Archive for the avant-garde Category

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

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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

Sigh – ‘Scenes From Hell’ Review

Posted in album review, avant-garde, black metal with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

With each album, Sigh has consistently shown their listeners that they will never be pigeonholed into a specific genre.  While the origins of their music are rooted in black metal, orchestral, jazz, and avant-garde influences are also present.  Imaginary Sonicscape was a bizarre trip through a psychedelic atmosphere.  Gallows Gallery, the band’s foray into melodic metal, proved that they could retain a high level of musicianship and varied influences while creating songs that were instantly catchy and accessible.  With 2007’s Hangman’s Hymn, Sigh incorporated a large amount of orchestral influences, resulting in a highly symphonic and intriguing listen.  However, for the first time, Sigh overdid it.  The tracks themselves were fantastic, but long orchestral breaks made the album a chore to listen to.

Enter Scenes from Hell.  For the first time, Sigh does not completely reinvent themselves.  Rather, they have taken the winning formula from Hangman’s Hymn and stripped the filler from it, resulting in a cohesive and wildly enjoyable album.  The orchestral influences are back and more prevalent than ever, but the band has truly perfected their incorporation into the song structure.  Unlike other symphonic bands, who simply write metal songs and layer violins and trumpets over the riffs, Sigh make the orchestral atmosphere an integral part of the music.  Saxophone solos follow guitar solos, loud trumpets punctuate heavy passages, and violins and keys mingle with distorted riffs and blast beats.  Never have classical instruments sounded so normal in metal.

Don’t worry, Sigh have not lost their avant-garde side.  ‘Normal’ does not mean that you have heard this before.  ‘Prelude to the Oracle’ opens the album with a thrash riff, quickly bombarding the listener with a chorus of trumpets.  Songs run the gamut from intense blackened thrash to slow, doomy dirges, such as the exceptional ‘Funeral’ songs in the center of the album.  Of course, Mirai’s trademark howls and keys are backed up by Shinichi’s furious guitar shredding, but Scenes from Hell also boasts the addition of saxophonist and vocalist Dr. Mikannibal.  Her deep growls and solos, especially on ‘Musica in Tempora Belli’ add a new dimension to Sigh’s music.

Despite excellent song structures, insanely catchy melodies, and a new level of orchestration and experimentation, Scenes from Hell is not Sigh’s best album.  It remains a blast to listen to after repeated listens, unlike its predecessor, Hangman’s Hymn.  However, the production is strangely muddy – the bass is inaudible, more or less, and the guitars occasionally sound as if they were recorded underwater.  Considering Sigh’s popularity and the quality of the production on previous albums (Gallows Gallery notwithstanding), this is bizarre.  And, while it’s great to hear the band perfect the style that they dabbled in on the previous album, it is somewhat disappointing.  In today’s metal scene, with two-bit metalcore acts and ‘bedroom black metal’, it is always refreshing to find bands like Ulver and Sigh who constantly reinvent themselves and progress.

Even with poor production and a lack of progression, this is certainly one of the best albums of 2010 thus far.   Sigh’s brilliant combination of blackened metal with symphonic elements is one of the best that has been recorded, and is not to be missed.  While no one can predict what Mirai and crew will come up with next, it is fair to say that, considering their track record thus far, it will certainly be another monumental landmark in the evolution of black metal.

Adam

Metal Songs That Make Me Lose My Mind (Part 1)

Posted in Absu, avant-garde, black metal, death metal, Drudkh, Equilibrium, folk metal, Mayhem, Suffocation, viking metal with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Everyone knows the feeling.  You know…that feeling when a song just clicks.  You get a rush of adrenaline, a shiver runs up your spine, and little goose pumplets form on your skin.  From that moment on, that song will always make you want to sprout wings and soar above everything or unsheathe a weapon and lay waste to all evil fiends in your path.  Nearly uncontrollable energy is bursting from the aura surrounding your body.  Well, I personally cherish the moments when a song can elicit these powerful emotions.  Thusly, I present you with a collection of songs that truly make me lose my mind.  (As an aside, I limited it to one song per artist.  I also included the specific time in the song that gets me excited/turned on.)

Absu – The Coming of War

The Sun of Tiphareth is an odd album in the Absu discography.  It marked a departure from the death metal sound of their prior album and early demos in favor of slower, epic black metal.  Immediately after The Sun of Tiphareth, Absu added a thrash element to their albums.  While they were able to execute this black/thrash sound in a most excellent fashion (Tara…holy shit…), the sheer quality of this release makes me wish they would return to the slower sound for at least a song or two.  I’ll always remember Absu playing “The Coming of War” as the finale to their set when I saw them play live.  Despite the sound being utter ASS in that venue, the ridiculously epic riff broke through and made me a fan of this track.  My favorite Absu song?  Perhaps.  “She Cries the Quiet Lake” and “Night Fire Canonization” provide some competition, but it’s definitely up there.

Moment in particular: 2:44-4:13

Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten


I don’t gravitate towards death metal all that often.  However, when I’m feeling the need, I usually order up some tech-death.  Suffocation wholly fulfills my tech desires with their seminal Effigy of the Forgotten album.  While the album is full of moments that blow me away, it is the tempo/riff change during the title track that wins out in the end.

Moment in particular: 1:23-1:58

Mayhem – Key to the Storms


Does Ordo Ad Chao stack up to De Mysteriis or Deathcrush?  Many say no, but I wholly disagree. De Mysteriis perfectly captures the atmosphere and the madness of the Norwegian black metal scene and consequently, has been one of the most lauded black metal albums of all time.  Mayhem made the correct decision though and moved forward.  Every consecutive album was an entirely new creation that built upon their established formula and took risks.  And now Ordo Ad Chao, arguably their most disturbing album and the first to feature Attila Csihar since De Mysteriis.  The songs have a raw, improvisational feel that is executed flawlessly.  Whether it be the surprisingly technical drumming, the avant-garde riffs, or the unsettling vocal performance by Atilla, I always find myself consumed by this album’s sound, time and time again.  “Key To The Storms” contains some of the most profound moments of sheer madness and raw emotion that I’ve experienced in any album.  Perhaps some may find Attila’s descent into insanity during the latter half of the track silly.  I do not…  In fact, I find it believable and therefore all the more unnerving.

Moment In particular: 1:57-end

Equilibrium -Des Sängers Fluch

While Equilibrium’s first album Turis Fratyr maintained a delicate balance between creating epic melodies and crafting a beautiful atmosphere, Sagas focused way too much on usurping the already perfect epic vibe of Turis Fratyr.  The result was a whole lot of sugary sweet and familiar folk metal melodies that sounded overblown and consequently, ruined the awesome vibe that could have been created.  That being said, I cannot deny some truly epic moments hidden within.  “Prolog Auf Erden” always sends chills down my spine and the single off the album “Blut Im Auge,” is undeniably catchy.  However “Des Sängers Fluch” is probably the only song on the album that recreates the atmosphere of their first album.  Brilliantly paced, the song takes its time building up to the various explosive, high-energy moments.  And, oh my…they are beautiful.

Moments in particular: 3:37-4:36, 7:08-end

Drudkh – Sunwheel

I believe an explanation of my recurring fantasy with Drudkh will help explain my love for this song.  Whenever listening to Autumn Aurora, Drudkh’s second full-length, I imagine myself experiencing them live in concert.  I’m standing near the stage outdoors, the band and the crowd is surrounded by nature, the skies are grey but sunlight is shining through a hole in the clouds, there is a light rain and the air is warm.  Let me tell you…If I were to experience this in real life, my body would cease to function because of the overload of positive stimulus.  To have the full effect though, they would have to be playing “Sunwheel,” my favorite track off Autumn Aurora.  The riff that breaks through about a quarter of the way though, as well as the ensuing guitar solo, are legendary.  These evoke a feeling of pride and happiness in me that is insurmountable.

Moment in particular: 2:29 – 4:03

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.  Coming soon!

-Max

Master’s Hammer – “Mantras” review

Posted in album review, avant-garde, black metal, experimental, Master's Hammer, metal reviews, progressive black metal, progressive metal with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

When the news of a new Master’s Hammer album broke last year, I was more than a little excited.  Their 1991 classic Ritual had already turned me into a Master’s Hammer fanboy, so the prospect of a new masterpiece had me eagerly looking forward to Mantras.  Being that their catalogue is ripe with innovation and experimentation, it comes as no surprise that Mantras continues in this genre-defying fashion.

“Typograf” starts the album off strongly with explosive energy, a simple yet brutal riff, and atmospheric guitar solos.  The next few songs follow in a similar fashion, including simple (and dare I say, predictable) guitar riffs combined with a dash of guitar or keyboard oddity.  If I had to pick a low point in the album, it would be these few songs.  Moments of glory shine through when they break from their traditional old-era riffs and throw something odd into the mix.

Luckily, beginning with “Bodhi,” Master’s Hammer begins to fully explore these experimental tendencies that were only hinted at in the prior tracks.  The songs are not as heavy, with many arguably not even being metal, let alone black metal.  However, I embrace their heavy usage of diverse keyboard sounds, nearly danceable beats, and odd song structures because it’s simply a joy to listen!  The songs all continue in this fashion, except for a cover of their old song “Jáma Pekel.”  However, even this track isn’t spared from the album’s weirdness due to its incredibly funky keyboard solo near the end.

Mantras has been a very difficult album for me.  When I first heard the samples offered on their website, I was ready for a new classic.  Does this album reach that status?  The stumbling in a few songs early-on does not help its case. However, it contains so many eccentricities and new sounds that my perception of the album is constantly changing. Who knows?  Perhaps the future will be kind to this unique piece of work. -Max

Prog Promulgation #2

Posted in avant-garde, iceberg, prog promulgation, progressive rock, van der graaf generator with tags , , , , , , on March 28, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Note: Prog is often called ‘pretentious.’ Thus, so are our personas. Although on the surface this may seem overtly insulting towards most musical genres, we only wish to immerse the reader in the pretentious lifestyle of prog. The music is still fantastic and necessary, and the pretention is (usually) meant with good humor.

Brother Bartholomew is currently fencing in the Tuscan fields, fighting for the good of prog overseas.  Unfortunately, this means that he is not here to preach to the prog-thirsty masses of Pantheon.  Never fear, aficionados of good music!  The Red Barron is more than qualified to introduce you to a few wondrous prog gems.

Van der Graaf Generator, while critically acclaimed, is often ignored when compared to Genesis, Yes, and other symphonic bands.  Eschewing traditional instruments such as guitar in favor of saxophone and keys, the eclectic prog band manages to create a dark and occasionally menacing atmosphere.  Lead by virtuoso Peter Hammill, Van der Graaf Generator released a series of brilliant and genre-bending albums throughout the 1970s.  While all are necessary if you are to call yourself a true prog fan, the 1975 release Godbluff is a masterpiece that commands your full attention.

The album begins with “The Undercover Man,” a song which slowly builds to a brilliant chorus.  As you will soon find, Hammill’s vocals sound quite odd at first, but, given time, they prove to be awe-inspiring to the true music lover.  After moving through the scorching “Scorched Earth,” the listener is struck by “Arrow,” surely a highlight of the album.  With lyrics more macabre than most of the metal in this magazine (How long the night is, Why is this passage so narrow? /How strange my body feels, impaled upon the arrow!) and eerie howls by Hammill, this would be the centerpiece of the album if it was not for “The Sleepwalkers.”  Be warned; this track may be too much for lowly prog initiates, especially after the aforementioned three songs.  Go ahead, listen to the album, but Brother B and the Red Barron are not liable for the shock and awe that comes from witnessing such a brilliant piece of music.

While you have undoubtedly not heard of Iceberg (I have already assumed that you live under a rock), you most certainly should have.  The seminal fusion band released Sentiments in 1977.  Iceberg goes above and beyond the usual trappings of the genre to create a pastoral and whimsical atmosphere while retaining a technicality that simply annihilates other fusion bands.  While “Joguines” must be mentioned due to the fantastic, flamenco-influenced guitar work, the true centerpiece of the album is “Alegries Del Mediterrani.”  Featuring meandering keyboards and sublime solos, the song truly encapsulates the feel of the Mediterranean coast.  I am sure that as you read this, Brother B is listening intently to this album as he gallops across the Tuscan plains on his valiant steed.  Compared to Van der Graaf Generator, Iceberg is indeed much more upbeat and, dare I say, happier, but this in no way makes it less worthy of your attention.  Prog legions, I command you to go out, improve your music tastes, and listen to these two magnificent recordings.  Surely, you will be better for it, and may even one day ascend to become a true progressive luminary, like Brother B and the Red Barron.  -Adam (the Red Barron)

Two Mini-Reviews – Ihsahn “After” and Fear Factory “Mechanize”

Posted in album review, avant-garde, black metal, Fear Factory, Ihsahn, Industrial Metal, metal reviews, progressive black metal, progressive metal with tags , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Ihsahn – After

Ihsahn, Emperor (R.I.P.) frontman and guitarist extraordinary, completes his magnificent solo album trilogy with his finest opus, After. His previous solo efforts, The Adversary and angL, feel relatively standard. After, with a little help from an eight-string guitar and saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, feels like a tour de force in comparison. The black metal torrent that is “A Grave Inversed” not only shows Ihsahn’s ability to bend eight-string guitars to his will, but also showcases the fantastic free-form jazz saxophone present through out the album. In “Austere,”  Ihsahn presents some truly refreshing Deep Purple-sounding organ synth that is so deserving of his name. Finally, the vocal chorus in “Heavens Black Sea” brings to mind stoic, tormented angel chanting that literally sends a shiver down my spine. If you’re into all things “Kvlt” or “Tr00,” this album is definitely not for you. If you like bands that break the rules and make their own in the process, I highly recommend you add this masterpiece to your collection. – Cameron Davis


Fear Factory – Mechanize

If you are one of the Fear Factory fans who, like me, was left feeling betrayed by the band’s most recent breakup and reformation; get over it.  It becomes obvious before you even finish the first track on this album that everything has worked out for the best.  On this album, Fear Factory manages to recapture the sheer intensity and brutality of their older works without sacrificing the musicality found on the more recent “Transgression” and “Archetype”.  And, while not particularly innovative, “Mechanize” is easily the closest that Fear Factory has ever come to perfecting their unique brand of Industrial Metal.  -Matt Neri