Friday, February 10, 2017

Black Grail - Mysticismo Regresivo (Re-Recorded Live Ceremony)


This version of Mysticismo Regresivo is a "re-recorded live ceremony." There isn't much information available as to what this actually consists of but I have answers. Apparently Black Grail, perhaps unhappy with the sound and structure of their debut album, wanted to approach the material from a more natural angle and include some content which was not a part of the full length version of the album. The defining pacing element of spoken word and tolling bells was absent in the original and a separate entity has been utilized to realize these additions. This is essentially a more representative release as to the band's wishes. Along with the re-imagined overall structure, Black Grail provide the seeker a host of questionable aspects to ruminate over. While seemingly promoted with the aesthetics you'd find define a form of ritualistic black metal, I neither get much black metal, nor auditory ritual here. More-so it sounds like Thrash with a hint of black metal in line with a band like Mortuary Drape or Master's Hammer. For all the spoken introductions and the reoccurring bell cue, even some group chanted vocals, musically there isn't a ritualistic feel to this anymore than there is any band rehearsal. Just because a band perceives their rehearsals as if they are ritualistic or ceremonial doesn't warrant the ritual black metal label. 

Drifting away from issues of categorization and definition, Black Grail's Mysticismo Regresivo is quite creative and unique. There are a lot of original segments, ideas, and riffs across the release. The spoken intros are interesting in that they aren't "spooky" or "demonic." Instead, they are simply spoken, seemingly, as anyone would speak to another and so, ironically, in a more accurate ritualistic sense then is often touted or produced in black metal releases. The release is heavily atonal and melodically taxing from the outset of "Dialogo Entre..."; a lack of normality in this regard makes mental recreation and recall difficult. Memorability is a factor. Where atonality has often existed in extreme metal, it is often utilized in the way adverbs are used to describe verbs. Black Grail use atonality as the actual verbs; the actual moving and doing component of their music is atonal. Some of the more structurally off putting pure riffs appear in "Plegaria Catartica." 


When we talk about about structure in metal, the majority of bands utilize the same overall approaches. Verse-Chorus is still highly prevalent but we also see linear/narrative structures becoming more prominent in extreme and hybrid genres. Black Grail fall into that later format, yet twist it into something new. Using markers to signal the audience - in Black Grail's case a bell between songs - links everything together into a single narrative and yet also signals separation between each track. 1349 did something similar on Hellfire and Acheron has done this on numerous albums similarly where each track was prefaced with cues to both link and separate. This formatting rarity usually falls flat, as it breaks up the pacing of an album too often. In the case of Mysticismo Regresivo the pacing is non-existent from the outset and so the bell, i.e. cue, can be appreciated as meaningful and not be regarded as a hindrance.
 
The promotion for the album promises "a philosophic-spiritual perspective that you should discover." Maybe that's what we are being given as we question numerous components of the whole. Unsure exactly where to place the band or how to approach their bizarre creation forces the listener to openly question categorization as a method overall. My version of the release was a tape sent to me by Divergent, who also sent me the Rid tape - another bizarrity, as I like to call these 'fit nowhere' releases - a while back and I'm thankful that he did because I will likely be coming back to this tape as reference for other material in the future. It's a singularly unique offering that presses the listener to look for abstract explanations for the irregularities that we occasionally find within the metal genres. While definitely not for everyone, I can envision the appeal to veteran explorers in the genre.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Monthly Blast: January '17


This month, Apteronotus joins the fray as we do our best to articulate thoughts on a myriad of genres and bands. Black Metal takes up quite the amount of space and time with bands from across the globe including Poland, Portugal, Iceland, and Croatia. Two bands, Infinite Earths and Teleport both draw comparisons from each of us to Australia's Stargazer, which is an odd and yet interesting development in what we determine to be an ever-increasing influence in style. Heavy Metal is given it's moment to shine as I give thoughts on Girlschool's '82 album, Sweden's Instigator, and Argentina's Steelballs. There are also a couple oddballs, as Apteronotus pokes around at the dissonant wizards of Lorn and I give some time to accommodate French rockers Wolve.

Duch Czerni - Reality Of Black Spirits (2016)
 
Polish Black Metal group Duch Czerni have been around for a few years now with a handful of demos and minor releases out. Reality of Black Spirits is a more recent effort. Most impressive here is the overall atmosphere given off by the release. Depressive Black Metal is a clear influence and bands like Silencer or Trist are a good point of reference. Duch Czerni steer clear of falling off into truly ambient territory making this a listen that would not be well received by those that have approached the style from that trajectory. Present are the common twangy dust-coated guitars, upfront drums, shrieking high pitched vocals, and noisy sub-melodies. Momentary bursts of shouted vocals add some variety. The release drifts in and out mostly, particularly second track "Grim Night of Eternity," leaving the listener with the sense that guitarist Azazoth and vocalist Wened Wilk Sławibor were mostly focused more on the atmosphere than the impact of the release. "Dismal Aura of Melancholy" is probably my preferred track here as the six-minute offering crawls through slow building layers of atmosphere into a final faster climax and culmination, but the general sameness of the tracks and their structures would be served by some variety. Though relatively enjoyable, probably skippable unless you approach depressive black metal from an aficionado position. (Orion)


Girlschool - Screaming Blue Murder (1982)
  
The longest running all female rock band's early catalog is ripe with killer tunes and their third album, Screaming Blue Murder, is no exception. The opening title track sets the tone straight off - upbeat and punkish NWOBHM infused Heavy Metal - and throughout the entirety of the album, a driving and powerful wallop of riffs is thrown at the listener. For me, top tracks are the memorable "Don't Call it Love", the almost Motorhead rip-off "Hellrazor", and slick "Don't Stop". The outlandishly sensual "Flesh and Blood" is the single most interesting track on the album, with sultry spoken verse and breathy almost whispered choruses but dumped at the end of the release relegates it to the b-side of a b-side band's album; a footnote for a footnote. While this is an enjoyable listen, it's nothing special to me other than the tracks mentioned. Shakin' Street is a comparable in sound but superior in song with Ross the Boss providing guitars. A fun throwback listen. (Orion)
 


Infinite Earths - Into The Void (2016)
  
Florida's Infinite Earths play a progressive style of Black Metal which, possibly due to high-notoriety releases from bands like Stargazer and to a lesser degree Blood Incantation, has becoming increasingly noticeable. For Infinite Earths the comparison to Stargazer is strongest; both bands utilize bass guitar as the central melodic instrument and guitars are often windswept yet add technically diverse segments throughout. This will appeal to a swath of the metal spectrum who find engagement in Gorguts, Cynic, and Vektor. Vocally, Josh Joel Mazorra presents his vocals like buckshot, all over the place, intense, and in myriad shapes and forms as Into The Void sees five tracks presented as individual acts to form a concept based on a comic book of his own creation. As the tracks swirl through structures and riffs, we're given numerous segments and ideas to ponder over. "Act 2: Amalgam of Madness" contains a particularly striking section where Mazorra does some nasally singing behind a guitar lead before reverting back to his raspy screams. "Act 3: Chaotic Good" opens with a breakdownesque riff and drums. Final track, "Act 5: Grave New World," ends on a high note with a melodic guitar line for a minute or so before noodling it's way towards the end of the track in a Dream Theater-esque fashion. A Strong EP, but it doesn't quite
capture my attention the way other bands are doing this style. (Orion)

 
Lorn - Arrayed Claws (2017)

Lorn is the kind of band that may come across as pure dissonance worship at first glance, but if a bunch of janky sounding chords won't scare you off their EP Arrayed Claws has a lot to offer. At the outset, it's important to revel in the band's song structures because they have a lot in common with traditional black metal's hypnotic tremolo picked repetition. While there are quick flourishes peppering the melodies, the changes are often incremental and obscured by an underlying sense of flow - making the music simultaneously smooth and harsh, it's whiskey. It makes Lorn a difficult band to pin down and that's a great thing, especially with how different all of the tracks are from another. After listening to metal obsessively for years upon years it takes a special band to stand out from the coma-inducing hordes of mediocrity and adequacy. Lorn though is a special band, have a listen to "Abstract Trap" and tell me that the harmonics that pop into the song at three minutes in don't absolutely slap you in the face. Really fascinating band, the relaxed outro reminds me of Vorde with the lush retro science fiction kind of sound. (Apteronotus)


Lux Ferre - Excaecatio Lux Veritatis (2015)
  
Another Portugese entity, Lux Ferre's Black Metal is not unique but is competent. The opening moments of Excaecatio Lux Veritatis should cause some minor salivation and a desire for a few additional sessions with their no-nonsense worshiping of Black Metal motifs. The ten minute long "A Luz Ofuscante da Verdade" opening, the length and relative lack of variety in the track, and the additional two minute long intro draws out and slows down the listener's ability to familiarize. The best tracks are shorter in nature, to emphasize Lux Ferre's intensity without a seemingly perpetual wall of sound. The overall best track here is "Miséria" with it's doomy intro, pendulistic melody, and even some variation in the vocal performance of Devasth in the form of a groaning yell in contrast to his more predictable screams. The track has a little bit of everything. Overall, I think that Lux Ferre's main conflict will be differentiating themselves from others, as the recording is quite generic. (Orion)


Pogavranjen - Jedva Čekam Da Nikad Ne Umrem (2016)
  
Weird Black Metal from the outset, Pogavranjen start the listener off running for their lives with a noisy cacophony of cymbal hits and guitar noise. The rest of Jedva Čekam Da Nikad Ne Umrem's six tracks and fourty-four minutes is a unique and airy mixture of Black Metal and Jazz. Deathspell Omega appears to be an influence throughout but at a snails pace. Into The Woods and Ved Buens Ende should be considered as well. There is little velocity in most of these tracks. Pogavranjen take, instead, an awkward pace through uncomfortable melodies, similar to Emanation but with a greater focus on clarity and less utilization of ritualistic ambient formations. The percussion is quite an interesting component throughout and is the jazziest component, evident in the usage of poly rhythms. Vocalist Ivan Eror is a mixture of clean shouted vocals and the sporadic harsher black metal screams. With nine different musicians contributing the record, it's difficult to offer praise to each, however as an ensemble praise is due. A good listen for fans looking for inventive and avant-garde black metal. (Orion)


Instigator - Bad Future (2015)
  
A strange Swedish Heavy Metal / Thrash mashup reminiscent of Master's Hammer without the classical music bombasticism, Vektor with stripped down instrumentalism, and Voivod's late 80's wackiness. Bad Future is four tracks peaking at fifteen minutes making this a quick listen and demonstration of the band's style. The inclusion of samples, numerous guitar tones and effects, and the kitchen sink all emphasize either a marked disinterest in being typical or an obsession with being different. "Black Magic" has a decisive Heavy Metal flair to it more than the thrashier "Anabolic" and  "Inseminoid." "Undetectable" closes the release with a running bass line that gives me déjà-vu. It's also a little long-winded for my taste. Instigator have a heavy personality and identity present here that's probably too wacky. Kind of like the class clown in elementary school, toned back a little bit, they might be in a sweet spot, though, and grow up to be famous comedians. (Orion)



Sinmara / Misþyrming - Ivory Stone / Hof (2017)

On this split Sinmara and Misþyrming prove that there's nothing quite like Icelandic black metal. While a lot of bands across the world have tried to jump onto the dissonant bandwagon many of them miss the mark and land firmly in wanky mathcore territory.  Not so for this two-song split. The riffs are distinct, abrasive, and most importantly carry forward melodies that have an energetic structure. Sinmara in particular really pushes the edges of clarity in mixing - the broad sound from layering dissonance and heavily distorted guitar lines somehow never feels messy. Misþyrming comes across a fair amount dirtier but it just hardens the band's edge rather than muddying up the sound. While I prefer Sinmara's razor sharp approach, there is a special charm to how Misþyrming's beefy percussion helps create order to a lot of the delightfully shrill chords and tamer sections throughout their song.  (Apteronotus)


Steelballs - Steelballs (2016)
  
Argentinian Heavy Metal in the vein of early Blind Guardian, Helloween, etc. Goofy name aside, this is relatively inoffensive to the taste of fans of this style of metal. It's a heartfelt rendition and manifestation of typical influences into original material. While "Steelballs" opens the EP, second track "Farewell" is better and more nuanced. More attitude is to be found in the more monotone melodies and sharper attack. Guitarists Juan Manuel Herrera and Lucas Galarza rip through well composed solos in all the tracks and Juan Pablo Churruarin's - who also provides accordion duties in Folkearth - vocal performance is hopeful. Final track "Inquisitor of Faith" is the most intricate of the album with a handful of dueling harmonized guitars. The Witches Brew version also has a competent cover of Helloween's "Starlight." Overall, probably an unnecessary listen unless your loins ache for this style of Power Metal. (Orion)



Teleport - Ascendance (2016)

If you like your thrash metal on the technical/progressive side then you absolutely have to at least check out the track "The Monolith" on this EP. Thrash always seems like an existential disappointment in metal, a genre whose best days are long since gone and plagued by heartless imitators and those who fail to take their music seriously (I believe the appropriate technical terms are re-thrash and pizza-thrash). This EP on the other hand has a lot killer riffs throughout its songs and the kind of pacing variety that, you know, actually thrashes about. This isn't cheap fast/slow music/ambient-bullshit variety either - check out how "Realm of solar darkness" transitions later in the song and the creepy intro to "Path to omniscience." A really good example of the band's smart ear for melody is how the solo in "Artificial divination" weaves into and plays off of the main melody rather than the lead guitar player just whipping out his fastest runs and swinging them around. Some of Teleport's sexier bass moments remind me a bit of a toned down kind of Stargazer. Not to imply the band is second rate, but their approach is more straightforward and traditional - at least in terms of progressive/technical thrash. (Apteronotus)



Wolve - Lazare (2016)

Lazare is Wolve's October 2016 released four song EP. It follows 2014's Sleepwalker album. This French rock band incorporates elements of soundscape and world music into their rock foundation. This is evidenced by the tabla playing in the title track and rhythmic approach which shows through in other tracks. Wolve are at their best when they incorporate these elements into their tracks. Wolve are likely to burst into big alternative rock choruses as well. Guitarist Julien Sournac's vocal performance is commendable. He mixes between soft and dreamy and laced with more emotion and aggression but is always within the pop-rock realm style. "Porcelain" is the most standard track on the release yet still incorporates an adventurous vibe through the a fuzzy bass and a playful panned percussion mix. The forty second long "Inferno" is a unique mash-up track with an edge compared to the other material. "Far" is an effective alternative rock song which toys with an experimental ambient interlude competently but the opening title track, "Lazare" is the most interesting on the record. Wolve's half-rock half-world/soundscape can be unique and rewarding. (Orion)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

An Empirical Look at 2016's Top Metal Releases

Just like we did for 2015 and 2014, Contaminated Tones has gathered up a bunch of data on what people generally think the best albums are for 2016. The data this year is from 37 different year end lists/polls. While not scientifically rigorous, this is probably the broadest data available on what people "think" is the best, along with information on information on which sub-genres were most popular and what labels did best in terms highly regarded albums.

Orion: One thing to note this year, is that it was fairly difficult to find dedicated lists that fit the guidelines of our year end analysis. In 2014, Apteronotus worked off of 40 lists and in 2015, 47 lists were used. Compiling the lists this year was increasingly difficult as I noticed a decisive drop in the amount of blogs, sites, and zines that were putting out best of lists for the year. 37 lists were available at the close of December, 2016 including those that were last minute additions to the data set. Whether this number is a sign of an overall drop in coverage of the genre or an outlier will be a question to review next year.



Top 2016 Metal Releases:


This graph shows the top 23 metal releases for 2016, based on what percentage of lists the release appeared on in the data. Only bands clearing the 10% threshold are shown. These top 23 bands comprised 35% of the top ten list occurrences, and the top 8 bands comprised 18% of the occurrences (both of these figures indicate a more diverse field of bands compared to 2015 and 2014).

Khemmis's Hunted took the top spot this year, appearing on 29.7% of the lists, which for comparison was essentially identical to how popular Ghost's Meliora was in 2015.

Here are the top 2016 metal releases in list format:

Khemmis - Hunted
Opeth - Sorceress
Oranssi - Pazuzu - Varahtelija
Gojira - Magma
Metallica - Hardwired to Self Destruction
Blood Incantation - Starspawn
Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us
Cobalt - Slow Forever
Destroyer 666 - Wildfire
Haken - Affinity
Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
Neurosis - Fires Within Fires
Vektor - Terminax Redux
Abbath - Abbath
Alcest - Kodama
Anthrax - For All Kings
Dethspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Deftones - Gore
Hammers of Misfortune - Dead Revolution
Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows
Megadeth - Dystopia
Oathbreaker - Rheia
The Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation

Top 2016 Sub-Genres:


This graphs shows a breakdown of the same data while looking at the sub-genre of the entries. The numbers add up to over 100% because bands can have more than one genre. Having multiple genres was the most common arrangement this year by a fair margin at 31.5%, which is on par with 2015's figure of 30.25% for the same variable.

Overall, black and death metal continue to be the most popular genres, at rates comparable to last year. You'll notice that non-metal releases were more popular than many of the other sub-genres. Non-metal releases were similar to 2014's 12% rate, at 12.9%, and down from 2015's 17% rate. A pretty interesting trend toward stability in the data. Thrash and progressive metal however are both up compared to last year.

Orion: One trend to notice is the attention paid to the Heavy Metal and Power Metal genres. Power Metal has had poor showing three years in a row, but a consistent rise is notable, with 2.25% of the overall selection in 2014, 4.26% in 2015, and 6.9% in 2016. This trend is one to take notice of; over the past few years, interest in US Power Metal in particular has increased, with notable Germany-style festivals appearing in the US. Death Metal, in contrast, seems to be on the decline the past three years with 35.25%, 23.62%, and 21.8% showings in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. I wonder if this can be correlated with the changing composition of Maryland Deathfest, arguably the largest metal festival in the US. The inclusion of more USPM bands, Doom bands, and Heavy Metal bands in their roster has been notable over the past four or five years.


As explained in the methodology below, genre information, including metal versus non-metal, was decided using the Metal Archives, rather than relying on the opinion of anyone at Contaminated Tones.

Top 2016 Record Labels:


This final graph shows which labels were most common on year end lists, representing each label as a percentage of the total possible spots. In other words, a 100% means that a label released every release on every single top ten list etc. Unlike previous years, where Nuclear Blast and Century Media were neck and neck,  Century Media had a bit of a decline in popularity in regards to top releases. Keep in mind that there can be a lot of variability in a label's release schedule. This is perhaps best illustrated by Season of Mist's jump from the 14th most dominant label in last year's data up to second.

No label data was attached for non-metal bands, and this fact in conjunction with the entire point of the research (top ten lists only) means that these figures should not be read as reflecting total sales of any particular label for a certain year. The above 20 bands took up 58.38% of the available year end list slots. From an economics standpoint, this data is highly competitive, and more competitive than the prior two years with a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index of .0223. This indicates a diverse field of labels, similar to the top spots for individual bands. Interestingly, this happened while unsigned/independent bands dropped in frequency compared to last year.

Methodology:
  •  Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, we included it. Otherwise we may as well just be posting our own lists.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. We excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each website is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and at random.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire dataset.
  • Label data was gathered only for metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.
  • The list of websites accessed is in the spoiler tag below.
Websites Accessed:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Attacker - Sins Of The World




Before reading onward, if you're not familiar with Attacker, go find copies of 1985's Battle At Helms Deep and 1986's The Second Coming immediately. Both albums are essential Heavy Metal and belong in every record collection. Then buy Sins of the World.

It's been three long years since Giants of Canaan, Bobby Lucas' first showing with Attacker, one of New Jersey's legendary US Power Metal bands. The combination of the ex-Seven Witches, Ex-Overlorde and Morbid Sin vocalist with Attacker has proved to be a match made in Heavy Metal heaven. Not only does Leatherlungs Lucas' range and ability surpass the majority of other local singers, but he has brought a new dose of energy to Attacker. This energy has been recognized throughout the local area as younger metal heads are increasingly embracing more traditional metal, especially older veteran bands, such as Attacker. On their new album, Sins of the World, Lucas is once again flanked by original drummer Mike Sabatini, original guitarist Pat Marinelli - who retired shortly after the recording of this album - and veteran Mike Benetatos who was part of the original reformation in the dawn of the millennium. Brian Smith fills the bass position.



I'm of the opinion that Sins of the World is an improvement over the strong effort on Giants of Canaan in terms of overall impact. Stylistically, Sins of the World is a perfect blending of Second Coming's more thrash influenced style and the NWOBHM-inspired melodicism of Battle at Helms Deep. A perfect example of this would be "Choice of Weapon",  "Archangel", or the album's title track. Giants of Canaan employed the same tactics of mixing the band's formative styles but was not as totally successful. There is a higher memorability factor, stronger dynamic presence, improved pacing, and a sense of urgency. This could be in part to a better mix and clearer production. I felt there was a dullness present on Giants... Attacker are wielding a sharper blade now. "Carcosa" and "Garuda" show off this clarity early on the record with punchy and aggressive riffs helped in no small part by an absolutely crushing bass presence and performance by Smith. Liner notes reveal that Benetatos wrote the majority of the material here and I can't help but admit that I'm extremely impressed at the revitalization back to full health of the early styles which made Attacker an important US Power Metal band in the early 80's.

Though the first half of the album is great with "Carcosa" leading me to buy an old copy of Ambrose Pierce's Can Such Things Be and "Garuda" making me want to go back and re-watch Mystery Science Theater episodes, The second half yields as strong a set of B-sides as I think exists on an album. I felt that "Glen of the Ghost" was the most prominent track on the last album for it's campfire story. Even better is the similar storytelling finishing off Sins of the World with the Conan inspired duo of "By The Will Of Crom" and "Where The Serpent Lies". I do wonder why they were separated into two tracks but the transition is not hampered in anyway by the split. "Archangel," is my favorite pie on the table here due to the entirely different approach of extremely catchy and memorable contrasting verse-chorus form with an extended instrumental section to split the song. Lucas' powerful vocals scream across big chords and barely noticeable progressive metal influenced rhythmicism. Also the song is about aliens which gets extra points in my book because not enough bands approach the material-ripe subject of aliens, extraterrestrials, UFOs and human breeding programs thousands of years in the past by the Grays.



"We Rise" is the only dud - if you could call it such - but I get it's inclusion from the point of view of the German audience who loves these types of anthems. It wouldn't have been as bad if it wasn't for the constant repetition of the chorus awkwardly at the end of the track. Whatever.

Sins of the World is not only Attacker's best album of their catalog but to be completely blunt, this is as close to perfect Heavy Metal as I've heard in years. The riffs and rhythms and passion well up in your bones, flesh, and teeth. The melodies and progressions unravel in ways as to inspire emotive face-wincing and nose scrunching throughout every song as the need to whip your head and bang your fists increases. Far-flung vocal pronouncements speak both to the heart and mind through Lucas' lyrics which, at times poignant and elsewhere purely innocent, propel songs into territories of quality reserved for only the strongest of warriors. There is that New Jersey edge - a sense of opinionated arrogance, attitude, and virility - that inexplicably hardens the material. It's as if Attacker literally walked into the local bar, fearlessly pushed their way through all the regulars, and just planted themselves in their seats without asking.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Interview With Witch Mountain's Nathan Carson





Nathan Carson is as close to a modern day renaissance man as one could come. He hasn't discovered any new planets, developed important new theories in physics, or sculpted masterpieces of stone or marble (...yet) but the combination of Drummer, Writer, Artist, Promoter, and all-around nice guy should be enough for anyone to support the honorific. Having witnessed the power and impressive performance that has been a constant throughout Witch Mountain's history, and read Nathan's most recent weird-fiction novella, Starr Creek, there were forces beyond my understanding compelling me to get in contact with Nathan and draw some attention to his artistry.

Contaminated Tones: Hey Nathan, I really want to get into your awesome book, Starr Creek, but since this is ultimately a Metal site, let's get some short questions about Witch Mountain out of the way first. You did a US tour with The Skull and Saint Vitus in the fall. How do you feel the tour went? Was this the first large scale tour with new vocalist Kayla Dixon?

Nathan Carson: Kayla and our bassist Justin Brown both joined in early 2015. We almost immediately went on tour with YOB that Spring. It was quite the trial but the new members handled themselves really well. Then in October 2015 we were hand-selected by Glenn Danzig to support on his Blackest of the Black tour. So this 2016 trip with Saint Vitus and the Skull was the third large-scale tour we’ve done in the last 18 months. This lineup has done more shows than any other in the band’s 19-year history. I’d be very happy if we never have another member in the group, unless we add an organ player or something.

CT: It seems the band took a little break since the tour. What is planned for 2017?


NC: Well we got home from a rigorous 28 shows in 30 days just before Halloween. We all needed a break after that. But we just played a very festive New Year’s Eve show here in Portland—ushering in 2017 on a note of profound doom--and will immediately get back into writing mode. It’s time to make the best WM album yet, the first full-length with Kayla and Justin involved, and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band.


Witch Mountain Live at Saint Vitus Bar during North American tour with Saint Vitus and The Skull
 CT: Describe the typical Witch Mountain creative process in forming
and crafting your songs.


NC: Well, as the drummer, I have a lot more to do with dynamics and arrangement. I have written songs for WM in the distant past, but generally our guitarist Rob Wrong writes the music, and the singer writers the lyrics. Then we bat GarageBand demos back and forth before finally jamming on the tunes in our rehearsal space. That’s when I tend to speak up if there’s something I believe can be improved. There have been exceptions along the way, but this process seems to work very well for us.

I trust my band mates entirely to generate great music, and I have so much say as manager and booker that I don’t have any ego issues with how the band operates. However, it’s obvious that the drums are not a melodic or lead instrument. That’s why it’s important for me to have other creative outlets. The many years I have spent making collaborative art with groups of people has really inspired me to take my fiction writing to the forefront so that I can share my voice with the world in a way that is unfiltered.

CT: What bands have been major influences for Witch Mountain?

NC: Rob and I have always cited the classics: The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Top. You can’t really make the best music if you’re only listening to the radio hits of today. Of course we also have added in dashes of early Judas Priest, Uli Roth-era Scorpions, and liberal doses of Candlemass. But each of us has our own specific influences as well.

To my ear, John Bonham and Keith Moon didn’t live long enough to be as good as Dale Crover. I love a spectrum of drummers from Ringo Starr’s brilliant minimlism to Simon Philip’s session work on Judas Priests Sin After Sin.



CT: Leading into your writing and Starr Creek, is there any direct crossover between Witch Mountain and your writing? Do any specific songs from Witch Mountain connect to the book or other writing?


NC: Not really. The main crossover is that I have been selling a ton of books from the merch table on tour, for which I’m exceedingly grateful to our fans and my band mates. Reading my work at bookstores is nice, but aside from my release party at Powell’s, I’ve tended to sell a lot more books at concerts than I have at readings.

I’m not the lyricist for Witch Mountain and, aside from naming the South of Salem and Cauldron of the Wild albums, I tend to be more of an executive producer and art director rather than a songwriter. I would say that the WM song that most closely resembles Starr Creek would be “Aurelia.” And perhaps that’s because the lyrics were written by Uta Plotkin, who grew up in the same small Oregon town that I did.


CT: What inspired you to start writing?


NC: I’ve been writing since I was six years old. When I was nine or ten, I wrote a bizarro western story about an anthropomorphic loaf named Billy the Bread. In high school I wrote a ton of Lovecraft/Barker pastiches that were godawful. When I was 19, I read a Damon Knight book called Creating Short Fiction in which he implores young would-be authors to go out into the world and gather some wisdom and life experience before attempting to write. I took his advice to heart, and didn’t really get serious about my fiction until shortly after my fortieth birthday. By then, I had an opinion on everything, haha. And I’d traveled a great deal and met and interacted with thousands of people. Of course, I’ve also been a professional music journalist for about 15 years. That hasn’t hurt. I always excelled in English over, say, math and science. So it was natural that I would eventually try my hand at short stories and longer works. The key is to not be a hobbyist.


CT: Starr Creek is such an enjoyable read for fans of weird fiction. The characters all had awesome personalities and the relationships between everyone in the book were well thought out and propelled me through the pages more than the plot, which was also teeming with vivid details and intrigue. For those that haven't read Starr Creek, can you give a quick summary of what the reader could expect to experience?


NC: Here’s the blurb from the back of the book: "Starr Creek is the debut novella by Portland writer and musician Nathan Carson. Set in 1986 rural Oregon, Starr Creek features Heavy Metal teens, Christian biker gangs, and hopped up kids on 3-wheeled ATVs. They all collide when strange occurrences unveil an alien world inhabiting the Oregon woods."

CT: You have a knack for description. At times it's subtle nuanced implications and other times you go all out with the descriptive. One of my favorite chapters was Ethan and Charles riding around on the ATVs thinking they were badasses but in reality they were these two kids in plastic costume helmets and shit. When deciding on how to describe different parts of the book, where does the inspiration come from? What is your favorite description in Starr Creek and why?


NC: The first two chapters of Starr Creek were written (in rough form)
many months before I decided to expand it into a novella. Because of that, the language is a bit more florid in the very beginning. Once the story starts to unfurl, I consciously ran it as clean and fast as possible.

So to answer your question, I really enjoy some of the first descriptions of Puppy’s life. Readers can enjoy an excerpt here on Vice’s science fiction site Terraform. http://motherboard.vice.com/read/starr-creek


CT: The dog food eating contest opens the book essentially. Where did that come from? Did you have Puppy's name decided on before or after that scene?


NC: When I was in third, fourth, and fifth grade, I lived in Monroe, Oregon. The Long Branch tavern (it’s still there) had a marquee that advertised these dog food-eating contests. Of course, as a youth, I could only imagine what they were like. I wondered, “Is this what adults do?”

Anyway, I’ve still never witnessed a real contest like this, so I just imagined what it might be like. As for Puppy’s name, that was sort of a lucky coincidence. I knew I wanted to do animal names, and I knew I wanted to have a dog food-eating contest. When I got to that point in the story, it just felt like one more favor my subconscious mind had done for me.


CT: Other than being a fun overall read, was there any deeper themes you wanted to get across to the reader?


NC: Well I’d hope everyone would get something different out of it. It’s a work of fiction. But I certainly wanted to create characters that would act in believable ways, even during unusual or
fantastic situations. I was very inspired by characters like the kid in Phantasm who tapes a bullet to a hammer in order to escape his locked bedroom, and the Frog Brothers from Lost Boys who fill their Uzi squirt guns with holy water.

As for themes, I guess one of the main points of the book is that entropy is unavoidable. My AP English teacher once told me that if you’re ever writing an essay and you need to pull a theme out of your ass, “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” will work 99% of the time. So I’ll pass this tip along to you and your readers.



CT: There are a host of paranormal and controversial weird science topics mixed into the book but I think one of the most surprising twists was the inclusion of UFOs and Cult Imagery that appeared later on. Heaven's Gate is hinted at with Rex's cult. Where does your interest in these subjects come from? What are your opinions on UFOs and Extraterrestrial life?


NC: I grew up near Starr Creek. I’ve seen some weird and unexplainable shit. Having said that, I do not subscribe to the idea that we are descendants of lizard people or that Area 51 is full of alien corpses. I do know that the universe is unimaginably huge. Of course there is extraterrestrial life out there, though I assume it’s weird and abstract, and nothing remotely like anything we have yet considered. The reason I put a cult on Starr Creek road is because there WERE cults on Starr Creek road. I just decided to invent my own, based loosely on concepts from The Golden Bough.


CT: What authors do you look to for inspiration? Who has influenced your writing style?


NC: My favorite author is Gene Wolfe. Reading 30 of his novels has probably done more for me than any writing class or workshop. I would stay Starr Creek was also specifically influenced by Richard Brautigan, particularly his short gothic western novel, The Hawkline Monster. My editor also asked me to read some Raymond Carver before doing my final edit.


CT: What other material have you written? Do you have any future books or novels planned?


Photo: Jon T Cruz at 1369 Photos
NC: I have short stories in the anthologies Cthulhu Fhtagn! (Word Horde), Swords v Cthulhu (Stone Skin), Eternal Frankenstein (Word Horde), and The Madness of Dr Caligari (Fedogan & Bremer). There’s also a story in an issue of Strange Aeons magazine but it’s out of print. In all of these anthologies, I’m in the company of some of the best writers currently working in underground horror. Each has been an honor to take part in.

I’m currently working on my first comic script. That’s due to be available in time for Halloween of 2017. I have ideas for several short stories that are ready to write. And of course I plan to follow Starr Creek with a proper novel set in the same universe, only 76 years later.


CT: Where can people buy your book, Starr Creek?

NC: I prefer to direct people to their local independent bookseller. But you will honestly get the most immediate results from Amazon.com.


CT: Nathan, Thanks for taking the time to do this interview! Hopefully we'll see Witch Mountain here in NYC again real soon!


NC: Thanks for taking the time, and especially for reading and
supporting Starr Creek!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Furia - Księżyc Milczy Luty



Black Metal can take many forms. Furia are a veteran outfit who, with Księżyc Milczy Luty, if not already landing fatal blows are within striking distance of that elusive perfection which so many strive to grasp. What makes Księżyc Milczy Luty such an endearing and impacting listen is how each element bonds with the other elements to form a totality while simultaneously maintaining individual importance and identity. Far from being a muddy atmospheric mess, Furia create atmosphere in the way a classical composer would approach atmosphere - with melody, percussion, and clear dynamics. If there was a top black metal album for me in 2016, Księżyc Milczy Luty stands on that summit and the rest are still at a base camp far below.

The LP version of the album has a different cover compared to the CD.
The approach taken on Księżyc Milczy Luty is refreshing. Space is given for the listener to find an angle into the material and each listen can be approached from a new trajectory**. There are as many gentle gifts to lure the listener into Furia's world as there are massive black metal explorations to stir up fury - the english translation of the band's name. It is apparent from the first two songs this is not going to be a normal predictable listen. The first salvo of "Za ćmą, w dym " and "Ciało" start as a building bass-heavy plod, an inverted pointer finger motioning to come closer, hinting at secrets and rewards. Often songs have this opening technique, much the same way as Iron Maiden has used clean guitars and introductions on recent albums to set the melodic mood. Furia have a knack for this and twist it mischievously. "Zabieraj Lapska" and "Tam Jest Tu" also incorporate this method. Each of these four tracks is wholy unique and enticing.

The other two songs, "Grzej" and album closer "Zwykłe Czary Wieją" are the album's more immediately impactful tracks. "Zwykłe Czary Wieją" has a more blackened doom vibe throughout, making use of Nihil's incredible barking vocal style. It's an uncommon ornamentation that makes Księżyc Milczy Luty more involved and dynamic than the endless screams and shouts normally hanging all over ninety-percent of the other black metal albums out there. "Grzej" is the album highlight for me. It has everything that one would want in a black metal track. The memorability factor is astronomical. Opening with a viciously alien bass line over atmospheric guitars, the song ebbs and flows between the bass line like wind whipping through trees on a mountainside. The song slows and builds dynamically throughout, particularly midway through as tremolo guitars take prominence leading into drawn out harsh clean guitar chords and feedback. Drummer Namtar's snare work in the song is excellent and driving. The song effectively "ends" but continues in silence, periodically accents of melody pierce. The song is truly mammoth.



With so much going on in each song, it would have been very easy for Furia to over-reach, for the album to seem disjointed. Instead it's as if they held back in spots and culled ideas specifically to make sections seem more minimalist and raw. The whole central section of "Tam Jest Tu" for example would have been a perfect place for a lesser band to simply fill it with ideas and shit but instead Furia left it practically completely empty. The silent sections of "Grzej" is another example. Few bands, especially in a genre that prides itself on being noisy and harsh, have the skill to utilize these voids in a way in which they become part of the atmosphere and songs themselves. Amidst all the awesome riffs and ideas and music, the incorporation of these lulls comes across in a manner that one could easily say Furia were truly inspired in the creation of this album. It's because of this totality of songwriting that Księżyc Milczy Luty is truly impressive, even to seasoned listeners. Furia have presented an old gilded chest full of remarkable treasures; each object unique and finely crafted, the heirlooms telling stories and stirring emotions.


** Orion's Note: Sars' bass playing on this album is absolutely incredible. I've listened to this four or five times in it's entirety just listening to the bass lines.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shotgun Blast: December '16


I can't write full reviews for everything which I listen to and receive. Through the months of November and December I've been slowly emptying out my "promo" folder, which also serves as my download folder, to clear up room for the inevitable 2017 avalanche of promotional material which I will be inundated with. I've been writing blurbs on all the stuff I've listened to in a good faith effort to give some attention to the releases I've been sent. This might wind up being a monthly or yearly thing, a wrap up of the promos I never had a chance to fully review as well as stuff which I simply came across in my travels, purchased for myself, or received as trades or as correspondence. There will be some older stuff here also that squeaked in for some reflection as well, such as the Metal Church debut below which somehow wasn't in my library even though I have the tape packed away somewhere or the early Alcatrazz albums which I had never before listened to and decided to ingest on a whim one day. This column reminds me of the old-school zine sections with endless running tallies of short concise reviews; shotgun blasts of metal particles which hopefully find their target.

Agonia - O Adormecer Eterno (2016)

From Portugal with hate, Agonia bring us black metal with strong funeral doom influence and the requisite ambient and atmospheric flourishes. Blackened Funeral Doom is also an appropriate tagline. More metallic than pure Funeral Doom, Agonia's most recent, O Adormecer Eterno, drags the listener through a mire of common genre tropes successfully. Nortt would be an appropriate point of reference. There is little mold breaking yet some songs do offer unique components such as the rubbery introduction to "Passagem sem Retorno." If you like your vocals lost in the background of your funeral doom, drums reverberating as if recorded in a cave, and guitars buried in an endless blistering fuzz then there is a good chance this will be well received. War Productions has this on tape limited to one hundred copies in traditional made-for-fanatics quantities. I was impressed with this to an extent and it will likely receive more listens.


Alcatrazz - Live '83
 
Before Yngwie Malmsteen the idea of Metal musicians playing virtuoso classically influenced music was limited to only one or two people such as Richie Blackmore that had touched upon incorporating that style. Malmsteen ran with the idea. Neoclassical Metal was born. Before Yngwie's solo career, Alcatrazz featured him as guitarist on their 1983 album, No Parole from Rock and Roll. The following year a live album was released featuring tracks from that album. The sound on this release is a great live recreation of the tracks. One of the more interesting tracks to appear is an early version of "Evil Eye" which first showed up on Rising Force. Alcatrazz shows a more heavy metal approach to Malmsteen's style. The need for Graham Bonnet's vocals perhaps forced Malmsteen to "hold back" during verses but his natural tendency to twiddle is highlighted in a song such as "General Hospital" where even under choruses and verses his fingers cut out paths across his guitar neck like a Nepalese sherpa tracking a course through mountains with incredible skill. Bonnet's vocals are another highlight here for me. This is an interesting listen especially for those that can't get enough of the Shred genre, Bonnet, or Malmsteen.

Brian Eno - Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978)
 
I always originally thought this was Brian Eno's first album but it's actually his fourth or fifth. Essentially pure ambience with occasional gentle instrumentation, Ambient 1 is a landmark in music and has had major influences on experimental music just as Eno himself has had a major role in exploring music in new and interesting ways. This is a perfect album to fall asleep to. I like to pair it with Earth 2 or the Orbis tapes. Piano works it's way into the second track backed with calming undulations of synth sounds. Eno said his purpose of creating ambient music in this manner was to create sounds which would 'induce calm and space to think.' Essentially his goal was to provide an option other than the canned music and elevator music which sought to "regularize environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies." This album is super chill, and it's playable at any time of the day. It really does slow down the world around you.

Calligram - Demimonde (2016)
 
A blend of black, punk, and hardcore is the name of the game being played by this UK based but internationally connected project. Even throwing in some experimental nuance to give the five tracks on Demimonde an air of urgency and vitriol, Calligram never tread far from that floating platform of blackened hardcore which is seemingly more and more prevalent and less and less interesting to me. Moments and segments such as the center-ice mark of opener  "Red Rope" or the intro to final track "Bataclan" show a breadth of techniques and willingness to use them on call and with expertise. "Drowned" starts off as the blackest of tracks before it's breakdown and slower section - an occurrence on a few tracks of Demimonde. Ultimately, it's not my style but Calligram are furious in their delivery and have all the right ingredients to capture the angsty teen hearts of kids that felt screamo was too soft but never truly came over to the black legions. At just over twenty minutes, this is also a very nice quick jolt of bleakness and aggression when the need calls. 

Darkrypt - Delirious Excursion (2016)
 
Out of India, an unexpected hot bed of metal activity lately, Darkrypt comes across as another band piecing together authentic and not fully derivative extreme metal. Essentially death metal of above average caliber, Delirious Excursion is the debut album from the quartet and treads the path carved by the early 90's US Death Metal legions; i.e. Incantation, Immolation, Death... you know the bunch. Even though the twistedness and gnarliness of the originators is not entirely realized, Darkypt still enthusiastically chop and hack through impressive structures and acrobatics. "Chasm of Death" is a fine example of Darkrypt's death metal foundation roots while songs such as "The Inducer" and the instrumental intermission piece "Folie a Duex" show a willingness to experiment, explore, and break out of the boundaries with heavy injections of more melodic and passive components. This is a very impressive record which is on par with any of their contemporaries worldwide. Keep and eye on the band. Hopefully they can continue to refine their own style.

Disembowelment - Transcend Into The Peripheral (1993)
 
Floating in a sea of infinite melancholic intensity, emotions refined like petroleum into a substance necessary in the emulsion of conscious despair and the surrounding world, Transcend Into The The Peripheral is the window to discover these relationships. Along with Winter, Disembowelment developed the foundational style markers which Funeral Doom would further explore. I'm ashamed it took me so long to fully delve into this album because it contains impressive moments of tragic beauty. Whether it's the seemingly infinite "Burial At Ornans" sledging into your ears, the intense depth of "The Tree of Life and Death," or "The Spirits of the Tall Hills" undulating melodic movements, Transcend Into The The Peripheral is also one of the most varied and technically impressive displays of this time period as far as death doom goes. The usage of so many different arrangement combinations infects this album with energy and interest which is often lost in the genre through years of repetition and normalization. A gold standard.

Gordon Lightfoot - The Way I Feel (1967)
 
When I was a wee lad, about six or seven, we would go on trips to Pennsylvania each weekend up in the Poconos and on those trips, Gordon Lightfoot tapes in the old Ford Econoline were pretty much a ritual once we got off Route 280 and started heading up towards Lafayette, NJ and Milford, PA. My dad had a dubbed copy of Gord's Gold and a lot of my childhood was spent with that and also Roy Orbison until he discovered Jimmy Buffet when I was about ten. Circumstantially, that was the year I also really started to delve into Metal and I think it's because the Lightfoot and Orbison ended and the Buffet began. Now I find myself actually seeking out his full length albums and The Way I Feel is probably my favorite. Six or seven of the tracks here just draw me into the mountains, forests, and ultimately solace through Lightfoot's impeccable lumberjack sonnets. "Softly", "Crossroads", "A Minor Ballad", "The Way I feel", and "Song For A Winter's Night" are tops of Lightfoot's catalog. The true highlight, and acknowledged as such on the back cover of the album by painter Robert Markle, is "Canadian Railroad Trilogy." The first of Lightfoot's epics of which "Wreck of the Edmund Fitgerald" would become his most famous song (covered by Jag Panzer of all people on a rare 7"), "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is the alluring tale of westward expansion and human toil in the face of time and nature. As Lightfoot captivates with campfire lyrics like 'long before the white man and long before the wheel, when the green dark forest was too silent to be real,' the guitars echo the spinning wheels and engines of the locomotives thundering across the steel, picking up speed and intensity. A perfect album.

Inverloch - Distance | Collapsed (2016)
 
Twenty-three years after Disembowlement's debut, Transcend Into The Peripheral, Matthew Skarajew and Paul Mazziotta are dead set on reclaiming the Doom Death throne with Inverloch. Distance | Collapsed sees much of a similar overall style with some minor production shifts to support the crushing dreary experiments in their dark art. Much of the album is part of that same tidal surge of doom and death metal which Disembowlement helped form. All tracks are powerful and grotesque meanderings through unblemished twisted constructions. The the fast-paced "Lucid Delirium" is an immediate highlight, requiring little mental consideration as it drops the weight of an entire dead cosmic nightmare into an unsuspecting listener's brain. When the track begins to crawl, there is still a tense speed assaulting from tremolo guitar riffs underneath. The dichotomy is maddening, as is how purely powerful this record comes across. That I haven't seen this on too many year end best of lists is disappointing.

Medieval - Reign of Terror (1986)
 
Take Slaughter's Strappado and slow it down. Reign of Terror is like that with NWOBHM vocals. The expansion on their debut demo, All Knobs To The Right, is non-existent. There has been little change in style but a big improvement in the still rough production of this EP. Back in '86, this was scaring people unconditionally because it was neither here nor there. There's some interesting material in the short release with tracks like "Lord of Darkness" throwing nods to Pentagram. "Face of Death" always seems to remind me of The Beast, probably due to Timmy Amsbuist's vocals being very similar to Scott Ruth's. By the time "Reign of Terror" runs it's course, Timmy has changed style into an early death metal styled bark of vocals. "Hell Is Full (Cruncher)" is culled from their previous demo and has been slowed down, adding weight and intensity to the classic chorus of "Hell is full and hear the fires roar." It's a monster sounding EP, given more heft with the extremely high bass mix, that indelicately maims and kills leaving bits and pieces everywhere.

Metal Church - Metal Church (1985)
 
The term 'necessary listening' was created specifically for Metal Church's eponymous debut. Whether it's the initial mid-paced marching of "Beyond the Black", the masterful Heavy Metal anthem "Gods of Wrath", or neglected b-side masterpiece "Battalions," Metal Church is the album that never tires, that never ceases - until you're forced to flip the record again (which you KNOW you are) - to amaze, and which is as integral to understanding Metal today as it was when it first landed upon unsuspecting human ears thirty years ago. It would be almost heresy not to mention the title track, but personally, as incredible as David Wayne's incredible vocals are in this iconic track, the veracity and snarl that drips between the tempestuous guitar chuggs like hungry dribble from the maws of a stalking predator, it's the proto-speed metal of "Battalion" which sends shivers throughout my body. As if the German power metal style would be anything like what it became all hearkens back to the triumphant and gnarly melodic innuendo that flows in this single song. An entire genre boiled down into one prototype, one alpha-version, one experiment in timelessness.

Moontower - Darkness... Glory To Hatred (2016)
 
The Fifth of Moontower's full lengths, and the first since 2012's Voices of the Unholy Land, Darkness... Glory To Hatred falls into that dreaded category of average black metal that no one truly wants to end up in. It's issues are multifaceted but simply put, it sounds like Moontower recorded the entire album in khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts.  Whether it's the staggering and awkward riff which forces resistance a hair over three minutes into "Under the Banner of the Black Sun" or that song's somewhat dilapidated initial opening sequence, the lazy and quaint intro to "Czysta Nienawisc" that doesn't quite match the rest of the track's rather interesting melodic moments, or the croaky monotonous vocals strewn across tracks like gravy over bad french fries at the worst dive in town, Moontower have effectively tainted each track with questionable choices that would make a pregnant fourteen year-old applaud their own decision making ability. "Ciemnosc" is perhaps the album's only rewarding moment with a darker and more dramatic tone, even if the structure is quite standard. Also considering that this album is only thirty-three minutes long with seven minutes of that being two bookends and the rather lovely - a word rarely summoned in black metal - instrumental "To The Dark Aeon" and I'm left feeling as if I wish I was on the same vacation as these guys were while writing and recording Darkness....

Shire - Shire (1984)
 
Pretty standard fare 80's Hard Rock that was laced with some metallic flourishes. I initially thought that this had female vocals since they are reminiscent of Doro or Fabienne Shine. Turns out I was wrong. First track of the release, "Do You Know What It's Like?" has a chorus that reminds me severely of Rush. This was all pretty worrisome to me starting off since I had the vocal gender mixed up. The five tracks clock at eighteen minutes and there's a decent variety of song lengths and styles on display in such a short time. "By My Side No More" recalls The Clash initially before crumbling into dust. If there's one redeeming track it's "All Alone," which has some really cool ideas in it, particularly the layered twangy guitars under the verse and some promising guitar leads, but there's a little too much repetition in the chorus, and I would have cut down some of the bridge accents to create more energy, as they cut up the track a bit. Unfortunately, the variety here doesn't include anything compelling beyond "All Alone." By the time "Thinking of You" politely queries attention from the listener, I'd rather listen to The Lone Rangers. Melodically, it's all very tired and predictable sounding. Even being a decent Dokken fan, it's of little interest to me that Don Dokken produced this as I seriously doubt I'm going to dredge that kind of footnote up in a conversation with anyone ever. I have no idea why this band has reunited as of 2014.

UADA - Devoid Of Light (2016)
 
UADA have gotten some attention lately due to their involvement in the Messe De Mortes Festival, but they should really be getting eyes and ears directed towards them for what many are calling the premier black metal album of the year, Devoid of Light. I think it's a very strong and well put together release for a debut. The songs are good, the musicianship and production is strong, there are memorable moments throughout, and the release is a very mature first album aided in part by the members' engagement with black metal in previous bands over the span of ten to twenty years. My preferred track is S.N.M, standing for the band's life philosophy of 'serve no master.' It is the most complete track of the record. Fans of more hard-nosed Cascadian and Canadian Black Metal would be wise to listen and make notes because I feel that UADA's next release will break ground and propel them into the next tier of bands. The album isn't without it's faults, though. I found it to be at times bland. Drops in energy were apparent throughout as well and even though UADA has a strong foundation for their style, I'd like to see something which will separate them from the myriad other bands that do something similar. According to interviews UADA have another full record written and a third partly written. Hopefully they see the light of day soon. The comparisons to Mgla are appropriate. I would like to see them live; perhaps in a more personal environment their music would come across as more energetic and vibrant.

Watchtower - Concepts of Math: Book One (2016)
 
If you had told me about fifteen years ago that Watchtower would be putting out another album I would have laughed in your face. At that time, Control And Resistance was this unknown force to me. I had stared at it's angular artwork while listening to "Fall of Reason" over and over again trying to grasp the disparity of it's musical intensities. Now, years later and more informed, Control And Resistance and Energetic Disassembly remain two of the few truly technical metal albums which I honestly can say I enjoy listening to. Musings aside, Book One is truly an addition to their discography and not a supplemental albums years later. Jarzombek after all these years is still piecing together songs like a mad scientist in a lab frantically rearranging tubular vessels and lightning rods to archaic ends. "Arguments Against Design" sets a standard of intricacy in every instrument and is followed through in the rest of the tracks. As a bass player, I can't stress enough how insane Doug Keyser is on this album, from the gurgling tumble of "Arguments Against Design" or the wacky psychotic splatter of "Technology Inaction" or the refined grandeur of ten minute "Mathematic Calculis," Keyser's playing is one reason I come back to Watchtower. One point of interest for me is the instrumental section at three and a half minutes into  "Mathematica..." which reminds me of Control Denied's Fragile Art of Existence or Death's Sound of Perseverance. Alan Tecchio sounds better than ever; I've always found him to be a tad monotonous but his alienesque warble is prime here. With every gear turning the Watchtower machine is as finely tuned as ever.