Thursday, March 27, 2008

Best of 2007 - #11

11. orthodox - 'amanecer en puerta oscura'
[review published on issue #8 of Rock-A-Rolla magazine]
Sevilla’s Orthodox are everything but – already on their first album, ‘Gran Poder’, a relatively hidden gem, it could be perceived that these Spaniards were on to something special. Although the album got lost in its own meanderings a bit too often for its own good, that unmistakable feeling of a band on to something unusual was there. ‘Amanecer En Puerta Oscura’ confirms that, and a lot more besides. Still a remarkably difficult album, even more so than its predecessor, as sombre, unsettling passages alternate with urgent jazzy labyrinths to create an unpredictable tapestry that will require a lot of dedication for it to make any sense. Structures seem loose and vague, which helps the eerie, trance-like quality of most of the music, but once you get used to it the underlying thread becomes apparent, a moving force similar to later Neurosis. Most of the record is instrumental, and when voices do appear, it still feels instrumental, as they are used for texture and richness of atmosphere primarily. ‘Amanecer En Puerta Oscura’ is a great evolutionary leap for the band, as the focus is much greater than on their debut. The several elements are given less space to get lost in themselves and the dynamics are helped a great deal by this mutating approach to songwriting. Exotic in a dark and frequently disturbing way, experimental but controlled, strangely uplifting but nevertheless oppressive in its stronger moments, this is an album of contrasts and touching extremities, on which the patient listener will be immensely rewarded.

Orthodox - 'Con Sangre De Quien Te Ofenda'

Best of 2007 - #12

12. cephalic carnage - 'xenosapien'
[review published on issue #9 of Rock-A-Rolla magazine]
‘Xenosapien’ is a rare beast – a bomb of a record that manages to grab you by the neck instantly, such is its catchiness and extra sense of groove (in comparison with their previous albums, which weren’t exactly groove-less monoliths), but which is not an immediate record at all, as it also keeps revealing itself in hundreds of brilliant little details as you listen to it more and more. And listen to it you will. Previous Cephalic Carnage albums, ‘Lucid Interval’ especially, but also 2005’s ‘Anomalies’, have been extremely impressive but have also left the impression that they were trying to do too much. Not that they’re not capable of it, given the stratospheric technical level of these musicians, but as bassist Nick Schendzielos proclaims in this issue’s feature, sometimes less is more. ‘Xenosapien’ is a perfect example. Encapsulating all the moods found in CC’s music before, be it the grind, the doom, the crazy jazz, you name it, into a simpler-sounding but harder-hitting package, this record shines through where it’s most important to – songs. Remember those? Properly formed, individual songs that burst with vitality and imagination, from the surprisingly spooky mid-pace of ‘G.lobal O.verhaul D.evice’ and its saxophone, to the whirlwind that is ‘Divination & Volition’, to the quasi-black metal intensity of ‘Touched By An Angel’. The highly entertaining conspiracy theory lyrics and unusual artwork are the icing on a cake that has been baked to near perfection. As a triumph of creativity and genre-bending, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better this year so far.

Cephalic Carnage - 'G.lobal O.verhaul D.evice'

Best of 2007 - #13

13. lake of tears - 'moons & mushrooms'
One of the most unfairly underrated bands of the last decade, Lake Of Tears nevertheless soldier on, with each album always a surprise in terms of musical direction taken. ‘Moons And Mushrooms’ is a sort of combination of all that was good about the past six records but much more guitar-focused, with melancholy, catchy choruses and their indefinable fantasy quirkiness greatly enriched by the wonderfully strong guitar sound. Much darker and heavier than before, it’ll appeal to anyone into any kind of melodic metal., read my review on issue #159 of Terrorizer magazine. Unfortunately, that was all the space I got to write about 'Moons And Mushrooms', but there would be much more to say, as there would about most Lake Of Tears albums, a band that has been consistently underrated throughout their career. On 'Moons And Mushrooms', if you still don't know Lake Of Tears, you have the perfect entry point, because the album is a sort of summing up of all the best things they've done before. The infectious melodies of 'Children Of The Grey', the sad melancholy of 'Like A Leaf' or the razor-sharp intensity of the guitar sound in opener 'Last Purple Sky' (and throughout the whole record, really - this is the best guitar sound the band has ever had) are just some of the highlights of a consistently brilliant album that will once again be rather overlooked, but will satisfy that happy bunch that is the Lake Of Tears fanbase. It's like we're all in to a little secret, and it actually feels great. And if you still doubt their rock credentials, check out the Status Quo cover 'Is There A Better Way'.

Lake Of Tears - 'Last Purple Sky'

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Best of 2007 - #14

14. mayhem - 'ordo ad chao'
Actually, if you don't mind me lapsing out of my Mr. Reviewer tone for a while, I've got the perfect real life episode to explain exactly what it feels like to listen to 'Ordo Ad Chao'. It was a night of intense, erm, alcohol sampling, and my friends who participated in the event stayed at my place, after locomotion slowly stopped being an option. One of them stayed on the sofa on the living room, where we had been listening to some music on an mp3 player, which was left on by forgetfulness. After a while, and we are talking about someone who's into the most fucked-up music you can think of, he woke up, uncomfortable and confused, from an unpleasant sleep, wondering what it was that was giving him such a nasty feeling. It turned out that the mp3 player that had been left on had reached 'Ordo Ad Chao'. Asleep or awake, this is exactly what this album will do to you. The way I see it, Mayhem have been searching for their direction ever since the black metal cornerstone that is 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas'. 'Wolf's Lair Abyss' was a blast, but a mini-album and one that they apparently didn't build on musically, 'Grand Declaration Of War' was ambitious but ultimately clumsy (and it hasn't aged at all well) and 'Chimaira' was just a forgettable, straightforward attempt at brutality. On 'Ordo Ad Chao', which, significantly, witnesses the return of 'De Mysteriis...''s vocalist Attila Csihar, is where Mayhem manage to combine all their previous misguided ambitions of necro ('Wolf's Lair'), weird avant-creepiness ('Grand Declaration') and boot-in-the-face ('Chimaira') into one fucking disturbing whole that is much more than the sum of those parts. This is above all an album of violent contrasts - for all the dissonant, angular and not obvious at all guitarwork (there are no riffs, as such, to speak of in the entire album), the sound is still horribly old-school necro-sounding, not quite on Darkthrone levels but close, which will alienate any post-something fan that might be attracted by the drone-like texture of the sound. Conversely, the structures are so atypical, combining silences, skewed drum patterns and Attila's inhuman throat sounds into a whole that will go far beyond the usual expectations of the regular black metal fan. It's useless to give you .mp3 sample songs, because this isn't an album that you can get by one song. Either you get the whole thing after living with it (and terrified by it, probably) for weeks, or you don't.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Best of 2007 - #15

15. caïna - 'mourner'
[review published on issue #80 of LOUD! magazine, translated and slightly adapted for too.many.records.]
Shortly after Alcest blew me away, the perfect companion for 'Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde' came out, and companion can even be interpreted in several ways. Alcest's album is a soft, pastoral affair, essentially feminine in its aesthetics and sensitivity, while 'Mourner' is a sort of masculine counterweight to the environments lived in Neige's work. Equally born from a solitary musician's work, young Andrew Curtis-Brignell, who doesn't feel at all the need to hide behind a demoniac alter-name (despite being a LaVey follower), 'Mourner' is the dark and disturbed face of the ambient genre. Something so scarily enveloping as 'Hideous Gnosis' is an eloquent demonstration of what you can expect of a record of this magnitude - a spartan beginning, threateningly minimalist, in which Curtis-Brignell softly sings Who’s on the side of the angels and who’s on the side of Satan?, the song transforms further and further, until we're thrown to the flames on the latter stages of the metamorphosis, as if it's suddenly a Xasthur song. The tortured voice is worthy of Varg Vikernes in 'Dunkelheit', as it proclaims No one is there anymore over guitarwork so abrasive that it sounds like a swarm of wasps. Throughout the nine songs, musical landscapes as esoteric as they are uncomfortable remind us of Swans (mainly), My Bloody Valentine, Burzum, Jesu, Lustmord and even Alcest, and from them the essential is retained. The red thread used to piece everything together is unmistakably Caïna. In an era where 500 teenage bands a day show up on MySpace, and half of them manage a recording contract after a week, it's amazing how one musician all by himself, and of this age, can have such maturity and self-confidence to create a visionary work, with its own separate identity. Hats off, dear Andrew.

Incidentally, Caïna will have available in the spring a limited split release with Portuguese doom kings Process Of Guilt, through Major Label Industries, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for that one too.

Caïna - 'Hideous Gnosis'

Best of 2007 - #16

16. stinking lizaveta - 'scream of the iron iconoclast'
[review published on issue #9 of Rock-A-Rolla magazine]
With instrumental rock and metal on the rise like it would have been crazy to think about a decade or so ago, and bands popping out everywhere, each of them trying to out-warp the previous one, it’s very refreshing that there are three guys from Philadelphia keeping it pretty simple, with mammoth riffs shot out one after another, super tight, pounding rhythm section and squealing fuzzy solos are the norm here. Within this apparently limited framework, Stinking Lizaveta carve out sixteen dirty, rocking hymns. With lots of variety – take for example the opposition between the charging 2-minute ‘Gravitas’ and the slower, sunnier 6-minute ‘Unreal’ - throughout which your interest won’t dwindle one iota. On the contrary. Risking a big claim here, this is the most addictive and replayable instrumental rock album of the past few years. Fortunately for the band, everything seems to be in place for them now. Although they have been around since 1994, ‘Scream Of The Iron Iconoclast’ catches them in the best form of their career, at the best possible time for this kind of music, and with the best possible name to drop – it’s Steve Albini doing the recording here, and what a rock-out that must have been. Don’t miss it.

Stinking Lizaveta - 'To The Sun'

Best of 2007 - #17

17. minotauri - 'ii'
At some point, you just want to rock. For all the wonderful creativity, emotion, brutality, innovation or just plain weirdness that we music geeks like to look for endlessly in our piles and piles of precious records, sometimes we all just feel like putting something on that will rock. No frills, no complicated atmosphers, no heavily layered vocals, no journeys into an inner world of splendid depth - just the comfort that there are still people who can call a song 'Doom On Ice' and get away with it, tongue-in-cheek, just because they can. That's when we put on Minotauri. A cool way to look at this Finnish band is to imagine they're a sort of even more stripped down version of fellow Finns Reverend Bizarre. There's the same sort of back to the basics, old heavy stuff worship approach, but without the mysticism and cult leanings of the Reverend. 'II', tragically Minotauri's final album (even on that announcement they're simple - 'now we're dead! fuck off!' at the end of the booklet), sounds dusty but inviting, heavy but never entirely serious, and the balance they achieve with this is brilliant. It's all about the music, really - the one advantage that Minotauri have over, oh, any retro-rock (I do hate the term 'retro', but you understand) band is the songs. Faultless songwriting, perfectly placed instruments and vocals with just the right amount of grittiness, melody and power that will burrow into your brain and stay there, like the best Candlemass or Pentagram tracks. Great music. Sometimes we should remember that that's what it's all about.

Minotauri - 'Hammer Of Doom'

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Best of 2007 - #18

18. portal - 'outre''
[review published on issue #82 of LOUD! magazine, translated and slightly adapted for too.many.records.]
Profound Lore's releases have been consistently brilliant so far, especially in 2007, and Portal is no exception. These mysterious, hooded Aussies, with their second album, take the rotten carcass of death metal, decomposed and eaten by whatever creatures that come out of this portal, to levels of unimaginable degradation. At the core of their line-up, a couple of members from Star Gazer (if you don't know them, go get 'The Scream That Tore The Sky'. Like, now.), a band that does their own sort of sinister, cosmic death metal - Portal is just the opposite. Organic, mouldy, subterraneously monstrous. This music is abject, ugly and at first glance not subtle at all, but at the same time it exhales a ritualistic feeling that provides some haunting to the cavern where it takes place. Gone are the days when extreme music used to really scare us, but hideous pourings such as 'Black Houses' or 'Omnipotent Crawling Chaos' are probably the closest we can get to that. In a moment of rare inspiration, the record label describes this record as the soundtrack to Dali's disturbing horror short movie 'Un Chien Andalou', and that's in fact the best way to approach this. It also gives an idea of the graphically evocative potential of 'Outre´'. Rarely has a recent record given way to such brain activity, desperately trying to picture the abominations suggested by it. Apparent frivolities like a fantastically designed digipak take a particular place of relevance here, and contribute to an indissociable whole, despite the exclusivity of this sort of thing - just like other prophets of esoteric terror like Khanate, The Axis Of Perdition or even 80s Swans, 'Outre’' is not for the ones who want it, it's for the ones who can take it.

Portal - 'Omnipotent Crawling Chaos'