Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Lucifer's Fall - Lucifer's Fall (2014) / 91%

Knockin' On Hell's Door

I've been following the development of this project since I heard the Dungeon Demos 2013 rough rehearsal. My crave for their traditional doom approach has finally been fulfilled with the release of their first self titled album (out digitally for now, out physically this Autumn.) The main dude, Phil Howlett has been quite active since the formation of Rote Mare in 2005 but I never quite got into this band. I thought it was usually long-winded and that it didn't have the trad doom passion found in grander oeuvres. It wanted to be more than what it was with the inclusion of harsh(er) vocals and it didn't quite work.

Fast forward to 2014 and we have Lucifer's Fall, a neophyte could question the need for a new doom project created by Howlett but I really won't since this is widely different in its approach. It's like he stumbled into Wino, Chandler and Albert Witchfinder and ate some shrooms all night. It's way more focused, full of might and, primarily, doesn't try to reinvent the wheel by adding unnecessary estranged elements. The raw production compliments the carefully composed bass and guitar lines very well, it's heavy, never too slow and it knows when to be groovy. It's textbook trad doom of the higher calibre and considering that's perhaps my favourite metal genre, this album is freaking marvellous.

As Satan is my name! Lucifer's Fall! Cast down from Heaven!

I kind of believe that the whole Satan subject is tired but it's definitely a classic one that I'll always welcome. I'd like bands to be a bit more original theme wise but there's nothing wrong with sticking with the good old formula and Howlett does it well. He's proving that he really feels the genre, doom is about guts and feeling and it's the case here. His vocal delivery is top notch, clean and adequate vocals with a lot of power and personality. He's even delivering some high pitch lines similar to the The Wizar'd's latest doom masterpiece. The slower moments of tracks like “A Sinner's Fate” almost reminds me of the atmosphere bands like My Dying Bride were able to convey early during their career. It's emotional, well written and doesn't drag even though some tracks are on the longer side (nonetheless, never more than ten minutes.) The editing is good unlike many of their current peers and their blend of doom and heavy metal has a clear sense of direction.

Australia is not well known for its traditional doom metal but rather for its more extreme doom with bands such as Mournful Congregation. Hence this fact, the band worships at foreign but interesting altars. The main one being located in Finland, you can certainly hear Reverend Bizarre and their disciples (The Wandering Midget, Caskets Open...) on Lucifer's Fall's music. There's this sort of cold tongue in cheek darkness particular to this Northern Europe (or Scandinavia depending of your point of view) and the Aussies have it too, they probably spend a lot of time in the desert at night.

The album respects the forty minutes unwritten rules and is a blistering, catchy, intense doom release deserving to top the best of lists of 2014, a feat I never thought possible of Howlett's Rote Mare project. He lets everything loose here, like the best doom albums, it's emotionally draining in its self pity and its classical darkness.

Mandatory doom, gentlemen.


Monday, 7 July 2014

Wo Fat - The Conjuring (2014) / 85%

Deep Fried Doom with a side of blues

The boys from Dallas, Texas are back with their fifth album since their inception in the early 2000s and it's a fucking massive album. After their excellent 2012 album The Black Code which probably was the band at its peak, they really didn't have to change their sound for their new album since they reached a perfect understanding of it.

The trio led by Kent Stump rocks super hard and even though they're from the Obese nation of America, they're all pretty thin dudes. Pretty disappointing considering the name of the band but oh well, their riffs are greasy as fuck nonetheless. Musically, it's quite groovy and the guitar, bass and drums formula works well within their boundaries. The basis of their compositions is huge doom/stoner metal which is deeply rooted in southern American blues so you can definitely feel the melting sun of Texas on your forehead with these guys. The guitar playing of Stump is superb, he's delivering intense, heavy yet catchy riffs alongside long ass solos with a jam band feeling. There's a perfect harmony with the rhythm section composed of Tim Wilson and Michael Walter, the band has been playing together since the beginning and no lineup changes has plagued their unity (something unfortunately rare nowadays.)

Stump also sings but the vocals are far from being the focus of Wo Fat (damn, I like saying their name, it feels like eating a deep fried Oh Henry or something.) They could be an instrumental band for all I care and it won't change what I think of them (in fact, there's an instrumental version to be found!) The closer “Dreamwalker” is a seventeen minutes song so there's not a lot of vocals and nevertheless,  it's never boring. They always added subtle but enjoyable psychedelic elements that are only giving another layer of intricacy to the band. Their music can feel a bit overwhelming at times, it's full of emotions and grasping but the length is perfect for them, it's much more condensed than their two debuts (both like seventy minutes, that's just too much, brothers)

The vocals are sparse and nothing special overall. It's gnarly clean but drunken vocals. He's good enough for what they're doing but don't expect anything spectacular on that front. There's this huge blues influence such as in “Pale Rider From the Ice” with its slide guitar riffs and groovy, sentimental vocals. Their lyrics are pretty decent, psychedelic, metaphorical fantasy based themes are their forte for this one compared to the science fiction/pulp of The Black Code.

I can certainly fee the Kyuss influence here, it's crossing the stoner rock frontiers quite often and even though it remains a metal band, they're not that heavy. I'm sure that if I show Wo Fat to some old bluesemen, they'll dig them. There's this certain honesty about them that you can't simply can't fake.

Before the enjoyment of this album, you will need:
-A sixer of cheap watery beer.
-Some BBQed chicken and sausages with perhaps some Tex Mex food.
-Old Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top vinyls.

Wo Fat's Fatbook page

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Barrow Wight - Power from the East (2014) / 74%

Look into the Palantir!

This trio from the Canadian capital of Ottawa plays a very old school sort of metal and they do it quite well. Led by a cool dude from Manitoba called Andrew, Antero, Aragorn or something, they're inspired by all the right things. Their music fits the 80s revival that we're living nowadays but it's not as cheesy as other Canadian stuff such as Cauldron. It's sure is sloppy but I like my cheeseburgers with a lot of melted cheese so I'm totally fine with that sort of metal.

I remember getting their latest demo at a Natur gig in Montréal (live review here!), it was enjoyable but pretty fucking raw so I decided to wait a bit to cover them. Now with their first EP (now released by both Heavy Chains and Dying Victims after an indie tape release) is still raw on the edges but the production is pretty much perfect for their brand of ultra traditional heavy metal mixed with the oldest black metal influences you can find. Think of Venom at its dirtiest, old funny Anvil and Bathory at its formative stage and you're on the right track. Instead of the evil approach of Cronos, Barrow Wight (formidable name) explores the Lord of the Rings lore and even if it's perhaps an overdone subject, it's always a very cool one.

It's gritty but quite melodic too, songs like “Rock into Mordor” (haha!) has a nice sing-along chorus and sweet, simple guitar playing. The band just fucking rocks the Middle-Earth with groovy riffs, semi harsh vocals with a very greasy bacon vibe, it's not quite excellent but it does the job. Nothing is tight because nothing needs to be, it's a crusade against modernity and the saccharine elements it brought to the genre. Fuck modern Septicflesh and its sterilized approach, this is fun, raw and metal as hell.

The five songs, twelve minutes extended play is short and it's easy to just press the repeat button, it starts with this noisy evil intro and extends to this nasty “Anvil of Mordor” affair. The songwriting remains simple, perhaps not yet well refined yet but their goal is clear and quite achieved for a first professional release. Don't expect to be blown away by anything here but it's entertaining and you'll spend a good time with the Wight. The drums are nice, the bass is loud but could be pushed to higher grounds and there's a certain will to push the boundaries of their agenda further in their sound and I'm sure it will be explored.

Garnished by a cool drawing from Ian Miller, an authority in fantasy art (Lord of the Rings, Dungeons and Dragons...), Barrow Wight doesn't mess around and release a promising, catchy and metal to the bones EP. Not the most original thing around but check if they care, that's not the point and it shouldn't be enforced!


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.