Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My Top 10 Music Discoverys In 2014

Its been a great year for music. I've seen a lot of live music and caught some amazing anniversary shows, like Emperor playing the whole of "In The Nightside Eclipse" ans Nas at Lovebox playing "Illmatic". Also got to see Sikth, Metallica, Eminem, Dog Eat Dog and Limp Bizkit a couple of times too. Theres countless more but seeing two of my all time favorite albums played in full was really something. I foolishly missed out on seeing Linkin Park play "Hybrid Theory" in full and Smashing Pumpkins with Marilyn Manson in London, but no need to dwell on the missed opportunities, next year I will aim to take them all! Beyond live music I've broadened my horizons and discovered more fantastic music, this list covers my top 10 new discoveries over the year, for my top 10 albums of 2014 click here.

(10) Kendrick Lamar
I was never expecting to find much in the way of modern Hip Hop, but this artist had what was great about the old and the new rolled into one. It gave me a better understanding and appreciation of the new era. ive since found myself enjoying a lot more Hip Hop from our current time.

 (9) Skee-Lo
Not the greatest of rappers, but Skee-Lo's style and sound is prime 90s, and I love 90s Hip Hop, after expansively exploring this era over the last few years there are not many leaves left to turn over, but Skee-Lo was a hidden gem that had some how alluded me, much like Kriss Kross possibly because of short lived commercial success at the time.

(8) Chelsea Wolfe
Simply a brilliant musician, Chelsea's dark and haunting psychedelic folk paints her a unique sound to my ears that is a welcome discovery, but one I have neglected to take beyond "Pain Is Beauty", must listen to more of her albums in 2015!

(7)  First Aid Kit
I've said a lot about these two already, my favorite album of 2014, and beyond that their other records are enjoyable too. A great discovery recommended by a reader here at the blog.

(6) Depeche Mode
Known about this band for as long as I can remember, but finally had some encouragement to give them a listen and found that I very much like what they are about. With such a large discography I'm sure I will be listening through their albums for some time to come.

 (5) Ministry
I've known about Ministry for a long long time, even listened to ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ a couple of times but this year their music just clicked for me. I brought a 5 album bundle at bargain price and never looked back. Incredible energy and anger in their music, my favorite discovery from my dive into Industrial Music.

(4) The Art Of Noise
"The Seduction Of Claude Debussy" Is a blinding album, it fit a niche for something I had always wanted to hear, a joining of old and new, Classical and Opera colliding with Jungle and DnB. The record itself is no experiment, this is a masterful execution and expression that utilizes the qualities of each and brings them together in unison, beyond the album they have a few other songs I like and have been a rewarding discovery.

(3) Marilyn Manson
I've been familiar with Marilyn's music since my youth, all my friends liked him, but for some reason it has taken me 15 years to get it, but its well worth the wait. Manson has his own genius and he flaunts it through his angry, rebellious music that has plenty of food for thought. I've really connected to his music and I'm eagerly anticipating a new album from him in 2015.

 (2) Marvin Gaye
I was drawn to the TV after hearing extracts from "Kind Of Blue" to find a great albums of past show, after Miles Davis came Marvin's "What's Going On" album. It stuck a nerve with me immediately, and I found myself at the mercy of his soulful voice which appealed to me through the subject matter. He could talk about our deep rooted societal issues, but package them with a warm reflection and positive perspective that spoke to me deeply. I brought the record instantly and it has been spun countless times since.

(1) The Smashing Pumpkins
Undoubtedly my favorite discovery this year, and maybe of the last few. Their a band I've always known of, but really had no idea what their about. After watching a documentary about them, it clicked, and listening through their albums one by one I've realized Billy Corgan is a musical genius and one I connect with. His sound is brilliant and unique, bringing influences from across the spectrum of Rock, Metal, Grunge and Alternative, but blending it all together and painting songs in his own color. I've enjoyed there first 4 records tremendously and theres still more to come.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Linkin Park "Hybrid Theory" (2000)

Hybrid Theory was thee record of my generation. It's the biggest selling record of this millennium and was a phenomenal success at the time. It's been a long time, maybe even 10 years since I last gave this a listen. The other day I got an itch to listen to this record and I was curious to see what id think of it. 14 years ago was around the time I started listening to Extreme Metal and Hip Hop while still being spoon fed bands from MTV and VH1. I'm a much more mature listener now but I'm not one to disregard what I liked in my youth. I do see a lot of hate towards Nu Metal and other music thats insulted as being only relevant to the youth of that generation. I don't get whats wrong with that, but I understand that people can grow out of music but for me, I hold onto what I enjoy and it was no surprise that after so long this album still sounds great, but it also came with a nostalgia trip, vividly reminding me of my past and where I was at that time. The power of music!

Returning to this classic, I tried to keep in mind the popularity of this record, and from this perspective hear what the formula of their success was. This was released around the same time as "Chocolate Starfish" which is the fastest rock album to go platinum. It was in the peak of Nu Metal and the music industries stranglehold on record sales which has since been in rapid decline, it was prime time for a band like this with Bubblegum Pop groups like "Backstreet Boys" and "Britney Spears" being the alternative in MTV culture. Their sound would characteristically defined as Nu Metal, but the guitars are not excessively distorted, the screaming is infrequent and their aesthetic has its heavy moments but keeps a rock sensibility throughout. Simple and infectious melodics are brought to the forefront through electronics and guitar leads that are a key part of what makes this formula work. Not only are the group delivering bouncy and grooving riffage, they also balance it with memorable and catchy leads. Chester's clean vocals and Mike's raps are like icing on the cake of an already approachable sound, the two give every song a great hook and relate-able, easy to follow lyrics that the target audience can easily get into. Even after all these years these simplistic melodies and grooves still strike a nerve.

The album as a whole is fast and to the point, each track is 3 to 3:30 minutes in length, short, to the point and devoid of filler. Starting out with its aggressive tracks, the album calms down towards the end and gets into its more melodic side. Every track does something different and by the end I am satisfied but this short listen does leave one hungry for more. I believe the success of this album is down to the aesthetic being just right for the times, but that alone wouldn't be enough. Theres no denying the groups ability to write simple hooks, appealing melodies and memorable lyrics, the combination of which made this perfect for MTV and radio to push onto consumers, at a time when corporate power had a huge steak in a bands chances to "make it". With the changing landscape of music Linkin Park may just be one of the last bands we will ever see reach these heights of popularity and success. Still brilliant after 14 years.

Favorite Songs: Papercut, With You, By Myself, Place For My Head, Forgotten
Rating: 9/10

Friday, 26 December 2014

My Top 10 Albums Of 2014

The end of the year is upon us, and now its time to write about my 10 favorite albums of 2014. Most of them have been reviewed on the blog which has only been going a few months. Writing about music has given me tremendous focus when it comes to appreciating music. I am now much more organized with my listening habits, I only write about records after I feel an understanding and connection to that without the blog wouldn't have been the same in the past. I'm thankful for this blog and everyones support by reading the articles, Its improved my musical experience greatly and this article will cover my thoughts of each record in brief.

(10) Panopticon "Roads To The North" Link
Delightfully different approach to Black Metal, Kentucky folk influences, an appreciation of heritage and culture made this a colorful and palleted record that is enjoyable on every listen.

(9) Yagya "Sleepygirl" Link

Not an especially distinguished or grabbing record, this was just simply what I wanted from this artist, some chilled out super mellow dreamy electronics.

(8) Earth "Primitive And Deadly" Link
A masterful record that saw long running band Earth find their inspiration and direct it into a mature and well developed record that brought vocal elements into their usually instrumental sound. An unexpected and welcome suprise.

(7) Erang "We Are The Past" Link

Erang has pumped out a lot of music in a short amount of time and each record brings a variety of interesting and indulgent music, but unexpectedly this one really stepped up the game with some of his most inspired and captivating music yet. Makes me excited for the future of this project.

(6) Wolves In The Throne Room "Celestite"
Stripping out core elements of their sound and focusing on the abstract synthesizer sounds, the group made a remarkable record that goes on a vivid and mysterious journey through space and time with and eerie and cold undertone. Gripping soundscapes

 (5) Behemoth "The Satanist"
Stunningly dark, evil and well composed. What could of been another run of the mill album for their 10th effort turned out to be focused and ambitious record that despite sitting in a comfort zone, turned out to be monumentally engrossing and heavy.

(4) The Underachievers "Cellar Door - Terminus Ut Exordium" Link

A pleasant surprise to find a Hip Hop record in the modern era I could get into. Very much enjoyed the atmosphere of this record which borders some dark moods at time. Great beats and flows outside of my comfort zone made this an expansive record for my taste.

(3) Saor "Aura" Link

A brilliant record that appreciates Black Metals melodic side, bringing together the abrasive aesthetics with culturally inspired melodies and instrumentation. A pleasure for the ears.

(2) Messenger "Illusory Blues" Link

A Progressive Rock record that draws inspiration from many of the greats while creating its own identity. This record is mature for a debut and paves the way to a bright future for this creative band.

(1) First Aid Kit "Stay Gold" Link
Picking my favorite was as easy as it gets. Since I first heard this record Ive found myself more and more engrossed by these gorgeous songs that are charming and relate-able with down to earth, uplifting and reflectional lyrics that are driven home by the pairs beautiful voices, which put me in a good mood every time I hear them. Simply can't stop listening to this one.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Kittie "Oracle" (2001)

Born in the prime of the Nu Metal scene, Canadian metallers Kittie gained a lot of attention with their debut album "Spit" and subsequent touring on the Ozzfest festival. Unfortunately the group never continued their commercial success, record sales declined as the interest in Nu Metal faded into the 00s. This, their sophomore release, is a humble record that I like to turn to from time to time. It may not be quite the something "Spit" was, but this record offers some decent Nu Metal with dark aesthetics and that classic dropped guitar sound so characteristic of the genre.

Oracle is a simple, straight forward record that at times borders mediocrity as the group play out some elementary tracks that are flared up by aggressive drumming, engaging vocals and a fair few riffage moments. Morgan Lander's screams are snarly, forcefull, borderline brutal and fulled with anger, she contrasts them with some warm, magnetic clean leads that add a welcome layer of color into what is a pretty black and gray sound. A warm crunchy bass marks its territory underneath distorted guitars that have the classic down tuned and dropped sound that doesn't have much going in the way of characteristics, its a pretty generic sound but its executed well. Holding it together is Mercedes's drumming which doesn't stray to far from comfortable territory but has great chemistry with the guitars and provides another aggressive outlet to their sound. When all these elements combine and Kittie hit the mark, musically its a pleasure, the aesthetics are spot on and Landers voice gives it all a definable flavor and character that keeps me coming back.

Simplicity is a core element here, this isn't music thats trying to do anything grand and bold, its down to earth, fun and unapologetic. The guitars are entry level, offering very little more than dropped single finger power chords and the occasional lead utilizing a few notes that may resemble a melody. Its something Ive seen them criticized for, yet I think it misses this point. A lot can be achieved even if simple in nature, it also serves as great entry level guitar to play along to if you like Metal and want to play it. Good album, great in places, theres also a Pink Floyd cover which fits right in (with an interesting guitar solo), despite not resembling the original much.

Favorite Tracks: In Winter, Severed, Pain, What I Always Wanted, No Name
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 22 December 2014

Meshuggah "Chaosphere" (1998)

Meshuggah, Swedish for "Crazy", are one of the most important and innovative bands in this modern era of music, especially in the context of extreme metal, a genre which hasn't undergone much evolution over the last decade outside of Meshuggah's massive influence in the context of rhythm and the "Djent" tone. Chaosphere marks the inception of Meshuggah's ascension into their own stratosphere of sound, one unlike anything that came before it. Previously this band were a group inspired by the American Thrash sound of the late 80s, introducing odd time signatures and experimental rhythmic approaches with their debut "Contradictions Collapse" in 91. They followed up with "Destroy Erase Improve" in 95, a classic Post-Thrash record that saw the band home in on their approach to rhythm and timing, executing polyrhythm guitar riffs and bass kicks against 4/4 arms on the kit. The result is a landmark record, but one that would not deter the band from progressing to bigger peaks. I decided to write about this record after catching them in London, where they put on a phenomenal show. I completely lost my sense of self to the mercy of their rhythmic tribal onslaught.

On this record Meshuggah take their sound to the extreme, ditching the power chords and taking their guitar tone into a new dimension unheard before. The "Djent" tone captures the crunching lows and powerful persuasion of distorted guitar picking textures, amplifying it to create a monumentally abrasive and uncompromising sound. Alongside the guitars, the bass receives a tonal depth and distortion that has is wavering around the guitar tone, further adding to the intensity that is put to effect with a simply genius approach to rhythm that appeals to the primitive and tribal rhythmic instinct inside oneself. Meshuggah's genius here is in their ability to execute two distinct rhythms simultaneously. The polyrhthms are elasticated and magnetized by their relation with the 4/4, sounding impulsive and sporadic inside a measurable pace that in its best moments bleeds a relentless and uncontrollable rhythmic energy that mesmerizes the listener with its infectious tribal instinct.

Although the concept may sound simple, many inspired bands have popped up over the years and it has to be said no one does it like these guys. Their riffing and compositional choices are sublime. Drummer Haake has to be complimented for his double brain. Playing 4/4 with his arms and varying unique time signatures with his feet, the man is a drumming machine and complete legend! Singer Yens also plays an important roll in their sound, his monotone and forceful shouts add to the chromatic texture of their sound and serve as a compliment to the 4/4, adding strength to one half of their timing make up. His lyrics also come with a unique approach, see "New Millennium Cyanide Christ". Much is also to be said about this bands overall "sound". At first they may sound somewhat one dimensional and tonally aggressive, but this simplistic and colorless sound just further emphasizes the importance of the relation between rhythm and polyrhythm. Fully aware of this aspect of their sound, the band blows the dimensional door wide open with Thordendal's alien lead guitars that burst into fold out of the void with an expansive and colorful tone as he shreds through the most unusual arrangements of notes at lightning speed. See "The Mouth Licking What You've Bleed" for an example. This unique almost sounds as if hes trying to hit every note arrangement that isn't in a scale. Its just another beautiful dimension to their sound which is also executed in the opposite fashion with his leads often being extreme or completely minimal. See "Corridor Of Chameleons" for both. His style is most comparable to Avant-Guard Jazz music.

Chaosphere is where it really happens for this band, from this point on they only expand their horizons and evolve their sound. This isn't a perfect record. I feel like the best of Meshuggah is found across multiple records and on this one their a few moments here and their where, if not in the mood, the constant onslaught can be tiring. My favorite way to describe this band, "being grabbed by the ankles and having your head slammed to different sides of the room to uncontrollable rhythmic madness". If this band intrigues you but you can't get into their music I would encourage you to persist. Their is something genius, tribal and totally unique at work here.

Favorite Tracks: New Millennium Cyanide Christ, Corridor Of Charmeleons, Neurotica, The Mouth Licking What You've Bled
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Depeche Mode "Music For The Masses" (1987)

Taking off where "Black Celebration" left, Depeche mode's "Music For The Masses" takes a step towards a simpler, easier to digest format that sees much of the instrumentation focused around its main lead rather than the layered constructs of Black Celebration. This minimal and simpler approach is subtle by design but becomes apparent as repeated listens fail to invigorate the same energy and captivity the previous record had. Its a calmer beast by design, and my tendency to compare the two may hold back my enjoyment a little, but there is no doubt that this is a solid record that at no point has felt stale or mediocre at any point.

The calmer tone of this record is soothing, the compositions and arrangements pair well with lush sounding synthesized instruments and a soft, yet punchy kit. The subtlety of the less "grabbing" leads make for great enjoyment, but not the sort that comes to the forefront of you attention and fills you with awe, like "Stripped" and "Fly On The Windscreen". Thats whats disappointed me most about this record, the hooks and leads are less ambitious, and mostly remain in the quieter comfort zone this record muddles through without having any bigger or bolder moments, with one exception, "Strangelove" which genuinely sounds like a left over from the previous album, boasting a more upbeat energy and catchy hook.

What may lack between the two records is certainly not in identity, Depeche Mode very much sound the same band, retaining their colorful sound and moody undertone. Every listen has been enjoyable but theres rarely a moment that jumps out and grabs your attention, its a subtle experience, maybe more suitable to the background while working on other tasks. The album as a whole is decent, but a few slower, moody tracks towards the end are not always what I'm in the mood for when listening to this group.

Favorite Tracks: Never Let Me Down, Strangelove
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Marilyn Manson "Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death)" (2000)

Having really enjoyed "Antichrist Superstar" & "Mechanical Animals" I was rather hesitant to listen to this record which I remember listening to many years back, and not being particularly impressed. Whatever my thought were then, they are certainly not relevant now that I have connected with Manson's music. "Holy Wood" is the first of 3 records released in reverse order. Confusing, but conceptually these albums are linked and acclaimed as Manson's golden era, or creative peak, following a decline in popularity with later releases which I am considering checking out since Ive grown a lot of respect for a musician who's music is intelligent and thoughtful despite its grotesque and confrontational presentation through art and aesthetics.

Holy Wood is consistent with their style established so far, but represents a more condensed and metallic approach. The overall mood is darker and at times feels rather pessimistic through Manson's hopeless lyrics. The band bring a more traditional rock feeling forward with riff oriented guitars, either distorted or clean, being a bigger focus than the keys and synthetic sounds that brought a lot to the tracks on the past two records. The drum machine is the most diverse element, offering variety and creativity through different kits that guide the tracks they are utilized on with driving energy. The straight forward approach serves the record well, there is no shortage of ideas and the tone of the distorted guitars sounds ripe with hate. There a lot of aggressive energy on display focused through Manson's iconic lyrics.

"Well I'm not a slave, to a god, that doesn't exist. I'm not a slave, to a world, that doesn't give a shit". Lines like this got stuck deep in my mind and despite delivering some of his best hooks, I felt it came in smaller quantities with a lot of the better tracks appearing at the beginning of this record. Holy Wood has some of Manson's most aggressive, abrasive and catchy tracks, but across the course of the record there were quite a few numbers that couldn't quite match the intensity laid down by the love and fight songs. Overall this album offers up more of what I've grown to love about this band, but as an album it falls short of previous works.

Favorite Tracks: The Love Song, The Hate Song, The Death Song, Burning Flag
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Ice Cube "Amerikkka's Most Wanted" (1990)

American rapper Ice Cube may have a different reputation in this generation, but back in the 90s he was one of Hip Hops finest. He made an explosive debut with N.W.A. on "Straight Outta Compton", an all round classic that set the group on a course for world domination. Cube made a sudden departure from the group in 89 following disputes over his contributions the the lyrical contributions on N.W.A. and Eazy-E's albums. He was the groups most talented rapper and walking away from something as prolific as N.W.A. was a bold move. In retrospect it has served him well. "Amerikkka's Most Wanted" is Cubes solo debut and one of the first rap albums I got my hands on. As a kid I loved this record and having picked it up for the first time in years I was blown away by the lyrical and instrumental content of this record. Its still angry, violent and explosive, and more so feels relevant following the racial unrest in America in response to police brutality. "How the fuck do you figure, that I can say peace and the gunshots will cease? Every cop killer goes ignored, they just send another nigga to the morgue". Not only relevant, but a sad reminder this has been going on for decades.

Cube has it all, voice, flow, lyrics and inspiration. We find him here at his peak, delivering a record fueled by anger and frustration towards racism, police brutality and social injustice, as well as aiming some raps at radio stations and telling stories of life in the wrong neighborhoods. His flow is sublime, a fast yet sturdy pace delivering fueled raps with an audible grace, every word is crisp and easy to follow. The content is even stronger, Cubes story telling is engaging, passionate and structured. Every track keeps you locked in to the stories which unfold steadily. Theres a lack a filler, Cube keeps banging out the rhymes from start to end with many tracks ending with a sudden feeling as Cubes intensity fails to dwindle before the end of the verse. His engaging and charismatic style is genuine, one of the most talented to grace the mic.

Lyrically this record is extremely progressive in the context of a rappers freedom to express oneself. Its no surprise coming from the group who drew FBI's interest with the classic "Fuck The Police" that Cube would kick up the heat with violent and aggressive raps, flirting with sexist and racist themes that would make this record a focus for controversy and censorship, ultimately paving the way for more expressive freedom in the future of Hip Hop. For all thats ruthless or vulgar depending on your perspective, it comes in a relevant and necessary context as Cube raps stories about crack dens, drive byes and a girl from the projects who claims to bare his unborn child. Cubes dynamic story telling here is stark and unforgiving, telling everything how he sees it, not dressing it up for record sales or commercial success, which this record ironically became a huge success at the time. 

Cube's known as a west coast rapper, but on this record we have production from the legendary Bomb Squad who work with Public Enemy. Their contribution is monumental, providing the backing for Cube that makes this record a classic. Their beats are energetic and layered, bringing that unpredictable and dizzying sound, but packaging it up with a flavor that really differentiates the style from their work with Public Enemy. These beats have got bounce, groove, and best of all they are crafted and catered to Cubes input, following his lead and providing plenty of breaks and variants to keep these songs vibrant as Cubes mesmerizing raps suck you along the course of these instrumentals. Its a fantastic chemistry, one we will never hear again, and for all the positives I've talked about, it has to be said the second half of this album is a grade behind the opening 8 tracks, after the comedic track "A Gangsta's Fairytale" the albums sound and tempo varies as production from Sir Jinx doesn't follow the energy laid down by The Bomb Squad, the track "Who's The Mack" even sounds like a prelude to Ice Cubes later releases. Blinding album, the first half of which is pure classic.

Favorite Tracks: First half of album.
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Wu-Tang Clan "A Better Tomorrow" (2014)

Wu-Tang Clan, the legendary once nine-piece rap collective shook Hip Hop with their rough and rugged style. Cut with Kung fu movie samples over gritty low fi beats, their lyrical talents flourished and shined bright. Their debut "36 Chambers" became a classic and follow up "Wu-Tang Forever" established them as a dominant force in hip hop. The release of this album was a complete surprise to me. The last I heard of the Wu-Tang they were working on a double album that only one copy would be produced and sold. The record would go on a tour around the world for fans to listen too before being sold of to the highest bidder, leaving the future of the album in their hands to do as they please. Its was a interesting idea, and an fascinating way to earn money in the changing landscape of record sales. I've since learned that they recorded that 31 track album alongside this new record "A Better Tomorrow" which suggests a return to form. It arrives 13 years after "Iron Flag", and 7 since the disappointing "8 Diagrams".

The album opens with "Ruckus In B Minor", including samples from the late ODB who's inclusion in this record feels fitting and respectful. He pops up throughout this album which as a whole feels patchy and inconsistent. There are some terrific beats, samples and verses throughout and a variety of themes but conceptually it feels like a few ideas and concepts have been thrown into the mix. There are some darker, grittier tracks "Necklace", steady movers "We Will Fight" / "Keep Watch" and positive uplifting tracks "A Better Tomorrow". The progression feels scattered as these tracks jump from one mood to another. The start and end feel like the better parts of the record, the middle includes the cover track "Preachers Daughter" that felt unnecessary and was soured by RZA's "singing" in the chorus, I'm a little mystified as to how they thought it worked, because it didn't, it was flat.

Inconsistency may be the theme so far, but should not undermine the quality on display. The beats are sharp, creative and on point, and at times capturing that classic Wu sound. The rapping may not but as classic and memorable as those endless recite-able verses on "36 Chambers" and tracks like "Triumph", but its a return to form, and there are decent verses scattered throughout, with everyone sounding there usual selfs. Method Man was most notably a notch above everyone else, always sounding fresh and energetic with his charismatic flow, dropping a great verse wherever he went. Overall this album could of been a mark or two better, what we want from the Wu-Tang is here, the group are just not as in sync as they could be. Theres great verses, beats, but rarely all in the same track. Ironically I felt the best tracks were "A Better Tomorrow" and "Wu-Tang Reunion", two soulful movers with great vocal leads, a contrast to their usual style, but two where they came together for the idea. A great album for fans, but leaves a taste that something better was possible.

Favorite Tracks: Mistaken Identity, Hold The Heater, Pioneer The Frontier, A Better Tomorrow, Wu-Tang Reunion
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 15 December 2014

Melvins "Houdini" (1993)

American Metalers "Melvins" are an interesting group. When it comes to Metal I am fairly well versed, except in the Sludge / Doom sub genres, which would explain why this band has alluded me all these years. They are acclaimed as a group with strong influences on the emerging Seattle Grunge scene in the early 90s, Cobain is even credited for his involvement in the production of this record. Drawing influences from Black Sabbath and Black Flag, Melvins forge slow, sludging music with that obscurer Ginn approach to guitars that can be felt in moments throughout this album. This is their fifth release and one I chose to listen to simply because it was the first full length to appear in a search result, no surprise it is their most commercially successful release too.

The Melvins sound on this record is a mixed bag of approaches to their slow and sludging style which is mostly achieved through song writing, more so than aesthetics. Boasting a light, rock drum kit, clean, slightly gruff vocals and modest overdriven guitars with pale lead tones, Melvins do not need pummeling kits, bludgeoning guitar tones or screams and growls to achieve brooding sludgy sound. Carefully crafted riffs and composed drumming unite to create some decent grooves and head bangers, as well as crushing, slow movers, of which their is a fair variety on this record.

There were many interesting, and captivating moments on this record, but for the good there was equally some drawn out, duller moments too. The flow of this record is a bit sporadic, with the tempos and vibes changing a fair bit from track to track. "Honey Bucket" kicks up the tempo with the albums thrashiest track, to be flowed up with "Hag Me", a lethargic sludger. Both equally good tracks, but the constant changes made it hard to stay with this record. Melvins have every right to experiment and put out varied music, the result is enjoyable but as an album for me it feel short of creating a consistently captivating listen.

Favorite Tracks: Night Goat, Going Blind, Honey Bucket, Copache
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Haken "Aquarius" (2010)

London based Progressive Metal band Haken have been stuck in my mind this past month. Their debut "Aquarius" is where I decided to start following a recommendation from a blog reader. Its taken me a long time to understand and feel comfortable talking about this record, which I believe is testament to the diverse and varied offerings this record brings. In true Progressive Rock style, Haken let their music ebb and flow, twist and turn in whatever direction they are inspired to do so. The result is a record that feels grand and timely, clocking in at 72 minutes its an generous feeding of delightful Progressive music that almost to much for one session, with songs averaging 12 minutes it was tough to full grasp each of these tracks without lots of sessions.

Technically the album is solid, a clean and colorful production that captures the instruments with a touch of class, letting these talented musicians perform their captivating, exploitative music that utilizes a wide pallet of instruments, mostly likely through keyboards providing pianos, strings, organs and other synthesized sounds. Acoustic, Overdriven and sometimes Djent like guitars play along side the keys and a warm bass that brings a classic high end Death Metal sound at times. The drumming provides a fantastic backbone, building a big presence in these tracks, keeping score and participating in the narrative. This wide pallet and unity between instruments is widely explored on this record that goes through many moments and passages its hard to keep track of all the sounds, moods, tempos and dynamics experienced.

All of this diversity in sound does reside within Progressive boundaries, but its the diversity of theme that caught my attention most. Haken can bring gentle acoustic moments together with crushing Djents and dark Metal styles with effortless execution. For example the track "Streams" starts with a bright, cheerful piano lead that builds into what I can only describe as "Disney Radio" song. Warm friendly acoustic instrumentation alongside some playful lyricism about swimming with the fishes... which as I say certainly does not have a dark undertone. This song progresses, evolves and expands into a dark beast that brings one of the heaviest moments, with slow crushing guitars, doom-like keys and beastly growling vocals. This diversity is executed brilliantly, and I have nothing but good things to say of this record, however its sheer size and difficulty to digest has left me unsure of where I stand with it, its definitely great music thats throughly enjoyable, but I'm not sure it stands on the emotional level. Only time can tell.

Favorite Track: Aquariam
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Smashing Pumpkins "Adore" (1998)

The fourth Smashing Pumpkins album is one I have been anticipating with a touch of unease. Having unexpectedly fallen for this band, I realized its been a long time since I've discovered a musical genius with a body of work to explore. "Adore" is where many have cited things dramatically change, and Corgan himself has described it as "A Band Falling Apart". This album sees the departure of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin replaced by a drum machine, which seems to be a keen talking point of this record. The album cover and band's image at the time is very much Gothic, hinting a shift in sound, which was the biggest surprise with this record, there is simply nothing Gothic about it.

Adore has the Pumpkin's sound, but its a shift in style and execution that puts more attention on their gentler side and Corgan's vocals. Theres an unsettled yet relaxing air to this record, its calmer, dramatic in its own way and has a touch of Ethereal influence in the aesthetic as reveby electronics muddle with the acoustic guitars. At first the drum machine was very apparent, very stale and stagnated compared to Chamberlin's free and energetic drumming, the programming felt stiff, a lack of subtle timing or volume fluctuations and no fills or pattern variations made it feel a little droning at times. On some tracks this worked surprisingly well, but overall my reaction was mixed. At times it felt like the drum machine was intrusive, on others it complimented the track. Throughout it melded well with a warm bass that moved well with these acoustic numbers. The electronic elements are somewhat overpowering of the acoustic guitars, but thats its charm, it served to create a unique sound for this one.

Despite a mixed sound, the theme of this album was very consistent. Its a steady, moody ride, full of love, sorrow and romanticized poetry thats lyrically maturer in nature. Gentle and melodic this album drifts though itself and calms into an almost lullaby like state in moments. For what there was to enjoy about this shift in sound, in came in small quantities, only a handful of songs had the substance to make a memorable Pumpkins track, and the songs in between those just didn't captivate like the first few tracks which made for a promising listen. If the drum machine is a problem or not, its irrelevant, some songs just didn't cut it and "Adore" just doesn't have the arsenal their previous efforts had. Its inconsistent, but it does have a couple of gems.

Favorite Songs: Perfect, Daphine Descends, Tear, Pug
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

First Aid Kit "Stay Gold" (2014)

Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit are the best thing about Kanye's "Yeezus"... Hu? What? Heres an interesting story, as Yeezus came to a close it was preceded by what I initially thought was an "ironic" counter culture sample. Like at the end of a Metal or Hip Hop show the house lights come on and sometimes the PA will play something to juxtapose the mood, ie the Bee Gees "Staying Alive". Being completely oblivious to what was next on my playlist, I genuinely thought this was the end of Yeezus. I grinned, thinking "Ironically this is brilliant, best part of the record". As the song drew on I released my foolishness and checked the playlist. First Aid Kit was recommended to me by a reader on this blog and after checking them out on Youtube I ordered this record, which I have now fallen in love with.

Stay Gold is a bright, warm, uplifting and introspective record that brings the loving and harmonious voices of sisters Klara and Johanna to the forefront of colorful, melodic instrumentals reminiscent of American Country music and other Folk like music. Their voices are sunny and powerful, possessing only a fair range their charm comes from the honesty in the lyricism and ear for the catchy hooks in their imaginative and soulful delivery of heart warming and positive messages. What I like most about the lyrics is there acceptance, rather than ignorance of life's struggles, providing uplifting introspectives on dealing with hardships and creating an air of maturity towards the topics explored on the record. Its paints a strong picture of these girls who despite their youth seems to have their heads firmly attached to their shoulders.

Even though their voices and lyrics stole the show, the instrumentation that backs them is not to be overlooked. A pallet of Country instruments provide rich and moody backing for the vocal leads. Their acoustic guitars tend to fall back into these instrumentals, a little buried, providing some gentle strumming but often letting the strings and piano take lead on guiding the narrative of this songs. The chemistry is strong, they build intensities and ease off in-line with the direction of the vocals. It adds a touch of class to the execution of this record which is stellar and has me yearning to listen to it frequently. I feel this one may be a personal favorite of mine, but only time will tell.

Favorite Songs: My Silver Lining, Stay Gold, Cedar Lane, Waitress Song
Rating: 9/10

Monday, 8 December 2014

Pantera "Vulgar Display Of Power" (1992)

Today is a sad day. The 8th of December marks the 10 years its been since the death of Dimebag Darell, one of Metals greatest guitarists, known for his sonic lead guitar solos and tight groove rhythms as well as being a all round nice guy and drinking machine. He played lead guitar in Pantera, the group that prevailed Metal through the 90s in the absence of Metallica and rise of Alternative and Grunge. His death was tragic, the events of that day in 2004 shook the Metal community hard, and this day, or more so his music, has since been celebrated by metalheads around the world. It seemed fitting today to write about "Vulgar Display Of Power", Pantera's "second" album and the peak of their commercial success and a massively influential album on the next generation of Metal.

Having reformed their sound with the previous album "Cowboys From Hell", Pantera define what their about on this record, ditching the high pitch vocal leads and focusing more on tight grooves, Pantera create a powerful, violent metalic sound with crushing rhythms to pound your fist and bang your head too. Anselmo backs the attitude of this strong, aggressive sound with his Hardcore like lyrics of self empowerment and mental strength, his voice is powerful and angry, he screams with a balance that makes him audible and understandable. He's a character, one some consider one of metals greatest of vocalists, but for me he brings an undeniable energy when coupled with the instrumental sound of Pantera, one thats not there in other projects of his.

Taking the forefront of attention in Pantera's music is Dimebag's guitar presence, boasting a dense, thick crushing guitar tone, he bangs out endless tight rhythmic grooves song after song. There performed to perfection, continually energetic and enthralling, getting stuck in your mind. Dimebag has a great understanding of both simplicity and complexity, understanding the relation between the two and how to execute them with attitude. For example "A New Level", a simple, effective chord progression that any beginner could learn to play, the song then shifts gear into a tight picking rhythm, upping the anti. "No Good" demonstrates Dimebags technical riffing, something more frequent of other records. The most important factor in Dimebags rhythm guitar is his musical relationship with his brother Vinnie. Often overlooked, Vinnie's machine like drumming is crucial in Dimebags grooves, providing narrative and often emphasizing the harder hitting moments in his riffage. Vinnie's beats are not like regular Metal drummers, and playing Dime's riffs to regular drum patterns will demonstrate this clearly. Drummers are often overlooked for their contribution, their flair can be limited by the objective of their position, as opposed to the wide range of sounds a guitarist can produce. When it comes to Dimebag's tight Rhythmic grooves the importance of Vinnie is often overlooked.

When it comes to Dime's lead guitar there is no competition. This man accelerates into his own universe when hes shreds, leaving everyone behind. His leads are colorful, imaginative and mind bending, always executed with impeccable precision, even when performing when heavily intoxicated. Across Pantera's discography, his solos are widely varied, imaginative and inspiring. There captivating and something you need to hear for yourself to understand. Vulgar Display Of Power is a full on record, its spruced up by two gentler melodic tracks "This Love" & "Hollow" that demonstrate the groups genuine musical talent. It's a break in pace but doesn't stir up what is a straight forward execution of pummeling aggression from start to end. Its a great sounding record, the guitars and drums are captured dynamically. The kit sound fantastic in the mix, every kick, snare and cymbal punching in with reverb, and without clashing with the guitar. The bass is a touch tame, just backing the guitar throughout. Classic record, one to get will get you pumped up and full of energy, great for running or lifting. RIP Dimebag. I Can't believe its been ten years... Thank you for the music.

Favorite Tracks: Walk, Fucking Hostile, This Love, No Good, Hollow
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Kanye West "Yeezus" (2013)

Kanye West is an American producer / rapper who came up in the 00s through production with Jay-Z. Gaining recognition and acclaim for his beats, he was able to release his first solo full length in 2003. From there his success has continually grown. Hes now arguably one of the biggest names in Hip Hop and popular music. What originally drew me to his music was the forward thinking production and soulful themes rooted in Hip Hops culture and past. Of all the post-90s styles and sounds, Kanye's felt the most like an evolution into the modern era. His first two album where as far as I got. I was apprehensive to listen to "Yeezus" without bringing myself up to speed, there is an apparent void between "Late Registration" and this one, the soulful uplifting sample driven numbers are gone. Here we find electric synthesized minimalism and harsh, noisy aesthetics, coupled with rough and rigid sampling that create a bold and uncompromising sound to which my overall impression was hit and miss.

Tracks like "Black Skinhead" and "Send It Up" do everything right. "Black Skinhead" offers up some simplistic grooving tom and clap percussion accompanied with distorted vocal samples building up to a sublime sub bass kick where Kanye does his 300 romans thing as overly loud drums, peaking both the momentum of the track and volume, as they distort through compression. "Send It Up" accompanies a minimalistic bass kick / thud with a obnoxious siren like sound that follows its own groove. On other tracks it doesn't quite work. Kanye's electronics aesthetics and interrupting cuts are anti indulgent for me, like the screams on "I Am A God" which break up the track, I'm not sure if I like them or not but they indicate a Death Grips influence that could speak to the entire approach to this album, and its the approach that should be applauded. Theres experimentation and ideas at work that really hit the mark, just not on every track. One of the most prominent experimentations was in the rhythm department, a lack of cymbals and excessive minimalism, often letting the synths guide the rhythm, through the bass or not at all. It was quite refreshing, and it worked.

Now lets talk about the "Raplic priest, getting head from nuns". I've never been convinced by Kanye's rapping, and "Yeezus" hasn't changed that. On his first two records there were some pretty appalling verses. The highlight of those albums and more so with "Yeezus" are the beats. I can't think of a single line thats stuck in my mind for anything other than its obnoxious or ridiculous nature, but thats just Kanye's "lyrical wordsmith" style. It's not all bad, his flow and tone, style of rapping is enjoyable, its just the lyrical substance I question, however I commend him for following his own style and establishing himself as a rapper. He doesn't sound like anyone else, but for me hes the producer that needs to stay behind the beats, not the mic. For the things "Yeezus" does right with its beats and instrumentals, its let down by the lack of anything to get into lyrically.

Favorite Tracks: On Sight, Black Skinhead, I'm In It, Send It Up
Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Down To Erf "Down To Erf" (1998)

In the mood for some chilled out Hip Hop I pulled this gem out from my collection, its an 8 track EP from Canadian group "Down To Erf" consisting of rapper Mathematik and a DJ who's name I am unaware of. There is very little information about the group on the Internet and this would appear to be their only release, one which we could consider a lost classic, however time tells a story. This was once a record I couldn't put down, it was at a time when I was rapidly expanding my discovery of the East Coast, listening to records like "Illmatic" & "Lifestyles Of The Poor And Dangerous". It served as a laid back, jazzier rendition of the classic early 90s sound. After a few years It hasn't quite the spark I remember, some of its flaws are more apparent, but its still a personal favorite, mainly for the jazzy samples and grooving beats.

Rapper Mathematik has a soothing flow, a steady pace delivering technical lyrics delivered in a consistent, yet tame manor. His style is approachable and indulging, easy to follow, and his lyrical ideas are on point, but he falls short in a important places. The calm and steady delivery is continually mechanical, leaving little room for variety, a spontaneous change of flow or any energy, charisma etc. From start to end Math follows the same formula which can often have him falling into the background as his style becomes monotone. His lyrics are clever, and serve a strength he couldn't do without. "When I fight, the weapons are the rhymes I write", "Hip Hop bath, cleansing in the words of Math". There are plenty of clever lines scattered throughout this record. There a pleasure, but the lack of variety and ideas beyond his typical flow held him back from doing something truly great.

The record starts off with an estranged mix of samples coming together with a standard beat that quickly fades out to a sub bass kick that brings in a steady beat accompanied by dreamy bass noise and scattered, distant instrumentation that comes and goes. The tone is set well as Math drops in and lays down the vibe for the album. From track to track choice samples of jazzy pianos, bass and trumpets are arranged with strong drum beats that create a great set of instrumentals that could compliment any rapper. The instrumentals are great, but like Maths flow, they do lack variety. Most tracks follow the formula of dropping the main sample or snare to add variety to the beat, never truly breaking up the track and fusing something different into these songs, but that does not take away from the chemistry the samples and beats achieve. A great, slightly flawed record that is still enjoyable and a choice listen for any 90s Hip Hop fan.

Favorite Tracks: Rhyme Training, To Each His Own, State Of The Art
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Peter Gabriel "So" (1986)

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Gabriel, now 64, perform this record in its entirety at what was an impressive show, especially considering his age. "So" is my personal favorite, and his most critically acclaimed work that was made hugely successful with the help of the innovative and legendary stop motion music video for the single "Sledgehammer". Gabriel was once the vocalist of Progressive Rock band "Genesis", when he parted ways with them in 1975 he had little trouble establishing his solo career through a string of self titled albums, proving his talent as a musician as well as vocalist. 

"So" is Gabriel's most accessible album, in between its gentler, soothing tracks, this record is ripe with finely tuned pop numbers that are layered with subtle instrumentation adding together to create strong hooks that get stuck in your head. The percussion has a worldly feel, strong influences from foreign cultures can be felt at times, it brings these tracks an edge that help define their unique vibe. Even with brilliant instrumentation Peter's voice is the main attraction, he has an authenticity and range to his style that takes hold of the moment and leads the narrative to dramatic peaks. His highs are grabbing, and his lower range has a slight gruffness that keeps these songs grounded with a humanistic touch. 

My favorite track "Big Time" has a pulsating, jiving baseline that rocks and rumbles its way through this number where Gabriel chimes through egotistical musings mocking his own success. His soaring vocals inspire awe as he delivers some brilliant lyrics "I'll be stretching my mouth, to let those big words come right out". Its an riveting track that comes between some gentle tracks, which are equally engaging. Its a varied track listing that shifts the gears often, and it works well, jumping from sombre ambiance to an energetic thriller in its own design. The production is typical of the era, sounding slightly flat in some areas but overall it captures well, impeding nothing. "So" is an album I was raised on, its punchy hooks and dramatic moods have been enjoyed for years, its a fantastic record, one that is still a benchmark in the artistic dimension of mainstream music.

Favorite Songs: Red Rain, Sledgehammer, That Voice Again, In Your Eyes, Big Time
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Smashing Pumpkins "Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness" (1995)

Totaling two hours "Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness" represents a remarkable creative output for the group who's finest hour (or two) has been hailed as this album by critics. Its the bands third record and last with the original lineup. A future change in sound and style has left these three records being considered as the classic era of the band. Compared to the first two, it is also the most diverse and varied. Corgan brings new influences and ideas to his songwriting as well as more instruments, including strings, pianos and the occasional harpsichord. Despite this expansion to their sound, they very much maintain their identity in what is a stellar album brimmed with great numbers.

A great double album is a feat not pulled off by many artists, and whether this made one or not is up for debate, but their is no doubting this is a band in their creative peak. Whats impressive is not the length, but how many memorable, "favorite" or classic songs are packed into this record which starts off with some energetic and explosive rock out tracks, ie "Jellybelly", and gradually matures into a gentle giant of dreamy lullaby rockers that are truly soothing and calm. Corgan's lyrical and vocal presence is as honest and youthful as ever, with some awe inspiring moments like in "Tonight, Tonight", where his voice is pushed to its limit with a high note he doesn't quite reach, but the way its sung is so honest and heartfelt, its truly warming.

Theres such a rich variety and depth on display its quite hard to summarize it all up. The production is astounding, capturing the vibrant tones of the guitars, the warmth of the bass and power of the drumming in a mix that accommodates all of the extra instrumentation when its present. Its colorful, technically brilliant, so much so you may not stop to think twice about it. With everything good said, I did feel the second disc has a mark below the first, or at least when listening to the whole two hours at once. As the album calms down my attention to it dies a little as well. I found it more enjoyable to listen to the second disc separately. A really beautiful album, and now ill look forward to "Adore".

Favorite Songs: Tonight, Tonight, Jelly Belly, Here Is No Why, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Cupid De Locke, Where Boys Fear To Tread, Bodies, 1979, Tales Of A Scorched Earth, By Starlight
Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Marvin Gaye "Whats Going On" (1971)

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Christian Death "Only Theater Of Pain" (1982)

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Lord Lovidicus "Wandervogel Des Waldes" (2014)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Erang "We Are The Past" (2014)

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

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

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

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

Monday, 24 November 2014

Pharmakon "Abandon" (2013)

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

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

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

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