Review ‘Em All: Julian Marchal, Insight III

Like most people (I think), I don’t like 90% of music, and like even more people (back me up here), I don’t like 99.9% of classical music (‘classical music’ in the common sense of the phrase, not the phase from 1750 to 1820 or whatever. You square). Apparently it’s full of great ideas, but apparently so is Oblomov, and sure as fuck that was a painful 586 pages. This is because I find it (‘it’ being classical music. Forget about satirical 19th Century Russian literature now) to be uninteresting, which is a shame for such a large body of work that, as stated, is purported to contain such a wealth of information. Bach gets mentioned by a lot of metal musicians, how he was the master of harmonies or something, but I’ll take the intro of Damage Inc. over O Jesu So Meek any day, so what the fuck do I know really.

Anyway, it’s nice when someone lives up to the bluster. Julian Marchal is a pianist who composes his own pieces, each of which is titled Insight and suffixed by a number. Insight III (the albums are titled along the same principle) takes us from Insight XXIV up to Insight XXXIII, with the liner notes stating

The Insight’s pieces are conceived […] to put the listener into the piano. The numeral numbers replace titles in order not to create mental images before listening to the music.

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.

As you make have guessed by my opening jeremiad, I’ve never gotten into classical music, so I don’t know who Marchal could be compared to, if anyone. However, the universal appeal in Marchal’s playing is in his melodies. His playing is mainly comprised of homophonic (one note at at time) melodies (think of the intro to Sweet Child O’Mine) rather than chord progressions (think of, say, Knees Up Mother Brown). This isn’t necessarily the better way of doing things, but it does allow Marchal’s knack for a melody to shine through. The highlight of album is fifth track Insight XVIII, with its rolling and dark lines, fading into silence without resolution before returning muted and ambiguous. The recording doesn’t have as much of a close–up feel compared to Insight II – there’s no creaking of the piano – but there is still a tactile quality to the piano underneath a natural reverb.

As stated, classical music, much like certain metal sub–subgenres (from France or otherwise), has a niche audience, but trust me on this one; roll over Beethoven, back up Bach, cease transmissions Classic FM, Marchal’s the man with the insight.

Insight III is out now on Whale Records.

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Yob Song by Song: Quantum Mystic

Image result for quantum mystic pedal

The Black Arts Tonework effects pedal. Is this the only song that’s been honoured with an effects pedal? Image© 2017 Black Arts Toneworks.

As with (nearly) all Yob albums, 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived takes its time to start, but when it does get going, it doesn’t fuck around. A nuke explodes, a guitar starts swinging a slow motion NWOBHM¹ riff around, and just like that time your idiot cousin Earl put the tractor through the barn door, the rhythm section slams in out of nowhere and off Quantum Mystic ploughs on a trail of destruction.

I first heard this song when Yob played it at the Camden Underworld in September 2014, and, going on far longer than I expected, I assumed that they were jamming it out and extending the slow gallop of that NWOBHM riff. In retrospect, I doubt that they did start doing extra laps just for fun, but this gives an idea of how long this intro feels. I say ‘feels’ rather than ‘is’, as it’s actually only two minutes, which doesn’t sound like much when compared to Ball of Molten Lead (3 minutes 40 seconds), or Revolution (5 and a half minutes), but with both of those tracks it quickly becomes apparent you’ve left Kansas and are now in Long Intro Territory, so god help you Marine. On Quantum Mystic, with the guitar panned hard to left and with stabs from the rhythm section, for a long time it feels as though the rest of the band’s about to enter at any moment and someone’s going to start singing in a falsetto about how much they love tequila, rock’n’roll and their souped–up Chevy or whatever car they were flipping into ditches during the summer of ’79.

That all said, I stand by my earlier statement that this song doesn’t fuck around; it knows what it’s doing, where it’s going, and when it picks up it’s as fast as Ether or Doom #2. When it does enter it swings a lot harder than either of these tracks, and doesn’t sound as though its needs to resolve almost continually.

So does this song, and album, mark the start of a new direction for Yob, a distinct turning point in the body of their material? No. The notable difference is that the vocals aren’t run through an EQ gate, or at least far more subtly than on their earlier recordings. The lyrics are still preoccupied with theological concerns; who is the quantum mystic? What is his message, which ‘still resounds for all time’? Sure as fuck it’s not your idiot cousin Earl. Actually, the lyrics are quite specific:

Born in India
A modest shopkeeper living in the seat of Bombay
He raised a family, a common, simple life
Until he met his master and through grace opened eternal eyes.

Quantum mysticism, as far as I have managed to figure out, is a set of beliefs in which consciousness, in the spiritual sense of the word, is related to the idea of quantum mechanics, and generally seems to be regarded as a pseudoscience. Last time I checked, quantum mechanics is/was a scientific theory that explains parallel universes and that Michael Crichton was using to write stories about time travel. Although I can’t speak for Yob’s collective belief in parallel universes and appreciation of Crichton’s fiction (Timeline is good, give it a read), given their spiritual leanings these lyrics could be understood as a willingness to understand that the world and universe exist beyond our physical means of perception;

Beyond all birth and death
The real is timeless
Open the shutter of the mind
And it will be flooded with light

Although this is not new ground for Yob to be covering – song for song, they’re one of the most explicitly philosophical bands going – this song is different in that these kinds of lyrics are matched with that marching riff. It feels more imperative than most other Yob riffs do, and whilst this juxtaposition doesn’t make the song, it certainly doesn’t hurt it, to the point of Quantum Mystic being a fan favourite and regularly appearing on their sets. Even your idiot cousin Earl likes it.

  1. NWOBHM = New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Check Riot’s Swords and Tequila

Killing Your Darlings: Jane Doe, Converge

Album cover © Equal Vision Records

I don’t like Jane Doe. Yeah, that’s right, you, you reading this, reading this right now, with the Jane Face hoodie, t–shirt, patch, tattoo and flip flops, I said it.

Context:

I like Converge (I wrote a piece about Nate Newton’s bass playing here).

I like their early material, like Halo in A Haystack (1994).

I like their more recent material, like All We Love We Leave Behind (2012).

I don’t like Jane Doe.

Decibel described it in their Hall of Fame, six and a half years on from its 2001 release, as ‘…[F]ar and away the most crucial metallic hardcore record since fellow Massholes Cave In […] unleashed Until Your Heart Stops three years earlier […] It was feral, it was ferocious, it was fucking unstoppable. And it’s still all those things today.’ [1]

Listening through it again, I found things that I like; opening track Concubine is full of very cool, jagged riffs, the riff to Homewrecker wouldn’t leave my head for a while, Phoenix in Flight makes me feel all fuzzy and mellow, and the eponymous final track, with its build up, clean ‘ahhs’ and guitar melody, is great. The lyrics are great (Homewrecker : ‘I have bled and I have given/The longest of rivers and the longest of ropes/And you’re not grasping and my light is sinking on the horizon/Knee deep among your wreckage and uncertainty’). I even enjoyed the Berklee video about the making of this album.

Yet, loyal readers, dislike it I do, mainly for that is the lack of melody in Jacob Bannon’s vocals. His vocal style has always been divisive – nothing by Converge is going to make it onto Ultimate Chillout any time ever – but listening to Concubine, it’s just so squawky, even when compared to surrounding albums When Forever Comes Crashing and You Fail Me. The same for Fault and Fracture; the drumming’s great, but by the time I’ve gotten through it and onto third track Distance and Meaning I want to pinch the bridge of my nose and listen to Kenny G, and it just goes on. Hell To Pay has some very catchy riffs and cool time signature switches, and the chugging chorus riff with the cowbell and the structure of Homewrecker are great, but again with the squawk.

By the time I’ve gotten to eighth track Heaven In Her Arms I just can’t take it. You don’t like three quarters of a band (or in this case, an album); you gotta like all of it (which is why I can only partially get into …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and Muse). Every now and then something wicked comes along, like the breakdown in this song, or the melody in that chorus, that hooks you back in, only to realise you don’t like any other part of it.

I like the aforementioned surrounding albums When Forever Comes Crashing and You Fail Me (ignoring split release Deeper The Wound and compilation Unloved And Weeded Out), finding them both to be diverse listens. In comparison Jane Doe feels monotonous, ultimately living up (or down?) to its namesake.

I like Converge.

I like their early material.

I like their more recent material.

I don’t like Jane Doe.

  1. https://www.decibelmagazine.com/2008/01/01/converge-jane-doe/

Yob Song by Song: The Illusion of Motion

I used to be unhappy. I used to wonder, ‘what does obey the riff really mean?’ Thanks to The Illusion of Motion, know I now. Now I am happy. Now I am doomed.

The Illusion of Motion is slow, often dissonant, unfriendly on the ear as it scrapes along, and confrontational through the extremities that it presents; the average bpm is under a beat per second, the guitars are tuned to Drop A, the chords are slurred, and it seems to slow down as it rumbles on. Individually these characteristics can be found in many Yob songs, but here they have all been combined, and at 26 minutes and ten seconds, this melding has taken placed within Yob’s longest song.

Whilst wondering why this album was named after this particular song, I found myself thinking that maybe, at over 20 minutes long, this song is an illusion of motion in its form. There are a couple of problems with this idea. Firstly, I doubt this would have been Yob’s thought process – it seems a bit self–defeating. Secondly, this form and this repetition become part of this song’s strength; as is the case with nearly all Yob songs, it feels as though these lengths are not played for their own sake, but because these lengths are needed for Scheidt, Sato and Foster to play all that needs to be played, and for Scheidt, the main song writer, to channel all that he needs to say. Infinite Jest is over 1100 pages long (shut up, it’s great) because that’s how long David Foster Wallace thought it needed to be to tell the story that it does. Thirdly, and more explicitly, this title refers to, you guessed it, organised religion, though through a decidedly more philosophical angle this time round;

Try to climb the human walls
Tear them down and see what remains
Emptied of the embattled false
Will to resist disappears
Emptied of half truths taught from birth
With the dawn of emptiness

The lyrics confront the idea of getting what we want but not being happy; that’s why it’s called The Illusion of Motion. This brings its confrontational properties back to the fore; at 19.40 (yes, that’s minutes and seconds, not the year) a sudden burst of speed drags the track into a whirling, feedback–heavy skronk–out.

As an album, The Illusion of Motion is the first album where Yob began to write big, sad songs, and is more expansive than previous album Catharsis, which remains relatively straightforward within the oeuvre of Yob, and a sign of the slightly less doom–orientated and more particular approach of Yob’s next album, The Unreal Never Lived.

I used to be unhappy. I used to wonder, ‘what does obey the riff really mean?’ Thanks to The Illusion of Motion, and it’s big, sad songs, know I now. Now I am happy. Now I am doomed.

 

Riffs To Give You Sunburn: Spiral Shadow

Perfect weather for sludge metal, no?

Spiral Shadow emanates heat. Although this is true for most sludge metal (can you think of an icy–sounding sludge band?), Kylesa’s knack for melody, which, of their seven albums, they showcase most effectively on this one, puts a bit of pep in their sound that goes nicely with the sunshine. The Pimms of sludge metal, if you will.


 
Combine this warmth with a woozy quality – Kylesa clearly dig Pink Floyd and guitar pedals – and this album, despite sludge’s traditionally blown out sound, suggests a lot of space. The shimmery intro of Tired Climb leads into one of those riffs gives the << button a lot of use, and even at these cave–in moments, of which there are a couple throughout the album, this album feels expansive. This is coupled with tight song writing (only two songs run past four minutes) and a variety of styles; Cheating Synergy (the definition of the latter, neatly, being ‘the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions’)[1] mixes punk, sludge and shredding. Crowded Road uses the Arabic scale. Don’t Look Back combines the cheery thunder of Torche with a Pixies vibe. To Forget sounds like a raga. If I knew a few more indie bands I might say Back and Forth sounds a bit indie [2]. The vocals vary throughout, from punk shout to sludge growl to Laura Pleasant’s cooing.

Point being, while it’s cool to spend an hour imaging you’re tromping through the desert with the Sandraiders and Ewoks and Dobby the Elf whilst spinning Dopesmoker, if you’re after something more akin to a collection of, well, songs, put Spiral Shadow on and enjoy that Pimms.

1. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/synergy

2. That’s a compliment.

 

Yob Song by Song: Doom #2

As the title suggests, Doom #2 is much less expansive than most of Yob’s other numbers. Standing at six minutes long, it is their second shortest song and comprised of only two main riffs, neither of which are particularly refined. The intro riff could be a weighed–down Black Flag track until the drums kick in with cymbal–heavy fills and Scheidt starts roaring.

 

Going by the title, I’d guess that this was an early song that Yob didn’t feel would fit onto whichever of their earlier albums, or even their 2000 self–titled demo. At another guess, it could just as equally be a number Yob wrote off the cuff. Besides being their second shortest song ever (the average track length on this album is nearly 13 and a half minutes), this is also one of Yob’s most nakedly aggressive, and at 168bmp one of their fastest. Even when it thins out for an interlude there’s menace lurking under that wah, and lyrically Scheidt et al carry the flame from Exorcism of The Host by still sounding particularly pissed about organised religion;

Inside the anger grows
From words made up of dust
The false leaped from the breath of centuries
Tearing our lives apart

I wasn’t a particularly big fan of this track at first. For a band that can be as good as they can be, I thought that this was quite a generic harsh stoner number, ultimately disposable, lacking memorable riffs and a captivating structure. However, with time I have come to consider it to be quite distinctive; maybe it’s the way it sits between a 13 minute song and a 26 minute song, or, in a discography of a band known for their depth and philosophical concerns, its rough edges and punk energy.

Yob Song by Song: Exorcism of the Host

…Yob disagree, Mr Angel.

As in preceding track Ball of Molten Lead, Exorcism of the Host begins with a tolling bell. Somebody says something through backmasking. Scheidt roars. Drums crash. Guitars hammer in with a weird, harsh, descending riff full of chromatics. This is funeral doom (for those not in the know: think of a dirge) and the most mournful track Yob had penned to this date. The momentum of prior track, Ball of Molten Lead, is misleading – it really doesn’t carry through, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although there is some pace in the ‘verses’ and ‘choruses’, including a great, clean, solemn guitar solo at 8.30, Exorcism of The Host still averages a bpm of 44 and is heavily repetitive, leading to two thoughts:

1) The exorcism in question is an auditory one, created through the repetition of the aforementioned hammering riff for seven and a half minutes, until heaving into a riff of concrete after nine minutes and finishing on a scream best described as ‘painful’. This matches the lyrics, which invert the usual concept of exorcism by placing organised religion as the evil that needs to be cast out and away from humanity:

Oil and water
Fuel for the slaughter
Breeds remorse and breeds regret
The false prophets scream their disease

2) What separates this – and there certainly is something that does – from more average funeral doom bands, who also rely on extensive repetition? More specifically, what if these bands were made to go acoustic, as a kind of litmus test? This is a bit of an unfair question, as being amplified is clearly part of most doom bands’ sound, but bear with this idea; would their riffs and song writing still function without spiralling feedback, decibels and distortion? Going out on a limb, I’d say that for Yob the answer is yes, and that certainly wouldn’t be the answer for a couple of big bands I can think of. Despite the heft of this track, maybe this is because Yob don’t sound like a doom band whose only direct influences are other doom bands.

Yob Song by Song: Ball of Molten Lead

Yob - The Illusion of Motion cover art

Doom has many tricks up its sleeve, some clever, some not so clever (‘Hey, play riff A for 10 minutes, then riff B for 20 minutes, then I guess we’ll just jam it out from there’) (which, it should be said, does work sometimes) (Bong, I’m looking at you), but there aren’t many tricks that top that simple, atavistic sound with which metal was announced to the world: a tolling bell.

Comparing Black Sabbath’s titular song to the opening track of The Illusion of MotionBall of Molten Lead, the contrast between the two is more immediately obvious. In Black Sabbath the influence of the blues is more readily apparent, Ozzy sings, Iommi and Butler didn’t detune as far as Scheidt, it isn’t informed by three decades of metal – you can hear how much drummer Bill Ward was influenced by big band jazz – and the structure is a simpler and more compact AB pattern. Ball of Molten Lead is very much informed by doom, there’s a lotta slack in those strings (read: is detuned by seven notes), Scheidt roars, and the structure involves quite a more few letters of the alphabet. With a couple of listens, however, a subtler similarity arises; both Black Sabbath and Ball of Molten Lead tell horror stories, which in their form, are particular to the genre of doom. To generalise, where death metal and grindcore tend to be gratuitous with gore or suffering, as is thrash when it’s not talking about partying and nukes, and black metal is railing against Judeo–Christian ideology over there in the corner (sludge passed out in the bath tub a while ago), doom works more along the lines of you’ve got an unpleasant death coming up real soon, but we’re not going to give you the details, so you’re just gonna have to find those out for yourself. Hang tight while we soundtrack these closing moments of your life.

It’s straightforward enough to hear Black Sabbath and know that, after the intro of rain and a tolling bell and that tritone, an unreckonable and sinister figure designates the narrator ‘the chosen one’. As mentioned, at first Ball of Molten Lead compares as more sophisticated, but set up by the wailing wind and the tolling bell, when the rolling riff of the reverberating guitar and marching snare of Ball of Molten Lead enters there’s a comparable sense of the eleventh hour being at hand. To my ears/overactive imagination, it conjures a scene of surrounding and endless waves, being pushed along with their crashes and all alone. The opening lyrics are ‘Death on the horizon’, and the lead guitar line that enters at 5.20 reminds me of maybe that most canonical metal song about dying, For Whom The Bell Tolls. There is a new harshness to the vocals, Scheidt utilising screaming alongside his roar for the first time, exacerbated by the low EQ cut. As it mutates into what becomes the verse riff, it becomes more dissonant, with three harsh descending chords at the end of every four bars. The lyrics, told from the perspective of a dying person, deliberately jar just before the song ends; from first to last verse (let’s call it them ‘verses’ for the sake of argument) they describe moving from

The soul is unprepared
Fear runs deep
Always agonizing
On what can’t be known

to

Void the gaze without the eyes
Shedding tears but no one cries
Inhale the space of the vessel
Bid the host a last goodbye

But before we all get to join hands, hum Kumbaya and float off to the great gig in the sky, they close on

I try but I can’t dislodge this
Ball of doubt.

When it comes to dying, doubt has a powerful hold; what really happens after death? The truth is that no one knows – and that’s as heavy, unsolvable and universal is it gets.

Review ’em All: Pallbearer, Heartless

Signed by bass guitarist Joseph Rowland at the Camden Underworld 6/4/17 show. Cheers dude!

I initially wrote off Pallbearer, and in particular, their first album, Sorrow and Extinction, as dull critical darling material. Second album Foundations of Burden made me shut my big yap, by means of conjuring that rarefied mood of being happy to be so sad. Let’s face it, by and large doom metal is far too cheery for its own good, and with lead single Thorns delivering on weepy melodies, I’m excited about the potential of new album Heartless to turn that smile upside down.

 

Three albums in, by now Pallbearer have a couple of calling cards; the rich layering of riffs and melodies, clean guitar breaks with a neo–classical feel, long songs that make light use of repetition through rapid development between sections, and Brett Campbells’ mellow, almost subdued, singing, with the intelligible lyrics being a corollary to this last point. The two guitars are used cleverly; when there’s space they’re often playing different lines (I Saw The End and Thorns both being excellent examples), and the number of quick switches into clean or acoustic guitars makes me wonder if there is a fan of classical music in Pallbearer, besides the David Gilmour influence most obviously displayed on Dancing in Madness and the stamp of …And Justice For All all over the aforementioned clean breaks. Bass guitarist Rowland is also no slouch, carving fills and runs into the thickness, second track Thorns being a particularly good example. This track is also actually quite fast, as are parts of Cruel Road, so what is it that indisputably still makes this doom? A large part of it is Campbell’s vocals and Joseph Rowland’s backing vocals, mournful, sometimes imploring, but mostly resigned. Pallbearer have moved beyond anger; this is thousand yard stare stuff. The opening lines of Lie of Survival, after two minutes of dust mote arpeggios and a Gilmour guitar line, are

All ours gods have fled
retreated to the sky
from there they watch us fall
beneath the building tide

The cover art shows a sea of people reaching out to a sleeping colossus, only for the back cover to show them fleeing from its approach. Recurring lyrical themes are mankind’s atavistic resort to violence, endless travelling, Armegeddon, and trying to let go of anger in order to survive aforementioned Armegeddon. If you have any friends (pause) who you think could do with a bit more sadness in their life, Heartless, being fairly accessible through its clean singing, is a great way to start dragging them down. I’d even go as far as to say the vocals on closing track A Plea For Understanding are more like something I’d expect to hear on an indie album.

For the first few listens I did wonder if this album flowed, or, rather, was a collection of very good songs, but with each listen the flow becomes stronger, more apparent. The odd use of synths are unnecessary; they’re utilised for atmosphere, but as the rest of the band already has this covered, don’t end up adding much.

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.

Gojira, still the heaviest matter of the universe at the O2 Kentish Forum 12/3/17

Ah, Gojira. Eleven years, four albums and seven gigs since discovering them through From Mars to Sirius in 2006, here we (well, they) are, headlining the Kentish Forum. I wasn’t as big a fan of their last two albums – they were good, but having placed Gojira on such a pedestal, keeping up with my expectations was always going to become impossible/not their concern. I felt that to say a Gojira album was ‘good’ was a backhanded compliment; if each album wasn’t ploughing a new furrow for ecologically–minded progressive death metal it was falling short of my expectations. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from this gig, especially given their confusingly short and poorly EQed support slot for Alter Bridge last November (30 minutes ÷ long songs = not long enough).

Opening act [Car_Bomb] were tight as a limpet, playing riffs as tricky as a weasel, and impressive in their own right, but I’m not sure if song A is all that different from song Z. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of Code Orange’s mix of metallic hardcore with other styles, but I quickly came to enjoy the frequent curve balls that peppered their set.

But Gojira was what I had been waiting for. I am pleased to report that as soon as drummer Mario Duplantier walked out and started playing the drum intro to Only Pain a little bit of personal hysteria and a lot of roaring ensued, and from there on in Gojira crushed all and sundry like, well, the heaviest matter of the universe.

Contrary to my expectations of a Magma–heavy set, they mixed it up between Magma, The Way of All Flesh and From Mars to Sirius, alongside Love, the breakdown from Remembrance and the outro of Terra Incognita. I was expecting their newer material with more clean singing to be less exciting and to get less of a reaction from myself and the crowd. Wrong, sucka! My favourite song of their two hour set was all of them. It should also be noted that there are not many bands who can have a backdrop of a starry night gently spinning away in the background whilst barrelling through a double bass drum beat and inciting a big ol’ moshpit.

I have been to see bands I like a lot and have sometimes come away thinking that was OK, or how the songs began to blur into one, or what I had for dinner, and it’s always a grubby feeling. At one point between songs frontman Joe Duplantier implored us to be in the moment. In witness to the heaviest matter of the universe, that was easy.