Thursday, 25 October 2012

Stagnant Waters review

Originating from France and Norway, and featuring amongst their instrumentation voice, drums, electronics, clarinet, bass and guitar, inappropriately named Stagnant Waters release their self titled debut on Adversum. The band here have created one of the most explosive amalgamations of metal, doom, jazz and experimental noise to have beaten the ears in a long time.  

From the opening drumsticks and salvo of frenzied guitar and roaring vocals, the listener may believe that this will be the shape of things to come throughout the album, but how wrong would they be? In between these blast beats of brutality and hostility come passages of pastoral beauty and considerate instrumentation. A few moments later however the mood takes a turn, and short emissions of electronic dissonance disrupt the flow. It would be reductive however to describe the music on “Stagnant Waters” as cut and paste, as although each element appears disparate, each piece remains cohesive and highlights how far an artist can stretch the boundaries of acceptability.

There are some genuinely delightfully crafted sections sitting beside some rather disquieting ones, but at no time would one believe that this would be improper. Welding industrial pomp to experimental jazz to perfection on ‘Of Salt And Water’, the familiar cross pollination of styles continues to astound and mystify.  This appears most extremely on ‘Castles’ where the chord progressions are tight and complex and the electronic stuttering shoe horns into them with apparent ease. Only the desolate vocals remind the listener of the background to this music, particularly when an almost childlike piano passage begins to lend the whole episode a macabre flavour.

One could almost be forgiven for thinking they are in the middle of an album by saxophonist Evan Parker on ‘Concrete’ before the hostility begins. ‘Bandaged In Suicide Notes’, one of the shorter pieces on the album, lacking the space to expand, is a reasonably straightforward pummelling, before ‘Axolotl’ returns to severe jostling of styles...

Read the full review here

Abstracter - Tomb of Feathers review

This first release from four piece Abstracter from Oakland California features three extensive journeys, recorded live on analogue equipment, through inner turmoil and personal anguish. The opening few moments of rainfall and thunder give way to a brutal assault on the stability of the listener. Meditative chord progressions and ethereal vocals soon open up to a barrage of guttural hostility and hammering guitar riffs.

This is the opening of “Walls That Breathe” which develops gradually into an epic voyage of ferocity and malice. Drum and bass appear low in the mix as the relentless guitars and vocal shake the listener into attentiveness. “To Vomit Crows” opens with a guitar riff that will have even the most casual of listener reaching for their air guitar. Over the next twelve minutes the track expands into an almost mathematical arrangement of time signatures and chord progressions underpinning that same ferocious vocal. The other instruments here appear to be given equal consideration as bass and drums have their own individual input. Interplay of growls and lucid vocals lends the piece character and a level of inquisitiveness. “To Vomit Crows” does not pummel the senses in the way “Walls That Breathe” did, but utilises a sonic palette of tension, violence and intelligence, to subtle, yet effective consequence.

The length of each of these pieces allows them to assemble and widen their scope in such a way that the listener may not appreciate their actual length, and become mesmerised in their bewildering journey. Lumbering gradually along “Ashes” closes the album with as much despondency and angst as its predecessors and at sixteen minutes has the space available to meter out its twists and turns of mood with aplomb. Reverting back to the intertwining style of vocals and ponderous riffs, “Ashes” is a trawl knee deep in Abstracter’s world of doom. Again, there are chord progressions that will have the listener rocking backwards and forward unselfconsciously as the riffs envelope them...

Read the full piece here

Leeds Damnation Festival 2012 Preview

Damnation Festival 2012 Preview – Part 1
A salvo of noise will bombard the labyrinthine corridors and halls of Leeds University Union on Saturday 3rd November 2012. Once again this warren of passageways plays host to the potent Damnation Festival. Leeds University has been a venue that has seen many bands play and record their seminal live album, The WhoJohn MartynThe Groundhogs and indeed The Macc Lads. This year’s festival promises to uphold a tradition of healthy extreme metal which undoubtedly will please devotees.
Formed in 2008, Leeds own Blacklisters deliver a staggering array of belligerent noise, held together by sharp arrangements and a charismatic stage presence which amalgamates into an enormous blissful racket. Their latest album release “BLKLSTRS” gives the listener a flavour of that live experience, but the only way to experience this four piece is up at the front with the head in the speaker stack. Hopefully that is where you will find this reviewer at the Eyesore stage at 4.30pm.
Dublin based Gama Bomb formed in 2002 to create the kind of music that was being unleashed upon the world with bands such as MegadethNuclear Assault and Anthrax. Signed to EaracheGama Bomb purveys tightly constructed, frenetic thrash, with more than a hint of fun, which, as withBlacklisters, is always welcome at a festival event. Anyone wishing to download a free album of theirs, “Tales from the Grave in Space”, to get them in the mood for their 5.40pm appearance on the J├Ągermeister Stage can do so at the Earache website.
Extreme Noise Terror
Extreme Noise Terror
Continuing to fly the flag for hardcore punk, and doing so since they formed in 1985 in Ipswich, Extreme Noise Terror play the Terrorizer Stage at 5pm. One of the original bands who were christened “grind” alongside Napalm DeathElectro Hippies and Carcass, they featured on the legendary John Peel sessions “Hardcore Holocaust” album, which helped this music to reach more appreciative ears. They continue to tour the world extensively taking in such disparate locations as Japan and Brazil. Sadly in February of 2011 one of the bands founder members Phil Vane passed away aged 46. Extreme Noise Terror will be bringing vitriolic crust punk to Leeds University as they have done for many years, and hopefully, for many more....

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Dysrhythmia - Test of Submission

There are any number of contemporary releases which can be described as combining the essentials of metal and jazz forming a mathematically taut series of compositions which showcase the participant’s musical skill whilst failing to infuse the music with a soul. Test Of Submission is the sixth full length release from Brooklyn’s Kevin Hufnagel, Colin Marston and Jeff Eber, and despite being packed tight with instrumentally complex and challenging pieces, is not without spirit and confidence at its core.

Opening with the frenzied ‘In Secrecy’ Dysrhythmia lay all their cards resolutely on the table from the outset, this will be the beginning of an exuberant journey. Each individual instrument is contorted into any number of geometric shapes, but the whole is somehow held together. A piece such as ‘Running Towards the End’ is not only exhilarating to listen to with its buoyant riff, crooked time signatures and playful interjections, but it has the essential personality. ‘In the Spirit of Catastrophe’ contains all these elements and yet somehow pushes the boundaries that bit further. ‘Like Chameleons’ combines technicality with drilling percussion that possibly produces one of the most electrifying essentials to “Test of Submission”. ‘The Line Always Snaps’ soars majestically with regal chord progressions and towering lead lines.  

The shortage of a voice within these compositions is somehow forgotten amongst the bewildering array of tempo changes and tangential lines. The title track ‘Test of Submission’ is hammered down with invigorating guitar and bass parts riding regally over the crest of the percussion. The closing, and lengthiest track, ‘In Consequence’ builds slowly in the distance before abruptly pushing any sentimental thoughts aside with a series of crushingly technical progressions interspersed with flashes of its melancholic beginnings...

Read the full review here

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Pineapple Thief. Interview with Bruce Soord

Progressive rock and metal has become fashionable again. Every band with the slightest experimental or technical touch is immediatly labelled as "prog". For The Pineapple Thief main man Bruce Soord the term has lost its value and he rather refers to his own music as "post progressive" as John Toolan found out in the following interview.

What chain of events led you to record at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio?

I think there was a mistake in the press release, as the album was actually recorded in another really cool residential studio called The Chapel. However, we DID do some drums at Real World. It’s pretty local to me and I have been there before. One of the artists who used my studio a lot in 10 years ago (Sheila Chandra) was on Peter’s Real World label and she also toured with him in the USA. I actually did some assistant engineering there a few years back too, but gave up after 3 days! Life as an assistant engineer? You may as well kiss normal living good bye. Certainly not conducive to being a songwriter in a band, that’s for sure! It’s an amazing place though, although I think the musical landscape has changed since the mega record deals of the past and the large residentials are suffering as a result. You don’t need a massive studio to produce a smash hit pop song any more…

Being fascinated still by album cover artwork, could you explain the significance of the cover of “All the Wars”?

I’m really glad so many people are picking up on the cover; it’s not a dying art yet then? All the Wars has a fairly abstract concept, in focusing on the complexities of how we interact with the ones we love, especially the conflict, waste and reconciliation (if we are lucky enough to attain that). So when I saw Mark Mawson’s work, I knew it was perfectly suited to the music. The way the colours interact – it’s ambiguous. Are the colours in conflict, fighting for territory or are they harmonious? And people have told me the whole image looks like a Portuguese ‘man o’ war’ jelly fish too. So I love the way it engages with the brain like that.

How has the use of a large string section and choir allowed the music of The Pineapple Thief to expand? Did the sound you achieve reach your expectations?

Having the string section was a childhood dream come true. I love the way it’s added to the TPT sound without taking over. We were very careful, when mixing the record, not to turn all the strings up too loud, because as wonderful as they sound, the most important thing is the song. Obviously we don’t go on the road with 22 string players so the songs still have to work stripped back. As for the sound, with 22 players you are going to get a big, lush sound. I want to keep that for the next album, but also track a more intimate section too. Massive sounds aren’t always appropriate.

How hard was it to allow Andrew Skeet control over the orchestral arrangements of your compositions?

It was a gamble and I have to say, I was nervous! I gave Andrew my ideas but made it clear I wanted him to have total artistic control. I didn’t want to risk smothering his creativity. Arranging is his art. And I’m glad I let him do it, because what he came up was brilliant.

How useful are sites like Twitter, Facebook and fan blog sites in promoting your work?

It would appear that online communities, with a common interest, are a new way of experiencing music, very far from the days when you could sit in your bedroom playing music that you thought no one else had ever heard of. The world of social networking and the concept of sharing our lives over the web has totally transformed music marketing, to the point where labels will actually pay good money for social networking specialists. Everything is everywhere; the challenge is separating the wheat from the chaff, which is where these sites come into their own. Ultimately, it’s no different to saying ‘hey mate, check out this album I bought, it’s brilliant’, apart from that now anyone can access anyone in an instant and recommend anything that’s out there. It has made the musical world much more competitive. If you are good, you can get your music out there and it will spread without the need for 6 figure record deals and marketing budgets.

How has The Pineapple Thief Street Team helped to promote this release, and how did you come up with that idea?

The street team is something we’ve thought about for years, it’s something bands have been doing for a long time. We are lucky enough to have a very active, core fan base who just want more people to hear our music, so encouraging these people to do anything from flyering gigs to writing reviews online is a massive help. Even Lady Gaga has her ‘fancorps’ team! Getting good reviews is great, but word of mouth is where the money is....

Read the full interview here

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Seth - Les Blessures de L’Ame review

On first hearing the opening track on Seth’s “Les Blessures de L’Ame” “La Quintessence du Mal”, what strikes the listener is the raw production values combined with the ferocity of the buzzing guitar, symphonic percussion and snarling vocal. The overall effect from the outset is of an epic tale of mysticism and the supernatural.

 On reading the associated literature, this may not be so far from the truth, as the whole concept of the album is created around that most romantic contemporary saga of vampirism. On closer inspection however, what becomes apparent is that this album is actually a re-release of a 1998 original. With this in mind, what now strikes the attentive listener is how modern sounding this release could be argued to be. The compositions are tense, and display many varied textures within each passage. Whether or not the customer has had their fill of melodic vampire metal, or not, “Les Blessures de L’Ame” is unquestionably worth further consideration.

It would be difficult to analyse each track individually, but the overall impression these give to the listener is one of being seduced by the towering melodies and drifting swells of guitar and keyboard. The music washes over the individual and smothers them in a blanket of tenderness tainted with only the merest hint of obscurity. The occasional peppering of gentle acoustic guitar and piano, on “Le Cercle de la Renaissance” for example, further lulls the unwary traveller into a sense of sanctuary and wellbeing. To describe this music thus leaves the reader wondering as to whether these pieces could follow that well trodden path of over-blown pomposity and grandiose melodrama.

This may be one way to interpret “Les Blessures de L’Ame”, or it may be a gothic gateway to indulge the listener’s dark fantasies. Tracks such as “...A la Memoire de nos Frere” indicate the contrast apparent, with fierce riffs going hand in black-laced-gloved hand with fragile melody. The instrumental “Dans les Yeux du Serpent...” helps to draw together the luscious symphonic element to many of the tracks and leave them laid bare for analysis and extravagance.
Formed in the French city of Bordeaux in 1995, Seth have evolved over the years with a number of releases, “The Excellence”, “Divine X” and “Era Decay”, displaying a constant ability to combine sinister atmospheres with the most brutal compositions....

Read full review here

Manetheren - Time review

Born around 2003, in Minneapolis, as the project of composer and guitarist Azlum, Manetheren fashioned old-school black metal on albums such as “The Absence of Light”, “Solitary Remains” and “The Seven Realms of Manetheren”. Ensnared by the lure of the post-rock scene and the fusion possibilities of US black metal, Azlum created “Time”, recorded in the US and Europe, and enlisting the help of Peter Anderson and Thorns. One look at the cover of the album, courtesy of Christopher Wood, featuring an image of a man who is obviously tormented by physical or emotional entities, helps the listener to prepare themselves for the onslaught of expansive, desolate and agonized landscapes. ‘I’ opens with a characteristically enigmatic drone, evoking all manner of melancholic angst in the listener, before waves of guitar and percussion envelope the ears and soul. Vocals are appropriately vicious and unyielding, and carry the listener relentlessly on through a maelstrom of emotion.

For the devotee of black metal, many could argue that albums such as “Time” bring nothing new to the table, and simply maintain the momentum of bleak, raw emotion set against a blanket background of guitar riffs and pounding percussion. “Time” however seems to encompass the atmospheres and space that “post-rock” (whatever that might be argued to be) and allows these compositions to breathe. This is music to let wash over the ears and heart, and allow the listener to soak up the fundamental nature. The tracks ‘I’ to ‘VI’ run through, linked only by tantalising vignettes of unsettling soundscapes, but vary in cadence and intensity. ‘III’ is carried along on the back of a battery of blast beats and brutal vocal passages, with the occasional roar of anguish, while ‘IV’ is propelled by a variety of moods, and levels of percussive passion. A standout track, to these ears, is ‘V’, which features many layers of differing instrumentation, from violent raw guitar to succulent rays of sound.....

Read full review here