Tenniscoats – Totemo Aishimo – 3.5/5
This blog knows that I love little more than a bit of experimentation, pushing boundaries of convention and producing something whacky and weird, and this Japanese duet have done nothing if not that. An avant-garde artist with a core consisting of smooth pop melodies over an electronic ambient backing, even the stripped back beat of this bizarre beast is unconventional, and when everything else comes into play it all sounds it should be rather chaotic. The jazz-like meanderings of the saxophone, the raw earthiness within the flutes, gentle piano lines and folk-like acoustic guitars; there’s so much here that they need to constantly change the influences around to piece it all together in the one album without overcomplicating everything.
Perhaps most impressively, with such a broad array of influences it never actually does become at all complex, everything layered in such a manner to retain a certain child-like mentality. It’s almost like an ice-cream sundae of creativity; as though they’ve started with the ambient base and then stuck their hands into every western genre they could get their hands on – not really understanding what any of it tastes like – and then delicately arranged it on top, resulting in something obscure but invariably sweet. This almost unbridled experimentalism proves a perfect match for the innocent vocals, at times with just a touch of a knowing darkness, with wide eyes staring upwards at the monolithic black of the unknown.
Sadly, it doesn’t come without its problems, and here its simply that once you get over the initial shock of the warm earthy instrumentations juxtaposed with the electronic effects; the smooth and simple pop melodies with the avant-jazz sensibilities, that nothing else seems to progress. It’s as though they’ve emerged with this obscure and bizarre style that excuses them from failing to compose inspiring music; that their sheer experimentalism will come off as brilliance rather than arrogance. There are more than a few tracks that appear to serve no purpose; ‘Jitsurei,’ consisting of an almost identical five seconds loop endlessly repeated, exemplifying this concern. When everything comes together the result genuinely is breathtaking, it’s just a shame about all the pretentious padding.
Highlights: Cacoy, Donna Donna, Rasen
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
Costigan – The Universe Within – 4/5
As I sit in a candlelit room with only the faint whirring of my MP3 player desperately trying to discover that last bit of battery power, and the knowledge that soon my only companion amidst the darkness will become the disharmonious bleep of the alarm counting down until its inevitable decision to tell everyone within a mile radius about my plight, I realise it has given me time to think. Whilst much of time has dwelt on cursing the incompetence of those who can’t fix a simple power cut in less than three days, some of my time has been spent contemplating this release, which for all my claims of supporting the unsung musicians seems like a glitch on the musical radar.
Not written by the creator of the group but rather his brother, this instrumental has remained purposefully hidden from sight and made known only to a select few. Whether for a fear of dissenting opinions or a simply modesty that it wasn’t deserving of being mentioned, irrespective of the reason I’m glad to have been able to hear it as the music feels lost amidst modern times, unconstrained by the desire for speed and technicality that plagues many releases now emerging, and instead it lends the music an uncommon 80s rock vibe thrust forth in time. It’s more melodic and anthemic in the manner it all manages to flow and meander without a care, unconcerned for its simplicity; entire passages seem content to run on simple acoustic riffs or basic chord sequences but it never ends up feeling tired or overused, and despite at times feeling tonally constrained, each track seems to have its own intent and purpose in mind resulting in a healthy variety of styles and tempos emerging.
Often with just a basic drum beat and prominent bass line for company, the raw feel to the production works well in making the music stand out, cutting out the bells and whistles for a simple and honest groove which is where he inevitably excels. Now don’t mistake me for praising the underdog unjustly here; this isn’t going to be winning any awards for ‘album of the year’ (instrumental or otherwise), ‘Satriani’ won’t be facing stiff competition from this direction in the foreseeable future and as a musician he wont be climbing to the top of any ‘best of’ lists. What this release does deserve, however, is far more recognition than this rant on a small time music blog.
Highlights: Cellulite, Bass Chase-Counted Out, Rye Whisky Stomp
Nahemah – The Second Philosophy – 3.5/5
An album that showed promise, this can be very loose described as ‘Progressive Death Metal’ but to me feels more like what a genuine post-metal would sound like if the so commonly found doom influences were cut back. Atmospheric, aggressive and simplistic tracks meandering their beautiful course, but what could have felt emotionally powerful instead all too often comes off a little superficial; there’s nothing inherently wrong with the music itself, the composition itself feels relatively original in its execution, but being almost identically formed on each track, the result fails to feel emotionally personal, instead coming across all too detached from those performing it, apathetic to the atmosphere they’re trying to convey, leaving us with little more than a tired cliché.
I’ll be the first to admit how negative this all sounds but it isn’t through a lack of trying on their part, the characteristic style of riffs have been substituted for an altogether more simplistic performance that relies heavily on tremolo riffs and psychedelic effects which at times remains startlingly effective, the same few tracks managing to recapture my attention every time they arrive demonstrating them at their best. The main issue with their playing style, the attention focussed entirely on the atmosphere, is the lack of additional hooks and riffs which sadly results in a lack of any element drawing focal point within the music. The bass will only make enough of a mark to flesh out the tone and the drumming is overshadowed by the rest of the instrumentation, left with only the most basic of the beats.
There is the occasional flourish of something new, organs rammed into a composition or the occasionally jazzy saxophone line but it feels a little superficial, adding a nonetheless welcome touch of variety to what can all too readily become a tiring affair, overly sparse and simplistic without the impact. The vocals that finish this line-up sadly do little to alleviate this issue either, whilst technically proficient are incapable of presenting an emotion. Both with a hoarse barking growl and a smooth clean voice, neither side to his vocal acrobatics display anything more than a disconnected apathy to the music, emerging as though entirely separate to the entity slowly shifting behind him.
As their second full-length, sitting comfortably between their black metal debut and their full blown post-rock sequel, this remains their best attempt at combining one side with the other, and sadly it still doesn’t quite make it. Perhaps it’s the sense of Post-Rock pretentiousness that bugs me here; the 40 seconds of ironic nothingness opening ‘nothing,’ or the overt use of tremolo often feeling without point other than to yell ‘were different,’ despite sounding like a Porcupine Tree track that was cut for being too repetitive. Fans of post-rock and Opeth have valid reason to be salivating at the thought of this release and I’m sure many may find solace in this slower and more delicate take on the style, all the while performed with an odd unique twist that prevents them feeling like simple clones, but if – like myself – you have already grown weary of the original, then there wont be enough here to keep you occupied for long.
Highlights: Like a Butterfly in a Storm, Subterranean Airports, Phoenix
Mechanical Poet – Woodland Prattlers – 4.5/5
One of the things I love about my constant exploration of the styles of music available is that as a result, every once in a while something comes by that causes you to do a double take. Unquestionably this is such an album that defies all real attempts at classifying it; kicking off with a hard hitting heavy metal opening but all the while exploring ‘Rock Opera’ territory, with particular emphasis on the ‘Opera.’ In truth this bizarre concept album sways all the way from one side to the other and the only real comparison that feels suited is some sort of bizarre cross between ‘Ayreon’ and A Tim Burton musical. Except performed by Russians. And instead of a dozen or so vocalists, they use the versatility of one man.
Not that this becomes an issue, if anything it’s the albums greatest highlight; how else to better avoid the trap of monotonous and repetitive vocals than to constantly vary their style enough to sound like a new entity, and if the album title didn’t give it away then let put it bluntly: the creature in question isn’t always human. His abilities in this regard feel almost unprecedented; his raw talent may not be up there with the best but he is able to sustain an epic 11 minute track single handed by simply constantly remaining interesting. The centrepiece in question touring the woodland mysteries; delving into the heart of airy and delicate Sylphs before dive-bombing into the baritone of the Gnomes, onwards into the oceans for the secretive undines only to accidentally stumble onto the fiery Salamanders who aren’t best pleased to see you.
I could now discuss the bass and the guitars, and the manner the drums perform, but in truth you won’t notice them performing at all for most of this release unless really looking for it; a gentle acoustic passage here and there, the occasional prominent aggressive track, but if you expect this as a norm be prepared for a shock. This release is all about the keyboards; delicate piano lines, organs, saxophones, violins, xylophones, synths and more glorious layers worked into the composition to create something orchestral. This is not your overt atmospheric synths, playing mundane basic chords, this has a genuine classical feel to it in the manner everything has been interwoven together delicately, never letting one element overpower the others but creating a constantly shifting dynamic. The argument that a keyboard can add a thousand different layers to a composition has rarely had such a strenuous test placed upon it, and yet the result is more than impressive.
Yes this album is based upon fantasy elements, but its not all witches and wizards, dragons and warriors, its far too thematically historical for that. There isn’t an element of cheesiness in sight despite the hefty keyboard use, and neither is it ever progressive for the sake of it. This is a part of that rare breed of music which doesn’t ever feel as though it looks to others for how things should be done, utilising elements so as they see fit to make their mark, and the marvellously simple concept allowing for an incredible diversity that never feels out of place. From the demonic harpies in ‘Stormchild’ to the fun loving Trolls in ‘Swamp-Stamp-Polka,’ this is not one that you can simply put on and fall in love with, there’s too much on offer to take in. If you’ve ever wondered what metal would sound like performed in a Broadway play then these Russians deliver.
Highlights: Stormchild, Old Year’s Merry Funeral, Natural Quaternion, Shades on a Casement, Swamp-Stamp-Polka
Zigoku Quartet – この世の地獄物語 – 4.5/5
Two main recent discussions has gone into prompting this review; the first on thrash where I realised that I find a lot of it gets monotonous rather quickly (and why you’ll probably find a lack of it on this blog) and the second on underutilised riffs which was the catalyst for this discovery. Unquestionably one of the best releases I’ve heard from the genre for a long time (taking into account my fleeting affiliation with the genre) as this isn’t so concerned with demonstrating unbridled aggression as it is meandering around; flamenco passages, groove-laden lines and melodies that sink their teeth into you from the first listen all combine to create a release that would make any fan of Doom or Gargoyle bounce with excitement.
I should probably first elaborate on the actual genre they play, for whilst I’ve thus far described them as thrash, this is simply the ‘title of best fit,’ and it isn’t quite accurate. Normally I would be hesitant to refer to any thrash musician as a virtuoso, not because what they’re playing isn’t difficult but because it’s made to sound dissonant and jarring, aggressive by being intentionally made to feel quick. A virtuoso musician may not be actually playing anything more complex, but simply makes the music seem so fluid and simplistic that you think you can just grab a guitar and copy along (and its only when you have the guitar in hand that you realise you really cant). This in most cases is a bad thing for thrash; it needs to feel raw and visceral; it needs to sound on edge, and smooth grooves simply don’t do that. But this is all considering what happens when you add a single virtuoso. This band doesn’t have one virtuoso, it has three.
It never feels suitable to describe it as anything as simple as a manifestation of some big jamming session between them, the tracks have a base rhythm unusually held primarily by the vocalist who succeeds in creating epic soaring vocal lines that form the centrepiece of the track, surrounded by a frenzied wall of drums, wailing away in an unrelenting and unbridled pattern of drum beats, and yet this only forms one side of their sound. It’s the unfathomable number of short fills and solos that emerge from the twin guitars that forms the other, one instrument maintaining the rhythm whilst the other slots some virtuosity into the track, only to be complemented by the drums. Constantly battling back and forth, shredding, grooving, slapping and sweeping, happily taking their time to develop their own brand of aggression which arrives in no short supply.
Everything is too varied, too addictively melodic to really feel like thrash a good portion of the time, and yet the aggression arises instead from the chaos created by the sheer number of instruments colliding and harmonising with one another; you never know when the music will suddenly shift direction or what direction the musical assault is going to emerge from. Smooth bass grooves, neo-classical wizardry, emotion-laden passages and hard as nails thrash riffs are all seamlessly combined schizophrenically to create a piece as stylistically diverse as it is impressive. They’ve yet to really garner much attention but I’d be highly surprised if this is the case for long.
Highlights: Track 4, Track 5, Track 7, Track 11
Beaten Back to Pure – The Burning South – 3.5/5
I’m almost stumped as to how to really go about this one. It’s not that I have yet to thoroughly listen to it – having gotten regular rotation for a fair while now – but it’s simply hugely unmemorable, and bizarrely this works in its favour. Fitting squarely between Sludge and Stoner with more than a hint of that Southern Rock groove oozing out of the guitar lines, it’ll never really make a big impact but neither does it ever really get tiring, and it’s that last point that demolishes most artists longevity for me, particularly where sludge is concerned. I simply find myself getting bored of their particular style all too quickly and so need to move on to someone else, but not this time.
Perhaps this is because of the manner everything is performed; whilst the sound fits quite nicely there’s never much of that sense of ‘wading onwards,’ pushing on despite the hardships endured, its perhaps more akin to what the title alludes; Redneck Metal. Sitting back and relaxing with grass in your mouth and a jug of moonshine, slowly drinking yourself blind until someone wearing a pink shirt who may or may not be a homosexual passes by and you just know the only acceptable course of action is to give chase in your truck bearing shotguns and yelling ‘yee-haw,’ or the slow contemplative track as your feeble mind wonders whether getting your cousin pregnant again was a mistake (just hope nobody tells them the confederacy lost).
With no offence intended with that elaborate metaphor, none of this is actually ever a bad thing as it lends an odd sense of unpredictability. The music is unbelievably simplistic with its use of chords that slowly drag on in the background, never really caring enough to come forward and make themselves noticed but content to drift along up until the point where a solo is required and then they seem to become a little confused, awkwardly pausing and looking at each other until someone actually performs something, and whilst this still sounds negative I can’t really adequately explain how its not.
Each musician feels almost like an actor with a role to play, reacting differently to a different set of circumstances, fluidly coming off with simple but perfectly suited lines; the drums are raw and seem to harmonise with the guitars which would be impressive in itself but only made all the more so by the high degree of variation the tracks can take. There are as many slow and melodic tracks as all out hillbilly style aggression and everywhere in between, and the vocalist somehow seems capable of both lending a delicate voice that retains its masculinity only to suddenly gargle through a mix of blood, phlegm and moonshine to make his point known. If you’re now bemused by all these odd contradictions, then this review has summed up my thoughts perfectly.
Highlights: Where the Sewer Meets the Sea, Running Out of Neck
Meza Virs – Vida Sacrificium Meum Est - 4/5
A release that has been sitting on my list for far too long, it was only recently that I remember they still had yet to be written about. Hailing from Singapore, a country that isn’t exactly well renowned for making metal music even though neighbouring countries have begun to develop their own niche style – the Japanese have their virtuoso musicians and Taiwan has bloomed two superb black metal bands – it would perhaps appear that another country has begun to follow suit, because this isn’t a cookie cutter clone on our hands. With an unquestionably gothic core to their sound, this manages to straddle between a blackened guttural aggression and delicate female vocals on a bed of atmospheric synths; somewhere between ‘Epica’ and ‘Old Mans Child,’ this release four years in the making shows evidence of meticulous detail in its design.
A lot of this variation is down to the manner the instruments are performed, ignoring the genre guidelines and performing as they feel the piece requires. The guitars are given more than their fair share of standard tremolo riffs and the synths are often used for atmospheric backing, all as you might expect. Instead it is passages such as the neo-classical solo in ‘Hauntas Eternal,’ occasional industrial overtones from the drums, or the acoustic feel to ‘Vida Sacrificum’ not just from the guitars, but from the gentle violins and the classical piano work as well, all serving to demonstrate their ability to look outside of their own immediate style for inspiration – a practice which I wish far more bands would incorporate into their own work.
The entire albums composition flows almost as though a concept album telling a tale, at no point feeling repetitive or as though it is re-treading similar ground and it is the twin vocalists that play a pivotal part in creating this theatrical sense of tragedy rooted within the tracks. Deep voiced spoken parts emerge sparingly allowing the combination of bellowing growls and higher pitched barks to play off against the damsel in distress, who promptly succeeds in stealing the show. Whereas the growls often come across as incapable of the raw guttural tone, or the emphasis on the stark and harrowing desperation within the imagery, it is all the elegant vocals can do to pick up the slack. Capable of competing with the best; whether you take it as a good thing or not, everything is sung in English in a manner that you likely wouldn’t otherwise be able to determine their origins, such is her abilities to pronounce her vocal lines. That’s right, no ‘pigeon engrish’ or nonsensical sentences; apart from perhaps feeling a little impersonal they’re actually poetic, making use of powerful imagery in lines such as:
Grieving utopian dreams and hidden sins,
I hid behind the mask to shield my screams,
Decayed by the only crime of life”
My main complaint is not actually the composition itself - succeeding in combining a gothic/black framework with some wonderfully unconventional characteristics, the manner this is all worked together to provide something unique and yet coming across so naturally is more than impressive for a first effort - but sadly from the execution. Whether as a result of the production or not, it all too often comes across as flat and unenthusiastic, the more aggressive passages lacking any real bite, the guitars never really hitting home and the drums come across as all too mechanical. There isn’t the contrast between the more delicate gothic passages and the full on blackened fury begging to be felt resonating through the music, but if they got this right then we may well find a force to be reckoned with.
Highlights: Crestfallen, Hauntas Eternal, Reborn
This release can be ordered from their label, found here
Salome – Salome – 4/5
If you quickly glance at what I’ve been posting of late – lots of simplistic, upbeat and positive music (as well as a children’s film on the movie blog) – then you may notice that this would seem to stick out rather sorely. And it’s not as though I’ve in the space of a day decided to listen to the polar opposite of where my tastes were taking me, this was simply an artist I saw recommended in passing that sounded interesting; the simple combination of thick guitars, guttural shrieks and wailing drum beats used to create something akin to a Sludge-laden Funeral Doom epic with maybe a hint of Drone, morbidly depressive music not without its melody and it didn’t take long for its encapsulating atmosphere to engulf my surroundings and drag me down into its murky depths.
Perhaps the most observant will have noticed no mention of the bass guitar, and that’s because there isn’t one and before you start exclaiming, that’s because it simply doesn’t need one. The level of distorted feedback and bass noise from the guitar adds a dynamic that can shift from thick to thin in an instant, and is capable of adding a level of unpredictability to the fold, a raw edge to force your way through that shows no sign of getting any easier. The production is immaculate, every crash of the drums, every distant guttural growl and the resonance of the guitars never cloud one another, laboriously worked with one another. Even the tracks themselves feel carefully worked to create an overall album rather than a mere collection; the quickest track opening, slowing down and then increasing the level of despair in preparation for the all-out epic ending, slowing things down to a crawl until the inevitable drawn out deathly conclusion.
No element is overused, they have no reluctance to let the guitars dominate or perform without percussion which only lends greater impact when the drumming does kick in; laborious in their style, slow and dominative with a notable ‘anti-energy’ to them; a reluctance to perform, a slow begrudging pounding beat that never fails to enhance the haunting atmosphere. And the vocals; she’s 5ft1, blonde (fairly pretty), and her vocal prowess landed her a spot as the new vocalist for the grindcore band ‘Agoraphobic Nosebleed.’ If you think at any point she is going to let up the atmosphere then you can think again; twisted growls and harrowing shrieks reeking of desperation, snarling torturously and spitting venomously at every turn, only adding to the beautiful misery created.
There are no frills here, no ‘folk’ overtones or gothic organs; everything feels as though it has gone back to basics and then been expanded on, the impact of the apocalyptic tones of the classics diminished over time as the genre has been further explored towards the extremities leaving new releases like this pushing the boundaries of what is conceivable. It’s not the most original piece, but if the genres main objective is to create a thick sense of impending dread, a slow, grinding, distorted cacophony of desperation and doom, then this has succeeded in its task with flying colours.
Highlight: White Tides
Nokturnal Mortum - Голос Сталі (The Voice of Steel) - 5/5
Sometimes even the best of us are guilty of pre-judging an artist before listening and the result is missing out on gems such as this. Knowing the bands National Socialist ideology (they’re hardly quiet about their Aryan beliefs) before hearing the music was the deal sealer in this case, expecting to find little more than some backyard black metal that has only succeeded in getting noticed because they yelled ‘down with blacks’ and shot more homosexuals than the rest of their attention seeking brethren, and whilst many who claim to be NSBM are likely just using it as a means to get recognition, it feels like such a small part of this artists overall epic work that it barely deserves mentioning except for debunking it as a flaw as I’m doing now.
You don’t have to agree with their beliefs – I for one certainly don’t – but even madmen are capable of genius. Just ask a ‘Burzum’ fan. In fact, unless you happen to speak perfect Russian and translate the lyrics from the liner notes its unlikely you’d notice anyway. Even when you realise that two of the members once had prominent roles to play in the Raw Black Metal band ‘Lucifugum,’ further implying their likely style of playing, nothing can quite prepare you for the overwhelming warmth that hits you, the clean melodic vocals amidst atmospheric synths and majestic folk instrumentation. This is more ‘Crimfall’ than anything else, barely fitting the title ‘Black’ at all as there is certainly more optimism and strength here than despair, and certainly more than a touch of ‘Floyd-esque’ psychedelia to the rich multi-layered proceedings.
The instrumentation in itself doesn’t feel impressive, but its simply how everything has been worked together; the folk instrumentation never becoming dominative but used as musical flavouring on top of the heart of the music, the guitars and vocals suddenly giving way to gentle ambient synth-laden passages and tribal bombastic drums only to have everything return once more and create their melodic cacophony. You could take any of the many layers – the twin guitars, keyboards, horns, accordions, hurdy-gurdy, flutes, violins, drums, bass guitar or the vocals – and follow their individual lines and find little worth mentioning, but it’s the culmination of each one following their own individual melodies within the complex composition that provides its appeal.
This is no small feat to accomplish and the spit-polished production has worked a treat in creating warmth whilst still retaining a raw visceral element, and allowing the vocals – both clean and growled – a share of the end result, fighting to make themselves heard amidst the instrumentation rather than simply have their levels boosted; as much a part of the music as any other instrument. It’s hardly the most aggressive piece conceived, and it seems comfortable enough in itself to remain relatively mid-tempo, in no rush to unfold the epic masterpieces of music seamlessly woven into one another to form a single 70 minute entity, shifting and sliding around within their narrow but well defined spectrum of sound. Once again I have found proof that appearances can be very deceiving.
Highlights: Голос Сталі, Моєї Мрії Острови, White Tower
Janne Da Arc – Arcadia (2004) – 4.5/5
Whether through scepticism or simple pessimism, I don’t think I actually wanted to like this album. Part of me wanted to scoff at the notion of ‘progressive’ pop/rock with competent musicians; to be proven right that the few times they demonstrate their abilities will be overshadowed by the overt pop melodies which will soon transform from melodic to addictive to nauseating. I’ve been listening to this one release on repeat for the vast majority of the day – 7 times in full and counting – and perhaps the most sickening part of this whole ordeal is that all this time its been sinking in, rather than become annoying I find myself uncontrollably swaying to the rhythms, humming the tune without realising it and just maybe that nauseating sense that you know the song too well will never actually arrive.
Whilst I’d expect most artists within the genre would cite punk bands as a major influence, I’d be surprised if many cited old Heavy Metal bands such as ‘Loudness,’ ‘X-Japan’ and notably ‘Dead End,’ and this is perhaps a good reason for their apparent abilities. The drums know how to do more than keep a simple time, demonstrating a variety of beats that work subconsciously to add an addictive bottom layer of the framework, working with the bass to keep the rhythm for most of the tracks. The prominence of the bass guitar feels less due to the production but also the manner the guitars are composed; not simply playing at all times, they meander around one another to create a varied sound.
And the guitarists duties don’t falter at creating the rhythm either, more often than not having time to shine with a solo in each track with styles varying from the slow and melodic to the quicker neo-classical, often trading lines with the keyboards making great use of effects to provide anything from saxophone lines, upbeat organ rhythms or gentle backing synths. Completed by the vocals far from the punk energy-over-ability situation frequently found, he proves capable of holding a melodic tune that despite being sung in Japanese, never feels disconnected or notably ‘foreign.’ There really is no fat here; each member knows how to play their instrument and is given ample opportunity to prove it with perhaps only a bass solo and piano medley short of perfection.
It is perhaps a curious combination of all three aspects; the foreign but ultimately familiar vocals, their unexpected influences driving for a technical ability beyond the capabilities of most, and the diverse range of influences they are capable of bringing to the musical composition, that has ultimately led to this tireless brand of pop/rock. In fact, the only real comparison that feels appropriate is to ‘The Wildhearts’ in the manner they can both remain catchy without resorting to the most simple of song structures. It’s impressive that despite being drawn in by only a small number of tracks, the entire album has grown on me; there is nothing here out of place or sub-par to the rest of the material, it’s simply diverse enough to display their wide range of influences. From the punky “Process,” powerful and gentle acoustic ballads in “Carnation,” the instrumental “Athens” and jazzy rhythms of “Black Jack” or the old school anthemic hard rock vibe from “Freedom;” well colour me impressed.
Highlights: Romance, Freedom, Process, Carnation
Oreskaband – Oreskaband – 2.5/5
In all honesty, I did not intend for this review to become this negative; a young Japanese band playing the same old third wave ska made popular by the likes of ‘Reel Big Fish’ and the ‘Mighty Mighty Bosstones,’ all I was looking for was a little bit of that spark of insanity that seems prevalent in music from Japan added to the fun format. Instead, the more I listened, the more the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and with a little bit of research my suspicions were not just confirmed, but actually worse than expected.
Recently starting to gain appeal in the US, I expected it to be due to their distinct sound (distinctly trying to be the aforementioned RBF and MMB), which would be a prime candidate for the adoration of the rapidly developing ‘otaku’ culture. Not quite. It’s not even enough that all six members are female, but they’ve also recently finished high school…can you see where I’m going with this? High School Musical: Japan. Just when you think something couldn’t be any more annoying, they infuse it with something else annoying to create a monstrosity that’s truly vomit-inducing. Thank fuck it flopped before anyone noticed it existed.
Let’s move on to the actual music shall we? Ska guitars play as expected, the bass keeping the same boisterous rhythms adding little special to the proceedings and the drums keep time. The trumpet, trombone and saxophone impressively all merge seamlessly into one indistinguishable melody that becomes at its most prominent during the chorus lines. Topped off with delightful vocals that neither fall into the trap of being unmelodic, nor have more than the most basic of pop sensibilities to them, incapable of any form of emotional response.
The reason a lot of ska works is less for the actual composition of the music and more the manner its played; humorous lyrics atop an energetic and enthusiastic backing. Solos from the guitars and brass instruments make a welcome break here but all too often it feels lacklustre and unenthused. In small doses, it’s fun, boisterous, cute and fairly addictive, but in larger doses, it’s flowery enough to make you want to slowly kill something furry, just to balance everything out. Too much pop, too little punk and a pretence that seems to take itself somewhat seriously, which in ska music is always too seriously. If you already listen to them, get some better ska. If you don’t, rest easy knowing you’re not missing a lot.
Highlights: Pinocchio, 20 tips, Chuck
Visceral Evisceration - Incessant Desire for Palatable Flesh - 5/5
Upon seeing this band's album name recommended to me by a friend, I instantly thought this is a grind core album. Who wouldntt get that impression with the album containing songs such as "Chewing Female Genital Parts" and other grind related names. But upon the first listen, from track one, this piece of Austrian -the origin of the band- music took me by surprise. The best way to describe this band's genre is melodic death/doom with the utilization of female vocals occasionally.
The music is beautiful and melodic in a way you'd rarely see. The band utilize twin guitars to give those highly melodic lead riffs, which basically drive every song on the album and are indeed the highlight of this album. In spite of the melodic riffs; the songs have slow pace for the most part with some fast tempo shifts every now and then. The drums section is very well done and feels bombastic at occasions. The vocals are also a highlight of the album; with female deep male growls with a majestic clean male vocal as well, and some of the most haunting yet beautiful operatic female vocals that is used occasionally on the album but when she does use them, it's captivating. Bass is mostly hidden under layers of guitar leads. The production of the re-mastered version is top notch, very gloomy and fits the music perfectly. Lyrics wise, this is even worse than many grind core bands. With lines like "Peel the skin from his pelvis Rejectamenta and urine spouting out" , so If you're a person that looks for lyrics first when listening to music; this probably isn’t for you.
This is a rare gem of doom/death with impeccable atmosphere. Highly recommended to any music fans, this would be a treat for fans of death/doom or any melodic music in general.
First [EP] – 4.5/5
Second – 4/5
There is something deeply unsettling about this artist, and not just because of their appearance; on the surface an odd jazz quartet, the three suited men wielding their respective instruments ready to play, all staring at the cute Japanese school girl in front of them. You could even mistake her for the latest trend in paedo-pop trying to make it big but appearances are deceiving, and it doesn’t take long – somewhere between the chaotic backing instruments and the small smiling girl suddenly twisting into a psychotically snarling beast, screaming about how she loves to kill things – before you realise that you couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Their debut release ‘First’ is perhaps best suited to the term ‘Jazzcore,’ (with a dollop of ‘noise rock’) but it doesn’t entirely fit; normally images of unbridled technicality, noodling and meandering guitar lines over dissonant drums and sporadic keyboards come to mind but this feels altogether more simplistic, taking the term back to its respective roots and fusing the two genres before it became plagued with breakdowns and pointless guitar lines. It still holds its technicality, but it’s all done to further the track into new territory, retaining a remarkable boisterous punk energy amidst the jazz instrumentation which dominates much of the proceedings.
And the instrumentation has been worked together marvellously so as to not overshadow any single aspect, the double bass making its presence known amidst the chaos of the frantic piano lines and cacophonous drums; the guitars topping off the line up with simple punk chords played in a rough and ready manner that feels more ambitious in their attempt to create something loud and furious rather than produce a melody, and it oddly works, the periods of calm separating the madness into bitesize chunks.
Couple this with the vocals that remain a highlight, with a raw punk energy that defies the need for conventional ability, instantly transitioning between a hyper aggressive roar and gentle groove that never fails to draw attention, used sparingly enough to not overpower the many instrumental sections. The subsequent full-length follow up, aptly named ‘second’ sadly sees the start of this energy dissipating, and whilst not as strong remains a worthwhile listen. A Japanese Jazz band with the attitude of punk: what’s not to like?
“First” Highlights: お猿, ロマンティック夏モード
“Second” Highlights: Doping Noise Noise Kiss, Atashi no Outa, Ai no Uta
Shimizu [EP] – 3.5/5
Hello Everyone. Nice to Meet you. We are Midori. – 4.5/5
With only a single full-length and EP to their name, they quickly garnered a hefty following drawn in by their chaotic and unconventional ramblings, but then something unexpected happened; their unpalatable brand of insanity got them signed to Sony Japan; their DIY aesthetic from their days on a small label replaced with the glamour of a large corporation but perhaps most surprising is that whilst its certainly a different breed of animal to their earlier works, its not necessarily bad because of it. Their latest offering in ‘Hello Everyone’ has a certain degree of polish applied to their tone, detracting from their chaotic tone – in particular the guitars and rasped vocals have been cut back – and as a result the music feels less dissonant; there’s less contrast between the two styles.
This increase in fluidity may be to many peoples liking of course, it certainly makes it easier to follow and accentuates the jazzy grooves that emerge, but it trades that for some of the raw edge that made their first debut so powerful. The opening vocal line of ‘Destroy’ shows that they certainly haven’t lost their attitude but instead have polished and refined it to the point where it almost becomes all the more unsettling; the at times lounge-like melodies in the short piano ballad midway through only understood when the title becomes translated (“I have no guts, my family is scum”), or the guttural vocals over the seamless backing that despite having entirely different musical heritage never sound out of place.
But unlike their last, it feels as though the overall composition of the individual lines has had a greater degree of care taken over it, no longer all working to provide a single tone – that sudden transition from smooth groove to dissonant chaos – but a multi-layered piece that takes its time to grow on you; the hard hitting bass lines of ‘Chiharu no Koi’ or addictive piano riff in ‘Himitsu no 2ri,’ always creatively complemented by the insatiable drumming. Distinctly more ‘free jazz’ this time around, that initial lack of a raw punk edge turned me away after their frantic debut but it didn’t take long for me to forget it was ever there before. The melodies succeed in lulling you into a false sense of security, belying the original ironic intention behind their twisted view. They may have changed their style since their debut, but they aren’t any the worse for doing so.
“Shimizi” Highlights: Inu Hashiru.
“Hello Everyone” Highlights: Yukiko San, Osaru, Chiharu no Koi
IOSYS – JeuXinTerdiTs [EP] – 4/5
Expect this to be a very short review, simply because there is little to be said; another doujin release from the hands of neo-classical guitar wizard ‘Minami,’ it is this time around that the music is not based around ‘touhou’ but are instead original compositions. With the guitar work inevitably taking the lead, it feels important to note that this instrumental power metal release at no point feels thin either in regards to sound or content. The drumming feels raw and full enough to keep up if performing nothing particularly special, and the bass has a strong enough presence to assist with the rhythm.
But whilst both elements are prominent, well produced and readily heard in the end result, this is all about the lead guitars; meandering and soaring, this isn’t just a man proving he can play quickly, but rather 24 minutes of groove-laden riffs, neo-classical shredding, soft emotional passages, jazzy chords and more. Each track brings something new to the fold, and whilst not radically redesigning his style – the tracks still maintain a coherency to one another – it remains fresh and interesting throughout the entire length of the EP.
The music is compositionally fairly basic without any need for overt technicality, and it is this simplicity that gives it an odd addictive quality that serves to lend a superb replay value. It is hardly original in its style or execution but it’s simply uncomplicated music that is performed well. Everything feels balanced; its never so long to as get boring or feel monotonous, yet never so short to feel unfinished; there are plenty of neo-classical shredded moments but it never forgets the melody, often reverting back to a slower groove. In short, if you liked ‘Marco Sfogli’ or Hizaki’s ‘Curse of Virgo,’ then you’ll like this (or if you know neither of those artists and want more instrumental guitar virtuosity, need all three).
Highlights: Jeux Interdits, Mother Goddess
In Vain – The Latter Rain – 4.5/5
The last time I described an album as the horribly vague term ‘Extreme’ was with ‘Gonin-Ish,’ and whilst you can rest assured that this release doesn’t feel as weird as all that, the term certainly still seems to apply. Sure, there are the rampant tremolo riffs combined with shrieks and howls that would allude to Black Metal, but the Death Metal drum theory and deeper growls swing things back in the other direction, but it all doesn’t end here – in fact its barely begun. There are these almost folk-like overtones that emerge, gentle neo-classical ambient doom-filled passages with jazzy saxophones, violins, cello’s, flutes, trumpets, trombones and even Viking chanting, often working together to create an oddly majestic atmosphere.
An ‘Opeth’ comparison feels valid – particularly of note in many of the guitar riffs – and whilst both have a unique way of doing things, the scope for variety here feels far broader; incorporating Hollenthon’s sense of theatrics, Estatic Fears penchant for the fluidity between the differently paced sections and Wintersun’s scope for majestic aggression. The many ambient passages acting as more than mere ‘interludes;’ they feel as integral to the composition as anything else and emerge in such a natural manner that it would feel odd to not make the transition, and perhaps even more impressive is the fact that that it doesn’t feel any less than the more complex passages, oozing with passion and emotion that would allow them to stand in their own right.
It is this notion that forms much of the core of the composition, emotion over simplistic aggression and the guitars are the exemplary example of this fact, capable of performing complex riffs and neo-classical grandeur and occasionally demonstrating that fact, they are instead all the more concerned with maintaining the performance, the intention behind the solo performances to provide an emotional highlight – a difficult feat with such a strong composition and one that he doesn’t always succeed in achieving – and with such a theatrical sense of genuine progression of events told through the music, the range of emotions capable of exploring feels easily broad enough to encompass the albums duration.
My only cause for concern – and the reason for the imperfect score – is the vocals; sometimes the growls feeling a little weaker and more monotonous than would be ideal to exemplify the transitions between styles, made up largely for the sheer variety of vocal styles prevalent throughout. Supplemented by the ever sublime vocal work of Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation) and Jan K. Transeth (In The Woods), it is without their assistance that the bands future begins to look less steady. This may be their debut full-length but between the impeccable instrumentation, composition and the detail-enriching production values, it feels anything but amateurish; they may be relative newcomers to the scene but they have clearly long been refining their sound in preparation.
Highlights: In the Midnight Hour, Octobers Monody, As I Wither
Destructive Angel – Extreme Genocide Force – 3.5/5
Ignore the ‘Iron Maiden’ lettering, or the fact they’ve merged “Destruction” and “Death Angel” into one new name, and even the uninspired and – even worse, poorly descriptive of the music – album title. I downloaded this with it described as “Power/Thrash,” which too isn’t quite right, but for all my negativity and telling you what it isn’t, I’m at a loss to describe simply what it is because it never really stays in one place. Landing anywhere from slow and symphonic power metal to the more aggressive neo-classical thrash, both often having strong electronic influences and synths running through the course of the album, the genre term ‘Symphonic Power/Thrash’ should be taken with a large grain of experimental salt.
In fact most of the tracks are constructed through layers of keyboards; organs, synths, piano lines and violin tones interspersed throughout to create the unusual feel that defies the ‘power/thrash’ genre description; at times oddly gothic but never whiny, the keyboards are used overtly but not in a manner that feels ‘flowery’ or ‘soft.’ It doesn’t feel fitting to call it more suited to the genre of electronica either; its simply that the duties of the lead guitarist has been taken by the keyboards, relegating them to quick thrash-like rhythm duties instead. The hard hitting fast-paced drumming adding little other than his simple but effective aggression leaving the lead free reign to create his multi-layered harmonies.
But the music has one small drawback. And when I saw small, I mean as in small compared to the size of the hole left in Hiroshima 1945. Japan has always had a problem with vocalists (probably why they have so many instrumental bands) but this guy is unreal; screaming like a constipated farmer fucking farm animals, he manages to completely ruin the music every time he opens his mouth to the point where I can actually now see valid reason for excessive use of vocoders. Thankfully, it’s only the single track “Mirage” which needs to be skipped (or preferably deleted, just to make sure you don’t leave it on by accident) and there’s a version without him caterwauling all over it to listen to.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m having difficulty aptly describing this instrumental album (I’m pretending ‘Mirage’ doesn’t exist); it’s almost to thrash what Fairyland is to the early Power Metal artists; the sound of a car crash between ‘Thy Majestie,’ and ‘Exodus,’ both parties carrying large quantities of keyboards with them on their journey. The music feels both majestic and epic whilst capable of treading a path between the boisterous and the gothic; between the aggression and the symphonic cheesiness, a sprinkling of neo-classical overtones without the pretence and the result is an artist that for the obvious unoriginality in the written word, shine where it counts.
Highlights: Murderer’s Descendant, Hell Nuclear, Slaughter
Album Abomination: Mirage
SJV-SC – Crossing – 3.5/5
In case anyone had missed it, ‘Touhou’ re-arrangements has been of interest to me of late, but the sheer magnitude of what it has to offer coupled with the lack of any relevant information means it has remained hidden from view. I usually consider myself something of an audiophile for the fact that when I discover a new genre or style I tend to binge on it before parasitically moving on but I’m still coming to terms with the fact that an entire world of music encompassing multiple genres has evaded my watchful eye for so long, and once again I’m demonstrated Doujin’s versatility with this EP of Jazz Fusion re-arrangements, slapping on a healthy portion of funk as well.
Its unusual the manner I can recognise the melodies being performed with perfect clarity, but the manner the various instruments will dive in to take the lead rhythm whilst the rest meander around them feels as though the piece has been refreshed and renewed; not simply copied but understood and amended for their own purposes. Between the slap bass, piano, synths, saxophone, jazz guitars and drum beats, there is more than enough packed into this release to keep me entertained, boisterously performed with intersecting lines sweeping across one another adding to the lead instrument without clouding it. The bass constantly works on adding funky beats to the constant meandering guitars, frequently interchanging with jazzy piano’s and synths to lend variety, but there’s almost too much.
Now I’m not saying it ever feels dissonant, the tracks complement each other well but it certainly feels incomplete; it’s as though they had an hour long album planned but then tried to compress it into 19 minutes; like “The Godfather” if it was told to compress everything into an hours run time. There’s no room for them to explore and go nuts, it’s all fairly rooted and unable to meander on a tangent as there simply isn’t the time. It’s fun, bouncy and funky but does little terribly original. It is the manner the layers intersect as the piece progresses that see this release shine, and it’s simply a shame they didn’t expand on that further.
Highlights: Track Two