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Year End List for 2014

I did no reviews last year. Therefore, I’m going to still do a top 10 list and disappointment list for 2014 releases. Without further ado, here goes my ten favorite releases from last year:

10: Junius – Days of the Fallen Sun EP: Stunningly heavy and dense without ever having to go into traditional metal tropes, Junius’ short release burned up my headphones for quite a long time in 2014.

9: Bloodbath – “Grand Morbid Funeral”: Yes, please, more with the heavy and the dark and the genuinely old school feel and vibe. I completely enjoyed this album.

8: Alcest – “Shelter”: Dream pop at its finest, but the overall sound lost contrast quickly when the intensity was removed.

7. Agalloch – “The Serpent & the Sphere”: A band, whose music is typically dense, melancholic, and reminiscent of the sky just before the clouds break, offers up a serving of the coldest, darkest music they’ve done to date in my opinion.

6. Devin Townsend Project – “Z2: Dark Matters”:  Campy, original, filled with fart jokes, and evoking a 50s radio play, this album’s jaunt through Dev’s witticisms is fun if not a touch too saccharine at points.

5. Behemoth – “The Satanist”: Ranked this high due to the sheer factor of sarcasm dripping from Nergal’s voice in the first track: “Blow your trumpet, Gabriel!”  I was never a fan before, but I find that I am now.

And, because I’m a massive and amazingly terrible writer that cannot make up his mind, I have 4 albums in a tie for the first spot, depending on my mood (which will be listed below) and these are in no particular order:

1d.) Causalities of Cool – “Causalities of Cool”: Dark, melancholic space country rock?  WTF, Dev?  This album has seriously some of the most amazing textures, rolling noise, and themes I’ve heard in a long time. Here’s “Ether” from that album that demonstrates this wonderfully:

I found myself gravitating to this when I was feeling extraordinarily stressed or needing to reflect.

1c.) Opeth – “Pale Communion”:  Holy shit, it’s not a jangled mess of riffs and thoughts. While I enjoyed Heritage, it was like a sentence fragment.  Here’s “Moon Above, Sun Below” from the album:

I found myself going to this one when I needed the melancholy feels from Opeth and when I wanted something openly and unrepentantly creative.

1b.) Solstafir – “Otta”:  This album defines Iceland in my mind now. It is stunningly gorgeous, filled with texture, and wonderfully performed. Here’s “Lagnaetti” from the album:

Similar to Casualties of Cool, I found myself coming to this album as I could when I needed a bit of stress relief. Even the abrasive moments are wonderfully performed and never out of context or character.

1a.) Tritypkon – Melana Chasmata”:  Oppressively heavy, stunningly depressive, and at times hauntingly beautiful, the album hits a progressive metal fan right in the gut and does everything it needs to do well.  Further it has a love poem dedicated to Emily Bronte on it. I enjoyed their first album greatly, but I didn’t get overwhelmed by it.

I came to this album again and again just because I wanted to hear it.  It appealed to times when I was down, but also times when I needed to explore a different headspace.

Biggest disappointments of 2014:

1.) Soen – “Tellurian”: Their first release, “Cognitive,” stunned me.  It was an amazing album.  This album I listed to maybe to or three tracks and switched to a different band and never went back.

2.) Encoffination – “III: Hear me, O Death (Sing Thou Wretched Choirs)”:  This album was on the list because if you are going to name yourself with something as off  the wall as this, then you better damn well be good.  They weren’t.

3.) Mayhem – “Esoteric Warfare”:  These are the fathers of Norwegian Black Metal?  Eeeeeesh.

Two Albums that Blew My Fucking Mind:

1.) Primus & the Chocolate Factory:  Like listening to the soundtrack only (no pictures) of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on LSD.  I need not say more.  Listen to this album.

2.) Cynic – “Kindly Bent to Free Us:” Like listening to the soundtrack of peace and harmony on LSD.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Accountability, Art, Lists, Music, Ranks

 

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Diurnal Aural Experiences: Alcest’s “Les Voyages de l’âme”

Enjoy.  That’s it for today.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Art, Geek, Music

 

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Diurnal Aural Experiences: Alcest’s “La ou naissent les couleurs nouvelles”

For a character from the scene earlier.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Art, Geek, Inspiration, Music

 

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Weekly Music Review: Deafheaven’s “Sunbather” (2013).

deafheaven - sunbather

 

Deafheaven is an American atmospheric metal band from the Bay Area of California, which means their contemporaries are bands like Ludicra, Grayceon, and possibly Stolen Babies/Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.  The West Coast metal bands seem to be focused on the use of black metal to provide a crushing, raging element within a song before pulling you back out with shoegaze rock qualities to balance, making Deafheaven no exception here.  I came across Deafheaven on their EP Roads to Judah; a release I found amazing and a band that I began waiting for their next release.  This greeted me by offering a bright pastel pink album cover with relief writing, with the light source bathing the album cover from the top right corner of the piece.

The album sounds better over headphones than when played through loudspeakers.  The colors and the drive of its work is much more easy to hear in this solitary space than in sharing the sounds with others.  Now, this may often be the case with metal bands, if only because others simply do not wish to listen to it; however, the production angle taken with this album really seems to emphasize the singular experience of one listener.  Your own personal sun as it were.

“The Dream House” rips in, a writhing mass of tremolo and blast beats greeting the singer’s strained cries (it does not so much sound a growl or a shriek as it does a wail).  It directly assaults the listener with waves of aggression, before growing past this into a bombastic, nearly ambient, style that draws back into a gentle melody of guitars that lead into “Irresistable.”  Using this guitar and key driven instrumental to link the first two songs, the band returns to its focus on “Sunbather.”

This sweeping set of emotional pull provides sheer intensity, nailed its epically composed themes, driving the music to explain what the raw voice cannot be understood to have said.  It is not apprehension or tension created by the metal here; it is full out wanting: a desire for more.  That is why, when I listened at first lacking in criticism to this album, I did not fully understand the solemn emptiness of sound and the tuned down voice that meets right in the mix. The transitions at times brings the band to familiar places for the listener with the Cure, the Smiths, and other shoegazers known for their turbulent, yet melancholic, epic sounds (a transition in the middle of “Sunbather” comes very close to the Smiths’ opening riff to “How Soon is Now:).

“Sunbather” fades into a sample spoken passage (by Alcest’s Neige) over ambient electronics in “Please Remember,” breaking away from the sweeping melodies and scorched guitars through which drone becomes key.  The sounds fade to clear terse moments; the sound of a drill (to my ear) against roiling percussion before returning to acoustic melody.  This melody fades into sterling and cold guitar at the start of “Vertigo,” inspiring apprehension (if but for a fleeting moment using shoegaze elements instead of metal) and an uncompromising curiosity to not look away from the macabre.  The sonically warped transition from this moment to its metal core is stunningly fresh before ambling down a full guitar solo whose intensity matches that of the vocalist.  If you had any doubt by this point that Deafheaven was a metal band, then you would do well to listen to this song and discover they are.

There is something uniquely American about this experience on this album.  It is equal parts self-absorbed and selfless.  Its subtlety is found in its screaming, thrashing moments, rather than its quiet.  Its assault, being the moments, where the music is at its most vulnerable, provide an insight deeper than just one person’s pain.  It is the inhabitation of space among those of material and emotional wealth in a beautiful place where one makes up member of the hinterlands of society.  Like Alcest brings the listener emotional warmth and landscape’s beauty in their music, Deafheaven brings the quintessentially American landscape of judgment (see “Windows”), emotional stuntedness, and loneliness of this place while packing it in a pretty pastel pink.

“Windows” brings religion to the table in the album, focusing on judgment, hell, and the irony of salvation through death, but combining that with sounds from a street corner and store cashier.  “The Pecan Tree” ends the album filled with its greatest intensity.  It is where the singer questions, like his absent father, if he will be able to love and be able to feel connected.  Its transition from metal is into a tempered percussion driven focus.

Sunbather’s accomplishment here is that they are to me the first American Black Metal band to fully incorporate shoegaze elements into their sounds to produce a sweeping, epically composed and beautiful place.  It feels entirely American in its theme and its moods, standing directly next to Alcest as the world’s best at this style.  Originally, I did not care for this album, having listened to it over speaker instead of headphones.  The headphones brought their goals out and demonstrated that I was wrong.  It is inherently a solitary space this band inhabits.

 

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Geek, Music, Rants, Reviews

 

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Nocturnal Ruminations: What I Think Music Is and Can Do.

Ultimately, I realized that I had been writing reviews for albums (hopefully successfully) that inspired me to create, write, or otherwise disconnect from my current modality of thought for its course.  So, therefore, I decided, as I continue to discuss these things, what I think music is and can do and my own personal history with it.

Those of you that have read any of my reviews will note that generally I am fairly positive with my writing.  It’s not because everything to which I listen is perfect or amazing or even good for that matter.  However, most of the time when I commit to purchasing an album, or listen to a sample that I’ve been sent, I’ve fairly convinced it will be something that I enjoy.  This is why most of my reviews are positive.  Ten bucks notwithstanding, but the time commitment away from my family is equally important to me.  Combine that with the fact that I’m writing this to exercise my cultural critique muscles and use it, as written earlier, to explore emotions, thoughts, and stories as inspiration for my own works, I’m fairly happy with the response thus far.  When you read a review that is negative, it is doubly so because I did want the album to be good.

Currently, my favorite bands and musicians are, in no particular order, Opeth, Alcest, Steve Hackett, Steven Wilson, Nick Cave, Ihsahn, and Cynic.  I feel that, again for no particular order, the best musicians are Neige from Alcest, the crew from Opeth, Steven Wilson, Levon Helm, Roger Waters, Devin Townsend, and a few others.  These are important as progressive music has become my love and my favorite music genre.  I’ve always been fascinated by it, especially in listening to Rush, Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, and many others when I was younger.  To this day, I will buy any Rush album that is released, period.  In regards to specific genres at this point I’m a very large fan of the progressive blackgaze movement as experimented by Neige from Alcest while still yet I find myself attracted to Opeth’s particular brand of melancholy (as evidenced by my love and admiration for the new Fall of Every Season album).  Devin Townsend and Steven Wilson are the most varied musicians to whom I listen and I’ve yet to really get to a point that their offerings are old to me.

As far as how I grew into this?  I’m not entirely certain (except for the whole pretentious asshole thing).  Growing up, my brother was older than me by nine years.  His musical taste, while still lacking, was focused on Guns and Roses, Duran Duran, Sisters of Mercy, INXS, the glam metal bands, Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, &c.  This was my introduction to this brand of music.  I took a shine to Guns and Roses, and will still ardently defend Axl Rose’s political songwriting ability.  It wasn’t long that I began tabletop RPGs during which we would listen to a mix tape or an album of a particular individual’s choosing.  This introduced me to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Pantera, and any variety of punk bands we could find (not limited to, but including Sex Pistols, Anti-Nowhere League, Black Flag and later Rollins Band).  Combined with the local radio station, we’d rock out to all sorts of classic rock.  My mother, who often against her better judgement, would allow me the leeway to listen to this, but would play Marvin Gaye and other R&B and her beloved folk musicians (something that sticks with me to this day).

So, why music?  I don’t know why it is so important to me, personally, except to consider that a large number of good memories and terrible memories are made more understandable by listening to music that reflects my mood.  I enjoy it, regardless of time of day or energy spent on listening to an album.  I guess to a great extent it appeals to my academic background: I hold a Master’s Degree in Anthropology (emphasis in archeology).  While I view myself as very much an archeologist, I’m working in Applied Anthropology now and further still I’ve always loved the science of anthropology.  During my coursework for my undergraduate degree, I studied Medical Anthropology for a semester, during which I read a number of books regarding the topic of the healing qualities and properties of anthropology.  I helped research Delta Blues culture at one point as well.  In graduate school, this came back to me as I got further and further into Performance Theory.

I’ve always compared music to fire.  It is a great human universal (if there ever were such a thing).  Each culture in the world has a style, a set of instruments, has traded instrumental styles, brought in different sounds, and created their own voice that soothes and sparks its member’s imagination.  Music can heal, it can harm, it can make you cry in catharsis, or internalize and meditate.  Like Shakespeare’s boast, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” the song is mightier and more powerful still yet.  We have transmitted our culture and our values through our words set to music.  The Ghost Dance was a powerful, percussive beat through which the Siouan world would be headed, white men would disappear, and the buffalo would return.  Look at all our culture’s Christian hymns.  Apply the cultural temple to this music, and you find that here still.  That is why music is powerful and to me why the current (read: continuing trend of dumbing it down, further and further, and bringing more and more vapid themes to lyrics is such a problem).

As I end this ramble, I think back to one of my favorite albums and a trend I’ve noticed here: Ihsahn and the disappearing visits.  Every time I run Ihsahn on this site, we see a 25% drop in visitors that day.  Yet, above a large number of musicians, I believe he truly gets what I described.  “The Adversary” feels like a darker, self-deconstructionist sermon regarding nihilism.  It is an amazing piece and one that I recommend highly.  Tomorrow, I’ll describe my typology of music.

 

 

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Weekly Music Review: De Arma’s Lost, Alien, and Forlorn (2013)

De Arma

Described as atmospheric dark metal with influences from shoegaze and black metal, I snagged this album up for a listen (I mean, if you can’t tell what I’ve really been listening to a lot of over the past two months, then well…). I know nothing of De Arma except that they had a split release a few years back with Fen (producers of one of my favorite albums this year), they are from Sweden (a country who’s music and art has been very consistent and great of late), and they are signed to Trollmusic.

Their sound is hard to describe for anyone that did not either grow up in the 1980s or discover and enjoy the British post-punk, goth rock, and new wave that arose from the nihilism of the late 1970s.  Definitely talented, the band uses clear guitars over fuzzy bass to create their melancholic atmosphere.  The singer’s voice is clear and soft, approaching gentle often times.  They do use two harsher tone vocals: the high pitched black metal screech (evoking a sense of longing and loss) and a gravely, nearly spoken, tone (that seems alternatively accusatory or indignant nature).

The music reminds me very much of the Cure, the Smiths, Morrissey, and even Joy Division and Bauhaus (neither of whom I enjoy or like).  The band seem to emphasize the creation of the melancholy tone via layered textures rather than the classic tremolo picking of black metal.  In fact, I find very little metal on this album, with the exception of two songs (more on those in a bit).  Most often, especially on the early songs of the album, the band reminds me clearly of the Cure, to whom my wife thought I was listening when I first picked up the album.  At times, the music almost reaches poppy sounds, but they pull it back with a quick transition or by using recorded vocal lines from a woman.  These, to be honest, break the composition up far too much.

While De Arma might be pushing boundaries with their goth rock/pop sound (not really ever quiet getting shoegaze) and bringing it back into dark rock, they seem to suffer from some of the same faults that I found in the early part of the Katatonia transition from death/doom to their dark rock/metal sound: the majority of the songs on this album fall under the weight of their own melancholy and feel like they drag on. The songs “Behind These Filthy Panes” and “Wretch” are their best compositions on the album as they are their most dynamic, breaking up the ephemeral soundscapes described up with a blast of tremolo and a dose of harsh vocals.  This is perhaps where the Alcest influence is seen by others; however, if this is intended to be influenced by Alcest, then the point of that band was missed here.  It reminds me more of Neige’s other projects such as Amesoeurs and Lantlos.

Overall, if dark melancholic rock is your thing, you should buy this album.  If you’re looking for something a little bit heavier or darker, you may not like this as much.  I did enjoy the two songs as I wrote above, but the rest of the album was not as good as I had anticipated.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Music, Reviews

 

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Weekly Music Review: Sul ad Astral’s Sud ad Astral (2013).

sul ad

Another find on my weekly bandcamp review of music, Sul ad Astral is a New Zealand duo whose first release is due out on Pest666 records at the end of the month.  Self-defined as comparable to Alcest and Dopamine (from their bandcamp description), they play a blackgaze mostly rooted in melancholy and darkness when compared to Alcest.

Like most of the albums to which I have listened this year, they present a clean production in their music, meaning that any use of fuzzy noise or grittiness is a conscious decision for the band.  The guitars are strangely clean and piercing at times over the ringing and solid bass.  Overall, it seems that production quality, even in beginning and underground bands, is becoming a point of concern during the recording of the album.  Generally, the music comes across as dark and melancholic, which the production aids by giving all the instruments the room to breath.  Structurally, the songs are written in such a way to carry aspects of the previous song into them.

To start, I am not an instrumental fan at all.  I enjoy classical music; however, in modern music forms, I very much prefer having a vocalist to express the poetry of the music.  The introductory song of this album, “To Cherish,” is a major exception to this rule and demonstrates the band’s talent for evoking mood and contrasting soundscapes for emotional effect.  The song opens with a plaintive fragility that dances in a cold atmosphere, crescendoing in a piercing guitar whine that persists when the down tuned tremolo guitar start alongside the blast beats.  To me, this brought forth imagery of the emotional pain of what cherishing can cause. It is a song that never simmers over into anger, staying very firmly rooted in its melancholic atmosphere, but waving between the pleasure and pain that cherishing can cause.  Upon the completion of this song, I was hooked especially when the piercing guitar bled into the next track during which the band reveals their style of low, nearly whispered clean singing, black metal shrieks, and death metal howls.

As the album continues, the atmospheric focus from their post-rock efforts becomes unmistakably clear, creating a feeling that the band is going for the chamber music approach to this style.  As they state, they are very firmly rooted in black metal; however, they seem to borrow more from shoegaze than I would have expected, reminding me of Amesouers instead of Alcest.  At times, their song progressions are a touch bi-polar, spinning quickly up or down in mood or emotion from light into darkness, warmth into cold, and back again (see Persona I: Lunar for a great demonstration of a change from black metal into a drum march and then back into the nearly pure black metal howling).

This is one of the best albums to which I’ve listened all year, which might be distinctly influenced by my appreciation of blackgaze.  Combining that with the fact that this is Sul ad Astral’s first release as band, I’m excited that there is a new band who’s efforts I will be following into the future.  I advise any of you that enjoy this style to check these guys out.  I am afraid that their cost on Bandcamp may be far too high for people to risk listening to this wonderfully introspective and talented band.  The album is listed for $15 USD (which I will probably donate a touch more to the band after the 28th of February) which I believe, as it is advertised through the record label’s bandcamp site, is a marketing decision.  Being that the standard for digital purchases if $10 USD, I feel that their label may be doing them a touch of disservice.  Otherwise, I have a feeling I may have found an album that I will be listening to a lot in the coming weeks.

UPDATE: The band says this is to fund the pressing of the album, which makes more sense.  In other words, if you’re a metal fan, or music fan, you have no choice but to pick up this album.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Music

 

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