Saturday, 28 November 2015

Darkthrone "Transilvanian Hunger" (1994)

On their previous record "Under A Funeral Moon" Darkthrone created a purist record that pushed musical boundaries in an "anti music" rebellion against traditional norms, even within their own emerging scene. At the time it must of been hard to conceive the next step but somehow the duo managed to take their sound to new frightening extremes. "Transilvanian Hunger", their first as a two piece, would take on three distinct progressions that set it aside from its predecessor and defined it.

The most obvious, and immediate characteristic is once again production. As if the harsh, colorless pallet of sound wasn't cold enough for their taste, Darkthrone pushed hard with a mix that removed the high end frequencies entirely and squeezed all the instruments into a memorizing haze through the mid and low ranges. Its a shrill wave of noise, narrow and claustrophobic, frightening and haunting as this dense hurtling wall of noise plunges us into the depths of a frozen hell.

The next trait may not be a rebellion, but certainly comes across as one. Switching from English to Norwegian lyrics would not be an original idea but certainly further alienated their music and added a element of mystery to foreigners listening in. Many of the vocals are already difficult to decipher as is, the language adding an extra barrier in the extremities, with exception to the title track and a few other lines that are in English. The title tracks lyricism is gloomily somber, a hopeless romanticism with cold and chilling misanthropy amplified by the bleak and pale music.

Behind this wall of sound and imaginative mystic lyricism lies an impressive take on the simplicity of progression through a singular line of direction. With an onslaught of rattling, whirling, never ending blast beats and mirroring base, the guitars leads us through a single dimension of sound, focusing on simplistic power chord shifts and the occasions whiff of a cold lifeless melody or frantic injection of inaudible solo leads. Through this harsh sound and linear approach to songwriting we journey through the expanses of the cold and dark side of natures cold and unforgiving reality. Keeping the listener locked in through pummeling repetition, a simple riff change can sound monumental, reminding me of the overall experience. Through so little can be delivered so much in the imagination that a peak of light shining through the keyhole sparks, wondering whats on the other side.

Favorite Song: As Flitter Mice As Satans Spys
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Darkthrone "Under A Funeral Moon" (1993)

Of the back of their transitional record "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" Darkthrone set out to write a purist record that would cast aside the remnants of Death Metal and delve deep into the spirit of the Black Metal scene. The result is a horrifically dark, chilling and blunt record with a strong satanic message. It brought about techniques, musical ideas and a classic low-fi production aesthetic that would have a vast influence on the future of the scenes music. It was also the last record with second guitarist Zephyrous who left the band as a duo that are still writing music together to this day.

The record opens with an ambush, "Natassaja In Eternal Sleep", dropping us immediately into what feels like the middle of a song with a temperate, ugly scaling guitar riff leading the way, the vocals drop in with a similar mid-song setting and we get a taste of the many rebellious, almost "anti-music" ideas this record experiments with. As suddenly as it starts, it ends, with the song simply fading out sharply, mid riff, after the last lyric is howled "And Natassaja, I'll get these god dam angels drunk".

The lyrics are a merit of their own, but the delivery and execution of Nocturno Culto's wretched screams are sublime. Working with both an immediate and delayed reverb, his snarl and throaty howls feedback on themselves before echoing out into the track. The texture is menacing and shrill, combined with the evil and sinister lyricism he comes off like an anti-christian weapon of malice, haunting us from beyond this realm. On the records title track Culto's walks us through the proceedings of satanic ritual with a chilling nocturnal lyricism, "Drinking the poisoned blood, I enter my shadowed coffin, two goats horns in my hands, I raise my arms and close my eyes, to receive the infernal hails from my brother in the land of the damned". Frightening stuff if you choose to take him seriously. I can't help but take it with a pinch of salt however I think the mood and tone of the record makes their beliefs and intentions very clear.

 The records production is a staple mark of the genre as the band pushed extremes and opted for a low fidelity sound to satisfy their rebellious "anti-music" fever. The guitars have a thin gristly fuzz distortion that feels narrow and evasive, the drums rattle and clash through a claustrophobic lack of dimension. The bass is buried in the haze and the performance has a fair few mistakes and inconsistencies that add to the charm. It was an intentional decision to downgrade the fidelity and it served as a feedback loop to bury the music in an unforgiving sound that would reinforce the ideology. Having listened to this one so many times Its become the norm, almost hard to imagine when I first discovered these record and saw a peak of light through the black, tarnsihed front.

Collectively its a flawless, cohesive collection of ideas executed sublimely but Ive always felt a selection of songs out-shined the others, leaving it slightly short of what would be a "perfect" Black Metal record. Exploring many dynamics of mood, tone and general "evilness" the group even throw down a slamming satanic beat down on "Summer Of The Diabolical Holocaust" that makes a masterpiece out the simplest use of rhythm and power-chords possible. It climaxes with a cryptic, wild guitar shredding solo that wails a noisy mess of sound in an almost piss taking tribute to guitar leads. The rebellion is real with this record, its black, bone cold and not for the light hearted. Beneath its ugly menacing exterior lies an exciting musical adventure that pushes all boundaries.

Favorite Songs: Natassaja In Eternal Sleep, Summer Of The Diabolical Holocaust, Unholy Black Metal, Under A Funeral Moon
Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Darkthrone "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" (1992)

In recent weeks I've been in the mood for revisiting old favorites and Norwegian Black Metal outfit Darkthrone are among them. Its been well over a decade since I discovered this band and their rebellious music, for new listeners in the genre Darkthrone are often one of the first names to crop up with one of the earliest records in the emerging scene and a prolific influence on the future direction of the genres sound that many of bands would come to emulate. "A Blaze In The Northern Sky" is the first of three records known as the "Black Trinity" or "Unholy Trinity" that marks a crucial part of the bands history as well as introducing the forever copied minimalist black and white album artwork including the classic corpse paint. In the next two posts I will cover the other records that make up the trio.

In 1991 Darkthrone released their first full length "Soulside Journey" an unremarkable Death Metal record that gave them a foot in the door when shifting sounds. Convinced by local musicians to change their sound Darkthrone would be among the first to release a full commercial record as a Black Metal outfit thanks to their record deal with Peaceville records. Although this record doesn't resemble anything along the lines of Death Metal, a closer inspection reveals some left over characteristics that would be non-existent in the follow up "Under A Funeral Moon".

The record starts with the classic 11 minute "Kaatharian Life Code", a deep satanic chant cries out between the echoing tom drum and eerie, hellish synths that create a soundscape of satanic mysticism. Before long it crashes into screams, blast beats and wailing Black Metal guitar shredding. The records aesthetic is sharp, cold and dense, the guitars have a fuzzy and thin tone that spreads a fair range over the warm but unfocused baselines. The drums hammer and drive these songs with a surprisingly flat and sterile quality. It comes together with a charm, magnified by Nocturno Culto's haunting screams, the rough and raw texture of his vocals burying themselves in the excessive, but short reverb. I may of listened to this record too many times, but it sounds fantastic for such an early record in an experimental genre.

Despite nailing the aesthetic, there's much to be said about the guitar work and general tone of the record, although frosty and grim on the outside the mood and undertone of the record isn't quite on the same wavelength. It may be a collection of great songs but the death metal influences are very distinct with the blast beats dropping the kick first instead of the snare, snare blasts being a staple feature in Black Metal. Many of the guitar riffs have a warmer tone and display many techniques commonplace in Death Metal. It sounds very much like the riffs were adapted in their transition between sounds and played at different tempos. That's just an observation though, Its a fine record with a continual churning over of power chord driven songs with plenty of head banger moments.

Favorite Songs: Kaatharian Life Code, In The Shadow Of The Horns, The Pagan Winter
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 20 November 2015

Juvenile "400 Degreez" (1998)

Returning to the dirty south again I picked up this record from the Cash Money crew that's been hailed as a classic. Fronted by one of the better heavily shopped covers it has Juvenile surrounded by fire, golden frames and a sprinkling of sparkling diamonds. Coming from New Orleans Juvy brings a weight of localized slang and pronunciation to digest as he spits with a limp, twisting words to his style, moving syllables, slacking on fidelity in favor of a southern rawness. Production is once again handled entirely by Mannie Fresh of Big Tymers who delivers a solid collection of beats with one or two distinct numbers.

The record opens up with a classic track "Ha" that could turn many a listener away with verse after verse of raps with a single rhyme, "Ha". Juvy shows his skills in other tracks but on this one poses a bunch of questions that creates a range of scenarios relevant to his environment. His flow is lethargic, in a laid back way, pronunciation loose and casual while keeping to the tempo. His charm comes from the subtle grooves and tone shifts as his delivery works like an instrument chiming in with the music. His deliveries trump his rhymes time and time again with the exception of "You see me? I eat, sleep, shit and talk rap! You see that 98 Mercedes on TV, I brought that!". Classic opening verse on the title track.

Its a standout track, and its production brings a dark and gritty vibe to an ethereal and spacey chorus as morphed vocals sweep through the spacious atmosphere, saluted with a subtle roll of bells in the mid. The tracks are mostly composed of electronic instruments typical of the era but in the rhythm department the kicks, snares, hi hats and stabs bring a distinct bounce and southern groove. Doubling up on the beat the songs often drop in shuffling hi hats and harsh 4/4 claps onto the beat. Its raw, and sets a president for further experimentation, which would have an influence on Trap music. Overall its a great record but between its better tracks the 72 minutes does feel stretched. Unlike B.G. these Cash Money rappers don't keep me captivated on that side of Hip Hop music as much as the instrumentals do.

Favorite Tracks: Ha, Ghetto Children, Follow Me Now, Welcome 2 Tha Nolia, Back That Azz Up, 400 Degreez
Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Killing Joke "Revelations" (1982)

It was back in March of this year that I first gave this record a spin. After listening to their debut "Killing Joke" I moved onto their third and found it very difficult to get into this one. A lack of fidelity in the production made it unsuitable for earphones on a windy walk. Months later on my sound system I was able to distinguish a lot more of what was going on but still felt an absence of something important. With much reluctance I have finished listening to what I hope is the worst Killing Joke record, its pretty appalling, gloomy and tinged with Gothic influences.

The band's charm is in the dissonant guitars, mechanical stop start rhythms and singer Jaz Coleman's distinguished voice. On previous records it all came together with atmosphere, drive and meaning to form memorable songs that introduced new ideas and musical approaches in the Post-Punk scene that's had a profound influence on many bands, mainly Metal & Industrial. Going from the snappy rhythm led hook of "Tension" and anthemic dystopian sing along "Follow The Leaders", the band hit an inspirational bankruptcy on "Revelations". Opening with the mediocre track "The Hum" marks the high point for a stale and drab record which quickly drifts into obscurity.

The spark is missing, and it can be felt sorely after the first two tracks as the discordant guitar fails to ignite any atmosphere. Idea after idea, riff after riff falls hard on itself as obvious injections of "unexpected" sounds creep into the tracks with bells and acoustic guitars in the breaks. The drums pound and grind away uninspired rhythms that lack a groove or any chemistry with the guitars. Jaz's wails away in his own style but like the drums just fails to gel with the guitars and we end up with a collection of misfiring songs that drone through a moody and uninspiring setting.

It feels like the band where going for a darker vibe and focusing on the drone of the discord. In doing so they were unable to create anything memorable on a miserable record that felt like leftovers from a demo. I'm trying to be fair, but Its a poor effort with little chemistry and a lack of direction. There is also the absence of any electronics which in retrospect feels like an even bigger part of their sound. Disappointing, but I'm still keen to get through their discography.

Rating: 2/10

Monday, 16 November 2015

Ministry "ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ" (1992)

ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ marks the peak of Industrial Metal legends Ministry's commercial success as well as the musical peak for this classic era their sound with future records steering from the mood and tone of this social-politically charged sound of disillusion and despair with the status quo. Marked by the opening track "New World Order", Ministry create the soundtrack for riot and civil unrest through their mechanically repetitive song constructs of robotic guitar riffs and dystopian guitar leads. It had been many years since I gave this record a listen and hearing a feedback of influence in Killing Joke's "Pandemonium" I had to give it a spin again.

The record starts with two of Ministry's finest songs and sets a contagious attitude of outrage and anger that fuels the experience. Tightly performed distortion riffs churn over and over in a sublime execution of minimalism and repetition that never seems to loose its drive, despite mainly consisting of the same thing over and over, it gets me every time. Paul Barker's machine like drumming goes heavy on the snare with simplistic, pounding grooves that gel with the guitars and amplify there aggression. "Just One Fix" ends with a lead guitar playing a Slayer-esq dark lead that is a favorite moment on the record. Unfortunately from this point forward the album fails to maintain the mood established and only "Scare Crow" comes close with a slow and daunting atmosphere of dread with distortion chords ringing out under haunting leads and Al Jourgensen's eerie screams.

Around these songs a wild inconsistency of ideas obvious in execution make up the rest of the track listing, the fast relentless blasting of "TV II", Thrash Metal riffage of "Hero" or depraved noise horror of "Grace", each songs idea drifts to far from the original tone. Although the recurring use of sampling and mood has some consistency, the guitars input greatly different ideas to that of the opening tracks and are not particularly remarkable in their own right. As a collection of songs they are impressive but out of place with one another and so as an album it really falls short of amounting to anything as the shifts in mood, tone and sometimes aesthetic dispel the magic and potential this one shows in the beginning.

Favorite Songs: N.W.O, Just One Fix, Scare Crow
Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Enter Shikari "The Mindsweep Hospitalised" (2015)

Remix albums are rarely a favorable listening choice for me. Seeing one of my favorite records of 2015 remixed, "The Mindsweep", I didn't get particularly excited. Enter Shikari have always filled there discography with EPs, remix records and mini albums that rarely have more to offer than the full lengths. With strong electronic influences in their sound its no surprise they turn to a host of different electronic artists to dissect and rebuild their tunes. Drumstep, Dubstep, whatever you want to call it, a few distinctive elements of the Mindsweep songs are reassembled into new entities.

Most of the songs here consist of high fidelity, temperate drum kits hammering away between atypical dance grooves and more intricate arrangements. Decorative synths and un-intrusive melodies fill the void above the thick baselines and occasional dub drops. On there own the songs hold up well, but feel over-shadowed by the deliberate inclusion of samples, mainly vocal, from the main record. It feels like a forceful tie and the memorable lyrics and delivery style of Rou have the originals playing out in the mind. With each listen the better aspects of the record began to show but as a whole this felt like a collection of mediocre Drumstep stitched to the original record with little inspiration. I could of enjoyed this much more without the needless inclusion of sampling to tie it to a great record.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, 9 November 2015

Dio "The Last In Line" (1984)

Dio are an American Heavy Metal band fronted by Ronnie James Dio who passed away in 2010. Named after their singer, ther band are very much defined by his soaring vocal presence, a powerful and melodic voice that can hold notes with an unrivaled tenacity. Being a metalhead of the 90s and 00s eras there are many 80s bands that are beyond my scope, but how Dio evaded me all these years is a mystery. The band have sold over ten million records and have a sound about as definitive of Heavy Metal as it gets, fitting in alongside the greats of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne.

The record starts with the fist pumping, anthem-like sing along "We Rock" setting the tone for an energetic foray of arena rock Heavy Metal that never slows down. From start to end its just classic fist pumping, head banging Heavy Metal with rattling drums, big grooving baselines and heavy chord driven guitars. The records tempo slows at times with elements of Ballard rock. The occasional use of synths fit in well but for the most part its a pretty traditional approach executed with a spark to define it as Dio.

The guitar work is solid, a great balance of thrashier picking rhythms and drawn out power chords that are elevated thanks to an excellent set of baselines courtesy of Jimmy Bain. They hammer and groove with a warm and bold tone that's high in the mix without overpowering the over instruments. Its often the focus of the energy alongside Dio's powerful voice commanding every note he hits. On the front of theme and execution everything here is pretty typical of 80s Heavy Metal, however nothing is corny of cheap, this is pure quality from start to end and made for the live audience with each song feeling fit for a stage in front of thousands.

Favorite Tracks: We Rock, Mystery
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Silkk The Shocker "Made Man" (1999)

Diving further into the dirty south I picked out this record from No Limit rapper "Silkk The Shocker" that marked his commercial peak with a platinum record that debuted first on the American billboard charts. There's an agitated and aggressive side to Silk's flow and flicking through this record I found it unappealing but decided to give this one a go anyway. Its often the case that familiarity makes music easier to understand and by the end of my first listen I was really starting to dig Silkk's style that sways between a smoother traditional delivery and the agitated, violent rap style similar to the energetic hyped flow of Mystikal who appears on this record too with a whole array of guests from the No Limit family, including RnB singer Mya who illuminates the single track "Somebody Like Me".

Like many records of this era "Made Man" stretches the CD length with 74 minutes of beats and raps that hold it together without dragging on. There's a fair amount of variety in theme and mood that shifts around from track to track. From gangster, to RnB with some heart felt tracks in between the mood can switch quickly yet somehow it flows. For example the rowdy rhyme stomping track "No Limit" where Silkk, Fiend & Mystikal spell out words is followed by the remorse for the dead song "End Of The Road". This chop and change approach helps keep the record exciting and beside the more traditional Rap tracks there's a handful of more creative and experimental tracks that where a breath of fresh air for the sound of this era. The album's name and opening track lay's down a theme and concept for the record which drops off immediately. Romanticizing with gangster culture of the Italian-American mafia, Silkk creates a scene of him becoming a "made man" like in the Godfather movies. There's not much mention of this theme after that, one of two tracks bring it up but essentially that's as far as it goes.

Silkk and the group bring a decent set of raps but nothing exceptional, Master P seemed excessively hyped with many of his enthusiastic ugh shouts in the background, couldn't help but put a smile on my face. It was nice to hear Jay-Z pop up on "You know What We Bout" but his style sounded out of place. The records production is solid and testament to holding this one together for 74 minutes. Its a typical late 90s collection of clean MIDI instruments with less sampling and plenty of creativity. One or two tracks stand out, but in general its a solid but not spectacular record that was worth giving a fair few listens.

Favorite Songs: Somebody Like Me, I Ain't My Fault, No Limit, Southside Niggas, Get It Up
Rating: 6/10