Sunday, 20 October 2019

Shade Empire "Omega Arcane" (2013)

I've sunk my teeth in deep on this one, enjoying its immersion over and over. Some albums present a charm that once familiarity sets in it can vanish. In the case of Omega Arcane it has a gift that will keep giving for years to come. So rather than write up my thoughts on this excellent record, I thought Id keep it in rotation for some time longer and with that has come a great appreciation for this meaty CD filling seventy four minutes of Orchestral Black Metal. Hailing from the UK, Shade Empire have out done Dimmu Borgir at their own game, specifically the Abrahadabra era where the Norwegians steered their iconic Symphonic incorporation of keyboards to actual in house orchestras. I do however feel they lost their charm in this transition.

Alongside the commonplace barrage of relenting blast beats, howling screams and aggressive guitar work, Shade Empire deploy a range of tonality in the symphonic avenue. String sections, brass instruments, trumpets and horns, even striking orchestral drum strikes. It has a rich depth that effortlessly blends into the metallic cascade of intensity. This also extends into more typical keyboard synths, electric pianos and on occasion furthering into the tonality of synth led music as no idea seems out of reach if it fits the billing. Its best heard in interluding journeys where drum machine deployment reminds me of the E.S. Posthumous fusion of Classical, modern indulgent Electronic elements and atmosphere aiding drum machines.

 This superb cohesion provides stunning depth with its rich layers of symphonic sound, underpinned by the crushing pummeling of crunchy guitars chugging tempered grooves. The slick rattling of rapid, dexterous drumming shudders like a pulse, slaming through it all with a commanding guidance to hold everything together. Its all rather intense, with each instrument the potential to overpower is present but they slickly achieve a balance and let the musical writing beneath elevate the aesthetic chemistry. The screeching vocals too have intensity but fortunately variety favors as deep guttural whispering tells tales, playing up the epic fantasy narrative the record has in droves. With a few voices at play, it shapes up well, avoiding staleness.

With such an engrossing musical construct, everything is set in place for endearing song writing to play out a rather diverse set of songs that meet in this fantasy realm of snow and storms. With many measures of temperament the songs can shift intensities while never letting up on a luscious layer of orchestral sound. It all feels rehearsed to deliver stunning swells of emotion as the so called crescendos and peaks seem to roll out in frequency. Its seventy plus minutes never seem to drag feet, each track firing up its unique take on the pallet available and with the start of each new number comes the reminder of the moments in store, yet to unravel there treausres. It also arrives between slews of ambience leaning atmospheric passageways that enrich the theme.

So far its all been praise and the reality is I can't think of anything to criticize. At first I may have had thoughts of preferring certain ideas to be executed differently but with time absolutely everything about this record makes sense to itself. There isn't even think there is a song worth gutting, the bar of quality is that high. The best tracks are however rolled up in the albums opening but even at the other end Slumbering Giant and the title track are very convincing songs that have just as much immersion.

What we have here on Omega Arcane is an excellent execution of intense Metal music but also a true understanding of the orchestral, electronic and atmospheric side. It feels like a mastery from its both perspectives, perhaps more so the latter. Rather than being used as an accent or aid, this thematic avenue has been fully realized. The chemistry between its two sides is sublime, that's where it stands apart from others who lump in synths as a layer of color. This is a gem I'll cherish for times to come!

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Daryl Donald "Full Circle" (2019)

A second release this year from Scottish producer Daryl Donald brings us another cut of smooth and mellow Jazz Hop beats lined with thoughtful vocal snippets to induce a relaxed mood. By now its become predictable but the best kind. Its a prediction that one can feel cozy and wrapped up, snug and warm inside this world of breezy cool instrumentals that groove easy temperate drum samples under atmospherically arranged samples of calming, soulful and jazzy instruments.

The beats are short and sweet in nature. Being looped and highly repetitive, a balanced is struck as lingering on the theme is avoided. Experimenting with gentle noise, each track has some subtle ambiences, conjuring shapeless forms of ambiguous sound to decorate the main loop. It works fantastically and if absent a vocal feature can drift in with the same breezy easiness that makes this record a pleasure to mellow out to. Its words had less of an impact this time around, but its experiments in ambiguity spark quite the intrigue to their origin.

With its overall swift nature, Get Alive stands out as an odd cut where the audio fades out abruptly jusr as the beat just gets going. Otherwise its a slick flow of cohesive musical grooves. The opening tracks are particularly reminiscent of early 90s Jazz Hop classics. I couldn't put a finger on which tracks but they had a fond familiarity. The closing tracks however pivot to slightly snappier percussion with a soft crunch added to them. Its a gentle transition, just something I noticed on this short album that delivered exactly what I expected but still charmed none the less.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 14 October 2019

Fairyland "The Fall Of An Empire" (2006)

Blown away by their stunning debut, Of Wars in Osyhria, I thought my battle with Power Metal may be turning. It is not so, this sophomore record from the French band has unfortunately solidified the focal point that ruins this style for me time and time again, the singing. With a line up shuffle retaining two of the original band, Maxime Leclercq steps in for the lead vocal role. His pitch and tone rubs me the wrong way on to many an occasion. Stretching and reaching for notes he can't quite grasp leaves a strain. The style is often to forceful and once again the French accent has an uncanny knack to make to add a irritation to the pronunciation. I've always believed in looking for what you enjoy in music but found very little of that here, the singing tarnishes the fantastic instrumentation.

The music itself is a little less charming then last time around. I suspect the vocals may have made it harder to digest but there is an obvious shift in luminosity. The elements of fantasy and wonder still play out through the picturesque synths painting magical landscapes and heroes adventures .This time they are more balanced with the aggressive guitars and drums that clatter along with chomping double pedal rolls battering patterns constantly. Its lively, animated and ambitious but the production is a little thin and raspy in places, the music does however get across well its fantastical themes and fairy tale story telling. Pianos feature frequently and ambitious songwriting births a progressive journey to venture on but as clearly stated the vocals dispel any magic. Its frustrating but it is what it is. The next album has a plethora of vocalists so it will be interesting to see what happens there!

Favorite Track: The Story Remains
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 12 October 2019

The Comet Is Coming "The Afterlife" (2019)

I'm struck with a sense of disappointment as an exciting discovery, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, has been swiftly followed up in a matter of months by the London based Jazz Fusion trio. I was dead keen to get on this record, it kicks off with the familiar voice of featured collaborator Joshua Idehen who loaned his voice to Sons Of Kemet. He brings a hype with poetic cries of thought invoking rhymes but bellow him the murmuring base fuzz, spacious percussive grooves and Smooth Jazz saxophone fail to strike a nerve beyond the reasonable. From there the rest of these thirty minutes seem to fall into the same rut of mediocrity. Gone are the tantalizing grooves of obnoxious Metal and thumping EDM music, it recoils back to its roots, dissolving the spice that made this band so interesting and inviting. A dip in form may exacerbate my reaction but a closer analysis seems to further these feelings.

After its opening number, the next two tracks meander through the directionless wandering of low key playing on an ambient setting of bassy synths. Its great background music but little of the musics unraveling is captivating. The first half of Lifeforce has a similar sense of lurking in ambiguity, mustering some suspense for whats to come in the second half where temperate drum grooves and lively two note grooving intertwines with sparse melodies through the saxophone. Its just one song among sleepers. Its final piece reminds me of Vapourwave vibes in a good way, however it too is a sleepy track alluding to an atmosphere that just doesn't engage me. There is nothing bad here, the aesthetics are as gorgeous as before however the low key nature of the music itself turns the whole thing from a jam to a lull that didn't capture an ambient charm, which may have been their intention.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Chelsea Wolfe "Birth Of Violence" (2019)

Singer, songwriter Chelsea Wolfe returns again and with each passing album a new approach is found. This new chapter is a sombre, calm and almost soothing affair. In all its alluring abandon, Chelsea graces us with the haunting softness of her voice. Treated by shadowy reverberations and armed with a desolate acoustic guitar, she strums through the eerie and dreamy atmospheres the two conjure together. Lurking percussion, elements of noise and ambiguity converge on occasion to dial up the mania but much of the album explores the loneliness in voice, mirrored in minimalism where soft airy synths and grave strings may be the only backing.

The records pacing is drawn out as it lingers tortuously on the sadness each song seems to swallow itself in, its temperament dreary and drifting. There is little uplift, light or reprise but despite wallowing in the shadows her beautiful voice gives a sincere weight to the darkness that follows her. It makes for a mourning listen, a doom always present, yet its grace and musical harmony is welcoming. Its a strange dimension, a limbo for all pains to be laid bared and observed but for the listener to remain distant from. Its as if shes shut the lock and thrown away the key.

Birth Of Violence is a finely felt, crafted and expressed experience but for all its stunning harrows, it tends to pass one by in the best of ways. I kept listening to this record over and over. It would always drift towards my subconscious attention, birthing an atmosphere softly dark and painfully warm mood. It was pleasant yet full of suffering. Perhaps that is precisely what she was aiming for, It wasn't until the lens of writing examined my experience that I realized how particular it could be. I couldn't give you a favorite song or stand out moment, the music just exists, engulfs and then its gone with the storm! To say that feels like a conceptual through line.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Ghost "Seven Inches Of Satanic Panic" (2019)

My ignorance in the absence of information has birthed an amazement of these seven minutes. Ghost are one of my favorite bands and between records they tend to divvy out EPs with cover tracks that give quite the insight into their influences. The title is either a topically suggestive or a co-incidental pun on the format or length. This stemmed from my astonishment of the lyrical crudeness on Kiss The Go-Goat. That song and Mary On A Cross both sounded like the blueprint to this bands sound. You see I had purchased the record in a surge of excitement. Its only now that Ive dug deeper in preparation for this post that I learn these are originals! What a derp, what an assumption, here I was thinking I was about to discover some hidden gems from the 60s singing what would of been utter filth for the time.

The two tracks sound even better now. Ghost have mastered the principles of Rock and Pop music from years gone by, reviving them in service of their playful satanic exterior. The result is a luscious and gorgeous wash of harmony and color that's deeply infectious and swooning. Melody is ripe and Tobias Forge relishes in the moment his hired guns have crafted so stunningly. Its so Ghost and still everything I want to hear. The thing is, if these are B-Sides, what on earth do they have in store for us next? These might be two of the best from their catalog to date! Maybe I am still a little dazzled from the excitement of new songs to internalize. Absolutely fantastic none the less, a stellar seven minutes you can spin over and over.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, 30 September 2019

Korn "The Nothing" (2019)

Its going to be a common theme that I mention how time is flying by. Already three years ago now, the Nu Metal pioneers Korn released a positive "come back" record, The Serenity Of Suffering. Although the soaring heights of the late 90s and their MTV dominance are long gone, it was quite the surprise to hear a band that had struggled over the years to regain the spark of their youth and even more so in this new chapter The Nothing. Where the last album delivered powerful riffs and good song writing again, Jonathan Davis seems to have excelled past his band mates with another riveting "tortured soul" performance. At this stage in his life the recurring angsty themes and narrow use of language that again has the word "why" posed all too often seem more genuine than routine. With his band mates on fire they unite again and again with really good hooks for their "Pop Metal" format that drives songs frequently from chunks of groove and quirky melodies into swells of thick, smothering emotion.

The record grew on me slowly. It was familiarity with the actual details of the songs that blossomed the giving magic of music. With a style and identity so ingrained it can be a little to easy to gloss over. Fortunately around the fifth or sixth listen the charm started to sparkle. Korn have a fantastic dynamic of crunching riffs and odd emotive melodies that lean into the moody and brooding. With their front man JD on form, the narrative is illuminated. I would never question his authenticity but with the recent passing of his wife one can see how his eternal battle with inner agony has laid down fresh wounds that brings out the best of his unique talent. Its a sad reality but pain has always been what invigorated his iconic voice.

 The record does get stretched through a few routine songs in the midsection, however the tracks either side always offer up a spice to define it among the general theme, something they haven't achieved since Untouchables. Ray Luzier fits like a glove on this record, his drumming proficiency finds a sweet spot to give percussive detail to the momentum, driving groove with an animated structure. The Monkey and Head dynamic isn't as striking, more like a fine wine, the subtleties tend stick around longer. There are plenty of thumping riffs but the classic style heard on You'll Never Find Me really sounds like stiff a reworking of Ass Itch. The creepy melody aspect tends to linger in the background and through the synths which get a moment on Can You Hear Me for the band to move their atmospheric side into new territory.

Opening with bagpipes and JD's agonizing cries and screams the record sets the tone for whats to come but it wraps up with one of the saddest songs, Surrender To Failure. It ends with a chilling vulnerability in his voice as he confesses his failure with fragility. Its everything Korn has ever been about and although gravely fueled by tragedy it has birthed a band able to re-arrange themselves with fabric of their greatness and a bold statement moving into a new chapter. This won't make waves and revive a former glory but anyone who's ever been a fan will adore this record giving it a chance.

Favorite Tracks: The End Begins, The Darkness Is Revealing, Idiosyncrasy, Gravity Of Discomfort, Surrender To Failure
Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Bæst "Venenum" (2019)

Not long on from discovering this gem of a band, the Danish Death Metal outfit Bæst return, monstrous as ever! Continuing with the brutal Mikael Akerfeldt era Bloodbath sound, they have assembled a collection of lean and powerful, fist clenching tracks to crush and menace listeners with its evil guitar riffs and gut wrenching demonic screams. Broken up only by an equally mediocre Spanish guitar interlude, like before, the record marches through its punishing line up of songs that hold together a brutal atmosphere. Either thumping steady tempos or thrashing hardened sprints, its deployment of intensities always result in gripping gruesome ride through the carnage.

With Nihil the lead guitar emulates Egyptian vibes similar to that of Death Metal legends Nile. Its a true moment of distinction, its winding, unraveling guitar lead is tantalizing and the brooding atmosphere birthed is something to remember. As Above So Below achieves something similar with less of a cultured direction. Again its lead guitar slowly unwinds in a gratifying manor as the song takes its time moving into a crunching dash of grinding aggression. Ending on a Bolt Thrower cover was a nice touch. I don't know the original but the flavoring of this bands aesthetic seems to work wonders. This feels like a steady improvement upon their debut but I think it would serve them well to land on something to stylistically separate them from Bloodbath.

Favorite Tracks: Nihil, Heresy, As Above So Below, Sodomize, No Guys No Glory
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Ho99o9 "Cyber Warfare" (2019)

Less than a year on from one of last years favorites Cyber Cop, the vicious Punk Rock fusing and Hip Hop grooving duo Ho99o9 return with another vivid, conceptual EP that experiments with eerie cyber space hacker aesthetic. Opening up with Master Of Pain, gothic organs conjure an unsettling hallowed horror soundtrack atmosphere for slow tempo percussion to brood and then pivot into a riotous romp of synthetic guitar riffs fit for the pit. The back and forth is fantastic but this new gothic element sets a desire for more that is left alone on this one song. With Plexiglass a smothering, repetitive, obnoxious baseline fills the void akin to something you might hear on a TV commercial. A ridiculous mania of hurling frantic screams quickly stops this in its tracks as it turns up the intensity alongside scratchy discernible noise. At this point it may be hard to stomach for many a music listener.

Shadowrun slams into the Punk energy with fast and energetic guitar riffs, burred screams and pummeling drums. Its ecstatic and highly intriguing as the distortion and production techniques mask much of the instruments in layers of unusual aesthetic. From their the good songwriting emerges as the song leads into a fantastic closing groove played twice over. The end of the song introduces a layer of technological theming as a pitch dropped voice talks of internet connections. There is a few other bits like this but they fail to be interesting in my opinion. The next few tracks brings out the mean and gritty raps, delving into gloomy, dangerous street vibes akin to similar songs heard on their Horrors Of 1999 sophomore EP.

F.O.G. wraps up the record with some serious metallic stomping and tight drum patterns not far from something heard on a Extreme Metal record with its tight double pedal working. The song gets progressively heavier and distorted synths lead up to a ridiculous climax that maybe falls a little short of its intention. Overall this record is another fantastic chapter in what I hope will produce more of this paranoid cyber theming. Its not reached quite the peaks of Cyber Cop but it has produced some remarkable songs once again. This band are very much in a stride and I find myself dead excited for whatever it is they will do next.

Rating: 7/10
Favorite Tracks: Master Of Pain, Plexiglass, Shadowrun

Monday, 16 September 2019

Post Malone "Hollywood's Bleeding" (2019)

His previous efforts Stoney and Beerbongs & Bentleys showcased the young artists unique voice and songwriting ability but the best came in fractions. This time around Post and his crew have elevated their game. After a handful of thoroughly enjoyable listens I initially turned to the credits, expectant of new names in production and song writing. There is a couple, however its the same core of people turning up the quality in all the places that fell short the last time around. It's a noticeable ten or so minutes shorter and perhaps that played a part in its fluidity but the reality is the instrumentation here is of a higher fidelity and its got a warm fussy atmosphere to it.

As the songs stroll from one to the next there is often something bright and punchy at work. Either the bold basslines, snappy percussion or glossy guitars illuminate alongside Post's voice. This can be heard best on the Pop leaning songs because of course he has an eclectic taste which has subtle flourishes as the music sways across the spectrum. When delving into the Hip Hop avenue Post brings a plethora of guests to spice up the vocal variety as lyrically he is pegged into to his usual themes. Between that and Pop it is mostly the classic singer songwriter vibes and acoustic guitars that dazzle however he shows his roots in Rock on a fantastic collaboration.

Teaming up with Travis Scott, the voice of Ozzy Osbourne engrosses one again on Take What You Want. The Trap Pop song brings his iconic voice to a new generation and ends with a stunning crescendo reviving those classic Randy Rhodes leads. Possibly the best moment on the record however Post really comes to life with his infectious hooks and singing. We saw it in glimpses the last two records but here it feels like every other song has him deploying some sort of ear worm to get you singing along. These songs dig in the way good Pop songs do.

Where the album falls short though is again with Malone himself. The lyrics are much to be desired, especially when he works in his rap mode. They are mostly the over inflated feelings of relationship problems articulated through loose profanities, often circling the emotion with little reflection or introspection to make the words interesting. Its knee deep and thus tends to drift out of focus and that is where the glossy production and good instrumentation picks up the slack. This is a huge step forward for the young artists and Its been a blast seeing him get here. Hollywood's Bleeding will most likely pick up some awards this year!

Favorite Tracks: Enemies, Circles, Take What You Want, Staring At The Sun,
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 13 September 2019

Brockhampton "Ginger" (2019)

Hip Hop collective and self proclaimed boy band Brockhampton of Texas are unsurprisingly back at it again, given their prolific output so far. This fifth album in the span of just over two years has probably been the most endearing and unique to my tastes. The bombast, flair and rugged attitudes get toned down on a couple of tracks. In its place emotional narratives play out over instrumentals that draw upon classic sounds of eras gone by, classic R&B and cultural acoustic guitars that make for striking moods. Of course, when the drums are dialed up, quirky synth and sampling pitch in its not as obvious. A track like Dearly Departed is the pinnacle of these ear catching current. Its plays like a slowed down Delfonics classic, its strings haunting the lyrical out poor. The closing song, another stunning expression rapped decisively.

Reflecting on Iridescence, the group do tend to sway in between these ends. From the dark and raunchy Vivid to a swooning sing along San macros, Brockhampton operate on levels. Immediate to enjoy and tantalizing to dissect their music is refining to a continual giving of change, compared to the Saturation series. Creative percussion, an ear for unique sampling pallets and developing rap styles had me locked in. On the latter part, these emotional narratives and introspective lyrics give so much meaning to the music where once boisterous and wild rapping tended to fall a bit hollow, now the songs come to life. A feature from Slowthai was a pleasant surprise and overall the group have really locked me in this time around. I hope they continue to evolve as greatness surely awaits if they do so, another great set of numbers.

Favorite Tracks: No Halo, Boy Bye, Heaven Belongs To You, Dearly Departed, Big Boy, Victor Roberts
Rating: 7/10