Reviews Coming Soon

Album Reviews Coming Soon: Ahamkara - The Ember Of Stars, Eldorado - Babylonia Haze, Amniac - Infinite

Friday, January 23, 2015

Periphery – Juggernaut: Alpha / Omega

In the beginning, there was Periphery and Periphery was good. They were loud, they were obnoxious and they were untamed. Yet here we stand, a mere 10 years later, gripping a twin album release, safe in the knowledge that it is the stuff of legend. Not only is their third long-player their heaviest, darkest, densest and most mature work, it is also their most emotive, addictive and haunting. Put simply, this is the work that will define their career.

Juggernaut contains a story, one based in fact, that can take you on a journey to spots of tear-jerking beauty before ditching you in the foulest, most soul-destroying of places. The album’s concept has been well-hidden so far and I hate spoiling surprises, so all I’ll suggest is check the track-listing if you want a clue to the full insanity of the project within a project. What unsettles most of all about the themes is the intricate dealing with each slight change in mood of the story’s main character. The humanity and hope within comes across from within the most hopeless and inhumane of situations.

Taken at face value, Juggernaut concerns the slow and relentless onslaught of one man’s mental faculties. Taken as a metaphorical tale, it can be applied to a wide range of subjects including birth, re-birth and death itself. The difference between the Alpha disc and the Omega one, according to guitarist Misha Mansoor, is that the former is “more optimistic” whereas the latter is “pessimistic”. Essentially these are two parts of the same story, one single time-line, but our anti-hero’s experiences ultimately dictate the reason for the split. Running to 82 minutes, it’s an awful lot to be tackling so there is argument that this could have been pared down to a single album by stripping out the few weaker tracks. With so much essential material though, it’s a blessing that they decided to double-up.

Dealing with Alpha first, it’s immediately apparent that the production levels are off the chart. This has allowed for a complete tonal range to shine; from the heavy punch and bruising limbs to the crisp, clean and sharp edges. “A Black Minute” resonates with twinkling strings and psychedelic, echoing keys creating space for Spencer Sotelo’s clean vocals to portray a vision of soft innocence, wonder, hope and even joy. “MK Ultra” presents a far-different side, however, as dark palm-muted butchery and malevolent roars tear into the listener until overload occurs. This blackout is the point where a short, jazzy hit of lift-music is inserted to say more than any white noise, siren or other such sound effect could. Following the storyline, “The Event” is a huge moment. Cleverly, it’s an instrumental and contains nothing more than a tremulous underscore and a steady pattern of single string strikes. Deeper in, Periphery dig out big, infectious hitters with huge choruses. Tracks such as “Heavy Heart”, the poppy licks of “Alpha”, the hardcore-flecked “22 Faces” and the jerking “Rainbow Gravity” all soar. Sotelo’s often nasal delivery can be annoying at times, but because of his flat refusal to dwell for any length of time on one style they lock into the musical flow rather than get under your skin. Here, he dips into his bag of extreme from which he can pull out everything from a guttural moan to an ear-splitting scream and anything in between. Check out “The Scourge” or album highlight “Psychosphere” to experience the sheer glory of his full range. It’s simply a staggering performance delivered with true emotion.

Moving into Omega, following a gut-churning “Reprise” we get another important moment within the tale. “The Bad Thing” marks the point where any semblance of self-understanding, normality, reason and forgiveness dissolves. It is vicious in sonic impact, unrelenting and ripped with dark lyricism. Its companion track, the enigmatic, ambient post-rock of “Priestess”, looks at the same world but attacks it with eyes wide open offering a spirited sequence of layered arpeggios warmed through with a sweet, hooked chorus and effervescent electronic touches. From here we begin the descent in spirit to the anarchic “Graveless” and the monstrous Meshuggah-worship of “Hell Below”. The jazz-flecked closing section of “Omega” offers up one final look backwards before “Stranger Things” give us one of the album’s more experimental moments of enlightenment and reflection, providing a fitting ending on a crushing half.

The precise structuring, degree of detailing and thematic recycling of Juggernaut show just how much careful thought has gone into the long and arduous process that it has taken to finally bring this album to the table. Ultimately though, it’s the emotional pull of the narrative and the rich variety of the music that will decide on the album’s impact. It seems to me that no matter how many times I go through this material, experiencing some of the most radical, deeply depressing, sick and highly disturbing of musical journeys, I still feel like I’ve been put through the wringer anew each time. Both albums are streaming online now so there really is no excuse not to do the same. I urge you to invest in this because the deeper you venture down the rabbit hole, the deeper it becomes. At the point of total immersion you may, just like me, actually feel your heart break.

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Review also online @ Ave Noctum =

Friday, January 9, 2015

Album Review: Lotus Thief – Rervm

The San Francisco-based duo, Bezalith and Otrebor, have taken a side-step here from their other band, Botanist, to write an album inspired by the 1st Century BC materialist text De Rerum Natura. It translates as The Nature Of Things and is by the Roman philosophical poet Titus Lucretius Carus. Each track represents one of the six books of the text and guides us through them by pitching progressive black metal at ambient space rock.

“Aeternum” switches between a thick pummeling groove and a psychedelic dropout where a soft, echoed vocal threads its way around warm bass. These are instant shifts in tone from dark minor chords to a music with an effervescent lightness of touch. It’s a far cry from the more visceral black thrash of “Miseras” where a series of vocal passages more akin to Messianic chanting coat everything. And both these tracks are stretched further, the former by the closing sounds of morning and evening birdsong and the latter by the incessant alert of a life monitor flat-lining.

Moving on, “Discere Credas” tears out a feisty riff and follows it up with an overtly simple rhythm. Left there to run its course, the track could have tanked, but Lotus Thief pull at it and toy with its structure to create something far more interesting. It’s a pattern that continues as they throw iconic sound effects in among the gossamer-thin layers. After, the spaced-out majesty of “Lvx”, the bat-shit crazy “Discordia”, with its hissing (for all you Harry Potter fans, it’s not unlike “Parseltongue”) and its twin, the scowling façade of “Mortalis” are perhaps a step too far into chaos, but they certainly aren’t short on impact.

Albums inspired by ancient texts do carry an added air of authority and credibility about them and this vital, emotional music is no different. Fans of experimental black metal will definitely get a kick out of the elegant vocal stylings and cosmic edge here. It’s fitting that written inside the album cover, a sentence in Latin, loosely-translated, announces “If you have a garden in your library, then nothing is missing”. Rervm is your garden.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Feature: Johnskibeat's Best 20 Albums Of 2014

1. Monuments - The Amanuensis (Century Media)
The Amanuensis takes a burgeoning genre and raises the bar for the rest. Seriously, you’d be hard-pressed to find another modern progressive metal album that could match this for impact. The band have refined the array of techniques they displayed on debut Gnosis and added the vocal gymnastics of Chris Barretto to their line-up. It's not an exaggeration to say that he takes the album to a whole new level. Throughout “Origin Of Escape” and the epic “Quasimodo” he’s tearing out lumps from your lugholes by firing out elongated roars that he bends into long, base-to-peak crecendos. During “Horcrux” and “I, The Destroyer” he fishes out those bowel-loosening piq grunts of his and for the remainder he’s scraping the skies with a sweet, melodic drift that gently echoes and swirls around inside your skull. On this performance, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better fit for this infectious band. This is a completely, crushingly epic goliath of tech and groove; wall-shuddering, space-flooding both by design and in performance.

2. Servers - Leave With Us (Undergroove)
Some groups may mesh a couple of genres together to create something fresh and dynamic – Servers are an octopic rock band with a groping arm in every pie. They are the very definition of the band you simply cannot pigeonhole. Song by song, their chameleonic music takes in grunge, dark rock, screamo, sludge, cult metal, new wave, industrial and punk n’ roll. Their debut is an absolute behemoth spouting musical ear-worms that boast grit, melody and muscle. Tracks like "Universes And Supernovas" and "Run With The Foxes" come bursting at the seams with vast riffs and big, sparkly choruses that will aggressively weld themselves to your brain. When they cool their heels they produce stuff like the intensely gothic, Icicle Works-friendly comedown of ‘Claustrophobia‘. Welcome to your new favourite band.

3. Zodiac - Sonic Child (Napalm Records) 
Straight out of left field this one. By opening with an intensely moving spoken passage telling of the utter joy of music, Zodiac grasp your attention and retain it from the first note to the last. The no-nonsense unencumbered groove that drives this album slackens and quickens to purpose but at every moment it pushes forward through the genres of blues, soul, country and rock n' roll. "Just Music" hauls some 70s kitsch out of the closet whilst "A Penny And A Dead Horse" digs out the good old boy slide guitar to suck you into a dizzying world of galloping horses and chain gangs. So leave your hang-ups at the door, come on in and just lose yourself, even if only "just for a little while".

4. Intervals - A Voice Within (Basick) 
By making a sudden switch-up to a combination of rhythmic backline and glorious, moving vocal interplay, Intervals have produced a work of real joy, passion and pomp. Mike Semesky, now on lead vocal, craftily wraps his eye-popping, hugely emotive lyrics around the spasming instrumentation in such a way that you'll find them worming their way into your cortex. From the fast-slow pomp of "The Self Surrended" to the all-conquering "Atlas Hour", this album is undeniable proof of just how perceptive and unrestricted by the concept of genres, our modern metal bands have become.

5. Skyharbor - Guiding Lights (Basick) 
Sounding smoother and sleeker whilst staying inventive and demanding, this latest model from Skyharbor takes the band away from their bumpier, grittier debut. Driven by the triumphant, emotion-soaked vocal of Daniel Tompkins, the album delves deep into the realms of post-rock and dream pop. Earworms like "Evolution" and "The Constant" suck you in, whilst the sheer beauty of "Halogen"s construction and the heart-rending pain that inhabits "Patience" will demand continuous repeats. The organic ebb and flow of the album ties neatly in with the themes of life, evolution and entropy. It is a work of art that will toy with your senses and reduce grown men to tears. This band are going places and Guiding Lights is proof that sharing their future journey will be something of a delight.

6. Cavorts - Got Your Brass (In At The Deep End Records) 
Jumping on the screaming punk n' roll bandwagon, Cavorts have leaped from the shadows to produce an album with more conviction than Cancer Bats, more nous than Kvelertak and more punch than Feed The Rhino. They've achieved this by opening out the song structures and firing out more barbarous hooks and crushing riffs than you can shake a stick at. If tracks like "Wait On", "Put Down The Hammer" and "Save Some Things" don't have you forming invisible oranges and shouting the lyrics to the skies then there's something inherently wrong with you.

7. Animals As Leaders - The Joy Of Motion (Sumerian)
A step forward away from the inaccessible complexities of earlier albums, this perfectly-titled songbook still opens with music that's as manic as a warzone, where bullets are replaced by notes. There are strafed leads that descend into an absolute cacophony before abating into the most gloriously laid-back infectious moments of jazz, electro and post-rock. Within the space of two tracks you are taken from the Earl Klugh-esque, low-slung jazz guitar of "Another Year" to the addictive slap funk majesty of "Physical Education". If this were hooked up to a graphic equalizer it would create only the most achingly beautiful of shapes. There you have it... The Joy Of Motion.

8. Craang - To The Estimated Size Of The Universe (Pink Tank Records)
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. There is definitely no hiding from the enigmatic joy, passion and crushing presence that this album carries.

9. Evil Scarecrow - Galactic Hunt (Deadbox Records) 
Music and humour are two beasts that can cause sparks when combined. There's the simple shits n' giggles kind - bands like Tenacious D and Psychostick - and there's the lunatic fringe featuring goliaths like Rammstein and Devin Townsend. Aligning themselves closer to the latter, Evil Scarecrow tackle everything from genetically-modified mutant-robot crabs and the brilliant concept of losing a priceless library book called "The Book Of Doom", to paying tribute to the interactive virtual-reality world that was late-80s kids TV gameshow Knightmare. With razor-sharp wit, a very special guest and now stunning production to boot, Galactic Hunt (say it fast) is proof of just how far they have come in their quest to find our funny bones.

10. Devin Townsend Project - Sky Blue (HevyDevy) 
Bursting from the confines of Dev's Z2 package comes this utterly mind-blowing collaboration with Anneke Van Giersbergen. Sporting great diversity, at times, it wallows in sheer euphoric arena rock whilst at others it spasms into sections of electro, dance and pop. There's also the mind-blowing wrap-around sound of "The Universal Choir" to wallow in. What more could any fan of music want?

Others for your stocking:
11. Pet Slimmers Of The Year - Fragments Of Uniforms (Review)
12. Herod - They Were None (Review)
13. The Golden Grass - S/T (Review)
14. Jackson Firebird - Cock Rockin' (Review)
15. Inventions - S/T (Review)
16. Behemoth - The Satanist (Review)
17. Thomas Giles - Modern Noise (Review)
18. Alaya - Thrones (Review)
19. Mire - Inward / Outward (Review)
20. My Brother The Wind - Once There Was A Time When Space And Time Were One (Review)

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =

Best of 2013:
Best of 2012:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Album Review: Brant Bjork + The Low Desert Punk Band – Black Power Flower

When it comes to musical know-how, you can bet your bottom dollar that Brant Bjork (Ex-Kyuss, Vista Chino) has done it, been there, and bought the t-shirt. So if he decides he wants his music to get heavy then you can sure as hell expect him to do that. Not for you, not for anyone else, but because he feels like doing it.

The result is his Black Flower Power and it comes with a no-nonsense helping of oomph. Described by the man himself, it’s music that sounds something “like the late-’60s with that heavy rock sound”. Sporting new faces in his morphing support cast, his so-called ‘Low Desert Punk Band’ (consisting of Bubba DuPree, Tony Tornay and Dave Dinsmore) certainly seem to have given him the impetus he needed to get the sound he wanted. To these ears, there’s a modern twist to it all. There’s a smidgen of Black Label Society’s southern groove, a sun-kissed sprinkling of QOTSA, mere hints at Faith No More’s panache and a big smeggy wodge of Fu Manchu’s fuzz-friendly stoner. The end result? A flower-totin’, burnt-out, buzzed-up Lenny Kravitz.

There’s catchy stompers like “We Don’t Serve Their Kind” and “Boogie Woogie On Your Brain” and then there’s big, bluesy cuts like “Buddy Time”, “Ain’t No Runnin'” and “Stokely Up Now”. The latter has a wickedly lurching cadence with a vocal style that comes at you in snatches. The whole thing sucks you in and makes you smile – particularly the addictive shout of “Hey… did you see that? That’s a dog and that’s a cat!” If those tracks don’t slay you, then the chunky blues of “That’s A Fact, Jack”, with its duelling guitars (the overdrive fuzzed groove in your right ear and the intricate lead with little licks of whammy and kicks of wah-wah in your left), should get your heart racing.

Bringing the pace down, “Hustler’s Blues” sees Brant call up a layered, Mike Patton-esque, self-harmonising vocal giving the whole album a sweet sign off. Sadly, things don’t quite end there though. There’s still the rotational, psychedelic freakout of “Where You From, Man” to endure. With an extended jammed-out running time, it’s total filler. He’s due a little self-indulgence but this just doesn’t fit with the remainder (which is why it probably lurks like the proverbial bad egg at the real album end).

There’s also very little experimentation beyond Brant’s initial concept. It could be the fact that there is so much fuzz flying around or that there’s plenty of repetition, but there is a tendency for the songs to leak into each other which is a shame. In the main though it’s a solid, worthwhile album that throws retro sounds, lives and concepts into fresh light. And it’s damn funky to boot.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Streaming now:

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 début. 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 =

Streaming now: