Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Where visual art can announce itself as everything from an explosion of different shapes, dimensions and hues or restrict itself to the most minimalist, one-dimensional, single-colour blocks, music can do much the same. This particular beard-toting Kansas trio find themselves at the latter end, pumping out an unfaltering combination of muffled fuzz bass and sludgy, rhythmic chugging. Essentially, they have taken what bands like Orange Goblin, Red Fang and Clutch have done before and refined it to something a little less expansive and a darn sight more punishing.
Cold Was The Ground marks their third foray into long-players and this one thunders along a similar path as its predecessors, crashing in on the listener as wave upon wave of sonic obliteration. Underpinning this dark, suffocating powerhouse of noisome groove, the smatterings of swampy delta blues, gnarly rock n’ roll and virulent stoner metal lie.
Gently ushering itself in with a warping, one-note crescendo, the introductory ‘Along The Chasm‘ suddenly kicks us into the hammering, rhythmic, mile-deep rut where The Midnight Ghost Train demand we remain for the majority of the album’s running time. As we speed on through tracks like the attack-and-release, riff-repeats of ‘Gladstone‘, the chilled-out Monster Magnet-esque drift and rapid wah-wah pedal pneumatics of instrumental ‘One Last Shelter‘ and the dull battery of ‘No. 227‘ we alight on the heart of the album where the band begin to find their soul.
There’s the ripped choral lick on ‘BC Trucker’, thick, dirty and moreishly addictive and ‘Arvonia‘ with its Fu Manchu wall of fuzz and dark, brooding undertones so reminiscent of All Hail The Yeti. Deeper in and there’s the sinister backwoods edge of ‘The Canfield’, the no-frills swagger and bluesy grunt of ‘Straight To The North‘ and creepy, energized panic that so engenders ‘Twin Souls‘. None of these though can compare to the simple, tender luminosity of ‘The Little Sparrow‘. It is the first true glimpse of what lies beneath the bluster – heartfelt emotion. In this case, that emotion is fear. Pure, cold sweat-inducing, neurotic fear.
Undoubtedly, there is a good helping of monotonous, atonal filler here and an infuriating paucity of texture or flavour in a scene so dependent upon small deviations in delivery. However, there is also a more subtle connection to the sordid underbelly that lurks beneath the glossy veneer of so much modern music. Here, you can taste the blood, sweat and tears.
Maybe, if Cold Was The Ground was a painting it would be a Rothko – probably one from his Black-Form series. And like Rothko’s minimalist art, it will have its admirers.
Friday, March 6, 2015
Interestingly, nods to their vitriolic metal roots abound as do the references to Norse legend but there is something else, something more malleable to the vagaries of modern life – or, as guitarist/composer Ivor Bjørnson puts it, “the songs are the resounds of grandiose altered states and mundane tiny micro-events”. Undoubtedly, the fat has been trimmed, making it a far more focused animal than RIITIIR. It is more energetic, more aggressive and gets in and out faster. Although there are plenty of heavy beats employed, making this a drive-dominant album, it is still deeply-layered but less stylised.
Diving in, we get the dark roars and menacing anguish of “Thuriasz Dreaming”. Bursting out of the progressions come quirky, moreish repeater riffs and vocal licks. The incredible “Building With Fire” provides something a little warmer and feels even sleeker with its fast rhythm gifting it a strong battle metal quality. There are chugging gallops, piston-like double kicks and driving, rock structures. Like a wheel, the hub of the chorus with its hooked lick feeds the spokes that inch their way down exploratory passages before returning.
Further in, there are oblique cuts and segues in rhythm, tone and structure and at times you have to check to see if the track hasn’t skipped. Underneath and meshing the tracks together there are additional connective sounds which tend towards either industrial, reverential or organic. To achieve them they even went so far as to set up a mobile recording studio deep in the Norwegian woods of Bergen. Keep an ear out for the sounds of metal being worked by a crackling forge.
The ominous rumbling and scowling vocal of “One Thousand Years Of Rain” feeds into complementary clean harmonies that pick their way around the ominous lyric “their Winter is closing in”. From chanting Viking anthems we are presented with the startlingly bright and enchanting melody of “Nauthir Bleeding” with a mid-section that leaves you standing absolutely miles from where you came in. Time and again, Enslaved achieve this whilst keeping an impeccable sense of flow. The title-track offers up their division of vocal styling as verses are scowled at you, leaving the soft, rounded harmonies to pick up the chorus. There’s full use of minor keys and a crushing example of pinged top-end bass. Closing the album, the heavily-layered majesty of “Daylight” comes with choral builds and strong echoes of Devin Townsend’s epic structuring, tones and textures.
With In Times, it’s easy to imagine the total freedom that the band exercise when it comes to songwriting. It is this unrestricted vision coupled with an enviable ability to invent and explore that has made their music so affecting. Some of you may conclude that this album represents a step forward or backward from RIITIIR, but most will feel it is their prerequisite step to the side. Yes, it may be more of a grower album, but it bears the potential to be yet another Enslaved classic.
Monday, March 2, 2015
“Indefinite Instinct” opens to a battering gale-force wind, before ticking over into hollowed-out, reverb-loaded, gargling roars. As the bass finally kicks in the space floods with colour and the track comes alive. There are the first rumblings of emotional discord as taped newsreels are freed to paint the canvass with real anguish and torment. We get a man protesting his innocence (“I don’t know what crime I’m supposed to have committed”) as the Cult Of Luna-esque progressions build layers in the background. “Demise, demise” roars the vocalist Sierk Entius as a series of effects and radio signal scrawl bring the piece to a close.
Considering his past experience, it seems reasonable to assume that producer Jochem Jacobs (ex-Textures) may have had something to do with the repeating themes that feature and he certainly handles the eclectic and complex layering with aplomb. There are shocks in store like the sudden, aggressive attack that mark out “Duality” and “Finite Horizon”. The former, themed around the horrorshow that was the Unabomber, utilises industrial drumbeats and Cavalera-esque groove that acquiesces to reveal a sinister background thrum. It is all so reminiscent of the dark progressions that feeds the music of No Made Sense and Kongh. “Finite Horizon”s groove rapidly decays into a screwy pattern of ISIS-esque clean vocal harmonies and tones, panicked riffs and tribal rhythms. Finding something for your senses to acclimatise to does become a chore when the ground beneath your feet moves so often. It seems a shame when each constituent part alone, would be so effective.
Thankfully, the 30-minute title-track properly hunkers down to fully dissect a singular concept. Here the story of a sobbing couple torn from each other’s arms yanks at your heart – “We belong together!”. There are strong black metal overtones with continuous double-kick and Dalek-like, atonal shrieks before the body of the track moves into elegant slow motion. At 20 minutes there are trumpets and a gentle deconstruction into radio scrawl, feedback, roaring amps and whale sound. It is the equivalent of the band leaving the stage only to return to play out a warm wash until “lights out”.
Sistere is a fearless debut that strides along exuding an elegant majesty. The band’s ability to combine sounds and feed each one into their melancholic concept is impressive. All the while they dig into their disturbing box of tricks improving the flow and engendering a sense of purpose. All this proves just how in control of their own destiny they truly are. Nordvis have bagged another winner here.