Monday, 18 June 2018

Ihsahn "Amr" (2018)


Ive tuned in for a handful of Norwegian musician Ihsahn's albums over the years. His records have always managed to allude a vision or completeness within me, despite really enjoying the music at hand. That's why Ive not written about Ihsahn before, other than his work composing most the songs for the legendary Emperor. I believe this is testament to his genius, the ability to write with depth, cultivating the powers of subtlety that's channeled into a slick stream of digestible music, evading understanding as its contained evolution and progressive direction gets the most from simple song structures. On closer inspection the composition of neatly aligned instruments and inspired musicianship reveals a unison creating the magic which swiftly moves forth into the next phase.

I am speaking in general about Ihsahn's music as a solo artist. This record may not be his best work, little of it lingers in the mind but when in motion its a sleek composition of lean guitars and string sections diced between bursts of rampant Metal that's scaled back to a sensible energy where blast beats and shredding gets the point across without excessive force. His voice is charming and he has a wonderful range that occasionally becomes the focal point but not so much when screaming in dissonance.

Amr has an unusual pacing about it, between its swings from frantic metallica riffage to soothing, calm passages of soft instrumentation its songs often suck the tempo away with minimal drums that come between those intense bursts of Metal. It never settles in one places and among a mixed bag of songs we find its two tones both hitting and missing. The opening track Lend Me The Eyes Of Millennia creates an air of impending explosiveness with its jaunting, paranoid synths coming to fruition in a furious explosion of anger. Samr champions the polar opposite with a soothing group of instruments led by a pulsing baseline, finding its climax with an epic, emotional guitar solo and rise of string and pianos to quite the finale.

In other songs it is equally missing the mark on both front's and makes it hard to feel the record come through as a whole. A string of good songs can really set the tone however Amr never quite finds its stride despite displaying something fantastic songwriting in places. Its production is fantastic though, I'm continually impressed by the aggressive and extreme riffs that have been engineered in a way to retain that ferocity yet keep a very crisp and audible sound without being overpowering of other instruments. It alone though can't save the record from being a mixed bag of treats.

Favorite Tracks: Lend Me The Eyes Of Millennia, Samr, Wake
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Zeal And Ardor "Stranger Fruit" (2018)


They say things come in threes, so here's to hoping we get another cracking album coming are way soon as just over a week ago we had Ghost's Prequlle and now Stranger Fruit, both of which will be contenders for album of the year. Returning two years after a sensational amount of hype around the Devil Is Fine mini record, Manuel Gangneux recruits a full band of musicians fit for amazing live performances and only drummer Marco Von Allmen appears on the record, performing the drum sections written by the talented Gangneux, who once described his visionary project as the African slaves rising up against their masters, inspired by the devil Satan.

With that in mind the project progresses forward on a stunning stride, opening up a wealth of influence and experimentation to his sound while retaining the Chain Gang backbone and core theme. Gangneux shows his influences with streaks of traditional Black Metal between the hellish onslaught of noisy, textural Post-Black Metal that's truly comfortable experimenting with some Nu Metal and Groove Metal sensibilities at times, even extending into orgasmic riffage, chugging low grooves and fostering offbeat time signatures in an unusual setting. Its riveting, the guitar work is often invited to come to the forefront and steal the show however it is not the lone ingredient in conjuring the infernal beast to rise up against masters.

The vocals and lyrics do fine work setting the tone, building up the atmosphere of hell and dread situated to a unique fictional history. They build up themes and stories with croaks of crooked wisdom in Gospel vocal sections that Gangneux performs along with a range of styles varying from spoken word, reciting poems from Alister Crowley, to venomous screams of hurtling anger and ferocity. As his guitar work scales the walls of creativity and variety, so does the entire vocal package, his word both written and sung with emotion and a burning passion that bringing to life the grimace of forced labor in the unforgiving southern sun leading to devilish places.

Between the fuller tracks, a handful of instrumental interludes aid the records flow as these already dynamic, progressive tracks are given some breathing room. The familiar sounding precarious lullaby vibes return and the music rids itself of the trap beats heard on the Sacrilegium song. In general the synths take a far more accompanying approach with only the piano playing an upfront, cultural role alongside vocals the but it all cohesively fits into a vision where the aesthetic guitar extremities and imposition of theme bring about the climatic moments. It feels as if every song leads to them and are without weak points to discuss. Stranger Fruit is a beautiful record of esoteric darkness ripe in experimentation that works. The execution of outside the box ideas and another avenue of evil make this one of the most exciting projects in Black Metal today.

Favorite Songs: Gravedigger's Chant, Servants, Waste, We Can't Be Fooled, Stranger Fruit
Rating: 9/10

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Mazzy Star "Still" (2018)


I have mixed feelings about this record. After a fifteen year gap I was dead excited to get my hands on this new Mazzy Star record, however whats new about it is a little bit fuzzy. Consisting of just four tracks we have an alternate take to the noisy and psychedelic trip So Tonight That I Might See, admittedly the texture and mix of this performance is far more dynamic and engrossing. The first two tracks have been performed live for many years which leaves us with the title track Still, just two minutes of new material that doesn't make much of an impact alongside these other songs. I haven't read up on the status of the group, I am hoping this short EP is just a warm up for a record, getting back into the swing of things and letting fans known things are happening but I'm not hopeful.

Nothing about these four songs is out of the ordinary, the Californian group revive their breezy, soothing sound once again. Channeled through the quiet, soft and beautiful voice of Hope Sandoval the accompanying muted instrumentation plays with a cushioned grace, strumming gentle chords quietly and softly tapping of the keys of a piano, you may not even notice the drummer if it wasn't for the snare which pops in on time cautiously. It gets exciting when the final track rolls in, mustering moments of distortion guitar madness over its thick and foggy organ gloom, Hope whispering murmurs into the background, we have heard it before but it is far more absorbing in this re-recording. Although I love their sound this felt far to similar to just spinning an old record of theirs, hearing whats been heard before.

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Absence "A Gift For The Obsessed" (2018)


Bridging an eight year gap between records, The Absence release their forth effort, a blazing onslaught of Melodic Death Metal that sounds like a day hasn't passed in their absence... please excuse the pun. Although they hail from Tampa Florida, the group have strong influences from the European scene and their sophomore record, Riders Of The Plague, I would consider a classic record within the genre however they have never received much exposure and so remain relatively unknown. If your a fan of Carcass or Arch Enemy then their music will feel very much at home.

A Gift For The Obsessed doesn't alter formula and goes with what works, making for an unsurprising roll of songs that hurtle intricate riffs inflected with melodies and unleash fiery guitar solos that blaze and scale the way forward. Its fast, energetic and thrashy, a high octane beast pummeling its way through its arsenal of techniques. Its put together in a competent production that lets all the instruments gel as lead singer Stewart roars and growls with his meaty guttural screams, crying out over the top of the instrumentals.

The record plays through without a hitch, if their sound is your cup of tea then you can enjoy the blistering, beastly Metal. It would of been nice to hear a little diversity or experimentation but these guys have got it down to a science. There is one surprise however, a cover of Suicidal Tendencies classic You Can't Bring Me Down. The song sounds fantastic with a Death Metal flair and reinvigorates enthusiasm for a song you may have heard to death already. Really nice cover to throw in the mix however it doesn't do much to make this record feel like anything other than a band sticking to their guns.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Dance With The Dead "Send The Signal" (2014)


Getting back to the Retro Wave goodness we tune in again with the Californian duo for a disappointing successor to the wonderful and vivid Into The Abyss record. Released at the end of the same year its a little longer in length at twenty nine minutes but feels stripped back in comparison. Gone is the enigmatic impact of guitar leads and solos that guide the songs direction. The electronic instruments don't feel as layered or dense in both texture and composition. Its essentially tapping into similar moods with darkly night life moods inspired by horror movies and "things that go bump in the night", without a specific characteristic.

Perhaps its a case of fatigue from two sets of songs that both stick very rigidly to formulas that work, bright and punch synths playing simplistic short melodies on repeat. Phasing synths and drum rolls help build up suspense and alleviate tension as the music raises and lowers the intensity frequently as it explores its melodic direction. Without a standout track and minimal impact from the muted use of guitars I came away from this record wishing that something could of defined it better since its blueprint is essentially the same as before. Disappointing but only in comparison, this style and sound is still fun and enjoyable.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, 11 June 2018

My Day At Sunday Download Festival 2018

 
I had quite the incentive to go for one day this year, with exception to five or six other artists, most the bands I wanted to see were playing Sunday. Of course discovering new acts and watching bands you've never heard of is a lot of fun too! Wish I had gone for the whole weekend now but I must admit I enjoy the comfort of my bed after a long day in the sun.


Dream State
Starting of the day this five piece group warmed up crowds with a mix of gleaming Post-Rock melodics and Pop-Metal heaviness that was easy to follow along with and enjoy.

Greeta Von Fleet
With an unapologetic indulgence in nostalgia, GVF graced the stage in their sixties clothing and swooned the crowd. With an infectious mix of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendricks and Lynyrd Skynyrd vibes they relived the sounds of times gone by in glorious fashion. Very impressive.


Cradle Of Filth
Summer sun and the open stage just doesn't suit English legends Cradle Of Filth. With a mediocre stage presence and thin sounding symphonic section the performance mustered not much beyond the enjoyment of hearing a couple of old classics. Should of stayed at the second stage for longer.

Puppy
This was my third time seeing this rising band. Playing new songs and classics from Vol II, they were sure to win over new fans with an enthusiastic set that really got the day rolling as the moods flowed from their inspired playing, one of the days best.


Dead Cross
Ive caught wind of the acclaim for this "super group" of musicians from already established bands but have yet to get into a record. Getting punished by the hovering sun I watched from afar, enjoying the riff fests and smatterings of unsettling noise between but perhaps would of enjoyed it more had I known their material better.

Bad Cop Bad Cop
These punk rockers brought a lot of energy and liveliness to the stage, burning through songs with positive statements in between, not specially my cup of tea but it was nice to relax in the shade of the tent and enjoy the show.

Kreator
Not the first band that comes to mind when you think of Thrash Metal but these German Metal legends have been rocking that sound for decades and I'm guilty of not further exploring there records beyond a couple in the naughties. They put on a killer show that sounded fantastic. Hard hitting thrash that got the crowd moving!

Milk Teeth
I was dead excited to see this group. Having missed my chance to catch their Christmas show I was very happy to see them on this years line up. With a whole heap of energy they drove through their songs, commanding pits in the crowd and rocking their fantastic Grunge sound hard. I especially enjoyed Brain food from Vile Child as well as their guitarist who through his guitar to the ground in order to climb the scaffolding and scream at the crowd. One of the best.

Body Count
When I saw Ice-T and his cronies a couple years back they thought it would be the last. I remember it so well, that moment where Ice realized this was probably it for them. With one last effort the band revitalized their career thanks to the Grammy nominated Bloodlust. They returned to download with their usual persona and energy in front of a rammed crowd. They had just as much fun as we did with Ice entertaining between the songs.

Black Foxxes
It may not be a good thing to say that I can't remember much of this band, probably because I took the opertunity to sit down in the shade of the tent and recharge the batteries. I don't remember anything negative but I certainly wasn't captivated in anyway.

Thrice
With the sun at the peak of its cooking ability it was a little hard to fully enjoy this band, big scenic soundscapes born from Art Rock and Post-Hardcore vibes they put on a fair show of interesting music with a fair amount of texture coming over the PA.

Meshuggah
One of my all time favorite bands, they always stir me right up! Although I wasn't massively keen on The Violent Sleep Of Reason, the new songs were well performed by the five Swedes who let the music do the talking. They busted through about six songs, ending with the colossal Demiurge. It was a real treat of head banging madness and a touch of moshing that reminded me its not as fun as it used to be to get bashed about. Really loved seeing them, something that doesn't happen often enough!

Myrkur
With a gap in the scheduled for food I realized there was no reason I couldn't eat and listen. Just to my luck this group happened to be a really interesting composition of Black Metal with angelic vocals. The show was superb and now I have a new band I must check out!

Zeal And Ardor
The fruits of the internet age are laid bare here. A lone artist with an experimental musical idea, releasing the self produced Devil Is Fine online and blossoming to life with heaps of attention and praise from the viral nature of information. Now a six piece band, the fusion of Black Metal, Chain Gang songs and other extremes came to life through a vivid show that had the music roaring out of the angry Manuel, slamming his first into his guitar and screaming with ferocity. Undoubtedly the days best show, maybe one of the best this year.

Marilyn Mason
Following the best perhaps came the worst with a tantrum throwing Manson taking an age to get it together between songs. Promoting the new Heaven Upside Down album the song Say 10 sounded great and so did a few others to be fair but his stage presence and attitude just doesn't suit the big stage soaked in sun.

Baroness
The Grammy nominated Baroness return with pretty much the same show as last year. Now headlining the fourth stage their fans were huddled together to give it a stronger atmosphere but with no new songs It felt a little dull in comparison.

Ozzy Osbourne
Rather than go to the front and make the most of my last opertunity to see the Metal god himself on stage, we decided to hang back and watch from a far, which is never the same. It might play on my mind but given that seeing Black Sabbath hasn't left that much of an impression on me, I think the same could be said of Ozzy, he still sings fantastically but the era is long gone. It was great to hear so many classics but also nice to chill out and get away from the crowds early.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Jonathan Davis "Black Labyrinth" (2018)


Jonathan Davis, iconic front man of the legendary Nu Metal pioneers Korn, steps out on his own for a solo adventure that doesn't fly too far from the nest. Black Labyrinith can sound very much like a toned down experimental Korn record at times. Its mix of songs feels either stepped aside from the crunchy guitar work of Head and Munky, or exploring its exotic avenues of instrumentation with shades of Mediterranean cultural sounds colliding in this darkly gothic realm. It is mostly Jon himself who keeps the relation close, his singing and writing style unchanged leaves the lyrics and delivery feeling a perfect fit for his main band. The similarities are not to knock the record, its fantastic because its led solely by JD who's energy is simply absorbing but could also fit sweetly into a heavier mold.

The songs play through with his knack for infectious singing coming across strong and leading the way. Always with plain spoken lyrics and the atypical themes of inner struggle, pain, suffering and crying out "why",  the instrumentals under him play with texture and atmosphere as intricacies of sound make up swirls of dark atmosphere that form around the direction of his voice. The percussion is big and lively, no surprise to hear its Ray Luzier who is involved, his busying drum work keeps the record feeling expansive, especially when introducing bongos and other exotic sounds to the dark esoteric tapestry.

The albums closer and lead single What It Is, is part of a handful of songs that really finds an absorbing stride, sucking one into the vision behind Jon's lyrics. Between them a set of reasonable songs pass by with no weak points, its all good music with a few creeks of greatness. The music mostly resides is this dark realm of estranged melodies and sounds that howl and drift around in the background thanks to a gorgeous production that utilizes measures of reverberation to bring the instrumentation together.

A helping of overdrive guitars from none other than Wes Borland has the music often veering into a familiar aforementioned territory where its atmospheric and exotic counterpart plays second fiddle. It feels as if an opertunity was missed to find a new and exciting direction for the artist. We hear it in bursts, Final Days being an exemplary song wandering into dark places in an unusual way that works so well. Essential its a strong and enjoyable record with memorable singing from Davis. With a little more focus and direction, steering away from familiar territory this could of had some more clout and weight about it.

Favorite Tracks: Final Days, Medicate, Please Tell Me, What It Is
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Kanye West "Ye" (2018)


Amidst a wave of controversy, some would suspect he is intentionally mustering, Kanye West releases his eighth "album", a twenty three minute project set to be the first of a string of records to come from the artist and his collaborators this year. Opening with statements, "the most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest" and "today I seriously thought about killing you" they will no doubt be spun as controversial by some but within the space of art these statements can bare whatever meaning you think they have, or want them too. One lyric, "Just say it out loud just to see how it feels", is rather revealing of Kanye's current state of mind given "four hundred years of slavery is a choice" idiocy.

The themes of introspection and reaction that courses through the lyrics have a dubious relation to one another. Kanye is no philosopher and many of his statements fall flat. On the other side when he is vocalizing his emotions, it comes of endearing with a weight of honesty, baring open the pains of strained relationships, his ego and status in the limelight. This duality is reflected in the beats, his use of vocals as instruments is ever present yet the songs fall into two phases, that of muted abrasion and aggression in its opening songs, the music then wains into soulful, soothing tunes reminiscent of his roots.

Kanye is known for pushing boundaries and building new sounds but in this instance its another misfire, not quite the same likes of Pablo though. His human side shines through the stormy clouds of controversy, allowing for a genuine musical connection in an among some developing ideas that feel unfinished but at least onto something. Great albums have a feeling bigger than the whole. Ye doesn't, it feels like a slice of time with clear correlations to life as a public figure. Very much a "here and now" record which has its moments for empathy and a slew of unscrutinized thoughts too, including the album covers, a rather hollow statement.

Favorite Tracks: Wouldn't Leave, No Mistakes, Ghost Town
Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Ghost "Prequelle" (2018)


With Papa Emeritus III ejected from the throne, the younger Cardinal Copia steps into the limelight as Swedish band Ghost's new front man to guide one of modern Metals brightest bands into a new era. The albums fist pumping lead single Rats raised my expectations from a band already held in the highest regard, their sound firmly intact yet showing exciting new influences and a will to move forward. With the Cardinal showing off his flamboyant dance moves in the music video and driving home an infectious chorus, Rats was set to solidify its place among their finest tunes to date. Its been almost three years in the works since the sublime Meliora and somehow Prequelle has managed to soar to those heights again.

Ghost's aesthetic and approach to songwriting has been revered for its revivalism and re-imagining of principles mostly found in the seventies from the likes of Black Sabbath and many of the groups they have covered with b-sides. With Prequelle their stylistic pallet expands again, prominent echoes from the eighties decade in all Metal, Rock and Pop with tangents of Progressive Rock thrown in the mix too. It all has a notable influence on the song writing which has grown stronger again, brighter hooks and more exciting structures that let the music glow in its moment. With this charming step forward, Ghost continue to do what they had shown promise of since their debut, the ability to look beyond the scope of Metal itself and escape the restraints of a genre plagued by the recycling and rearranging of the same ideas

Unfortunately as an album it does have its blemishes, almost exclusively with its pacing and placement of two instrumental songs. After a fiery, explosive start, See The Light gives us a moment to catch breath, but then lulls us into an instrumental. Now don't get me wrong, both instrumentals are utterly fantastic, some of their finest compositions with the restraints of verse chorus structures lifted. The problem is they are directly competing with the Cardinal, who has set an ungodly apatite for his sublime singing and infectious hooks. "I am all eyes, I am all ears, I am the wall and I'm watching you fall", you can't help but sing along.

Aside from Dance Macabre the album shifts gears from its Pop numbers and catchy openers with a string of songs that have utterly brilliant and expansive themes that really stretch the sound far from its metallic roots. Its a real treat of brilliant compositions that gleam and soar in a wake of beautiful sound emerging from the facade of evil and darkness. From different musicians these songs could be about more serious topics but its trivial and playful dance with satanism makes the real themes find their way through the lyrics with your own relation to them. Its brilliant, and so we have probably the years best record and a modern classic that's perhaps guilty of pulling in so many directions its path is a little wonky as the opening mania transcends into a different tempo yet blissful state.

Favorite Songs: Rats, Faith, Miasma, Witch Image, Helvetesfonster, Life Eternal
Rating: 9/10

Monday, 4 June 2018

Wiley "Godfather II" (2018)


He is hailed as the godfather of Grime and last year English MC Wiley brought out the first of these two records. It served as a pivotal point for the artist who deep into his career has mustered a fiery record, loaded with the slickest, sharp and punchy Grime beats as he finds himself in an introspective moment, reflecting over his career and his status in the scene. Telling endearing tales about the work they put in to keep this music scene relevant and his trajectory within it, the resulting Godfather record had a special feel to it. As an outsider to the screen looking in you could feel that too.

This second chapter unfortunately falls short of expectations without the music itself suffering. There are three flaws that loom over a great set of instrumentals and rhymes. Firstly length, at thirty six minutes its a significantly shorter listen and leading into the second point, at the sixth track "Certified" the records theme seems to split off into themes of relationships and love leaving half the record feeling like another project altogether. The chiller beats, Dance, R&B influences and guest singers are wonderful, Wiley's introspection and honesty on the mic is a keen point too but it splits the already shorter record in half. The third point would be the Godfather half itself, its the same theme again and Wiley doesn't bring anything new to the table he didn't do on the first time around.

These flaws however are mostly about the records structure and concept. The beats and rhymes are as sharp and concise as before. Every instrumental owns its mood and Wiley comes to the mic like the seasoned vet he is, never missing the mark and engaging the listener with his keen lyricism. Its great music, the R&B vibes are especially well put together but does pull the music in a different direction from the hard hitting beats in opens up with.

Favorite Tracks: Remember Me, Still Standing, Fashion Week
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Örnatorpet "Blodbad Och Efterspel" (2018)


I found this record by chance, browsing through the Dungeon Synth tag on twitter, the bold gothic font leaped at me, screaming Burzum worship. The first track I played on bandcamp "Farden Till Dalarna" certainly reinforced that idea. The covers aesthetics, musical composition and ancient keyboard tones all sounded very akin to the genres origins from over a decade before it would flourish in the microcosms of the Internet. Unlike other projects, or perhaps my ignorance, Blodbad Och Efterspel is rooted firmly and inspired by historical events from Örnatorpet's native country. Set in 1520 the record is themed around the events transpiring a Danish king, Christian II, who took the Swedish throne by force.

The record gets of to a slow start, its opening track consisting of a lead piano, foggy choir synths and the occasional striking of war drums reveals a rather minimal and brittle construct. The instruments show their rigidity with sharp attacks and hasty releases that leave little room for ambiguity and subtlety to work magic, it is very direct. It does however set a tone for an aging medieval era, the gloom of harsh realities ruled by monarchs and conquerors looms as a grave burden.

As the album grows, more instruments wage in. Trumpets and horns impose an imperial persona counterpart to the mystical bells and organs which embellish ancient and nostalgic feelings of a mysterious unknowable past. These thicker key tones and denser compositions start to conjure the low-fidelity magic and allure in the Dungeon Synth charm. Some organic uses of reverb take the rigidity down a notch and as the album rolls through its songs it becomes rather entrancing and mystical as each track takes on its own form without feeling farm from the last. Some majestic, others hold the gleam of monarchs. It all ends up becoming a solid record, fit for a particular that shade of mystique and medieval alike atmosphere.

Favorite Tracks: Farden Till Dalama, Den Nye Hovitsmannen
Rating: 6/10