Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden Response

I’ve hit the point where I’ve cleared my list of things I like and only have things I haven’t liked. I’m still searching for it. I hesitate to call this a review. I don’t like giving mostly negative reviews. Instead, I’ll look at some of the things I saw out there that made me pick this up and respond to it.

I’ll take some responsibility. I listened to the first track before deciding I wanted to hear the whole thing. The first track has a pretty great sound. Crypt Sermon is a doom band with some old school power metal flourishes.

The first song is exactly what I’d want a doom album to sound like. It has a full and aggressive sound while staying downtempo. The bass riff uses a lowered second leading tone to the tonic instead of the traditional seventh which gives the feeling of descending lower and lower into some dark pit. They actually use this on many of the songs to great effect.

I tend to not agree with Angry Metal Guy, so it isn’t surprising that a high rated album there wasn’t my favorite. They make a reference to Atlantean Kodex, which I think is apt for many of the songs. Sorry to some of my readers that like that band, but I made a serious attempt and couldn’t get into them either. This was album of the month for February there.

Well, now that I look at the reviews, I see I had no real reason to trust them (Pitchfork, Sputnik, Metal Archives). Most just say how much they sound like some great doom of the past like Candlemass. This might be the problem. It all seems too familiar.

People talk about the riffs being great, but this is where I think the band falters. A lot of the solos are great. I find myself saying, yes, this, more of this. But the general chugging and riffs between the solos don’t go anywhere. I find myself zoning out. There isn’t much interesting going on for large sections of most songs.

I also tend not to pay attention to lyrics, but they are so clear on this album that they cannot be dismissed. A lot of the symbols and terminology are so blatant it makes me cringe. I can’t quite describe what rubs me the wrong way, but it does.

“The Master’s Bouquet” stands out for this. Something about the way “Master” keeps getting used sounds so cliche. It sounds more like a mockery of a doom song than a doom song. The story itself is good, it is just the specifics of the word choice (“sheep” round up souls for the “Master” because they think they will live forever but end up finding they die despite the promise).

I’ll probably end up getting their next album, because this had many truly excellent moments. But overall I didn’t like it. Here’s a sample:

Enslaved – In Times Reviewed

The newest album, In Times, by Enslaved released (their 13th if I’m not mistaken), so I decided to check it out. As far as I can remember, I really liked their last one, but honestly, I remember almost nothing about it. I searched and found some cop-out rapid review saying I liked it but nothing more.

If you haven’t heard Enslaved before, they are a bit hard to describe. They have black metal roots, but they’ve ventured into proggy territory and even have lots of clean vocals and power metal influenced parts. They also have some drone-ish post-metal things going on. Needless to say, hardcore BM traditionalists will probably not like this.

On my first listen, I was pretty excited to listen again, because I thought it had a lot of potential. There were a few stick out moments that I wanted to understand how they got to better. That should have been my first warning. If something “sounds good” on a first listen, it usually doesn’t age well.

I’ve enjoyed my time with this album. That’s basically the positive I can give it. The songs have some catchy hooks. They get into some neat grooves. They have some pretty stellar climaxes.

But honestly, many of these songs go on too long. They have a few chords or notes that get into a 4/4 vamp, and to create interest they add all sorts of things to the mix. Unfortunately, many of the things are purely artificial sugar that don’t add much complexity or interest.

I should be more precise about what I mean by musical sugar. It includes things like adding a keyboard to the mix or turning the reverb up or adding sounds of rain/atmosphere. The substance remains exactly the same, which isn’t good enough to not feel the repetition. It is repetition without a purpose.

Another thing that didn’t sit well with me is that some of the catchy hooks get a bit too sing-songy. It isn’t easily quantifiable, but when the chorus has that much bounce to it, it sort of ruins the mood of the other parts of the song.

I do congratulate them on making something that has that distinctive prog feel to it, yet remains fairly straightforward and simple. I don’t say this sarcastically either. They push their chord progressions, chromaticism, and playing with time signatures while remaining easily digestible and listenable.

This album succeeds best at its climaxes. Enslaved know how to write complex music where many disparate pieces come together to make a unified whole. Yet I feel too much time went into making parts that “felt good.”

This is why I leave this album with such mixed opinions. It is easy to succumb to the parts that feel good and think the album is really enjoyable, because in a casual listening sense, it is. Then one can turn to some of the proggier parts and justify the album as worthwhile in some deeper artistic sense.

Maybe the true test is that by mid next week, I probably won’t remember anything about this album. It was a fun experience while it lasted, but there wasn’t enough depth to make it a lasting part of my album rotation.

Overall, I give it a 7/10. Here’s a sample:

Sickening Horror – Overflow Reviewed

Sickening Horror are a Greek progressive death metal band, but don’t let that prog label scare you off. Overflow, their latest release, is a return to an old school death metal sound, structure, and feel.

Already on the first track we hear several different sections juxtaposed next to each other with little to no transition, yet they happen in a very natural way.

The melody is presented in an embellished manner at the start, and then we move into a solid groove. The tempo pushes into near chaos for the climax. Only after the tempo comes back down and we hit the closing section does that original melody return.

This first track contains much of what I like about this album. The band has the technique and chops to blast you with it every minute, but instead they choose where to bring it out well. It is reserved for moments that call for it.

They also have highly structured songs, but the structure is large enough and non-traditional enough (I think the first track is ABCDBA) that it might not be apparent at first. This gives a meandering feel sometimes and a chaotic feel at others but is enlightening on subsequent listens.

Their sound is pretty gritty with a healthy amount distortion present. The drum kit has a clean, raw sound to it that used to be more common. They also throw a lot of modern sounds in there as well. For instance the production is balanced so everything comes through. The bass sometimes uses a tone that I’d associated with more modern prog metal (but not always).

One of my favorite parts of this album is that a few of the songs have piano in it. I don’t mean a keyboard making sci-fi sounds like some bands. An honest piano. And it works. It is used as a texture effect, and it plays riffs that would work perfectly fine on guitar. There are a few moments where it takes the lead or becomes an integral part of the rhythm section too.

If it were used in every song, I might say it comes across as a gimmick, but its sparseness (maybe every 15 minutes?) and its use as a texture is just right. It shows the maturity of the band to use it where it felt right rather than making a whole album out of it.

Rhythmically, the album is mostly straightforward, but again, there are surprises sprinkled throughout of crazy rhythmic things. I keep returning to this idea. The band shows it can do all those things the ultra-tech death people do, but they also know how to write a solid album without it, which is even more impressive.

It may sound like the album was overthought: let’s put piano here, a quieter slower section here, a fast chaotic section here, but it doesn’t come across that way. They somehow put together a well-balanced album in which all these elements flow naturally. It isn’t as brainy as I make it sound. This is an album to be felt.

This is old school death metal with some extra elements thrown in. The only parts I didn’t like as much were some tracks in the middle which strayed into prog metal with some death metal elements. The songs worked on their own, but threw a slight consistently weirdness into the album.

Overall, I’ve loved listening to this. Great riffs, balance, textures, technique, and on the list goes. This reminds me why I used to return to Deepsend’s page for new releases. I give this a 9/10.

Here’s a sample:

Psycroptic – Psycroptic Reviewed

Psycroptic is one of those bands that sounds perfect on paper for me. I know I’ve been hearing about them for years, but I can’t remember if I actually ever listened to anything before now. Needless to say, I was excited when I saw a new release by them. It gave me the perfect excuse to dive in.

Let’s start with the technique. It is darn impressive. You can tell these guys have been playing a long time and have the ability to incorporate flashes of skill without relying on it for the sole content of a song. They also showcase their skill in cleanly switching between time signatures and tempo.

I’ve heard some interesting death metal time signatures over the years. On the experimental side some bands make it hard to tell what is happening at all or extensively use the “mixed” meter (5/8, 7/8, etc) for effect. Track 2 on Psycroptic uses a very clear and extended 6/8 section, which might be a first for me.

It is slow enough that it has a waltz feel (ONE two three ONE two three). I’ll say it is an interesting idea, but I’m not sure it really works for me. I know they probably didn’t intend for it to sound waltz-like, but I can’t help but hear it. The “demented” waltz has its place in music history with many composers trying their hand at it like Shostakovich, so why not death metal?

The first three tracks taken together start to lose my interest. Something about the general sound of the album is too uniform. It is basically a wall of sound with all the same tone (except maybe the chorus section of the first track).

This is my biggest criticism of the album. Any individual track is a really good listen, but it all feels so ordinary. We get a little bit of different tone in track 4, but I have to listen to the album as I write this to be reminded what any of the songs sound like (I’ve put in about 10 listens).

They often settle into extended grooves where not much happens. If you think about it, you can say, oh, that arpeggiation is impressive, but you could easily zone out and miss it.

It is sort of hard to say what it is I didn’t like other than I just never got into the album. It might be that the individual pieces were excellent, but they never came together to make interesting whole songs.

I think the best track on the album is the seventh, “Sentence of Immortality,” but it somehow says something that this song doesn’t sound anything like the rest of the album.

I can say one positive thing. This album clocks in at about 38 minutes. The band knew what they wanted to do and did it. There was none of this make an album out of a few good songs and then pad it out to an hour with filler that seems rampant these days. If your album is less than 40 minutes, then it’s less than 40 minutes. That’s okay. I applaud them for not dragging it out.

Overall, the album has tight, technical playing with good ideas, but I never felt compelled to listen more. I wanted to love it but couldn’t. I’ll give it a 6.5/10.

Here’s a sample:

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