Friday, 27 June 2014

Mastodon – Once More 'Round the Sun (2014) / 94%

This fucking artwork is totally insane, I love it.

When the sun rose again!

The Georgian boys are back with their sixth album already and every single of their releases was a surprise for the listeners and it's no exception this time either. Their evolution towards more progressive realms felt natural and so is their endeavour into more melodic territories.

In 2011, we were offered a very poppy album with the sadly underwhelming The Hunter, an album plagued with too many songs and fillers but with some jewels like the title track or “Stargasm”. I'm sure I wasn't the only person expecting their new one with haste and interest. I've been following the band intensely since the excellent Blood Mountain, an opus created just when I was starting to get into metal and even if my horizons changed after my formative years, Mastodon remains an important band for me and they'll be seen as the most important American metal band of their generation. I remember when I discovered them, I was sixteen and it was the week that I also got Frances the Mute by The Mars Volta, a band that also became one of my favourite. I opened BM's booklet and I thought it was very odd that Cedric Bixler-Zavala (singer of TMV) was featured as a guest. What a fun coincidence, everything happens for a reason! And now, it's time for the first Mastodon full length since the tragic dissolution (some will say hallelujah but to hell with them) of the El Paso prog juggernauts and it's easily a contender for my album of 2014.

After only one listening, I already told myself that the main problem of their previous record was solved. OM'RTS has absolutely no filler whatsoever. Its main strength is its cohesion and unity. The eleven songs for fifty four minutes is perhaps their most balanced album to date. One of the forces of an album like Leviathan was its diversity but it didn't worked as well on Crack the Skye, an album with a great vision ultimately afflicted with an overachieving will. I mean, I liked the long tracks like “The Last Baron” but the album wasn't as close-knitted as this one even though I think it was honourable progressive metal. CTS also had too many members of the band trying their hand at the mic and it felt disjointed at times. While their new opus is definitely their strongest vocally speaking or at least their most accessible. I'm sure the people who were complaining about how the vocals were their weakest quality won't find much material to complain about here. Sanders (who's obviously Mastodon's best singer) and Hinds are prevalent but they seem harder to differentiate this time around or maybe it was so well constructed that it isn't apparent.Their deliveries are mostly clean but rough and they're simply better at the game, they know their forces and explore them. The choruses are powerful and the use of ethereal, atmospheric but grasping vocals enhance the whole experience

Lyrically speaking, it's not as special as CTS or weird like The Hunter, it doesn't seem conceptual this time around (perhaps for the better since they'll be repeating themselves and that's counterproductive.) The lyrics are still deeply personal and metaphorical and they flow very well. It's kind of giving me a contemplative vibe that goes hand in hand with the rock influences they're incorporating this time around, you can easily hear the love they have for Deftones and Alice in Chains and I have no problem with that! 

It goes without saying but don't expect Mastodon to go back to their sludgey roots on this album, it's perhaps heavier than The Hunter or maybe I think it is since it's not as joyful. It's sort of a return to a math-esque sound not so present on their two latest albums and it delivers immense heavy riffs as well (such as the great epic closer “Diamond in the Witch House” with “surprise” guest vocals from Neurosis' Scott Kelly.) Of course, a Mastodon album wouldn't be complete with other guests, this time the all girls punk band The Coat Hangers from their local city of Atlanta are featured on the fun “Aunt Lisa” with girly, shouted vocals adding a juvenile feel to the track.

Hinds and Kelliher (massive guitarists for sure) are not quite as inclined to show off their lead guitar skills as they were before but they let loose some tasty leads like on the single “High Road”. Throughout the album, they prove once again that they're modern metal's most accomplish guitar duo. They have their own distinctive approach and alongside Dailor's inventive, intense and intelligent drumming, it's part of Mastodon's signature sound. It's full of blistering and smart riffs intertwined with groovy rhytmns played wonderfully showcasing that they're one of the proudest Rush disciples of the new millenium. Mastodon has always been a technical band but I truly believe that it never was a burden to their compositions, quite the opposite.

Indeed, it's progressive & technical but without giving up one iota of melodic might. “Tread Lightly”, the opening song, is the perfect example with its sweeping leads and its catchy vocal patterns. They learned of their gigantic progressive voyage with CTS but played a more subdued card on OM'RTS and still managed to craft an impressive and original record. Proof that sometimes less is more. Nevertheless, this album is fucking intricate and rich and it's just doesn't try to be too creative or pop, it just is. It's like they accepted the fact that they were going in a poppier direction, that's a direct continuation of The Hunter which can be seen as a transition album since the formula & the quality weren't quite there yet.
It really feels like Mastodon took the better songwriting of The Hunter and mixed the idiosyncratic power from their other albums with it. Someone might dislike Mastodon for a bunch of reasons (their immense popularity, their beards, the fact they moved on from extreme metal and so on...) but no one can say that they sound like another band. If a bunch of hipsters try to mimic them, they'll strike again with a new, fresh record and the kids will have to update their sound once again. They're reinventing themselves after each record and for most bands, this prowess would be disastrous but not with these fabulous and silly hairy homo sapiens sapiens.

It's without a doubt their best album since Blood Mountain and it helps building an important, almost faultless legacy for the band. I had low expectations after their previous album and this was a pleasant surprise. Highly recommended for fans of adventurous, catchy prog metal with a flair for originality. Mastodon are still on the rise and there's no way to stoptheir progression. In time, you will join them in the sun, In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Pan - Driftwoods (2014) / 73%

I wouldn't lick the pan just yet...

This trio from Michigan plays a very hard to categorize sort of metal, I had a tough time choosing a tag (I know, I know, it's all just music maaaaaang but I like classifying genres) when I approved them on the Archives, I finally concluded that they were “progressive doom/stoner metal”and that's perhaps the most accurate way to describe them albeit it's not encompassing their whole identity.

Driftwoods is their second self released full length. I'm not familiar with their debut though, I'm discovering them with this one and they're a promising young band but I believe their identity is not fully discovered yet. They mix the sort of groovy stoner you'd expect from an American band in 2014 but without much of the trendiness or poppiness of the Baronesses and The Swords of this world. The way the album is structured is almost totally borrowed from one of their main influences, Opeth. It's long, plodding songs all between nine and thirteen minutes and it made this album a very hard one to get into since it's rarely a winning formula to develop your songwriting this way. Unfortunately, while I appreciate their sound, they didn't succeed at the navigation of river songs expedition even though they had some cool tools and equipment, maybe their future endeavors will be more successful.

The vocals of Chris Boris (cool name, the band should include some influences from the Japanese seminal band!) are pretty varied, from deep cavernous growls inspired by both the sludgey side of stoner/doom and the hey days of death metal Opethian material but not as mighty as the (nowadays sore) throat of Mikael Akerfeldt. Nevertheless, Boris does the job and he's enjoyable enough for the style they play. He's also using, you could have guessed, clean vocals and he's including them a bit more than sporadically. They're main parts of songs such as the groovy southern vibes of closer “Slow Waters & Grey Skies” and they're well integrated within their compositions. I can't say I'm quite a fan of these semi shouted vocals such as in “The Ancient Isle & Disillusionment “ though, they seemed pretty toughguyesque in their approach and that's a no-no for me.

Maybe the band is too much varied for its own sake, when you try to include too much stuff, you risk losing a sense of direction and that's somewhat the case here. It's both a sort of blur since the songs are so long and some kind of mixed faux pas since melding genres together is no easy task. Still, the band delivers some well written riffs and they have a shitload of potential. It's not bad, it just gets boring fast and that's a problem usually solved with concise songwriting. The band relies too much on repetitiveness and they take too much time to develop their songs like the useless two minutes introduction of “Civilization & The Old Way”. They even include a semi black metal feel in the riffs since well, the album wasn't still diverse enough!

Production wise, it's pretty damn good for a self release album. The trio is solid instrumentally, the guitar is heavy, the bass is solid and noticeable and the drums is inventive and fun.The band doesn't have guitar solos or super uber great leads so the transitions inside these songs are not the greatest and it's a contribution to the bloated feeling I get from Driftwoods.

Nonetheless, Pan is interesting and they're worth checking out. Not sure what crowd they'll appeal to though, I mean it's not overly progressive, not that heavy as far as doom/stoner is concerned and the extreme metal elements are not quite well established. But eh, I liked them, it's honest to their influences and their hard work is apparent. Let's see what they'll do next.

Thanks to the band for the CD. Check their Facebook page

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Why? - L'Uomo Appeso (1995) / 74%

Italian penile thrashy avant garde metal

Why I am reviewing this?  Well, it deserves to be since it's underrated stuff and I hope I'll help giving them a tiny bit of exposure through my review. The Italian quartet managed to stay alive for six years releasing four demos during their existence and outside of Alexandro Naitina who's in the excellent post metal band The End of Six Thousand Years, the musicians kept quiet. It's kind of a shame since they were pretty damn interesting, they need a re-release of their material as soon as possible!

L'Uomo Appeso (the hanging man) is their fourth and latest demo and it's perhaps the one with the largest avant garde/alternative metal influences in their discography. To my knowledge, all their lyrics are in Italian but this is the only one with all the titles in this romantic languages. The singer is pretty unorthodox, maybe akin to Faith No More's Mike Patton. It's a clean & fast paced delivery with some spoken vocals influences. He's not quite my style of vocalists for thrash but he fits the Voivodian approach the band was aiming for. Combined with the poetic but weird for metal language, he's probably one of the reasons this band never made it big but eh, he's probably as good as Snake! (Snake is obviously the weakest part of the Quebecois proggers.)

There's a huge funk influence in their sound, quite apparent in the song “La Giostra”, there's these groovy keys intertwined with the heavy bass presence but sadly the low production (still their best) wasn't truly able to transpose their vision as much as they wanted to. Their sound also has some post punk elements thrown in the mix making the avant garde tag warranted since even if it's fairly technical, it's not spastic thrash but rather weird, fucked up and fun stuff. This is almost not metal in some places, the guitars are often buried by the bass and the vocal declarations and the fact there's only one guitarist left in the lineup compared to their other demos probably influenced the metallic amount of this one.

The structure of the demo is quite strong, it's starting and ending with nice instrumental songs, the compositions are mostly on the short side and the rhythm is fast paced. I'm not quite sure I would be able to withstand a long release of these guys, thirty minutes is even perhaps too much for me, it's a bit grating at times due to the vocals and it's not easy to get into.

Nonetheless, Why? is a very fun band, perhaps underwhelming in some places but that's probably due to the release being a demo, getting a do it yourself production wasn't as easy twenty years ago. Out of old school thrash, avant garde meta or Voivod albums to check out? Listen to these Italians.

I have three of their demos that you can guys can download here: On my Dropbox

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Valknacht - Le Sacrifice d'Ymir (2014) / 50%

Le sacrifice de l'originalité

The third album from these Quebecois explore a sort of highly melodic black metal and the quintet has all the right elements in place to tour all over America with Finntroll or Eluveitie but not much to distinguish themselves in the modern, saccharine extreme metal world.

The eight songs album is cluttered with overlong numbers like the title track or “Bataille de Maldon”, they're well written, very well produced but nonetheless they're pretty damn boring to me. Even if they're like ten minutes, it doesn't have this epic feel, it simply seems to be prolonged compositions that don't need to be that long unlike atmospheric masters like Moonsorrow. There's so many stuff in every songs that it feels bloated, they were trying to be so epic by incorporating so many riffs, leads and symphonic/folk/pagan elements that they just overcooked the meat and potatoes.

I simply can't stand that sort of overbearing keyboard presence in metal, it feels synthetic and often serves as a way to hide your bad songwriting skills, not that Valknacht are that bad, they're nowhere near the uber mediocrity of Fleshgod Apocalypse since they do have riffs, not very good one admittedly but they go somewhere. The band as its core is still pretty much a black metal one but for whatever reasons, they felt the need to include this symphonic shell around them and I think that's awful.

The folk elements like the flutes have this forced feeling, it's not natural and it made me aware of something I'll call cultural appropriation. The Quebec scene is known for its distinct identity, be it the traditional folk elements of Brume d'Automne or Forteresse or the snowy atmosphere of Neige et Noirceur. These bands have a clear originality maybe often due to their patriotic political agenda.

Being apolitical is no reason for not trying to find your path though. Valknacht is a poor man Nokturnal Mortum (The Voice of Steel era) or Equilibrium, they lack subtlety, cohesion and they just do... too much. They have neither the talent and intricate darkness of Csjethe or the honest folk melodic black of Hiverna who can totally compose interesting songs mixing folkloric violin and black metal. Le Sacrifice d'Ymir even if it's in French (a non issue here) is based entirely on European concepts, mainly Norse mythology of course and while these themes are usually interesting, it's clearly a choice I'm not that comfortable with. It's like putting a bunch of metal friendly lyrical themes in a hat and choosing one randomly, maybe the next album will be about Egypt or Chinese folklore! This sort of cultural appropriation can be done gracefully but it's always sort of icky for me, there's this fear of being labelled a nationalist if you write about your own heritage and that's kind of bullshit. Let the innumerable Norwegian and Swedish bands sing about their history, they do it well.

That's just me, maybe I'm simply bickering because I think their music simply blows and they should cut some unnecessary stuff from it. The black metal core is decent, albeit generic, it's just the chocolate surrounding that doesn't appeal to me. But if you like manure on your extreme metal like Wintersun's Time I, be sure to check this band. Even the Kris Verwimp cover art is uninspired! Most of the black metal bands from Québec are interesting, this one simply isn't.

Friday, 6 June 2014

IRN – IRN (2013) / 87%

Spiteful beaver sustained with sludgey maple syrup

Out of Toronto, this trio of metal veterans released this awesome piece of music last year and it deserves a lot of credit for being so fucking heavy. Mostly coming from a black metal background, the musicians created a sort of relentlessly intense doom metal with big hints of sludge, post hardcore, noise or even some stoner metal. One thing that is certain is the fact they're heavy as fuck. I regret missing the opportunities I had to see them live now but they're playing Montréal quite often nowadays alongside like-minded bands such as Show of Bedlam.

Alongside their friends of Thantifaxath (perhaps the best contemporary Canadian black metal band), they're apt at creating entrancing atmospheres nursed by the rich simplicity of their sound and their ability to stir the dissonant and the slow together. The three songs release starts with this massive seventeen minutes song called “Adrift Between Burned Out Villages”. Despair and desolation are two of the stronger emotions this track relies upon. It's slow, crushing and the vocals of Jeff K. are a nasty affair, harsh and deep, the bassist don't waste anytime in introducing himself, he fucks you up with all the spite he's capable of and you're not asking anything else than that. His bass skills are good too, very present and a great companion to the massive and well produced guitar riffs. The production is airy but quite dreadful, it's very efficient for a debut album, these guys are aware of what's needed to create a solid yet atmospheric album.

As for the guitars of Ken McDonald, you can definitely feel he knows exactly what he's doing, the dude studied jazz music (he has his own quartet where he plays the double bass) and it's apparent since he's in the “less is more” category. He's also yet another big fuck you to anyone denigrating the artistic qualities of metal musicians. Technicality is irrelevant, true musicianship doesn't bother with that as he delivers fuzzy riffs like a machine. There's no leads, they would be pretty useless to demonstrate all the darkness they're elaborating, it's composed of well calculated slow riffs with the atmospheric weight of at least twenty corpses. The two other songs are seven minutes numbers but they don't deviate from the formula established in the first half, it's slow, brooding doom/sludge of the highest calibre distilled and refined till the content is accurately measured to be optimal.

Akin to the French sludgey doomsters Eibon or the crusty black metal played by the Brits of Dragged Into Sunlight, IRN likes to integrate samples to their music alongside their spiteful vocals. Chosen by the drummer Will Bustin, the samples are speeches about social problematics such as procreation by intellectuals such as Joe Coleman or Robert Anton Wilson but also movies like the classic Italian flick Alucarda. It's giving a sort of post modern feel to the whole thing, handling current issues and presentation the band as a current, non archaic sort of unit. It's not relying on the past influences but it's rather exploring the vastness of the heavy sort of sludge that is perhaps a bit more prevalent in Europe, a continent where the destruction contemplates the luxurious constructions from the past eras.

Establishing themselves as the premier “extreme” doom band in the North, IRN simply kills its opponents with this half an hour of music. Sad honesty is delivered with ease and pain on the self titled statement! It's free (or pay what you can) on Bandcamp so you, merry readers, have no excuses, leave your happiness at the door and get crushed underneath their layers of slow riffs and nasty screeching.

Theories concerning the name of the band:
-Irregular Rageful Nomad
-Intelligent Roadie Normalisation

-Irish Rotting Nihilism
-Ivysaur Raikou Nidorino

IRN on Facebook

IRN on Bandcamp - Free download 
Ken M.'s quartet
Interview with the band done by Breathe Plastic

Zaum – Oracles (2014) / 87%

Om, Yob, Zom, Zaum!
The heavy duo from the Maritimes managed to sign with the excellent label Swedish I Hate to release their debut album called Oracles. Composed of two seasoned musicians from the New Brunswick scene, Chris Lewis (singer of stoners Iron Giant) handles the drums here and Kyle McDonald (frontman of Shevil) plays the bass and sings. You can already see the similarity with the post Sleep band Om as both are slow paced doom duos and they diverge from the usual thematics found in doom and stoner metal. There's not a lot of projects influenced by Al Cisneros and company so it feels good to finally get one and fortunately the Canadians are more than worthy. One could denigrate them and say they're perhaps too much of a copy and while there's many overt similarities between the two, Zaum manages to impress and includes a fair share of originality. But it's still pretty safe to say that if you don't like Om, you should probably avoid this.

Even if it's a debut album, everything the band wanted to create and develop is already well in place. Compared to Om, it's heavier, more intricate and perhaps even better! Simply by looking at the perfect cover art, you can already feel the vibe they'll explore throughout the four songs/fifty minutes release. As an ancient city located in the desert awaits the visit of a camel caravan, you can smell the sand and the dryness of the dunes. The ethnic & Arabic elements of their music doesn't feel forced at all even though the two dudes are huge bearded white men. I've met the two very nice dudes at their first gig in Montréal (with Dopethrone, review here: click me) but it would had been easy to mistake them for true middle eastern musicians since it sounds almost as honest as Melechesh and Orphaned Land combined. Chris and Kyle are possibly two Vikings who accidentally met an Arabic community while raiding the Mediterranean sea! The lyrical themes are also deeply related to the ancient history of the Middle East as it was surrounded by blood and religious feuds, appropriate themes for an intellectual doom record

The ethnic influence isn't simply a block that they awkwardly put on their finished construction. It's an intrinsic part of the puzzle as it's part of every song. It can serve as an introduction built into a nice crescendo like in the longest and final track “Omen”. It's entrancing and serves as one of the main ingredients in their river flowing songs. Their sound has a pretty solid direction, ranging from ultra slow to mid paced (the “short” song “Peasant of Parthia”) but it's always intriguing and interesting. Just like in Shevil (three bass attack!), it's heavy as fuck with a huge bass presence and it features the vocal talent of McDonald who's pretty damn interesting. There's some shamanic chanting (“The Red Sea”) but he's pretty diverse, ranging from semi harsh and buried vocals to clean cult Om-like singing, I think he's my favourite element in their formula, his tone works pretty damn well with the music. His presence gives a larger than life & crushing aura to the project

It sure is repetitive but it's to be expected with a doom album with drawn out songs like this one, it's not something that bothered me though since it's well crafted and the musicality is nuanced underneath a huge layer of ethnosynthesizers that adds another world of intricacy to the compositions. You're never bored during this voyage and you get the right amount of middle eastern doom musicality for your money. Overall, Oracles is a great debut from Zaum, if they can truly put a larger distance between themselves and Om, we'll have a massive juggernaut to follow. Another great catch for I Hate.