Voivod: Post Society

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It’s fitting that the always-futuristic Voivod is featured as my first 2016 review. This is the band’s umpteenth lineup, though, notably, they’ve got their original singer (“Snake”) back in the band, and they’ve always had the same drummer.

I kind of quit on Voivod, ironically, after my favorite album of theirs, Negatron, from 1995. I think what happened at that point was that they became my favorite band, which meant I had to go buy their entire discography. I started with their debut, War And Pain, found it not to my liking, and just walked away, thinking I’d come back at some point, though not 21 years later. Somehow I even missed the entire Jason Newsted era.

Anyway, unsurprisingly, this lineup sounds most similar to the Angel Rat and The Outer Limits entries in my collection. The prominent features are crazy, jazzy chords and harmonies, odd, shifting rhythms, and mid- to up-tempo songs. Actually, it might make more sense to instead contrast this to the parts of their catalog that this doesn’t mesh with as cleanly. It’s not the thrash of War And Pain and it’s not the bombastic uber-metal (I just made up that genre right now) of Negatron.

Two of the tracks here, “Post Society” and “We Are Connected,” were part of a recent split seven-inch. A third, “Silver Machine,” is a Hawkwind cover. In its original incarnation it was sung by Lemmy, and I can’t help but wonder if its inclusion here, two months after his death, is a tribute. Which leaves two new original songs to round out the album, and I think those, “Forever Mountain” and “Fall,” might be the two best, though I waver on that.

This is not guitarist Chewy’s first release with the band, but it’s worth noting that he carries on the legacy of original guitarist Piggy admirably. Voivod couldn’t possibly hire a slouch in that position, but his solos here are well within the vein of earlier releases, as I mentioned, but they also continue to be inventive.

This is a strong release. The chorus of “Fall” gets too whiny and repetitive, and the three other Voivod-penned tracks have exactly one section each that could be trimmed. But at least with a Voivod song if you don’t like one section there are several others to potentially enjoy. Revisiting these guys now makes me realize what a huge mistake it was to, in 1995, jettison them due to their 1984 release. I can’t wait to refamiliarize myself with the many albums of theirs I’ve missed.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Forever Mountain”
Like:
“Post Society,” “Fall,” “We Are Connected,” “Silver Machine”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Batushka: Litourgiya

litourgiya

The first thing you hear on Batushka’s Litourgiya is a few bell chimes, very similar to those that launch Faith No More’s ferocious “Surprise! You’re Dead!” Here, though, I think the reference is the bells that Eastern European monks would ring. I have no idea if that’s right, but the clues are the album cover art and the fact that there is a significant amount of liturgical chant, often over double-kick and churning guitars, throughout the album. (The bells also lead off tracks three and five.)

The main reason I have no idea what’s really going on here is because Batushka is a Polish ensemble singing in possibly either Russian or Old Slavian (though I’m not sure that’s even a language, current or former). I mean, it might as well be English since it’s sung in screamy death metal style, but since I can understand even fewer than the handful I can usually understand I’m going to go with the Internet reviewers and commenters on this one. (One hypothesis I have is that the singing is Russian and the chanting is Old Slavian.) Furthering the church theme, the title of the album seems to translate to “liturgy.”

The eight tracks are all named “Yekteniya” followed by a roman numeral concordant with its position on the album. I don’t know where I got it, but my notes tell me that translates to “litany.” As you might guess from a naming scheme like that, this sounds more like one solid work than a bunch of individual songs. It even kind of feels like a mass, where, yeah, there are some shifts here and there, but for the most part they’re kind of beating the same theme into you for 45 minutes or so. I

That monolithic aspect of is what holds this back from being a great album in the end. I’m pretty sure everything’s in the same key, and the band basically has just a few parameters they can switch. Vocalization can be sung, chanted, screamed, or off. Guitars can be fast or slow. And after that it’s mixing up harmonies and melodies a bit, but underneath a wall of super fast and compressed drums and guitars and behind vocals you can’t understand it ends up being pretty same-y.

I like this quite a bit. In small doses. But I couldn’t hum a second of it on command.

Rating:
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Mix: “Yekteniya IV”
Really Like:
“Yekteniya III”
Like:
“Yekteniya I,” “Yekteniya II,” “Yekteniya V,” “Yekteniya VII,” “Yekteniya VIII”
Meh: “Yekteniya VI”
Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading

Ten Commandos: Ten Commandos

tencommandos

Wouldn’t it be awesome if Alain Johannes got together with Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden? You don’t have to wonder, because it happened and, yes, it is awesome. Dmitri Coats is the second guitarist, and Mark Lanegan joins the group for the first track, because that’s what Mark Lanegan does.

This is basically an Alain Johannes album but with the best drummer he’s ever had. Even guest vocalist Nikki Costa on “Come” sounds an awful lot like Johannes’ late wife and bandmate from Eleven, Natasha Schneider. The songs are moody, in minor keys, and have great, occassionally soaring melodies over interesting harmonies and tricky rhythms.

Honestly, I’m not sure what more there is to say. This is Alain Johannes’ aesthetic through and through. He’s not breaking any new ground for him (save, notably, for the wacky guitar antics by Peter Frampton on “Sketch 9”), but he’s still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to the new ground he was treading over 20 years ago. It’s heavy, it’s sweet, it’s beautiful. If you ever wished there was another Eleven album, you should definitely check this out.

Rating:
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Mix: “War On The Peace”
Really Like: “You Might Forget,” “Sporthalle,” “Four On The Floor”
Like: 
“Staring Down The Dust,” “Outermost Sky,” “Come,” “Sketch 9” “Aware,” “Invisibility”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Polyrhythmics: Octagon

octagon

Libra Stripes this is not.This is why music is so hard for me now. Bands always letting me down. I mean, this is fine, but I doubt that if I’d heard any of this on the radio like I did the band’s previous album that I’d rush out and listen to it exclusively over a weekend.

Something’s different. The band is still laying down some decent funk, but the cutting, enticing, other-ness (I’d never think this was an African ensemble) of what they had on Libra Stripes is all but gone. They find it here and there, but too often (e.g., “Maruken,” “Octagon Pt. 2”) they kill a killer head by jamming for too long without any inspiring solos.

“Maruken” would be at least a Like if it were half as long, which would give the album four at least Likes before getting to the execrable “Octagon, Pt. 1,” which, given its name, you feel like maybe the band kind of knew should be cut. Two other likes, “Octagon, Pt. 2” and  “Fairweather Friends,” aren’t solid throughout and nearly beat themselves down to a Meh.

One of the biggest differences is the sound. Everything sounds far more reverb-y. Combined with the way the songs are more jammy and less composed, I’d say the band was going for more of a live feel. And I always hate when bands try to do that…just be awesome live when you’re live but when you’re doing a recording you want to sound good on record.

Someday I’ll truly love a band again. Until then, though, I feel like I’ve just got to survive on one album stands.

Rating:
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Like: “Liam Rides A Pony,” “Le Hustle,” “The Itis,” “Octagon, Pt. 2,” “Fairweather Friends”
Meh: 
“Maruken,” “El Fuego,” “The Mendo Mulcher,” “Shadow Lines”
Dislike: “Octagon, Pt. 1”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Dodsferd: Wastes Of Life

wastesoflife

I’m reminded of The Golding Institute. Not because there’s anything sonically similar between that band and this, but because in both cases I found myself listening to something completely new and unfamiliar. This is not a position I find myself in often.

This is a very unique and interesting album.The two sounds that stick with you the most are this horrible, horror movie echoy like down the halls of an insane asylum sobbing, and the lead singer’s pained howl/yelp/”singing”. (Apparently the lyrics are all about how you’re worthless and should kill yourself, but that’s played out and I can’t understand what this Greek band is singing about most of the time, but more because of the singing style than the accent.)

Musically, things are slow and repetitive. It’s a bit reminiscent of Metallica’s “One” in parts, not least because in “The Dead Have No Speech For” [sic] they quote some of the same parts of Johnny Got His Gun that Metallica did in the video for “One.”

Mostly the album lays down a nice base of metal, but with the exception of the two Likes it just kind of remains at that background level. Save when they break the forgettable groove for some horrible crying or yelp-singing.

No, this is only intermittently good or enjoyable. Two clowns for that plus an extra half for being so damned compelling and unique.

Rating:
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Like: “To The Fall Of Man,” “Graves Of Your Creator”
Meh:
“Sterile Death, Without Mourning,” “To The Fall Of Man”
Dislike: “Wastes Of Life”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Kampfar: Profan

profan

The first track my shuffle picked on this was “Icons,” and, due to the way it starts, I think I blurted out, at work no less, “Fucking flutes?! Angry Metal Guy screwed me again!” That’s the only track they pull that crap on, though, and it doesn’t last long. This is no Nechochwen, Myrkur, or Our Oceans, though. Of the metal I’ve reviewed recently, it’s closest to (the now defunct, unfortunately) Trials. Thrashy like that, but more screamy than singy.

The sound is massive; it’s really well produced, although with a bit too much emphasis on the upper-mids it ends up being awfully fatiguing, which means those flutes and piano at the start of “Icons” end up being a welcome reprieve.

The back half of the album is significantly better than the front half, but even then it is, for the most part, less than or equal to the sum of its parts. I mean, all the elements are there…great drumming, guitars, and some decent hooks. But it all kinds of flows together, a fact that is not helped by the first two songs having he same vocal melody in the chorus.

Add in the fact that it’s just pretty good and, I mean, when it comes to thrash, or dark thrash or whatever we’re calling this now, that means it’s just mediocre. I feel like music this fast and heavy absolutely needs something extra to take it beyond. Let’s put it this way. When a great song has been written, in many cases it can be made better by being played louder, faster, heavier, etc. That’s where the best metal is. However, if you’re starting with the loud, fast, and heavy and inserting merely decent songs, then you end up with something that just makes you tired.

This was fun. But I don’t think I’ll be coming back. I may, however, check out some of the rest of their catalog, which seems to be extensive. I mean, heck, I’m always willing to give dark Norwegian metal plenty of chances.

Rating:
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Like: “Profanum,” “Daimon,” “Pole In The Ground,” “Tornekratt”
Meh: “Gloria Ablaze,” “Icons,” “Skavank”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Braid: Frame And Canvas

frameandcanvas

I think for the first time in like forever I can actually distinguish emo when I hear it. I’m not sure I can describe it yet, but as I peer into the next 20 minutes of so of my life I feel like this review is going to be my attempt to articulate the features I heard in this album that made me think, “A-ha! Emo.”

First of all, the lead singer can’t really sing. Or, it might be more accurate to say, for this gentleman at least, that he chooses, often, not to sing, but instead to howl and yip about really specific interpersonal moments that are supposed to make you feel like he’s your good friend because you’re tortured by similar youthful angsty demons.

Holy crap. I just realized…emo is just like grunge, just like six years later. Grunge had yarling about angst, emo’s got the yips about same. Okay, well, now that I’ve got a reference point, that’s the next step: How is emo different from grunge?

Most obviously is the guitar tuning, which in emo is traditional, in opposition to the drop-D of grunge. Lyrically I think grunge focuses a little more on self-loathing whereas emo is more about self-pity. Grunge does a lot of outward loathing, too, and emo’s got a bit of that, but grunge is more upset about the state of the world whereas emo is more concerned with that one girl. Emo tends to be a bit more upbeat when it comes to tempo, whereas grunge, in keeping with that down-tuning, wallows a bit more. In that vein, I’m also hearing on this record more space between the instruments, where grunge tends to be more of a spiked wall of sound.

This similarity of emo to grunge makes sense to me, because one of my shruggy responses when presented with “emo” was to say, “Isn’t all music emotional?” And a huge touchpoint for me on that was the fact that grunge struck a strong emotional chord for me in high school. So, yeah, the music I was into was emotional in pretty much the same way that emo is, just shift the guitar tuning, tempo, and lyrical content and you’ve got the other genre. I get it now.

So that’s kind of my review. This is pretty good. There are a lot of Upper Midwest references throughout. (The band is from Champaign, IL, and from when Netscape was hot, so that’s a thing.) The back half of the album leaves me a bit cold; the Likes and Really Likes on the front half are great songs, but the same on the back half are kind of saved by the guitars: “A Dozen Roses” has a great fingered riff, and “Breathe In” reminds me of the falling over vibe of Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I.

I’m tired of coming up with closing paragraphs, and I don’t think they’ve been that good lately anyway.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Killing A Camera,” “First Day Back,” “A Dozen Roses”
Like:
 “The New Nathan Detroits,” “Collect From Clark Kent,” “Breathe In”
Meh: “Never Will Come For Us,” “Milwaukee Sky Rocket,” “Urbana’s Too Dark,” “Consolation Prizefighter,” “Ariel,” “I Keep A Diary”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading