Thursday, October 15, 2015
Q: Do you mind if there’s not a jot of the Queen’s English in your lyrics?
Q: Do you insist on a variety of attack or styling between tracks?
Q: Do you balk at any one of punk, groove or rock n’roll?
If the answer to any one of these questions is a resounding “Yes” then step away from this review. As much as they’d hate to admit, this fiery sextet play tightly-focussed, unrepentant Norwegian punk n’roll and, by association, require their English-speaking fans to have open minds, open souls and open hearts to make any kind of impact. Thankfully, here at Ave Noctum we do have acolytes of the band and we are determined to absorb all others in our joy-fuelled drunken party that breaks out every time someone slaps on a Man The Machetes track. Is album number two just as fun though?
Yep, it’s a cracking album. The band picks up where Idiokrati left off, with the new tracks whipping along at an equally dizzying pace. With the vocal tightened up and brought to the front of the mix, which coincidentally reduces the impact of the chord power, the whole feels punkier, more visceral. It certainly solidifies their position as bright young things on the scene. It doesn’t hold as many stand-out gems as their startling debut and there isn’t any sign of them experimenting with their established system of riff, chug and adrenaline-coursing roar. And yet it’s still a total mosh.
Going at this from a different angle, let’s analyse what makes the band a tour de force. In a word, it’s the “groove”. With every instrument, driving towards the same end goal, the result is an infectious, rhythmic machine like no other. It starts with the drums and in Per Christian Holm they have a pumping, pistoning machine. He drives everything with a vicious snare strike and an inate aptitude for colourfully patterning the music with cymbal strikes. The other key component is the triple guitar attack of Morton, Erlend and Markus which are layered into the music to give a startling effect of having the chugs and mini-riffs work like ripples as they each bite to the front before fading to the back or over to the left or right ear.
Also, like all good masseurs know, the key is to always retain contact with the intended recipient. Consequently, the songwriting is structured so that whenever the music drops out there is always one finger of instrumentation still tickling the listener at all times. It could be a lone, gutsy bassline, a trickle of cymbal strikes or a bare vocal but the band make sure they are always on it.
Standout moments come with the stepdown in pace to the crawling lead and sweet rock-a-bye riff on “Tung Luft” and with the crafty, constructive forethought that has gone into the humdinger “Orkenmarsj”. It’s still lagging behind their debut when it comes to hooks, raw grunt and staying power but with ever-improving production values this still knows how to throw its weight around. To this end, Av Nag clambers over the writhing bodies of Kvelertak, Feed The Rhino and Cancer Bats to grab at you. Fear not though, these boys don’t want to fight, they want to dance, chant and sing at your side – as comrades in arms.
Imagine if Torche hoovered the uplifting braggadocio and enslaving hooks of Audrey Horne – that’s what this is. It’s emphatically boisterous, effortlessly driving and engagingly addictive. From the opening drumroll and fizzing vocal blast of “Anchors”, it’s a riff-worthy, chorus-led sequence of poppy panache meets hard rocking grunt. There are hints of Arlo’s glossy sheen stumbling their merry way into the multi-tracked vocals of Shi on “Part Of The Sea”. Yet there’s also a darker tone in there that pulls at the inventive crescendos and shading of Baroness’ John Dyer Baizley and the way he pulls out top notes from the most sombre of places.
The slow-quick majesty of the earworm “Snow Song” pulls a choral hook from the heavens themselves. Enigmatically crisp and strangely familiar, it feels like a homecoming – an emotional centre of warmth and hope. It’s a theme that runs throughout the album. There are no true edges here, merely gentle warnings and then reassurance in the soft down of the songwriting.
“Onward Upward” struggles to gain a foothold with its dissolute phrasing, narrow structure and run-time but, to be fair, there are other tracks that could be tagged as equally unadventurous even when they hit the mark. Certainly, the glowing touchstone of “New Year Repeat” corrects any imbalance by building elegiacally to a cosmos-scraping hook and a wonderful arpeggio guitar that trips the light fantastic before plunging to the very depths of the ocean.
Wildlights pull at the loose threads left by others leaving the dark mesh behind them to create effortlessly light, airy, voraciously catchy pieces of driving rock that are an utter joy. Like a meteor traIling fluoresence and fire across a black night’s sky – I urge you to follow.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Opening with a cut from a particularly vicious line from the 2003 movie Open Range, Crushed By The Wheels Of Progress sets it’s stall out early with snarling vocals spewing hate-filled lyrics. It all lies beneath a wall of the filthiest riff sludge and butt-clenching drum thunder heard since the murderous crush spewed out by the likes of Crowbar or High On Fire. With its swampy wash, Southern-tinged slowly dying open chords and thrash affectations it’s like listening to the gnarliest of Orange Goblin songs getting tortured into submission by the concrete fists of Snailking or the sonic blitzkrieg of Sepultura.
Having been beaten into a corner by the initial choking swathe of aggression and primitive lyricism, the maddeningly obtuse song construction struggles to extract the listener without walking itself down strange blind alleys. Take “Season’s End”. It contains no end of dropouts, kicks into double-time and oblique switches in key – it’s the aural equivalent of riding a three-legged horse that keeps falling over.
The eight-minute title-track builds up a pretty solid groove with a gritty chorus and digs out a sweet riff to sit alongside it. The guitar scrawl eventually picks up gifting us with a high degree of mania to wedge behind the acid-gargling vocal roar of Peter Clemens. Ramp up the volume on this beast if you want to really piss off those neighbours. Dig in further and they begin to hit a particularly evil streak as they rip into death metal territory with the deliciously dark “Spiral Stairs” inviting the headbangers to the party and the agonisingly base attack of “Before I Return To Dust” pulling the teeth straight from their Bay Area and Brazilian peers.
Yep, I bet they had a ball writing and recording this monstrous album, but sadly the end result isn’t pretty. Cast adrift somewhere between kicking the shit out of the stoner metal fringe and ramming deathly metal down the throats of the bad-ass rock n’ roll brigade, Yellowtooth will struggle to make friends with this. It’s fit to burst with macho angst and is ripped with nasty guitar lines but there’s very little that actually sticks in the memory banks. Yep, that sledgehammer did the trick, but I’m afraid that nut is dust.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
The track-titles suggest connections to the names of explorers of continents, rivers and even outer space. The tracks, however, struggle to marry up to my hypothetical concept (try the We Lost The Sea’s deeply-moving “A Gallant Gentleman” if you like the idea and require closure) so I realise I must stop. Diving back into Grayson then with an open mind then… Opener “Oates” crackles into life and slowly builds drawing on warm glossy tones, much like those that colour Skyharbor’s latest single “Evolution”, before releasing into “Ives” which heads deeper into the darker, choppier waters of other instrumental post-rockers like Russian Circles and Pelican. Here the yawning, melancholic backdrop stands in contrast to the driven groove which never quite allows it to get away or develop organically.
Happily, “Aldrin” does offer some evolving panic and heavy action before releasing into a sweet, repeating series of keyed strokes. Only here does it feel like any instrumental lead role is being taken to replace the absence of vocal colouring. The pattern of riffs visit several touch points and eloquently guide the listener along through a strong sequence of shoegaze and post-metal. “Ballack” follows suit in grinding out a darker path without ever quite finding its voice. And therein lies the problem with Grayson as a whole. It doesn’t engage or challenge the listener beyond those initial bursts.
Of course, I understand now why I felt a compulsion to create meaning within. Unguided, experiencing this EP felt like walking into a stranger’s room full of strange objects and even now, after the tenth play, it feels like a record without a mooring. It’s the lack of a lead element that has cast it adrift. Perhaps their future works will feature enough running time to invite true introspection and perhaps then a connection to the contents will follow more naturally.
Friday, July 24, 2015
The vast 13-minute pastiche of opener “All He Has Read” thrusts us from an introductory summoning of dark spirits before it switches up and kicks into gear with echoing bell tolls and melodic riffs. There are forceful impressions of folk in the rhythmical drum runs and the accompanying rise and fall of the backing vocals breathe a symphonic air into proceedings. The insidious tone of the second movement and minor chords of the guitars mark out the band’s gothic leanings whilst the whole employs some, at times, pretty rough cloak-and-dagger lyrics all breathed out by Thomas Sabbathi’s strained, affected delivery. I had to check the liner notes to check to see if it wasn’t actually Suede’s Bernard Butler!
Upbeat numbers like “Pillars Of The South”, the addictive blast of “Riders & Vultures” and the bluesier “Vermin” jink back and forth upon solid riffs whilst slower, more foreboding tracks like “The Emma”, laced with pantomime villainy, and the Jethro Tull-esque “World Of Wonders” drink deep upon proggy blasts of mellotron allowing the band to really sink their teeth into the flesh of their chosen subject matter.
Dig deeper and you’ll find wedged into the middle of the album are the curio couplet “The Wind” and “Black Sunlight”. Both are invigorated by employing the galloping country rhythms, harrowing narrative and dull baritone of Nick Cave. A trickle of unhinged discomfiture in a sea of assuredness.
Relentlessly engaging without ever really demanding of the listener, The Unspeakable is a solid hitter played with a straight bat. It’ll certainly be interesting to see if next time out they go for something a little more thematically grizzled, perhaps with an eye towards engaging with the extreme, because this hints at it and they have left plenty of room for manoeuvre.