Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hypomanie - Calm Down, You Weren't Set on Fire

The Netherlands has become a hotbed of boundary-pushing, underground black metal in recent years, with bands like Urfaust, Gnaw Their Tongues and Dodecahedron contributing great efforts to furthering the genre. Hypomanie are one of the lesser bands on the scene, but they’re also participants in the very new international niche of metalgazing. The more even divisions of shoegaze and black metal heard on early Hypomanie releases has given way to an instrumental form of shoegaze/post rock with only very minimal metal influences. If this wasn’t clear on last year’s A City in Mono (which it was), it will surely be on this year’s awkwardly titled Calm Down, You Weren’t Set on Fire. Black metal percussion and some slightly extreme forms of guitar distortion remained on 2011’s record. This new record strips away the distortion (which created a black metal atmosphere) and almost all of the metal drumming, with only two tracks featuring rather chilled-sounding blast beats. Even and generic portions of post rock and shoegaze are the main course. This all but exactly equals a complete border crossing of genres for Hypomanie.

I can see why Hypomanie traded off the black metal for a more straight up shoegaze approach. The single member of the band, S, is simply better at making arty-farty trend rock (which is sometimes good despite my derogatory classification). There’s no question that on the fronts of technicality and song-writing, Hypomanie’s last two releases are a vast improvement in terms of quality. But, to put it bluntly, they’re boring. S has not taken into consideration the interest of his earlier work caused by the as yet not fully explored territory of this particular subgenre fusion. In the end, all this comes off as is a lesser version of Godspeed, Mogwai, or even Isis. As a post rock record, it’s pretty good. The textures are really very nice and the song writing has moments of excellence. The only complaint I would make here is that it’s a little static, sounding a little too similar to itself over the duration of the album.

In short: I’m frankly disappointed with the musical direction this band has taken. If Calm Down had been released ten years ago, it would be an instant classic. But the times are changing fast and unfortunately this now sounds regurgitated. Sehnsucht, although made with little finesse, remains Hypomanie’s most important and interesting album, despite the actual music on Calm Down being better.

Standout tracks: “Lullaby for Ian”, “Pale Blue”

Score: 6.0

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Major Kong - Doom for the Black Sun

Today’s review is of the new record titled Doom for the Black Sun by Major Kong, an instrumental doom/stoner act from Poland. It contains exactly the same three members as another Polish band called Fifty Foot Woman - Dominik Stachyra, Paweł Zmarlak, and Michał Skuła. Fifty Foot Woman was a sick Kyuss worship band, but that project is on hold at the moment while the band members concentrate on Major Kong. With the vocals neatly deleted, these three Poles are taking a jammier, more psychedelic, and considerably slower approach. Kyuss will always be present in these guys’ sound (I suspect), but Major Kong has more in common with the likes of Sleep, Electric Wizard and Acid King than anything else – the doomier side of stoner metal.

My general feeling about this album is that it’s good, but it doesn’t stand out. The production is not as chunky as Fifty Foot Woman’s and they haven’t managed to capture the groove of doom as well as they did with more straight up stoner metal. The best moments are the psychedelic guitar solos. “Primordial Gas Clouds”, my favorite song on DftBS, is one of the few moments where MK manage to capture a truly deadly groove and the psych jamming on lead and bass that rides on it is wicked. If the whole album upheld the quality of this song, it would be a real winner (though to be honest that song probably should’ve been a minute shorter). There are moments of awe scattered throughout the rest of the album, but as a whole it carries on in the same way for a little too long and breaks no ground on any terms. Movie samples are used several times, but I didn’t think any of them were particularly apt or funny. Seriously though, there’s more good than bad here. Kong have a straight-forward, honest style: slow, heavy, rock music. And I like that. But I still want them to gear up Fifty Foot Woman for a second round.

In summary: Not going to enter the ledgers of legends, but a very solid release that fans of the genre should certainly try.

Standout tracks: “Primordial Gas Clouds”, “Demolition Whale”

Score: 7.0


Skin Like Iron & Nails

Another free release here, this one I missed from back in January. Skin Like Iron from San Francisco and Oxnard, California’s infamous Nails unleash two scathing hardcore tracks each that can be streamed over at Decibel magazine. This split was released as a limited only wax pressing of one thousand copies (900 on black and 100 on blue) available only from the band. Skin Like Iron feed angry hardcore modernism off of old school punk melodies, combining new and old to successfully rock out. Nails are basically the most metal hardcore band out there these days, so much so in fact that I’m dubious as to whether Nails should be classified more as a metal or hardcore band (though realistically percentages are drawn somewhere close to the middle). Not that it really matters. Nails mean business - big, bad, pissed off business, and if you have any ounce of real rock in your soul, you’d be a fool not to thrash your neck and pump your fist to this. This split upholds the wicked quality of all their previous releases, so you all have three more minutes of adrenaline-charged, punked-out metal madness to muck about to. If you’re remotely interested in any hardcore/metal groups and you don’t know Nails, educate yourself immediately. Even if you’re not into hardcore (yet), there can be no harm done in giving this a listen as it’s free and only nine minutes long. I believe the 7"s are still available for purchase too. So get on it.

In short: Free split. Four songs. Sick hardcore.

Standout tracks: Nails kill it with “Annihilation”

Score: 9.0

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spirit Descent - Seven Chapter In A Minor

Word round the block is that Spirit Descent is an “epic” doom metal band. It is true, I guess, that they make doom metal music with epic qualities. But I’m not really sure that they should be coined as a symbolic figure of this strain of doom. Since every man and his brother’s band are making epic music these days there seems little value in even mentioning the fact that a band is epic. Maybe we should start labeling bands when they are not epic, at least so I’ve though ever since I started having cravings just to hear a regular, four-minute rock song with a steady beat. Hyperbolic rant on the genre classification war aside, it’s still an apt description; Spirit Descent do indeed make epic doom metal.

Hailing from Germany, SD bring to the table a smooth blend of traditional doom/heavy metal and the more recent, more extreme and modern styles of doom that appeared later when influenced by death metal. There is definite narrative in each composition here, and quite a lot of progression over the course of the album, but always the debt to Sabbath is glaringly clear. That’s one of the cool things about SD though: They make no pretenses about being something new and shiny, but revel in going by the books and paying great tribute to conventions of much-loved style. They are unashamed in their old-fashioned ways. Jan Eichelbaum on vocals, in addition to his authentic traditional heavy metal voice, occasionally garnishes the music with lengthy death/doom roars. This modernizes the music a bit as it recalls the rampant cross-breeding genres are committing these days. Nice, clean, new production makes the vintage vibes heavier than they could manage back in the day, too.

I have to say, Spirit Descent have done a pretty damn good job with these songs. I’m not usually too fond of more traditional metal styles, but I sat through Seven Chapter a few times without even becoming irritated by the singing, so that in itself says something. The riffage, it’s true, is instantly enjoyable, and the sweet production brings those doomed hooks out nice and fat and rock-heavy. Plus they write a better epic than most of the riff-raff trying to feet their heads into storyteller’s caps these days. If you favor this style of metal, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest this album.

In conclusion: Classic metal, with a bigger, heavier, more technologically up-to-date streak. No originality, but quality songs that keep doom traditions alive.

Standout tracks: “Dawn of Mankind”, “The Tragedy of Captain Scott”, “Sleeper”

Score: 7.5

Monday, June 11, 2012

Edge of Sanity - Kur-Nu-Gi-A

Dan Swanö today is one of the best metal producers in Europe, but things weren’t always so. Back in 1990, at the time when this demo was released, Edge of Sanity were a ripe young death metal band, one of the original Swedish first wave death metallers, along with Entombed and Dismember. While Entombed would go on to pioneer the death’n’roll minigenre and Dismember would hold true to their old school roots, EoS became the precursor to the more accessible niche of melodic death metal. For those of you who don’t know, however, EoS’s material was deeper and far more eclectic than most of the things bands like Dark Tranquility or In Flames released which made the Gothenburg scene popular. It all built up to a legendary point in 1996 when EoS released Crimson, a single progressive/death metal song that ran for forty minutes and established a place for itself immediately in the death metal halls of fame. However, the “original sound of Edge of Sanity”, as Swanö himself puts it, was a more typical old school style similar to Death or other seminal death metal bands. The original demo release of Kur-Nu-Gi-A (the underworld of ancient Babylon) had five tracks played in this style and a synth outro. This picture disc release gives us these songs remastered plus two live tracks and a rough version of “Maze of Existence” as bonus. The demo songs are pretty cool, although certainly dated now and not really historical death metal moments. The live tracks are nothing to speak of, really. I never heard the quality of the original demo, but from what I can gather it was apparently not so great. I’m not sure if the “Maze of Existence (roughmix)” is the original, unremastered mix or what, but it sounds very similar to the new mix earlier on the disc. So it’s unclear to me exactly how much better the sound is here than on the original, despite the positive rumors I can provide.

In summary: Kur-Nu-Gi-A in itself is decent, and it’s certainly nice to be able to listen to this part of EoS’s history for those who weren’t around back in the day, and also for fans who will appreciate the renewed production, but the extras are really unmentionable, and in the end this is really not a very important re-release.

Standout tracks: “Maze of Existence”

Score: 6.0


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Nadja - Excision

As any follower knows, Nadja have an extremely high musical output rate. But you couldn’t blame them for milking commercial teats as it’s almost all been original music. Over God knows how many albums during the ten years since their conception Nadja have released only three compilations and four live albums – a drastically small percentage of their discography, with the majority made from full-length albums. So it’s nice to see this platter of previously limited vinyl-only releases “excised” and made available to a wider audience. There’s a good chunk of listening to do here over two CDs with the total run-time coming to two hours, thirty-four minutes, and forty-one seconds.

Excision gives us a good cross-section of Nadja’s broad array of doom/drone stylings. It opens with “Jornada del Muerto”, not the strongest track on the album, but a crushingly heavy piece of glacial doom that is as close to SunnO))) as Nadja have ever been. “Perichoresis” has a more progressive approach, moving through stages of ambient, post-sludge drone and noise. This song is truly epic and melancholy and is a pretty damn good example of how powerful Nadja can be. “Spahn” provides a more stripped-back, deep space excursion. “Kriplyana” is pure ambient drone, sharing more in common with the likes of Gavin Bryars than doom metal. Swapping CDs “Autosomal (Version 2)” builds up with ten minutes of snail-paced post-rock before a dream-like tide of swirling distorted doom gushes forth, a tsunami in slow-motion. On “Kitsune (Fox Drone)” we bathe in heavenly static; this track is trademark Nadja droning bliss. “Autosomal (Version 3)” is more ambient drone, this time on the noisy, psychedelic side, excellent for a twisted chillout. with “Clinging to the Edge of the Sky” concludes with fifteen minutes of peaceful post rock.

There are no outstanding criticisms to make; it’s overly long and the songs don’t join together at the seams naturally, but that’s to be expected from this kind of compilation. Standalone, each song is pretty strong but I think this is really meant for fans only, specifically ones who missed out on the limited edition original pressings of this music. If you want to be introduced to Nadja, I’d recommend starting somewhere a little more spectacular like Corrasion, or Skin Turns to Glass. Excision is still a quality buy if you find it cheap or something, though.

In short: It’s not an essential Nadja album, but for the fan who wants to delve deeper into their massive body of work, Excision is a worthwhile way to relax in style for a while.

Standout tracks: “Perichoresis”, “Autosomal (Version 3)”

Score: 7.5


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Opvs Leviathan - I:O:I

Doing net research on Opvs Leviathan yielded little. All I could manage to gather was that the main guy behind it has been on the Colombian metal scene since 1992 but has only managed to make four releases – this full-length, one demo and two splits across three different projects. I can’t even remember the last time I listened to any Colombian metal, let alone which band it would have been, so this one was another random grab to check out something from the scene over there these days. I’m not sure why Opvs Leviathan hasn’t released anything in so long, but I hope it’s not because they spent years piecing together a masterwork that I’m about to slag off.

Opvs Leviathan play epic black metal, but it’s nothing that’s gonna tear you away from Wolves in the Throne Room very quickly (if ever). This band relies on little or no atmosphere, just stereotypical song structures and retro keyboards. Simple, generic, riffing which spans melodic black metal and folk does a decent job of supporting songs with an average length of seven minutes, although some transitions are handled with embarrassing clumsiness. What tears Opvs Leviathan apart is the dreadful lack of cohesion between the different instruments. The lead is simply awful, it’s the worst part, almost never getting on a level with the other instruments. Every time it comes in you just have to cringe at the blatantly obvious musical blunders being made. It sounds like his guitar isn’t even properly tuned. The noises used by the keyboards sound out of place and low budget. The bass holds things up with its clear tone, but my god it’s a ploddingly boring passage made though. The drums are undoubtedly the best thing: pretty high up in the mix with a nice chunky tone, they manage to make this barely listenable. This is all a bit of a shame really for example if we listen to a song like “Submerge’s in the Waters of Kaos”. It’s a catchy track that seems to merge and harmonize actually really well, which on a different album would have been probably damn effective. It’s evidence that OL are not without talent, but unfortunately something went horribly wrong in the piecing together of this talent. At the rate that Opvs release albums we’ll all be dead by the time they create a mature piece of music. Parts of I:O:I  make me really want to like Opvs Leviathan, but in the end the ambiguity that light threw on my view of the music pissed me off even further. I was not won over.

Bottom line: Epic black metal with a majority of sadly failing songs, I:O:I has a very awkward delivery but succeeds in some brief moments.

Standout tracks: “Submerge’s in the Waters of Kaos”

Score: 4.0