Thursday, February 28, 2013

Paysage d'Hiver - Das Tor (2013)
This album represents all that I really love about black metal: It's dark, brooding, intense, mesmerizing, cathartic, heavily atmospheric, bleak and, of course, grim and frostbitten. However, while it's being all dark and evil, it's also oddly relaxing and conducive to meditation. The hypnotic riffs, barely discernible vocals, and icy ambiance all make for an immersive experience into an harsh, alien landscape that leaves you at once disconnected and alone, yet connected to something larger than yourself by unknown means. As I've only heard one other album (Winterkalte) from this genius artist, it's hard to say how Das Tor fits in the grand scheme of Wintherr's discography, but I suspect it's his best to date. Others have commented that this album takes a slightly different approach than previous ones due to its similarity to Darkspace and Vinterriket, and I think this holds true. These influences give Das Tor an extra layer of depth and darkness that push it to perfection. I would not be surprised if this ends up being my favorite black metal release of 2013.
Seven Sisters of Sleep - Opium Morals (2013)
Featuring brutal riffs, tortured vocals, and an extremely heavy atmosphere, this album is bound to be one of the heaviest of 2013. It perfectly blends grindcore with sludge in a very menacing and violent way. Like the new Nails release, it's pretty chaotic and claustrophobic, but there's definitely good music happening behind the thick wall of fuzz. If you're into bands like Napalm Death, Melvins, Acid Bath, Rotten Sound etc. then this album is sure to please your ears.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Long Distance Calling - The Flood Inside (2013)
As my first experience with this band, I can see they have a whole lot of talent but weren't really able to make a cohesive record. This is especially the case with the tracks that have vocals in them. As compared to the excellent instrumentals on the album, the vocal tracks lack the dynamism and sense of adventure that the former have. In turn, that makes the album feel rather disjointed and schizophrenic which is not a good thing in a demanding genre such as post-rock (or any other genre for that matter.) Unlike the new Olafur Arnalds album in which vocals were integrated nicely into a genre that normally doesn't feature vocals at all, the vocals on this album detract not only from the music backing them but also affect the album as a whole. Then again, those tracks aren't actually bad; they just don't fit with the album's flow. So overall, it's a mixed bag. But I am interested in checking out their earlier albums without vocals as I'm sure they'll be superb.
Olafur Arnalds - For Now I Am Winter (2013)
One of the most recognizable names in ambient-classical fusion, Olafur Arnalds has returned for his third proper album and this he's brought Arnor Dan Arnarson of Icelandic band Agent Fresco with him. Mixing in vocals with this style of music is an unexpected and rather risky move, but Arnarson's sweet, almost Jonsi-like falsetto melts into the songs with ease. Other than the addition of vocals, Arnalds mostly sticks to his guns and delivers expertly crafted, beautiful atmospheric tracks riddled with his trademark icy beats. It's an epic, gorgeous album that, along with the new Ludovico Einaudi record, is sure to be one of the best classical albums of the year and possibly Arnalds' best.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Flaming Lips - The Terror (2013)
After 2009's rather disappointing "Embyro," The Flaming Lips  have returned with what is one of the best albums of their career. Always unpredictable, "The Terror" sees the band further developing some of the sounds they had previously dabbled in on "Yoshimi." It's a very laid back, spacey album that wears its Krautrock influences on its sleeve. It's also quite a beautiful album that takes multiple listens to absorb. It may not have the over-the-top ambition of "Yoshimi" or "At War With the Mystics," but it's still a unique and excellent addition to the band's discography and further cements their position as one of the best modern psychedelic bands around.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Soilwork - The Living Infinite (2013)
Good melodeath is rather hard to come by these days seeing as how many bands are doing it and so few really succeed. However, one of greats of the genre have returned to show everybody how it's done with what may be their best album yet. Whereas the previous few were inconsistent quality-wise, "The Living Infinite" contains no filler and all thriller. From the riffs to the melodies to the solos to the choruses, this double album is packed with catchy, heavy moments that really grab your attention. It's a very satisfying listen and shows that bands who are considered to be "past their prime" can surprise the music world and put out some of the best stuff of their whole career. Melodeath might not be entering a renaissance with this album, but Soilwork sure are.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Autechre - Exai (2013)
One of the most influential and ambitious electronic groups has returned after three years with what may be their best album since "Amber." Autechre are as glitchy as ever on this album with meandering, dense passages that makes one imagine being walking through an endless labyrinth. Per usual, this is not a very easy listen as its schizophrenic nature wedges it in between the safe, familiar world of electronic dance music and the bizarre, chaotic world of avant-garde. As with other IDM artists such as Aphex Twin, as well as with Autechre's previous albums, Exai presents a bold challenge to the listener to not only enjoy its quirkiness, but to appreciate it as an artistic statement. I think this album works very well on both levels and would highly recommend it to any electronic music fan.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How To Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion (2013)
Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor and his wife Mariqueen have concocted a dark, brooding experience that sucks you in with its seductive beauty. Unsurprisingly, the music is very similar to NIN, but the key difference is Mariqueen's fragile, haunting vocals which allow for a wider range of emotions and themes. Additionally, HTDA has more in common with Reznor's recent film score work than the most recent NIN albums (The Slip and Ghosts I-IV) which are more guitar-driven. The music flows very organically and peers into the dark corners of the psyche with unnatural ease. The subtle glitch work and menacing bass beats make for an atmospheric, eerie journey that will make your spine tingle.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance (2013)
This is the first of Darkthrone's non-black metal albums I've had the pleasure of listening to and though I admittedly prefer their black metal era, this is still a very good metal album. On "The Underground Resistance," Darkthrone show unabashed love for their influences including such heavyweights as Iron Maiden, Metallica, Motorhead, and Celtic Frost. Considering the punkish aesthetic and occasionally semi-harsh vocals employed, one can see that the band have not completely abandoned their roots. Besides the last two tracks being unnecessarily long, this is an enjoyable album filled with great riffs and epic songs. It would be hard even for the diehard fans of their old stuff to not appreciate such a convincing, well-written album as this one.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nails - Abandon All Life (2013)
As with Nails debut "Unsilent Death," their second effort is no less brutal and violent. In fact, it might be even more so. It's an uncompromising, crushing album that will make your ears bleed and your head bang. It may be closer to hardcore punk than metal, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the heaviest albums I've ever heard. Definitely check this one out, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Atoms for Peace - Amok (2013)
As a massive fan of all things Radiohead and Thom Yorke, I was eagerly anticipating this album and now that I've listened to it I can say it's absolutely amazing. In fact, it sounds quite similar to Radiohead's recent work in that it features hypnotic guitar melodies/bass lines, beautiful ambient glitches, and of course Yorke's traditional crooning. Amok is less similar to Thom Yorke's previous non-Radiohead project "The Eraser" due to the latter's absence of guitars, but it's still in the same vein as it. All in all, it's a very dense and lush piece of art that deserves many listens to fully appreciate.
Eternal Tears of Sorrow - Saivon Lapsi (2013)
Like Omnium Gatherum, Eternal Tears of Sorrow is another Finnish death metal band that makes epic, melodic music but they add in symphonic elements to give the music a unique twist. This is my first full experience with this band and I'm quite impressed by it. The last track especially impressed me with its sheer epic quality and its showcasing of the band at its full potential. However, a few of the other songs on the album didn't quite hold my attention and the vocals sounded a bit typical, but despite these shortcomings this is still a very good record that shouldn't be missed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Omnium Gatherum - Beyond (2013)
Following up on the phenomenal "New World Shadows," Omnium Gatherum's sixth album doesn't really show any signs of innovation, but rather continues with the tried and true formula that's made the band one of Finland's best. Per usual, this album is chock full of heavy, melodic riffs, tasteful keyboard work, forceful vocals, great atmosphere, and overall stellar songwriting. This is an extremely impressive album that, while it doesn't explore any new musical avenues, is thoroughly enjoyable and is easily one of the best melodeath releases in a while.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam (2013)
The legendary death metal outfit Suffocation have returned for yet another foray into brutality with "Pinnacle of Bedlam." On my first listen, I'd say it's about on par both stylistically and quality-wise with Dying Fetus' "Reign Supreme." It features pretty much everything you'd want from a tech-death album: a perfect balance between complex riffage and melody, clear and enunciated growls, and highly competent drumming. This is one of those albums that takes death metal back to its roots and shows you why you fell in love with it in the first place. It's a solid thrill-ride all the way through, and bound to be one of the year's best death metal releases.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Stratovarius - Nemesis (2013)
On my first listen, I'm convinced that this is Stratovarius' best release since Infinite. The band seem to have eschewed all the elements that kept them in mediocrity and come up with a solid, worthwhile slice of fun power metal. The track "Unbreakable" is easily the catchiest number they've written in years while "Halcyon Days" sees the band at their most diverse and unpredictable. But of course, seeing as they are one of the foremost power metal bands in the world, the album as a whole is pretty predictable and the band do not stray very far from their roots. It's quite impressive to see that such a seasoned band still possesses the same creative drive which inspired them to start making music all the way back in 1989. I highly recommend Nemesis. It's sure to be one of the best power metal albums of the year.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Beirut - The Rip Tide (2011)
Yet another excellent indie band I discovered, Beirut skillfully boil down intricate folk and classical sections into a pop format. The songs are all very catchy and many of them are quite beautiful. The atmosphere is warm and the music is delightfully upbeat. Overall, it's just a pleasure to listen to especially with its no-frills, almost minimalistic approach which really helps bring all the musical elements (especially the brass sections) into focus. If you want to hear the baroque pop stylings of bands like Arcade Fire combined with the mellow acoustics of Bon Iver then this is your band.
The Antlers - Burst Apart (2011)
As far as indie rock goes, this band is hands-down one of the best I've ever heard. I'm ashamed to admit I only very recently discovered them, but better late than never. Their sound is very close to that of Radiohead (who vocalist Peter Silberberg admits is one of his top influences), but they still manage to keep their musical identity intact and quite vibrant with a healthy infusion of post-rock. In fact, if there's any band that could make post-rock pop it's this band. The instrumentation is very fresh and organic while Silberberg's vocals are simply magical and heartfelt. Again, I'm not much of an indie fan in general, but my respect for the genre did go up several notches after hearing this album.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Animal Collective - Centipede Hz (2012)
After the amazing psych-rock masterpiece Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective's follow-up leaves me somewhat disappointed. The songs are for the most part rather average, but some brilliance does shine forth especially on the second half of the album. It's extremely quirky as you'd expect an AC release to be, but at the same time it feels like the band has kind of stagnated. Granted, this is a grower so I'll probably think better of it over time, but on my first listen I'm not very impressed.
Enforcer - Death By Fire (2013)
Borrowing liberally from classic bands such as Motorhead, Metallica, and Iron Maiden, Swedish band Enforcer have delivered a slab of metal that honestly sounds better on paper than in practice. Most of the songs just fall kind of flat and don't really grab me. The big exception to that, and my favorite track on the album, is "Crystal Suite" which is an excellent Maiden-esque instrumental piece. Otherwise, I would still recommend listening to this album, but don't expect to be blown away by it.
Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction (2012)
One of 2012's best-reviewed metal albums, Pallbearer's debut put doom back on the map and took it back to its roots. However, while the presence of Black Sabbath can be distinctly heard on this album, it doesn't fall into the cliches of stoner metal (not that I dislike stoner metal, it's just a bit overdone). Instead, its epic, intense, droning nature is of a quite unique variety that has more in common with Candlemass than High on Fire. The vocals, riffs and melodies all take you on an emotional journey that requires patience and perseverance. While the album may not hold your attention through every twist and turn it takes, the atmosphere is such that one can connect with it the whole time and be intrigued enough not to hit the pause button. I won't say it's the best thing since sliced bread as many metal and non-metal media outlets seem to have done, but I will say that it is an impressive release that not only showcases the talent of a young, upstart band, but also breathes new life into doom metal as a whole.

Grizzly Bear - Shields (2012)
After initially not being that impressed with this album, I decided to give it another chance and found it to be much better the second the time around. Their music strongly resembles that of Radiohead and even that of late-era Beatles, but with a psych-folk twist. It's a very beautiful and lush affair with a very eclectic and quirky sound. While I'm not a huge fan of indie in general, this band is a notable exception. Definitely one of the best indie releases of last year.
My Bloody Valentine - BMV (2013)
The legendary shoegaze innovators have returned after 22 years with an amazing record that sounds like it picked up right where their hit album Loveless left off. To my great joy, the same swirling, beautiful textures and ethereal vocals that first attracted me and other fans to the band are ever present here. There's not much here that's particularly new other than some experimentation with electronica so it's a pretty gradual and almost unnoticeable evolution from Loveless. That's more than ok with though since, as I've stated before, experimentation can sometimes have disastrous results. But however it compares to Loveless or anything else in their brief discography, it's a phenomenal comeback and a gorgeous piece of art from brilliant band.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003)
As with my 200th post, my 300th post will celebrate one of my all-time favorite albums. De-Loused basically came out of nowhere and impressed many people, myself included, with its fusion of prog rock with Latin jazz and hardcore. It's a bizarre mixture that, had any other band attempted it, might not have worked but actually did so with great success. Cedric Bixler-Zavala's bombastic, Robert Plant-esque vocals combined with nonsensical lyrics and the even more bombastic music makes for a quite surreal and adventurous album. De-Loused easily places on my top 20 prog rock albums of all time, maybe even my top 10. If you're a prog rock fan and haven't heard this then I assume you've been living under a rock for the past 10 years in which case you should listen to it now. Or if you're looking to introduce someone to prog rock then you can't go wrong with this one.

This review is dedicated to the band itself who recently decided to split up. Terrible loss for music. RIP

Hail Spirit Noir - Pneuma (2012)
Another avant-garde black metal band, Hail Spirit Noir isn't nearly as chaotic as Deathspell Omega, and in fact their approach is entirely different. HSN experiment with the psychedelic sounds of the 60's and 70's to make for a very unique album that almost puts the band outside the black metal genre altogether. Despite its fresh innovation, I feel that some parts of the album drag on and could have been shortened or otherwise modified to pack more of a punch. Nonetheless, it's a very solid album that shouldn't be passed up.

Deathspell Omega - Paracletus (2010)
Having only recently discovered this band and listened to this album, I'm sad I didn't find them earlier. Like Portal, Deathspell Omega make violent, chaotic and utterly unpredictable music only they're a black metal band whereas Portal is more oriented towards death metal. DO's lyrics are some of the most fascinating and intellectual I've heard in metal as they portray an informed theological debate between Christianity and anti-Christianity/Satanism (the band adopt the latter view of course). France is famous for its avant-garde black metal scene and I'm happy to put this band right up alongside one of my other favorites in the scene, Blut Aus Nord. Admittedly, I don't fully get this album after one listen but in my defense, this is so dense and intense that I can hardly be blamed for that. As of now though, it's a very good record from what surely one of the most innovative metal bands around.
Amiensus - Restoration (2013)
I always love it when a new band comes out of left field and totally knocks it out of the park like these guys do. They combine some of the best elements from some of my favorite bands including the dark melodic riffs of Opeth, the wintry folk of Agalloch, the depressive clean vocal melodies of Katatonia, the doomy atmosphere of Swallow the Sun, and Ihsahn-esque harsh vocals. But of course, they're a musical entity unto themselves and are far more than the sum of their parts. While many other bands have tried this sort of "post black metal" and done a decent enough job, I feel like this band has taken it in a somewhat new direction or at least given the genre the breath of fresh air it deserves. The main feature of the album for me is the atmosphere which makes me really connect with the scene in the album cover. The symphonic elements present in many of the songs are not only very well-composed, but are also a crucial part of establishing this atmosphere. And it goes without saying that all the other musical parts are top-notch as well. In all, this is certainly one of the best albums of the year, and this is a band that is just oozing with potential. Can't wait for their follow-up!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Bullet for My Valentine - Temper Temper (2013)
Though it has its moments, BFMV's latest release is quite forgettable and simply doesn't match up to their three previous albums. That's really all I have to say about this.