Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Strapping Young Lad "Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing" (1995)


At the time it was musical genius Devin Townsend first solo release under the Strapping Young Lad moniker that would go on to become a fully functioning band by their sophomore album City. I'm astonished as to how far Strapping Young Lad has slipped from my mind, its been over a decade ago since I last binged on them. Its understandable how this embryonic sounding debut has drifted the furthest but Ive had a fantastic time rediscovering these oldies and the calamity of good and bad it is.

Reading into its backstory as the first Dev album, I discovered that it was born out of frustration with working for the likes of other musicians, Steve Vai and The Wildhearts. Devin wanted to write his own music and only Century Media would offer him a five album deal on the condition of making extreme music. The result is this mesmerizing, botched brew of angular ideas that would fail to capture anyone's attention, barely selling any units before future releases would bring retroactive attention to it.

Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing has all the hallmarks of an SYL record. An over the top wall of sound aesthetic. Stomping, slamming, brutal chugging guitars. Fierce and frantic screams, coupled manic roars and the occasional soaring of Devs clean range. Frequently synths wail in to further the thickness. Its a fusion of Death, Thrash and Industrial that has got all the right ingredients but its preparation and cooking is a botched brew. Its hard to praise at its surface but given a few spins there is plenty that's enjoyable and many familiar riffs, lyrics and moments reworked for later songs.

The production is sloppy and chaotic at best, the wall of sound comes together not through craft or design. Its slapped together with deliberate volume wars that more often that not find some haphazard cohesion. Distortion guitars often falter into choppy thuds of sound that loose sense of notation and become like a percussive instrument. Its mostly the ideas that lay themselves bare. When the guitars, drums or screams are being extremified its all to obvious. A majority of these moments tend to not lead anywhere but further into a sprawl of chaotic ideas. It even extending to a cheesy 80s synth beat on Cod Metal King but most his ideas will be heard with far greater execution on following projects.

These criticisms were more apparent at first glance but if you try to love something you often find reasons. Given how much I adore Devin's music it was all to easy to hear the links with whats to come. For a first timer tuning in it will be a much harder task. I'm a sucker for these songs, there is objective criticism all over yet through it I always hear something worthy of charm. Perhaps Drizzlehell is an exception. I really don't get along with that one. Otherwise its all fun, it has a mood, persona and strange vibrations that occasionally descend one into maniacal listening.

Favorite Tracks: SYL, In The Rainy Season, Happy Camper, Critic, Filler
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 11 November 2018

At The Gates "With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness" (1993)


Stripping back on some of its Avant-Guarde songwriting and non-metal instrumentation, bar sparing acoustic guitars, Swedish outfit At The Gates return with a sophomore album just doesn't spark any magic within me. Its dated, dull and dingy aesthetic dominates the mid ranges leaving a narrow feeling in the ears. Its a firm step backwards compared to The Red In The Sky Is Ours. The approach to riffing clearly has a keen experimentation in mind but not as fortuitous as before. Dissonant and moody tunes, plaid mostly through tremolo picking shapes up a resemblance of melody within its gloomy and pale tone. Sudden riff changes and energy shifts gifts the music when the chemistry works but dispels charm when the shifts make little sense, which is more often the case. Its such a consistent approach that the result is constantly hitting and miss. The good bits get buried fast.

I really gave this one a good go. Theie previous album revealed itself after some time listening but I believe the poor production value is a true hindrance in this case. I used words like gloomy and dingy in an unflattering sense. Often low fidelity aesthetic sparks imagination and vision when done right. In the case of this record it holds back the music with an uninspired tonality. Sunken within are a couple of good grooving riffs and gothic atmospheres but these are also in competition with the harsh and unfavorable howls that salt the wound of this ugly sounding record. I'm being harsh because this could of been much more. Its not awful, I can sit through and enjoy it on a mediocre level but ultimately is a disappointment worsened by its dreary production.

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 9 November 2018

Turnstile "Nonstop Feeling" (2015)


One of the years wilder records has been Turnstile's cracking Space & Time. As the months rolled by its weight has grown, the blossoming familiarity of these infectious songs has had me on the binge many times. Its will probably make my favorite albums of the year list and so Ive been prompted to go back and give their older records a try. Upon first checking out the Maryland based Hardcore act, I found these older songs to be a little stale but understanding their intent and musicality better now this previous record sounds like a whole new beast! One i was totally wrong about.

Their vein of Hardcore is so clearly rooted in the guitar groove and Crossover camp, baring some momentary resemblance to the likes of Biohazzard. They have two things that make them stand apart and have gone on to master with Space & Time, curation and eclecticism. Firstly the band have a lot of riffs in the arsenal that they churn through. Its exciting and energetic but with short songs and linear structures they burn through a lot of fantastic composition swiftly, leaving your appetite ripe for another spin. There is something to be said about hearing the same riff over and over in the context of listening to a record three times, or the verse chorus structure.

On the second note, the band shake up their sound with passageways that deviate from distortion guitar led riffage. Sometimes colorful inflections diversify the tone and with a couple of songs they drop the core identity entirely. Its always an organic transition that seems shaped up to dull the monotony that half an hour of straight Hardcore can bring. Bleach Temple's effect soaked guitar leads are uncannily akin to a Killing Joke record and it perfectly fuses a chugging guitar beat down and gang shouts. With clean melodic singing Blue By You transforms into a Pop Punk song, the decent sort of course. The influences they show off manifest wonderfully.

Another thing that has struck me about this band is the lyrical maturity. Ive heard some lines that resonate with me greatly. The angered approach to real emotion reminds me fondly of the Rollins Band and some true wisdom shapes up in the words "There is no such thing as truth. We all have a filter. Got to let it through". This record sounded deceptively straightforward at first. Turnstile continue to impress me, I hope more of their back catalog reaches this level of flavorful  artistic output.

Favorite Tracks: Gravity, Can't Deny It, Bleach Temple, Addicited
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Strapping Young Lad "Alien" (2005)


Brainchild of musical genius Devin Townsend and emotional vent for his negativity and aggression, SYL stands alone as a vessel of extremity that other bands simply can't come close to. He is known as Hevy Devy with good reason, this is his domain where heavy goes above and beyond the sonic expectations of the time. His groundbreaking record City still holds up today and deserves its merit as one of the heaviest records of all time. Pioneering a modernized wall of sound production for Metal music, Devin has not just peaked the aesthetic approach but his unique personality and niche for composition emanates through the music. It puts him into that unchallenged place in the hearts of listeners. Alien is the only other SYL record to give City a run for its money and births one of Metal's best ever songs with a truly epic fusion of sing along hooks and monstrous grooves on Love.

Alien is a sonic experience, a whirlwind of fire and fury channeled through rhythmic grooves, exaggerated in the calamity of instruments howling together. If Dev has a partner in crime its Gene Hoglan. His distinctly jolting playing from behind the drum kit reinforces every strike and rhythm with endless flashes of dexterous rolls, hammering out maddening intricate patterns from atypical beats. He is a perfect complement to Devin's wall of sound approach, as its dirty crunching distortion guitars slam up against pounding baselines and a haze of industrial electronic sounds buried in the loudness. Its all propelled onward by slick pedals thumping in more electricity to the overflowing mess. I'm in awe of Hoglans machine like drumming.

The songwriting is prodigal. There is tandem between aesthetic and music, both extreme in nature, which can easily leave a record lopsided but the frustration and passion in Dev's immediate roars and blunt language, cries of "I hate myself" and the shrieking "fuck you" of Shitstorm mirrors all the emotional immediacy. Right as his scream burns every ounce of feeling, a sonic flood of high pitched synths fill the space as its the textural experience ascends. The path these songs take are sublime, fast turns through soaring heights into dizzying plummets cohesively following a narrative while bringing about an arsenal of unique riffs. When its applied in a more palatable sense with a formulaic song structure and a catchy hook you get the brilliance of Love.

With clattering drums,a scattering of subtle industrial noises and cutting synths the guitar plays a very centralized roll as the instrument pulling it all together. At times thick distortions play power chord arrangements but most impressively is the ramping up of production to extrapolate dense, gurgling chugs from palm muted picked grooves. In time with the guitars direction it can take on Djent like tones as Dev throws in obnoxious riffs that relish in the simplistic pleasures of absurd, over emphasized bends and open string chugs. Its a true head banging delight as its stamina charges through fields of unrelenting madness over and over again.

Alien kicks of with a racket. Front loading its most absurd, attention grabbing songs to then lead us though a more melodic pass for lack of a better word with Love and Shine. We Ride goes all out crazy with a battering of hard grinding riffs to unleash an unusual solo, clearly taking a different approach to the lead guitar that grows into the song. Then Possessions hits another climax with Devin deploying stunning infectious sections and continually upping the anti on them. In those two songs I feel like we hear more of the Dev you might expect on a solo project, except the music is extremified. Two Weeks give us a breather with a gorgeous, exotic and peaceful instrumental, it breaks the flow and the last two songs step in directions that don't quite come full circle.

With every listen I feel like its the type of record that needs to go out with a bang. There is no denying how utterly fantastic this record is and I am humbled to spoiled by rediscovering it. SYL will always be a favorite but with such a sea of music to drown in its amazing how much time can pass distant from music that's truly riveting. Strapping Young Lad where a huge deal growing up and I feel it is only right to do the rounds on their back catalog and cover a couple of records I never quite got to grips with. Looking forward to it. Can never get enough of the genius Devin Townsend!

Favorite Tracks: Skeksis, Shitstorm, Love, Shine, Possessions, Two Weaks
Rating: 9.5/10

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Soulfly "Ritual" (2018)


The years roll on by and Metal legend Max Cavalera, approaching fifty years of age, continues onward, devoted as ever to his distinct sound. This time the Soulfly project gets project some love, working with his son Zyon who delivers a battering from behind the drum kit. Much like Cavalera Conspiracy's Pyschosis, Ritual picks up some shared ideas in advancing the aesthetics of a style aging through this era of crisp production. It all sounds good but as the eleventh record of a relatively stagnant Groove Metal fusion, this latest Soulfly record has little in the way of surprise.

Born of the Nu Metal boom, Max's departure from Sepultura had him home in on the Groove Metal charm they helped pioneer with Chaos AD and Roots, while embracing Metal's latest trend of the time. As it died out the Soulfly project found its way through embracing elements of Thrash and Death Metal that solidified a distinct, settled indentity a decade ago. Any record since has felt without progression beyond that comfort zone but there is no denying Soulfly is fun and worthy of a good listen. Ritual however front loads the record with its best song, dropping its most infectious, groovy slamming riffs to bop to right at its opening. The rest of the music lives in the shadow of a cracking song worthy of the classics Max has composed over the years.

Everything else of the record is business as usual with a couple of stand out moments. Typical song structures and arrangements of bouncy, energetic, aggressive riffs go through the motions. Tracks like Under Rapture muster some excitement as the song erupts into fast thrashing guitars, engulfing vocals roar gritty, monstrous cries over a guitar shift, getting sinister with evil tremolo shredding. Feedback goes a different direction with obvious Motorhead vibes but its mostly the Pychosis blunt force approach to aesthetics in "over the top" moments that catch the ear here. Unfortunately its all a little to predictable to become more than the sum of its parts.

Rating: 5/10
Favorite Tracks: Ritual, Under Rapture, Demonized, Soulfly XI

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Iron Reagan "Dark Days Ahead" (2018)


If your looking for a fast and furious eight minutes of fist pumping mania, then Crossover Thrash outfit Iron Reagan have got your covered. Well beyond the heyday of Hardcore and Thrash Metal music meeting in the mid eighties, the five piece thrashers from Richmond Virginia revisit the sound with a modernized aesthetic, unrelenting intensity and bloodthirsty attitude. This is the best of them Ive heard so far and its a little jarring to think such high quality tracks wouldn't make the album cut.

From Authority to Watch You Die, the band lay down a furious pace spurred on by a thunderous snare that ricochets off lively, razor sharp distortion guitars, thrashing power chords back and forth, dizzying around the fret board. With songs lasting between one to two minutes they blitz through the riffage without circling back to the verse chorus formula. It propels the music forward, which is already running itself in a race of the cliff. Gang shouts and throaty yells of frustration and anger just further this rebellion of youthful energy and anger.

In the short space it occupies, the music finds degrees of techniques that span both edges of the Crossover sound. My favorite song, Patronizer, brings out some classic Slayer riffing style that leads into a wonderful explosion of ferocity as the gang shout cries out "pat-ro-niz-er". The following track also utilizes some of the Thrash Metal veterans sounds, its suits this band so well. Its five songs all offer something great and ultimately its too short for its own good! Can't wait for the next album.

Favorite Tracks: Patronizer, The Devistation
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Lycia "In Flickers" (2018)


I'll always be interested in some Ethereal Darkwave from Lycia. If its their classic Cold or the more recent A Line That Connects, it conjures a meditative mood Ive truly grown to love. They were one of a handful of bands to drew me to this cold, soothing and introspective sound that tinges on psychedelia. In Flickers has the experience I expected, forty three minutes of bleak, gloomy and forever drifting music. Its gentle and sombre in its pacing, soothing and indulgent with its reverb soaked instruments. We float precariously in a stasis of limbo, with purgatory just beyond our vision. Its a beautiful place that does not need anything happy or upbeat to be so.

For a moment the record surprised me as its second song, A Failure, includes the use of bold buzz saw synths and a punchier precussive beat that gives it a little feet moving dance and gusto. This shaped up my expectation to potentially hear an unleashing of a potent twist on the bands well defined sound. Unfortunately it wasn't so. Another one, Mist, returns to the idea for its almost five minute duration but two out of ten tracks leaves a musical idea that clearly works thoroughly unexplored. The chemistry only seems to give another dimension without taking anything away.

Through its shades of intensity and reworkings of the slow, dreary gothic soundscapes each song possesses, Rewrite stands out for its embracing of of a thick, distant and haunting sound at the heart of the song. Possibly a distortion guitar, the sound is lavished in effect pedals and comes through dense wall of ambiguous shadows. Its climatic melody soars with an unsettling darkness. Its forever marching baseline drives the song stride forward through this darkness in epic wonder.

In Flickers has all the hallmarks, slow and soft drums patter at humble pacing. Reverberated synths build snowy, chilling atmospheres and the singing of duo Mike and Tara bring arcane chorals and deeply spoken words to the fold within the composition style. Its very enjoyable and suited to its particular mood, with only a few sparks that transcend expectation Id say its a fair record, one for fans of the sound and a great introduction for those curios in Darkwave and Ethereal music.

Favorite Tracks: A Failure, Mist, 34 Palms, Rewrite, Autumn Into Winter
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 2 November 2018

Greta Van Fleet "Anthem Of The Peaceful Army" (2018)


The lime light is upon these young Classic Rock enthusiasts Greta Van Fleet. The time has come, this is their moment. I was enthralled by Black Smoke Rising and lukewarm on From The Fires but very much excited for this, their highly anticipated debut. With the first couple of listens I couldn't get along with much of it but with persistence I pushed through and found that the record is plagued by misfires that seem to dispel the magic its decent tracks conjure. Its lacking on those too. Anthem Of The Peaceful Army has few heights, some stinking lows and too much mediocrity.

Starting with the good we have the riled up energy of this era niche sound coming out through riffs of attitude and gusto, funky powerful drumming and the wild, soaring voice of Joshua Kiszka but only in a handful of moments. Unsurprisingly it pulls together well on lead single When The Curtains Fall. A song on par with the first EP.

The mediocrity seems to lie in the bands relying on tropes of that era gone by. The energy isn't always within their songwriting but more so the ideas of that time. Its as if the riffs, vocals and general approach to the music falls back on its nostalgic aesthetics, with more care given to capturing those older tones in a modern setting than getting the compositions and emotional direction right.

Then comes the ugly. I would mostly be critical of singer Joshua who, despite a fantastic voice, seems to miss the tone with his lyrics and performance style at times. The end of the record is tedious and his song Anthem seems to be a "come together" song, highlighting current political polarization and offering up a vacuous sentiment in return. Its lack of meaningful substance makes for unendurable listening.

I dislike being critical. It takes a lot of talent and effort to put together a record and as a listener I want nothing more than to enjoy the music but this misses the mark on so many levels. The inconsistency is strange and bar a few good songs this could of been a real stinker from a band who showed so much promise in reviving an old sound. Instead of moving that sound forward they seem to have circled the waters with little idea of where to go next. Very disappointing.

Favorite Tracks: When The Curtains Fall, Watching Over, Mountain Of The Sun
Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Beyond Creation "Algorythm" (2018)


Although I was mostly unimpressed by their last effort Earthbound Evolution, the Canadian Technical Death Metal outfit always deserve a look in after their impressive arrival onto the scene with the viral Omnipresent single. Since its release Ive listened to Algorythm over and over, soaking the deep web of music and coming to the realization that its greatness lies where it deviates from the bands own normality. It has some unusual compositions buried between the walls of music both brutal in aesthetic and dexterity. By letting the Progressive side to their sound flourish, Beyond Creation have forged some fantastically engaging music at times.

One of the first and most obvious new avenues they engage with comes on the third track Surface's Echos. It opens with lavish, reverberated eight string acoustic tones akin to Animals As Leaders and Plini. The opening distortion riff even mimics the use of unusual fretting sound with rhythmic sequences. Its a small moment but its comes around again in the following track. There are other paths the music takes that feels inherently different and it usual comes about in climactic melodic as the unrelenting knitting of instruments finds its respite, unleashing smooth atmospheres and scenic moments that lead the music away from the pummeling grind.

Its a breath of fresh air released against a flow of dizzying musicianship that crams whirling drums, slippery high end baselines and dexterous guitar riffs into almost every moment it can. Its a dense wall of sound that can be picked apart thanks to the marvels of modern production and the band truly embrace the clarity given to them. Three interchanging guitars and the monstrous drumming of Boucher endows the songs with a depth you'll be picking apart for quite some time. Unfortunately on the vocal front this record is dull. Girard takes a singular dimensional approach, blasts of guttural belly aches sound at home when backed by blast beats but in the musics expansive moments the screams sound sour. Its a firm drawback.

They go all out with their compositions but for all the technical marvel of seasoned musicianship it is nothing without direction. Many of these songs are lengthy and with that time they tie the foray of loaded blast beat laden grinds into progressive epics, usually spurred on by the eruption of a scaling lead guitar, opening the song to its next elevation. Its where the record shines, and the more they embrace this over the tropes of the genre, the better the music is. Luckily the balance is pretty steady and so the whole thing plays with a frequent shifting in intensity where one can fist pump with the methodical brutality and still embrace its bigger sense of self.

Favorite Tracks: Ethereal Kingdom, Algorythm, In Adversity
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 29 October 2018

Monstrosity "The Passage Of Existence" (2018)


When I first started exploring Death Metal, the Florida based group Monstrosity were one of a slew of bands that never held my attention for too long. They joined the scene in 92, around the peak of that first wave of bands. Since then they have been sparingly releasing albums every three to four years however its been eleven since their last effort Spiritual Apocalypse. That absence has not hindered their competence as a band in putting together a new record yet for all its decency I couldn't find much to draw me in closer. It has all the crisp and audible delights of modern production but its styling and songwriting is a little lost by the ages. Not to knock it, but It doesn't feel as exciting in comparison to when you hear this approach in music for the first time.

The record is loaded with a constant roll of tight and gnarly riffs. The chemistry between the drummer and rhythm guitarist is fantastic, lots of choppy technicalities lining the assault with brutal flavorings of groove and thrash from the rhythm guitar, always with a rapid, dexterous beat to match. The lead guitar sounds slick and lean, the songs frequent climatic moments for them to rise above and duel in tandem, flexing all the old tricks and wild sounding techniques. That is unfortunately a point of concern. The vocals are a dull drone, the same guttural tone grunts and groans at the same consistency and intensity throughout. It rarely compliments the dynamics of the music itself, even when shifting gears with an elongated roar.

The sound is generally encroaching on the Technical and Brutal sub-genres but given how developed those sounds are nothing comes of with a surprise. The guitar solos are attention grabbing and elaborate but as iterated above, its all been heard before. If you want the 90s sound then here you have got it. As already said, this is a competent band however they are spinning something I am just not interested in. For all the merit I can give it with my observations, It did little to draw me in or get the blood flowing. I can't think of a single song or moment that peaked my interest. Its all just to safe and cliche of the style. Nothing awful or off key, just not for me.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Old Tower "Drachenblut" (2018)


Short but sweet and very welcome, this three track release from Old Tower casts a familiar spell of meditative mysticism from dungeon ruins and forbidden lands. Its opening track is a spark of its own. Devoid of melody and even progression, this dreary drone of moody, spooky, esoteric sounds murmur repetitiously as the airy creaking of breath creates a state of suspension, as if one stumbled into the chambers of a hideous beast, safely locked in an eternal sleep. The soundscape oozes like an organic mess locked in the same loop, little creaks of volume shifts play out before it reaches a conclusion led by what sound like laser blasts. It forges a feeling of false reality that I adore. I very peculiar and unique song, one to experience.

The accompanying numbers are both two and a half minutes, not quite the epic format of ten or more minute tracks I had come to know. Storms Of The Dragon's Spells throws me back to the empirical vibes of Spectral Horizons. Deep bellowing, mystic and arcane choral synths builds a mighty atmosphere, the deep thundering of steeply reverberated but barely audible rumbling noises set the tone for the song to erupt in an evil triumph as gongs crash, thunders roar and a stoic melody reigns supreme.

Drachenblut adorns the spooky realm with eerie, unsettling organs and broken piano melodies that play like a percussive line. Once again a thick layer of foggy synths collide to make a rich and spell bounding atmosphere that's over a little to soon for my taste. Its first song is a gem of its own but the following two feel like sections out of the previous formula of lengthy songs that shift through several phases. I can't complain though, I am really enjoying this musician and reminded there is more in the back catalog.

Favorite Track: The Silence Beneath The Ancient Grounds
Rating: 5/10