Blankfield – Fast Forward to End of East [EP] – 3.5/5
Finding somewhat reliable reviews of doujin music seems near impossible, and so instead of continuing my exploration in this manner sought out as much as possible to skim over and filter and process to see what stands out from the crowd (so you can expect more to come). With Blankfield it didn’t take long; these touhou pieces re-arranged by ‘warinside’ manage to combine an aggressive Power Metal tone with strong Electronica influences, and the resulting sound is reminiscent of a progressive and instrumental form of ‘Machinae Supremacy.’ Void of overtly excessive speed, each track is instead constructed through thick walls of electronic synths and guitars layered over one another with only the bare backbone of the drum beat keeping the time in the back.
At no point will the instruments be content with playing simple chords either; making gratuitous use of harmonising riffs and gradually shifting tremolo-picked lines, as one element changes it shifts the entire piece into new territory and the resulting atmosphere succeeds in producing more groove-laden and tension-inducing riffs in 20 minutes than most manage over a full length release. Often thick and heavily distorted, the guitars as a result of this compositional style at times come off as mere ‘noise,’ successfully providing the core rhythm for the track but doing little more. Likewise, the drums will often find themselves lost in the backing for a good portion of the release; in fact it’s the production that ultimately proves to be the main issue presented here.
With so many layers presented, the production work that needs to be done so as to balance all the volume levels and make each individual line as coherent as one another requires an impeccable ear, and whilst many tracks gets this right, almost as often will all the instruments that are vying for dominance collide and it simply sounds a little confused. Factor in the many short interludes – an ‘Electronic Dance’ beat on the opening track or the occasional ambient-esque passage – it can easily become too much in such a short period of time; what should have been a welcome diversion from their core style instead feels out of place, transitioning too rapidly and feeling too disjointed to comfortable keep up.
For all its short glory, it remains wonderfully varied not only surviving repeated listens, but the issue of sounding confused becomes less prevalent with each time. Whilst doing little to put them above and beyond the rest of their competition, it is their unique flair that brought my attention. The manner the tracks are arranged shows nothing if not a willing to push themselves to create such a multi-faceted structure that feels complex without being pointlessly technical. Only with one other earlier EP to their name, it would seem he is still perfecting his style but with this distinct feel it would be interesting to see what he can deliver next.
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
Harkonen – Shake Harder Boy – 3/5
Sludge often relies on two main things to make its mark: firstly is the thick, downtrodden atmosphere, as though slowly pushing onwards through the barrage of sound, and secondly is simple but effective guitar lines that sink their teeth into you and refuse to let go. There is often a hostility or animosity that comes across as a result of both these factors making it perhaps aptly described as ‘working mans metal,’ and whilst Harkonen have far from abandoned the essentials for the style, it doesn’t really succeed in doing either in a manner that feels like its anything more than re-treading old ground.
Doing what’s required of them, much of their aggression comes from the drumming which whilst not quick, has a thick and raw position in the end production, often lending a gorgeous aggressive pounding beat to the track at hand, if sadly doing little else. The guitars do little to lower the bar either with an array of slow yet hard hitting chord sequences with excellent use of feedback and other elements, the occasional simple riff layered on top of the thick sound created by the bass guitar lending some variety but more often than not spent in forming the rhythm.
The result may well have fared better if the lyrics weren’t at times all too painfully apparent; the jock humour in the titles continued in poor fashion with many of the lyrics; the chant in “Settle Here” of ‘It Fucking Wont’ slowly morphing in my mind to ‘I Fucking Won’ and then to ‘I’m Fuckin’ Kwan,’ (whether advocating gay rights for Asians, being pessimistic, or exclaiming his joy at a good night’s bingo is never really made apparent). His monotone yell does nothing to improve on this either, failing to feel as anything more than a lack of comprehension for what the volume button on his microphone is there for.
But its not even that its all done particularly badly – I’ve always maintained that with sludge its very difficult to go too far wrong – but it also means you need to step up in order to distinguish yourself from all the others, have your own twist or take on the genre to make yourself known, and sadly this fails to do that. There are some great psychedelic passages (the end of ‘Baristas…’ or the intro for ‘We’ve come for your daughter’ demonstrating this) but they aren’t integrated into the music; it feels like little more than a stopgap between the main body of the music and rather than lending a welcome break from the grinding normality, as though we’re just waiting for things to kick in again. It’ll hit you hard the first time around, but it sadly wears thin all too soon.
Sound-Holic – Toho Pianism I – 4/5
With a name like ‘sound-holic’ you could almost be forgiven for thinking it some sort of Electronic Dance act, and given the fact that it is once more a doujin group that has perked my ears, re-arranging pre-existing ‘touhou’ (video game) tracks this false impression would be easy to reach, but actually it couldn’t be further from the truth. Re-worked in such a manner so as to feel like a new piece unto themselves, the piano hinted in the title taking the forefront with an array of carefully calculated melodies; it is between the frequent incursions of the delicate violins, pounding bongos and upbeat sax work that you realise these instrumental compositions sit quite firmly between jazz and classical; not without the emotion and passion of the latter whilst unafraid to swing like the former.
It is of course the piano that maintains the constant presence, creating the framework to work within in a raw but carefully calculate manner. Each note feels so organic and without correction that the slightest detail and mistake is made known, and far from detracting from the piece it lends it a sense of being alive, capable of rapidly changing mood or style in an instant. There is no neo-classical virtuosity here either; far from some form of spellbinding piano wizardry, what’s on show is his compositional ability over technical proficiency. Combined with the array of guest musicians – almost presenting a new instrument on each track – each one adding a new subtle musical flavour to the piece, each track succeeds in feeling fresh compared to what came before it even after multiple listens.
There are unquestionably better pianists in the world, but this remains an unexpected surprise; the emotion doesn’t carry the same power as from more skilled fingers but it maintains a constant presence, and the rhythms themselves still retain that ‘touhou’ sense of energy, enthusiasm and optimism (which is perhaps the only real indication of where the original melody came from). When I first discovered this I got it entirely on whim, looking for little more than some interesting music from an underrated instrument, but this release has proven to be better than I ever would have anticipated.
Momus – Tender Pervert – 4.5/5
Continuing my ranting rave reviews of music I haven’t had the time to publicly acknowledge yet comes Momus, the avant-pop artist as much a philosophical poet as a panderer to simple melodies. If the name hasn’t already alluded as to the risqué subject matter to be explored, the opening track titled ‘The Angels are Voyeurs’ helps to complete the picture. Momus is really an eyepatch-wearing Scotsman using the Greek god of mockery’s pseudonym as his own, taking influences from everything and anything around him, speaking his mind in a manner that bears resemblance to Bowie, The Beatles and Pink Punk and frequently finding himself being sued for doing just that.
The main point to initially elaborate on is the concept of avant-pop; an inherently simplistic genre of music pushing the boundaries of what is possible to create within such a format by implementing strong outside influences from the likes of smooth jazz, folk melodies and an occasional fascination with the emerging popularity of the genre of ‘new wave,’ often using electronic synths to create his simplistic atmosphere, implementing the occasional oriental or otherwise unexpected styles to create a framework. But the music is not the real thing on display here, it simply feels tailored to emphasise the lyrical content.
That bittersweet catchy opening track contrasting the heavily anti-religious notion of masturbating angels with an easy to listen to motif; the rather shockingly honest ‘Charm of Innocence’ presenting part of the past of Momus that succeeds in combining horrifically dark poetry with gentle guitar lines; the twisted circus performance of ‘Love on Ice’ lyrically assaulting the tendency for the fickle west to tear down celebrities; it’s more than just philosophical ramblings, it feels personal. At times more confessional than anything else, he talks of his own past in a sincere self-deprecating manner that feels too bluntly honest to take as anything but face value, but its still not filled with self-loathing, instead demonstrating capable of mocking his own choices and accepting many truths about himself and the horrors of the world that surrounds him.
There is an odd sense of aggression to taking such a popular and openly accessible style of playing and using it as the medium to make your controversial point, advocating homosexual rights and openly criticising those who hide behind masks denying their true nature as he does so openly here, and it is the fact that he never shies away from the public eye, instead thrusting itself upon it so as to leave no confusion of the point being made that makes it unlike anything else. Through layers of wit and irony he makes his opinion gloriously apparent; it still has the simplistic and catchy sensibilities of pop music, but this is far from any form of mind-numbing drivel, succeeding in remaining both intelligent and addictive throughout a time when knowledge seems like a curse in the mainstream eye.
Highlights: Bishonen, A Complete History of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24), The Charm of Innocence
Hi-Posi – 4n5 – 3.5/5
As my day off, it is hence time to catch up with all the writing I wanted to get done before and where better to begin than here; a Shibuya-Kei artist that seems to have been going for longer than most, yet oddly never caught on as well as some of the larger names. With that same experimental streak that runs through the work of ‘Kahimi Karie;’ that ambient, psychedelic, jazz, post-punk and pop fusion that allows for a variety of styles to emerge, bridging the gap between the earthier style of old and the more electronically influenced new to result in a bizarre blend of an already bizarre genre which – for all its ups and downs – is carried out remarkably well.
From the almost ambient/post-rock tones in ‘Fragile Glass’ to the very frenetic and electronic ‘I’ll Never Whistle,’ the variety packed into this 40 minutes is nothing short of staggering, each track with a slightly different slant and often with a frequent notable appearance from bouncy synthesizers and keyboard effects, as well as a drum machine backing. As the solo project of the infamous ‘Miho Moribayashi,’ it is her vocals themselves that will likely be the biggest shock to the system; wonderfully varied to suit the track at hand, they feel elegant without pandering to the notion of the overt ‘cute’ style so prevalent in this genre.
Instead, everything feels more intelligent than such simple goals, the childish, sexy, breathy, rapped, jaded, confused, boisterous, dreamy, upbeat and depressed tones varying between the tracks alluding as to some deeper purpose than what is on the surface (sadly lost as it is sung entirely in her native tongue), the unconventional yet unusually catchy backing work complementing her array of vocals that through sheer variety remain fascinating. With no two tracks sounding alike, the album perhaps doesn’t flow as well as many others but instead delivers something of a crash course of everything the genre has to offer, and whilst not as crazy as Plus-Tech Squeeze Box; as cute as Hazel Nuts Chocolate; as mellow as Aco; or as earthy as Kahimi Karie, in a mere ten tracks succeeds in approaching them all.
Highlights: I’ll Never Whistle, Experimental Girl, To the Direction of the Wind
Versailles – Jubilee – 4/5
Regulars should have expected this one from me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few will be wondering what too me so long. Yes, it is the return of the sweet transvestites, the Japanese group of musicians who dress like Victorian-era women and perform highly symphonic, emotion-laden power metal with all the ‘malmsteen’ influenced neo-classical wizardry that is so prevalent in artists from this region. Through the slow ballads – in memory of the dearly departed in particular – to the more aggressive tracks, this hour long release lives up to the title of ‘epic’ in its sheer sense of grandeur, carefully breaking up the pace of the album gradually throughout.
On the surface, much of the release feels as though they are doing more of the same, learning from the past and improving slightly on their previous, raising the bar of what they are capable of individually, but they don’t stop there. They quite literally push the boundaries of their already highly symphonic and neo-classical style of performing, living up to their old ‘philharmonic quintet’ title; from acoustic ballads, backing operatic choral works and instrumental, orchestral compositions; whilst the expansion of their sound is certainly one I would ordinarily agree with whole heartedly, this somehow doesn’t feel like an entirely natural progression.
The orchestral component to the composition’s are fairly well fleshed out with regards to tone but it all remains in the backing, pushed far enough away from the core instruments such that it feels superfluous to the track and adds little to the main body; it sounds as though they’ve been called classical composers so much that they’ve believed it, and at times it feels as though the hard hitting crunch of the guitars, and the bombastic crash of the drums have taken a knock in their stead. The balance between the focus on the two sides – the orchestral and the power metal – when lost feels disappointing, but when it does comes together the material that is produced is easily some of the most bold and adventurous they’ve strived for and it does pay off; the delicate violins of the ballad ‘Amorphous’ or the more integral feel in ‘Gekakkou’ proving what they are capable of.
This is not likely to be an album to win over many new fans, providing much of the same overtly symphonic power metal with more of Kamijo’s characteristic vocals and interplay between the duelling guitarists, capable of playing with a certain finesse and an oddly unique style that is rarely seen amongst neo-classical musicians. I miss the aggression of the drums and the thicker crunch of the guitars as they ‘battle’ one another, now only really heard during the solos, but the inclusion of this new element just beginning to come into its own is taking a route set to further separate them from other artists of similar origin. With the tragic loss of bassist ‘Jasmine You’ during production (replaced at the last minute by Hizaki, also the guitarist), this furthering of their sound through both the good and the bad hasn’t dampened by spirits for their future, but whilst showing promise, this is has perhaps only succeeded in equalling their last.
Highlights: Amorphous, Gekkakou, Catharsis, Serenade, PRINCESS – Revival of the Church
Sigh – Scenes from Hell – 4/5
[Link Removed due to Complaint]
Sigh have long been one of those very few artists who are not only capable of consistently writing good material, but re-inventing their own sound with each coming release, and so with news of yet another one I couldn’t help but be a little excited. A new member contributing vocals and sax work and the knowledge that scores of instruments have had their own lines worked to create a sort of ‘Black Metal Orchestra’ certainly had me intrigued; trumpets, trombones, horns and violins galore painstakingly worked into the composition so as to be integral to it, but as promising as all that sounds, it hasn’t entirely worked. In fact, perhaps the biggest shock was the very album title, suggesting that this would be darker and more frantic, aggressive and twisted than anything that came before it, but that simply isn’t the case. Instead the torturous themes of their last release have been replaced by something more akin to a violin battle with the devil; still somewhat hellish but there’s a bouncy jazz or folk like element that often takes the forefront to the extent this barely feels suited to being called ‘Black Metal’ at all.
My first major complaint is that of the new member; to recruit a saxophone player, have her at the forefront of the news to the extent people forget that this is her first full-length with the band (excluding ‘A tribute to Venom’) and then only have one short prominent sax solo feels like a bit of a waste of her capabilities (clearly demonstrated during that lonesome solo). Shadowed even with regards to the trumpets, trombones and horns ‘backing her up;’ even the deeper ‘gallhammer-esque’ howl she is capable of lending to complement Mirai’s high pitched wailing comes all too infrequently and when it does, both vocalists are rarely given the volume in the end production to discern anything more than a vague pitch; outside of the first track there is no use of alternating vocalists frantically bouncing lines off one another and it all ultimately comes off as unessential to the piece.
The drumming feels monotonous, like a machine whirring in the back without a real role to play and the bass is completely lost amidst the multiple layers for almost the albums entirety. Even the role of the guitars has dwindled to the most basic and unnoticeable of tremolo riffs, given a handful of solos early on to strut their stuff, but even those seem to dwindle by the end for a greater emphasis on their new found fascination with all things orchestral. The high-paced sections are – because of all the layers working against one another – coming across slightly muddled and confused as you strain to separate the leads from the oppressive and dominative rhythm, and when things slow down enough to be more readily discerned it feels more like a classical composition without the black influence at all. It is this latter style that surprisingly works to its advantage; many of the slower paced, jazzier ‘big brass band’ influenced tracks working marvellously at producing an emotional theatrical atmosphere delicately worked with all the layers without becoming overwhelming.
This isn’t necessarily a bad album, but after ritually following their updates on the albums development, through the intense labour put into the orchestration of the multiple tracks utilising the genuine instrument, the dual vocal work painstakingly recorded and then the delay to make sure the production was spot on, it all feels underwhelming. This release feels as though they have tried to pack so much in that they’ve neglected what should be the essentials for the bonus additions and sadly it shows. There is usually a refinement to their chaos, an oddly organised anarchy of elements that made “Hangman’s Hymn” such a success, but with this abhorrent production it simply sounds messy; the energy isn’t focussed, and whilst that in itself doesn’t detract from the actual compositions, it robs it of any real impact. If you’re new to the band, there are simply better places to start.
Highlights: The Summer Funeral, Musica in Tempori Belli (second half)
Devin Townsend Project – Ki - 4.5/5
Ki is a progressive rock album with some progressive metal interludes interwoven in and yet manages to have a post-rock/post-metalish sound as well due to the composure and crescendos and decrescendos within the various movements of the songs . Any fan of Devin Townsend previous albums could never have expected this. What I’m talking about isn’t another amazing album straight from the mind of a genius, that’s what everyone did expect. What I’m talking about is the complete change in sound and emotion in comparison to Devin’s other albums that is conveyed in this first of four planned releases by the Devin Townsend Project in what is already looking to be a tetralogy to rival Rambo.
While Ki does differ in many aspects from a classic Devin Townsend album, it still retains everything that makes Devin well… Devin. The big difference in Ki from previous Devin releases is that it takes a soft keyboard, synth, and guitar atmospheric (and sometimes even acoustic *gasp*) approach to most all the tracks and is composed of slow subtle build ups that are often followed by a rapid “bringing you back down to this world” type of feeling almost right at the climax. Everything feels so smooth and mellow and seamless though which are hardly adjectives that Devin is used to receiving I’m sure and yet still retain that “edginess” that Devin is known for mainly through the occasional distorted guitar or growled vocal lines. Also one of my favorite voices in all of metal (which is Devin’s for those who have not heard the mixture of angelic tone and range with the roughness of sandpaper or softness of silk, depending on what the occasion calls for, that graces his every release to date) is for the first time ever accompanied by a woman’s. Though the mixture is not used enough through the album in my opinion, her vocal lines are brilliantly placed in the perfect spots on tracks throughout the album and add just that much more depth and variability to a near masterpiece.
Of course, along with the changes, Devin still shines through the atmospheric fog that he begins most tracks off with through catchy lyrics and vocal and song structures. I even began to pick up on the choruses and join in on just a first listen, and yet originality isn’t sacrificed in any aspect. Every song is uniquely its own and yet the album flows seamlessly through each track to where a listener might feel as though they have been listening to one track the entire time upon completion of the album. Every riff seems to have a life of its own and a specific purpose that fits the atmosphere of every song down to the last detail in a way that only Devin can manage to accomplish. Devin does a great job of blending his guitar tone with the rest of the sounds on the album except for a few exceptions when he deliberately brings his sound out. The drumming on the album is no Gene Hoglan (mainly because it isn’t Gene) but it does manage not to detract anything from the album as the generic progressive rock drumming with few if any fills provides a good base and doesn’t hamper the listeners ability to concentrate on the depths of sounds that Devin is painting across the album.
Overall I’m not going to go and say that this album is an “Ocean Machine” or a “The New Black” but it is very impressive none the less and an essential for any fan of Devin Townsend or of Prog Rock/Prog Metal in general. I am really looking forward to the next three (well two at this point but Addicted is also well worth a look.
Highlights: entire album
Fleurety - Min Tid Skal Komme – 5/5
If I was told about this artist in passing I probably would have ignored it, so perhaps I’m making a late discovery and this album is praised as the ‘masterpiece’ title it deserves, or perhaps it was shelved for fifteen years and forgotten. Either way, with the sudden interest of late in combining post-rock with black metal, this release from a duo of most likely mentally unstable Norwegians feels due for a comeback. It may not have the same rooted sensibilities of the “Amesoeurs,” or the unbridled atmospheric intention of “Fen,” but what it does have under its belt is a phenomenal dynamic range of styles that borders close to the absurd end of Avant-Garde.
The raw production lends itself strongly to the end result, at times giving the strong blackened tone with the high pitched growls icily shrieking over the cacophony produced by the treble-laden guitars, but what makes this artists work so beautiful to listen to is the fact that all that will change in a moment. Even progressive music tends to have one strict compositional formula to adhere to, particular styles of riffs to go back and forth from, but here it is this post-rock tendency to meander that is at work here; a constantly shifting dynamic that is constantly introducing new elements and styles that allows their avant-garde nature to flourish.
Despite there being only two musicians at work here there is an unquenchable hunger for more, providing a combination of the various tones of the electric guitar from the blackened to the jazz fusion and a deep bass work as integral as any other component, the drumming fluidly transitioning between jazz and rock styles as though never separated, synth-laden electronic passages give way to acoustic folk guitars and gothic doom like passages, and then clean female vocals will appear out of the blue to belt out a couple of red hot scorching notes to the now oriental electric riff, only to disappear so they can ride the rollercoaster again. There is a genuine reason most of the tracks loiter around the ten minute mark, and that’s simply because any shorter and you’d be cutting out an entire genres influence from the end result.
This isn’t simply a combination of black metal and post-rock, they haven’t just decided to merge the two styles and then meander for a bit; it feels it’s stripped all but a few pointers from the former and physically assaulted the latter into working its way to divulging everything they have on offer, and for all the styles presented, its always melodic and never feels like an odd combination presented. The entire piece will dynamically shift towards one particular style only to suddenly sway back at a moments notice; the very first track opening with rock/neo-folk intro, yielding to the black only to fall back onto a jazz solo and this is just how it all begins.
Can it really be summed up as “Black Metal/Post-Rock?” Whilst there may be a strong reliance on both genres to demonstrate their eccentricity, there’s too much on display to rely on this description. This is what ‘Unexpect’ wish they could be; what ‘Disillusion’ should have returned with after “Back to Times…;” what David Sylvian would do playing for the LLN; or the result of an ultra-violent jam between John McLaughlin and Fen. I wouldn’t dare insult it by calling it anything as demeaning and derogatorily simple as that, Fleurety have produced something so much more.
Japanische Kampfhoerspiele - Bilder Fressen Strom – 4/5
This is the time for my fictitious fans to cheer as im back to writing once more after a short absence. Despite having “Japan” in the name, they are in fact German, and it is their pleasant Death/Grind grooves that have been seducing me for a long enough period to warrant mention. Just how long I can claim to dislike a genre whilst continuing to sing its praises im not quite sure, but as my first foray into the decade old career of Japanische Kampfhoerspiele (hereafter to be referred to as ‘that band’), I cant say its been an unpleasant one.
Finding the root cause for what draws me here over many other artists isn’t the most easy thing to do, as it doesn’t feel more complex and certainly not the most aggressive available. In fact many of the guitar lines in particular are rather slow, with an an almost doom like smooth groove to them, and when they pick up for the deep toned tremolo picked guitar lines it feels altogether too melodic; even the solos despite having a notable shredded element to them never feel merely random and dissonant. The bass can be heard keeping up with the guitar lines, performing as required of them but ultimately outshone by the other instruments; the insatiable vocal work combining the frenetic higher pitched growl with a deep hoarse growl that feels unique and makes their sound instantly recognisable.
And this is just leaving the best ‘til last, the drumming rarely resorting to just the blast beats, tastefully incorporating them into the body of the work filled with no short supply of fills, crashes, rolls and spontaneous beat changes; even during the slower passages often given room to maneuver themselves into producing a short snippet of dynamic upbeat wailing on the weapons at his disposal. Raw and forward in the mix, the production levels feel in want of nothing, more than capable of coherently demonstrating the track at hand whilst not removing all the grit from their musical fingers.
It is the lengthier tracks that they really get a chance to develop their sound, but with 27 tracks in a 42 minute album, naturally there are a fair few less interesting short tracks (but dont worry, they’re over before they get tiring!). If I had to pinpoint precisely what makes me interested in this grindcore release, its that it combines the overt silliness that doesn’t require you to understand the lyrics to realise, with an insatiable groove not obsessed with merely out-doing what came before it. In essence what makes this a interesting is that its the Death/Grind sound without any of the attitude that so often seems to come with it; there is no pretentiousness or seriousness to their work in more than just the lyrical context, and the comprehension that the best music isn’t necessarily determined by the tempo of the track.
Highlights: Die Schlachtung, Supermacht, Lebendgewicht, Dement
James Horner – Avatar Soundtrack - 4/5
I’m going to start this review by saying that I am not really a fan of soundtracks. Of all the ones I’ve listened to over the years I have only ever purchased two with Gladiator being the first and, with a recent visit to Amazon, Avatar being the second. The first goal of soundtracks is to create a soundscape. No, soundscape is not a real word but it fits perfectly what I am trying to describe which is a view of the landscape or circumstances surrounding the major themes of the movie, only these visual representations are conveyed through sound. Generally memory recognition will automatically cause a listener to think of the movie due to a certain sound or melody that catches our ears and reminds us of sitting in front of a big screen. If a soundtrack completes this goal then it has done its job.
What separates the Avatar Soundtrack from any other such composition is that, just as the movie did visually, it instills into the mind a feeling of awe and wonder and makes the listener feel as though they are beholding something bigger than life itself and yet your imagination creates this feeling for you. It’s not necessarily memories of the movie that will move you, though it can be if you want it to, its your own imagination. The freedom this soundtrack give to just let one’s mind wander to fantastic places is amazing and speaks volumes to Horner’s skill.
While the instrumentation is rather unoriginal and has been done many times before, classical with various native elements thrown in the mix, Horner takes a rather bland formula and creates an ambient masterpiece. The depth that goes into each song and the smooth transitions between movements in the pieces is majestic, and when a melody is brought into the forefront of the brilliantly done music bed it is always catchy and memorable and always manages to grab the listeners attention and yet not detract from the tranquil movements underneath it. “Jake’s First Flight” is literally the closest music has ever come to making me feel as though I am actually flying and that’s really saying something when you’re competing with “Learning to Fly” and other classics.
When listening to this album I literally felt as if I was suddenly taken from this planet to some Pandoraesqe world and am beholding the majesty of such a planet for 48 jaw-gaping minutes of awe at the wondrous soundscape before me. Then, the final four tracks come up and invoke strong emotional pulls of sadness and need for action which I attribute partially to my memory picking up on the low, almost heartbeat like, melody that seems to be beating its last breaths as it approaches the end, partially to the fact that “War” literally makes me want to get up and just do something/anything (hopefully productive) while I listen to it, and partially to the fact that the music is just positively brilliantly composed.
Overall I firmly believe that Avatar will, if it has not already, eclipse my previous favorite soundtrack and take that top spot on my list very soon. I also firmly believe (though I can’t speak from experience) that even individuals who have yet to behold the rather unoriginally written but visual masterpiece that Avatar is will enjoy this album. Though I would probably bet that you would enjoy it more if you have seen it.
Highlights: Jake Enters His Avatar World, Pure Spirits of the Forest, The Bioluminescence of the Night, Jake's First Flight
|Demetori – Manenjushaka (2009) – 3.5/5|
|Demetori – Sendaisoushi (2008) – 3.5/5 |
Another double feature, the latest releases from these Japanese doujin metal artists that are quickly gaining in appeal, and it’s not difficult to see why. Taking influence from the ‘Touhou’ series of games (as with most doujin I’ve discovered), this circle of musicians have removed all trace of electronic influence from their sound with perhaps only the furious neo-classical keyboard alluding to the tracks origin, instead relying on the strength of their neo-classical showmanship to carry the track forward.
It is hence of particular importance to this instrumental artist are the guitars, the ever present stylings of the lead guitarist running the course of the tracks like a vocalist providing the main draw to the music. Whilst proficient, he often lends little in the way of emotion or feeling to the proceedings, and despite the absence of electronic effects he still feels overly polished in the manner he performs, giving the track life more often through sheer speed than anything else. The bass too has a pivotal role, particularly in the most recent release where he has been pushed further forward in the production so as to maintain the often upbeat rhythm.
Now don’t get me wrong, the aggression and thicker overall tone that the bass provides in the spotlight is of benefit to the music more often that not, but it has the drawback of overshadowing the other members; the drums pushed back far enough to be ignored all too readily and the keyboards often difficult to distinguish in the overall production. The variety of tones they are capable of providing is hence limited to the versatility of the two leads, which isn’t particularly exceptional, and whilst this was less of an issue earlier in their discography, you are simultaneously struck with an appreciable decrease in the overall energy within the music.
As competent musicians as they are, I’m left with the single main drawback; nothing is left implanted in my mind. The music has most certainly benefited from the thick production but when the only variety to the proceedings seem to stem directly from the material they are covering, many of the neo-classical shredded guitar lines meandering in the same tired circles, it all never fails to sound anything less than impressive but is instantly forgotten. One of the better doujin artists? Probably, but sadly not the most inventive.
Highlights: Nuclear Fusion, View of the River Styx; Deep P Sky Dream, Mysterious Mountain
Thanks to Orcinus for the recommendation. Yes, I still plan on reviewing ‘normal’ metal at some point. Two further earlier releases can be found below.
|Demetori – Il Mondo Dove e Finito il Temp (2007)|
|Demetori – Jorin Shinen (2006)|
Avenue Q [OST] – 3.5/5
It was this morning that for whatever reason I had the insatiable urge to re-listen to the soundtrack from the hit musical of the same name. Perhaps due to the track “What do you do with a BA in English” ringing surprisingly true at my current point in life, or the constant amusement from the honestly written lyrics with themes about racism, acceptance of homosexuality, the real use for the internet and just how fucked over Gary Coleman was. This isn’t just another emotional-laden pop focussed musical like those we’ve seen so often, infusing elements of jazz and rock into the mixture to produce something filled with witty dialogue and energetic performances.
Perhaps best described as “The Muppet Show on crack,” many who have met me in person will likely have heard me praise this production at some point. Following the story of recent graduate Princeton to his new home, through his interactions with his neighbours; the Japanese therapist and his unemployed 30-something fiancée, Gary Coleman, porn addict Trekkie monster (a parody of ‘Cookie Monster’) and the closet gay couple Rod and Nicky (a parody of ‘Bert’ and ‘Ernie’). Oh, and the last three all happen to be monsters, but they’re friendly enough, assuming you don’t catch Trekkie at an…uhh…“bad time.”
Perhaps rather surprising though, is how well it manages to hold up as an entity in its own right; the variety of vocals distinct enough from one another to be quickly recognised from track to track, and the abundance of interludes and introductions giving narration to the proceedings without becoming tiring before the albums conclusion. There are still moments where events will seem to occur out of nowhere but they are fairly uncommon, and as a concept album the pacing and placement of the various musical styles is relatively fluid.
There is a demographic who would gain the most from this – and I’m not just referring to those who have seen it over those who haven’t, though this most certainly will be a factor – but it is those who are able to relate to the material, those who are in or have recently left University in particular who can reflect on its raw honesty. Puppet sex, sluts, and laughing at others galore, there is enough variety in not only the music but the lyrics to retain interest for multiple listens making this well worth a glance for those looking for something a bit different.
Highlights: What do you do with a BA in English?, The Internet is for Porn, I Wish I Could Go Back to College
East New Sound – Lyrical Crimson – 3/5
I sometimes feel I have to bite the bullet; reviewing whatever genres happen to be interesting me at that time can land me with some rather ‘unusual’ choices for what is primarily a metal blog. Whilst my fascination with Shibuya-Kei has finally waned somewhat for the shores of Death/Grind (of all things) my interest for Japanese music continues with my latest obsession. Have you ever wondered what the soundtrack for Touhou (an underground series of Japanese games) would sound like if remixed to sound like trance? Actually, on second thoughts don’t answer that, but don’t dismiss this out of hand either. I may have already landed a bad impression on you to begin with but this isn’t your standard style of trance here, it feels varied and dare I say it, intelligent.
Yes, there is still a core sound that relies on being fun, bouncy and ultimately danceable; two interchanging simplistic electronic patterns of notes repeated at high speed for the entire track length, complemented contently by a drummer given two drums and a cymbal to hit with all the finesse of a small chimp desperately trying to break the skin for some fruit inside, and whilst I wouldn’t reprimand an artist for just being bland and unoriginal, there are plenty such artists that could have perked my ears. What makes this artist special is everything else that comes with it; each track like a bland chicken leg cooked with some new variety of spices that constantly keep things interesting, in keeping with my bad metaphor, it’s simply a shame that not every spice is suited to the occasion.
The main source of variation inevitably comes from the vocals, this being a large group of musicians and vocals often being the natural profession of the talentless (anyone can sing, very few can sing well), to say there are some ‘interesting’ results here would be an understatement. With perhaps half a dozen vocalists in total there is a case for taking the good with the bad, the atrocities of lone male vocalist in “Ten Made to do Key” that begs to be skipped along with the warbly lyrical styles that precede it, offset by the unusually melodic “Together in the Sky” and the track preceding that. But the tracks individuality doesn’t end here; combining all this with somewhat meandering musical interludes ranging from neo-classical piano work, simple guitar riffs and Electronica ‘solos.’
This still doesn’t grant it unbridled creativity, and even if it did there are plenty of elements that still sound pretty awful. It’s those tracks where everything works; the backing beat remains undeniably addictive, layered with dream-like pop vocals wafting through the haze of hard-hitting beats and perfectly suited interludes, this is what drew me in and what continues to entertain. This wont be the music to change your opinion of the genre but at least temporarily, I’m smitten.
Highlights: Cryu, Together in the Sky, Track 11
Crimson Glory – Transcendence – 5/5
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Five Metal Classics you’ve never heard of: Number One
In that time before ‘progressive metal’ had its sound typified by Dream Theatre, and when ‘Power Metal’ was a term that had yet to really come into fruition, this artist capable of transcending the genre boundaries arrived, the influences of the musical styles just a short way in the future overflowing from each track. Seemingly capable of tackling everything from ‘Helloweens’ melodic banshee screams (‘Lady of Winter’), Maiden-like aggressive riffs (‘Red Sharks’) and emotional ‘Redemption’ like acoustic ballads (‘Painted Skies’), that’s just how the album begins.
And it is this immense variety that results in such a major strength to this piece, still feeling a complete entity, instantly recognisable by ‘Midnight’ McDonald’s unique brand of vocals as they melodically soar and scream in a relentless display of emotional energy, powerfully reaching unbelievable falsetto highs that puts others to shame. Yet, he is still capable of performing in a distinctive, altogether softer mid-range that so rarely seems frequented by the many recent masters of the falsetto; all the time complemented by the drummer’s insatiable appetite for his fills and rolls, prominently heard pounding away in the crisp yet raw production, never content with merely sticking to the beat laid before him.
Developing the melodies through the combination of the three guitars, the lead alternating between the soft acoustic melodic ballads (which come in no short supply) and the rhythmic electric, reminding us of the days before bands performed neo-classical shredded solos at every opportunity and instead seeming to become so entranced by his own melody that he forgets he’s meant to have finished, forcing the vocalist to do battle to return the focus. With this mini-duel occurring, the deep bombastic groove of the bass plunders on playing a prominent role beside the rhythm of the guitars, harmonising with one another to provide that all important grounded feeling to the track at hand.
Sticking their neck out briefly into political territory for ‘Red Sharks,’ the powerful imagery in ‘burning bridges,’ or the existential contemplation in ‘Transcendence,’ the lyrics haven’t been shown any less attention than the instrumentation, meticulously produced to allow each of the instruments to flourish. What’s left to say other than not only was this release ahead of its time, but manages to do a better job than the vast majority of others to arrive in their wake; a lost late-80s gem that should have been remembered alongside the greats. Who’d have guessed ‘Roadrunner’ would have something worth owning in their back catalogue?
R.I.P. John Midnight McDonald (July 2009)
Highlights: I gave up trying to choose when I realised only ‘In Dark Places’ and ‘Eternal World’ weren’t listed.
Shade Empire – Sinthetic – 3.5/5
An artist I’ve known about for a while, undecided as to whether I really liked them or not, on one hand hating their generic nature and on the other enjoying the originality that is seldom seen in such a genre; a Finnish melodic black/death that can’t even be original enough to escape a generic ‘extreme’ moniker, for the most part doing nothing outside the box, thrust into obscurity by the unnatural inclusion of industrial overtones. More than overtones in fact, an industrially toned core to their sound that presents itself in both simplistic atmospheric chords and the distinctly electronic riffs layered on top of their sound, both provided by the keyboardist.
The bass is impossible to hear and I’m not sure if the drummer was intentionally trying to sound like a drum machine, but either way he demonstrates mixed results, occasionally lending interesting fills to an otherwise standard affair style. The vocals are higher pitched than normal and lend enough variety to stave off sounding tired and monotonous and the guitars mix things up with all the Gothenburg chugging and open chords that we could come to expect from an ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ fanboy believing the sheer unconventionality of gallop picking will never go out of style.
But they were never the aspect that interested me to begin with, the use of keyboards making or breaking the track; the full blown electronica break down in the aptly titled 'pain and pleasure,' complete with the same god awful vocoder effects Cher popularised with ‘Believe’ and drumming that would make ‘Pendulum’ disappointed a rare abomination to an otherwise fairly effective trick. It is the work of this one musician that lends the epic and atmospheric chords in the same manner as many symphonic black metal artists, providing many of the lead riffs (e.g. ‘Designed for Blood’) as well as the neo-classical interludes to the extent that this at times feels more like a solo project than the collaborative work of five musicians.
I may groan at the unoriginality of misspelling of ‘synthetic,’ evidently in an attempt to be somehow intelligent, and I have no qualms pointing out that this band is nothing more than another one of ‘those Bodom clones’ with a cheap gimmick attached to their sound in a sordid attempt to promote themselves as ‘original,’ but it does kind of work. Commendably, they never abandon the sterility of the industrial effects but it is when these aspects fail to produce the goods that the music descends into tedious mediocrity, and if he were to ever leave, well I have difficulty imagining how he could be replaced. There is certainly something of value here for melodeath fans but some caution is perhaps advised.
Highlights: Human Sculpture, Designed for Blood, Creation of Death
Anthelion – Bloodshed Rebefallen – 4.5/5
Anyone who caught my review of Chthonic’s “Mirror of Retribution” would know I had nothing but praise for their ability to consistently improve, eventually resulting in one of last years highlights, but the days they can claim to be the black metal kings from their little corner of the world may soon be numbered. With a ten minute epic prog masterpiece providing the introduction, it doesn’t take long for you to realise that this isn’t a cookie cutter band we have here (though I must confess the vocals had me expecting a Chthonic clone), producing a slice of black metal magic unashamedly majestic in its style.
Almost power metal at times in the same vein as some modern melodeath in the manner high speed guitar melodies collide with neo-classical piano before the set up to the blackened fury; there are no simple backing chords for atmosphere used here. Everything is thin enough to not dominate the overall composition and is thus capable of working with one another, producing a dynamically shifting and meandering atmosphere through a combination of all the layers. The haunting choirs from ‘Bloody Matrimony’ setting up the high pitched, long drawn out painful cries over the twin guitars; the lead with his unrelenting frenetic pace whilst the bassist manages to plunder on with his own hard hitting melody.
The vocals are easily likened to those of Chthonic, but they are contrasted with deep growls to produce powerful but at times monotonous blackened shrieks, the drums doing all they can to ease the transitions between the various tempo’s with an almost psychotic manner to his performing, his rapidly changing pace lending an odd unpredictability to the music. It should be noted that none of the musicians feel worthy of being placed with the best; there are faster and more creative drummers, the neo-classical solo’s have been bested and so has the piano work, but it’s simply the manner they all work together, compositionally providing a constant variation to the benefit of the music at hand rather than some cliché idealistic notion of what black metal should be, demonstrating a haunting performance that doesn’t simply rely on speed to make itself known.
Considering this is their debut effort the results are more than impressive. It is their reluctance to follow the trends set by others that works to their advantage as this allows them to make their own mark on the style; this is Chaostar meets Chthonic with Moonsorrow’s epic tone and Emperor’s atmospheric keyboards; this is a new kind of harrowing evil, melodic and majestic whilst able to vary the tracks style with a seamless ease; and finally this is the metal album to bring me back from my picopop pleasures. If that isn’t enough of an endorsement I’m not sure what else I can say.
Highlights: Snake Corpse, Bloodshed in the Dark of Burning Hell, The Tome of Broken Souls
Their album can currently be purchased from their myspace site here