Saturday, 3 December 2022

Skinny Puppy "Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse" (1986)

Unlike the exploratory oddity predecessor Bites, Skinny Puppy's sophomore reeks of conceptualization. In presentation, aesthetic and an unwavering tone, Mind assaults the listener. With janky, discombobulated elctro-percussion, uneasy distorted samplings and the strained snarky chords of Nivek Ogre, one is plunged into a nightmare realm of their ghastly making. Striding into a rotten discomfort, these songs mostly build from unsettled origins into clusters of claustrophobic noise and howling.

Kicking off with One Time One Place, a restrained Ogre groans as airy synths brood in the distance, quite the spellbinding atmosphere. Its a navigation through pain and discomfort that's gratifying thanks to its soft melodic backing. Sadly, as the most accessible song, what follows descends into a madness with a specific shade lacking the allure to pull me in. These disjointed melodic phrases get roughly pushed aside by punchy Industrial drum kits with an assembly of noises seeming to only loosely fit together. Its hell bent on painting a dark and grisly dystopian soundscape and gets halfway there.

Despite having occasional spurts of curious chemistry to charm and capture ones attention, the janky nature of its inhuman rhythmic drive seems to steer the music into maddening piles of disorientation that ended up being my lasting impression. Some merits lay in aesthetic exploration, where intriguing Industrial textures emerged to be recycled by many more in the genre later on. Sadly though it didn't amount to much beyond the sum of its parts that became apparent after just a single spin.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 1 December 2022

Dimmu Borgir "Dust Of Cold Memories" (2022)

 

With a lyric plucked from Absolute Sole Right as its title, Dust Of Cold Memories accompanies the recent Remixed & Remastered celebration of Puritanical Euphoric Misanthopia. Comprised of two halves, The Kolbotn Tapes and Prepod Session, these aged, degraded demos offer a curious insight into the albums creative process. The five Preprod songs are most intriguing. Recorded before all elements had converged, they play with many missing pieces and placeholders around its core musical ideas.

One of the PEM's finest crafts, Blessings Upon The Throne Of Tyranny, stands apart in its nakedness, the arsenal of razor grinding riffs completely absent. Hearing it at this stage illuminates their creative process. We see etchings of inspiration converge not unlike how you might of expected. With such a riveting rhythm guitar performance, I would of strongly guessed it was central to its formation but apparently not so. The other tracks aren't as insightful. One can hear absent contributions and entirely dropped ones too but mostly these songs arrived at this stage relatively fleshed out.

Of the Koltbotn Tapes, Fear & Wonder stands rather distant from its final incarnation with a persistent militant snare and bare piano chords. The other five arrive in varying fidelity. Loud clicking drums, occasional shouts and voices are heard, along with roomy rehearsal room ambiences being a common trait. With the songs fully formed out this point, they simply play like demos prepared before entering the studio.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

Toadies "Rubberneck" (1994)

 

Accruing influences from 90s Alt-Rock scenes I am less acquainted with, American rockers Toadies debuted with Rubberneck. A rapid thirty six minute introduction that reeked of accents I fumbled to land my finger on. With rough rabbles echoing Skate Punk and Post-Hardcore in energetic spurts, their mostly Grunge era music dodged the lingering scent of Nirvana, whilst seeming fundamentally similar. Between the hardness of estranged "anti" solos and brittle crashing guitar riffs, emotive melodic lulls and sung vulnerabilities birthed Toadies' songs to straddle terrain built by others.

Their approach paints consistent reminders, unable to escape a partial sense of deja-vu. These tracks cut to the core, flying right into the memorable meat of the music. Each song swiftly embarks on its key appeal, an appetizing listen. Vaden Lewis' youthful groans sways between a soothed playful charm and roughened anger when spearheading with strained shouts. Percussion seems to go subtly by with Punkish beats and linking rhythms powering the musics drive without getting in your face.

The guitars play with short, repetitive, simplistic riffs. Impactful power chords, burning at the edges given the ferocity they are performed with on its displays of anger and frustration. Any foray into melody and tunefulness feels intentionally stripped back and flipped over, often lingering on minimalism and noisy rebellious embellishments. Its all cohesive, coming together to be felt first before picking apart its constructs.

After many enjoyable spins, I'm left with a solid record where I'm unsure if it was influential, or influenced by. It did however encroach on the very best of early 90s Rock sounds I once was quite dismissive of. Its nice to find albums that help you creak open the door of your own ignorance and this certainly did that for me.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 27 November 2022

First Aid Kit "Palomino" (2022)

 

Four years on from Ruins, the Swedish sisters return on the wings of another Americana stride. Sadly for this listener, a comforting familiarity failed to offer novelty where necessary. Far on from the blinding lights of Stay Gold, their humble Country tinged Folk music seems stagnant. Navigated with salient maturity, lyrical themes offer endearing resonance once again. If ever needing a dose of rooted humanity, their sincere movements through relationships and emotions are as moving as ever.

The instrumental construct is calming, a soothing temperament of gently plucked acoustic guitars, warm roomy pianos, crooning strings and apt bursts of percussion find appropriation. Swaying from cinematic swells, to the intimate, bare and stripped back, variety is not lost. A couple of tangents into Country dance rhythms run a fair stride stiff and stale, lacking gusto from the rural tang of fiddles and banjos.

For all its pleasantries, Palomino is longing for a spark to ignite a fire. Without it, these songs play so mediocre despite no missteps. Perhaps routine inspirations manifested in a comfort zone, or a settled familiarity of identity are to blame. For this listener, my many spins couldn't find the magic this time around with. Retreading old tracks, only Angel stood head above the rest. For why? I couldn't tell you why...

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Skinny Puppy "Bites" (1985)

 

Prodded along by Spotify's recommendation system, I've finally delved into Industrial roots I'm well aware played a pivotal role in informing the likes of Ministry and Frank Klepacki, In turn influencing Rammstein and Timothy Steven Clarke. These influences alone are not strong enough to muster adoration. Repetition has certainly highlighted its musical sensibilities from abrasion and mechanized aesthetics but this familiarity still lingers on an oddity of curious obscurities, lacking a deeper emotional connection.

Bites' sequence of seventeen songs play like experiments of investigation. Musical elements are stripped, rearranged, emphasis pushed onto the unusual and bizarre in search of chemistry to conjure radical, dystopian emotions. In the context of its time, clearly a bold and luminous stride is undertaken into emerging territories. However the shadows of predecessors strip the unusual alien charms of its magic.

Many tracks are simply structured with brief repetitions of Elctro-Industrial noises. Sparse, softly physical percussion and sensible yet subtle melodies accompany. With obscure Horror samples, snarky unwelcoming vocals and other tidbits, the looping instrumentals are taken on psycho visual trips of inhuman suffering. Its resolutions converge on unsettling emotion, often paranoid and conspiratorial in nature yet oddly mellow in comparisons to other breeds of darkness that have been ventured too.

Riffling over these tracks one by one, its hard to pick distinguished ideas that amount to more than the sum of its parts. The album loads its more conventional songs upfront, melody more apparent. Then delves deeper into a string of unstructured noise experiments before landing on two warmer cuts in an obvious tone shift at the end. These were my favorite tracks, they spoke to a calmness one can mellow out with - a utility if you like. Skinny Puppy has been curious listen, one I will continue with.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 25 November 2022

She Must Burn "Umbra Mortis" (2022)

 

With sourness from Pain Remains still lingering, the timely arrival of She Must Burn's sophomore effort satisfies that yearning for this breed of darkly, fantastical orchestra punctuated Extreme Metal. New recruit Valis Volkova adds distinction, directing the play with a powerful operatic tinged effeminate voice. Her clean singing illuminating in regular intervals, grounding the bouts of aggression spewing forth from Djenty guitars.

Umbra Mortis' charm lays in its symphonies. When keyboards drop in with string, horn and bells, the music comes to life. Also mirroring adventurous lead guitar licks, its embellishment pays off. Without, the intensity feels unbalanced. When hung in the balance the music plays sweetly as bellowing roars, grunted shouts and pummeling percussion drives a furious place for darkly majesty to croon from the shadows.

Despite an excellent execution and fine production aesthetic, its peaks feel limited in comparison to where the genre has soared before, see Omega Arcane. Every spin has been a welcome companion however its adventures lack penetration beyond the expectant. These are rather typical plunges into familiar realms leaving me with little to comment on beyond its competent execution. I couldn't pick a favorite track, nor a weak one either.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Brockhampton "The Family" (2022)


 With wounds still fresh, Brockhampton supposedly returns from their recent post Roadrunner breakup. In less than a calendar year, this resurrection paints a sour flavor in its expressed explanation of existance. Dominating the airwaves, through commentary and production, The Family arrives like a Kevin Abstract record for this outsider looking in. Peeling off scabs from a painful separation, the woes of using drama for content seems lost on the nature of this dissection of their unraveling.

On one hand, The Family plays as a wonderful self analysis, a raw reflection. Like a fly on the wall of a therapists office, we cycle through events and dramas that tore the group apart. Its candid, unabashed and sudden. The other hand, an eerie postmortem called while a pulse can still be felt. This unease is steered by Kevin, lopsided in representation and drowning the music with early era Kanye West imitations.

Often do his vocally directed instrumentals reek of Kanye's genius. So do the flows, cadence and expressive schemes play uncannily alike. Its not found at every turn but throws what could of been a luminous reflective concept record into the unease based on imitations and a questionable timing that seems to retread some of the lessons its trying to learn through this open autopsy. Despite that, there is class at play, music to be enjoyed. Production is well rounded, topicality interesting, engaging yet that lack of self awareness breeds the inescapable odd tension, throwing all feelings into doubt.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Nas "King's Disease III" (2022)

 

Finalizing a stellar trilogy, Nas falters not on delivering this inspired prominent stride for a third time running. King's Disease III suffers its own familiarity but wins one over with its articulate excellence. His timeless flow, lacking filler, spits commentary thoughts over past, present and future. Housed in consistent architecture, this third round of musing grabs and engages once again. Tales of the youth, lens through age and wisdom. Well wishes, ambitions of action to revive community values and an indulgent helping of nostalgic reflections on the culture that informed his artistry.

All topicality gets delivered through that tight unwavering lens, a razor sharp focus keeping lyrical narratives firmly on track. The main theme, a stance affirming legendary status, echos again as the King's Disease. Retreading these ideas on certain verses, the firmness of this flow glows brighter, its digestibility and ease to follow still a goldmine, despite circling this particular theme. I wonder could it go a forth round? Unlikely, other topics rise head above shoulders in their freshness.

Behind him, Hit-Boy returns to handle production, their relationship still apt. Resurrecting 90s vibes with modern production, a plethora of pitch shift soul singing snippets give the third chapter a warmer distinction. On a couple cuts, percussion is subdued, or dropped entirely. Nas' cadence serves as the rhythm. This chemistry comes ripe, picking plump verses for voice to resonate on its own pacing. Other tracks reminisce It Was Written, Nas' second album. Undoubtedly a bias for me to adore.

Beef echos I Gave You Power, a sublime track where young Nas inhabits a pistol behind street crime, rapping from the weapons perspective. Twenty Six years later, a complimenting instrumental tone helps center his rhymes from a view of beef itself played well. Thun delves into similar tones too, with its rainy, sinister string section. Michael & Quincy furthers this darkly avenue. The beat switch shifts gears, amounting a contrasting nostalgic reflection on the 80s duo's significant trajectory.

Blessed by distinctive songs to pluck as favorites, the whole album still fits the glove. Now a familiar project, its greatness becomes difficult to distinguish in its similarities. Time will two, the last to chapters still sound stunning. One point worthy of notation, this entire record has Nas go at it alone. No features or guests. Another signal of this remarkable level of greatness so deep into his career. Whats next I wonder? I do think a shake up in theme, approach and aesthetic is required. Although in a bold artistic stride, all good things come to an end. Best to get ahead of that reality while on top.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 20 November 2022

Type O Negative "World Coming Down" (1999)


 On initial exposure, a singular overt obvious influence and echoes of October Rust's Gothic glory hung overhead, looming like a curse. Type O Negative seemed to have hit a snag, one of stagnation. Having wholly won over my admiration, I persisted. With repetitions familiarity, their gloomy Gothic themes explored last outing grew on me. As did the Black Sabbath fervor reveled in by Hickey and Kenny, who's decent into the menacing grip of grueling Doom Metal lethargy, carves many unshakable riffs.

The buzzing, thin and fuzzed guitar aesthetic seems hard to justify on first contact. Riffs drift into the ether as Steele's manly darkened voice broods alongside bright punchy synths that channel 80s gothic cheese into stunning emotional splurges. Of course, this is actually their brilliance, great song writing in action. Swinging from gloomy theatrics with flashes of cold colors, dramatic lunges of rhythmic sway consume one. Powerful notes and bends play off one another, shuffling down the fret-board with measured persuasion on its groovy, sludgy march of Doom Metal prowess.

The thematic tone is rather dark as title and song names suggest. A looming gloom seems constrained to Steele's struggling lyrics and strife dwelled upon. The rest of the band come through with familiar strides in terms of theme, Steele directing a once Gothic allure to something grave. Despite this, the music still encroaches on the mid 90s melodic glory of past, among its diverse set of songs. Less experimental, more instep with their established persona, its Sabbath influences that shine brightest.

It sharper gravitas swings into gear when bluesy grooves bustle a rhythmic might. Pyretta Blaze kicks off with lengthy, sludgy low end riff to die for. Each time it comes back around is a pleasure. White Slavery, Who Will Save The Sane & World Coming Down all contrast Tomi Iommi riffs with ideas not plucked from this metallic world.

This underpinning comes to ahead on the closing and sublime Day Tripper Medley. Some how, this Gothic oddball group fused The Beatles and Black Sabbath together without a hint of irony. Sung with sincerity and heart, the odd fusion of sludgy groove and classic Pop Rock songs coalesces brilliantly under a haunting cawing of crows.

Technically cut short, its a special note to bow out on after a lengthy CD filling runtime. Its oddity tracks and interludes run intermittent with natural flow. They tie its rather grim lyrics to bodily constraints of mortality. As a whole, it plays wonderfully without filler yet some of its lengthier tracks do linger. Not quite as sharp as before but on World Coming Down Type O Negative still spark a bright, fascinating flame.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 17 November 2022

Mudvayne "The End Of All Things To Come" (2002)

 

Following up on L.D. 50, here is another "what could have been" record of my Nu Metal era youth. I vividly remember a close friend showing off the album art and raving about the music. Of course Not Falling is now somewhat of a downtrodden metallic anthem. One for Millennials needing to wallowing in ones woes. Its a powerful but moody song, flexing between aggression, torment and loathing indulgences. Like their classic Dig, it builds to a fiery release of tension, unleashed with half of a bouncy groove still holding on to its grievances, never quite going all the way in.

The End Of All Things To Come was a surprising maturing of ideals expressed last time. Thoughtfully channeling the syncopation to impactful riffs, toning down the overt Korn influences, this cloudy chromatic aesthetic edges out more from Gray. He finds a range of unique strains on his vocal chords to fire frictions and contrasts with the de-saturated texture his band forges. The rhythm section has power in force, chopping out grooves while melodic outbursts seem sullen and rainy in muted vibrancy.

Considering its sixty nine minutes long, the record lacks bloat. A real sense of care surrounds these songs, traversing a broader multitude of ideas with refined craft and expressive intent. It's a subtle shift away from the bouncy boom of Nu Metal, a further exploration of Jazz and Progressive musical ideas. Tribbet's guitar riffs often slam simple rhythms housed in different time signatures. Backed by the creative drive of drummer McDonough and dexterous musicality of bassist Martinie, it plays a delight.

Moments of expansive percussion, utilizing tom atmospheric drums, hazy looping guitar leads and progressive song structures, alluded that Tool were likely a keen influence on the band at this time. This retrospective has given much appreciation for a band I once considered just part of the fad. Mudvayne have much more to offer than typical Nu Metal bands, this record really defines their creativity and uniqueness. I know things take a turn from here, to stay on this path could of really been something!

Rating: 8.5/10

Monday, 14 November 2022

Devin Townsend "Lightwork" (2022)

 

After two dubious lock-down escapades, Devin Townsend returns to form with familiar footing. Leaning into his glossed up, cloudy yet punchy production style, Lightwork makes fortunes of his friendly craft. With a familiar melodic styling, empowered voice and shimmering aesthetics, a listener is lavished with the finest, matured, wines.

After the rampant revival of prior paths walked on his Empath amalgamation, Dev's Heavy Metal antics of past get channeled to dramatic drifts and subtle surges of might potently deployed when asked of the music. Even extreme screams get buried, a deep rumble to electrify this synth tinged mesh of melodies resonating up top.

A theme of healing runs throughout. Dev's often soft timbre and gentle words stir a compassionate call to calmness on many occasion. The serine nature of steady acoustic melodies woven with sparkling synths seem a perfect match. Humble yet firm percussive grooves command the pace as a variety of instrument voices chime in.

Despite being so typical, once again Dev wins me over with his charm. However, Lightwork as a whole struggles after Call Of The Void. A shift to unsettled rhythms and quirky temperaments may be brief but the charming flow of its opening four isn't resolved again until a scaling epic, ten minute closer, Children Of God.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 11 November 2022

Polyphia "Remember That You Will Die" (2022)

 

Last I heard of then Texans Polyphia, they were lumped in a then emerging Djent camp. Still echoing time signature grooves and the guitar styling of the scene, a clear evolution beyond it has served them well. Now they perform a smart, sophisticated game. Rocking jazzy, Progressive arrangements and mixing what would often be snubbed as technical "guitar nerd" music with Pop sensibilities. It commands ones attention, the two often opposed ideals meld invitingly when this quartet perform.

With an intricate approach, dazzling technicality and performative tenacity, crafty compositions of dexterous notations gleam with satisfying melody atop sharp percussive rhythms. A simpler key focus always captures ones attention while around it a whirl of showmanship embellishes an inviting idea into a wild ride of tricky performative art. Bass guitars slap and pluck away with impressive precision. Alongside, a three armed drummed who fleshes out tight fills and jolted hi-hat rhythms between electronic drums that snap and kick with a modern punchy brightness.

The records opening songs focus on the instrumental aspect with guests bringing pianos and horns to the mix. With ABC the focus shifts as quest vocalists and rappers really sell the pop appeal. Its a warm fusion, where the band revolve around that focal simplicity their friends bring. It gives the album another dimension to dip in and out of, keeping a fresh flow. Interestingly its most memorable moments are birthed from the catchy hooks guests bring. Not a surprise if you think about it. These things do tend to trump the incredible gifted abilities they have as musicians. Steve Vai signing off on the album closer is a real testament to their accomplishments as musicians.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Matt Uelmen "Torchlight II OST" (2012)

Rejoice! A gift from the heavens, a FREE original soundtrack! If like me, you grew up on the music of Matt Uelmen's Blizzard classics Starcraft and Diablo II, then this is for you! Spellbound by his earthly incarnations of weathered stone age lands and the lurching mischief of a corrupt evil, the D2 soundtracks became frequent listening beyond the game itself. The broody, engrossing atmospheres Matt conjured stuck with me over the decades. Catching wind of his work on this soundtrack, released by the games published for free, peaked my interest. Bar its title theme track, Torchlight II is essentially another half to the classic D2 soundtrack that's so dear to me.

Its no understatement, the instrumental pallet is identical. Shades of all five chapters of the game intermingle. The cinematic orchestration unlocked with the Lord Of Destruction expansion pack a prominent feature too. Not just aesthetics and texture but the musical approach musters that timeless magic. Certain passageways bear a sparkling resemblance. Others seemingly direct incarnations or alternate takes. Once again we get to experience the mesmerizing layers of acoustic guitar Tristram blazed so brightly in Diablo's opening track. A song worthy of any curious listener.

Its a lengthy soundtrack, eighty minutes where new crevasses of his earthly musics are explored, always tumbling back into familiar feelings and arrangements, then to vanish again into something new. Its a delight. A literal dream come true. Too often have I wished for more and finally it is here, or should I say unbeknown to me for ten years! Nestled at the end, Camp Dawn is my favorite track, essentially the closest you'll get to another Tristram. Beautiful! I'm so thankful to have found this.

Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Helmet "Aftertaste" (1997)

 

Lured to Betty by Spotify's auto-play, I thought a follow up on Helmets final output before a later reunion was due. By fans and critics alike, Aftertaste wasn't well received at the time. Its a mild affair but personally I've enjoyed this one. Harking back to their roots, Helmet pump out a rather stripped down, straightforward rendition of syncopated Drop D riffs alternating on shimmering shoe-gazing chords.

Effective and simple drum grooves build an easy framework for each song to deliver a handful of riffs that rarely venture beyond a few bars. Shuffling back and forth with monotone vocals overhead, It gets repetitious fast. Their songwriting finds little in the way of "special" or ambition, its just simplistic structures playing out their basic ideas.

Its all about aesthetic, If the mold matches your taste, then its worth a spin or two. Beyond that, I'm not sure much else can be found. Occasional compositions resonate well, poking its head above the mediocrity on display. For example, the opening riff of Broadcast Emotion melds a grooving riff with hazy texture wonderfully! On the other hand, its crass guitar solo not on the same level. This record is really for fans of Helmet, beyond serving that crowd, there is little to be said about the music.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 6 November 2022

Dimmu Borgir "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia (Remixed & Remastered)" (2022)

 

You'd be hard pressed to get me excited about a remaster or anniversary release. My radar for its release was off, given the prior Puritania Kolbotn Tape was little to marvel at. It was only with a nudge from a friend that I leapt to check this project out. Not only a remaster of Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, its "remixed" naming has given the band creative license to expand the aesthetic pallet with sparkly new embellishments, adding a little spice to a familiar flame. Initially, it sounded utterly brilliant, an invigorating listen but is simply the magic brewed between enjoying a masterpiece.

With the dusts of adrenaline settling, its clear my excitement resonated from the familiar genius music I adore. Its polished edges and sprinklings of additional new instrumentation never steers the song writing to new avenues. Perhaps with one single exception, Shagrath's vocal treatment makes him far more audible on Puritania. Something about it has an edge. Otherwise, much of the music remains intact with a few guitar leads seemingly given extra notation, unearthed or added its not quite clear.

So whats changed? The mix is expansive, more room to breath and enjoy its textures. The drums are crisp and punchier, the battering of Barker's blast beats compliments, rather than imposes the demanding pace. Rhythm guitars remain mostly as is. It sounds as if the other instruments have given it more space, sounding mostly the same, its leads have a little more gloss and flair tho. Where most the action happens is with the Symphonic component. Practically every synth has been given new life. Either better sound banks or recordings of stringed instruments they sound revitalized.

Across the record, one will hear a few additional sounds, some previously smothered and others clearly new. Synth tones, stringed instruments and soft horns arose but most notably an effeminate voice chiming with Shagrath on Architecture Of A Genocidal Nature. That and the creepy haunting chorals that lurch through a few brief instances. None of it amounts to much more than enjoying the passing novelty.

Ultimately, its a fun reason to enjoy an old album again but is it necessary? Compared to the original recording, the limitations of the times are clear. All changes here beyond remastering are a good fit, however the song writing is champion. If you'd spin the original I'd still enjoy it just as much. Obviously Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia a ten but on the merits of what this project brings, It's hard to argue too much is gained beyond the initial novelty. This is certainly not a folly that's for sure!

Rating: 6/10