Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Tragedy We Live In – The Tragedy We Live In

March 1, 2013 • self-released

I'm pretty sure I'm officially tired of the whole post-rock-and-sludge-metal thing. I thought the scene was dead, but bands keep cranking out material and a lot of it turns out to just not be very good at all.

The Tragedy We Live In doesn't do it much differently from anyone else—long buildups, sandwiching breakdown riffs with some really filthy guitar sound and pounding, tom-heavy drumming. There are some outside influences leaking in, however, such as some black metal riffing and a punk edge to some of the rhythms, the drums in particular. It's a nice change, and it helps keep the album interesting (especially since there aren't vocals), but sometimes they feel a bit out-of-place. It doesn't help that the songwriting in general feels very thrown-together and it doesn't feel like the songs have any logical progression tying them up—just bits and pieces put together.

So this album feels less like an album and more like a bunch of people just kind of messing around without a clear goal. It's difficult to listen to and I don't feel like I got anything out of it. (It doesn't help that the playing is often very sloppy, which takes me right out of the experience.)

So tread with caution. (It helps that it's free.)


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X

August 18, 2013 • Jester Records

Since the disappointing Wars of the Roses and the bafflingly out-of-character Childhood's End, I approached this album with a hell of a lot of caution. However, I am happy to report that my fears were for nothing; Messe I.X-VI.X has turned out to be one of the best things they've released in a long time and I'm really enjoying it.

As expected, Ulver is tiptoeing outside their sonic boundaries yet again; Messe is mostly classicaly-inspired (if the collaboration with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra didn't tip you off), but that's only a tiny part of the picture. The album is a harrowing soundscape of droning ambience, brooding strings and folk instruments, and erratic sampling. I particularly love the combination of the sweeping strings with some more traditional (for Ulver) crazy electronic stuff on "Shri Schneider", easily one of the best segments on the album. Also of note is the sound collage of "Noche oscura del alma", which I have to say would probably make my list of top scariest tracks. It's incredibly unsettling, yet works pretty well in context of the whole album.

The focus is all on textures, moods, and melancholic atmosphere (there aren't even vocals until "Son of Man" halfway through); it even sometimes has a soundtrack feel to it (especially the grandiose "Glamour Box (Ostinati)"). It's very abstract and the pieces all kind of flow together, so instead of the definite feeling of a collection of songs that Shadows of the Sun was, Messe feels more like a classical suite. I imagine that was the effect they were going for, and I have to say it totally works.

That said, it's not without a few problems. It's a very slow-burning album and difficult to digest, even after multiple listens. I imagine it would be hard to like for a lot of people, especially ones who aren't much into modern classical music, as it spends a lot of time building up on itself (although the payoff is usually good, barring the anticlimactic finale "Mother of Mercy"). And none of the tracks really come off as memorable as many did on their last few albums, even the more "traditional" ones ("Son of Man"). It's definitely something you have to be in a certain mood for, and listen straight through.

But once you are in that mood and give Messe a really careful listen, it turns out to be one of their best efforts yet. This is the natural continuation from Shadows of the Sun I was hoping for, the direction I was hoping Ulver would head in. Better late than never, I suppose. A very worthy addition to the Ulver canon.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Deafheaven – Sunbather

June 11, 2013 • Deathwish Inc.

Finally time to weigh in my two cents on Sunbather; I figure the hype has died off enough by now. I remember hearing their first album Roads to Judah when it came out back in 2011 and enjoying it, though I haven't listened to them since until very recently with this new album. And it's an okay album, sure; it's quite good but I think fawned over a little too much.

While the "blackgaze" thing has been really popular lately, I have to hand it to Deafheaven for putting together a pretty good version of the sound. It's some pretty intense music, with walls of loud tremolo guitar and blastbeats and harsh screams all over. But it's also got plenty of dynamics—there are lots of softer interludes with pseudo-post-rock flourishes and slower, sludgier sections as well. (For the former, I really love "Vertigo"'s intro, especially that bass.)

Also unlike most black metal, the album is largely played in a major key to get a more grandiose feel to the songs. I think this actually works really well most of the time; we've seen it before with bands like ColdWorld but Deafheaven do it well too. The title track in particular is a great example of that kind of tone working well; it has a great contrast of major and minor riffing that makes it really interesting. Most of the riffs themselves aren't particularly catchy or memorable, but it's the textures and moods that really make the album. Think more Godspeed rather than Immortal, especially in those interludes.

On the other side of the coin, while Sunbather is definitely good, it's not quite as special as everyone has made it out to be. I guess it's the extreme amount of hype and press and its broader appeal that lead it to garner a lot of praise—mostly deserving, I'll admit—but it's not like this is the first album like it ever to be made. Anyone reading my recent black metal reviews know that I go through lots of albums like this. Yes, this is one of the better ones, but it's not the only one.

That being said, I still think this is absolutely a worthwhile album for fans of this sound. And if it just so happens to turn on a lot of people who didn't know about it before, all the better. For me, it's not something I'm going to spin every day, but it's not an album I'll forget too easily, either. I do know that it will definitely be interesting to see how this new trajectory affects Deafheaven and where they go next.


Monday, August 19, 2013

KEN Mode, Rosetta, Lo-Pan, The Black Antler

August 18, 2013 • Kobo Live, Columbus, Ohio

I had already had an amazing weekend, and I couldn't think of a better way to top it off than a show with one of my favorite bands. I'd already seen Rosetta back in 2010 but I wouldn't pass up another chance to see them here in Columbus, especially at Kobo which I love going to. Unlike that Carabar show, it actually ended just after 11 PM instead of 3 AM so people were actually around to see the bands!

The Black Antler

The pleasant surprise of the night (there's always one)—these guys were really awesome. A sort of doomy sludge combined with grind-infused hardcore, definitely a case of sludgecore-done-right. Not a single dull moment throughout their set (although I could have done with better sound mixing). Definitely would see again.
8Best Hipster Mustache Award


I'm a bit surprised it took me this long to get to a show these guys played at. They've been around a while and it seems like they support every other metal show in the city. Anyway, they weren't really my thing, but it was still an enjoyable set. I've never really liked stoner metal, but Lo-Pan's style was especially interesting. Very groovy, catchy stuff. The bassist especially was giving his all, doing a lot of complicated stuff and really squeezing all the range out of his instrument he could.
7Farthest-Away Vocalist Award


It's tough to review any band you have a lot of emotional investment in already, but yeah, this was an amazing show. Not much has changed in the last three years, although everything they played was off of their new album. I was a little disappointed at first that they weren't playing some older stuff I would have recognized more easily, but it didn't matter much—their new material works excellently on stage, especially the heavier material. Anyway I'm just glad they came back here again; I could tell everyone had a hell of a time.
9Most Normal Clothes Award

KEN Mode

I don't know what KEN Mode's deal is but they must love Columbus or something; I saw them back in November and they've played here at least three other times since. Anyway, I already knew they put on a good show, and they didn't disappoint—although I think the first show might have been better. It's tough to follow up Rosetta, I'd think. As always it was a very energetic and dramatic performance; they don't care how big of an audience they play to, which is great.
7Best Spitting Distance Award

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rosetta – The Anaesthete

August 8, 2013 • self-released

I'm starting to have mixed feelings about Rosetta as a band. Back in 2006 or so when I first heard The Galilean Satellites, they became an instant favorite, and I've highly enjoyed everything they've released since. And yes, I have found myself enjoying The Anaesthete. But at the same time, I feel a bit let down by it. It's still good, though, and worth a listen for sludge fans.

For anyone who hasn't heard them, Rosetta's sound is near the peak of the sludge metal and post-rock fusion style. Staples of their sound include layered, delay-rich clean guitar contrasted with heavy crunching power riffs, complex and intricate drumming with some interesting time signatures, and a thick reverb-drenched atmosphere. While they've stuck with that for ten years now, like A Determinism of Morality they've been slowly trending towards some shorter songs with quicker tempos which suits them well. The band finally seems to be exploring minor-key tracks a bit more as well, with songs like the dissonant and heavy "Oku / The Secrets".

But on The Anaesthete, the band's writing skills don't seem as sharp as they used to be and I feel like they're just treading a lot of old ground. Unlike a lot of their old material, the songs here don't have a lot in the way of memorable lines or melodies the way The Galilean Satellites; instead, many of them are just a barrage of endless guitar and drum noodling until they reach a generic power-chord climax: rinse and repeat. Of course the formula worked back in 2005, but by now it hardly seems interesting, especially when it feels very structureless and hard-to-follow as well. There are a few exceptions, like the awesome riff that closes "In & Yo / Dualities of the Way" or the practically-hardcore "Myo / The Miraculous" (they can still slam a heavy section with the best of them), but moments like that aren't as frequent as they should be.

Their performance skills, on the other hand, are just as good as ever, even when things get a little messy. The drumming is easily one of the best parts, technically-speaking; he is always doing something cool. (I do wish, though, that the vocals were a bit more interesting than one clean guest spot per album. Not to say Armine is bad; he just can only do one sound.)

I can see how it'd be hard to top an instant-classic like The Galilean Satellites and they've definitely tried (Wake/Lift was absolutely a success in my mind), but I don't see much of a future for them if they continue to stagnate like this. I know this review probably sounds really harsh, probably unfairly so—for sludge fans this album is definitely worth listening to, and it's got plenty of good moments in it. I've already heard plenty of people say good things about it, so judge for yourself. Just know that it's almost certainly not going to stand up close to their best.


Eiffel 65 – Europop

November 30, 1999 • WEA Records

I finally decided to give this another spin now, in 2013, and it's probably been ten-plus years since I last heard any of these songs (including "Blue"). This was one of the only albums I ever listened to back when I was ten, so the nostalgia factor here is enormous—everything here reminds me of hanging out at my friend's house, building Legos, reading terrible horror novels, playing his Playstation 1 (yep, "My Console" was amazingly relevant).

Still, I can't help but feel that at least a couple of these songs are still pretty good. The album's overall tone, the spacey, ethereal, cold aesthetic, is really good. Naturally I like the more "serious" tracks like "Too Much of Heaven" or "Now Is Forever" over the cheese that is sings like "Move Your Body" or "Your Clown" (although something about "Living in a Bubble" and "Hyperlink" is strangely fascinating).

Of course, it could be that the elements of this album I still enjoy are because I listened to this so much back in the day. I'm not complaining either way.

And yeah, it's really not a good album. It's often kind of stupid and repetitive; definitely the kind of thing you put on as background music at best. But if you don't take it seriously (and you shouldn't), it's at least sort of fun.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Amber – Lovesaken

April 27, 2013 • self-released

It's all too easy to feel jaded and dismissive about yet-another-relatively-typical-atmospheric-sludge-album. I was at first. And sure, Amber doesn't really try anything new in the genre, but that doesn't mean they can't make a generic album that isn't good. And I was surprised to hear that they, in fact, do.

While you won't get much more than the standard soft-loud-soft-loud dynamics and heavy one-note riffs, there's enough going on in Lovesaken to make it work. The drumming is a bit more interesting than usual, using some more complex rhythms and fills than in your average dirges. The guitar sometimes follows suit as well with some neat layered arpeggiated delay sections. And of course you have your chugging breakdowns too, which are actually quite well-done. It's hard not to groove along to the end of "Silent Lies".

The vocals are a little unique, if nothing else; you don't often hear female vocalists in sludge and it's a nice change. She's not fantastic, but she's not bad either. Unfortunately the vocals only have one setting, and often don't seem to fit with what's going on (for example, the intense screams don't sound good over the somber, clean guitar at the end of the first track).

Although there's not much to it and I wouldn't say it's a particularly memorable album overall (or I just haven't listened to it enough yet), it's still definitely one of the better sludge albums I've heard in the last year or two. (It helps that I hear a lot of garbage, too.) Definitely worth a listen (and it's another free download, too!).


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

You Blew It! – Grow Up, Dude

April 24, 2012 • Topshelf Records

Do I even need to review this one? Another midwest emo album (from Topshelf, of course); this one came out last year. Was there a chance it wouldn't be good? Okay, maybe a small chance, but it doesn't matter. If you're even remotely in love with this kind of music as I am, this is worth a spin.

The band names and song titles seem to get sillier and sillier, but the songs are just as good. It's twinkly, complex clean guitar verses typical to the genre, paired with slightly-more aggressive choruses reminiscent of some Japandroids moments. I even hear some glockenspiel in there on "Medal of Honor" (I think?); very cool. It's also helpful that the vocalist has a voice that is actually pretty nice to listen to—while I can appreciate the horrible out-of-tune vocals of some bands, it gets old after a while.

Admittedly, it doesn't have quite the staying power as a lot of similar recent albums—the tracks aren't really as memorable as Arrows in Her or Have Mercy or even Old Gray, but even the not-as-good ones have their merits (and don't go on too long as to be hard to listen to).

Anyway, there's plenty of great songs and an overall really good sound that mostly stands up with all the other great albums that I've been spinning lately.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Family Curse – Twilight Language

February 20, 2013 • Doormat Records

I saw Family Curse play back in May and picked up a vinyl copy of their first album on my way out; it's taken me way too long to actually review it. Probably because it's best to be somewhat removed from the live experience to give a more neutral review (okay, their live show was better, but this is still pretty good).

In contrast to This Moment in Black History's raw and classic-punk garage style, Family Curse has a more lo-fi, industrial aesthetic to it, somewhat reminiscent of the post-punk underground of the late '80s and early '90s. The atmosphere is usually upbeat but still kind of murky, with lots of dissonant, angular, reverbed-out guitars fighting for space and vocals that go between mumbles and shouts (and little in-between). It's like Wire's Pink Flag meets Branca's Ascension, in a way.

But it's still pretty catchy at the same time, as there's a lot of good songwriting and melodies holding it all together. I want to say it's the sort of thing you have to have a taste for in the first place, although I'm enjoying it a lot better than the sort of music it's influenced by. (Maybe I just have no idea what I'm talking about.) The album does suffer a little from sameiness with a couple dull songs in the middle, but it definitely starts and finishes strongly, winding up with definitely more good songs than mediocre.

Even taking into accounts that its members are all punk veterans, Family Curse's debut is quite an impressive one. Niche, as usual, but worth listening to if you're in that niche.