Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Eminem "Music To Be Murdered By" (2020)

Arguably raps biggest name, Eminem, has dropped a surprise album on us to kick of the new decade! Inspired by the acclaimed horror movie maker Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 album of the same name, the shock of its release and blood soaked album cover set off a spark in my mind. I yearned for the Detroit talent to be freed of constraints and pursue an interesting concept and avenue for his rhymes. This led to a rather disappointing initial listen as Em dives straight into the fatigued back and forth with his haters on Unaccommodating, continuing to fight his insecurity of the criticism leveled his way again. Its become a tired theme souring his recent string of albums.

There is good news however. With each listen the album grows as the weak spots reveal themselves to be clustered either side a string of decent songs in the middle. The underlying themes emerge, Eminem venting his personal relationships, childhood struggles and tackling the current wave of tragic shooter events in his country. Its articulated with a finesses and attitude only he can do. His technical prowess and wordplay is a splattered mess of gaudy, goofy and genius. I find myself not sure if I should love or cringe at his puns, punch lines and words between the lines. Finding reasons to enjoy is always better than the baggage of critiquing a musical prodigy tho.

Unsurprisingly there is deep well of topicality in his lyrics to get into and its all put together with variety. His slow, steady, purposely directed words on Darkness tells a tale from the narrative of a shooter at a concert, a typically controversial Eminem track but the tone is right to get the message across to those who are open to hear it. Moments before this glum sorrowful song Em is going ham with his chops of lightning spat rhymes as he rivals his own Rap God with Godzilla, perhaps a through line in the name there. The vibes jump from fun to sad with a track switch and so does his flow, as much of the album will move from one idea to the next, Em deploys a healthy variety to engage but consistency is something to be desired.

The production initially shook me up, I didn't like a moment of it. Familiarity drew me in on the second spin, Its a constant curiosity of mine how that works. Now I'm loving it. The beats are sharp, snappy and crunky, the percussion pops and provides an aggressive framework of liveliness to compliment the energy of Eminem and his guests. They were for the most part in Em's shadow, a hard place to make an impression from. The likes of Skylar Grey could stand out when she lends her singing. Yah Yah is possibly best of the bunch, bringing on Royce Da 59, Black Thought and Q-Tip for an exceptional song throwing all the hails back to the golden era of Hip Hop.

As a whole it has its peaks but valleys too. Marsh is a self indulged spew of puns and plays on his name, not sure If I like it. Another Little Engine deploys a ridiculous chorus hook and its usually the hooks that are contentious. The sung choruses hailing back to some of his best music doesn't always land. Stepdad is a wound of a song, Em pouring is heart out but the sung chorus... again I just don't know quite how I feel about it. Overall I think Music To Be Murdered By has a lot of quality and Em gets on track with his topics for the most part. A little curation might of served it well but I think the real test is for how long will these songs stick and will I come back too it often? For now though I've enjoyed it plenty and think its a worthy release.

Favorite Tracks: Godzilla, Darkness, Yah Yah, Stepdad
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Bolt Thrower "Mercenary" (1998)

I was vaguely aware of the now retired Bolt Thrower from Coventry England. Somehow I had it in mind that they were a Power Metal outfit? Well Bæst and their cover of No Guts, No Glory turned me onto this record and oh boy have I enjoyed it! Mercenary is a moderately simple yet very effective riff led expedition into a torrent of punishing mid tempo grooves. The band's sound borders Death, Thrash and Groove Metal, mostly the first. Its a melting pot of styles swaying between cruising low end melodies and surges of muscular guitar work with momentous persuasion.

The production is admittedly a hurdle to pass, requiring volume as its thick, dense guitars bleed into the consciousness. Its a tad muddy and monotone but serves its purpose as the groove and grind gets to resonate through this burly heaving sound. The drums plays a fantastic roll in illuminating the rhythm guitar, often hammering out steady grooves that pivot to alternates, making the same riff bounce with a renewed energy. Its not flashy and certainly doesn't overbear with blast beats and the like. They simply guide everything along its path with a powerful and effective chemistry.

Like an inconsequential layer of gruesome sound, Karl Willetts shouts his meaty groans and growls with a brutish demeanor. Its a rather atypical guttural performance that rarely breaks stride. It adds little to the music other than a reinforcement of variation over the looping riffs below him. I could take it or leave it. Given the discernible nature of the 90s Death Metal vocal style there was little of the war themed lyrics that came across with any solidity. Some of the easier understood hooks had rhyme and reason to them, especially on the aforementioned No Guts, No Glory.

The best aspect of Mercenary are the riffs, an arsenal of power chords, chugging grooves, low string grinding all spliced with darkly melodies to forge a riveting atmosphere. Its heavy on repetition with short bars being looped, the drums helping them along as the patterns often pivot to revitalize. The heavy is momentous and crushing, the melodies dark and foreboding and their pace moving together is perfect for that infectious head banging a metal head loves. Its the sort of Death Metal I enjoy most, not strictly but with a spice of other sounds. Great record, gotta check out more!

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Merauder "Master Killer" (1995)

I caught wind of this mid nineties crossover classic from a documentary about the music scene and bands of that era. The second track Life Is Pain perked my ears, catching my attention and upon buying the recorded I discovered a telling track, Downfall Of Christ. It was actually decades ago I first heard this song covered on a split album between Caliban and Heaven Shall Burn. It speaks volumes to how I initally perceived this record, another fractional style of the Thrash Metal and Hardcore union that would go on to shape the sound of Metalcore bands yet to come.

Master Killer is a steady moving, thirty five minutes of personal vented anger. Its wrapped up in a continuous wave of crushing grooves and thrashy guitar chugging that mixes sensibilities from both sides of the isle but more so the metallic. Rosado has a strained shout on him, the vocals groaned with a texture swaying towards the Death Metal spectrum but with enough gusto and frustration to ground his limited range of shouts in the Hardcore feel, which the occasional muted gang shouts reinforce. Its far from charming but his energy serves his purpose at the forefront.

The instrumentals are the selling point. Pummeling drums deploy intense patterns, utilizing double pedals and driving the music forward with intent. The guitar work lays down plenty of fast picking rhythms and punchy power chords but its the groove the two together bring out that really lights up the music. The majority of these components would easily separate into Thrash. Its solo's erupt and dazzle with electric energy too but with the right approach they have aligned to extrapolate this contagious sense of bounce and groove between the lines. Its quite contagious.

This is also a dated record, its percussion rattles loosely, guitars carry a meaty amount of low end noise and takes a moment for the ears to adjust. Its a great record to point at as a key link in the formation of Metalcore but no masterpiece. Although it has no stinkers you can't help but feels these songs could of reached a little further. Song structures are simple with not a lot of reshaping moments. The whole plays like an onslaught of riffs and grooves fit to simple structures. Its fun and energizing but rarely pushes beyond itself. Still a fantastic record, I've really enjoyed it!

Favorite Tracks: Life Is Pain, Downfall Of Christ, Take By Force
Rating: 7/10

Friday, 24 January 2020

Autumn's Grey Solace "Englelícra" (2019)


Somehow, someway, I missed this release last year by one of my favorite bands! I think I've struggled to enjoy their recent records as much due to a shift in direction and lack of evolution that's left one of the duo's most charming aspects, the singing of lyrics, in the dust. However going into this, their twelfth studio record, I was essentially prepared to embrace whatever it was. With that relinquish of expectation I found my self absorbed by the moody sombre beauty of their established sound once again.

With no surprises Scott Ferrell plucks out eight constructs of lavish instrumentation, all oozing in echos and reverberations. His shimmering guitars birth a luscious tropical darkness both beautiful and melancholy, a colorful sound that drifts into the pale. Driven along by soft but firm driving baselines and simple looping arrangements of cavernous drum patterns, the songs tend to exchange their complimenting sections back and forth before the run time concludes the song with no crescendo.

Singer Erin Welton lends her voice to the music more so as an instrument, singing just notes with a sweet and soft delicacy, coming in like a wind gusting through and fading back into the silence. Of course she is given a fair helping of reverb to achieve this ghostly yet beautiful tone. She tends to deploy melodies the likes of a synth would do, dropping on top of the instrumental with short notation loops to layer up the harmony. Their are occasions of experimentation and vocal dexterity but its mostly simple.

All the songs tend to echo the shades of previous songs as the formula has barely shifted and given the relatively simple song structures and lack of complexity the album really hinges on mood and atmosphere. To no surprise that is where they excel and so this record was warm and welcoming to dive into, getting exactly what you'd expect, an engrossing Ethereal feeling. I would still very much like to see them diversify and experiment but no complaints from me if this is all we get!

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 20 January 2020

Aurora "A Different Kind Of Human (Step 2)" (2019)

Now on my fourth Aurora record, either the familiarity is diminishing her charm or something is off. I think it may be the latter. Baring little overt relation to Step 1 other than aesthetics, this full length follow up to the EP just doesn't illuminate the stunning charm of her singing in the same way. Firstly the tone seems to of shifted. The River kicks the record off with bright, punchy, jovial synths that expand and contract, flowing with glossy melodies that shuffle along the strong Electropop vibe. Its a step away from the subtitles of the past and Aurora's voice just feels crowded in these moments.

The album grows with a range of song temperaments, some quieter than others and her voice is given plenty of focus to shine but it doesn't come together with the same magic. The instrumentals seem too energized, overplaying their role. Her range continually goes towards its strongest, lacking a vulnerability and sensitivity that previously blossomed into the moving moments. The cultural Nordic echos feel distant too and many of her vocal constructs we might refer to as the hook just don't land with the same engrossing nature. There is variety and creativity, just not at that level again.

It might seem like I am splitting hairs but its a knifes edge this style is balanced on. Going back to any of the past records I get all the feels but from this one? Not so much. Dwelling on the differences can easily overshadow what a great record this is though. Its delightfully easy on the ears and engrossing with its swells of colorful electronics and tribal percussion. Her voice is still a delight and the songs are warming to the soul but that soaring above and beyond isn't present, leading me to mostly focus on that as the record is clearly a step back. I am hoping she can steer things in a challenging direction moving forward as this one was a little to routine.

Favorite Track: Apple Tree
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Drown In Sulphur "Blackwind" (2019)

Its time to throw myself back to my youth and enjoy some Deathcore! Blastbeats, slams and ludicrous gutturals here we come! Browsing Youtube's endless music videos, the song Blackwind caught my attention, purely for being comically fun and brutal with its stomping onslaught of metallic noise and guitar abuse. The song however has legs and so do the other five tracks that accompany it on this new EP, the groups second. Having had a glimpse over their older releases, it seems the Italian band has stepped up their game after a three year silence from their last single.

Their production has scaled too, despite being unsigned the band have put together a competent sound that doesn't feel flimsy or tacky as some of these kinds of records can do. Instead its the perfect podium for Deathcore aesthetics with its crunchy stomping guitars, regularly delivering textural low notes for the breakdowns. The vocals are meaty, a constant barrage of flat throaty growls, shrill pig squeals and general ridiculousness that hovers above all else. It could be a turn off for most but fits in well given the context. The drums deliver battering barrages of groove, culminating nicely with the guitars that border Djent and yet still find a little flash of color in places.

The songwriting is where Drown In Sulphur may stand apart from others. Its no mastery or revelation but they bring more excitement and freshness with a slight deviance from the norms, never settling on the bog standard approach. It gives almost everything a fraction of spice that occasionally blossoms into a fiery whirl of energy as the constant rolling over of riffs finds a peak in the wandering arrangements. Its free structural form plays big into their hands as repetition could of grinded this record to a halt. Fortunately the balance is fair. After many listens I'm still getting a kick.

Blackwind's best parts tend to be the big concluding riffs towards the end of a track however on a number like Serpenthyne a little bit of Iwrestledabearonce alike mania on the fretwork goes down a treat and so does the reverberated acoustic interlude Sulphur. Essentially, where they deviate most from the basic formula of the genre they succeed and with such a variety driven approach their writing pays off! Nuclear Dawn however fumbles through monochromatic riffs and a mid-track drop of intensity as sections don't quite link. Although I am pretty much done with this type of music, its good to keep an eye out and maybe this band is one to follow in the near future!

Favorite Track: Blackwind
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Sunday Service Choir "Jesus Is Born" (2019)

Released on Christmas day, news of this record was quite the surprise! Having enjoyed Kanye's Jesus Is King record and his collaboration with Sunday Service Choir, I was hoping to hear more of these voices and my prayers were answered! In the context of a dialed down Hip Hop record mixing in elements of Gospel they were exciting and enthralling in their peaks. As a solo project spanning a whopping eighty three minutes across nineteen tracks, it fails to spark the same invigoration.

One of Kanye's marks as a producer is his work with voices, voicing and tonal manipulation. Unfortunately that magic doesn't come to fruition within the confines of Gospel music. The voices stick to purity of the choir which are beautiful and a pleasure to enjoy in their own right but with little extra spice in the mix this quickly becomes monotonous in the reality of this not being quite my cup of tea. I love the soulful singing, uplifting energy and jollity of the affair but it does become tiresome.

As an agnostic the lyrics quickly become repetitive and disengaging. Words of praise and salvation are spun over again,shuffling the same ideas in different variations of words, which fail to appeal to someone not seeking a religious experience. With little to enjoy there, the opening songs are a struggle as subtle organs, pianos and claps give all the attention to the voices which hit their most strident, powerful and in peaks even harshest tones. The union of voices is a force pushed to some extremes even a bit much for this supposed metal head and lover of extreme music.

Once past that ambitious opening, the album drifts into an enjoyable mood as things pivot. The voices feel looser, drums and other instrumentation join in as the session starts to feel more like a jam. Hints of R&B, Soul, even Funk with a little touch of groove liven up the mood and keep the pacing interesting. It isn't however a saving grace for me, the record was fun to dive into into and as much as I appreciate the stunning singing it falls short of substance to engage me as a musical record. Perhaps to someone more versed and enthusiastic about this music it may of been something.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, 9 January 2020

City Morgue "City Morgue Vol 2 As Good As Dead" (2019)

Following up on last years Hell Or Highwater, the young duo ZillaKami and Sosmula are at it again fronting another arsenal of overtly aggressive songs to grab your attention. Vaguely known Trap Metal, the duo represent a strain of modern Rap so harsh and aggressive it picks up the metallic nod. They actually deploy distortion guitars on a couple of tracks but the main ploy is dark and sinister sampling amplified by harsh, snappy drum grooves and over the top vocals. The pair spit their rhymes with ferocious energy, many words bordering a shout in its aggression. Unsurprisingly the lyrical content is mean and murderous but ultimately hollow.

Although the theming is of my flavor, the music lacks depth and songwriting is routine. Most the tracks aim to deploy throat grabbing lyrics for a harsh hook, often over played. The two exchange threatening verses that mostly revolve around excessive violence, gang life and boisterous show boating. It quickly turns dull as the continual aggression becomes monotone. I found my attention mostly picking up on what became annoying, like the "woah woah woah woah" hook on the track Woah. Its monotonous, repetitive and just doesn't add much to the song.

The instrumentals behind them are also a bit routine, only a few beats stand out in the slew of songs. Initially most are impressive as they reach to a particularly gritty nastiness however they are often very repetitive with the short loop filling up these mostly short songs. One notable thing that does occur is a handful of songs leaning into Emo Rap territory. Moody guitars drop in and the lyrics pivot to dreary self reflection and depressive outlooks. Very akin to Lil Peep but nowhere near his level of charm. Overall a disappointing follow up with not much to take away from.

Favorite Tracks: Draino, 16 Toes, Peeling Scabs
Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Aurora "Infections Of A Different Kind (Step 1)" (2018)

The two steps of Infections Of A Different Kind starts with this eight track EP, to be followed up by a full length album, the second part. Conceptually it feels like another collection of songs with perhaps a lusher production and temperament than its preceding All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend. Maybe the album will expand on these halves. On its own Step 1 is simply another gorgeous illumination of Aurora's dazzling voice. Its instrumental's feel a step more ambitious as subtlety is traded for bright and bold surges of complexity. Pianos, drums, layers of synth elevate from atmosphere brooding beginnings into ravishing swells of color and harmony. The tribal percussive undercurrent always drives the music forward and the whole thing plays like a temple of worship to her voice, soaring above all like a beam of light.

It starts with a bang, a couple of lively tracks driven punchy drumming, then through its trajectory grows increasingly soothing and calmer in nature. The songwriting is just wonderful, seemingly simple but beautifully arranged and quite often experimenting with Aurora's presence and form. For example, It Happened Quiet is a unique track in comparison as male voices are brought in for Gregorian alike chants. Most the other songs just find interesting ways to layer her voice, playing with reverbs and harmonization but through it all tugging at heart strings and creating ear worms with her infectious lyrical lines resonating from a gorgeous voicing. Its really moving in its best moments, loving everything about her music right now and eager for more!

Favorite Tracks: Forgotten Love, All Is Soft Inside, Churchyard
Rating: 8/10