Friday, March 22, 2013

Vattnet Viskar, Black Table, VYGR, Meadowhoof

March 21, 2013 • Kobo Live, Columbus, Ohio

I actually bought a ticket to this show basically on a whim when I saw it come up in my email, thinking that even though it's two bands that I'd never heard of at least it would be interesting to go to. Only an hour or so before I left did I even notice VYGR was going to be on the bill, a band I've been a mild fan of for years and whose debut EP is a long-standing favorite. Anyway, Kobo was a new venue for me—it's essentially a tiny bar, one that definitely wasn't built with having a stage in mind, it seems; though I suppose that since the crowd was so small (no more than forty people in the building at once, it felt like) it worked out okay. And it was definitely one of the better shows I've been to.


These guys are a newish, very obscure local band playing intricate, sludgy doom metal. One guitarist, one drummer, one vocalist, and they weren't bad. The guitar used an octavizer and consequently had a huge and heavy sound, which was neat, and the riffs and drums got nicely groovy. A good sound, but the vocalist left a bit to be desired (most of the time he just stood there, and I didn't care much for his screams).
5Most Out-of-Place Blastbeat Section Award


It was no surprise to me that VYGR played the best show of the night; helping immensely was that they closed off their set with my favorite song of theirs, "Surfacing", from their debut EP. I wasn't a huge fan of their full-length album but maybe they're just a lot better live than in the studio (or the tracks off their new split are just that good). Heavy as heck, great atmosphere, etc.; it was too bad that they seemed a bit under-appreciated by the audience (who was presumably mostly there for the headliner).
8Best Mutton Chops Award

Black Table

These guys were also better than I had hoped. I sampled their EP over the last couple of weeks and had liked it—a very technical and complex sort of proggy-black metal—though they're even better live. Watching them play was a real treat; the main guitarist, bassist, and drummer are all incredibly talented and it's always interesting to see people play challenging material like that. I can't say as much for the vocalist/guitarist; her vocals weren't great on the EP and weren't much better live. Points for effort, though. Still, a highly entertaining and satisfying set.
8Best Bass Fingertapping Award, Like Seriously, That Was Awesome

Vattnet Viskar

Come to think of it, the majority of punk and metal shows I go to turn out that I really enjoy one or two of the supporting acts and the headliner is just okay. Vattnet Viskar was good, don't get me wrong, just not quite as good as the two that came before them. Stripped-down, raw black metal, a wall of constant noisy tremolo riffs and blasting, broken occasionally by some doomier sections. Honestly it's pretty typical material, but they did perform quite well and I warmed up to them, especially the somewhat cathartic end of the set.
7Most Honest Use of Vocal Reverb Award*

*"to mask my shittiness" (not a direct quote)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Eganomixxxxxxxx – Eganomixxxxxxxx

February 10, 2013 • self-released

Don't mind me, just wandering Bandcamp again in search of more free stuff. Today's nugget: Eganomixxxxxxxx, another reason not to let artists classify themselves as "experimental"; they're usually anything but.

This eponymous EP is a disjointed collection of experimental electronic music. The first seems to land pretty squarely in the trip hop realm—snappy and dry hip hop drum beats supporting ethereal and echoing keys and vocals, drifting in and out of the picture, while the rest dabble in low electronic bass, in an almost-dubstep way, also with floaty piano and glitchy sounds and synths.

It definitely sounds like the work of someone just starting out, who's not really sure of their own style and are just going with the flow of other popular sounds. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but as a single unit, these tracks don't offer a lot of cohesion. It's a good start, and for a free essentially-demo EP it's worth a shot. But I'm not too terribly excited about it.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Soilwork – The Living Infinite

February 27, 2013 • Nuclear Blast

Soilwork is a band I've been listening to for a long time (comparatively), since my days as a young metalhead in high school, so they're one of those bands that I'll probably always keep up-to-date with. Like most of their peers in the melodeath scene in the late 2000s, they had a bit of a falling off with some boring and generic releases (though I do still kind of like Stabbing the Drama). Since then melodeath has been more or less a dead horse genre, so I was just as surprised as anyone to hear Soilwork putting out a double album—a bold move for sure. And it's surprisingly pretty good, at that.

Anyone who's heard the band before won't be surprised; their sound is still the same typical melodic death metal they've pretty much always had—intense and fast guitar riffing, cleanly-sung and anthemic choruses, catchy melodies, the occasional blasting away. The real difference between this and the last couple albums is that it sounds like they're actually conscious about the direction they were going in and made a huge effort to turn that around—and it worked. While it's true that there are some slightly weak tracks here (just a couple, though), there's hardly a moment wasted and just about every track is interesting in its own way. While they never stray far from the verse-chorus structure, the riffs themselves are quite satisfying and only rarely sound generic or played-out.

I'm still not a huge fan of their drummer (I almost said "new drummer", but then I realized he's been in the band nearly ten years by now), as he can be a bit overzealous to the point where sometimes it doesn't really fit the style (such as the weird blastbeat and clean vocals section in "Tongue"). And no matter how good your songs are, twenty of them a row can get a bit fatiguing; consequently the album drags a bit near the end. But these are minor complaints, I suppose.

Undoubtedly, part of the reason I enjoy this band is that Soilwork helped considerably to shape my taste in metal music eight or nine years ago, so it comes with a hesitant recommendation. For Soilwork fans, this is definitely a godsend. For general metal fans, it's probably still pretty good. Anyone else understandably won't see a lot of value in it; regardless, for what it's worth, it's an album for the band to be proud of.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Carrollhood – Violence.

February 11, 2013 • self-released

Something quick and short today—an EP I nabbed off of Bandcamp a few weeks ago on a whim: Carrollhood's Violence. I'm not really sure how to best describe the music Carrollhood makes; the first track starts off as a sort of ethereal ambient pop, then quickly moves into a more aggressive, drum-heavy riff that lies somewhere between rock and... electropop maybe? I have no idea, it's not the kind of stuff I usually listen to so I don't really have any idea what I'm talking about.

I've been enjoying it though; the songs' layered textures and use of dynamics are both very well-done, and the songwriting itself is pretty good, with strong melodies and composition. Anyway, long story short, it's solid stuff and more than worthy of its free download.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Circle Takes the Square – Decompositions:​ Volume Number One

December 21, 2012 • self-released

Time for a long-overdue followup. I reviewed the first half of this album way back in November 2011 and found it a bit tough to get into. The whole thing finally came out this past December and I have to admit that I'm enjoying it a bit more now, but ultimately it's probably not for me.

I'd probably chalk it up to my tastes changing a bit over the past couple of years; after all, I've been listening to a lot more of this "extreme punk" sort of stuff lately so Circle Takes the Square fits in a bit better with my normal music listening.

Obviously a lot of what I said in the first review still applies, as it doesn't seem that the first four songs were reworked any. The band's style is still very chaotic and polystylistic, making most of the songs a bit hard to grasp. But the album's complexity is still very interesting to me, and it's fun to pick out the various intricacies it has.

But, as I predicted, forty-plus minutes of that (if we ignore the closing track) gets to be too much for me. Albums like this verge on sensory overload and eventually my brain just gives up trying to follow along. Which is unfortunate because there are some genuinely really cool parts to the album, like the majority of "Singing Vengeance into Being", which a good track but one that it's tough for me to even get to.

So I dunno—I guess this sort of music still isn't quite for me, though I can see its appeal to some. In any case, the band is gracious enough to put the digital version up for free download, so it's no cost to check it out for yourself.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tafkata – Worker and Parasite

2008 • Hit the Deck

And now, for something different (finally): some more traditional sludge, the kind that still has that stoner and hardcore punk sound buried in there, the kind that I never really liked all that much. I'm not totally sold on Worker and Parasite, but it does provide some entertainment for what it's worth.

Tafkata is a strange band when it comes to how they write their songs: some take the pure sludge route, others are pure hardcore—take just the first two tracks, for instance. The upside to this is that the album is constantly in a state of flux, keeping the listener somewhat on edge, as it's hard to tell what direction the music will take at any given time. The downside is that the album sounds really disjointed—not to the point where it sounds like two different bands playing different tracks, but more like Tafkata just can't decide what they want to do.

On the other hand, either way you go, they do a good job at it. I prefer their punkier tracks the best, even if they're a bit generic (my own inherent bias, probably), as the sludgier ones don't do anything for me (particularly the incredibly cheesy "Children of the Revolution") and the vocals don't fit with them quite as well. (I'm not a huge fan of the vocals in general, though.) But they do pull out some great riffs now and again—see "Terra" for a good example—but not enough to make the album really special.

So, it's okay. Not something I'm going to be throwing on much in the future, but it was worth a listen.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Light Bearer – Silver Tongue

February 8, 2013 • Moment of Collapse Records

Yet another Bandcamp discovery, this one being one of the more popular metal releases when it came out—and with those track times, I wasn't too surprised to see it shares a member with Fall of Efrafa (surprising that they're showing up in my reviews again). Unfortunately this album isn't quite as thrilling and the band needs some work before they're going to wow me.

Light Bearer takes a more typical sludge/doom approach with standard loud-soft-loud-soft song structures. The softer bits come courtesy of some really beautiful orchestral segments, which work well at setting the tone of the album and fit in well with the bulk of it, along with some more standard post-rock arrangements.

Unfortunately I don't think there's enough happening on this album to justify its length; the majority of the guitar riffs are very generic-sounding, playing repetitive chord progressions without much regard for melody. They seem heavy on the surface, but ultimately there's not a lot of substance to them. The quieter sections are an improvement, with some more interesting instrumental arrangements and riffs, but serve mostly to glue the unrelated heavy sections together, resulting in a disorganized mess.

I suppose I might be coming off as a bit harsh on Silver Tongue but let's be honest—there's oodles of more deserving music out there just like this. It's an okay album but there's no reason to pick on it over anything else (aside from it being pay-what-you-want). Hopefully these guys stick around and work on their songwriting, because their aesthetics are good. It's just a shame that it basically ends there.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

██████ – Demo

January 15, 2013 • self-released

I won't say we've reached a limit as far as silly band names go, but ██████ (or "nic" if you prefer) is pushing the limit for sure. Fortunately their music makes up for the ridiculousness there, as their demo showcases some surprisingly good modern black metal that, while isn't terribly original, is definitely enjoyable.

My first impressions of this demo was that, despite the band being Czech, there's many similarities to the atmosphere of "Cascadian" United States bands, combined with the intensity and rawness heard often in lower European bands. It's a neat combination; the music is often very melodic but when it's not building up with clean, post-rock-ish sections, it's raging with the blastbeats and tremolo guitars standard to the genre, along with some incredibly tortured screams.

But as I said before it's not terribly original stuff—black metal bands are a dime a dozen, and while this one happens to be pretty good at what they do, this sort of songwriting is just a touch lazy and they're going to need to step it up for future releases. That being said, this is still pretty solid, and is satisfying in its own way; worth a listen for sure.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Alaskan – Adversity; Woe

June 1, 2011 • Sick Man Getting Sick Records

You might think "Alaskan" is an odd name for an Ontario band, but after hearing their debut EP and this, their second album, it seems fitting—this is some cold music. It's good stuff, too, though not (as usual) the best of its kind for me.

Adversity; Woe is mostly made up of very dirty and doomy sludge metal; technically one would probably call it atmospheric but it isn't such in the same way that Isis and Rosetta are; rather than dense layers of reverbed-out guitar we get a more harsh, dissonant production. Slow, plodding riffs dominate the album, accompanied by anguished vocals. Even the interlude and buildup sections rank pretty high on the bleakness scale with their feedback drones and lonely, echoing guitar lines. Fall of Efrafa fans will find satisfaction here for sure, as the sound is incredibly similar (improved-on, in fact); personally, I see that as a good thing.

Still, Adversity; Woe doesn't come off as the most memorable of albums; while the songs are good, they don't stray too far from the sludge-post-hardcore formula that's been popular lately. It's not a bad thing if you're into it (I suppose I am), but at the same time I don't find myself thrilled by the songwriting. Alaskan's strength is mostly in their aesthetic approach and textural presentation, which is quite good on its own.

So, essentially, this is absolutely worth a listen for sludge fans, but I'd be a little hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone else. Then again, the band is gracious enough to release the digital version for free, so it's not like there's anything holding you back.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith – Ten Freedom Summers

May 22, 2012 • Cuneiform Records

Time for something a bit different, time to review something new. Ten Freedom Summers was a much-discussed album last year and (as usual) I was late to pick up on it, as not only had I never heard of Smith before but the album itself is a big one to swallow. Even though I've been getting into jazz in a big way during the last couple of years, nothing quite prepared me for this, and I'm not very taken with what I've gotten.

Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult jazz albums I've ever listened to—even knowing this going in, it's still a long trip. The album's enormous four-and-a-half hour runtime is, of course, a huge barrier to entry for many people, and I myself found that listening to the album in its entirety quickly felt like something I was forcing myself to do rather than enjoying the music as it came. Eventually I decided on putting all the tracks on shuffle and hearing just a few at a time, so as to not tire myself out—but you still don't get the whole picture that way.

Length aside, the music itself can still be very hard to process. It dances back and forth from arrhythmic bop to improvisational, dissonant free jazz to the avant-garde side of modern classical and chamber music, and just about all of those styles are frustrating here. Maybe it's just me, although I have been known to enjoy a free jazz album here and there (not a lot, but it happens); this one, though, never really catches on with me. I can't tell where the music is going or what it's trying to do. Sometimes it spazzes out in an improvisational cacophony; other times it stops completely only to let the ride cymbals or cello tinker on alone, as if they're not sure what to do. Sure, there are moments when I enjoy what the music is doing, but I'm never enthralled, never hooked, and I'm all too often bored.

Which is a shame—it's a very well-performed piece of art, and it's clear that a lot of effort went into putting it together. But on the whole it doesn't feel right to me. The good moments are too few and far between; I could probably edit this down to a one-disc album of very good jazz (what an undertaking that would be!), but the good stuff doesn't justify sitting through the rest of it. Approach cautiously.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

As We Draw – Lines Breaking Circles

November 1, 2010 • Throatruiner Records

I'm trying to clear my backlog of stuff I've had for a long time and never rated (e.g. the Vargr review not too long ago); today I tackle Lines Breaking Circles, an album that I've played to death because it didn't click, but which turns out to be pretty darn good when listened to critically.

As We Draw plays some sort of post-hardcore / sludge metal hybrid, a very diverse sort which is upbeat, complex, and quite heavy all at the same time. The band utilizes a lot of start-stop rhythms and time signature changes in addition to locking down some nice, consistent grooves. You won't find a lot of hooks or choruses here, though; it's mostly dissonant mathy riffs and crunchy melodic breakdowns instead, punctuated by the occasional melancholy clean bridge. It somehow turns out to be relatively catchy and sort-of-fun stuff with some great buildups and climaxes, if you can dig the gloomy atmospherics (I know I can).

However, even though apparently I've listened to this album nine times in the two years since its release (thanks, it still hasn't really stuck with me. It's familiar to me as I listen to it, but in the long run it's not particularly memorable. Maybe it's me—I have been listening to tons of this kind of music lately, and I could have just saturated myself to the point where it feels just like another everyday album that I happen to like. It's not really fair to the music, but that's how it goes.

But yeah, it's decent. I do still enjoy this album, and even though this style has been done to death I think As We Draw is one of the better bands to pull it off. If you can get past the iffy vocals, there's a really great sludge album in there.


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Waters Deep Here – Sunden

July 2009 • self-released

Another post-metal band jumping on the post-metal bandwagon—in fairness, in 2009 the genre wasn't as saturated as it is now, though it's been hard to pick the good bands out of the bad lately. Admittedly, I was pretty impressed by Sunden and it still registers with me as a pretty darn good album.

Without vocals, writing decent sludge metal can be a daunting task (as any Pelican ex-fan knows, it's tough to keep it going very long and still be good at it). The Waters Deep Here's songs are much more textural than riff-oriented, though still with some complex and interesting drum lines and clean guitars, not unlike a drier and simpler Rosetta or Swallow the Ocean. They tend to eschew the typical buildup-and-climax formula for a more fast-paced start-stop style, which keeps things interesting and is relatively rare with similar bands. It makes them seem particularly heavy, as well, when the distorted riffs and frantic drums kick in abruptly after an airy introduction. The riffs themselves are unusually fast as well, with perhaps a bit of metalcore influence in there.

Why this is particularly interesting is that the album's bulk is made up of three very long tracks, all over twelve minutes. With as little repetition as Sunden has, one would imagine that the music would be too meandering and hard to follow; however the band manages to avoid this for the most part. Motifs are rare, but come in often enough to make each track seem relatively coherent and singular.

The interludes are a bit superfluous, especially there being four of them—more than "actual" songs—though the middle two are good for giving the ears a rest, so they're not completely in vain although they are a bit generic and bland.

Anyway, this album is definitely one of the better slept-on / surprise hits for me, so it's worth checking out for anyone into the recent post-metal scene.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Floex – Zorya

September 26, 2011 • Minority Records

Floex is Tomáš Dvořák, a musician I became very familiar with due to his incredible soundtrack for the game Machinarium, which was a masterpiece of modern electronic music. This album, released under his own name, is a bit more concrete and nu-jazz-oriented than the dreamy and ambient soundtrack material, but his signature style and fantastic songwriting is still all here, making one of the best electronic albums I've heard in a long time.

Zorya is not an easy album to describe; you have to hear some to really get what's going on. There's a highly unique mix of sounds presented here—most of the tracks have jittery, noisy IDM-style beats as the groundwork, but floating on top is a huge variety of instruments, ranging from piano to synths to chromatic percussion to live clarinet. Of course it's probably not the first time these sorts of arrangements have been put down, but I've never heard anything quite done the same way as here.

The amount of detail put into each track is incredible; sometimes it's hard to imagine this is the work of a single person. Most tracks strongly evoke various imagery for me, which I love. Take the entrancing 5/4 rhythm of "Casanova": the snappy drum groove draws you in, and then layers of clarinet and trumpet carry you along in a soaring, encompassing melodic collage, until you fly into the sun at the track's climax. Each song does that, more or less; I just want to sit and listen, entranced, forgetting that I'm supposed to be writing a review.

However I should say that the addition of vocals on a couple of tracks is an odd choice, one that I don't really think fits with Dvořák's style particularly well. They've grown on me a little bit, slowly, but I'm still not totally sold on them. For me, they distract from the music and just seem to get in the way (though those on "Nel Blu" work a bit better than "Precious Creature" as they're more ambient and integrated into the mix).

Regardless I still find this album fascinating, and a perfect followup to the Machinarium soundtrack—though Zorya is perhaps not quite as good as it, I'd highly encourage anybody who enjoyed one to seek out the other. And I can only hope Dvořák puts out anything nearly this good sometime soon.