As one door closes, another opens. Or so the saying goes. Yet the conclusion of the A Natural Disaster (Music For Nations) run saw British Progressive Rock act Anathema complete their second cycle, one that had taken them from Doom (Serenades through The Silent Enigma) through a transitional period through more Progressive and emotional waters (Eternity through to …Disaster including the exceptional Judgement), alone in a room without an opening ahead of them, with apparently limited options. Externally, at least, the future of the band seemed shrouded, and their continued existence, let alone any future success, appeared unlikely. Continue reading
They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the front can tell you exactly what to expect and emphasise something’s importance. The stunning scene from Liverpool’s Cathedral which adorns this particular cover perfectly encapsulates not only the grandeur of the cathedral itself, but the stunning atmosphere that any Anathema show has to offer.
A Sort Of Homecoming (Kscope) gives both a live video and audio version of Anathema’s Liverpool Cathedral show; part of a run of stripped down, mostly acoustic shows across similar venues around the UK and Europe, but a show in the band’s home town shows a great personal significance and familiarity to them. Some brief, jovial heckles here and there do not detract whatsoever and even highlights the warmth their music generates.
Much of the set on offer has been in heavy rotation in recent tours, and of course the latest album Distant Satellites (Kscope) gets a heavy airing, but even the regularity many will surely have heard these songs before does not lessen their effect or their presence whatsoever, and in actual fact the band do a lot to keep them sounding fresh.
‘The Lost Song Part 2’ opens the show to a fairly sombre note and curiously is done so without its corresponding parts, as Lee Douglas takes the first vocal duties of the night, and once again showing her improving confidence each and every show. Elsewhere, the poignant ‘Dreaming Light’ becomes a duet with Vincent Cavanagh sharing vocals with Lee, and ‘Internal Landscapes’ gets taken to its bare bones and sees Vincent and Danny singing together. An uncommon airing of ‘Electricity’ also helps to keep this set unique, alongside stunning performances of the likes of ‘Ariel’ and ‘A Natural Disaster’.
The video performance of this does well to showcase the gravitas of the surroundings and offers a clear, well shot document of the event throughout, all the while sounding crisp and note perfect, making this a live album that holds a candle to many of the greats. The largely familiar set list could have been a pitfall for those who have seen Anathema regularly in recent years, but the band’s unsurprisingly resonant and strong performance, plus the originality of the stripped down song versions and the magnificence of the venue itself, make this a very special release, and shows just why these guys are held so dearly in the hearts of many.
While the roots of “emo” can be traced back to the 80’s hardcore scene, it was with the turn of the millennium that, as a style, it really took hold of the conscience of the metal world; a natural response the braggadocio and machismo of a post-Pantera musical environment… hardcore could be sensitive, it didn’t have to be muscle-bound and it was perfectly acceptable to tug on the heartstrings.
“Emo” doesn’t have to be, indeed it shouldn’t be, a dirty word or the negative slur it has become. As the mouth consumes its own tail, that which was a response is targeted by a counter-response for watering down the original substance – an argument which ignores the fact that, by adding a new chemical to the compound, it becomes a different substance.
So, why all the talk of “emo”? Ohio’s The Plot In Youare a metalcore band, albeit one to explore introspection and personal difficulties, are they not? Because on third album Happiness In Self-Destruction (Stay Sick), TPIY have moved further down the emo path, seeking to marry the two styles and further establish their own niche and when they’re successful at it, such as ‘Time Changes Everything’ and ‘Take Me Away’, there is a connection and a feeling of genuine emotion. Even when introducing a down-tuned Korn-lurch, such as on ‘Runaway’, they maintain a feeling of misperception, or fear within, and piece tension to desolation.
Yet, this is a high-maintenance style to sustain, and a difficult sheen to preserve. ‘Pillhead’ slips into King 810 territory, but without the hooks or menace of the Flint mob, and the suspension of disbelief is broken. It’s even more difficult to craft 15 songs of this style across 58 minutes and preserve quality and interest as there are just too few colours; everything daubed in greys and browns, yet there are several moments TPIY pull it together splattered at intervals throughout the album, ‘My Old Ways’ picking up the middle of the album just when it needed it.
An hour with them is heavy going, and like a heavyweight boxer, they seem to pick and choose the moments to come out fighting, and when to grab and hold, unable to maintain stamina across all 15 rounds. That said, there is a consistency of style and a Chinese water-torture of atmosphere, and TPIY are shaping their own brand of heavy emo-core. Do you know what, sometimes it only takes a few big haymakers to win the fight.
Each track of Body Matter (Static Tension), the second EP from Kansas City’s A Light Within, is a notebook page torn from a collective, containing “substance of a person’s mind, body and soul while their time was spent on Earth”, and such depth of thought is born out in the intelligent post-rock aesthetics the band present along with the overall thematic arc of their music.
A Light Within are keen to inject genuine emotion into their art, and prove they are more than just a cerebral matter, with Kyle Brandt’s voice the most prevalent emotive vehicle.
Behind him is a mixture of clean, spacious guitar interplay from Jeff Irvine and Josh Bennett, and subtle, unobtrusive bass lines from Andy Schiller, who teases subtle grooves and works in and around the space left by Nick Sloan’s airy percussion.
Calling to mind the relaxed, natural unwinding of Kevin Moore’s early work with Chroma Key, and the more relaxed, thoughtful moments of Karnivool, Body Matter does fall foul, though, of that most abundant of post-rock barriers; the thin line between true transcendent inclusion and music that fades into the background. Both ‘Page #22 – No Charge’ and ‘Page #52 – Between Shores’ begin promisingly, with shimmering clean tremolo picking and Brandt’s sensitivity, but with no proper dynamic to them, as with closing epic ‘Page #47-#48 Glaso’ whose stately chords, descending harmonics and sneaky bass line threatens to explode before introverting to a Tool-esque wind down, things meander to an unspectacular close.
A grasp of what post-rock is and does is only part of the trick, and while A Light Within intrinsically add a lilting melancholy and sensitivity to this understanding, what they don’t yet consistently do is add to this beauty the requisite reasons to invest in their music, because it is the songs that don’t quite measure up to everything else. Post-rock asks of its listener to invest; to give of themselves to the tides of the music, and despite some interesting detours, A Light Within currently offer good sections, but not whole songs, which leaves no real lasting reason to repeat the journey.
The toms stir, an introductory galloping battering, a rhythmic tribal call to arms, as the simple lead guitar line rides up and down the front of the horde, rousing, preparing, hinting at what is to come, as the opening track of Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade) builds to kick into a timeless opening, an initiation where all the trademarks of the very best of Primordial are evident. Our title track erupts with ‘Hammerheart’ (Bathory) meets ‘Blood Of My Enemies’ (Manowar), driving, open, churning chords and Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill’s distinctive, powerful vocals, preaching, imploring and then leading a stirring chorus to what is, unconditionally, one of the anthems of the year.
After a gap of three and a half years since the Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand this is a mighty return, with the weight of expectation not just shrugged off, but decimated by the pounding Pagan Metal delivered by the hands of the best in the business. For, at their peak, Primordial have no peers in the field of the epic.
Emote is what Primordial do best, and this is an album that drips with feelings of regret, reflection and, conversely, inspiration; Averill’s intelligent themes, authoritative words and voice enhance the profound interplay of Ciáran MacUiliam and Michael Ó Floinn’s guitars, whose interaction on tracks like ‘Come The Flood’ call to mind Anathema’s grandiose The Silent Enigma (Peaceville). ‘Born To Night’ gradually unfurls to reveal a ‘Battle Hymn’ most proud, while ‘The Seed of Tyrants’ releases the rage, nodding to a more extreme past, both musically and lyrically. While Primordial are oft mislabelled as a Black Metal band, ‘…Tyrants’ serves as a reminder from whence they came, but, as ever with those touches of class the band possess to enhance, colour and immerse.
Yet, this is not a flawless album, as with blood both stirred and pumping by our introduction, ‘Babel’s Tower’ and ‘The Alchemist’s Head’ are downers; decent if unspectacular down-shifts of pace, which, while still intrinsically “Primordial”, call to mind the unhurried moments of Imrama (Cacophonous), and despite Averill’s impassioned story-telling, neither grab or evoke like the opening track, or the crushingly pessimistic ‘Ghosts of the Charnel House’. That can be the problem when you start that strongly, as it is a high watermark for the rest of an album to live up to.
After establishing their sound on second album A Journey’s End (Misanthropy), it has been since their fifth album, The Gathering Wilderness (Metal Blade), that the band have truly matured and hit an exceptional run of form that takes them into Where Greater Men Have Fallen, their eighth full length, and its moving combination of classic Bathory inspired metal, doomier tropes and an unmistakable grasp of the epic, all draped in those characteristic Primordial effects.
Yet, are Primordial victims of their own success? The previous three albums are of such a high standard, and are pregnant with anthems that, like the title track or the exceptional closer ‘Wield Lightning To Split The Sun’ – murky, bleak, earnest, wringing with remorse and possibly the best piece of music the band has delivered over the course of their career – means that when Primordial deliver “good” it can, initially appear disappointing.
Bookended by two incredible tracks is a layered, powerful and impassioned album, resplendent with mood changes, from reflective, to angry, to moving – the leads that pull ‘Born To Night’ to its close soulfully uplifting – and to judge by the merits of others Where Greater Men Have Fallen stands tall. Yet measured by their own imperious canon, this latest release, while showcasing everything that is respected and esteemed of Primordial, is not first among equals.
Primordial are too proficient an outfit to release anything other than an excellent album. Just how excellent, when compared to their own standards, is the question at hand, but Where Greater Men Have Fallen is laden with dark anthems and fervent sincerity and, chest out, stands proudly as a laudable addition to a most impressive catalogue.
Part of the role of a music critic is to separate the wheat from the chaff; the superlative from the humdrum; the lasting glory from the flash in the pan. Additionally, part of the role of music critic is to explain, elucidate and comment on what something sounds like as well as whether it sounds any good at all. Forgive me then, readers, as I am speechless. Absolutely, unequivocally, speechless.
Otta (Season of Mist), the latest album from Icelandic musical vagabonds Sólstafiris one of the most uncompromising and challenging records that you are likely to hear this year; it is also one of the most compelling. Forego any pre-conceived ideas you might have about what this might sound like or what pigeon hole it’s supposed to drop into; that simply will not do. It won’t do at all. Otta is artistic self-expression par excellence; as a manifestation of single mindedness, it takes some beating. What the band have created is, by some margin, the most brilliant demonstration of their art to date and a contender for the album of the year.
Choosing to sing in their native Icelandic is an uncompromising decision in a market place where non English speakers are often treated with almost voyeuristic curiosity. On Otta, the decision seems entirely natural and unforced, taking the inflective beauty of the band’s mother tongue and imbuing the album’s eight songs here with a vocal experience of almost existential beauty. It matters not that your understanding of what is being sung is little, (it’s based on an ancient Icelandic tradition of a solar day, in case you were wondering) the music, artistry and heartfelt passion of the deliverance of these songs is more than enough.Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals across the entire album are quite extraordinary; from aching fragility to bellicose defiance, it is a performance that, like the whole album, defies categorisation, but is deserving of the highest praise.
There are many reasons why Otta works but here are two key ones: firstly, it sounds uniquely Sólstafir and Sólstafir don’t sound like anything else you have heard. Admittedly, you might be able to detect echoes of other bands, of other singers but not delivered with this verve, guile and eccentric charm. Second, Otta is an aural experience like no other: this is an immersive, emotional and evocative album, multi-layered, nuanced and brimming with pulsating and invigorating ideas; it is music for the head as much as the heart.
Otta is a swirling, bubbling, melting pot of an album: and a genuine album (as opposed to a series of individual tracks) it most certainly is. As a listening experience, it is perhaps old fashioned in having a narrative arc that compels you to listen from its startlingly fragile opening, through the half anticipated yet still hugely invigorating middle section of ‘Miodegi’ and ‘Non’ to the exhausting coda of ‘Nattmal’ but listen you MUST as you will be richly rewarded by this powerful, idiosynscratic and utterly brilliant album.