Tuesday, November 28, 2006
So, I am back, after a small break and Thanksgiving. Today's review is of the recently formed band "Battle Of Mice", formed from members of Neurot Recordings regulars Made Out Of Babies and Red Sparowes.
When listening to this music, one of the most palpable senses that the listener experiences is a vast menace, conveyed by the alternating beguiling and raging female vocals. It is hard to refrain from inquiring into the band's personal history after hearing the composition of some of the vocals. Starting a song with: "Everytime I think of pushing you down the stairs, I lick my lips" and "I lie to you every chance that I get, and I make it just close enough to the truth, that you go for it every time" is definitely more disturbing than the hordes of 'evil black metal' bands can ever achieve, when you consider that an unnamed band member actually WAS pushed (or 'accidently fell' down a flight of stairs at the end of the recording sessions (a volatile event, one of several which the band refuses to discuss).
Enough of the introductions, on to the music! The majority of the songs begin with a soft opening synth passage, where vocalist Julie Christmas whispers softly, providing a gently deceptive opening to the song, which is composed of grinding guitar, occasionaly accompanied by piano tones or synthetic elements. While there is an obvious emphasis on creating 'atmospheric' rock (few if any recognizable solos, cyclical guitar passages followed by sparse interludes), thankfully vocals, guitar, bass, drums (which are prominent at points, but never intrusive), and backing elements are in perfect harmony (which is a complete counterpoint to the two main members of the band, who during 75% of the recording process hated each other so much they could barely remain in the same room for more than a few minutes). The music is a complex mixture of love, hate, violence, misery, and desperation.
Because there are only seven songs, ranging from five and a half to slightly over nine minutes, all of the songs are exceptional in one form or another, whether they be starkly beautiful in nature ("Sleep And Dream", "Salt Bridge") or the moving and slightly frightening ("Bones In The Water", "At The Base Of The Giants Throat"). The latter track ends with an absolutely terrifying 911 call (presumably involving the unspecified fall down the stairs) backed by a grim synthesizer bed floating in the distance.
After five of the seven songs were recorded, the bassist refused to continue with the process (can't really say I blame him). Despite the tumultous process which the record was created in, the band and several sources associated with them, they will apparently continue making music. In an admittedly divided sense, I am glad. Hopefully the path towards the next album will not be as violent as the last one (even if such measures made an absolutely enthralling album).
Next time there might be a Boris album review (though it will be an album besides Pink, because everyone and their mother seems to have reviewed it already).
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Here is the promised Khlyst review:
Khlyst : Chaos Is My Name
This album is unlike anything you have ever heard before.
Trust me on this one.
To begin, it is the collaborative effort of James Plokin (of extreme-doom metal band Khanate, recently disbanded) and Runhild Gammelsæter (the vocalist for the pre-Sunn O))) band Thorr's Hammer). Basically, the album consists of two elements. One are songs where Plotkin lays down a bed of improvisational guitar and drumming to what can only be described hellish snarls, screaming, screetching, and wailing. In fact, I had to concentrate closely and peruse the lyric sheet to realize that she was actually speaking Norwegian phrases, rather than just randomly howling and muttering. The second element are the two songs which are much more subtle in their approach, as lonely percussive elements intermingle with themselves as gongs reverberate throughout the piece. Throughout the songs, Plotkin (an accomplished producer) adds various electronic elements, ranging from droning low-frequency ambience to a veritable grab bag of vocal manipulations, whether they simply create an echoing reverberation or distort them to bizarre electronic animal growls and snarls.
I only have a few quibbles about this album. My main concern is that, despite it's refreshing aura about it, it is far too short, clocking in at only 35 minutes. While some of the songs are quite developed and intricate, several of the more improvisational "chapters" (as they are referred to in the album insert) seem somewhat undernourished, as it were. Perhaps this is a good thing, as the vocals can be rather overwhelming at times. Also unfortunate is the fact that there is no translation to the Norweigan lyrics (which are included), but rest assured, with a delivery this intense and volatile, you can safetly bet that they are not pleasant topics and concepts being discussed. It also gives me the chance to use such phrases as: "She doesn't just sing the vocals, it is more like she tears them out of her throat before throwing them at you".
Obviously, this album is an acquired taste. At first, I was relatively disappointed. However, having listened to the album a few more times, it begins to grow on me (though I still bemoan the brevity of the album).
Hopefully this pairing will continue to grow and develop (much like the Khanate project did before it's untimely end), because personally I would like to see extended developments and varations of this theme.
Here is the previously mentioned Sunn O))) / Boris review:
Sunn O))) / Boris : Altar
Massive. Simply massive. Before even considering whether or not the album is good or not, one must acknowledge the sheer size of these songs. Comprising of the collaboration of the bands Sunn O))) and Boris, along with at least a dozen other collaborators (most from their contemporary bands, such as Earth and Thrones), there are many individual musicians making their numerous talents known. This album is interesting in the fact that it was promoted very heavily before it's public release, on the fact of it's many participants. The hype made the record very anticipated by it's fans, and while it recieved generally good reviews by the fans, critical reviews from various music critics expressed several different reasons why they were disappointed at the end result.
So, what are my thoughts on the record? In this instance, the diversity of the album demands a track-by-track analysis.
For those who ordered the limited-edition 2-CD set, the album came with an extra disc, which consists of a single 28-minute track entitled "Her Lips Were Wet With Venom", featuring Sunn O))), Boris, and Dylan Carson (see my previous "Earth" review). As usual for anything Earth related, this is a very long and extended guitar drone piece, however, it is made much more interesting due to the country-western guitar stylings of Carson's more recent work, coupled with the drone guitar of Sunn O))) and the lead electric guitar of Boris' guitarist. While it is rather good for what it is, I would hesitate it to call it phenomenal. One of my main concerns is, given to it's extreme length, it is hard to remember the more interesting aspects of the composition: you know that they are there, but it is hard to retain the specifics about them.
On to the main album, the album opener begins wonderfully with a whine of guitar feedback, bowed bass, two echoing lead guitars (as if they were playing from outer space), and a menacing bass guitar crunching away at regular intervals. As a name, "Etna" fits very well with the feeling this song portrays: slowly rumbling menace. This is interspersed with spastic drumming at various parts of the song, but thankfully they complement the work rather than feel intrusive. Roughly six minutes into the song, the lead guitarist from Boris rips into a harrowing solo, as if signalling the beginning of an eruption. This guitar continues until the end of the piece, making it an excellent segue into the next song. Overall, excellent concept and execution.
The second song, "N.L.T.", is the shortest song on the album, at 3:50. Composed of a bowed bass and softly shimmering gongs and chimes, it is an unsettling work, approaching the realm of dark ambience, much more so than either of these groups had hinted at in their previous works. Lustmord, Daniel Menche (who was also mentioned in comparison in another reviews), and other dark ambient artists immediately come to mind.
"The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)" takes an immediate left turn, and is easily the best song on the album. Consisting of a mournful guitar, muted piano playing, cymbal taps, and smoky female vocals, it is a moving song which is truly outside what either band had previously accomplished (which is the first time in this album where that claim actually rings true). It is refreshing, to hear this song halfway through, and to not have to worry whether this or that element gets lost in the mix or overpowered by other insturmentation. All is in order, which is an apt comparison to the feeling one get's when listening to this song.
The second half of the album is where most of the music critics express concern, and I will agree that some of their criticisms are correct.
"Akuma No Kuma" is, regrettably, somewhat over the top. The vocoder-vocals, provided by Joe Preston (of the band Thrones, previously of Earth fame) are strange at best and obnoxious at worst. Unfortunatly, that is not the only problem with this song. The drumming here seems to have been brought up too close in the mix, while the synthesizer lines are mostly unappealing and intrusive. Couple this with blaring horns (that seem very much at odds with the song) and the whole presentation is basically a failure, which is a shame, given that there are interesting ideas expressed in the song, but more work would have been needed to make them fit well together.
Things start to get slightly better with "Fried Eagle Mind" (which, by the way, get's the 'Weirdest Name' award), with understated guitar pickings eerily echoing alongside Boris' vocalist vocalisations (though whether or not she is actually speaking words is a somewhat nebulous and questionable debate). What sounds like whale noises and radio static are phased into the song halfway through. The guitar gradually gets harsher in tone by seven minutes, but by then, it's too little, too late. It is a very meandering piece, but unfortunatly by the time it get's relatively interesting, the overall interest in the song has disappeared. The tragic impression is given that, learning they were almost finished with the song, they rushed to add elements to save it, only in vain. Once again, interesting idea, but this time the only problem with the song was musical stagnation (and the rather jarring and abrupt ending).
Finally, while "Blood Swamp" is similar to "Etna" in many respects (and arguably just as good), it is hard to expect most listeners to be open to it after having to trod through the previous two tracks.
So, in some respects, the critics are correct: Altar is basically good, having many amazing moments that are sadly brought down later by several instances of musical overindulgence and conceptual meandering. Would I reccomend this album? Most definitely, as it encompasses the best of what the associated groups have done in the past, and points to interesting new avenues for them to explore.
Order album at: http://www.southernlord.com/index.php
Altar info website: http://www.sunnborisaltar.com/