18 de julio de 2014

[Review] Mastodon - Once More 'Round The Sun

Mastodon are back and ready to get messy with another collection of experimental rock and roll and prog metal hybrids. After narrowing things down with their last album, the Atlantan band takes a step back to their roots with their latest release.
"Once More 'Round The Sun" shows the band working further on the sound of "The Hunter", but the result is much more spontaneous and wild. The band still retains some part of the formula, they generally don't stray too far from the verse-chorus-bridge blueprint, but when they do they really shine. "'Round The Sun" repeats the formula of headbanging verses and explosive, melodic choruses, albeit with a little less polish than they've done in the past.
Most of the album will sound a little bit familiar if you listened to "The Hunter" in depth but it feels more rough and messy. Even though Mastodon are heading further in the direction of their last album they aren't afraid to look into their past. Some of the songs have little hints of their earlier stuff, and while they are not as aggressive or fast paced it's still the roughest they've done in the last 8 years of their career.

Mastodon have never really been just a metal band and this album differentiates them more than ever, "'Round The Sun" is a modern rock and roll record with a taste of metal, progressive rock and stoner rock. Songs like "High Road" and the title track retain the narrowed down nature of their last release, but songs in the second half of the album are more spacey and progressive, and the closer track is probably the most "spread out" song they've written since "Blood Mountain".
Fans of their first three albums will probably welcome "Sun" with open arms, but I couldn't help but feel this album doesn't have the staying power of "Leviathan" or even "Remission". Some of the songs felt a little underwhelming or lacking, and at times I was wishing they would just let themselves loose. Brann Dailor seems to be the only member who's allowed to get crazy all the time and sometimes his drumming is what keeps the songs interesting when the rest of the music isn't on par.
Vocals have never been the band's strongest element and this album is no exception, their solos generally convey much more emotion and their riffs more fury and energy. The highest spots on this album (at least for me) are the instrumental passages on "The Motherload" and the outro to "Halloween". Actually I even enjoyed the introduction and the ending of "Chimes at Midnight" more than the song itself.
"Once More 'Round The Sun" may not be Mastodon's strongest effort, but at least they haven't lost the will to try new things.

Rating: decent
For fans of: metal (the crazier kind), stoner rock
Accessibility: average
Highlights: "The Motherload", "Ember City", Brann Dailor's drumming.

23 de junio de 2014

[Review] Linkin Park - The Hunting Party

Everyone needs some guilty pleasure music in their lives, sometimes I just want to listen to something catchy and simple no matter how silly it sounds or how cheesy the lyrics are. In my case, that spot is reserved for Linkin Park, a band as polarizing as it is successful.

Their last two albums have shown a steady decline in electronic instrumentation towards heavy guitars and a more "classical LP" sound mixing hip hop, clean and harsh vocals and more formulaic songwriting. "The Hunting Party" makes away with most of their electronic elements for a big part of the album, and is probably their most guitar heavy album since 2003's "Meteora", something older fans may appreciate, but at the same time, and like the band clarified, this new release sounds more "middle aged guys writing angry music" and not so much like the "teenage nu metal" of their first two albums.

"The Hunting Party" doesn't slow down a bit until past the first half with the song "Until It's Gone", which should have probably been removed for the sake of the album as it's probably their most formulaic and cliche song (the chorus basically repeats "'cause you don't know what you have until it's gone"). The second half of the album is more varied, featuring two ballads and one instrumental track featuring a discrete appearance by Tom Morello on guitar, one of the four guest collaborators on the album. The slower tracks, like the aforementioned "Until It's Gone" are more basic and contrast with the riffs and dynamic drumming of the heaviest tracks. 

Unlike the last LP albums were most of the attention was put on the vocals, on "The Hunting Party" the guitars and drums are the stars, while the drumming is basic by today standards (and so is the guitar) at times it sounds like their most instrumentally adventurous record, and that's something LP really has to work on. Going back to the vocals, both Mike and Chester are hit-or-miss here, Chester is on top of his game when it comes to screaming but the rest of his melodies sound tired and recycled, Mike's rapping sounds more basic and monotonous than ever, and Rakim totally outshines him on lead single "Guilty All The Same", compared to the rest of the record.

It's good that despite being one of the most commercially successful bands out there they still want to try new things and while this album may not be perfect it's a good stepping stone if they want to continue on this road for their next release.

Rating: enjoyable
For fans of: pop rock with hardcore/punk elements, nu metal
Accessibility: high
Highlights: "Guilty All The Same", "Rebellion", "Mark The Graves"

11 de junio de 2014

[Review] Big Sir - Digital Gardens

    Out of all the side projects The Mars Volta has spawned through the years Big Sir is probably the quietest, but "Digital Gardens", a remixing/reimagining of "Before Gardens, After Gardens", the band's last studio album released in 2012, seeks to knock fans off their feet with an electronic punk take on their latest work.
    Besides playing bass for The Mars Volta, Juan Alderete is known for his legacy as the bass player of heavy metal band Racer X so I wasn't very surprised about the idea of this record, but hearing Lisa scream caught me completely off guard when I first listened to it. The album consists of 9 tracks ranging from remixes to completely re-recorded versions, featuring Dave Elitch of Killer Be Killed and ANTEMASQUE on several tracks and Bosnian Rainbows' and ex-The Mars Volta Deantoni Parks on the closer. The "live in studio" songs are basically punk rock versions and are very entertaining, but the remixed versions are more interesting, the electronic aspect of their music is much more prominent and Juan's bass tone is dirty and loud, combined with Lisa's rough vocals and distorted drum beats.
    Most of the songs on the album clock at 2 minutes so I barely got to enjoy them before they ended, but it works for the album and it's punk attitude. "Digital Gardens" is definitely not something to listen to over and over but a good snack in between albums, a few punches and kicks and it's over and despite it's lenght it has some high moments, "Old Blood" sounds like a punkish Bosnian Rainbows, "Right Action" features impeccable drumming from Dave Elitch and "The Kindest Hour" is suprisingly calm and dreamy compared to the rest of the record.
    "Digital Gardens" is an entertaining sonic experiment that won't quench your thirst for a new Big Sir album, but it's definitely worth a listen, it's a short but solid record that doesn't have any dull moments.

Ranking: good
Accesibility: average
For fans of: punk, garage, electronic music

29 de mayo de 2014

[Review] John Frusciante - Enclosure

I’ve been a fan of John Frusciante since my high school days when I was a big follower of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, back then I was blown away by the lo-fi production of his half acoustic, half electronic folk albums like “Shadows Collide With People” or “From The Sound Inside” compared to the stadium rock of the Peppers. I was fascinated by how dark, emotive and personal his music was and watching him tackle different genres and musical styles in the last 10 or so years has been really interesting.

After John’s departure from the Red Hot Chili Peppers he has undoubtedly been experimenting with new tools and learning a lot about sound processing, synthetizers and all kinds of modern tools he used to avoid when recording his first records. The last three releases lead us to the album we are reviewing today, “Enclosure” is his most elaborate and cohesive release since 2009′s “The Empyrean”, a direct evolution of “PBX Funicular Intaglio Zone”, “Enclosure” combines processed guitars, drum machines and synthetizers (and of course John’s vocals) to create a collection of shapeshifting, progressive synth rock/jazz hybrids.

For those who haven’t listened to John’s recent work it should be clarified that “Enclosure” is in now way comparable to his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, there’s so many elements falling into place at the same time it might take the listener some time before the album comes alive; like most (good) progressive music, “Enclosure” felt underwhelming at first but with repeated listens I got used to the intertwining synths and warped guitar solos, the always changing drum grooves and subtle synth layers on the background.

Most of the songs on the album are synth driven but others like “Stage” and “Cinch” feature long guitar solos that are very representative of John’s current approach to the guitar, just like drums all over the album he accelerates and deaccelerates constantly, as if the songs shifted between two solos being played at the same time, and his reverb heavy tone fits the moody atmosphere of the album perfectly. I found “Stage” to be one of the most moving tracks on the album despite only having a few verses before John’s soloing kicks in and takes over the song.

There’s no doubt now that John has learned quite a few tricks since leaving the Peppers and that he’s constantly evolving and refining his sound, so I can only be excited at what he will release next, in any case the longevity of this album should keep you entertained for a good while.

Ranking: highly recommended

For fans of: synth pop/rock, experimental music in general

Accessibility: requires repeated listens

Highlights: “Sleep”, “Stage”

14 de mayo de 2014

[Review] Killer Be Killed - Killer Be Killed


The debut album from supergroup Killed Be Killed has finally landed, 3 years passed since the first news of a supergroup featuring The Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato and Soulfly's Max Cavalera created a little snowball of hype that has grown and grown after the incorporation of Mastodon's Troy Sanders and Dave Elitch (currently drumming for ANTEMASQUE).

Considering the background of each of it's members it was easy to predict the result was going to be heavy, but what they were going to sound like remained a mistery for almost 3 years. So now that the album is out (and assuming you haven't heard the first "singles") you must be wondering... was it worth the wait?.

The album kicks off at full strenght with the first two singles, "Wings of Feather and Wax" and "Face Down", the first featuring Max, Greg and Troy sharing vocal duties between different parts of the verses and bridge, while singing the choruses together. The next two songs are slightly reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan, just much more radio friendly. After track 5 the album is mostly traditional, radio friendly trash metal, much closer to a simplified version of Soulfly than DEP or Mastodon, in fact if it wasn't for Troy's vocals there wouldn't be anything on "Killer Be Killed" that sounded like Mastodon's spacey prog rock.

Most of the guitar work is comprised of very traditional rhythm guitar riffs with heavy distortion, there's rarely a solo or a memorable guitar lead, and the same goes for the drums. I've been following Dave's work since he joined The Mars Volta in late 2009 but while he's certainly very skilled I have yet to see him play a memorable drum beat or fill, and this kind of music doesn't really demands for creativity.

How much you can enjoy this record will most probably be determined by which main project brought you here, I can't really say I'm a big fan of Cavalera's previous work (or trash metal in general), and was probably expecting something more adventurous or groundbreaking, so the best thing to do is just take it for what it is, enjoy the catchy hooks and varied vocal performances, and avoid thinking about what this could have been.

Ranking: decent
For fans of: thrash metal, hardcore
Accessibility: radio friendly
Highlights: "Wings Of Feather And Wax", “Snakes of Jehova”

1 de mayo de 2014

[Review] Cynic - Kindly Bent To Free Us


California based prog metal band Cynic is back with their third album in 21 years, yes, it's been 21 years since Cynic released "Focus" back in 1993. While Nirvana was in the spotlight and Metallica was still touring their most commercially succesful album (don't get the idea that I like Metallica), Cynic released the influential debut which originally received mixed-to-bad reviews from the metal scene. Cynic cited the backlash as one of the reasons for their break up in 1994, but when they returned from their sleep more than a decade later, metal had gone a long way since 1993 and "Focus" had become a cult classic, inspiring bands like Scale The Summit and Between The Buried And Me.

Fifteen years after the release of "Focus" came "Traced In Air", which was a direct continuation of the sound of their debut album (only a little softer), and was generally well received by fans of "Focus" and progressive metal in general. A series of experiments with the softer and more melodic side of the band came later ("Re-Traced", a reimagining of "Traced in Air", and an EP titled "Carbon Based Anatomy), which bring us to the release we are looking at today.

"Kindly Bent To Free Us" is the culmination of around 5 years of experimentation, and though it retains the sound and textures of their previous work it also makes away with the heavier guitar work and harsh vocals of "Focus" and "Traced in Air". The music remains moderately complex, the drums are groovy and constant and there's still guitar solos here and there, but Cynic no longer sounds like a metal band. With a runtime of just over 40 minutes the album feels a little short for a 6 years wait and it's 8 songs are over too soon even with a 5 minute average lenght.

The lyrics are someplace between spiritual (there's a little excerpt of a speech by Alan Watts) and just cryptic, but with a little imagination you can make something out of them (except the lyrics in "True Hallucination Speak", which sound just like that). The vocals retain the robotic and cold style of their previous albums, if a bit more melodic, but the main strength of the "Kindly Bent To Free Us" is the instrumental section.

Guitars, bass and drums never outshine each other, not even during solos, so the music feels generally complete and engaging, like some kind of futuristic version of a rock band from the 70's. The zeppelinesque riffs (yes, that's apparently a commonly used term), the sweet fretless bass and a  good use of ghost notes give the songs a pleasant sense of speed and groove, and while the music is generally a little cold the album certainly climaxes with the song "Moon Heart Sun Head", a 5 and a half minutes little progressive piece.

Cynic may not have reinvented themselves, they rather disposed of half of the elements that composed their early sound, but the end result doesn't feel limited, if anything it leaves them a lot of ground to explore.

Ranking: recommended
For fans of:  modern prog rock, post rock
Accessibility: moderate
Highlights: "Moon Heart Sun Head", "The Lion's Roar"

22 de abril de 2014

[Review] Animals As Leaders - The Joy of Motion

Animals As Leaders are back with another intricately designed musical journey through progressive metal, jazz and beyond. The third album by the trio takes a different direction than the last two releases and it's their most refined album so far. Their debut (or to be precise, Tosin Abasi's debut, since the trio only came to be before the second release) was basically a demostration of Tosin's skills on 8-string guitar, the compositions were spacey and contained more riffs and solos than one can memorize. 

The second album, "Weightless", showed and emphasis on shredding within more "classic" verse-chorus composition, while still mantaining a heavy progressive element. Many fans of the debut album thought it was a disappointment but in my case it was my introduction to AAL and personally I enjoyed it much more than the self-titled.

Now, 3 years after the release of "Weightless" lands the third album and second trio release, "The Joy Of Motion". One thing instantly caught my attention when I first listened to it, the album features much less soloing in favor of creating sonic landscapes and a constant sense of groove; the combination of clean tones and heavily processed guitars (and often electronica) is great and the songs shift constantly through both.
This time around the album was produced by Misha Mansoor and Nolly Getgood (both from Periphery) and their influence is pretty obvious in the djent infused "Tooth And Claw" and closer "Nephele", but it doesn't stop the album from being pretty colorful and varied, from the jazzy "Another Year" to the synchopated slap guitar and bass of "Physical Education", one of my favourite tracks on the album.

"The Joy Of Motion" has one of the things I like to come across the most when a listen to an album, a collection of songs that are varied, keep you interested and at the same time feel like a coherent entity, something very few bands manage.