Monday, 24 June 2013

#284 Cathedral - The Last Spire

All good things come to an end, and Cathedral were a very good thing indeed; a pillar of doom and bastion of all things riff-laden and slightly bizarre. It's always sad when a great band cease to be, but much like life itself, it's far more enjoyable to appreciate what has been done, than has not. In this instance, ten studio albums will always stand for out appreciation - the final of which, this year's "The Last Spire" is the subject of this review. It can, pleasingly, be said to be a fitting end to the band's run.

For the purposes of fairness, I suppose I'd better expand on my point however. What does the record do to be a fitting end to the band's career? For a start, if anyone needed to be filled with reassurance, the artwork fits utterly with the unmistakable and iconic style which every album the band created is bedecked. More importantly, and sonically, however, the record has a genuinely triumphant feel; the music is fresh and still energetic; the band are, very overtly, as solid and lively on this record as they were twenty two years ago when they released Forest of Equilibrium. The Last Spire lives up to the bands potential, and, for my money, is just as solid as any Cathedral album which has come before it. It's pleasing that the band manage to do so; many a band can be noted to be releasing sub-par material by the time album number ten rolls by, but not Cathedral - the doom on this record, and it is doom, as opposed to the bands recent forays into stoner metal and downright psychedelic lunacy, is as good as ever. In fact, The Last Spire feels like a very deliberate shot at recreating the classic doom sound of Forest of Equilibrium and The Ethereal Mirror, whilst sounding fresh and non-derivative at the same time; ultimately, it would perhaps be unwise to pigeon-hole the record in terms of sound, other than, suffice to say, it being a Cathedral album, and one with all of the familiar trimmings; the unique vocals of Lee Dorrian are as good as they ever were, and the general tone of the record gives it a timeless Cathedral sound; it's good to reflect on the fact that the album probably won't become dated. Generally, none of the band's releases will.

Unlike the previous album, or rather, double album, The Guessing Game - a truly a narcotic voyage through absurdity, in the best possible way, The Last Spire instead goes down the road of straight-forward, crushing waves of guitar, or, as straight-forward as Cathedral ever can be; eccentric, atmospheric and at times psychedelic are still very much words which spring to mind when describing the record's sound, but it's certainly stripped back from the previous album, and a damn-sight more gloomy at that; where before rocking, catchy choruses dominated, instead this album has rough, destructive riffs, grinding together like giant millstones of doom and lament at the decadence of the world. The raucous cawing of crows and bring-out-your-dead chant of the intro track really sets the scene for most of the rest of the record. It's bleak, the way doom metal is best enjoyed; bleaker perhaps, than a lot of the band's material, which gives the listener the pleasure of exploring uncharted sonic territory. At the same time however, the album carries with it a hefty layer of the band's accustomed atmosphere, which gives it beauty and whimsy in equal parts; it would be lying indeed to say that the record is entirely one of darkness and despair - I'm not even sure that such a record is truly possible for Cathedral, and there are many a pocket of Dionysian whimsy and merriment amongst the dirges, perhaps the bands signature manoeuvre, and one which is executed superbly on this record. The production too, is very tasty, with course, sandpaper guitar-tones and very precise drums, albeit maintaining an organic feel - giving the impression of a very well tuned drum kit, and not of any post-recording silliness. 

Sad as it is that Cathedral are active no more, I can easily conclude on a very positive note. Or rather, Cathedral conclude on a very positive note indeed; The Last Spire is solid, well crafted and contains more than enough delicious riffs. Ultimately, a very fitting farewell indeed - ending on a high note and really, we couldn't have asked for more.

This is an 8/10.

Cathedral on Facebook
Cathedral on Metal Archives

Friday, 14 June 2013

#283 Paths - I Turn My Body from the Sun

One man black metal is, without a shadow of a doubt, the approach to black metal which tends to be the most prolific and inventive, but also brimming with the unfortunate potential to be derivative and at times catastrophically unexciting. Fortunately, Canadian one-man project Paths seems very much to be the former, positive pair of words, and not the latter. Perhaps it's a good sign when within a few minutes of listening to a record, one can tell that it's going to be an interesting one. In this case, the record is Paths' first release; "I Turn My Body from the Sun".

"I Turn my Body from the Sun" is a demo, so I consider any shortcomings it might have in terms of production, dents in it's over-all gleam, as it were, to be instantly excused, although pleasingly the album doesn't have much to complain about in that department. The production which it has needs little improvement, suiting well the albums warm, deep, psychedelic feel. Aside from the occasional strange-sounding cymbal hit, the sound from a mixing and production angle is very agreeable indeed, and down right fits the music like a glove. The music itself is great in terms of musicianship; the instruments really interract with one another, and the drums sound very real, presumably through good sampling and programming, or quite literally, through the drums being, well, real, although going by how tightly coiled they sound in places, they probably aren't. Indeed, Paths doesn't seem to suffer from many weaknesses of the typical one-man-project. Of course, of greater value, perhaps, than tone, production and tightness, is what the music itself does; not the instruments that made it, but the sound that it created. As I said in the introduction, what Paths creates seems to be interesting indeed, bringing together in various measures the majestic, sorrowful and wailing synth of Burzum's Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, the crushing, colourful and bleak presence of a Ahab, and the downright sonic-weirdness of bands like Blus Aus Nord, all mixed carefully and with a generous dose of originality in it's own right.

At the same time, however, it's hard to be sure if the record is malign, benevolent or indifferent in terms of it's persuasion; while at times it feels very misanthropic, as the title may suggest, the psychedelic aspects of the music create a different picture; something not quite light or dark, but instead something very neutral but beautiful; like that hazy place where both sorrow and elation can lie, this demo carries that ambiguity. Likewise, there's a very tangible confusion between whether the humming, shimmering and deeply hypnotic psychedelia which seeps through the whole demo is the fun kind, or the unnerving kind which dances at the edge of the void. This does a good job of illustrating, that to many records, there is as much beauty in what it keeps a secret, as what it reveals to the listener; this very much comes across as the sort of album which I can take cheerfully of sombrely dependent on how I want to hear it. Whatever the truth of the matter, it's the sort of atmosphere which leaves you content to be hypnotised by it; Numerous times through this review I found myself to have been staring at the screen for a solid five minutes instead of writing anything. I think that can serve as a testament not only to the fact that atmosphere in music is very powerful, but also that I Turn my Body from the Sun is a good example of atmosphere which is extremely well crafted. The entire demo is a head-over-heels journey through chiming, dreamy landscapes, and you feel almost literally altered in state by the time you reach the end.

Ultimately, I Turn my Body from the Sun is very much worth listening to, indeed, it's extremely impressive for a first release, and a demo at that. While I may well be in a state of being residually wowed after listening to the record, I think I might retain for much longer my instinct that Paths are probably a band worth getting excited about.

This is 8/10.

Paths on Bandcamp
Paths on Facebook
Paths on Metal Archives

Monday, 10 June 2013

#282 Megadeth - Super Collider

When it comes to Megadeth, and my opinions on Dave Mustaine, I'm a mercenary to quality; when Megadeth are making good albums, I'm content to ignore the fact that he's completely nuts. When, however, the output of Dave and the gang sinks below a certain threshold, I'm quick to relegate the band to the pile of artists who's newer material somehow retrospectively corrodes even my enjoyment of even their old, good material. Megadeth's past album, Th1rte3n, did so quite literally, by simultaneously reusing, and making less good some of the band's past material. Will Super Collider have the same effect? Perhaps. Over the last few days, I've been finding out.

I'm not going to go for a no-remorse, sardonic, rape-and-pillage attack on the record, although there are definitely points which warrant it; in fact, I was less outright disappointed than I thought I would be, so I'm not going to immediately label this record as the downfall of all humanity, in the vein of a certain Lulu, but at the same time, this record is another instance of one of the big four proving, at the very least, that we can't have nice things. Or rather, we can't have nasty things; thrash is supposed to be ferocious, angular and angry. This album is... neat. It's tidy, and a bit sugary; even the artwork looks like it's in some way sponsored by a soft-drinks company. It certainly does not embody drinking the cheapest beers you could find in the shop, whilst stabbing away at an old, weather-beaten flying-V guitar. Before the obvious is pointed out however, this isn't going to be a "boo-hoo, this isn't Rust in Peace" review. The style that Mustaine chooses to make this album embody isn't problematic in contrast with any of the other, better styles that the band have chosen to play; it simply isn't very good at being what it is. It's not that it's a hard-rock record by a thrash band, it's just that it's not a very good hard-rock album at all. Perhaps it's only saving grace is the residual cleverness which lingers in Mustaine's riff work; they are certainly a little more interesting than the standard, but at the same time, these seem stretched and worn-thin. Sure, "Dancing in the Rain"  actually has a "Killing is my Business" style bit, but it's fairly swiftly shat upon by David Draiman, who, to his credit, sounds marginally better than Mustaine, although I'd entirely forgotten he was even on the record until I looked it up, and indeed, didn't notice him at all the first few listens. I thought Mustaine was doing a James Hetfield impression. Anyhow, the occasional fancy-riff does show that there are occasional warm, sunlit spots, but on the whole, the album is a grey, rainy day.

The problem is, of course, amplified up to eleven by the fact that, to continue the metaphor, the forecast could have been so much better. Megadeth can make reasonable albums; Endgame, as far as I'm concerned, shows this to be true. Perhaps that makes it even more disappointing; the fact that an artist who can make good, heck, great works once again delivers us a dollop of sub-par mundanity; not offensively bad, but perhaps offensive in just how much better we know Megadeth can do. Even Mustaine's usually well-read (albeit bat-shit-fucking-Obama-will-instigate-the-apocalypse-insane) lyrics seem clich├ęd, simplistic and overly watered-down; all of the songs could be about more or less anything; accessible, nondescript angst, strife, and the occasional "they're takin' away ma' guuuns" ejaculated all over the place, making a fairly homogeneous sea of something, which Dave will probably really hate, because things with "homo" in them are sins, as the bible makes clear. Maybe that's why they have a problem with evolution. Either way, I'm not sure what the band were aiming at musically this time around, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the demographic was aged around twelve. I think that's a fairly solid indication of where the band stands now; Dave doesn't know what his fans want any more, and hasn't a clue what's going on in recent metal. To his credit, he keeps trying, but the image is one of a confused parent constantly asking a crying child what they want. It's a bit sad really.

All in all, I probably won't listen to this album again... I don't think I've listened to Th1rte3n again since I reviewed it, and indeed scored it too highly at the time. There's plenty wrong with this one too - a song called "Burn" with the lyrics "burn, baby burn"... one of the most cliched things I have ever heard. Likewise, the rest of the album just feels like a bit of a shame. There are fun moments, catchy melodies, riff-work and production which raise an eyebrow occasionally, but in the end, just because the album is less poor than I expected, indeed, less poor than Th1rte3n, doesn't mean it's not still poor.

This is a 4/10 effort, because the lower-numbers need some fresh air.

Megadeth Official Site
Megadeth on Facebook
Megadeth on Metal Archives

Friday, 7 June 2013

#281 Wall of the Eyeless - Wimfolsfessta

At the moment I'm putting a bit of effort into working through the reviews I've been asked to do in the last few months, but didn't immediately get around to. Wall of the Eyeless, who play an interesting mixture of progressive extreme metal, leaning plentifully towards death metal, are another band who asked me to write my thoughts about their material, and today, I decided to take a listen to their newest demo; this year's "Wimfolsfessta". 

Whilst managing to sound a bit different to any single band I've heard before, it's immediately plain to see that Wall of the Eyeless draw on an interesting range of influences in their work; progressive flavours of both black and death metal are present; with the duel clean and harsh vocals done in the style of both recent Enslaved, and Opeth, perhaps the "big bands" in the respective genres. The vocal approach is enjoyable, with clean choruses really helping the song uphold a feeling of grace, closure and completeness, and mixing harsh vocals with clean, melodic ones - well executed on this record - is something I tend to enjoy. It's always worth remembering that simply because metalcore does it badly doesn't mean that good metal like this can't do it well, and Wall of the Eyeless certainly manage that, with the clean sections sometimes really dominating and crowning the track, despite being more subtle than the harsh, Ackerfeldt style death-growls which make up a lot of the vocal department. Like a lot of intricate, progressive metal, the tracks on "Wimfolsfessta" have an initially eclectic and cryptic, perhaps to the untrained-ear (mine) chaotic, structure; certainly, it takes a reasonable number of listens to learn what's what, with regard to the music, but when you do, it's rewarding. Of course, even someone who doesn't actually know much about music theory can pick tell to an extent when a song is assembled with care and hard-work, and for the most part, this band seem to be as skilled at composition as they are at the actual playing of their instruments, which is refreshing indeed.

Another refreshing dimension of Wall of the Eyeless' brand of progressive metal is that it doesn't reek of pretentiousness - far from it, in fact - all four of the tracks on this demo feel like the parts which make them belong where they are; neither self-indulgent or gratuitously fancy, two aspects which tend to be  far too present within the "progressive" sphere. Instead, Wimfolsfessta sounds intricate and clever, but also natural and organic; something very much accentuated by the relatively rough, murky production of the demo; perhaps it's not quite as crystal clear as the band aspire their production to be in a best case scenario, but none the less, the cloudy production is very enjoyable to listen to, giving the record warmth, without excessively robbing it of clarity. All in all, I suppose my main point is that while still a demo, and relatively rough, the mixing and production of the demo's sound is an enjoyable one. Another effect of the relatively rough production is that it makes the blast-beat based, black-metal riffs feel comfortably at home in the recipe, instead of being sterile. It is, in fact, these black-metal sections which really boost Wall of the Eyeless into a position of being very interesting to listen to, and few of the similar bands I can bring to mind in quite the same way; Enslaved, for instance, of course use a lot of black-metal in their records, but it's not quite the same concoction that Wall of the Eyeless have created - similar, maybe, but there are certainly intricacies which set the sounds apart.

I think Wimfolsfessta can be described as a diamond in the rough; the product of a band who have a great deal of potential indeed. While it may not be perfect, it shows a tangible and very tasty degree of promise, and if the band can create an album of this caliber, I will definitely enjoy it. Tracks like "Flicker" especially, are superb.

This is a 7/10; I can hear potential, as well as just music.

Wall of the Eyeless on Facebook
Wall of the Eyeless on Bandcamp
Wall of the Eyeless on Metal Archives

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

#280 Cultes Des Ghoules - Henbane

Henbane,  more fully; "Henbane, or Sonic Compendium of Black Arts", is the second album by Polish black-metal band Cultes Des Ghoules, and was released earlier this year; I can't remember where I heard about the album, or the band in general, but I decided to buy it blindly, which is sometimes the most enjoyable way to discover new music. When it comes to this record, reading the title is all you really need to do to work out that you're probably in for an interesting listening experience, and I can safely say my expectations were met, and more.

Cultes Des Ghoules bring a lot into their music, both in terms of creativity and influence. Under the flag of raw, scathing black-metal, there are elements as diverse as the chunky but malevolent feeling of A Blaze in the Northern Sky-era Darkthrone, to the dissonant, wailing guitar work of bands like Blut Aus Nord. In this respect, the record manages to feel like vintage black metal, but at the same time, the band manage to assemble it in quite a fresh and novel way; it's not quite a brand-new interpretation of the genre, but it is what's good about it, being played in an exciting way - a very triumphant merging of the old-school with imaginative innovation and a lot of thoughtful song-construction. I think my favourite juxtaposition on the record is the coming together of the primitive and grandiose; pounding, hypnotically repetitive primal riffs and simple but crushing drum-beats merge with a deeply tangible feeling of ambition and direction; the sepulchral atmosphere which the record delivers is more complex than the literal musicianship, but somehow very complimentary to it - something I'd consider to be the great secret of black-metal; that is, the fantastically present atmosphere delivered by chords and beats, which need not be self-indulgent or even technical; instead, the riffs bring with them a horror which only black-metal can. The atmosphere on Henbane can quite well be summarised as that. Not soaring, not majestic, simply downright scary; the soundtrack to being cast into a pit of unseen, shadowy demons, all of them ready to tear you limb from limb. Henbane delivers terror and malice, and captures it very well indeed, with the sheer murkiness and filth-encrusted production really burying the listener in a claustrophobic grave.

One of the crowning features of the record is the vocalist, who has taken a leaf from the book of just about every influential black-metal vocalist around, and the diverse approaches they take to vocal duties really make the album special. A lot of extreme metal vocalists are content with a single style, but what Cultes Des Ghoules remember is that you don't have to settle for just one. Throughout the record, there seem to be influences from half-a-dozen or so vocalists; everything from the dessicated, mangled whisperings like those of Arioch from Funeral Mist, right through to Attila Csihar style roaring, and even the maniacal, melodramatic cackling style of Big Boss from Root. The variety in the vocal department certainly makes the record even more fun to listen to; more dynamic, exciting, and it even makes the atmosphere a little darker. Like the bands first album, this isn't the kind of record I can listen to while reading or relaxing - it doesn't let you, and I'd expect that that's what the band aimed for. Another pleasing feature of the record is that the long songs, and they are rather long, really seem to justify their length. Henbane is definitely not an album which drags along, despite many of the songs on it (read: all but one of them) being over ten-minutes in length. Even with many of the riffs being quite hypnotic and repetative, they slowly, subtly change and undulate in a way which makes them really enjoyable to listen to, even when a single riff can last for near minutes, or recur a lot through the course of a song, there isn't a single track on the record which outlives its welcome. 

Ultimately, if you have a bit of a thing for black-metal which gives the listener the experience of what it's like to be soft, vulnerable corn being ground remorselessly between harsh, unrelenting millstones, this is probably the sort of band you want to be listening to. Henbane, and Cultes Des Ghoules other work too, is exciting, old-school, harsh, murky, malign and very, very well-made. I thoroughly recommend it.

This is a 9/10 from me.

Cultes Des Ghoules on Metal Archives

Saturday, 1 June 2013

#279 Alpthraum - Chronophage

There comes a time in every man's life where his internet connection is slightly too slow to face the idea of streaming anything; fortunately, the tides of telecommunication have turned, and unseen hands have, for their own devious reasons, given me a connection which works properly. Now, finally, I can get around to all the reviews bands have been requesting; Only four months or so after they asked me, I'm going to start by reviewing Alpthraum's latest album, Chronophage. Sorry for the delay, and thank Christ I'm a album-reviewer and not an emergency service.

Chronophage feels like an almanac of modern progressive metal, and a vast number of the elements which typify the genre are present; for instance, the music is an absoloute amalgam of styles, which blend together into something not immediately recognisable as any of them in particular; the grayish-purple plasticene which all plasticine is destined to become. I don't have a problem with this, I must add; it's just very much the case that with modern metal like this, you can sort of hear a bit of every style of extreme metal in the mixture, but you certainly can't tell where one ends and the other begins. The music has the textbook modern, groove-laden riffs of bands like Strapping Young Lad. Indeed, a lot of vocals have a shot at the snarling but melodic style of Devin Townsend. On the other hand, the rich, shimmering synth work is reminiscent of Emperor's later material, and presumably that of Ihsahn after that, although I haven't explored his work. Overall, the styles merge into something which feels homogenous and compositionally solid; the songs are relatively short for being members of the "progressive" genre, which goes hand in hand with the fact that they're considerably more accessible and immediately enjoyable than a lot of the "progressive" material I'm subjected to, which tends to take the sound of a lot of musicians in a room, self-indulgently fucking about. Alpthraum, on the other hand, seem to be lending some sympathy to the listener by making material which feels less like showing off, and more like legitimate songwriting; more power to 'em, or rather, as the band is chiefly the brainchild of one man, more power to him.

Sometimes synth is subtle. Chronophage has the sort of synth which possesses all the subtlety of a flaming man running down the street. I get the feeling, however, that that's sort of the point; there are two major driving forces in the record; one is the chugging guitar work, and the other is the synth, which is certainly designed to lead, and not merely to embellish. Usually, when synth is very out-front, I find it off-putting, but it's executed very tastefully on Chronophage, and it's rewarding, dare I say very fun to get lost in the swirling, thick and modern synth melodies. The guitar, too, is fun - complicated enough to keep your brain fresh as it pursues the riff, but not so technical or downright weird as to cause serious injury. The riffs are another instance of where the band really manages to achieve a sensible balance; there are enough of those percussive, single-note chugging riffs to give the album a bit of that certain je ne sais quoi which only chugging-riffs can provide, but at the same time doesn't have so many of them to be tedious or just plain silly; a rhythm guitarist should seldom have only the picking hand near the guitar for more than a few seconds, and for the most part, Chronophage obeys this rule, and granted, while the album doesn't do anything truly progressive in the sense of bringing anything new to the the table, it has vastly exceeded my expectations in succeding to being together, and with impressive skill, many of the elements of modern metal which don't annoy me, which doubly rewards me by providing a record I actually enjoyed listening to thoroughly, and spared me the task of being a bastard when it came to reviewing it. 

It took me a while to get around to, but I'm glad I listened to this record. While it definitely isn't the sort of metal that I listen to every day, it was greatly more pleasing than I had even begun to anticipate, and I'd recommend the record strongly to anyone who really enjoys this kind of thing; tracks like "Box of Illusions" have been among the biggest signposts towards me accepting modern progressive-metal yet. 

This is a 6/10; it would be unfair for me to give something which isn't quite what I'm usually into a really high score, but even a nonbeliever like me can appreciate how solid it is. 

Alpthraum on Facebook
Alpthraum on Bandcamp
Alpthraum on Metal Archives