Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Opeth: Pale Communion (2014)

A Darker Shade of Pale

For about a decade, Opeth was the most important band in metal, to paraphrase an occasional contributor to this site. You are no doubt fully aware of their sound, and have probably heard most if not all of their music. And I don’t feel that anyone has a misunderstanding of the band, either; metalheads understand Opeth, whether they enjoy it or not. You are no doubt also fully aware of their well-publicized abandonment of metal. So I will avoid any kind of detailed discussion of the band’s history and legacy, which I am always tempted to do when I know a band's catalog as well as I know Opeth's. I’m going to simply step into the music.

Pale Communion is a continuation of the band’s progressive rock fetish. Not completely but in part, it sounds like it could have come from the late 60’s or early 70’s. You already could have guessed that. As with the last record, the vocals are wonderful and the production has a deliciously broad dynamic range. They still display a mastery of dynamism, and they sadly are still handicapping themselves by refusing to go into death metal mode for a minute or two. But there are some differences between this record and Heritage which preceded it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

R.I.P. Countess Bathory


I just found out that the other day (August 21) was the 400th anniversary of the death of Countess Bathory. Since she inspired my favorite song, I thought that was worth noting.



Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden (2014)

Unoriginal?

In their recent Decibel cover story, the members of Pallbearer seem perplexed at their sudden rise to prominence and the nearly universal, fervent adoration they've received among metalheads--and in some corners of the mainstream. I have been no less perplexed than them. Which is not to say that I don't adore them. My gut feeling is that they're not doing anything new, and that they're not doing it at a radically higher level than anyone else. But scouring my music collection, I'm hard-pressed to find any band that serves as a direct comparison.

So here's the part that's not new: Heavy doom metal riffs. Steady, or lurch-and-stumble. Simple solos for emphasis. With a great production job, no less. Though they are well-written and well-performed, I could easily find a dozen bands on par. The dynamics are solid, with variations of light and heavy, loud and quiet, and even some added tempo changes which were missing on the band's debut. Again, these are not especially unusual features. So if you're familiar with the band (as you should be), you may have guessed where this is going. What sets Pallbearer apart are the vocals.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brimstone Coven v. Dystopia

Doom-Rock Showdown

v.

I’m not sure how long “doom-rock” has been a term, but the music has been around for a while. It’s splitting the baby between hard rock and doom metal, and shows up alongside terms like “retro,” “proto-metal” and “occult rock.” I’ve always found it to be a nice change of color that allows for rock-style songwriting without losing the appeal of doom’s heaviness.

There’s been a rapid increase in the number of releases in this vein in recent years, and I’ve been sifting through a lot of them. Brimstone Coven’s self-titled album and Monolith’s Dystopia are two examples worth noting.

Brimstone Coven play heavy doom-rock with an occult rock angle. Don’t think that means you have to like occult rock to enjoy this, because it’s doom first; it’s sort of a slower, smoother, earthier doppelganger to Ghost. The vocals are great, which is something you need in this style. But the excellent bass riffs really got my attention, and the guitar playing style has plenty of variety—opener “Cosmic Communion” is an excellent example of both. Other interesting standouts include the upward-spiraling riff on “Vying,” the trippy “The Black Door,” and the riff from “The Séance” which echoes the Tony Martin-era Sabbath tune “The Shining.” This is catchy music with plenty of variety, and a wonderfully dynamic production job that lets you crank it up without hurting your ears. It sounds like a much better-produced band from the 70’s, without sounding like a direct copy of any single band from that era. It also includes a bunch of bonus tracks which apparently come from an earlier release, which are still good but are not recorded as well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (1980-1983)

The Color That Is Darker Than Black

Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun is the best thing I've read in ten years, since the first time I read The Lord of the Rings. In fact, professional critics have placed it right alongside that work. If that doesn't grab your attention enough, let me also state that it's the most metal book I've ever read.

The most key point to explain what makes this book so great is captured in a cover quote from the third volume: "The most extraordinary hero in the history of the heroic epic" (Washington Post Book World). Roger Ebert famously stated that only good villains separate good stories from bad, because heroes are all the same, but that is definitely not the case here. Severian begins as an apprentice in the Seekers for Truth and Penitence, the guild of the torturers. They carry out judicial punishments ranging from all manner of torture to execution. He, like most members of his guild, has no family. He has a strong sense of justice, like all heroes, and the torturers' philosophy to justify their actions is well-considered. But he also does some rather unsavory things along his journey. He is prone to mercy, but can also be quite ruthless. Peculiarly, he often repeats that he remembers everything, and doesn't know what it's like to forget.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Botanist: VI: Flora (2014)

Fawning Over Flora

It’s always important to know where a reviewer is coming from. So in case you missed it, I’m a huge Botanist fanboy. I’ve been covering the band since the beginning, posting one of the earliest reviews and interviews with the band. The band has made multiple appearances on my year-end lists. I also have a Botanist patch from supporting the recent Kickstarter.* With that record set straight, you should also note how I’ve turned on bands I once loved in the past, when they’ve failed to deliver. But that won’t be an issue here.

Even if you don’t like what Botanist does, you must admit that it’s fascinating. In case you don’t know, this is the “black metal” band with an eco-terrorist storyline and hammered dulcimer instead of guitars. So with that ground completely unexplored, you can see there has been a lot of room for experimentation. (You might say it’s fertile ground.) This latest full-length has been a completely new experience, just as each before it, and it just might be the band’s best.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Pyrrhon: The Mother of Virtues (2014)

Not Spiritually Healing

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

What is the purpose of listening to music? Why does one spend countless hours loading up iTunes with MP3s? Why does she put the stylus to the vinyl and the vinyl to the computer via USB cables? Why does she roam the back aisles of goodwill stores to ransack incoming record collections? Why does one jam out to the local record store at lunch to pick up the latest Overkill CD? Why sort through countless promo emails to choose which of the latest Polish death metal bands to review? Is it a quest? A journey to find the most extremely extreme awesomely- awesome metal metalness? One ponders such things listening to Pyrrhon's The Mother of Virtues.

One reason to listen is to be moved - either figuratively and literally - spiritually or physically - or both. In the metal world such movement usually involves snapping necks, slamming into a fellow metal brother or sister, and generally "ripping shit up". The Mother of Virtues does not induce such physical movement. Technical death metal bands often move the music but the music does not often move the listener. That over-generalization holds true here. Figuratively the movement in metal can be all over the place but the spiritual movement usually induced ranges from despondence to empowerment to soul lifting highs. Even black metal,* evokes spiritual emotions - depending on the listener these will vary from total emptiness to paradoxically, uplifting affirmations of spiritual conflict. As it was with the physical movement requirement, The Mother of Virtues does not create any figurative spiritual movements in the listener.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On the Suicide of Robin Williams

For some reason people seem surprised that Robin Williams committed suicide. If you had asked me a month ago to pick the celebrity most likely to kill himself, he would have topped my list. The last time I saw him on a talk show--several years back--it struck me just how desperately he wanted people to like him. (Which, in turn, made me desperately not like him.) The man was not psychologically self-sufficient.

I did not like him as an actor. He ruined or threatened to ruin any movie he was in, as fas as I'm concerned. The movies where he played a starring role are intolerable to me, with the lone exception being Aladdin. It's been my impression that he seriously fell out of favor with the public as well, but of course with his death everyone likes him again.

But suicide is an important topic to me. My brother killed himself. So despite the fact I rarely comment about celebrities here, I want to talk about it.

This is a blessing and a curse. Apparently a celebrity suicide often triggers a rash of suicides, and that's sad. At the same time, it's an opportunity to raise awareness. With other causes, awareness is a goal primarily because it raises money. With suicide, awareness is the most important goal. Not because people need to realize how selfish it is. That's not exactly accurate, because it's the result of powerful forces acting to overpower rational thought. Martin Luther said, "I don't have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil." but because they need to realize they need to get help. And it's OK to ask for help.

So please, if you're depressed, you need to admit it to yourself, and get help. If anyone suggests they might be thinking about it, please be open, understanding, and encourage them to find help.

Monarch: Sabbracadaver (2014)

Viceroy

Profound Lore is unassailable as the premier metal label. They release some of the best death metal, Lovecraftian and with an old-school ethos if not always old-school in style--Disma, Auroch, and Portal, to name a few. They release some of the most interesting black or blackened metal, not the least of which are Cobalt and Agalloch. They release some of the best truly experimental music as well--Menace Ruine immediately comes to mind. And perhaps best of all, they are untouchable in the realm of doom, with Evoken, SubRosa, Pallbearer, Witch Mountain, and Loss all calling the label home.

But then again, they do release the occasional stinker. Say hello to Monarch's Sabbracadaver.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Unfortunately my Internet access is currently down. I'll find a way to post a finished review as soon as possible.