July 31, 2013

Suffocation - Pinnacle of Bedlam (2013)

Since reuniting in 2002, Suffocation has released four albums.  They also managed to keep the lineup intact until former drummer Mike Smith took his leave (again) last year.  They brought in another former drummer, Dave Culross, to take his place and record nine of the ten tracks on Pinnacle of Bedlam (Smith drums on closer "Beginning of Sorrow").

Honestly, I think their "pinnacle" was 2004's Souls to Deny.  None of the albums that have followed have had the same impact.  Perhaps it is a matter of timing.  Or maybe the songwriting isn't as accomplished.  Reading about Souls to Deny online seems to indicate a general consensus of being neither as good as their early-90's material or not as good as the 2007 self-titled or 2009's Blood Oath.  I appear to be in the minority, then.

Pinnacle of Bedlam does little to change the story.  In fact, outside of "Sullen Days", whose intro/outro is pretty much the only time the band steps outside of their approach, Suffocation plays it close to the vest.  And "Sullen Days" is no album highlight by any means; the intro/outro sounds like emotional manipulation that is worthy of appearing on a pop album.  In fact, if one were to adapt the guitar melody vocally, I'm sure the tears would flow.  As I have no interest in melody over rhythm, especially when the band could be crushing me with riffs, I have no interest in that song, despite the relative quality of the rest of it.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I expect more than competence. I can enjoy a competently written and played record, to be sure.  But when the band in question is Suffocation, competence doesn't cut the proverbial mustard.

July 26, 2013

Anhedonist - Netherwards (2012)

First things first: listen to Netherwards on Bandcamp.

It is appropriate that Netherwards takes the listener to a dark place.  It does not appear to be a concept album, loosely or otherwise.  What we have is a listening experience that concentrates on atmosphere but delivers a surprisingly melodic set of songs in a way that is not completely expected.

The combination of death and doom is not one I'm terribly familiar with. Theoretically, the combination of aesthetics would seem to work well.  In practice, however, what we seem to get most often is music with bad pacing and precious little excitement.  There are plenty of slow tempos, but not much in the way of excitement, odd time signatures, or much of any syncopation.

Anhedonist sidesteps the above rather artfully.  Their solution, aside from being a bit more judicious with the death metal aesthetics, is to add a dose of melody.  Normally, this would be a terrible idea.  After all, what makes metal interesting (most of the time) is the rhythm.  Melody is usually a secondary consideration, if it is considered at all.

Combined with the atmosphere the music naturally oozes, the melody becomes something quite powerful.  The songs tend not to move forward when the melodies are being played, other than the ongoing count of time that hastens them to their conclusion, but it is something to sit and listen to it unfold.  Repetition is key here as well.  In order to get their point across, the melodic sections of "Estrangement" and "Inherent Opprobrium" are repeated numerous times.

The other two tracks, opener "Saturnine" and "Carne Liberatus" (the shortest of the four at a mere five minutes) operate with death metal in mind.  They are still doomy in parts, but the balance skews toward a faster pace and slightly more emphasis on rhythmic guitar playing as opposed to melodic.  I don't think these two songs will be confused with Cannibal Corpse or Dying Fetus, but they fit with their compatriots in spirit if nothing else.

Netherwards manages to sound understated and completely overwhelming at the same time.  And though it takes me to a dark place, it is a journey that I welcome as an alternative to the more bouncy, free-wheeling death metal of bands like Astomatous and Tribulation (whom I love just as much, if not more).  There must be room for ugliness in death and doom; Anhedonist provides it, along with a dash of the uplifting, in spades.

July 24, 2013

Grayceon - Pearl & the End of Days (2013)

First things first: listen to Pearl and the End of Days on Bandcamp.

It's difficult to adequately capture the impact of this particular 27 minutes of music.  Indeed, words usually fail in moments like these, when a band has reached beyond their perceived capabilities to create something truly great and unexpected.

Why unexpected?  I'm willing to bet that Grayceon fans (and other observers), upon listening to their previous release, 2011's All We Destroy, were suitably impressed.  There didn't seem to be anything galling in either the songwriting or performance that required an immediate fix.  As the expression goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", right?

Pearl and the End of Days represents one of the few instances I can recall where a band made a massive improvement in their sound without necessarily needing it.  If that isn't enough to convince people that this is a great EP (and likely the best of 2013), there are the two songs at hand.

Taken as a whole, we have the cycle of birth and death represented by their beginning and endpoints.  Although in this case, "End of Days" sounds more like a vision of the apocalypse rather than the death of a specific person.

"we will all die/no one survives/it is our time/once again"

The above may sound cryptic and grim.  But not all is lost.  In fact, we are advised "long hairs unite, in rock and roll" and to "turn up louder".  Sound advice, I would say.

The most notable aspect of the recording is the drum work.  In both songs, the drums take over in the finale, with some catchy tom-driven beats and fills.  I hate to use the word "catchy" to describe anything in metal, but they grab the ear in such a way that the word isn't applied incorrectly.  And when the drums aren't erupting, they're holding down the fort so that the other members of the band can zoom up and down the necks of the guitar and cello, respectively.

All in all, Pearl and the End of Days is a solid step up from the previous full-length and one of the best releases of 2013 thus far.

July 19, 2013

Astomatous - The Beauty of Reason (2011)

First things first: listen to The Beauty of Reason on Bandcamp.

I'm sure most metal fans are at least aware of Krallice.  For reasons that are unclear to me, the band is quite divisive and usually inspires negative commentary.  Their rhythm section has been active in the past, including this album.  Originally released in 2006 and re-released with new artwork in 2011, I can safely say that this is the best death metal I've heard from 2006, 2011, and 2013.

Obviously, that is a bold claim.  But by no means is it without merit.  Astomatous' music hits me in a way that most death metal doesn't.  In addition, their approach isn't typically brutal, technical, or progressive, even though all three of those words are apt descriptors of their music.  The Beauty of Reason doesn't stretch out to the epic lengths that many Krallice songs do, but there are points of comparison between the two bands.

One notable difference is drummer Lev Weinstein's activity behind the kit.  He doesn't hold back on this record; he's driving the songs forward just as much as the guitarists.  The drums often change the feel of a track, even though the techniques being used aren't all that different from other death metal drummers.

The first three tracks have the best riffs on the record.  But the most intriguing moment might be the bass/violin duel that closes "Convergence".  It's something that just isn't heard in death metal.  There is a higher amount of creativity here and it's not mere parlor tricks.

The album closes with "Sands", a track that teases a straight-forward riff a couple times before ending with it full-out.  It's my favorite song on the record because that riff is so infectious.  Riffs like that end up defining albums for me, and this one is no exception.

The Beauty of Reason is an excellent example of what happens when a great rhythm section employs a number of talented guitarists.  Cerebral death metal that is unfortunately all too rare.

July 17, 2013

Vhol - Vhol (2013)

UPDATE: listen to Vhol on Bandcamp!  Yeah!

Before I heard a second of music from Vhol, I knew their album was a must-have.  Any time a group of musicians like this gets together, I think it's worth at least a cursory listen.  And even though they're all involved in underground bands, this band evokes a "supergroup" in the classic sense.

Usually, supergroups are disappointing.  With so much expectation behind what they'll sound like and how great they'll be, it's no wonder.  Vhol sidesteps the expectations by going back to their roots instead of trying to build on what came before.  Instead of trying to write The Tenant 2.0 or make blackened doom (or some such combination of Ludicra and YOB's aesthetics), the band goes back to basics while adding elements of crust and melodic guitar playing heard in Hammers of Misfortune.

After nearly 90 listens, I feel like I have a handle on Vhol.  The music is generally fast-paced, with tremolo lines alternating with melodic leads.  Mike Scheidt's vocals are often doubled with an emphasis on low growls and higher-pitched shouts/screams.  These often occur simultaneously, much like Chris Cornell's vocals on Superunknown.

The standout tracks are "Grace" and "Arising".  Upon first listen, "Grace" didn't really grab me.  Of course, hearing the song in context is different.  A common thread between both tracks is that they are even more aggressive than the rest of the record (no small feat, itself).

Still, despite those great songs, and a generally strong album overall, I feel like Vhol have merely scratched the surface.  Yes, this is a great album, and one of the best of 2013.  I feel like they can do more and do it better.

July 10, 2013

First Post: About "Nothing Has Changed"

Greetings and welcome to my blog.  I'm big_red01027; you can call me Red if you need to address me for any reason and you find the full name cumbersome.  It is rather cumbersome, but since I don't care to use my real name for anything I do on the internet, I needed something original that wouldn't be copied easily.

There might be hundreds or thousands of people using the words "big" and "red" in their handles, but I don't think there are many that do it exactly how I do.

At any rate, let's start at the beginning: the title of this blog.  Simply put, I like the phrase "nothing has changed".  As far as interpretations go, I think it implies a sort of cynicism that comes with a discerning eye.

What can you expect from Nothing Has Changed?  My intention is to produce music reviews (usually, but not entirely limited to metal and its various sub-genres), features about certain sports, and maybe even a movie review or two.  I expect to focus mostly on music and sports.  I will try to keep to a schedule of releasing a review once a week of current albums (i.e. released this year) with reviews of older albums happening as needed.

I also want to keep it loose.  Reviews won't be too long, loaded with adjectives that ultimately say little, or filled with comparisons that can be made by any listener with enough experience to justify them.

My goal with the blog is to become a better writer.  Also, I would like to develop a following, if possible.  To that end, I will accept contributors on an as-needed basis to enliven the blog with their opinions.  For those that might be interested in contributing, simply shoot me an e-mail (big_red01027@live.com) or find me on Twitter @big_red01027.

Re: comments - I will not be moderating comments before posting.  Comments are welcome and will likely be responded to.  Constructive criticism is encouraged, but I will not guarantee that it will be taken; this blog is my forum to write how I want/when I want/about what I want, and I fully expect to use it as such.  But if I didn't want to interact with other people, I wouldn't allow comments in the first place.  So be cordial, at least, and we'll get along just fine.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the blog.