Sunday, 30 November 2014

Marvin Gaye "Whats Going On" (1971)


"Marvin Gaye, used to sing to me, he had me feeling like black was the thing to be, and suddenly the ghetto didn't seem so tough, and though we had it rough, we always had enough"..... I should have taken note at an earlier age, and how it took me so long to find Marvin is beyond me, his sweet soulful voice is medicine for blues. I find myself a little anxious and hesitant to write about this piece of music so powerful and beautiful I could never do it justice, but then again my words will never justify the experience of "listening", feeling the music, and this is music you will feel deep in your soul, but first lets talk a little about Marvin. Born in April of 39, Marvin was a singer / songwriter who rose to prominence through Motown Records in the 60s. Dealing with inner struggles, romantic endeavors and cocaine addiction, Marvin was a troubled soul with a beautiful talent and a captivating, soothing voice that touched the souls of many. His addictions and troubles would get the better of him through his career that came to a sudden and tragic end in 84 when he was shot by his father in circumstances that suggest he was aware of the fatal consequences fighting with his father would bring onto him.

Marvin's music was often inspired internally, but this conceptual album was inspired by life in the ghettos and the war in Vietnam, where he found himself asking, "Whats Going On?". Initially hesitant to support Marvin in his social conscious direction, this would turn out to be a huge hit and go on to become Motown's best selling album. The themes expressed are from the viewpoint of a Vietnam war vet returning home to America to find the struggles at home are worsening. Asking questions about the hardships of life and human behavior, Marvin finds a stunning balance between the negative and positive, offering uplifting melodies and messages alongside questioning the dark nature of war and poverty. Marvin's voice and the music work together in stunning harmony as infections soulful singing compliments moody, grooving instrumentals that are gently dramatic, harmonious and layered with instruments and percussion that give it a depth the keen ear can hear the genius subtleties in the quieter instruments. Theres fantastic variety from the large instrument pallet, many elements come in and out of focus in an organic and effortless manor, creating rich, colorful instrumentals that drive deep into the heart. The presence of the bass guitar is a consistent element through out that provides a solid emotional backbone for this record, offering up grooves and exploration playing that is constantly dancing on the fretboard. The inclusion of bongo drums in the percussive department is another fantastic element adding to the instrumental variety.

The record as a whole is a stunning musical experience, the songs move from one to the next in a continuous fashion that has some pretty obvious, rigid transitions in tempo and key that somehow sound great despite their obvious nature. The recording is heavenly, not even considering the era this album sounds cultured, colorful and bright. Their is a cluster of instruments detailing these tracks that are mixed and balanced sublimely, nothing is overpowering and everything is audible, capturing the character of all the instruments. Over it all Marvin's voice is glorious, mixed with many backing tracks, double takes and subtle choirs that breath so much energy and soul into the listener as Marvin's infectious vocal leads overlap, chime and dance with one another. Its a deep, powerful and beautiful listening experience, both for its glorious sound and socially conscious message that can make you feel good when tackling the harder subjects of our collective existence. Marvin shows the beauty in pain and gives strength to those who ask the questions.

Favorite Song: Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Rating: 10/10

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Christian Death "Only Theater Of Pain" (1982)


I came across this album during some casual browsing, praised as the first Gothic Rock album I figured its something I should give a listen. My understanding of Gothic music is limited, so the accuracy of that statement is beyond my knowledge, but this certainly struck me as an overtly Gothic and "out there" record considering the time. The stark album cover is certainly attention grabbing, and the ghoulish yellow font could be an early source of inspiration for many Extreme Metal bands who in the coming years would take a similar path with their logos. And with all that said, Christian Death are a four piece outfit from California, and this is there debut album.

With the sound of church bells opening this album, the group set their Gothic tone quickly as the drums bring in a beat for dreary, mournful guitars to build an eerie atmosphere of pain and suffering through some rather genius flange overdriven leads that gel with a strong, warm bass presence thats participation in the forefront fills a space left by the guitar leads that go of on noisy, emotive tangents in between the core riffs. The chemistry is strong between the two and provides moody Gothic instrumentals for Rozz Williams's vocals which are a point of interest. Flamboyant and dramatic, Rozz's delivery is driving with a slight touch of whine. Its a hard one to describe, but its a love / hate style and one that defines a lot about this album. The lyrical content is introspective, emotional and romanticized with some dark and occult overtones through vivid use of language. 

The aesthetic and theme of this album is spot on, but the execution is disappointing. When doing it right the songs are dramatic, dauntless and absorbing, but more often than not the songs wander off into uninspiring and self indulged tangents that fail to offer anything to get excited about. These weaker songs were frequent and made the listen somewhat of a drag, but for what it does right I will find myself revisiting this one to hear the better numbers.

Favorite Tracks: Cavity, Figurative Theater, Romeo's Distress, Deathwish
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 28 November 2014

T.S.O.L. "Dance With Me" (1981)


The True Sounds Of Liberty (T.S.O.L.) are an American Hardcore Punk band who release this, their debut album, in 81 not long after releasing a self titled E.P. This record saw the bands shift their sound in a new direction, something they would continue to do as they progressed through their career, which is still going today despite disbanding and reforming in the 90s. A stranger at a Public Enemy show recommended this record to me seemingly at "random" and I doubt I would of found my way to it otherwise. Since then its been a short record that I turn to from time to time.

Aesthetically, T.S.O.L. have a fairly average Punk sound, unapologetic vocals, simplistic and overdriven chord led guitars, energetic drumming and a bass guitar thats bold presence and involvement in the music is refreshing and a rewarding part of their sound. Rough around the edges, the production is fairly impressive considering the times and value of an "underground" act. What makes T.S.O.L. stand out is their creative musicianship and theme. Through these 11 short songs the group keep a varied approach that gives each track its own identity and flexibility to be inventive and inspired creatively, again the bass guitar often being heavily involved in some of the more progressive and unexpected moments.

It wasn't until recently exploring Gothic Rock (Christan Death, The Cure, Fields Of Nephilim) that I thought of this record and realized its strong Gothic overtone. Although the lyrical content is more socially, emotionally aware, their is a definite tinge of Gothic culture in there, maybe most noticeable on "Silent Scream". It gave this record a unique theme and identity I noticeably enjoyed. This "review" wouldn't be complete without a mention of the track "Code Blue" a comical tongue in cheek number about necrophilia that is packaged with their most catchy and rockable instrumental, definitely one of the highlights of this short record, which at 25 minutes often leaves me a little disappointed with its length, however these songs are short, to the point and devoid of filler. A quality album with a fantastic vibe.

Favorite Songs: Code Blue, The Triangle, I'm Tired of Life, Love Story, Silent Scream, Funeral March, Dance With Me
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lord Lovidicus "Wandervogel Des Waldes" (2014)


I always look forward to new material from Crow, the man behind Lord Lovidicus, but this time I found myself slightly disappointed at first. It has taken sometime for this one to grow on me and it leaves me pondering if this says something about the music, me or possibly the mood I was in when first listening, but either way I have grown fond of it now after several listens through.

"Wandervogel Des Waldes" brings back some earlier elements of minimalism and simplicity in the LL sound and packages it with a pallet of sound and percussion similar to post "When The Mountain Falls" records. These lengthier tracks brood and venture through mystic ancient themes with a attentive appreciation for atmosphere and melody as these slower paced and moody tracks progress gently through imaginative passages often minimal, with a melodic lead over an atmospheric choir synths, guided by a gentle tambourine. There are some more layered moments here and there, but generally these songs follow a simpler narrative in absorbing ambiance. The lush instrumentation soaked in reverb give this record a glowing sound that does a lot for it, creating a strong atmosphere to get lost in as these melodies sing their stories.

Despite my eventual enjoyment, I am left asking many questions of this record and LL. Sometimes more of the same doesn't quite work, and I feel this record has great moments and songs, but they don't stand apart from the last few efforts of which the songs and names don't stick in my mind like earlier records such as "Trolldom" or "The Stars Reflect An Ancient Magic". Maybe it's the similar pallet? Or perhaps the notation isn't as bold or adventurous as before. Whatever the difference is I would definitely be excited for a change and new direction, rather than another album of this theme which I think has been expansively explored. With all that said I imagine for a newer listener this album would be very rewarding.

Favorite Tracks: A Hall Of Trees, The Mead Hearth
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Erang "We Are The Past" (2014)


We are the past, the eighth full length from Fantasy / Dungeon Synth artist Erang, an album title that boldly marks the intent and direction of this album, of which this became vividly apparent as the themes and melodies of this record unraveled themselves in captivating glory. Erang's inspiration shines bright as ever. Spiritual, cultured folk tales sing their songs, capturing the essences of our heritage in a lush and immersible record.

The album starts of with "Im Ajinar Nost Alije", a tribal drum pounds, ghoulish chants and lightning strikes guide us through the mist as our journey begins. Accompanying, possibly oriental?, instruments lay down the folk foundations for this record that take on many forms as the album progresses through varied instrumentation and aesthetics. From here the record develops through some beautiful and stunning moments where harmonious melodies weep over gentle, atmospheric backings that tell the tale of cultures lost by time and dust. The mood is varied, with some lifting songs come some moodier, darker vibes as Erang explores both the bright and darker sides of the ancient world. 

The production of this record feels almost flawless with no noticeable technical discrepancies. The instruments and sounds on display are lush, crisp and enigmatic. The mix is spacious and roomy which the instruments fill with their eloquent color. My only disappointment with this album was the track "Wine And Beer" which felt very out of place, obviously its a folkish pub song, but it heavily contrasted and broke up the mood of this listen which has been stunning and immersible, Erang's best work to date.

Favorite Songs: I Dreamt Of An Emerald Forest, The Loneliest Fighter, The First Snow, Lament For My Horse, Forever Gone But Never Lost
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 24 November 2014

Pharmakon "Abandon" (2013)


Hailing from New York, USA, Pharmakon is the moniker of Power Noise musician Margaret Chardiet. "Abandon" is her debut full length that confronts the listener musically and visually with its repulsive album art that is powerfully suggestive without any use of explicit imagery. It sets the tone for a depraved and dark record that will unsettle the listener. Unlike much music of this nature Margaret's compositions are in fact composed as opposed to improvisational pieces so often found in Power Noise and Depraved music. It is testament to this record where each track sets an immersible tone by design and explores the darker reaches of the mind with purpose and intent.

The instrumentals of this record are carefully woven soundscapes that brood and drone through lengthy periods. Detailed power synthesizers create an array of textured sounds that are stitched together with a minimalistic edge, forging a cold and unforgiving noise dragged along by slow, bludgeoning thuds and hits resembling a beat to guide a psychotic narrative. On their own the instrumentals are not as intense or abrasive as the overall mood of these songs, individually the instruments are not ear piecing or especially dark, more alien and industrial, but brought together they become nightmarish and dizzying experiences.

Margaret's biggest asset is her voice. The instrumentals set the tone, but it is her phenomenal scream and range of sound that drags you down to hell. Using some slight reverb and at times some additional distortion, these vocals cover a range of dark emotions, at times sounding like a tortured soul held against will, or a malevolent spirit that would inflict such torturous cruelty. On the track "Ache" you hear the two almost at communication with one another. On "Pitted" she executes some tribal, ritualistic clean leads that chant and dance through the fog. The overall execution and production of this record is solid, the crafted nature of the instrumentals and powerful vocals create a confrontational and immersible listening experience that leaves a lasting impression.

Favorite Tracks: Pitted, Crawling On Bruised Knees
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Steak Number Eight "All Is Chaos" (2011)


Post Rock/Metal outfit Steak Number Eight are a four piece band from Belgium who released their debut EP in 2008 when the band members age was at an average of 16. Three years later these youngsters released their debut full length "All Is Chaos" in 2011 which I was recently turned onto by a friend. I enjoyed this record with no knowledge of their age, which shows it doesn't really matter when it comes to music.

Steak Number Eight have a big, epic, sludging sound. The group stroll their way through many varying degrees of heavy, melodic and grooving riffs that draw influences from Post-Rock and other styles of Metal that give each track its own flavor. These lengthy songs drone and brood rather than progress as moods and atmospheres intensify into bombastic moments littered with catchy riffs and absorbing climaxes. The album opens with "Dickhead", a catchy bouncy track that doesn't quite set the tone for what follows. Offensive lyrics and upfront riffing, the song climaxes with some almost Deftones-esque screams and guitar grooves that starts this one of with a head banger that the rest of the album doesn't quite follow suit with, offering much more moody atmospheres in the following tracks.

The album sounds decent, nothing spectacular but the guitar tones are the highlight, the production captures the best of the melodic guitars often soaked in blissful reverb. The distorted rhythm guitars texture and tone is sublime, capturing the right balance of distortion and fuzz, giving the guitar room to move in and out of the spotlight when providing the momentums grooves or backing for melodic leads. The drumming and bass is a little underwhelming, I don't recall any moments where the bass came to the forefront or the drum patterns were doing much more than guiding and accommodating the guitar department. Decent album with some great riffs but lacked icing on the cake.

Favorite Tracks: Dickhead, Stargazing
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 21 November 2014

Carcass "Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel" (2014)


Hailing from Liverpool, England, Carcass are a pioneering Extreme Metal group who's roots were originally in Grindcore before defining their trademark sound with 93's "Heartwork", an album thats originality and production has had a lasting influence on Metal music and could be considered a very important album and the beginning of Melodic Death Metal, a genre, that as the name suggests, brings tune and melody to the forefront of a brutal and dark aesthetic. Disbanding in 95 the group have reformed in recent years and taken their time to write a spiritual successor to Heartwork, "Surgical Steel", released in 2013. This EP contains 5 tracks from the same recording session that didn't make the final cut.

Despite being left overs from the album, this short listen retains the energy and level of quality Surgical Steel delivered. Any of these songs would sound great on the album, however none of them are stand out tracks with anything notably attention grabbing. These are typical Carcass songs, tightly performed Death Metal with melodic leads, tight grooves and a consistent creativity from the rhythm guitar, decorating these tracks with a diversity that keeps them fresh and appealing. These tracks did feel somewhat "lighter" with a focus on the rockable grooves and vocal hooks over any "all or nothing" heavy moments.

After a few listens I am left with a slight emptiness towards this record, these are fantastic songs that really deserve to be part of a full length and the nature of a short listen leaves me yearning for more. Great songs but the format falls a little short for a band like Carcass. On a final note, Heartwork is a special album, one that we will discuss soon.

Favorite Track: Livestock Marketplace
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Job For A Cowboy "Sun Eater" (2014)


Job For A Cowboy are an American Death Metal group who made a lot of noise in the Deathcore scene with their 2005 debut "Doom", an EP that personified some of the scenes best qualitys. It created a buzz around the group that quickly gained them momentous popularity. The release of their first full length "Genesis" in 2007 saw the group break into mainstream charts while simultaneously dropping the entirety of there Deathcore roots for a pure Death Metal sound. Speculation would lead me to believe this was probably the plan from day one, to use a trending scene to gain popularity and then write the music they wanted to. I don't think theres anything wrong with that, and their fan base has certainly not revolted because of the transition, but for me it was a disappointment to see one of the finer Deathcore bands turn into another unremarkable Death Metal act, similar to what happened with Annotations Of An Autopsy.

Sun Eater seemed intriguing and promising at first, Cowboy deliver a composed and more progressive sound tinged with a touch of Black Metal in the guitar chords. Favoring layered and detailed compositions over pounding brutality, the opening track "Eating The Visions Of God" set the tone for a lush sounding record where anything could happen. The production is outstanding, crisp, dense guitar tones. A balanced drum kit with a bass kick and snare mixed to perfection. The bass was the highlight of this album for me, sounding thick, bold and melodic it continuously came to the forefront, pounding out grooving progressions and high pitched notation that added an exciting dimension to their aural aesthetic.

As the album unfolded, and after several spins, it has become quite clear that this record isn't for me. As much as I enjoy and appreciate the technical aesthetics, the music itself is lacking. With the exception of maybe one track their was very little captivating or arousing. Track after track wandered through purposeless themes that pounded out all sorts of technical riffs, rhythms and solos that failed to spark my imagination, I am left with very little to say about "Sun Eater", my disappointment has left me wondering if this kind of music isn't doing it for me anymore.


Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Devin Towsend Project "Dark Matters" (2014)


Its time to talk about the second half of the new Devin Townsend double album "Z²". In the build up to its release I was much more interested in the "Sky Blue" half, while most media outlets were focused on the return of our beloved coffee addicted alien friend Ziltoid! In 2007 Devin released the first Ziltoid record which mixed his unique blend of Metal with a comedic musical about an alien named Ziltoid who visits earth demanding their finest cup of coffee. The cult popularity of the album has set a high grade for this follow up, which I was expecting to be the less enjoyable half of Z², however I have myself pleasantly humbled by this straight forward and entertaining record.

From start to end this album engaged me with its glorious sound and tongue in cheek humor, combining the two effortlessly. Its no surprise this album has a similar production and aesthetic to Sky Blue, with Devin no longer working on his own the Ziltoid franchise benefits from the additional musicians who give this album much warmth and depth that "Ziltoid The Omniscient" lacked. From song to song the album unfolds its story through entertaining tracks that are exciting, integrating the characters and narratives with a touch of class. There wasn't a moment of filler and the story and music both climax together, ending the album on a high with the outstanding "Dimension Z".

In a nutshell, I felt Dark Matters took "Ziltoid The Omniscient" and stepped it up a notch, better production, no drum machine and more cohesion and consistency from song to song. The story and comedic narrative is obviously an important element, but being a silly tale about a coffee loving extra-terrestrial, this squeal didn't need more than some good laughs and humor to justify its relevance, and it did exactly that. Five years in the making, Devin has delivered a rock solid record of which every moment is satisfying. 

Favorite Songs: From Sleep To Awake, Ziltoid Goes Home, Dimension Z
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Machine Head "Bloodstone & Diamonds" (2014)


Machine Head are an American four piece Groove Metal band from California who over the 20 years since their first album "Burn My Eyes" have become one of Metal's most popular and celebrated heavier bands. In 2007 the group released their magnum opus "The Blackening", an album that showcased their musical maturity, ability to write captivating songs and their mastery of heavy, grooving riffs that saw song after song shred through neck snapping head banger after banger. It set the bar high for this band, their 2011 effort "Onto The Locust" underwhelmed me at the time. Thanks to this blog I have learned to be more patient with music, to give it more spins before giving my thoughts and opinions, and in the case of this record I was underwhelmed at first, but stuck at it and after a few listens I started to really enjoy this one.

Production wise this album sounds loud, bold and engaging, a step up from "The Blackening" with time doing providing progression as expected. Its a fantastic modern production that captures the character of the band without over doing the squeaky clean sound some modern Metal records suffer from, ie Slipknot's ".5: The Gray Chapter". With a great sound laid down all Machine Head need to do is deliver those slamming heavy riffs in captivating songs as they so often do. On the first few listens the "money riffs" were there, with no failure to excite, but the songs and themes didn't initially do much for me, feeling a little dull and dry at times. After several listens the familiarity helped me understand and appreciate what Machine Head were up to. For a band who may of passed their creative peak there was no shortage of ideas, song after song progressing with plenty of new ideas and interesting song structures that felt organic and epic, however these ideas would be a little expansive as the album drew on.

This is an album of two halves, from "Now We Die" to "Eyes Of The Dead" Machine Head sound their usual selfs with the exception of "Sail Into The Black", a moody, brooding track that gentle progresses, roars, and then fades back in the darkness. The second half finds each song sounding distinctly different from Machine Heads usual arsenal of sounds, "Beneath The Silt" brings some low sludgy Crowbar like grooves to the fold with Flynn showing the gentler side of his voice with dreamy leads. "In Comes The Flood" is a blatant social political commentary about America and capitalism that delivers all attention to the lyrics. "Damage Inside" has Flynn bringing a folk like solo vocal leads to some reverb soaked ambiance that builds up and dissipates a climatic moment. "Game Over" focuses its attention on a thrashier sounding rhythm than usual and "Imaginal Cells" bring more anti-system commentaries through sampled vocals over a quiet instrumental. The album ends on "Take Me Through The Fire" and like the ones before, something is a little differed. These songs are all decent, its great to hear the band expand their sound, but the track arrangement makes it very noticeable, and maybe with a more mixed line up I would not of noticed. But either way it doesn't change the fact that this album is loaded with good songs, and that Machine Head still know what their doing, the inclusion of the symphonic strings on a couple of tracks worked well and Bloodstone & Diamonds is another solid part of their discography.

Favorite Songs: Ghosts Will Haunt By Bones, Beneath The Silt, Take Me Through The Fire
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Fen "Dustwalker" (2013)


English Black Metal band Fen are a group who captivated my interest with their debut "The Malediction Fields" in 2009. Their sound stood them apart from other bands in the genre by incorporating some Post-Rock elements that gave them a range and diversity that was intriguing and progressive. The bands songs could span a range of moods and incorporate many heavy, or light and melodic moments with effortless fluency. Their sound is charactered by a strong theme of nature, the kind of cold unforgiving beauty the natural world can be without the comforts of the modern age. I saw this band live last year and was, to my surprise, rather disappointed, feeling their live show didn't capture what their recordings did.

Dustwalker failed to grab my attention at first. It wasn't until multiple listens later that I became more engaged with this record, what initially disappointed me is still quite apparent, it is fitting for the right mood, but in the wrong environment the music alone doesn't quite have the spark to captivate my attention. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between your own enjoyment of art, or the art itself. Maybe there is only the first, but on a long walk in the cold dark of night could this music reveal itself.

Rough around the edges, the albums production is straight forward and unpolished giving it a natural character, not low fidelity, but far from perfection. This plays great in melodic moments that get a hazy distortion from the instruments sharing the space together. The production sets the tone for this record that explores varied themes in long songs that progress through a dynamic range of heavy and melodic moments that are quite awe inspiring in the right mood. The vocals deliver an honest performance with clean leads that bleed the human element into these cold songs. Theres a few golden moments here and there but overall the songs do dull a little as they continually progress through mediocrity. Theres nothing terribly bad happening here, but it just falls short overall.

Favorite Tracks: Spectre, Reflections
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 15 November 2014

My Bloody Valentine "Loveless" (1991)


Scottish group My Bloody Valentine are a Shoegazing band who have been cited a major influence and pioneers of the genre which gets its name from the literal observation of gazing at ones shoes, a characteristic of the guitarists in the genre who would stare at their feet when playing. Having recently enjoyed some Shoegazing influences I felt compelled to check this album out after enjoying the opening and single track "Only Shallow".

The group have a low fidelity aesthetic, grungy guitars muddy there way through a wall of fuzzy distortion that consumes and blurs much of the instrumentation around them. Some strummed clean chords are slightly audible and the drumming is lost and buried under much of this hazy fuzz. The vocals the most captivating element, providing a gentle melody and relation through the noise of the guitars. With all that said the production and mixing is very inconsistent from track to track, with the opening drums having a clear and crisp yet slightly narrow sound to them, then in the next couple of tracks they are buried. The guitars also utilize the tremolo bar, distorting chords and pitch shifting them, giving them a sound like the audio had been recorded to old tape and stretched. Interesting at first, but becoming somewhat dull as the album progressed.

This album was a disappointment. Beyond the promise of the opening track the music failed to evoke much emotional response from me. The ideas and aesthetics from the opening track were quickly dulled as track after track meandered through low fidelity noise that didn't offer much in terms of imagination or progression. I understand and appreciate the influence a record like this can have, the experimentation with fidelity and aesthetics is interesting and captivating, however there was an apparent lack of substance behind these ideas as each song drifted by with no remarkable moments or much to talk about. 

Favorite Tracks: Only Shallow, When You Sleep
Rating: 4/10

Friday, 14 November 2014

As Blood Runs Black "Allegiance" (2006)


As Blood Runs Black are an American Deathcore band who formed in the early years of the Deathcore scene and dropped this, their debut album, at the peak of the genres popularity in 2006. After giving this one a spin during a work out today, I felt compelled to talk about it. This is one of the better sounds to emerge from the scene that would become plagued with mimicking bands and a flood of mediocre music.

The groups sound leans much closer to Metalcore and Hardcore than its Death Metal counterpart, what is "Death" about it is rather sonicly visceral and full on than anything remotely Death Metal, this is often true of many Deathcore bands that have an abrasive sound only similar in tone and aggression, not often in mood or substance. The heavy side of their sound comes from the aesthetic and songwriting where these typical Metalcore style songs break away into slamming, pummeling breakdowns with simplistic grooves and machine-like drumming that rattles away with exceptional precision, and lots of use of triggers, the end of "My Fears have Become Phobias" being an example. These slams and breaks are accompanied by a solid vocal presence ranging from snarled screams to forceful guttural rawrs, and the occasional gang shout.

Although they will be more noticeably be defined by these characteristics, the group write decent Metalcore leads, with memorable riffs making use of melodics and pinch harmonics that ads up to create exciting and aggressive music. My problem with this album is its lack of substance, after the first three songs the group change the mood with a gentle instrumental "Pouting Reign", a song that lacks any real progression or musical ideas, and from this point onwards the Metal tracks never really live up to the promise of the first few, recycling the same ideas, or trying things that just don't do it for me. Decent record, great sound, but a lack of depth in the songwriting department.

Favorite Tracks: In Dying Days, My Fears Have Become Phobias, Hester Prynne
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Sikth "The Trees Are Dead And Dried Out Wait For Something Wild" (2003)


Sikth are a UK based six piece Progressive Metal outfit who have grown a noteable reputation and audience since there hiatus in 2007 which came after the release of their second album. With the growing Math Metal and Djent scenes Sikth have often been cited as a major influence on these new bands, and thus their reputation has grown despite their inactivity. After capturing the final show of their reunion tour I felt compelled to write about this exceptional debut album where Sikth defined there brilliant and unusual sound and stood apart from everyone else at that time. 

Sikth's sound is a beautiful and creative mess of musical ideas expressed with a wild and excitable energy that can most notably be heard through the sporadic and jolty rhythm guitar, energetic, bouncy rhythms and riffs, organic and sporadic in nature, almost sounding polyrhythmic and mathematic yet being neither. Although the guitar tone isn't full Djent, Sikth bang out tightly performed rhythms, crunching the isolated notes in the low end, It's clear to hear the influence they have had. The guitar leads, at the time, had a refreshing approach with hammered on melodic leads the group would use diversely in frenetic moments and to build captivating atmospheres. In the drumming department Loord Foord ads another creative and detailed layer to Sikth's sound, never settling for anything simple, he consistently decorates these tracks with fantastic rhythms, fills, patterns and provides a solid backbone. Vocalists Mikee and Justin bring more energy to the mix with their charactered and diverse presence, offering some memorable sing along melodic leads on tracks like "Peep Show" as well as playing to the frenetic energy of the guitars with sharp gruff screams sounding like a mad man on the loose. The bass is solid throughout and occasionally comes to the fore front with some bold baselines like on the track "Hold My Finger" as the notes slide up and down behind a hammered on lead.

For all they do different, their end product is not Avant-Guard or Experimental. Despite having an unusual sound, Sikth are a group with a great sense for song writing and Rock sensibility who's unusual and experiment elements are executed to a perfection that allows the group to explore their selfs in these songs that are progressive and well structured. As well as their Metal sound, Sikth also have a great appreciation for ambiance and atmosphere which can be heard in the longer tracks "Tupelo" and "Can't We All Dream", two very different but absorbing songs. The production of this album is solid. So much so I don't think I have ever given it a second thought, which is testament to its quality. Far from a squeaky clean sound, but their is no muddiness or technical issues and at all times it captures everything this band is about. A stunning record, one that has stayed with me over the years and has never lost its charm.

Favorite Tracks: Scent Of The Obscene, Pussyfoot, Hold My Finger, Emmerson, Peep Show, Tupelo, Can't We All Dream
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Kraftwerk "The Man-Machine" (1978)


The world of Electronic music is one I'm fond of, but not well educated on its history and evolution. From my understanding it is Kraftwerk who are often hailed as the godfathers of all modern Electronic music. I've frequently heard about them in the highest of regards from enthusiasts who point to them as pioneers in the field who's influence is enormous and lasting. After enjoying the song "Robots" and its quirky music video on Youtube I have failed to listen to this record for too long.

It was impossible to listen to this record with out thinking about its context, era and what it would have meant for the music of the future, but this didn't effect my enjoyment of this record, what I found were 6 repetitive and minimalist songs that had a gentle, yet unusual soul about them. Kraftwerk's sound is powerful considering the lack of depth on hand. Songs mostly consisted of three to five layers of synthesizers, an electronic kit and vocoded vocals. The beauty of there music was in the expression, through limited options the four created catchy and memorable tunes with an unusual air about them, probably reflecting the new frontier they were sailing with Electronic music. It was this ingenuity to bring melodic sensibility and catchy notation to the electronic sound that I suspect is what has earned them their reputation. Previously I had heard synthesizers being used as evolving tangents of progressing sound on such a record as "Dark Side Of The Moon" or some Tangerine Dream of the same era.

As a whole the record sounds pristine, so much care was put into the mix and the texture of these synthesizers, at a time when production was not as advanced. With a fantastic sound the group craft absorbing songs that, despite the minimalism, feel rich with atmosphere and character. As the album progress the vocal content develops a little, but always sticking to a simplicity that expresses a non-human characteristic as vocoded vocals repeat words in an alien use of language. As the album sucked me in I felt the repetitive synth leads becoming more memorizing and absorbing, with a fantastic moment on "Neon Lights" as sweeping, glistening synths captivate and dance there way through half the duration of this track. Impressive album, even more so considering the era of time. That being said nothing here feels dated, Kraftwerk didn't just experiment or push boundaries, they created honest music as they did it.

Favorite Tracks: Metropolis, Neon Lights, The Man Machine
Rating: 9/10

Monday, 10 November 2014

Run The Jewels "Run The Jewels 2" (2014)


Run The Jewls is a project consisting of Hip Hop rappers Killer Mike & EL-P. The two got together in 2013 and released the first self titled album. After a great reception the two have come back quickly this year with the second album which is also receiving a lot of praise. I picked this album up on the premise of some dark, violent and aggressive Hip Hop. It certainly delivered on this front.

Killer Mike & EL-P are unforgiving on this album, delivering an onslaught of offensive lyrics and violent imagery in a ruthless fashion. Theres little socially conscious or thought provocative content here. The two bang our insult after insult as these songs explore paranoid, misogynist and anti-authority themes. Both rapper's, who I am new too on this record, have fantastic flows. They are creative, engaging and clearly spoken, which is enjoyable but for me the lyrical content lacked a point at times, with much of the offensive material feeling unnecessary or without cause. Despite this the rhyming was creative and at times a little cheesy with lines like "I'm so high your a hobbit" or "You can walk backwards through a field of dicks", however its a humorous flavor cheese.

Instrumentally this album is sharp, production is on form, the beats are grooving and charactered by dark and gritty sampling which can be estranged in places, creating dark and paranoid vibes to accompany the violent overtone of this record. Theres a dynamic relationship between the kits and samples as sturdy, constructed beats give narrative and structure to unusual sounds. On the track "Close Your Eyes" a vocal sample is manipulated to forge a jiving and unusal beat, it also features Zach De La Roach of RATM who delivers an unremarkable verse. I enjoyed this record a lot, the beats were refreshing, however for me the lyrical substance falls short of making it special.

Favorite Tracks: Oh My, All My Life, All Due Respect, Angel Duster
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Revocation "Deathless" (2014)


Revocation are a four piece (once three) Thrash Metal band from Boston USA. I had the pleasure of being one of their first international listeners. After building a small presence in the local Boston scene, Revocation unleashed their debut full length "Empire Of The Obscene" onto the Blogspots which I caught immediately. The album cover grabbed my attention, the name "Revocation" and its logo gave me a vibe, that this was a special Metal band, one that would stand apart from others. You can't judge a book by its cover, but I was right, I fell in love with this band immediately, disillusioned by the trending Deathcore scene they were everything I wanted to hear at the time, I've since supported them by attending shows, buying merch and CDs etc. I've watched them grow slowly, almost too slow, each album earning critical acclaim, yet not pushing them into the Metal Elite where they belong.

David Davidson's style is unique and refreshing. As the main songwriter, lead guitar and vocal presence he is the force behind this band. His style is energetic, passionate and creative, giving Revocation an edge to come up with new ideas within the confines of a well explored Metal genre. On their first three albums there was a constant onslaught of creativity that felt fresh and exciting. Riff after riff would deliver new ideas and techniques that stood this band apart. On their self titled and more so "Deathless" Revocation have become more defined by their previous efforts and sound like a well matured band thats sticking to their guns. This is fine, but for me it took the edge of the album, too much familiarity left me wanting more from a band I always expect to surprise me, however what I found was a very enjoyable record.

For a modern and cleanly produced album "Deathless" sounds gorgeous. The record has character and the guitar tones are powerful, yet soft and textured. The drums are captured and mixed well considering the frenetic nature of Phil's technical blasting, which on this record did feel a little tame and less spontaneous than previous records. Behind the sound is substance, the songwriting is class, more focused on the overall themes and progression than the more sporadic style of past, giving this album a solid feel with songs that are structured and mature. The overall theme is a little darker and slower with Revocation trading in many of the faster chaotic moments for progression and brooding moods. Its another great chapter in Revocation's discography, and an interesting one. I'm not sure if they moved one step closer, or away from achieving their Magnum Opus, a peak in their potential that hasn't been reached yet.

Favorite Tracks: A Debt Owed To The Grave, Madness Opus, Scorched Earth Policy, Witch Trails.
Rating: 5/10 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Devin Towsend Project "Sky Blue" (2014)


Canadian musician and producer Devin Townsend, once of Strapping Young Lad, has been in the game for over 20 years, during that time he has developed a cult following and favorable reputation for his unique style of Metal music thats been supported by his die hard fan base which I am proud to be part of. In recent years Devin has hit a musical niche after rediscovering his talent in a drug-free environment. Under the moniker "Devin Townsend Project" he scheduled 4 albums of material which he has continued onwards with. This is the sixth album, and is released as one half of Z², the other half being the second Ziltoid album.

Sky Blue is a lush sounding record, Devin's influential "wall of sound" production is warm and rounded here, the instruments have room to breath yet sound loud and powerful together. The drums are punchy, crisp and mixed to perfection, the guitars have a fantastic, distorted yet soft tone that gels so well with the synthetic keys. Their chemistry is key, giving Sky Blue its gorgeous and immersible overtone. The synths are diverse in there subtlety, sometimes letting the guitars take focus, and often oozing awe inspiring ethereal noise through the mix, filling in the gaps, acting as the glue for a beautiful lush sound. Devin & Anneke's voices are epic, powerful and soaring, ringing out some glorious and captivating leads, which are captured perfectly on these tracks. Devin knows exactly what he's doing when it comes to production and gives this album a gorgeous sound thats unfortunately not met by substance.

This album kicks off with Rejoice, a bouncy, colorful metalic track with pop sensibility and bold symphonic stabs that sets an upbeat tone for this album, its followed by some tracks that shift the focus to the more drawn out, epic synth driven sound that focus on melody and awe. There's a couple more energetic, metalic songs and some great poppy choruses and hooks that will get in your head, then comes Rain City, a lengthy track shifts the mood and looses the upbeat energy, from this point the last few tracks draw out a dull end to Sky Blue, a great sounding album which has some fantastic songs, but falls short of something special.

Favorite Tracks: A New Reign, Warrior, Sky Blue
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Depeche Mode "Black Celebration" (1986)


It feels a little strange to talk about music you know is hugely influential, yet know so little about. Over the years I've heard nothing but good things about Depeche Mode, their influence and legacy. Finally I have got around to giving them a listen. It took me a while to fully grasp this album and adjust to their sound, which is strange considering how clean and approachable they are. My memory of the first listen feels almost alien to how it sounds now, maybe this is the power of familiarity.

Depeche Mode compose powerful, intelligent music with a strong emotional narrative and direction thats guided by energetic, bold arrangements of synth notation and quirky noises layering these songs with detail. This absorbing sound is beautifully composed giving bright, colorful melodic leads room to shine and chime with Martin Gore's loving voice and swooning lyrics. The combination is powerful, creating a lasting impression as the two dance around each other and drive home moments you can't get out of your head.

Their genius is subtle, there is a brilliance to these compositions, the group build up suspense and narrative with detailed instrumentals that are ever so slightly contrasting to Gore's powerful soothing voice. Then at the perfect moment they shift the gears to let the melodic lead unfold and meld with the vocals to create those goosebump moments that last. Fantastic sounding album that has grown on me tremendously with each listen, now i understand what the fuss is about.

Favorite Songs: Fly On The Windscreen, A Question Of Time, Stripped, Here Is The House
Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Techno Animal "Ghosts" (1991)


As an avid music fan, I consider music to be an experience, one that can go to many noisy extremes. Techno Animal is a project that many may turn their noses up, you might say its "noise" or not music, but to do so would miss the point. Music is sound that purposely provokes an emotional response, and that response is not always warm or positive. Music like this explores the dark side of life, through depraved torturous sounds and noises fit for the darkest of scenarios. It takes a certain mindset to embrace this exploration, and the enjoyment one can get from it is unusual and fascinating. On my map of dark and experimental music, this seems like a potentially progressive record given the pre-internet times, however its over a decade since Throbbing Gristle, an extremely important English group born out of the Punk movement who could be considered an early origin for Industiral music, and inspiring darker depraved styles. Techno Animal is a project composed of Justin Broadrick of Godflesh and Kevin Martin and "Ghosts" is their first release which notably is on Virgin Records who at the time may have been taking chances signing experimental and unconventional artists.

Ghosts is a hit and miss record for me, for this we are going to go through the track one by one. The album opens with "Burn", an ugly abrasive song with a snarling scream accompanied by a punchy drum kit and strange hits that builds an atmosphere I felt the drums were cutting through and spoiling what it had to offer. With "Walk Then Crawl" what sounds like a Godflesh outtake on an odd time signature is repeated over and over, as eerie, ghostly haunting screams and moans building up in a twisted progression that leads to an unusual climax. "White Dog" is another noisy exploration with another industrial kit punching through the songs atmosphere, for me the drum kits were too comfortable and familiar for the twisted experience the sampling bring. "Freak Fucker" is a gem, What sounds like a quote from a Nazi rally is repeated over and over. Distorted and twisted as horrid, slimy, scissoring sounds snake around in the background, it feels rather poetic, as if the twisted noise is the dark underbelly of Nazism. "The Dream Forger" is a pleasant break from the devilish onslaught, an unidentifiable wind like instrument hums a gentle, yet unsettling melody that eerily drifts into a warm haze of sound. "Tough Cop / Soft Cop" Gets dark and heavy, this time i left the drums nailed it. An uncompromising rhythm guides you through a wall of hateful screams and screeching saxophones and distant voices that feels like you're being dragged to hell, a grabbing listen. "God VS Flesh" brings 23 minutes of gentle spooky ambiance, building a immersible soundscape that is chilling and dangerous. It progress with craft, never feeling safe, but always moving towards a dramatic conclusion towards the end. "Spineless" is my favorite track, layers of distant screams, groans and whispers build a distressing intensity that broods menacingly, theres an occasional heart beat dropped into the track, creating an air of human fear, ending this one with a lasting impression.

Overall an immersible, unsettling listening experience that explores dark and depraved places. Only spoiled by a couple of tracks where the drums just ruined it for me, this is a great record for anyone looking to be confronted by what they don't want to hear.

 Favorite Tracks: Freak Fucker, The Dream Forger, God Vs Flesh, Spineless
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Alcest "Les Voyages De L'Âme" (2012)


"Les Voyages De L'Âme" is Alcests third album, a French band who bring Shoegazing, Black Metal & Post-Metal together to create dreamy, sombre music with captivating melodic leads and rich atmospheres that sing to the soul. Despite some moody tones this is feel good music, upbeat and expressive in a positive way. This record finds the band striking great balance between the harsh and gentle elements of their sound as the 8 songs carry you on a self absorbed journey through their immersible music.

Their sound is epic, soaring, both gentle and strong. The tremolo riffing brings pace and progression as these songs that race forward in such a calm manor. This is reflected in the contrast between the hazy distorted rhythm guitars and gorgeous melodic clean guitar. The reverb from these instruments melds together creating glorious atmospheres that are lifted up by the presence of some distant but beautiful and sombre vocal leads, creating awe inspiring moments, for example the climax of "Beings Of Light".

These songs are crafted with care, the progressions and structures are strong, from start to end there isn't a dull moment and each of the songs bring a different flavor to this colorful sound. From track to track there are different degrees of which sound the song leans to, with some drawing closer to the darker Black Metal, and others the cleaner, melodic side, but all sounding true to the artistic vision. With a beautiful immersible sound Alcest have delivered an expressive work of high quality that never feels dull, and always captivates the emotions of the listener.

Favorite Tracks: Autre Temps, Nous Sommes L'emeraude, Beings Of Light, Summer's Glory
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Cool Kids "The Bake Sale" (2008)


The Cool Kids are a Hip Hop duo who both rap and produce all of the music. Hailing from Chicago, the duo gained some acclaim and recognition for their debut mixtape "Totally Flossed Out" and this EP which they dropped in 2008. After hearing good things about the pair, I decided to check this EP out which starts with an attentive track that sets the tone for the listener with a touch of class. The beat is constructed of vocal samples pronouncing the instruments name that have been pitch shifted and stretched to emulate the tone of said instrument. It gives the record its premise and a touch of humor that lets you know there is not much to be taken too seriously.

The two create a sound that is heavily influenced by the golden era of Hip Hop, recreating it with a modern twist that gives them a fresh and unique sound. Production wise the beats are crisp and audible, emulating the style and grove of those classic beats with a nice set of modern kits that give it some flavor and character as opposed to strait recreation. Across the 10 tracks they unload all the tricks, revisiting many different styles reminiscent of the era, including the classic big sound hits.

Vocally I didn't find the pair too exciting, they both have good tone and flows but a lack of energy and enthusiasm leaves the laid back style a little lackluster for my taste. Theres a few good lines here and there but most of the lyrical content failed to engage me, the raps are rarely serious or deep, and that lack of substance left me feeling like something was missing, however thats really not what this music is about, and in the right mood their fun and oldskool style can be enjoyable. The approach and execution of this retro themed EP was decent and served a fun listening experience but fell short of giving me something to return too.

Favorite Songs: 88, Basement Party
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The Smashing Pumpkins "Siamese Dream" (1993)


"Who wants, honey? As long as theres some money!" The Smashing Pumpkins sophomore album starts of with a bang! Cherub Rock is possibly their greatest song, it really encapsulates some of the groups best qualities. Siamese Dream starts where their debut "Gish" left off, this album saw the group break into the mainstream with the album penetrating several top 10s around the globe, it has since gone 4 times platinum in the USA, and deservingly so, this record is an experience. Building on Gish, the group fine tune their sound and deliver a gorgeous record rich with moving instrumentals, emotional lyrics and a resounding consistency that engages me as these 13 songs travel through many passages of their unique sound. 

The sound of this record is absorbing, the guitar tone is dense and inviting, with a warm buzz about it thats engaging and exciting as the pair bang out countless alluring riffs and fiery leads. The clean tones are somber, calm, with a lot of colour and personality about them. The drumming on this record is solid but isn't as adventurous as on the previous record, theres not many moments where they make a big impact on the song. The bass is steady, warm and colorful, giving their sound depth and consistency. The cohesion of the instruments is great, this is a sturdy sounding record that brings out the best of them. On the track "Disarm" the inclusion of strings works effortlessly to narrate another classic song 

The guitars and Corgan's voice give this album its character, the bass and drums guide them along their course, as broad, inventive riffs spark emotions that Corgan explores with his voice and words. Utilizing their unique guitar tone, this album cruises through many riffing styles and moments inter spliced with some grabbing emotional calmer moments where clean guitars gleam. Corgan's introspective presences is moving and deep, bringing his honesty and bearing all with an emotional performance delivered with some memorable creativity on occasions. This is a fine album, one with much mood and character and a depth of songs that come with just a hint of nostalgia. Classic!

Favorite Songs: All?
Rating: 9/10