Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Combining musical styles is something that are very common in todays music. Let it be death metal and progressive, indie and emo, house and dubstep, a lot of musicians seems to just combine different genres in hopes of creating good and innovative music. The sad truth is that it rarely turns out to be something spectacular. Blending different genres is normal, but what is a lot less common is to actually play two different genres on the same album. And I’m not talking about going from progressive rock to progressive death metal like Opeth do. I’m talking about having an album that contains five songs of bluegrass and three songs with atmospheric black metal. Yup, Panopticon just did that.

For those of you unfamiliar with bluegrass music (as I would guess a lot of you are), it’s a variation of country and folk music being played on banjos and violines with foot-tapping extravaganza and a really redneck tone to it. Hence the album name «Kentucky» in which the music has its origins. For Panopticon this is a new direction to his music, which earlier has been completely focused around anarchistic and atmospheric black metal with influences from 90’s black metal movement in Norway, including acts as Darkthrone and Ulver. Even though I listen to a lot of music, I’ll have to openly admit something – I’ve never actually listened to bluegrass before, neither am I a fan of country. Therefore when I’m reviewing this album I have no suppostition or knowledge about what is good bluegrass and what isn’t. I am still going to judge how well this mixture works and forget for a second that bluegrass isn’t my cup of tea.

The album opens with the song «Bernheim Forest In Spring». This song is a bluegrass-song and an opener to the albums concept revolving around coal-mining and Kentucky lifestyle. No vocals on this one and after a rather slow start the song expands into exciting folkish atmosphere, and even though I have never been in Kentucky, the music still brings me as if I grew up there. Next song is «Bodies Under the Falls». Here we are brought immediately to the classic atmospheric, forest black metal that Panopticon is know oh so well for. The song is about ten and a half minutes in length, which I personally think is an very enjoyable length for a song, not too long, not too short. After around halfways the song evolves into bluegrass. This is where we really get to understand how well this mixture of black metal and bluegrass actually works as the music slowly glides from moody guitar riffing to the pleasent sound of banjo. Later the song moves back into black metal again, but this time the bluegrass music doesn’t stop, resulting in an very beautiful mixture of soft, euphoric and even saddening violines and banjos being played layer over layer with black metal riffing, drumming and grim vocals.

After the lengthy second song, the album carry on with yet another bluegrass song, «Come All Ye Coal Miners». Speedy banjoing and country vocals is the main elements of this song. This lasts for about four minutes, before going of to a slow ending with sampled lyrics. «Black Soot and Red Blood» is next. Another ten minute song of atmospheric black metal. Throughout the first minutes the music manifests itself with interesting guitar riffing that are beautiful in nature. The song then follows in the tracks of the second song, leisurely moving over to acustic guitars with spoken vocals sampled from some retelling of an historic event. Building up with light drumming the song then moves into an impressive guitar solo prior to going in classic black metal mode.

By now you’ve probably figured out the pattern on this album: short bluegrass and longer black metal every other song with the metal songs having a calm midsection. «Which Side Are You On?» persists with this pattern, being another song of rythmic excellence of bluegrass. Lastly the album pushes into the last black metal song on the album, «Killing the Giants as They Sleep», a song that lasts for twelve minutes. It makes use of some unconventional instuments such as a flute. By the midsection of this song, we begin to understand where this is going. Each prolonged song had a relaxed midsection. The first song had bluegrass, the second song a mixture of ambient and black metal, and the third one completely ambient, with harmonic guitars playing tranquilly over a sampled voice. The album goes of to a slow end with the drone/ambient song «Black Waters», before shutting completely off with «Kentucky», ending the album in its bluegrass roots.

By creating atmospheric music inspired by Norwegian black metal and Kentucky foot-jamming bluegrass, Panopticon has produced one of the better metal albums of this year. The album did not make me a fan of bluegrass, and those stand alone tracks with it is something I will find to be forgetable. On the other hand will the longer black metal tracks end up being played a lot by me, as they are just pure quality from dusk till dawn.

Recommended tracks: Bodies Under the Falls, Black Soot and Red Blood, Killing The Giants as They Sleep.

8.0/10

Martin Sollien

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The Amazing Spider-Man

Posted: August 12, 2012 by pacsack in Movie reviews
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ImageAfter a rather disappointing ending of Sam Raimi’s trilogy about Spider-Man, both skepticism and hope about a fresh, new start was related to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. First and foremost, questions like how necessary this reboot actually is has been discussed since the announcement. It’s just five years since the previous trilogy ended, so in which extent has the director Marc Webb actually proven it was worth it?

Well, while the main fundation obviously still is the same, this movie stands on its own pretty well. Again it’s about Peter Parker, an intelligent outcast in high school who has lived with his aunt and uncle after the parents left him in a rather mysterious way when he was little. Suddenly he discovers some old documents revealing his father’s position in a huge project about giving humans animal powers; his curiosity leads him to Oscorp where he’s bitten by an extraordinary spider after sneaking into a forbidden area, and after getting contact with his father’s old colleague Dr. Connors the project is back on track again. However, a great breakthrough provides Dr. Connors a possibilty to get back his lost arm grown back, but something goes terribly wrong, and along with the birth of Spider-Man he becomes Peter’s greatest enemy in the form of a gigantic lizard. 

As you probably have noticed already, it takes a little while for the movie to emerge into superhero-mode. The first  part of the movie instead focuses on Peter Parker, how he handles the reveals and his school- love- and family-life. While this is quite understandable in terms of the necessity of getting a little insight to the characters’ lives, it has been laid to much emphasis on this part of the movie to actually get the main-part exciting enough. A well thought out balance between the two pretty different parts is missing, and it’s especially the bad guy – The Lizard a.k.a. Dr. Connors – who gets to pay for this. Instead of getting him to develop into an interesting villain like for instance Chrisopher Nolan has made so well in his Batman-movies, the little attention he gets leaves him behind as a rather forgettable character. This is really a shame, cause Rhys Infans’ playing gives the character a great deal with potential.

Accompanied by some tearings and devastations of things in his house resulted by his new inhuman strength, a scene where Peter uncontrolled beats up a whole bunch of people at the metro makes up for the first signs of action in the movie. The transformation scenes are tremendous, but the action-scenes further out in the movie doesn’t actually add the tension and intensity I’m looking for. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ unfortunately never gets exciting enough, just because Spider-Man and his more dangerous problems doesn’t get enough attention – although the ending is pretty thrilling.

Due to the fact that the reason for this is a lack of balance, and not necessarily something about the first part, Peter’s normal life actually is pretty entertaining to follow. Peter is played by Andrew Garfield, which does a noticeably better job than his predecessor Toby Maguire to portrait Peter. The stereotypical, insecure nerd we saw last time, is replaced with a much more realistic character which is way more down to earth. It’s noticeable that the director Marc Webb has taken his experience from his romantic comedy ‘(500) Days of Summer’ on when one sees Peter’s credible relationship to his uncle (Martin Sheen) and his crush (Emma Stone), whose police-father is hunting down – yes, you guessed right – Spider-Man. The whole bunch of characters are characterized by credible playing, which helps getting this aspect to feel more genuine and recognizable than it was in the previous trilogy.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ doesn’t either remain as a breakthough, a great surprise or a great lift-up for Spider-Man, but it’s definitely good entertainment. While the superhero himself and his agenda doesn’t get enough attention to get me engaged enough, the role-playing is still is pretty impressive, the story behind Spider-Man is way more interesting this time, and parts like the transformation-scenes and the last minutes lifts the movie a few notches. It just doesn’t feel enough.

Pros: Impressive role-performances, well-made drama-part, entertaining transformation-scenes, interesting origin-story

Cons: Too little attention towards the superhero-part, which leaves the potential of many action-scenes and the bad guy behind

6.5/10

Alexander Lange

 

Blackgaze as a genre has emerged from the underground. Combining both the dark atmosphere that’s present in black metal with the dreamy likes of shoegaze it has captivated a small fanbase among both metal and non-metal fans. Such bands as Amesoeurs, Alcest, Shyy and Cold Body Radiation are a part of this genre.

Sleeping Peonies (yup, that’s right, Sleeping Peonies, not Sleeping Ponies or Sleeping Penis) is one such band that fusion the musical styles of both shoegaze and black metal. Now, a lot of you trve kvlt listeners will probably despise this for not being core (even though the artist doesn’t try to be all satanic and corpsepainted), but for those of you who are a tad bit more open-minded and looks at music as music and not for their kvltness, Sleeping Peonies will turn out to be quite an interesting experience.

Sleeping Peonies, with the horrible-to-write third album s l o w l y d i s a p p e a r i n g (from now on Slowly Disappearing), continues in such manners as the previous albums Rose Curl, Sea Swirl, and Ghosts and Other Things. Actually it would be more correct to categorize them as EP’s, and not albums, as they all consist of pretty short length and few tracks.

Slowly Disappearing as a whole consists of a unique sound. Instead of having very distinct instrumental sounds, the album sound much more like a whole with instruments blending into each other and creating a totality. The keyboard is allthough pretty easy to segregate from the rest of the music. Its dreamy and sometimes 80s-influenced sound is very melancholic and moody, which in turn makes the dark atmosphere rely more on the keyboard and not so much on vocals or guitars.

The album opens with the song Dreamrrz, a short song under three minutes in length. We get a taste of what’s to come. It opens rather euphoric with keyboards, but soon it expands into the atmospheric wholeness of noise the instruments create and continues with it throughout to the end. Cemetery Kisses follows up with a bit more length. Here again opening with keyboards before a backgrounded sound of pounding drums build up.

I mentioned that the music sounds much more like a whole. The listener should be noted that this creates a rather noisy all-around sound. Those of you who are familiar with Nadja, Earth, Tim Hecker or other droning bands will definitely know what I’m talking about. After Cemetary Kisses comes the album-titled song Slowly Disappearing (this time it’s actually spelt this way). It’s another short song under three minutes in length. The midsection of this song is pretty dramatic, with post-rock infuenced guitar shredding with the distinct sound of weeping guitars.

Snowbound in Hazel and Furs is the fourth track and it comes with the length of five and a half minutes. It’s probably my favorite from the EP. The song sets in motion with comforting melodies on the keyboard before it continues to build up with lament guitars and slight drumming. The song ends in a relaxing manner, instruments slowly dimming away one at a time.

The two last songs, Blowing out Candles and A Timid Eyelash Flutter. Are two tracks that are pretty unlike the rest. While Blowing out Candles is one and a half minute of boring ambient interlude, A Timid Eyelash Flutter ends the album modus operandi to the aforementioned acts such as Nadja. It’s a slow two minute track with droning guitars and keyboard, also with no drums or vocals. It is dark and harsh, but also soothing in ways.

So, despite that Sleeping Peonies is probably being bookmarked as h i p s t e r y and p r e t e n t i o u s by some, I found myself enjoying this album quite a lot. Its melancholic atmosphere is captivating for the listener and the use of keyboard is good without being cheesy and overdramatic.

PS: It’s currently free to download from Sleeping Peonies bandcamp page. Go grab it!

7.5/10

Recommended tracks: Cemetary Kisses, Snowbound in Hazel and Furs, A Timid Eyelash Flutter

Martin Sollien

Constants – Pasiflora

Posted: August 7, 2012 by brzm in Reviews
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ImageIn this vast void of metal music, there are many bands that wishfully try to blend and merge different genres. Some more successful than others. This constant evolution within metal music has brought diversity in the metal scene. One such band that fusion different styles into a semi-metal, semi-rock outfit is Constants.

They have earlier in their career gained some media covering, especially after their second EP when they toured for 10 months in an ecological bus which ran on vegetable oil. Now, these eco-concerned indie metal pioneers has released Pasiflora. An album which the concept revolves around the beauty in nature and flowers.

As aforementioned Constants blends different styles into a metal/rock sound. This includes the dreamy vocals of shoegaze, the constrast in harmonic sounds which are found in post-rock, and also some spaced out elements inspired by such as Pink Floyd.

Pasiflora opens with Sunrise. A concept which represents the start of something new. The sound is rather light and gives an impression of dusk with a rising sun. In contrast we can find the song Sunset. This song actually appears a little over halfways in the album and not at the end, which I found a bit weird. It is a one minute ambient track with vague drumming in the background. This song works as an interlude rather than an ending.

Following up after Sunrise comes two songs that are a little under four minutes in length each, Hourglass and Passenger. Hourglass isn’t really that interesting allthough it has some nice guitar lines in the latter half of the song. Passenger opens up with dreamy synths and you can really notice that there’s a lot of layers here. Mourning is the fourth song and probably my favourite from the album. The vocals here are an utmost soothing collaboration with atmospheric and spaced out melodies. It has a length of five minutes which gives some room for progression and build-ups towards the tranquil climax.

The album continues with Beautiful and Pressure. Up to this point the flaws begin to emerge. Allthough peaceful vocal lines and a distinct sound personalizes this album, I do find it to be lacking variation. The songs sound to similiar to each other with little variation in drumming patterns and vocal techniques. Which results in the album being too much of a good thing. After the interlude, Sunset, the album continues with its three last songs: Austere, 1985 and Crosses. Austere is a very mellow track, both instrumentally and vocally. It do expand and has a little over two-minute build-up, but the climax are far from bombastic and explosive.

While 1985 is forgetable, the last song – Crosses – seems to take a different approach. It doesn’t feel as dreamy as the rest of the album, which is a good thing as you’ve probably been fed up with to much sugar-sweet melodies at this point. It do contain the same kind of vocals, but it utilizes some different techniques and sound which has been absent from the rest of the album.

Even though Pasiflora has some flaws and can sometimes sound a bit too sweet for its own good, it’s no doubt a record that has its distinct style and good moments. Most definately worth checking out if you are a fan of shoegaze. Even if you are not, you should still give this album a chance as it is quite digestible.

Recommended tracks: Mourning, Austere, Crosses.

6.5/10

Martin Sollien

There aren’t that many bands which had a so solid and successful debut-record like Periphery had back in 2010. The refined rythm-finesse of Meshuggah and SikTh met the sophisticated guitar-melodies of Dream Theater; the djent-phenomenon was born, and with bands like TesseracT and Textures they introduced the world to what many considered the next big thing. Still, many people, including myself, worried about that the potential already was at its peak, and that there wasn’t that much left to impress the world with.

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Therefore, ‘Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal’ has since its announcement been a record I’ve been looking forward to – both in negative and positive ways. Is the surprisingly high levels of originality and variation maintained? And how have they handled their position in a genre many consider as dying? Unfortunately, this record disappointed me more than I worried it could. Instead of a bit more unoriginal continuation of the first record, we’ve got a mediocre one where the well-functioning elements of Meshuggah’s and DT’s music is left behind in favor of more elements from genres like mathcore and metalcore. And lots of electronica. Yes, you read that right: Electronica is actually a pretty prominent element of the music.

Anyway, the record actually opens pretty well with the “accomodating” electronic sounds and guitars accompanied by the safe and slow rythm on ‘Muramasa’. However, the less pleasant elements of the record already starts to show on ‘Have a Blast’, where a rather uninspired guitar melody is followed by a pretty chaotic song-structure with fast-paced verses, a sudden breakdown and a bridge with clichè-filled vocal lines. Unfortunately these negative aspects speaks for a lot of the albums material; the structure on songs like ‘Ji’ and the last track ‘Masamune’ feels a bit weird and poorly thought out in the end. While this usually works out in for example Opeth’s music, Periphery’s fast-paced outfit makes it hard to make it work here, even though it did in the few cases on their last album.

The main problem here is the lack of the excellent professionality, refined complexity and variation of their last record, where the band showed they had full control over what they did. Periphery II is more reminiscent to a band who doesn’t really know what they want; while many songs is a total mess due to their variation, few songs actually stick out from the rest, and it seems like they’re trying too hard to be as original and mindblowing as possible.

The main reason for this is the vocals. While vocalist Spencer Sotelo’s range still is pretty stunning and the voice itself is well enough, it’s utilized in a rather bad way. Most of the time it feels extremely exaggerated, with cheesy clean vocal-lines reminding me of pop-punk, in addition to some really unappropriate growling sections with several vocal-layers up on eachother. It’s not that Spencer necessarily is a bad singer, but wether he actually fits as the singer of this band is discussable. Along with some weird mathcore-ish passages, and the already mentioned song-structures he namely makes big parts this record a little more chaotic than it should be.

While there’s pretty much disappointing stuff on this album, there are still some highlights worth to be mentioned. For example; the drumming of Matt Halpern keeps him in his position as one of the best modern metal-drummers out there, and – of course – the guitar magnificence especially main guitarist Misha Mansoor has been recognized for earlier, makes up for some pretty good moments here. The riffs on ‘Scarlet’ (where the vocals actually works pretty well too) is nothing else than entertaining to listen to. The intro-riffs on songs like ‘Ragnarok’, ‘Luck As A Constant’ and ‘MAKE TOTAL DESTROY’ however, makes up a pretty good first-impression of the songs with cool atmospheres and rythm-patterns, in addition some damn cool tapping.

Then we have come to the rather weird and unpredictable element of the record: the electronic stuff, which have emerged out of guitarist Jake Bowen’s interests. These things usually show up in the end of the songs; some feels imposted and inconsistent, while others – like the ambient outro of ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy!’ – has the originality and potential I’m looking for. Unfortunately, instead of giving parts like these post-rock-ish things time to shine a little more, the pretty uninteresting and boring track ‘Epoch’ – which first and foremost brings back memories from the pause-menu music on a rally-game I played in the third grade – has become the little interlude of the record. However, the song where these elements draws up the quality along with some damn cool bass-fills, is the soothing track ‘Erised’, which remains as one of my favorites.

But ‘Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal’ still is a very disappointing record, which I first and foremost will remember for the many times I just tried to understand why some websites gave it a 9.0-score. I will never understand those people who think this is a leap forward from their last record; for me this is an almost frightening setback where lots of the original ideas just have disappeared in favor of the more uncertain and chaotic aspects of the band. Due to some highlights and bright spots this isn’t a bad record, but from a band like Periphery I expected lots of the things that I didn’t get in the end. A shame, because the band still has lots of potential.

5.0/10.0

Recommened tracks: Scarlet, Erised

Alexander Lange

I remember a time where I didn’t listen to black metal at all. I couldn’t really figure out the genre and I thought it was too noisy, too lo-fi and with horrible vocals. A long time has passed since then. Some years back I started exploring new genres within metal music. Alongside i started getting the liking of black metal

Shining was my first experience with a black metal band that I actually liked. This was at the time when V. Halmstad was released, so you could say I arrived at the apex of their musicianship. V. Halmstad is one of my favorite albums all time and the main reason as to why this album appealed so much to me contrary other black metal-albums at that time is mostly unknown. It might be the more friendly production sound that Shining had opposed to more “true” black metal acts like Darkthrone, Mayhem and Taake.

In the latter years after V. Halmstad, Shining did release a couple of decent albums. Their newest EP is a rather big diversion from what we are used to as this EP is a compilation of covered songs from artists like Katatonia and Kent. Allthough this is new from the band, covered songs is not something we are unfamiliar with. Shining has in the past covered respectively Ohm from Seigmen, which turned out to be rather adequate.

Lots Of Girls Gonna Get Hurt as the name goes by is nicely produced in an instrumental perspective. That said, the songs covered on this EP are four rather quiet rock-songs. Shining doesn’t sound too comfortable playing music of this state. Especially Kvaforth’s vocals isn’t really fitting to this kind of music as he is best with gut-wrenchng and desperate screams with angry and almost death metal-like vocals.

The album opens with the Katatonia-cover For My Demons. As I said earlier the vocals don’t really fit, but if there is a band with clean vocals that Shining would be most fit covering, it is Katatonia. For My Demons is a rather gentle track with some build-up to a climax which isn’t too huge.

What all the songs have in common is the rather dark and low black metal-ish guitar tuning that you would recognize from previous Shining albums. This do make the EP sound like classic Shining although its sound is rather different from what we are used to.

This black metal-tuning is especially present in the song Kung Av Jidder, a cover from Imperiet. This song is rather repetitive in its nature, especially in the riffing. Much like some songs from Burzum, although not as lengthy.

Alltogether I find this album to be pretty boring. Instead of covering songs from some swedish rock-artists I would rather see a follow-up to VII. Född förlorare. It lacks the instrumental and vocal quality that has been present in previous work, and I’m really starting to miss the depressive lyrical themes and the desperate atmosphere which Shining previously has held so high. Instead we are served a dull EP covering artists which are uninteresting for the listener to hear Shining cover. It’s a shame, but let’s hope the next album will be more personal again.

Recommended track: For My Demons

4.5/10

Martin Sollien

Horseback – On The Eclipse

Posted: August 5, 2012 by Fredrik Schjerve in Reviews
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Horseback divides opinions. In the metal world, we have got a habit to take non-metal groups in our hands, and give them shelter. Bands like Swans, Tenhi and Horseback have always been reviewed in metal fanzines, despite the fact that they aren’t metal at all, and that is why the bigger part of the heavy-audience are stone-cold sceptics when it comes to a release by one of such bands (Swans may differ from the other two because of the heaviness of their industrial-infused noisepunk).

But I have long since discovered that the bands create wonderful music, despite the fact that they are not metal. Metal is really not the only well of quality these days, so if you just block out the thoughts regarding the lack of metalness, you might just enjoy something entirely new. Horseback have already released a record earlier this year, called “Half Blood”, that contained a couple of great songs, and some lesser ones too. The problem with Horseback has always been that, despite the ambient track’s swell of atmosphere and beauty, they ultimately achieve to bore you instead of entrancing you and winning you over. On The Eclipse, a vinyl-only release consisting of two songs, is wholesome a brother-release to “Half Blood”, with the sound and style being identical to the latter.

The first track, “On The Eclipse” is a track written in the style of the really great tracks on Half Blood. Minimalist chords and melodies overlap each other atop a simple beat, while black shrieks linger in the background, gargled up from the throat of multi-instrumentalist, Jenks Miller. The combo of said elements often create a distressful atmosphere, at the same time being quite smooth and relaxed. Jenk’s croaky howls drawing a thread to the weather-weary vocals of Enslaved’s Grutle Kjellson, adding the mentioned distress to the track’s blueprint. The track switch between two layered parts, before crossing into a stripped down groove accompanied by a simple guitar solo. It’s a fine song, but it doesn’t achieve the same quality of the greater tracks on this year’s other full-length by the artist.

On the b-side sits the ambient track, “Broken Orb”. It is by the ambient tracks a Horseback release succeeds or fail, as Half Blood unfortunately proved to be a grating CD due to its three ambient-tracks. But as “Broken Orb”s calm of ethereal notes enter, the hopes are high for a turn of events. The track drones along by a light pace, trying to hypnotize its listener by keeping the key elements the same throughout, only changing up the key-section once in a while. The mood flows nicely enough for a while, but then a strange surge of patternless drumbeat enters, breaking the flow. It is no big deal, but it is still not apparent what the drums were supposed to add to the song.

Even though there is not much wrong about the record, I get the feeling that the songs were cut off Half Blood because they weren’t of equal quality to the songs already featuring on the album. The soundscape and atmosphere is appealing enough by itself, but this is not something game-changing, or even great. The Horseback unit will continue to divide opinions, fans of the artist will enjoy this immensely, and anti-fanboys will find nothing to change their mind on this release. But it is worth a couple of spins if you are interested, and it is worth another go whenever Miller returns with his next voyage.

Recommended tracks: On The Eclipse, Broken Orb (there is just two songs for christ’s sake)

6.5/ 10.0

Fredrik Schjerve