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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Album Review: Mencea – Pyrophoric

If this album really is pyrophoric it could, as I understand it, spontaneously ignite, so I’d better be pretty sharpish writing this review, hadn’t I? Straight down to business then. Greece’s Mencea are the death metal tipping point where complex progression slams hard into fist-flailing groove.

Since their formation in 2008 they’ve been diligently marrying Meshuggah’s mathematical nous to Gojira’s bludgeoning walls of noise. Their debut, Dark Matter, Energy Noir, gave us our first taste of the robust, bass-loaded power that these Athenians were capable of, and offered plenty of food for thought at a time when bands of this ilk were a little thinner on the ground. Now, with this sophomore effort having to go the extra mile to impress, they’ve decided to produce, mix and master the album themselves, opening up the mix to allow for a heightened sense of melodic drama. So, with Pyrophoric offering us a new vocalist and drummer, as well as much wider access to their full range of moods, have they maintained enough of their raw grunt to really stick it to the man?

Well, with the opening arpeggio of “Phosphorous” walking smack into Vlasis Ziouvas’ barking, guttural vocal and a cascade of bottom-end chugging, they prove well capable of the feat. Behind the picture of rage they are painting here, there is plenty of filling and framing taking place as sweeping keyboards build up the layers to paint an expansive portrait of light and shade.

“CCC” may drag their Gojira-worshipping side to the fore as Bertrand Rothen lays down a pummelling rhythm, but it soon gives way to a brittle, yet beauteous Textures-esque soundscape. Following up, “Elders” picks up the baton and runs further with it, digging harder into the groove to hit you with aural images of what can only be described as an army of faceless robots marching into some futuristic machine-on-man battle.

Mencea manage to jumble their component parts to create real m-e-n-a-c-e by injecting darkness into much of what they do as they go sniffing around a black metal vibe. It lurks deep down in so much of the album, forever threatening to grind any standout hooks into dark smears. It’s there in “Hounds” yanking down hard on the track’s jangling, industrial electronic touches, and it’s there again in the wild twists of “Beheading”. Here amidst unsettling swarms of guitars, which thread their way through a plethora of disparate sections into the title-track’s swagger and kicker of rolling toms and sibilant guitar, the band hit a late creative peak. Closer “The Dead”, with its vein-popping Cavalera-esque bludgeoning, is a feast fit for a king.

With 8 tracks skipping by in 36 minutes, the album is a couple of songs shy of being the full enchilada, but it still packs enough of a meaty kick to give your brain matter a good shaking for a while. Consider this: the other feature of a pyrophoric substance is that it can produce sparks when struck and considering the smothering, warm production on show here, at no time, do Mencea quite manage enough of those sparks to truly set the world on fire. Don’t get me wrong, this is one spicy meatball but, once they have properly roughed up their edges to find the kind of ear-scraping menagerie of sound that some of their peers have managed, they’ll truly be a force to be reckoned with.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/03/mencea-pyrophoric-indie-recordings/

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Album Review: Black Breath – Sentenced To Life

To find an album that sets off the same kind of emotions and sensory reactions that you’d experience when seeing the band up close and personal is a very rare thing. The last album I felt this way about was ’s perfectly-titled debut Heavy Breathing. With its gritty, damaged production values and hammer to the skull attack, all it took was the volume knob to be yanked to the right and eyes to be squeezed shut and suddenly you’d find yourself flinching from the imagined flailing of arms. Your blood pressure would rise, beads of sweat would be summoned forth and heart palpitations would have you clutching your chest until you’d be forced to open up those lids and dial back the sound. Inevitably, then, you might expect this sophomore effort from Seattle’s sonic battering ram, Sentenced To Life, to have the potential to do the same.

From the off, “Feast Of The Damned” sees the band sucking up a reversed soundtrack before spitting it back out in a hail of sputum as the raging, low-end, fuzzed wall of chugging guitars produce what can only be described as a deep, continual growl. The cantankerous punk spirit of the vocals and gang-chants do the rest sending you barrelling straight into the title-track where the band get their full rock on. It’s from this point onwards that find new ways to break you.

It’s not a wholly new concept for them but, even more so than on their debut, are keen to surprise by switching their method of attack to come at you from two different sides. They are either compacting crushing hardcore into a speeding rock n’ roll ball and scorching a d-beat-happy crust brand onto its surface, or they are slipping on a death-mask and swaggering their way into the arenas of doom and black metal. It’s like hearing driving -sized into ’s coffin.

Tracks like “Forced Into Possession”, “Mother Abyss” and “Doomed” offer you the chance to get your pump on as the band feverishly burn through their own style of step-on, step-off thrash mania. Often the drum patter is so rapid and the buzzsaw guitars so all-consuming that they begin to outgun even themselves. At some points during “Of Flesh”, before a sharp break for a slow-dance of spinning harmonics, the music seems ready to shake itself apart and they lose that vital level of intensity for a while. Thankfully, they regain composure quickly by winding it back to a mid-tempo chug – don’t think it’s your chance to rest easy though, as before long they’re back tearing your head off and spitting into the bloodied hole.

The real magical element of Sentenced To Life though, comes when reveal their dark side. Tracks like “Home Of The Grave” drops down for the chorus to an almost swampy, smeared, loping crush as vocalist Elijah Nelson manages to twist his scorched, atonal delivery into a screaming weapon of mass destruction. With a title like “Endless Corpse” inevitably getting its black on, letting slip the moaning soul of a dying guitar, it’s our first real taste of how they can mash d-beat battery into something even more menacing. There’s a sharp breakdown where a warbling riff takes centre-stage amidst a wall of fuzz that steadily crescendos to agonising levels.

They climax by stepping yet further away from their bread-and-butter. “The Flame” brings to the fore a feisty hardcore vocal, a diamond riff, steady chugs from the depths of hell, and a swaggering blues-flecked confidence. There’s even a memorably giddy riff to revel in. This is essentially gutter rock, yet the chunks of fuzz lift it above all-comers. Think of it as sounding like a steroid-abusing, puffed-up or a more insane sibling version of . The scream near the end is from the charred throat of Satan himself. “Obey” is even blacker, crustier and more inherently evil. It is crawling with raw power, pumped out by some unholy force. Fuck, this is heavy. The sudden flick to clean is a nod to their more raw and wild side – almost a signal of the change as a solo comes screaming in.

Having learned how the album was jammed through in a matter of days, it’s a surprise to find the album hammering so hard on so many doors. God City studios maestro Kurt Ballou still keeps it down and dirty having, once again, resisted the temptation to produce the album to within an inch of its life (those 10 tracks dive in and out of your lugholes in just over 30 short minutes). However, with the introduction of more bleak trudgers to balance the squalid d-beat batterers, that signature live feel was never going to be as intense. Yet, rather than disappoint, Sentenced To Life has you reeling just as hard, only with a bigger smile on your face, thankful for a chance to breathe more easily; to fully soak up the see-sawing brilliance of a band at the top of their game.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/black-breath-sentenced-to-life#comments

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Album Review: The Safety Fire – Grind The Ocean

Formed in 2006, , like fellow UK-based did, have taken their sweet-assed time to getting around to releasing their delayed debut album. You know what they say though – “if it ain’t delayed, it ain’t djent”. It’s certainly unfortunate that Grind The Ocean arrives, just as the dial on the ‘djent-o-meter’ has ventured into the red ‘Saturation’ zone, but luckily these Cockneys aren’t just polyrhythmic heft and no trousers and have some neat tricks up their collective sleeve to warrant anyone’s attention.

They open with the crushing caterwauling of “Huge Hammers”. With the video having been plastered over numerous websites, there are many who will be familiar with the track’s madly scribbling arpeggios. They smother the listener, climbing up and down the walls as a boxed-in Sean McWeeney bellows himself hoarse to offer a counterpoint to snatches of vocal harmony; these babies are the delicious goo in that savagely hot pop-tart you were burning your lips off on earlier. Jarring lyrics like “Black beak, weapon to pierce, delirium scribbles” and “Piece of flesh in my eye, what’s not mine doesn’t hurt” had me hooked and the sharp mix working in tandem with their hardcore edginess is a factor that will help the band stand out from their rivals.

The meets double-action of “Floods Of Colour” offers up the chance to properly compare McWeeney’s tirades and serenades. The former, with their lack of tonal variation and damaged, grating quality, sometimes find McWeeney over-reaching, at the edge of his range, whilst the latter are prettily effective and delivered with panache. For those who’ve followed the band since the release of their Sections EP it’s a shock to hear him sounding so polished. In the negative column, electronically-tweaked spot-welds on those cleans mean the vocal harmonies occasionally flirt dangerously close to sounding auto-tuned.

Two offerings from the EP pop up here in the form of the solo-trimmed (yet still writhing) “Sections”, with Martin Goulding () and Pin (, ) guesting, and “DMB” which gets a face transplant, even though (from what I can tell) it’s musically identical, to become “DMB (FDP)”. The band insist DMB “doesn’t really mean much” but FDP “means a lot”. The latter acronym could stand for anything from Flat Display Panel to Flood Damage Prevention but, speculating wildly, I’m going to plump for “filho da puta” which is Portuguese for “son of a bitch”. It’s certainly still got the kind of smack in the face that might prompt such an utterance.

There are moments where the band drift fully into post-rock mode, initially hooking you in, but ultimately these tracks seem to lose their way. “Anomalous Materials”, for instance, drifts through the ether like a lost soul whilst the circling riff of “Seagraves” is but a half-thought. The band also seem to have a bad habit of getting trigger-happy when it comes to flicking switches, tying themselves in knots attempting to cram both action and relaxation into one space. Witness the challengingly-muddled “Animal King”. Strong and familiar at its opening, the track minces itself into a lather with plain old bad songwriting. It’s the musical equivalent of a dropped dinner, as the hard-edged, mathy spasming of your main course leaks into the softly-padding ambience of your dessert.

It’s odd having had only their grim-faced EP to listen to for so long so it’s yet another surprise to find both the sumptuously light “Circassian Beauties” and craftily airy title-track are where sound most comfortable. Having nicked back the pace without compromising their music’s honest approach, McSweeney, who at no point pushes too hard, masterfully croons his way through the verses, punches in with the mega-catchy riffs, owns the choruses and then easily struts back and forth as the guitars, bass and drums jink their way through complex sequences of technically-astute attack and release.

End of the day, this doesn’t really feel like djent at all. You could argue, with their combination of hardcore and progressive soundscaping, they don’t even qualify for the confines of the genre at all. The last bombshell is to discover that Grind The Ocean, as innovative as it may be, is stuffed full of promise yet, ultimately, ends up falling short in so many areas. However, with so much of their unique personality being stamped on their music like this, are still most certainly a band to keep a close eye on for the future.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/the-safety-fire-grind-the-ocean

Friday, March 9, 2012

Album Review: Soulfly – Enslaved

is Max Cavalera’s teddy bear. It’s clear he not-so-secretly wants it back and he’s going to bloody stomp around until he gets it.

Ever since he joined forces with drumming brother Igor and guitarist Marc Rizzo to form in 2007, his songwriting has regressed – power is in, style is out. He appears to be dragging both bands back through time in an effort to recreate his best work with . ’s latest album, Blunt Force Trauma, drew multiple comparisons with both ’s Chaos A.D. and Arise and, now, new drummer David Kinkade (, ) has happily described this eighth album as “Arise on crack”. Of course, many might find this quote thrilling (obviously Kinkade’s intention), but I’m afraid it’s activated my hypersensitive cynicism chip. Let’s face it, the differences between Max Cavalera’s projects have never been exactly numerous, but it starts getting ridiculous when his own band finds it easier to identify their new album with a whole other band’s back catalogue.

A legend Max may be, but his vocal delivery and songwriting is becoming just too formulaic and indicative for his bands not to all sound like one another. It’s all aggressive delivery, blast-beats and gang-chanted inflammatory words; words like, I don’t know, “Intervention” (from Enslaved), “Dictatorshit” (from Roots) or “Thrasher” (from Blunt Force Trauma). Three songs, three different bands, one style of writing. Of course, all this pontificating would count for shit if this album rocked like a bastard. So does it?

Well, the hellfire that is unleashed from the beginning certainly shows they mean business. Crawling panic gives way to hints of black Viking metal in the startlingly effective introductory piece, “Resistance”. Then “World Scum”, featuring the demonic bellowing of Travis Ryan (), attacks the subject of the atrocities performed by mankind with Max’s usual brand of directly astringent lyricism in effect – “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, brutality”. Along the same lines, “Redemption Of Man By God”, featuring the vocal of ’s Dez Fafara is even feistier.

Kinkade and new bassist Tony Campos () pretty much set fire to everything they touch which, if you’re a fan of battering thrash, should get those pits spinning nicely. Sadly though, the hellishly quick tempo too often results in over-simplification, and doesn’t allow space for much of that famous tribal influence to kick in. Punch is in, refinement is out. In fact, unless you merely want brawn and no brain, it’s easy for boredom to slip in having heard this all before so many, many times.

In the past, have always been the most likely to seek adventure but there’s only mere hints of that here in the tailored sound effects (rattling metal during “Chains”, gunfire and marching during “Legions”), Rizzo’s guitar solos (even these have shrunk from their former glory) and, most notably, for the track “Plata O Plomo” – a Hispanic version of ’s “Warlord” with tassels on. It all serves as a makeweight for the missing instrumental “ VIII” whose obligatory excellence only features on the album’s Special Edition. The small section of Spanish guitar is exactly the reason why, in the past, I have preferred over Max’s other bands who simply walked along the path of least resistance – moulding hardcore and thrash into an oversimplified, twisted death metal shape.

Of course there are both high and low points. The fighting duo of “Gladiator” and “Legions” are a microcosm of the album’s successes and its failings. The former has a solid crack at grasping the theme of slavery, breaking the pace, shifting rhythms to inject much-needed structural complexity and diversity, whilst the latter rips it and grips it only to thrash itself up into a repetitious, cyclical frenzy.

In automotive terms, this is like hearing the band forget they are driving a vehicle with a manual gearbox. They are ignoring the stick-shift and simply pumping their foot on the gas, making the engine whine like a wounded animal. When they do crunch through the gears, some of the decisions taken are head-scratchingly odd – why “American Steel” tries a limp, warbling, psychedelic guitar effect after running into a brick wall is beyond me. It’s completely at odds with what’s gone before it.

If you’re looking for a reason why Enslaved is a step backwards for though, try “Revengeance” on for size. It’s a bit of a personal vehicle for Max and his family, featuring all three of Max’s sons, and is a tribute to his other son who died in a car accident back in 1996. It doesn’t feel much like a part of this album; a vitriolic stand-alone with several clashing vocal styles. With little personal quirks featuring throughout, it’s hard to know quite how to react to it.

The main trouble with creating these heavier, less risky albums is that they are slowly making themselves redundant and, as a by-product, potentially putting fans out of pocket. We’re beginning to ask ourselves, “Why should I buy the new when I can buy the new and get more-or-less the same album?” Let’s face it, you’d always pick the one with Igor in, right? It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if continued to pump out stone-wall classics but following the lapses in quality displayed by both Conquer and Omen, the band really had to nail this one… and they haven’t. Plain and simple. So, Andreas Kisser, please give Max his teddy back; it might just save his .

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/soulfly-enslaved

Monday, March 5, 2012

Album Review: Meshuggah – Koloss (Nuclear Blast)

As a late arrival at the Meshuggah table I find, at times, that I can be driven nuts by their overbearing attack and often flat, uneven grind. Their music may be bulging with slap-in-the-face aggression, something that is overwhelmingly exciting when witnessed live, but it’s a feature that requires a little more craft when brought to bear on an album. Too many times, all for the sake of an addictive hook, stand-out riff or crafty lyric, they seem to allow tracks to be dragged down into the deep. It’s here in these submerged waters that I lose them, only hearing the sound of repetitious, over-familiarity echoing from undefined sources coming from somewhere above the waterline.

For a band that’s birthed a whole genre of wannabes I’m clearly in the minority here. It’s exactly this level of adoration that adds extra pressure to each Meshuggah offering as they strive to stay ahead of the game. One glance at seventh long-player Koloss shows they aren’t afraid of going the extra mile to please. I mean, just look at that album art. It’s all a bit reminiscent of some of Tool’s more-innovative covers with its mind-bending 3D digital rendering. Stare too long at the image and your brain begins to hurt. That took Luminokaya Lab a whole nine months to create so could feasibly contain the entire World Wide Web within its multitude of brassy squiggles! So, if Koloss can cause pain on a visual level, how does the album stack up sonically?

Well, “I Am Colossus” is typically pin-point accurate and easily as deeply-furrowed as Nothing’s “Stengah”. As an opening track, it’s a beast. Instantly, they concentrate on one rumbling chord and ping it repeatedly you, loading everything into the steady, syncopated rhythm whilst Jens Kidman meshes his monotone, scorched earth vocal to it. Meshuggah are sending out a clear message of intent. “Palm-mute this, you mothers… JUN… JUN… JUN… JUN… JUN JUN…”. The guts of it are so deep that when the guitars let loose, the strings are dropped so low, you need to strain to hear the changes. It’s skull-crushingly heavy.

“The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance” is a speed-freak, light on its feet next to the elephantine “I Am Colossus”. The whirling vortex created by the continuous double-kick of Tomas Haake drills ever downwards. He’s back with more pummelling crush for “Swarm” which will make your skin creep. Behind the thunder drums, the crawling guitars go batshit mental to recreate the sound of a billion insects screaming out of the sky to poison and devour you. You won’t forget this one in a hurry, already a future classic, and as such it eats Machine Head’s recent insectivorous offering, “Locust”, for breakfast.

These are the kind of tracks we expect from Meshuggah; it’s when you dig deeper that you begin to find their mixed bag of tricks. There’s the Primussian slapped funk of “Don’t Look Down” which gets a harder, dirtier make-over for “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion.” Check out that spiralling solo and those semi-distant atmospherics on the former, or that trippy, warbling guitar on the latter and tell me these psychos don’t pay attention to their surroundings.

“Behind The Sun” finds them stretching each note, grinding them into a murky wall of sound, generating a backdrop that sounds as complex as their cover appears. The band appear to be sucking up a doom/black metal quality to go with their vindictive death metal patter and they save some of that primordial darkness for “Demiurge”. However, be warned, this one’s a real howler of a track if you’re seeking a similar spark. It’s so lacking in charm you may as well listen to the sound of your own heartbeat through a stethoscope for six minutes instead.

And that’s Koloss in a nutshell. For every blinder, you get a duffer. So, whilst “Marrow” lurches and energises with its pinged guitar slaps overwhelming alongside clean, scrambling solos and fuzzball chugs, you get the bafflingly, mighty attack of “The Hurt That Finds You”. With tightened snare and bags of crunch, it’s a song so sharp it hurts and yet it’s all for nothing when it seems the destination is Nowheresville.
Judging it from afar, it’s easy to spot the dirge-like hammering and prolonged sections of extreme technicality of Nothing running through Koloss, and yet the band still find time for the kind of dark, mesmeric groove and changes of tempo that you’d associate more readily with obZen. And yet, there’s something new here; something infinitely more enigmatic; a dangerous edge bordering on a barren, post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Whether that is something that will inspire their legion of admirers remains to be seen but, considering how the metal scene has so easily fallen back in love with mood-metal, I can’t see it hurting them.

There, and I didn’t use the D-word… not even once.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/03/meshuggah-koloss-nuclear-blast/

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Album Review: O.S.I. – Fire Make Thunder

Working from home is every man’s dream. Wake up, crack a beer, watch some daytime TV, do some work for a bit, wash the car, a bit more work, fire up your non-specific games console, a bit more work (if you haven’t been sucked in by Skyrim‘s charms yet again), then down the pub until bed. That’s (allegedly) how the (O.S.I.) operate.

Of course, O.S.I. is a band and not a government office, so there’s no need for us to get our knickers in a twist. O.S.I.‘s main men are prog-rock Wunderkinds Jim Matheos (, ) and Kevin Moore (, ex-). There’s is a long-distance partnership. Both the writing and recording for fourth album, Fire Make Thunder, (in fact, all except the final overdubs and mastering process) is done at each musician’s respective home studio. Even the drums get a home-recording – this time at sticksman, and final piece in the puzzle, Gavin Harrison’s house far away in London. With their various other projects all ticking over nicely this is clearly an arrangement that works to their advantage.

Following their frankly stunning debut album (so good it warranted a recent re-release) they have been steadily churning long-players out on a regular basis. Their last couple have seen the band produce subtler, more mellow albums that stand accused of sacrificing hooks for emotion, but Fire Makes Thunder aims to correct that imbalance. Tracks like “Cold Call”, “Guards” and “Big Chief II” all wallow hard in the groove and serve up plenty of riffs and catchy lyrics that had me helplessly mumbling along whilst en-route to my various destinations, headphones askew from gently nodding in time. Others like “Indian Curse” or “Invisible Men” drop the pace and spark moments of deep contemplation with their crafty use of psychedelic, synthetic layering.

It may yet become tiresome, but the currently innocuous recycling of riffs and lyrics is a wonderful feature of the band. It ties tracks and albums together and draws comparison with the exquisite way do the same. Good examples here are the way “Guards” continues on from “Cold Call” by linking it back using lyrical content; or when “Invisible Man” picks up its big, heavily-fuzzed riff halfway through, it immediately recalls a riff that was used to great effect in “Bigger Wave” (from 2006′s Free). All these neat touches means the album flows beautifully from piece to piece, diligently threading emotional responses together. There’s true method in their madness, y’know.

The deft instrumental, “Enemy Prayer”, with its rinsed-out lead and bucking bass, rocks its listener from pillar to post with sections of delicate piano, wild tremelo and driven guitar, and stands up as one of their finest moments. Other album highlights can be find in the dreamy, waterfalling riff, background wash and dynamically-clipped vocal of “Wind Won’t Howl” and in the searing guitars which streak across Moore’s rich, menacing delivery (curiously reminiscent of ’ Liam Gallagher) during “Guards”.

“Cold Call”, despite initially biting down hard with a fierce lick, after numerous plays, quickly gets repetitive and “Big Chief II” fails to initiate lift-off with a simplistically hard heart and with little else to stir the soul. However, despite these small failings, the album is an assured winner, proving that it’s not all beer, shits & giggles in the Matheos/Moore households, and heralds a welcome return to form for the band.

Also online @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/o-s-i-fire-make-thunder