Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Psychobliss - Dreams of Dystopia


Originally while looking for things to review, I came across Psychobliss' posting requests online for reviews so I mozied on over to their bandcamp page. I decided not to review the project on my own. I figured I wouldn't have many nice things to say about a project that has a name worthy of a forgotten mid 90's local project whose CD resided for many years in a used record store bin. Two days later, I get an email from Dan Stollings - who is credited with all the instrumentals - asking to review their album. Oh well... I had hoped for something resembling Virgin Black and got something sounding as if it was created solely to fulfill a girlfriend's whim. I'm not saying that both Dan and Kyla Pavelski aren't together on this project. I'm just saying like a lot of the music sounds like the dumped aside 'riffs' and melodies of something else. The whole thing needs some work really - both the mix, songwriting and the appearance.

I'll tackle the mix first since so many of the issues on the album could be fixed with equalization and a different focus. The largest drawback here is that all of Dreams of Dystopia sounds extremely light. The loudest instrument other than Kyla's vocals is clean guitar. The distorted guitar is so set in the background of the music that it's even difficult for me to really consider the album having much in common with other heavy metal or even avant-garde albums that have similar styling. A perfect example would be opening track, "The Coldest Years." Even at the end of the track where Dan employs a lead guitar, opted for is a clean guitar with some echo and reverb instead of a distorted guitar which would have added some strength to the album. Throughout the track the buzzing guitar sounds like static in the background, hidden behind misty clean guitars. Even when the distorted guitar is highlighted, it is particularly subdued and used the way in which a DJ would use scratching between two measures of repetition. Across the album this is basically mimicked across the entire five tracks. I don't understand why the guitars would be mixed so low... Louder crunchier guitars would have made this release sound much more confident. Programmed drums do nothing to make the release feel more natural and less forced.

Though I don't have too many qualms with the songwriting there are a few points to be made. The combination of the vocals and the melodies are so tightly linked that there is a serious predictability factor here. I know where the phrases are going before they get there. It's the difference between riding a train across untraveled wilderness and commuting to work every morning. It's watching a bad movie multiple times because someone else likes it. This creates a very syncopated album which works in opposition to the fluidity which works in Psychobliss' favor. The strongest possibility for Psychobliss exists in this fluidity and ephemeral vibe. On a better note, there are some well placed melodies and harmonies on the album such as in Drifting Away which, for me, is the best song on the EP. It's not saying much though as the others such as "Finally Dead" and the lamentable "Don't Leave" are wretched in almost every way.

The biggest thing holding Psychobliss back is the irony of what they believe their music to be and what it really is. "Psychobliss, a new revelation of Dark metal, hails from the desert capitol of Phoenix, Arizona." There really isn't anything new about what Psychobliss are doing. Female vocals over semi-melodic music with distorted guitars - barely there distorted guitars. Lyrically, this could be pretty much anything. What it definitely isn't is what Psychobliss state they want it to be or intend it to be. On "Finally Dead," Psychobliss state "This is a depressive black metal song..." and while the lyrics are barely passable as Depressive in any sense, the music is in no way Depressive Black Metal in the sense that most people understand it to be what with the metal-core breakdown mid-song. In fact the most DSBM attribute about this particular song is that Kyla uses some screamed vocals in the track. Psychobliss' sound more like recent Katatonia with thin and whiny female vocals than the genre they claim to be.

Psychobliss can do a few things to change for the better. The biggest thing they need to change though would be their mixing. I understand the desire to have a different sound then others but I feel that they would have that uniqueness even if they just made the overall sound heavier and more guitar driven. Or, they could have more chance dumping the distortion altogether. Also, perhaps the band simply doesn't know how to describe themselves. They aren't really a dark band so labeling themselves as Dark Metal doesn't work and claiming that their songs are depressive black metal is about as out of the loop as calling Metallica avante-garde. This is a case where it would almost be better for the band to not label themselves as anything and let people just listen and judge. Also, I know this may sound harsh but the lyrics and presentation of the vocals really needs some work as well. Amateurish would be a valid critique here. Dan Stollings probably shouldn't sing or should take vocal lessons if he wants to do anything other than the whispered vocals. His voice sounds small and self-conscious, thin and nasally. Kyla needs less work but she needs to find a way to project more power and strength. Her vocals are also often times thin and weak.

- Orion

A tale of two high school lovers with a goth rock project, never having created music before, but having heard some of it, so they're sure they know what they're doing. It's a lot like someone who has seen someone drive a car and thinks they could do it, or a person who watched a documentary on scheming roulette and thinks they too could pull it off. Back down to Earth, this sounds like the equivalent of someone who spent an hour watching a documentary and thought they could pull it off, presenting their first attempt without refinement or even preferable equipment.

I have never heard anything this lackluster. I suppose the intent could be that the droning, emotionless nature of this music is the point of "depressive" music, but it doesn't explain the disjointed songwriting and brutally boring performances. One moment it sounds like a garage band covering Madder Mortem's softer moments, the next the drum machine plays a blast beat and the music turns as black as a sheet of paper in dim candlelight. It takes until halfway through the second track to understand that this isn't going anywhere and this music has nothing to offer but a shadow of mediocrity, a term that makes as little sense as this album.

The emotion that these five songs conjure best is sympathy. These sullen lovebirds croon their hearts out and sound pathetic. I do have a measurable amount of pity hearing the forlorn songs, thinking it couldn't get any more boring, then hearing their attempts at black metal vocals while MIDI drums click and I suspect there is a guitar somewhere in the mix, but not where I can hear it. Sympathy might be had for that if this was produced using Cakewalk in 1997, but in the final days of 2012, I connect with this music as little as I would have ten years ago as a high schooler. Knowing that the creators of this music were born in the 1980s, I hope they're either inexperienced enough to learn from their mistakes, or they're already fast-tracked on the way to giving up. This is even more pathetic than the "douchebag playing guitar" (singer-songwriter) genre spearheaded by John Mayer and Plain White Tees.

Do they really want to share this with the world? It might be cute (not a good adjective for "black metal") if they kept it to themselves, but it's almost as embarrassing as the black metal Nazi fashion show exhibited by certain "private" releases. It's as bad as the band's name, though it could be worse if they were juggalos, which the name might also fit. "It could be worse" also takes away the only achievement left to credit the release with - I've heard worse, so this isn't the bottom of the barrel, it's just pathetic. There's no sense of musicality, no memorable songwriting, and not a single part that I could identify as being redeemable. Rather than a train wreck, they're sitting in the assembly yard, enthralled with putting the screw and nut together, blissfully unaware that they're supposed to hold other parts together.

 - Steve


DustyRay said...

As someone who has also listened to psychobliss, i'd have to disagree with pretty much all of this. These reviews come off as really condescending and almost spiteful.

Anonymous said...

Psychobliss gets criticized for the use of a drum machine, but the band Black Chalice (who is on your label) uses a widely known, horrible, and free drum program. That's considered ok, though?

Now that I've listened to a few of the bands you've released on your label, your opinion seems to be totally worthless. The bands you sign are mostly really awful.

Orion said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Anonymous. Unfortunately, where as you believe my opinion to be totally worthless, many others have found my reviews to be totally accurate, even when I'm not entirely massaging a band's efforts. Hell, Look at the Midnite Hellion review, that's a pretty harsh review and yet the band members actually agreed with me on the review! You know it's tough out there when it comes to reviews and you have to take them with a certain grain of salt. I've gotten pretty awful reviews of stuff I've been involved with as well. You shrug your shoulders and move on.

On the band I sign being totally awful. Once again, I would disagree totally. Reviews for all the releases I've put out are 90% totally positive. Just because you don't enjoy them, doesn't mean others don't but I expect that the stuff I put out will continue to receive excellent reviews. Example: Maximum Oversatan, after their first demo sold out, still generates emails from people asking for copies. I've actually dubbed copies for people and sent them out, about 20 copies so far and I have interest from several people across the Earth to co-release stuff from them. Diseased Oblivion is a hit or miss for most. Some people really like it and some don't. Okketaehm has gotten back five reviews so far and every single one has been positive except for one - which I still included on the review page - and the release has an average rating of over 90% on metal archives.

Black Chalice has been reviewed by people before I put them out and has been well received as well. On the fact that Pat uses a drum program, that's just one aspect of the project. I don't mind the drum machine because the rest of the music is so good. You see, the fact someone USES a drum program isn't bad. When someone uses a drum machine, writes boring drum lines to boring music well...

I don't think I really criticized the use of the drum machine? I said "Programmed drums do nothing to make the release sound more natural and less forced." That's not really a condemnation. Once again, it's something I pointed out that could be changed on future releases to create a better project.

I also pointed out, in the first sentence, I wasn't originally going to review this but Dan came and asked me to review it. Do you get it now?

Orion said...

Dusty, sorry if you feel that way but it's the risk you ask for when you ask for music to be reviewed openly and honestly.

I can't speak for Steve's review and I'm sure he has his own thoughts but I did mention a few things I thought Psychobliss did well. I thought their songwriting was decent and I thought that Dan had a sense at creating good melodies.

Orion said...

Also the attempt to discredit my opinions and their validity is embarrassing on your part Anonymous.

Metantoine said...

This band seems very bad, good reviews guys. Also lol at the buttfrustrated people who can't handle criticism and prefers insults.

H1N1 said...

lol Not like anyone visits this review website anyways...33,000 views over the course of 4 years? That averages out to only 22 visitors a day. Weak.

Lets tackle some of the points made in this review, shall we?

-"buzzing guitar sounds like static in the background"

This is unlike all of your god-awful "Contaminated Tones" releases how?? Something else is contaminated besides your music, methinks.

-" never having created music before"

Wrong again. PsychoBliss released their own unofficial demo a few years back, and Dan was in a band called Empyreus around the same time. Do you even research these things before you throw around "high school" insults.

-"Sympathy might be had for that if this was produced using Cakewalk in 1997"

Back to the releases on your label. This is worse how?? Maybe they should invest in ANY kind of recording programs or equipment...

And you just have to laugh and the last paragraph... I mean, come on. Are you trying to say something akin to "I'm intelligent because I was born pre-80's" or "I'm so much more modern and intellectual because I was born post 1980's"?

Obviously what we're dealing with here is a lifeless review blog, taking it's last breath, grasping for some kind of readership by creating absolutely dreadful examples of a "review" in the way of creating insulting and negative reviews in the most unprofessional way one can even muster. Good move, guys.

Maybe when you finally break that big 30 visitors a day mark you'll be able to afford to move out of your parents basement and ditch that blow up fuck doll in the corner.

Good day.

Orion said...

I'll ignore most of what you said about my releases for the simple fact that the reviews for them have been awesome so far so there's that. Why don't you provide me with a review that praises this album? Keep in mind that the band asked me to review this. THEY ASKED MY OPINION.

"Obviously what we're dealing with here is a lifeless review blog, taking it's last breath, grasping for some kind of readership by creating absolutely dreadful examples of a "review" in the way of creating insulting and negative reviews in the most unprofessional way one can even muster. Good move, guys.

Maybe when you finally break that big 30 visitors a day mark you'll be able to afford to move out of your parents basement and ditch that blow up fuck doll in the corner."

Trust me, Contaminated Tones is far from lifeless. I have 4 more releases coming out in the upcoming several months, I get requests daily to do reviews - one of the reasons why I found another reviewer for the site, and I constantly get compliments on my reviews.

I had 100+ visitors yesterday and average about 700 a week. But numbers aside, I don't care how many people view my site. That's not important to me because I do it because I like to. You need to grow up.

Anonymous said...

Nobody likes to get a bad review, myself included, but when it comes we have to be professional about it and take it with a grain of salt.

Steve said...

Don't take the review personally, while that's the first review I have posted here, I have a long history of writing a full spectrum of reviews from extremely praising to thoroughly disgusted, from prominent bands to unknown bands who made a few dozen copies of a demo and asked for a review.

Other than reviewing, I'm not affiliated with CTP as a label, so don't bother bashing those bands based on my words. I don't bother writing biographies of bands unless I have uncommon information to share, so everything I said this music "sounds like" is meant to explain what I heard from the music itself, which was really terrible.

Kyla said...

I must say, when I found out we had a negative review I had mixed emotions. Sure I was a little sad, cause you want people to like your music. But I was also curious, curious to find out what people didn't like about it to improve. But these reviews attack so much that I can't take it seriously. On top of that you poke at me and my personal life. To that I have to say, you don't know me, so don't act like you do. I never claimed to be a professional and yes I'm still learning about my own voice, but that's why this is an EP, and not an official demo.

By the way, we had a review recently where there were good and bad comments by the reviewer on it, and I could take him seriously and learn from his advice. It's funny cause he said quite a few things about the music that were exactly opposite from what you guys said.

Anyway, I'm not saying take this down and I'm not saying fuck off, I'm saying I'm disappointed that two fellow metalheads out there have so blatantly and intentionally disrespected me and what I do and also felt so up on their high horse that they felt they could insult me and my man on top of that.

Orion said...

Kyla, obviously when it comes to music and art that we're personally involved in, it sucks to get a bad review. I understand that and I understand the impulse to defend your music and your efforts. In fact, I have a lot of respect for you for defending yourself. Obviously the music means a lot to you and to Dan as well.

But I have to say that, in regards to myself, I'm a college trained audio engineer with a lot of experience in audio production. I'm not someone that takes pride in giving bad reviews. I wish everything I listen to I could write a perfect review for but in the same breath, I take great pride in being honest about my thoughts on albums. And everything I said is exactly what I thought about your EP.

I will say that I never attack individuals personally. If I mentioned anything personal in my review it was not an attack on you as a person but an attack on the vibe I got after listening to your EP. They are the thoughts that listening to your music provokes. So when I say that it sounds like a boyfriend satisfying his girlfriend's desire to do something musically... I'm not saying that's true personally, I'm saying that is what I feel listening to the EP. I've reviewed my own friend's albums and given them sub-par reviews (Horrifier, Midnite Hellion for instance) and I still see the guys around and am good friends with them. They ask me for my opinions because they know I will be honest.

I did mention a few things I felt were done well on your EP. I thought the overall melodies were good and honestly, I thought that your clean vocals, while not particularly strong, weren't THAT bad. I stand behind my criticisms though, especially in regards to the production. The guitar sounding like static and buried behind the other instruments is difficult not to criticize. I can tell it was a direct-in feed and then adjusted using a VST program such as Guitar Rig for the distortion. Leaving the guitar set back relative to the other instruments was probably a necessity, since mixed much louder and it would be overbearingly digital sounding and crass compared to the atmosphere the EP attempts to convey. I would be extremely surprised to learn if this was a mic'd amplifier and if it was I would say ditch the Metalzone distortion pedal.

The fact that there are some good reviews out there simply emphasizes that some people like what they hear and some don't. I mentioned in my review that I listened to the EP before I was approached - BY YOU - to do the review, because you were looking for reviews. I was going to not review it because I didn't have much positive commentary on the EP. When you ask for a review, you have to be aware that it can be a good review, a bad review, or something in between. Considering that my scoring of the album is 14/100 doesn't mean that someone else won't think that it deserves something else. That's music. In many ways the way we feel about albums is a matter of perception, taste and listener context. My perceptions, tastes and the context of my listening simply are not conducive to the style and so I give my opinion - based on objective observations - based on that. I don't know which other review you are talking about because I saw a few others out there but considering my background and education in the field, I wouldn't ignore my thoughts outright.

Now one of the more left field things you said was that this was not an official demo but an EP. From what I understand, usually demos come before EP's and EP's are intended to be of the same quality as a full length album, but shorter.

I have no interest in sugar coating my opinions on albums just so I don't "hurt" feelings. That does no one any good. Sometimes tough love is the kind needed. I would love to hear your next release honestly and if you want my opinions on it I would happy to review the album myself and send you my thoughts privately if you wish.

Tobias 'Necrosphere' G. Pearl Stone said...

I listened to this ep myself and I was heavily nauseated. I am not a reviewer and do not care enough to go into detail, but I share the same objective opinions as Orion. I think his review is spot on and objective and I do not see why anything he said could be taken personally. Steve's review was harsh and more directed at the band members than the music itself, but he made several valid points, especially regarding the band name itself,the reference to Juggalos, and the overall repetitiveness. I don't approve of his approach and it could have been less directed at the band members.

Anyway, I am a guitarist myself and I am always very eager for someone to tell me that my music sucks. Criticism sometimes is necessary for future improvement. As a band, you guys are musically competent enough and you have the potential to be good. However, as a metal album, this leaves much to be desired. The reference Orion made to Virgin Black is spot on. I imagine 'Dark' Metal' as you call it, to sound like this. But instead you provided us with a clash of sounds that are utterly generic, and uninspired...and far from 'dark' or black metal.

Tobias 'Necrosphere' G. Pearl Stone said...

Additionally, I would like to point out that I agree with one of the previous posters about the majority of music released by this label as being questionable. He touts the fact that all of his releases have high reviews but reviews alone do not determine quality.

The maximum oversatan demo received flawless reviews yet it contains 5 tracks, two of which are horrible covers, 3 of which are originals, and 2/3 originals are terrible in my opinion. I'd give that album a 15/100. I do not understand why people praise mediocrity and that album brings shame to Venom and Motorhead. I will devote some time at some point in the near future to write a concrete review of the album because I truly do not feel that this release deserves such a high rating...no matter how 'high' in demand it may be.

Despite some of his questionable releases, there is quality as well. Being a passing fan of 'modern' black metal, I can appreciate the second Okketaehm release as a quality release. The first one however being 99.99% questionable.

I own three CTP releases myself, and I only approve of one...so as you can tell, my opinion is far from biased. My point is is that Orion's review and parts of Steve's are there to provide an alternative perspective for your music. As I mentioned earlier, I play guitar and it's impossible for me to accurately rate the quality of my music. For me it's more important that I enjoy playing and listening to my music.

If you guys (Psychobliss) are happy with your music, then by all means continue to do what you are doing, but I most certainly won't care enough to listen to your next release if it is similar to this one.