If you have found this blog, it probably means you were searching for something that isn’t in the public eye. My intention is to promote awareness of artists that you would otherwise likely never know existed. If you like what you hear, support the artist by purchasing their music so that they can continue to create, and enjoy the release in the quality they intended.

Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Axis of Metal.

Factory of Dreams – A Strange Utopia

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 25 November 2009 2 comments

Factory of Dreams – A Strange Utopia – 4/5
{Link Removed at Request}

Oddly referred to as ‘progressive metal,’ this descriptor should be used in the same manner than Within Temptation’s last effort was called Gothic ‘Metal,’ or even how Ayreon is referred to as ‘metal’ as well, and interestingly, whilst one is often the subject of elitist derision, the other is praised endlessly, and yet both remain superb comparisons. Now don’t misunderstand me, I have nothing but respect for Arjen’s masterful creations, but there is a limit to the versatility one man can accomplish, and when this is reached it is time to hand over the reigns and let your work influence others. This feels like the next evolutionary step, maintaining that same type of rich tapestry of composition to form a lavishly surreal atmosphere, worked by the Portuguese multi-instrumentalist Hugo Flores.

Not without its shortcomings; the manner in which styles collide initially sounds horrendous and is sure to turn many off, but it is when you become accustomed to the rapid fluctuations and fighting between styles that you come to comprehend their purpose. The occasional use of polyrhythms feeling as though multiple separate backing tracks are vying for dominance of the piece, leaving only the solitary frightened vocals over the cacophony of the rapidly shifting landscapes. Sadly, at 70mins, this is no short album and becomes to feel tired by its end; it’s superb variation still only capable of carrying things for so long, and whilst difficult to find specific areas that could do with a trim, the slightly quicker pace could have worked to its advantage.

Furthermore, the electronic tone feels out of place until you come to understand why its there. This isn’t just a collection of conveniently themed titles; the middle of a three-part epic story that takes place amongst the stars, it is from the first album (poles) that we learn about the two poles, the light and the dark ruled by the powerful overlord; the Generator of Illusions; The Factory of Dreams, fueled by the human mind with rivers of emotion his lifeblood. With this abstract, sci-fi, sociopolitical philosophizing running at its heart, the open ended questioning of our current civilization, and how any Utopia would ultimately feel so alien that we may never fit there (or at least this is my impression but it really is very open to interpretation) it actually makes an odd sort of sense. It doesn’t click at first but it has evidently been carefully thought out, treated like a piece of art to be studied and appreciated, rather than merely a collection of generic themes gone a little wrong.

The vocals of young Swedish woman ‘Jessica Lehto’ lend the rooted feel to the music; the only constant that we can be sure of, she is readily comparable to the likes of Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) in her reluctance to add excessive vibrato, resulting in a delicate and emotional simplicity that counteracts the complex backing wonderfully, allowing it to meander and shift around her. Not outstanding against the tough competition, the occasional lack of power – particularly during the higher notes – is weighed up against the control over the breadth of her voice, allowing her to either drift off in an ethereal manner or come boldly into the forefront.

It is the backing, however, that has seen the greatest level of attention; both acoustic – 6 string and 12-string – as well as electric guitars, fretless bass, (guest) violins, sitar, keyboard synths, acoustic drums over programmed drum loops, and apparently even a berimbau (a sort of acoustic African violin). Impressively, he has managed to work all this into a coherent composition; the fretless bass pounding away like a mechanical buzzing over the drum loops, the synths maintaining the backing chords, sharing duties with the electric guitars as they perform in a virtuoso, at times almost floyd-esque manner. Then a sudden pitch shift emerges, seeing a far earthier gothic violin harmony come forth, accented by gentle acoustic guitars, slowly transitioning into the more aggressive electric chords sequence and acoustic drums. Clearly a very competent virtuoso guitarist not obsessed with speed, all this will happen over and over again, resulting in a rollercoaster of emotions and atmospheres that leaves you constantly questioning the direction the track will take next.

People often like to make comparisons to what they know, finding familiar ground from which to base their opinion from, but in this case that only gets you so far. It’s perhaps interesting to think that I initially passed this for review, for only on subsequent listens did it really dawn on me what what was trying to be accomplished, allowing the music to rapidly grow on me, and it is this that’s partly what separates this from other artists. It unashamedly has its own purpose in mind, the crashing of styles too overt to ignore; we are instead left to question the reason behind it, and whilst it fails to live up to the natural compositional fluidity of Ayreon’s “Into the Electric Castle,” or the epic heights of Kalisia’s “Cybion,” these are mighty high targets to aim for and it doesn’t fall far behind.

Highlight: The Weight of the World, The Road around Saturn, Garden of all Seasons, Chaotic Order

Menhir - Hildebrandslied

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 24 November 2009 0 comments

Menhir - Hildebrandslied - 4.5/5

I haven't written a review in a while, so bear with me if I'm a bit rusty.

"Hildebrandslied" is the 4th full-length album of the Thuringan-based, self-proclaimed Pagan Metal band Menhir. After a 6-year absence from the recording-studio the band came back with a bang with this 42 minute masterpiece.

The ablum takes its name from one of the oldest existing German texts. Believed to be the oldest surviving example of a traditional Germanic tale set to text, "Hildebrandslied" ("Lay of the Hildebrand") is one of the most treasured items in German culture. The 1000 year-old text, consisting of only 2 pages, on the back and front of what appears to be religious codex, is also the lyrical content of two of the tracks on the album ("Hildebrandslied - Teil 1" and "Hildebrandslied - Teil 2"). It is a story of a father who returns home after a long journey to find that his son has forgotten him. The end of the text sees the father (Hildebrand) and the son (Hadubrand) and their respective armies facing off.

Together with the unique and touching subject-matter of the album, it also has an outstanding musical content. Menhir manages to blend acoustic folk elements with Black Metal elements in such a way as not sound clumsy, as such fusions often do. Instead it feels flowing and well-structured, never lacking and never superfluous or pretentious. Passages of pure Black Metal fury duly give way for acoustic sequences to take the lead and vice versa. All in all a well-structured and skilfully planned album.

The musicianship is just as pleasing. The druming is brilliantly done, never too noticeable, but never too subtle either, instead providing the music with a rhythmic coherency to build forth on without ever being overbearing. This lays the perfect foundation on which the main features, the guitars, vocals and keyboards can freely work their magic. The vocals, sung entirely in German and Old High German by Heiko Gerull, vary between operatic and enchanting song to outright Black Metal screeches, the latter not being brilliantly done, but solid nonetheless. The keyboards, also never taking centre-stage, provide a beautiful melodic background that manages in enhancing the impact of the album considerably.

The guitars are probably my favourite part of the album musically. Not exceptional, but with a certain virtuosity that gives the album that edge above most Black/Folk Metal projects. The guitarists, Fix (Thomas Ussfeller) on lead and Heiko Gerull on rhythm, consistently succeed in creating beautiful melodies that never cease to entertain, never become overdone or boring. The lead guitarist also plays a few well-executed solos that provide the extra kick that most albums of this genre seem to lack. The addition of violins and other acoustic string and percussion instruments in "Hildebrand - Teil 1" and "Hildebrand -Teil 2", lends a varied feel to the album that makes it that much more enjoyable.

Despite not being especially conceptually original, this is, without a doubt, one of the best Folk/Black Metal albums I've heard so far and I hope we don't have to wait another 6 years for the next release. Thumbs up!

Highlights: Hildebrandslied - Teil 1, Hilderbrandslied - Teil 2, Dein Ahn

Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day

Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 23 November 2009 2 comments

Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day – 4.5/5
{Link Removed on Request}

Whenever the name" Arjen A. Lucassen" is mentioned, the first idea that comes to our mind is "Ayreon". I won't deny it; I'm a big fan of "Ayreon". Here "Arjen" comes to us in a different suite, "Guilt Machine". A work that might share some resemblances with other projects, namely "Ayreon", it's still unique in its own right. The name "Guilt Machine" relates to what we shall be exposed to, a spectrum of dark and relentless emotional experience that focuses guilt, remorse, shame… "On This Perfect Day" is one of those albums where we must not expect mind stunning instrumentation, something that leaves us forget about what the album tries to deliver and rest focusing on, for instance, "How the hell do you play that solo?". We should expect an album that we listen to thoroughly, from beginning to end, while being moved by what is delivered. I listened to it numerous times, with each time feeling as if it's my first time to be exposed.

One of my favorite aspects of this album is the vocals done by "Jasper Steverlinck". We can easily say the man must be tormented in his life, though there'd be still an air of mystique that surrounds it. "Season of Denial" always gets me for its strength and delicacy. "Lori Linstruth" always comes to us each song with guitar soloing that is harmonious and going with what is going on. It is melodic, yet also elegant. She wrote the lyrics to this album. The lyrics smartly portrayed the dark atmosphere and emotions of this album without being a silly rant of a depressed mind. I respect her. "Chris Maitland" was a good choice for drumming. He can be really powerful, and can be really gentle. He won't go unnoticed as "the dude who played drums". The album can be a melancholic voyage. The music ranges from heavy riffs bombarding us to soft moves that are in agreement with what we will be hearing. A smart move in this album is the recorded messages we shall hear. Fans from all over the world, in their language and way, would be heard expressing their feelings in quick flashes as we move through. I am sure we won't understand all, but we will feel them.

Although the album isn't as diverse as we might expect it to be, it surly is worth the purchase. No one let the song lengths intimidate you, it pass without us feeling the time. This is a great concept by a great mastermind. We play the album, and then all of a sudden it ends this how it honestly happened with me. There is no fooling around or trying to be "genius", it just comes out naturally. Here is a good example of how theme and music goes along well. Now turn around and face the darker side of you…

Highlights: Season of Denial, Green and Cream

Lye By Mistake – Fea Jur

Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 22 November 2009 0 comments

Lye By Mistake – Fea Jur – 3/5

Forty minutes of madness that is no easy feat to assimilate; to call this release technical would be an understatement, and without any vocals rooting it, everything very quickly descends into anarchy with polyrhythms and tempo fluctuations galore that requires intent listening to follow. But don’t be thinking this is another ‘wankery’ outfit, they may make contemporaries like ‘Dillinger Escape Plan’ and ‘Rolo Tomassi’ look like simplistic amateurs, but they don’t stoop to the lows of pointlessness that ‘Behold…the Arctopus’ get praised for. Instead, they have a spell binding trick up their sleeve: jazz.

Though it is fairly difficult to describe what kind of jazz is being offered; the drummer like some weird mix of Reinhert (Cynic) and Tsagakis (Rx Bandits, Sounds of Animals Fighting), varying from blistering beats to gentle lounge melodies, he never drops the pace and accents the music with startling variety, never feeling as though he’s repeating himself. The guitars, however, are the ones truly pushing for the technicality; occasionally falling into the trap of dissonant speed with little purpose but for the most part successful in varying the pace and style, adding swinging rhythms to hard hitting punk-like chords, flirting with bluesy tones and heavy metal powering solos, they demonstrate nothing if not a willing to experiment, leaving only the poor bass struggling to keep the two virtuoso’s tied to a single rhythm whilst making his own mark, and only just succeeding. But sadly this release isn’t without its issues.

One of the main issues regarding technical music is the inherent nature of turning people away, sounding too unrefined and coming across as an array of noise without structure. Whilst this is less of an issue thanks in no small part to the jazz rhythms, it is still a difficult album to assimilate, requiring multiple listens to come to really come to terms with. Furthermore, many of the additional experimental sections come and go with all too much futility, feeling more like a throwaway cheap trick than anything that pushes them further into avant-garde territory; shown no respect and merely used as a means to break up the monotony. Furthermore, even after multiple listens none of the passages have really stuck, and I’m unable to recall a single riff, bass line or drum beat. This is an artist with incredible technical talent, and the drive to excel beyond that. Armed with an array of influences, they may before too long find themselves settling into a style that remains as unique and experimental as shown here whilst becoming more accessible, but they simply aren’t there yet.

Highlights: Invincible Bad Ass, Stag

My Sleeping Karma – Satya

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 20 November 2009 0 comments

My Sleeping Karma – Satya – 4.5/5

Most comfortably fitting under the ‘stoner’ genre tag, it doesn’t quite fit; instead, for me, this is what stoner should sound like. Far removed from the ‘harsh’ sounds of many contemporaries, rather than feel as though it were composed by stoned musicians, it feels carefully orchestrated instead to make the listener feel its effects through the music. This is the stoner equivalent of ‘easy listening;’ the buddhist inspiration coming through loud and clear allowing you drift off into a psychedelic sleep, almost entirely void of anything but smooth grooves; this is music that lets you simply lie back and let it wash over you as you drift off to sleep, but not because its bad or uninteresting, rather because of such a calming and relaxing atmosphere they manage to create.

But perhaps what’s more impressive about this outfit is much like how ambient operates, as well as readily drifting into the background it holds up to intent listening just as readily; despite the overt ‘smooth’ tone to the proceedings, that isn’t produced through minimalism. The guitars are critical to this; the wonderfully thick bass gently performing a riff that merges into the back, creating this thick – almost sludgy – framework, ensnaring the rest of the instrumentation within its clutches. With a dry reverb and with plenty of tremolo, the guitar releases a variety of twangy 70s psychedelia upon the listener, all the time backed up by the thin space-like keyboards, hypnotically mesmerizing as they meander and shift, all the time weaving in and amongst each other, never becoming too alien from what came before but never quite capable of staying in the same place either.

But more thought has gone into this than the comparatively simple matter of writing the complementing guitar riffs; the composition of the tracks themselves have been carefully orchestrated to allow for a slow build up, the drums central in the manner the piece slowly increases in tension until the crescendo, and the resultant overbearing sense of weight, the depressive pressure of life grinding you down. Every drum beat seemingly a fraction of a second slow, struggling to slog through as best as they can, and all this reaches a peak with the only track with vocals (‘Svaatnaya’) deep, delicate and mournful, she floats across in powerful yet ethereal manner. The Zen Buddhist tone coming across thick, the notion of karma the belief clung to in order to pick yourself up and survive, even making use of short interludes between tracks to ‘refresh the musical palette.’

I can’t name another piece of music quite like this; an almost ambient or chillout inspired collaboration between ‘Sleep’ and ‘Hawkwind,’ easy to drift off to and yet emotionally thick; epic in tone and yet feeling so marvelously simple. This technically fits the genre of psychedelic stoner rock, but it’s without the bombast, the focus on hooks and catchy passages, the fuzzy echoing smooth grooves all too happily taking precedence and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Highlights: Ahimsa, Satya, Svaatanya

Kalevala – The Cuckoo Children

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 19 November 2009 0 comments

Special Edition

Normal Edition

Kalevala – The Cuckoo Children – 4.5/5

For anyone who caught the review of their debut album, to say I was excited at the prospect of another release so soon my initial discovery of their own Russian brand of folk bounciness would perhaps be an understatement, and the album doesn’t disappoint. The vocals are once more entirely in Russian, but rather than feel harsh like you may expect of the language, it simply feels energetic, bubbling away in a frenetic manner, almost aggressively forcing you to have fun to the easy to listen to melodies. Not that they particularly have to; in truth its kind of hard not to.

Mixed in with a greater strategic use of reverb and effects, her versatility has increased to suit the rest of the instrument and, from a technical standpoint, they’ve all succeeded in bettering their last efforts; the drums feel more varied in their use of beats (even if perhaps still not providing the number of fills as I would like), and are more than capable of maintaining the pace. The production, too, has seen a slight improvement in differentiating all the instruments; the bass feeling more distinct than ever before, playing simple riffs but at no point degraded to simply following another instrument, solidifying the backing and allowing the other instruments to come forward.

The accordion is as boisterous as ever and the music would genuinely feel entirely lacking without it, making it something of a linchpin in the sound they’ve created, providing the atmosphere for much that follows. And the guitars too, succeed in simultaneously stepping back to allow more room for the bass to maneuver, whilst still contributing without feeling a permanent requirement for the music to function, allowing for a greater degree of versatility that allows them to add an additional layer to the sound without being stuck performing basic rhythm.

On paper, it would seem as though they’ve excelled themselves, but despite all this it still doesn’t quite match up; it’s missing a little touch of that ‘fun’ that made their last so incredible. Not to say that they’re slipping at all, or even that this is a bad album – it really isn’t – it shows them moving on slightly from the care-free attitude of before, burdened perhaps now with expectations of them, compelled to try and excel at their technical proficiency and squeeze out every ounce of goodness from each note, and in doing so have just begun to lose that aura of improvised boisterous banter that made you feel they were right there in front of you. This is the album that shows Kalevala maturing, evolving, and starting to come out of their shell, playing with new sounds and styles, and even if it is just a touch less addictive, they’re still easily one of the best things the genres produced.

Highlights: Горсти талого снега (Track 3), У разбитого корыта (Track 6), Про жеребца (Яйца) (Track 10)

Bullets and Octane – In the Mouth of the Young

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 18 November 2009 0 comments

Bullets and Octane – In the Mouth of the Young – 4/5

Ok, so since today has been spent doing various things, preparing for a short special for my 250th (gasp) review, as well as making a start on a small “Metal Mythology” side-project (details here), my review this time isn’t a new discovery. In fact, this is a closeted one, hidden from the ‘it’s not brutal enough’ brethren, even slated amongst the hard rock fans, this is me making my stand for a little known band from California that aren’t your run of the mill money grabbing pile of crap. Retaining a comical edge to the lyrics (“She’s too naïve for suicide but god I wish that bitch would die. Shotgun shells? Yeah that’s alright, the whisky says to take her fucking life” – Caving In), a raw and punky edge emerges that would feel just at home amongst the old Aussie pub rock scene (AC/DC, Buffalo, Living End) as it would in the 80s punk scene; furious guitars and passionate roars creating a free-for-all, improvised frenzied atmosphere to the proceedings.

Recommended by my Nickleback-loving friend, seen on tour supporting A7X and Stone Sour; as bad as things look at this point, it is their sense of realism that puts them ahead of the rest. They never feel as though they have an ego, with their head in the clouds or with any ulterior motive for making their music. Instead it feels more like a modern ‘classic rock’ release, taking modern conventions and production values and infusing it was that old-school down to earth desire to do no more than rock out; back when guitarists still played riffs rather than merely chord sequences and was more than happy to perform impromptu solos (even if his band mates aren’t), and when the punk attitude of the vocalist resulted in more fist pumping and less ‘L’Oreal’ style hair flicking. In fact, it can almost be compared to thrash in the – at times formulaic – structure that never detracts from the point they are making, and the result speaks for itself.

The bass and rhythm guitars occasionally get drowned out, but get their vital moments in the tracks, sustaining the base rhythm with the help of the frantic drumming, which has been produced to perfection, to demonstrate his ability to use all the weapons at his disposal to create his unrelenting array of rock beats; all this comes in handy when your lead guitarist may well have a severe attention problem. Particularly in the earlier tracks, he will start playing the riff with the best of intentions, only to become side tracked and begin playing what feels theatrical and improvised. And he’s no slack either; like an apprentice Schenker or Blackmore he plays with a visceral speed that feels unique compared to the vast quantities of neo-classical wankery artists that have come about since ‘Malmsteem.’

The vocals do nothing to detract from all this, supplying a raw tone filled with attitude to complete a line-up with the potential to match the classics. But most modern rock fans seem quite fickle, latching on the newest big thing and forgetting the last in a few short years. In this humble reviewers opinion it’s quite pathetic, but even if they never do top it with subsequent works, or become a big name, this album has made enough of an impact to stay comfortably nestled in my collection for a number of years to come. Now if you excuse me, I have the strange compulsion to finish my beer and play air guitar.

Highlights: Going Blind, My Disease, I Ain’t Your Saviour, All Hail Halo

Punchbowl – 3 Days in Corby

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 17 November 2009 0 comments

Punchbowl – 3 Days in Corby (demo) – 3.5/5

I once hinted at the fact that this complete unknown would eventually get mentioned; a 8-piece ska band from my hometown (hence how I came into possession of their only demo), disbanding all too soon leaving only a single page on ‘garageband’ commemorating that they ever existed. This is just one of what I’m sure are thousands of artists whose work will never see light; who will never land the deal that’ll grant them more than just local exposure, but one that assuredly deserved it.

The trumpets and trombone constantly work in the back, often following similar lines, their large number perhaps a little redundant in the end result – particularly the rarely distinguished lines from the saxophone amidst all this – they act almost like violins do for the atmosphere, creating an upbeat care-free tone rather than a gothic one. Worked in with this are the strong yet simple bass lines, acting independent of the other musicians; along with the vocals they carry the majority of the rhythm, allowing the final touches to emerge from the jazzy chords and raw, unrefined vocals.

It’s sad that only a demo’s worth of music exists, but even this is better than no trace at all. Fans of bouncy ska punk along the veins of ‘Reel Big Fish’ or ‘Mad Caddies’ may entertain the rawer sound sported in this release, and whilst they don’t reinvent the wheel, they retain the energy of the better artists emerging with all the catchy chorus lines to boot. This is ‘The Clash’ of ska; the singer can’t sing and everything feels very basic, and yet still these factors don’t prevent it from being oddly addictive.

Highlight: Inside my Head


Posted by T. Bawden Sunday, 15 November 2009 0 comments

Alieson – Black Ribbon - 4/5

Alieson - World’s End – 3.5/5

One would almost think Syu (Galneryus) was ashamed of this work as there is almost nothing linking him to it, and so I can’t be sure it truly is him (and so will make no official claim). I will, however, make known the odd coincidence that someone called Syu is responsible for writing and performing everything – the drumming, guitars, bass, violins and keyboards – except for the vocals, and at some point in his life the Galneryus musician has taken to learning each of these instruments. This could even be understandable as, whilst described as ‘melodic power metal,’ that doesn’t really cover it; power metal should have a sense of power in there somewhere, but between the fragile vocal lines and delicately performed violins and keyboards, they perhaps feel more suited to be referred to as a symphonic, neo-classical rock, atmospherically baring a tender soul.

Despite being concept albums, each one telling a ‘chapter’ of a story (I’m diving in here at chapter 7 and 9 apparently), they both felt indistinguishably similar, the format remaining largely the same (though I felt one had the slight edge, there is very little quality wise distinguishing them), leading me to conclude that the main difference must lie in the lyrics, which are naturally sung in Japanese. But this doesn’t really matter so much, as it is the music that is truly on display, and despite its unashamedly simplistic nature, retains a light-hearted and slightly boisterous tone to the proceedings, a matter which the vocals are pivotal in creating. Taking a no frills approach, whilst she fails to use a lot of tremolo or fancily glide between pitches, she does manage to strike each note wonderfully, with a careful variation of pitch to form melodies; an unconventional attraction emerge, an aura of warmth through the – at times – slightly dark and depressing backing instrumentation like shimmer of hopeful light in the darkness.

The instrumentation forms the other aspect; with each aspect performed by the same musician they have been produced in such a way as to merge together seamlessly, creating a piece that sounds rich, atmospheric, and yet never detracting from the vocal focus, instead choosing to accent it marvelously. Almost unnoticeable without listening for it are the often multiple instruments layered on top of one another – violins, keyboards, piano, electric, bass and acoustic guitars as well as drums – utilised only where needed. A simple keyboard melody taking precedence weaving with a simple drum beat and bass line, a chord structure coming in when required and violins adding further depth to the deceptively simple structure; whilst capable of virtuoso performances, it is in fact where it is at its most basic (the final track in ‘Worlds End’ being a prime example of this) that the music truly shines; the coherency of the end result, dynamically shifting in unison as a result of the very singular vision used to great effect to produce a majestic piece almost more akin to the composer of an orchestra than a band. You won’t find much fancy playing, or complexity here; this is simply atmospheric and beautifully orchestrated music.

Highlights: Ghost (BR), Vanitos (BR), 星空 (WE – Track 5), きみのしらない (WE – Track 8)

Author's Note: I have since gone on to discover this belongs to a genre called 'Doujin,' which often features a large number of members. As result I believe this to be the work of a different Syu to that of Galneryus


Alieson - Border Line

Minas Morgul – Eisengott

Posted by T. Bawden Saturday, 14 November 2009 0 comments

Minas Morgul – Eisengott – 3.5/5

Following the standard style that has been coined before them, this Pagan Black Metal band does everything by the book, adding their own slight branding to the scene that is slowly becoming more fully fleshed out. Sadly, whilst there are many aspects that are performed well – and one in particular that isn’t – it feels like ground that’s already been trodden; not quite as upbeat and folk-influenced as ‘Forefather,’ but not as slow and epic as ‘Moonsorrow,’ either. Rather a comfortable middle ground that compositionally works fairly well, if not reaching the heights either achieves.

Getting my gripes out of the way, the drumming on the opening track – the time when the band should demonstrate the best they have to offer to get you interested – is beyond atrocious. As in ‘St. Anger’ levels of downright horrendous, with a snare made to sound like a rusty tin pipe, caterwauling above everything, and whilst it never reaches this all time low again, it demolishes what might otherwise be a decent track. He is simply never again made prominent enough in the mix to make much of a difference; his generic beats mixed with the occasional tin-pipe crash demonstrating a distinct lack of variety - at times, severely - detracting from the end result.

My only other real complaint is the bass work; made prominent in a number of passages, distinct yet still following the guitars for the most part; he isn’t given enough of a thick presence, and so easily could have provided a ‘volcanic rumbling’ type sound to much of the proceedings, allowing the guitars to demonstrate the frantic chaos of battle whilst the bass yields a thunderous roar of two clashing titans shaking the earth. It is left then to the combination of vocals and guitars to truly succeed in dominating this release; the melodies created simple but effective, bombastically tremolo picked and galloped riffs never fail to provide throughout the albums duration, varying superbly to provide an unrelenting pagan invasion.

Topped off nicely by the vocals which will vary in pitch from the hoarse and powerful mid-range to the blackened upper range, even tastefully incorporating clean vocals and speech into the proceedings; they succeed in doing everything that I could ask from them. The overall pace and composition is strong, creating a dynamic battle atmosphere, but it was ultimately let down mostly by the production. If they’d managed to fix the drums and they’d probably have seen themselves up half a mark. They still wont be doing anything truly genre breaking or original, but they’ll be producing some addictive ‘viking’ toned melodies more successful than most who try.

Highlights: Minas Morgul, Rot, Sinn und Ziel

Dark Phoenix – Arrow Rain

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 12 November 2009 6 comments

Dark Phoenix – Arrow Rain – 4/5

I’m not sure quite how I happened upon this artist – they have no myspace page and every site about them seems to be in Japanese. In fact, finding any trace of this album seems to be a nightmare; playing what seems to be a heavily electronic inspired Power, occasionally with a deep Heavy Metal/Rock crunch, and often with a healthy dose of funky yet chunky riffs beneath the virtuoso and frantic drums and keyboards, it comes to little surprise to discover that this album is actually an ‘OST/Compilation’ as it were. Thrown red herrings with references to “The Phoenix Project” and “Lost in Darkness,” (unknown entities, though I believe them both to simply be other pseudonyms), I believe it to be the work of “Team Shanghai Alice,” which actually only consists of one man who goes by the pseudonym ‘Zun.’ Specialising in the programmed creation of epic, neo-classical, orchestral, instrumental and electronic Power metal for a long running series of 2D scrolling sideshooters called “Touhou,” he caters for the niche market of people obsessed with such games, and the frantic ‘wall of bullets’ situation that often occurs within the game is often reflected in the chaotic manner of the tracks.

The music is created with incredible attention to detail – especially the furious keyboard work and programmed drumming – and the music produced is superbly varied from the slower neo-classical piano/violin work slamming straight into some fast paced guitar solo; the drumming is often technical and feels thought out and performed with machine-like precision and the bass also makes his presence known, creating the pivotal bombastic tone required of the heavier passages. There is also some very overt synth work, but rather than drowning out the other instruments a lot of it forms the body of the rhythm, performing riffs over chord sequences, working in tandem with the guitars without drowning them out.

There is little coherency to the album as a whole – the tracks feel unique but ultimately disconnecting, which is unsurprising given the fact they’ve been dragged from an array of different – albeit very similar – games. The end result is also incredibly ‘polished’ and ‘shiny’ as a result of the large amount of synthetic effects used, which is of particular issue with the bass and drums, lacking any kind of raw gritty human aspect, mechanically working away in a melodic yet ultimately sterile and emotionally detached manner.

This becomes a fiendishly difficult album to recommend, and not just because of the general animosity towards both programmed music but also towards electronic effects in general. It all rests on what you want from the music; you won’t become emotionally involved, but the manner in which it has been created has allowed for the utmost attention to detail to each line being fully utilised, and all being performed and written by the same musician allowing for a clarity of what is wanted from the piece. Those with an interest in the electronic-infused depths of J-Rock, or are simply prepared for something ‘different’ may find this interesting, but the most important point I wish to get across is not to judge it before you’ve heard it. My personal verdict? Surprisingly good.

Highlights: Pre-Asia, Ghost’s Orchestra, Color Master Spark of Love, NEKUROFANTAJIA

Color Master Spark of Love


Arrow Revolver

Arrow Revolution

So I thought I’d try to track down the rest of their stuff (There’s a ridiculous amount as it turns out, there is a second called Arrow Revolver and a third called “Arrow Revolution” in this series, then there are three more albums under the name “Shotshell,” and then theres the work under the name “The Phoenix Project,” about a dozen albums of re-worked tracks from other games). The first of these album follows suit from the last, with a lot less ‘power’ to their sound, sounding often more like a neo-classically influenced form of electronic dance. The rhythms still have a nice groove, and the keyboard focus switches to the guitars in the second half of the album. Nothing stood out as well as the last though. I have yet to listen to the third at all.

As a further note, I'll just add the images of anything else I find with a link, as I don't expect many more notes to emerge, beyond perhaps a rating of what I thought.

ShotShell I - Link
ShotShell II - Link
ShotShell III - Link
Arrow Realize "Best of" - Link

Shadow – Forever Chaos

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 11 November 2009 0 comments

Shadow – Forever Chaos – 3.5/5

Cast your mind back to the year of 1995, the year of Gothenburg brand melodeath; Between At the Gates’ “Slaughter of the Soul” and Dark Tranquility’s “The Gallery,” an entire new style to be cloned was formed, and thus we have seen wave after wave of generic mindless drivel spew forth onto the scene. The once honourable style has been condemned by many as worthless due to the poor quality music produced since, but damnit if this isn’t one of the most refreshing takes on it I’ve heard released since. In fact, the most apt comparison is not to their early brethren but rather Adagio’s last album, this time slightly more on the side of melodeath rather than Power Metal.

This is due in no small part to the manner in which the guitarist will perform a virtuoso neo-classical solo at every opportunity. Mixing melody in when he can, if all else fails he sweeps a few scales and still doesn’t sound too bad; it is the manner they are incorporated within the track that is more interesting than the actual solo’s themselves. The bassist accents the rhythm guitars, spending most of their time supplying that core essential style of riff to the sound, and whilst performed well feel nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary. The drumming is consistent, able to vary the beats used between sections well but perhaps lacking those little fills between passages that separates the good from the great.

Some will no doubt give this artist more attention for the female vocalist (the number of Arch Enemy comparisons floating around for example), but the truth is that this becomes rather inconsequential when you realise you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell either way. Occasionally demonstrating the high’s and lows she can reach, she all too often sticks to a comfortable mid-range resulting in a mediocre affair that feels deserving of neither praise nor derision, needing to make better use of her fairly impressive vocal range. Yet, whilst many aspects to their sound feel distinctly mediocre, it’s the fact that they aren’t content just blatantly copying another style; they have some ideas that whilst not always panning out – the slower and melodic brilliance of ‘Before True Light’ only destroyed by the occasional ‘goldfish gargling,’ and the promising start to ‘Within the Winter Silence’ failing to go anywhere once the main riff is established – demonstrate a willing to break the mould.

The album is produced well, with each instrument heard in the end result with only the drumming at times losing their tenacity, unlike so many other modern melodeath releases. It’s the fact that they have these great idea’s resulting in genuine originality that has me most interested, but there’s simply so much that feels odd and out of place. Successfully combining that raw aggression of their early years (actually feeling like theres some Death Metal in there) with a neo-classical guitar lead, this album came after a seven year gap, despite the same line-up, but now that the lead guitarist has left I’m worried about their future. There is the potential here for a much needed innovation in the style they play, but they have yet to realise it.

Highlights: The Existence of Suffering, The Orators, Land of a Dream

Shadow – Shadow – 3/5

Their self-titled debut, whilst not terrible, downplayed the neo-classical guitars for what felt like more Gothenburg chugging. It’s still not bad, simply a little unoriginal. Couple this with the continued lack of variety in the vocals; let’s call this one for ‘melodeath nuts’ only.

Mutyumu – Il Ya

Posted by T. Bawden 0 comments

Mutyumu – Il Ya – 4.5/5

Step One: Revive Bach (classical composer), get him his favourite Piano and set of organs, and get him shipped to the rendezvous by freight. He hasn’t played for the last 300 years, so he might be a little rusty.
Step Two: Head down towards France and kidnap 'Veronique Gens' (operatic vocalist for the composer Canteloube’s 'Chant D'Auvergne') and one of the violinists from ‘Les Fragments De La Nuit’ (doesn’t matter which). This’ll make for some nice operatic work without going overboard with it. Just for gods sake, nobody mention the German guy. Get them a flight as well.
Step Three: Convince the guitarist for ‘God is an Astronaut,’ Chris Tsagakis (drummer for Rx Bandits/Sounds of Animals Fighting), and the vocalist for ‘Envy’ how awesome it would be to jam together. Tell each in turn that the other two are at the rendezvous. If that doesn’t work, tell them they have some marijuana with them too.
Step Four: Lock them all in a recording studio until something musical comes out.

Sound confusing? That would probably be because it is not exactly the easiest sound to adequately describe. The Japanese are at again, creating music that's not quite ‘Avant-Garde,’ but rather an odd blend of classical music and post-rock with an occasional ‘Heavy Metal’ slant; the drums at times performing very serenely in the back, then in a moment of confusion as the blackened screams emerge – always behind the lead – he decides its better suited to play more aggressively during this passage. The guitars prove capable of varying between their meandering melodic twang to a more light rock-inspired passage, and whilst the bass is often overshadowed by the other instruments, this all serves to form a solid ‘post-rock’ side to their sound.

But more than just providing an addition flavour, the winning combination of classical elements as often as not completely dominates over the other aspects; the operatic vocals working as a superb contrast to the screams, sounding capable of tremendous power that never needs use, gently supplying an emotional melody that at no point becomes shrill, irritating, or overly gratuitous with the use of vibrato. The violins delicately layered in the back, assisting in the creation of the atmospheric backing – whatever that might be at the time – fail to make anywhere near the impression of the combination of piano and organs, going from the gothic to the delicate and fragile passages. Often heavily repeated, they nonetheless manage to feel like modernized for rock music without losing the beauty of their native genre.

This feels almost like a battle; the vocals stand off against one another; the piano and organ magic matched against the guitars and the violin and bass battling amongst themselves, letting the drummer try to referee this musical death match. And yet, somehow it works; both elements stripped and put on their own would make for a perhaps fairly generic sounding piece, both sides capable if not phenomenal at their chosen style, but the original manner in which the two have been pitted against each other is what lends them their unique tone. This is also my major gripe – rather than create something entirely unique, they’ve taken two musical genres and slammed them together, which whilst it turns out to be a pretty good combination, has limited scope for variation within their little niche sound. Don’t go in looking for post-rock with a twist, and don’t go in looking for modern classical music with growls - it’s far too evenly mixed between the two to differentiate between them - and you'll find something that does things a little differently.

Highlights: 眼は神 (Track 3), 反復する世界の果てで白夜は散る (Track 5), ドクサの海の悪棲 (Track 6), 祈り (Track 10)

Mutyumu – Mutyumu - 4/5

Something about this release didn't feel as strong, there were sections that didn't quite have the atmosphere of the rest of the work, pulling you out somewhat from the otherwise lulling melodies. By no means a bad album, but certainly a capable foreshadowing of the work to come.

Capsule – Cutie Cinema Replay

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 10 November 2009 0 comments

Capsule – Cutie Cinema Replay – 3/5

Ok, so the last of my picopop obsession of late (the other two thus far being the atmospheric ‘Strawberry Machine’ and the insanity of ‘Plus-Tech Squeeze Box’), apparently one of the ‘larger names’ of the scene (apparently this stuff has a scene), with a return of the 8-bit noises, whilst they manage to vary things a little bit with the inclusion of the likes of flutes, accordions and various effects, the majority of the music is made through a combination of synths and a large array of guest vocalists at their disposal, each new addition twisting the end result to slam their own distinct branding on the music being created.

But that’s about all that seems to vary. Don’t get me wrong, the music is catchy and boisterous, and the musicians are capable, but it all feels too bland. The genre attracted me because it was unconventional and unusual, with a potential to use retro sounds that I haven’t heard of done since ‘Machinae Supremacy’ filtered their power metal through a SID chip (used on the old Commodore64 game systems) to lend a mechanical – but not lifeless – tone, so the fact that this release sounds like simplistic, catchy but ultimately somewhat generic sounding J-pop, albeit sung partly in French – what do you even call that? Frenanese? J-Rench? – is rather disappointing.

From the guitars and xylophones in ‘Ugadawa Friday,’ and the aptly titled ‘French Lesson,’ fitting for a boat cruise in Venice, where rather than sung the lyrics are spoken in French to lend a unique – if perhaps cheap – spin to the track, there is plenty of variety to the actual instrumentation, and my main issue is what’s being done with them that feels awfully similar. You can play the same piece of music on most instruments – guitars, violins, flutes, piano’s, synths, etc, etc, can all be made to play the exact same tune – and that is what feels is happening here; the instruments are changing but the overall manner of composition isn’t.

Perhaps the individual guest artists were given a little bit too much of a free reign, shaping the course of the tracks to provide their own slant on that familiar underrunning style, as it lends something of an incoherency throughout the album; perhaps a failure to recognise adequately and precisely what was wanted from them in the creation of the album. There are points where it seems forgotten that picopop should use samples and 8-bit sounds to create their music, entire tracks composed of synths and vocals with little else added. If you’re looking for generic ‘cuteness’ then this manages to fit the bill, with a variety of vocal styles going into its formation (not in the least the opening of the crazy girl in ‘Fashion Fashion,’ proving simplicity sometimes works) it’s fun background music but fails to be anything more.

Highlights: Candy Cutie, Fashion Fashion

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box – Cartoom! – 4.5/5

As I write this my entire life is packed away neatly into boxes, and I am left in the corner of an entirely white room, sterile and cold; the only distinguishing feature the glow from the computer monitor, and yet this bouncy and boisterous half hour of punky, jazzy pop-like madness manages to fill the room with washes of colour. This is the sort of music that could transform a film-noir scene of rainfall, darkness and ominous shadows threateningly approaching from the black into this; you could be lying on your deathbed and still not help cracking a smile at the kooky, funky, trip-hop grooves and furious banjos work.

A concept album based on a fictional, futuristic cartoon about a female android created by a couple of scientists, in some senses it follows on from my last review of Strawberry Machine, somewhat at home amongst the terms ‘Shibuya-Kei’ and ‘Picopop,’ but this is far from that dream-like slower atmosphere. Rather than being trapped amongst the clouds of 80s games, I’m now thrust into the world of children’s Saturday morning television, viewed through the eyes of a small child with a very short attention span and one tentative finger on the remote. Flicking through at rapid pace, high paced short samples of music (and indeed, dialogue) ranging from big band swing, acid jazz, bubblegum pop, punk, rock, lounge and hip-hop are all intercut with one another to form something that I don’t think will sound like hyperbole if I called rather technical in its nature, finally settling on a single style. At least until he gets bored. Which will most definitely happen within two minutes.

Despite the chaotic manner everything is cut up, unpredictably ‘flicking between musical channels,’ an odd coherency emerges, not only to the track but to the album as a whole. There simply is no fat whatsoever; everything serves a purpose in shaking things up; the sheer number of styles frenetically poised to take over at whim resulting in a piece that whilst less than 30 mins long feels packed with so much addictive variety that it becomes almost tireless. Different vocalists emerging almost as spontaneously as the samples, often they come across in that gentle and soothing manner, drifting across psychedelically to lend that final touch of coherency, stringing everything together.

It is that child-like innocence that runs throughout the entire piece – irrespective of what genre the current clip belongs to – that combination of cute adorable vocals and upbeat, bouncing, boisterous rhythms creating a tone that you can’t help but grin from ear to ear. Whilst it requires something of an open mind to appreciate, and is unfortunately short, there is no real way of adequately describing the mood this manic music manages to create. Comissioned to write music for Spongebob Squarepants, they have also had an earlier track used for both Coca-Cola and Powerade adverts. Welcome to the sound of raw, unadulterated fun.

Highlights: Dough-Nuts Towns Map, Starship.6, Uncle Chicken’s Drag Race

Strawberry Machine – Crazy Kilt

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 6 November 2009 0 comments

Strawberry Machine – Crazy Kilt – 4/5

Let me take you on a journey through time and space, to the land of the Strawberry Machine. You are Pac-Man, running away from brightly coloured men in sheets whilst eating copious amounts of ecstasy found on the floor of the dark alleys. You are Mario, eating magic mushrooms, imagining yourself growing to twice your normal height, playfully jumping up and down on various animals on the street. You don’t remember quite when you left the ground behind, but as you float on top of the clouds, watching as life passes you by an a haze of Technicolor, you stop caring about such matters. This is the soundtrack to such a journey, confusing yet carefree psychedelic tones washed over with colourful drifting vocals and an 8-bit backing.

In truth, I’m not entirely sure how I can explain this music any better than that opening paragraph. Slotting nicely into that whacky genre called ‘Shibuya-Kei’ (first emerging from the Shibuya area of Japan), it combines acid jazz with trance to create a psychedelic dream-like soundscape, happy and oozing of atmospheric calm as the cute energetic vocals caressingly waft over, letting your mind drift off to a place of the giant miniature hamster called boo, and pink elephants flying amongst the birds. Combining this with the very distinctive ‘8-bit’ sound, like that heard on old games consoles such as the Amiga, Game Boy or Mega Drive, this lends a very retro feel to the piece, often acting as a drum machine to create an energetic and boisterous backbeat to bounce along to whilst the other instrumentation takes hold.

And with an array of acoustic guitars, drum machines, keyboards, xylophones and other instruments hazily layered subtly in the background, it creates a neverending variety of tempos, beats and styles – almost every track produced by someone different, lending an oddly fitting jarring between tracks, each one giving you a slightly different acid trip – and yet each track feels somehow driven by the pop-like vocals. Less ‘catchy’ and more addictive in the manner they are sung, the entire album may only be 30 mins long, and yet I’m somehow compelled to keep listening. So as I sit here on my cloud, watching as Princess Peach is kidnapped again, I lean back and drift to the innocent voice of a freckled school girl, playfully kicking her legs over the side, singing whatever comes to mind. So this is what LSD sounds like…

Highlights: ‘Chiisana Ouchi,’ ‘Twinkle of the Stars, Little Stars, Shining Stars,’ ‘The Roomnumber is 3021,’ ‘Melon Soda’

Yuja Wang – Sonatas & Etudes

Posted by T. Bawden Thursday, 5 November 2009 2 comments

Yuja Wang – Sonatas & Etudes – 4.5/5

So the big confession here would be that I did indeed chuckle at how closely her name resembles ‘Huge Wang,’ but I didn’t have to listen to her for long to realise that she is anything but a bad joke, and I dare any reader to challenge that notion. It is performances like this that force you to re-consider an underutilised instrument for its versatility, and how in skilled hands that can truly come across. Expertly performing compositions from Chopin, Liget, Scriabin and Liszt – particularly the latter, often renowned for being notoriously difficult – this is a debut album that shows more than simple ‘promise for the future,’ but rather a curiosity of where she has left to explore.

Now, first let’s dispel a few likely common thoughts about just how versatile the instrument is (for some reason I hear in my head “well it’s just like a keyboard right?” cropping up), its acoustic nature allowing for a variety of volumes to emerge and shift throughout the piece, allowing for very natural crescendo’s and build-ups in tension. The pedal also allows for control over the vibrato, lending either a very stark and bombastic tone, or a very fluid legato progression (unlike the keyboards, which is entirely limited by its electronic nature), and this is all forgetting the sheer range the instrument is capable of. All of these facts this young pianist seems more than aware of, displaying almost as much ease in the quick legato of ‘Ligeti’ as the darker toned romantic portrayal of Chopin’s second sonata.

But her real triumph comes in the final half hour, seeing Liszt’s only piano sonata that is so rarely done justice given thorough practice and the result is only too evident. The slower bassier rhythm’s interweaving with the lighter, quicker melodies, the melodic focus transitioning fluidly from the high end to the low, performing whichever in question more prominently with the required hand in a manner that simply boggles the mind. Going chaotically from the doom-like, gothic tones to the jollier, upbeat passages like a schizophrenic on crack, complete with crescendo’s and crashes galore; the piece is performed as though designed for a mad chainsaw-wielding madman who’s all too happy about his day job, and the result is absolutely flawless.

The production, too, is impressive, allowing for crystal clarity of each note which can only serve to enhance the atmosphere of the piece. The manner in which the album flows as a whole does nothing to detract either, opening with the impressive Chopin work (my only criticism perhaps that the funeral march is lacking in the bassier tone, needing more of a real ground-shaking emphasis to get across the morbid theme) to the delicate and gentler, simpler virtuosity of Scriabin, on to her final stellar Liszt performance, utilising short pieces by Liget almost as a means to refresh the musical palette. This is simply put a more than impressive debut demonstrating some well known piano compositions at their best, and is more than deserving of your time.

Highlights: Grave – Doppio Movimento (Chopin), Lento Assai (Liszt), Allegro energico (Liszt)

Exploration into Ambient Darkwave

Posted by T. Bawden Wednesday, 4 November 2009 0 comments

So welcome to my exploration into the genre of Ambient Darkwave. The most likely question; what on earth is that? Beginning from the roots, there was a specific movement within post-punk called ‘New Wave’ (Echo and the Bunnymen, Human League, etc). This then combined with Goth Rock to form ‘Darkwave’ (e.g. The Cure). Shortly after, this splintered into two directions, one became known as ‘Ethereal Darkwave,’ the other ‘Neoclassical Darkwave;’ the former is categorised but gentle, high pitched ‘ethereal’ vocals, often with a simple piano backing; the latter uses more prominent choral vocals and complex orchestral arrangements. Both can be considered ambient in tone, hence the grouped heading. Personally, I think both terms are overly complicated and retarded for such a simple atmospheric tone.

But since there can be no substitute for actually hearing what they sound like for yourself:

Neoclassical Darkwave
Ethereal Darkwave

This would be my confession part of the introduction. I had entirely forgotten about this, and left it half finished. I actually wrote these perhaps two months ago? So felt I should cut it short and just post what I had.

Included in this mini-special
Dark Sanctuary's "Les Memoires Blessees"
Chaostar's "Underworld"
Elend's "Les Tenebres Du Dehors"
Samsas Traum's "O Luna Mein"

Other artists that I had pencilled for review include: Dead Can Dance (one of the originators of the style), Arcana, Bolverk and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas.

| | edit post

Dark Sanctuary – Les Mémoires Blessées – 3.5/5

One of the first things that strikes you about this album is the immense production; lavish and thick toned without ever feeling imposing it retains a delicate morbidity that oozes with heartfelt sorrow and depression that many contemporaries can but aspire to. Leaning heavily on the neo-classical side of things, comparisons to Elend’s use of choral harmonies or Chaostar’s haunting atmosphere are not far wrong, but ultimately feels deceptively simplistic and subtle by comparison.

The keyboards delivering a very much hidden role in the proceedings, they often remain in the back delivering the most basic of chord progressions, acting almost as a bass guitar would in other artists, thickening the tone in a manner that requires conscious thought to discern from the rest of the instrumentation. Constantly complementing this effort is the use of harrowing vocals; with a genuine emotion being carried with each fragile note, they prove capable of transcending any barrier that may be imposed by the elegant native French language which the lyrics are written. At times layered on top one another to lend a choral effect; this is a vocalist that deserves the highest reputation in recognition of her prowess.

Powerful piano lines, never feeling overtly complex as to feel ill fitting, they find themselves largely consisting of a single chord played in a bombastic manner, complemented by a riff consisting of a few repeated notes to deliver an effective rhythm. Whilst this forms the core of their sound, subtle hints at other instruments emerge, the occasional use of violin to break up the vocal harmonies in particular. Each track slowly emerges, gently building up in momentum, usually without feeling excessively long, though it is rather hard to gauge. Often I’ll find myself waiting for the climax, the big crescendo in the piece, but it never really comes – it never really manages to make any form of impact.

But sadly, that isn’t my main gripe with this piece. Somewhere between the mid-way point and nearing the end of this 73-minute epic you come to realise how startlingly little variety there is to the proceedings. Most of the tracks open with that same piano riff, always similar in pitch and tempo, waiting for the vocals to come into play with their ever-consistent tone. Where things get mixed up a little – the more tension-inducing drummed introduction in “Laissez Moi Mourrir,” or gentle acoustic guitars in “L’adieu A l’Enfant Part II” for example, – they demonstrate that they aren’t constrained by their capabilities, but I can’t figure out why they couldn’t demonstrate this throughout. Don’t get me wrong; this is an incredibly talented artist that is capable of performing a very specific unique style, but sadly that style is so specific it becomes tiring before the album ends.

Highlights: L’adieu A l’Enfant Part I, Part II, Laissez Moi Mourrir

Chaostar – The Underworld – 4.5/5

Opening with the title track, split into four epic parts and spanning half an hour it manages to maintain a constant flow, telling each segment of the story it proves the artists capabilities and remains a major highlight. The backing bears resemblance to ‘Adagio’s interludes in the album of the same name, or ‘Crimfall’ if they dropped the folk and went gothic, straying into more bombastic territory, to elegant and smooth piano lines. Combined with liberal use of organs, flutes, synths, violins and cello’s - each carefully arranged and integrated in a seamless manner without ever feeling overused to present a rich orchestral tone to the proceedings - they display a clear structure to the track.

Despite this, it is the vocals that truly elevate this work, each vocalist performing superbly, particularly the lone female responsible for her variety of ethereal soprano, soft clean vocals and occasionally the witch-like evil cackling she lends to the proceedings. In addition to this are mid-ranged growls, bombastic - almost spoken - lines, clean mid-ranged male vocals, baritone and tenor vocals, all emerging from multiple vocalists, woven together often to form an argumentative tone as each of them is vying for control of the track, to emerge dominant.

There is such a variety of pace, tones and styles that it is truly breathtaking; from the slow lonesome despair filled piano line in ‘Misery’s King,’ with the lament of the clean male vocalist to the all out theatrical battle in ‘Underworld Act II,’ seamlessly transitioning between pieces as it maintains the flow between each section. My only real criticism being that whilst the use of volume to emphasise the tone is appreciable, becomes too quiet to be easily heard on the latter of the two tracks. What were ‘septicflesh’ doing after their incredible “Sumerian Demons?” Working on an album that could top it of course! A spectacular performance from musicians I would not have expected such a style from.

Highlights: Underworld Act I, Underworld Act II, Misery’s King

Elend – Les Tenebres Du Dehors – 4/5

So I continue my journey of musical discovery into ambient darkwave with a well established French band, performing a highly neo-classical variation of the style. Now, unlike the ‘Malmsteem’ variety of neo-classical, this form takes far more literal view of the term ‘new classical,’ and indeed would feel right at home amongst the likes of Bach and Brahms. With the soft melodic instrumental backing, the power comes across through the range of vocals, utilised in a manner that feels more instrumental than the conventional lyrics. Through soprano choral work comes much of the powerful emotions and imagery they convey, gothic and religiously toned without ever feeling condescending or ‘preachy’ in any way.

The first thing that should be noted is that – despite what I’ve seen mentioned – this is not a metal band and expecting such will lead to disappointment. In fact, there are no drums – through a machine or otherwise – nor are there any guitars. The backing is constructed through very simple and slow violin and keyboard synths, often again overlayed by organs or piano to tremendous effect. It is a simple but powerful formula that proves effective, if perhaps at times feeling overused and lacking in diversity. The soprano vocals are well utilised as another instrument, from the subtle whispers to the powerful shrieks they harmonise with the backing and often work as the top layer. Where the music really begins to shine – particularly in the latter tracks – is when the male vocals kick in; not just a deep tenor vocals but a blackened shrieking providing the perfect contrast to the angelic soprano work, the crashing of despair against the holy background proving a rather simple but incredibly effective combination.

The tracks vary nicely in tempo, from their most chaotic black shrieking to the gentle whispers from one of the four lead vocalists here. The keys are lavishly used but softly fade in and out so as to maintain a gentle wave-like flow to the proceedings. Looking over the lyrics, their nature soon becomes apparent, a real ‘Heaven vs Hell” battle with Lucifer as a central theme, filled with Latin, French and English passages that are carefully written to tell a story, there is detail in this far beyond the music itself.

From that opening choral line it succeeds in enchanting you, but its hour long running time feels excessive for what is on offer. Despite being incredibly well performed and composed, it is relatively simple music and its impact begins to fade – particularly during the two lengthier tracks, one clocking at 14 mins the other at 10 – and it begins to feel monotonous. Without hearing the lyrics this still magically conjures up religious imagery to my mind but at no point ceases being anything but beautiful in its nature. This is grandiose music rich in its enchanting atmosphere that still proves possible to lend a sinister tone when it needs to; fans of classical and atmospheric music may do well with this.

Highlights: Nocturne, Dancing Under the Closed Eyes of Paradise

Samsas Traum – Oh Luna Mein – 4/5

After multiple listens I’m still at a loss at where exactly to place this, other than as a form of avant-garde. Like the twisted bastard offspring of black metal musician Varg Vikernes (Burzum – Black Ambient) and the members of Elend (Neoclassical Darkwave), to say the music had some pretty dark toned gothic leanings would be an understatement, but the unconventionality doesn’t stop there. With a variety of vocals spoken entirely in German, choral work, organs, saxophones, clarinets, frequent industrial tones beneath the almost Wagner-inspired bombastic instrumental sections, interspersed with soft piano interludes, ethereal female vocals and growls. And that’s all ignoring the two bonus tracks; remixes of earlier tracks, one transformed into an electro/dance beat and the other an unusual electro-pop/rock. Anyone expecting a black metal album will be in for a surprise. In fact, don’t expect anything beyond a gothic toned brand of avant-garde insanity.

Whilst a number of instruments make an appearance, the heart of the music often consists of a combination of keyboards, vocals and drums. The drumming is all done utilising a drum machine, and whilst ordinarily this would have me questioning just how much it detracts from the music, here I wonder if it does at all. The style is already so unconventional that its monotonous, almost industrial feeling basic drum work often provides a basic rhythm to work from, and despite its prominence often succeeds in resonating throughout the track without feeling out of place. The keyboards, too, could easily become repetitive in tone but are lavishly layered on top of one another to have bombastic classical bouncy tones, gothic organs, Viking-esque synth’s or addictive simplistic electro-like riffs (or indeed, any combination of these all at once).

The vocals are all in German, and as with the keys present no shortage in variety, from the spoken track (‘Das Vorlerene Kind’), to black metal shrieking, even crackled clean singing (most certainly not his strong point). Even featuring soft female vocals on one track (‘Fur Immer’), it is despite this, for the majority of the album he sports a tone that lies perhaps somewhere between a mid-ranged black growl and a staccato cleaner tone, which is remarkably effective at presenting an evil atmosphere more akin to a creeping sensation than overt chaos. The variation in instrumentation could indeed have seen more work though, the clarinet often under utilised, the saxophone only given one superb solo, and a lack of use of choral work which could have added further variation to an album that sounds as though he is just beginning to run out of ideas by the end of this stretch.

Sadly, this will be the last album (to my knowledge) where he succeeds in retaining a sense of evil to his music, later works opting for a more heavily gothic/industrial emphasis. This album is almost difficult to effectively describe, but certainly those with a liking for the most symphonic of the black genres with an open mind may find much to their satisfaction. Looking for something that’s just plain weird? You may love it, you may hate it, (you may be confused by it) but one thing that can’t be denied is that it’s certainly interesting.

Highlights: Fur Immer, Ode an Epiphanies

Rotten Sound - Exit

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 3 November 2009 0 comments

Rotten Sound – Exit – 4.5/5

This is a genre I never thought I’d find myself becoming interested in. The most ‘extreme’ end of the spectrum, filled with tech death wankery, Brutal Death Metal’s lack of consideration for that little nuisance called melody, shockingly this isn’t like that. Taking ‘hardcore punk’ into the new age in the form of grindcore, bringing with it all the pent up rage and energy and unleashing in a torrent of unrelenting drums and chaotic guitar work, it takes from Death Metal the precision of each instrument, the lyrical themes and – perhaps most importantly – the high production standard. This is anything but sloppy; everything is precisely performed, lending an immensely powerful energy that comes across.

Another common argument – and one that I’ve often agreed with – is that it’s aggressive, sure, buts its dreadfully simplistic, and hence only got a limited shelf life, but listening as an album this again isn’t the case. Viewed as individual tracks, much of the guitars in particular could be seen to get monotonous, if not for the fact the tracks tend to only last 90 seconds anyway, and then we snap out into something completely fresh, and often differently paced, lending a rather technical feel, constantly shaking things up and preventing it from becoming repetitive.

A special commendation to the drumming which often succeeds in taking precedence over the other instrumentation; performing at a blistering pace he proves readily capable of a superb amount of variation, critically allowing the music to feel fresh and original without stagnating. The guitars too aren’t without their melodies, pulsating attacks relent into slower paced grooves (the ending for ‘soil’ actually reminds me of the main line in this dance track, oddly) without feeling out of place.

In fact, even the ‘weak link’ in terms of all the musicians, the vocals, perform pretty well, with less variation in pitch than I would perhaps like he constantly maintains a front of energy, struggling for dominance over the rest of the instrumentation. This isn’t the sort of music you’d listen to for mind blowing creativity or technicality; that was never the intention. Instead it provides half an hour of precise, blistering paced, energetic and chaotic rage, and by comparison going from this back to anything else feels sluggish and unenthused. No, it’s not the most inventive, but in terms of capturing raw energy on an album, this is pretty damn impressive.

Highlights: Sell Your Soul, Soil, Slay


Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 2 November 2009 0 comments

Voice of the Cult – 4/5

The release that sparked my discovery, featuring the impressive Kate French; the vocalist with more balls than a sports shop who would later go on to front ‘Vainglory,’ and a superb match for the brains behind the operation, guitar mastermind David T. Chastain (who has since gone on to release numerous Neo-classical/Fusion albums). Whilst they may follow the general format of many of the other more aggressive Heavy Metal artists (e.g. Jag Panzer, Omen), bordering on the fringes of the start of Power Metal, with their female vocalist and unusual style adopted by the guitarist, this isn’t just another ‘classic,’ but one with a unique tone that still proves visible today.

This is no light affair, with the riffs coming in thick, fast and furious, and shredded solo’s galore, he never compromises on the melody, this entire album ranks with the most powerful the genre had to offer at the time. Taking turns with the vocals, performing short fills between vocal lines and his more basic chord progressions, he lends a surprising variety in his style of playing, not merely shredding like many others. The drumming keeps the time, adding a limited amount of flare to the proceedings and, the bass makes a notable contribution, particularly during the many solos.

But whilst this may all go to ranking them with the better in the genre, it does nothing to separate them from the pack. Instead, this comes from a combination of two aspects; the often unusual guitar tone adopted, the unusual almost folk-like twang in ‘Voice of the Cult’ for example, lending a unique quality to his playing, even his solos feeling more than just mere scales, capable of an excellent variety of tempo to the proceedings. The final unusual aspect is of course the vocals, powerfully capable of providing a superb, addictive soaring melody and epic-toned chorus lines; this truly is one of the forgotten gems of 80s metal.

Highlights: The Voice of the Cult, Fortune Teller, Evil for Evil

Ruler of the Wasteland – 4.5/5

But lets assume all that wasn’t aggressive enough for you; you wanted more frantic riffs and solos, more shrieking vocals coming through a cacophony of raw-sounding drums. All one needs to do is look two years earlier to their last days with ‘Leather Leone’ at the helm and you’ll find more of the same nail-biting, head banging heavy metal, with all their influences pushed out a little further. The guitars carry more bite, the vocals have more power, the drums are more energetic (even getting their own short solo) and their unique flirtations with other genres make themselves more readily known with the funk-like riffs in “The King Has the Power.”

The tracks too remain remarkably varied in tone, from the ultimately slow and evil toned ‘Angel of Mercy,’ anthemic ‘Fighting to Stay Alive’ or shredded title track, for all these notable improvements to their later work, it still remains flawed. The vocals at times become grating, shrill in her tone, whilst she has greater versatility than ‘French’ who would replace her, she lacks the thickness of voice at her higher pitch to avoid this issue. The production is also notably rawer in tone, lacking the comfortable warmth that makes their later work all the more enticing and memorable. This is one of those releases that could benefit greatly from a re-master, but nonetheless this would remain a valuable addition to any fan of the genre.

Highlights: Fighting to Stay Alive, Angel of Mercy, Living in a Dreamworld


Blog Archive


Guide to the Ratings
0/5 - This caused me physical pain
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.

I cant guarantee all reviewers adhere to these guidelines, but work as a general guide.

Author's credit is given on all posts.