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Monday, January 14, 2013

Carthage - Salt The Earth (2012)


Band: Carthage
Country: Maryland
Style: Deathcore/Djent
Label: Independent

Back when Carthage released their debut self-titled EP last year, I had absolutely no interest in the band. I've been a fan and supporter of guitarist Tre Watson since he released his first solo album, but even that didn't interest me. Frankly, I'm not even sure what interested me in this album but I had some free time recently so I decided to give it a go.
I've probably covered more deathcore this year than I ever wanted to, though considering how much was actually released this year, it's actually very little, and I was pretty let down by most of them. I just happened to listen to this album during some free time in between some classes because I had read some good things about it and had heard that the band were making use of 9-string guitars. The latter fact was more than likely the thing that drew me into the album more than anything else, though I can't say that was the thing that made me even want to hear it. If bands like Meshuggah and a handful of other djent bands can popularize 8-string guitars and a guy like Ihsahn can actually make them work beyond low-end chugs, than I wanted to see how 9-strings were going to be used on here. I'm aware that there are 10-string guitars out there and I am interested in seeing how bands adapt to all this low-end, whether they use it for low-end or manage to do something interesting with it. After listening to this album all the way through and having sat with it for a few weeks now, I can say that the three guitarists in Carthage certainly do know what they're doing with the extended range, but that doesn't mean the songs they're writing are great. I could definitely see some people getting irritated by the sound of that ninth string though, because it is low and it sounds very mechanical. I didn't find it to be all that distracting, but I did find myself becoming increasingly annoyed by it if I focused directly on when and where that low string was being used (I don't recommend doing that for this or any other album by the way).
I'll certainly give these guys props, they do bring together a rather nice blend of influences that certain span across modern deathcore and djent into stuff like melodic death metal and the occasional break into technical death metal as well. I can't take anything away from these guys for the combination of styles, but personally, I found a majority of songs on here rather lacking in the memorability department. Obviously this is just a personal complaint, because from the comments and reviews I've read, others have apparently not had this problem with the album. I think the melodies being played are perfectly well done, but I found myself struggling to remember them after the album had finished. The majority of vocals on the album weren't my cup of tea either, and I did think that the vocals ruined a track like Maelstrom, which I found pretty insufferable because of them. I'm just not a huge fan of the tone of the lead vocalist on here, mainly because he sounds like the vast majority of other deathcore vocalists, and I just find that tone to be rather grating. The clean vocals were alright, not great and you can tell the guys doing them aren't clean vocalists by trade. These guys certainly won't be in the league of great clean singers anytime soon, but they do the job perfectly well. In my opinion, I found tracks like Exegetics and To Return some of the best material on this release because they really presented a sense of energy and some nice grooves which I didn't really find on the majority of the record. I like dissonance and more spastic sounding stuff anyway, so I'll certainly say that that's the sort of style that appeals to me more than deathcore/melo-deathcore/whatever you want to call it.
This is a pretty decent album, I don't think it's anywhere near as amazing as I had read it was, but it's not bad. These guys clearly have talent, but I just find some of the material on here to be weaker than others. If you like deathcore or djent, or even modern sounding melo-death and metalcore, you'll probably dig this as well. I should just say, if you like modern metal, give this one a shot.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Pushing Forward, Exegetics, To Return

Friday, January 11, 2013

Against The Wall - Things Are Not Like They Said... (2012)


Band: Against The Wall
Country: New York City, New York
Style: Progressive Rock/Pop
Label: VMM

You wanna talk about procrastination, I've been with this disc for almost an entire year at this point and have only just recently remembered it. I'll blame it on improper labeling when I first got the files but whatever. Daniel Jakubovic, the guitarist and vocalist for the band, has collaborated with Jordan Rudess and that was the initial draw to me for this album originally.
Now, knowing how large the prog-rock genre is, going in hearing only the single Look Up At The Sky, I was well aware of how little that could actually represent the entire album. That assumption was right on the money in this case, with the rest of the album channeling many sources of inspiration from chugging metal moments that certainly recall Dream Theater to more somber moments that have more in common with neo-prog. Now, those two sounds aren't going to surprise anyone familiar with progressive music, but it's the pop sensibilities of this band that certainly stood out to me, and not always in a good way. Now, I hate to compare a band as clearly talented as this one to a bland and very mainstream act but in this case it rang true. Jakubovic's voice is perfectly decent, but it really began to irritate me quite early on and for some reason reminded me of the lead singer in the emo-alt. rock band Armour For Sleep. It became rather hard for me to simply listen to this album with as much as his singing began to annoy me. Realize that this was a problem that I had with the album and it may not be one for you - but be prepared to endure some pretty irksome vocals singing (that have some painful use of effects on them at some points) some rather bad lyrics - the biggest offender being the opening epic, Overture/Would You Be Happy.
Funnily enough, the album doesn't really get good until a little more than half-way in. It certainly didn't become any more tolerable when the band were playing straight-up emo-rock songs like The Enemy or Lost Inside than when they were indulging in their more progressive influences - which meant longer and more drawn out songs. I hate to keep riding the complain train with this review, but the saxophone solos on here didn't do the album any favors either. The solos are certainly not badly done, but to me, the tone of the sax didn't fit the tone of the record. Using a tenor or alto sax's higher register just made it sound like it belonged on a jazz record than a modern "prog" album, but hey, that's just me. The band are their best, in my opinion, are when they're trying to be a heavy rock, semi-Dream Theater kind of heavy, band. Maybe it's my preference towards heavier sounds than I think that way, but I would rather have a band give me some semi-decent riffs being heavy than some annoying pop hooks when they're trying to be an emo-alt. rock band. In all honesty though, even the heavier tracks aren't that heavy when you put them up against a "real" metal band - and yes that's a totally subjective thing - but when stacked up against other tracks on here they stand out as being undeniably chunkier and thicker sounding in their guitar tones.
So, unfortunately I have to say that I did not particularly enjoy listening to this album. It's clear that the band are certainly talented and are trying to pull off multiple things - which they can for the most part, but I just could not get past some very vital aspects of their sound. If you're interested in finding a band that lies somewhere between prog-metal and emo-alt. rock give this a shot, though I'm not really sure how many regular readers of this blog are actually into that.
Overall Score: 5
Highlights: Take Everything, Freeze, Stuck In A Daze

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Defeated Sanity - Passages Into Deformity (2013)


Band: Defeated Sanity
Country: Berlin, Germany
Style: Brutal Death Metal
Label: Willowtip

Obviously, as anyone who comes to this blog enough will know, I'm not a huge brutal death metal fan - as I state at the beginning of almost every review having to do with a band in the genre, but I do enjoy Defeated Sanity. Whether it's due to their more technical slant or that they can actually write something that moves away from low-end slogging, I don't know, but they do this style well. So with this new album comes yet another new vocalist and hopefully they can surpass what was actually the really solid effort that was their 2010 album Chapters of Repugnance.
What's the best way to open an album like this? Well in the case of Defeated Sanity they throw you right into the pit with guttural gurgles and low-end crunching. Is there really any substitute for an intro that make it feel like you've had your head pressed into muddy dirt? Well, after that minute long intro that is Initiation, the band then take you right back to where you were when you last played one of their albums and you remember who you're listening to. If you were a bit thrown off with that minute long chug intro, Naraka brings you back to where you want to be with a Defeated Sanity album, low-end grind with some technical excursions, interesting time changes, great playing from the rhythm section of the band, and some guttural gurgles. It's pretty much why I regard this band so highly in their field, they don't just chug away in the low-end for the entire duration of a given song but actually thrown in some more interesting technical breaks. The bass playing and drumming have always been stellar as well and it continues on here as well.
I guess the thing that impressed me the most on here, or at least the thing that has stuck with me the longest, would have to be the lessening of breakdowns on here. They're certainly still on here, but they don't feel quite so restrictive as they have in the past, as if the band is breaking away from the hold of the genre standards - which is a good thing. There's more straight-up brutality and technical interludes than breakdown chugs. Tracks like The Purging or Perspectives really bring out everything that the band does well, while showing off a less standard sound. They have all the hallmarks of what older fans will want, but are also technical enough to intrigue fans of more modern technical metal. Maybe not every track will appeal to them, but there's more than enough technical ecstasy to grab them and keep them interested.
It's a very good piece of work and it stands as the band's crowning achievement thus far in their career. There aren't many bands in the genre right now who can challenge Defeated Sanity - they do it brutal and they make it interesting. Definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of brutal, technical, and jazzy death metal.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Naraka, The Purging, Perspectives

Katalepsy - Autopsychosis (2013)


Band: Katalepsy
Country: Moscow, Russia
Style: Brutal Death Metal
Label: Unique Leader

Here we have an album from a band who I was only familiar with through their name. It was one of those cases where you're (or me in this instance) scrolling through various songs on Youtube and stumble across something unexpected. That was how I first found out about this album and decided it was worth looking into a bit more.
It wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to assume that this band is just another brutal, slam death band. I mean, just look at the signs: you have an extremely violent/gory album cover, the band write their name in a very unintelligible fashion, and the band members are trying to look really tough in their promo photos. But wait, only the last one is actually true for this album. I cover isn't covered in blood or make a whole lot of reference to misogyny and the band logo is actually legible, so what's this album going to sound like? Well, surprisingly good actually. Sure, it's brutal death, but these guys have a pretty modern take on it and don't skimp on technical flurries, making good use of those 8-strings they hammer down on on occasion. I mean, you still have the low-end slogging, the guttural growls and toilet bowl gurgles, and some several slams on throughout, but the actual amount of effort that seems to have actually been put into these songs does come through. It's not just another slam death record that you can put on your CD case/mp3 player and put it on shuffle and then guess who you're listening to, these guys actually have a sound that stuck out from the pack - or at least I think they do.
From the sort of stuff that I usually tend to associate with Unique Leader, this came off as far less polarizing and annoying. It's probably just me, but I did appreciate how these guys didn't just plod away - yes they have a couple of tracks devoted to keeping the br00tal d00ds happy, but the majority of this album appealed to me, which means that it took in more technical and, perhaps most surprisingly, melodic elements. Yes, the melodic parts are few and far between, but whenever they would pop up, my ear would instantly prick up and it would draw my attention directly to it no matter what else I was doing at the time. A fan of the more technical and good bands on Sumerian Records could pick this record up and more than likely find it just as appealing as those bands, it has all the right elements that would allow for a crossover to happen. Let me also take this time to mention that the use of low-end 8-string heaviness is not overly used on here; and let me also say, there is no djenting on here (for all those wondering about that). Whenever I heard it used, it was just a lower, and actually harder hitting, than sections when they weren't being used. It's well done and a far cry from the aimless chugging, djenting, and low-end slogging that this record so easily could have become.
I thought this was a pretty damn good piece of work and it really surprised me cause I never expected to like an album like this. These guys definitely have potential and from what I've listened to of their first record, this record is quite the step-up. If you're a fan of brutal or technical death metal, definitely take the time to check this record out.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Cold Flesh Citadel, The Pulse of Somnambulist, Knifed Humility

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mkaio - A Far Off Horizon (2012)


Band: Mkaio
Country: Laie, Hawaii
Style: Electronic/Dance Pop
Label: PURPL

Matthew Kammerer is an electronic artist who sent me an email a little while back asking me to do a piece for his album. Now, obviously, this is not an electronic music oriented review site/blog/etc., and I don't claim to be an expert on it either, but it's the sort of style I like to hear every once in a while to break up the monotony. This one happened to come by my table at just the right time.
Frankly, the style that Kammerer plays on here isn't really my style. I hadn't listened to any of the album before I sat down (finally) and decided to prepare a review for it. This is very glossy and sugary sounding electronic music that veers dangerously close to electro/dance-pop for my own tastes more often than I would like. However, I'm not saying that this is a bad record, but it isn't my style of music, so I'm going to try and write about this honestly without totally slogging it off because it isn't my style. It's the sort of approach I know I don't often take, but I think I have to go about it this way because it would be a disservice to simply say this is bad and I didn't like it, considering the latter isn't completely true as well. There were spots on here and tracks that I did think appealed to me. I think that there are a couple of points where styles that I'm more partial towards seem to pop their heads out and I that's where I become interested. The more new age sounding synths on Summer Heart or the straight-up ambient soundscapes of closer Adagio For Jen stuck out to me because they were more atmospheric sounding pieces that weren't quite as rooted in sounding big and poppy. I'm not sure how much it says that I enjoyed a track called A Prelude more than the majority of main tracks on here.
I think the biggest problem I happened to have with this record was with just how clean and polished it sounded. I mean, I know electronic music doesn't have a reputation for being raw or extremely dirty sounding, but there's clean, and then there's spotless, and this thing is just devoid of any and all dirt. It was just too sugary and poppy sounding for my own tastes, I would have liked to have heard something a little less sweet on here, because it's pure sugar until the last track. There were also some rather uncomfortable sounding songs on here that I just found rather hard to listen to, namely Tried & True which somehow wound up sounding like a modern Linkin Park sort of tune, and I'll admit that it is certainly a catchy sounding tune, but I think even Linkin Park has more noise in their records than this one does. But I think that the lowest point on this record is the track All Night, which I'm sure is destined to be played at dance clubs at some point during a late night set, but was simply unbearable to me. I did happen to think that Maui did a good job a portraying that very innocent and lighthearted sound that accompanies the childish mumbling going on in the track and was one of the few instances where I thought the polished sound did work well with the concept. The sound of this record is the sound that I hear in every modern dance-pop song or electro-rap song on the radio or on MTV/Fuse/etc., so in that regard, I don't doubt that this will succeed with its target audience, but it's certainly not my style of music.
As I've said numerous times throughout this review, I'm not sure how much my opinion on this matters since this isn't my style at all. It's not bad, and I'm sure that if you happen to enjoy really polished sounding electro-pop and dance music, you'll dig this, but if you're more of a fan of harsher or more experimental forms of electronic music, like I am, this just won't be for you. Listen at your own digression.
Overall Score: 5.5
Highlights: Light At The End, Summer Heart, A Prelude, Adagio For Jen

Bow - Man In The Machine (2012)


Band: Bow
Country: Ambient/World Music
Style: Holland
Label: Independent

I was sent an email a couple of months back asking me if I was interested in cover this new, fan-funded album by a project called Bow. The project was described as being more of an ambient and world music sort of sound, which was probably enough to pique my interest, but it was the comparison to the likes of Ulver that really got me on board. Of course comparing yourself to a band like that (who are one of my absolute favorite groups) can backfire, did this album?
Obviously, I kind of figured that when I saw that the project was being compared to Ulver, they were referring to their more recent work. And honestly, they're not completely wrong with the comparison. I'll be up-front and say that this is not as impressive as anything Ulver has ever put out, but I can see why the comparison was made. Sonically, this is sort of what the middle ground between Perdition City and Shadows of The Sun might sound like, but done by a different set of musicians. It's like modern classical being mixed with dark electronic music, and it's actually a pretty solid blend of the two styles. Granted, I'm being very general with its description right now, because those two styles, in and of themselves are quite broad definitions and could lead one to a number of assumptions regarding this album's sound. But suffice to say that the album is very dark, but also very beautiful sounding. It takes a sort of ambiance that at times made me think of the space ambient music, while the use of tribal percussion made use of very industrial sounding drum tones, violins made use of various melodies of the Eastern persuasion, and spoken word that proved to be the voice of the story.
It's the type of album that, with the use of spoken word, could very easily fall over into self-indulgence. Spoken word may sound like a great idea in someone's head, but could turn into boredom very easily. Luckily enough, these guys managed to keep those spoken word passages rather short and allow the musical sections to live on their own. Making use of various tricks and ideas from a variety of genres to the extent where you could be moved or annoyed with a give track, Two Wrongs being the former, Influx being the latter. There were very few moments on here that fell into that caused me to feel irritated or annoyed (pretty much just that one track actually), the rest were all rather well constructed. The album as a whole is pretty short, with only one track that exceeds the six minute mark, and there are several tracks that are under two minutes. It's pretty easy to put this on and just let it take you away. Being a science-fiction based story, it does a pretty damn good job at capturing the sort of desolate darkness that a sterile and mechanical world might sound like.
This was the sort of album that could have turned into a really overlong piece of self-indulgence if handled the wrong way, but this group of musicians really pulled it off. There are some really beautiful soundscapes on here and they really set a mood at the beginning of the album and carry it through to the end. If you're interested in experimental music, check this project out.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Two Wrongs, MercuryTears, The Way Out

Monday, January 7, 2013

Spektr - Cypher (2013)


Band: Spektr
Country: Paris, France
Style: Industrial Black Metal
Label: Agonia

I've been awaiting this album from Spektr ever since I first found the back several years back. Like I've said many times, the industrial black metal genre has given birth to bands that are quite diverse, and Spektr have proven to be among the most obscure of those bands. Remaining pretty anonymous despite releasing two full-lengths and an EP in the last decade, they continue to be a duo of musicians in which is proves to be entirely about the music and not the reasons behind it.
As far as the other releases in the band's discography are concerned, even I was surprised by this album - though it is easy to see that it does pick up where the 2007 Mescalyne EP left off, especially production wise. This is a much slicker sounding recording than their early material, which in some ways lessens the intensity of the music, but in others makes it all the more forward thinking. You don't have as much noise and distortion filling up the mix as early albums exhibited, but you don't have the ambiance that the aforementioned EP appeared to toy around with. This is somewhere between being dissonant and jazzy on a lot of occasions, and it's obvious that more than a little of this comes from a DSO influence of some sort. Having said that, it never came off as sounding obnoxious or as a direct rip-off. Which makes it all the more interesting since the majority of this record is instrumental, reducing the use of vocals to almost none in most cases. Personally, as much as I love the guitar lines on here, it's the jazzy bass lines that always get me, hear The Singularity, because they just come through the distortion and noise in the right way so that they don't overwhelm but are still very thick and clean sounding.
As the album progresses, the band appear to grow more and more into that DSO sound until about halfway in you forget that it's even there anymore. The duo just take this sound that's been going around and getting popular recently and kind of turn it on its head. They make it their own by incorporating it more and more into their own style until you happen to reach that halfway point and you realize that the band have basically just duped you. They make you aware of that influence and that sound and then throw it back in your face. Antimatter is that shifting point. It's where that dissonance becomes a more melodic point and the album isn't quite as obtuse sounding, showing you that they are capable of turning chaos into harmony, or melody in this case I guess. Along with that, it's worth mentioning how Hth's other project Haemoth have apparently found a way to pierce Spektr's previously impenetrable hide. With the cleaner production, some of the more straightforward and traditional black metal riffs, like the ones found in the title-track, clearly call back to some similar patterns in Haemoth's back catalog - which is strange because that band is extremely noisy sounding. The album finally jumps into a pool of noisy industrial soundscapes in its final tracks, choosing to drown the listener in various effects instead of blasting them to death. A peculiar way to end the album, but one that definitely works.
I was very impressed with the album - though I do not find it to be a perfect album there are certainly more positives than negatives. The majority of the album is a nice dose of dissonant black metal that toys around with popular ideas and then deconstructs them. If this album is any indication of how this year will turn out, it looks like it's going to be a pretty interesting year.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Teratology, Antimatter, Cypher

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Haar - 2012 EP (2012)


Band: Haar
Country: Edinburgh, Scotland
Style: Atmospheric/Progressive Black Metal
Label: Independent

I've been awaiting new material from Haar for a little while now. I first heard of them about a year or two back and was very impressed with what they were doing but was never able to find a copy of their material until recently. This was one of those releases I had to write a review of as soon as I found it.
As a band, Haar play a style of black metal that is somewhat hard to really place, as it takes ideas from many good bands and places them together into some more standard sounding arrangements. Now, when I say standard, do not mistake that for me saying that it's in the "pop formula" for writing songs (IE. verse-chorus-verse-chorus), but is standard for black metal. So you have tremolo picked guitar lines, blasting drums, and howled vocals, but mixed in with that are riffs that recall the dissonance of Deathspell Omega and the atmosphere and slowness of mid-period Lunar Aurora or maybe even of Tristan's side-project Trist but done in a sort of Isis post-metal kind of way. I know, that sounds sort of bizarre, but these guys really take the idea of "post-black metal" and "progressive black metal" and find some sort of middle ground where there isn't so much post-rock influence and there is no abstraction into more noodling instrumental passages, just straight-up black metal with interesting riff choices. Honestly, it isn't a particularly fast record, even when it blasts, but the entire thing has this heavy atmosphere that just pounds down on you as you're listening. While I don't think that the band have hit the point where their sound is completely their own, this record definitely shows that they are well on their way to doing so.
I thought this was a really solid piece of work and a nice next step for the band's evolution. This was sort of an low-profile release (from what it seemed like to me anyway) and I don't recommend letting this one slip past you. If you like interesting sounding black metal, I highly recommend you look into these guys.
Overall Score: 7.5
Highlights: Lost Arcane Rights, Shrouded City

Gorath - The Chronicles of Khiliasmos (2012)


Band: Gorath
Country: Diepenbeek, Belgium
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Label: ConSouling Sounds

I've been following Gorath for several years now and it's always a treat whenever they release a new album. It's a shame that when I first got this album, I was told that this would be the band's final album. I think that's a real shame because Gorath are a band who are always doing something interesting, and I will sorely miss them.
In my opinion, Gorath is a group who don't get as much attention as they deserve. They've consistently released albums that are different from what you think they're going to be. They're a group who has shifted their sound with every album they've released, and this album is no different. Whether it happens to be the more progressive sound on 2008's Misotheism, the more stripped-down and direct MXCII, or the dissonant technicality of last year's Apok√°lypsis (Unveiling The Age That Is Not to Come), not to mention their first two albums, they're a band who like to keep their sound fresh. In the case of this album, I was expecting the band to continue with the more technical sound they used on their last album, though I really should have known better because the first time I listened to this I kept waiting for that explosion to happen. This is easily the band's slowest and most doom oriented sounding album and it shows a considerable amount of restraint on their part. The only point when you get a sort of release is during the album's centerpiece, and shortest track, Khiliasmos II. It's much more plodding and heavy than I can say any of the group's past releases have ever been, and that was possibly the biggest surprise to me while listening. In a sense, it's sort of as if members of Deathspell Omega and Neurosis decided to make a band together.
Obviously, seeing as there are only being three tracks on the album, the attention will more than likely be focused on the twenty-one minute long closer, Khiliasmos III, and for good reason. The comparison to the two bands I made above is really where it comes into play. It's a song that is sluggishly crawling along with a dissonant sense of guitar playing and spacey synth chords haunting the background. Honestly, with the length that it is, I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed that the track didn't display more of the band's progressive or technical edge but just sort of plodded along - having said that, I do believe it to be the best track on the album. The riffing takes a bit more of a straight-up doom quality in the latter half of the track as well, bringing in some bluesy guitar lines that I certainly never expected to hear. Personally, the only thing I didn't really care for about the track was that the last four or so minute were essentially droning feedback and atmospheric effects. In some groups, that's fine, but it's not what I listen to Gorath for.
As I stated above, I think it's a real shame that Gorath has decided to disband since they only get more interesting with every album they release. This album has proven to be among their most ambitious and they've truly left on a high note. If you're interested in more progressive forms of black metal, listen to this album and then go out and listen to the band's back catalog as well.
Overall Score: 9
Highlights: Khiliasmos III