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Monday, November 17, 2014

Album Review: Skyharbor – Guiding Lights

For their first full studio release, Skyharbor‘s two-disc Blinding White Noise created a sonic shockwave that reverberated around the world receiving plaudits at every turn. They made enough of an impact to have their second funded by their fans so they really must have felt the pressure when constructing it. We are therefore delighted to report that this Indian-British combo have knocked it out of the park.

For starters, the album art by Michael De Lonardo is simply gorgeous. The flaring streaks of light and graduated pink shading create the illusion of slow-motion whilst the subject matter plays on the enormity of the subjects lurking within. Most likely taking inspiration from the birth, late last year, of his first child, lead vocalist Daniel Tompkins’ lyrics deal with the rough concepts of birth, re-birth, life choices, death, evolution and entropy. The music matches up working as an exploration of sound and mood, and as such takes them away from the heavy rhythms employed on their d├ębut. Here they linger in the twin realms of post-rock and dream pop, reaching out to the ambient qualities of bands like Palms, Oceansize, and Uneven Structure.

Though there is a beautiful flow to the music and an aching search to make colourful connections to what might be termed the modern pop song, they do still indulge themselves in dragging the music away from the standard, more recognisable structures, often dissecting tracks into two or three-part movements. Exploration and dissolute patterning still play an important role in discovering the true heart of each piece. Some then, may say this isn’t heavy enough (there is no Chaos here, no Sunneith Revankar) and typically the syncopation and palm-muted rhythmic undertow has been smoothed and flattened allowing the dream pop vibe to take over. Notably, though, this is not to the detriment of the songs. This change of direction has also freed Tompkins to explore the warm, tones of that sultry vocal of his; he never raises his force of delivery above a semi-anguished cry and he most definitely does not scream or roar. Hell, he even morphs into George Michael when he takes it down to a breathy lilt, something we’ve never noticed him doing before.

The most straight-forward pieces head the cast, with the punchy ‘Allure’ (featuring Periphery guitarist Mark Holcomb) and the quite simply immense rush of ‘Evolution’ still breaking their shackles but hauling themselves back to the spine for the close. In fact, the latter track is worthy of extra special mention for its warm build, gorgeously-layered centre and hellishly catchy verses. The thing is an absolute earworm – a perfect companion piece to BWN’s award-winning ‘Maeva’.

Elsewhere, the multi-part ‘Halogen’ doesn’t shirk away from complete changes of direction with the stunning input of a female spoken and sung vocal (probably Hieroglyph‘s Valentina Reptile who appears on the cracking ‘Kaikoma’) changing the emphasis. For the biggest show of force, head straight to ‘New Devil’. This has a nagging, cantankerous edge to it, with the affected stringwork hinting at an admiration for the work of The Safety Fire. As a neighbour and yet coming from the other end of the scale, ‘Patience’ is a fragile beauty of a piece; sashaying gently; eloquent and enigmatic. Then, to close proceedings, ‘The Constant’ sports input from multi-instrumentalist Plini Roessler-Holgate and slaps on the layers to paint a rich, striking picture of life in constant motion.

When the songs themselves aren’t blowing your mind, it’s the little touches that elevate this album to a different level. From the heavenly choir that sprinkle their “hallelujahs” at the terminus of the title-track to the passage of spoken Japanese that flavours ‘Kaikoma’- they all make their mark. Some of the more self-indulgent tracks require more perseverance – growers like ‘Idle Minds’, ‘Miracle’ and ‘Guiding Lights’ only making their mark after several listens. It’s no use though. No matter how hard you search for dips in quality, there’s no getting past the simple fact that from any angle this is a potential album of the year. Skyharbor have grown-up, fine-tuned and quietly evolved – we are all just struggling to catch up.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =

Friday, November 14, 2014

Album Review: Sedna - S/T

“No politics. No religions” screams their biography.

Italians Sedna are obviously keen for you to focus on their musical output alone and they needn’t worry. At times abrasive and antagonistic, at others soul-sapping and desolate, their self-titled debut album is going to grab your attention. In fact, its nothing short of cathartic. By pumping out exploratory, hardcore-tinged doom/sludge accented by a landslide of drums and throat-ripping screams, their music demands of its listeners.

Their pitch black tone draws influence from inventive monsters like Amen Ra, Wolves In The Throne Room and Year Of No Light, but there is also a keen, morbidly fascinating edge similar to that explored by post-‘core fiends like The Elijah and Amia Venera Landscape. Punishing initially then ebbing into a sequence of sanguine oscillations around 13 minutes, “Sons Of The Ocean” drinks deep upon these influences creating an angular construction of heart-wrenching ebb and flow, whilst “Sons Of Isolation” has an achingly slow build – although its slightly tiresome, it does put one in mind of Russian Circles’ last album, so adds some spice to the mix.

“Life / Ritual”, with bone chimes jangling and tortured chants circling in bouncing echoes around temple walls, disturbs on a whole new level. Somewhere within this band lies a deep rage and here you can feel it cracking through the crust as the vocalists combine to great effect. Then, with a final crackling flourish full of latent feedback, “Sons Of The Ancients” plucks at fresh wounds by cycling two chords until the roars of vocalist/guitarist Nil bring us raging round to an invasive sequence of powerful chugging.

There’s a fascinating range of styles at play here and it marks an enjoyable initial foray. Initially bruising, the impact of it becomes less of an issue with further listens. The so-called “sphere of deep hope” that they wanted to convey within their music is well hidden here, but I certainly felt their passion and it sparked a wide range of emotions ranging from anger to misery.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Album Review: Cavalera Conspiracy – Pandemonium

The American author Mark Twain once said “Familiarity breeds contempt – and children”.

 It’s a nifty quote that could be applied to Max Cavalera who, along with brother Igor, head the list of pioneers of Brazilian death-edged thrash metal. Max Cavalera’s literal children, of course, ended up getting involved later, but his musical offspring would be the multitude of bands that he helped establish. Each one of those bands became outlets for Max’s preferred style of songwriting.

Naturally, with so much similar material being pumped out, there stood a case for familiarity breeding contempt. Regardless, fans of his aggressive, tribal metal have stayed faithful and his records continue to sell in their hundreds of thousands. There are no prizes for guessing the content of this third Cavalera Conspiracy album. However, if you’d expected clipped, rapid-fire verses paired with choruses repetitiously bellowing the track title then you’d be a winner.

There are a few little tweaks in Pandemonium that might surprise. Firstly, the album has quite possibly the ugliest cover art I’ve ever come across. Within, the music is marked with an especially haranguing, bleak tone and the emphasis is on more thrash, less groove so expect this to clash heads with early Sepultura material. In the words of Max, “This one is almost grindcore. I was really a dictator in the studio with Igor. So every time he’d go into the groove, I’d be like “Fuck the groove! Go back to the fast shit!” As a consequence it’s inherently evil and is much a case of love by force.

 Marc Rizzo puts in a shift, throwing out fizzed chugs and lightning riffs like confetti and Igor’s got a few ear-plosions in store for us with a gut-punching bass drum. ‘Banzai Kamikaze’, in particular, is a crushing power play with a viscous construction that keeps you on your toes. Other leading lights are the fist-pumping glory of ‘Apex Predator’ and ‘Insurrection’. These are two of the most virulent, callous, putrid tracks from the band to date, and the powerful, anthemic smack of ‘Not Losing The Edge’ is little short of glorious. With Converge’s Nate Newton grabbing the bass from Johnny Chow there’s a stomping backline to drive the album forward with real attack and, as a bonus, he’s employed to howl out the echoing, enigmatic words of ‘The Crucible’ – a track that explores the tale of the witches of Salem.

 Elsewhere, it’s very much a case of business as usual with ‘Babylonian Pandemonium’, ‘Scum’ and ‘Father Of Hate’ (which, being heavily-accented, amusingly sounds more like ‘Fucker Of Hate’) resorting to type. There’s also the Neanderthal charm of ‘I, Barbarian’ and ‘Cramunhao’ to deal with. Both are distorted to within an inch of their life and the former even employs a jarring industrial edge that simply falls flat. It’s not long before the similarity between tracks does become tiresome and you do find yourself gasping for change. They eventually oblige, raising their heads for the closing tribal pots-and-pans tub-thumper ‘Porra’. Fans of Soulfly should know the script, but this also employs a curious Manu Chao-esque vocal rip and has a danceable latino vibe that it returns to between the messy, gruff sections of grumbling, dissolute thrash.

Pandemonium isn’t going to blow your mind. It is way too predictable for that, which is a shame when you consider the exciting hardcore edge that Blunt Force Trauma offered. Fans, however, will lap this offering up and they should. Amidst all the familiarity, it has enough grunt to kickstart a pit all of its own. Under this particular guise, Max, Igor and Marc do seem to produce their best work.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Album Review: Primus – Primus And The Chocolate Factory

Not many bands have released albums throughout one decade, skipped one, then returned to release more in the next. But then Primus are no ordinary band. And here they are with their original line-up (frontman Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander) all back together and set to release their first full-length studio set for the first time in nearly 20 years. And their project? A reworking of the 1971 soundtrack that accompanied the original Charlie And The Chocolate Factory film. I titter ye not.

Created as a reaction to the horrors imposed by the ghastly 2005 remake with the $150 million budget, Les turned to the one with the $3 million budget that so defined his youth – “I really wanted to pay homage to the film that was very important to me as a kid and very influential to me musically. And as opposed to going in and recording the songs and playing them the way they are in the film, we twisted them up a bit… we twisted them up a lot“.

It’s very apparent that, whilst dipping into the innocence, joy and colour that so burst out at them from the celluloid screen, Primus have also mastered the more sinister aspects lurking behind the factory and its owner. Of course, the wondrous industrial machines of the film play a part here. In fact, they take the starring role with each track finding its own rhythmic pump, groan and splurge to play along to. Les also uses a variety of voices to graphically narrate the story channelling a range of styles from Mike Patton to Kermit The Frog.

Lurking at the heart of the album, introduced by the, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, four seconds of introductory fanfare that is “Lermaninoff”, are the tracks “Pure Imagination” (with its slowly crescendoing background scales imparting the fear of God into the listener), the “Oompa” variations and “Semi-Wondrous Boat Ride” (complete with gruesome Jaws-esque bow-sawing). Here, they dig into the underlying horror of using temptation as an excuse to abduct kids (no matter how flawed those characters may be) with Les reprising Gene Wilder’s manic, wild-eyed Pied Piper figure. Flashed, suppressed images of beheaded chickens and maggoty corpses will undoubtedly return from your collective memory bank.

“Candyman”, backed by a pained moo-ing setting the rhythm and a nifty rat-a-tat lyrical style, is an odd one, with the majestic howling echoes of “Farewell Wonkites” not far behind. However, the mad ravings of “Wonkmobile” takes the prize for freakiest inclusion. Understandably, the similarity of the four “Oompa” tracks do hold the album back but there are also some songs that feel detached from the overall tone. As an example, the variety of instrumental touches that back “Give It To Me Now” do kick it from the souks of Marrakech to Morricone’s Wild West but as a rule it’s played just too darn straight to fit.

You will recognise the amount of love and thought that has gone into these re-workings and the result really is something the band can be rightly proud of. Alternative in every sense of the word, elegant in places and truly scary in others, Primus’ Chocolate Factory is definitely a place you’ll want to visit. C’mon, Paramount – re-release the film with this soundtrack worked in. Just for shits & giggles?

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Monday, October 20, 2014

Album Review: Craang – To The Estimated Size Of The Universe


Ah, the joys of coming across the onomatopoeic band-name. To all intents and purposes, Craang sounds like their moniker suggests they should. The sudden resonant “craaannng” of strings reverberating through a mass of distortion. Actual metal on metal action. Oddly enough, as a heavy band capable of dredging up some powerful emotions, Craang are reminiscent of another onomatopoeic band, Kongh. Despite their blacker outlook and doomier “kooooonnngh” those Swedes definitely share a love for a good wall-of-sound and pounding repetition with this impressive Greek trio.

As a debut album, quite frankly TTESOTU is astounding. There have been plenty of releases of late riding the retro gravy train but this four-track concoction of space, stoner and psych is quite unlike anything that has come before. Yes, some of its content may bear a passing resemblance to Hawkwind, Zappa or Pink Floyd but it actually draws strength from far more contemporary sounds than these. Take “Butterfly” for example. It digs out the kind of sick, splattering riff that Fu Manchu or Orange Goblin might have conjured and rides it until it sinks so far into your consciousness that you cease to notice it any more. You can feel your own pulse begin to syncopate, realigning itself with the music to create a new cadence for you to live by. Not only this, but the cyclical lyric “hold your breath” [or "breasts" as it beings to sound after one to many t̶o̶k̶e̶s̶  rotations] will follow you to your grave. All this, and still the music remains utterly uplifting, infectiously introspective and emotionally exacting.

Throughout, you’ll pick up on the slow, steady development taking place in the layers beyond the drone fuzz brushstrokes. Forever shifting, the picture morphs before your eyes, as much as the album’s stunning artwork suggests it might. Perhaps it’s the warm production, maybe it’s the fact that as a three-piece the sound is spartan rather than busy, or perhaps it’s the little effervescent qualities that shine through, but all I know is that “Magnolia” plays like an absolute dream. You really do feel a certain sense of having been removed from space and time as you go drifting off into the cosmos-stretching sonic wonderland that Craang have created here.

One criticism one might throw in their direction is that they have a tendency to wallow towards repetition a little too easily. Consequently, all the songs bear a passing resemblance to one another – “Slo Forward Jam” plays like an instrumental build to the majesty of its neighbour, whilst the lengthy jam, “The Meteorian”, essentially drives off the same rhythmic pattern that “Magnolia” sets up. What this latter track does sport is some effortlessly affecting dreampop lyrics and an immense section of synth that lifts the whole piece into something incredibly cinematic in feel. You might also catch the strains of a flying saucer coming in to land as they wind up the warble effect to Biblical proportions. The truth is out there, apparently.

There is definitely no hiding from the enigmatic joy, passion and crushing presence that this album carries. The whole is weighty yet the tone remains light as a feather. Quite where they go from this mountaintop remains to be seen, but the safest bet on the planet would be an immediate invite to Roadburn, ProgPower or Desertfest.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =