Saturday, January 16, 2016
It’s not unusual to find them stumbling over the gritty hardcore edges that frequent the music of Monuments as they do for opener “Fast Worms”. Its raging chorus sees vocalist Sacha Dunable dishing out roars from behind a dark, powerful series of shreds. With the album constantly returning to themes such as the lunacy that lurks within the modern world, the capitulation of reason and the fragility of the human psyche, they pick some rather tasty, suitably insane lyrics to match.
“The pieces fit together
Like so many arms and legs,
Lifeless, limbless, body rejects”.
“Digital Gerrymandering” follows up on this by laying out its theatrics early with barking, downtuned strings – DJUN-DJUN DJUN. It’s pure Periphery but the artistic flourishes soon melt into complex, flowering structures of dots and splats. Riding around a strong central core, the glowing pop-fusion tech of Intervals and the furious stringwork of Animals As Leaders begins to break through. This abrupt switch from driven fervour to jazz interlude is strange but not, in the least, unwelcome.
The album’s weaker material hurts more when you consider the strong stuff. “City Hymnal” is a particular irksome beast and offers little in the way of direction – when you consider the album title, perhaps that’s the point. In the same vein, munching its way into existence with a literal NOM NOM NOM, “The Pleasant Surprise” is a one-dimensional scrawl of strings which digs away at you with the repetitious lyric “Gaps in the wall”.
Compare those two with the crushing title-track and “Sui Ponticello”. The former comes embedded with the rough-housing djentisms and snarling roars of Meshuggah all tipped into a maelstrom of double-kick and scrawling guitars. It all eventually spills into a hushed bridge; the aural equivalent of being torn apart by rip tides before being spat out onto the tranquil safety of a warm, sun-soaked beach. The latter track, the album highlight, bears a malevolent potency; a tapestry of rising and falling arpeggios, overwrought with taped threats.
With Devin Townsend mixing the squeaky tight production, this was never going to be an issue here. What irks are the peculiar structural anomalies and sense that they really are heading back over familiar territory. Blow me if they aren’t deconstructing here more than they are bringing something fresh to the table.
I must admit it is a surprise to find them boxing themselves into corners and not stamping their own mark on proceedings. It hasn’t stopped them sporting a kaleidoscope of polyrhythms and tones – proof that these LA boys are still brimming with promise. As for that flowing music they were hoping to create, they aren’t quite there just yet. There’s enough about The Direction Of Last Things though to prove one thing – surely it is just a matter of time before they crack the code and create a masterpiece.
Having tackled the emotional journey from stoner doom to freak folk they continue their homage to the likes of Pink Floyd by covering their classic composition “Echoes” from the 1971 album Meddle. Here they strongly echo the source material yet manage to expand it from its original 23-minute running time, employing some neat little tricks and charming affectations, to a whopping 37-minuter in two parts. Definitely a melange that Floyd fans will want to check out.
The two original tracks here provide most insight into their evolution. With trumpets and gunshots opening the album the scene is set by “Spider Island”… something wicked this way comes. Slow, clean, dark instrumentation with a long, languid, deeply affected vocal brings the constituent parts to climax somewhere between the damaged grunge of Soundgarden and the dizzying wash of Monster Magnet.
Nestling up to this the title-track and album focal point is a psychedelic journey down a more occult side-road. Big on cyclical effects, pinged bass and warming Hammond organ, the structural twists stand out like bullet-points. The central rhythmic break is a doozy, lingering within an echoic chamber of Jarre-ish Oxygene effects. From here, the instrumental patterning continues to morph until It becomes apparent that the track has already reached its peak and lost its sense of direction long before it meanders to a close.
A record that is not without fault then, but one that sits pretty on its perch.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
2: Between The Buried And Me – Coma Eliptic (Metal Blade)
Since the birth of his solo career, Thomas Giles Rogers, has strengthened his vocal performance no end and BTBAM are reaping the rewards. With Coma Eliptic they continue to yank the wildest of genres together, everything from polka and bossa nova to death metal. However, what is different this time around is the simplified vision and consequently the interconnectness of each part. The music gently segues together with a single tone in mind. What that does is create continuity within each individual track and across all tracks. The joy of “The Coma Machine” is both explosively progressive and consistently engrossing but its relationship with “Famine Wolf” and to an extent the powerful “Option Oblivion” is undeniable. Even the beguiling dark two-minuter “Dim Ignition” breaks boundaries. In my mind, this is none other than BTBAM at their peak.
On release, Juggernaut hit me like, well, a juggernaut. Right smack between the eyes. Rabbit in the headlights. It is a concept double-album which could incite you to violence. It will make you both wince and weep. Even after playing, it will lodge itself permanently in your psyche. The story, told in heart-rendering first-person, will break even the hardest of you. Containing the groove, psychedelia, hardcore and jazz all ripped through with rhythmic conflict and dark lyricism, it truly is an essential piece of psychological musical warfare. You have been warned.
4: Heights – Phantasia On The High Processions Of Sun, Moon & Countless Stars Above (Basick)
Ignore their somewhat erratic output – this is no ordinary side-project. Sharing a drummer with cult post-rockers Tesseract doesn’t count for shit. Yes, getting my hands on this was a case of luck rather than judgement, but that doesn’t alter the impact it has had upon me. It’s an instrumental work of sheer beauty that will see you speeding through the cosmos like a meteorite, pausing merely to marvel over the joy, colour and sparkle that Heights inject into their compositions without ever resorting to repetition; without ever sinking into use of force to get their concept across. Phantasia… is an utter delight from Big Bang to Big Freeze.
5: Enslaved – In Times (Nuclear Blast)
6: Man The Machetes – Av Nag (Indie Recordings)
7: Acid King – Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere (Svart)
Lapping up the echoing majesty of such bands as Monster Magnet and Orange Goblin while sourcing the wild electric fuzz of St. Vitus, Acid King offer up an absolute peach of an album. Live, the tracks are mind-blowingly intense, yet here wrapped up in the smooth dynamics of the studio the music actually becomes even greater than the sound system upon which it plays. Then, just when you thought they couldn’t get more monstrous or distortion-hungry, vocalist Lori goes and twists her tonsils around “Laser Highlights” and take this beast to an even higher plane.
8: Caligula’s Horse – Bloom (Inside Out)
9: Wildlights – Wildlights (Season Of Mist)
Riddled with the uplifting braggadocio and enslaving hooks of Audrey Horne’s moxy and Torche’s power-driven post-rock, this startlingly adept debut is emphatically boisterous, consistently driving and engagingly addictive. It is effortlessly light, airy and voraciously catchy. It glows with an inner fluoresence, blazing a trail for others – I urge you to follow.
10: Secrets Of The Sky – Pathway (Metal Blade)
11: Intervals – The Shape Of Colour (S/R)
12: The Atomic Bitchwax – Gravitron (Tee Pee)
13: Kontinuum – Kyrr (Candlelight)
14: Steak Number Eight – Kosmokoma (Indie)
15: Arcturus – Arcturian (Prophecy)
16: Bauda – Sporelights (Prophecy)
17: Death Alley – Black Magick Boogieland (Tee Pee)
18: Vattnet Viskar – Settler (Century Media)
19: Ecstatic Vision – Sonic Praise (Relapse)
20: Intronaut – The Direction Of Last Things (Century Media)
Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2015/12/albums-of-the-year-2015/
Best of 2014: http://johnskibeat.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/feature-johnskibeats-best-20-albums-of.html
Best of 2013: http://johnskibeat.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/feature-johnskibeats-best-20-albums-of_17.html
Best of 2012: http://johnskibeat.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/feature-top-ten-albums-of-2012.html