Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Monthly Blast: October 2018

Diderot, in his dialogue Rameau's Nephew, written sometime around 1761, asks of the eccentric and bacchian musician genius, Jean-François Rameau, whom he shares the dialogue with, "How is it that with a discrimination as delicate as yours and your remarkable sensitiveness for the beauties of musical art, you are so blind to the fine things of morality, so insensitive to the charms of virtue?" Rameau's responds simply, that he doesn't posses or has not been afforded through nature or nurture a sense for right or wrong, that it is simply the way he is. This anecdote speaks to me. So often, fans of extreme music and heavy metal are, from an outsider perspective, viewed similarly; individuals with a great musical sense and understanding whom focus those talents on a genre and interests which, to the outsider, seem to betray common decency and logic.

The narrator represents the outsider looking in, an outsider who is unable to see the morality and virtue in knowing and being the individual one wishes to be. Rameau is opinionated, talented, articulate, and - by all description - a social outcast portrayed to be a clown or jester whom the population laughs and is amused by instead of taken seriously, and yet he comes across as a confident, self-assured, and inwardly thoughtful character. I would rather be the individual no one understands yet admires, than an observer preoccupied with judging others at the expense of my own progression of self. It's no wonder that Rameau often speaks of his station in life as downtrodden and lackluster. True, it is in part self-inflicted by his trickery of his employers, but it also is a conflict of his Being within the social expectations of others.

A big dump of reviews for the month of October. These include interesting releases from noise artists A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics, some local coverage of bands from Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, as well as a review of Insanity Cult's entire discography. Connecticut's Lustrum find some kind words regarding their recently released live tape as well as Greece's Dødsferd with their upcoming new album that continues their meritorious career.

A.Z.A.B & Siege Electronics - Expulsion Unit (2018)

This collaborative effort between noise outfits A.Z.A.B and Siege Electronics is a textural nightmare. This is good. The album feels like it leans towards Siege Electronics' style more than A.Z.A.B, as the main components of the songs are distinctive samples and sounds, unlike the more static-focused A.Z.A.B. It's clear to me that to enjoy this, requires interest in harsh noise and power electronics. The five tracks clock in at over thirty minutes of ear-raping. Opening track "Nefesh" is a nuanced and subtle, almost gentle example of the genre before the record truly sets off with "Samson Option Pt. 2." Sampled and mutated vocals speak over a rotating rhythm and screeching rusty swinging accents. Finding the foundational rhythm is difficult until it fades into existence during the last thirty seconds. "Our Own Truth (Universal Deceit)" is the first track that comes across as a planned and executed idea. The main motif or sample undulates throughout the song, as two voice-textures contrast each other, one calm and spoken and the second full of anger and distorted. It's an example of a track which represents the genre on a higher level when the simple but symbolic structure is realized in such an effective way. It's an easy track to lose oneself in. "Exist To Decay (Criminology Illumination)" opens with a sample of someone talking about growing up on the streets and being violent and assaulting people. It sets up the track, a twelve minute layered creation within which the protagonist voice fades out a third of the way into the song repeating "And they say crime exists." The rest of the song is a mixture of feedback, static, tones, and a vocalist growling. This section of vocals, while integral for hearing the voice of the collaborators, is the weakest texture presented on the album, thus rendering the longest track, my least favorite. The release ends with "Samson Option Pt. 1." Not sure why they would put Pt. 2 first on the album, however what is noticeable is that there are some similar textures in the material. Deep beneath the static is some remarkable nuanced tonal products that are given a peak at during common breaks in the static. These breaks act like windows to the beauty within. On this record, "Our Own Truth" is the highlight for it's textural maturity.



Destruction - Bestial Invasion of Hell (2018, originally 1984)

This remaster of Destruction's first demo, Bestial Invasion of Hell by Vic records is, if anything, a good reason to invest in grabbing one of the most important early releases in German thrash metal. Destruction's first demo was among an early grouping of bands including Sodom, Holy Moses, Poison, and Iron Angel to help pave the way for what would later be termed Teutonic thrash. Classic Destruction tracks like "Mad Butcher" and "Antichrist" sound urgent and fresh. The clarity helps discern all the subtle impurities in the sound, like the slight off key moments between Schmier and Sifringer throughout the album that gives the present thrash a dark evil essence or the under-represented leads buried in the mix in favor of the main riffs. I remember initially hearing a copy of this many years ago but never being able to hear the leads very well. Patrick Engel who handled the remastering expertly took the source and found a way to benefit the original material in displaying the grit and rawness of that moment in time through careful attention to not fiddle with too much. The influence of German Heavy Metal is present in the riffing style across the album but Destruction clearly show a migration towards the Speed Metal influenced thrash style the Germans would become recognized for. This is a nice release to include in a collection; the booklet has a bunch of rare images as well as liner notes from all three members, Schmier, Sifringer, and Sandmann. As an aside, I find Schmier sounds very much like Snake of Voivod fame vocally and I never noticed it until re-listening to this demo after so many years. An old school classic for sure and a release that anyone interested in Metal should be familiar with.

I find something very soothing in the art. Maybe it's the colors!

Dissentience - Mask of Pretense (2018)

This Pennsylvania band has been mulling over whether they want to be serious or not for apparently four years. Their demo was released back in 2014 and they are now promoting a new EP touted as being a unique take on the thrash genre. Not familiar with the band, I investigated their demo first. It is clear they are talented and skilled musicians though stylistically I'm underwhelmed. To me, they don't sound unique at all but instead very typical melodic death metal with cleanish vocals reminiscent of the early 2000's metalcore, screamo sound but with a thrashier edge, especially a song like "Bury Your Dead". Some tracks are a bit harder with more guitar noodling but there are plenty of breakdowns and chugging to be had. Final track "The Fallen," is the least dreadful track. Am I clamoring to hear the EP after this... not really. So has the band improved in any notable way in the four year gap? Absolutely. Is Dissentience doing anything truly unique now within the thrash genre? Not at all. For one, the problem is that the band isn't playing thrash and sound more influenced by modern technical death metal than original era thrash. Large swaths of the album sound influenced by the likes of Necrophagist or progressive death metal from bands like Gorguts. The band is at their best when they slow down and show they can write more than just blistering riffs heavy on hammer-ons and pull-offs. I think "Disinter" is my track of choice but mostly because I found moments of the track to best craft compelling melodies underneath all the flare on the surface. Overall the band has steadily improved musically. Conner Valentin and Jimmy Vitale are impressive on guitar. Sean Langer is solid on bass in support of the rhythms Nick Scherden on drums carries across the album. Valentin on vocals is average in the role, managing a raspy growl that is take-it or leave-it. The production of the album is clear and pristine and affords easy separation between all the instruments. It also saps a lot of energy and old school death metal feel. I guess I should be getting used to this by now but I prefer my death metal a bit dirtier and rawer than this.



Dødsferd - Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World (2018)

Immediately Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Alcest come to mind with this however I also get some hints of influence from other places such as Primordial and Burzum. Dødsferd do the style very well on Diseased Remnants Of A Dying World, with the right amount of visual stimulation, catchy hooks in the right place, and small burst of harsher and faster elements to bring energy to the mostly mid-paced songs. The production is crisp and clear with each instrument being rendered with enough focus in the mix to stand tall while not smothering other instruments in the interim. I believe the drums could have been more up front for just a bit more extra impact. Vocals are, as is traditionally the case, mixed most audible and stand out against everything else, especially during the harsher black metal rasps. Often, Wrath, who handles both the guitars and vocals admirably, switches between a bellowing yell and the rasps, providing a measure of variety that really helps keep the songs feeling fresh. One thing missing from the album are distinguishable riffs - the record is reliant on sweeping melodic movements with bass in close pursuit - which would offer a more aggressive element. One song that does happen to invoke this is "Loyal To The Black Oath," which gets my vote for best on the album, as it hearkens back to Opeth in their prime on My Arms Your Hearse or Still Life. The slightly more complex riffs that adorn it's near-ten minute run time paired with a wailing Wrath on vocals is enough emotion to stand above the other tracks. Dødsferd craft well written structures and melodies in their effort to generate longer compositions that will maintain interest and form enticing imagery through sound. I will, however, claim that what Dødsferd do on Diseased Remnants of a Dying World is not quite enough to rise above the best that I've heard from this corner of the Black Metal genre. This one is out in December... worth a listen for fans of any of the above mentioned acts.



Haiduk - Exomancer (2018)

Haiduk have been covered before here, referring to 2012's Spellbook, which was impressive on some levels and not impressive on others. Exomancer has appeared six years yonder from that outing. The main concern I had back then was the lack of attention to atmosphere and songwriting as a whole. Haiduk are best described as like a hornet's nest, a description which not only describes the guitar tone which multi-instrumentalist Luka Milojica achieves. His compositions are a bevy of energy and activity surrounding an small central structure. This is the case for large swaths of Milojica's output (See Demonicon's "Vordus" for a prime example). Exomancer once again follows suit and so I now am convinced that Haiduk sounds this way because Milojica can not play in any other manner. The unique sound and tone which Haiduk has portrayed now on these three albums can be viewed as simply what Haiduk is. Understanding this, objectively I view this album in a different and favorable light. First, a word on the vocals, which are not Milojica's strongest instrument. The deep throaty rasps are sparse, and for this reason sound out of place when they pop into existence. The lyrics often take the form, then, of short poetic psalms. For example, "Evil Art" has in total four words for the vocals. Once again, this is a feature of Haiduk which is simply a given. The real highlight is the guitar playing, specifically how it drives forward the pacing and momentum of Exomancer. Intricate riffs which slowly churn into new variations are backed by stringy twangy chords. The endlessly flowing parade of hammer-ons and pull-offs and tapped out notes march onward. Melodically, the album is solid, with truly unique and mesmerizing progressions of chords and lead work piled high. Songs often have three or four separate guitar lines running around together to create a layer of subtle tonal nuances. The tempos are, across the entirety of Exomancer the same quick rush. It would be difficult to carry the buzzing guitar riffs Haiduk employ at a slower or faster tempo. This lack of tempo is one of two faults in Milojica's style. The second fault is the lack of dynamics due to the requirement of each song being reliant on the tirade of guitar notes. There is little room to allow for other instruments to be highlighted. One thing that is not created is any type of atmosphere, which, if managed, takes Haiduk forward greatly. The programmed drums are passable but not ideal here. An interesting and unique listen that is not like much else out there. Luka has improved his songwriting considerably here. Best track for me is either opener "Death Portent" or the very speedy and tight "Death Ripple."



DISCOGRAPHY REVIEW: INSANITY CULT

Insanity Cult - Insanity Be My Kvlt (2014)

Insanity Cult's first demo, Insanity Be My Kvlt, though a super lame title, is not an entirely lame release. For one, the demo truly sounds like a black metal demo in production with thin, tinny guitars, slightly under-produced drum tones, and some interesting choices of mixing such as hard panned guitars. Sacrilegious's vocals are both black metal screams as well as lower pitched death metal growls which adds a level of variety. Opening track, "Son of No Father" is has an interesting build up section three-quarters through within which we are gifted with totally natural guitars and unhidden string noises. "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" has some interweaving guitar lines - which maybe draw out too long - as well as some clean vocals that recall Akerfeldt's brief moments of clean vocals from the "Eternal Soul Torture" demo track that appeared on the Morningrise rerelease. Much like on the opening track, the last of the three songs, "The Autumn Years" also floats on unique melodic choices and has a strangely triumphant feel. For a demo, there is some creative thought and uniqueness here which could perhaps lend inspiration to others.



Insanity Cult - As My End Unfolds (2015)

Following the interesting yet not truly impressive "Insanity Be My Kvlt" is Insanity Cult's debut "As My End Unfolds." Some of the songwriting nuances and originality expressed on the demo are available here. Off-speed clean guitars in songs like "The River Princess" show experimentation and 'spooky' clean vocals such as those a minute into "Hymn To A Forbidden Truth" are a direct link to the demo. What is more prevalent are the strummed riffs and reliance on melody over rhythm to drive songs showing a shift towards the influence of the modern atmospheric black metal style. Many of the songs here have the same faults that Insanity Cult's recent album has in terms of watering down the variation and not giving enough separation between different riffs and songs. Sacrilegious, the band's vocalist, does  a great job imbuing the tracks with a sense of integrity and emotion, more-so than on their more recent releases. There are some overly drawn out and amateurish writing moments like the hard transitions in tracks which don't seem to align with anything. I could see this album appealing to fans of modern black metal that enjoy the early Opeth albums which were similarly heavy on acoustic interludes.

Insanity Cult - Of Despair and Self Destruction (2017)

Very little of Insanity Cult's initial qualities can be found on this sophomore record. The biggest issue presented is simply the lack of depth across the various instruments. Unlike the previous record which had some nuanced elements, Of Despair and Self Destruction is tired and forced. Mundane guitar melodies that we've all heard before are presented against sleepy drums and a bass that does nothing to add variety or juxtapose the guitar lines. I found some hornets building a nest on my driveway this morning and I absolutely soaked them with yellow-jacket killer. We need a human sized can. And for fucks sake, don't start your black metal album with a five minute long mundane clean guitar intro. Vocals fall in line with the going-rate of black metal raspy monotonous screams that occasionally pitch upwards to a wailing cry. In Insanity Cult's case, the vocals are tied so strictly to the meter that it dries up any passion that could eek out an existence. This seems mostly to draw from the Eastern European influence of black metal which is now popular. There are no actual riffs present as well to add aggression to the mix. Nothing is memorable as well. Just pitiful.

Insanity Cult / Isolert - Towards The Great Dissolution (2017)

Insanity Cult's tracks on this split with fellow Greeks, Isolert, follows the formula built on Of Despair and Self Destruction. Their two tracks top out at fifteen minutes long, with "Existential Entropy" running over ten minutes. The recording is slightly rawer than the album tracks, with a less full range compared to the better produced Of Despair. Opening track "Thorns of Solitude," is unremarkable until roughly the three minute mark where the normally melody-focused material gives way to a nicely executed minute-long guitar lead. Vocalist Sacriligeous' screams are monotone and do not provide added interest to the music. The ten minute long "Existential Entropy" is a black metal run-on sentence, just meandering and uninspired repetitions of parts that do not hold interest. Isolert's additions to the split are more evocative and passionate in contrast. "Dreams of Emptiness" is a take on the first three post-Soulside Journey Darkthrone albums which also includes gang chanted vocals and well-orchestrated changes in pace and tone. "I Hide My Soul Inside The Trees," has a smaller Darkthrone component and a much more pronounced atmospheric black metal influence from bands such as Drudkh. The track culminates with an awesome guitar solo.  For me, Isolert here is the far superior effort.



My ultimate conclusion on Insanity Cult is that there is very little worthwhile material to investigate here. The debut demo, available for free is a viable listen but I found very little beyond this to be worth my time. There is a lot of monotony and a lack of defining individual songs that are must-listen. I was however impressed with the Isolert tracks on the split and I thank Insanity Cult for the introduction.


MONTHLY BLAST CONTINUED!...

Kommandant - Blood Eel (2018)

Kommandant are a band who've been supported in the Northeast by way of Signature Riff for many years now. I have managed to see them live at least three or four times by this point. Their live show is a unique spectacle, portraying a propaganda rally or political rally, with vocalist Marcus Kolar leering at the audience over a podium. Musically, their scathing brand of black and death metal fit the imagery well, yet was never enough to get me to full invest. Blood Eel is the band's first album in three years and has some major highlights but also a few large blunders. The album's four-minute long intro builds a ton of tension however, the title track which follows never seems to start. The drumming maintains their militaristic atmosphere however I feel like instead of an intro and a first song, Kommandant threw at me two intro songs before actually starting the album with third track "The Struggle." What is highlighted in "Blood Eel," however is the melodic style which makes Kommandant a unique musical entity: grandiose movements which mimic the effect of apocalyptic war-marches across radiation-scoured landscapes. Another issue I have with the album is that the lyrical material based on the song titles is not of the same direction as Kommandant previously approached. Songs with titles such as "Victory Through Intolerance" or "Hate Is Strength" have been replaced with "Ice Giant" and "Blood Eel." I'd be interested to see the lyrics for the album. The album has two stand out songs musically, these being final track "Moon... The Last Man," and "Ice Giant." "The Struggle" also has it's moments however suffers from what I would call a lazy incorporation of the chorus. "Moon..." is my pick for the best track here. Snare-heavy blasting and tremolo riffs create a massive militant/industrial mono-mood. This bookends a masterful central instrumental that slows down the song and builds on a simple shifting melody. Marcin Widel and drummer David Swanson both contribute vocals, with Widel taking control of the black metal rasps, and Swanson handling the clean, spoken words. The track culminates in a furious blasting drum section accented with their signature drum-line toms. Kommandant have yet to truly impress me and Blood Eel, though powerful at times, does nothing but extend the fence I'm sitting on farther.

Lustrum - Plays With Madness (2018)

This live recording of Connecticut project Lustrum featuring members of One Master and Morgirion, both of whom have been covered here before, is pretty much a perfect starting point for "getting" what Lustrum is attempting. It's not far removed in spirit from Hellhammer or Venom with a tinge of more modern acts such as Midnight. On the debut demo, the vocals were similar to those in One Master, with large echoing snarl across the tracks however that is not present on these live tracks, instead a much drier delivery is given which allows some of the between song banter to come across clearly and to much amusement. It also gives the recording the feeling of the first-wave black metal bands. There are some truly awesome tracks present here. I love "Too Wild For The Crowd," which almost sounds like if The Rods went black metal. "Temple of Lust" rumbles through several riffs and a definitively minimalist punk-infused drum beat. "Into Shit of Nights" and "Wolves of Heresy" are also on my radar as two songs with catchy unique riffs and flow. "Wolves of Heresy" I remember from the debut demo. The tape ends with my favorite from the release, "Motorsex," which is ultimately just a bastardized remake of "Bomber" to my ears but still kicks ass. This is a fun live tape and gets to the soul of what makes a band like Lustrum enjoyable and rewarding. It's not often something is sleazy, rockin', and bad-ass while maintaining a devilish, blackened, and grim atmosphere. These guys got it right with Plays With Madness. Available on tape from Eternal Death. Cover of the tape is also really cool with a stylized rendering of an image of the live drummer and bassist with a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son Maiden backpatch playing blackjack in a casino - the kind of cover you won't find anywhere else for sure.



Witching - Witching (2018)

From Philadelphia, Witching pumps out some sludgy doom seemingly influenced by Black Sabbath, Eyehategod, and Electric Wizard. The closest pure comparison is Maegashira's excellent The Stark Arctic, however Witching never obtain such imagery or atmosphere. Melodically, the band follows closely with what Electric Wizard were doing on Let Us Prey or Come My Fanatics but the attitude is much more in line with the sludgier and succinct Eyehategod but without the sharper rhythmic focus. Jacqui Powell's vocals don't immediately come across as womanly, though there is a feminine tone during moments such as the clean vocals on "The Demon" or "Burning Girl." Powell's vocals are a key aspect to the mostly mundane compositions. Most times, tracks amble onward through big and deep waves of chords however a few key moments point towards the potential for Witching to truly do something great with their sound. The ending moments of "I'm Still Here" offer an intricate guitar dual harmony that is quite refreshing at that point into the second song. "The Demon" plunges into what isn't a rip off of "Supernaut" but... is pretty close to a rip-off of "Supernaut", and the whole transition sounds cohesive and ends the track perfectly. The closing track, "Desert," is a nice summary of the whole album stylistically. The five tracks clock an appropriate twenty-minutes of time. Strong debut release for Witching, but I'd like to see if they can find their own style within the genre. I think Powell has a strong sense of vocal dynamics and how to place herself in the songs but if the band is going to rely so much on the big slow-rolling chord movements, they need to be more compelling. The recent "False Martyr" single, was a step in this direction, combining both the sludgy overall style, stronger melodic movement, and - what really stood out - moments of atmosphere that create imagery. That track is better than the material on their debut.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sacrificial Blood: Upcoming November Show and News

We've had a busy October. Friday we finished our shows for this month with our good friends Sapremia and Blasphemous at The Fire in Philadelphia. There are some ravaging live videos from the show recently posted on the Sacrificial Blood Facebook.

There was also a recent review of the show we opened with Natur and the legendary Satan written by Ian Weber. He hosts his Metal Meltdown radio show playing the best variety of hard rock and heavy metal music that Brooklyn has to offer, every Sunday from 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm EST / 11:00 am - 1:00 pm PST on 920 WON: The Apple via Live365 (Official) (Live365 Broadcasting) - https://live365.com/station/a09178. His review:



After spending the summer and early autumn attending so many cool shows, I went East in Brooklyn (Greenpoint, Brooklyn that is) to catch the legendary Satan (Band) at the Saint Vitus Bar. They're still going strong and I know doom metal worshipers NATUR, who are direct support this recent tour with them, are helping them out. Despite it being a chilly Friday night, over 200+ people showed up to support the NWOBHM legends. The show had a stacked lineup, and by the time I got there, the evening was about to get started with a local band called Sacrificial Blood. I had heard of them on record but was surprised how heavy they were live. Their sound is a cool mix of Morbid Saint (Official) inspired death metal, with touches of Seven Churches era Possessed. They were great. These guys are death metal in its rawest form: no frills! Check them out!

The next band many stuck around for was New York's NATUR who if were to be described in one word, the word would be "amazed". Playing a hybrid of classic metal, doom, and hard rock, these guys will decimate you. If they ever come back, I'll certainly be there. I highly recommend them if you're into Iron Maiden, Official Motörhead, and Saint Vitus.

Finally it was time to hail Satan (Band)!!! With a great turnout of about 200+ people, they delivered a full hour and a half headlining set playing all of their classics, as well as a handful of new songs which fit right in. I had heard good things recently about Satan (Band) live, and on 10/12/18, they sounded phenomenal. I'm not sure if there are any bands out there who play with as much passion and power as Satan (Band). At 64, Brian Ross can still work a crowd and belts out that signature voice of his, untouched by time. He very well may be the most underrated in his profession. Brian Ross's voice is aging like fine wine and the band played a great show. As long as the underground supports heavy metal, Satan (Band) will keep rocking this world and all the others.

 Our next show is in New Jersey with Earthling, Traitor, and Fiakra.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Acer Negundo #1 - Box Elder Maple


Acer Negundo - Box Elder Maple
10/18/18
Age: about 4 Months

September 2018: This small box elder maple started this summer as a small sapling in the front yard growing wild. I initially thought it to be a Red Maple, but after five sets of ever-morphing cotyledon the tree's leaves finally fully formed into the identifiable three-leaf box elder leaves so often mistaken for poison ivy. Unlike poison ivy, box elder maples have opposite leaves while all poison ivy forms have alternating leaves on the stem. Close inspection of the trunk at this point shows small buds where the earlier leaves fell off. I may potentially get some new branching there in the spring. Currently the tree has about six sets of fully formed leaves. I'm not sure with the weather dropping in temperature if the final set that is budding will form. Currently, I've stopped watering the tree, because the soil has remained moist and has not dried out for several weeks. Soil in this pot is basically a mix of organics and small bark chips for drainage. I plan to repot in the spring into a more suitable mixture.

The true leaves have not yet begun to turn autumn colors but I expect that within the next week or two, with the colder temperatures we expect, that the tree will begin to lose it's leaves. My over-wintering plans for this tree is, once it loses it's leaves, to place it in the back shed where it will stay out of the wind and elements. My watering schedule will likely be every other week. I may attempt to slow water it with a block of ice or snow on top of the mulch. I've heard this is a good way to allow the roots to stay slightly wet throughout the winter, while still keeping them cold and in a dormant stage until spring. I am hearing we may have a mild winter, however, and if this is the case, I will likely give a small amount of water every other week.


March 23, 2019 (Age - 11 Months):


 

After keeping the Acer Negundo through the winter outside mostly, with a stint inside to slowly unfreeze the root ball, I decided to replant it to get it into a better soil that would prevent the plant from being in something as moisture retentive as the potting soil / bark mixture I had it in. I repotted it a week ago.

To keep the tree healthy over the winter, I mostly left it in my shed to protect it from desiccating winds. I occasionally misted or watered the plant when the soil felt dry but because the tree doesn't transpire at all during the winter, I only did this every three or four weeks starting mid November. At one point in January, the root ball had completely frozen. Because Box Elder is such a hardy species, it could withstand the freeze however other trees would potentially die from this. I was concerned that the roots would not handle the constant freeze and refreezing if left in the shed so I moved the small plant into a spare refrigerator inside and I covered the soil with ice. As the ice slowly melted into the soil in the fridge, the tree slowly underwent a thaw cycle. Once thawed, I was able to place it back outside.

The repotting process on this tree was very simple. I raked the root ball out so I could see all the roots. I started with the root ball as in the first image above. Using a small rake or bent fork to look like a rake, I removed the soil. I kept the roots misted to make sure they did not dry out. The root ball had a lot of healthy roots. I pruned the tap-root back slightly to encourage more roots near the base of the tree. I made sure I had some finer feeder roots above the point I cut the tape root to make sure the tree would be healthy. I then replanted into a new pot with new soil. For the soil, I used sifted diatomaceous earth (Napa 8822). The drainage and retentiveness of the 8822 makes it a good soil component. I have also used this with regular potting soil in a 1:1 mixture as well if I want a little more moisture retentiveness.

The tree started leafing out the past few days. After doing the root work, I did not want to risk the tree freezing so I have it in my attic near a window that gets good sunlight throughout the day. The first three photos were taking over a period of three days. The second three photos were taken a week after the third photo, then another two weeks, and then two months later, after I had moved the tree back outside. I am letting the tree grow out this summer to thicken the trunk up.




 August 20, 2019: (Age 1yr, 4m)


After letting this tree grow out the majority of the summer, the result is some nice compact foliage and smaller leaves. If you look at the last of the photos from the previous series, you will see some yellow tips at the corners of the leaves where new growth was sun-scorched after removing from the shaded attic to outside.

As this tree grew, I clipped off individual older leaves as newer leaves grew in to reduce the strength of the growth. This seemingly kept the leaves from this otherwise often-maligned species nice and small. The tree has been in full sun throughout summer. The tree is still growing strongly. I recently applied my last round of summer fertilizer at a strength of 14-14-14. I was surprised at how quickly this tree formed a rough bark on the trunk.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Norwegian Spruce Seed Extraction

When my Wife and I traveled to upstate New York to celebrate her birthday with hang-liding and hiking, we stayed in a little cottage set back in the woods on top of a mountain not far from Sam's Point. There was a tremendous Norwegian Spruce (Picea Abies) on the property which I took a liking to and collected some cones from under it's spreading crown to bring home in hopes of extracting seeds from them for next spring's growing season with intention to grow as a potted bonsai.

Norwegian Spruces are fairly recognizable in the wild when large. Their needled leafstalks will often droop from weight on older trees with old growth branches. They are a very large growing tree, reaching heights of almost one-hundred feet. Also noteworthy are their cones, which are the largest cones on any spruce variety. They often reach lengths of up to seven inches in length. Their origins are in Europe, however they've become naturalized to large parts of North America.

Collecting the seeds from these cones can be a simple process, as the cones are often found littering the ground under the tree's canopy. Find cones that are brown and appear recently to have fallen from the tree. If cones are on the tree and in reach, you can take cones direct from the tree, but ensure they are brown, not green, and that the cone-scales have begun to separate from each other. It takes a full year for cones to mature. Green cones have not yet reached an age to bear seeds. The cones which I collected were not uniform in seed quantity. The first cone I de-seeded contained about thirty seeds. The second cone, the cone photographed, contained about fifteen seeds. This cone was a little shorter than the other cone, but from the same tree.

I prefer to meticulously remove the seeds from cones, as opposed to other methods I've seen which involve drying them and slamming them on a table or heating them up and shaking them so the seeds fall out. I find that it's far less wasteful and more respectful of the specimen. Additionally, getting more seeds from the cone means I have a much greater opportunity to get successful germination rates. If I only managed to remove ten seeds, and my germination rates for the batch of seeds is low, I may only get several seeds to grow. I also find going through the cone scale by scale relaxing and meditative in a way. Before I started the removal process, I let the cones dry out for about two weeks. This ensured that the seeds would be dry and it would also be easier to work with the scales. Some other species require a dry period so that the cones simply open at all. Pitch Pine, for example, is extremely difficult when the cone is not dry.

The first step is to simply remove the top part of the cone. In my experience, there are not often many seeds in the top part of the cone with Norwegian Spruces. Most of the seeds are in the middle section of the cone. I simply broke off the top with a pair of pliers. Every cone is different, some are easier to work from the bottom up, others top down. I disposed of the top of the cone in a plastic bag which I put my other scraps in. This bag contains all my non-seed remains of the cones and other material. I empty this bag in a spot in my yard where potentially missed seeds will then maybe grow. I can then transplant these saplings later.

Each scale is attached to the central part of the cone very strongly. I use my finger to grip the cone as the plier is in the image to the right. Showing the process with the plier in place of my hand so that it is clearly visible. With my finger gripping the scale, I gently move the scale left to right, so that it pivots at the point where it is attached to the central cone-stalk. I continue to shift the cone-scale back and forth until it becomes loose and I can detach the scale from the stalk. The stalk is extremely fibrous and difficult to damage. When the cone is completely dry, these fibers become brittle, and break easier at the junction point.

Once you've remove several of the scales, the seeds should make themselves visible. You will see them poking out from behind other scales, laying on the inside of newly revealed scales, and simply see them fall or drop out of the cone from being disturbed from above. The hardest part of this process is removing the scales to reveal the seeds. As the scales are removed, the cone-stalk will be all that's left behind. When dry, it becomes pointy and sharp and will have to be broken off as you continue to remove more and more scales.

As I continue to remove the scales one by one, the seeds, which take the form of small samaras - or keys - reveal themselves on the inside of the scales. The seed itself is a small hard ellipsoid capsule near the base of the scale and the cone-stalk. The seeds are often loose by this point in the process from having dried out. Normally simply turning the cone over will let them fall out.

You can see three seeds on the left, as they were laying in the cone as I remove the scales. To the right, I have show a single scale, with the location of the samara on the scale as it would exist inside the cone. There are two samaras per scale however it's very common to only have one or even no seeds. On scales where a seed is stuck to the scale, I use a small exacto-knife to pop them loose from the scale. Occasionally, the samara will dislodge and leave only the seed. In this case, I simply discard the samara and keep the seed.


A single samara (left). Each samara contains one seed. The darker section of the samara is the seed. The lighter "wing" of the samara is simply to help the seed get carried distances in nature. Wind will blow the samara quite a distance should the samara exit the cone while it's high up on the tree. The wing is very fragile and easily disintegrates between the fingers.

The seed (right) is resilient. The seed is hard and protected by a shell that prevents it from germinating until the time is right as well as preventing damage to the important part of the seed inside. These seeds are the entirety of the cone's purpose: to nurture, store, and protect the seed until it is time to disperse it for potential growth.


Each species has it's own distinctive samara and seed. Norwegian Spruce seeds are medium sized. Pitch Pine samaras are slightly larger with wavy wings. Regardless of the species, the cone's purpose and structure is the same.

For storage, I use small plastic containers which I label with the species and year collected. There's no time-table for these seeds to go bad. They should last several years in storage in a cool, dry, dark place. This process of storing seeds works for practically any seed for any plant. Collection methods differ slightly depending on the type of plant, but the storage of all seeds is the same. It is very important that the seeds be dried out or dry to prevent them from becoming moldy.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Driven By Impact - Driven By Impact


Driven By Impact is, unfortunately, about ten years too late to the melodic death metal craze. These Germans are on par with many other metalcore bands that have managed to come across my ears and by this point, even though their self titled debut, Driven By Impact, easily checks off all the boxes on the punch list of what could make decent melodic death metal, it still sounds dated. There aren't any single glaring issues for me with this record and if we were to jump in our time-car and sneeze back several years when the sub-genre was at it's height, and if I were to be as close to objective towards Driven By Impact, the album would receive average marks on almost all fronts and result in the ultimate conclusion of "this melodic death metal album is done well and would appeal only to those that care about melodic death metal." It's not a strong enough album for someone who normally does not like the subgenre to find enjoyable. I dare-say that Driven By Impact could be an example of all the things that people that don't like melodic death metal find meaningless.

Breaking down the overall sound of the band, the basis of most of these songs relies on underlying  melodic movements as opposed to riff-based structures. An exclusion to this would be large segments of "Place of Gore," which is more groove-based. Floating on top of the chord progressions are intricately fashioned metalcore riffs that while fundamentally generic still offer some interest through incorporation of some atonal or unsuspecting contrasting harmonic events. "Arise From Ashes" or "Experience in Red" shows how Driven By Impact allows notes to hold out over underlying chords to create momentary unpredictable melodic changes. In some ways, this gives the band a much more progressive sound, perhaps nodding towards a band such as Into Eternity. All of the string instruments are tied to the melodic structure first and foremost. This restricts in some ways the ability of the music to create truly inspired sounding moments where individuals rise above the melodic prison cells the band often finds themselves in. Were instruments given more space to explore their own potential, such as the bass does during segments of "Place of Gore," the album would come across more maturely and patiently composed.



The production on the album is acceptable however not what I would consider exceptionally heavy or crushing in any department; typical of this style to my ears, with modern chunky guitar rhythm tones. It's really nothing worth even talking about because it's such a standard tone for an album of this style. One instrument that truly does stand out happens to be the vocals of Eugen Rutz. They stand out as the sole instrument that doesn't quite gel or add to the overall music. If I had to point at something that holds Driven By Impact back, it's Rutz' vocals. Often low-end growls with a rasp, Rutz doesn't create enough dynamic to match the sweeping melodicism of the rest of the band. His growls are often detrimental in sections where a higher scream or harsher vocal could imbue some extra passion and texture to the songs. Without an identifiable vocal performance, the rest of the album doesn't merit multiple listens for the average fan. Rutz is not a bad vocalist, he just doesn't fit well with Driven By Impact.


Some songs of note. The transitions in some songs seem manufactured digitally such as in third track "Burning Bridges." This track also has the weakest drum performance with some odd kick rhythms that seem to fall off the beat. "Experience In Red" has the albums worst introduction with a lazily written and obnoxious repetitive riff before being somewhat redeemed during the middle section of the song.The "Prologue" sucks and they shouldn't have included it. It sounds like a boss battle song from a third-rate Nintendo game. I did like that Driven By Impact comes with the lyrics in the booklet, however I don't like that the lyrics aren't very inspiring or original on deeper inspection. The first three songs on the album are all standard fare songs about depression, suicide, death... topics which offer little new insight to anything and are tired at this point. Driven By Impact aren't bad, but they need more to separate themselves and make their music shine beyond the typical and generic in this genre. Cheers to them for sending me a physical copy of their album though instead of a digital promo - it just makes me feel that they take their music seriously.