Monday, November 14, 2011

Summoning My Muse

When it comes to the enigmatic duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, there is no fucking around. They know how to cut straight to my emotional chords, even if those emotions aren't consistently what I'm hoping for. Since familiarizing myself with 'The Serpent's Egg' a few years ago, I've been in awe of Dead Can Dance and the monumental and otherworldly atmosphere their music holds. That which impressed me most on said album were works such as "The Host of Seraphim", "Severance", "In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed are King", and most especially the masterstroke of "Ullyses". The latter enters into that personal realm where what I'm hearing causes me to transcend all around me, my music listening soul escapes into the cosmos, and dances and twirls with all of the other perfections floating around up there in the great beyond we call space. Yes, I really do love that song. Not to mention the unmatched resonance and power of the vocals which come from both Brendan and Lisa. They are truly in a class of their own.

But then, there are also times on 'The Serepent's Egg' that don't rub me the right way, or at least don't feel as effective. I speak of the world influences that creep into Dead Can Dance. Over time I have come to enjoy their context within the frame of the overall album, but I prefer the duo when they're in full on neo-classical darkwave mode. My love for bands like Dargaard and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas, who owe their existence to Dead Can Dance, are what caused me to delve into the progenitor of this unpopularized genre. And so, it is with this mindset that I jumped into another of their works, hoping that I might receive what I had hoped to hear slathered over the entire 'The Serpent's Egg'.

Enter 'Within the Realm of a Dying Sun', to which I'm becoming increasingly enamored with. From the first moments I laid my eyes on the artwork seen above, I knew that I wanted to love this album, cradle it in my arms, and set it on an even higher pedestal than 'The Serpent's Egg'. The good news is I didn't even have to try. It does all the work by itself. I find 'Within the Realm of a Dying Sun' to be much more consistent with its mood and, as I desired, darker. Much darker. How dark? The user Rivermyst on rateyourmusic sums it up better than I think anyone can hope to replicate:

"This is like sitting in the courtyard of a cathedral in Medieval England while the monks carry body bags filled with plague victims into a morgue to be burned.

And it's raining."

I've never quoted others while reviewing music, but what an immaculate description. That medieval vibe is precisely the kind of trait that I hope to get from this style of music. Dargaard have it as well, although not quite the same, and maybe not as majestic. The last two songs, "Persephone(The Gathering of Flowers)" and "Summoning of the Muse", fill in the stark yet accurate painting that Rivermyst conjurs for us. In fact, the artwork of the album cover reflects a bit of that image as well, with the hooded statue hanging on to the building, as if holding onto the last bit of hope he/she has left while watching the procession of death walk past them. Of course, there are other ways I see the figure as well, but in relation to the quote it fits fairly well in my opinion.

But, I fear I may have rambled too long...or maybe not enough? Either way, it's likely due to the fact that I struggle for words when hearing such beautiful sounds emitting from my speakers. Dead Can Dance, from what I can gather in the two aforementioned albums, have succeeded in creating music that is everlasting, ethereal, and a blueprint for all great music to come who dare emulate their style. And to think, I'm only three works deep into their discography.

Oh, and I know I just said 'three', despite only mentioning two. I gave 'Into the Labyrinth' a did not please me. Therefore, 'Within the Realm of the Dying Sun' and ' The Serpent's Egg' alone are worth my breath here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Nirvana Introduction Status: Complete

You'll never guess what I finally accomplished today. You know that tiny little band called Nirvana? Well, I finally decided that today I would properly introduce myself to their landmark release, 'Nevermind.' And you know what? It's pretty damn good.

Now you may be thinking, "What joke is this?" Well, I can assure you that this is no jest. Granted, I have (like everyone else who has listened to the radio at some point over the last 15 years) heard about half of 'Nevermind' via this artifact called FM radio, but that's as far as I cared to go. There was something about Nirvana that never quite floated my boat. Maybe it was Kurt Cobain's pained vocals, or just the grunge sound in general. Whatever the reasons were, I placed the band into the 'I'm Indifferent to Them' folder.

The cause of my sudden inquisitiveness was provoked by the slew reviews for 'Nevermind' I saw on Rate Your Music's home page last night. The back stories and reminiscences of the reviewers intrigued me. I couldn't help but imagine how I might have felt if I had been of the proper age in 1991, or simply any time during the 90's. Would the album have affected me? It's futile to imagine but curious no less. I can only speak for the present and I thought that it would be shortchanging my audiophile-ness if I couldn't at least tell someone that I have listened to it. I can safely say now that I'm glad I did.

My general impression of 'Nevermind' is akin to other times I've had when diving into a critically acclaimed piece of entertainment (be it film, music, theater, etc.) and realizing why others have found so much enjoyment out of it. 'Nevermind' is full of appealing material, be it the more abrasive numbers or the calmer spots that are on display. The balance and pacing are probably what I noticed more than anything else. Simply put, it's a well put together together record. But perhaps what's more startling for me is that the songs that I had already heard have lost none of their potency. Being able to experience them in proper place and sequence on 'Nevermind' actually made them sound better. Also, it undoubtedly assures me that they're songs that have an inexhaustible amount of spark to them.

If there's one word I can sum up this long overdue acquaintance with, it would be 'satisfied.'

Sunday, September 25, 2011


So I only recently (about three months ago) was exposed to 'Music Has the Right to Children', the first proper full-length album from the legendary Scottish duo of Boards of Canada. However, my first introduction to them was 'Geogaddi' and that was no easy pill to swallow. It took many listens before I was able to solidify my opinion on what I now consider an exemplary piece of work in the electronic/ambient realm, despite it being less than perfect. Now that I've had a few exposed sessions of the aforementioned 'Music Has the Right to Children', I must express myself as slightly letdown compared to the excellence which pervaded my eardrums throughout the majority of the second album. It doesn't feel quite as consistent, and while there are a couple songs on the first half that impress me, it's not until "Rue the Whirl" and "Aquarius" roll around that I feel the album really comes into its own. My wish is that the entire album carried the infectiousness that those two songs possess, especially the latter, which has become my favorite song from them of late. Have a listen:

Nevertheless, the journey through their catalog shall press on and I can't wait to let my ears swim in my next two targets: Campfire Headphase and In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country (which I'm currently listening to actually).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Auburn Lull

Auburn Lull is a band from the States (Michigan, to be exact), but they could very well be mistaken for a British group. Why? Well, the UK is often known for its share of dream pop artists from the late 80s/early 90s (to which Auburn Lull certainly take a cue from in their style). This region is also known for its abundance of overcast skies, and such weather is bound to cast a shroud of melancholy on the individuals who dwell there. These characteristics manifest themselves in the music Auburn Lull creates. It's a delicate blend of ambient and dream pop that should send even the most cynical minds soaring into the clouds.

My first encounter with the band came with their 2008 release, Begin Civil Twilight. It was only the third album of the band's career, a career that debuted with the 1999 debut, Along I Admire. Their second album, 2004's Cast From the Platform, is the only one left for me to hear. They have a sound that can be compared to the likes of Slowdive at their dreamiest and laid back. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if you love Slowdive then you'll fall just as hard for Auburn Lull.

Going back to the two albums I have had the pleasure to spend time with, I can assuredly say that I'm a big admirer. I'm only just scratching the surface with Alone I Admire, but it appears to be more solid from beginning to end. Begin Civil Twilight carries some slight inconsistencies in songwriting, even if the atmosphere remains dense throughout. A song that I seriously insist you check out from said album though is this one:

Even though I said I have less experience with Alone I Admire, I've already picked up on some achingly tremendous songs, one showcasing their dream pop side, and the other exemplifying the ambient aspect of their sound:

If you like what you've heard, don't hesitate to check out the full length albums.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Deerhunter: Observation No. Two

(picture above courtesy of Stereogum)

Who: Deerhunter/Dunes/David Scott Stone
Where: The Wiltern
When: August 9th, 2011

Another year, another joyous opportunity to see one of my favorite bands play, Deerhunter. Going in, there were two big differences between this appearance of the gentlemen four and that of last year. In early 2010, the great Halcyon Digest had not yet been released. Also, instead of an intimate setting via the Glass House, I was presented with the very spacious venue of The Wiltern. One of the two proved to be a welcome change. The other...maybe not so much. You see, I personally have no problem with The Wiltern. I've seen some extremely high quality gigs in this place before, not to mention two of the best Opeth shows I've yet to see (I've seen five altogether). However, after witnessing Deerhunter's performance Tuesday evening, it's become clear to me that some bands sound better here than others. Fortunately, it was nothing so major as to topple my positive remembrance of the night, but enough to cause some grumblings.

First blood was drawn by an electronic duo (whose identity was unknown to me at the time), led by David Scott Stone. I learned that he was part of LCD Soundsystem during live shows. Not bad. The music was quite interesting because of how it was one continuous song that lasted for at least 25 minutes I'd say, possibly longer. David was working a massive sound board/device with wires being rearranged and plugged in throughout the performance, while his female partner manned a synthesizer. It was very danceable music and certainly held my attention. Kind of a strange addition to the bill, but a welcome one.

Next up was the band Dunes. They seemed to fit in the shoegaze/dream pop niche and they did a pretty good job of it. It was my first time hearing them and though the set started off a little slow, the last 2 or 3 songs were the best. Also, I'm not sure if it was just me but the guitars were not as prominent as they should have been. Out of all the instruments, guitars MUST be loud. I want to hear the riffs, the melodies, the fuzz, etc. Although at the time I couldn't have guessed, it foreshadowed (slightly) the issues that would plague the headliners themselves.

Deerhunter dived into their set with the expected "Earthquake". This is one of my favorites off of Halcyon Digest and this was a fine rendition. That beautiful guitar crescendo that appears and then fades back to the simple acoustic plucks, backed by the drum-beat-in-reverse and Cox's hazy vocals...a perfect opening. The muzaks from Deerhunter kept on coming for a good hour and a half. Of course, a good chunk was played from the recent album, such as "Don't Cry", "Revival", "Desire Lines" and the incredible show closer "He Would Have Laughed", although the absence of "Helicopter" was tragic to be sure. There were also a ton of older songs (including songs I'm not familiar with from the first two albums), and even a hefty encore of cover songs. It's great when a band decides not to limit themselves to just newer material. They have to know that for every new fan in the audience, there's a fan dying to her older stuff too. They certainly didn't disappoint on that side of things. Other standouts for me were "Nothing Ever Happened", "Little Kids", and the beautiful "Agoraphobia". Not to mention all of the extended versions for some of their songs were so intense and heightened the suspense of feeling that release. Fantastic! So far, it must appear that everything went along swimmingly, right? Unfortunately...

As I alluded to earlier, either someone did a poor job of setting up the guitar volume that night, since a good chunk of their material (i.e. the riffs not being very pronounced) didn't hit me as I felt it should have, or perhaps The Wiltern is too large a place and has way too shoddy acoustics to do justice to bands that are heavy on noise and distortion with their guitar work. There was certainly nothing amiss with the rest of the instruments, or vocals. But then, when I witnessed Opeth play their two hour show last year, there weren't any problems that I remember. Anyway, the point being that largely my reason for ultimately favoring my first experience with Deerhunter at the Glass House is for said guitar malfunctions.

Sound shortcomings aside, it's a testament to the great band that Deerhunter is that I was able to push the problems out of the picture and really just have a great time. There were quite a few moments which blew me away and will forever be stored up in this memory of mine. To this I say, bless you, Deerhunter! I will gladly watch you perform again. But maybe pick a smaller venue next time, eh?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Devin Townsend/Other Bands

Children of Bodom/Devin Townsend Project/Obscura/Septic Flesh
June 24th, 2011
House of Blues, Hollywood

So, I went to my first metal show of the year this past Friday. Hard to believe that it took so long but it's not as if the months between weren't filled with the goods. I actually see this gap as a testament to how my tastes have broadened and evolved. I also see it as me taking advantage of what's free. After all, what's not to love about that?

The last time I was at the House of Blues was to see Tarja way back in 2009 I believe. I can't say I missed the venue. It's solid but not anything special enough for me to consider it a favorite place to see a show. But the venue has the potential to take second fiddle as long as the bands deliver. Septic Flesh turned out to be the first of the opening acts, which I was rather upset by. Along with Devin Townsend, they were one of my reasons I wanted to come to this event to begin with. Not only did this mean that their set would be uber short, but it also meant that I'd have to get there early. P.S. This didn't happen. By the time I got through the long line (which they decided to take in as slowly as possible), Septic Flesh had already burned through their songs and I managed to catch only their last two. I saw them live once before and they converted me on the spot. Since then they've remained one of the few death metal bands I care about. Needless to say, a major disappointment having to miss them.

Next up was Obscura. I have a mild interest in them and was curious to see how they'd sound in a live setting. Their technical brand of death metal translated quite well and was executed pitch perfect from what I could tell. It's not the type of metal that I can enjoy all the time, but their performance did reassure my enthusiasm for them.

My excitement was peaked with getting to see Devin Townsend and his cronies (aka Devin Townsend Project). Although the overall set could not be matched by his headlining show last year at The Key Club, Devin made the most of his time and proved to me once more that he's one of the best live performers/front men around. His off-beat humor, his commanding stage presence, and of course his pummeling brand of metal all make up his arsenal of cool. He began the set by stating that "we are the oddballs of the night". That really couldn't have been more complimentary. He was absolutely the highlight of the evening. His vocals really are as amazing live as they are on record, a feat that is always admired by yours truly. I really don't have much to add that isn't more layers of praise. My respect and appreciation of Devin Townsend and his music is in the utmost tier of greatness, and I can honestly say that I'll go to every venue he decides to play in southern California. I suggest you do the same.

The headliners, Children of Bodom, would have been had me giddy with glee about five years ago. They remained a favorite of mine for many years and were partly responsible for my path into the realm of metal. But through a combination of wavering taste and the steady decline of the quality in their music, I stepped off their train. Perhaps it's their somewhat immature attitude too (with Alexi Laiho feeling the need to say "fuck" every five words). He also comes off as a bit too haughty for me. He's a good guitarist but not great. A little modesty never hurt anyone. But for all of this fallout business, I still watched a good chunk of their set. It was quite nostalgic to hear some of their older material played. Even the song "Children of Bodom" from Hatebreeder was in their set. But again, due to the passage of time, my enjoyment of the band is simply not there. They are not bad live, at all, just not my forte.

As an aside, I would like to say that Children of Bodom has some of the most annoying fans I've ever been around. It didn't help that there were quite a lot of 15-17 year old fans in attendance. I heard way too many "OMG I'm horny" shouts than I'd ever wish to hear in one night. This happened whenever the House of Blues would advertise upcoming shows on a big screen between bands. A lot of "I lost my boner" comments too. I can't help but long for 18+ shows in the future.

Also, a complaint about the House of Blues: There's absolutely no signal inside. This means that calling, texting, updating Facebook, etc., is out of the question. This bothers me because I like to post pictures I take during the actual show. Maybe it is a minor complaint but what if you need to get a hold of the person(s) you're with? Perhaps you lose them in the crowd? What then, House of Blues, hm? I digress.

Until next time...

Townsend: "Are you ready, hippies?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ulcerate- Everything Is Fire

Artist: Ulcerate
Album: Everything Is Fire
Genre: Death Metal
Year: 2009

Ulcerate. Back at the end of 2009, this second release of theirs was getting a good amount of underground buzz about the way it turns contemporary death metal on its head, not to mention its inclusion on many best of 2009 lists. I'll admit to that the artwork was intriguing enough for me, and to hear about a band actually making death metal interesting again peeked my curiosity. Death metal was an exciting genre at first, but slowly but surely, either by the staleness of the sound or because I wasn't spending my time in the right places, it was starting to become a minimal presence in my music library, at best. So, I was anxious to see if Ulcerate were up to the task of rekindling that death metal flame.

Since that time, my experience with Everything is Fire has been a roller-coaster of a journey. Straightaway, I noticed that this band sounds much different than the vast majority of garden variety death metal that exists today. It's a palpable difference, and yet it's not. A lot of this has to do with the tone they present. It's got a "holy shit, this world is fucked" vibe going on, which is what death metal should evoke, at least partly.

Ulcerate is also technical. Very technical. There's so much going on within each song, that it feels like if you stray for even 5 or 10 seconds, you feel like you've missed a lot. In fact, you feel tempted to just restart the song so that you can fully soak in, or at least try to, all of the riffs being thrown and tossed around your ears. Believe me, they fly around on a near constant basis, like bees around those bushes in spring. Your ears get as much of a work out listening as the musicians clearly get with playing. So far, I've had a difficult time deciding if this challenge is something I'm fond of, or if it's plain annoying. But I think it all comes down to what mood I'm in.

As I touched on already, a big plus with this album is its atmosphere. It's absolutely crushing and uncompromisingly bleak. In fact, the title is appropriate, considering that this band could easily be the soundtrack to watching the world be consumed by flames. The band delivers with a ferocity that you simply don't get from a lot of death metal these days. I feel the production is a big credit to this success. It doesn't have that processed, triggered feeling that is so prevalent these days. The sound of Ulcerate feels natural and human. This is an attribute that I'd love to become a more prominent aspect in not just death metal, but metal in general. Not every metal band warrants this "human" feel, since it would depend on what the band is trying to accomplish with their music to begin with. Nevertheless, it needs to be played up on more. But I digress.

When all is said and done, Everything is Fire can either be one of the best death metal experiences you can have, or the most frustrating. Ulcerate (and I) both dare you to find out. I personally can't wait to dig into their newest album, Destroyers of All, as soon as I can.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blut Aus Nord- Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars

Artist: Blut Aus Nord
Album: Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars
Genre: Black Metal
Year: 2009

The best release from the band that I've heard, and I've heard them all (except for Memoria Vetusta I and Odinist). This is pretty far removed from the industrial infused sound that I've normally associated with Blut Aus Nord's style, and I have to say I enjoy this a lot more. There are guitar leads that are out of this world scattered all over the album, and they really are one of the shining characteristics MVII has going for it. But there's also the occasional and complementary acoustic sections that nicely break up the audible whirlwind of metal this guy performs, allowing the listener to catch their breath. The riffing too, which has that undeniable Blut Aus Nord tone, is varied, more melodic, and delightful. It's the equivalent of eating my favorite dessert, but with my ears. I don't really care if that makes zero sense.

Lastly, I have to mention the extremely appropriate use of synths. It's not always present, but when they are it's used to accentuate the already grandiose nature of the guitar melodies/riffs. There are times when it even becomes the focal moment in the song, if only briefly. Prominent examples of this can be found in "The Formless Sphere (Beyond Reason" and "Antithesis of the Flesh (...and Then Arises a New Essence)", especially in the latter, where I could listen to that choir-synth part on repeat for eternity.

All in all, Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars is one of the strongest black metal releases of the last decade, easily. Not only is it a strong album in terms of its textured song structures, its deep replay value, and its originality, but it's also a great place to start if you've yet to take the plunge into Blut Aus Nord's fascinating world.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nucleus Torn- Andromeda Awaiting

Artist: Nucleus Torn
Album: Andromeda Awaiting
Genre: Avantgarde neo-folk w/ classical influences(?)
Year: 2010

First off...I'm back! It's a strange business, writing reviews. I tell myself all the time, especially lately, that I need to plan out times where I just write and write, and yet time and time again I've proved to myself that whenever I do write reviews, or anything like them, it's a spontaneous occurrence. This is exactly the case with this particular review. It just goes to show that inspiration is fleeting. Utilize it while you can!

Anyway, this album is the last of a trilogy of albums for Nucleus Torn. They're quite unknown though I've been following them for a few years now and am familiar with their two full lengths. Musically, Andromeda Awaiting continues in a similar vein as its predecessors: progressive/avant-garde music that incorporates neo-folk, classical, even medieval, touches. As far as originality goes, this band has got it down. They have a sound all their own, calling to mind the voice and music of time traveling bards that channel different styles at various points. One thing I noticed immediately is that Andromeda Awaiting is a lot less intense than Knell and Nihil, and drops the metal elements completely that were once present. I actually think this was a smart move and it not only feels natural for the band's progression, but it would have potentially made this album a little too familiar. If Nihil was the start of something stirring, Knell presented the band at their darkest and most dramatic, while Andromeda Awaiting appears to give resolution to a musical and lyrical story by way of its gentler style.

As far as the structure goes, it keeps Knell's formula of using Roman numerals instead of song titles. The album is also book-ended by two epic 15 minutes tracks, and in between there are a couple shorter songs, as well as a couple interlude-type tracks for good measure. They all help to make the album flow together and sound very tight and cohesive as a whole. You wouldn't want to listen to individual tracks, or at least you wouldn't get the same effect of completeness that way. This has always been a strength for the band.

It's really tough for me to find specific flaws, and yet they are there. I guess the real issue for me lies in the fact that so far, in my first handful of listens, the material isn't quite affecting me as emotionally as Knell did, or even Nihil did, which wasn't as strong as Knell in my opinion but had moments of sublimity to anchor it. I'll even say there are times when songs go on a little too long, i.e. in the last 2 minutes or so of the first song. There's one particular flute melody played which is otherworldly in its beauty, but it's ruined with those last two minutes which aren't engaging at all for me. Also, IV might be the weakest song on the album. It ejects me from the great medieval vibe of the rest of the material.

That being said, I think there is strong material here, even if it's not readily accessible for the taking. It's likely that this music will continue to unveil more of its beautiful layers to me the more I keep with it. For all of Nucleus Torn's shortcomings, they have this sophisticated aura about them that I find irresistibly charming, and keeps me coming back. They're not for everyone, but I think if you give them a chance and get hooked, you'll be extremely gratified.