Friday, April 25, 2014

Humanity's Last Breath – Humanity's Last Breath

September 24, 2013 • Rogue Records

Djent is the kind of genre that you don't really expect to ever develop much, aside from blatant and uninteresting fusion with other genres that almost always wind up being awful. And so I haven't really listened to any of it much lately (aside from the newer Meshuggah albums, and then only a little bit, because they're really not that good anymore). Of course that leaves me with missing out on a lot, as it turns out. Not that Humanity's Last Breath is really bringing something phenomenal or super-innovative or anything—but they do make a pretty good album.

All the standards are here: grinding muted guitar riffs downtuned at least an octave (and no bass, I'm pretty sure), robotic polyrhythmic drumming, devastating growled vocals. Surprisingly, for a band employing a style that's largely repetitive (and based around repetition), these guys switch things up a lot and they manage to strike just the right balance between establishing a solid rhythm or guitar line and then moving around enough to keep the listener engaged. I still can't tell the individual songs apart, but I find that I can skip around to just about anywhere in the album and something interesting will be going on.

A good deal of the album sounds a little bit deathcore-ish as well (I guess there's that fusion thing I mentioned earlier), but they definitely do it much better than it could have been were they a bit sloppier about things. There are lots of interesting parts where the music is very sparse, with slowly-played drum lines and riffs that jump all over the place, which feels a inspired by deathcore breakdowns—though here it's definitely done a lot more tastefully. The atmosphere also manages to have this sort of spacey industrial feel to it, without there really being any industrial metal present; maybe it's the mixing.

I guess in at least that sense Humanity's Last Breath sounds quite a bit fresher than (say) Meshuggah, though I hesitate to recommend them to just anyone as their style is probably going to inherently turn away a lot of people. If that's the case it's a bit disappointing as I think they do a surprisingly good job at it; it could definitely have been a lot worse. There's just a lot of amazingly fun riffage to dig into, and if you can get into that, this album is definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Serpent Eater – Hyena

December 2013 • Alerta Antifascista

I think the sludgecore movement is slowly becoming one of my favorite things to happen to metal—a basis in dirty, heavy sludge metal, with extra speed and hardcore punk influence. Serpent Eater adds a healthy dose of grind, stoner, and black metal influence thrown in; not unusual, so it seems, but these guys layer in just about every extreme metal style they can think of on Hyena. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it sure does make for a unique and interesting experience.

For sure it's some of the most intense, heavy, and pounding music in its genre that I've heard—if the band isn't chugging along at a driving pace, it's spazzing out with skittering, chaotic drums and buzzsaw riffs. And boy, are there riffs—probably more riffs than they know what to do with; the songs are chock-full of interesting things for the band to do and they switch up rhythms and feel quite a bit, so things stay pretty fresh and there's a lot to hear just over the course of a single song.

And, of course, with so much going on that does leave the songs a bit difficult to follow sometimes, leaving the individual songs a bit less memorable than those of similar bands (unless that just means I haven't listened to this album enough yet, which is possible). But bits and pieces that manage to stick out make up for that, like one of "Last Cold World"'s ending riffs which has a great rhythmic pattern you just want to fist-pump along to.

I don't think these guys are going to make any top-sludgecore-albums lists I make in the near future, but Hyena is definitely worth listening to once you're worn out your Struck by Lightning records. Hopefully they keep it up, and maybe with a little bit more focus and honed songwriting we'll see something truly great from them in the future.

Monday, April 14, 2014

City of Heracleion – City of Heracleion

March 20, 2014 • Futurerecordings

Ah, post-rock—you are a strange thing indeed. Every time I dismiss the genre as old and boring and played-out, I find something different that puts a fresh spin on my perspective.

Which is kind of funny since City of Heracleion is a bit of a throwback to the days of long, suite-oriented pieces like Godspeed's first two albums: two long twenty-minute pieces focused on slow, extensive atmosphere-building and textural exploration. And they do a pretty good job at it, too; the soft-build-loud-soft-build-loud paradigm is milked pretty hard but they know where to put things and how they play off each other, along with some great melodies as well.

There aren't many surprises when it comes to the instrumentation, like the standard violin and cello, and why mess with a good thing? I'm not sure how I feel about some of the guitar, though; at a few points it's very heavy and distorted and cuts through the mix, and so feels a little bit overbearing and a bit out of place. On the other hand, the clean guitar sounds great, very spacey, without drowning the listener in layers of overdub or extraneous reverb. There's also a little bit of noisy, atonal synths to add a bit of an alien feel to the music, which is nice though I think it could be improved even more with some noise and/or sampling.

Okay yes, it's not the most compelling music of its kind and it may not be particularly original, but I think it does a really good job at what it sets out to do. And I don't mind a bit of throwback to old Godspeed (the music that made me fall in love with post-rock in the first place). It's great to put on and just kind of fade out to. I need to try to find more stuff like this to listen to.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Chewers – Chuckle Change and Also

October 11, 2013 • Cimmerian Shade Recordings

Imagine, for a moment, if Captain Beefheart was still around and decided to get together with The Residents to produce an album, and you'd have a pretty good idea of what The Chewers sound like.

I haven't yet been able to think of a more apt description of Chuckle Change and Also's sound: a sort of bizarre and unconventional bluesy rock that seems to have a vague idea of what music should sound like, but throws most of the rules out of the window. It's dissonant and seems random at first, but it's definitely very carefully composed and rehearsed music that doesn't sound amateur or sloppy at all (well, usually). The layers of bouncy, twangy guitar and weird effects can feel a bit daunting at first but it all works together pretty well.

The lyrics are surprisingly interesting, too: bite-sized bits of narrative poetry that feels vaguely disconnected from the real world but are often still very memorable.

It's obviously not for just anyone, but anyone remotely into Beefheart or The Residents will appreciate The Chewers. As for me, I find it a little difficult to take in all at once with twenty-two tracks (as short as they are) and it's not something I can listen to very often. But I like it and it's definitely worth listening to a few times; you don't hear music quite like this every day.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Indian – From All Purity

January 21, 2014 • Relapse Records

I haven't been as into sludge lately, as a lot of the stuff I've been finding over the last few years just doesn't appeal to me as much as it used to. But every once in a while I still find something phenomenal and worth commenting on. Lately it's been Indian's From All Purity, something quite different and fascinating.

Though when I call this sludge metal, that doesn't really paint the whole picture. This album is some of the most raw and abrasive sludge metal I've heard in a while—and I don't really mean that in a mixing / production sense; what I mean is that this music is goddamn furious. It doesn't just attack the listener; it sounds like it's trying to beat the listener's head into the sidewalk over and over, screaming all the way. I'm no masochist, but here it's something I can really get into.

And Indian is really good at it; when I listen to this album, I don't really hear songs: I just hear unbridled fury as dictated through tortured vocals, doomy guitar slams, and pounding drums. Sometimes I don't even notice when they slide into the pure noise track "Clarify", since its harshness fits in with the other music. The whole thing is oddly cathartic. I suppose that's why I enjoy it so much. It's especially odd since I usually dislike slow, plodding, seemingly-aimless doomy stuff, but here it is perfect.

It's still early, but From All Purity is shaping up to fall among the top sludge albums of this year. If you can handle the abuse, highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Super Hard Boys – Super Hard Boys

March 5, 2014 • self-released

I'm probably not the best person to tackle Super Hard Boys (oh my). This kind of hazy, psychedelic, stoner-garage rock isn't really the kind of thing I listen to on a normal basis, so forgive me if I don't overanalyze this album's musical structures and put it in some kind of metacultural context.

I don't even really like garage rock most of the time, finding a lot of it to be too derivative and simply boring to listen to. Now, I don't know if things have changed lately or if Super Hard Boys is just a lot better than most everything else I've heard. Although the standard pop structures and standard rock instrumentation form the backbone for all of the songs, there's a lot of interesting different things shoved into the songs to keep it fresh. An unexpected chord change or riff structure, some darker undertones, some surprisingly heavy riffs (e.g. "Autobahn"), and some interesting subversions like track times that range from seven minutes to less than one. Not to mention that it's actually quite a sexy album (if the track titles didn't tip you off)—"Business Time" especially.

Not that I love Super Hard Boys; it's still a genre I don't really care about and normally wouldn't give a second thought to. The songs are fine, no doubt, but not all of them are totally compelling to me, though it does have its share of good hooks and the longer, more progressive tracks (both "Flowers" and "Bloodshot Love") are very neat.

But for people who do like garage rock and don't mind a bit of the weirdness, they certainly aren't going to go wrong with this album. These guys are heading in the right direction for sure.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Castevet – Obsian

October 15, 2013 • Profound Lore Records

Today's review courtesy of New York black metal band Castevet (not to be confused with the other Castevet). I haven't followed them much, having just heard their early EP Stones/Salts, and while I won't say they're one of my favorite modern black metal bands, this album does stand up pretty well.

Based on what little of their other stuff I've heard (and compared to their contemporaries), Castevet's sound is slowly becoming more and more of a progressive sort of black metal—in a Gojira sort of way, not an Emperor sort of way, with some clean melodic sections clashing with heavy blasting and angular, polyrhythmic riffs. There's always a lot going on, and the song structures become somewhat fragmented and hard to follow as the band lurches from one section to the next. It's not really my favorite style of playing, but surprisingly (for me) they pull it off well a lot of the time, in no small thanks to some very strong riffs and rhythms.

but there's no denying that they still have a good aesthetic and they sound great here. Special mention goes to some really great plucky bass playing, which carries a lot of the songs when the guitar goes off on some weird tangent or has a cool alternate melody like the end of "The Curve". I also especially like the folky guitar interwoven into some sections, like the end of "Cavernous", which adds a neat, unexpected new dimension to the music.

Obsian is definitely not an album for everyone, but it takes black metal in a new direction and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Hopefully their next release will be an improvement on what they've done here.