The Winter of Our Content XIX: Alcest, Kodama

Alcest pioneered blackgaze (so I’m told¹), and black metal certainly does seem to be the point of departure for Kodama. Alcest mix tremolo picking, blast beats and snarled vocals with push and pull, echo and delay, space, instrumental sections and clean singing. And crucially, in the context of this being an album for winter–stricken times and climes, black metal’s defacto misanthropy is exchanged for melancholy. Alcest are a French band, and my French is très mauvais, but going by interviews and translations of lyrics², this is sad, not angry, music. Kodama draws from Princess Mononoke, an anime about Japanese folklore which thematically addresses being caught between two worlds. Lyrically, this adds up to themes of vulnerability, alienation and loss of ability and freedom running through the album, with third number Je Suis D’Ailleurs (I Am From Elsewhere) closing with ‘Je me sens étranger’ – ‘I feel foreign’.

Alcest could join Agalloch as spiritual playlist companions, but they could just as equally be played next to The Cure. Kodama sounds cold and feels cold, but even when frontman Neige is snarling, the tone has a lightness to it. It is illogical to describe a piece of music as simultaneously dark, melancholic and uplifting, but this duality is what defines Kodama.




Best of 2017

In keeping with that noble tradition of trying not to repeat myself so much that I bore everyone into stabbing themselves in the thigh with a biro just to feel alive again, all previous entrants have been excluded. However, there are a couple of albums which gave the REPEAT button good use this year. Joining Wolfmother’s first album in the Hall of Fame will be Hang The Bastard’s entire discography and Oceanic by Isis (please, please see link for clarification of ‘Isis’).

2017 releases

I managed to buy five albums which came out this year, which is something I suppose.

PallbearerHeartless (Nuclear Blast)

‘Want to mellow the mood in this post–Black Sabbath age? Think that doom metal needs to get real? Want to get worked up about 60 plus minutes of intense sadness? Put on Heartless and turn that smile upside down.’

Julian MarchalInsight III (Whale Records)

‘Marchal takes this concept of each song being each listener’s own insight and really makes it it work. Like the best instrumental music, the 10 pieces on Insight III tell stories without using words. The removal of the human voice gives these pieces an enigmatic quality, and with his songwriting and playing laid bare with only a piano at hand there is a poignancy and contemplative quality that are endlessly attractive.’

Left BehindBlessed By The Burn (Unbeaten Records)

‘Someone, somewhere, just got pushed into a moshpit listening to this album.’

BosskI II (Holy Roar re–release)

“Gaze into night sky
see riffs shimmer on star flight
as they pass us by.”

Bossk’s re–released I II is deep, light, and inspires questionable poetry about stargazing.

ConvergeThe Dusk In Us (Epitaph) 

The Dusk In Us can be about politics if you want it to be. What is more definitive is that this album supports the premise that it’s best to work backwards with Converge, and that the gradual shift to a more melodic approach has led to increasingly rewarding listens.

Older releases

Neva mind tha’ dreck from 2017, back  i’ 2016 we uz um some ‘ad real music, aye.

Parisos/t (Holy Roar)

Proper finger–pointing, give–me–that–microphone hardcore, but with riffs. Osmium Claw is like a hardcore version of Iron Man.

Employed To ServeGreyer Than You Remember (Holy Roar)

Also give–me–that–microphone hardcore, jammed packed with everything, in a good, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, bone–breaking way.

Bruce SpringsteenNebraska (Columbia)

‘Everything dies baby, that’s a fact
but maybe everything that dies
someday comes back’

Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral (Island)

Similar to how I thought Unknown Pleasures would be fun on at least one level, I thought Downward Spiral would be straightforwardly energetic – Nine Inch Nails are half–techno, after all. Well, it ain’t. Downward Spiral clangs and scrapes and by the end it hurts.

GojiraMagma (Roadrunner)

‘[T]here were also several points on this album that started a one man moshpit in front of my stereo.’

Inter ArmaCavern (Relapse)

If you can write a song that opens with a riff constructed like a series of pillars, and then finish that song 45 minutes later by reintroducing that riff, I like you.

SamothraceLife’s Trade (20 Buck Spin)

Elemental forces meandering along the river of doom.

Cult of Luna & Julie ChristmasMariner (Indie Recordings)

We’re going on a roadtrip to space and the soundtrack’s going to be awesome.

Townes van ZandtOur Mother the Mountain (Fat Possum Records)

My previous appreciation of country music was limited to The Blues Brother (‘we got both kinds’), but van Zandt wrote some dark, haunting material evocative of being left asunder.

Bert JanschRosemary Lane (Transatlantic Records)

Rosemary Lane makes me think of corners of England that seem to have been happily forgotten and where folk music is the only kind of music (‘we don’t got both kinds’).

BurstLazarus Bird (Relapse Records)

The opening line of first track I Hold Vertigo is ‘What is the nature of this?’ It took me a while to figure out that what Lazarus Bird is, with its many facets, is progressive. This is philosophical music about and for philosophical ideas.

DeafheavenNew Bermuda (Anti–)

As I have remarked elsewhere, I’m generally not a fan of black metal. The black metal bands who I do like have invariably mixed it up with something else; Kvelertak with hardcore, Alcest with shoegaze (‘Shoefookinwhat?’), Agalloch with folk and post–rock. Here, Deafheaven have also mixed up black metal with post–rock and shoegaze (‘Shoegaze? Wha’ t’ fook is shoegaze?’). Interestingly, for 47 minutes of music which draws from two genres which are generally lighter on riffs compared to other styles of metal, New Bermuda is full of massive hooks; Gifts For The Earth sounds like something Kirk Windstein or Pepper Keenan (‘Pepperfookinwho?’) would be proud of.

Rough HandsNothing’s Changed (Holy Roar)

…talking of riffs…

Third World96° In The Shade (Island)

Roots reggae of the most uplifting order.

MastodonBlood Mountain (Relapse)

Mastodon have changed with each album; if you want prog stylistics and duelling guitars, Blood Mountain is the album to go to.

Yoblots of everything (and then some).

MetallicaRide The Lightning

I have reached that stage with this album where I am discovering new favourite songs. The gift that keeps on giving.

Kate TempestLet Them Eat Chaos (Fiction Records)

Poet Tempest tells the story of seven unrealising neighbours over Let Them Eat Chaos’ 13 tracks, which along the way grows into a state of the nation address and story of human connections over electronic/electronica(?) beats that evoke an urbanised disaffection.

Marvin GayeWhat’s Going On (Motown)

It took a while to grow on me, what with it being a bit smoother than the d–beat I usually like to play out of my windows at the neighbours, but the soul of Gaye’s voice, and creativity of James Jamerson’s basslines, transcends this kind of behaviour.

The Duke St WorkshopTales of H.P. Lovecraft (Static Caravan)

The Duke St Workshop have recorded H.P. Lovcraft’s short horror stories From Beyond and The Hound with soundtracks, which involves a lot of synths. Don’t listen to after lights out.

Review ‘Em All: Converge, The Dusk In Us

Given that part of Converge’s DNA is punk and most likely ever will be, and that their last album, All We Love We Leave Behind, came out in 2012, I wondered whether The Dusk In Us would draw directly from changes in their home nation of the U.S. They’ve never been a political band (at least, not ostensibly; can you think of a facet of Converge that proves otherwise?), but, as little Bobbie Z once said, the times they are a changin’.

So have Converge gone political? Across its 13 tracks and 44 minutes, on a cursory listen, the answer is no. Converge’s go–to subject area for lyrics continues to be human connections; vocalist Jacob Bannon is still screaming about having heart, and there a lot of lyrics like

the little lies, the distorted truths
smeared the perspective and made me love you
queen of the garbage, prince of the weeds (Under Duress)

However, a couple of listens in, the abstract nature of this language makes The Dusk In Us is a lot more ambiguous than the first listen suggests; Year of The Quarrel contains the lines ‘the little lies, distorted truths/smeared the perspective and made me love you’, Under Duress states ‘compassion bends under duress/wouldn’t need a gun if you didn’t have one/don’t need you to serve or protect’, and closing track Reptilian starts with ‘futile wars for fruitless words/written by shadow kings’. This could all mean something, but just as equally could be but what my ears behold. The advantage of this lyrical style, common in hardcore and its derivatives, is that it lends itself to a very precise definition and feeling for its adherents (it’s about me; I can relate to this) whilst being abstract enough to be open to interpretation (be strong; be united; it’s us against them).

Something less open to interpretation is TDIU’s continuation of the more melodic nature of All We Leave Behind. A Single Tear opens with a squiggly guitar line and big band–style drumming (I wonder if drummer Ben Koller likes jazz) and the gang shout in chorus is absolutely propulsive. Under Duress has a shovelling bass intro and a verse riff that sways around, and eponymous sixth track The Dusk In Us is a mellow, midpoint break. Even the feral Wildlife is approachable in that it serves as a kind of an entry point into Converge; the imperative tone, the busy drumming, the tremolo picking, the structure – this is the verse, this is the chorus, this is the interlude. Bannon’s vocals are still quite squawky, but I can tell which songs are which. That said, fans of skronk don’t freak out; there are still numbers that sound like Taz just spun into a guitar and a mic; Year of The Quarrel is relentless, Broken By Light absolutely flies through riffs in its one minute and 45 seconds, and after the queasy hammer–on–pull–off bass intro of Trigger, it turns out guitarist Kurt Ballou is still finding those left–over Slayer riffs. There are also the curve balls; the fast, snappy breaks of Arkhibov Calm (reminiscent of AWLWLB’s Sadness Comes Home), the weirdness of Murk & Marrow (strange structure, strange noises, strangely compelling), and I Can Tell You About Pain, AKA I can tell you about weird time signatures.

The Dusk In Us can be about politics if you want it to be. What is more definitive is that this album supports the premise that it’s best to work backwards with Converge, and that the gradual shift to a more melodic approach has led to increasingly rewarding listens.

Review ‘Em All: Left Behind and Burning Up

I’m not too fussed about your threads. Not everyone is a down-for-life hesher. But goddamn, there is something satisfying about knowing without a trace of a doubt that you are looking at what could only be a metal band.

Someone, somewhere, just got pushed into a moshpit listening to this album.

Like Hang The Bastard, Speedwolf, or variations upon Percy The Pig sweets (Penny The Pig? Come on), Left Behind aren’t ploughing their own furrow with second album Blessed By The Burn. What they do, and do very well, is weapons–grade metallic hardcore. They know that riffs are the order of the day, and that songwriting will make these riffs last. They mix up tempos (opening track West By God), chuck down barrelling riffs (er, whole album), swing like King Kong (Scarred Soul), strip back layers, give the vocals some space to get to work, add layers back (Sweetness of Nothing), every now and then bust out a breakdown (Tough Love), then suddenly woah–up–there into sludge and make me want to stomp around in big circles squashing things with size 14 steel toes (again, whole album).

Furthermore, as Left Behind are happy to describe themselves on their Facebook page as ‘Five dumb motherfuckers from West Virginia’, in turn I am happy to imagine that at some point their lead guitarist (with the the exception of vocalist Zach, they don’t specify which members play what) said something along the lines of ‘I LOVE ME A PINCH HARMONIC’, because it sure sounds like it; my favourite example is Early Mourning.

Left Behind also know y’all best tell a good yarn. I get the impression that life has been hard on these five dumb motherfuckers from West Virginia; Zach, who, going by his roar, sounds like a big dude, covers suicide, mental breakdowns, addiction, and in Tough Love domestic abuse in some detail;

It’s like casting a curse
You loved making the hurting worse
Your biggest regret since the birth
Now she isn’t on the Earth

Despite the imperative feel to the lyrics and vocals, the stereotype of the tuff–talkin’ hardcore guy is sidestepped by the absence of cliches and Zach’s ability to express pain convincingly;

It’s so hard to feel anything but numb
When all I can think about is how I wanna smoke it away
Til I sway and I hurt and I ache and I burn and I taste (Sweetness of Nothing)

or, my favourite line,

Cover shit up like a bad tattoo (Burn Out)

Feel the burn for yourself and buy Blessed By The Burn from Unbeaten Records here.