Thursday, October 5, 2017

Montly Blast: September 2017

Cinderella - Night Songs (1986)

Don't knock it 'til you try it. Cinderella would be easy to cast off as 'one of those empty-souled glam bands' but there are some tracks here which hold their own against some of the heavier hard rock and heavy metal that crossed over from this arena such as Dokken or W.A.S.P. "Night Songs" is a tough opener, with a great chugging and catchy bridge. Eric Brittingham's vocals are a cut between Axl Rose and Brian Johnson. Bon Jovi either is the reason why "Nobody's Fool" sucks or he has poor taste as to what songs to sing on as a guest. Tom Keifer shines across the album with some exceptional lead work, particularly in "Nothin' for Nothin'" where he shreds up a slightly extended solo section. "Hell On Wheels" and "Back Home Again" round out the album's best songs on the B-side. Expectedly, none of the best songs from this album were promoted and the band got the raw end of the deal being lumped in with the glam artists perhaps erroneously, but Night Songs can still tug a bit at the nostalgia roused up by 80's Heavy Metal. (Orion)

Elizabeth Shaw - I (2017)

Elizabeth Shaw is a black metal duo from Gothenburg Sweden that is inspired by the movie Prometheus. Surprisingly, their debut EP release, I, is much less spacey sounding than I had expected, and the music has more of a repetitive/droning feel than anything. While the repetition isn’t in Burzum-fuzz style, it’s also not quite the enveloping wall of sound you’d get from a band like Darkspace or the majesty of a band like Mare Cognitum. This is a bit of an issue because the repetition really needs more atmosphere to underpin it, particularly in the first song. The twelve and a half minutes on “Ellie” leave too much space in the mix. Drums are in half time, the soft pads are fairly straightforward, and the guitars kinda slowly lurk from one chord to another. It’s not a bad release by any means, but the band could really flesh out their minimalist approach. This means more layering rather than more moments like the blasting on “Fate of the Engineers” or the upbeat folky lead guitars on “The Covenant.” Bass and vocals would be a nice start, but you can kinda hear in the release how more synth pads could really work well for the band. (Apteronotus)

Gordon Lightfoot - If You Could Read My Mind (1970)

Originally titled Sit Down Young Stranger, Lightfoot's sixth album is best known for it's title track and it's shift towards more orchestration in the tracks, yet for me, the best moments of this album are the tracks which have the least orchestration and retain Lightfoot's true folk-roots such as "Baby It's Allright," and his rendition of "Me and Bobby McGee". It takes time to get to these tracks, though. Opener "Minstrel of the Dawn" sets the stage for a rather dull overall listen and with some darker melodies doing their best to poke through in the opening track, it's easy to get the feeling that Lightfoot never had a chance to fully explore the scope of his moods as he did on some other albums which hold up better in time. There's a heavy dosage of upbeat melodies and transitions away from anything heavier. In my opinion, "Cobwebs and Dust" is a somber track yet gives off an island-vibe for some reason and, therefore, reminds me of Jimmy Buffet which immediately creates resentment. I'd come back to this for a couple of the tracks but overall there's not enough consistency here for me to want to roll with the whole album.(Orion)

Interment - Still Not Dead (2013)

Several incarnations of Interments exist... this happens to be the US conglomerate from Texas' only full length and contains all but one of the group's songs from their earlier demos (omitting "Afterbirth"). The rundown? Style: Death Metal. Predictability: Extreme. Vocals: Pretty damn close to a wild hog. Guitars: Chugga-chugga-womp-womp. You get the idea. Interment's focus is on big chunky rhythms and slick calculated tremolo layers. Simplify Cannibal Corpse's Gore Obsessed into it's bare necessity structures and you could easily take those tracks and put Interment's name on them. Perhaps it's my aversion to this style of death metal which offers nothing subtle or transcendent, but I don't see this as much of anything to go seeking out; no signature standout songs, nothing that speaks to that miniscule part of me which yearns for scorching death metal, - a miniscule component of my being which exists and is extremely unhappy almost all of the time - and with nothing new or unique... nothing at all which would invigorate a seasoned listener of death metal... Interment leave nothing on the table in the midst of a seeming death metal renaissance that is currently under way in the US. Still Not Dead is merely another name in the death metal yellow pages. (Orion)

Licrest - Nothing (2015)

Frequenter of this blog, Licrest has been covered in depth. A quick review of this history, debut Devoid of Meaning hit some excellent high points with a solemnity usually lacking in this dryer style of death/doom. Follow up Misery was lacking. Nothing appeared a couple years ago, sent to me by Armon, and I could never quite decide on it's place within the band's albums. It's a short full length, at just over thirty minutes but Armon has incorporated a lot of what made the first album so enjoyable. Particularly the pummeling chugging riffs and nuanced hints of melodic movements. Opener "Broken Inside" is a fine start to the record with a myriad of techniques and riffs including some clean vocals, big drumming riffs, and even a piano interlude towards the ending of the song. "Nothing" is a highlight track within the band's discography and is reminiscent of "As The Night Goes On" with it's long drawn out melodic guitar lines which bookend the track and passionate mixed clean and harsh vocal performance. Armon's raspy vocals are dry and painful and his clean vocals are surprisingly beautiful and pristine if perhaps too youthful for this style. "What Ends in Pain" is notable for it's extended solo. The production on Misery is more powerful than that of Nothing, yet the material here is far superior and for that, Nothing has my vote as Armon's best work to date with this project. (Orion)

Mandatory - Adrift Beyond (2010)

Mandatory are well known to readers of this blog. Several of their releases have been covered, notably their Where They Bleed EP from 2007. That EP is still their best overall listen, by my reckoning, however Adrift Beyond is  linked to this and other earlier releases. Adrift Beyond contains the first album version recording of Mandatory standards (mandatory Mandatory?) "Crypta Crawler"and "Exelution". There are some newer tracks here which make themselves felt as well. "Into Eternal Sleep" and "Enter The Crematorium" are noteworthy for their tricky yet memorable main riffs. The musicianship is excellent throughout however where Adrift Beyond falls short is in pacing. A full hour of intense death metal that borrows melodically from the Swedish scene and technically from the Dutch scene is not for the faint of heart or for those with the focusing ability of a goldfish - which occasionally I admit I suffer from. That said, this is an enjoyable compendium of material from one of the more stable German death metal bands of the modern era. Worth the purchase for fans of Horrendous, Gorguts' first two albums, Entombed, Grave, and Asphyx. (Orion)

Pawns In Chess - The Blood Of Martyrs Demo (2014)

I was not expecting such a quality release with Pawns In Chess, and yet, this trio from Ohio absolutely obliterates a large swath of other projects skirting the thrash and death metal border. This is not a surprise when I came to learn that Pawns In Chess were formed from the ashes of Descend, a little known death metal band from the mid 90's who I happened to come across after acquiring their 1995 demo at least ten years ago on a vacation pawn shop crawl. The six tracks perfectly emphasize the best parts of this instrumental group while never provoking the listener to wonder 'where are the vocals?' or 'this would be a great chorus.' The reality behind effectively performing extreme metal in an instrumental capacity is in fact simple: riffs, movement, composition. With Pawns In Chess, the tracks are not just a lengthy guitar solo, or texture experiments. There is subtlety wrapped into the riffs which fall outside the commonplace riff-tropes. For me, having written thrash instrumentally in my first band, I can tell that these tracks were written with vocals potentially in mind, yet they simply never materialized, which is unfortunate, as those vocals would have made this release an immediately top-tier and spreadable underground release. Instead, the band added a vocalist and changed names to Curse of Daniel. These tracks will appeal to fans of Flotsam and Jetsam, Heathen, and other more progressive-minded thrash bands. Top track for me is the opening track, Juggernaut. (Orion)

Sdviparg - To Torment The Men (2017)

Spaniards Sdviparg have released their first effort, To Torment The Men, this year and if you've never heard of them, it is easy to understand why. Spain is not necessarily known for it's black metal, and while To Torment The Men isn't a bad album, it won't put the country on the radar by itself. The material here is consistently operatic with grand melodies, dynamic changes, and incorporation of many different arrangement possibilities. Drumming is quite interesting at times with different syncopation and highlighting flourishes. Vocally, we get very dry and harsh vocals throughout reminding me of the early Countess albums. Initially the fifteen track length gave me a fright, but with six or seven tracks which are effectively intros (palette cleansers likely to some) and a run time of forty-five minutes, a listen or two is manageable. The tracks don't truly live up to the press' declaration of 'pulsating bass and thunderous drums' because the lower registers have been effectively dropped entirely out of the mix, but the claim that the guitars are 'meritorious' is an apt description of the melodies. Sdviparg do have some interesting moments here, however. "The Grace of God" has a combined harsh and clean vocal section and "June 2nd 1348" has a strangely Iron Maiden-ish central section with low growled vocals. Occasionally, I feel as if some songs pass too quickly, such as "Dead Path." Put this on in the background a few times and it may grow on you. It grew on me and I'd be very interested to see what Volundr and Funedeim come up with next. I'll be giving this more listens, as it's depth is quite a surprise. (Orion)

Tribunal - Horrors Obscure To The Dove (2017)

For any musicians out there that think good songwriting ability is all you need, Tribunal’s debut self-titled EP is a lesson to the contrary. To sum things up quickly, this is basically a GuitarPro file export that later in the release turns into a glorified MIDI file of what is an impressive Emperor In the Nightside Eclipse styled composition. No vocals, no bass, flat drumming, cheesy synths, and muddy guitars carrying much more weight than they ought to have to. Sometimes it’s fair to downgrade a band’s EP and call it a demo, but this is more like a scratch track or outline than a properly finished release. What’s tough to swallow is that it’s extremely promising. The riffs are solid, the pacing is well above par, and it even manages to convey a lot of atmosphere while being so incomplete. Aside from being unfinished, the “EP” is intriguing although hopefully in the future more will be done to give the music a unique identity and step out of the shadows of its influences. (Apteronotus)

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