Thursday, 31 March 2016

Kendrick Lamar "Untitled Unmastered" (2016)

Where does an artist like Kendrick go after the monumental "To Pimp A Butterfly"? Well playing it down with a "bonus material" type of record is a smart move, calm the hype and feed hungry fans some material that didn't make it to TPAB, you can't go wrong... well, you could but thankfully these leftovers are interesting, rich with ideas and quality execution (at times) that gives me a greater respect for TPAB. Its grown on me over the year, at first I saw its brilliance but It wasn't clicking, however as the year grew those songs would resurface in my mind. What I realized about the music is how much Kendrick pushed the instrumentals in favor of its Funk, Soul and Jazz influences. Often the Hip Hop ideal dominates over a selection of samples, however with hired musicians he steered the ship to a far more neutral territory, "Untitled Unmastered" further highlights this artistic balance. For a group of outtakes that are simply dated, rather than named, we get an unsurprisingly unfocused experience but those 34 minutes flow by smoothly. For this one we will break it down track by track.

First we have a darker, grittier instrumental reminiscent of the RZA production style from early Wu-Tang records. Low-fi strings and soft piano samples over dingy, grimy beats. Kendrick spits with a lot of energy on this one. Second we move into a moodier atmosphere with spacious beats and deep brooding baselines, Kendrick playing with his softer voice and dropping in infectious rhythmic delivery. Third song we get a fruitier, upbeat, almost tropical track with fantastic instrumentation, a rigid organ sound comes into the track later on which didn't quite charm. Fourth song Kendrick starts off with a harmonized duet, whispering questions the two reply two in voice. Has potential but the song fizzles out.

Track five reminds me so fondly of DJ Shadow's "What Does You Soul Look Like", a hefty warm baseline plodding under a crashing ride cymbal. Six has a faster vibe and is the records most TPAB track, sounding like it could slip itself into the track listing. Seven, the longest at eight minutes, plays with the gangster side, dizzying trap instrumentals and provocative lyrics lead into a couple of half baked ideas that end in Kendrick taking the mick out of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough". Eight has a strong disco dance vibe with a snappy clap in the beat and unusual synth lines grooving around between the deep swooning bass grooves.

Its easy to see why some of these songs didn't make the final cut, they are not quite on the same wavelength, but that's not say they couldn't of become something great, they just don't quite line up with the mood of TPAB. This record is fantastic and an glimpse into the depth of inspiration Kendrick brought to his record. Whatever direction he chooses to go in next there is no doubt he could make another fine record with these musicians at his side.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Arcadia "So Red The Rose" (1985)

"So Red The Rose" is a one off 80s Synthpop record, an off shoot of Duran Duran. With the band on a short hiatus the group split in two to focus on other projects and three of the five, including singer Simon LeBon, put together this record together which could arguably be my first Duran Duran record as I am quite unfamiliar with their music, however very aware of their success and acclaim. Synthpop itself isn't a genre I'm particularly fond of however Depeche Mode's "Black Celebration" really won me over. It has an appealing framework but often the direction isn't my forte.

With Arcadia the opposite might just be so. I found myself in tune with the spirit of the record and its direction however the arrangements of bright, crisp and upfront instruments tend to get on the excessive side at times. It is apparent now that the "space", between instruments, in the music is probably due to being so fond of Metal and a constant onslaught of sound that the burst and chop nature of the instruments becomes a delicate balance. Simple drum beats, mild temperate baselines, soft backdrop synth lines and LeBon's romanticized vocals are the consistent element. Around them dance jovial synth stabs, momentary flange guitars chords and various layers of mildly percussive sounds as well as swarms of noisy synth effects that burst out and frazzle quickly. These arrangements revolve around straight forward time signatures with a decent sense of groove but its a few instrumental choices that don't line up for me. Vivacious and bold, these instruments have to much oomph for what should be a calmer spirit in comparison to LeBon's voice. Especially the stabs, they border what might be described as "cheesy". Although a little wild and over enthusiastic the songs have spirit, inspiration and a great sense of melody within a shorter, catchy context.

At this point the record is doing just enough but after a couple of interludes the final three tracks really pick up with the aforementioned niggles removed entirely. They follow the tone of LeBon and build slower atmospheres around him with no dramatic synth noises or abrasive stabs, Its the part I'm most fond of. It wasn't something I noticed, but the record also features David Gilmore of Pink Floyd, Sting & Herbie Hancock on various tracks. I really enjoyed this record for a while but it has tired a little. Ive seen Synthpop as a hit or miss for me but here we find something hung in the balance, that definitely leans into the light.

Favorite Songs: The Promise, El Diablo, Lady Ice
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Dan Terminus "Stratospheric Cannon Symphony" (2014)

Although there is another record to devour in Dan Terminus's discography, this will be the last from me for now. Its his second full length and despite a lack of aesthetic difference it has a distinctly more EDM vibe than the previous leanings to the dark side. As much as I have enjoyed these records, there is something that just doesn't click quite like other musicians have done for me. Like on "The Wrath Of Code" its a warm and enjoyable listening experience, yet I walk away each time without an echo or melody stuck in the mind. 

Much like the albums cover, we tread into the lighter regions of dark music with a record that tingles with a cool frosty breeze as warm and inviting melodies play from the thick and chunky waveform electronic instruments which stack up in varying layers. As if on a drifting glacier, we warm ourselves in the sun of an otherwise frozen hell. As mentioned already, these melodies and leads rarely do much to forge a remarkable moment but simply dance around the broad, deep buzz saws and punchy drum kits that form the songs. "No Escape..." breaths some some life into the record with electronically distorted vocals and cleanly sung lines from two guest vocalists. Even then they are sparingly used on what is primarily instrumental music, something that could perhaps hold it back.

So I don't have too much more to say, some records are like this, its enjoyable in its moment but I don't feel anything deeper emanating from it. Perhaps there is too much reliance on the aesthetics of the instruments, which do set a vivid atmosphere, it is not backed by inspired melodies or musical direction. Instead what does occur seems to plod around in a moment moving aimlessly but looking pretty non the less.

Favorite Track: One Million Dead In 2.7 Seconds
Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Irreversible Mechanism "Infinite Fields" (2015)

There is a reason Ive waited a while to talk about this record, It reminded me so fondly at the time of Dimmu Borgir's "Puritanical Euthoric Misanthropia", I wanted to write about that one first. PEM is the sort of record that paths the way for these high octane, Extreme Metal and Symphonic hybrids. In the time thats passed Ive paid more attention to the bands Death Metal traits and perhaps it bares more of a resemblance to a band like Aeons Confer but whatever similarities it has, It's part of a musical niche I adore. I spotted this on Blood Music's bandcamp page, the same place I discovered Kauan, instantly I knew it was for me. Irreversible Mechanism are a duo from Minsk, Belarus. The first music from this country I am proud to add to my archive, which is organized by country. "Infinite Fields" is their debut dropped last year.

Much like the aforementioned bands, this one exists in the technical ecstasy of high precision, energetic performances of tight, sturdy musicianship and guitar shredding that requires much skill, dexterity and musical understanding to execute. There's not to much to distinguish them from the genres expectations, they have a more Death Metal leaning and don't over emphasize any instruments but what is apparent is the level of excellence that never lets up from start to end. Its experience is pragmatically dark and sinister, with a tinge of that astral charm where choral synths bring a sense of vastness only known in space and time. The flow is consistent and rarely breaks for any form of tangent, the guitars however often drop out to let composed symphonies to shine through, which are ever present, but sometimes out shined and drowned out by the metallic intensity.

Over soft lush strings beautiful pianos chime in the moments between the blistering guitars and the record has a stunning production of which the snare drum has a punchy, cutting chop that slices through stunningly on many of the blast beats the records drummer turns to in between a continual barrage of fast, interchanging technical beats, fills and rolls. It is quite the onslaught with all instruments firing on all cylinders with detailed levels of instrumentation. It all finds its place in the balance to make remarkable atmospheres perfect for a fan of this particular type of Extreme Symphonic Metal!

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Bohren & Der Club Of Gore "Sunset Mission" (2000)

 If ever there has a case of instant appeal, then Bohren and his "Club Of Gore" are a prime example of a sound Ive been waiting to hear, as soon as it graced my ears it all made sense. Known as Doom Jazz or Noir Jazz, a far more suitable name in my opinion, the sophisticated atmosphere of Jazz is taken to the dark side with a seductive persuasion that lures you in with its passive presence, soothing, gentle yet drenched in night time blues. The band are a four piece group from Germany who have been active since the early 90s and "Sunset Mission" is their third full length.

The setting for the groups music is quite simple, soft choral synths lightly grace the backdrop as deep baselines plod and blunder in the distance, the slow ride cymbal sets a crawling pace as it softly strikes and shimmers the tempo into existence. Variations of these set the atmospheres on each track for the saxophone, organ and rhodes keys to lead us through a tangent with their dark and brooding leads. It warms to the eerie and mystical but is rooted in an urban environment. Danger is always near, as if you walk the smokey alleyways of a crime smothered city where the sun never shines, a murder detective, who in a search for justice is burdened by the weight of the horrors they see. Its the soundtrack to a romanticized crime novel of dirty streets, shady criminals and alcohol addiction.

The record stretches on for 73 minutes and is more about atmosphere and tone than making an impact with any particular moment. On "Pain-Less Street Angels" there is a fiery level of emotion from the sax but asides from one standout moment much of this records charm resides in its ability to hold the mood without any visible intensity. There's a fair few peaks and distortions felt in the mix, nothing much to bother but its far from a remarkable production. It does enough to let the music do what it does so well.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Dimmu Borgir "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia" (2001)

With a recent revitalization and hunger for the music of my favorite band we come to the third in a string of records, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, Spiritual Black Dimensions, at the bands creative peak. Playing on the three word album titles, PEM is another unique experience that takes Black Metal to a blistering, hate fueled peak of orchestral symphony and octane instrumentation firing on all cylinders. Its an anti-humanity hate vehicle on a mission to dissect and dismantle the human condition, exposing the worst of our traits that still manifest into the power structures of our 21st century modern society. As always with loud, aggressive, heavy music it is that exposure of evil that brings the strengths of inspiration to create intense and wonderful music.

Stylistically PEM defines itself in the absence of low fidelity, traditional values, focuses on highly energetic and pristine instruments. The keyboards push into new territories with ever a truer sounding symphony comprising of a fuller range of orchestral instruments composed by Mustiis. Of course the band would later go on to record with a live orchestra. With a personal change the band acquire long time fan Galder from Old Mans Child, his band who have followed a similar journey in sound to that of Borgir. With his arrival comes fiercely sharp guitars and heavy chugging riffs syncopated to the machine gun firing pedals of drummer Nick Barker's, formally of Cradle Of Filth. The album is once again blessed by the voice of bassist ICS Vortex who gives and infectious dose of clean, manly vocals into one of the latter tracks.

The records chemistry is ferocious, continually pummeling the listener with an onslaught of rip roaring instrumentation. Behind its aesthetic charm, calculated, yet adventurous music takes the listener through inspired melodic leads, head banging riffage and evil symphonies that do more than compliment the guitars but become fully involved in a songs direction, queuing the shifts in tone and occasionally taking the lead. "Architecture Of A Genocidal Nature" plunges into an mysterious astral soundscape with deep warping synths that break into bells playing eerie melodies with the sound of glimmering stars. The slow, brooding breakdown at the end of "Absolute Sole Right" also forging atmospheres of the cosmic nebular. Its counterpart, a more expected orchestral sound, can be heard throughout but is so brilliantly executed on the records opener "Fear And Wonder" which so immaculately glides through a gorgeous, glorious ride between the opposing forces of good and evil. A true symphony to paint a picture.

It ends where "Blessings Upon The Throne Of Tyranny" opens up, throwing us into the pits of hell with a blazing blast beat and menacing guitars riffs to set the bar high for this record that doesn't disappoint. From song to song so many identities are formed for songs that take this genius sound to the many corners of hell. Beyond its musical veneer, Shagrath solidifies the albums theme with his remarkable use of the English language. As a Norwegian his construction of words can seem blunt, or unrefined for a non-native speaker. At the same time his extensive vocabulary and imagination for the language may just be a stroke of genius. There are many deep and extensive lyrics regarding many aspects of human behavior, especially in group dynamics and power systems. Of course the church finds itself under constant criticism. "Inconceivable moral priest, hides in preferable dress, invite to another pleasured feast, the concealment of joyful laughter". The record is smothered with cryptic musings to ponder and may take a while to get your head around, or perhaps find your own meaning within. "Peace means a reloading your guns" comes to mind as one of the lyrics less poetic, yet most striking and meaningful lines on the record.

The record might find a weak spot where the flow disrupts for a dropped tuning, short and more "accessible" track "Puritania". Its a great track but definitely operates with a different energy. The production is at its finest, all instruments sound crisp and clear, with lots of volume and punch, finding a stunning balance where they don't crowd each other. It has less of an immersive or atmospheric quality compared to the previous direction however Dimmu really home in on something sharp and tangible here that suits the listener who needs to get fired up, or let of some steam. Along with the other two these are my three favorite records by the band and I'm keen to talk about more in the future.

Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Contortionist "Language" (2014)

What I remember of American Metal band "The Contortionist" is a Deathcore group trying to push the genres "heaviness" with tinges of Djent and Technical Death Metal. That sound is a distant memory with the band bringing a keyboard player into the lineup and replacing their vocalist with Michael Lessard who has a fine singing voice outside of the rugged screams and growls. Going in a new, progressive direction "Language" steps into a world of color and melody, an illumination of inspiration.

Flowing organically these songs drift through a free form of momentum that unravels in its own direction, shifting, amplifying and switching tune at many points. Drawn between two forces we are graciously swooned by the sunny and delicate passages of temperate drum grooves, soft distortion chords, serene synthesizers and Lessard's tender tone. In turn, force and aggression emerges from within as instances of instrumental intensity amplifies, their focus turning to aggression and Lessard curling throaty grows and snarls over the emergent change of mood.

Most of the records charm comes from this shifting between sides both in tone and texture. Its as if all instruments have a dial and a puppet master turns them. The guitars can lavish with warm distortion and fire up with rhythmic djents. The synthesizers often taken the more subtle approach also intensifying their potency with volume and depth. Through the course of these songs many balance shifts occur and its as if many combination and ideas are explored through inspiration.

On first listen this could feel like progressive for progressive's sake but with each listen you chip away at the framework, understanding its cause and purpose piece by piece. As I write this now its time to move through my playlist but I feel there is more to discover. A break will undoubtedly reveal more. On a final note this record is lush, smooth with its lighter, harmonious side. Its a little coarse and brash with its heavier distortions, something that could be dispelling at times. It sounds bright and clear from a technical perspective. Well worth picking up if your a Progressive Metal fan.

Favorite Songs: Integration, Ebb & Flow
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Cradle Of Filth "Dusk... And Her Embrace" (1996)

Cradle Of Filth, a band that polarizes opinions and attracts hate within the Metal community, are an English Gothic / Extreme Metal band led by front man Danni Filth who, over the years, has chopped and churned through many musicians and led the band into criticism for supposedly attempting to popularize the bands sound and image. Whatever your opinion is, there should be no denying that for a brief period in the 90s they put together some brilliant music that sounded unlike anything else. Dusk is the bands second, technically third due to a scrapped record, and undoubtedly their finest. One that any fan of Extreme Metal should check out.

Firstly Cradle are not to be confused with Black Metal, despite many similarities in evil themes, distortion guitars and shrill vocals, the musics core is drenched in romanticized gothic vampiric mysticism, dominating and guiding all aspects of their sound to create lavish fantasies of ancient blood soaked nostalgia. Their songs unfold through a series of repeated segments that move from one riff to the next with vision and variety, shifting between aggressive blast beats and slower doom tempos with all sorts of dark symphonic wonder in between. Evolving from start to end they mostly feel like journeys and stories.

One of the records defining qualities is the sense of lead and harmony that existence between the guitars and synths, feeding of one another and cultivating a shared vision. When they drop backwards with power chords the synths will step up with simple and inspired melodies. In turn the guitars do the same but with a style that reminds me fondly of Iron Maiden, fast commanding dual leads that have force, groove and a great sense of harmonized melody. With power chords and melodic leads the guitars can also turn to some metallic head banging grooves at times that work to great effect, amplifying the momentum of otherwise theme oriented music.

Cradle's trademark, Danni Filth's vocals, are at their finest here. His fierce, deadly, high pitched shrill screams turn many off, but for a fan his tone and delivery is spot on here and rightly so is used sparingly. More traditional screams and deep guttural spoken words reinforce the gothic theme and keep things ticking over until Danni will burst in with his surreal range. It reinforces the fantasy this record offers, sounding almost inhuman or beastly. Alongside him is Sarah Jezebel Deva's strong, evil, enchantress vocals playing on the romanticized themes. As well as having a stunning gothic voice she was one of the bands longest consistent members for fourteen years and has worked with a lot of other reputable Extreme Metal bands who often lean on the gothic tinge.

Dusk is spell bounding, vivid and dream like. Its atmospheres are haunting, chilling, ghostly and mysterious. Danni takes us on a ride through his twisted fantasies, the lyrics are poetical affairs with seductive temptresses of nocturnal persuasion. I can only sing this records praises. Further pondering on its strengths the albums production is very strong for 96. Its not pristine, the instruments are not perfectly crisp and without flaws but the balance between instruments is spot on and lets them find their chemistry for us to enjoy. Writing this I realize how fond of this record I am. Ive also heard their latest record is "return to form". Something I would love to hear this band do again.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, 18 March 2016

December Moon "Source Of Origin" (1996)

 December Moon were a short lived English duo from Ipswich who had both been member's of Extreme Metal band Cradle Of Filth. Drummer Sarginson for a brief moment in 99 and lead song writer "Robin Graves", note the pun, through their best period in the early 90s. This was December Moon's only full length after a couple of tame demo's and its fair to say its the sort of record that gets lost in the waves of mediocre releases following the explosive controversies in 94 that brought this style of music to a wider audience, inspiring many musicians to form bands.

I found this album at a gig I attended recently, picking up a second hand record based on a recommendation from a chap who's band "Macabre Omen" impressed me greatly. Being so familiar with Black Metal, it doesn't take long to figure out a record like this. It doesn't have much to offer beyond a routine set of rugged songs that wouldn't be half bad if it wasn't for some glaringly awful vocals in the later half of the record. The hallmarks are all here, low fidelity distortion guitars, snarly vocals, clattering blast beats and rigid symphonic keyboards to add a raw spice into the flavor.

There's quite a few strong leads, temperate riffs, evil melodies and sinister themes at work, notably with a similar Gothic tinge in the vein of Cradle. It doesn't rub of as dark or particularly heavy to a seasoned listener and with a good sense of atmosphere the records knows when to give itself a bit of breathing room to let the distortions soak up the air. After three tracks the record shifts gears with a cold, and ancient synth track, then continues with another more crude and primitive Dungeon Synth instrumental accompanied by snarly, throaty screams that fail to charm. Its followed up by some hideous, shrill, howling vocals that dispel any magic on a sub par riff. Later it picks up with some, once again very Cradle like gothic female vocals which are subdued and muted in the mix, leaving what could of been a great moment feeling underwhelming.

The record trails of after that point with uninspired songs, leaving me with the air of disappointment. This one straddles the fine line and for a larger portion, drifts into obscurity. I'm reminded of "Diabolical Masquerade" with the snarly, distinguishable screams and upfront involved guitars but of course, falling short of that mark. The records production isn't much to marvel, fairly organizedwith a strong base presence, the drums at times can lack some oomph. Worth a listen if this era of Black Metal interests you, but there is better out there.

Favorite Songs: Exaltation Of Power, You Can't Bless The Damned, Nocturnal Trancendency
Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Savages "Silence Yourself" (2013)

Taking a step back to their debut record we check out the UK based Post-Punk revival band Savages critically acclaimed arrival onto the music scene. With three years between it and the brilliant "Adore Life" the bands identity and defined sound remains as firmly in place as its successor with little evolution between the two. Its another riveting collection of brooding songs that shimmer in the darkness as grey, and cloudy aesthetics let a myriad of energy emanate from within through its grisly exterior.

With retrospect I hear a rawer expression at work, bolder, daring and noisy but with less craft for the subtleties and focused song writing on what was to follow. With that comes a few track that delve deeper into atmospheres of struggle and conflict and others that play fearlessly with lively, excessive noise. Beyond its differences a lot of these tracks feel interchangeable with "Adore Life" and stir up many similar feelings, thoughts and emotions.

I do feel that singer Jehnny Beth has more energy and strength in her performances, although singing with the same attitude one can feel more energy and passion for most these songs. Even in her softer moments she sounds more involved. The instrumentation and production is on par and I'm left with not much more to say about what isn't a wildly different record. I do feel the bands songs are a shell to be cracked, the sort that take time to fully appreciate. For the many times ill be enjoy their records in the future, I hope to understand the depths they clearly offer.

Favorite Tracks: Shut Up, She Will, No Face, Dear Marshall
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Killing Joke "Night Time" (1985)

Its the fifth record of our beloved Killing Joke, the niche Post-Punk, Industrial Rock band of the 80s and an expected return to form considering it produced two of their best songs. Following a duo of unfavorable records its great to hear the group back on track but this time in a new and refined direction. "Night Time" tones down the aggression and Industrial accent, dialing down the loud, smothering distortion guitars in favor of a more spacious sound that still retains distinctive qualities of the identity they created for themselves but with a more accessible sensibility.

Singer Jaz Coleman may be the one exception, shifting his style to a significantly softer, resonate delivery, melodic and bolder. He still retains his voice, but in moments sound like other singers of the era. Behind him the lightly distorted guitars emphasize on strung out chords plucked into atmospheric reverbs. They often drop out for quiet and thin synths to eerily drone in the distance. For the most part the drums and bass chime with one another, rhythmically clattering away through short jolting grooves that pound away, repeating over and over.

It works! And with better clarity from the production, the nosier moments don't cloud the listener. There is room to breathe and the bass's tone keeps it right in the front of the record, grooving away with a thick, vibrant tone. Song structures are nothing to marvel and if it wasn't for the two spectacular tracks there isn't to much going on. Its a record of moody vibes that sets its timbre and rolls with it through a soundtrack of cold concrete and rainy days. It elevates itself to inspired heights with "Love Like Blood" and the albums closer breaks to what feels like a different record altogether. With a different aesthetic, hard hitting drum pedal, "Eighties" ends on an upbeat note with a party, sing along track to pump your fist to.

Favorite Songs: Love Like Blood, Eighties
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 14 March 2016

Dimmu Borgir "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant" (1997)

Norwegian Symphonic Black Metal outfit Dimmu Borgir have been my absolute favorite band for many a year but with a recent inspired lust for their music I am reminded as to how remarkably well I know the ins and outs of this record and how much pleasure and joy can come from the depths of familiarity. Their music is my catharsis, an escape from any burden, a spiritual experience and the bands following record, "Spiritual Black Dimensions" is the greatest of musics to ever grace my ears. Of course music is subjective and personal and it is my personal experience that has solidified my love for them as waves of memories and nostalgia hit me with intensity listening to this one again. At a time when music sharing over the internet was in its infancy, songs like "Morning Palace" took me by storm with a flood of exhilarating noise that rocked my perceptions of music forever.

EDT is the bands most important record, taking a definitive step away from the low fidelity, traditional style of 96's "Stormblast", into the lush and lavish world of fine tuned, ear melting production that would bring their ambitious musical ideas to life in a new dimension. Refining their approach to songwriting and taking full advantage of a gorgeous production sound the band forge a masterful chemistry between guitar and symphony. Soaked in majesty, blasphemy and wonder these hellish dark anthems are engrossed in inspired melodies and harmonies that tunefully wist us into riveting musical worlds to paint the mind with an endless depth of emotion. Its significance and influence on the direction of the growing European metal scene is their to be seen. Taking Black Metal to a more accessible place, while expanding the possibilities with intelligent and thoughtful musicianship.

As mentioned, the chemistry of symphony and guitar is a key component in this records brilliance. The synths are thick, bold and shapely, carving distinct signatures that define the atmosphere. Beside them dense, burgeoning distortion guitars are tightly performed, oozing and melting into a shimmering harmonized wall of sound with the synths, and standing vibrantly on their own feet when commanded too. Behind them whirling blast beats and dizzying drums rattle away with precision force, joining the barrage into the glorious wall of sound. The bass is the think underlining to fill the dimension with a low warm boldness that has a few moments to inflect its own lines, but mostly acts as the dense undergrowth.

Leading the charge is vocalist Shagrath, who's praises I will sing from the highest mountain. His voice and scream is one so familiar the nuances are all known to me. Its in the finer scrutiny of his tone, snarl and delivery that a true charm can be heard through passionate delivery that has a fair few moments on this record where the words and meaning move through him. "Relinquishment Of Spirit And Flesh" for example, the growls and guttural screams through the songs mid section bellow, roar and howl with dimensions other screamers just can't reach. Its a moment of true inspiration and his voice surpasses the mortal realm, lunging us deeper into these devilish songs of eternal darkness.

The records theme, as you might of guessed, is of evil and darkness, however its forged through bright and intelligent melodies that make for memorable hooks and endless unforgettable riffs, harmonies and moments. The song structuring is smart, mixing the basic elements with some unraveling passages that make for continually exciting and easy to comprehend music. It can be a little rigid with section repetitions but not to a flaw. If this record does have a criticism it might just be the track "Entrance" which despite being a damn good song is overly simplistic in structure and feels somewhat like a rehash of "In Death Embrace" echoing a similar vibe between guitar and bright pianos.

Ive listened to this record well over a couple hundred times. Its an insatiable and riveting experience ripe with luxurious synths, rocking aggression from the guitars and that pummeling swell of darkness from Shagrath's evil screams and the menacing blast beats that have plenty a moment. The vivid atmospheres conjured have been endlessly inspiring and just hit me on that indescribable level. Its been an absolute pleasure to have enjoyed this music for so many years and I will continue to do so for the rest of my time!

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, 12 March 2016

UGK "Ridin' Dirty" (1996)

The Underground Kings, abbreviated UGK, are a southern Hip Hop duo from Texas, America. Released in 96 "Ridin' Dirty" is considered a classic and remarkably sold shy of platinum with no official singles released. On my first spin I recognized a few tracks from various movie soundtracks and shows Ive watched, its like another piece of the puzzle falling into place with lyrical references lining up, like Jay-Z's "We like underground kings, riding dirty" from "The Blueprint". This wasn't as distinctly southern as I was expecting. With tinges of Outkast's debut vibe, UGK find the best of the east's sampling and the west's programmed beats, it amounted to a very defined and accessible record.

The two both have strong, clear and steady flows with a keen ear from rhymes and hooks, Bun B with the deeper tone and Pimp C a sharper, aggressive delivery that compliment each other. It makes for great listening but on a deeper level there isn't to much to delve into lyrically beyond the gangster lifestyle. Its about the mood and moment, telling it through slick rhymes for the listener, UGK ain't trying to make a point or reflect on their lifestyles but just tell it how it is. With a blunt approach and unapologetic story telling there's plenty of disagreeable misogyny and glorified violence on display.

Where the record works for me is the beats and production. Most these instrumentals are simple, to the point and can be deconstructed with ease as they don't over complicate. Its a fine line to tread but "No Joe" and the two rappers handle the production with a keen ear for samples, mixing some Funk and Soul sounds with sharp kits playing out tidy grooves. At around an hour it shows its consistency without a weak track. It couldn't be done by the instrumentals alone which are often small sections on repeat with a few breaks. Although there wasn't much food for thought the duos rhyme styles carry weight and keep one entertained for the duration of what I can agree is a classic record for its time.

Favorite Songs: Pinky Ring, 3 In The Mornin', Good Stuff
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Kauan "Lumikuuro" (2007)

Following up on the spectacular "Sorni Nai", an album which really blew me away, I find myself at the Estonian bands roots, their debut dropped eight years earlier. It caught my attention for possibly the wrong reasons, a song "Savu" containing a slower tempo moment of Dimmu Borgir's classic "Relinquishment Of Spirit And Flesh", a near carbon copy pulled of in a different context. Not accusing the band of anything, it simply caught my attention and sucked me into what is a light, easy and enjoyable record with a unique chemistry between the dark and light elements of its design.

The experience is defined by a distance between its lush melodious bells, graciously dancing over soothing strings and the dark, narrow, dense distortion guitars that chop and churn under snarly, grim screams. Some acoustic guitars and softer electric leads bridge the gaps with harmonious folk singing but its the disparity that creates an unusual chemistry where the bells and strings guide us through ethereal like, atmospheric moods as the linear distortion guitars chisel and drone away in the distance. Its moody and the slow tempo influences of Doom Metal can be felt throughout. The writing can be both graceful, sudden and blunt as instruments interchange focus around one another and it is often where the guitar takes lead that the magic can be dispelled.

For eight years and five records, "Lumikuuro" isn't to far behind "Sorni Nai" in terms of identity and aesthetic. Some of the bands defining characteristics are here and even a few comparable moments. Its overall direction feels a little murky when chunky, groove oriented riffing crops into an otherwise atmospheric experience where the guitars are a distant fuzz. The record can also swiftly shift from one moment to the next and it isn't always pulled of with the agility they would later find. I'm fond of this record, its flawed and rather unusual in its own identifiable way.

Favorite Song: Savu,
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Liam Looper "Mental Projections" (2016)

This young Australian rapper is a Patreon of mine who sent me a link to his debut record that took over a year to make. With an obvious passion for rapping Liam has been at it for eight years, now only just fifteen years old. Not knowing what to expect I was pleasantly surprised with the tone and vibe of this record. Laid back, introspective and thoughtful rhymes over jazzy beats is my cup of tea. The closing track was also produced by Birocratic who's music we have discussed here before. Its interesting to hear rhymes over beats so solidified in familiarity without theme. I must say it was the other producers worked with that made the record shine.

Mental Projections is an honest and personal record from a young man working through his issues with words and rhymes whos rapping ambitions have become a part of his internal struggles. Its raw, intimate, heart-felt and authentic. This record might have not charmed me as much if it wasn't for the instrumentals which fit snugly into the sort of beats I like. Their are moments where the vocal experimentation and flow don't quite come off but on the flip side plenty of captivating rhymes, word play and the easy going style of rhymes makes it effortless to follow along with the train of thoughts. Its not often I hear an Australian rapper and I felt initially, and still with familiarity, that the accent works well in the flows where it naturally dominates the pronunciation but there are weaker moments where the influences of American rappers can be heard and it comes off jumbled between the two tongues.

 The production behind the rhymes are solid and come in a variety of themes, generally on a moodier, introspective scale but always, melodic, colorful and jazzy. An easy record to chill out and vibe with. "Bonethebeathead" provides a couple of tracks reminiscent of Down To Erf and "Tom Misch" steals the show with loving warm piano samples and the records best moment on "Home" where Liam's emotional struggles climax through dramatic rhymes amplified by a gorgeous guitar solo which breezes with the beat. For a young person I was surprised to hear such thoughtful lyrics and ideas articulated on a concrete level. His ambitions are clear and shows a wealth of potential to make something of his dreams. A charming record!

Favorite Tracks: Hello, Rain, Vote
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 6 March 2016

2Pac "Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z" (1993)

The late American rapper Tupac Shakur is undoubtedly Rap and Hip Hop's most acclaimed, celebrated and mourned artist. Shot several times and fatally wounded in 96 at the peak of his career the man has a legendary status in music with a body of widely influential work including a plethora of posthumous records created by other musicians who strived to keep his name alive and relevant in the post 2Pac world. In popular culture his "All Eyez On Me" and Death Row era is the most celebrated but for me its his first two, often overlooked, that mean the most. On "2Pacalypse Now" a young teenage Tupac charmed us with his social conscious, intelligent, intrepid flow and weightless articulation. The talent was raw, untouched and full of promise but the events that would follow would set him on a wild journey through the pressures of being a person of national interest.

Following a violent police beating and public criticism on his music from senator Dan Quayle, Tupac arrives at the microphone with the anger and frustration frothing at the mouth and with his unrivaled talent focuses it all into his words with an endless onslaught of rage induced rhymes to strike back. These where times when Rap music was shining a light on the systematic racial impoverishment in American society and being targeted for shining that light Tupac strikes back "And now I'm like a major threat, cause I remind you of the things you were made to forget". The record is loaded with sharp and concise rhymes like this which convey so much weight and meaning when you understand there context. Given the recent attention to racist police brutality and the outcry in response its as relevant as ever. "So we live like caged beasts, waiting for the day to let the rage free".

Head locked with the political system, Tupac's once observational lyricism heats up as he steps inside the minds of the characters he speaks for, taking things to the next level as he tells the struggles of ghetto life. It can easily come across as glorifying violence and is often misunderstood as such. Tupac see's criminals as what they are, people, and gets us inside the mind to understand the social and economic environments that create criminality in his neighborhood. He gives them a voice and does so with the help of legends Ice Cube and Ice T, as well as Treach of Naught By Nature for some brilliant and would be classic collaborations.

Behind an arsenal of eye opening lyricism the production is one to remember for being vibrant, aggressive, noisy and obviously flawed. Through its shortcomings it triumphs in making a memorable and firey backing to Tupac's inspired attitude. The beats are chaotic, layers of samples stacked noisily and at times incoherent. Theres similarities to Public Enemy's Bomb Squad style, and underneath deep sub bass lines groove in an unsettled and restless set of beats. The consistency is varied, some tracks sound like they are from the previous record and others, mainly the records closer have a Naughty By Nature vibe. It rough, raw and ambitious, with more polish it could of easily been a classic but feels rushed and results with an easily aged character to it.

This was the first Tupac record I brought, must of been over fifteen years ago and it was the wild fiery, red and green album cover that sold it for me. At the time I enjoyed it but it was many years later that my appreciation grew as I understood its context more. Interestingly, I can draw some comparisons to the southern Hip Hop style with the cover art, years before it became popular in the south. One other thing I adore about this record is the use of deep pitch shifted vocals like on "Something To Die 4". Its fantastic but hardly ever utilized, although Killer Mike's recent "Rap Music" does it to great effect. On another note, Tupac's most known track "Changes" is actually a leftover from this record. Having collected all the outtakes I can hear why, the beat just isn't on the same level as Tupac. Anyway, there's my thoughts, I adore early Tupac and this record gets me fired up and angry when I need it.

Favorite Tracks: Holler Ya Hear Me, Point The Finger, Something 2 Die 4, Last Wordz, Souljah's Revenge, Strugglin', Guess Who's Back, Keep Ya Head Up, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z, The Streets R Deathrow, Deadly Venomz
Rating: 9/10

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Slowdive "Blue Day" (1992)

Digging into the wealth of knowledge the Internet has to offer, I found my way into the pre-Britpop Dream Pop / Shoegazing scene of now somewhat forgotten bands that had their moment in the early nineties. Slowdive's "Blue Day" had a familiarity and touch of Ethereal that sucked me in to this short, breezy dream of a record. Like a fair few bands of this scene their time was short lived, forming in 89 and disbanding in 95 however they have recently reformed with no new material. This record is a compilation of three EPs released before their debut in 91 and it doesn't feel like one. In fact the production and theme of the record is very consistent across the six tracks.

In many moments, they are most reminiscent of Lycia's dark, baron and freezing sound, however Slowdive have a warmth exuding through the soft, sleepy wall of sound that engrosses the listener. The guitars shimmer in the distance, illuminated through odd, layered guitar effects and distortions that despite seeming harsh in an analytical sense, are inviting, soft and hazy as they drift through their own web of reverb and echo in a mesmerizing persuasion. A warm and thick baseline holds a steady progression under the atmospheric soundscape and the drums work up some energetic beats that get displaced in the best of ways under a wall of sleepy noise. They are buried and muted to great effect. With two vocalists there are some double tracked moments where the duos excellent chemistry comes across almost as a singular voice soaked in reverb. The two both have a soft lucidity that gives a very welcoming human touch to the music. Underneath it all some low, foggy synths brood and moan, soaking into the dense atmosphere with a powerful subtly.

For all that's fair this record suffers a little from its production, which on the flip side is a massive part of the positives in the bands sound. In all the haze and drone the clarity of most instruments feels a little lost and is without some oomph to reinforce itself. The mix is narrow as only the snare and hi hat breaks into a large portion of the high frequency ranges, it can be felt at all times. This could all be for the best though, this record has some fantastic moments with vast reverbs growing into an engrossing wall of sound that almost losses itself. "Shine" reminds me fondly of Autumn's Grey Solace and a few track are a touch mediocre but there is magic hear to loose yourself in here.

Favorite Track: Morningrise, She Calls, Shine
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 4 March 2016

Macabre Omen "Gods Of War - At War" (2015)

Purchasing a couple of records at a gig I went to recently, the seller encouraged me check out his band and I'm very glad I did! "Gods At War" is a swell Pagan Metal album that delves into Greek mythology, the Athens based bands own ancestry. We are used to seeing Viking Metal and the likes from Scandinavia, so its fantastic to find a gem like this where metal isn't as prominent in southern Europe and of course a different source of mythological inspiration.

Macarbe Omen have a loose, liberated flow to their music that doesn't stick to one distinct path to embellish us in ancient settings. Ever twisting and turning through champion riffage, soaring melodies and a barrage of clattering drums an experienced listener can hear tinges of many bands and styles teetering from Black, Death, Pagan and everything in between. The rhythm guitar muddies through hazy distortions and chunky riffs as the leads coarse over with inspired wistful tunes. Charging like a beast into battle the drums constantly bear down with endless blast beats and nimble batterings that can seep into all the creeks with its bellowing echo and reverb. The records voice comes commonly in two forms, shrill, distant howls reminiscent of In The Woods... classic "Heart Of The Ages" and burly lower ranged half growls. There's also a fair few helpings of Greek choir chants to drive home the records heritage. Its inspired and travels through its motions with plenty of spectacular moments that is helped along with an undercurrent of carefully placed symphonics.

Its a record to remember but not without its flaws. Although distinctively Pagan there isn't much beyond a handful of strikingly obvious moments and the song titles to define the Greek mythology theme, maybe in the lyrics but not much can be said of indecipherable howls. "Man Of 300 Voices" however does this with a lengthy acoustic interlude to set the tone. "From Son To Father" is where the record shines brightest. Epic in scale and tone we are lavished with inspired lead guitar melodies and a memorable group chant chorus to conjure the gods.

At just over an hour its a lengthy record, that can be felt as it draws to a close. Eight lengthy tracks of which a handful do take their time to progression through the motions. The production is also a little slack and forgiving of itself. Although the fidelity is key to its atmosphere and ancient feel, the drumming can be overpowering and constantly competing with the guitars. Its a bit nit picky, but where this record aims high it achieves it musically with an inspired touch that fell short on execution.

Favorite Songs: God's Of War, Hellene's Do Not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes, From Son To Father
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Killing Joke "Fire Dances" (1983)

Steadily working my way through the Killing Joke discography we arrive at the bands forth "Fire Dances". At this point I'm starting to wonder if I've heard the best of what they have to offer, however the next record includes two classics. "Love Like Blood" and the song some say Nirvana ripped of "Eighties". Unfortunately the progression to that point has yet to begun with this album mostly toying with the same ideas "Revelations" explored. A touch better overall it suffers from the same flaws as its predecessor. Even though I wouldn't rave about this release, I have to say Killing Joke do a great job at creating an original sound. When its fresh it has its charm but quickly tires as a session draws on.

The opener "The Gathering" gets things charged up with a rampant tom snare beat that glimmers an inkling of hope for another "Tension". Unfortunately the guitars are set on exploring discordant rumbling noises and creating a paranoid, nightmarish semblance. The baseline holds it together with solid melody line and the song experiments with some harsher noises groaning into the landscape. Much of the record follows this formula, tribal primitive drum pound and throb there way through drizzling distortions and nonsensical riffage that doesn't offer much in the way of song structure or progression and the bass guitar is often the only comforting outlet in a maddening climate.

Obviously its the point of this record. Much better than "Revelations" did, "Fire Dances" clearly establishes its vibe of mental insanity and playful madness no thanks to singer Jaz who seems to be enjoying his performances, flamboyant, theatrical and jester-like one can picture him dancing in front of the fire. Records that play with any theme can easily engulf you in it, regardless of if it borders on morose. There are moments where the band achieve this and their unusual riffs and style come off well, however it was to little as a whole. I'm left with an odd appreciation for this record. Its not one I wish to listen to often however it fills the gaps of experimentation that has led to a lot of extreme music I listen to today.

Favorite Song: Harlequin, Dominator, Lust Almighty
Rating: 4/10