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.