Saturday, 30 May 2015

Periphery "Juggernaut: Omega" (2015)

With an ambitious double release, American Progressive Metal band Periphery drop "Omega", the second serving of two Djent heavy records. The longer of the pair, "Juggernaut: Alpha", proved to be a bountiful record of tight, textured Djent grooves and engrossing melodics that swooned with infectious hooks and memorable acoustics. Omega is no slouch, being slightly shorter it also bares the traits of its forerunner with not a dull moment to be found.

With "The Bad Thing" the record shows its heavy persuasion and focus with crunchy Djent breaks and grooves between spacey polyrythmic riffs layered with clean vocals and colorful guitars before busting into screams and aggressive riffage. "Priestess" shifts gears to an acoustic epic of layered progressions and mood building that climaxes with a memorable "Step out in the rain, and feel the deep sorrow". A shining vocal lead that captivates me with each listen. After this melodic number the focus shifts back to the dark and heavy, more Djent grooving and aggressive riffs. Theres no shortage of the brighter hooks, but tracks like "Hell Below" and moments in the other tracks see the band tamper with pure metallic aggression as guitars sludge and pelt deep elastic grooves with the hammering drum kit guiding the path. 

Although Omega takes on darker sounds and themes, its the same beast and the songs could easily be interchanged between the two. Why the group decided on two records isn't exactly a mystery, there at a creative peak, outputting 80 minutes of exciting, intelligent and forward thinking metal that in my opinion very much warrants the hype around this group. I can see myself continuing to enjoy these two records as time goes by, even now they continue to grow on me with each listen, however I cannot pick a favorite between the two.

Favorite Songs: Priestess, Hell Below, Omega, Stranger Things
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Return To Forever "Romantic Warrior" (1976)

Having browsed my way to a collection of "Jazz Classics" with new names and thematic album titles I unknowingly stumbled into the later era of the sound, known as "Jazz Fusion", a more "accessible" style with strong rock influences and funk groove. Of all the new records to discover this one quickly grabbed my attention with its opener "Medieval Overture", jiving keys, adventurous drums and riff based guitar work instantly clicked with a Progressive Rock vibe as the song shifted and swayed through musical ideas in a typically Progressive style. Although listed as a Jazz Fusion record, my familiarity with Prog Rock had me listening from that perspective and at many times simply sounds like a Prog record with Jazz influenced instruments and tones. Either way it captivated my attention, and I'm keen to retrospect on this record as I listen to more Jazz Fusion.

The albums cover art and opening track make no secret of the albums theme, however the music wouldn't distinctly strike one as Medieval. The music is bright, playful and uplifting. It very much romanticizes the era in its own vision, rather than a recreational sound or atmosphere. It also has a slightly alien, unknowing, mysterious sound with some of the keyboard leads used on occasion. The finer details of theme are irrelevant though, the music is captivating and has little to prove.

The records clarity and warm sound are an indulgence, an impressive, balanced production that lends to the freedom of the progressive music that dances and weaves its way through connecting passageways and reoccurring themes that climax with soft atmospheric piano led breaks and blazing Prog Rock solos in the faster paced moments. Its an excitement, a theatric performance of evolving music that all instruments contribute too. The drums shuffle, roll and groove in a free flowing unraveling of complimenting force. The bass rocks a steady mood, occasional grooving into the forefront with some funk and the keys are a delight, bright layered sounds that sparkle and glisten with the synths underneath. The guitars rock subtler grooves with a tone fit for ripping leads and crafted, subtle riffs, theres also some beautiful Spanish guitar tones thrown in the mix aswell.

As I think through the instruments it only occurs to me now the instrumental nature of the record. With so much energetic and colorful music jamming away it barely gave me a second to think about the absence of a vocal presence, which was never needed. The music says so much, it paints a canvas with colorful renditions in the mind. Great record, has to be said the last two tracks hold it back as they dull the mood from the energy of the first four. Either way I loved it and looking forward to more Jazz Fusion on my playlist.

Favorite Songs: Medieval Overture, The Romantic Warrior, Majestic Dance
Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Periphery "Juggernaut: Alpha" (2015)

Periphery are a Djent heavy, Progressive Metal band from America who were once the brainchild of producer "Bulb" before expanding there lineup over time into a six-piece group, who are ever growing in popularity and critical acclaim. Juggernaut could be a double album, but its two records released on the same day sharing the "Juggernaut" title, and this is one "Alpha" is the longer of the two. Having caught the band live a couple of times they have certainly been entertaining, but this is my first proper listen to one, or two, of their records and It would appear I have been missing out!

Alpha is certainly the lighter, or brighter, of the two records. For a group that plays with the heavys of Djent, they lavish the listener in a foray of infectious melodics and swooning colorful hooks between ambitious grooves and metallic bludgeons. The chemistry is is a fine art as the group masterfully pull us through songs that delight with a fine variety of catchy, heart felt leads, intrepid guitar dynamics and some head banging sensibility. Whatever ideas and inspiration the band have, they are executing them with a touch of genius, each of these tracks feel fully realized and doesn't leave for a moment of filler.

The albums aesthetic is golden, tight, a crisp production by founding member Bulb who delivers a delicious audio fest of clarity and prescison. Every note, tone, kick and sound feels bright and balanced, even the deep end guitars sound fantastic considering Periphery have two djent rhythm guitarists Bulb catches the deep churning and crunchy tones the duo produce. Overall its a classy record thats backed by terrific musicianship providing plenty of intricate, technical guitar delights as well as crafting some real emotion with the catchier, melodic, poppy moments.

Favorite Songs: A Black Minute, Heavy Heart, Alpha, 22 Faces, Four Lights
Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Arcturus "Arcturian" (2015)

After a ten year silence since "Sideshow Symphonies", the chaotic carnival sideshow Arcturus emerge for the abyss to unleash another full length record upon a niche group of adoring fans. Arcturus has been a group I've held in the highest regard for their unique flavor and artistic evolution across the four records that proceeded this one. Forming under the moniker "Mortem" in 1987, it took the group almost a decade to find their sound and release their debut "Aspera Hiems Symfonia" in 96. It was a raw Black Metal power ride of haunting atmospheres and playful melodics that fused the symphonies with the raw power chord distortion, howling screams and thunderous drumming. Having established a unique identity, the group took a huge stride into unknown territory with the follow up "La Masquerade Infernale". Using electronics, sampling and taking a more theatric approach to their music they created a modern masterpiece unrivaled by anything alike. The two follow up records further experimented and refined their sound and set a high level of expectation before there split in 2006.

With the stakes so high I was both dreading and anticipating this record which took me a fair few listens to warm around to. What hit me on the first play through was how familiar and "right" the music felt, as if the the band had been frozen on ice, put on hold, and returned ready to fire as if not a moment had passed in their absence. It only took a minute for the opener to throw me into a classic Arcturus atmosphere, rattling drums blitzed in the background as discordant guitars ring out with descending synths, throwing us into a symphonic hook led by ICS Vortex's adventurous, and still so charming vocals. Everything about this record as it played through made sense, the opening half having a lot of familiarity with different approaches and styles executed on previous records, the quality good enough to call its own. There were one or two moments that felt a little like carbon copy, the track "Archer" feeling like an outtake from sideshow symphonies, and "Angst" from "Aspera Hiems Symfonia". Ultimately its the shock of getting exactly what you wanted that feels a little surreal and the ten years apart feels almost non existent. "Arcturian" has sheltered itself from the world and let the band continue exploring them selfs, the only noticeable influence being the drum-step beat sampled on "Demon".

With the music doing so much right it manages to mask a big problem this record has. The production. Lets be blunt, its pretty appalling. From the get go its apparent there are issues, instruments fight for volume, bleed into one another and a lot of clarity is lost as the instruments collide in a messy mix that is inconsistent on multiple levels. The drums firstly, they sound different from track to track and often drown themselves in a rattle of noise. The guitars sometimes feel like an incoherent fuzz under over powering symphonies. For all my complaints, I am left with puzzling thoughts. The production doesn't ruin the music, but does it hold it back? Maybe it even adds to it? This isn't a case of low-fi production where the aesthetic is an edge, but the inconsistencies on a track by track basis perhaps suggest intentional manipulation of instrumental clarity, which in a few moments does work. Arcturian was an initially puzzling record, but from the get go its undeniably decent, a fine work which any fan would adore. It will be interesting to gauge the communities reation, and although I hope to hear a remastered release one day, I am undeniably satisfied by "Arcturian".

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 22 May 2015

Snoop Doggy Dogg "Doggystyle" (1993)

Known around the world as an icon of Hip Hop culture, Snoop Dogg's story both starts and ends with his debut record "Doggystyle", a Hip Hop classic that broke sales records and helped solidify the west coast's popularity with mainstream audiences. The records success is truly justified by its artistic content as Snoop drilled his persona, slick flow and boisterous G-Funk style home after creating a memorable debut on Dre's "The Chronic". Since the release of this record back in 93 Snoop has never artistically come close to the heights soared with his debut, but has remained ever present with a continual string of mediocre records, guest features and putting himself in the limelight through movies, advertisements and appearances on a frequent basis. He has kept his brand and image going all these years, and its off the back of a classic timeless record that never gets old.

When Snoop first gained exposure through his collaborations with Dre he instantly established his name through a unique style he would be strongly identified for. A slick, steady flow oozing with style and attitude, Snoop's laid back raps were delivered with memorable multisyllabic rhymes, often for the izzle and izzites as Snoop manipulated words with a brand of his own. It wasn't just the flow that was easy going, the straight forward use of language and to the point phrasing had listeners of a broader audience understanding. Snoop also had the light toned "sing raps" in the arsenal alongside a dynamic flow in which he could shift the pace effortless mid verse. The exaggerated gangster persona further solidified his appeal with violent, raunchy lifestyle tales of another culture, glorifying the extremes depicted in his lyrics. On paper it sounds unexpected, but thats what makes it work, glorified gangster lifestyle stories told through charming, slick and softly delivered raps with a mass appeal for counter culture.

As classic as Snoops flow is, the instrumentals on this record are an undeniable staple mark of its success, produced by Dre, Doggystyle represents a finely crafted set of G-Funk numbers that push the style and groove into a universally appealing territory as these layered tracks ease the listener into there charm, a subtler approach from the bombastic, upfront numbers on "The Chronic". Working with tight drum loops, the charm emanates from three instruments, firstly the grooving bass, rocking and swooning under the drums with power and substance. Secondly the anthemic ghetto whistles, blazing swirling melodies and lingering in the mix provide an array of memorable hooks and infectious tunes. Thirdly the pianos, used like a glue to hold the various elements together they rarely take the forefront but reside between the instruments, breathing warm melodics into the grooving sound. Beyond these three theres some fantastic use of electronics and a constant detailed layering of subtitles that can be heard, filling the spaces perfectly.

Its a Hip Hop classic, and a terrific record in general, but on a personal level I've always found this record to have an unusual uplifting vibe even when in the darker, gangster tracks the ghetto whistles, tight bass grooves and Snoops chilled out persona is a warming one. Tracks like "Gin And Juice", "Whats My Name" and "Doggy Dogg World" are all round fun tracks with a party vibe that still feels relevant today. Snoop put his mark on the world with this record, and it will be celebrated for a long time.

Favorite Songs: G Funk Intro, Gin And Juice, Murder Was The Case, Who Am I, Doggy Dogg World, Pump Pump
Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Billy Woods "Today, I Wrote Nothing" (2015)

As the title may indicate, "Today I wrote nothing" deals with apathetic themes that delve into introspection and musings around the milder moments in life. Billy Woods is a New York rapper on the Alternative, Underground spectrum of the Hip Hop radar. With little info on Billy this record served as my only source of information on a rapper who sounds pretty rooted and down to earth, reflected in the lyrics and persona that avoided the demeaning cliches that glamorize harsher realities.

The record lays in a peculiar balance of unremarkable enjoyment, feeling steady, structured and familiar, yet doing little to spark excitement. The two half's of the formula work well, but the beats take reign as Billy often fades in and out of focus, dropping decent lines here and there, but in the same tame flow that lacks a kick and a punch to perk up the listener. His moderate tone and comfortable style carries the record along giving light to the beats which shine character into the record. The album flows smoothly as shorter tracks shift quickly from beat to beat that have a subtle experimental edge that feels safe, yet on paper would seem a little unorthodox at times. The song "Rpms" standing out as a strong example of an enjoyable oddity, a powerful, moody, thematic sample accompanied by samples of motor violence and Billy's mediocre rap.

The chemistry of this record is unusual, almost is if something almost spectacular is happening on a muted scale. The beats show bright sparks, intelligent ideas against the grain, but are held back by their moodier, artsy nature. The short songs and continual transitioning save them from feeling stale, an interesting point to ponder on, but without Billy delivering anything hitting the record drifts by in a warm haze of mediocrity.

Favorite Songs: Lost Blocks, Flatlands, Woodhull, Carpetbagger, Bicycles, Rpms
Rating: 5/10