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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Album Review: MIRE - Inward/Outward

Sticky, sodden, stinking and sinking — Mire is not the most pleasant or imaginative of words to use to name your band and yet where once there was none, now we have two fighting to disentangle themselves; waving to grab our attention. Although their two worlds may not be a million miles apart, Mire (or MIRE if you’re that way inclined) and their debut album Inward/Outward are most definitely not to be confused with the UK’s aspirational post-metallists The Mire or their co-incidentally timed release Glass Cathedrals: see Jimmy Rowe’s review. Rather, this version hail from Montreal in Canada and play feisty, hook-laden rock with expansive passages of progressive experimentation.


Two years in the making, this mouth-watering beast is just the kind of tempting morsel that is far too easily discarded. It’s a worthy long-player that rewards those who persist in the same way that the offerings of their forbears Tool, Nine Inch Nails and Deftones, those that they are so quick to name-check, did. Essentially, Mire imbue their work with an organic, rhythmical flow with room made for builds, spaces and crunches of varying length. On an emotional level, the album, rather appropriately, heads inward to the point of axis, ‘Limitless’, before heading back outwards. It is all, at once, both portentous attack and release music and expansive, progressive fare.

Kicking off strongly, ‘Complex’ strikes with biting rock in the style of Incubus, and to a lesser extent Audioslave, to quickly establish an early momentum yet, even this early, Mire aren’t afraid to vary the pace and utilize ethnic instrumentation to stir up the formula a little. Going one better ‘Tyrannicide’ is chock-full of hooks, striding out with skidding guitar and scene-setting keys which reach out to tug down the most infectious of choruses. J. P. Lachapelle’s vocal is powerful enough to grab your attention, his strong, melodious affectations aping those employed by Kevin Moore (Chroma Key, Fates Warning), Maynard James Keenan (Tool) and even those of Jethro Tull‘s Ian Anderson, but it’s Stephane Boileau’s dominating tribal drumming that holds it.

The central core of the album provides the majority of the ambient noodling and sprawling melodies. The two-part ‘Limitless’ stands apart gripping the listener with plucked verses, suitably soft boy-girl harmonics that echo O.S.I. in their occasional brushstrokes of electronica. Oddly, the central track, ‘Beast And The Machine’, tries all manner of styles but never fails to ignite fully. Any lack of impact is balanced by the enormous hitting power of ‘Catalan Atlas’, in which we are asked to “crack the code of God:, and the mind-blowing ‘Open Circle’. The latter increases the pace, throws in plenty of rhythmic punch and comes loaded with sweet, soaring pop-rock as it juggles gut-rumbling bass and fizzing riffs.

There are moments of instrumental goodness that retain that sense of space that the album allows for. ‘Mantra Cymatic’ is a throwaway gimmick, much unlike ‘Convolution’ where you are thrillingly encased inside the amniotic sac of some vast machine where ear-to-ear drift takes you warping through a series of clanking anomalies. Later, these effects splinter and take on a visceral, infinitely more industrial edge for the very Tool-esque cosmic rush of ‘Upheaval’.

Lyrically and thematically, it’s a hugely memorable album. Toying with the concepts of (at a guess) self-aware machines, ultimate power and humanity, there are powerful lines that emerge to grip us. From the instant “Why don’t you leave me alone / I don’t wanna have to go” via the desperate “This addiction is a crime / Just kill to keep alive” and out to the sensitive “Crafted hatred, stripping naked / Fuck with my heart, crushing my head”.

Despite Inward/Outward being an impressive opening salvo, there is still very much the sense that Mire are still feeling their way around their sound; sticking to the paths well-trodden. Progressive rock, of course, is a genre that will allow them time and room to experiment because they do need to find a new path of their own to journey down. The grittier, more emotive tracks here suggest they are more than capable of locating that.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2014/03/27/mire-inwardoutward/

Album Review: Need – Orvam: A Song For Home

This third full-length album, following “The Wisdom Machine” and “Siamese God”, from the Greek quintet Need displays a complex grasp of 70s and contemporary prog metal. It comes spring-loaded with flighty melodic threads à la Dream Theater and Fates Warning. It consistently punches above its weight throwing in big hefty clumps of Nevermore-esque power rock and is never afraid to mine a rich seam of Tool-ian avant-garde quirks.

Opener “Lifeknot” emerges like some crazed dance robot before settling down into a steady switch-back between the half-time hush of the bitter verse and the lurching, rhythmic chorus. As you’d imagine with an album subtitle like “a song for home”, inevitably there is a sonic essence of the band’s homeland running throughout the music. That ethnic feel and tone comes through in spades on the 10-minute “Entheogen”, where we get a repeated and monotone mantra to chant back, middle-eastern guitar scales and instrumentation and a sashaying female top-end vocal piece.

Here, the multitude of layers from the foreground power of Jon V.’s emotive vocal, the interweaving shredded guitar work and the diverse soundscaped background are craftily-balanced, meaning these intial tracks are never overly-busy but varied enough to allow for a different focus on each listen.

The initial sections of “Symmetrape” threaten to break out into Rush or Journey at any point but Need quickly dispel any sense of a reclining into established AOR territory by throwing in a mind-blowing blast of stomp-heavy death-doom. It’s the most curious of tracks but rams home the point and beautifully focusses the mind on the screwy construction. The album soon establishes that theme and before-long the cutaways into lounge music, space-rock or funk piano begin to make a little more sense. Need seem able to integrate these niche segues with such ease, rarely lingering on them too long before returning to the spine of the track.

Critically, the album craves a key riff or vocal lick to really make Orvam stand out. “Construct” tries hardest of all by adding bite but neither that supreme wandering synth or repeated chorus line of “Time’s ticking away…” could be said to give this the necessary kick into the listener’s sub-conscious. Sadly, this almighty hour-long album also comes with an in-built tipping point. It appears when they break off for the off-putting, one-listen-only 3:26 spoken recording of existentialist psychobabble that constitutes “Hotel Oniro”.

That one piece alone will not make or break the album for you but the 18-minute title-track rock opera that follows may. Replete with vast orchestral flourishes and echoing the epic delivery of Turisas, it plods along at a doomy pace breathing heavy with a yawning vocal. It bristles, it slumps, it cracks us emotionally, it does the lot. Broken down into bite-size chunks, it would have been far more palatable and some sections will definitely strike a chord more than others.

Opening like a posessed demon and ending like the broken character art that adorns it, this monster of an album will grab you with its imaginative use of instrumentation and engaging stylistic skullduggery but, above all, its sheer honesty and range of emotional interplay. Think not of it as an album; think of it as a story, as a journey, as a song for home.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2014/03/need-orvam-a-song-for-home-trailblazer/

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

EP Review: Darkentries - The Make Believe

If you've been paying attention to modern metal of late, you will have noticed that most bands not besotted with retro, are pushing their music forwards with varied attempts at blurring the lines between genres. Some, of course, are taking the concept to the extreme by fusing those lines into a vast wall of sound. South Carolina's Darkentries, contentedly sat on Kylesa's record label, are one of the latter and have drawn influence from such quarters as sludge, hardcore, doom and post-metal to create a blackened, nihilistic cacophony.

What stands out the most here is the production. Recorded with Kris Hilbert at the curiously-titled Legitimate Business Studio, with the mastering taking place over at Audiosiege, the overall impression is of a vital, raw mix loaded with enough echo to bring it back from the brink. Carefully layered within, the powerful, mud-flinging guitars take pride of place at the forefront, the drums sit in the middle distance, and the vocal is left to rant and rave from somewhere out back. It's an odd experience to discover that the gapping between the levels mean you can actually pick out the points where Hampton Dodd's vocals start phasing. Of course, it is exactly because the band don't utilise every inch of space that, inside the sections where instrument drop-outs occur, it all begins to feel slightly removed from the present. Whilst a shame that slight fault does leave them much room for experimentation - hopefully more so when they finally get round to issuing that full-length.

Digging down into the tracks, 'TV Fuzz' shifts from a gentile guitar introduction into pounding black doom. With the vocal lurching between one that pitches mournful shoegaze and another that seems ensconced in inflicting post-hardcore chaos, the effect is intense and shattering. Though 'Honey Eater' and the stunning 'Feedback Funeral' stay on the same path, they muscle up every element. The vocal sinks deeper to create a more resonant, more forbidding atmosphere and finds a red-raw animosity when it gets its 'core on. Even the sludge-packing guitars wind it all down until the buzzing begins to vibrate at the back of your brain. What stands out, is that somewhere amongst all the to-ing and fro-ing, you'll hear strong hints at the kind of ambient, miserabilist post-hardcore peddled by bands like The Elijah or Devil Sold His Soul.

Upping their game, 'I'm Tired Of Being Awake' finds joy in warping the attack; picking up the desert and blowing it back in our faces. In these mere three minutes they find room to echo the emotional, death-addled contortions of Ihsahn and even time to tap out some Mastodon-esque string progressions. '1200-S' is their chthonic monster, emerging from its abyss to rip out some suitably alien roars and illicit agonising screams form its prey. There are also vast open power chords, gutsy basslines and heart-pumping chugs to get on board with. Lyrically, you'll not find much to sink your teeth into with this EP, save perhaps for 'Feedback Funeral' and that repeating disembodied scream of "just bloody kill me" or in the wild-eyed chant of "paradise, paradise" awaiting in '1200-S'.

Understandably short, impossibly indulgent, strangely exhilarating. In a sense, this kind of carefully-constructed lunacy is exactly what we, as disciples of extreme metal, crave. It's music that breaks barriers, retaining an essence of ancient majesty but remaining unafraid to let things get a little ugly and a little twisted. Easy listening this is not, but then this is, in effect, Darkentries' crack at sonic catharsis. Their ball, their rules. The Make Believe represents their own honest attempt to define what modern heavy metal means to them. It will be very interesting to see what kind of unholy noises they can conjure up in the future.

Also online @ Scratch The Surface = http://www.scratchthesurface-webzine.com/2014/03/darkentries-make-believe-review.html

Monday, March 3, 2014

Album Review: Home – Bound To Gravity

“Fuck me, this thing is heavy”.

It takes a fair bit to get me to start talking to myself, yet here I am in an empty room getting crushed to death every time I spin this innocent-looking rotund piece of polycarbonate plastic and lacquer. With every single pound of Home’s ballistic combined bass and guitar strikes, a new word slips out. I feel under attack – like someone is hammering a wrecking ball into my chest, over and over again. Closer inspection, reveals that the band have completely shunned ProTools, and even a metronome, and just stepped straight into their perfectly-titled Nasty Sound Room recording studio in Innsbruck. The resultant sound is organic, raw and face-meltingly heavy.

That thought came a couple of weeks back but now, having spent more time with the record, I’m convinced that this trio of mountain-dwelling Austrians, have captured the sound of avalanches. It stomps about flinging sludge at math-streaked hardcore and emerges with something akin to a fusing of High On Fire and Black Flag. Dig deeper and you’ll uncover music that is also bursting with elements of grunge and doom, littered with addictive licks and with a vocalist that roars like a demented Yeti.

From the opening feedback, sliding verse, punk rock tang and the half-time hook of the excellently-constructed “Hole” you’ll know you’re stuck in a battle of wills. The band’s unrelenting attack against your useless resistance. Very quickly, there’s the sudden mid-song downing of tools that lurks in “Next To Last” and, during that odd interlude that follows where the ground disappears from underneath you and a quiet voice drawls “STOP!”, you’ll be left utterly defenceless. It’s an odd experience but, as the gravel-munching drawl of Ganner’s vocal turns almost Lemmy-esque, the solid foundations are being laid for an album that not only hits hard and fast but has the odd ability to improve with each listen. The key lurks in its hit of instant neck-snapping gratification but also in the variety of attack from song to song.

There are the awesome haunts of “Burlesque” and “Old Hand” to wallow in. Both conjure the antagonistic machinations of Bleach-era Nirvana, but the former breathes heavy with a sweet rising riff and a vicious chorus lick, whilst the latter is all about the constant return to the beating heart, two-chord crunch that allows the discordant scrawling chaos to flourish around it. Their are a couple of tracks that outrun their welcome and the loose cannon of “Kyoto” show there is room for improvement for future releases. However, with the none-more-heavy, rhythmic bludgeon of the 8-minute “Dead City” echoing that immense machine-gun rattle fired off by Gojira, it’s easy to see why Home is not a band you will skip past lightly.

The great news is none of you have to – with Sound Zero being one of a few employing a policy of offering free downloads of all their releases, there really is no excuse. Alternatively of course you can show your appreciation by purchasing a hard copy direct. Whichever way you get to hear ‘em, it’s always great to have an Austrian band really laying down in a country that is usually more famous for it’s classical leanings and folked-up Schrammelmusik than anything else. There just aren’t too many tearing it up out there, especially with this kind of maniacal, no-holds-barred attitude – all in the most beautiful and peaceful of surroundings. So, horns up and cowbells to you Hans-Peter, Amadeus and Mathias – you guys just made me take one more step towards insanity.

Also on online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2014/03/home-bound-to-gravity-sound-zero/