Monday, July 25, 2016
If their 2014 debut, The Wreckage Of Stars, was anything to go by, BCI enjoy leaving scars. This sophomore delves deep into the human psyche by laying bare Man’s history of inhumanity, terror, destruction and genocide. It explores such emotions as hatred, lust, self-loathing, pain, loss, hopelessness and sorrow. The suggested end game? A period of serious introspection and self-discovery resulting ultimately in suicidal self-sacrifice. You have been warned – it cuts deep this one.
It also marks a continued exploration of their sound as they delve into their bag of progressive tricks fishing out music with multiple structures and deft segues. The vocal hooks this time tend to come from resplendent cleans rather than explosive death roars and the shaping of the songwriting anchors the BCI ship on firmer, more familiar ground. Which, of course, is not to say it won’t challenge the listener – fans of their debut, in particular should expect the unexpected.
The natural drift of the album allows for their more intense songs to play out first, so you should cover up early. With “For Red Cloud” and “Belie The Machine” punching out mammoth staccato chugs and a barking death vocal they actually echo the majestic, extra-terrestrial battering that the Texan-Maryland trio Of Legends once supplied. The lyrical wordplay agonises to the point of melancholia and keeps on heading ever downwards. Barbarous, addictive rise-and-fall choruses fire home their arrows with pinpoint accuracy. For example, “Our god is full of sorrow / Our god is one of pain”, from the intensely experimental “Sorrowpsalm”, or the brightly-coloured chorus of “We will meet at beginning’s end and start again / Just in time for us to live, we’ll die again”, from “Again”.
These boys write proper songs, not just a jarring collection of words and music, and in a genre like death metal that is a rare thing to find. Naturally, that can be attributed to their technical metal leanings and the willingness to cross multiple genres to create beauty amid the brutality. It brings them more in line with bands like Monuments and The Contortionist, yet even these comparisons don’t do them justice. Take the title-track for example. It’s a simple design with a cyclical structure onto which you can latch. Yet within lies sequencing that progresses through a gentle opening swing of piano and string arpeggio with a matching euphoric vocal clean. The explosive rip into a porcine death growl then allows the bass to bubble to the fore to meet a cushioned power rock solo. It’s organic design is truly disconcerting when you consider each part separately.
They don’t always nail it and some tracks certainly require repeated plays just to unscramble your brain and make sense of the chaos. I mean, on what planet could you find strong hits of Sylosis’ shredding meeting BTBAM’s manic seguing (see “Transmit To Disconnect”) or Skyharbor’s lush choruses folding into the brutalising death of Annotations Of An Autopsy (“Matriarch”)?
Selves We Cannot Forgive feels like BCI’s first true step into the unknown. Here, they have engaged themselves fully in the songwriting process, carving themselves an individual sound by exploring the range of their own abilities. It should see them take ever more confident, inspirational steps as they look ever deeper into their own selves.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Firing out two parts doom and one part southern metal, Earth Ship have managed to muster an album that collects, like music nerds, a vast range of their influences. Starting out with a driven, downbeat Alice In Chains vibe they steadily ramp up the pace and the power to peak at something equating to Kylesa’s whirlwind crush before bringing it back through thrash and blackened metal to settle back into a doomy groove.
Blasting off the wall of noise with a scowling bag of nails vocal, opener “Reduced To Ashes” melts an initially gutsy, visceral sound into a driven dual vocal that mimics the melancholic laments of the aforementioned Alice In Chains. At ts heart the jerking back-and-forth swinging rhythm is a simple structure by design, so it’s a surprise to find it repeating throughout the album. Following up, the title-track introduces itself as its tonal brother, attacking from a different angle with half-paced, down-tuned chugs creating an imposing force. This looser blueprint risks demoting it to mere filler but at least it warns you just how complex their constructive thought processes are.
Deeper in, the variation continues – morose, lush verses, driven with effortless power by twin vocals, melt into a roared death attack. Surrounding it they use an amalgam of High On Fire’s immense vocal grunt, Monster Magnet’s heady theatrics and Torche’s relentless cyclical riffing to shock and invigorate.
“Conjured” provides a wicked groove interspersed with harmonised vocal “aahs” and is both accessible and memorable. Then, diving into the abyss, “Monolith” offers up a suitably menacing, rumbling undercurrent with big blackened melancholic tones. Imposing its wrath upon the listener it echoes through to violating feedback. “In Fire’s Light” is even darker, heavier and throws ever more powerful hits. It also features the enigmatically repeating line “The sands of time are running low…”. Here, they sound like a beefed-up Purified In Blood.
Wading through, the succulent, thick layers envelop you. Whichever you choose to lock onto, be it the scrawling multiple-overlaid vocal, the demonic throat-scouring or the slow, persistent driven quality, you are always plugged in. And then there’s the moments when they revert to feeding in old school elements. One particular track that will give you a shit-eating grin is the thrashed-up “Castle Of Sorrow”. The fiery, metallic tang, of the thing throwing out curses in twin-speed attack with pillar-to-post riffage is a joy. Even the monotonous closer “The Edge Of Time” has value here with its long, weighty, sustained chord strikes and maddening Acid King-esque ethereal doom.
There are negatives to consider. These aren’t so much songs as they are a series of flavours. There is an over-reliance on sheer power when the variety of attack should be the star. With trigger points supplied by the guttural roared sections they do have a tendency to batter the eardrums a little too often. A solid wall of noise each time will only drive you in one direction. And the album does rely a little too much on needless party tricks. As an example, “Safeguard Of Death”‘s automaton vocal intoning instructions over and over will drive you nuts.
Earth Ship are essentially like getting all your favourite foods and putting them on a single plate. Consume each individual part carefully and you’ll love this experience. Mix them all up and it’ll taste like something you’d give to your dog.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Photos: John Skibeat
AD: This was the fifth edition of UK TechFest. I’d been to one before, Johnski to two. We both noticed the improvements since our first visit in 2013. The bands and atmosphere were good but then it was all a bit rough and ready. Newark Showground is now the venue. It’s spacious and well set out with a neat campsite, a wide range of reasonably priced food outlets, helpful staff and good and working facilities. The two stages are in large hangars, which are divided by a large area with a bewildering array of TechFest, label and band merchandise. So let’s start by saying “well done” to the organisers.
JS: It was midday when the proceedings began. Giving us a pleasantly mellow wake-up call was the Cornish progressive metal collective For The Oracle. Boasting seven members, they filled the smaller Hands On Printing stage, scattering it with a range of percussive instruments. When in full flow, we were treated to a pair of saxophonists (an alto and a tenor), a pair of drummers and three guitarists. They’re a young band with a confident, active frontman in Sam Lawson; a definite positive, which you hope might soon inspire his rather more chilled-out accomplices as their experience grows. Their music flows beautifully, rising and falling with his vocal. There were also some pretty eclectic Floyd-ian touches, some Afro beats (“Princess”) and jazzy drives that see them successfully combining the twin universes of Incubus and Tool.
AD: I know a bit about parallax boards and measurements, so I had an inkling that The Parallax Method might play music with mathematical structures. An impressive crowd of over 100 spectators gathered to witness an mesmerising display of complex instrumental shapes and patterns. Technical mastery overshadowed any warmth, of which there was very little. Both the music and the band, who were probably nervous and certainly looked uncomfortable, seemed very earnest. “I’m popping out for a smoke”, commented my friend and fellow spectator Jonathan. I silently told myself he wasn’t going to miss anything. Actually he did, but for the wrong reason. “Thank you. Enjoy the festival”, announced the band spokesman. Hang on. “We haven’t finished yet”, he added as we all proceeded to troop out. So we stayed for another five minutes of sophisticated shoegazing proggery. This set had great technical qualities but it was like the world’s longest interlude.
AD: From Sorrow to Serenity weren’t showing on my original list. Thinking of similar previous experiences with Aeolist and Day Six, unexpected bands have proved to be pleasant surprises, and so were these Glaswegians. Immediately cutting in to hardcore energy, the philosopher come politician come vocalist screamed or cleared this throat violently, as you prefer. But this wasn’t raw violence. The riffs were magnetic, the structures were well thought out and the timing was excellent. “Thanks for getting up early: this is the wake up call”, announced the vocalist. It was about 1.40pm. The tall, wiry bassist stood on the monitor and looked menacingly into the crowd. The band moved and twirled, the crowd banged their heads and the dangerous djenty rhythms with technical twists and atmospheres just added to the violent expressions of anger. The intensity level was 150%. So while the social and political undercurrent of the songs’ themes may have been rancid and cutting, as a performance this was a breath of fresh air.
JS: Shifting across to the Carillion Guitars main stage, U.S. progressive modern doom quintet Dark Orbit lost a member somewhere and appeared to have shifted their sound to one spouting a wall of death with scouring, astringent roars and heaving kicks of hardcore. With their Voyager backing track kicking in briefly to set them up, they soon settled into proceedings and provided us with plenty of energetic power-housing built on explosive grooves that build to euphoric crescendos. Chad Kapper, their long-haired, heavily built vocalist dominated the stage by constantly pacing between his drummer at the back of the stage and the crowd, planting a right foot on, first, the riser then the monitor. His main partner-in-crime (a pretty decent Phil Lynott lookalike), John Schiber, was a blur of action, constantly growling through bared teeth and fighting his guitar to set up a constant undercurrent of groove. There were plenty of “invisible oranges” on show and pumping fists thrust into the sky but, shorn of the futuristic affectations that tint their fine EP, on stage they veered too much towards just a single-colour slab of sonic destruction.
AD: Explosive death metal erupted as the five members of Belial went about their business. The band identity seemed to be about facial hair, neck tattoos, aggression and what? The vocalist pulled a nasty face, kept telling us “we’ll move this place” as if trying to convince himself of this, and growled some more as the grungy wall of noise continued. “It’s a heavy one”, announced the vocalist unnecessarily. Same riff, different song. “Parasite” had a bit more punch, irregularity and interest but all in all this was a storm, which blew over without damage. Some in the crowd were more than enthusiastic than I was, but for me Belial just dropped back into the pack of the other fourteen bands with the same name.
Visually, the band showed great personality and presence. Jake disappeared as he lay on his back on stage, continuing to growl before getting up athletically and continuing his theatrical display. This was organised chaos at its best. Outstanding guitar solos appeared in the middle of all the noise. Each progression was gripping and exhilarating. Jake swung round like a madman in time to these maniacal and ever transforming instrumentals. I didn’t know where to look to find the action. It was everywhere. Jake stormed the crowd. I detected a faint melody in the thunder. The set ended with “Where Are We, In a Cube”. There was an infusion of jazz and moments of doom while Jake swayed robotically. The music was weighty, mobile and dark, but also thanks to the good grace and humour of the band, it was all great fun too. The animated crowd had been gradually lifted to a state of fever pitch. Paradoxically the irregular metal didn’t seem disjointed but had a good flow. This is what live performance is all about: Interesting, carefully crafted and powerful music, presented in an audience-friendly way.
AD: There was no time to take breath. After The Schoenberg Automation I made my way over to the other stage, where triggering drums, a massive groove line and heavy, heavy metal signalled the arrival of Abhorrent Decimation. But this wasn’t just about heaviness. There was melody, and those groove lines were rampant and transfixing. “Love is the answer. Now is the time for love”, proclaimed the beefy vocalist. What? It became apparent that this man had a magnificent sense of humour. “Technical issues … what a place for this to happen”, he commented as men fiddled behind him and adjustments were made. Soon we were back to growly and brutal melodic assaults. Abhorrent Decimation just didn’t mess about. This was like Deicide with melodies to die for, sheer authority and firepower. A little Eastern sample was slipped in, but this was about the riffs, the groove and the unending motion. There was a purity about this assault. The guys from Loathe looked on enjoyed the set with the rest of us. “Have fun. We are”, exhorted the beefy man, who invited a left side – right side sing-a-long as “Echoes of the Vortex” got under way. It didn’t go to plan. “This side has given up. Fuck ‘em”, he concluded. Finishing with “Terminal Reality” off the “Miasmic Mutation” album, the band’s feisty but crowd-friendly attitude, the djenty grooves and the complete co-ordination, which had won everyone over, were there again. Superb music, great crowd interaction and sheer entertainment: you can’t ask for more.
AD: I walked across into a packed room. People were chanting “Potato”. I saw Serbia’s Destiny Potato at this event three years ago. Here were the first clean vocals I’d heard so far. They weren’t great. The lady singer, who herself seemed surprised at the level of support for the band, couldn’t hold a note. She was no Anneke van Giersbergen or any of the singers from Tristania. The songs were commercial, a bit gothic, but ultimately I found them dreary. Destiny Potato gave off the presence of a big band with all the gestures, but these slushy, soulless songs lacked personality and came across as a form of mashed up melodic rock-metal. So you’ll gather it wasn’t speaking to me but as I looked round heads were swaying and many of the sizeable crowd were appreciating the show more than I was. “Addict” had a bit of Eastern mysticism with a djent underscore. I liked the heavier tones and the lady’s growls were good. Overall I didn’t enjoy this set as much as I had others. Destiny Potato seemed to be unwittingly cultivating a rock star image, but in spite of that managed to convey likeable personalities. The crux of this for me though was that the songs weren’t strong enough.
AD: Earlier, the spokesman for From Sorrow to Serenity had declared their allegiance to Fit For An Autopsy, with whom they had been touring. The intensity level now was stepped up. Fit For An Autopsy came on stage and kicked some ass, as no doubt they would refer to it. But it was ass-kicking with twists, turns and technical patterns. The crowd created a big circle. The moshing began with the second song “The Jackal”. This was a typically big performance by a US band: much posturing, much aggression, a constant wall of sound, demonstrative gestures from the band members, time to let the spectators take it in and react. And react they did. The moshpit erupted in wild fury during “Saltwound”. A case of tough guys playing for tough guys? But this New Jersey hardcore was laced with subtly deep and dark melodies. For some reason mention of the USA by the vocalist didn’t go down too well. This was neatly sidelined. Thunderous and edgy metalcore energy was matched by slick presentation. An interruption to deal with sound problems threatened to derail the momentum. The guitarist was still having problems in “Still We Destroy” but the show must go on, and so it did in its loud and vociferous way. The moshers followed the roaring vocalist’s instructions. A frenzy was whipped up. There was something tribal about the progression – perfect for the moshers. The place went wild to reflect the musical violence on the stage, and carnage on the floor. It’s important not to forget the musicianship. To a shuddering backdrop, it was sharp and tight, and of course heavy. The set ended with the anthemic “Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell”. With its technical twisting to entice us, and a hint of Killswitch Engage’s “Daylight Dies” about it, spice was added to the usual potent mix of brutality and metalcore. It was a fitting end to a dazzling display, even with a couple of technical interruptions, of controlled and uncontrolled frenzy.
JS: Oddly enough Sithu Aye is pronounced C2-A which makes the main man sound like something out of a Star Wars film. With the Glaswegian’s touring trio also on show we are privy to the full instrumental tech experience. They may look like lost extras from The IT Crowd but they certainly know their onions. Plenty of rise and fall, arm-waving instrumentals, sweeping melodies and a strong Animals As Leaders meets Pelican vibe. However, with the focus solely on the music’s sole architect, the pleasure of watching him (and indeed the rest of the band) noodle away, head down, performing string gymnastics, wore off rather quickly. Even with the rhythmic slides hitting neck-breaking grooves and with Sithu’s own baby brother’s bass thumping away it all too quickly began to feel like watching a YouTube masterclass. If I wanted that I’d have headed over to the mysterious Hangar 3 – they’ve been giving guitar demos out there all weekend to a small crowd of cross-legged die-hards. Perhaps I should sit down? No better not – there are a few bobbing heads and thoughtful scratching of chins so perhaps the same die-hards were in! Even when the pace lifted it soon settled back into swing – honest to God, there was some bloke next to me at the barrier checking his own Facebook feed.
The spectators around me looked stunned. “If you like technical and melodic metal, you’re in the right place”, pronounced the vocalist when introducing “Scar Queen”. Epic structures fell out of this sophisticated technical metal. Fallujah continued to tear us apart with the technically infused “The Dead Sea”. We heard an ambient passage. “Are you ready to wake up?” asked the vocalist. In fact I concluded it wasn’t about waking up but grasping the complexity here. So much was going on with the mesmerising guitar passages, epic sections, deathcore vocals, massive explosions and the enormity of sound that the thoughtful elements of the crowd relied upon motivation from the vocalist. I lost count of the number of times that he barked out instructions: “make some noise”, “I need you to headbang/jump/whatever”. The prompting was necessary. It was as if the crowd needed rehearsals for this multi-layered feast. We jumped to order to “The Void Alone” before enjoying a more chilled-out section, then finally we were treated to the thunderous depths and headbanging properties of “Sapphire”. I sensed universal appreciation around me of the vastness and range, but the reaction of the audience confirmed to me it was also difficult to grasp. It was a great show from Fallujah, with great moments of majesty, but it was a lot to take in and I concluded that we needed prior preparation for such sheer enormity.
“C’est La Vie”, “Hair Trigger” and “Limb From Limb” went down a storm with those famous scrambling guitars pulling polyrhythms and staccato breaks as if from the ether. Then, with the band downing tools, Walker broaches politics for his next dig – “How do you guys feel about Brexit?” A mixture of boos and cheers, naturally, goad him into “You lot are fucked up!” His constant ribbing of the crowd and the perfect marriage of wry smile and an accepting British public meant the skits went down a storm. And if all else fails he had self-deprecation to fall back on. As an example, we are treated to some freestyle rapping on “…this stupid fucking progressive metal rap song” which it turns out Rody loathes. “I fucking hate it – I’ll try not to pass out”. With the party in full swing it’s easy to see why this lot were originally named Happy Go Lucky! As the gig swung round to its inevitable encore, the high-pitched crowd whoops picked up and all hell broke loose as they rewarded us with “Mist” from 2013’s stonking “Volition” album. The full stop was provided by the samba dance track which kicked in from the sound system as the lights go up and an exhausted crowd filter outside. Time to reflect on another superb day witnessing the brightest and best at tech metal’s premier UK festival.
Full review here: http://www.avenoctum.com/2016/07/uk-techfest-newark-showground-9716/
UK TechFest Website here: http://uktechfest.com
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
As an example of the depths we are plunging here, the PR blurb that accompanies this offers us the enigmatic line – “The history of music is merely fuel to be burned”. It’s a bastardization of an Ayn Rand quote but this and other half-spoken observations throughout the album are our stark warning that we are expected to look beyond the obvious for this one.
Think on that as you swim into the opener, “Hunger” and that glowing, buzzing, chiming warp which lurks behind a wall of monotonous, lyrical chaos.The switch-up that follows tickles the band’s folk souls, powering down to bring us echoing pipes and a blackened, melancholic lament. Oddly, “Dream Map” forms the link between tracks one and two, ingesting parts of each and throwing in a crackling fire, ironworked effects and a slow 80’s synth.
Never ones to rest in one place, the synthetic pulse of “Consolation” offers up another change of tone, drawing inspiration from such diverse sources as Jean-Michel Jarre and 65daysofstatic. With no real direction it feels odd and misplaced – a snatch of something unbidden and incomplete. Much of what you’ll experience here though is merely that – more quick grabs at the ether than true songs.
As an example of this “Crystal Ship” is seemingly just a series of sounds thrown together. Part-industrial, part-tribal, a repeating single-note it conjures a dark, occluded picture driven by anger to the point where disintegration is the only exit strategy. Quite mental, oddly disturbing and yet curiously mesmeric. Likewise, the arena echo of “Terminal”, is at its heart just a sequence of recorded sounds. Passing traffic that morphs into the pounding of train wheels on a track. Then, there’s “World Asthma” – a minute of slow piano split asunder by static interference – it achieves what exactly? I’m losing my patience here.
Happily, “So We’ll Go No More A-Roving” does carry a purpose. It’s a slow, doomy, boy-girl lament; a Vangelis-esque tale of love dripping with real sentiment.
Yes, at it’s core Ark Of Contempt… is just a series of fiercly deconstructed songs, hammered, kneaded, and teased out into simplistic musical threads. It’s a melancholic album with a bold, dynamic range and those with inquiring, open minds will find it both invigorating and thought-provoking. However it does require a largesse of patience to escape the rigid, spartan structures and some will find it lacking in colour. On the plus side, it’s unafraid of ditching the vocal lines where necessary and, consequently leaves room for the acoustic-only tracks to release the grey matter from too much torturous instruction.
Bandcamp = https://sinkprocess.bandcamp.com/album/ark-of-contempt-and-anger
Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2016/06/sink-ark-of-contempt-and-anger-svart/