Here at Don't Count On It Reviews, you can read reviews from different artists from different styles.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Interview - Quaoar's Iñigo and Josu

Quaoar are one of my favorite bands coming out of Spain at the moment, with a sound that really blurs the lines between modern and retro. Their new album, "The River & The Soul," really peaked my interest and it lit a fuse in me that hadn't been lit in several years, it made me want to listen to my old hard rock records from the 60s and 70s, but also made me want to spin this record over and over again.

Ian: I guess for the most obvious first question, why don't you tell me about how the band first came together?

Iñigo: The band started as a group of teenagers covering songs of their favourite bands. Just as a hobby.

Ian: I've read that you cite bands as wide as Opeth and Dream Theater to Pearl Jam and Tool as influences, who else would you cite as some of your greatest inspirations?

Josu: The Beatles are, undoubtedly, one of our strongest influences. We should mention Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Metallica, etc too. The curious thing about it is that Dream Theater isn't an influence when we write songs at all. We don't listen to DT's songs usually, but we understand that listeners tend to compare us with them because DT is a reference in progressive metal nowadays.
There are also other artists that inspire us so much, but it's very difficult to perceive it while listening to our songs: Tom Waits, Neurosis, etc...

Ian: I remember reading that when you started, you were covering Amon Amarth and Carcass songs, is that true?
Josu: Yes! hahaha. Quaoar began as a death metal band and we covered a lot of songs of the old times of Carcass, Amon Amarth, Sepultura... Our singer was a death metal singer and the band members were totally different except for Josu and Aitor, who was a guitar player of the band for the first year, then he left, and finally he came back seven years later as our bass player.

Ian: At what point did Iñigo come into the band? What did he add to it that you didn't have before?

Josu: Iñigo joined the band in 2006. After losing Txaber, our second singer, we started to search for someone who not only could sing death metal [vocals]. I mean, we wanted a real singer because our likes were changing and we needed to do something more melodic. Iñigo came into the rehearsal room, he played a song by The Beatles and we were just blown away. He was really better than we could have expected.
Without Iñigo, Quaoar wouldn't be what it is today. Surely, Quaoar wouldn't exist. Since he got into the band, lots of songs were redefined with his voice and got totally renewed. After recording "Man't", Iñigo has composed a lot of songs (in fact, more than a half of the new record) and his voice is the cornerstone of the personality of the band.

Ian: How did the band evolve from the Quaoar demo to "Man't" in your opinion? Were there any significant changes that took place?

Josu: The Quaoar demo is really a live recording. We sent it to some webzines but apart from that it didn't make a great impact.
The difference between the demo and "Man't" is total. It is like another band and the only thing that shares with Quaoar is the name and a band member: me. That's why the first reference of Quaoar is "Man't." We never name the demo as stuff of the band. It wouldn't make any sense.

Ian: What's the writing process like for you guys?

Josu: Until now, the compositions have come out from a specific person (usually Iñigo or me), but lately we are starting to compose more songs together. Iñigo usually takes everything defined, and when another one takes a song, Iñigo composes the vocal lines and the lyrics. In the rehearsals, more than composing, we put ideas together, because we take the riffs and the structures from home. It may happen that you are walking down the street and suddenly something occurs to you. Then you take your phone or whatever, you hum it and record it, and when you arrive home, you try to decode it hahaha. Iñigo, sometimes, has dreamed of a song and he has been able to remember it and record it (that happened with My Anger Runs's chorus). Since the first pieces of a song come out before the song is completely ended and arranged, it may take months. It's a hard process.

Ian: What was the concept of "Man't?"

Iñigo: "Man't" is a word that came out while writing the lyrics for the song. I wrote a message on internet to my friends and fans asking them for things that frustrate them. With some of their frustrations and
mine, I wrote the lyrics of the song "Man't". The word "Man't" comes from putting together the words "Man" and "Can't". The antithesis of Man.

Ian: "Man't" really showcased a lot more of a "traditional" progressive metal sound, while "The River and The Soul" feels a lot more hard rock oriented with more focus on songs, what did you do differently when recording the new record compared to the first?

Iñigo: The recording process was almost the same. Both times, we started recording the album without having completed some songs. That's not the way we'd want to do it, but otherwise we'd have never go into the recording studio.
In "The River & The Soul", we wanted the guitars to sound more powerful and louder, and we also wanted the bass lines to be less over-elaborate.

Ian: About how long did it take to write and record "The River and The Soul?" What goals did you have in mind when you started to write it and do you believe you achieved them?

Josu: The writing process took from 2007 to the end of 2009. The recording at Beard Studios (great professionals, great friends) started in the beginning of 2010. We spent 8 months recording because we all had to work at the same time (also because we wanted the songs to be perfect too, obviously). This is something that we can do thanks to the friendship that unites us with Javier and Borja from Beard Studios. They are very flexible with us and have a lot of patience.
Our goals were overcoming "Man't" and doing a great rock record, and we think we have achieved them amply. The sound is better, the songs are better, the whole record is more homogeneous and mature... We are very happy, our fans are very happy too and we are receiving rave reviews all around the world.
Ian: There's a lot of different dynamics going on throughout the album, and how the album's structured really enhanced the listening experience. Did you put much thought into how the songs were arranged on the album or did it naturally flow like it does?

Iñigo: Sometimes it flows naturally, but since the songs have many different atmospheres, we have to be very careful with a lot of parts. The most difficult song to be performed in studio was Absolutely. It's a very delicate song and it needed a lot of attention to perform it properly.

Ian: The new album definitely feels likes there's a lot more space in the songs, was it a conscious move towards songs that were not as instrumentally complex as the debut?

Iñigo: It was not conscious. In these 3 years between "Man't" and "The River & The Soul" we have changed as musicians and as people. These new songs fit with what we are and what we feel today. Besides that, it is noteworthy that all the songs in "Man't" were composed by Josu, while the songs in "The River & The Soul" have been composed by Josu, Hugo and myself.

Ian: The new record really has some of the best vocals I've heard all year, but Absolutely definitely stuck out to me with a big Jeff Buckley kind of vibe, how did that song come together, both musically and vocally?

Iñigo: Thank you so much! The first part of the song and the vocal melody came out at the same time many years ago. At that time I was in a very hard emotional situation and I discovered Jeff Buckley, who helped me to get out of the mud. Throughout the following year, I ended the music and the vocal melodies of the whole song (also at the same time - they came together naturally), but it wasn't until two years later that I met a girl who inspired me to write the lyrics of the song. She is not my girlfriend anymore, but I will love her forever for what we had and for what she awakened on me. Absolutely.
Ian: You guys have been labeled as a progressive band, but you guys really dance between being metal, rock, and just plain alternative, are there any lines between genres for you guys?

Josu: We don't see ourselves as a progressive band. If someone hears that Quaoar is a progressive band, they will probably imagine something totally different than what we are. On the other hand, we understand that sometimes people label us this way, because many of our songs are long and have complex structures in a way. But we just do rock with no limits or expectations. We make songs with no pretensions and without thinking if we are doing metal, progressive, alternative... We don't think it matters. The important thing about it is to create good songs honestly, not to create songs for a specific music style.
We feel good this way, and we achieve to do different songs that are coherent with each other. Songs with a spirit in common.
Without going any further, there are many different genres inside of many of The Beatles albums. They played folk, hard rock, pop, psychedelia... and all that in the same record without sounding incoherent, with lots of personality. We think that this has been lost nowadays. If you play a record (for example) of Swedish modern death metal or metalcore, you will hear only that style of music and only the frame of mind that that music style represents. How can you give room to all the emotions, perceptions, feelings... that you want to represent when you are creating art if you stick yourself to a determined music style?

Ian: I'm curious if there's much of a scene for you guys in Spain, because it would seem to me that you could play with all sorts of bands, so is there any real style or band that's more comfortable playing with?
Iñigo: There are many bands in Spain that make exceptional music. One Direction Drive, Last Fair Deal, & James Room ... These are bands that are really worth it. Although there is no other band similar to us here, as our likes are wide, we feel quite comfortable playing with all kind of bands like metal bands or rock/grunge/progressive bands.
Of course we have a lot of friends in other bands around here and every time we can we give a concert together, no matter the style they play.

Ian: As far as I know, you're still an unsigned band. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to being an independent band?

Iñigo: We've had some offers to sign for labels, but we have not found what we think we need. We need a label that bets strongly on us. This is difficult because for some labels we are too light and for others we are too heavy... And we still have not found any medium/big progressive label that is interested in promoting our music.
Anyway, we feel quite comfortable being an unsigned band, because we can do things our way and we don't have to be answerable to anyone we don't agree with. But on the other hand, we know that we need a label to make progress as a band.

Ian: I guess that's about it, thanks for letting me interview you. The last words are yours.

Iñigo: Thank you so much for hearing us and for making a review of "The River & The Soul"! It was a pleasure.
If anyone wants to hear the whole record, just go to http://quaoar.bandcamp.com. If anyone wants to buy some stuff: http://quaoar.bigcartel.com. If anyone wants to know about us or our shows, search for Quaoar in facebook or go to www.myspace.com/quaoar.

We love you. Stay Rock!
As I've said before, I definitely recommend checking out "The River & The Soul," it's easily one of the best progressive/hard rock albums I've heard in a long while. If you like hard rock or progressive metal/rock do not wait to check these guys out!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pain of Salvation - Road Salt Two (2011)

Band: Pain of Salvation
Country: Eskilstuna, Sweden
Style: Progressive Metal/Rock
Label: InsideOut

When it comes to the whole prog-metal/rock scene, there are few bands that I find as consistent as Pain of Salvation. Though each album is always a different from the one or two before it, I don't think I could call any of their albums bad, I'd consider some of them in the upper echelon of prog-metal actually. "Road Salt One" was released a little more than a year ago and now we finally have it's companion piece, but does it measure up?
Now, I'll just say this first to clear it up, I was a big fan of "Road Salt One," I thought it was one of the band's most catchy and unique albums, even though it had almost no traces of metal on it at all. I loved their take on 60s and 70s progressive blues rock and psychedelic folk, it was pretty high on my end of the year list. This new album was obviously going to follow closely with that sound, but beyond that and a few tid bits about the inclusion of the likes of violins and oboes on the album, fans were pretty much left in the dark. After a short little introduction with Road Salt Theme, track two, Softly She Cries, already blows pretty much everything from the first album out of the water in terms of heaviness, as it is definitely more "metal" than anything from that album. But as for the rest of them album, don't expect anything that heavy again.
What can you say about an album that pretty much opens up with it's heaviest track, the others will have to be pretty good to compensate. In my head, not only are these songs on an equal plane to those on the previous album, but they actually flow together a lot better. In all honesty, a new listener, or someone who was listening to the last album fresh, that album could seem a bit random in terms of how it kind of moved around from bluesy rock songs to quiet ballads pretty frequently, this album feels more like a whole. The melody that was used in Road Salt Theme is in fact the theme to the album and is repeated in various songs throughout the album. You'll also hear bits that hark back to the last album, Of Salt probably being the most obvious. Stylistically, this album is a lot more varied than the last one as well, which might be a bit shocking because I had said this one is more cohesive, but it just works a lot more effectively. You'll find the heavier rock bits, Mortar Grind, more bluesy numbers, Conditioned, polka songs, Break Darling Break, and even more psychedelic folk rock, Healing Now, but it just works so well. The ballads still remain on here, the likes of 1979 and Through The Distance still bring the softer and more emotional side of the band to the forefront.
The end product comes out very strong with little to dislike, in my opinion anyway. It's not quite as heavy as I think it was made out to be, but it's still a great album no less. Definitely check it out if you like more psychedelic rock.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Softly She Cries, Healing Now, The Psysics of Gridlock

Haken - Visions (2011)

Band: Haken
Country: London, UK
Style: Progressive Metal/Rock
Label: Sensory

I've been anxiously awaiting this release since I first heard about it several months ago. I was first introduced to Haken last year with their debut, which I really enjoyed, as it later appeared on my top 50 albums of the year list. I was very curious how the band had evolved their sound in just over a year, if that, since their debut.
Going back to their last album for a moment, that album hit all the right notes for me, in terms of being a fan of progressive music, there are things that I've grown accustomed to, and it should be said that anyone who listens to prog-metal for a certain amount of time will get used to the sounds familiar with the genre as well, but there are things that I love that aren't so prevalent in a lot of bands. That one thing happens to be quirkiness. It was present in quite a few groups from the 60s and 70s, and to an extent the 80s as well, but for the most part, the modern prog-metal scene seems to be devoid of music that just goes into weird tangents and more focused on showing off how technical they can play and string together assortments of notes, not to say that that's devoid on here. Haken's first full-length, "Aquarius," had that, even recalling the likes of Mike Patton's work at times, another plus in my opinion, and it just sounded fun and interesting.
I'm not sure what the conversation between the members of the band were like when they started writing this record or how they decided what to change or adjust, but it worked. One of my few problems with the debut was that several of the songs were a bit too long, with about half of the songs being around the ten minute mark, on here, for the most part, tracks are much shorter and feature more song-based constructions, even though they are all clearly part of a greater whole. Whether it's the more melodic Shapeshifter or the proggier Nocturnal Conspiracy, it's easy to see that the band have stepped up their game and tried to write more memorable parts, which I found in everything from vocal lines to guitar/keyboard riffs and even drum and bass patterns. It also appears they wanted to go for a more cinematic approach, since the entire album kind of plays out as a single piece, in addition to more string-based synthes being used quite frequently. Then of course, there's the epic title-track, Visions, which tops twenty minutes, for those who need to know what they're getting themselves into beforehand, which, is actually worthy of, and manages to justify, most of it's length.
I'd call this album a success, as it's a lot more coherent, accessible, and memorable than it's predecessor. It's not as heavy as the last one, but the improvements in pretty much every other area more than make up for it. Definitely check this out if you like progressive metal that is a bit different from your average Dream Theater wannabes.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: The Mind's Eye, Deathless, Visions

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Egg - Archway EP (2011)

Band: A Egg
Country: London, UK
Style: Post-Rock
Label: Independent(?)

A lot of musicians have said, and this is pretty general, that when they're not playing live and touring, they do not listen to whatever their own style of music happens to be. The likes of Andrew Perring has said that his favorite styles happen to be electronic and metal, but his project goes, more or less, into straight ahead post-rock. I haven't covered a genre besides metal in a little while so here's something a little different.
Now, I'm very hesitant towards stuff that isn't metal when someone sends it to me because I'm not a huge indie music fan, so I can't get down with some of the more indie-rock-ish post-rock groups/projects out there. Thankfully, the first song I heard, opener and title-track, Archway, through a preview actually was quite good. That track had a nice mixture of post-rock guitar lines and electronic drums, and broke off into a more metallic bit at it's conclusion. I wouldn't go so far as to call this blackgaze or post-metal or whatever because, frankly, this isn't a metal album, there's very little relation to the genre besides the climaxes of a few songs. Other tracks on here do vary the style up just a bit, with Greek Salad being a bit more electronic based and Tomb With A View being much more minimalistic and almost ambient with it's guitar work. Each of the four songs is written well enough to get across it's idea in a rather short fashion, leaving an impression, but not really long enough to ultimately stick with you.
Overall it's an enjoyable listen, nothing fantastic, some songs are better than others, but there isn't a bad song on here. It's not very long, the four songs give you the idea and then end, pretty simplistic, but well done. I think if you like post-rock you should definitely take a listen to this.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Archway, Green Lines

And The Giraffe - Something For Someone EP (2011)

Band: And The Giraffe
Country: Gainesville, Florida
Style: Indie Folk/Dream Pop
Label: Independent

Now, as I've said before, I am not a big fan of indie music, or at least most of it anyway, so I bet some people might be wondering what this is doing on here. Now, I'm not opposed to the whole indie thing, there just happens to be a lack of interesting groups out there, to me anyway, but this one definitely intrigued me. Plus, just to further interest me, I've never heard another band/project make use of a giraffe.
Now, to be perfectly honest, I normally would have turned down reviewing this sort of thing, but as soon as I pressed play to opener Underground Love, I was mesmerized. The guitars were soft and dreamy, creating a very beautiful atmosphere despite sounding very minimal in terms of production. Just to kind of set the record straight, this isn't really an uplifting or poppy record in the sense that you'd be able to dance to it or turn it up really loud in the car and just rock out to it with your friends, this is very downtempo and quiet, almost ballad-like most of the time. Now, the duo who wrote, performed, recorded, ect. this album split the vocal duties on the album, and surprisingly, both actually pull off vocals very well. While the two do sound very similar Nick Roberts has an almost Phil Collins-esque quality to his voice, hear Magic 8, while Josh Morris has a more traditional indie sort of voice but brings it to the more country sounding tracks on the album, which creates a very nice combination, but both manage to pump out some really memorable melodies. Probably my only real complaint is the drum machine, which at times is a bit out of place, but that's pretty much it in terms of gripes.
By the end of this six song EP, I just wanted to play it all over again, it really surpassed any expectations I had had for it. It's not perfect, but the flaws are really pretty minor in comparison to how well I believe these songs are written and recorded. Definitely check this out if you like more downtempo folk and country music, this is quite impressive for a debut.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Underground Love, Still

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Swamp Witch - Gnosis EP (2011)

Band: Swamp Witch
Country: Oakland, California
Style: Doom/Death Metal
Label: Gay Scientist Recordings

I've known about this EP for a couple of months already, thanks to numerous sites giving it praises, but kind of decided to let it be. It wasn't until I was sent a copy, and I actually listened to it, that I decided it was worth covering this late in the game. I'm not one to just post something bad that was released earlier this late in the year.
In the praises sung for this release, there was mention of recalling the likes of classic death/doom, like the Peaceville three. Now, I'm not a Paradise Lost fan, but comparing anything to the likes of My Dying Bride, and to an extent older Anathema, will immediately get me going. Unfortunately, I hear very little of that in here, what's on here is much more thick and muddy, that's meant in a good way though, and the vocals don't hint towards more romanticism and beauty/morbidity contrasts. This three song release contains a much more vile sense of self, with lumbering and droning riffs that just provide a backdrop for some of the most indistinguishable vocals I've heard in a long time, I seriously couldn't make out a single work. It's a disgusting piece of work that made me feel like I needed to take a shower after I was done listening to it.
It's a very solid release that should get fans of the genre pretty excited to hear it. It's not a masterpiece, considering how short it actually is, but does leave an impression after listening. Definitely check this out if you don't mind more disgusting doom metal.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Gnosis

The Atlas Moth - An Ache For The Distance (2011)

Band: The Atlas Moth
Country: Chicago, Illinois
Style: Progressive Sludge Metal
Label: Profound Lore

Every person is entitled to a fail or two, and I totally failed with this band. I remember first hearing about their 2009 album, "A Glorified Piece of The Blue Sky," back when it was first released and heard it wasn't anything too special. Then, actually listening to it, I actually really liked it, but never got around to getting their album.
Having been reacquainted with them after hearing Coffin Varnish a couple months prior to this album, I kind of got my ass in gear and listened to as much of their stuff as I could. When their last album came out, I had read that it was standard post-metal stuff and I kind of wrote it off as that, but actually going and listening to it, the source I got my info from (which shall remain nameless) has since been rendered as completely unreliable. What The Atlas Moth bring to the table definitely shows similarities to the likes of post-metal, sludge, and stoner stuff, but it's blended into a stronger individual package. Bluesy riffs intertwined with hypnotic atmospheres and howling screams, all done in ways that people who listen to a lot of psychedelic stuff could dream up. It's dreamy and ethereal, but also very groove driven with enough entry points in to dive into after the initial listen. In other words, the whole thing is expansive, Gemini.
My good friend Jon had remarked in his review that he could see these guys eventually moving onto a similar plane as Mastodon, and I'd have to agree with him. There are similarities between the two, but the biggest one, to me anyway, is that both bands can craft songs that don't really sound like any one else, but have that sort of vibe that make it appealing to different varieties of people, beyond metal fans. There are points on here, Courage or Horse Thieves for example, where I'd go far as to say that these guys trump Mastodon at just making a song so mesmerizing. This is one of those records that just didn't get old, for me anyway. I was literally able to listen to this record for a straight week in my car and not get bored of it, something that I don't think has ever happened to me. As soon as the last song ended and the album started over again, it didn't feel boring, and each time it felt like I could hear something new in the background, a different vocal line, another guitar riff.
It's not often that you find a record that could fit into so many different genres, but actually manages to transcend them all. If I had a gripe, I'd say that there was one song that didn't blow me away, but beyond that, it's great stuff. Definitely go look and find this band, you will not regret it.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Perpetual Generations, 25s and The Royal Blues, Your Calm Waters

Monday, September 26, 2011

Comatose Vigil - Fuimus, Non Sumus... (2011)

Band: Comatose Vigil
Country: Moscow, Russia
Style: Funeral Doom Metal
Label: Solitude Productions

I can't believe it's been six years since "Not A Gleam of Light" was first released, even though I hadn't even heard of the band five years ago. Back when I was first getting into funeral doom, I found all the bigger named bands first, then started looking into more underground groups was when I found this group. That full-length was quite highly regarded within the funeral doom community, if you could call it that, and they've been one of the bands that I actually kept when I was through the phase of listening to every band tagged with that genre.
Now, if you don't like anything about funeral doom, don't bother looking into this because this won't change your mind. This is slow, brooding, droning, doom metal that takes over an hour to reach completion; and by the way, there are only three tracks, all of which top the twenty minute mark. Each of these songs contain funeral doom trademarks, and they really don't branch into new territory on here. If you're a long time fan of the genre, you really don't have to worry about much, this album pretty much sticks to that trademark sound that was on their last full-length without changing it too much. The title-track, Fuimus, Non Sumus, pretty much relies on the traditional sounds and trappings of the funeral doom sound, both to it's advantage and it's disadvantage. Long songs are something that every fan of the genre should have no problem with, and I don't, but to me, these tracks feel like they go on too long, either not a whole lot is happening to make the track justify it's length or it just goes past it's natural conclusion for some reason, The Day Heaven Wept was all good until the last four minutes kept the track droning on and on.
If you're wondering how the band have improved since their last full-length, I can tell you that for the most part, their sound remains untouched. Essentially, the only thing the trio has evolved in is their use of synthe to create atmospheres. The debut, great as it is, was a bit cheesy in terms of the synthe used, on here, there's a greater emphasis on having almost orchestral accompaniment to the droning guitars. No longer are rather dull and uninspired keyboards the background, what's on here has a lore more of a symphonic edge to it, but isn't as cheesy as that might sound. This isn't to say that what's on here is a real orchestra, because what's on here certainly retains the sound from a synthesizer, it's just performed and arranged a lot more epically.
In the end, I did kind of feel a little bored by this album, the songs on here were a bit too long for me and just kind of started droning on for no reason. I really wish I liked this more but unfortunately this thing bored me quite a bit. If you liked their debut, definitely check this out, maybe you'll get into more than I have, or if you like funeral doom.
Overall Score: 5.5
Highlights: The Day Heaven Wept

Omit - Repose (2011)

Band: Omit
Country: Oslo, Norway
Style: Doom Metal
Label: Secret Quarters

Omit is a group that I've only recently been turned onto by a couple of friends of mine who have had nothing but good things to say about this album. I'm sure I've said sometime in the past that I'm not a huge fan when it comes to female fronted metal groups, but they both said that vocalist Cecilie Langlie was actually very good on here. Cecilie isn't a stranger to metal so I was open to hearing this album even if it was female fronted.
As someone who grew up with a lot of gothic and power metal groups being played in the house, I've grown quite familiar with the sounds from those scenes, and thus my eventual distaste for them grew as well. In the years where I looked outward and began listening to more extreme metal, I grew more and more bored with vocalists who were indistinguishable from each other in those scenes which eventually led me to pretty much leave the power and gothic metal genres behind me. Now, the likes of doom metal has always had at least minor roles for women as lead vocalists, and even in my exploration of extreme metal, I found myself liking certain vocalists more than others, and the ones I liked did usually come from the doom scene, not the death metal, Arch Enemy, or black metal, Astarte. What always struck me was how a lot of the women vocalists in this genre could brought what I considered to be actual depth to the music with their voices, it wasn't just someone screaming over the top of heavy riffs or a contrast to someone else who was screaming, it felt more genuine. It works in the band's favor that Cecilie Langlie actually has a voice that I can not only tolerate, but actually enjoy listening to. Her tone isn't too operatic or over-the-top but manages to kind of go the middle ground between the two.
As for the actual music on here, one could say that it kind of blends semi-traditional doom with more symphonic and gothic elements. The fusion of these sounds, to anyone who's listened to any female fronted doom band before, isn't anything new, it's been done in the past numerous times, but I think it's through the use of real orchestration, real strings and not just keyboards, that makes this album so much more successful in it's endeavors. While the music itself, if taken out of the whole, isn't anything too fantastic, but it's when you have those low and heavy, dirging riffs accompanied with the strings and Cecilie's voice that brings that air of a misty area to mind, for me anyway. It's a slightly dreamy, not so much ethereal, but extremely atmospheric and beautiful, but, obviously, with a darker tone thanks to the more metallic bits.
A beautiful record, one of the most I've probably heard all year actually, and definitely worthy of all the praise I've heard of it. It's a bit lengthy in spots, it is a double-album mind you, but it never felt all that long. Definitely look into this if you like more atmospheric doom or gothic metal, with a vocalist that isn't annoying and actually sounds unique.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Fatigue, Constriction

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Karmakanic - In A Perfect World (2011)

Band: Karmakanic
Country: Malmö, Sweden
Style: Progressive Rock
Label: InsideOut

Let's be honest, if you're a fan of modern progressive rock, or at least progressive rock of the last decade or two, you know who Roine Stolt is. Stolt is how I found the band, having enjoyed his work in the likes of The Flower Kings and Transatlantic beforehand, I came into this knowing somewhat what I was getting myself in for. Having said that, he hasn't been in the band since 2004, and I did enjoy 2008's "Who's The Boss In The Factory," quite a bit, so I was of course still interested in hearing this.
Let's be honest here, if you know anything from Roine Stolt, you know that chances are high that you're gonna hear something that's more than a little retro sounding. Obviously, like I said above, he hasn't been in the band for a while, but what you get on here will still tickle the fancy of all those who enjoy the likes of Marillion and IQ, among others. The musicianship, as to be expected, is well done and handled with a lot of dexterity and professionalism. There are parts on here that do lean a bit more into the realm of jazz-fusion, something that the band isn't unfamiliar with, but is still nothing that should surprise fans of the band's first album. Expect lots of solos throughout, big choruses with all three vocalists singing together, some great bass work, and of course a lot of cheesy parts. You also get some of the band's heaviest work to date on here, not that that's really saying much, but Bite The Grit is definitely the song with the most rock on here.
What has stood out with this band, compared to a lot of other groups doing this sort of retro prog-rock style has been their almost pop sense of writing melodies. All of their albums have had those big catchy melodies that I feel is missing from a lot of prog-rock bands, or bands in general. The likes of The World Is Caving In just has those big group vocal harmonies that stuck in my head immediately after hearing them. While it's debatable and totally opinion, I personally found myself enjoying the more simpler moments of the album, the intro to When Fear Came to Town for example, because they weren't as cheesy and familiar to me, as someone who listens to quite a bit of progressive music.
It's a decent album, there really isn't too much to complain about, especially if you're a big fan of this stuff. It's not perfect, and I can't say that these guys have been a band I return too all that often, it's more of something I come back to every once in a while, but it was certainly enjoyable. Check it out if you like modern progressive rock, but check out their last album first.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The World Is Caving In, There's Nothing Wrong With The World, When Fear Came to Town

Old Silver Key - Tales of Wanderings (2011)

Band: Old Silver Key
Country: Kharkiv, Ukraine/Paris, France
Style: Post-Rock/Shoegaze
Label: Season of The Mist

Ok, if you know this project already, you'll already know this but, this project is the collaboration between Neige, of Alcest, and the members of Drudkh. This album has been quite anticipated from both parties since it was first announced. I was pretty luke-warm to the idea of these two parties collaborating since I like both, but collaborations don't always work out for the best.
For the most part, I think people knew what to expect when this collaboration was first announced. Neige has been quite influential in the blossoming blackgaze scene and a bit in the post-black metal one was well, and Drudkh are well known for their Ukrainian black metal sound, up until their last album that is. 2010's "A Handful of Stars" turned more than a few heads due to the Ukrainians shift from their usual folk-ish atmospheric black metal sound into a more blackgaze one. The comparisons to Neige's work in the likes of Alcest and Amesoeurs definitely showed through and the distaste among fans was quite large, although I actually liked the album. So, the collaboration was going to bear the fruit of more shoegaze and post-rock sounds more than metal, and if that's what you expected, good for you, you win a prize!
This album, really, shouldn't surprise too many people, stylistically anyway. What you have here is pretty much an unmetal post-rock/shoegaze record that occasionally shows flares of both parties more metal sides. The guitars rarely harkens back to black metal; and though distortion is used, this record is made up of a lot more clean guitar. Neige's vocals are all sung, and I've heard complaints about his accent not being all that great, and if you listened to any of the bands he's sung in, you'd have already known that, so I don't really see why you would be disappointed by that. Frankly, I think the bass and drums on here are pretty well done, the drums provide some cool fills throughout and the bass pretty much carries the album in my opinion, Nineteen Winters Far Away From Home being a good example. The best example of all the members really sounding good is, I'm sure you saw this one coming, the closer About Which An Old House Dreams, which features probably the catchiest chorus on here, not that that's really saying all that much, and the best guitar melodies, and nice piano, on here.
You know, I can't say I was disappointed by this because it was pretty much what I expected it to be. It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not God awful either. If you like the whole blackgaze stuff or if you're a Neige fan, check it out, otherwise it's nothing to get all worked up over.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Cold Spring, Star Catcher, About Which An Old House Dreams

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The House of Capricorn - In The Devil's Days (2011)

Band: The House of Capricorn
Country: Auckland, New Zealand
Style: Stoner/Doom Metal
Label: Swamps of One Tree Hill

The House of Capricorn is a band that I can remember first reading about last year when they put out their first full-length. I didn't pay much attention to them then but I remembered the name, so when I got this album I figured I should give it a chance. It's just one of those things I just felt like covering.
I can remember going back, before listening to this album, and listening to a couple of songs from their previous material and just sort of laughing because it was a lot different than what I had expected. I guess what I kind of expected was a sort of stoner kind of band that relied pretty heavily on psychedelic elements and maybe some post-rock, what I got instead was some pretty bass-heavy stoner/doom rock. Now, I'll say that I was sold on the music a lot faster than I was sold on the vocals for this band. Musically, the band move between traditional gloomy and minimal doom and more up-tempo stoner rock songs, but when I first heard Marko Pavlovic's voice I kind of cringed. His singing is not the traditional sort of croon, guttural growling/gurgling, or epic siren that you'll get in a lot of bands like this; instead, he has this sort of drunken bellow that made me sort of step back when I first listened. I got used to it after a while, but I will say that there are a few songs where I would have preferred a more steady sort of flow.
Now, there are, if you simplify it, two types of songs on this record, the doom songs and the stoner songs. I described them both above, the doom songs are slow and the stoner ones are pretty up-beat in comparison. That, in and of itself, I have no problem with, but I guess listening to this record straight through several times, I felt that while the band pull off both sounds rather well, something was lost in transition. In my opinion, the slower and doomier songs, Les Innocents and Veils for example, feel a lot more complete and well-rounded than songs like Arcane Delve or Illumination In Omega, that dwell more in the up-tempo realm. That's not even to say that these stoner songs are bad, cause as I just said, the band do pull off both styles rather well, To Carry The Lantern is probably my favorite up-tempo one on here, if you wanted to call it up-tempo, but it's more of a gut feeling that something is missing from some of the others.
So in the end I did enjoy this album, it was spotty, but I'd say most of these songs are good. A lot of this is well crafted and certainly worthy of praise. The vocals might take a little while to adjust to, but beyond that doom and stoner metal and rock fans should take to this just fine.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Les Innocents, Veils, Horns

Mastodon - The Hunter (2011)

Band: Mastodon
Country: Atlanta, Georgia
Style: Progressive/Sludge Metal
Label: Reprise

Like thousands of others, I was awaiting this new Mastodon album like a little kid waits for Christmas morning. Among hearing those three "singles" that were released prior to the album, tension was mounting as the release date grew nearer and nearer. After what has been widely considered their best release with 2009's "Crack The Skye," we get a new album with a fresh perspective.
So, unlike the four previous albums that came before it, "The Hunter" shows Mastodon writing an album of songs rather than an album based around a concept. Filled with thirteen rather short tracks, this album doesn't linger on a single idea all that long, which may turn some off, but this is an album that is all about good songs without pretension. Now, what you have here, sonically, are songs that vary from progressive stoner rock songs that bring to mind the likes of Queens of The Stone Age, Curl of The Burl or Bedazzled Fingernails, to almost Devin Townsend-esque epic atmospheres, Stargasm. Granted, these are only comparisons that I hear, you might hear something different; and, of course, Mastodon end up sounding like no one else. The two longest tracks on here, the title-track, The Hunter, and The Sparrow, are both more laid-back tracks that bring back a bit more of the "Crack The Skye" kind of vibe than other songs, but manage to probably be the most hypnotic in their performance. Granted, I'll obviously say that the entire album still maintains that psychedelic/progressive vibe from the last two albums.
Obviously, the vocals on here have vastly improved, since their last album as well, with a lot more harmony and catchy melodies being present throughout. While Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds still carry the vocals for the majority of the album, Brann Dailor takes the lead on more than one occasion on here providing lead vocals, Dry Bone Valley. The combination not only leads to quite a variety in terms of vocals but also in harmony, you'll find big choruses that make use of pretty much every member of the band singing. I know there are those who wish the band would just go back to shouting/growling of their first couple of albums (even if you're not one of them, you know they're out there), but you have to at least be impressed with how each of the members has grown as a vocalist.
Unlike some other albums that came out this year, I already had a preconceived notion that this album would be great, and it is. There was really only one song that I didn't really care for too much, but when every other song is just fantastically written and performed I can kind of look over that one to hear the album as a whole. It's Mastodon, check it out if you haven't already been acquainted with them yet.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Stargasm, Creature Lives, The Sparrow

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ordo Obsidium - Orbis Tertius (2011)

Band: Ordo Obsidium
Country: USA(?)
Style: Funeral Doom/Black Metal
Label: Eisenwald

This debut album comes from a pretty unknown band with almost nothing known about them. Since you won't be able to just google their name and find a myspace or facebook page, you pretty much have only the music to go on. Small descriptions are on the internet, but nothing really substantial enough to really give you a definitive idea as to what this sounds like, hopefully this does that.
Besides the fact that I was told this was a black metal album, sonically, I was pretty in the dark to this one. For some reason, someone had mentioned funeral doom in their description of the album, to which I thought would be interesting, but unfortunately is not what I expected it to be. For the most part, this is a straightforward, more melodically inclined at times, black metal album that ventures into more doom oriented territory on a few tracks. The biggest occasion being the centerpiece and title-track of the album, Orbis Tertius, which is pretty much the epitome of what someone could call a blackened doom metal song, it's slow and brooding, but the atmosphere remains dense and heavy with snarled vocal. Not to say this record doesn't have it's more odd moments either, with Into The Gates of Madness definitely hinting towards a little bit of Blut Aus Nord, just a little, in it's more abstract riffing.
What kind of made me listen a bit closer to this album was the atmosphere that surrounded each of these tracks. Perhaps it is what led the person who wrote the description for the album that I went off of to say it was funeral doom inspired, but it sounds oddly enough like something I might have heard off of a late 90's atmospheric black metal record. While I don't think it's in the same league as bands like Lunar Aurora or Trist (Ger), the subtle nods towards their more epic sense of atmosphere can definitely be heard in here. The more raw style of production on here definitely recaptures a bit more of that mood where atmosphere shines through the aggression that a lot cleaner produced albums do tend to lack. Now, I hate to say this, and I know a lot of people are going to hate hearing this, but the ending of Emptiness Under The Moon, for me, recalls a bit of that blackgaze sound where a tremolo picked guitar ends up sounding a bit post-rock, if you will, and while I won't say it's an influence, that's what it honestly sounded like to me.
I wasn't sure what I get out of this, but it's quite the album and I found myself constantly, and consistently, impressed by it. It's an interesting journey among the five tracks that is definitely a bold statement for a new band, and I really enjoyed it. I would definitely recommend this if you like more atmospheric and doomy black metal with a foot in the stranger side.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Into The Gates of Madness, By His Unflinching Hand

Dhusk - Dhusk (2011)

Band: Dhusk
Country: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Style: Blackened Noise
Label: Imperial.Noir

The increasing amount of noise and experimental ambient releases that have been appearing on my desk for the last several months has increased quite considerably from earlier this year. It's a bit odd for myself seeing as I never anticipated even reviewing noise and ambient music when I first started out. This new tape was sent to me and, with my recent interest in blackened noise, I decided to give it a couple listens.
The weirdest thing with noise is how much a lot of it just sounds the same, which is why I like to think I'm a picky listener, but I can't say I'm an expert on the subject. This two song tape was a bit strange. Sonically, there really wasn't a lot on here that I haven't heard from artists that I either already like or I've heard done more extreme or uniquely. The noise on here really isn't all that harsh, it like a blanket covering what's underneath it. The ambient and sampled passages the underscore the noise isn't bad enough that I found it annoying, but it also didn't intrigue me enough to want to actually listen deeper as to what they might have been saying. Even the subtle changes in the noise itself, while they were welcome, ultimately felt rather dull and lifeless. This thing worked best as ambient music for me, keeping it on in the background. I'm sure people have their own method for listening to this stuff, but to me, noise music should be engaging and draw you in as a listener, in one way or another, and this just didn't have a whole lot going for it in my opinion.
By the end of this thing, it didn't really provide me with a whole lot. I'll say it again, this wasn't bad, but I've certainly heard better. Check it out if you like noise music, but if you've already listened to this style for a while, you won't get a lot of original ideas out of this one.
Overall Score: 5
Highlights: II

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Circle Takes The Square - Decompositions: Vol I. Chapter 1. Rites of Initiation EP (2011)

Band: Circle Takes The Square
Country: Savannah, Georgia
Style: Screamo/Post-Hardcore
Label: Independent

It's weird looking back and seeing that it's been about seven years since the last Circle Takes The Square release. This new EP, which is set to prelude a new album later this year, has got me excited. It had been years since I had listened to CTTS and finding this new EP really got me in the mood to listen to them again.
CTTS obviously made waves when they released their debut full-length, "As The Roots Undo," back in 2004, where they mixed elements of emo, post-hardcore, screamo, post-rock, thrash metal, and grindcore together into a volatile combination. In the seven years since then, the quartet appears to have evolved, obviously, into a band that isn't so focused on making a single song one particular part of their sound. This four song release combines elements that their full-length had together instead of keeping them separate. The post-hardcore meets doom metal vibe of opener Enter By The Narrow Gates really set the tone, in terms of quality, for how the rest of the album would sound. I don't know what the band have done for the most of their absence from recording new material, besides touring, but they have most certainly been able to mold themselves into a more cohesive and well-oiled machine.
Overall, very much worth the long wait and it has me looking forward to the full-length with much anticipation. Another win for this quartet, they still sound like no one else and have definitely improved on all fronts. Definitely worth checking out if you like experimental rock and metal music.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: The Ancestral Other Side

Psyphoria - Old School Hippie Tits EP (2011)

Band: Psyphoria
Country: Union City, New Jersey
Style: Death Metal/Grindcore
Label: Independent

This debut demo/EP from the drummer of Humanity Falls was sent to me from the man himself, digitally. Though I was pretty luke-warm towards their full-length, I still was open towards it. Based on the title alone, I can't say I that this really would have intrigued me otherwise.
Well, I'll be blunt, this really underwhelmed me. There are a lot of problems with this release, so I'll start with the most obvious one first, the production. Now, anyone who's listened to underground grindcore or the genre's pioneers in their early days will know that the genre has never had to be polished to be good, but this just sounded very flat and dull, nothing stuck out to me. When the intensity was building, it sounded the exact same as when a groove was broken in, Thanks For The Cake, Asshole. Then there's the vocals, which probably are the best thing on here, but it seriously sounds like someone recorded all the music, mixed and mastered it, and then recorded the vocals and just put them at the very top, making sound very separate from each other, in my opinion. Then the drums, which, for about half the time this record is on, sound like trash cans rather than a drumset. This was very disappointing, because the music does have some interesting ideas now and then, but for the most part it sounds sloppy, Elixer, and uninspired.
I know this came off pessimistic and really negative, but after the rather lukewarm response towards Humanity Falls, which for all it's flaws, had some decent ideas and songs, this just falls flat on it's face in comparison. There really wasn't anything on here that made me want to return to it after the initial couple of listens for the review. If you like grindcore or sloppy death metal, go ahead and check it out but otherwise I'd stay away from this.
Overall Score: 2
Highlights: Of All Our Inbred Leaders, You're My Favorite, Bitch Metal

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sky Burial - Threnody For Collapsing Suns (2011)

Band: Sky Burial
Country: Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Style: Ambient/Drone
Label: Small Doses

When I received this album, the cover struck me, as well as the title, which I personally think is actually pretty cool. Sky Burial is a project that I hadn't looked into, though I have heard the name before, that I thought was actually quite interesting after listening. Small Doses has been releasing some pretty cool stuff recently and I was interested in hearing if this would continue the good work.
As a three track affair, what you can expect are three tracks that really build and surge throughout their ten-plus minutes. As the introductory epic, Return to The Peripheries has a lot to live up to, luckily it manages to accomplish quite a bit. The rather mechanical sounding ambiance that haunts the background provides an interesting backdrop to the swells of feedback that come in and out of the track. The slow builds that gently climax at the track's end may feel a bit unsatisfying for some listeners, what with the track never really picking up any steam along the way, but I believe that the end justifies the means in this case. Now while I wasn't too keen on the almost techno-ish synthe that popped up now and then throughout the track, it's just a personal distaste more than anything, the more minimal synthe worship that's used throughout the rest of the track allowed me to almost forget about that one glaring portion of sound; and just to clarify, I actually enjoyed the higher pitched melodies that were used near the end of the song, not the lower and more bass heavy ones.
The other two songs, which are much shorter in comparison to the opener, bring perhaps a more "defined" ambiance to the album. I'll admit, the first track is a bit tiring and a journey, but the rest of the album is a lot easier to get through. While certain parts are certainly claustrophobic at times, I do believe there are moments where there is too much going on and it doesn't really fit, I did enjoy these more ambient pieces more so than the droning opener. It's the quieter, more tranquil moments of this album that I found to be Sky Burial at it's best. Now, the album never really reaches a "loud" point, but I'd say when minimalism is being used to it's full effect, than you're listening to the album at it's best, in my opinion anyway. There are moments where this thing just reaches a point where it just climaxes in an unexpected way, and that's something to really be praised. It's odd to say that ambiance can reach a climax, but in the case of The Cadence of Collapse, it does just that, and I loved every second of it. I feel the need to point out that that track in particular is perhaps one of the most touching pieces of music I've heard all year as well.
It's a solid album, maybe a couple of minutes could have been shaved off here and there, but for the most part it's still very enjoyable. At it's worst it's a bit boring, but at it's best it's just relaxing and tranquil. Definitely look into this album if you like more experimental minimal ambient or drone music.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: The Cadence of Collapse

Total Angels Violence - Inside (2011)

Band: Total Angels Violence
Country: Ukraine
Style: Dark Ambient/Black Metal
Label: Independent

I don't really remember how I found this or why I decided to download it, or even how long I've had this. Having it for a while, and up to probably sometime earlier this week, I had never even listened to this album before, so I was going in pretty fresh with no expectations. After listening a few times and trying to look this project up, I can safely say there's not a lot out there on this project.
The first time I pressed play for this record to begin, I nearly jumped out of my seat. This thing is very different from almost every other ambient based black metal band I've ever heard, whether or not that's a good thing is all subjective. Instead of fusing the two together, this thing pretty much makes a Frankenstein out of the two, splicing elements of harsh and noisy black metal with dark ambient sections, with the two crossing over every so often. It's a very odd concoction that, like I said, I haven't heard done before in this manner. The black metal sections are just intense and blasting while the ambient sections are minimal and brooding, the title-track, Inside, really showcases the dichotomy between the two on here the best in my opinion. The vocals on here were really odd, at times they were pitch-shifted and distorted, either together or separately, but wound up sounding like some of those guttural brutal death metal vocalists, which was pretty hit and miss with me for this album.
In some ways, I found this to be really exciting and almost brilliant, the idea of seemingly just shoving two rather separate soundscapes together, in nearly a cut-and-paste manner, just struck me as an original idea. But having said that, I can't say that there weren't parts that underwhelmed me. For the most part, I did actually enjoy this, but there were some more ambient based moments that were either too boring and uninteresting, or the black metal parts just felt a little too samey, Monster. I wouldn't argue against someone saying that at times this is a bit amateurish, and to an extent the idea is a bit naive. Even the use of electronics on here did feel a bit weak at times, though for the most part they fit with the rest of the music pretty well.
However you actually end up taking it, I actually found this record to just really impress me, I haven't heard this sort of concept yet and I found myself impressed. Like I said, it's not perfect and some of the parts do get repetitive, but for the most part this is pretty solid. Definitely check it out if you like some more experimental black metal or ambient music.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Fleshfield, Riven True

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Drakhian - High Zephyr Point (2011)

Band: Drakhian
Country: Paris, France
Style: Melodic Black Metal
Label: Eisiger Mond

Like a lot of things, I'm a bit late on this one, I've had it for a little while and just haven't gotten to it. The cover art intrigued me enough to get it and I didn't feel that I should just ignore it. The french black metal scene is has personally become one of my favorites, so I thought that this, even though this is melodic black metal, maybe there was something about it that would be above par.
Musically, what can you expect from this, well, melodic black metal. Drakhian shows his Blut Aus Nord, the melodic Blut Aus Nord, and Dissection influences close to his heart on here, but is clearly capable of writing some solid enough stuff to show that this isn't just an exercise in tremolo picking. His songwriting craft is solid enough to entertain throughout most of these tracks without them getting boring, though some of them are, Shadow Empire I found rather dull for the most part, while others are definitely more driving and entertaining, Splendor of The Night. I pick up some hints of thrash now and then in here, The Awaken Dream being one case, that do bring a little bit of variation in terms of riffing to the table now and then. One could also hear folk, or pagan if you so decide, influences in here, with acoustic interludes coming out in Sealed In A Winter Kiss and Moonrise Waltz, something that definitely broke the monotony on here.
Something that struck me as odd were the clean vocals on here, if I'm hearing them correctly. If it is what I'm hearing correctly, they are very low in the mix, which is a bit of an odd choice since Drakhian's screaming vocals are very clear and audible in the mix throughout while his singing can barely even be heard. Granted, they aren't used very much throughout the album, and since it might not even be singing, I can't say that I was disappointed with them except for when they were used. Besides that, I do feel like there is a lack of variation on here, most of the songs make use of faster tempos that rarely slow down for a breather, and when a song is blasting for five or six minutes straight, it does get boring, at least for me. My favorite parts of the album where when Drakhian went for more mid-tempo parts on a few of the more folky tracks, Moonrise Waltz. That is where a track like Wicked Past succeeds, it is, in my opinion, the standout track on here because it is the most "progressive" with its structure, switching from blast-beats to more groovy patterns in terms of the drumming, while the guitar riffs are more folky, without being acoustic, but also have a more progressive edge to them at times.
I'm not sure what else there is to say, I would have loved to have heard some more songs with variations in their tempo, but that's just me. I could see people who like all intense all the time really enjoying this album, but it didn't really hit all the bases for me. Check it out if you're into melodic black metal with some folky elements in it.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Moonrise Waltz, Wicked Past, A New Sun Is Rising

Mastiphal - Parvzya (2011)

Band: Mastiphal
Country: Katowice, Poland
Style: Black Metal
Label: Witching Hour Productions

Before seeing this album I had never heard of this band, but it looked intriguing to me. It honestly looked like something from the 90s, which I then found out was actually from the 90s, big surprise. The band's first full-length in about sixteen years why not give it a shot, I like 90s black metal too.
Well, this is from the 90s alright. Even though their debut full-length came out back in 1995, this pretty much sounds like it could have been crafted only years later. I mean, musically, this isn't too far removed from what you'd find in the second wave bands, hints of thrash with a pinch of punk but with a cleaner production. I mean, there is that element of modernity on here, obviously with the cleaner production, but some of the music isn't too far removed from what some modern revival bands are doing with black metal. But the point should be made that the songwriting is superb and above par on here, with plenty of killer riffs and melodies. Don't expect this album to blow you away with a lot of progressive sections, big melodic choruses, or a huge sounding atmosphere, that's not what this album is about, come into this expecting some good songwriting and riffs that will hopefully make you want to headbang.
I don't know how the members of the band set about writing this thing, but these songs, while not overly ambitious, sound fit for being played live. The likes of Under The Sign of The Morning Star or May He Rot In Hell sound perfect for live shows with plenty of mosh opportunities and riffs that'll get all the kids headbanging. Songs like Nihil Esse are just full of moments where I could see kids pumping their fists in the air at the chorus. Like I said, it isn't overly ambitious, but then again, most shows go better when you have simpler and more straightforward songs rather than just showing off how technical you can play. I mean, there are songs where the band slow down, which does the album a world of good since it's not blazing and blasting all the time, Chosen Obituaries for example is a more atmospheric track compared to the rest of the album, but more obviously in its intro, and is pretty mid-tempo for the most part.
It's not a particularly original sounding record, in ideas or performance, but it's damn good black metal. For every original band doing something new, I feel that there's a need for a band to just keep things simple and straightforward with good songwriting, and that's what we have here. Listen to this if you want a band with some good songs that just make, at least me, want to headbang.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Under The Sign of The Morning Star, Man Strikes God Falls, Triumph of Destruction

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eyeconoclast - Sharpening Our Blades On The Mainstream EP (2011)

Band: Eyeconoclast
Country: Roma, Italy
Style: Melodic Death/Thrash Metal
Label: Downfall

Who can deny a cover like that on an EP. Sure, it's a little cheesy, but in all honesty I still think it's pretty cool looking. This is actually the first release from this band that I've listened to so I was hoping for something musically just as cool as the cover.
This thing holds no punches as the title-track just launched straight into a more technical thrash riff. It's one of those things where it took a second to really register with me to realize what just happened. The entire record really made me do a double-take because it just sped by so quickly that it felt like I had listened to one song. Obviously beyond the first listen a listener could really feel out more than just that, and more listens revealed a better sense of songwriting and some nice riffs. I'm not the biggest fan of the death/thrash sound, but what these guys are doing is well done and quite good, with only three songs it didn't wear on me at all and just sort of sped by. All three of these songs has it's own sort of trait that makes it distinguishable from the others, but all of them are quite fast, which is probably my only complaint, I kind of wish the band might have slowed down for just a few seconds, but with only three songs, one could hardly say that that's needed on here.
This is a solid EP of melodic, thrashy death metal that should please any fans of melo-death. What you get with this isn't overly flashy or original, but it's performed and written strong enough that that isn't really a necessity. Check it out if you like more thrashy melo-death.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Anoxic Waters

Cipher System - Communicate The Storms (2011)

Band: Cipher System
Country: Tjörn, Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

It's been close to seven years since Cipher System released their first full-length, "Central Tunnel 8," and I have to wonder what took them so long. Obviously, I've said this numerous times before that I don't listen to a lot of melodic death metal anymore, or at least newer bands, but their debut was one of those albums that I was really into when I listened to genre a lot more.
Immediately from the first thirty seconds of this record I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. The modern trancy synthes that occupy modern melo-death and metalcore is just something I find irritating, but that's coming from someone who dislikes trance music to begin with anyway. While they are in no way a major part of the band's sound, they are used on here enough for them to get on my nerves, and opening the album with them, 7 Inch Cut, did not bode well for the rest of the album. I also have to mention that I dislike the tone of Carl Obbel's vocals on here, his screams just got on my nerves even more than the keyboards, if you can believe that. I'm sure a lot of people won't have this problem, it's just a personal distaste for the style of screaming he uses throughout the album that I just find really grating.
But enough being the pessimist that I am so prone to be, because this is not all bad. I can safely say that while the keyboards do have that trancy sound that I dislike, I can safely say that the band still relys more of guitar riff for melody and grooves and doesn't rely solely on synthe to overcompensate for lackluster songwriting. The guitar play is well done, and there are real guitar melodies on here, hear the likes of God's Terminal or Objection. I also have to say that the clean vocals on here are well done, they sound modern, yes, but they are not used in as a fall back for lazy songwriting and aren't even used in every song on here. The majority of vocals are still screamed as opposed to sang, which is becoming ever more present in the genre, a lot of bands do the whole 50/50 thing well enough, but these guys tend to stick with the more aggressive screams. Clean vocals on here are used more in conjunction with the screams, like in a song like The Stairway. Personal qualms aside, this album is definitely worth looking into if you want to hear a nice mix of old-school melodic death metal and more modern melodic metal.
It's a decent enough album, nothing special really, but certainly leagues ahead of many other bands. While I may have my own personal distastes for certain things, this is in no way a bad album and is definitely worth looking into. Check it out if you're into the more modern sounding melodic death metal bands.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Communicate The Storms, Objection, A Lesson Learned

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fleshgod Apocalypse - Agony (2011)

Band: Fleshgod Apocalypse
Country: Rome, Italy
Style: Symphonic/Technical Death Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast

I'm sure that by now if you've been paying attention at all to death metal you'll know about Fleshgod Apocalypse. The quartet, now quintet, started off in 2007, got quite a bit of hype and exposure from their first full-length, "Oracles," and released the "Mafia" EP last year. This new album comes with a lot of baggage, considering I actually liked those releases, which is pretty rare that I actually find a modern death metal band that I actually enjoy enough to play their album more than once.
In all honesty, I was not sure what to expect from this coming into it. Before actually putting it on I had heard everything from this being a top contender for album of the year to being a total let down, and to be honest, I was leaning more towards the latter. The video for The Violation didn't really impress me too much and I thought it was over orchestrated. I thought that that track was pretty boring and didn't really do anything that was worth while, it had a lot of synthe on it, the riffs and vocal lines weren't all that memorable, and the clean vocals stretched into almost cartoon territory with how high they were going.
Unfortunately, all of these traits carried onto the rest of the album. Now, I'm all for orchestration, whether it's real of synthesized, I think there are bands who pull them off really well, but this was just over orchestrated in my opinion. Really, I could care less whether it's a real orchestra or just a keyboard, but most of the orchestral sounds on here just sound like they were added onto the music after the band had written everything else, which makes me feel that I probably would have liked this album more without all the synthe. It's not even that I feel the synthe parts are bad, but they don't feel compatible with what the rest of the band are doing most of the time. Then there's the riffs. I don't expect a whole lot of memorable riffs when it comes from the tech-death scene, in all honesty, cause a lot of good bands fail at being memorable, so I can't say that this was a disappointment for me on that level. Finally the vocals. Growling, it's solid, and I like how most of it is done in a very rapid fire-esque delivery, but the clean vocals are where my patience began to wear thin. Paolo Rossi's clean vocals were great on the "Mafia" EP, I don't know why he felt the need to try and go all operatic and high on here where he just starts to sound like a cartoon with how high he's trying to go; and I'm not a fan of how his voice apparently cracks during the chorus of The Deceit, which was otherwise a pretty good track. But not everything on here is a train wreck. Francesco Paoli is a beast behind the kit, as he's blasting for a good portion of this album and makes it sound so effortless. In addition to that, there are some tracks on here that are more well constructed, on all fronts, The Betrayal is a solid slab of symphonic death metal and is easily one of the better songs on here; and I will say that most of the better tracks lie on the second half of the album.
I don't know about this one, I enjoyed their last two releases for what they were but this is just a bummer. The mix on here is totally messed up and the clean vocals are just terrible for the most part on here, but the instrumentation is still done quite well. Check it out if you're a fan of them already or if you're into more classical and symphonic metal, but it's not an essential album for this year.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: The Egoism, The Betrayal, The Forsaking

Ghost Brigade - Until Fear No Longer Defines Us (2011)

Band: Ghost Brigade
Country: Jyväskylä, Finland
Style: Melodic Death/Doom Metal
Label: Season of Mist

I think that it's a fair assessment that a good portion of melodic death metal bands that have come out in the last decade or so are far from being innovative or exciting. A lot of bands seem to tread the line between being melodic death metal and melodic metalcore, which is a line that a lot of bands cross and wind up only hurting them, for the most part. In my opinion, Ghost Brigade is one of the few bands to come out recently to actually do something worth while in melo-death, but that's all subjective.
It's debatable whether or not one could really say these guys are really a melodic death metal band nowadays. They're exploration into the realms of gothic and doom has definitely been steadily increasing since their debut and is very clear on here more so than any sort of modern melodic death metal, or even rehashed style. The growing similarities to groups like Swallow The Sun and Katatonia are more apparent than ever, more in terms of comparing them, not really influences per say. In all honesty, and this might just be me, but I think that Manne Ikonen's clean vocals sound very similar to that of Swallow The Sun's Mikko Kotamäki, not that that's a bad thing in my opinion.
While their previous two albums have never been full-bore metal records, in the sense that you had softer and more atmospheric parts intermingled with the heavy, this album contains some of their most somber and melancholic passages yet. I'm constantly finding myself impressed with the atmospheres the band use in their tracks. Even at their heaviest, there's always a very moody ambiance hanging in the background that just brings a gothic, but not in a cheesy or mainstream way. To be honest, I think I actually prefer their more melodic and mellow passages rather than the heavier ones, the likes of Grain and Cult of Decay are extremely catchy but don't sacrifice any of the darkness in their sound for more melody. There's a great balance on here that helps to really give the album a very holistic overall sound in my opinion and really helped to increase my enjoyment of the album. I like how the album has a lot of dynamics and never just plays it safe by sticking with one sound throughout. You'll find that with the band have slowed down even more on here, reducing that tag's applicability to this band even further.
Overall, I really enjoyed this but I do have to say that with the band moving away from the melodic death sound it will become even more trying to find good bands in that genre. I think a lot of people will agree that this is the band's best effort yet. Definitely check this out if you like more atmospheric doom and gothic metal, you won't be disappointed.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Chamber, Grain, Soulcarves