Friday, 6 November 2015

Deafheaven – New Bermuda (2015) / 82%

South of Deafheaven

The San Francisco quintet became some sort of pariah with Sunbather (2013), an immense album clad in pink and done by dudes with short hair who aren't your typical metalheads, big deal, right? This record was praised by indie rock magasines and divided the sometimes unfair metal kingdom. I'll admit I had my reservations at first but the quality of their music convinced me of their relevance, I think they became trendy to hate for the trve black metal crowd who prefer the old (and tired) tactics. With that said, Deafheaven has nothing to prove to anyone, perhaps they didn't win over the crowd they wanted to but with New Bermuda, they proved that they're not a metal band by accident.

I thought the direction they took with this new full length was a bit surprising, I was expecting them to move forward into post rock territories by praising Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor but the boys moved towards an even more metallic direction than Sunbather. It's like Kerry McCoy had to prove that he grew while listening to Metallica (he's always wearing these band shirts on stage to prove that he's one of us!) when he was a kid. Thing is, Deafheaven wrote a wide array of super metal riffs for this new album (listen to the metal parts of “Luna” or “Come Back”.) They really put the “metal” into post black metal with these almost Slayer-esque riffs. A complaint I've heard about their previous album is that while the post rock moments were enjoyable, the metal ones weren't but I think it's somewhat the opposite here (to a lesser degree). Some of the calmer moments feel a bit forced or even cheap (like the piano conclusion of the opening track “Brought to the Water). Still, the mix of pop influences with metal is done tastefully, it's almost as if Savage Garden decided to included Norwegian black metal influences in their music at times and I think it's great! The musicianship is impressive, the dual guitars are mixing intricate atmospheric licks with heavy hitting riffs and the drumming is particularly awesome and can switch perfectly between all the styles required.

While George Clarke (a strong dark guru presence on stage) fits the music, I think he's too buried underneath everything on here and a little variety would had been nice. His lyrics are pretentious, that's a given but they're not bad at all. He's not the most interesting vocalist ever but he doesn't overstay his welcome and he lets the songs flow. The five tracks are all between eight and ten minutes and they're all dense, there's not a lot of filler if you actually appreciate their softer, instrumental bits (the introduction of “Baby Blue” is quite stunning and so is its proggy guitar soloing midway through). Sure, some of the transitions between their styles aren't always top notch but there's barely any bands evolving in such crossover styles that are truly proficient at these, Deafheaven are certainly better than most though.

Even if it's different than Sunbather, I doubt their detractors will find something they like here and I bet they will not even give this album a chance. Deafheaven aren't the best band of their generation and they didn't reinvent black metal on their own (Altar of Plagues, Fen or Ash Borer are all their contemporaries and are a bit better) but they're nowhere bad or the “worst thing to ever happen to metal”.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Local Sounds: Volume 3.0

Tonight's volume is all about bands with some post hardcore elements who are mixing this with a bunch of other styles. There's 3 bands from the glorious city of Montréal and one from Drummondville, enjoy and don't be afraid to send me recommendations! Thanks to Pascalou and Étienne for some of these recommendations.

Atsuko Chiba – Jinn (2013)
One of the best bands in Montréal, Atsuko Chiba (a character in the anime series Paprika apparently) plays a visceral and super interesting blend of experimental rock, post hardcore, post rock with a mix of explosive and atmospheric guitars. It starts with a 5 minutes psychedelic introduction with some flutes and a lot of Gilmour-esque guitar explorations before. There's not a lot of vocals and there's barely a need for them but it's used sporadically and it works well. “Qvox” has this excellent At the Drive-In influence with these almost rapped, almost screamed vocals. The instrumentation is rich, ranging from acoustic guitars to keyboards, there's a lot of stuff going on here. It's mostly contained in short songs for the genre(s) except for the final track “One Big Happy Family” and its 23 minutes length reminding me of the project of Rodríguez-López and Bixler-Zavala formed when ATDI ended, the mighty The Mars Volta. While it drags a little, the instrumental song has a wide array of emotions ranging from almost metallic guitars to softer moments. I have yet to see them live and I must fix that!

The Expectorated Sequence 

First Juice [Power] of the Shit (2014) + The Prolonged Disaster (2011)

These dudes are playing some sort of super heavy grindcore with hardcore, screamo and experimental touches. Their songs are obviously short with a devastating production and vicious vocals. First Juice, their fourth album, is more streamlined and angry than the the excellent The Prolonged Disaster which explored post hardcore, screamo and even metal at times more thorougly (listen to a track like “Scum of the Earth”). The francophone quartet (all their lyrics are in English though) has nothing to envy their American rivals, their sound is dark, brooding and has plenty of heavy riffs intertwined with soft, spacey sporadic moments. Both albums are highly recommended but I prefer The Prolonged Disaster due to its versatility. It's insane music that makes you feel good!

Expectorated Sequence on Bandcamp

Nous étions – La manière noire (2014)
Il a des trous dans le ciel!
The screamo/hardcore/post hardcore Nous Étions (we were in English) are about to start recording their debut full length after two pretty good Eps and I'm sure it will be extremely interesting. Their approach is quite lovely, melding harsh but understandable vocals (with poetic French lyrics) with heavy guitars full of feeling that are still incisive enough. There's a lot of introspective moments too like the beautiful “Le Journal De Ricardo Lopez” and while the vocals are constantly on the hardcore spectrum, La manière noire (the black way) is a surprisingly soothing release. The melting pot of genres (minus black metal) isn't quite far from what Deafheaven did with their seminal and future classic Sunbather. 
Nous Étions on Bandcamp

Politess – Politess (2015)

The project from Drummondville is, based on their own description, Everything your mom doesn't like” and unless your mother is into experimental hardcore/crust/rock/grind/metal, they're probably right. Their self titled debut full length is one hell of a trip into their musical dementia. Simply by looking at the songtitles, you know you'll spend a special moment with these guys, songs like “The New Chicken”, “Everything I Touch Turns Lesbo” or “Give Me Back My Virginity” are totally bonkers. They're certainly silly but they know how to compose cool stuff with a lot of tempo changes, groovy riffs and screeching vocals. One of the best bands out of Montréal and recommended if you like a huge dose of what the fuck in your music. There's even some saxophone on “La patère” and this adds a Naked City feel to the whole thing. Politess definitely did their homework while listening to Mr. Bungle and Anal Cunt and I'm giving them an A+.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Funeral Circle / Gatekeeper split (2015) / 82%

Canadian epic doom united

Two of the best Canadian epic metal bands got together to release this split release and it's a true showcase of the most belligerent style out there. It's a seven inches release with one track from each artist and it's pretty damn good, it's a great way to get into both bands and serves as a succulent appetizer.

Side A

Funeral Circle's "Hades Triumphant" marks the debut studio performance of Jean-Pierre Abboud but also the departure of their lead guitarist and composer Matthew
Barzegar so it's sort of an end to a chapter. I saw this lineup at their first Montréal gig last year at the second edition of Wings of Metal and they totally rocked my world. Their debut album is certainly one of the best Canadian metal albums so it's a bad sad to see this lineup end but it's a successful closure. The seven minutes song starts with an instrumental introduction before we're served the excellent, versatile and classy vocals of JP who's definitely a good fit to their epic doom sound. I was pretty devastated after the split of Borrowed Time (they released one of my favourite albums of the decade) but I was happy that JP decided to join the Circle, he brings a lot of lyricism and intelligence to the fold. Their doom is varied and has a lot of tempo changes, intricate riffs, emotional soloing and this track is no exception. Like its title, the composition is really triumphant and it's proven through the epic vocal patterns and the war like percussion. I can't wait to see what will the new lineup of Funeral Circle will do.

These memories of yesterday bring warmth, and keep bitter winds at bay...

Side B

While there's obvious similarities between the two bands, Gatekeeper mainly plays heavy metal but this song has clear epic doom influences. Gatekeeper, formerly based in Calgary but Jeff Black, their leader/guitarist/composer recently moved to Vancouver so this is also the last release of this particular lineup. The song named "Bell of Tarantia" (a city in the Conan world) is a tight heavy song and it starts with some bells (duh?) and a river flowing before giving us super epic dual lead guitars melodies and the soaring clean vocals of Shorre McColman (I think his contribution will be dearly missed). I think their songwriting is better here than on their 2013 debut extended play and while I haven't really digested their other 2015 split release (this time with Texas' Eternal Champion), it seemed to be on the faster side than this track. Gatekeeper is a great mix of sword & sorcery classic heavy metal with a slight and enjoyable epic doom sound and I really enjoyed their side. It's not exactly the most original thing around but it's done with care and skill.Hopefully, Black will be able to form a new lineup that's as strong as this one.

Heroes pyre at the castle spire / While a solemn belfry tolls

This split is the definite proof that Canadian metal (sup Darkthrone?) is in good shape and deserves more attention. While it has a runtime of fourteen minutes, I'm left on my appetite and I wanted more tasty epic nourishment, I guess I'll go spin some Cromlech, another excellent Canadian epic doom band while waiting for more material from these two groups. Bonus point for the cool Karmazid cover art, this guy rules.

Facebook Circle

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Interview with J-F Bertrand (Athros) of Starlight Ritual, Forteresse, Brume d'Automne...

Bertrand at the first Starlight Ritual gig as part of the 2015 Grimposium with Cardinal Wyrm in August.

J-F Bertrand, also known as Athros or Athros Nordmen, is a musician from Québec who's in Forteresse, Brume d'Automne, Nordmen and more recently released an album with Starlight Ritual, a new traditional metal project (read my review of their debut album here). It's my dearest pleasure to have this chat with him.

  • You're well known for your contribution to many Québécois black metal bands but you recently released an excellent album with Starlight Ritual, a band exploring heavy metal and traditional doom metal. Did you wanted to do something more akin to traditional metal since a while? It's a project that's really different from what we're used to from you.

Yes, totally! Guitar as always been my main interest and with Starlight Ritual I can explore this instrument further. I’ve always been a fan of classic metal, not only the songs but the sound. The music is so alive on old recordings, it is very inspiring. Starlight Ritual is not a side project but my main band and only focus. Musically it as nothing to do with my previous work so I choose not to use my MNQ name.

  • What were your influences and inspirations for this project? Also, what are your recent discoveries?
There is a lot, in the band we have diverse influences and it helps to create a unique vibe. As for myself, classic and hard rock, heavy and doom metal, overdriven old Marshalls tones and screaming solos are my thing. I am always satisfied discovering new bands with the old school spirit. My latest discovery is the Canadian band Spell.

  • Tell me how the band got formed. Did you knew these guys for a while?

Starlight Ritual's self titled
debut album
I knew Lou, Dan and Forge for years, and we jammed together for a long time until we decided to form Starlight Ritual. Lou Weed and I used to jam together after school 17 years ago. It was about time we put something together! Damian (vocals) joined the band shortly after it’s creation, and his powerful vocals complete the line-up with force. It’s the loudest project I’ve took part in to date!

  • What's up with having several projects like you have, how do you plan your time for each of them?

Well, Starlight Ritual is my main band and we rock weekly. My black metal projects are mostly studio projects and don’t require steady rehearsals except when Forteresse is playing live.

  • Do you think the politics surrounding Forteresse is a burden? I remember this whole debacle about the band playing the first Messe des Morts some years ago... How can it be compared to playing in a band like Starlight Ritual that isn't socially or politically engaged?

I never liked politics, and there was a lot of trouble going on around the first few Forteresse gigs, but I did enjoy the controversy haha! I remember we got pulled off the bill on the first MdM, since we were wrongly accused of being an NS band, probably a false interpretation of Quebec’s nationalism. I’ll say it again just in case those fools are still around: Forteresse is not an NS band. We finally played the gig anyway, drunk, and with no sound check. It was awful, but I keep good memories of it. It feels good now to only care about rock and roll!

  • Can you tell me some information concerning the next Forteresse album? What's the direction the band is choosing to take?
The new Forteresse album is going to be very intense, continuing on the same path as Wendigo. Moribond, Fiel, Matrak and I will complete the line-up. They have composed some insane songs, stay tuned.

  • Brume d'Automne just announced that they'll play their first gig ever at the next Messe des Morts (the 5th edition) this November, any comments about that?

Well, I won’t take part in this event and I don’t approve it. As the guitarist, bassist, drummer and song arranger, I can hardly see how this gig can be a true Brume d’Automne gig. The fans need to be respected, so Nordet and those guys better do their homework, and do it well.

  • A question for the gear fanatics: what's different between Starlight Ritual and your other projects. Guitars, amps, tones, etc…

Picture courtesy of Damian Warner
Starlight Ritual is playing with vintage gear. Old Laney and Marshall heads cranked up to get those huge overdriven tones. The guitars we use are made by Indie Guitar Co from Cornwall, Ontario. They have hot ceramic pickups which helps in making those old amps bark and scream. When I’ve recorded my black metal guitar tracks, I mainly used Fender Strats with single coil pickups and a Peavey 5150 amplifier. Quite different rigs.

  • Thanks for the interview, do you want to add something in particular?

Thanks for the interview, and thanks for supporting Starlight Ritual. Our first EP is out now, and you can check us out on youtube, facebook and bandcamp as well. See you at the next gig. Cheers!

Starlight Ritual on the Metal Archives
J-F's Metal Archives artist page

Metal Bounty Hunter: Volume One

Interesting metal bands presented with shorter reviews instead of my usual, more longwinded style. I'll try to cover a wide plethora of genres, this first volume includes death metal, stoner/doom, heavy/doom and sludge!

Obsolete Mankind – False Awakening (2015)
Explosive Montreal death metal

The first release of the Montreal band hits pretty damn hard. Composed of veteran musicians from many bands, Obsolete plays a vicious form of death metal that's highly uncompromising and is devoid of any flourishes and unnecessary details. There's no solos, no breakdowns, no progressive atmospheric breaks, it's hellishly fast and brutal for 35 minutes. The two guitars of Thiel (composer and ex-Neuraxis) and Dufour (leader of Phobocosm) are mechanical, aggressive and there's some of old school grind influences here (we're far from the current brutal death metal sound). The vocals of Marie-Hélène Landry are deep and will nail you on a cross. There's some variety in her vocals and I particularly liked the highest ones (listen to the start of “Distance”) and her socially inclined lyrics are quite interesting (three of the songs are in French as well!). While the compositions are top notch, there's a true lack of diversity here and it's hard to completely withstand the full thing in one sitting even if it's short. It's a decent debut but even bands like Immolation know how to diversify their music while keeping it dark and menacing.

Chu – XI (2014) Chuuuuuu chuuuuuuuuuu

From Kazakhstan, these five dudes play an atmospheric form of doom/stoner with a great balance between riffs and introspective moments. The short album (28 minutes) only has three songs including a 12 minutes opener but it's packed with content. While there's some vocals here and there, Chu is mostly an instrumental band with a shitload of solid riffing, soulful soloing (check out the solos on “Midgard” and some well placed ominous samples. The presence of two guitarists helps the band go into groovy details and the loud bass certainly fills any space that you could find in an instrumental band. Some moments reminded me of Americans Karma to Burn, it's just solid fun doom from a peculiar country. Now, if they could release a longer album, I'd be happy.

Chalice – Chalice (2014) Epic pilgrimage to Montpellier

Chalice, from Vermont, is a quite promising epic heavy/doom metal and their debut demo released last year needs more exposure. Lead by a woman named Hagthorn who's mixing medieval-esque clean vocals (listen to the wonderful “Gaudete”) with a more metallic, Manowar influenced delivery, Chalice are my exact cup (chalice?) of tea. The demo, basically a full length running length wise packs 2 very epic longer tracks as its second half with the wonderful “Merlin's Lament” being the longest at 11 minutes. The integration of medieveal elements in both their music and aesthetic was smooth and isn't cheesy like most European power metal about sword & sorcery. Influenced by the likes of Solstice (England) and pure 80s heavy metal, the quintet has solid compositions full of interesting progressions and tasteful twin guitar melodies. It's compelling epic metal with balls, power and some generous bass licks! I can't wait to see what's next for Chalice and hopefully they'll come visit Montreal soon since Montpellier is so near.

Slave Hands – Collapse (2015) Hell, sin and sludge 

The Helsinki based elusive trio (there's barely any information about 'em online) plays a violent blend of sludge/doom with some hardcore elements and it's totally nasty in the best way possible. Akin to the noisy Americans of Primitive Man, Slave Hands is all about downtuned guitars, slow mournful riffing full of misanthropy and venomous, spiteful vocals. Collape's six tracks are mostly midpaced, slow affairs but they never drag too much and it's a brief but dark recording. I was expecting a hardcore number with the 2 minutes “Modern Day Misanthrope” but it's still a thundering sludge song that will kick your ass into a coffin full of cajun food.The production is airy and lets all the hate flow through the thick guitars and the simple yet effective drumming. Recommended for fans of the genre(s). Like the sample in “Abysmal” says: “fuck the world”.
PWYC on Bandcamp

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Abbot – Between Our Past and Future Lives (2014) / 87%

NWOFHM #9: Fly, on your way, like a butterfly!

After three excellent singles, Abbot from Pori, Finland (home of Jussi Lehtisalo and his New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal), released their first full length almost exactly one year ago and it's pretty damn cool. The quartet is certainly a peculiar beast and another strong player in the superb Finnish doom (well, they're barely doom but they still count!) scene. Definitely in the same vein as some of Lehtisalo's projects (similar to Pharaoh Overlord's trad metal albums or the rockier stuff Circle stuff), I really liked this weird record decorated with a glorious butterfly (I still don't understand the reference... if there's one!).

Just imagine if Neil Young went to Finland, stayed there for twenty years and decided that doom, stoner metal and southern rock were cool things instead of doing yet another Bob Dylan or Gordon Lightfoot homage recorded in a telephone booth by Jack White and you aren't too far from the actual truth given to you by Abbot. Their music is rooted in southern tinged doom but there's a big classic rock influence here, I'm sure your uncle who's into Lynyrd Skynyrd would like this record! While probably not as adventurous as some of their previous singles like “Into the Light” and its harmonica introduction or the long winded power of “Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson”, the album is weird in its own way with its mix of slower, blues tracks like the superb “Mr. Prowler Man” and speedier metal tracks like “Moonsnake Child”. It's something special but it remains surprisingly quite authentic and vintage and wouldn't sound out of place on a lineup with Kadavar. I do think they're better than most of the current vintage fad though since they have those bonkers elements often found in the Finland scene that I really cherish.

They also possess this sort of garage/alternative rock influence (not too far from Dinosaur Jr.) and that's adding another layer to their nuts salad. They have this sort of tangle fun found in late 80s college rock and this combined with their southern doom basis creates one hell of a mix. There's also a lot of sleaze and grease on Between... like on the cool “Grave Encounters” that makes you feel like you're in the bayou but in reality, you're naked in a sauna with four overgrown Finnish toddlers drinking endless bottles of Karhu. Jakonen's vocals have this nasal quality and I bet he plays Dylan and Young covers when he's with his dad or something. His delivery fits the huge bluesy guitar of Jussi Jokinen (apparently not the hockey player currently playing for the Florida Panthers) who's bludgeoning your skull with thick fuzzy riffs and feelsy solos without compromises. The album is a bit short (33 minutes) and 1 or 2 doomier and slower tracks would had been nice but the soulful closer “Keep On Moving” does the job wonderfully. I'd probably kill a bunch of butterflies to be able to see this band live, it's just really good music transcending generational gaps and it delivers on all front.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Local Sounds: Volume 2.0

Here's the second volume of this series with five projects from the great city of Montréal. They're all widely different and that's a living proof of the quality of our music scene. I will not waste any time by talking about the weather or whatever, let's start with the first band!

Eliza - A Quit Smoking Soundtrack (2014)
This young Montreal band call their music « prog de casquette » or “hat prog” and while this is a weird description, it's oddly fitting. Their blend of super atmospheric and sad alternative rock certainly has progressive rock influences but the more ethereal ones. I was reminded of the Norwegian band Gaspacho a little since they both play this sort of adventurous but still accessible rock with superb, soaring clean vocals. It's romantic and the guitars are able to create these original yet familar melodies effortlessly. These Quebecois are one of the most promising bands in Montreal and hopefully their debut full length will live up to my expectations and by singing in English, Eliza can open the doors of interntational recognition a bit more easily, they're certainly quite talented and they deserve more admiration. I've missed one of their recent gigs with She Serpent (featured on Volume 1.0) and I feel bad about it.

Free download on Bandcamp

Carnior – Post-Sauce (2014)
Carnior are about to release their third extended play (and final one since they're breaking up) but this is one of their albums released last year. The instrumental quartet is quite interesting, they play an intriguing mix of neo progressive (think of The Flower Kings' love for Yes and Peter Gabriel era Genesis) with some post rock, some electro, some psychedelic, some experimental noise and a love of jazz technics. The bass is thick and heavy in the mix and the keyboard and pianos are really cool and in your face. The guitars are obviously influenced by Steve Hackett (one of the most underrated guitarists of his time) and are particularly juicy, check out the soloing midway through Dark foncé (sul' sofa)”, it's super good. They'll play their last gig next week (September 23rd) and I'll try to attend!

Free download of Post-Sauce on Bandcamp

Basil Oussaint – Agile (2015)
This dude really managed to get me out of my comfort zone (outside of showcasing the best local music, this is certainly one of the purposes of this series) with this album. Agile, his sixth release overall, is a joyful and eccletic blend of pop, world music, electronic, house and synthpop and it's extraordinarly catchy. It's super sexy, the beats are awesome and his vocals and lyrics (all in French) are super attractive and corny in the best way possible. Basil has basically no internet presence outside of this Bandcamp page but fans of the great Philippe Katerine's most out there material will dig this record. Bonus point for having a cat on the cover art!

Free download on Bandcamp

Golden Python – Matt Damon vs. The World (2014)
Since I saw Team America in the theaters (damn, this was more than 10 years ago), the
“MATT DAMON” joke has always been one of my favorite running gags so the title of this album by Golden Python got my attention. Their first EP is a fantastic experimental indie rock record with some math rock and screamo influences with fucked up lyrics. I was reminded of Modest Mouse a little mostly because of their unorthodox musicality and weird poetry. There's almost a video game music influence here but it's all played with the traditional rock instruments, the guitars are really playing these complex and strange melodies (check out “Flat Tree / Fat Tone”). Highly recommended for those who think indie rock is boring, this is far from being mundane.

Buy the EP on their Bandcamp

Growing Pains – Mood (2015)
Released back in June, this EP is simply a stunning piece of grungy power pop/punk/alternative rock and I can't get enough of it. It's very 90s and has the same mournful but uplifiting feel early Weezer had. It's all about being concise and punchy unlike some of the more intellectual and atmospheric picks of this Volume. I really like the four short pieces on “Mood”, especially the softer one “Paradox”. I want more of this! It's sweet nostalgic music, it's accesible, melodic but has enough power in the riffs to not be a sacharrine affair devoid of intellectual integrity like most of the mainstream pop punk projects.

Live with Pluum (featured on Volume 1.0), Golden Python and 2 other bands soon @Turbo Haus

Free download on Bandcamp