It lies deep within the cold vastness of space. A distant, inhospitable land that exists at the farthest reaches of an unforgiving, lonely planet. Cast adrift and surrounded by an ocean of venomous, fanged, and tentacled monstrosities lies an island of such unimaginable manifestations of horror that madness and fear await every nervous footstep with eager, slurping lust. Crawling, slithering, scuttling, swimming, hiding. It waits.
Devin Townsend is a music extraordinaire who is well-known for his many different and successful projects that he has participated in over the last 25 years or so. Whether it be Strapping Young Lad or Devin Townsend Project the man has always thrown his heart into it.He is a Canadian machine that expertly and consistently generates epic-scale music in many diverse forms. Last year he released his latest solo album, Empath (InsideOut Music). He took his essence to a new level of eccentricity with a masterful embodiment of bonkers meets serene. Many cling to the wilds that is Dev for his honest presentation, whether that be in Jazz, Metal, or whatever genre he chooses to express himself with. His devotees gather in the masses at his shows for a guaranteed excellent and entertaining performance. Last December he brought his uncommon magic to England and much like his actual works, the presentation was a little unconventional. Dev is about to release his new live album, Order of Magnitude: Empath Live Volume 1 (InsideOut Music) documenting that European tour. It will be released as a limited deluxe 2CD/Blu-Ray/DVD artbook package, a limited 2CD+DVD digipak, gatefold 3LP+2CD vinyl box set, and more.
Periphery has come a long way. From humble origins that saw them credited for the rejuvenation of the Progressive Metal as a genre, to continually pushing creative boundaries with each release, their newest effort Periphery IV: Hail Stan (3DOT) continues the upward musical trajectory of the band.Continue reading →
While most Thrash fans during the ’80s were concentrating on the burgeoning scenes in the US, Germany, and to a lesser extent, the UK, bands from a number of other, slightly less fashionable, countries were also getting in on the act. Sepultura were a first glimpse of Brazilian Thrash, Canada gave us Annihilator, Razor, and Voivod, Australian act Mortal Sin looked set to make it big for a while, while the terminally underrated Artillery arrived from Denmark.Continue reading →
Eight Bells release their sophomore album Landless (Battleground Records/Tartarus Records) in time for Valentine’s Day and it is one that fans are sure to love. It is available in three different forms—vinyl, digital, and tape—to reach the maximum amount of music fans. As their nautical name alludes to, they are prepared to create great experimental metal no matter how stormy the seas.
The Meads of Asphodel are no strangers to split LPs, nor is Tjolgtjar for that matter, but this is the first time the pair team up for a co-creation. The result is Taste of Divine Wrath (Eternal Death).
The Meads of Asphodel has one of the best song titles I have seen in a while: ‘An Ebullient Prelude to a Loathsomely Grim End’. This short intro has a high level of bombast and the promised ebullience with its orchestra and choir, and gives way to the sufficiently grim ‘Chidiock Tichborne’. This song is very high paced and strange. The lyrics “High treason, hung, drawn, and quartered,” really impart the loathsomely grim end that was referred to in the previous title. The grunts are slow when compared to the music, and this contrast, together with the variation in styles of grunt, makes the song interesting.
Then follows an utterly bewildering cover of ‘You Got the Love’, called ‘You’ve Got the Hate’. It is mystifying and confusing, but actually quite good.
The penultimate song on the A-side is about Balthasar Gérard, the infamous murderer of William I of Orange who was gruesomely executed for his deed. This song details the execution and questions the value of the assassination. The music is rather atmospheric and beautiful, with acoustic guitars and synths, and contrasts rather poignantly with the subject of the lyrics. The atmospheric style continues into the final song ‘Infidel’, but this also contains some of the musical brutality of ‘Chidiock Tickborne’.
The B side of the split is Tjolgtjar, a one-man project in a genre known as “Black’n’Roll.” The first song, entitled ‘The 5th Mass & Her Works’ is a bit of a cut and paste of a mind-boggling mixture of Psychedelic oriented Rock’n’Roll with sections of Black noise. The next song, ‘Near You Always’, is far more balanced, having mostly a base of Psychedelica with a topping of Black rather than the rapidly altering sections of the previous song. I was rather pleased with the sounds of an actual goat in ‘A Goat in the Woods’, which is an instrumental song firmly entrenched in Psychedelic territory. The main guitar riff for ‘Winter Research’ is brilliant and catchy. The voice-overs at the start, middle, and end of this side make this a strange collection, however, the alien manifesto and satanic cults do make for very interesting listening.
With songs well put together; if you are interested in the strange and experimental sides of black metal, this split album might just broaden your horizons.
I’d like you to stop what you’re doing right now and pay attention.
For here is the most impressive and important heavy metal album thus far in 2015. This is the record that is going to inhabit the upper echelons of those end of year lists and we are only in the year’s early months. This is the record that you’re going to smile knowingly about and, when all the hipsters come out of the woodwork to declare their love for it, you’re going to feel smug in the knowledge that you were there when Frost (Osmose) came out and when Axioma Ethica Odini (Indie/Nuclear Blast) changed your world view of what was possible with progressive metal. In Times (Nuclear Blast), the thirteenth album from Norwegian progressives Enslaved, is a record of staggering, jaw-dropping brilliance.
In Times distils the essence of Enslaved in brilliant, grandiose fashion but, like all great albums, suggests new, as yet uncharted opportunities. To use sporting parlance, suggesting that the band are at the top of their game is to truly misunderstand what’s going on here. Enslaved are not just at the top of their game; they are in the process of trying to change the game being played. In Times delivers six extended, expansive aural essays as opposed to songs. They are all brilliant, all have their own internal narratives, nuances and highlights and yet, knitted together, manifest themselves as the most coherent and immersive album of this band’s career.
‘Thurisaz Dreaming’ kicks things off in spectacular yet familiar fashion. We are thrown back into the brutal and ferocious territory that is reminiscent of the black metal hinterland of the band’s early period. This works on a number of levels- as a visceral introduction and a statement of intent for the new record, it is all welcome and vibrant strum und drang. As a reminder of how far the band have come without compromising their aesthetic or values it is a glorious throwing down of the gauntlet. About three minutes in, we move elegantly into the more progressive melodic territory of the band’s more recent past. It’s akin to pulling a handbrake turn. In lesser hands, this juxtaposition of styles would be clunky and knowing. With Enslaved, such is their talent for aural narrative, this seems like the most natural thing in the world. It is a technicolour, vibrant and furious opening.
It then gets even better. ‘Building with Fire’ is one of the best and most compelling manifestations of the band’s melding of clean, open singing and harsher brutalism that I have ever heard. It has a hypnotic 4/4 beat that acts as a simple yet effective architecture for the dual vocal talents of Herbrand Larsen and Grutle Kjellson. It’s brilliantly effective, and catchy as hell.
And then it gets better still. On ‘1000 Years of Rain’ we have one of the most intricate, eloquent and astonishingly creative songs the band have created. It is a rich and richly nuanced epic, covering an extraordinary range of styles, stitched together like a medieval tapestry. This is what the soundtrack to Game of Thrones sounds like in my head. We are treated to folk, hymnal chanting, riffing bigger than tectonic plates and a brilliant attention to detail that brings the listener back time and again to discover new gems as well as simply wallow in the gloriousness of it all.
Exemplary is the most apposite word that I can conjure for the majesty of ‘Nauthir Bleeding’. It stretches to almost breaking point the band’s capacity for bringing together the dream-like melody with gnarly bombast but it’s a stretching that never breaks, largely because this is a band that knows exactly what they are doing and do it with aplomb; being taken to the edge has rarely felt as thrilling.
The simplicity of what Enslaved do – the light and shade, the ambient and terrifying is simple enough to explain, much harder to deliver. On the ten minutes plus dynamism of the title track you really understand just how accomplished they are. This is the most obviously progressive track here with long ethereal passages that reflect the album’s otherworldly nature whilst continuing to blend in the relentless riffage that they are equally renowned for.
The album coda, ‘Daylight’, is well, magnificent, driving through fantastic melodies and power to the inevitable conclusion that leaves you shaking your head at how good it all is.
In Times is a reflection and a look forward; it is the most complete encapsulation of what Enslaved are about and what Enslaved are capable of. Again and again, In Times shifts your expectations about what “good” looks and sounds like. This is the most daring, ambitious, otherworldly and evocative album of an already deeply impressive career. It is the record where any scintilla of doubt of their genius can be banished from your mind, consigned to the dustbin and given a right royal telling off. With In Times, Enslaved have created an album where every ounce of their creative nous has been distilled into an album that is simply and utterly spellbinding.
If you have had any interest in the metal underground over the last 20 years or so then there’s a fair chance that you will have encountered the dark, bewildering and occasionally baffling art of Solefald.
World Metal; Kosmopolis Sud (Indie), the latest album from the Scandanavian provocateurs, is as wilfully perverse as it is artistically diverse and challenging. World Metal is an all too simplistic title for a record that covers and extraordinary palette of aural colours from thrash metal that would not go amiss on a Sepultura album through Al Jourgensen inspired electronica and nursery rhyme folk.
It really is all here. And more.
In some camps, this is supposedly representative of some kind of avant-garde genius. Not in this camp, I’m afraid. I bow to no man in my admiration for bands and artists who push the artistic and creative envelope but there is a significant difference between good and bad art and I’m afraid that World Metal is bad art. Lots of people are going to tell you that its density is somehow representative of a deeper intellectual exercise and that the impenetrability of the music is somehow evidence of artistic freedom- artists doing what they please etc etc. This is poppycock of the highest order.
The entire essence of art is that it connects: on an emotional, spiritual and human level. Wilful self-indulgence is not evidence of a higher artistic intelligence; it is evidence of hubris. And there is much hubris on World Metal. I think we need to call this out now: being diverse and idiosyncratic isn’t, in and of itself, good enough. There isn’t anything particularly big or clever at throwing everything including the musical kitchen sink at things. By contrast, it is self-regarding and, ultimately, very boring.
I’m reminded of the now infamous conversation between Harrison Ford who complained about the quality of the script for Star Wars, and George Lucas: “George, you can type this shit but you can’t say it” said the laconic actor to his director. This was, of course, the same Star Wars that went on to change movie history and get an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay.
My point? I might have got this one wrong. I don’t think I have though. Clearly for some, World Metal will be seen as quite the masterpiece, full of ideas and inspiration. Not for me though. I’ll defend to my dying breath Solefald’s right to make whatever record they want, just don’t expect me to listen to it.
Being weird used to be so much easier. In the 80’s and early 90’s all you needed to do was throw in a bit of keyboards, some cod-operatic singing and the odd electronic boing noise and you were a maverick genre-bending genius. Unfortunately for the weirdos, there’s nothing like two decades of repetition to normalise even the boldest experiment, and in 2015 being weird is harder than ever.
That was a very round-about way of saying that, although Code seem desperate to be seen as “progressive” or “avant-garde”, there’s very little on Mut(Agonia) that you won’t have heard before. Having now entirely shed their Black Metal origins, the core sound here could best be described as [cough, spit] “post-rock”, though more dynamic and catchy than is generally the case. A strong grasp of theatrics and a tendency towards the carnivalesque often calls to mind a more straight-laced, Rock-steady take on La Masquerade Infernale (Misanthropy) era Arcturus.
Whether or not Mut is truly “experimental” or “weird” is, of course, much less important than whether or not it’s actually any good, but I’ve been putting that off so far because it’s a considerably harder question to answer. Code have a solid grasp of song-writing dynamics, and there are some effectively catchy tracks on here, but they also have a tendency to indulge their “quirky” side to an extent that can become tiresome quickly. They also haven’t quite reconciled their catchy, carnivàle instincts with their new-found “post-rock” contemplative side, which can lead to some rather dull passages stretching between interesting sections.
If this review has leaned towards the negative so far, that’s only part of the story. Mut is a boldly written, tightly performed album with enough of its own identity to bring it out – at least partly – from the long shadows cast by its “avant garde” Black Metal forefathers and the Nerd Kings of post-rock, and there are going to be plenty of people out there who will enjoy it a lot more than I did. Ultimately, however, the overriding impression at this end was that of a band so enamoured with their own strangeness that they don’t quite deliver enough beyond it.
Silent Machine, the debut album from Australia’s Twelve Foot Ninja is a fascinating and fun record from a quirky, original band. On its Australian release it hit number 4 in the AIR (Australian Independent Record Labels Association) chart and the band’s videos have garnered more than one million YouTube hits.Continue reading →