Black Orchid Empire’s Yugen (Long Branch/SVT) is a slick new spin on the sounds Heavy Metal people love. The opening song, ‘My Favorite Stranger’ is a headbanging gem, evokes shades of NIN, Tool, and Primal Rock Rebellion. The guitars have a heavy soulful tone to them one moment and a classic rock sound to them the next, all of this is accentuated by clean vocals. The trio is Paul Visser on vocals and guitars, Dave Ferguson on bass and vocals, and Billy Freedom on drums, bringing the thunder.
When a band that formed in 2006 have already recorded ten full-length albums and so many EPs and splits that I can’t be bothered counting them, it’s fair to assume that they’ve (I know, it’s only one person, but you use a band-name you get called by a plural – science) nailed their sound down by now. With Metal/Noise pioneers Gnaw Their Tongues, however, it’s a bit more complicated than that – they’ve somehow managed to develop a style that is instantly recognisable but changes subtly across each album, to the extent that you’re never sure exactly what you’re going to get when a new one is announced, and how heavily it will lean towards their disparate sides. Continue reading
Reviewing a new Fear Factory album in 2015 is like purchasing the Blu-Ray edition of a film you already own on DVD. It’s a good movie and it’s all shiny and high-definition like, but overall there’s no substantial surprises. A new commentary track and special features (or in this analogy, lyrics) are nice perks.
Long story short, there’s not a whole lot of deviation. In that regard Fear Factory’s Genexus (Nuclear Blast) is similar enough to the last review I penned, Kataklysm’s Of Ghosts and Gods. Sure, they’re both new albums, but do you really expect (or want) a dramatic stylistic change from these extreme metal institutions?
All the core Fear Factory components that made 2010s Mechanize and 2012s The Industrialist memorable are back. Vocalist Burton C. Bell and guitarist/bassist Dino Cazares are still playing nice while under the guidance of longtime collaborator and producer Rhys Fulber. Two of the songs feature Blade Runner samples so yeah, the man grappling against artificial intelligence theme is present again. Really, the biggest or only variations to be found here are a return to live drumming (a strong performance from Mike Heller) and the record label.
If you’ve had the pleasure of listening to Demanufacture or Obsolete you’re gonna hit the ground running on this outing. Seriously, like those two landmarks we open with some industrial samples/noises that lead into a jack hammer of a song and 40 minutes or so later the album is bookended by a sweeping and melodic closer (this time in the form of the excellent ‘Expiration Date’).
And that’s a good thing. Very good if you’re into this sort of metallic business. But wait, there’s more. In between the covers you also get slabs of brutal groove like ‘Anodized’ and ‘Soul Hacker.’ It’s all the downtuned 7-string chug coupled with machine-gun fire kick drums your little mechanical heart desires. And despite being in this racket for 25+ years, Bell still can do the bark and croon thing better than most.
Although if they’re going to keep moving forward with the “cybermetal” sound (or whatever Fear Factory refer to themselves these days) I’d like to see it with the full classic lineup. That means bringing bassist Christian Olde Wolbers and skinsman Raymond Herrera out of exile. They were there for the Demanufacture and Obsolete days, they should be here for the resurgence.
This month’s Under the Surface has us traveling from the familiar trappings of Manchester, New Hampshire all the way to London, Scandinavia and the heart of Southeast Asia. The mission as always is the pursuit of the latest and greatest in unsigned or undiscovered heavy music.
I start not too far from home, with New Hampshire’s At the Heart of It. The challenge, particularly in the New England area, is finding a way to stand out in a crowded hardcore scene. You can’t swing a dead cat in Boston without hitting 14 bands cannibalizing each other’s sound. With their self-titled EP, At the Heart of It found a way to stand out. And the here’s the catch what helps separate them is not their aggression, but the more quiet moments like in ‘Create/Sustain’ and ‘This World Has Teeth.’ The vocals are so pained that I just want to buy the band a cup of coffee and tell them that things will get better soon. But not too soon, I’m really digging this sound. 8.0/10
Next is Abodean Skye and their new LP Echoes of an Astral Empire. This UK trio are the type of band that gladly remind you that it’s hip to be square as proven by singing that would make Geoff Tate, soaring melodies and keyboard runs that wouldn’t feel out of place in a vintage Final Fantasy game. Then you have song titles like ‘Battle of Tears’ and ‘Return of the Fleet.” And that kind of nerd cred isn’t a knock, either. Echoes is a very fun album, particularly if you have a sweet tooth for histrionics and bands like the underrated Cellador.
Sure at 55 minutes it can feel a bit lengthy, but it seems like epic was the MO here. And while on the subject of epic, I would’ve liked the production to have a little more pop to it. The mix here is serviceable, but the compositions could’ve used a little more energy to them. It’s a quest worth venturing. 7.0/10
Keeping with that same nerd enthusiasm is Helsinki, Finland’s Tulitera. Seriously, that cover art is probably the geekiest thing I’ve ever seen and I collect Batman comics. But this instrumental collective is so much more than their art suggests. Move past Tulikaste’s crude sword illustrations and you will find a very sophisticated and ambitious sound. Fans of Tesseract will feel right at home with songs like ‘Voidborn’ and ‘Firedew’ has sweeping synths that sound like something that Vangelis forgot to use in Blade Runner. And while ‘Firedew’ is one the album’s highlights it illustrates that much like Abodean Skye, Tulitera let the songs run for a little longer than expected. Case in point, ‘Percolator’ feels less like an introduction and more like 3 minutes of nothing.
And I can already hear you shouting “but Hans, this progressive metal, it’s supposed to have longer songs.” Yes and no. If the riffs are there then go for that 14 minute Between the Buried and Me musical freakout. If not, then trim it and get your point across a lot faster. But given that this is a debut LP it’s a flaw that can be overlooked. 8.0/10
And since we’re on the subject of longer songs why not talk about the Burning Water split EP between Philipino sludge acts Death After Birth and Surrogate Prey. How do I put this? One of these bands has a promising future and other does not. I take it they haven’t been around long, but Death After Birth really shit the bed with their half of the recording. They slog by checking off all the traditional doom and sludge checkboxes with a sound that only can be described as basement quality. It’s like Crowbar, but without the riffs or Kirk Windstein or the great guitar tone. However, Surrogate Prey sound like they know a thing or two about playing low and slow. ‘Crevianitus’ is soul crushingly heavy and memorable and ‘Banquet of the Beasts’ has a breakdown the size of Alaska. Surrogate Prey save the day here. 6.0/10
And to wrap things up we have another split EP, Irk | Wren, featuring the British talents of Irk and Wren respectively. Irk storms out of the gate with a brand of noise highly reminiscent of fellow Brits, Fudge Tunnel and a vocal delivery that sounds like Jonathan Davis on Quaaludes. And tracks like ‘You Sound Like my Ex-Wife’ and ‘Cibo Per Gattini’ are some of the rare and very awesome instances where the bass is more prominent than the guitar. As good as Irk is, Wren steal the show with some of the heaviest post-metal goodness since Isis. If you’re still heartbroken over their breakup then Wren are more than willing to fill in that blank space in your life. Forget an EP, after listening to the atom smashing closer that is ‘An Approach’ I need a double LP. 9.0/10
Part of the charm of being in the heavy metal community is the fact that it is a real community, a group of diverse people from diverse backgrounds, beliefs and ethnic origins bound by a shared love and appreciation for all things heavy and metal. It gives a real sense of belonging, a shared understanding – a belief that the music that you love can open hearts and minds and generally make the world a better place.
If you’re getting the distinct sense that I’m filibustering and not actually getting to the actual review of the sixth album from Sweden’s Scar Symmetry, then you’d be right because if you like Scar Symmetry, my suggestion is that you look away now.
The Singularity, Phase One: Neohumanity (Nuclear Blast) is the first of a trilogy of records. The Singularity is a sci-fi (in the loosest sense of the word) concept album that revolves around the rise of “artilects (artificial intellects) with mental capacities far above the human level of thought” and that “by the year 2030, one of the world’s biggest industries will be ‘artificial brains,’ used to control artilects that will be genuinely intelligent and useful.” According to the band, the album focusses on the divide between “those who embrace the new technology and those who oppose it” due to the social issues caused by the rise of artificial intelligence and the emergence of trans-humanists adding artilect technology to their own bodies.” Of course.
Let’s not get too carried away with the ludicrousness of the story – what we have come here to praise, or not, is the music, isn’t it?
Well, as you probably know already, what you get is fundamentally a melodic death metal record that is exquisitely produced and efficiently and energetically performed by a band that appear to have gotten themselves something akin to a second wind. The problem is the entire enterprise leaves me utterly, utterly cold.
Granted, there’s a bit more on the melody and a soupcon of prog thrown in but that’s it really. You know when the choruses are going to kick in, know when the growly vocals are going to get really growly. It’s all just a bit, well, obvious. I thought the lyrics and subject matter in need of an editor and the overall effect of listening to this record was, I imagine, like being covered in a vat of cliché and self-regarding hubris. I’m sure there will be plenty of people that will praise this to the highest, revel in its supposed ambition and generally fawn around it like a sycophantic junior at an Elizabethan court: not me, though.
There’s two more where this came from, too.
You know, sometimes if it’s not doing it for you, then it’s not doing it for you. And The Singularity… is not doing it for me. At all. I can admire the effort here, the scope and the ambition, and I applaud the single-mindedness and the collective musicality. What I can’t do is pretend that I like any of it.
This is a weird one, readers, so bear with me…
Let’s deal with the facts first. Starset is a rock band from Columbus, Ohio, formed by Dustin Bates, who, as well being the main protagonist, also has a bit of a scientific background… he’s been to university in other words. The band’s debut album Transmissions (Razor & Tie) hit #49 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart. The band’s first single, ‘My Demons’ is now in the Top 10 at Rock Radio in the USA and has been on the chart for 32 weeks. They are quite popular.
So far, so promising new band story, right? Wrong.
Here’s where it starts getting weird. Dustin formed Starset, according to him, after being contacted by an organization called The Starset Society and its’ President, Dr. Aston Wise. Bates was asked if he was interested in forming a band to promote the organization’s message. At its core, the message is a warning that involves a scientific discovery that is currently being controlled and manipulated by an elite few.
Are you going “Uh-oh” at this moment? Good, you should be.
Remember Babylon Zoo? Yes, well now you’re starting to get the idea. This rampant silliness is all a bit of a shame for this debut because buried in the pointless over-production, the sound clippings from satellites and the wall upon wall of violins are a bunch of pop rock songs that sound fairly decent, are well arranged and, on occasion, hummable. Yes, there are tunes.
Transmissions is the sort of record that lots of people who should know better get inevitably excited about because it has classical orchestration on it which means that they will use words like “epic”, “visionary” and so on to describe a record that, if they were being really honest, sounds an awful lot like a Linkin Park tribute act playing over the soundtrack to Blade Runner. Fair play to Bates- he has got a bit of a vision thing going on – shame then that his vision is the same old hackneyed conspiracy theory trope about shadowy government agencies and mind control.
If you like this sort of thing, well you’re going to like this sort of thing. If you don’t, well you won’t. Each to their own…