Monday, September 30, 2013

Gorguts – Colored Sands

August 30, 2013 • Season of Mist

I'd like to preface this review with a disclaimer: I never really liked Gorguts' 1998 album Obscura very much. Yes, I know, it's a classic of death metal and considered one of the best in its genre. But there's something about it that I just never really clicked with me—I felt it was too technical, soulless, and just not interesting.

I won't say that Colored Sands completely changed my opinion of Gorguts' music, but what I will say is that it's by far the superior album. Maybe it's my taste for more modern stuff when it comes to extreme metal (particularly death metal—the only "classic" band I ever really felt a connection with is Atheist), maybe it's the more conventional structures, or maybe I've just gotten used to it. I don't know.

I guess it's the riffs—here they feel more natural, more organic. The songs are much easier to listen to, easier to get my head around and actually follow. There's dynamics—see the bridge in "An Ocean of Wisdom", which is lighter in instrumentation (but not in tone). There are plenty of groovier and chuggier sections as well, sections I can follow the beat on and really get into. Not a ton, but I appreciate that they're there.

I still don't feel much of an emotional connection to Gorguts at all (I usually don't with most death metal, so I won't fault them for it), so I'm not going to be claiming that this is one of the greatest death metal albums ever (and certainly not the best album of 2013). Sure, yes, I can see how it appeals to others who enjoy death metal, and I can understand it being praised as highly as it is. It just isn't for me, and I'm okay with that.

Although I gotta say—the bass guitar still sounds amazing.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Two years of listening

Today marks Andrew Listen's second anniversary! To celebrate this momentous occasion, I'd like to officially announce the Andrew Listens Twitter account: @andrew_listens!

I'll be using it for a few different things: (1) posting back links here when I make new reviews, (2) writing micro-reviews that aren't really worth putting up here, (3) sharing links to interesting and worthwhile releases on Bandcamp. Hopefully I'll be doing more stuff with it as I get used to it.

Nothing is going to change as far as this blog is concerned, although I hope I'll be motivated to actually post reviews more regularly. It should help that the concert train doesn't seem to be slowing down, and I have at least one more book review I can do at some point soon.

Thanks for reading, and keep on listening!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

July 22, 2013 • ATP Recordings

Fuck Buttons was a real cool band back in 2008, for sure. One of the first "good" live shows I saw, and Street Horrrsing was a noise/electronica classic in my book. I've kept up with the band only casually since then, but it's good to know that they're still putting out some quality stuff. Slow Focus is definitively their least-good so far, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth listening to.

Not much has changed for the duo since 2009 and here we have basically the same sound that we had on Tarot Sport, coupling together driving tribal rhythms and percussion with warm and atmospheric sawtooth synth layers (with some cool sound effects too, in a way that Black Dice might do if Black Dice were still good). It's a bit less intense and aggressive; the tracks don't really have the same wall-of-sound thing going on, but the dynamics we get instead are mostly well-done and work great on keeping the tracks interesting and moving forward. And every now and again it does include those brain-pounding moments, like "Stalker"'s heavy ending minutes.

It has a few minor issues that are holding it back, though. A couple of the some of the melodies and "hooks" are a bit silly, like "The Red Wing", which make it hard to take the album seriously and take away from its overall quality. There are still no vocals, disappointingly; the harsh distorted screaming was one of the more interesting elements of their older material and it looks like it's gone for good.

And like all Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus relies a lot on repetition; I can see this being a downside for some people and yeah, maybe the album isn't extremely interesting the whole way through, but there is enough attention to detail and little bits here and there that stick out and make the experience as a whole worth it. I can definitely understand people getting bored with it, though, and it doesn't have a ton of replay value. On the other hand, the song structures are definitely more well-crafted and less chaotic than they used to be, so that's a plus.

It's definitely an enjoyable album. Not the classic that Street Horrrsing was for me, but it has its merits and it will definitely have its fans. I'm honestly a bit surprised that in the last few years I don't seem to have been hearing many other artists making stuff like this... but for now I'm satisfied with what we have so far.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sigur Rós – Kveikur

June 14, 2013 • XL Recordings

I guess Sigur Rós is on their way back up. I guess the short break a couple years ago was really good for them, or maybe it was the slight lineup change (four members to three). Regardless, the pleasant return-to-form that was Valtari continues with their newest offering, with some of the best tracks they've done in a long time.

At the core it's still the same Sigur Rós we've known for years—the same brooding yet pretty melodies and vocals, the same soaring song structures, the same majestic feel. The basic post-rock-meets-dream-pop-meets-mordern-classical sound hasn't changed much, but there's loads of variation within that sound on this album. Tracks like "Brennisteinn" and "Kveikur" have a very dark and brooding tone (emulating the unsettling cover art) with some heavier production (distorted bass, industrial-style drumming, and walls of background sounds). Others have a softer and dreamier sound, like "Yfirborð" or the Takk...-like "Ísjaki". Naturally they do both very well, and is leaves this album with enough here to please everyone. All in all, it creates a very diverse listening experience that rewards close listening. (Admittedly, I like those two dark, rock-style tracks better, and it's a bit unfortunate that they're the only ones.)

The other side of that coin is that Kveikur doesn't feel quite as cohesive as most of their other albums—even Valtari—so it's kind of like just a compilation of different tracks which were all written separately without much regard for flow or consistency in atmosphere. I guess that's forgivable when just about every track is as good as these are, but it leaves the album feeling a lot less solid than, say, ( ) did. The album's sound is more song-focused than texture-focused, as opposed to the last album, and its structure as a whole has to fit that direction. It didn't really happen that well here.

Regardless, this is definitely one that will please its listeners. I guess my prediction based on Valtari that Sigur Rós haven't lost it yet was true—this is certainly might be their best album since Takk..., and though I have my doubts that they can match the peaks of their glory days in the early 2000s, who's to say?


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mouth of the Architect – Dawning

June 25, 2013 • Translation Loss Records

One of my favorite and one of the most underappreciated bands in the "post-metal" scene, and it's good to see they're more or less the same band they've always been with their fourth album.

One of the first things I noticed about Dawning is that it's a bit slower than their previous material, with a lot more of the post-rock sound slowly creeping its way in more noticeably. (See "Patterns"' long, tense buildup to actual metal just in the last 20% of the song; or the slight Earth-esque country twang in "The Other Son".) Fortunately the band knows how to play that well, using loads of dynamics and jumping from quiet clean bridges to pounding, heavy sludge riffs in a way that sounds very natural.

This album also includes lots of clean vocals thrown in as well, and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about them—they seem to work okay most of the time, as Dawning is a relatively melodic album to start with; however I've always loved the band's harsh vocals and hate to hear them used less often. They definitely don't subtract from the album's quality, though.

They're definitely not breaking a lot of new ground, and there are some moments that are uninspired, like the lackluster "It Swarms". But there are some equally kickass parts too that demonstrate just how well Mouth of the Architect exemplifies sludge, like "Sharpen Your Axes" or "How This Will End". Mouth of the Architect's handle on melody is probably one of the best (if not the best) among similar bands, and it really goes a long way in helping them write good, memorable material.

On the whole, Dawning doesn't satisfy in quite the same way that The Ties That Blind did, for instance (though I do think it's a step up from Quietly). But it's still definitely a good album worthy of this classic band's discography, and it's good to see that they haven't gone to crap like a lot of bands that die way before the ten-year mark.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Palms – Palms

June 25, 2013 • Ipecac Recordings

After a band like Isis breaks up, I imagine it'd be difficult for the members to move onto something else; how can you possibly try anything that would live up to the legacy? Palms is three-quarters ex-Isis members and one-quarter Chino Moreno of Deftones, in what should (theoretically) be one amazing supergroup. Though their debut is a little underperforming for what they have to live up to, it's not bad and there's plenty of room to move forward.

It's almost impossible to listen to Palms outside of an Isis or Deftones context, but I'll try. Essentially, the sound they're going for is a heavy-alternative-rock sort of thing with quieter post-rock-like bridges and intros. Nothing terribly groundbreaking, but for what it is, it's pretty decent. There are plenty of good riffs all around, especially the trudging heavy parts, and the vocals don't feel that out of place.

There's not much else good to say about the album, though. The songs do tend to run a bit long, though, especially with their meandering and often-repetitive structures, making the album a bit difficult to get through all at once. It kind of feels like it should be over after the third song. And the sound itself is pretty empty. With only one guitarist, there's a lot of empty space that the vocals can't really fill. Maybe this is just me trying to compare it to the thick, dense sounds of both Isis and Deftones, but Palms just comes off a bit lacking.

I can't say I'd recommend this album to anyone outside the original bands' fanbases; Palms seems like a novelty release for right now and there's really nothing interesting about it that anyone unfamiliar with Isis would appreciate. That being said, I hope they try another album because there's a lot they could do if they really wanted. It just didn't happen here.


Inter Arma, Woe, Locusta

September 18, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio


I don't say this often, but Locusta fucking rocked. And that's not a term I'd throw around lightly. Although I don't listen to a ton of death metal, these guys hit the spot for me in just the right way. Perhaps it was the slight groove and speed metal influences, or the fantastic playing and stage presence. It was seriously some of the absolute greatest drumming I've ever seen from any metal band (some of the fastest blasting, too), and the guitarwork was equally mesmerizing to watch. Absolutely worth seeing again. I gotta find more death metal shows.
8Purplest Cassettes Award


An awesome show as well (I was there mainly to see them, so I was pretty sure it was going to be good anyway). It was an interesting contrast to the Locusta show—more wall-of-sound, cathartic torrents of noise. Typical black metal, I suppose, but that's what I love about it. There isn't much else to say about their set overall (especially if you're familiar with their sound already), although I must say those "catchier" moments (e.g. "Song of My Undoing"'s intro) worked really well live.
8Best Windmilling Award

Inter Arma

Despite that they apparently haven't changed members (aside from the bassist) since the first time I saw them play in 2010, Inter Arma has become a very different band in those three years. There was definitely more of a serious-introspective-metal mood going on compared to the incredibly fun first show I saw, and the band seemed a bit aloof and lazy. Still the same avant-sludge-meets-black metal sound, but it was all new material and I don't think I care for it quite as much as their older stuff. Partly because blastbeats and slow, laboring riffs don't go together that well... I dunno.
5Cutest Matching Shirts Award

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cult of Luna – Vertikal II

September 21, 2013 • Indie Recordings

This was unexpected—more tracks from the Vertikal sessions! Admittedly, it's probably for the best that these tracks were left off of the album, although it is neat to hear them regardless.

What this EP has to offer is a bit different from Cult of Luna's normal heavy sludge sound. Instead, the songs are much lighter, atmospheric, and less about riffs and rhythms than they are about buildup and mood. In the first two tracks, you won't hear much in the way of "regular" drumming, guitars, or vocals. Okay, there's a little bit, but it definitely takes a back seat to the electronic ambience and Earth-esque doom-rock buildups. It's a sound they've done a bit before on their albums as interludes and such, just on a larger scale. "Shun the Mask" is a bit more standard Vertikal fare.

While I don't want to say these tracks aren't good, they're definitely not up to the high standards the band has set for themselves over the years. As B-sides go, they're fine; they're definitely listenable and there are plenty of interesting moments scattered around. And, naturally, Justin Broadrick's remix of "Vicarious Redemption" is stellar. (I don't think I've ever heard him do a bad remix.) But they simply don't bring that same huge, enthralling feel that their songs usually do. Rather I just feel like I'm along for the ride, listening passively, without much going on.

That said, I'm still happy to have heard the EP—I never say no to more Cult of Luna, of course—and it's not a blemish on their discography or anything. Maybe I just set my own expectations a little high.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Messrs, Total Trash, Hop Along, Goners

September 14, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio


Finally got to catch these guys after missing their set at the Family Curse show. Relatively standard garage punk, but it was definitely more fun than your average garage stuff. Simple but with a good amount of variance over the set, and entertaining to watch.
7Only the Second-Most Trashed Cymbal I've Seen Award

Hop Along

The surprise of the night. Aside from a few exceptions, normally I'm not really into indie pop / indie rock, so Hop Along is kind of out of my comfort zone. But I have to say that they really drew me in right from the start. Their music is really poppy, but in a good, uplifting way that also isn't afraid to get a little bit intense now and again, like the half-time slow-burning outro to their final song. Really great playing all around, especially the fantastic vocal performance. Good stuff.
8Most Coordinated Shoes Award

And then, almost everyone left. I guess Hop Along was the big act of the night. I can't imagine how shitty it must feel to know people paid to get into your show but they don't care enough about you to bother to stick around. I guess in this case, though, I can kind of understand because the next two bands were pretty different from the first.

Total Trash

The best phrase I could think of for Total Trash was "slacker hardcore". Relatively simple, yet pretty fast and intense, punk. Normally that kind of music would be right up my alley but Total Trash in particular came off as nothing particularly special. It probably didn't help that they were almost unintelligible—mostly the vocals, but the guitar riffs were a bit of a blur too—making them hard to follow and not particularly engaging. That's not to say they were horrible, though; maybe I wasn't just in the right mood or something.
5Most Effective Playing on the Floor Award


Another extreme-hardcore band, this one local. Sort of a cross between old-school '80s-style punk rhythms with modern powerviolence and noisecore style. Unfortunately, also like Total Trash, I couldn't really get into them at all. Maybe it's just that, even though I normally like hardcore, I don't particularly like seeing it live. But Messrs simply wasn't appealing to me. A lot of their set seemed like they were just messing around—I guess that's partly a result of the extremely (and I mean extremely) dissonant and amelodic guitar style, which really turned me off. Oh well.
5Best Nail Polish Award

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wormlust – The Feral Wisdom

June 6, 2013 • Demonhood Productions / Daemon Worship

I don't know what it is with Iceland, but it always seems like the craziest music comes out of that place. They're not particularly well-known for their black metal, but if Wormlust is a decent example of their scene, maybe it's something worth looking into after all. The Feral Wisdom isn't an amazing, groundbreaking album, but it is definitely one worth listening to.

Unlike the raw and abrasive style Nordic black metal is usually known for, Wormlust has a more distinctly American sound to it with its emphasis on ambience and dense atmosphere. It feels incredibly thick and hazy, with vocals drenched in reverb and guitars muddied almost beyond recognition. However, in a rare case, I think this aesthetic works particularly well; this is an album that's definitely about mood instead of riffs, with a sound that is very easy to simply get lost in. There is a subtle "horror" aspect of it that works really well (especially during those ambient parts). It's similar to, say, Lurker of Chalice or Leviathan.

Unfortunately, also like Lurker of Chalice and Leviathan, I get a little bored of this ethereal-black-metal style relatively quickly. It's probably just me, but there's something about straddling that line between good black metal vs. good ambience and sometimes it sort of fails to reconcile the two well. It tends to dwell on the ambient sections a bit too much—as good as they are—so the album's flow feels a bit weird.

That's not to say this is a badly-done album; rather I think it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, and my tastes are just my tastes. I did say, after all, that The Feral Wisdom is worth listening to. In fact, I believe this album is significantly better than the other two bands mentioned; it feels maybe a bit more mature, a bit more contemplative and well-written. It'd be interesting to see this particular brand of black metal mature a bit more and take off.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mouth of the Architect, Before the Eyewall, Beggars, War Elephant

August 31, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

War Elephant

Two-man doom, thunderous metal. Mostly slow, pounding jams with a bit of black metal thrown in to keep things interesting. The mix was terrible so I couldn't tell what the guitar was doing at all for the whole set (the overdone reverb effects didn't help), but it was definitely interesting for the standard obscure-local-metal act. At least they live up to their name.
6Most Metal Hairdos Award


Normally, I'm not one to enjoy much stoner metal or bluesy rock, but for some reason I really enjoyed these guys. Really groovy and catchy stuff with an old-school rock and roll flair to it, like a stoner version of Kvelertak or something. Probably not a band I'd go out and see on purpose, but it was still a pretty fun set. Clip
7Most Shirtless Award

Before the Eyewall

I'm not really too sure what I thought about these guys. They were more of a post-rock outfit, or at least one that focused a lot more on ambience and buildup, so much so that the short, heavier sludgy climaxes didn't seem to be sufficient payoff. Not to say they were bad; I did like the noise/ambient stuff and when they did bring out the heavy riffs, it was pretty good, but the overall balance seemed a bit boring (especially coming after Beggars).
6Most Baffling Use of Trumpet Award

Mouth of the Architect

It's always hard to describe the set of a band I already know really well, even ones like this who I haven't listened to in a long time. Still one of the best atmospheric sludge bands of all time, and seeing them live was even better than hearing them on CD. I especially liked how they played mostly older material, so there was a good bit of it I recognized, which always makes it easier to get really absorbed in what's going on. Anyway, definitely a great set and a band worth seeing.
8Best Beards Award (Sorry Junius)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Record store haul: August 31, 2013

Set Fire to Flames – Sings Reign Rebuilder (2×LP, $5)

To be honest, I'm not really the biggest fan of Set Fire to Flames, although it's been a really long time since I listened to them. Less Godspeed post-rock and more field recordings and improvisational meanderings in strings and guitar. It has a really nice booklet inside, too, very reminiscent of the F♯A♯∞ CD booklet, with bizarre photos and semi-transparent pages.

324 – 冒涜の太陽 (LP, $6)

This was kind of an odd buy—I have only heard of 324 because they did a split with Corrupted and Discordance Axis. Usually the grindcore bands Corrupted does splits with are awful (maybe I just don't like Japanese grind?). This album is pretty decent, though; nothing groundbreaking, but definitely worth a spin or two.

Mouth of the Architect – The Ties That Blind (CD, $3)

Used Kids' metal CD section is usually pretty lame, with mallcore and hair metal that deserved to be sold back. There were, though, about five or six discs of what I'd consider "good", and this was probably the best of them. Mouth of the Architect never really got their due as one of the best "post-metal" bands of the 2000s, but at least I appreciate them. I'm even going to see them play tonight! It should be awesome. (And you can read about it here soon!)

Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening (CD, $5)

Normally I wouldn't have picked this up—my girlfriend already has it on tape—but this is some sort of special edition. It comes bound in a book of sorts, with a bunch of pages (like filing folders, get it?). The CD is in the first one, and the rest have tabs with the song titles and a lyric sheet stored in each. It's bulky and a bit goofy, but I think it's a pretty cool way to package the album.

Leftöver Crack – Mediocre Generica (CD, $5)

Anyone who's read my review of Fuck World Trade knows I'd jump at the opportunity to pick up their first album too, even if it's only on CD. It's not quite as good, as they hadn't perfected their sound just yet, but it's definitely still underrated and a great, raw album.

Leftöver Crack – Rock the 40 oz. (CD, $5)

And what did I find right next to it, but the final item needed to complete my Leftöver Crack collection! Their first two EPs and some demos on a compilation CD. It has surprisingly good quality for what it is, although I can't say I prefer these versions of these songs over those on Mediocre Generica and Fuck World Trade. Obviously still worth having if you're as big a fan as I am.

Robedoor / Leslie Keffer – Hooded Communion / Silver Bridge (LP, $8)

I just know this one was a mistake, and I haven't even listened to it yet. Noise/drone releases are always a crapshoot, especially splits, and there's always more bad than good. I don't even think I actually like Robedoor.

Curmudgeon – Human Ouroboros (7", $3)

I actually discovered this band about a week or two ago on Bandcamp, so it was a really surprising coincidence that this EP just so happened to be in the store. Raw, old-school powerviolence, and that's all you need to know. Good stuff (and free on Bandcamp, I think).

The Crimson Curse / The Festival of Dead Deer – Split (7", $2.5)

Half of the reason I got this was because it looked like some more sweet raw punk stuff. The other half was because it's a square record! How is that not cool? The music itself is a little average, but at least listenable. Lo-fi screamo on one side, weird mathcore on the other.

Molemen – Put Your Quarter Up (12", $4)

I'd never heard of Molemen before, but having two of my favorite rappers on one single (Aesop Rock and MF Doom) made this incredibly appealing. The A-side is actually a surprisingly good track, too—drawly boom bap about arcades or something like that. Considering Used Kids' hip hop section is always dismal at best, this was definitely a neat pickup.

Killing Joke – Sanity / Eighties (12", $2)

Okay I really only got this because my girlfriend likes to randomly sing "Eighties" now and again (who can blame her, really?). I have barely listened to any Killing Joke and the A-side isn't particularly good, but whatever.

And today instead of a sticker I got a button! Hooray!