Sunday, 17 December 2017

American Head Charge "The War Of Art" (2001)

Released amidst the peak of Nu Metal's popularity and over-saturation, American Head Charge's sophomore album and major label debut exists in a small bubble of records that haven't aged poorly from the short lived, controversial wave of Metal music. With the backing of industry giants, bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn helped thrust the music into the mainstream where it died and vanished swiftly. The War Of Art is actually a record Id never heard of until recently and given my curiosity with the music of my youth I was rather astonished to hear a really solid album considering the amount of band wagon hoping garbage that came out around the time.

American Head Charge were at the time a seven piece outfit from Minnesota who got signed to Rick Ruben's American Recordings label, subsequently recording with Ruben in his Houdini Mansion, the same place Slipknot recorded their Volume 3 album. The War Of Art rumbles out the gates growling, establishing its mean tone swiftly. Big bombastic riffs bump back and forth loaded with palm muting and harmonic squeals. Singer Heacock arms the onslaught with angry, violent screams and fantastic breaks into harmonious vocals, carrying a note yet still feeling grounded and gritty, full of the mood. A string of songs keep the anger soaked, fist pumping adrenaline going before changing pace.

With two musicians credited for electronics and sampling, the record is tinged with an Industrial flavor as the already noisy guitars are stacked with decorative samples, the sounds of sirens, synths and vinyl scratches creep into what little space is left around the guitars. Every song is loaded with subtle nuances to spot, more obviously emerging as complimentary noises in the guitar breakdowns but very rarely making itself the focal point. It doesn't feel dense, deep or overloaded but the two add a texture that is there for the attentive ear, otherwise it slips into the experience.

Despite the tropes of the time making for much forgettable music, AMC's typically Nu Metal riffage finds itself coming of better with strong influences from Groove Metal, mainly Machine Head, landing many riffs in solid territory. Tight choppy grooves and big bouncing dropped power chords are formed into decent songs that Heacock can bring to life with his clean vocals. The slamming drums of Chris Emery holds it all together for a cohesive sound that powers through with a steady intensity.

The song "Just So You Know" strikes me as a track that summarizes the album best, its got that teenage angst, moody self indulgence vibe so cliche of the times. Its guitars drop out for sad and downcast links between the riffs yet even being a blueprint for disaster the musicians pull it through to a memorable place. At eighty minutes the album is unnecessarily bloated. Although it doesn't have any stinkers its best songs could be refined into a shorter, to the point record as it tends to outpace the listener, or at least my appetite. Great record! A curios retroactive listen given I never heard of AMC or this release at the time.

Rating: 6/10
Favortie Tracks: A Violent Reaction, Pushing The Envelope, Never Get Caught, Just So You Know,

Friday, 15 December 2017

Danzig "II Lucifuge" (1990)

Two years off the back of the self titled debut, Glenn Danzig and his cronies reunite with Rick Ruben for another stab at their metallic tinged blues rock. Taking a vigorous stride forward, Lucifuge marks the solidifying of ideas heard on the first record while turning up the intensity, a nuance you could easily miss. Its a sweet and simple progression that has very much the same blueprint and aesthetics yet a learner, harder Heavy Metal approach brings out a touch more aggression and attitude in the guitars while Danzig himself revels in his voice, finding much comfort and ease in this tone he has carved for himself.

 Opening with meaty temperate grooves and harmonics loaded into classic metallic fretting, the rock and wail is illuminated with more intermittent guitar leads, mini solos and licks over the top of mighty power chords, raising the energy for Danzig to steal the show with his deep burly voice, flexing Country accents and tinges of Southern sounds in his bluesy performance. He sounds born of hell, weathered yet youthful, full of energy but engaged with life's burdens. It culminates with strings of classic lyrics and choruses to sing along too, as well as many big riffs which often come front and center when the songs shift to the slow and hellish elongated grooves reminiscent of Doom Metal and mainly Black Sabbath on a couple of tracks.

"I'm The One" goes full Country, an athletic acoustic guitar bustles in the silence between Danzig's musings, a lone hi hat holds the tempo down with its steady rattle. It feels as if the track will erupt into overdrive but it never quite comes. Its followed by a string of sterling songs that lead to "Blood And Tears", a slower, sorrowful song that plays like an old timers ballad, peaked by a solo and illuminated by the soft glow of a buried organ. The record is a shade better than its predecessor, my enjoyment still feels a little limited but it gets steadily more infectious with more exposure. I really get the impression these records would of dazzled be blind in my youth!

Favorite Tracks: Killer Wolf, Her Black Wings, Blood And Tears
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Wu-Tang Clan "The W" (2000)

After a dive into their sophomore double album Wu-Tang Forever I thought Id reacquaint myself with the nine man clans third which includes the groups most known song "Gravel Pit" and a personal favorite of mine "Protect Your Neck", a warm rap track with a sunny groovin baseline, fills me with fond memories of downloading the MP3 from Napaster! The record has a fine flow, The RZA's production dials back the gritty and raw in favor of tighter aesthetics with slick drum kits playing off grisly, funky baselines loaded with 70s samples. The tracks roll off one another, from rap brandishing pedestals to moving message oriented songs with soulful samples the record would be solid if it wasn't for a couple of duds.

What makes The W noticeably different is the inclusion of artists outside the Wu-affiliation circle. Old Dirty Bastard turns up on just one track, bringing along legend Snoop Dogg for the lousy "MC conditioner" hook and forgettable verses on an average beat with demo quality recording quality vocals from ODB. Snoop is mixed in quietly between his verses, its a a real flop and also the albums longest track. On the shortest Busta Rhymes turns up on a quirkier, temperate beat that doesn't suit his hyped style. Aside from those weak points, rappers Redman, Nas and Streetlife turn up with sharp rhymes worthy of the Wu. The reggae voice of Junior Reed and deep soulful tenor of Isaac Hayes light up their tracks with fantastic contributions too.

Even with a host of accomplices, no one outshines the Wu at their own game. The Shaolin style is prominent as to be expected, the rhymes and beats sharp and on fire, perhaps with a little less hype and rawness as these are now seasoned veterans calculating their moves in battle. "Careful" takes the cake as the records best song, a mysterious tomb raider alike beat sets the stage for a string of classic group shout hooks, each rhyme playing of the last. "Something in slum went rhum-peh-pum-pum". Great album, the following Iron Flag is unfortunately the drop off point for the group.

Favorite Tracks: Careful, One Blood Under W, Protect Your Neck, I Cant Go To Sleep, Gravel Pit
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 11 December 2017

William Patrick Corgan "Ogilala" (2017)

In absence of a new Smashing Pumpkins record we have a solo project by Billy Corgan that is essentially the same musical source stripped of percussion and distortion guitars. Ogilala is a folksy acoustic rock record with a lush touch of dazzle and spark. The bustle of acoustic chord strumming and Corgan's passionate voice is enriched by piano keys, strings, organs and even light synths akin to the ones heard on old Pumpkins records. Gorgeous production acoustics give it a earnest, inviting tone but after four good songs at the opening the album lulls into a spell of mediocrity once its best ideas are exhausted.

My biggest qualm with this record is most noticeably absent in my favorite track, "Aeronaut", a toned down vibe alike to The Verve's classic Bitter Sweet Symphony. The track drops the acoustic guitars for a string, voice and piano triplet that feels more comfortable with out the busying strumming of distant chords. The acoustic guitar is film and limp, its chords underwhelming and quiet, the sound of the pick flexing on the strings cast a shadow on the musical make up and empowers a rhythm that's one dimensional and not required.

With that In mind the failings of the record become sorely obvious, the strings or organs lay soft backings to these chord arrangements and the inclusion of pianos often just accent particular notes in the chord. The music revolves around an instrument that's just not working and despite Corgan's sincere singing the songs fall into the flat and narrow of simple compositions. With a lack of depth in that department, repeated listens yield little reward. Its unfortunate but you could possibly chalk this down to a distortion guitarists approach to acoustic not coming off well as many of these songs feel a step away from being Pumpkins songs with blaring guitars! An honest effort but it didn't work for my ears.

Favorite Track: Aeronaut
Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Godflesh "Post Self" (2017)

The clamouring chunks of battered carcass crash and collide as the desending weight of Godflesh's signature sound, the building blocks of noise that boom and blare as bloated chunks brimming with thudding guitars and rumbliung baselines, thunder in frieght between the fracas of furious dissonance thats wails between the roar and flails. The two pillars that support their iconic sound are tentatively pulled apart, the opening metallic grooves of "Post Self", "Parasite" and "No Body" find the discordant breaks between low end riffage stretched, expanded and pulled apart as the albums songs steadily plunge into harrowing, dark and introverted atmosphers of self psycadelia where guitar noise soundscapes reign supreme as experimentation strikes inspirational gold.

The listening experience of an album comes to life here as track skipping and attempted plucking of "moments" spoil the intensity of letting the forty seven minutes of music unfold into itself. The blackened hands emerge from the shade, grasping, smothering dragging one into the shadows of introspective ambiguity, the light that shines on but does not illuminate. The loud, visceral nature of the record is like a morbid curiosity that swells in your conscious, the fixation on an ugly mechanical beast lost, wounded in your paradise. Suffering, pain and anguish scream in agony as we observe from a distance, the industrial rumblings that motor and drill away as soundscapes of punishment play themselves out.

Broadrick's return to Godflesh in 2014 with A World Lit Only By Fire was rather disappointing. After such a long hiatus, a stripped back, bare bones, riff orientated metal album felt lacking as the most explored and obvious side of Godflesh was resurrected. With Post Self a wild pallet of tone and texture emerges as all sorts of influences and links signify themselves from the purpose of the music. The Industrial drum beats frequently pump and thud like decelerated EDM grooves, the deep textures of sound intensify viscerally like Power Noise, the sonic soundscapes of dissonant guitars echo Post-Punk bands and ravishingly stark synths in the closing tracks pull the likes of astral ambiance to the center of a bleak and harsh experience.

This record has reinvented the excitement once heard on Streetcleaner and Pure, the immediacy and indulgence of the record is sublime, a moody, sonic textural exploration peaked by endless strings of ideas that spark, the wailing, desperate screams on "Post Self", the intertwined noise and depraved screaming that burrows into hell on "Be God". The record is loaded with vocal work that masks itself into the wall of sound, even taking on robotic, electrified distortions on another track. With attentive ears many percussive abuses and glitches meld into the smothering sound... oh and how can one not delight in the glory of the guitars that rediscover themselves track to track in the rich density of effect drenched guitar tones. Its simply a stunning record with an obvious direction that really lets the entire album serve as an unfolding experience to leave one in awe of its apex.

Favorite Tracks: Post Self, Be God, Mortality Sorrow
Rating: 9.5/10

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Cavalera Conspiracy "Psychosis" (2017)

"From beneath the slums of a third world, a two headed Brazilian Godzilla was born, destined to leave permanent sound scares on all under pale grey skies. Hell, chaos, pandemonium, the massacre continues and with no end in sight". That's the records closing lyric and It would be equally fitting as a tone setting mission statement. "Psychosis" is one heck of a record from the Cavalera brothers who have cast a lasting influence in the world of all things Metal, between them they have amassed around thirty records since their debut with Sepultura in 1985, a phenomenal output. Cavalera Conspiracy was a chapter in the legacy I could care less for, back in 2008 their debut Inflikted was a mediocre release and I had since failed to follow their releases and so I very nearly passed this one by.

What a mistake that would of been! Psychosis is one of the tightest, mean and hard hitting Metal records Ive heard in some time. The riffs are roaring with intensity, the grooves mammoth, full of swaying rigor and the album steadily sinks into the depths as the ferocity of sound borders into Industrial territory, even Black Metal with the frightening "Judas Pariah". The whole record is tinged with a retroactive ideology once heard on old Thrash Metal records, the demonic reverberations of vocal lines have been resurrected and executed with utter class and inspiration. Max's screams and shouts can creep in from the distance or shuffle across the stereo spectrum and often shatter into the vast chambers of space these effects can muster. Its a demonic pleasure that shrouds the record in classically evil overtones while shedding the cheese that old sound carried.

The records production is a treat, everything is loud, present and punchy without feeling "overloud". A crisp creation that squeezes the texture and power from the guitars alongside a devastating kit with a deep thudding base kick and ear piercing high pitched tom rolls that burst into the music, cutting like a devilish cascades of daggers descending upon the listener, gives me chills every time. The album's songs are pulled together for an album experience with atmospheric interludes of ambiguous dystopian obscurity. Vague voices can be heard in the rumblings of sound too, these cryptic themes often creep into the main sections of songs too, providing another layer of depth to the onslaught of riveting, thrashing music.

The album starts to push hard with "Hellfire", loading clattering industrial drum stomps behind the harsh, over distorted guitars that seem to intentionally peak the mix as supernatural synths drop in for a outlandish wall of sound that has grown on me much with familiarity. Its unusual amounting of sounds satisfyingly leads into a stomping breakdown groove with a violent snare drum striking like the snap of a whip. It leads into the aforementioned "Judas Periah", the deployment of blast beats and satanic snaky tremolo guitar riffs lead give it a very Black Metal tone that diverts us from the diabolical storm into another romp of a breakdown, big slamming guitars and light synths accenting the bounce will have your head swinging!

After dragging us through fires, the title track offers respite in an equally impressive esoteric soundscape track that slowly leads its rich layers of swamping sound, vibrant synths and effect soaked acoustics, into a collapsing of noise as the track falls in on itself. These ambitious clattering of experimentation in noise finds its final statement on the following and final song, ending with hellish alien sounds of suffering and a malevolent mechanical heartbeat that's truly as terrifying as it is vivid. This dimension gives the album a depth you can't help but feel can be peeled back to reveal more. Whatever vision the two have behind such a frighting ordeal becomes irrelevant in the impact of its reality. This is an all around flawless record that I have yet to tire from an inch in my binging of the hailstorm that is "Psychosis". Kudos Cavalera brothers, the fire still burns bright in Brazil.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Ulver "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" (2017)

To use Francis Bacon's horrifying "Screaming Pope" as a record cover is an ambitious statement. For a band once associated with Black Metal I half expected this to be a transition in sound but this three track EP is simply additional songs from the The Assassination Of Julius Ceasar recording sessions. Despite being left out, these may be some of the best songs from the album released earlier in the year. For Ulver's lush and serine re-imagining of 80s Synth Pop I do not understand the relation with the dark and harrowing painting of Fancis Bacon but its the least of concerns given there are three new songs to enjoy.

"Echo Chamber" treads on unearthed ground, an atmosphere of unsettled tension, cautiously guides us through a mid-tempo night time drive of synthetic atmosphere. Slow, winding melodies scale up against Rygg's lyrics siting terror events in London as a catalyst for the current social political climate. "Bring Out Your Dead" ironically brightens the mood with a fast bustling hi hat to shift things into cruise control, although the lyrics have a sad tone, the songs melodies and synth revolve around an uplifting emergence for the dark.

"The Power Of Love" gently unfolds with archaic pianos soaking in a rich reverb, Rygg softly sings with passion to lead us into a ballad as the instrumentation unfolds. Delicate deliveries and a sincere performance give it quite the charm and class to let an underlying string element lead us into a climatic conclusion in the songs second phase. Its a remarkable track but I can't help but ponder what a cheesy synth pop ballad it could of been. The same music, retrograded back a couple of decades, this would of been a blueprint chart topping cliche track, yet with the right approach and tone its an entirely different, very enduring song. A cracking EP, three solid songs, would love to hear more!

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Danzig "Danzig" (1988)

I'd never had much luck getting into the Misfits and if it wasn't for Rick Rubin's involvement producing this record Id probably of passed up diving into the solo material of an artist from a band I'm yet to vibe with. Named after front man Glenn Danzig, this four piece outfit revolve around their singer, songwriter who disbanded the Misfits six years earlier. His intent was to take his musically seriously, something he couldn't do with his former band mates and so he formed "Samhain", a band with a very similar image, using the same iconic font, following themes of horror and the occult in its imagery. The success of that band landed him a record deal with Rick Rubin's newly formed American Records and this is the resulting debut for both band and label, considered by many as a classic.

Danzig's voice and personality are the focal point of this record, its charm, atmosphere and attitude all swell from a creative force not heard like this before. Once an angry shout soaring over distortion guitars, Glenn tones down the format for a Hard Rock, grungy Blues Rock beast that has him singing with soul and passion over lightly overdriven guitars that kick blocks of chomping Heavy Metal groove between the mood of bluesy classic six string, plucked and strum chords arrangements.

 The blend of styles is warm and inviting, making for songs with a bit of bite and strength between its hard Blues Rock tone. Danzig's singing brings the record to life with his lower vocal range illuminating the feeling in his poetry. The riffs, words and arrangements all add up here on a lively record that's broken up neatly with Heavy Metal guitar solos tinged in a Southern Rock tone. The production is crisp for the era, the drums have an especially nice padded tone about them and it all culminates in a solid record with no weak points, an obviously classic but a style I am still becoming accustom to.

Favorite Tracks: Am I Demon, Mother
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 1 December 2017

Wu-Tang Clan "Wu-Tang Forever" (1997)

Four years passed and following up on their uncompromising classic debut Enter The Wu-Tang 36 Chambers, the nine rapper clan from Staten Island dropped an ambitious sophomore double LP intent of solidifying their place in Hip Hop's legacy. Clocking in at nearly two hours of music the group give their all for a lengthy record that perhaps suffers from its own ambitions as mediocrity in the beats and rhymes fill the gaps between strokes of sheer brilliance. There is undoubtedly a 36 Chambers worth of gold in here but drowned by a lack of filter the record suffocates itself with.
  I'm guilty of letting this record pass me by in the past, obviously "Triumph" is a timeless classic but beyond a couple of spins many years ago I never got into the rest. It wasn't until a recent discussion with a friend that I was encouraged to give it a proper try and so over the past few months Ive taken select moments to run through the two hour experience. What I leaned quickly is the best is loaded on the first disc and the second half unfortunately drifts. If that's listening fatigue, who knows? One things for sure, Ive missed out on some classic, banging Wu-Tang tracks all these years!

Forever is a measured step from its predecessor, not ready to leave the dirty, gritty beats behind it finds itself with a sharper, keen production, with a clarity the band steer clear of exploiting with a dirty, bold production from the RZA who keeps his beats rugged and raw, deploying similar production ideas from before and even some echoed drum loops and hooks heard on 36 Chambers. Raw sampling and forced chemistries illuminate the rhymes as the vocal fidelity stands a front, with each of the nine and guests like Cappadonna given a spotlight to shine as the beats spin on loop.

And shine brightly do they, Forever's most impressive moments come from the dexterous words of the nine and their free association style, in flourishing form, flipping rhymes, metaphors and meanings melded in the wordplay soup that spills with a splash to wet your apatite. When the Wu-Tang go off on one they have you in the palm of their hand, throwing flows like blows one can barely stay on their feet as fists fly by ears, your left trying to keep up. Props have to be given to Inspectah Deck who drops the albums... maybe the groups bests verses on "For Havens Sake" and "Triumph". Get your books and scalpel, dissection is required! "I bomb atomically, Socrates philosophies and hypotheses can't define how I be dropping these mockeries." The Wu-Tang need no accolades, their talent speaks volumes and the two discs are loaded with dense rhymes and flows to chew upon.

The instrumentals are perhaps out shun by the rhymes as their role is best served in forging the atmosphere and tone for the lyrics. It never feels like they overtake focus from whoever is on the mic. Studying the sample arrangement and drum beats exposes a lot of repetition that's again serving whoever is rhyming. The chemistry is right and it feels ironic that the best beats, "Severe Punishment", "Triumph" again, are where the best rhymes end up. RZA's gritty, raw style makes for many sinister, street atmospheres mixed in among socially conscious emotional tracks with a helping of sorrowful pianos, soulful samples and of course the sounds of martial arts, kung-fu flicks reinforcing the theme.

With a wealth of good material the album looses itself mostly on the second disc as the mediocrity becomes majority. If this where a single record it would be all killer no filler, possibly a classic but as the album draws on too many half baked ideas and lack of moderation let reasonable songs drown out the classic material. There are also themes of Wu-Tang education surfacing in the second half which don't tie up conceptually and tend to dissolve into rants. The ODB also drops some disgusting lyrics on "Dog Shit", usually a wild eccentric accent to the rhyming shenanigans of his group this solo performance feels like exactly that comparing its tone to the rest of the record. In 97 Wu-Tang struck back hard with a lot of ambition and I feel like they met that ambition, just not in the volume of a double record.

Favorite Tracks: For Havens Sake, Severe Punishment, A Better Tomorrow, Triumph, The City, Hellz Wind Staff
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Moonspell "1755" (2017)

The blunder is real, as you can imagine I was filled to the brim with excitement when I caught wind of a new album from Moonspell. Id never heard the Portuguese Gothic Metal outfit before and upon my first listen to 1755 I found myself thinking "this doesn't sound like them". Well that's because I made the catastrophic error of confusing them with Moonsorrow who's last record was a true gem, one to remember, unfortunately I had trouble remembering their name and so we embark on an expected journey with another band also inspired by the moon!

Getting past the initial "This wasn't what I wanted" phase, a strong record is to be found here. Drawing from symphonic, orchestral and fantasy influences Moonspell craft an inviting breed of Metal tinged with Gothic, Doom, Heavy and even Black varieties that never goes to strongly in any direction. Its compositions are heavily involved with the keyboards which elevate otherwise mediocre arrangements of riffs to cinematic, adventurous levels. The snarling beastly scream of front man Ribeiro cuts through with a commanders presence, steering the ship. Unfortunately his impact is muted by the language barrier, the lyrics could of made better sense of lively symphonies which create quite the sense of unfolding events. Given the name of the album I can't help but feel It may be about the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Portugal's capitol, Lisborn.

The record plays with varying intensities and tempos, never a dull moment as its rich tapestry of strings, keys, distortion guitars and vocals forge imaginative songs but as the record comes to an end its best is in store, the closing "Lanterna Dos Afogados" elevates the record a deep and brooding passage of music in its build up, moving from a whispering voice over a soft piano into a dense wash of sorrowful instruments mourning in harmony. The back and forth between these halves culminates with an exotic guitar solo and then the song is plunged into a passing of darkness it recovers from with the returning theme drenched in thick organs and gothic male choirs. A very memorable, satisfying song from a decent record with little to fault.

Favorite Track: Lanterna Dos Afogados
Rating: 6/10