Sunday, 11 November 2018

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


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

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

Rating: 4/10

Friday, 9 November 2018

Turnstile "Nonstop Feeling" (2015)


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Strapping Young Lad "Alien" (2005)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Soulfly "Ritual" (2018)


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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Iron Reagan "Dark Days Ahead" (2018)


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

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

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

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

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Lycia "In Flickers" (2018)


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 2 November 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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