Tuesday, 24 December 2013

East of the Wall - "Redaction Artifacts" album review

“Redaction Artifacts” is the third release from New Jersey’s East of the Wall and sees them further reinventing themselves after their instrumental “Farmer’s Almanac” debut and “Ressentiment” and “The Apologist” albums. The albums opener ‘Solving the Correspondence Problem’ is densely textured yet exhilarating. It almost leads the listener in to a false sense of security however as the mood and atmosphere quickly changes to aggression and bombast. A few minutes later however, the mood changes again and the vocals mellow giving ‘I’m Always Fighting Drago’ an exciting duality of sound. At that may be the beauty of this release in that there are myriad melodies and atmospheres created which appear to seamlessly weave together to create the glorious whole. If one were looking for a release to help with a definition of ‘progressive music” then this would go a long way to help.

‘Obfuscator Dye’ has a level of technical ability that would not look out of place on a late King Crimson release, and mood changes that hold the listeners interest and bring the music up out of the run of the mill “progressive” outfit. The three guitar approach is used to dramatic effect as they hazily weave through the music creating what at one moment may seem to be discordant noise but which effortlessly mutates into delicately arranged yet striking compositions. ‘The Fractal Canopy’ (the song titles themselves are deliciously enigmatic) carries on this theme of melting together technically electrifying musicianship that turns from genre to genre within a matter of moments. Any “prog head” will be more than satisfied with the escalating tension and glorious crescendo to this piece.
‘The Fractal Canopy’ is the track on the album that makes the interested listener think, “This is the track that would make me want to experience East of the Wall live in concert”. ‘Excessive Convulsive’ (another superb track title) is another example of this. Imagine how utterly thrilling it would be to hear these riffs cavorting around each other in a live setting? The production is sharp and allows each individual instrument space to shine, and is somewhat reminiscent of a jazz album production, which may or may not have been the intention, but perfectly suits the compositional style on “Redaction Artifacts”….

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Skies Below - "Prologue" EP review

Occasionally a 3 track EP release can leave the listener hungry to hear more from an unfamiliar name. This is most certainly the case with “Prologue” by Skies Below. Featuring an absurdly fascinating mix of guitar, bass, drums, vocal and…cello, each of the three songs loses no time in creating powerfully moving atmospheres.

The voice of Liz Porcayo is at once deeply expressive and strangely disturbing, almost reminiscent, it could be argued of Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane. This element to the music lends it an almost “late 1960’s” feel which brings with it its own charisma and appeal. “Hive” for example has a variety of textures and standout instrumental layers, which pull together to retain the listeners’ attention. There are desperate pleading vocals; almost blast beat percussion and intricate guitar lines that form a majestic cohesive whole. Thankfully the use of cello in the arrangements is never used a gimmick, and sits gracefully in the mix alongside its team members creating a dense, luscious soundtrack. There is a slightly chaotic tension to the music here, which is not meant to be said in a disparaging way, as there is obviously control and narrative to the arrangements too…

Mutation - "Error 500" album review

Imagine if you can, an album that features members of Napalm DeathMerzbow,The Wildhearts and The Cardiacs. Do you have that image in your mind now? Imagine if that album also featured, guesting on vocals, Mark E Smith of The Fall. What would that album sound like? Well “Error 500”, the second release fromMutation, is that album, and for any serious lover of music, it is an undeniably essential release. Turning on a sixpence from technically dense guitar riffs and time signatures, to grind core, before adding delicate vocal harmonies, this is a release that defines fusion in its’ purest sense.

‘Bracken’ opens the album with an initial brutality that displays just one element of the sonic palette employed. There is energy and aggression delivered with breath taking technical skill, which leaks over into ‘Utopia Syndrome’. This track however very quickly mutates into a bouncing sing a long, before descending back into a sheer wall of noise. The words here, however, do not do justice to the music on offer. ‘White Leg’ has a thunderous momentum, and a pummelling chord progression that is both exhilarating and cerebral, even with a passage that could almost be taken for a traditional Christmas song. Devotees of The Cardiacs will be more than pleased with the abrupt changes in tempo, time signature and mood of tunes such as ‘Protein’, music totally for the head and heart. Mark E Smith performing on any tune, with his distinctive vocal delivery, can easily transform any piece into aFall song. Not the case with “Mutation” however. The splenic voice most of us love to hear adorning any tune is recognisable, but here we have a demented array of electronic noise wizardry to back it up.

Fans of Devo may recognise a possible Mothersbaugh influence on ‘Computer, This is Not What I…’ whilst ‘Sun of White Leg’ has the listener reeling from the onslaught of flailing blast beats one moment, before checking their music system the next to see if a mid-1970’s Electric Light Orchestra album hasn’t been slipped on by mistake. A good example of how this dense mix of instruments avoids being confused in the production is “Relentless Confliction”, which literally grips the listener by the shoulders and shakes the music into to them. “Innocentes In Morte” appears to blend Frank Zappa’s synclaver compositions with the majesty of black metal, before the album closes on a “comparatively” lighter note with the “Benzo Fury”, ever so slightly less frenzied as the rest of “Error 500” but no less majestic…

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Ephel Duath - "Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness" album review

The first thing that struck me as I set up this album for review was the album cover artwork. Created by visual artists Dehn Sora and Aeron Alfrey the initial effect is striking and in a larger format could captivate the imagination long after the music inside has ended. I first heard “Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness”, the first new album release by Ephel Duath in some five years, directly after listening to some mid-1970’s Frank Zappa. Whilst not an obvious comparison when hearing the music, the complexity and density of the arrangements bear a striking similarity to the way Zappa’s music comes together.

Time signatures and tempo appear chaotic, but closer listening suggests otherwise. It may be considered lazy to categorise the music here as progressive, jazz or black metal. It is all of these things combined, but at the same time it almost creates its own category. The vocal style here is guaranteed to alienate listeners who prefer the unintelligible growl, as each line is delivered just on the brink of lucidity, which somehow makes for a more unsettling experience. There is violence and aggression in the lyrics and their delivery, but also a disturbing clarity. Ephel Duath‘s dual male/female vocals on a track such as ‘Those Gates To Nothing’ add a further dimension of sound to an already rich blend.
In reality, apart from the brief interlude of ‘Hemmed by Light’, which provides respite with its tender cymbal splashes and fragile guitar, there is little to distinguish each of the eight tracks here. There are fiendishly intricate guitar, bass and drum passages, which, in a similar way to how the vocals unnerve, are disarming in their strident production. That is not to say however, that they each conform to an immovable formula, which render them tedious. Each tune appears almost as a building block in a continuous narrative and there is almost a palpable sense that the listener is being taken on some journey, with the destination being a few uncomfortable truths. From the opening of ‘Feathers Under My Skin’ the music screams progressive. A track such as ‘Within This Soil’ has a lot going on within, almost symphonic in nature, and has structure and layering that are reminiscent of some of the finest and longest serving progressive rock bands around. Occasionally it is difficult to pinpoint song structure, but this seems to be the point….

Full review here…

Monday, 2 December 2013

Damnation Festival at Leeds University – Saturday November 2nd, 2013

Watching groups of individuals descend upon Leeds University for the annual Damnation Festival of extreme metal, one gets the overall feeling that the demographic for this type of music is wide. There are men and women who, for the rest of the week, lead extremely responsible and respectable lives. But for them, events like Damnation are an opportunity for them to let down their metaphorical hair and engage with music that is both visceral and inspiring. As is the case most years, the weather outside is miserable but for those willing to spend nine or ten hours inside the labyrinth of corridors, shops and food outlets, the weather outside is immaterial. As is usually the case when entering an event such as this, the first twenty or thirty minutes are spent acclimatising to the layout. This tends to involve arriving at a room in time to see a band that you feel could have been interesting finishing their set and leaving the stage.
This was indeed the case for Black Magician on the Electric Amphetamine Stage, whose blend of doom and psychedelia filled the long, thin venue which was already full to capacity. Round the corner, then, to the Eyesore Merchandise Stage to catch French band Year of No Light, whose powers to crush were no less devastating. The Eyesore Merchandise Stage features a number of different levels and platforms from which to see the stage, and, as has been proved, in the darkness can be a minefield of steps for the music lover who has quenched their thirst more than once at the bar.
Over to the J├Ągermeister Stage for an outstanding set by Norway’s Shining. Framed by laser-thin shards of white light, Shiningplay a rabid mixture of progressive metal and jazz, which is one minute Peter Brotzman shrieking through a saxophone, the next, precision lines of angular metal which fuse together into an exhilarating thirty0five minutes. Bands early on the bill such as this do tend to suffer from only being allowed a shorter time to play, and it could be argued that Shining would benefit from a fuller set to maintain the momentum. This year the Terrorizer Stage is situated in the Riley Smith Hall which is a shorter, wider room that allows for good all-round views for everyone present. Always seemingly packed tight with revellers, the stage proved a popular sight for some of the more extreme black metal of the festival. This was certainly the case for Dyscarnate, whose set was a thoroughly blistering forty minutes, and an absolute joy for anyone who relishes having their face melted to the back of the venue by bands such as Misery Index and Dying Fetus. So impressed by the calibre of brutality on display, this reporter was soon off to the merchandise area to pick up their latest album release.
Liverpool’s SSS (Short Sharp Shock) on the J├Ągermeister Stage next and thrash meets punk over a bass heavy groove. By now everyone seems to be finding their feet around the festival and coming to terms with who they can and can’t manage to fit in. One of the main differences this year is that there are four stages hosting music, giving everyone more of a chance to catch more new music.
Back now to the dark and multi-levelled Eyesore Merchandise Stage for Berlin’s The Ocean. Previously known as The Ocean Collective due to their fluctuating line-up, the band tonight performed their set in front of some rather arresting underwater visuals which proved to be as engaging as the music. Often described as cerebral rock, post rock or any other tag that implies an expansive sound pregnant with power, their presence encapsulated the venue, and proved to be an excellent advertisement for their latest album “Pelagial”. Somewhere within the schedule the festival goer needs food and now was the time to consider the array of supermarket sandwiches, curries and pasties available on offer…