Tuesday, 30 October 2012

#221 Wintersun - Time I

I'd never listened to Wintersun before deciding I should see what all the fuss was about. If you're a huge Wintersun fan, it's probably worth bearing that in mind. If you're not, let me set the scene from my own, slightly lacking, knowledge; Wintersun are probably one of metal's most notable cult-phenomena. Despite this only being their second album, "Time I" has been building hype for some time. Considering that it's eight-years since the album before it, it's been quite a lot of hype.

I wasn't sure exactly how the elements of the music were going to come together, and being told they were diverse and, indeed, ingenious. The simplest description I can think of is this; Wintersun are a power-metal band which everyone lied to me about, telling me that they were melodic death metal. If the whole album was in a teacup, there's only about a half-spoonful of melodic-death metal in it. The rest is made up of intricate, complex and mindboggling keyboard-dominated symphonic lunacy. The atmosphere is very overtly beautiful for the duration of the whole album - serene, soaring, and extremely thick, with keyboard melodies slapped on like so much zealous gloss-paint. In this respect, the album frequently runs the gauntlet, along the razor's edge between atmosphere and pure cheesiness, but admirably, it manages not to fall into the latter too badly, with only a few instances throughout the whole record which were badly over-the-top. I emphasise badly because in all honesty, the whole album is over the top, it's just that for the most part it works quite well. It's clear from the onset that, aside from the occasional silvery-smooth guitar solo, or vocal crescendo, it's really the synth which the listener is meant to be enjoying and focusing on in particular. Personally, I'm not usually into synth which is layered so thickly, or produced with such a pristine, porcelain sound. I certainly missed having a few rough edges here and there, but nonetheless, the synth is a genuinely epic element of the music.

The album is quite an overtly technical one, too, which I presume is something the band have been doing since their inception. It's certainly a good deal more intricate than your average power metal, or indeed, floral melodeath album - at times to great effect, with ensnaring and memorable but also sophisticated song structures and melodies which really make the songs deliver a hearty dose of both epic and laden with fancy devices and vignettes to keep the fans with a musical technicality fetish happy. The vocals are satisfactory, too - Around about the level I'd be expecting to hear on a competent power-metal album - clean, crisp and utterly in tune, but at the same time, they seemed perhaps a little bit unexciting. The various vocal tracks, with lead and backing vocals, are arranged quite thickly and ambitiously, but it doesn't seem to pay off at quite the monumental level which it could have done. All in all, the whole album feels like that. I know it's only part one, but at the same time, the album feels short, and lacking in definites - It feels too much like a collection of songs, as opposed to the larger-than-life and grandiose entity I see so many hailing it as. It just doesn't seem to be as monumental as I'd expected based on the hype. Beautiful? Yes, in places gorgeously so. Well written? Yes, rather. Monolithic and Iconic? No. Not really. Perhaps I'm mistaken for looking for that in it.

I listened to Wintersun so I could see what all of the fuss was about... but to be frank, I still don't quite get it. It's a good album, and I certainly enjoyed it's atmosphere - it's genuinely beautiful music, albeit in a style I don't naturally gravitate to anyway, but ultimately, I have to conclude that they hype is rather overblown, at least in my eyes. Then again, as the saying goes, I am a bit of a bastard.

It's good... but perhaps not as good as the die-hard fan next door tells you it is. 7/10.

Wintersun Official Site
Wintersun on Facebook
Wintersun on Metal Archives

Sunday, 28 October 2012

#220 Horrendous - The Chills

I wasn't sure when I was going to review old-school death metal newcomers Horrendous, but I knew I planned to fairly soon. Tonight I'm tired, and because I needed something quite energetic and intense to wake me up a bit, and, judging by the effect that it has been having on my brain for the last couple of times I've listened to it, "The Chills" seems to be the very thing.

Much like Binah, who I took a listen to earlier in the month, Horrendous have a certain quality geared to blowing your head off the moment the album starts in earnest. The differences, however, are more appealing to me than the similarities between the two bands - comparing them, in truth, is probably the wrong way to go about anything. The Chills is an album full to the brim with an absolute multitude of old-school death metal characteristics, and aside from the subtle advances in production since the early nineties, could probably fit in quite well there; Roaring, energetic riffs, with that instantly recognisable death-metal hint of groove, and song structures which really encompass every tempo and stylistic avenue. The albums atmosphere is an interesting one, at times dark, ethereal and haunting, at other times hauntingly sinister, and at some taking a character much more akin to the ballsy death-metal sound of, for instance, a classic like "Scream Bloody Gore". The way in which Horrendous manage to reconcile the all purveying death-metal swagger and overt atmosphere is very much admirable, and results in an album which sounds great in terms of what it evokes and suggests with it's sounds, but also sounds like an album which the band had great fun writing and playing, but also one which is great fun to listen to, or, if you prefer, you can soak up the atmosphere and find it a very deep experience - The album is one which works on two levels very well, and I found myself alternating on a whim.

As I already mentioned, the album has very old-school leanings, and the vocals are no exception; I found myself enjoying them immensely, finding them coherent and complimentary of  the music which they give a voice too, but at the same time not overly-brutal, which may not have sounded quite as good. The style Horrendous use works really well for what Horrendous are aiming at with their sound, which is always a good thing to hear - nothing in the album sounds out of place. The level of cohesiveness on the record is, as such, very noticeable. The stand-out feature of the album, however, for me, is the lead-guitar, which really gives the band both a strong atmosphere, and, more often than not, very memorable songs, with hooks and solos which really get ingrained in the bit of your brain which is responsible for having songs stuck in it. Of course, one of the questions on my mind before listening to The Chills, or any new album which is of an older genre, was whether band have done to set the album apart from being simply re-hashed approximations of the cliché? It doesn't take long to work out that Horrendous definitely are more than that - the band's character is strong, fiercely so, and there's already no doubt in my mind that they're definitely not derivative - they take the established style, and on top of doing it well, really add their own secret seasoning to it, creating death-metal with a flavour which is unlike anything else I've listened to. It's really little wonder that the album is already being hailed as a gem.

It's always a pleasure to listen to an album which is, for want of a better phrase, "solid as a rock". The Chills is certainly such an album, and one I've been enjoying in it's own right for a few weeks already, before deciding to review it. I know I don't tend to write hugely negative reviews about anything, and I'm aware it's quite a flaw, when it comes to separating the good albums from the good albums, but I can safely say that The Chills is a cut above most of the things I extol the merits of - it's a fantastic record. 

...And therefore, 9/10.

Horrendous on Facebook
Horrendous on Metal Archives

Friday, 26 October 2012

#219 Loathsome - Born From Rot

I could sort of tell from the aesthetics, even before listening, that Loathsome's début full-length album, Born From Rot, was going to be filthy, toxic, greasy, and probably slightly inebriated. Then I started listening to it, and confirmed all of my suspicions and assumptions. Fortunately, metal of the filthy variety is something I'm very partial to, which made reviewing an album like this a constructive use of a Friday afternoon.

In the best possible way, Born From Rot is a construct so thoroughly filthy that it could probably give you an STI. Like the odd, devilish insectoid genital-looking creature on the artwork, the album is not only a twisted monstrosity, but also incorporates an interesting range of styles into itself. There's a lot to listen to on the album, with thrashy sections, and, the hallmark of decent filth, d-beats, scattered tastefully throughout, all united inside a death-metal shell. There were even some interesting doomy sections, which really gave the album some diversity in the tempo department. the riffs are frequently violent and abrupt, making the songs a real shakedown, sometimes with waves of blast-beats followed by slow-tempo, which give the music a manic edge, especially on songs like the opener, "Evolved from Slime." It's good to see that the whole band manage to play in diverse styles, too - it's not uncommon for bands to have, say, a vocalist who remains all too consistent through extremely disperate songs. Loathsome manage not to do this, with vocals filled with variety, from high rabid shrieks to low, fairly brutal growls and roars. The album as a whole is an extremely dynamic, but also smooth affair - it's got a lot of elements, but fortunately, the band have managed to make the unholy mass of influences all face the same direction, presumably with the clever use of cattle prods.

Production is an important aspect of any album, but it's finding the right production which matters, not the production's cleanliness or, as I tend to view it, sterility. In this respect, Loathsome have managed to find a production style which manages to match the dirtiness of their music pound-for-pound. It's extremely organic, or, to use simpler terms, sounds like it was recorded in someone's shed. The guitars, bass and vocals sound very natural, and the drums clatter away in a raw, unprocessed state, with nothing added to or taken away from the sound they made whilst they were being played. Nobody in the band, it seems, has any kind of OCD when it comes to production, and the album sounds all the better for it. Clearly, however, someone knew what they were doing, nonetheless - while deliciously raw, the production is well-handled, with the instruments sitting in the mix more-or-less where they should be, and the whole thing is solidly coherent. Perhaps one of the filthiest production jobs I've heard in quite a while. The tone and feel of Born From Rot really does do the job excellently, which is a testament both to the musicianship and the production - both work hand in hand to create what I can only call a fantastically rough sound. I hope that's what they were aiming at, and I've not offended them grievously.

Born From Rot really has been an album I've enjoyed listening to - as I've said countless times, I'm never quite sure how much I'm going to enjoy bands that I'm actively asked to review, but in this case, I can safely say it's been a hectic but thoroughly excellent musical barrage.

This is 8/10 I reckon.

Loathsome on Facebook
Loathsome on Bandcamp
Loathsome on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

That's not Metal! #001: And Also the Trees - Self Titled

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. I've always felt that it's important to explore the genres besides metal, and when I started out this blog, I claimed that I'd be reviewing "Metal, and even sometimes beyond". Looking back, I've done literally none of the latter, but now, I feel the time is good to dip my toes into some other genres. It wont be the majority, or even a notable minority, of the material I review, but the "That's not Metal!" feature is ideally going to make its appearance once a month or so.


The obvious difficulty for me, in reviewing non-metal albums, is that very often, I know absolutely nothing about what their respective genres are like, and people look for in them. Not wanting to give myself an easy start, the first album I've chosen to investigate is the début by English act And Also the Trees, from 1984. The Wikipedia article I hastily read earlier describes them as Post Punk. I'm not too sure what that is exactly, but I shall persevere and hope for the best.

It probably says more than I'd like it to about the thinness of my knowledge of music when I confess that the closest thing I've ever heard to this kind of thing in my regular listening is Type O Negative. The connection, in all likelihood, lies in the Gothic elements to this albums sound, with deep, clean vocals, prominent synth, and a cold, but not caustic or malign, sense of darkness. The album manages to posses some absolutely quintessentially eighties bouncy synth-work, but at the same time tends to avoid being cheesy, or merry. Unlike the average eighties "new-wave" which I've encountered in my time, And Also the Trees seems to have a fairly noteworthy level of diversity - The catchier songs like "Midnight Garden" purveying what I enjoy about pop-like, almost upbeat new-wave music, albeit coming from a Gothic, almost vampiric sounding angle, which is why, I'm told, some refer to the style as "dark-wave". The spoken word track "Shrine" stands in stark, haunting contrast to it, showing the thoughtful and fascinatingly etherial nature of the band's other side. The record is, indeed, bedecked with a good degree of subtlety in many places - the synth has a natural and well-considered sound, providing more than simply a melody but suggestive of an atmosphere of great depth, which is one of the things I tend to look for in the use of synth.

It's always good to hear an album which can encompass a very broad spectrum and still manage to sound coherent, and this is certainly one of them, and it seems to me, limited though my knowledge may be, to be a very inventive and forward thinking album - While the album has no shortage of the trademark eighties sound, which to my generation, sounds like it's straight out of Vice City, the parts with an electronic sound which reminded me of genres like trip hop, which came along later, something which And Also the Trees seem to have been quite early-comers to - parts of the softer sections certainly reminded me of Massive Attack, although in good possibility, it's because they're the only electronic band I know much about. All things considered, and considering them took a lot longer than I was suspecting, because, as it turns out, I know almost nothing about things which aren't metal, I utterly enjoyed listening to this album - It genuinely surprises me that it's not a lot better known than it seems to be - it doesn't sound like the kind of music which need necessarily remain so underground to me. Then again, I suppose the phrase "cult-classic" was invented for situations like this. It's not a record full of hits, or catchy little tunes, but it's a record filled with thought, and sometimes, that's exactly what you need to listen to.

I found it quite hard to review this, and it really gave me the feeling which I had when I first started-out reviewing things at all - that of having no idea what to say. It's nostalgic, in it's way. I expect I shall review some more non-metal next month, and in the meanwhile, I'll try to cure my ignorance a bit.

I can't claim to know the style well, but I'll tentatively rate this 8/10.

And Also the Trees Official Site
And Also the Trees on Facebook

Sunday, 21 October 2012

#218 Anaal Nathrakh - Vanitas

To the unsuspecting ear, Anaal Nathrakh's trademark rabid intensity can come as the musical equivalent of being kicked down the stairs. I can't claim to have listened to every Anaal Nathrakh album, yet, but I can safely say, as one of the bands I've discovered only fairly recently, and listened to the albums which I do own a lot, I was immediately interested to see what they had planned with "Vanitas".

Anaal Nathrakh is, if you've been interested into extreme metal, and it's extremities, for any length of time, a name you'll probably have heard of. One of the reasons, as I see it, behind this, is the band's unique, instantly recognisable style, which is what attracted me to them in the first place. Of course, I'd imagine a lot of people are attracted for slightly superficial reasons, by the bands conception as one of the heaviest around, but that's certainly not what attracts me to the sound - I like it in it's own right. Like all of the material I've listened to, this album sounds like the sonic equivalent of being bludgeoned with a strobe-light. As far as I can recall, this is fairly similar to what I said when I reviewed "In the Constellation of the Black Widow" earlier this year, incidentally my first proper exposure to the band's sound. I'm reiterating the analogy for good reason, however, that being that it's still true for this album. Vanitas is rougher and more vicious than the previous couple of albums, with a more overtly dissonant and inaccessible approach to the material, and fewer clean vocals, creating an album which is not only terrifyingly bleak and dark, perhaps more-so than the last few, but also very accompanying of it's misanthropic and intense themes. The anthemic clean choruses, which I love, are fortunately not utterly extinct, but still have a place in a song or two, moments of clarity in the maelstrom of rage - in "Forging Towards the Sunset" for instance, the harsh but melodic chimaera of a chorus really fulfils the song. There are still a slew of melodies, too, which really keep the subtle beauty of the band strong, highlighting perhaps my favourite thing about the band - while the music has the sharpness and jarring feel of broken glass, it also shimmers like it - there's a lot of beauty in there too, and this album is no exception. 

Anaal Nathrakh have always dabbled in the industrial and electronic spheres  - hints here and there, adding even more to their unique musical character. This album once again has it's fair share. What, as far as my limited knowledge allows me to speculate, appeared to be a dubstep intro on "Todos Somos Humanos" surprised and perhaps even alarmed me for a moment. When, however, I managed to get my overwhelming phobia of dubstep suppressed, I stood back and took stock; It sounds quirky and effective, and at the end of the day, I'm fairly confident that Anaal Nathrakh have more integrity than to create an Illud Divinum Insanus. As such, I'm probably safe to enjoy it as a thinking-out-of-the-box intro, as opposed to an omen of any negative kind. All in all, the industrial elements in the music are at a level where they don't become too intrusive, but noticeable enough to embellish the rest of the music nicely - in other words, just about where I like them to be.Vanitas seems to be the most complex, or, at least, most dynamic album that the band have done in a while, and certainly has more aspects than some of their work, although it's difficult to pick an Anaal Nathrakh album which isn't, at the very least, rather dynamic. Ultimately, Vanitas is cold, sharp, and vicious, which, as far as I'm concerned, means it's a success.

I feel a bit out of my depth trying to describe and evaluate this album, given my knowledge of the band's back-catalogue; there's still more that I haven't heard than that which I have - In time, when I've listened to all of it, I might have an entirely different take on what it is about this album which catches my attention, and which sets it apart. While that may change, however, my first impressions have been excellent.

This is an 8/10, I think.

Anaal Nathrakh on Facebook
Anaal Nathrakh on Metal Archives

Friday, 19 October 2012

#217 Jute Gyte - Senescence

Jute Gyte albums are a far from rare occurrence, with releases geared towards black-metal emerging at least a couple of times a year. Fortunately, as experience has taught me, the speed of production doesn't make the music itself sound rushed; far from it. I can't say new releases take my by surprise any more, such is the rapidity of their appearance, but I my interest was certainly grabbed by the latest black-metal album - Senescence.

Adam Kalmbach, the man behind the Jute Gyte name almost always manages to describe his music far better than I can, and the couple of lines which accompany Senescence are no exception. One of the words which struck me the most was when he described the music as "tangled", which may have been exactly the word I was seeking each and every time I've reviewed a Jute Gyte album. As with the previous releases, this manifests itself most generally as twisted, often violently discordant, but at the same time rigorously and meticulously structured black-metal; mechanistic, but also at times very emotionally charged; Blissful, melancholy and at times unnerving tremolos and quieter sections pepper the whole record, in a way which renders Jute Gyte's brand of black-metal something rather unique, still. The accustomed percussive bedlam of dissonant and hypnotic rhythm which bedecks all of the black-metal albums under the Jute Gyte moniker is present as always, slightly, subtly different in some ways, and exceptionally consistent in others. This album sees a greater exploration of slower tempos, and while a lot of the album still shrieks past at a relentless speed, there are many slower sections which really give the unique atmosphere of Jute Gyte some room to manoeuvre and breathe, casting it in a different light. The atmosphere is certainly something which has been refined as the albums go by, and from Young Eagle onwards, the albums take small steps towards a slightly more organic feel, both aesthetically and sonically.

One of the things I enjoy when listening to any of Jute Gyte's black-metal material is the fearless experimentation. Rhythms and structures which I dare say many bands would be afraid to try make it onto the album, often to great effect; The middle sections of "Striated Rubies" for instance is a winding, inscrutable mass of guitar-work which nonetheless sounds fantastic, and not merely through some token bizarreness, but through genuinely adding to the album and sounding complete, well thought out, and effective. What I can only imagine to be unusual-time-signatures, syncopation, and other such musical devices which I lacked a full understanding of when I reviewed the last album, and still lack an understanding of now, are used very effectively throughout the record, and the end result is something which sounds positively non-euclidean, albeit in a positive way. While initially inaccessible, the music is a particularly tasty acquired taste, one very much worth diverting oneself from all other activities and really concentrating on while it's playing; It's the kind of music which is very easy to get lost in, with cleverly layered subtleties making it addictive and infinitely explorable. It is once again clear that Kalmbach has crafted in a short time, an album, the writing-quality of which belies the rapidity of his musical output.

I was informed by Adam Kalmbach that this album is "[...] kind of my final statement in the style I've been mining since Verstiegenheit or Impermanence". Is this the last album in this particular style? Perhaps. Maybe it's just hindsight, but this album does have quite a strong sense of finality on it. Is it the final album by Jute Gyte? Almost certainly not. He says he has "definite plans", and considering that he thought up something as thoroughly unique as the project's current sound, I await his next scheme with great interest. Until then, of course, I plan to enjoy this album.

I think this might be my favourite yet - 9/10. 

Jute Gyte on Bandcamp [this album is free, or "pay what you want to"]
Jute Gyte on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

#216 Hellcannon - Infected with Violence

It often takes me a while to think about what to review next, and for most of today, I had no idea at all what I would do. Fortunately, I remembered randomly discovering a thrash band called Hellcannon earlier in the year, and meaning to review them. I'd been reviewing a lot of thrash bands at the time though, and felt I should leave it for a while so there would be a degree of balance in the genres I review. I noticed to day that I've not reviewed any thrash this month. I listened to the album, and now, whilst listening again, I feel the time has come to review it.

Hellcannon aren't a name I'd heard before in the thrash-metal world, so I had no idea what to expect. After a brief clean-intro, which left me thinking "this could turn out to be any kind of thrash at all", a powerful, Slayer-esque rolling riff viciously kicked the album into action; Hellcannon take their influence from the darker, more bloody side of the thrash metal coin, which is good to see, although I should certainly have predicted it from the Sarcofago style band logo. The music is darker, dirtier and has considerably sharper teeth than most of the rather pedestrian, traditional-sounding thrash-revival acts, with buzzing, ripping riffs with an unpolished tone reminiscent of Toxic Holocaust, Sodom, or indeed any band who opts for bare-metal, grease and rust covered production; not raw, by any means, but certainly with plenty of the beast left in, which is further emphasised by the rasping, black-thrash style vocals certainly make the bands allegiance with the dark-side known, with a harsh, but also ballsy and angry vocal style which fits in rather well with the general direction which the album takes. Indeed the direction is very definite, too, which is a good thing to see a relatively new band doing; They appear to know what their sound is, and where it's going, and the whole album is consistent, well-structured, and seems to be thought through somewhat. It's also near-enough the perfect length for a particularly intense thrash album, at least in my book - just over thirty-minutes.

Whilst gritty, Hellcannon seem to incorporate many of the less dark elements of thrash too - quite tastefully. There is the occasional riff which has a more traditional mood, composed of chunky, energetic bay-area style chords, and some very competent and highlighted solos (The one in Act of Violence is great), as opposed to the general roaring bloodlust, tremolos, and generally evil sounding guitar witchcraft, although the latter element  has a fairly large share of the albums sound.  Not to the extent to render the album an actual black-thrash work, perhaps - Hellcannon seem more a thrash band with a hint of churning chaos and darkness; The two bands I'm most reminded of by their sound are probably Toxic Holocaust and Slayer, the former for the combination of darkness and at times conventional guitar work, and the latter for both the guitar tone and the chaotic elements. One of the things I enjoyed about the album a lot, or indeed any album which does so, is the combination of demonic but also of human themes; supernatural songs go hand in hand with more human material, in a pleasing mixture which while consistently dark, is also diverse to a decent extent. Perhaps the band aren't taking the dark, caustic thrash sound anywhere especially new or uncharted, but as thrash-revival bands go, there's little doubt in my mind that they're a cut above the crowd, and what's more, the album is well written makes for a very complete feeling listen.

The albums artwork does a very good job of explaining what it's about, which is something I've always taken to be the mark of a good album. All in all, this is indeed a good album, and while to an extent it's been done before, not many bands have done it quite as well as Hellcannon.

I'm giving this 7/10.

Hellcannon on Facebook
Hellcannon on Myspace
Hellcannon on Metal Archives

Sunday, 14 October 2012

#215 Immortal - Pure Holocaust

I've been listening to black metal for years now, and I've explored many of it's aspects, through both well known and barely heard-of bands, but, and this will sound odd to you, I've never actually listened to any Immortal. In all probability, this is something which I should rectify, and do so with great haste, which is why, today, I decided to take a look at "Pure Holocaust", the band's second album.

I can't really pinpoint a particular reason why I've never listened to Immortal before; I didn't even know what the music was going to sound like at all before I listened to the album, in fact.  Some things didn't surprise me, of course; The classic and very much old-school sound, especially on the drums, sound the epitome of early second-wave black-metal, albeit on occasion sounding like a flag flapping in a gale. Fortunately, the clatter of the percussion works well for it's raw context. The rawness, might I add, was greater  than I was expecting; I had somehow anticipated Immortal to sound quite smooth and refined, but it seems that the hiss of treble and wall of grim, cold noise much more pronounced than even the average black-metal of the time. Peeking from behind this, perhaps muffled to the point of requiring a level of concentration whilst listening, the riffs seemed to be very formidable - austere and very Norse sounding, which is the way I like my black-metal to be. Immortal may well, indeed, be one of the coldest, most icy black-metal bands I've run into in a while, which more emphasises the point that, on failing to listen to Immortal when first discovering the genre, I may well have missed some crucial musical education.

I found it an interesting activity, listening to something so sharp and cold - In a way, it was immediately appreciable that Immortal are quite unlike their peers; Without the orchestral and synth based elements of Enslaved or Emperor, colder than the comparatively warm rawness of Darkthrone, and lacking in the overtly occult feel of Mayhem. Immortal seem to be equipped with a majesty in their sound, soaring and riding through the music, that the others don't have in quite the same way; the riffs undulate and the crisp shrieks of Abbath really sets the music apart. I'm not saying I instantly prefer it, but I certainly find it to be noticeably different from the off; many of the nuances of black-metal are present, and done in a really quintessential manner, but in all probability, a lot of these were being set by Immortal, not followed; Pure Holocaust was released before both In The Nightside Eclipse, and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the two albums which it reminds me most thoroughly of, which I think really says something about Immortals significance to what we know as black-metal today. It probably suggests that I should have listened to them sooner.

Once again, a band I've never listened to before turn out to be great; That's probably one of the things I love most about metal - the pleasant surprises and the sheer numbers of bands which are out there waiting to be listened to. I can safely say I'll probably be listening to Immortal again.

This is a classic, of course; 8/10.

Immortal Official Site
Immortal on Facebook
Immortal on Myspace
Immortal on Metal Archives

Thursday, 11 October 2012

#214 Razorwyre - Another Dimension

I've been a fan of Razorwyre's speed-metal antics for a while now, and I think I can safely say that their "Coming Out" EP is one of my all time favorite EPs. Consequently, I've been looking forward to the long-awaited full-length album for a while, and from the moment I found out that it had been released, I knew I'd be listening and reviewing imminently.

Sometimes, it can be a very good thing when a band follow up their previous work with "more of the same". Considering that this album does so, containing forty-five minutes of the same gritty, unpolished and thrashy speed-metal goodness which made me so enjoy the EP, I think its safe to say that this is such an instance. The songs contain the same spirit and good-old chunkiness, which is something it would be a great shame for the band to depart from, and the album certainly retains the catchy, ballsy and not-too-deadly-serious feel which the EP had. A little more refined, neat and adventurous, but at the same time notably consistent. One of the things which pleases me most, however, is that the band still sound as raucous as ever; some albums simply "feel" closer to live-material than others, and Another Dimension feels "alive", let alone simply "live" - there's a lot of passion and earthy, fist-pumping musicianship and energy, and not too much obsession with a smooth, "perfect" finish on the album's production, which renders the whole thing superbly real. The whole album captures and exudes the essence of the phrase "Fuck yeah", with an infections, speedy energy which few bands seem to compete with them on.

When I describe the album as "More of the same", Its probably worth mentioning that I don't mean the band haven't developed; The playing is tighter, more flexible and more intricate than ever before, but not in a way which changes the fundamental idea of what the band do, and have always done well. It's more that they are simply a honing and embellishing it. For me, the EP seemed to be about the tasty riffs and absurdly memorable hooks, and that's precisely what the album has too. There are increases in other areas, however; The lead guitar seems to be more fluid and indeed more present, and there are certainly more moments in which the lead guitar defines the path of a song, leading to a measure of both epic-atmosphere in places, some kick-ass and thoroughly memorable solos, and even more catchiness served all-round, without spoiling the music's raw and rough feel by making it seem pretentious or deliberately complicated. The album may be more more complex, but it's not any less filled with honest, down to earth and well-written music - I find that Razorwyre are the musical equivalent of a steak-pie; You know that it;s going to be reliable, and you know what it's going to be like - it'll really hit the spot, with no unexpected wankery.

A band like Razorwyre are the kind of band which could re-kindle anyone's faith in the old-school, but their music certainly isn't stale; This album is easily as good as their EP, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes speed-metal, thrash, or just plain old traditional metal. As far as I can tell, Razorwyre are one of my favourite exports from New Zealand.

This is certainly 9/10.

Razorwyre Official Site
Razorwyre on Facebook
Razorwyre on Myspace
Razorwyre on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

#213 Binah - Hallucinating in Resurrecture

I've heard many people extolling the merits of young bands like Binah and Horrendous, and the picture they paint is one of excellent, and very old-school sounding bands. I always do my best to have a listen to the bands who are making waves, and in due course, I'll be examining both the aforementioned acts. Today is Binah's turn, for one reason; I happen to have their debut, and so far, only, album, sitting on the shelf, ready to spin.

After a brief intro track, Hallucinating in Resurrecture bursts into life in the form of "Morbid Obumbration". The opening chord makes it sound a bit like the world is about to end, which, in extreme-metal circles, is very high praise indeed. This may sound confusing if, say, you're unfamiliar with extreme metal, but if that is the case, to paraphrase Samwise Gamgee "by rights [you] shouldn't even be here". The whole album has truly magnificently abrasive tone; the sound of tectonic plates grinding together and mountains being crushed upwards from the sea floor really makes the album have a truly apocalyptic tone, and I don't exaggerate when I say that, perhaps dueling for first place with Black Breath, this is the heaviest tone I've heard all year. Of course, it's what you do with the tone which counts, and it's safe to say that Binah must have had a few plans up their sleeve while they wrote this album. Crushing riffs are apparent from the onset, which, above and beyond being heavy, carry a noticeably dark, perhaps slightly occult feel, which is accentuated well by the sinister, but also at times beautiful, lead guitar, which gives the album as a very prominent atmosphere as well as a crushing backbone of rhythm, and roaring, monstrous vocals which really give the impression of a soundscape from an accursed eldritch temple. 

In terms of intensity, this album is certainly near the top of it's class; the kind of album which makes the silence which commences when the last song ends feel almost shocking and suffocating after the barrage of guitar which came before it. The first time I listened to the album, it seemed to shoot past at lightning speed, and I couldn't remember much of it. On subsequent occasions, I hasten to say, it has got better and better; more of the hefty riffs become embedded in my mind, and there are plenty of those to choose from; there are, I'd estimate, at least a couple of "that's a tasty riff" moments per song, and they come in all shapes and sizes; head-imploding doomy riffs, and ones which race past like rabid shrapnel, in the vain of bands like Hail of Bullets, and every tempo in-between. The album is, without question, one for the riff-lovers, whilst at the same time, not being one-dimensional in the slightest; It may be a solid, and mainly old-school album, but its worth being open-minded to the fact that old-school death metal is far from an exhausted style, and Binah seem to be taking it in their own direction, whilst at the same time respecting the hallmarks of the style; Rumbling riffs, mixed tempos, and blast-beats used sparingly, which, if anything, makes them have more impact in the songs which they do appear, which is the way I've always enjoyed blast-beats the most.

Binah, so it seems, are a band I would urge anyone whose into old-school death metal to investigate; powerful, memorable, riff-laden, and with a hint of beauty, they come close to fitting all of the criteria I like to hear in death-metal. In the coming years, I feel they are going to be a band who make their presence felt, and I look forward to seeing it happen.

This is an 8/10, easily.

Binah on Facebook
Binah on Metal Archives

Friday, 5 October 2012

#212 Enslaved - Riitiir

Riitiir is the first Enslaved full-length album to come out in the time that I've been aware of the band, and, as such, I'm not sure if the sheer level of anticipation is something which always greets their releases, or if this album made especially noteworthy waves within metal circles. All I know is that a lot of the metal community at large held very high expectations for the album; expectations of nothing but the best. Fortunately, Enslaved are the kind of band who can deliver just that. The best. 

It really took me a degree of thought about where to begin with this review, which is something which doesn't usually happen - I just charge in to it and salvage some semantic meaning later on. With Riitiir though, it was more of a puzzle. I'll spit out my initial reaction; This album is very, very good. Most, if not all, of its aspects seem to be somehow just right; the blend of black-metal, while considerably less than some of the bands progressive albums, is still utterly present, and blends wonderfully into the unique sound which the band have crafted for themselves over the years; the ever-strong harsh vocals continue the lullaby of clean vocals, smoother and better deployed than ever, really giving the songs a reeling, often melancholy feel, but also a soaring elegance, which is boosted to even greater heights by the complex, slightly percussive riff style which the band have been exhibiting on the last couple of albums. One of the things I notice, in comparison to Axioma Ethica Odini, the previous album, is that on Riitiir, Enslaved seem to have opted to increase the epic and atmospheric elements in the music, and Axioma Ethica Odini itself was an epic and atmospheric record, with reverb laden guitar work and subtle but truly complimenting synth. Riitiir puts these aspects up a gear however, with each and every song on the album sounding profound and extremely powerful; The moments like the slow, crushing riff after the intro to "Thoughts like Hammers" really carry an immense musical presence, whilst subtler sections deliver a lot of genuine beauty, with some fantastic tremolos and beautiful lead work, with a silken tone and richness which just strikes a chord with me immediately, pardon the pun.

Riitiir is strikingly, appreciably well-written. There,as far as my taste tells me, at least, not a hint of filler anywhere on the record; I'm even struggling to pick a favorite song. Sure, perhaps this means that the album can't really have a flagship, leading single in a strong sense, but that pales into insignificance when you consider that the most likely cause of this is that the album is uniformly good from start through to finish, on the kind of musical journey that only Enslaved could craft to sound quite the way that Riitiir does. As I see it, or rather, as a friend of mine put it, which I proceeded to steal and paraphrase quite frequently, there are two kinds of progressive music in the world; there is progressive the genre, and progressive the spirit. The former is paradoxical; bands professing to "progressive-metal", as a rule, sound amusingly similar these days. The latter, however, is where the good stuff is - bands doing unique and genuinely progressive things. It's immediately clear to see that Enslaved are one of the latter - Truly unique and fascinatingly so; The last few albums have been similar in style, but all sufficiently different to be very exciting, and Riitiir seems to be another link in this chain. It's almost a dilemma whether, when I weigh it up in my head, this album is better than Axioma Ethica Odini or not. The easy way around this, which I will proceed to take, is to say that Enslaved have made an incredible album. again. 

It's hard to say what I like most about the album; The thoughtfulness? the depth? the beauty? All of those elements are profoundly present. It makes me realise, the thing I like most isn't any individual element of the music; it's the way that Enslaved manage to blend them all together, a craft at which they are second to none. Indeed, this album has as much variety as any of it's predecessors. Maybe more. It always takes time for an album to settle from being "The new album" to being simply itself. I'm curious to see what insight the months give me into the album that I've yet to discover.

I've not given an album 10/10 in a long time. Enslaved have earned it.

Enslaved Official Site
Enslaved on Facebook
Enslaved on Myspace
Enslaved on Metal Archives

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

#211 Only a Shadow Remains - Premeditated

I feel a bit guilty really. I think the person behind death-metal project "Only a Shadow Remains" asked me to review the projects previous release almost a year ago, and after numerous "maybe I'll do it next" style statements to myself, it turns out I'd still not gotten around to it, when, lo and behold, someone asked me to review "their new death metal album", and it turned out to be the same project. First and foremost, I'd like to say sorry for not getting round to it the first time, and secondly, I hope to produce a more detailed and thoughtful review than I would have done a year ago, to make up for it.

"Premeditated" is the second full-length release by Only Shadows Remain, and is overtly of the death-metal persuasion. A short concept album, with the delightfully twisted premise, as the creator puts it "[...] around the idea of my wife being a serial killer.", rendering the album thematically inclusive of many of the traditional themes of death-metal. The album holds a lot of this true in terms of sound, too; Whilst noticeably modern in terms of production, which, might I add, is very tastefully-polished for the work of one man who was, during the process was in  "[a] barracks room while being stationed overseas", which makes the effort which went to create the album all the more admirable. I digress. The music on the album has a fairly old-school vibe, with chunky, but not excessively brutal riffs, which are chiefly memorable. There's a hint of the more modern, twisted and technical styles of death-metal incorporated too, which I find gives the album a very appreciable balance between the old and the new. A strong sense of groove pervades in many places, leading to a level of catchiness and often makes the music more energetic and invigorating, which is often something which I struggle to pick up from straight, no-frills death metal. The album manages to feel consistently fresh too, in their compactness; as often happens with one-man projects, the songs are rather on the short side, but instead of detracting from the album's quality, it means that the songs don't drag on for longer than they need to; their length is perfectly correlated to their content.

As well as being inclusive of many of death-metal's favoured playing styles, the album also journeys widely through the tempos, with slower, crushing pieces, and faster, near-rabid sounding songs like "Torture-Murder" which has a lot in common, in it's crunchy, solid guitar, with the faster songs of bands like Hail of Bullets - the slower songs also remind me of such, with a similar relentless swagger and murky, brooding energy, like thunder-clouds on the horizon. While not exactly innovative or unique, in the sense that the music certainly doesn't take death-metal anywhere particularly new, the album as a whole has a really solid feel; It's undeniably a good death-metal album, with a consistency, flow and attention to detail which highlights it definitely the product of effort, a labour of love; I get the sense that the person who made the album really, genuinely cares about it's quality, as a good musician, or any kind of craftsman, should. The riffs are reassuringly robust and enjoyable to listen to, and the solid, presumably programmed (programmed really well, might I add) drums give the album a notably tough, heavy, percussion section, with really honest sounding drums, especially considering their artificiality. It's probably simplest to describe the album as a sturdy, well-crafted and reliable death metal album. One of the most coherent and cohesive underground albums I've listened to in a long time.

I should probably have reviewed an "Only a Shadow Remains" album a long time ago, because, quite frankly, I really enjoyed this one. Incidentally, the proceeds if you were to buy the album go to charity, so, if you want to be a good person, and get some death-metal to show for it, you can't go wrong with this release. Anyway, a short burst of death metal, and a thoroughly enjoyable album.

I'm giving this 8/10.

Only a Shadow Remains on Bandcamp
Only a Shadow Remains on Facebook