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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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Diurnal Aural Experiences: Salt in Two Forms, mined from Norway.

The first:

The second:

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2013 in Art, Geek, Music

 

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Music Review: Ihsahn’s Das Seelenbrechen (2013)

Das Seelenbrechen

 

“Art can be created with those who strike us as having a deep inner self that is attuned to what is beautiful. They seem to have a “beautiful soul” that is orderly, respectable, and well-behaved. 

However, these sorts do not produce “the mightiest effects of art, the crushing of souls, moving of stones and humanising of beasts.” Here lies the importance of the ugly artistic soul.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorism 152 from Human, All Too Human.
 
Sixteen months after Eremita, Ishahn provides us with another release.  This time, the musician offers a “side-step” per his Metal Underground interview.  To this point, each of his solo releases have introduced or presented different elements altogether.  The Adversary offers his most straight forward Black Metal; angL approaches Black Metal with Opeth’s melodic grace; After pulls in a broader scope of instrumentation and emotion.  Eremita was the most progressive of Ishahn’s efforts, combining all elements from the A trilogy.  
 
Das Seelenbrechen focuses on organized chaos and mystery in ways that he has never attempted in his solo approaches.  Thematically, his albums have all ways progressed from the end of the previous album; e.g.: The Adversary‘s questions were answered in earnest on angL whose questions were answered on After.  Therefore, if Eremita is the follow up to AfterDas Seelenbrechen should been expected to follow Eremita; however, it serves another answer to After and offers an entirely different perspective on the question presented at the end of After in my opinion.
 
Finally, before heading off into the music, let me first express this: to me, Ishahn is a singular talent in metal and music at large in that while his albums are always technically sound and enjoyable, they feel much less like art than they do philosophy.  I feel like I’m listening to a philosophical discussion about the topics presented on his albums (which is why I intend on writing long form posts and deconstructions of his solo career going forward).
 
Fortunately, Das Seelenbrechen does not disappoint.  Its first song thunders into the singer’s trademarked snarl: “At the verge of winter’s chasm…”  The music is tense and foreboding, but never unsettling at this point as your ear can hold to the chiming synth above the churning guitars below.  This attention to detail focuses the music going forward on the album.  The album takes turns from stunning heights and hopefulness (!) into frozen valleys and pure despondency.  With respect to MetalSucks here: they are right in that there are moments that will make you feel like “OMG” and others that will make you groan; moments that will cause clarity and others that will make you say “shit.”  But, never in a bad way.  Everything makes sense on this album.  From the nearly saccharine synth’s in the middle of Regen to the alien, nearly mechanical, whispers of and to the feedback on See.
 
Tacit 2 and Tacit are the most interesting, musically, songs on the album.  The former has a skull rattling drum beat that is nearly impossible to follow and forms the core of the song that hits in all its improvisational nature as as a train wreck that has no explanation.  It is this album’s unexpected thunderstorm.  The latter explains what has happened and why Tacit 2 came to be, raggedly snarling: “Magnetic emptiness drew me into cathedrals of silence/ only to see them collapse and fall/ like promises on the frozen ground/ And as the dust settled/ My hands reached out to ash clouds and ruins/ eagerly, like onto strings/ to feel destruction and play the sound.”  This desire expressed is reflected with: “The bitter sweet song of a poet’s lament/ that even his best are just feeble translations.”
 
If Nietzsche’s quote was the call to action for this album, then Ihsahn has met it.  It is filled with an “ugly artistic soul” that wends and dances around the question of artistic interpretation of reality.  It questions the very thing that the artist makes, and it better yet it does it well and in a way that will leave the listener raw, soothed, and contented in a catharsis only Black Metal can provide.
 
 
 
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Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Geek, Music

 

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Diurnal Aural Experience: Ihsahn’s “NaCl” from Das Seelenbrechen (2013)

Enjoy.  It’s a catch song with quite probably the most accessible riff Ihsahn’s ever composed.  The music doesn’t hit you overwhelmingly hard (though it’s beautifully and skillfully written and evokes a sense of tension mixed with confusion).  This lyric will however: “Or maybe I’m the bigger fool who nurtures every fight and every loss.”

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Art, Geek, Inspiration, Music

 

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Weekly Music Review: Leprous’s “Coal” (2013).

Lerpous_Coal

 

Compared to Bilateral, the artwork for this album is stunningly gray, but ultimately just as effective.  I love the imagery of the human skull resting atop coal.  It’s dark, foreboding, representative of death, but also glorifying of the simplest and most reasonable way to determine a human form.  From a chemical perspective coal and diamonds are no different save for one very important thing: pressure.

That’s exactly what this album is about, varying degrees of pressure inserted to the soundscape.  The production quality of the album is precisely done and well accomplished, each instrument never quite overwhelms another.  The samples and loops are used well used on this album (see the end of “Foe”).

The music itself is a progressive metal masterpiece: a dark, forbidding pressure filled atmosphere that breaks free in catharsis by the end of the album (Black Metal), aggressive, thrashing sounds and aural assaults (Death Metal), but, in equal measure with the heaviness, quiet, introspective moments.  There are no flaws in the transitions of song to song; a listener that wishes can take this album, sit down, and start without concern for the track list and let the music go for its nearly 55 minute run time.  Each song feels as if a movement within the greater piece, which is, in my opinion, the highest point of songwriting and musical ability in the art music group.

The lead track bursts in as a discordant warning siren and ends in a cacophony of Einar Solberg’s vocals.  The drum track on Foe is positively epic, feeling jazz inspired in parts.  The entire compositions of “Chronic,” “Coal,” and “The Cloak” are beautiful songs, each taking you on a different journey but all sharing strongly the same theme.  “The Valley” comes in shortly after “The Cloak’s” silence ends, using 8-bit sounds off the synth keys (first time I’ve heard that in a serious approach to metal). “Salt” starts generating the steam again, but remains low key into “Echo” which is a well composed piece ending with a very simple music behind Solberg’s flowing voice.  “Contaminate Me” is fully the hardest hitter on the album; it grabs you by the ears, forcing you to listen. Its core component explodes in shortly after 15 seconds of silence to end “Echo.” It relies off a vocal driven interplay between Einar and Ihsahn in call and response.

Okay, the above three paragraphs have basically detailed all the things that I really enjoyed about this album.  I cannot yet and have not yet find a place where the band took a misstep on their approach, in the composition or the performance of this album.  It is very much a wonderful piece of music by a band that, after Bilateral‘s playfulness, seemed to want to find their own voice away from being Ihsahn’s backing band. The atmosphere of this album is stern and as cold as a coal mine (which is something they intended).  However, this is first album from Leprous, after having purchased Tall Poppy Syndrome (which Coal is very definitely better than) and Bilateral and streamed Aeolia, that I did not once think, even with Ihsahn’s vocals included, about this being his backing band.  All those thoughts and attempts on the previous albums come together on Coal and craft a wonderful album that deserves attention for its quality.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Geek, Music

 

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Diurnal Aural Experience: Ihsahn’s “Misanthrope” from angL

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Art, Geek, Philosophy

 

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Rumination: Hippie Metal. Seriously.

Okay, so, in reading this article from Invisible Oranges, I kinda have to agree with Tim Hunter here. Cascadian Black Metal is kinda bullshit term of over eager journalists seeking to define a movement within art so they can be that one damn person that say “YEP, I DEFINED THAT SHIT FIRST GUYS!”  So, I used a farce of a title for this post because I could, but let’s trace the heritage of this particular set of post black metal soundscapes, often mixed with shoegaze and folk elements.

Side note here: I hate the post genre designation as much as Hunter hates the CBM designation.  I find it trite and foolish: the use of black metal in non black metal situations? Just what IS a black metal situation, what is a particular movement that defines as non-black metal?  So stickiness aside here, I’ve used it in the past and I’ve tried to get around it and I’ll probably fuck up again.

So, we have all these bands that play music from a Black Metal style, but are attempting to phrase it in a completely different context than what was originally conceived as being Black Metal.  So, let’s off for a history lesson!  Just so you know, Burzum and Mayhem will be completed ignored by this discussion.  I cannot put into words the vitriol and contempt with which I hold this situation and a particular individual.  Therefore, any influence shall be ignored.

Venom is credited with being the progenitor of the Black Metal style because of one song they wrote: “Black Metal.” However, I far more agree that the Black Metal style originated in Sweden with Bathory’s frontman Quorthon.  His 1988 release Blood, Fire, Death took thrash metal stylings, added a ferocious snarl, and discussed things uniquely metal (e.g.: the acrostics in a few of the songs in which he talks about Satan) and then used the poem of Erica Jong,For All Those Who Died,” to discuss the pains of the heathen in the face of the church.

Over his next releases, Quorthon kept incorporating traditional Power Metal lyrical stylings and began calling his music Viking Metal.  The second wave included two separate movements: one in Norway and one in Sweden.

In Norway, Black Metal codified around speed and chaos, yet still held onto the themes of heathenism and sometimes Satanism (see: Gorgoroth, specifically).  Enslaved released in 1994 an album that AllMusic believed to continue the banner of this particular style of music.  As noted, the song is closer to speed metal, but combines symphonic elements in a keyboard and a snarling, shrieking vocalist.  Below is the first song off this album:

Emperor offered in 1994 their album In the Nightside Eclipse on which “The Majesty of the Night Sky” was released.  Offering tremolo picked chaos in describing the night sky, the song is another example of the use of Black Metal to discuss natural themes and traditional folk elements similar to 1960s-1970s folk:

Dodheimsgard too continued the sound in some means, adding a deeper, richer rhythm section, and a touch more industrial feel while continuing the speed and chaos of the Norwegian style.  Here’s a good example of their sound from 1995:

Enlsaved, Ihsahn, and Dodheimsgard are both still active. Enslaved focuses on providing a progressive experience, constantly pushing and working with their sonics to craft interesting music.  Emperor broke apart two albums too late, before Ihsahn snaked off to a solo career in which he destroyed himself in effigy it seemed and then rebuilt himself.

In Sweden, this still took off as well.  A good number of bands that play the modern Black Metal style, pushing past sheer chaos into melodic warmth and folk based lyrics, state that their influence comes from Katatonia.  I’m using Brave Murder Day as my example as it is the album with which I am most familiar; however, earlier releases from 1994 are even better examples of this style:

In contrast to the Norwegian movement, the Swedish movement slowed it down, giving it doom metal aspects, and even rock elements (see Katatonia’s later releases).  Even Opeth got in the act on their first album with “The Forest of October”:

This would be a sound that they continued into My Arms, Your Hearse and still sometimes revisit as they did on Ghost Reveries (with “Reverie/Harlequin Forest”) and Heritage (with “Folklore” and “Famine”).  Though Opeth is often critically and financially more successful, Katatonia is credited as an influence more often than the modern bands. This codified into the Swedish Death Metal movements, thanks to other bands such as Dark Tranquility:

Tomorrow, we’ll move this past the mid 1990s into the later half of that decade to the present.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Art, Geek, Music

 

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