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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Album Review: The Safety Fire – Mouth Of Swords

Five years back when The Safety Fire first popped up with their debut EP, Sections, their take on progressive metal involved swathes of broken, discordant shouting and harsh instrumentation powered by a rumbling war machine of bass-loaded guitars and drums. As they have developed their style they have wound back the distortion and begun showing off a surprising lightness of touch and wicked sense of melody that is characterized by their evocative arpeggiated stringwork. Now with their new album, Mouth Of Swords, continuing this upward trend they have easily their most accessible work to date.


These gentle footsteps away from the heavier end have allowed vocalist Sean McWeeney to really shine. Once viewed as the weakest member of the group, frequently tested by the songwriting to deliver a range that was quite clearly beyond his ability, there is now a solid case to be made for him being their greatest asset. No longer is he to be found wanting by requests to scream without self-destructing; no more is he overstretched when asked to deliver a pin-point high note. Part of this may be down to the higher recording values which now bring a multi-layered, polished finish to all areas, but there can be no doubt that he is now simply just a much improved singer. His tone these days beguiles, fusing eloquently with the pulsing underscore to create an ultra-smooth finish.

One thing that hasn’t changed is his lyrics which are still mad, rambling pastiches of sentences. ‘Glass Crush’, for instance, offers up “We´re here to help you / To protect you from yourselves / Like a rambling priest / Fill the gaps with the myths”. It’s not all bonkers though – here, McWeeney does find time to write recognisable verses and choruses that demand repetition. Realistically, there’s not much to grab onto up top (though its hardly filler) but when you reach into the belly of the album there are songs that are mind-blowingly good. ‘Beware The Leopard (Jagwar)’ is a total beast of a track. Comparison with Between The Buried And Me‘s work had already been worthy of mentioning, but with Tommy Rodgers guesting here, the link is nailed down. By turns, soothing and vicious, the music glows with a fluorescent vitality and the interwoven dual vocal attack is the pounding heartbeat of the album.

Elsewhere, ‘Wise Hands’, being soft, dreamy and sensuously poppy, is hugely reminiscent of Twin Atlantic and Athlete. It is easily McWeeny’s finest hour. What’s most satisfying is that even though it slows the pace to a sway, at no point though does it threaten to weaken the momentum. If you‘re in any doubt, you’ll find the Gojira-esque bass-heavy powerplay, string slides and adjacent, atonal delivery of ‘The Ghosts That Wait For Spring’ a welcome bedfellow. With the apoplectic roar of ‘I Am Time, The Destroyer’ and the mesmeric bassline and falsetto hook of ‘Old Souls’ finishing things off, this UK quintet have produced a near faultless sequence of tracks.

Considering all these pros, what is Mouth Of Swords greatest achievement? Perhaps it is, in fact, that within seconds of spinning it, you’ll know the artist. The constantly burbling, rise-and-fall guitarwork, the crisp tone and accurate switch-up from ripped invective to soft melody can only be one band. That’s a desirable quality to have and, consequently, makes them pretty darn formidable. Although you’d never describe them as a finished article, they must be getting pretty close now. They have become a unique, inspirational force and the verve of Mouth Of Swords has rightly set the benchmark, not just for them, but for much of their competition.

This review also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2013/09/09/the-safety-fire-mouth-of-swords/

Monday, September 9, 2013

Album Review: Nightmares On Wax – Feelin’ Good

The best parties all have soundtracks and invariably, at some point, the frivolities will feature a band who play something so chilled out and achingly soulful that you might well struggle to identify them. Ask enough times what that band is and there’s a good chance you’ll discover it to be Nightmares On Wax.

Since the early 90s, NOW project mastermind George Evelyn has been taking his band on the road and steadily feeding us album after album of solid downtempo gold. These days, he’s a busy man (Evelyn is a label owner, a consultant and a producer) so it’s no surprise that this latest record, Feelin’ Good, represents his first full body of work in five years.

Evelyn, of course, has never really set out to write a complete song; one with a beginning, middle and end. He’s always been more of a scene-setter, a mood-creator, so it matters little that his music loops back on itself again and again. Think of his writing as more of a set of slowly evolving emotions and you’ll begin to appreciate the qualities that lurk within each of Feelin’ Good‘s evocative, phasing beats. Long gone are those harsh cuts that crafted the staggering journey of his first few albums, now it’s all about absorbing the vibe. He’s whisked us away from the dancefloor and firmly embedded us in the chillout zone, riding that cyclical, percussive wave to its inevitable mesmeric climax.

The concept of making music in the sun is something that Evelyn is clearly loving – “Not to take away from any of my previous music but Feelin’ Good is what I’ve always been trying to do. To this end, Evelyn has collaborated with old friends and sourced intelligently from others. For instance, the orchestration and strings were created in Berlin by Jazzanova arranger Sebastian Studnitzky and the drum patterns come courtesy of “virtuoso German jazz percussionist” Wolfgang Haffner. One run-through of opening track ‘So Here We Are’ should be enough to win you over. Like a refined mix of Carboot Soul‘s ‘Jorgé’ ripples with soft, interweaving trumpets and strings – you can almost hear the waves rhythmically lapping at the shore and feel the heat of the sun under which this was brewed.

Digging deeper, you’ll uncover the joys of a warbling, soft shoe shuffle (‘Be, I Do’), a strong jazzy Earl Klugh-esque vibe (‘Luna 2′), and some funky rocksteady (‘Now Is The Time’). There’s also ‘Eye (Can’t See)’ to digest – a strong, incandecent number, curiously reminiscent of The Herbaliser and even Bombay Monkey, which is layered to the gills and drives on through its varied breaks and affectations. These together, offer a perfect range of differently-paced and smartly-presented numbers that all cycle and fade. They’re tonal pieces that will define the moods of our party-goers; the ones they will drink in. Naturally, they form the album’s bedrock moments.

Inevitably, there is some anomalous filler to contend with. We get the sore thumb of ‘Give Thx’ plonking itself down, crooning away like some dull Motown boy band, and ‘Tapestry’ which offers up a pointless instrumental with 80s tones and a weird knocking that, first time round, will trick you into getting up to answer the door. To counter these, there are a couple of smart surprises in ‘Masterplan’ and the ‘Om Sweet H(Om)e’. The former sees Californian folk singer Katy Gray pop up with a touch of fragile trip-hop to complement some sumptuous, embedded violins that bring a subtle sway to proceedings and gift it with a sweet Bond-ian motif. The latter is an odd, 7-minute ayurvedic wash that features Evelyn and Shovel (M People) chanting “Om” at us in the style of Tibetan monks.

It is all about the journey with NOW albums and this one’s natural end does come with the ultimate party comedown – where did it say on the Feelin’ Good tin about that one? Also, no matter how pleasant the rest of the package may seem, this journey doesn’t really take you to any wildly interesting places either. Happily, the smoothness of the ride, a far cry from the sharp techno apexes and sudden hip-hop divots of debut A Word Of Science, does mean it’s certainly an album with a beautiful flow to it and that is essential in this blissful chillout zone of theirs. These may just be a series of outlines essentially, but we, the audience, are the ones who must ultimately fill in our own colours. Once more, Nightmares On Wax provide the backing music to the party; once more, your enjoyment is only limited by your own imagination.

This review also online @ The Line Of Best Fit = http://thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/nightmares-on-wax-feelin-good-134405

Friday, September 6, 2013

Album Review: Thränenkind – The Elk

The album art, a colourless, out-of-focus shack lost in a barren wasteland, should tip you off to the kind of music that lurks within. Thränenkind are just one of a batch of ambient hardcore bands that seem to be turning heads of late. Though they aren’t adverse to tossing you glimpses of light, they do generally pitch an achingly grey, miserabilist backdrop at you, then attempt to shade it with streaks of blood red and black that burst from a cantankerous, subversive screamed vocal.

Past experience with bands like The Elijah, Amia Venera Landscape and Devil Sold His Soul has taught this reviewer that when the two opposing forces nail the timing and click into place, they can create an overwhelmingly emotional reaction. When they misfire and fail to illicit that heart-pounding response the tracks can become very tiresome, very quickly. What’s frustrating is that generally this is very much the case here.

Boasting doom-esque features and some passages of spoken word, tracks like “Today, The Sea” and “Eternal Youth” retain all the latent power that exists within the slowly-shifting sonic tide by force-feeding an interesting, lighter, building wall of twinkling sound into these invidious screams. This creation of an ebbing backwash which rumbles under the narrated parts is utterly mesmeric. These latter parts are clearly the extra dimension that is required for the rest to mesh together. However, surrounding these tracks like a vast ocean is plenty of overtly repetitive toying with a basic sequence of keys. Those who love a bit of shoegaze should find plenty to mong out to as these cyclical tracks fade in and out of each other almost imperceptibly.

The concept is suitably bleak, covering two siblings journeying to their father’s funeral, and the music portrays the emotional turmoil this pair undergo along the way. Clearly, there can be no doubt that these Germans are really aiming to spark a reaction and establish a connection. Sadly, however, the tonal depths of this debut full-length won’t break hearts like other bands in the genre can. Its biggest failing, though, is never nailing down enough diverse content to keep us hooked.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/09/thranenkind-the-elk-lifeforce-records/

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Album Review: Osoka – Osoka

Little of it seems to reach our Western senses, but there really is a veritable hotbed of doom and drone down in the remote and impossibly vast country of Russia. Maybe it’s the humidity of the cities or the often subarctic climate that has inspired bands like Scald, Crepuscularia, Mental Home, The Morningside, Wine From Tears, Abyssphere, Burial Shades, etc. (the list is seemingly endless), but the numbers seem to be growing by the day. Together, they form an unbroken front of mood-makers that all take refuge in creating their own dark, sweeping soundscapes. Joining their countrymen now is Rostov-On-Don’s Osoka. They have set out to feed their populace on aching, sub-sonic, sludgy doom drone and complement it with strong, ritualistic chanting.

For this second album of Osoka’s, the band find a powerfully-resonant tone to their liking and absolutely refuse to budge throughout. There are moments in the duo of opening two-key droners where the silky-smooth vocalisations become almost viscous, sticking around long after they’ve finished. Essentially, the vocals are employed as an extra instrument, so there is a tendency for this to feel all too much like an album without a voice. However, that fact doesn’t reduce the bearing that the messianic chanting carries. There truly is a sense of it melting the music it touches. Either that or it harnesses the power to melt grey matter. Osoka resist the urge to throw in any harsh tones here – that comes later. These early moments are all about becoming one with the music.

Moving forward, there is the subtle kink of “Отец” or, in English, “Father”. This one provides sustenance with a numbing series of chugs that phase together to create a warm, buzzing sensation. Then, perfectly-titled, “Освобождение” (“Release”) is all about catch-and-release guitar strikes – from palm-muted crunch to resonant, open vibration and back into hold. The listener becomes the yo-yo at the end of the string. Senses are toyed with and discarded. Then, lurking at the end is “Река” (“River”). Once the full force of it hits you, trust me, you’ll stay down. A proper whitewater ride, it carries the determined force and labyrinthine qualities of Isis and the heaviosity and dynamic range of Khanate. At the five-minute mark it becomes irresistibly metallic and impossibly oppressive.

What you’ll find with Osoka is that if you don’t give everything over to absorbing the music, it will test your patience and perseverance to the full. However, let this beast burst your dams and it may just be the one to crack your internal depth gauge. Catch-22. For those with a strong constitution for conformist trance-inducing drone, perhaps those that survived last month’s occult Dark Buddha Rising release, there is still plenty to admire in this single-minded atmospheric, unsurprisingly minimalist music. Nurse, it’s time for my vodka. на здоровье!

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/08/osoka-osoka-slow-burn-records/