Saturday, March 30, 2013

Moss - Horrible Nights (2013)
Extreme doom metal outfit Moss have returned with their third album and even with the lack of harsh vocals, it still proves to be as evil and foreboding as "Sub Templum." Besides the acoustic instrumental "Dreams from the Depths," this album punishes the listener with unrelenting, droning riffs and a suffocatingly hazy atmosphere. This is really what doom metal should be all about: dark, heavy, and evil music. The issue though is that the album suffers from a lack of variety, but this is to be expected when we're dealing with this genre of music. After all, the band are going for a very specific mood and concept in their music so I think it behooves the listener to judge the album not only for its musical appeal, but also its artistic value. It may not be the most appealing music to those unfamiliar with this style, but its artistic value is quite high. Moss have not only continued the extreme doom tradition with this album, but they've also expanded their sound into new areas. For that, they deserve a great deal of respect and admiration.
The Dear Hunter - Migrant (2013)
The Dear Hunter's latest release is quite a surprising change of style for this highly accomplished band. There are no prog-rock epics on this album, but there is a whole lot of beauty and drama in what may be one of the most beautiful pop albums I've ever heard. The songs are sincere and, at times, even heartbreaking while their composition is elegant and well thought out. Influences range from classical to jazz to traditional pop as well as including modern bands like Radiohead and Arcade Fire. "Migrant" is a gorgeous, introspective album that shows a side of Casey Crescenzo he had hinted at in previous albums, but only fully develops on this one. Though the term "art pop" may sound self-contradictory, I think it's the perfect term to describe this catchy masterpiece of an album. Whether you're a fan of this band or not, you should make a point of checking this album out. While it's not TDH's best work, I'd say it's still an essential piece of their catalog and one of this year's best so far.
Killswitch Engage - Disarm the Descent (2013)
One of the foremost names in metalcore have returned with old singer Jesse Leach in tow with what may be their most solid offering yet since 2004's "The End of Heartache." Whereas the last two albums disappointed me with excessive amounts of poppiness, the band have made somewhat of a return to the aggression of the first two albums with heavy, complex riffs. Of course, the songs are still plenty catchy and fans of the Howard Jones period should have few qualms with this album. If there's anything that does drag down "Disarm the Descent" it's the sameness that permeates throughout making it hard to identify which songs are standouts ("In Due Time" might be an exception to that.) That said, it's still one of the best metalcore albums I've heard in a while and is a more than worthy addition to the band's discography.
Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (2013)
Having enjoyed their fifth album "Snow," I decided to check out Spock's Beard's latest release and I was not disappointed. It's a melodic, catchy, groovy album that's not overly quirky like some prog albums tend to be, but instead focuses mostly on the riffs a la Deep Purple (with some Yes thrown in). Despite some songs feeling a little dragged out, this is an epic, adventurous album written by a band who clearly know what they're doing and are doing it well even this late in their career. "Brief Nocturnes" is certainly worth your time if you're a prog-rock fan.

Caladan Brood - Echoes of Battle (2013)
Here's a little something for all you Summoning fans. It's sprawling, epic, and beautiful but (and here's the kicker) it's has nothing to do with Lord of the Rings! Instead, the band chose to base their debut album around Steven Erikson's "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series which I had never heard of before I found out Caladan Brood. About the music though, the orchestration is absolutely masterful and delightfully Romantic. You can easily imagine yourself being swept away to some epic landscape far away fighting in glorious battles. Indeed, the atmospherics on this album are some of the best I've heard in black metal and even beat Summoning at their own game in some regards. The harsh vocals also sound like those of Summoning and evoke both a sense of desperation and resolve. In all, this is an incredible feat of musicianship that will not only satiate Summoning fans until the latter's next release, but also stands in its own right as a black metal masterpiece. I thought Paysage d'Hiver had black metal AOTY locked up, but now it looks like he has competition.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Birds and Buildings - Bantam to Behemoth (2008)
If a skeptic needed to be convinced that modern prog rock can compete with the classics, then this album would be exhibit A. "Bantam to Behemoth" is a veritable behemoth of an album with some of the most complex and creative musicianship the prog world has to offer and almost every classic prog style being represented from symphonic to fusion to even zeuhl. As the vocals are sparse, this is an instrument-driven album and it is the instrumentation here that earns the band the right to be considered in a class unto their own. The wild percussion, intricate guitars, beautiful piano and saxophone, as well as the absolutely masterful use of the mellotron all make for a stunningly good masterpiece of an album. Along with Steven Wilson's solo albums, I can think of no other modern prog record that captures the musical essence of records such as King Crimson's "Lizard" or Genesis' "Selling England By the Pound" such as "Bantam to Behemoth" does. It's has a distinctly nostalgic quality about it, yet it sounds so fresh -- as though we're still in that incredibly prolific period of the 70's where musical innovations seemingly arose every day. The band's ability to make past sounds fresh and relevant is their greatest strength, and I sincerely hope many more people will discover and appreciate this album as I did.
Yellow Swans - Going Places (2010)
I'm hardly familiar with the "noise ambient" genre, but if there are other albums like this out there then I want to hear more of it. In contrast to the sharp, ear-destroying aggressiveness of artists like Merzbow, Yellow Swans use noise in a much more subtle fashion preferring to immerse the listener into a dreamlike, but chaotic state rather than shock you into submission. The noise samples are seemingly random yet there is a clear sense of progression in each track as marked not only by volume/intensity, but also by subtle changes in the underlying musical structure. It's a bizarre, yet beautiful kind of ambient music that shows the incredible diversity of the genre and has made me want to explore the noise world more.
Troum/Yen Pox - Mnemonic Induction (2002)
I'm extremely glad to have stumbled upon this little-known gem of an album because it's some of the best dark ambient I've heard rivaling the likes of Lustmord and Robert Rich. It's unfathomably dark and deep with otherworldly bass rumbling and an unfolding electronic soundscape on top of it. Many might call this album "evil" or "scary," but to me it's quite beautiful in a dark sense. In fact, it's incredibly relaxing music that makes you think of the vastness of space or the bottom of the ocean. That's really what all ambient albums should do -- inspire your imagination -- and this album does it brilliantly.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Ensemble Pearl - Ensemble Pearl (2013)
This album features members of legendary drone/doom bands Sunn O))) and Boris (as well as some other talented musicians), but the result sounds like neither band. If anything, this album sounds very close to the Old Western cinematic soundscapes of the highly influential drone band Earth. It's an incredibly slow, brooding, and meandering album that evokes an aura of mystery and contemplation. It's the kind of album one would listen to while exploring a cave or looking up at the stars. As with Earth's albums, it's also the kind of album that requires extreme patience and concentration in order to notice the subtle dynamics of the music. That said I don't plan on listening to this album very often as it requires a certain mood and presence to do so, but I certainly appreciate it as a brilliant piece of art.
Sigur Ros - Brennisteinn EP (2013)
One of the most innovative bands on the planet just innovated some more. Right off the bat, you can tell this is going to be a whole new chapter for the world's biggest post-rock band with the title track's churning, industrial soundscapes, pounding drums, and glitchy beats. The song ends with beautiful ambient droning and marks one of the the darkest pieces Sigur Ros have recorded to date. However, the next piece "Hryggjarsula" is just as dark if not darker. This one isn't too far off from the post-apocalyptic landscapes featured in Godspeed You! Black Emperor's epic creations, and is even somewhat reminiscent of the work of dark ambient composer Lustmord. It's simply one of the most haunting things I've heard from this band. The final track "Ofibrta" sounds a lot like Hammock and could have been featured on "Valtari." All in all, I'm super excited with the direction the band is taking on Kveikur. I'm very much looking forward to reviewing it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Black Angels - Indigo Meadow (2013)
Modern psych heavyweights The Black Angels are back with their fourth album, "Indigo Meadow" and it is a very good collection of freakout tunes. As on their previous albums, influences from The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and The Velvet Underground are quite apparent and the band incorporate these influences brilliantly as they continue to make some of my favorite psych-pop. If there's one problem though, it's that the length of the album can make it a bit hard to digest all at once, but for the most part "Indigo Meadow" is about as good as the rest of the band's discography.
Gong - Flying Teapot (1973)
Gong is a name that kept coming up so I finally decided to give them a shot with this album and ended up being quite impressed. It's wacky avant-garde prog rock with touches of jazz and a heavy dose of psychedelia. Some of the highlights of this album are the sensually enunciated female vocals in the last song and the mystical, Tangerine Dream-esque soundscapes of the title track. Like King Crimson, Gong are masters of improvisation and really seem to represent the free-spirited nature of 70's prog. While some parts could have been better, this is still an enjoyable listen that I would recommend.
Coldworld - Melancholie (2008)
This is an awesome wintry, depressive atmospheric black metal album that reminds me of an abbreviated, more mainstream Paysage d'Hiver. The music is quite dark with haunting shrieks and driving riffs as well as beautiful synths and acoustic guitars. "Melancholie" is a really magical album that exemplifies the best elements of black metal.
Hiromi - Another Mind (2003)
I've heard a lot about this young Japanese jazz pianist so I finally decided to check out her debut album. I was utterly blown away. The musicianship is unbelievably good to the point where I was wondering whether the musicians were even human. They play with such speed, technicality and aggression yet there are beautiful melodies underneath that weave along to the dictates of the players. Some might say they're trying to accomplish too much too fast, but I think Hiromi and her band are breathing fresh life into a somewhat overdone genre. Just consider "Dancando no Paraiso." That track alone to me is unparalleled in the entire genre of jazz fusion. It's the kind of thing that demonstrates that not only does Hiromi and co. have major chops, but they can hold their own against the titans of the genre including Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return to Forever. Some may consider this blasphemy and while I don't consider myself a jazz expert at all, I really think she is one of the best in the genre. Please either listen to this album or watch her live clips or both. You will be glued to the edge of your seat.
Minsk - The Ritual Fires of Abandonment (2007)
Minsk are a fairly well-known post-metal band hailing from Chicago that really know how to create atmosphere. Like Neurosis, they intersperse their sludgey metal riffs and howled vocals with beautiful, ritualistic, and quite hypnotic guitar drones. In fact, there might even be more of these ritualistic passages than actual metal on this album which is fine by me. While they do indeed follow the formula that pretty much every post-metal band does, they still do a hell of a job with it. I'm extremely impressed on my first listen and I'm sure I'll come to love it even more after time.
Gallowbraid - Ashen Eidolon (2010)
This pretty much blew me away on the first listen. If you're an Agalloch fan, you MUST check this out. That's not a request, it's an order. Even though it's technically an EP, it has the feel of an album and to be honest, I like this even more than Agalloch's most recent work "Marrow of the Spirit" (though that one is still quite excellent). I sincerely hope this talented fellow makes another album. Stunning stuff.
Zao - Shekina (1975)
Here's a great obscure gem I came across recently emanating from the enigmatic world of French zeuhl. It's an amazingly quirky, fun, and quite technical album with some incredibly talented musicians at the helm. Jazz fusion and classical elements feature so prominently and are played so adeptly that one wonders why this band/album didn't have the recognition of, say, Magma. This is truly an avant-garde masterpiece.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Beastwars - Blood Becomes Fire (2013)
Hailing from New Zealand, upstart sludge band Beastwars already show on their second album that they can tangle with some of the best in the genre even as the best are influencing them. In particular, the presence of High on Fire seems to permeate almost the entire record and the phenomenal vocalist Matt Hyde sounds an awful lot like Matt Pike. (They were even selected to tour their homeland with HoF.)  But reducing this band to the status of a mere HoF imitator would be doing them an injustice since they do in fact put their own unique touch on the album as is most apparent on the very psychedelic "The Sleeper." This album and the debut both demonstrate how much potential this band has within the relatively unsaturated sludge market and, as with HoF, their ability to attract fans from outside the genre. I will admit that some songs felt a bit tedious and could have been more varied, but I still really liked this album and will probably enjoy even more after repeated listens. "Blood Becomes Fire" might just turn out to be the sludge record of the year.
Finntroll - Blodsvept (2013)
Finntroll's sixth album shows no real signs of innovation, but rather meets the fans' expectations as far as releasing a solid, catchy collection of humppa metal tunes. It's not quite as diverse or epic as the band's last album, "Nifelvind" (my favorite of theirs), but it's still plenty enjoyable. If you want meat and potatoes, no frills folk metal then this album is a fine choice.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Strokes - Comedown Machine (2013)
Continuing in the experimental direction they took with 2011's "Angles," The Strokes 5th album features heavy nods towards 80's music --particularly post-punk and synthpop -- as well as towards their original garage rock sound. Most of the songs are pretty catchy, and overall it's a very solid album but at the same time it seems to lack the freshness I found on "Angles." A few of the songs such as "50/50" and "Happy Ending" just seem rather stagnant and uninspired. But again, it's still a good album with several songs such as "One Way Trigger" and "All the Time" that are sure to become live staples. Hats off to this band for continuing to make enjoyable music even after they largely abandoned their roots.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Depeche Mode - Delta Machine (2013)
After 2009's rather disappointing "Sounds of the Universe," the biggest name in electronic music is back with their most diverse and creative album to date. Though some songs are similar to "Sounds," "Delta Machine" features a nod to almost every album/style in the band's career plus brand new styles. In particular, songs like "Goodbye" and "Slow" have a distinctive blues influence while "My Little Universe" is the most experimental, Thom Yorke-esque track DM have ever created. Basically, there's something for everyone on this album. But while the diversity of this album is an admirable trait, it also makes it harder for longtime DM fans such as myself to digest and compare it with their older albums. Tentatively, I will say that "Delta Machine" is about on par with "Playing the Angel" and possibly "Exciter" though definitely not on par with "Violator" and "Ultra" (my two favorites). But regardless of how it ranks up, it's still a really enjoyable album that shows just how viable and creative this legendary band is even this late in their career.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Amaranthe - The Nexus (2013)
Most metalheads who do like this band would be ashamed to admit so. The truth is that while we shy away from anything that seems too "mainstream" and "poppy", most of us can't resist a catchy chorus. I know I have a soft spot for catchiness and this album delivers it in spades. Once you get past the sameness which is to be expected of a "pop-metal" album, you'll find that the all the songs are really solid, there are great riffs, and the vocals are everything you'd want them to be. Elize Ryd is a phenomenal singer who delivers a memorable chorus on every single song. Of course, you have to listen to the album several times to even tell one chorus apart from the other, but you should try not to let that get in the way of enjoying this. The death vocals are rather generic, but they still complement Elize very well and push the band's sound closer to that of In Flames. I'm exactly sure why I'm rating this so high, but it's just such a seductively catchy piece of earcandy that I can't resist.

(P.S. If you like this band, you might want to try Blood Stain Child from Japan as they're pretty similar.)
Burst - Lazarus Bird (2008)
Well, it's been a while since I reviewed an older album so having just listened to this slice of awesomeness, I figured: Why not? Simply put, this is a magnificent piece of progressive wizardry with an aggressive hardcore attitude. The most notable aspects of this album are riffs which are some of the best I've heard in ages as well as the clean sections which are absolutely spellbinding. The only reason I won't give this a 10 is because a few of the songs meander a bit too much and the vocals are a tad underwhelming at times. Aside from that though, this band can easily hold its own against the progressive hardcore greats (don't know if that label applies, but I can't think of any other way to describe them) such as Isis, Mastodon, Baroness, and Converge. I was pretty much blown away starting from track one and continued to be so throughout. I really hope this band gets off their hiatus or whatever their situation is and makes another full-length. In the meantime, I'll be digging through their back catalog hoping to find something as good as or even better than this album (not sure if that's even possible though).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Intronaut - Habitual Levitations (2013)
Intronaut are a band that have always gone beyond mere imitation of their influences and have carved their own musical path. Each album in their discography is a unique, innovative experience and the band's latest release is no exception. Deciding to forgo harsh vocals altogether, Intronaut have crafted what is probably their lightest, most experimental album to date with influences ranging from metal, prog rock, and even jazz. I use the term "experimental" here very loosely since this album doesn't really mark a total transformation of the band a la Ulver, but rather a conscious decision to veer off into new territory while still retaining a good deal of their original sound. In that sense, one can compare this stylistic shift to the most recent albums by Mastodon and Baroness in terms of a greater focus on harmony and songwriting. In fact, with Intronaut's newish sound it's easier to see just how skilled the members of the band are. The vocal harmonies are some of the best I've heard from the band (especially on "Harmonomicon"). The drumming is fabulous as usual. The riffs are great and the fretless bass work is a stroke of brilliance. This album has given me even more respect for this phenomenal band, and I am eager to see what direction they take in the future.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Clutch - Earth Rocker
As this is only the second Clutch album I've listened to in full, I can say that this band is quickly becoming one of my favorites in the stoner genre. Their infectious grooves, upbeat attitude, and fiery vocals have me hooked. With influences from artists such as Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top, this is an album that will have you dancing and partying all night long. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Boris - Praparat (2013)
Following up on the poppy "Attention Please," legendary Japanese experimental masters Boris have returned with their 18th album that, for the most part, takes them back to their drone roots. It's a very diverse affair with comparisons to be drawn to artists as varied as My Blood Valentine (especially on the second track "Elegy"), Earth, Sunn O))), and even Lustmord on the last track. While none of this is exactly new territory for Boris, the whole album nonetheless feels fresh and innovative. Nor are are the drone tracks as heavy as the ones on, say, "Amplifier Worship" or "Pink" but the beautifully dark mood Boris set with them more than makes up for that fact. While this is not my favorite work of theirs, I am glad to see Boris continuing to crank out solid material like this after so many great albums. This is undoubtedly a worthy addition to their catalog.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels (2013)
First of all, it's astounding just how much material Hendrix left behind and how it's still in the process of being released over 40 years after his death. Second of all, this is a very accomplished album, and further demonstrates just how much of a guitar master Hendrix was (not that we needed any more proof.) People, Hell and Angels does contain a number of hard rock/psychedelic tracks, but is more oriented towards Hendrix's experimentation with blues, soul and funk. A few of the songs didn't quite pique my interest and sounded incomplete, but most of them are what you'd expect from one of the most renowned guitarists of all time. While I can't say I like this nearly as much as the original three albums, it's still a joy to hear new Hendrix tunes in 2013.