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Album Review: TBA

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interview: Of Legends

When Of Legends’ debut album, ‘Stranded’, winged its way into the MTUK office earlier this year all hell broke lost. Not only was the music a brutal eye-opener, not only was it yet another tentative baby-step into a newly-forming genre, but when we realised the chap at the helm was, up to now, known for being an electro-pop peddler it was like slipping into an alternate reality. Having just laid waste to half of North America on their Spring tour, John Skibeat grabbed a moment to fire a few questions at the man himself, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Luis Dubuc.

Most will know you, Luis, as the man behind The Secret Handshake. What convinced you to make the leap from electronica into metal?
Well, it wasn’t that hard to be honest and really it was just exciting to be doing something so freeing as compared to pop music.

Have you always been a fan of heavy music in general?
Yes, ever since I was a young boy. That’s not something most people know about me so I guess it can throw most of my fans off, especially my critics.

The Secret Handshake was a solo project. At what point did you realise you might need some help from others to fully realise the band Of Legends?
Well, I think it was clear I needed to have that real element, so Travis [Orbin, drums] was an obvious choice based on his talent and character. It has been a great fit.

The band is comprised of yourself and members of Drop Dead Gorgeous and Sky Eats Airplane. How did the collaborations come about?

Well, at the time when I was ready to start touring with Of Legends, the guys’ other bands were sort of ending per se and so it was a perfect fit.

Who took on songwriting duties?

On the album, I wrote everything and sent the tracks to Travis who really took ownership of the drums and tracked them. I played everything else on the album.

I’m thinking specifically of the lyrics that refer to “the humans” when I ask whether you’re a fan of Devin Townsend’s body of work?
Ha! The album is a concept album about the movie Event Horizon, so that’s why those references are made.

What would you say your influences are for writing the songs that you have?

Well, to be honest I’m a huge fan of all genres of music, but overall I really love Meshuggah, In Flames and Soilwork as far as metal goes.

The atmosphere generated by the pile-driving polyrhythms are somewhat reminiscent of bands like Meshuggah, Dillinger Escape Plan and Strapping Young Lad. How much input did Travis Orbin have with that side of things?
Well, like I said earlier, I had written the drums and he took them and “orbinated” them and really made them shine and become unbelievable. He has an amazing talent.

Your vocal style is a real throat-scraper! How did you find it trying to reproduce that kind of raw power and what methods do you use to keep it intact?

I think that sound is just my newness to the genre and overall lack of knowledge of how to scream properly. I’m glad people like it.

You’ve now got Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan) and Tim Smith (Atreyu / HORSEtheband) co-managing the band. How did they register their interest?
Well, I had been friends with them for a few years and when I showed them the album it was clear that I was serious about the project and so they decided to get involved.

What did it feel like to get that kind of backing so quickly?

Well, it was a bit of pressure but it was fun to live up to it - especially live.

Considering you performed virtually everything on the album, can you describe how difficult you found the process?
It was a bit tricky to be honest as I had done all the demos at home with virtually no pressure. The whole album was done in about 6 days so it was go, go, go!

Now you’ve covered North America, can we expect to see you taking the live shows to other countries in the future?
Hopefully soon, just taking it one step at a time right at this moment.

Is this a project that you think can run and run and, if so, have you already started thinking about what you want to do for the next album?
Yes, we have already begun writing the next album as a collective, so it’s not just me at the helm anymore. Very excited to see how it turns out.

Perhaps (and it’s only a thought) with so many members of Sky Eats Airplane on board, we might expect to see you developing a more melodic sound?
Definitely not melodic in a singing sense. I think personally I really prefer to have metal with just screaming, though I do think the music will become more technical.

Also online @ MTUK =

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Album Review: Figure Of Six – Brand New Life

Who knew that metal was a numbers game? I’m blazing through ’s third album, Brand New Life, again and thinking it sounds an awful lot like has been spot-welded onto . There you go then… 5 + 1 = 6. As you may have guessed, this is my first taste of FO6, and it’s left me wondering how I’ve not come across them in any of the 7 years they’ve been knocking around.

A bit of intense research reveals that they are an Italian sextet, naturally, who have always worn their late-90s hard rock and early-00s nu-metal influences like badges of honour. Brand New Life is proof, however, that they’re not entirely mired in retrospection. Here, they have also incorporated more current trends for warm, gently warping samples and vicious synth attack to beef up their standard of melodically-rich, pounding metal. Based on that description it’s no surprise to find the seemingly omnipotent Tue Madsen (, , ) producing.

Thickly-chugged guitars and brutish bass sidle up to the whack-whackety-whack of the snare to create an impressive groove. The rhythms wedge open gaps for the samples to divebomb in and out when they’re not integrated from the start. The sordid threesome of “Take Me Now”, “Losin’ My Mind” and “Lady Enemy” brush shoulders with the mind-expanding, industrial-edge of and , whilst the title-track and “Losin’ My Mind” nestle up to the muscle-bound powerhouses of and .

The only trouble is that, above all this, you’ve got a vocal that is all-encompassing and, as Enrico “Erk” Scutti is the only vocalist listed, I’m presuming he has double, nay, treble-layered it, as it rattles around inside your skull like a determined moth against a lightbulb. It has that irksome (or Erk-some, if you like) effect of homogenizing the tracks. He seeks unobtainable notes when he’s not hammering out the same ones over and over. Occasionally tracks like the slower-paced “Siren’s Call” (Scutti’s peculiar pronunciation of the word “siren” is guaranteed to glue itself to your brain) or the palm-muted, distortion-loving grunt of “War From The Inside” get them out of a hole at just the right time, but then they go and drop some almighty clanger like the Euro-pop ugly of “Something”. Not only does the backline lope along like a sickly, three-legged camel, not only does it contain the utterly abhorrent line “You don’t have to feel so paralyzed when you’re in my paradise”, but have also decided, in their infinite wisdom, to make it the final track on the album. This, then, is the lasting flavour they want you to take away with you is it? – sadly, I’d hazard a guess that you’ll be washing your mouth out with soap after tasting this little doozy.

Apart from a quartet of perfectly palatable tracks in the middle, Brand New Life is a disappointing throwaway album of bland filler – judging by the lukewarm response to their 2008 album, Aion, this may not come as such a big surprise to many. I guess, with all these numbers flying about, there’s only one that matters in the end, and I’m afraid it’s not all that generous this time around.

Also online (with samples and score out of 5) @ The New Review =

Monday, May 23, 2011

Album Review: Seether - Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray

are one of those bands that flirt dangerously with a time-worn archetype. They don’t make things easy on themselves by attempting to blur the edges a little with a dose of sass, a dollop of heavy, and a portion of oddball. Like kids following the kerb they teeter flirtatiously along the edges of the bog-standard hard rock mould; one wobble to the right, they find the path and get criticised for bandwagoning, one wobble to the left, they fall into the road and get lambasted for moving away from the music that built their fanbase, away from everything they clearly hold so dear. They know this and we know that they know this. A quick glance at their recent album titles Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces and, here, Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray is proof enough.

Consider that this band started life under the grim moniker (a name that evokes images of Tolkien’s “stench of Mordor”) and combine this with the fact they come from the ass-end of Africa, and you can see they’ve not had it as easy as it first appears. At this point, they couldn’t really have been much further from the location or one-word cool of the radio-friendly rock bands (, , , , , etc.) that they coveted. Thankfully, once they signed to Wind-Up Records, they moved to the US and stepped into line, calling themselves for their sophomore effort. Now that feels much better already, right?

Knowing this, you won’t be surprised when you hear this new album’s first single, “Country Song”. It has banjo, tambourine and twang-heavy harmonies swept into the mix (a far cry from the wobbleboard and didgeridoo of 2007′s “No Jesus Christ”) as lay down the final piece to fulfill their American dream – that “chink, chink” sound is of spurs being earnt. It’s actually a nifty, uncluttered attempt to create a sense of that huddled campfire camaraderie that comes from journeying alone across a forboding wilderness.

Cutting to the chase, the band still court that washed-out vocal style and minimalist drums for the verses before catapulting you into the chorus with all guns blazing. It’s always in four-four time there’s always a middle eight, and there’s always, always a ballad for the laydeez. You couldn’t get more formulaic if you tried. But then, when a band grooves like a bastard and carves straight to the bone, you can’t help but develop a face-splitting grin. They can shit-kick with the best of them when they rage and yet they can soften up into babies when they want to. So while, “Down” lurches back and forth like a drunk in a moshpit and “Desire For Need” decapitates us with razor-wire by illiciting a vast neck-jerking action using some seriously dirty strings, the opposing forces of “Here And Now” and “Master Of Disaster” perform the most delicate of emotion-laced soft-shoe shuffles. The star turn here is “No Resolution” which gives us a chunky, fat riff, fuzzed-up chords and a bollock-load of top-end bass with a hooked chorus that blows Finding Beauty‘s “Rise Above This” out of the water.

It’s not all easy-going though. The album squeezes out way too many slow numbers and, inevitably, crumbles when placed next to the vehement brilliance of their back catalogue (yes, the homogenized production of Brendan O’Brien strikes again). They get a slow shake of the head for employing the old trick of a disguised swear as a song-title (let’s hope they weren’t familiar with ’ “Far Q” when they named “Fur Cue”). And then, to cap it all, they miss the mark by a million miles with “Tonight” as they attempt to match for rock chops yet end up sounding duller than ditchwater. It’s unimaginitive, blueprint songwriting that feels constricted by design – you can count in every damnable pause, mundane chug and hateful drumbeat. Ditto “Pass Slowly” which is quite possibly the most effective anaesthetic I’ve ever come across. Herein lies the problem with this tightrope they continually walk along. One slip, and they’re in freefall.

To counteract all this pussyfooting around, we have the excellently -esque “Roses” with its dark, minor chords, a vocal that occasionally stretches for the sky, and a sinister chorus that contains the line “Save me, even as you break me, every time you rape me”. Oh, and check that huge stoner riff at its climax. This track alone proves there’s still so much untapped promise here. One day, fingers crossed, will lay a grenade of an album down and our perceptions will all be scattered to kingdom come. Until that day arrives, we’ll have to content ourselves with the fact that their killer always comes with filler.

Also online @ The New Review =

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Album Review: Between The Buried And Me - The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues

Here I am staring at the album cover of Between The Buried And Me's latest album, 'The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues', struggling to come to terms with an image of what looks like a discombobulated, dissected drosophila. It's grotesque and yet, at the same time, strangely beautiful. In a way, it perfectly portrays the multi-layered tones and hues found within - both disturbingly monstrous and jaw-droppingly gorgeous in turns. Like metamorphosing pupae, wrapped in their glistening cocoons, you'll hear each of the tracks build from small beginnings to emerge in sequential bursts of colour. It seems a difficult task to expect them to top 2009's stunning 'The Great Misdirect', but early signs show that they may just have produced a fine companion for it.

First thing that needs pointing out is that this is dense, hugely progressive metal so don't expect an easy ride. Listening closely to the way each layer infects the layer beneath, it gives the listener the strange impression that they're riding a lift up through levels of deep-lying strata to reach the surface where each one of the three tracks reveals itself. 'Specular Reflection' comes at you with fists-flailing before it pauses to deliver the most sublime of chiming stringed arpeggios. It'll get jazzy on you, then funky. The shifting patterns will take you stumbling across a padding rhythm and overlapping melodiously-hooked vocal that manage to lift the whole track to another level. 'Augment Of Rebirth', sounding like some almighty battle between The Faceless and Protest The Hero, wheedles then hammers, chips then gouges, rips up a deathly vocal and scatters it over staccato stickwork that will end up muddling the senses to a point when you'll find yourself locked out of your own thoughts. The descent into madness is complete when they break out the cleans to go with the circus oompah. Mental, beyond belief. Finally, the contrasting warmth of 'Lunar Wilderness' gives way to raging violence in the end but still offers more in the way of accessibility than its brothers with plenty of sick, then harmonious vocals and groovy, walking bass. Hell, there's even a large wodge of chunky headbanging in there somewhere.

'...Hypersleep Dialogues' is sprawling, yet organic and, at times, BTBAM surprisingly generate the kind of ambience that only bands like Dream Theater and Nine Inch Nails can produce. In a word, it's just epic. Yet, despite all this, it's not as memorable as I'd hoped it would be. Like an expensive meal, featuring a multitude of interesting taste sensations, not every one of those flavours sticks in the memory. The album is something of a sonic bombardment and, as such, it takes multiple plays before the entire construction can fully be appreciated. On top of this - three songs, thirty minutes? When did bands start becoming so stingy with their albums' running times? There's been no end of, mainly American, releases of this length that have started popping up recently. Does half-an-hour mean it's an EP or an LP? I've certainly seen longer EPs than this. It does seem to be an odd trait that leaves one feeling somewhat swindled in the long run. Here, of course, this represents part one of a two-part concept and that already makes it feel like half an album. When you combine this thought with the fact there is no option of the quick hit, it's easy to say the band have failed to surpass their best work. If, however, you believe in quality over quantity, then you may find plenty to like about this and already be salivating over their next release.

Also online @ MTUK =

Album Review: Believer - Transhuman

Believer are that band with a 16-year hiatus slap-bang in the middle of their history. Expansive thrash albums in the late 80s and early 90s, a split to pursue separate projects (a shedload of scientific research into cancer genetics for Kurt Bachman, a move into sound production and the more progressive side of metal for Joey Daub), then a decision to reunite in 2005. Naturally, that all leads on to the stunning release of 2009's Gabriel - an album soaked in progressive and industrial elements, long in the chug and resplendent in the breakdown.

Their fifth album, Transhuman, sees the band toying with the subject of Transhumanist thought. For those amongst us who haven't quite grasped the concept, that would be the ramifications of embracing technologies that can overcome fundamental human limitations. In the process of getting their heads around such a vast subject they have, on top of investigating the works of Dr. Ginger Campbell and Dr. Thomas Metzinger, expanded their sound to match. It has led them to integrate more melody and dynamics by redirecting their focus "on songwriting rather than just showcasing speed and technicality".

That certainly comes through on tracks like 'G.U.T.' which features a heap of wallpaper vocals and sepulchral keyboards to supplement the jagged guitars. You'll also note the implementation of a few symphonic elements, conspicuously crashing through for 'Lie Awake', and the eloquent stop-gap of instrumental, pulsing electronica that 'Currents' provides. Where before Bachman's vocal was given some grunt with a tweaked, visceral, industrial edge, here he's mainly clean, although occasionally he still appears to drift in and out of the foreground on ebbing tides of distortion.

Their foundation of groove-riddled thrash is still here in the excellent 'Transfection', 'Clean Room', 'Being No One' and 'Entanglement' - tracks that blissfully chug themselves along - whilst we get a good dose of their signature razor-wire guitar strings amidst waves of compression for 'End Of Infinity' and 'Traveler'.

On the downside, a lot of Transhuman sounds a bit dated. 'Multiverse' and 'Mindsteps' are noticeable steps back in time, as the keyboards and pedal effects take over giving us an odd mish-mash of Whitesnake, Van Halen, Rainbow and Faith No More to mull over, but there is also a general heavy nod in the direction of classic 70s and 80s rock for the more flamboyant moments of so many of the tracks. In a way it creates this weird paradox where reflections on times past appear to narrate the story of a time yet to be. On the flip side, the remainder sounds wholly original and potentially revolutionary. Transhuman is certainly an enigma.

You'll spot, of course, the artwork of Eye Level Studio's Michael Rozner again who appears to have made a sanitary white sister cover to go with the modish blue face of Gabriel. It's a perfect accompaniment to the concept and it's exactly this, and Believer's adaptation of the Transhumanism concept, that makes the album. It's all helped out no end by their portentous, bookending intros and outros to each song and the crepuscular lyrics, all of which probe us to take a glimpse of a future yet to emerge. If you like your metal with attitude and a good dose of skittish prog, you could do a lot worse than make Transhuman a part of your future.

Also online @ MTUK =

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Album Review: Scar Of The Sun – A Series Of Unfortunate Concurrencies

So, here we have a band-name that tricks you into imagining a stoner/doom metal outfit and an album title that sounds like it comes from a macabre children’s work by Lemony Snicket. I must admit I was expecting something grimly dark to emerge from this, but actually found something conversely bright and breezy. It’s full of tenacity and bristling melodrama which achieve by blending driven rock with melodic power metal and some determined progressive touches. There’s plenty of other influences lurking in there; in fact, a whole safari park of genres. Unfortunately, most of them end up clashing in a desperate attempt to be the alpha male and the end result, while being emphatically bold in concept, is a disappointing menagerie of loud animal noises.

Terry Nikas’ impressively clean, flamboyant peacock vocal is both a blessing and a curse and with the wall of gritty sound that fires off behind it, you certainly won’t miss it’s impact. Neither will you miss the guest vocal from ’s Mikael Stanne – he does that guttural second vocal that pops up for the somewhat messy “Ode To A Failure” (several of the song-titles are charmingly self-deprecating, yet no less prophetic). When you consider the Greek’s natural affinity to bands like and , it’s not a surprise to hear the cleans, but the surprisingly tuneless, grizzly bear gargles you will struggle to comprehend. It’s perhaps their attempt to connect with bands like the aforementioned and but, without successfully having nailed down a more aggressive sound to back it, such theatrics come off sounding pretty dire.

With names like Rhys Fulber and Greg Reely (both notable for their work with , and ) helping to monkey around with the sound of the album, it’s no surprise that the backline is so accurate. The smack of the snare, the rumbling kick pedal, the resonantly symphonic wash of the keyboards, the razor-sharp solos, gritty chugs and riffs are all dialed in beautifully. When they combine for a spot of gorilla-chest beating, even begin to share character traits with and . There’s also plenty of centre-shifting as they make the music wrap itself around your head – it’s a great album to play through your headphones. Only that efficiently clean vocal struggles to consistently keep up with the punch. They’ve tried doubling it up as much as possible, adding reverb and dropping the bass down. They load it with effects for the title-track and the catchy “Gravity” with some neat programming touches and this is where it seems to hold it’s own, but on tracks that come in fits and starts (like the uber-thrashy “8th Ocean Dried”, “Disciple Of The Sun” and “A Pause In The Disaster” with it’s achingly slothful delivery and odd mid-track, half-beat lope) it feels too far detached from the music.

Despite this, the latter half of the album fares better than the first, and the emphatic rise and fall of “Burn The Memory” and the main bulk of “I Lost” go some way to crashing home just how effortlessly vast this band can sound when they don’t try to overcomplicate matters. Inevitably, their meddling with song structures is really where this crazy album falls down most obviously. Their tendency to ride roughshod over genres without genuinely getting to grips with any one of them is infuriating. It leads one to speculate that maybe this so-called “series of unfortunate concurrences” is ’s way of admitting this fact. If you still like the principle idea of a crossover band that provide a chameleon-like pacing, giving you both an instant hit and an emotive journey, there are so many better musical zoos you can visit than this one.

Also online @ The New Review =