Friday, February 28, 2014

Into It. Over It., The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, A Great Big Pile of Leaves, SRVVLST

February 27, 2014 • The Basement, Columbus, Ohio

The dreaded two-shows-in-a-row situation! Thank goodness for earplugs or I probably wouldn't be functional today.


I was pretty excited to see these guys again, as they put on a great show the first time around. I wasn't disappointed here; it was probably a better show, even (it helps that there were maybe two hundred people there instead of a dozen). Not much has changed for them since July, and they were still playing some of the same emo-math-rock material, but their performance skills have definitely gotten better since. Special props to the drummer who is amazing to watch, especially his seemingly-magical double-kick patterns he does with only one foot.
8Best Poster of a Tattooed Japanese Dude Award

A Great Big Pile of Leaves

I am of two minds about this set. One one hand, this band played well—their performance was good, nice energy and delivery, all that. On the other hand, I don't like their songs at all. It's pretty generic indie rock, more or less, the really happy-feel-good kind (they sound exactly like their name implies). Definitely not my type of thing, and I couldn't get invested in their music whatsoever. I guess there were plenty of people around who were big into them so it's just me. Oh well.
5Biggest Bros Award

The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die

The other band I came to see, and they didn't disappoint either. Admittedly, TWIaBP has a sound that I think works much better in the studio than it does on stage, as their huge, dense post-rock approach doesn't work quite as effectively when you're trying to cram everyone together into a live setting—especially when you have three guitars and lots of vocals to arrange (consequently, for example, the snyth was totally inaudible). But regardless they have the songs to make up for that, and they performed them well and I had a good time. They did a great job playing their newer material and the new spoken word / drone stuff was actually pretty neat, too. Definitely worth seeing.
8Most Vocalists (Seriously Five Is Too Many) Award

Into It. Over It.

I'd never heard this guy before either, so I went in without expectations; fortunately it turned out much better than the Leaves did. I was pleasantly surprised by this set, even though it too is normally not really my thing. Kind of an emo-pop-singer-songwriter-indie-rock mishmash; a good mix of soft intimate songs and louder, punkier ones, with some good songwriting across the board. It was a bit too vocal-heavy for me but I guess that comes with the territory (and there were plenty of good instrumental parts to make up for that). Not an artist I'd make too big of an effort to see again, but it was still a fine experience.
7He's Right, Red Velvet Is Bullshit Award

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Junius, A Storm of Light, Mockingbird

February 26, 2014 • Kobo Live, Columbus, Ohio

The number live shows I've been going to has been a bit disappointingly smaller than usual in the last few months. But I'm never opposed to going to a show where I've already seen the majority of the bands before (if I know they're good, anyway).


I've seen these guys before and I was more than happy to see them again; they put on a great show. This time was definitely better than the first, as well. I think that since then they must have gotten some new songs written and, if so, they are a sure step up from what they played last year. It's a very heavy and headbangin' doom-sludge hybrid with fantastic riffing. Still some bad mic technique, but that's okay. Good technical playing all around, too, especially with bass and drums. I don't know how much they get around, since they're from Akron and I guess still a bit "local", but they're totally worth checking out.
7Still the Best Mutton Chops Award

A Storm of Light

I've only heard a couple of this band's songs before so my expectations of how this set was going to go were a little off. Despite the fact that this band's frontman has been in at least three other bands I'm a fan of (Red Sparowes, Battle of Mice, and Neurosis), and that I really wanted to like them, I just couldn't get into this show at all. They play a kind of alt-sludge style with a nice, heavy, powerful sound, but the riffs and songwriting just seemed a bit boring to me. Neat visuals on the projector, though; that did add to the show in an interesting way.
5Most Pedals (Like Seriously, Your Bassist Does Not Need Ten) Award


Like Mockingbird, I think Junius has gotten even better since the first time I saw them. They've put out quite a bit of new material since then, and the new stuff is really quite good. They're still harping their melodic-atmospheric-post-rock-metal-Khoma-Rosetta style, which of course is great, but there are a few songs that really rock out in a unique way. I really need to check out their latest album and EP at some point. Although, I have to say that the use of incredibly bright audience-facing lights is, while neat, really annoying for anyone standing near the front. Probably contributed to half of my headache.
9Still Very Fine Beards Award

Bonus: I noticed someone taping the first two sets; if I ever find them up on YouTube I might post them here as well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Woods of Desolation – As the Stars

February 14, 2014 • Northern Silence Productions

I love Woods of Desolation's 2011 album Torn Beyond Reason; it's without question a black metal favorite of mine. As followups to fantastic albums usually go, I'm always prepared for disappointment, but fortunately that wasn't the case with As the Stars. While it's not quite up to their standards, it's still a worthy entry to their discography and a fine black metal record in its own right.

Arrangement-wise, the album draws on the many of the same stock formulas on their last album (and those of their contemporaries in the atmospheric black metal scene): dense walls of guitar, clean (and even twinkly) melodic passages, a taste for slower chugging sections. There isn't quite as much blasting here (I think) but the heavy guitar and tortured vocals keep things nice and dark. Interestingly, the songs are on the short side (mostly between four and six minutes), leaving the usual sprawling structures of the genre (and, to an extent, their last album) behind in favor of more fast-paced song progression (although still with a bit of excessive repetition). The riffing is that melancholic, depressive-yet-hopeful style that reminds me of early Alcest and the like, which they've done before and still works fine here. (Let's just hope they don't fall into the same sort of style dilution.)

The album's most noticeable flaw is a major one, though: the mixing. It leaves a lot to be desired as most of the album is absolutely drowning in that dense wall of guitar I mentioned, which has been distorted into a thick, piercing haze that leaves little room for the drums or vocals to pop out. I can see how they might have been going for a more wall-of-sound-like approach with this, as it would mesh with the dense approach to the songwriting, but it's bad enough to the point where it actually detracts from the experience more than just a little bit.

And that's unfortunate, because aside from that there really isn't much to complain about with this album. Yes, it's a bit formulaic and they're definitely not pushing the genre anywhere new, and As the Stars isn't on the same level as Torn Beyond Reason, an album I still listen to and enjoy now and again. But it's still good for a few spins.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ruined Families – Blank Language

March 11, 2013 • Adagio 830

More and more interesting punk bands have been making their way towards my inbox lately; the latest is Greek experimental hardcore group Ruined Families. While Blank Language's sound should be right up my alley, I'm not totally thrilled with them just yet, although this album is still an enjoyable experience.

Ruined Families has a pretty unique and interesting sound—while it's rooted somewhere in hardcore punk, there are quite a few many other things going on as well. It's incredibly noisy, dense, and sometimes atmospheric, with elements of crust and maybe even black metal with lots of dissonant guitar lines and intense blasting sections. The more standard melodic-punk riffs are very good and meld well with the more abrasive and noisy side of the band, resulting in an interesting contrast between the two conflicting aesthetics.

It's also an album that is a bit difficult to really get into, because of its sound. The songwriting is a bit complex (one might call it "progressive", even) and the songs tend to wander around a bit from riff to riff, making the album come off as a steady stream of hardcore aggression without much structure to it. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't; I'm not sure if it does here. It's not bad, but I never like when an album is hard to follow.

Blank Language is a good album—not a fantastic one, but definitely a good one, though it's somewhat niche. But I can tell that Ruined Families would doubtlessly be awesome to see play live, and I'll probably keep an eye out in case they ever make it out this way. In the meantime, if it sounds interesting, Blank Language is an album worth checking out.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

L'Orange – The Mad Writer

November 25, 2012 • Jakarta Records

I love few things more than picking out things to listen to almost randomly and being massively surprised by something great. In this case, I've been casually looking for noir-flavored hip hop ever since I heard MF Doom's Vaudeville Villain and haven't found anything good—until I stumbled on this unique and fantastic album by L'Orange.

No point in beating around the bush—the production on The Mad Writer is simply superb, some of the best I've heard in a long time. The beats seem to ultimately derive from the old east coast sampling style with a definite southern-hip-hop flair: simple, hard drums; jazzy piano and winds; smooth and soulful musical and vocal samples; reverb and vinyl crackle topping everything off. It's nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it is very well-arranged and is great at evoking various styles and moods of early 20th century America—not to mention catchy as hell.

A lot of the intrigue (at least for me) comes from the myriad of clips from old-time radio shows and films, giving the album a dark and intriguing atmosphere. I can't really say where most come from, but there are definitely quite a few from hard-boiled-detective dramas, which I've always thought go well with this kind of hip hop. In fact, I was so intrigued by some of these samples that I've started looking into golden-age radio shows and listening to a variety of the dramas and thrillers that were so popular from the '40s to the '60s. It's really great stuff. I don't think there are many albums (if any) that have helped me get into a whole new medium like that. So even if the music sucked (which it doesn't), there's still a positive coming out of this album for me.

The rapping is obviously playing second to the production, as it only shows up on three tracks. And unfortunately while what rapping does exist is well-performed, there isn't a whole lot to comment on and it seems like a lot of it exists just to take up space. I would rather see it go one way or the other—either focus on the production and don't let the rapping distract from it, or feature rapping over most of the album so it doesn't feel out-of-place when it shows up. I do really dig the singing on "Femme Fatale", though; it has a sort of underground-vocal-jazz style that fits in perfectly.

I'm definitely glad I found this album, and hopefully I can use it as a jumping-off point for finding more of the fabled noir-hop I've been looking for all this time. And I really hope there's more from L'Orange to dig through, too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Coma Regalia / Greyscale

July 30, 2013 • Middle-Man Records

I don't review a lot of splits, but the format has really grown on me over the years as a way to quickly get to know some interesting new bands, especially in a genre you want to explore more. So with that in mind, we have two great bands from Middle-Man Records that are pushing the boundaries of screamo in very cool ways that are worth a look.

Coma Regalia plays a fairly standard sort of noisy, banging screamo, with short, rapid-fire songs. They're noticeably more melodic and a bit milder than more traditional bands like Orchid, resulting in some very well fleshed-out riffs and even some catchy hooks to go along with some atonal, angular guitar lines. However, I think they could probably benefit from some longer arrangements; as decent as their songwriting currently is, their songs don't quite have the memorability and staying power as they could, since they're over so quickly. But the potential is definitely there and I am certainly enjoying their output here; they just need to string it into more powerful and lasting songs.

Greyscale is a bit similar to Coma Regalia, but with a somewhat more dreamy, almost-post-rock approach to the genre that butts heads with an aggressive tone. It's a really interesting combo I don't get enough of. There's some great intricate guitar work going on as well as song great arrangements, with solid buildup and tension release. I'm not totally sure that their big, expansive, murky sound really gels that well with the fast-paced and dense screamo songwriting, though, but if nothing else it's a cool experiment and I'd definitely like to hear more of it.

Both bands are really solid on this split and worth checking out.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sangharsha – Bayou

February 8, 2014 • Alerta Antifascista Records

I don't think that, before this week, I'd ever heard any music from Nepal before. It's not a country you really hear much about, especially when it comes to contemporary popular music. But of course it's always good to expand one's horizons. Sangharsha plays modern hardcore, and although there really isn't that much about them that sounds at all Nepalese to me, they're still definitely putting out some quality stuff.

Bayou was actually recorded in the United States with Converge's Kurt Ballou helping out, so the album is definitely Western-sounding and you can definitely feel a bit of the Converge sound in there. But Sangharsha is a band all their own; at its core Bayou probably falls under "crust punk"—they alternate between D-beat, blasting, and heavy, sludgy chugging sections. There isn't a whole lot in the way of technicality, but the riffs are plenty great as it stands; I especially love the breakdown sections like at the end of "Muslo". There is the occasional almost-post-rock-like bridge as well (see the longer tracks "Aseena" and "Kachuli") where their intense sound lets up temporarily, keeping things interesting and diverse, always a good thing.

It's a short album, but I think that is probably best—the quality doesn't let up throughout and I don't feel like there are any moments where the band coasts along on a dull riff or filler track. Short and sweet, like good punk should be. These guys are definitely on the right track with Bayou; I'm looking forward to hearing more from them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

You Blew It! – Keep Doing What You're Doing

January 14, 2014 • Topshelf Records

You Blew It! has never really been my favorite of the modern emo revival bands; my opinion of their previous album was a bit middling though I was excited to hear this one. However, I'm not sure if I'm as excited as I was on the first listen, though the album is definitely far from bad.

Sonically, there's really not a lot to say about this release. Compared to Grow Up, Dude, the twinkly-midwest elements have been toned down a lot for more standard distorted-guitar rock riffing—with a few nice exceptions—though with a similar level of aggression (that is, not a whole lot of it). Still, there are some great catchy bits like "Gray Matter" and "Award of the Year Award", and a lot of nice uplifting moments like "House Address and "Rock Springs". Though it's not particularly unique, I think the change in sound suits them well enough.

On the other hand, I can't help but feel that this album seems like a product of a band just kind of going through the motions (just how significant is that album title, anyway?). Comparatively speaking, there doesn't seem to be as much emotion and passion going on... not so say there's none (the last two tracks are nice standouts), but sometimes the band just feels a bit flat. For example, I feel like "You & Me & Me" could have been a great song, but it sounds like everyone had just woken up when they recorded it.

Then again, I have been saturating myself with music like this lately (and so has the scene in general, as it's been taking off), so I don't want to entirely blame You Blew It! for my lukewarm reception. They do have the misfortune of releasing this at the same time a bunch of other great records are coming out (like the new Sport), for what that's worth. But I still think this album could have been better. Again—it's not bad, not at all. Let's hope it's a step towards something great.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Behemoth – The Satanist

February 3, 2014 • Nuclear Blast

Behemoth is (yet another) one of those metal bands that I listened to a ton of around 2005–2007, but really fell out of my rotation after that in favor of some more appealing and niche death metal (it didn't help that I found their 2009 album Evangelion really boring and derivative). Even still, I kept interest in the band through the stories about Nergal's illness and recovery and figured I might as well give The Satanist a shot. And it was well worth it.

Although this album is still very much in line with their older stuff, it's a huge step forward in terms of sound and performance and shows the band finally stepping up out of their rut a little bit. Their particular brand of blackened death metal is as solid as ever, but it takes a couple interesting turns. Most notable is a bit of a slower, toned-down atmospheric sound on a few tracks (like "Messe Noire" and "The Satanist") that reminds me a lot of bands like Gojira (especially "The Satanist"). It fits in well with the rest of the album and adds a nice new contrasting aesthetic dimension to the music. Also worth a mention is the saxophone solo (of all things!) during the bridge near the beginning of "In the Absence ov Light"—completely out of left field, but also totally great to hear. There's a lot of neat little moments like that scattered around.

And I can't complain about their more traditional death metal writing, either; there's loads of great catchy riffs and blasts to keep things intense. As usual, there's a bit of simplistic repetition in a few songs like the basic riffing in "Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer" which is a bit less appealing to my tastes, but it's still not bad.

I know a lot of people are opposed to the glossy mix and over-production of their albums from the last ten-plus years, and that hasn't gone away; The Satanist is definitely far too slick that anything with that title ought to be. Personally, I never mind that sort of thing. In this case, it might help a bit since there's a lot of extra instrumentation going on—choirs, organ, strings, brass, etc. Also, the bass is mixed really prominently and has a great growly sound that cuts through really well, even on earbuds.

I still have a soft spot for Demigod (as that was the first of theirs I heard) but this one is probably going to take the number two spot in their discography for me. I'm not going to say The Satanist (or Demigod, for that matter) is some kind of death metal masterpiece that will be remembered as a classic for years to come, because it won't (they're too mainstream for that by now, ironically). It is, however, a reasonably good album that Behemoth should be proud to have to their name.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Locktender – Kafka

July 25, 2013 • Replenish Records

I have never really been much into screamo much, but lately (as my appreciation for other emo has increased, probably) I've found a few good releases that I've really enjoyed. It's taken a few listens for Locktender to really click, as does a lot of music like this, but this is one album that's definitely worth the time to get into.

Don't let my use of the word "screamo" put you off, though; this is a bit distant from the likes of pg.99 or Orchid. Kafka has quite a diverse output of styles on display; they're mostly derived from screamo in some way, but Often the music contains a very heavy, sludge-metal-like edge, while later veering wildly into a light post-rock aesthetic. The result is music that's often very dense and chaotic and a bit difficult to wrap one's head around, but, surprisingly, in a good way. Though there's a lot going on (especially on the two longer, proggier tracks), it is one of those albums that one can hear something new in it each time.

It helps that on the whole, Locktender has a really good sense of melody that they apply all over the place for a very affecting performance. The vocals are especially good in this regard—I love the contrast between the harsh and guttural screams on most of the album, and the melodicism and passion of the singing that accents it. The guitar and bass parts are, of course, doing their part as well, just in a way that's a bit harder to put into words.

And it's probably true that a big part of the reason I like Kafka so much is that I haven't heard anything quite like this album before—not that that's saying a lot, but still—and it's still pushing all the right buttons as far as what kind of stuff I've been really getting into lately. So consider this an enthusiastic recommendation if you're at all in tune with the kind of stuff I've been into lately.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alcest – Shelter

January 17, 2014 • Prophecy Productions

I used to be really into Alcest and I still consider their debut to be one of my favorite albums, but over the years I've slowly been losing interest in the band. It's almost definitely due to their shift in sound over the years, from a pioneering atmospheric black metal band to the dream-pop-shoegaze sound they have now. Shelter is just another step on that road, and while I won't say they're bad at what they do, they definitely aren't nearly as interesting to me as they used to be.

This is certainly their lightest and softest work to date—if this were the first Alcest album a person heard, they'd probably have a hard time believing they used to be black metal at all, as any traces of it that were on their last two albums have finally vanished. Niege's clean, melodic vocals are still quite well-done, though, and veering more into some kind of ambient pop style with soft inflection and lots of layering (I might be hearing some female vocals in there as well). The jangly guitar lines have a bit more post-rock influence, with lots of texture and reverb; there are some decent lead melodies though. Overall, their style really doesn't sound that bad, for what it is.

But I'd be lying if I said I really enjoyed Shelter that much. It's not that I resent them switching styles—plenty of bands pull that off just fine—it's just that I'm not really a shoegaze guy at all. I was already pretty iffy about Les voyages de l'âme, and finally on this one there's simply nothing for me. I know it's still Alcest and it still sounds vaguely like Alcest, but it doesn't feel like them anymore. I guess I'm just not part of their target audience anymore.

And really, that's fine. They can make whatever music they want, really. I'm simply not really qualified to talk about it anymore, nor am I really interested. And that's just the way things go sometimes.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sunn O))) & Ulver – Terrestrials

February 4, 2014 • Southern Lord Records

Sunn O))) and Ulver. One of my long-time dream collaborations. Technically they've recorded together before, for a bonus track on White1, but that hardly counts. So I've been looking forward to this album eagerly ever since I heard about it—after all, Sunn O)))'s recent material has been pretty spectacular, and Ulver's latest was amazing as well. It's not really that surprising that this collaboration turned out pretty good. Not fantastic, but pretty good.

What we get on Terrestrials is some kind of sprawling ambient drone, that somehow seems to perfectly encapsulate both band's styles and go well beyond what they normally do. "Let There Be Light" feels like an extension of Monoliths & Dimensions's "Alice": huge guitar drones, a triumphant brass section, and some skittery but cohesive drumming that glues them together. "Western Horn" is a bit more traditional Sunn O))), with guitar drones and some weird buzzing noisy bits (wait—maybe that's violin? I can't tell); a very weird track. "Eternal Return" has a bit of Garm's vocals on it, which is really cool to hear, as they go well with the more soothing and melodic tone of the track. Great strings and xylophone (or whatever it is... I really should be able to tell) on this one; definitely more of an Ulver vibe towards the end.

Unfortunately, it still falls a bit flat of my lofty expectations. It's a bit short at just 36 minutes (this is Sunn O))) we're talking about here, "drone" and "short" don't mix) and the tracks don't really feel like they really get anywhere. Granted, as I mentioned, the instrumentation and aesthetics are both well-done, but drone can be a bit more interesting and engaging than this.

Though that might have to do with the fact that this album was apparently recorded in a single improvisation session. Usually I hate it when bands do that, but I guess there is an exception for drone and ambient because it usually winds up at least half-decent anyway. You can't really tell that it's improvised. I'll still take the composed stuff first, thanks.

Sure, it's not quite as expansive and enveloping as either Monoliths & Dimensions or Messe I.X–VI.X, but I definitely still enjoy this album quite a bit. It's a collaboration that certainly works and has a lot of promise, and I'd very much like to hear them tackle something with a bit more purpose and effort. Even so, this is definitely not one to be missed by fans of either band.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Alaskan – Despair, Erosion, Loss

January 19, 2014 • Moment of Collapse Records

I'm happy that Alaskan seems to be doing well lately. I've been following them pretty much since they started out, and have yet to hear anything by them I didn't really like. If you've heard their last album Adversity; Woe, it's more or less the same as what you're getting here, and I can't say I'm at all disappointed.

Here on Despair, Erosion, Loss the band is still treading the same grounds as on their last album. Dirty, doomy sludge metal, long gloomy buildups, and a somewhat impenetrable sound. They seem to be upping the intensity on this album a bit, though. The songs seem a bit faster and more frantic than they used to be. Heavy pounding sections, technical riffing, and almost-black-metal blastbeats aren't too uncommon here. It's still a modern sludge record at heart, though, with post-hardcore influences seamlessly integrated, as has been the trend lately. It's worked well for them before, and it works well again.

However, also as with their last album, while I like their sound and aesthetic, the songwriting still doesn't grab me. There are some good, even catchy riffs and memorable parts scattered around, but not a lot that fuses into a cohesive whole. I feel like they're almost trying to do too many things at once and it's hard to really gel with what's going on. Maybe that's just me, though.

Still, I can't say this is a bad album—not by a long shot. At the very least, it's great for background music and there's still a lot to be gained from more attentive listening. I've been a bit disillusioned with a lot of the sludge metal that's come out in the last year or so and it's good to know there are still some bands making stuff I enjoy. And I hope they stick around and crank a few more albums out.

(pst this one's free too)