Friday, 13 September 2019

Brockhampton "Ginger" (2019)


Hip Hop collective and self proclaimed boy band Brockhampton of Texas are unsurprisingly back at it again, given their prolific output so far. This fifth album in the span of just over two years has probably been the most endearing and unique to my tastes. The bombast, flair and rugged attitudes get toned down on a couple of tracks. In its place emotional narratives play out over instrumentals that draw upon classic sounds of eras gone by, classic R&B and cultural acoustic guitars that make for striking moods. Of course, when the drums are dialed up, quirky synth and sampling pitch in its not as obvious. A track like Dearly Departed is the pinnacle of these ear catching current. Its plays like a slowed down Delfonics classic, its strings haunting the lyrical out poor. The closing song, another stunning expression rapped decisively.

Reflecting on Iridescence, the group do tend to sway in between these ends. From the dark and raunchy Vivid to a swooning sing along San macros, Brockhampton operate on levels. Immediate to enjoy and tantalizing to dissect their music is refining to a continual giving of change, compared to the Saturation series. Creative percussion, an ear for unique sampling pallets and developing rap styles had me locked in. On the latter part, these emotional narratives and introspective lyrics give so much meaning to the music where once boisterous and wild rapping tended to fall a bit hollow, now the songs come to life. A feature from Slowthai was a pleasant surprise and overall the group have really locked me in this time around. I hope they continue to evolve as greatness surely awaits if they do so, another great set of numbers.

Favorite Tracks: No Halo, Boy Bye, Heaven Belongs To You, Dearly Departed, Big Boy, Victor Roberts
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 9 September 2019

Queen "The Game" (1980)


Arriving at the midway point of Queen's discography, the group step into the new decade with a cohesive shift in tone that reflects the passing times. Although still experimenting vocally and with special effects, the Progressive band we once knew is in embers as the Arena Rock tone strips these songs back to simple structures, tightly packed riffs and grooves of which a little Funk and Disco creeps into the rhythm section on Dragon Attack and Another One Bites The Dust. Its still a typically diverse record as Ive come to expect. Although the distortion guitars are absent on many a song, they have classic Queen rumbustious eruptions of oozing lead guitar on the tracks with lean Rock guitars tho. Crazy Little Thing Called Love switches up the tone for a warm and charming Rockabily number, still sounds fantastic all these years later.

A stinker turns up in Don't Try Suicide. Its a flaky tune attempting to address a serious topic with an utterly shallow and thoughtless tone. It sounds like a song coerced by some government prevention organization, with rules and regulation on what can be said. I'm sure there intentions were good but its an awful track. The album closes with a beautiful song, Save Me, that is one of their best Ive never heard before this voyage. Freddie's singing is sublime, the harmonies are gorgeous and typically enigmatic guitar leads from Brian May make it an overlooked Queen gem for my ears. All in all The Game is the latest offering of a band experimenting with many sounds, for some reason it all fits together better than previous attempts. And whats up with the album cover? Seems like not a lot of effort was put into its presentation.

Favorite Tracks: Play The Game, Another One Bites The Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Save Me
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Tool "Fear Inoculum" (2019)


For many fans its been a feverish wait. Thirteen years since 10,000 Days the Alternative and Progressive Metal juggernauts return with a might eighty eight minutes of music. For me its been a matter of months, having only dived into their records this year. It was a slow process to come around to their genius but a sublime performance at Download Festival won me over. Being new to Tool, Fear Inoculum is just another chapter to my ears, only the crisp audio clarity explains a thirteen year gap. Its most technically impressive fetes feel like a band continuing to inch forward but large sections of the music stagnate on the workings of Ænima and more so Lateralus.

Its ten tracks can be split into two halves. Firstly five interludes of musical quirkiness, noise and ambience experimentation that drifts in and out of focus with little to note of. Chocolate Chip Trip does however muster much excitement from Danny Carey who plays an animated drum solo over the looping synths playing tonal melodies in an odd time signature. It could of been an indulgent guitar riff, however performed through the cold mechanical synth tone it is a stiff and disenchanting tune that would drive one slightly mad if it were not for the impressive, dexterous percussive display.

The other half consists of lengthy tracks ranging from ten to sixteen minutes. Two of these, Descending and Culling Voices excessively elongate a minimalist approach that has the scenic, sprawling journey of a Tool song stretched to its upper limits. Descending does have some beautiful guitar work in its mid section, a dazzling synthetic conclusion but takes a lengthy meandering walk to get to its powerful moments. Much of these two songs feel dragged out and thus any suspension and build up gets fizzled out, Culling never really getting of the ground at all.

The title track and Pneuma are fantastic, sprawling songs mastering the suspension and tension that it so delicately holds close to frailty. The records best and longest song, 7empest, reeks of Undertow in all the best of ways. Its psychedelic bells prime the atmosphere for a resurgence of crunching Alternative energy and anger to lead the music into lengthy guitar lead tangents of textural solo playing and technical riffing that eventually births the equivalent of a break down. Its utterly riveting and indulgent, the sort of music you want to let wash over you. Over thinking it may break the spell.

For the most part, Tool are sticking to what they know and crafting lengthy epics in the way only they do. In moments of reinvention they engulf the listener but its a game of hit and miss, when the songs work they are some of their best music to fate. When missing the mark the lengthy nature comes back to haunt as some sections drag into a frivolous lull. It is however aesthetically gorgeous, right on the mark. The bass guitar is stunning throughout and the textural chemistry between it and the guitars is a treat of its own, enhanced by a stellar production. Danny Carey gets a little quiet in places but when animated he fuels the music with another dimension of intrigue. Having warmed up to Keenan I'd say I considerably enjoyed his presences and loved his ability to charm in at the musics peaks.

Its such a curious album given the thirteen year absence. It plays little bearing to me though, having relatively fresh ears to the band, a little bias from decades of adoration many fans have this feels like a very flawed movement forward, certainly developing the Tool sound and forging new gems but also with a lot of unnecessary baggage. One thing I can be certain of is that this band have solidified much audio time from me in the future. I hope this is not the last work they create together. They still have more to offer.

Favorite Track: 7empest
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 2 September 2019

Fairyland "Of Wars in Osyhria" (2003)


This short lived band from France only released a trio albums, this being the first. Of Wars in Osyhria has been an absolute pleasure that has got me questioning my stance on Power Metal. First Sabaton blew me away and now this! Two totally different beasts but now I am seeing the lines that get blurred between the Symphonic Extreme Metal I love, for example Dimmu Borgir, and where Power Metal shares some similarities in embracing keys and strings. In particular, a relatively unknown outfit called Stormlord had a stunning fusion of Black Metal and this style of fantasy led symphony on their At The Gates Of Utopia record! The Metal was far more dominate and overpowering of its fantasy string section but the tone is very similar!
 
That initial comparison gave me an anchored entry into this record and swiftly did I grow to appreciate the absence of shouts and screams! Fairyland have given the spotlight to the layers of glorious synths ushering in hugely magical and imaginative soundscapes. Its actually the drum kit that brings in an extreme angle, driving the music along with thunderous intention, battering with an intensity to raise the stakes as the guitars tend to chug and churn underneath the rich symphony. Electrified lead licks and solos do occasionally blaze into the light but the keys are king here. Acording to the wiki only one keyboardist is employed at a time, I wonder how they pull of such a lavish sound live, its clearly layered and dense.

These songs dazzle there way through epic themes of might and magic, heroism in battle, good versus evil, all in a glorious stride that could encompass a typical Fantasy genre tone. Particularly Warcraft in places, echoing Glenn Stafford's genius soundtracks. Its wonderfully written, the songs continuously swoon in and out of oozing arrangements of gleaming melodies that give me goosebumps again and again. The balance is stunning, songs are structured with recurring sections that punch with weight after the dancing through progressive tangents tirelessly. Its sixty five minutes don't let up for a moment, a ceaseless magic that gushes forth right to the very end, the last few notes being admittedly underwhelming to bow out on.
 
Ive actually binged this record hard and its still working for me. I feel like Ive found another diamond that will be with more for the rest of time. The only weak spot Ive encountered is the vocals, Elisa Martin's operatic voice is a sturdy fit, powerful, strong and theatrical, only her accent puts a noticeable hindrance on the pronunciation of certain words. Its a minor qualm. Alongside her, the occasional chiming powerful male voices unite and plenty of choral voices enrich this avenue too. Its a thick and dense onslaught of instruments, crescendo by the lavish dance of stunning symphonies. Truly a marvelous record, can't wait for the next one!

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Horsebeach "The Unforgiving Current" (2019)


Ive been eagerly anticipating this release. Two years back Beauty & Sadness blew me away, one of my favorites that year. I still fondly return to it, hence the anticipation. The Unforgiving Current continues in a similar vein, Post-Punk baselines drive breezy atmospheres echoing Indie & Psychedelic Rock. There is a closeness to Dream Pop in tone, a touch of Brit Pop and 80s vibes influencing chord progressions. Its a beautiful melting pot from which slow and soothing, inviting songs nurture its serene and sunny warmness. There is a vulnerable core, journey on the soft and expressive voices that filter in and out of focus.

Its unimposing presence makes for an easy, relaxed listening experience where one can indulge in its exotic tone. As the album unfolds, elements of R&B, Soul & Funk even present themselves subtly. Shimmering guitars ring out, creating swooning swirls of breezy color over the grooving baselines. The track Trust opens up with a chilling similarity to The Isley Bothers song Voyage To Atlantis, other songs to have echos of that classic era of mainly American music from the 70s and 80s.

The record follows a similar blueprint to its predecessor, the songs flow with similar temperaments and shifts in mood. There are tracks with drum machine and those without, its all very familiar territory. Deploying beautiful melodies and unfolding riffs, occasional burst of experimentation, the music does a lot to warm your soul but it falls short of being remarkable on the production front. In comparison they are both very similar records but the initial reaction to discovering a new sound to adore masked the obviously amatursih production and that became rather obvious this time around.

It starts with the baseline, a noticeable amount of clunk roughens up its presence and the drum strikes land a little cluttered in the presences of other instruments. Every now and then a drab and fuzzy distortion guitar rumbles in, bleeding into the other instruments and soaking up the fidelity. With a lot of reverberations at work the instruments mostly sound like they are recorded with a different sonic blueprint. When mixed together its comes off a bit disjointed. Perhaps I am nit picking, initially the low-fidelity was a charm but this time around its tame. Listening back to their older songs I think a noticeable shift to subtler styles of singing misses that element of a voice rising up above the melody to peak the vibes and hold your attention. Its a very enjoyable record but a noticeable step side ways, with the sound remaining in a familiar spot.

Favorite Tracks: The Unforgiving Current, Yuuki, Trust, Unlucky Strike
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Hocico "Artificial Extinction" (2019)


Its more than fair to say the Mexican duo Hocico have a sound set in stone. Their Agrro-tech tone and temperament hasn't budged in a over decade. 2017's Spider Bites offered some b-sides and inconclusive experiments that made for an interesting listen as a fan. This new album however sticks rigidly to their hard hitting and darkly formula, churning out another eleven four to five minute tracks of thumping drums, aggressive synths and harsh screams. What's different this time around isn't much. A noticeable switch up to Drumstep style beats on a couple of tracks, however they are the most generic of samples, ones which I enjoy of course.

With the mildest of change ups, the record as a whole fails to produce much that sparkles. Its a very routine album where you can simply drop in if your in the Hocico mood. It delivers on that, another installment of driving dance floor kick drums, heavy hitting, the backbone of many songs, steadily thumping through just about every track. Around that drive, harsh and filling clicks, clacks and buzzes of percussion and Industrial noise create a thick barraging wall of unearthly sound. Layered looping arrangements of unnerving melodies dance of the variety of synth tones tuned for each track. The vocals are one dimensional, every word delivered through the same "whispering scream" that tends to blur into the music in a drone.

It occurs to me now that even its interlude tracks stick to the blueprint, being interchangeable with others from previous records. With each song deploying a repetitive arrangement pummeling dark EDM, it takes an emergent melody or break to elevate the mood and that seems to take place every other song or so. Only one song excelled, Damaged. Its shift in percussive style exciting and the stand out melody with its spacey bells is thrilling every listen. Otherwise its the same old thing from this duo. Next time I wont bother since they seem set in their ways, even if I like that sound.

Favorite Track: Damaged
Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Queen "Jazz" (1978)


Now embarking on their seventh full length, the eclectic music of Queen is starting to to sound more compartmentalized. No longer an organic tapestry that ebbs and flows from theatrical pantomime to hard guitar grooves and all in between, the group have split their styles and experiments into distinct songs that had me feeling like I had a bias to the ones I knew. The reality is Jazz has a mix of stinkers and classics among its thirteen tracks. Where time has dwindled out the mediocre, the classics have lived on which leads me to believe its no bias but an album of mixed fruits, some of which are rotten and many listens couldn't sweeten the taste for me.

The album kicks off with the stale and jarring Mustapha. It conjures Arabic dialect to foster a middle eastern atmosphere. Then its dense and swaying rock guitars rub up against the stark tone with contrasting vibes. Its production is drab in halves and the song rather dull. Bicycle Race and Fat Bottomed Girls are classics that need no introduction, the latter revives the arena rock anthem ideals of News Of The World's opening songs. If You Can't Beat Them seems contrived to reach the same anthemic chorus ideals but its execution is so underwhelming, it doesn't have any juice or pizzazz. Don't Stop Me Now is a beautiful eruption of piano led music, trusted forth by Freddie's unforgettable expressions. Similar ideas can be heard on the ballad Jealousy and In Only Seven Days but again, its a template now and they don't deliver.

Many Queen tropes are being recycled, even guitar tones too. Its a creatively stagnant point but their collective genius lands on occasions. Jazz does end on a creative high with More Of That Jazz, deploying slick metallic guitar licks that gel into atmospheric vocal layering. Its a delight, played on a loop with snippets of songs from earlier in the record, a cool way to bow the album out. If Ive sounded critical it may be that opening song setting the wrong tone for the following music. At this point I just think the band have bared their fruits and its obvious what they are attempting, so when it doesn't hit the mark it falls flat in comparison to the high standard they have created for themselves.

Favorite Tracks: Fat Bottomed Girls, Bicycle Race, Dead On Time, Don't Stop Me Now, More Of That Jazz
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Jinjer "Micro" (2019)


While working on their forth full length album, Ukrainian Djent and Metalcore hybrid outfit Jinjer have put out this short, twenty minute five track EP. It was easy to dismiss at first, with less bombast and groove the songs rattle through waves of brooding intensity in the form of tangled jangled riffs that wobble through untimely shifts and poly grooves. Its singer Tatiana Shmailyuk who draws one in past the metallic dissonance which offers little melodic relief. Between angered, roaring screams she opens her voice up with a touch of vulnerability and wash of resolve, taking spotlight in an otherwise monochromatic aesthetic of cold crunch Metal instrumentation.

After themes of primitive behavior and childhood trauma Teacher, Teacher grabs the ear with a pratical use of language, plain and descriptive yet telling quite the powerful story. The use of language is either artistic or obstructed by language barriers but either way it has a strong persuasion that drags you in. Its line "don't let the school make a fool of you" sticks out like a thistle. The way she soars her ranges in different temperaments is endearing, often sucking you in like a gravity well. Again it ends on the broken and charming English of "I Smile to you". Fascinating song from the lyrical perspective, not something I experience that often.

Its a rather dark and painful piece of music that progressively opens up and eases of the agression steadily from the instrumental perspective, ending on a non-metallic interlude. Jinjer have delved deeper into the eclectic side of their influences and come up with a more artistic expression where these songs give far more food for thought. The cold and stomping, jaunt guitars create quite the unsettled atmosphere for Tatiana to resolve. The battering and relentless drums are a joy too! A fantastic chemistry, I'd prefer to see more of this direction from them!

Favorite Track: Teacher, Teacher
Rating: 6/10

Monday, 19 August 2019

The Contortionist "Our Bones" (2019)


I will forever have an eye on this band after their timely and glorious Language. Their following effort Clairvoyant was a fair record but has not stuck as deeply with me. Our Bones is the newest material from the American outfit. It consists of three original tracks and a sweet cover of 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins. Its a comforting, warm cover with a sunny and smile inducing vibe, a perfect fit for singer Michael Lessard who sings with a soft sensitivity. Beautiful tribute.

The three originals are lucid and fluid. The songs groove to their own identity as the constrains of an ambitious album concept have been set free. No long and winding atmospheres of crafty progression, or overly complicated concepts. The first two tracks play freely with the dynamics of their heavy metallic aggression and melodic serenity. Bouncing between riffs in simple song structures the creativity emerges in the cracks between and variations that let a little lead guitar move forth and flourish, or a bassline rumble and rise. I especially love the reverberated scream that echos like a chill into the atmosphere of Early Grave. The creativity here feels very natural.

All Grey brings in airy melancholy synths and lush pianos for a delicate and sensitive interlude track that has but a single moment before gently fading out. Its a great bridge to the cover. Although Our Bones is a short thirteen minutes, it makes quite the mark as back to back listens still have me excited. It sounds unlikely that these songs will shape a new direction for their next full length but its shows they are very capable of a different approach to the particular chemistry these artists have forged.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 16 August 2019

Slipknot "We Are Not Your Kind" (2019)


The masked Metal juggernauts Slipknot return once again to make another ferocious racket but this time it is a return to form of sorts. Five years since the underwhelming Gray Chapter, the Iowa nine-piece outfit seemed to have found their peace as a band. Having once stated they would only ever perform as the original line-up, a promotion cycle parading unity among each other and the three newest additions seems so as the music reflects fondly of this time and place. Even the surprising dismissal of Chris Fenn hasn't derailed the Slipknot beast. Rumors of greed may have tarnished some perceptions but their sixth full length bares none of this burden.

There are not many records that come out the gate screaming and kicking, refusing to let up. Thinking back to the bands explosive self-titled and extremified Iowa record, they both open with daunting ambience introductory track of manic dread and terror before erupting into a string of unrelenting aggression and energy, birthing five unforgettable tracks each. With exception to the friendlier Insert Coin introduction we have four songs that really kick the album into life. Unsainted, Birth Of The Cruel, Nero Forte and Critical Darling spur of the best of the bands traits. Wild metallic riffs loaded with punch and groove barrage the listener as the sway between the infectious hooks Corey delivers with his charmed singing voice.

Its the best of their first three albums rolled into one, slickly produced and neatly polished into a digestible package. It may lack some of the immediacy and imminent frustration from the bands youth but as seasoned song writers the group hand pick some of their best ideas and redeploy them tastefully. Seasoned fans will hear similar compositions, timely keg smashes and delightfully an audible Sid Wilson who is keenly involved in adding a textural level with his scratch and sample that often peaks involvement in the "breakdowns". Couldn't of asked for more, we even get a revival of Corey's maddening shouted raps, beautifully juxtaposed with a little incoherent fire against his most pristine vocal on Nero Forte.

A Liars Funeral marks a shift in tone as Slipknot focus on the expansive, slow moving and brooding atmospheres. On this track alone they execute it stunningly as the music moves from its foggy, lonesome acoustic guitars and rainy singing into an intense drive of restrained, stalking pace wonderfully complimented by these pitch phasing electronic drones. Its a powerful song, A brilliant work of progressive writing, perhaps akin to the likes of Gently if not better? After this Red Flag pulls it back to a quick and snappy pummeling of Slipknot aggression, then from this mediocre by comparison song the album loads in a lot of ambience that took a little longer to come around to.

Death Because Of Death and What's Next certainly feel like underwhelming interludes. Its an expansive move for Slipknot's sound pallet and as we head into this final phase of the record this temperament opens up. My Pain feels like the dud, its toying with ambience and bright xylophone lead by a jolted hi hat is all fantastic but perhaps out of place on this record? The unsettling, crooked piano melody of Spiders lets this angle manifest perfectly and Not Long For This World has a ambient build up but ends up with one of the albums best crescendos as Sid Wilson again gets teeth in with vinyl scratches alongside Corey's "I was not born for this world" screams.

Although writing a blog is usually the turning of a page on an album I will certainly give this one more time as I found I differed in this final phase from the exuberant response critics and fans alike have given this release. The thing is, writing this blog and paying a little closer attention made me realize how much these songs had sunk in despite feeling unsure about the atmospheric avenue in the end phase. Orphan and Solway Firth pop in the middle of this slow temperament and they too are hard hitting tracks. Time will tell for sure but and this moments its hard not to feel excited as this album delivers something to truly fit in with the bands first three exquisite albums.

Least Favorite Songs: Insert Coin, Death Because Of Death, What's Next
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Hexenkraft "Deep Space Invocations: Volume 1" (2019)


With an album titled Permadeath looming in the distance, actually to be released the day the masses storm Area 51, this Dark Ambient two track record caught me by surprise. It is reminiscent of both the Starcraft and Diablo OST's, which Matt Uelman had a hand in both. Its janky spacecraft industrial noises and synths mixed alongside sinister strings, foreboding horns and eerily plucked acoustic guitars sounds like a natural allegiance of the game themes. The two eight minute songs share a brilliant aesthetic pallet primed with complimenting instruments that bridge classical sounds of isolated pianos and warning strings with gaunt bursts of electronic buzzing and mechanical whirling synths. Its held together with spacious percussive sounds, often lingering in reverb and leaning into Industrial smashes and strikes as spurs of tempo muster up brief and claustrophobic surges of rhythmic pounding, mostly dispelling back into uneasy temperament.

The songs are lengthy, slow in pace and forever brooding, usually on a sense of dread or void drifting loneliness. The songs progress swaying from one moment to the next with no arching conclusion or consequence. These are snapshots of time, danger lurking, sometimes growing to close for comfort but never arriving. Its underlying tone setter, the strings, sometimes pianos and guitars too, tend to linger on a few musical themes that lack a sense of evolution. As backing music this undoubtedly sets a vivid atmosphere to be indulged in. At the forefront these instruments lack of progression or movement into an expressive phase becomes quite frustrating. There are many moments and opportunities for the swells of mysterious sound to bust into life with a melody or chord progression. That however is what made the aforementioned soundtracks so fantastic. This doesn't have to be that, but it certainly broods a particular atmosphere ripe for deployment.

Rating: 5/10