About Me

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I'm Chris. I'm 22 years old and I'm into a large variety of music, from Metal in its many forms (mostly the extreme ones) to Goth and Postpunk, Reggae, Jazz, Prog, Techno, Ambient and Film Scores. This is where I rave about albums I really like, and other stuff.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Katatonia - Night Is The New Day

Album review: Katatonia - Night Is The New Day (Peaceville, 2009)
Dark Rock/ Metal

Something new now, as I review an album I don't actually think is that great, Katatonia's most recent studio effort "Night is the New Day".

Given that their new album is now right around the corner (after the obligatory 3 year wait), I figured I may as well offer my thoughts on this one from one of my very favourite bands which I just haven't been sure about since I went out to buy it the week it was released (the last time I actually did that, too). It was just a shame that the first new album by them since I got into them managed to pretty much disappoint me, especially given the hype that surrounded it...you know, all the predictable "its their best yet!!!" press spiel. Mikael Akerfeldt's quote on the sticker attached to the CD case is especially hilarious in retrospect. The promise was all there: an expansion of the previous record while at the same time adding diversity to the sound...but as usual the sales pitch doesn't quite match the product, at least in my view.

First, what I do think is good: the production is very smooth, definitely their cleanest yet, but its full of texture and very atmospheric. They've also upped the synths on this, very noticeable in "The Longest Year" with the pulsing arpeggios which are nice. My main issue with NITND is this: it's too anemic. It just lacks energy. I know thats fairly accurate of feeling depressed, but something about the more energetic songs on The Great Cold Distance, Viva Emptiness and earlier just gives them so much more appeal. They're dynamic and multifaceted. NITND however, seems content to drift through its duration. They already perfected the sleep-like and simultaneously apathetic/ intense emotional qualities of depression on the amazing "Discouraged Ones" album about 10 years earlier.

When the album was announced, I had hoped for a continuation of the sound hinted at on "Unfurl". I thought it would have been interesting if they made an entirely down tempo electronica album, as that song was just so stupidly good and the whole thing worked really well. In a way that's what they did, but most of it doesn't measure up to that. Sure, the album is loaded with synths and programmed beats, but I can't help but feel that it falls flat.  It just didn't impress me that much, and it still doesn't. They've still got the downtuned chugging thing going on, but a lot of the riffs just aren't that good... they're just there, plodding away for the sake of it at the same pretty low tempo (compared to the frantic opening to "Increase", for example).  Another problem: "Idle Blood"....no. You are not Opeth. This is not what I want to hear. A very tedious song I'm afraid. The first single "Day and then the Shade" is also memorable for the AWFUL music video that accompanied it. Enough said about that one.

There's also a distinct lack of Anders' leads on this album, they had announced they were suffering from some "writer's block" a while before this album came out which I think is probably the real explanation as to why NITND seems to want to accomplish so much, but in reality falls somewhat flat. A handful of the tracks are pretty good ("Forsaker", "The Longest Year", "Liberation" and "The Promise of Deceit" would be my picks), but on the whole I can't bring myself to rate this as high as I do a lot of their others from the debut up to TGCD. Its grown on me a little over time but even now I'm still not sure. Thankfully, the recent preview of 2012's "Dead End Kings" (out August 27th) sounds as though it will improve on this quite a lot.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Krieg - Destruction Ritual

Album review: Krieg - Destruction Ritual (Redstream, 2001)
Black Metal

"...Stop killing the dead. They're mine. If you don't want the dead coming back to life, why don't you just kill the living...shoot them in the head...are you listening to me?"

One of an extremely small number of good things to come out of New Jersey, Krieg (alongside other pioneers Judas Iscariot, I Shalt Become and others) is one of America's premier Black Metal assaults. Lord Imperial showed great growth and development as a songwriter and musician across 5 or 6 main releases, but the primary focus of the earlier Krieg albums is an unrelenting sonic attack: pure hatred in musical form. "Destruction Ritual" is, I feel, the best example of this. It comes across mostly as a maelstrom of (strangely well produced) noise, bass non existent and guitars largely inaudible underneath the hurricane of blastbeats and manic screaming vocals. You're not meant to think of it as a group of seperate songs with features of their own as such (although there is plenty to distinguish the individual tracks even to the untrained ear), more like a singular mood soundtrack to being incredibly pissed off. That's my view, anyway.

Speaking of the music, the playing is tight as hell, actually. The drumming is very focused and pummeling, not sloppy as is normally associated with more raw BM outfits. The vocals are some of my absolute favourite ever in this genre, Imperial is just insane and passionate behind the mic on this one without sounding too silly like some more extreme vocalists sometimes do. The guitars buzz away frantically beneath, some riffs are occasionally detectable if you pay close attention, and there are clean parts that stand out fine, obviously. You may want to listen to this on a decent soundsystem to be able to pick out much detail. There aren't any lyrics to be read in the booklet, occasionally you can pick out some lines that sound great to me ("When I stop to cut myself, I crumble into dust..."). Samples of spoken word are used effectively, to open the album (the quote above) and at other times during some of the interludes across the disc (e.g the brilliant monologue from the end of "American Psycho" in "Suicide Amidst Katharsis").

This is an album that can only really be fully appreciated when the listener is in the right mood, as is the case with a fair bit of black metal. When you are, I find it to be one of the most effective forms of aural stress relief there is. Being from NJ, it doesn't suprise me how pissed off Imperial sounds on this album. I wonder what he thinks of this twat?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

King Crimson - Discipline

Album review: King Crimson - Discipline (E'G, 1981)
Prog/ Art Rock

"Discipline is never and end in itself, only a means to an end."

 Although it'd be far too easy, and not at all representative, I could easily sum up this album with just one sentence: "Tony Levin on bass". That alone should have you sold already, never mind the rest...and who are they? Robert Fripp on guitar? Adrian Belew on guitar/vocals? Bill Bruford on drums? That's quite a line up, definitely one for the musicians out there, and believe me these guys certainly do NOT mess around. "Discipline" is the first album of a radically re-invented King Crimson for the 1980s, shedding their 70s Prog trappings for a more concise, yet no less technically stunning approach. Indeed this is one of the few 80s Prog albums that doesn't succumb to the hit and miss "Prog Lite" style that bands like Genesis and Yes began purveying around the same time to mixed, sometimes thoroughly depressing results. There is a strong influence from the likes of Peter Gabriel and most notably, Talking Heads (singer Adrian Belew sounds comparable to David Byrne). A smart blend of Postpunk and Art Rock, cerebral yet catchy and with almost pop sensibilities? Sign me up.

Right from the opening of the first song, you should have an idea of what you're letting yourself in for, insanely dextrous and propulsive Stick playing from T. Levin and Bruford's equally impressive drumming, provide the groundwork for Belew's bizarre wailing guitar noises and jangly chords (JC120 + Polychorus = TONE!) and Fripp's otherworldly "Frippertronics" style of playing and standard (for him) fretboard arobatics, the two guitarists providing more than enough moments of frantic, interlocking madness across the album's seven tracks. The opening of "Frame By Frame" is perhaps the best example of this, listen and be duly stunned...and there really is some great songwriting going on here, to back up the obvious skill of the musicians. They slow things down a bit on the more ballad-like "Matte Kudasai" and the meandering psychedelia of "The Sheltering Sky". "Indiscipline" is a fractured stab of tension and paranoia, its title track counterpart being more bouncy and relaxed. The bizarre monologue going on during "Thela Hun Ginjeet"  ("What dangerous place? What gun? You're a policeman!"), apparently Adrian Belew's recounting of being mugged by Rastas on a field recording trip to Brixton, adds some humour to the brew of musical fireworks. Really, if this isn't one of THE ultimate albums of the early 1980s then I don't know what is. Remember, it *is* Prog so it is very technical and there is a lot going on, so "attentive listening" might be required to catch all the details and make sense of it all (it may also just need to grow on you over time). Otherwise it might come across as "too wierd", but what are you doing listening to KC, or music at all, if that's your attitude?

I own the 30th Anniversary Edition of this album from 2004, a 24 bit remaster done by Robert Fripp which sounds great, clear and not overly loud or compressed in the slightest. There's also a bonus track (an alternate version of "Matte Kudasai"). There is a more recent 2 disc edition (from the "40th Anniversary Series") which features more bonus tracks, different mixes and surround sound DVD audio. The original record already had killer production, so you can't go far wrong whichever one you pick.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Thomas Dolby - The Golden Age of Wireless

Album review: Thomas Dolby - The Golden Age of Wireless (Venice in Peril/EMI, 1982)
New Wave/ Synth pop

This is, simply put, the best damn synth pop album ever. Yeah, seriously. Thomas Dolby has always been an underrated talent, besides that one overplayed song about SCIENCE! that everyone and their unborn child has heard 500 times already....its a good song, but his real skill as a songwriter and sound designer has always been sadly neglected IMO, and his influence is further reaching than many people realise. He has become something of a figurehead in technology also, giving regular talks at the TED conferences and designing the synth engine behind every mobile phone ringtone ever. He released a few albums and worked as a producer up until the early 90s before dropping out of the music business for a while, before resurfacing in the last few years with a live album ("The Sole Inhabitant", 2006) that most certainly proves he still has it, and a brand new studio album in 2011.

During the early 80s he released this, the first album of his signature moody and cinematic music, characteristics not normally found in a lot of synth pop of the time which was largely one dimensional and overly saccharine. Along with other crucial artists of the time such as Peter Gabriel, John Foxx and others, Dolby showed just what could really be done with synthesizers in a more pop setting, creating many brilliant sounds and textures as a backdrop for his emotive singing. There are also plenty of live guitars, bass and piano to reassure any rockist fools who run for the hills at the first sign of a synth and miss out on a whole other spectrum of sounds. There is such a variety of sounds and moods on display on this album, from the soaring opener "Flying North" through to a fun attempt at synth ska on "The Wreck of the Fairchild", more of a bouncy pop feel on "Radio Silence" and "Europa", the enormous sounding "Windpower" and the simply gorgeous "Airwaves". "She Blinded Me With Science" is included on some later editions, thankfully the latest and very well done remaster restores the original, "proper" tracklist without that song as part of the main album, instead moving it to a bonus track where it works better. Like I said, its good, but detracts too much from the other tracks on the album, any of which could destroy "Science" with their hands tied.

Very few other albums I've heard, especially in this field, are as consistently excellent as this. The only thing missing is the full length, 7 minute extended version of "One of Our Submarines", which is a strong contender for the single greatest synth track ever made, but it works just as well as its own separate thing. The aforementioned 2009 re-issue also includes the fantastic "Live Wireless" concert film from 1983, something I had never seen before. It features most of this album's tracks and a whole bunch of others performed brilliantly by TD and his backing band alongside some quirky visuals and props and makes this version of the album absolutely worthwhile. Essential for any fan of powerful, inventive synth music.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Thergothon - Fhtagn nagh Yog-Sothoth

Album review: Thergothon - Fhtagn nagh Yog-Sothoth (demo, 1991)
Funeral Doom

Its a strangely appropriate thing that this Finnish band, who effectively invented the sound now known as "Funeral Doom" (alongside a small handful of other bands from the same country, namely Unholy and Skepticism), which has sadly become somewhat watered down and predictable over the years as great ideas often do, managed to give birth to and violently abort their own creation at the same time with this almost unbelievable piece of pure aural blackness. With their demo, Thergothon created what I think is the greatest funeral doom recording ever made, and although there are plenty of other worthwhile recordings out there (their own debut album for instance) I still think that this demo is essentially the single most effective one.

Taking the already somewhat established idea of death metal riffs slowed down to a crawl and injected with sorrow filled melodies, this demo adds a huge cavernous ambience and heavy flanging effects on most of the sounds for a truly creepy, otherwordly feel. The final ingredient is one of the most bizarre, inhuman vocal sounds I've ever heard. Other bands pioneered this sound around the same time with their own unique approaches (Skepticism's church organ fueled funeral procession, Unholy's deranged psychedelia etc) but nothing else I've heard really compares to this. Although only four tracks long, all but the last are over six minutes so it doesn't feel too short despite being just a demo. The production is just great, the drums sound as if they are being played in a huge cavern underneath some terrible Lovecraftian ocean and the guitar sound is just sinister as hell. The added effect of heavy tape saturation on some available versions (mostly downloadable) does add to the atmosphere, later re-issues cleaned it up slightly but it still has the demo quality "tape" sound that gives it character and actually sounds quite good for a demo.

Every band out there calling itself "Funeral Doom" of the last 20-odd years owes its sound to "Fhtagn nagh Yog-Sothoth", and there's a solid bet that almost none of them are anywhere near as good as this.