Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Hypocrisy "Worship" (2021)

 
Of all the familiarity fatigue I've endured of late, I was actually itching for an unchanged dose of Hypocrisy's alien paranoia breed of mid-tempo Atmospheric Death Metal. Led by a key figure in the Scandinavian Metal scene, producer Peter Tägtgren resurrects his passion project after an eight year absence to show the formula is still fun. Thematically, the conspiratorial inspirations are oddly relevant again,  finding some adaptations to fraught social topics of our pandemic age. Where they are less relevant is in the Metal scene itself. Despite Peter's many accolades, Hypocrisy have always been an underdog in my eyes. Spotting a shirt or jacket patch at a Metal festival can be a perils task despite their relative consistency over decades.

Worship is business as usual. The dynamic melding of its thrashing, pummeling rhythm guitars and the soaring gleam shining from tangled melodic leads tinged in astral inflections are the riveting experience I adored this band for. The pallet sways between its heavier riff led intensities and thematic melodic gloss that embellishes its perpetual sense of other worldly matters. Over top roars Peter with his earthly guttural shouts. They are dense growls but the slower cadence lets the words decipher and emanate a brutal forcefulness to intact his conspiratorial words. The percussion reinforces everything with timely patterns and grooves, playing a subtle roll as blast beats and even double pedals are a little less infrequent than one might expect for Death Metal but of course Hypocrisy's angle has always been an emphasis on atmosphere and scenic imagination. The drum grooves emphasis that sense of scale.

These tracks don't have much in the way of variety between them. With straight forward song structures the album rolls on with not a lot of flash in the pan. The songs mostly rely on trixy dazzling guitar licks and stomping grooves with the occasional intensity change ups leaving the guitars out for a baseline to rumble. They recycle their identity for the most part with We're The Walking Dead feeling like a rehash of many previous takes of slow brooding mood and atmosphere. In fact much of the record dives into compositions that feels very akin to previous songs you could cherry pick from their extensive discography. They Will Arrive does spring a surprise with its gritty low chord chugging groove setting off an alarming horn of some sort. It was something different of which Worship doesn't have much, however I turned up to hear Hypocrisy do what they do best. All of these songs are class without a weak link.
 
On the lyrical front its conspiratorial topicality and confrontation with our modern ills of disinformation and institutional distrust seems like a headache avoided. There is on claim of injecting two million people with HIV but otherwise its mostly the classic tinfoil hat tales of Illuminati and shadowy cabals of conspiring between alien demigods and corrupt elites. Essentially the traditional themes are tainted by modern polarization. However the third track Chemical Whore strikes right on the nerve of the still ongoing epidemic of dangerous pharmaceutical drugs peddled for profits by a increasingly dubious medical industry. To my ears its all a fair game of perspective and expression with nothing nefarious within. Worship is a solid delivery on exactly what I was in the mood for. A great band to check out if your a Metalhead who's not crossed them before. Their self titled album is my favorite, one I'm tempted to write up on soon.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 6 December 2021

Can't Swim "Change Of Plans" (2021)

 

Don't be fooled, the oddly Gothic, Danzig alike album cover doesn't accurately reflect the emotive suburban vibes this group emanate. Can't Swim are my personal antidote to the Emo / Screamo scenes I turned a nose up at in my youth. These millennial musicians revive the glory of their past years, bringing musical maturity to their first world, woe ridden lyrics. With poppy song structures, catchy hooks and a melodic tint to garnish, Change Of Plans is the bands third but sadly the least impressive, possibly a case of familiarity as the band stick firmly to what works with a little twist of anger.

With Pop-Punk themes of adversity lacking troubles. Social squabbles, relationship woes and self doubts, the lyrics play from a light hearted teenage place with just a sprinkle of maturity. These are adult problems expressed with the lens of youthful angsty ideas that sway it far enough from perils. Its left in a precarious place where you can leave or take it. Personally Its not a bother but bar one or two lines I didn't find much to connect with, however the delivery and honesty in LoPorto's vocals is charming. The vulnerability and self coddling style is endearing, often manifesting into a hook with a knack to make his words catchy and flow with the groove.

The music is carved up into the typical inflections, lots of moody melodic plucked acoustic chords that bleed into vibrant distortion tones with all degrees wedged in between. Most these songs have a layer of aggression that sways back and forth from its guitars. Its not to adventurous, sticking to typical song structures and compositions with plenty of bright, harmonious singing. The point would be that they do this so well.

Where things detour is with a stronger sense of Hardcore and breakdown energy which the genre is adjacent too. On three or four tracks they step into this space boldly, not something I remember from their previous records. Better Luck Next Time and its jaunting breakdown goes full in on the aggression with palm mute chugs and tropes from the more metallic end of the spectrum. Sense Of Humor and its "Look who's laughing now" lyric slaps another breakdown in a track It doesn't feel fit for.

Whats interesting is how well executed these ideas are, the problem is they don't fit the overall mood which tends to be more introspective and mall shop sorrows than anger fueled resolution. A couple other songs have a breakdown stitched on the end and whenever it comes around, it feels like a sudden shift. Despite this jarring union of ideas, Change Of Plans is solid with plenty of catchy tunes. Its one to throw into the shuffle playlist and see what sticks with time.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Lena Raine "Celeste Original Soundtrack" (2018)

 

Wholly impressed by the new Caves & Cliffs soundtrack, I set out to discover more about Lena Raine's music. Celeste has been one heck of a place to start! I've never touched, or even seen the original game. Having now built up a world of emotions absorbing its soundtrack, an interesting experience awaits me if ever I explore the source of inspiration for such this mesmerizing music. She has struck me as a musician with a voice that's unique, a niche that will take much time and many records to decipher. Just taking my first steps, I'm sure it will be another wonderful journey.

Aligning glossy pristine pianos with buzz saw synths vaguely reminiscent of chip tune aesthetics and an assortment of virtual instruments, Lena flirts with the joys of digital imagination and fantasy with the real emotions they can evoke. The deep feels are first felt on First Steps. The lush piano and swirling synth melodies allure and blossom with a swell of reversing base synth that just elevates everything already heard to a magical place. Following up with a nine minute epic, Resurrections builds steadily to an end section of bustling percussion dancing melody that is entrancing every time. 

From here a meaty mountain of music follows, totaling one hundred minutes of scenic songs flowing back and forth to its main theme with a few short transitional sequences between. The first stretch of songs bar the opening three drift into dark places. Scattered And Lost ushers in eerie horror melodies and upheavals of frantic drumming, quite the maniac vibes in brief moments. Anxiety pushes hard with its unsettling siren like synths and deep brooding saw waves before it collapses into a place beyond the pale, the soothingly sombre space of pain and suffering past by.

With Madaline And Theo we come out on the other side, ready to encounter the main theme again along with some seriously lively and ambitious instrumentation. It swaying from calm ambiences to busy, bustling layers of synth and animated percussion is wonderful, all with an emotional narrative that leads me to think this game is heavily story driven. With an eleven minute epic, Reach For The Summit, we are pulled into the final stretch as its big thematic swells leads us to satisfying, conclusive vibes with a teary, solemn ending played out through My Dearest Friends.

As a record, Celeste is a journey, a tale, an adventure, a remarkable one too! Its most impressive aspects are found in the busy and at times cluttered compositions that do not shy away from complexity or abrasion. It navigates them remarkably, holding onto a core theme and always having fantastical melody and direction at its side. Best of all its progressive song writing style keeps the music evolving and unraveling as even returning melodies and themes get reworked, told again through multiple lenses. Through all this the wonderment, adventure and emotional siring never ceases! Its quite remarkable.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Cane Hill "Krewe De La Mort, Vol. 2" (2021)

 

Following up on the first part of Krewe De La Mort, American Nu Metal revivalists Cane Hill return with two more reasonable songs for the arsenal. So far the best I've heard of this band was when deviating from the norm, with their Alice In Chains inspired Kill The Sun EP. Volume 2 stays on track, delivering high octane Metal. Bolstering massive Djent riffs, groove syncopation and a textural layer of Electro-Industrial noise, its quite the throttling force that comes with a sensitive side.

This time around it feels like vocalist Elijah Witt gets to lead the way with his burly yet introspective voice. Blood & Honey kicks things off with boombastic riffs and ridiculous low end guitar noise. His screams and shouts forgettable but its the pivot to energetic clean vocals that bless both tracks. He infuses the song with a wonderful melodic character, amplified by clean guitar notes gleaming in the instrumental behind him. Its a busy track but that focal point makes it work, the lyrics carrying weight too.

Busting in with roaring, triumphant Heavy Metal guitar solos, both tracks emanate "Festival Metal" vibes fit for a big outdoor stage. The following Bleed When You Ask Me goes even harder on the guitar grooves. The metallic dissonance tends to wash away into a noisy backdrop with Elijah doing all the heavy lifting. His voice forges a path through a racket of thumping syncopation. Without him this would of been dull.

Rating: 2/10

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Soley "Mother Melancholia" (2021)

 

Last Christmas I experienced the magical resonance of a sparkling wintry record, Endless Summer. On the heals of that excitement I leaped upon this latest release. What I've found is far from that beauty and spirited charm. As implied in its name and powerful album art, Mother Melancholia wallows in the pains of an eternal attachment to a melancholy Soley explores with her music. This time the construct is sparse and atmospheric. Little inklings of song, blossoms out of the darkness with chilling piano melodies fading into bleak elongated ambiences aligned with hints of deviousness on tracks like Parasite and Elegia.

 There are scarce moments of warmth but Soley mostly sings with shyness from a vulnerable place. Accompanied by lonely brooding instrumentation the record often feels sad and lost, as if wandering through limbo for an eternity. Many of the compositions leads to swells as the gentle atmospheres steadily gather gusto. The devilishly slow and sluggish Blows Up has a grabbing two note guitar riff to conclude the progress. Its so apt and timely as much of the record is with its aesthetic and musical choices. Many ideas play out to a point.

Mother Melancholia is a fine record, bravely exploring despairing lonely spaces and other degrees of human sorrow. Where it falters is perhaps in the listeners mood. Contented to relax and absorb, then its a fine experience but its charm is a calm current to gently drift with. There isn't a lot to jump to for hits of excitement and skipping around the track listing reveals a lot of lengthy ambiences. A fine but fair record. I do like the darkly mourning of Soley's performances but without a counterpart, it does feel hard to get excited about in its persistent gloominess.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 26 November 2021

Gelure "The Candlelight Tomes" (2021)

This record found me in my lowest point of recent years. Sick with double ear infections, a lot of music was discernible and difficult to digest, even if I knew it already! Just as more frequencies were slowly returning, this soft, warm and airy set of songs crossed my path at the perfect time. My initial wonderment was heightened by the days of ill health prior. Since its charm has waned but their is no doubt The Candlelight Tomes has a flavor distinct from the norms of decrepit Dungeon Synth.

Reminiscent of Lord Lovidicus's melodic evolution, Gelure moves to the light, seeking light and warmth through its perpetual haze of angelic choral chants that uplift the tone at every turn. It does so while retaining a classic sense of nostalgia and ancient mystery. Its beautiful pallet of wondrous synth instruments are mixed well with enough fogginess to disguise the mechanical performance of its likely VSTs.

Initially the aesthetic is preformed with a meandering direction. Mood setting and atmosphere the initial result. The Bygone Hall Of The Tower Of Wailing Moons introduced medieval melody akin to Fief and some bombast with deep percussive tom drums. Its a direction that doesn't yield anything special. Frostcrown Of The Ice Meadow on the other hand uses its drums to crawl at a dreary pace. Its chilling, icy synths and lonely meandering melodies remind me of Lycia's Darkwave classic Cold.

The following songs exchange between these two derivatives without a sense of something unique. The point I am trying to land, is the promise of its initial two songs. They had quite the chemistry, simple in composition with the potential to manifest into something larger, instead the following songs felt all to similar for a seasoned Dungeon Synth explorer. I love this genre but the common theme of late seems to be initial excitement that dissipates into a familiarity. Some freshness Is what I seek.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Bæst "Necro Sapiens" (2021)

 

Released in March of this year, this attempted behemoth of Death Metal disgust, Necro Sapiens, managed to slip under my radar! In previous efforts I've described Bæst as the Danish Bloodbath for similarities musically but more notably for the dense guttural roars of Simon Olsen which mirror that of legend Mikael Åkerfeldt from Opeth.

At forty four minutes this third record has felt like a meaty affair on every occasion. Its search of grandeur ever-present as grueling themes play out with an unrelenting intensity. Reaching for the epic, its march of brutality is a grinding one. The music gasps for breaths of air while strangulated by the demonic roars of Olsen who drowns out any melodic refrains to lighten the tone. That intensity seemingly holding it back.

As so often a Death Metal record does, an arsenal of riffs is lined up for assault. Necro Sapiens deploys all forms, from evil melodic inflections to slamming pummels of chugging palm mutes with all in between. The bad news is the lack of originality or freshness. At this point in a stagnant genre, the ideas have all been heard before and the arrangements in search of greatness seemed to fall ill of its own medicine.

I can hear the vision, a careful composition of riffs exchanging brutality and dramatic themes with its unruly lyrics peering into wretched biblical filth of angels and demons and the scourge of humanity. Its all to be expected however it just doesn't click! I'm left with nowhere to point for an excuse, the performance and execution is excellent, the record sounds wonderfully rich and powerful yet with every listen these songs fail to muster that adrenaline charged excitement. I'm left wondering is it me or the music?

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Den Sorte Død "Den Sorte Død" (2021)


All to keen to explore this newly discovered Berlin School niche, I snapped up this side project by Offermose. Now, I feel a little burned by an impulse decision. What I initially heard at a glance alludes me through this dreary bleak experience that Den Sorte Død is. Translated to The Black Death, its inspiration makes sense of its glumly harrowing tone that hopelessly drifts through a sombre graveness. Track after track drones with an empty loneliness devoid of hope and wallowing in defeat.

This context has given me a greater respect for the record but before learning of this, I was somewhat dulled by it, having anticipated a more adventurous set of songs. Instead its a grueling journey of pale sorrow, a defeated human spirit trapped in perpetual misery, drifting from place to place with no uplift insight. The occasional swells of dark and menacing music gives a sense of seeing the horrors, carcasses piled high and the burning of bodies, a particularly grim endurance for any soul.

 Without the context, these aesthetics gave me strong cosmic vibes. Atmospheric synthetic strings and meandering saw wave melodies painted the astral skies at night. Thus initially it reminded me more so of Grimrik. There is also a ghostly wobbling synth instrument suggestive of cheesy old school horror soundtracks. Because of this it all felt a bit empty, set in the vacuum of space with an eternally drifting nature. I've come to enjoy it more now, the ending of Det Tabte Slag being a memorable note as it descends into gristly and unsettled territory but otherwise I could of passed this one by.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Forest Shrine "Forest Shrine" (2020)

 

I don't recall ever hearing a record so suited to being labeled a Burzum inspiration. Right from the offset its distinct Casio keyboard tones resemble that lonely spell cast by classic Tomhet. The second song then does a remarkable job emulating the timeless gristly low-fi guitar tone that made Filosofem. The heart of this seven track record seems magnetized by the vision Varg had, with his searingly disparate and oddly spiritual music. Both with the chilling cold aggression of Black Metal and the yet to be named keyboard compositions now known as Dungeon Synth.

 Forest Shrine feels like a convergence of the two, dealing in a nostalgia of both theme and one mans creativity. Its all there in the tone choices and composition style but loses sight, or perhaps never aims to recreate that peculiar esoteric loneliness Burzum captured. Instead, through its melodies and sense of scale, finds the more castles and crypts side of Dungeon Synth with big scores of synth notations drummed into action by loosely military percussive marches of driving snare rhythms.

As I dissect the record for "review" it becomes clear to me I've gotten hung up on the first two track and the resemblance to Varg's works. The second is the only use of distortion guitar and beyond them the album blossoms into its own thing for the most part. The melodies and general direction gather quite the upbeat tone with its militant percussion giving off castle and king vibes. One can see the vast landscapes of forests leading to the hill on the castle. It fondly reminds me of Sequestered Keep with far less of the jovial medieval vibes. All in all its a great little record to enjoy, however being so impressed by the opening likeness, I would love to hear more of that!

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Spellling "Mazy Fly" (2019)

Having been dazzled by an enchanting music experience with The Turning Wheel, this sophomore predecessor suffers the fate a shadow can cast. Its a notable experience Ive had on this journey when turning back the ticking hands of time. Mazy Fly has the same peculiar chemistry, a heart of soul espousing an eclectic convergence of styes and aesthetics. My lack of indulgence came about in its comparatively less nuanced approach. The brash 808 percussive pallet in the opening tracks exemplifying this bare bones feeling where the shades of chemistry seem obvious and separated.

Melted Wings brings out an of tune violin for an ambiguous dance into sorrows before being interspersed with spacey synth tones. Its a little unclear what the purpose is but followed up by more borderline cheesy, brash and bold synth tones, the melding of styles finds a spark on Hard To Please. Rubbing up against stiff percussion, its dreamy echoing Ethereal backdrop reminiscent of Julie Cruise finds much gusto as the strong synths bloom inline with Spellling's charming soulful singing.

For me this mid track was very much the albums crescendo, a peak reached that its successor cruised along. The rest of the record has these peculiar arrangements of Neo Soul, Chamber Pop, Psychedelia and Electronic aesthetics that don't quite align with the singing. The vocals swell with power and cower with breathy vulnerability but for all the orchestration animating away, It didn't resonate on the same wavelength as my first and powerful introduction to this interesting artist. I think I will leave the exploration here and keep an ear out for future releases!

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Cult Of The Damned "The Church Of" (2021)

 

UK Hip Hop collective Cult Of The Damned return for a beef seventy one minute sophomore record of straight rhymes and beats. The Church Of is stylistically stagnant with their formula unchanged. 90s beats and a production style leaning to the dark, gritty, sombre tones suiting the obnoxious, braggadocios and often self depreciating rhyme schemes. The group deploy their words with a scarcity of hook and chorus, putting a lot of pressure on their verses to carry the album. The backing instrumentals trend towards a subtler roll of tone setting and atmosphere building as opposed to rocking banging beats which it does with a handful of tracks.

With such a large set of tracks the cracks emerge after just a few listens as the quality of rhymes appear to diverge. The mostly Wu-Tang free association style gives the Cult a lot of creative room for pages of clever, witty and pun ridden rhymes. The issue is this record is a book and quickly do the best bits feel sparse between mediocrity as the beats loose keenness in repetition. Sticking to their exaggerated, unhinged, sleaze embracing personas the lyrical creativity feels stale with familiarity. Individuals cadences and tone of voices don't move a budge. Still fun and expressive but drawn out over this duration it gets a little dull with the overall temperament unable to shift.

Pushing off the criticism, there is greatness to be found here. All the beats are solid, however it always seems to be the stronger cuts that house my preferred verses. Norman's Theme, Gung Foo, Step, Good News and the dark and gristly nine minute epic Henry Shots, all have great chemistry. Once again Bill Shanks and Tony Broke are on great form with the better lines. It would I've been nice to hear more of Broke who is absent on too many of these tracks. To wrap it up, The Church Of doesn't move the needle stylistically or thematically in any direction, so there are no surprises from a group who's style doesn't always embody the highest standards.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Hexenkraft "Gravity And Impact Volume I" (2021)

 

Within exception to the fifth of five tracks, this brief EP of two minute songs is quite the departure from the dark Synthwave sound Hexenkraft is known for. Still keeping its sense of diabolic mischief intact, the music pivots to a meld of momentous electronic aesthetic percussion and world building cinematic instrumentation. These brief encounters feel like an exploration into territory Ive heard with other artists before hand, an ambitious overlap between classical instrumentation, cinematic scores and lively yet ambiguous electronic production. The orchestration on Omega Arcane a keen memory of a style and feeling not to dissimilar from this one.

Retaining a little of its outer space evil chills, these compositions are grounded to earth by bold string sections, swells of horns and sprinklings of warm human melody. It feels at odds with its busy web of percussive noise that tend to equal the surges of sound its counterpart directs. The chemistry is just right, the two play off one another with tension and theatrics as the music ebbs and flows in a state of constant unrest. Quite the impressive step forward with more vision and image than melody or groove.

Its final song Light Of The Champion abridges the past with its arpeggio base synths and bright synthetic leads. With cheesy 80s synth tom drums it playing right into the Synthwave trope with not much of a connection to the chemistry heard in the four songs before. Perhaps it was the song that kicked off this new direction. Although brief in duration, this EP shows quite a matured evolution that I look forward to hearing more of in part two!

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Dynatron "Origins" (2021)

 

Home to Dan Terminus, Irreversible Mechanism & Chaos Moon, Blood Music has been a great spot to pick up music I know I'll enjoy. With the label offering up a new, sleek, nightly Synthwave album, I felt lured in for another round with a style I now know well. Origins doesn't offer up any surprises for this listener but serves as a masterful execution of ideas and aesthetics I'm fond of. New to Dynatron, this one man band and producer is fondly reminiscent of Oscillotron, Contact and Grimrik.

And with familiarity and the easy pace of this record, it very much becomes background music, distilling with its stylish cool atmosphere, free of worry and tension. As the percussion pounds with its rock steady marching groove, one breezes through the night lights with that common feeling of being safe in a warm automobile watching the passing lights go by. The synths are gorgeous, pristine and lush, they muster the power of the saw wave's gusto yet glide smoothly throughout this experience.

A surprise awaits in the opening as deep, dense and gristly distortion guitars add a thick wall of gravity to the mix with their lumbering chugging between drawn out power chords. The idea isn't revisited again as much of the albums focus shifts to ideas its brighter, bold melodic leads evoke. They play dazzling melodies with a progressive flair to them, its what reminded me most of the aforementioned Contact.

And so the nine tracks whirl by with their particular identities somewhat suppressed by the consistent tone and perpetual pounding of snare and base kick. It flirts with darkly distortion, textural noises that add some ambiguity. Its lead instruments steer a little alien, inhuman, cosmic and mischievous in places but never does it lean to hard on any of these details. Its all easy listening, night life Synthwave, executed stunningly but a tad underwhelming in its inability to escape the rich atmosphere it locks into.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Mayhem "Daemon" (2019)

 

I'm not sure when exactly I picked this record up but with Mayhem confined to the list of adored artists I'd consider far past their prime, Daemon must have been thrown straight to phone for shuffle. It may have taken years but a few months back, a song of this record really caught my ear. What was this chilling cold, deviously devilish Black Metal so reminiscent of the classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas? To some surprise it was the band themselves, reunited with Attilia Csihar and conjuring a sinister storm reminiscent of the vision Euronymous's chillingly morbid guitars evoked.

I'd always thought highly of the bands direction post their classic debut. They always looked for new experimental avenues to explore but eventually my interest in the morphing directions dropped off over the last decade or so. Ive read this record came off the back of touring De Mysteriis in full. Clearly those performances primed them for Daemon which conjures that primal darkness within a modern, crisp, sinister production provided by Necromorbus, with one of the worst "evil" names I've ever heard.

The two bonus tracks Everlasting Dying Flame and Black Glass Communion feel like the albums starting point creatively. Both rehash classic riffing styles, baselines and drum patterns from De Mysteriis. In my ears they are songs to get the writing process underway with this particular aesthetic and spirit in mind. The ten tracks that make up the actual record have similar moments but do well at feeling like an extension of that bleak ghostly evil the original conjured. Attila is the champion here, growling raspy demonic cries of malice between authoritative clergy jeers steeped in foul corruption.

Behind him Hellhammer is as on form and exciting as ever, battering away with thunderous intent and a distinct presences that's never left him. The duo of Ghul and Teloch forge moments of wicked and heinous energy between the broodier riffs that run the mills of classic Black Metal. Many moments of brilliance emerge on the likes of Agenda Ignis, Malum, Falsified And Hated and the grinding, unrelenting discordance of Worhtless Abominations Destroyed, a personal favorite of mine here.

My main issues is with whats between. The routine of snakey tremelo picked guitar lines and power chord shredding gets a little stale after many spins. Attila carries it with his wild and varied theatrics but the music beneath doesn't always have the gravitas it needs to be special. This may be a result of a deep familiarity with this style so many others have re-walked over the years. Its not to take away from the overall experience though. This was a fun and demonic ride back into that darkness, this shade however feels more visual and nefarious than its chillingly morbid counterpart.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 5 November 2021

Poppy "Flux" (2021)

 

Not one to stick with a sound for long, Poppy moves on from the eclectic aesthetic extremities of I Disagree and metallic framework, now plunging deep into the 90s with a wash of warm hearted Grunge, Pop Punk, Alternative Rock & Dream Pop! This nostalgic lens that quite a few bands lean on these days serves up a huge advantage in terms of variety. Flux capitalizes on this fortunate position, sounding like its from an era but not being cast to one mold as many of its inspirations would have been.

The tracks Hysteria and As Strange As It Seems highlight this perfectly. Both resurrect dreamy Shoegazing guitar tones and the hazy production tricks of My Bloody Valentine's acclaimed Loveless without burdening the listener through a whole album of its dreary ambling nature. All songs have their shade of influences, in different degrees, from a moody Her too the amped up head banger Lessen The Damage.

The variety is where the magic is at. Originality not a concern as her usual collaborators and album producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen provide some amazingly written songs and gorgeous guitar tones in many flavors to flesh out the record wonderfully around her voice. The track arrangement is smooth too, shifting in temperament and intensity to keep things exciting and brief at only thirty two minutes.

I'm not sure that Poppy herself holds much of the dazzle. Her performances don't seem all too defining. The instrumentals make the songs more so than her singing. Her softer range is endearing but when reaching for more energy she lacks a strong character as the nostalgic lens has her singing in the shadow of anothers style. Themes and lyrics are locked in well, hooks and timings ripe but its missing a shine.

 Flux has been fun and refreshing, a spirited journey back into the 90s. With a broader sense of ideas to draw on it excels without doing anything remarkable or unexpected. Being keen on this era it was all to easy to get sucked but after many spins it firmly resides in that space where I'm not sure if these numbers will stick. So for now the record goes into shuffle, awaiting to see if its resurrection will be rewarding.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Izioq "Medieval Memory" (2021)

 

Straight of the back of the mellow indulgence Kyokan, we get another Izioq release that is also quite different from the norm. It turns out, this brief five track eighteen minute release is inspired by the intro music from my Hermitcraft episodes, originally composed by Jotun, a side project of Lord Lovidicus. Medieval Memory essentially rebuilds a similar pallet of 90s dance percussion and jovial rave synths, deployed in that untypical melodic style for these aesthetics. As a result, a similar spell is cast.

The title track, split in two parts, humbles with its shimmering lead melody adding a warmth and gloss to the underlying synths that jostle away rhythmically. The driving dance floor bass on the second half to see the record out is a nice hail to the club aesthetic. Its brief 70s Electronic lead instrument another nice compliment too. Between those two halves, the three parts of Just In Dreams sound a little less polished and without focus, residing in the duller arrangement of these synths.

Each track experiments with some compositional ideas and aesthetics, venturing its through the musical motions. Parts two and three seem to meander further adrift with less engaging melodies and arrangements. Its been a pleasant surprise to see this niche musical idea embraced again. However, without advancing the concept it has been a little dull for me personally, revisiting a style I once binged to death around ten years ago. Definitely worth a listen if your a fan of the Jotun project.

 Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Limp Bizkit "Still Sucks" (2021)

 
 
Its finally here! The album I thought might never see the light of day. Ten years ago with Gold Cobra, it seemed the Nu Metal kings were about to hit a groove with new singles being released in the following years. Interestingly, none of those them made the cut. The story goes that front man Fred Durst has been continually dissatisfied with his contributions, going back and forth to the studio, unable to finish the project. Its possible that much of the instrumental material here was ready eight years ago!

Its that creative divide the records struggles with, as much of what works hinges on Fred's lyrics which are mostly corny. The opening track Out Of Style has Wes Borland delivering his unique style with groovy chunks of guitar noise landing like punches as Otto brings the tight bouncy drumming and DJ Lethal fleshes out the texture with turntable scratches. Sadly its a fluffed opener as the doubt that delayed this record seems all too obvious. The verse rhymes are aimless and cheesy, finding no gratification with a hook or chorus either. Despite being corny, Fred nailed this twenty years ago with attitude and obnoxiousness. It seems that spark is long gone.

Fortunately the following Dirty Rotten Bizkit steers the overall theme to this "we suck", self deprecating notion that suits Limp Bizkit so well at this point in time. Still hated by many but adored by fans it works like a shield to deter a serious focus on what Fred is up to as you could write a book on the amount of silly rhymes he drops. Its all about having fun and Dad Vibes really leans into that. Its followed up by Turn It Up, Bitch which sounds like a classic 90s House Of Pain instrumental, of course the link here is self evident! They run the Hip Hop routine again with more beats and rhymes at the end with Snacky Poo, which might have the best rhymes of the record.

This side of the band and the overall theme converges wonderfully on Love The Hate as an oddball warbling bass noise rumbles under Otto's tight grooves. Fred and a guest play out a typical hater conversation about his band, steering it wonderfully to that "I listened to them when I was a kid" line. As it goes most the hate they get came from MTV generation kids that once loved them. Personally I never let go of that juvenile enthusiasm, there is just too much fun to be had with the classic LB!

Elsewhere on the record variety is found in droves. Barnacle rocks and roars like a Nirvana 90s grunge classic, deploying all the tropes of that style. You Bring Out The Worst In Me hails back to some of the bands lighter and melodic tracks while simultaneously deploying one of its grittiest grooves as Fred screams and Wes bludgeons his guitar. Pill Popper sounds somewhat like a Ministry track with its driving industrial snare drum. The variety here is fun and definitely on the nostalgic side.

Overall Still Sucks is fun because it has variety and the band don't take themselves to seriously. The lead single Don't Change stands out like a sore thumb tho. It seems it wasn't written by the band and that shows. The emotional angle and serious moody temperament just doesn't suit Fred at all. Other than a few blemishes, LB mostly walk the line well just having some good old goofy fun and banging out the jams!

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 1 November 2021

Ministry "Moral Hygiene" (2021)

My first few spins of this record had me in an astonishment I wasn't sure would hold. With my listening pleasures interrupted by a sickness impairing my ability to hear, I now return to Moral Hygiene with that initial exuberance intact. It would seem that forty years as Ministry has armed these rebellious musicians with a craft and voice to boldly express their social-political dissatisfaction with a vigor that reaches back through the years. The new music pulls up shades of many avenues explored before in their back catalog. The result is magnetic, gradually pulling you into its grasp track by track.

Things start gently, brooding a dystopian atmosphere with chunks of grisly guitar melody, echoing shouts roaring over the marching baseline and shuffling percussion. If not for the distinctive use of vocal snippets it could easily be mistaken for a modern Killing Joke track, a band that massively influenced them. The gears then shift up with Sabotage Is Sex. A busy throbbing baseline drives the track forward with a maddening power and groove as Jello Biafra lends his classic voice to the growing criticisms.

The albums theme blossoms as Disinformation samples former president Trump's voice back into the mix to shine a light on the fake news problem we all face in this polarized time. Typically his words are manipulated as are that of various newscasters. Personally I love the dystopian tone and contrast it stirs in the reflection of Edward Snowden's trusting words. Unsurprisingly there is no holding back when it comes to the political sphere with Greta Thunberg and other key voices in the world being sampled in to contextualize the themes that play out in these broody songs.

The Industrial Metal madness plays out over the next few tracks in its various shades. With each spin I'm grabbed intensely as its lyrics and snippets give me much food for thought and reflection. Then things reach a sublime height of madness with the two closing songs. Death Toll marches a carnival baseline groove through Kenneth Copeland's absurd declarations of interventions by God in the annihilation of Covid-19. Contrasted against the rising death toll... Its just a work of art in my mind.

It rolls into TV Song #6 seamlessly to frighten you out of its hypnotic persuasion. Toying with gristly Grindcore blast beats, ridiculous adrenaline fueled instrumentation and noise manipulation, the whole affair ends with a deliberate lack of resolve. Its as if there are no answers to the topics anguished over. The world is in strange place and the solutions are yet to be found. Its chilling but musically thrilling. I'm amazed Ministry came back so strong. At a time when I am thinking of trying to get out of my groove and find new artists, turning this one down would of been an unknown tragedy!

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Izioq "Kyokan" (2021)

 

Three years on from Hey Listen! The return of Izioq comes with a big shift in style as this supposed game soundtrack ushers in moody atmospheres and a restful pace in the wake of its often upbeat, energetic and wondrous childlike playfulness. I say supposed because I can find no information on what game this is for, however it might simply be a creative exercise in writing music to compliment a particular vision.

  Having played the short twenty minute record often while playing Minecraft, I've found its composition to be minimally apt for conjuring a setting. Each track finds its flavor with the bare bones of instruments and percussion required, often leaning into the power of the space between sounds. Tonally they can be quite different acoustic guitar tones offering a contrast to the synth keys and snappy drums heard.

The album art suits its emotional resonance. A setting sun, the end of a day, finality, conclusion. Kyokan feels lightly sombre and melancholy. With no fear, dread or darkness, the music still comes from a place of warmth and safety but its odd poise suggests a sadness that sometimes visits at the end of something beautiful, hence a setting sun, bringing to end a day filled with joyous memories.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Offermose "Stilhedens Tårn" (2020)

 

The journey continues, as it always does, now I find myself floundering blindly into a new scene. So familiar, yet built on a different tonality. The engulfing spells of Dark Ambient and nostalgic mystique of Dungeon Synth, channeled through shivering soundscapes, find a convergence on classic synth sounds resurrected from decades gone by. Known as Berlin School, my introduction has come through a musical darkness which I adore. Arcanist was my first and now I'm unearthing more of these broody plunges into the shadowy realms. Hinged on electronic tones, keys and modern conventions that are more often seen as fun and entertaining synthetic instruments than ones to conjure the eerie and ambiguous as Offermose does here.

With all that said, Stilhedens Tårn and its six chapters use this electronic force sparingly, acting more as atmospheric conjurings that journey somberly and morph into satisfying, driving swells of emotion. The haunting whirl of winds, unsettling ambiences and rustling sounds of nature nestle a rich sound design for its synths to bring haunting drones and chilling melodies too. The whole affair feels organic and natural as its potentially pristine synths are dressed down with an aesthetic tarnishing to ground the music in an earthly feeling. It does come in degrees though, Sjælens Ruin finds itself morphed midway by tight synth arrangements, playing out woven around a steady and simple percussive groove of snare and bass kick.

Much of this record lingers on an ambiguous spot, lonely yet beautiful. Meditative and broody but never drifting to far to the bleak, its poise hints at something devious with discernible human voices creeping into the backdrop on occasion. It all unravels with Tvillingeflamme as the pains of a despairing voice are muffled under a sinister vampiric synth. The arrival of a demonic voice and sounds of strikes paints a torturous scene in the imagination as the flame of the song flickers out with a funeral macabre air to it. A stunning way to seal off a wandering set of mysterious musical spells.

Rating 7/10

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Lena Raine & Kumi Tanioka "Minecraft: Caves & Cliffs (Original Game Soundtrack)" (2021)

 

Following in the footsteps of C418's iconic Minecraft Soundtrack could of well been a daunting task. It doesn't seem to be so for Lena Raine, who has assumed the role of lead composer with no hiccups or birthing pains. Her contributions so far have been both apt and inspiring. The folks at Mojang have made the smart decision to stick with the powers of soft ambiguity and melodic resonance that powered the original music. Lena however brings a different flavor that suits the games spirit yet deters from its electronic origins a little. This new collection of songs stands tall alongside the originals, adding a new and welcomed variety to Minecraft's stellar atmosphere.

With four of her contributions, the influence of great ambient composers is a clear one. The luscious reverberations of minimal yet spellbinding pianos has an immediate parallel to Brian Eno & Harold Budd's memorizing The Plateaux Of Mirror. The airy ambience and spacious echos give magic to the enchanting piano performance. With it, however, comes a more adventures spirit! Chirpy key chops and subtle percussive drives on Stand Tall bring a playful charm. Left To Bloom and Wending brood groaning textural tones into the songs, worming from humble beginnings into dense swells of mood. The latter brings in these dreamy slices of bass guitar, crashing down to earth with slabs of notes. Song four, Infinite Amethyst, perhaps comes closest to home.

Left out of the game itself, for now, Ancestry is exciting in its embracing of the darkness. Set for the Deep Dark biome, its pushes into the shadows with deep swells of bass noise and shimmering sounds held only to the light by the echos of a piano that gently pulls the explorer through. Its conclusion is thrilling too as chilling alien voices can be heard, perhaps the voice of the Warden itself? Otherside Is the other track to break the tone. As an in-game record disc, its lively drumming, skipping pace and layered composition somehow holds over a little of that classic ambiguity, as the main upbeat melody and lead instruments feel sent from anothers quirky dream.

Sadly, Kumi Tanioka's three contributions feel underwhelming in comparison. If intentionally sparser songs to pace the games soundtrack, then so be it. To me, they mostly play like stripped down versions of the first four mentioned tracks. The sombre piano performance often wanders into lonely territory devoid of magical reverberations. Its swells of atmospheric pads below don't have the same intensity to blossom the music. They do however sound lush and moving in the peaks which make up a small portion of each song. These compositions just lack that little sparkle of oddity that made C418 and Lena's contributions resonate so wonderfully.

All in all, these songs only add to the game and with this soundtrack released approaching the final part of the update, I am hopeful that maybe each future update will come with some complimenting soundtrack to enrich the experience. The rest of the game has evolved over the years, so why not its music too?

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 22 October 2021

Humanoid "Remembering Universe" (2008)

Reaching out from years gone by, my music archive now has many callings, records that carve their own niche and frequent the mind of this explorer. How I found Remembering Universe is a mystery to me now but I fondly remember the fascination with its cold and sombre astral temperament. As a Metal adjacent project, this acoustic guitar performance and its reverb soaked atmospheres glide from grace into tangles of abrasive complexity not far from metallic onslaught. With flourishes of cosmic sound design wedged in between its blooms of warm color feel chained to the shivering tone of its steel acoustic strings. Despite the name, it feels all so impersonal and inhuman, like an alien observation of wonders found through the universe.

The music is an indulgence of stringed instrumentation. With the textured bends and moody slides of a fretless base guitar accompanying this twelve string acoustic and "synth guitar", the Canadian musician operating under the name Humanoid pulls a warm range of texture and style from a small collection of instruments. Its style and atmospheric execution always felt so distinct to me yet with analytic ears I now hear similarities to the dexterous fretwork of Animals As Leaders & Gru. However this predates both of those, suggesting deeper origins in the Progressive Metal scene.

That is, however, just a footnote on this meandering journey of exotic, Jazzy instrumentation exploring ambiguous melody and distant moods through sways between simplicity and complexity. Its musical arrangements wander aimlessly, perusing its own passing by. Its most structured songs arrive in the four part Passages. It brings onboard distortion guitars for texture and an artsy, expressive drumming performance, devoid of simple beats to rock with, they groan and moan with surges of energy and moments of quite that lull between.

All in all, Remembering Universe is a very distinct project that's hard to put a finger on. Similar to some yet oddly alien, cosmic and cold. Although I have never been too overwhelmed by its company, the inhuman beauty and flushes of atmospheric winds have always called back to me. Its spell is calming and clambers into the background when one is preoccupied. The flow is sporadic, unstructured and its best moments are sprinkled throughout, however they have always warmed me.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 8 October 2021

Old Tower "The Old King Of Witches" (2021)

 

Embarking with a renewed spirit and refined aesthetics, The Old King Of Witches is both familiar and surprising. Having established a niche within the confines of Dungeon Synth, this ten track release of three to five minute spells has Old Tower side stepping their current conventions mastered on The Last Eidolon. Now we have what feels like the background ambience to a Horror movie, an impression marked by its ghastly jump scare conclusion on the opening track Wych Totem. At its conclusion a harrowing, tormented scream lunges out of the dark as the song then fades to black.

The following Night's Spell gifts us an astral respite, a contemplative soundscape not adrift from the likes of Steve Roach. From here, the plunge begins as ambiguous atmospheric ambiences and mischievous eerie sound design conspire. Brief reprisals of that astral charm can be heard infrequently but otherwise is lost between its dark, lonely voyages through shadowy caverns and hallowed grounds. It takes on a burdensome delusional experience, as flourishes of unsettled synth drones briefly add disorientation with a psychedelic quality, akin to a tiresome paranoid mental trip. Although the horrors of the opening track are never quite as vivid again, this spooky journey does end with a warmer note as closing track, Temple Of The Blue Sun, brings about a little of that cosmic charm again with its final passing cry.

Reflecting on Old Tower's previous sound design, the difference here is staggering. The temperament of its esoteric suggestions and the brooding ambiences of emotional unease are ripe for the imagination to run wild. The balance is charming and satisfying, feeling complete as a collection of songs. I'd also bring praise to the album art too. Corpse paint is a tired tradition but paired with the creepy skeletal fingers and candid nature of the photo, its suggestion of stumbling across a beast in a cave is fantastic and really ties up what this record is about. You can picture that cursed creature lurking around for eight of these ten songs. The Old King Of Witches is a very well inspired and executed concept.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 7 October 2021

The Alan Parsons Project "Tales Of Mystery And Imagination" (1976)

 

Having sat with this debut album for some time now, Its easy to see why I Robot, Pyr△mid & Eve were recommended as Alan Parsons best work. Tales Of Mystery And Imagination would of been impressive for the times but experienced from its predecessors shadows, the classy songwriting pulling on a broad range of 70s styles sadly fumbles out of the gates. Its hallowed poetry recital intro leading onto dated robotic voices feels a little awkward in its infancy however flashes of genius are heard often too, The Raven, The Cask Of Amontillado and To One In Paradise, all are fantastic songs. In fact much of the record has the Alan Parsons sound intact but its fumbling moments seem to exacerbate the difference between it and the following.

Where the cracks appear is on its lengthy The Fall Of The House Usher. Its five parts represent many ideas that Alan would go on to compose again. Stitched together as one unified thing, it lumps along awkwardly from tense and brash Classical orchestrations of terror and tragedy, into psychedelic thunderstorms led by hypnotic synths. The music passes through a string of Pink Floyd akin guitar inflections back into distressing string sections promoting unease and brittle tensions. It then sways back into a Progressive styling with exotic instruments and colorful melodic arrangements, only to be dissipated back into a nightmare cacophony of claustrophobic strings and demonic drum strikes that ends all too abruptly.

The two sounds contrast each other and break up half the record with a sense of confusion. It does however skimmer with brilliance but in attempting to meld such bold ideas, the consequences are vast. Tthe musics spell feels so disrupted by this rude awakening of hellish Classical instrumentation. It had become a large focus that diminished the album experience and illuminated its other blemishes. That being said, at the core Alan's brilliant songwriting delivers similar ideas heard later. They however have a less vibrant production to bolster the beautiful compositions and thus the whole record just feels inferior. Had I started here, my opinion may be all too different.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Chevelle "The North Corridor" (2016)



 Impressed by this years Niratias, I thought I'd step back five years to give the Illinois Rock outfit another try. The North Corridor is their eighth and lacking the context of their evolution, it really comes of like a plagiarist execution of Tool in their prime. Aggressive grooves, atmospheric incursions and psychedelic echos of Lateralus and 10,000 Days dominate just about every song here. Enjoyable, if its your cup of tea.

With every spin it passes me by, a competent set of songs yet lacking a sparkle, mainly as every break out moment lingers in the shadow that other band. Getting past this lack of originality, the influences are interesting. Obviously the Progressive and Alternative Metal flavors run strong but the record is rife with harsh syncopated grooves. Bludgeons of chromatic palm mute chugging, backed by its dense, warbling baselines fire inline with pounding drum strikes frequent many a song with these simplistic slabs of primordial dance. Often it serves as a jump of point for the rest of the music to evolve, delving into bursts of psychedelic, reverb soaked lead guitars to wail into the distance alongside other progressive tangents.

Pete Loeffler's presence upfront is massive, a tug of war between emotive spoken inflections and throat wrenching screams that strain and shout with quite an impressive intensity. He punctuates the music well, often orchestrating the musical shifts with his conduction. It is of course a performance treading in the foot steps of Maynard Keenan. Practically every idea executed feels complimentary to the Tool back catalog, on one track where he deviates, Punchline, singing like Trent Reznor.

In all its similarities, Chevelle execute with classic, making engaging music with much to offer. Riotous yet contained landscapes of aggression and frustration. My issue with The North Corridor is its dull production. Everything feels distinctly grayscale. The guitar tone seems brittle and rough, the bass warble is massive but lacking charm, it feels a little brute force. The drums are decent but on some tracks seems a little out of balance in the mix. Ultimately, all its elements are present but just seem to teeter on the demo quality edge with its rough aesthetic and dull tone.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Spellling "The Turning Wheel" (2021)

 

In search of new sounds and experiences, I've found a record strung out with familiarity yet blindingly powerful in its execution of inspiration. It works for me, something I could swiftly get into and mull over these last few weeks. Chrystia Cabral, the brains behind the Spellling name, lends her immaculate voice to a timely orchestration of genre influences adjacent to the world of popular music. She is a powerhouse of breathy expression, rooted in classic soulful stylings. Her range is wide, diving with a masculine low on Magic Act and sailing to a childish, playful resonance on Little Deer. With each of these arrangements offering up a different temperament, she is the beacon that shines and guides us through these twelve offerings as they grow increasingly atmospheric, occasionally peering into a brittle darkness.

I could easily rattle off lists at this point. With a backbone of warm baselines, Organs, Pianos, String, Horns and strong vocal harmonization parade upfront in a variety of compositions that usher in many vibes. Pop music of the 60s, Soul, R&B, a little Jazz, Chamber Pop and Lounge too. There are subtle electronic influences worming there way in too. Always sounds more like an 80s Synth-pop ballad and after the slow brewing Awaken, aligned strongly with Classical ideas, the album starts to open up. Emperor With An Egg accrues various waveform instruments alongside its Classical instrumentation and the following Boys At School at school hints at Synthwave vibes which blossoms on Queen Of Wands, a track akin to Chelsea Wolfe's Pain Is Beauty. Its use of wobbly, eerie, spooky Horror synths a sensibility here that resurfaces, seemingly at odds with the mood of Sweet Talk. Little moments like this are littered throughout, sounds that seem out of context but work wonderfully.

I could go on but essentially we have bright and clear instrumentation arranged wonderfully with beautiful aesthetics and expressive instrumentation that despite showing its influences, feels entirely distinct as the web of influences weave together. The record sets out feeling more Soul and Baroque pop oriented but swells of instrumentation gives it a Progressive edge that blossoms as the songs continuously explore, bringing in more instruments, sounds and aesthetics as it goes on. Its melodies too often feel interchanged between these style, ushering in just the strangest sense of ideas in action. One can almost see the blueprint yet its outcome feels completely inspired and magical, without any design.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 4 October 2021

John Carpenter "Ghosts Of Mars" (2001)

From the eternal memories of youth still calls a siren. Blistering through the noise of a late night binge, after crashing in front of the television for early hours entertainment, the music caught me off guard. Initially impressed by the presence of Ice Cube, it wasn't long before my inebriated self was memorized by its mechanized Industrial Metal soundtrack. Within a few songs I realized I was here for the music, as it was clear the zombie Sci-Fi Horror show set on mars was one heck of a flawed beast.

Not John Carpenter's finest moment with the pen or camera but this was my introduction to his accompanying instrumentation. Legendary to all in the cinematic world but this is one rarely mentioned. Since I saved up to get my hands on the CD soundtrack, its called me back to every now and then. Today was one of those days and with the opportunity to ponder on what words I would share here, it became clear that the nostalgia of childhood games and Frank Klepacki's timeless soundtracks to Command & Conquer share an aesthetic and spiritual overlap in patches.

As the complimenting mood setter to a bizarre and dystopian movie, it has to frequently switch temperaments, from action sequence to calms for dialog. This means its 90s Industrial percussive pallet swings into passages of ambiguous, noisy instrumentation and sound design between the barrages of Metal guitar. It does kick off with a bang however! The title track, Love Siege and Fight Train providing thrilling fast paced action and romping guitars fit for the onscreen voilent zombie onslaught.

Its the variety that births some really unusual ideas with Carpenter's collaborators Scott Ian of Anthrax, Steve Vai and even Buckethead! Somehow a little classy cheesed up Saxophone playing is worked in too via Bruce Robb as his playing and lead guitar licks often act as a voice above the brooding bass guitars and rattling drums that make up the hostile landscape. It sways between band performances and electronic arrangements, forging a disjointed soundtrack to a bizarre movie.

I find Scott Ian's contributions to be the best. Big noisy slabs of meaty distortion riffs having the Thrasher work a little out of his comfort zone to birth a couple booming syncopated riffs at the apt time. Its often what everything leads too as we pass through barren landscapes of mechanized percussion and ambiguous synth arrangements. Steve and Buckethead are like ghosts in the wind, alien voices drifting in and out on the way to the next action sequence, where Ian arrives, hitting hard.

As much as I love the experience, I have to be critical, the record is odd and jarring, things sound a little stiff and forced at times as its lead instruments try to meld that classic shred guitar flavor on top of its unearthly electro-industrial fusion. Many of the tracks lack structure and just serve as texture of the on screen tension. For some reason though, none of this bothers me. I think it slipped right into a space of curiosity in my musical journey at a time when I was ready to hear more of a sound I've now explored deeper. I also love the movie, its an odd one that tries to be tongue in cheek. A young Jason Statham is present doing his thing and a then legendary Pam Grier too! This movie tried to be a lot and It didn't resonate with many people. I'm glad to have stumbled onto, its another oddity in my collection that I'm happy to share!

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Lil Nas X "Montero" (2021)

 

With the monumental success of the chart topping, record breaking Old Town Road, the Georgian rapper Lil Nas X has had the musical worlds attention thrust his direction for some time now. Typically critical voices cry the loudest, claiming him a one hit wonder but this record certainly proves that wrong. Now we can joke he is a one album wonder for now, as Montero is simply fantastic, a vibrant album experience, strong from front to back with a very accessible Pop Rap aesthetic brightening up a wealth of self expression and topicality to deepen its warm, welcoming vibes.

In general, these songs are short and snappy, getting to the point swiftly, wrapping themes up with catchy hooks. Production wise, the music never leans to hard into anything but goes all over the place, softly diversifying. Dead Right Now and Industry Baby steer into Trap territory, addressing relations with his father and following it up with a self affirming track bolstering his ambitions. His Country Rap infusion returns on That's What I Want with a bright chirpy chorus delivering an infectious hook over soft sunny chorals. Not exactly the most original composition but he does the idea justice.

From here the songs increasingly ramp up my personal interest, Scoop swoops in simple melodies and jiving percussion giving light to the quirky ad-libs. This track gave me some serious Rodeo vibes with that Travis Scott style production. Quite the fun and creative stint before One Of Me drives hope a fantastic hook with the plain faced "I like this, I don't like that" lines. Such a simple way to illuminate the ridicule of voiced opinions that whirl around individuals thrust into the limelight. Lost In The Citadel ushers in uplifting, poppy Alt Rock guitars as the record starts to pivot to more guitar oriented aesthetics. Paired with tight percussion and deep baselines in straddles Hip Hop from a distance as the lines blur wonderfully.

Then with void we hear Lil Nas X depart from that entirely on an epic sung song, expressing pains and vulnerability while some how working the "Hodo hodo" ear worm in. As his voice opens up the dark and brooding instrumental behind him starts to build slithers of light as the soft drive of muted drums and pounding bass lead to a wonderful sense of revealing the beauty in his singing that was always present. Stunning song. Don't Want It oddly gets away with shifting back to a Trap flavor for Life After Salem to deliver the albums broodiest track. Led by a gristly acoustic guitar it routinely sails into the darkness with swells of Post-Rock guitar and subtle stabs of sinister Gangster's Paradise strings nestled, lurking in the backdrop briefly.

Between the likable Pop and Trap tracks, that bring their own identity, the team producing the instrumentals work in some fantastic music quite distance from that formulae. Its exciting, interesting and very expressive with Lil Nas X singing and rapping with a lot of substance to embrace. It all amalgamates to a stunning conclusion as Miley Cyrus hops on to lend her powerful voice to the albums epic closer, Am I Dreaming. The way the two individually step onto the track in their verses hits like waves, as tension builds up with the duo weaving their voices in a dramatic conclusion, crying "Never forget me". Goosebumps.

Its hard not to be bull about this record. Its arrangement is fascinating, steering from the accessible into expressive songs pulling from areas not often associated with Hip Hop. This might be one of the most enjoyable experiences this year. I'm left with thoughts of wondering if its magic might diminish with time? I think one or two songs could suffer that fate but there is so much brilliance on display. Whats best is a feeling of optimism moving forward. This wasn't just a collection of well crafted appeals but inspired songs moving in new directions. Lil Nas X has the diversity here to really open up and surprise in the future, in my opinion at least.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Between The Buried And Me "Colors II" (2021)

 

Once a fresh and exciting band on the rise in my youth, Between The Buried And Me now have two decades to name. To my ears, their identity settled around the landmark record Colors. Since then its been a string of familiar and fun romps, blasting a Progressive Metal brandished by their particular flavor. With a recent personal desire to branch out I wanted to skip this one by, feeling that Between had become a little predictable with ambitious by design music. Then again, this is the sequel to the album with Prequel To The Sequel! Colors II! Surely something special is at play?

Either by exhaustion, saturation or my mood, sadly my enjoyment cannot say this is worthy of the title. Beyond that, the music has played out like a sporadic array of twisting aggression, sudden pivots and crowded complications has the instruments often cramming in a lot of unnecessary texture and notation that its songs end up like disorienting river rapids. Some arrangements, riffs and moments have power, intrigue and excitement but mostly it drones on as its mammoth eighty minutes grind away.

 I can't help but feel that Tommy's harsh, snarling shouts added to this grinding feeling. The album is interspersed with beautiful clean singing and non metallic instrumentation which often amounted to my favorite moments when the unrelenting subsides. That's when themes flourish and melodies lead the way but some of them too get a little to self indulged too. Progressive music like this is a tightrope to walk. In this case I felt as if it came of with more thought than feeling. Too much of the record is unnecessarily complicated and overloaded, amounting to an overly busy set of songs with some moments of fun and grooves sprinkled throughout.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 23 September 2021

AZ "Doe Or Die II" (2021)


Twenty six years later, New York rapper AZ releases a sequel to his Mafioso Rap gem Doe Or Die. In the world of Hip Hop there isn't a great track record for artists reviving classics further down the road. That's why I almost passed this one up but a quick check in had me impressed. Now approaching fifty, AZ's voice sounds barely aged, a little rough at the edges but his slick flow and youthful tone is well intact. Most surprising of all, hes got expression in abundance, riffing bars from start to end without an inch of nonsense to be found. This is quite the exception for an aging generation of rappers.

With his timeless flow intact, the tightly stacked rhymes flow again. Grooving off his effortless cadence the lyrics weave between wisdom and observation as AZ drops knowledge and intelligence into his tales. Reflecting on the angels and devils of lifestyle and environment, he paints a path out the dangers of street life with a keen maturity that oozes with confidence. The Mafioso flavor creeps in here and there with his poetic word choices painting lavish pictures however its often withdraws from the violence as his words wave weary warnings to the dangers of such lifestyles.

Its a total pleasure, AZ shines with every verse of this record. Its strangely his guests who spoil the flow. Variety is important and Lil Wayne brings an interesting approach for his feature but every other rapper here just doesn't fit with the vibe. They mostly work in the shadow of AZ, trying to deploy a similar style. English actor Idris Elba also lends his voice for the intro too, however it again doesn't feel like the right fit for an album opening monologue. I think I could of just listened to AZ from front to back. This leads me to another observation, the absence of Nas. With both being active its a shame they didn't hook up again. AZ was a special part of Illmatic, arguably the greatest Hip Hop record of the 90s. Who would of thought these two would still be on top their games all these years later? With them on such good form, hearing him here would of been sublime, I'm sure!

With such an abundance of great rhymes, sadly the beats that struggle a little here. Mostly they conjure moods adjacent to the 90s style. Sample oriented and using oldskool break loops they provide a firm footing but lack a cutting edge. Often toned down, they give space for AZ to occupy clearly, not being overly ambitious or overbearing. On one hand they've essentially crafted beats within the 90s time machine. On the other that doesn't give it much in the way of freshness but I've got to give props to the craft, of all the artists trying to relive that era, this probably came closest. The closing bonus song however throws most that out the window for a more modern sound with some Kanye inspired vocal inclusion with the hook.
 
 Doe Or Die II is an anomaly, a sequel mostly worthy of the name. It can't replace the original but it compliments it wonderfully. My only qualm is a sense of its impressive stature being more analytical than emotional? This is a common problem when observation intersects the nature of mood and inspiration. Is it me or the music? I feel like I could love this more and as I often say, into the collection it goes ready for shuffle to find me again later down the road. I'm sure then these songs will be more than a welcome surprise.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Carcass "Torn Arteries" (2021)

 

Its been eight years since the legendary Grindcore *and* Melodic Death Metal pioneers Carcass returned to the scene with their mighty Surgical Steel record. My excitement for this new album was stirred greatly by the EP Despicable released as a holdover comprised of outtakes during the pandemic. Its strange but what mustered my interest seems missing on many of the new songs here, mostly in its aggressive arrangements. Perhaps the music falls into the routine and expectant as Bill Steer and Jeff Walker write this collection of new songs from safe space creatively.

Torn Arteries is another power house of Melodic Death Metal, executed with a clean, approachable tone and embellishing production to give the aggressive snarling shouts and blast beats a softer edge. It illuminates the web of melody and cushioned groove woven between its harsher elements. Chugging guitars drift into melodic inflections as bright luminous lead guitars turn a lick into a solo. It all sounds gorgeous with a notable easing up from drummer Daniel Wilding who's kick and snare grooves come with space at easier tempos to give room for digestion of the entangled guitars.

 In its opening phases the temperament is all a little too contained and unadventurous, at least in terms of finding new ground. I can't put my finger on quite why but its not until In God We Trust that I get any goosebumps. I'd say at the mid point with The Devil Rides Out, the pace picks up as bigger riffs and more exciting stints of aggression come into play. I adore this sound and style but Carcass stick so closely to it. Perhaps that's what I liked about the cuts that didn't make this record? In not being up to snuff, they had a little difference I found exciting.

One thing that rocks throughout is Bill's lyrical hooks. His snarling shouts are often a bit much to decipher but he gets the catchiest lines out with a knack for creating ear worms. The way he barks "Whats the joke?" or spewing wordings like PVC and Skullduggery. He has a knack, obviously, for that twisted medical savagery they embellish their identity with. "As the serpent rises from a maternity ward" being a favorite as it paints an utterly bizarre image of genetic experimentation gone wrong.

I've sat on this one for a while now, spinning it over and over, hoping that some much needed adrenaline would flow, like other Carcass records do for me... but still its not quite there yet. I can't critique much here at all, I think its a fantastic set of songs with a great sounding production. Its probably the lack of novelty or originality that is missing for me. At a time where I am starting to think I need some new musical adventure, this was just all too routine? Either way, I can't knock Torn Arteries, it will go in the collection for rotation and hopefully the surprise of shuffle will reconnect me with these songs in the future.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Little Simz "Sometimes I Might Be Introvert" (2021)

 

I have been dying to hear this album ever since its second single Woman with Cleo Soul dropped. What a stunning track! Perfectly blurring the lines of R&B and Hip Hop, its a mover. Warm, bold and audacious, its lush instrumentation is led by a grooving baseline as Little Simz delivers a fine perspective on female empowerment to compliment. Much of this tracks charm is what the record as a whole is about. A brilliant production has its percussive beats and raps anchored in a classy setting that sways in and out of its own theatrical pantomime. Developing an overarching theme of perception, reflection and ambition grounded in reality, Simz navigates the present moment on a mission of affirmation and intent that is this record.

 With a blinding string of opening tracks, we go on an emotional journey. Riveting, bold and poetic, Simz walks us through so many personal struggles and perspectives on an effortless stride. Lyrically the flow and cadence is so smooth and concise, yet her words resonate so deeply. Reflecting on how she was stabbed and yet sees the perpetrator as a victim of the same circumstances she endured shows so much maturity. It blesses this record with much wisdom interwoven in her raps, as well as a lot of candid talks on family issues. Either reflecting on past woes, commentating on present problems or thinking positively ahead, almost every topic here is illuminated. Not only working through intimate and personal issues of abuse and struggle does she also dissect broader societal concepts and ills into the meaning of all shes going through. Its some of the finest lyricism I've heard in a while.

Where the foot comes off the gas is in the records runtime. At sixty five minutes the bulk of material fits closely to this dynamic union of theater and theme. As the record rolls on a few songs break up the mood, which can often be a good addition of variety. Speed does this well with its stiff baseline toying with simple groove and zany synth melodies. Simz switches up the flow and topicality with a fun boisterous stance. It works but in its reflection Rollin Stone arrives abruptly like a trend chaser. With a dark and gritty street vibe it contrasts the rest of the record. Half way through, Its beat switch and slyly sung lyrics feel so aimless and the track ends with a lone use of auto tune sounding like a half baked hook left way out of place.

Fortunately it pivots into Protect My Energy offering up some energetic 80s vibes with its snappy, hasty percussion and punchy melodies. Quite the song, seemingly out of step yet acts as a tribute to her introversion that pops up throughout the record as she comes to grip with it. Point And Kill and Fear No Man bring a little Caribbean flavor to the record but again, feels off point from the main theme and thus drags on despite being equally interesting tracks. Its the vibe shake up that looses its way on the path to the last three songs which wrap things up on a wonderful stride of introspection.

 Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a stunning expression of an artists life. A slice in time that flirts with the genres classics as its own identity strides for greatness at every turn. Strangely, the criticism is a common one, bloat. With exception to one song, its mainly a case of solid, interesting songs detouring of the path walked by the greater contributes. To pull four of five tracks would have me completely hanging on her every word - I feel as if no respite from this stunning stride was needed.

Rating: 9/10