Reviews Coming Soon

Album Reviews Coming Soon: Faith No More - Sol Invictus, Oceanwake - Sunless, Colossus - The Breathing World

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Album Review: The Midnight Ghost Train – Cold Was The Ground


Where visual art can announce itself as everything from an explosion of different shapes, dimensions and hues or restrict itself to the most minimalist, one-dimensional, single-colour blocks, music can do much the same. This particular beard-toting Kansas trio find themselves at the latter end, pumping out an unfaltering combination of muffled fuzz bass and sludgy, rhythmic chugging. Essentially, they have taken what bands like Orange Goblin, Red Fang and Clutch have done before and refined it to something a little less expansive and a darn sight more punishing.

Cold Was The Ground marks their third foray into long-players and this one thunders along a similar path as its predecessors, crashing in on the listener as wave upon wave of sonic obliteration. Underpinning this dark, suffocating powerhouse of noisome groove, the smatterings of swampy delta blues, gnarly rock n’ roll and virulent stoner metal lie.

Gently ushering itself in with a warping, one-note crescendo, the introductory ‘Along The Chasm‘ suddenly kicks us into the hammering, rhythmic, mile-deep rut where The Midnight Ghost Train demand we remain for the majority of the album’s running time. As we speed on through tracks like the attack-and-release, riff-repeats of ‘Gladstone‘, the chilled-out Monster Magnet-esque drift and rapid wah-wah pedal pneumatics of instrumental ‘One Last Shelter‘ and the dull battery of ‘No. 227‘ we alight on the heart of the album where the band begin to find their soul.

There’s the ripped choral lick on ‘BC Trucker’, thick, dirty and moreishly addictive and ‘Arvonia‘ with its Fu Manchu wall of fuzz and dark, brooding undertones so reminiscent of All Hail The Yeti. Deeper in and there’s the sinister backwoods edge of ‘The Canfield’, the no-frills swagger and bluesy grunt of ‘Straight To The North‘ and creepy, energized panic that so engenders ‘Twin Souls‘. None of these though can compare to the simple, tender luminosity of ‘The Little Sparrow‘. It is the first true glimpse of what lies beneath the bluster – heartfelt emotion. In this case, that emotion is fear. Pure, cold sweat-inducing, neurotic fear.

Undoubtedly, there is a good helping of monotonous, atonal filler here and an infuriating paucity of texture or flavour in a scene so dependent upon small deviations in delivery. However, there is also a more subtle connection to the sordid underbelly that lurks beneath the glossy veneer of so much modern music. Here, you can taste the blood, sweat and tears.

Maybe, if Cold Was The Ground was a painting it would be a Rothko – probably one from his Black-Form series. And like Rothko’s minimalist art, it will have its admirers.



Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2015/03/18/the-midnight-ghost-train-cold-was-the-ground/

Friday, March 6, 2015

Album Review: Enslaved - In Times

When it comes to product, the genre-hopping beast that is Enslaved rarely fail to deliver on quality. Over the years, in spite of their evolution from Norwegian extreme metal to blackened progressive rock, they have produced album after album rammed full of jaw-dropping music. In Times will be their 13th studio long-player but this time they have to cope with the effect of following their masterpiece, RIITIIR. Can they live up to the inevitable expectation?

Interestingly, nods to their vitriolic metal roots abound as do the references to Norse legend but there is something else, something more malleable to the vagaries of modern life – or, as guitarist/composer Ivor Bjørnson puts it, “the songs are the resounds of grandiose altered states and mundane tiny micro-events”. Undoubtedly, the fat has been trimmed, making it a far more focused animal than RIITIIR. It is more energetic, more aggressive and gets in and out faster. Although there are plenty of heavy beats employed, making this a drive-dominant album, it is still deeply-layered but less stylised.

Diving in, we get the dark roars and menacing anguish of “Thuriasz Dreaming”. Bursting out of the progressions come quirky, moreish repeater riffs and vocal licks. The incredible “Building With Fire” provides something a little warmer and feels even sleeker with its fast rhythm gifting it a strong battle metal quality. There are chugging gallops, piston-like double kicks and driving, rock structures. Like a wheel, the hub of the chorus with its hooked lick feeds the spokes that inch their way down exploratory passages before returning.

Further in, there are oblique cuts and segues in rhythm, tone and structure and at times you have to check to see if the track hasn’t skipped. Underneath and meshing the tracks together there are additional connective sounds which tend towards either industrial, reverential or organic. To achieve them they even went so far as to set up a mobile recording studio deep in the Norwegian woods of Bergen. Keep an ear out for the sounds of metal being worked by a crackling forge.

The ominous rumbling and scowling vocal of “One Thousand Years Of Rain” feeds into complementary clean harmonies that pick their way around the ominous lyric “their Winter is closing in”. From chanting Viking anthems we are presented with the startlingly bright and enchanting melody of “Nauthir Bleeding” with a mid-section that leaves you standing absolutely miles from where you came in. Time and again, Enslaved achieve this whilst keeping an impeccable sense of flow. The title-track offers up their division of vocal styling as verses are scowled at you, leaving the soft, rounded harmonies to pick up the chorus. There’s full use of minor keys and a crushing example of pinged top-end bass. Closing the album, the heavily-layered majesty of “Daylight” comes with choral builds and strong echoes of Devin Townsend’s epic structuring, tones and textures.

With In Times, it’s easy to imagine the total freedom that the band exercise when it comes to songwriting. It is this unrestricted vision coupled with an enviable ability to invent and explore that has made their music so affecting. Some of you may conclude that this album represents a step forward or backward from RIITIIR, but most will feel it is their prerequisite step to the side. Yes, it may be more of a grower album, but it bears the potential to be yet another Enslaved classic.


Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2015/03/enslaved-in-times-nuclear-blast/

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 = http://www.avenoctum.com/2015/02/izah-sistere-nordvis/

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.



Also online @ TLOBF = http://www.thelineofbestfit.com/reviews/albums/torche

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