Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Opeth "In Cauda Venenum" (2019)

I've spent a healthy helping of time getting to know this record and the indulgence won't stop anytime soon. The gravitas of Opeth has not sucked me in quite like this in a long time! I wanted to get deep into this album and the time invested suggests this may just belong alongside the best of their works like Damnation and Deliverance. A bold statement but in this post Death Metal era for the band they seemed to of finally channeled the vigor and sheer power of brutality into swells of luscious Progressive Rock successfully. It swoons in its own glory, the style and voice of the band feeling rooted as their heaviness arrives in its powerful layers of instrumentation that may be a bit much to those unfamiliar with Metals bombast. This has both might and delicacy.

With surges of strings, synths, empowered basslines and the soaring of Akerfeldt's clean voice, the percussion batters out the groove and momentum once propelled by distortion guitars and guttural screams. Its a beautifully executed pivot where the swoon of songs yield over and over as the music gushes from its gentle acoustic build ups into these upheavals of beautiful emotional out pour that reign supreme. It carries what made this band wonderful forward while also opening up new avenues with strings and pianos playing an enthusiastic role. The song Lovelorn Crime is a keen example of King Crimson alike influences taking hold the soft expressive side emerges, shimmering in the truly delicate and sublime, a moving presence.

The songwriting is wonderful, the themes are explored in true progressive nature as the bleeding cries of Pink Floyd alike guitar solos climax the lengthy epics. With most the songs being six to seven minutes there is never a dull moment, things don't get drawn out and the melodies speak to the soul, lingering in the mind. Beyond the music, its aesthetics hold up well too. The strings are especially gorgeous and there mixing with the vocals are just awe inspiring. It feels like a lot of craft and care went into getting their chemistry right as one can revel in even the simplest of moments given the utter luxurious tone they muster together. On both fronts it excels, bridging the new and old alike, Opeth have finally landed their ambitions.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, 24 February 2020

Örnatorpet "The Heathen Kingdom" (2020)

In the mood for a moody Dungeon Synth adventure, I picked up this pairing of fifteen minute treks through gloomy forests and stoic castles of fantasy, music steeped in heuristic mystery. Its a departure from the icy, snow swept minimalist atmospheres of Hymner Från Snökulla. The Heaven Kingdom has a more traditional sound, drifting through its moulded layers of Casio or Korg keyboard instrumentation, shrouded in a mystery thanks to its nostalgic production utilizing low fidelity aesthetics.

The songs themselves aren't particularly remarkable. They find a few passages that sparkle as layers of synth, culminate, often arising with glistening bells delivering spell bounding melodies. Its a friendly affair that doesn't drift into the available darkness. The air of gloom and grief taints the second track, it grows to quite the scenic song, its rich airy strings holding a sense of grandeur that never settles on steady ground. It may have a hint of menace of foreboding presence but doesn't delve into that avenue.

So both these songs establish mood and tone well. The Dungeon Synth sound is one I know all to well by now. Its a fun listen but little felt remarkable in the sense of rising up, grabbing ones attention or finding a climatic moment. The shifts in instrument pallet were common and well executed, the variety on hand decent but beyond background music it didn't accomplish much which may be more of a testament to my familiarity with the sound, which this record doesn't inch away from with any creativity. Solid, but somewhat predictable, lengthy winding songs that end up meandering on a theme.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Bolt Thrower "...For Victory" (1994)

I didn't feel like getting deep into another Metal bands catalog. This may be the second and last Bolt Thrower record I write about here. To be frank, there is little of surprise here but its also everything I love, just some good old punishing brutality and mid tempo grooves to head bang too! I picked out ...For Victory as it felt like a sister album to Mercenary. The fidelity is a notch better overall, strange considering this was recorded four years earlier. Heading into the future of their discography, newer records sound a little sterile and thinned out. Looking back, earlier releases suffers the fate of many Extreme Metal records of the time, producers had yet to figure out how to make this music sound decent, something Carcass's Heartwork would change forever.

This album leaves me with just about all the same thoughts as last time. Its Death Metal with an edge for groove and mid-tempo sways of bounce that erupt from the punishing atmosphere. Its a constant barrage, a mighty onslaught of battering drums and dense distortion guitars that churn and grind away, leading onto these out bursts of guitar groove which peak the songs. Its temperament is mean and unending with the intensity barely slowing down, its ten tracks continuing on the same warpath from start to end. Karl Willets barks and houls as the guttural front man is again a take it or leave it situation for me. His presence just tends to drift into the mood of aggression portrayed. Overall its a cracking record if you want that mood. Bar one or two songs having a riff I'm particularly keen on, its a solid, well rounded album that just delivers.

Favorite Tracks: ...For Victory, Lest We Forget, Armageddon Bound
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Poppy "I Disagree" (2020)

The only time I'd heard of American singer Poppy beforehand was in the middle of some good old "he said, she said" internet drama. The story goes that her image is modeled around her producer and collaborator's previous artist, causing creative identity controversy. Ditching the former musical partner, she's brought a new team to this record, taking an experimental stride to brush with the twisted aesthetics of Extreme Metal in a whirlwind of styles stretching from buttery Pop and lush Electronic, to the boom and bounce of Nu Metal with a little Industrial grit. I was turned onto this new release by friends but Ive got to be critical, its all a bit too contrived for my taste.

I Disagree's strenuous diversity and flashy eclecticism feels like a shallow facade as just about every pallet presented keenly remind me of other artists, styles and aesthetics heard before. This lack of originality is thrust forth by the stitched nature of its musical progressions. Sudden shifts, jolts and turns in momentum feel hollow as the music pivots from dreamy singing and sunny synths to dirty Djent guitars and hammering drums with little meaning. It leaves the song writing in an awkward place where its intent feels at the mercy of a failed attempt to be audacious and daring.

It's not all bad however. The various musical pallets play well, textures and aesthetics sound gorgeous from start to end, there just isn't any cohesion. Poppy sounds at her soft and effeminate best in the dreamy pop sections as pivots to extremities often suck away the mood in favor of nonsensical aggression. The lyrics too are a bit all over the place. J-Pop influences play out with a quirky manor that falls flat on me. "Bite your own teeth" and other lines fail to offer substance. I think Anything Like Me talks to the drama addressed above and with that some meaning and depth is found but its lacking elsewhere, another dimension that falls short.

For the most part each listen flys by. Its entertaining but with little digging in deep or getting stuck in the mind. It does however end on a fantastic high note as Sick Of The Sun actually sticks to one idea for the whole track, playing out a strange summery vibe that's slightly esoteric and ethereal. It almost feels like a two part epic as an acoustic plucked guitar akin to Metallica's Call Of The Cthulhu or Ozzy's Killer Of Giants brings us into a second phase. This then finds the album's best metallic riffs as giant meaty notes parade with mountainous stature, leading into dazzling guitar solos. Its fantastic song writing on an album that's sorely missing it for all the tracks leading to this ending. A great bow out but also the only two songs to take away from it all.

Favorite Tracks: Sick Of The Sun, Don't Go Outside
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 14 February 2020

Napalm Death "Logic Ravaged By Brute Force" (2020)

My excitement brews as alas it would seem the British Grindcore legends Napalm Death are inching closer to a new full length after line up changes and delays in coordination. Its been five years since Apex Predator, a record that has remained a disappointment in my mind for being all to sterile and lacking some mania and chaos that often sparks the magic in their music. The good news is this two track teaser EP shows promise! Although it only has the one original song, a grim, visceral cover of White Kross by Sonic Youth. It is a fitting match to this new tone and musical balance the group have brought together for their newest installment of madness.

Logic Ravaged By Brute Force plays to the bands strengths and atmospheric ability. Dissonance and a bludgeoning wall of sound brings about a crushing sound that doesn't over state itself with crisp production or over pronounced instruments. The drums are dense, a thick tone thats punishing, striking without overpowering. Beside them guitars navigate through the weaving of plucked high strings and snaky low end riffage that is forever unsettled. Its vibe is restless, below the music is driven by its baselines, pounding things forward. Above it all Barney howls in unending fury!

The song doesn't reach a conclusion, it bubbles and boils but no outbreak or slamming riff arrives, instead it revels in the tension. The bands aversion to chaotic moments of outburst are one of my favorite distinctions however with this track it feels like the right call. The songs tension simmers away as its brought to the edge. Its only one track but my reaction is that Napalm Death have pivoted to an atmosphere driven approach of tension and unease. With this powerful studio production the aesthetic is firmly in place to produce a fine record with this teaser track mustering my apatite!

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Old Tower "Seelenasche" (2020)

Alongside Drachenblut and Finsterströmung, the Dutch musician and Dungeon Synth master Old Tower completes the "dark alchemy" trilogy with this newest release. Once again its three songs of dark, spiritual, meditative music with an eerie and unsettled quality. My immediate enjoyment of Seelenasche had me pondering on my complaints around musicians or bands getting stuck on a sound, failing to progress. In this case the premise of a trilogy has firmly set expectation and they have been met. This was purposefully the musical experience I wanted, however it is the weaker of the three.

Seelenasche sounds rather reserved and less adventurous in comparison. The mystique and tension is loosened as its commonly reverberated instruments are paced at a slow tempo with soft, inviting melodies gracing the rather welcoming droning of base horns that make up the atmospheric backdrop. The Chasm Within plays out a more mysterious tone with its lead instrument sounding lost and lonely in the beginning as the song builds up its layers to then meander back into isolation. Its all fair however the sense of lurking evil or a coming event simply isn't in these tracks, they are far more pleasant, relaxed and inviting, which is fine of course.

As the final, title track, rolls around the tempo and spirit picks up, ushering in triumphant horns over a smiling base line. With a couple more layers its denser tone feels as if the sun has touched it. A sense of gleam and wonder arises, perhaps in the wake of light flooding the deep dungeons this music so often conjures. Maybe this warmer climate creates a nice conclusion for the trilogy, a final resting place. Either way I have enjoyed all thirds. I'm excited to see what Old Tower comes up with next!

Favorite Track: Seelenasche
Rating: 5/10

Monday, 10 February 2020

Bring Me The Horizon "Music To Listen To…" (2019)

Having announced a planned departure from the album format, the Sheffield outfit Bring Me The Horizon swiftly follow up on Amo within the same calendar year. It is their first EP, a format which they've announced will be the new norm and surprisingly its the groups lengthiest release to date clocking in at seventy five minutes. Its no serious affair, the eight tracks stack up the run time with two ten minute songs and another at twenty four mostly consisting of a glitched vocal snippet on loop with some accompanying rambling dialog. Its an experimental piece, unstructured output paired with a ridiculously long record title. Its song names too tend to steer to the obscure.

What's obvious on first listen is the lack of format, a lifting of restraints. Music To Listen To... plays more like a collection of jams and experiments from the studio, perhaps a window into the process before the real writing takes place. Mostly devoid of its metallic component, the groups influences from Electronic music and Ambient play out in experimental fashion, showcasing the more eclectic taste as musicians. A Devastating Liberation is simply the backing track to Why You Gotta Kick Me When I'm Down. How the two came together would be a fascinating learn. It holds up well as a dark, foreboding electronic, symphonic hybrid of monstrous magnitude.

The songs mainly showcase a variety of shades from the massive web of styles that is Electronic music. For the most part it plays well, in a laid back relaxed context. There is little in the way of direction that feels expressive or envisioned. It is mostly a mood, tone or temperament that is established and then droned out at length. Snippets, moments and textures shine like elements of the bands normal dense tone, however they are simply laid bare on their own. Its an interesting insight to the bands process and creativity but as a record it makes sense to not call this an album. I've mostly enjoyed each listen but with that lack of structure, much of the music just floats in the present, making little impact or birthing ear worms for the subconscious afterthought.

Favorite Track: A Devastating Liberation
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 7 February 2020

Fatboy Slim "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" (1998)

This record has been my recent obsession, revisiting one of the very first albums of my youth, a time when I started to develop an affinity for music. It was just before the massive singles Praise You and Right Here, Right Now were to take off. The latter is still a staple song at sports events over twenty years on. Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim broke ground with this, his sophomore record and thrust the emerging Big Beat sound onto the masses alongside acts like The Prodigy and Basement Jaxx. It's not just this record alone I've enjoyed, digging around on the genre has really scratched an itch for the break beat eccentric sound that was all to short lived.

The sound is lively, its energy grooving and this hour of music slams through stitching of samples that still feel massive all these years later. Pushing the limits, Norman's ear for beats flirts with the harsher, almost Industrial breaks. The percussion is very involved, textured and layered as the drums stack up. Its dense, heavy and a key component that plays the line well, never going to the extreme. Alongside this back bone, Norman lines the songs with obscure sampling, flourishes of electronic melody and best of all an abuse of vocal snippets on high repetition which he manipulates with a variety of effects. A subtle genre bending flows throughout as its source samples bring a range of vibes together under its power percussive persuasion.

Powering its way through its breaks, the album pivots at the end as the colorful, piano led and toned down Praise You transitions us into the final two songs. They are built up with fresh Tencho melodies on its own electronic synthesizers. The slamming beats and drum grooves still accompany but these two tracks stand out by composition as they don't pivot around a core sample, freeing the music up to more progressive structures that move through some dramatic phases and layering. Its organic, less constricted as the electronic instruments open up to more masterful manipulation.

This actually speaks to one of the records downsides, not a major issue but something that does tire after many listens. With a repetitive nature at its core, the draw backs of sampling and great chemistry can get stuck on how to add variety and progression to the music when trying to break out of the verse chorus mold. This manifests into speeding up, slowing down, a lot of tempo phasing and rapid sample repetition. Of course obnoxious snare drum riffling fires off too, that usually links back into the main beat with a little spice thrown on top. It is perhaps emerging production techniques of the time being over utilized and thus now sounding a little dated. The execution on Kalifornia however is stunning, both its build ups lead to booming amped up breaks.

All these years later its still fantastic but as an album It fails to feel like more than the sum of its parts. Its not to say there are any stinkers or songs holding it back but as an execution of the Big Beat concept, it feels very much like the best experiments have been plucked from the crop, lumped together and polished to shine. There is no doubt to the longevity of its singles however, still a common one to hear on radio and television as its woven itself into the cultural British fabric. Its a fun record that jumps all over the place with that powerful percussion holding it all together. Adoring this sound at the moment, I think I need to dive deeper into this yet another 90s sound.

Favorite Tracks: Right Here Right Now, The Rockafeller Skank, Build It Up Tear It Down, Kalifornia, Love Island, Acid 8000
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 3 February 2020

Fever Ray "Plunge Remix" (2019)

My disapproval and contempt for this record mainly stems from my own impulsive purchase of what often lands a loss in the hit or miss equation of the contentious remix album. On the whims of pure excitement, the promise of a new Fever Ray record had my handing over my cash without thought, not even a quick stream to see what this Remix of 2017's exceptional Plunge album would be like. As you might guess, I am not impressed. The bar is set low as these ninety six minutes seem to have little in the way of a quality threshold. A whole host of names, none of which I know, jump on board to tear apart the instrumentals, with Fever's voice held together to form mere semblances of the original material. She is the highlight, her singing holds up to some of the monstrosities on here. It feels like a dumping ground for half baked beats and b-sides that have been lumped together, making little of interest to find new avenues through old roads. Its a wasted opertunity.

For the majority of songs, melody or song structure seems to be of little importance. Much of these remixes play like experimental exercises in rhythmic noise, abstractions of Dance and Club music. Electronic percussion patters around aimlessly maligning the samples and vocals snippets of the source material with uninspiring results. The energy is dull and with its reasonable songs squished into the first few numbers, its a long and painful ride. I can empathize that this isn't my preferred style of music, these sub par tracks may offer some intrigue to fans but Id be hard pressed to believe anyone would enjoy such stinking lows as Rip Me's "rework" of Idk About You. Its stark baselines, minimal whirl Trance synths and desolate deployment of harsh kicks is an absolute calamity of anti ideals assaulting the listener.

There is unfortunately a couple of equally bad songs that test my tolerance. I hope this serves me as a remind that Remix albums can be foul. This might be one of the worst in recent memory, perhaps it could rival Meow The Jewels. The take away is that this is a novel record, maybe not even for the die hard fans. I'd like a refund but the music economy doesn't work that way. I'm joking... or am I?

Rating: 2/10