Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Erang "Songs Of Scars" (2017)

The unwavering inspiration and output from our beloved French musician Erang strides onwards! After King Of Nothing reunited us with the land of five seasons, Songs Of Scars returns to the mysterious Sci-Fi dystopian realm of Anti-Future. Its presentation, a striking front, sets the tone. The eerie gaunt corpse painted skull featured in much of Erang's artwork stares us face on. The bold red font illicits the danger that lurks, the subtitles set the stage for a soundtrack of freight.

Where Anti-Future stepped into new territory, Songs Of Scars owns it. These deliberate compositions set the perfect tone for your John Carpenter 80s flick. The breeze of suspense, a soft paranoia, the looming of evil and smog of future tech all from the comfort of your sofa. Its a true soundtrack, one that needs no cinema in front of it convey the atmosphere it will soak you in. Each song a master stroke of tone to illuminate the never ending nightfall in which our adventures will play out.

Aesthetics is king and with a touch of minimalism and measure of balance our synthetic instruments, buzz saws, sine waves, bells and strings, swoon in their glossy packaging. With just a few key sounds resonating on one another, the bold, rich textures and gorgeous reverberations dazzle and delight as the songs play simplistic and singular melodies. Chiming notes cast the spell as they play off one another. From gleaming bells of fortune to deep swirling, sweeping synths of despair every song finds its own degree of the chemistry so swiftly established as the record begins to spin, bar the first track.

Despite sections of repetition on reasonable lengths of song, the craft carries the music forward, along with the slow, steady, often bare yet effective snare kick drive. Instead of opting in to key shifts or tempo changes Erang find the opportune moments deliver magic in the form musical unwinding of sensual events with swirly synths dancing without a melody to conjure a vision. This never feels overplayed, in fact the balance across the record feels stunning as these imaginative atmospheres conspicuously lure us through there transitions. From front to back It feels like every opportune moment has been realized yet fed to the listener unknowingly.

Where Anti-Future left me with a lack of event, or teetering for something more, Songs Of Scars fully satisfies. The subtle unfolding of songs in their minimalist exterior fleshes out a journey the atmosphere inspires. There are some favorites that come to mind, on occasions where the drums muster up more energy and the instruments find a colorful melody the tone borders on a form of dark Synthpop. "Street Klowns" takes the cake for its mischievous, quirky sounds, grooving, playful and fitting the mold! It makes a break to the traditional Erang Dungeon Synth sound, linking the ages together. "Metal Magic Madness" also opens this rift between worlds again.

With all this magic at work, I strangely enough find the opening and closing tracks, "1984" and "2084" to be rather underwhelming in comparison to everything else. The intro a bit to energetic and overly synthetic, it doesn't quite address whats to come, equally the outro doesn't unwind as much as I think its sweeping synths intend to. At fifty one minutes the record certainly entertains for its duration and may just be Erang's finest release yet and definitely the best of "The Last Age" records.

Favorite Tracks: Sequenced Suicide, Street Klowns, Home Schooling, Ruins Of The Lost Underground Kingdom
Rating: 9/10

Monday, 26 June 2017

Delerium "Semantic Spaces" (1994)

Id not heard of Delerium before receiving this recommendation, however I had heard the Tiesto remix of their famous "Silence" Trance song. I'm also familiar with Front Line Assembly a Canadian Industrial group who flirted with Metal on their most commercially successful venture "Millennium" released the same year. Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber of the band formed this side project in 1987, a year after FLA, and released a prolific seven full lengths before this release, which is one of three in the year of ninety four. Its a lengthy record of steady moving electronic pieces tinging on ambience and encompassing a eastern, worldly cultural influences, very much reflective of the times.

With an arsenal of synthetic instruments the two line the back bone of these songs with layers of smooth flowing electronics, light and short wanderings of shimmering melodies, a few select sections of composition interwoven to form a dense music current that runs the course of these lengthy tracks. They are steady, smooth, calming and conjure a mellow atmosphere that's slightly juxtaposed to the actual level of instrumental activity. Looping percussive samples and bold, plump baselines hold the repetitions firmly in place, gluing the instruments together as they set the stage.

The magic happens in the forefront, this thick spine of instrumentation goes through the motions, expanding, contracting, coming and going with the flow of the music. Its the airy synths, feminine vocals, soft pianos and lead synths that inspire direction and determine the path the songs take. Some distinct cultural sounds come to this stage, eastern flutes and Gregorian chants sung by monks and choirs give the record an ethnic root that contrasts its electronic and modern persona.

With a firmly nineties electronic sound one can hear all sorts of influences from Trip Hop, to Dub, Trance, Downtempo, House and all between. Its a melting pot of that eras sound and it comes together seamlessly. There's little to criticize, the music is inspired and creates quite the setting for thought and indulgence however its not particularly thrilling. The smooth and easy flow often stagnates in places as the songs strength beyond the seven minute mark with not much more than a repeat of a previous segment. I may return to this one again, It feels like the sort of record you could grow to adore if it were in the background of some game, slowly drilling itself deep into your mind.

Favorite Track: Metaphor
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Milk Teeth "Smiling Politely" (2013)

There's not much I could say Milk Teeth's debut EP that I haven't said about their sound already. I wanted to get through all the bands releases and was surprised to hear them establish themselves so clearly two years before Sad Sack. Perhaps I was expecting something a little more primitive, rawer, a prototype of sorts that you can often encounter on a bands first record. The flimsy album cover may of given me that impression, a 60's psychedelia inspired font for the logo and Poochie the dog with his surfboard, the third character from Itchy & Scratchy that Homer Simpson voiced. Its bland pink and white minimalism not much of an appetizer for the music inside.

These songs are as alike as whats to come, Grungy 90s tunes with a hint of Punk Rock and a mild measure of nostalgia. They would slip right in, so much so the song "Swear Jar" explains the "(Again)" appendix on Vile Child, where it was re-recorded. All that can be said is the production, aesthetics, have a little less polish, some roughness around the edges mostly heard in the guitar distortions. Every other aspect falls into place, enthusiastic drumming, passionate shouts and singing, quite interesting to hear the guitar chemistry so potent from the get go. Lots of grooving, moving guitars interlaced with moody effect soaked leads that have a real emotional weight to them. Solid debut, shame about the awful cover.

Rating: 5/10
Favorite Tracks: Wizzard Battle, Grease

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Snoop Dogg "Neva Left" (2017)

Given the mild mediocrity of last years Coolaid and the landmark Doggystyle decades behind him, I had little reason to tune in this time around, however the albums cover intrigued me, a young "Snoop Eastwood" as he might say. The picture was taken in 1992 and the album name Neva Left hinted of something nostalgic at work. Opening with his mission statement, Snoop drops a slick a smooth flow affirming his originality and gangster authenticity over Wu-Tang Clan's classic C.R.E.A.M. Initially I wasn't so sure about the the pairing but like much of the album it grew on me with each spin.

The record has a tight collection of bold beats, mostly with a big and raunchy G-Funk sounds with big punchy synthetic baselines. The songs are lined with tips of the hat to the oldskool, samples like A Tribe Called Quest's "Back in the day" and the occasional use of retro 80s drum machines paint the theme. "Go On" brings the sunny vibes with a classic summer party tune to mellow out to, his guest October London illuminates the song with a swooning chorus that's just infectious. Its not all retrospective though, the records production, handled by many, brings the best of old and new together.

Neva Left is a fantastic statement by Snoop who lays down some of his best rhymes in years, reminding us of his style, persona, attitude and even dedicates a song to his American football league named after himself. It leaves its mark but the record suffers from the same variety that's its strength when songs like "Trash Bags" and "Toss It" cutting in with obnoxious lyrics and trendy beats, the mood suffers. In a stronger light, "I'm Still Here" conjures Snoop Lion and his Reggae love but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Consistency in direction would of served the experience very well.

There are many impressive tracks though, B-Real, Redman and Method Man unite as the four horsemen of weed on the stoner track "Mount Kushmore". KRS-One turns up on "Let Us Begin" with some tight rhymes and brap sounds to blast your ear drums. Snoop brings a lot of guests on, all do there part but the records peak is with "Vapors", a reconstruction of the classic Biz Markie song, the beat is sharp, dense and layered and Snoop's slick flow is perfect for the classic. Its a pleasantly surprising show from the west coast legend who on a handful of songs does his best in decades.

Favorite Tracks: Neva Left, Go On, 420, Lavander, Mount Kushmore, Vapors, Love Around The World
Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Underachievers "Renaissance" (2017)

One of my favorite modern Hip Hop acts is the dynamic duo of AK and Issa Gold, the Brooklyn based act known as The Underachievers. I was drawn to them on their debut LP, Cellar Door, a spaced out collection of Trap influenced beats where the two exchanged fast spitting rhymes. Their followup Evermore was a tale of two halves that produced a handful of riveting, inspiring lyrics in the opening tracks. To my ears the pair have evolved in reverse lineage to current trends, their lyricism growing more depth in expression and the beats frequenting nineties vibes.

Renaissance continues on that path with a smokey, concurrent theme bordering on Jazz Hop as Soul and Jazz samples soaked in measures of reverb set a mellow, hazy, indulgent atmosphere for the beats to ride. The use of modern production styles holds an obvious mold between old and new, mostly a strength for the instrumentals. Every few tracks a darker, leaner numbers switches up the mood, the soulful sampling is dropped in favor of slicker synthesized instrumentals and the twos rhymes often shifting gears for gangster rap alike rhymes. It starts with "Crescendo" which has a line that made me chuckle, "I'm addicted to the green, yea that's a strictly veggie diet!".

This breaking of the flow doesn't indicate much overbearing meaning. The album opens with a quote, a powerful one from MLK about leadership and enslavement, the following tracks provide food for thought on the socially conscious, introspective narrative. The theme quickly dissipates as the tone and lyrical directions shift. The albums production is quite shaky and inconsistent too, varying volumes and mastering extends beyond beats to the volume of the duo's voices too. "Kiss The Sky" is massively compressed in comparison to what comes before it, their voices jump out over the speakers.

There's a lack of direction, or concept to tie things together here but the good moments do manage to jump out. The opening few songs are the track lists best but as the record draws on a few other moments stand out. "Gottham Nights" has a stand out moody pitch shift on the atmospheric sample. "Different Worlds" ties the Jazz Hop to the darker vibes and has beautifully gloomy sung vocal sample reminiscent of Chelsea Wolfe. Following it "Break The System" pairs a bombastic snare kick groove with a trippy spaced out synth sample drenched in echo effects.

The pair seem without guidance here. Good beats and rhymes prop the record up but as an overall experience its a mixed bag of tricks that loosely fit together. The opening theme fades swiftly and I also noticed they grouped the three stoner songs together in the midsection but they only server each other. Its not a disappointing record, there is plenty to enjoy but the bar has been set high and we know they are capable of putting something a lot better together than this.

Favorite Tracks: Eyes Wide Open, Crescendo, Different Worlds, Break The System
Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Code Orange "Forever" (2017)

Previously know as "Code Orange Kids", this brutal Pittsburgh five piece outfit throw down with bloody fists. "Forever" is the groups third and my first. On my radar for a while I only got around to them just before Download Festival when I realized I would get the opportunity to see them. Ive since binged on the brutality and grown to adore this gritty, blunt, meat grinding band who blew me away with their gnarly, intense live performance. This record is a contender for the years heaviest.

With the first few listens my point of reference was strangely enough Deathcore. The reality is its far from, the consistent bludgeoning, chugging and breakdowns mirror that of the aforementioned. The difference its the trope, where techniques and sections once became calculated, predictable and formulaic as hoards of bands rode the wave, the band turn ideas on there side and reinvent the punishment due. Beatdowns are etched in unconventional time patterns, the entry and exit points dislocated. The commonality seems at the constant mercy of the cryptic overbearing hand that twists, slices and distorts the music to its whim. You can expect the building momentum to steer along a new path, the chug to churn a few extra bars or the music to seemingly drop out mid riff to an industrious synth. Amidst the convention this force often hides in the lurking dissonance of eerie guitar distortions or in the refuge of gritty, dense, biting synths that push their way to the forefront.

The band present two sides on this record. Cruel, violent, savagery in their metallic head thrashing numbers and with "Bleeding In The Blur" and "Ugly", refrained tunes one can sing along to. The intensity remains but the punch line comes from tuneful, if not still fiery, guitar riffs that have a more emotional, personal context, tinged with a whiff of Grunge. "The Mud" would serve as a midway point where this other style seems at the mercy of the tempered hand that cuts out the singing mid tempo, plunging it underwater to drown in the unsettling synth phase that replaces if, before splicing into a seemingly more conventional chug, discord, chug, discord riff that's been tortured to deface its usual structure.

The albums aesthetics are another knife edge of brutality. Tonal, thick, dense and cutting guitars bring a metallic texture to Hardcore performing. The drums fire away with a powerful, thudding kick drum and punching snare to cut through to the front. The cymbals are a little downplayed and under them rumbles the enormous bass guitar with a dense gritty, noisy texture that can get behind the rhythm guitar or step up to the front with a menacing prowl. Vocal duties are shared three of the five and the variety adds to the chaos. Reba Meyers voice however has an emotional energy which really elevates, could of done with more of her however it suits the other direction the band can steer in, leaving one wondering how good an album strictly in that stance could be.

"Forever" is a wild and powerful ride at a fast twenty eight minutes, leaving no room for filler or distraction and right to the point record. The mysterious nature of abrupt interruptions and their disjointed relations make me wonder if something more archetypal is at work. In my current state of awe towards such a devastatingly aggressive record Its hard to see its flaws. My main thought is simply how will this hold up over time? I suspect the shock and awe could dull a little over time but right now its unexpectedness is winning me over when i have the appetite for audio punishment.

 Favorite Tracks: Real, Bleeding The Blur, The New Reality, Ugly, No One Is Untouchable
Rating: 8/10

Friday, 16 June 2017

Oranssi Pazuzu "Muukalainen Puhuu" (2009)

Finnish band Oranssi Pazuzu have been one of the most impressive in recent memory. Their blend of psychedelia and Post-Black Metal has been a breath of fresh air and with this recently released to bandcamp I was under the impression this was their new album but alas, upon setting out to write this blog I find out its actually their debut which has got to be a sign of strength given that this In no way felt primitive, conceptual or like a band taking their first steps with their sound. "Muukalainen Puhuu" is a fully formed beast of darkness, poised to drag you into the abyss with its eerie, haunting atmosphere fit for the unending shadows lurking deep in the cosmos.

In its metallic element its distortion guitars glide forward with nefarious tremolo picked riffs, shaping up to pack a punch with lively aggressive rhythmic assaults which absorb themselves into the ongoing eeriness, never a frontal force but another elements in the melting pot. Bold pacing baselines shape the tempo as the drums theatrically rattle and cue the shifts in intensity with their loud, peaking cymbals that make quite the thunder. Between it all, lurking mysteriously, organs provide the texture to unsettle and the accommodating synths, distant and inhuman, accenting the darkness like voices of ghosts they whisper their cruelty while in the musics trance. The presence of twisted howling screams and groaning guttural taunts drag the human element in.

The album plays well, shifting intensities, shimmering acoustics lead the mellower moments with a prominent roll in the psychedelic tone. There is a good variety that holds the same distant, spooky and lonely vision of the cosmos. Perhaps intentionally the song "Dub Kuolleen Porton Muistolle" has a Dub baseline prowling throw the song from start to end, one of the albums best with its rich yet strangely relaxing atmosphere. The drumming is a little rough around the edges, perhaps to effect but the cymbals can bring a lot of clatter to the balance, not always to my taste. Its a stunning debut, one that could of passed as their next record, in finding that out though Ive learned they have released another four track EP this year I cant wait to get my hands on.

Favorite Tracks: Dub Kuolleen Porton Muistolle, Kerettilainen Vuohi
Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Timothy Steven Clarke "Starsiege OST" (1999)

In a similar vein to Frank Klepacki's Command & Conquer soundtracks, Starsige is another video game soundtrack of weird and wonderful Industrial music colliding with Techno, Breakbeat, Cyber Punk, Metal and all with shades of Ambience steering the musical intensity. This is the sort of music you could grow to love after hearing it over and over in the background of your favorite childhood games. The difference is I never played Starsiege, It was recommended to me based on my adoration of the C&C soundtracks. I'd always yearned to hear more music in the Industrial Metal styling of Frank Klepacki and this is the closest Ive come yet. Unlike the back road to bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, here is a record that comes after the likes of Tiberian Dawn & Red Alert that pulls influences from Frank's particular flair and contribution to the genre.

All I know of Timothy is his work on this soundtrack and its squeal. His distinction is in the detailed layering of sounds that stack up in these compositions, throwing all sorts of guitars, synthesizers, drum sequences and samples into overwhelming blocks of deep, textural sound that charge at you with big theatrical directions. That's just some of the tracks though, others dispel the lively energy, creeping into mysterious territory with eerie, unearthly synths brooding dense atmospheres over janky disjointed beats. Thick and blunt with its delivery, many of the synths and oddities are paraded upfront with no measure for subtlety. The resulting songs can often be very alike to some of Frank's own but Timothy gets the chemistry right, emulating a rather wild and fringe sound that will turn off many. The vocal presence, where it turns up, is surprisingly dark, offering alien warped voices and distorted shouts in the vein of Aggro-Tech.

The soundtrack is split onto two discs, the first is rather disapointing, with just six tracks it feels like the projects b-sides, with exception to "SS2" and its thudding, pounding break of the Amen Loop, bordering on Hardstyle. The album gets going on the second disc with the anthemic, blood pumping "You Got". From there on the pace and variety is just fine, constantly mixing up the approach, fluctuating the intensity and maintaining the same mysterious, alien, cybernetic atmosphere. Its a journey, a trip and has totally scratched the itch, one to go on the playlist with some of my other favorite video game soundtracks. Great discovery!

Favorite Tracks: You Got, Newtech, SS4, Purge, Watching, SS1,
Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

DMX "The Great Depression" (2001)

The Great Depression is DMX's fourth full length and the one I was most looking forward too. Why? A touch of nostalgia, I remember seeing it in the local record store all those years ago, the cover stuck in my mind. Unfortunately Its been a tad disappointing. X has an exuberant energy as he spits, a rock steady flow but the lyrics have been steadily on the decline and their is no signs of change here. An over reliance on cursing and vulgarity had my interest slipping. The occasional track like "Shorty Was Da Bomb" starts to border distasteful, flaunting takes stage over topics that require a serious measure of empathy and understanding, yet X plays up his self centered life style. This becomes increasingly frustrating on his glorified conversations with God, which seems to be an enabling mechanism to justify his actions. Of course some lyrics are fictitious but X has a reputation and jail time to prove it cant all be for show.

The albums production is handled by a few names, mostly sticking to Swizz Beatz's blueprint sound. He throws together a few songs too however they are the weaker in the track listing. Dame Grease produces the albums best songs "We Right Here" and "Who We Be", the second of which X raps over with two word lines, "The [insert rhyme here]", reminiscent of Juvenile's "Ha". "Bloodline Anthem" is a breath of fresh air, a track played by a live band, possibly. It has a tanned distortion guitar ripping a steady power chord drive as a synth hook plays a catchy melody over the top between Dia singing the chorus. "Damien III" marks the return of the evil voice in X's mind, revealed to be the devil himself this time, the dynamic is still strong and dark. Its followed by "When I'm Nothing", a summer breeze, sun soaked feel good track that sounds so out of place in this record, X is to thuggish for the vibes. Personally I adore the beat, reminds me of "Mo Money Mo Problems" by Notorious B.I.G, the difference is he made his style suit the Disco influenced number.

After a reasonable start the record fizzles out with a weaker selection of beats. X's lyricism doesn't do a lot for me on this record. The same themes are turned over again and it feels like he is stagnating at this point. He doesn't quite have the same wild card feeling with the spontaneous barking growling and these things just added up. The beats held this one over but I'm not hopeful anything better is going to come of the rapper who clearly has an incredible flow but the content is really lacking.

Favorite Tracks: Who We Be, Bloodline Anthem, When I'm Nothing
Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

She Must Burn "Under The Shadows" (2015)

She Must Burn are a six-piece English Extreme Metal group from London who I caught at Download Festival this year. They put on a great show and their style of music is very palatable to my ears, fusing the symphonic styles of Black Metal with the rhythmic bludgeoning intensity of Deathcore, everything about their sound was very digestible to someone who has listened to a lot of the two genres they unite. I'm not sure why it didn't come to mind sooner but early Abigail Williams would be a comparable force, however She Must Burn have time on their side, the years gone by have allowed them to draw from the better qualities of the once cliched Deathcore scene to their aid.

 For a relatively small band the albums production is top quality. Their sound is stacked as layers of synth are wedged between octane rattling drums, raspy tonal screams and thick, dense and choppy guitars that rip pummeling grooves with a high noise gate with a Djent like tone and rhythm. They buzz and whirl away under cinematic strings and serine keys that play romantic, majestic melodies. The two work off one another, like the light and dark, often shifting onto the same path for climactic moments. The keyboardist chips in with female vocals to give the music a more melodic front, her technique very pop alike but the tone just right for something a little darker. It plays up the fantastic symphonic elements that illuminate the music. The lead vocalist has quite a range, from bludgeoning growls to shrill, coarse screams. As the record grows he expands with a character similar to Oli Sykes of Bring Me The Horizon, the screams turn half shouted and the lyrics become a lot more self centered and social.

The songs play through the typical motions of dizzying riffs and frenetic blast beats that the keys give direction, structure and theme to. Without them I'm not sure quite how they would sound, even the most intense and impressive licks get their spark from the symphonic overtone. All these songs pack a lot into the mix, not relying on repetitive song structures and forging genuinely impressive music that shows nothing but promise for them moving forward.

Favorite Tracks: Possessed, The Misery
Rating: 6/10

Monday, 12 June 2017

Prophets Of Rage "The Party's Over" (2016)

Id been listening to this EP on repeat all last week! Two introductory, original tracks and three live covers warmed me up for their live show at Download Festival which mainly consisted of Rage Against The Machine covers. The Prophets are a super group consisting of three fourths of RATM, B-Real of Cypress Hill and Chuck D, DJ Lord of Public Enemy. An extremely exciting line up however the two original tracks here really feel like a change of voice on a very familiar sound. 

With Rage essentially on hold for seventeen years and a new record severely unlikely, the trio have moved forward taking their sound and style practically untouched to this project which is only distinguishable by the two new voices replacing Zach. Tom Morello's guitar style dominates the groove, unchanged, held on ice with that same blooming tone and bouncing rhythm. These songs could so easily slip into one of their 90s records. B-Real and Chuck D continue the leftist, revolutionary lyrical stance. Taking on social political issues with a keen tongue to point out corruption and hypocrisy in the system. The first self titled track is a statement of intent, coupled with introductory verses for the new front men.

The live songs beef up the playlist with signs of a good show but the two new songs alone are not terribly exciting, yet they are very enjoyable. A lack of evolution in the Rage sound takes any surprises away and most riffs and song structures are quickly predictable. With a full album on the horizon I hope the group spice things up fresh ideas because otherwise they are pedaling a nostalgic sound I've personally listened to exhaustion.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Gathering "Always.." (1992)

"Always..." may not be so, against the grain of our half life this record will be one of the first to fade from memory. Its no classic, far from it, nor the sort of record you'll hear anyone talking of again. For me? Its a personal gem, a diamond for my eyes only, an album to adore every second of. Its the Dutch bands debut record released two years before their landmark "Mandylion". At this time they had a different vocalist, Bart Sims, who growls and groans in a very typically tonal, textured and slow guttural Doom Metal way. At their inception the band were very much in this category however they stand apart from other Doom acts with a layer of synth that's inspired, melodic but always a touch cheesy with its cheap and rigid tones. Mostly though, they charm and bring a mysterious atmosphere, vibrancy and a nostalgic character to the record.

The records production is dingy, dusty and moody. Its got just the right amount of meat and punch to have an impact as the instruments get themselves across with volume in a rather low fidelity affair, much of this is thanks to the synths which fill the spaces the low, brooding distortion guitars leave in their wake. The drums have volume that comes with a bit of clatter, the snare and bass kick punch through but the cymbals are a little dizzy, the toms thin and weak, sounding pale in comparison. Bart's vocals are dominant, strong, ample. Alongside him Marike Groot puts in a stunning performance as an effeminate compliment, often singing notes to chime with the synths but then whisked into the spot light to show her sublime range that soars with a wild streak.

The true champion here is songwriting, the aesthetics are an acquired taste one could get used too but so frequently does the magic come from the progressive shifts in song direction. The mood and tone is set, the song is in its cycle and a few instruments break away from the mold to then unleash a transition and the atmosphere is transformed, we are elevated to a new plateau. These songs also drop back into their routine brilliantly. Not a note of this record feels out of place or any musical avenue forced, its a sombre, Gothic melancholy without the romanticism. Some of its best moments come as more instruments get involved. The bass is very active with a bustling tone and attitude that has it scaling the fret board to accent the guitars and cue musical shifts. In these shifts and breakaways short lead guitars or solos often drop in with a knack for being within the moment and climaxing with licks that drop right into the chemistry, not taking a spotlight but sounding akin to all that's going on around them, flowing like a river with the music.

I know this record like the back of my hand, I discovered it at a time when I was getting into the next wave of brutal music, so it never seemed all that heavy to me. Now its become apparent that the dense meaty guitars, Bart's slugging growls and the crunching drums were probably rather dark for the time however the melodic synths and appropriated use of reverberated acoustics play that down. As well as drawn out, doomish power chords the guitars have moments of heavy, head banging chugging with a touch of Groove which was growing prominent at the time.

If the record has a weak spot, perhaps the interlude track "Always..." is a touch weak in comparison, the soft synths and synthetic toms over crashing waves feels a little thin without the full band. My favorite song "In Sickness And Health" gets a nod for pitting a somewhat Death Metal riff against  a swirly synthesizer effect that sweep phases back and forth for a truly magical, astral moment. Its been a year or two since I last enjoyed this personal favorite and I'm happy to share this with anyone who cares, however Id totally understand if someone didn't see eye to eye with me on this old gloomy record.

Favorite Songs: In Sickness And Health, King For A Day, Second Sunrise, Steongarden
Rating: 10/10

Saturday, 10 June 2017

My Day At Friday Download Festival 2017

As I write this now I realize the second day of music has just begun and Ive got to admit I'm both gutted to be missing more music and a little relived to have the comforts of my home. This year I decided to go alone just for the Friday to catch the legendary SOAD who I'm yet to see live. It wasn't my favorite day of the lineup but I needed to cross them off my list and it turned out there was actually a great lineup of acts to see.

She Must Burn
My plans to start with Northlane on the main stage were foiled by ques and so the day kicked off with a small crowd In the forth stage tent. The crowd lights were left on which seemed to make the band a little tense in front of such a small turnout however they rocked hard for those of us who dropped by. Their blend of Deathcore and Symphonic Black Metal was right up my ally and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of their set. Will be picking up their debut EP for sure!

Holding Absence
Following them on the same stage, a young, energetic and thirsty band from Cardiff with a talented front man brought a sizeable amount of fans to fill the tent. Mixing ethereal shoegazing guitars with Deftones inspired metallic tones would of made for an indulgent experience however technical issues rendered the distortion guitars inaudible and unfortunately left a lively, enthusiastic performance a little on its heels, no fault of the band of course.

Grabbing a bite to eat and catching Sabaton from a distance grew my appreciation for the war themed metallers. Their stage theatrics and a tank on stage for the drummer to play from made for a great live show that was sure to win them over more fans.

Code Orange
I may of missed a song or two from this four piece, super heavy Hardcore group. The third stage had moved location from last year and in the rush to find it I didn't get a great spot in the crowd but could enjoy the most wildly energetic and brutal performance of the day. Took me a while to realize all four were trading vocal duties in the absence of a visible front man. They commanded the stage with a ton of movement as they pummeled us with their Post-Deathcore brutality.

I was keen to catch Mastodon who Ive seen quite a few times before. I thoroughly enjoyed their Emperor Of Sand record this year but live it didn't resonate the same way. The crowd didn't seem all that into it and the lack of movement on stage had it feeling a little subdued and routine.

Suicidal Tendencies
Teaming up with the legendary Dave Lombardo, formally of Slayer, these veterans put on yet another cracking show. Their new song Clap Like Ozzy sounded fantastic live and an army of enthusiastic fans ensured it would be a memorable show with mosh pits and plenty of noise.

The Grammy nominated outfit, for their "Purple" record, had the most surprising show of all, a small turnout on a big performance slot had me walking all the way to the very front center of the crowd. The group rocked their songs flawlessly and really gave a stellar, inspired performance that sounded sublime. As the set drew on they had the small turnout of fans screaming and cheering their lungs out in appreciation of such an indulgent rocking performance. Almost the days best.

Prophets Of Rage
The days best show goes to the super group of Tom Morello, Chuck D, and B-Real. Essentially Rage Against The Machine with Zach replaced by the Public Enemy and Cypress Hill front men. Their couldn't be a voice more iconic than Chuck D's to replace him and with one of the best rappers alive alongside him the slew of RATM songs had a real kick about them. A few covers and the groups own tracks spiced up the show which commanded the crowd to move from the main stage.

Ive caught them a few times before and not looking for a front crowd spot for SOAD I decided to watch this brutal outfit command a punishing show on the forth stage. They were tight, lean and on point, rocking a handful of songs in their distinct style of heavy.

System Of A Down
Watching videos of them play recently on youtube had really wound down my hype for seeing one of Metal's biggest names. Over ten years since they last wrote new material, System have managed to keep their massive fan base together landing them a headline spot. It was a great show but purely on the merit of hearing so many songs of my youth live for the first time. It was a passable performance, their bassist brought movement and energy to the stage but Serj and Daron stood static like ghosts with a lack of enthusiasm in their facial expression and body language. Serj commented on the condition of his voice has he struggled to sing, finish sentences and replacing his thick, dense scream with quirky voices. It was a tough show for them and really made me feel like their moment as a band has passed. I enjoyed hearing their arsenal of classic songs but Its not something Id seek out again until they sort out their stage presences which was underwhelming.

A fantastic day out. Dead tempted to grab a Sunday ticket and drive back to Donnington but alas I must resume with my day to day.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Busta Rhymes "The Coming" (1996)

Brooklyn rapper Busta Rhymes is one one Hip Hop's most recognizable names but personally Ive associated him with the popular, mainstream side of the music due to his presences on MTV back in the day. With my journey through the 90s era Ive heard him appearing on many records, The Low End Theory, Project Funk Da World, Warriorz etc... changing my mind on where he stands. Looking over is list of features its clear he runs in some of the circles I'm yet to get around to but the point is hes a classic 90s era rapper and his debut record as a solo artist seemed like a great place to start.

Departing from Leaders Of The New School, Busta shows his strengths as a lone force, being the records biggest flavor, his hard hitting, energetic, charismatic flow has the rhymes spitting in an ever changing variety of styles. His words drop with texture and hype as he constantly shifts the persona and delivery. Its slightly manic, schizophrenic, his snap "ha" and crooked laughs in the backup track reinforce the mania that his flow creates. He has pace and emphasizes the mid point of longer words, bringing them into the rhyme flow, doubling up the on sentence endings. He also jumps on and off the tempo of the beat, regularly ramping up extra rhymes into the end of bars and shifting his pitch for various words and laughs. His distinct and clearly gifted style gives a lot of oomph to the record. Not many of rhymes stuck in my mind but with exception to one or two tracks Busta's flow was engaging and fun to follow for the runtime.

The albums production was handled by Busta himself and a couple other producers like DJ Scratch and Easy Mo Bee contributed tracks. The result is a rather mediocre collection of beats that don't have much of an over bearing theme or style to hold it together. Generally the beats steer to a more bombastic and darker leaning. Dub and Reggae influences emerge on some tracks but nothing defining. The album has one R&B, radio friendly song "It's A Party", which just so happened to be a single. Its a reasonable record, Busta's ability to rhyme really carries it but without him it would of been quite the lull despite quite a few big names in the features.

Favorite Tracks: Do My Thing, Everything Remains Raw, Woo Hah!
Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sithu Aye "Senpai EP II The Noticing" (2017)

I was more than thrilled to get my hands on this mini record. Given the reluctance of our esteemed guitarist to release the original "Senpai EP" I was not expecting a sequel but alas! "The Noticing" brings us four new tracks and a charming tribute to Animals As Leaders that dives right into the heart of quirky guitar noises that band have been experimenting with. Two years have passed but the albums production, the tone, feeling and sentiment have been held on ice, the two can be played alongside one another without a hitch. Its exactly what I was hoping for! More of the same, the three songs on the original EP were simply not enough!

The record is so alike to its predecessor that I feel my last blog says it all. Again we have bright, colorful songs of lively, mood lifting, warm hearted intent. The lead guitar parades its way to the spotlight, rich in style, persona and emotion. Alongside fruitful, lush pianos and shimmering guitar chords illuminate the backdrop for the story to be told by the constant dazzle of solos that take us upon adventures. Again the vibe and character is warm, playful and always full of exuberant energy. Each of these songs feel like a theme tune to open a show yet their excellence lets them stand on there own as fun and involving songs.

Sithu Aye is onto something here and I would certainly welcome a third record. If I had one criticism it would be the format itself hasn't been all to varied so far. After ten or twelve different tracks in this vein it may start to stale, luckily we are not there yet and I'm continuing to adore these tracks. The tribute song "Anime As Leaders (The Woven Weeab)" references a song by the band its not a cover of, the core muted harmonic groove riff sound much like their style but the rest of the lead guitars do not. Either way Id point out this is a potential gateway to expand on the core ideas. Lovely record! Dying for more of this niche right now.

Favorite Track: Its The Second Season, The Noticing
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Linkin Park "One More Light" (2017)

Linkin Park are one of this millenniums biggest names in Rock music and I had pretty much checked out from the band after the release of their record braking Hybrid Theory. Its only a couple of years ago that I got around to Meteora and bar their Nu Metal records I have heard next to nothing from them. There change of direction never mustered much interest in me however this latest record has, for all the wrong reasons. Like a morbid curiosity I wanted to hear what the fuss was about and before I give you my thoughts I should say that I hold no artists to any ideals or expectations that says they can't change their sound, or pursue whatever their musical interests are. Sometimes suspicions are aroused that the music may not be the key factor in a change of sound. You or I can never know but something feels very disingenuous about this record.

Shedding skin and starting over, the groups sound is rewritten from scratch, leaving behind all traces of Rock and pursuing what I can only describe as yesterdays squeaky clean, overtly emotional, top 40 pop music. Chester sings in his softest of tones, everything oozing sweetly through slow, simple melodies with lyrics that make my skin crawl. Mind the pun, these lyrics are the sort that display "emotional depth" through a glorification of pain and sorrows without the resolve to get into the grit of whats really being sung about. It sounds vague, loose and very palatable. Weak features from Pusha T and Stormzy feel far out of place, like token rappers in a pop song, Mike Shinoda's one rap on "Good Goodbye" just lacks charisma or any measure of  memorability. He does however show his singing voice on a couple others and I can't fault him on that, he has a decent, if very soft voice on him.

The instrumentals are chasing yesterdays sound, in a painful way. Many songs have the popular chirpy, high pitched spliced vocals stuttering away in the mix. Soft Dubstep synth murmur in places and most the songs drop in some trendy "woah oah oahs" gang shouts into the background. Its awful, tone deaf, self indulgent and really misses the mark where it walks in the shadows of others. The best thing about this record is never listening to it again. In fairness the first few tracks are reasonable but as it draws on it turns into torture, the lyrics especially. Whatever the bands motivations, it is questionable that so much of this record hinges on other peoples ideas and yesterdays pop sound.

Rating: 2/10

Friday, 26 May 2017

Death Grips "Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix)" (2017)

With an excitable change of direction, the experimental, edgy, noise fulled trio Death Grips drop a twenty two minute mixtape a year after their finely tuned full length "Bottomless Pit", also announcing a new album in the works. The mention of Gabber in the title is no joke, the group experiment with the hard thudding, repetitive grind of Hardstyle which has the majority of songs driven by a fast thumping bass and kick syncopation. Its far more interesting than what I remember of these harsh electronica styles, MC Ride's vocal presence and the layers of electronic noises surrounding him making for a more expanded experience than one might expect given whos making the music. The production is rawer, less polish and that only aids it. The constant bombardment of strange, wild synth noises remind me of the Bomb Squad, its as if select moments of a wild, free flowing noise jam where selected to be repeated as sections of the tracks. The result are dense, thick tracks which an endless shuffling of squashed in noises. There is so much going on it could almost be overwhelming but luckily the balance feels just right as a listener can get a feel for the song yet spend ages listening into all the nuances.

The percussion is very lively, to juxtapose the relentless thudding of the Gabber style tones of unorthodox rapid rolls and fills barge there way in. Occasionally the tireless jamming of Zach Hill can be heard between them, filling out another dimension with groove. The unhinged style extends to MC Ride too who drops a great set of dark and life infuriated lyrics with his typical artistic flavor. They make use of many effects, delivery styles and go for anything creative thats off the path. Its an engrossing record made from a varied collection of ideas that offer up a lot for the listener, its got depth, direction and substance. I'm left as curious to where they will go next, if its either a teaser of whats to come, or a one of, it stands on its own as a great but short experience.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Ulver "Kveldsjanger" (1996)

I've always been aware of Ulver, never quite found my way into his eclectic collection of records however the recent release of "The Assassination Of Julies Caesar" has cracked open the door. "Kveldsjanger" caught my ear as I was skimming through albums. Its part of the "Black Metal Trilogy" yet has not a drip of anything Metal in sight. Ulver's first record had both Black Metal and Norwegian Folk music woven into one, the following two records would split the styles and so this release is thirty five minutes of enchanting, mythic, Norse Folk to sink into.

Serine acoustic guitars, enchanting flutes, a deep brooding cello and absorbing vocals paint a wonderfully primitive and spiritual experience, capturing the spell bounding beauty of the cold natural terrain. Its wooden acoustics have a natural chill about them, very earthly. They strum out layered arrangements that sway their linage, ever changing, there twang a touch Spanish in moments but rarely that temperate. Garm's voice has a few intensities, sometimes loud and burly at the forefront, performing a folk tale, other times hes heard holding notes and words in the distance like a hymn behind the guitars. It always brings a spiritual humanistic level to the music and puts a soul within the landscape.

The nuances of detail are almost irrelevant in how vividly the vision of times gone by come across. The vast Nordic countryside is brought to life with a rural honesty, the mood doesn't steer into paganism, darkness or some exaggeration. It has a grounded authenticity that lets your imagination set the scene. A slight streak of sorrow runs through some tracks but nothing ever feels obvious, Its mood and tone command the setting with compositions that feel like old Folk songs have been fleshed out and expanded upon. "Hiertets Vee" steps of the path with the sound of vicious whirling winds and the end of the song, lonely flutes are heard through it, painting visions of travelers hunkering down to see out a storm. Its just a single moment that's a little more cinematic than musical and it fits right in. This record is a wonderful piece of folk art, a go to record for that atmosphere of the ancient past.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Crazy Town "Gift Of Game" (1999)

Listening to "That's Not Metal" Nu Metal podcast special had me curious about how bad a record could be. Back in the boom period of the genre, Crazy Town's "Butterfly" was a song you couldn't get away from and I have fond, humorous memories of my friends mocking the song and band. I didn't mind the song much myself but it occurred to me I have never heard anything beyond it. That single alone carried the record to platinum sales and given the podcast duos angry musings on how awful it was I decided I could endure a little punishment. Given my fondness of the era and tolerance for Rap Metal I got a kick from of the record that Id never expect of anyone else. Even if some aspects were enjoyable in the first half of the record, the lyrical obnoxiousness and cheapness dragged it to the gutter and once you've past the single track its clear the bands ideas becoming exhausting.

Before we get to the tripe it should be said that the guitar sound, despite being generic for the time, does have some punch and bounce about it. The occasional riff is able to muster some interest and the drummer holds a reasonable beat. I quite liked some of the experimentation with various influences, synthesized vocal lines, Funk and Disco grooves, effect washed acoustics. Unfortunately these reasonable aspects are dragged down by the frankly appalling front men Binzer and Mazur.

The duo's raps are a constant bombardment of cheap, sleazy, thuggish braggadocios. They sound like sex creepers as many misogynistic lyrics show they have very little regard for anyone but themselves. There attitude says lyrical gangsters, yet all the street talk comes of sour, a lot of hot air spat between blunt tongue cursing. Its trashy, the two have passable flows but their tones are nasal, sharp and repelling, word play is cheap and stuck in the past with obvious, simplistic rhymes often arrive to at a great stretch of the path.

The last few songs start to take on a Beastie Boys persona, throwing it back a decade with a sampling of the classic PSK, deploying a faster old school flow. Unfortunately the legendary KRS-One becomes a casualty, lured into the studio to get involved in the Metal Hip Hop crossover. Seems he drew the shortest straw, his presence is by far the best thing the record has to offer. Crazy Town represent the worst of Nu Metals corporate days. If there is a passable record here, its drowned by the nauseating presences of the two "rappers" and their self centered antics.

Rating: 2/10

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Daryl Donald "Solitude" (2017)

From the northern chills of Edinburgh Scotland comes a producer with an ear for laid back, chilled out, summer breeze Jazz Hop. Solitude is Daryl Donald's debut record and what a fine, easily enjoyable and inviting experience is is. From the first listen one can instantly identify the vibes, smooth and mellow samples, steady grooving, temperate drum loops. The songs have a dreamy, ethereal edge drawn in through airy synths, production style and reverbs that give the record a cool, atmospheric indulgence.

The fifteen tracks just pass the thirty minute mark and even with an average duration of two minutes many of the songs end with additional loops and beats that have the experience breeze by, never a dull moment as the record chops and changes, yet firmly holding the same vibe from one track to the next. I can only say hats off to such a consistent and interesting production. Where the record becomes a point of contention is the accommodating vocal samples which seem to pull it in different directions and to what extent I am unsure as it certainly doesn't suffer from these additional layers yet they are quite different from one another.

Firstly, a lot of beats are abruptly moved on with lively vocal snippets of what I can only describe as Speedy Gonzales "Arriba" crys. They are unusual but I became accustom to them. Second, there are pitch shifted accapella raps, I believe from a De La Soul record, they add a fitting voice to the beats but given they only feature in one or two spots seems unusual. Other talking snippets from what I presume are old TV shows about music and advertisements are sliced in, again seeming unusual yet they work.

On reflection of writing out my thoughts, the short songs, continually moving forward and undergoing seemingly odd sample snippets are what made this record so great. It goes against expectations and that difference makes it stand out from regular records. I can only think of one frustrating moment, the end of "Still Life" ends with an interluding mini beat, a gorgeous Jazz piano starts to swoon and it ends all too soon, fizzling out with a swift fade out after the key change, I would of really liked to hear it fleshed out more. Other than that its a cracking, laid back listen to mellow out to.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 22 May 2017

Limp Bizkit "Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water" (2000)

Striking while the iron is hot, the Jacksonville Nu Metal band Limp Bizkit did not mess around getting another record out of the back of their massive success "Significant Other". Fifteen months later the group essentially release another album from the same blueprint, selling over one million records in the first week making it the fastest selling rock record of all time. Working with Terry Date again they make another chart topping collection of catchy, crowd bouncing, party moshing songs, tightening up the previous sound and recreating their formula for easier consumption. This was probably my favorite record as a teen. I still remember buying my copy at my local record store, the album cover was plastered all over the walls and shelves.

Every now and then I just have to give the Limp a listen. With this blog at the back of my mind I always have a more inquisitive experience with the music. This time around the exploits of this record seemed more obvious than ever. Limp master their formula for energetic, bouncy riffs, Fred's catchy hooks and rocking drum grooves, arranging them with a back and forth between the verse and chorus that slowly raises the mood for the "money riff" to kick in with a mammoth weight. They then wind it down, bring it back up and kick in with the knockout riff again before lumping in an alternate section at the end. The majority of songs follow this arrangement and those that don't come rather close, it must be said "Take A Look Around" is an absolutely brilliant perfection of this approach. The big riff is just slamming and the build ups get me fired up every time, even when you know exactly whats coming.

To my ears, Limp's guitar sound may just explain how such an angry, aggressive, urban and metallic band took their sound to the masses. The guitars are mostly contained within a space, when the distortion kicks in its got that ripe, vibrant texture and the groove is bold, loud and obvious, however unlike more traditional Metal guitar tones, its rather contained, within its own part of the mix and not bleeding out or smothering any other sounds, its not as dense or thick but tonal. Most of the songs have a lot of effects soaked acoustic guitars, lively, deep musical baselines from Sam and pumping Hip Hop grooves from John, the two have a fantastic chemistry and their professional background shows. In essences, the fiery rage the band have in their hooks is like a beast in a cage, brought out at just the right moment and locked up again for the average listener to recover from.

The albums fifteen songs flow is also really similar to its predecessor. The catchiest party tunes are loaded in the front end behind the intro, it starts to get more melodic and varied as the record plays on, a Hip Hop track jumps in towards the end, similar to "N 2 Gether Now" but this time with Xzibit, the two exchanging some sub par raps, however the alternate "Rollin" song has Method Man returning along with Redman and DMX, who Ive recently been listening to. The obnoxious beat was produced by Swizz Beats who also handled production on X's records. After it the album fizzles out with a long interlude outro track and like before a handful of "hidden" tracks are throw into the negative space of a tracks run time on the CD release.

I never thought this one was their best but from a popularist perspective it could well be, at the peak of the Nu Metal, Rap Metal craze the LB fine tuned their craft for the charts and I have fond memories of seeing them on MTV every day after school. To throw in some criticism, Fred's raps at times get rather sour for lack of a better word. I consider Fred to be a great front man for moving a crowd with his fun and quirky style. Rap is a tool for him to use but when paired up with some authentic rappers his rhymes sound flimsy and immature in comparison. He is always the point of contention and I think the rest of the group are nothing but solid, especially with their more expansive songs like "Boiler", "The One" and "It'll Be OK". Its not a record time will serve well but it will always be a gem to me, no thanks to the moody teenage feels those seventeen years ago.

Favorite Tracks: Hot Dog, Full Nelson, My Way, The One, Take A Look Around, It'll Be Ok
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Hiatus Kaiyote "Choose Your Weapon" (2015)

Now here's a record I never knew I needed! Four piece Australian Jazz Rock outfit Hiatus Kaiyote's second album came as a personal recommendation from the Ren-diggidy-dawg a while back and Its been on repeat ever since! The 80s aesthetic of the cover art says little to the flavor of the music but maybe volumes to the vibrant individualistic style and character the band posses. Fusing aspects of Funk, Jazz, Soul and Progressive Rock, the group take on their inspirations with an articulate voice and inspired artistic freedom.

The result? A classy musical indulgence soaked in the haze of competing instruments that bring every moment to life with their collaboration. Where direction is often led through syncopation and repetition, Hiatus take the other path and fill your cup with the spice of variety as each instrument helps color the canvas of every passing moment. The depths can be felt as each song is layered in instrumentation of which any could be the lead instrument. It brings the core songs to life as never a dull moment presents itself, we are always in the presence of animated instrumentation fighting for our attention and rarely letting one another take center stage.

The percussion brings a mix of flavors to fight for your interest. While holding the driving backbone of tempo down, a liveliness is felt in the range of sounds emerging, an expansive kit loaded with intricacies fleshes out the core rhythm with a constant energy for subtle polyrhythms, grooves, shuffles and vibrant fills. Alongside the drums guitars and synths play a similar roll of never settling for a simple and linear path, each instrument always has something to contribute, either an accent or added dimension to the songs density and trajectory. Especially the synths which make passionate use of the endless manipulation that knobs and dials can do to expand horizons and evolve the sound from a singular textured experience.

The record never stays in one place, its wild and free flowing nature has the carpet pulled from your feet right as your feeling settled. The grooves shuffle, the melodies swoon, the atmosphere sways and lights up the night with its charm but the fire starting spark of magic comes from singer Nai Palm. Her breathy voice has the range to stride with power, then whisper in the next utterance. If there is a lead here, it is her artsy voice that always rises to the top with its flair and quirk to remain fully motioned, never settling on a steady note and often adding inflections in time with the punch line of the drum beat. Its an instrument of its own, as animated and vibrant as any of the others. Some of her best moments come from the ditching of words as she devolves into the melody, free of conventional constraints, it reminds me of a child dancing, free of judgement from anyone, especially herself.

For all its merit, not everything attempted here will be to everyone's taste. Its strength is variety, which comes in a large engulfing dose. There is never a stale moment but the constant shifting and shuffling from one idea to the next doesn't always strike the charm the majority of it does and can move on you as your settling in. No bad words to be said, just that the genius chemistry these musicians have is really milked into every corner of the record. At just under seventy minutes its got so much to offer, a real cracker that's got to be the best thing Ive heard so far this year.

Favorite Tracks: Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, Breathing Underwater, By Fire, The Lung
Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

DMX "...And Then There Was X" (1999)

Making our way through the troubled rappers discography we arrive at his third and most commercially successful record. It shipped over ten million copies world wide no thanks to the massive hit "Party Up" and it being released in the prime of the industry's sales. Its not his best work but certainly has a more consistent tone about it. The instrumentals feeling very fitting one song to the next and X seems as ruthless and unforgiving as hes been so far. Its not to much effect however, beyond the savage nature of the stories told, his vocabulary doesn't expand much beyond a constant reliance on curse words which gets a bit tiresome where lyrical creativity is needed.

The albums theme has X diving deeper into stories of street life, painting an unapologetic image of him delving into crime, drugs and questionable behavior as he raps very directly about his experiences. They are often aimed at an individual, X threatening his actions through the music with violent imagery and insulting slurs. I'm probably focusing on the negative aspects as Ive heard him so frequently recently, his flow is still fantastic, wild, up beat and hyped with plenty of barking but it still feels like the lyrical content isn't anywhere near as exciting. On "What's My Name" he gets the hook just right to make one my favorite DMX songs thanks to a fantastic instrumental, however the records best raps come from The Lox on "D-X-L".

The production is tight, consistent and a little denser than before. Another set of programmed instrumentals and drum kits take a step forward with a shade more complexity and depth in the various arrangements. The drum loops are loaded with more cymbals and hi-hats, alongside them strings, pianos and various synths set the setting for X's dark criminal raps. Its got the atmosphere down but far from being special. Just a solid collection of beats from start to end with a hint of mafioso.

My one big turn off is "Prayer III", X's spoken word piece, a conversation with god that's featured on each record. This time it feels a little contrived and illogical for him to acknowledge his influence on his potentially impressionism audience, accepting his success and fame as a gift in the wake of his troubled behavior and antics. I'm not keen on this way of thinking, its enabling but I'm not here to cast judgement, just making observations from my perspective. Good record but only has a couple of sparks.

Favorite Tracks: The Professional, Part Up, What's My Name, D-X-L
Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Ulver "The Assassination Of Julius Caesar" (2017)

Norwegian musician Ulver has an eclectic discography in the making. Emerging from his native native Black Metal scene in the 90s, Ulver gave up the sound after the third record and has since pursued many sounds and styles, often experimental. From Dark Ambient and Drone, to Trip Hop and Jazz, often with a strong current of Electronics, he has quite the remarkable journey. This latest venture outlines its premise and inspiration with the title alone, the music strides into new territory as an intelligent from of Synthpop emerges, rich in texture and dense in composition.

Lyrically its concept is obvious, stated in the albums title. As words often do, they go right past me however like a sore thumb one always picks up on the pronunciation of dates, events and the narrations that tie them together in the pursuit of historical ties. Sometimes we are following Caesar's internal dialog and other times from a third person perspective. Its one thing that caught my attention, however almost all of mine was captivated by the stunning instrumentals and Ulver's soaring, powerful yet persuasive voice.

 An array of beautifully crafted synth instruments unite under an inspired chemistry that brings about a truly swooning collection of songs. They play out like cinematic moments of emotion and event, with the power to transform and evolve seamlessly. The synths interweave bright, pulsing melodies with bold and poppy textures while soft, expansive strings grace the backdrop. Pianos, acoustic guitars and other instruments wage in too, the drumming is especially impressive, holding together and electronic sound without relying on booming thuds and thumps. There is a lot of hi-hat and cymbal work, subtle drum rolls and a good sense of rhythm to really flesh out the percussion without overpowering its way into the fold.

Its as if the level of craft and composition outplay its nearest neighbor, on one level it has the pop sensibilities to draw one in with fantastic hooks and inviting melodies, on another it plays so much deeper with all kinds of whispering instruments waging in, for example very quiet bongos can be heard here and there. With it the songs can be simple in structure and others more complex and evolved, however the album flows effortlessly between the varying degrees of approach. Brilliant record, can't stop listening to my favorites at the moment.

Favorite Tracks: So Falls The World, Transverberation, 1969, Coming Home
Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Nightrage "The Venomous" (2017)

Its been over a decade since I last checked in with the Greek Melodic Death Metal group Nightrage. I don't remember much of them, other than their breed of melodeath being rather rough around the edges. "The Venomous" is a step apart from where I last joined them as the band treat themselves to a lavish, tightly polished production that is as crisp as it gets for this genre of music.

Walking in the shadows of bands like Carcass, Arch Enemy and In Flames, the band do little to set themselves apart from the tropes of the melodeath genre. Its as predictable an experience you could expect, every riff, scream, and drum beat fits neatly into the formula. That's not to bash on the band but when a sound is where it was ten years ago it can hardly be exciting for a seasoned listener.

The reality is Nightrage are a very competent band, clearly talented, technical and inspired the album is littered with tightly wound riffs chugging away on integral grooves and between them wave after wave of bright colorful leads and vibrant guitar solos. Song structures keep things oozing but it lacks the power to surprise. Not a single moment or riff felt unexpected, wild or out of the mold and so often it drifted to the back of my mind. Even so It was still an enjoyable record with little to complain about but for such a unoriginal piece of music it hardly made an impression on me. If you know Melodic Death Metal, you know this record already.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Oranssi Pazuzu "Kevät Värimyrsky" (2017)

After being blown away by the Finnish Psychedelic Post-Black Metal band's 2016 release "Värähtelijä", I was excited to hear talk of a new album, however this release is just a two track EP. The new record is out but released in the same month is this sixteen minutes affair to wet the apatite for whats to come. Its first track "Kevät" is a slowly and dreary wander through the foggy moonlight fields of desolation as a bleak atmosphere is cast by sombre acoustic guitars over distant hazy distortions. It progresses with an increasing unnerving as a slow gargling vocal taunts cryptic words, leading us into monstrous layers of dense rumbling guitar distortions. Sinister strings hide between the smothering sound it breaks apart as easy as it came, a creepy and morbid song with no charm for simple melodies, it is a grave soundscape of despair.

Starting with a singular, tonal distortion guitar and steady baseline "Värimyrsky" starts as another barren and desolate atmospheric piece. As it steadily groans a brief pause leads into a dramatic eruption as brooding tom drum fills lead us into a riff roaring whirl of metallic darkness. Twisted howls call out and before long the song breaks for respite as the vocal and distortion guitars drop out for a serine acoustic guitar to play out over a lively baseline and mystic organ like synths. With a guitar solo it lurches back towards the darkness and the song goes through several shifts, ever climaxing on its variations before breaking to a more enigmatic ending as a sense of glory and wonder emanates on the final moments of the song. Two excellent, crafted tracks. If these are outtakes from the full length then we are in for a big treat.

Rating: 4/10