Archive for the album review Category

Casu Marzu – “Psychosomatic” review

Posted in album review, Casu Marzu with tags , , , , , , , , on January 3, 2011 by GRAMPS Pantheon

 

When experiencing a band whose namesake is a cheese, one may be led to expect something tongue-in-cheek.  Yes, casu marzu is a cheese…a maggot-infested, decaying cheese.   However, this is no gore- splattered grind album either.  Casu Marzu is a serious extreme metal band, whose name, enigmatic in its relation to the music, fittingly reflects the album’s mysterious lyrics and curious blend of musical influences. 

Psychosomatic is surprisingly expansive for a 15 minute EP.  Divination and Legata revel in epic soundscapes that flit between traditional melodic death metal and ethereal black metal.  There are frequent moments that channel the great Immortal and Enslaved, especially in the cold, yet progressive edge to much of the album’s black metal sound.  The lyrics follow suit, being quite atypical for metal, while being mediated through a black metal rasp.  They are all over the place, ranging from the mythological leanings of Legata to more introspective meditations, like Plague Bringer’s allusion to a J. Alfred Prufrock musing “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

Casu Marzu is still a new band though, and sometimes it shows.  The drumming sounds programmed on this release despite them having an actual drummer.  This digital drum-kit sound gives the music an artificial sound that sometimes enters the realm of sloppiness, especially during the introduction to Tempest.  A few of the tracks end somewhat abruptly as well.  Though, it is worth noting that neither of these complaints detracts enough from the EP to ruin one’s enjoyment.  They are definitely excusable for a first release.

It can be easy to be too hard on a newcomer.  Clearly lacking the benefits of a proper studio recording and mixing, Psychosomatic nevertheless succeeds in its sonic deliverance of extreme metal joy.  Casu Marzu takes influence from the various masters of black and death metal, but isn’t afraid to look forward.  Musically and lyrically a success, Psychosomatic is an entertaining listen that should prove a more delectable morsel than its band’s namesake.

NOTE: The album can be download legally for free at this location: http://casumarzumusic.bandcamp.com/

-Max

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Electric Wizard – “Black Masses”

Posted in album review, Doom metal, Electric Wizard, stoner metal with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

As the candle burns, the listener is tranced within seething tectonic thunder, becoming the very result of the album’s initial foreboding chord of psychadelic stoner doom metal. The dense, sonically-charged patterns of destruction are skillfully woven by the very mistress of Jus Oborn Himself, the voluptuous Liz Buckingham. From her stagnant roots in the doom band Sourvein, Buckingham has blossomed to the sweetest and most foul orchid of them all. Bat-tailing off of the last album, Witchcult Today, the theme of vampiric “Drugula” has gone from lurking in Witchcult’s “Satanic Rites of Drugula,” to full-blown overpowering mayhem in Black Masses‘ “Crypt of Drugula,” the album’s final track. Each scalar plane of sound has been rendered to full-density, full-volume, high-grade psychadelia that could transport any solid or shape into the Ether. The directions rendered by Electric Wizard’s overall soundscapes is that of simultaneous descension (in the form of lead-infused riffs and blues-rooted scales) and ascension (cultivating a multi-tentacles sound that interlays vastly different levels of tone, density and expectation, requiring the listener to forage through the layers of distortion to extract the kernal of miss Buckingham’s quietly shredding guitar). As the album title suggests, the listener will fall easy victim to the Wizard’s latest brew, and become blind, drugged and beaten to a pulp of leveling our reality before our eyes. Gadzooks!

-Alex

Cryptopsy – “Once Was Not”

Posted in album review, cryptopsy, death metal, experimental, technical metal, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Perhaps it’s a worn topic by now.  Cryptopsy’s surprising foray into trendy deathcore simplicity threw their fans, and most of the extreme metal community, for a loop.  Their pseudo goth/bondage attire and feau-hawks, though appalling, served as the perfect compliment to their new-found bitchy attitudes and staunch assurance that deathcore was their new genre of choice.  Now, I have this idea.  Maybe I should say, a hope.  A hope that their latest musical output, The Unspoken King, is nothing more than an elaborate hoax, meant as a parody to the recent surge of so-called heavy and brutal deathcore bands.  For, how could a band that had just released Once Was Not, one of the most exhausting yet ultimately beautiful death metal albums, spit out this simple garbage?  Every time I listen to Once Was Not, I’m forced to ponder this baffling phenomenon.

Once Was Not is not without its detractors though, something else that I can never quite understand.  Being that extreme metal is such a revolt against typical music, it is surprising to see this album continuously lambasted for its experimental nature.  To recreate another Blasphemy Made Flesh or None So Vile would be a disgrace to those albums and is always behavior typical of a band that is burning out (Immortal, I’m looking at you!).  Though, based on many of the critical responses for this album, it seems that people wanted and expected this, especially given Lord Worm’s triumphant return as vocalist.  To me, Once Was Not is the necessary evolution of Cryptopsy, capturing the brutality of their older works while instilling a greater sense of scale and complexity.

The overarching theme of war is both sonically and lyrically conveyed without fail.  Their use of unorthodox sounds and composition, while the butt of most criticism, are probably the most integral characteristics to this album’s believability as a testament to war.  How else should war’s unpredictable and chaotic nature be conveyed than by instrumentation set to the same tune?  Starting with the framework of death metal, Cryptopsy takes the genre’s staple characteristics – blast beats, growled vocals, heavily distorted guitars – and re-imagines them into the context of the album.  Riffs are highly unique for death metal, conveying anything from impending doom (“Angelskingarden”) to contemplativeness (“The Pestilence That Walketh in Darkness”).  Flo’s drumming is at it’s best, working alongside the guitars with unyielding complexity. Meanwhile, Lord Worm’s raspy snarls are in top-form as he narrates the various atrocities and eventually forces the listener to grasp the utter horror that results from war.  Perhaps the most perfect symbiosis of music, lyrics, and consequent imagery comes with the final track “Endless Cemetary.” We are presented with the end of a battle, perhaps even the war itself:

“Cold blue lips frame (a) yard-wide grin
that Calls to flesh, to let it in,
and thus indulge its Yearning
come the unDawn

Roam the endless Cemetary of what once was,
(where) the Allfeeling is never truly Gone”

As if he were speaking from the cold and blue lips of Death itself, Lord Worm changes his vocals to a shrill, black metal shriek after the music builds in order to deliver his final, horrible message:  Ultimately, Death has won.  Just as he finishes screaming, the music immediately ends, with this abruptness being yet another reminder of the randomness of death in a war environment.  In effect, we’ve become another member of the endless cemetery, experiencing the suddenness of death in musical form.

Maybe in retrospect, after the horror of The Unspoken King, some of Once Was Not’s harshest critics can look back and see this experimental and technical Cryptopsy in a new light.  Here we see a band that set out to tackle the worn topic of war in a holistic approach, embodying the topic’s spirit both in concept and in sound.  Rather than the “experimentation” that occurred on The Unspoken King, Once Was Not actually pushes the boundaries of death metal.  Not through implementing trendy pig squeals and slower Korn-esque songs, but with immensely difficult and complex songs that force the listener to dig deeper in every consecutive listen to fully appreciate them.  Here’s to hoping that the next Cryptopsy album follows in this fashion!

Max

Mark Mothersbaugh – “Muzik For Insomniaks” Review

Posted in album review, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, Mark Mothersbaugh with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

My friend and I have an odd running joke of finding “Donkey Kong” vibes in music.  Somehow, we constantly encounter music that is similar in melody or overall atmosphere to the music in the Donkey Kong Country/Land games, normally a sound akin to that of the underwater or snowy mountain levels.  I’ve heard everything from black metal to trance conjure up this very precise ambience.  Now, I can add one more set of albums to this ongoing trend, Mark Mothersbaugh’s Muzik For Insomniaks.

Never played the Donkey Kong games, you say?  Well, don’t fret.  Muzik For Insomniaks’ infectious nature may latch onto you for a number of other reasons.  According to Mothersbaugh, its original purpose was to be music that you could do work around the house to.  If that was the only purpose of these albums, then he has succeeded.  A solely keyboard release, the two volumes are low-maintenance material, not demanding your full attention at all times to pick up on the melodies.  I’ve tested this out by doing household chores to these albums.  Lo and behold, the pairing is fantastic!  Dynamic enough to keep me from being bored but not so complex as to side track my natural thinking.

Though minimalist in terms of its repetitious nature and sole use of keyboards, the muzik is really quite addicting and the melodies are surprisingly complex and ever-changing.  The albums just drip with a whimsical child-like feel too.  This is what a creator of the children’s show Rugrats felt as well.  For, if you’ll recall, Mark Mothersbaugh did the music for that show.  These are the albums that got him that job.  If you don’t pick up on the Rugrats feel throughout Volume One, then first track “ugo” of Volume Two will no doubt give you instantaneous Rugrats theme song flashbacks.

I could see this album turning a lot of people off.  It’s really quite experimental in the overall lack of any verse-chorus song structure as well as the aforementioned constant repetition.  I urge you to give it a try though.  In the time that I’ve been listening to this album, I’ve found it perfect for going on a run, doing chores, childhood nostalgia, Rugrats nostalgia (I was/am a huge fan), thinking, driving a car at night, and allowing me to remember Donkey Kong games and other good 90s video game soundtracks.  Is there any reason not to give this a try?  Well, it is pretty rare.  Good luck finding it!

-Max

Naked City – “Torture Garden” Album Review

Posted in album review, avant-garde, Grindcore, Jazz, Naked City with tags , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Pleasure through pain is an experience oft connected with the BDSM fetish scene, with the term “algolagnia” specifically used to describe this sort of kink.  How fitting it is then, that Naked City’s Torture Garden, with its album art taken directly from a Japanese BDSM porno, tackles this specific perversion in both concept and sound.

Whoever thinks that jazz is limited to the “elevator music” played off dusty old 10”s has never heard Naked City’s destruction of not only jazz music, but the overall restrictions of a typical musical band: consistent song structures, verse or chorus patterns, and lyrics.  Perhaps a big “fuck you” to these musical standards or an ode to Naked City’s hardcore/grindcore influences, the songs on Torture Garden are incredibly spastic and sometimes contain three or more genres within one sub-minute grindcore track.  Notable pieces include “N.Y Flat Top Box,” a primarily country music song whose twang is interrupted by hiccups of blast beats, “Cairo Chop Shop,” an aptly-named romp that serves as a brief yet disturbing glimpse into the Egyptian underground, and “Kaoru,” with a musical box lullaby strangely evocative of the prologue from Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.  This genre hopping style can be dizzying and definitely a turn-off for the casual listener.  But then again, when has avant-garde jazz/grindcore hybrids ever been aimed at the masses?

Most commonly labeled as “too loud” or generalized by the layman as “screamo,” extreme metal and grindcore somehow find a target audience that hears something compelling hidden behind the cacophonous sound.  Seemingly, Torture Garden is an experiment in this idea.  If we can derive enjoyment from this music that breaks most, if not all, musical standards and should prove a “painful” listening experience, then aren’t we algolagniacs?  Perhaps hidden within any adventurous music fan is this innate desire to test our limits.  What may initially be painful can turn into a pleasurable experience.

-Max

Carach Angren – ‘Death Came Through A Phantom Ship’ Review

Posted in album review, black metal, Carach Angren with tags , , , , , on June 18, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

For me, Carach Angren was one of those bands that I just happened to stumble upon. Before I bought their albums, I had heard nothing about them except the reviews that were on the metal archives for their debut album, Lammendam. When I saw that they were labeled as “symphonic black metal”, I was quite excited, since this genre of music is one that I happen to enjoy and wanted to get more into. As excited as I was to hear this album, I never actually thought that Death Came Through a Phantom Ship would be this good.

The production on the album is clean, which helps the listener appreciate each of the instruments and the vocals on the album. The clean production really helps show the high quality of musicianship that is demonstrated throughout Death Came Through a Phantom Ship. There is some great tremolo picking throughout the album, and the riffs present in the album are quite well done too. What is great about the music on the album is how well it flows throughout the album. Besides the typical guitar, drums, and bass, there are violins, horns, keyboards, and a piano that are used throughout many of the songs on the album. With all of the different instruments that can be present at one time in the album, some would expect that there would be parts in the album where these instruments would clash in a manner that would be unpleasant for the listener. This may hold true for other bands, but not for Carach Angren. The instruments are all skillfully played and in turn, they complement each other well. With the different instruments present, the members of Carach Angren are able to create an eerie atmosphere, which complements the story that is being told throughout the course of the album. Atmosphere is something that can really help draw in a listener, if created correctly.

The vocals on the album are mostly typical growls. Along with these growls, there are vocals where Seregor, Carach Angren’s vocalist, is simply speaking or whispering. These types of vocals help provide variety throughout the album, but they also help give the listener a sense that a story is being told. This really helps the fact that this album is a concept album, since it makes the story easier to understand for the listener. Added to this, the growled vocals are quite easy to understand, so the meanings and the stories present in each song are not lost as a result of the listener’s inability to understand the vocals. There are some clean vocals present on the album, such as those present in the opening of the song “Van Der Decken’s Triumph” and in the song “Al Betekent Het Mijn Dood”. In the case of these songs, the clean vocals to me sound exactly like what I would expect to hear from a crew working on a ship. This only adds to the story.

Death Came Through a Phantom Ship is a concept album concerning a captain’s decline into insanity and how this legendary ghost ship came about. One of the most impressive aspects about this album is that the members of Carach Angren are able to clearly tell this story while still being able to produce an album that is nothing short of amazing. The story itself is very good too, only adding to the worth of this album. From my interpretation, the album starts off in a more modern setting, where one sailor is explaining his encounter with this phantom ship. The rest of the album then concerns how Captain Van Der Decken becomes insane and this phantom ship comes to be. Since this story is a ghost story, some of these songs are truly chilling. Just look at the story that is being told in the song And the Consequence Macabre. To give a brief summary, Captain Van Der Decken (I assume it is, this song is in the first person, so no name is mentioned) is having a nightmare in which someone is attacking him, and his daughter is missing. He wakes up only to find that both his wife and daughter are dead. Well, that’s the general idea, but it’s probably best that you listen to this song to truly understand it.

Death Came Through a Phantom Ship is an album that does not disappoint. The music is superb, the vocals are great, and the story is chilling. If you are a fan of symphonic black metal, I highly recommend this album. Also, if you enjoy ghost stories or legends, or you want to see a band that can masterfully tell a story through music, I strongly suggest that this is the first album you should look into. This album is an amazing output, and I am greatly interested to see what Carach Angren will do next.

Sean

(Also posted on the Metal Archives, http://www.metal-archives.com/review.php?id=258064)

Celestia – “Archaenae Perfectii” Review

Posted in album review, Celestia with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

According to Mr. Varg Vikernes of Burzum, black metal was never meant to last beyond the Norwegian movement of the early 90s.  All of the bands strived to have a different sound, a different image, and a different purpose.  As with any burgeoning genre though, a string of copycats arose playing this Norwegian style to death.  Nearly twenty years later, we stand amongst a sea of black metal bands, knowing that the vast majority will be uninspired copies of some classic artist.

With their newest release, Archaenae Perfectii, Celestia toes the line separating “been there, done that” and something fresh and interesting.  Celestia borrows heavily from the typical black metal sound, featuring an abundance of tremolo-picked, dissonant guitars on every track.  At times, this sound can become grating on my ears for the very reason that I’ve heard it done many times before.  The bass is mostly inaudible (other than the final track), the drums merely do their job, and the vocals are standard-fare, high pitch screams.

With those gripes out of the way, Archaenae Perfectii actually has a lot going for it.  Each track contains moments of beauty, ranging from the addition of a subtle atmospheric keyboard in the background to the various acoustic guitar melodies.  Never sounding out of place or over-used despite their frequency throughout the album, the use of acoustic guitars prove to be welcome diversions from the otherwise entirely metallic sound. Though I find their dissonant black metal moments to be mediocre, Celestia crafts some damn fine melodies!  The acoustic melody played in the backdrop of “Dogmatii Duality / Au Crepuscule Sous Les Larmes” breathes life into a track that would have otherwise been entirely average.  The high point of the album is probably “Dominus Crux Spiritus” which contains a blissful acoustic interlude, coupled with ethereal keyboards that pave the way to a graceful conclusion.  However, the finale “Nuit Qui Brille Comme Soleil” provides some competition, being undoubtedly the heaviest track on the album.  It contains some surprisingly dynamic percussion that had me air-drumming and headbanging like some sort of freak.  In fact, it’s probably the only track on the album to which one can head bang.  Hey, that’s fine with me.  In general, I find black metal to be more of an experience that envelops the listener in the overall atmosphere rather than music to pump your fists to.  In small and tasteful doses though, as on this album, some high energy moments can prove to be exciting and unexpected!

I can foresee Archaenae Perfectii being an album that will sneak onto various top ten lists for 2010, and I wouldn’t have beef with that.  Celestia has crafted a fine album that transcends its various moments of mediocrity by wisely inserting a sublime melody here and there or switching to the acoustic guitar for a quick breather.  It does just enough to separate itself from the festering carrion that is the black metal genre.  Not quite the reinvention or evolution that needs to occur for black metal to stay alive, but eclectic enough to be applauded.

-Max