Monday, 16 October 2017

Marilyn Manson "Heaven Upside Down" (2017)

There's little bad to say about Marilyn Manson's tenth record. I could get critical and say it gets off to a moderate start but as the wheels get spinning, they don't slow down! Best known for his culture shock records Antichrist Superstar and Mechanical Animals, Manson has seen a steady decline in recent years that got turned around with The Pale Emperor, a change of pace, an introspective artistic piece that turned his observational musing inwards. I was sorely disappointed at first, "Heaven Upside Down" was not continuing in that direction but with each passing listen it grew on me substantially. He may be approaching his 50s but the fire for his breed of intelligent rebellion still burns bright in this fellow.

The most obvious comparison for this change of pace is the Antichrist Superstar era. The vibes, instrumental aesthetics and attitude is similar in many spots with a helping dose of anger and aggression. His poetry is witty, sharp as a blade with cutting lines like the opening "fuck or fight" on "Jesus Crisis". I could make lists but this is Manson, his reputation needs no examples, hes on his best game here with cracking lyrics that turn in on themselves as the words unfold. His ability to write and deliver hooks elevates the instrumentals as you'd expect them to do but always catches you off guard.

Instrumentally things start off aggressive with crunching guitars leading the songs. Dirty, Industrial thumping riffs on steady repeat. "Tattooed In Reverse" experiments with gritty, buzzing baselines and sharp, often shrill oscillating synths for a rattle house of dystopian blues. "Saturnalia" Is the turning point, the music becomes expansive with echoes of The Pale Emperor distance the aggression for spaces to breath in as the moods start to flow. Its as the album winds down from its aggressive start that I find myself captivated, Manson's chemistry with his band mates seems to electrify as his performance resonates with lyrics carrying the burden of dramatic emotions.

This albums flow is a strength played to. It starts with a bang to lure you in and steadily evolves into a much deeper record. The density of the instrumentals, aided by rich electronics, plays to the versatility Industrial music can provide as the songs collectively share a space with quite a variety of textures and flavor to throw your way. It can shred distortion guitars and find its way to bustling acoustics too without loosing the heretic energy. Everything comes together on this record, the group are on fire and give us the all killer no filler treatment. I will leave this post with a favorite lyric I can't get out my head. "And I tried to look inside you, but ended up, looking through you, now you try to tell me, your not a ghost!".

Favorite Tracks: Say10, Saturnalia, Jesus Crisis, Heaven Upsidedown, Threats Of Romance
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 13 October 2017

Chelsea Wolfe "Hiss Spun" (2017)

American singer songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has had my ear for a while now. Her stunning Pain Is Beauty has been a standout record in recent memory but like all great artists, she continues moving forward and evolving with each record, which doesn't always yield success. Her feature on the title track of Russian Circle's Memorial seemed like a perfect match, something I craved to hear more of and her last release Abyss gave us that collaboration. Oddly it didn't resonate with me and this newest release, Hiss Spun, sounds exactly like what I hoped that pairing could accomplish. This time Chelsea features Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens of the Stone Age who composes monstrous Post-Metal guitars to bring weight and atmosphere to Chelsea's haunting presence.

With calms before storms we tepidly breathe, recover and anxiously await the lurking dread that's always present. One song after another has us in its grasp of haunting sorrow, and unsettling unease before unleashing the ugly, disturbed, mammoth walls of sound that drown us in its thick, dense and meaty persuasion of sludgy, wailing guitar noise. They bleed at the seems, burgeoning with gritty texture, turning eerie atmospheres to nightmares in there wake. With a swarming intensity the layers of sound flesh out dizzying moods as floods of Post-Metal guitars descend upon the listener in sudden, violent eruptions, sometimes with a little build up.

Chelsea's soft and pain felt voice finds its setting here with familiarly dark and harrowing instrumentals of baron percussion, eerie reverberated acustic instruments and piano chords of dread. Its set to new extremes with truly massive guitar distortions as most the songs find a pace to proceed to an unleashing of dense Post-Metal guitars stacked with sludging rumblings of guitar noise that occasionally have a semblance of groove but mostly thunder away a monotone driving of momentum.

 The chemistry is sublime, when it roars Chelsea's voice transforms from the weak, vulnerable, tortured soul to a fierce, empowered beacon of bitter strength. It comes in measures and always with an ear for aesthetics, her voice often discernible in a ghostly wash of reverberation. The compositions all feel linear, expanding and growing in one direction, taking us on a journey through her pain and inner darkness. A couple of tracks don't feel to dissimilar to previous work, her vocal style showing some boundaries in places as they echo old songs.

Hiss Spun is a maelstrom of noise, numbing you with its bludgeoning rumble of sludge guitars that decimate in the eye of its storm. The shadowy calms between hold us captive as the inescapable approaches. A fine record with vision, stunning execution and little to flaw, possibly her best to date? Id say it comes down to taste, I personally love the electronic variety on Pain Is Beauty but adore the overwhelming experience these forty eight minutes of smothering whisk you into.

Favorite Tracks: Spun, 16 Psyche, Vex, Offering, Static Hum
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Prophets Of Rage "Prophets Of Rage" (2017)

Rage Against The Machine are back! This time under the guise of Prophets Of Rage, with Zack De La Rocha sidelined and replaced by Hip Hop legends Chuck D and B Real. Ive been excited for this record ever since Download Festival where I saw them rock the stage playing plenty of Rage classics between a couple of original songs. Their debut EP "The Party's Over" released last year was not to much to rave about but enough to get the hype going and introduce to the new line up to Rage fans.

This record isn't here to throw creative surprises our way, the five are here to give us another dose of that fantastic politically charged sound Rage unleashed back in the nineties. Tom Morello's guitar work has been frozen on ice, unleashing riff after riff of those classic overdriven tones that rock hard grooves to move a crowd and plenty of his fantastic noise driven aesthetics, sounding like a scratching DJ on the decks during his solo's and fleshing out the tracks with flavorful flashy sounds.

The chemistry of the three is essential and they have no problems making it work. The bassist steps up with bright thumping grooves when Morello takes to noise, example "Fired The Shot", amazing duality at work. The loud, thudding drumming is there to turn up the intensity when the big riffs drop in and keeps things lively and moving inbetween. Chuck D is a commanding presence as the front man, his vocal style a perfect fit for the politically minded stance of the band. Alongside him B Real, as much as I love him and Cypress Hill, does sound a little off on a few tracks although he does provide a favorite moment as he lifts LL Cool J's classic flow for an anti-cop statement on "Take Me Higher". That song and "Legalize" do mark a weaker vibe on the record when toning down the traditional sound for something with a more laid back flavor, the instrumentals just don't quite excite the same way.

Its not a consistent record, you can enjoy it immensely from front to back but when it bangs its worthy of Rage's classics. "Hail To The Chief" and "Unfuck The World" simply set the bar to high for other songs on the record, the result is peaks and valleys. The political topics are as to be expected, plenty of food for thought to mull over but the real winner is in the fantastic hooks a couple of tracks drop in the choruses, packing the point into great lines to sing along to at the live shows. Classic Rage is present on this record in full force but only for a few songs.

Favorite Tracks: Unfuck The World, Living On The 110, Hail To The Cheif, Fired A Shot, Who Owns Who
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Enter Shikari "Take To The Skies" (2007)

Its unbelievable to think ten years have flown by but that's life. "Take To The Skies" is the unleashing of our local band Enter Shikari onto the world. Ive seen this band go from the school down the road to headlining festivals and this album is a personal one, loaded full of fond memories and strong emotions. It was a big event, we got to see some of their pivotal shows around that era including their Download performance of the same year in the big blue tent which was absolutely rammed and loaded with mosh pits.

It's no masterpiece but a personal triumph for fans of Enter Shikari, a band you can truly adore if they push your buttons. "Take To The Skies" had no surprises, the culmination of their best songs from years of utterly relentless touring are polished and fined tuned alongside three or so new tracks. Its all glossed up with album quality production and a reworking of the electronics to flesh out all their songs with which raving synth lines that bleed into the interludes lined between a handful of tracks.

In retrospect the lack of subtly on this record is a charm the band would grow with time to gleam upon. The raw fusion of Hardcore throw downs and rampant rave electronics is undeniable in the wake of their youthful energy and inspired charisma. Its never gotten old, the fantastic chemistry to create energetic, uplifting and fun music with a real backbone of feeling and lead them into explosions of aggression with grooving beat downs and guitar chugging breakouts that would always get a crowd moving. Seeing the path they have taken, it becomes apparent how simplistic some of the compositions are but Shikari pull it off with a stroke of inspiration that you cant criticize given its authenticity.

The albums flow is flawed, It gets of to a wild start with fan favorites and two new tracks then the interludes break up the flow and the second half unwinds at a different pace, leading to the fantastic "Adieu" with would showcase the genius to expect of this band leading forward. It ends with the explosive "Ok, Time For Plan B" after its infectious build up, a great choice to end on before the closing tracks echos of the albums opener. It gives the record somewhat of a compilation vibe given the attachment of knowing most the music before its release and I'm not sure if the interludes were an attempt to create a bigger picture with the record as a whole but I never felt it succeeded in doing that, if it was the intent.

 Its the music that's wonderful and the years gone by make me realize how foundational they were as songwriters then. Singer Rou's screams and shouts are so fitting of the scene at that time and stylistically raw. The synths are accents of the tone, not woven in but aligning with the music and in many cases leading it. The beat downs are again atypical of the scene yet executed with an edge of creativity and always in the direction of the music, never rumbling out of nowhere and always feeling like an essential part of the music. Its truly fascinating and speaks volumes to the music these guys would write with their currently best record "The Mindsweep".

I adore this record and trying to be objective I wouldn't consider it a classic but on a personal level the nostalgia, adventure and fun of the time are deeply connected to the music and Shikari will always hold a special place for all the amazing memories. I think even back then we knew this band would be special forever to come. I little gutted now I missed the anniversary show this year but I will see them soon and forever be revisiting this wonderful record. On a final note I think its fitting to point out this record was an independent release on their own record label and their DIY ethic speaks volumes to the passion they have that you can hear running through this album.

Rating: 10/10

Monday, 9 October 2017

Drudkh "Somewhere Sadness Wanders" (2017)

Many years back in my early days of Black Metal discovery I remember Drudkh as one of the first bands I heard branching out from the traditional aggression and satanic oriented sound. Perhaps with a strong influence from Burzum their journey into low fidelity textural guitar distortions brought about a sense of naturism, atmosphere and natural beauty. At the time it was a really odd experience but Id never stuck with the band despite holding them in high regard, they just slipped my mind at the time. All these years later I tune into there latest EP and I'm greeted with a reminder of how we learn music, the textures, melodies, structures and inspiration. This was once a challenging band for me, yet now its a welcoming pleasure. Drudkh are a Ukrainian band who formed in 2002 and have since released ten full lengths and this is the latest of six EPs.

Opening with "All Shades Of Silence" we are hurtled into an immediate wall of sound, thick and textural with shrill melodies bleeding from distortion wrapped in the thunder of blast beats and driven by a pounding baseline. In rather primitive yet effective song structuring this drone of darkness breaks to reveal the light with a shift to another short repeated section of dual guitar work, scaling tremolo picking and churning power chord ripping working off one another in tandem. These simple shifts lead the song into a stark and bleak minimalist composition on the keyboards, a cosmic glimpse as astral synths draw out their spacious tones over a buried, mysterious clicking. In its final phase the song finds its way back to a far more expansive Black Metal tone with Post-Metal guitar leads and an adventurous baseline rumbling up and down the fret board. Its a song that conjures an Ethereal setting, rich in atmosphere, with the harsh contrast of mother natures cruelty through ripping guitar distortions. The second song is more of the same, big blocks of arrangements on repeat, changing up every minute or so, shuffling back and forth and around the five minute mark jumping to an excellent climatic break with heathen chants over the shift in musical intensity.

The music is fantastic, fast, intense yet soothing, indulgent and wondrous in that typically Black Metal way. The guitar texture and riffs are much to my taste but the one thing I couldn't get out of my mind were the song structures. Each song seemed to play of the shifting of the short sections on repeat. Each had four to five each with some variations that made up over twenty minutes of music. Despite seeming simplistic, its extremely effective! Solid record, I have no excuse now to not give them more attention.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Mastodon "Cold Dark Place" (2017)

Hot of the back of the desert sun soaked "Emperor Of Sand", American Sludge Metal rockers Mastodon bring us four songs I hoped were b-sides from their album released earlier this year. I say that because It has grown on me greatly over the months, Mastodon have the experience and talent to write music with depth that lasts. The same could be said of these four songs however, as the title suggests, they have moved on from the warm summery sound into a "Cold Dark Place", with exception to "Toe To Toes", that song would fit snugly into Emperor Of Sand.

Climate, temperature and luminosity are highly suggestive ideas in music. The record certainly kicks off with a chilling tone, its quaint aesthetics let bustling acoustics resonate of a flute line as the song jumps straight into its moment with earthly singing, the two voices chiming with a catchy quirkiness given the sombreness setting. Its a spooky, ethereal place we drift through with an odd moment of Funk as a upbeat jive manages to penetrate this melancholic place as the song unleashes its guitar solos. The groove is rather reminiscent of CKY given the style of singing and flexing riff beneath.

"Blue Walsh" and "Cold Dark Place" are in the same realm of eerie, dark melancholy without any heavy or blunt metallic riffage. Everything is a tapestry of thoughtful riffs layers to resonate and on the first mentioned song, a rather soothing, relaxing atmosphere is conjured with strong plentiful reverberation on the vocals the drifts over the instrumentals like a graceful ghost lost in memory.

Unfortunately, this is Mastodon and so the spell of our three darker tracks are often interspersed with technically dazzling riffs that scale the fret board with pace but in doing so break the spell of this shadowy, chilling setting. The same could be said of the solos too, when the distortion picks up and the more human Rock elements come to the front, it pushes the sombre setting out of mind. I really have enjoyed this record but its kind of bitter sweet as they don't fully embrace the mysterious atmosphere they create on three of the four songs.

Favorite Tracks: North Side Star, Blue Walsh, Toe To Toes
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 6 October 2017

Septic Flesh "Codex Omega" (2017)

Greek veterans Septic Flesh have been at it since the early nineties and "Code Omega" is their tenth full length release and what a fine record it is! Being relatively unfamiliar with the band I don't know a lot about them bar an obscure EP I happen to really like. They play atmospheric and symphonic Death Metal with touches of other extreme sounds identifiable in the constructs of their sound. The symphonic elements of this record are exceptionally fleshed out, mind the pun. It borders on orchestral as the rich tapestry of music compliments the already high fidelity Metal production.

The band generally arrange the strings and symphonies around the rhythm of thunderous drums that pound tribal grooves in tandem with the monstrous thickness of the distortion guitars. When they are stripped back the orchestration arises to fill the gap and in turn dials it down when the guitars take lead. This rather mechanical sounding approach works ever so well as the melodies, grooves composed compliment each other well and work towards the same overall theme and sense of atmosphere, allowing them to be inherently different and playing to the strengths of whats needed in the progression of the songs.

The majority of these songs unfold like epic battles, the sirens of war call out alongside the crushing onslaught of chugging guitars and battering blast beats. Singer Antoniou roars his deep growling guttural words like a battle cry. Climatic break outs and shifts in direction create a true sense of direction as they spark the imagination to what events are unfolding in this cinematic experience. Its not all brutality and bludgeoning, bursts of light creep in as breaks to melodic lead sections are graced by the capable and authentic clean vocals of guitarist Vayenas.

There is little to falter, fantastic, sublime production brings crisp and bright instruments together in an extreme setting. My only complaint would be the occasional lack of charm, "Faceless Queen" chugs out a monotone syncopated groove with an incessant jolting of strings. It makes its point, creating a state of immanent fear and danger but does so with blunt force and a few other moments like this felt like the craft slipped for a moment. Otherwise its a sturdy collection of songs with the acoustic guitar lead "Trinity" closing the album on a throwback to the "Eldest Cosmonaut" EP I am fond of. This is probably because its the only other record of theirs I know!

Favorite Tracks: Martyr, Enemy Of Truth, The Gospels Of Fear, Trinity
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Public Service Broadcasting "Every Valley" (2017)

Its been a couple of years in the works but the London based trio Public Service Broadcasting are back with another unique work of interest revolved entirely around the decline of the coal mining industry of Southern Wales. The outfit bring together gleaming atmospheric Post-Rock and soft guitar grooves with subtle electronics for their own brand of calming music that straddles the lines between the forefront and background of your attention. Its a sweet spot to operate where their unique sampling of the archives of British Pathe archives creates an artistic, nostalgic and retrospective narrative for the music to revolve around. This topic couldn't of been more fitting for them.

Instrumentally the record may in some ways seem unremarkable. There is a lack of upfront immediacy or urgency in the compositions, with exception to the alarming, danger ridden "All Out" that plays like a climax of violence. Its mostly laid back, chilled out and generally a soothing experience for the listener as soft melodies and licks resonate of one another. Its in their choice of sampling and guest vocalists that the record comes to life. Under the spell of gentle, peaceful music the stage is set for deep thought as the vocal snippets of miners, union workers and community members tell the tales of their perceived wrong doing, sparking the mind into reflection. Although its focused around the mining strikes of the 80s and the industries demise in general, there is much to be taken away from the wisdom and truths that emerge, perhaps with some intentional parallels to our modern times.

A significant change in approach is the inclusion of guest singers who I suspect may have ties to the history of the coal miners, given native Welsh singing on one track. There traditional singing changes the format somewhat and the women's soft effeminate voices are far more suited for the environment and mood of the record than the males singers. Its a strange quirk but the two men just didn't seem in place with the music. The album itself starts strong with powerful themes and musical ideas however "All Out" is a turning point it never recovers from. After that fiery affair the record fizzles out as its unwinding of intensity looses its ability to captivate. The first half is fantastic however, the second seems to stretch what was initially a bright and welcoming chemistry.

Favorite Tracks: The Pit, Progress, All Out
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Satyricon "Deep Calleth Upon Deep" (2017)

Satyricon may not be the first band to come to mind when discussing Norwegian Black Metal but they have their place in its history. Around since the dawn of the 90s as a Death Metal outfit the group quickly switched to the new rebellious sound, releasing a couple of demo's before the scene blew up in the wake of scandalous church burning and murder. After a handful of records some consider classics, the duo Frost and Satyr strayed from the scenes roots leading into the millennium and developed their slower, discordant, somewhat atmospheric take on the music which has never received much critical acclaim but has grown them an niche audience.

Their last release, the self titled, was said to be a real stinker and so I gave it a pass, thus arriving at this new release with pretty low expectations. "Deep Calleth Upon Deep" is a murmuring stroll of a record that wanders through its various arrangements of ideas at a leisurely pace. With little urgency and barely any gusto the duo muster together riffs in a dull and dark setting. The tone is drab, linear and aesthetically rather flat despite a crisp distortion tone. The music is all guitar led and the only apparent chemistry is between the weaving riffs and Frost who throws down uninspired beats in varying degrees of intensity as Satyr wails thin and grisly half screams on queue with the songs tempo.

Monochromatic is the word that comes to mind, this record is narrow and lifeless. In an odd way there is a charm about its one dimensional vision. Something I think a different listener might find get a kick from but for me it was mostly dull bar an occasional moment to perk the ears. Everything here is driven by one guitar track, interlining sliding guitar leads and plucked notes between low end power chords. On occasional its technically impressive, almost always leaning into the unusual and unexpected spectrum of composition but lacking the inspiration to whisk these ideas into proper songs.

In a scattering of moments other sounds enter the music like half baked ideas. Satanic, worrisome operatic chants wobble in the distance with a guest vocal on the title track. The opening of "Dissonant" includes avant-garde trumpet playing buried under the guitars and wherever another dimension of sound opens up its always half committed, taking the wind out of its sails. Disappointing, this record could have been better as it does encroach on a unique flavor and moments of interest but with mainly weak and forgettable tracks it plays like a grey wash of blandness.

Favorite Tracks: Deep Calleth Upon Deep, Burial Rite
Rating: 3/10

Monday, 2 October 2017

Enter Shikari "The Spark" (2017)

I felt an immense disappointment after the first play through of "The Spark", for it was as if the spark itself had gone from Enter Shikari, a band who Ive followed from my local schools to headlining festivals over the past decade. On reflection "The Mindsweep" is an immense record from a band who can sweep you up with their passion and persona without having to write subjectively brilliant music. That record was the moment where their identity found a new level, a musical brilliance that could possibly see it as their magnum opus, it was also my favorite record of 2015.

With repeated listens I found my way into the record and have my finger on the pulse of my initial reaction. The bar had been raised, expectation were high but Shikari make an artistic shift in direction that rubbed me the wrong way. The links to Metal and Hardcore have been severed, distortion guitars, breakdowns and explosions of energy are no more and these were often my favorite moments in their songs. The rest of what we know remains intact but we also hear a fervent shift to a more vulnerable emotive form of Rock that reminds me distinctly of Radiohead. This is especially so on a handful of songs where Rou opens up his voice for an honest softness to resonate over light instrumentation.

You can hear this new direction best on "Airfield" which leads straight into the contrasting "Rabble Rouser", a song that depicts the old Shikari perfectly. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a song left over from their previous direction. Its an electronic party club track with some light, overdriven chopping guitar licks in the build to a where you'd expect to find an explosive break down of sorts. Instead the track never finds climax despite being a solid track. I can't help but feel there is a conscious decision at work to not go down that avenue, even if the direction can still be felt in the music they write.

Change is always welcome, can't expect an artist to spin the same tricks forever but with a step to the side we also take a step back. "The Spark" is a fine record with a plentiful offering of emotionally warm music. Shikari tone down the aggression and flesh out the themes and lyrics of their songs with rich, colorful instrumentation, interweaving many electronic tones with light guitars in an uplifting spirit. "Undercover Agents" may brush up along side the currently popular "woah-oah-oah" chants but where they get excessively catchy and accessible it still seems very authentic and genuine. Given the current state of affairs, Rou's lyrics tackle the events of recent years that have shook many people with poetic turns of phrase that make for captivating hooks and choruses.

As a collection of songs its a fine affair but the flow of the record is somewhat choppy as the tone, mood and intensity fluctuates between and within the tracks. It really does feel like a transitional record for the band however this doesn't hinders the brilliance of these musicians from charming us with another swell of great musical ideas again. It has a fantastic production, a lot more creativity in the percussive department and with less reliance on the guitars they can still muster the sing along spirit that will have you bopping along at the live show! I hope they will grow well into this turn of pace.

Favorite Songs: The Sights, Live Outside, Take My Country Back, The Revolt Of The Atoms
Rating: 7/10