Monday, 31 October 2016

Darkthrone "Arctic Thunder" (2016)

Still going strong on their twenty five year career, Darkthrone duo Fenriz and Nocturno Culto churn out their sixteenth record to date. Its been a long time since the unholy trinity and the bands sound has not stagnated, always changing it up while retaining their core. In recent years they steered away from Black Metal and towards more traditional Heavy Metal sounds with a touch of Punk attitude in the mix. Its been a while since I last tuned in and so its lineage is fuzzy to me, as a whole it is typically Darkthrone in its construct but the tone has a blacker font than I expected.

The bands approach is static from start to end, very singular and riff driven songs, the distortion guitars set the path and drums follow it. The chemistry of the two holds up well for it to maintain a modest level of interest, even as the guitars drag through riff after riff the percussion spices it up and reinforces its tone. The third aspect are the vocals, shrill raspy and jagged they cut through the atmosphere continually as choppy echoes feedback into the distance, dropping in with a standard dose of lyrics where it suits to do so.

There's little surprises or anything out of the ordinary, just a solid set of guitar riffs jammed out across forty minutes. At times they drift into atmospheric chord shredding and in others focus on groove and slower thrash styles that are reminiscent of many older Metal bands, personally it was those moments that felt underwhelming. The thicker, blacker tracks where the chord shredding was prominent had such more noise the songs felt more rounded. Without them, the music is a little bleak, thin and tiresome in repetition. Certainly not something awful but it feels as if the riffs offer little more than whats been heard before. I can only think of one memorable moment where "Deep Lake Tresspass" culminates with a breakdown and short guitar lead or solo. Apart from that it was mostly forgettable.

Favorite Songs: Burial Bliss, Deep Lake Tresspass
Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Lord Lovidicus "Book Of Lore Volume II - A Vespera Ad Lucem" (2016)

Following up on 2015's "Book Of Lore Volume I" we have the second installment which has been instantaneously more enjoyable than its predecessor. For reasons difficult to expression, Volume II feels more grounded, rooted and settled in its own ideas. The two are undoubtedly similar but the first record themes felt attached to some Lovidicus's Dungeon Synth roots. "A Vespera Ad Lucem" has a more organic, almsot tropical vibe with gentle bongo like percussion and leisurely tempos letting the atmospheres swell gently under the warm shimmering sun. In its slower pace and medial engagement has the cold and dark nature of the music drifting towards obscurity. The percussion steers to the sounds of a hotter climate and shifts in music are accommodated with the controlled crash of a gong cymbal, its ever so slightly Arabic, maybe Oriental in its subtleties. Human voice synths oozes in and out of focus while harem guitars pluck away gorgeously noninvasive melodies.

It would make for perfect video game music, the sort you could see yourself grinding the sewers and deserts of Diablo's act II too. Its vivid yet never overpowering and its easy pace makes for effortless listening. The record itself is rather uneventful, the shifts in melody, the passageways of music so gracefully move from one to the next you may not even notice it, if not for "Ad Maiorem Iovis Gloriam"s organ solo providing a break in tone at the middle of the record. Its a rich craft of simplistic and subtlety executed in unremarkable fashion that's of the moment. When your listening your away with it but there are no melodies or tricks to get stuck in your head. Lovidicus steps into new territory seemingly without changing his craft and the result is lush song of the shades in retreat from the baking sun of desert oasis's.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Korn "The Serenity Of Suffering" (2016)

To understand the significance of this record one must be accustomed with Korn's fall from grace, an unfortunately abysmal output since the departure of iconic guitarist Head in 2005. His return eight years later brought about a fair release with 2013's "The Paradigm Shift" but this record marks what many may of thought not possible, a genuine return to form that rests between the monstrous wall of sound aesthetic of "Untouchables" and the rawer attitude of "Taker A look In The Mirror". If Korn had been pumping this sound out for the last ten years this record really wouldn't of made any waves with me because in reality its that far gone. Their major contributions to music happened around the turn of the millennium and the Nu Metal sound isn't whats pushing boundaries anymore. With such an absence of quality its a real treat to get back a band who's polarizing identity makes most people either love or hate what they are about.

There's nothing ground breaking here, Korn are busting out the simple verse chorus song structures, dropped chord riffs and Jon Davis is still singing about his teenage angst pains. The real surprise is in how well it all comes together. JD is simply infectious with his passion and harmonious singing, the lyrics may be the usual rhetoric of emotional pain and self loathing but he elevates every moment with a performance reminiscent of his youthful days, spanning many of the tones hes done before in new and imaginative ways as well as pushing his demonic screams to new depths. In its simplicity I found myself quickly picking up the words, singing along, something I do very rarely with new music. The only disappointment on the vocal front was a feature from Corey Taylor of Slipknot. Ive always found collaborations in Metal to bit a little lackluster.

Behind him a sonic assault vehicle of slamming, grooving brutality emanates between the three guitarists. Bassist Fieldy's slapped guitar rattle isn't as prominent but the low growl of his base can be heard throughout with a powerful density considering the competition from the down tuned seven strings. Head's riffs are illuminated by the records sublime production, giving them a ground shaking wake when he pummels out the icon Korn grooves. Monkey's high pitched, shrill guitar noises and melodies, which are a staple mark of their sound, find themselves a little downplayed. Rarely the lead they are often complimentary to the rhythm guitar with short bursts of chords in between or playing a more atmospheric role. The balance serves the records tone but it would of been nice to hear something a little more driven by those oddball melodies the duo conjure, in its counterpart each song has its break out which re-writes the "heavy" that Korn can go too. With them Ray Luzier does a terrific job hammering down on a thunderous kit and shows a great understanding in the heavy moments however it the lighter breaks there is a distinct lack of variety one might of expected from former drummer David Silevria.

The record is solid from start to end, there isn't a weak a link in the track listing and across them all Korn delivery almost everything you'd love to hear. Its refreshing and exciting to hear them find what has been absent all this time. The records production deserves much merit for its successes. The wall of sound and highly compressed guitars make a dense, sonic experience that's simply gorgeous. In particular songs a light layer of synth drops into the heavy moments too, a very nice touch. At this point the record is still new to me and with each listen I love each song more, unable to pick a favorite, I hope it holds up as its certainly a contended for one of my favorite records this year. The future seems bright now for Korn, if they can keep what worked here going and innovate their sound anything is possible!

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 24 October 2016

Opeth "Sorceress" (2016)

Thinking back over Opeth's lengthy discography the tipping of the scales started with 2008's "Watershed", the last album to include Death Metal vocals and aggressive guitar craft as the band progressed more towards their Progressive Rock roots. Since then their form has been shaky and the movement to a lighter sound hasn't been accompanied by the same greatness once associated with them. That's not to say they have been putting out bad records but having given "Heritage" and "Pale Communion" plenty of time they both have yielded no songs of memorability. This time around Opeth's distinct musical style Akerfeldt's particular voice find a spark that illuminates a couple of tracks that are hard hard to shake off.

A couple of memorable tracks doesn't save it from moments of mediocrity and as the band creep backwards with a slightly more metallic tone, they only encapsulate the energy it can bring in a couple of moments, the denser tone is otherwise is a noisy presence for underwhelming riffs, or is it the other way around? Underwhelming distortion for the gravity of guitar work. In many acoustic moments there is a lack of punch and potency in melody that leads many songs into needless lulls. In counterpart when the guitars are more prominent and Akerfeldt is in his own, the gentle moments can be swooning with soft organ humming under light chord strumming and calming drumming.

For a fan my biggest issue is perhaps the familiarity with the Opeth vibe which has somewhat stagnated from a point just after the turn of the millennium. When wavering between captivating moments and musical lulls what sparks are found feel all to familiar and so the ineffective "heavier" tone feels underwhelming in comparison to whats been achieved before. "Chrysalis" for example could easily of been gritted up with stronger distortion and some bellowing death growls to sound like a song from "Still Life". Instead its hard hitting organs bring the attitude and drag it to lively lead climax which drops out into a colorful, soothing acoustic lead out which again feels underwhelming with a lack of omph from the acoustic guitar tone.

Its a strange record, feeling very close to being smart and brilliant yet its punctuation and aesthetic leaves it hanging precariously between a formula that worked so well for them before and a venture into new territory which yields so little inventiveness. Fortunately there is enough substance for the record to be enjoyed and enjoyable it certainly is, perhaps just a little bitter sweet with a constant feeling that this step back in lineage shouldn't of been a half step. One thing I don't miss is Akerfeldt's death growls. As beastly and demonically gorgeous as they are his whispering vocals and infectious melodies continue to swoon and make highlight of the music.

Favorite Tracks: Sorceress, The Wilde Flowers, Will O The Wisp, Sorceress 2, The Seventh Sojourn
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Devin Townsend "Transcendence" (2016)

It seems to be a recurring sentiment that an albums first impressions are misleading and once again I found myself disappointed for an album by an artist I have the greatest of respect for, Devin Townsend, musical genius and all round nice guy. Whatever Devin does I will always been in anticipation of, this his seventeenth record? Is no exception, Its hard to keep track of his unrivaled output. It wasn't until I thought I was done that the magic started to emanate and make sense, rather unusual for an artist I know so well. "Transcendence" is as expected another masterclass of the glorious metallic wall of sound, primed with rich glossy synthesizers, lush distortion guitars and Devin's stunning voice merging into an engulfing magnetized musical force.

Another expected marvel of production value perhaps shadowed the music initially, its far more subdued, of the moment and lengthier in its demeanor than usual. "Epicloud" had fifty minutes over thirteen tracks of pop like Metal smashers where as here we have ten tracks spanning sixty five minutes. The lengthy nature of the songs have the absence of more conventional song structures which can be felt where the instruments hold back from rocking into the forefront with a grooving riff or empowering melody. Instead we have a maturer union of instruments that have equal measures of involvement throughout the record. Even when Devin is singing you'll often hear independent synthesizers, baselines and guitar riffs working in tandem, forming a lush wall of musical power. Its most differentiating moments are the guitar solos, inspiring and moving, the mostly reveal there strength and inspiration with each listen never tiring.

The slow journey into this record has made me see the "cheap thrills" side of Devin's music, perhaps as a hangover from the bombastic, nauseating thrill rides of Strapping Young Lad, Devin's always had a touch of humor in the power of the riff and momentous absurdity of over emphasis. "Transcendence" has next to none of this and in a much maturer frame of mind Devin has crafted some stunning songs which hold over the glorious feeling of epic stature through the records rich, dense aesthetic and the steady craft of layered instrumentation.

Opening with the re-recorded "Truth" from his second solo record "Infinity" the album doesn't start for me until "Stormbending", an atmospheric thunder of dexterous guitar riffs and triumphant climaxing. "Truth" is a brilliant song and a few re-records have made there way onto recent records but as an opener it feels odd being so familiar with it. To be fair, as great as it sounds the original still does the song justice. In an attempted not to babble on for too long, its a very matured and seasoned record, dense and layered with plenty to digest. Every aspect of its production and recording is an eargasmic treat, the music just took me a little longer but I can't see myself putting this one down anytime soon, it will grow even more on me I'm sure of it!

Favorite Songs: Stormbending, Higher, Transcendence, Offer Your Light
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 17 October 2016

Ghost "Popestar" (2016)

Swedish Metal act Ghost should need no introduction but the reality is they are a new, fresh and growing band who have revitalized an old metallic style with a devilish undertone beneath their lush aesthetic. "Popestar" is a five track EP, its name a play on pop-star and the anti-pope image of front man Papa Emiritus. Riding of the back of a Grammy for "Circle" its a good tie over to there next album which could potentially be a big one as they continually expand their reach across the Metal audience. Consisting of one b-side and four covers it may sound like a scraping of content but actually its a fantastic little mini record.

I can't remember when I last enjoyed a collection of covers as much as this, the gorgeous aesthetic of the record paves the path of possibility for harmonica solos, spacial ethereal synths and some of the bands most melodic and "light" songs to date. At most times the Metal element feels far removed and we are left with colorful, bright music, free for melody and harmony to reign supreme through acoustics and Papa Emeritus's glorious voice.

"Square Hammer" Is a typical Ghost track of devil worship between grooving Hard Rock riffs and the oozing thick smoke of the purple organ, It could of fit right into the Meloria record. The covers equally depart from the tone of Ghost and in this moment showcase the versatility of their sound, the final three tracks have an infectious singalong spirit coming from a different musical center. The lyrics have a very pro christian tone and I think the choice to keep them the same rather than swapping names for Beelzebub let the music shroud it in a subversive tone of evil. On "Bible" its even further removed without a heavy guitar chord and thick evil organs slugging away to heavy the tone like on "Missionary Man". It retains the uplifting biblical tone and with one strike of rumbling guitar in the chorus, hides just enough darkness to satisfy.

Its a fantastic mini record, four great songs and one I'm not as fond of. Its another welcome dose of Ghost but makes me excited for the versatility of their sound, I hope the exercise of cover records like this is to test the waters with fans and find more regions to which they can evolve their sound. I'm once again very keen for more from the excellent band, one of Metal's best this decade.

Favorite Songs: Square Hammer, I Believe, Missionary Man, Bible
Rating: 6/10

Friday, 14 October 2016

Erang "Anti Future" (2016)

With a distinctly different album art and futurist themed title, Erang has stepped bravely into new territory as the fantasy driven Dungeon Synth sound takes on a dystopian Sci-Fi angle, attempting to bridge into new territory. Its an effortless transition where the musical sensibilities re-arrange themselves for a shiny pallet of glossy echoing synth leads, chunky robotic baselines and dense atmospheric moogs. Its a vision similar to an 80s future fiction movie soundtrack where technology is paired with smoke, litter and crime. Shady aliens, dark alleyways home to mutants and black market tech riddles the distant cities and planets through Erang's "eerie" or creepy quality which remains firmly intact, painting this futuristic world in mythic stature.

Within its clean and glossy production balanced with measures of timely reverb lies another collection of visual, vivid melodies that carve eternal times and places into the mind. One that stands out is "Time Vision", diving into a dark and harrowing space with spacious execution of sweeping synth and an unsettling melody, echos of misfortune from the fading piano, haunting the listener with its sorrow. The record only steers into this darker phase on its way out and the majority of tracks have a playful touch with the safety of distance from the oddities we encounter in the anti future.

Erang has never been one for progressive music and despite a sharp, memorable record these songs do what many of his do, meander in the moment, dance around a select group of melodies that compliment each other in short expanses. On records like "Our Dreams Are Made Of Dragons" It works brilliantly, beautiful snapshots peering into the beyond but here the tone and atmospheres set in the opening songs makes me feels as if something is just starting, we are about to embark on an adventure. Before you know it the moment passes and the next song musters up a whirl of potential that feels underutilized.

Its a strange dissatisfaction to want more from something you enjoy and something out of your control. There are moments in the record where the blood gets pumping as crisp drum kicks and snares pound a mechanical rhythm with echos of an Industrial sound. It comes to fruition on "2082" where the marching pace is accompanied by a robotic chugging of crisp distortion guitar to much satisfaction. Its a short lived song though, another that visits a singular moment. I love this record for its aesthetic and theme, the melodies are gorgeous as ever but somewhere in there it feels like the stage was set for something grander.

Favorite Songs: The Highway Goes Ever On, Another Zone, The Drunken Maniac, Floating Children, Video Sunset, Time Vision, 2082
Rating: 7/10

Monday, 10 October 2016

Gojira "Magma" (2016)

Gojira were once France's most promising band in a lacking Metal scene the country is still devoid of. The mid naughties saw the release of "From Mars To Sirius" which catapulted them into the touring circuit, a critically acclaimed release with a handful of songs becoming a staple in their live set. They are now a well and truly established Metal outfit with their environmentally conscious edge striking a uniqueness in their sound. Ive never listened to a record of theirs properly, mostly I know the songs they will play live and a few others so with the announcement of their sixth full length It was about time I gave it my time and attention.

My initial observation has become the focal point of this records charm, Its not as heavy, something Metal bands can often get persecuted for. In the case of Gojira the atmospheric, lighter edge in their sound has become the focus with the rhythm guitars playing second fiddle to clean vocals and lead melodies. Its a shift that retains the groove and characteristic of their aggressive playing but subverted to a temperate environment, fit to satisfy fans without downplaying its significance. There are many chugging grooves churning away under the vocals which could of been more prominent in the forefront but stay as relevant in a moodier setting. Its quite a satisfying chemistry where the most crucial aspect of a groove or melody has been presented in simplicity over complexity with only one or two of their trademarked mind bending guitar noise riffs making their way into the songs in a slower form.

Even if the scales have tilted, there are plenty of breakout moments for head banging and crunchy momentum but its the atmosphere this record has that makes its mark. It often feels as if an ooze of organic synth is creeping in between instruments but actually its the clean vocals that are dressed with a long reverbing echo, having each sung line drift and disperse into the guitars with a moody charm. The atmospheric mood has a hint of gloom, a touch of mystery and a deeply organic vibe further resonating with the natural theme in the lyrics which are emotionally charged, something you feel through Duplantier's performances.

The album cover is very appropriate, the record has a chromatic and pale tone with its slower pace and calming melodies. The mixing is fantastic, even in a modern age where capturing instruments crisply is relatively easy, it is an art to balance them with the right tone, volume and coloring. Everything here compliments each other, no overpowering, over loud instruments and the vocals are simply gorgeous in the clean moments. My only complaint is that the second half drifts further into the less metallic component of their sound and does so with a fair bit of repetition. Otherwise its a solid record.

Favorite Tracks: Silvera, The Cell, Stranded, Magma
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Crass "Penis Envy" (1981)

Crass's third record is a loud, bold statement. One that transcends the ideological rebellion from their first two records into art as the groups sound shift gears. Firstly frontman Steve Ignorant is absent as Eve Libertine takes lead vocal and second the instrumentals steer to an artsy form of Post-Punk not far aesthetically from their former sound but with an expansive ear for atmosphere and mood. Its an evolution fit for purpose as the lyrics take a bold feminist stance making mockery of gender inherited values and the marital tradition. The title marks the records intention and its artwork further extends the subjects poked at in its playtime.

"Penis Envy" is a vehicle for thought, its instrumentals don't swoon with melodies or take the forefront of your attention. They mostly balance the atmosphere to contrast the moods in opposing sides of the topics being discussed. Its simply not possible to enjoy without being engaged in the subject matter and no track does it better than "Systematic Death. Its the song that encompasses everything daring about challenging conformity and does it with a spike of audacity. The repetitive "System system system" chants between commenting on the social constructs of gender based expectation. Lines like "Fuck her mind so they can fuck her silly" makes remarkable statements that might be hard to wrap your head around depending on how you perceive how individuals are formed within society.

Through the record there are many resolute statements to question your resolve, especially a mockery of dependency on men in society. Much of which dives deeper into what "Systemic Death" outlines. Musically a couple of memorable melodies extrude from the baselines and there are some great experimental tracks. "Berkertex Bribe" has a stunning break out moment where the intensity on all instruments kicks up a notch as subtle wedding bells ring out in the back drop. The album is seen out with "Our Wedding", an almost eerie track poking fun at post-marital expectations in a subversive way. Its a much artier experience than previous records but in true crass style it is the food for thought that becomes the focal point of a brilliant record and a very bold statement for an 80s society to digest.

Favorite Tracks: Systematic Death, What The Fuck
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Church "Further Deeper" (2014)

Its been on spin these last few months, Australian outfit The Chruch's latest record is one Ive struggled to put into words. Its a moody yet colorful, uplifting yet melancholy ride with slight etchings of Ethereal, a hint of Psychedelia and a thick nostalgic vibe of the 90s spirit. The group have been at it for over thirty years yet they sound young and youthful on this, their twenty forth full length record. I knew little about them before writing this blog however its not surprising to learn there history, they do sound settled and mature in their songwriting.

So Further Deeper is reasonable record but one where the boundaries blur and the tone is tightly consistent. Often we journey through layers of reverb smothered instruments and steady percussion with tempered vocals that rarely break their stride. Its a drone, an easy, welcoming drone but its progression barely strays from the path song to song. There is rarely a break for something remarkable, moving or to create a big sense of change. The pianos chime pleasant chords under the wash of guitar reverbs and deep synths forming a haze together. Through it light leads and acoustic strumming can be heard but mostly these things add up to their total, which is often a dense tone to rock with.

Its difficult to break into words but at no moment in the record does anything progress or feel anchored. Its like a singularity and sometimes that is fantastic and other times it means each song feels like the last. Haven given it many many listens nothing remarkable has jumped out at me but overall its a dreamy sounding record you can soak into, I do however feel the vocals are rather stale. They more than anything else fail to break from a continual intensity.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 3 October 2016

Despised Icon "Beast" (2016)

News of this bands return wasn't the most exciting story id heard this year but it was certainly unexpected for the Canadian Quebec "Technical Deathcore" outfit to announce their reunion. They were a short lived group who released two albums in the prime of the scenes popularity and split rather abruptly, ending their steady rise. Id barely touched their records since seeing them live a few times and to be fair I hadn't really missed them, Despised Icon were a fair shade better than most of the generic sounding bands at the time, however their "Technical" edge doesn't separate them from a tired sound and their reunion is as if a day hadn't passed by. At first it sounded like one element had been dropped but by track five, "Bad Vibes", it drops in almost instinctively. The track sets itself up perfectly with a low djenty timed chug from the guitars and in true Despised Icon fashion drops the ridiculous bree squee vocals that sound more comical than anything else. Fortunately they are not frequent on the record, certainly not awful but a vocal style I care less for with time.

The record as a whole doesn't leap out with any remarkable tracks and tends to scurry its way through a blur of tight timely riffing that shuffles back and forth, switching and changing up with all sorts of mini guitar riffs between large groovy or heavy moments, chaperoned by mechanical, dizzying drumming. It blasts and chops away with little fluidity or transition, hammering on and in the instant the guitars adjust they follow with another volley of earth shaking rattling. The bass guitar is a mere extension of the rhythm and the vocal are harsh, blunt and monotone screams with enough texture for reason but often dispelling screeching over the dense, slightly fuzzy guitar tone.

The record rarely brakes from brutality and is spliced in two with the interlude track "Dedicated To Extinction". A short, dark and foreboding symphonic peace that sticks out like a sore thumb. It had me scrambling to my playlist, trying to find why it had skipped ahead from the "Beast" record. The only merit I can give is the records production, aside from the vocals its a very well rounded record with a lot of warm and well mixed tones for each of the instruments that can withstand the blitz of the drumming. That's what made a rather hollow record enjoyable for me, its listen-ability. Sure there are good riffs, breakdowns but no sense of theme or something grander than a collection of riffs emerges. "I am my biggest threat" a lyric that jumped out as a poor rewording of "I am my own worst enemy".

Rating: 3/10