Friday, May 30, 2014

Floor – Oblation

April 25, 2014 • Season of Mist

Not much has changed for Floor since their breakup ten years ago, and you could say that's both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, their signature melodic-doom style is still as crushing and majestic as it's ever been and they're still quite fun to listen to. On the other hand, there's nothing new going on at all here—nothing that we haven't heard on other Floor or Torche albums.

In fact it wouldn't be inappropriate to think of Oblation as just "the next Torche album". You have a lot of the faster-tempo almost-stoner-rock-like songs that wouldn't be out of place on Harmonicraft combined with the low grinding chug-a-thon of Floor's older material. They are still making liberal use of their ultra-detuned guitars for those sweet distorted bass drops or whatever they are, so that's good to hear.

But none of the songs really stand out to me as being particularly interesting or exceptionally well-written or catchy or memorable. The riffs mostly seem like a kind of jumbled mess of notes that technically go together but aren't organized in any meaningful way. The album just kind of flies by with nothing to say as it goes.

I'm not saying it's bad; I like listening to it on some level and don't find myself wanting to shut it off or anything like that. It's just that it's probably best relegated to background music because there's not really a lot worth paying attention to. Stick with their well-established classic albums (Meanderthal and Floor). But, if you get a chance to check them out live (as I did last year), that is definitely worth it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

N. Tesla – Lux Manifesto

February 20, 2014 • Lost Memories Records

I don't really listen to a lot of Russian metal—it's often either hard to find or not very good. But it's even better when a band recommends themselves to you and then turn out to be really good. And it's even better when they turn out to be really good, as was the case with this album.

N. Tesla is firmly in the classic atmospheric sludge camp (points from me right off the bat), with a sound that wouldn't sound out of place last decade but still doesn't sound dated. The riffs are the sort that are very archetypal for sludge simple—just a few notes, steadfastly chugging along, nothing too technical apart from some great stop-start rhythms—but still manage to be crushingly heavy. I guess simplicity really can be the best thing, when you can do it this effectively. There are also plenty of softer bridges with clean guitars that do a great job of breaking up the music and keep the songs progressing. I get a bit of a Swallow the Ocean or Seven Nautical Miles vibe, which is great as that is still one of my favorite kinds of sludge (too bad they didn't keep up the maritime theme; oh well).

The band definitely brings their own unique flair to the music, though, and they do plenty to shake up the standard. They manage to get a little psychedelic at times with some interesting guitar layering and effects, culminating in the freak-out noise interlude that is "Megalodon". There's even a bit of interesting folk influence, at least in some of the intermediate sections like the first track, along with this neat little jazzy section in "Determination of Giants". Despite it sounding a bit weird written down, it all fuses up and works together very well. These guys really know what they're doing, and they're doing an excellent job at it.

It's not often I say this, but I'm having a really tough time thinking of anything about Lux Manifesto I don't like. If anything, the riff style maybe gets a tiny bit repetitive about two-thirds in, but though some might have a problem with it, I certainly don't; there's definitely enough of other styles on here to keep me listening. It's as if they knew exactly what I like in my sludge metal and tailored this album just to my tastes. Fantastic stuff, and definitely a band I'm going to keep an eye on.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Agalloch – The Serpent & the Sphere

May 13, 2014 • Profound Lore Records

Fifteen-year-old me would have been so excited right now. I don't really follow Agalloch anymore so I didn't realize this album was coming out until after it was released. It's good that I didn't actually get hyped for it because as it turns out there's nothing to get excited about on The Serpent & the Sphere.

Straight off the bat I realized that the band has somehow taken a step backward, and this is just another plain old Agalloch album. It sounds like a band just going through the motions instead of trying to actually innovate within their sound, which is weird considering that their last album Marrow of the Spirit was kind of a departure with the extra black metal influence instead of their usual folky doom. I thought they would build on that more, but there's really only one section (on "Celestial Effigy") that you could argue is black metal at all. Most of the music here is more like The Mantle in terms of sound, surprisingly enough; we're back to more acoustic guitars (and I mean lots of acoustic guitars) and slow doomy rock (let's be fair—there's some fast doomy rock too). But nothing particularly interesting happens, for the most part. There are a couple pretty good rockin' sections like the main riff of "The Astral Dialogue", but overall there isn't anything that really stands out in particular as being especially exciting if you've heard their older stuff.

No, it's not horrible; I didn't hate my time with this album and there was a good handful of parts of it I enjoyed. It's just that if it had come out maybe six years ago, when The Mantle was still one of my favorite albums, I'd've been a lot more receptive to The Serpent & the Sphere. But today it does nothing for me. Obviously that has a lot to do with my changing tastes in metal; there's loads of recent music like them that's way more interesting anyway and even that aside there's just no reason to when just about all of their other albums are better. While this album did grow on me a little on the second listen, it wasn't enough; I don't really see myself ever spinning this one again. At least, not for a while. Current fans will probably still get a kick out of it, though; it's just unfortunate that I don't really count myself among them anymore.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Puig Destroyer – Wait for Spring

November 19, 2013 • self-released

Grab your ballcaps and gloves, kids—it's opening day.

Puig Destroyer is essentially a baseball-themed grind band in the vein of Pig Destroyer (big surprise), which should be enough to tickle one's fancy. They're a bit rawer than Pig Destroyer themselves but have a pretty similar style otherwise, with maybe a bit of Agoraphobic Nosebleed influence here and there; more on the punk side of grindcore than the metal side but still very abrasive.

I heard their first EP some time ago and though I don't have it in front of me to reference, Wait for Spring is pretty much on par with what I remember (apologies for more references to sports than is probably healthy). Not a lot has changed since, although there's quite a bit more downtuned, filthy production and some slow sludgy sections to break up the blasting. Unfortunately (like the first EP) it feels like it's over before it even starts, but I guess that's grind for you.

Anyway there's really no reason not to check this out—these guys are still good and their music is still free. Keep catching those fly balls, and stop fucking bunting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ulcerate, Inter Arma, Locusta, FaithXtractor

May 18, 2014 • Carabar, Columbus, Ohio

Finally! It's been, what, three months since I've been to a show? Anyway, earlier I said that while death metal may not be the best kind of metal, it's probably the best kind to see played live. Slowly, data point by data point, I am confirming this to be true.


With a silly name like this I had low expectations for FaithXtractor, but I'm happy to report that I was dead wrong. These guys were great. They played a sort of classic-ish death metal but in a way that's definitely an improvement over a lot of the boring old stuff I've heard. Straightforward and powerful riffage, great chugging rhythms, non-stop brutality. Nothing particularly flashy or fancy, but they get the job done—and, after all, sometimes the simpler things in life are best. Worth checking out; I picked up their CD and I'm glad I did.
8Gnarliest Bass Tone Award


I first saw Locusta back in September and was blown away, so I was pumped to see them play again. And I have to say that they absolutely killed it—even better than last time. I don't know if any of the material they played was new (familiarity with songs always makes them more enjoyable) but it says something when their Death cover was the weakest in the set. They had the same mixing problems as before (low bass and vocals) but it didn't matter much to me; their songs are simply made for the stage and impossible not to slam along to.
9Best Private Services in the Bathroom Award

Inter Arma

So this was the third time seeing Inter Arma (second time here). And nothing has changed since then. Their music doesn't lend itself well to a live show at all (and it's not that good to begin with anymore anyway). Their show has turned into a big series of noodling, fills, and walls of atonal garbage that just go on and on forever. It felt like they barely played any music (and it seemed like most of the time there were more heads banging on stage than in the crowd). I mean, I guess they perform well, but you'd better be really sure that you love their stuff before you make the trip.
4Best Time to Grab Some Merch Award


Like Inter Arma, Ulcerate's material doesn't really translate well to the stage. Unlike Inter Arma, though, Ulcerate is pretty good in the studio so they definitely put on a more enjoyable show. It's just unfortunate that their style of death metal becomes this sort of chaotic, atonal, messy wall of sound that's hard to follow. The older stuff, which is a bit more rhythmic, fared better, and overall it was a pretty cool show to see. Side note: There comes a point in every person's life when they realize they have too many drums. That point is before you reach two hi hats. At least, it should be.
6Biggest Silly Headphones Award

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ben Frost – A U R O R A

May 26, 2014 • Bedroom Community

Ben Frost is one of those musicians that I sometimes forget about and don't really like to discuss, even though the music is definitely up my alley. It's not that this album isn't good—far from it—it's just the kind of thing that's so difficult to describe and have the description be useful, especially if the reader hasn't heard anything similar before. But it's still something very much worth experiencing.

I guess the best I can do for now is that A U R O R A falls under this kind of widely-scoped pseudogenre one might just call "soundscape"—it's vaguely electronic, vaguely industrial, vaguely ambient-drone-ish, and there's a few more traditional influences thrown around as well (a bit of rock, a bit of classical, etc.). Something like Tim Hecker's recent album comes to mind. Frost's music is much more rhythmic, though, and there are plenty of beat-based tracks with actual melodies and maybe what you could even call hooks, barely—though we are still very, very far from "traditional" music. Most of the music is structured around clanging, harsh, abstract noise, plenty of samples, and some synthesizers but it's hard to generalize since each track is pretty different from the rest. The recurring tubular bells are a very nice touch, though.

It's a bit reminiscent of a soundtrack in a few ways, having this sort of expressive imagery to it that feels very abstract but also somewhat meaningful, though any perceived meaning is of course very subjective. (Granted, Frost does do quite a few actual soundtracks, so this shouldn't be surprising.) To me, at least, it has this sort of grand and cinematic feeling without there really being that much going on under the surface—just a very carefully-composed set of sounds and occasional melodies. On the other hand, the same thing happens here that happens with a lot of albums that are very abstract: without a lot of context for the music, one can easily get lost or distracted and lose interest in what's going on. That usually happens to me about two-thirds of the way through this album (on the relatively-dull "Sola Fide").

But while I'm not sure I'm as enthralled with this album as I was by the other one by him I've heard, By the Throat, it's definitely up there in the same league. I feel like Frost is getting soundscaping down to a science and honing his style, so where By the Throat was a bit rawer and messier, this one is more refined and streamlined. Not that that's a bad thing, by any means; I'm liking A U R O R A quite a bit overall, although I think it's going to take a few more listens to fully sink in.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Solid Space – Space Museum

1982 • In Phaze Records

Solid Space is some relatively-obscure minimal wave outfit from the '80s who put out this album and then apparently disappeared. I suppose people have been discovering them lately, and I'm glad for that, because this is a fantastic album that definitely isn't getting all the appreciation it deserves.

Despite sounding very much like a generic lo-fi amateur proto-electronic Kraftwerk-wannabe record on the surface (it's almost as if first track is in there to weed out anyone who might be too dismissive), Space Museum is something more like a post-punk album that happens to often be synth-driven instead of guitar-driven. There's a bit of Joy Division and Talking Heads in there, so it will mostly sound pretty at-home for the average fan of this era of music, including the great pop-ish melodies in the vocals and chord progressions.

One of the best parts of the album is how it combines electronic and acoustic instruments in a brilliant and beautiful way, something you don't hear often in anything from this era. Things like acoustic guitars and bass, real drums, saxophone, and clarinet (O lord! that clarinet!) mesh perfectly with the sweeping oscillators and glitchy drums. It gives it a surprisingly organic feel to it, as these guys really know what instruments sound good together regardless of whether they are a traditional "fit" or not; these were some truly talented musicians.

Though this got a limited re-release a couple years ago, it is probably going to be hard to find a physical copy of; regardless, this is an album I highly recommend seeking out if it sounds even remotely interesting. Well-composed, well-executed, and worthy of attention. It's too bad they never made anything else, though.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Gridlink – Longhena

February 19, 2014 • Selfmadegod Records

Third albums are always interesting in the average bands' life cycle. You have the brilliant debut, the oft-disappointing and samey second effort, and then the stylistically-different third release that determines whether the band lives or dies. Okay so in this case Gridlink's second album was perfectly fine, and I'm happy to report that with their third effort the band's future is looking good.

Most noticeably, Gridlink seems to be bringing grind to a new level of technicality, if that was even possible for a band already famous for just that. Longhena is all about rapid stop-start riffs, wild lead guitar lines, crazy drum fills. There's less sheer brutality—not to say the album isn't brutal, because it definitely is—but Gridlink seems to have shifted focus a bit to seeing just how far they can push their playing abilities and grindcore's boundaries.

And it's about time, too; not that I ever found the genre to get too stagnant, but it's rare to see any grind band step too far out of line. But here we have string quartets and some clean guitar ("Thirst Watcher"), a couple different vocal styles, layers of tremolo picking, shades of death metal, a few major-key riffs... there's so much going on. For a band that played things relatively straight and simple on their first two releases, this one comes as a bit of a surprise the first time around.

But it's a welcome surprise, for sure; like I said grindcore isn't a genre that we see a lot of experimentation in. Compared to metal in general, Longhena really isn't that experimental at all, but it's very satisfying to hear Gridlink evolving in this way. Even though I've stepped a little bit away from grindcore lately, I'm glad I have Gridlink to come back around and remind me just how fun and exciting it can be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Stamp – Stamp

February 3, 2014 • self-released

Another weird Bandcamp find today; I was trying to find some decent drum and bass to listen to and somehow I found Stamp instead. I think I got a bit more than I bargained for, as there's a lot of weird stuff going on on this album and I'm not entirely sure if I like it. I think I do, though, at least most of it.

It's an electronic-oriented album for sure, for whatever that's worth, though I think it leans a lot more towards trip hop than DnB (though there is a bit of that), but there's also quite a bit of rock influence, at least in some of the instrumental arrangements and drum patterns, and some softer jazzy-pop tracks as well. On the whole there's a plethora of interesting samples and a large array of melodic voices, including a huge amount of acoustic instruments (piano, guitar, saxophone, melodic percussion) that gives it a very organic feel, a trend in more modern electronic music that I really enjoy.

The songs don't quite find the right balance between progression vs. stale repetition, so there are more than a few places where I find myself just waiting for the current track to be over. I thought the vocals on a few tracks would help, but I don't think they really fit the music very well; they make the album seem a bit too silly (especially that stupid hook in "Desert City", which is a shame because that's otherwise one of the better tracks). Well, except for "Telluric Blaze", perhaps, a great melancholy ballad-type track.

Then again, Stamp treads a bit out of my normal comfort zone, so if it's actually a totally boring and unoriginal album I don't really know. But it does have a lot of interesting things to find hidden in it and I am pretty sure that I'm enjoying a good majority of it. It's nowhere near perfect, and there's quite a bit that's skippable, but it's still worth checking out.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Merzbow – ZaRa

2010 • Licht-ung

I barely listen to noise much anymore, unfortunately, even Merzbow, whose albums take up a significant chunk of my library. ZaRa came out a few years ago and I'm really only getting to it now; that could be because the big M simply hasn't put out much particularly interesting in the last few years, or it could just be my changing tastes. Listening to this album with an essentially clean palate when it comes to Merzbow is kind of a weird experience; I've lost a lot of the framework by which I decide what makes a good noise album and what doesn't. So the fact that I'm not sure if I'm enjoying ZaRa might not really mean anything at all.

It's relatively standard for Merzbow, mostly on the boundary between "harsh noise" and "non-harsh noise". "Za" focuses on mutilating a sample of a guitar (or bass?) while "Ra" is mostly layers and layers of wave oscillators and glitches and rapidly-panning static. It's more of an exploration of how badly one can cut up and process samples before they become unrecognizable that they were even samples in the first place. The layering sometimes gets really out-of-hand, sometimes amping up into a total assault of a dozen things going on at once (especially in "Ra"), although for the most part it still sounds pretty clean and usually everything is quite audible. It's tastefully-arranged, too; there's enough dynamics and change in aesthetics enough to keep it from getting too boring. There's not a lot of epic soundscaping here, not that I expected it, but I was surprised by the intermittent bits of drumming (I had forgotten that Akita had become big into adding his own drumming recordings into his noise). On the whole, though, it is maybe a little silly and not particularly deep or insightful (inasmuch as noise can get).

But it's alright. I've heard great Merz albums and horrible Merz albums, and this probably falls somewhere in the middle. Not one to worry about if you're not already a fan, but not a waste of your time for the more intense fans like I was. Though occasionally dipping back into albums like this is good for a bit of a nostalgia trip back to when I listened to this kind of thing almost every day (okay that was only a few years ago, but still...).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Separatist – Closure

February 2014 • self-released

I haven't really gotten tired of black metal yet, but lately I've been thinking that maybe death metal is where it's at. I've been starting to dig and discover a bit more recently, and of course there's plenty of good stuff to be had. I'm not sure if Separatist is a good representation of where the genre has been lately and where it's going, but Closure is (if nothing else) a real experience.

It's some very interesting death metal, highly technical yet still the sort of technicality that allows for some really brutal sounds. It's almost grindcore-like at times, but aesthetically it's very definitely death metal. Blasting, double kicks, some tremolo picking and some nasty grinding riffage. There's even the occasional black metal sound once in a while. Not to mention some progressive-like sections with clean singing as well—yes, it's true! It kind of shocked me the first time around; how often do you hear clean vocals in death metal (at least, the kind that doesn't entirely lend itself to that style like Gojira)? Yeah, not often.

And that's all just in the first track.

Yes, after a while it does spiral into the sort of incomprehensible trip through a lightning-fast changeup of sections and styles; Closure is a hugely dense album and there's simply so much going on at any point that it's very difficult to ride along with it much of the time. More established death metal veterans will probably have an easier time with it than I did, of course. That doesn't mean there aren't a lot of great ear-catching rhythms to anchor onto now and again ("Carrier" has a good selection, for one). Maybe it's just one of those albums that's best in small doses.

I haven't heard too much modern death metal that isn't horribly derivative or boring, but Separatist is doing something right (as bizarre as it can get). Recommended if you can stomach the sheer brutality.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Murmur – Murmur

January 17, 2014 • Underground Activists

Another attempt to find good black metal on Bandcamp, and another failure. The ability of the average band to know whether it's black metal or not is quite disappointing. Okay, so at least in Murmur's case there are more than a few hints of the sound, but for the most part I'd just call them avant-garde (referring to the genre—bands like Unexpect or maybe Frantic Bleep), something I don't care much for, so my experience (and this review) turned out a bit differently than I'd hoped.

Now, as far as being a metal band in general is concerned, Murmur really isn't bad by any means. The technical ability is there for sure (the apparent sloppiness is a result of bizarre rhythms and often-inappropriate speed) and there are riffs aplenty—some of which are admittedly quite good, especially the softer (yet still sinister) ones like the middle of "Al-Malik".

But the songwriting loses me pretty quickly. It sounds like the band has a good idea of what metal is and what it should sound like, but can't focus on any single thing longer than thirty seconds and ultimately don't seem like they really know what they want to do. It's like they were putting together a jigsaw puzzle but put half of the pieces in the wrong places, and some of them were from a different set entirely (like, what the heck is "Recverdos" doing here?).

That being said, Murmur isn't awful. I'm not really into this sort of avant-garde metal so there simply isn't much here that is appealing to me. Maybe part of my disappointment comes from the false advertising; I can't say for sure. Hopefully someone reading this review might enjoy the album more than I did.