Friday, 27 March 2015

Ice Dragon - A Beacon on the Barrow (2015) / 80%

The Beacons are lit!

The Boston trio has been constantly busy since their debut in 2007, churning out albums on a regular basis (four in 2012 for instance) and that's never been really a problem since they have such a diverse sound that can change itself from album to album.

A Beacon on the Barrow, their first release in 2015, is certainly one of their heaviest in a while since their recent full length explorations were full on psychedelic rock (Born On A Heavy Morning or Loaf of Bread), folk & pop influences (Seeds From A Dying Garden) or even spooky ambient southern drone (Dead Friends and Angry Lovers). Even though both these albums shared a lot of different non metal sounds, the stoner/doom core was still present albeit subdued in them. Followers of the band knew they weren't leaving their metal roots in a ditch though and here they are with their darkest and heaviest album since at least greyblackfalconhawk (or even possibly ever if we exclude their worthy side project Tentacle) and I'm quite pleased with that. While guitar driven, the band is less inclined to unleash long guitar solos like on The Burl, The Earth, The Aether but while it's perhaps not as complex, it's still emotionally invested and well written.

Five songs for about half an hour of music is what you'll get here. Built like a sort of story with similar song titles (from “The Rider” to “The Return”), it's also one of their best production to date as the riffs are solid and totally freaking heavy. I don't think I've heard the band as angry as they are on Beacon, I guess the Boston Bruins aren't as good as some years ago and hockey is always a good reason to get frustrated! I was surprised by the level of darkness reached here since that's not quite what the band is used to, especially with what they released recently. The only calm moment on this album is the closer, it's a sort of countryesque/drone instrumental ballad but it's still pretty brooding.

The doom/stoner displayed here is ranging from fast paced and aggressive to mid paced and fuzzy. The opener is a blistering stoner track and then, the second track comes in and change the tempo towards a sort of slow and crushing doom metal number with deranged vocals. The music found here reminds me a bit of Red Fang with their groovy attitude but without the modern progressive rock layers. Nevertheless, Ice Dragon are known to include a lot of psychedelic elements and there's some here but in a restrained way, there's a huge wall of space rock sound behind the whole thing like in “The Journey” and it's a good companion to the meat and bones which are the stoner riffs. There's also some noise moments and they're well integrated without sounding out of place.

The album is a good compromise between the modern identity of the quartet (undeniable when compared to their stoner/doom peers) and the retro/psych/miscellaneous identity developed throughout their history. It's a short album but there's still a huge diversity and it's never forced. Like the artwork they picked for the album (Cotopaxi (1862) by Frederic Edwin Church), there's a somber atmosphere found in the dark clouds mixed with a sense of hopefulness emanating from the waterfalls and that's a good reflection of the musical content of Beacon.

The vocals were never the strong suit of the band even though they're fairly competent for the style. They're usually buried underneath a fair load of stuff but they're clean (albeit a bit gritty), high and uses a clear sense of catchy melodies. Ron has a good set of pipes too and he's not boring. Nonetheless, the vocals were/are rarely the focus in Ice Dragon's compositions. While their work isn't as memorable as I'd like to be (perhaps due to the mass production of albums), it's very enjoyable and most doom fans will find something to like here.
Reaching Melvins like degrees of variety, Ice Dragon is pretty much succeeding at all the styles
they dare to play and god knows the list is as long as my grocery bill. A Beacon on the Barrow is definitely a good place to start with the long discography but expect some widely different music if you pick at random.

The whole discography is free or “pay what you want/can” on Bandcamp and that's pretty awesome. Cheap excellent music is always appreciated.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Mulletcorpse - Disinfect (2012) / 15%

It's only 25 minutes... It's only 25 minutes...

That's the thing I constantly told myself when I was listening to these guys, god it's a style I never learned to liked. What style is it, precisely though? Well, hard to truly say since they probably don't know what they're doing and which direction to take themselves. They label their music as “death/grind” possibly because they fear the dreaded “deathcore” tag but that's what they are with a mix of other genres they don't really know how to integrate. 

The whole thing has obvious brutal death metal influences but it's not as sick or deranged enough to truly be something enjoyable. It's basically a mix of that with pseudo grind written by some dudes who think Dying Fetus is the epitome of the genre and think that Napalm Death aren't heavy enough and some modern djent tripe influences that are as disposable as the little poop bags I used when I walk my dog.

 The vocals are decent, more in line with actual death metal than grind or brutal death and they're possibly the only thing I actually liked on Disinfect except the integration of metalcoreish shouting such as in the closer “Posercrusher” (dudes, pretty sure you'd have to crush yourselves). The lyrics are uninteresting rambling about death but not gory, nasty or smart enough to be compelling for the genre(s) they play. 

“Congratulations, you've just been nominated the world's biggest wannabe”

Well, ok!

The band began to annoy me immensely me when the guitarists decided to stop playing riffs and branch out into djent/modern “metal” territories with these noodly and totally obnoxious riffs composed for a generation who grew up listening to all the wrong things. The songs are all around three minutes and they're constant attacks of badly written breakdowns and generic blastbeats and combined to the dual vocals, it's just unbearable. The musicians aren't the problem here since they're not bad, the songwriting and the melting pot of genres are what ruined this first full length

I'd rather listen to Periphery since at least they have a cohesive vision of their craft, Mulletcorpse are all over the place and can't seem to find a way to actively combine their wide of uninteresting musical genres.

Like mullets, the music of these Ontarians is ugly and for people with poor taste.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Shooting Guns/Zaum – Split: Himalaya To Mesopotamia (2015) / 84%

Cool artwork with an oriental and cosmic identity.

Instrumental Maple Syrup Part II : The Cosmopolitan Influence on Canada's doom

I was happily surprised to learn that Zaum released a split with the fellow Canadians of Shooting Guns. Zaum's debut album on I Hate was one of the best doom records of 2014 and it's fun to hear some new stuff from them already. This split is pretty interesting since it's combining two different ethnic influences (as demonstrated by the inventive title) to doom but also two different styles of the music genre into one potent and epic release. Let's start the trip, shall we?

On the first side, we have the instrumental quintet from Saskatoon unleashing three new songs for a total of twenty minute. Their usual sound is a very psychedelic and space rock influenced sort of doom/stoner metal and this split doesn't deviate from their norm too much but it brought a Himalayan influence, their sound is almost shamanic this time around. The background is very lush with a bunch of fusion rock keyboards and sounds intertwined with the constant barrage of riffs and repetitive/kraut guitar leads. Able to transcend genres, Shooting Guns doesn't need any vocals to deliver their insanely cosmic message. Neither overly complex nor simplistic, the songwriting and musicianship is quite solid and is aided in their quest by the airy but space tight production work. The music is relatively slow but can accelerate when needed but one for thing is for sure, it's always groovy and the drumming and bass playing make sure the rhythm is always solid and vivid. I feel the band could be even more heavier though but that's a mild criticism since they do shine on both the soft and hard moments.

I hope the band will visit the Canadian east coast soon enough since experiencing this sort of music live must be something else. I bet there's absolutely no need for any LSD when you have these fellows playing in front of you.

Zaum's side is only one long track but it's a pretty magical one. Longer than any of the four songs on their full length Oracles, the nineteen minutes “The Serpentshrine” feels like a logical continuation of the album but with an even more present epic and atmospheric flair. The song is quite long and it takes a lot of time to get it started, some would say it has some filler but I liked the long introduction with some clean chanting in the background and the soft bass lines. While, admittedly, it could had been tighter and more massive, I like their non metallic parts a lot and would probably listen to a full album of that as some background reading music. Kyle McDonald's vocals are a mix of clean soft mesmerizing chanting and a harsher, evil tone when the metal side of the band decides to show its face almost midway through the song.

The band is a two piece and while the main influence is Om's, I feel they're able to distinguish themselves with the amount of ethnic (Arabic, Mesopotamian) luggage they travel with. The bass and drums lineup has nothing to envy to the full five members unit of their split brothers in terms of richness as there's many other instruments involved such as sitars. It's not lo-fi nor too simple, it's slow but emotionally complex. This duo is impressive and while there's some minor details to fix, their future is bright.

It's a good split worth a look if you dig original and out of the ordinary doom metal and it also serves a showcase for two excellent bands from two Canadian provinces that aren't usually in the spotlight when we talk about metal coming from my country. Doom on fellows! 

Shooting Guns - Brotherhood of the Ram (2013) / 85%

Instrumental Maple Syrup part I: Highway Truckin'

Probably the best thing I ever found coming from Saskatchewan, a Canadian province widely known for its rectangular shape, an unique feat compared to its peers, Shooting Guns is probably my discovery of the year so far. They have this sound that I've been craving for a while, it's a deep and profound instrumental doom approach! What a better way to start this series than with the band that made me want to do it?

I used to often think (or even say) that most instrumental bands doesn't have vocalists because they couldn't find one, well it certainly can be the case... But great ones really don't need any. Shooting Guns are one of these bands, the quintet has a rich enough musicality to be protected from comments such as “you guys should totally like get a singer”. The two guitars attack gives them a lot of mobility, options and gives them the opportunity to be both heavy as hell or thoroughly psychedelically mad. The keyboards is also important in their sound, it adds a lot of necessary landscapes and it's not simply there to look cool, retro or “progressive”. As the band is exploring kraut territories (made me think of the eccentric Circle from Finland often), the weird ass effects became essential to their formula, the track “Motherfuckers Never Learn” (I never did myself either) is a good example of this, it's a repetitive and freaking heavy track helped by a huge helping of keys of all sorts. Mixing hard hitting stoner metal/rock with psychedelia, experimental and kraut rock isn't an easy task but these prairie boys do it perfectly.

Sometimes the key for instrumental bands is writing songs that are not overstaying their welcome and Shooting Guns knows that, their compositions on this album range from 4 to 9 minute and are frankly never boring. The space rock influence to their doom/stoner recipe is wonderful but they're also able to calm things down and go full space ballad with the song “Go Blind” or even finish with a drone/noise influenced track.

A very rewarding 40 minute experience, Brotherhood of the Ram doesn't mess around with the excessive and the unsubtle sounds and that's exactly what I want to hear in an instrumental doom band. They're over the top but it feels right and the wide array of influences are well integrated. I highly recommend this band to any fans of adventurous music that have loose definitions of what sonic boundaries are supposed to be.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Hay Perro - Eastern Ideas of Death (2011) / 82%

Woof Woof!

Slough Feg has been one of the most interesting American bands of the last two decades and it's always a pleasure to hear some of their compatriots evolving in the same sound pool. I reviewed the mysterious Texans Blackholicus
 some years ago, a female fronted Feg attack and now it's the turn of Hay Perro (“there is a dog” in Spanish) to get some appraisal. From Chicago, home of the Blackhawks, this quartet's debut album is an amusing slab of Thin Lizzyesque heavy metal with a big dose of punk rock. 

Vocally wise, it's often using the hardcore punk/punk rock tropes of old with these fast paced shouted but clean vocals that are both very catchy and aggressive, think of Black Flag or Minor Threat with an added metal charm and a certain modern component. While there's a certain punk ingredient in Hay Perro's music, it's combined to the heavy metal/hard rock identity of the band and this is still their prevalent one. The vocals on the other hand are almost entirely falling into punk territories. It's still a very cohesive experience and the combination of the twin guitar attacks inspired by the likes of Priest, Maiden and the aforementioned Lizzy with the vocals works well.

The band stays on the fast lane for the whole album but there's some speed variations and there's two tracks where they give themselves the opportunity to branch out a little such as the title track, the last song of the album and its epic feel. It's a groovy record with a bunch of interesting riffs but it would had been fun to hear some longer blistering guitar solos like we can hear in their patrons' music, sure there's some like on “Vicious Beast” but they're fairly short and a bit too restrained most of the time. Anyway, it's always better to attack full on with a barrage of riffs than to add numerous leads to the deal but some more twin guitars soloing interactions would had been appreciated!

So, if a mix of heavy metal à la NWOBHM, old school punk rock and groovy hard rock doesn't interest you, you're probably reading the wrong review or you've been lost for a while. While not groundbreaking and masters of their craft, these boys (and girl) are cool enough and you'll  have a good time listening to this album if you dig the mix of styles they play.

The production job is thorough and just old school enough to give a sort of timeless sound to the album while avoiding to fall into saccharine modern territories or into the weak DIY production often plaguing young bands. Unfortunately, their second and final album Desert of Nowhere (2014) has a weaker production for some reason but the songwriting is still interesting and worth checking out. Hay Perro broke up too soon and I hope its members will reappear in new projects soon as they're obviously talented.

Hay Perro on Facebook
The album on Bandcamp

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Circle - Sunrise (2002) / 95%

NWOFHM #8: Skulls, swords and masterful sauna fuckery

The band has a highly varied and large discography but the release of a surprising death metal album in 2013 (Incarnation) played entirely by session members. Nonetheless the metal factor was already present throughout many of their previous releases such as Tulikoira (2005), Katapult (2007), Hollywood (2008), Rautatie (2010) but was never totally and fully explored until recently.

Circle are truly an interesting entity, formed in the early 1990s by Jussi Lehtisalo and it's been his main creative focus since then. If you've been following this series of reviews (that's probably not the case!), you're aware that this eccentric Finn has been producing a wide catalog of music, often under the NWOFHM (New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal) banner. Bands with weird monikers like Krypt Axeripper, Steel Mamoth, Pharaoh Overlord, Aktor or Arkhamin Kirjasto became staples of my musical diet and I felt ready to tackle the main course, the legendary Circle.

Sunrise was definitely one of these “almost” metal albums, it's an amalgamation of many genres into one potent but very rewarding experience. I liked all the Circle albums I checked, there's so many that I haven't heard them all yet but there's always a will to experiment and go forward while maintaining an unparalleled atmospheric approach. Their usual sound is a mix of droney experimental rock either instrumental or with unorthodox vocals. An album like Mountain (2005) is a great example of tenebrous drone/experimental/post rock with its two sinuous and long tracks. Sunrise has some of this cuisine on its menu but it's also incorporating a lot of rock and some metal influences. Almost a decade before Pharaoh Overlord's Out of Darkness, there's certainly some similarity between these two. Repetitiveness is one of Circle's main tool and they use it well for metallic and rock songs like the opener “Nopeuskuningas”. It's almost kraut metal as the main heavy and catchy riff is repeated endlessly while these insane vocals are unleashed and then, a psychedelic solo appears and tries to make its way through the might of THE riff for almost three minutes and finally succeeds. The song structures are out there and interesting enough and despite the repetitiveness, it's never boring or too much as the songs are not that long (except that final drone track). They know when to change the tempos and when to incorporate well thought moments of colorful joy (just like the glorious artwork)

The musicianship, like on every Circle album, is impressive and complex in its apparent simplicity. Lehtisalo's leadership is always felt throughout his bass playing (he probably plays the guitar on this album too, the credits are unclear about what each member is playing). It's at its core a prog rock/krautrock record so the guitar, both electric and acoustic, are the focus here but there's also some other instruments like the violin (track 6) and some electronic overtones that are included. Concerning the electronic side of their music, it's nothing compared to some of their other albums like 2011's Infektio.

Get ready to travel everywhere with this album, the second song is some sort of proggy folk pop in Finnish (well, in fact, the whole album is and that's wonderful) and as far as I know (I know nothing about that), it's influenced by native Finnish music. It sounds a bit like the Nordic Canadian music the Innu people make (check out track 4 for another example). This seems to be a mess on paper, right? Well, no it's not, even though the album is fairly diverse and goes from metallic hard rockish drone kraut experimental rock to atmospheric folky and sometimes joyful territories. It's highly condensed and has an extraordinary vision of how it should be, of how it should be constructed and how it should sound.

Sunrise is pretty much a timeless record as it's taking a metallic sort of 70s hard rock, some stoner rock and they threw it in a huge blender with krautrock and a bunch of psychedelic rock. It's timeless because it's still undeniably an oeuvre of its time and that's probably due to the idiosyncratic nature of Finland's musical scene, it doesn't try to be original, it simply is, effortlessly. With the use of clean but highly emphasized vocals, a given for Jussi Lehtisalo's projects, the band goes deeper and deeper into mad realms of genius artistry. I mean, the band was never quite accessible but this album is probably one of their most “gettable” as it's tight and catchy. It's a good way to get into them, I'd say.

Mix Led Zeppelin, Can and Finland and you'll get Circle, one of Earth's best and most original bands. Sunrise is a memorable album and the one I picked as my first review but you can't hardly go wrong with any of 'em.

While I'm the sauna, start your Circle exploration without me, you'll get lost but that's part of the process.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Mausoleum Gate - Mausoleum Gate (2014) / 92%

Open, open, open... the gates of excellence

Finland never stops to surprise me, after the everlasting impression their rich and excellent traditional doom scene gave me, the small Nordic country is also delivering the goods in the heavy metal genre with bands like Ranger, Lord Fist and these guys, Mausoleum Gate. These bands are all fun and meets the required amount of evil silliness that the genre asks for. Unlike many of these “occult” bands taking themselves too seriously, these Finns know how to have a spooky and colorful atmosphere while still being able to unleash some intricate seriousness upon us.

Inspired mostly by the NWOBHM scene (see Angel Witch, Holocaust, Iron Maiden...), the quintet also integrates its fair share of progressive rock and classic rock influences with the wild use of synths and mellotrons (all played by the bassist Wicked Ischanius, not sure if that's his real name...). These influences are also made clear with the numerous guitar solos found on this self titled album, they often have this rock vibe and they're certainly enjoyable. There's a lot of Rainbow/Deep Purple too and that's surely a great thing, I mean, it should be criminal to dislike Rising.

Mausoleum Gate are, in my opinion, a full package. Everything about their sound is impressive, from the clean, profound and strong vocals to the tremendous leads and riffs rooted in traditionalism and excellence and the Maidenesque moments (listen to the twelve minute title track and cream). There's also a strong bass presence (not overwhelming like Harris but still quite enjoyable) and the drums are dynamic and groovy as hell (listen to “Mercenaries of Steel”, a track reminding me of these numerous and idiosyncratic Jussi Lehtisalo heavy metal projects like Krypt Axeripper). There's a good mix between short, catchy tracks and some longer, proggier ones and I feel the band should expand on the later as I think they're great at them but eh, that's my opinion!

Heavy metal is a genre that I really like, the soaring melodies or the roaring solos but it's sometimes playing it safe with a direct, to the point, rocky attitude both in the songwriting and musical departments. It's not the case here, everything is rich and developed to the apex of these weird guys' abilities. Their sound is diverse and the band isn't scared to include mellow moments like the calm parts of the marvelous track “Lost Beyond the Sun”. I always thought that it's way harder to write ballads as metal is often about skills and technicality but Mausoleum Gate knows how to inject a lot of feelings into their music and it pays off.

The singer, a fellow named V-P Varpula, is quite talented. He has the necessary set of pipes to go all in but he's often a bit subdued and let the guitarists shine. Nevertheless, he rocks these choruses and I like the old school reverb and sleaze in his voice.

Voluntarily dated and classic, the production is still very solid and reminds me of the epic might of albums like “Seventh of a Seventh Son” with its samples and balls out approach. I wouldn't want the album to sound like a modern and saccharine imitation of Painkiller like their fellow countrymen Battle Beast do.

When I heard the rusty door close at the end of the record, I already wanted to get back inside and spin the album again. It's a (too brief) forty minutes that I've been living often since I discovered the band in late 2014. I can't praise Finland's underground metal scene enough, this is yet another gem.

Listen to the album on Bandcamp