Reviews Coming Soon

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Album Review: Avatar - Black Waltz

Oozing pumping melodeath from every pore, Sweden’s are now on their fourth album and yet they are a band who have, up until now, slipped right through my fingers. Naturally, I was disappointed to discover they aren’t blue-skinned Na’vi from the planet Pandora but, having scanned the album title and proto-gothic freak on the cover, neither do they sound anything like or the craptacular . In fact, there is a band that springs to mind when you add the album’s industrial overtones to their proclivity for thick black-make up, uniforms and all things Big Top, and that band is . Now, that is a hard act to follow.

“All Is Lost” and “Torn Apart” kick off Black Waltz with the kind of rhythmic hammering you’d associate with a powerful steam locomotive haring down the rails. Sure, those metronomic drums fire up a sweet blazing trail, but it’s frontman Johannes Eckerström, in the engine cab, stoking those fires. Scouring his lungs for more and more power, he’s like a psychotic version of Randy Blythe ().

With elements of Swedish compatriots , and and, from across the border, Danish rockers, and , they pile on the slick production and rip into their songs following a verse-chorus-verse pattern that brushes aside any overcomplicated sequencing or wild flights of fancy. Everything they’ve got is shoved whole-heartedly into the churning drum and bass, bottom-end groove. Tracks like “Blod” and “Smells Like A Freakshow” whack up the metal and, in doing so, become their fist-pumping anthems, whilst the nifty little riffs in “Paint Me Red” and “Torn Apart” add an addictive edge to spice up the deal.

With their simplistic construction and fondness for repetition, some of the tracks eke past the five-minute mark and, consequently, tend to turn a little sour – another case of over-egging a pretty straight-forward pudding. In the main, though, things are kept fast, fiery and attention-grabbing and the band have plenty of tricks up their sleeve to keep the album cannily varied.

“In Napalm” picks up a gothic bent as the band unite to deliver a whispered verse and accompanying chanted chorus, whilst the title-track goes even darker, riding snare rolls and walking us through a stageful of power-on, power-off, slow-quick theatrics (you have to check out the video, featuring circus act Hellzapoppin’, to really understand what’s going on here). Then, don a ten-gallon, chaps and chinks for “Let It Burn” and, from somewhere, find a dirty-ass blues groove and ride that buckin’ bronco for all it’s worth.There’s a few sticky moments, such as the 30 seconds of “In Napalm”s build that starts so quietly as to almost make it dead air, or the irksome twinkly chorus that kills the momentum of “One Touch”. Oh, and the near-as-dammit 10-minute, suck-it-up, harmonica-littered utter lunacy of “Use Your Tongue” wants bagging and tagging and throwing into a padded room. We’ll take it though for that killer line of “Good morning, good morning, good morning, rise and shine, rise and shine, rise and shine!”

I’m delighted to report, Black Waltz is a bit of a nutbar. The content seemingly rebounds off genres like a helpless pinball, but when it hits a bumper cap, it hits that cap with everything it’s got and that kind of commitment to the cause is a rare commodity. Yep, it’s a bit of a beast, so don’t be surprised to find breaking the machine with this one. Heck, they may not have anything like the wanton desire for destruction that have, but you still wouldn’t want to be trapped in the same room as them. Hold on to your hats!

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/avatar-black-waltz

Friday, February 17, 2012

Album Review: Drawers - All Is One

The sheer volume of music out there, divided into a plethora of disparate genres and subgenres, never ceases to amaze me. As lovers of the art form we are all sweeping our musical metal detectors across these heaving, sonic haystacks, searching for the tiny needles in each that prick our attention. The idea, of course, is that we collect enough needles from enough haystacks to satiate our own desire. As we grab our needles to knit our own musical sweater, it’s so easy to forget the vast weight of bands we either fail to pick-up on, or do so and discard.

Drawers are a band who, amidst the trend for those one-word, pluralised bandnames and the resurgent craze for atmospherics and big riffs, are in danger of not getting picked up. It’s clear from, “All Is One”, their debut album about a sailor’s journey to meet his nemesis, that the band have sucked up many different flavours of sludge and stoner metal to produce a hard, smothering sound that’s heavy enough to suffocate.

They start aggressively with both “Capuut Mortem Ocean” and “Black Queen” ripped with the grumbling guitar tone of High On Fire and enamoured with a touch of the dark power of Purified In Blood. “Grey Sailor” piles some of Corrosion Of Conformity’s hardcore feistiness into the mix, dissecting the rhythmic groove into spasming sections. Mostly though, you’ll be hearing plenty of the low-keyed progressive fury of Crowbar and Down, especially in tracks like “Ivory Lighthouse”, “Red Ballet” and “Muddy Smoke”, both in the Anselmo meets Windstein vocal and the weight of dissonance, dissolving the chugs into a singular sound.

Tracks like the short-but-sweet “Blue Keel” and the more expansive “Silver Hand” dig down into cleaner waters adding another brief layer with a more pinched, proggy quality a la Baroness or Isis. “Silver Hand”, in particular, is a winner having retained the driven punch built up from previous tracks to offer a taste of both worlds. Another cracker is the raw power-play, “Golden Adieu”, which simply refuses to cede ground to allow you room to breathe.

With quite a few recognisable influences up front and centre, the task of projecting their own stamp on the project becomes increasingly more important as the tracks roll by. Sadly, by “Purple Ride” and “Electric Seat”, Drawers have succumbed to towing the stoner metal line, mimicking Down almost to the last detail in an attempt to suck up some of their signature, grime-slicked, deep Southern groove, wobbling along the same path, facetiously mimicking their bow-legged gait.

It’s odd that an album whose song-titles feature an array of colours should seem so undeviating, but it’s an album that undoubtedly has an enormous heft to it. It’s for this reason that, despite its lack of variety and tendency to copycat, fans of any of the aforementioned bands should get a kick out of this. For the rest of you, as it stands, if your detector gets one whiff of these Frenchmen right now, it will simply short-circuit and Drawers will find themselves sliding back down to the bottom of that haystack.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/02/drawers-all-is-one-slow-burn-records/

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Album Review: Band Of Skulls - Sweet Sour

Southampton’s Band Of Skulls are a band on the cusp of something special. Their debut album, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, nicely egged on by a couple of impact single releases, took them to some exciting places, and this latest long-player is already receiving some high-profile attention. Radio 1 has been blasting out the promo singles on a regular basis and, tuning in, it’s pretty easy to see why.

A quick glance at bassist/vocalist Emma Richardson’s Rorschashian inkblot artwork, this time around, is your first indication that Sweet Sour is going to rock harder than their debut. It has developed into something far more sinister than the blossoming glory of their debut. I’ve fallen into her trap by assembling its imagery into either a dissected, bloodied chicken corpse or, possibly, an Alien facehugger about to impregnate the viewer. Whichever it is, she’s nailed the album title in one startling image.

Certainly, the top end of Sweet Sour is all about the crunch. Guitarist/vocalist Russell Marsden has said “We wanted to write material that’s primed for where we’d got to. Beefier songs for bigger stages”. They are certainly that, with tracks like ‘Bruises’ and ‘Devil Takes Care Of His Own’ loaded with lurching, grimy riffs that pepper the songs with crafty precision, the rhythm ensconced in a methodical structure of attack and release.

They may be pulling the now-familiar shapes of rock bands past, but they have avoided the trap of merely echoing the mould that bands like The Vines or Jet once slid themselves into. Instead, BOS simply refuse to pile it all into the mix at once. Rather, enigmatic gaps in the music are added, the tonal quality becomes a malleable presence, and the pace is slowed to a crawl. It’s this kind of skillful songwriting that bolsters the effectiveness of the repeated lines which become the addictive hooks to be nailed home. It’s rock with added nous: the kind last seen active in the inventive minds of The Black Keys and Nine Black Alps.

Take the the boom-boom-tiss and falling arpeggio string taps of the title track or the steady two-chord repeater-riff that pads its way through to the key hushed strapline of ‘Devil Takes Care Of His Own’. Think Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock n’ Roll’ getting down and dirty with AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ and you’ll be half-way to understanding just how powerful these songs are.

Somewhat disappointingly, surrounding these top-end tracks lies a patchwork of hit and miss. ‘Wanderluster’ walks you down a dead-end of tentative echo and formulaic patterning before insulting you with a prosaic, posted-in chorus. ‘Lies’ crumbles beneath its own assuredness, circulating a couple of times before panicking and falling on the sword of brevity. Then, stepping back on the gas, they dredge up hints of The Subways with a soul-shaking groove, as memories of deliciously playful boy-girl harmonies are reignited, for ‘You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On’.

The pace drops toward the album’s close, allowing the listener to sink back down within Band Of Skulls’ downier side. Tracks like ‘Navigate’, where Richardson beautifully steals the mic, ‘Hometowns’ and ‘Close To Nowhere’ all shift your perceptions of where this band fit in the wider scheme of things. Marsden recently nailed it with the words “Songs are your weapons. We’re the Swiss Army Knife of bands”. They can catch you napping with a real rocker like ‘Bruises’ or effortlessly disarm you with something like ‘Hometowns” whispered, yet super-sharp line “It’s just kids having more kids for fear of being alone” which comes from behind a veil of pastoral flute and gently tinkling stringwork.

As expected then, there’s some sweet and some sour; a description with a double meaning, applicable to both the album’s emphasis and its quality. Regardless of how fast the album grows and fades from your playlist, Band Of Skulls have cracked enough noggins here to really cause an industry ruckus. The countdown to lift-off has begun; twinkling in the distance, stardom awaits to receive them.

Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/2012/02/band-of-skulls-sweet-sour/

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Album Review: Fading Waves - The Sense Of Space

I first became aware of Russia’s Fading Waves when I heard their impressive contribution to Slowburn Records’ split-EP with Starchitect. With the band’s brainchild, Alexey Maximuk, working his magic, both behind the production desk and in front of it, it was his talent for songwriting that most stood out. His stark concept and bleak lyrics struck quite a chord with my own dark side. Of the seven tracks on show, most were short, sharp and yet, ultimately, incisive. So, when it came to the announcement of the band’s debut album, The Sense Of Space, it was trepidation that replaced my inital excitement when I noted there was to be only five tracks, with four of those over nine minutes in length. Could Maximuk stretch his songs that far and still achieve the same impact and clarity of vision?

Well, The Sense Of Space tries a bit of everything, opening gently with fluctuating ambient pop, before exploring the wilds of post-rock and into the chaotic worlds of progressive, doom and death metal. As the album progresses, you can hear the tracks rebounding off a series of different markers; influences that prove just how deeply Maximuk is affected by his own emotional response to music.

The elegaic introductory piece, “Air”, scuffs up the dust of Renfro, Hammock and Cloudkicker, whilst “Flashes” (featuring the distinct, lilting vocal of Anastasia Aristova wending its way around shifting patterns) marries Mono’s sense of drama to the ethereal melancholy of Katatonia. You can almost hear the gearbox grind as they yank the stick and find a progressive metal punch to match the roaring cries of Alexey Morgunov. It’s No Made Sense meets Russian Circles via Isis. Then, the foot comes back off the gas as “Perforate The Sky” and “Through The Veins” drift into view, gurning and posturing as they infliltrate the more driven realms of Pelican and The Ocean.

There’s a damaged quality to the way Morgunov’s screams have been set back in the mix, with the scaling, hollow electrics brought forward to leave the rest fighting for attention in the middle. Each instrument is given its own degree of dissonance which adds dimension, granting the music this fascinating spatial quality. Sadly, the songs themselves are far less of a fascination; development is there but, when it does occur, it’s at an agonisingly slow pace.

One oddity I wasn’t quite prepared for is the higgledy-piggledy nature of the album. Although the concept of “air, senses of flight and endless space” seems easy enough to comprehend, the implementation of it is far harder to slot into place. Each chapter here, every soundscape, seems to come from other stories, other concepts – call me ignorant, but I certainly struggled to accept The Sense Of Space as a single work of art – its more musical crazy paving! The songs also feel overly lengthy, grinding their way down blind alleys, scrambling frantically at sheer walls. Fading Waves are clearly adept at creating invasive music, music that’s emotionally-draining, but apparently struggle to maintain a decent level of consistency. So, whilst I’m delighted to say this album flies it’s flag with pride, and is still worth a listen, it’s definitely a step backwards. I fancy a return to those hit-and-run tactics they seem so good at.

5/10

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/02/fading-waves-the-sense-of-space-slowburn-records/

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Album Review: Overdown - Ethereal

By pitching their sound somewhere between the tempestuous, polyrhythmic death metal of , the melodic, punched pinballing of ’ latest and the fluctuating moods of , Madrid’s are going have to engage their brains and flash some real skills to make themselves heard amongst the rapidly-expanding clutter of bands writing progressive and technical metal today.

There sure are some pretty decent tracks lurking in their debut long-player, Ethereal. “The Charm Of The Sirens”, for instance, is ripped with the kind of base-level addictive chorus that will see the crowd surging forward at their live shows – especially if ’s Jon Howard makes an appearance, as he does here. It bursts forth from the wandering miasma of fascinating, spaced-out layering that surrounds it.

Tracks like “Genetic” and “Don’t Let Us Fall Into Temptation” match the scarring rawness of Julián del Sol’s vocal roar to the duelling guitar squall and well-timed mini-beatdowns. Sure, the click on the kick pedal is inevitably going to receive some hate, but the charged atmosphere of these bruisers will invigorate; veins will pulse on foreheads; we’ll be ready for action. And at the other end of the scale? The closer, “Gliese 581c”, is an oddity of gentile beauty.

Elsewhere, the main problem is the lack of track-to-track cohesion. Rather than an album, it feels like three EPs thrown together – 5FDP-lite ballads that give way to grim ear-melters. In a nutshell, I give you “Shattered Breath”. It divides it’s time between serenading you and ripping your face off. It’s as if soft rock breathed out hard rock which breathed out a screaming metal bastard. It’s an utter lunatic of a track.

They even have a crack at cutting out the really heavy sections and leave us with the stumblingly morbid atrocity of “Rain”. Oh, and that track goes on for seven minutes – every time the track rolled around and the guitar solo kicked in, I found myself gnawing my own fingers, desperately resisting the desire to mash at the skip button. The segueing between the constituent sections of “Ether Ruins” is slightly neater but match it up to any tracks that the Basick brigade of , or recently managed and it falls short of impact.

They try all manner of electronic distractions, emotive pianos and squealing solos, even tricks like walking the sound from speaker to speaker, but nothing can seemingly save each track and, by design, this album from mediocrity. And their worst faux-pas of all? By opening the album with their weakest track, “Sumeria”. It opens with a formulaic, echoing, heartbeat thrum, and an oddly-warping arpeggio that skids into a technical metal smorgasboard ripped with tone-deaf screams and cleans. Given the spasmodic nature of the song construction, which in itself is unsettling, you are left with little but the gutless chorus accessible, so the listener clings to it desperately like it’s a sinking ship.

A well-read movie critic once eloquently described the first Transformers flick as the equivalent of director, Michael Bay, “beating his chest and waving his penis at us for a couple of hours” – a brilliant summation of a man who chose not to include a similar standard of character development, plot implementation or transition to that which he achieved in either The Rock or the Bad Boys movies. This pretty much sums up how I feel about and their album Ethereal. If the band has the skills but no dedicated plan on how to implement them, this is what you get. It’s maddening. Fingers crossed then, that for the next album, the Spaniards will spend as much time working their minds as they have working their willies.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/overdown-ethereal