Saturday, 31 January 2015

I Built The Sky "I Built The Sky" (2012)

I Built The Sky caught my attention in a VSauce video showcasing the arts and music, this young guitarist was riffing out harmonious melodic Djent and shredding into vibrant sweep picking solos with a comforting fluency. I've since picked up the record for free on Bandcamp and enjoyed these records which I would describe as "instant gratification". It may have just suited my taste, but these tuneful numbers sound the same as the first time I heard it, the charm of this music is out in the open and easy to access.

Being a one man band from Australia this instrumental Djent music servers as a showcase for the guitar to worm its way through bright imaginative passages that range from acoustic rockers to full on metalic grooves. In the rhythm end theirs plenty of almost "polyrythmic" grooves and hard hitting crunchy Djents, but it never strays to far into the heavy, always retaining melodic sensibility and creating a very accessible entry to this style of music. The grooves are accompanied with dazzling harmonious chords strum out in a Post-Metal style creating an epic air underneath the riff fest. In its most acoustic moments the strength of the melodics shine as the captivating sound transcends between a chasm of difference from the crunchy Djents to the almost Post-Rock harmonious epics. 

Alongside the massive guitars is a clear, punchy drum kit that sounds adequate with its hammering pedals, sharp snare and slick symbols. It sounds very much like a drum machine, the toms being a dead giveaway. Either way the drumming itself was thoughtful, lots of care put into the grooves and fills, but despite being positive in general, I feel it lacked a spark or flair to do something interesting, maybe its purpose was met as this album really does focus on the guitar. The bass seemed non existent, either mirroring the guitar or being the low end of Djent, there were only a couple of moments where underneath layers of building guitars did it sound like a bass line might be at work. The instrumental aspect of this record was a success, the guitars felt like a voice of their own and their artistic vision would be dampened by such a bold element as vocals, clean or screamed. There were a few inconsistencies in the production formula from track to track, but nothing major, in general this was a fantastic sounding record expressing some brilliant musical ideas. With a new album due in 2015 I will be keeping a close eye on this musician.

Favorite Tracks: Nebulosus, Opacus, Cumulonimbus, Stratus, Spissatus
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Foetus "Gash" (1995)

Starting from zero, the opening track "Mortgage" slowly progresses through a grudging beat that pounds as pounds as instruments and abstract sounds pile into the mix one by one. Narrated by musician J.G.Thirlwell the song evolves into a noisy, dissident dystopia of sound colliding together with strange harmony and balance. Its says much of this experimental record which juxtaposes all sort of musical styles with the ever-present noisy Industrial backbone in a chaotic fold of sound. Foetus is the main project of aforementioned Australian Experimental musician  J.G.Thirlwell who has built a large body of unique music over the years, under multiple pseudonyms. As well as developing connections with some prolific artists in the 90s, his own work has never seen much commercial success or critical acclaim but has certainly carved him a niche that sees him active to this day. "Gash" serves to be his biggest record, the only one to ever make a release on a major record label, Sony, who can be seen on the album cover, possibly intentional.

A lot of what is established in the first track is elaborated on throughout the album, noisy, Industrial tracks with a less intensive focus or vibe. Underneath the hard shell the guitars play out some Rock / Metal like riffs with minimal intensity, they often compliment leads and melodies brought in an array of instruments and styles that seem to consistently pull from different sources track to track. After moments of intense noise abuse, and eerie synths the album finds its way to a Swing / Big Band number "Slung", its jiving swing leads and clamorous undertone meld and stroll into a lengthy jam fest that returns to the main theme across eleven minutes. The track that follows couldn't find itself further away, a screeching, dark number. Thirlwell's vocal performance give this snarling shock rock track a Manson vibe. The bizarreness continues as a Classical, theatrical war like composition leads us into a quite genius dramatic piece that utilizes the progression of its noisy oddities with a peaking string number. Its an album of surprises and experimentation that doesn't fail to get your attention.

With the good often comes some bad, and this record would tip the scales in the wrong direction with its production which served to really hurt its potential to be great. This album is also produced by Thirlwell who's worked with big names before, but here on his own record his production style has held back everything great thats at work. I've listened to my fair share of Avant-Guard, genre blending music, and more so than often the unusual ideas presented need to be complimented by decent production. The guitars on this record are muddy, foggy and loose their impact in this messy production which fails to facilitate the needs of each instrument. The drums are thin and flat, the bass is a low fuzzy growl that occasionally gets noticed for something other than a loud rumbling, and for all of the extra instrumentation that comes and goes, none of it comes into the mix without clashing with something. Noise may be an important aesthetic here, but it can come from the layers of strange noises and instruments without clashing. With so much going on in the same space the low fidelity makes it difficult to absorb without focus and effort. Track after track throws down fantastic ideas, riffs and leads that are buried amongst one another and serve to suck the moment dry with lackluster fidelity. Its been a while since I've heard a record so hurt by production, but its a reminder that good musical ideas are not everything.

Rating: 5/10
Favorite Tracks: Mortgage, Mighty Whity, Slung, Steal Your Life Away, Mutapump

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Benighted In Sodom "Hybrid Parasite Evangelistica" (2010)

Cold, dark and desolate, "Hybrid Parasite Evangelistica" plunges the listener into an Ethereal abyss of despair as dreary guitars cry out in their pain in a beautiful melodic sorrow. Benighted In Sodom is an American Black Metal band typically characteristic of what some call the "3rd wave" of American Depressive or Suicidal Black Metal. Bands like Xasthur and Leviathan. The term itself may come off a little cheesy, but it really captures the essence of dark emotions that these records explore. This one is no exception and its Ethereal aesthetics and dreamy nature, as opposed to confronting and abrasive, create a comforting juxtaposition from the grave undertone of these songs, reflected in the solitary lyrics and song titles such as "Liquid Flowing From A Slashed Wrist", hardly poetic, but reinforces the idea.

The band have put out a plethora of music, of which this is one of five albums alongside four extended plays in 2010 alone. The music on this record doesn't suffer any fate of feeling "forced" or lacking inspiration, however the five tracks do feel like a singular entity. The main focus of guitars tremolo picking their way through slow tempo leads doesn't leave much room for an expansive set of ideas, but more a singular concept that plays through a series of riffs and leads. The eerie keys lay in the shadows, building the foggy Ethereal element, but neither the keys, bass, or drums really do much to add more instrumentation or "events" in the music, these songs drag and crawl through a baron darkness lead by the guitars that on a couple of tracks shift to an acoustic gear that does little to lift the mood, despite being a break from the grueling distortion.

My biggest quarrel with this record was the vocals. Loud, harsh and snarly, these screams littered and interrupted the the flow of the songs with there loud and unapologetic presence in the mix. It would of served the immersible nature of the Ethereal chemistry the guitars and keys possessed, to bury the vocals, soak them in reverb. Instead a harsh contrast served as a stark annoyance to my ears. There is not much to be said about the production quality either, many transitions and movements vary in volume, requiring adjustments for the listener. The drums are also rather thin, distant and unexciting. Normally their roll is to guide the pace and tempo, but on this record they always felt a step behind the guitars, due to their sound and presence in the mix. For all bad said, it is not to be over emphasized, the chemistry between guitar and keys here is king and the focal point of my enjoyment of what is a dark and despairing listen with a strange sense of comfort about it.

Favorite Tracks: Dreamscape Overdose, Solarium
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 26 January 2015

Run The Jewels "Run The Jewels" (2013)

Last year I wrote about "Run The Jewels 2", the second album of rap duo Killer Mike & E-LP. At the time I was both impressed and unsure about the record. There were lots of positives, but I found myself quickly tiring of the sound the two established. After the dust settled and time passed, these songs were surfacing in my mind, and my initial understanding of the project expanded as I picked up the record again. Writing about music has highlighted a dimension of music I often overlook, time. Time is change and as I change so does my enjoyment of the music. Often I want to write about "classic" records that in recent weeks I've realized have run their course for me, they have their place in time but whats relevant is what I'm enjoying at this moment, and Run The Jewels is definitely a pleasure right now, so much so I got hold of their first record released the year before.

I'm not sure what I was anticipating, but no surprise this record was more of the same. So much so it made me appreciate the unique style the two established with this project. This first chapter isn't quite as dark, ruthless and tongue in cheek as RTJ2, but doesn't need these things to show its strength. The instrumentals rock some strange approaches to beat creation, lots of abstract, aggressive electronic sounds and leads dance around each other with impacting force. The percussion has the Hip Hop groove, but comes through some detailed rhythms, lots of kicks, claps, snares and hitting sounds coming together in an aggressive nature, creating energetic beats with a depth of intricacy.

If it wasn't for Mike and E-LPs rapping this might not sound like a Hip Hop record, the electronic sounds and forceful rhythms sound like an abstract electronic genre at times. Its a positive that they forge such a unique sound. The twos lyrical content is on point, and on the track "Job Well Done" Mike drops a line that cracks me up "Its like Tyson in the 90s, if I'm loosing take a bite out". Theres not to much else I have to say, more of the same, its all good, 10 solid tracks that don't have an excessive run time. Looking forward to RTJ3.

Favorite Tracks: Ddfn, Job Well Done, No Come Down, Get It, A Christmas Fucking Miracle
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Young Gods "TV Sky" (1992)

The Young Gods are an Industrial Rock group from Switzerland formed in the mid 80s. Hailed as a "bands band" TYGs have been sited as a significant influence on many popular Industrial acts, including Nine Inch Nails. "TV Sky" is their third record, and for me its another piece of the Industrial puzzle I have been fascinated with in recent years. As a kid I had been over exposed to Industrial music through endless listening of Frank Klepacki's C&C soundtracks in the mid 90s, and every band I discover and listen to feels like a piece of the tapestry unraveling itself.

"TV Sky" is a lofty record with a mechanized pace that cruises through a laborious and desolate landscape. With every listen an image of a hover-car speeding through a derelict city consumed by a barren desert races through my mind, you can smell the oil in the blistering heat. This wild and vivid sound is consistent throughout the record of 8 tracks, 7 of which make up a shorter 28 minutes before the album rains out with a 19 minute saga. The repetitive and pounding nature of this record is complimented by Franz Muse's gruff, drawn vocals that grind out, adding the human touch, but always at the mercy of the industrious mechanical instrumentals, its a nice chemistry and his strong Swiss accent ads a touch of foreign into the mix.

The instrumentals are king on this record, forging a soundscape epitome of its fraction in the Industrial sound. Sharp, robotic guitars play out mechanical stop start riffs in unison with the gritty pounding drums that stamp out rigid rhythms. Grooving underneath the surface is that classic bold, warm and chunky Industrial bass guitar, always a welcome element. With the core of their sound down, TYGs bring their uniqueness through some sudden and dense electronics that burst into these songs, a lot of the complimentary sounds tend to burst in quick as they fade out, which subtly ads to the vibe through an "on/off" switch like execution. Additional guitars waver in and out of focus with noisy abstract guitar sounds and distortions, deepening the rich atmosphere this record offers. Its a casual listening experience that doesn't demand much of the listener, it pounds away like a ride you can hop on or off at any point. The easy pace and purely rhythmic approach gives it a touch of ambiance that makes it an easy record to absorb.

Favorite Track: TV Sky
Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Outkast "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" (1994)

Southern Hip Hop duo Outkast have achieved massive international success and critical acclaim since there inception in 92. Selling millions of records and winning several Grammy awards they have truly secured their place in Hip Hops elite. My memory of this group was all positive, fantastic singles like "Bombs Over Bagdad", "So Fresh, So Clean" and "Ms. Jackson" used to play on MTV in my youth and I had no reason not to check their discography out. After listening to "Stankonia" I decided to go back to where it began for the group on this their debut, released in the creative prime of Hip Hops classic 90s era.

The southern scene is one I'm still grasping and understanding, what I expected of a southern group was not present on this record. What I found was funky, stylish and reminiscent of the west coast G-Funk sound, but of its closest comparisons Outkast genuinely define their own sound on this record. The production from Organized Noise fuses elements of Funk and Soul with a Psychedelic touch into a Hip Hop package that Andre and Big Boi compliment with their slick rapping and high pitched, "Players Ball", vocal leads. The chemistry creates a powerful, smooth and stylish cultural indulgence. Its a relaxing listen, one that shifts the gears from the bombastic and aggressive momentum that Hip Hop was moving in. Outkast slow it down and swoon us with their confident, laid back attitude. In retrospect this record sounds a step ahead of its time, theres a much larger focus on the non-percussive instruments themselves, including a slick, exotic guitar solo which does nothing but compliment the track "Funky Ride" and other soulful sounds, and some electronic elements too. 

Lyrically, Andre & Big Boi deliver plenty of engaging story telling verses, with smooth flows and annunciations. Their charm on this record is the appreciation of what comes between, not bombarding us with verse after verse, the duo drop some classic choruses and interludes that break up the pace. Their overall tone was much lighter than the misogynist and violent contexts found on some other records of the era. Altogether the duo drop a dynamic and thoughtful debut that takes a step forward instrumentally that gives this album a freedom to focus more on its less traditional elements. Its an indulging listen, one I've enjoyed immensely.

Favorite Tracks: Ain't No Thang, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Players Ball, Funky Ride, Hootie Hoo
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 23 January 2015

Schoolboy Q "Oxymoron" (2014)

In my search for more consumption of modern Hip Hop I stumbled across this well received record. Its album cover grabbed my attention with its ghostly black and white look, the balaclava implying an air of violence. On my first listen I very nearly turned it off, I was bombarded by boisterous boasting, over exuberant swagger and derogative, demeaning lyrics. I've always understood and accepted that this is a part of Hip Hop, its a window into another world, another lifestyle and I've appreciated that ever since I heard NWA's "Fuck The Police", but this time it felt excessive with no relevance, unlike police brutality. I wasn't keen on the "gangsta gangsta gangsta" chants, but I told myself what I always do, familiarity is key. So I kept listening, the album grew on me with some more charactered songs later on the record and by the time I was listened to the second and third times I was loving the opening track "Gansta".

Modern Hip Hop hasn't shifted its focus to beats, more so its shifted away from the lyrical creativity of past. Repetition, and stylistic inflections have become the focus, further resembling instruments to compliment the instrumentals than tell stories and deliver memorable raps. The most memorable moments on this record were a couple of catchy hooks and a few shocker lines, nothing resembling the past where you could quote an entire verse for its mesmerizing articulation (IE Nas on "Live At The BBQ"). With this in mind I found my enjoyment was a little altered, and I certainly missed a lack of lyrical substance, but theres enjoyment in the catchy hooks, raspy shouts and reverby vocal effects at work alongside the beats. The occasional tracks had some great verses "Hoover Street" & "Break The Bank", and plenty of great choruses throughout.

The beats across this record are fantastic. Theres a lot of variety, and the production feels like it passes through many hands as track to track changes consistently. Describing the direction of this record would be a continual snaking of styles and vibes. The range of influences and moods is a strength, it gives this one a constant excitement as each track jumps to something refreshing different to what came before it. Midway through the record theres a couple of tracks which take on a strong DJ Muggs vibe, firstly "Blind Threats", which samples the classic Cypress Hill "Illusions" or at least its source, and two tracks later "Break The Bank" which has a "Temples Of Boom" vibe with its grooving bombastic beat and simple, repetitive dark keys. It also homes my favorite line "Fuck pigs I bust back" in a sequence of short lines that groove with the beat. This record was really enjoyable, defined by an array of fantastic beats and artistic input from a range of producers and guest features, but a lack of lyrical fidelity across these number just left an empty feeling in my desire to consume the words of lyracists, the chemistry of beats and rhymes is still king.

Favorite Tracks: Collard Greens, Hoover Street, Hell Of A Night, Break The Bank
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Diabolical Masquerade "Ravendusk In My Heart" (1995)

Diabolical Masquerade is the one man band of Blakkheim, guitarist of Metal band Katatonia. The project has been over since 2004 when Blakkheim announced he didn't have the inspiration for a fifth record. In the 90's they dropped 3 fantastic records that were recognizable by Blakkheim's unique style of writing. His forth record "Death's Design" strayed from a traditional format, and served as a soundtrack to an imaginary movie. Of these three classic Black Metal albums, the debut "Ravendusk In My Heart" is my favorite, and browsing through my archive I spotted the digipack of this record which I have not heard in many years. In the mood for some grim frosty Black Metal cookery, I let it spin and was energized by a musician who's brilliance I had forgotten in recent years.

Ravendusk is a vibrant, adventurous record that showcases Blakkheim's creativity behind a guitar. Consisting of bass, drums, guitars, keys and vocals, the musical energy is often led by the continual riff fest of a bold, audacious execution of what is essentially traditional metal styles. Theres moments that feel definitively Groove or Thrash, and others that have the Maiden reminiscence of Heavy, or Power Metal which is tied together through the more common Black Metal style. These stylistic inflections are bold and transition from one another effortlessly in a stark fashion that despite its rigidity, just feels right. Song after song moves through riff after riff after riff. From blast beat guitar shredding to Blakkheim's charactered melodic leads he creates a genuine and unique atmosphere, different from anything else out there in the Black Metal realm.

His guitar work may steal the show through its parading front row presence, but an important part of the chemistry are the eerie, choral keys that laden the sound with a continual melodic affection that resides often in the background, but sometimes works alongside the melodic guitar leads. The drums and bass are solid, decent structural components of the sound, but rarely steal the limelight or stray to far from a comfortable position. Blakkheim's stark and shrill screams haunt these numbers with a continual presence in each song. Occasionally he makes use of some cleaner folk-like leads as well as some balls out Priest like vocals on the track "Under the Banner Of The Sentinel". The overall sound is traditional, yet has a gripping phantasmal vibe about it thats beautiful traversed by creative Metal musicianship. After many years its still a fantastic record, one which I maybe over listened at the time.

Favorite Tracks: Blackheim's Quest To Bring Back The Stolen Autumn, Blackheim's Forest Kept The Season Forever, The Darkblue Seajourneys Of The Sentinel, Blackheim's Hunt For Noctural Grace
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Blut Aus Nord "Memoria Vetusta III - Saturnian Poetry" (2014)

French Black Metal outfit "Blut Aus Nord" are a group I have loosely followed over the years. They have been active since 1995 where they dropped a praised debut "Ultima Thulee". Since then the group have maintained a steady output of records that have continually intrigued me with their musical approach, often straying outside my expectations. In 2011 the group dropped a trilogy of albums, titled "777" that really caught my attention. Noisy, Industrial and damn right ugly at times, these albums delivered unconventional and unnerving musical moments, that at the time hit a note with me, something their previous oddities failed to do on the same level. Excited for more I was eager to listen to this record when it arrived.

"Saturnine Poetry" is the third part of the "Memoria Vetusta" series, and marks a significant difference in songwriting and aesthetics from "777". I was immediately stunned by the rip roaring epic sound this album bursts into with "Paien". Blazing textural guitars shred out immersible progressive riffs alongside thunderous theatrical drums, alternating blasts and fills, littering these songs with depth as they guide a narrative alongside the guitars which continually meld and move through passages of massive proportions. Theres a gorgeous symphonic element lingering in the background, graciously embedding serene melodic depth to these lush guitars, their symbioses fueling the fire. The track quickly finds its way to a soaring peak thats guided by some gruff, snarly vocals which are nicely lowered and buried, a fine touch, theres a lot going on and the harsh nature of them isn't overpowering. As well as the more traditional vocals, theres are some clean folk, viking like choral chants that come in at various places, further complimenting this dramatic and theatrical musicianship. Theres also the occasional melodic guitar leads that seem to drop in and out and just the right moments, climaxing and further narrating these monolithic rip roaring tracks. The chemistry is just stunning, an exhilarating and intense force meeting its match with gracious and measured melodics to create one of the finest Black Metal records I can remember in recent years.

Saturnine Poetry plays through its vibrant chemistry by delivering seven inspired tracks that flow like water in the river. These tracks begin, and end, but feel like one entity as the songs share a pallet, and focused direction in terms of songwriting. Each track twists and turns through its relenting aggression and melodic climaxes that from start to end just don't tire. It captured the essence of what I love most about Black Metal, its a place. A cold, natureus freedom that exists deep in the mind, inspired by a lost reality. From start to end you can tune in and fade away. A stunning listening experience.

Favorite Tracks: Paien, Metaphor Of The Moon, Clarissima Mundi Lumina
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 19 January 2015

Kraftwerk "Trans-Europe Express" (1977)

Having enjoyed the works of prolific electronic group Kraftwerk through their album "The Man-Machine", I sought out another record to digest. Recommendations by readers and critically acclaimed across the web, it seemed "Trans-Europe Express" would be one id have to listen to sooner or later. Recorded in 1976, and released a year later, this record marked a significant shift in sound towards a purer electronic output that would mark this and the proceeding records as classics in the modernization of electronic music. Having developed an understanding of what this group are about, I found this album to immediately reveal its brilliance, a vast difference in approach and likability. I was instantly sucked into a carefully orchestrated design of minimalism and color through the opening track "Europe Endless" with its vibrant melodies, formal groove and charming vocoded vocals. Complimented by light choirs and cultural praising of European collaberation, Kraftwerk quickly set a gorgeous tone of which the repetitious content simply does not tire, and becomes indulging and fruitful. As 10 minutes pass the album moves into tis second gear, and reveals a different focus for the theme of the record.

With "Hall Of Mirrors", the warm vibe established is diminished as the record transitions into a dark and egotistical reflection of self image. A distant, tampering beat, moogy bass and swirling melodies create an intense atmosphere for the vocals to tell a shattering tale of fame and self image, the harrowing space of a failed ego. The theme is continued through an equally moody yet sharper and punchier track "Showroom Dummies" that includes some interesting sampling of destructive noises. The song is another impressive showcase of minimalism, yet fills rather "full" from its energetic rhythm. From here the record moves into what was simply a "jaw dropping" moment for me. A shuffling, mechanical rhythm slowly phased to sound reminiscent of a train leads up to a glorious moment in Hip Hop. Sampling has always excited me, and I was so humbled to hear the origins of "Planet Rock", a classic and important song in the Origins of Hip Hop. The eerie melody is followed up by a stunning arrangement of chords that I find myself in awe of, the song is further progressed into "Metal On Metal" which drops the melodies and brings in some big and booming drum hits to descend the song into a meaner tangent of itself guided by some theatrical chord climaxes that lead back into the main theme. Its followed up by two more tracks that shift the feel back to the initial positives this one started out with, yet holds a strong reminiscent or revisited feel about it, mostly likely through a lack of percussion and dreamy synths.

The listening experience as a whole is vastly superior to much modern music out there, and begs me to ponder on the "retro" or "outdated" ideas that can often be associated with music and art. Aesthetically, or musically, this seems far removed from irrelevance of time, and stands on its own two feet. Kraftwerks mastering of minimalism, mechanical rhythms, peachy melodies and eccentric presentations mold the form of a record pure of substance. Even after much time listening to this one, I find myself unable to put it down. Despite haven given my thoughts on this record, I can't help but feel it will only love it more as time goes by.

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Bloodbath "Grand Morbid Funeral" (2014)

Six years in waiting, "Grand Morbid Funeral" marks the blasphemous return of Swedish Death Metal supergroup "Bloodbath". The group formed in 1998 with various artists from such bands as "Opeth", "Diabolical Masquerade" & "Edge Of Sanity" with a rotating cast of vocalists, most noticeably Åkerfeldt of Opeth who's demonic guttural screams gave them a gripping edge. His departure from the group had left my hopes for this record a little soured and it turned out to be a defining point in my enjoyment of this record.

As a Death Metal band, Bloodbath brought the best out of the "oldskool" sound, fusing it with a violent and frenetic aggression through crisp production and inspired musicianship that set them aside from other Death Metal bands. On the surface they sound somewhat generic and typical, but their songs are abundant with violent, boldly executed ideas and riffage thats given a flair through Åkerfeldt's evil presence and the melodic leads that can infect this malevolent sound with a touch of color. On "Grand Morbid Funeral" the group delivery more of the same, fast, pummeling death with no shortage of ideas. The album as a whole felt very much like a safe continuation and progression from where "The Fathomless Mastery" left off, its tight, sharp and on point. A solid execution of exactly what I and other Bloodbath fans wanted to hear.

Despite being a solid record on the points mentioned, there were two disappointments. Firstly new vocalist Nick Holmes has big boots to fill, too big. His presences is not as dominating. Despite a commanding presence, his intensity was a step behind the rest of the band. The second disappointment was more so about my failing apatite for Metal music. Although this was what I wanted, its more of the same, and despite Bloodbath being a band I hold in high regard, it essentially didn't give me the same kick it used to. I enjoyed this record, It's production is another step forward for the group and their musicianship and focus on the Bloodbath ideal was spot on, but there's only so much of this chaos I can digest before I need something different.

Favorite Song: Beyond Creation
Rating: 4/10

Friday, 16 January 2015

Marilyn Manson "The Pale Emperor" (2015)

Its time for our first record of 2015! And I've been listening to it since 2014, when it leaked onto the Internet. Its still not released, but available for streaming, and I've held of from talking about it, but soon I will own this fine record that may just be Manson's finest hour. "The Pale Emperor" on first listen was a great listen that was rather unexpected considering the impression I gathered that Manson had "fallen off" since his classic trinity of records. Having thoroughly enjoyed them recently, this record didn't feel to far from where "Holywood" left off, but had an obvious progression and maturity to it. Gone are the bold and contentious statements that shock some and excite others. On this record Manson turns inwards for inspiration, and the pains and hardships of being him, it is reflective of the overall mood of the album with only "Deep Six" hitting that harder Rock/Metal vibe Manson does with a urgent sense of style on previous records.

It's a calmer record thats theatrical, intelligent, with a subtle grandiose to it. The band instrumentally focus less on hooks, and craft matured songs with no cheap thrills, yielding a rockier vibe that sees the Industrial element of their sound quiet influence of past. Manson is in his artistic vision as always, but his chemistry with the group is spot on, the track "Birds Of Hell Awaiting" for example, Manson's performance is free and audacious, it carries the dreary, mechanical instrumental along and together they climax the song with a boisterous flamboyancy. Its a high point in a charactered group of songs that are crafted through a subtle arrangement of instrumentation that is varied and lead by some fantastic guitar work that appreciates where and when to bring the energy, and where to decorate the instrumentals with calmer energies. The record's calmer nature was reinforced by the dismissal of a drum machine and the inclusion of Sharone, formally of Dillinger Escape Plan. In the moment they could provide the classic Manson fist pounding rhythm to get your noggin bobbin, as well as structuring the theatrical nature of these tracks.

Manson as always is a huge part of these record, his presence here was commanding as ever, and even when showing his weaknesses he stays in the music and turns his anguish into an exhilarating performance. Its a sign of maturity that his artistic vision can change and retain the best of his performance. As touched on a couple of times, this album is openly personal and introspective, more so than the observational and instigating nature to poke at establishments and ideals in controversial fashion. Even with a shift in focus Manson delivers those classic lines that stick in the mind, twirling thoughts of intrigue. "At least I know, wherever I go, I got the devil beneath my feet" and "Were killing strangers so we don't kill the ones that we love". I've listened to this record countless times, its stuck in my mind and I have enjoyed it through and through. I feel like its a record that has a lot to offer, and will continue to do so. Its theatrical presentation, mature delivery, and depth of theme are true strengths that challenge this as their best artistic output to date.

Favorite Tracks : Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge, The Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles, Slave Only Dreams To Be King, Birds Of Hell Awaiting
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Swans "Children Of God" (1987)

Swans are an American band from New York who were formed in 1982 by Michael Gira. Whenever I have heard this band mentioned, its always been in the highest of regards. Their early album covers gave me a Hardcore vibe, but after hearing them referred to as "Experimental Rock" I decided it was time to checkout this mysterious group that kept grabbing my attention. I picked out "Children Of God" for its intriguing album cover any vivid symbolism. I found myself entirely blown away on the first listen, I was overwhelmed but what I had just listened to, and struggled to make sense of it. "Experimental Rock" really threw me off the scent. There isn't an experiment at work here, but an absolute melodramatic theater of deity fear and wonder. What little "Rock" elements their are crop up in the occasional use of lightly distorted guitars, but the main concept here is the themes guided by Gira's deep, stagnant vocals that soar with a dark divinity. Theres a variety of accompaniments to the musical, but the most noticeable would be a Industrial style brought in though pounding drums and low, distorted guitars.

After a very powerful and moving first listen, I found myself struggling to make ends of what this record was all about. It feels obvious now, but it has taken me a long time to get my head around. "Children Of God" is a biblical, loathsome and tyrannical theatrical piece that turns an assumed concept that "God is love" and turns it on its head. God is hate, malice and spite, looking upon his creations with judgment and despise. "The sex in your soul will damn you to hell", repeated over and over, stuck deep in my mind. These are the words of a psychopathic being that creates us with instincts and desires it will judge and condemn us for with an eternal fury. Its a trip, through a bleak, despairing wash of inferiority and damnation. It feels like the songs take many forms and perspectives, of which I found "Blackmail" the most intriguing, with Jarobe on vocals, her soft, apparitional performance has a subtle illusion to it, queued by sorrowful pianos. The theme is of love, compassion and want, but the title and the subtleties give it a harrowing and malicious undertone I found to be a stroke of genius. Jarobe & Gira narrate this record exquisitely and guide us through unforgiving messianic scriptures that are truly enthralling.

Instrumentally these songs are very accommodating and theatrical, creating atmospheres to intensify Gira's preaches through pounding drums, droning guitars and eerie choirs. The album plays through on a ying yang approach, with each "heavy" track being followed by light, airy acoustic numbers, its surprisingly organic and seamless, the songs drift through intensities while maintaining the same God-fearing rapture. Production wise, it doesn't cross my mind until I write this now. The album sounds fantastic, capturing everything, leaving no room to second guess. Stunning album, a real journey, and one I initially felt was "too long". The harrowing experience isn't for every mood, and its length is testament to the quality of such a brilliant piece of music.

Favorite Tracks: New Mind, Sex God Sex, You're Not Real Girl, Blackmail, Children Of God
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

KMFDM "Our Time Will Come" (2014)

German Industrial Rockers KMFDM have been going strong for over three decades. This, their 19th album, is another in a steady stream of records the band have been producing since 1984. In the 80s the group were producing Industrial music with tinges of Rock and Dance, but it was in the early 90s that they found their mainstream success through an evolution in their sound that would steer them in the Industrial Metal direction. Over the last 10 years KMFDM have matured and fine tuned their sound to a science. The group are immediately identifiable with their own breed of Industrial Metal that incorporates intrepid electronic elements reminiscent of EBM, Aggrotech and Dark Electro. Its a pulsating, energized sound. The icing on the cake is the eccentric militant feel brought across through pounding rhythms and rough German accents. Its a sound I enjoy, and I got a good dose of this record which to no surprise didn't stray far from the sound thats been strongly established in their recent history.

"Our Time Will Come" outlines a theme across these 10 songs that is clearly represented on the cover art, which follows the usual format for this band. Songs of taking power, revolution, workers unity and seeing past propaganda are expressed here in a variety of militant ways, even with some quirkier lines, "I will punch you in your head, until you say I respect you". A lot of the points raised are not news to me, but are expressed in a direct and forceful manor thats positive and inspiring. The theme works great alongside their pounding Industrial Metal sound, a good match.

From a technical perspective the production is quite masterful. An audible execution of bold, strong instruments and sounds working side by side effortlessly. Theres plenty of room for all sorts of quirky electronic sounds alongside aggressive leads, pounding industrial drums and jolty distorted guitars. The album as a whole has a fantastic balance between the electronic and metal elements that give each of the songs a flexibility to execute different ideas within their sound, without detracting from the continuity of the record. These tracks are well written, and decorated with electronic sounds that become momentary leads in the moments the guitars drop out. It worked well as a whole and was another welcome dose of the KMFDM sound.

Favorite Tracks: Salvation, Blood VS Money, Get The Tongue Wet
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 12 January 2015

Khold "Til Endes" (2014)

After six years of silence, Norwegian Black Metalers "Khold" return out of the chilling frosty blue with a new, but short record. Khold's brand of Black Metal is different from the traditional Norwegian sound, the group, who's first album "Masterpiss Of Pain" dropped in 2001, have a significant and noticeable influence from Groove Metal in their rhythmic approach, and tonally the guitars have a bombastic dropped chord sound of which you could draw comparisons to Nu Metal, which was in its peak at that time. This influence was most noticeable on 2004's "Morke Gravers Kammer", my favorite of theirs, which plays out slamming groovy riffs in a lush and textural cold, dark Black Metal format. Since this record Khold have not changed their formula much, nor had they pushed any creative boundaries, I was expecting more of the same, and after six years this group return with exactly that.

If your into Khold, like me, then "Til Endes" can be an entertaining record in the right mood, but without any progression to their sound it remains a tight niche they carved themselves into, and honestly its not exciting as it once was. "Til Endes" has a little bit of everything they have done previously, and it doesn't aim to put its focus on any of it in particular. Across these eight tracks the band execute an array of riffs and ideas that span across the spectrum of Black and Groove, and most of which sound like rehashes of old ideas and previous material. There is a slightly Thrashy tinge to some of the guitar work which is accompanied by a Thrash like solo on the track "Dommens Armé". Its not an unwelcome addition, but fails to add anything thats not been heard before.

The production of this record is a noticeable mark behind their previous records, playing them side by side you hear a significant lack of dimension captured across the instruments, giving it a narrow and quiet sound that doesn't exactly tame the music itself. After the ears adjust its a nice, crisp sound with their classic slamming, yet cold guitar tone. The drumming feels a little distant and tinny, the bass plods along behind the guitars and Gard's snarly, growling vocals are captured modestly. Overall this album lacks new ideas, rehashes old ones, and is drowning in mediocrity. For a sound I feel I've heard through and through, it offers me very little in the way of something new to digest.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Cure "Boys Don't Cry" (1980)

I've been aware of English Goth Rock group "The Cure" and their influential status for a long long time, but Id never given them a listen until recently. I can't count just how many times I've listened to this record, but essentially I have held of from talking about it in search of a deeper understanding of this record and it's importance. Nothing profound has really come to mind, I just found this record to be a simple pleasure, a light and relaxed listen that had a fluency and ease about it that made each song as enjoyable as the last. Maybe thats the beauty of it? In the age of cerebral, introverted extreme music we can loose touch with the pleasures of melodics and simplicity.

Boys Don't Cry is a warm, spacious Post-Punk record that has a tinge of moodiness to it that would later blossom into a Goth Rock aspect of their sound. On this one, the trio stroll through 12 short numbers that create an uplifting and mindful feeling through a minimalist and toned down sound that greatly appreciates the space between the instruments. The kit is soft, the bass kick is padded, the snare devoid of any snap or punch, and the symbols are quiet and low in the mix. The bass lines rock a steady groove, providing a backbone for these songs which Smith's guitars compliment at their own pace, the trio don't overpower there own ideas by trying to give all the instruments something to do at the same time, on certain tracks and moments the bass and drums rock together quietly with Smith's musings, and the absence of guitars works in their favor.

The guitars bring in the most colorful aspect of sound, cleanly strum chords are tinged with flange for a tone that has an exotic touch. Its a splash of color into an otherwise tamed sound. Smith's vocals are enjoyable, I like his strong accent and afflictions, they are the final component of what gives this record a pleasant and warm approachable sound. As I said earlier, I didn't find anything profound about this critically acclaimed record, but its a simple pleasure I can listen to over and over.

Favorite Tracks: Boys Don't Cry, Accuracy, Jumping Someone Else's Train, Killing An Arab, Three Imaginary Boys
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 9 January 2015

Linkin Park "Meteora" (2003)

I often wonder what it would be like to hear the music of my youth for "the first time" in the context of todays modern music with my vast apatite and knowledge of music (mainly Metal & Hip Hop). It dawned on me that Meteora was essentially that. Although I am familiar with Linkin Park, I have never actually listened to anything other than "Hybrid Theory" and "Reanimation" (smelly album). This would be a great opportunity to get a taste of listening to that music in the present day.

I was rather skeptical at first, a little unsure what to expect, but very quickly this album rapidly grew on me and I found myself feeling like it was the 00s again, listening to Hybrid Theory for the first time. At first Meteora came of as more of the same, but on repeated listens it became very apparent how fine tuned and well crafted this record is. On the surface not much has changed about their sound, its more of the same formula, Mike's mini raps, Chester's screams balanced with clean hooks and of course the characteristic electronic sounds accompanying the Nu Metal backbone. Under the surface there is more at work here, it feels like the group made a conscious decision to tone down the aggression slightly and focus on mastering their pop sensibilities and hooks. The melodic leads and choruses on this album are so infectious and satisfying, everything from the delivery of Chester's appeasing cleans, the crisp and soft guitars, electronic melodies just feel so in-sync and on the same wavelength. Its far from challenging and very much easy to enjoy, which is a strength they play to. Linkin Park is not trying to change your understanding of music or challenge your perspective, they are writing straight forward poppy music and they do it here to a perfection on particular tracks.

For all good thats been said, there are two things that came to mind, first of all the drumming, not at a single point in this album did the drums ever come to the forefront of my attention, is this a good or a bad thing? Is the rhythm department executing a subtle genius of accommodating beats, or are they just tame, generic and holding the tracks together? I really don't have an opinion but it was an interesting observation. Second of all the lyrics are once again the epitome of teenage angst, expressing simplistic and overly emotional fears and frustrations with a lack of any real introspection or depth to the subject matter. This is probably a strength though, easy to relate and simple to recite, its what you need in poppy music and perhaps the magnitude of this pop appeal is a reflection of how focused this record is on its catchy hooks and choruses. Overall, fantastic record, enjoyed it as much as "Hybrid Theory", very satisfying to hear more of that great sound they forged.

Favorite Tracks: Don't Stay, Hit The Floor, Easier To Run, Faint, Breaking The Hobbit, From The Inside, Nobody's Listening
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Zornik "One-Armed Bandit" (2004)

One-Armed Bandit is the sophomore album of Belgium rockers "Zornik", a record I have spent much time enjoying and wrapping my head around. Zornik would be described as a "Rock" band, but in this modern era of music I find that term to be vague and nonspecific, a generalization for the traditional guitar, bass, vocal and drums band format. Their sound on "One-Armed Bandit" is characterized by some Indie and Alternative influences as well as a strong 90s Pop Rock undercurrent. They also spruce up their pallet with some additional synthesizers and electronic elements, giving this record a diversity thats strengthened by the varied approaches in songwriting. I'm glad I gave this record a chance, usual I look to abrasive sounds and confrontation for appealing musical ideas, this record reminded me that good music can be found in the most approachable of styles too.

For me, this album was mostly defined by the mood and tone set by vocalist Koen Buyse's soft and gentle, emotionally driven presence that would very much guide and mold these songs as the accommodating instrumentals built powerful and moving settings around his narrative which swims through a current of heartbreak and sorrow that comes through in his performances. They are heartfelt and strong, giving a real sense of a troubled soul letting it out through the music, and despite this bluesy and moody feel, these songs feel bright and positive, mostly to the credit of the accommodating instrumentals. Buyse's voice has fantastic range and flight when hitting graceful high notes, he often opts to balance it with gently spoken numbers that elevate his higher range in to epic moments in the songs that make up this record.

Instrumentally, these songs are tame, gentle and humble, strolling through calm and collected instrumentals that grace through inspired melodics. There strength is in the moments between their quieter sound where the group can build up the volume and intensity with overdriven guitars and climatic progressions utilizing Buyse's impressive high range. It gives this record great flow, and theres no shortage of variety between the tracks, which can shift gears effortlessly between different intensities. Theres a great Pop sensibility about some of the vocal leads, and no shortage of energetic riffage that fuses into the tracks from time to time. Its a warm and compassionate listen that grows on me with every listen, looking forward to more from this band!

Favorite Tracks: Scared Of Yourself, Miracles, The Place, We Are Lost
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

YOB "Clearing The Path To Ascend" (2014)

I was sent the song "Marrow" by a friend, I was thrilled by this lengthy, brooding, melodic and doom like epic that moves at a snails pace, dragging the listener through 19 minutes of heavy, sludging colorful bliss. I was excited, and got hold of this record immediately, but much to my disappointment the rest of the record, despite following similar principles, was a lot more doom and less melodic for what made Marrow shine. Although not strictly my cup of tea, this record was a decent listen that demonstrated some fantastic musicianship through unique suspense and progression. YOB are a Doom Metal group from Oregon USA, who are receiving a lot of praise for this album which has topped several Metal album of the year lists.

Whats most characteristic of their music is the slow drawn out riffage that utilizes the space between each bellowing strum, creating a monstrous stride that parades to its own cause. These riffs pound and bludgeon there way through sections that last several minutes and are spiced up by off kilt repeats and suspenseful returns. Between the guitar bludgeoning come quieter moments that are quite brittle and abrupt, with the growing mood often building to a moment that simply drops of into a lull. In the climatic moments the band stick to their riffs and accommodate the building atmosphere with additional guitar leads and demonic guttural vocals.

The record is crisp, indulgent, the textural guitar tones and foreshadowing drums mold a dynamic, expressive sound that compliments the musicianship. The clean guitars have a dreary melancholy about them, retaining a colorful melody yet expressing a cold and sorrowful tone that gives Marrow an emotional and moving climax. Its a great sound that works so well with the songs, yet for everything great about this record, for me personally the meandering nature of these songs can fail to hold my attention at times and despite being a terrific record, its one that doesn't quite hit the niche with me.

Favorite Track: Marrow
Rating: 6/10

Monday, 5 January 2015

G. Love & Special Sauce "Yeah, It's That Easy" (1997)

Every now and then I have the displeasure of writing about a record I didn't enjoy, although to be fair this an medicore listen, just one that didn't do much for me beyond some mild entertainment, and thats my loss. G. Love & Special Sauce is an Alternative Blues Rock group from America who are fronted by the charismatic G. Love who servers as the vocal narrator for some fun, uplifting funky Blues Rock. On paper, and on other tracks I've heard from different records, the group have the formula for funk and blues that gives them a little flair, which in this record I couldn't find.

G. Love's folky narration and jives about American culture were not my cup of tea. I found the light hearted whimsical stories and musing in these songs to be just a step beyond what engages me, and this made it hard to get into a record thats focal point is his laid back charismatic style. Accompanying him are some chilled out grooves that bring together Funk and Blues with a touch of Hip Hop in the rhythm department. These grooves rock and swoon through the tracks, utilizing an array of instruments including the harmonica and some light organs too. Behind G. Love are some great backing vocals which on a track like "You Shall See" that elevate the song, they pop up here and there, adding a lot to the songs, but is not enough to save the record.

The strongest element of this record is the instrumentals which are far from spectacular, despite being on the right track, there is a distinct lack of stand out moments or anything where the music grabs you. They muddle through mediocrity and the bass and kit grooves are often spoiled by a loose snare clanging over the bass's warm and moving texture, its disappointing as it feels like their is great potential here, but too many misfires. A nice listen but a lack of substance for repeated listens.

Favorite Tracks: Slipped Away, You Shall See
Rating: 3/10

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Cloudkicker "The Discovery" (2008)

Bomb sirens cry out in desolation as an eerie suspense unfolds. An underlying noise creeps and crawls amounting into a rising, atmospheric guitar ring out, then suddenly busts out into a gorgeous, tight, rhythmic thrashing of djent tonal guitars oozing in reverb and crushing out a simplistic repetition. Straight away I got that feeling like I knew exactly what this record was about. Several listens later that initial appeal is still here and this record is everything I thought it would be. 44 minute of enigmatic instrumental djent with a vibrant splash of color and melody. Cloudkicker is the one man band project of Ben Sharp, mutli instrumentalist who releases all of his music for free through the bands official website.

"The Discovery" is a polarizing formula, a crushing rhythmic assault is carried out by the low end guitars and forceful drumming, while the leads and high range notation color and climax these songs with rich and absorbing melodics that wash together in a sea of immersible abrasion. Its a formula that is set down from the first moment and fails to stay far from it. Through the record each of the songs offer up some different approaches, riffage and ideas that make this very enjoyable if the sound is your cup of tea. Theres some melodic, lighter, more acoustic tracks in between the heavier songs that really help this album flow and transition between tracks.

Asides some great instrumentation and songwriting, this record has a great sound to it. It comes with an "amateur" overtone to it that I can only describe as being warm and loving. It feels like someone put a lot of heart and energy into the production which sounds great, but has some technical flaws, none of which are even a big deal, but that amateur vibe stays present, and I like it very much so. One of the most notable features is the use of a drum machine that sounds like "Drumkit From Hell", having worked with this before it is certainly a hard sound to disguise but even though its noticeable the drumming is well programmed and fluent with the songs. Overall this is a fantastic record that has a lot of personal charm and one that has me yearning to seek out more from this talented artist.

Favorite Tracks: Genesis Device, Dysphoria, The Discovery
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 1 January 2015

PRhyme "PRhyme" (2014)

PRhyme is a collaboration project between legendary producer DJ Premier & Rapper Royce Da 5"9 who is known for his early association with Eminem. This mini album consists of 9 tracks and the opening track "PRhyme" focuses on the idea that the pair are in their creative primes, It sets the tone for an album of solid raps and beats that would certainly indicate both are in a creative warm spot. The two have a decent chemistry that gives the project liquid cohesion and defined character.

Premier's production is as finely tuned and crafted as you'd expect from such a veteran, bringing forth that 90s feel through approach as these tracks are littered with scratches and vocal samples from fellow 90s stars like Nas, Method Man, KRS-One & Gang Starr. The beats themselves are generally urban and darker in mood, taking a subtle roll providing backing for Royce to shine. These beats, although solid, sit in a comfort zone that sees little experimentation, taking on only a few modern aesthetics and ideas. Its not a negative point, but if your looking for something new and progressive this isn't that.

Royce is consistent and vibrant on this record, bringing an enthusiastic and motivated flow to each song as he narrates some stories but mainly delivers a boasting array of raps with a musing touch. Consistency would be a key point for me, there was no point where Royce failed to hit the mark, yet none where he really goes beyond, his best lines where from referencing Notorious BIG, "Kick in the door, wavin the four four".

The record as a whole is short and enjoyable, solid and flavorful, but perhaps lacking a depth to keep me coming back. After a few listens I feel like I got all the record had to offer and there were only two tracks I wanted to come back for. The 90s vibe was welcome but didn't really add to the body work thats already out there, one of the better beats was "Microphone Preem", utilizing a loud harsh snare and giving it something a little more unusual which could of made this project a little more. Overall a great listen to digest, but a lack of anything special.

Favorite Songs: You Should Know, Microhpone Preem
Rating: 5/10