Chimp Spanner – At the Dreams Edge – 4.5/5
An album that was first introduced to me by fellow Lifer Zakharov with the intention of making it more widely known there after sending it to me in private, why he hasn't done so seems a little baffling as this one man show – everything written and performed by Paul Ortiz – seems to have stumbled upon something rather unique, even if the influences from the underrated game “Mirror's Edge” seem undeniable. Perhaps most aptly described as a combination of Prog/Tech Metal (with a decent dollop of Djent) and Ambient Electronica; Vangelis' beauty married with Sikth's technicality, and whilst it seems like a combination that's unlikely to work, it is in the context of which this 'concept' exists that I can't imagine anything else would.
Whilst never explicitly mentioning any overarching story I find it difficult not to fabricate one from the shifting tones in the atmosphere, telling a tale of a whitewashed world filled with metaphorically padded walls; a matrix-like prison that its residents aren't even aware of. This is a dystopia unlike the infamous Blade Runner world but hidden behind closed doors but rotten at its corrupt core, and as the protagonist – the listener – explores deeper into the depravity, hacking into the government computers to discover just what they've been hiding, you embark on this epic journey. Hunted for what you know, tracking down any evidence of what you've learnt and struggling to unveil the dark secrets you've discovered before it's too late and the government succeeds in silencing their adversary. But of course there are no lyrics; no hard concrete evidence of what the story genuinely is, which oddly enough simply adds to its beauty. It means that you can simply listen and be inspired by the shifting tones in a strong enough manner that it still forms a story individual to yourself; the varied tempo and styles just begging for each little bit to be worked out in the context of the entire album.
The meshuggah-esque djent forms much of the background in the more aggressive passages and maintains much of the rhythm, constantly twisting and turning and never quite yielding to expectations, and in the background – or perhaps more aptly described as working side by side with the guitar work – comes the electronica elements, forming that sweeping futuristic atmosphere, maintaining the immersion and constantly setting the landscape for the events depicted by the guitars to take place. His proficiency at guitar couldn't be understated, but more than his raw technical ability comes his ability to actually compose pieces like a soundtrack; the hacking sequence in 'Bad Code,' respect for those that died in 'Ghosts of the Golden City' or the fight scene in 'Harvey Wallbanger;' hope and hopelessness; despair and determination, his playing can display immense knowledge around the fretboard but its never without purpose, or used as simply a way of flaunting himself, happily showing the willing to take a step back and allow the electronic background take hold as an equally important component to the sound he's created. The longer I listen, the more I realise I can think of anything quite like it.
Highlights: Supererogation, Bad Code
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Crimfall – Writ of the Sword – 3.5/5
With their odd brand of Progressive Viking Folk married to the occasional flourishes of Symphonic Power, their debut, “As the Path Unfolds,” soon made waves if not always for the right reasons. With Moonsorrow's bassist (who has now left), eyes were on them to see what they could emerge with, and with such a diverse range of influences there's little that feels appropriate to compare them to. Even more so than their last effort, their progressive nature has come forward and flourished with an attack of unrelenting morphing tracks, always returning to some core chorus which defines the track and keeps it feeling somewhat continuous. There's an awful lot here to take in and digest but sadly, once all that has been done there's still little that really sticks in the mind, resulting in an impressive but ultimately what I expect will be a short-lived interest.
The bassist only seems to have two modes of operation; 'this song is mine bitch' and 'we forgot to plug you in for that one mate,' more often than not choosing the latter. When pushed into overdrive, most clearly heard in “Storm before the Calm,” he shows that he certainly knows what he's doing and comes up with the most memorable riff of the entire album, but it fails to work with the rest of the instrumentation, coming off far too dominative in the production. And as interesting as he is, the fact that everyone else gets pushed out the way as a result leaves it feeling as though it's losing that folk focus, which is a genuine shame as a better balance between the two sides could have gone a long way in providing a stark contrast between the slow and almost Agalloch-like doom passages; the slower epic passages and the more bombastic and upbeat tones to invariably emerge, but instead comes off closer to a brief metalcore interlude.
The drums on occasion feel abusive of their cymbals and they simply aren't given the raw production to lend a genuine impact, suffering from the dreadful over-produced disease and rendering them mechanical, if notably prominent in the mix. You won't find that its only the snare and bass drums that lend their presence here, but the whole kit is given a thorough work around, but once again it lands on the vocals to really separate this band from their contemporaries. Whilst the growls are still on form, it is the clean female lead from Helena that once again proves why she should be considered one of the best at her game; spending almost as much time melodically wailing as she does singing, it is her frequent presence outside of the slow folk instrumentals that often struggles to keep it rooted to the genre.
This is by no stretch of the imagination a bad album, but it simply feels a little unfinished. There are a number of aspects that could have done with a touch up, passages that needed a re-think to maintain the focus on the epic atmosphere they so often succeed in creating, re-working others to better maintain that sense of immersion. There's an impressive versatility to their playing with no instrument afraid of letting loose the reigns for the symphonic passages that could have been taken straight from a 'Lord of the Rings' flick, and whilst a worthy continuation of their style it never reaches the heights accomplished by their debut. If their last albums brand of 'love it or hate it' folk had people divided then this isn't the album to be convincing anybody otherwise.
Highlight: Shackles of the Moiral