If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Axis of Metal.

B'z – Magic

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 10 December 2010 0 comments

B'z – Magic – 3.5/5

To call this a 'big' artist in Japan would be something of an understatement. Aside from the fact they're the only Asian artist to have been inducted to the Hollywood Rock Walk and their guitarist's status as a Gibson signature artist along side BB King and Larry Carlton, they're the biggest selling artist in their home country (at almost 80million records sold, they're #1 by over 25 million), stringing together 43 consecutive #1 singles and 24 #1 albums. After all that you'd think they'd be somewhat well known, which at first only added to my confusion the fact that I'd never really heard them crop up in conversation, but the more likely reason is that they probably aren't worth mentioning.

In that void of “everyone knows them anyway” and “little to say that hasn't already been said” sits ignorance; the lack of knowledge that they even exist, and with little advertising – little being needed beyond perhaps pointing out they made another one – their reputation is a long earned and well deserved one. You don't become one of the big names artist by doing things differently, experimenting with your sound and trying out new idea's, you get there by being reliable. There's nothing you'll find here that'll blow you away – and I expect the rest of their past catalogue to be no different – but is solid from beginning to end, through the gentle ballads and all out rock anthems; it all carries an element of pop, at times perhaps getting a little close to a Japanese “Journey,” but there are no bad tracks in this 45 minute release.

Despite really being comprised of just two musicians – the vocalist/producer and the guitarist – the sound is fleshed out with an array of keyboards, bass and drums to complete the line up, even if these two instruments take precedence. With plenty of chunky blue based riffs and catchy-as-crap chorus lines they have found their niche, and if they are guilty of anything it's of becoming complacent in their style. Many tracks begin to sound similar and the solo's lack a spark or vivacity that really separates them from a long list of others performing in a similar manner.

Being 'stuck' musically has never been something I've been particularly fond of but I feel an AC/DC comparison is necessary here. When asked about about “Black Ice,” Brian Johnson (vocalist) was asked his thoughts on the comments saying they'd released the same album fifteen times, to which he simply responded “bollocks, they've not counted our live albums.” When I'd found a formula that works and works so damn well time and time again, I'd probably be hesitant to fuck around with it too. B'z are nothing new but at the end of the day 'Magic' is another album to rock to, plain and simple.

Highlights: Dive, Long Time No See, PRAY, Freedom Train

Me-Al-Art – 生まれてきたけれど

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 2 December 2010 0 comments

Me-Al-Art – 生まれてきたけれど – 4.5/5

This is not an album that has had a small number of plays in the last few weeks, but I've been struggling with just how to tackle it. On the surface there seems to be little that feels unique; in fact for a Japanese artist it has a surprisingly western feel to it all, particularly where the vocals are concerned. And yet despite this apparent unoriginality it never seems to become tiring, always straddling that line between familiarity and something new with every turn right from the get go; an almost jazz like gift for experimentalism, playing around with guitar tones and drum fills flitting in and out of the song's heart, it's hard to put your finger on just how they accomplish treading this fine line. A dozen plays later – my interest still going strong – and the only thing I've managed to conclude is that they simply must do it really well.

Much of the focus falls onto the vocals, as happens perhaps all too often with many artists, but she's more than capable of facing up to the scrutiny. There are times where I'm forced to double-take as you realise the language is foreign as often it'll feel like an all too familiar voice, perhaps sitting somewhere between Tori Amos and Alanis Morisette; the ever present acoustic guitar making it's presence heard combining with her almost schizophrenic ability to transition from a gentle melancholy to screaming her lungs out about everything that's wrong in the world. And even though I haven't even the faintest idea what the track titles mean, somehow her point feels made, even if the finer details are lost in translation.

So I've described what makes them good but I feel no more compulsion to reach for an old Alanis Morisette CD as I do listen to someone pretend to be her, which makes it all the more fortunate that this isn't another generic singer-songwriter but an actual band complete with capable instrumentation. The bass adds an almost ambient backing to the composition, providing its own distinct lines that work as much with the aggressive guitars during the energetic passages as with the delicate overlaying riffs performed almost as a piano. With compositions that seem to evolve throughout the track's length, for all it's simplicity, the marriage of all the instruments performing their own subtly varying lines working in unison with one another is one that's hard to beat. Enigmatic, Epic, Emotional and Energetic; Me-Al-Art are unquestionably my unlikely discovery of the past month.

Highlights: 生まれてきたけれど, ありきたりな日常, もう一人のボクに

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Red Bacteria Vacuum

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 27 November 2010 0 comments

Roller Coaster – 3/5

Dolly Dolly, Make a Epoch – 2.5/5

The name may be nonsensical but still it felt oddly alluring, tipping my curiosity enough to delve in a bit further. An all girl trio from Osaka (Japan) playing punk rock – all good so far – and time for my usual initial investigation. Cue the hunt for links on the 'tube, and a few moments of this and I thought I had it all figured out; no nonsense, visceral old school punk rock. Raw, rough and ready to rock; the kind where nobody can really play their instruments, but that becomes little more than a minor inconvenience for the “Sid Vicious Syndrome.”

In comes their debut full-length, Dolly Dolly..., and how far off the mark I was led. The problem of having mediocre musical abilities is if you try to display your prowess, things simply get messy; the guitars hang back and use a relatively clean tone that allows you to hear every painful miss-step that the solid but simple bass lines can't disguise. The guitar solo's distinctly slow down so that a decent melody can be formed, and for all the vocalists abilities in the traditional punk manner, god forbid the times when the pace slows to more of a ballad tone; imagine Dee Dee Ramone covering the Chilli Peppers' “Zephyr Song.” There's certainly an argument to be made for staying within your style here.

As we start to meander into electropop territory it's beginning to look as though there's no silver lining, and then all of a sudden things take a drastic change for the better. Yes, we've now reached their EP released a number of years earlier, with a previous drummer in the line-up, and energy out the wazoo; no more experimental ideas or fiddling with old song structures, just plain old punk energy with plenty of fun thrown into the mix. This, sadly, can also be problematic as it's nothing particularly new, but the riffs are simple and performed well, the instruments are all heard in the end production if perhaps not quite as aggressively performed is clear enough. Good for a quick punk fix, but unless they release a live album there's work to be done. I must admit, after hearing that "Roller Coaster" I'm rather disappointed by the end result.

Catsuomaticdeath – The Age of Exploration

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 21 November 2010 0 comments

Catsuomaticdeath – The Age of Exploration - 4/5

The states has made its musical mark over the years with a large variety of influences and styles, but none is perhaps so localised as the grunge sound; dirty and laden with despair, it became nicknamed the sound of Seattle and it would seem that outside of this city, people couldn't quite get the sound right. So what would happen if you didn't just form a grunge band outside of Seattle but on the other side of the world? This is one band that certainly can be said to have a style of their own, matching kimono's with top hats for their live shows and infusing various other influences to the drawling melodies.

Between the slow, grinding, sludge-esque monotony of their epic twelve minute opening track and their noisy southern rock and roll inspiration, despite their Japanese origins this trio wear their influences on their sleeves. With their no frills approach to the production everything is left gloriously raw but apparent in the final composition of the track. Each instrument is given their place; the rhythm carried by the bass is hit home by the show-stopping drumwork, constantly flying at an unpredictable pace and never fearing to mix things up with a fill; the guitars adding a new sense of flavour to the proceedings whether by going into Sonic Youth's' brand of overdriven distortion or a clean twang, leaving the vocals to be little more than the icing on the cake.

Content to perform without, when the vocalist steps up to the plate it again sounds altogether more 'Western' than you'd expect, whether using that drawl typified by the grunge genre or bellowing out with a punk intensity. There's little here that feels particularly original in style, and whilst it does come off as something of an 80s throwback one can hardly find flaw with the performance. For a genre that seems to have died more than a decade ago, these guys don't half sound energetic.

Highlights: Heyday, Wheres my Enemy, Charlie VS Sammy

Tenniscoats – Tan Tan Therapy

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 17 November 2010 0 comments

Tenniscoats – Tan Tan Therapy – 4.5/5

I seem to rarely revisit artists, but this is one of those horrible exceptions. Their 'Totemo Aimasho' did little for me but with their follow up I realised that I'd gotten it all wrong; their intentions never were entirely ambient inspired, even if they utilise some of the same signature effects, but instead only intend to create an atmosphere that's 'light' and 'floaty,' a fact that the simpler instrumentation highlights. Despite this, the husband-and-wife duo only really have one instrument that make a recurrent appearance: the nonsensical vocals of San. The instrumentation is still packed with variety from the ambient backing, the acoustic guitars and a small but notable brass section; the genre still painfully ambiguous, somewhere between ambient, pop, folk, jazz and post-rock perhaps, but really only fitting nothing but its own brand of floaty dreaminess.

The collaborative artist here – known as 'Tape' – and his style of laptop-folk (as bizarre as that sounds) has clearly gone to work in many of the background pieces, creating a rich and vibrant world for them to play around in. Everything feels almost callous, the notes not feeling perfectly regular in the manner they're played but undulating, flowing like an ocean with subtle fluid changes in the speed the instruments are played. It would all sound chaotic if you tried to follow the separate lines of glockenspiel, guitars, marching-band drumming, flutes, and so on, but it's been tweaked and tinkered with to get the balance just right. It never feels obtrusive or over the top; the whole release sounds like the fragile wing of a butterfly; delicate, beautiful and yet childish and playful at the same time, the multiple layers serving only to bring the piece to life.

The instantly recognisable vocals are entirely tonal, many tracks even utilising more of a scat with tones chosen for the way they sound rather than any lyrical requirement. The manner they are left open and on display does nothing to detract from the piece either, enhancing the overall sense of realistic humanity that presents itself through her gentle wailing and softly sung melancholy. The mood shifts between depressive and joyful but it never strays far from this sense of innocence that runs at their core, each track seeming to take its own idea or atmosphere and integrating that with their core philosophy. Whether you're playing on the suburban streets in 'Baibaba Bimba' or watching the autumnal leaves fall in 'One Swan Swim,' this is one release that never fails to evoke my thoughts.

Cyclamen – Senjyu

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 1 November 2010 0 comments

Cyclamen – Senjyu – 3.5/5

As with my last review of this artist, no link is to be given. I've read his thoughts on file sharing and regardless of my own opinion, I'd be an asshole to ignore his. You can stream the entire thing on his myspace page either way, which is linked. Despite eagerly awaiting this release, getting the pre-order and hastily turning the volume up, I quickly realised I had the completely wrong mindset. This feels like a relatively drastic departure from his debut demo cd, even though the entirety is still self-recorded and self-produced by the same guy. It still has much of the same mathcore tendencies but at least as much of the release is now post-rock, used as more than interludes or epic chorus lines between the passages of technicality, with the inevitable occasional djent passage for good measure.

Why he still uses djent I will never quite understand. Playing the same note off-time was never something I saw the attraction in, and “Grand Annihilation” where it gets used with frequency I can see being skipped a lot as a consequence. Despite that, when the guitar work is put into overdrive it's chaotic beyond belief, and yet it never feels unsuited; its not as though it's without a purpose beyond to sound as full of wank as possible. This again feels mirrored in the slower haunting post-rock passages, and even some of the aforementioned djent lines which when not overused can often succeed in creating a build-up to something more, demonstrating a clear flexibility to his abilities. The drum work has also seen a notable improvement – possibly as a result of the new full-time musician contributing – as have the clean vocal lines (excusing one rather eerily high pitched track), but the added clarity the production yields has not been kind to the screams; they feel all the more hoarse and strained, a fact more readily hidden before.

I guess there's no secret in pointing out that it was the track “Never Ending Dream” that first caught my attention, but it was the marriage between the two styles that intrigued me; harrowing as “Envy” and all the dark melancholy that goes with it, twinned with that “Sikth” brand of demonic chaos that doesn't sound like he's being dragged down without a fight, but it is the combination of the two that made it work. Here, they're all too separate; the tracks alternate between ultra-chaos and slow; each track feels as though its all or nothing, and I miss that middle ground.

Highlights: The Seeker, Comfort, Revenge (of the Geeks)

Yamaarashi - Shounan Miraiezu

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 21 October 2010 0 comments

Yamaarashi - Shounan Miraiezu – 4/5

In honour of Hip-Hop now being officially allowed for discussion in the forums, I thought it appropriate to bump this one on my list. It's almost strange how of all the western styles adopted by the flourishing Japanese music scene, Hip-Hop seems to have drawn the short straw as it were. There are Pop/Hip-Hop artists like “Halcali,” or “Orange Range,” Hip-Hop/RnB such as “M-Flo,” or “Kreva,” and indeed Hip-Hop/Rock like the band in question now. Of course it could be coincidence that finding straight-up Hip-Hop artists from Japan seems like a bit of a chore, or simply that my observations of J-pop present themselves once more; that even the most simplistic styles of music often has an immense amount of thought given to the multiple backing layers, something Hip-Hop often finds itself lacking.

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of the genre is that there's too much of a lyrical focus, but there is more to it than that – there has to be here, unless you happen to be fluent in Japanese – and it is the flow that in this case makes the vocals important. The manner they gently meander with an unrelenting stream of words, hell he could be scatting for all the difference it would make to me, but it's being utilised as another instrument with clear variation between the staccato verses and the epic clean chorus lines that just dare you not to at least hum along; the in your face 'party boy' tone exemplified by the “Beastie Boys” contrasted with the slow and emotional, almost grungy tones.

Yet, the lyrics are again only one half of this band, and the backing instrumentation is certainly not forgotten; from the very beginning the bass starts to make itself known and you could swear you'd stumbled onto a forgotten “Rage Against the Machine” track, filling the music with fun funk-filled bass lines and when the guitars are given precedence the whole thing suddenly feels like “Sublime” got loose during the recording process, adding their smooth blend of reggae and ska to the proceedings. The influences are numerous (just listen out for the brief Japanese “Knocking on Heaven's Door” chorus) but never feel less than coherent, allowing each track to feel distinct from the last. It's been nearly two decades since the 'Chilli Peppers' emerged with “Blood Sugar Sex Magick,” 15 since Beastie Boys' “Sabotage,” and this feels like the sort of release rap/rock release fans have been waiting for since.

Highlights: Shonan Graphical Future, Technica Porcupine, Go Your Way

Ryuichi Sakamoto – BTTB

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 18 October 2010 1 comments

Ryuichi Sakamoto – BTTB – 4/5

Now I expect this name would mean absolutely nothing to most, but actually he might be considered something of a living legend. It was after all, his keyboard work with Yellow Magic Orchestra back in the 70s that pretty much pioneered the entire electropop genre that dominates Japan now. Not to mention being amongst the first to make hefty use of sampling that seems so common place to replace vastly more expensive live orchestration, as well as producing synthpop before the UK's new age had truly emerged (though the influence here is questionable). And since they split he's continued to write and perform, maintaining his long standing legacy with a number of ambient and synthpop albums, working with the likes of David Sylvian as well as his old band mates.

But this album is none of that: this is the release that proves that despite all the styles he's influenced, he isn't a one trick pony. Standing for “Back to the Basics,” this album is precisely that; there are none of the samples, electronic effects or even vocal lines that fill his other works. With the exception of a few preset effects the entire album is nothing more than him sitting in front of his piano, and for all its simplicity I can't quite place it. It certainly feels to modern to be purely classically inspired, too organic to be retracing his new wave roots, too attention-demanding for Ambient, though certainly has been influenced by all three. The best I can come up with is that its an unconventional “Avant-Garde Easy Listening” release, but even that gives off the wrong impression; one filled with Peruvian flute bands and Whale Songs.

He'll never wow you with technical mastery but this album is filled with the beauty of his composition, the emotional heights afforded to him by the use of volume and pitch. I don't mean emotional to refer simply to sadness here either, but more detailed and complex notions; calm, melancholy, relief, happiness, worry, agitation; it almost feels like a map of emotions that he's somehow managed to transcribe and perform. There is the occasional filler track – the four minute prelude feeling like I'm doing little more than wait for something to happen – and there are times where the piano's tone feels a little too 'hard;' the difference between the gentle and the effervescent perhaps not as pronounced as it could have been, and yet when it was released 'Energy Flow' succeeded in topping the charts in Japan (the first, and to my knowledge, only time an instrumental has succeeded in doing so), and quite frankly, it's not particularly difficult to see why.

Highlights: Energy Flow, Opus, Intermezzo, Aqua

Nagisa Cosmetic – Nagisa Cosmetic

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 15 October 2010 0 comments

Nagisa Cosmetic – Nagisa Cosmetic – 3.5/5

Just when I think my quest for more of the short-lived Shibuya-Kei revival is coming to a head, the number of bands that seem to be mentioned rapidly dwindling, my quest for another fix has led my crack like addiction to lesser known artists. In this case, the duo known as Nagisa Cosmetic; a marriage between a Japanese fashion model (who after this only album, would pursue a career there) and the the electronica producer with far too much time on his hands, lending his signature style to the likes of Perfume, Marino and Capsule.

It is, however, Marino that this most closely resembles; it doesn't have the overt electropop melodies of Perfume, nor the chaotic freneticism of Capsule, and instead feels altogether more laid back and content to let things roll out slowly. Neither does it feel particularly adventurous, but then he doesn't really need to be as everything quite simply works. It's almost lounge-jazz like quality at times makes it feel suitable for elevator music for some sort of Japanese Pokémon centre; the simple catchy beat with a touch of 8-bit likeness in the use of glockenspiel complementing the rather more harsh bass of the drums to create a glorious contrast that only improves as more instrumentation gets layered on top, never bombarding with a broad tone but creating a number of converging thinner layers that at no point convolute the track with more lines than it can handle.

In fact, by comparison to the backing, the vocalist seems like an almost unnecessary component to the overarching sound. Beyond the cutesy but unenthusiastic cries of 'yay' and the like that she adds in the way of actual melody to the proceedings, there are no overt catchy chorus' like much of this producer's other work, and there are barely any lyrics at all (much of it is her just going 'nah nah nah'). Quite often she finds herself drowned out by the other instrumentation, though this gets no complaints from me. Kept short at under 30 minutes, I often find it ironic that the lengthier offerings in the genre seem sparse of creativity, and yet releases like this find the instrumental melodies coming thick and fast. It's unlikely to replace my favourites in the genre any time soon, but is nonetheless a solid effort from at least one half of this duo.

Highlights: Life Balance, I am a Computer

Bush – Razorblade Suitcase

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 13 October 2010 2 comments

No. 4 – Bush – Razorblade Suitcase - 4.5/5
{Link Removed due to Request}

Produced by notable noise rocker Steve Albini (Big Black), this second offering from post-grungers Bush is raw, bloody and brutal. With an atmosphere thick enough to warrant sludge comparisons, and a tone often reminding me of doom, this is a phenomenal album which seems to be overlooked time and time again.

The drums lay most of the framework, and are fairly basic without feeling too bland or underdeveloped. The bass unfortunately doesn’t play as prominent a role as I’d often like, but this isn’t where the focus of their music is directed. The guitars are raw, and produced in such a minimal way, giving it a live edge to it. The riffs display a variety of tones, from the deep, simplistic, making good use of repetition to reflect the grinding repetition in life, the soft and cleaner ‘calm before the storm’ style, and the downright twisted, and screeching and messy side. They aren’t intended to produce something catchy, they emphasise the theme of the song by their very nature, discontinuous deep and grinding, slow and depressive, cynical, cruel and twisted and they aren’t even the best part of this line-up.

In the same way, the vocals are often repetitive, retaining a raw honesty, a grim and bloody take on realistic situations, and has perfected that grunge drawl, displaying the emotions and depressive doom-like tone, whilst retaining a level of clarity, a balance the best vocalists in the genre can rarely accomplish. And he hasn’t just laid his emotions on this album, it sounds like he has ripped out his still beating heart and put it on display, the occasional use of violin doing more than just adding diversity, succeeding in enhancing this overwhelming presence presented by the vocalist.

This album is raw enough that only few bands beyond the raw black metal can compare. It displays emotions fully encompassing, rich and vivid as they grind away. The no frills bizarre guitar work providing a twisted and evil tone, the crashing of the drums as they thunder away, this isn’t just another grunge clone. It makes the likes of Nirvana look like Bee Gee’s by comparison.

Highlights: Insect Kin, Cold Contagious, Mouth

By T. Bawden

Antennasia – Qus-Cus

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 12 October 2010 2 comments

Antennasia – Qus-Cus – 4.5/5

This release has been playing for the best part of two weeks now, and yet oddly I have great difficulty in picking out memorable tracks or passages, yet that's not to say its forgettable. The soft sweet lullabies of the lead vocalist, San, is in fact anything but; somehow with an almost Bjork-like level of quirkiness her melodies and yet so filled with a sense of dreaminess that it leaves you floating amongst the waves of calm. It almost feels appropriate to be called music to drift to sleep to, but for all its innocence it's still not without its own character. Subtle differences in tracks gradually become more noticeable and they soon become another puzzle piece to unlocking the key to this artist; that the tone, for all its consistency, is never created in quite the same manner.

It certainly fits the description of Trip-Hop from a technical perspective; there's often the prominent looped back beat behind a simple melody, be it from a flute, guitar, violin or piano; the vocals forming a central point of attention, but it altogether feels much more ambient inspired in its objectives. It never feels obtrusive, never gets bogged down with emotional weight and as a result seems all the more content to drift into the background, the inherent simplicity of the backing tracks regardless of how they're formed doing little to constrain the vocals which seem capable of transforming from a thick multi-layered harmonious pop-like wailing to a sort of fluid scat or even something altogether more unpredictable and fragile.

This collaboration of two is very subtle; the experimentation inherent from taking influences from everything from dubstep, glitch and even a touch of folk and classical harmonies never makes itself apparent from the outset, blending into the background in such a way that it never feels anything less than natural. It's initial lack of memorability seems to be, in the end, something of a misnomer, and unusually does nothing to detract from the pieces overall impact. It takes time for the subtle nuances to sink in but the journey there is never laborious, and as you become more familiar with its ambient beauty, the unveiling of new unheard subtleties becomes a joy with each track seeming to re-invent itself. This is one of those rare kinds of releases I can see myself still listening to in years to come, and that really doesn't happen often.

Highlights: Metronome Wiper, Noanoa, Goats in the Blue Sky

Aikawa Nanase – ReBorn

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 4 October 2010 0 comments

Aikawa Nanase – ReBorn – 2.5/5

If anyone cares to recall, Nanase was the artist to first find me interested in J-pop (being accidentally linked to her “FOXTROT” release by someone thinking it was the Genesis album of the same name) and it wasn't long before I noticed her collaboration with Friedman on “R.U.O.K?”, a short release that would be the last we would hear from her until now, returning with the aptly (if cheesy) full-length release ReBorn. Spawning only one single – and even that failed to get more than a digital release – is something that is quite uncommon for artists in this field (3+ singles per album isn't unheard of) and means one of two things; there are no stand out tracks that would hold universal appeal, demonstrating a maturing artist blooming, or that there's nothing on here that's worth shelling out for.

It doesn't take long for you to realise that this isn't going to be like her past efforts; her studio musicians seem to have been replaced by machines, drums and trance tones flood her opening track in a flurry that adds a new tone to her pop/rock style, providing plenty of variety despite the artificial instrumentation. As the tracks go on, however, this well of creativity rapidly dries up and by the time the fourth track emerges you realise it's barely distinguishable from the rest. The ballads fall flat on their face as emotional has never been her forté and the backing can't compensate, and the lack of an actual instrument makes the synthesized guitar samples just seem amateurish.

It's concept; the notion of catchy pop vocals without the vocoder with chaotic electro and hard hitting rock all combining into one sublime track is certainly one that tickles my interest but this feels confused. She was never known as one of the bigger artists in the industry but this feels like she's trying to leech on the back of the likes of Mami Kawada and KOTOKO (technopop), artists that have spent a long time honing their craft, whilst still retaining that semblance of rock that made her interesting to begin with and it just feels muddled. It'll hop between pseudo-rock, cliché sounding ballads with no emotional weight behind it and some sort of techno/trance. There are a few stand-out tracks providing a glimmer of hope for the future, but this looks like one to skip.

Highlights: Yumemiru, Keep Singing, Dark&Bright

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 3 October 2010 0 comments

Massive Attack – Mezzanine - 4/5

One of the hazards of having long hair amidst a crowd of drunks is that very rapidly you become stereotyped, and with my present occupation this happens with relative frequency; it becomes an invitation to mention every band under the sun with everyone claiming to be an expert on rock, telling me how great their favourite "Doors" album is, or how brutal metalcore can be. Well that, or they think you're a woman, but that doesn't happen so often thankfully. The day this album was brought to my attention was not that different, but rather than throwing out phrases such as “oh the guitars, fuck me the guitars” before pretending to air guitar and stumbling backwards, this drunks description actually had me intrigued. He told me this was the perfect album to fuck to.

Now hear me out, because this is actually I problem I've considered; you bring a woman back to your place and all that's needed is some mood-setting music, but what the hell says “I want to hit that?” If you believe in 'the fresh prince' you'd end up with James Brown or Barry White and probably get laughed at. There's classical music but then you'd look pretentious and suffer the lack of a solid beat. Drum and Bass is too far the opposite way, unless you can break the sound barrier with each thrust it'll be too quick paced. If she looks the type, grindcore could work but then you'd have to put up with the fact that she might well end up tearing you limb from limb afterwards and/or during. Kenny G could almost work if not for the slight drawback everything sounds like he had a cheesy 70s porno in mind when writing it. Point in fact, this album may be the closest thing to that perfect all-purpose album.

The beat is strong enough to be heard but at a pace that says passion without getting all wussy on you; you can remove all thoughts of Portishead's brand of pain-laden and depressive trip-hop, as it's certainly still dark and gothic in tone but its almost sensual, retaining a kinky twisted sense of rhythm. In fact, the only foreseeable problem is that when “Tear Drop” kicks in she'll pause and ask “Isn't this the theme from House?” (It is, in fact, the theme from House), but when the dream-like vocals of guest vocalist Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) comes into play this question quickly fades away. And yet she isn't the vocal highlight of the album; the well known vocalist layered on top of the instantly recognisable theme tune paling in comparison to their own hip-hop vocalist who would make his last appearance here, or the little known reggae artist that would open up the release.

There's always the risk when a band gets spouted as 'influential' and a 'pivotal band' in the success of a given genre that all it really means is that they've made it more palletable to a wider audience of people, but this isn't the case here. They could easily have done so, but the decision to become more experimental with their style, taking in a wider variety of influences to distinguish the tracks and still producing a level of darkness unprecedented at the time is not something that's lost on me. Mezzanine is the culmination of three musicians returning after a short hiatus with their own opinions, their own style and their own deep set conflict with one another as they became continually more difficult to work with, but rather than make a documentary about it, they got it all down here; the highs, the lows, the anger and the sadness, and that all makes this something quite unique.

Highlights: Angel, Inertia Creeps, Mezzanine

Yonin Bayashi – Isshoku-Sokuhatsu

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 28 September 2010 2 comments

Yonin Bayashi – Isshoku-Sokuhatsu – 4.5/5

With a name that literally translates to “four musicians” you could argue that this '74 debut could sound like they might be a little bland an uncreative, but instead it feels more apt as each one seems to morph into a legendary musician from the 70s to lend their touch to proceedings. And yet because they're all dealing with their own persona, trying to pinpoint precisely where their influences lie seems like a bit of a chore; their music is unquestionably psychedelic and progressive, following suit with many of the British bands at the time, but the combination of all the different sounds that come together as they meander their course results in something that feels if not wholly original then certainly refreshing to hear.

There can be no question of the abilities of the musicians, and they all manage to work their complex, multi-layered compositions as though they'd being performing together for decades and already knew precisely what style everyone else is likely to do, but it is the vocals that brings it all down a notch. That's certainly not to say that he's a bad vocalist, he's nothing of the sort to bring down the quality at all but there is that inherent language barrier; the unforgettable chorus lines of “Roundabout,” “In the Court of the Crimson King” or “Silver Machine” making the tracks all the more memorable here seem lacking as a result, and if the whole piece wasn't so jam-packed with smooth grooves, transitional passages and wailing vocals that still manage to compensate for this language barrier it could almost become problematic.

There's that Floyd-like psychedelic wave from the guitars, adding touches of McLaughlin's wandering fusion fretwork and interspersed with space-age jazzy keyboard and minimoog work that recalls the likes of Sun-Ra or Wakeman's more serene work with Yes (or if perhaps he was stoned). The bass-lines feel torn straight from Crimson's collaborations with Wettman (“Red” in particular springs to mind) and when the drums kick off and the Deep Purple solo guitars kick off, you suddenly jolt back to reality when you suddenly realise that Blackmore's singing in Japanese.

It's worth bearing in mind that the musicians were only just hitting their 20s at the time, and for a debut recording it's nothing short of mind-blowing; their career only lasted a few short years and a handful of albums resulting in them all too quickly falling into those that were forgotten. With only a couple of mis-stepped tracks that feel suddenly underwhelming coming after the two epic's that preceded it, this is one release that but for being released in the wrong country and being sung in a foreign language probably would have found it's way to the 'collectors classics' pile by now. This may not be a British prog rock supergroup but it's likely the closest you'll find.

Highlights: Omatsuri, Isshoku-Sokuhatsu

Accept – Blood of the Nations

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 26 September 2010 0 comments

Accept – Blood of the Nations – 4/5

With fourteen years behind them since their last studio recording and the hugely disappointing 'Predator;' and with the Udo, the band's vocalist, insisting that it was to be his last time with Accept it would seem that the legendary Heavy Metal band had seen their last days. And indeed, for years that would seem true until late last year when they announced their replacement vocalist and the return of guitar virtuoso Herman Frank, and if history had taught me anything it was not to pass them off unduly; between Anthem's “Black Empire,” Heaven and Hell's phenomenal return and the knock-out solo effort from Frank just last year it would seem that if there was ever a time to make a come-back then this would be it, but sadly it's not quite all it could have been.

I kept waiting for the guitars to give off that kick that would throw me back from my seat; a hard hitting riff that would leave me dumbstruck or a solo that would have me convinced the way that Herman Frank's solo album converted me to a fan in a a single note, but it never truly comes. There are certainly momentous occasions but they often feel too similar, for the production is crisp and the resultant tone is undeniably powerful but all too often it falls into the trap of playing mid-paced, unenthusiastic and overly simplistic power chords with a few palm mutes thrown in, which is only more of a shame when you see the heights they accomplish at other times, when perhaps their mind seems to be more focussed on the matter at hand.

With the departure of the part-troll Udo Dirkschneider with his distinctive voice any newcomer to the throne would have mighty big boots to fill, and newcomer Tornillo is under no illusion of it being anything but. It is his position that has everyone turning their heads and questioning how he could replace their iconic front man, and perhaps most shockingly of all he doesn't do a half bad job of it, roaring with a ferociously hoarse snarl or smoothly sailing for the ballads; the only real complaint is not so much of his abilities but that it isn't quite a perfect fit. It still feels as though he is filling in for Udo rather than making the tracks his own and can often be accused of trying to sound as much like the former front man as much as possible, which for any less of a singer would automatically be a recipe for disaster.

In fact, the only musician I have difficulty finding fault with is the long-standing drummer who still seems to fit like a glove, not taking but a moment to find his groove with the two new additions and pummelling away; finding that simple framework that never feels unsuited or uninteresting, remaining rawly felt yet capable of punching through the instrumentation to make its presence known. A spectacular return from old school heavy metal titans? Unquestionably, but album of the year? That's taking it too far. Blood of the Nations may be their best effort in almost twenty years but this still feels like a warm-up, a practice run for the real thing, and something tells me this new line-up's best work has yet to come.

Highlights: Beat the Bastards, Locked and Loaded, Time Machine

Yousei Teikoku – Metanoia

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 21 September 2010 0 comments

Yousei Teikoku – Metanoia - 4/5

There are some genres that many consider too conflicting and simply should not be mixed (Body Count's “Rap Metal,” can stand testament to that) but I've always thought that of the abominations to music that such 'experimentation' brings, no matter how awful, can only be a representation of themselves and not the combination; essentially simply because no good music has come from one combination of genres does not prevent anything that can be categorised by them both automatically bad. To place this all into better context, Yousei Teikoku are a band of two that have combined Electronica (something between Techno and Drum and Bass to be precise) with classical music – a combination of styles likely to offend fans on both sides – and despite all my doubts have succeeded in making it work by adding a third element compatible with both: Gothic Rock.

Surprisingly, it manages to combine the strengths of each genre into one coherent piece; the drums may all be programmed but their precise aggression deftly sets the pace for the rest of the music to layer on top of, and the hard hitting bass adds an upbeat antithesis to the more delicate choral chants, violins, and synthesizers that set the classical tone like some grandiose “Phantom of the Opera” epic; filled with darkness and yet still not somehow without warmth. Coupled with the piano lines and aggressive guitar lines it rarely feels as though there's not enough going on or that the sound they've created feels thin, and yet throughout it all the elegant female vocals manage to gracefully dance over the atmosphere behind her with a melancholy gothic sadness, a delicate delivery that varies in its pace yet never fails to show a seductive innocence to be tainted.

Their influences seem to sway with each track, despite the aggressive and metallic fury of the earlier tracks, towards the end it drifts into an almost ambient like tone resulting in a release that never seems to get stuck in a rut; it all flows from one end to the other as a single coherent entity. The influences are clearly discernible but never so obtuse as to stick out; it all blends into the overarching composition and whilst it comes with definite high points, it still manages to remain an excellent short (30min) release capable of withstanding multiple listens.

Highlights: Hades: the Rise, Haitako no Hana

Yousei Teikoku – Gothic Lolita Doctrine – 3.5/5

Up until the last minute I was intending to review this album, but decided upon 'metanoia' instead. As short as metanoia was, the extended run time here didn't feel as well utilised; the upbeat passages were less enthused, the slow passages less delicate and the whole release felt far more reluctant to step away from the middle-ground. Still, it's not bad and if you liked the above, this is a decent collection of some of their more upbeat works.

Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 20 September 2010 2 comments

Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere - 4.5/5

Black metal as a genre certainly has come a long way from its advent, evolved if you will, and yet in this quagmire of musical influences it becomes inceasingly refreshing when a band decides to use the standard approach of BM in a much more varied way without getting into the genre's odd (read: ridiculous) gimmicks. If you're looking at experimentation, I'm not against it, however, it is material such as this that proves itself to be varying without twisting its shape too much and is certainly capable of teaching a lot of artists a thing or two about experimentation.

Hailing from the UK, Winterfylleth have churned out this piece of harsh beauty two years after their debut, showing no signs of rustiness on their creativity or any laziness in their work. What we have on this release is only a little different from the debut, maintaining much of their initial style but only lengthening their creations. Does this make them repetitive? Yes it does, but it works well in how it flows along with tracks and is what their music seems to be all about. Don't be be fooled though; this is far from your average eight to nine minutes of constant blast beating and tremolo riffing. The very mystique about BM at times is to be found in the intensity and that is one objective that Winterfylleth achieve flawlessly here, despite the shifting between acoustic and tremolo passages, the band do not fail to capture the attention even for one second with their masterful work at the instruments. That and what with the tempo change in the songs, Winterfylleth manage to keep a very intelligent line of songwriting.

So if you go on with the instrumentation you might feel more inclined to make comparisons with certain bands, and obviously names like Ulver and Forefather might come to mind. This release however also displays a very interesting side to Winterfylleth which you might compare with the likes of Agalloch, and that is again their skill at the instruments. Although the beauty of the album very much appears to be in the way all the instruments are played with a certain unison, but between certain changes of tempo the guitarists also let their ability shine with a few quick solos, though by no means does any track's climax seems to have been focussed on the individual instrumental ability. Another interesting aspect of this album is the atmosphere, one might say necessary for any good BM release, and here despite the intense and harsh moments a certain romance obviously influenced by the anglo saxon heritage is created here though as you'll probably see without too many folk instruments. And yet to retain that with such turning tempos within the songs suggests a touch of genius about this relatively young band. The icing on the cake are of course the vocals which like you would expect of every good BM band deliver themselves well,icy and harsh, but again they also come well mixed with clean passages and choir choruses on several songs. Interestingly enough these choirs combined with epic built riffs provide some of the most memorable climaxes to the tracks I have heard in this or any other genre.

So to all the seasoned BM fans, if you have kept up with the delicacies churned out by BM bands this year and are anxious for more, then this album will not disappoint you.

Highlights: The Honour of Good Men On The Path To Eternal Glory, The Wayfarer, Children Of The Stones.

Spiritual Beggars – Demons

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 16 September 2010 0 comments

Spiritual Beggars – Demons – 5/5
{Link Removed due to Request}

What better way to kick off this next special than with an album I’ve been praising since I heard it over a year ago. If there can be one album to define ‘Stoner Rock Perfection,’ this is the all-star line-up that provided it, and I really do mean all-star here. From the familiar guitar tone of Amott (Carcass, Arch Enemy) performing better than I’d have believed him possible, the soaring vocals of “JB” Christofferson (Grand Magus) and the impeccable bass work of D’Angello (Mercyful Fate, Witchery, Arch Enemy) forming the core of three, they are further joined by the keyboardist known for his work with Opeth, and the current drummer for black metal band “Shining.”

The biggest shock of this album comes from the bass work, which is far from pushed back in this mix. There is no rhythm guitar plodding here, for the bass is the rhythm guitarist here, providing a deep bass infused in groove that puts many guitarists to shame, no simplistic chords in sight, time and time again he proves his talent (even providing his own bass solos). Around this comes the work of Amott, not dominating over the bass, instead adding another layer to work in unison with the bass, it’s the frequent solos that he proves his might. Whilst distinct in his own particular style, they are worked to feel integral to the track, following the flow with gusto through slow emotional passages and shredded work he performs beyond what I could have expected.

Not to undermine the keyboards or drums in this line-up, whilst both feel perhaps behind the rest of the instrumentation, neither are performed poorly. Despite all too frequently being unheard in the mix, the keyboards can rally together a solo perfectly playing off against the guitars, as well as short interludes. The drumming is competent and creative, ready to rain a fiery rain of beats to suit the mood of the piece, be it gentle or all out insanity. Vocals providing a finalé to this line-up, he once again performs superbly, lending an often more delicate and softer touch than his work with “Magus,” instantly capable of drawing focus with a charisma seeping out of each word sung, still able to belt out those powerful notes with the best of them.

Every member, despite being better known for other projects, have come together and formed a super-group capable of working together as though they had known each other all their lives. Never over-playing their use solos, providing multiple layers whilst retaining a head-banging rhythm with more little fills and tricks up their sleeve than you could imagine, this is a band without a bad album to their name, and just keep on improving.

Highlights: Throwing You Life Away, One Man Army, Treading Water

Wallop – Metallic Alps

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments

Wallop – Metallic Alps – 4/5

If there was an album more overdue for posting here then...well I probably forgot about a long time ago. My point is this was shown to me nearly a year ago, has quickly become a welcome addition to my collection and for the longest time I thought it was already here, but it wasn't. It never was. This classic gem of forgotten German Heavy Metal – with only the drummer going on to greater things with Grave Digger – seems to be shrouded in obscurity and with a name as lame as “Wallop” and a cover that cheesy its not hard to see why nobody picked it up from the shelf. And yet despite this lousy name the music is anything but; it may not be anything more revolutionary than simple hard-hitting heavy metal but it's surely amongst the best of them.

The most striking feature to hit you like a tonne of bricks is probably going to be the vocals. The front man here isn't exactly the most conventional sounding vocalist you'll have come across, snarling in a nasal high pitched manner, but before you'll have time to fully make up your mind as to whether it suits the music the rest of the band will be in full swing. It may take a couple of tracks for them fully warm up but by the time the guitarist gets his chance to prove he can shred with the best, performing to the calibre of “David T. Chastain” or “Herman Frank” in creating fast paced pieces complete with all the tapping and sweeping the music could demand – and that's just the riffs! - and when the drummer starts wailing on the tom-tom's like he's determined to break every drum in his kit by the end of the night, such questions quickly disappear.

It's not all good news though, it does come with a fairly large flaw (and certainly the one that I find hardest to overcome): the production on the release. It was oddly 'raw' which whilst lending an energetic viscerality to the proceedings whilst still retaining its clarity, it had an unfortunate grating quality that saw me struggle between the desire to play it loudly and not get a headache from all the loud background noise. Certainly here with the re-release the issue is far less noticeable, having been given a much needed re-mastering at the minor cost at pushing the frantic drumming just perhaps a little further back, but by no means out of the picture entirely. There should be little else that needs to be said; like Heavy Metal? You'll love this.

Note: Interestingly, this comes with both the demo's that the band released, one prior and one following this album. During the recording of the album, the original vocalist left and so the one on display here is a cover vocalist and not present on either demo. It's intriguing to me to flick between the two versions and wonder how it would have panned out with the original line-up.

Highlights: Monsters, Idols Die Too

Volcano – Violent

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 14 September 2010 0 comments

Volcano – Violent – 4.5/5

I know, two J-pop reviews in a row, I swear my tastes aren't fully removed from metal quite yet and to prove it, say hello to the Power/Thrash band Volcano. When I point people to Gargoyle it's often the earlier releases that come recommended because in '93 they suffered not only the loss of prominent guitarist (She-Ja) but their drummer too, and Volcano was the result. Teaming up with Aion vocalist (who would sing for “Zigoku Quartet”) and the bassist from the already notorious death/thrash act “Youthquake,” the band's line-up would be completed, performing here and there whenever time allowed and after seven years of jamming the best made it into this album of a more than appropriate title.

But this band is different from the others to emerge from the Japanese scene, rather than feel 'uniquely Japanese' in the manner it unfolds, it instead feels almost as though a homage to the Bay Area Thrash style, with all the flair of the best in USPM, combining technicality with slow Sabbath-like dominance and production values of the early Gothenburg scene. Which isn't actually too surprising given that Fredrik Nordström (Dark Tranquility, At the Gates, Opeth) was responsible here. And so in their homage to West, their unusual blend of styles in itself lends a familiar tone that still doesn't quite fit; it doesn't feel quite so unusual but the manner each track compares to the last lends a dynamic fluidity in their influences such that any attempt at a direct comparison fails.

Anyone aware of She-Ja's past work is probably also aware his presence is worth its weight in gold; from blistering shredded solo's, epic neo-classical compositions, dirty doom-like grooves and everything else in between, his abilities are none the less on display here, forming the centrepiece to their sound and given ample room to shake things up a bit. The bass weaves his own course and is made all the more important during the frequent diversions from the guitar, and with varied drum work no less capable than what we would come to expect of a musician of his calibre, and some roaring vocals that succeed in straddling that line between tenor and more traditional thrash screams, what were left with is a creative and melodic take on modern thrash. Quite frankly, what's not to like?

Highlights: Kill all of Me, Fear of the Scarlet, The Prayer

Mami Kawada – Linkage

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments

Mami Kawada – Linkage – 4/5

I mentioned already that I found it rather odd that whilst the new “Accept” release is still shelved, the moment I found this release I had it spinning and its been that way for a while now, but there we have it. One of the infamous “I've Sound” artists; it was her last release “SAVIA” that was met with rave reviews despite having only a few tracks that truly stood out from the crowd, and it would seem that this is thus far her follow up is not faring so well. I do wonder if the quite unexpected cover image is partly to blame, the duo of artists responsible for song writing duties notably choosing older and more experienced vocalists who perhaps aren't exactly known for being the prettiest starlets to choose from, but more capable. Now admittedly, they have definitely they have definitely caught her good side (compared to here:[1][2]) but nonetheless it still feels somewhat out of place and a cheap 'sex sells' gimmick to try to boost sales.

It probably isn't helped too much by the fact that ultimately this release feels quite different from the last; her vocals are still present and as delicate as before, the use of vocoder kept untastefully high so as to create that addictive perfume-like pitch-perfect melody which will make many loath its processed and electronic tone. There's little to say about any emotion running through her delivery, but that is nothing unexpected given that the intention is far more intent on the melodies. Consistently performing in an upbeat tone, her abilities as a vocalist often feel rather inconsequential to the album at hand; there's nothing particularly awful about the delivery, but they're always sung in the same manner to the extent that more variation comes from the vocoder than her, and its treated very much like a constant instrument to maintain the flow of the piece, and in this is its only major success.

Instead, the main highlight comes from the backing which has morphed from the more hard hitting techno of her last to what I would only describe as a sort of “trance;” too upbeat to really be called “Dark” but too aggressive to fit in with most of the genre, and yet somehow inexplicably more-ish. It's greatest strength unquestionably in its consistency; there are no knock-out sensations but no jarring dips in quality either. The entire album comfortably flows from end to end and whilst may often fade into the background, when the attention resumes its none the worse for it. It's easy listening without being boring; upbeat without being too nauseatingly fluffy, and between the cute and the chaotic I can't help but think that this is far more of a success for the backing work than for the artist in question. Maybe we'll eventually hear her voice free of effects and her emotions can come through her delivery, as she has proven in rare tracks here to be able to do, but for now just enjoy the ever improving trance stylings of the “I've Sound” boys.

Highlights: TOY, masterpiece, Linkage, All in Good Time

Chappie – New Chappie

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 12 September 2010 0 comments

Chappie – New Chappie – 4/5

It may have seemed that my interest in shibuya-kei had disappeared, but that's not really true. Given that it was a relatively small local scene limited to a single ward in Tokyo, Japan, there are simply a limited number of artists that sprung into existence, and even fewer that made enough of an impact for me to readily discover. And even of those that did grab my attention, many of which had long since disbanded leaving behind a legacy of just a handful of releases out of print for many years and simply impossible to obtain. Such was the case with this artist (which thanks to the folks at JpopSuki I finally managed to get my grubby mitts on), which I had discovered early on in my exploration, a creation of the design company 'Groovisions' named after their trademark doll (no, I'm not really sure how it all fits in) that makes use of their staff to provide the vocals.

Much of the way this manages to succeed is down to the manner in which its worked into the composition, it's frequently choral nature and focus on the boisterous electronic backing tone drawing the attention away from any nuances in the voice, the production work invested in creating a simple pitch-perfect melody with clearly defined transitions. The music of Chappie is – as you might expect from a collaborative effort – rather varied in its style, with an obvious tendency towards Shibuya-Kei, each track in this solitary effort demonstrates a glorious diversity from that which preceded it. Sadly, this fact doesn't come without its own set of problems. If you were expecting a great deal of coherency between the tracks on show you may come to be disappointed is much of it plays out like a collection of singles lumped together to form a release.

The result is nothing if not perhaps slightly inconsistent. With such a variety there are naturally some tracks to prefer over others; some tracks are kept short and snappy and you wish they'd revisit more often, whilst others sound rather more basic and simplistic and at times come close to overstaying their welcome. Then there's that track that sounds like it may well be a cover of the Jackson 5's “ABC” which is just plain bizarre and one that often finds itself being skipped, and yet despite this turbulent track listing there are far more diamonds than duds on display and whilst you might occasionally tune out for a sub-par track, it still manages to captivate my attention rather well.

Highlights: Welcome Morning, Track 5, The International Chappie's Cheer-leading Team

The Howling Wind – Into the Cryosphere

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 7 September 2010 2 comments

The Howling Wind – Into the Cryosphere – 4/5

Ryan Lipynsky – also known as “Killusion” is something of an asshole. He seems to have torn people apart, half calling him a genius and the others calling him a pretentious wanker. Apart from the drummer this is a one man band with him performing and writing all the music, and far from being horrendously tinny and completely absent of bass, the production on it is actually quite palletable, I mean, how dare he soil the good name of Black Metal? And to add insult to injury this music is heavily tainted with experimentalism, combining a sludgy doom-esque tone with an almost 'tech death' level of chaos to its tempo changes, varying from the slow to the not quite so slow. But you know what really grates me? More than anything else, he has interrupted my epic music-review comeback (which is still being written) and dominated my listening time to the point that it's already time to write my thoughts.

The bass is largely complementary to the rest of the sound, providing ample atmosphere to his despair-laden and morbid creation, working subtly in the background. The vocals too are largely overshadowed by the instrumentation, faintly heard howling like an elegant but powerful wind sweeping across the horizon, always heard but rarely distinguishable though the chaos. Instead, most of the draw comes from the highly distorted guitars; they're raw and aggressive, varying between the simplistic tremolo lines to the quicker paced thick and somehow darkly addictive lines. Often layered atop one another, the production remains impressively capable of distinguishing between the lines and lending an odd crisp feel to the otherwise inherently raw tone they take. The drumming provides no slack either, facilitating the change in tempo with a wide array of fills to break up the passages into bitesize chunks.

Impressively for a such a small two-man project it lends a large sound filled with multiple layers all capable of crashing down around you, each layer with its own part to play in creating the cavernous and chaotic darkness that envelops you for its short run time. The ability for sludge to create a thick tone, grinding down in such a way to aptly fit its moniker of “working-mans-metal” is used to good effect here whilst never entirely losing that blackened sense of despair. It is, however, a trade off; you cannot use sludge elements without losing much of that icy and frostbitten tone, but with such an abundance of basement black metal bands pretending to be necro I can't say its interesting to hear things done differently. Whether you still think he's a bit of a wanker or not – he is from New York, so its certainly a plausible theory – that doesn't prevent his music from being pretty darn good.

Highlights: The Seething Wrath of a Frigid Soul, Will is the Only Fire Under an Avalanche

Sanctity – Road To Bloodshed

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 2 September 2010 0 comments

Sanctity – Road To Bloodshed – 3.5/5

Its been a while since I wrote here but that's more due to the fact I'd been pre-occupied with film and re-listening to collection classics as opposed to exploring new material. As such, it only makes sense to return with a bang (still to come) and this is very much my 'warm up' run. When Sanctity first emerged two years ago they made a bit of a splash, but not the good kind. Early on they were picked up by Roadrunner for 'sounding a bit like Trivium,' their major success story at the time. Assumedly when they released an album that wasn't awful their label lost interest leaving them in limbo with thrash fans passing them up as another lousy retro-thrash act and the rest confused at the fact that they actually play thrash and not New York Hardcore with solos.

In fact, all these comparisons seem not quite suited to the beast on display; they certainly have some of the old school attitude about them but they musicianship is far more “pop,” more modern. Fuck it, it's downright addictive, even 'danceable' at times, and its difficult to not sing along to the likes of “Road to Bloodshed” playing out like some demented Lady Gaga/thrash combo, or the epic lines in “Zeppo” begging for a show of lighters swaying to the pounding sound of the guitars. And the best part is they succeed in doing this whilst never feeling like anything but a modern thrash band; the drums still create a blissful chaos, the riffs are never less than memorable and every song contains the required shredded solo to put the best big four in their place.

I'm not denying there's still some of that hardcore influence trickling in; between the cleanly sung chorus lines and 'breakdown' like slow passages breaking things up it's actually quite evident at times but this is not a negative thing. The unconventionality of their sound simply prevents them from sounding like another cookie cutter clone and amidst the expected exclamations of “clean vocals in MY thrash” and “where are the blast beats?” it all simply fits together. Yes, repeated listens show that many of the tracks work on a similar formula and it could have benefited from less of a 'clean' over-production so its not without its flaws, but looking back it's a shame that it took me a second chance listening to realise just how much potential there is here. Don't pass them off as another sheep in the crowd as you may be passing on one of the few creative acts still in the modern thrash scene.

Highlights: Beneath the Machine, Road to Bloodshed, Zeppo

Adagio – Archangels in Black

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 20 August 2010 2 comments

Adagio – Archangels in Black – 4.5/5
{Link Removed at Request}

Upon doing my research, I happened upon a review in metal archives that it must be said, I found rather appalling, believing the low rating wholly unjustified, though not unexpected. Described as progressive symphonic metal, I’d have added neo-classical and power to that description, but even that doesn’t describe the tone presented here. If you go into this expecting the images this usually conjures, be prepared for a surprise. This is aggressive bordering on melodic death metal more often than not, with no shortage of a deep gothic atmosphere, deathly growls and more solo’s than you can count, this certainly satisfies the description of being unique.

The drumming is very basic, creating a framework to build upon. Whilst many layers present themselves, the drums are given little share of the spotlight. Instead the spotlight lies on the incredible guitar work, from both the bassist and the lead guitarist. The bassist comes through thick and clear, providing many of the main riffs for the album, deep and heavily distorted the atmosphere this creates is nothing short of impressive.

And this is only topped by the magnificent acrobatic display shown by the lead guitarist. Literally packed with solo’s, from the upbeat neo-classical, the slow emotional and melodic, the dark and twisted, the groove style riffs, the variety and manner in which they are conducted leaves no shadow in my mind that this album should place right up there with the Romeo’s and Petrucci’s in the genre. But he isn’t the only one with his fair share of solo’s here, the keyboard player too adds his touch. From the heavily classical inspired introductions and interludes, to the ‘keytar’ solo’s often played off of the guitarist in a sort of guitar duel, and the manner in which he succeeds in adding a second layer of atmosphere, with his riffs intertwined with the guitarist and the bassist, all performing simultaneously in coherent manner.

Unfortunately, the vocals are the main point in which this album falls short. When confronted with an aggressive and powerful instrumental force, the vocals have to more than match this in order to power over it. Don’t get me wrong, the new vocalist on this album is more than competent, he simply fails in adding that final kick in the line-up.

I went into this album with high expectations – something I usually try to avoid for fear of disappointment – but this album has risen to the challenge, and succeeded in producing a perfect blend of their darker classical take in ‘underworld,’ and the more standard affair neo-classical style in ‘dominate,’ as they intended. This won’t be remembered as an equal to their masterpiece with ‘underworld’ but it certainly came damn close.

Highlights: Vamphyria, Undead, Archangels in Black

P.S. Yes, I did laugh when I realised how many genres this seems to fall under. If I could shorten it, I would, but I couldn’t see how. They’re all present, and fairly prominent.

By T. Bawden

Album: Archangels in Black
Artist: Adagio
Released: 2009
Rating: 5/5
{Link Removed at Request}

I decided to start off by reviewing one of my favorite albums of all-time. Adagio is a Symphonic Progressive Metal band. With the following members Vocals: Christian Palin, who is the bands third singer, he had sent a demo to the band in 2004 but didn't get accepted due to his deep Finnish accent. Lead Guitar/Backup Vocals: Stephan Forté, who is considered to be the genius force behind Adagio. Bassist: Franck Hermanny. Keyboards: Kevin Codfert. And lastly on Drums: Eric Lébailly.

If you are a fan of fast double bass playing then the drummer busts in to drum beats, great and catchy breakdowns, memorable buildups, and mind-blowing solos. This is an album for you. The album in my opinion has the greatest song to start off an album I have ever heard my entire life. The opening song (Vamphryi) has a bit of everything that is in the album. A great start of course, as it automatically tells you what the album is like. Telling you to not listen, or to kick back and enjoy the music (while of course head banging).

The album also has killer riffs that will make you want to listen to the song five times more. (Example) In fact this song is filled with sweet riffs. Personally, I swear I could listen to this album around 80 times till I might think it’s just OK, so this album you will most likely never get tired of. The keyboardist Kevin Codfert has many brilliant passages on his piano, giving a feeling of darkness. Vamphyri at 2:38 has good example of such, then there is a sweet build up, and an amazing solo following closely afterward. And even on Vamphryi it has a synthesized solo.

I enjoy Stephen Forte's touch and feel so much that IMO, he goes up with Eric Johnson for best touch and feel with a guitar. I think that his style of playing fits perfectly with their music. The drums and guitar fit perfectly together. And Eric LeBailly's drumming fits perfectly with the guitar as well. The atmosphere of the album is mostly dark and eery, which is why the background violins and piano breakdowns fit seamlessly to the music. Overall this is simply perfection fit into one album, and is a VERY highly recomended album by me.

The highlights of the album: Vamphryi, The Fifth Ankh, and Archangels in Black. Every other song from the album is equally good, but IMO these stick out as the best of the album

By S. Monyette

Mordax – Slaughter

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 8 August 2010 0 comments

Mordax – Slaughter [EP] – 4/5

It's funny how things have been falling into my lap of late. Despite not specifically looking for new music, new artists still manage to somehow grace my ears and this unsigned Danish death/thrash act have succeeded in keeping my attention. Which for Denmark – a country known for King Diamond, Lars Ulrich, the Danish pastry and little else – places them in a rather special category already. This debut self-produced EP unquestionably comes with some issues in the production department, everything kept perhaps slightly too raw for my liking, feeling instead a little 'fuzzy' and blurred as opposed to the crispness I usually prefer. It's not even consistently raw, each track jarring into a slightly different manner of viscerality.

That said, there are many early demo's of now well known artists that are highly sought after for more than just collectors items and gaining metal man-penis points but for the actual music contained, and if they continue writing material as strong as this then 'Slaughter' could very quickly find its way to that status. Get past the production and what you discover is some mid-paced thrash, deathly howls and the definite highlight in the guitars; between the epic chorus lines, gentle solo's and shredded passages, the guitars when not relegated to the occasionally monotonous chugging duties demonstrate the sort of melodic sensibilities to be expected of already well established artists.

The bottom line is that you'll not find anything particularly original in this piece; there's little that doesn't feel as though it's been done before but what this EP does is re-create that old school vibe of where the likes of Sodom and Exodus reigned supreme and follow in their footsteps two decades on. It's target audience is quite clear; if you like thrash (in particular), and like how it was done back in the day then this is one band that is more than deserving of your time.

Highlights: Buried Alive, Devoured By Life, Eyes of the Weak

NOTE: The Link is a repost from here who have received it with the bands blessing.

Ad Inferna – DSM

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 7 August 2010 0 comments

Ad Inferna – DSM – 4.5/5

My discovery of this artist I remember well; initially looked up for Asphodel (Pin-Up Went Down) providing some of the guest vocals, and whilst I was initially listening to their earlier Blackened works this new release is something entirely different, and I don't just mean from their own back catalogue but from music in general. The best comparison I can give is that of Samsas Traum, perhaps with some Diapsiquir thrown in for good measure; a sort of Dark Industrial Trance, complete with gothic wails, enraged Frenchman, samples (notably from the show “Dexter” if my ears don't deceive me) and simple but strong electronic melodies that not only provide the main focus but much of the forboding atmosphere as well.

The entire piece flows into one another in a blur, lending a gradual transition from the start to the end and yielding an oddly progressive sense to the proceedings. The only real continual presence is the atmosphere itself – though the simple steady beat of the drum machine makes a notable appearance – morphing and contorting itself as it proceeds. It's unlikely to convert someone from their dislike towards the electronica genre but that does little to insult its experimental style and unique accomplishments, the lack of variety between the tracks compensated for by the inherent unconventional tone of the piece as a whole.

Make no mistake, this is entirely electronic in its construction, but apart from the strong enveloping darkness the style feels very much free-form; the heavy bass and kick from the drum machine wouldn't be far out of place in dubstep, the rhythmic movement-inducing melodies fit for a devilish night of trance, and yet its still able to step back for the gentle ambient interludes. All traces of their Blackened origins have by now dissipated and we're left with the raw hypnotic melodies that have taken hold and are refusing to let go. It usually takes something special to draw my attention to this genre – much of it feels too repetitive for my liking – but this darkly seductive and romantic release has succeeded in casting its spell.

Highlights: Der Ball der Verdammten, Second Half of the Sky, Celeste

Rolo Tomassi – Cosmology

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 24 July 2010 0 comments

Rolo Tomassi – Cosmology - 3/5
{Link Removed at Request}

The opening moments of this album feels fitting to the title, electronica synths making for a nice short intro. Then this annoying bass kicks in – I thought it was an annoying sites background music at first, until I realised that this was part of their music. 'Oh awesome, perhaps they've started dabbling in polyrhythms.' Nope. It just sounds really fucking out of place, and seeing as my last review had firm hopes on them finding their sound and continuing to expand on that, improving their insatiable grooves, showing more of their clean side and more insane tempo changes, the fact they've taken one step further towards the musical void of No-Face has me a little annoyed.

There are three main components to their overarching sound; three distinct styles – all defined by the synths and guitars – that combine with one another to form the final entity. The first is the full hardcore overdrive with the sound of blast beats, the same note plucked at random times and the frustrated keyboardist smashing his head against the keys in a fit of despair. The second sadly isn't a lot better, though credit where credit is due both musicians do begin to play their randomly chosen notes without concern for what the other is doing. In fact, these passages may well truly live up to the math title in mathcore as I wouldn't be surprised if they used a random number generator to determine what note should come next and then proceeded to play them as fast as possible.

The final style is decidedly absent for the first ten minutes, but when they start allowing their tracks some breathing room they find the time to actually listen to what their band mates are playing and actually form this crazy thing called a melody. When the vocalist actually stops screaming her bad imitation of a mechanically pitch-perfect howler monkey and is confronted with some actual discernible musical harmony between the instruments, she starts to sing cleanly and suddenly the entire piece opens up for a short while, at least until they feel the incessant desire to start incessantly chugging again.

As things progress to the final moments, the melodies start flourishing and everything suddenly shows promise right up to the monumental finalé demonstrating the finest work they've done to date. I almost feel its worth rating the two halves of the album separately as they sound little alike to one another; the first half could be the result of crackhead monkeys on their equipment for all the abilities on show but once that seventh track finally arrives they prove their worth as potential successors to the mathcore throne. I guess its not time to write them off quite yet...

Highlights: Tongue in Chic, Cosmology

Decadence – Chargepoint

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 20 July 2010 0 comments

Decadence – Chargepoint - 4/5

With a woman fronting them who calls herself 'metallic' kitty and band photo's of her (gorgeous) frame proudly sporting a shirt emblazoned with the word's “I'm Fucking Metal,” it seems apparent that by the time their previous effort (3rd Stage of Decay) rolled out they felt they had something to prove, and prove it they did. But three years have passed since then and finally the follow-up has fallen into my lap after the decision to release it in Japan and nowhere else – a decision I neither understand nor like, especially seeing as this is a Swedish thrash band – along with an unusual piece of merch, the metallic kitty PVC doll. Now don't get me wrong, they haven't all suddenly became wussy and start singing about how their girlfriends dumped them and that life isn't fair, but it does call into question their frame of mind during the three year absence in writing this release.

I could pick out the production, which rather amusingly was done 'professionally' this time instead of letting the guitarist do it as before, yet feels for worse as a result. The guitars, whilst always a highlight, have been pushed so far up this time that the drums often feel sterile in the back and even the vocals genuinely have to fight to be heard above the melodies; the aggression rather than coming from all angles is instead focussed on the one aspect, which whilst certainly not performed poorly leaves things feeling all too monotonous. But its not simply this one aspect that feels entirely to blame for my disappointment, the composition of the tracks themselves too feel as though they've backtracked somewhat; the vocals remain all too similar and the guitar riffs for all their aggressive glory too readily blur into one another.

Yet despite all this Decadence remain one of the strongest retro-thrash bands on the scene, always maintaining their tried and tested tentative balance between power and melody resulting in a distinctive tone that remains crisp and yet still with a razor sharp viscerality. With solos galore and a sense that no matter what the volume is set at on the stereo it's still too quiet, this may not live up to the heights of their last but its a far cry from a sour patch on their career. It may have all been done before but this one of those rare breeds that still remember how to swing the old way.

Highlights: Strength of Mind, Challenge

Oingo Boingo – Only a Lad – 4.5/5

Originally discovered from the popular Azumanga Daoih AMV which made use of their track 'I like Little Girls,' it wasn't long before I had explored a little further into this new wave band's origins and uncover than Danny Elfman (now famous for his collaboration with Tim Burton, providing the soundtracks to most of his films) takes the lead role in this new wave band not quite like any other. There aren't any of the overt synths that plagued much of the genre, far more reminiscent of 'The Knack' in their use of multiple guitars to create their core melody, but they don't even finish here making sure to find ample use for all manner of keyboards, flutes, trumpets and trombones to lend an almost 'Madness'-esque sensibility. Which is to say, not particularly sensible at all.

With lyrics ranging from the 'are they serious or sarcastic' depths of pro-capitalism and offering support for capital punishment, all the way to the rather forthright 'Nasty Habits,' all about masturbating, and the far more bluntly put 'I like Little Girls.' Elfman's quirkiness is displayed from the very beginning and makes it no wonder Burton picked him out for work on his film 'Beetlejuice;' its all too sadistically happy to evoke images of an eccentric figure with a rather creepy smile grinning from ear to ear, delivering with a memorable ska-like skip in its step and an old fashioned theatrical gothic twist.

With this debut effort there shows a determined reluctance to follow in line with other artists at the time, but neither has he entirely figured out his trademark sound. This fact results in a gloriously experimental release that sways around with its influences, never straying far from the eclectic and instantly recognisable vocalist but often providing something distinct from the rest of the tracks. This is new wave as it should be performed, making full use of everything at their disposal to provide music which whilst not absent of punk attitude, is more willing to push a few buttons. In their own words, “Isn't this a dream come true? Isn't this a nightmare too?”

Highlights: Controller, Little Girls, Nasty Habits

Pin-Up Went Down – 342

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 12 July 2010 1 comments

Pin-Up Went Down – 342 – 4.5/5

For anyone who missed the last time I professed my love for the most schizophrenic ADHD-laden piece of musical theatre to ever grace my ears, you'll have missed my cautionary warning that such genre skipping would not be to everyone's tastes, and in fact may well serve as a decent test of just how musically open-minded you can be. If I had one expectation going into this release it would be that they wouldn't settle unless they'd succeeded in more than matching their previous effort, and as my brain balances on the edge of falling out of my open mind I dare say they succeeded. With the new addition of a keyboardist bringing their member count to three, this goes beyond a simplistic merger of unusual musical styles and instead feels like they've strived to pack every genre in existence into this 42 minute album, and even scarier than this notion is that they've come damn close to doing just that.

I won't even bother to list all the different styles I've observed as the whole thing would become an exercise in futility, but suffice to say that it wouldn't be possible if not for every member present bringing their own mindset to the table. With the lead vocalist's acrobatic display of J-pop cutesiness, soprano roaring, gothic wailing and beyond, she feels as much a vocalist as an impressionist, successfully mimicking the tones of Bjork, Alanis Morisette, Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) and various children; her versatility then combines with the backing deathly growls and even Andy Schmidt (Disillusion) joins in to roar a bit as a guest on one track, resulting in a variety that would make Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) proud. Except even he wouldn't dare try to do them all in under an hour whilst remaining coherent.

Whilst overshadowed by the vocal work, the instrumentation is critical in maintaining the tone of the piece and it isn't so much the versatility of how each instrument is performed as much as the way they work together, no instrument forgotten for long. The tempo and aggression in the drums is constantly changing with the piece, the bass guitar shifting back and forth to add a bass presence to the more metallic portions and providing much of the funkier tones, psychedelic guitar work combine with synths, classical piano passages and subtle atmospheric keys (amongst the less subtle) in a masterful demonstration of what tones and atmospheres can be produced by combining the various instruments in certain ways.

With such mind-bending variety, the drawback is the fluidity of the composition, which certainly isn't to say its bad or even any worse than before. Everything has simply been kicked up a notch, the transitions coming thicker and faster than ever before and as a result things can initially feel jarring until you come to learn the track and expect that J-pop intro to morph into a funky death metal piece; the gothic church organs to turn into – actually i'm not sure how to describe this section – only to sound like “Stolen Babies” brand of circus of hell, often all occurring before a minute has passed. Whether you love it or hate it, the one thing I can guarantee is that you'll have a very tough time finding another artist this diabolically insane.

Highlights: Khabod of My Aba, Vaginaal Nathrakh, Murphy in the Sky With Daemons

Kaori Kobayashi – Solar

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 2 July 2010 0 comments

Kaori Kobayashi – Solar – 4/5

Yes, it would appear as though its time for me to crank out another overdue review from the artist capable of reviving my interest in the unfortunately underestimated instrument, the saxophone. Whilst capable of superb melodies my interest has been largely superficial, its use often slammed directly into that 'softcore porn' sensuality displayed by Kenny G, or the likes of John Zorn who proves you can wank off with a sax just as readily as a guitar, and so perhaps unsurprisingly I've long since thought it limited to one side or the other. And once more it appears that the Japanese are showing me otherwise for only with their slightly warped sense of jazz could fusion and hard-bop be combined so seamlessly (and only with a face this adorable would I have listened long enough to shatter my previous misconceptions).

Everything remains remarkably smooth and fluid with production left rather minimal allowing for a very natural fluctuation in both volume and pitch, and whilst the saxophone naturally becomes the albums centrepiece is certainly not alone in the composition; the creative drumming often packed with various fills, always mixing up the pace, right down to the occasional guitar solo and romantic and delicate keyboards, all demonstrating consideration. But as important this creativity is to the music, it is never traded for melody; never displayed outright for its own sake and none other, and the result takes on an almost ambient like quality, the subtle and yet simple melodies hypnotically washing over you in waves.

I'm almost certain that from a technical perspective there are many with abilities surpassing this woman of her mid-20s, but raw ability isn't the only thing to look for in a musician. Even with her covers of George Bensons “Nothings Gonna Change my Love For You” and Shanice's “I Love Your Smile,” both cheesy romantic tracks of epic proportions, she succeeds in revitalising them with the new instrument, making a far better job than most of straddling the genres knife edge with “Never Gonna Give You Up” on one side and on the other a softcore porn director's eager stare just a short fall away. And that's precisely what works for this album, finding that compromise and never going over the top with one aspect so as to forget another; never feeling alone in the composition but retaining focus, maintaining a catchy melody without forgetting the creativity, and adding just the right level of romantic cheese to still remain perfectly listenable.

Highlights: Bird Island, Sunset Ocean, Smokey

Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 24 June 2010 0 comments

Kyoto Jazz Massive – Spirit of the Sun – 3.5/5

Formed by two brothers in the mid-80s, they began showing their eclectic style of music crossover by DJ-ing at the now renowned club “The Room” in the new bastion for all things wacky and weird, the Shibuya district in Tokyo (which is unsurprisingly where the 'Shibuya-Kei' movement began, combining jazz with pop). Yet despite their early beginnings, and even proving pivotal to pioneering the style of music now played at their local club on a near-daily basis, it wasn't until the late 90s that this style reached the hands of busy UK executives and the rapid decision to get them to record an album, the result of which is on review now and still the only full-length release to their name.

If anyone remembers my remarks regarding the nu-jazz duo Sidsel and Bugge I pointed out the natural shunning of their brand of jazz, mixing in electronica influences to revive the genre, but this discovery goes well beyond mere 'influences' right to the other side of the spectrum. This feels more akin to house music (as a best guess – it really isn't my area of expertise) slapped with some old fashioned jazz showmanship; replacing that monotone drum beat with an actual drummer and having a keyboardist and every so often a saxophone produce the tones the format requires. This all results in a release that genuinely feels like a 'best of both' situation, finding a balance between the repetitive electronica and the unnecessarily complex and egotistical jazz that is often remembered to create something original if not altogether unfamiliar.

Whilst it all manages to display a decent level of funk in the bass lines, shadowed by the smooth grooves much of the release can neatly be sliced into two styles; that with guest vocalists and that without. With recording occurring in the western world, it makes a nice unexpected twist to feature two British female soul vocalists – Vanessa Freeman and Maiya James – who do justice to the backing provided, which has naturally been toned down somewhat in order to allow them to carry the focus. Whilst not alone on the bill of guest vocalists, their powerful opening succeeds in diminishing the attention from the vocalists that follow, yet provide a gentle transition into their world.

Much in a similar manner to the vocally orientated tracks, the instrumental performances feel polarised; the precision performances from the keyboards, drums to drool over and that deeply felt funk bass lines that conjure images of a Herbie Hancock's “Chameleon” all over again prove just how powerful the style can be in the right hands, but the somewhat 'smoother' rides that emerge, slower and more reliant on more basic loops simply fall into the trap of monotony. This makes for a release that is somewhat depressing to mark as when it all comes together the result is nothing but brilliance, but sadly for too long things are allowed to wither into mediocrity.

Highlights: The Brightness of these Days, Mind Expansions, Eclipse, Substream


Blog Archive


Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

Author's credit is given on all posts.