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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Album Review: TesseracT - One

This is an album that has been eight long years in the making. Right from that fateful day in 2003 when guitarist Acle Kahney began penning lyrics, for what was then a solo project, right up to the day that the fully-formed TesseracT handed over this hallowed piece of polycarbonate plastic, they have been building to this moment. It's been a long process of road-testing and fine-tuning their material through a multitude of live performances and recorded previews. Needless to say, along the way they have accrued a mighty fanbase, not forgetting a recent Golden Gods nomination, so that now there are many who will hail this album as the moment when the validity of a new music scene was finally accepted by all.

Djent - that odd-sounding word just keeps popping up. I suppose it's the kind of word you can really chew on. Although you could just as easily describe TesseracT as being math or tech metal, for some reason this more-refined description seems to fit them better. The onomatopoeic 'djent', originates of course from the sound of a heavily-distorted, palm-muted guitar strike and it is all over this album. You'll no doubt catch the influences they've picked up from their tours with Meshuggah and The Devin Townsend Project, but that's not to say that those high-gain, polyrhythmic cuffs dominate here like they do on so many of those particular bands' tracks. No, here it is used more as a lead-through to the more evocative side of TesseracT where they flood you with unerringly epic vocal (that, initially, sounds like it would be more at home fronting an alt-rock band), expansive melodics and wildly progressive key changes. These are moments that are more likely to make you feel like you're in an alien environment - similar to that ethereal music created by bands like No Made Sense, Mastodon or Isis.

The overlapping vocals that float in layers above the chiming guitars and funk-fuelled bass of 'April', the emotion-soaked verses of 'Sunrise' (the antithesis of the underscored hammering strings) and the skyscraping vocal that runs through 'Lament' before acquiescing to the shuddering pulse - these are the moments where we will wallow, allowing our minds to wander. The spatial polyrhythmic blasting of 'Deception', the hopelessly cantankerous 'Epiphany', Dan Tompkins' mesmerising vocal performance over the soaring melodics of "Eden" - these are going to be the rare moments when we focus and throw shapes.

If it is true of 'One' that we have already gorged ourselves on it's heart (The six tracks that comprise the 'Concealing Fate' saga were released last year), leaving us just five new tracks to mull over, then it is also true that hearing what surrounds the centre is like suddenly seeing the whole picture. Listen to that early release now and it will feel somewhat incomplete. So although this is essential listening, before you leap, consider this. It may be a generalisation, but the levels of production clarity on show can easily divide the potential listener into one of two factions. The tech-heads amongst you will get goosebumps, whilst the remainder will bemoan the absence of raw edge; the inorganic, procedural feel of the delivery. I'm afraid, on a personal level, this kind of pinpoint accuracy does make me a little nervous. It's the same feeling I get when I visit a hospital - metal-fronted lifts set into white walls and high heels click-clacking on spotless lino - impulsively, I want to scratch up the floors and throw mud at the machines. So while I'm on board to a point, I'm going to be a lot more likely to dig out the filthy majesty of Chimp Spanner or Of Legends to get my djent fix in the future. Consider yourself warned.

Also online @ MTUK = http://www.metalteamuk.net/apr11reviews/cdreviews-tesseract.htm

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Album Review: Explosions In The Sky – Take Care Take Care Take Care

Here we have an album title that smacks of a last goodbye and yet, in a recent TLOBF interview, Explosions In The Sky assured us it won’t be their finale. Guitarist Michael James pointed out that despite this fact “it does have this emotional pull to it of ‘goodbye’. Even if it’s for five minutes or five years, there’s always an emotional component to a goodbye”. He also pointed out that by repeating the title three times “the words begin to blend together and ‘Take Care’ becomes ‘Care Take’, so we’re taking care of each other and saying goodbye and it just had this very sweet and sad feel for us, which really matched the tone of the songs”. Good news then because this particular collection of tracks has all the trappings of a post-rock masterpiece and is certain to leave fans of the genre craving more.

This is the band’s sixth album, and there is more of an encompassing rise-and-fall nature to the songs than we have bared witness to previously. They have threaded elements of dance and pop into the mix to grant us a healthy glimpse of their current collective states of mind. This is particularly noticeable on the tracks ‘Trembling Hands’ and ‘Be Comfortable, Creature’. The former is a short little ride though furious chanting to a driving rhythm that plants crescendos that peak and soaring bass that lifts you up high where you can throw shapes unnoticed, whilst the latter, an initial saunter down a sun-streaked forest path, leads to a neat free-falling riff, a flurry of electronic touches and a series of 65daysofstatic dancing beats.

Like all good albums there are emotional peaks and troughs. You’ll dip down as you feel the pain of the gorgeously mournful, tender touches of ‘Human Qualities’ and ‘Postcard From 1952′ which both have a see-through frailty about them. You’ll hear tapping fingers on pages, jogging feet, slow breathing through the nose, a rise in pressure inside your ears. Like paper-skin, the threaded veins of strings and gently pulsing heartbeats show through to speak of tough times in the many languages of music. You’ll climb up and marvel at ‘Last Known Surroundings’ which feeds tribal pipes, chiming keys, cyclical riffs and a persistent snare into the echoing machinations of a vast industrial mill to create a hedonistic wall of sound.

If there is anything missing here, it’s a lack of shocks. Only those brief moments of industrial psychedelia really make your jaw drop. One of those moments occurs as the countrified pop and bleak desert rock of ‘Let Me Back In’ bids you adieu. It’s a warped groan combined with a jarring reverse vocal and it’s almost enough, on it’s own, to make up that deficit. Whether it hits you hard or not you’ll still find youself sitting in momentary silence. So, as you exhale, a breath you didn’t realise you were holding, and press play once more, to allow yourself another pass though the picturesque scenery of yet another classy Explosions In The Sky album, do consider whether it’s their finest. Hyperbole maybe but, from this reviewer’s perspective, it certainly comes close.

Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2011/04/explosions-in-the-sky-take-care-take-care-take-care

Monday, April 18, 2011

Album Review: Graveyard - Hisingen Blues

Looking back through their history it’s not too difficult to find how ’s roots are buried with , the same Swedish doom/stoner band that emerged from. While the latter formed in 2000, it wasn’t until 2006, and a failed project, that the remainder of the group finally came up with a formula that they all truly believed in. Two years later they had released their debut self-titled album and the few who were lucky enough to hear its sultry blues affectations began telling their friends. Now look at ‘em. A Nuclear Blast band (as they have aptly pointed out “a label that’s founded by old school tape traders”) seemingly with the world at their feet.

So how then can a band generating so much interest, basically just be rehashing a music form we long-thought was dead. How can it be that this stone-cold groove of theirs, which a whole generation before us got down to, is suddenly so popular again? Because now it’s no longer so niche. Our heads have been slowly turned by a modern collection of retro-minded bands breathing new life into dusty lungs, reworking vintage riffs, tweaking knobs to recreate the muddy production of their forbears. just happen to be digging up more historical material than others, speeding along a path made that much wider by bands who’ve merely scratched the surface.

By recording Hisingen Blues completely on analog, the Swedes have been able to bring back to life that stripped-back, cotton-wool-muffled 70s vibe that their first album soaked itself so well in. You’ll hear in there the influence of bands like Zeppelin, , Joplin, Hendrix and Sabbath as well as connections to modern-day outfits like , , and and, to an extent, even elements of and .

Like with their debut, it’s easy to lock into the conducting force of lead singer Joakim Nilsson. He has such an impressive range that you’ll hear him swinging through the forest canopy, as he switches effortlessly into Led Zep mode, to deliver a Robert Plant-esque wailing for the pounding opener, “Ain’t Fit To Live Here”, before dipping down into the dense undergrowth, to burble around a heavy-lidded recreation of ’s Eric Clapton for the supremely laconic “Uncomfortably Numb” – the title being a crystal clear nod to . That’s not forgetting, of course, “No Good, Mr. Holden” where he gives us all a real head-trip with a section of psychedelic reverse-track warbling – the conspiracy theorists among us will be loving it now they have something new to play with.

A warning: too long spent listening to the murky meanderings of “Longing” whilst staring at that glorious cover art and you’ll end up right inside that fearsome-looking swamp, floating on that gnarled, precarious log, along with the band. It has to be said that both the song and the artwork are incredibly evocative. Immediately, I get strong whiffs of Sergio Leone’s work from the former and, from the latter, snapshots of creepy flicks like The Deerhunter or Predator. The artist Ulf Lundén apparently created his effect by taking photos of the band up against a green screen. They reveal that a couple of weeks later, he showed them what he had done – “We were astonished by his work, a perfectionist indeed; rich with details, swamp/jungle feeling, weirdness and a lurking evil feel to it.”

Moving on, there are hints of and that bulldozing rhythm of theirs on “Buying Truth (Tack Och Förlåt)” whilst “RSS” will get you fervently nodding along with it’s gentle criss-crossing of and ’s swinging blues. Here, the dense layering of the sludge-spattered guitars – pinpoint accurate; the resounding rumble of the drums – wonderfully mesmeric. The ultimate nostalgia trip, though, is delivered with “The Siren” which wears its flowers, flares and giant collar with nothing but pride – you’ll either find yourself drifting into another dimension of bliss, or doubling-up in fits of laughter. Either way, it’ll floor you. What we have here is music you can seriously grow to love; a solid body of work that is guaranteed to remind you of your father’s record collection like no other band can – and now I’ve suddenly led out that hulking pink elephant from the corner of the room, it’s up to you whether you choose to acknowledge that as fact or not.

Also online @ The New Review = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/graveyard-hisingen-blues

Friday, April 15, 2011

Album Review: Lower Than Atlantis – World Record

Working out of Dear Old Blighty, as I do, has its advantages when it comes to getting an early taster of something local and something truly brilliant. Before they get huge, having that opportunity to review early releases and talk about them with bands like , , , , and has definitely been an honour. Some of those bands, you might not even have heard of yet (tell your friends it was The NewReview who tipped you off), others you will. Occasionally it falls on us to let the rest of the world know what they’re missing out on, and that’s the best part of writing for an American website; arms across the ocean with a worldwide audience listening in. This brings me neatly to – a band that has got several here at TNR quite excited. Here I hold a copy of their sophomore album which has surprisingly popped up on the battering ram that is Sumerian Records. It’s the follow up to their stunning debut full-length, the niftily-titled Far Q and, if you’re a fan of rock music, I have four little words for you – your new favourite band.

This Hertfordshire quartet have taken the calculating brain of rock, the energetic heart of punk and the shadowy soul of pop to create a monster with rapid-fire rhythms, bruising stop-gaps, heartily melodious vocals and addictively slick riffs. It’s like listening to the genius of early- after it’s been welded to the pop hooks of . I can also hear in this, perhaps with the sunnier side of thrown in for good measure.

There is much in World Record that picks up where Far Q left off, but plenty more that has seen them drop the cheese; step up to the plate; basically “grow up” as vocalist/guitarist Mike Duce puts it. He reveals that “the tunings for most of the songs have dropped two whole steps to add a darker feel.” On top of this, they recorded at Outhouse Studios in Reading with the result being a smoother, less gritty production (their debut was recorded in an office space above a nearby factory). If anything, almost unexpectedly, the end result is an album that leans more towards the pop than the punk, with their mainstream side peeking through on tracks like “High At Five”. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right? Singles “Beech Like The Tree” and “The Deadliest Catch” are now chunky, crisply hooked and will have you bouncing all over the room, whilst the painfully sincere vocals and attention-grabbing, clean strings of the adjacent “Uni 9mm” and “Another Sad Song” will make you believe you can actually hear the cracks as Duce breaks apart. “Flashback to 1999 / It’s the Summer, not a cloud in the the sky / Present day, things have changed / Summer’s over and it rains here every day” – when lyrics like this are delivered at a snail’s pace, wrapped up in a faltering, croaky regional accent, you can’t help but be ensnared by his story.

Picking at a few stray ends we find, despite the twelve tracks, it’s not the longest of albums. The quirky one and a half minutes of “Marilyn’s Mansion” feels like a bit of filler, and the fiery gang vocals that work so well on “Bug” are overpowering when they turn into woah-ohs for “Could You? Would You?” Hypercritical, yes. But, on the flip side, there are so many little pieces of brilliance – the cute little harmonies on “(Motor) Way Of Life” and “High At Five”, Declan Hart’s throbbing basslines that boil up spectacularly for “Working For The Man By Day, Sticking It To The Man By Night”, the jinking top-end picking on “Beech Like A Tree”, the crystal-clear string-scratching on “The Deadliest Catch” and the barely-disguised spiked punch of “R.O.I.” All these things prove that have talent by the bucket-load. Their songwriting ability, the immediacy of the delivery, the lightness of touch – I could go on. And, of course, it’s all radio-friendly too, so LTA may soon be impossible to escape even if you wanted to. At the end of the day though, this is all about Mike Duce handing you his heart on a plate. Whether you take it or not depends entirely on you.

Also online (with samples) @ The New Review = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/lower-than-atlantis-world-record

Far Q review = http://johnskibeat.blogspot.com/2010/04/album-review-lower-than-atlantis-far-q.html

Friday, April 1, 2011

Album Review: Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising

So, I’m intrigued. If I purchase the limited deluxe CD/DVD digibook version of ’s latest offering, I get this 14cm tall ‘Surtur’ action figure. It certainly looks pretty cool but does it have eagle eyes, detachable weaponry and an opposable thumb? If not, I can see thousands of Viking wannabes being pretty bummed out. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen an album sold with an accompanying (ahem) dolly, and I imagine it won’t be the last, but this a frikkin’ Norse god we’re talking about here. At the end of the day, I’m not quite convinced that it’s a viable selling point anyway – I certainly can’t see it being a deal-breaker. 14 measly centimetres? I suppose the band/label are working on the basis that if the album is a bit sucky then it’ll be nice for their fans to have something to beat up their plastic Ken with – oh yes, Barbie’s in for a bit of a shock when she gets home from her modelling job tonight!

With Surtur Rising though, they really needn’t have bothered. It’s an absolute brute of an album. Starting at the top, the artwork is absolutely stunning. It depicts Surtur who, according to Norse mythology, is the leader of the fire giants of Muspelheim. The legend goes that when he lights his sword in the Eternal Flame, he will be given the power to raze the nine worlds before him. He’s clearly one mean dude and artist Tom Thiel has captured him in such glorious colour that it paints the perfect picture (excuse the pun) to go with ’s menacingly dark, powerfully emotive, pungently thematic heavy metal.

“War Of The Gods” picks up right where Twilight Of The Thunder God left off with bludgeoning double-kick and chunky, jagged riffs. The band’s very own Thor, Johan Hegg, blasts forth with a mighty, deathly vocal that echoes thickly over the climbing guitars to create an incendiary wall-of-noise. If anything it’s an even heavier sound than before with the vocal knocked back a peg to allow for the atmosphere to build and the drums to truly hit their mark. Same producer, same studio, but a definite change of tack. Hegg has said “We thought we needed it to be a bit more aggressive and rougher than the previous two. We wanted a harder, tougher sound and I definitely think we got that.”

“Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” is a step back into a more epic, black-edged sound, and hails the return of the god of treachery (he was first encountered on 2006′s With Oden On Our Side). Have a dig around and you’ll find out that the band “basically deal with Loke’s actual deceit … when he totally told the gods to go fuck off.” You gotta love the Swede’s commitment to their subject matter. I won’t bore you further with backgrounds to the song-titles, but suffice to say it’s all pretty far out there.

All you really need to know is you’ve got an album here that, at times, malevolently rages and, at others, provides thought-provoking progressions. “A Beast Am I” and “Destroyer Of The Universe” are much in the former category, heavy on the thrash, light on their feet, whilst “The Last Stand Of Frej” and “Doom Over Dead Man” are yawning, doom-afflicted prowlers that screw themselves slowly into place, smothering their prey to the point of suffocation – that’s not to say they don’t kick up the odd chiming solo or orchestral flourish. There also lurks within the call-to-arms battle metal melodics of “Live Without Regrets” and “For Victory Or Death” – the latter’s title and fighting spirit instantly bringing 1998′s “A Victorious March” to mind.

There’s much to admire here then but, for some reason, there’s still not anything you’d describe as compulsively addictive, unlike so many tracks on their last two albums. Every time I take a breather away from absorbing this, I find myself whistling ’s “Wasted Years”. Now that can’t be right. There is a vague similarity there but this sounds more like Maiden would if they grew big, unkempt beards and started living out of garbage bins. If you’ve never heard of you might want to try a bit of their back catalogue first, but if you are already fans then there is no doubting you will be right on board. Oh, and if you do decide to break your piggy-bank for the action figure, please let us know if it comes with a pull-cord and a variety of built-in phrases (“Feel my fiery wrath, Æsir!” or “Onward to Ragnarök!”, perhaps) or a sword that bursts into flame at the touch of a button. Now that would be cool.

Also online @ The New Review (with 10-track samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/amon-amarth-surtur-rising