Sunday, December 29, 2013

Absence of Salvation - Demo 2013

There are some do's and don'ts in my book of demo rules. For one, even if you're going to give something away for free, at least make it look like something someone would be happy to receive. Also, if you're going to give something away for free, people are less likely to care about it because they didn't go through any difficulty to get it themselves and they didn't pay out of their pocket to get a copy. They have no connection to it to begin with. This is one of the strange things about giving out free demos - you get your name out there a little bit more, however the people that hear that name most likely will care little. Demo's have a certain sound more than often... the slightly low-quality buddy disjointed sound with an awkward mix. In the case of Absence of Salvation, this demo basically epitomizes all those points I just made. Even though the music here isn't horrid, there is little chance for this demo to be anything other than something friends in high-school would want. There is no chance that there would be any desire by anyone to spread this demo outside of the local group that knows the members of the band.

Musically, there are some issues with the sound. Evidenced by the first track "Embrace the End" is a strange combination of modern metal influences and throwback thrash. One thing that does come across positively is the feel of energy the band has. Live, they put on a decent show for a local act, and the passion that was present in the flesh is also present here. The vocals are a major reason for that. There are a few different styles present here, both some growls and some thrashier yells as well as some cleaner, raspy moments. Second track, "Crucify" has some of the best parts on the demo and the worst parts. It also is the weakest sounding vocally. The vocals are too low in the mix along with the drums. The chorus is pretty bad with an amateurish breakdown and off-key clean vocals that follow a poor transition. Though the guitar riffs are more interesting and memorable at times, a really bad guitar solo performance brings down the track. An intermediary section with some sort of narrated growling demonic voice also appears out of nowhere. "Breathe" provides evidence that the bass has no tone, sounding like burps inside a balloon full of mud. The fact that all the guitars follow each other, offering no variety also makes everything sound a bit boring.

The final track on this four song demo is "Manic." This is the highlight for me because it sounds like it could have been written in 1993 or 1994 by some obscure doom death project like Gutwrench or Solstice. It reminds me the least of modern metal and mall-core. The vocals are pretty bad at times, particularly the spoken/raspy ones in the beginning but the higher register clean vocals sound a lot like Mystifier's The World Is So Good That Who Made It Doesn't Live Here, an album which most likely is not an influence on any of these guys since the vast majority of humans are not cool enough to have heard Mystifier, much less one of their less talked about releases. It's a weird track and the most worthwhile on the demo. Glad to have heard that one. More tracks like this, some extra effort put into the image of the band and general experience and increased musicianship could separate Absense of Salvation from being a local band to something more.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Botulistum / Göll - Botulistum / Göll Split

Deep down in the underbelly of all that is harsh and loud lives stuff like Botulistum and Göll, projects which would get about as much attention as a fallen apple in an orchard outside their own respective scenes without heavy help from lurkers like myself and labels like Dying Sun Records. Both bands hail from the Netherlands, with Göll arising from the muck more recently. Bostulistum seems a bit more stable to me, having released material roughly every couple years since 1998 and their brand of swampy, gurgling static black noise is a welcome change to the overabundance of try-to-hard-to-be harsh bands that come and go. Of interest is that guitarist and drummer N, resides in Urfaust as VRDRBR. Göll, on the other hand has pulled Arco from Ordo Draconis and Weltbrand. There is some talent on the release and it shows in the soundscapes present. There isn't a huge variation between the two bands, so the split is consistent in both style and quality from both bands. Subtle differences such as the much higher vocals and a little more structure on the Göll side are the only real marks of different bands being present.

When it comes to the Botulistum pairing, the tracks are a bit muddier, a bit more lo-fi and degrading and there's a greater sense of something more than simple bursts of blackened metal. The gnarly drum rhythms and blatant disregard for anything remotely common is a welcome relief from oft-found norms in the black metal realm. While indications online are that this is simply black metal, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that anyone that would classify either act as nothing more than black metal hasn't listened to what's in the sewer. There are several stenches emanating from the vibrations here and while black metal is one of them, it's not the only one. The drumming is far closer to something from the brutal death metal arena and the segmentation of riffs and phrases is closer to power violence. Hell, it's not difficult to also hear influences from the electronic genre and satellite influences such as Laibach seem present. Opening track "De Geplande Miskraam" is a convoluted twisted form which never really starts or stops. This is further refined in "Door De Dood Bepoteld," a seventeen minute jumble of noise, harsh vocals, super fast and super slow drum beats and fuzzed out guitars which would make the offspring of Electric Wizard and Mortician wish for a towel and eye drops. There's really no song present in either track. It's just endless samples and blasts. It's also really fun to listen to. High pitched wails and grumbled sawthroat vocals offer endless variety, in an endless stream for endless amounts of gut wrenching pain.

The Göll side, tamer in many ways from the Botulistum duet, is much more obviously black metal in it's music. There is less stop and start and actual songs are present. There is an actual aim to create a loving environment for composition to be nourished and spawned amidst all the brashness and noise. Bursts of melody and arrangement variation occur by way of holes in the noise, keyholes where the listener can view the bass and momentary splashes of keyboard hors d'oeuvres. The Göll tracks appear far less maniacal than the Botulistum tracks, especially the last few from the band, with "The Guiding of Black Essence" flexing copious amounts of relaxing ambiance before final track "Last Eaon Incantation" runs wild. The inclusion of subtle keys, synths and empty melody lingering distantly in the Göll tracks tempers the harshness a bit and draws some of the abrasiveness away from the tracks. This, along with the structure differences between the two bands present offer the contrasts. In many way, it is a well executed component of separating the two projects while retaining consistency and flow for the split. It can, however, to less critical ears also not provide enough difference to define either band as they both wage war with the listeners ears for memorability, interest and attention.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Noble Savage - Killing for Glory

Noble Savage... I'd really love to make a quip renaming them Barely Savage... or Notably Average... something like that... but it would shamefully inadequate to describe Killing for Glory, their 2007 album which rates amongst the most tedious and cringe worthy of all power metal. Normally, Italy has added some awesome stuff to the Heavy Metal and Speed Metal pantheon in the recent years such as the must hear Baphomet's Blood and one of my favorites, Valkija's sole release. In addition to these, this year's Steel Raiser album Regeneration was a highlight as well. Steel Raiser however, is a perfect place to start when it comes to Noble Savage. Guitarist Giuseppe Seminara and vocalist Alfonso "Dragon" Giordano both are integral parts of Steel Raiser. Bassist Riccardo "Sixx" Liberti also spent some time in the band. The two bands are definitively linked and yet worlds apart. The definitive aspect of this album, which pummels the listener and the music presented into a monotonous existential dilemma is the sheer blandness proposed here as well as the exhaustion inducing effort required to muster up even the most insincere interest in this dull, haphazard indecency to the world of heavy metal.

Apparent from the second track, Killing for Glory is mismanaged pace wise. First track, "Lady of the Snows" runs into serious problems from the start. Like a track runner tripping over himself, "Lady..." sets precedent for the entire album. Bland and banal, the track is about as boring as you could make a lead-off track for a Heavy Metal album. I think the closest I've ever seen to such an incredibly tortoise-like launch is the piss poor  "Wildest Dreams" off Iron Maiden's Dance of Death, an album I actually find rather endearing. The first two guitar chords here just drag so hard I'm surprised that the back of my hands aren't covered in grass and sand. I feel like I should be hunched over like a proto-humanoid, not yet able to stand fully upright when I hear how tired the band sounds. When "Wind of Victory" starts off fast, with a decent heavy metal riff, I think to myself, "Phew! That first song was just a dud" but there are still problems... introductory scream is incredibly weak... and the drumming becomes noticeably powerless. There is no punch to the drums, sounding more like a new-years eve noisemaker than a drum set. Alfonso Giordano's vocals are hard to listen to at times across these eleven nerve-racking tracks. Strained and harsh, he sounds like he's singing from behind an oscillating fan, as often his voice waves in and out with a vibrato that no one would claim as their own. This is in direct difference with his powerful vocals in Steel Raiser. He's really improved a huge amount in that department.

The songs here are also very long, with little replayability, and very few interesting riffs. "Shadow of the Night," for example channels 90's Iron Maiden with the generic chord progressions and simple phrases. Under all the solos on the album - solos which technically are not bad - are phrasings lacking any bite due to a guitar tone that grovels without any hope of ascension in energy and melodies and riffs that would make watching slugs and snails sleep and breathe seem like a rollercoaster's worth of excitement and fun are born into an eternal embarrassing servitude. The slowness and precision of each note lends a clinicality as well as the feel of confidence issues to the album. With each note plucked with picks held so tight and restrained, the recording of Killing for Glory must have been a miserable expense of effort and regret, knowing that there was no hope to revive the tracks beyond what could be used as a scratch track. That's what these sound like to me - scratch tracks... the pre-recording process of figuring out what goes where but not paying a huge amount of attention to the actual sound or vibe. These tracks sound like tools, instead of a fully built release.

Compared once again, to the tracks on Regeneration or Steel Raiser's debut Race of Steel there is no doubt in my mind that something was on the minds of everyone involved in Killing for Glory that was unable to be rectified. The most memorable part of listening to this album had nothing to do with the music... it was myself being stuck in traffic and reacting to the utterly terrible choice to follow a bunch of ball-less tracks with "Season of Lies" which makes even the wimpiest power metal track feel like it has enough muscles to hoist a tractor off a small child. The lack of anything interesting or exciting here and the fact that I was literally screaming "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?" to each example of poor musical decision-making were enough for holiday shoppers to look at me violently convulsing in my car. During "Time to Kill" we encounter the apex of these issues with the solos being alright, but never leaving impacting energy with a meek and embarrassing lack of tone. Instead of producing excitement, they create the exact opposite feeling during a failed half-time break near the end of the solo and transition into the chorus or verse or another-moment-of-shame that occurs repeatedly over the course of this eleven-track chunk of bitter heavy metal. Killing for Glory is a total waste of time and life. When the album was finally over, I immediately remedied my sluggish levels of awareness by blasting High Power's 1983 eponymous album. Skip this, grab the recent Steel Raiser album instead. That one is deserving of any metalhead's time.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Relentless - Souls of Charon

“Souls of Charon” by Relentless is a very unpolished doom metal album with clean reverberated female vocals that lend a slight occult rock vibe while also lending a very strong vibe of amateurism and incompetence. Emotionless, bored, off-key, shaky, and even cringeworthy at times; these vocals destroy what would otherwise be a relatively suitable release. As the singer mumbles along, it is almost the kind of performance you can tune out, as if Relentless were playing in a bar while the listener is far away from the stage and attempting to engage in conversation. Any such conversation would at times come to a screeching halt because vocalist Carlee Jackson often slips from bored to piercingly inadequate. This is especially true on “Forever Damned” where the vocals are painfully strained and the lyrics “Take my hand and follow me We’ll leave this place of misery” are absolutely butchered as the vocalist tries and fails to hit notes well above her mumble-register range. Even later in this song, as in most places on “Souls of Charon,” one can easily imagine that the lyrics are “meh meh bleh bleh meh” since the vocals are always mumbled and almost never articulated. One strikingly incongruous lyrical moment is towards the end of the album with the line “trapped for eternity,” a bold statement, starkly contrasted by vocals disinterestedly delivered as if those words mean nothing. At one point in the album the vocals even start off with some lyrics that appear later in the song and nervously fade away abruptly. Maybe Carlee missed her cue and the band never bothered to edit the track or ran out of time to re-record it?

Vocals aside, that band has a rather doomy overall flavor and approach and the guitar riffs and solos are frequently in the traditional metal vein. The song structures are also a bit rock influenced, yet the consistent strumming of the same handful of chords and over-reliance on repetition may instead indicate amateurism. Things are as if the band hasn’t been writing music long enough to recognize when to introduce changes or playing music long enough to get bored with repeating the same couple of notes for half of an entire song, e.g. “Better off Dead.” Along with the excess repetition, the songs also saunter along due to the conservative drumming, which is more interesting than a metronome would be, but infrequently anything more than that. The guitar solos could be much better and take cues from the singer, in that they are lacking enough emotion, although they are much more tolerable due to giving a semblance of hitting the appropriate notes. Guitar solos, and the tone as a whole, could also be improved because the band quite foolishly decided to hard pan the rhythm and solo tracks, which removes a lot of punch from the music. None of these other particular issues are major enough to make Relentless a bad band, but their current vocalist easily decides that question and moots other considerations.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jute Gyte Interview

Jute Gyte is the fantastically outré project of Adam Kalmbach, whose music is so weird that calling it a mix of experimental black metal, noise, and ambient is really a disservice, which may distract from the fact that this is simply great music. Earlier in 2013, saw the release of "Discontinuities," the project's incomparable 21st full-length album and one of my favorites for the year. Here we get the pleasure of hearing the thoughts of the man behind the band and his exciting perspectives on music along with his answers to a random question or two just for fun.

Apteronotus: The reasons that people have for making music seem to be countless. Some bands are out for fame, some musicians simply love the rush of playing live, and some are just trying to make a living. What are your motivations behind creating Jute Gyte, offering free downloads of all your music, and writing music in general?

Jute Gyte: I have a variety of interests and hobbies but music is the only sphere in which I feel that I have both talent and something of value and individuality to express. Moreover I create music because I feel driven to do so: my thoughts naturally turn to music and the solving of musical “problems”. I also feel that music is the avenue through which I am best able to recognize my “self”, which I'm sure sounds really flaky. What I mean is that when I consider my past I cannot quite believe that the past me has any connection to the current me. Yet when I listen to my past music (whatever my feelings about its quality) I feel a strong connection, almost as if by listening I am recreating the thought process involved in creating that piece. This pseudodialog between the past me and current me through the abstract language of music is basically the only way I can countenance the past.

I offer free downloads of all my work for a few reasons. I want to reach listeners and I have found that removing artificial barriers to access has broadened my audience. More importantly I feel very strongly that art should be available to everyone regardless of their (lack of) disposable income.

A: If someone with absolutely no knowledge of either metal or electronic music asked you what your music sounds like, how would you explain it?

JG: In either genre, my music is generally highly chromatic (sometimes microtonally so), rhythmically complex, and experimental. It is the latter quality that leads me to work in both metal and electronic music - different genres advantage different kinds of experimentation. I find it useful to think of music as three interwoven systems, each with their own rules, that combine to generate individual works. These systems are rhythm (the horizontal organization of sound), pitch (the vertical organization of sound), and timbre (the character of the sound, which is itself built up from microlevel horizontal and vertical organization). My black metal work places these systems in a hierarchy where pitch is paramount, followed by rhythm, then timbre. Pitch must be served by these other elements – there are often four of five independent guitar parts sounding simultaneously and they must not be tethered to an ill-suited rhythm, nor may timbral experimentation be allowed to obscure the complex pitch verticalities or muddle the rhythm. In contrast, my electronic work usually favors timbre and rhythm as equals, with pitch as the lesser element. In this case, an ostinato pitch pattern might simply serve as a ground above which complex timbral and rhythmic possibilities are explored.

A: You are much more prolific than the average band, how do you feel that this influences the way that your music is perceived by others?

JG: I'll address the first point, then the second. I'm more prolific than the average band in part because I am not a band but an individual. The average band's productivity is limited by a variety of extramusical concerns, like coordinating writing and rehearsal times and spaces, booking studio time, communicating with a label, and embarking on grueling tours. Because I am an individual, recording my music in my home studio and releasing it myself, and because I do not play live, I do not face these burdens. However, there was a time when I was recording music without releasing it, and so from 2011-2013 I have tried to clear this backlog of finished material by releasing several albums of it per year. I've more or less accomplished this goal (and relegated to the dustbin work about which my enthusiasm has waned), and so I plan to release material less frequently from now on.

I have worried that potential listeners might see my discography and suspect that I value quantity over quality. I hope that actually hearing my work dispels this idea. I am productive, but I also have severe standards – only about half of what I record is released. That said, I think the current norm, in which a band releases one album every year or two, is a strange one, more rooted in the extramusical factors I mentioned above than in the capabilities of musicians. Mozart died at 35 yet his complete works span 170 CDs. In Leipzig, J.S. Bach composed a cantata every week for five years. These achievements are not brilliant anomalies – Telemann was less talented but even more productive – but demonstrate that it is possible to produce worthy material at a greater speed than that currently favored.

A: How do you feel that your choices in instruments/electronic interfaces influence how you approach musical “problems” and how do these choices influence the foundational rules of music’s interwoven systems that you mentioned?

JG: In metal the obvious focal point is the guitar, a pitched instrument. Musical “problems” or experiments relating to pitch might be questions like “what if I tune the guitar to [a certain tuning] and then only allow myself to play [a certain limited selection of frets] no matter what strings I'm playing?” or “what if each riff in this song is in a different tuning?” or “what if I layer four guitar tracks, simultaneously presenting this riff in all its interval-preserving forms: prime (normal), inverted (horizontally flipped), retrograde (vertically flipped), and retrograde-inversion (horizontally and vertically flipped)?” Sometimes these ideas are exciting in theory but fail in practice and have to be discarded, but these kind of thoughts result in around 75% of the riffing on my black metal albums. The other 25% are riffs that I more or less improvise while recording, a process that I find more immediately exciting but less likely to produce results that truly surprise me.

In electronic music my abiding concern has been the question of identity and change over time, and musical “problems” are usually related to this concern. A timbral example might be “continually repeat the same sequence of pitches, in the same rhythm, for seven minutes, but have every parameter of the piece's timbres change so gradually but completely that minute seven sounds nothing like minute one, without it being clear when/how the shift occurred”. A rhythmic example could be “if I gradually slow the tempo from X to X/4, but also gradually make the rhythm busier and busier, will the two contrary forces cancel each other out?” As the examples illustrate, much of my electronic work relies on smooth gradients of parameter automation to create imperceptible but significant changes over large expanses of time. These gradient structures are obviously indebted to minimalism but the work is not minimalist in other respects.

A: In the past you have experimented with both atonality, done via twelve-tone technique and with microtonality through the use of a 24-tone guitar. These both seem like pitch-oriented tools, and since your black metal work treats pitch as the paramount consideration, what future possibilities, if any, do you feel these approaches offer?

JG: My decision to turn to microtonal guitar was a pragmatic one. I increasingly found myself writing riffs only to find that the note I wanted was, for instance, not C natural nor C sharp but rather the pitch in between, so I had a guitar modified with a 24TET fretboard that would give me access to those pitches “in between”. This was a good idea. I cannot overstate what a revelation the microtonal guitar has been for me. I had used microtones before I had the guitar modified, but it is one thing to play with a slide or to retune something in software and another to have a naturally microtonal instrument. The immediacy – having access to microtones without recourse to special techniques or processing – makes all the difference and allows the microtones to form the basis of the music instead of being occasional ornaments or effects.

A fair question is “why isn't 12TET enough?” Why did I want the pitch between C natural and C sharp in the first place? I don't know how you hear music, but I know that as a listener when I hear certain interval combinations or harmonies in a work I instantly form mental associations with other works that use the same combinations, and as a musician I sometimes despair at this inescapable web of associations, formed from centuries of music built around only twelve different pitches. Though this may not be true, it sometimes feels as if everything has already been said and only minor variations remain, like rearrangements of the Titanic's deck chairs. Having access to double the pitches of the dominant 12TET system allows me to find interval combinations that seem at least comparatively novel and as a musician I find this thrilling. I feel that with my first microtonal black metal album, Discontinuities, I've barely scratched the surface of what is possible, and I plan to continue using microtonal guitar in all my future black metal work.

A: Relating to the theme of everything having been done already, what do you think of the idea that given the length of time since a major sub-genre has been birthed, that metal as a genre has exhausted or nearly exhausted all possibilities? Can genres in general become saturated, for lack of a better term?

JG: My sense of 12TET's exhaustion is a personal feeling and not a rational assessment, though it's certainly true that expanding beyond 12TET introduces new avenues. I don't think that metal has exhausted all or nearly all possibilities. I think there are a few ways that styles evolve. One way is to increase breadth by drawing characteristics from other (sub)genres to create fusions like black/doom or industrial death. This kind of broadening has clearly not exhausted all possible combinations. A complementary way forward is to increase depth instead of breadth, by which I mean to advance the genre without overt recourse to other genres. This is gradual and happens frequently as artists create variations on the styles of other artists. Even when an artist sets out with derivative aims they cannot help but introduce new elements, akin to evolution's random mutations, through their individual demeanor, talents, and circumstances. Over time these small changes accumulate and new possibilities appear. I don't see any reason to think this will cease.

A: Earlier you mentioned some classical composers, what kind of influence does classical music have on your own? Was Schoenberg an influence in how you approached writing “The Irreality of the Past?”

JG: Classical music is one of the major influences on my work. Listening to it and reading analysis/theory supply me with new compositional tools. Schoenberg is the creator of twelve-tone technique and thus essential to “The Irreality of the Past”, but Schoenberg as a composer was probably not much of an influence because I don't listen to his work all that often. When it comes to serialism my tastes run towards Webern, Babbitt, Wuorinen, Boulez's work from around 1980 on, etc. Wuorinen's book Simple Composition has recently been a major boon to me for its lucid explanation of post-Schoenberg serial operations that I didn't quite get before.

A: You have already indicated there would be more microtonal fun in the future. Other than that, what sorts of musical experiments are on the horizon for you, and do you have any albums currently in the works?

JG: I have a few (microtonal) things completed and awaiting release in 2014. Beyond that I am working on a project to unify my disparate musical approaches, which I guess really means to place pitch, rhythm, and timbre in an egalitarian relationship, without the end result sounding like scattered genre-hopping. This is a long-term thing without an ETA.

A: Missour-ee or Missour-uh?

JG: Ee. I seldom hear the alternative.

You’re in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?

JG: I would not have overturned the tortoise in the first place!

A: If you have any final comments or anything you would like to add please feel free. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and thanks for putting your releases in DVD cases, they’re awesome!

JG: Thank you for your interest in my music.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Temple of Void - Demo MMXIII

A band quoting from Dante’s Inferno will usually conjure feelings of overwhelming and inevitable — well, doom. Beyond just referencing doom though, Temple of Void absolutely embody it on this demo. Every aspect of the music is seething with tortured melancholy without ever sacrificing the band’s eminent heaviness. Crediting any individual for this heaviness would be pointless because of the band member’s passionate musical interplay. Considering again that this is a demo, the fluid interactions are almost shocking. Temple of Void fits squarely in the doom/death sub-genre without ever being derivative or even resorting to musical cliches. Specifically, the Peaceville Three are called to mind, but think of the comparison as an address rather than a name. In other words, the band is doomy on its own merit rather than conjuring up memories of other bands. There is also an emotional difference, instead of Poe and dried up rose pedals strewn across a lichen covered tombstone, think of Fear and Trembling, Dante’s Inferno, and Jonathan Edwards. Additionally, temple of Void are crisper and have a sharper sense of impetus to their doom. More rhythmically driving than plodding.

As far as the recording goes, listening to this in mono should be a crime, anyone doing it would be hurting themselves by missing out on rich yet subtle differences in the guitar tracks. In the first track, “Beyond the Ultimate” you can even hear how one of the guitar players has a wider and more liberal vibrato technique while the other is slightly muddier overall. Wow. Even with their differences, the two combine to make a really superb doom tone. Composition wise, pained melodies often interchange with crushing and memorable sections almost as if the lower end of the music is constantly trying to swallow up the higher melodies like Satan eternally chewing on Brutus and friends. On the topic of eternity, a low point for the band is the self indulgent final song. It persists in jamming out solo after solo for the final four minutes. This is not exactly out of place or undeserved, just like a cool-down after a strenuous exercise, but the band goes a bit far with it and looses momentum.

“Demo MMXIII” is the kind of music you can go back to after a while and enjoy just as much as when it first made your ears perk up. Take for example the first couple minutes of “Examinate Gaze,” with that riff that repeatedly makes you stop to think about how good it is. Even more impressive, is how after this riff the song goes on without loosing any steam or creating the sensation of missing out because the cool riff stopped. Everything keeps flowing forward with a sense of purpose and direction as the band crafts the illusion of increasing tempo with clever hi-hat use while inserting soaring melodies to close off the song. With the vocals though, there is a minor weakness. While the death growls are constantly powerful and well articulated, they could use a bit more variation in their range and delivery. The high pitched wails on the demo serve as an interesting contrast, so it would be nice to hear them more than just during the occasional sustained syllable (impressive as that me be). All together, this is a very strong first showing from Temple of Void, and given the band’s song-crafting abilities, it is hard to imagine anything other than more good music to come.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Optic - Iris In Sampler

One of Optic's members handed me this sampler at a recent Fates Warning show they opened for. Not particularly contaminated but full of sweet tones, Optic's Iris In Sampler places this Long Island unit in a very positive light. The musicianship here is quite excellent. The keyboards are a prime focus, standing out prominently in the mix and the longer, yet well written songs give enough space for guitars and bass to exploit gaps in the composition so that individual instruments do not feel over represented. A close reference point would be combining Edguy's early, less simple material with the feel of Andromeda's Extension of the Wish (the original version before they miserably redid that album). Threshold is also a close similarity and obvious Dream Theater influence is present.

Only two songs appear here, the less intense "Withhold the Sun," which flows, is bright and airy and appeals greatly to ears geared towards smoother, less abrasive metallic forms. Notably with "Withhold the Sun" are Ryan Patane's keyboards, which are used to great effect to help the song move through its rounds. The highlight of his parts is at the end of the song coming out of what is the hardest section of the track, a thrashier and harsh riff - probably the only thrashy riff in the song - and swoops in with two really tasteful and memorable keyboard solos, each of which uses different tones, that acts as the song's climax. Steve Christopher on guitars acts as a rhythmic instrument for this track, not really doing a huge amount of leads - that is left to Ryan - however the progressions require some amount of sandiness so the track doesn't sound super limp. The slight dirt provided by the guitar is integral here.

"Blind Apathy" is the heavier and faster track. While there is nothing particularly terrible with it, I don't feel the same attraction here. The harsh vocals compared to the clean vocals don't do anything for the track. They add no intensity to the material here, which is buffered by the keyboards in terms of heaviness. I was not expecting them, and I still can't really see their appeal other than someone feeling that they were necessary because "metal is supposed to have screaming!" I'd remove them and I'm going to assume that the full length album is probably dragged down by them. They're also not particularly strong vocally as they are obviously overdubbed several times. The track is not as heartfelt as "Withhold the Sun" and I think it suffers from that. Michael Intrieri's bass playing and Scott Genovese's drum work comes across really welly on this track though. The faster tempo demands a bit more from them and they provide the additional gruff.

For a two song sampler, this does the trick which it was intended to. Optic get's you interested in their brand of more complex metal, give a lot of different looks at what the band is capable of and, at least in the case of "Withhold the Sun" offer one very memorable song which is sure to get some people to  check out the band. My only issue with this track would be it's placement on the sampler. I believe this should culminate the sampler instead of open it. With the heavier track coming second, I don't know if people looking for something heavier would be turned off by the more accessible track coming first. Usually you want to open strong and while "Withhold the Sun" is the stronger track objectively, I think more people would still say that "Blind Apathy" is the better song because it appears to be a heavier and stronger track. This is the order they appear on the full length as well, with "Blind Apathy" coming before "Withhold the Sun" in order. Probably should have kept it that way.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hellyeah - Band of Brothers

Someone told me that this was worse than Damageplan, and I had to scratch that itch and share my suffering.

The second best band on a supergroup's resume is Damageplan, whose guitarist was shot by one of their fans. His brother's reaction was apparently to form a band that couldn't possibly have any fans, beyond some Pantera loyalists who still aren't aware that the 90s ended. The formula is to combine two really shitty Dimebag wannabes who dumb down groove riffs until they don't have any groove left, just chugga-chugga, and add a nu-metal vocalist with a particularly strained shout. Worse, he does even more singing in an alt hard rock radio voice, which sounds like that guy trying to karaoke Puddle of Mudd but not really trying to hit more than two or three notes. This album is a constant battle of who is worse - the vocalist or the guitarists. I'm leaning towards the guitarists, because their riffs and solos literally sound like they read text transcriptions of Dimebag's work and played it - dun, dun dow-wow. dun, dun dow-wow. WAAAAaaaaaAAHHHHAHHHHHHH widdly doodillydoodily waaAAAAHHH diddlydiddlydooooo~~~~~~ At least Vinnie Paul knows how to groove along to a riff on drums, but they don't give him much to work with.

The lyrics are the focal point of the band. They don't just write songs about getting drunk, they write songs about getting "Drink Drank Drunk" or as we call it, getting stupid drunk - they really do the first part convincingly! The first lyrics of the album are "My war! Life's to short to be sober!" - yeah, and the world is too small to not be shouting. There is one more thoughtful song called "WM Free" about the West Memphis Three, where it's the thought that counts. Give this band the same courtesy, it's the thought that counts. They're so bad that you can take a few minutes to have a laugh at their expense, even though you probably won't make it through a full song without turning it off.

Paths - I Turn My Body from the Sun

This is some variety of black metal-lite focused on crafting a moody psychedelia through an atmosphere of post-rock stylings. It has little metal riffing, but it uses enough aesthetics of lo-fi black metal to resemble that more than classic psychedelic rock. The element of jamming is almost entirely relegated to the guitar - the drums are programmed, so they generally work with a looped motif in each section while the guitar does all of the exploring. The vocals are a secondary atmospheric and rhythmic element, a suitable complement to relatively minimalist music, reverberated black metal rasps over a shallow landscape of guitars and drums.

The production is limp, but it fits the mood of the music better than richer production would - there are no bright peaks or elaborate textures, just a smooth stream of a certain feeling that flows forth from the beginning. It begins with several minutes of music underlying the infamous "mad as hell" speech from the film [i]Network[/i], and the music never picks up, it never grabs you, it doesn't kick into gear, it slowly begins moving and plods with a certain feeling until the end. The songwriting is spotty, but this seems to benefit the music because it gets going and drifts off before slowly drifting back. It is very subtle, there is hardly a moment on the album that could be presented as a highlight, but it works well as a whole. It is odd because the feeling here thrives when approached without expectations - it is subtle, almost recessed and hidden in the background.

In a style that I do not typically favor, this is a worthwhile album. Give it a few listens over a few months and think about it.

Starsoup - Bazaar of Wonders

Starsoup's promotional blurb boasts "the influences are varied, inclusive of Metallica and Dream Theater" - if you think that's varied, then you might think this is "heavy" metal. It's sort of like Dream Theater without the instrumental prowess, that slightly heavy atmospheric rock that has a thick guitar tone but no riffs, lots of keys/piano, a soft vocalist, overlong songs, and drum beats that aren't just a standard backbeat, but aren't necessarily more interesting. There's even a piano ballad with saxophone emulating the style of DT's "Another Day" - their interest in heavy metal doesn't seem to extend beyond Dream Theater and bands that Dream Theater have covered.

This is a good example of how a "prog" band can be completely one-dimensional: they understand some of the basic components - chugging a bit with a thick guitar tone mixed with cleans and leads, lots of piano parts, not-quite-standard drumming - but they pretty much make over-diversified melodic rock songs rather than actually building something with them. At times it seems like they're trying to make lame radio rock without hooks - "Ain't No Superman" recalls Three Doors Down, "Past Bites" sounds like a mallcore tune with soft. whisper-singing and snarling alternated with sorta-southern groove riffs. This doesn't sound good when the vocalist sounds like James Labrie without any power and not much tone - sorta like a male Celene Dion who tries to sound tough occasionally. I'm not sure of the light parts of the heavy parts are worse, but the band can't seem to either, never sticking with a heavy part for long, without much sensibility in where the song goes.

If you like second-rate Dream Theater wannabes that can go in one ear and out the other, then you might like this. If you think Starsoup is a better name for a "metal" band than Sadistik Exekution, then you might like this. If you're a prog fan who primarily listens to prog bands who had a radio hit or two, you might like this. I don't expect you to like this, I'm saying that Starsoup is lame and boring. I'll take a Starsandwich.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Liege Lord Interview with Matt Vinci

Since, somehow, people haven't heard of Liege Lord, Contaminated Tones' dudes Steve and I happened to catch up with bassist Matt Vinci at their November 3rd, Dingbatz show with Freedoms Reign and Attacker to find out what's going on with their planned new album, recent tours and whatever else we could elicit. If you believe Heavy Metal is dead and gone, pay attention... 

© Michael Paranoid Photography
Steve: Since somehow people haven't heard of Liege Lord...

Matt Vinci: Right, right... of course.

Orion_M: Somehow.

S: Alright, Jon... are you actually recording this time?

O: Yeah... I actually am.

S: You're positive.

O: I am positive. Last time I interviewed Mike Sabatini and I completely forgot to hit record. And we did a twenty to thirty minute interview...

M: Oh no!

O: ... and I completely forgot to record.

M: Let me know if we're on. Haha.

O: Yeah... we're on haha.

S: First. How have things been going with the reunion? People are recieving it well?

M: Yeah! Everything's been going very well. Ummm... there was a little bit of a lull. We took the summer off basically, because our singer works with Yes - the band Yes - so, they're not touring right now so we're doing some gigs and we have been getting some... you know... we have a bunch of plans that we're going to... yeah.

S: What does Joe do with Yes?

M: Joe is the Production Manager and Steve Howe's guitar tech.

S: Oh. Awesome.

M: Yeah. And they tour all the time so we have a window now where we can do some stuff.

S: So you mentioned that you've been working on new material. How is that coming along?

M: It's coming along very well. We have... basically I have about three song to bring to the table. Anthony - the other guitar player and original member - has about four songs and we're going to let Dan - the new guitar player - and Joe is going to write a couple so we'll probably be at about fourteen or fifteen songs. But it's coming along very well. Umm... the stuff that we wrote sounds very much like the stuff that we did before... it sounds very similar with a couple slight changes but... very happy with it.

O: When you guys are writing material is there a specific formula that you guys go with in terms of how songs get composed or...

M: Yeah! Yeah.. yeah..

O: One person writes a song and then you guys add to it or does one person write everything...?

M: The first three albums that we did, me and Anthony Truglio wrote... like I wrote songs on the bass and he wrote songs on the guitar and then I would write the lyrics for my songs and for his songs... we're doing the same thing now. So it's the same formula except we're going to throw in a couple of Joe's songs and a couple songs by Danny also. But the meat of the songs are from the two of us and we're doing it the same way when we were twenty three, twenty one.

S: That's great. Going back to Master Control, you worked with Terry Date who went on to do a lot of very famous bands, especially Pantera's Cowboy's From Hell... how did he shape the album and what type of role did he play?

M: Well... I think that... now you have to remember this was 1989. All he had done was Soundgarden's demo and... umm...

S: Chastain?

M: Yeah.. he had done a couple other things... Who did Baby Got Back?

S: Sir Mix Alot!

M: Sir Mix Alot! He did Sir Mix Alot... so he was kind of newer then... so what happened was basically his technique was better guitar sound... better with the vocals... he just had a better ear than some of the other experiences we had so... that was really it. We... like I said... back then we got him for nothing basically compared to what you would consider an engineer and a producer now.

O: Was working with him on Master Control different than working with the producers on the first and second album? How was working with him different?

M: Well... the first recording we did ourselves. The second album Joe Bouchard, the bass player from Blue Oyster Cult did. Ummm.. Working with Terry was, like I said... he was just a little more in tune with the scene... you know what I mean? He was a little more familiar with the style of music and so... that's really it. He just had a better ear and was in tune more with it..

S: I'm going to stand here to block the wind.

M: Haha.

S: You mentioned Metal Blade is looking to do re-releases of the first three albums?

O: I also heard a box set was in the works.

M: Yeah. That's what it's going to be. Metal Blade Europe and Metal Blade US are going to put together a box set of the two Metal Blade albums we did and the first album... we're going to give them that. And we're going to maybe put a live DVD of a couple tunes from Keep it True and some older stuff with our other singer and umm... booklet kind of thing. Probably this summer? (This sounds a bit like it may be similar to the three-disc Fates Warning - Awaken The Guardian re-release - Orion)

S: Are they going to be releasing the original recordings or doing any remixing?

M: I think they're going to remix it.

S: Alright. With Burn To My Touch... that was never properly mixed, I think.

M: Yeah... no. It wasn't.

S: What was happening around that time? Was getting signed to Metal Blade and just trying to get it out quickly?

M: Yeah. We tried to get the album out quickly and we ran out of money.

S: Ahh..

M: Yes...

S: Hopefully that doesn't happen again.

M: No, it's not going to happen again.

S: Jon, do you have a question?

O: Why? Do you have more?

S: Of course!

M: Go For it!

S: In 1987 you toured with Manilla Road, who never really stopped... hugely regarded band... Jon's got his Manilla Road backpatch.. Do you have any memories of the tour?

M: Hahaha! I was hoping you were going to ask me that! I don't really remember! I think we were drinking a lot of beer back then. Ummm... ahhh... we didn't tour extensively with them, we toured with Anvil and Candlemass for a period of time. I think the Manilla Road gigs were just on the East Coast. I think that's all it was. I do remember this: I remember them being nice on a personal level and I liked the music... I thought they were very cool and interesting and they were on the same record label as we were: Black Dragon.

S: Black Dragon?

M: Black Dragon.. yeah... but do I have any real memories or stories... no... I'm sorry. I'm afraid I don't. That was a while ago though.

S: Candlemass are playing Maryland Deathfest this year. Manilla Road did last year...

M: Yeah.

S: Gotta get them to get Liege Lord on that bill.

M: Yeah. Right now we're subjected to Joe's schedule with Yes but he's going to be free in June so there's talk of doing a festival in June... a couple of things...

S: Warriors of Metal in Ohio?

M: The Hellfest? I think it's in Germany.

S: Hellfest is France, I think.

M: Is it France? Ok. Joe would know better than me. Umm... so he has some ideas. We're free that month... like whole month and so.. yeah... we'll see about that.

O: So. Talk about... who writes the lyrics for the band. Who does most of that?

M: I do. I wrote most of them. Joe wrote a few on Master Control. The other two albums, our singer Andy wrote a couple but the majority I wrote.

O: So when you're writing the lyrics, what kind of influences do you take what interests you as far as lyrics?

M: Ahh.. you know what... I'm doing the same thing now that I did back in the day... it's very just kind of like sci-fi influenced kind of storytelling. That kind of thing. You know...

O: It seems like you apply a lot of... that aesthetic of the science fiction side of but at the same time a lot of the lyrics you can apply them to more real life situations...

M: Trying to blend the two. Trying to blend a little bit of the creepy sci-fi with the... something you can actually relate to kind of thing. And... kind of like I said a lot of the songs we're doing now and the lyrics are very Master Control style. It sounds like that and it's going to give a nod to that. It's going to... so...

O: What would you say is your favorite song lyrically that you've written for Liege Lord and what... what about that song makes it your favorite? Is there something specific in the lyrics?

M: Ahh....... Well... I was just a kid when Freedom's Rise, the first album, came out so I was... ahrg... I'm not going to.. (Matt sighs)... I don't know, man. It's hard... I would say the lyrics to Master Control might be my favorite only because it's kind of a longer song and Joe's like spitting the lyrics out really fast and there's a story to tell and it kind of... I'm going to go with that... but I'm very proud that at such a young age I was actually able to actually write stuff that now still sounds fresh... so... we'll go with Master Control. As a favorite... for lyrics.

S: What ever happened to Andy Michaud - the original singer?

M: Why isn't he in the band or why did Joe or...?

S: Well, obviously Joe is an upgrade but... what ever happened to him? Has been in other bands that are still around or...

M: Ahhh no... well after we let Andy go he didn't ever sing in an original band and he moved out of state for a long time... I think he lives in Connecticut now... but, you know, he never recorded with anyone.

O: So you guys let him go?

M: Yeah... yeah... well we were just... we were looking to change up the singing situation and we did it sight
unseen. We didn't have a singer lined up. It wasn't like we had someone lined up... it was like we were "Ok, let's replace him," we let Andy go and Joe answered an ad in the Village Voice and we got lucky, man.

O: I think he's probably one of the more recognizable vocalists... and not just vocalist - he's had a long history of..

M: Yeah! Yeah..

O: least being a part of the metal scene with his work in Overkill and...

M: ... Annihilator, he's got a band Dusk Machine...

O: I think he did stuff with Metal Church too...

M: No... I don't think he did anything with Metal Church... Annihilator.

O: Yeah... I confuse those two bands all the time.

S: Haha.

M: And there's something else too... and I can't remember. But yeah... we didn't have a plan... we just went
with it and Joe came down the line, man. So.. yeah..

S: So, a cheesy question. What are your favorite Maiden and Priest albums?

M: Hahaha. Ahh.. well, I'm old school, man... I like the 70's Priest. Probably Stained Class and Iron
Maiden's first album, I'd say. I like the older stuff.

O: From the perspective of bassist, what bassists have influenced you specifically?

M: Ahhh. Well... you know, when we were writing songs back in the... way, way back... I was big into... I grew up on John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin and Geddy Lee from Rush. I grew up on that stuff. When we started writing I was heavily into Maiden and obviously the bass licks are kind of in that... realm... ummm... But I really like Geezer Butler, I really like... you know, I like those old school guys... I don't really know bass players. I always liked the way Jason Newstead played... I liked him in Flotsam (Flotsam & Jetsam - Orion) and I liked him what he brought to Metallica... I liked Cliff Burton too... but when I was writing songs, when I was younger it was probably Steve Harris and, you know, before that Geddy Lee and those guys.

S: Have you been listening to any newer or modern metal lately? Have you been into anything like that?

M: Hah.. I'm just getting back into it, man. I don't know... Like the stuff I listen to is way out in left field. The music I listen to is way out in left field.

S: As far as shaping the sound of a new album, would you be looking to do more 80's style production?

M: No.

S: Like the old school or a thick modern production?

M: No. I think we're going to go for a thicker more modern production... but the songs are definitely going to have an older school metal sound. Because of who we are... ummm.. so, yeah. You know. We're going... You know we were never one-hundred percent happy with the things that we did. We're going to try and make that right now with the new thing. We're going to try and make it right.

O: So you say that you weren't happy with everything you've done to this point.

M: With the sound, no.

O: So it's specifically with the production or were there other things that you would go back and change?

M: No, the production was... you know we were in the stone age with technology it was a different time we were subjected to studio money - all that kind of stuff - and you could record basic tracks in someone's basement now... you know what I mean? Save money, have more time to do things instead of having the clock ticking. We ran out of time. We ran out of time on all three albums... you know.

S: Did you have material that you were going to record that you didn't?

M: No! No! We just didn't have time to really dig in and make sure that everything was one-hundred percent. There was always a compromise.

S: When you worked with Black Dragon, were they getting their records over here because you were around here or were they not really distributing them?

O: I believe distribution with Black Dragon was always an issue.

M: Yeah... well distribution with everybody was always an issue back then, you know... umm... Black Dragon put stuff out in Europe and I think that back then, Imports were big with metal and I think we were just getting imported over here with probably Manilla Road, and... whoever else... there were a few others...

S: Heir Apparent, Candlemass' first album...

M: Yeah... it was just a trickle down import thing from Black Dragon.

S: Were they getting stuff to Connecticut because they had a band here?

M: No. I think it was just the stores were getting imports...

S: Ok.

M: And maybe... back then in the record store era, people might ask for us or they might have ordered it from connections they might have had. That's probably what happened.

S: Well, I've gone through all my questions. I do want to point out that I'm the only person in this conversation that hasn't played bass at Keep it True... since both of you guys have. Haha.

O: I remain nameless.

M: Haha.

O: The last time (I saw you) at Webster Hall, you did one of the first shows you've done in the US since, I guess you're..

M: I think it was the second...

O: Reunion... second then... How do you guys go about deciding on what your setlist is going to be?

M: Well, we play a lot off Master Control, because that's what Joe knows... he knows the other ones too. When he joined the band we were doing all the old stuff but twenty five years later... we're trying... we picked out the songs as best we could from the other two records that are fun and that we liked at that we know people like that like the band... we try to pick a few of them and we left a couple out but we picked most of them, you know what I mean? That's how we did it.

S: Are you going to change it up a bit? Any chance of playing Transgressor?

M: Not right now. No. We're trying to... you know, because of Joe's unavailability to rehearse because he's on the road with his other job, we... you know... Once we do the St. Vitus gig in December, then we're going to regroup and write new songs and probably learn a couple older songs too. To bring to the table, yeah.

S: Have you had a chance to play any of the newer stuff you guys have been writing as a band?

M: Nooo... it's still in the... I know the songs I wrote, Anthony knows the songs he wrote, but we haven't sat down as a band. But we're going to do that soon.

O: What would you say is the time frame for the new album?

M: The time frame, loosely, we're hoping, is that we have it recorded basic tracks and maybe some of Joe's stuff in the summer and have it out maybe September, October? A year from now.

O: Are you planning on shopping the new album, or will...

M: Yes.

O: You stick with Metal Blade.

M: We don't know yet. We have ideas and, you know... if they come to us and say "how bout this" sure, that would be great but as a band member that hasn't played in forever getting back into it, we're doing a first things first, make sure it sounds good. Best thing we can do is record it make sure we're happy and then I think it will take care of itself. I really do.

O: You have a couple new members and ummm, what kind of energy have they brought to Liege Lord that maybe wasn't there in the reunion in 2000? Do you think that Danny and...

M: Well, I wasn't in that reunion either! Neither was Anthony. They replaced all of us except for Joe and Paul.

S: They had like three song-writing credits between them?

M: Haha.. No we didn't... the timing wasn't right for me to play the 2000 thing umm... but the two new guys we have now, again, we got lucky. Danny... Paul Nelson was an incredible guitar player but he plays with Johnny Winter now so... we found Danny we're very happy... I was amazed that he stepped in playing Paul's solos note for note, hahaha. I was amazed, you know... that's very interesting. Frank Gilchrest is a really great drummer... you know his resume, right?

S: Virgin Steele...

M: He's a really great drummer so, we got lucky. We got lucky when we got rid of Andy and got Joe and we got lucky with these two new guys... I think the band sounds better now than it did... Well, when we played in Stanford, before we went to Keep it True, you know... I thought we sounded pretty good... by the time we played Webster Hall, I thought we were rolling! I really did.

O: That was a great show.

M: I thought we were rolling by then. But, again, now it's been a while... this is our first show in a while so, we'll see how it goes.

O: You have a handful of shows upcoming now. Several of them are with Attacker.

M: Yeah!

O: What kind of relationship do you have with those guys and how long have you known them for?

M: Really, we knew them from the 80's. We knew Mike, we knew the band from back in the day. My recollections of all those things - same thing with Manilla Road - a hazy recollection of a lot of details but with social networking... Mike Sabbatini reached out to me on Facebook and said "Hey, what's up?" And we got to be friends. He said I have to go to Germany where Keep it True is happening to take care of stuff, so he was there and we got to be friends and, you know, I gave him an itinerary of when we were available and he just mustered up a couple gigs and that's how this happened. And that's how the other gig is happening. Same thing.

O: You were originally supposed to play a show with Attacker in Philadelphia and that fell through. This is the first show that you're doing with them since then.

M: Yeah!

O: Was this kind of an "owed" show because that fell through?

M: No. I think that Mike was trying to get gigs and he was trying to figure out if maybe we could play with Liege Lord too and see, you know. Like I said, I gave him that window of time that Joe's around so... we're not making up for not doing that gig... I think we would have done this gig anyway but, you know. That's it. We just have that window of time.

O: So far, what has been the best show since you've guys have started playing shows again. You haven't done that many but..

M: Ahhh... well, this is my opinion but, the other guys will have a different opinion... Hey! Pat, nice to see you!... ahhh, I really think Keep it True was fantastic, it was the catalyst of the band getting back together but we played a show the next day, it was the next night... in another town really far away from where the festival was and we showed up at this place... it was a rock club... big rock club... a little bigger than this...

O: Bigger than Dingbatz! Who would have known they existed!

M: Haha. It was a pretty big rock club, man. We hadn't talked to anybody from there... we were busy with the festival, we showed up at this gig... they had a photo of us in the window from the Master Control... from the 80's... in the window, they did no promotion, nothing... and people showed up. To me that was really important because, we knew what we were getting with Keep it True and nothing against Keep it True but my favorite show is the show in Essen, Germany at the Turock Club, because it was a band that hasn't played in twentyfive years in another country and no promotion and people showed up and they were into it and I loved it.

O: Was that show discussed with the organizers of Keep it True or was that on the DL?

M: No, we told them we were going to do another show. They said just don't play before you play our show. Yeah, they were cool with it. Joe was being diplomatic with Ollie from Keep it True.

O: So what do you have coming up, other than the album. Do you have any more shows coming up... you have one in December...

M: We have one in December in Brooklyn, and if we can do something else we will. That's the only thing right now that we have.

O: I think that's pretty much it. Thanks for the interview and we're looking forward to seeing you again, tonight.

M: Thank you, thank you! Hopefully we're not too rusty. I think it will be ok. We practiced three times for this gig, so... we'll see how it goes.

O: Should be good!

S: Same setlist as always?

M: We abbreviated a couple songs because it's not our headlining show... So we killed a couple songs.

O: Alright!

S: Thanks!

M: Fellas, Thank you!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Markradonn - Final Dying Breath

Before even discussing Markradonn’s particular shtick, there is a fantastically bizarre kind of musical ineptitude that must be addressed since it is even more important and apparent than the band’s choice of style. Markradonn on “Final Dying Breath” appear to have absolutely no inclination of what constitutes acceptable repetition for rhythm. Far from being a technical nit-picky complaint, this problem takes a seriously dubious musical concept and makes it nearly unlistenable. Markradonn goes far beyond merely having a repetitive rhythm because the band habitually repeats rhythms that are awkward and disgustingly weak. With that out of the way, Markradonn’s premise is essentially doom/death peppered with random shredding and thoughtless instrumentation choices. What this means is that on top of a persistent and fundamental songwriting problem the band shoehorns in odd instruments, including a brass section, pompously enough to make Bal-Sagoth blush and drop their swords in shame. Along with this they add guitar solos that could very well have been written for songs for a different band. Still, the awful songwriting stands at the forefront above these unusual and poor decisions. The most dreadful part is when the band accents their own weaknesses by emphasizing garbage rhythms with brass sections to create a broken martial sound.

Metal bands don’t typically have a ton of instruments, and for good reason. Most metal musicians lack the ability to write for several different instruments, as it takes all of the challenges of songwriting and multiplies them. Although the members of Markradonn can certainly play their instruments, this doesn’t at all translate into figuring out how to meld metal with the didgeridoo, djembe, tuba, trombone, timpani, french horn, and what feels like everything else in the musical alphabet from accordion to fucking zither. Capable musicianship can mean nothing in the same way that great actors can star in awful movies, a perfectly good tool can be gravely misused. Markradonn misuse their musical assets by carelessly throwing instruments on top of the underlying metal framework. The atypical instruments often just follow the rhythm guitar in the same way that bass players typically do. However, a bass can work in that role because the two instruments compliment each other by design. A trombone is not a bass. This instrument mixing fails in every way, and the band's aberrant ideas unpleasantly clash.What is especially shocking, is how this is the product of several musicians. The compromises inherent in working with others can often have a moderating influences on both creativity and aberrant ideas. Instead, what happened here is a textbook case of groupthink. Some of the music just serves as an ornamentation for the senseless guitar shredding, failing in an attempt to add depth and richness through superficial decoration of scale exercises.

It gets worse, “Cathartic Spiritual Purgation,” the final track, sounds like a drunken Yngwie Malmsteen musically purgating his stomach contents onto a stoned Australian afro-cuban band. This is the kind of song that will make people who have “a worst songs of the year” list have an easy spot to fill and those who don’t have such a list start one just for this song. If you have ever been listening to world music and thought that it could use someone seeing how fast they could play their guitar over it, then this may be the song for you. The silver lining here is that the band closes off “Final Dying Breath” with a song that is completely devoid of their characteristic rhythm disorder/syndrome. This is almost a relief after trudging through things like the repeated 4th beat rest of the flat  lifeless vocals over the gallop rhythm in the song “Final Dying Breath,” or a similarly incessant 4th beat guitar rest in “Internal Hate Unbounded,” and numerous melodic resolutions on weak backbeats. Another rhythmic train wreck of note includes the “Frenzied Winter Sorrow” from about 2:40 until the solo where we have a series of pompous five note chunks, then mindless guitar syncopation, finished off with weak yet momentum murdering rhythms. Even after suffering through all of this, the relatively competent rhythm in the final song does nothing to keep it from being the worst track. In all, this release is so bad that it puts the listener in a bad mood due to its frustrating struggles with fundamental musical concepts. As far as what could generously be called the band’s experimental inclination, it can not salvage the music because Markradonn is musically innovative in the same way that glueing a telephone to an air conditioner with dog spit would be technologically innovative.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

CTP - 011 - I: Suffer Yourself - Inner Sanctum

Polish Funeral Doom Death metal project from Stanislav Govorukha (Ex- Illuminandi, Coram Deo) that will find an appreciative palette with fans of Evoken, Winter and Catacombs. Very well written and produced material from Suffer Yourself. Stanislav now resides in Ukraine.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Earthlord - Earthmission / Scorched Earth - Marauder... No Visibile Scars Casstte Singles

There are so many labels, myself included, doing tapes and shit these days... it's hard to find one that is putting out cool shit. When No Visible Scar's promo pack got dumped on my desk, and I opened it to find a bunch of random shit to review, I sighed, looked at the ten page list of other stuff I've been trying to review and get done and figured that I should try and at least knock out a couple of these reviews quick. Luckily, quick and Cassette-singles go hand in hand. Two of the tapes sent happened to be two song cassette singles in neat little cardboard packages. One of which, Earthlord's Earthmission single, has some serious history to it. The other, Scorched Earth's Marauders quickie is a bit more mundane. Here's both reviews together since, well, they are so short there isn't much need for a single review for both!

Tackling Scorched Earth's Marauders single from No Visible Scars is pretty basic in it's criticism. Formed by Terry McCorriston Scorched Earth's black / thrash style is prevalent on this tape. Once you get past the doomy intro, "Thy Kingdom Doomed" and ransack through the constantly beating rhythms of the title track, "Marauders," you find that there's a certain sense of dullness through the tape with someone boring and over-long melody based riffs. For me, the best part of the tape is bassist Sanford Johnson's interesting scales and free-range playing. The production - it is a tape of course - but I feel like it's missing something to make at least something pop which reinforces that dull and numb feeling of the release. Second song, "Harken to Your Allfather" is stronger and retains more interesting ideas and execution. The lead by Matt Fields also really helps add some standout moments to what was a better track.

A while back I reviewed Astrum's Tales of Witchlore and this reminds me of a better version of that. I would say that Scorched Earth are still on the right track after some good albums and such earlier in their career but the band is no longer active. Unfortunately for Scorched Earth there are more bands doing this style and better at it than they are. The Czech band Avenger comes to mind, also local band Clamfight - though they emphasize a sludgier take share some similar riff patters and styles at times. Speedwolf also come to mind though, Speedwolf are on a pile of skulls far higher than Scorched Earth in terms of overall consistency, riffing memorability, attitude and general kick-assery. I think it all goes back to how white-washed this release sounds. It's too safe for black thrash.

No Visible Scars' Earthlord single is simply a must-own for collectors of US Doom and Metal. The most notable aspect of Earthlord would be perennial service-leader Phil Swanson of Hour of 13, Vestal Claret, the awesome Briton Rites and the epic Atlantean Kodex. Add Fred Melillo of Connecticut's Legend to the mix and you've a sure-fire project that will create, at the very least, something awesome. Though the project is on indefinite hiatus, my hopes is they get together to put together another awesome release because this reminds me of a lot of stuff I'm into. It's got a decisively 90's Heavy Metal feel to it and it shares a lot in common with US Power Metal from this era. There's a spacey atmosphere to accompany the whole thing also which is a bit unique.

First track, "Gods of Antiquity," is the harder hitting of the two songs, pretty straight-forward Heavy Metal / Doom. The highlight though is B-side "He Who Is Of The Water," which is one of the more unique tracks ever. Swanson's vocals are distinctive and sound a bit like he's pretending to be a ghost - or some other creature speaking from the beyond. Bill Ladley (Upwards of Endtime fame - fame used lightly here but the band also included some other well known members) plays almost the whole song through a wah-pedal and the lead halfway through just makes you want to lay back and get burned. If this song was out there in 1980, it could have replaced Don Felder's "Taking A Ride" for the intro sequence of Heavy Metal. It's just got that out there feel. The whole vibe is that of stumbling through your own drug induced comatose and watch the world not understand why you're perfectly alright laying on the wet grass of your neighbors lawn.

Great stuff with this one.