Tuesday, March 11, 2014
What stands out the most here is the production. Recorded with Kris Hilbert at the curiously-titled Legitimate Business Studio, with the mastering taking place over at Audiosiege, the overall impression is of a vital, raw mix loaded with enough echo to bring it back from the brink. Carefully layered within, the powerful, mud-flinging guitars take pride of place at the forefront, the drums sit in the middle distance, and the vocal is left to rant and rave from somewhere out back. It's an odd experience to discover that the gapping between the levels mean you can actually pick out the points where Hampton Dodd's vocals start phasing. Of course, it is exactly because the band don't utilise every inch of space that, inside the sections where instrument drop-outs occur, it all begins to feel slightly removed from the present. Whilst a shame that slight fault does leave them much room for experimentation - hopefully more so when they finally get round to issuing that full-length.
Digging down into the tracks, 'TV Fuzz' shifts from a gentile guitar introduction into pounding black doom. With the vocal lurching between one that pitches mournful shoegaze and another that seems ensconced in inflicting post-hardcore chaos, the effect is intense and shattering. Though 'Honey Eater' and the stunning 'Feedback Funeral' stay on the same path, they muscle up every element. The vocal sinks deeper to create a more resonant, more forbidding atmosphere and finds a red-raw animosity when it gets its 'core on. Even the sludge-packing guitars wind it all down until the buzzing begins to vibrate at the back of your brain. What stands out, is that somewhere amongst all the to-ing and fro-ing, you'll hear strong hints at the kind of ambient, miserabilist post-hardcore peddled by bands like The Elijah or Devil Sold His Soul.
Upping their game, 'I'm Tired Of Being Awake' finds joy in warping the attack; picking up the desert and blowing it back in our faces. In these mere three minutes they find room to echo the emotional, death-addled contortions of Ihsahn and even time to tap out some Mastodon-esque string progressions. '1200-S' is their chthonic monster, emerging from its abyss to rip out some suitably alien roars and illicit agonising screams form its prey. There are also vast open power chords, gutsy basslines and heart-pumping chugs to get on board with. Lyrically, you'll not find much to sink your teeth into with this EP, save perhaps for 'Feedback Funeral' and that repeating disembodied scream of "just bloody kill me" or in the wild-eyed chant of "paradise, paradise" awaiting in '1200-S'.
Understandably short, impossibly indulgent, strangely exhilarating. In a sense, this kind of carefully-constructed lunacy is exactly what we, as disciples of extreme metal, crave. It's music that breaks barriers, retaining an essence of ancient majesty but remaining unafraid to let things get a little ugly and a little twisted. Easy listening this is not, but then this is, in effect, Darkentries' crack at sonic catharsis. Their ball, their rules. The Make Believe represents their own honest attempt to define what modern heavy metal means to them. It will be very interesting to see what kind of unholy noises they can conjure up in the future.
Monday, March 3, 2014
It takes a fair bit to get me to start talking to myself, yet here I am in an empty room getting crushed to death every time I spin this innocent-looking rotund piece of polycarbonate plastic and lacquer. With every single pound of Home’s ballistic combined bass and guitar strikes, a new word slips out. I feel under attack – like someone is hammering a wrecking ball into my chest, over and over again. Closer inspection, reveals that the band have completely shunned ProTools, and even a metronome, and just stepped straight into their perfectly-titled Nasty Sound Room recording studio in Innsbruck. The resultant sound is organic, raw and face-meltingly heavy.
That thought came a couple of weeks back but now, having spent more time with the record, I’m convinced that this trio of mountain-dwelling Austrians, have captured the sound of avalanches. It stomps about flinging sludge at math-streaked hardcore and emerges with something akin to a fusing of High On Fire and Black Flag. Dig deeper and you’ll uncover music that is also bursting with elements of grunge and doom, littered with addictive licks and with a vocalist that roars like a demented Yeti.
From the opening feedback, sliding verse, punk rock tang and the half-time hook of the excellently-constructed “Hole” you’ll know you’re stuck in a battle of wills. The band’s unrelenting attack against your useless resistance. Very quickly, there’s the sudden mid-song downing of tools that lurks in “Next To Last” and, during that odd interlude that follows where the ground disappears from underneath you and a quiet voice drawls “STOP!”, you’ll be left utterly defenceless. It’s an odd experience but, as the gravel-munching drawl of Ganner’s vocal turns almost Lemmy-esque, the solid foundations are being laid for an album that not only hits hard and fast but has the odd ability to improve with each listen. The key lurks in its hit of instant neck-snapping gratification but also in the variety of attack from song to song.
There are the awesome haunts of “Burlesque” and “Old Hand” to wallow in. Both conjure the antagonistic machinations of Bleach-era Nirvana, but the former breathes heavy with a sweet rising riff and a vicious chorus lick, whilst the latter is all about the constant return to the beating heart, two-chord crunch that allows the discordant scrawling chaos to flourish around it. Their are a couple of tracks that outrun their welcome and the loose cannon of “Kyoto” show there is room for improvement for future releases. However, with the none-more-heavy, rhythmic bludgeon of the 8-minute “Dead City” echoing that immense machine-gun rattle fired off by Gojira, it’s easy to see why Home is not a band you will skip past lightly.
The great news is none of you have to – with Sound Zero being one of a few employing a policy of offering free downloads of all their releases, there really is no excuse. Alternatively of course you can show your appreciation by purchasing a hard copy direct. Whichever way you get to hear ‘em, it’s always great to have an Austrian band really laying down in a country that is usually more famous for it’s classical leanings and folked-up Schrammelmusik than anything else. There just aren’t too many tearing it up out there, especially with this kind of maniacal, no-holds-barred attitude – all in the most beautiful and peaceful of surroundings. So, horns up and cowbells to you Hans-Peter, Amadeus and Mathias – you guys just made me take one more step towards insanity.
Friday, February 28, 2014
With the original concept of this documentary (not to be confused with the other As The Palaces Burn releases) confined to turning the cameras away from the band’s own music and their performances, Lamb Of God‘s intentions were to highlight the power of music and its influence on both the individuals and their fans – a refreshing series of viewpoints that might well have worked. Of course the arrests that followed, when they flew in to play a show in the Czech Republic on 28 June 2012, combined with the implicit level of trust that they had built up with the director, Don Argott, meant that the band took a collaborative decision to split the focus of the film’s direction.
Thus, the play opens with LOG frontman Randall D. Blythe, the self-confessed “dirtbag down by the river” (naturally, with “LOSER” emphatically emblazoned across his leather jacket) wandering along the James River in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia and musing over how his access to music has moulded him. “Music is my life. It’s what stopped me going to prison” — the irony of this statement soon comes to pass but, until that point we are invited into Lamb Of God’s practice room at the start of their album cycle. Here, whilst Randy does press, the rest of the band reflect on the rise of the band and their general disbelief at how their star just keeps on getting bigger. Here, with them all displaying natural, down-to-Earth qualities, there is a chance to emphasize the family men but also, interestingly, the individuals’ general disconnectedness, the fist-fights and Randy’s battle with alcohol abuse.
In between a few obligatory star spots for Slash, GWAR’s Oderus Ungerus and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, we get a couple of moving fan stories on their connection to the music. Through Oscar (from Colombia) and Pratika (from India) we learn of their diverse backgrounds and the individual cultural anomalies they have, their loves and losses and, ultimately, their own relationship with music. You’d certainly expect more individual stories to be included, but there is just a general emphasis on the war-torn nature of some of the places that the band play and the united front that their fans display.
And then as the word “Prague” pops up on screen to replace others that have gone before it, everything changes. In an instant, the viewer must decide whether to take all consequent reportage at face-value and whether to consider the potential for the band to have used the situation to their commercial advantage, but considering the gravity of what follows, this would seem unlikely. The exploratory ramble that has gone before ends and the furious search for truth and justice begins right here, in our own minds as well as in those of the band members. We’re shown the inside of a plane and a queue of folks jostling to get off. Guitarist Mark Morton comments that, on seeing the menagerie of officials assembled on the ground, he perceived that, “there must be some fugitive on this plane.” How right he was. Of course, we all know that what follows is the band members’ arrests and a fierce line of initial questioning (guitarist Willy Adler angrily mentions that “they called [Randy] a fucking murderer”). “We waited to see what they were gonna do with Randy,” continues Mark, “and then they kept him.”
The intensity of the voices, the dark looks, the sudden silences, the manager’s heated phone conversation and the sudden appearance of a deathly serious legal team all indicate in exactly what position the band have been placed and the director pitches the tone perfectly. It slowly emerges that a fan, Daniel Nosek, present at an old Czech Lamb Of God gig, died soon after seeing them play and the implication is that Randy Blythe is being blamed for causing it. We subsequently see three contentious incidents, taken from footage filmed at the gig, that show a fan getting (or trying to get) on stage and attempts by security (and possibly Randy) to stop him. These blurry snippets of information are all there to give us a sense of the confusing circumstances and the possible validity and severity of the accusations.
When words like “murder” and phrases like “intent to cause harm” are being banded about, it isn’t so much a case of whether your eyes will be glued to the screen — it’s a case of whether you’ll ever be able to view this fucked-up world the same again. With the initial legal arguments being over bail (or the illusion of), the actual tragedy of the whole situation begins to dawn on the band. They are forced to come to terms with heartbreak and disbelief; the tragedy of losing a fan as well as having a colleague trapped in a cell in a foreign country. As Mark suggests later, “It was never us against them.” It’s an experience that Randy refers to later as like wearing a “lead helmet.”
The jump in the film here to the day of Randy’s release, 38 days later, might just represent the degree of misinformation that was reported, or simply, editorial discretion. The accompanying Q&A with Randy reveals a little about his time behind bars. The contact blackout he experienced, his fear of being singled out for punishment and getting through it by employing a daily routine of meditation, reading and writing – finding order where there was disorder. Just the imagery of the band and families waiting at the airport is enough to jolt a tear from the hardiest of souls. Willy, of course, says it all when he breaks down whilst hugging his friend — “I missed the fuck out of you… best day ever.”
With the court case hanging over them, their “comeback show” in an Iowa cornfield feels a little stilted but Randy’s delight at the faith the fans have shown in him is honest. When questioned later about the situation and whether he considered never returning for the trial, he is adamant that he couldn’t possibly do anything else. Knowing his own psychological vulnerabilities and his constant battle to stay sober, he suggests that not being able to look himself in the mirror would have resulted in an irresistible return to the bottle and inevitable self-implosion — “in my heart, it was just the right thing to do.”
Three months later and the preparation for the trial ramps up the pressure upon him and, by proxy, us viewers. Knowing he may have to explain why the fans want to launch themselves from a stage or the vagaries of slam-dancing shows just how little faith his legal team have in what the judges will know and understand. “Whatever happens, they can’t make me guilty” — it’s a sentence that pinpoints his state of mind. Then, the first day of the trial is upon us and Randy emerges sporting a haircut, fully booted and suited. Facing three judges (with one presiding) and just one prosecutor, there is immediately the sense that all is not well. Unsurprisingly, considering the event was nigh on 3 years ago, the subtitled witness statements prove to be sketchy at best. Immediately, Randy’s legal team are scrutinizing the reliability of the witnesses. There follows suggestion that Randy’s on-stage gestures were mistranslated as an invitation to “come up on stage,” and his criticism of security that night is duly reported.
What follows is the revelation that another fan’s home videos and photos from the night prove that the on-stage fan we see is not Daniel Nosek. That information would leave the judge with nothing in the way of video evidence to take into consideration, witness confusion and inconsistencies, and a clearly determined defense team having ticked all the boxes. Daniel’s uncle’s statement duly rams home the reality by admitting that Randy may not fully be to blame, but breaks hearts when he goes on to explain Daniel’s complex family situation and the mother’s severe mental anguish meaning she can no longer earn a living. No side will ever actually win this case. There will only be losers.
The final day of the trial rolls around and Randy still feels he will be found guilty on a lesser charge — possibly negligence which he suggests could get him 6 years in prison. In his final statement, a dejected and sombre Randy explains his emotions but says he is remaining objective; he is just desperate to reveal the truth. Upon hearing he has been “cleared of the charge of manslaughter” (his legal team are seen assuring him he has been “completely exonerated”) he remains stony-faced — just a shaky thumbs up that he understands is the only sign that he has understood. Predictably, we get a smack of dramatic music fading in as the judge’s verdict is fading out — without that, the moment would still be transferred to us through that single shot of Randy’s face, bursting with conflicting emotions. Back home, there are no band member celebrations — just reserved smiles and Willy’s statement, a few weeks later, that “It’s becoming a reality that we’re Lamb Of God again.” The final say goes, appropriately, to drummer Chris Adler’s insightful reflection: “Now we’ve been through this really traumatic event together, I would dare to say, until one of us dies, we’re stuck together.”
Such is the disparate nature of the original concept and the end result, it is easy to draw the conclusion that one cannot breathe next to the other. There is certainly a sense of that when you compare the diverse reactions drawn from the varied characters’ ponderous connection to the music, with the united intensity of the band’s own powerful emotions that surround the trial. There are moments of gravity in both concepts but, no matter where your starting point, one will impact more on you and on an extremely personal level, the other far less so. No flippant directorial attempt to loop us back to that original idea (which does come near the film’s end) was ever going to make this release about anything but an insatiable thirst for some insight behind this whole strange and sorry saga. On that front, this documentary comes through in spades. Its story is clear as a bell, beautifully composed and, despite the initial doubts at the potential damage that filming such a hot potato might have and the subtle hints towards showing the best side of the band, their integrity remains intact.
One thing that is made clear during the bonus material, is that we certainly won’t be seeing Lamb Of God back in the Czech Republic unless the family of Daniel Nosek specifically request it — unexpectedly, those associations and implications kicked off by this case being brought into being will last forever. Essentially, this documentary is Lamb Of God’s way of passing their “lead helmet” on to us. Watching and absorbing the events of the trial are a grave, upsetting and deeply profound experience and, on a personal level, it feels like an honour to be given such unique access to an event that has and will continue to change lives.
Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy = http://www.heavyblogisheavy.com/2014/02/26/as-the-palaces-burn-a-look-into/
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Interestingly, they seem to sit at the centre of a musical crossroads, where the x-axis of grunge and stoner hits the y-axis of progressive metal and ambient rock. One minute they rage like Down, with vocalist Macias screeching like Phil Anselmo would after necking a bottle of bleach, the next they are conjuring up the head-down grunge of a Soundgarden or an Alice In Chains. Head deeper into the disc and you’ll discover that they are even capable of sucking up the progressive, experimental nectar from bands like Tool or Palms.
Starting out as just plain old PurpleHaze, a band focused on dispensing a solid dose of stoner rock, they recently switched drummers and employed synth player, Bemben, who was able to add a new dimension to their music by integrating an atmospheric layer of keys and samples underneath.
Interestingly by paying homage to the “old ways” of recording, they whipped this version up in one-take at at Red Shift Studio in Cracow. Only the vocals and synths were added afterwards – it has certainly made for an album with a vital energy and an almost edgy quality to it. On the downside, that mix has produced rough patches where the instruments don’t quite marry together. In particular, the harsh tones of the guitar leap out at the listener when the rest of the band is raging, but happily it comes back into its own when the power levels drop and the waves calm.
The dissonant fizz of the driving opener “Siren’s Song” is certainly a nasty wake-up slap with Macias at full roar and firing out crunch and sludge in equal measure. The oddly-rambling nature of “Haunt The Freak” instead finds an echoing, psychedelic series of Bombay Monkey-esque samples to lounge in before the dial is cack-handedly wound up and our first taste of their grunge leanings hove into view.
By “Could I” (a nod to Alice In Chains’ “Would I”, perhaps?) they’ve settled down into the session and the track’s natural structure gives us a true taste of their innate knack for songwriting. A gentle build with warping synth soon breaks into a stone-cold groove. Here, Macias uses the rhythmic swagger to impart a chilled blue tone into his vocal. Serving him well, he craftily weaves it around the chords in patterns, throwing neat lyrical twin hooks into the verses – “Spiders on my face / Snakes inside my face”. Running at nearly eight minutes in length, you still wouldn’t say it overstays its welcome.
Ramping up the atmospherics, “Kickin’ Curbs With A Thin Stick” and “Cross” offer up sub-level bass and the warping environs of Deftones-esque lush-to-crush experimentation. The former ends with a section where the strings drop out to leave just the synth roaming from the left ear to the right like a lost bee buzzing around inside our skulls. One to avoid is the mathy “Lie Is The Answer” which punches low as the vocalist trades restraint for over-commitment to the cause. Resplendent at it’s heart, the remainder is just too loud and too loose to really make any impact.
The band’s willingness to trade between grit and power and colour-streaked, ambient washes means that there is never a dull moment at any point in this self-titled debut. Most certainly, there is room for manoeuvre and not everything meshes together quite as you’d expect it to, but there is more than enough quality within to warrant further investigation – there aren’t all that many albums out there with this much variety on display. PHE have certainly shown that they have the courage to push things to the next level and that bodes well for their future. With an extra layer of lacquer applied to the production next time out, they might just yet surprise us all. Now, whose turn is it with Jimi’s big box of matches?
Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2014/02/purplehaze-ensemble-st-unquiet/
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
As a duo, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Tony Gonzahl and drummer Timo Silvola, there is little mental conflict between them and their main aim, yet plenty of aural conflict in their combined delivery. The unrefined passion and the vital edginess that they pour into their music means they stand a million miles from most folks’ preconceptions. Yes, you may have spotted the words “Norwegian, hardcore and punk” in that introduction and be expecting another Kvelertak-a-like to plop off the end of the conveyor belt (those fans can skip straight to the neck-snapping swagger of ‘Assmasters of Reality’), but Barren Womb are, in fact, the chalk to Kvelertak’s cheese. They don’t sing in their Native language, they replace bottom-end grunt with mid-range scrawl, and they pay lip service to the concepts of groove. These edgy punks just don’t wanna roll.
The production, throughout, has been stripped and stretched to within an inch of its life. Peer too closely and you’d swear this thing was see-through. Consequently, it’s all piercing tones and cacophonous chaos. The ride bucks like a mule and spins like a tornado with the path and direction indeterminate and the destination unknown. An exciting prospect but, in reality, you’ll be sweating throughout. Listening to The Sun’s Not Yellow… is the equivalent of jumping from a plane blindfolded and without a parachute. From the introductory line of “It was like this when we found it!” screamed over the top of a hissing, firecracker riff through to the last few feet of ‘Live Fast, Die’, the total wall of noise that Gonzahl imposes on the listener is daunting.
Frequently, the music collapses into a wall of feedback and an avalanche of crash cymbal strikes. There’s even a guttural undercut of black metal discord, especially noticeable in ‘Evil Prevails’ and ‘Nexus Diplomis’, which is like listening to The Sex Pistols sucking on the exhaust pipe of Belphegor. Here, Gonzahl summons up a few gargles and an imaginary upturned claw. There are busy leads, like the ones that lurk in ‘Nábrók’ and ‘From Robot Jobs To Robot Homes’, that crush into Silvola’s piston-like drums to form the spine. As a rule, it’s a nifty tool that allows the vocals (gang chants included) to really let rip and the result is, well, eclectic.
The unexpected smack of the ocean surface that breaks this album’s fall is staggering. Track 9 is that watery grave – ‘Bong Aqua’. It introduces a section where the reduction of pace gives all a chance to draw breath – that is gratefully accepted. Here, there is a sample of crashing waves with children splashing and yelping with delight and a gentle, laconic rhythm that completely releases the listener to soak up the acoustic tones and lush colours. Switching into the equally soft wash of ‘Zombies Never Go Out Of Style’ we get chanting and a disembodied narrator, mulling over the downside to “eternal life”, mashed into our first hint of country swing.
Take all this chicanery into account and you’ve got an album that just about manages, albeit without a good deal of unseemly pushing and shoving, to cram in a huge variety of styles. It may be messy, it’s undoubtedly indulgent, freakishly thought-provoking, part-spasmodic, part-impenetrable vitriol but, like the greatest of extreme challenges, it’s a total adrenaline rush. The Sun’s Not Yellow, It’s Chicken is an album that requires total commitment and, consequently, one that might not get much “ear time”, but you can’t argue with the fact that (graphic band name, ludicrous album title and comic album art also taken into consideration) it shines out like a beacon.