Leviathan – Scar Sighted Review

Leviathan is the solo black metal project of Jef Whitehead (Wrest). Leviathan has been around for a long time. The earliest demos date back to 1998, but it has been 4 years since the last full album release.

The album opens with some ambient sounds then kicks into a fast-paced second track. The overall sound reminds me a lot of Ulcerate and Converge with the types of dissonance, pacing, and tone. This goes away in the middle with much more dissonance and even some creepy spoken word parts.

The next track fills out the sound and presses forward in momentum. In terms of the flow of the album, the whole first part seems to build to this climactic track. The harmonic motion speeds up and is more traditional. The track is riff heavy which also contributes to the climax.

The album then settles back into a quieter section at the start of the fourth track. This is one of the great things about this album: it has an album-long view of development. There are loud songs, quieter songs, fast songs, slow songs, and they are put together in a way that keeps the listener interested.

Don’t be fooled by the quiet start. This track is the first where the experimental stuff takes the lead. It is highly dissonant with some quarter tone style dissonance and altered spoken word vocals. These sections lead into a very clean guitar duo exit.

The fifth track returns to a traditional black metal sound in terms of tone, pace, and vocals. This track feels a bit static to me, which of course a lot of the best black metal is, but the repetition of a fairly uninteresting chord progression doesn’t transport me anywhere like much great black metal does.

This album’s strong suit is when it is at its most experimental, dissonant ugliness or in the fast-paced intensity. Wrest knows how to create a raw intensity through the fast-paced chaos, and he knows how to create disturbing non-traditional soundscapes and ambient moments.

The in-between moments are perfectly fine and as stated before, the overall ebb and flow of the album is well-designed, so those quieter or slower songs are useful. But the lack of a compelling progression, melody, or atmosphere hampers the effectiveness.

When this is great, it is mind-blowing in its twisted vision. It hits that experimental sweet spot: black metal with brief moments of experimentation to deepen it. When this is not great, it is still very good.

There is a lot to absorb here. The album is full of meticulously placed complicated detail. I have to be in the right frame of mind for it, but I still haven’t grown tired of it yet. Overall, I give it a 9/10. Here’s a sample:

vod – ᑑᕐᖓᐃᑦ (Tuurngait) Reviewed

ᑑᕐᖓᐃᑦ is the debut album of vod, the solo project of bassist Dave Trembley. For full disclosure, he is a co-founder of Can This Even Be Called Music?, which I read a lot, but I have no personal relationship with him.

Over the past two weeks, as I’ve listened to this, I’ve come away with some mixed feelings. The first thing I noticed was its sparseness. The album makes good use of atmospheric sounds, space, and repetition. But these things in combination with being only drum and bass made the album feel thin somehow. The sound has grown on me quite a bit, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I think my hesitancy at first came from the lack of familiarity. It is definitely a unique sound.

Part of the brilliance of this album is that it can make very simple things interesting. The first track can be seen as development of a single pulsing note. In fact, this is much of the 11+ minutes of the song. Yet the rhythmic complexities that develop, and the other riff that eventually makes an appearance have the ability to capture your attention for the whole song. It also builds into some fairly intense moments.

The album claims Tool as an influence, which I hear, but I think the band that most matches the essence of vod is Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin. They are not as heavy but similarly set up minimalistic rhythmic patterns which can lure the listener into a zen-like trance.

I think this is where the album succeeds the most. I can really get into the grooves which morph and change subtly all over the place in unexpected ways. It still surprises me that the parts of such extreme repetition are the parts I like the most. I also think the very few, brief moments of trumpet succeed wildly. The album is very uniform in tone, and those trumpet sections provide a nice change in timbre.

I actually wish there was a lot more of it. Those quiet trumpet noodles fit the context of the album well (and the last track provides a glimpse of what the album could be with extended sections of it). The album takes several listens to start to grasp just how much care and detail were dropped into these patterns and to hear the layering that keeps them interesting.

It pains me to say it, but the parts where the album breaks out of these patterns into heavier parts or climactic parts feels off. I see their necessity, because without them, it would probably be too much repetition to the point of tedium. On the other hand, they feel a bit weak or thin or contrived. It’s hard to articulate exactly what feels off to me. It’s also not all of them, because some of them really build into a big, heavy climax that works (for example, parts of the fifth and seventh track).

Maybe it is when too much is done with the drum programming. Simple is better, and when the drum pattern gets to be a bit much, you can almost feel the programming which pulls you out of the experience. Maybe the cleanness feels sterile.

Overall, this is a solid and unique album. I highly recommend it to someone who is interested in what I said about the rhythmic and repetitive aspects. I also have reservations, because there are parts I could leave. The trumpet teases me and leaves me wanting more. I’ve enjoyed my time with it and welcome the departure from how unoriginal many bands have become. I’ll give it a 7.5/10.

It officially releases April 9, but samples can be heard at bandcamp:

Kjeld – Skym Review

Kjeld is a Dutch black metal band, and their debut full-length release is Skym. This was a recommendation to me back when I requested good current black metal to listen to. This definitely scratched that itch. I wanted to review this last week, but felt uncomfortable with certain aspects of the album. These have resolved themselves over another week of listening.

It opens with a down-tempo heavy hitting pulse as it introduces the first riff, but in almost no time the song breaks into fast-paced old school black metal. The dense wall of sound can be overwhelming on a first listen, so I tend to start parsing it with tonality and chords, which hit you all at once. This part of the music immediately drew me in.

Kjeld use a lot of sustained non-chord tones which adds interesting dissonance to the texture of the underlying chord progression. Sometimes these come directly from the guitar, but most of the time there are other sounds incorporated: faint background vocals or synthetic horns or other (I assume they are mostly electronically produced, which gives the sound a nice retro feel at parts).

This album has a semi-traditional form for the chord progressions. Each song has clear, repeated progressions which pull back towards the dominant chord in a traditional manner. But overall, the progression itself meanders to all sorts of unexpected places breaking with a classic progression.

This is, of course, in some sense a defining feature of black metal, but it is nice to hear it done so well. Kjeld proves you can use all sorts of interesting non-traditional chords and dissonance, yet still have a distinctive direction back to the dominant.

The album itself has a lot of repetition, but in a good way. The songs are built around a few riffs that get repeated in various tempos and styles. They have a solid melodic sense for the original riff, and then develop the melody in interesting ways.

For example, “Us Grun” introduces a countermelody at one point. “Stoarm” takes a common idea and develops two distinct melodies out of it for the different sections. The song shifts through more sections than I can count off the top of my head with this common theme throughout and builds up to a full climax.

You may be thinking: so they are good on paper, but no one listens to black metal for these reasons. Is it any good as black metal? Well, I’m loving it so far. It can be cold and terrifying at times, but almost uplifting and epic at others.

There is a consistent raw and visceral feel throughout. The production is high and polished which might turn some really old school purists off, but it works here. They also have a lot of depth to their sound rather than the thinner treble of some older bands in the genre (which is why I think more polish is necessary here).

Overall, I’ll give this a 9/10. I often don’t listen too much after reviewing something, but this will stay in rotation awhile. It’s only March, and I have more that I like this year than half-way through last.

I can’t tell if this is only on pre-order or if it actually released (it is officially out in Google music which is what I use). A full stream can be found through Decibel, so I assume that was a legal leak. Check it out:

Decibel Stream of Kjeld-Skym

What I’m Listening To

I don’t feel ready to review anything right now, so I thought I’d do a quick post with what I’m listening to and see if you all had any suggestions for future reviews (I know I still have that list from before, but it is mostly stuff that is pretty old).

Black Metal: Söngvar elds og óreiðu by Misþyrming. This is an Icelandic band, and I’m liking it. There are quiet atmospheric sections and old school Celtic Frost inspired sections.

Death Metal: The Heart of the Netherworld. This is the new album from the Finnish band Desolate Shrine. I’m having a difficult time getting into this one.

Non-metal:

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. The Fifth, Ninth, and maybe the First get all the attention in music schools. I had never listened to the Sixth until a few weeks ago. This is an under-appreciated masterpiece.

Ys by Joanna Newsom. For a while, I thought this was the greatest masterpiece my generation would see. I hadn’t listened to it in years and wondered how it stood up. It stays in my top 5 albums of all time for sure. If you can get past the few times the vocals squeak (which many can’t), you’ll find shocking depth. These are through composed, complicated, ancient bard-style harp and vocal stories told through metaphor.

Recent pick-ups: Sylosis’ Dormant Heart. I was hopeful based on the reviews. After the first listen, not so much. I won’t give up on it yet.

For some reason, I’m going through a black metal phase. Anyone know any bands producing great black metal?

Periphery’s Juggernaut Double LP Reviewed

For full disclosure, I’m coming at this album from someone who gave their last album a 10/10 and declared it album of the year in 2012. I meant to go back and listen to it again before writing this to see how I feel about it now.

The album opens with clean vocals singing a melody and lyrics that will come back across the whole 80 minute ordeal. The song does well to introduce a tone and the theme. The second track already gets into some of the issues that recur with this album.

The style shifts dramatically to lots of chugging djent. I will grant them that when this happens at various points in the album, it is fairly short (a couple minutes max). I know there are people that are really into this type of thing, but I can’t fathom why a band that is so good at composing intricate, interesting music has to resort to it.

This second track and many after pick a single low bass note, then play it loud and rhythmically over and over and over (in some cases they change octaves, but that is still the same note). They try to make it more interesting with some Dillenger-esque technical, dissonant guitar work.

In some sense, this is what you do if you need filler, but this album is already 80 minutes long! If we cut this fat, we’re left with a perfectly respectable length album that is excellent.

The third track changes drastically again. It is the type of thing that made me love the first album. Stylistically, it might be considered hardcore or alternative. The song has a slow build to a nice climax with a jazzy guitar solo that doesn’t get too caught up in itself. The song works and gets the job done. It would make an excellent second track.

Overall, these are the pieces that make this double LP. Periphery showcase their excellent songwriting by bringing back themes, deconstructing them, and developing them in different styles across the whole album. When they are on, this album is truly brilliant.

Unfortunately, they are only on about 70% of the time. A painful part of the artistic process is the cutting block. But the ability to see parts of what you write as inessential and cutting them is vital to an excellent end product. The album doesn’t suffer from being too long (Mahler wrote 100 minute symphonies). It suffers from being unnecessarily long.

Overall, I want to love this, but I just can’t. I can’t dislike it too much either, because it has great moments. I’ll give it a 7/10. If you liked Periphery II, you’ll probably like this. If my negatives don’t sound bad to you, you might even love this. Here’s a sample:

6:33’s Deadly Scenes Reviewed

I reviewed 6:33’s The Stench from the Swelling two years ago. I had a lot of fun with it. 6:33 write fun/funny music that combines swing, dance, metal, carnival, and Patton-esque vocal technique.

I was pretty excited to hear this when I heard it came out, because I think they are quite good at what they do. I think we should start by explaining that a little better. Lots of reviews of this band point out that they are derivative of Diablo Swing Orchestra, uneXpect, and Mr. Bungle among others and then claim the album is bad because of this.

I think this sort of misses the point. The band is trying to make a certain type of entertaining music that happens to fall in a line of influence from these bands. The album still has to be evaluated on whether it is successful in doing this.

I have to stick to my guns on this one. This band is extremely good at what they do. They can set up some hard hitting grooves and put together fun songs full of twists and turns. Everything locks into place tightly, and they can create long, suspenseful builds and then deliver on the climax.

The songs are intricately constructed, so you can continue to find all sorts of hidden gems on repeated listens. The styles are all over the place, and just when you think they can’t do something different they throw something that could fit in a “wild west” movie soundtrack.

Let’s move on to some bad aspects. The production has some issues, and I’m not one to normally notice such things. I’m listening on high quality Bose headphones, and the low end has major issues. The bass drum (and a few bass notes) in particular comes through as very muddy and covers a lot of the other sounds coming through.

The other part of the album I don’t like is the album long “joke.” The album seems centered around a divine comedy. There are hymn-like parts, organ parts, gospel chorus parts, and so on throughout the album which all contribute to this feeling. This is actually good, because it ties the album together as a whole.

Unfortunately, it culminates in a funny song/play about morality. The fact that the funny aspects of the album are so joke-oriented is bad for repeated listens. Just like a joke you’ve heard too many times makes you cringe when someone starts to tell it again, the same happens for me with this album.

The opener “Hellalujah” (haha, um, I guess…) reminds me of what I’m getting into. I can forget about it for a time, but there continues to be cringe-worthy gimmicks throughout.

So how’s that for a mixed review? In summary, they are excellent at what they do, which you can’t expect to be some completely original thing. It is detailed and intricate enough that the first three or four times through will keep you interested, but the gimmick causes the album to steeply drop off in entertainment after that point.

Overall, I’ll give this a 6.5/10. Here’s a sample: