Thursday, October 23, 2014

Licrest - Misery

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

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

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

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

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

Osmium Guillotine - Osmium Guillotine

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Orion's Personal Sale List

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

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

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

$4 Glen Cook - The Black Company

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

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

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