Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Country: Stockholm, Sweden
Style: Progressive Metal
Means End has been a band who I've been periodically keeping tabs on since first hearing about them a few years ago. Since they happened to feature Robert Luciani, who used to sing in Vildhjarta, they were a group I wanted to know. It's been a couple of years since first hearing them, but they have finally released their debut full-length and boy was I going to get on top of it as soon as I could.
I don't expect people to know this but I'm a big fan of Vildhjarta. I think that what they are doing with djent is really something special and the two songs they released with Luciani on their Omnislash EP are among their most popular. Since his departure I would argue that the band has taken a much more abstract and dark path (though I have no way to back this theory up), but it's interesting to hear where the two sides have gone. If Vildhjarta is a dark and dissonant group, than the path that Luciani has made for himself with Means End is the opposite, featuring a much brighter, melodic, and at times theatrical tone to it. Having only the band's self-titled EP to go off of, I was actually somewhat shocked with the way this album sounded. It's not as densely layered, or at least not as obvious about it, and Luciani's vocal performance is far more diverse and operatic in tone. I don't think it's any stretch to say that his vocals are the highlight of the album. He just goes up and down on here from operatic and theatrical cleans to more straightforward melodic singing but still bringing in plenty of aggression from the death growls and his ear-piercing shrieks. He really is a force to be reckoned with behind the mic - though at times I did feel like he might have been stretching his voice, hear the chorus of Arbiter of Time for an example.
Musically, this album definitely took a turn that I didn't quite expect either. As I mentioned above, the tone is pretty light and melodic sounding for the most part. There isn't a massive amount of pounding low-end on here, with more of a mid-rangy guitar tone for the most part, which was the biggest surprise for me because for a band that did come, essentially, from the djent genre, it didn't have that crushing low-end that most groups have. But aside from some more groove based riffs, there isn't much djenting actually going on here. Even the grooves themselves aren't overpowering or all that close to what many groups in the genre are doing to be honest. One of the darkest and heaviest moments you'll hear are on a track like Aeronaut, which is actually one of the quieter tracks on the album - but there are others for those curious. There's a bigger embrace of chordal melodies and I guess what could be called traditional progressive riffs, which I thought was a nice route for the band to take. Then there's the entire background of the album which is just filled with synth textures filling up the empty space. Whether it's simply through piano keys or more ambient soundscapes, there's always something going on back there.
But I have to say that there was one track on here that did annoy me. The band's cover of Nox Aurumque, by a composer named Eric Whitacre, did come off as somewhat pretentious to me. I'm sorry if maybe I just don't get it or something but I just couldn't find myself enjoying the track in the same way that I did for the other eleven tracks on here. It's not a bad song, it's not performed badly or anything, but just the way it was presented by Luciani, who can no doubt perform it, where is just sounds so over the top that it just sounded like a band doing it just because they thought they could do. I know that sounds incredibly stupid, but for me it was the equivalent to someone wanting to have their cake and eat it too, they wanted to cover it but instead of making it sound unique, it just sounded pretentious and obnoxious. Just my opinion though.
Call me biased for enjoying this album, but I think that this probably has a much broader appeal than some people would make it out to be. I'm not going to lie, some of this could come off as a bit pretentious or not heavy enough or whatever, but I dug it. I can only hope that those of you who check this out find something to enjoy as well.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Crimson Interloper, Mourning Star, Sun Wukong
Posted by maskofgojira at 2:08 PM
Country: Milton Keynes, UK
Style: Progressive Metal/Djent
Label: Century Media
Back in 2011, TesseracT really grabbed me with their stellar debut One - which wound up being my fourth favorite record of that year. Since then, the band has gone through two more singers, Daniel Tompkins and Elliot Coleman, before finally landing on Ashe O'Hara. After hearing the band's newest single a few months back I was excited to hear what the rest of this album would sound like and if it would live up to their debut.
I have to say, after hearing the band's Perspective EP last year, I was quite excited to hear what the band would do with Coleman as a vocalist, but I guess we will never know what the band and him would have come up with. In the case of O'Hara, I was not familiar with his other band Voices From The Fuselage but when I heard the single version of Nocturne, I was definitely sure that he could live up to expectations. His voice was a lot closer to Tompkins' than Coleman's was, so it's easy to see why fans were a lot more accepting of him than his predecessor had it. Based off of that single, it sounded like the band was continuing with the sound they had established on their debut with the djenty grooves, a lot of ambiance, but with more of a focus on clean vocals - which I was just guessing at the time when I first heard that single, but has now been proven correct.
It has to be said, based off of the several listens I have given this record, I do not find it to be as song an album as their debut was. This new album certainly isn't bad, but I don't think the song(s) live up to what that initial single had going for it. When the band announced that this album would be essentially one long track being broken up into ten shorter pieces, I was excited because the six tracks that made up Concealing Fate definitely led me to think that the band had a talent for writing these more progressive epics where you had sections that would happen once and then happen again in another track later on or where similar melodies would be repeated, this album does not do that. I realize it doesn't have to in order for this to be a continuous track, but my main problem with this album is that it doesn't feel like a single track. I'll give it to the band that they definitely linked together to four sections, but those four never feel like they were joined together (at least to my ears); and those four sections, beyond being linked together, never felt like a continuous track in terms of anything beyond the lack of a fade or stop in the previous track. In addition to that, I can't recall any repetition of grooves or melodies throughout different sections. I also have to say that whereas on the last full-length, there was at least one thing in a track that had me coming back to it over and over - whether it was a groove or a chorus or whatever, it had memorability and definitive replay value. In the case of this new album, there are some songs like that, but definitely not all of them. From the multiple listens I gave this album I never felt the need to return to tracks like Resist or Exile.
My problems have nothing to do with the removal of more aggressive vocals from the equation or the band saying they wanted to pursue a more epic (their word, not mine) and melodic direction, it simply stems from them not making it feel like a single track (or a single section) and that some tracks are just not as well written as others. I'm sure there are plenty of other people out there who will disagree with me and probably vent their frustrations through comments in either this review or on another site, but I can't lie and say that I felt like this was either a cohesive piece of music or that more than a couple of songs stayed with me beyond the end of this album. I've not above saying that I think O'Hana is well suited to the band and does a good job or that the production and inclusion of a sax in a few of the tracks is well done either, but as a whole, this album did fall short for me.
Like I just mentioned above, I'm sure there will be plenty of people out there who disagree with me (I've seen the comments on other sites already before I've even posted it, so I know what people are thinking). There are certainly some good points on here, but it's not a masterpiece and it's not as well crafted as their debut. Worth a listen if you're interested in modern prog-metal and rock but I can't say this was a whole memorable experience.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Nocturne, Palingenesis, Singularity
Posted by maskofgojira at 10:30 AM
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Country: Reykjavík, Iceland
Style: Post-Black Metal
Label: Demonhood Productions
I remember first starting to dive into the world of underground black metal (beyond the well known groups and the pompous symphonic stuff) and finding some nice blogs where such bands were posted about. Not that I knew it at the time, but Wormlust was one of the bands from that period of discovery that has actually stayed with me - even if it was just because of the name. Since the release of The Opium Sleep demo back in 2011, I had actually thought this project had disintegrated, but was gladly proven wrong.
Ok, I don't know how many other people thought this as well, but in my past experiences with the recordings of Wormlust, I have always viewed the project as a sort of "post-black metal" style. You know, the ones who pretty much took what a group like Alcest was doing and did that. It was a bit rawer, a bit more on the ambient side with not as big an influence coming in from post-rock, but regardless, I always considered the project to be in that genre. When I listen to this album, I don't get much of that at all. Is it still there? Yes. But it was almost everything else that hit me in the face when I first pressed play that got me. Unlike many of the other one-man bands that stemmed from this same genre, this one appears to have taken on a far more radical shape that I for one never anticipated, especially seeing as I thought the project was no more. What you have on here are four tracks that make use of that post-black metal sound, but pretty much to the same degree as a band like Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega use it. Opener Sex Augu, Tólf Stjörnur is a real barnburner. The track pretty much explodes with a BAN and DSO styled chaos. It's controlled but with all the dissonant chords and blasting drums it feels more in line with those groups than anything I've heard Neige put his name to.
I have to say that while the rest of the album doesn't maintain the same level of ruthless intensity as that opener, they are far from a let down. Djöflasýra brings a much more mid-paced ambiance to the table that is, on one hand more in line with the sound I expected from the project, but on the other is still very chaotic and caustic sounding at times. For as much as I love some good post-rock and shoegaze influenced black metal, the dissonance a lot of the riffs used not only in this song but on the entire album, do cast a new light on the genre. While I mention BAN and DSO, the resemblance strikes me more to the ladder's recent EP Drought. Granted this is far more atmospherically laden and nowhere near as raw or intense as that EP was, they carry the same sort of sonic palette, of sorts, in the sense that you have crazy guitar riffs being played in such a way that they actually create an atmosphere rather than just spinning off into the abyss or somewhere. However one does have to say that the use of synth and keyboards on here is far more prevalent than that of DSO. The second half of the album retreats even further into ambient led passages with closer Iður úti falling into ambiance for the majority of its running time. It acts less as an act of frantic aggression and more as a melancholic anchor that holds down the album; and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's the closest link to the project's older material while continuing to be quite different from it as well.
This was quite the little surprise for me, not only finding out that the project was still in tact but also that the album was very different from what I expected. With all the praise that groups like BAN and DSO have received, I expect that this will polarize plenty of people who will either say it's amazing and those who say it's just a rip-off of the aforementioned groups. Personally, I really dug it and I hope whoever reads this does as well.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Sex Augu, Tólf Stjörnur, Iður úti
Posted by maskofgojira at 8:15 PM
Country: Cambridge, UK
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Gilead Media/Mordgrimm
I don't think my adoration for this band needs to really be stated seeing who is involved. Featuring members of Esoteric (one of the best funeral doom acts out there), Lunar Aurora (one of my favorite black metal bands - period.), and Omega Centauri (a great up and coming group), as well as The One (which is pretty solid), I knew this would be good. So when I received this album it pretty much just jumped up to the top of my "must review as soon as possible" list.
I remember the press release for this album telling me it was going to be a black metal album, which I would have gathered right away after listening to this album, but it did tell me that it wasn't going to be in the Esoteric vein of things. But this certainly wasn't the sort of black metal that I think I was expecting to hear, though based on who's in the band I really should have anticipated this being a bit left of normality. There are definite traces of each of the four member's original groups in here. The songs aren't blasting for the most part, the riffing is slightly off-kilter sounding, and the atmosphere is just noxious throughout. I remember hearing Resentment for the first time and just feeling like I couldn't even navigate through the track because the atmosphere was just so powerful. The riffs certainly have their surges of tremolo picked, high velocity moments on here, but the majority of it is more mid-tempo stuff that just has that huge Esoteric-like weight and atmosphere to it. There's all this reverb on these guitars that literally made me take a step back when I realized it. In addition to that, despite the riffs being a bit more "different" (I don't feel like I could call them abstract in this case) the tone on this record is still pretty melodic, with melodies that are quite easy to recall long after the album has finished.
If you haven't already guessed it, I really dig this album. I think the only problem I really have with it is how short it is. This entire album is under forty minutes and after listening to a bunch of albums recently that are too long, it sucks to find a really good one that I think is too short. With the exception of the intro and interlude (of which I have no problems with) there are only seven real tracks on here and they're all pretty damn good. Even the short burst of fire that is In Self Ruin is a great piece of work because it doesn't wallow in how straightforward it is in it's aggression. It also comes in at a nice point in the album, it isn't too late in to show the band can just bust out an intense rager, but not early enough to come across like just another black metal band. I could go into detail about almost every track on here, because they're all something great, though I do find myself coming back to the likes of Sceptre to Control The World and Dust of A Gun Barrel more than any other track on here. There's just something about those two tracks that draws me back over and over. Frankly, they aren't the most memorable tracks on the album, but there's just this quality to them that remains with me more than any other track.
So, overall, I really dug this album and I think if you like black metal in some shape or form you'll like it as well. This isn't an album that really tries to be experimental or unique but still manages to cross a wide amount of territory in each of it's tracks. There's something in here for every fan of the genre and I can't say enough good things about it.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Against The Paradoxical Guild, Sceptre to Control The World, Dust of A Gun Barrel
Posted by maskofgojira at 11:11 AM
Monday, May 20, 2013
Country: Hesse, Germany
Style: Industrial/Progressive Black Metal
Label: Supreme Chaos
Agrypnie is a band that I really dig. Their previous releases have all really grabbed me and it seems like they are a band who actually embrace trends but never conform or limit themselves because of them. I was even more excited to learn that this album was coming out this year in addition to the new Nocte Obducta album (which also features Torsten Hirsch on vocals).
Sonically, at least in the past, I had always considered Agrypnie to be an industrial tinged black metal band, mainly because that's what various sites had been telling me whenever I looked them up. But with the release of the Asche EP last year, I saw the band doing their own take on the whole post-rock influenced black metal thing. Was it anything groundbreaking? Not really, but it was damn good and the band certainly didn't do what every other band was doing. They fused the general aesthetic and some of the post-rock guitar tones from the genre into their own more riff based sound and boy oh boy if it didn't pay off. That was one of the best EPs of last year, at least in my opinion anyway, and while two songs from that EP have found their way onto this full-length (I'm sorry, but I prefer full-lengths to contain entirely new material) I'm certainly not upset over since the songs were so damn good; and essentially, the sound hear on that EP was the direction the band took on this entire full-length. So atmospheric, riff-heavy, and dynamic black metal is the name of the game here - you bet your ass I was excited.
To me it's appeared that while Hirsch gets out his more progressive and experimental side within Nocte Obducta (for however much he writes in the band I'm not sure) with Agrypnie he writes songs that are much more direct and "rocking." Yes, this is a dynamic record with songs that go up and down, but in nearly every track on here there was at least one riff that made me want to headbang - and like I've said before, black metal with riffs is something that isn't too common. In addition to that each song is around the nine minute mark, give or take a minute or so, which means that lack of dynamics could have killed this record stone dead - but as you should know by now, that was not the case. Even if an entire track, like opener Trümmer/Aetas Cineris, is delivered at a pretty constant state of aggression or that it never shifts out of metal mode, it manages to quiet any qualms I may have with that because the band knows when to slow down and when to speed back up again. But on the other hand you have a track like Zurück which is almost the definition of "post-black metal", so you know that dynamics from hard-to-soft actually occur. Cause if there's one thing all those Alcest copies can do right, it's that they can write a song that at last has a form of dynamics (whether intentional or otherwise). But rest assured that when this band does it, it doesn't come off as anywhere as contrived or forced as many of those bands tend to sound like.
I guess the one "problem" I have with this album is the interlude that is Kosmos [Alpha]. It certainly isn't a bad track, but it's an eight minute ambient track and it just feels to me like it probably could have been about half that length and still accomplished what it needed to do. Aside from that stopgap, the other seven songs on here are all winners in my book. You have more barnburners like the two tracks from the EP, Gnōsis and Erwachen, while other tracks like the two closing pieces, Sinnflut and Asche, are more moody progressive tracks. It's a real rager of an album in my book because you have the more aggressive tracks, you have your moody sections as well as more epic atmospheric ones. You have the great riffs that just make you (or me in this instance) want to headbang. There's variety and dynamics - to which I discussed at great length above as well as really strong songwriting. I understand that the vocals are a bit one-dimensional in some instances but even I can get by that because when they're used they come across as impassioned (as Hirsch's vocals always have to me) and not screamed for the sake of it.
I just really dug the hell out of this record and it's totally awesome. I can't really claim that it's everything I want in a black metal record (since it's more than that), it has a lot of qualities that I think make a great record. I'm glad to see this band continue their streak of killer releases and I hope more people get turned onto the band because of this album.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight
Posted by maskofgojira at 9:05 PM
Country: Mainz, Germany
Style: Progressive Black Metal/Atmospheric Rock
As I stated in my review for 2011's Verderbnis - Der Schnitter Kratzt An Jeder Tür, Nocte Obducta is one of my favorite German bands - and one of my favorite black metal (based) bands. They're just one of those bands who are consistently interesting and always grab me whenever they put out a new album. I was looking forward to this album ever since I first heard about it last year (which is when I thought it was supposed to come out) and when I first found it, it was one of those albums I listened to immediately.
While I have yet to be disappointed by this band, I have to say that I was glad when I saw that this album happened to feature some longer tracks after the more direct approach of their last album. With that being said though, I in no way expected what this album would bring to the table sonically; but whether that was a good or bad thing I'm still not quite so sure. The first time I put this on, it was certainly a surprise. The Opeth-esque introduction of Kerkerwelten - Teil 1 really threw me for a bit of a loop, but I thought that the band actually did a good job at playing that sort of style (whether intention or not). It's a very moody introduction that has a short burst of post-metal as a centerpiece, but is otherwise a more reserved introduction. While I could live with that as an introduction, the rest of the album threw me curve-ball after curve-ball, and I never knew where I was being taken next. The rest of the album never really breaks out into aggression like previous releases have and is quite restrained in comparison, which leads to a much more progressive rock sort of sound. For those that heard the Dinner Auf Uranos record, 50 Sommer - 50 Winter, back in 2010, that record could be seen as a sort of precursor to this album. That might be a bit obvious seeing as two of the tracks on here are actually named after that project from a couple of the members from the band, but it was still surprising to hear the band strip away that black metal foundation for most of these tracks and deliver a more atmospheric and progressive rock based album. It has it's more metallic moments for sure, but like I just said, it's far less abrasive than on almost any of their past recordings.
With the much calmer style found on this record, you'd be correct in assuming that there will be a much strong instrumental sound on here. That progressive rock sound that band has taken on board for this record - which isn't a new style inclusion, but rather a different presentation of the influences is how I'm viewing it - leads to some rather interesting sections that bring to mind everything from krautrock to smoothe jazz. The extended synth piece that makes up a good portion of the aforementioned Dinner Auf Uranos track will probably throw off several listener expecting some more rock/metal based parts to make up a lengthier piece on here, but is actually quite an interesting move. Personally, these more extended atmospheric sections show a side of the band that I would have not expected to hear. While the band are no strangers to calmer and more atmospherically led passages, this section in particular struck with since it was based in soundscapes that sounded like they'd be from the 70s. The more trippy and post-rock-esque Leere will more than likely be an easier pill to swallow for some because even though it is pretty mellow for most of it's fourteen minute running time, it still keeps a foundation that is quite common in many post-rock bands.
With all that being said, there are still some more rocking tracks for fans who prefer the heavier side of the band. Tracks like Gottverreckte Finsternis and Mehr Hass are more direct pieces that definitely appeal to that more metallic sensibility from the band's last record and do recall a bit of the post-punk vibe going on from that album as well. Granted, these are two out of nine tracks, where two-thirds do not retain this same level of "heaviness." I will say that because of how restrained the rest of the album is, the tracks that are heavier do sound noticeably so if that makes any difference to people. Also, I know the clean vocals are sort of similar to that of Rammstein's, but I never found that to be a stumbling block so I can't see others doing so either - but it's there for people to criticize if they like.
Personally, while I can't say this is my favorite record from the band, as far as evolution goes for them, I think it is a step forward. It's not a record that will appeal to everyone, and I think older fans might even have a little trouble with this one, but it is a good record. An interesting shift but it will be even more so to see where the band go from here.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Dinner Auf Uranos, Ein Nachmittag Mit Edgar, Kerkerwelten - Teil 2
Posted by maskofgojira at 11:03 AM
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Country: Toulouse, France
Style: Death Metal
Label: Gospels of Death
When I was sent this three song cassette from Gospels of Death Records, I wasn't really sure what exactly I was getting. From the other albums I had been sent by the company doing PR for this tape, I expected more of a black metal band. After listening to this, I realized not to judge a young band by their PR company.
For a group that is as young as this, one must realize that the band is likely to have not polished these songs as of yet. The two songs, plus intro, are raw, scuzzy, and very primal sounding death metal (not black metal as I had first thought) which means you can pretty much gather, more or less, what they sound like. Granted, this is not modern sounding death metal, if that makes it easier to guess than good. There is no Job For A Cowboy, Black Dahlia Murder, or other bands of that ilk sounding parts on here, it's pretty much late 80s and early 90s sounding stuff. So there's definitely some Celtic Frost worship going on in here as well as some love shown to groups like Asphyx and Pestilence as well. It's not reinventing the wheel sort of stuff, but it's nice to hear from a younger group who appear to have actually listened to a death metal record made before the turn of the new millennium. But to go back to the whole polish thing for a second, obviously these songs do not feel seamlessly crafted. It's more like the band put together a bunch of parts and said, "That's a song." It's an approach that, to a certain extent, I do find endearing, but hopefully they can improve this on future releases. If I did have to voice a complaint, it would have to be at the vocals which, when they're actually being growled are just fine - nothing great, but it's death metal. What I have a problem with is the weird sections where spoken word is used or when someone in the band can actually be heard laughing. It's just a head scratcher as to why those were left in.
So, in the end, it's a solid tape, though I do wish there was more material. Two songs and an intro is a bit short, even for an EP of this nature, but it is what it is I guess. Probably not for people who think death metal should be polished and trigger and overly compressed, but if you dig that early stuff that sounds like it was buried in the backyard before you actually listened to it, then this is worth investing some money in at some point.
Overall Score: 7
Highlights: Le Trône
Posted by maskofgojira at 11:07 AM