Tuesday, December 30, 2014

CTP - 021 - L: Wounded Giant - Live Weird Doom

Seattle doom trio Wounded Giant crush with this live set of hazy and smokey stoner goodness. It's like being wrapped in a thick blanket of fumes and fuzz and drifting along the highway in the back of a carpeted van. Psychedelia is an often misplaced descriptor but it's accurate here with the gurgling guitar tones, chunky bass lines and howling vocals.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dustbin of Demos: Vol V

Whatever happened to the death in death metal? The morbid fascinations that led speed and thrash metal bands to make more extreme music to accompany their dark tales, the illustrious exploration of morbid mythology, and the pummeling morbidity which pummeled itself to death in the early 90s, only to be replaced by increased technicality which led down the road to a foreign land. So many death metal bands seem to be going through the motions, imitating the methods of others without having something deeper driving the extremity of their music. Surely there is some death to be found in the least refined form of death metal: the demo.

Foul Entity - Putrid Despair
Death metal from Athens, Greece

Death metal with unapologetically unrefined production. Basks in slow, gloomy parts contrasted against a few fast ones. This has the morbidity of dirty demos from the late 80s, and the focus on simple dark riffs and melodies rather than imitating established styles of death metal riffing full-time gives it a nice vibe that's somewhat uncommon. While the style is interesting, the music itself isn't evocative so it can't make much of it. (Steve)

Bones - Demo 2013
Death metal from Antwerp, Belgium

Dirty death metal with that old demo vibe. In contrast to the previous band, Bones has integrated the air of morbidity into their music and production. They certainly know how to set the tone, but they don't quite distinguish key elements in the music. There are some transitions that feel deficiently abrupt, rather than gut-wrenching. The riffs are a chunky blend of most old DM styles. leaning mid-European. Still, the band is getting in the right mood for oldschool worship, and perhaps beginning to set their own path. Skip this demo and listen to their EP. (Steve)

Death Incarnate - Before Devastation
Death metal from Santiago, Chile

A sampler platter of death metal rooted somewhere between late-90s Cannibal Corpse and lightweight Swedeath that gets a bit too happy with the melodies half the time. It's pretty fast, but not thrashy - brutal trudgery that's going, but not going anywhere. Similar to what a lot of bands were getting to in the early 2000s where they had the grit of deathy production contrasted with a lot of melodies and a general lack of direction in the music. This almost always feels like they're emulating other bands. They've got a bit of conviction about going through the motions, but they're still going through the motions. (Steve)

The Skull (not that one) - Nuclear War
Speed/thrash/death metal from New Zealand/Canada/Australia

I like this band's style - punkish heavy/speed metal riffs with fast drumming that sounds like it's from 85-86 or so. It was short-lived as it evolved rather quickly, but bands like this certainly romanticize it. The problem is, this band doesn't have the dark convictions that push the music to be fast and extreme, it sounds pretty restrained and not at all wild. With power metal leads and vocals that lose all intensity after the first track, it ends up just sounding goofy. Silliness permeates the music and makes it feel more like pizza thrash than early death metal. (Steve)

Forgotten Tomb (not that one) - Death is Just Another Path
Death Metal from Valparaiso, Chile

A damp, old-sounding death metal recording which relies on a frantic juxtaposition of tremolo riffs and percussive power chords. Aside from the first riff repeating for two full minutes, this approximates old-timey death metal demos quite well. The methods are rather primitive, the vocals are a bit too loud, but in this rather concise form, it delivers a morbid aesthetic pretty well. That's clearly the only aesthetic sense this one-man band possesses, because this looks like a shitty DSBM demo with papyrus font. Yeah, papyrus font. I'd think the tape that looks like a Thai restaurant menu offer the sampler platter... (Steve)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Mahtowa Death March - Mansorrow

The Mahtowa Death March is apparently a violent, hostile swagger which abrades everything in its way. This music has the strung-out, menacing hostility of Eyehategod - it oozes vitriol from every hole, natural and self-inflicted. This is so dirty and raw that it makes crusties feel like they need a shower after listening to it. 

Raw-as-fuck metalpunk full of vitriol and hostility, that's what this is. 

Mansorrow has an incredibly abrasive texture that comes from uncompressed, sharp guitars and distorted vocals, all through a jagged aura of tape fuzz. The texture is a bit reminiscent of the distorted guitar noise of Nine Inch Nails' "Broken" though the music is not - aside from the sung vocals fading out in "Birds Ate My Face." The music is upbeat and contrasts some minor differences in tempo effectively, Metallized, southern-tinged rock and roll riffs mingle with crusty speed metal in an unidentifiable storm of rage. The Americana tinge to both some riffs and solos helps pronounce an identity amidst the amalgamation of punkish rock and roll, dirty crust, and nasty heavy metal. I can't pin it down among existing styles well, but it is certainly distinct. It attacks like Eyehategod's punk side, has the harshness and bite of blackened metal, the intentionally dirty sound of recent crust punk, and the rip-forward mentality of the most vicious, sociopathic Japanese metalpunk. The delivery is so aurally aggravating that a simple drums/guitars/vocals setup earned a few comments about this being noise. 

Take 13 minutes and listen to it, then let me know what you think, because there's certainly more to say about it than I've said. This seems to be pretty unique, unusual, and well-executed. You just need to know about it. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

An Empirical Look at 2014's Top Metal Releases

Being the curious type, I visited 40 different websites and gathered data on who showed up within the top ten of their “best of” metal lists for the year 2014. A single person’s opinion may not say much about the year, but looking at 40 may give some insight on metaldom’s feelings as a whole. I don’t pretend that this was a scientifically rigorous process, and I made plenty of arbitrary decisions in collecting and arranging this information, but hopefully some will find it interesting. Feedback and suggestions are encouraged.

Notes on My Methods:
  • In an attempt to avoid imputing my own taste biases, websites were selected from the top results from two major search engines (with cookies/tracking disabled) for terms like “top/best 2014 metal” and the like. 
  • I excluded mid-year lists, sub-genre lists, and “most underrated” type lists.
  • I accessed 40 websites because this was about as many as I could find using the above method. I was having an increasingly difficult time yielding further relevant search results. You’d be surprised how many reviews for metal detectors and spam websites show up after the first couple of pages of semi-relevant results.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, I included it.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. I excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each author is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and by using the list that was indexed highest in the search engine.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire dataset.
  • Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives (hyperlink).
  • I gathered label data only on metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.

The Results


This is a look at the bands that showed up most often in the top ten lists. This chart shows only those that were in 10% or more of the lists, in an effort to succinctly show the results. These 23 bands comprised 44% of the top ten list occurrences. In other words, they showed up 177 times out of the total 400 available slots (40 websites with ten slots each). The top six comprised 19% of the totals. All of the other bands were mentioned on only three or less of the websites I accessed.

As you can see, Behemoth took the top spot, appearing on 37.5% of the websites (15). Given the sample size of only 40, it’s important to keep in mind that this only means that they were mentioned on one more website than Triptykon.

I’m interested in how people feel about this. Is six bands taking up a fifth of the spots on top-ten lists a sign that metal or metal listeners need more variation, less, or does that sound right? Another way of looking at this is to ask whether metal is too fragmented when the top band only shows up on 37.5% of year-end list.

The chart became unwieldy when including the names of the band’s releases, so here they are in list form and same order:

Behemoth - The Satanist
Triptykon - Melana Chasmata
At the Gates - At War with Reality
Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun
Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden
Yob - Clearing the Path to Ascend
Agalloch - The Serpent and the Sphere
Opeth - Pale Communion
Electric Wizard - Time to Die
Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails
Godflesh - A World Lit Only by Fire
Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls
Revocation - Deathless
Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds
Slipknot -.5: The Gray Chapter
Thou - Heathen
Devin Townsend Project - Z2
Accept -  Blind Rage
Blut Aus Nord -Memoria Vetusta III - Saturnian Poetry
Nux Vomica - Nux Vomica
Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain
Eyehategod - Eyehategod
Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel


This add to over 100% because bands can be more than one genre.

This second chart shows the genre breakdown of the 400 available slots. Bands appearing on multiple top-ten lists give multiple counts, and a prog/thrash/death/sludge band would be create a count for each. Death, black, and doom metal were the top three most popular sub-genres.

“Hybrid Genres” means any band with more than one genre listed. This is interesting to look at because aside from death metal, this approach is more common than having a single subgenre. Also included is a breakdown of how many bands were black/death, because this was the most common mix.

Bands that were not metal (as per the Metal Archives), showed up more often than bands with thrash influences. There was no further breakdown on non-metal bands by genre, but I can say that I recall seeing metalcore, nu metal, rock, blues, glam, and noise.

This visually reinforced my overall impression of what people were listening to. I think this is also a good indicator that when certain mainstream outlets ignore black and death metal, they are really missing a large chunk of what is going on. I’m reminded of a certain documentary series on metal that treated these two sub-genres as an afterthought.


In the third chart, we are basically looking at what record labels dominated these lists. Like the sub-genre counts, were are looking at the total available slots in the 40 top-ten lists. This means that the percentages here are out of 400 slots, where the bands in the first chart were out of 40 lists. This means that Nuclear Blast for example showed up in 41 entries/slots, or 10.25% of the entries; compared to Behemoth appearing on 15 lists, or 37.5% of the lists. Labels have multiple bands, and can show up more once on a list. I suppose it’s also possible for someone to make a top ten listen with a release showing up multiple times, but I didn’t see that happen.

Here, the top 17 labels accounted for 60.25% of the available slots, not accounting for any non-metal bands that may be signed to these labels. The top 8 labels held 46.25% of the available spaces, and the top 2 (Nuclear Blast and Century Media Records) had 20%. Unsurprisingly, the label data shows more concentration than the band data. I’d also like to hear about how people feel about this, while also pointing out that the unsigned and band-run labels cumulatively outnumbered all but four of the record labels. The cutoff for this chart excludes labels occupying 4 or less available slots, again this was just for brevity’s sake.

(** Side Note for Economics Types** If you were to view the top-ten releases as their own separate market just for fun, the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index for the dataset would be .041, indicating a competitive market.)

Websites Accessed (All During December 2014):

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dustbin of Demos: Vol IV

When reviewing demos, it is difficult to find a balance in language to both compliment what a band does well and recognize that I'll probably never listen to most of these again, deservedly so. I find the demonstrations themselves interesting, how indistinct bands process their influences and perform. I listen to so many demos not seeking great music, but out of interest in the contrast and examination of what bands do well, and what they don't do well. Many shades of contrast come from hearing different degrees of success. even inclusion in the many aspects of music - what goes into it, what doesn't go into it, and how much. Not every meal needs to be the finest you've eaten, but each is enjoyable nonetheless. 

Luciferum Penis - Demo Live @ Secret Occult Fest (demo)
Black metal from Italy

Minimal black metal in a damp-sounding room with what sounds like a single mic between the drums and guitar. Simple structures driven by dark guitar melodies. The vocals aren't quite timed straightforward, and the human drummer varies between sections, making it feel like a real, if incomplete band. Quiet but good drumming. Despite these efforts, and some interesting melodies on guitar, the two-piece band feels flat and far from complete. As bare as it is, it's a nice contrast to the ticking and fizz of most lo-fi black metal demos. (Steve)

Varang Nord - Fire of the North (EP)
Melodic death/folk metal from Latvia

This sounds like Amon Amarth with an accordion - galloping, folky heavy/melodeath. The folk leads and clean vocal chants are the two leading parts of the music that could make it interesting, but they mostly feel separate and overlaid, without much involvement and interplay in the arrangements. The relatively unique instrumentation gives it some flair despite the backbone of the music being derivative and unoriginal. The backbone, however, isn't the spirit of it. Well-produced. Undeveloped but interesting. (Steve)

Night Eternal - Sicut Luninaria Exire (EP)
Black Metal from Canada

Black metal with moving melodies and unmoving song structures with a static rhythm. While there are a few parts here that evoke momentary interest, the guitars are the only compositional element, with the drum machine being a mudane timekeeper and the vocals completely uninteresting. Extremely monotonous. It's not that bad, but it's really not good - the epitome of the dustbin. (Steve)

Iron Driver - Iron Driver (demo)
Heavy metal from Russia

NWOBHM/Maiden worship. Tight, but feels way too rigid - it completely lacks the carefree, wild atmosphere of good NWOBHM, instead it feels stiff. The gruff, charmless vocalist certainly doesn't help. They infuse some melody at points and have a good melodic riff or two, but it's too separated to really impact the songs. The vocalist isn't particularly skilled nor charismatic, so they can't manage the Dickinson nor Dianno sounds - I think they're trying to pull of the Dianno-era Maiden sound, but their dry, stiff sound is incompatible with the freewheeling rock and roll. It's almost like toned-down modern thrash, it's so rigid and tame. This has the demeanor of Richard Nixon. (Steve)

Tower and Stone - Tower and Stone
Ambient, post-metal from California, USA

An uneasy, bass-heavy ambient soundscape carried by separated pieces of doom/post-metal. Totally spaced-out, deconstructed, and incomplete stoner rock gone off the deep end. Feels out of mind, for better or for worse. It's awfully far out there, doesn't come together to provide any complete experience in the listening time, and there simply isn't much to pay attention to. (Steve)

Xenosis - Xenosis

A review of the band's 2010 EP. a bit hard to find now. 

Xenosis are a technically-inclined modern death metal band who find grooves in odd rhythmic patterns and make their mark with memorable melodic leads. This is exceptionally clean, but not digitally sterile, a wonderful combination of qualities for a band of this style in this era. The drumming is fantastic and has a nice, human feel to it, and it forms the foundation for some riffing that takes cues from progressive wizards like Ihsahn while maintaining a more straightforward melodic sensibility and instrumentation. The riffing is quirky - it's not quite normal-timed, and neither the guitars nor drums accent it in a really straightforward manner, which gives it an enjoyable character despite being very catchy with melodic and rhythmic hooks. The guitar leads and solos have some really strong hooks - even in improvised solos - especially "Noble Bastard" and "Contribution to the Plague." I'm really impressed by Mark Lyon's catchy, melodic sense in his solos, which contrasts nicely to the band's rhythmically-oriented riffing. Xenosis are technically accomplished and that certainly shows here, with production that isn't overly polished, but demonstrates a tightly-rehearsed performance by some very skilled musicians. They have a strong rhythmic sense without falling into the overly-simple and non-melodic trappings of bands like Meshuggah and Gojira. This band is worth a listen if you're interested in modern death metal that emphasizes complex rhythmic and melodic sensibilities.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lonesummer - Satisfaction Feels Like a Tomb

Trigger warning, terrible music:

Imagine some horrible feedback, two-chord rock that's mostly noise, and shitty lo-fi rock mixed with some sorta rapid guitar-bludgeoning through a bunch of broken effects pedals. Can you imagine it? Then you've got the imagination of some bonehead who releases the shittiest music I've ever heard under the name Lonesummer. This is alternating varities of harsh noise, guitar-string-attacking, and some crybaby moaning through through a reverb pedal. Random noise? Crying through more effects pedals? There's a drum machine that appears halfway through? Learned how to fret a chord and now you're pecking away at it? Welcome to Lonesummer, the mostly lonely, pathetic shit you've ever heard. This is more pitiable than most basement recordings because it manages to sound more pathetic. I've heard 13-year-olds' metal projects that sound better. This redefines worthless. That is truly art, as much as taking a shit is finger painting. You're only a shit artist if you touch it, and this is brown-handed. If this is satisfaction, then you're fingering corpses in their tombs.

Congratulations Lonesummer, you've made Depressive Illusions Records look like an art gallery.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dustbin of Demos: Vol III

The selection of artwork to outwardly represent one's music is an interesting choice. Artwork has always been one way to identify and differentiate your album amongst many, be it in a store, a catalogue, or a zine. Iconography is a powerful way to set the tone for the music before the listener hears it. You're ready for whatever is coming when you see the cover of "Like an Everflowing Stream" but you probably need some convincing to even listen to Znowhite's "Act of God." The artwork below shows some odd aesthetic choices. 

Black Tower - Demo (demo)
Pop-punk/heavy metal from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Black? There's nothing black about this, aside from the mismatched aesthetic. Heavy metal riffing meets pop/skate punk with extremely clean production and a sharp vocalist who sounds extremely bright due to constantly harmonized vocals - think Green Day or Bad Religion. There's certainly an influence of harmony-heavy hard rock from the NWOBHM era, as this is not all that metal. While there are a few hints of trying to be dark and heavy, it's way too sharp, upbeat, and power-poppy to complete the dark edge their aesthetic hints at - AFI were way darker on "Black Sails..." and Davey Havok sounded more emotive than this singer. Nonetheless, Black Tower is kind of novel at this point and they're the heaviest pop-punk band I've ever heard. (Steve)

Death metal/metalcore from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England

Ultra-groovy modern death metal that blends Lamb of God's super-groovy metalcore sound into music that is mostly death metal like recent Dying Fetus or the death metal side of deathcore. IA are able to keep the groove going through somewhat fast death metal without falling on the crutches of breakdowns and blurs of blast beats. Parts of the music, mostly the riffs, are ultra groovy, but rather than fall into a unison chug, the band as a whole moves along nicely. That falls together with thick and chunky production like a can of condensed beef stew - processed just like the big brand names. This band manages to blend a lot of groove and modern death influences that I can't stand into something palatable. (Steve)

Self Inflikted - Abused (EP)
Melodic death metal/deathcore from France

Archetypal sampler platter modern deaf metal. A bit technical, a bit black-n-blasty, a couple Pantera grooves, a bit melodic, a couple breakdowns, a couple death metal riffs, a couple vocal layers, a couple Lamb of God grooves. Oh yeah, and Gothencore riffs too. Every part is a little nifty, making this music like a bag of assorted trinkets: it's full of things that might be interesting to observe if they had been separated, organized, and put into some meaningful form. It's overproduced as hell too - the drum sounds are obnoxiously punch, the guitars are nu-metal chunky, and the vocals are layered and consist of five voices yet they're still monotonous. I'm impressed that a band pulled this many pseudo-mallcore grooves into the mix and couldn't make a catchy song. (Steve)

Musta Myytti - Kuolon kaipuu (demo)
Raw black metal from Finland

Musta Myytti is one of those projects that seems to be a physical manifestation of what people who hate black metal think the genre sounds like. With ten and a half minutes of something quite literally any black metal musician could have written in less time, Musta Myytti pushes the raw/mobile-phone-recording aesthetics of black metal to the forefront and couples that with boring uninspired riffs that are also disastrously executed. For a project formed in 2007 the level of incompetence on this 2011 demo is absolutely startling. (Apteronotus)

Diablero - Escuridão Selvagem (demo)
Bedroom black Metal/ambient from Brazil

This couldn't be any more cliche. An ambient intro and outro bookend two tracks, a drum machine playing so fast that the samples sound horrendous - more like noise than double bass, and there's even a break with a sample of a bird crowing. After the ambient track, there's one dancing melodic lead with a really tinny guitar tone, then a clean guitar break with whispers and a fucking bird crowing. It's a mix of weepy melodic leads and a couple off-time attempts at 80s style riffing - this should be fucking awesome, but the production is lousy, the playing is lousier, the drum machine is the lousiest, and there's absolutely no sense of arrangement, just some fragments strung end-to-end. (Steve)

Verge / Blood Red Fog - Because It's Wrong

Verge emanate a discomforting aura through a deliberately off-kilter cadence, a dissonant ring and clash of shrill and off-tuned instruments that sounds as if a rock and roll band led by the disheveled organist on the cover was possessed by the devil. A dark, eerie organ sets the tone of a decrepit hall with a muddied harshness through which uneasy tones echo. Everything has a feeling of being played through old stereo equipment that doesn't sound quite right, tones clashing while the band maintains a menacingly loose swagger that fits the atmosphere perfectly. While undeniably wrought through the portal of black metal, the wandering nature of the guitars and bass mix with the eerie organ in a way that feels like old hard rock channeling unearthly discordance. Is this Iron Butterfly possessed by the devil? Perhaps. There's an unearthly tormentor burning these souls, their suffering manifested through sorrowful crooning and the discordant clash of instruments. The humanity of it shines as each piece tries to escape. The guitar trails off and wanders in contrasting, consonant leads which have a humble folk touch, a soulful blues-tinge coloring them. The organist constructs a long dirge which stands on its own, a dingy cathedral-filling ode to ruin. That track leads into a Tenhi cover, where the vocalist begins to sing clean, the human counterpart to his normally-possessed mournful croon. This is unorthodox, incongruent music. Because it's wrong.

Blood Red Fog enter Verge's state of mind for the second half of this album, deviating from their prior works to make this album whole. Verge's tracks were recorded in 2008, while BRF recorded these in 2009, and the way they continue Verge's themes and explore their state of mind in the embodiment of Blood Red Fog is an excellent complement. Likewise, Verge's style shifts towards one more complementary to BRF towards the end of the first half, including a tense tremolo buildup during "Traction."

This half returns to a more normal cadence, as this band shapes their music primarily with melodies. They transition with a slow, nightmarish passage which echoes the tortured theme. Parts of this are strong, distinctly Finnish melodies in a more traditional black metal form, but these deviations focus on shaping a different side of the band's sound in an unusual, twisted voicing. The emphasis on tormented, mid-paced sections is an interesting contrast, as the band explores morbidity rather than death itself. Their normally focused, occultist death worship is strung out and a feeling of unease festers in its presence. The guitars provide the brunt of the discomfort, while the vocals are mixed pretty low and the bass is less active than it is in their other works. The journey here starts with the most characteristically dissonant, Verge-sounding track in "Spiritual Promiscuity" and ends with BRF's "Bleak Water" which is only lightly tinted with Verge's weirdness, being the most similar to BRF's other works. Still, this album seems to be the conceptual creation of Verge.

Isn't that right?

Skat Injektor / Drugzilla - Virulentia

Musicians sometimes don't have a lot to say to their listeners, especially when it comes to noise / harsh electronics where a lot of the music is devoid of lyricism. On this split with Skat Injektor and Drugzilla, titled Virulentia, something is being said. For Skat Injektor, communication through the lyricism not of a vocalist, but of samples yanked from the depths of political and media history is preferred. Drugzilla barks and yelps like a dying pooch authoritatively. What exactly these bands are attempting to convey through this mash of textures and temperament is anyone's guess. There is a fine difference between Skat Injektor and Drugzilla other than their method of message conveyance and it lies in the percussive elements. Drugzilla is willing to hyper blast through through their tracks with a disregard for the listener's ability to discover what is actually going on within the compositions. Skat Injektor is the more subdued of the two, sounding more like cut and paste segments of a hack and slash horror movie. The Drugzilla tracks are the harder to digest, though the Skat Injektor tracks are more immediately frightening and impacting.

With the run time of this 7" being just over nine minutes, anyone that wants a quick blast of noise terror can enjoy the myriad aspects here. Whether it be the tense ending to Skat Injektor's "Face The Feast of Power" or the  memorability-in-hiding of Drugzilla's "Orgasms Reaped Through Sadistic Design," for someone like myself that only more recently has been engaged in the burgeoning world of noise, this is a good test of one's actual interest in the genre. I'd recommend this 7" to anyone looking to explore noise and electronics. With the density of ideas and sounds on Virulentia there is actually a bit of replay value here, if one would want to really dig into the message. It's only ₤5 on the Omega Warfare Records shop.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cuscuta - The Wildness Within

Cuscuta is a band that is almost too easy to pigeonhole, but “The Wildness Within” shows enough promise that there is no reason to discount the project as just another clone. Black metal, post-rock influences, trees on the cover art, appeal to nature ethos, and even a song titled “Atavism and the Destruction of Civilization.” In a general sense, yes all of this gives you a glaringly obvious idea of how the solo project sounds, i.e. Cascadian (so what if Cuscuta happens to be from Colorado?) But the exciting parts of this rather dry album include some unique hints of deeply ethereal and pensive atmospheres. Apart from those moments, “The Wildness Within” also has the somewhat useful quality of not drawing much attention to itself, allowing the listener to pass time with little thought. This is a great quality for people with a taste for ambient music, but will be only a sign of tameness for everyone else.

Both of the two songs on “The Wildness Within” are soft affairs clocking in at around twenty minutes each. If not overly exciting, their introspective moods serve up a pleasant mix of wispy clean tremolo guitar lines and louder distorted post-black moments. In this sense, Cuscuta tread quite close to being metal in name only; few parts of the album can be thought of as riff driven, and the softer bits make a up a large portion. This isn’t a problem for the album though, as it focuses more on atmosphere than melody. The vivid highpoint of the atmosphere, and the album itself, is in the very beginning. Somber clean vocals provide a low and quiet choral background to the delicate clean guitars. These clean vocals add a nice color to the mood, and the parts without them are frankly ineffectual in comparison.

Still, the mood is very consistent, and the grand hall reverb on the percussion help keep the album from sounding too sparse. The addition of a radio-quality spoken word sample in the second song however is a jarring deviation from the ghostly mood that haunts the rest of the music. Even worse is that the lyrics are just soap-boxing, completely naked messages without being clothed the slightest bit in artistry - a political version of the “I’m sad because you broke up with me” type lyrics we all hate. An excerpt: “What if this occupied country called itself a democracy, but most everyone understood elections to be shams?” I have a better question, what if you didn’t take the “Questions for Discussion” from the chapter-end of a political science 101 book and try to pass them off as lyrics? It doesn’t jive at all, especially when the rest of the vocals are almost uniformly Wrest-styled, distant rasps with a slight tinge of gurgle. The same lyrics in the earlier impressive choral style would have been sublime and really helped to tie things together conceptually.

“The Wildness Within” should satisfy fans of the lighter side of atmospheric or post black metal, but it will also leave you wondering what could have been with a more immersive and layered approach. The project has it’s own identity but still needs to grow into it a bit, especially in further developing the clean guitar lines, volume dynamics, and hopefully the choral vocal approach. Cuscuta doesn’t rely too heavily on either metal or post-rock ideas, which may help in fleshing things out in future releases. Growth is necessary because ambient chill-out music is fine for what it is, but there needs to be a little something more to heft things into the foreground.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dustbin of Demos: Vol II

With the advent of digital recording, CD burners, and now digital releases, putting out "an album" isn't significant like it used to be. Countless amateurs release overlong, underworked collections of music that are a vague approximation of a format they see as a measuring stick for success. While there are hardly any boundaries to the milestone of releasing an album, some self-aware bands still declare the same type of releases as demos, an acknowledgement that their craft is not perfected in its present form. Others release EPs, which range from short collections of good music to trumped-up demos. In this EPisode of the dustbin, we review some demos that are called EPs for whatever reason.

Life's Illusion - Art of Despair (EP)
Depressive black metal from Ukraine

Life's Illusion is a band that desparately tries to emulate the "depressive" sound that proliferated from the No Colours roster a decade ago, inspired by bands like Wigrid, Nyktalgia, and Sterbend. The result is a horrible mess of distorted, warbling wails over a couple simple guiter melodies noodled by a novice with a sea of out-of-the-box "atmospheric" synthesizers. Most of the time these vocals could even pass off as unintelligable screamo, but a hardcore-derived band would have the sense to not let a song drag on for 14 minutes. The slow-and-sloppy clean guitar parts and mediocre solo really frame that these morons thought there was some artistic merit to this rubbish. (Steve)

Thy Ordeal - Et Hoc Indicium Adversus Dei (EP)
Blackened death metal from Poland

A derivation of 2000s death metal, enabled by Vital Remains and Santolla-era Deidice, which plays death metal but seems not death-oriented, but focused on using death metal as a heavy frame for a guitarist's melodic lead ideas. An unaccomplished, but dedicated guitarist who has these really simple lead ideas that he has built these seven-minute songs of utterly negligible death metal around. Every song seems without purpose other than the guitarist exhibiting a few basic tricks, nothing seems to be tied together other than a couple stylistic emulations that ultimately trail off into loose ends. Ultimately, this sounds like a "guitarist-seeking-band" demo from ten years ago. (Steve)

Glaukom Synod - Covered in Semen and Slime EP
Industrial noise from France

Glaukom Synod hack through covers of Napalm Death, Led Zeppelin and Bolt Thrower in 16-bit glory on Covered in Semen and Slime. Though a few originals are thrown in, the real treasures here are experiencing selections of Death Metal's roots worshiped in an extraordinarily heavy, and crusty and unique manner. Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" performed by the machinery of a bottling factory and conducted by an army of garbage trucks is cool but gets lost among covers of "World Eater" and "Scum." The harshness and repetitiveness of the samples used across these renditions is enough to cause uncontrollable bleeding in the ear-sockets. The covers are all discernible, all pristinely executed, and take the extremes of the originals and emphasize the dystopian vibes flowing forth from within.  Frank Klepacki would be excited to hear this and if you're a fan of his soundtracks but felt "Mud" or "Hell March" just wasn't quite minimalist enough, get in contact with Nihilistic Holocaust for a copy. (Orion_M)

Tester Gier - Speed Metal (EP)
Crossover/pizza thrash metal from Poland

Polish for "Game Tester", this is video game-themed rethrash. I don't know Polish, but based on the sound of it, it's probably also about pizza. This is an incoherent blur of recycled thrash riffs, shout-along hardcore punk, and some melodic Gothencore riffs. There's a spoken-vocal rapcore-like song too, dumbing things down to the level of E-Town Concrete. These are eight songs that go nowhere very quickly, just fragments of a particularly bad rethrash/metalcore hybrid. Recommended for fans of Lich King, headbands, and Pizza Hut. (Steve)

Tape-shaped artwork, cool!
It sorta breaks the formatting though,
and it doesn't even come on a real tape.
Not cool!
Hellraizer - Abominaciones (EP)
Brutal death metal from Nicaragua

This brutal death metal band trudges through chugging riffs with guttural growls over them and hardly anything to differentiate one point from another, besides some wretched screaming in the first track. The problem this band encounters is that their music is directionless: the songs emulate a style which builds up to the breaks in the music, but here, neither the music nor the breaks fit together. As a brutal death metal band, of course, the point of half of the songs is to set up to a breakdown derived from Suffocation's "Liege of Inveracity" but this band sort of bounces around throughout the music, with brief but pointless breakdowns and other ill-fitted intermissions. Most notably, this band has some breaks where one might expect a breakdown or slam, but instead they go into a hard rock/heavy metal-esque melodic lead break. The gruff production lends itself well to a 90s death metal aesthetic, and the band is technically competent, but the composition makes little of the elements haphazardly clobbered into the music. (Steve)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Stonedirt - Joygrind

(circa 2006)

Let me talk about how I first came upon this band. At first, I thought I had mistakenly put on a Pantera album but I had not. It was Stonedirt's Joygrind Demo. Thats all...

The fact is, this Demo is incredibly well produced and shows a band who, in the future, could become a major undergound act. And, due to the incredible amount of kids who seemingly worship Pantera, breaking through to a larger audience might not be so far fetched. One problem: they hail from Budapest. That's in like... Hungary or something right? So they may not be coming to the US anytime soon but that hasn't stopped them from creating a strong showing of their abilities on this album.

Vocals sound alot like Phil Anselmo though at times Endre Tarjányi does have a harsher sound venturing more into the screaming realm. Musicianship is quite good. One thing that these guys know how to do is groove it up.

The songs on the demo consist of Hard Hits By Life, SD (Respect Diamond), Smolder In Vain and Unknown Hand. Honestly, they all sounds similiar so lets just consider them one large song; Hard Hits In Vain By Life's Unknown Hand (Respect Diamond). Yeah. That sounds nice. The song is fairly mid-paced throughout. The one thing that I did enjoy was Szilárd Kamarás' bass playing. Perfectly on time, interesting and well placed fills adorn the track. This is especially noticed in the song Hard Hits In Vain By Life's Unknown Hand (Respect Diamond). Guitar-wise, this Demo is a riff-fest. Balázs Kemencei really seems to have put alot of effort into making memorable riffs. Like going to the state fair and instead of a hell of a lot of people in overalls... you have a hell of a lot of riffs... possibly in overalls. The leads are pretty decent where they appear. Drumming is also solid. Boldizsár Ifju certainly isnt breaking the boundaries of time and space or opening a third dimension by blasting into some ethereal realm however he keeps the beat and thats something that cant be said about a lot of drummers these days. My favorite part of this album is at the end of the song... about 2:16 through Unknown Hand. Pretty nifty little solo there.

There really isn't anything new here however for fans of Pantera, and Down and all that southern groovy metal, this is something that you may want to check out when you are feeling deprived of... all of your Pantera albums.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dustbin of Demos: Vol I

The dustbin of history is where people, places, and things go when they are forgotten and marginalized. This is the fate of most metal demos: forgotten and ill-examined, a footnote to a career, launched or unlaunched. However, some of the greatest metal came in the form of unpromoted, almost-forgotten demo tapes. In this age, the demo tape is an endangered species, crowded out by worthless full-length albums from bands who would like to waste much more of our time listening to their music. This is not the realm of egostistic musicians nor reviewers who wish to fill up their unlimited space. In the dustbin of demos, few words are wasted. 

Dodskuggen - Dauden (demo)
Black metal from Norway

Dodskuggen is a one-man Norwegian act with reasonably clean production and performances. The tone of the recording itself is pretty good, but the music is a directionless sampler platter of black metal with rigid boundaries in style and songwriting that demonstrate that the parts are more imitations of various aesthetics than songs written with a purpose. Songs carry on with no progression nor direction, through aesthetic shifts without motifs nor themes to hold it together. Flavors on this sampler platter include death metally tremolo riffs over double bass, Norsecore, and keyboards. While at any one point, this sounds decent, it's a really unfulfilling listen. (Steve)

Thy Funeral Judas - We Are Legion! (demo)
Black metal from El Salvador

I first heard of this band when news broke of the death of their bassist "A. Darkthrone" in 2012. Survived by guitarists E. Judas and War D.B, vocalist M. Funeral, and drummer T. Conqueror recently completed their first release since, a three-track (plus intro and outro) demo called We Are Legion! - a bestial horseradish of a release that lacks both the meat to substantiate it and the fiber to digest it. A nondescript, ghostly whisper or trebly guitars finds little to sweep along in its wind of harshness, leaving this demo harsh and bare in its almost-raw black metal form. Fizzing tremolo guitars meet two-speed kick-snare drumming and go nowhere at moderate tempos. Simply put, this is a cult black metal demo that nobody praises for musical reasons. This is F-rate black metal impersonation. (Steve)

Herxsebet - Nostrus Ordas Ol Terremyrlas Tenebrese (demo)
Raw black metal from Mexico

Harsh, high-gain, low-fidelity "raw ritual music" from a corpsepainted clown in Mexico who isn't fooling anyone but himself. It's almost... almost just a tiny little bit charming that he's trying to create a horrifically raw homage to the Black Legions complete with his own goofy-named circle. But it's not charming, it just sounds like shitty noise made with a distorted guitar and some pieces of scrap metal and extra magnetic pickups in ones basement. Even the prolific Zarach "Baal" Tharagh would call this an experiment, at best. Two tracks of the worst black metal you'll ever hear, three tracks of feedback and noise while this buffoon sticks his guitar near other electronic devices to make noise. (Steve)

Tash - The Ninth Circle (demo)
Black/death metal from Sanford, North Carolina, USA

This one-man band seems fascinated by the aesthetics of black metal, but unable to capture them. A high-speed drum machine accompanies a seven-string guitar that disrupts the third track with some low-tuned grooves that scream, louder than the screaming vocalist, "I have a seven-string guitar and no fucking idea what I'm doing!" Blast beats and tremolo riffs are treated like structurally integral putty which holds this purposeless, directionless lump of blackish metal together. This demo exists with no purpose further than to satisfy the curiosity of its creator. (Steve)


Breath of Night - Black Metal (demo)
Black metal from New Jersey, USA

It's hard to say much about these unfinished tracks as, despite being "instrumental" they are clearly unfinished. Some moments sound good, some starkly bare. It is a rough move to simply release these songs as instrumentals - it seems like simply adding vocals wouldn't complete these songs. An army of reputable guests makes these songs lends a bit of credibility. If this review was a baseball score card, this would be a hearty mix of strikeouts and walks, with a bunt or two in the mix. Either show up or don't, and this one largely doesn't. (Steve)

Triptykon - Melana Chasmata

In the world of aeronautics, a holding pattern is when an airplane circles around its destination to delay its final arrival. In Greek, this phrase roughly translates to “Melana Chasmata,” but that’s actually only true when you rely on Triptykon to do the translation. Yes, Triptykon’s second full-length album is decent, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the band is just killing time for large parts of the release. When dealing with a band like Triptykon, it can be an exacting task to evaluate the music without getting caught up in the baggage of Tom Warrior’s history with Celtic Frost. You know, that little bit of business involving him being an integral part of extreme metal’s foundations. But with that history safely in baggage check, “Melana Chasmata” can be seen as a fairly strong release that suffers from substantial (but not terminal) problems.

Thick tones and crushingly heavy riffs laced with that oh-so-familiar punchiness; the basic sound of Triptykon really shouldn’t feel too alien to anyone who has ever paid even casual attention to extreme metal. What’s fantastic is how the band makes straightforward and even simple riffs so damn heavy. Underscoring this blunt tendency is the morose experimental vein on the album; Triptykon pulls back and marinates in moods in a plodding and doomy fashion. At times this takes on a surreal tribal mood like in the beginning of “Demon Pact” the solo section in “Altar of Deceit” or the first grinding guitar notes on “Boleskine House.” The band even successfully channels their inner “Panopticon” era Isis with the track “Aurorae.” These stylistic flairs add character to the album and prevent it from getting stuck in narrow musical aisles. Continuing with “Boleskine House” as an example, you can hear how the shimmering crystalline female vocals create apt suspense for an ending that is basically massively heavy chugging.

“Melana Chasmata” cruises along like this, balancing traditional riffier elements with avant garde altitudes. Aside from the last track, which we’ll get to in a moment, there is nothing offensive about this album. No awkward transitions, no aspect that isn’t produced immaculately, and almost no missteps. Still, it doesn’t have enough to lift the album to greatness. While not strictly repetitive in an obvious way, few moments on the album have a sense of direction or purpose. An interesting mood here, a heavy riff there, but no overarching narrative. This becomes frustrating with songs that are, on average, over seven and a half minutes long. The band milks the ideas that they have, albeit in a disguised way that doesn’t require playing the same riff forever; musically shifting directions only to circle the airport.

Back on the metaphorical airplane, you sit reclining slightly while snacking from your small bag of peanuts (it has less than 10 peanuts) and start to think that the plane should have landed. No one is irritated yet, but it’s obvious that neither the pilot nor air traffic control have any sense of urgency. In the final song this merely inconvenient story becomes an aggravating one. With “Waiting” you are sitting on the tarmac right next to your terminal, but the damn Giger-esque jet-bridge umbilicus won’t latch itself onto the plane. At this point it feels like a bad joke, like they are making you wait on purpose and with mustache-twirling deviousness. At least on an aircraft they have the good manners to call it “deplaning,” but Triptykon adds honest insult to injury by titling their final track “Waiting.” The track’s filler status becomes rock solid when you consider how strong and logical the final build-up in “Black Snow” was. But no, instead of ending it there after over an hour of music and with the peanut bag empty, the band decided to sing “dying” and “we are the same” for six minutes.

The thing about bad endings; in albums, movies, and plane trips, is that they unduly taint the whole experience. Fortunately you can and should skip the last track; but it’s still out there, and serves as a hyper-condensed reminder of the overall bloat and meanderings on the album. “Melana Chasmata” is the kind of album that you listen to and enjoy but won’t come back to too frequently. The band can do much better, and did with “Eparistera Daimones,” but there is still plenty of material here to like and only one truly bad song. Few bands can write riffs like this, and fewer still can do so while matching Triptykon’s massive tone. All in all, the album is worth it if you are a fan of the band, but those new to Triptykon would be better served listening to their more focused efforts on “Eparistera Daimones.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hercyn - Magda


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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Emanation - The Emanation of Begotten Chaos From God

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Qualeaceans - Capture of Ziz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mare Cognitum Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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