Saturday, 23 May 2015

Abiotic - 'Casuitry' (Album Review)


Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 21/04/2015
Label: Metal Blade Records

‘Casuistry’ CD//DD track listing:

01. Believe the Unseen
02. Reanimated Destruction
03. Cast into the Depths
04. Violent Scriptures
05. Nightmares of Your Conception
06. The Absence of Purity
07. Falling into Obscurity
08. Molecular Rematerialization
09. Drain. Deface. Abolish.

Abiotic is:

Travis Bartosek | Vocals
Johnathan Matos | Guitar
Matt Mendez | Guitar
Alex Vazquez | Bass
Brent Phillips | Drums

Review:

The sophomore release from this impressive tech-death outfit kicks off with a churning, chugging blast and a brutal scream, appropriate, considering the ride the album continues on after.  There are enough riffs on this record to satiate probably even a Necrophagist fan.

The production of the album is superb for the genre. Punchy, articulate, and clear without the instruments sounding so far apart sonically that it’s completely sterile. There are some sterile sounding moments but, it’s because the band decided to make it sound that way instead of being dictated by the production.

Spoiler Alert: There are SO many “OH SHIT” moments throughout this record.

The arrangements vary from brutal, chaotic, and dissonant to beautiful, and even a little catchy. The drumming accents the guitars (or vice versa in some of the cool beat division changes during a few riffs), with a lot of interesting approaches to maintaining a groove across odd measures and stylistically-contrasting riffs. Vocals are quite varied in tone from part to part and are pretty intelligible but well produced with some high/low layering used to good effect. It's pretty impressive when a metal vocalist manages convincingly several different voices.
           
And guitars and bass....holy shit, there is a density sonically to even the atonal-sounding single-note riffs and dissonant parts that can only be achieved when players have reached a hive mind. Rhythmically there is so many creative little turn-arounds and fills. Harmonically there is, of course, a lot of dissonance throughout the record, with some of my favorite moments being the riff beginning at 0:42 of ‘Cast Into the Depths’, whatever the weird little “whir” sound is during the opening of the first track, ‘Believe the Unseen’ (its literally like one 8th note and it sounds like a machine malfunctioning), and the sweet harmonized sixteenth note riff that kicks in at 1:04 of ‘Violent Scriptures’. There is some really beautiful lead guitar played over some pretty proggy chord progression in multiple places. I really like it when lead guitar is utilized equally for riffing and as a counterpoint as well as vocal-like melodies.  There is a fantastic combination of that here.

Overall, I think what really grabbed me sonically about his album though, and this is no detraction from the abilities of anyone else in the band, is the bass. The tone on the record is ridiculous and the performance is almost perfect. There is a section at 2:07 of ‘Nightmares of Your Perception’ that I had to back up and start over three times the first time I got to it, which I then had to do again for the solo about 38 seconds later in the same song. These guys don't JUST shred either, there is a plethora of down-tempo grooves perfect for moshing as well as lots of djently-placed headbanger sections.

This is a 5/5 record for Me! I think even my friends, who hate everything will like this record, A lot.  No sophomore record slump for these guys.

Words by: Ian Smedbron

‘Casuitry’ is available now

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Bell Witch - 'Four Phantoms' (Album Review)


Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: 28/04/2015
Label: Profound Lore

‘Four Phantoms’ CD//DD track listing:

1. Suffocation, A Burial: I - Awoken (Breathing Teeth)
2. Judgement, In Fire: I – Garden (Of Blooming Ash)
3. Suffocation, A Drowning: II - Somniloquy (The Distance Of Forever)
4. Judgement, In Air: II – Felled (In Howling Wind)

Bell Witch is:

Bass/Vocals | Dylan Desmond,
Drums/Vocals | Adrian Guerra

Review:

Funeral doom is a genre that is oft rooted in mourning. Archetypally doom can do a My Dying Bride and sit in a plush leather chair with a glass of red wine, its furrowed brow barely visible in the gloom as the candlelight flickers off the nearby shelves of Edgar Allan Poe books. Funeral doom takes the vital sentiment of this histrionic opera and strips off heaps of the fat, leaving a core of filthy weight, immoveable in its mass yet fundamentally raw and vulnerable.

That's right; this genre, with its glacial tempos and crusted tones, sounds like one of the hardest and most impenetrable forms of extreme music out there. Truthfully, however, beneath its superficial exoskeleton lies some of the most emotionally affective music being written today.

Here lies the strength of Bell Witch. The band is comprised of Adrian Guerra and Dylan Desmond of the great Samothrace, who make their brilliance with only bass, drums and vocals. Their last LP, 'Longing', stands to me as one of the greatest doom releases ever, where they proved that silence and space can be equally as heavy as noise and extremity. Everything from the tone to the pacing to the aesthetic of the album was near perfect for me, creating an atmosphere so heavy you could breath it. But this is not a review of 'Longing', it is about their new release titled 'Four Phantoms'. And this is not an album not about mourning, but about suffering.

As has been covered ad nauseum in articles preceding the albums's release, the four tracks here each tell a story of a different spirit trapped and tormented by one of the four elements. The unified theme between the songs suits the feel of the genre, and the concept itself combines with this to present the album as a complete whole, neither needing extra material nor burdened by it's near 67 minute running time.

Bell Witch are a creature that press through their songs at speeds akin to those of a starved prisoner on a death march. While each beat may seem like it takes heaving effort to move to the next, the songs are woven through with melody that pierces through the oppression using both bass and vocals. And it's truly great to hear the interplay between the crushing lower register notes and melancholic notes emanating from the same instrument. Indeed Bell Witch are perhaps the only metal band in history ever to have used a six-string bass well (challenges to this are appreciated).

Vocally 'Four Phantoms' possesses the fury of impotent misery, full of the despair that drives a creature to action that it knows is futile; or, worse yet, cannot even attempt. Lyrics are sparse, vague, unclear to the mind even when the shroud of growling is removed to clarify them to the ears. Yet who really cares to hear the words when you can simply feel the weight through their delivery.

But it's the end result that is really worth the listener's attention. Standout writing, production, tone, delivery and aesthetics all combine to create the miserable wounded beat that is 'Four Phantoms'. With it's hip Paulo Girardi artwork, Profound Lore-based credibility and evident media backing, 'Four Phantoms' is primed to be the first funeral doom album many will give their time to. And what an album it is to be introduced to the genre with too. Far from being baby's first extreme doom album to be grown out of when he discovers Khanate, this presents a high watermark in modern atmospheric metal that will remain in hearts and minds for years. Bell Witch are one of the best doom bands active today, and with 'Four Phantoms' have released one of the best doom albums of recent times. Guess that means I should be glad I don't think we've even seen the best from them yet.

Words by: Jake Mazlum

‘Four Phantoms’ is available here

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Shining (SWE) - ‘IX - Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends’ (Album Review)



Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 20/04/2015
Label: Season of Mist

‘IX - Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends’ CD//LP//DD track listing:

1. Den Påtvingade Tvåsamheten
2. Vilja & Dröm
3. Framtidsutsikter
4. Människotankens Vägglösa Rum
5. Inga Broar Kvar Att Bränna
6. Besök Från I(ho)nom

Shining (SWE)  is:

Niklas Kvarforth | Vocals
Peter Huss | Guitars
Christian Larsson | Bass
Euge Valovirta | Guitars
Rainer Tuomikanto | Drums

Review:

Sweden’s Shining largely revolves around one man: Niklas Kvarforth. He’s not the band’s sole member, though he’s the only founding member. The band is certainly subject to his flights of fancy and his eccentricities, which can make each Shining album semi-unpredictable. The way in which those eccentricities manifest can also greatly impact the quality of the album. Sometimes it helps (‘Redefining Darkness’) and sometimes it falls flat (‘VII: Född förlorare’). Sadly, ‘IX - Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends’ is the most extreme example of the latter.

While Kvarforth may not write every riff or every song, he certainly creates the vast majority of the personality on the album. Here too, this can be a hit-or-miss quality. I’ve heard actors and movie buffs on podcasts use the phrase “chewing the scenery” a lot when talking about over-the-top acting performances. I’ve heard it used to describe a great performance, like Anthony Hopkins in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. I’ve also heard it used to describe performances that aren’t usually thought of as “great”, but are just loud and bizarre like Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever. On ‘IX - Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends’, Niklas Kvarforth vocally chews the scenery, and it’s usually more Carrey than Hopkins. From the moment he first opens his mouth, he’s shouting maniacally and excessively rolling his R's like a human cartoon. His performance is even more rabid and unhinged than it was on ‘Redefining Darkness’, which is saying something.

Kvarforth’s vocal freak-outs are often the most exciting parts of each song, but it can also suck the life out of everything else. The lion’s share of the actual music on the album is pretty subdued, finding something of a listless middle ground between the plodding, depressive black metal of the band’s early albums and a less overtly prog take on Opeth’s softer material. It makes for an uneven listening experience most of the time, with Kvarforth’s insanity feeling incongruous with the comparatively lax musical style.

On the plus side of the album’s ledger, there are some wonderful lead guitar moments, such as in the latter half of “Framtidsutsikter”. It’s a radiant moment that nearly saves a song otherwise characterized by long quiet stretches with Kvarforth’s ludicrously over-emoted whisper-singing hogging all of the musical oxygen. The song is also hurt by the decision to not release the tension that solitary tremolo guitar riff seems to build towards in the first half of the song. When that same riff appears later, the climax is pretty underwhelming, despite the excellent soloing that follows it.

That one example speaks to the album in a macro sense as well. The music rarely ever gets out of second gear, while Kvarforth never truly shifts himself down, even when he’s trying to be quieter. The next great Shining album will come when Kvarforth channels the inexhaustible energy he puts into his vocals back into the instrumental part of music. Even with the album’s larger shortcomings, I can’t call this a truly bad album. It just kind of “exists”.

Words by: Daniel Jackson

You can pick up a digital copy here and a CD /LP copy here.


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Friday, 22 May 2015

Live Review: Mars Red Sky / Howart @ DB's, Utrecht, Netherlands, 14/5/2015


I found myself at DB’s in Utrecht again last night. The poster on the door read “Mars Red Sky + Howart,” so I went inside. Beer could be ordered in the back and to my surprise they had some nice ones imported from Germany on the ready. With my head still at Desertfest Berlin, I laid down some coins, got beers in exchange and went inside the venue where it was warm like my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve.

Support for the stoner-psych headliners took the form of a local band named Howart. They played a set that felt like the shortest thing I’ve ever seen, but once the band left the stage and I looked at the clock, it turned out I was sorely mistaken. They played dreamy passages of psychedelic pop that passed a baton back and forth from hard and slow to spacey and even slower. The sound of the drums filled up most of the space, resembling an arena sound without being cheesy, and kept the songs grounded as the guitars, samples, and even harmonicas tried to detach themselves and float away. The music completely enveloped my being, distorting my sense of time and space.



It didn’t take long after Howart’s set before Mars Red Sky came on. There wasn’t much of a crowd to speak of, at most forty people, so I guess the band felt that there was no sense in making us wait. This informal environment worked in the band’s favor; the tickets were priced right to avoid any unreasonable expectations and the small crowd kept things laid back. Mars Red Sky aren’t one of the front runners in the scene and probably won’t be found on a larger stage in Holland anytime soon, but that’s more our fault, the listeners of music, than theirs as professional mind blowers. Personally, I think that Julien Pras and his cronies deserve a larger setting to give their heavy, fuzzy tones the room they need to breathe. They have their sound worked out to the finest detail and certainly in these small venues, it‘s just bursting at the seams. So when Mars Red Sky opened their set with wah-filled conviction and intricate interplay which made me think, “Oh, that’s how they do that,” it was all the more rewarding.



The instrumental opening served its purpose, but I was there for the songs with singing in them. For me that meant that the set really got going once “Hovering Satelites,” the leadoff single from “Stranded in Arcadia,” kicked in. Though I thought Pras shared vocals with bassist Jimmy Kinast on this song, such vocal harmonizing was left out of their live execution. Instead, Julien opened his throat wide and let the notes soar as he sang “we’re but hovering satellites, stuck and high on some blinding light.” What came as a surprise, however, was the reticent vocal harmony that Pras and Kinast pulled out of their pockets for “Marble Sky.” This was a thing of sheer psychedelic bliss; from stage right the lower register delivered with swing and from stage left the higher notes coming in like Pras was sharing a secret with us.


All secrets aside, there was nothing subtle about the band’s set. They were heavy from beginning to end, even in the quiet snare roll part of “Strong Reflection.” Mars Red Sky put their control of sound on display and defined being quietly heavy. Whether it was the recurring Beatles-like interlude in “Join the Race,” the push and pull of “Holy Mondays” or the slow trudge of “The Light Beyond,” the band exhibited a set which encapsulated the draw of Mars Red Sky. They were in a flow and took us on a joy ride through space. There was only one downside and that was that I had to leave early to catch my last train home. I did so with lead in my shoes, so let’s hope they come back soon.
Thanks to the band for letting me take some blurry photographs and also thanks to Claire from Purple Sage for getting me on the list


Words by: Victor Van Ommen

The Sludgelord News: FEAR FACTORY ‘Genexus’ coming this August


Photo credit: Kevin Estrada

Fear Factory, the pioneers of industrial-tinged extreme metal have issued the following update regarding their upcoming 9thstudio release ‘Genexus’:

‘The sensation of finalising our newest album is one of relief and joy, wrapped within a massive whirlwind of excitement,’ commented founding guitarist Dino Cazares.

‘We really feel this is a very special Fear Factory album. While being careful not to replicate ourselves, this album still has a very classic Fear Factory vibe that we feel will appease both old and new fans. The aggressive, melodic and industrial elements are all intact and shine more than ever.’

Burt and I produced the album with Rhys Fulber co-producing. Damien Rainuad and Giuseppe Bassi handled most of the keys and pre-production. We also enlisted the masterful metallic skills of Andy Sneap for an amazing mixing job!’

‘We would like to thank everyone who has been a big part in the making of this record. We can't wait for everybody to hear it.’
  Genexus will be released on August 7th worldwide via Nuclear Blast Entertainment. The record was co-produced by long-time collaborator Rhys Fulber, along with Cazares and Bell and mixed by Andy Sneap (Arch EnemyTestamentExodusMachine Head).

Formed in Los Angeles, California in 1989, Fear Factory changed the world of metal and have become a huge influence on the genre ever since their inception. The band’s unique sound helped bridge the gap between death metal, grindcore, thrash, and industrial on landmark releases like ‘Soul Of A New Machine’, ‘Demanufacture’, and the gold-selling release, ‘Obsolete’.

Source: Nuclear Blast UK 

Fear Factory Links:



Mutoid Man - 'Bleeder' (Album Review)


Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: 30/06/2015
Label: Sargent House

‘Bleeder’ CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Bridgeburner
2. Reptilian Soul
3. Sweet Ivy
4. 1000 Mile Stare
5. Surveillance
6. Beast
7. Dead Dreams
8. Soft Spot In My Skull
9. Deadlock
10. Bleeder

Mutoid Man is

Stephen Brodsky | vocals, guitar
Ben Koller | drums
Nick Cageao | bass

Review

The potential of what Mutoid Man could be was blindingly apparent on 2014’s ‘Helium Head’ EP; that frivolous and frantic rock n’ roll energy that makes you want to both hug everyone one around you and destroy everything within a 50 mile radius was rife across its teasingly short-lived span. It resembled the first flickering spark to this Steve Brodsky (Cave In) and Ben Koller (Converge) collaboration but what it didn’t do however, was foreshadow how brightly, just 12 months later, the fire formed from that initial spark would spread and burn. Back then they were simply a two piece, but with the addition of Nick Cageao on bass, ‘Bleeder’ comes across as an altogether more inspired and alluring release. Although their improvement cannot be shouldered entirely by Cageao, time has been as much a contributing factor to their blossoming future than anything else.

A ménage a trois of chaotic boogie rock, heavy tonalities and honey-sweet vocal hooks, once the dirty bass line of ‘Bridgeburner’ made itself known unto me, it snowballed dramatically. It infected me. They kick out the jams and build on that early momentum with every track, making sure there is always a snake in the grass along the way to keep your interest and excitement piqued; culminating with Brodsky’s stunning and impassioned holler on the closing title track.

Indeed many of the songs across the record come off as if written on the fly; they have an inherent and free-spirited, primeval stomp about them, but I think these songs are a little more premeditated than their unshackled appearances may seem. Just look at the nature of this record; this is the miscegenation of Converge’s technical, rhino charging through a mine-field sound and Cave In’s more fluent but ultimately abrasive luminosity. While it’s a marriage that works with an impressively irresistible cohesion, the bludgeoning complexity of ‘Bridgeburner’s’ chorus or ‘1000 Mile Stares’ crazed fretboard runs for instance surely couldn’t be executed as emphatically as they are without at least a hint of planning. But what they’ve managed to not only do here but master in the process, is taking the unhinged and buzzing energy of their jams and contorting them both in the directions of mind-boggling algorithmic musicality as well as a deft melodiousness that, like a siren song, encourages repeat listens which border on unhealthy obsession. It’s a godsend then that digital files can’t be worn out like vinyl.    

At times their pace and vicious musical vision is unrelenting to the point of it being almost homicidal, ‘Beast’s’ juxtaposing slow jerking, doomy broken chords and incessant double bass hammering is gloriously messy. Thematically, the likes of ‘Reptilian Soul’ and ‘Surveillance’ draw from the same shit-kicking, hammer and tongue school of thought. The prior focuses around a chorus of gritty vocals and a stabbing forcefulness while the latter boasts a whirlwind of notes that, when played through Brodsky’s octave multiplying effects pedal, sounds almost like a bangra vinyl played four times its intended speed. Collectively, there’s a fast flowing legerity that hurls the record’s quality skywards; by now these guys are seasoned pros and they make sure to dazzle you through the peppering of blistering instrumental breaks and anthemic singing all the while never allowing their music to be showmanship over necessity. It’s entertaining as hell and each member is damnably insane at their respective instrument, but everything you hear is driven by the desire and purpose for the song to be entertaining rather than a vehicle for flexing their muscles.

The standard of songs is consistently very, very high but, alas it’s that opening steam-roller which I find myself returning to like a dirty addiction. There’s just something about it. Brodsky’s utilises his pedal board excellently here to fatten his tone, more than making up for the lack of a second guitarist. Those layered octaves which sit alongside the pertinent words ‘bridges will burn, bridges burn / we’re past friends for ever’ in a way that both soothes your soul through its gorgeous compositional make up as well as invigorating the senses gives your heartbeat a kick up the arse. Post-chorus the verse riff is blanketed with a vocal-replicating harmonised guitar line which is, quite usefully for some of you older readers I’m sure, a highly effective substitute for erectile dysfunction.  

I can’t see many other records released this year being as abused as this in my music collection. It’s short, sharp and inarguably enthralling, simplistic yet over-the-top at the same time. If there’s two things in life I love it’s rock n’ roll and beautiful contrasts, this album has both of those ingredients…and it can improve the blood flow to an old man’s cock to boot.

Words: Phil Weller

‘Bleeder’ is available to buy here (USA) and here (Europe)

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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Cave of Swimmers - 'Reflection' (Album Review)


Album Type: Full-length
Release date: 4/5/2015
Label: Independent

‘Reflection’ CD//DD track listing:

1). The Prince of the Power of the Air
2). The Skull
3). Still Running
4). Reflection (Instrumental)
5). The Prince of the Power of the Air – Single Edit

Cave of Swimmers is:

G.E. Perez | Vocals, Guitar, 6/4 Bass, Synth
Arturo "Toro" Garcia | Drums, Percussion, Vocals 

Review:

This intensely creative two piece, although native Venezuelans, originate from Miami, Florida. Cave of Swimmers has one of the most original sounds in the doom metal world. Mixing doom with progressive metal, hints of hard rock, psychedelia, face melting riffs, and over all bad-assery...their newest release, ‘Reflection’, is sure to impress.

Among the many influences that make up their unique sound, the most noticeable being an operatic vocal style, the listener will surely find themselves being taken through many sonic destinations on this album. My personal favorite track (and the longest on the record)’The Skull’, starts with a dreamy sound scape, then warps into a crazy detuned space demon vortex riff...only to morph yet again into spacey acoustic and reflective phrases that are very calming...but don't get too comfortable, for this is the beginning of the sonic journey through ‘The Skull’. On the track ‘Still Running’, there is even some funk with a sort of afro-cuban feel added in. For a two piece, these guys sound huge and are both extremely talented.

What impressed me the most was the drumming on this album. It is by far some of the best I've heard in a long time...especially in the world of re hashed doom riffs. Toro does a great job keeping it fresh from one song to the next, blending just the right amount of technicality with brute force and power. Guillermo is equally talented on the guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals bringing in bitchin' heavy riffs from all directions, seemingly moving mountains, or anything else in his path for that matter.

All I can say is, after never listening to them yet hearing of them from friends, and now having heard ‘Reflection’....I'm a huge fan. If I ever get the privilege to see them live, that would undoubtedly be an awesome and unforgettable experience. This album is truly an epic face melter. If I could sum it up in three words, they would be: Refreshing, Captivating, and BADASS! Just put it on and shut up. I told you so.

Words by: Joel Willis

‘Reflection’ is available here

Cave of Swimmers debut review here and interview here



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