Reviews Coming Soon

Album Reviews Coming Soon: Queen Elephantine - Kala, Karg - Weltenasche

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Album Review: Opeth - Heritage

I have to confess, I’ve never quite understood ’s modus operandi. Blink once and they’re soothing the soul with softly-spoken words placed carefully over dark, yet harrowing, prog rock; blink twice and they’re hacking your face off and dripping pure death into the bloodied holes with the most vitriolic, post-apocalyptic, black metal. To qualify as a bona fide fan, I suppose you really have to dig both sides of the band’s twisted dual personality. Lord knows I’ve tried to love the heavier stuff but my heart’s just not in it – I’m a Damnation man through and through. I’ve listened to album after album and gone to show after show but I always end up either skipping tracks or ducking for cover whilst others go apeshit in front of me. A part of me strongly suspects there are others who share my theory but I doubt, just as much, that they are willing to support it. Well, if you are out there, folks, this one’s for you.

Heritage is a milestone for , their tenth album, and this time there are no death growls. They have clearly marked the occasion with a change of direction that they discovered whilst writing for their last album, Watershed. It’s something haven’t tried since Damnation, oddly enough; yet even that album’s clean lines can’t compare to the streaky rhythms and ethereal hues that this one carries. In that sense, it’s more likely to occasionally draw comparison to the bleak wasteland portrayed in Still Life. It’s intensely gothic in places, and startlingly barren in others, but it always seems to, like much of ’s proggier material, peel back the layers and bury itself deep into your brain.

Producing the album himself, frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt has stripped back the guitars and vocals, leaving an opaque imprint that will both fascinate and challenge all-comers. From its title-track with solemnly authoritative piano underpinned by double-bass to “Marrow Of The Earth” with plucked acoustic and electric guitars intertwined in a balletic play of notes, know that Heritage is in the raw. Or, to put it all a little more poetically, from a silent classroom to a mere breath on a mirror.

It comes as absolutely no surprise to see Steven Wilson’s involvement either – you can almost sense the man’s energy and hear his influence steaming off of some of these tracks. In places, it’s easy to mistake Åkerfeldt’s vocal for Wilson’s own croon, whilst the opening crawling guitar riff and layered background fills within “I Feel The Dark” would nestle quite happily next to quite a few of ’s tracks – only when hammer in those gloom-stained changes of key, do they stamp their own distinctive personality on this.

There’s plenty of fuzzed guitar and warbling keys in the tight twists and loops of “The Devil’s Orchard”, all of which leads you, tellingly, to the hooked climbing chorus and and its delayed tolling follow-through. Then, those rumbling rhythms are back again for the head-nodding vibe of “Slither”. Both drag forth echoes of , and , whilst the thick guitar tone at the end of “Häxprocess” recalls Gary Moore. Of course, the jazz flute hiding in the loosely-structured “Famine” could only tweak memories of in their prime. Perhaps it is these moments that give the album its aged feel, almost like it had been written some time ago and stored like a fine wine to mature, but it is a thought that’s solidified by the album’s perfectly-weighted title. Maybe it has after all, especially since Åkerfeldt commented in his press release that he’d been wanting to write “an album like this since I was 19″. I can see him now, as an eager young man, ferreting away ideas.

There are brief moments where the jazzy elements begin to overwhelm the quietly brooding core, during “Häxprocess” and again for “Famine”, but they are mere branches within the flow of Heritage‘s crystal-clear waters. Don’t dwell on this thought because familiarity will undoubtedly be followed by acceptance. Instead, let me leave you with a description of the magnificent “Folklore”. It’s a track that dives at you in waves; rises to glorious peaks on galloping basslines and sinks into hardier sections which twinkle and glimmer like candlelight in a vast, lavishly-decorated Viking hall. It leaves me smiling blissfully every time. Each track paints a picture, tells a story, and that’s all you can ask for in an album. I don’t think it’s got the kind of overwhelmingly addictive personality that Damnation exuded, but I do think for all those lovers of ’s lighter side, they have provided some classy food for the soul and that means they can rest easy. Heritage is already a part of the furniture; something to cherish for a long time to come.

Also online @ The NewReview (with samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/opeth-heritage

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gig Review: Letlive - Portland Arms, Cambridge 9/9/11

The always alternative, yet surprisingly miniscule Portland venue in the mild-mannered UK city of Cambridge is rammed, front-to-back, side-to-side, with baying punters desperate to get a glimpse of the scream-machine. The extremely effective, femme fatale foursome of (3.5 out of 5) do a damned fine job of warming those check-shirted chaps and chicks up with a smouldering pop-punk play memorable for its scowls and smiles (vocalist Georgie Morrill) and blur of thundering sticks and hair (drummer Juliette Jones).

Forthwith, LA’s (4 out of 5) emerge to yelps of joy and proceed to squeeze themselves into the various nooks and crannies of the stage, leaving the front free for lantern-jawed vocalist Jason Aalon Butler to prowl back and forth like a trapped tiger. The crowd ignore the danger signs and simply launch themselves towards the band, heaving and moshing with arms raised in triumph. A few go ass-over-tit but are soon yanked back to their feet and the small floor space quickly becomes this heaving, boiling mass of bodies. Energy is expended from both band and fans, the temperature rises and clothes are quickly shed.

The noise levels are through the roof as Ryan Jay Johnson’s cacophonic bass thrum collides with Jean Nascimento’s scaling guitars and Anthony Rivera’s imploding drum beats, and still you can hear the masses yelling every word like it’s their last. Above all that it’s very much a case of Butler trying to make himself heard and through all his intense pacing and yelling he very quickly begins to wilt. During “Muther” his knees buckle, he ceases to resist any longer and simply hands the mic over to the baying masses before him. Here, the whole force of the sound becomes a little loose and parts go missing but it’s forgivable when you consider the restricted confines of the venue.

Having whisked up the setlist to add variety to the tour, the constantly billowing mop of hair that is Ryan Jay whips out his bottle-shaker mid-set to accompany the rolling snare for “Le Prologue”. It’s like one long, sucking inhalation, building and building like a pressure-cooker until, finally, the drums crack, the top blows and the crowd becomes another furious blur of swinging arms and shoving bodies. Cue “The Sick, Sick 6.8 Billion” and we have our emotional peak. Nascimento tweaks knobs at his feet to transmogrify the sound, Rivera aggressively rides his heaving crescendo and Jeff Sayhoun tries to eat the backing mic (at least until Butler evicts him from it as the crowd absorb his own). The stage invasion begins and a few of the more confident plant kisses.

The efforts leave Butler, looking pretty out of it by now, introducing “Casino Columbus” almost apologetically as he finds his happy place at the side of the stage, catching his breath. His tattooed chest heaves up and down making the pictures warp as he croons gently into the mic before he suddenly explodes back onto stage, rips down the curtains and rail and begins pawing at the steamy windows in what appears to be one last fruitless bid for freedom. Whipping round he points first at the crowd then himself, making it clear in one simple gesture how much tonight has meant to him and his band.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/show-reviews/letlive-cambridge-uk

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Album Review: Death Destruction - Death Destruction

When I want to spin some tunes I’m often faced with a perplexing choice, ending up with me asking myself that most ludicrous of questions – what mood am I in? As a reviewer, some of the time I don’t get the choice but, when I do, I usually go for something ambient, richly-layered and rhythmically complex in nature; my “thinking man’s music”. Then there are those other moments (that usually involve some form of exercise) when I don’t need to get cerebral, I need to get neanderthal. For those moments, I’ll tend to turn to something with an in-your-face groove that makes me want to contort my face, thrust my arms at the sky and go absolutely nuts (embarrassing when you’re out for a jog). My go-to list of bands for this isn’t long, but I believe it just got longer.

Sweden’s were originally just a mere by-product of a particularly intense studio session, so for guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl to persevere with the material enough to want to turn it into a completely separate band is one hell of a brave move. Naturally, to complete the line-up, they turned to a couple of buddies and quickly secured the services of vocalist Jimmy Strimmell () and bassist Fredrik Larsson (/). The result? A debut that has a groove on it the depth of the Mariana Trench and a vocalist who sounds like a fly-by from a fleet of F-22 Raptors; believe me when I say it’s a real face-melter. The music comes with a hefty bite of New Wave Of American Heavy Metal, speckled with the occasional smudge of black and blue. This is pit music for the masses.

The bloodcurdling scowl that Strimell sports is simply awesome. It’s fairly one-dimensional but you can’t ignore his passionate delivery. He has a tendency to do these low rising whoops when saying words so that “you” becomes “yoiiiiiieeeeeoooouuu”. Fine at first but, be warned, it can get a little annoying. During “Silence” he turns it up to “inhuman” level, with the lyrical patterns making it sound kinda like he’s trying to sing ’s “Fake Messiah” to the music of . Behind all this macho posturing, you’ll find some brutal music. It’s weird. I feel like I could reference every band in my collection here. Take “Kill It” and “Mark My Words”. For the former, I’m thinking dancing to the tune of and, for the latter, it’s trading blows with . “Day Of Reckoning” is, simply, the sound of a Randy Blythe-fronted and swaggers along boxing ears at every turn.

There is also a grudging element of expansion which comes with tracks like “Hellfire”, bringing out a hint of black metal with it’s minor chords and spooked ambience, and “Kingdome Come”, with breaks and a yawning two-key riff that leaves an indelible mark. It’s not enough to suppress the energy and passion with which they play, nor is it trying to re-invent the wheel. What it does do, though, is unsettle the rhythmic flow of the album somewhat – try the dark stomping of “Chained In Thoughts” on for size and see what you think. When this happens, you’ll find an over-reliance on blast-beats and whacked-out soloing to keep the sense of attack at a consistent level; something that doesn’t quite pay off. This is only a debut, mind, so they’ve still got plenty of time to commit to a direction for future full-lengths.

By no means is it a deal-breaker and with song-titles like “Kill It”, “Fuck Yeah” and “Sea Of Blood” it was never going to be an overly taxing body of work. So much of it does, admittedly, come from that well-thumbed Heavy Music For Dummies manual but that’s not always a bad thing when it’s done so effectively. There’s a fine clutch of gang chants, choral repetition and call-and-response. (i.e.; Call: “Can I get a fuck yeah?” Response: (gang chant) “Fuck yeah!” Repeat ad infinitum.) If you just want pit-worthy power loud enough to level a war zone then are still most definitely the band for you. They have surely made one hell of a workout record. Stick this on in the gym and you won’t just come out ripped, you’ll most likely break every piece of equipment in the place.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/death-destruction-death-destruction

Monday, September 12, 2011

Album Review: Textures - Dualism

Netherlands’ noise-niks are a band of flavors. I’m not talking BBQ beef or nacho cheese here – this is, after all, a music review (for argument’s sake, if I had to pick one, they’d be salt and vinegar.) It comes as no surprise really – I mean, they aren’t called for nothing. It was drummer Stef Brooks who suggested their moniker was a reference to the band members’ many different musical tastes and backgrounds; their composition, if you will. A result of this variety of influences is that their albums tend to flit schizophrenically from one musical flavor to another leaving us much to digest. Last year, however, just as we started believing that we had their sound finally pinned down, the news dropped that vocalist Eric Kalsbeek and keyboardist Richard Rietdijk had walked away from the band. The album release date was duly postponed and replacements were found with Daniel De Jongh (ex-) and Uri Dijk () clambered aboard to settle the rolling ship.

One year later and we get Dualism. Our first listen through reveals that their core has, unsurprisingly, become a little skewed; the flavors within have changed. It is an album that varies much to the abrasively-consuming areas that the previous album, Silhouettes, inhabited. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a sense, this is far closer to their earlier, more ambient debut, Polars. It’s more melodic than Silhouettes, cleaner, less intrusive and a whole truck-load more flamboyant. All this makes it a far more accessible album.

Instantly, you’ll notice the differences in vocal style that De Jongh has brought. I’ve always thought of him as a frontman who seems more comfortable singing than bellowing, and it comes as no surprise that, with Dualism, have gone from being that band who roar with the occasional soar, to being that band who soar with the occasional roar. De Jongh with his excellent warm tones has retained a few elements of why Kalsbeek’s cleans always drew comparison with Mike Patton but from somewhere he’s managed to bring elements of Brandon Boyd as well – of course, Dijk’s cleverly-understated atmospherics merely add to that whole arena rock sound. Of course, you’ll still find a vast array of groove and progressive elements lurking behind most tracks.

Opener “Arms Of The Sea” is wholesome, deep and has a brutal pulse that drags you in until De Jongh finds his croon and serenades you into the surf that you’ve spent the first two minutes kicking up. You’ll find a much less chaotic cadence to the music than, I for one, expected. It will catch you out if you’re hoping to find another “Awake”, because instead you’re more likely to find another “Messengers”. “Reaching Home” has an unbelievably simple, addictive riff running through it’s lead-up to the verses and in combination with De Jongh’s stunningly strong and wonderfully melodious vocal they simply own the track. It’s a definite standout and it comes as no surprise to discover it’s the album’s lead single.

As usual, there’s much to admire about guitarist Jochem Jacobs’ production. He captures the vitality of the drums whilst retaining the throb of the bass, without which tracks like “Sanguine Draws The Oath” would just seem limp. Instead, they kick like a mule with sections of Gatling gun snare and string-bending bass taking them to a whole other level. It’s like listening to covering or duelling with over the subject of who is the most “epic”. Dualism has, of course, got its weaker moments; the points where the band dip their toes into their more predictable pool of rhythms and sounds. Tracks like the metalcore-tinged “Minor Earth, Major Skies” or the poppy “Consonant Hemispheres” are a little lacking in punch and originality; they don’t seem to possess that explosive spark and, consequently, struggle to keep up with the rest of the album. However, most places you look, you’ll find a masterly performance in pacing and layering. Indeed, no finer example of this is to be found than that within “Burning The Midnight Oil” which benefits greatly from a lack of vocal. It allows the music to shine and helps you really identify and connect with the intricate piecing together of the different sections.

More important than anything here, have created an album with a heart; an album with its own identity. Close your eyes and you can feel these two mighty hands reaching down to clasp you, creating a bubble of sound, effectively causing the outside world to simply fade away. The very first time I listened to the seven-minute post-rock soundscaping of “Singularity” I became ensconced in sound; whisked away until the levels dropped off and the bubble popped. Of course, there are those who will balk at the amount of clean vocals here, the sudden proximity that this album takes to those alt-metal bands I have mentioned, as well as some of the more djenty metal bands who seem to be stealing all the headlines at the moment. It could be that this album may be looked on, in the future, as a watershed. Well, I was always partial to before Dualism but, if anything, I dig these new flavors they’ve discovered even more. Though perhaps not as much as I dig prawn cocktail flavor chips. Om, nom, nom, nom.

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/textures-dualism

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Album Review: IIIrd Alternative - IIIa

IIIrd Alternative are, considering their realm of expertise, a Danish quartet who are most probably named after the Monster Magnet track "Third Alternative". It's your first hint, then, that this album's gonnna rock like a bastard. They have put together an instrumental album that draws on the dense neck-jarring grooves of Russian Circles and one that drops off to envelop you like so many other purveyors of dark, progressive and thickly ambient music.

Standouts are the constantly stick-shifting "Dark Rift" and the driving force and sweeping layers of "Umbra". Both these sound like they come from somewhere deep within the bowels of the Earth; rising up like musical magma to burst and pop on the surface in impressive explosions, before the molten liquid rock slides away to progressively ooze its way across the landscape, cooling the pace as it journeys.

Released back in January, it's almost inconceivable how such a work of art as this could go relatively unnoticed for so long. It's a real word-of-mouth album this so check it out and share the wealth. You'll find a full stream of the album, with an option to purchase the download, at: http://iiirdalternative.bandcamp.com/album/iiia

Track Listing:
1.Umbra
2.Eye Against Eye
3.The Great Flood
4.Dark Rift
5.Deficit
6.Æble