Saturday, December 17, 2011

Subrosa – No Help for the Mighty Ones

March 1, 2011 • Profound Lore Records

I had never heard of Subrosa until I picked up their newest album on a recommendation, but I can say with confidence that No Help for the Mighty Ones is one of the finest albums of this year and definitely among my favorite doom metal albums of all time. It's masterfully crafted, full of amazing sounds, and the songwriting is absolutely fantastic. I don't listen to doom metal as much as I used to; a lot of the stuff I've heard lately has been really generic-sounding and as such has mostly turned me off from the genre, even though it's something I should be really into. But this album is an exception to all those boring albums I've heard. While at its core, the songwriting stays true to a very doomy style with crushing guitar riffs, really solid drumming, and a very dark and brooding atmosphere, Subrosa throws a lot of elements into their songs that help them stand out.

Most noticable is their near-exclusive use of clean vocals; normally I would say that would hurt a doom band's sound, but they employ a female vocalist whose voice fits the music surprisingly well—it isn't over-dramatic or mixed too high, so it blends in perfectly. Sometimes she also does some low growling sort of vocals; these are rare but they sound great. I haven't heard many female-fronted bands use harsh vocals and that's something I think the world needs more of. And for anyone who really likes the vocals, "House Carpenter" is a very folky-sounding a cappella piece. It sounds nice but I'm not a huge fan (it's not really my style of music). I will admit it fits pretty nicely in the album, though.

Another subtle but ever-present element is the use of violin; from what I understand the band actually has two full-time violinists who round out the sound really well. They switch between hanging in the background playing guitar-like riffs or coming out for some "soloing"; either way their presence is totally justified in the band's sound and it works really well. The band uses some other odd instrumentation here and there, such as the zither (I think?) in "Stonecarver", the harmonica in "Attack on Golden Mountain", or the music box at the end of "The Inheritance", which is weird but I really like how it finishes off the song. Such odd instruments are always the sort of thing you wouldn't expect to work in an album like this, but they're all pulled off really well, a testament to the talent of the band.

I am probably a bit biased in liking this album so much though—their sound does have a bit of sludge metal influence, with a lot of the riffage, tempo, and atmosphere reminding me of Cult of Luna, my all-time favorite metal band. I'm not saying they're ripping anyone off—far from it—it's just that their songs have a atmospheric and musical quality that I am already a huge fan of. The violin parts, especially, take me back to the band's self-titled album which had a lot of cello parts in it. I think cello works better in general, but it's not a slight against Subrosa. Similarly, Subrosa is able to write music that alternates well between beautiful and melodic to dirty and dissonant while meshing these moods together perfectly. "Whippoorwill" is probably my favorite track and falls mostly on the "beautiful" end of that spectrum (it's practically sing-along-able at times), but even coming right after "Attack on Golden Mountain" which is a very dark and brooding song it fits perfectly; the flow is pretty much always spot-on like that.

In fact I can hardly think of a single thing about this album I don't like. As I mentioned earlier, the songwriting is fantastic all the way through; even though most of the songs are sort of long they never get boring or over-repetitive, something a lot of doom albums have problems with. No Help for the Mighty Ones is a very recommendable album, one of the best I've heard in a while, and I'm excited to see where this band goes in the future.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Merzbow – Merzbient

November 1, 2010 • Soleilmoon Recordings

Masami Akita is nothing if not prolific. In addition to releasing dozens of albums every year, he has put out a few impressively-sized box sets, Merzbient being thus far the second-largest released (the thirty-disc Merzbox is a challenge I have yet to attempt). This particular collection is older works from Merzbow's analog days with a supposed "ambient" twist. I say "supposed" because the extent that any of this album is actually ambient is bascially just adding a lot of reverb to everything. But it's actually got a pretty diverse run of sounds going for it (one would hope, being twelve discs long), although I hesitate to judge whether the whole experience is actually worth it.

I spent two entire days at work listening exclusively to this album: the first six discs yesterday, and the second six today. It was a very difficult thing to do, and it was one of the most difficult albums I've listened to in general (bested so far, that I can think of, only by another twelve-disc musique concrète compilation). Now I don't think the intention is to listen to the whole thing all at once, and I certainly don't expect anyone to do so but, despite a lot of archival-compilation sort of albums I've heard coming off like a general mish-mash of random tracks, this thing actually holds together really nicely as one giant work. It's difficult to explain how since it's not your typical album and it's structured differently from how I'm used to, but for the most part all the discs go together pretty well.

Anyway, on to the content itself. Like I mentioned before, what we get here is Merzbow's take on ambient music, but it really isn't ambient at all. The majority of the tracks consist of light noise and junk metal sampling (a staple of early Merzbow) all drenched in a heavy reverb with the occasional background droning. Here and there Merzbow shakes it up with some more typical harsh noise (discs 8 and 9) and some improvisational messing-about (disc 5). That's basically it in a nutshell. Analogous to Merzbow's output in general, the quality of the album varies throughout. For me, the highlights are discs 1–3 (typical noise but with a lot of really interesting sampling that gives it a nice surreal atmosphere) and discs 7–9 (taking a turn for the harsh; slipping into more normal Merzbow territory, which is pretty refreshing after six discs of lighter stuff).

However, despite spanning twelve discs, there isn't quite as much variety overall as there ought to be. This means the album probably lends itself better to sampling snippets here and there rather than taking it in all at once or in disc-size chunks; for each track, the same particular section can go on for at least fifteen minutes, which isn't exactly exciting to listen to but would be good for random access. Also, the discs I didn't mention above (4–6, 10–12) I found to be pretty boring and not really worth listening to, which is part of what made the album so difficult. They are all pretty similar with uninteresting noise and samples with lots of reverb and little else to keep things fresh. These parts seem very amateurish to me; granted, they were recorded during Merzbow's early period but I know that he was cranking out better material at the time. Hearing these pieces is pretty unsatisfying; they definitely overstay their welcome and often repeat sounds heard on other discs (4, 6, and 7 are all very similar).

If this collection was cut down to just the six discs I liked the best, I could see this as being a pretty strong album (not as strong as I would have hoped, and it still wouldn't come close to my Merzfavorites), and anyone reading this review first has the opportunity to check out my recommended abridged version first (again, discs 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, and 9) if desired. I'm not going to recommend it to anyone but the more hardcore Merzbow fans, but for those looking for something a little different from what they're used to from Merzbow this isn't a bad place to look. In general, though, Masami Akita really hits his stride with his harsher creations and should leave the ambient material to others.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Swankys – Never Can Eat Swank Dinner

September 1987 • King's World Records

Oh, Japan. Sometimes your imitations of Western music are admirable and pleasing; other times they are silly and confusing. The Swankys seem to fall in the latter group. They played first-wave-style punk rock (about ten years too late) and, while their version isn't too bad compared to a lot of other early punk I've heard, the album still isn't terribly great.

Probably the first thing anyone would notice about this album is the vocals. Now, early punk in general has had its share of annoying vocalists, but this guy takes the cake as far as I'm concerned. It might be partly due to the fact that I don't understand Japanese (understanding the vocals is a bit more important for me when it comes to punk), but even aside from that his style just sounds bad. I can imagine him singing the whole album with his tongue sticking out. It literally sounds like that.

The instruments, though, are all great from a technical point of view; both the guitar and drum lines are more interesting than other comparable albums, so the individual riffs are good to listen to.

So what is it about this album I don't really care for? Well, I guess it comes down to the compositions themselves. This band could probably have been really great with some more solid songwriting. Even though the riffage is nice, the songs on the whole can get a bit repetitive; it doesn't help that they already sound really derivative of late '70s punk, especially the more brain-dead silly stuff that I never cared for. After about five songs or so I'm ready to pack it in; there isn't really anything to miss out on during the second half. Yeah, it's already a decently short album at a half-hour, but it doesn't do much to deserve all that running time.

I'm not a fan of '70s punk so I'll pass on this one, although fans of that style probably won't be disappointed. Instead, I might consider looking into their previous album under the name Gai, which was some very lo-fi crusty hardcore stuff (and you can already tell it's much better).


Friday, December 2, 2011

Ondo – Mahavishnu

February 2008 • Paradigms Recordings

Ondo is yet another one of those super-underground-ultra-obscure bedroom ambient artists, with the following anomaly: his (of course, it's just one guy) album Mahavishnu is actually pretty decent. The average ritual ambient and drone mix is littered with interesting and somewhat experimental bits thrown in to keep it a unique album.

For this sort of self-produced album, I have to say I'm really impressed with the sound itself. The droning is aggressive and deep, sometimes tonal but still very un-melodic; they sound just about what my ideal version of drone should be. It sounds like several different sound sources were used for the different tracks (some synth, some guitar, perhaps) so no two drones sound the same. The ambience is well-done—dark, creepy, and full of different sounds and textures; sampling, noise, the whole lot. Unfortunately there isn't much else to say about it (I mean, there never really is much to say about dark ambient), except it's good. I like it.

My one major complaint about Mahavishnu is that the album doesn't flow particularly well (actually, it doesn't flow at all), making it seem a bit like a compilation of various tracks. Often the tracks just stop abruptly rather than fading into the next one, making listening to the album a somewhat jarring experience. Also there are some bits that don't really fit in with the rest of the album (like "Second", which is just random guitar noise) whose existence makes little sense.

Still, this album is mostly good and shows a lot of promise. It's not focused enough to take very seriously, but when it's good it's up there with some of my favorite drone and dark ambient stuff. Overall it's probably not recommendable because it feels so rough but I'm hopeful for Ondo's newer releases.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ground Zero – Revolutionary Pekinese Opera Ver.1.28

1996 • RēR Megacorp

I hated this album the first time around. I think I was justified, though—it's unlike just about anything I'd heard before (I was, and still am, pretty new to the whole "sound collage" thing). To my unsuspecting ears, Revolutionary Pekinese Opera ver.1.28 was a complete mess of seemingly-random, disjointed, repulsive samples and utterly chaotic live instrumentation that simply made me want to stop listening. I perservered, though, and as it turns out, underneath the impenetrable layers of bizarreness and confusion lies a really solid work of art.

Sure, on the surface it seems like random samples thrown together, but what I didn't realize was that the reason this album works is the way they are juxtaposed to create cohesive pieces. On each track, the samples (or the theme of particular samples) is repeated throughout, acting like instruments, often becoming recognizable (yet still bastardized) genres like industrial ("Opening - Flying Across the J. P. Yen"), heavy rock ("Crossing Frankfurt Four Times"), cool jazz ("Grand Pink Junction Ballad"), or ambient art pop ("Paraiso 1"), while others remain extremely chaotic and noisy ("The Glory of Hong Kong - Kabukicho Conference"). It's a very surreal and somewhat cerebral experience; it's blink-and-you'll-miss-it music. But concentrated and repeated listening is very rewarding as the album is so incredibly dense with an enormous variety of sounds.

While sometimes I claim that too much diversity in an album is a bad thing, here it is probably one of the album's greatest strengths. Despite each track being quite different in sound and instrumentation, somehow—I'm still not sure how—it is never a turn-off for me. I think that the fact that the album is always keeping you on the edge of your seat, always surprised by what's next, makes it a really interesting experience. One minute it's noisy and abrasive; the next it's subdued and peaceful, but you never know when it might change one way or the other.

The individual tracks themselves aren't consistently good, but overall they're good. There are a couple that I really don't enjoy (mostly the ones with the most random, rapid-fire sampling) but since most of them are so short it's tough to even get the time to become too irritated with a particular piece. Besides, I don't think listening to the tracks individually is even possible if you tried; each track is very dependent on the album as a whole. If it doesn't make much sense put together, it'll make less taken apart.

This album is not for the faint of heart, or for the beginner to experimental music. Even the calmer tracks can still be an assault on the senses. But when really given the time to digest this album, it had an impact on the way I perceive music (not many albums can claim that). It may disgust the listener, or change them; it's as unpredictable as the music itself. Regardless, it's a great trip.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Minor Threat – Live

1988 • Dischord Records

I often wish I'd been around in the early '80s to have experienced the hardcore punk scene as it flourished. Alas, I was born too late, and all I have is the albums and videos documenting what happened then. In 1988, Minor Threat put out one video of their concert at the 9:30 Club on June 23, 1983, followed by a DVD version in 2003 with a bit of extra footage. The video isn't mind-blowing or anything but it's definitely a fun and interesting look at punk days of yore.

The tape starts off with a very early show from 1980, with very grainy and muddled footage of only one track, "Minor Threat". It's an interesting thing to see (Ian MacKaye has hair!) but it's a poor rendition of the song, so nothing special to see here.

The real good stuff is in the second show from 1983, after the band had acquired a good fanbase in D.C.; yet the concert still has a real intimate feeling. MacKaye is very talkative and seems to know most of the audience by name, so his banter is pretty entertaining, like showing off how he lost weight or talking about a friend's car accident or giving out lost shoes. (It's more interesting than it sounds.) Despite all the craziness going on onstage—people jumping on and off, mostly—the guitarist and bassist keep themselves together and play really well (as does the drummer, but he doesn't have people jumping on him, it looks like). One of my favorite moments from this show is when MacKaye invites a random girl from the audience to sing the chorus of "Filler", it's oddly heartwarming.

The sound quality definitely isn't bad for the time and place; the guitar is a bit hard to hear sometimes but the rest of it is mixed well considering it definitely wasn't a very professional job (there are times when one of the cameras cuts out and we only get footage of the audience and worse audio). They play most of their best songs (although considering their small discography, they probably play most of their songs in general) so it's basically like a best-of runthrough. I also liked hearing some of their less-known ones that I don't listen to as often.

Sadly the video does drag a bit—after all, just watching a show is a lot less exciting than being there, so forty minutes of the same thing happening tends to get a bit boring after a while even if the songs are really good. It's a minor complaint, and it happens a lot with me when I'm watching concert videos, so it's not a big deal.

Unfortunately I only have seen the footage from the VHS version for some reason (you'd think people would be putting DVD rips on the Internet and not VHS rips, but there you have it). The DVD has an entire concert on it not seen on the tape plus interview material which I would really like to see; perhaps I will finally get a copy of that one day. Still, even though it's not the best concert video I've seen, and I'd rather listen to Minor Threat's studio output over this, it's still a really cool piece of punk history and fun to watch once or twice.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Boris – Heavy Rocks

May 24, 2011 • Sargent House

After 2008's Smile was such an awesome release, I was pretty excited for three new Boris albums in 2011. This throwback to their identically-named 2002 album was an awesome addition and just what I was hoping for from Boris. Even if they are branching out into pop with the other two albums, this one shows that Boris has still got an edge to them when it comes to straight-up stoner rock and they aren't done yet.

As expected, this album shows a nice mix of songs in the style of 2002's album and their recent poppier stuff (for example, "Leak -Truth,yesnoyesnoyes-", which is decidedly poppy, especially coming after the monster rocker "Riot Sugar"). There is a lot of music in the style of Pink (such as the punky "Galaxians"), which is also nice to heard if you like that album (I do). Like Pink and Heavy Rocks, it's a very fun album when it tries to be, and the mellower long songs are also quite good; "Aileron" especially brings the doom in a really good and satisfying way—a bit reminiscent of Smile's closing track (which is one of my favorites of theirs), making it the standout song on this album.

If I had to pick something to complain about, it would be that 2002's Heavy Rocks, Pink, and Smile are all still better albums, and this album isn't really treading any new ground and as such it does sound a bit tired at times and it just makes me want to listen to their older stuff instead. (It doesn't help that a couple of these tracks can already be found on New Album.) That's not really a problem in and of itself, since I don't want to listen to those albums because this one is bad; rather it's just because it reminds me of them. The songs are still decent; they simply sometimes serve as reminders that Boris has made music like this before, and it's still there to be listened to.

But regardless of the fact Heavy Rocks is, for the most part, nothing new, it's still good. It's still the same old Boris we know and love, full of nice riffs and melodies and textures; even though it may be a bit rehashed it's still a really enjoyable album.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Robedoor – Unsummoning

2006 • Not Not Fun Records

When a band is extremely prolific like Robedoor, quality control always becomes an issue; it's practically impossible to put out a good handful albums in one year and have them all be good. Unsummoning is one of eleven albums Robedoor put out in 2006, and it's probably among the better ones (compared to what I've heard).

The album is your fairly typical noise/drone hybrid: some raw, abrasive distortion effects akin to your typical Merzbow (although comparatively lo-fi) in the first two tracks backed by some grating drones. "Hall of Skulls" features some tribal ambient on the same theme with similar vocal effects and a raw-sounding drum beat that becomes harsher as the track goes on; "Black Wasps" is a very quiet, very creepy dark ambient piece; the album closes with some subdued droning. The album reminds me a lot of Wolf Eyes' typical output as well; surprisingly diverse (as far as noise goes) but usually keeping the same aesthetics and/or themes. It's nice to hear it when this happens, as the album throws a few different things at the listener that still sound like they all belong together.

It also reminds me of Wolf Eyes because their sound is very much like Robedoor's here, which unfortunately means I'm a bit jaded by this album—after all, I've been listening to Wolf Eyes for a lot longer and generally like their stuff better, so why listen to this? It's not a particularly engaging listen, but it's still good for what it is, which as usual relegates it to "decent background music" status.

So, like most music similar to this, I'd only recommend Unsummoning for hardcore fans of occult/underground noise; otherwise, it's nothing that hasn't already been done before, so skip it.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Circle Takes the Square – Decompositions - Vol I, Chapter 1: Rites of Initiation

August 23, 2011 • Gatepost Recordings

I've never heard Circle Takes the Square until recently (and had only barely heard of them), and I had at first brushed them off as just another generic screamo/post-hardcore band. As it turns out their sound goes way beyond that, if the long track times on this EP weren't a big clue, so I was quite surprised by this release, and although it's nothing mind-blowing, it's a very interesting listen.

Rites of Initiation fuses a surprising different styles together during its short run: atmospheric sludge and post-rock at the start, math rock, perhaps some metalcore, and a weird sound that I can only describe as "progressive screamo" which is the bulk of the EP. Lots of jagged riffs, unusual time signatures, layered vocals, very complex drumming; it sounds messy but it's definitely very focused and the band has a good handle on what they are doing. However this genre-hopping and chaotic riffing gets to be a bit jumpy for my tastes and it's hard to follow what's going on most of the time since there's so much chaos; by the time the third track rolls around it has just gotten to be overwhelming overall. Things calm down a tiny bit for the fourth track as far as the thrashing goes; it's still a pretty intense piece but easier to follow.

The four songs here are supposedly a teaser of sorts for their next full-length album, but interestingly here they all flow together into one long piece (there's that progressive thing again). I don't think it works particularly well for the reasons described above; it's just too much going on and too much to take in all at once. Fortunately, it's an EP so it doesn't last long enough to get fatiguing, but if the full-length is going to be like this EP I will have some doubts about its quality.

Regardless, it's not a bad little EP if this style is something you're familiar with and interested in. It's pretty alien to me so I'm having a tough time getting into it and finding it enjoyable, but I can't say it's bad.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

White Guilt – White Guilt

December 2010 • Video Disease Records

The fact that a hardcore punk revival movement exists in the 21st century is one of my favorite things about modern music. And many of these bands take the traditional hardcore sound and add various spins on it to create some really fresh and original-sounding music while keeping the hardcore sound alive. White Guilt's eponymous album is a good example of this kind of fusion that happens.

Specifically, they put on a very noisy style—lots of distortion, feedback, and extra reverb, creating a very dense yet raw sound, which reminds me of the sound of old-school black metal bands, which is very cool. They also employ a lot of powerviolence's dissonance and alternating blastbeats and slow doomy parts. The latter bit is explored quite a bit with the longer tracks (mostly in "Human Flood II"), which sometimes employ an almost-sludgy sound but don't sound out-of-place among the other tracks. The beginning of closing track "Comatose" is very stoner-influenced, which is a pretty neat element.

Sometimes it gets to be a little too noisy for their own good, though (e.g. the beginning of "Refine", which is a total mess), resulting in some sections that simply don't sound very good. Since the songs are often indiscernable from each other, sometimes it sounds like the band is repeating themselves with some songs. Fortunately, the appropriately-short songs help keep things moving so it doesn't stick to one particular riff or section very long. Additionally there are plenty of exceptions where a memorable or unique riff or section crops up (again, the longer tracks, and some shorter ones like "The Fetus"). Also, at only 22 minutes (and a quarter of that is the last track) the album never gets much of a chance to become stale or overstay its welcome before it's finished, which is always a good thing.

I'll admit that I've heard plenty of modern hardcore and powerviolence that is better than White Guilt but for what it's worth this album is probably deserving of a couple listens. It's fairly unique and doesn't tend to fall victim to a lot of the problems that often plague this style of music, although admittedly it's pretty extreme and isn't for everyone. Still, though, it's another solid addition to my collection.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Robert Rich – Illumination

May 2007 • Soundscape Productions

I make it no secret that I'm a sucker for dark ambient. Supposedly, Robert Rich is some sort of "master of the form"; Illumination is the first thing by him I've ever heard and I admit it's not too bad, although it's definitely not anything brilliant.

Granted, the atmosphere is great; it's a pretty creepy album with lots of droning, what sounds like stretched-out scare chords, washes of rumbling noise, and some subtle whispering. It could probably be used effectively as a soundtrack for a psychological horror film or something like that. It's very effective and definitely well-done.

However the album does have some problems, and I'm still not terribly impressed by it. It gets repetitive and samey over the long run, especially the longer tracks. I suppose that is to be expected on this sort of release, but there's almost no way to tell the tracks apart, which is something I know can be avoided in ambient music. Consequently it's easy to get bored listening to it as the repeating sounds tend to get less unique and interesting the longer one listens.

There really isn't much else to say about the album; like I said it's definitely not bad but it doesn't break any new ground as far as dark ambient goes (and it's a bit silly to have an album like this coming out in 2007). It's still decent, it makes great mood music (like a good ambient album ought to), but I'd say it's probably best for beginner audiences as any fan of dark ambient has certainly heard plenty of albums like this that are much better.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Painkiller – Execution Ground

November 15, 1994 • Subharmonic

Anyone about to listen to an album by John Zorn should know right away that they're going to get into something weird, and Execution Ground isn't an exception. Joining him is Mick Harris of Napalm Death fame, and right there should be an indication that it's going to be an interesting album.

In addition to the expected chaotic and noisy free jazz, much of the album instead revolves around an ambient dub sort of sound, created by some very solid dub-like drumming, repetitive bass lines, lots of sax soloing, and some really great ambient noises in the background. The atmosphere this all adds up to is really great: it's a huge, bleak sound, inspiring some sort of post-apocalyptic urban sci-fi setting, somehow. (Sort of like what the Blade Runner soundtrack would be like if Zorn composed it.) There are also some interspersed vocals, mostly tortured screaming and some chanting as well. It's all very creepy and often unsettling, but in a good way.

Because of this interesting mix of genres and sounds, Execution Ground manages to keep itself mostly interesting throughout its duration, despite it being so long. At about eighty-four minutes, there are always going to be parts where the music drags a bit and it is easy to lose interest. I can't say that doesn't happen here, but at least it doesn't happen as often as it could. For the first disc, Zorn sticks to the crazy nonsense soloing, but the bass and drums do a lot of different things: there's some straightforward dub beats, some hardcore/grindcore influenced riffing, some free improvisation, etc. The ambience and electronics are also produced very well; they usually follow the music pretty closely and it's obvious they weren't thrown in for atmosphere but rather used as an accompanying instrument, to great effect.

The second disc is pretty much all straight-up dark ambient with some background saxophoning and the occasional dub drum solo. It's hard to tell the difference between the two discs since the atmosphere, production, and composition is all very much the same, but it's good to hear these ambient remixes for a bit of a different spin on the first disc. It's a good way of keeping the album from sounding too stale and boring, and here it does a pretty good job at that.

I happen to like Execution Ground but I should warn that it is very much a niche album and most people would probably be turned off by any number of things about it, but it's an album that knows its purpose and accomplishes it pretty well, even if it is a little too long.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Crash Worship – Asesinos

1992 • Cold Spring Records

Crash Worship was an interesting band. When they were active in the '90s they were very well-known for their concerts, which bordered more on the improvisational stage-performance side of things which were chaotic to the point where the police would shut down many of their shows. I was of course too young to attend any of these shows, but whatever it was about their shows that made them so (in)famous has become utterly lost in their studio output (despite the studio being where the band started).

Asesinos is a compilation of excerpts of various tapes and EPs that came out at the very start of Crash Worship's existence which have been remixed and edited. While these sorts of compilations often serve as a great way to show off a band's better output, if that is the case here then Crash Worship's earliest material must have been truly dismal, because Asesinos is a pretty boring release.

As is typical for Crash Worship it generally has a sort of tribal-industrial sound going on, with lots of repetitive drums (some drum machines), electronics/synths, weird bass guitar, studio dubbing and other effects, the occasional incomprehensible shouted vocal, and the like. Even though I've heard this compilation several times and have gotten pretty used to the band's sound, though, it still comnes off as nothing special. Each track has a very distinct sound and atmosphere (mostly along the lines of claustrophobic / stuffy / distant) but there isn't any development, just the same beats and sounds repeated for minutes at a time. Additionally, most of the time there isn't a lot ever going on, just a simple drum beat and a couple of synths or samples over top, and that's it. These songs would probably be pretty interesting in a live setting, but listening to them in the album format is kind of dull.

There are some cool sounds here and there, but ultimately nothing grabs my attention and I find it really difficult to pay attention to the music, even for a little while. It just doesn't interest me, which is unfortunate because it's not that bad of a release. It's just something I don't find myself wanting to listen to. On the other hand, I imagine that this music would be really good sampling fodder due to the aforementioned drum beats and interesting sounds. Unfortunately that isn't what I'm looking for in a good listen, and Asesinos doesn't really deliver. (Note that they did get better studio material, and Espontáneo! and Triple Mania II are both pretty decent.)


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Disbelief – Shine

March 25, 2002 • Massacre Records

It's tempting to say that the early 2000s were Disbelief's "golden period"; their albums Worst Enemy and Spreading the Rage were both classics and it's not surprising they got signed to major European metal label Nuclear Blast around this point (although their music might have suffered because of it). However, when it comes to Disbelief their music is all pretty much the same thing, and although they have a really cool and unique sound the individual songs don't have a lot making them distinct from each other. Since Shine was actually one of the last albums by them I heard, that was an issue for me: Even though, by their standards, it's a good album, there isn't a lot about it that makes it stand out above the rest.

All the elements are there, though, the excellent guitar work being the standout bit, as always; the riffs are up there with most of their other stuff from around this period. It's still got that melancholy-yet-heavy style to it that I really enjoy, and there are some really great almost-headbanging-inspiring moments. The piano intro on "Me any My World" is kind of a shocker; piano is something you never hear in death metal, and it's a pretty nice piece too, although unfortunately it's pretty much the only spot in the whole album where there is some sort of unusual element thrown in.

The album does drag about two-thirds of the way through, and some of the songs buried near the end have some generic riffs and melodies, so the album definitely doesn't make good active listening, at least after the first few tracks. But it does make great background music, which is still a good thing.

I am sad to say that Shine is probably for pretty committed fans only; Worst Enemy was more original and fresh while peaked on Spreading the Rage, so those albums are definitely a better listen than Shine even though it has its own merits. Unfortunately it doesn't have enough strengths to really make it stand out, even though it is a fine album as it stands.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Burzum – Fallen

March 7, 2011 • Byelobog Productions

I was as excited for a new Burzum album as anyone. After his comeback album Belus turned out to be surprisingly pretty good, it seemed like Vikernes was more or less back in form. Alas, it was not so. Fallen shows the project starting to slide downhill and into weird territory that it shouldn't have explored.

In general, the album feels very uninspired. The riffing is pretty generic and uninteresting, sounding like a pale imitation of his earlier albums, except those were still pretty good. Here it's mostly his typical tremolo arpeggio thing, but repetitive to the point of banality. Each song has about one riff (or it seems like it) and they just go on and on, with the same thing for ten-minute-long songs. It's just wrong. The drums are no different; most of the time they sound like a drum machine programmed to play boring 4/4 double-kick or even just vanilla beats and practically nothing else. Granted he's never been a good drummer or pretended to be, so I can't fault the drums too much, but I don't think he's trying.

He is trying to branch out with the vocals, I suppose, because there is much more clean singing (it's sometimes hard to find any actual screaming vocals at all). Maybe Vikernes is getting soft in his old age, but the vocals are just plain bad. There's no emotion put into them at all, and he just sounds like he's trying to get them over with as soon as possible, so they're really tiring to listen to. The screams are still good, maybe not as good as they used to be, and I wish there were more of that.

Contrary to what I've heard from a lot of people, though, I like the production. It does sound very Burzum-y, with the raw, tinny guitars, practically no bass, and muffled drums. Supposedly, it's been "mastered ... as if it was classical music", whatever that means, and I guess it does sound pretty nice. Well, maybe not "nice" but certainly "appropriate".

Regardless, on the whole I found the album just generally uninspired and nothing new or interesting. If Varg wants to keep making these kinds of albums, that's fine with me, but he will never reach the same level of quality that his older stuff was at (not that I was even a huge fan then). There's tons of black metal similar to this I'd much rather listen to anyway, even modern stuff, so give this a miss. Burzum isn't coming back.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Trash Talk – Eyes & Nines

May 18, 2010 • Trash Talk Collective

I loved Trash Talk's debut Walking Disease, as it was a great example of the fantastic 2000s hardcore punk / powerviolence scene that played the style well without a lot of rehashing. As their second, self-titled album fell flat due to that same rehashing the first was free from, I was a bit wary of yet another Trash Talk album, but I was pleasantly surprised with how Eyes & Nines turned out. It's certainly still the same Trash Talk that I know from their first few releases but they've definitely matured a bit and have thrown some new things into their sound this time around.

Stylistically, the album usually stays pretty close to the band's somewhat-thrashy-powerviolence roots, and these tracks are done pretty well, even though not a whole lot new there is shown off. The songwriting is a bit better than the last album, though; I'm not sure what happened to bring them back. They throw in some odd time signatures here and there which is cool and keeps the songs interesting.

There is also a bit more of influences from other styles. There are quite a few slower bridges and riffs which sound a bit like some chuggy traditional metal or maybe sludge metal, which is pretty neat to hear. It all works really well in contrast to the faster punk sound we're used to. "Hash Wednesday", the most obvious example of this style, is a very slow, doomy piece that goes well over four minutes long and, while it sounds out-of-place at first (especially since the vocals don't sound the same so it's impossible to tell it's a Trash Talk song if you didn't already know), it acts as a nice breather between the opening and closing tracks.

Eyes & Nines packs a heck of a lot into it for being so short, and it's nice to hear a modern band taking this kind of direction with this style. It's not anywhere near a perfect album, and I think Walking Disease is still more fun to listen to, but this one is definitely still good (and fun) in its own way and worth a few listens.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Curse ov Dialect – Wooden Tongues

September 19, 2006 • Valve Records

I have a bad bias when it comes to hip hop: If it wasn't made in the early-to-mid '90s in New York or released on Stones Throw, it's probably not worth my time. But then one of the best, and weirdest, albums crossed my ears all the way from Australia, often one of the last places I think of when it comes to good music. It has actually been quite an eye-opener for me since I still haven't grasped just how vast and diverse hip hop can get.

Now, granted, Wooden Tongues is not for everyone; it's very idiosyncratic and often just plain weird, but at the same time it's a hell of a lot of fun. Just about the only thing it has in common with "normal" hip hop is heavy drum beats, so the other elements sound very alien. The sampling is very avant-garde, using all sorts of different sources: operatic singing (that I mistook for a flute the first time around), campy pop, cartoon music, prog folk (but when you sample one of my already-favorite albums, Comus' First Utterance, I can't help but see it as a godo thing), chamber music, weird sound effects, bits of noise, the list could go on. The beats jump around a lot, going from one mood to another so abruptly it's often easy to think that a completely different song has started playing for no reason. The album consists almost entirely of moments like that, and usually it works a lot better than I would think since for the most part the beats are good enough to make me forget that the song structure is so inconsistent.

But this isn't always the case, as some of the sampling just simply doesn't work well and falls flat. Case in point: "Jokes on Me" has the famous opera vocals for the main sample during the verse, but when the song moves to one of the many bridges the beats are just bad and the samples sound really out-of-place, completely ruining the cool moment preceding. Fortunately these moments don't happen too often; most of the time they are pretty tasteful ("Word Up Forever" is a bit cheesy but done well; "Bury Me Slowly" has the Comus sampling throughout and is therefore great; "Broken Feathers" has this great sad-folk thing going on which is also really nice).

The rapping is mostly delivered in a heavy Aussie accent with some impressive rhythms and syncopation. It did take me a while to get used to the accents but I have to say it works okay. Not great, but I guess it fits with the rest of the weirdness. There are several (three or four?) people doing vocals on the whole, which keeps things interesting and everyone brings their own mood, although most of the accents are so think (to me) that it's impossible to tell what the lyrics are. (I usually don't care about lyrics, so I'm okay with that, but for some people it's a turn-off.) Additionally some of the vocals are plain terrible, like the middle third of "Bird Cage Alert" which just sounds like gibberish (is it Aboriginal? who knows?) There are also some bad attempts at singing, but throughout the album there are some great bits of rapping that outshine the bad parts, mostly one of the vocalists in particular who gets a lot of mic time but less than he deserves (the one who closes out "Bird Cage Alert"). Although, admittedly, I'll still take American rapping over Australian any day.

As much as I adore this album it does have plenty of flaws with the occasional bad beats and bad vocals, but when it succeeds, it becomes some of the greatest music I've heard, and there is so much good material on the album that the bad stuff is easily overlooked. Again, it's not for everyone, especially with the accents and erratic sampling giving it a near-plunderphonics sound, but in the end it's just a fun album and deserves more recognition. I don't think I've heard anything else quite like it.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Black Forest / Black Sea – Forcefields and Constellations

April 6, 2004 • BlueSanct

It's been forever since I first heard this album, back when I didn't know anything about the pretty expansive obscure-indie-folk scene, and I didn't like this album at all, probably just because I wasn't familiar with music like it. Hearing it again now is really interesting and I can definitely say that I like it more now than I did back then.

Forcefields and Constellations is a very inconsistent album, which makes it difficult to listen to. It more or less sounds like a various-artist compilation of several underground indie noise/folk/ambient artists, as that's the genre mix presented. Some tracks are quiet, buzzing noise, others are ethereal ambient pop, still others are sparse folk or musique concrète (heck, all of these show up in the first six tracks alone). Some vocals show up on three of the tracks, which are nice but also sound a little out-of-place.

However, I should point out that the group is an acoustic guitarist and cellist essentially doing electroacoustic experiments with their respective instruments, so the amount of variety they pull out is really impressive. This sort of music probably shouldn't be held to the same standard I generally hold music to, since having a consistent sound is clearly not what they were trying to do, and each individual track taken on its own is pretty good. Not necessarily fantastic, though; there isn't a whole lot that really stands out (perhaps "...With a Man I've Never Met", it has a nice melancholic atmosphere going on) but there's nothing too bad either.

On the whole, it's a good listen, although one with a pretty limited audience (I don't really know any electroacoustic-free folk fans) and that kind of falls outside of the scope of "traditional album" due to its experimental sound. There are a lot of good ideas here that could use some fleshing out, and given that Black Forest / Black Sea have put out a few more albums since this one I probably owe it to them to check out one or two.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

:Of the Wand & the Moon: – The Lone Descent

September 16, 2011 • Heiðrunar Myrkrunar

I used to think that neofolk was mostly an '80s and '90s thing and had pretty much died out by last decade and that there wasn't really much new material that was actually any good. But after I discovered the Danish project :Of the Wand & the Moon: (colons optional) I changed my mind pretty quickly. Everything I've heard from them has been great and original. Being released in 2011, thirteen years after the band formed, one might think The Lone Descent can't be anything but old, stale neofolk clichés but fortunately it's nowhere near that.

Compared to the other two albums by :Of the Wand & the Moon: I've heard, :Emptiness:Emptiness:Emptiness: and Sonnenheim, this one takes on a much more progressive and non-traditional sound. As is expected, several tracks are the good old-fashioned acoustic-guitar-and-muttered-vocals Death-in-June-worship thing (which, by the way, I think is done way better than Death in June) but I think this style is the minority of the music presented, as the rest of the songs have a more upbeat, almost-baroque-pop sound to them that actually works surprisingly well. In general, these songs are faster, with some drum tracks (some are decidedly electronic-sounding, too, while electronic instruments are generally frowned upon in neofolk as far as I know), major keys, fast tempos, unusual instrumentation, choir-like background vocals, and the like. There is even extended (and often complex) bass guitar in every song, more-traditional ones included. In addition there is even a track on the more ambient-classical side ("Is It Out of Our Hands?"), so there are quite a lot of different things going on.

The net result of all this is an album that, while still acknowledging its neofolk roots, realizes the need for fresh ideas and implements them in a very effective way. It can get a bit campy from time to time, but then again this sort of music has always been pretty campy stuff (both neofolk and baroque pop) so it's to be expected. It really doesn't get boring either because of the diversity (not having enough is a big pet peeve of mine that a lot of albums suffer from), although on the whole it does run the risk of being a bit too jumpy at times. The different style influences bleed into all the tracks enough that it doesn't sound like a few different bands doing a split, fortunately, so it sits right in that comfortable space between too monotonous and too jarring. Not many bands can pull that off well for a whole album.

To be honest I cannot think of any noticable flaws the album possesses, aside from the previously-mentioned subtle campiness, which is something I can tolerate for a track or two. Each style the album uses is pulled off magnificently. Funnily enough, the project's website contains the lines "No More Happy Songs!" and "'The Lone Descent' is without doubt the most bleak and melancholic album", two statements which are blatantly untrue as some of the songs here are the most upbeat and happy I've heard from them yet. Although, I suppose they are the sort of bittersweet sort of upbeatness, and they contrast with the more traditional songs making them seem sadder.

Either way, as I love sad and melancholy music I'll take this album in a second; it's a great listen and an excellent addition to :Of the Wand & the Moon:'s catalog.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Swami Lateplate – Doom Jazz (Plays Music from the Imaginary Futurist Drama)

February 2008 • Veal Records

It's probably tough to be in an ambient jazz band, because no matter what you do, everyone is going to compare you to Bohren & der Club of Gore, and they are a tough act to beat. Some acts like the Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble do well enough with making a more original sound that helps differentiate them. Swami Lateplate doesn't do much of that, unfortunately. While they are faster, lighter, and more jazz-oriented than Bohren's very doomy approach (despite this album's title), there isn't much in particular about Doom Jazz that stands out above similar music.

They do have their sound nailed down pretty well. The drumming is the obvious focus most of the time; there is always some kind of ride pattern, cymbal improv, or tom or snare fills going on at some point, which are usually pretty good (although they are sometimes a bit show-offy and detract from the dark ambient feel). The sparse—and I mean sparse—interjections of bass and piano do up the doom ante pretty nicely, and it sounds good when they come in, especially when all three instruments play together (which isn't often enough). Here and there there are actual almost-rock-like bits where the bass and drums sync up for a nice little groove, something most other bands probably just can't pull off since they play so slowly. Unfortunately these moments are very rare.

But I think this album suffers a lot from too much improvisation and repetition (yes, that sounds contradictory, but it's true). A lot of the time it sounds like the drums just want to show off and play too complex or fast or loud which contrasts badly with the softer bits, and it switches back and forth very frequently, which can get jarring. The piano and bass are more consistently, tastefully, and subtly done, though, so it's not all bad.

Yet despite all the drum improv, the album does come off as a bit repetitous: each track sounds almost exactly the same, even after repeat listens, and the album is about an hour long of all the same thing. Having so few instruments playing is probably a big part of the perceived repetition, since it makes it more difficult to tell different tracks apart. But, on the other hand, that does mean that the album makes good background or reading music if you try not to pay attention (I guess that is the point of ambient music, after all), although I think the drummer would be upset to hear me say that.

All in all Doom Jazz certainly isn't a bad album but it isn't really good either, falling pretty squarely into the take-it-or-leave-it category where I'd probably rather listen to something else but it's not bad enough to warrant shutting it off. But if you get the chance, just listen to Bohren instead.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Black Sun Empire – Cruel & Unusual

December 13, 2005 • Black Sun Empire Recordings

A lot of the time I feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark when it comes to electronic music; despite listening to it off and on for quite a long time now I still don't always grasp different sounds or concepts and a lot of things still feel very alien to me. I suppose such things happen when coming from a very rock-oriented background like I have. Yet somehow I have managed to find a lot of comfort in drum and bass music, especially the harder and darker stuff, which is probably why I enjoy stuff like Black Sun Empire quite a bit. I barely know what the term "darkstep" means yet, but if this album is a typical of the style then I know what I can more easily get into.

Like I said, I enjoy the dark stuff, and Cruel and Unusual brings it. There is a lot of dark ambient influence going on in the background which provides a nice atmospheric layer underneath some pretty interesting and often complex beats. Surprisingly (to me) there are a lot of interesting changes throughout each track and some nice diversity throughout the album to keep it interesting—the guest producers probably help out with this—and, basically, it's pretty difficult to get bored listening to this album (it might happen if you're listening carefully, but this isn't the kind of music to do that). The drum lines, while often sticking pretty closely to typical dance/rave patterns, can sometimes get nicely frantic and fun to listen to. The synths often shine as well with some fast arpeggiating melodies and hard rhythms which complement the drum patterns really nicely.

I am a bit disappointed by the inclusion of the second track, a remix by Optiv, which isn't nearly as good as the rest of the album: it's a bit too repetitive and poorly-mixed (maybe it's my headphones, though, who knows), and breaks the flow and mood set up by the first track. On the other hand, the remixes near the end of the album are great—being done by Black Sun Empire they sound just like the rest of the album and fit in very well. The version of the album I have doesn't include the second disc of pure remixes, but I'm okay with that if the Optiv remix on the first disc is indicative of the quality of the rest of them.

But Black Sun Empire's tracks are great, and this is a really enjoyable album. I'd guess that it's probably best suited for those less well-versed in drum and bass as there isn't anything particularly unique presented here and no particular standout tracks, so aficianados will probably be unimpressed with it, which I can understand. That doesn't make it any less enjoyable for me, though, and it's definitely recommended for anyone less familiar with this sort of music but still want something engaging to listen to.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Noise/Girl – Discopathology

November 1, 2005 • Killer Pimp

I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled across this album, but I'm rather glad I did. I've always enjoyed the noisier side of electronic music and Discopathology takes it to a bizarre extreme that I've never heard before. It's hard to believe one can make noise sound fun, but this album is a blast.

Despite its premise of "harsh-noise-meets-disco", which sounds gimmicky, on the whole it's put together very well. The disco tracks consist of very heavy beats and samples from famous disco tracks to create a very noisy yet incredibly danceable sound. On the surface it sounds like this combination would produce an abominable trainwreck of a song but surprisingly it works pretty well, despite using some very cliché samples (e.g. "Staying Alive"; it's the only time I've enjoyed the fact that the song exists). While the song structures of the two disco-laced tracks are probably typical of dance music, the added noisiness give them a nice twist that makes them a lot more listenable, especially since the noise is very well-produced.

Most of the tracks, however, are straight-up harsh noise, which means the disco-esque segments take a bit of a backseat, especially on the second half of the album. Again, the noise is very well done; it's highly layered and harsh but it doesn't ever get very boring or repetitive as it changes around often. It might help that the artist is from Japan, where almost all good noise comes from, and I might say the quality here rivals the more well-known Japanoise artists and it would be great to hear an all-noise album from him.

However I do wish there were more tracks of the power noise/disco style; of eight tracks on the album, only two actually have that sound to them, while the rest are almost all straight harsh noise. While, again, it's good, it is a little disappointing to hear the disco thing done on only two tracks. There is also a random drum and bass track thrown in near the end, and while the noisiness fits in with it again it feels a bit out of place.

Since Discopathology is such a weird album it's not too surprising that it's been so overlooked by fans of similar genres but I feel it deserves a bit more recognition, as Noise/Girl clearly isn't a one-trick pony and he has a lot of talent for good noise and it's really refreshing to hear it combined with a genre that could not be more different. I would love to hear more noise fusion like this from anyone, but this is definitely a quality example.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Rwake – Hell Is a Door to the Sun

2002 • Retribute Records

For some reason I've always thought that Rwake is a much more popular band than they actually are; they seem to exemplify the typical southern sludge sound that a lot of people like (although I've never been a huge fan of it, outside the occasional Neurosis bit). Anyway, it makes sense that their earlier stuff like Hell Is a Door to the Sun isn't listened to much because it's not particuarly good, even if they have managed to improve their music since.

To be honest there aren't really a whole lot of flaws in the album; what I take issue with is that the album just winds up being a bit generic-sounding and at times amateurish and sloppy. Not the production; that's actually pretty good, the music sounds well-put together. But the songwriting tends to fall flat—at times it seems like they don't really know what they're doing or what the best ways to progress the songs are. Often it winds up sounding like they are trying to be an early-Neurosis ripoff band, with similar drum patterns, bass riffs, and long and rambly songs. The difference is that Neurosis knew how to do that well; a lot of the time listening to Rwake just makes me want to listen to Neurosis.

Oh and the vocals are pretty awful. I think there is only one vocalist, but it's hard to tell for sure because his style is all over the place—some high screams, some mid-range growls, some clean shouted stuff that doesn't even make a lot of sense... it's definitely the biggest factor contributing to the amateurish sound and the biggest flaw for me. I can tolerate them if I'm not really concentrating but for a lot of people who are already hesitant towards harsh vocals in general this will be a complete turn-off.

I'm probably being too harsh, as there are more than a few good things about the album. Rwake does manage to pull off some nice heavy riffs, and when they get to chugging they can chug with the best of them. The quiter sections sound pretty good too (although the harsh vocals don't fit in those parts at all) and when they do pull together for the more aggressive parts it does sound pretty good. It's just not quite enough to really make them anything terribly special or worth listening to above all the other stonerish sludge bands there are.

Rwake is definitely an immature band on Hell Is a Door to the Sun and supposedly their newer albums are better (I haven't listened yet) so I would say give this album a pass. It may be fun for a listen or two but it doesn't offer anything new or unique, and sometimes it falls flat on its face (see "The Stoner Tree", an embarrassment of a song), and there are a ton of more worthy albums like this out there.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Decapitated – Carnival Is Forever

July 12, 2011 • Nuclear Blast

I'm a bit torn on this album. Having never really heard much else by Decapitated before, I wasn't sure what to expect from their new album, and after a couple listens I'm still a bit confused on it. It's an pretty bizarre album that strays quite a bit from the technical death metal formula quite a bit, and it's hard to say whether that works well here or not.

To expand on that a bit, it's clear that this is still a death metal album at heart, as the drumming and song structures definitely have a pretty deathy sound, but many of the guitar riffs seem to fit in more with metalcore or math metal, with a lot of start-stop patterns, off-beat rhythms, chugging, hints of breakdowns, etc., and the vocals have a more thrash- or metalcore-like sound. I'm not sure how much I enjoy this combination. (It's not much.) Sometimes the band pulls it together really well, other times it seems too disjointed and confused, making it difficult to listen to.

The album doesn't have a whole lot of consistency either. The tracks nearer the beginning and ending of the album, the ones with a more traditional death sound, are actually not nearly as good as the ones that have the more math metal and metalcore influence (something I'm surprised to see myself say). This could probably be attributed to the fact that it's hard to make technical death riffs interesting, especially when directly compared to more mathy riffs, and that tech death is more or less played out by this point. Decapitated apparently has almost all-new members for this album and it does seem like they aren't really interested (or good at) that older, more traditional sound. That's a good thing, since it keeps the album interesting with the more progressive riffs, until they try to do the death metal and it just sounds generic and uninteresting.

For people who want the really face-smashing head-banging sort of stuff, sure, this is probably a good album to pick up. I'm not enthralled. With death metal, it's one place where I generally prefer the older, purer stuff (Atheist / Cryptopsy / Death etc.) and, while I admire Decapitated's ambition to branch out a bit and do something a bit different it doesn't wind up being as fresh-sounding as it should be and winds up being just another typical late '00s/'10s death metal album, like a weirder Vader (I guess that comparison makes a lot of sense, though). So I'm a bit torn as there are some really cool riffs and bits of songs (e.g. the Meshuggah-style riffs throughout "404", that one is pretty awesome), so I don't want to say I dislike it, but I'm not really sold on it either.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

M1dy – Speedcore Dandy

August 2002 • Sharpnelsound

I was recommended Speedcore Dandy a long, long time ago, under circumstances I don't even remember, as something new and interesting to listen to. (Actually I was recommended the similarly-titled Speedcore Dandy XXX and wound up with this one instead.) I wasn't well-versed in electronic music at all then, so I was intrigued by the new style of music. Nowadays I'm a bit more familiar with extreme electronic like this so it is interesting to listen to it again after so long with a different frame of mind.

Compared to similar works, I don't happen to think it's anything particularly special or unique, but it is quite good at what it does. Most of the beats are pretty simple: hard, fast bass hits, lots of distorted, insistent synths, processed guitar, and some neat samples, many of which are incorporated into the tracks as instruments themselves. The formula is pretty straightforward, but it doesn't disappoint and it's a sound that works well and which I happen to enjoy quite a bit—aggressive, in-your-face, but it doesn't ever get to be too much all at once.

For a lot of people, especially those who aren't familiar with hardcore techno, I can imagine Speedcore Dandy to be a bit of a chore to listen to all the way through at once, and I don't even know if it's supposed to be taken in that way, but it's doable for me this time around. When I first heard this album I dismissed it as being too samey and repetitive and got tired of it halfway through. For someone with a very rock-centered viewpoint, that's probably understandable, but I don't agree with that anymore. Each track itself is maybe a bit repetitive, but through the whole album there is a nice variation of different drumbeats and synth/sampling techniques presented.

Sure, it's a good, mindless, fun (and very silly at times) album for maybe the dance floor or what have you, but it's got intricacies that can be appreciated through semi-focused listening as well. It's not something I imagine myself putting on a whole lot, but I am glad that I have come to appreciate this style more, even if Speedcore Dandy wasn't the best place to start.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Tereth – Curses Veiled as Voices

2008 • Disease Foundry Recordings

It's tough to find any information online about Tereth or their album Curser Veiled as Voices—let alone get one of the fifty CD-R copies that were pressed, and I can understand why it never really took off and got any recognition. It's just another blip in the enormous sea of second-rate ambient albums that aren't good or bad enough to be noticed, as it's a pretty amateurish recording that winds up simply being very dull, or at best something to put on just for the sake of having something to listen to.

The album has fairly minimalist sound; an interesting combination of dark ambient, drone, and an ever-so-slight post-rock influence that works decently. Guitar in ambient is a bit unusual so it's kind of cool to see it being used here. The production is handles pretty well and for what it's worth the album sounds pretty good overall.

However, it suffers—badly—from excessive repetition. Each track is set up in exactly the same way: droning ambient sounds punctuated by a slow clean guitar riff, repeated for the duration of each piece, and occasional heavily-processed voice samples. Since none of the tracks are too long it doesn't manage to get quite to the point of tedium, but there is practically nothing in the way of atmosphere- or tension-building to speak of, and since every track is practically the same there's nothing surprising or attention-catching that happens.

There really isn't much else to say about this album, as it has nothing to say itself. It's repetitive, safe, and above all simply boring. I can understand if it's an amateur experimental project but it's not something that is worthy of being released (at least, not at cost), and it's not really worth the time to listen to it. Maybe in a few more years after Tereth finds a good ground on making some more interesting ambient work will I gladly check out their music again, but until then I will relegate this release back to that sea of deservingly-unnoticed albums.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Jason Crumer – Walk with Me

February 23, 2009 • Misanthropic Agenda

The late 2000s were a great time for noise: after it started to really catch on in the late '90s and early '00s artists began to get a better handle on how to create some really interesting textures, atmospheres, themes, and moods. Jason Crumer is starting to become pretty popular in the noise scene, and a favorite of mine, as his material is really interesting stuff. His last album, 2007's Ottoman Black, was a really great—and frightening—combination of ambient, sound effects, drone and the like, punctuated with harsh noise. On Walk with Me, things seem a bit more subdued and perhaps less interesting than the previous release, but it's sill an enjoyable listen.

Where Ottoman Black seemed to focus mostly on mood and atmosphere (to great effect), Walk with Me focuses more on texture and sound in a manner more "traditional" to other, older noise. While there is still obviously a lot of sample manipulation and the like, the sounds are so processed that they become much more abstract. There is also a lot of layering akin to most Merzbow where the different sounds and textures are played off each other pretty well. The tracks on this album are quite a bit longer than before, giving the pieces more time to find their footing and evolve. This is probably at least partly due to the fact that there is a good bit more drone this time around, which makes me think of a much less harsh version of Kevin Drumm's Sheer Hellish Miasma in places. The noise elements, when they are present (see the first and last tracks in particular), are more complex as well as some of the individual sounds themselves get complicated, sometimes coming on and off in fits and stutters in a nice contrast to the drone.

The more subdued parts (i.e. most of the droning on the longer tracks) can get a bit irritating, though, as Crumer relies on a lot of repetition to build up the tracks. For instance, "Love Is More Important than Pride" is incredibly repetitive with just two grating drone samples, and I was disappointed that just about when the track started to get interesting it was over. The first half of "Luscious Voluptuous Pregnant" consists of basically piano samples bouncing around the audial space. It's interesting for a little bit, but drags on after a while. When the noise kicks in around halfway through, it's much more welcome. Similarly, "Walk with Me" is similar with a slow, quite, droning opening that evolves into heavily-layered drones and subtle noise throughout, which actually makes listening to the track as whole rewarding as the ending is really quite good.

The standout exception is "Sexual Artifacts" which, while a mostly subdued track, contains very little in the way of the textures that appear on the rest of the album, instead including some scary effects and sounds which could have been lifted straight from Ottoman Black. It's a good track, but it sounds a bit out of place here.

As a whole, it's a very cold album, though, and very distant, and I imagine hard to get into. It's also difficult to listen to attentively as it alternates between alienating the listener with drones and then grabbing their attention again with sudden bursts and swellings of noise and sound. It's arguable that this sort of method is what makes an album like this good, and I might agree with that as I find very alienating music to be very interesting (not necessarily good, but definitely interesting), but again it can get a little dull in places when it the tracks take too long to get going.

For me, Walk with Me definitely isn't as good as Ottoman Black, and that's maybe because it wasn't quite what I was expecting from Crumer; however it's still a good listen and perhaps a good alternative to other drone/noise albums like Sheer Hellish Miasma. I don't think it says too much about what we can expect for noise in the rest of the '10s but if it was more like this I don't think I'd be terribly disappointed.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Karlheinz Stockhausen – Kontra-Punkte; Refrain; Zeitmasze; Schlagtrio [Ensemble Recherche]

2009 • Wergo

I first listened to this album with low expectations. Serialism has never been a genre I have enjoyed very much and I've always come away disappointed from albums like this. However, Stockhausen is a very well-known and highly-lauded composer in the genre so I was willing to give it another shot. I firmly believe that there is good music to be found in any genre; it's just that sometimes it may take a bit of digging to get to. But serialism and indeterminacy often, to me, just sound too random to be enjoyable—like trying to read a page of "lorem ipsum" and figuring out what it means. Perhaps it's a lack of understanding, as I'm still pretty new to the style, but despite my efforts it's still a very difficult type of music to get into.

One thing I do enjoy about this collection is the interesting different ensembles used to perform the pieces. Most serialism and indeterminacy I've heard (that I can think of now) was performed with very small ensembles, often just one or two instruments (like Cage's prepared piano pieces), probably to prevent it sounding too dissonant and random. But here we get a mix: in "Kontra-Punkt", ten players of various instruments; in "Refrain", piano, vibraphone, other unusual percussion, and odd vocalizing; in "Zeitmaße" woodwinds; in "Schlagtrio" piano and timpani. To me the pieces sound a bit more chaotic this way as opposed to the simple piano pieces I'm used to, although fortunately the sound never quite reaches the "orchestra warming up"-level because the compositions are all quite sparse, usually with only two or three instruments playing at once.

The composition still baffles me, though. I'm not unused to atonal or dissonant music but with these pieces I cannot understand the motivation behind their composition and performance. As far as I can tell, the musicians do a great job with the performance, but their skills aren't enough to make an enjoyable record. In the first two and last tracks, mostly, there seems to be zero structure and flow to the composition and they wind up sounding very random, like children timidly banging on the instruments to see what happens. "Zeitmaße", thankfully, has a bit more structure to it and the instruments actually play together at the beginning, although it frequently falls apart into dissonance throughout. This particular composition feels a bit more traditional; this is probably due to the instrumentation, but I find it easier to enjoy than the other three, if only a little bit.

I probably shouldn't be reviewing this album at all since, like I said, I don't know much about this style of music and after writing this review I am nowhere closer to understanding it. Enjoying it? Probably not. It's very complicated music, music which demands attention, otherwise it comes off as simply noise (and I know where to go to get good noise). Or maybe it's just not for me at all. There's clearly something Stockhausen and his fans are getting that I'm not; maybe one day I'll find out what it is.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Genocide Organ – Remember

December 1997 • Tesco Organisation

I should admit right off the bat that in general, when it comes to noise, power electronics isn't my favorite. I usually find the sound too irritating to listen to, or too abrasive, and it's hard to respect and take seriously many of the groups with their often "controversial" thematics and imagery. Genocide Organ is one of those typical groups, but the one album by them I've heard—Remember—is actually quite good, and a heck of a lot more listenable than most other power electronics I've heard.

Perhaps one of the better things about the album is its deviation from what one might call the "typical" power electronics sound; Remember is often very noisy but isn't as grating or uncomfortable to listen to like most other tracks I've heard. Some of the tracks are more akin to your typical harsh Wolf Eyes sound. Where they aren't, it doesn't seem too terribly different from, say, Whitehouse, with heavy reverb, stretches of droning distortion, and shouted, incomprehensible vocals. Unlike Whitehouse or some other death industrial, though, this is a relatively "safe" album; it never really does anything to surprise or scare the listener (unless you find the vocals or samples scary, which I don't really).

The album provides a lot of the sampling that is common in the genre, too; mostly spoken word in German. I like samples when they're incorporated well into the rest of the sounds and here they're done very well, often sitting in the background and adding to the atmosphere rather than overpowering the noise. However, they are a touch overdone at points, especially when repeated constantly through an entire track.

I will have to ding the album a bit for being way too long at nearly an hour and a half (especially the 2007 re-release, which pushes it well over the two-hour mark), as there's only so much power electronics I can take at once; when re-listening for this review I was ready to be done only halfway through. Fortunately, the album is actually pretty diverse within the genre and the tracks don't sound too similar (again, incorporating some harsh noise, death industrial, and drone elements), so even when listened to as background music the album does a pretty good job of staying relatively interesting. However as I said before there isn't much surprising to be found here, so it can't often grab the listener's attention, and it's probably best listened to in chunks.

Regardless, since Genocide Organ is now considered to be one of the more important power electronics groups and Remember has got a pretty good thing going for it, the album should probably be given a spin by most noise listeners; but again I would advise sticking with the original track list as the reissue is a bit too much to handle and the bonus tracks aren't really anything special.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Biosphere / Deathprod – Nordheim Transformed

September 30, 1998 • Rune Grammofon

Arne Nordheim was a Norwegian composer of musique concrète and electroacoustic music, whose work was paid tribute to by ambient artists Biosphere and Deathprod. I hadn't heard of Nordheim before I first heard this album, but I was at least passingly familiar with both Biosphere and Deathprod and have enjoyed most of what I've heard from them. This album is an interesting listen, and not a disappointing one either.

For this review, I decided to take a listen to Arne Nordheim's compilation Electric, since I'd never heard his music before and wanted to know how Nordheim Transformed related to it. It's drone-laden, noisy (yet oddly minimalist) musique concrète, a genre I'm not really a huge fan of, but the album is actually quite interesting. The remixed versions sound almost nothing like the originals, however, and it's a bit hard to believe they have anything to do with Nordheim's work. I'm not saying this is a bad thing—both artists do an excellent job working the source in their own styles, and to my ears the result is a lot more pleasing.

Biosphere's contribution to the split sounds relatively similar to his other album I've heard, Dropsonde—extremely toned-down, reverb-drenched electronic music, probably more ambient than anything else, but with the occasional, very subtle, bass beat. Smatterings of what could be Nordheim's original sound effects punctuate the ambience here and there: glitches, bursts of noise, wooshes, voices, and the like. It's really nice stuff and produced quite well, probably better than what I've heard from Dropsonde, and it reminds me I probably ought to look into some of his other work.

Deathprod's tracks are not too different from his darker material (like what appears on Morals and Dogma) and after all the production they've gone through, they bear little resemblance to anything classical. He really makes the pieces his own, creating a very creepy and atmospheric mood that is really quite good; they are very drawn-own and droney, and very bleak like Morals and Dogma without being too overdone. There are quite a few neat sound effects used, which is typical for his style, but here they're of course gleaned from Nordheim's work yet integrated pretty seamlessly into the remixes. As I am a bit disappointed by Deathprod's relatively small (and somewhat inconsistent) discography, these tracks are a really nice addition to his stuff I already like.

Admittedly, the music isn't the most interesting, and it might even get a touch boring at times, but as I really like the mood and atmosphere created on this Nordheim Transformed, that doesn't bother me at all. It's a great listen and great mood music. And best of all, you don't even have to like musique concrète to like it.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Jan Johansson – Jazz på svenska

1964 • Megafon

Time to visit an old classic today. I use the word "classic" in a loose sense—from what I understand, if you're not actually from Sweden, odds are good you've never heard of Jan Johansson or his music, but in that country he was very popular. And for good reason, too; it's a bit of a shame that this album hasn't really caught on outside Sweden, because it's really quite good.

Jazz from outside of the United States is unfortunately something I'm not very familiar with yet; after all, the U.S. is where it started, why should jazz from halfway across the globe be any better? Well, there are quite a few reasons. In true Swedish style, the music is quite stripped-down and folky compared to most American jazz: you get a piano jauntily playing along accompanied by an upright bass, and that's about it. No drums, no saxophones, no brass, but honestly none of that would improve the record one bit. Its minimalist style is perfect for the tunes, creating a very personal, warm atmosphere, and adding anything else would ruin that.

Also showing its European heritage is a significant classical influence that is pretty unique. The keyboards play in a sort of Baroque-cum-impressionism style—at least, you probably wouldn't find it too weird to hear a few of these songs played with a harpsichord instead of piano. Aside from the occasional swing rhythms and walking bass, it's pretty hard to call it jazz at points.

The album's weak point, and probably the main thing keeping it from finding a bigger audience, is that what I've described above is pretty much all you get—in twelve songs (sixteen in the remastered reissue) there isn't much variety at all. Each song has the same instrumentation and similar style; the melodies are basically the only thing distinguishing each piece. If one really enjoys the style, then it will constistently satisfy; it's sink or swim. For me, it's definitely a swimmer, although admittedly it makes better background music for that reason and it can be difficult to sit down and listen to it straight through without getting distracted by other things.

Regardless, it's still a very beautiful album, a great piece to show off the diversity of jazz (and classical!) and another way to show that Sweden has some of the most consistently great music of any other country (as if you needed another reason).


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Enslaved, Alcest, Junius, Struck by Lightning

October 1, 2011 • Outland Live, Columbus, Ohio

I hadn't been to a concert in a long, long time, so I was pretty excited for this show. A Saturday night, and only $17 to see four bands? Not a bad deal, I thought. This was my first visit to Outland Live and I have to say that I was pretty impressed. It's nicer than just about every venue I've been to (besides the House of Blues and the Wexner Center); it has some bizarre decor but the place seemed pretty clean and had a nice bar area set off from the stage area. I'd go back if another good-sounding concert came there. Anyway, on to the bands:

Struck by Lightning

I'd never heard of this group before the show (apparently they are not only from Columbus but have a former member from Mouth of the Architect, which is awesome) so I had no expectation of what I was getting, and I was really impressed with them. They play a sort of crust punk-sludge metal hybrid that sounds really nice; it didn't get too deathcore-y like a lot of bands who try that do. The band all had pretty good chops and although the music wasn't anything incredibly mind-blowing, they did put on a really good show even though the crowd wasn't much into it, and I'm a bit disappointed they didn't have any CDs for sale (no, I'm not paying $25 for your record).
8Coolest-Looking Speaker Stacks Award


Junius is another band I had almost no experience with—I heard their track on their split with Rosetta the day before so that hardly counts. They put on a hell of a show, though. Their music is of the "heavy alt/post-rock" variety and the songs all sounded basically the same to me, but they were pretty energetic and always set up a really great groove and atmosphere. Their drummer is pretty magnificent, too. Worth seeing again.
9Best Beards Award


This was more or less the band that I actually came to see, and I wasn't disappointed by them either. They sounded pretty bad at first—you could barely hear anything but drums, probably some mixing issues—but that was fixed throughout the show and they wound up sounding really great. I was a bit disappointed that they played mostly new stuff that I wasn't terribly familiar with, but they played "Souvenirs d'un autre monde" which is one of my favorites of theirs, so that was really cool to see. At this point in the show some of the crowd started to get a little rowdier (perhaps it was the effects of the bar) and there were some people who were a little too excited to see Alcest play, but I guess these things happen.
8Sexiest Band Award


I have never really been a huge fan of Enslaved; I heard one of their older albums, Below the Lights, and thought it was pretty good, but by the time Enslaved started their show you'd think you were at a goddamn Lamb of God concert or something, everybody went pretty crazy. It was especially irritating since for some reason I decided to stand behind two pretty tall guys and couldn't see much. Anyway, their set was decent; they only played one song I knew (from Below the Lights) (and "Immigrant Song" for their encore—since when do metal bands do encores, anyway?) but the stuff I didn't know wasn't bad. I will say that their more Viking metal type stuff translates better to a live setting since you can actually tell what they are playing rather than just blasting, during which I couldn't tell what they were playing at all. (I'm pretty sure their keyboard player didn't actually play anything, either, because the keyboard was completely inaudible throughout.) Enslaved was definitely my least-favorite act of the night but they aren't really my style of music anyway; besides, they had a lot of hardcore fans cheering them on anyway.
6Biggest Tom Rack Award

Friday, September 30, 2011

Clann Zú – Black Coats & Bandages

June 1, 2004 • G7 Welcoming Committee Records

It's always a shame when a band breaks up before their time. Too many stick around and create a lot of stale, uninteresting music, which is always disappointing, but it's worse when a band who consistently improves calls it quits when they're peaking. Black Coats & Bandages is Clann Zú's second and final album, on which they brought a much more cohesive sound that is probably among the best in the genre.

If you've heard their first album Rua you can tell that the band has matured quite a bit. The Irish folk sound that took over much of Rua got a bit too bombastic and over-done at times (not saying it's a bad album by any means); here, they're gotten much better at merging the folky stuff with the indie-rocky stuff to create a seamless sound, and it works very well. There is a lot more post-rock influence, drawing a lot from the early Mogwai / Slint camp, which is a sound I'm not tired of yet; there is even a bit of jazziness thrown in as well (including some nice piano and some actual saxophone on "From an Unholy Height", which sounds great). Such influences help bring in a lot of emotion into the songs without sounding stale, even in context of their first album. The song structures are still a bit unusual but there's barely any of the overdone quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamics that plauge a lot of this style of music from the 2000s; more focus is spent on textures and mood, and it pays off.

Maybe because they have a better handle on what they are doing, the album flow and dynamics work flawlessly. There are some slow, melancholy pieces, some faster, rockier/jazzier pieces (still melancholy, though); it's nearly impossible to get bored listening to the album because so many different things happen, but there is almost never a point where anything feels out of place or contrived. The album flows as a whole much better than Rua and works a lot better when listened to in one go, which makes the experience much more immersive (and it's the way I almost always listen anyway).

If I had to make one minor complaint about the album, it's Declan de Barra's vocals. They aren't bad, but he didn't really mature his style along with the rest of the band as he can get overdramatic sometimes and hogs the spotlight. Case in point: "From Bethlehem to Jenin" starts as a very quiet and slow organ piece, but the way he sings over it doesn't fit as he's very loud and more dynamic than he should be. Once the guitars and drums come in, he calms down a bit, but I can't help feeling he ought to have tried a bit more to fit the atmosphere of the music. In fact, sometimes I feel that there are simply too much of the vocals at all, often coming in before the song has a chance to get started up.

Regardless, I can't find fault in any of the other musicians. The guitars convey a huge range of sounds (again, see Slint, and often hints of Godspeed), and the continued use of electric violin from Rua is very welcome. The drums are still good, if not better; sometimes they bring a bit of a math rock feel with some interesting polyrhythmic grooves that, again, don't feel out of place.

It is a shame the band broke up after this album, because they could probably have pulled off another really great album or two after Black Coats & Bandages, but we'll have to be satisfied with this and Rua; yet I think I'm okay with that. They carved a nice little niche in the indie rock world and I haven't heard a similar album of this quality yet.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Corrupted – Garten der Unbewusstheit

August 20, 2011 • Nostalgia Blackrain

Corrupted has had one hell of a run over their lifetime. Until recently, among countless splits and EPs, they've put out four absolutely excellent albums, something most bands can never claim. Their last effort, 2005's El mundo frio, has been one of my all-time favorite albums ever since I first heard it, and I thought they'd never be able to top it. In fact, I never really thought about them releasing an album again; it's been six years, and the last two releases (2007's twin singles "An Island Insane" and "Vasana") were pretty disappointing compared to their normal output. But then, out of nowhere, they pop back up again, quietly pushing another masterpiece out.

Now I'm not going to say that they did top the last one with Garten der Unbewusstheit, but I know they are coming pretty close. The opening track is actually very reminiscent of El mundo frio: A very long, slow buildup, gradually morphing into very dense guitars and drums, and you don't even notice it changing until it drops back into being soft again (no harp this time, unfortunately)... it sounds a bit typical of their style, but the atmosphere created is very intense with such a sprawling sound. It helps that the production is a bit simpler this time: there's no unusual instrumentation, a lot less dissonance and noise, maybe even fewer layers of guitar. Often that helps add to the feeling of heaviness, which works really well in "Gekkou no Daichi", which sounds a bit like Paso inferior, oddly enough.

Speaking of which, "Gekkou no Daichi" might be one of the best tracks I've ever heard from Corrupted. It's got a nice simple buildup, but in the middle of the song, by the time it's in full out slamming-bricks mode, it actually has a melody in it. I don't recall if they've actually done anything really melodic before, especially not in a major key, so it kind of came out of nowhere, but it is really welcome, adding a new layer of grandiosity to the piece and also giving it a sense of finality. Hopefully this just indicates finality of the album, and not the band, but it would make a great track to bow out on.

On my first listen I thought that Garten der Unbewusstheit was basically more of the same stuff we've been hearing from the band, but a closer listen proved otherwise. They really are only getting better. No, I don't think this quite tops either El mundo frio or Se hace por los suenos asesinos, but if someone disagrees I can completely understand why. Garten der Unbewusstheit may have been an unexpected release, but it is absolutely welcome.