Viking Metal started out by combining the epic energy of Black Metal with the mystical grace of Folk music. Enslaved is a band at the pinnacle of this heavy, Nordic sound. Starting out as teenagers, this Norweigian act has successively enhanced the Scandinavian metal scene for nearly thirty years. Their beginnings were more in the realm of the extreme, but over time Enslaved has not been afraid to dip into other genres like Prog Rock and Jazz. It’s encouraging to witness their ability to be undaunted by their explorations while still being true to their Viking roots. Their new fifteenth full-length album, Utgard (Nuclear Blast) verifies their astute ambition of experimentmentation and expression.
Wraith sees London-based post-electronic pioneers Teeth Of The Sea taking a step away from the noise inflected menace of their earlier work following the departure of Mat Colegate after 2015’s Highly Deadly Black Tarantula (both Rocket Records). Yet their latest outing feels like the answer to a challenge, of sorts. In its absence, the progressive, playfully experimental composition style (paired with an often unapologetically wry approach to theme) brings to the fore the bands inherently theatrical bent. The result is something akin to the lost soundtrack to a late 90s Indie, cyber-Punk thriller.Continue reading
Supergroup is a term bandied about too much these days, including here at this very website. It’s hard to help it in the streaming music age, which coincidently has also fostered a new openness and freedom for artists to come together as never before. Perhaps we need another terminology to describe these collectives. How about “artistic hive-mind”? That’s one that definitely suits The Black Queen, who is more than a mere musical group, but carry these sensibilities in everything they do from songs and lyrics to album art, videos, t-shirts, and visual performances live. The sum of their recorded output is but one facet of what can be possible when they get together.
There comes a point, it seems, for a lot of bands where they decide to go in a direction that would seem directly opposed to their core sound, or sound with which they are most associated with. Now, and this will not turn into a witch hunt or anything, but these creative directions often split fan bases and in turn lead to a lot of anger, comment, though in balance, often also acclaim. At one such crossroads are Aussie metalcore band The Amity Affliction, and their sixth album Misery (Roadrunner).Continue reading
It’s a cruel irony that, for music which is such a personal and unrestrained expression, so much Noise sounds interchangeable. By forcing the player to respond to orthodox patterns, traditional instruments make it much easier to develop a singular “voice” – by making and manipulating their own sounds out of nothing, Noise artists ironically often end up sounding the same as each other.Continue reading
A collaborative effort between two or more bands is not an unheard of concept, especially within our world’s more avant garde entities, from the sublime – Scott Walker and Sunn O))) – to the not so good (Metallica and Lou Reed just to open a can of worms). Experimental extremists The Body are certainly no strangers to such work, with their previous collaborations with the likes of Thou and this release with black metallers Krieg (At A Loss).
The first thing to note is how dissonant and visceral this release is. As with their previous joint works, The Body choose to bolster the white rage intensity of Krieg, building on a distinctly metal record with their dark traits. Rather than the more distinctive black metal blast beats however, this is much more electronic based, programmed beats, high pitched frequencies and feedback and a bulldozing pace, albeit with Neill Jameson’s piercing growls and shrieks on top.
This clash of raw black metal and the mechanized and programmed beats match up so well in what is an equally horrifying, dizzying and hypnotic effort, while Jameson’s vocals add an even weightier punch of pure terror as this conveys the absolute epitome of dismay and filth.
This is extreme metal crawling to its warped and perverse limits, dragging it kicking and screaming to the future.
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I’m going to do something that bugs the crap out of me in music writing and break one of my own unwritten rules. I’m going to talk about myself. I hope by the time you get to the end of the review you’ll see why.
I fucking hate remix albums. Can’t be fucking arsed, and I’ve only properly ever bothered with three of them, of which two I actually like (go figure) – Linkin Park’s ‘Reanimation’ and Die Krupps’ II – The Final Remixes, though the third, Remanufacture can bog right off. I don’t particularly “do” or care for dancey or electronic music, and I don’t really have the frame of references, so I’m not going to patronise you, or myself, by guessing or pretending to have more than a superficial understanding of the styles of music these tunes have been adapted to.
OK, stepping back behind the fourth wall and sitting back down… One of the (other) unwritten rules some smart arses love to pedal is that it truly shows that a song is a genuinely good one if you can rip it from its original trappings and endowments and present it in a different, usually barer format and it still stand true. So, all that bollocks said, and it comes down to this; The Mindsweep: Hospitalised don’t ‘alf prove them smart arses right. While The Mindsweep¸ a cracking album, is the better version, the new presentations, for the most part stripping the vitriol of the origin and refracting the tunes, do showcase the quality songwriters Enter Shikarihave developed into.
Following the original tracklist, first track ‘The Appeal and The Mindsweep I’ (Metrik), with guitars replaced, and with beats tricky, works superbly to ease the mind into accepting the styles incoming. Other highlights include, ‘The Anaesthetist’, the original albums’ tribute to The Prodigy, is spread out by Reso, now running through treacle, and becomes a warped spiral of a jogging on a treadmill tinnitus breakout, ‘Never Let Go Of The Microscope’ (Etherwood) grimes and judders and Hugh Hardie’s remix of ‘Torn Apart’ plays with the pop-epica of the original, nodding its way through to the end with an understated smile. ‘The Bank of England’ (Lynx) and ‘There’s A Price On Your Head’ (Danny Byrd) casually saunter, teaming up with a subtle ‘Dear Future Historians’ (London Elektricity) as a reflective, effective trio late on in the album, though perhaps the Erised remix of ‘Interlude’ is the best reinterpretation, bringing in a cool female vocal and working the basics into a whole new song.
The Mindsweep: Hospitalised sees artists from Shikari’s label, Hospital Records, rework their newest album, and while the quality and allure vary, it is actually a probing and stimulating release that further enhances the reputation of its originators as a group that has grown into a set of songwriters par excellence, and sees this curio as a valid sister release to the original.
So… guess that makes it three I can be bothered with, then.
The legendary Kraftwerk brought their 3D experience to The Wang Theatre in Boston. Since their last studio album was released in 2003 this tour was not in support of a new musical work, but a retrospective set that spanned what they have released in the last 40 or so years.
With the crowd in their seats and the supplied 3D paper glasses securely affixed to their faces, the show started promptly at 8pm and wouldn’t be complete for a little over 2 hours. Now if you were expecting some high-end effects akin to a blockbuster movie, you would have been sorely mistaken; but quality of the effects made complete sense if you consider the band, their history and what they write about. Everything was cold and angular with a touch of humor and felt like it was created in a scientific laboratory rather than some big modern visual effects studio. That’s what made it work. As fun as they were, some of it was difficult to focus on and the effort needed to force my eye balls into submission was proving to be too much towards the end.
Even so, I can’t imagine the show without the effects. Some might say it detracts from the musicians, but they are notoriously reclusive, even using robots for official photo shoots in the past, and really don’t physically do more on stage than tap a foot here and there. I don’t think putting more emphasis on them as individuals would really do much for anyone. For a Kraftwerk show it really is just about the music and the visuals. Their music is still as vibrant and relevant today as it was when they first formed in 1970, arguably creating an entirely new genre of music as well as influencing countless musicians around the world. Kraftwerk in 3D was definitely something not to miss. I am glad I didn’t.
While not exactly a household name even in underground Metal, Kevin Hufnagel’s CV covers an impressive range of some of the more interesting and experimental bands and albums in modern Metal. His time in Dysrhythmia, Gorguts and Vaura shows a creative, ambitious player who’s not prepared to settle in one place for too long – so it’s hardly surprising that his new solo album leaves behind even the flexible restrictions of those bands to engage entirely with his own creativity.
The music on Kleines Biest (self-released) is a little outside Ghost Cult’s usual comfort zone in terms of labels and references, but if pushed I’d describe it as a kind of abstract composition, drawing on elements of Noise, Dark Ambient and other electronic forms, alongside occasional uses of Hufnagel’s guitar. The eleven tracks are instrumental, and each focus on a particular style or atmospheric theme, covering a broad range from sinister to reflective. There are aspects of Hufnagel’s compositional approach that are suggestive of Scott Walker’s post-Tilt (Fontana) work, but without Walker’s voice and skewed “song-writing”, it takes on more of a background role.
At its best, Kleines Biest is genuinely both daring and engaging collection of tracks from a musician who has clearly set out to challenge himself. Perhaps the most successful parts – certainly from the perspective of most Ghost Cult readers – come when Hufnagel brings his guitar to the compositions, employing abstract, atmospheric riffing that highlights how the trappings of Metal can be used to achieve unconventional results. Like a lot of “background” music, however, it can sometimes slip into meaningless abstraction and hollow sounds – at its worst, Kleines Biest is little more than more adventurous lift music, and the album perhaps outstays its welcome at times, especially during the more ambient or contemplative sections.
A largely successful experiment in stepping beyond the boundaries of Metal, then, for a musician who has spent his career pushing and testing those boundaries, but most people reading this are likely to prefer his work within the more structured format of a band.
Not content with plying his trade with one major label band, guitarist Niclas Engelin, who stepped into the Jesper Strömblad sized hole in the In Flames line up on a permanent basis in 2011, teams up with long-standing partner in crime Marcus Sunesson (ex-The Crown) for Raven Kings(Gain/Sony), the fourth installment of his near-eponymous band Engel, and his stamp, and that of his day job, is all over this new release.
Engel are keen to show that the metal does indeed flow in their veins, and the decision to kick the album off with two ragers works from a dynamic point of view, particularly considering the exemplary production job undertaken by Jacob Hansen (Volbeat), although the decision to utilize new vocalist Mikael Sehlin’s harsher tones at the onset of the album instantly draw comparisons with Anders Friden, which for a side project that are not a million miles away from the furrows being ploughed by his other band, is potentially too thin an ice to be stomping army boots on.
Where they do come into their own, though, is as the album progresses and the bands’ keen ear for a hook is accentuated and highlighted, be it riff, groove, vocal melody or chorus that provides it, this is an album full of catchy moments and Soilwork-ed passages, with Sehlin operating much more effectively in the melodic ranges, sounding not too dissimilar to Sebastian Bach’s more Slave-ish moments, and with a power and tone reminiscent of Chris Jericho.
While the band have termed themselves Melodic Death Metal there is no escaping that the core sound of Engel is intrinsically close to that of In Flames, particularly as electronic and “industrial” nuances fleck both the Jester’s and this ancillary outfits’ sound these days, or that the term “Death” in that descriptor is a bit of a red herring. Yes, their hooky song-based modern metal (I’m loathe to add the word core on the end as it almost by default detracts from what they produce) is heavy without resorting to ultra beatdowns to bring the weight, but it is in the melodic and the catchy where they thrive, as, ultimately, Raven Kings is a worthy release of contemporary, commercial metal.
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