Friday, June 29, 2012

Botanist: III: Doom in Bloom (2012)

I Don't Trust My Lawn Anymore

Botanist's debut was the biggest surprise of 2011. Some guy who calls himself "the Botanist" decided to record a double-album of black metal played on nothing but drums and hammered dulcimer? WTF? Just about everyone who's interested in the fringes of avant-garde metal talked about it (even NPR), but opinions were very much split. I, for one, loved it, putting it at number 15 on my end-of-year list, noting that (like the maple I planted last month) it's a grower. It's still growing on me, 10 months on. So I've been eagerly anticipating the project's follow-up.

III: Doom in Bloom has been billed as Botanist's doom record. At this point, it's more of a stretch than ever to call Botanist a metal band--it's as much Mamiffer as Master's Hammer. And I hesitate to call anything doom if it's not actually heavy. But it could still fall at the outer reaches of the avant-garde black metal spectrum.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ectovoid: Fractured in the Timeless Abyss (2012)

Use as Directed

Prolia is a drug used to treat osteoporosis. It's administered by injection, every six months. Where menopausal women might need their Prolia, I need my Incantation. Every six months or so, I need a new Onward to Golgotha. The biggest difference is, the old ladies take Prolia to keep their bones from breaking. I need Incantation for just the opposite.

Ectovoid's Fractured in the Timeless Abyss was just what the doctor ordered. The Alabama band engages in nothing but shameless Incantation worship, and that's just fine by me. When I was hearing another one of these every month, I was OD-ing, so I cut back. But even the mighty Disma could only tide me over for so long.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fear Factory: The Industrialist (2012)

Fully Mechanized

Fear Factory is perhaps the most extreme band ever to make a dent in the mainstream. I actually picked up a copy of Obsolete as a prize at my post-prom, of all places, back in 2000. Fast-forward to 2010, and the real Fear Factory's comeback album Mechanize was one of the first album reviews I ever wrote, giving it a 4 out of 5 star rating. You could say I'm a fan.

The Industrialist is a continuation from the core Fear Factory Obsolete/Mechanize industrial groove metal sound that I'm sure you already know, complete with the catchy, clean vocal choruses that let them put their feet in the door of the mainstream. Since there's no innovation or change in direction here, it's pretty easy to set it side by side with the other records in their catalog to see how it stacks up.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Firefly: The Show, The Soundtrack

The Show

Before Joss Whedon directed blockbuster The Avengers, and toward the end of his highly successful Buffy series, he was the mastermind of TV's Firefly. The show bombed for the same reason that Family Guy initially bombed: Fox executives destroyed it. They played the episodes out of order, making it hard to follow, and often pre-empted it, so that its airing was unpredictable. The marketing for the show was also off-base. The result was that only 11 of the 14 episodes that had been created were aired, and the show was canceled after half a season in the fall of 2002.

But the show was extremely successful when released on DVD. I personally had no idea the show existed during its original run, being in college and not having easy access to TV at the time. But my brother convinced me to watch it, and I now own it on DVD, as well as the follow-up film Serenity released in 2005.

Firefly is, quite simply, the greatest television program ever. A space western, it combined all the excellent world-building of great fantasy with the action and relatability of old-fashioned westerns. It had themes of independence, moral obligation, loyalty, friendship, and rebellion. Like its two most obvious inspirations (Cowboy Bebop and the crew of the Millennium Falcon), it had great drama as well as just the right touch of humor. More importantly, it had what most sci-fi lacks: Compelling characters. A lot of compelling characters, each with an interesting back story.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ereb Altor: Gastrike (2012)


Viking lore is very much concerned with the end of the world. Doom, in other words. So it only makes sense that a band would come around to combine both Viking metal and doom metal, or at least that's how Ereb Altor is billed.

The label "epic Viking doom metal" is not far off the mark for these Swedes. It does make them seem a bit more unique than they really are. An unusual genre label is just good marketing, and this is coming from the same label who brought you Ahab's "Nautik doom metal." In truth, Ereb Altor's Gastrike sounds mostly like Watain, being heavier-than-average black metal, and with a very similar sound in terms of tone, riff-writing, and vocals. But there are key differences, mainly drawn from Bathory's Viking period.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Vintersorg: Orkan (2012)

Deja Viking

Vintersorg is a progressive Viking metal band from Sweden who have released [eight] albums since their debut in 1998. They are the namesake of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Andreas "Vintersorg" Hedlund, who has also done impressive work with Borknagar. [Orkan is my second experience with the band, after last year’s Jordpuls impressed me.]

The musical approach is a strange beast. Yes, it sounds like Viking metal: strong influence from black metal and folk music, with anthemic songs. But what makes it odd is that the focus is clearly on the vocals. Metal tends to focus on guitars and, to a lesser extent, drums, but only a few (Slough Feg, Danzig) put this much emphasis on the singer. And he definitely has the voice and singing chops to pull it off. He has a capable black metal rasp, but the clean vocals are the real star. They're emotional, dramatic, beautiful, and distinctive. The closest to his style is probably ICS Vortex, the former Borknagar vocalist and Dimmu Borgir clean singer. The vocals are even better layered, either with two clean vocals to create harmony or with a clean and rasp to create contrast.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Witch Mountain on Trial

Witch Mountain

Witch Mountain came to the Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln Tuesday night. I hadn't been to a live show in 8 years . . .

An Aside

Maybe I should go into that. You can skip this part if you want, but it might provide some context.

I had a friend from high school. During college, we went to a few live shows. Not often. We saw Metallica, Rob Zombie, Korn, System of a Down, Powerman 5000, Godsmack, Static-X, and Skrape over the course of about four years. I know, not the coolest, most cred-building list ever, but it is what it is. Last I knew, he was getting into Hatebreed, and, probably the Dropkick Murphys or something. I don't know anymore, because he's apparently written me off. The feeling is mutual.

The only other live show I've attended was A Perfect Circle, with my then-girlfriend now-wife. She liked the music OK, but the people at the show freaked her out. I should have taken her to a metal show instead, because those fucking goths. Anyway.

So I haven't had anyone to go with. And I'm not the kind of person who "does things." My idea of fun is watching a movie, by myself, and having a few beers. Other people are usually the ones who make me "do" things. And I had no idea how people find out what bands are coming to a small, out-of-the-way city like Lincoln anyway.

The result is, I hadn't been to a live show in 8 years. I was going to see Master with Lightning Swords of Death a few months ago, but Master (or their people) failed to check the requirements of immigration law, so that fell through. I was just going to forget about the live thing altogether, but when I found out Witch Mountain was coming to town, I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ides of Gemini: Constantinople (2012)

Dream Doom

Ides of Gemini is another female-fronted doom band. I know I've covered quite a few of those over the last year or so, and it probably seems like I have an automatic liking for it. I probably do. But this one is, to say the least, unique.

A comparison creeps into my mind. It may not seem likely, at first. But listening to this, I can't help but think of Boris's Attention Please. This isn't quite so wispy as that dream-pop record, but if Ides of Gemini were to spawn a legion of imitators, the resulting microgenre could be called dream doom, a tag which has popped up next to their name many times recently.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Witch Mountain: Cauldron of the Wild (2012)

Doomed Souls

A year ago, I reviewed the incredible comeback album from Witch Mountain, a band whose completely analog, soul-meets-rock-meets doom sound could have been at the original Woodstock--and crushed all the hippies under its incredible heaviness. Then I put it at the number 23 spot on my end-of-2011 list. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

For the most part, Cauldron of the Wild is a continuation of that sound. The first half of the record is all swagger and doomy rock. "The Ballad of Lanky Rae" kicks things off with a folk tale akin to Johnny Cash's "The Legend of John Henry's Hammer," if Cash sounded like Joplin fronting Sabbath. It's not a huge departure for this band.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Horse Latitudes: Awakening (2012)

Horses Are Heavy

If I remember my sixth grade history, the Horse Latitudes are parts of the ocean with little wind. The (questionable) story is that explorers of the 16th Century would be stuck on calm seas for so long that they could no longer water their horses, killing them as an act of mercy. Or the sailors would run out of provisions and resort to eating the horses or drinking their blood. Brutal.

Apparently, the band took their name from a Doors song, an unlikely source. Unlikely, because the Doors had no bass, whereas Horse Latitudes have no guitar. The Finnish band's unorthodox lineup consists of two bassists (who also handle effects) and a drummer/vocalist.

Friday, June 15, 2012

King Diamond: Abigail (1987)

Motion for Reconsideration
25th Anniversary

In addition to being my twins' first birthday, this is the 25th anniversary of King Diamond's Abigail. It's not just a favorite of mine, but one of the most beloved metal albums of all time. As evidence, you need only look at the Metal Archives review average: 13 reviews with an average score of 96%. Browsing around and looking at the usual suspects, I could find only one other album with at least a dozen reviews and an equal score (Sad Wings of Destiny).

I should have named my twins Jonathan and Abigail.

Timi Hansen, Michael Denner, and the incomparable King Diamond had all been involved in two of the greatest metal albums of all time. After the break-up of the great Mercyful Fate, they formed the band King Diamond. 1986 Debut Fatal Portrait didn't make a drastic departure from their old band's style, and only partially qualifies as a concept album. But Abigail represents the moment that King Diamond (the band) truly came into its own.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Damned v. Paranoia

Those Crusty Swedes


Reading through any extreme music magazine, you're bound to run across at least one mention of Swedish crust or Swedish D-beat, usually accompanied by mentions of the Dis- bands who were the giants of the field. I personally have never looked into the style before. But with Southern Lord's increased focus on the most metal parts of punk music, this is a perfect time to explore.

To that end, I've given many a spin of two new Swedish crust/D-beat records, Wolfbrigade's Damned and Martyrdöd's Paranoia. In short, they're both FMA-approved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Moonless: Calling All Demons (2012)

Rockin' Doom

Rock 'n' roll has been around for over 60 years now. Doom metal, for over 40 years. By now, every possible rock or doom riff has been explored. But there are still bands out there playing it as if it's something new. It's not shocking that people want to do that. A good doom riff is always great to hear. But how could anyone take something that's been done 1000 times before and make it sound fresh and relevant?

Moonless is a Danish band formed three years ago. Their debut Calling All Demons raises that very question. Like Lord Vicar or The Gates of Slumber, they have that indefinable something that makes you care about some unoriginal doom metal that could have been pulled from a 1975 Pentagram rehearsal tape.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Poll Results and Minor Changes

According to the recent polls, the vast majority of you think my review scores are on track (85%, not counting the people who think I'm stupid), and most of you want me to keep giving review scores (76%). Most of you also see the good in the review format (71%), so that will not be changing.

Miskatonic pointed out something that always bothered me, the fact that "I give it X out of X stars" appeared in every review. I couldn't think of a better way to do that before, but now I'm leaving it out of the prose of the review and setting it aside.

The only other change I'll be making around here is in what gets reviewed. In the past, I've had a policy of at least mentioning at least one submission from everyone (each band, PR person, or label gets one). With the quantity of submissions I receive, that's no longer possible. Given that change, I'll have to get better about e-mailing the bands and labels back, rather than leaving them hanging until I post a review.

What this should mean for you is that there will be no more half-hearted reviews, like most of the summary judgment reviews. If something doesn't make me want to talk about it, or nothing interesting comes to my mind, I won't force it. This will probably mean there will be fewer albums getting a 2.5 or 3 star rating, and there will be more high ratings. The very bad ratings probably won't go anywhere.

Songs of Townes Van Zandt (2012)

Black Crow Blues

Townes Van Zandt was sort of the Bobby Liebling of folk and country. He was considered an excellent songwriter, influential on many more famous acts such as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, but his own career never took off. The drug and alcohol problems that plagued him in life were certainly no help.

A drug-and-alcohol plagued, under-appreciated folk songwriter is the perfect subject for a Neurot split among Steve Von Till, Scott Kelly, and Wino. Or at least that's what the good people at Neurot seem to think, and after hearing it, I agree.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Embracing the Lightless Depths v. The Giant

Electric Funerals


When the genre is done well, I love funeral doom. The problem with being a fan of this genre is how impossibly difficult it is to determine which albums are worth your money and time. And they take up a lot of time. Listening to a few minutes on Youtube, or even an entire song, you could get a positive impression and make the purchase--only to find that the album as a whole is boring.

Faced with this problem, you have a couple choices. You can read reviews, or you can bet on a proven entity. Both of these choices leave something to be desired, because many funeral doom fans can't tell the good from the bad, and even the best purveyors of the doom will occasionally slip. But a comparative review of albums from two proven entities should give you the best of both worlds.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bar Review: Watch Man IPA

58 IBU / 6% ABV
I used to think hops were the enemy. As I came to appreciate beer and enjoy it more than wine, it was the dark, low-hops brews I loved best, like Guinness.

But then I tried the Tallgrass IPA, and that changed. I learned to appreciate a good hops-infused beer, with its bright, citrus flavor.

So I was excited when I saw that our local brewery, Empyrean Brewing Co., had released an IPA. Until I tried it. There's not much to recommend it, though. It's simply bitter, and the citrus of the hops only serves to make it less enjoyable. I can't explain why, I just know that this is the case.

The Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars

Empyrean has failed me once again.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Panopticon: Kentucky (2012)

Come All You Poor Workers

Much of the best black metal reflects a sense of place. Whether it evokes the feel of the environment, or pulls in folk melodies of the culture, you should be able to tell something about where it comes from simply by hearing it. With Kentucky, Panopticon has put it right there in the title. But Kentucky isn't just in the title. It's in every note.

The record begins on a folk song, which isn't all that unusual these days. What is a bit more rare--at least outside Europe--is just how thoroughly the folk has taken over the album. Over half the tracks are pure folk, and the black metal cuts (over half the runtime) all have a folk infusion. Which is great, because Appalachian folk is a style that I've really come to love.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Förgjord: Sielunvihollinen (2012)


Finland's black metal scene is less talked-about than the classic Norwegian or Greek scenes. It's less talked-about than the current US or French scenes. But it's certainly not unimportant, with Impaled Nazarene being perhaps the best-known name. Yet, my exposure to it has been extremely limited, coming mostly in the form of very unusual entities like the psychedelic Oranssi Pazuzu or the cheesy black/gothic/symphonic In Silentio Noctis.

So, consider Förgjord's Sielunvihollinen my introduction to Finnish black metal proper. The band has been around, apparently, since 1995, but this is only their second full-length release.