Reviews Coming Soon

Album Review: TBA

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Album Review: The Melvins – Freak Puke

If ever there was a band with a tentacular reach it would be The Melvins. Attributed with kicking off the sludge scene in the early ’80s, the number of gnarly bands who will have been influenced by them by now must be in their thousands. With the full Melvins line-up still forging ever onward, founders vocalist/guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover have taken a side-step for Freak Puke to team up with bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, Fantômas). The album cover attributes the artist as being The Melvins yet, as I understand it, the project has been cringingly-monikered Melvins-Lite, which sounds like some dodgy can of fizz. The music they are hammering out appears to follow the pattern of most Melvins material with plenty of familiar ground being covered, so don’t worry about taking any wild leaps of faith here.

Dunn’s enigmatic stand-up bass is the project’s twist and he’s there at every turn, be it helping to drive the track addictively forward with groovy finger-circling patterns or merely playing the fool. He gets to show off his range for the track ‘Baby, Won’t You Weird Me Out’ as Buzz and Dale stick him up front and centre. Initially he’s let loose with the bow, wrenching it across his instrument like he’s trying to saw it in half, but soon enough he chooses to tug at his strings which unites the trio so can they have a good old jam together. This sets the pace and establishes the album’s true direction.

With Buzz offering up sludgy, scathing guitar lines and Dale letting loose his pounding stickwork we’re marched neatly into these gritty verses and melodic, harmonised choruses. Dunn slots in sweetly, occasionally powering up with dissonance, injecting untold depth for a few bars or walking his way high up the fretboard. With the band offering up a real mixture of stylistic content there’s that sense of boundless abandon that usually frequents Melvins albums. There are doses of gunge-streaked, heavy-lidded blues for killer tracks like ‘A Growing Disgust’ and the Paul McCartney & Wings cover, ‘Let Me Roll It’, there’s a spot of doom and gloom about ‘Holy Barbarians’ and, oddly, the 10-minute shoegaze-rock-freakout of ‘Tommy Goes Berserk’, and there are licks of splatter’ n’ roll that ignite the gobby title track and the monstrous ‘Leon vs. The Revolution’, where Buzz steps up to the plate by ramping up his vocal to the point of disintegration. They have never been a band that you can trust to conform and that’s just how we like them…

…up to a point. They’re always prepared to go one step further than I, for one, wish they would, and here they make an attempt to obliterate the structures with a few experimental surprises. There’s the disconcertingly realistic, splitting wood effect, the rebounding cornball vocal samples and the maddeningly frequent blasts of feedback. These all pale into insignificance next to the moments when they hand the baton over to Dunn to seek out tuneless, cosmic anomalies with his bowed-string action (he gets the troublesome ‘Inner Ear Rupture’ all to himself); that’s everything from churning out deep, long whale sounds to the sound of a thousand crawling insects. Novel or novelty? I’d suggest a bit of both.

If Melvins-Lite really was a beverage, it would be loaded with guarana to boost you for prolonged bouts of rocking out. Of course, there’d be side-effects, some of which would most likely include paranoid delusions or the odd wild flashback – the point is it would definitely come with a Governmental health warning attached. Naturally, I’d be the one clearing the shelves; chugging it down like it was going out of fashion.

Also online @ TLOBF =

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Album Review: Ihsahn – Eremita

’s “Rainbow In The Dark”, ’s “The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Runner”, ’s “One”; from metal’s first tentative footsteps, bands have sung songs, constructed albums and gifted themselves names based around the theme of isolation. Having completed his “A”-trilogy, comprising (The) Adversary, AngL and After, now turns his attention to the subject and, unsurprisingly, he appears to have rediscovered a connection to his muse, Friedrich Nietzsche.

Over the years, the presence of the influential German philosopher, the self-professed “hermit of Sils-Maria”, has been keenly felt, littering ’s work as both solo artist and frontman. The album title alone (Eremita being Latin for “hermit”) would have been enough to tip us off, but the man himself is there, upside-down, on the front cover. Most tellingly, though, it is the emotion-doused content that seals the deal.

As a solo artist, has always been quick to seek the input of others and this time round he has called on the assistance of guitarist Jeff Loomis (ex-), drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen () and teased vocal performances from his wife Heidi S. Tveitan (), Einar Solberg () and . Also, it’s no surprise to see Jens Bogren (, ) on mixing duties again as had admitted to having trouble getting the sound he wanted without him – “Originally my plan was to mix it myself, as I did with the first two albums, but I just had to throw the towel in and get Jens to do it”.

With After having broken new ground with its delicate touch and ornately progressive, open construction, Eremita notably takes a couple of large steps backwards into the shadows. “There’s some full-blown black metal stuff on there”, warns . “There’s some jazz-influenced stuff and there’s some progressive stuff. There’s some really fast stuff and some really dark stuff.” The lyrical content is definitely both dark and oppressive, matching the conjured bleak and forbidding soundscapes. With ’s paint-stripper-gargling larynx regularly seeing action we get lycanthropic pained howls that come direct from his tortured soul. It all begins to hark back to some of ’s final outpourings. In this morbid place, the jazz saxophone plays less of a significant role in the chaos – instead, the returning Jørgen Munkeby chooses to languish within; to merely dot the i’s and cross the t’s of the hermit.

Of his guests, surprisingly it is , naturally eager to repay ’s own guest spot, who seems to have made the biggest of impacts on the man here. The throbbing pulse of “The Paranoid” and more intuitive moments of “Introspection” echo parts of Devin’s own Deconstruction. The former track’s deep groove and enigmatically rotating lyrics – “the shame feeds the anger feeds the shame feeds the anger feeds the shame” – could even mark it out as the debauched, blacker cousin of “Juular”.

Eremita is a transformational album that can turn from sullen acceptance, of the kind that afflicts both “Catharsis” and the ugly, horror-movie synth melodramatics of “Grief”, to become something more approaching a grim determination for “Something Out There” and “The Grave”. Then there is the lunatic element; tracks such as the desperately posturing and over-reaching “Departure” and the far more-likeable “The Eagle And The Snake” that hammer in a whole host of twisted shapes; strong, angular changes both oblique and acute. The pair are mazes that you will constantly find yourself getting lost in. The absorbing and wildly meandering guitar solo and blasts of discordant sax that lurk in the latter are the mere cherries on top.

Comparing Eremita to his last release, has said it is “not as joyful” and “a lot more claustrophobic” and it is most certainly both those things. Predictably, it’s an album that craves its own isolation. So lock the door, slam on the cans and buckle up. It’s one wild, nightmarish ride that Nietzsche, himself, would no doubt have begrudgingly approved of.

Also online @ The NewReview (with video preview) =

Monday, May 28, 2012

Album Review: Bauda – Euphoria… Of Flesh, Men and The Great Escape

The moments when man places his own needs above those of the natural world might be described as blots on our historical landscape. César Marquez, a conceptual artist, master of multi-instrumentalism and the man behind Bauda from Santiago in Chile, seems fascinated by the subject and appears keen to sculpt his band’s music around these blots. Bauda’s 2009 debut album, Oniirica, attacked the generalized, nightmarish and “devastated contemporary life” we have created, using eclectic instrumentation such as flute, accordion and even didgeridoo. For Euphoria… the general theme remains but the band has honed in on a specific moment in time. Here, they attempt to whisk us back to the 40s, 50s and early 60s when Chile’s Quintay Whaling Station was active and killing up to 16 whales per day.

By aurally soaking us in the raw emotions of the place, they explore the depths and join hands with the workforce as they hunt, harpoon their targets and float the mighty beasts to the surface to be harvested; their carcasses left to rot. Naturally, the miasma of moods that they need to generate means you’d find it hard to pigeon-hole them and their music is quite happy genre-hopping about, even mid-song, so you’ll need to expect the unexpected.

From the off we are sunk beneath the surface to the “Ghosts Of Phantalassa” (a probable reference to the vast ocean of Panthalassa that once existed) where wood-splitting samples, oddly sounding like a rustling box of popcorn, tighten themselves up to form a crunched rhythm. Warbling keyboards and haunting vocals surround it to form a dreary, doom-laden kind of shoegaze that sadly ditches its talent all too early.

“Silhouettes”, the soul of the piece, portrays the whaler’s conflicted mind as first he sights the creatures and marvels at their beauty, the music pitching forth a catchy, uplifting lyrical sweep, then bails on us as thoughts turn to darker deeds. As you float through you’ll catch hints of Mastodon’s cosmic-prog interwoven with the darkly, shifting purpose of Lantlôs, the haunting cleans of Alcest and even the rimshots and palm-muted picking that is so evocative of instrumental post-rockers like Pelican and Russian Circles. There are even traits of Opeth in the acoustic guitar that marks out the wonderfully stripped-back “Crepuscular”.

Without doubt, the lack of shape or form is intentional, but this inevitably results in some confusing moments. You may find, like I did, that your own personal journey through the concept will delight and frustrate you in equal measure. The lack of clarity and an over-reliance on gimmicks (take the disorienting speaker-to-speaker shifting that lurks in “Acension”) over structure means the project feels all too flabby.

Despite their determination to give you the running-time to sink into their moods, they have a tendency to repeat the dullest of riffs and chord cycles which eventually result in the tracks overstaying their welcome. Some ham-fisted attempts to counteract this can be found as they opt for cringing key changes or sharp drops in pace; moments where spiked aggression suddenly morphs into twinkling dreampop. All these are vague attempts to break the blandness, but often result in confusion and a total abandonment of atmosphere. However, there are moments where it all clicks into place, demanding repeated plays. Moments like the sublimely chaotic, endorphin-loaded headrush of “Humanimals” climax, the murky trickery that lurks in “Oceania” or the uplifting wash of “The Great Escape”.

If you have the time and the patience, Bauda have the tools to shift your perceptions of what you thought possible. They refuse to choose the option to sit and fester, instead choosing to determinedly hunt down the sublime, minding not when they harpoon the ridiculous. My dull brain may struggle to keep up with all this motion in the ocean, but Bauda should still be roundly applauded for their efforts.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Friday, May 18, 2012

Album Review: Horisont – Second Assault

Somewhere along the 250km of roadside that connects the Swedish cities of Örebro and Gothenburg, they must have discovered some manic tear in the space-time continuum. It’s just one theory to make sense of the two cities’ rapidly-expanding retro scene. Combined, they are able to boast an array of hirsute bands like , , and – the subject of this review. Each of those are successfully selling their own individual recipes to the same flashback-inducing space-cake. The crazy, tie-dye-wearing fans that are mopping it up can be found swinging their flares like it’s the Seventies all over again.

’s biography describes their sound as being “heavily influenced by 1970s hard rock groups like , , and ”; indeed a mouthful, which their wonderfully self-deprecating Facebook page sums up for us as “New Wave Of Swedish Old Man’s Rock”.

As you delve through Second Assault, their sophomore album, you’ll certainly pick up plenty of the aforementioned influences as well as some that they don’t acknowledge. On the magnificent “Crusaders Of Death” you’ll get a big hit of laid-back blues, echoing the shuffle of bands like and , whilst the very first spin of the opener “Time Warrior”, had me jumping to the conclusion that they’d merely reworked ’s “Speed King”. Most certainly, the band’s mark is branded deep onto its surface.

With so many different influences running side by side, the songwriting is a bit of a rocky road. There are clearly some tracks that hit you harder than others. The hearty groove on “Watch Them Die” grabs you by the nuts, but the title-track is a little too dull and the chaotic structure of “Spirit” merely leaves you a bit dazed and confused. At different moments my nostrils burned with pungent whiffs of ’s prog, the sheer power that lurks within and even some hints of early- thrown in for good measure.

Axel Söderberg’s vocals are naggingly high-pitched and urgent and take some getting used to. The production keeps them crisp and crunchy so that they stand shoulder to shoulder with the scuffed, pitching riffs and tight, wild leads of guitarists Charlie Van Loo and Kristofer Möller. Sadly, it’s partly this abrasive clarity of sound that ends up being the album’s Achilles heel. The tracks stab at you like insect stings, each taking their influence from a different source.

The multi-directional approach, with the guitar tone changing with each track, means there isn’t a stylistic grab that binds them all together (take the muffled connective padding that all ’s tracks seem to tote, as an example of a single-minded style that achieves this), so you’ll find it tough to attach yourself to the whole caboodle. There’s also the fact that the rhythm section is intermittently relegated in the mix by the howling vocal and strings. I, for one, certainly found myself preferring the softer, buzzed-out tracks where the waves of lead abate and the bass and drums pop back to the surface in the way that those little colored buoys do when the ocean becomes subdued.

It’s funny. There is one particular American retro band they remind me of very much and that’s ; another band who suffer from trying to take a little too much from everyone else to throw into the pot without offering enough of themselves. I expected to dig Second Assault a lot more than I did which, despite my misgivings, is by no means a bad album with one or two sweet, rumbling cruisers and incisive cuts but, sadly, ’s bigger picture is a far blander prospect than the emotion-soaked class displayed by some of their rivals.

Also online @ The NewReview (with samples) =

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Album Review: Royal Thunder – CVI

Remember the magnificent shootout finale of the Western The Good, The Bad And The Ugly? Remember the slowly-ramped tension as the combined charisma of Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach sashayed into a sun-parched circle, their characters goaded by either greed or honour into a Mexican stand-off. The building drama as the camera flicked from the revealing long-shot to close-ups on the guns of each man before switching to achingly linger between each of the trio’s headshots. The sweaty forehead and panicky, flitting eyes of “Tuco” (The Ugly), the distrusting sneer and dark glances of “Angel Eyes” (The Bad) and the timeless cool and wedged cheroot of “Blondie” (The Good). The importance of Morricone’s nail-biting musical score to that scene was paramount.

The scene is replaying in my mind’s eye as I’m listening instead to the three-and-a-half minutes of agonisingly torpid, steadily-building drum rolls, the ballooning bass, the dulcet chimes and Wild West string-bends of the track “Blue”, from ’s debut album CVI. There are four crescendos in total here and at the climax of the last, when two of the guns fire and one of the men falls, the vocal kicks in. It makes for an interesting alternative to Morricone’s ultimately irreplaceable masterpiece.

There’s most definitely a kind of dark potency which lurks within ; they create mood music to inspire waking dreams such as these. The band boast an array of different styles and each roughly manages to inhabit its own character within that sun-parched circle. There are soft, emotion-inveigled, crystal-clear slowies like the “Sleeping Witch” and “Minus”, crawling, sludgy proggers like “Parsonz Curse” and “Shake And Shift”, and stone-cold rockers where the galloping drums and rolling riffs drive the music forward as the vocals suddenly begin to lose control like they do for “Whispering World” and “No Good”. Someone’s going to win this shoot-out and it’s probably going to be messy.

Mlny Parsonz’ vocal range is a huge part of what creates these factions. The fact she can go from the bluesy “Parsonz Curse”, where her vocal is at its most masculine, to the crystal clear femininity and gentility of the opening to the psych-tweaked “Drown” is jaw-dropping. One minute she’s summoning up the earthy, yet piercing quality of Robert Plant or ’s Andrew Stockdale, using it to fend off the band’s slides back towards doom-mongering plod, and the next she’s flicked a switch, brushed off the dust, and turned herself into an Lennoxian angel (a reference to the crystalline vocal of ’ Annie Lennox for those knowledge-seekers amongst you).

There is a small problem with CVI and the root of it lies in the way it divides its time. The top-half of the album is fast and loose, daring and boldly antagonistic, whilst the bottom-half is dark and laconic, drawing deep on the pipe of peace, blowing smoke rings around your head in an attempt to woo your soul out to play. You may equally enjoy both halves but, for the rest of us, we will tend to veer towards preferring one over the other. “South Of Somewhere” is a microcosm of this – it spends four minutes building softly from dustbowl winds, through chimes and lullabies, before ditching the ephemera to snap into a minute of howling punk rock. It’s insane.

Yet, are startlingly talented. Their songwriting is ground-breakingly good because they aren’t afraid to take risks with it. CVI may not feel like an interconnected album as much as it feels like an eclectic cast line-up from a movie, but every character is fully-realised and absorbingly rich in detail. So, if you don’t completely buy into the simple beauty of “Minus”, then you surely won’t ignore the nine-and-a-half minutes of keen riffs, barbed hooks and scorchingly progressive fire that all lurk within “Shake And Shift”. There’s my gun-toting hero, right there; now I recommend you go check this out and find your own star.

Also online @ The NewReview (with samples) =

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Album Review: El Doom And The Born Electric – Self-Titled

Ole Petter Andreassen is El Doom, Norwegian artist, producer and founding member of death n’ rollers The Cumshots and stoner poptarts Thulsa Doom, two wildly different-sounding bands. I must admit I was intrigued then, when his Born Electric project plopped onto my desk with the information that he had collected around him a sort of a “Who`s Who of the Norwegian progressive/jazz scene. We have Norwegian Grammy-awarded bass-player Nicolai Eilertsen (Elephant 9), drummer Haavard Takle Ohr (El Cuero), Hammond wiz Ståle Storløkken (Elephant 9) and guitarists Brynjar Takle Ohr (El Cuero) and Hedvig Mollestad (Hedvig Mollestad Trio). Unfamiliar names but, as early listens prove beyond a doubt, all incredibly adept at their art.

Across the 53 minutes of their debut’s running time, there are some straight-forward tunes, like the indignant howls that haunt ‘With Full Force’ and the threaded hooks and melting heart of ‘The Lights’. However, the lengthier pieces reveal the band’s true colours and penchant for throwing everything into the pot and liberally stirring. Take ‘Fire Don’t Know’. It bursts forth with a bumpy camel ride of a guitar riff that unbalances you with its thunderous grunt, threatening to throw you off before El Doom can pour out his tremulous David Bowie meets Neil Arthur (Blancmange) vocal. Obscure 70s/80s references aside, the nine-minute blazer, wrapped around a malleable, prog rock wall of sound, crescendos and abates its way through careering psych and driving stickwork, vibrating wodges of Hammond and reverb-heavy guitar solo.

Thought that was good? Get a load if ‘It’s Electric’. It’s the strait-jacketed madman within; the forceful bass bullying it’s way to stand side-by-side with El Doom. It’s the sound of The Melvins channelling Rush through Mastodon’s insane set-up. The blue hints, oddly offer up the kind of tonal flourishes that Mark Morton brings to Lamb Of God to mind, and the dying licks of Spanish guitar slap on nothing but a huge grin to your gurning face.

‘The Hook’, naturally, stands out a mile. The sheer panic within Doom’s quavering vocal almost loses the plot; chaos defined. Matching it there is a blitzkrieg of guitars that dive down into cloud before reappearing to continue the dogfight. Volume knobs are toyed with and the jarring chords begin to collapse in on themselves as the production calls it a day and fades them out well before their time is up. Still, there are some sublime riffs lurking within all this. The best of which is the sinuous lick that marks out ‘Subtle As A Shit House’ and will see you strapping on the air guitar and screwing your eyes up in reverie. Sure the track falls into a pit of classic rock posturing but you’ll buy into it to get back to that sublime riff once more. Oh, and you want a spot of Soundgarden-esque grunge? Look no further than the 11-minute wanderlust of ‘Red Flag’.

All tracks covered then, we have learned that to appreciate El Doom And The Born Electric’s debut, an open mind is an absolute must. For those fans of all things rock who are willing to dig into something a little more jazzy and a lot more progressive than they are used to, will be handsomely rewarded.

Also online @ Ave Noctum