Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The Kovenant "SETI" (2003)

Well here is a fascinating band I have sat on for far too long. Becoming a recent obsession again, it is finally time to dive into a peculiar band with an abridging discography spanning their unique transition across the spectrum of Metal. They helped forge a significant portion in the musical landscape of my youth. I discovered them through the CKY movie soundtracks sometime before this albums release. As the forth of four, it is the duo of Lex Icon and Psy Coma's final offering, with the specter of the supposedly fully written, fifth, unreleased record Aria Galactica left in limbo to this day.

For me, this band have never set a foot wrong, with each of the albums living up to its own vision. SETI, however is a notably trendy record, aligning somewhat with the rapidly rising Rammstein sound. Its an Industrial Metal romp rocking strong symphonic and electronic instruments with a mild hangover from their Black Metal days. Its complexity is notably less lavish compared to what came before but in this simplicity a catchy stride is struck.
This brings me to my favorite aspect, each of the songs have character and theme that sets them apart from one another. Embroiled in the post Nu-Metal vibes of that era, the duo seem to have an ear for what makes the downtrodden anthems tick, repackaging them in their spacey, synth heavy take on this popular strand. SETI has a handful of songs I wouldn't blink twice if I heard blaring in the intermissions at Metal festivals and clubs. The reality is a sad one though, these legends are very much overlooked and forgotten having barely toured since this final records release.

The record ebbs and flows between slabs of stomping distortion guitar led groove and melodic counterparts of estranged cyberpunk synth, the songs often finding its climax when they fire on all cylinders. Equally from track to track it alternates with slower anthems. Star By Star, Stillborn Universe, The Perfect End open up with moody singalongs that have something wonderful emanating through the walls of sound. This is a dense record, a barrage of Industrial kit sounds give the meaty sound depth as peculiar key tones drive home its potent melodies. They often pull up a classic old school monster flick spooky synth sound that is just delight to indulge with.

In the madness of thick instrumentation the pair are quite adventurous with the vocals, the best comes when brooding melancholy lyrics from a burly voice. Between it all, a variety of intensities often harking back to harsh Black Metal screams gives the whole record bursts of raw aggression that is fantastic. Early on strong operatic female vocals are worked in like resonate symphonies drawing in more expectant vibes to deliver the massively cosmic and astral tone the music encompasses. Neon would be a keen example of diversity as drawing in Eastern sounds adds to the flavor, somehow making them beautifully alien in the process.

This record potentially has one flaw and that is length. Filling a CD up at a bold sixty seven minutes, many of these numbers crossing the 6 minute mark and seem lengthy with the repetition loaded in song structures. Yet it is not so, these songs are so infectious they hold you in. The weaker cuts do find themselves towards the end however they all give you something unique, speaking of which, it ends on a cover of The Memory Remains. Originally by Metallica, its a rocky cover, not quite finding the groove but when the sing along melody hits, the operatic vocal brings it in wonderfully. All things said, this record is etched into my soul somewhat. I've adored this band for so long and think its a massive shame they are not known of more. Diving back into these records and writing about it will be some good therapeutic fun however!

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Shade Empire "Zero Nexus" (2008)

Released five years before their almighty Arcane Omega, Zero Nexus is another fumbling block on a patchy path of production hell that seems to drop the ball for the same reasons once again. Putting forth its extreme elements in imbalance, it is the snarling snout of Harju that groans its guttural filth loudly with a textured harshness to drown out the quite and underwhelmed synths. The distortion guitars too have subtlety drained as the details of its fretwork get lost under the mechanical rattle of pounding drums.

Its musical ideas are lost in the muddy wash of sound that pivots on a lot of Industrial grooves. Interchanged rhythmic pummeling drives on harshly as the strike of snares and kick drums flood the music with aggression. Attentive ears can pick out the pianos, strings and electronic tones dispersed between, all blemished by a lack of power and presence. Even direct focus doesn't let the chemistry elevate but it does yield a certain curiosity about them. When the music parts from its charging instruments, often with a percussive break beat of sorts, even then does seem tamed.

Its worst element are the vocals which could really do with being toned down behind other sounds. The range of gutturals displayed tend to lack power and potency, instead hinging on a throaty roughness, especially dialing up the cringe on its halfway clean attempts. Its god awful and a constant distraction from interesting song structures and arrangements that take place in the ebb and flows. Of the handful of spins I've given this I just can't get past its awful production, so disappointing.

Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Drake "Scary Hours 2" (2021)


Its been a few years since God's Plan and Scorpion. This new release Scary Hours 2 is a three track EP, warming up some anticipation for the Canadian rapper's sixth full length, set to drop sometime this year. Firstly I'd like to note the covers aesthetic, a gloomy, mysterious shade of blue and the classic Old English font up top. Its a shade of Bathory meets Arkhtinn. My curiosity to the similarity comes unanswered but musically there is no relation to anything esoteric or extreme. Its very much business as usual. On that note there is no mention to the global pandemic, which is a choice for any artist however the glorification of wealth and lifestyle feels especially hollow in its indifference to the pains of our world right now.

What's Next kicks off the record with breezy raps, Drake's easy flow hits a healthy stride spitting on a keen groove, doubling up his rhymes alongside one word emphasis. It works well, the lyrics are structured with plenty of catchy repetition to get stuck in. The mood is energetic and uplifting without bombast, these instrumentals are all tight and snappy, minimal yet effective. It continues on Wants And Needs that steers to a spacey vibe with Lil Baby stepping in to deliver a firm set of rhymes with his wobbly voice. The two exchange narratives around romantic relations interwoven with boisterous behavior. Its got style and swagger, but substance? These songs tend to feel right in the moment but don't leave a lasting impression.

Lemon Pepper Freestyle is the weak link, a more spacious drum arrangement hinges of the soulful vocal sample that cycles on a dizzy looping. For this listener it becomes grinding and dull swiftly. Rick Ross brings an older generation style to the track, even referencing Makaveli and Death Row. Its in partial contrast to the beat and Drake too who probably gives the best verse on the record, an endless train of thoughts spelling out personal grievances and perspectives but ends up trailing off into showman raps and flaunts that occasionally loop back over the same bars. Its a nice flow, sharp, brief sentences with a pause before going in again. Overall though it doesn't yield a bigger sense of self. This EP feels like business as usual for the rapper with a formula that works well but for me isn't all the exciting.

Rating: 3/10

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Dysmorphik "Everything Else" (2005)


Everything Else is no official release but an amalgamation of experiments, unfinished works and remixes from my personal collection of MP3s, scraped from websites long gone. Dysmorphik has been a personal gem for many years. With my recent covering of ...And To The Republic and Tick, Screech And Halt, I also decided to upload all the music to Bandcamp for others to enjoy. I cannot express how much fun and strange emotional experiences this unique sound has brought me. This post serves as a reminder to check out the aforementioned albums, both in my words and on the Bandcamp page as you can now hear them and this assortment of additional songs.

Kicking off with Nubile, we get the formation of ideas which fail to spark into a bigger picture, it serves well as an intro track being a minute long. Fractures of melody give way to the thumping cascade of obnoxious drum kicks and weakened sirens. The later extended version gives insight to the layering of fuzzy static noise and expansion of the song into a Gabber nightmare of dirty bass pummeling and gritty stacks of mechanical interference. The noise aspect of this sound is expanded on Effects, likely a jam track of experimentation that gives insight into how much of this madness is derived from experimentation. Meat N Static bridges that motif, blossoming with structure and concept as an abrasiveness set of sounds are driven forth with bombastic intensity. The noisescape twists and shifts intermittently, finding sporadic bursts of striking groove between its uncomfortable respites.

The five minute song Penetrate Your Pain comes in two forms with the superior second iteration revealing the craft and care involved. With this electronic music being spat out by the computer, one can hear the identical notes, drum patterns and even spurious noises from the VSTs having their knobs and dials tweaked in pursuit of perfection. Its been a favorite of mine but always felt like a human voice was missing. The remixes have other musicians hands over Dysmorphik's music and consequently doesn't yield much of my interest. If your curious in anyway about this mad, dystopian, alien hybrid of Noise and Industrial then these extras are worth a bit of your time.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Autumn's Grey Solace "XIII" (2021)


Autumn's Grey Solace hold a dear place in my heart as my first and favorite introduction to a deeply Ethereal shade of Dream Pop music, a sound started and seasoned by the Cocteau Twins. The first half of this duos discography was a delight to unearth, their luscious dark incarnations of shadowy beauty still resonates fondly to this day. The second stint, starting with Monajjfyllen, began a circling of waters, the continuous re-arrangement of musical ideas established long beforehand and thus each record, despite being enjoyable, comes with a sense of disappointment as the pair stick very strictly to their template, lacking experimentation or direction.

XIII, in-coincidentally their thirteenth, continues this tradition. My keenest remarks emerge from an occasional arrangements of acoustic guitars that shimmer off the warm baselines punctuating beneath. In all fairness this is simply two songs that strike a particular nerve, otherwise the songs drone forth with a similar subdued melancholy, lost and lonely yet in reverence of beauty. Candledim perks the ears with a fuzzy lead guitar lending a few harmonizing notes for the closest thing to a guitar solo we will get. It gives the song a little extra charm the other numbers don't receive yet could do with.

Welton's dreamy voice is a treasure as always, drifting over the washy reverb soaked instrumentation of Ferrell. She brings a lyric oriented performance this outing, a shift from the pure voicing heard on much of their recent output. Sadly it does little to offer any freshness. With my lyrical track record that wouldn't mean much but all in all it is business as usual. I will continue to check this two out no matter what and every time I will wish for a change of pace but sadly this time It was not so!

Rating: 5/10

Friday, 19 March 2021

Jim Kirkwood "Middle-Earth" (1990)


The resurfacing formation of Dungeon Synth in the late naughties has been quite the spectacle to watch unfold. With its roots in obscurities linked to Black Metal and Avant-garde music from the nineties, this sound found its name and niche, flourishing with both creativity and a bustle of low effort clones. Doing research into the genre's origins, records like Depressive Silence, Medival Journeys and Midnight Fullmoon crossed my path, all providing fun and curious listening experiences but deeper than them all is Jim Kirkwood's mighty double LP spanning five lengthy musical adventures. Released at the turn of the decade, this sound is untainted by the unleashing of Scandinavian darkness yet to come. The common ancestry that shares a thread here is J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-Earth, a common influence in Black Metal and Dungeon Synth, of which this work is neither.

Kirkwood's music is typically described as fantasy music. Hinged on the electronic scene aesthetics of decades past by, the use of bold visual tones from Casio synths and Morg synthesizers has that timely gratification bestowed by the power of melody. With a little imagination, one can be led by the unsubtle arrangements on fruitful adventures. His style seems obvious at first, curious melodies dance in tandem, exchanging shifts in pace and tone to conjure the sense of spectacle as the scenes unfold. Cheesy might a cruel word to reach for but in his boldness Jim composes with cinematic scale to outpace any of the era sentiments that may arise.

Its mammoth two hours do not drag. The show sways from the beauty and glory of fantasy realms to the darker perils exemplified on Urak Hai, Tolkien's demonic warrior beasts. Between typical song structures he gets creative within aesthetic limitations, mimicking environmental sounds like winds, horses, birds and the thundering echos of deep drums. Percussion is used to steer in some momentum at times and in others acts as an abrasive tool to warn of danger. With that cinematic sense of vision and direction fueling it, these clashes with potential dated ideas retain their charm. Best of all an underpinning of swirling synth arrangements akin to Tangerine Dream constantly push the melodies into lengthy tangents with a psychedelic driving them along. This is a fitting idea that recently sparked my interest with Old Sorcery. So curious to find it at work here over twenty odd years earlier.

There is so much that could be said of the adventure unraveling over these two hours. I do think Jim takes liberty with scale and repetition at times but it mostly adds the the epic Middle-Earth scale it reaches for. Its been a wonderful listening experience with many uses of melody and aesthetic I'd hear resurface in Symphonic Black Metal and other electronic related genres in years to come. I also hear a soft link to Progressive Rock and Jazz Fusion over a few instances of keyboard playing, even a guitar lick dropping in on King Of The Golden Hall. The links go both ways! This one is really worth your time if you have anything invested in Fantasy, Tolkein or Dungeon Synth. This is undoubtedly a hidden gem with little information on it beyond the music, I would love to know more about its creation and inspiration, although the latter is obvious.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Vektor "Transmissions Of Chaos" (2021)


It's been some time since I last heard anything from American thrashers Vektor. Their previous effort Terminal Redux was quite the charmer given its dense and technical take on Thrash Metal, a great work of vision and execution. It was also the bands last, I was unaware they had disbanded and this two track warm up is a result of their recent reunion. Sadly though the two tracks didn't carry the sparkle I heard before.

Activate is a fast ripping thrasher of choppy techniques and dizzying melodic entanglement, charging head first into the wall! Its tone and jittery energy is unrelenting, not offering much in the way of a hook or catch. Its pause for an acoustic respite after blazing solos is an interesting moment but the track tends to contain itself as a short, simple drive of aggression, not looking to get expansive as they once did.

Dead By Dawn initially sounds like a cover with its clean vocals springing a different mood forth. Its a progressive path forward, opening up at the three minute mark into beefy lunges of melodic gleam and meaty distortion fretwork. Its sudden pivot to rapid power chord shredding dispels the excitement. It reuses the lunging moment to see the song out and ultimately ends up feeling a bit directionless.

For a band reuniting, this may just be an exercise in getting back into the process. These two numbers show both craft and execution, bringing back their very "plastic" and particular tone with a competent production but disappoint with a lack of dazzle or remark within the routine of galloping Thrash Metal running the routines of its techniques. The second track had the ambition with a bold move vocally but its conclusion was to fall back into the arms of comfort. Transmissions Of Chaos is worth a listen but hopefully they will bring bigger ideas to any full release in the future.

Rating: 2/10

Monday, 8 March 2021

Shade Empire "Intoxicate O.S" (2006)


One step forward and two back, Shade Empire's sophomore effort seemingly faces issues both musical and aesthetic. The strange synth loudness production of Sinthetic highlighted a hidden strength but on this effort it is overwhelmed by grating metallic aggression made harsh by its ear grating production. Its opening track Slitwrist Ecstasy sets off alarm bells as the howling rattle of a loose snare overpowers everything around it. Creeks of spectral keys struggle to glimmer between the rumbling rattle of percussion and the snaky guitar tone that sucks up all space beneath it. The balance is poor, the ears do adjust with familiarity and repetition but the albums biggest strength has been cast to the shadows, a reverse of what came before it. The synths are now all to quiet to have the impact they deserve.

With vocalist Harju wrenching out his meaty shouts and counterpart snarling whispers in the front line, the aggressive context dominates as the drums barrage track after track. Its an unsurprising affair of riff arrangements and drum patterns that pale on their lonesome. In some moments where the pace cools off, one can hear the web of synths woven in too forge a powerful sense of atmosphere and direction for the music. The issue is production, they are simply mixed in poorly and the thick slab of unappealing guitar distortion washes its power away. Its truly disappointing as one can hear the intention but is simply unable to indulge. The only occasions they come to the forefront are with the big cheesy synth tones... everything is out of balance.

Every spin has been an endurance test, how quickly will that unending snare drum take to ware my interest out? Well prior to the albums close Ravine, an entirely synth led composition, gets to shine in the wake of a slowed drum groove and lack of guitars in its opening. Even still its a gem in the rough, one can hear the dirty buzzing baseline in its opening, a reminder of how ugly this aesthetic is. Through that the piano melody and soft synths forge a nightly mystique to show that talent is present, if not held mercy to the bad sound design. Intoxicate is a very forgettable record, one I wont wish to return to, however if handled differently in the studio, my opinion and enjoyment could of been entirely different.

Favorite Track: Ravine

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Moonspell "Hermitage" (2021)


Imagine my excitement, the triumphant roar of Jumalten Aika still gnawing at the back of my mind, a new Moonsorrow record on the horizon, I was buzzing! I jumped at this album when my aggregator informed me of its release. A slight problem however, the service confused the two moons and so I have brought this twelfth release from Portuguese Moonspell. To rub salt in the wound, this same confusion actually transpired a couple years back. I really need to fix my subscription list...

Unlike 1755, Hermitage has been a fumble to engage with. Its bland foray of lightly tinged Doom and Gothic Metal tonality is often steered in a Progressive Rock direction, attempting to revive ideas of the greats and rarely amounting to much in the progress. Singer Ribeiro is often off-key, a constant thorn in the sides, hurtling his rough manly shouts, he rubs against the melodic cohesion off his band mates.

The instrumentals behind him are decent at times but the music tends to meander. Swells of metallic aggression that brood are often weak and loose on arrival, at least within this brittle production which fails in giving oomph and power to its instruments. Songs slowly ponder through many quiet and meager passageways. Its calming and composed but lacking much in the way of excitement. When those big guitars erupt, the momentum is often left hinging on an unappealing distortion aesthetic.

The occasional inclusion of classic psychedelic synth sounds spark some curiosity but tend to add their own appeal as opposed to gelling with the rest of the music. All in all its a hard record to compliment that offers no reason to come back. Besides my gripe with the vocals, nothing is particularly tragic or offensive, just unreasonably mediocre and drab. Anyway I have learned my lesson, removing this band from my list at once!

Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Slowthai "TYRON" (2021)

Following up on his remarkable debut Nothing Great About Britain, the Northampton based Slowthai returns with an album of two halves. Separating the gritty attitude and boisterous swagger from his substantive social commentaries, TYRON splits these fourteen new tracks. Stylized with capital letters, the first seven are slamming bass led club bangers to blow your socks off. The remaining songs, presented with lower case names, drift into an emotional journey with subdued melancholic Jazz Hop vibes as Slowthai gets serious. Play With Fire acts as the transition track between these two dramatically different tones. His last recorded melded these elements wonderfully. Separated, they are simply that, it feels like two short albums.

Its first halve is easy to love. Coming out the box wild and barking, Slowthai sparks off sharp at witty rhymes with a feisty attitude to play of the raging bass which has been rumbling my room sweetly on my new Yamaha monitors. The production is sublime, tight, crisp, snappy percussion leaves a sweet space for the sub bass tones to pump away obnoxiously. It comes into its own when reuniting with Skepta for an instant classic instrumental with Cancelled. Focusing on boisterous raps and fiery flows, Slowthai's creativity runs away with plenty of clever word play and references. Its fun and engaging but far from the emotional journey about to unravel.

As the topicality shifts so do the instrumentals, steering away from bumptious bass and bringing colorful, moody samples to light. A notable inclusion of pitched up voices, prominent on Nhs and the acoustic guitars of Push give me serious Brockhampton vibes. A handful of these tunes tend to reflect a Pop adjacent space some Hip Hop sounds have been exploring as of late. In these songs Slowthai's flows feel at the mercy of his narratives as he slumps into a spoken word pacing, leaving much of the teeth and snark that makes him jump off the track behind. Equally though, the stories, musing and commentaries have their potency with heart felt verses.

Ultimately Ive landed on this feeling that his magic as an artist is in the space between this deliberate separation. When his grin soaked rapping is bouncing off the walls of that gritty attitude, the potency of his emotive remarks and political points have punch. His flow doesn't suite the vulnerable instrumentals that try to lean into that aspect of his lyrics. The first half ends up triumphant here as the less serious side is fun and well executed. Although loaded with a lot of heart felt expressions, its second instance just doesn't have the power to grab and lock in the same way. The approach may have not been the best here but Slowthai is clearly still one to keep a close eye on.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Loathe "The Things They Believe" (2021)


The ambition and tenacity of last years I Let It In And Took Everything had me expectant of a return with refinement. Between its angular slabs of angered Djent guitar noise and counteracting melodic tinges of light and color, crept in elements of ambient and soundscape I would not of expected to become a sole focus. Released as the bands third full length effort, with the same distinctive album art, The Things They Believe is an artsy experiment in ambience, noise and texture alike. Perhaps some of which might have snuck in between the durations of metallic aggression they are known for. Instead, without warning, its a full record of this type of music, a bold move for a band building an audience within the Metal scene.

For me, I already adore these sorts of estranged tonal experiments. They lightly distort, sway and pitch shake its lofty rises of airy synths, mixed in with ambiguous sounds and instruments like the Saxaphone which appears on occasion. Everything is dreamy and distant, like fuzzy memories. Without sun or warmth they cultivate a sense of calm with a harmless mystique. Its all temporal, no percussion, just sways and swells of sound that evolve at their own pace. Even melodies feel without form where they arise. A couple brushes with darkness occur, the dreary unease of Don't Get Hurt has a slight anxiety to its hazy persuasion and Black Marble's brooding fuzzed synths build a thematic scene of lurking evil.

Beyond these musing, its really hard to describe the particulars of what makes ambience like this work. Its fundamentals are obvious, yet the music has a power and persuasion these experiments can often fall short on. The whole thirty five minutes passes without a drag but yet no big culminating moments. Its all decent and does not feel as if its metallic elements where stripped out but they could of been created with that in mind. Either way I have enjoy this very much. Not what I thought I was getting for my money but luckily I am a fan of musical ambiguity and day dream vibes!

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 1 March 2021

Gazelle Twin "The Entire City" (2011)


Rolling back the clock a decade, here we have an inspired album that has had me assessing parts of the musical landscape I have grown to adore with Its place curiously poised between styles and artists. Debut record of musician Elizabeth Bernholz, who handles all to be heard, The Entire City is a curious record with echos of many threads, most notably the soothing yet esoteric electronic works of Fever Ray who has a not too dissimilar temperament from the obscurities at play here. They too toy with the unusual and spin its oddities into frame, becoming whole songs.

Elizabeth sings from an easy place, led with breath and softness, twisted by layered, pitch shifted vocal manipulations that bring her emotion to the center with an alien inflection. The instrumentals behind her are fantastic yet she dominates the focus with a performance reminiscent of fellow Brit FKA Twigs. Other heritages are present, the percussive arrangements echo tones of Industrial and electronic Glitch music in moments. Most notably in the opening track and recurring surges, a nostalgic sense of Neoclassical akin to Dead Can Dance can be felt driving the records arching theme.

In some ways its a typical Art Pop record, toying with the avant-garde and obscure, pining them on simple principles of enjoyment. Yet throughout, the songs flow from relative comfort to arrangements that pull and stretch at its fundamentals, dabbling in minimalism as the stark and bare of this sound is explored. In its more developed phases, simple percussive drives foster an array of quiet and meager synth tones that shyly dance in tandem with surges of synthetic bass wobbling beneath.

All in all the album has been more pleasurable with every listen. Its odd and alien aesthetic reveals a beating human heart beneath as its strangeness grows kind and familiar. Initially dark and shadowy, a warmth resonates yet most of that feels explored early on as its mid section pulls through some sluggish deconstructions. The shrill rising terror of View Of A Mountain reminds me of Nobuo Uematsu's more sinister songs from the Final Fantasy 7 soundtrack. Followed by the lone voice of Abandon it seems a strange bow out but again catches my ear for links that seem to be all over this record. One thing is for sure, I like it and will enjoy returning here from time to time.

Rating: 7/10