Reviews Coming Soon

Album Reviews Coming Soon: Faith No More- Sol Invictus, The Midnight Ghost Train - Cold Was The Ground, Enslaved - In Times, Oceanwake - Sunless

Monday, March 2, 2015

Album Review: Izah - Sistere

This Dutch sextet’s promo blurb describes their debut as a “72-minute long musical narration through darkness and light, hope and despair”. Within they pummel the listener with a combination of sludge-packed crush, barren post-hardcore and black metal affectations before soothing them with post-rock atmospherics. Through the use and abuse of multi-part songs, rammed with attack-and-release theatrics, gentle ebb and flow, recycling arpeggios and an array of harmonies and tones they paint a sinister picture of a world gone awry.

“Indefinite Instinct” opens to a battering gale-force wind, before ticking over into hollowed-out, reverb-loaded, gargling roars. As the bass finally kicks in the space floods with colour and the track comes alive. There are the first rumblings of emotional discord as taped newsreels are freed to paint the canvass with real anguish and torment. We get a man protesting his innocence (“I don’t know what crime I’m supposed to have committed”) as the Cult Of Luna-esque progressions build layers in the background. “Demise, demise” roars the vocalist Sierk Entius as a series of effects and radio signal scrawl bring the piece to a close.

Considering his past experience, it seems reasonable to assume that producer Jochem Jacobs (ex-Textures) may have had something to do with the repeating themes that feature and he certainly handles the eclectic and complex layering with aplomb. There are shocks in store like the sudden, aggressive attack that mark out “Duality” and “Finite Horizon”. The former, themed around the horrorshow that was the Unabomber, utilises industrial drumbeats and Cavalera-esque groove that acquiesces to reveal a sinister background thrum. It is all so reminiscent of the dark progressions that feeds the music of No Made Sense and Kongh. “Finite Horizon”s groove rapidly decays into a screwy pattern of ISIS-esque clean vocal harmonies and tones, panicked riffs and tribal rhythms. Finding something for your senses to acclimatise to does become a chore when the ground beneath your feet moves so often. It seems a shame when each constituent part alone, would be so effective.

Thankfully, the 30-minute title-track properly hunkers down to fully dissect a singular concept. Here the story of a sobbing couple torn from each other’s arms yanks at your heart – “We belong together!”. There are strong black metal overtones with continuous double-kick and Dalek-like, atonal shrieks before the body of the track moves into elegant slow motion. At 20 minutes there are trumpets and a gentle deconstruction into radio scrawl, feedback, roaring amps and whale sound. It is the equivalent of the band leaving the stage only to return to play out a warm wash until “lights out”.

Sistere is a fearless debut that strides along exuding an elegant majesty. The band’s ability to combine sounds and feed each one into their melancholic concept is impressive. All the while they dig into their disturbing box of tricks improving the flow and engendering a sense of purpose. All this proves just how in control of their own destiny they truly are. Nordvis have bagged another winner here.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Album Review: Torche - Restarter

Talk about over-egging a promotional pudding. There’s been a retro Torche vs Robots computer game thrown out into the public domain and enough single tracks released to tease a brick into submission. Having been drip-fed all that, to the verge of saturation, it is a delight to finally understand how the tracks flow as a complete set.

In fact, the interconnectedness of Restarter actually surpasses even that of their wraparound 2012 release, Harmonicraft. What shocks is how each track impacts like a pressure wave leaving the ears ringing and a metallic taste on the tongue. The band have clearly drifted back to the heft of their early releases with tracks like "Annihilation Affair" and "Undone" piling discord onto discontent. Yet what continues to impress above all is the intense production levels. With bassist Jonathan Nuñez twiddling the knobs and Kurt Ballou mixing they have once more managed to blend a range of dynamics into what is essentially a wall of sludge, and yet retained the heart-warming crisp edges that so mark out the clean vocal harmonics. It allows the band, even here in this crushing vortex of an album, to retain an element of accessibility.

The end result is tracks like "Minions". It is what Gary Numan would have created if he'd been given a jackhammer to operate instead of a synthesizer. Here, above the burn and the crushing mountain of guitar fuzz it pings with an effervescent quality that reaches into your chest and shakes your very core.

What is missing here though is a range and variety of tones. Their last release marked out by light and dark shading was still driven beneath by the riffage but came littered throughout with layers of popping, addictive hooks. Restarter, instead, returns to the shadows utilising changes in tempo alone to dig out almighty furrows. The band stave off temptation to stray into key changes in favour of creating a subtly-morphing, hypnotic drone. The result is levels of all-encompassing power that border on the obscene.

There's the agonizingly elephantine bludgeoning of the paired "Believe It" and "Barrier Hammer". Rumbling like the sundering of the Earth; loud enough to extinguish the vocals and break your resistance. If those two don't convince you of the album's extreme metal credentials then the wall of feedback agony that opens "No Servants" will. Yet more proof of Restarter's far from hidden agenda.
Fans of the upbeat, should check out "Loose Ends" and "Blaster" which can be glimpsed as breaks through anvil-shaped clouds. Here the short clipped sentences contain lyrics that almost sound like poems. To attempt to decipher them though is to fry your mind. Take "Blaster"s opening lines as an example - "At last gold, He is bilingual, Lick lips and lusting cars, Six pack, Cold, Built strong and legal, This sound attack travels". Bonkers.

Probably most impressive of all Torche's feats with this album is their determined return to basics and you won't find anything more simple than the album-closing title-track. It fires out a three-chord riff, loads it with a singular driving beat and warbling rotational strings, then milks every last ounce of it for eight and a half minutes until the song becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Essentially, though, there is a price to be paid for this desperate attempt to claw their way from the mainstream. As single releases each track works but bring them together and you'll realise the casualty here is the album itself. In a live arena the sinister power that Restarter wields will thrill, but as a static piece it's dense beyond reason. The marketing might grab you, you might even buy it and like it, but you won't cherish it.

Feature: For Fans Of

A collection of my contributions to Heavy Blog Is Heavy's new feature on other great alternatives to much-loved bands...

This week: ISIS

As a band of ISIS-worshipping Belgian teenagers, Steak Number Eight‘s early work showed guts, heft and plenty of misdirected angst, but in 2013 they released The Hutch and everything changed. The presence of Matt Bayles at the mixing desk should tick the first box for ISIS fans, yet it is the music that lies within that will seal the deal. There are luminescent flourishes hidden within thick sludge, patches of rich, thunderous guitar squall, slack-jawed vocals, rotational riffs and dark melodious washes to drown in. Constantly shifting, the band weave in new elements; layering up as they progress. The post-metal meandering of the sublime ‘Pilgrimage Of A Black Heart’ feeds the muscle of ‘Exile Of Our Marrow’ and, before you know it, they’re piling malcontent upon disillusionment; sharpening the visceral edges for ‘The Shrine’ and ‘Slumber’. These sudden, thrusting, sharp stabs finally relent to reveal a sonic wasteland for the masterful ‘Ashore’ and the brain flips once more. For a final trick, you will hear young men exercising phenomenal restraint to allow ‘Tearwalker”s one-key rolling maul of tones and textures to run every second of its nine-and-a-half minute course. If you loved ISIS, Stk8 might just floor you, literally.
Recommended Album: The Hutch

Next week: TBA

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Album Review: Amniac – Infinite

Fresh from the Greek fire, these young post-metallers’ offer up their raw debut long-player, Infinite, with arguably their weakest track smack-bang in the shop window. Naturally, being the metal detectorists we are, we weren’t deterred by such a foul odour and delved deeper to discover something far more appealing within. Indeed, here lies metal that dabbles in dark places, moulding the triple-threat of doom, black and sludge together to form a subversive, gnarled ball of bellicosity. 

That opening track, ‘And The Others Just Survive’, is all about the vocals and their relationship to the guitars. The whole comes at you in waves which only highlights the paucity in production values. The guitars work as a sludgy, dissonant series of chugs and twinkling top line, but the vocals aren’t quite so full. In fact, they are agonizingly short on body, leaving them sounding thin, weedy and loose in comparison to the string and drum thunder that surround them. Vocalist Upsetter has the gargled roars down pat but instead of sounding like the voice of the Devil he comes across like a bag of nails being hit against a hollow wall. Dwell ye not on this – it’s a failing that can be addressed in the studio next time around.

 Where Amniac excel is in the way they rather craftily employ the vocal as an extra instrument, using it only in context. When extra power is needed, Upsetter steps up to the mic and fires out penetrative lyrics in sentences, repeating them mantra-like in clipped cycles. They aren’t restricted by genre either, sourcing several different tones and styles to complement each theme. In places like ‘Rise Like The Suns‘ they take on the dark instrumental overtones of Russian Circles, creating melancholic strands that feed into euphoric gutsy grooves that are more reminiscent of early Baroness. The hammering vehemence and frugal vocal parts of ‘The Infinite‘ play on elements of Secrets Of The Sky‘s delivery whilst ‘A System Waiting To Fail’ and ‘Our Kind The Plague’ grip like Steak Number Eight’s finest pieces. These pound out the same riffs again and again to leave a ditch. ‘A System…‘, in particular, features a notable Nirvana-esque on-beat vocal technique with a mesmeric accompanying section of rhythmic, monotone, juddering chugs that build to a hellish crescendo.

 Time and again the clever song construction collapses and rebuilds itself yet somehow retains an organic flow. The music has a solid sense of direction too, one that inexorably pulls you in. It may not be the most sophisticated post-metal you’ve ever come across but it sure is exhilarating. Certainly, techniques need to be honed, production tightened and marketing savvy acquired but, even in their current form, you can sense their keen, flaming eyes igniting the path to your soul. No surprise – Amniac is, after all, just a dyslexic maniac.


Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =

Album Review: Eldorado – Babylonia Haze

There’s a vintage quality to much of the rock n’ roll music that Eldorado peddle. The Madrid quartet are bluesy enough to draw comparison to bands like Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake and Led Zep, but its their groove, moxy and hep that mark out their true calling as Deep Purple’s sons. Babylonia Haze, their third album in English (their remaining back catalogue consists of companion Spanish releases), has a tendency to slip into formulas but the heart of the piece beats strong, hard and true.

The instrumentation is riddled with strong, warm tones and kitsch touches. The harmonic warbling keys of a ramped-up Hammond crash all over tracks like “Be Satisfied” and “Flowers Of Envy”, whilst the jingoistic acoustic guitar, clean licks and fluted riff of “Resurrection Song” make all three a bit too marmite for their own good. When these affectations drop back into the mix a little more, the power rock, hooks and licks of tracks like “You Don’t Wanna Need Her” and “Mad Woman” should see you back onside.

There’s also the stone cold groove of “Karma Generator” to lap up. It’s a track that sticks you back out in the slow lane, arm hanging out your window, head gently bobbing along. And when they pull back on the throttle, the honest, often explosive, balladry of “Goodbye And Carry On” and “Moon Girl” get you in the gut with the lyricism extracting deep emotion. The gorgeous, folk-fuelled “Breath The Night” goes one step further piling lilting violin on top of gently-strummed acoustic guitar. It’s proof of just how far the band are willing to bend to the will of their music.

The album does kind of go out with a whimper, and the whole lacks staying power, but there are enough sweet melodies and softly burnished structures to strike a chord with fans. Quite why Eldorado haven’t achieved wider recognition is a surprise, because when they hit their stride they rock like the veritable bastard.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =