Monday, December 3, 2012

Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering

                Folk music was booming in various places around the world in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, reaching a high peak in its popularity amongst countries such as America and the United Kingdom. With albums such as Songs of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen, Blue by Joni Mitchell, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, and Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel, the genre of folk and folk rock was gaining the attention of a wide audience of listeners, who reveled in the scene and made it clear that this time period of music (and its associated artists) would go down in musical history. One key feature that all artists from this time period had in common: they were all extremely prolific and (relatively) consistent in their album releases. This is not the case, however, for one artist in particular, who only released one album in these glory years of folk music: that artist is Vashti Bunyan 

Vashti is an English artist who, after the poor sales of her debut album Just Another Diamond Day, gave up her musical career for a long period of time. The name Vashti Bunyan is not a name that comes to mind for many when they typically think of great folk artists, and for a valid reason; with the release of only one album (that initially was not at all popular), one could hardly be considered a member of the prominent folk scene. However, it is said that some artists are remembered more fondly after they have died (or in this case, after their musical careers have seemingly died), and when Vashti’s debut album was re-released in 2000, it gained a newfound appreciation and following, with new listeners starting to catch on to what others had missed in 1970: fantastic musicianship and composition, and a stunningly heartfelt simplicity and sincerity meshed together with an overwhelmingly beautiful voice. With this success of the re-release, Vashti’s musical career was reborn in her newly found inspiration and confidence, as she went on to release her grossly underrated folk masterpiece, 2005’s Lookaftering.

                Lookaftering is, at face value, a seemingly simple and traditional female-lead folk album; a strong effort, yet nothing too special. However, at its heart, the album is filled with subtle nuances that add layers onto the complexity and beauty of the album, revealing an album that is able to stand at levels of other folk classics in musical ability and prominence. Lookaftering is able to combine elements of traditional guitar- or piano-driven folk with beautifully arranged baroque-style folk instrumentation and a nostalgic pastoral feeling. There are distinct similarities between the musical arrangements of Vashti and folk artist Joanna Newsom, in that both Newsom and Vashti make use of a multitude of baroque instruments such as oboes, horns, and clarinets (Newsom even contributed to Lookaftering via her harp playing). “Turning Backs” is an excellent example of this “medieval”-like sound that the album can produce at times, as a gentle oboe whisks the listener away into a pastoral landscape of a serene valley, or some other natural landscape.

                The entirety of the album also has a very peaceful yet melancholy feel to it, reminiscent of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon in its morose tonality and expressiveness. As heard on Pink Moon, Drake’s simple and minimal acoustic-guitar lead approach can be heard throughout parts of Lookaftering, such as in “Wayward”, which has the same gentle yet downhearted sound that Drake is famous for. Nick Drake and the aforementioned Joanna Newsom are not the only artists that are brought to mind when listening to Vashti, however; all throughout the album, one cannot help but notice that Vashti sounds familiarly similar to folk legend Joni Mitchell in voice alone. Although the voices themselves are similar, the way in which Vashti expresses her voice is quite unique from that of Mitchell. Vashti’s voice is much more warbly, airy, and subtle in comparison to Mitchell’s much stronger and more distinguished vocal qualities. Despite these seeming differences and seeming downfalls, Vashti’s vocals (paradoxically) contrasts quite nicely with her pretty and dreamy instrumental arrangements, creating a layer of unique beauty of their very own.

                Despite becoming a bit of a cult classic in recent times, Vashti’s debut release and its long-awaited follow-up Lookaftering, still fail to garnish much attention from the popular media or the public at large. Whether because folk music hasn’t seen a large booming surge in recent times like it experienced at the turn of the 1970’s, or for other advertising/commercial purposes, the delicate genius of Vashti Bunyan remains relatively elusive from most. Any that appreciate classic (and even contemporary) folk music should, however, become well-versed in Vashti’s works. Lookaftering is the innocent-sounding, seemingly simple yet exquisitely arranged album that portrays an idyllic country life while simultaneously making the listener downtrodden and gloomy in a beautiful, earthly sort of way. Fans of folk should have this album somewhere in their repertoire, and even the occasional fan of the genre can get equal amounts of enjoyment out of this underappreciated album.

-Richard Cory

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Krallice - Years Past Matter

Midterms have not been kind to FAN's NBBMN experience. After lots of incremental chipping away at what writing could get done, here is the much belated next installment in the series - a review of Krallice's brand new headscratcher, Years Past Matter.

“Hipster”. Never has there ever been a more conveniently dismissive term for black metal genre purists to throw at any band who dares to take their precious little niche genre too far from the sonic and philosophical themes of years past. Granted, bands like Liturgy (featuring the noxiously pretentious dweeb Hunter-Hunt Hendrix) unfortunately substantiate that stereotype, but fellow New Yorkers Krallice make beatnik black metal music that’s experimental, without sacrificing vital passion and intensity (and without crumbling under it’s own obnoxious, self-indulgent weight).

I’ll be honest, this is my first attempt at giving the American experimental black metal band Krallice another chance, after being resoundingly disappointed by their previous release, last year’s Diotima. That release struck me upon first listen as suffering from excessive long-windedness, and having a surplus of technical acumen in place of a compelling atmosphere or engaging songwriting. Fortunately, Years Past Matter is a record lacking none of the above, even though it took roughly 7 listens before its truly glorious nature was revealed to me.

Like the unnamed song titles (irritatingly titled as a series of lines), the songs on the album tend to blend together as if the entire disc was one epic, sprawling piece. The opaque, heady songwriting requires many, many listens before any amount of understanding can be gleamed from the music – for the first 3 or 4 listens, a good 95% of the album goes in one ear and out the other. It teases the listener with fleeting promises of some sort of revelation of understanding that ultimately disappear as soon as they appear. Indeed, this is not something to listen to passively. This is not meant to be a knock to the band – it’s as challenging and intriguing as it is somewhat baffling.

Some of the more legitimate criticisms of the band take aim at the somewhat monotonous and aimless songwriting; metalheads who prefer their black metal cold, grim and hateful with an emphasis on riffs will find little to enjoy here – the production is warm and lush, the mood spacey, contemplative and minimally aggressive. Songs like the second track take you on a ride through the infinity of the cosmos, but this is no Darkspace or Thorns. Blastbeats and tremolo picking take the listener on a cosmic journey through gaseous celestial bodies and nebulae, swelling and shimmering and bursting with color. All of the stylistic tropes are intact (repetitive high pitched tremolo picking, mid-paced blast beats, shrieking vocals, illegible band logo, etc.) but seemingly done to an opposite emotional effect. Years Past Matter could even be seen as an atmospheric antithesis to that of traditional black metal of yore – black metal that’s positive and empowering (without sounding hammy and forced).

Love or hate these polarizing New Yorkers, it would be misguided to dismiss such passionate, ambitious and unique black metal as quickly as many metal fans have (including me at first listen). Given the right attention, Years Past Matter reveals itself to be a rewarding, evocative experience.

 - Swede Potato

Friday, November 9, 2012

Nothing But Black Metal November, Continued

Nothing but Black Metal November is a time when we can gather together as humans and embrace the darkness, sadness, and misery that we all inevitably experience in our lives, coming to terms and fully embracing these emotions by surrounding ourselves in a genre of music built upon these pessimistic or depressive themes. As the seasons change, the sky grows darker and the temperatures drop, the black metal riffage, harshness, and bleak desolation surrounds us from all sides, highlighting the more miserable parts of our lives that nonetheless make us who we are.

Ygg - Ygg

It’s not often that you hear a jaw harp (more commonly known as a Jews’ Harp) incorporated into a metal album (although there are exceptions, such as in Black Sabbath’s “Sleeping Village” and Bathory’s “One Road to Asa Bay”). It is even more exceptionally rare to find this instrument within a black metal album, and put to use remarkably well within and throughout the album. Combining the use of this simple instrument, well-done symphonic elements, and some absolutely relentless bass pedal drumming, Ukrainian band Ygg manages to release an exceptionally solid (and undeniably fun and energy-filled) debut album, Ygg. Downplaying the symphonic elements of their music (in comparison to bands such as Emperor and Dimmu Borgir), the album has choral-sounding effects that remain subtle yet nonetheless powerful in creating a much more robust atmosphere surrounding the entire album. After the introductory track of ambient noises and jaw harp plucking, the album kicks into gear with the first official track, “Ygg”, blasting its way forward with the continued subtle use of this mouth instrument, an engagingly catchy riff, hypnotically pounding double-bass pedals, and bleak, high-pitched wails of the lead vocalist. The drums within the album balance on the line between sounding overbearing and mixed distractingly loudly, while simultaneously managing to pump an unyielding sense of aggression and fury into an already passionate album. As the blast beats kick in just past the halfway point of the third track, “Урд, Верданди, Скульд”, one cannot help but be absolutely entranced and swept away as the drummer abuses and pushes his kit to the limit, adding a sense of aggression that combats and intertwines with the ethereally choral symphonic elements of the track. Attempting to look past the bands National Socialist affiliations and prejudicial ideology, YGG manages to produce a remarkably solid and thorough debut album, as catchy as it is unrelenting and masterful.

Pyramids - Pyramids

The eponymous debut album by band Pyramids is quite the auditory journey through the experiences of musical techniques and stylings. Part ethereal shoegaze, part ambient, part post-rock/post-metal, and part atmospheric black metal, Pyramids is quite masterful in its cohesive blending of genres to form complex layers of sound and a powerful wall of effects. Often throughout the album, the listener is bombarded with such a wild array of pure noise that one can get simply lost in the multifaceted layering of the album. While black metal is not always prominent on the album, it nonetheless constitutes the backbone of much of the overall sound, and serves to enhance particular tracks such as “Igloo”, providing a supplemental sense of aggression and pure bombastic chaoticism to the otherwise hauntingly distanced vocals and dreamy guitar effects intertwined throughout the track. However, the complexity on this album does not necessarily constitute an associated depth in the musical sound. At times the album suffers from sounding a bit shallow, as though it doesn’t accomplish much of grandiose proportions: the climaxing crescendos found in post-rock and post-metal are scarce on this album, and the raw, pained emotions that black metal evokes are lost under some of the albums heavy layering. Despite these minor drawbacks, the album manages to skillfully blend and mix each incorporated genre of music into the other, providing a powerful cloud of sound that at times overwhelms and consumes the listener. Cacophonous at times (“Hillary”), beautiful and otherworldly at others (“The Echo of Something Lovely”), and even quite pretentious feeling throughout, Pyramids manages to provide a truly unique and special listening experience, love it or hate it.

Incipit - Ida

An extremely enjoyable EP from Argentinian one-man band Incipit, Ida is short, earnest, to the point, and overall just a very honest effort at making some solid black metal. While nothing necessarily new or original is presented in the album, it is nonetheless a very captivating listen, as songs such as “Falso” storm quickly in and out, leaving the listener fully energized and hungry for more. Despite overall themes of pessimism and the negativity of life, the EP is undeniably fun to listen to, as traditional blast beats and blistering guitar work sweep the listener away into the netherworld of vigorous black metal sound. It’s also notable to mention that Incipit is extremely antifascist and strongly against National Socialism, decreeing this extreme aversion to the ideology in an album split with band Lure of Flames, on the song entitled “Fuck NSBM”. If Incipit were to release a full-length album as consistently respectable as the tracks on Ida, the combination of traditional black metal with a modernized sound to the overall genre would produce an exceedingly satisfactory and entertaining album, combining one part fun with one part grim despair for an overall simple yet cohesive listening experience.

Echtra - Paragate

Associates of the Cascadian Black Metal Scene, Echtra combines atmospheric black metal typical of the scene with simple, acoustic folk guitar pickings layered over a sort of ambient drone (not representative of typical drone metal, but nonetheless in place to add to the overall essence of the album). If one loves absolutely becoming lost in the atmosphere of an album, consumed by the album and the massive cloud of sound it is able to produce, then Echtra’s second full length album, Paragate, is ideal for such situations. The album consists of two tracks of equal length which blend together to essentially become one long track, consisting almost entirely of layered instrumentals with the occasional appearance of droning, resonant vocals or growling utterances typical of a more traditional black metal sound. While the former of the aforementioned vocal styles serves to make one feel as though they are witnessing the monastic chantings of some dark cult, this impressive effect is not enough to carry the rest of the album into musical superiority; the majority of the album is relatively lackluster and uninspiring. The acoustic guitar twiddling on the album is generically stale neofolk that serves to sound pretty but be thoroughly unimpressive, and tritely repetitive throughout. Switching between elements of drone and more classic black metal instrumentation, the album feels as though it goes nowhere, achieving an atmosphere that can be quite impressive or hauntingly eerie at parts, but overall failing to be anything magnificently special or grandiose. Many parts of the album seem to drag on without any particular direction, which can be fine for atmospheric black metal if the atmosphere itself is unique and overwhelming to the senses. Unfortunately, Paragate, while by no means terrible, fails to amount to anything particularly special or notable, serving as nothing more than a decent attempt at the Cascadian sound.

Wigrid - Hoffungstod

Depressive Suicidal Black Metal is wrought with emotions that evoke some of the most bleak and hopeless feelings that an individual can harbor, these emotions possibly rising from the sufferings of past experiences, present tortures and miseries, or perhaps just the pitiful human condition in itself; or perhaps, in the case of Wigrid, from agricultural conditions. Wigrid is a one-man project consisting of Ulfhednir, a farmer from Germany who specializes in producing some powerfully draining DSBM. Although Hoffungstod was released only 10 years ago (in 2002), it already has the feeling of a timeless classic of the genre, standing the test of time with its solid instrumentation, disparaging attitude, and bleak, misery-evoking vocals. Ulfhednir wails his vocals at the top of his lungs as the listener is swept away in a cloud of despair, as the slightly-fuzzed guitars seemingly soar all around one’s auditory landscape, preventing escape from the depressive world that Wigrid has created, as is mastered in “Schreie der Verzweiflung” (or “Cries of Despair”). Even without the vocals, the sole instrumental track on the album, “Das Sterben eines Traumes” (translated to “The Death of a Dream”) manages to create an unsettlingly morose atmosphere. While the album does not necessarily bring anything new to the genre of DSBM, it nonetheless is seemingly flawless in its overall intended style and emotional evocations, making it a definite highlight of this black metal sub-genre.

Embrace the changing seasons, and embrace the black metal sound.

- Richard Cory

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nothing But Black Metal November

Does the black flame within you burn brightly enough to handle listening to nothing but the elite cacophonous dominance of black metal music for a month straight?

Thus commences the third (?) annual month-long ritual ushering in the colder, darker parts of the year. Really, I should be calling this "Quite A Bit More Black Metal Than Usual November" - listening to nothing but the frozen, sordid sounds of pure sonic hatred for an entire 30 days proved to be far more difficult (and a lot less fun) than I thought. Here are mini reviews for some of the more notable records I've delved into during this first week.

Dissection – The Somberlain

·                          Starting off with an old favorite of mine. The 1993 debut album from Swedish black metal legends Dissection is, in my opinion, one of the most significant black metal releases of all time. Even before Emperor’s seminal 1994 debut In the Nightside Eclipse, Dissection was playing a remarkably developed style of black metal that eschewed the atonality and minimalism of early black metal stalwarts like Burzum and Darkthrone, bringing in a refreshing ethic of impeccable musicianship and melodicism. They favored clear production and a focus on complex riffing that was informed by Maiden as much as Bathory and Celtic Frost. Nötveidt wrote somber black metal anthems – "Black Horizons" and "A Land Forlorn" are fist-pumping, triumphant heavy metal songs as much as they are frosty black metal. They would ultimately surpass the debut with their legendary sophomore release Storm of the Light’s Bane, but The Somberlain remains one of the most refreshing debut albums in black metal history, and perhaps metal music as a whole. My only criticism is it’s length; a couple songs towards the end could’ve been trimmed and this might’ve been on par with Storm…, but when it works it’s good enough to supersede little flaws like that.

Mgla – Presence

·                         First impression was a mediocre, somewhat irrelevant EP that shows a band with some interesting, articulate lyrics but incredibly uninventive music (especially considering the utter mastery of this year’s With Hearts Towards None). I suppose you have to start somewhere, right? Any experienced appreciator of black metal could probably imagine exactly what this kind of derivative classic-styled black metal sounds like without actually listening to it. Inessential, but worth looking at for the folks who were floored by With Hearts Towards None.

Leviathan – The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide

·                      I am only beginning to dig deeper into the cavernous discography of San Francisco’s notorious Leviathan (I had only been familiar with Tentacles of Whorror and Massive Conspiracy Against All Life before now), and as intimidating as his voluminous body of work is, this album is as good of a case as ever to continue. The debut full-length album from Wrest’s wretched black metal project following a staggering 14 demo albums is a seedy, antisocial slab of white hot hatred. His tendency towards ambient dissonance on later albums is toned back here – the riffs are (relatively) clearer and as hostile as they are suicidal. "Mine Molten Armor" and "Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice" are startling in their seething anger. His unique vision isn’t quite as developed as it is on TOW or MCAAL, but it shows a musician that’s hungry, passionate and unwilling to pull any punches.

Nokturnal Mortum – Voice of Steel

·                      This is my first taste of the Ukrainian folk/black metal legends after seeing some high praise for their latest offering, and I think it’s shaping to become a new favorite of mine. While I’m usually not a fan of this kind of symphonic folk metal, the thick, bottom heavy, battle-ready riffs and triumphant melodicism is tickling me in all the right places. The use of folk instruments (violins, acoustic guitars, clarion trumpets, flutes, etc) is classy and understated, but when they’re used they hit home hard. The melding of incendiary black metal aggression and swilling fiddle and flute on the title track and “Ukraine” are true exemplars of folk metal done right, and the rest of the album is no exception. It's worth mentioning the band members' questionable adherence to right-winged ideologies (as well as my own forceful denouncement of such moronic beliefs, for the record), but fortunately this doesn't seem to manifest in the lyrics as far as Google translate can tell me.

Arckanum – Kostogher

·                     Continuing my frozen journey exploring lesser-known classics and various other lynchpins of the subterranean world of underground black metal, I found the time to check out the second album of the esoteric Swedish project, Arckanum. A one-man band run by the learned Chaos-Gnostic Swede Shamaatae, Arckanum’s lyrics are all sung in ancient Swedish and are evidently informed by Shamaatae’s deep devotion to Ant-Cosmic Satanism (or Chaos-Gnosticism), the same bizarre ideology adhered to by Dissection’s Jon Nötveit. Given all of this nutty occult esoterica, one would think it might make for some mind-bending, reality-shattering music to truly exemplify such a bleak belief system -  unfortunately not for his sophomore album, Kostogher. What we have here is instead some fairly standard-issue Scandinavian black metal fare that is hardly as challenging and obtuse as its presentation implies, but nonetheless satisfying in a meat and potatoes fashion. It’s old school and tries in no way to really stray from the black metal rulebook in any meaningful manner, but it’s executed well and should feel right at home for those who dig the classic black metal sound. Plus, that has to be one of the coolest black metal album covers I’ve ever seen.

And that's all, folks. More reviews, whether full length or simply a package of little ones like this are forthcoming. Stay frosty my friends.

      - Potato Swede

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trifonic - Emergence

       A duo of two brothers, Brian and Laurence Trifon, coming together in a mutual collaboration of musical talent reveals an album which enables you to simultaneously melt into dreamy comatose while being pricked up with goosebumps by music that is expressive and chillingly sleek.

       Trifonic's debut album, Emergence, provides the listener with a range of well executed ideas and examples of the two brothers' unique and varied uses of electronic styles, all wrapped up with an air tight level of production that only enhances the experience.

       Beginning with the title track, Emergence, the stage is set for an album that absorbs the listener in fluid arrangement.  The heavy use of soundscapes composed of ambient drone and instrumental ground chords provides a perfect backdrop to allow someone to feel utterly immersed.  As the album progresses, a feeling of floating through a singular train of thought occurs, undulating and vibrating the senses as one passes through various stages in it's progression.  The music in the foreground provides the pulsating waves that move my senses back and forth to different concepts and ideas.  Here and there, a particular motif or phrase made of either electric or acoustic components will dominate, and be guided through the fluid of ambient backdrop.

       Bearing all of this in mind, another aspect of the album comes into play as Broken, the second track, begins, being the deliciously appropriate and almost fated companionship between the flow of music and vocalist.  The smooth timbre and almost sedated expression of the female vocalist provides another splash of rich and warm color to the slowly shifting sea of tones and hues created by the music.

       With regards to subject matter and overall mood of the album, the music is aimed at providing an idea that is not necessarily downright dark in and of itself, but in a sense, solemn and introspective.  The music, using a great deal of down tempo and ethereal rhythms and chords, seems to lack any sort of pulse beyond the resting heart rate of an average human being, and throughout, provides a sensation of falling into a trance-like and almost sleepy stupor.

       The album seems to reach a climax with the track Sooner or Later, which takes on a somewhat invigorated pace compared to the previous songs leading up to it.  From the get go, a more solid and tangible song structure grasps your attention, being driven primarily by the stunning blend of vocal and instrumental talent that the listener has already been acquainted with.  Another interesting aspect to this song, which just makes it all the more memorable is the increased variation on vocal style.  A notable hopping around in register and the use of leaping voice breaks during the chorus give this song an entirely unique personality within the album.

       As a whole, Trifonic seems to hit their mark with Emergence.  The album's crisp sound production and arrangement provide an entrancing and enveloping experience that provides nothing less than a soothing catharsis.

- Dragon Zlayer

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Death Grips - No Love Deep Web

It’s all suicide… 

The rap and hip-hop game has been consistently changing and fluctuating within recent years, and overall for the better. With artists such as Lil B, Kanye West (with his most recent album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), OFWGKTA (Tyler the Creator and company) and Danny Brown, new and intriguing changes to this style of music, along with a myriad of excellent releases, have set a landmark in the history and development of hip-hop music. However, one group stands out above the rest in ingenuity, gritty yet catchy lyricism and ingeniously original instrumental beats; this group is Death Grips. After releasing a mixtape in 2011 (Exmilitary) and an their first official album earlier this year (The Money Store), both to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim, Death Grips releases yet another album for the year 2012 in their most recent musical venture, No Love Deep Web. The album was leaked via the members of Death Grips themselves on the midnight of October 1st to a horde of fans, anxious in anticipation of the aural experience that No Love Deep Web could potentially provide them, wondering what fresh new hooks, catchy choruses, and hypnotically enticing beats the album could potentially hold.
Like every Death Grips album, No Love Deep Web starts out extremely strong, with the first few tracks being some of the most substantial on the album. Indeed, the opening track Come Up and Get Me is not only one of the finest on the album, but is also representative of the overall theme and feeling of the album: namely, suicidal paranoia. Several of the tracks on the album mention and deal with the theme of suicide and death, as can be most prominently heard in the track World of Dogs, with its dangerously catchy chorus of “It’s all suicide”. Come Up and Get Me is no exception to this theme, as the lyrics speak of a man poised on the edge of a rooftop and contemplating ending his own life, begging for someone to “come up and get him”. The emotion that lead rapper of Death Grips (MC Ride) puts into the track verges on feeling quite disturbing, as he shouts through increasingly hoarse vocals, his voice cracking in desperation as he yells out the troubled lyrics. Meanwhile in the background, an intimidating barrage of throbbing bass adds to the maddening paranoia that the lyrics create, setting the stage and mood for the rest of the album.
A  major factor in the popularity of Death Grips can be seen in how truly memorable and catchy the choruses to key tracks are, despite being almost completely indecipherable due to MC Ride’s shouting and relatively free-form style. However, hip-hop cannot rely on vocals alone, but is also strongly influenced by the beat behind the vocals, which Death Grips specializes in making unique, instantly recognizable and truly riveting. These styles can be seen in two remarkable tracks, Lil Boy and No Love. Lil Boy shines through via its vocal and lyrical qualities, in which MC Ride lures the listener in with what sounds like a more traditional style of rapping before desperately shouting his way back into the Death Grips style. Two gripping hooks within the track leave the song embedded within the listeners mind as a reminder of the captivating lyrical stylings that MC Ride can produce. However, what truly stands out most amongst both tracks is the electronic beats that take the songs from being average hip-hop and transform them into a truly outstanding Death Grips experience. Lil Boy varies in style from synthesized chime-like noises that seem oddly unsettling and isolated to dubstep reminiscent of UK electronic artist Skream, and many other soaring electronically produced noises in-between. However, the true instrumental gem lies within No Love, which makes full use of an industrial-like theme of soaring electronic drones that emit a foreboding and ominous presence that seem to come directly from some sort of demonic terror, overlapping an equally impactful chorus rapped with a distorted vocal effect. Together, these two tracks become definite highlights of No Love Deep Web.
Despite the positive qualities of the aforementioned tracks, the album itself does have several apparent downfalls, the first of which is its’ partial lack of musical variability, consistency in quality, and overall intrigue. Previous Death Grips albums all have a stellar quality to them that makes the music truly unique: Exmilitary was abound with all sorts of samples, from The Beastie Boys to Link Wray to Pink Floyd, and The Money Store was packed with original, fun, and addicting beats that made almost every track stand out. However, No Love Deep Web in part (though not entirely) falls flat in these areas, producing some tracks that are repetitive and some that are mostly unmemorable and seemingly uninspired (i.e. Hunger Games). Tracks such as these can seem rather bare or seemingly lacking at times, creating a minimalistic result that leaves much to be desired. This is not to say, however, that simple tracks can’t also be done well: take Stockton, for example, which feels very “plain” instrumentally as an overall track, yet has one of the catchiest choruses on the entire album. Another downside is that various parts of the album seem repetitive and electronic effects sound overused. The bass tracks that were so iconically dirty, bouncy and full of energy from The Money Store cannot as consistently be found on No Love Deep Web, leaving some of the bass on the album feeling stale and generic. In addition, the electronically produced noise of synthesized chimes initially sounds quite interesting and different, yet after appearing on no less than 3 tracks on the album, begins to sound uninspired and repetitive. More so than on previous albums, with particular tracks on No Love Deep Web it feels and sounds as though Death Grips was working with a rather limited palette musically.
With the inclusion of some amazing hit tracks and despite some rather bland misses, Death Grips manages yet again to produce another album in the genre of experimental/alternative hip-hop that stands far and above the rest of the hip-hop game. While the album did not necessarily feel as full of energy on all of its tracks as the previous albums put out by Death Grips, maybe this is due in part to the rather bleak and hopeless theme of suicide, death, and haunting paranoia that is apparent throughout the album. Given that these are very dark themes, perhaps the album seems more low-key because it itself is dark and brooding, ruminating on the depressing thoughts of a disintegrating psyche. Regardless of this fact however, the album managed to successfully produce unforgettable tracks that will no doubt stand side-by-side with other Death Grips key tracks such as Guillotine from Exmilitary and I’ve Seen Footage from The Money Store. Coupled with the wildly successful album The Money Store from earlier in the year, No Love Deep Web and Death Grips themselves will not soon be forgotten, as their importance in the history of the hip-hop scene becomes ever more apparent.

- Richard Cory

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Woods of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light

For many of those in the metal community, David Gold’s (guitarist, drummer, singer and songwriter) sudden death in a car crash was a tragic, sobering event. His band Woods of Ypres was prepping for a tour in support of what he evidently thought of as his best album yet, and the music that he poured his heart and soul into was only just beginning to see a larger audience under Earache records after nearly a decade of obscurity. Despite the tragedy of losing a truly unique heavy metal songwriter on the top of his game, with Woods 5 - Grey Skies and Electric Light, Gold managed to go out with a bang, releasing what many (including this listener) consider to be his swan song.

Woods of Ypres’ 5th effort continues down a similar stylistic path to Woods 4: The Green Album, replacing almost all black metal elements with melodic doom metal in the vein of Katatonia and Warning. The clean vocals that largely dominate the album are mournful, expressive and largely pushed to the forefront of the mix. Gold bolsters a rich, commanding baritone that’s often double-tracked with a higher octave – it’s bold, booming and forceful, and an incredible improvement from previous albums. The vocals largely carry the central melodies of the songs, a departure from the riff-oriented songwriting approach of many other metal bands.

Opening track and album highlight Lightning and Snow marries melodic sensibility with startling amounts of muscle and energy; Gold sounds absolutely rejuvenated and inspired right from the start, and continues for an incredible 5-song winning streak right up until Adora Vivos. The latter is perhaps one of the band’s best songs; the verses blast away with purpose and vitality, and Gold’s vocals soar and shimmer over the life-affirming (and infectiously catchy) chorus. Despite the stellar songwriting, the production largely strips the guitars and drums of much heft – they sound thin and airy when they should be robust and muscular, especially given the vitality and energy of the aforementioned songs. Fortunately, this is only a miniscule gripe.

The album ends with two tender piano-driven ballads that swell with solemn grandiosity, and for 8 minutes you forget that you’ve been listening to a metal album this whole time. It’s a rare treat when a metal band can pull of a traditional ballad-like song with such heart, soul and sincerity as Finality and Alternate Ending, rather than simply being ham-fisted filler to break up the monotony. Both songs are heartbreaking perseverations on a lost love, and they’re exhausting to listen to – even if you’ve never really had your heart broken, you’re left feeling like you did.

A common criticism of Woods of Ypres singles out Gold’s nakedly blunt lyrics. Never one to muddle his message with complex metaphors, vague symbolisms and the like, Gold prefers to state the nature of his emotions with simple declarative statements. On paper, his blunt and unorthodox approach seems silly and simplistic, but when married to the memorable vocal melodies and Gold’s passionate delivery they become endearing very quickly, taking on a kind of awkward, yet achingly honest charm. By the end of the album it becomes hard to imagine it any other way.

Another thing to notice is the eerily prophetic nature of the lyrics when paired with Gold’s death right upon the album’s release. Gold’s choice of lyrical themes have always been dismal (check out Suicide Cargoload and Wet Leather off previous album Woods 4), but some lyrics seem oddly synchronistic considering his death in a car accident – on album closer Alternate Ending, Gold sings “back on the highway, under the moon, my final moments, still wondering about you…” I'm certain the similarity is a simple coincidence, but it does add another dimension of poignancy and poetry to the song, and the album as a whole. It’s a tearjerking reminder of the tragedy of losing such a unique, inspired musician. Both Finality and Alternate Ending paint a picture of a man spending his last moments thinking of the woman who broke his heart. One can only hope Gold was in a better state of mind in his final moments, and given the career-best piece of work and bona-fide doom metal classic that Woods 5 – Grey Skies and Electric Light came to be, I’d like to imagine he was.

“A moment of silence for the dead, but not one moment more. The dead are to be forgotten; we are here to be adored.”

Not on my watch, Mr. Gold. You may be gone, but your legacy remains. An artist like David Gold deserves to be remembered, and with Woods 5, may there never be silence when we think of him.

- Swede Potato