Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Agiel - Dark Pantheons

Agiel's Dark Pantheons EP is immediate. From the second this five-song romp starts, the listener is gifted with constant blasting rhythms accentuated by computer generated symphonies a platter of vocal techniques which, within the eighteen minute playtime, is concentrated enough to not become grating if still being boring. The overall effect of the keyboards, programmed sounds is not dissimilar to that of latter period Emperor. The production is very modern here and even with all possible methods to get a better mix and better timbre from instruments such as the drums and the bass - especially the bass which sounds more like a pile of slop than a stringed instrument - there is a muddiness that is present. Agiel's product: an over-the-top brutal death metal album that borrows some symphonic black metal elements and mashes them together to mixed effects. Parts of this five-song EP sound absolutely strong and engaging while others are stagnant and - for all the blistering speed and technique - boring.

This is best evidenced by the placement of the stronger "Deeds Rendered Upon The Flesh" between the weaker "The Awakening" and opening title track "Dark Pantheons." Where "Deeds..." creates some atmosphere and direction with the keyboards, outlines some melody and uses the unnatural drum tone to create the effect of a marching army, the songs that bookend are more than not over-expressed renditions. Even strong mid-sections which allow the sampled choral segments to shine in "The Awakening" fail to set the track apart, even though there are plenty of opportunities to let up. The drums are often too overbearing and Agiel would do themselves a huge favor by using them in a manner that better highlights the dramatics of the rest of the music - more as a classical composition would use percussion than as death metal artists usually use drums. "Serpent Masquerade" shines light on this issue from the beginning where obnoxiously fast drums smear interesting ideas in dust and during the Arcturus-esque bridge that follows the drums simply sound as if they don't have any other ideas to offer.

As the EP moves along, we begin to see how Agiel have simply not offered much variety to the listener. We are given fast, blasting segments and very little bit else. Though "Deeds Rendered Upon The Flesh" is a definite highlight, I'm not impressed with the usage of the rest of the material here. Even though there is plenty of room for Agiel to take these tracks, build them as compositions and emphasize the intensity with contrasting moments, they've been unable to do so. Being that these tracks were all taken from their 2002 debut full length, Dark Pantheons Again Will Reign and "was revisited and re-imagined for a new era" it's possible that we've missed out a lot of the context from where these tracks were pulled. According to the Agiel website, this material is intended to bridge the gap from their earlier material to their current material. Having never heard their full length - and probably never will since this material didn't particularly rouse my interest - I feel as if Agiel would have been better served by simply putting out new music instead of older tracks re-recorded.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sadhak - Sadhak


Norway's Sadhak is a project that would be easy to miss but hard to forget if you're a fan of somber and reflective sounding doom. There margin of atmosphere to riffs is wide on self titled Sadhak but it's the generally small number of riffs, their texture, attack and presentation that create that atmosphere. Opening track "On The Arrival Of Man" is a grand looming stumble towards something far away in the future which is hard to grasp now, but will eventually be revealed. It's a lot like what I could imagine as the score to a black and white film adaptation of Stephen King's Gunslinger novels. The track leaves me in dreary thought. Even though we are surrounded in life by those we are close with, we are ultimately alone and it's music such as the ringing twangy chords and mournful vocalizations of multi-instrumentalist Andreas Hagen that inspire introspective thoughts such as this. Two long tracks grace this limited edition tape from Shadow Kingdom and both share in the style which has become popular in the past several years - at least so I've noticed - that draws upon desert / mountain vibes. Second track "The Perfection of Wisdom" moves with a more anxious and frantic motive, much like the end of The Shining when Jack Nicholson can't find his way out from the hedge-maze. Even though this track is deeper in style and substance than Sadhak's opening track, I like it less. The simplicity of "On The Arrival Of Man" is excellent.

It's fascinating to me the influences pulled together here and the different sounds of this release. The whole is draped in the atmosphere of bands such as Velnias and what has come to be known as the "Cascadian" sound but where Sadhak improve upon this foundation is in the incorporation of vibes more like recent Earth releases, especially Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method, stoner riffs and - at least in "The Perfection of Wisdom" some home-grown classics such as Burzum's Filosofem and early Taake. Andreas' smooth heartfelt vocals, youthful and pure, pour over a melancholic foundation, and the result is a very tragic sounding two tracks. It's Andreas' vocals really that make this release more than what could have been. Though I would have liked to hear more differentiation between the two tracks, what was offered here is enough for me to want to come back and hear more.This is being offered as a package deal with a shirt and tape... I know I'm pre-ordering.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Phlebotomized - Devoted To God, Preach Eternal Gospels


About a week ago, some friends and myself went to a local steakhouse that offered rodizio. Our dinner included about twenty different cuts of beef, pork, chicken and lamb. It was absolutely incredible. We downed a ton of sangria and engaged in gluttony that would make Nero wish he had friends such as us. The most peculiar serving was roasted chicken hearts slid onto our plates from a large skewer. I maintain that they brought these out to attempt to run us out of the place since it didn't seem like we were willing to stop eating. Instead, we toasted the dinner with the tiny little morsels and gulped down the peanut sized flavor pouches. They were dense and mealy yet had a rich chicken flavor mixed with a saltiness of blood. They were actually really delicious. They weren't as appealing overall as garlic roasted steak or cheese infused pork loin but they were the perfect item to remind me of all the things I had been enjoying about, Devoted to God, Preach Eternal Gospels, this Phlebotomized compilation I have been stuck on for the past two weeks. Blood and Phlebotomized go hand in hand - their early 90's demos are one of the best examples of the melting pot of death metal, doom metal and classic slasher movie soundtrack scores. I had never heard of this band before this compilation and to finally get a death metal album sent to me - even if I am about twenty-three years too late - that I can really enjoy makes me shiver with joy. I think the last death metal album that impressed me this much was the Beyond debut full length, Fatal Power of Death, or some of the material I encountered on Leukemia's early albums while doing some research for the review of their third album, Love. Clearly Vic Records is putting out some worthy material to pick up. It just so happens that most of that worthy material appears as old and obscure re-releases.

The key to Phlebotomy's awesome sound is the combination of melody, brutality and horror. These three components of their sound are very well refined to sound perfectly in place with each other. Melodically, the band takes a lot of influence from the early doom stalwarts such as Candlemass and early Cathedral. The first five tracks are from the band's 1992 demo, Devoted To God, with some tracks combined. Opening track "In Search of Tranquility & Subtle Disbalanced Liquidity" is one of these - originally it was two separate tracks on the original release. It's intro highlights the melodic genius which is present in all tracks and draws forth from classic doom albums like Nightfall or Forest of Equilibrium. It's evident that the Phlebotomized members were heavily into all the material coming from numerous scenes. Bolt Thrower riffs are plentiful throughout, and there are shared tendencies there as well, especially from Warmaster. Phlebotomized usage of melody is pristine. It leads and moves the listener into horrific places, foreshadowing a lack of anything remotely happy. On "Fate of a Devotee & Devoted to God" - the other combined track on the compilation - we meander through sections in which the listener is taunted and ridiculed by the mean-spirited combinations of rhythm and melody. Often times keyboards are also used to push the melodies to great effect such as on "Mustardgas" - off the Preach Eternal Gospels demo - or "Desecration of Alleged Christian History" which has one of the best song titles in all of metaldom and is my favorite track of this release.

With regard to brutality, Phlebotomized nails all the components of this integral element of death metal. The production on these demos is absolutely incredible. Thick, deep and gurgling guitar tones provided by Tom Palms and Jordy Middlebosch are an example of what modern bands can't seem to get right. It's a truly natural tone. It lives in the humble recording like a wolf lives in a cave. While the rhythms are murky and sludgy, the guitar leads cut through with a rough and trebly timbre. In addition to this, the vocals of Barry Schuyer and Dennis Geestman are super low-end snarls that are performed with the kind of distraught and malevolence you'd find in the voices residing in the minds of serial killers and madmen. Barry Schuyer's performance on the Devotion of God tracks tops Dennis' on the Preach... songs but both are aeons ahead of most other death metal vocalists. With the sounds perpetrated here very much holding up to the iconic death metal production expected of material from this period, to have songs that are every bit as competitive completes the brutality puzzle. Songs are memorable but never simple. There are twists and turns and numerous riffs and variations in each song to really increase complexity, but whether it's the opening bombardment of keyboards and accents of "Tragic Entanglement" or the unexpected turns and twists of ""Mustardgas" and "Preach Eternal Gospels" the compositions no feel pressured.

That said, there are other albums which have these characteristics out there. Phlebotomized however sets themselves apart with the horror motifs in their tracks. The keyboard parts are integral to this. It's easy to imagine Phlebotomized's keyboard parts being the score to Suspiria or Phantasm or any other number of classic horror movies. Devoted To God definitely is much more consistent with these sounds and overall vibe. Preach Eternal Gospels has moments where this influence is shown however other moments break this feel such as at the end of the title track with a folky interlude. It doesn't detract too much though and when the song ends with a slightly out of tune violin solo, fear is rekindled. This compilation also has three live tracks which are a nice window in what Phlebotomized was able to provide in a live environment; strong renditions of their complex brand of Death/Doom that retain all the essences of their demo and album material. This is a huge release that should be in everyone's record collection, especially for fans of this style of music.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hades Archer - Penis Metal

Prepare your holes! Penis Metal will enter you hard and rough like a strongman named Ricardo whose entire knowledge of making love is informed by skipping ahead in porno movies and watching degradation videos. Much like Ricardo's angry and fast approach to woman parts, Hades Archer's approach to black metal is about as full on as you can wrap your lips around. I think the overall attempt was to create a purely masculine record that no females would want to go near and that only the taughtest of men would appreciate for it's bestial(ity) and hard-on-inducing rage. Even hardened and veteran lionesses will not find any comfort here. Any girl less than Wendy-o-Williams on acid and speed would melt in front of Penis Metal. Get on your knees and suck off the dripping goo that graces the slithering length of this disc because there is nothing here that you can argue with.

Hades Archer are not interested in maturity, songmanship - though it comes through anyway - or appeal. evidenced from the first moments of opening track "The Stretch" is a bombardment of thrusts and pelvic blasphemy aimed at creating a swirling mass of harshness. Bestial Warlust would be so proud of this it would make K.K. Warslut's eyelids get glued closed behind tears and salty crust. The uncompromising rape of this record is so great that it would impress a jury of sexually assaulted soccer moms to the point that they would require rape victims to go through Penis Metal rehabilitation. The immediacy of third track "Dignitas" and the sarcastically paced contrast of "Objeto" is a genius move. With the pacing so punctual and immediate, and with the speed and brevity of Penis Metal forcing awareness before the whole thing falls apart, I would use Penis Metal as an example by which I would measure other contemporary penis metal records to.

Rounding out Penis Metal is a Sodom cover of Pretenders to the Throne. It doesn't really fit and I would much rather have had my asshole filled with the juices of more short and stubby Chilean penis metal tracks. This isn't the most original thing for sure but the whole appeal here is in Hades Archer's obvious appreciation for understanding that these kind of releases are going to go into the collection of some messed up sociopath from Belgium and get played on repeat by unsavory South Americans as they wash the blood from their ball hair. They also end up on the playlists of guys from New Jersey that just love this gritty, no-holds-barred approach to black metal. Penis Metal will coax you to your knees and make you open wide.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Life Against Death - Life Against Death

One time I was moving and put an absolute shitload of heavy stuff into one particular cardboard box, and it held up without breaking. I mention this, not because Life Against Death crams a lot of heavy stuff into their music but because they are the kind of band that gets the job done, but lacks any real character. This cardboard thrash band’s 22 minute fourth full-length album suffers from a problem that a lot of thrash bands have - being confined by their genre. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a thrash band, but so many just come across as derivative even when you can’t point to one specific band as a main influence. Derivative bands typically aren’t as interesting and thrash in particular can be a really narrow style. So, what Life Against Death is left with is just a bunch of serviceable thrash riffs. While there isn’t anything here like what you’d hear from the masters of the genre, there isn’t anything bad either. What makes this different from every other thrash band? Well, there are the very energetic vocals, more of a punk feel than the average thrash band, the band is square shaped and corrugated - oops I’m thinking of cardboard boxes again. This ends up being acceptable though, I guess. I have a passion for metal and hey this is metal not boxes.

Still, It’s surprising how medium and average feeling this album is, even down to the riff level. They all feel like bridges you might hear in between the main riffs of an interesting band. I thought this was a demo as I was listening to it rather than the band’s fourth release. But it looks like Life Against Death has had a fair amount of lineup changes, so it is theoretically possible that the ten year old band is still finding its identity. I suppose it is worth mentioning that there are an unexpectedly high amount of low-energy slow shuffling riffs that don’t help anything, e.g “Meat Grin,” “The Poet,” and “Testify.” Still, it is like noticing a lot of extra packing tape on a box and doesn’t matter much. The vocals here are worth noting and alternate between low gutturals and a fairly high thrash rasp that one might expect to come from a female vocalist. The singer, Twitch, has an entirely convincing sense of vocal power, as if she doesn’t need a microphone. No the vocals aren’t mixed too loud, but you can absolutely tell they were delivered with force and it sounds really good. It would be great to hear the band keep up with the dynamic energy of the vocal work here, but that just doesn’t happen and nothing else is good, or bad.

There can be something very unsatisfying about an overwhelmingly middle of the road band that isn’t bad or good. Here, part of that is from how the band doesn’t vary the range of the guitars enough or create a dynamic sense of melody with their riffs. The melody is so constrained in either range, tempo or rhythm that everything blends together; and thus there is no movement. Thrash needs movement. There isn’t exactly an abundance of different riffs on these songs, but it would be speculation to say that the band needs to use more since they’d probably just fail to create energy more often. A better way to think of this release is to imagine all of the things that could go wrong and that need to go right when music happens. Then imagine none of those things happening. The most likely route for improvement would to have the band take more creative input from the vocalist who better understands how to make music.

Yes, this is thrash metal, but I am not thrashed.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Antistasis - The Ritual of the Ancients Demo

Antistasis are a band that has been wandering around the New Jersey metal scene for a while and pop out of the woodwork now and then to play a show or two when their guitarist isn't breaking his bones. He apparently tore his kneecap at a show in North Jersey. That's pretty awesome in my opinion but ultimately it doesn't translate to satisfactory music. I'm pretty certain the band has members of numerous other projects and groups. I know that bassist Kevin Lopez from Gorematory gave up the bass and joined on drums and guitarist Jesse sounds familiar as well. Either way, the band gifted me this demo a couple years back when Oz played Champs Bar and Grille. As I am apt to criticize, CDr demos are usually poor representations of a band and, for just a little more money and effort, can be improved significantly. At least Antistasis made an attempt here to give some sort of artwork with the release - a sticker stuck on the case acts as a front cover and another decal on the disc offers some artwork there. It's a small effort but at least shows a band trying in some sort. A lack of any information on the song titles or band members or general additional information hurts though. Also, the lack of the demo's actual title is retarded. I had to go out of my way and look up the band's bio online to hopefully find the name of this thing. I had always called it Antistasis's Oz Show Demo... Tsk tsk boys.

Musically, the band has moved on from earlier black death thrash confusion to at least narrow down their sound - a sound that sounds a lot like early Death or Slayer - possibly too much like early Death and Slayer. The Death influence is obvious from the second track, "Circle of the Seven Skulls" which is very much a Scream Bloody Gore d-side that would never have made it onto the bonus tracks after all other options were exhausted. The lead solo is pretty horrendous, and the vocals, performed in the style of a Tom Araya doppelganger, provide little flavor to the music and instead seem simply as a way to express mundane lyrics about skulls and rites and other evil material that no one has heard of before. "Albatross," on of the strangest song titles for a band doing 80's death metal, is similar in many ways and has the exact same problems. The vocals while better here, are glued over boring verse riffs and the lyrics, clearly audible - which is in fact a nice feature of the album - are generic and uninteresting.

"Nuclear Winter" shares nothing in common with Sodom's classic track and immediately negates the song by naming it as such. Apparently the band was originally called Nuclear Winter or something but still, I don't understand why bands use the same titles as classic well known songs when there is no chance of trumping them. It's like naming your band Iron Maiden or Judas Priest or Lucretia and the Hangar 18s, knowing you can't challenge the originals in any possible way. So after I went and listened to all of Persecution Mania, an album I've not actually sat through for a good two or three years, I returned to the final Antistasis track. A pleasant clean guitar strums out an intro and melts into another intro which then pauses into another short intro. Endless chugging ensues for the duration of the track. Flat drums mimic cooking apparatuses and the whole thing is repeated a few times with vocals and numerous guitar flubs. Maybe one or two acceptable riffs are present but it's not enough to warrant re-listening. Antistasis have at least found their sound, albeit it's a sound that's incredible hard to live up to. Their bigger challenge is going to be actually writing powerful and blistering tunes because if all they've got is what's in this bag here and now, they might as well empty the bag and move on.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Empire of the Scourged - Transcend Into Oblivion

Empire of the Scourged call themselves an avant-garde industrial death metal band. For once, a band has categorized themselves with a certain degree of accuracy. With Transcend Into Oblivion they set a path forward which is sure to grab the attention of death metal fans and industrial fans a like. Their presentation is modern and sharp and visually gripping. The cover art for Transcend is a welcome change from the gore-obsessed and it's subtle innuendo is just extreme as the most viscera-splattered decomposing twelve-year old covered in excrement. Gas masks in a field of daisies somewhere on the Eastern Front as the crows fly overhead all drenched in a bloody crimson. It sounds bland and lame, yes, but it's actually far from having the feel of some deathcore band with an indecipherable witty name. It ties well to the music which is also sharp, stylized and unashamedly modern. The industrial elements tie into the death metal well, create unique textures and an interesting listen.

 Opening track, "Der Wanderer Uber Dem Nebelsee," the only German titled track on this EP, sets off the listen rather adequately. The siren in the intro, though it connects with the imagery of the release, is too mundane for this recording, especially with the creative use of chirps, synthesizer noises, samples and general textural adventurism which is evidenced throughout the track. Some clean vocals are hidden in a memorable interlude section which might last too long. "Hollow Machinations of the Foul Spirited" is a heavier track, layered with eerie keys and thick tremolo guitar riffs and is similar in many ways to final track "A Scarred Horizon" which also is the most death metal centered song on on the release. The songs are heavy, fast and have a lot of unique ideas thrown into them. With the standout identifier for Empire of the Scourged in these track still being the industrial aspects, I think that the band needs to figure out when to let loose without the keys and without the samples. Songs like these, death metal and grind at their heart, would be served well by allowing some riffs to breathe while using the alienesque tones and textures of the synthesizers to emphasize and highlight and select moments.

"Trapped In This Massive Process" is probably my favorite track on the release due to the integration of all the elements that Empire of the Scourged attempt to pull into their sound. It's the most realized example of what I would like to hear on a full length. It's decisively death metal tinged with grindcore and split with industrial segments that invoke the experience of being on an assembly line where bodies are being pulled apart and reconfigured as eyes and brains are kept functioning through mechanical and unnatural methods. With the track leading into the nightmarish "Foul Machinations of a Hollow Spirit," somehow connected to the similarly named second track, these are the best moments. Hammered piano keys, female vocals and atonal textural percussion parts come into each others range and collide head on with the death metal drumming and guitar riffs. These two tracks emphasize what Empire of the Scourged do best with this release - the industrial soundscapes. While the death metal components are acceptable, this would sound very disjointed without the samples and synthesizers providing avenues for the riffs to meet each other. Even within the chaos, Empire need to make sure their songs follow some sort of composition which makes them sound more like songs and less like riffs and samples pasted over each other. Transcend Into Oblivion isn't bad at all but you can tell that this is still project finding their footing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lionel Pryor - Siam

Emphasis in the media is decisively anti-local music. Even on radio stations, there is little attention paid to what exists without our own backyards. It's unfortunate because a band like Lionel Pryor transcends so many different genres that there is little here that wouldn't appeal to someone. While the foundation of hardcore, metal and rock are very much on display and lend the consistency to an album like Siam, it's all the subtle influences which really stand out after several listens. The fact that this is instrumental also really aids in preventing many of the dismissals that often accompany metal genre. Opening track "Nebraska" is highly rhythmic and syncopated yet swirling guitar riffs and an overall sludgy vibe appeal to those with dirty taste. It sets a great tone for the album. "Apex Being" is more of a melodic death metal, metalcore track that would appeal to fans of God Forbid, Killswitch Engage or any number of the metalcore bands which blindsided the world in the late 90's early 2000's. "Green Woods" is an electronic filler which funkily wanders in and out. It sounds like a really long slowed down excerpt from the early scene in the Matrix before Neo wakes up in his Jell-o filled pod. "White Panther" takes a lot from classics like The Clash or The Cranberries. New-Age lives here.

"Labour" - spelled with a British flourish, possibly to represent their efforts of Colonialism in South Africa and the slave trade - is a filler which leads into "Goat Weed," definitely the most metallic titled track on the album which should appeal to fans of stoners and should inspire those that enjoy this track to check out Acrimony's 1996 split with Iron Rainbow and the song "Mother Slug". "Lysis" is a peaceful and wonderful long-player at seven minutes that isn't too different from some of the newer Enslaved material such as that off Ruun or cleaner moments from Ihsahn's solo material. "America in the 1980's" is purposely hazy and final track "Blight Dragon' is a soothing mixture of free jazz, electronics and fusion acts such as Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra. As yet unmentioned, it's really third track "Caster Troy" which highlights the album. Named after the Face-Off character played by both Nicholas Cage and John Travolta, the track is a rampaging highlight of the band's talents, especially bassist Andy Longo, who basically taps the entire song. It will undoubtedly remind many of Tool's seminal, "Schism." It's incredibly catchy, as much can and should be when it's instrumental. Generally speaking, the greatest aspect of this album is how those with a short musical attention span can listen to it, and not get too bored. It's not one of Rogga Johansson's million Swedish death metal projects that use and abuse the same riffs over and over; every song is a pristine singularity on the album, but part of the greater experience as well. These guys kill live also. Keep an eye on local bulletins and their facebook page for dates. It's a good time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ehnahre - Old Earth

Ehnahre’s experiment “Old Earth” is a triumphant display of tension. Through pulling, stretching, and withholding, the band makes quiet musical anticipations as exhilarating and satisfying as the discordant swirls of notes they precede. “Old Earth” is, in a way, an extreme metal version of flirtation. Despite this, the mood ranges from gloomy to furious (unsurprising given that the lyrics are adapted from Samuel Beckett’s work of the same name). This music is like watching video of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse on continuous loop, and having the video reverse at the time of collapse. The band expertly builds on ominous melodic sways that naturally feed on themselves to transform into absolutely cataclysmic chaos, which in turn just as naturally subside back into worrisome sways. Even with all of “Old Earth’s” fluctuations, the album is a cohesive statement. In the 38-odd minutes divided into four songs, nearly every note feels necessary.

Variation is an extremely delicate quality in music. Too much of it and you end up with a forgettable mush of notes and too little and you end up with boring repetition - either extreme is bad. Here, the chaotic variation is balanced out by the band’s orderly use of leitmotif. Rather than using pure and bland repetition, the band uses similar shorts phrases and sometimes the same note pattern in different ways and contexts. This clever approach simultaneously creates both variation and coherence. One typical example of this remarkable songwriting happens in “Old Earth II,” where at around 2:25 the double bass plays a very distinctive figure with a large melodic jump (a major seventh) used twice. Later in the song at around 7:30 this melody very quietly repeats, but with a regular bass and with the guitar replacing the low note from the melodic jump. This kind of repetition with changes in both instrumentation and pitch is the subtle kind of song-crafting that makes this release so cohesive yet dynamic. To point out what may not be glaringly obvious, this particular melodic pattern was distinctive enough to be recognizable five minutes later even when the band wasn’t being blunt about using it. “Old Earth” has many fragments like this that interweave to connect the album together, thin cables holding up and releasing a 2,000 meter long bridge.

I almost can not believe it; despite the masterful attention to detail, the sense of cohesion, and even premeditation, “Old Earth” paradoxically sounds so natural that it feels like the band sat down and improvised the entire album in one sitting. However, this is not a jam session where everyone takes turns in the spotlight while the rest of the band does predictable stuff that is easy to play over. Instead, Ehnahre is not a band with multiple members, but a single organism that just happens to occupy the bodies of different people. Even when making unexpected changes, the interactions are so fluid and natural that it is difficult to think of the band members as individuals rather than simply Ehnahre. A very clear and jarring exception to this however is the trumpet section in the later part of “Old Earth II.” These trumpets are discordant, but in a way that is not part of the band’s hive-mind. The session musicians’ parts do not have the same fluid timing sense or even sit as well in the mix. While not at all bad, the trumpets notable for straying from the excellence elsewhere on the album. The only other part of the album that specifically falters is how the otherwise stellar percussion takes a random stroll towards the end of the double bass section on “Old Earth II.” While someone was probably getting creative with brushes on the snare, that person may as well have been struggling to open up a snack bag. For a fair amount of time this is a little bit distracting, like a person thumbing some plastic food wrapper during a movie. Again, this isn’t overly bad, but it sticks out from the album’s overall excellence.

Given the overall unity, listening to this album is a non-interruptible endeavor. While the track separations are not arbitrary, they are also unneeded because the album contains many climaxes and thematic changes. The first song “Old Earth I” demonstrates this with the first real notes of the album ringing out almost four minutes in. Even with such a long wait, the quiet humming, radio noises, and background sounds are useful. This buildup makes the first soft clean notes on the increasingly fuzzy electric guitar more powerful and heavier than what most bands can do with walls of distortion - and then the walls of distortion repeatedly come and go! One facet of the repeated build-ups is how each band member has strong control over their volume. A wonderful contrast, given how dynamically flat so much music is. Even the harsh vocals range from raspy squeaks, to shouts, to guttural howls, all while maintaing a sense of raw power.

While the double bass is not a typical instrument for metal, here it melds with the music perfectly. Ryan McGuire masterfully uses the instrument’s range to the fullest effect, and the bass notes help to hold the music together. This happens elsewhere on the album with bass notes; the bass guitar uses its even rhythm as a strong glue to reign in wandering notes like a tall shepherd corralling sheep simply by walking. In tandem with this, the guitar often acts more like an instrumental wanderer. While this paints an excellent picture of emptiness and disarray, it also makes the band tread fairly close to randomness, yet without ever crossing that line. Sparse and quiet parts of the album come the closest to this feeling - the entropy death of the universe, instead of lonely atoms slowing down Ehnahre has notes that are so sparse that it is almost hard for them to have chemistry with one another. But, “Old Earth’s” dark matter-esque cohesion holds the album together.

Finally, take special note of the final track because “Old Earth IV” starts off with the album’s highest climix, which is made all the more energetic by its somber context. The astringent howling vocals here are unforgettable and supported by a rich swirl of tremolo picked guitars. Somehow this section feels so alien yet unfailingly memorable that it will disabuse listeners of the idea that music must be trite or poppy to be catchy. As elsewhere, this section smoothly transitions, but here it ultimately ends with a somber call and response section peppered with ultra-low notes and intertwined with drums meticulously winding down the energy levels to silence. A perfect end to a brilliant album.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Skepsis - Skepsis Sampler

Skepsis dumped this short steamy load into my unwilling palms at the same Fates Warning show that delivered Optic's demo into my clutches and which opened my eyes to the god-awful and cunningly incognito Halcyon Way. I don't know how I managed to get through that show alive now that I think of it. If it wasn't for excellent sets from Magus Beast and Fates Warning, my three hour drive to Amnityville, Long Island would have been a total shitfest. Predictably, for a young group of musicians, there's not a lot here to really dig into. The two songs are a measly seven minutes long, a bit shorter than would be desireable as a first listen. One more track would be nice, preferrably a track which incorporated less of the screaming styled vocals and more of the clean vocals which might be better or might be as lame as a perfectly scooped ice cream cone getting knocked on the floor as soon as you touch your tongue to it.

Opening track "New World Order" is heavy with screamed vocals suitable in a scream-o band in the verses and the chorus are your typical clean dross. The best part of the band is the guitar work, but that's nothing that isn't available elsewhere and the predictable and run-of-the-mill melodic progressions are the hallmarks of a band that doesn't quite have their own style yet. "Colors of War" is a little better and decisively boring melodic thrash, utilizing clean vocals throughout and not falling prey to the whole amatuerish scream-o vibes of the first track. The song falters early though with some poorly executed off-time chugs. I don't know Skepsis... there's work still to be done here. Coming from New Jersey, land of piss-poor screamo and Killswitch Engage... this is about the last thing I give a shit about.