Friday, 28 October 2016

The Snack Series - Sriracha Popcorn

The Snack Series :

Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Popcorn by Pop Gourmet Popcorn

Price: $4.50 for a 127g bag. It was pricy but eh, the temptation was too strong to resist. The bag was bought at Bulk Barn alongside gummy bears, peanuts M&Ms, BBQ bits & bites, Oh Henry pieces and Reese pieces. Fuck off, it's Halloween and I wanted to make myself happy again.

Packaging/extra information
 : the bag is gorgeous. It looks like the Sriracha bottle with the green cork and the red body. If you're a fan of the popular hot sauce like I am, you'll notice the bag immediatly.

Texture: Well, it's popcorn and like it's written on the packaging, the color is natural and there's tiny bits of Sriracha flakes on the pop corn. It's high quality stuff.

Taste: If you have a cold, eat those. As it was expected, they're pretty damn spicy. I currently have the sniffles while I'm writing this review but I just can't stop eating them. Precise and identifiable, the Sriracha taste is in the spotlight.

Great but a bit too pricy. You could possibly make them yourself too but ehhhh, probably not worth the hassle.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Barrow Wight – Knights in Saurons Service (2016) / 79%

"Wicked men. Servants of Sauron. They are called to Mordor. The Dark One is gathering all armies to him. It won't be long now. He will soon be ready."

Barrow Wight is a band in constant evolution, maybe because except for Andrew (bass/vocals), their lineup has been grandly unstable or maybe that’s just what Middle-Earth metal deserves and Saruman keeps killing their drummers and guitarists. Anyhow, on their debut album released on the great Australian label Heavy Chains, the Canadian trio unleashed their strongest slab of material yet.

Even if this has the best production they ever had, Knights in Saurons Service (an homage to Kiss?) is still a primitive affair as far as heavy metal is concerned. The love for proto extreme metal is clearly in the center of those compositions but there’s an obvious depth found on this record. This can be heard in the “intro” mixing the atmosphere of Lord of the Rings with this cryptic and apocalyptic aura, there’s more than meets the eye on here.

The core of their sound are those super catchy short tracks like “No Sleep Till Gondor” or “The Cult”. They’re bangers full of the punk fueled heavy metal aggression of Venom, Motorhead and even Amebix. This approach combined with the lore of Tolkien works so well. They’re the exact opposite of Summoning but this universe is large enough for both sides of the spectrum to exist.

In my review for their 2014 EP, I said that there was a “certain will to push the boundaries of their agenda” and I was right. They’re starting to experiment with some slower tempos (“Grond” or the excellent “The Palantir”) and it pays off. There’s also some unorthodox moments like the The Doors keyboard break on the title track, this was an insane surprise. To round off their experimentation, there’s subtle nods to 80s goth rock here and there and this just adds to the experience. I think they’re not done experimenting with their blend of proto black metal and heavy metal, they’re still not daring enough!

Andrew’s vocals are blackened croaks and they often lack in power but they really fit the “don’t fuck with me” attitude of his bass licks (check out “Dwimmerlaik”!) No frills guitar riffs, thunderous drums and groovy headbanging is what you’ll get here. It’s not perfect yet but it’s really damn fun and that’s one of the reasons we listen to metal, right? They always give a good show too, they’re charismatic Canadian Hobbit bards who are at their most powerful on stage. Like “Grond” (a battering ram made to look like a wolf head by the Orcs”), the album shatters everything. After Bolt Thrower, it’s pretty much what the Uruk-hai would listen to to motivate themselves.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Ezra Brooks – Target Promo 2016 / 82%

Bourbon Whiskey infused with Arcane heavy metal

Originality in heavy metal is often hard to reach or achieve without losing the essential traits of the classic genre. To distinguish themselves from the masses, the artists must deliver a distinctive sound within the confines of the style, bands like Borrowed Time, Demon Bitch or even Darkthrone with The Underground Resistance managed to reinvigorate the genre. Ezra Brooks, with their debut release, successfully wrote fresh and exciting heavy metal made for connoisseurs.

The arcane heavy metal path is one I've been following for a while now. It's often mixed with doom and sword or sorcery (see Atlantean Kodex or The Gates of Slumber) or it's simply slower than your usual trad heavy metal. The main characteristic of this abstract sub genre would be the mix of high octane riffs and an occult and elegant atmosphere. The sole album of the aforementioned Borrowed Time or Howie Bentley’s Cauldron Born and Briton Rites are good examples of arcane trad metal. In Solitude’s Sister wouldn’t be a bad choice either. Emotional weight through uncompromising heavy metal riffing, basically. I believe that's what Ezra Brooks plays too.

Following the Canadian path created by Tales of Medusa (the last track is a cover of this mysterious band), Shawn Vincent wrote subtle but engaging metal with hooks and depth. Only joined by Jan Loncik, his companion in Hrom (power/speed/heavy), who handled the guitar solos, this is a one-man band project but with an interesting narrative.

I recently reviewed Lascaille Shroud's latest album and while we're in completely different territories musically, the science fiction story-line involving the character Ezra Brooks has the similar feel. This pulpy sci fi/fantasy setting works really well with the style, it’s fun without being saccharine and smart without being pretentious. There’s a cerebral edge to Ezra Brooks’ music but it’s never turning into a “progressive” mess.

The production is great and everything sounds good, I dig the guitar tone a lot. Nevertheless, there's still a definite will to make this sound timeless or unpolished and this what makes me really dig the approach. Vincent's voice is quite buried underneath the mix, he's not the most talented vocalist but the material is written and played with this in mind. The most important aspect of music is that you must know your strengths and weaknesses. His strength is writing tight epic riffs without unnecessary garnishes.

The material’s main inspiration is perhaps the ballsy sound of USPM but there’s nods to other scenes such as the early 80s German power scene. Considering Vincent is a bassist in his other two bands, the instrument certainly has a place of choice here but it’s not overbearing or anything. The drums could had been heavier and faster though but overall, it doesn’t feel like it’s only one dude at all. The longest track “Weilding the Mirrored Gauntlet (Escape The Labyrinth)” also has some synths elements adding a certain sci fi flair to this epic number without any cheese whatsoever.

2016 is a year with great heavy metal on the lo-fi side of the spectrum (check out Scalare, Barrow Wight or Angel Sword) and Ezra Brooks (the name of a Bourbon Whiskey brand!) definitely brings something interesting to the table. I’m pretty excited to hear the future releases.


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows (2016) / 89%

The International Armada of Southern Post-Metal

After the impressive one-song extended play The Cavern released two years ago, Inter Arma doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone. They’re one of the best american metal bands of their generation and their third full length will only solidify their status as a genre bending and untamable epic beast.

The first noticeable aspects of an album are always the artwork and the title and there’s a clear newfound identity found in the cover art of Paradise Gallows. Compared to Sundown or Sky Burial, it’s full of colours and could almost fit an indie rock band but the scene illustrated is bleak and ultimately fits the sound of Inter Arma. Compared to its artistic rendition, this album is far from being a shipwreck. It’s probably more the large rocky island in the background which is known for leading ships to their demise. Just like the crew of a well-managed ship, the songs on Paradise Gallows are fairly diverse but they learned to work well together to maintain the deck and ride the sea like no one else.

While somewhat sunnier than Sky Burial and overall perhaps softer, it’s still pretty heavy at times. The big Southern melting pot is the basis of their identity. They mix this depressive but warm and dirty sludge sound with healthy doses of black/death metal recalling the elusive Bölzer full of cavernous vocals but they keep things mid-paced or hellishly slow. Songs like the nine minutes “Transfiguration” bring forth the gloomy atmosphere while never losing the focus on tight and riff based metal. I guess we could say that their approach seems all over the place, right?

Maybe... but wait, there’s more! The combination of the massive Neurosis-like riffs with hints of funeral doom/death works quite well. The integration of psychedelic elements also feels natural (listen to the droney but catchy “The Summer Drones”) and there’s a slight nautical aspect to their compositions. It feels like you’re on the Atlantic, near the state of Virginia while listening to the darkest Nick Cave albums but your buddy suddenly plays his Eyehategod mix-tape on his boombox.

“Potomac” (speaking of said nautical feel) is this gorgeous instrumental song full of clean proggy guitar leads and piano and it’s a soft interlude before we’re served two extended heavy numbers.They’re all over the place with their styles of riffing and melodies but they’re surprisingly able to have a clear and solid direction while battling the intense waves made by the aggressive kraken.

Mike Paparo’s presence is outstanding in its richness and diversity. From the harsh yet deep black metal growls to the Mastodon-esque rough delivery of “Violent Constellations”, he’s a gifted metal singer. He’s also great at other styles including the tragically romantic vocals neo-folk of acoustic closer “Where the Earth Meets the Sky” and this sort of entrancing quasi spoken word (check out “Primordial Wounds”).

The guitars of Dalton and Russell range from megalodonian to intricate and psychedelic. This album is long (71 minutes) but it’s always inventive and spectacular. Their weaving of calmness and bludgeoning intensity has reached its peak on Paradise Gallows and the evolution of their sound since their 2010 debut has been an enjoyable process to follow. This is a great album.

Inter Arma on Facebook
I can't wait to see them Saturday in Montréal.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Mountain Dust, Zaum & Chronolith @Turbo Haus, September 30th 2016

Mountain Dust, Zaum & Chronolith @Turbo Haus, September 30th 2016

To end this warm month of September, I had to choose between three interesting gigs happening on the same evening. It wasn't an easy decision to make since I'm a big fan of Toronto's Demontage who were opening for DBC at the Piranha Bar and the Red Bull Academy drone gig seemed pretty attractive as well. In the end, I went with the style of music closer to my earth, doom metal. After a long commute to the south west of Montréal, I arrived in time to see the first band on the bill.

Chronolith are a fairly new local band and based on their singer, they play some form of sludge. I guess they do but they're not your usual run-of-the-mill sludge band. The guitar is fairly inventive and sometimes inflicts ethnic influenced leads with a progressive precision and the bass was quite loud with a clean and heavy sound. They're not the dirty, heroin-addicted style of sludge, they belong to the psychedelic school that Kylesa used to teach at. On some of their songs, they had a violinist who added some richness to their sound and it wasn't too dissimilar from what SubRosa are offering us. The singer was pretty generic and didn't offer much as far as stage presence is concerned but maybe he wasn't feeling well that night. Anyhow, I liked their compositions and I'm looking forward to their studio releases.

ZAUM: The duo from Moncton are about to release their second full length (once again on Sweden's I Hate Records) and they decided to do a short two dates Québec trip before going overseas to play a massive European tour. The metropolis was to first to host those two bearded gentlemen and they didn't disappoint. They opened with "Influence of the Magi" the first side of Eidolon, their new album, an extended twenty minutes track full of twists and turns before playing two older tracks. Zaum consists of drummer Chris Lewis and bassist/singer Kyle McDons and those two guys are able to convey an impressive sense of mighty power with their interesting formula. McDons is using a wide array of pedals and his abilities exceed the comprehension of mere mortals such as myself. He's also a sound engineer so he knows exactly what to do to make his project sound great. Decorated with their numerous personalized candles, the stage was blown to bits by the subtle yet captivating red lights emanating from underneath Lewis' drums and the whole setting really managed to give the necessary aura their middle-eastern influenced approach to doom metal needs. Thunderous, simple but not lo-fi, Zaum are all in and they always deliver the slow, tasteful goods.

Previous reviews of Zaum: Oracles (2014) and Himalaya To Mesopotamia (2015)

Mountain Dust are perhaps Montréal's current best rock band and they closed the evening. I had to miss their album release gig so I really wanted to see them play their new songs live and it wasn’t disappointing. The quartet plays heavy rock with an amalgam of influences from diverse eras. You get the lap steel from the blues or country scene, the keys from the Deep Purple and the presence of guitarist/singer Brendan Mainville can recall everything from the grunge era to the early proto hard rock days of the 60s. Speaking of this decade, the band did a fantastic super heavy cover of The Doors’ “Waiting For the Sun”. The dudes are all coming from a metal or hardcore background so there’s this added heaviness to their vintage rock and it’s highly fun to hear and watch. It’s authentic without sounding like a pale copy of your dad’s record collection

Review of their debut album Nine Years

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Opeth – Sorceress (2016) / 92%

Make Opeth Metal Again?

Now one of the biggest metal/rock bands on the planet, Opeth’s career has taken an important detour with Heritage in 2011. Legions of fans and detractors alike are asking themselves what will be the sound explored on this new album. Let’s not burn the sorceress before hearing her plea, shall we?

The Swedish giant is a band in constant evolution and unlike their peer, In Flames, they managed to make the transition into softer territories in a good way. They were already showing signs of their evolution with their gorgeous 2003 opus Damnation but with Heritage, they went all in, and it displeased and divided their audience. While they will not win back the fans who wants them to be truly metal again with this new album, it might be viewed more favorably. Anyway, I don’t really care about what other people say about Opeth, I care only about what Mikael Åkerfeldt is doing since he’s been the leader of my favorite band since I discovered them in high school.

I will not let the suspense go on much longer, yes Sorceress is a good album but I do think Opeth never (and probably never will) released a bad album. I do have some reservations towards the album though. It’s clearly not as good as I wanted it to be. The band has always been somewhat disjointed as it’s usually the case with bands with long song structures. Nevertheless, it’s never been as apparent and obvious as it is here except for Heritage which is possibly their weakest album. Maybe it’s because of the eleven-tracks format (the most of any Opeth album) or the fact that the songs are a bit shorter and more self contained.

Opeth had the tendency to be meandering and includes a wide array of styles within the same songs. Sure, there’s exceptions found in their past career with songs like “Harvest” or “To Bid You Farewell”, but Sorceress feels much more like an amalgam of different styles than any other of their other albums (extreme metal excluded, no they’re not coming back to their death metal blend...). You have the folky Jethro Tull-influenced ballad “Will o the Wisp” or the heavy metal/hard rock of “Chrysalis” and the different elements are a bit less melded together than before. Furthermore, “The Seventh Sojourn” is even a track similar to the Fertile Crescent sound, and it works as a sort of smooth interlude similar to the non-metal tracks found on Melechesh’s excellent albums The Epigenesis and Enki. Oh man speaking of that, an Opeth/Melechesh tour would be killer. Make this happen, Nuclear Blast.

The final important negative point would be the abrupt end of the album. It ends with a short, one minute outro after the hard rocking “Era” and it was a bit like if the waiter removed your plate from the table while you’re eating it. It was a sudden and unexpected finale to an otherwise great album. The introduction right before the title track works though. It’s classical guitars with some ethereal female spoken word, and it sets the tone in a good way. It’s not unlike “Coil” from Watershed but it’s not a “complete” song.

Still, I reckon my criticisms are pretty small. I’ve learned to disregard those aspects after four or five spins and it remains a collection of great songs. Regardless, the album isn’t as condensed as their previous one. The cohesion is lacking and the flow isn’t perfect. Still, it’s not as incoherent as Heritage and doesn’t have as many disposable moments. I’d say that “Sorceress 2” is the only truly weak point found on this record. It’s a boring four-minute acoustic ballad with unremarkable vocal lines. It’s the total opposite of the aforementioned and super great folky “Wisp” and it has to be one of the weakest tracks Opeth ever composed.

While Pale Communion was pretty much Opeth without the extreme metal elements, Sorceress is less limited and feels it could be another transitional album. Nevertheless, I do think Opeth never did a real transitional album except Watershed. They’re just creating landscapes based on a large amalgam of approaches and themes, and it turned out their 2008 record was the last one with death metal components. Still, the tracks without Mikael’s harsh vocals like “Porcelain Heart” or “Burden” were signs of their future incarnation. I can’t help but think that Sorceress could be interpreted as a new watershed for the Swedes. It’s hard what to predict what they’ll do next, but based on the lyrics of “Era”, it could be the conclusion of their current manifestation. It’s the “end of an era, we’ll start a new...” so maybe they’ll go back to their prog death sound and tour with Amorphis like it’s 2002 all over again?!

As far as their evolution is concerned, Sorceress is still Opeth exploring progressive rock in their own way but it probably has their heavier moments since the album that gave us “Lotus Eater” and “Heir Apparent.” To answer my own Trump reference in the title, yes this is (probably??) a metal album ,and the heavy parts possess a new sense of perspective. They added some stoner flavors to their newfound metallic formula and it’s heavier than Pale Communion when it actually decides to be. The title track released as the first single is a good example of Sorceress’ metallic identity. While this is still Opeth, it’s a widely different album even if there’s their usual tropes.

Compared to the previous album, the jazz influence are gone and the combination of heavy metal, progressive rock and folk took their rightful place. We already had heavy rock parts on Heritage (“Slither”, a song dedicated to Dio) but those parts are boosted on this album. This side of the band’s identity took time to appear and knowing how much Mikael is a lover of 70s and 80s heavy metal and hard rock, it was simply a matter of time. He’s a massive Michael Schenker fan and it’s obvious that UFO, Uriah Heep and the NWOBHM scene were huge influences on the compositions. Those classic rock influences were included into the idiosyncratic sound of Opeth, they never were and never will be a cheap throwback or a “vintage rock” band. They’re innovative while looking at the rightful musical identities of the past.

Concerning the individual performances of this opus, Martín Méndez’ bass is a shining beacon. He’s been playing a role within the band’s sound recently and it’s a good thing; the dude is on fire and deserves more credit and praise. Another key element: The keys of Joakim Svalberg (his second album with the band) are thunderous and give Opeth their well-deserved rich sound. The chemistry between the keys and the guitars is certainly something to behold.

There is a voice surrounding me...” -Mikael Åkerfeldt on “Strange Brew”

About the leader himself, he’s always been one of my favorite singers but he has been improving his clean vocals for a while now and probably offers his best performance ever as a clean singer on this 12th album. He shines on the rougher moments, and he’s been expanding his pallet for the softer parts. While I’ll admit I do miss the growls at times, even if they wouldn’t fit here, he’s masterful on Sorceress. He’s soulful, charismatic and sensual on the heavy bits, and sensible and mystic during the calm instants. My favorite Mikael moment of the album has to be the memorable chorus of “The Wilde Flowers”.

Production-wise, I dig the guitar tones, they have this old school feel but with strong doom sensibilities. The riffs on tracks like “Chrysalis” or the truly sole epic they did “Strange Brew” (the most varied track of the album) are killer and absolutely well written. The acoustic guitars are back in full force too and their inclusion on tracks like “A Fleeting Glance” are pertinent. Fredrik Åkesson and Åkerfeldt are expert guitarists, this is known. Their guitar parts range from being subtle to over the top in a matter of instant (listen to the soloing of “The Wilde Flowers” or the Blackwater Park/Ghost Reveries-esque calm parts in some songs). Nonetheless, they’re a bit too mechanical during the “stoner” moments (such as the debut of “Era”) but overall, the two guitarists keep things interesting, uncomplicated and tidy. It’s yet another strong slab of strong and creative musicianship.

To conclude, the new influences ranging from stoner rock to heavy metal made this a fresh record without being overly modern or distasteful. That’s a feat in itself in this saturated musical age full of bands trying to mix everything together in the hopes of creating something unusual or redesigned. Twenty-one years after their debut album, the Swedish monolithic entity still has the upper hand.

It may be the most chaotic album they ever did and the direction they took isn’t quite clear to me. Are they coming back to a more metallic sound to please the fans? Anyhow, the mixture of elements is working. It almost sounds like the perfect marriage of Ghost Reveries, Watershed and Pale Communion into one potent magical spell but it has the main downfall of Heritage, the incoherence of its tracklist.

Make Opeth Great Again? They’ve always been great and they’ll always be the best band. Metal or not. Is this album even metal? Who cares? It’s Opeth, and they’re awesome.

Originally written for The Metal Observer.