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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Album Review: The Advent Equation – Limitless Life Reflections

My love for technically-demanding modern metal means I often find myself writing words that might convince those browsing the web that I am concocting some magnificent, scientific conundrum. In the past, I have come across albums by The Omega Experiment, TesseracT, The Mars Volta, The Mercury Program and The HAARP Machine. Now, here I am writing about The Advent Equation. It’s enough to quantum your mechanics.

These particular modern metallists come from Mexico. Yep, the home of tequila and tortilla. It’s often thought of as a bit of a metal deadzone, though when you consider it’s vicinity to the noisy hotbed of North America that’s always seemed surprising. Early run-throughs of Limitless Life Reflections prove The Advent Equation are obviously keen to put that idea to bed with their accomplished combination of prog, death and tech metal. Seriously, you’ll struggle to believe this hasn’t come from the cold heart of Scandanavia (I’m not in the least surprised to learn it did pass through Jens Borgen’s Fascination Street Studio at one point on it’s journey).

Take “Afterlife Evolutionary”. It opens with a tumultuous broil of drums setting the rhythm, over which is laid a bloodlusting death roar, quickfire finger taps, dramatic piano and cutaways into melodic synth. From here, we are dragged through a rapid series of menacing, instrumental affectations and lurching timing changes. And that’s just one track. It’s clear that getting to grips with this ever-changing mixture of musical techniques and emotional tones is going to be no easy task. Other tracks like the floating melancholy of “Visons Of Pain” and “Hopeless” don't dig down so far and are less obtuse in their design. They are recognisable songs and, as such, are a little easier to gain a foothold on.

Tracks like “Glimpse Of What May Be” and “A Descent Into The Unreal” will grab you with their depth of sound. The three-part vocal harmonies and hammering switchbacks that underscore it all are intense, anthemic and at their apex, truly awe-inspiring. However, with so much that meanders and lollops around these momentary snatches of genius, it’s hard to fully get behind the songwriting – “On Darkness”, for instance, sweeps from the dull, inane and metronomic into an overpowering smack of twinkling synth and back again through an unnatural series of segues.

The album, as a whole, is best thought of as a series of tonal shades ranging from black to grey and back again. Opeth and Enslaved influences run close to the surface throughout this chameleonic collection of death-led monsters and lighter harmonic pieces with piano-dominated and stringed acoustic sections, though it’s also not hard to spot the connection with several of those aforementioned more tech-minded acts. The rhythmic anomalies and ambient texturing are, in fact, key to driving home the heart of the piece. The question is: are you hungry for Mexican? – a trip to their SoundCloud page should give you plenty to chew on.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/02/the-advent-equation-limitless-life-reflections-self-released/

Monday, February 25, 2013

Split-EP Review: Philip H. Anselmo & Warbeast – War of the Gargantuas

Phil Anselmo, legendary frontman for bands like Pantera, Superjoint Ritual and Down, can be a bit of an enigma. So often he delivers on every front, yet every now and then you sense one or two weak spots emerging in that brutal vocal of his. Lately, he has been hard at work in the studio with his backing band, The Illegals, polishing off material for his forthcoming solo album and the prospect is sending little ripples of joy through the metal community. This split EP with Warbeast is our first glimpse of what sort of frontman we can expect to hear.

Well, I’m happy to report Anselmo has never sounded angrier or more focused than he does on the 2-chord aggro action of “Conflict”. The break-off into a squirming, panicked attack of chugging guitars and effects is almost too much to bear. It’s certainly not the easiest track to sink your teeth into but face-rippers never are first time around.

The degree of just how narked he is here is clear when he brings those closest to him, his “Family, Friends, and Associates”, into question. It’s a big, grinding Superjoint-esque dirtball of a song based around a deep groove and a vicious line in interrogation – “What colour do you bleed? Is it the same as me?” Oh yes, he may now be going by his full title, but the fire still burns strongly. I think I’ll just call him “Sir” from now on.

His decision to team up with Warbeast is an interesting one. Whilst Anselmo is melting ears, these Texans spend much of their time speeding across the surface. Surprisingly though, it is Warbeast who are the ones who demand repetition more often with their anthemic blasts and fiery crush.

Covered in a crawling tone, “Birth Of A Psycho” is a pure speedball of filth-infused thrash, peppered by short bursts of rich vocal and light-fingered shredding. Listen out for the plunge headfirst into a jarring breakdown, then a mosh as the groove hits hard. “It” is nothing short of genius. The highlight of the split, this monster is mean-spirited, punk-fuelled, smeared in dripping, stinking swamp with a vindictive mania of interlocking strings. Oh, and the hook in the chorus, “Pray for me, for I am Gollum, body without a soul”, is one that will follow you about for a long time after you’ve stopped listening.

Philip H. Anselmo’s old lust for violent metal paired with the new blood of Warbeast offering up riffs to die for. What’s not to love?

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/02/philip-h-anselmo-warbeast-war-of-the-gargantuas-season-of-mist/

Friday, February 15, 2013

Interview: Man The Machetes

The rise and rise of the Norwegian punk scene, and the media attention it has attracted of late through the furore surrounding a certain band called Kvelertak, has thrown the spotlight in the direction of many new names. One of those, Man The Machetes, are the band responsible for recently making one member of the Ave Noctum team get especially excited (resulting in the award of a 9.5/10 to their debut album Idiokrati). We duly sent him in to the ring to conduct a battle of wits with their lead guitarist, Erlend Sætren.

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AN: Firstly, may I just say your debut album is staggeringly good. How would you describe your own style of music?

ES: Thanks, man! Much obliged! As for our style, it’s obviously inspired by a lot of different good shit. Everything from ballsy rock n’ roll à la Hellacopters and Turbonegro, to more punky anthemy bands like Comeback Kid and more metal-ish acts like Cancer Bats. In general, we like to say it’s all about the party tunes and letting out some steam. In short, the energy! We only make music that gives us goosebumps, no matter what kind of music that is! Style-wise, that leaves us with goosebump-inflicting energy – as if that makes sense.

AN:  The album title, Idiokrati, is proof enough of how aware you are of your surroundings. What particular social or political factors did you draw on to create the music? 

ES: I guess Chris [Iversen], our vocalist, tends to sing about things that make him angry, be it people refusing to give away their seats to old ladies on the bus or stupid politicians wanting to close our borders to everyone but rich jetsets. All in all, unfairness makes us discharge. Still, we’re a somewhat positive bunch, so we feed on fun things as well, like the beauty of playing hardcore music.

AN: Were there any musical genres or bands that you found yourself listening to whilst writing this album?

ES: Yeah, definitely! We went with Eric Ratz as our producer because we love Comeback Kid and Cancer Bats, especially their latest stuff. Apart from that, we were obviously inspired by the Kvelertak record, but also things like Jethro Tull and Rolling Stones. Deftones was there, Rage Against The Machine, Refused. Things like that.

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AN: Idiokrati‘s guitars, in particular, stand out. Tell me about the riffs and particular tones you were generally aiming for.

ES: Thanks! Morten [Dischington Carlsson, guitar] is a huge fan of the Rolling Stones, so he’s all about the bluesy stuff as well as the solos. As for myself, I’m more the rhythm dude who brings out the punk riffs. Per [Christian Holm], the drummer, often hums something really melodic and Eric [Andreas Larsen], our bassist, contributes with more sombre black metal stuff. A lot of the songs are in D – we usually play in drop D – which is a sympathetic tone. Our aim for Idiokrati was melodic but hard and intense riffs. That was a challenge to get across on record, because a lot of light stuff on the guitars left a space to be filled in the mix, a space important in making the music rock hard, so the bass was really important to fill that gap. When coming up with riffs, we try all ideas, but only go for what makes us tick. That is, heavy and catchy things.

AN: Although most of the vocals are sung in Norwegian, it sounds like there are a few in English. Is that true and, if so, what was the thinking behind doing that?

ES: Actually, it’s mostly in Norwegian, some words may be in English, like swearing and words that are similar to Norwegian, like “Sudan” and “doomsday”. Ratz really focused on the rhythm and accentuation of the singing, so that might have given an English sound to it. We’d love to be understood lyrically abroad as well; maybe the next record will be in English, but for now we’ll settle with getting across the infamous goosebump-inflicting energy.

AN: What would you say the advantages are in having screamed vocals?

ES: Haha, there’s no hassle with singing in tune! Also, it adds a harder element to the otherwise, at least at times, almost pop-like riffs. A harder and more energetic element, so to say. Not to mention that it leaves room for the melody being conveyed by the guitars and the bass.

AN: Tell me about the track “Mageplask” (which I think translates as “Belly Flop”). That made my Scandinavian friend laugh! Why that particular title and what subject matter does it cover?

ES: You’re right! It means belly flop. The lyrics are about daring to take the next step instead of whining about what one could have had and envying others for whatever they might have. The message is just do it, I guess, but not in the Nike kind of way. “Belly Flop” is a funny title, it is in Norwegian too, but belly flops also hurt a lot. Like the title implies, the song is like a happy-slap in the face. At least that’s what we were going for.

AN: How did you come to choose Steven Pierce for the album artwork? Did you work with him closely on it and did you get the result you wanted?

ES: We were super-happy to work with Steve. He’s so dedicated and wanted to make as good a cover as possible. We tend to be really, really picky with things, and that went for the artwork as well, so he had to change things quite a lot. He always did though, with a smile on his face – we like to think anyway. We heard about him when we played a show in Toronto with Skies Beneath, a bunch of super-cool dudes from Ottawa. They told us about him, showed us some shirts that he had made, and then we just went for it. Even though we haven’t met him face to face, we know he’s a good dude and a skilled artist too. We couldn’t be happier with the artwork. Our initial ideas were challenging, to say the least.

AN: I’ve been watching your studio reports on YouTube. You flew to Toronto, Canada to record. What advantages did you expect to get from doing this as opposed to recording in Norway?

ES: Without wanting to hurt anybody, there’s a totally different level of record-producing in Canada. It’s bigger, in all ways. Sure, you can get a more than decent result in Norway as well, but we wanted that Ratz’ sound; that big and ram-the-wall-like sonic assault. So Canada it was. Besides, they have good burgers there and we got to go on a trip together.

AN: What was it like working with Eric Ratz? Did he have much of an influence on the finished product?

ES: He is a great guy who broke the ice right away. Great humour, that guy. He and Chris ended up speaking dubbed Japanese martial arts movie-language between them. He also encouraged us and made us believe in our music. He gave us a professional and constructive perspective on things, helped us cut off all the dead meat, making things catchier and so on. At the same time, he always listened to us and let us know that we had the last word. He used the word “we” a lot, and we like that; being a team, going for the same goal. We were relieved to know that he would never put his name on something bad, so we gave it our all.

AN: You recorded 10 tracks in 23 days. How intense was the process and did you get a chance to record any other songs?

ES: Pretty intense. We had one day off, we went to see Niagara Falls and the city of Toronto, and then went back into the studio. We were there to record, so that was cool. All our time went into these 10 songs though, recording everything as well as we could, testing different amp sounds and cymbal sounds before deciding on just the right one for the different songs. We actually ended up recording most of the gang vocals the last day, listening through and recording the final intro on “Slagen” just two hours before our plane left. Ratz and his team were really good guys, focused and cool at the same time, making our time in Toronto intense, but also really great. We have a lot of spare vocal things recorded though, but no-one will ever be able to use that. It’s nasty.

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AN: From the videos it looks like you still had a blast recording. Tell us, especially, about your love for the fast food restaurant, Five Guys.

ES: Haha, we have some genuine burger-lovers amongst us! But no kidding, those burgers were fantastic! As for the videos, I guess it got to be somewhat of a band joke – always going to Five Guys. We had a blast recording. At nights we relaxed, had some Canadian beer. In the mornings we stopped by Tim Hortons for doughnuts. Haha, I think some of us gained some weight during those days.

AN: What has the feedback from friends, fans and the media on the album been like so far?

ES: A lot of good reviews and some not so good, but that’s life. Putting a record out there is like putting your head on the chopping block, as we say in Norwegian, so it’s been a nervous time. But in the end, we realize that it all comes down to the fact that we’ve given it our all, and that all we want is people listening to our record and hopefully liking what they hear. We’ve had some interest abroad, which is cool, and now we just want to get out there and play for whoever wants to listen – and those who don’t! Back home in Norway as well as in the UK, Europe and other parts of the world. Playing is a huge part of it, showing people what we’re all about live as well as on record.

AN: Right now, heavy Norwegian punk music is getting plenty of worldwide attention. What’s it like being part of the scene at this moment in time?

ES: It’s quite exciting because there are a lot of bands that you can play with, learn from and get inspired by. They make it clear that there’s a place for Norwegian punk rock on the international scene.

AN: You often can be found sharing a stage with your Norwegian peers. You must know each other pretty well by now. Do you ever play tricks on each other and does the drinking ever get out of hand?

ES: We don’t know everybody, but we know some, and they play tricks all the time. We do too – to get revenge. But not only tricks, we also share in singing tribe songs backstage and of course every now and then drink a little bit too much. We haven’t experienced the worst things yet, I guess, like being left behind by the tour van somewhere in the Dutch countryside or something, but it’ll come, surely.

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AN: What’s the real story behind your band name?

ES: Haha, tossing a lot of suggestions about, landing on the one which sucked the least! We’ve gone through some terrible ones though, like Mageplask and Sudan. Imagine googling “Sudan”! You’re not going to find out too much about the band, that’s for sure. Besides, MTM has “Machetes” in it, and I and Chris are huge fans of the Blood Brothers’ record “Young Machetes”. We actually came up with the name in Canada, and people there told us it was catchy, and they know their way around, so we went for it. You can shorten it too, which is a cool thing.

AN: Do you guys have a strong work ethic?

ES: Yep. We have to. Because we’re divided between two cities, we all practice by ourselves with metronomes and so on, before getting together at weekends and rehearsing for hours. Playing music is what we want to do, so we have to work hard, and we expect each man to do his part. The songs on the record have gone through a long process, changing, adding, and cutting, to make them as good as we are able to. Of course there are times when we just hang out, doing stupid stuff, but in general, we work quite hard. If people show up on our shows, we want to give them something in return.

AN: What bands did you grow up listening to?

ES: Stuff like Pennywise, Millencollin, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Refused, Enslaved, Emperor, Turbonegro, Kyuss, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc. Good stuff!

AN: What’s your best/worst band experience to date?

ES: We’ve played gigs without being able to hear ourselves. That’s always interesting. We’ve also played venues where we’ve had to sell tickets and do everything ourselves. Not too bad though. We’ve gone on stage with an intro song on the speakers and a lot of smoke onstage, but had to go off again because there was something wrong with the PA. We’ve played in front of one person. Not too bad at all really, just a few minor Spinal Tap moments. I guess we’ve been lucky.

The best experience must be being able to release our debut album. Both the recording and getting to work with Indie Recordings are highlights for us. As for gigs, we’ve played the Hove Festival and the Pstereo, which was cool. We’re hungry for more though.

AN: You’ve nailed your debut album . What are you hoping to achieve next?

ES: Thanks, man! We really appreciate it. Our next goal is to get out there and play our music for as many people at as many places as however possible!

AN: Cheers for answering! Any questions you have for me?

ES: What would you rather choose for your ideal punk concert, pyro or laser show and why? What do you think Norwegian brown cheese is made of?

AN: Pyro, every day of the week. Lasers suck. No self-respecting punk wants to be made to feel like they’re at a 90s rave. And having your face melted off is far cooler than being blinded by stray lasers every couple of minutes! As for Norwegian brown cheese – I’d have to guess it was whiskey or beer-flavoured.

[Actually, brunost or mynost is caramelised cheese – a process that involves boiling the milk, cream and whey until the water evaporates and the milk sugar turns to caramel. A side effect of the process is that it becomes a highly flammable substance as Norwegian firefighters found out when they had to attend a recent tunnel fire that burned for 5 days.]

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/02/interview-man-the-machetes/

Monday, February 11, 2013

Album Review: Blodig Alvor – Mørkets Frembrudd

Since Kvelertak’s global success with their debut album, the Norwegian punk scene has become hot property and over the next couple of months we can expect to be inundated with everything from the groovy to the gritty to the downright insane. Last week we got a taste for Man The Machetes, this week Indie Recordings offer us the youthful zest of Blodig Alvor (a band-name that translates into Bloody Serious) and next month we have yet Meir of Kvelertak to look forward to!

If you prefer the less screamy stuff then Blodig Alvor should suit you a little better. The dark guitar strikes and drum-rolling intro of the title track, “Mørkets Frembrudd”, fire into a much more upbeat “Mr. Molotow”. Here, there’s no denying the driving force of the music is that mile-wide, thick wedge of strings that locks in the groove. They piston away under Markus den Outen’s sneers and clarion calls like the proverbial unstoppable force, muddying up the waters nicely.

The music fires out a mixture of MC5 phlegm (evoked in the awesome vocal hook of highlight “Start En Revolusjon”), Hanoi Rocks’ glam, The Subways’ no-nonsense rock simplicity and The Cumshots’ enigmatic swagger (down in the dark recesses of “Solgt Min Sjel”). Put another way, If “Svik” were really a punk he/she would have a mohican and would spend most of their time in a power stance, whilst “Ordets Makt” would sport a skinhead and be either gobbing or showing you a digit. The guitars on the former are either chugging or soloing, whilst the meaner tone and gruff gang chants on the latter imbue it with a gnarly vibe.

There are very little change-ups, most of what you hear in the first track you’ll hear in the last. Sure, there are more gang vocals here, more gapping there, but other than that there’s next to no deviation in pacing or delivery. Small pleasures can be found here or there (in “Vår Resignasjon” where first, Erlend Andersen’s clanging bass gets to step up front, then den Ouden, still channeling his frustrations at society’s failings, steps alone into the spotlight), but overall there is simply way too much that just meanders. It’s a shame because the band show more potential in the closing 30 seconds of acoustic than they do on the whole album.

Of course, even trying to compare a naive, yet honest Blodig Alvor to Norway’s punk starlets Kvelertak would be a little unfair. This music has more in common with their countrymen Oslo Ess’ poppish ska or Blood Command’s driven rock, but if that’s their competition, then being bloody serious about their art might just help them in the long run.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/02/blodig-alvor-morkets-frembrudd-indie-recordings/

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Album Review: Man The Machetes – Idiokrati

Oh, I love me some punk n’ roll. It’s so gritty and groovy and grimy and great. If you’re not moshing, you’re dancing, and if you’re not dancing you’re drinking! Throw in a viciously roared vocal and I’m in seventh bloody heaven, me. There’s nothing finer than watching a decent punk band sweating themselves dry and then launching their own broken bodies at you. The whole principle of “Give everything, leave nothing” always applies and, yes, that’s infectious, but most importantly, it’s something you can’t help but admire.

Norway’s Man The Machetes, like their fellow countrymen and perennial touring buddies, Kvelertak, have all of the above in spades. Now, even the best live bands have trouble translating these live qualities onto record, it’s a widely-acknowledged problem, so quite how MTM have nailed it first time around is beyond me. There’s no getting around it – Idiokrati (a cheeky reference to the concept of a government run by idiots) is all-but-perfect. It sports a suitably post-apocalyptic black-and-yellow album cover which is certainly going to help this stand out on the shelves. Diggers flattening buildings and a little girl in a gas-mask with a flower and the obligatory machete in hand – these are images, although a little obvious, that should stay with you awhile. Let’s just say you shouldn’t miss it when browsing.

The fiery opener “Sluk Det Rått” (in English, “Eat It Raw”) drives through a pistoning opening foray, before softening into a swaggering roll. Both play along with Christopher Iversen’s wall-of-howl until the band suddenly inject a surge of bass and smother the bastard. This goes at you like an attack dog – ripping bite after bite out of you. There is just no let off from the sonic assault. Album highlight, “Slagen”, is quite possibly the finest thing I’ve heard in years. Best described as a storm of rich, dissonant melody, this takes everything that’s gone before and hones it to a point where the gang chants and short rhythmic pauses for breath create a trigger for the chorus to fire its irresistible hook into your brain – “Down with the slagen!”

The crushing groove that this band generates is like an almighty weight on your chest; its acidic edges bleed into every pore. When listening to this I actually find myself struggling to breathe. It’s a monster. There is no room to think when MTM are laying down. The gunshot snare drum; the menacing sequence of minor chord changes; the harmonics that play around a central key; the crushing riff in “Karma å Brenne” (or “Karma To Burn”) – they all roll around inside your skull, endowed with the same mass as the strongman’s Atlas Stones.

If I was pushed, I would suggest that Man The Machete’s music falls into the gap between Kvelertak and Fucked Up or, in other words, between a rock and a fucking hard place. Additionally, parts of “Maktesløse” (in English, “Powerless”) put me in mind of Skindred’s ragga venom; the vocal delivery and the patterning especially, but only a hundred times more deadly, and there is a fistful of Cancer Bats lurking down in the twisted grooves that the melodies dig out. The big difference here is that Idiokrati washes away the disparate attack and quality of all these bands and replaces their filler with absolute killer.

Some will listen to this and hear too much similarity between tracks, whilst others will sneer at its measly 30-minute running time or, idiotically, balk at the Norwegian content. These people would be missing the point. The over-riding value of this album comes from the way it instantly makes you feel. That factor transcends every other. I haven’t found a moment when I’ve not been energised by Iversen getting his beast on for “Sudan” or the guitars doling out their thick menacing riffs for the homecoming of “Hjemkomst”. Point is, if you want to get pumped and you dig the idea of some scowling, spitting carnage fed through a startlingly melodious selection of strings then you simply have no choice. Man The Machetes want to own your soul and you’d be a fool not to let them have it.

Special thanks go to Swedish Max for his help translating the titles.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/02/man-the-machetes-idiokrati-indie-recordings/