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.

Machine Head – Unto the Locust

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 27 September 2011 0 comments

Machine Head – Unto the Locust - 3.5/5
{With an album like this I'd be lucky for a link to last a day}

And so it's time for me to get under way with the second release of late, and another that I'm hesitant to call a guilty pleasure (though I'm aware many would call this band nothing more than that); a band that I've had an odd affiliation for over the years. They've had their highlights, experimental flings with hip-hop (that ended in disaster) and it was only with their last offering that they finally seemed to reach their peak with the progressively inspired 'The Blackening.' Yes, it's still Groove Metal in the vein of Pantera and Sepultura, but their political motivations and progressive leanings added a new element: conviction. As they spat their vocal lines, and the guitars roared it all screamed of an absolute conviction in what they were performing; a raw and visceral energy that elevated them beyond their contemporaries and resulted in one of the best albums the genre had ever seen. And with four long years to contemplate where to strike next they've finally emerged with some of the most bone crushingly heavy music they've yet written.

Opening with the more than impressive 'I am Hell,' it all shows they haven't been twiddling their thumbs all this time; the complexity of their music shows no signs of slowing down, and with riffs galore they perform with an explosive energy that's as much a testament to the band themselves as it is the incredible production work that somehow managing to keep it all coherent and together. Every instrument feels like it's facing off with one another; the drums lay down a firing squad of beats that rarely are limited to merely snare or cymbal abuse, matched only by the guitar work that perhaps only begins to slow down in the final third of the album, feeling all too comfortable slotting in simpler melodies already proven to be beneath his abilities.

I was apprehensive after hearing the track released in promotion, the title track “Locust,” seeming longer than necessary and a little too heavy on the bass, leaving it all feeling a little too much of an exercise in chugging along. The truth is that this is a poor representation of what they really have to offer; whilst it works in context with the rest of the release, it feels all too 'hardcore punk' in its “breakdown -like” chorus and lack of energy. Whilst the same is true for much of the album, so much of the release has begun to stray so far into thrash metal territory that if you removed the bass and gave the lead guitars more presence, a good portion of the album wouldn't be out of place on a bill besides the likes of “Death Angel” or “Onslaught.”

Technically they've upped their game; it's heavier, faster and just as aggressive as ever, and every track begins with a slow chorus, which whilst somewhat predictable can easily be forgiven for how successfully they manage to build up to the chaos that ensues. And showing no reluctance to try new styles, the album's highlight arrives from the most unlikely of sources in “Darkness Within,” a largely acoustic song sung cleanly, taking it's time to build up the energy and emotion; it's unlike anything I would have expected them to come out with and ironically it's this track that demonstrates perfectly my main problem with this release, because it proves that simply increasing the level of aggression doesn't improve a release. They've become so caught up in trying to best themselves that what they've forgotten is that sense of conviction that made their last leave such an impression, and with a theme that I can only identify as a God-born plague, it just feels a little detached from reality and ultimately purposeless. Following up 'The Blackening' was never to be an easy task,' and this admittedly doesn't do a bad job of it, but in trying to outdo their last efforts they've forgotten what made it so good to begin with. Metalcore fans may have found their album of the year, but those craving more creativity and emotion in their metal may want to look elsewhere.

Highlights: I Am Hell, Darkness Within

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – IV – 1.5/5

I'll make no secret of the fact that I was won over by their last album; the sudden realisation that rather than playing to their metalcore roots they'd since taken a far more southern rock route, an idea that tickled my ear buds as the list of contemporary musicians that fit the bill don't come all too often. So with that in mind, I counted down the days until I could see the album they'd been coveting, but telling everyone that most overheard phrase 'it's our best yet.' I suppose it really depends on how you'd define 'best,' but for me, that word would not be seen anywhere near this release. In fact, on reflection I wonder if their influences include Madball (NYHC) and Nickelback, because if you slammed them both together you'd probably end up with something similar to this. Which is great if that's your thing, but to me that sounds like a fucking atrocity.

A major component to their sound was always the guitar interplay; banjos or acoustic guitars beneath the rhythm and the lead complementing it all with some tasty southern riffs. Here they've all too often dumbed it all down to a basic chord progression, which is just plain boring to listen to when compared to what came before it. All too often I'm awaiting the song to kick off with a frenzy, to deliver on something that actually makes me rock, but at best the opening track might make you apathetically nod your head and then it's all downhill from there. The rhythm has had his distortion levels pumped to the point that any time he tries to do something a little creative it gets shrouded in a muddy mystery; the very few times a riff actually manages to break a groove (the intro for “Open Your Eyes” or “Fate Games” for example) it all dies down for the song, which can often feel like one long breakdown. Except when the solo's hit and it all feels like a breakdown within a breakdown (was inception another influence? “Dude, lets put like...a breakdown INSIDE a breakdown”).

If all that wasn't bad enough, the vocals have stopped providing the raw energy that they once did, now opting for a rasp-free clean tone that just sounds like he's stopped caring; emotion was never something he did well, he was always the man for epic catchy lines, and if this is his new musical direction then this is a band that won't take long to bomb entirely. It at times get's so bad (see “Faith Healer”) that it feels like he's trying to make modern rock out of the Beatles! In fact the only member of this band who doesn't feel like he's gotten lazy is the drummer, and he wasn't anything particularly special to begin with; incredibly simple yet aggressive and hard hitting drum lines registering all too mechanically keep the band trying to wade above the shit they've created. Maylene surprised me with “III,” I thought I'd misjudged them, that they were more than just 'half of Underoath' and that they could come out with something worthy of my time. With “IV” they've proven that was all just dumb luck. It's said that given a thousand monkeys infinite time that they'd eventually re-write the entire works of Shakespeare. Five monkeys, ten minutes.

Highlights: None really. I guess at least it's consistent...

Onslaught – The Sound of Violence

Posted by T. Bawden Friday, 23 September 2011 0 comments

Onslaught – The Sound of Violence – 4/5

Well it's about time I updated this blog with what new music had been hitting my ears of late, and the answer is this the home grown retro-thrash act Onslaught, holding a short-lived career in the 80s before burning out into obscurity; out to prove now 25 years on from their debut that they can still kick off like the best of the new talent, and that they can. Fitting somewhere between Death Angel and Slayer in their style of thrash, displaying a certain element of Groove, but don't for a moment think they've lost that aggressive element that defines the genre. They might not race off at a breakneck speed – in fact quite a number of the tracks are decisively slow - but what they lack in sheer speed they compensate in tone; crushingly heavy bass lines, slow and viciously pounded drum lines to complement the ground shaking guitar work and a vocal prowess that is spoken with such conviction that you at times wonder whether he's singing or asking you to join him a political revolt.

The albums pacing is impeccable, it doesn't spend all its time at one end of the spectrum but tries to vary between the shredded solos that never seem too far away and the slower, epic, at times almost anthemic passages. And this does more than simply add diversity to the proceedings, it allows you to more readily take in the melodies that they create, to better appreciate the riffs given time to flourish. There's method to the madness and rather than just sound as though they're playing fast for the sake of it, there's an element of catchiness to them that lends itself to making the whole experience memorable. I've always been a fan of a little touch of Groove in my thrash proceedings for precisely that reason, and here they deliver on just that: a touch. The guitars still give no second thoughts to melting your face off at a moments notice and the vocals have this hoarse roar that at his peak infringe on death metal territory, demonstrating a mid-paced growl borne out of his already rasped cries.

They've taken political themes as a theme involved in explaining the conviction they demonstrate, but if there was ever a big stumbling block to it all, it would be the lyrics. I wasn't really expecting much but it's only as you start humming the chorus to some of the tracks that you realise just riddled with generic clich├ęs it really is; words like 'annihilation,' 'hatred,' 'war,' and 'new world order' all tossed in between a few swear words. If you're intending to slow down the pace to the point you can clearly make out everything on display, clearly making sure each word is properly annunciated, you better make sure you actually have something to say.

The production is distinctly modern, and give a certain sense of polish to allow for that deep bass-laden crunch to come through and make everything feel appropriately heavy whilst not detracting from the rest of the instrumentation. Fans of the old way of doing things that despise the new wave that has emerged will find little here to their liking; they haven't taken the route of trying to re-live the glory days of tinny treble-laden production and denim jackets but accept the changes that have occurred since, it feels 'chunky' and 'rich' in its sound, the bass and the rhythm forming a thick sludge-like thrash backing that wouldn't have been possible back then. The album name couldn't be more apt; this is the Sound of Violence. Dark, powerful, epic and filled with a demomic rage; possessed with a unwavering and uncontrollable sense of aggression to be let out on all those surrounding you. Those who despise retro-thrash will have stopped reading already but for the rest of you, enjoy one of the more convincing thrash comebacks.

Mathcore Madness

Posted by T. Bawden Tuesday, 13 September 2011 0 comments

I've seen this come up a few times, and seeing as it is growing so rapidly in popularity – particularly in my home country – I thought I'd write up a few notes on its origins, style, and the best the genre has to offer, particularly seeing as it was one of the first genres I really found interest in (even though I had little idea of it at the time beyond a handful of artists). Essentially the genre is comprised of two parts: “core” is the section everyone detests, referencing the influences from hardcore, post-hardcore, metalcore, grindcore or deathcore. The other portion, “math,” requires perhaps a little more of a history lesson.

In fact, its earliest roots that I know of lie in the 50s and 60s jazz stylings of Sun Ra, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, more specifically their work in developing what's called “Free Jazz.” Much as the name would have you expect it's pretty free sounding; there is no standardised structure or tempo, no solid base such as a verse or chorus, and often no clear coherency between musicians, utilising polyrhythms to create a dissonant structure. Much of it comes across like a bizarre improvisation piece with the general atmosphere and tone strived for being of critical importance. In fact, trying to both create something sounding 'Free' and yet still come across as somewhat tuneful would turn out to be a difficulty that would alienate most Jazz enthusiasts from the sub-genre, and is still probably the biggest obstacle with mathcore today, even though no artist now comes close to matching the sheer technicality of some of these compositions.

It was from here that in the 80s it's influences could finally be felt in the modern rock movement. Bands like Atheist, Cynic and Gorguts would take Jazz influences and incorporate it into the genre of Death metal giving birth to “Tech Death.” Around the same time contemporary rock musicians starting taking this idea of a free flowing song structure, with the likes of Slint, many of Albini's works, and perhaps most famously Frank Zappa giving rise to the genre of “Math Rock.” It should be important to note that there is no real difference between the terms “Tech” and “Math,” they simply caught on to two distinct genres of music. It only makes sense then as Hardcore Punk began to be on the rise that bands began to experiment with it as well, with the likes of Botch and Converge making their presence known.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and suddenly a new face is becoming prominent in the music industry: the rise of post-hardcore. It's in 1999 with Dillinger Escape Plan's “Calculating Infinity,” shortly followed by Sikth's “The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait for Something Wild...” that the most commonly heard form today was born, but – as with Free Jazz before it – it was not to be an easy path to take, with DEP significantly toning down their work as the years progressed and Sikth disbanding entirely. Few bands would come and go with little recognition from the media, and it would be only much later, with the rise of Djent, that finally the genre would fine a niche scene in which it could flourish.

The term whilst not first used by Meshuggah, a Technical/Groove Metal band, it was certainly used to describe a particular tone they employed in their music; very high gain, low pitched, heavily distorted and yet with enough precision that even at the fastest of tempo's each note could be distinctly heard. To my understanding - and I'm not entirely sure this really is it's first usage - the term was first used on the forums at by two guitarists, Misha Mansoor and Acle Kahney, the lead guitarists who would go on to form Periphery and Tesseract, then teenagers who would post their work to one another for feedback on ability, technicality, and how close they were to achieving this "Djent" tone, so named for it's onomatopoeic value. It is in this Djent tone that a 'base' could finally be obtained for the mathcore genre, allowing for a stable rhythm section to ground the music and prevent it from sounding too improvisational and inaccessible in its nature. It should be noted that whilst not a genre in its own right, it can be a useful descriptor in identifying a style of playing.

In the past few years the entire genre has seen a massive boom in activity, both in artists taking the post-hardcore route outlined for them already, or often combining it with post-rock (e.g. Cyclamen), Jazz (e.g. Lye By Mistake), Death Metal (Veil of Maya, Between the Buried and Me), Progressive Metal (Tesseract), Ambient (Chimp Spanner) and even with artists such as Protest the Hero, BTBAM and Rolo Tomassi achieving relatively mainstream success. In fact, it's becoming more common for artists performing the genre to strive to achieve a contrast between passages, dividing their time between a more traditional 'chaos' and a swooping, melancholic tone, though across the pond in the US, there is certainly often a greater tendency towards Death Metal or Grindcore influences. So there we have it, if you've made it all the way to the end congratulations, you should no longer be ignorant of the genre. For a few suggestions of where to start diving into this treasure trove of wonders, there is a spoiler link below with a few ideas.

» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «



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.