Monday, 29 August 2016

Beelzefuzz - The Righteous Bloom (2016) / 81%


The Righteous Doom (way too easy but eh I do what I want!)

Beelzefuzz from Maryland returns with their second full length after some legal troubles involving the name of the band that I will not talk about except to say that I’m glad it’s all resolved. Dana Ortt (guitar, vocals) is now free to continue delivering mesmerizing Maryland doom but this time with a fresh lineup and not a sub-par one, no sir. Formerly a trio, the group is now a quartet and they’re tighter than ever. Ortt is joined by Bert Hall (seminal bassist of Revelation), Greg Diener on guitar (leader of the important and excellent Pale Divine). Darin McCloskey (Pale Divine, Crowned In Earth) returns on the drums. With this new but experienced blood, the band managed to craft one of the best doom albums of the year.

Even if three tracks (2, 3 and 11) from their wonderful 2012 demo are appearing here, it took me a while to notice it since the songs managed to evolve a lot since then and the lush production and the improved musicianship gave them a second life. Beelzefuzz are one of the most peculiar and original bands to ever play American doom and the fact they’re from the doom mecca of America certainly helped forming this new, extremely talented lineup. The compositions of Ortt were already intricate and rich but they’re reaching new levels of beauty with this record. Their mix of classic rock, psychedelic rock and doom metal has always been impressive to me mostly because of how well the songs are constructed. The formula is tight but feels immensely dense with so many layers and sound webs knit together. The addition of a second guitar makes things even more complex and enjoyable but rest assured that they didn’t trade simplicity for technicality, it’s complex in a subtle and emotional way.

Most tracks are pretty short and straightforward but they’re jam packed with content. Only the title track and its previous track called “Nebulous” expanded the sound into truly epic territories. Doom is usually about despair, marginality, religions but those guys are pretty damn uplifting. There’s still some darker melodies involved but the heaviness is a varying concept for them. One thing is sure though, all their riffs are interesting and well written. They play retro rock/metal without trying to, it’s a second nature for them. They’re not trying to fit in in any trends or genres as they jump with ease from psych groovy rock to doom and so on.

The Righteous Bloom is perhaps less immediate, heavy and catchy than their self titled album, it’s a bit more subtle overall as well. Like the colours of its creative cover art, it’s a lighter and more hopeful record than their debut but for me, there’s something that has been lost since the demos, it’s hard to explain why but I felt more at ease with their earlier sound. Nevertheless, this is a solid album.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Existe – Esprit sensible, monde fragile (2016) / 85%

Post-raw existential crisis


This band started by Cyril Tousignant is another vivid example of how good the Québec black metal is and how diversified it is nowadays. Now a quartet, Existe unleashed their debut album in late July and it's a strong hybrid of post, black, punk and depression.

I remember being conflicted about their 2013 EP Et de longs passages douloureux pour une harmonie recherchée. It was an underproduced effort with a lack of direction and compared to this new oeuvre, the post rock/ambient side was more important. Esprit sensible, monde fragile (Sensitive spirit, Fragile World) see the band move towards a more metal direction, now more influenced by Lifelover than the lighter side of Alcest. Nevertheless, Existe still plays a fairly diverse style full of nuances and hooks.

The album starts with a non metal track with acoustic guitars but the screams of Tousignant are downright bone chilling and are certainly a good example of the type of singing we find in depressive black metal. After this somewhat long overture, the record moves in many directions but it's always done in a cohesive way. From the punk approach of the oddly named "/!\" to the aggressive yet atmospheric black metal of "Les fleurs fanées" or "Surpopulation humaine" (and its superb shoegaze ending), it does everything well. It's hard to say what is their stylistic core, it's much more raw than most post-black, much more emotionnal charged than most traditional black metal evolving in the obscurity. The vocals, mixing harsh tones, soft spoken words and some chanting (listen to "Anxieuse"), are all in French and they're singing evocative yet sad lyrics.

Mes yeux sont grand ouvert mais mon cerveau est flou

There's a certain richness in Existe's instrumentation, it's not only focused on the guitars, the bass is thundering, overly present and really damn enjoyable. That's something uncommon for black metal. It's probably the hardcore punk influences giving a larger focus to the rythmn section as it's more often the case in punk. Furtermore, the integration of unorthodox metal instruments such as the clarinet (end of track seven) or pianos (outro) are small but pleasant touches giving the album an expanded identity.

The guitars are well crafted and the adequate production job highlights all the instruments. It's able to be both subtle and complex at the same time (see the instrumentally inclined and beautiful "Frivole"). The post rock from the previous EP is mostly gone but it remains there in spirit inside these tightly knit songs and this short but sweet album.

It's post-black with an uncompromising heavy attitude and no meandering long-winded explorations. The trip is kept brief, to the point and carefully present itself as a midway point between depressive black and post-whatever. It sometimes enters the post-hardcore realms just to borrow some elements, some attitude and come back with a stronger feel. Just like the El-Ahrairah full length (the best black album of 2016), the successful combination of emotions through raw black metal power makes this album an unknown jewel.

Free download but a limited run of self-released CDs are gonna be available soon.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Wretch – Wretch (2016) / 85%



Wretched Wisdom



Karl Simon is back in full strength with a new doom project after the tragic demise of The Gates of Slumber and the death of his best friend and bassist Jason McCash. This self titled album marks a style departure from his old and now retired band as they explore a different type of doom focusing on a different lyrical theme.

The Gates of Slumber always managed to include many hard rockin’ songs onto their albums but they were also incorporating the sexy loincloth sword and sorcery epic doom sound on many occasions (think of the lengthy numbers “Dark Valley Suite” or “Riders of Doom”). On this self titled album, gone are the Robert E. Howard or the historical influences, the accent is on personal lyrics about death and how he lives with the death of his buddy. Simon said this about the the lyrics on the label’s website: “No more giant spiders or ice worms, There are real horrors that occupy my mind these days.” and while I understand and respect his decision, the epic side of his former band was one of my favorite aspects of their music. While albums like Conqueror or Hymns of Blood and Thunder were branching out into different aspects of heavy metal, from Shelton inspired epics to Iommi inspired riffing, Wretch are going back to the basics and doesn’t bother you with twelve part epics about how Conan killed an entire army by himself.

The decision to play a simplistic and streamlined form of trad doom metal style was certainly a good one too. The songs are tight, focused but still have this terrific jam aspect. At times, it feels like you’re in their rehearsal room when you’re bludgeoned by Simon’s bluesy long-winded solos and his distinctive manly voice. Rest assured though, the production job is terrific and the riffs are thundering. The relatively short album alternates between doomy tracks and ones more rooted in heavy metal like the excellent cover of Judas Priest’s “Winter/Deep Freeze” from their underrated debut album Rocka Rolla. “Rest In Peace” is definitely one of the best tracks of 2016 and his groovy and catchy riff is just stuck in my head.

Set me free, let me rest in peace!

They’re not forgetting the slower sort doom metal though, no sir. Tracks like the long-ish “Icebound” or “Drown” are dirges showcasing the same dark aura The Gates of Slumber were known for. For me, Simon was able to convey the emotional weight of his life without compromising on the heaviness of the material and this is something rare in doom. I’ve rarely heard such combination of mighty doom power and sorrow. The only temporary calm moment we got was the instrumental interlude “Grey Cast Mourning” before we get bludgeoned by the final track.

The Gates of Slumber’s final album The Wretch, the inspiration behind the name of this project, was a transitional album for Simon. It was already exploring some darker lyrical themes and showed that he was ready to take his music to a rockier place. Simon removed the epic heavy metal influences (think Mark Shelton) from his compositions and decided to solely worship Sabbath and Vitus. There’s shittier decisions than this one.

Overall, it’s a strong debut album for Wretch and will please those who want their doom to rock hard. I’ll have to listen to Atlantean Kodex if I want sword and sorcery in my doom.



Friday, 12 August 2016

Perihelion Ship – A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring (2016) / 85%

Worshipers of the City of the Moon


If you’re disappointed with Opeth’s current direction, look no further, here’s their best disciple to ever exist. The Helsinki quartet’s debut album doesn’t hide its main inspiration but still managed to move and surprise me with the way it mixed all the different influences.

To still talk about Opeth, this five track record is mixing their Blackwater Park sound with the mellotron heavy explorations of Ghost Reveries and the results almost made me forget that the Swedes have a new album coming in September since it’s so superbly done. In fact the integration of the keys and the mellotron is one of the thing the Finns improved, the instrument is much more prevalent here and it’s obvious that Jani Konttinen is an integral part of the band and not an hired gun. Perihelion Ship themselves mentioned their love for prog rock (such as the Änglagård or Anekdoten, both excellent) and it’s apparent in both their calm, atmospheric moments and the use of the keys. The acoustic parts flow well within the long songs (such as the twenty minutes self titled epic) and aren't disjointed at all. It remains a cohesive and tight record, it’s not too long and there’s no weak moments.

One major difference with the Swedish masters is the fact that there’s only one guitar but the aforementioned mellotron easily fills the potential void left by the absence of a second guitar. The way the guitar and the keys are intertwined can easily recall the glorious years of prog rock or in theory, some moments of Dream Theater but without the technical masturbation. The guitar antics are also more subtle and less into soulful soloing acrobatics than some of their peers. Songwriting wise, it’s solid but it remains Opeth worship (this is really apparent in the metal riffs and less in their proggier moments). I think it will be interesting to follow the development of the band’s identity.

Band leader Andreas Hammer handles the guitars but also sings and his voice is the clear highlight of this rich record. Both his harsh and clean vocals (widely used) are excellent. His clean approach almost reminds me of Hansi Kursch but without the operatic flair of the Blind Guardian’s frontman. His growls are deep and powerful and like the cleans, they elevate the compositions immensely. The lyrics (written by Konttinnen, their keyboardist) are also intelligent and philosophical.

While not the most original band around, the quality of this record is outstanding and for a self funded effort, it’s professional, well recorded and shows how good the musicians are.

Lascaille's Shroud - The Roads Leading North (2016) / 82%


Nanomachines, Space, d20s and Operas

If you have issues with albums longer than forty minutes, well, just leave now and come back when you’ll be able to sit down and listen to a two hours detour into space. I’m personally used to science fiction marathons, I’ve been watching Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise like a madman for the last two years so listening to Lascaille’s Shroud feels like the musical extension of space operas. The scope is mighty as a Klingon Bird of Prey and the execution is as precise as a photonic cannon. I’m actually sorry for the Trek references as I’m not familiar with the series of books and video games the band is using as inspirations.

The third full length album of Brett Windnagle, the mastermind behind the project, is a vast concept album with what seems to be an original story. The dude is immensely productive as it’s his second two hours album in a row. While editing your ideas is usually a good idea in music, it’s obviously not the case here. Lascaille’s Shroud sure lacks restraint but there’s no disposable songs on this record.

The story is interesting and well written but I will not actually talk about it in details, read the lyrics and enjoy the story of Elizabeth North while listening to the album if sci fi is your thing. It certainly feels like a Shadowrun game at times where you play this girl armed with nanomachines exploring a dark, futuristic world full of dangers.

The vocals on this long journey are diverse and handled by two guest musicians. Patrick Parris’ clean vocals are fairly reminiscent of the high pitched approaches of bands like Fates Warning (listen to his parts on “Restrain the Child” or “What Dwells Beneath Her Flesh”). Parris sounds super great and fits the space theme like a glove and automatically improves the songs featuring his talents. I’m often reminded of Ark’s seminal album Burn the Sun in its abrasive and aggressive but spacey approach to progressive metal. It’s busy and has barely any extended instrumental and pretentious fillers.

To be fair, I think the songs are better when the clean singer is featured, not that John Yelland (who also do some cleans) doesn’t do a good job at the harsh vocals but musically, the clean approach is a better fit for  the bonkers space opera Windnagle wrote. I actually like the addition of female vocal samples on songs like “Sketches of Madness” which is basically a synthwave interlude. Despite some odd moments here and there, the fourteen songs album feels too monolithic and repetitive for such a long story. I think there’s not enough calm moments or surprises throughout the run-time. Still, this wouldn’t be a complain if the album was actually forty minutes...

The death metal elements are overly present but they’re somewhat buried under the lush, progressive production and the large amount of synth and keyboards used. The style reminds me of Dark Tranquillity’s later material but with a long-winded structure (“Unspeakably Defiled” is eight minutes) and honestly, a track like this one with constant harsh vocals can get a bit tiresome. We still get some thick and heavy riffing but in a mechanical way. It’s not without emotions or lifeless though, it’s not industrial metal after all but more like progressive metal with an electronic approach. The drum machine, something that I have no problems with as far as metal is concerned, is efficient and sounds really good. Sure, real drums would possibly elevate the compositions to a new height but I think the performance was still enjoyable.

In the end, this is a grandiose concept album and an enjoyable experience. It’s a successful foray into science fiction storytelling through music. With the cover art and the electronic elements, it could be easy to think of Lascaille’s Shroud as a metal version of Perturbator and I’d understand why, they have a similar approach to their different styles. Despite being a self produced album, I think the sound is top notch. The guitars are aggressive, thick and the leads are well composed and epic. In 2016, it’s totally possible to record a totally professional record at home since the means are easily available. The production work on the vocals is also clear and brings a natural counterpart to the futuristic soundscapes.

While it’s a bit much to withstand in one sitting like all double albums (even the great ones like those written by Midnight Odyssey, Esoteric or Elysian Blaze), the trip is rewarding if you’re into silly prog metal (is this an oxymoron?). Recommended if you have the patience and the tolerance for aural space operas.

Bandcamp

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Spirit Division - No Rapture (2016) / 84%

When the Doom Explodes

Indianapolis is not exactly Baltimore as far as doom metal is concerned but the Midwestern city still offered great offering to the gods of slow thundering metal with The Gates of Slumber and Apostle of Solitude. There’s some newcomers following in their footsteps like Void King, the demented black/sludge/doom of Coffinworm and those three guys I’m covering today.

I wanted to tackle their solid debut when it was released last year but it never happened, luckily their sophomore release is as good. While a bit on the short side (thirty minutes should be an EP if we’re talking about doom), the album managed to hit all the right notes with me. The trio is apt at tempo changes as they alternates between the mid-paced jam packed washing machine might (opener “Whispers in the Embers”) and their fast paced fifty ton garbage truck approach (“When the Sun Explodes”). Spirit Division are able to vary their formula without going overboard with often superfluous lengthy numbers. Indeed, all the tracks except the opener and the closer are all below the four minutes mark, their spirit of concision is one of their strengths. They do unleash a relatively short epic at the end of the album with “Wendigo” and it’s perhaps my highlight of the record.

The musicianship is rock solid too, the bass playing of singer Chris Latta is loud and thick, the soloing and riffing of Stephen Hoffman (now out of the band, their lineup has always been unstable unfortunately) are massive and possess the necessary heaviness to keep us hooked. Latta’s vocals are deep, powerful and like the music, they have this manly blues attitude mixed with the operatic side of epic doom metal.

They’re a band with a lot of potential but I feel the best is to come, their sound can still be expanded and improved even if I really liked this album. They don’t wear their infleunces on their sleeves either, even if you can guess that Pentagram is important for them, their sound is fresh, heavy and definitely needs more attention. At times, it’s almost like you’re listening to a way heavier version of Clutch and that’s pretty damn awesome.


Originally published on The Metal Observer

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Dark Forest – Beyond the Veil (2016) / 85%

Epic English artful metal

The English lads are back with their fourth album and it’s their most ambitious work since their formation. Beyond the Veil is a truly epic album clocking over seventy minutes and really showcase everything the band can do. I’ll admit the length was overwhelming at first and I still think it’s too long for the genre they play but there’s nothing disposable to be found on the record. They suffer from the same syndrome one of their main inspirations has been suffering for a while, I’m of course talking about the overlong albums of Iron Maiden.

Their mix of classic NWOBHM with the fun folky melodic side of Skyclad is enjoyable but since their formula is so uplifting, it’s a bit too much at times. They do unleash the necessary slower and calm moments such as the two interludes but those are a bit too short to really catch your breath between the busy, often long numbers (six songs over six minutes). Songs like “Earthbound” bring a melancholic mid-paced feel but still brings out the riffs. For such a long album, there’s not a lot of surprises but the title track has those added female vocals adding an ethereal influence to one of the catchiest tracks of Beyond the Veil. This same song also has a pure folk break without turning it into a cheese fest.

I’ve been listening to the album
a lot and while it’s an exhausting experience, it’s nevertheless a rewarding. I do feel like skipping some tracks to reach the concluding fourteen minutes epic “The Lore of the Land” which really feel it could be on Dance of Death or The Final Frontier (I love those albums by the way)

Josh Winnard’s second album with the band sees the singer expands on his performance from The Awakening. The dude sounds really good and fits the elegant traditional metal identity of Dark Forest very well. His approach is clean, powerful and he has a lot of range and really fits the powerful vibe the band explores. Sure, he’s not rough or anything and is perhaps one of the most noticeable power metal aspects of the band but I enjoyed his contribution. The choruses and vocal lines are super epic and never boring.

Patrick Jenkins and the band founder Christian Horton both delivers excellent twin guitar harmonies and like their ancestors, their guitar styles encompass heavy, folk, epic power or even speed metal and considering the songs are packed, it’s always combined into a tightly knit package. The leads are well written and they also know how to write clean soothing moments (like on “The Wild Hunt” ).


While it’s too long-winded for nothing, Beyond the Veil is a great album worth your precious time if you like this kind of metal. They’re certainly able to represent England’s past in a wonderful way.


Originally published on The Metal Observer