Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nachtreich/Spectral Lore - The Quivering Lights (2015)

Usually you have me at 'Spectral Lore', but The Quivering Lights split has done the favor of also introducing me to another talented act, Germany's neoclassical black metal mash-up Nachtreich, who have produced a few full-lengths in the past that for some reason I have not previously experienced. Probably because there is an almost labyrinthine number of Nacht- (night-) bands and I get too easily lost amongst them, but after hearing the material here I'll have no problem retaining the duo's sound in my memory. Their eloquent melancholy manifests early on the piano/violin duet of the intro piece "Lights", which later erupts with a few distorted chords to hint at the forthcoming study in contrasts that will define this collaboration in full, but I should add that theirs is a heavy emphasis on the classical instrumentation, with the metallic pieces serving as an emotional discharge or even a diversion.

This also leads to a slight snag in the recording, since the violin and pianos seem so clear and bright as they wander their own course, but when the more primitive black metal rasps and chords come in they seem a little more muddled. That's not to say it was a deal breaker, because really Nachtreich is using the added texture of the electric guitar and vocal as an icing to what they're already best at. The music definitely takes on a theatrical climax, like you're watching some foreign film with a classical score and it just begins to swell, only here in a more misanthropic direction. The composition is not necessarily 'minimalistic', but they use quite simplistic chord motifs to forward that choking sadness, which is hard not to feel moved by even if you're already feeling a sense of familiarity to the notes on exhibit; almost like a Kronos Quartet threaded with tints of raw black circa Burzum, I feel that the Germans might find an audience with fans of stuff like the recent Quebecois recordings by Gris or Sombre Forets, though the music is a little less sweeping and more grounded. They have three pieces on this split, and I have to say the pure, atmospheric instrumental "Greyness" was my choice.

What's even more interesting about this release, though, is how once again Spectral Lore rises to 'meet' the partner on their level, providing most of the more metallic components of the 46 minutes, but also interlacing these with the pianos and such that Nachtreich excels in. Ayloss is no stranger to incorporating all manner of ambient and classics influences and instruments on his records like III and Sentinel, but here he does so in a way that complements the other act's compositional choices. You will certainly encounter his penchant for blissful, interesting tremolo picked melodies and then that sheen of ambiance and vocal variation that he continues to hone, but he too errs on the side of 'raw' when it comes to how the rhythm guitar chords are balanced against the other instruments. All three of his tracks are really on point here, but "Vanishing" was my pick of the three, and 11 and a half minute beast with eerie acoustic/ambient guitars and strings that gradually evolves into this airy monument to drifting black metal with speech-like vocals being barked off in the background, and then a flux between these sorts of elements and the great clean guitars. His final piece "Reflection" is more New Age ambient classical guitar than anything, but it's as worthy a closer as Nachtreich's barren, absorbing intro.

The Quivering Lights could hardly be considered 'colorful' in its stylistic choices...much like the black & white toned cover art it gives me the impression of some nature-inspired sort of chamber music in which the corners are haunted by wraiths and shadows. Though I'm not sure which leaves a more gloomy impression, the black metal edge or the pianos and strings... At any rate, this is 100% mood music, and it might not be a mood I'm as often called to as I was on Sol, Spectral Lore's split with Mare Cognitum, but nevertheless both of the acts really commit, and intermingle seamlessly without eschewing their individual identities. And that, my friends, is far more effort you'll hear in a split recording than so many 'you take this side, I'll take that' recordings that feel like meaningless advertisements more than collaborations that breathe organic life into their creation.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

King Diamond - Dreams of Horror (2014)

Should a release like Dreams of Horror really even exist in 2014? King Diamond and Mercyful Fate might stand beyond criticism in the eyes of many fans due to their respective legacies and longevity, but in the age of Bandcamp, YouTube, Torrents, etc. when most people can't even be bothered to purchase new original music, how will a compilation of previously recorded material fare? The fact that the tunes here are 'handpicked' by King Diamond doesn't really matter for me, that's been done a hundred times by various bands/musicians and any claims to the contrary are hyperbole. 'This is the first time a band has EVER cared enough achieve this monumental accomplishment!' Get stuffed. The fact that they are considered the 'ultimate versions' of these songs is also irrelevant. No, my friends, the 'ultimate versions' of these songs are the ones that the fanbase experienced as they were being recorded and released since the 80s, that stuck with us and entertained us for decades. Or, really, fans of ANY age who first took an interest in and tracked down the first legendary five records, which still stand head and fucking shoulders above anything this musician has released in his solo act since 1990.

Now, there is some novelty here in that they've managed to score the licenses to include the old material from Roadrunner/Warner. So while there have been comps before, this one is the most 'complete'. Yet it really just seems that KD and Metal Blade have gone out of their way to snake-oil this collection as the 'studio versions of a live set', as if that is supposed to render some legitimacy to purchasing more music we already own and take the individual tracks out of their respective stories. How about if we want to experience a live KD set, we just go to a goddamn live set? In reality, while the mastering on these tunes might sound crystal clear and evenly distributed across various eras of the band, it's just another pocket picking with a collage of prior album covers, high production values on the package, the same old same old from a major metal label which is just not going to dupe anyone except 'gotta catch 'em all' collectors or the who might mistake it for a new collection. So it's your basic set up of several songs taken from each of their studio albums, the career retrospective anthology, with the first disc consisting of their career hot streak from Fatal Portrait (1986) to The Eye (1990), and then the vast majority of the second disc, with a few exceptions from The Spider's Lullabye and a handful more, being almost entirely avoidable. I mean, there are tracks from the horrendous The Graveyard on this thing, which no amount of studio wizardry can transform into quality music, so I find it nigh impossible to consider this the ultimate representation of the King Diamond catalog.

Any and all points I give here will be for the work put in remastering the songs, which retain a lot of their original crystalline clarity, in particular King's falsetto lines and the elegant, wistful leads that characterized the better half of their discography. Clearly they took some time doing this, and were intent not to just reproduce the material 100% off the older printings. I'm not entirely opposed to re-recordings of stuff with modern, evolved sounds just for fun (like a few German thrash legends have done successfully), but this is not one of those cases. That said, I still do not find these to be superior to experiencing the songs in their original format, in among their neighbors which helped relay the narrative of each of King's horror sagas. Sure, you can have favorite KD tunes and put together a playlist for yourself, but removing "The Family Ghost" and "Black Horseman" just isn't going to cut it for me when I want to immerse myself in Abigail. If it's a live show, and they want to pick and choose for the set, that's fine, but I just don't need to plunk down the dough on something which doesn't feel authentic. I'm not sure if this was some sort of contractual thing with the label, but I wish any effort expended towards this had simply been put into new material, because it's been well over a decade since they were turning out material I actually enjoyed (Abigail II, The Puppet Master) and I know on some of that I'm probably even in the minority.

Really cannot recommend this whatsoever unless you absolutely must own every single item with the logo on it, to the extent that you're like a KISS collector maniac, only for one of the other face painted rock stars. Or maybe if you're an audiophile who loathes some of the original recordings, but then you'll be left hanging since there are only snippets of the total backlog included. Granted, there's a little more here value than in your average, soulless big label anthology, in that someone or several persons sat on their duffs and tweaked a few knobs. So I doubt I'll slap a massive zero on it, but as such a huge fan of all that unforgettable music Petersen and LaRocque released through the 80s and earlier 90s, I can only implore the new listener to experience their legacy within the proper perspective. The proper context. You want to support the band? Start at Fatal Portrait. BUY Fatal Portrait. And then the next, and the next. Go to a show. If you can't, try and check out a video of a gig (I don't believe there are many official DVDs you can choose from). I can't wait to hear a new album personally, and I do hope it's a triumph, the best thing they've done in 25 years (specially after King's triple-bypass surgery). But this just isn't going to tide me over, and I find it pretty useless since there is just no chance I'll listen to this over the albums. And if I want a playlist for driving, I can always just press 'Shuffle' on the first six.

Sparkly backwash is still backwash.

Verdict: Why Bother?! [2/10]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bloodbath - Grand Morbid Funeral (2014)

I admit to being a little swept up in the 'guess who our new singer is?' gimmick Bloodbath was spinning up until the announcement of Nick Holmes earlier this year. Not so much that I was obsessively checking for clues, but when they were presented I would follow them to the natural conclusions, one of which was that the veteran Paradise Lost crooner was going to shed off his Goth Hetfield tone and return to the growls of his mainstay's formative period, which if you ask almost anyone still remains their most notable phase, self included. My immediate reaction was 'this is going to sound like Vallenfyre... Nick is a little jealous of the attention Gregor has gotten, and so is taking up the reins of nostalgia himself.' But of course Bloodbath is already a well-established act in its own right, having produced a number of great albums which don't rely solely on the retro thing but actual riff-writing, genuine energy and excitement. So this was actually quite an interesting team up...and it works to a point.

Musically, where Bloodbath have come up in the past with a number or fairly ingenious grooves or melodic spearheads that characterized their songs among a very busy flock of Swede impersonators and throwbacks, I feel that Grand Morbid Funeral is their album most interchangeable with a huge number of their peers...the songs here could have been written by Revel in Flesh, or Entrails, or any other bootlickers of Entombed and/or Dismember and nobody would know the difference. Like the breaks in "Total Death Exhumed", or the opening barrage in "Famine of God's Word" where the guitars go off on their own for a few seconds to showcase that thick rhythm tone; both could have appeared on a hypothetical Clandestine 2.0. But that's not to say they aren't written at a slightly higher level than the standard knockoffs in the sound, and where Bloodbath balance it out is in the amount of variation. You could trace all the songs to particular sources, perhaps, and yes many of those would be Swedish, but one area in which the record excels is how each of the tunes does not seem like a repeat of the others. They'll go for dire, brooding atmospherics in one tune, gut tearing tremolo guitars in another, and nary a tune goes by without some sticky riff erupting somewhere. 

The leads and melodies are solid, and unlike Vallenfyre they don't go too far into old Paradise Lost worship, preferring instead to incorporate a more airy, light death/doom sense to bridge elements in tunes like "Mental Abortion" which prove among my favorite individual moments of the recording. Solos might feel frivolous, but they definitely reek of the excess we used to love in the 80s, albeit shorter here. The guitar tones wrap the entire affair into a very consistent feel, despite the gulfs in pacing and structure. Despite the seasoned craft Anders exhibits in creating an album as a whole, I did feel there were a number of excessively bland note progressions, specifically in the d-beat driven parts, which sort of balanced off my appreciation for the better bits. Had I stopped listening to death metal of the Swedish inclination after about 1993 and then picked it back up with Grand Morbid Funeral, then I might find it more of an engaging memory trip, but I've been inundated with the stuff for a good decade now, 100s of bands clinging to the same tones and riff techniques without even a spark of imagination, promos piling up. Color me jade, and for at least part of its run time, this record just doesn't deal with it more spectacularly than the majority. Granted, Bloodbath have arguably more rights to this than others, and have excelled within the same parameters in the past, but they often tempered the sound with more Floridian or mildly brutal influences and it just felt fresher...

Grand Morbid Funeral, while good, just doesn't have a bunch of songs I want to keep coming back to time and time again. It's a worthwhile 46 minutes, and won't disappoint you if you're really dying for more of this, but I had higher hopes going in than enjoyment coming out. Now, this is no fault of the vocals whatsoever. Nick Holmes certainly delivers, he's still 'got it', and his more gravelly, ugly, imperfect timbre makes for a refreshing alternative to Akerfeldt's broader guttural palette. The drums and bass sound fine, Renkse owning up to the Swe-tone with fatter, plunky bass lines, but apart from 4-5 of the tunes where Anders and Per make more compelling choices with the guitars, I found myself 'zoning out' more often than the other full-lengths. I should mention that it is slightly darker and more atmospheric...the tongue-in-cheek quality of the prior albums is somewhat supressed, and it strives to capture the din of that old late 80s/early 90s death metal production rather than the 'punch' of previous albums. The lyrics are decent, slightly more thoughtful than you'd expect. I also like it more than either of the Vallenfyre albums. I guess the real question is: when do we hear retro death projects from Stephen Edmondson and Aaron Aedy? Gauntlet has been thrown, guys.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (the pulse receding)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cripper - Hyëna (2014)

Cripper has always been a decent modern German thrash band that just hasn't taken it to that next level of songwriting prowess, and I believe their fourth full-length sums up exactly why: despite the wide arsenal of weaponry at their disposal, they just cannot write songs at the level of their 80s forebears, and all too quickly when I hear one of their albums, it just fades away from memory. One might bill them as the 'new Holy Moses', since both bands feature an aggressive female vocalist, but alas these guys don't have a bonafide classic behind them like a Finished With the Dogs, something that came to mind after reading the canine title and seeing the cover artwork for this. But while Britta's a competent barker and growler, she just doesn't possess that same viciousness that felt so carnal and in your face back when Sabine Classen was in her prime. And as for the rest of the music here...rather a step down from the last, 2012 effort Antagonist, which was and remains their best, though the first two albums are also solid.

Let me try and sum this up: the reason Cripper just can't hit the mark of bands like Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and Tankard is because there is an ever-pervasive stench of 90s groove metal influence which infects what is an otherwise tightly-knit, true thrashing experience. They write punchy and well produced rhythm guitars, but too often devolve into some bland chugging progression which owes itself to a whole lot of bad American and German post-thrash which was never even in the same league as the Teutonic masters. That hasn't really stopped the band from doing a decent job on the prior releases, because there was just that much momentum and pent up aggression, and they were kind of filling an empty niche in a scene that relied, and still relies far too heavily on its older bands, with so few treading appropriately in their footsteps. I hadn't really minded the more contemporary flourishes to the music, like the super clean mix of the guitars and drums, and Britta's controlled savagery, because I feel like those things are to be expected in the 21st century, and as long as the guitars, leads, and general level of hostility remain consistent, I just won't write off a record. But perhaps it's gone on a little long now without a real success of a record, because Hyëna went straight in one ear and out the other...

The band has always been sort of sociopolitical with their lyrics because, hey, relevance, but hearing some of the 'narrative' vocal lines used here seems a little too goofy to take seriously. The vocals in general just seem too clean, like they punch in and out and even though she's got a decent natural growl to her voice, it feels bland and ineffective here more than on prior outings. Guitars are quite mathematical in execution, and occasionally even waltz out a succession of decent charging notes akin to Artillery's style or post-reunion Destruction; or an explosion of almost melodic death metal as in "A Dime for the Establishment". But so many of the guitars seem to be formed or half-formed from a lot of Pantera-like passages (Cowboys From Hell, A Vulgar Display of Power-era) yet without the ability to 'pop' like Abbott's compositions used to. It's got some groove to it, some forward sprinting attack, but so little of the music develops its own personality since there already a million other bands with the same setup and most of them aren't worth hearing to begin with. The drums and bass sound fine, they are not really the focus in's the riffs and vocals that just didn't sink in for me.

To be fair, Cripper has sounded like this almost from the beginning...but it left more of an impact on me with Devil Reveals or Antagonist, the albums I'd most recommend to new listeners who want to hear where they've taken thrash metal. Those just have better choruses and better riffs, and that is what it all comes down to. But that said, people into the more modern, sterile recordings by bands like Onslaught, Exodus and Holy Moses might find this adequate. There's nothing obscenely negative or offensive about Hyëna, it simply feels more formulaic than inspired, everything here has been done better, and I really want them to just shed that comfort zone and go into a more raw and ape-shit direction where the imagination and aggression gel into something I'll remember. There is a reason I am still thinking about "Current of Death" after a quarter-century but can't recall a single chorus on this disc 25 minutes later.

Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Decimation - Reign of Ungodly Creation (2014)

It's a slick touch to kick off the third Decimation full-length with that mono sequence, because when the stereo brutality arrives, you are likely to experience the most fulfilling moment of the entire album. Not because the rest of it is bad, by any means, but on the whole, Reign of Ungodly Creation very rapidly escalates (or, if you're not into tech/brutal death metal, deteriorates) into one of those records which feels like so much focus is put into its aural presentation as a series of workouts or exercises, rather than a bastion of effective songwriting. Like so many albums of its niche, it is content merely to beat on you relentlessly, but without leaving much of a bruise beneath the surface of the listener's emotions. It will mug you on the street, steal your wallet and bus pass, sure...but not keep you up at night haunted by what you've just heard...

Partially this is due to the large amount of derivation gone into this: the taut, violent death thrashing of the faster-than-mid-paced picking progressions is redolent of Cannibal Corpse in a frenzy. The clinical intricacies play out like a hybrid of Suffocation and ancient Pestilence, and you can season the rest with a lot of Morbid Angel and Deicide influence filtered through a Deeds of Flesh lens. None of that renders the album insubstantial, inefficient or unlistenable, because those are usually considered the 'right' inspirations going into an onslaught like this, but it just doesn't seem that Decimation is ever interested in taking them further or elsewhere, and when it comes down to the raw value of riff composition, most of the 37 minutes of material seems more reliant on form and function above poignancy. It's surely abusive on the limbs and joints of the guitarist's hands, and the drummers entire body, but no matter how busy the riffing gets, so few of the note patterns ascend into anything truly compelling, beyond the few segments where they play the more atmospheric and dissonant chords (often at the beginning of the tunes). The bass is peppy and hectic to collude with the rhythm note placements, but I wish it had a little more body to it, because it might help offset how the album sounded like a scalpel being repeatedly stabbed into plastic and not flesh. The vocals are exactly what you think they will be: incessant gutturals, unforgiving, but simultaneously average.
Lyrically, this is highbrow mystical stuff with wordy song titles like "Psalm Carnage in the Ghoulish Chapel of Gehenna" or "Aberrant Ablution by Filthy Excrements of a Grotesque Crassamentum", and this pseudo-pretentiousness makes it a little hard to discern whether or not Decimation takes this seriously at all or if they're just taking the piss on us. It's like a bookworm's alternate reality spin on the first Morbid Angel album. Musically, though, it's all mechanics...the mechanics of brutality, without the flavor or the personality of the hideous imagery and rock-bottom human depravity that inspired such a genre to form in the first place. The Dan Seagrave cover on this thing is fucking stunning, one of the coolest I've seen all year, but again we've got an instance where the artwork inspires us to think of these ominous, cyclopean dimensions of fear and majesty, and the music itself seems far too grounded into the surgical ward which mass produces a lot of bands with the same sound. You want to enter that otherworldly reality depicted there, with alien beings floating around a horizon of imposing castle towers lifted free of their gravitational anchors, but you get nowhere close.

I don't mean to come down too hard on Reign of Ungodly Creation, because it is clearly a kinetic and competent afternoon spent at the death metal gymnastics, but apart from a few moments in songs like "Mystic Transformation in Encrypted Scrolls of a Grievous Sermon" and "Psalm Carnage..." where the dynamics occasionally hint at something far more frightening, I just felt like the album was running cycles in a hamster wheel or performing endless calisthenics and repetitious lifting regimens, and it never really capitalized on what these musicians are obviously capable of if they just took a few more minutes to analyze what made their own inspirations so damn cool. I've enjoyed albums in this wheelhouse before. I mean, there is a place for stuff like this, and it lives up to those crucial brutal and technical expectations that its targets audience needs to check off the list, dotting its i's and crossing it's. Yet a little more experimentation, a slightly altered angle/vector of approach, and in some cases, measured restraint could go a long, long way for a group like Decimation.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dire Omen - Wrestling the Revelation of Futility (2014)

Dire Omen's continued development has metamorphosized them from fairly humble, Floridian-tempered death metal roots to the more chaotic and calamitous death and black extremes in the wheelhouses of their countrymen Antediluvian, Mitochondrion, Aurochs, Adversarial and so forth. In fact, as of their 2012 Severing Soul from Flesh EP, the band had really transformed into another branch of that twisted tree, with some clear connections to its neighbors, like the morbid and esoteric cover artwork by Tim Grieco (aka Hassiophis) of Antediluvian, and that same sense of unhinged unpredictability tempered only by the certainty that you are in for one graven, subterranean onslaught, characterized by the ominous guttural vocals which are suspended just behind the manic instrumentation.

Coincidentally, as the Canadians have matured, so too has the quality of their music, which despite its fits of frenzied abhorrence is still highly riff-focused, with blocky palm-muted rhythm guitars used to break up the blasting, frothy tremolo picked patterns. At the heart of it, this is still very much rooted in the Morbid Angel, Deicide and Incantation styles of the earlier 90s, with reference points in Blessed Are the Sick or Onward to Golgotha, but where those bands sounded at the time like men who had caught a glimpse through some tear in the space/time continuum to a Lovecraftian void of horrors, these Canadian groups seem to treat the aesthetic as if its their home terrain. The listener really feels like he/she is being transported through some claustrophobic corridor of filthy flesh, pressing in everywhere until asphyxiated by the ugliness. Kinetic entropy. Sporadic tempo changes erupting in the pure chaos of Limbo, untold anatomies reproducing at alarming rates into squamous anomalies that leech and suck and devour. This is not pretty music, and when the guitars are blitzing along to the very raw, organic drums during blast parts it will grind your fucking socks off.

I'm not going to claim that Dire Omen have really yet grasped the art of brilliant, memorable riff construction, but there is no question that the progressions here are kept very busy, with churning dissonant fills between the unclean beatings that the more obvious chord choices produce. You can't really get bored or exhausted because its too effective at stirring your gut in an uncomfortable way. The bass lines are corpulent, like swollen corpses, and Rolando Rodas' vocals are used more as a 'filler' between the gaps of the notes and percussion, a looming threat that seems to promise that even if you can survive the brawling guitars, there is still this impregnable wall of dead flesh trapping you forever, which really lends some credence to the title of the album. Unhappy, unhealthy stuff here, an unholy, raw conglomeration of their cavernous peers and influences with faint traces of that forgotten, ogrish riff-salad reminiscent of old, old Kataklysm, Disharmonic Orchestra, Convulse, and other bands you might have experienced in the 90s. Madness. Still room for this band to 'flower' into an even more unwholesome, suffocating entity, but this is their strongest material yet.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Job for a Cowboy - Sun Eater (2014)

Man, where to even start with this one? Sun Eater, the lesser of two death metal-related albums to bear that title in 2014, and Job for a Cowboy's fourth full-length, is an exercise in variation and ability which at the very least sounds like it required a lot of effort in both its conception and execution. The question is, whether or not that was all worth it? My answer is very, very nearly. This is not a band that I'd ever accuse of having a 'personality', despite the quirky name, which many have already ranted over but at least isn't just another -tion, -tory, for you to file away under redundant. Once they shifted away from their insipid meathead deathcore roots into a more decidedly West Coast approximation of modern, semi-tech death which traced its lineage to all the 'right' acts in the field (Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse could all be heard in the controlled chaos), they seemed to translate into a more respectable, though still highly divisive act. I've enjoyed a few of their efforts (Demonocracy, Genesis, etc) to an extent, but greatness has ever eluded the Arizona quartet, and despite a very painstakingly wrought effort here, it still does...

Much like Fallujah transformed into a modern approximation of classic Cynic, with whirlwind technicality alternated against a more ambient/jazzy fusion, Job for a Cowboy have done the next best thing and decided to channel Atheist. Alright, not exactly, but a number of times I was sitting through this I kept getting Unquestionable Presence impressions, with some of the cleaner guitar patterns reminiscent also of Gorguts' Obscura. This is an acrobatic, eccentric slab of technical death and thrash metal which goes to great lengths to try and distinguish itself from its aesthetic ancestors, applying a modern studio context to their now antiquated, but once innovative ideas. But like so many other young death metal bands with athletic instrumental skill, it seems to rely a little too much on its own frenetic diversity and not on the strong songwriting chops that will make or break a death metal record throughout eternity. I'm not saying Sun Eater is void of a few gorgeous lead sequences, or riffs that perk my interest, but where The Flesh Prevails became this largely consistent pendulum of ethereal melodies and butchering brutality, this one just never develops much of an identity beyond the 'hey, wow, listen to that' mentality, where you're temporarily blown away by a band's proficiency set and not at any risk of remembering what they are actually setting down.

Oh, don't get me wrong, this one is an extent. Jonny Davy's gruesome snarls and growls are splattered all over the polished, punchy instrumentation like cattle organs in some spit-shined slaughterhouse whose death machines are fresh off the assembly line. But did I like them? Nah, they try really hard but accomplish little since he just can't contort them into interesting syllabic patterns. Danny Walker's guest drumming on this is technically brilliant but I found a few of the components like the snares and toms to feel a little too Tupperware at points. The bass is amazing in general, with lines highly similar to those used in prog thrash and prog death classics like Control and Resistance, Unquestionable Presence, Focus, etc, and there are parts of the album where I really felt like I could just listen to Nick Schendzielos isolated from the rest of the band and be happy. But at the same time, it's actually the Glassman/Sannicandro guitar duo which keeps the busiest, and offers us the most contrast and variation between the different levels of distorted excess. The album boasts a Jason Suecof production with Eyal Levi and several other engineers, so you know it's going to have that pristine, clinical 21st century death metal gloss that most of the 'forward thinking' acts strive towards, but then again that's just not anything new at this point.

Effort was extended towards the lyrics, also, but they end up the sort that feel like they're waxing all philosophical about the digital age, moral relativity; poetic and neatly scrawled imagery, sure, but for some reason it felt like a bunch of fancy words strung together which are ultimately as meaningless as taking a hearty poop. But I guess I could say that about almost any death metal band that dares transcend the serial killings, gore menageries and so forth. Job for a Cowboy tried, it's just such a fine line between an actual message of substance and mere pretentious twaddle. I felt like these were keeping one foot on either side of that line. And that's sort of symptomatic of Sun Eater in general: a Herculean attempt to progress and expand one further circumference beyond the burly BroStep brutality of the band's origins than even their last few albums dared. Nothing to scoff at, since tunes like "Buried Monuments" rank among their better compositions, but ultimately I just felt hollow after a few spins, like I was watching some flashy action movie which had a couple impressive stunts but no quotable one-liners like Commando or Terminator. This is more like the last four Jason Statham flicks you caught. Huge, kinetic, smarmy, lots of explosions and special effects, but more of a rental than a purchase.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (my relentless knocking is constantly ignored)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Yearner - The Second Howl (2013)

The second Yearner cassette is something quite different than its predecessor Winternight, comprised of three longer untitled pieces and not so much going for the 'chill factor' as it exhibits a more curious and bizarre collection of sounds over fuzzier rhythmic synthesizers. It's at once both noisier and more experimental, especially the second piece with its acid, head-melting tones and throbbing subtext, but I wouldn't go so far that it feels entirely unplanned and sporadic. It seems L.V. sat down with a bunch of sounds he hadn't explored in other ventures and then tried to formulate them into something more coherent...there are some stabs at melodies here, so it's not entirely unfriendly, but this is certainly 'on the edge', more left field than the stuff from Astral Order of Impurity, for example.

That said, it's equally evocative of a lot of obscure and strange imagery. The second track reminded me of late summers in my youth when I'd watch in fascination at moths fluttering around the bug zapper lights in my grandfather's back yard...but mashed up with spending an evening at S.E.T.I. listening to the radio signals from space. The third track has these distorted pads which almost create a form of percussion under the prime, buzzing melodies, and I found that this was easily the most glorious and memorable among the three, though once again it's more a mood piece despite it's more easily discerned 'riff'. There are also some points in that one where the haunted organs of the first tape return for a few seconds, almost like L.V. is switching radio channels and tuning in to his earlier visions. A weird self-awareness that emerges among all the roiling, fuzzy tones and experimentation.

While it was successful at reincarnating some old memories, and an intriguing listen, The Second Howl did not quite live up to its predecessor as something I'm going to want to break out time and time again, nor was it as strong as the rest of the Voldsom tapes I've been covering. But I wouldn't dub it a disappointment, because what I did like about it is how it almost seemed like L.V. was using this as a further launch pad for a project that involved 'grounded' technological feedback. Where Astral Order of Impurity was a veritable lunar lander or space station, this is more a soundtrack for a being lost in a labyrinthine landfill of ancient computer game cartridges, radar dishes, and other antiquated computer or arcade machinery, factory castoffs and all sorts of outdated paraphernalia. Strange, but sometimes soothing if you like a little challenge in your minimalistic ambiance.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Friday, November 21, 2014

Yearner - Winternight (2013)

Winternight is all too apt a title for this tape, Yearner being another project in the Voldsom lineup, composed and recorded by musician L.V. But I might have gone even a bit further with that imagery, dubbing it Winter Nights in a Fell Church Buried Beneath the Snows, for this is hands down the most longing and isolated piece of work I've yet encountered from this musician, and my favorite release to date among the Voldsom catalog. Nostalgic, horrific, completely lonely and heavily repressed due to the subdued, submersed production sensibilities that will probably be exponentially more pronounced when you're actually listening to the cassette on an old tape deck (I am listening to this digitally). Proof yet again, that in a world of overdubs, heavily layered orchestration, pop melodies refined to a bleeding edge and/or Pro Tools guitar rock, it's a wonder what a guy can do with a few organ and synthesizer tones and a metric ton of sincerity...

Not all of the tracks on Winternight are uniform in mood, but there is enough linking them together that by the end you've felt like you just wandered through some German Black Forest Odyssey during the snowfalls and lowest temperatures of the year. The organ tones here, especially in a piece like "Silent Nocturnal Snowfall", resonated with me incredibly well, as if Captain Nemo had been forced out of his undersea vessel and made to perform among the evergreens at absolute zero. It's chilling and also evokes a hint of nostalgia for cult Gothic horror films, and to be truthful would not make a bad accompaniment for some silent black & white replete with imagery that someone might have felt was pretty creepy in the earlier 20th century, or even today if they actually have perspective. These passages are played in repetitive waves, joined by antiquated synth tones which would have belonged more to a Tangerine Dream and/or Vangelis, which bring a little more of a Technicolor palette to the atmosphere, like whorls of deep purple or crimson snow erupting over a monochromatic landscape. This is really where the record transforms and transcends beyond the reality of a guy and a keyboard.

But Yearner also disembarks from this motif, with more dissonant, jarring pieces like "Obscurity" which have a more immediate, brooding horror appeal with some electronic pipe-like sounds that really freaked me out, or "In Days of Yore" where the synths feel more saturated and distorted beneath a more glorious wouldn't be out of place in some dreamy 80s film like Legend. "Winternight" itself has a slightly more Medieval folk/castle feel to it, adding yet another facet to the album's ability to successfully manifest fragments and scenes of the imagination. Combined with the murky, raw mix, all five of its tracks function entirely as intended and were a perfect mood-setter for a few brisk New England nights here in mid-November, though I definitely have the feeling I'll be breaking this out in another month or two repeatedly as I become increasingly surrounded in frigid whites and darkness. At 20 or so minutes, it never wears out its welcome, and probably more than any of the other tapes I've heard from L.V's other projects (Astral Order of Impurity, Til Det Bergens Skygenne, etc), grants a haunted, seasonal escapism.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Astral Order of Impurity - Dimension (2014)

One risk that ambient artists face is that their recordings can often become so samey, so redundant that it feels like one or two ideas are being chopped up into a number of slices and then fed to the listener individually in lieu of offering a more fulfilled, variegated experience. One might immediately gaze upon the cover art to the tapes of Astral Order of Impurity, hear a few select moments of the pads and effects the creator has implemented, and decide that there isn't a whole lot of difference between them. One might not always be wrong in that assumption, not even when comparing and contrasting Dimension with its predecessor Portal. However, those differences DO exist, and not always in the most subtle of contexts.

Dimension is a more cathartic experience than the prior tape, with a greater intrusion of dissonant noises and effects that inhabits its depths and become immediately more alarming, while the usual background tones themselves become even more innately alien and frightening. This is not always the case, and there are indeed a few lighter points in the first half of the 41 minute track which were crucial in setting this one up as an almost more asymmetrical 'cinematic' recording. A few hints of weirdness abound, but it all takes a slightly darker, more chaotic turn as you reach past the 20-25 minute zone, after a more ominous, subdued middle section with some subtle electronic or radio signals rattling off against the swelling background...I thought I even heard something like a guitar distortion pop into one ear, but I often lose my mind when I become so embroiled in a record like this that it wouldn't surprise me if my own mind was casting shadows. But, lo and behold, just like the alien bursts out of the victim's chest, or the space heroes realize that planet they just landed on is not actually a planet, or that the void is just in general not a friendly place...this one grows a little more haunting and fucked up, and it really pays off in the listener's emotions.

Again, material like this is the Anti-Beat. It's not going to get you laid, and if it does, well you've found yourself a keeper...either that, or someone who is going to probably kill you in your sleep (one eye open, friend, one eye open). It eschews the conventional structure of rock or even classical music instrumentation to more directly mimic the sounds of open space, technological equipment or even just what a human brain might 'think' it is hearing. You're not straining for the next harmony here, you're just dreading what might be around the next corner of a derelict extraterrestrial space-craft. L.V., the sole craftsman on this recording, is channeling his own trepidations of the unknown onto cassette, for a few brave souls to witness themselves. But the funny thing, people, is that this is ALL around you, always has been, and always will be. Stop to listen for a few seconds, ignoring the wagging of tongues, the invasive ring-tones, the grinding of construction equipment on every urban corner, and you may just hear it. Or, better yet, just let Astral Order of the Impurity do the work for you. Dimension is the music of Infinity, filtered through one consciousness trying to translate it into pure aural emotion. It's the better of the two Astral Order tapes I've listened through, by a small margin, granted, but it's at once both more sublime and horrifying.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]