Spectral Lore – Gnosis

Spectral Lore has been on my radar ever since they released the epic III. That album stayed with me for quite some time as a great blend of traditional melody and black metal, yet highly experimental in other aspects. Earlier this year Voyager released, and I didn’t review it because I couldn’t get into it at all.

Gnosis provides a return to the melody and experimentation I loved on III, yet there are significant departures from it. Most of the melodies are influenced by Middle Eastern scales and melodies. Thankfully, this doesn’t come off as a gimmick. Unlike the recent Nile release, these ideas are blended so seamlessly into the music, that it doesn’t sound like it could be any other way.

The tracks run 8+ minutes, but the album as a whole is only 5 tracks long. This makes for a nice total length. The long form of the songs don’t feel too long, because there is steady development throughout. The tracks are instrumental and through composed, so there isn’t a bunch of tedious recycling like many modern long form black metal albums.

One of the “experimental” aspects of the album is that there are lyrics despite no vocals. I’m not sure if I’m just missing them somehow. It is more like a jointly released music/poetry project. My guess is that this is somehow a commentary on how you have to read the lyrics for most black metal anyway to understand what they are.

Overall, this album is a slower and more patient album that III. Every song is mid to slow tempo, and you won’t find much fast technical work or blast beats. A lot of the complexity has been stripped to bring greater focus to the melodic work.

The song I’m going to give as a preview isn’t representative of the album’s sound, but I think it gives the best idea of how carefully constructed these are. The rubato, the dynamic contrast, the use and non-use of instruments in meticulously chosen locations, and the melodic development and counterpoint with the bass all show how Spectral Lore think about constructing songs on this album. These elements of songwriting are present on other tracks, but are harder to hear because of the louder metal sound.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to Gnosis and expect it will be one of my top albums of the year. I’ll give it a 9/10. 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:

Pyrrhon’s Growth Without End Reviewed

Pyrrhon are an experimental death metal outfit. Their new EP Growth Without End is a short burst of violent energy. The chaos almost never lets up from start to finish.

Let’s start with the strongest two tracks. When Pyrrhon want to, they can create really weird, interesting new stuff. The two closing tracks showcase this ability. “Viral Content” starts with a a strange churning bass riff with some spoken word vocals. It is the creepiest thing I’ve heard all year.

The song then keeps building until it has a minor explosion into extreme noise. The burst is intense, but doesn’t last longer than it needs to before returning to the original idea. Upon the return, there’s a lot more going on with atonal and microtonal ideas pulling the song apart. It always feels on the verge of falling apart or reaching climax again.

This song is really well made. It is highly experimental, yet keeps grounded around a single idea. It flows in and out of tonality. It has a clear sense of progression, and overall achieves exactly what it sets out to do: keep you unsettled. We’ll return to why I think the first few tracks are less successful at this in a bit.

The last track is also great for much of the same reason. Time gets all messed up with various tempos, pauses, and time signature changes. This works to keep the listener unsettled. The song closes with moments of heavy grooves and harsh guitar sounds over it.

The best way to describe why I love this track is that it is somehow the audio equivalent of watching an image get stretched and distorted. But maybe the image was something surreal to begin with. You can’t quite grasp what ties it together, but it still has a firm sense of a single thing getting distorted and pulled in all directions.

This is what I mean when I say Pyrrhon are making interesting and innovative music. I’m not sure I can think of anyone else that has achieved such a strange experience.

Now let’s talk about the first few tracks. They are extreme, chaotic, and fast. They clearly have riffs that tie them together, but I feel less of a sense of unity surrounding them. These tracks have much less innovation. They sound more like a band trying to be as harsh and chaotic as possible.

They aren’t bad, but it comes across as a sound that many bands could have produced as opposed to the final two tracks which are uniquely Pyrrhon. KEN Mode or Psyopus come to mind, though neither fits perfectly. The constant loud chaos isn’t as unsettling as the final two tracks, because it becomes noise after a while.

Overall, I like the EP, but don’t love it. I’ll give it a 8/10. Here’s a sample:

Sigh Graveward

I’ve hit a wall. I’m having trouble finding anything new that I like right now. So I’ll do a negative review. Thanks for the suggestions I’ve received the past week. I’ll check them out soon.

I do want to reiterate the mission of the blog: to seek out and describe metal that achieves a status as art alongside other more widely recognized art music. This is why I hesitate to do negative reviews. It doesn’t advance that cause. It merely reminds people that 90% of everything is crap.

Sigh is a Japanese experimental metal band. They’ve been around since 1989, so this isn’t some inexperienced attempt at being original. You couldn’t tell by listening to it. This album switches around from Diablo Swing Orchestra style, carnival music influences, horror movie, thrash, cartoon metal (I made that up, we’ll come back to it later), power metal, symphonic, and more.

The first track is all over the place, but it is probably one of the most consistent. I heard it and thought maybe I could get into the album. Then it continued. Until the last few tracks, the album steadily gets worse.

I’ll try to articulate what turned me off as best I can. The band never takes itself too seriously, but there is a seriousness to much of the album. I mean this in the sense that many of the songs are trying to be “art” with its experimentation. Clarifying what I mean is difficult here, because it is some vague sense I get. Maybe a better way to say it is that they aren’t intentionally making a joke or doing it to be silly (as some bands I enjoy do, see 6:33).

But then we get to a track like “The Tombfiller.” This is cringe-worthy levels of silliness. All I see are cartoon characters doing ridiculous, immature things to each other at over-the-top fast speeds. It could fit right in as a theme song to this type of thing, i.e. “cartoon metal.”

I think that is what bothers me so much. It isn’t so much the pulling on lots of styles. It is the inconsistency of mood. If they were silly all the time, I say the album needs to be taken as a joke and evaluate it as such. If they were weird, but making a serious attempt at something, I could evaluate it as such. Instead, they have this mismatch where I’m not even sure they understand when they’ve crossed the line from weird to being a joke.

This mismatch continues with their lyrics. In “The Forlorn,” we get the most ridiculous lyrics:

Lead Singer: I am not dead!
Chorus: Sorry!
Lead Singer: I am not dead!

and on and on it goes.

If you listen to the lyrics you would think this is a huge parody and a joke, but this is one of their most serious sounds musically. The music doesn’t match the lyrics at all, and the lyrics are grating in how repetitive and nonsensical they are.

We get the same problem in the next track.

Am I god or am I not?
It doesn’t matter I’m destined to rot.
Am I god or am I not?
I’m going to lose all I have got.

The music is some strange symphonic metal / hip-hop fusion. I wish it was funny, so I could laugh. I wish it wasn’t some faux seriousness, so I could be less embarrassed for them about how bad those lyrics are. I know metal isn’t known for producing brilliant poetry, but these lyrics are childish.

Overall, the album suffers because it has no idea what it wants to be. By trying to be everything, it ends up being nothing. This is sad, because the penultimate track shows they know how to make a song with a pretty good melody, development, and use the symphonic elements to enhance what they are doing. I understand that making a whole album of these songs would ruin their avant-garde schtick, but it would make for a reasonable album. Instead we’re left with this mess.

Overall, I’ll give it a 2/10. Here’s a sample:

Double Review: Irreversible Mechanism and Ur Draugr

A few weeks ago I was hunting the internet for interesting new metal I overlooked. I ran across this list. After a quick listen and reading the descriptions, I thought Irreversible Mechanism’s Infinite Fields and Ur Draugr’s The Wretched Ascetic had potential.

The first thing that stands out on Irreversible Mechanism’s debut album is the subtle use of orchestra and other sounds like piano and organ. If you’ve been around awhile, you know I tend to hate “orchestral metal,” not on principle (which sounds pretty great), but because no one does it well. IM does a good job on this front.

These sounds add a nice texture to the album without detracting. They also go off on long melodic, purely instrumental tangents which keeps the pacing of the album bearable. Many tech death bands lose me with being too fast and in-your-face all the time.

The Faceless definitely jump to mind when I listen to this, but I think the drummer is the only crossover member from that group. There is no doubt this group is made of excellent musicians. They get as technical as the most technical, but what makes them stand out to me is how much variety they have. They aren’t just technical all the time.

I’m going to go ahead and say this is the best tech death album I’ve heard in at least a year, maybe two. This isn’t saying much, because I haven’t had tech death make my best of the year list in years. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this will make it either. It suffers from the same problem as most others: it is so forgettable. The riffs sound familiar and soloing is a lot of arpeggiating and scales. There’s not much to grab on to.

Overall, this is an enjoyable listen that attempts to bring some variety back to tech death. I’ll give it an 8.5/10. Here’s a sample:

Now for something that has nothing in common except being on the same list, Ur Draugr’s The Wretched Ascetic. I think what got me here was the combination in the description of “slow, creeping darkness” with “disgustingly heavy like Ulcerate.”

It’s true. This is quite hard to describe. There’s a lot of slow acoustic parts, but it also tends to build into loud distorted climaxes. It works best when you can follow the train of thought continuously from one point to another. Other parts don’t work as well.

I know the purpose is to have stark contrast when the acoustic thing suddenly changes to a blast of fury. It is kind of neat the first time it happens, but on successive listens, it loses its effectiveness. This experiment only clocks in at 20 minutes, so I’d say overall it is an interesting and worthy attempt. Too much of it just didn’t work for me to be of lasting value.

Here’s a sample:

Quick Update

I won’t do a review today, because the album I thought had potential turned out to be a dud (Human Future’s Spectrum). Instead, I’ll direct your attention to an article I wrote for Death Metal Underground: Can We Judge Experimental Metal? I thought it would be a bit more controversial, but the negative comments focused around certain word choices or whether my views were in alignment with the site’s.

Jute Gyte’s Vast Chains Reviewed

Everything that I’ve been listening to from this year has seemed so uninteresting so far that I jumped at the chance to start listening to something more experimental when I ran across Jute Gyte’s new album. Jute Gyte is the moniker of Adam Kalmbach, a one-man avant black metal project (I just made that label up, so I’m not sure if he’d agree with it).

One of the most interesting ways to use dissonance is for comic effect. When dissonance is used in sudden and unexpected ways (as opposed to just a really dissonant piece) the surprise can be funny. There is nothing funny about this album, but I found myself laughing the first time through for the above reason. Some of the tonal, microtonal, and chromatic parts are just so unexpected, sudden, and original that the shock initially made me laugh.

In fact, it sounded as if someone was just making the most random, disjointed stuff they could think of for the sole purpose of being different. I was about to write it off as pretentious nonsense (I mean the first track is called “Semen Dried into the Silence of Rocks and Minerals” …), but decided to give it a second listen anyway.

Already on the second listen, the internal logic of the songs started to get revealed. The songs no longer sounded random at all. I couldn’t pinpoint anything concrete about them to say what this logic was, but I started to intuit a lot of structure and repetition that was grounding my listening experience.

This fascinated me, so I started listening to it more and more. As I figured out what was going on, I learned that these songs are composed out of some really concrete ideas that just get embellished in some strange ways. These songs are so out there that I had that initial reaction, but Jute Gyte gets this type of experimentation right in a way I’m not sure I’ve heard before.

He keeps the underlying concept of the song really solid so that the listener has something to grab on to. Although it is hard to say exactly what this is in many of the songs, after three listens I could probably have listened to a random few second clip from a song and identified which track it came from. This is because the ideas had seeped in somehow.

I also have to applaud his use of microtones. I’ve heard this type of use in classical experimental music, but most metal bands that venture into microtonality just use them in pretty uninteresting ways. Here he really treats all 24 notes as separate notes instead of just out-of-tune extensions of the standard 12 notes. He uses them in chordal structures, melodic constructions, and inside of arpeggio patterns.

Instead of using these extra notes for occasional effect, he is using them more as a true 24 note scale, and once you get used to it this isn’t as weird as you might expect. It starts to sound pretty natural in the context in which he uses them.

This album strikes a great balance that I really admire. It has enough experimental elements and just plain unexpected things that I find it really interesting and different to listen to. It has served as nice way to break me out of the funk of everything sounding the same. But it balances these elements with a good amount emotion and intensity coming from building up these underlying structures.

Overall, I really like this album and give it an 8.5/10. My list of albums for the year is already up to 12, and this is almost certainly my favorite so far. Here’s a sample: