Monday, 20 January 2020

Aurora "A Different Kind Of Human (Step 2)" (2019)

Now on my fourth Aurora record, either the familiarity is diminishing her charm or something is off. I think it may be the latter. Baring little overt relation to Step 1 other than aesthetics, this full length follow up to the EP just doesn't illuminate the stunning charm of her singing in the same way. Firstly the tone seems to of shifted. The River kicks the record off with bright, punchy, jovial synths that expand and contract, flowing with glossy melodies that shuffle along the strong Electropop vibe. Its a step away from the subtitles of the past and Aurora's voice just feels crowded in these moments.

The album grows with a range of song temperaments, some quieter than others and her voice is given plenty of focus to shine but it doesn't come together with the same magic. The instrumentals seem too energized, overplaying their role. Her range continually goes towards its strongest, lacking a vulnerability and sensitivity that previously blossomed into the moving moments. The cultural Nordic echos feel distant too and many of her vocal constructs we might refer to as the hook just don't land with the same engrossing nature. There is variety and creativity, just not at that level again.

It might seem like I am splitting hairs but its a knifes edge this style is balanced on. Going back to any of the past records I get all the feels but from this one? Not so much. Dwelling on the differences can easily overshadow what a great record this is though. Its delightfully easy on the ears and engrossing with its swells of colorful electronics and tribal percussion. Her voice is still a delight and the songs are warming to the soul but that soaring above and beyond isn't present, leading me to mostly focus on that as the record is clearly a step back. I am hoping she can steer things in a challenging direction moving forward as this one was a little to routine.

Favorite Track: Apple Tree
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Drown In Sulphur "Blackwind" (2019)

Its time to throw myself back to my youth and enjoy some Deathcore! Blastbeats, slams and ludicrous gutturals here we come! Browsing Youtube's endless music videos, the song Blackwind caught my attention, purely for being comically fun and brutal with its stomping onslaught of metallic noise and guitar abuse. The song however has legs and so do the other five tracks that accompany it on this new EP, the groups second. Having had a glimpse over their older releases, it seems the Italian band has stepped up their game after a three year silence from their last single.

Their production has scaled too, despite being unsigned the band have put together a competent sound that doesn't feel flimsy or tacky as some of these kinds of records can do. Instead its the perfect podium for Deathcore aesthetics with its crunchy stomping guitars, regularly delivering textural low notes for the breakdowns. The vocals are meaty, a constant barrage of flat throaty growls, shrill pig squeals and general ridiculousness that hovers above all else. It could be a turn off for most but fits in well given the context. The drums deliver battering barrages of groove, culminating nicely with the guitars that border Djent and yet still find a little flash of color in places.

The songwriting is where Drown In Sulphur may stand apart from others. Its no mastery or revelation but they bring more excitement and freshness with a slight deviance from the norms, never settling on the bog standard approach. It gives almost everything a fraction of spice that occasionally blossoms into a fiery whirl of energy as the constant rolling over of riffs finds a peak in the wandering arrangements. Its free structural form plays big into their hands as repetition could of grinded this record to a halt. Fortunately the balance is fair. After many listens I'm still getting a kick.

Blackwind's best parts tend to be the big concluding riffs towards the end of a track however on a number like Serpenthyne a little bit of Iwrestledabearonce alike mania on the fretwork goes down a treat and so does the reverberated acoustic interlude Sulphur. Essentially, where they deviate most from the basic formula of the genre they succeed and with such a variety driven approach their writing pays off! Nuclear Dawn however fumbles through monochromatic riffs and a mid-track drop of intensity as sections don't quite link. Although I am pretty much done with this type of music, its good to keep an eye out and maybe this band is one to follow in the near future!

Favorite Track: Blackwind
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Sunday Service Choir "Jesus Is Born" (2019)

Released on Christmas day, news of this record was quite the surprise! Having enjoyed Kanye's Jesus Is King record and his collaboration with Sunday Service Choir, I was hoping to hear more of these voices and my prayers were answered! In the context of a dialed down Hip Hop record mixing in elements of Gospel they were exciting and enthralling in their peaks. As a solo project spanning a whopping eighty three minutes across nineteen tracks, it fails to spark the same invigoration.

One of Kanye's marks as a producer is his work with voices, voicing and tonal manipulation. Unfortunately that magic doesn't come to fruition within the confines of Gospel music. The voices stick to purity of the choir which are beautiful and a pleasure to enjoy in their own right but with little extra spice in the mix this quickly becomes monotonous in the reality of this not being quite my cup of tea. I love the soulful singing, uplifting energy and jollity of the affair but it does become tiresome.

As an agnostic the lyrics quickly become repetitive and disengaging. Words of praise and salvation are spun over again,shuffling the same ideas in different variations of words, which fail to appeal to someone not seeking a religious experience. With little to enjoy there, the opening songs are a struggle as subtle organs, pianos and claps give all the attention to the voices which hit their most strident, powerful and in peaks even harshest tones. The union of voices is a force pushed to some extremes even a bit much for this supposed metal head and lover of extreme music.

Once past that ambitious opening, the album drifts into an enjoyable mood as things pivot. The voices feel looser, drums and other instrumentation join in as the session starts to feel more like a jam. Hints of R&B, Soul, even Funk with a little touch of groove liven up the mood and keep the pacing interesting. It isn't however a saving grace for me, the record was fun to dive into into and as much as I appreciate the stunning singing it falls short of substance to engage me as a musical record. Perhaps to someone more versed and enthusiastic about this music it may of been something.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 9 January 2020

City Morgue "City Morgue Vol 2 As Good As Dead" (2019)

Following up on last years Hell Or Highwater, the young duo ZillaKami and Sosmula are at it again fronting another arsenal of overtly aggressive songs to grab your attention. Vaguely known Trap Metal, the duo represent a strain of modern Rap so harsh and aggressive it picks up the metallic nod. They actually deploy distortion guitars on a couple of tracks but the main ploy is dark and sinister sampling amplified by harsh, snappy drum grooves and over the top vocals. The pair spit their rhymes with ferocious energy, many words bordering a shout in its aggression. Unsurprisingly the lyrical content is mean and murderous but ultimately hollow.

Although the theming is of my flavor, the music lacks depth and songwriting is routine. Most the tracks aim to deploy throat grabbing lyrics for a harsh hook, often over played. The two exchange threatening verses that mostly revolve around excessive violence, gang life and boisterous show boating. It quickly turns dull as the continual aggression becomes monotone. I found my attention mostly picking up on what became annoying, like the "woah woah woah woah" hook on the track Woah. Its monotonous, repetitive and just doesn't add much to the song.

The instrumentals behind them are also a bit routine, only a few beats stand out in the slew of songs. Initially most are impressive as they reach to a particularly gritty nastiness however they are often very repetitive with the short loop filling up these mostly short songs. One notable thing that does occur is a handful of songs leaning into Emo Rap territory. Moody guitars drop in and the lyrics pivot to dreary self reflection and depressive outlooks. Very akin to Lil Peep but nowhere near his level of charm. Overall a disappointing follow up with not much to take away from.

Favorite Tracks: Draino, 16 Toes, Peeling Scabs
Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Aurora "Infections Of A Different Kind (Step 1)" (2018)

The two steps of Infections Of A Different Kind starts with this eight track EP, to be followed up by a full length album, the second part. Conceptually it feels like another collection of songs with perhaps a lusher production and temperament than its preceding All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend. Maybe the album will expand on these halves. On its own Step 1 is simply another gorgeous illumination of Aurora's dazzling voice. Its instrumental's feel a step more ambitious as subtlety is traded for bright and bold surges of complexity. Pianos, drums, layers of synth elevate from atmosphere brooding beginnings into ravishing swells of color and harmony. The tribal percussive undercurrent always drives the music forward and the whole thing plays like a temple of worship to her voice, soaring above all like a beam of light.

It starts with a bang, a couple of lively tracks driven punchy drumming, then through its trajectory grows increasingly soothing and calmer in nature. The songwriting is just wonderful, seemingly simple but beautifully arranged and quite often experimenting with Aurora's presence and form. For example, It Happened Quiet is a unique track in comparison as male voices are brought in for Gregorian alike chants. Most the other songs just find interesting ways to layer her voice, playing with reverbs and harmonization but through it all tugging at heart strings and creating ear worms with her infectious lyrical lines resonating from a gorgeous voicing. Its really moving in its best moments, loving everything about her music right now and eager for more!

Favorite Tracks: Forgotten Love, All Is Soft Inside, Churchyard
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 28 December 2019

My Top 10 Music Discoverys In 2019

Looking back at my thoughts and words from 2018, it seems I may repeat the same sentiment again. Maybe one of the years I'll actually develop a broader discovery of new music because as you'll see once again its dominated by Metal! I just can't seem to get away. In my defence life changes and my time devoted to music and this blog has been stretched so who knows what the new decade will hold! Anyways here is the years discoveries!

(10) Hunt The Dinosaur

They may be somewhat novelty and outrageous but that's the charm. I always love a bit of obnoxious chugging and Djent but these guys stand apart thank to their singers fiery guttural raps. The music is very textural and over the top yet in their first record, Dankosaurus, a couple of invigorating gems are to be found. If they work on their songwriting this group could really become something!

(9) Arkhtinn

Admittedly not the most impressive discovery but one that scratches an itch started by Darkspace over a decade ago. This breed of Black Metal is of epic proportion, an astral experience propelled into the abyss by its smothering wall of narrowing sound. Their newest release 最初の災害 seems to be the best of what I've heard so far.

(8) Shade Empire

An English band with lavish orchestration and brilliant song writing. Arcane Omega is practically a masterpiece of its own style and I'm surprised I'd not learned of them sooner. No doubt in the new years I will get through a few more of theirs however I am not so sure there sound is consistent but certainly hoping for more in this vein.

(7) Fairyland

Power Metal has never been my forte but this year Fairyland and Sabaton have begun to turn the tides. Of Wars In Osyhria is a record that fits so well into my taste, it has measures and fractions of tone and tune I've heard in many another project and together they make a magical adventure. The other two records don't get close unfortunately however they have been fun.

(6) Bæst

I adore Bloodbath and their era with Mikeal Akerfeldt. The Danish group Bæst have pretty much emulated that sound and style to the bone. Even oi they lack originality, its such a great execution and the songs they write are fantastic. It will be interesting to see if they take off in the Death Metal scene given the similarity but personally I am just glad this niche will continue onwards.

(5) Lil Peep

When I first heard of Emo Rap and Lil Peep I ignorantly turned my nose up at it. His music is sad, the fact that it sometimes takes someone passing to get your attention is sadder too but most of all his youthful passing is the saddest, almost haunting as the pains of his emotive music and storey of drug abuse and hopelessness seemed to have manifest. Besides the storey though his music is undoubtedly special and gloomily moody.

(4) Anna Van Hasswolf

I'm noticing that Scandinavian voices frequently seem to be my thing. I'm dead guilty of somehow not getting past this one record, Dead Magic, which I listen to often. Its beautifully ethereal, a fraction esoteric and moodily engrossing and spiritual. I will get to more of her records in the new years but lets linger on that album cover for a moment. Its utterly haunting. Having seen it countless times it still gives me a chill.

(3) Aurora

And here is another Scandinavian voice who's currently my addiction! Having only recently found Aurora I still have two records to get through. What a treat! Interestingly enough music was not her primary pursuit but given her talent she choose to pursue it for those who may need it and I did not know I needed to hear her voice until I did! A beautiful singer, can't wait for more.

 (2) Queen

It should be obvious that I of course already knew of Queen, rather well to in terms of their greatest hits. They make it onto this list as I've really come to know of them in a new light and have harvested an even bigger respect for these legends. It was kicked of by the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, a stunning tribute and I am determined now to get through every single record!

(1) Tool

This is the epitome of a turnaround. Without really knowing much about them, my youthful ignorance had cemented them in my mind as a smelly band I wanted nothing to do with. I missed my opportunity to see them live in 2006 because of this attitude but thanks to my friend Rendog I was convinced there was something about Tool and so I gave it a try. It was a slow process, it took a long time to find the spark but since discovering it I have come to adore them and seeing them live this year was a fantastic experience. The new record Fear Inoculum is a bit of a mixed bag though. Their return is a welcome one but I think they may need to get back in the groove before they reach the peaks of the past again.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

My Top 10 Albums Of 2019

 Its not been as active a year with time devoted to other things. I've got to start of with a mention to FKA Twiggs. Loving her new album and the moment and If I had more time with, I'm sure it would be on this list. Also need to mention Ghost and their Seven Inches Of Satanic Panic EP, two of their best songs to date but obviously a little short on the run time to call it an album. I don't think anything out of the ordinary has taken hold, just another year, another bunch of records and here are my favourites!

(10) Aeons Confer "Zero Elysium" link

This records theme and setting is colossal, a plunge into the expansive cosmos led by meaty metallic guitars and aggressive drumming to batter you through the abyss. Initially it felt a bit bland and straight forward but its riffs devoid of flash and flair have a lot to offer as it becomes familiar. I am so stoked they have gotten things together and somehow retained the magic they had sixteen years ago.

(9) Devin Townsend "Empath" link

If Devin releases an album, chances are it will make it to this list. I adore the man and his musical vision but with such a large catalogue of albums they new songs become a blur, the best of blurs. Empath however plays like a slice of everything rolled into one and elevated to another level. I think it could be among his best but only time will tell at this point. Its a huge record, loaded and layered, it may take more time to fully get through.

(9) Kanye West "Jesus Is King" link

Not his best work, a flawed ambition but fruitful its in new direction. Inspired by church music and Gospel, infusing elements of it with a dash of Hip Hop, Kanye forged a slice of something outside the ordinary to introduce to the masses and I personally loved it. Of course being somewhat of an agnostic the lyrics didn't move me much but the music and stunning voices at play did very much so.

(7) Slowthai "Nothing Great About Britain" link

The young Northampton rapper may be one to watch out for in the future. This statement led debut has a lot of attitude and vitality about it. The story telling is fantastic but it stems from many of the things that success changes. A lot of Rap artists I can recall have suffered from this, the escape of poverty diminishing the source of inspiration but none the less its a cracking album that I fondly frequent back too.

(6)  Slipknot "We Are Not Your Kind" link

I never expected it to be so but Slipknot have undoubtedly created something you can hold in a similar light to their classic arrival records. The eruption of chaos, aggression and frustration of them crash landing into the public conscious could never be the same again but twenty years later the group missing now three of the original nine tap into the very best of the bands sound with a solid record spiced with a bit of experimentation that has grown on me. Great to have he Knot back at it!

(5) Billie Eilish "When We Fall Asleep Where We Go" link

Its certainly nice to hear more advantageous, experimental artists capturing ears in the mainstream. She may not exactly be "out there", her songwriting has many of the decent tropes Pop music can have but the use of ASMR techniques and vocal distortions is fun, interesting and expressive. All in all a fantastic record I enjoy every time I hear but also one to follow closely in the future.

(4) Cane Hill "Kill The Sun" link

Kill The Sun is an example of why bands shouldn't be afraid to explore their other aspirations. Stepping aside from their metallic roots, the group explore an exotic breed of Americana. Its utterly infectious and may of been what sent me on an Alice In Chains binge this year, learning that group too made Americana EP's between albums. There is now doubt they were an influence and although this was a short record I've loved it over and over. Massively infectious!

(3) Little Simz "Grey Area" link

I've been blown away by the sheer talent that is Little Simz. English Rap music has often felt in the shadows of the states if not pursuing a cultural altercation like Grime or Drill. Simz stands firm with fiery traditional rhyme skills and impressive cadence, she also has a lot to say and thus delivers some serious lyrical substance alongside some boisterous, affirming bars. 

(2) Puppy "The Goat" link

I was anticipating this album immensely and on arrival it blew me away. Puppy have a fantastic sound, a mix of all the best bits from Alternative Rock & Metal of the nineties. This album delivered in droves however I may have over saturated it. With a year to binge on The Goat, another surprise came along to steal the show. It was my first record of 2019 and I was pretty sure it would take the top spot.

(1) Sabaton "Great War" link

Sabaton have done it, maybe only with the help of Indy Nidel! I've been converted. Knowing these guys are history buffs interested in similar aspects of war, this album animated into life as I knew its inspiration intimately. Having followed the week by week reliving of World War I, its songs took on a whole new meaning that let melodies and tuneful songwriting really take hold. It can be a bit cheesy in places but its always fun and riveting with metallic energy. Since I wrote about it, its been on frequent rotation and is still giving tones of pleasure. It was totally unexpected but they trumped The Goat for me.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

FKA Twiggs "Magdalene" (2019)

After a period of relative inactivity, FKA Twiggs returns with a monumental sophomore album. If I had more time with Magdalene, it could of well been my album of the year. Its a deep and dense record, the instrumentals revel in the Avant-Garde. Ambiguous synthetic noises and percussive abstractions forge beautiful songs through unconvention. Every spin yields magic yet each listen feels like I'm scratching at the surface. Some records are just like this, they let you know you'll be coming back for times to come and maybe one day all there secrets will be unearthed.

Of what I remember, Twiggs had a stunning voice and bags of talent but this time around her vocal articulation feels utterly exceptional. Commanding her chords like a truely classic singer, she is pitch perfect with this undeniable resonance of emotional meaning and outpour. Every note, word, inflection and gasping of her breath feels like an artistic vision manifested. The reverberations and sound design simply further expand her sweet but yet very vulnerable presence at the forefront.

That open wound is felt in her voice but more so in the words of this record which have a strong undercurrent of tragedy, heartbreak and loss bleeding into the moody, reflective atmospheres. The ranges she reaches with the emotive direction is sublime, particularly on the song Fallen Alien, the albums true crescendo. Across these nine songs, everything from these soaring peaks to breathy and ASMR alike voicings has Twiggs giving a remarkable performance that you wont be capable of forgetting.

The albums pacing and tempo is suspended in a limbo. Many of the songs feel like they are leading to something that never comes to fruition but that is simply its point. As a listener you are dangling in this ambiguous space, painted with an ambience that resists obvious melody. Even percussion is drawn to its minimal essential, dressed in echos and shadows. It does finds strides and musters growth on many occasions though, the pairing of Mary Magdalene and Fallen Alien is so satisfying as its brooding of one track bleeds into the next, erupting with claustrophobic climax.

The record does have a hitch with one track. Future turns up for a feature and his Mumble Rap autotune inflections and Trap beat dominates the vibe. It breaks up the flow and feels out of place. Other than that one hiccup, Magdalene feels like a complete experience, an artistic expression that's been meticulously orchestrated. Twiggs will mesmerize with her swaying voice and suck you in to this tender space that you can't look away from. I'm excited to know that this album is far from over, I feel like I'll still be discovering it again and again for years to come. Its magic!

Favorite Tracks: Home With You, Sad Day, Mary Magdalene, Fallen Alien, Daybed
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Blut Aus Nord "Hallucinogen" (2019)

 French musicians Blut Aus Nord feel like a cryptic force you can rely upon to deliver esoteric Black Metal that allures and engulfs with its majesty. Thirteen or so albums deep into their artistic output, the group continue to forge intelligent music that is testament to their experience and yet still steeped in inspiration. Their Avant-Garde nature means each project spins a different wheel, their last effort Deus Salutis Meæ a maddening dive into Industrial and Noise. This time around the word traditional still can not be applied but their are echos of modern experimentation reminiscent of Batushka, Mare Cognitum, Chaos Moon and Oranssi Pazuzu.

A bleak smothering of dissonance collides with esoteric gleams of color as the rhythm and lead guitar duel in tandem. Alongside the rumbling rattle of vibrating blast beats they birth abstruse vibrato melodies flickering out from the churning wheel of thick distortion rhythm picking. The guitar work often alternates between conventional chugging metallic riffs and bursts of wavy chord dissonance. Its spellbinding, a roaring sound that moves like an amorphic abyssal movement often falling in to shape and form between stretches of spurious madness. Its lead guitar may even sound conventional or classic in phrases but its mastery of mixing and delivery yields it to this mysterious vision.

The vocals are a treat, on two fronts the same principal is applied. Its meaner shouts and gutteral cries bleed from the depths of a crowded mix, never encroaching the foreground. They arrive like a surge of energy from deep within, just adding layers to the hypnotic sound at work. Its counterpart can often be heard alternating. Also buried behind the guitars, spiritual choirs of monk like male voices call like spirits from beyond, sometimes so subtle they sound like a layer of keys added for atmosphere. Its arcane in nature, melodically savage and a touch psychedelic in places.

The band have forged another fine record, a solid seven tracks serving a sensational slice of something specific that's subtly sinister. Its cohesive and well crafted as the songs plunges you into its designed chaos. The musicians place careful moments of respite with acoustic guitars ridden in oozy reverb effects to guide you through its machinations of fiery madness and arcane wonder. It hits this note from the get go and every listen since has me concluding this is a fantastic record you can come to over and over again for its particular flavor of esoteric darkness.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Track: Anthosmos

Friday, 20 December 2019

Aurora "All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend" (2016)

Peeling back from the subtle cultural Scandinavian chill felt on her debut EP Running With The Wolves, Aurora's first full length brings about ten new songs alongside two of old that steer the sails to warmer waters. This is no u-turn but a feasible shift from what is usually a draw for me, the darker things. It undoubtedly retains a moody gothic tinge but as the album gets into its stride the percussion livens up with EDM thuds to bolster the roots. Melodies sparkle and animate with color and a few energized tracks emerge between the often instrumentally steady approach that gives focus to Aurora.

Her voice is center stage and many a heart string she tugs with her personality as a singer. The choices in harmonization and delivery ooze with spirit and feeling, an infectious style that so easily sweeps you up and away, getting lost in the beauty of these elegant songs that stroll between melancholy and hope. With a heavenly spirit and mournful respite, her music can be felt like a lonely catharsis at many a time.

The bursts of pop melody and upbeat tempos carry a different form of charm and so the record tends to sway between its ends, soaking you up in color and warmth, then letting the frayed ends of a sorrow gone by wash over as the instrumentals subside to let her charm emanate. Subtly is king again, the accompanying instruments seem to linger in the balance, even taking ample opportunity to become focal in swells of emotional out pour. Its all simply brilliant with little to criticize other than favoring some tracks over others however each song in its moment feels like one of the best.

Favorite Tracks: Through The Eyes Of A Child, Murder Song, Home, Black Water Lilies
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Fen "The Dead Light" (2019)

I've been somewhat torn over Fen on their last few albums. This newest sixth installment further illuminates the opposing forces at play and which one I prefer. The music walks the line many Blackgaze bands do, a bleak serenity and beautiful chill of nature swoons, masqueraded by swells of unearthed darkness and shadowy aggressors. The two toy with varying degrees of enchantment but ultimately the plunges into the latter are lacking in charm. The bursts of aggression, shrill vocals and pushes of pummeling loose blast beats pale in comparison to the beauty the band conjure with sorrowful melodies. It is consistently the alluring lighter moments, stretching to gorgeous oozes of shimmering acoustic guitars, that entrance with cold soil, a rooted earthly grace of mother nature. In these moments the music is king.

In a typically progressive style the songs structures have them swaying between the two and as you can imagine their is a lot of the less favorable Black Metal but it somehow gets by as those dazzling bursts of moonlight grace a darkly landscape the group forge with their music. Occasionally visited by charming chorals of heathen clean vocals, I'm to often reminded of how much a drag the shrill shouts and screams become. When not paying too much attention the general atmosphere carries it by but its upheavals of melody are really its best component and so grabbing. It leaves me with mixed feelings as the album is fine in the background but when giving it full attention its metallic half fails to match the charm of its counterpart. It does however pull of the chemistry between ends ever so well on its closing track, a fine closer.

Favorite Tracks: Witness, Nebula, Rendered In Oynx
Rating: 6/10