Panopticon – Autumn Eternal

Autumn Eternal is Panopticon’s third album in his bluegrass/black metal trilogy. I’ve reviewed them all so far, and I’m always pretty disappointed while remaining optimistic for the next one. I feel like a broken record, so this will probably be the last time I do one of these reviews unless the next album totally blows me away.

I love the concept. He takes black metal and tries to combine it with American folk. From an instrumental standpoint, this is a great idea. Instruments like banjo have a very harsh, metallic sound, but can also portray a deep sadness. Lots of folk songs are about tragic events like coal miners doing backbreaking work only to die in a cave in. This is the essence of black metal.

Unfortunately, when you pull the two ideas apart and merely shift back and forth between folk instruments and black metal it creates an uneven and partitioned album.

I don’t think the songwriting has evolved as much as some people say. As usual, the folk parts are excellent. The opening track has multiple melodies played in counterpoint, a beautiful blend of instruments, and interesting rhythm section. It is complex yet simple in the right ways.

The black metal sections remain a mystery to me. For example, take the end to “Into the North Woods.” It is an extended and repetitive fully synthesized outro. Nothing about this makes sense in the context of the song. The synthetic sound is cringe inducing and completely changes the aesthetic. It goes against all that the album stands for in its nature themes. The repetition makes me want to hit skip after almost a minute. What is the point of this outro? The album is long enough that there is no need for the filler. This same type of thing happens on future tracks as well like “Sleep to the Sound of Waves Crashing.”

He also introduces a very clean melodic lead guitar on most of the metal tracks. This also feels out of place and is again the wrong aesthetic. It is most noticeable in “Autumn Eternal” and is pretty much the only thing I can think about during that track. The prominence might just be a mixing issue.

In the next track, the melodic clean guitar works a lot better, because it gets integrated into the overall sound. And this basically sums up how I feel about it. The album is a highly inconsistent collection of ideas and aesthetic choices. This is disappointing because of how promising the ideas are.

There are some great moments to be sure. But there are also some Deafheaven-esque post-metal poppy progressions that ruin those moments. Overall, I give this a 6.5/10. Here’s a sample:

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Rivers of Nihil – Monarchy Reviewed

Back when the first Rivers of Nihil album released, my readers were pretty split. The enthusiastic ones notified me of its existence and others scoffed at it being vapid metalcore. I never got around to formally reviewing it, but I did like it quite a bit. They managed to achieve a good balance of heavy and brutal elements with melody and technical solos.

I jumped on Monarchy to find out what they’d been up to since their debut. I have to say, I have pretty mixed feelings. Let’s start with the bad. They seem to have caught the chugging fad going around. Maybe this was present on the debut, but I don’t recall it sticking out like this.

Chugging on a single note or chord in various rhythmic patterns doesn’t do it for me. It is a strange phenomenon that so many bands succumb to it. I guess it probably feels impressive to lock in a sufficiently complicated pattern and get it to groove. This may sound interesting to some people. But it ignores too many aspects of music to make for interesting repeated listens. The album doesn’t have a ton of this, but I have to cringe when it happens. It sticks out.

Now for the good. The album has a lot more variety than the first one. They have straight up death metal parts, highly melodic parts, atmospheric parts, different tempos, and these disparate sections flow into each other naturally.

The soloing is as good as ever, and I think these form the highlights for the album. Some solos are slow meanderings around the melodic idea. Others are technical, chromatic, bizarre distortions. I hear the most creative ideas in the solos, and they are sparse enough to be a nice treat. They are placed where they are needed, not in some stock position of every song.

Speaking of which, the songs can feel a bit formulaic. You have fast, chugging rhythms in drums and bass. A held chord fills out the sound, and then some extraneous atmosphere in the upper register like a held single note with a filtered synthetic guitar sound. The song structure usually alternates between staccato forms of the above and a heavier legato form.

I love what they’re doing when they are at their most complex. They can layer a lot of technical and varied ideas in such a tight way that the whole thing still has a relaxed groove to it. This is what they do best. It feels lazy when they settle into the uninteresting chugging parts. It’s almost as if they needed some filler to complete some songs.

Overall, the added atmosphere is welcomed. The tight melodic playing has been stepped up a notch, but the album as a whole has not gone in the right direction. I can only reservedly recommend this. I’ll give it a 7/10.

Here’s a sample:

Krallice – Ygg Huur Reviewed

Ah, Krallice. Everyone loves to talk about you. Lovers of experimental music praise you for the genius of bringing new techniques to black metal. Black metal lovers hate you for not being true black metal. Now you drop a new album with no warning that no one knew you were working on.

I’ll admit that back in 2012 I was not ready to review Years Past Matter. I only gave it a 7/10 and admitted I didn’t get it. Buried in some 2014 blog post, I mentioned in passing that I had gone back to the album several times, and each time it got better. I love that album now. I think it is excellent. But that is another review. The point is that Krallice can take a lot of time to digest, and this has only been out for a week.

As usual, I think genre tags hurt here. You can’t go in expecting black metal or death metal with some experimentation. Like basically anything Marston is involved in, this is an experimental band first and maybe some black/death influences second. If you treat the band as something else, you’ll be in for a disappointment.

Ygg Huur is a pretty big departure from their previous effort. First, the album is much shorter. Second, the tracks are much shorter. Practically speaking, this means nothing gets as much development time. It is closer to Behold… the Arctopus in its rapid pacing. Each song has a few core ideas that get passed around, embellished slightly, layered in different ways, and then it’s over.

Part of what made earlier Krallice take a while to digest was trying to grasp the structure of their epic length tracks. This album feels more accessible in this regard. Already on the second or third time through I had figured out the pieces and structure.

On the other hand, there are definitely aspects that make this album less accessible. Their previous album seemed more coherent and melody driven. This album uses a patchwork of shorter motifs which makes the songs feel a little less coherent and more chaotic.

One of the things I praised them for in the past is their excellent use of counterpoint. This is still the case on this album. Krallice often has two or more melodic ideas that layer nicely. They strike the right balance of parallel and contrary motion between the voices.

If you were into Krallice for their epic builds, these still exist on some tracks (particularly “Tyranny of Thought”). They still have tempo changes that happen so cleanly one has to wonder how they manage it with no obvious metric modulation.

The evolution makes sense. Some parts sound just like old Krallice. Some parts are tightened up cutting of the fat. Some parts are new. I think the back half is much better than the first half. I always start the album thinking it is probably an 8/10, but then by the end I start thinking it is more like a 9/10.

So overall, I give it an 8.5/10. It is definitely recommended for fans of Krallice. I’m not sure they’ve changed enough for people who were dismissive of them before to pick it up and start liking it. Here’s a sample:

Halfway 2015 List

It’s that time of the year again. I’ve listened to 30 albums this year so far (I haven’t reviewed them all). I tried to go back through and listen to candidate “best” ones before making this list, but I didn’t get through all that I wanted to.

Favorites (in alphabetical order):

Cóndor – Duin.

This held up upon listening again. Raw, emotive music drawing on the great romantic composers.

Kjeld – Skym.

I couldn’t really remember much about this one. Listening again was worth it, because it was better than I remembered.

Sickening Horror – Overflow.

I know a lot of you weren’t thrilled by this, but even on listening again, I really like it.

Upsilon Acrux – Sun Square Dialect.

Not really metal, but complicated in all the right ways to create meaningful music.


Has Potential:

Irreversible Mechanism – Infinite Fields.

Mature and interesting technical death metal. I need more time before moving it to favorites.

Exhumation – Opus Death.

I didn’t get around to relistening, but from memory, I can’t say it was a favorite. It could move up there by the end of the year.


Not as good as I initially thought:

Leviathan – Scar Sighted.

There is no doubt that this album has some excellent moments. As a whole, I think I overpraised it initially.

Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu.

I honestly expected to be blown away when I listened to this again. I wasn’t.


Biggest disappointments:

A Forest of Stars – Beware the Sword You Cannot See.

After hearing excellent things for years, I wanted to experience it myself. Definitely not worth it.

Enslaved – In Times
Leprous – The Congregation.

These were bands I’ve loved in the past. These albums were duds at best.


The stuff I have queued for review, but never got around to it: Jute Gyte, KEN Mode, Monolord, Sigh, Tempel, and Torche.

Does your list look mine? If so, I’d love to hear what I’ve missed.

Elder’s Lore Review

Elder is a band which borders on sludge, prog, hard rock, psychedelic. This makes it a bit difficult to review, but it has gotten quite a bit of positive attention. It is also a nice break from the types of things I’ve been listening to. So let’s try.

First, the tracks are long. Many are well over 10 minutes long. Take the first track. It is a long journey from the opening riff idea to where you find yourself 7 minutes in, but the composition structure is fairly consistent across the album so we’ll look at how the songs progress.

Elder takes a set of riffs or motifs for the song. They noodle and sequence (move the same note pattern to different parts of the scale) that idea for awhile. This often involves some interesting chromaticism. Then they’ll take a static jam area (maybe sing something that functions as a chorus). These tend to be long and boring, but it creates distance from the first idea so the next unrelated idea flows naturally in the song.

Then in a big climactic section a few of the riffs get layered on top of each other. The outro tends to be a restatement of the original motif by itself again. These songs are long enough, that it took a few listens to finally realize this structure.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean it is predictable. The structure is actually pretty well done. Idea, transition, idea, transition, development, layer original ideas, finish up. It gives you something to grab onto with the length of the songs.

Let’s think about the individual pieces and whether they work. The riffs/motifs are hit or miss. I almost didn’t want to listen to the album when the first song started. Their first idea lacks any substance. When it comes back later, it actually fits quite nicely in conjunction with other stuff. But since it is mostly a texture pattern, it doesn’t work on its own.

Other riffs are much better like the one in the middle of the second track. It is kind of cringe inducing with its blatant imitation of 70’s prog rock (think Kansas). But at least it has some melodic meat to it. This track also has a pretty neat hemiola during its climax.

Each song feels coherent, but a bit lengthy. They try too hard to be cautious about the coherence I think. This is the biggest negative for me: the sheer length and repetitiveness of some of the transitions. They are just transitions. Playing the same chord with almost no variation for minutes on end is a big turnoff.

The hit or miss aspect of the ideas makes it hard to fully love any track, but it also means I don’t really hate any either. The best parts of the album are when two good ideas get put together in an unexpected way. The worst parts are where two banal ideas that obviously go together get set up for 10 minutes as if we didn’t see it coming.

The album is a clear step up from say Periphery’s latest release where the ideas had no transitions and didn’t work together. Still, each listen has steadily decreased how much I’ve liked this. Once you understand what is going to happen, it gets a bit tedious to wait around for it to happen. My best suggestion to drastically improve this album would be to make those transitions shorter and more interesting.

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

A Forest of Stars – Beware the Sword You Cannot See Reviewed

I remember back in 2012 reading some excellent reviews of A Forest of Stars previous album A Shadow for Yesterdays. I somehow never got around to listening to it, so I jumped on the opportunity this time around to get their newest release Beware the Sword You Cannot See.

If you’re like me, something jumps out at you before the first listen. That title is in iambic tetrameter, the verse of classical Greek poetry. I had to know if their lyrics would follow suit, so I opened them up first. Sadly, I couldn’t find the meter anywhere else (missed opportunity guys!).

Before we start with the review, it is important to understand the band a bit better. They are part band, part theatrical act. Part of the shtick is that they are a Gentlemen’s club from Victorian England of 120 years ago. The music is an artistic expression of this group. I’ll ignore the fact that the instruments the music is played on didn’t exist back then.

They don’t fit neatly into a genre. There is a lot of black metal influence in guitar and drum technique/sound, but they also rely a lot on frenetic spoken word (this reminds me of Sikth), clean vocals, and fiddle. They also have psychedelic, prog, and drone influences in lesser amounts.

I hate to keep nit-picking before I say anything of substance, but the spoken word parts make up a large part of the vocals and they drive me crazy. I think this type of thing can be done successfully, but this delivery doesn’t work.

In an attempt to emote, the delivery is so melodramatic and over-the-top that it pulls me out of what is happening around it. Also, you can hear the vocalist sucking in air at every breath (in a hugely distracting manner).

It is quite difficult vocal technique, but you can breath in almost silently and still get the intense spoken word delivery. It just takes a lot of practice. As a wind instrument player in bands and orchestras, I spent hours working on this myself throughout my childhood. I’ll get off this side rant for now.

I get that the violin is supposed to introduce folk music elements, but I don’t hear it. I’ve played a lot of English folk music, and this doesn’t have the right characteristic at all. It sounds more like a motif or ornament that gets repeated as texture to the band sound.

While I’m on the topic of things I didn’t like, the levels sound off. First, I don’t like overly present drums, but the drumming is almost inaudible on most of the album. The consistency makes me think this was a choice made for artistic purposes.

My guess is they wanted a pulsing feel from the drums without them interfering with melodic, harmonic, and spoken material. The strange thing is that the band relies a lot on big climaxes, and intense drumming can add a lot to these climaxes, so pushing it to the back hinders their goal.

Overall, this album suffers a bit from patchwork syndrome. They have tons of ideas, many of which are good, but they slam them all together to create a jumbled album in which too much happens and yet at the same time too little exploration of the good ideas happen.

So, is there anything I did like? Good question … The second half of the album is supposedly one long song/theatrical-poetry broken into 6 parts. I think they do a lot better on consistency and development of ideas on it. The harmonic structure moves from being drone-like to some interesting chromaticism.

I’m actually curious what this review would be if the album instead was an EP which consisted only of this second half. It almost sounds like they spent all the work on this and then threw some songs at the front to make a whole album.

For example, Part 3 does a lot better at the folk influences. Each song also sounds like it is a composed song rather than a random conglomerate of too many ideas.

Let me end with a disclaimer. An album like this is made for a certain type of audience. It is a bit unfair for me to pick it apart like this. You’re supposed to buy into the act, put the album on, and lose yourself for an hour in a different world.

If you think too carefully about it, you’ve missed the point. It isn’t an intellectual exercise. It is a bit like going to a Renaissance Festival and not enjoying any part of the experience because you pick apart every little thing. The point is to go in with the right mentality and play along even when things don’t go perfectly.

So I tried this with the album and got some enjoyment out of it. But I still have to go with a 5/10. Here’s a sample:

Favorite Albums of 2014

Going through the albums I listened to from the year used to be one of my favorite things. I got to rediscover all of my favorite albums by listening to them one more time before making a year end list. Each year this has gotten harder and harder, because I’ve listened to more and more. I kept track of everything in a text file and at this moment is 54 albums long.

It would be completely unreasonable to go through all of those again. This means that as a first pass I go off of memory which is a little unfair. I can certainly throw out many immediately that I recall being terrible, but I know there were some great things I don’t remember all that well.

In any event, all that is to say that I could be overlooking something. Instead of doing a “Top 10” or some artificial number, I’m going to list as many as I thought were excellent as I recall.

My list in alphabetical order:

Amogh Symphony – Vectorscan
Artificial Brain – Labyrinth Constellation
Coffinworm – IV.I.VIII
Lord Mantis – Death Mask
Sammath – Godless Arrogance
Stimpy Lockjaw – Stimpy Lockjaw
Serdce – Timelessness
Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise

Comments:
I think Artificial Brain is one of the ones I’d call attention to. It is really easy to forget this released, since it has been a whole year. But I still come back to it when I’m in the mood. The Serdce continues to impress me (except for those few cringeworthy parts). That album does prog right.

Honorable Mentions:

Jute Gyte – Vast Chains (for its daring into microtonality)
Clément Belio – Contrast
Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity

Comments:
The Belio has a fantastic amount of variety and some excellent composing/playing. Unfortunately, it got a bit djenty for too extended periods of time for me to truly love it. The Winterfylleth reminds me a little of Deafheaven’s Sunbather but less pretentious/indie rock and more black metal.

Stuff I claimed to like in the review, but am confused about on the most recent listen:

Archspire – Lucid Collective

Comments:
Just one is not too bad.

To Get:

Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God (I can’t believe I missed this release)
Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry (I’ve been waiting for Google to get this one, but still waiting)
Black Crown Initiate – The Wreckage of Stars

Too Much Hype:

Behemoth – The Satanist
Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us
Origin – Omnipresent
Panopticon – Roads to the North

Let me know if my list is similar to yours and I’ve missed something.