the underground music magazine    

issue #77 April, 2015

 


Dear Maelstrom readers,

I hope you will enjoy this new Maelstrom issue, which includes a few dozens of reviews (including our first "From The Vault" review in almost five years, so make sure you don't miss it).

Expect a new issue in the last quarter of 2015.

Rock on,
Avi Shaked 

P.S.

We are still looking for a new member to review some of the digital promos we're accepting in bulk. If you think you're a talented writer and wish to join our worldwide staff, contact me.

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7.9/10 Chaim
 

DOOMED - Our Ruin Silhouettes - CD - Solitude Productions - 2014

Our Ruin Silhouettes, the third studio album by the German band Doomed, is, in a nutshell, more of the same. A natural continuation - not necessarily an evolution - from the band's previous album In My Own Abyss (reviewed in our previous issue). The band still provides us with a no-frills dose of macabre, doom-permeated death metal: chunky, fleshy, down-tuned, robust and quasi-dark, with nothing too extraordinary yet nonetheless potent and powerful.

Pierre Laub - Doomed's mastermind and officially the band's sole member - knows how to write slowed down and intimidating death metal, and even though his songwriting is blatantly safe and unadventurous, his skills of writing and performing something that's both familiar yet undeniably forceful has earned him a certain aura of quality. His music does deliver, time and again, that harrowing, sinister vibe a genuinely good doom/death hybrid should always deliver.

The ritualistic quality of the drums (either programmed or natural, it's hard to say), the ceremonial track epilogues, the occasional usage of the Latin language and the martial guitar rhythms - all of these converge into a point where the music is more than your habitual doom-versus-death metal.

However, it is arguable whether or not the metallic compositions - if stripped down and cleansed from the additional ornamentation - have a stand-alone value. The vital driving force of this production is not only the basic charts but also the dynamics of the performance, stemming from whence the written music springs into life. Some sections verge on the standard, almost uninspired doom-laden, melodic death metal, whereas others showcase metal artistry of the highest kind.

Using a myriad of guitar effects, sounds and pedals, Laub manages to create a whole cascade of strange and interesting guitar-driven melodies; a whole universe of bizarre yet appealing soundscapes portraying night; eternal night. He also captures moments of pure funeral doom as well as some faster, even blasting, moments that add to the eclectic nature of the recording. Eventually, however, the governing dark death metal sentiment is the ruling factor, and this dark yet elegant form of death metal is Doomed's bread and butter - as it convincingly delivers a killer juggernaut of nocturnal visions.

Even though Laub's lyrical themes center upon the inner hell within the human psyche, he manages to export his music to the outer reaches of existence, not necessarily or exclusively relevant to the human condition. His music is almost cosmic, grazing the vastness of the universe and flirting with its secrets - a kind of celestial metal that captures the beauty of the stars' kaleidoscope as well as the complete blackness of the dimensions where light does not reach.

If you are unfamiliar with the works of Doomed, this album comes highly recommended, being a herald of bleakness and one of the better doom/death recordings out there. On the other hand, if you happen to know the music of Doomed, Our Ruin Silhouettes is by no means a mandatory album to listen to, but it will yield pleasure and strike awe in the hearts of enthusiasts who like quality doom/death with an added value, or two. (7.9/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

CREINIUM - Project Utopia - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Basically, if you love metal, this is for you. If you love melodic death metal done right - this is definitely for you. Creinium's first release backed by a serious label is an excellent mini-album for all intents and purposes.

Why is it such a good recording? Because Creinium do everything right here: the dystopian and futuristic intro, the familiar yet engaging riffs, the not-too-overpowering, quite smooth and complementing keyboards; the vocals demonstrate both harsh and lighter shouting techniques, and are in balance with the instruments and in harmony with the melodies, always robust and penetrating, never comical, never goofy. All that - sculpted and meshed by crafty, creative hands - has resulted in a recording that is everything a heavy metal aficionado looks for: exciting songs, dark atmosphere and being able to easily relate to the music.

Creinium's Project Utopia delivers on all counts. They carefully coalesce bestial aggression with infinite finesse, one minute pummeling and a minute later taking you on a journey to the stars. In addition, given the fact this album reeks with the stench of the collapse of humanity, the album should have been named Project Dystopia; that would have been much more befitting a title in light of the cold and hopeless atmosphere the music emanates.

Now, this young Finnish band know how to write songs. In addition to establishing themselves in a style of metal that is nothing but magical - a blend of death, black and heavy metal with a hint of 1970s-inspired progressiveness and a touch of neoclassicism - Creinium owns copious amounts of the know-how of how to manipulate all those elements and inspirational tools, and harnesses that knowledge into a beautiful creation of aggression, melody and mystery, with a shroud of despair and dismay.

Project Utopia is as fun listening as it is eclectic and intelligent. The tracks are extremely user-friendly, not because they are mellow or mainstream-ish, but because they were so well written that they all sound extremely harmonious and very pleasant for the ear, even of the most habitual listener out there.

There isn't much more to say about this intricate (and exquisite) release other than it being one of the best embodiments of melodic black/death metal of current time, and as such should be experienced thoroughly by most of you, lovers of good, high-quality metal with an added value. They don't make many albums like that nowadays. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

NORILSK - Japetus - CD - Indie - 2014

We've got no idea where these Canadian local-patriots came from, but they are a breath of fresh air in the doom circles of the low and heavy end of the scale. The style this duo plays is quite unique: they fuse heavy stoner rock with the aesthetics of death metal; an epic growler (who occasionally also whispers with a voice full of malice), slow and ominous drumming and a thick, dank atmosphere. The whole production sounds supreme, like a dark theater play or a morbid cabaret show.

In a way, Japetus is an avant-garde record. The style and sound is foreign to what doom metal is usually accustomed - rhythmic patterns, song structures and all that; and the whole delivery of the music is all fucked up, governed by crawling and sickening dynamics. Some parts are not even metal par excellence, but ritualistic lamentations with a strong ceremonial vibe.

Japetus is a mini-opera of the dark and the bizarre. In less than 20 minutes, Norilsk goes from the traditional to the theatrical to the psychedelic to the deadly, in huge strides, back and forth, like a gigantic Ouroborous that has no beginning and no end. A turmoil of sounds and landscapes, of aesthetics and ambiances. Norilsk cram into those 20 minutes all of their potential, inventiveness, originality and dark passion.

All three tracks here are excellent. The opener is the most metallic and heavy (in "heavy metal" context). The second track is a brilliant cover of Voivod's "Negatron," which have gotten a unique treatment, sounding like a more fucked-up and hazy Voivod. The third track - another original - is the most singular and interesting track of the lot, even though - and we can't stress that enough - all three tracks are brilliant. It has got that mysterious atmosphere created by all the whispers and strange, cold, clean singing and the music that accompanies those vocals, creating an unearthly atmosphere of depravity and erotica; an oddball of a track, very non-standard, very dark and very non-metallic in essence.

Japetus is without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best and most original recordings of the year - this short recording has more value to the pool of modern music than dozens of other (meaningless) albums out there, in any given genre of hard and heavy music. We are yet to review Norilsk's debut full length recording called The Idea Of North (Hypnotic Dirge Records, 2015), but if that full length is nearly as good as Japetus, we are for a treat. This is one dark ride through the minds of two of the most interesting and unique musicians active today in the underground. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

SARPEDON - Anomic Nation - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Anomic Nation is a beautiful, metallic creation that deserves to be heard by many progressive metal fans as well as others.

The songs are magnificently arranged, the vocal performance is Epic with a capital E, and the power the recording possesses is beyond comparison. In addition, the playing is tight and proficient, as if we're not dealing here with a band who have just recorded its debut album, after releasing merely a couple of demos. The synergy and coordination between the musicians is eventually what makes this exquisite album what it is.

Sarpedon are four Norwegian guys hailing from the capital city of Oslo. Some of the guys have been active in other bands, but this musical entity is something special, though not immediately something that would be associated with the Norwegian sound and style. After all, how many good progressive/power metal bands do you know coming from Norway?

Sarpedon plays a form of progressive power metal in the vein of Nevermore, that is to say they mix powerful epic music with advanced arrangements, complex song structures and huge, immersive, clean vocals that seem to envelope the listener and transfix him/her into a maelstrom of beauty and awe.

Strong socially-conscious lyrics allow the listener to relate better to the tracks and establish an unwritten, spiritual bond between the audience and the music, which is, in most cases, sad and melancholic. The frontman beckons those who listen into the heart of the tragedy, intimately confiding in with whomever is out there, turning the listening experience into a very personal and emotional roller-coaster.

The guitar sound and the matching drums are extremely aggressive and powerful, a backdrop for the clean vocals to do their magic, and they surely deliver the tricks they were intending to perform as they are mesmerizing, transcending and soaring as well as majestic and bruising in their sincerity and unreal gorgeousness.

The keyboard lines embedded in the compositions are gentle and almost insidious, never overpowering but complementing the album's harsher aspects and thus, become a quintessential part of the music, a streak of warmth and sanity among the maddening anger and frustration the album's bigger picture portrays.

Fans of Nevermore's Politics Of Ecstasy, Mercury Rising's Building Rome or Masterstroke's As Days Grow Darker, who wish to meet a true beast of beauty and finesse that holds in one clawed paw the banner of aggression and in the other paw the flag of compassion for our broken and flawed humanity, are well advised to put both hands on this phenomenal album, as it is one of the best, most exhilarating, intelligent and grand musical creations of recent time. Anomic Nation is made of the same material any great, life-changing experience is made of. The only final question that remains hanging in the air is whether humanity deserves the compassion this album exhibits towards it. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
6.99/10 Chaim
 

MIDNIGHT BULLET - Lose My Face - CD - Inverse Records - 2015

There are albums that are best listened to while making love, others are best enjoyed when in a contemplative mood; and then there are those albums that are best listened to while driving, with the car windows lowered down allowing the breeze to ruffle one's hair. Midnight Bullet's Lose My Face is one of the latter. Not having any added values other than sheer fun, this heavy metal recording is full of power, zest and dynamics for someone who needs an extra boost while driving.

A bit on the MTV side of things, this pop-oriented heavy metal puts fun right into the heart of metal and makes it a carefree material for people who like their music punchy yet melodic.

With short tracks filled with hard-hitting rock 'n' roll oriented heavy metal - in addition to some gritty as well as clean vocals that will surely not be everybody's cup of tea - Lose My Face is a full-bodied rock/metal recording that everybody should listen to when they're not in the mood for their habitual too-serious-to-be-taken-seriously black or death metal fix and just want to inject a dose of some fucking pure fun, for a change.

If a grumpy, old metalhead such as this writer could enjoy this lightweight, party-material heavy metal stuff then there's a good chance most of you would appreciate these Finns' new release as well. It's among the best MTV-heavy metal records out there, featuring decent songwriting and enough power to make your heads nod in appreciation.

So put your vehicle in fourth gear, press the "play" button and fucking enjoy this, will you?! Just don't lose your face, or even worse, your head (it might be wise to put your seatbelt on!). (6.99/10)

 

 

 

 
7.8/10 Chaim
 

MIRZADEH - Desired Mythic Pride - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

As much as we usually refrain from engaging in listening to overly melodic (cheesy), synth-driven black metal, occasionally we stumble upon a recording that dissolves all our reluctance and prejudice. Albums such as ...And Oceans' debut, Bloodthorn's Onward into Battle or Liar Of Golgotha's Ancient Wars have all reshuffled the cards and exhibited some gorgeous melodies that we simply couldn't resist thoroughly enjoying.

Now, as if from nowhere [Ed. Note: not really - the band's previous, 2006 release was covered in issue #4], comes this Finnish quintet having that strange moniker, and does it again, with utter class and finesse. Considerable time has passed since we enjoyed such a good symphonic/melodic black metal album. Too much time.

Strangely enough, Mirzadeh dubs its style of music "dark metal," but all we can hear is classic, black metal music, finely composed and excellently delivered by a bunch of musicians that know what they're doing.

The riffs are beautiful and very much engaging - every riff is a celebration for the ears. The music is delivered in a rather slow pace relatively to the fast-to-blasting velocities most of their peers are exhibiting, and that's a big plus in our book, because we like our music SLOW in most cases. In the case of the more upbeat parts, the compositions still retain their magic and inventiveness, and the whole album is pretty much cheese-free, considering how easily this band could have fallen into the pits of cheapness and corny lack of authenticity.

The music is basically heavy-metal influenced, well balancing between the metal instruments and the well-written keyboard lines that are in essence, a quintessential part of the music - Desired Mythic Pride would have never sounded so lush and engaging without the latter, that's for sure.

Mirzadeh utilizes a full ensemble of musicians, and that means a full-time drummer and a keyboardist, but in addition to sounding quite organic due to the aforementioned, they excel in simple yet effective songwriting. Even the clean vocals - a weak spot in any black/death metal recording - are well done, and overall, the vocal performance does occasionally recalls the accomplished dual-vocal approach Amorphis took on its highly acclaimed 1996 album Elegy, where deep death growls gave way to clean singing of a foreign aesthetic; but Mirzadeh's music is, in that sense, more spiritual and ethereal, and probably even more epic than the melodic doom/death metal that was displayed by Amorphis.

If you listen to Desired Mythic Pride you will meet a myriad of influences and stylistic schools, and though it is not the most challenging or the heaviest album you can find it is a fun album to enjoy for what it is, plus the keyboards performance is among the best you'll ever hear from any band out there. So whether you're a fan of the above mentioned melodic black metal prodigies, love the vocal execution captured on Elegy or dig stuff like Scheitan's Travelling In Ancient Times (originally misspelled) or Berzerk 2000, this one is very much for you. (7.8/10)

 

 

 

 
9.5/10 Chaim
 

KHROMA - Collapse - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

Put your seat belts and helmets on, because we're going to take off, leaving the ground in this vehicle of might and plight and metal of alien source, also known as Collapse. This album will dismantle your reality and throw you into another plane of existence, where machines rule the land and heartless creatures hunt down every human being still alive. An alien ship hailing from the stars and returning back to its celestial home after everything on Earth has been torn apart. Collapse is alienating music for an alienated generation, its punishment and its final redemption.

Hands down, Khroma is currently the best industrial band in existence, bar none. Collapse is a mammoth of twisted metal, industrial might and hatred galore toward anything human. Collapse is so hostile and cold, it will peel your brain tissue off with precise and calculated cruelty, make your skin crawl, while your mouth tastes the sour, cold and bitter flavor of corroded metal.

We wanted to hate this album so much, based on a wrong assumption (following a first and obviously wrong impression) that it is some (waste) product of the pop-core culture, something in the vein of Korn and other try-hard nerds; but once the music began rolling, we have realized our mistake. This album is totally in a league of its own. It's all the heaviness of Fear Factory combined with the coldness of Red Harvest and the juggernaut hostility of Strapping Young Lad, multiplied by fifty. A classic example of how a band can transcend its inspirational deities and synergize numerous musical influences into something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

And thus, we are presented with Collapse, an electronically-affected, metallic, industrial monster showcasing some phenomenal songwriting abilities, celebrating a style that is unique in the sense that every influence the band has incorporated into this album had been driven to the most extreme point of expression; everything has been given a power-shot, an energy boost, resulting in a pumped-up, sonic delivery full of muscle power and aggression, and hate. Oh, the hate.

The rhythms are intricate, and despite the fact the songs themselves are pretty linear and repetitive, these complex, rhythmic patterns render the music progressive or advanced in the industrial music context. The compositions maneuver between the coldest, machine-like, robotic melodies embellished by otherworldly, distorted guitar lines, moments of pure electronica and moments of almost ethereal sounds.

In the hands of a less talented band, this material could have become a total sham. It seems to portray all the cliches found in pop-core (the aforementioned Korn as well as Coal Chamber and Slipknot come to mind), as well as in the godawful post-thrash metal a-la Meshuggah's later stuff (groove metal is it? with all that annoying tremolo-picking galore?) and in the quasi-industrial fluff of Rage Against The Machine and Rammstein. Sounds pretty awful, right? Wrong! This concoction of popular music styles has been given a pummeling interpretation, and being injected with massive doses of negativity and hate it is driven right into the heart of the unsuspecting victim, to the hilt. This music is the embodiment of grievous, bodily harm with an extra amount of malice, Finland style.

What could have been considered goofy, becomes tragic; what could have been regarded as comical, becomes melancholic and freezing; what could have been habitual, becomes phenomenal, enormous, devouring, acid-filled, mechanized, godless. Collapse is the philosophy of hate, laid out before your eyes and summed up in 35 minutes of futuristic, dystopian deconstruction of the human condition.

Pray for shelter... (9.5/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Chaim
 

SADDOLLS - Grave Party - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

When asked what music this writer listens to, his obvious answer is: "good music". Never limiting himself in any way, the writer of these lines could listen to (and like) any sort of music out there, provided it is good. What does "good" mean? "Good Music" means music that doesn't leave the listener indifferent; it could be pop, electronica, a-cappella, classical, rock or heavy metal, it doesn't really matter, and one glance at the collection of music lovers such as this reviewer would suffice to validate that notion: records of A-Ha and Alphaville stand proudly alongside vinyls of Esoteric and Carpathian Forest. You surely catch the drift by now...

Anyway, SadDolls' music does not leave us apathetic; we enjoy Grave Party for its easy-listening, fun characteristics; a kind of an album that has no added values other than the enjoyment factor, which should be more than enough every now and then. Even us, hard and heavy music masochists, who constantly seek for a challenge after a challenge in the music we consume, could, from time to time, use a break from all the hostility and harsh material and indulge ourselves in fun, pure fun.

And Grave Party is indeed pure fun. SadDolls mixes two of our personal favorite bands into one, smooth recording, and even though it lacks surprising maneuvers, it has got much to offer in the presentation/execution and the songwriting departments. Grave Party is best described as a mix of the British VNV Nation and The Sisters Of Mercy, with the scale tipping more towards the metallic rock display than it is toward the electronica ingredient.

The album incorporates powerful, danceable, electronic music that transmits both hope and despair at the same time, with a decadent twist, not unlike the electronic awesomeness of VNV Nation's music. Another feature is the strong reference to The Sisters Of Mercy that's being established from the get-go: first, the music is in essence Gothic rock of the same school but somewhat more metalized; second, the vocalist does sound occasionally like The Sisters Of Mercy's own Andrew Eldritch; and third, come on guys, a skull with those Ray-Bans that look exactly like the pair Andrew Eldritch wears and that have become his trademark? It's obvious these guys are totally into The Sisters, even though ironically this album has got no cover song of The Sisters themselves. But there's really no need for a Sisters cover, for this whole album is sort of a tribute to the mighty The Sisters of Mercy. There is however a Johnny Cash cover ("Thirteen" [Ed. Note: that one's actually written by Glenn Danzig, in case you did not know]) that's been given a novel and unexpected interpretation.

Catchy, dynamic songs, having verses, choruses and repeated choruses; a governing, melancholic vibe instead of the happy-happy party material other gothic metal bands are playing, and some genuinely good, well-crafted melodies that grab the listener - sometimes by the balls, sometimes by the throat. These are, in summation, the qualities that make Grave Party a sonic, carefree joyride having a lot of sex appeal.

Grave Party is a fun album to listen to. If you are into gothic rock with a punch, and if you can also appreciate good electronic music, you would simply love this album. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Chaim
 

HIIDENHAUTA - Noitia on minun sukuni - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

This is our first rendezvous with Hiidenhauta, a young Finnish band that plays some interesting, melodic black metal. The songs are arranged in a way that allows enough breathing space for all the stylistic approaches to coexist and cooperate, and that's great, because the outcome of this coexistence has turned to be one excellent album. The songs are arranged in such a way that they display a fundamental heavy metal riffing at the very base of each song, supported by blackened masculine vocals and - the cherry on top of the frosting - a female singer's voice. So basically you get sort of symphonic/operatic/gothic/black/heavy metal combo whose avant-garde lies not in the uniqueness of the style or the execution, but in the arrangements. The result is highly captivating, to say the least.

The somewhat loose, aforementioned description of Hiidenhauta's style can be very misleading: don't expect cheesiness or gothic fluff in any way; this is not another sugarcoated, melodic "black metal" album featuring ridiculous beauty Vs. beast vocals, displaying easy listening mellowness where it should have displayed aggression and darkness. Think of Siebenburgen's Loreia (even though the latter were Swedish) and you will get the general feel - cold, naturalistic, majestic, vampiric metal.

Noitia onminun sukuni is easily digested because of the fine musicianship it contains, as well as due to its Serotonin-boosting capabilities. The human brain easily celebrates whenever the ears are satisfied, and a musical feast in form of this album on one's ears makes the brain happy and flooded by feel-good hormones and other secretions. [Ed. Note: now, mentioning secretions in reviews used to extort a "Yuck" comment from our previous editor Roberto. Just to show we're still thinking of him and walking in his footsteps]

This album is easy on the digestive system simply because it's universally beautiful. It's an ambitious album into which numerous aesthetics have been squeezed, but as was mentioned above, every aesthetic - the heavy metal, the folk elements, the amazing vocals of both male and female singers, the ethereal and the bestial - has been given room to play its act in the best possible, most engrossing way.

We could go on and on, writing hundreds upon hundreds of additional words about this album's multiple facets (believe us, we could!): about how classic it sounds yet ironically so advanced and exquisite in finding the exact and perfect notes that comprise perfect riffs; dissect the band's ability to write some sad, soft and incredibly beautiful lullabies without sounding mellow, sugary or unattractive even for a heartbeat,. We could have squeezed a paragraph about the acoustic parts, establish references between the singer's tribal shouts and some Native American ceremonial traditions; we could have delved into the band's cultural roots and the choice of writing the lyrics in what they refer to as 'Old Finnish', et cetera, et cetera. Or, we could just tell you, implore even, to go and purchase this item ASAP.

We cannot recommend this obscure album - the brainchild of an unknown band hailing from a small country situated in the coldest regions of Earth - enough. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Chaim
 

EXPAIN - Just The Tip - CD - Indie - 2014

We hardly ever listen to thrash/speed metal nowadays. Sure, it was a big thing in our youth, but today thrash metal is sort of a joke; a sad, sad joke. Even in thrash metal's heyday, we could count the valuable albums that were worthy of mentioning on the fingers of two hands; a couple of Sabbat, Necrodeath, Sodom, Slayer and Onslaught albums, early Kreator output, Wehrmacht (its semi-legendary Shark Attack) and a couple of Testament and Metallica albums were everything one needed in order to quench a thirst for good thrash.

Hailing from the land that has spawned Voivod, Expain do not belong to that clique. Just The Tip is an album that aspires to transcend beyond the genre's cliches and with it the Canadian band wishes to become the successor of either Atheist or Anacrusis, but in the end it delivers only half the greatness of the aforementioned bands.

Half comical and clearly not wanting anyone to take them seriously, these guys bring a little bit of aversion, humor and uniqueness to a stale subgenre of heavy metal, with ultimately dubious results. Playing fast and equipped with the right dynamics, the musical material contained within Just The Tip isn't something one would want to consider revisiting too often, because it's just alright, and "alright" doesn't make a valid reason for someone who is bombarded with new releases by the dozens to actually make an effort and dive into the sounds of a so-so album like that.

The progressiveness of Expain's music is being overshadowed by habitual songwriting that leaves no mark of its own, or a lasting impression on the listener. Sure, it's fast and intricate from time to time, and you might occasionally and mildly enjoy the riffs, but overall this album is a cliche-ridden effort that would appeal to those who have never listened to a really good or dark thrash metal album in their lives. Lightweight and a bit too try-hard of an effort, Just the tip, despite its aspirations, sounds like a redundant product trying too much to revive a style that has long since stopped offering anything new to the world.

In case you're a thrash metal fanatic who likes his thrash twisting and turning and a tad more complex than usual, there's a chance you will dig this one. Same goes if you like your metal comical (we, on the other hand, believe metal music should be dead serious!). Otherwise we don't see why you'd ever want to come close to this recording. (5.5/10)

 

 

 

 
1.5/10 Chaim
 

MURMURISTS - I Cannot Tell You Where I Am Until I Love You - CD - Alrealon Musique - 2013

This project, as a whole, has nothing to do with music par excellence. It is more into the spoken word realm coupled with electronic ornamentation, a left-field endeavor in sonic experimentation that surely has got some sort of agenda (otherwise why spend so many words over nothing?!). With this notion in mind, it is pretty damn stupid not to at least enclose a printed lyrics sheet of the extensive texts of at least some of the tracks, where numerous humans speak to the listeners, and speak, and speak. Sometimes, the speaking passages sound like a narration of a particular story we have no clue about, an actual ready-made text that is being read or just some casual talk, either an ad-hoc conversation or a stream-of-consciousness blathering. Either way, we have no way of knowing because the texts are missing from the album's packaging and because no one in his right mind is going to pay close attention and actually decipher what the hell those speakers are talking about for so very long.

Basically, the listener is left with a big enigma: what's the purpose of this project? What messages does it contain or aspire to convey? It's not like there's a huge added value of any kind to the recording, like, say, the more stripped-down recordings of Diamanda Galas, who needs no music to accompany her and that the very existence of her devilish and charismatic voice is in itself a rewarding value that can warrant a recording of such a phenomenon. If this recording is about the revolutionary texts and messages - we have no way of knowing; if it's about the "vocals" - these are habitual and unattractively casual; and if it's about the electronica - there's nothing here that can grab anyone's attention, really.

I cannot tell you where I am until I love you is an attempt of using language itself as a tool to compose music, while scraps of sounds are often used either as an excuse for the spoken word or as a backdrop to the endless speeches. The quintessential question lingers on: if the texts are such a paramount ingredient in this recording, why didn't anybody bother to publish them so that we - the listeners - would have at least a slight idea what all those speakers are actually talking about?

With that in mind, we fail to see the point in listening to this. (1.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.9/10 Chaim
9/10 (issue #75) Mladen
 

MARE COGNITUM / SPERCTRAL LORE - Sol - CD - I, Voidhanger - 2013

Sol is a project of a couple of the most interesting black metal bands active today. Greece's Spectral Lore and the American Mare Cognitum, have both released, individually, some phenomenal crazy albums, tearing new holes in the black metal veil, giving us peeping holes through which we could observe and discover new, strange dimensions. Both bands are exceptionally ethereal and cosmic, both exquisitely beautiful as much as they are violent.

This adventurous release is indeed an experiment in how high both bands can fly, a showdown of who among them is the bravest to come the closest to the sun. How beautiful can music get? To the point where it blinds the listener? To the point of deafening him? until the listener feels no more or until his heart bursts out of his chest, brimming and heavily pumping the most exquisite emotion or the most unspeakable pain? How beautiful can music become?

Sol is an album that aspires to blind you with its radiant beauty and its violence. Like the cosmos, this album is both infinitely beautiful and cold, exhibiting blissful tranquility and a kaleidoscope of colors alongside star-ripping violence and sempiternal darkness.

Sol contains three long tracks, each is an accomplishment in its own right. The first half an hour belongs to Mare Cognitum, the next twenty six minutes belong to Spectral Lore, and the final fifteen-minute track is a joint venture of both one-man bands, seeing them in a co-operations that yields music that is not metal, but rather dark ambience of the most desolate nature. So, what's Sol like? Sol is like the Garden of Eden situated on the sun itself. Scorching, disintegrating the soul, searing, almost unbearably beautiful and bright in parts. And then, once you're on fire, blinded by the brightness and overwhelmed with emotions, this album throws you into deep space, where everything is steady-state and absolute zero cold.

Both bands' performances on Sol are phenomenal, showcasing long, epic, ambient-ridden roller coaster compositions. Each track is a standalone creation of wonders and mysteries unfolded, and although the joint track is of the empty, dark ambient, non-musical type, it serves the purpose of the whole recording well, and in that context, offers an adequate epilogue to an adventurous journey.

Breathtaking at times, ethereal yet supremely brutal at other times, Sol is a singular recording showcasing talent, forward thinking and the perfect soundtrack to whatever is beyond our earthly existence. (8.9/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Chaim
 

GALLOW GOD - False Mystical Prose - CD - psycheDOOMelic - 2010

Initial listening to False Mystical Prose may not impress you too much, as it did not impress us. But now, upon revisiting it and listening carefully after quite some time (for the sole purpose of reviewing it and not simply because we have had the urge or desire of listening to it for entertainment purposes) - we definitely notice the quality marks of this album as they are all over the place.

British four-piece, doom-mongers Gallow God have recorded an extended-play album whose epic, heaviness and somber beauty are second only to Warning's Watching From A Distance and Cathedral's Forest Of Equilibrium. We kid you not!

Gallow God mix powerful doom/death lines with the theatricality and showmanship of epic/traditional doom metal. Balancing between the harsh and gray death-laden doom metal of a semi-primitive school and the soaring throat performance of Gallow God's vocalist Dan Tibbals, this hybrid sparks some truly creepy magic. A velvety, purplish, ominous shadow is being cast upon the listener - but it is a warm and cozy shadow, and the beauty it projects overshadows the dark, tragic, despairing qualities inherent within the tunes. So while the music is somewhat skeletal and dark, those immense clean vocals turn it into a comforting affair, where the listener can find solace and dissolve into a semi-meditative state of being.

Think of the massiveness of Cathedral's timeless debut, how plodding and unfamiliar and bizarre this album had sounded like for the first time you ever laid ears upon it; how totally Black Sabbath-esque yet ultimately something else altogether it sounded, yielding a sense of familiarity as well as alienation at the very same time. Remember that feeling? We do. Now, take THAT depraved, mysterious atmosphere and couple it with vocals that are one part Warning Partick Walker's and one part Arcturus Garm's (in his clean singing phase) and you will get an idea about the awesomeness of both Mr. Tibbals' vocal performance and of the general feel of False Mystical Prose.

The tracks are long and gripping, exhibiting strong, ritualistic drums, simple compositions and sustained, fat, distorted chords. Occasionally the pace will be picked up to reveal some ripping-sounding rhythm guitars, while in other times the drums step into the limelight. But Mr. Tibbals's voice is definitely the governing musical force of the whole recording, and even though his growls are of the habitual kind, his clean performance makes all the difference in the world.

This short recording is where epic qualities, heavy metal's raw power and the human inventiveness meet; the birthing place for talent, passion and dark emotions, and the ultimate desire - the will to transcend. This is epic doom in all of its might and glory, minus the cheese; only a sonic night, unsettling and scary yet infinitely beautiful to the point where all fears dissipate and you find yourself cocooned amidst the dark, warm womb - the womb which is False Mystical Prose.

We don't know about the "False" part of the album's title, but this album is indeed "Mystical Prose" if there ever was one. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
6/10 Chaim
 

SECTION 37 - The Kudos Of Serial Killing - CD - Aesthetic Death - 2011

Section 37 is a legal term referring to a section in the British criminal law (The Mental Illness Act) regarding the optional hospitalization of the criminally-insane instead of locking them behind prison bars. Section 37, the British band, is an electronic music duo obsessed by serial killers, thematically dealing with those who could probably benefit from Section 37 of the Mental Illness Act and avoid prison, or even the death raw. Pleading insanity is always a good maneuver to take when killing someone and trying to escape the harsh repercussions.

The Kudos Of Serial Killing (hail to understatement!) is a powerful recording of danceable electronica, mixing raw electro-rock with classic, industrial music. It is a dense, highly enjoyable effort featuring some of the finest electronic music offered by any contemporary band.

There is a "but" though, and it lies with the album's inconsistency: it offers excellent and powerful moments alongside dull ones. Luckily, the latter are not dull enough to the point where the listener loses interest; on the contrary - the listener wants to find out what's next, because the album is full of surprises, turns and twists.

The Kudos Of Serial Killing is the middle ground where Skinny Puppy, GGFH, The Frontline Assembly and VNV Nation meet. Metallic dynamics, sampled distorted guitars, Eighties cold synthesizers music and dance beats, all intermingle into this bizarre, eclectic recording. Text-driven, this album is heavy on the spoken word, sampled speeches of serial killers and various approaches to singing, all coalesce into a very much eclectic and mildly strange recording with depravity written all over it.

If you are a fan of harsh yet melodic electronic music and are fascinated by the darker side of the human psyche - chances are you might like The Kudos Of Serial Killing. It might grab you by the throat!; even though - with all honesty - we've heard better, darker, more consistent electronic music albums in our time. (6/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Mladen
 

WASTELAND - Slava Palim Ratnicima - CD - Winterrealm Records - 2015

Some have it, some don't, but when they do it's called black metal. OK, this writer isn't too fond of intros, but "Oluja" sounds like a proper black metal song even if it just has some storm noises, guitar and a few war drums; so in this case the intro is forgiven. Then, the first song kicks in, and when you hear a simple, dumb, basic two-chord riff and it still feels like you've never heard such a thing before, you know you're in for a treat. So, in short, Wasteland have it.

Slava Palim Ratnicima is this Croatian band's first album, although it's been a long time in the making. Luckily, during all that time, trends have come and gone, but black metal stayed. So even if at one moment you could be thinking that you are listening to Celtic Frost gone folk, it's all good and relevant. Made of relatively basic elements but in an honest and uncompromising way, this is an enjoyable piss-off black metal album which will easily make you reach for it again.

Unapologetically raw guitar playing with real riffs, a drummer that sometimes plays wrong things and totally gets away with it, and gargled screams all around - these are the driving elements, while basic and effective keyboards give accents wherever needed, as well as sparkle a bit of curiosity. All in all, wrong in all the right ways, Wasteland's enthusiasm will disarm you and make you enjoy black metal afresh, almost as if you've never heard of such a thing before. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Mladen
 

IMPERIAL DARKNESS - Occult Spiritual Crypt - CD - Satanic Records - 2014

There are two ways of looking at albums like these. To some people, Occult Spiritual Crypt will be an example of cold, distant and misanthropic black metal, done as written in the "true" book, without straying from the norm: you have the cold, medium tempo parts and cold, fast blast beats; the sound is adequate, just like the screams, the lyrics, and the pentagram on the disc itself.

However, if you want to find faults, you can find them. None of the riffs or songs are particularly memorable or inspired, let alone standing apart from any similar black metal album that was released during the last fifteen years or so, in Greece or elsewhere. Basically, Imperial Darkness has the skills, the attitude and the darkness, but a little more personality can really boost the band and take it to new heights. (5.5/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Mladen
 

BODY POLITIC, THE - Egressor - CD - Indie - 2014

As far as "modern" metal albums go, Egressor is a love/hate affair. If you are new to metal and don't know better, you will love it. However, if you have heard proper music, you will have a hard time looking for it here.

Basically, you have ultra technical, disjointed sections with growls - which are impeccable - and then parts with clean vocals or hardcore guitars - which are impeccable too, but serve no purpose. Just when you start thinking you are getting a grasp of the song, one extreme will be replaced by the other, and in the end you will just feel sad that - as awesome as they can be - the good parts are ruined by unnecessary fillers. Where some bands could use a similar approach to create some dynamics, The Body Politic just throw in interchangeable parts one after another and hope that, in the end, somebody will think that these compose songs. To their credit, The Body Politic put a lot of parts into some 24 minutes of this EP; but what's the point? (5/10)

 

 

 

 
7/10 Mladen
 

FANGE - Poisse - CD - Cold Dark Matter Records - 2014

Noise, sweet noise. A lot of it. Of the distorted kind. Oh, there's also feedback, just because it was there to be made. And busy drums. And real riffs. And abrasive, barely audible but perfectly perceptible vocals. All tossed into a pile of smelly sludge, which would feel filthy and clueless if only someone else was behind it.

But these French guys enjoy it, revel in it, use it, abuse it, and, basically, live in it. In between all the driving riffs, the "wait for it..." moments and the "hit it just because it's moving" moments, there's also real music. So, don't worry!: even if there's not much originality in Poisse, the steamroller will hit you sooner or later. (7/10)

 

 

 

 
5.5/10 Mladen
 

PROTOKULT - No Beer in Heaven - CD - Indie - 2014

When you are doing folk metal drinking songs, one thing you don't need is sounding generic - we already have Korpiklaani for that. And you can't start more generic that with burps and those "hey hey hey" shouts, can you?

The Good thing is that, as No Beer in Heaven progresses, you will come across some more epic and elaborated songs. The bad news is that they are still generic. This could be any folk metal band, anywhere, or even a band made of skilled studio musicians who don't really "get" folk metal but someone ordered them to make such an album. There's hardly a good reason to listen to something that has no emotion or genuine purpose. The male vocals sound like Turisas vocals, but apart from the sound of it, the voice has no joy, no sadness, no epic pathos nor even drunkenness to it. It's just a voice. The same can be said for the female vocals and basically everything apart from a few inspired guitar leads. All in all, Protokult tried very hard, put a lot into their music, but the end result is just not too motivating. (5.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.2/10 Mladen
 

GRENOUER - Unwanted Today - CD - Mausoleum Records - 2015

Although the previous Grenouer album, Blood on the Face, saw this once-murderous Russian band surprisingly changing its technically brutal approach to something more elaborate and slowly crushing, Unwanted Today is not such of a surprise. Not much of a shock for the fans that have probably gotten used to the "new" Grenouer by now, this is a welcome continuation to the story.

Crushing it still is, just like before. Perhaps even more. If the previous one had the wall-of-sound capability to fill a stadium, Unwanted Today goes a little further and makes the ground beneath you crack too.

There's a sense of drowning here. Huge sound, slow riffs, strength and heaviness everywhere, and - above them and driving it all - melancholy. The vocal melodies (still clean) as well as the guitar melodies are all vague. Not in a bad way, though, but in a passing, crushing way, where you simply lose yourself and follow wherever they are going, even if you don't see the beginning or the end. There is a nuance here, a new pain there, a bit of hope sometimes, but in the greater scheme of things it does not matter. You WILL keep listening.

Emotional, intellectual, modern, elaborate yet simple, Unwanted Today is an album of contradictions presented in a coherent form. Like the best of them, it doesn't give you answers, it asks you questions. The answers are up to you. (8.2/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Mladen
 

MOONSPELL - Extinct - CD - Napalm Records - 2015

Which one is it now? The 11th? Who's even counting any more?! We have a new Moonspell album, and just as it is easy to lose count of the band's releases, it's hard to keep track with what's going on here. There is an awesome chorus, then a catchy hook, followed by a flamboyant guitar-hero solo flying by, and a constant adrenalin rush; there's that air guitar moment, some Oriental flavors that takes you some other place, as well as that point where you want to sing along, and another where you want to scream along. And there are lots of times where you want to bang your head along. Oh, and also that scene that makes you want to die...

And guess what? These were merely the first ten minutes!

And, there are around 45 minute of such occurrences on Extinct, not one of them wasted. You might expect this from a band with so many albums under its bullet belt [Ed Note: but then again, you might be surprised the band still maintains such a high level of excitement]; but the amount of energy and enthusiasm demonstrated here is certainly not a thing that can be taken for granted.

True, few parts might not be the most original, but who cares?! Just let yourself go! Extinct is an album with a capital A - from beginning to end; and Moonspell is a living proof that you can be Gothic and dark while still being extremely fiery. (8.5/10)

[Ed. Note: I totally agree with Mladen. For my impression follow the link.]

 

 

 

 
2/10 Jerome
 

LAIKA - Somnia - CD - Indie - 2014

Do you like Dark Tranquility and open "E" breakdowns? No? me neither. But apparently Canada's Laika do. Named for the dog the Soviet Union put into Space, this is certainly where this album belongs: floating aimlessly among the Cosmos, lost for all eternity.

I tried very hard to find something redeeming about this album. Sadly, I could not. It's a conglomeration of recycled riffs that one might find from bands that didn't quite make the cut in late '90s era of Gothenberg melodic death metal.

To top it all off, the synth laden tracks are so bland, I almost wanted to listen to Children Of Bodom. Hell, I'd settle for Therion. (2/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Jerome
 

PSYCHOTIC GARDENING - Hymnosis - CD - Indie - 2014

Doom seems to be everywhere these days. It's a kind of what everyone and their mother seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of. A lot of bands try very hard, very few succeed. These guys fall into the latter category.

Psychotic Gardening's third release is a fusion of doom and death metal that pays off in a big way. It reminded us of Dismember in a lot of ways, though with slightly more interesting riffing. The highlight of the album is their cover of "Open Casket" by Death.

The band continues to evolve its style with every release, without falling into the trap of being formulaic and repetitive that many doom acts fall victim to. Pay attention to these guys, They're going places. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
2/10 Jerome
 

PULVIS ET UMBRA - Implosion Of Pain - CD - Pavement Records - 2014

Italy has given us some of the greatest films of all time. As far as music goes, not so much. The latest release from Pulvis Et Umbra is a reminder of this.

Three songs into this EP, we still did not get what this release is trying to accomplish. It's almost as if someone decided it was a good idea to blend post hardcore breakdowns with Soilwork inspired riffs and vocals that sound like they were recorded in the bottom of a fish tank. Even the guitar tone sounds completely hollow and flat.

The whole album is bland, formulaic and completely uninspired. The only advice we could possibly give to the band is to add more musicians to the fold - this might increase the chance of putting out a product that is actually interesting to listen to. (2/10)

 

 

 

 
1/10 Jerome
 

WHERE GIANTS ONCE STOOD - Live Above - CD - Indie - 2014

Honestly, this is the WORST album I have ever had to review. There have been times where there was a lackluster release to go over, but usually there are some redeeming qualities to be found. There are none here. This EP is everything that I hate about the late '90 and early 2000s.

Canada's Where Giants Once Stood, are a musical farce. Imagine if you took the pop hooks from bands like Trivium and the mediocre riffing from groups such as Darkest Hour, and somehow managed to combine them. Canada, you gave us Voivod, Rush and Cryptopsy, what the hell?

Years ago we were infested with bands who attempted to combine the riffs of At The Gates with clean vocals and hardcore breakdowns. I was hoping those days were long over. But it seems that few bands still feel the need to carry on this torch that should have been extinguished long ago. This release is nothing more than a recycling bin of ideas that have been done before. It's nothing I can recommend to anyone. (1/10)

 

 

 

 
9.25/10 Avi
 

ZAUSS - Diafonia Leitmotiv Waves - CD - Fazzul Music - 2014

The fourth collaboration between guitarist Francesco Zago (Yugen) and saxophonist Markus Stauss (Spaltklang), Diafonia Leitmotiv Waves offers mesmerizing, immersing sounds throughout nearly 70 minutes of free music. Unlike Spaltklang's purposely broken music or Yugen's overly planned compositions, this album features improvisations that are fluent and flowing.

The duo's interaction seems to be at its peak (though we certainly hope exploration of even higher summits will soon follow). Zago's use of loops definitely helps in tying and layering the electric guitar and the tenor saxophone unto cohesive pieces that breathe and resonate. And the playing is terrifyingly terrific, with Stauss truly shining as an attentive improviser, as he constantly follows Zago's course and make sure he meets him every now and then.

Some tracks follow the footsteps of Fripp & Eno, as the two musicians roll sonic carpets. Zauss' ambience, however, is typically more concrete as both players (and especially Stauss) constantly keep a melodic tendency while improvising. The melodic lines can be of a lament character ("Lamento," obviously) or suggestively ethereal ("Adagio molto"). Zauss is a proof that music of the moment can be moving and lyrical, as "Prima dell'alba" demonstrates with its exquisite harmonic feel, as the guitar embraces and decorates the round, emotive sax line.

These pieces can also be quite loud. On "Diafonia" Zago delivers interesting, distorted rhythm to Stauss noisy sirens - splitting for Stauss to take the lead, while Zago keeps pushing him further and then joining for the combined impact. "Crescendo con fuoco" evolves from cascading soundscapes into a chugging, steaming climax.

Diafonia Leitmotiv Waves is a thrilling release that captures Zauss in its most sensitive and its most communicative. (9.25/10)

 

 

 

 
5/10 Avi
 

VIATHYN - Cynosure - CD - Indie - 2014

Viathyn is a Canadian band which strives to be a progressive, power metal band. Unfortunately, this second full length release by the band is not the one that will put it on the map alongside acts like Wuthering Heights or Symphony X - bands that Viathyn cites as sources of influence.

Now, the power metal genre has some binding rules, with the primary one being that the music has to be anthemic in some way. This is often achieved by memorable or outstanding hooks, by a triumphant vocal demonstration and/or by a slick production (which typically emphasizes the previously mentioned elements). Viathyn has none of these traits: the vocals are far from being technically impressive nor are they melodically engaging; the hooks are generic for the most part; and the production is far from being precise enough, or in other words - less than adequate for the genre.

There are bright points though. Some attractive guitar sections are scattered throughout (check out the solo which seals the "Countess of Discordia"); the occasional blend of classical compositions into the band's songs (such as Grieg's "In The Hall of the Mountain King" quotes in "The Coachman") is quite good; and "Three Sheets To The Wind" is actually a decent, folk metal song that show promise, especially due to the hymnal quality of its chorus. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

TATVAMASI - Parts Of The Entirety - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2013

We really love the guitar playing on this rockish jazz debut by Poland's Tatvamasi. It has a striking elegance, even when its phrasing is drenched in electronic effects. It can go from funk to rock to jazz with a flick, and reflects on folklore as much as it practices modern creative music.

And we're not just talking about leads here: the sections in which the guitar harmonizes the marvelous and diverse tenor saxophone blows - which range from romantic lines to scorching punctuations and rants taken from free music dialect - are every bit as captivating and inspirational. This can easily be sampled on the last four minutes of "Astroepos" (which runs for 14 minutes with losing its momentum).

But we don't want you to think Parts Of The Entirety is all about superb guitar and sax. It is about a fresh band playing compositions that are detailed yet full of emerging expression; a band showing the outmost commitment to delivering a musical statement which is stimulating with its abundant amount of energy as well as moving with its thoughtful imagination. Pay attention to "Collapse Of Time" and its clever structure and hear for yourself. (8.5/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
9.25/10 Avi
 

VOGEL STAUSS & ARTGENOSSEN - En Route - CD - Fazzul Music - 2014

This release by a lineup which can be considered "the broken Spaltklang" (as it features three out of five Spaltklang members) comes as close as it gets to the Spaltklang sound, and as such it is the natural successor to Spaltklang's 2009 album en Suite (even more than the 2013 release by the revised Spaltklang, which we reviewed in issue #75).

While the music might lack a diversity of lead instruments, it is extremely true to the idiosyncratic vernacular of Spaltklang. Cut down to the bare essentials, in form of a drums-trumpet-sax trio, the music has that broken punctuation, alluding to a militant march which often gets tangled to hold interest and perhaps even ridicule (as evident on "Ganz Ton").

The punctuation is essential to the pieces and their performance, as it offers an intrinsic, rockish rhythm. Rémy Sträuli is almost constantly in action behind the drum kit (and when he doesn't he turns to the keyboards, which he handles delicately), while leader Markus Stauss typically makes up for the absence of bass by blowing his bass saxophone with staccato phrasing.

Richard Koch blends in perfectly with his occasionally screaking and talkative yet fractured and regal trumpet playing, and he is responsible for some of the album's most elegant lines. The result is an undecided battle between the composed and obediently performed and between the stepping out, jazzier bits; and it is alerting and invigorating throughout, marking another showcase for Stauss distinctive voice both as a leader and as a composer. (9.25/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

SIMMONS, SONNY & MOKSHA SAMNYASIN - Nomadic - CD - Svart Record - 2014

A bit of an irregularity amongst Svart Records releases, Nomadic finds veteran free jazz, sax player Sonny Simmons teaming up with Moksha Samnyasim - a French bass-drums-sitar trio to produce what might be considered a modern day answer to the electric period of Miles Davis (of which the 1970 Bitches Brew is a prominent representative).

Simmons is handling alto sax and English horn here in a delicate, tempting manner. His playing is well restrained and logical, and yet it is passionate and articulate, often offering lyrical lines of melodic appeal aside being trance-inducing. The tonal dialog between Simmons' horns and the sitar is compelling and stirring, making the events sound lush and figurative.

This recording is not only rockier than one might expect, but also carries a post-metal vibe, setting a somewhat menacing yet reflective atmosphere. This is mostly fueled by the attentive rhythm section, which can be concrete and aggressive as well as suggestive (rarely, even silent); and when combined with the psychedelic, eastern flavored lead lines it results in a vital, fresh experience.

Besides being a notable pick for free music (including free jazz) aficionados due to its well constructed and accomplished exploration, the fact that Nomadic is devoid of funk and full of heavy atmosphere makes it a fine selection for post rock/metal followers who are looking to expand their horizons with stimulating music. (9/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
6/10 Avi
 

SONAR - Static Motion - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2014

The latest offering by the Swiss combo Sonar (two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer) is fittingly titled, as it basically comprises an ocean of little riffs and rhythmic models that come and go in a repetitive fashion, creating grooves with melodic appeal. These little musical phrases hit you like waves hit the shore; and slowly evolve just as nature and weather do, with consistent flow and the occasional twist.

The recurring yet evolving patterns lead to a buildup (or sometimes - pseudo-buildup) with a constant perception of something that's about to explode ("Continuum" for example, just begs for the latter day King Crimson to pick it up). This, however, never happens, and the unfortunate thing about this irony is that the tension is rarely as magnificent as the comparable zen-funk of Nik Bärtsch's RONIN; nor it is as deeply absorbing as ambient or post rock music are at their best (it does get close, though, on "Vertical Time"). Here, the minimalism often feels like an excuse.

While we are highly appreciative of the its tonal beauty as well as the disciplined performance, Static Motion simply did not stir us. (6/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

SIMAKDIALOG - The 6th Story - CD - MoonJune Records - 2013

On its sixth release (hence the title, we assume) simakDialog offers original compositions of noble electric jazz highlighted by eastern vibes that reveal the outfit's Indonesian roots.

The piano and synth of leading keyboardist and composer Riza Arshad share the forefront with the electric guitar of Tohpati (whose 2010 release Save The Planet we praised in issue #75), offering strong melodic phrases and imaginative scenes. They are mostly responsible for emphasizing the quality of the compositions: these often feel like stories and not just musical playground; flowing naturally yet featuring buildup, exciting twists and climaxes. "For Once And Never" with its regal guitar lines (occasionally served with shades of keyboards) serves to prove this point.

While the aforementioned interplay might recall classic jazz rock acts Return To Forever and Weather Report in timbres (especially those of Arshad), it is the percussive envelope which contributes in shaping a distinctive sound for the group, making the effort all the more unique (even on the more modern jazz sounding, piano led "Ari," which echoes the works of Avishai Cohen). Three players share the percussion work - two of them on Sundanese Kendang (each allocated his own side in the stereo recording) and another on assorted metal percussion; and together with the bassist they provide a delicate and vital drive without being over the top or aggressive as drummers can get. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

POIL - Brossaklitt - CD - Altrock - 2014

The French trio Poil belongs to the rare, newer generation of avant rockers like Sh.tg.n who integrate latter day influences - specifically 1990s music they likely grew up listening to - into their own adventurous music. Poil's music owes as much to hip-hop, alternative rock and even dance (evident in an almost pure form on "Mao") as it does to the Rock In Opposition pioneers.

On the opening "Fionosphere," which lasts over ten minutes, Rage Against The Machine alarms and gushing, destructive rhythms are fused with Magma styled monkish-alienish chants, arcade sounds and blistering keyboards. The music is relentless, but highly detailed even when it appears to be free formed, and this is true for the entire trip (so brace yourself!).

Sounds come and go in a dazzling speed. Fractured, melodic lines win you over in a second only to disappear the next one, making room for another surprise just when you think you've figured out some kind of logic. The energetic, luny tunes do hold memorable hooks, though. "Patachou," for example, has some of the most exotic keyboard playing we've heard with its dulcimer vibe, which also contributes to the composition's strange, explosive epic dimension.

Later on, "Goddog," in its turn, deconstructs the Univers Zero trademark ingredients of tension, doomy playfulness and fuzz tones and reinforces them with bombast bangs and industrial rock fragments, including a vocal presentation not totally unlike Nine Inch Nails.

"Pikiwa" is probably the most brutal piece here, and a worthy representation of the band's noise-jazz-rock vision. Throughout 14 grandiose minutes, Poil serves rhythmic blasts, electronic effects, kung fu shouts and other vocal gymnastics over a bed of tangible keyboards, occasionally impressively interlocking while at other times departing for nearly chaotic maneuvers until the motif reemerges.

Luckily, and as a perfect balance, the somewhat hypnotic, subtler and definitely saner "La Balade Des Minouchoux" seals the album with a sense of renewal, planting the seed for another, future listen - which we highly recommend, but only after taking some time to relax! (9/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
9.25/10 Avi
 

PALLBEARER - Foundations of Burden - CD - Profound Lore Records - 2014

On Foundations of Burden, its second LP, Pallbearer strikes us as the perfect combination between Agalloch, Yob and Earth.

The band's music is rooted in doom metal, but with post rock atmosphere making the slow, murky sounds of the netherworld earthier and personal, rather than casting you into the pits.

By incorporating haunting dynamics - typically in the form of guitar licks and tempo shifts - as an undercurrent to its mammoth walls of guitars and drums, as well as guitar solos that are kept fit and representative to the overall music affair, a sense of movement is maintained, slow yet grand. These are all a testament to the band's effective, sweeping songwriting, which is true to the spirit of the original doom band, Black Sabbath.

Pallbearer, however, sweeps you not by melodic means, but rather by its gushing and storming sonic waves and their collective notion. It is unlikely you will be singing along to these songs which have no chorus or significant hooks, but it is equally improbable you will not be moved upon listening.

The vocals are clean but remain somewhat distant, and yet that does not suggest the vocal delivery is not good - vice versa! It is suit and purposeful, serving to suggest insights and perceptions of human existence, obsessively dealing with our past and consequently the evasive future ("Each moment carves a piece away / of the sculpture shaped by the passing of days"). The vocals encapsulate an inner truth and seem to secretly carry it out to the listener, and as it reaches its effect is devastating.

The buried notion of the voices is also suggestive of our fate, and at times the production (by Billy Anderson, who produced albums by Agalloch, Sleep, Neurosis and others) evokes a scene of a prayer in a chapel, in which human voices are reduced to a collaborative hum in the awe-inspiring acoustics of an house of god (and perhaps god itself, as a force of nature), which is represented by Pallbearer coalescing sonic fronts. The clever utilization of clean vocals here intensifies the songs' humane and emotive perspective without compromising the luring, inherent despair.

Dirty, messy and mostly massive and reflective, Pallbearer offers no catharsis here, leaving us with a depressing piece of music which is some of the most emotional metal we've experienced. (9.25/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

OCEANIC - City of Glass - CD - Indie - 2014

City of Glass is the debut, self released album by the Israeli, alternative metal band Oceanic. The three adjectives in this introduction should not deter you though: this debut is ripe (and in fact the band exists for a while, and we reviewed its performance at the 2012 Progstage Festival in issue #74); it was produced by Yossi Sassi (the once-Orphaned Land guitarist, who also contributes fame) to excellent result; plus there's nothing about the music to reveal its Israeli source (in contrast with the music of Orphaned Land, for example).

The latter remark is not just a pretty way of saying this is generic music, but rather to emphasize its universal characteristics. True, Oceanic does not sound original, but it does manage to stand out from the crowded pack due to a combination of good, melodic songwriting, technical proficiency and a credible, winning performance.

The songs are emotive and typically reflect on life while being inspired from works of art (Breaking Bad fans should not miss the band's tribute in "Wind Up In A Barrel"), and the vocal performance of leader Idan Liberman is fantastic, true to the songs.

Stylistically Oceanic borders on both alternative rock and progressive metal (think Pain Of Salvation, though Oceanic clearly benefits from a different vibe). The guitar work is inventive, as can be witnessed on "Fish you should," with its delicate, electronically manipulated guitar textures, and on "Eva The Cat Doesn't Sleep" - which masterfully blends acoustic and electric guitars (and manages to remains effective even though its lyrics don't quite make sense; luckily this is the exception). The rhythm section is one of the finest you can find: punchy and creative it serves both to nail you with rhythms provoking headbanging, including tightly interlocked double-bass drums and bass; as well as to maintain your interest with spurs in the form of a melodic bass line or interesting drum fill. This can be heard, loud and clear, on over seven, forceful minutes of the titular song "Oceanic." (8/10)

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

OBAKE - Mutations - CD - RareNoise Records - 2014

"Seth Light" is arguably the most memorable track on this second release by Obake (which apparently stands for some kind of ghost in Japanese culture). But you should not take "memorable" the wrong way as it is not a reference to its almost nonexistent melody, but rather to the striking impression of its sonic inferno.

Vocalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari shows no trace of his Opera education but does exhibit his qualities as an experimental performer, not unlike Mike Patton. He yells the lyrics with an admirable restraint which makes them sound - at times - like a violent whisper, yet with a sensitivity that gives them a somewhat tuneful shade.

The rhythm guitars form an allusion to Porcupine Tree at times (only quite heavier) - and it is indeed Porcupine Tree's own Colin Edwin who handles the bass here and also contributes to the music's tangible lines, whereas the overall sense of catastrophe is maintained by Fornasari's keyboard curtains and Balazs Pandi's articulate, hard hitting drums.

This album is relentless and dark in its timbres, spawning a troublesome, stirring and beastly experience, and although it might sound a bit monotonic on the surface it is this confined sonic space which gives the music its singular voice; plus there is certainly diversity to be found in the sludge metal to ambience transformation of "Transfiguration" or in the David Sylvian inspired esthetics and vocal delivery found in the beginning of "Infinite Chain," before it evolves into a powerful post metal scenery.

If you crave for a hard core yet impressionistic variation of Tool, Obake and its thick Mutations is definitely the way to go. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
3/10 Avi
 

MY OWN GHOST - Love Kills - CD - Secret Entertainment - 2014

We're no longer kids, here at Maelstrom. This might explain us being harsh with this one. But then again, if you want kiddy perspective go look elsewhere.

Originating from Luxembourg, My Own Ghost can be considered a gothic rock/metal band, and being a female fronted band in that genre it is definitely reminiscent of Evanescence.

Unfortunately, it is clear from the very beginning of this debut that the band is a product of current mainstream, popular music, nurtured by TV's "American Idol" and the likes. Even though the sound production is professional and of high standards, the music itself is compressed, offering steady busyness (and there's a big difference between that and being dynamic!) and no real climaxes - just expectedly forced ones.

Truth be told - the band and music holds some promise. The songwriting is occasionally decent and the performance is capable and tight. In fact, on their quieter moments songs like "Bad Love" can actually sound credible, and "Lost" (as well as a few others) even echoes the trip-rock efforts of The Gathering.

But then on the other, more representative side, you get songs like "Crystal Ball" which is plain awful in its cheesy pop; or "Beautiful Mistake," "Free Fall" and "Broken Mirror" that utilizes electronics in a more Techno driven orientation (or even Jungle in the latter). Also, the go-up-the-fretboard guitar excercise, which introduces a noisy guitar section after a quieter one, is used one too many times. We strongly encourage you to check out Moonspell's new release instead (check out the relevant entry in this issue). (3/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

MORAINE - Metamorphic Rock - CD - MoonJune Records - 2011

This live album is the second release by the American instrumental rock band Moraine, and even though it was released a few years before we even got a promotional copy we simply could not pass over it without giving you a report.

Recorded live at NEARfest 2010, this is a blazing set of instrumental rock that dances and navigates between the majesty of progressive rock and the fervent, true to the moment nature of electric jazz rock. You might definitely spot echoes of Mahavishnu Orchestra here; but the hybridization of the aforementioned genres and the exotic, rawer tones - with violin and saxophone being incorporated seamlessly into the typical rock combo and its driving energies - threw us further back to East Of Eden's 1970 Snafu (which we reviewed in issue #30).

Sure, this one is less avant garde than the aforementioned Snafu; not only as it is more recent but also when judged by the music itself, as it is less weird and more cohesive and linear in its movement (even though there are some strangely refreshing bits such as the dub interlude in the fourth track!). The tones, however are similar, despite being more modern and aggressive; Eastern motifs are often explored and there is still a sense of adventurousness as the sounds do not come off as precise or strict but rather as scrubbed and inflammatory. We did not spot any showy, jazzy, solo improvisations - only effective playing which adds layers of depths, beauty and even some messiness to the well-constructed pieces.

Metamorphic Rock holds a performance full of passion, and we can't wait to hear if the band managed to recapture this on its recently released third album (the 2014 Groundswell). (8.5/10)

 

 

 

 
8.1/10 Avi
 

MIRTHKON - Snack(s) - CD - Altrock - 2013

We had to take some time to recover from the disappointing live performance of miRthkon at the 2013 Rock In Opposition Festival (see our live review in issue #75). A long time.

The good news is that it was worth it! The band's sophomore release sounds more focused (compared to the 2009 Vehicle, reviewed in issue #67), and, surprisingly, as a result of this it remains engaging, listening after listening. Sometimes tuning down the pretentiousness pays off.

The Frank Zappa influences are still here, but there's lesser reliance on the vocals (still whimsical, even more so) for the humorous twists - instead the music speaks for itself with its liveliness and its entangled, creative arrangements.

Furthermore, this time around the music seems to be less about avant rock and its clean esthetics (even though there are some clean and beautiful passages embedded - mostly those led by clarinets, bassoon and other wind instruments) and more about theatric metal. In addition to a vivid, hard hitting rhythm section of bass and drums, the brass instruments sound quite metallic; and when they are used in harmony with the distortion-loaded guitars they make for an edgy delivery that corresponds with Primus ("The Cascades") as well as with Mike Patton / Faith No More (on "Snack[s] - the song!"), albeit it has stricter, metal-derived chops.

Actually, the cover of the Black Sabbath classic "Fairies Wear Boots" says it all!: it is probably the most deranged reading of that song, with metallic horn blows dictating the rhythm but also causing its suspense and fragmentation in what can be described as the sense of a trippy hallucination. At one point there's a brutal drum assault, at another saxes stroll with a pseudo-jazzy vibe, and quite often there's a collective ruckus that manages to be as colorful as it is loud.

If you like your me(t)al playful - make sure you get your Snack(s)! (8.1/10)

 

 

 

 
8.2/10 Avi
 

BARNES, MAHALIA & THE SOUL MATES ft BONAMASSA, JOE - OOH YEA The Betty Davis Songbook - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2014

Australian singer Mahalia Barnes pays tribute to the funk/soul music of Betty Davis in this album, backed by professional players including none other than Joe Bonamassa (Black Country Communion) on guitar; and we have to say that the fact this was released has a value in itself, as it has brought the brave, colorful music of Betty Davis, who seems to have been forgotten, to a new audience, including ourselves and we are grateful for that.

Now, Barnes might actually be a better singer than Davis. She is a natural singer, and R&B seems to flow through her entire body. She sings with passion and pathos, and is extremely technically proficient. Sometimes, however, this album sounds too polished.

Barnes' performance is effective throughout. On "Game Is My Middle Name" she plays around with her backing vocalists, with a definite groove. On "He Was A Big Freak," which is painted vividly with excellent guitar licks, Barnes soars higher and higher in a way that reflects the song's smutty, sexual scenes, recalling the original shouty vocals while remaining more tuneful.

However, as a performer we feel that Barnes needs to connect better with the rest of the music, if not to lead it. On many of the songs, the vocalist-backing synergy is lacking. An actual interaction between the singers on the aforementioned "Game Is My Middle Name," for instance, could have raised it to an even higher level. Another example of this is the version of "In The Meantime" - one of the lower keyed numbers here, which in its original form featured some whispered vocals - is performed with a Van Morrison vibe and inspiring organ-guitar setting, culminates with what we consider exaggerated vocals; we would have preferred it to end in a calmer fashion.

Also, the music tends to be overly busy, and this does not let the funk breathe as it did on the original versions. We encourage the approach taken on "Your Mama Wants You Back": a minimal, bass and drums introduction finds the guitar sneaking in with style; and the considerably minimal backing is maintained throughout, with keyboards and guitar curiousities thrown for good measure; the result is totally sexy yet somewhat implicit and suggestive of the heat.

Maybe funk does not need to be subtle. Maybe it should be as showy and as loud as Barnes is. But we would like her to take into account that sometimes sexy means not only sweaty but also dirty, and perhaps even risky. We deeply acknowledge her risk of making an entire album out of Davis songs, but still we wish to hear her risking even more with regards to her actual performance on her next release, which we will be looking forward to. (8.2/10)

 

 

 

 
9.25/10 Avi
 

LED BIB - The People In Your Neighbourhood - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2014

Cuneiform Records has earned a name for being a home for adventurous rock music, but the more we listen to its recent jazz releases the more we feel that it is every bit as exciting as a jazz label, especially if you are on the lookout for refreshing voices.

This album by Led Bib is representative of what Cuneiform has to offer to jazz listeners, both familiar and novice. The English group freshens the original swing experience of jazz with pseudo big band arrangements, electronic coloring and energetic playing being applied to compelling compositions.

Vitality is clearly the motivating force here, as everything is played with intention and electrifying passion. Two alto sax players deliver some scorching and emotive lines as well as punctuative rhythmic blows, while the traditional rhythm section of drums and bass forms - together with an electric piano - a ruckus that is continuously stimulating and remains rewarding and fresh with every listen.

The gradual and occasionally reflective buildup of some of the pieces (take "Recycling Saga" for example) does not take away from the music's memorable, hooking character, but rather emphasizes the narrative quality of the compositions, as well as the players' devotion to their articulation. This is not about a melodic phrase being thrown into the air for each musician to expand in his turn - it's about a group of musicians imaginatively harnessing their collective pallet to portray a vision in a controlled yet extremely colorful way. (9.25/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
5/10 Avi
 

LE SILO - Kesamino - CD - Arcangelo - 2014

Le Silo's agenda is blending jazz, rock and progressive music. On paper, there's a lot of promise to this, as we believe there's room for incorporating true to the moment improvisation in composed music and feel that the possibilities of doing so have yet been exhausted. Unfortunately, Le Silo's execution is a bit messy.

The Japanese piano-guitar-drums trio takes chamber rock into a jazzy, improvisational playground. While some of the genre's sonic characteristics remain intact - most notably the fuzzy bass, the attempt at a catastrophic drum sound and some vocals gestures that are Zehul derived (i.e. derived off the legacy of the French band Magma), the articulation and punctuation that makes Rock In Oppositon and similar, contemporary, progressive music so attractive are lost.

And it would have been acceptable if these was lost in favor of something else - but when the replacing elements are in fact uninspiring improvisations of the meandering type, such as the unimpressive guitar playing in "Kenji" or in "Ta Ka Ta Dap-Zap," where it is coupled with some pointlessly aggressive rumble; this does not show of maistry - quite the opposite.

Additionally, the (seemingly) nonverbal vocal performance really takes away from the music - on the opening "Zunda Zundatsu" it is quite painful and unpleasant whereas on "Hevika Shot" it mostly comprised frenzied shouts, without having any observable justification (in contrast with the Magma usage of such vocal tonalities). The vocals also sound a bit detached in the mix, and in fact the entire production sounds slightly synthetic to our ears (just listen to the Mahavishnu Orchestra influenced "Paro Paro," on which the attempt to recreate the colossal Cobham drum sound results in an unnatural, digitized cymbal sound as if someone triggered prerecorded samples).

Don't get us wrong - there are bits and pieces of value here, especially if you are an avid fan of modern rock music. Examples of this are the cheerful, Colosseum styled jazz rock fragments of the aforementioned "Kenji"; the comparably free music buildup of track #12, with hints of Canterbury jazz-rock in its textures; and perhaps - most of all - the delicate modern jazz vibe throughout "Hypochondria in May" (it's only a shame that poor guitar kind of ruins it).

Still, if you would like to hear a different, more successful and refreshing take on Chamber rock music we encourage you to check out Poil's latest release (also reviewed in this issue) instead, or if you want something jazzier - try a Jamie Saft release. (5/10)

 

 

 

 
7.9/10 Avi
 

KREYSKULL - Tower Witch - CD - Inverse Records - 2014

This new release by the Finnish Kreyskull might lack the depth of classic hard rock material but it does recapture the compelling, rollicking drive of the genre. Kreyskull harnesses the '70s guitar rock influences to deliver an engaging pack of thoroughly enjoyable songs - songs that are immediately grabbing with their riffs, melodies and energy. As such, Kreyskull fills the void that has existed ever since Pepper Keenan left Corrosion of Conformity.

The band recreates the 70s sound and its vitality but without sounding purely retro. The guitar sound has the vintage tones of Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull, with effective overdubs and a modern sounding twist of Southern metal (once again - just think Corrosion of Conformity). Furthermore, unlike many others, Kreyskull also paid attention to the versatility of the hard rock pioneers, and pays a suitable tribute in the likes of the jazzy maneuver on "Abomination Jungle" (which actually allude to The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby") and the walking bass feature in "The Man Who Lived Before" - both are reminiscent of the original Black Sabbath style.

"Soulway Station" is a perfect get together song with a delicious, Jimmy Page styled guitar solo; but not all of the songs are sunny and bright. They do, however, typically hold a confident, victorious angle ("Kingdom Falling," for example, deals with a dismissal of a ruler from the celebrating perspective of his nation). (7.9/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

KAYO DOT - Coffin on Io - CD - The Flenser - 2014

With Peter Steele gone, there's no chance of (or perhaps no point in) hearing new Type O Negative material, but the new Kayo Dot opens with an impressive take on the Type O Negative gothic doom style, with a specific nod towards October Rust's slower material (if you want some more of "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend" look for it in the new Moonspell). The vocals might not be as clear nor as deep, and yet there is that haunting vibe here which is truly grabbing.

The second track - "Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22" - continues leading the mystery with a dark wave notation which is an even more comprehensive reflection of the entire release. The music is pulsating while being fairly static, and therefore borders on being hypnotic. Electronics augment majestic, foggy rhythms, eventually resulting in a trippy experience, and the occasional hesitation of the vocal performance actually add to the music's evasiveness.

Later on (on "The Assassination Of Adam") some twisted, industrial metal takes the lead (reminding us of The Young Gods in its vocal style), but not before a frenzied, somewhat brutal, avant rock section explodes "Library Subterranean" (complete with the fervent sax playing, which pops up sporadically throughout the album).

The impressing thing about this release is that despite Kayo Dot's experimental tendencies, the songs are all about trapping vibes and restrained emotional turmoil, and there is a clear avoidance of anything technical, making Coffin on Io a sensual, dark release. (8/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
7.25/10 Avi
 

JAMMER, JOE - Headway - CD - Angel Air Records - 2015

This previously unreleased 1974 recording by guitarist Joe Jammer (who was born Joe Wright, but embraced the nickname with which Jimmy Page used to refer to him while serving as his guitar tech) might stir classic rock fans' interest for featuring none other than Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience on drums; but there's certainly more to discover here.

Headway is in fact a solid band effort, as Jammer certainly did a good job assembling a lineup which sounds like an organic group as well as arranging the material in a way which gives all members a proper share of the attention. Gentle funk is infused into the catchy, soulful rock songs, at times sounding a bit like Deep Purple 1975 model (the Come Taste The Band lineup, with Glenn Hughes and Tommy Bolin), and perhaps even like Thin Lizzy. The easy going yet confident funk rock of "Can't Yer Catch?" and "Cool Breeze" as well as the sparkling keyboards-guitar dialog on "Travellin'" serve as prime examples. There's a rare stylistic approach to rock demonstrated here - an approach a few have practiced to our knowledge; and since it is performed effectively this is certainly appraisable.

While the sound quality is not perfect, the songs are easily enjoyable, and if you are a classic rock aficionado you would not want to miss this! (7.25/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
7.25/10 Avi
 

FLYING COLORS - Second Nature - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2014

The second Flying Colors release tones down the pop and Dixie Dregs influences that made the supergroup's debut recording so unforgettable in favor of more standard yet ultra professional prog rock.

Neal Morse's (Spock's Beard, Transatlantic) keyboards take the forefront more prominently this time, providing lead lines as well as background. This is apparent on the opening "Open Up Yours Eyes," which delivers a The Flower Kings styled retro-prog, dominated by fancy keyboards, melodic guitar-keyboards unisons, and intensified by Mike Portnoy's over the top drumming (which actually helps propelling the music to some degree, contrary to the stable melody). Clocking at over 12 minutes this piece presents the new album's tendency towards seemingly-epic material (not one of the tracks falls below four minutes) as well as midtempos. The draggy nature and the lack of concrete drama prevent this track from fulfilling its epic call.

The performance is as tight as it gets, and the production is detailed (and even tries to push the music into climax, sometimes brutally as in "The Fury Of My Love"), but while Second Nature is all in all an accomplished album, something in the band's identity is lost together with the immediacy of its tunes.

Still, some of Dixie Dregs' stylish decor and the pop sensitivity appear here and there, providing the much yearned for distinctive colors. This is prominent on the effective, hymnal "A Place In Your World," with its arena/jazz-rock vibe and catchy vocal performance; as well as on "Bombs Away," which - besides the Deep Purple's styled blues rock of its organ and guitar interplay - features a beautiful, slightly symphonic arrangement that actually does references Dixie Dregs before ending rather abruptly.

There is also a true surprise here, and it is found in the last part of the closing "Cosmic Symphony." Six minutes into the song (which is the second longest track here, running for almost twelve minutes) a new section begins with somewhat untypical guitar work by Steve Morse. A true standout, Morse incorporates white blues into his playing in a way we've never heard before, echoing Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac's pastoral, English sceneries. Every Morse fan owes himself to listen to this take, and we truly hope the guitarist will further incorporate this moving style into his future works. (7.25/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
7/10 Avi
 

EARTH - Primitive and Deadly - CD - Southern Lord - 2014

Primitive indeed, Earth's sonics are murky, unrefined, and at times even sound like merely a basis for a future output. The band does incorporate some vocals here to transform their lengthy doom drones - resonating with feedback, distortion and basic, hit-by-hit drumming - into songs.

On both "There Is a Serpent Coming" and "Rooks Across the Gate" it is Mark Lanegan who delivers the lyrics, but while his presence might be a good selling point, he does not quite settle into the songs, and especially on the former he seems to be in a rush while the music drags behind him.

On "From the Zodiacal Light," however, the vocals of Rabia Shaheen Qazi fit much better, doing the slow, enwrapping music justice. At times, this sounds like a slowed down, doom version of Led Zeppelin's "You Shook Me" (originally written by Dixon, we know!).

And if you think you've heard Zeppelin styled blues on the aforementioned, wait until you get to the succeeding instrumental - "Even Hell Has Its Heroes"!: this one is basically funeral blues (and after phrasing this impression it has struck us that Lanegan's 2012 album is titled "Blues Funeral," but he did not come close to the vibes illustrated here), with its dark mood and performance showing Earth in all its gloomy glory. (7/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
7.8/10 Avi
 

RYAN, DYLAN / SAND - Circa - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2014

This second release by Dylan Ryan Sand delivers a forceful yet thoughtful blend of jazz and rock. In a way, it is comparable to Dusan Jevtovic's Am I Walking Wrong? (also reviewed in this issue), comprising instrumental music of hard rock tonalities; but, perhaps due to being led by a drummer rather than a guitarist, Circa relies more heavily on an active ambience, and is altogether more diverse.

Whereas the opening track ("Trees, Voices, Saturn") openly demonstrates a jazz rock leaning, the following "Possession" soon enforces a darker mood with a monumental setting which alludes to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" coupled with concrete sludge motifs.

The trio continues to explore sonic sceneries and textures even more thoroughly on the subsequent tracks, drawing from post rock as well as noise and free music (as in "Night Sea Journey"). While Timothy Young does offer appealing, melodic voices as well as moving rhythms with his guitar (sometimes it's hard to tell them apart, as in the Hendrix styled rendition of Keith Jarrett's funky "Mortgage On My Soul," the only nonoriginal number here) and the bass and drums unit of Ryan and Devin Hoff delivers solid beats with commendable dynamics; the trio's collective collage is every bit as crucial to the nature and purpose of this recording, as can be heard on "Visionary Fantasy."

The conciseness of the pieces, ranging from slightly less than two minutes to just over five in length, might not be enough for a state of mind transition (if you need that, look for more obvious post rock candidates such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor), but it is effective for keeping the trio's exploration focused and essential. (7.8/10)

 

 

 

 
7.5/10 Avi
 

JEVTOVIC, DUSAN - Am I Walking Wrong? - CD - MoonJune Records - 2013

The dirty textures of the opening "You Can't Sing, You Can't Dance" took us by surprise. There's an alarming vibe here as well as rough playing which is not common in jazz rock and Moonjune Records releases.

This is an instrumental recording by the powerhouse trio of Serbian guitarist Dusan Jevtovic (with Bernat Hernandez on bass and Marko Djordjevic on drums), and most of it was recorded live in the studio, a fact which further emphasizes the crude, raw energy of the music (even on the comparatively elaborate numbers such as "Embracing Simplicity").

By the time you get to the fourth track, "One On One," with its bluesy guitar lick and muddy textures there's no room for doubt: this is probably the closest that jazz rock has ever gotten to Grunge. And this is also what gives this fiery release a vibe of its own. (7.5/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

DE STAAT - Vinticious Versions - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2014

This EP features reworked versions of the Netherlands based band's songs, and it is one of the most enjoyable releases we've heard in a while (possibly since Them Crooked Vultures' 2009 debut). Borrowing from the jazz subgenre classification, the music here can be branded as "cool rock."

The opening "Get It Together" has that slick Queens of the Stone Age vibe - less dense and less heavy, it is every bit as fun though. The second song - "Build That, Buy That" - introduces vintage '60s psychedelic / pop-rock influences that surprisingly do not sound anachronistic but rather up to date, with the tasteful, Josh Homme styled guitar fragments definitely helping in refreshing the whimsical vocals.

"Input Source Select" takes the coolness a level further, with hip hop styled vocal delivery and rhythms. There is interesting instrumentation here, including a flute feature that made us think of Gil Scott Heron's "Pieces of a Man." "Down Town" travels a similar yet distinctively different path, owing much to Peeping Tom in its cool styling and sexy aroma (complete with guest female vocals) while being more subtle.

De Staat just kept surprising us not only with the diversity of the music but also with its coherence. The reggae touch in "All is Dull," for example, blends naturally with the rudiments of the aforementioned "Input Source Select," whereas "Sweatshop" adds surf rock to the colorful, sonic pallet. (9/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8.9/10 Avi
 

HELBOCK, DAVID TRIO - Aural Colors - CD - Traumton Records - 2015

Aural Colors is one of the most colorful jazz releases we have heard recently. The music here is streaming with punctuating rhythms and melodic plentifulness.

This piano trio (piano/bass/drums) is one tight unit, and the solos are all approached as integral sections of the compositions rather than a showcase rooted in typical jazz forms. The three musicians create and maintain the space for individual creativity while aiming at a collaborative impact.

The compositions are inspired by classical music in their European aesthetics and sense of movement, and the rearrangements of three piano pieces by Austrian classical composer Arnold Schoenberg ("Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19" parts 2-4) are certainly the most obvious to demonstrate this; but they also serve us in denoting just how committed the trio is to the Jazz brand, as it takes the Schoenberg pieces and turns them into a set of invigorating tunes that dance vividly around their melodies. The first is playful, the second - a contemplative piano centered ballad with wistful use of brushes, and the third starts with pensive piano chords and gradually unfolds with lively, gushing yet articulate optimism which corresponds with some of Jazz's most ancient notions of swing.

On "Opfili, bist so kugelrund" (originally by Bruno Wiederin), the drum work is almost rockish and as the Austrian leader is exploring the insides of the piano a free jazz vibe is summoned, and eventually turns into a nailing, pseudo electronic, upbeat feast in a tour de force which maintains and nourishes the grandness of the leading piano melody, being well aware of its place as a focal hook.

The other tracks are original Helbock compositions, and they are every bit as compelling, whether they are styled as classic jazz ("AM - Anonymous Monkaholics") or as brutal modern jazz with interlocking rhythms in mesmerizing patterns ("Virus Ukelelen Song"). Typically fragile, the melodies are the leading voices on this album, whereas the inventiveness of the trio is responsible for their lush shaping. (8.9/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

CHROME HOOF - Chrome Black Gold - CD - Cuneiform Records - 2013

This is probably the hottest release we have ever had the pleasure of reviewing.

Led by Cathedral's bassist Leo Smee, Chrome Hoof mixes dance floor music with avant rock and extreme metal on this fourth full length release.

Chrome Black Gold - the ensemble's debut for Cuneiform Records is an eclectic mix of extreme metal,avant rock (with sinister echoes of Magma and Present) with dance floor pop. Sounds challenging? Well, it is!

Michael Jackson styled disco is offered in "Tortured Craft" with extra meaty bass and drums as well as dreamy vibes. On "Ultimate Sealed Unit" Funk meets Electronica meets Ska meets Hard Rock. "When The Lightning Strikes" is intense, with galloping rhythms and vocals reminiscent of Julie Christmas. "Enter The Drobe," "Kestrel Dawn" and others offer glimpses of horror utilizing ominous keyboards and black metal drumming, while "Andromeda" and "Dysnomia" are disciplined movements that belong with avant garde rock music and demonstrate some sensitivity; with the former including a bassoon feature and reminding us of Guapo's doomy music, and the latter being an even more elegant, piano led piece. Surprisingly, all of these work as they result in a mind blowing experience that helps to widen the listener's horizons.

"Varkada Blues," takes things a bit too far, though. It is explicit extreme metal with snarling, black metal styled vocal performance by Carcass' Jeff Walker. We doubt they will be playing this in dance clubs, but it's a good track nonetheless. (9/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

ACCORDO DEI CONTRARI - Adc - CD - Altrock - 2014

Like Arti E Mestieri's brilliant 1974 release Tilt, this third, instrumental album by the Italian band Accordo dei Contrari is a fluent, seamless mix of electric jazz-rock with progressive rock.

However, in contrast with the soft, marching curtains of Arti E Mestieri's drums (which were highly derivative of King Crimson's Michael Giles' style), Accordo Dei Contrari's drums are more modern sounding as well as more aggressive, punctuating the pieces with tight, shifting time signatures.

Listening to "Tiglath" one can definitely get the overall vibe: spacey hovering by Fender Rhodes electric piano summons a reflective atmosphere before turning - with a flick of Holdsworth-ian guitar - into a festive Mediterranean dance, boosted by double bass drumming. Definitely evocative of Soft Machine, only more physically driving.

While the jazz-rock celebration of themes by the blazing guitar and keyboard leads (occasionally in unison) is at the heart of this, they also join hands with the drama, the epic qualities and even the classical music discipline that are typically attributed toprog-rock. This is prominent on "Seth Zeugma," which benefits from the inclusion of guest players on cello and viola enhancing its acoustic-electric interplay.

If you like energetic, creative music, you simply can't go wrong with Adc. (8.5/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

GAMMA RAY - Empire of the Undead - CD - Armoury - 2014

Empire of the Undead? Seriously? What a lame title, and there is even a title track which carries it. Yep, it's such a lame title that we really wanted to butcher this latest release by Gamma Ray.

But then we gave it a few spins, and then some more. Mostly while driving - the setting in which we typically sample and filter the many digital promos we receive. And we realized: we want Gamma Ray music to be lame!

The opening track - "Avalon" might fool you, though. It's an impressive epos, with a proper buildup that includes choral accompaniment and some Queen-derived theatrics, and while it reveals the high production standards and the capable playing, this piece might actually lead you to think this is a serious, even somewhat original album.

"Hellbent" follows and does a bit to correct the impression: with an unavoidable, demanding reference to a classic Judas Priest song, this is a metal anthem like a metal anthem should be, praising metal and sounding like it was taken off the 1990 genre defining album Painkiller, with Priest styled guitar duels and clean high vocals soaked in Accept styled cat growls and thrash hints. A few tracks later, "Master of Confusion" features mocking laughter and some glam rock, and by now you understand that (at least some of) this album is a self aware joke, which Gamma Ray does not even try to hide.

And there's no reason to hide it: Gamma Ray is vital and kicking, and these guys can write good, even great, memorable tunes with some invigorating playing - all true to their function. This is by-the-book metal, but it's first class all the way. In fact, this is Gamma Ray at its most elegant yet effectively hard rocking form. Plentiful with articulate guitar solos (as opposed to a lot of generic ones found in similar works), with a vocal performance that is enthusiastic, grabbing melodies and lively tempos - this album is basically everything you will need for your guilty metal pleasure. Even the power ballad, "Time for Deliverance," is delivered with an appropriate pathos and with a thoughtful guitar playing that make it work despite its cheesiness.

The band achieves a good balance between speed and passion on this highly entertaining and rocking metal release. If you want a dose of typical, cliched yet varied heavy metal of the highest standards - you simply cannot go wrong with this one! (8/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

Related reviews:
 
No World Order (issue No 6)  

 

 

 
9.3/10 Avi
 

GOV'T MULE - featuring JOHN SCOFIELD - Sco-Mule - CD - Mascot Label Group - 2015

Sometimes all you need is to have is the energy of a live gig restored in the comfort of your home, away from actual crowd, with optimal sound and without other disturbing/distracting factors. This fantastic release by Gov't Mule delivers by offering the above, as the pure, live energy of the 1999 gigs - with the power trio in its original form (including Allen Woody a year prior to his untimely death) - is well pronounced through the speakers once you press "Play."

The concert was captured with a rich, faithful sonic production. You can hear the details and also feel the audience reaction, allowing for a listening experience which places you right in the middle of the actual events.

As for the actual music offered here - it is an instrumental-rock jam session of the highest caliber. Throughout, Gov't Mule is joined by renowned jazz guitarist John Scofield and Dr. Dan Matrazzo on keyboards, and the pack results in a cohesive, constant stream of ideas and tasteful musical playfulness and willingness - always pushing forward and exciting yet never overwhelming with exaggeration or self-importance.

The compositions include Gov't Mule pieces (such as "Birth of the Mule," which is in itself a tribute to Miles Davis) as well as covers (such as "Afro Blue," which was immortalized by Coltrane); and while the performers stretch them considerably the essence is maintained. It is no mean feat, given that the shortest track clocks at about 9 minutes while the longest one runs for 23 minutes, and it can actually be argued that the elasticity of the material is exploited to the max, if not reinforced. The guitar talks on "Sco-Mule" as well as the openness with which The Allman Brothers Band number "Kind Of Bird" is treated serve to demonstrate that.

This set, which lasts about 2.5 hours, can be enjoyed repeatedly as it never gets boring. There's an exquisite sense of funk here that keeps the whole thing on track while these excellent improvisers astound you with fiery licks and dexterous decorations, unleashing tons and tons of marvels, and moving from peak to peak. We can't understand how you can play music for so much time without running out of ideas, but this recording is a given fact, and as such a testimony to these musicians' competence (which, at least in the case of Gov't Mule, has never before been so discernibly documented on record). (9.3/10)

 

 

 

 
8.25/10 Avi
 

ENGELHARDT, TOULOUSE - Mind Gardens - CD - Lost Grove Arts - 2014

Dedicating ourselves to esoteric music, Toulouse Engelhardt is definitely fit. Active since the mid 1970s, and considered amongst the great acoustic, fingerstyle guitar players, alongside John Fahey (who also gave home to Englehardt's early recordings), Engelhardt remains an esoteric figure.

This latest release by the fingerpicking maestro has a continuous sense of motion. The tracks - all instrumental and all but three are original - typically run for around three or four minutes each, and yet each manages to take the listener on a journey of its own.

The auditory vistas are varied and engaging. Through his richly textured, acoustic guitar playing Engelhardt can take you for a stroll in a colorful garden ("Nierika"), offer a window seat in a train ride through western landscapes ("Theme to the First Annual Bluebelly Lizard Roundup"), and celebrate heritages (the spanish "The Wedge," a cover of a Dick Dale number, served with bongos, as well as the live and lively performance of the traditional American tune "Simple Gifts") and life's pleasures (the erupting "Dom Perignon").

The production is natural - so much that it is easy to imagine the musician's presence in the room; and some of the album's effectiveness is undoubtedly due to this unaffected, authentic experience. The inclusion of a 1978 recording, "Lavender Ascension II," with its Baroque organ music influence, as well as the pastoral guitar and flute duet of the closing "Dialogue with an English Rill" helps the album maintain its attractiveness and sense of surprise from beginning to end. (8.25/10)

 

 

 

 
8.5/10 Avi
 

REVEL IN VOID - Those He Hates He Loves Most - CD - Indie - 2014

Those He Hates He Loves Most is one of those albums that remind you why you keep trying out independent releases. This debut by the German band Revel In Void is a world class, symphonic metal album.

Being a piece of self-released music, this one does not have a luxurious production, but it does prove that if you have great music you can deliver even with modest, semiprofessional means.

There's nothing beautified about the music, as guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Marcel Schiborr managed to blend symphonic elements with the harsher, original ingredients of heavy metal (Thrash metal included), without making the symphonic arrangements sound overly decorated or kitschy. Instead, the arrangements are the vehicle which glues the pieces and delivers them with a majestic dark notion that holds a horror movie vibe.

There's instrumental prowess throughout, but not of the technical showcase kind. The drumming is precise and hard hitting yet natural, and it animates the music - whether it is in the form of a clashing curtain or a rhythmic pulse. The guitars are basic but effective in their rhythmic rawness as well as in their meaty, swirling, melodic leads. The latter are often the basis for the music's symphonic vibe, with the keyboards adding a layer of harmonious and somewhat mysterious attraction.

The vocal delivery is top notch. The vocalist has a good diction which allows you to absorb the lyrics, and when this is combined with a versatile performance - which ranges from contemplative to beastly (and somewhat Dave Mustaine derived on the likes of "Perpetuity" and "The Dark Den," with the former being an exemplary demonstration of the band's true metal approach - sounding like Megadeth with the guitar solos replaced by a sophisticated arrangement that has the aroma of a symphonic movement) - the result is moving. (8.5/10, with an extra point for being such an accomplished independent release)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

TUSMORKE - Riset Bak Speilet - CD - Svart Record - 2014

The opening track of this Norwegian band's sophomore release - "Offerpresten" - echoes Jethro Tull, not only due to the flute playing, but also in the arrangement, which sounds like it was taken off the 1970 album Benefit (one of our favorite Tull albums). Still, there is a symphonic twist here that proves Tusmörke is more than a copycat.

The following pieces cut down on the Tull influences, farther distilling Tusmörke's distinctive quality. The second track, "Gamle Aker Kirke," mixes the rural sounds with 1960s acid folk and the occasional prog rock reference to Genesis and Black Widow. "Black Swift," which prominently features the vibrating sounds of theremin, has a darker vibe as The Moody Blues styled atmosphere is smeared with allusions to harsher content and the progressive buildup. The playing and orchestration is superb - the drums (by Lars Fredrik Frøislie of Wobbler, under a pseudonym here) keep driving the music forward while the keyboard sounds maintain a terrific scene.

Some of the songs contain English lyrics while others are in the band's native Norwegian tongue, and when coupled with the ancient styled chants and retro sounds (check out the title track) the mysterious result is bound to take you on a journey to another place. (9/10)

[Our Gut Feeling on this release is available here]

 

 

 

 
8/10 Avi
 

ABBASI, REZ ACOUSTIC QUARTET - Intents and Purposes - CD - Enja - 2015

This new release by a quartet led by Pakistan-born, American guitarist Rez Abbasi is exciting in concept: revisiting classic jazz-rock material in acoustic form. It is an opportunity to shine the light on compositions in a genre which is sometimes dismissed by jazz fans for its masked tones; a chance to show the quality of these pieces as timeless compositions.

It's not that this has not been done before, and even the original artists themselves attempted an acoustic take on their compositions every once in a while; some even preconceived the music as acoustic. Chick Corea is good example of both practices, as the 1973 Crystal Silence - his joint venture with vibraphonist Gary Burton - showed him revisiting his Return To Forever tunes as well as spawning new ones for future Return To Forever efforts. Still, it is nice to hear an outsider, who self-proclaims to have revealed this music only recently and thus has no sentiments towards it, seizes the potential, and giving these compositions new life.

And it is indeed lively. The reading of Corea's "Medieval Overture" is perhaps the prime cut here in that regards (wrongfully listed as track #4, where it is in fact track #5; switched with a calmer, outstretching version of McLaughlin's "Resolution," which originally closed Mahavishnu Orchestra's 1973 Birds of Fire with an eruption). The drumming is intense yet breezy, carried even more brightly by the dominant presence of the vibraphone, and the guitar maintains the vividness whereas the acoustic bass features (both arco and pizzicato) tinge the regal, medieval feast with reflective tones.

The vibraphone plays a major role in corresponding with some of the original vibe of the compositions, as it adds a slight organ-like touch to the music and as such hints at the electric side of jazz-rock.

Abbasi's guitar playing is commendable - not necessarily technically but more in terms of tremor and in keeping the original lines - typically speedy and dense with notes - sparking while offering a cleaner, barer voice. This can easily be heard on Abbasi's version of Larry Coryell's "Low-Lee-Tah," on which he reinvents the original tune as a guitar duo. (8/10)

 

 

 

 
6.75/10 Avi
 

BULLHOUNDS, THE - Protector - CD - RockBastard Records - 2014

The Bullhounds self-declared purpose is to deliver that pure and basic rock 'n' roll feel of old, suggesting at the overproduction that is typically practiced these days. Stylistically, this is a success: Protector is unadulterated rock through and through.

The band includes former and current members of the southern rock band The Georgia Satellites as well as Peter Stroud and Danish business man Erling Daell as the frontman. The playing is confident, and has that primordial, effective rock and roll vibe. The songs are catchy and fun, at times sounding like a softer version of AC/DC or The Rolling Stones, featuring slightly clichéd lyrics that are nonetheless simple, direct and true ("Make It" is a representative manifest, and we bring you one of its verses to demonstrate: "Strike a chord / Let it ring / Write a song / Let it sing").

There's one thing that does not quite click though, and that's the vocals. Daell is far from being a natural singer, as there's really nothing melodic to his coarse voice. While the singer manages to partially make up for that with his enthusiasm and delivery, the result is still lacking, especially in the more delicate numbers (such as "Moments," which simply should have been left out). (6.75/10)

 

 

 

 
9/10 Avi
 

BRUCE, JACK - The 50th Birthday Concerts - DVD - MIG Music - 2014

This celebration of Jack Bruce's life is an excellent way to pay tribute to the artist who has passed away in 2014.

Filmed in 1993, this video release (2 DVDs on the standard release reviewed here, 3 DVDs on the special edition) documents two consecutive evenings in which Bruce celebrated his 50th birthday by performing live with many of the musicians who accompanied him throughout his different musical endeavors.

Don't expect perfect takes here, as this impassioned performance appropriately represents the bassist's musical agenda. Bruce - renowned for his role in the supergroup Cream - has conducted most of his a career in less popular realms, experimenting with blues, jazz and even a bit of avant garde music.

The program starts with a slightly limping cello solo by Bruce, which you can skip. Things improve noticeably when Bruce approaches the piano to play the instrumental "FM" and the ballad "Can You Follow?." On the latter, Bruce reveals his sensitive vocal performance is in top form, and this is reaffirmed on later numbers such as his duet with Maggie Reilly "Ships in the Night" (released the same year these concerts took place) or "Bird Alone," on which he once again sings to the sounds of piano (before a blistering attack commences, with Gary Husband ripping through the drum set). In fact, some of the best, most driven and expressive singing we've ever heard by Bruce is found in this release.

His musical companions come and go. Gary Husband teams up with Bruce on the piano, before drummer Ginger Baker (also of Cream fame) and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith (of Colosseum) hold a jazzy jam session (including numbers off Bruce's 1970 Things We Like) that might not be impressive but serves as a warm up for future events and demonstrates the musicians' joyful state of mind.

Things get tighter when the criminally underrated guitarist Clem Clempson join for "First Time I Met The Blues," showcasing his definitive blues rock chops as an answer to Heckstall-Smith's trademark trick of playing two saxes simultaneously. It is the same Clemspon who later joins Bruce and Baker as a stand in for Clapton in an excellent set of Cream songs. Few of these are soon repeated, along with others, only this time in footage from the second evening in which Gary Moore stepped in on guitar. It is interesting to contrast the two players, as Moore utilizes more distorted and fleshy tones, and the inclusion of the two sets is definitely welcome, and can be appreciated even by the casual listener due to the riveting performances.

For those who want to see Bruce in his most natural and most enthusiastic form while sampling from his varied repertoire - this is an extremely good selection. (9/10)

 

 

 

 
8.2/10 Avi
 

TAYLOR'S UNIVERSE - From Scratch - CD - Marvel of Beauty Records - 2015

At first impression, this new recording by Taylor's Universe seemed strange to us. There was something peculiar about the textures, and the sound echoed '80s production as it appeared somewhat artificially acute.

But From Scratch grew on us, and the more we listen to it the more fascinating we find it to be. The conflicting textures definitely have something to do with this appeal. While maintaining the jazz-rock identity of his previous efforts, it seems like leader Robin C Taylor chose to counterpoint the formidable and the fiery with their contradictions in these new compositions.

The result can be regarded as jazz-rock's answer to Electronica, as there is certainly an effect akin to that of electronic music in some of the tracks. On "Beta X," for example, nonverbal, laughing voices seem to be transfigured from the original context in which they were sampled into a collage of static, semi-repetitive, rhythmic patterns to offer a mocking vibe, before evolving into a more comfortable, natural tune, which, in turn, evaporates with hints of free music into a futuristic version of itself. On "Autumn River" a more minimalist ambience is stated using guitar loops.

The instrumental prowess is not undermined though, and there are plenty of beautiful to adventurous playing here. On "Other Meetings" a modernized Canterbury mood is induced by the use of Minimoog and keyboards together with a somewhat mechanical accentuation by the drums, and it features a blistering electric guitar solo. The mighty and horrifying "Interrail" benefits from free music rants (the utilization of "la la la" vocals here is slightly exhausting though, and certainly detracts). "Fur Louise" opens with a bass clarinet introduction before a magnificent keyboards passage unfolds, soon turning into a tour de force, once guitars and saxophones join, offering unison movements and creative, true to the place solos.

The use of real instruments and their manipulation to compose something that is organically suggestive of Electronica (and slightly trance-inducing at times) is clever. We really like the way Taylor elaborated his timbres and composing on this release, and we certainly wish to hear how he perfects this, perhaps by utilizing samples embedding to an even greater effect. (8.2/10)

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

HENRY COW - In Praise Of Learning - CD - ReR - 1975

review by: Avi Shaked

This 1975 album by the avant garde rock group Henry Cow is in fact the band's second, collaborative release with another band - Slappy Happy; but whereas Desperate Straights - which was released just a bit earlier the same year - featured shorter, avant-pop oriented material that evolves from the Slappy Happy body of work, In Praise of Learning is a definite Henry Cow output, with all its adventurous and oppositionist characteristics intact, and even enhanced due to the striking vocal presence of the German born Dagmar Krause. Krause retains her German diction and style when she sings in English here, giving the lyrics the admonition, the totality and visceral idiosyncrasy that the music calls for.

"Living In The Heart Of The Best," in particular, is a definitive composition which defines the Rock In Opposition movement of avant garde rock that Henry Cow founded a few years later. This composition features 16 minutes of the darkest music made to that day, and possibly the darkest until Univers Zero emerged (with albums such as the 1979 Heresie). Univers Zero may have mastered the fuzzy bass and its dialog with the piano, but these were already highly convincing and articulate when practiced by Henry Cow here.

There is pure violence in "Living In The Heart Of The Beast," as Krause lends her vocals to a song which calls for active resistance ("We shall seize from all heroes and merchants our labour, our lives, and our practice of history") with a spine chilling performance.

The introduction of this piece features - besides the distorted rollicking guitar line - a melodic bass playing and a narrating drum work, sounding like an early version of technical/progressive metal, soon counterpointed by heartfelt piano playing which is joined by delicate guitar tones. Similarly, clashing drums are joined by subtle xylophone work, and overall the sense of threat and aggression tango with the sensitive throughout.

Later, an organ and violin duet leads a sorrowful (perhaps even threatening) scene which evolves into absurd, before alarming guitar and bass lines spawns a somewhat jazz-rock midsection (even though jazz-rock rarely, if ever, sounded so harsh; and we did mention "technical metal" earlier...), fueled by fervent drum work. This, in turn, makes way to a classical music influenced movement, which maintains tension while Krause's hysterically verbal unloading occurs, and culminates (or rather fades away) with a finale which carries a modern sounding prog-metal vibe and is enhanced by a definitive, harmonious arrangement of woodwinds, strings and percussions.

The astounding thing about Henry Cow's archetypical prog metal is that it is not a stylistic decision. It is a natural consequence of the angst which drives this work, and as such it remains relevant and vital to this day.

[In memory of Lindsay Cooper, 1951-2013]