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The Bureaucrat’s Top Ten of 2013, Best Songs, and Disappointments of the Year

It’s that time of year for me; I like waiting until the very, very last minute before I write these just to snag a chance of listening to any albums that sneak their way into the current year.  Last year, I had my mind fairly made up by December 1; this year was completely different.  There was so very, very much to enjoy.  Without further ado:

10. Anciients – Heart of Oak: I love the Vancouver, BC/NW US metal scene.  It’s amazing, and Anciients did absolutely nothing to disappoint on their first full release.  Alternatively, heavy and melodic, the band’s efforts are wholly rewarding (Review).

9. Black Crown Initiate – Song of the Crippled Bull: A damn fine approach from the PA metal band.  This was one of the most enjoyable listens of the year simply for its desire to push past the conventions and build something of their own.  I’m looking forward to their full release (Review).

8. Scorned Deity – Adventum: Operatic, tense, seething, and soothing, Scorned Deity’s release this year hit me like “Into the Nightside Eclipse.”  Their brand of metal evokes an Emperor with refined American sensibilities (Review).

7. Leprous – Coal: Ever evolving, Leprous hits you with their sounds from every different direction.  This is a heavy, dark album that never quite gets too over the top in tone or strength.  “Coal” marks their steps away from Ihsahn and his solo career and into their own light (Review).

6. Witherscape – The Inheritance: What do you get when you mix old school early 80s heavy metal with death/doom?  This.  Witherscape’s release this year was a wonderful joyride composed of nostalgia and awesomeness.  I loved nearly every minute of it; though Dead for a Day brought it down a few notches here (Review).

5. Deafheaven – Sunbather: An album I had to experience alone and think over to truly understand, Sunbather is a wail of textured noise and fury centered around a nearly ironic and idealistic view of the American dream.  The band executes to near perfection metal gaze sounds, and seems to be reaching for an answer to the questions of what happens to the children when things fall apart (Review).

4. Gorguts – Colored Sands: A concept album about the plight of Tibet?  Yes.  It’s beautifully done, well written, pensive, violent, and all those myriad things that go with such an emotionally charged subject (Review).

3. Katatonia – Dethroned and Uncrowned: When I first saw this, I didn’t take it seriously.  I’d just seen the band live and their metal sets from Dead End Kings was spot on, tight, and heavy.  But, this remastering worked.  It’s very nearly better than the original album, shedding a far more vulnerable light toward melancholy than their heavier approaches (Review).

2. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen: I believe this album will be looked back by those that have only considered it as its basest level and be viewed as a landmark experimental creation.  Unlike Ihsahn, who typically takes ideas from his previous albums, rephrases them and then moves forward from there, this album seeks to create something that stands right next to Eremita instead of after it.  Beautiful from start until finish, this is genuinely one of most introspective albums of the year (Review).

1. The Fall of Every Season – Amends: A genuine, beautiful and bright album, The Fall of Every Season’s lyrical themes, musical qualities, and generally powerful scale made it stand out from the other albums released this year.  Heavy when it needs to be, fragile when it reveals itself to the listener, The Fall of Every Season truly made a magnificent piece of work (Review).

For my stat nerd self, here’s the break down of nationality: 3 bands from Norway, 2 from Sweden, 2 from Canada, and 2 from the U.S.

Best Non-Metal Albums of the Year:

Bruce Soord with Jonas Renske’s Wisdom of Crowds

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Push the Sky Away

Ghost’s Infestissumaum (sorry, this was Prog Rock, not metal).

Best Songs of the Year:

Biggest Disappointments of 2013:

No new Cynic album (yay! 2014); The Ocean’s Pelagial; Steven Wilson’s “The Raven that Refused to Sing”

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Geek, Inspiration, Music, Reviews

 

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A Bevy of Music

So, I’ve been off again; mostly due to family stuff and weather related shenanigans.  Ultimately, I was never able to get to full reviews on a number of albums, so I’m going to do a series of five reviews each week for the remainder of the year.  Simply put, this is to round out the releases I’ve heard over the course of the year.

Agrimonia’s “Rites of Separation”: Back to Sweden, Agrimonia offers a full on death metal assault of the senses.  It is dark, grimy, stomping and gloriously heavy all around.  The singer’s howls rip straight into your skull, allowing the music’s crushing riffs to shatter you.  Yet, it maintains a level of grandiosity that death metal has seemed to lose of late.  A wonderful release, Rites of Separation is deserving of at least one listen for any metal fan.

Àrsaidh’s “Roots”:  Scotland’s Agalloch, Àrsaidh brings folk and post-black metal together to construct their sounds.  Song structures are reminiscent of Agalloch, clearly, but the use of Scottish pipes, flutes, and drums accentuates the points they are trying to make on this album. They understand subtlety and restraint as much as they do fury and windswept crags; the album’s well written and focused.  Again, being similar to Agalloch, the band is going to draw in comparisons to Wolves in the Throne Room, Fen, and perhaps even Nine Covens.  Ultimately, it’s the folk instrumentation that’s going to make you like it or hate it.

Being’s “II: Nix”: I totally apologize for this.  I missed it in my inbox and meant to do a full review sooner, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  That said, if you’re looking for really intelligent genre bending post-black metal assaults with a singer that uses a deep, thick clean vocal, then Being’s totally your cuppa.  I really, really enjoyed this album.  For keeps and so you don’t jump in midway, also check out Being’s first EP “I: Odes to Nothing” from 2010.

Ayreon’s “The Theory of Everything”: A metal opera album containing 42 tracks with approximately 10 characters, lasting approximately 1.5hrs and is openly referential to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?  Yes, please.  I don’t get Ayreon for the most part and enjoy a smattering of songs, or a concept here and there.  However, the interplay of voices and really developed musical concepts on this album really make it.

East of the Wall’s “Redaction Artifacts”: Okay, okay, I get it now.  I tried on “Ressentiment” and enjoyed bits and pieces before the slammed back into their ‘Core element.  This album really hits it for me, but revealed that unfortunately I’m still not a big fan of the band.  While they are interesting and the inclusion of clean singing croons is welcome, ultimately when they really pop into their metal I can’t get past the focus on rhythm instead of melody.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Geek, Reviews

 

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Review: Mord’A’Stigmata’s “Ansia” (2013)

Ansia

 

Black Metal lends itself to experimentation, in my opinion, due to its rather generic soundscapes.  Ultimately, if some of the musicians are to believed, writing for black metal is a formula in which the riffs culminate around a cold theme, and are swept up to a swelling catharsis.  Mord’A’Stigmata promotes that they integrate Space Rock and experimentation into the subgenre.  Being a fan of progressive experimentation, Space Rock, and Black Metal, I jumped at their offer to spin the album.

Like always, I have to determine what I know about the album, down to its name before I give it a listen.  Knowing nothing about a band is not a terrible thing when coming to music (how else do we enjoy new sounds and new perspectives!), therefore, I didn’t give much time to looking into who Mord’A’Stigmata was, who their members are, and what their previous music is (I’m reviewing this particular topic after all, not their back catalogue).  Instead, I focused solely on their album’s title: Ansia.  Ansia, apparently, is the Italian word for anxiety.  We all have our own perception of what this is and how it affects us.  Having titled their album thusly, I expected a tense, roiling mass of music that draws only sometimes into the hypnosis of space and time.

Ultimately, I was wrong.  The album, while it has its moments of tension, never becomes oppressively tense.  Instead, their approach focuses on mystery wherein the coldest soundscapes of black metal (and the sub genre’s defining approach of tremolo and blast beat) are scant, playing on a role in a number of the pieces.  The music’s rhythm section is its driving force, particularly the percussion which is unexpected and at times ominous in the feel it creates. The focus on the hypnotic, nearly trance inducing, music is amplified by the passages that slow down and plod along gently.  The focus on these moment is evident in the length of the pieces (3 of 5 are more than 10 minutes in length, the fourth is over 7 minutes, and the fifth is an outro).  Unlike other reviews, I did not focus on the lyrics at all, rather wanting the focus to remain solely on the music rather than its poetry; therefore, the voice can make you raw with its shrieks and lends itself well during the chanting moments.

Ansia is a solid album from a great group of musicians.  In terms of technicality, Mord’A’Stigmata has absolutely no faults, making the compositions strongly focused.  In terms of the album’s theme, Ansia never quite provides the payoff that great Black Metal creates.  In fact, I never truly felt anxious or even considered the topic of anxiety while listening to the album (maybe I’ve become too desensitized!).  The album felt more mysterious where its black metal moments are used to accentuate this mystery rather than to establish further tension.  Generally, this is a good album that feel more based in psychedelia/space rock than in black metal, which is stunningly well performed by musicians that are comfortable in their approach.  If anything could be better, I wish that the album would have given me that typical Black Metal catharsis.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Geek, Music, Reviews

 

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Music Review: Katatonia’s “Dethroned and Uncrowned”

dethroned and uncrowned

 

Katatonia’s Dead End Kings was my 10th favorite album from 2012.  To my ear, it sounded as if the band had progressed and matured their sounds and themes.  Yet, here we are again with the remixed and stripped down versions of the albums.  Produced through a crowdfunded campaign, Dethroned & Uncrowned was released September 3, 2013.  Feelings aside on remixed products, after having listened to Bruce Soord and Jonas Renske’s album, I had hoped to hear a very different genre approach to the album.

I heard, driving home from work on Friday, that a good song or album should not be tied alone to genre standards.  This statement cemented how I felt about their approach to this album, turning it from an easily perceived cash grab into an emphatic statement from the band that they can easily do more and demonstrate a far higher degree of subtlety than they had showed previously.

Dethroned and Uncrowned offers an entirely different perspective: they guitars are acoustic, the vocals are out front, keys and synths are mixed higher.  Comparing to the original mixes, the music presented in this fashion has more of an emotional connection to me because the metal guitars don’t drown the mix in their sound.  Songs from Dead End Kings that I tended to let play without much thought became very focused in their remixed versions.  “The One You Are Looking For” is the best example of this as the Dethroned and Uncrowned version creates an air of fragility with the female vocals followed by a dancing synth.  The chorus, a duet between the male and female voice, is backed with hand clapping percussion.

The song “Leech” which I entirely don’t consider when thinking of Dead End Kings sounds richer and fuller with the inclusion of strings; its lead into “Ambitions” drew me back into the more pensive half of the album.  Both mixes of “Ambition” are wonderful, but how it’s particularly tied into the remixed album is the most interesting part.  The 25 minutes of run from “Leech” through “Dead Letters” feel like movements within a greater composition; something I’ve not much heard from Katatonia to this point.

“First Prayer” is their most successful remix, especially in that it feels more organic than in comparison to its metallic version.  The original interpretation of the song came through as describing and focusing on the anger and hurt with not having a prayer answered; this interpretation focuses on emptiness and longing and is quite possibly one of the best songs of the year.

Katatonia offers a fresh look at 2012’s Dead End Kings with this album, and in some ways, they outdo the original.  If you’re a fan of quiet, introspective music, then you will enjoy Dethroned & Uncrowned, especially if you enjoyed Wisdom of Crowds.  These remixes offer a more organic, less aggressive vision of the particular brand of melancholy.  The music become more vocal driven, and my original complaint of Renske’s voice being the weakest point of Katatonia is no more.  I would pay $20 for each of their successive releases if they include a metal version and an acoustic version.

 

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Art, Geek, Music, Reviews

 

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Music Review: Vom Fetisch der Unbeirrtheit’s Vertilger (2013)

PromoImage

 

Vom Fetisch der Unbeirrtheit (to be known further as VFdU for the remainder of this review) are a German experimental band, focusing on exploration of the philosophical meaninglessness of life through their sounds.  Their album, which will release on 9/23/13, is Vertilger.  Billed as combining black metal, industrial noise and experimental sounds, VFdU do nothing to disappoint fans of that genre.

The album opens with “Lachenvieh” a seven and a half minute meander through an apiary found in an old warehouse.  The singer’s voice lends itself to panic with his harsh, garbled vocals sounding a mixture of croakals and screams.  To be frank, the song reminds of a djent approach to black metal that combines the electric/noise soundscape of Circle Meets the Square or Ministry.  The metal sounds are stunningly raw in comparison to the noise components, but serve seem to serve to focus solely on the rhythmic side of the party rather than the melodic.

“Schabenbrut” expands on this approach, opening with possibly the most disconcerting mixture of electronic noise and pained howling I’ve ever heard in song.  The 20 minute long production suffers no moments of emotional intensity, throwing any number of schizophrenic soundscapes at your ear in a never ending assault of the senses (how we got to an electronic component that included the stereotypical music of a French cafe, I’ll never know).  Ultimately, the song’s core centers around its math rock structure; though when VFdU get to the point and hit you straight with their black metal that transitions into acoustic parts while still being accented with electronics, the song comes more clearly into view (see: 12 minutes through the end of the song).

“Multiformale Lieberdimension” is essentially an instrumental electronic piece topped with ominous spoken word that bleeds to “Kadavermeer” that opens with a gentle swath of warm guitar tones behind the singer’s wail, who evokes a German Nick Cave warble on the song.  Unfortunately, this does not develop further as it breaks back into the band’s djent styled Black Metal, where the tremolos hum in the background before breaking back into a more logical extreme section.  Ultimately, this composition is my favorite on the album, if only for its ambition. “Prothesensucht” continues the intensity of this approach, exploring the ideas further.

Fans of this genre should find some redeeming qualities here; however, the first half the album comes across to me as intensity porn.  The heady ideas of exploring meaningless (while I did not read the lyrics) do not come across in song, rather they are hidden in a senseless dance of schizophrenic soundscapes.  The last half of the album actually details a logical progression of soundscapes and twisting turns in the style of DEP or other math rock stylings.  Fans of France’s The CNK and Ministry or even Grindcore or Noisecore music should find something here. Yet, I’m sitting here at the end of this review, wondering whether or not I listen to music or an amalgam of sounds.  If that’s the point of their philosophical approach, then I guess it worked.  This listener just didn’t get it.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Music, Reviews

 

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Music Review: Gorguts’ Colored Sands (2013)

Gorguts-Colored-Sands

 

 

I admit: I’ve never even heard Gorguts’ sounds until this album.  I know nothing of their start and their famed Obscura album that apparently catapulted them into the minds of the metal community.  I know now that their primary driving force is Luc Lemay, who’s French, and that this a concept album regarding Tibet, and that they are considered pioneers in the Technical Death Metal genre.  I found this band on a lark from following Disrhythmia and Krallice and Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston. So, I decided I would give it a spin.

The first minutes of “Le Toit du Monde” brought me spiraling into a particular brand of discord set to the dancing rhythm of a waltz accented with harmonics to which I had never been party.  Its tone ominous, monolithic, and cold, the song wraps you round its familiar rhythmic pattern as periods of brutality leap out, burning the soundscape into your head.  The ebb and flow found on this song between soft and harsh accented with harmonics is indicative of the sound to continue; however, make no mistake, this is very much a Technical Death approach to the music and concept.

“An Ocean of Wisdom” is arguably the heaviest song off the album, rolling in smashing waves of the most extreme nuances of the sound.  Yet, like the rest of the album, nothing ever truly feels that heavy.  If anything, the discordant heaviness evokes a sense of muted trepidation like the coming of a heavy storm in the distance; the harmonics humming off mountain valley walls. What is most remarkable is that ultimately the exchange between the dualities made for the impression that I was never quite listening to a metal album, though assuredly I knew I was.  Combining with “Forgotten Arrows” and “Colored Sands,” this section is the heaviest on the album, constantly breaking clouds in its swirl of dissonance.

“The Battle of Chamdo” breaks the album’s concept in half, transitioning from the death of the Dali Lama and the search for his successor to the injustices levied upon Tibet.  If the album ever reaches a lamentation, it is here in the desperate strings that crescendo into the album’s second half with “Enemies of Compassion” that rips straight out similarly to “Le Toit du Monde” but never pulls back or down into the tense quiet.

Outrage becomes the music’s theme, but is used in focus maturely to never lose sight of the sounds or scope of the album.  This section is a subtle balance between extremity, aggression, and making a point.  “Ember’s Voice” details the use of self-immolation as a practice of protest by Buddhist monks, while “Absconders” highlights the feeling of alterity that Tibet receives from the West and from Tibetans. If there is a mission call, both in tone and lyric, “Reduced to Silence” hits it.  Evoking the heaviness of earlier, but with the pensive restraint and dancing melody a pinning undercurrent, the song roars to the album’s conclusion abruptly.

You will want to either purchase the hard copy of the album with its associated lyric booklet or research the lyrics here.  Lemay admitted that he spent between a year and a year and a half researching Tibet for this album.  The lyrics and their associated quotes really, really bridges the gap between the music and the point.  I am not one for much Technical Death Metal. I listen to it here and there, but it’s not my cup of tea.  However, this album, in its nearly clinical precision and its well reflected conceptual approach,  is definitely worth the purchase.  In so many more ways, Gorguts demonstrates what it means to use music, specifically metal, as art and a mission statement.

 

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in Accountability, Anthropology, Art, Geek, Music, Reviews

 

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