Unless you've inexplicably managed to escape the constant airplay, you will most likely have heard Disturbed's cover of Simon and Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence. Here at DarkSmile,DeadElectric there are mixed feelings over the song, but in this vein NG has put together a pretty diverse playlist of rock and metal covers you may or not have heard. Enjoy.
Saturday, 28 May 2016
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
, it is a decision which has certainly excited a lot of fans (myself among them) who now get both of this as well as their newly released album with the mighty Julie Christmas, Mariner. I was fortunate enough to catch them at Sound Control, Manchester and treated to a fantastic two hour set encompassing tracks from Salvation through to Vertikal II.
To help the band celebrate this happy anniversary we look back on the album, one which I would suggest is their most important to date. It is an album totally embedded within the surroundings it is recorded, as well as their most intimate, expressing not only an artistic output but a creation essential to the bands needs at the time.
Shedding some of the hardcore aesthetic of salvation, along with some of its more self-destructive tendencies, SATH, though more stripped back, has a certain warmth. This said, it is without a doubt that the cold-dark Umeå nights creep through into the music; the warmth present is one pertaining to life echoing its rural background, some distance from the more abstract and polished Salvation.
Salvation's abrasive sounds at times seemed to protrude from the beyond, grasped through cracks of dilapidated city buildings and industrial landscapes. It appears that Cult of Luna didn’t quite cross over to that other space; rather they seem to have glimpsed an introspective moment and were catapulted right back, back to their roots, literally the landscape where they grew up. SATH then can be understood as realignment, a detox of both body and mind, and in a way a searching for a purer, less refined, organic sound; completed after months of intensive touring.
The album was completed over a period of three months and recorded, mostly live by Magnus Lindberg at the Octagon Barn, Norrfors outside of Umeå in the winter of 2005. The recently reissued anniversary vinyl provides some stunning new photography and artwork as well as some additional liner notes from Johannes.
In the current anniversary tour, this Salvation/SATH contrast is strikingly apparent, choosing to end the first half of their set with the blinding white hot intensity of Waiting For You, before commencing Along the Highway.
Opener, Marching to the Heartbeats, sung by Fredrik Kihlberg, opens the album with sombre feedback. It’s crisp, like ice crackling as the sun slowly makes its appearance, placing the album solely in the here and now of the landscape. That essential facilitating property of landscape feels prominent, and a long way from Salvation (“To escape the suffering we keep our emotions at a distance”, Into The Beyond, Salvation). We are witness to the embedded stories and interactions. It’s an album not just of the self, but of the longing for another. Personal histories evolving in place.
“The sun, the light in your eyes, trapped me in a cage.
When you saw me you saw yourself.
We were the ones that marched and fell.”
When you saw me you saw yourself.
We were the ones that marched and fell.”
This sense of longing is reflected in the ethereal distortion that hangs over the track, the stretched notes seem echo a sense of time and a feeling of waywardness.
Perhaps this waywardness is a disconnect between the internal and the external, of body clocks needing to be re-synced with a natural cycle. The return to their home town to record this album representing “[t]he longing to find a home in myself, to find peace and tranquillity”. With symmetry of intent, the drums pen a simple heartbeat.
The initial aggression of Finland doesn’t take long to subside into a more tranquil state, building to a precipice which it cannot help but plummet. It feels introspective and considered. Whilst the recording of this album was completed in a short space of time, any sense of urgency is not apparent. The moments of heavy intensity and those quieter, tranquil ones here feel less diametrically opposed, more fluid and natural.
A flicker of electronics around the four minute mark conjures thoughts of some night time creature call. Perhaps the beasts of the Eternal Kingdom calling out. It’s an eerie if not slightly unsettling call. Linked with the lighting in a live setting to great effect, the electronics are more prominent and imminent, where as in its initial recording, there is a sparse and facilitating aspect to Anders Teglund’s flourishes. Recent addition Kristian Karlsson seems to have enthusiastically taken on role with keyboard/electronics, which, since Vertikal seem to have come forward in the mix.
The drums feel very raw, for the most part, a long way from the maximalist percussion of Hedlund / Lindberg on Eternal Kingdom. Lyrically the track relates personal events.
Compared to the precise extended builds of Salvation, the beautifully textured opening of Back to Chapel Town feels more like an awakening of the dawn chorus. There is an odd, staggered sense of time however, this dawn chorus quickly descends into night; the band in sync with the seasonal cycles and the fleeting winter sunlight.
Though more loosely conceptual that the bands following releases (attempting more generally to capture the image of the environs it was recorded) it is of note that so many have made this connection, resorting to allegories of nature to describe the aesthetic of the album. Perhaps most recently by Jack Chuter “…tracks developed with the fluid inevitability of plant growth and seasonal shift, repeating certain sections without the diarised schedule of the city to hurry them along.”
That is so clearly realised, stands as testimony to the artistic integrity of the album, to its completeness. The video for Back to Chapel Town was filmed in the location the album was recorded; depicting "a man waking up in a world he doesn't know, he knows nothing of his past or where he is, people treat him like air or are very suspicious of him."
As with most elements of the album there is a thoughtful correspondence between passages of sound, lyric and artwork. Here the dissociated lyrical content of Back to Chapel Town is captured in the cinematography.
As in Marching to the Heartbeats, Kihlberg returns to centre stage. And With Her Came the Birds acts as both interlude and central to the albums nature. Sonically it is the clearest reflection of where the album was recorded and has an interesting back story.
“One day a woman emerged from the forest, she looked thin and her clothes were ragged. She started to dance in a meadow outside of the cottage. We looked at her through the window and made sure not to make any noise that would have made her aware of us.
Later that night we recorded And With Her Came the Birds. The studio was only lit up with a few candles and we recorded it live. Magnus set up a mic outside the cottage to capture the atmosphere. The temperature was just above zero and if you listen really carefully in the first few seconds you can hear the melting water.”
I had always felt it had some almost folkloric element to it, though had not until recently heard its associated back story. Here, and throughout the rest of the album, this rural setting in many ways taps into a national psyche.
With a boom in popularity of Nordic noir over the last few years in the UK, I was always reminded, when watching programs such as Wallander, of the provoking imagery on SATH. It seemed to me, that there existed a deep fascination of the rural countryside of Sweden, often depicting those living there as isolated and archaic, perhaps viewed with slight suspicion. Of course this is a popular fiction portrayed in most countries. Here the modern myth takes on its own national hue and corresponding sounds and aesthetic. Whether knowingly or not this girl and her birds, and “dead man with pitchfork arms” tap into these ideas and weave into their own myths of identity.
Having been absent from set lists for the past decade it was an extra treat to get to see Thirtyfour performed live. A cacophony of drums fills the space of the barn on its recording. This interplay of duel drummers reaches their natural climax before cascading.
There is optimism at times, an elated feel within the track, its peaks offer a heady mingling of electronics, guitar and drums, swirling crescendos which provide momentary hooks.
As elsewhere in the album, these briefest moments of rapture, quickly to descend to darker passages, like the fleeting glimpses of winter’s daylight.
A sparse and beautiful track, Dim arises with a certain fragility, its layers build gently before Lindberg and Hedlund’s drums are allowed to accompany as the track finds its trajectory, continuing to take shape. Its transience allowing it to float somewhere above ground, though managing to wrench at the heart.
At its peaks it offers such ecstatic beauty before returning the listener back into their seat. If there is a contrast of light and dark, night and day throughout the album, Dim, despite its name seems to linger within the light for the longest, though when eventually enveloped by the inevitable night, the skin shivers. You’d be forgiven for not noticing the tracks length due to its immersive qualities; caught on the breeze with the sounds.
Vocals roll in at the nine minute mark in line with the intricacies of their depictions.
“From the skyline dark clouds move in. They shroud me with her cold cover.
Eyes like daggers puncture the skin. Isolated in a room with no others.
Where do I turn when all hope is lost? Where do I find forgiveness?
My search for salvation has begun. To find a place where our hearts beat as one.”
Eyes like daggers puncture the skin. Isolated in a room with no others.
Where do I turn when all hope is lost? Where do I find forgiveness?
My search for salvation has begun. To find a place where our hearts beat as one.”
The sense of dissociation found throughout the album, lyrically at least ends Dim with an agonistic implosion. It’s here that we find the artistic pinnacle of the album, with its desperate searching and ultimately crushing poignancy.
Themes of male loneliness in Perssons lyrics, are embedded throughout and provide a further conceptual focus throughout the album. Sonically you feel wrenched at times, as notes are stretched, and space opens between the sparse and raw interplay of instruments.
Electronics pulsate and interrupt, as raw energy is unleashed and the track is forced to collapse on itself, its fragility and impermanence once more apparent. The pulse eventually calming and slowing to a close.
This steady pulsating heartbeat eases us into our closer Dark City, Dead Man. If Dim was our moment of light, we will be ending in darkness. This massive track, moves with a speed fitting to its density.
The momentum carries it through, unstoppable at times as the eight strong group organise. With its many chops and changes, we are led through dark city streets, offering unrivalled immersion.
For a long time this closed many a Cult of Luna set, and perhaps for this reason it is best experienced in live setting. You are required to give yourself over and embrace its oblivion. Its final climax is one of sensory overload, white lights flash as the band erupts. I’ll let this one speak for itself.
“I let go and fall deeper. This will be the end of me.”
It’s the imagery (delivered sonically of course) which this album conjures that really makes it an outstanding and important record. Whereas conceptually SATH’s intent is more loosely delineated, perhaps more humble, than its successors (Eternal Kingdom, Vertikal & Mariner), it forms a cohesive whole. The overall aesthetic emerges from the sum of its parts, and it feels that whether knowingly or not, embedded within wider social commentaries.
If its aim was to reflect the environment where it was recorded, then it is a resounding success. Whereas, its emotive narrative is powerful and feels intertwined with this landscape.
This association of certain sounds with place or theme is an exciting prospect and one which Cult of Luna seem to be adept at doing (at least over the last three “conceptual” records they have yet to slip up).
That this association exists, points to the influence of wider social influences. I wonder for instance whether I would identify such pictorial references in non-western sounds? Or perhaps it’s just that my senses have been influenced by a combination of graphic design, photography and press releases? When it comes to aural representations of certain landscapes, I am reminded of the claustrophobic post-industrial dearth of Birmingham envisioned by Napalm Death; or on another extreme, the intentional Romantic creations of Grieg, who tapped into traditional folklore and folk music to depict an idealised cultural landscape. It is as though there exist socially recognised correlates of sound, evolved as human histories are entangled with the environment.
The artwork itself plays an important role here, streamlining perception and expectations of what sounds lie within. The hues of greens, the eerie half-light of the Scandinavian winter and the vast expanses captured in the photography, combined with the minimal graphic design put together by Erik Olofsson. Olofsson acting essentially in a role of artist in residence equally as musician (at least since Salvation), a role he has continued, creating the artwork for Mariner despite leaving the band in 2014.
I have always been impressed at how well the fit of the album artwork, the colour schemes and graphic design have fit with actual sound of the album, as well as the overall theme. Here there is a certain complexity hidden within simplicity, as though Rothko was commissioned to create an Umeå landscape in green white and black. This visual imagery clearly plays an important role in the creation of a Cult of Luna album.
The emotional intensity throughout SATH’s hour duration is powerful, though with its spacious and organic approach it’s never claustrophobic or overwhelming. The dissociation depicted is real at times, but with the reflective beauty of the countryside envisioned, this provides only introspection which is, in the end only positive.
The outside world finds its way into the music, sending shivers like gusts of wind in its darkest moments; bringing warmth and optimism at its lightest.
With such on point symmetry throughout between sound, art and lyrical narrative Somewhere Along the Highway is a stunning and cohesive piece of work of audio-visual merit, its poetry ever revealing upon further listen. A modern masterpiece.
At the same time an extended version of Marching to the Heartbeats, entitled Heartbeats was released as a download with the intention to be kept alive by file sharing.
 Somewhere Along the Highway was ranked #5 in Decibel’s Best of 2006 Top 40 (interestingly #2 was super group Battle of Mice’s A Day of Nights (featuring Julie Christmas) and #31 Made Out of Babies Coward, so you could say this year’s Mariner is a perfect anniversary collaboration). http://www.rocklistmusic.co.uk/decibel.htm; http://www.earache.com/archive/cultofluna/Decibel_06_Top40_CoL.jpg
 On the subject of extensive touring following the acclaimed Salvation. Johannes, November 2015, taken from liner notes of Somewhere Along the Highway vinyl reissue (Earache, 2016)
 Chuter, J. 2015. Storm, Static, Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-Rock. Function Books. London: p235.
 Johannes, November 2015, taken from liner notes of Somewhere Along the Highway vinyl reissue (Earache, 2016)
 An influence on this theme for Olofsson is reportedly the novel Life And Times Of Michael K by J M Coetzee http://metalstorm.net/pub/interview.php?interview_id=376
 I am reminded of how the bells appear from the blissful wave of drones in Crossing Over from Salvation, beckoning toward a pure white light of the beyond as depicted in its cover artwork.
 Erik Olofsson discussing the importance of imagery in the creation of Vertikal https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=149&v=02lZaL_0aSU
Tuesday, 15 March 2016
TOP TIP FOR THE HOPELESS ROMANTICS OUT THERE; FORGET YOUR POINTLESS OVERPRICED MEALS AND SHITTY FLOWERS, TRUST ME, THE BEST WAY TO A GIRL’S HEART IS TO TAKE HER TO A GIG SHE WILL MORE THAN LIKELY HATE. IF SHE MAKES IT TO THE END AND RESISTED HITTING YOU, OR WORSE, STOOD IN SILENCE WITH A FACE LIKE A SMACKED ARSE, YOU’RE IN THERE.
SPEAKING FROM THIS PAST WEEKENDS EXPERIENCE, FOR ADDED GUARANTEED SUCCESS, TAKE HER TO SEE THE HELL. SHE MIGHT FIND THE MUSIC A BIT ‘NOISY’ BUT SHE’LL GET A FEW CHEAP LAUGHS IN THE PROCESS, AFTER YOU’VE TRANSLATED THE LYRICS FROM METAL TO ENGLISH. YOU CAN ALSO HAVE A SOPPY LITTLE JOKE ABOUT IT ALL LATER. WELL, THANKS TO THE HELL MY DATE WAS A ROARING SUCCESS, AND IT WAS TOTALLY FUCKING IMPROVISED! STILL GOT IT, NEVER LOST IT.
SATURDAY SAW THE RETURN OF THE HELL TO BRISTOL, LAST TIME THEY PLAYED HERE TWO PEOPLE GOT SO OVERWHELMED BY THE MUSIC THEY GOT ENGAGED WHICH GOES TO SHOW IT’S TOTALLY POSSIBLE TO FIND LOVE IN THE STRANGEST OF PLACES. SPEAKING OF WHICH, OF ALL THE OUTRIGHT RIDICULOUS VENUES I’VE SEEN OVER THE YEARS, THIS ONE TOOK THE PISS. A FUCKING BOWLING ALLEY! WHILST THE BANDS WERE PLAYING, PEOPLE WERE ACTUALLY BOWLING. TYPICAL
RIGHT THERE, QUIRK CAPITAL OF ENGLAND.
ALTHOUGH, IF THE GIG TURNED OUT TO BE SHIT, I COULD HAVE ALWAYS JUST TAKEN HER BOWLING
INSTEAD. PLAY IT COOL AND IT MIGHT NOT JUST BE THE BOWLING PINS GETTING SPREAD
THE SELF-PROCLAIMED BEST METAL ACT IN THE
UK RIGHT NOW,
THANKFULLY MANAGED TO BE MORE INTERESTING THAN THE TEMPTATION OF A FEW CHEEKY
TO DESCRIBE THE HELL IS TO TAKE SOME VERY ENGLISH UK HARDCORE AND REPLACE THE LYRICS
WITH A VIZ COMIC. OUR AMERICAN READER(S) ? SHOULD BE MORE CONFUSED THAN USUAL BY
NOW, IDIOTS. SPRINKLE A BIT OF SUICIDAL TENDENCIES OR BRUJERIA’S GANG SHTICK (EXCEPT
THE HELL’S BANDANAS HAVE FALLEN DOWN A BIT) AND FINALLY COMPLIMENT THE MIX WITH THE FOOLPROOF
SLIPKNOTHEAD BUSINESS MODEL OF ANONYMITY AND VOILA! DICKHEADS. ACTUALLY NEVERMIND THAT'S TOO COMPLICATED, THE CLOSEST COMPARISON I
CAN MAKE IS TOWARDS FELLOW UK
HARDCORE LADS TRC WHO DESPITE BEING DEADLY SERIOUS, ALSO SOMEHOW MANAGE TO
SOUND LIKE THEIR TAKING THE TOTAL PISS. PRETTY SURE I’VE SEEN A FEW OF THE MEMBERS
PLAYING IN OTHER BANDS RECENTLY, BUT HEY, THIS ISN’T A GAME OF GUESS-FUCKING-WHO. BESIDES THE MAIN ATTRACTION FOR ME IS THAT THE HELL HATE THINGS THAT I HATE, LIKE DISTURBED... AND MILTON KEYNES.
BY THE WAY I WAS TOTALLY HAMMERED BEFORE THE BAND EVEN STARTED SO STOP READING NOW IF YOU WANT AN ACTUALLY DECENT REVIEW WITH THE SONGS IN THE RIGHT ORDER AND CLICHE REMARKS LIKE 'ENERGETIC LIVE PERFORMANCE.'
WITHIN SECONDS OF OPENER YOU’RE LISTENING TO THE HELL, FRONTMAN NAIL$ SHOWS HIS APPRECIATIVE SIDE AND CALLS US ALL CUNTS. RULE 101 OF HEAVY METAL ETIQUETTE: BE GRATEFUL OF YOUR AUDIENCE. MY DATE IS KEEN TO POINT OUT THAT THE HELL SAYS ‘DICKHEAD’ AND ‘CUNT’ A
LOT. I EXPLAIN THEY’RE FROM WATFORD AND THAT’S JUST HOW PEOPLE NORMALLY SPEAK THERE. I GET SOME BONUS POINTS FOR SHOWING CULTURAL AWARENESS.
DURING REALLY OLD SONG SHIT JUST GOT REAL, SHIT GETS REAL. ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WANKERS STILL BOWLING LEFT WONDERING WHY ALL THEIR PINS ARE FALLING DOWN ON THEIR OWN AMIDST A FLURRY OF RIFFS AND INSULTS. WHEN THE BAND PLAYS NEW SINGLE THE FEVER, THE HELL ENCOURAGES US TO DANCE LIKE RIGHT DICKHEADS AND COPY THE MOVES FROM THE VIDEO. CALL ME CYNICAL BUT NOT SURE I NEED TO LOOK ANYMORE LIKE A DICKHEAD RIGHT NOW. I’M IN A CLUB NAMED AFTER A FUCKING SUM 41 SONG. MOST OF THIS AUDIENCE WERE ABOUT FOUR WHEN THAT SONG CAME OUT. THIS OLD BASTARD IS CLOSER TO THIRTY. THE SHAME OF BEING IN A CLUB NIGHT DEDICATED TO EMO AND POP PUNK IS TRAUMATISING ENOUGH. HAVE MERCY.
SPEAKING OF OLD REFERENCES, THEY EVEN PLAY THAT MONEY SONG THAT HARRY ENFIELD SANG IN THE EARLY NINETIES. MADE ME FEEL PROPER NOSTALGIC. FOR AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION, THEY ENCOURAGE US TO LOB SOME CHANGE AT THEM. DESPITE JUST CLAIMING THEY HAD LOADS. BACK TO THE DATE AND THE DRINKS IN THIS SHITHOLE COST MORE THAN THE GIG TICKET. SEEMS IT’S JUST THE KIDS THAT ARE LOADED THESE DAYS. SEND SOME OF THAT CHANGE MY WAY, I'VE GOT A TAXI TO PAY FOR.
MOST OF THE MATERIAL TONIGHT COMES FROM 2014’S ‘WORLDWIDE NUMBER ONE ALBUM’ GROOVEHAMMER. POINTLESS BUT TRUE STORY. I WAS WORKING AT HMV WHEN THAT ALBUM CAME OUT. I SOLD IT TO SOME IDIOT AFTER I SUGGESTED IT MIGHT BE SLIGHTLY BETTER THAN THE FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH ALBUM THEY WANTED INSTEAD. YOU ARE WELCOME AND HOPEFULLY YOU GREW SOME BALLS.
OTHER HITS FROM THEIR EXTENSIVE REPERTOIRE INCLUDE; TAKE ME OUT, I’VE NEVER SEEN A JACKAL ON THE 142 AND BANGERS AND MOSH, WHICH IS WORTH MENTIONING PURELY FOR THE CREDENTIAL OF BEING THE ONLY METAL SONG IN EXISTENCE THAT NAME DROPS TESCO.
JUST AS THE BAND IS ABOUT TO FINISH WITH EVERYBODY DIES, BLACK MI$T MAKES SOME JIBE ABOUT THOSE IN THE AUDIENCE HOPING TO GET SUCKED OFF BY THEIR EX-GIRLFRIEND. WOULD HAVE BEEN FUNNY HAD I NOT JUST NOTICED HER. THOUGHT I COULD FEEL SOMETHING BURNING INTO MY SOUL ALL NIGHT. HOW APPROPRIATELY BOLLOCKS.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE FUCKS GIVEN. YOU DICK.
Thursday, 28 January 2016
In dreams we can transcend and transform, change perception and perspective. From Mars to Sirius opener Ocean Planet begins a fluid journey which weaves through dreamlike states and waking aggression, contrasting swathes of alternating passages (sonically personified by moments of crushing heaviness interspersed with calmer moments, fast with slow, loud with quiet, sparse with intense), which make the listener feel at times objective observer whilst at others immersed and involved. These changing dynamics flow through the entire album.
As Ocean Planet opens the album we are greeted by whale song. A calm before the storm, as this slow burning track progresses with alternation between kick drums and palm muted guitar with repeated refrains. Like a tumbling procession of waves cascading, the narrator and listener are carried through oceans and waking dreams alike.
Before long the two collide dragging the listener into the currents below. The lyrical content seems to document an enlightening dreamlike voyage to a receptive traveller; a confused dialogue with mystical whales.
For the message itself, it appears to be one of despair; "The ocean planet is on burn”.
From Mars to Sirius celebrated its 10 year anniversary in the summer of 2015. Upon release in 2005 the album received high praise for its new sound; progressive, emotive, inspired, and conceptual. Certainly upon first listen all those years ago I was blown away, it seemed revolutionary and has managed to stay timeless, retaining nuances still undiscovered to this day. Certainly at 67 minutes long it is somewhat of a giant, so it is unsurprising that there is much to explore. It is worth noting that for a lengthy album such that it is, the experience is never dragging but continually refreshing and rewarding.
Regardless of sound there was another element to the record which set it apart from its contemporaries. The fundamental core of the albums narrative focuses on environmental concerns; the destruction of our ocean planet. It is a theme rarely explored with such acuity within the metal community.
The narrative, as crafted by lyricist and frontman Joe Duplantier (in the words of D.X. Ferris writing for Metal Sucks in 2009) “…relates an interplanetary quest to resurrect a dead planet. We’re talking life, death, and rebirth on a grand scale.”
The story manages to traverse a conception of dawning awareness (to the mysteries of the universe and to the catastrophic destruction of our environment), anger, despair and hope. As a journey it is one shared by the musicians and the listener over the course of the record allowing it to avoid any accusations of being sermonising. In fact Gojira rarely have felt preachy, as with any form of art the content relates to concerns and experience of the creators, and as such the quartet are well qualified to relay this powerful message.
As we enter 2016 we stand on a pinnacle. Increasingly extreme weather as a result of climate change is becoming a norm. Environmental disaster seems inevitable as we fail to adapt consumerist and unsustainable lifestyles and economic systems, with scientists warning that some marine food chains are on the verge of collapse (the ocean is enlisted as a powerful metaphor by Gojira). Throughout From Mars to Sirius despair is counterbalanced by optimism, perhaps for us in 2016 this optimism resides form of the recent Paris climate deal agreed in the bands home country.
It is now that Gojira’s message seems even more poignant.
In contrast to the steady pace of the albums opener, Backbone explodes into being. “Indestructible” declares Joe Duplantier, as the track jerks back and forth.
From time to time the pace is forced to a halt before the listener is thrown into some otherworldly depths, as drummer Mario Duplantier offers punishing assault of kick pedal as the track lurches between powerful attacks on drums and abrasive, screeched / muted guitar from brother Joe and fellow guitarist Christian Andreu, before returning above ground and to Joe’s powerful declaration.
When interviewed for Dutch site Fourteeng Joe Duplantier elaborated on the lyrical background of Backbone: “…the lyrics are about I feel indestructible. I believe that! When you believe in life after death, life after life…you feel indestructible.”
For those wanting their fix of easily consumed, crushingly heavy tracks, the duo of Backbone and successor From the Sky offer these up.
Double bass provides the backdrop for much of the duration of From the Sky, in part providing an almost drone-like and ethereal quality to the track. The lyrical content here appears to hint to the creation of the universe, non-dual in nature as alluded to in traces of the bands philosophy. Bouts of intense emotion and wonder, track against monumental slabs of sound.
The placidity and Zen-like qualities of instrumental interlude Unicorn enable a moment of contemplation and time to recollect after the intensity of what proceeded. Moments like these were used to effect on previous album The Link (2003) with tracks like Connected and Torii, the band clearly aware of the need for replenishment when faced with such monumental music. The whales reappear, no longer a powerful and threatening presence, but vulnerable and majestic.
Where Dragons Dwell continues the relative peace with contemplation and introspection, again highlighting a further element of harmonised dichotomies present, of the inner and outer worlds. The ability to meld such introspective moments into these pieces is another reason the band are able to create such emotive compositions. Throughout the albums calmer moments Jean-Michel Labadie’s paced and extended base notes create an almost placid underlying calm.
One of the techniques used to great effect, is the alternation of focus upon either drumming or guitar. This allows the group to speed up or slow down the pace of the music, creating build before unleashing powerful and protracted flurries.
In The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe, rather than creating the illusion of unstable seas, the opposing forces act to facilitate the stretching and bending of space time. The themes of the cosmic appear in much of Gojira’s music (a particular favourite of is Space Time from Terra Incognita (2001)). The opposition that they use can be seen to relate back to the philosophy which threads throughout the record, one that acknowledges the more recognisable vastness of space, to point toward the infinite here on earth.
What is notable on From Mars to Sirius however is the skill in which the terrestrial and extra-terrestrial are weaved together in a single narrative, rather than finding them stood in stark opposition as it at times felt on previous releases. A literary analogy would perhaps be Ouroborus, a character who makes an appearance on successor The Way of All Flesh (2008).
The whales return once more for what is perhaps the masterpiece and central focus of the entire album, Flying Whales. Without urgency the first 2 ½ minutes of the almost 8 minute track, rests comfortably as guitars and drums form a rhythmic tranquillity interspersed with the language of whales. The conversation intertwines with itself, causing ephemeral wisps to dissipate around the listener. As before a dialogue seems to be uniquely bridged, you feel as both observer and yet bought into the entire affair.
This is broken by one of the most memorable riffs of the record. As the narrative progresses we are drawn to seek these majestic creatures:
“Now I can see the whales
Looming out of the dark
Like arrows in the sky
I can’t believe my eyes
But it’s true”
Crushing riffs and double bass rage in jolting abruptness. The musicality is always timed and measured, precise in its technicality and structure. Skies appear to open up in the tranquil breathing space offered toward the end of the track before returning to claustrophobia with an aggressive closure.
In The Wilderness is a top heavy juggernaut, exchanging the majesty and precision of Flying Whales with primal rage. The world is alive and riled from its slumber by some angered ancient force.
Low your axe
And learn from the trees.”
Structured shifts in the dynamic of the song provide it with a continuing renewal, demanding the attention of the listener. Closing in on the end, feedback and distortion begins to build before being engulfed by a powerful emotive riff (perhaps the most emotive moment on the album). With repetition the sound gains momentum, feeding back into itself and providing a self-sustaining power as it advances to its eventual closure. In the background distortion seems to mutate into muffled screams of anguish. One suspects of the forests, the mountains and the rivers, their voices on the wind for those attentive.
The inevitable implosion of In The Wilderness seems to ring in the end of one world and the beginning of another, if only in a fleeting, dreamed moment.
That dreamed moment is transcribed in World To Come which offers a glimmer of optimism. A vision of an ideal world healed of the scars left by humanity which appears nowhere to be seen; a living universe, vibrant and aware of itself.
It is here that we realise that our former journey has been one of self-transformation. Only now does the real journey begin. From Mars relates this, and in doing so offers a further temporary moment of peace whilst acting as a preface for To Sirius.
Screeched guitars flicker between monitors as Duplantier’s growls backdrop the euphoric feelings of ascension which are induced in To Sirius. The final declaration of the album rings out in the closing moments of the track; “This is my way”.
The conceptual journey closes with To Sirius. Closer Global Warming summarises and consolidates what has come before and returns us to the now, this world. Controlled reverb leads into technically pristine and emotive tapped core of the song.
The song is carefully considered, heavy though never reaching the intensity of Backbone or the anguish of In The Wilderness.
Global Warming closes the album by solidifying Gojira’s vision of a better world, conceived of and sculpted throughout the course of the album, through oceans, skies, space and time. Though at times the outlook appears bleak we end on a positive, if only a potential, a seed in germination.
“We will see our children growing”.
The structured nature of the albums compositions makes sure that the sound never strays to close to falling into chaos or sheer aggression. What it does achieve is a hypnotic and immersive experience, with plenty of to and fro dialogue, tumbling beneath waves and soaring through sky and space. It’s a unique experience; one which I feel was never quite captured on succeeding releases, though by admission it was never the intention to recreate the conceptual nature of From Mars To Sirius.
For example for 2012s L’Enfant Sauvage Joe is recorded; “I wanted to paint chaos, you know? It’s like a painting of chaos. It’s a deep feeling that humanity is destroying everything, and it’s total nonsense. A lot of things don’t make sense in this world, and I wanted to express this without really thinking if there’s a solution or proposing what I think about it.”
The conceptual, narrative nature of From Mars To Sirius however is one of its most successful qualities. On L’Enfant Sauvage as with The Way of All Flesh, whilst raw emotive power is present, it at times feels as though the nuance and beauty projected so vividly on From Mars To Sirius is on occasion missing; lacking a vehicle for expression of their message.
As we await the anticipated release of new material in 2016, one wonders whether Gojira’s revised view will bring us a message of optimism or despair. The jury is out.
The band often share information regarding environmental activism which they are involved in or support, which can be found on their website here.
Listenable Records have just reissued the album on vinyl and have created a limited edition anniversary boxset available on their website.
Saturday, 23 January 2016
Death Magic the third album from electronic/noise/pop band Health is not something I would normally listen to, yet after being introduced to the band by a former acquaintance, I found both beauty and loss in its ambiguous lyrics and heartfelt style. The album came to represent a transitional period in my life. Each song alluding to an emotion or experience, consequently and accurately detailing what 2015 came to mean to me. Whilst the album was released in August, the message retrospectively coincided my life to the soundtrack it provided. For that reason it serves as my favourite album of 2015.
It is January 2015, the dawn of the New Year. There is a certain sense of foreboding in the air. One day in and I anticipate the year is off to an ominous start. The dramatic and almost dystopian synth of VICTIM intensifies this gut feeling, like something is about to go amiss.
“It’s not enough.”
This is how I feel about my relationship, something is missing, and something has changed. Suddenly, a burst of energy, be it anger or happiness. I can’t be sure. The aggressive electronics of STONEFIST give way to Jacob Duzsick’s almost androgynous vocals.
“We’re possessed by what we’ve lost.”
I determine we are both focusing too much on our previous relationships, allowing how we felt about someone else interfere with how we feel about each other. Dwelling on the past as if it has any influence on the present. “Loves not in our hearts,” but we wont admit it. We will try and persevere. If something feels right it’s because it is. Maybe it’s just me though? My mouth has always been bigger than my heart. By title alone MEN TODAY is insinuating enough, the chaotic tribal drumming ringing out like an audible interpretation of my psyche, punctuated by an industrial soundscape of figurative warnings.
I wonder how we’ve made it this far? What is this leading to? The complete reversal in tone of FLESH WORLD reaffirms that things always have to get worse before they can get better. Besides, we still have the physical side of our relationship, even if we have become emotionally withdrawn.
“For what, lust.”
Yet something is building up, swelling inside us both, this wanton urge to be able to be honest with each other again. Like I said, this feels right, but heart and mind don’t always come to an agreement. This is an emotionally unstable time in our lives. Somehow the physical gets emphasised, yet simultaneously so does the now apparent feelings of mistrust which then leads to accusations and burning paranoia. COURTSHIP II tells us,
“We’re honest when we’re born.”
I agree. Only when we are young, innocent and naïve can we address our emotions with subject transparency, before the heart has chance to manipulate and distort the mind.
The sombre electronica of DARK ENOUGH serves as a internal monologue. Our relationship has plateaued. We still tell each other ‘I love you,’ but its just words. These words have been subverted, now they only represent a trivial game of call and response.
“Does it make a difference if it’s real, as long as I still say I love you.”
We are now only remaining together for the benefit of the other, not ourselves. When a relationship becomes more of a favour for someone else, what is there to gain from it?
This is LIFE. We don’t know what we want anymore. It has taken this long to realise that we are not the people we thought we were. We both want different things; yet find difficulty expressing what these things are. It is almost a revelation. Accepting confusion is healthier that suppressing it. With honesty there is almost a sense of optimism or at least, content.
“Life is strange, but it’s all we’ve got.”
Still, the worst is yet to come, I keep reminding myself circumstances have to get much worse before they improve. Accepting is one thing, admitting is another. SALVIA is the dawning of the motivation I require, the pounding industrial rhythm drilling the epiphany deep into my conscious.
We argue for one last time. But we are not angry at each other, we are angry at ourselves, angry for not admitting how we truly felt, angry at impatiently focusing on the future before getting to know each other on a personal level.
It all seems almost foolish now. We let childish pride and a war of attrition obstruct months of suppressed emotion and have now cumulated in a broken relationship. Just like NEW COKE states
“Let the guns go off, let the bombs explode.”
The battle lines have been drawn now. What can be salvaged and what remains of civility?
“Am I stuck with myself?” questions L.A LOOKS. The post-dissolution remorse and regret is now all I can think about. “It’s not love, but I still want you.” But only because I don’t want you to be with anyone else, not just yet, not until I’ve selfishly moved on. Ultimately, you have to HURT YOURSELF in order to feel again. Love always comes hand in hand with hurt and the heart always desires what it cannot have. This is where the mind takes over, implementing rationality and foresight before regretful decisions are made. The heart maybe wounded but the mind is telling me everything is going to be alright.
DRUGS EXIST extenuates the finality. Now there is nothing left but the potential for something else, something better.
“Live as you like, it’s hard to know what’s right”
A year perfectly represented in thirty-nine minutes. The closing ambiance plays out leaves me to reflect on what I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard. It is January 2016…
Being productive and/or consistent with content was unfortunately not one of my new years resolutions. I am the kind of person that considers finding the time to have three meals a day productively successful. That said, here are my top five albums of 2015, spare a thought for all the meals I have missed in writing this.
5: InAeona – Force Rise the Sun
This album came straight out of nowhere for me, a chance glimpse of an advertisement from their label Prosthetic Records could not have remotely prepared me for what was to come, given Prosthetic's favouritism towards more traditional metal.
After the first listen I was left staggered, what did I just listen to? I couldn’t quite comprehend it, my colleague asked me to describe their sound and I was inundated with too many influences and styles to give it any kind of credibility. I tried regardless. Confidently I began.
“Imagine alternative style metal, not unlike Deftones or Karnivool with a uniquely talented female singer reminiscent of Bjork, add a prominent industrial/electronic influence and infrequent inclinations towards post-metal”….
That has been the beauty of Force Rise the Sun, it presents itself as almost genre-less and regardless of what genre you may decide to pigeonhole this album into, there is no denying how massive the sound is, especially for a debut.
Lavaizar is able to seamlessly vary her vocal range between an almost ethereal
cry with instances of vulnerability, to impassioned screams. Her guitar work
often mimicking her vocals with similar impactful transitions of tone. The
dramatic electronics present throughout make this a very forward thinking and
modern sounding record. Lead
4: Ghost – Meliora
Considering Ghost’s fascination with satanic imagery and lyrical themes, I was left wondering if they had indeed sold their souls to Satan to create music so undeniably gratifying and catchy. For all the criticism the band receive for favouring style over substance, Meliora has received near unanimous praise and not just from the typical metal media.
With Opus Anonymous, Ghost delved heavily into seventies doom metal and deliberately exaggerated satanic references. Their follow up Infestissumam was a more experimental affair, owing more to progressive rock influences with elaborate orchestration and choral arrangements.
With Meliora, Ghost have found their sound and consequently, demonstrated their song writing ability on a whole new unholy level. Meliora could be described as a more traditional metal album. The outstanding production from Andy Wallace has bought the guitars further into the mix, particularly on the heavier songs such as From The Pinnacle To The Pit, Majesty and Mummy Dust. The nameless ghoul operating the keyboards has also been allocated a more pronounced role this time round, transitioning from the horror themed keys of Spirit to the almost Van Halen inspired synth of Absolution. Meliora is a sing along album if their ever was a more appropriate term. When Papa Emeritus calls out
“Put your hands up and reach for the sky,
Cry for absolution”
Such is the power of the music, I almost feel compelled to do so.
Lead single Cirice is certainly the most infectious song Ghost has ever released, despite it also being one of the heaviest. A riff-laden affair which complements Papa Emeritus III’s haunting, yet objectively compelling delivery. Aside from He Is which could be described as some pseudo-folk ballad, the album gives Ghost the increasingly metallic edge that has been lacking from their previous releases. Beforehand, the affinity towards the theatrical and subsequent controversy from the lyrical themes have always taken precedence over the music. The references to Satanism seem almost vague this time round, songs such as the aforementioned He Is, utilise creative metaphors and wordplay to present the intended theme without ever directly referencing Satan.
With Meliora, if Ghost ditched the costumes, it would take nothing away from the music.
3: Dog Fashion Disco – Ad Nauseam
There is no secret of my love for Dog Fashion Disco. That said, following the revelation that they would be releasing another album with the surplus finances they received from their enormously successful crowd funding campaign, I did briefly ponder if the result was going to live up to its title (I would have loved it regardless). Ad Nauseam is quite simply brilliant. Dog Fashion Disco are the dignitaries of the now, admittedly limited, avante-garde metal scene. On the plus side… No competition at least.
The title track showcases DFD at their more upbeat, the playful synth of Tim Swanson rings out like an early nineties game show theme, if it not were for Todd Smiths regular lyrical excursions to the dark side. Last Night Never Happened is more reminiscent of Anarchists of Good Taste and gives demonstration to Smith’s impressive vocal range. One minute a sultry croon, the next a demonic wail. Just as the tracks darkly sexualised lyrics leave you feeling almost uncomfortable, Golden Mirage kicks in and completely alters the tone.
It is fair to comment that Ad Nauseam features some of the most accessible music DFD have produced, the sing-along cabaret-influenced chorus of Golden Mirage had me tapping along quite contently. But you can never let your guard down with DFD, as it is also fair to comment that Ad Nauseam also features some of the heaviest tracks DFD have done in years. Covered in Blood, in particular showcases the bands personal take on Thrash Metal and puts the spotlight on guitarist Jasan Stepp with a rare example of his soloing ability.
Just as 2014’s Sweet Nothings saved its best till last with End of the Road, as does Ad Nauseum with Starving Artist, which perfectly channels Mr Bungles 1991 debut in all its demented greatness.
2: Judicator – At The Expense of Humanity
2015 was an enlightening year for me; over the years I have been guilty of predominantly dismissing Power Metal, never fully comprehending the genres preoccupation with fantasy and lore. Imagine the chagrin when I came to realise American Power Metal band Judicator had released one of the best albums of 2015.
Judicators At the Expense of Humanity is a concept album detailing lead singer John Yelland’s experiences during his brothers fight with terminal cancer. In abandoning the traditional themes associated with power metal, the group has formulated a significantly more poignant and most importantly, relatable experience. Yelland’s soaring vocals describe the emotive and deeply personal account of the concept with so much passion that you can hear the grief in his delivery.
There is little ambiguity to the lyrics, the story acts as a detailed exploration into mortality and is easy to comprehend. For this reason the album is such an inspiring experience. The music puts the listener right within the story, I found myself visualising the events detailed as if I were viewing a dramatic reconstruction of the entire scenario. Any expression of indignation, fear, acceptance or anguish, I felt too.
I have always ascertained that the best music originates from the artist bearing their soul, music should appeal to emotions and this touching tribute serves as the perfect eulogy. Rarely have I found myself enthralled in someone else’s personal tragedy, especially not through the art form of music.
Concept aside the album will still appeal to more traditionalist fans of the genre. From a purely musical consideration the powerful vocal delivery, captivating guitar work and atmospheric keyboards validate that, lyrical themes aside, this is still very much a Power Metal album. Considering Judicator have only been around since 2012, At The Expense of Humanity serves as a testament to their talent. The bar has been set unfavourably high for any future power metal release.
Shining- International Blackjazz Society
Faith No More - Sol Invictus
Boduf Songs - Stench of Exist
Sunday, 6 December 2015
On the Third of December 2015 the world lost one of the last great rock and roll front men - Scott Weiland, lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots. Important to note how I have omitted the label of ‘ex-front man.’ Consequently, without Scott Weiland there was no Stone Temple Pilots.
As it stands a few days later, the evidence currently points to a drug-related death, specifically a cardiac arrest, no doubt accounting to years of previous substance abuse. Tragically what many people had been expecting. Weiland was touring with his new band The Wildabouts, playing small venues and relying heavily on STP material to fill his set. The reception to those gigs had been largely negative with numerous comments on Weiland’s deteriorating health and ability. Over the years his professional reputation had been tarnished, the man who could have had it all, yet threw it all away. The man just desired to play to his fans, regardless of circumstance and a compromise he was forced into when the remaining members of STP dismissed him from the band he started.
Weiland was known as one of the most charismatic front men of all time. He was commonly regarded as genuine rock star and figurehead of the nineties alternative rock scene. Whilst many of his peers relied predominantly on their music, Weiland was a natural showman, an intimidating and flamboyant stage presence and dauntless enough to glam up his appearance when everyone else at the time was clad in jeans and flannel shirts. Not that it ever reduced the impact the music. Stone Temple Pilots were one of the leading bands of the nineties. Core and Purple are still regarded as classic examples of nineties alternative rock. The more experimental Tiny Music... and No. 4 showcased a wider range of inferences whilst Shangri La-Dee-Da is a largely inconsistent output, a hurried pastiche of genres that tried too hard to integrate with the radio Cod-Rock of the noughties.
Aside from his proficiency at steadily reinventing both his image and vocal delivery, his main talent laid his in often autobiographical and emotive song writing ability. Weiland wore his lyrical heart on his sleeve and was unafraid to document his personal struggles in a musical interpretation. Songs on Core dealt with Weiland’s apparent disillusionment with the world he lived in; Sex Type Thing denounces chauvinistic opinions of women, Sin details an abusive partner, Naked Sunday is an attack on religious fanaticism and Creep deals with feelings of alienation and resentment from societal normality. By his own account drugs were not a significant consideration during his early career, yet like so many of his contemporaries and peers, with the onset and pressures of fame came the addictions.
Weiland attributes Gibby Hayes of Butthole Surfers to introducing him to heroin, something which Hayes denies; regardless by the mid-nineties Weiland was a full blown addict. His lyrics on STP’s second album Purple became increasingly laden with metaphorical references towards addiction. Interstate Love Song describes having to lie to his then wife about maintaining sobriety whilst on tour and Big Empty acts as a cautionary tale about life on the road, the titular 'Big Empty' being the long hours of nothingness in between the tour dates.
“Too much trippin’ and my soles worn thin”
During the recording of their third album Tiny Music… Songs from the
Vatican Giftshop, Weiland was
arrested for possession of cocaine and heroin and instantly became something of a media pariah for the excesses and moral corruption of the rock and roll lifestyle. Once the media
targets a individual, it never relents and rarely sympathises. They made sure any mention of
Weiland was accompanied by some sort of drug-related reference. Just like they did
with Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain. To live a life in the spotlight, being
constantly judged and having to read about your own personal strife (often
exaggerated and glamorised) inevitably took its toll and Weiland was diagnosed
as suffering from bipolar disorder, a dangerous infusion considering his now severe
Weiland managed to regain enough composure to record STP’s forth album No.4 in 1999, dubiously named after the purest form of heroin. Weiland’s personal turbulence accounted for many of the lyrical themes of the album. The autobiographical Sour Girl describes holding his wife emotionally hostage in their relationship, whilst I Got You ironically outlines how she was able to fill the figurative void left by his heroin dependency. No.4 revealed a vulnerable side of Weiland, whether it be relationships or drug addiction, both were clearly getting the better of him.
By 2001 Weiland’s personal life overshadowed any musical output. Shangri-La-Dee-Da was largely ignored by the mainstream. Weiland’s erratic behavior and headline captivating existence had done no favours for the bands reputation with his multiple arrests ranging from DUI's to domestic violence.
When STP disbanded in 2003, Weiland fronted Velvet Revolver with the former members of Guns & Roses, yet the whole project felt increasingly like a assemblage of egos rather than a credible music output. When Velvet Revolver disbanded in 2008 the blame was once again placed on Weiland's instability and health issues, claiming he had merely 'fallen back into his old ways.'
STP reformed later that year and, initially it did seem that Weiland had finally managed to turn his life around. Motivated by a new found appreciation for his own material and reconciliation with his band mates, the group managed to accomplish one of the highest grossing tours of the year and release a new self-titled album in 2010. By this point however, the group was undeservedly considered a nostalgia act. Profiting to an older audience keen to relive their formative years. In many of the tributes I have read following Weiland's death, most refer to how STP only appealed to people in their youth, musical relics of a era gone by. STP appealed to me far into my adulthood as well, their music never sounding as outdated as many seem to be alluding. Weiland was able to formulate a lyrical solution for any problem, their music I consider timeless, an integral part of both my youth and respective maturity. Just as many claim to have lost a piece of their past, I feel like I have lost a piece of my present.
Weiland needed help that he was never able to find. Even following the successful reunion tour, the conflicting egos within the band forced Weiland out. Despite his well documented struggles with varying addictions and a diagnosis of bipolar personality disorder, his band mates were unable to comprehend his vulnerable mental state. And certainly not by preventing him from preforming which was more than likely the one thing keeping him going. Until recently STP had continued to tour and write material with
’s Chester Bennington replacing Weiland. This incarnation did not even register to me or a large number of the groups fan base. Weiland was the embodiment of the band; Linkin Park Bennington was a cheap impersonator, unashamedly tarnishing the bands legacy.
I am confident Weiland’s creative legacy will overshadow his personal issues if the media allow it. Currently it seems instead of mourning one of the greatest front men of all time, we are too focused on eulogising another rock and roll junkie who was by all accounts living on borrowed time. In closing I am reminded of a quote by famous music journalist Charles Shaar Murray regarding the death of Elvis Presley.
“Stardom kills. One way or another, it wreaks an awful destruction on all but those with the utmost strength and inflexibility and those with the utmost humility and knowledge”
Weiland may now be remembered as another casualty of an era gone by, yet behind the facade was an extremely talented and troubled individual who ultimately paid the price for his art.
"I wanna be as big as a mountain,
I wanna fly as high as the sun,
I wanna know what the rent's like in heaven,
I wanna know where the river goes"
RIP Scott Weiland October 27th 1967 - December 3rd 2015