Monday, 20 November 2017

Samael "Hegemony" (2017)


From way back when I was first discovering Black Metal, I fondly remembered Samael's "Ceremony Of Opposites" for being rather different to the traditional scene, infectious doses of groove and sprinklings of synths gave it a memorable edge. That memory was my motivation to check out this release marking thirty years since the Swiss band's inception. Hegemony hasn't charmed me and much like most of their music I can't be critical, for some reason there will always be bands you don't vibe with, despite appreciating what they do. As a hybrid of Symphonic Black Metal and Industrial Metal you'd think this is right up my street but for unknown reasons it doesn't click.

The records plays with social themes and rebellion packaged onto an unworldly stage of theatrical lyricism delivered through the one dimensional, thin scream of Vorph, rarely altering his intensity or texture. The songs strive forward at mid-tempo, the thump and snap of the drums driving the pace as big clumps of blasting drums and busy guitar work sets a thick industrial metallic tone for the synths to resonate off with there lively range of sounds often empiric and epic, heightening the sense of scale wonder that strives for the feel of an evil empire on the warpath.

The compositions are rock solid, the music cohesive but never sparking more than a muted emotional response from me. Bar the loud drums all of the instruments are given equal footing in a mix that muddies them together. The guitar work doesn't jump of the page yet with a keen ear you can hear some interesting leads and riffs burred in the heaving of sound. The synths suffer a similar fate with only the big backing synth chords making their way to the forefront of attention and over details creeping through with the listeners attention. There might be a good record In here, I don't have anything bad to say as every listen was enjoyable but little was memorable and without an emotional response it paled in comparison to other records Ive had on spin recently.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Metallica "Reload" (1997)


 Written in same period as its counterpart, Metallica split the bulk of their material into two halves and recorded them in separate sessions, returning to the studio after a brief touring period to promote the first, Load. Of this era I once dismissed I do remember being significantly fonder of Reload yet today It seems like the more varied of the two, a variety that has significant peaks and valleys. The openers "Fuel" and "The Memory Remains" are the most likely of all these songs, from both records, to make a set list.

 Followed by "Devil's Dance" we are treated to atmospheric brilliance as Metallica's creative juices yield stomping, crawling grooves and heat soaked shady leads from Kirk who drops in a marvelous solo, leaving his comfort zone and shredding wild screeches that revel in noise play. The vocal hooks are massive as James shows his harmonious range between monstrous "Yeah!" shouts. Laden with occasional effect drenched background vocal lines it oozes with charm from a band pushing their own boundaries. That high is followed by a low "The Unforgiven II", a sequel song that doesn't hit a mark, lurking in the shadow of the original its borrowed riffs and adjustments feel like a rearrangement rather than a second chapter, its all made unbearably worse by the "you're unforgiven too" pun, not a favorable lyric!

Too my ears this record definitely sounds like the second of a pair. If Load got all the first picks it explains its consistency and flow in comparison. Reload goes down a few different avenues, some yielding duller tracks like "Prince Charming" and "Attitude" which seem to lack a spark between sets of reasonable riffs. On the bright side it has some real wild cards like "Where The Wild Things Are", a song that narrows its metallic groove and surrounds it with sweet melodies, mostly from Hetfield who really shows a soft side of his voice. A big shout to "That's Not Metal" for noticing the similarity between this song and Ghost. You can definitely hear it as a precursor to their style.

Metallica get some stick for this era yet there's a lot about it that has contributed to the trajectory of Metal to come, especially the ditching of the strict "all black" metal-head uniform. The production, aesthetics and attitude of this record are much the same of what I said on my Load blog. I remember perhaps being critical of Kirk who felt a bit quite on that release yet here there are a fair few moments where he becomes a big focal point, especially when turning to big, steady atmospheric leads playing of reverb and slow bends like on the remarkable closer "Fixxer". Its hard to pick a favorite of the two, Load is the better album yet Reload has my favorite songs. Ultimately I'm now gasping for more of this era too many fans have dismissed! This era is a fantastic evolution for the band, unfortunately its the end of Metallica at the top of their game.

Favorite Tracks: Devil's Dance, Better Than You, Silther, Carpe Diem Baby Where The Wild Things Are, Fixxxer
Rating: 9/10

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Cannibal Corpse "Red Before Black" (2017)


You shouldn't think of this as a musical "review" of sorts, this blog is about the musical journey, exploration, discovery and how my relation with Death Metal's most infamous band most is surely exhausted. Approaching thirty years as a band they have offered up classics, stinkers and a fair amount of variety but they and both the genre seem to be stagnating from an evolutionary perspective. Stylistically its the same formula, approach and brutal mindset repeated year after year, failing to make it feel exciting or adventurous anymore. Given my disappointment with "A Skeletal Domain" I was going to pass this one by, that wouldn't of been a bad idea.

I first put the record on during a very adrenaline fueled mood. The bludgeoning pelt of the drums racing along, the thunderous menacing roar of visceral shouts howling at their victims and the blistering, razor sharp distortion guitars shredding carnal madness had me head banging like a loon. To good to be true? Mood can always effect an experience but it only took four or five tracks for the intensity to die down as it became monotony. My absence to this sound gave me a rush of excitement but once that settled and the record drew on, the business as usual reality came to be so.

Red Before Black edges forward again with a slightly more intense sound than its predecessor. Everything a little tighter, more intense and kudos to Corpsegrinder for somehow maintaining that inhuman roar through the years. The music is technically cutting, littering the album with all manor of intricate riffs and challenging music but its all packaged within that same Cannibal Corpse intensity they refuse to let up from. Tempo changes and slightly "expansive" twists are always chained down by the identity they have stuck by relentlessly. Whenever a moment comes that it might sound like the song could open up, or go down a new avenue its always pulled back to that blast beat led pummeling that has become utterly boring for me.

I'm glad I enjoyed it for a brief moment but past that first listen its been nothing but a slug of unexciting brutality that feels so pointless in the bands decision not to challenge themselves or move on from what they perfected years ago. Even though I love this sort of music, there is only room for so much before it becomes hard to get into anymore. I wasn't expecting them to move forward and I got exactly that, the only positive I can give them is the production, probably their best aesthetic to date.

Rating: 2/10

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Gothminister "The Other Side" (2017)


Ive always had a soft spot for this unheard-of Norwegian outfit. Fronted by the distinct face paint baring Bjorn Brem, they would typically tick some of the wrong boxes on paper. Their breed of "festival rock" style Industrial Metal has those big stage tropes. Simple and plain lyrics shape overly dramatic themes for pumping up a crowd with easily sung along hooks packaged into Pop Metal song structures. Despite these observations I find myself getting caught up in their world, the music itself strikes a chord a chord with me, compensating greatly for some supposed shortcomings.

The Other Side is their sixth full length in nearly two decades as a band. 2008's Happiness In Darkness was where I joined them and this new release may overtake it as my favorite. A sense of a big arching theme creeps in through unimaginative lyrics that take a literal, descriptive path to build its sense of personal and communal struggle. "Taking Over" is hard to ignore with its tale of a girl who can communicate with the dead, they question her love for her father who's a killing machine and she is creeping death? The whole thing feels like a hash of dramatics coming together incoherently yet I find myself singing along every time, the delivery infectious and easy to pick up. This example is much of what I have to say for this record, the words don't add up but they drop in with power and infectious that elevates the already booming music.

Opening with "Ich Will Allies" the influence of Rammstein becomes so obvious. The pounding militant snare and German lyrics really hint to influences overlooked by the dominance of Trance and Aggrotech synths as a stylistic marker. Gothminister rock hard with the fast, sharp chugging of power chords on crisp distortion guitars that play alongside bustling EBM synth lines, often dropping out entirely in verse sections to let the dark electronics forge the atmosphere. The tight, snappy drum kit whirls away with thumping, repetitive grooves that drive the songs forward and set the tempo in its slower, calmer passageways. The production is strong, everything pulls together, loud and energetic instruments firing together.

At thirty five minutes its short and sweet, all killer no filler. Each song has its edge and across all ten tracks the Pop Metal song structures always lead to climatic choruses with great vocal hooks or power smashing drums, big moshable riffs and bursts of lively, infectious synths. With its theme rooted is the darker sound of Metal an uplifting undercurrent always broods from the synths, creating a satisfying emotional energy culminating from these big outbursts. It has the measure to wind down in some of its choruses and "Aegir" entirely. It makes for a smooth flowing record that burns through its short songs without a dull moment!

Favorite Songs: Ich Will Allies, We Are The Ones Who Rules The World, All This Time, Taking Over
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Fever Ray "Plunge" (2017)


I dreamed but never thought it would be so, eight years on Swedish musician Karin Dreijer releases a follow up to her critically acclaimed self titled Fever Ray. In the three years since my discovery of her debut It has grown to be one of my all time favorite records, the sort you have to always consider when making top tens and playlists. Her sophomore Plunge comes entirely out of the blue, a rouge email in my inbox I thought to good to be true but alas it is so. With only a video single released a week prior, this surprise release is more than just a pleasant one.

First impressions were wild, all I could focus on was all that was different. Plunge felt dissonant, avant-garde and ambiguously adventurous with its entrancing electronics. Working with more ambitious, experimental sounds the textural journey continually weaves webs of intricate noise arrangements flailing from Glitch to Electonica, with hints of Industrial in its noisy, less melody driven passageways. The atmosphere shifts and varies from one track to the next, conjuring obscure, spacial vibes that can delve into gentle unease and unearthly sounds with the measure for calm, soothing relaxation. On its other hand these songs can become animalistic, dark and paranoid in their abrasive persuasions.

All of this often revolves around a sturdy backbone of stripped back club and House beats. Hard thuds detached from the conventional pop of a snare and tempo setting hi-hat let the dense instrumental arrangement absorb the attention a club groove would often dominate. A hand full of songs, maybe four to five of the songs feel straight of the back of the last album, utilizing the same bell and siren-like synths but deploying slow and steady kick and snare grooves in contrast to the more polarizing, experimental tracks. "Red Trails" being one of these songs you could slip onto Fever Ray has to get a shout for Sara Parkman's stunningly, morose, harrowing violin solo that seeps itself into the atmosphere like a parasite, eating the song from the inside out, carving its menace through an otherwise chilled, if not dark track. Stellar moment on the record.

The production being of this modern era is unsurprisingly crisp, no thanks to the state of technology but balancing all that heard is done with a touch of class. The record can feel almost clustered in moments with all the rattling of intricate sounds swirling around, from start to end its all managed and put together in a lean and easy setting. Karin's singing is infectious, her unique, estranged voice is unleashed with the wit to spin her expressions into elevating hooks, radiating the music and lodging themselves into your consciousness. Lyrical themes are entwined in sexuality, charged by identity and eroticism, the sometimes coarse but often poetic lyrics rub up against some obviously political statements, see "This Country" to hear unflattering commentary that's hard to ignore.

Ultimately, Plunge is a superb record, little to fault and plenty to rave about, Its an endearing listen. My main point of questioning would be in its two halves, distinctly alike to its predecessor on half the tracks taking a big leap forward in experimentation on its other half we essentially get the best on two worlds. To repeat yourself or be inconsistent on a record can sometimes be a hindrance but neither of these possible considerations seem to matter in the case of Plunge, which will probably go head to head with Sikth for my favorite release this year!

Rating: 9/10

Friday, 10 November 2017

Fief "III" (2017)


A wave of excitement took over as news of the third Fief record graced my inbox. It was the sort of enthusiasm for familiarity that has since been my focal point of thought beyond enjoying the alluring atmosphere of the record. Fief graciously invites us to relax in the luscious gardens of kings and queens, courting in the magical fantasy lands of yonder. It was precisely what I had expected and hoped for, another swooning set of short songs to indulge in. Visions of jesters, minstrels and dancers entertaining their masters in cordial company or a young adventurer, journeying through the forests of friendly creatures and ancient fairy tales, Fief sets the tone perfectly for an ancient world of eternal wonder without worry or fear.

I however find myself distracted by the lack of evolution or expansion in the sound, I am always interested in new sounds, ideas and for exploration into what music can offer. Had I listened to this directly after I and II I may have found myself disappointed but the distance in time has been healthy for my apatite. Fief is executing this idea, this vision with brilliance and there is no complaint on my behalf, I am perhaps all too aware of my own attention span, that eventually I will exhaust this fruitful experience and wish for something new.

For now though I have really been enjoying the immersion into this fantasy realm, pleasant, bright, uplifting and soothing its the perfect soundtrack for relaxing and letting your mind wonder. With no major change in sound it is once again a typical affair of layering lush instruments together with inspired melodies alongside the occasional tambourine shuffling percussion. The songs can build and fall, with up to five instruments singing together at once, and in calmer moments a single lead instrument can path the way, whats nice is the fluctuation, the elevating and calming of songs lets its best melodies charm you when the songs reach their respective peaks. At thirty minutes this is the strongest installment yet!

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Metallica "Load" (1996)


 After the monumental success of the self titled "Black Album", the legendary Metallica took five years to find an artistic stride to new territory. Despite them selling multi-platinum copies and bringing hordes of new fans to the Heavy Metal culture, their back to back Load and Reload records have been the mockery of metalhead snobs from then till now. The sad reality is I was once one of them. Thankfully my journey of music discovery has led me to a place where I want to hear what the artist is about and not just what I think will satisfy my taste buds.

Metallica were right there at the formation of my passion for music, my first and still favorite record of theirs, Ride The Lightning, carved my passion for this music and being a young teen with Christmas on the horizon I had a chance to scoop up more. Visiting the local record shop I was captivated by the covers of Load & Reload and picked them as my next Metallica records, so imagine my disappointment not to hear more of that fast, dark and sleek Thrash Metal! Unfortunately that sour first experience and the rarity of encountering fans that liked these records solidified my opinion that they were garbage... I owe a big thanks to the "That's Not Metal" podcast for prodding back to these records, their epic ten hour talk covering every inch of history in detail and heaped praise on this period of the bands history. With the fire stoked again for this band Load has been on heavy rotation and with mature ears I can join them in their praise of a truly excellent musical period for the band.

Where the old guard may moan that the Thrash roots are gone, Metallica have moved on, evolving into a mature beast that channels the energy of old into hefty, momentous grooves and power throttling drives of weighty riffage that erupts among a band expanding their horizons. Broadening their pallet, the four horseman let the sounds of Blues, Country and Hard Rock accent the guitar tones, steady the pace to a strut and shift the "heavy" to the grooving backbone as their new expressions become a focal point. Songs like "Ain't My Bitch", "2X4" and "Wasting My Hate" stick to their guns but the rest of the record flourishes with the new pallet.

Hetfield has to be given major props for his performance on this record. If the riffs weren't hard, thick and jiving enough, his vocal performance soars on many moments of the record with fantastic harmonious deliveries that will have you singing along. His mannerisms, the "ooh"s and "yeah"s reach a new level of infectious attitude and enthusiasm for his art which just pours out on this record, most likely due to turning inwards for inspiration. The social, political commentaries of past are void, with practically every track carrying an introspective edge in his words. Like with the range of energy these songs carry, James matches it with endearing performances, like the emotional, ranged, Country power ballad "Mama Said" to the grit and gusto of the grisly "Poor Twisted Me".

At nearly eighty minutes the album is loaded, mind the pun, by a band producing gold that might of needed some refinement, one or two less favorable songs trimmed, some unnecessary length on tracks too but the reality is the atmosphere and drive Load has keeps its excitement from start to end. Maybe this lost treasure trove from one of my favorite bands is just too much for me at the moment as I haven't wanted to skip by a second of this yet. I think the variety the record offers has much to say, flexing chunky heavy grooves between diversions into Blues and Country let the songs wind into different territories all while maintaining the grit of the biker gang persona that resonates. Free spirit on the road man.

Production wise, we have an authentic aesthetic. You can feel the heat, sweat and sand of dusty winds and hot climates. Lars's drum kit is snappy, sharp and piercing, every strike is heard and his patterns are as always a strong fitting for Hetfield. Kirk and Jason sound somewhat underutilized, his fifteen years in the band leading to a criminal lack of creative input that finds most of the baselines backing the guitar with a warm, thick mirroring in the base that provides a meaty thud when James gets into the heavier riffs. Kirk's solo's haven't left much of a mark on me, his roll is heard emphasizing the accent and tone Metallica are coming from but his leads never overtook the expressions of Hetfield who drives everything forward with his riffs and singing.

If I were to be critical of anything it could never be the artwork, the change in image the band undertook. Metallica aimed to reinvent themselves and that's exactly what musicians should do when it calls for it. Retrospectively I can see how turning the axis on whats of expected of Metal music is so important for the genre to evolve and perhaps their choices here have had unfounded influences on the shape of modern Metal. Its quite the shame that none of these songs grace the live show anymore. This is a fantastic period for the band, evolving their artistic expression and hitting the mark in the process. Now to binge on Reload!

Favorite Tracks: Until It Sleeps, Bleeding Me, Cure, Mama Said
Rating: 9/10

Monday, 6 November 2017

Winds Of Plague "Blood Of My Enemy" (2017)


I checked out from this band pretty much immediately after their attention grabbing debut album had worn out its attention span. After a shoddy demo record the group got signed to Century Media and bolstered the symphonic aspect to their sound, setting them aside from other Deathcore bands at the time. Crunching breakdowns, filthy screams and empiric symphonies collided to form a cheap and flashy sound that would have you for a few listens. Over the years they have become a mockery to critics and this newest release will probably be no exception. Bar founding singer Johnny Plague, a complete line up change could of given the band a chance to evolve but its business as usual, the same music they were making a decade ago.

Blood Of My Enemy isn't awful but its constantly swirling in mediocrity where moments of chemistry found between the tight chugging guitar and rich orchestral synths are continually dispelled by the arrival of Johnny's tone deaf vocals and impact-less gang shouts. Its a solid sounding record where the modern production gives room for the instrumentals to vibe easily in their audibility. Crisp, snappy drums drive the rounded guitars which deploy a variety of riffing styles stretching from choppy thrashing, to mid tempos grooves and slower chord led passageways. The synths bring cultural echos and atmosphere fit for epic battles as they stitch in sounds around the guitars direction, occasionally coming with Gothic tones that accent and expand the sound otherwise not heard.

On there own we would have a reasonable record but like with their debut there is something about Johnny Plague I just don't vibe with. His scream is always fretting on the same anger with a lack of range or inventiveness in his delivery. A lot of shifts and turns hinge around his break out screams and gang shouts which continuously dispel any charm the instrumentals where building. His lyrical style focuses entirely around the "life is war", "stand your ground" hardened mindset heard in Hardcore music but the constant grotesque swearing and obsession with pairing it to actual war leads it into the unfortunate territory of "cringe" lyrics given his committal to lines like "I will give my life on the battlefield, drowning in the blood of my enemies". Simplistic language, a lack of depth and turning the same idea over and over tires instantly.

There is merit in the instrumentals but the whole vocal aspect is awful. A guest feature on the title track shows how much better this could be with someone else, I believe the voice is Courtney LaPlante formerly of Iwrestledabearonce who elevates the song. This record is massively hindered by its lead member, who is employing the same ideas that faded away ten years ago. There's more shuffled and rearranged breakdowns running on empty, sounding flat and lackluster when they jump into a song. Poor record, doubting I will be back again.

Rating: 3/10

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Drudkh "Microcosmos" (2009)


I enjoyed the Ukrainian bands latest release Somewhere Sadness Wanders. Intrigued by their dense, stoic sound I turned to what some fans say is their finest moment, the seventh album, Microcosmos, which I unfortunately didn't find a connection deserving of such praise. My experience of this record is mostly mediocrity with an exceptional moment of soaring epic between a hardship of forms broken by a raw, visual Slavic folk instrumentation in the acoustic oriented moments that interlink long passageways of thick, grisly guitars that span four lengthy ordeals.

Moody cold winds, overcast skies and vast forests stretching the mountains as Drudkh capture the bleak yet beautiful side of Eastern European countrysides with their thick wall of tonal noise. The ever present drone of dense, chromatic guitars haze over clunky, muddied baselines as the drums do an industrious job of holding it together with on a kit that rattles and rumbles as if its bursting at the seems, ready to fall apart. Singer Thurious snarls and shrieks in his native tongue at regular measures with a helping amount of reverberation that bleeds his shouts into the fog of guitar distortion.

The songs grind and groan as unapologetic riffs carry the burden of continuing forward on these nine minute plus epics. They carry a hardship as bluesy woes cry from the harmonization buried in its tonal thickness. No flashy tricks, or stunts shift the music in unexpected directions or uplift the weight, "Ars Poetica" finds respite in the rumbling of a gentle snare drum alongside a folk like acoustic plucking as the song rests its tired feet for a moment. Its a continuous journey of hardship with only the occasional break for something a little more excitable, the albums longest song "Decadence" drags us through the dark to the eight minute mark for a gleaming moment of triumph and relief as the song reaches a satisfying peak with its soaring riff of victory.

Flashy electric guitar solos arise in short bursts on these songs. With a more conventional tone and flair they seem a little out of place however one can hear that's not what the band were going for. They have sorrow, grief and pain in their call but the tone feels unequal to the music and they stuck out like a sore thumb for me. The atmosphere this records holds is strong and rigid, vivid and engulfing but its wasn't quite to my taste, it leans to far into the struggle with not enough rest from the ruin.

Favorite Song: Decedance
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Cradle Of Filth "Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness Of Decay" (2017)


The twelfth chapter of Cradle's legacy has been unleashed with another upturn in form that feels almost bizarre for Danni Filth's band who for the first time in their twenty six years release consecutive records with the same lineup of musicians. Hammer Of The Witches received a lavish amount of praise that I was equally impressed with, yet surprised to hear them turn it around after decades of patchy releases since their best output back in 1996. With Cryptoriana I again find myself taken back by how little there is to fault here, the real disappointment is in the familiarity of their sound, after fifteen years as a fan their isn't much of a surprise or freshness left.

Cradle don't venture much beyond their comfort zone, the guitars usher in the occasional thump of groove or tinges of Post-Metal in shredded tremolos but otherwise they stick to their guns. Eight tracks of solid songs around seven minutes play like back to back mini epics, well constructed songs with plenty of twists and turns, returning melodies and theatrics that end in satisfying conclusions. This lineups chemistry pulls together the best of their musical ideas, flushing out the mediocrity and settling for nothing less... for the most part, it has to be said the last two songs do drag a little in comparison.

They might be executing the same ideas heard plenty times over in their old records but the quality is undeniable, tight performances executed on a crisp production sounds gorgeous. It may be aesthetically pleasing but its true charm is in the inspiration. Genuine and passionate, the gleam of romanticized gothic melodies weave these songs together between there wanderings into the darkly shadows that manifest in metallic mania. Theatrical, vivid and bold each so is an adventure waiting to be known! Everyone gives a fantastic performance and the result is arguably their best in nearly two decades! I do however hope in the next release they could experiment a little! Cradle's defining sound has barely evolved a fraction over the years.

Favorite Tracks: Achingly Beautiful, Wester Vespertine, The Seductiveness Of Decay
Rating: 7/10