Monday, July 25, 2016

KAYO DOT - Plastic House On Base Of Sky

Revisiting the uncharted 

This review opens with a title that some of the more perceptive readers would deem absurd and some of the more radical ones, stupid. And yet, the very existence of postmodernism is dependent on how good we are at reshaping the old into the new. Making it as refreshing and intriguing as it was when it first came into being. More important still, is the ability of postmodern art to go beyond this premise, set itself in a world of its own and exist there on its own terms. And who else would I ever believe capable of creating an entire world for their music to exist in, if not Toby Driver. Ever since Choirs of the Eye (and for some, early maudlin of the Well), Toby's musical identity has been shining through layers of inspiration and styles he has explored. None of what he did has ever seemed either derivative, calculated or entirely spontaneous and the fact I don't really understand how or why he does what he does made me wonder - is it part of the fun? Yes, it actually is a big chunk of it - admiring someone's brilliance while being blinded by it.

It's obvious that Toby has decided to create more focused, more compact albums after Hubardo, arguably the most diverse and, without a doubt, the longest album in his career. Unlike pre-Hubardo records, both Coffins on Io and Plastic House on Base of Sky feature a somewhat vintage sound. Strongly inspired by Susumu Hirasawa and by the 80s icons, with the most prominent being David Bowie, Joy Division, Brian Ferry, Vangelis and the whole era of progressive rock and electronica, Toby does what he does best - he dislocates all elements from their hinges, makes them his own, unique - they are doors to his plastic house. It's especially true on the new record where the border between organic and synthetic became completely blurred. As radical as ever, Kayo Dot takes no prisoners despite leaving their extreme rock roots behind. Plastic House on Base of Sky is a playground for electronic polyphony, unrelenting, rhythmically complex and intense but as usual, a profound feeling of purpose grows stronger with every subsequent spin. This is one of those records that interact with the listener on the most personal level possible, mostly because the artistic process itself knew no compromise. That's why reviewing Kayo Dot albums is so daunting - the band doesn't try to prove anything to anyone. Toby seems to be lost in a maelstrom of creativity and despite fiercely pushing the envelope, he never loses track of what makes Kayo Dot music so engaging: the unrefined, frantically honest emotional charge put into it.

The latest Kayo Dot release catches Toby Driver drifting further and further away from his extreme rock roots, deep into the unknown where the old merges with the new to become something, somewhere. To be honest, it has never mattered to me if it's metal or not. Despite being extreme in a general sense, Kayo Dot was never meant to appeal to metal fans or fans of any other specific genre. I honestly don't know who is this music addressed to, and I doubt it is actually addressed to anyone in particular. All I can say is that you should approach the album with an open mind and forget what you know about art-rock, jazz, progressive electronica or synth-pop. Plastic House on Base of Sky is neither of those things. It is more.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Killer stuff!

I have had a long, complicated but, all in all, romantic relationship with this album. Not being a die-hard Cannibal Corpse fan, I have never listened throughout their entire output so I don't feel entitled to decide if Kill is or isn't the best album by the notorious veterans of brutal death metal. All I can say is that, after many years of my music taste oscillation and existential crescendos (whatever that means), it ended up being my favorite album by them.

It might have been the case with releases like The Bleeding, but Kill is a rare case of a brutal death album that keeps my attention riveted past the first two tracks. A common problem with many brutal death metal releases is the lack of variation that leads to the chicken pâté syndrome - the first sandwich is delicious, but by the end you feel a little sick. Now, the thing is Kill isn't even that varied. What makes it engaging is that, even if uniform, the songwriting and the clean-yet-organic sound production are both solid throughout. In some ways it's the quintessential modern brutal death metal album. Pleasantly familiar and straightforward structure-wise, it elevates the quality of the bulk of its content with mindbogglingly groovy breaks ("Murder Worship"), passages of technical brutality ("Five Nails Through the Neck") and, most of all, spot-on rhythm variations ("Necrosadistic Warning"). In other words, instead of kicking your ass all the time, it unexpectedly slams your head into a wall, breaks your nose, pulls your eyes out and hits you in the stomach. It basically makes you suffer. Sadly the songwriting gets more generic towards the end of the record and that's actually my only - although serious - problem with the album.

All that being said, Kill's biggest selling point is what made every other Cannibal Corpse album before it so successful. It's genuinely brutal and it doesn't try to prove anything else besides its unwavering devotion to what makes brutal death metal enjoyable - gore, groove and grit. In other words, if Kill were a slasher movie, it would be a good slasher movie. If not for the more generic songwriting in the second half, it would have been a great one.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A FOREST OF STARS - Beware the Sword You Cannot See

Beware a double-edged sword...

Today's metal music follows postmodern trends just like any other branch of culture and therein lies the cause of its focus on eclecticism. It's neither a bad nor a good thing in itself but it is, in all certainty, inevitable. Now, some bands have proven capable of turning this artistic philosophy into something truly special and sometimes even innovative. All too often, however, the pursuit of diversity comes at the expense of artistic identity. And well, the new album sees A Forest of Stars doing just that: struggling to keep their unique style intact while adding new elements to the mix. And yeah, well, the whole image sort of went out of focus.

With their steam-powered, victorian/occult/psychedelic, british-to-the-bones “doomened” black metal, A Forest of Stars used to stand out from other post black metal bands. Their sound on Opportunistic Thieves of Spring was both singular and wonderfully consistent - the album simply felt genuine for lack of a better word. Same goes for a little bit more diverse and folky A Shadowplay for Yesterdays which still had a distinct, unique feel to it despite its numerous influences. Adding new elements to the sound they’ve already established was certainly the easiest way to go but also the least fortunate. While the band’s latest offering is not a bad record in itself - quite the opposite, actually! - it falls short of what I wished to hear. The core sound is still as amazing as it used to be. Folk parts are mesmerizing as ever and black metal passages as passionate and ferocious (just listen to the first half of "Hive Mindless"!). Ironically, the first track is the biggest showpiece of what went wrong - none of the tracks that follow are as messy style-wise as this one. To cut a long story short, in addition to the usual elements, there are post-rock, classic prog, psychedelic rock (Pink Floyd), prog metal and avant-metal (most notably Unexpect) influences in the song and the whole album. 

All that may sound promising on paper and works pretty well in practice, but after listening to the whole thing I found myself underwhelmed with its obvious lack of focus. You see, the strength of their previous albums paradoxically lies in their ability to build something new and solid upon their diverse influences, not in adding them up. While I can see that the more surreal, elusive and complex nature of the music was intended, the band’s identity totters under weight of the ambition it has to carry.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

KAYO DOT - Gamma Knife

He could not remember the dream

Gamma Knife cuts through his skull as soon as he falls asleep. His vision is dim and blurred at first but it brightens with every second and he feels moved by the blissful, eerie spectacle that unfolds before him. The knife suddenly reaches his mind and the bubble bursts. All becomes vivid as the chaos spreads around and all calmness drowns in its foaming depths. How long did it last? Can time be measured in a place like this? He doesn't know. But as the edge of radiation withdraws, he is in a peaceful place again. Soft light soothes his senses as sounds of music sustain his slumber. And it all ends with silence... Now that I lost most of you with my failed attempt at artistic writing, let's begin. 

As by far the most obscure album by Kayo Dot, Gamma Knife is a negative of itself. An amazing case of an album that contradicts itself and yet, by the power of its overarching idea, works wonderfully as a whole. Now, if I just came down to earth for a moment... Gamma Knife is intentionally made that way to create an impact. The album begins and ends with stunningly beautiful and soothing, choral chamber music recorded in studio, but at its core are three tracks recorded live in concert. Could it go any weirder? Well, yes! In short, the middle part is as eclectic, avant-garde and extreme as it could get in less than twenty minutes. It's basically like a surreal 20s film where avant-chamber music meets jazz, RIO and black metal and have a shot of absinthe. The black metal side is somewhat reminiscent of Deathspell Omega and early maudlin of the Well. Compared to other avant metal acts like Ephel Duath, Gamma Knife sounds much more organic and bold in its exploration of avant jazz and chamber music. Strong psychedelic presence in the vein of Swans is also noticeable. However, what binds all these elements together to give them common identity, is the unmistakable Kayo Dot vibe that, like a totem spirit, animates every single album by this band. 

I must admit that at first Gamma Knife didn't work for me as well as it does today, and I did not fully embrace its inner dualism until just a few months ago. Just like any other album by Kayo Dot, it's definitely not an easy one to get into but it's all the more rewarding once you do. Less focused on patient theme evolution of Choirs of the Eye and more on tight, aggressive experimentation known from Hubardo, Gamma Knife is a truly unique avant-garde rock ride. Let it sink in and you'll have one damn peculiar daydream every time you give it a spin.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Two steps forward, one step backwards

Enslaved is a Norwegian extreme metal band that managed to carve out an admirably big niche for their bipolar "melodic/harsh" black metal, in a similar way Opeth did in the death metal milieu. Every time I try to explain how I feel about this progressive black metal sound, I find myself in an unenviable position of being for the band's ideas but against the way they're executed. You see, I've listened attentively to several of their albums so far (Vertebrae, AEO, RIITIIR and just a little bit of Isa) and the only one that actually (literally?) grabbed me by the ears, chopped them off and poured ten gallons of pure bliss into the bleeding orifices, was RITIIR... well, shit got graphic much sooner than I planned.

The problem I have with Enslaved has already struck me when I listened to AEO for the first time. A good album for sure. Its bold mixture of prog rock and quite atypical nordic black metal is intriguing, but it somehow lacks identity - quite a feat given the sheer originality of the concept - that would make it something more than just a blend of stylistic ingredients. Technically well-written as it may be, music on Vertebrea or Axioma Ethica Odini doesn't feel focused on giving any meaningful artistic impact. Black metal passages tend to drag aimlessly and mellow parts seem oddly misplaced. Now listen, if not for RIITIIR, I'd be tempted to say it's just me, a member of the mentally challenged minority for whom this stuff simply doesn't work as intended. RITTIIR, however, is a testimony to the fact that Enslaved are indeed capable of turning their ideas into an inspired, evocative, well-rounded creation, yet for some unfathomable reason they tend to keep falling short of their potential. 

Now, time for In Times. To cut a long story short, In Times is a blend of the semi-classic prog rock sound of Vertebrae with the atmosphere and black metal edge of Axioma Ethica Odini plus a - regrettably - tiny spatter of RIITTIIR's spacious and adventurous eclecticism. Oh, and vanilla prog metal in the vein of Dream Theater's also here, especially in the later stages of the album, and the role it plays is sadly a leading one. Due to this fact, In Times is even more structurally complex than the previous album but that's exactly where the rub is. When form takes precedence over essence, you know something went south, amirite? I mean, some of the more "spontaneous" experiments certainly add to the experience in a good way (e.g. chants and theme progression in "Thurisaz Dreaming" and the fantastic "One Thousand Years of Rain" and "Nauthir Bleeding"), but some of the rhythmic variations seem redundant. And these irregular meters ("Building with Fire")... I mean, come on guys, even Meshuggah usually uses 4/4. It's almost like the band was afraid of being judged by a jury of prog metal elitists that would otherwise deem the album "not progressive enough, 3/10". I mean, give me a break, you made RIITIIR for fuck's sake! And it all worked just fine.

Even though some people seem to be more and more weary of the sound Enslaved keep exploring, In Times does not sound stale to me. For the most part, it is a very enjoyable progressive black metal album with a decent amount of fresh ideas and it certainly will make most die-hard fans headbang in ecstasy or at least nod their bearded (prog)heads in admiration. Sadly, while it's varied and very well written - with more clean vocals than ever - it lacks the human touch that made its fantastic predecessor so good and, well, timeless.

Friday, March 27, 2015

NEUROSIS - Honor Found In Decay

We follow the Earth, the Earth follows the Stars...

Despite having released ten records of which at least three have become timeless classics of post/sludge metal, the Oaklanders don't rest on their laurels. Honor Found in Decay is yet another step forward in their sustained evolution and I'm telling you, it's good. It's not, mind you, a matter of stylistic progress anymore, at least not in the sense we've got used to. These men don't intend to break the ground anymore, nor are they willing to exhibit the fiery aggression known from their early albums. Still, in my book Honor Found in Decay stands out as the most inspirational Neurosis record since Times of Grace. 

Noah Landis. This man is a boiling pot of inspiration and originality, never failing to add a unique layer to a theme or, when needed, take the lead. His synths and samples have always been the gray eminence of Neurosis, the defining element of every album since Through Silver in Blood. Don't get me wrong, though, the band is like a clockwork: take one cog out and it doesn't work. They've been together for almost 20 years and it shows; the incredible bond between them is not just noticeable in Honor Found in Decay, it animates the entire thing. Neurosis is one of those very few bands that can turn a bucket of raw sludge into a blissful, poetic, almost cleansing experience. And they really nailed it this time round. Honor Found in Decay is a heavy, lyrical, Kyuss-tinged sludge metal album, abounding with both tonal and atonal themes that work together perfectly. When it comes to harmony and disharmony, it is one of their most bipolar records, but the reason it works so well is that there's a consistent artistic vision that keeps the whole thing focused throughout. It certainly is the first Neurosis release to have the old elements and the new ones (mostly the singer-songwriter solo output by von Till and Kelly) work so well together. 

Honor Found in Decay is like a night ride through a southern desert, like a poem whispered by flickering shadows dancing around a bonfire. It's unrelenting yet calming; crushingly heavy yet soul-stirring; brooding and soulful but not devoid of hope. While it is not by any means as bold as The Eye of Every Storm was, it sounds much fresher than Given to the Rising ever has. I can safely say that Honor Found in Decay is the most mature and genuine effort by Neurosis in a long, long time. A contemplative, spiritual, understated, poetic, hypnotizing album. And yes, definitely recommended.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

AGALLOCH - The Serpent & the Sphere

Spiritual Oregano

Hello and welcome to my first Agalloch review. Open your eyes, raise your arms and behold the beauty of the universe... You may wonder what's the reason for such a theatrical introduction, so I hasten to explain that primo, Agalloch has never started an album with a more exalted track than "Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation" (oh come on, really?). Secundo, the whole album is incredibly solemn. So, I just had to keep pace with the band, you see! The Serpent and the Sphere is the fifth LP from Agalloch, preceded by bleak and raw Marrow of the Spirit. This one on the other hand is much more accessible. And here's why...

Before I tell you why, one more thing. Don't think I'm belittling the concept behind this album. If only for how consistent every Agalloch album is, the band should be praised. As usual music, artwork and lyrics complete each other and create a stunningly atmospheric whole. Still, even though the sound production fits the music on The Serpent and the Sphere pretty well, I can't help but miss the raw black metal sound of the previous record. Agalloch's music relies on atmospheric layers rather than composition complexity and doesn't really need such a polished sound production. It just seems more genuine with a rawer one. Songwriting itself is strong as ever, even if I got a deja vu more than once. While Agalloch doesn't necessarily get stale, the polished sound would allow of more experimental approach. What we got instead is an atmospheric doom/black metal album that sounds a tad less post-metal. Neo-folk influences, on the other hand seem to have gained more ground. I may not like all the changes in direction but, despite all that, it's a very enjoyable and catchy record. Just another proof that Agalloch's got the magic, no matter what!

Every so often I catch myself turning a blind eye to anything that, in my humble opinion, Agalloch does wrong. Songwriting is sometimes rough, and pathos sometimes too abundant. Yet still this music is so honest and genuine that I can't help but get carried away with it. Even though a little less bold than before, Agalloch still stands out as one of the more original extreme metal acts. All fans of atmospheric metal should give this album a go, especially newcomers, as The Serpent and the Sphere is their most accessible release to date.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Shinsekai yori (From the New World)

Stuck in a loop

(please note that it's a spoiler-free review)

We love fantasizing about the future of humanity, shaking our fists at the stars and anticipating amazing discoveries. Through oceans of blood and suffering, we keep pushing forward, always so hopeful about a better tomorrow. The faith we have in ourselves seesms in fact justified, as we can easily trace the progress made throughout history. Humanity has become more civilized, open-minded, peaceful. And even though there's still a lot of room for improvement, our achievements to date give us a firm conviction that we're on the right track... but are we, really? What if it's all just a lie we keep repeating, a convenient platitude that keeps us going? What if deep down in your heart, nothing has changed, ever?

We all have gone through that kind of story at least once in our lives. A story that you get hooked on gradually rather than from the get go, one that you don't necessarily enjoy as much as some more accessible ones. And yet it leaves a mark on your soul that won't ever fade away. Shinsekai Yori is definitely one of those. Set one thousand years in the future, the story of this anime bears no resemblance to any sci-fi futuristic settings I have seen so far. Some would expect a highly developed, space-faring civilization, others would settle for a singularity-based vision of human evolution or even a post-apocalyptic dystopia. That's where the series has already broken with convention and it only breaks more of it later on. There's almost no advanced technology in the anime whatsoever, except for electricity (very scarce) and some rudimentary accessories, and yet it doesn't seem post-apocalyptic. The closest reference for the world depicted in Shinsekai Yori would be the pre-medieval Japan seen through a utopian filter. If I were to classify the story in any way, I'd say it's a modern psychological fantasy, as it doesn't dabble in hard science and instead draws on an elegant concept of cantus. Telekinesis (on the molecular level), for this is what the term refers to, is handled with much care and insight in Shinsekai Yori. It's not just a superpower, it's a potent yet dangerous ability that can lead its user to almost godlike achievements, but also to unspeakable atrocities. The biggest of which is to be revealed in the last episode.

The aura of mystery and menace pervades the story long before it unveils any of its dark secrets. The animation, even though technically inferior to some high-profile productions, boasts a stunningly beautiful artistic design. Accompanied by equally effective soundtrack, as eclectic as the anime itself, Shinsekai yori is a thrilling and unsettling ride through a bitter-sweet utopia. It's all the more effective due to the profoundly allegoric character of the series. It is an elegant and painful critique not only of the caste-based society, government and blind faith people have in it, but also of the unspeakable evil that lies dormant in all of us. If only for the unprecedented setting and concept, the anime is worth watching. If, however, you keep a constant lookout for ambitious productions that venture where no other does, Shinsekai Yori is an absolute must-see.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"I didn't expect the Spanish inquisition" and other stories

Daily Disclaimer:

Please note that this is going to be a lengthy article that requires patience. Not only that, actually, it's also going to raise many different questions. So, if you're impatient or don't have divided attention, be warned: it's not going to be easy. For either of us.


For starters, let's state the obvious. The subject of this installment of BDSM is unpopular music. In other words, the absolute opposite of popular music (which is also going to be tackled in this article). It is, in fact, unpopular for a reason. Many reasons, actually, the main one being that it doesn't get any promotion in the mass media, whereas Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Justin Bieber get all the hype. While it used to make some sense in the past, as pop music of the 70s/80s was actually listenable for the most part, it appears to be rather counter-intuitive in the current era. My question is: What the fuck happened? Is this what we are? That's two questions, actually. "Amongst our weapons!..."

Ha, I tricked you into thinking this was going to be just another stupid rant about how terrible the society has become, meaning how poor we, the elite, crème de la crème, are marginalized and oppressed by stupidity and aggressive consumerism. Now, there's a little bit of that already, haha, well... Still, the real question is "Why did this happen?". And another one is "Is there any correlation between popular music and state of society?" Can we judge the society by the stuff it listens to? And last but not least, "Why do we call this era postmodern and how no one seems to remember that?" That's a fair share of questions, yet they're all linked to each other, I swear. The answer to the first one is easy and convenient if you happen to be a lefty. To cut a long story short, as I'm not an expert, the society is corrupted by capitalism. Your status is determined by wealth and everything is subordinated to ownership of goods, position or even people, as we're always happy to objectify others. Resulting from this state of affairs, that has been around for the last century, is the devoid of finer feelings, divided society we live in. Many people go with the flow, some try to oppose it, but most are too poor to even care, "Hold your horses, bartosso, no one has ever come up with a better system!" Well, fine, it's a music blog, not a political one, so I'm not going to argue... even if I could... and I would win.

The society is not doing well, that must be obvious even to the most stubborn optimists out there. And that's where the second question gets in the way... and the answer is "yes, kinda". There is indeed a correlation between music that is currently popular and the state of society it is popular in, even though the connection is open to interpretation. Let's focus on the most shameful and disgusting branch of pop music that also happens to be most popular among the youth. All Satan's spawn seeping out of TV, radio and YouTube, you know exactly what I mean. Do the people behind all this have no trust in our intelligence? Do they have no conscience? Again, all that matters is money. "Kids are being brainwashed while we could at least try to show them that there's more to life than just sex and new iPhones?" Oh, no biggie! Let's fuck with these half-wits a little more! Okay, you probably think that that's always been like that and I just exaggerate, as usual. Alright, we always had, have and will have a population dominated by people that, to put it mildly, refuse to think for themselves. That's how it works. Still, there's always been a strong opposition to these trends, a noticeable minority that listened to rock music and opposed the system. Let's face it, rock played on the radio these days is nothing it used to be in the 70s/80s. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Queen. All those bands were super popular all over the media. And now what? Muse? Coldplay? Arctic Monkeys? Oh, come on! When exactly did rock stop to be genuine, I wonder?

The answer is - it didn't. It still does what it used to do, and in fact so much more. The problem is that "true" rock went underground. As it becomes less and less engaged in social activities and more focused on consumption, the general public can go without good music. Good music has almost entirely vanished from the map of pop culture. Okay, we have this ever growing indie pop scene that is somewhat encouraging but still. The world has changed. Artists that push the envelope are numerous and more varied than ever, but they have to strive for survival in a world that has no interest in them. We live in a postmodern age, an age of adventurous experiments, crossovers and general eclecticism. Music has reached the point of discharge as every genre fulfilled its potential. Chamber classical mixed with extreme metal and jazz? Here you go! Black metal and shoegaze? Dream pop and atonal noise rock? Why not! Anything's possible, so it's all the more depressing that so few are willing to enjoy that.

Monday, October 27, 2014

DE MAGIA VETERUM - The Deification

Eradication of Self

I hereby announce that Maurice "Mories" de Jong is a warped god of madness, instilling awe and terror alike in all those who dare venture into his realm. And let's get one thing straight, it doesn't get more intense than this. Trust me, I've heard a lot. If anything compares, it can only be another Mories' project like Gnaw Their Tongues, Cloak of Altering or Aderlating. There is, however, something utterly fascinating about this abyssal poetry, and despite its painfully cathartic impact on my psyche, I keep listening. 

The fourth album by De Magia Veterum is another experimental black metal journey through the realm of unfathomable darkness. Ear-splitting production underlies discordant glissandi and sonic outbursts of soul-stirring madness, but wait, there's more! With sinister sampling and breakneck rhythm patterns, Mories intensifies this, already extreme, experience. THE DEIFICATION is in many ways a blend of MIGDAL BAVEL and THE DIVINE ANTITHESIS. It's dense and soulful as the former and dissonantly chaotic as the latter. And there's also what's always been setting Mories apart from other fairly similar artists like Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord. I'm not trying to belittle their status in any way, but unlike De Magia Veterum, you can still follow their reasoning. Here, it all sounds as if it already existed as a boiling plasma within the creator's subconscious, and he converted it into sounds no man could normally conceive. Despite being consistent and meaningful, the notion of structured chaos doesn't really apply here. Structured chaos is liable to deconstruction and analysis. THE DEIFICATION is rather a poetic depiction of chaos as it really is. 

In many ways, this is a masterpiece and an unbearable sonic assault at the same time. Let's just say it's a great addition to your metal collection as it may expand your horizons to the extent you would never imagine possible. Remember though, no matter what kind of extreme music style you're a fan of, De Magia Veterum may be just too much for you, or something you will love with a bizarre, ravaging affection.