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:

Cóndor’s Duin Reviewed

Cóndor is a Colombian band whose first release, Nadia, made some best of 2013 lists. Their next album, Duin is set to release on January 27 through their bandcamp.

The first thing that struck me upon listening to Duin was its explicit acknowledgment of influence from the great romantic composers. The first album acknowledged Mendelssohn. This one opens with a transcription of Smetana’s “Die Moldau.”

The arrangement is wonderful. For one thing, if you listen to the original, you will hear the scalar accompaniment pattern start with a flute. But if you’ve never looked at a score, then you probably don’t realize that the part is divided between two flute players.

The band draws out this division by also having two guitars do the pattern, but at the end of the each player’s part, the note is held instead of passed. This creates a beautiful, deeper texture than if the note was immediately released. The band ramps up the distortion and volume to simulate when the full orchestra comes in.

This would merely be an interesting way to start the album if it was left at that. But it isn’t. The album has a consistent core built around this first song in a way that almost no other album I can think of has. The disparate songs are tied together by it.

For example the second track brings back variants of the Moldau melody through solo and riff material. A later track (the fourth) uses the Moldau compositional technique: a flowing background scalar pattern under a soaring melody. In every song on the album you can find traces of the Moldau. This is what makes the album so special. Each song is vastly different but makes sense in the whole as a deconstruction of the first song.

Now that is an overview of how the album fits as a whole, but are the songs any good? The individual songs each are excellent in their own right. Most have a raw, old school doom edge to them, but other tracks are more death oriented. Out of the turmoil comes flowing melodies and peaceful moments. Are they pain or beauty? The fact that I can’t tell is part of the appeal.

The album is great, because it muddies the water. Art should raise questions and push boundaries and not attempt to simplify things by giving clean answers and playing safe. This album pushes the idea of what metal can be doing (without quarter tones or some other avant/experimental stuff) and raises uncomfortable ideas about imperialism, religion, and death through vivid imagery.

Now on to the negatives. The playing is not very clean. This sometimes works in their favor, because it produces a raw, human element. At first, I wanted to consider it a fluctuating tempo issue, but after a few listens I realized this wasn’t it at all. The scalar patterns aren’t played evenly. Like I said, this is a good effect on solos, but when two instruments are playing in unison, it sounds like a mistake.

I’ll admit, this was not anything that detracted from how much I’ve enjoyed my time with this album. Overall, I give this a 9.5/10. Head on over to their bandcamp on the 27th to hear it for yourself.

Stuff I Missed From 2014 Part 3

I know I said I would do a real review and not another of these, but I couldn’t help continuing down the list to see if I missed anything great.

The first album is Desecresy’s Chasmic Transcendence. The first thing that jumped out at me when putting this on was its truly heavy sound. I’ve listened to a lot of albums that have brutal or noisy or distorted sounds to them, but it has been a while since I’ve heard a return an old school heavy sound.

The opener is one of my favorite tracks. They use a two against three pattern (a triplet pattern layered over an eight note pattern) to create a chaotic sense of drifting through some dark netherworld. In later tracks, you find similar interesting rhythmic complexity.

The tempos stay consistently on the slower end giving the album more of a doom feel rather than death metal. But this is not a hard rule. Some of the tracks do pick up the tempo a bit into a more familiar old school death metal sound with minor arpeggios sometimes chromatically altered in order to sound like melody that might be found on a horror film soundtrack.

Despite the fact that I love the sound of the album and the interesting techniques hard to find anywhere else, I think I still don’t get this one as a whole. A lot of the tracks fell flat for me. This dragged down the appeal of the album. Maybe with more time, I’ll find some appreciation for these tracks.

Here’s a sample:

For the next album, I must give a shoutout to Can This Even Be Called Music? which recommended it: Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble’s Not Dark Yet. This is some sort of “heavy metal big band.” As an avid metal listener, I would classify them more as an experimental jazz band with metal influences.

At first, I was worried that the band would rely entirely on the “gimmick” for its appeal. But this works far more naturally than I expected. I almost never thought in terms of the genre mixing. The ensemble has guitars and uses some ideas you find from metal, but it is one coherent whole.

This music is extraordinarily complicated at times (rhythmically, harmonically, melodically, you name it) and settles into an awesome groove at other times. I’ll warn you that there is a fair amount of improvisational soloing if you aren’t into that thing, but there are also pieces that are entirely composed. I wouldn’t let a such a small part of this album scare you away.

Despite the chaos, sometimes the band pulls out some absolutely beautiful moments filled with just the right amount of dissonance as on my favorite track “Fog over East” (unfortunately not available free on the bandcamp for the sample). These moments of tranquility are made all the more wonderful for being in the middle of a sea of turbulence.

It is a shame I didn’t come to this earlier, because I am in love with it. It surely would have made my top albums of the year list. I’m not sure what else to say. Here’s a sample:

Stuff I Missed From 2014 Part 2

This week was rough. I wasn’t really into either of the albums I picked until last night. Something strange happened where both of them clicked all of a sudden. So I haven’t spent much time with either of these where I like them.

The first is Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry. I liked their last album for doing some interesting experimentation with their sound. I didn’t love it, though. This album is a return to a more traditional black metal sound.

A hardcore black metal purist might not like this album, because it has less of an icy, atmospheric sound and more of an epic, grandiose sound. The songs are shaped to build into large, climactic moments and taper to more minimalistic ideas that loop and create a trance-like feel.

I think one of the reasons I resisted this album so much is that the melodic ideas felt uncomfortable at first. Now that I much better understand where the lines are going and how they fit together, I love them. What at first I thought of as uncomfortable has changed into a more interesting and organic melody.

One of my favorite aspects of this album is the use of clean vocals. I didn’t even notice it at first, but they appear all over the place as extra texture. They add a creepy extra dimension to the sound by stacking dissonances. It is almost like a thinner organ sound.

Overall, I really like this right now and plan on continuing to listen to it this week. Here’s a sample:

The other album I missed for this week is Dead Congregation’s Promulgation of the Fall. This has an old school death metal feel to it. From the songs structured around a few riffs with tempo changes between the sections to the technical and tight chromatic soloing, the album hits the right balance of complexity.

I’m not sure how they do it, but the playing itself is highly technical, yet they never sound like they are being overly flashy. The tempo changes are often difficult, but they flow naturally with how excellent the rhythm section is.

I think what makes this album so good is the balance. They strike the right balance of brutal and gritty, but still everything is audible. They hit the right balance of technique and complexity while still having solid, enjoyable riffs. It has a good balance between old school sound and modern production.

As I said in my opener, nothing clicked on this album until recently, so I’m still in the exploration phase of this one. I really like it right now. Here’s a sample:

For an update from last week, both of those albums have fallen off significantly. I liked them from the beginning, but the novelty has worn off a bit. I might not continue the series next week while I continue to listen to these two. The opposite effect is happening. I didn’t like these initially, but they are growing on me now and so I might do a more in depth review on one of these.