Thursday, 22 March 2018

Ministry "AmeriKKKant" (2018)

Legendary Industrial Metal pioneers Ministry, led by Al Jourgensen, are back with their fourteenth album in a journey spanning over four decades! Their last album was released five years ago, around the time when I was really getting into the bands classic records like The Land Of Rape And Honey and ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ. This is my first record as an invested fan, I eagerly awaited its release but had no real expectations and have found myself in awe of how this record encapsulates all my favorite things about this band. AmeriKKKant is as if group have been thawed out, once frozen on ice during their peak in the 90s, coming back with a vengeful spirit of anger towards the post-truth age we currently inhabit.

Al Jourgensen has a track record of disputes with American presidents. His music took aim at both Bush's and now Trump, as well as the current social-political climate coming under scrutiny in his paranoid, doomsday soundscapes that shine a light on the worst interpretations of current affairs. I can't agree with all his views but I have to commend the simplistically of taking samples like Trump saying "Chop Off Heads", playing them against his dark and worrisome music. AmeriKKant opens with an intro track bolstering eerie strings against jolting Industrial noises and haunted pianos. Slowed down samplings of Trumps most infamous phrases set a rather unusual tone that intersects darkness with a touch of foolishness and calamity.

The next two tracks lavishly unfold these feelings as Ministry deploy the best of their unique composition style. Crunching, thumping guitars and crisp, snappy drums lay down the mechanical backbone at a burly, lunging pace. Dissonant sounds, vinyl scratching and manipulated samples play out, setting the optimum tone for Al's angered shouts to cry out between dystopian melodies. Victims Of A Clown turns the pace with a classic, marching, determined baseline that pumps out a groove endlessly through the dangerous atmosphere, reminds me of the esoteric Golden Dawn revolving around Aleister Crowley. Its followed by a maddening noise piece, bombarding the listener with hateful quotes and a barrage of fast, jolting aggressive gun blasts and extreme manipulated samples, a nauseating treat.

Its as if Al is checking of a list of Ministry's best numbers. We're Tired Of It delivers a fast and thrashy track more akin to the 00s era. Its pummeling aggressive guitar riffs assult with a typical barrage of disorienting samples. Wargasm feels like an intentional tribute, its chorus fondly alike to Killing Joke who were a massive influence on this band. Then we have Antifa, the records best song! I'll make no comment on the group themselves but Jourgensen essentially writes the anthem for unchained anarchy and rebellion lashing out at the system. Its hypnotic lead melody dazzles over the tight mechanical drive of palm-muted chugging distortion guitars, its a real head banger.

They have really hit the mark on this album, the sonic intensity is wonderful. The constant barrage of intricate sounds and overload of samples adds a wealth of depth to the hellish, dystopian atmosphere conjured but best of all the use of unexpected instruments like horns and strings deploys some of the records most striking and memorable melodies. I'm in awe of how this albums has covered all the corners of what they did in the 80s and 90s, admittedly it comes in shades among long and droning songs however that is pretty much what I'm in the mood for right now, I want to be indulged in the slower pace and soak in the atmosphere. Its a decent record that happens to be precisely what I didn't know I wanted to hear.

Favorite Tracks: Twilight Zone, Victims Of Clown, We're Tired Of It, Antifa
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Frank Ocean "Blonde" (2016)

A musicians name can only be mentioned so many times before it becomes an obligation to give them your time. This blunt sea I kept hearing of is part of the Odd Future collective led by Tyler The Creator and it seems that his acclaim and success has out run both of them. Frank's silky and soft yet powerful and swooning voice has all the traits of a timeless R&B singer. The ultra indulgent, laid back and careless vibes of the album in its psychedelic setting put the young singer in an unrivaled position of uniqueness, a potent potion has found its audience with those who give it the time.

For me the glorification of hyper-sexual, drug abusing lifestyle can be a a real turn off in the opening stages of the record, Frank technically prostituting a women for drugs with a rather precarious choice of words among other lyrics can be difficult to stomach. Despite some disagreeable perspectives his voice is golden and it resonates with the instrumentals wonderfully as even pitch shifts, vocal effects and a splash of auto tune sound ever so tasteful, creating unique expressions rather than compensating a weak vocalist. He brings you invitingly into his world, the easy going persona and soothing singing is simply infectious.

Dreamy and psychedelic instrumentation with big washes of of reverberations and an arsenal of pianos, strings, violins, cellos, guitars, organs and keyboards bring about an organic expression, a tapestry unraveling in the simplest of forms as many of the songs here have luminous complimentary sounds that build on top of a simple, minimalist song format. Its not particularly dense, just light and airy, breezy as a few instruments build up the atmosphere around Frank's voice which is given its due spotlight on every song, remaining the focal point.

I'm very fond of the Be Yourself interlude, who I assume is Frank's mother giving some sound advice to avoid peer pressures and be comfortable with oneself. It seems almost to be ridiculed by the following tracks lyrical content. Poetry and expressive use of words are not my strong point and so I have a hard time pinpointing who he is on this record as there are many contradicting lyrics to my interpretation, it dispels a little of the indulgence but the vibes of the record are wonderful.

The album has a lot of content, its pacing is slow and steady, the variety of tracks, the avoidance of relying on drum tracks and interesting interludes pack a lot of substance into the experience. Although the opening tracks are the ones I anticipate the most its always fun to see it through as musings like Facebook Story between the more estranged tracks make markers leading to the curious interviews in the "hidden track" at the end. The whole thing feels structure less and lucid, a nice experience. This record is really something, will have to back track on Frank's other two albums!

Favorite Tracks: Nikes, Pink + White, Be Yourself, Skyline To
Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Watain "Trident Wolf Eclipse" (2018)

My opinion of this band will be forever tainted by their live performance. Severed pigs heads impaled on the stage and the stench of animals blood filling your nostrils was one thing but the moment singer Danielsson decided to put out a burning stick with his hand grasping a fist around the flames just took the biscuit. He huddled wounded on the stage, nursing his hand which has dripping with blood, clearly in a lot of pain. It was all rather pathetic and although I like evil and satanism in the form of art or entertainment, it often becomes utterly ridiculous when in practice. The so called "ritualistic" performance came across as a joke and they were the punchline.

Either way I'm here for the music and Swedish Black Metal outfit Watain have risen to prominence with their fifth album, The Wild Hunt, released five years ago. I have never been massively into them but you can't ignore that they have become one of the genres biggest names in recent years, a time where experimentation and diversification has seemed ripe. Watain have gotten here by sticking to a very traditional approach on the genre, one which makes their music obvious, atypical and unsurprising yet its execution and production value gives it a weight of value in pursuit of dark and evil sounds that have been thoroughly explored before they arrived.

If you're hoping for new Black Metal records like the classics De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas & Pure Holocaust etc... then there is probably a lot to like about this record. Its sharp, fast and vicious, loading in and endless stream of creepy, evil melodies between furious bursts of jagged tremolo picking and punishing blast beats. Its got enough measure to illuminate its own atmosphere with demonic ambiguous vocal passageways, the booming of deep tribal drums and cymbals striking like a gong give it that extra spark of mischief. Plenty of breaks disperse the intense atmosphere with plucked chords breaking up the linear power chord riffs that drive most the record.

All in all its all just a little to expectant for my ears. Despite a terrific production and well written songs, the album could do little to surprise or feel fresh and different from what Ive heard of the genre before. Their success is possibly paramount to appealing to the old guard who resist change within the sound but for me that is boring and so this record sounds as good as my appetite for Black Metal on the given day that I'm listening to it. That being said the closing track Antikrists Mirakel defines itself as different, having the final say it takes a step beyond the norm with a deeply ritualistic atmosphere of ruin and heresy that's simply engulfing. Its slow sluggish pace, illusive chants and gloomy wash of reverb makes for a gem in an all too typical record.

Favorite Track: Antikrists Mirakel
Rating: 5/10

Friday, 16 March 2018

Nina Simone "Pastel Blues" (1965)

It's been years since I first got my hands on this record. As with some of the great, appraised music from past generations it can take some time to get into. Walking home from a Kendrick Lamar gig in an ecstatic mood another song from Pastel Blues came on and I was captivated, engulfed. In an instant it all clicked and since then Ive binged on this fantastic record from Nina Simone. She has a fascinating voice, ranging from softly effeminate to a shade manly with a powerful, navel tone that's drenched in a strange sadness. A strong vibrato resonates when she holds a note, somehow able to squeeze the sound to a point almost inhuman, but not too far gone. Its wonderful and not saturated as she awaits the inspired moments to let it flow.

With jazzy pianos, folksy acoustic guitars and soft percussion the instrumentals play a resounding roll in tipping the mood as the temperate backings swing back and forth, track to track, between bluesy, worrisome sorrows and self-empowered songs of resolution and poetic wisdom. Even in these uplifting numbers something in Nina's voice feels as if it would easily slip into a sadder setting. Even when the words don't quite match there is somehow a lingering sorrow as if she sings to escape something haunting her. Given how little I know beyond the music of this record, her life, or who she is it may simply be the way I hear things but I can't shake the sadness.

The record has all the roots of black music showing themselves, Jazz and Blues dominate the spectrum but shades of Soul, Gospel and R&B creek into the fold and most noticeably the opening tracks "Be My Husband" has the dominating clank of a chain gang song, the singing between often tailing of with soulful vocal afflictions. Its a rather short run of songs bolstered by the ten minute Sinnerman which stands out for its, in comparison, ambitious song structure which grows and broods in a healthy amount of repetition. The best moments for me are the sadder songs, that's when her voice illuminates and becomes truly special.

Favorite Tracks: Be My Husband, End Of The Line, Tell Me More And Then Some, Strange Fruit
Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Code "Resplendent Grotesque" (2009)

Continuing my foray into a variety of Black Metal records we have another British record, Resplendent Grotesque, which is Surrey based Code's sophomore record. It initially did and still doesn't feel like anything personally special to me, however with repeated listens it becomes apparent just how much vocalist Kvohst's voice dominates the tone, giving the grotesque something unique, a chemistry to call its own. Armed with an arsenal of chord arrangements, guitarist Aort also brings a defined and different sound. With shrill, intense guitar tones he pushes a continually disenchanting smothering of discordance resonating from intricately plucked strings interchanging with chord shredding that is constantly scaling itself.

It mostly seems akin to a Post-Black Metal sound, yet rather then being atmospheric and absorbing, the record feels like a hell ride of discomfort and torment. Kvohst's estranged afflictions mingling within a powerful, burly yet higher ranged clean vocal add a very humanistic and suffering tone to an otherwise demonic and monstrous record. The light never seeps in, just a continual haze of fiery, unforgiving grimace. When some respite is offered, it is unsurprisingly gloomy and downtrodden. Only Kvohst's voice offers any sympathy to the darkness we endure on this adventure. It has been enjoyable, nothing seemed to resonate that much so I am left wondering if some absence will let the shape of this record click into place as one can appreciate what another would find genius about it.

Favorite Tracks: Smother The Crones, Possession Is The Medicine, Jesus Fever
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Johnny Cash "American Recordings" (1994)

Knowing the reverence and notoriety of Johnny Cash made approaching this post a little daunting. With a career spanning fifty years across six decades and over ninety albums produced, there is an abundance to be said about his music that critics and enthusiasts alike will be talking about for time to come. Ive only heard The Ring Of Fire and Walk The Line before going into this record. American Recordings intrigued me greatly for two reasons. Firstly It was produced by Rick Rubin who had made a name himself in Metal and Hip Hop, working with the likes of iconic names LL Cool J, Run DMC, Danzig and Slayer. Secondly at this point in time Cash was a broken man, his career in tethers and with Ruben he formed a close friendship that would rekindle his musical fire and restore parts of his life and happiness.

With just a voice and his guitar, Cash can burden you with the depths of his struggle. His deep, baritone voice has the texture of times scars, a weight he holds on his shoulders felt through the catharsis of his expressions. With a deep, soft and alluring voice his hurt soothes with its release as the heavy subjects of life's regrets and struggles are caught in a memorizing bubble that is Cash's heart felt sincerity. Its far from gloomy, as Johnny works through his inner demons, one can feel the redemption as he comes to terms with events transpiring through his poetic lyrics. Its an intense experience that can suck one into the grasp of its simplicity, the acoustic guitar often feeling entirely irrelevant in the shadow of Cash's iconic voice, with exception to a few songs like Thirteen, where the strumming of dingy chords feels like the tone setter.

Going into the record I was expecting some twang and yee-haw! Known as a Country artist, I have to say this is far more personal and Folk like however one track, Tennessee Stud, greatly amuses me for its praise of a regional horse. The real story in the song is overshadowed behind the enthusiastic crowd, cheering all mentions of the horse. This album captures a man coming to terms with many things and turning much of it around, which is parallel to the critical and commercial response, which makes a lot of sense If you think about it. Ruben's minimalist approach to production seems a perfect fit for Cash's needs, however knowledge of their strong friendship makes me think the revival of this man goes far beyond the production we can hear on this fine record.

Favorite Tracks: Delia's Gone, The Beast In Me, Thirteen, Like A Soldier
Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Pallbearer "Foundations Of Burden" (2014)

Praised as their best work, this sophomore record from the Arkansas Doom Metal outfit Pallbearer has all the measured, weighty wonder of its successor yet strips back most of its prettier, gleaming guitar tones and melodic, Progressive Rock influences. I am talking in reverse however, this record that came before it has scale and craft protruding from its dense and meaty lunge of crunchy, fuzzy guitars accommodated by slow burgeoning drums. They form a stunning atmospheric setting, its mood caught between natural beauty and mortal sorrow.

Foundations Of Burden feels closer to the formula of sluggish, punishing paces and dreary, gloomy atmospheres associated with Doom Metal. Some sections reveal their simple construct with minimal guitar work between the strikes of bass kicks and lonely hi-hats but despite this the tempo shifts and guitar work can erode all sense of structure and repetition that is commonplace as a web of expression unravels itself beyond all tropes. In these moments it feels like the music escapes its own limitations, the layering of guitar leads and stunning vocals has the music blossoming into vivid, indulgent places.

Some of its riffs are aggressive and grooving on paper but the warm fuzzy distortion tone and lack of urgency in performances spins so much of what is "Metal" into feeling like the distortion is almost irrelevant to what it creates. The heart of the music is in the melody and voices of Campbell and Holt, the grizzly belly of drawn out power chords only drives the music when all engines fire, otherwise it drifts into a commonplace setting however this push and pull is essential to the magic that unfolds as these songs progress into wondrous places. Really memorable record!

Favorite Track: The Ghost I Used To Be
Rating: 8/10

Monday, 5 March 2018

Keep Of Kalessin "Armada" (2006)

With an itch requiring scratching I recently picked out a few records by bands Ive yet to hear in a guide to Black Metal list that fortunately didn't focus on the classics I know inside out. It shone its light on overlooked and underrated albums from lesser known bands. Armada keenly caught my attention in comparison with Emperor's classic Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. Interestingly enough Keep Of Kalessin, who Id never heard of before, were active in Norway during the scenes formation years but due wavering commitments of drummer Larsen, who was touring with Satyricon, it took him a decade to settle down and focus on the project as his main ambition, leading to a string of albums of which this was the first released.

Armada's sharp, angular tone of shrill ripping guitars and rigid hellbent drums blasting at dizzying intensity had me initially finding this one hard to get into. As with this genre more than any other, repetition is key! The old lesson of familiarity, letting the music blossom, however Vengeance Rising will always test my boundaries with its utterly ridiculous and inhuman blast beat that pushes tempos as hard as they can go. The record is full of breezing bursts of pace and eruptions of anger, bearing the hallmarks of blast beats, arriving in common, yet frequently impressive fashion. There is no arguing over Larsens talent, his rapid feet and dexterous arms make for a distinctive flavor.

With his wild rattling barrages of drums at the forefront of much of the music it takes on quite an aggressive attitude, the fast and thrashing guitar work charges at its side with plenty of all out tremolo shredding and technical chugging grooves plucked in between, plunging towards the listener with a racing pace. The antagonizing screams of Isaksen linger in constant menace as burly howls are unleashed with a shrill roughness that's rarely trying to win you over, however the breaks to ancient, cultural, Viking choral chants conjure a lot of atmosphere in comparison, its unfortunately infrequent.

The second track, Crown Of Kings, sets a bar the rest of the record doesn't keep up with. That song has whats missing, progression. Its chaotic opening riffs whirl away through fiery intensity that builds, builds and then importantly gives way. A few minutes in the drum drop to half time and an upbeat baseline ques in a moment to breath as the guitars gleam in a glittery riff. Its the shift in gears that made Emperor's aforementioned effort so fantastic and this record really feels like in needed those breaks, because without them its intensity is unrelenting and that can be burdening. I do think that was the artistic intent here and it is mostly fantastic but a lack of fluid respite in the music made it a little to strong for me.

Favorite Tracks: Crown Of The Kings, Winged Watcher, Deluge, Amada
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Krtis Blow "The Best Of Kurtis Blow" (1994)

My adoration of Hip Hop, its fascinating origin story and evolution, has put a lot of names in my mind, some of which Ive yet to get around to. Hearing Kurtis Blow's break out single The Breaks recently from 1980 had me itching to check out the Rapper who's name Id heard a thousand times over. The song itself wasn't particularly defining of Kurits because its essentially a remake of Rappers Delight with an interchangeable instrumental and signature baseline aesthetic and playing. Either way I was impressed by Blow's easy going rhymes and steady old school flow and since his records are like gold dust to find, the best I could get my hands on was a best of compilation CD released six years after his run of eight back to back albums.

All these songs take place before N.W.A and Public Enemy, they are fun, care free and strangely innocent in retrospect. Kurtis picks many surface level topics, stitching light rhymes together that string references and simple expressions about basketball, America, parties and even some festive rapping. Even when Hard Times rolls around Kurtis spins a positive mentality response to struggles he barely scratches the surface of. Its all light and smiley, the rhyme schemes seeming almost comical given the feats rappers would go on to do. Its essentially the blueprint of that old school era.

The music is great, Blow's flow is powerful, pronounced and lively. The instrumentals are of their time, heavily Disco influenced, with a dash of Funk spice and a sprinkling of Synthpop production its all as crisp, punchy and pronounced as Kurtis himself. Some songs topic are a bit drab like the ultra patriotic America and obnoxious AJ Scratch with its awkward chorus singing. I made a fun discovery with If I Ruled The World, a song Nas would rebuild with its chorus and sampling from Tears For Fears on his Stillmatic album. That's one of the reasons I love exploring Hip Hop's history, there is much connectivity to learn and although this isn't something I'll listen to often, it was really great to enjoy another slice of the Hip Hop evolution.

Favorite Songs: The Breaks, Christmas Rappin
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Migos "Culture" (2017)

I wasn't moved by their break out hit Versace at all but having heard the Migos mentioned so often recently I figured I would give the American Hip Hop trio a try. I didn't expect much but walk away really surprised with how much I enjoyed this record. Its one half dope beats and another half comedy as these soon-to-be-dated over stylized trendy vocal sounds utterly dorky and ridiculous to the point where I find myself chuckling away at the "skrt skrt" noises and other comical sounds they conjure up, not to mention a rap from Lil Uzi Vert who sounds slightly concussed in his rhymes.

The production here, handled by many hands, is tight, crisp and modern. A spacious approach leaves lots of room for the excessive reverberations to bounces around in the space between instruments. Trap influenced hi-hat grooves rattle away over sub base kicks that snappy snares pop off of. Simplistic short melodies play steadily on pianos and similar synthetic sounds with occasional symphonic strings and the like in the backdrop. The tempo is steady and track after track sounds sharp, slick, laid back and oddly relaxing with a slight air of danger and eeriness on a handful of numbers. Its just the right atmosphere for the Migos to do their thing.

Lyrically... the verses are lacking substance, not a lot of the lines stuck with me beyond acknowledging the excessive braggadocio however I felt these modern and triplet flows were pulled of really well, lots of the vocals resonate in the atmosphere and the use of auto tune and pitch shifting effects felt aesthetically pleasing. Some of the records most memorable lines were essentially borderline gibberish but the delivery kept getting them wedged in my mind however the most fun was with the strange sound effect alike vocals making "pew pew pew" and other strange noises over the shoulder of the rapper on the mic. It amused me greatly.

Rating: 6/10
Favorite Tracks: Bad And Boujee, Deadz

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Machine Head "Catharsis" (2018)

 Four years since their last effort Bloodstone & Diamonds the American Groove Metal outfit return with a lengthy seventy four minute record that has divided opinions across the board. I was somewhat unexcited about Catharsis for the aspects that Ive ended up enjoying it for. Machine Head peaked with The Blackening back in 2007, a riot of a record that's worthy of being mentioned alongside the best Metal records ever unleashed upon the world. Since then their output has felt like stagnation, more of the same sound and so I went into this record hoping they would do something new. Whats ironic is there attempts to broaden their horizons are an utter turn off and the predictable Machine Head is here in droves sounding pretty wild and fun!

Stomping, chugging grooves, bendy, bouncy riffs and the razor sharp gleam of stiff guitar leads wail away in their typical uniform. The opening three tracks throw together some cracking riffs held together with lyrics to sing along to. These numbers will fit great into the live show but the next stretch from California Bleeding to Bastards sees singer Robb Flynn attempt to break the mold firstly with his voice, embracing the rougher, grouchy and musky, liquor stained attitude. Plain language, the blunt vulgarity and graphic story telling weighs down the atmosphere with its downtrodden tone. Going into Bastards the instrumental tries to come along with him into uncomfortable territory, reaching beyond their grasp it falls flat.

The soreness of failed experimentation casts quite the shadow over this record as the reasonable portion is great if not atypical of the band who are sinking into a broad range of ideas they have covered before in the past. They do however get their experimentation right on Behind A Mask, echos of Spanish guitars and the gentle build up to soothing, soft vocals, soaring in the moment is wonderful. Given its length and lack of unification in theme, Catharsis is really just a big cluster of songs from a band saying "here you go, have fun". If I were to cut the time in half and fill it with my favorites It would make a killer record, however its bogged down by a lack of filter and purposeful direction they were able to maintain on previous albums.

Favorite Songs: Volatile, Catharsis, Screaming At The Sun, Behind A Mask
Rating: 5/10