one that I feel often doesn't go far enough with many of the artists clinging close to the pillars of aesthetics that define it. Much of that applies again on Last Call For All Passengers, however its opening cuts aim for something with more of a percussive drive that is present throughout but makes itself known fresh out of the gate.

Kicking off with Oubliette, big slabs of meaty synthetic buzzing slam into the fray as baselines following its opening arpeggio. A harsh slapping snare drum, hollow kicks and snappy cymbals pound away giving structure to the choppy shuffling of hard hitting virtual instruments that dance between with a subtle reminder of those old jolting Dubstep drops. There is a whiff of something in the air, track two's opening melody and sense of groove confirms beyond doubt, The Prodigy have had an obvious influencing hand, pushing the John Carpenter Synthwave sound into club territory.

Its two persuasions don't add up for me. The dazzle of glossed up melodies, spearheading a spirit of pedal to the metal night life, rubs right up against the harsh deployments of hard edged synths and an Industrial like, colorless approach to their timely union with the thumping drum arrangements. It often plays with that loud quiet dynamic, yet the two don't compliment one another. An atmosphere conjured with one hand, is often smashed by the shift in temperament to grooves that don't feel all to fresh in the face of whats come beforehand.

On the aesthetic front its production is hard and crowded, often cramming sound in for the loudness effect. The grittier sound of its drums could do with some polish too. Its a game of contrasts that doesn't pay off. Many of these songs are embellished with layers of synths, oozing in slick textures that conjure visions of cybernetic cities from a dystopian future. They work in tandem, moving in directions and illuminating the neon glow but often thwarted by this return to a club floor banger mentality. That unfortunately dispels any magic for me and leaves this one feeling like an arrangement looking better on paper than in execution.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 23 October 2020

Kataklysm "Unconquered" (2020)


 The appeal of purchasing this record was mostly to "check in" with a band from the years of youth. Unconquered is Kataklysm's fourteenth in a steady flow of albums spanning over twenty five years, a competent yet routine production of modern Metal by seasoned musicians with not much in the way of something new to offer. Initially known for their "Northen Hyperblast" take on Death Metal, only a resemblance of the shocking rattle of drums on overdrive that defined them remains. The songs are of course intense in nature, however only one track stood out too perpetuate that distinction, Defiant. Its opening hailstorm of machine gun snare blasting makes for an intensity wall of sound relieved by brief glimpses of dizzying fretwork from the guitars. It tho break to the mid-tempo, a region most the record spends its time within.

Getting onboard with the times the group utilize seven, or even eight string guitars with a brutish tone set to dazzle with a textural indulgence of low and meaty distortion. Its a great sound fit for the groove, bounce of low strings and groan of pinch harmonics wrapped up in the Djent guitar style. It actually came as a shock to hear the embracing of riffs with less of that Death Metal flavor, however there is no polymeasures at play. In all fairness it does not dominate, most songs tend to come with a mix of tonal noise abuse and a shredding of chords more akin to their tradition. The balance keeps Unconquered entertaining on its thirty eight minute stretch.

Luckily for me, Iacono's throaty shouts of forceful anger have a temperament I enjoy. Many of his lyrics that I managed to decipher, however, felt all to chest pumping and shallow. Triumphant threats and statements of violence ushered in with simplistic use of language. Little too ponder on but maybe something to cling to if you can relate it to personal grievances. The lyrical dimension gave me little to enjoy but with a crisp textural production, the barrage of battering drums and brutal guitars timely laced with melodies made for enthralling extreme noise music listening experience that is hard to put down. The record lacks distinct songwriting to stand beyond the norm and given my immersion in metal music, nothing here will root itself in my memory. Perhaps with one exception, the ending to Underneath The Scars has a pretty sick breakdown. The rapid pedals firing in the silence between slams of guitar noise is wonderfully executed. Unconquered is a fun one for fans of extremity but offer little new.

 Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Cypress Hill "Demo Tape" (1989)

Decades into this wonderful internet experiment, one can easily find rare tracks, b-sides, outtakes and demo tapes that used to be privy to a handful of ears. With another nostalgic plunge, I looked up Cypress Hill's demo tape. Its somewhat disputed what year its from but 1989, a year after their formation, seems to be the best guess. What a fantastic idea, this six track tape is a remarkable insight into where the group started and what evolution took place in the years leading to their debut self titled.

Its remarkable how much of Hill's trademark sound is present from the get go. The four tracks that would carry over to the album have their core samples all in place, the unique flavor is bold and obvious, the stylish identity firmly established. They all carry a little extra percussion and layering that got stripped back. Refining his beats, Muggs polished up the occasionally crowded jabs, stabs and redundant vinyl scratches in the end. These elements do have strong ties to the 80s Hip Hop sound and characteristics, with that these demos create a cultural bridge between the two eras.
The one track that didn't get carried on is Caliente. Its a stage for Sen Dog who raps entirely in Spanish. The beat is jive, the classic Amen Brother break loop on sharp repeat. The sparse sampling ushers in a calmer hypnotic flow for Sen's bilingual ability to sway in this listeners discern. Instrumentally it harbors much of the aforementioned 80s tropes, one can hear why it was ditched, there is however no doubt that Sen shines in the spotlight but its the only time we really get to here him go for it.

As the groups main MC, B-Real dominates the verses with much of his flows and style figured out. A large portion of the verses start with the same lines but quickly derail into less refined collections of rhymes loosely linked. Although my memorization of his lines immortalizes them, it genuinely feels like he puts the best at the front, later on fleshing the rest out with better ideas. On occasions his voice drops off the navel inflection and in a few lines he sounds much more regular.

The demo tape is a fascinating insight into a group who have mostly figured out their sound. In comparison to what else was around at the end of the eighties, the Hill must of sounded special landing on the desk of some record executive. Or possibly not? I don't know much of their origin story at this point but it would be fascinating to find out. Making records was a longer process back then, two years on paper can technically be thirteen months and with it known they recorded some of the record in 1990, they could of been snapped up after this demo! Its fun to speculate.
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Funkdoobiest "Which Doobie U B?" (1993)

With a recent dive into House Of Pain, I found myself poking around into the production history of DJ Lethal and DJ Muggs, leading me to this West Coast stoner trio with an uncanny resemblance to Cypress Hill, the epitome of treading in their footsteps. Obviously his hand on the instrumentals would lend itself, however lead rhymer Son Doobie, a name I've heard in rap verses before, brings a strong navel inflection and similar set of funky oriented rhymes to the likes of B-Real. Similarities and influences are fine, I was mostly excited to unearth a scene extension of the Hill's dynamic sound. Funkdoobiest have it nailed down, colorful Bomb Squad beats and lyrics constantly referencing the Mary Jane. It's been a fun nostalgia trip listening to Cypress Hill's cousin from round the way.

Although Muggs handles only a couple tracks, DJ Raplh M and T-Ray pick up the slack where Muggs laid down the foundation. Imitating his style, bombastic percussion, bold double-bass lines and stacks of samples making for a madhouse of funk and groove playing from front to back as if he did the whole project. Its complimentary, however a couple tracks are all to similar to Hill classics. Distinction wont come on the lyrical front either, Son Doobie's measured flow, stacking of quirky rhymes and delivery all have a similar cadence that fails distinction. His partner on the mic, Tomahawk Funk, is distinctly reminiscent of Main Source. Having absorbed so much Hip Hop over the years its hard for either them to stand apart.

Not to dwell on the parallels, Which Doobie U B? has a loose theme with recurring references to the doobie question. The topicality feels a shade hollow with braggadocio and stance affirming angles recycled track by track. A read of the track list alone gives you an idea of what to expect. This was never meant to be a serious record though. Its all about the fun rhyme schemes, stringing witty snaps and cultural references to much effect in its best tracks, Bow Wow Wow, Freak Mode and Wopbabalubop. At first its fun and exciting but as the verses become familiar a lot of bold boisterous rhymes fade in interest. Its of the time and somewhat dated but a really good listen as a fan of the era.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Cypress Hill "Cypress Hill" (1991)


 As a precursor to another record I'll talk on tomorrow, it felt essential to lay a little groundwork with Cypress Hill's dynamite debut from 1991. Nothing quite like this sound had existed beforehand. The Hill blew minds with funky Latino vibrations and a bold advocation for the use of marijuana at the forefront of their music. Unlike a lot of other acts in Hip Hop, the trio would go on to have a decorated career beyond the debut with a string of creative and commercially successful albums, birthing songs known the world over like Rap or Rock Superstar and Insane In The Brain.

Firstly a disclaimer, this group were one of my first "favorites", who as a young teen I bonded with immensely... these beats and rhymes are practically baked into my brain. I can't tell you how many times I've spun this one. Giving it another go as I right, I am reminded of how well crafted these instrumentals are. Yet to lean on slamming percussion, DJ Muggs flavors his grooves with bold, funky samples. It has a little Bomb Squad flair for obnoxious noises and stabs among the guitars, horns and trumpets. It mostly has a keen psychedelic edge, resisting conventional melodies and arranging his loops to flow in succinct persuading repetitions.

I often forget how uplifting and warm the Hill once where. By album three, Temples Of Doom, they were deep in the darkness. Despite having devious classics like "How I Could Just Kill A Man" and "Hole In The Head", Muggs keeps spirits up with a spicy measure of groove and funk weighed up in a string of classic beats. However the lyrics are mixed in with rugged street talk and violence, swaying between more fun topicality. Variety comes with laid back grooves, busying instrumentals pushing the noise and a playful helping  of Latino flair. In the records end stretch, the guitar sample on Tres Equis illuminates brightly, doing all the work for Muggs as Sen Dog raps in Spanish. A niche touch to give the record more uniqueness.

B-Real is a phenomenal talent, all too overlooked as one of the greatests in my opinion. He establishes himself with a youthful flair but his rhymes are so concise, the flows mesmerizing and with that strong navel inflection, inspired by the Beastie Boys, he proves himself on round one. So many of his distinguished particular cadences and catered rhythms are established on this one. Flows and rhyme groupings that get recycled and referenced in later records are in abundance here at the inception. Lets not forget the hooks, this record is loaded with them. Hand On The Pump has one of the best with its lala lala conclusion and Sen delivering the hype between.

Every track as something to offer and a write up can't go by with out mentioning Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk. An absolute banging sleazy spaced out beat with B-Real rhyming through the percussive breakdowns without pause. Its timeless, despite having a distinctly "of the time" feel, everything stands up. With knowledge of whats to come, Real Estate seems a step ahead. It has the harder drum loop and focused attention on its main sample and pumped up baselines. That's another point, the music is laced with bold lines in the low end that glues much of it all together.

This record never lost its charms on me over the decades and right now it's pleasures are so vivid. That is when I enjoy writing the most. What's the point other than to feel the music as much as you can? I can barely think of a bad word to say on this record, its a brilliant debut statement. Stylistically stunning and sharp, flavored with a spice not heard before in Hip Hop. Barely a weak spot, although everyone will find their favorites among these sixteen cuts. A classic!

Rating: 10/10

Friday, 16 October 2020

Taurwen "A Wind Blows From The Mountain Of Death" (2020)

Never before have I felt the chills of resemblance to my own musical output, Forgotten Conquest. In composition and temperament there may be some similarities but the distinction is virtual instruments. The luscious deep bellowing horns, serine yet sorrowful strings and especially the crisp, immaculate bright pianos. There tone and delivery so close to its intended form, catches my ear as the same set of tools I once used. This, Taurwen's debut album, suffers the same follys I too encountered in my amateurish pursuit of manifesting the music in my mind to something tangible.

Flirting with the lost, pale and bleak, its minimalism of lone instruments lay stark and bare, converging on occasions. Its rooted in repetitions stripped of charm by the virtual instruments cold, mechanic precision each string, elongated chord and piano note brings. Pitch perfect and identical in sequence, its atmosphere is cut by the sterility, barely blemished by soft reverberations and echos. The music rotates with such perfection that its meaning, inspiration and emotion feels lost without a human touch.

It is however clear whats aimed for here, a pry into a world of beauty and sorrow held in mother natures cold cruelty and majestic wonder. Its melodies stray and meander, forever wandering alone on the back of this illustrious sound of beautiful instruments with a glossy finish. Its songs open like windows into a moment of inconsequential scenic melodies, with a human presence, one of carved stone and overgrown vines. Some of the music is lone and linear, others richer with multiple layers of composition that too, together, feel naked and bare like a lost poem or faded picture.

Deep pounded drums are struck to muster the oomph for upheaval and building masked crescendos that never quite culminate. Its bells too are an interesting choice, cutting like a knife and often suddenly signifying the end as if a spell had been broken. Its hard to put a finger on this particular place. Caught somewhere between Dungeon Synth and the medieval Fantasy of Fief it certainly has a potential but I can't get past the image of notation on the piano roll, perfectly executed. Its best moment might just be Hum Of The Forest where things get muddied up in its layers of foggy ambience. That human wear and tear is what much of this record needs.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Bathory "Octagon" (1995)

 Our lengthy Bathory journey now embarks to the eighth installment, hence the Octagon title, supposedly the low point. Following on from the polarizing Requiem, Quorthon's DIY spin on Thrash Metal takes another nose dive into a pale abrasion the ears do somehow adjust too. The snare rattles and bites, piercing at all times among the clatter of symbols and smothering of bass pedals. Distortion guitars make headway with a narrow band of fuzzy mud, just fractions shy of masking the tight riffage at work. He tones down his vocals to a more manageable degree of horror and again we have a disastrous formula you can't just outright dismiss.

For the year it would seem that influences from the emerging Groove Metal scene make subtle marks on the swing and bounce present in some compositions. Most remarkable is track two, Born To Die. Smelly angsty acoustic guitars open up what retroactive ears can only describe as a prototypical Nu Metal song. Getting past its initial thrashy opener, the music pivots to a syncopated sway of Drop D styled riffing an atypically generic trait. The delivery of anger fulled snarls and shouts are just the icing on the cake of this forecasting, bizarre oddity.
 Glimmers of this moment teeter throughout but from this point its a downward trend. With exception to its keenest power chord arrangements and the blazing lead fretwork, the quality gives off local band vibes. Especially the lyrics, a lot of which caught my ear for sounding smart but often not saying a lot, just blasting phrases and social political words. Quorthon is a talented musician but the production is dreadful, stripping out anything inviting the songs offer. Its a bit like St. Anger, you're not sure what part is actually awful about this because it can produce some enjoyable moments. Despite confusion, in this eternal form it is a stinker.
 Rating: 2/10

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

House Of Pain "Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again" (1996)


Concluding our brief dive into the House Of Pain trio of records, Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again marks a significant shift in tone. Swiftly followed by the announcement of the groups split, it is possible the creative issues apparent on this album may have had something to do with it. Its opening track Fed Up is the only song I remember from years ago. I'm unsure if I ever gave this one much of a try back in the day but one things for sure, its lacks any kind of spark to mark it memorable.

No longer working with DJ Muggs, DJ Leathal's production is lackluster in comparison, missing the distinct flavor that defined their earlier output. These beats are middle of the road for a 90s sound. If anything, I find myself picking up some clear Pete Rock & CL Smooth vibes here. To be fair, little is negative but the temperament is so mild and easy going that when dipping its toes into shadowy, rugged or bombastic leanings, it doesn't manifest to anything substantial. It lacks teeth for the bite.

Bringing on a whole host of guests including the legendary Guru and Brand Nubian, the sound feels better catered for them than Everlast's rough, lived-in voice. He has a bit of friction with a lot of these instrumentals. On Earthquake though, the elements align for one decent track. Writing this now, it seems like a common theme, Everlast's hooks don't play of the beats all that well, yet his guests do excel with their verses.

Among the lack of cohesion and shifted tone there is a reasonable bunch of clever, crafty, witty rhymes to enjoy and brief bursts of fun, potent flows with powerful wordings, mostly from the features. The stars just don't align on this time around. Its left me feeling as if they had a great record in them that never came to be. Either way, its been fun to dig back into these albums with a 90s flair I adore.

Favorite Track: Earthquake

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Backxwash "Deviancy" (2019)

Released prior to the stunning God Has Nothing To Do With This, I had to reel in expectations when confronted by this raw rap fest that doesn't harbor such a rich theme and fleshed out vision. Deviancy is more or less a collection of raps and beats. A straightforward twenty minute record that doesn't yield any sign of whats to come yet musters up its share of memorable hooks and lines within its tailored production.

Lyrically, the use of language feels far more direct and open. Her trans sexuality a topic casually brought forth in livened energetic raps without pause. After a string of mischievous tracks, referencing the devil and affirming as the "witch bitch", the trippy, backwards spun interlude Dying Seems Like Fun pivots the record to a heartwarming pitch, a soulful song led by its intimate piano chords and softly spoken vulnerable lyrics of insecurity in self image. Bowing out with timely anthemic vibes, this transition feels parallel to the structure of its successor which took a turn to the light at the end.

Each of these songs have an identity, some true character that gives it distinction. Across its eight tracks you'll probably find a few favorites. Devil In A Mosh Pot has the wording to birth an earworm and its syncopated guitar lick reinforces the melody deviously over its bustling bassline. Foundation chases dreamy club Trap vibes but the title track would be my championing song. Again these busying gritty baselines whirl away setting a tone of chilling doom as its hook radiates with falling sirens.

Its a killer track but almost amateur in execution like much of the record and I mean that in a charming way. These beats require some attention to appreciate, a lot of praise may be handed out for its theming and design yet they don't seem to leap out at me the listener. Maybe it needs a little more polish and oomph? One thing for sure is Backxwash is a talent and Her raps are fantastic on this keen little project. Given the leap forward to come, who knows how far she can go with this unique persona!

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 9 October 2020

Deftones "Ohms" (2020)

How is it that after a handful of spins, these ten new tracks feel like songs you've know for years? With each record Deftones pivot to a new shade of sound, a fresh take on a decades spanning identity. Title track and lead single Ohms flags the new direction as the group lean deep into their Shoegaze era inspirations. Its almost misleading as the most ambitious number to emphasize Steven Carpenter's riffing direction, now utilizing a nine string guitar yet he can't help but drift into classic groove laden chugs on half of these songs. They sway, cushioned below the hazy rising sun of Chino's sleepy voice entangled with ever present light airy synths that permeate the unique atmosphere of this stunning album, the bands ninth in a string of successes.

Opening with Genesis, eerie saw wave synths stir soft tensions as dreamy, sombre acoustics paint reoccurring colors to the canvas. In a moments notice it gives way to the slam of Steven's Djent tonality with the intensity dialed to the forefront. The synth remains, as it does throughout the record, sustaining a soft, warm haze that will in turn blossom many beautiful moments when barraging distortion riffs give way. Its the temperament of Chino's swooning voice that feels crucial to the swaying. Their musical chemistry never needs selling though his soaring cries to softer breathy speaking hits a home run, gluing it all together with a charm that never fades.

 On Urantia his inflections and pitch have an uncanny resemblance to Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. With so many shared commonalities and parallels in music its actually remarkable how little of the record conjures thoughts of other artists. And yet still across its ten songs there is much diversity, especially when they deviate from norms as the guitar direction feels intentionally more explorative. When attune experimentation flourishes, the singular, textural synths often shine. Error is simply magical, no thanks to the spellbinding drone of its spooky swirling oscillation.

Its a particularly strong moment as it transitions into the albums best, The Spell Of Mathematics. Initially a sludgy slug fest of low end noise, the creepy synths break for esoteric interludes that eventually culminate with Chino ushering a ravishing warmth from its unsettled, chilling atmosphere. The composition highlights a strange tone Ohms posses. Its a foot a two realms, finding limbo as all that's glossy and gorgeous is in constant friction with an ominous, faceless lurching presence. Dark, chilling yet far from danger or evil it carves a place that feels like a lonely wandering dream.

Working with Terry Date, the production is no doubt a marvel. Crisp, clear instruments with depth, fidelity and character meet on a stage fit for straight forward music capable of blooming into dense walls of magical sound. Abe Cunningham continues to impress as he houses not only the monstrous grooves but the flushes where Deftones step further from their tradition. Early on in the record I feel like we hear far more of his creativity, deeper in its a little routine. The baselines too, often an undercurrent, play a roll, livening up much of the music with its added power in the dense mixture.

The Deftones have a deep authentic chemistry. Taking care and time with each record there is simply no denying their execution. Ohms is inspired, interesting and mesmerizing when your locked in. Its best comes from texture and atmosphere, the heavy persuasion a familiar one that works best when pinned in by the synths, Frank Delgado really gave this record a special edge. The one dimension I all too often miss out on is lyrics. Many of the lines I did catch onto felt artistic and poetic, I'm sure a read of the lyric sheet is worth while. That will be on the "to do" list for now and so will this record as I'll continue to binge for some time, no doubt!

Rating: 9/10