Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fates Warning - A Pleasant Shade Of Grey


It's been a strange game, that of A Pleasant Shade of Grey and myself. Sometimes, you need to look outside an album to understand it. In this case, I never really cared for A Pleasant Shade of Grey and yet, there are songs I've enjoyed on the album like Part VI and Part III but often times I've felt as if I've been standing in front of a procession of locked doors. I've opened them all except the first door - the most important one. The door which allows me to pass from being on the outside of the album to the inside of the album. In reality, I think I've always felt the album to be a bit ball-less... It's a smooth, inoffensive and bland release in many ways. In hindsight, for me, I don't think I got into the release because I couldn't find anything to hold onto. I needed a handhold or foothold to begin the climb and there were none. It was a polished wall where the imperfections were glossed over in a sort of hard, crystalline shell and I just couldn't grasp at them.

Several weeks ago I ran into a handful of albums in the local FYE used bin. A copy of No Exit was a nice find along with a copy of Awaken The Guardian. Also in the bin was the oft forgotten and, outside of internet forum footnotes, never mentioned Still Life - Fates Warning's 1998 live accompaniment to the proggy 1997 Shades. The two disc live release has some excellent material on it including some rare live tracks on disc two such as Prelude to Ruin, all of Ivory Gate of Dreams and a handful of material spanning Parallels, Inside Out and Perfect Symmetry. Once again, albums forgotten to all except those weaving revisionist Heavy Metal Mythology. While hearing Daylight Dreamers, Acquiescence and Ivory Tower paired with Alder's rendition of Prelude To Ruin are obviously awesome, surprisingly enough it's the live performance of A Pleasant Shade of Gray that somehow looms above, at times treating tracks like "The Eleventh Hour" and especially "Monument" and "At Fates Hands" like little children, picking them up by the pits and staring quizzically into their confused eyes as their feet dangle in the air. "What are you? When will you grow up?" I could imagine it thinking. It's almost as if the band recognized the inherent flaw previously mentioned in the first paragraph and responded in kind by releasing Still Life. It's a genius response.

The live performance is a gritty and, somehow, aggressive interpretation of what appeared so docile on the studio album. It shows in the video release of the album as well. What the live performances offer that the studio version does not portray well is audible and visible emotion. For an album that circumnavigates the totally human feelings of regret, longing, loneliness and self-reflection, there are very few moments on the 1997 full length which portray this. The helpings on the live version are quite generous. It's the more audible guitar, the slight nuances in performance, the distance of the instrumentation on the Live release which make each instrument seem alone... I've listened to the full length at least forty times over the span of my life. I've never wanted to go back and listen to a track multiple times. "Still Life" made me want to listen to every song multiple times. I think the only song which sounds better on the full length compared to the live album is Part IX, which sounds fuller and more up-front. Joey Vera's bass playing on both releases is incredible - as it is across the entire release - but the rumbling smoothness of his fretless bass is unbeatable on "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray."

So where do we begin with the full length, considering everything in hindsight? As a complete unit, a total package, A Pleasant Shade Of Gray, now for me, is spectacular. You can get lost in the minutia of details perfectly mixed here. The base of the album resides with Joey Vera's bass playing and Kevin Moore's keyboards. Most of the tracks rely heavily on the atmosphere provided by the keys and piano and are indebted to the bass playing for the rhythmic elements on the album, as Mark Zonder is used at times in the same manner as a percussionist in a classical composition. Of course, on tracks like Part II, which ended up being a single - understandable considering it's straightforwardness compared to... well... everything else - and Part III he does manage more standard percussion duties. The album starts off, as implied, more traditionally though as we get into the belly of the album, Parts IV - X, we see far greater progressive elements, experimentation and breadth.

It is in this expanse of the release that Shades shines. Pt. IV is a subdued and ominous maneuver in melody. Though spritzed with chimes lightly and subtlety, we return to a less hopeful tone. This dichotomous interplay is carried into Part V which, structurally, is one of the more simple tracks but regardless sounds complex. A lot of the material on the album has this split personality style, playing off the themes of the album lyrically. Any other band I would probably argue that this was not consciously done but Fates Warning, I know, planned every single note and ridiculed every single rhythm. It in essence makes it easier to critique, being that nothing was accidental, and everything was on purpose. That also makes it harder to get into. There is less spontaneity and energy and youthfulness in it's composition.

Part VI is the highlight of the album and, I would include in a list of my favorite Fates Warning tracks next to Epitaph, Fata Morgana, Guardian, The Apparition, Point Of View and Traveler In Time (amongst others) any day of the week. Ray Alder's voice is impregnable to criticism and his performance on this song is breathtaking. Originally, this is a song which I enjoyed on the album. But after watching the Live Performance from Still Life and listening to Still Life, Ray Alder singing this song is forever imprinted into my memory... It's a song I can listen to multiple times over and over and be content. Lyrically, this is music. You can look deep and find meaning positive or negative. Cup half empty people will wallow in self-depreciation and glass-half full people will re-examine what could have been in their lives and seek it out; lost dreams are lost only when we dismiss them to the far corners of our mind, to decay indefinitely.

Jim Matheos should have highways in Connecticut named after him and airports dedicated to him. When you consider the impact Fates Warning has had on Heavy Metal, it's unbelievable that there has been so little recognition for the band.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cyclone Temple - Words Are Just Words Promo Tape

Circa 2008

Free cassettes are great. I usually expect that they will suck however something stuck out in my mind when I came upon this promo in my local record store. If I recall, it was the inherent awesomeness that seems to follow Greg Fulton everywhere he goes? Maybe it's his ability to craft compelling arrangements that capture the energy that he maintains in a live setting, on record. Don't get me wrong, Znowhite was a great band but after hearing the tracks available on this, sadly, short demo/promo Greg has pushed forward into uncharted territories. His perfectly placed triplets would make Jon Schaffer weep. Now, now. I am aware that I am missing a vital part of the puzzle here. The frame of the puzzle so to speak. You can't separate Fulton from the his side-kicks Schafer (Bass) and Slattery (Drum batter). While Fulton lays a great crunch, Schafer and Slattery provide a stunning example of their capability to create twisted thrashing impulses in the structure of songs on second track "Why." While this musical backbone pounces all over the tape, Brian Troch gives a great vocal performance - pulling the words, seemingly, out of the depths of his heart. It is a very natural performance with no over-blown vocal choirs or added effects. Just a clean yet rugged, due to Troch's natural vocal grit, showing of the well thought lyrics.

For a release in 1991, the guitars have less of an edge as I would wish. This is the year of releases such as Human and Effigy (not that there is a relation in terms of genre however this promo was released by the same label that released the Death promo of Human) and I would have expected a slightly heavier tone. The tone on this demo is more in line with some five years past.. possibly Heathen's Breaking the Silence though with more treble and a more "punchy" bass. I think you catch my drift however. Tonally, one could possibly consider it outdated. Although I do enjoy the tone, I would thrash just slightly more if there was that extra level of heaviness. Troch, although performing admirably just seems to strain on going to the higher notes. Straining to reach the level of emotion vocally that the lyrics express.

For a two song demo, this is a mighty showing of the powerful writing trio of Fulton, Schafer and Slattery. With a competent vocalist and memorable melodies, these songs can really strike a chord (no pun intended). "Why" is a potent thrasher while "Words are Just Words" makes me headbang every time I have played this demo since I have gotten it - already too many times to count.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Infiltrator Interview - 12/5/2012

Back in December, I interviewed Steve Jansson of Philadelphia's Infiltrator after a local gig at Kung Fu Necktie. The inimitable Keith Carney of Fallout Zine chimed in as well. It was windy, I had no baffle and luckily the audio was discernible for the most part so, aside from a few spots, particularly near the end of the interview where Steve defends Metallica, we get a fairly lengthy insight into what makes Infiltrator a class act!

Steve Jansson (Infiltrator): ...Eating kind of healthy for a few days... like fairly health - I'm a vegetarian.

CT: Are you really?

Steve: And then... Yeah!... and then I crash and eat something really greasy and then I run a bunch but then I just negate everything I do because I've had a long day and I like to drink beer at the end of the day.

CT: That's phenomenal. So considering... let's get this over with (the interview).

Steve: Good!

CT: So how did Infiltrator come to be as a band?

Steve: Well, initially it was a solo project at first. It was... ah... I just wanted to do something... I wanted to do something really high energy speed metal but with really traditional... traditionally influenced... but kind of combine a lot of the really cool over the top guitar playing. That was the initial goal in the long run. Vocally, I guess in the beginning I guess it was more intended for traditional style vocals but... I couldn't make it happen. Quite frankly I didn't want to... part of the beauty of being a one man band was that you could work at your own pace and get things done the way you needed to so.. that's just kind of how the chips fell.

CT: How did you come across Chris (Grigg Woe, Krieg) and record the demo at his place?

Steve: Oh.. Uh, well Chris and I have been friends for years now. We've played music together for a long time. And he's been a really good friend of mine. He offered to do it. I've been talking to him about this for a while now and I said to him... he said when you do it let me know. And that's just basically how it works.

CT: So he just decided to play bass also or was that a necessity kind of thing?

Steve: Well, Umm.. that was a tricky thing because starting off I didn't know exactly what I was doing at first. He had umm... you know I didn't know what I was going to do with him. We discovered we were going to play live shows... Chris had already known a lot of the songs - how to play bass - because he recorded them and he's an incredibly fast learner and he's a super friend of mine. So that's actually how he ended up playing bass.

CT: And your drummer... whom I'm not familiar with his name...

Steve: Oh Jeshik... He... that's another thing, Jeshik had inquired about the thought of maybe playing drums for the band he... beacuase I guess things... He was in a band he didn't want to... uh... things weren't going quite the way he wanted them to... and he had contacted me - we had known each other for a while - about maybe making some stuff happen with that. So then we talked and he jumped in there and it all clicked and so... you know, that's how that whole thing came about.

CT: He was in a band before that he wasn't happy with. What band was that?

Steve: Ohhh... well... Probably shouldn't say... I don't want to say too many details.

CT: Understandable. Anyway...

Steve: Make it seem like, you know, spreading some things. That's his thing and I don't want to seem like I'm kind of speaking for him on that.

CT: So tell me about the two tracks you have online right now. You have uh, what was it... Crush the False and something about driving into hell or something...

Keith Carney (Fallout Zine)
: Hellripper...

CT: Hellripper, yeah that's it. Thanks Keith.

Keith: I'm too drunk to be on record right now. - Laughter all around -

CT: Too bad. Haha... So tell me about those two tracks. Are those two tracks the first tracks you had written for the band?

Steve: Yeah. Those were tracks that I had just kind of... you know I wrote them... I spent a lot of time just writing by myself in my room. Like I said I wanted to do something that was real high energy... um... but with a lot of really cool guitar playing so these two songs just kind of happened over the course of a little bit of time and then I just decided that if I was actually going to make a project happen I just had to get it over with and record them. It was more or less shit or get off the pot, kind of do or die thing. You know? And then I recorded them and - I don't know - I guess I kind of discovered what I was looking for in other music, in other bands. I guess that's kind of vague or weird. It's more or less just me playing music I wanted to hear.

CT: What came first? DId the band come first or the music come first?

Steve: Music came totally first.

CT: Is the band the end to the means?

Steve: Uh... What do you mean?

CT: Is the fact that you have a band now (audio impossible to decipher here - it was an incredibly windy night)

Steve: Well now things are a little different. Now it's legitimately very much a band now. It's not just a solo project anymore but everybody is very like-minded and understands and agrees on what we wanted to hear... I guess... musically and what we would like to hear other bands do and how we're all kind of working together to acheive that sound... it's no longer just me trying to do that.

CT: My first run-in with you was at the Morbid Saint show. So what's your overall... that was your first show as well... what's your first... what would be your overall opinion on how that show unfolded and do you feel that the reception you got at that particular show... was that more or less than what you expected to receive? Tell me about your particular opinions on that show.

Steve: Honestly, I didn't have any sort of expectations being a new band... just... um... going up and opening a show for a million great bands was, you know, great. As far as reaction goes, I gotta say I was, we all, were pretty overwhelmed by the fact that it was eight oclock, there was a lot of great bands playing but it was fucking packed in there for an opening band and those kids just ate the shit up... you know, they went nuts and knew the songs or at least knew the demo and just clearly... you know it was encouraging it was cool to see that people were, you know, were into it I guess, so to speak.

CT: Do you feel that um, especially in this area, there's been a lot of... a resurgence in more traditional metal and, you know, in that particular era of music in general? Do you feel that you're a part of the resurgence in that sense? In people being. Or, maybe not a part of but that you can be an aspect in which people see a band such as you guys and it really gets them interested in the heyday of metal because a lot of what you play is very much, you know, old school metal. It's influenced by the stuff from the 80's that a lot of newer fans don't get to hear or they're not immediately initiated into. Do you feel that you could be a certain particular force to propel people to listen to traditional metal bands as opposed to just the newer bands that people are usually accustomed to seeing in promotional stuff and headlining bigger shows and such?

Steve: If that's the case that's wonderful. Um... I'm not one to say that I'm bringing anything back or that I'm trying to, you know... um... you know what I'm saying though. Like I'm not going to pretend like I'm bringing anything back it's just... that was... I noticed... it was just one of those things. I noticed a shortage in it and I noticed, um, quite frankly - and some people may argue this as far as you saying the traditional stuff; like the vocals in Infiltrator, aren't really traditional but I had to work with limitations - what I'm getting at is...

CT: They're traditional in the sense of Venom and that first wave black metal stuff...

Steve: Yeah, exactly.

CT: ... and hardcore punk and some of the crossover stuff from the 80's so they're not really... they're still traditional in that sense.

Steve: Yeah, the idea was to keep it very traditional... um... but not just try... not just make a half-assed demo of lazily rehashing things that other bands have already done. Like I said, I just wanted to do something high energy that was traditional and classic but was... had some new tinges such as like some really cool guitar playing and good song arrangements and just stuff like that. It was nothing that... there was nothing wrong with keeping it from being strictly traditional - that's great; I love that kind of stuff - that wasn't the goal. I definitely wanted to be rooted in that or still want to be rooted in that. We're sitting on two songs right now. So uh... but... I don't know if that really... that might be a bit unclear but, um... Yeah as far as your original question.... (audio drop out) if people here our music and it encourages them to listen to older metal, you know, like older classic records, that's fucking cool. That's great. That's definitely a reward for us.

CT:  When you think about the two tracks that you have online now umm... talk about those two tracks as far as the lyrics of them and some of the... I mean, I don't even know if... are the lyrics to your songs particularly...  (audio drop out)

Steve: I'd be lying if I said I like spent a ton of time on lyrics. I spend a lot more time on the music than I do the lyrics, which some people might think is bullshit but that's whatever. I guess it does go back to what you were saying about embodying the old school mentality of traditional metal. Umm.. Crush the False, if you want to use that as an example, I wanted to be an anthemic song. I wanted it to be the song that, when people are hanging out and listening to music in their living room and they listen to that and you kind of fist pump and sing some of the lyrics...

CT: Jersey Shore fist pump?

Steve: Jersey Shore... can't say I'm familiar. But uh,  it sounds kind of corny but yeah.. it's just one of those things where, obviously anybody into this style of music has a bond, or even way cornier, a kinship as it is with this kind of metal.. so... you're either here.. you're either into it or your not. I guess. If that makes any kind of sense.

CT:  So when you talk about say, that particular track, Crush the False, would you say that... how would you particularly categorize the "false" in that sense if it even matters or if it doesn't matter, is it just an aesthetic kind of theme that is common in metal that you threw in there?

Steve. Crush the False...

CT: Are there "false."

Steve: I mean... this is a... actually very good question... I don't want to say that people that are false are people that don't wear denim jackets with patches all over them and people who necessarily... I don't know... that's sort of like, that hesher mentality that's just typically associated with you.. know.. 'death to false metal'... which makes sense but umm as far as 'false'... let me think about something... I've been drinking a little...

CT: What have you been drinking all night?

Steve:  Ah nothing special, just beer.

CT: You think about that... I'm going to go to Keith. What did you think of Infiltrator's first show which you put on at O'Reilley's with Morbid Saint.

Keith: I think they completely stole the show. I mean, I was actually looking forward to Infiltrator's set more so that Morbid Saint, and I think a lot of people were and I think... I've said this 100 times - I've said it to him, I've said it to other people - I think Infiltrator completely stole the show... It's not even a question of whether that's true or not. I mean, they did.

CT: I felt the same way.

Keith: They completely stole the energy of the whole show and it ruled. I don't think you could for a band's first show, I don't think you ask for anything better. I mean, the venue was completely packed at... what was it... 8:30 when they started. When the fuck to people show up for a show at 8:30 for a show ever. That place was wall to wall people. The headcount was just below 200 at the door.

CT: That's pretty awesome for an east coast metal show.

Keith: Yeah!

CT: Often times I see shows in this area at like 50 people. Or at that range.

Keith: And a band that only put two demo tracks up on the internet.. I mean I think it's something and I think Philadelphia is so entrenched with Death Metal and grindcore and punk and I think like bringing that like speed influence... that old style back where everything came from, I think that like  really grabs everyone's attention. I think that's just what everybody needs. I think, you know.

CT: So Steve, how would you compare what you saw at Philadelphia to what you experienced playing your second show in New York. (Brooklyn - opening for Abazagorath and Deiphago among others - CT)? 

Steve: Oh man, Philly was definitely more active and interested. People were clearly more interested and people really wanted to... I mean, the kids in Philly were fucking crazy. Like they were really moving, they knew the songs. They were so into it where as in New York... we're a new band. I'll admit it. New York from my experience has always been kind of, crowd reactions are always luke warm at best and people are kind of you know... stoic... you can say whatever you want... either they like your band or they dont. In my experiences there I never know if they like a band or not... there were people there but people didn't react nearly as well as they did to the show in Philly.

CT: Well, you're from Philly. Do you think that might have had something to do with it? Do people know you here so they're out to see you guys cause they know you. Because they're expecting something or is it solely based on the fact that this is a better scene down here which is... we're talking only forty five minutes or an hour away in terms of driving time?

Keith: I think it's about an hour and half almost.

CT: Hour and half? Ahh.. yeah alright... an hour and a half.

Steve: Well honestly, I can't really answer that fairly due to the fact that I've never really spent a lot of time up in the whole scene of New York but I think definitely here in Philly where we're from and... obviously I know a lot more people here than in New York... it got around here more and it got probably more buzz so it's totally not  (audio drop out) but Keith caught wind of us and Keith is more Philly based so that's a good example. It got around here.

CT: So, going back to the music. Who would you list as your influences as a guitarist and for the band itself? What bands do you really look to for inspiration as a band and musician?

Steve: As a band. Ahh.. well.. Old Metallica. I guess you could say traditional Iron Maiden, Judas Priest. Stuff like that. Ahh.. but it's definitely... there's a lot of stuff... a lot of Venom. A lot of Bathory. There's definitely epic tinges to it. But it definitely.. it's very... definitely you can especially in a lot of the riffing especially in the demo that there's a lot of Metallica in there. A lot of the song structures... I would say Metallica, Bathory, Venom and like Priest and Maiden.

CT: And as an individual guitar player?

Steve: My favorite as far as guitar players... My favorite.. My three favorite guitar players are Jason Becker, Paul Gilbert and Marty Friedman. I listen to a lot of guitar players though. I'm totally into that whole thing.  The old Shrapnel (Shrapnel Records - CT) stuff and then a lot of fusion stuff like modern stuff like Guthrie Govan... and uh... guys like Greg Howe but that's... you know... kind of... that's above my level of playing but I definitely dig that kind of stuff but...

CT: It's important to aspirations...

Steve: Yes... uh... absolutely. But yeah, there's a lot of different guitar players but as far as you know like... I would say that a lot of influence on songs and the playing is what Jason Becker and Marty Friedman did with Cacophony and like Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet in Racer X where it was a lot of metal but just a lot of total ripping guitar playing but I guess it was a little on the fluffier side.

CT: So... you mentioned Metallica...

Steve: Yes.

CT: Common band, everybody has opinions on (audio drop out for forty seconds... Steve responded to the question again via a message online:)

Steve: ...Going back to those albums is what I love and you can agree or disagree is that those guys put so much time and effort into making each one of those tracks be a standout track on each one of their albums because when you say, you know, you can name so many of their songs by name... everybody knows the track names. Every track has a purpose... Anyways, one thing I should say is that for Infiltrator "Kill em All" is really the record we kind of look to from Metallica as a whole. It's catchy, it's urgent. It's just metal to the bone.

CT: Because I have to take a piss, and for lack of me wanting to spend twenty hours typing this conversation up. I guess we'll wrap this up. You mentioned at the Morbid Saint show, you're planning on putting out like an EP or something in the upcoming months or something. What are you're plans as a band as far as putting out new music goes. What's on the books as far as Infiltrator goes.

Steve: Haha. Ok, that's a question I can answer actually. Next month in January, 2013. We will be recording our songs for a 7". So it will be more songs, like two new songs but we'll actually have a hard copy. We'll be doing that stuff but we're going to be continuously writing more material, doing some extended tours on weekends and everything like that and furiously working up to a full length for 2013. So that's the goal right now. 2013 is going to be, I guess you can say, a big year. We plan on it being a big year. But that's the goal right now.

CT: Thank you for the interview. I'm sure we'll catch up again. When the next album comes out, I'll definitely get in touch with you.

Steve: No problem. Thanks.

Infiltrator Facebook
Infiltrator Bandcamp

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New Reviews

Okketaehm - Stones

1/12/2013: Okketaehm is a US duo who quite frankly have next to no band info available. A search of the internet finds no biographical data, while the brief bio I got from their label doesn't offer much either. According to what I did receive, the duo are extremely reclusive, which is understating it in the extreme. These days it is generally easy to find out almost anything about anyone with a quick Google search. These guys however, have somehow managed to make it impossible.

According to their entry on Metal Archives, Stones is the second release by the band, their last being 2010's Maggots. As I haven't heard their prior release I can't comment on whether or not the band's sound has improved or change in the two years since. What I can say; however, is that this is some damn strange and creepy stuff. Clocking in at 18 minutes and containing only one song, the album is not your typical black metal release. It starts off with some nasty-sounding black metal at full blast and while not original, has a very cool, primitive vibe to it. But at around the 2:00 minute mark a siren starts to sound and things get weird! Strange sounds fill the speakers and aurally comes across as fog and mist filling the air. After about 6 minutes of these odd sounds the BM starts back up again and the band continue at a much slower pace before bringing it all back again.

The release, while really odd, is also (like all well-played music) intriguing as it really gives a sense of atmosphere, which in this case, can be summed up as dread and fear. While not for everyone, black metal enthusiasts should visit the Contaminated Tones website and get a copy of Stones while they are still available.

1/14/2013: Wait a minute, i wasn't ready for this. I shut down it, calm down, i sit on my soft chair and play it again from the start. One long track, which starts with uncompromising black metal intro and dissolves after minute in siren sound's imitation, which slowly becomes integral trenchant sound, where you may find an meditative melody which hides into noise abyss, which ruminates everything in reverse. I found some similarities with BETHLEHEM's album "S.U.I.Z.I.D.". Black metal, which you could hear in the begining continues, sometimes slowing the tempo and finally it calms down, but not for long. Again it becomes a symphony of noise, which will be accompanied by silent keyboards. Final touch is BETHLEHEM'ish guitar tune. Even if i cuouldn't find any information about this band, but i think it may be a one-man project from USA. Really perspective one.

Diseased Oblivion - Portals of Past and Present

1/14/2013: Gas mask on a cover, it lays on a desolated floor (maybe after fall out it was left together with "colleague"), so i thought, that it will feature industrial noises. Damn i was right. Slow industrial rhymes gives the start to everything and the next turn goes to guitars, which reminds me something between tardy black metal and drone. Vocals? It reminds me a wheeze more. First two songs were recorded in 2011. Now lets skip to third one (year 2010), which title is more suitable for cover - "Ghosts of Nuclear Winter". It doesn't lacks noise, wheeze and that awesome effect, which remind me ghost howls. Everything comes to end with 4th track, which was recorded in 2009 - "Reclusa Eternus" (Steve, from Diseased Oblivion plays in a project RECLUSA under The Insect Hermit alter ego) in which doom/drone and melancholical guitar tune is interrupted by not by vocalist's wheeze, but by growl. Track ends with tubular bells/ambient sounds. It's good, that whole record is not very long, because i won't be able to not loose the plot.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Blood Dancer - Blood Dancer

Blood Dancer's first full length is a honest and good faith release from a band that is still very young to the scene. Their first eponymous album contains a nice variety of material ranging from more traditional Heavy Metal songs like "Death To The Saints," to epic tracks like "Last Stand Of The Pagan Kings," and some tracks that hint at slightly progressive influences like one of the album's best track "Palace Of Bones." Though their one sheet says that they have been likened to Iron Maiden, Dio and Queensryche, I hear very little reason for this comparison. Their sound and style is far closer to more modern bands like the last two Wolf albums, Twisted Tower Dire and in some spots even shows a slightly more doomy sound similar to Sahg's, especially at moments when singer Christopher Barclay sounds very similar to Olav Iversen. See the aforementioned Palace of Bones for a comparison.

This release contains good production, but not incredible production in any sense. While the band hearkens back to the 80's for a lot of their influence, the album sounds decisively modern in tone. The bite that accompanied a lot of the 80's material is gone with more focus on the mid tones, possibly even using some sort of low pass filter on the rhythm guitars to achieve such an end. In this case, frequencies above 18khz have been dropped while on normal mixing and mastering projects, if a low pass filter has been used they set the threshold frequency at 20khz. The result is an album that sounds less aggressive and less urgent. Though everything is clear and audible and there is no muddiness, Blood Dancer sounds a bit more digital than would be warranted for a release such as this for me. The bass is mixed loud enough to be heard which is appreciated even if his bass lines follow the guitars without much divergence. Though the rhythm guitars sound quite modern in tone as do the leads, solos and melodies are mixed perfectly.

There weren't many total standout tracks that either totally wowed me or made me cringe. The release is rather consistent in that regard though "Skulls Crushed (And People Burned)" doesn't quite match the style initiated during the first six tracks of the album and may have been better to leave off this release. The rhythmic and vocal performance trajectory here does not fall within the kill zone. The chorus instead of being based on chord progressions and melody is instead a palm-muted chugging reminiscent of more modern metal such as post-gothenburg melodic death metal from America and the perpetuation of metalcore elements into the greater genre. The song is good! In fact I would probably say it's one of the more courageous tracks on the release because of how different it is and because Blood Dancer experiment with some harsher vocals it sets itself apart. The problem is that it doesn't fit within the framework that the band self describes themselves as working in. Also not as effective on this release is third track "Herald Of War," even if it's introduction is one of the highlights of the album with a melody and harmony that would be right at home para-sailing. Some harsh vocals appear also but are layers over a more traditionally oriented power metal motif.

Opening track "Realm Of The Blood Dancer," reminds me of how Iron Maiden have opened their recent albums. A safe song to start off the release which best represents where the band is pointing their noses and where they think the album is exemplified. Unlike the recent Maiden albums though, this opening track, along with the final track are most likely the two best tracks on this album within the goals of the band. "Death To The Saints," is a fast heavy metal cut comparable to stuffing your Honda Accord with a strong motor. "Palace of Bones" is also a favorite of mine. Like many of the tracks on the album, the melody is a bit atypical and uncommon and "Palace of Bones" squeezes all sorts of possibilities out of the dark movements and weaves a strong track together. This continues into "Last Stand of the Pagan Kings," the longest track.

Blood Dancer have some potential and I look forward to seeing what they come out with next. They should focus on the production side of things and perhaps minor adjustments in the phrasing of riffs to sound more like the bands they are influenced by. The excellent melodies and harmonies and musicianship here offers them the possibility of doing some really cool stuff with the style they're aiming at.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Grai - About Our Native Land

Grai's Russian folk-fest is at most times a fun romp through stereotypical folk metal observed all over eastern Europe and at some points the band even manages to resemble some of the better known bands from their Motherland such as Arkona. About Our Native Land is fairly predictable but I wouldn't call it a total wash. There are a lot of well done sections and parts and "Leshak," contains one of the more fascinating sections I've heard on a folk album. Unfortunately there are some setbacks for this album. The songs fall into two distinct types. The first set which makes up about half the album are upbeat folky dance songs like the opener, "The Wheat Song," or third track, "Spring," which sound like Finntroll with flutes and bagpipes. The other half of the tracks are slower and darker melodies more in tune with tracks that are inherently more complex and deep. These are the tracks that come off as superior here in my eyes. It's not that the pop-folk tracks are bad, they are just unappealing to me but I assume that anyone that really likes the more cheery folk tracks would be pleased to fold their arms and do jigs while dressing like fourteenth century bar-wenches to music that is as far as possible from music that would be heard in a fourteenth century alehouse.

The tracks that really catch my ears here are tracks like "A Winter Tale","Lament About The Lot," or "Brave Warrior." The last is much poppier than the others but it also has some of the heavier moments on the album. The solemn and more serious melodies that pervade these tracks seem to be more in line with the folkier material I like. The album does a good job to make sure these tracks are spread across the album to separate the other tracks. The contrast allows the album to flow without sounding too monotonous. I was surprised to hear some harsher grunted vocals, courtesy of bassist Yuri Bedusenko, on the album after the first four tracks but alas, on "Leshak," a track about mythological beasts that can change size and that protect woodland creatures (at least I assume based on the title - all the lyrics are in Russian), we here some harsh vocals appear after a good third of the album has already passed. Little things like this keep the album sounding fresh from start to finish. We also get to hear these harsher vocals on "Lament about the Lot," and "Brave Warrior."

The harsher vocals are done well but can be described as lacking personality. They're no different from any other harsh vocals found across folk and pagan metal albums that are floating around out there in the deep forest of the internet waiting to be snatched up by unsuspecting peddlers. The nice thing here is that the highlight of the album - the female vocals - accompany the harsh vocals on every track. Compared to other Russian bands with female crooners (there are a lot of Russian bands out there with female vocalists) these vocals sound less trained. The peasant style female vocals fit the album really well, especially coupled with the harsher vocals. The over-the-top operatic vocals of other bands wouldn't, I feel, pair as well. Every song, because of this style of vocals, has a regional and local vibe. The band has two female vocalists, Irina seems to be the lead vocalist though Aliya Latypova also contributes when she isn't playing the flute or the bagpipes.

The rest of the musicianship is excellent also. Yuri's bass playing is particularly of note. It's quite prevalent and rhythmic. The flutes are mixed most loudly here and bagpipes are also mixed to be very audible though I can't really see how bagpipes wouldn't be audible on any recording ever because they are so distinctive sounding. Audrey Smirnov's guitar playing is best when he isn't playing electric. The acoustic guitars are quite beautiful while the electric guitars are purely rhythmic. There are no soaring lead guitar parts on About Our Native Land but there is one particular section in "Leshak," alluded to earlier, which jumps out of nowhere. About four minutes into the song we experience some of the only double bass on the album, female screams that belong in an Italian horror movie and some rather off-key phrases that abruptly reveal the song's main melody. It's the only place on the entire album where a song really goes off the deep end and tries something new.

If you're not really into folk and pagan metal this album is not going to change your mind on the genre. It doesn't really break new ground in anyway. The songs are all pretty much the same length, the flute, though well played becomes a bit grating after four or five songs and the melodies don't always sound original. For listeners that really like pagan metal and folky albums, you may want to give this a listen but I would advise others that this probably won't have much of an impact.

Lightsbane - Lightsbane (Demo)

This is a promo CD-r that I got from the band when they played at Lanza's in Ansonia, CT in 2012. The discs were hand-labeled and had no cover art (thus no cover image here). The songs can be heard on their Facebook page:

Lightsbane play groovy melodic death metal, a blend of the groove of early-mid Lamb of God and the string-skipping melodies of early-2000s American melodeath. They share some chromatic riffing tendencies with old Cannibal Corpse - the first riff in "Ten Pounds of Recoil" is reminiscent of "Hammer Smashed Face". They separate the groovy melodic sections somewhat from mid/fast paced death metal, contrasting somewhat plain segments with catchy ones. The second track is much more groove-oriented, while the first one includes a lot more of the bland death metal sections. The vocals are varied a bit, mostly low-mid range growls that play more of a supporting role than a leading role, though the non-groove sections could be improved if they were. The vocals are good but nothing exceptional, they're adequate but not exceptional.

The guitar solos show that the lead guitarist is technically capable but wandering and lacking direction. It's a little bit flashy, but completely forgettable and not entirely interesting. The production is honest, and the playing is alright but not studio polished, though the band has sufficient chops to pull their songs off live. The first solo is kind of boring, the second one is interesting but repetitive, a bit sloppy and completely loses any sort of phrasing in the sloppiness. The drumming is pretty dynamic, not relying much on fills but shifting between different beats for segments of each riff, much more aware of the music than a lot of death metal drumming but nothing over the top.

Lightsbane are an interesting band and this demo/promo gives a pretty good impression. I'll be sure to check out what they come out with next.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Forestfather - Hereafter

Forestfather play a captivating style of atmospheric black metal with a lot of well-constructed acoustic passages. The dynamics of the dirty atmospheric parts and the clean parts contrast well, as do the growled/screamed vocals and the melodic clean vocals, which are sometimes harmonized nicely. Although I'm not usually a fan of this style, the atmospheric nature of the music seems to be a natural component of the music rather than the primary goal, as the music is also conventionally driven by riffing and melodies. Each performance is excellent and can stand out in its own right while fitting in with the music, especially the fretless bass playing, something that is rarely heard in black metal and often isn't restrained to the benefit of the music, which it is here. The guitar and bass parts show a strong awareness of each other and fit together well, both performed by Kveldulf without a notable preference being shown on either - they're used properly as different instruments, not just as a matching component of another.

The compositions are characterized by mindful complements between instruments with attention to the feel and flow of the song. Dynamics are more complete than tail-end fills, with each instrument and the vocals making subtle and overt changes during each part - nothing overly technical, not at all jarring, just a continuous awareness of the music that makes it quite interesting. The bass playing is certainly a nice component that is easily noticed, as is the drumming, which varies from lighter, laid-back stuff to fast blasts - not genre-bound to tick away like a blast beat metronome. The organic feel of the music, part of the atmosphere, is greatly helped by both the real, non-triggered drum sounds and the acoustic guitars.

The vocals are a bit odd at times, sometimes taking leaps which take a second or third listen to figure out why they happened. It took a while to get used to them, but it turns out that's a good thing, because the vocalist is capable of both leading and backing - another dimension of the dynamic nature of the composition. Vocals in black metal can easily either be a rhythmic leader, a monotonous background piece, or more traditional lead vocals when they're sung - here, they fill all of those roles at various points. Neither limited nor overdone, they're a nice piece that seemed odd at first but grew on me over a few listens. They're much like the larger picture in how they are composed and performed, fitting in nicely.

Forestfather is quite interesting considering the history behind the band - it was the one-man band of Kveldulf for 14 years before he completed the lineup internationally with Mike on vocals and Jared on drums. These years certainly saw a lot of contemplation and experience, because this whole project came together very nicely in a relatively short period of time. The exceptional coordination of each performance is quite astounding considering the musicians' geographic separation. This is a really good album, a great performance polished by the sands of time.

Forestfather - Hereafter CD.

Judas Ancestry - The Forces of Nazarene

I was quite surprised by this one-track demo, I haven't heard any extreme metal from India before and it's pretty good. The keyboards fit their role well, mostly providing atmosphere and filling out chords, as well as some tasteful fills. The guitars both support the vocals and have some solid riffs, plus tasteful and melodic solos. The vocals lead the music well, they're sinister sounding deep growls with strong enunciation.

Everything comes together very well, the songwriting is excellent. The guitar and keyboards parts are very well composed, laying back while something else leads, trading off the lead melody with tasteful tail-end fills. The song progresses well and unfolds impressively for something under seven minutes.

Judas Ancestry remind me a bit of later Sacramentum with keyboards added to the mix, with their skilled songwriting and use of melody. It leaves a very strong impression, being a one-track demo with excellent production. I look forward to hearing more music from this talented new band.

Eric Pellegrini - Volume I

Eric Pellegrini is certainly a talented guitarist with some good ideas and a knack for throwing together some interesting guitar parts. The focus of the music seems to be on the guitar work - the vocals are just there, they don't add much of anything. The music is backed by a very mechanical sounding drum machine that sounds like some basic MIDI samples - something that I'd lament on a demo, but will outright complain about on anything else.

The production overall is pretty dry and inconsistent - the guitar tones vary throughout, from a chunky, crunchy chugging tone to a few different sweet tones for the solos. The guitar work is a little bit inconsistent, but seems pretty honest and it's clear that this guy is a good guitarist. The vocals don't have much depth. The drums could be lower in the mix considering that they're not the best sounds, but they are written fairly well to follow the guitars and do what they need to do. The drum solo/intro in "The Ringmaster" is interesting, but with the poor tones, it is pretty irritating.

The songwriting is choppy - a clean neo-classical guitar section is wedged between blasting death metal sections on "The Black Feathered Vixen". He has a decent idea of how to mix up different parts, but the death metal sections often seem forced, either that or everything but the death metal sections seem forced - guitar solos comes from nowhere more randomly than in a Necrophagist song. The death metal parts are inconsistent but I don't they come naturally, the lead guitar work, melodies, and prog-tinged stuff seem to be his forte, so I'm not quite sure why he's doing death metal. The rhythm playing and vocals are alright, but the death metal riffing isn't what stands out here. I suppose it's better than generic prog-guy wankery the whole way through. Amidst all this disjointed nonsense, there's some great lead guitar work, like the extended solo later in the aforementioned song. His talents make it pretty easy to look past the shortcomings.

The different songs more or less show different takes on similar concepts and ideas. I wouldn't call this a full-length, it's more of a demo showing songwriting and guitar skills of a capable musician who could do some good things with other musicians. Eric Pellegrini is a capable and talented musician, this album isn't anything special on its own, but he could easily exceed it if he were in a proper band. This isn't an album I'd go back to listen to, but if I was looking for a guitarist, I'd know where to look.

Suffer the Silence - Good Mourning

Suffer the Silence are an atmospheric, melodic prog rock/doom metal band with growled vocals. They're not really heavy and have little in common with death metal other than some growled vocals. The music isn't particularly doomy either, the influence is there, but this album seems like a former prog death/doom band taking a sharp turn towards atmospheric rock, with some remnants of the past left in there.

The fourteen-minute opener sounds like a modernized Pink Floyd with a streak of extreme metal, mostly due to the growls. The band goes for a spaced-out, atmospheric vibe, eventually building up into something a bit more extreme with reverberated tremolo picking that reminds me a bit of a softened version of the buildup in Converge's "Jane Doe", though otherwise STS sounds nothing like Converge. The rest of the album follows similarly, the guitars are primarily atmospheric and not really heavy, though that's obviously not what the band was going for. One track, "Forever", appears only on the re-release and is purely soft and soothing.

The direction of this album is almost purely atmospheric and progressive, neither riff nor vocal-oriented. The two centerpieces are the drumming, quite interesting, and the atmosphere, which is a matter of taste. I don't know the band's intents, but it is heavily reminiscent of Pink Floyd as well as a lot of modern post-metal/atmospheric stoner doom. The shortcoming of the atmospheric side was quickly acknowledged by the band - it was remastered and rereleased only a few months after it's initial release. Impressively, it was produced entirely in ProTools 6.4 (replaced by version 7 in 2005) with only 512MB of RAM - it's almost believable that it took several months to mix it with that system. I am sympathetic to the production knowing that their tools are limited, but the production is very professional regardless, the only thing that could be changed is the atmosphere.

The atmosphere is a subjective matter - it is pleasant and conveys a certain feeling, but it could be stronger. I don't think there's a stronger feeling of doom than trying to make adjustments on that old system though. It is well done, simply a matter of preference and it's not often that I enjoy something so focused on atmosphere. The focus on atmosphere is a shortcoming though, as the music really drags on at some points - the buildups can be extremely long, and if you're not really into what they're doing, you're suffering without silence. The beginning of the album is a good indicator, as the introduction lasts a few minutes as it builds up into the main part of the song. Long songs are difficult to pull off, and with a fourteen-minute opener and a thirteen-minute closer, this can lose your attention on either end if you're not really into it.

Suffer the Silence make some interesting music, not a style that I prefer, but something that took quite a bit of time and thought to evaluate. If you enjoy atmospheric sludge/stoner/doom, post-metal, or atmospheric/progressive rock, this is something that you should give a listen or two.

Paganizer - Carve; Stillborn Revelations and Revel in Human Filth

Carve was a side project of Paganizer, consisting more or less of the same lineup, releasing albums in 2002 and 2004. Paganizer themselves recorded an album and an EP in 1999 as a melodic death metal band, before shifting to old-school Swe-death and recording another album the same year (released in 2001), then cranking out another three albums as Paganizer from 2002 to 2004. Seven albums and an EP in five years is impressively productive, but the haste is quite apparent.

This is a compilation of two albums and three other tracks, which are produced a bit differently but are otherwise pretty similar. I don't advise listening through the whole thing in one sitting, it's not a great way to present the music, though the band has a penchant for compilations, having put out a box set of the first three Paganizer albums and an EP around the time of their fifth album.

"Stillborn Revelations" is a lightweight Swe-death album with a nod to the Sunlight sound, but without the heft of Dismember or Entombed. The sound is thick and the guitars are crunchy, borrowing from that distinct sound of their predecessors, but with less bite and lacking the pure brutality of the chainsaw tone and ripping riffs. Reminds me a bit of Comecon, but a more complete effort with less strength in the individual pieces. There's a lot of decent riffs, but none of them stand out much. The riffs don't grab you and pull you into a frenzy, there isn't even a frenzy, just a long march of chunky riffs that aren't unpleasant, but entirely forgettable - not the most appealing thing in a style with more than a few legends and classics, plus another tier or two of imitators who pull it off better than this.

Three weak points plague the album - monotonous vocals that aren't captivating at all, a flurry of forgettable riffs, and some of the least creative drumming in death metal, monotonous enough to be unpleasant at times. The overwhelming impact of Stillborn Revelations is that it's far too monotonous to be interesting, not bad, but not really good either. I think a ten-album Grave marathon would keep my attention better.

The three bonus tracks in the middle follow the same trend, but with a drum machine and slightly weaker production that emphasizes the guitar a bit more. By the time I've heard this much, I'm pretty sure I've only heard one riff for the past 45 minutes, the monotony wears on a lot. I don't advise listening through the whole thing at once unless it's background music while you're focused on something else.

"Revel in Human Filth" is a rougher production, with an irritating ticking drum machine constantly blasting, the same vocals, and a crunchier guitar sound that fits the music a bit better than the thicker tone. A riff or two stands out for a moment on this one, but it is largely monotonous, even more so when played after the first album. The death metal riffs sound a bit better, the groove riffs sound a bit worse. Not a great tradeoff, this one is weaker than the first one. The last track is the only exception - "Fall From Disgrace" has a melodic part that contrasts against the percussive riffing, and it's a great break from the tiring marathon of the rest of this release. The riffs there are particularly good too, quite a surprise considering that the first 70+ minutes were one thing and only one thing.

Both Carve albums give a similar impression - they're monotonous and directionless, riff after riff, with very little variation from track-to-track. One or two tracks at a time, it's decent, but it's simply not enjoyable to listen to for an appreciable amount of time. It really shows that these guys cranked out a lot of albums in a short amount of time, the shortcomings are systematic. There are a lot of bands who do this much better than Paganizer.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Twilight Fauna - The Grotesque Travesty of Creation

With each of Twilight Fauna's releases, I expect I will grow to know more about Ravenwood each time. In opening track, An Autumn Moon, on his second release under the Twilight Fauna brand, The Grotesque Travesty of Creation, I heard a dog of some sort bark in the background (Right at the 3:39 mark for anyone that cares to seek it out). Ravenwood owns a dog. Sounds like a medium sized dog though I will give someone that can pinpoint what breed a nice back rub. Once again we get a particularly personal release here; Homemade Black Metal from Appalachia. The opening track sounds as though he recorded his shower to represent an Appalachian rain storm. Strange how that rain just shuts off and turns on at Ravenwood's will. Perhaps his mother told him he was wasting water. Jokes aside, this is quite a bit better than The Silence of a Blackening Abyss in practically every respect.

Ravenwood must have figured out where his talents are best geared towards at the moment – acoustic guitar playing – and it is emphasized on this release as a great majority of the album is acoustic and not far removed in style from Empyrium or, to a lesser extent, Agalloch. Contrasting from the last album, there is a significant amount of acoustic guitars or, more accurately, distortionless time here. What is done far better on this release is the overall production. Where The Silence of a BlackAbyss was riddled with amateur production issues like awkward edits, amusing transitions and shoddy performances, the production here does not in any way sabotage the product. It in fact makes it far more personal and eccentric than anything Agalloch has ever put out and for this, I enjoy it. I joke about a dog bark in the background and yes, it does indicate there are still production issues that can be fine-tuned, but it’s like the airplane in Black Country Woman or the noise left over on Abbey Road all over the place.

The vocals on this release are far more consistent in style than on the debut release however what hasn’t improved in the delivery. There is still this really bizarre, inhaled wheeze which may be exceptionally difficult to anyone looking for more conventional vocals to swallow. Ravenwood sounds like he swallowed a load of cotton and tried to wash it down with moonshine. It’s not really awful actually but it could use some help. Some reverb added into the mix, some echo something to aid it in blending into the music better. I guess it would be like listening to Countess. It’s a truly unique vocal style that is not in any way acceptable by the vast majority of the crowd but someone looking for something interesting and new may enjoy it. Myself, I’m torn. It’s an interesting and undeniably unique approach that needs some refinement. “Forgotten Dusk,” one of the acoustic passages on the release has some well done, if slightly shaky, clean vocals.

Though percussion on this release is far sparser than on the first release, it also has improved though its randomness impacts the songs. It actually has no purpose from a compositional standpoint. Ravenwood is still unsure of his ability in this area as proven by the percussion’s place in the mix – set far, far back in the boonies. It’s so hidden that you need to know someone to show you where they are. Their inclusion is a sore point for me. Left out, the release may have had a better impact or better mixed they may have made themselves relevant. They sure as hell can’t stay all the way back in the creek though. Slightly fuzzed and twangy guitars with strange vocals, solitary and solemn melodies, nice acoustic passages and simple, no-frills rhythms… This would be right at home around a campfire.

Lyrically, this is once again well written stuff with plenty of interpretation available for anyone that wants to strike a guess at it. Little is explained as far as what songs are about and because this is intended to be Appalachian inspired, I’m still not sure if there is enough present here to really settle this into the landscape it’s supposed to represent. Musically, this seems far more spot on in the Appalachian vein for me what with the lengthiness and unchanging mentality of the music. It sounds old, mopey and hidden. I actually think the vocals could sound like some backwoods hillbilly telling ghost stories or something.  Ravewood is getting closer to representing what he wants, I think, as the project continues; we’ll see some rather interesting music from him. Continued improvement is still needed though. Some additional mixing and production experience will help create better defined dynamics, arrangements, and cues. More specified lyrical content would help listeners pronounce what the atmosphere is trying to spell out for them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Twilight Fauna - The Silence Of A Blackening Abyss

Twilight Fauna's debut, "The Silence of a Blackening Abyss," on first listen comes across as amateurish yet ballsy. There are some definite strong points and some definite low points. The band is a self described one man project inspired by Burzum-styled black metal that focuses it's atmospheres on representing the Appalachian Mountains. I really like the concept - American Black Metal rarely presents itself as aware of a national heritage in the sense that European Black Metal does. There are all sorts of regionally appropriate black metal projects from Europe and we have relatively few here, even if we have such unique and distinct music across the continent. I'm still waiting for black metal with banjos and songs about lost dogs and broken down Chevy pickup trucks. For someone to attempt to present some aspect of that is respectable. In many ways however, I don't get a lot of the Appalachian Mountains in these songs and that is saddening, even if there are some excellent ideas scattered throughout.

Nice pictures are included with the download...
Perhaps the only thing specifically "Appalachian" about the music here are the lyrics which invoke copses of birch trees, stories of coal towns and images of mountains. And yet, I also don't get the sense that all the lyrics couldn't also represent any number of similar settings outside of the eastern US's most recognizable mountain chain. Second song, "Centralia" concerns not only Pennsylvania but probably one of the entire country's most famous ghost towns, which was abandoned in the 1960's after a mine fire erupted in the coal mines beneath the town. "Old Ones Arise" could be about the prevalence of Snake-handling religious sects or about something totally unrelated to the region. "The Imperishable Flame" also is a bit sketchy in details as are most of the rest of the songs. "Magnificent Isolation" applauds the independence of the mountaineers of the region - a theme which Black Metal fans should be able to associate with - but once again, isn't specific enough to warrant a truly definite description as Appalachian black metal. If there are specific references, they weren't provided with the copy I received for review - which was off their website. 

Musically, production is very rough on this album with audible digital edits, white noise and a whole mess of sloppy musicianship that was never corrected. Harsh would be an acceptable criticism. "Centralia," which is the best of the tracks offered, still offers all sorts of production issues in this vein. The drumming is often times awkward and out of time with sharp cuts that cut the cymbals off mid-crash or splash. The overall sound of the album is actually fairly on target for what I expect from "bedroom Black Metal" if you will. The guitars are static-riddled fuzz with little crunch and a whole lot of crackle. Still, you can determine notes from them. The bass is audible underneath everything though has little individual character, the drums sound cheap but the problem is more with the playing - it being not very good - than with the tone of them. Vocals are... all over the place. Clean vocals are employed in some places, whispers and grunts and screeches in others. There is little consistency with the presentation of the vocals which results in the most egregious of set backs for someone who isn't moved by the trivialities commonly encountered with solo black metal projects sprouting everywhere these days.

.... but not the actual album cover for some reason.
So, there are some notable moments though to mention outside these faults. Ravenwood, the sole proprietor here, sounds like an extremely intelligent theorist with little hands on ability. Like a student from a trade school with no field experience. The songs are well formulated with specified and distinct sections creating meaningful structures. "Old Ones Arise," for example circumnavigates a large section of whispers and clunky bass notes, before returning to what would be a well placed conclusion reminiscent of earlier sections. Production hampers this somewhat. The intention and ideas are solid; execution not so much. "The Imperishable Flame," once again, opens with a rather moving melody and a nice attempted build up. Execution once again causes a floundering effect. Drums are not in time with accents, vocals come in where expected but flatly... This is repeated across the tracks. Sixth track "Eulogy for Earth," is rather well done but is effectively an intermission too late on the release. I would have included it much earlier to break up some of the other tracks. The outro is bass noodling. It's... interesting... maybe... but not really because it sounds like something I've played while laying naked drunk on my bedroom floor.

I think this could achieve something rather special with some care given to editing, better performances and a less of what could be perceived as rushing on the part of Ravenwood. Details. Details. Details. It could result in a similar effect to that of one of my all time favorite bedroom black metal releases, the Descantation self titled release. This could top that with better production. The songs here are better. Twilight Fauna should stay mindful of the surroundings which the music is intended to represent, be mindful of album pacing and be a tad more perfectionist in editing and performance to achieve a rather exceptional result. Some tracks would be really excellent, such as "The Imperishable Flame," which is slightly less effective here than "Centralia" but would be a highlight with the faults mentioned above even just slightly improved upon. It's actually the best written track but the issues with performance are substantial. The shorter tracks on the release are also good starting points but I wouldn't have put them on the release. I believe improving on just the production issues would make this a good twenty or thirty percent better overall.