Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hercyn - Magda


Hercyn is a project out of the forested and naturesque setting of Jersey City. I have some issues with black metal / folk projects that come out of heavily industrialized places. It just comes across as galootish. What do urban dwellers know of the scent of ferns or the feel of pine needles falling upon one's skin? But, with the influences left by bands such as Agalloch and Alcest, even the rich and vibrant concrete hues of sprawl in all directions can evaporate away in the imaginations of impressionable youth and disenfranchised minds. In the case of Magda, Hercyn's debut release from 2013, it is once again easy to forget we are in fact not sitting around a lovely and majestic brook in a Bob Ross painting, and are actually watching garbage trucks speed by while waiting at a bus stop beside an under-maintained highway. And unless a stray plastic bag which probably sat at the bottom of a wet dumpster manages to slap against your face, closing your eyes might just be enough with Hercyn to forget where you are for a few minutes. The track hints at greener pastures.

"Magda" is quite a strong track. The ideas have clearly been given the opportunity to mature, and even moments that sound jammy and improvised, such as the leads half way through the twenty-two minute opus, are executed with precision. Emphasis has been afforded to each instrument at times though Tony Stanziano's bass playing is key. With a less involved bass section, Hercyn may have run into issues of different movements feeling out of touch with the larger whole, such as the more spacy ending of the track. The constant bass is like a chain, pulling the listener through these different places and vibes. Also held in high regard here is the drumming of Michael Toscarelli, which is inventive and varied across the whole song. Guitarists Michael Diciancia and Ernest Wawiorko fill out the talented lineup with Wariorko also providing vocals. While there isn't a large amount of riffs on the release, with the band more prone on riding out melodies and chords, leads are on full display. Though they are done extremely well, they cover up the fact that the composition as a whole meanders somewhat aimlessly to my ears.

Wariorko's vocals are an element not fully utilized here. With a large variety of styles and techniques on display elsewhere on the release such as some clean guitar playing, strummed chords, faster and slower moments and atmospheric as well as more driving parts, the one-sided raspy vocals don't add much. Also, like earlier expressed, Magda may have benefited from having the single track broken up into a few separate songs. Evidence of this is provided by listening to the acoustic version, Magda (Acoustic). Excellent acoustic playing could have been mixed into this release, helped with build up of each song, and offered a more complete listening experience in a full length album. Wariorko's vocals on the clean version of the song are more of a spoken, airy style with some melodic tints bristling about. Listening to both version back to back makes me wish the band worked more of the acoustic touches into the original.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Emanation - The Emanation of Begotten Chaos From God

About twelve years ago, Erich Von Daniken's Miracles of the Gods graced my nightstand / pile-of-clothes-by-my-bedside / place-where-I-put-whatever-book-I-was-reading-at-the-time. What was most fascinating about the book wasn't his expanding hypothesis of ancient astronauts and extraterrestrial intervention which Chariots of the Gods made a far stronger argument for, but instead the images taken of early 20th century photographs reportedly showing the essence of souls vacating the body. Enter Emanation, a Spanish project by C. G. Santos. Depicted within his recent release, The Emanation of Begotten Chaos From God, were similar photographs to accompany a soundscape of ritualistic ambient coalescing through harsh and hypnotic drones to form what felt like the background to a steampunk nightmare. The occult vibe is powerful across the six tracks and hour of material. It falls somewhere between Earth's Pentastar and Bosque's harshest scrapings.

You can take this or perceive this as many thinks but I set my listening experience against the background of a seance gone wrong. The opening lengthy dirge of "Cyclic Metamorphosis" draws the spirit into the room. Through foggy interior chambers we flow in first person as the aroused themselves, coming to materialize amidst curious onlookers. "Ritual Asphyxia" finds us feeling the anger after being rudely awoken and manifesting that anger into a new creature, of physical being. In "Immortal Blood Coil" we gaze upon the new creature, as an onlooker, in terror as it wisps around us like a serpent of dense steam, whispering in each participants ears the morbid way in which it would destroy each individual. As "Synethesia of the Lesser Sphere"rumbles forth each person, frozen in horror, succumbs to the summoned creatures method of murder. One by one, the responsible parties are whisked to a dimension of endless torment. "Inorganic" follows each of their souls realization into immortal suffering as "Sands of Totemic Silence" mimics their endless drifting, as the song crawls onward.

The album is marked with each song being different and recognizable though extremely consistent. Each of the pericopes works to fill specific needs of the pacing of the release which is characterized by the fact that it's not at all tiring or boring to the listener; a feat quite impressive considering the length of the release and issues which ambient music often encounter. At over an hour, dark harsh ambient like that created by Santos for his Emanation project can become severely tedious but here, I've found it easy to keep focus, and interest in the release - perhaps because I found imagery to accompany my listening. Santos has managed to use the techniques that often create auditory tunnel vision to instead create points of interest. Repetition, saturation, confusion and the texturalization of each element reigns supreme. I found the percussive elements rewarding throughout and mystifying. Songs like "Inorganic" fling drums and sounds around in the timing of random asteroid colliding in space, and caused my to consciously try to find patterns in the effects. After eighteen minutes my efforts yielded nothing.

This is an album for aficionados and connoisseurs of noise and ambient. It's enjoyability is not for youthful listeners of the genre, though those enjoying the genre in passing and looking for a challenging listen could find that here. With a suffocating and substantial heft, a tortured and painful texture and overwhelming phantom melodies, it takes both some background and a deep-rooted interest in noise and ambient for Emanation and The Emanations of Begotten Chaos from God to be welcomed. This is a more mature and thoughtful release than One Soul, One Body, One Spirit. This will be a rewarding session for some. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Qualeaceans - Capture of Ziz

Imagine that you are leaving an art museum, and somehow you have just barely managed to avoid the modern art wing. A shudder runs down your spine as flashes of Jackson Pollock’s random drippings and Duchamp’s urinal violently pop into your mind. Shrugging it off, you head home to safely unwind by listening to some new music. The bad news is that you haven’t escaped, the first thing you listen to is Qualeaceans’ “Capture of Ziz,” another silly experimentation with “forms” and “concepts.” The good news is that it isn’t anywhere near as terrible as the modern art wing, but unsurprisingly “Capture of Ziz” also has the similar major flaw of prioritizing experimentation much more greatly than musicality. While the single-song album has some very interesting highlights, the overall experience is mostly an unrewarding exercise in exploring musical ideas rather than executing those ideas to create music.

The album’s single 80 minute track titled “In The Cavern Of The Flightless” is divided into five distinct sub-parts (you know, what most bands would call songs). For the sake of both easy reference and summary evaluation we can roughly title them as follows:

Industrial Heavy: Start - 24:00
Silly Noises I: 24:00 - 40:00
Acoustic Weirdness: 40:00 - 53:30
Silly Noises II: 53:30 - 1:04:00
Sludge Heavy: 1:04:00 - End

As you can easily see, the album has a symmetric pattern of varying sections. This is a very helpful compositional tool to keep interest and cohesion for a band that needs to be paying desperate attention to both concerns. After all, it isn’t easy to keep a listener’s attention for an entire album, let along a single 80 minute track. So, having someone sit through repeated listens of Silly Noises I -& II requires some forethought. Oddly enough, the overall structure makes sense, but when you take a look at any given moment of the album there are few riffs to speak of. “Capture of Ziz” is more about establishing moods than any one particular melody. In other words, the band has a general sense of direction, but can’t work out the details.

Generally speaking, there are recurring problems across these five songs, with the most fatal being grueling repetition. It is like the band wrote small pieces of music and then copied and pasted chunks of recordings over and over again until they filled up a 20 minute song/movement. This issue plagues almost the entire album, but a very obvious example of this lazy copy-and-past repetition is in “Industrial Heavy” at around 9:30-10:30 where an uneven cymbal hit repeats around a billions times. Speaking of the drumming, its pretty damn awful. Without any real sense of rhythm, a lot of the repetitive beats feel like something a guitar player would come up with. They accent the underlying music rather than establishing a pulse; downbeat, backbeat, or otherwise. The strongest track, “Acoustic Weirdness,” also has no percussion.

The next big problem is the approach to lead melodies throughout the album. Essentially they are random and very chromatic, as if someone was trying to emulate Slayer solos but didn’t have the ability to hit notes clearly or play with that kind of overflowing speed. Most often this is with a lead guitar, but it also happens with electronic noises, flutes, harmonica, and what might be sound effects from Lost in Space. Danger, Will Robinson! Even though metal has a lot of aimless melodies used to great effect, they fall short here because they just sit on top of the ctrl+c ctrl+v song structures. This is illuminating because the more orthodox and heavy parts of the album highlight why the random and chaotic bits still sound so very flat, i.e. the excess repetition.

What then makes this album mediocre instead of completely terrible? Qualeaceans have some interesting and excitingly fresh ideas, even if they are over stretched across long troughs of compositional laziness dressed up as experimentation. In more optimistic terms, this could have been a fairly compelling EP with the proper editing. The undeniable value of music like this is how it can discover new sounds, which from a music lover’s standpoint is nothing less than thrilling. Take for example the fascinating mood in “Silly Noises”at about 28:00. Drawn out echoes with a tremolo picked lead underneath, which later gives way to ominous tremolo bass notes. Pretty damn cool.

The central highlight though is the “Acoustic Weirdness” portion of the album, where unsettling clean leads echo behind bizarre lyrics. The vocal approach here differs from the mundane approaches elsewhere. They are spoken word, but done as if the speaker had no prior experience with English. Syllables are softly accented in unusual ways, feeling more like an alien accent than a foreign one. Its a very intriguing mood, and lines about stimulating erogenous zones are so odd that they actually amplify the overall feeling. Most importantly, the tempo and energy levels vary here and that allows this movement to escape the repetition problems on the rest of the album.

Still, the interesting bits aren’t enough to save the album. Although only a few of the silly noises are unbearable enough to be overly irritating, it ends up being a question of repetition tolerance. Sure, budding creativity is often promising, which is why a band like Qualeaceans making a mediocre album probably has a brighter future than bands releasing similar quality stuff while only emulating their influences. Overall though, it isn’t the kind of album one would want to revisit after really digesting it. Moreover, the songwriting problems are severe enough that the band has a long long way to go. Like the modern art wing of the museum, “Capture of Ziz” may be worth poking your head in for a quick look, but your time is probably better spent elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mare Cognitum Interview

Mare Cognitum is a solo black metal band hailing from a small planet called Earth, and just recently released its third full-length album "Phobos Monolith." Below we have an illuminating interview with the man behind the band, Jacob Buczarski:

For starters, and as an introduction for anyone unfamiliar with your work, what musical projects have you been involved with? What made you create Mare Cognitum and how was that project born?

Jacob Buczarski:
I’ve been in numerous short-lived projects for about 8 years now, most of which will have no evidence of ever existing. This was the very problem that prompted me to start Mare Cognitum – I was dumping effort into project after project that simply fell apart due to some reason or another outside of my control. If I took everything into my own hands, success wouldn’t be determined by so many uncontrollable variables.

Apteronotus: It is probably very safe to say that space is an important theme in your music and its imagery. What is it about space that draws your attention? Beyond space having an artistic importance to you, do you have an interest in astronomy?

Jacob Buczarski: I have been interested in astronomy since an early age, and although I think my knowledge of it is really not at any sort of impressive level I find it very easy to draw inspiration from it – even the scientific side rather than simply photography. My music often tries to be overwhelmingly majestic and it’s easy to do that when you are trying to illustrate something like a grand cosmic event. So, when I need inspiration, I need only to briefly read on a subject in astronomy or astrophysics and my mind begins to fill with imagery.

Apteronotus: What was your motivation in creating Phobos Monolith, and was it a different process compared to your other releases?

Jacob Buczarski:
I had a great excitement after creating the Spectral Lore split, “Sol”, because I felt that the work was far more progressive than anything I had ever attempted, particularly in aspects like structure and layering of the compositions. This drove me to explore these developments further in full album format, to sort of “flesh out” the details of the techniques I had honed. And when I say excited, I mean that the composition of the album began before Sol was even released, so there was definitely a huge draw for me to continue on. However, besides the new development in songwriting techniques, the process was largely the same, and consisted of typical recording in my home.

Apteronotus: At this point in your music career you have self-released music under your label Lunar Meadows Records and worked with Milam records and now I, Voidhanger. What kinds of things have you learned about releasing, distributing, and promoting music from these experiences?

Jacob Buczarski: Self-releasing music is difficult, but rewarding! In retrospect, my release of An Extraconscious Lucidity was perfectly timed and opened up several doors, including the split with Spectral Lore and the subsequent signing with I, Voidhanger. Now that my reputation has grown considerably, I cannot imagine self-releasing at the quality and quantity I currently do without sacrificing the rate and quality at which I release music. It simply doesn’t seem feasible! The run of 150 was just right for me to be able to manage, and that was just a simple cardboard case design. So I suppose what I’ve learned is that while self-releasing serves a big purpose in small bands, there comes a certain point in a band’s lifespan (especially one-man bands) where you need at least a little help!

The Mare Cognitum/Spectral Lore split has a high degree of cohesion, with the third track being a joint creation. How did the split come to be and what was the creative process like?

Jacob Buczarski: Ayloss approached me some time after the release of An Extraconscious Lucidity simply with kind words and an interest in what I was doing. After some communication back and forth we found out that our thoughts on music and creativity were extremely similar and it sort of was evident to both of us that if we collaborated, we could create something great. So we laid a groundwork from the start that this would not simply be a split where two bands bring leftover songs together, but something where each piece of it is extremely intentional and calculated between each side. Aside from this, we both agreed to scathingly criticize the other’s work to hone the release to perfection. This resulted in several versions and alterations over a long period of time, a grueling process really. Admittedly, Ayloss did more criticizing of my work than I had to do to his (with good reason!), but I’m honestly grateful this is the case. His suggestions helped guide me into a new way of thinking about composition and this is really the foundation for what you hear today on Phobos Monolith.

Apteronotus: How has the reception been for your work in Spirit Lapse?

Jacob Buczarski: Hah, I am sort of in disbelief that you dug that name up. I don’t have any involvement with that project anymore and I’m not sure it is even active anymore. I was more helping out and acting as a producer for someone else’s creative work, recording songs and doing backup instrumentation. I suppose it was received well in the small circles it was exposed to. You might see the name come up again but I will not be involved.

Apteronotus: What has made you choose to have Mare Cognitum be a solo project so far? Do you balance writing the music for each instrument or is there one that you tend to focus on more so than others?

Jacob Buczarski: Like I mentioned earlier I needed the assurance that my work would not go to waste which is why I began the project solo. And it was actually the very fact that I could give each instrument the proper attention that made me know it was possible. I have extremely high standards to what I record and it must be absolutely perfect or it is redone. This is the case for every element. Down to single drum hits and note bends and single vocal phrases, I will tweak and adjust until it is exactly as I envisioned. Clearly the band is extremely guitar driven but the project would be worthless without a perfect foundation.

Apteronotus: In the past you have done remixes of your music based on fan requests, how important are mixing and mastering to you?

Jacob Buczarski: I place an extremely high value on the production quality of Mare Cognitum. While black metal is famous for raw, unrefined recordings, I spend a great deal of time tweaking and equalizing every element to be exact. This process is almost an equal half of the work when compared with the composing side of things. Extremely important! With a weak production, this sort of music simply would not work.

Apteronotus: Did you have a favorite band when you were first getting into music? How did you start getting into metal?

Jacob Buczarski: I remember listening to a lot of hardcore bands when I was young, anything with a heavy guitar sound really. This was actually the first music I had an authentic interest in. I started developing a refined taste by high school, listening to lots of death metal, thrash, and still maintaining that interest in hardcore, as that scene thrived during that time. I definitely always had this focus on really melodic bands. Black Metal came at the tail end of this when I overcame the stigma of the genre and found out that it was capable of so much more in terms of atmosphere and melody than genres like melodic death metal offered. As I started exploring the genre it was clearly the most open ended creatively and I was hooked from there.

Apteronotus: Are there any particular bands that have captured your attention lately? Any local bands?

Jacob Buczarski: In recent black metal, I’ve been digging the bands Bolzer, Thantifaxath, Sun Worship, Manetheren and Cult of Fire. I’ve also been spinning other stuff like Nails, Mammoth Grinder, Midnight, and Revenge. The newest Electric Wizard and Eyehategod albums have caught my attention as well. I could go on. Lots of great music right now! As for my local scene, well… not exactly much going on that I know of to be honest. Does Orange County have black metal shows?

Apteronotus: Where do you write and record your music, what does the setup look like?

Jacob Buczarski: Extremely simple. It’s actually the simplest it’s ever been, I don’t even have my studio monitors set up right now! Picture a really small bedroom with a computer, guitar, bass, keyboard, and an Agalloch poster on the wall, and you’ve pretty much got it.

Apteronotus: You are watching television and suddenly realize that there is a wasp on your arm. What do you do?

Jacob Buczarski: Shit, I have never been stung by a wasp or bee so I have this fear that I am horribly allergic and would instantly die the day I am stung by one. I would probably spasm and run out of the room like a little kid. I wouldn’t be crying, I swear…

Apteronotus: In another interview you mentioned that you are a hardcore craft beer elitist, do you have any preferred brews or breweries that you'd recommend? Do you have a favorite style of beer?

Jacob Buczarski: Yes! I love beer. I frequent a lot of local and semi-local breweries: The Bruery, Valiant Brewing, Noble Aleworks, Left Coast, Belching Beaver, Stone… All great! I know I’m forgetting some other good ones too. My favorite beers are dark, porters and stouts, that sort of thing. And I’m a big fan of the bourbon barrel aged trend happening, especially the stuff the Bruery does. Damn, time to drink a beer.

Thank you for doing this interview, do you have any final comments?

Jacob Buczarski: Thanks for your interest in me and my music! I have the best and most supportive fans, so I’ll not be stopping anytime soon. Cheers!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Licrest - Misery

I'm going to have reviewed more Armon Nicholson albums than there are Star Wars novels before the end of my reviewing career. With Misery, the second album from his Licrest project, we once again follow Armon into the depths of what seems to be a very doomed and depleted heart. Where death doom is concerned, this is far more on the doom side, with only the vocals and a few chug chugs breaking into death metal territory. The flickering death metal influences, noticed at random across the release such as in "I Want To Watch You Die" give some attitude to what otherwise is a platitudinous and disappointing follow up to the strong Devoid of Meaning debut. Even with the strengths here being once again the lead-work and melodic play, the rest of the album feels generally unfinished. It's a seventy-percent cooked release in my opinion, especially with other elements appearing momentarily elsewhere in short spurts and not being utilized to their full potential. Misery is more stagnant than Devoid of Meaning and it kills me to say so but with some new elements appearing, perhaps it is setting the stage for an impressive third release, where integration of Licrest's death-doom sound and the string sections, pianos, and atmospheres which fleetingly reveal themselves here, will be given a stronger compositional role in the arrangements.

In addition to being a bit stagnant, Misery also drifts in and out of being less grandiose and more petty. While the lyrics aren't available in the actual physical copy of the release, similar to Devoid of Meaning - an issue which I originally voiced concern over - Armon's growls at times border on crystal clear snarls and so when choruses such as "I'd rather die than make-up with you" or the very first verse in the very first song which informs us that "You make your suffering a fucking competition" come across as angsty,  it drags the overall vibe of the release into the nether realms of amateurism. Sure, personality and a quality of individual passion are imbued, but the quality of that passion and that personality more likely than not would be perceived more in a negative manner by the audience. The lyrics throughout can be questionable but if you're critiquing the album as a window into Armon's life, maybe such insights would be important. I don't think that's the case in almost any situation though. The album can actually be viewed much like Fleetwood Mac's Rumors then: as Armon's break up album. Though I'm not too familiar with Armon's personal life, the album's contents  suggest a tumultuous existence but I know that Armon is quite a nice and genuine person to chat with and makes some awesome home-made guitars.

Anyway, I would generally characterize the album as angry yet stoic. Musically, I found this Armon's most consistent effort of any of the projects which he has sent my way. While at it's most simplistic level, we have thick, generally slow doom death riffs that crawl at a pace not much faster than Ataraxie's average speed but  some new sounds have also made themselves known. The first notable element is the clean vocals which appear in three of the eleven tracks but first show up in opening track "Regret." Throughout Misery we also hear much improved drum programming and percussion composition. Piano and strings show up in the interlude tracks "A Starless Sky" and "Fading Away Into Nothing" as well as the prologue, "Exhale." With  these new components offering a large opportunity for depth in the arrangement, it's unfortunate Armon didn't take advantage. Generally, a lot of these songs sound similar. Incorporating the strings and the piano and some additional clean vocals (maybe) could break up the monotony of Misery a bit and help differentiate between songs. As an example, "Exhale" almost feels like it should be a full length track instead of an afterthought. It has a beautifully crafted introduction with the piano and it moves into some heavier riffs but feels like it should be more than a two-minute album conclusion. The faster moments at times sound like Dark Tranquility's Damage Done such as in "Forever Lost." A lot of the material is built around the concept of the 'grand chug' which is intended to be more powerful than these chugs actually are.

I think this is overall a step backwards for Licrest but it sets the stage for what could be a great leap forward by introducing new elements to the sound but not fully incorporating them. "Like a Flood of Anger," for example, has the most unnecessary usage of one of these new elements - the clean vocals - when they are stuffed awkwardly before a chorus section which would be stronger on it's own to contrast the earlier parts of the track. The clean vocals take away from the melodic hook of the chorus, by poorly cueing the section. The clean vocals here also sound strained and not entirely confident. This is one of the few moments where Armon's technical musical ability is not up to par. As far as the rest of the instrumentation goes, his guitar playing, bass playing, growls and drumming are all done extremely well. He's done a great job on the engineering side as well and though I liked the slightly harsher feel to Devoid of Meaning better the smoother guitar tone works well and, if some of the other instrumentation were better arranged here, the less aggressive tone would have created the feeling of a decently done death doom album with Gothic overtones, a tragic theme (were the lyrics much better), and maybe captured the ears of fans of Paradise Lost's mid 90's albums. A track like "Misery" with it's big harmonized central instrumental section would be served well with building it with additional elements like the string sections and piano. The additional textures would strengthen the impact of what is intended to be dark and beautiful and would draw attention to sections that deserve attention.

Armon got the consistency and sincerity right here, even if it was at the expense of the overall album. I'm looking forward to what is next for Licrest. I think it could be a top album given the contenders around it. Keys would be to maintain the strong foundation of death doom, work on maturing the lyrical themes and better investing in details to create a complete sounding album.

Osmium Guillotine - Osmium Guillotine

Osmium Guillotine is NWOBHM worship. Riffs straight out of the early 80s - not via the 90s, but straight from the first couple Iron Maiden records with a few notes changed. There are hints of Saxon, Priest, Satan, and more NWOBHM too - this isn't amateur heavy metal worship, it's a well-honed imitation of that time in 1981-83 when Britain was overrun by amitious young bands who wanted to prove themselves to be the very best of this massive, successful wave of bands that were ripping off Iron Maiden.

At this point I trust that you get the idea that this isn't the most original band, but they're pretty good at times. There are some very energetic moments where the band hits their stride and kicks off a song hard with a good riff, like "D-Day" and "City of Chaos," but these catchy riffs are caught up in the overwhelming familiarity of it all. The vocalist is neither distinctive nor charismatic, but at least rehearsed enough to sing in the mid-range he middles in. A very middling release, as the band has some moments where they sound great, the performance and production are technically solid, but at every step they completely lack all of the tools needed to make it feel like something special.

This band is, in essence, a retro thrash band playing heavy metal. They have the riffs, the album is loaded with homages to great bands, and any 20 second clip without vocals would sound great as a 20 second clip. The problem is, the driving force behind this band is to emulate an era, a sound, a group of bands. "Into the Battle" borrows heavily from the second half of Powerslave, but it feels like the motivation isn't to tell an epic story like "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" but to make a song that has a riffs that has the same "epic" vibe as the song, while falling back on mediocre speed/thrash riffs with a mediocre vocalist over them.

This album simply doesn't have the charm, the magic of heavy metal that it emulates. It lacks character, identity, and the ability to conjure a mystique about a song. What successes it does have - some flashy and cool riffs - are diluted heavily by a lack of focus and vision in an aimless, wandering 55+ minute runtime.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Orion's Personal Sale List

This is stuff I'm selling personally. Once, again nothing to do with Contaminated Tones. If you have questions on pressings or dates... let me know and I'll be happy to provide pictures and info to you.

Magic The Gathering Cards: $200
I have about 200 Rares, 350 Uncommons and 2000+ Commons. Selling it only as a lot.
Skull Shot Glass: $2.00

$1 Einhard - The Life Of Charlemagne
$7 Garyn G. Roberts - The Prentice Hall Anthology Of Sci-Fi and Fantasy

$4 Glen Cook - The Black Company

$4 J.R.R Tolkein - The Return Of The King
$5 James Joyce - Dubliners
$5 John Connolly - The Book Of Lost Things
$9 John Storey - Cultural Theory and Popular Culture
$9 Paula S. Rothenberg - Race, Class and Gender In The United States
$2 Primo Levi - Survival In Auschwitz
$3 R.A Salvatore - Insurrection: War Of The Spider Queen (Book 2)
$3 Richard Lee Byers - War of the Spider Queen Book I: Dissolution
$5 Robert Jordan - Crossroads of Twilight
$5 Robert Jordan - The Fires Of Heaven
$5 Robert Jordan - The Shadow Rising
$5 Robert Jordan - The Dragon Reborn
$8 Stephen King - The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels By Stephen King
$8 Stephen King - The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower Book I
$3 Terry Goodkind - Stone Of Tears
$3 Terry Goodkind - Temple Of The Winds
$3 Terry Goodkind - Faith Of The Fallen
$1 Terry Goodkind - Debt Of Bones
$3 Terry Goodkind - Blood of the Fold
$5 The Art Of The Andes 2nd Edition
$5 The Art Of Mesoamerica 4th Edition

$5 Vera Brittain - Testament of Youth
$9 Wiesner, Ruff, Wheeler - Discovering The Western Past 5th Edition

$5   Alan Baker - The Knight
$15 Cistercian Abbeys - History and Architecture
$5   Dan Brown - The Da Vinci Code
$5   E. Randall Floyd - The Good, The Bad, The Mad: Weird People In American History
$10 Frey, Botan, Kreps - Investigating Communication
$5   Jennifer Fallon - Medalon
$5   Joe Hill - Heart Shaped Box
$5   Kenneth R. Timmerman - Countdown To Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran
$5   Harry G. Frankfurt - On Bullshit
$5   Pat Brown - Killing For Sport: Inside The Minds of Serial Killers
$5   Peter Haining - Cannibal Killers: Real Life Flesh Eaters and Blood Drinkers
$20 R.A Salvatore  - War Of The Spider Queen (Books 1, 3, 4 and 5)
$10 R.A Salvatore - The Legacy 
$8   R.A Salvatore - The Highwayman
$10 Robert Jordan - Lord of Chaos
$15 Robert Jordan - New Spring
$10 Robert Jordan - Winter's Heart
$10 Robert Jordan - The Path Of Daggers
$10 Robert Jordan - A Crown of Swords
$20 Stephen King - The Dark Tower VII
$10 Terry Brooks - Morgawr
$10 Terry Brooks - High Druid of Shannara: Jarka Ruus  
$10 Terry Goodkind - Naked Empire
$10 Terry Goodkind - Soul of the Fire
$10 Terry Goodkind - Pilars Of Creation
$10 Terry Goodkind - Chainfire
$20 Treasures of the HardRock Cafe (Official Catalog of  HardRock Cafe Memorabilia)


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Predatory Light - MMXIV

Most band names are just empty bravado, but that’s not the case with Predatory Light. The band’s debut demo “MMXIV” is fantastically transfixing black/doom metal that you will want to consume you as you sit quietly, frozen in place like a frightened animal. This music is so addicting that I always listen to it multiple times. Always. Granted, the two songs total less than 18 minutes, but this release still has a gripping and iron-clad sense of completeness that refuses interruptions. Blending black and doom metal, Predatory Light isn’t doing much new, but they are doing everything much better and more dynamically than the vast majority of their peers. A fair benchmark for comparison is Negative Plane - take the same top-tier quality and similar lush cascading reverb, but drop the hints of surf rock in favor of a more ponderous mood that is elegantly feathered with touches of dissonance.

An excellent drummer can make an enormous difference in almost any type of band, and Predatory Light is thankfully no exception. The percussion’s expressive intensity accents the guitar’s moods while simultaneously breathing life into repetition, making the riffs insist on being heard over and over again. This concussive variation gives Predatory Light free reign to marinate in mood and atmosphere without sacrificing even a scintilla of excitement, which is an incredibly rare and special combination. Even the exemplary plodding riff in the second song “Spiritual Flesh,” which goes on for over three minutes, is fantastic due in large part to the varied percussion. When that mesmerizing riff switches over to clean guitars, the drums keep adding flavor, making the return to distortion feel absolutely necessary. Small changes like these are clear signs of the band’s excellent overall songwriting intelligence.

Having a the ability to write an absolutely crushing riff like the one in “Spiritual Flesh” is a pretty great trick for a demo, and even for a full-length. But “MMXIV” is so much more than that. Despite what you may expect from doom metal influences, this striking demo still is peppered with vibrant energy and is even up-tempo at times. Take for example how the massive speed jump at about 1:50 into “Changing Skins” builds on the slow sinuous melodies it follows. Bold tempo changes throughout the demo make for an experience more like a hazy fever than the typical walk into a murky cave. Single notes blur into one another, yet each riff is distinct and dynamically segues into the next. Helping to tie these riffs together is the warm and round bass. Much clearer than the shimmering guitars, the bass also soaks into the mix as a superb mediator between the distant melodies and the immediate punch of the percussion. This is in contrast to the vocals, which play a minimal but apt role; the low growls and muted screams are almost background accents.

By excelling simultaneously in both atmosphere and energy, Predatory Light’s masterful debut demo is immensely satisfying and will leave you eager for more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fides Inferno - Correspondence

Fides Inferno’s “Correspondece” oozes with a sense of heat and vastness to that point that it’s like a sun-scorched trek into a desert - a desert that also happens to have a stadium seating view of the universe. This drone-doom-experimental album is unlike anything else out there, and is surely one of the finest example of whatever sub-genre it may fit into. Simultaneously heavy and desolate, vast but penetrating, “Correspondence” births a new musical world. Downtuned echoing acoustic guitars give off a vaguely Western feeling, but with a profoundly apocalyptic mood. If Ennio Morricone had died in a desert and then had every last molecule of his body scattered across space, this is the music those molecules would make.

While best thought of in terms of blended textures, this album is not without riffing moments or a sense of melody. That said, depth and enormity are the most prominent features, and these are achieved through a slathering of reverb, echo, and thoughtful dynamics. As echoes and quietness both reflect distances in the real world, their varied uses here imbue the music with a sense of representing a physical location - and also a sense that that place is otherworldly. Loud sounds can seem far away, and quiet ones can be close enough to be crystal clear whispers. Even the sample of running water in the intro to “Immortal Response” is paradoxical, as it does nothing to quench the sense of heat; a musical mirage.

Depth, especially on a cosmic scale, is difficult to convey - but Fides Inferno carves a musical landscape with dynamics that continually pull the listener deeper in. This isn’t just a mix between acoustic and electric guitars; the volume weaves sounds together by contracting and dilating across instruments. Few musical acts utilize even half as much dynamic variation. As an example, “Vacant,” the opening track, begins with a low drone note swelling into existence. Next, a single twangy acoustic chord rings out into strummed notes that make the album’s characteristically low and quiet growled vocals seem to arise out of nothingness. This clothes the highly minimalistic composition in a shroud of lush intertwined textures. Aside from some of the guitar work, all of the sounds here are textures rather than instruments. Vocals are rumbles, notes tumble over their own echoes, and nearly indiscernible rattles permeate the mix. Is that a cymbal, didgeridoo, a gust of wind, fret buzz, or a rattle snake? If you focus on it, the answer is clear, but unimportant to the experience.

Flaws on “Correspondence” are few and mostly minute with the exception of the song “Why Are Your Eyes So Cold.” That song, in a complete reversal of the usual course of events, is the most metal and also the weakest. It isn’t a per se problem that the song deviates from the vacant, soundtrack style. It falters by being overly repetitive and flat. Abandoning the dynamic strengths would have been forgettable enough, were it not also for the excessively long stretches of the same fast three note runs. While the album’s overall tendency to overindulge in repetition is nearly unnoticeable in light of the overflowing atmosphere, some may view it as problematic, particularly on this song.

“Why Are Your Eyes So Cold” also reveals another weakness - the dull and flat drum samples marring an otherwise vast soundscape. The percussion ends up not being a real issue because it is so sparse and nearly subsumed by other instruments. For the more minute flaws, the only one worth mentioning is how a small portion of “Immortal Response” is vaguely reminiscent of “The Streets of Cairo,” a well known song that is an irritating Eastern music cliche, but this part ends quickly. Despite these minor issues, “Correspondence” is still a powerhouse of an album.

Clocking in at around 35 minutes, this album is absolutely necessary for anyone looking to spice up their drone, doom, or ambient music with something enjoyably engaging yet comprised almost entirely of atmosphere. Fides Inferno is one of the few bands that can successfully balance the two in such a minimalistic setting. With a foreboding vastness contrasted against reflective quiet that persists long enough to delve into bleakness, “Correspondence” also deftly dances with varying volumes to manifest sounds into a physical, alien, world. The central question is, do you enjoy echoes that cascade across the entire universe before hitting your ears? Well in the case of “Correspondence,” you really should.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kaarmekristus - Saturnaalinen Siunaus

I respect artists' desire for privacy. In the black metal world, that goes a long way sometimes. A couple years back, I had the pleasure of reviewing Ajan Lopun Alku, the debut demo from Ophiuchus' project Kaarmekristus. It had ups, it had downs, but it was personal and pure black metal through and through. Ajan... was finer than most of the ephemeral promos that get emailed to me and forgotten about. I had forgotten about the tape for almost a year or two when two more Kaarmekristus demos landed on my doorstep. The first was Cosmic Satan. Also included was a second tape, Saturnaalinen Siunaus, an unreleased demo which was sent out to a few people Ophiuchus apparently likes. 

The album translates to "Saturn Blessing" or "Blessing of Saturn" - I'm not an expert in Finnish in any way but I can admit to be well versed in the language of black metal. This release is dedicated to fellow countrymen IC Rex and is similarly frigid and cold in vibe. Kaarmekristus has improved in some areas on this release even if it isn't meant for mass consumption. The songwriting is a bit more convoluted and intricate and less static compared to Ajan Lopun Alku. Stylistically then, the similarities to the release it claims to be a tribute to are keen.

The production is rough for a normal / average listener. Lo-Fi fans would have a feast with this if they could get their hands on it  as it is all the perfection we seek - rough hewn guitars, miserable vocals and general sloppiness in sound at times. It feels as natural as if one were actually in a rehearsal where perfection is forfeited for emotion. Ophiuchus is still influenced by others and the initial Darkthrone and Beherit respect is shown in the two unnamed tracks. Opening with an ambient intro before the track takes off, the first salvo is the longer of the two but the second quicker track is where Kaarmekristus shines. More unique, with a spoken lyrical style that carried through the composition which sports an apocalyptic and sullen atmosphere over the scraping guitars. Unfortunately, at only a eight minutes long, this tape is over too quick.