Friday, 19 October 2012

Wintersun - Time 1

Too much whip cream.

     I love a good cup of dark roast black coffee, something strong simple and unceremonious to get me ready for the day.  It isn't that I’m opposed to the idea of adding cream and sugar; at times it adds to the overall presentation and enjoyment of my beverage, but more often than not it simply masks the bitter, natural flavor of coffee.  When people put cream and sugar in coffee, it’s typically because they feel that their coffee will taste like shit if they don’t; they are correct because it is usually shitty coffee.  Not everyone who drinks coffee actually enjoys coffee, there are some latte drinkers who would rather indulge in sugar, cream, milk and whipping cream to the extent that the coffee itself becomes an afterthought; rather than the main attraction.  

     Extreme metal is a lot like coffee; it has a strong bitter flavor that many people feel the need to sweeten with sugary symphonic arrangements and overly melodic elements.  Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Summoning, for example manage to mix up a latte that’s barely recognizable as metal, yet I can drink it daily without feeling bloated or unsatisfied.  The best symphonic metal bands (in my opinion) are the ones that rely on strong riff writing and song arrangements.  The symphonic elements in these bands are typically subdued and only used when necessary to add to musical climaxes or other areas where more texture or emotion is required.  There are other symphonic metal bands that don’t even bother writing riffs, the guitar simply chugs 3 cords in the background (in order to satisfy the pretense of being a metal band) while the symphonic elements are left to carry the music.  

     Wintersun are not the type of project that palm mutes 3 notes and calls it riffing.  Jari puts time and effort into the majority of riffs he writes and it made the first Wintersun album a success.   This album also has genuine riffs but they are buried deep in the mix and don’t come through.  This is not a production problem; this is an attitude problem.  Jari seems to feel as if a metal album isn't enough, he needs to add extra textures everywhere and saturate everything to the point of absurdity and beyond.  Jari doesn't want the listener to be impressed, he wants the listener to be blown away!  It doesn't work because it doesn't bring anything new to the table.  After listening to the first Ensiferum and Wintersun albums, you have heard every idea that Jari ever had.  Sorry kids, drenching old ideas in superfluous, symphonic bullshit is not the equivalent of coming up with new ideas. (My favorite part is when he starts playing “Little Dreamer” half way through “Land of Snow and Sorrow.”) 

     Wintersun have treated us with the musical equivalent of a venti caramel macchiato with an extra vanilla flavor shot, caramel syrup, whip and only a half shot of espresso.  As soon as you take the first sip you are bombarded with delicious flavors and marvel at the effort put into the preparation of your drink, but after you've finally made it through the first inch of whipping cream and syrup you start to ask yourself: “where the fuck is my coffee?”  Yeah sure, there’s harsh vocals and double kicking, with the same triggered drum sound on literally every nuclear blast release but who cares.

     The first song is like a think mound of sickeningly sweet whipping cream and the outro at the end of the last song is like the thick clump of sugar and syrup that always settles to the bottom of the cup.  I don’t want you do get the idea that this album is sloppy or poorly put together.  Actually, it suffers from the opposite problem.  This album is over produced, over saturated, overblown and under whelming.  The previous Wintersun album also had its fair share of problems.  To me, the first Wintersun album felt like the entire project was nothing more than a vehicle for Jari to show off how fast he could sweep pick, but was saved by the shorter, catchier songs like “Winter Madness” and “Beyond the Dark Sun.”  The only short songs on this release are totally useless intros that fail at creating any atmosphere whatsoever.  If you take the 2 and a half minutes of useless crap at the end of the last song and add it to the two useless intros you get a total of 9 minutes of stupid intro.  For those of you who are a bit slow with math, that is 22.5% of the album.  That is a lot of sugar for one cup of coffee.

     I am glad that there are no obnoxious, ostentatious and self serving guitar solos on this album, but I am afraid that Jari traded them in for something much worse.  One is begged to ask, why are the songs so long?  Does the song “Sons of Winter and Stars” warrant being 13 minutes?  Of course not!  If the song was between 6 and 8 minutes it would probably be my favorite Wintersun song, it is very unfortunate.  I’m afraid that Time 2 is probably going to be even more overblown, pretentious and ultimately unsatisfying than Time 1, but hopefully Jari will acknowledge his potential and release the jaw dropping album I know he is capable of writing.  Until then I am going to sit back and enjoy my coffee.

Curt's review: 63%

Monday, 12 March 2012

Wendess - Nuée Noire

     Wendess are a French Canadian atmospheric black metal band and I am very impressed by their sophomore  release; Nuée Noire (Black Cloud.)  When the band submitted this to me they mentioned that they were heavily influenced by bands such as "Wolves in the Throne Room" and "Drudkh."  Although these influences are present I was surprised to see a very large depressive black metal influence at play within these songs.

     Within the first few minutes you will understand what this album is about.  The closest comparison I can come up with is "Weakling."  It wont take you long to figure out whether or not you enjoy this style, it is very distinct and very common in the modern black metal scene.  The song structures are very airy and seem to ebb and flow seamlessly between different ideas with little to no effort, good music to day dream to.  The only drawback to this "stream of consciousness" style of song writing is that it meanders to and fro without any coherent direction.  None of these songs seem to have a true climax or a well defined ending, they just seem to fade in and fade out like a string of meaningless events.  I am sure this is deliberate, yet I can't help but view it as the largest draw back, especially with the obtuse song lengths. 

     The guitar tone is excellent for this style, drenched in reverb and distortion with overlaid shoegaze influenced acoustic guitars.  The riffs are very well thought out and well composed, they do not rely on tone or texture to deliver their musical ideas but speak for themselves.  There are many areas where guitar lines play notes in conflicting scale/chord patters to create a very dissonant, uncomfortable and melancholic atmosphere much like Krallice.  Although I am not a particular fan of this style of riffing I understand and appreciate it for what it is.

     The production is excellent, all instruments come through clearly, including the bass.  I have to make a special not regarding the bass.  Every bass line is well thought out and does not consistently rely on the guitars for input.  A very pleasant surprise was the "flesh and blood" drummer.  It seem like every submission I receive for reviewing incorporates programmed drums (especially black metal.)  It is really nice to have organic tones in music (although I don't have any particular problem with programmed drums.)

     Emerging from the reverb soaked forest of discordant sorrow are some very harsh agonizing screams that sound like desperate cries for help in the vein of Silencer.  These vocals are very convincing and conjure up the image of some dude getting sexually tortured by ghosts in a foggy forest (which is ultimately a good thing.) The vocals are pretty much impossible to understand which is fine by me but I am sure there are some people that will be put off by this factor.  Any fan of Weakling, Krallice or Xasthur (to a lesser extent) will definitely appreciate this and should probably give these guys support.  You can order a copy of "Nuée Noire" from the label "Self Mutilation Services."

Curt's review: 79%

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Top Albums of 2011

Here are some of my personal favorites from 2011, not in any particular order. When thinking about this list I realized I hadn't checked out nearly enough new material released in 2011. I guess I was busy delving into older music and reviewing shitty (and some good) demos. Still, these are the 5 albums that really impressed me, or at least left an impression, this year.

3 Inches of Blood - Anthems for the Victorious
I used to really like this band, and then I didn't as I began to tire of their over the top rediculousness which comes across as forced and can be abrasive for the duration of an entire album. When the band ditched the 'core' vocals and the over-processed, over-bearing production of Fire Up The Blades for a stripped back and more 'real' sound on Here Waits Thy Doom, I was fairly impressed. And now with this new EP they've taken the more organic sound and songwriting further in the two tracks present. It's only available on vinyl, or I beleive as a download, but it's certainly worth checking out!

While Heaven Wept - Fear of Infinity
This band simply kicks ass. They started out as one of the leading epic doom metal bands alongside Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus, their album "The Sorrow of Angels" being one of my fav doom albums ever. They've grown a lot more melodic and symphonic over the years and with their new album, a few of the songs are borderline power metal. While WHW has had spurts of fast melodic riffage in the past, hearing an album from these guys that hits the ground running rather than plodding along melancholically was a bit of a shock. But it kept me coming back for more. And there's still a nice dash of doom and gloom in there for good measure. My only complaint is that the albums seems way too short, but WHW does have a tendency to put out relatively short releases, so it wasn't too shocking. Still  really great epic, melodic metal.

Cauldron - Burning Fortune
This band makes me happy to be Canadian. This album has everything you could want from modern throwback-80s style traditional heavy metal, without any of the contrived, ty-hard bullshit that has a bad habit of cropping up in a lot of bands. The riffs are fairly simplistic, but they're all unbeleivably catchy and the result is an entire album of good, memorable songs, none of which sound like rip-offs of other bands which is a nice bonus. The vocals aren't exactly impressive technically, but they fit perfectly and the vocal melodies are fantastic and really help make the songs. The production is also perfect. It's organic and reminiscent of the 80s without sounding dated. I hear real drums, real amps and real singing and it makes me happy. This is the album from 2011 I've probably listened to the most, as I always seem to be in the right mood for it.

Manilla Road - Playground of the Damned

I love Manilla Road unconditionally, so I knew I would love this album. But it proved to be a somewhat challenging listen for me. This album is a departure from previous modern era Road albums. The bedroom budget 'modern' style heavier production of the past few albums is gone and replaced with a much more organic sound. Even though they've never had industry standard production, this album is especially thin sounding. However, I don't think this is a bad thing, as it doesn't hinder the songs, and I'm always happy when an album actually sounds like a band playing. The songwriting also at times seems to harken back to older albums, (cutting back a lot on the 'heaviness' of a lot of the songs on "Voyager") however there is no "Necropolis" on this album, or any real standout track. However, after several listens, every song began to reveal its brilliance. So, maybe don't expect to be blown away initially, but rather expect to enjoy this album more every time you hear it and to never get sick of it.

Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events
I could probably be classified as a Dream Theater fanboy. As much as I usually hate wanking, there are some bands that just turn it into magic and this one if my fav. I even enjoyed Octavarium and found bits and peices I could tolerate in SC and BCASL. However, I think with this new release that DT has produced their best album since at least Six Degrees, maybe even Scenes. The departure of Portnoy shook things up enough for the band to get their shit together and craft some really good songs, as well as get away from the tough-guy metal they were slipping farther and farther into. And Mike Mangini is a perfect fit, showcasing great technicality while keeping things subtle and letting the songs be songs. Comparisons to Images and Words may be somewhat valid, but there's a lot of their modern sound in here too, as well as something that just seems fresh about this album. The songs are complex, while still being catchy and fun to listen to. The lyrics, while nothing astounding, are exponentially better than they have been in a long time. The best part abou the album though, is that, while it nearly reaches the 80 minute mark, no song seems too long or dragged out. The band focused on writing the songs that, while long, aren't repetative or overstuffed with too much meaningless wank or misplaced blastbeats. They didn't forced out another 20 minute epic or anything, which is appreciated. This album is Dream Theater sounding like Dream Theater, not trying to be 'the prog band' or 'the metal band' and it comes across as genuine and enjoyable.

Posted by Tex

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Notable albums from 2011

Rather than doing a "top 5" list of my favorite albums from this year, I decided to instead pick a top 5 of the most "notable" albums in my opinion (whatever that means.)


1.) As the World Bleeds - Theocracy:  This album blew me away when I first heard it, I loved their previous work "Mirror of Souls" and looked forward to the release of this album and I was not disappointed.  Theocracy have shown that they deserve to be held in high esteem with any and all self proclaimed fans of power metal.  Their lyrics are overtly Christian but written in an intelligent manner, negating any excuse for you to not listen to this band do to their lyrical themes.  I honestly believe that this band is on par with power metal's most well known contributors and deserves more attention.

2.) Communication Lost - Wolverine:  "Communication Lost" is my first experience with the band "Wolverine" and I have some mixed feelings about it.  I really like the atmosphere of this album, it is calm and soothing but dark enough to remind you that it is a metal album.  What I don't like about the album is the fact that there isn't a single memorable riff to be found on its entire 70 minute playing time (that is a slight exaggeration.)  Everything on this album flows together really well, but there aren't enough moments that grab your attention long enough to leave a lasting impression.  I also think that at least 20 minutes of music could be removed from this album as it is already way too long (the 10 minutes of pointless intro and outro come to mind immediately.)  I would recommend this album to anyone who considers themselves a fan of "Green Carnation."  This band has the potential to release something amazing and I will definitely check out their next album.

3.) Paragon of Dissonance - Esoteric:  "Esoteric" have picked up where they left off with "The Maniacal Vale" and have released another 100 minute long 2 disc album with 4 songs on "disc one" and 3 songs on "disc two."  I loved the previous album and I love this album even more.  "Esoteric" are still at the top of the Funeral Doom genre and still continue to raise the bar.  This album is progressive in the truest sense of the word, every "riff" on this album is transitional.  Each note and cord flows into the next like a slow stream, one idea effortless flows into the next.  None of the songs really have distinct sections like in most doom metal but rather transition from a beginning to a conclusion in a "stream of consciousness" style song writing, it is easy to tell that a tremendous amount of effort was put into this and it paid off.

4.)  Parasignosis - Mitochondrion:  Probably the most unique death metal album I have ever heard.  This is pure musical chaos in a cohesive, smooth and flowing form.  This is pure dissonant beauty.  At no point in this album did I have any idea what would happen next, but at no point did I ever feel like a riff or passage was unnecessary (aside from the untitled tracks and overlong outro.)  This album really makes me think of the Funeral Doom band "Tyranny," the atmosphere on "Parasignosis" gives me the same overwhelming sensation as "Tides of Awakening."  If you dig weird shit like "Portal" you should probably listen to this band daily.

Iconoclast - Symphony X:  They are back, with their heaviest album to date.  I am sure a lot of long time fans are unhappy with the change in direction but it is a trend that has been going on since "Twilight in Olympus."  Speaking of "TIO" this album's lyrics are essentially an expanded version of the song "Church of the Machine" and somehow manage to not be totally retarded.  If you are sick of boring, fruity sounding power metal, buy this album.  I recommend the 2 disc set.  Every song on this album is essential, despite its obtuse length.  BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR, BUY THIS!

Happy New Year!

Posted by Curt