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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Feature: As The Palaces Burn - A Look Into Lamb of God’s Enlightening New Documentary

as the palaces burn

With the original concept of this documentary (not to be confused with the other As The Palaces Burn releases) confined to turning the cameras away from the band’s own music and their performances, Lamb Of God‘s intentions were to highlight the power of music and its influence on both the individuals and their fans – a refreshing series of viewpoints that might well have worked. Of course the arrests that followed, when they flew in to play a show in the Czech Republic on 28 June 2012, combined with the implicit level of trust that they had built up with the director, Don Argott, meant that the band took a collaborative decision to split the focus of the film’s direction.

Thus, the play opens with LOG frontman Randall D. Blythe, the self-confessed “dirtbag down by the river” (naturally, with “LOSER” emphatically emblazoned across his leather jacket) wandering along the James River in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia and musing over how his access to music has moulded him. “Music is my life. It’s what stopped me going to prison” — the irony of this statement soon comes to pass but, until that point we are invited into Lamb Of God’s practice room at the start of their album cycle. Here, whilst Randy does press, the rest of the band reflect on the rise of the band and their general disbelief at how their star just keeps on getting bigger. Here, with them all displaying natural, down-to-Earth qualities, there is a chance to emphasize the family men but also, interestingly, the individuals’ general disconnectedness, the fist-fights and Randy’s battle with alcohol abuse.


In between a few obligatory star spots for Slash, GWAR’s Oderus Ungerus and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, we get a couple of moving fan stories on their connection to the music. Through Oscar (from Colombia) and Pratika (from India) we learn of their diverse backgrounds and the individual cultural anomalies they have, their loves and losses and, ultimately, their own relationship with music. You’d certainly expect more individual stories to be included, but there is just a general emphasis on the war-torn nature of some of the places that the band play and the united front that their fans display.

randy and fans

And then as the word “Prague” pops up on screen to replace others that have gone before it, everything changes. In an instant, the viewer must decide whether to take all consequent reportage at face-value and whether to consider the potential for the band to have used the situation to their commercial advantage, but considering the gravity of what follows, this would seem unlikely. The exploratory ramble that has gone before ends and the furious search for truth and justice begins right here, in our own minds as well as in those of the band members. We’re shown the inside of a plane and a queue of folks jostling to get off. Guitarist Mark Morton comments that, on seeing the menagerie of officials assembled on the ground, he perceived that, “there must be some fugitive on this plane.” How right he was. Of course, we all know that what follows is the band members’ arrests and a fierce line of initial questioning (guitarist Willy Adler angrily mentions that “they called [Randy] a fucking murderer”). “We waited to see what they were gonna do with Randy,” continues Mark, “and then they kept him.”

The intensity of the voices, the dark looks, the sudden silences, the manager’s heated phone conversation and the sudden appearance of a deathly serious legal team all indicate in exactly what position the band have been placed and the director pitches the tone perfectly. It slowly emerges that a fan, Daniel Nosek, present at an old Czech Lamb Of God gig, died soon after seeing them play and the implication is that Randy Blythe is being blamed for causing it. We subsequently see three contentious incidents, taken from footage filmed at the gig, that show a fan getting (or trying to get) on stage and attempts by security (and possibly Randy) to stop him. These blurry snippets of information are all there to give us a sense of the confusing circumstances and the possible validity and severity of the accusations.

When words like “murder” and phrases like “intent to cause harm” are being banded about, it isn’t so much a case of whether your eyes will be glued to the screen — it’s a case of whether you’ll ever be able to view this fucked-up world the same again. With the initial legal arguments being over bail (or the illusion of), the actual tragedy of the whole situation begins to dawn on the band. They are forced to come to terms with heartbreak and disbelief; the tragedy of losing a fan as well as having a colleague trapped in a cell in a foreign country. As Mark suggests later, “It was never us against them.” It’s an experience that Randy refers to later as like wearing a “lead helmet.”

blythe

The jump in the film here to the day of Randy’s release, 38 days later, might just represent the degree of misinformation that was reported, or simply, editorial discretion. The accompanying Q&A with Randy reveals a little about his time behind bars. The contact blackout he experienced, his fear of being singled out for punishment and getting through it by employing a daily routine of meditation, reading and writing – finding order where there was disorder. Just the imagery of the band and families waiting at the airport is enough to jolt a tear from the hardiest of souls. Willy, of course, says it all when he breaks down whilst hugging his friend — “I missed the fuck out of you… best day ever.”

With the court case hanging over them, their “comeback show” in an Iowa cornfield feels a little stilted but Randy’s delight at the faith the fans have shown in him is honest. When questioned later about the situation and whether he considered never returning for the trial, he is adamant that he couldn’t possibly do anything else. Knowing his own psychological vulnerabilities and his constant battle to stay sober, he suggests that not being able to look himself in the mirror would have resulted in an irresistible return to the bottle and inevitable self-implosion — “in my heart, it was just the right thing to do.”

Three months later and the preparation for the trial ramps up the pressure upon him and, by proxy, us viewers. Knowing he may have to explain why the fans want to launch themselves from a stage or the vagaries of slam-dancing shows just how little faith his legal team have in what the judges will know and understand. “Whatever happens, they can’t make me guilty” — it’s a sentence that pinpoints his state of mind. Then, the first day of the trial is upon us and Randy emerges sporting a haircut, fully booted and suited. Facing three judges (with one presiding) and just one prosecutor, there is immediately the sense that all is not well. Unsurprisingly, considering the event was nigh on 3 years ago, the subtitled witness statements prove to be sketchy at best. Immediately, Randy’s legal team are scrutinizing the reliability of the witnesses. There follows suggestion that Randy’s on-stage gestures were mistranslated as an invitation to “come up on stage,” and his criticism of security that night is duly reported.

What follows is the revelation that another fan’s home videos and photos from the night prove that the on-stage fan we see is not Daniel Nosek. That information would leave the judge with nothing in the way of video evidence to take into consideration, witness confusion and inconsistencies, and a clearly determined defense team having ticked all the boxes. Daniel’s uncle’s statement duly rams home the reality by admitting that Randy may not fully be to blame, but breaks hearts when he goes on to explain Daniel’s complex family situation and the mother’s severe mental anguish meaning she can no longer earn a living. No side will ever actually win this case. There will only be losers.

randy blythe defense

The final day of the trial rolls around and Randy still feels he will be found guilty on a lesser charge — possibly negligence which he suggests could get him 6 years in prison. In his final statement, a dejected and sombre Randy explains his emotions but says he is remaining objective; he is just desperate to reveal the truth. Upon hearing he has been “cleared of the charge of manslaughter” (his legal team are seen assuring him he has been “completely exonerated”) he remains stony-faced — just a shaky thumbs up that he understands is the only sign that he has understood. Predictably, we get a smack of dramatic music fading in as the judge’s verdict is fading out — without that, the moment would still be transferred to us through that single shot of Randy’s face, bursting with conflicting emotions. Back home, there are no band member celebrations — just reserved smiles and Willy’s statement, a few weeks later, that “It’s becoming a reality that we’re Lamb Of God again.” The final say goes, appropriately, to drummer Chris Adler’s insightful reflection: “Now we’ve been through this really traumatic event together, I would dare to say, until one of us dies, we’re stuck together.”

Such is the disparate nature of the original concept and the end result, it is easy to draw the conclusion that one cannot breathe next to the other. There is certainly a sense of that when you compare the diverse reactions drawn from the varied characters’ ponderous connection to the music, with the united intensity of the band’s own powerful emotions that surround the trial. There are moments of gravity in both concepts but, no matter where your starting point, one will impact more on you and on an extremely personal level, the other far less so. No flippant directorial attempt to loop us back to that original idea (which does come near the film’s end) was ever going to make this release about anything but an insatiable thirst for some insight behind this whole strange and sorry saga. On that front, this documentary comes through in spades. Its story is clear as a bell, beautifully composed and, despite the initial doubts at the potential damage that filming such a hot potato might have and the subtle hints towards showing the best side of the band, their integrity remains intact.

One thing that is made clear during the bonus material, is that we certainly won’t be seeing Lamb Of God back in the Czech Republic unless the family of Daniel Nosek specifically request it — unexpectedly, those associations and implications kicked off by this case being brought into being will last forever. Essentially, this documentary is Lamb Of God’s way of passing their “lead helmet” on to us. Watching and absorbing the events of the trial are a grave, upsetting and deeply profound experience and, on a personal level, it feels like an honour to be given such unique access to an event that has and will continue to change lives.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2014/02/26/as-the-palaces-burn-a-look-into/

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Album Review: Purplehaze Ensemble – S/T

What’s in a name? Take PurpleHaze Ensemble’s moniker for instance. You’d imagine this Polish quartet to be a Jimi Hendrix covers band who, before each gig, spun a coin to see which band member would get to set fire to his guitar that night. Either that or to be a room full of potheads trading heavy-lidded musings on why Weetabix tastes “like sandpaper, ma-a-a-n”. Of course, they are actually a lot more interesting than the former and a hell of a lot more compos mentis than the latter.

Interestingly, they seem to sit at the centre of a musical crossroads, where the x-axis of grunge and stoner hits the y-axis of progressive metal and ambient rock. One minute they rage like Down, with vocalist Macias screeching like Phil Anselmo would after necking a bottle of bleach, the next they are conjuring up the head-down grunge of a Soundgarden or an Alice In Chains. Head deeper into the disc and you’ll discover that they are even capable of sucking up the progressive, experimental nectar from bands like Tool or Palms.

Starting out as just plain old PurpleHaze, a band focused on dispensing a solid dose of stoner rock, they recently switched drummers and employed synth player, Bemben, who was able to add a new dimension to their music by integrating an atmospheric layer of keys and samples underneath.

Interestingly by paying homage to the “old ways” of recording, they whipped this version up in one-take at at Red Shift Studio in Cracow. Only the vocals and synths were added afterwards – it has certainly made for an album with a vital energy and an almost edgy quality to it. On the downside, that mix has produced rough patches where the instruments don’t quite marry together. In particular, the harsh tones of the guitar leap out at the listener when the rest of the band is raging, but happily it comes back into its own when the power levels drop and the waves calm.

The dissonant fizz of the driving opener “Siren’s Song” is certainly a nasty wake-up slap with Macias at full roar and firing out crunch and sludge in equal measure. The oddly-rambling nature of “Haunt The Freak” instead finds an echoing, psychedelic series of Bombay Monkey-esque samples to lounge in before the dial is cack-handedly wound up and our first taste of their grunge leanings hove into view.

By “Could I” (a nod to Alice In Chains’ “Would I”, perhaps?) they’ve settled down into the session and the track’s natural structure gives us a true taste of their innate knack for songwriting. A gentle build with warping synth soon breaks into a stone-cold groove. Here, Macias uses the rhythmic swagger to impart a chilled blue tone into his vocal. Serving him well, he craftily weaves it around the chords in patterns, throwing neat lyrical twin hooks into the verses – “Spiders on my face / Snakes inside my face”. Running at nearly eight minutes in length, you still wouldn’t say it overstays its welcome.

Ramping up the atmospherics, “Kickin’ Curbs With A Thin Stick” and “Cross” offer up sub-level bass and the warping environs of Deftones-esque lush-to-crush experimentation. The former ends with a section where the strings drop out to leave just the synth roaming from the left ear to the right like a lost bee buzzing around inside our skulls. One to avoid is the mathy “Lie Is The Answer” which punches low as the vocalist trades restraint for over-commitment to the cause. Resplendent at it’s heart, the remainder is just too loud and too loose to really make any impact.

The band’s willingness to trade between grit and power and colour-streaked, ambient washes means that there is never a dull moment at any point in this self-titled debut. Most certainly, there is room for manoeuvre and not everything meshes together quite as you’d expect it to, but there is more than enough quality within to warrant further investigation – there aren’t all that many albums out there with this much variety on display. PHE have certainly shown that they have the courage to push things to the next level and that bodes well for their future. With an extra layer of lacquer applied to the production next time out, they might just yet surprise us all. Now, whose turn is it with Jimi’s big box of matches?

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2014/02/purplehaze-ensemble-st-unquiet/

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Album Review: Barren Womb – The Sun’s Not Yellow, It’s Chicken

Digging into the backstory of Barren Womb, one might be intrigued by the bold statements of their biography. Here, they claim to “blend hardcore punk with elements of black metal, grindcore and country.” Hell’s teeth, that sure sounds like an exciting prospect. Having investigated further it appears that the “elements” are incredibly subtle ones and these Norwegian noiseniks don’t, in fact, sound like Black Breath butchering Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. Happily, their more general description of them being “a nasty swill of noisy punk” is bang on the money.


As a duo, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Tony Gonzahl and drummer Timo Silvola, there is little mental conflict between them and their main aim, yet plenty of aural conflict in their combined delivery. The unrefined passion and the vital edginess that they pour into their music means they stand a million miles from most folks’ preconceptions. Yes, you may have spotted the words “Norwegian, hardcore and punk” in that introduction and be expecting another Kvelertak-a-like to plop off the end of the conveyor belt (those fans can skip straight to the neck-snapping swagger of ‘Assmasters of Reality’), but Barren Womb are, in fact, the chalk to Kvelertak’s cheese. They don’t sing in their Native language, they replace bottom-end grunt with mid-range scrawl, and they pay lip service to the concepts of groove. These edgy punks just don’t wanna roll.

The production, throughout, has been stripped and stretched to within an inch of its life. Peer too closely and you’d swear this thing was see-through. Consequently, it’s all piercing tones and cacophonous chaos. The ride bucks like a mule and spins like a tornado with the path and direction indeterminate and the destination unknown. An exciting prospect but, in reality, you’ll be sweating throughout. Listening to The Sun’s Not Yellow… is the equivalent of jumping from a plane blindfolded and without a parachute. From the introductory line of “It was like this when we found it!” screamed over the top of a hissing, firecracker riff through to the last few feet of ‘Live Fast, Die’, the total wall of noise that Gonzahl imposes on the listener is daunting.

Frequently, the music collapses into a wall of feedback and an avalanche of crash cymbal strikes. There’s even a guttural undercut of black metal discord, especially noticeable in ‘Evil Prevails’ and ‘Nexus Diplomis’, which is like listening to The Sex Pistols sucking on the exhaust pipe of Belphegor. Here, Gonzahl summons up a few gargles and an imaginary upturned claw. There are busy leads, like the ones that lurk in ‘Nábrók’ and ‘From Robot Jobs To Robot Homes’, that crush into Silvola’s piston-like drums to form the spine. As a rule, it’s a nifty tool that allows the vocals (gang chants included) to really let rip and the result is, well, eclectic.

The unexpected smack of the ocean surface that breaks this album’s fall is staggering. Track 9 is that watery grave – ‘Bong Aqua’. It introduces a section where the reduction of pace gives all a chance to draw breath – that is gratefully accepted. Here, there is a sample of crashing waves with children splashing and yelping with delight and a gentle, laconic rhythm that completely releases the listener to soak up the acoustic tones and lush colours. Switching into the equally soft wash of ‘Zombies Never Go Out Of Style’ we get chanting and a disembodied narrator, mulling over the downside to “eternal life”, mashed into our first hint of country swing.

Take all this chicanery into account and you’ve got an album that just about manages, albeit without a good deal of unseemly pushing and shoving, to cram in a huge variety of styles. It may be messy, it’s undoubtedly indulgent, freakishly thought-provoking, part-spasmodic, part-impenetrable vitriol but, like the greatest of extreme challenges, it’s a total adrenaline rush. The Sun’s Not Yellow, It’s Chicken is an album that requires total commitment and, consequently, one that might not get much “ear time”, but you can’t argue with the fact that (graphic band name, ludicrous album title and comic album art also taken into consideration) it shines out like a beacon.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2014/02/13/barren-womb-the-suns-not-yellow-its-chicken/

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

EP Review: Lazarus Blackstar / Black Shape Of Nexus – Split

For this eagerly-awaited Split LP, the North-West of England meets the North-West of Germany as two storming merchants of doom crash headlong into each other for half-an-hour of immersive Sturm und Drang. From an early pressurized melting pot where Bradford and Liverpool’s Lazarus Blackstar’s crust-coated doom and blackened death-drone brews inside a morphing structure, the record steadily winds up the tempo until Mannheim sextet Black Shape Of Nexus take over and begin to introduce experimental layers of feedback and replace grit with groove. It all adds up to a wonderfully wretched experience that aims to bury you deep beneath six-feet of stinking, blackened soil.

Setting off through the sludge and buzz-heavy riffing of Lazarus Blackstar’s “Command and Control”, Mik Hell’s growl and dissonant rage pitch us downwards until they find their spiritual nadir in a ponderous hole where two sets of layered vocals tear lumps out of each other upon a bedrock of whining drone. From here they dust themselves off and settle into the patchwork quilt of sections that form “Whispering Through Broken Teeth”. Reminiscent of St. Vitus and, to a point, Eyehategod there is also a moment where, disconcertingly, it all begins to sound a bit like a slowed-down Iron Maiden tape. Walking you through, we’ve got an introductory riff that cuts abrasively into a rumbling verse, before heading down to half-time for the chorus and then out into a displaced, yet memorably upbeat riff. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.

Experimenting with much more success, B.SON tug at their Neurosis chain and flush out a tongue-in-cheek offering to the Gods of doom. The 11-minute “Honor Found In Delay”, littered with psychedelic hits of feedback and noisy electronica, gets you deep in the gut with a thunderous, soul-shaking series of chords. The construction is much more organic here and stands in direct opposition to Lazarus Blackstar’s harsh segues. When they find their chug-friendly two-note doom boots they stomp about in them like pigs in muck with Malte Seidel screaming blue murder from, what sounds like, the other side of the street.

Best of all, closer “Always And Only” spends its entire 9-minute length revelling in the joys that a simple-spined, steadily evolving, quality tongue-and-groove doom song can supply. And who better than George Orwell to provide the LP’s morbid epitaph? His soundbite taken from the BBC Series “The Life Of Orwell” plays this intriguingly miserablist LP out – “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face… forever”.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2014/01/lazarus-blackstar-bson-split-alerta-antifascista-records/