Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Queen "Flash Gordon" (1980)


Its been a while since I covered the last Queen record, reality is Id only given this a handful of spins. Its been rather unappealing. Of the rare occasions I have indulged, I would find myself bored by its shifts and sudden turns if it were not for the mere spectacle of a band pinned into a creative corner. I don't know much of the backstory here, or how the music relates to the movie itself. I'd prefer to keep that a mystery as it plays like a band attempting to be drastically different but constants leave them unable to flesh out experimental ideas and directions.

The theme song for Flash is a classic, no doubt. Ive heard it many times but it makes a poor jump off point for the record as it never returns to that intensity and thematic richness until the very last songs. The biggest stirs of energy often spark from the themes erroneous rehashing back into future songs. Sporadic bursts of synthesizer zaps and symphonic upheavals reign out between lines of dialog that feel disconnected and bizarre in nature. Its hard to envision it being the direct soundtrack, more of a project trying to use the movie for an isolated soundtrack experience, either way its pretty disastrous.

So far I've been harsh and of the nice things I can say they are mostly little musical moments that occur on occasion yet do next to nothing in making the whole thing work. Brian May's metallic guitar stirs some rocking riotous energy on Football Fight, they command direction over the racing beat lined with gaudy synths. The audio samples in this case build up a tension but the song just dissipates without any conclusion and lapses back into a lull as seemingly unconnected spacey astral synths take over. It could of evolved into something but these songs lack progression.

The synths remind me of In The Space Capsule where the those nebulous synth tones provoke quite the mystique atmosphere. Once again though, its all to disconnected as the music meanders with sudden shfts. From here, many of its one to two minute compositions have interesting aesthetics and quirky sparks of chemistry but its all littered between sharp turns in tone and audio snippets that it becomes hard to follow along with. Battle Theme would be a great example of the band doing what they do best however the song is hampered by sticky laser zaps and ear grating synths that rub against the slick guitars.

It is perhaps possible to love this record for all its quirkiness, shifts in direction and musical experiments. For me I couldn't escape how its attempt to be some form of soundtrack was hindering the flow of ideas. Things were rarely fleshed out and when the music was calling out for some progressive story telling and journeying of the sounds, it felt forced and hurried along, as if sticking to a strict schedule. Poor record, It hasn't convinced me to see the movie although I am morbidly curious now as to how the two are related.

Favorite Tracks: Flash's Theme, Football Fight, The Hero
Rating: 3/10

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Front Line Assembly "Wake Up The Coma" (2019)


Having enjoyed the Canadian Electro-Industrial pioneer's recent Warmech soundtrack, I thought I'd tune in for a regular record. Right off the bat I have to say their is a lot of mediocrity at play, a passable record as background music but not mustering up much excitement in the forefront bar a few good compositions. Ive given it many listens over the months since its release but its failed to grab me, I can't be to critical though, its not terrible, just all too average to make itself known.

Far from the jolty, harsh and rigid machinations of their origins, FLA's slick production gives a modern aesthetic touch. Tight synth arrangements and punchy drum machines have a competent amount of variety and detail to bolster up the core components that build dystopian, mechanical atmospheres. Voices take on a mix of whispered cries soaked in echos and alien distortions, all playing into the altered human persona much of its charisma resides within. There are many breaks in flow, often using the textural tones of synths and clattering drum sounds to orchestrate physical, Industrial movements but its rarely exciting in anyway.

Most the songs tend to circle a theme. Progression don't amount to much and most of the tracks start where they end in terms of tone and setting. That's why I think its failed to get a grip on me. It does run into a few gaudy moments, the lyrical pondering of making love to an alien on Living A Lie is mostly an amusing line for a hook. Nick Holmes turns it around in the next track, lending his voice for a fantastic chorus on the title track. That's about all I have to say, its all a bit too routine, lacking spice.

Favorite Track: Wake Up The Coma
Rating: 4/10

Friday, 8 November 2019

Borknagar "True North" (2019)


Borknagar, I remember! The glum shed on a fog swept field, a typically unreadable and yellow band logo atop the image. Their first album came out right in the mid 90s boom of post-global exposure Black Metal. Knowing they had ICS Vortex in the lineup, once of Dimmu Borgir and Arcturus, I felt quite keen to find out what one of my favorite voices was up to. To little surprise, the band have matured a lot from what I remember of that atypical, dingy, carbon copy debut record, the sort that just fell off into the flood of new bands joining in on the act.

To my pleasure they now take on moody atmospheres of northern folk charm. With sprinklings, often climatic, of screams, blast beats and power chord shredding, the band evenly resonate a calmer side brewing luscious settings of serenity interwoven with metallic upheavals of momentum. Its a progressive fusion of styles, rather adjacent to In The Woods. Dark and earthly songs forged through thoughtful musical arrangements sap magic from its instruments with visions of natural beauty.

Vortex's singing is an absolute pleasure, still a master of the gleaming, manly "clean vocal", he glides over these scenic soundtracks effortlessly. Its organic music with soft synths and colorful lead guitars. The three tend to interchange on leading the music forth and its held together with superb drumming that's a little on the mechanical side with its industrious hammering of stiff drum rolls. Quite often does the rhythmic syncopation of Metal guitars drive the music too and with that True North offers up variety and balance between the extreme and melodic ends of this style. Inspiring!

Favorite Tracks: Up North, Voices
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

BABYMETAL "Metal Galaxy" (2019)


My anticipation for this record was soured somewhat by lead single Pa Pa Ya. Its a tad obnoxious and overt but that's one of this acts charms, to dial its elements up! I still think its the weaker track but it has grown on me. The rest of this new record was a total hit from the get go. Da Da Dance blasts the listening experience into the stratosphere with its electrifying guitar taping illuminating the jolting synths and cutesy "Babymetal" chant. What a tone setter for a fun record that does what these musicians do best, bringing ferocious modern Metal together with sugar coated Pop in quirky memorable fusions. This time around a hint of worldly sounds creep onto a couple of songs, expanding the bands horizons, delivering another fine chapter in the journey.

Something about the way this record rolls out, a couple of its themes too, give a sense of arcade and adventure. Its almost as if each song has a linage with a video game. Each one I could envision a music video related to the arcade, perhaps the "don't give up, game over or continue" lyrics sunk in a little to deep. Every track arrives with a different spice, only Kagerou sounds like a leftover cut from Metal Resistance. Shine also echos of The One but mostly its new and bold territory for the band while retaining their distinctive musical identity and high octane production.

Japaneses exclusive tracks BBAB and BXMXC are wonderfully obnoxious in polar opposite ways. The first has its glossy Pop Metal charm and the latter an exercise in sheer rhythmic grooving on overdrive! Shanti and Oh Majini stand out with exotic cultural sounds, the latter dipping toes into Pirate Metal with bagpipes and rugged sailor chanting. Their is a noticeable growing presence of the backing musicians joining in vocally. "Kitsune Of Metal God" gets an entire track of demonic chants through its descending, eerie and tribal atmosphere on In The Name Of.

Its jam packed with variety and amazing hooks to get stuck in your mind. More voices may enter the fold but again its Suzuka Nakamoto who's voice soaks in the limelight, elevating every moment she is present. I particularly loved the songs where she gets to sing in a poppier context. It feels like this record has pushed its boundaries as the heavy side feels equally embellished. Maybe the drumming didn't ramp up the intensity with blast beats and the like but the Djent guitar tones are masterfully dense an tonal, bordering on guttural for comparison. Perhaps the meatiest Ive heard yet!

Much like their other two records, gems and numbers that don't stick as much make the sum of its parts. This time around the variety carries it and plays solidly with an arsenal of new songs. It has been a pleasure to indulge with and a reminder of why this band are so exciting. Anything is possible in Metal and these directions and avenues are so much more interesting that other bands grinding out the same old recycled styles. Babymetal's freshness is a real strength! It's hard to say if they have reached a peak but each record gives my that feeling they could reach higher peaks!

Rating: 8/10
Favorite Tracks: Da Da Dance, Brand New Day, BBAB, Distortion, BXMXC,

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Puppy "III" (2019)


With the years best album so far under their belt, The Goat, this surprise EP was quite the treat to feast on, I didn't expect new music so soon! The three piece band Puppy are one of my modern favorites, their fusion of nostalgic 90s Alternative Rock & Metal riffs is just my cup of tea. Its the songwriting however, that sets them apart from waves of bands that come and go, casting that rosy tinted look back into the past. Puppy take in a rich history of music, brandishing it with their own defining stamp.

These nine tracks, a brief nineteen minutes, initially felt as demoed as its presentation would suggest. Its mixing, rough around the edges, with roomy drums and earnest singing gave a casual impression that would flavor my first few listens as a mediocre yet fun set of songs. The songwriting however championed once again as the ear worms grew, driving the hooks and melodies into the subconscious. Its riffs, arrangements and lyrics became forefront. It wasn't long before I was asking myself just how good this record is? Right now it fits perfectly into their catalog.

Without doubt there is a handful of songs here that given the treatment would fit snugly onto a proper album. They all however have a charm that feels exclusive to this rougher garage demo sound and I think the point is to inhabit this moment the band are living in. The raw vocal harmonies and chunky guitar riffs with gristly distortion tones create a youthful air vibe that resonates through the colorful guitar licks that occasional deploy a bit of rhythmic groove. Its everything I like about Puppy, just with a less polished edge which makes it fresh and interesting.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Agatha, Serotonin, Charms

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Korn "Untouchables" (2002)


Recently Ive had to revisit a particularly turbulent time in my youth and now I find myself having the perfect opportunity to talk about a record I've always wanted to get around too. Its my favorite Korn record and there was a period many years back where I couldn't listen to a song from it without being brought to tears. Fortunately I got past that and learned to embrace what had once been, allowing me to enjoy the record again. Obtaining Untouchables a while after its release, I only briefly knew of Freak On A Leash yet immediately bonded with every word Jonathan Davis was singing from his soul. I felt as if each word was everything I was going through. This was right around some of the most difficult lows Id go through and as a troubled kid trying to find themselves it offered a bitter escape and meaning.

My appreciation of this record is obviously testament to those moments, however till this day I still think this is JD's apex moment as a vocalist. His lyrics, as angst riddled and raw with pain they are, are delivered in the most soaring and soul wrenching performance. That pain and its meaning embellishes itself in the scaling heights of melody he inflects on his words, turning song after song into a truly moody and moving internal odyssey. The highs and lows, cleans and growls seem to twist and turn in an endless stream of deeply emotive singing. He frequently layers his voice to add an extra instrumental depth and the hooks, inflections and catchy-ness of it all is sublime, getting me to sing and feel it every time.

Behind him the band bottle up their most heavy and ambitious sound to date, taking their stomping sense of groove to a smothering wall of sound that has a thick tonal assault. The classic rumbling slap base of Fiedly quakes from bellow and Silveria batters his kit in tandem. Many of the songs have thudding stomps of syncopated guitar assault and the Monkey Head dynamic is disrupted as the oddball noises and creepy melodies that usually defined them get channeled into atmospheric avenue instead of the back and forth. Brilliant song writing lets the heavy gives way to rich passing of melody deployed with the help of electronic sounds too, sometimes at the same time but with less of their iconic duality. Its the perfect stage for JD to illuminate.

The album plays sweetly with no weak links, the heavy tracks are periodically broken up by the likes of Hollow Life, Hating and Alone I Breaking, deploying drum machines and hitting heavy from another angle with JD delivering more utterly sincere and heart breaking lyrics. This record barely lets up on the depressing mood but its truly therapeutic, voiced by a man battling with his inner demons head on. Untouchables finds one moment of absolute fun with the crude and enthralling Beat It Upright, a favorite. Thoughtless plays like an anthem for the trodden down and it all ends on gut wrenching high with No One's There. I could rattle on about each of the tracks distinctions for time but that is for you to discover!

Its quite sad to think critics hailed it Korn's worst album upon release. I can't comment without a heavy dose of bias but seventeen years later its still utterly engulfing and sometimes all to vivid as these songs take me back to that moment. I haven't forgotten a line of JD's words and I think for a record to be this potent after so long its got to have something more to offer. The bands first five albums are all gems, so hard to pick apart but artistically I think Jon's performance is what tips it for me. Never did he before or probably ever again give quite the scintillating performance like here.

Rating: 10/10

Monday, 28 October 2019

Danny Brown "Uknowhatimsayin¿" (2019)


For his last major release Danny dazzled with a wild unhinged experimental Atrocity Exhibition. Its flamboyant nature and eccentric charm seems to have been turned on its head. This time Brown delivers a lean and fresh collection of songs that feel isolated from one another yet all land a strange dissonance. Selecting oddball instrumentals, his raw voice recording aesthetic adds this layer of separation between beat and rhyme that initially left me not knowing what to make of the project.

With plenty to say, the rhymes in the best moments are unbelievably sharp, witty and well articulated. Layered with elements of comedy, story telling, self deprecation and vulnerability he musters up some engaging flows that topically chop and turn at pace. Brown's cadence often feels a step off the beat, free and loose yet holding its own flow of continuous verbal packages to unwrap. It may also be the percussive grooves mustering this illusion as they are often untypical of a groove to rap along with.

The moods and temperaments of the samples and beats shift all over the place, never slipping into anything too banging or obvious, always focused on the power of subtler chemistry. Run The Jewels turn up to stamp their style on a JPEG beat and Q-Tip produces a couple of my favorite cuts that have the Jazz Hop lean. This wild variety in production aids producer White in delivering striking esoteric and Ethereal sounds that stood out among a lot of great instrumentals. With every listen this record reveals more, its got depth and substance rammed into its thirty three minutes.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Change Up, Belly Of The Beast, Best Life, Uknowhatimsayin¿, Combat

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Shade Empire "Omega Arcane" (2013)


I've sunk my teeth in deep on this one, enjoying its immersion over and over. Some albums present a charm that once familiarity sets in it can vanish. In the case of Omega Arcane it has a gift that will keep giving for years to come. So rather than write up my thoughts on this excellent record, I thought Id keep it in rotation for some time longer and with that has come a great appreciation for this meaty CD filling seventy four minutes of Orchestral Black Metal. Hailing from the UK, Shade Empire have out done Dimmu Borgir at their own game, specifically the Abrahadabra era where the Norwegians steered their iconic Symphonic incorporation of keyboards to actual in house orchestras. I do however feel they lost their charm in this transition.

Alongside the commonplace barrage of relenting blast beats, howling screams and aggressive guitar work, Shade Empire deploy a range of tonality in the symphonic avenue. String sections, brass instruments, trumpets and horns, even striking orchestral drum strikes. It has a rich depth that effortlessly blends into the metallic cascade of intensity. This also extends into more typical keyboard synths, electric pianos and on occasion furthering into the tonality of synth led music as no idea seems out of reach if it fits the billing. Its best heard in interluding journeys where drum machine deployment reminds me of the E.S. Posthumous fusion of Classical, modern indulgent Electronic elements and atmosphere aiding drum machines.

 This superb cohesion provides stunning depth with its rich layers of symphonic sound, underpinned by the crushing pummeling of crunchy guitars chugging tempered grooves. The slick rattling of rapid, dexterous drumming shudders like a pulse, slaming through it all with a commanding guidance to hold everything together. Its all rather intense, with each instrument the potential to overpower is present but they slickly achieve a balance and let the musical writing beneath elevate the aesthetic chemistry. The screeching vocals too have intensity but fortunately variety favors as deep guttural whispering tells tales, playing up the epic fantasy narrative the record has in droves. With a few voices at play, it shapes up well, avoiding staleness.

With such an engrossing musical construct, everything is set in place for endearing song writing to play out a rather diverse set of songs that meet in this fantasy realm of snow and storms. With many measures of temperament the songs can shift intensities while never letting up on a luscious layer of orchestral sound. It all feels rehearsed to deliver stunning swells of emotion as the so called crescendos and peaks seem to roll out in frequency. Its seventy plus minutes never seem to drag feet, each track firing up its unique take on the pallet available and with the start of each new number comes the reminder of the moments in store, yet to unravel there treausres. It also arrives between slews of ambience leaning atmospheric passageways that enrich the theme.

So far its all been praise and the reality is I can't think of anything to criticize. At first I may have had thoughts of preferring certain ideas to be executed differently but with time absolutely everything about this record makes sense to itself. There isn't even think there is a song worth gutting, the bar of quality is that high. The best tracks are however rolled up in the albums opening but even at the other end Slumbering Giant and the title track are very convincing songs that have just as much immersion.

What we have here on Omega Arcane is an excellent execution of intense Metal music but also a true understanding of the orchestral, electronic and atmospheric side. It feels like a mastery from its both perspectives, perhaps more so the latter. Rather than being used as an accent or aid, this thematic avenue has been fully realized. The chemistry between its two sides is sublime, that's where it stands apart from others who lump in synths as a layer of color. This is a gem I'll cherish for times to come!

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Daryl Donald "Full Circle" (2019)


A second release this year from Scottish producer Daryl Donald brings us another cut of smooth and mellow Jazz Hop beats lined with thoughtful vocal snippets to induce a relaxed mood. By now its become predictable but the best kind. Its a prediction that one can feel cozy and wrapped up, snug and warm inside this world of breezy cool instrumentals that groove easy temperate drum samples under atmospherically arranged samples of calming, soulful and jazzy instruments.

The beats are short and sweet in nature. Being looped and highly repetitive, a balanced is struck as lingering on the theme is avoided. Experimenting with gentle noise, each track has some subtle ambiences, conjuring shapeless forms of ambiguous sound to decorate the main loop. It works fantastically and if absent a vocal feature can drift in with the same breezy easiness that makes this record a pleasure to mellow out to. Its words had less of an impact this time around, but its experiments in ambiguity spark quite the intrigue to their origin.

With its overall swift nature, Get Alive stands out as an odd cut where the audio fades out abruptly jusr as the beat just gets going. Otherwise its a slick flow of cohesive musical grooves. The opening tracks are particularly reminiscent of early 90s Jazz Hop classics. I couldn't put a finger on which tracks but they had a fond familiarity. The closing tracks however pivot to slightly snappier percussion with a soft crunch added to them. Its a gentle transition, just something I noticed on this short album that delivered exactly what I expected but still charmed none the less.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 14 October 2019

Fairyland "The Fall Of An Empire" (2006)


Blown away by their stunning debut, Of Wars in Osyhria, I thought my battle with Power Metal may be turning. It is not so, this sophomore record from the French band has unfortunately solidified the focal point that ruins this style for me time and time again, the singing. With a line up shuffle retaining two of the original band, Maxime Leclercq steps in for the lead vocal role. His pitch and tone rubs me the wrong way on to many an occasion. Stretching and reaching for notes he can't quite grasp leaves a strain. The style is often to forceful and once again the French accent has an uncanny knack to make to add a irritation to the pronunciation. I've always believed in looking for what you enjoy in music but found very little of that here, the singing tarnishes the fantastic instrumentation.

The music itself is a little less charming then last time around. I suspect the vocals may have made it harder to digest but there is an obvious shift in luminosity. The elements of fantasy and wonder still play out through the picturesque synths painting magical landscapes and heroes adventures .This time they are more balanced with the aggressive guitars and drums that clatter along with chomping double pedal rolls battering patterns constantly. Its lively, animated and ambitious but the production is a little thin and raspy in places, the music does however get across well its fantastical themes and fairy tale story telling. Pianos feature frequently and ambitious songwriting births a progressive journey to venture on but as clearly stated the vocals dispel any magic. Its frustrating but it is what it is. The next album has a plethora of vocalists so it will be interesting to see what happens there!

Favorite Track: The Story Remains
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 12 October 2019

The Comet Is Coming "The Afterlife" (2019)


I'm struck with a sense of disappointment as an exciting discovery, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, has been swiftly followed up in a matter of months by the London based Jazz Fusion trio. I was dead keen to get on this record, it kicks off with the familiar voice of featured collaborator Joshua Idehen who loaned his voice to Sons Of Kemet. He brings a hype with poetic cries of thought invoking rhymes but bellow him the murmuring base fuzz, spacious percussive grooves and Smooth Jazz saxophone fail to strike a nerve beyond the reasonable. From there the rest of these thirty minutes seem to fall into the same rut of mediocrity. Gone are the tantalizing grooves of obnoxious Metal and thumping EDM music, it recoils back to its roots, dissolving the spice that made this band so interesting and inviting. A dip in form may exacerbate my reaction but a closer analysis seems to further these feelings.

After its opening number, the next two tracks meander through the directionless wandering of low key playing on an ambient setting of bassy synths. Its great background music but little of the musics unraveling is captivating. The first half of Lifeforce has a similar sense of lurking in ambiguity, mustering some suspense for whats to come in the second half where temperate drum grooves and lively two note grooving intertwines with sparse melodies through the saxophone. Its just one song among sleepers. Its final piece reminds me of Vapourwave vibes in a good way, however it too is a sleepy track alluding to an atmosphere that just doesn't engage me. There is nothing bad here, the aesthetics are as gorgeous as before however the low key nature of the music itself turns the whole thing from a jam to a lull that didn't capture an ambient charm, which may have been their intention.

Rating: 4/10