Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Vallenfyre - A Fragile King (2011)

Members of Paradise Lost, At the Gates and My Dying Bride come together on this release - a personal one for Greg Mackintosh as it's inspiration stems from his father's diagnosis and death from prostate cancer.  In other words, we have a super-group coming together to release an album of mourning.

While such a bleak and personal subject matter isn't really out of keeping for members who have been pioneers of the doom scene, we have little here that can be described in any way as 'doom'.  What this obviously, very intimate recording assaults us with is largely an old school, crusty death metal which harks back to the 'Swedish' sound - namely Wolverine Blues-era Entombed.

There are elements of a more doomy and at times gothic sound, yet these are rather minimal compared with what you might expect.  The track Majesty Dethroned has a mid-section that could be on almost any early doom release - save for more modern production while some of the more less prevalent leads throughout the disc increase the doomy elements.  However, this is not a doom release; it is undoubtedly and (thankfully) unashamedly death metal.

Perhaps less thankfully though is the fact that it does absolutely nothing original.  It's something that you'll listen to a few times, love but then only ever put on as background music while you're having a beer.  For the most part you'll be fine, but with tracks like The Grim Irony don't expect it all to be light-hearted.  

The fact remains that what it does it does very well.  I just wish there was something a little more there.  Seriously, if I didn't know any better and someone threw this on, I'd be sat there desperately trying to figure out which Entombed album I was listening to and why it didn't sound that familiar.  The overall sound is bang on and that's before we get to Mackintosh's vocals which are a dead ringer for a certain Mr Petrov.

I must admit though, I was expecting to hate this album:  When I fist put it on, I listened to it through a pair of monitors and was disgusted by the guitar tone.  It was just fucking horrible.  Listening to it on a shitter stereo or a pair of headphones and it's a different story.  Yes the guitars are buzzy and have that old-school middle-yet-buzzy thing going on, but it fits the music perfectly.  And when it rips in to the higher octane leads . . . yes, this album fucking rocks.

The disappointment is that it's pretty much going to be instantly forgettable.  It fails to have it's own personality, instead borrowing that of a band who've been among my favourites for years.  Which, considering the subject matter, is pretty fucking odd.

Apparently this was never intended for general release.  And I can pretty much see why.  It's a shame that when the decision was made to actually put it out, a little more thought and a few flares or originality weren't injected into A Fragile King.  Still; it's a solid album and if like me you like that sort've thing, you won't hate this.  But I doubt you'll particularly remember it either.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Pseudo fans

It may or may not shock you that I don't exclusively listen to death metal.  I don't even solely listen to metal.  The fact is, that's hardly a revelation to most.  People who claim to appreciate music and confine themselves stubbornly to a single genre are not only cutting themselves off from a whole other sphere of musical experience, but they're either a) lying, or b) lying.  [Where 'a' referring to their listening habits and 'b' to their degree of musical appreciation.]  What's more; if you were 'shocked', you're probably one of the people I'm talking about.

This is metal?  Are you sure?  Bitches be trippin'!
The fact is death metal is an elitist genre.  It's superior and snobbish and that's the way we like it.  The more elitist it is the less chance of pale, watered-down imitations of it cropping up.  No, I don't have my head in the sand and I'm fully aware of travesties like Arch Enemy or Mechanical God Creation.  It's a sad fact that any art form is going to have it's own fresh crop of mediocre, simplified shite.  My point is that it's relatively limited, despite the mediocrity of bands following the path of the above crop and their ilk, or even the flat-brimmed cap and low-slung trouser brigade of slamming wigger metalcore or whatever the fuck they dub it.  Unfortunately, as with all elitist pursuits you get the obligatory sub-set of individuals with nothing other than appearing to be superior to their peers.  Like newly wealthy social climbers who purposefully change their accents before launching into plumb-in-mouth tirades against 'low class' establishments they loved only a few short years before, these wannabe 'extreme' individuals wear the regalia of bands they've never heard of and eschew their nonsensical diatribes relating to music they don't own.   

Yet we all know this.  These are the little gobshites we deal with on a regular basis and the same retards who turn a scene into a scene.  I just cannot comprehend the deficit mentality of someone who isn't 14 behaving in such an idiotic fashion as to claim knowledge in an area they have none.

As I said before, I listen to a lot of different music.  At the moment my non-metal mainstay is jazz.  As with death metal; I love the variation of the genre, it's adventurousness, it's pushing of boundaries, the fact that it can be at once chaotic, loud and heavy or laid back and relaxing.  I love it's virtuosity.

So why, if I have this depth of feeling for jazz am I preaching only metal instead of penning a more overarching music site?  Well, the answer is twofold:  1)  My love of metal supersedes that of all other musical genres; and 2) As it stands today, I just don't know that much about jazz.

Freddie Hubbard
Granted, this is a situation that I will rectify and - who knows?  Maybe I'll see some of you on the other side of the interwebs ranting on some little-read portal about how Jazzy McFucknuts has missed the point or how Weezin' Willie Browneye needs to develop propper breath control for his trumpet solos.  Until that time, however, I'll do the sensible thing:  shut up.  Sit back and bathe in the words of those far more knowledgeable than I, soak up the knowledge and learn.  Sure, I'll say if I disagree, but what I won't do is pontificate where it's clear that I don't know what it is I'm drivelling about.

Similar to those will-wear-the-shirt-but-don't-know-the-band types, are the equally vacuous Ignorant.  Now the Ignorant, unlike the above mentioned Retarded, are not really arseholes.  They're just presumptuous.  They can't wrap their heads around the fact that there might actually be art forms out there that they're unfamiliar with.  So when, during my other life, I was in the lift talking to one of the girls in the office and the subject of death metal came up and her response was 'ooh, I love that stuff' and upon questioning couldn't name a single band, I didn't slam her sow-like brain into the metal confines in which we were trapped; neither did I rape her face until the gibberish ceased to flow from it.  Unfortunately, the work-place doesn't take kindly to such activities.  No, I murmured some platitudes, stepped out of the lift and went in search of a coffee.

The difference between the Ignorant and the Retarded may be vast, but at their core, we have some kind of deep-seated drive to prove to everyone that they're well-informed.  Admit defeat people!  You're insipid attempts at appearing knowledgeable do more to highlight your incomprehension than any questioning attempts at actually trying to understand the subject matter ever could!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Monumental Torment - Element of Chaos (2011)

Being a musician can sometimes be a hassle.  As anyone who's ever picked up an instrument and ventured out of their bedroom to try their abilities together with that of other sonic disturbance engineers will know, one lethargic, insular bastard is bad enough but when you've got 4-5 bastards all operating on that level it can prove to be difficult on a level that even the world's greatest and most experienced cat herders would refuse to have anything to do with the entire situation.  Point blank.

So Monumental Torment already get a ripple of applause from the various inhabitants of my cluttered cranium.  With members in Russia and Arizona I find it daunting to comprehend the level of organisation these guys must have to make this project even vaguely workable.  I find it even more daunting that they manage to make it work so well.

What these far-flung troubadours produce is some particularly technical, chaotic brutal death metal of a rarely surpassed quality.  No quiet build-ups here, no slow intros; just a razor-blade bedecked bass-ball bat straight to the chops.  Of which, incidentally, there are a fair few - along with slams and sweeps and so much widdly hammer-on/pull-off's that I can pretty much envisage the rosewood being eroded by the second.

And yet - as always - there is a downside:  The most glaringly obvious one is the drums which, while on the slower sections are pretty convincing and overall very well-programmed, there are times that the speed, velocity and lack of any kind of organic feeling whatsoever detract from the piece as well as the overall experience.  Challenging listeners is always good - not that I'm endorsing Lulu-esque serve-up-shit-and-say-that-it's-food, obviously - but making listeners actively have to force themselves back on track the way that certain sections of the drum programming on this do is just unnecessary.  Programmed drums will always lack a certain amount of depth when compared to their organic counterparts - that's a given - but I can't help feeling that with a little more time spent on making some of the blasts a little less absurd would've made for a much more substantial and awe-inspiring listen.

We also run into one of the biggest problems of the genre once again:  Namely a lack of diversity between tracks.  On the whole, each slab of mind-fuckery on this release is well-composed and fully thought-through.  At times, however, the sheer pace means that certain sections have a tendency to appear all too similar to sections on preceding tracks.  Nevertheless, I wouldn't (as has been done elsewhere) compare this release to the likes of Brain Drill.  We do actually have songs here and each one does stand alone.  The lack of variation is a problem for the album and possibly caused by being locked into a strict tempo by drum programming, as opposed to a problem with individual tracks.

Yet there are some elements here that are truly unique:  Nameless One features a piano not as intro, not as 'ambience' and not as some absurd, half-arsed attempt at having classical leanings but rather as a fully-fledged instrument -  its playing both sitting beautifully alongside while striving for technical dominion over the guitars.  For the rest of the album though, it rarely rears its head again - just a nod here and there which, to me, was a massive disappointment when it seemed to work so fucking well!

So a festival of technical ferocity is the order of the day, with riffs galore and slamming brutality together with flashes of total originality.  I'd be surprised if any fan of technical death metal wouldn't enjoy this album.  Just be prepared to have something a little more organic and a little more laid back queued on your playlist for afters.  Maybe that and an ice-pack. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Retrospective: Akercocke - Chronzon

I'm not entirely sure why it took me so long to fully appreciate the mastery of Akercocke.  Years ago I picked up the Goat of Mendes album and I loved it - yet, for some inexplicable reason I drifted away from the band.  That's not to say that I forgot about Goat... however:  Bored by the gigabytes of new and old downloads and returning to my CD collection in search for something inspirational, I'd come back to it every so often and, in the last six months or so, with increasing frequency.

Sooner or later though, even the best material wears a little thin and you're compelled to seek out more.  In an attempt to rekindle my old love of black metal, I ventured forth to the CD shelves and found most of what was on offer ultimately uninspiring.  What can I say - I was searching for that particular brand of gentlemanly satanic brutality that only Akercocke could satiate.

Suffice to say their back-catalogue was procured forthwith and while each disc is fantastic in it's own rite right, Chronzon not only deserves a special mention but is a true masterpiece.

All the elements from the oh-so-familiar Goat... are again to be found here - the riff-heavy compositions of blackened death-metal, the sexual lyricism dripping in satanic juices, the sensual yet occultish aesthetic; they're all here once again.  Far more importantly though, are the musical diversities that create that signature sound which are so much more prevalent than on previous releases.  It's easy enough to spot the increased yet intelligent usage of clean vocals that actually add to the atmosphere of a track.  The more obvious incorporation of synths in some tracks and unusual (at least when compared to contemporaries and imitators) orchestrations that conjure images of Stygian mysteries from the east or some arcane ritual, replete with bells and chimes as opposed to the usual trupets and fanfares, is also something that won't be missed by even the most casual listener.  Added to these however, is an element nurtured from their previous work and allowed to blossom into something unique:  The drums not only demonstrate tight blasts and mid-tempo stomps to please any death or black metal fan, but tear into sections of break-beat that, while occasionally made an appearance prior to this release, were never incorporated into the sound to this degree.  What's more - it works.  Syncopated rhythms and ferocious blasts merge seamlessly into these sections that add both respite and chaos in equal measure.

With all this said, this is still most definitely predominantly guitar-driven music.  There are a couple of exceptions, but on the whole the use of keyboards is subtle and complimentary, the drums sit well with the riffs at any chosen moment of the song and the riffs on offer are truly staggering.  When mixed with some, at times seriously beautiful and at others traditionally shredding guitar leads, you've got something pretty fucking awe-inspiring.

Yet it's not just the leads nor merely the calibre of riffage that make this so alluring.  To call this 'blackened death metal' or even 'progressive black/death' or some such banal moniker is an insult.  Far beyond the usual asinine mediocrity churned out under such simplistic labels, Chronzon supersedes it's 'peers' with apparent effortlessness.

Don't get me wrong:  there is black metal here, there is (arguably even more so) death metal and fuck me if this thing isn't truly progressive.  We have a combination of almost every extreme style of metal guitar work imaginable.  In the same breath we move from brutal slams - with the gutturals to match - to droning, open string chord progressions far more in keeping with that 'black metal' sound, by the way of trem-pick and power chord attacks.  This is a melting pot that everything's thrown into but instead of the usual disjointed, unfocused mess, what we end up with is the envy of alchemists.

Yes, it's progressive, yes it's metal (a monolithic, diverse genre in itself), but there's also distinct elements of jazz and electronica, the afore-mentioned break-beat an a myriad of other influences.  When bored with the repetitive similarity of so many metal releases, it's nice to go back to an album that, despite its age, hasn't dated at a day and sounds far more original than so many releases that have followed in it's wake.

Let's just hope they get their shit together and don't keep us waiting too long for some fresh material.