Saturday, 15 December 2018

Old Tower "...From The Dark Outlands" (2015)


With this dingy eleven minute release we wrap up our deep dive into the realms of Old Tower. In conclusion I luckily started from the sweet spot with The Rise Of The Scepter. All that came before has been lacking in artistic maturity but showing promise as obvious experiments in Dungeon Synth ideals forecast a potential charm. Dark Outlands, being the predecessor, has more elements falling into place as its foggy synths pair up with pounding castle drums in the beginning. The oomph is sucked out of them in this low fidelity setting yet the Dutch artist will go on to master this approach within later records. This is the true first inkling of whats to come.

These four sings, stitched together, meander through simple constructs of dusty, ancient synth tones attempting to tap into those spooky, esoteric and nostalgic vibes and to be fair, it gets their in some stretches. Its linear, often led by singular melodies but it musters far more atmosphere. This is definitely the better of the "demos", even its deep and shadowy brooding voices pack more of a punch as they rumble ambiguously in the backdrop. It gets to a slow start though as crows squawking and owl hooting in the rain make for a haphazard transition. Its mostly unremarkable but a good tone setter for lonely nights in the cold of night, lit by candles in stone corridors.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 14 December 2018

Marissa Nadler "For My Crimes" (2018)


Bleak, dreary, full of sorrow, this latest record from American singer, songwriter Marissa Nadler drags us through the dwelling of her melancholy. Disguised by a beautiful, timeless voice and soft, sombre acoustics the details of her torment and pain escape in this frightfully dark journey through personal and emotional struggles. Its calm, ethereal demeanor lures one in as strummed acoustic chords sing their harmony underneath her bare, vulnerable words. Mournful strings occasionally creep in as the songs grow, twisting tone and mood as they chime in with shadowing conclusions for her illustrious stasis of beautiful despair.

Its her lyrics that twist the knife. The instrumentals and her voice are poised in that precarious position, devoid of jollity, caught between beauty and sorrow, suspended in a timeless space of reflection turned to light. As one listens closer to her words moan a great sorrow as pain emerges, heartbreak, separation and distance ache sorely. Journeying deeper into its final tracks, the words take on darker tones as fractions of paranoia and an abusive relationship rears its ugly head through the poetry. It may be a far to literal interpretation on my part. Music as art can often be a ventilation that takes a different form on exit but her open and vulnerable singing within this ethereal state of reflection sends shivers down the spine. "You're only harmless when you sleep".

Its a moody, introspective record and that's what I like. I take great solace in these calming, shadowy records and as an artist she strikes me as the sort to channel this single part of herself. It culminates to a vivid and alluring state of hyper reality when opening up to the poetry of her words. I'm fondly reminded of Mazzy Star and Chelsea Wolfe listening to this newest release and also remember her music having a far more "happy" vibe. Its why I had not gotten into her records that deep before but this turn of pace since I last heard her just happens to be my cup of tea.

Favorite Tracks: For My Crimes, You're Only Harmless When You Sleep, Said Goodbye To That Car
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Paris "The Devil Made Me Do It" (1990)


Thanks to a fantastic documentary series on Netflix I got to learn about regional scenes that rarely make it to the forefront of Hip Hop discussion. Learning about the the bay area of San Fransisco, militant rapper Paris caught my ear with his uncanny resemblance to rap god Rakim. Given the year of its release, this makes perfect sense. Despite a lack of originality in tone and flow he makes his distinction with fiery, statement driven, political and pro-Islam rap. Its to the tune of Public Enemy and Lakim Shabazz, who's Pure Righteousness is sampled in the opening Scarface Groove song. The name dropping is relevant, Paris wears his influences on his sleeve as an amalgamation of key artists of this era. This extends to the production too, the beats present a firm flavor of Bomb Squad meets Eric B, with James Brown samples too. The sound essentially fits in a year behind contemporaries however this may be my prior knowledge not allowing Paris to slip into the correct spot in history. Then again, this is a really overlooked and forgotten record. Its only had a handful of re-pressings and is difficult to get a physical copy of.

Historical pickings aside, this is a strong record. He may have that firm and steady flow defined by Rakim but he executes it with attitude and flair for stringing coherent and tricky rhymes schemes others would stumble over. Its creative too, taking on a variety of flows and experimenting with reverb and rhymes split over multiple takes. It gives the record interesting creative tangents between the tried and tested formula. Lyrically its very socially conscious and pro-black political, taking on police brutality and systemic racism with an unapologetic militant approach. Short story telling interludes like Warning and The Hate That Hate Made flavor the songs with rich backstory as a couple of tracks step of the gas with braggadocio and other subject matter. Its the black nationalism that grabs the attention and if you agree with his perspectives or not, hes certainly a talent getting his view across.

A younger me would of lapped this up back in my 90s Hip Hop binge days. Now the style is so explored in my mind its hard for the beats to make much of an impact. One can't help but notice these gorgeous synth baselines though, the sort you might hear in Industrial music. That and DJ Mad Mike's love of scratching and sampling creates jarring instrumentals that pair beats and sources rigidly. The result aesthetic is it own and a clear vision for variety is forged as many cuts and variations make it onto the album, keeping its flow exciting alongside the shifting themes of Paris. The title track gets a shout for being a killer tune. A prime example of the records strengths in full cohesion. The beat is dark, gritty and bombastic, Its synth sampling takes on vibes not often heard in Hip Hop. This record isn't trying to charm you with smooth slick Jazz sounds, bar Mellow Madness, or overt grooves. It creates a crowded atmosphere built on punchy, snapy sounds that amount to sometinhg it can call its own, even if the building blocks are in plain sight.


Favorite Tracks: Scarface Groove, Brutal, On The Prowl, The Devil Made Me Do It, Mellow Madness
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Strapping Young Lad "The New Black" (2006)


Its been a real pleasure to dive back into the SYL discography. Its been over a decade since I last binged through their records and now we arrive at the final chapter. Despite having a vivid memory of getting this album and listening to it on a work break, not much of the music has stuck in my mind bar a few songs. In a similar way to their Self Titled release, The New Black doesn't come close to the apex of City. Its essentially a Devin Townsend record shaken up with many spices of aggression and occasional comedic measures. Arriving straight of the back of Alien I suspect this record had much to do with filling contract obligations as Devin decided to disband the group in co-ordination with its release and their final tour as a band.

The record gets off to a roaring start with fast paced tracks. You Suck sets a tone for comedy that makes many returns as the premise of the song revolves around saying a band "fucking sucks". Typical Devin humor! The New Black has a slightly withdrawn approach, a fun yet aggressive template with plenty of stomping guitar grooves and frantic, intricate drumming that can go full pelt on the listener or focus on the musicality. The records crisp production strips back the wall of sound feel even though its a fairly bolstered sound, a collection of overwhelming collisions of noise where everything is dialed up get through but despite this, the record just feels lighter and that is probably due to its meandering second half where the moods expand.

In the first we have Wrong Side, a very domineering tack with its heavy synth presence and with Dev's soaring clean vocals it launches itself into Ziltoid territory which he was working on at the time. With Far Beyond Metal we have a studio version of an old live song from No Sleep To Bedtime. Its an anthem, fit for headbanging and giggles! After that the side of Devin we hear more in the solo material comes to light. Almost Again being a keen example, it sounds like Holgen had to really ramp up the drumming patterns to make it feel at home. One can hear the disproportion in balance as Dev's glorious singing pulls it in another direction. When he does erupts with roaring screams Holgen gets frenetic trying to match the increase in intensity, its quite impressive to hear him keep up.

Compared to the rest of their discography this feels like a clear ending point as Dev's other musical directions strongly influence the lengthy thirteen tracks. Its also a great example of how inspiration can be channeled through different aesthetics and approaches as many moments are interchangeable to differing intensities from the all guns blazing mentality SYL usually have. The big point to make is the obvious directional shifts don't detract from quality and give the album a depth in variety others don't. It also has a fair few unleashing of the signature mania where the music gets so loud you can hear the frequencies drown each other out in the wake of massive sub drops. Its a fine note to sign off an amazing journey on.

Favorite Tracks: Antiproduct, Wrong Side, Far Beyond Metal, Fucker, Almost Again, The New Black

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Turnstile "Step 2 Rhythm" (2013)


 Kicking off with a flavorful shimmer of western guitar tint over big theatrical chords, Step 2 Rhythm gets moving with a lick fit for a 90s tv theme song, just energeized. It switches back and forth between this uplift and the grit of guitar throw downs as the Hardcore riffs shred their power chord grooves. Its the first sign of an eclectic direction for the band and in brief instances it rises again through exotic Metal guitar leads and the outro. Otherwise thats about it. Despite this direction potentially manifesting into what I adore about Turnstile, this short twenty minute EP doesn't quite have the energetic charm of is successor Pressure To Succeed within the Hardcore department, which it primarily plays in tune to.

The opening stir of emotions is to early in its infancy to become anything other than a notable derivative at work. This is a straightforward record for the most part. The band go hard on guitar led grooves of power chord chugging set to slam on the floor as the drums crash in with appropriate half times and the vocals cry out with fiery aggression. Its fairly atypical and the reality is these feel like the b-sides to a better volume of work. Canned Heat bangs when the slam kicks in with a big group shout. Bar that one moment much of the songs felt reasonable but far from the magic Ive heard so far on other albums. It leaves me with little to say other than its been a fun listen but not to much to take away in comparison.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 10 December 2018

In The Woods... "Cease The Day" (2018)


It was a huge surprise to learn of an In The Woods... reunion two years back. After sixteen years on ice, three of the original band mates reunited to create Pure, a close contender for My Top Albums Of 2016. I was pleased to see them write a follow up so quickly but disappointed to learn the Botteri brothers both quit the band, leaving just the drummer left. How much influence Anders Kobro has over the music may be irrelevant. This in no departure of style and a record I have enjoyed my time with. Cease The Day scales up its progressive scope, builds scenic pagan atmospheres and makes hints to its themes with an Elk stranded among the city lights.

Once again Fogarty's voice serves as the human spirit to soar above with a heathen heritage calling. Its an authentic performance, honest and striving, retaining his imperfections and charming with his strengths. He is central to the musics direction, chiming in with many of its peaks and the general flow. Its more occasional that other instruments become the central focus. Cloud Seeder lays down some narrow groove guitar licks before unleashing a ear worm melody with effects soaked lead guitar that wails in different keys. The songs chord progressions remind me fondly of Baroness.

The eight tracks are mostly lengthy epics that don't outstay their welcome and unfold with steady captivation. I'm astonished as to how often subtle tone shifts are within their expansive pallet, even some that call upon their past. Somehow between Psychedelic overtones and brooding atmospheres can they splice in Black Metal guitar riffs with a chirpy, jolting distortion aesthetic that hails back to their debut record. The same can be said of the synths using similar choral and choir chords which arise in an instant to enrich the scene at hand.

On casual listening one will be sucked in to these vivid soundscapes and journeys. Yet on closer exception you may notice the organic experience is comprised of rather jarring and bold shifts in both tone and style as the eclectic links at work here jostle in variation along with its instruments. Strike Up With Dawn opens on a rotation of power chord rock guitar before flicking a switch and hurtling into a shrill tremolo shredding of darkness as gloomy synths arise. In another flick they drop and we move into an estranged, lone groove guitar lick reinforced by horned instruments.

This is just one example of what occurs frequently throughout, many yearnings of influence and musical approaches mashed into one form that feels very natural and pleasing. For all my enjoyment I never felt any big peaks, crescendos or exceptional moments. Perhaps Transcending Yesterday comes close with its monstrous opening riffs and howling screams but my attention is often diverted to the mix of a live audiences cheers into the song, ending with a chant of the bands name. I'm just not sure what exactly I'm supposed to make of it. Really solid album, hard to pick favorites, its great as one long big song.
 
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Old Tower "The Door" (2015)


Still with another record between them, this release marks a link to the slow and burly, meditative The Rise Of The Scepter, a first of true quality from the Netherlands artist Old Tower. However this third album, The Door, lacks the grandiose, vision or magic yet to come. It is however a lesson in atmosphere and ambience as we step away from clunky compositions of dusty synths yearning towards ancient vibes. Its a rather uneventful affair as ambiguous, soft synths gently moan, drifting in and out of focus over the occasional deep murmuring of bass. No melody is formed, just an ever shifting pallet of smokey, shimmering synths like fairy lights dancing in the fog with no rhythm or pattern to direct their expression.

It works as background music, setting a pleasing tone with its calming presence but no real vision comes to mind. It is simply fluffy noise to fill the space of mind and allow one to concentrate on other tasks. That is when I enjoyed this record the most. Its soft murmuring simply aided focus yet thinking and writing about it objectively I release it is rather weak when in focus. Towards the end the aesthetics shift into a shadowy gear as big, groaning reverberations play out like calls from the dark. With this it musters more interest but the overall project is bland and yet a sign of a change in approach that will ultimately lead to great music as Old Tower evolves.

Rating: 3/10

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Smashing Pumpkins "Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun" (2018)


Long since their glory days of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, my excitement for a new Pumpkins project has been mixed with worry. The possibility of a resemblance to Billy's solo album Ogilala and an over bloated, insignificant album title overshadows the return of James Iha. I doubt he has little to do with the writing of the music but he performs on the wax and I was hopeful his presence would have an influence. The record makes its distinction as a band far from there hay day while rather fondly resurrecting the semantics of their glory years. Its opening two tracks sound like a time warp to the nineties as Corgan unites his emotional, melodic Alt Rock guitar flexing with his niche style of sung hook to captivate in the choruses.

Like a looking glass peering into the past, the rosy tint of nostalgia lays out a path that each song walks with familiarity to their back catalog. I don't think a single track felt new or unique but rather clever re-hashes of old ideas and occasionally slipping off the edge of tolerance with cries of "she stabs the anti clock" and Travels "its where I belong" sounding somewhat hollow. It is otherwise a cracking record with beautiful, glossy and scenic music composed of humble instruments playing to one anothers strengths. The voice of Corgan sits snugly in the middle singing his heart led lullabies and its forms with keen melody and a bit of guitar grit driving songs forward in various phases.

For all it does well something doesn't stick with this record. Its got a gorgeous production, everything sounding alive and of its moment, the string sections and keys add a serine warmth when they rise but despite all this Its strongest moments feel shades from former classics and its more "original" songs sound flat in comparison. Its been a tough one to put into words and Ive found what songs ill be returning to here again so I'll leave it alone on that ambiguous note.

Rating: 6/10
Favorite Tracks: Knights Of Malta, Silvery Sometimes, With Sympathy

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Anaal Nathrakh "A New Kind Of Horror" (2018)


I first heard of this band through the ripples of the UK Metal scene as a contender for the Scandinavian Black Metal outfits who blossomed the genre, while us islanders had little to offer. Ive never paid close attention since their early records but felt an itch to see what they are up to. They have evolved, as has the times and with some truly extreme ideas. Its a Black Metal record at its core, dressed up in disgust and depravity as the Birmingham duo push their musical vision downwards with harsh menacing aesthetics to raise the stakes in this conjuring of decadent, violent filth.

Its a tried and true Black Metal record with flavors of the American scene but it grabs attention for the vile extremities that first confront the listener in a cacophony of blast beats and grinding guitars accompanied sinister string sections and other various assaults of dissonance. As it builds its presence I can't help but notice how distinct the vocal style is. It plays this way throughout the record, roaring screams, blunt and raw yet somehow decipherable. They constantly peak the volume for effect and quite often spiral out of control into literal primal screams of anger and hatred. It can grow a little tiresome given the unrelenting viscous force the music exhausts.

As the record gains momentum the aesthetic experiments play like torture. Maniacal sounds and shrill possessed singing akin to Mercyful Fate soar with ferocity. When we arrive at Forward! the sounds of Glitch, Dubstep and Djent collide in an obnoxious pummeling of groove aligned to the firing of machine gun fire and shotgun blasts. Its a riot and from that point everything feels a fraction behind this peak of insanity. The record then brings in some symphony and melody to soften the blow as some drilling tremolo picking leads, power chord arrangements and chugging Djent grooves take spotlight as the aesthetic overdrive becomes far more expectant.

A New Kind Of Horror is a real race of the cliff. Vile and malicious it pushes hard at the hardened listeners with its overwhelming flood of evil noise out to punish everyone in its way. It lacks moments of respite and without truly captivating melodies or riffs it circles its own waters, each song failing to reach some sort of peak or rise to wedge in the mind but that is preference and overall I think its a fair effort. Reminds me of Cavalera Conspiracy in ways as there are ideas here that also push things forward in an obvious way. Its a dense record, lots on offer, great if it clicks with you.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Strapping Young Lad "SYL" (2003)


Needing an outlet to vent his post-911 emotions and anger, the Canadian musician reunited the band after a four year hiatus. The resulting SYL, effectively self titled, is the most notably akin to Devin Townend's solo records. Its heavy on the electronics in a layered sense as many guitar riffs are backed by beams of bright synth erupting through the wall of sound. With a lack of Industrial grit and maniacal energy, bar an explosive dose on Rape Song, it occasionally looses the unique Strapping vibe as some guitar sections feel interchangeable with other extreme bands. That's not put the record down, its solid from start to end and a delightful exercise in heavy heavy's sake. The problem is its extremities are not up to par with the likes of City and Alien.

It does however rattle off a timeless classic with Aftermath, a song that strips back groove to its simplest form and hammers it out in repeating cycles of amplified intensity. Its pounding, tribal, primitive and when breaking away from its obnoxious guitar chugging, goes full throttle on blast beats and wall of sound ecstasy. The following Devour is another riot of feverish excess that boasts its own obnoxious one note "breakdown" riff in its mid section. It starts out steady, misleading us as with its temperament before being unleashed. A lot of the record doesn't quite reach thees fiery peaks but it is certainty a wild ride and full of foaming anger.

Across its duration Dev explores a pallet of ideas, ranging from big, dense walls of chorals both blinding and uplifting. His vocals often come of a bit raspy as his delivery shifts. When the guitar is most naked is when the record feels a little to regular for this band and there are a couple of riffs that perk my ears, sounding akin to some techniques and riffing styles heard years later in the Deathcore scene. Its probably just a resemblance Ive picked up on but it makes me wonder about SYLs impact on future musicians as this was their first "commercial success" breaking into billboard record sales charts... only barely. With so much to say about their classic records this one lives in the shadows a little, not managing to match up all of the time.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Dire, Aftermath, Devour, Force Fed

Friday, 30 November 2018

Tyler The Creator "Music Inspired By Illumination & Dr. Seuss' The Grinch" (2018)


Lets cut to the chase, this musical project is fantastic! Coming off the back of last years critically acclaimed Scum Fuck Flower Boy, a similar instrumental pallet is put to use on this Christmas EP that lasts only ten minutes. Every second however is lean and slender, a genuine Xmas record that balances the festive theme with its classy persona wonderfully. Quite often it is just the suggestion alone that makes you notice the season. It seems Tyler was genuinely inspired to make music for the new Grinch movie, of which two additional songs appear on its soundtrack.

With bright shiny synthesizers, punchy warm baselines and stuttering goofy Hip Hop percussion, Tyler composes cheerful music without forcing the mood or overtly wording a holiday theme. Instead he lets his guest vocalists Ryan Beatty and Santigold set the tone with endearing Pop & R&B vibes before dropping in with gentle wholesome raps about returning home to a loved one and pouring hot chocolate with cinnamon on top. Santigold lays down the hooks and Ryan soars with ascending notes reminiscent of Micheal Jackson when hes adding in a backdrop layer of vocals.

The tone is sublime and on closer inspection festive pianos, wintry bells and cascading strings deploy some more expectant holiday melodies but all tuned in with one another. There is a smooth, joyous cohesion, the chemistry and quality of the compositions outpaces any of the drag that comes from seasonal cheers and lets this project occupy a classy, soothing spaces that's indulgent, relaxing and really wholesome. I'm truly impressed, would love for more. Ten minutes is not enough!

Rating: 7/10