Yob Song by Song: Catharsis

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Music theory time.

Much like the intro to One, the second half of The Art of Dying, or the whole of Planet Caravan, each time the intro riff of Catharsis begins I sit there thinking happy thoughts about how that riff could play the whole song through and not tire on me.

It takes its time, beginning with what sounds like a guitar being knocked at with a wrench, before the first riff starts with single notes, the first of which is an A. It shifts up, in a manner best described as stately, to a longer lasting C (a minim, or half note, to be exact). This shift being that of three semitones (i.e. a minor third), this resting point of C sounds minor (a minor third has an unerringly downbeat sound – think the second note of Iron Man). When the riff moves on, in its own good time, it goes back down through the minor scale to G, the perfect seventh of A (think of the note the intro riff of Creeping Death drops to in the fourth bar). A perfect seventh normally sounds closer to minor than major, and with a bit of space it has a mysterious, suspended sound (a good example is the perfect seventh Flea rests on after the first flurry of notes in True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes). From here this procession continues down through the A minor scale in shorter notes (crochets/quarter notes) to a minim of F#, which, not being a note that belongs in the key of A minor (and as such is called an ‘accidental’), sounds dissonant. Subconsciously you expect to hear certain chords, especially if you’ve heard a lot of that kind of music (the 12 bar blues is the best known example of this) (I’m sure you can think of your own example). Subverting this expectation by playing less obvious note choices is the kind of move that can prick up ears.

From this F# the riff shifts down through the minor scale down to D, the perfect fourth, which, to my ears, has a slightly regal sound to it. After this the riff jumps back up by a fifth to alternate between two A notes an octave apart (think of the first two notes of Somewhere Over The Rainbow – that’s an octave jump), both lasting the length of minim. There’s no harmonic movement here, but the use of an octave keeps it moving at a surface level whilst also creating a suspended, hovering sensation, so that when the suspense is relieved by the downward movement of shorter notes (crochets) through A/G/F# and riff restarts in A, it comes to the ear as a pleasant surprise, rather than as a relief.

This initial use of single notes rather than chords presents the riff in its simplest form. When chords sucker punch in at 3:12 it harmonically expands. This expansion is a simple one: instead of introducing a more complex sound by throwing in the minor third or the perfect seventh (which are the other notes in the simplest kind of minor chord) for the first A chord, Yob play the fifth and the octave – a power chord – resulting in a more open, general sound. A power chord sweeps everything along with it. Sometimes subtlety can just fuck right off.

Despite this song being in a minor key, and the shift between the first A and C being that of the aforementioned minor third, when it lands on this C chord it sounds major. At first I attributed this to it being a C major chord. It’s actually a power chord; the fifth and the octave, in this context, sound major. Although the song is in a minor key, this use of a power chord follows harmonic rules, meaning that a C power chord fits into that key i.e. sounds right (is ‘diatonic’). The case is the same when the riff shifts back down to G, the aforementioned mysterious–sounding perfect seventh, Scheidt playing another power chord; again, harmonically correct.

I can imagine Scheidt sitting at home tinkering around with those five chords until they sounded just right, then playing with all of those effects pedals, eventually making this minor riff sound uplifting. In reality this riff doesn’t play the whole song through, into infinity and beyond. It plays through for four minutes and fifty–two seconds, or around a fifth of the whole song, before developing into a big descending section, before taking up a quieter variation of the same riff. Although in comparison to most songs this is still a long time, in the context of doom music this is not so much the case. Point being,  Yob don’t rely so much upon an element of extremity, whether that be length (Sleep), distortion (haarp), density (Bongripper) or dissonance (Indian) to do the heavy lifting (not that I don’t like the bands listed – just that they play to their strengths, which are those areas. haarp are sick). Yob’s appeal stands in channelling these elements into songwriting. I can imagine Scheidt sitting at home tinkering around with those five chords until they sounded just right, then playing with all of those effects pedals, eventually producing one of those minor riffs that are somehow uplifting.

After the descending section, the quieter variation of the main riff, along with the singing, is uplifting, to the point of foreshadowing Marrow (which we will come onto in good time). Indeed, the lyrics are it’s–all–part–of–the–rich–tapestry–of–life stuff:

All the fear
All the pain
Built within
The hope and the tears
To measure the worth

However, the second ‘verse’ ends with

The tyranny
Built upon our philosophies
Not for me
In solitude again

Once again, Scheidt looks to – or is compelled by – philosophical struggles. The riff begins to repeat on shorter cycles, gutteral roars entering a minute later with

All the rage
Uncontrolled
Useless treasures
Rotten waste
Shadows fall

The song takes a little break, and could have ended here, at the grand old age of 15 minutes and 30 seconds. When it re–enters it does so at a tempo of 40 bmp, which in the big book of Italian words for music is called, and I promise I’m not making this up, ‘grave’. And in this re–entrance it’s well and truly doomed out on us, everything drawn out – the chords, the screams, the crashes, all the rivets popping out of the hull as the ship goes down. The heavily distorted screams feel like very, very slow death metal, dragging out, droning on, digging in, and generally sounding like a bit of its namesake for Scheidt et al.

Ironically, given its title, for a song that starts out so pretty it sure does ends ugly, even with a spurt of energy at 19.25 into what I think of as a 6/8 Electric Wizard–style boogie (and who doesn’t love a boogie to The Wiz?). Whether this is cathartic, well, that’s up to whether you find catharsis in tension or release. I feel that a cleansing piece of music would have an inverted structure to that of Catharsis (which is something I’ll be looking for in the coming albums), but I guess some find the dissonance of styles like grind, black metal and sludge a release (personally, and even when sober, sludge has always inspired more of a hair of the dog feeling).

When I first listened through the whole of this album I thought that it contained few stand–out moments, especially compared to surrounding albums Elaborations of Carbon and Illusion of Motion. Respectively, it isn’t as raw and bluesy, nor as aggressive, and maybe it’s as straightforward as a Yob album ever got. Yet with time I’ve come to hear the character of Catharsis, and can understand why it’s a favourite for many. 

We’re overjoyed feeling all right in our skin
The apocalypse never felt so good

Next up: we’re done with Catharsis and onto opening number of The Illusion of MotionBall of Molten Lead.

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The Winter of Our Content XVI: The Melancholy Spirit

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In February 2015 I wrote that the transcendental qualities of Agalloch’s The Mantle left ‘the squabbles of the world behind to stargaze’, concluding that its melancholic and enlightened character made it ideal winter listening. Given their mighty reputation, I’d be surprised if any of Agalloch’s other albums ever disappointed, or could be described as feel good hits for the summer, but I’d be more surprised to discover that any of them captured the complex ideas surrounding the relationship between man and nature more completely. But Agalloch’s reputation as genre combiners and breakers is not a result of writing the same album over and over, and I’m interested in discovering what differences may lay between the two.

The cover art of Pale Folklore, Agalloch’s first full length album, is of tree bark. The inner gatefold art is of a snow–covered boreal forest against a darkening sky. Viking king Ragnar Lothbrok is quoted upon desiring a hero’s death and drinking ale in Valhalla in semi–comprehensible ye olde English font. The pagan vibe is strong with this one.

The first of the three part She Painted Fire Across The Skyline enters with a winter wind rushing by and a pedalling guitar line. An audacious, clever opening; Agalloch are symbolically walking into the wild. This opening reflects the variety of ideas on this album, which although more successful in some instances than others, is ultimately to its strength. The repeated use of delay on the guitars (particularly in The Melancholy Spirit), the cryptic, macabre soundscape of at the end of Hallways of Enchanted Ebony, and the great ascending and descending melody played on church bells in the third part of She Painted Fire Across The Skyline are the some of the successful ones. The clanging piano outro of Dead Winter Days and the gothic pomp of the strings and monk choir in The Misshapen Steed, not so much. That said, the operatic female singing in the first part of She Painted Fire Across The Skyline and As Embers Dress The Sky came across as hammy at first, but in context began to make sense and grew on me.

Although there are aspects of black metal – the tremolo picking, the rasped vocals – Pale Folklore is too clean overall to think of as just black metal, with heavy sections flowing into a single glassy guitar playing a 3/4 line several times (The Misshapen Steed, She Painted Fire Across The Skyline), a favourite move of guitarists Don Anderson and John Haughm. Although the 62 minutes of Pale Folklore predominantly consists of songs, it is easy to come to think of it as being just as much a soundscape, sustaining musical detail and richness amongst the coldness and sparsity. Given all this, and the arboreal packaging, lyrically Pale Folklore is relatively light on the pantheism, referring instead to nihilism, unrequited love, the fall of man from paradise, suicide, you know, all the good stuff. As a first album it is also impressive in its own right; although not always totally cohesive, and the fast sections sometimes indistinctive, the ideas and bold songwriting hint at the greatness which would begin with The Mantle three years later and continue through to final full–length album The Serpent & The Sphere in 2014.

I have grimly stalked the world in these times of coldness,  Reaper at my back, both Pale Folklore and The Mantle reverberating, and I await the end of times (read: have been listening to my headphones outside and hoping it snows). Pale Folklore doesn’t capture the complex and melancholic ideas of man and nature as completely as The Mantle, but they each exist in their own place on the musical spectrum. Where The Mantle is defined by its acoustic guitars, expansiveness and recurring riffs, Pale Folklore is faster and heavier, not as melancholic and more of a linear journey, one in which we walk into the wild.

 

Albums of 2016

 

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Todd Jones, frontman of Nails, has a reputation for being a laconic interviewee and sometimes just a grouchy soul. But a few words of his in an interview with Steel For Brains from July 2013 resonated with me this year:

That’s it. Metal has been written, and now all you have to do is study it. I mean, that’s it. The door is closed.  There’s no more original.  What’s done has been done, and that’s fucking it… it’s 2013 and metal’s done. Everything’s been done. Just pick up an instrument, take what you like from this and that, and that’s it. That’s all you can do. There’s no more being original. Everything’s been done.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with him, rather than finding this perspective a downer, within it I found a great sense of freedom; ‘Just pick up an instrument, take what you like from this and that, and that’s it. That’s all you can do.’ On a slightly less grumpy note, Jones added

…It’s kind of sad, but it’s also kind of a good thing, because I think more and more people just realize that hey, I’m just gonna do what I like. It’s already been done, but I’m gonna put my own spin on it, I guess…

Point being, if you listen to a lot of and read about a lot of music, it can feel as though there is an expectation to consume. Trying to keep up with this expectation in any sort of comprehensive manner is unsatisfactory, whether trawling through critically–acclaimed music you quickly find out you don’t actually like, or trying to listen to that which you do with any sense of depth. To precis, I stopped worrying about music I thought I might be missing out, and found myself putting each of the below choices on unbroken repeat a lot.

In the interest of not boring you, there will be no repeat submission of albums, but I do feel it necessary to let you know that from last year’s favourites, Blackhole’s Deadhearts and Wolfmother’s first album are still getting spun a lot (and I finally got around to buying Wolfmother’s second album…released in 2009).

2016 Releases

Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (Relapse Records). ‘One of my lasting impressions of this album, despite the strong doom influence, is one of space. Bookending the album with plaintive, yearning country, a sound associated with rootlessness, renders upon a scope unfathomable a world of a breadth and nature that leaves those upon its surface scattered bearers of isolation. The best albums create their own worlds whilst coming to shape a listener’s view of this one, and the more I listen to Paradise Gallows the bigger the world becomes.’ Reviewed here.

 

Fallujah, Dreamless (Nuclear Blast). ‘In a case of being more than the sum of parts, Fallujah’s technicality serves to elevate the mood of Dreamless to that of something beyond the everyday.’ Reviewed here.

 

Black Tusk, Pillars of Ash (Relapse Records)‘… there are few bands greasy enough to contend with Black Tusk grooving in half–time’. Reviewed here.

 

Older Releases

Yob, everything.

Ramesses, Take The Curse (Ritual Productions)‘Lots of bands have made ugly music, but as the artwork would suggest, Ramesses have made something that feels sincere in its darkness. It’s not played to fit a style, as a throwback to 1970, nor as a love letter to Sabbath; it’s played for atmosphere. Ramesses didn’t use artwork of a crow up a tree in a graveyard or of themselves in front of an old castle wearing bell bottoms or of an evil–looking goat making a magick symbol (whilst wearing bell bottoms); they put the Nazis being tortured in their own concentration camps. The impression given is not that of just wanting to sound and look like Sabbath. They carry the flame on into darker places.’ Feature piece here.

 

Mose GiganticusGifthorse (Relapse Records). ‘… a vast power, indifferent and unfathomable, shapes Gift Horse’s lyrics and is alluded to in the swirl of chugging guitars, slithering electronics and vocals that alter between booming deity and vocoder yowl…’ Feature piece here.

 

KylesaSpiral Shadow (Seasons of Mist). Balancing lightness and heaviness, psychedelia and songcraft, once past the awesomeness of the obvious tracks – Tired Climb and Don’t Look Back – and onto the wooz of Drop Out, the contemplation and crunch of Distance Closing In, the Indian melodies of To Forget, it becomes obvious that is an album of some greatness, setting out for the sunset with the sprawl of Dust.

 

Tom Waits, Heart of Saturday Night (Asylum Records). I listened to Small Change, Closing Time and Nighthawks at The Diner a lot as well, but Small Change wins on the strength of its ballads, particularly San Diego Serenade, Shiver Me Timbers and Please Call Me Baby. Although not jazz and not as jazzy as Small Change, piano, sax and double bass still predominate underneath Wait’s lots–of–whisky vocals, calling the hard–living side of that genre to mind. Listen to the excellent Song by Song podcast, covering each song in turn, here.

Jimmy Eat World, Futures (Interscope Records). Full of top–of–the–world riffs.

Anti–Flag, For Blood and Empire (RCA Records). I used to think this band was the definite of mediocre pop–punk, but the 14 tracks of For Blood and Empire have been on loop for the last eight months.

Hang The Bastard, 2009 – 2012 (Holy Roar Records). The platonic ideal of metal and hardcore.

 

Home Ties, Detours (self–released). The platonic ideal of hardcore and metal.

 

Agalloch, Pale Folklore (The End Records). Although not entirely cohesive, Pale Folklore is full of great ideas and creative song structures and possesses the scope of a long winter. Feature piece coming up soon(ish).

Daitro, Laissez Vivre Les Squelettes. “Hey, want to form a really good, cathartic heavy band and remain obscure only because the only music scene is the one we’ll create before breaking up?”

 

Eyehategod, Take As Needed For Pain. Despite Eyehategod’s reputation preceding them, I hadn’t heard any of their material before Take As Needed For Pain, but found that the music lived up to and beyond the talk. I particularly enjoy how vocalist Mike IX Williams identifiably sings words (and pretty good ones at that), but most of the time it’s pretty much impossible to actually hear which words in particular.

 

Yob Song by Song: Ether

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Ether. Def. /’eeth[e]/ noun | an inflammable liquid that vaporizes readily, used esp as a solvent and formerly as a general anaesthetic: formula C[2]H[5]0C[2]H[5] b any of various organic compounds characterised by an oxygen atom attached to two alkyl groups. 2 literary the clear blue sky or upper regions of the atmosphere. 3 a medium formerly held to permeate all space and transmit electromagnetic waves >> etheric /ee’therik/adj. [Middle English via Latin from Greek aithēr, from aithen to ignite, blaze] [1].

For a song that shares a title with the etymological root of ‘ethereal’, and following the slow roll of AeonsEther is unexpectedly quick, straight out of the gate with a choppy riff at 128bpm and a gruff ‘Yeah!’ Half a minute later it transitions into a mid–paced verse with four snare hits per bar, one on each crotchet at 80bpm. Although – or maybe because – this is one of Yob’s faster songs, these verses feel laboured. Gabe Morley’s usually well–paced drumming begins to drag, the snare plodding along with each downstroke. So the guitar break after the second chorus, heavy on the wah and flanger, and as much funk as anything else, is an unexpected and very cool move; I can take or leave the awkward mid–paced verses, but this break makes the song for me. It leads into a variation of the same riff, but the alteration in phrasing, drum beat and effects makes it a clever, seamless and not particularly obvious continuation.

Suitably, given this unexpected pairing, the opening line is ‘Inside two worlds explode’, although it’s unlikely Scheidt is referring to the merging of funk and metal. Instead, lyrically, things we experience individually – hate, ecstasy, pain – collide with forces of nature – glaciers, the planet, the sun. I couldn’t decide whether the narrator was on earth, crushed by an apocalyptic setting into a frozen life (‘Enthralled with ice and snow/Glacial rivers of compressed hate’) or voyaging through space, too far gone to even be able to see our sun;

Awake in ageless time
No place to call home
Searching the expanse for a sign
Never will i see the sun again

In this, two recurring, key themes of Yob are presented; oppressive weight and an expansive psyche. This is an interesting pairing, given the contrasting nature of the two concepts, but by no measure is it unique to Yob; doom metal has been asking philosophical questions since Ozzy asked who that figure in black was. Yob differentiate themselves in that most doom bands tend to be forever falling, drawn into the darkness; Yob also remember to look upwards, permeating all of space.

 

[1] Penguin Complete English Dictionary.

 

Live Review: Damnation Festival 2016

Damnation Festival wasn’t an event I was aware of until Hang The Bastard announced they would be on the 2016 lineup playing their last ever gig. The rest of the lineup, consisting of 26 other bands across four stages, looked good, but Hang The Bastard were the act we bought tickets and drove 200 miles for. After the fun drive up to Leeds and joining the swarm of battle jackets outside the venue at the student union we caught Svalbard on the Terrorizer stage, whose cold, tremolo–picked post–hardcore was a good angry start.


After Hang The Bastard’s set at Holy Roar X in May a band member told me that they would be playing another gig with both vocalists performing. As they took to the Jägermiester stage black metal shrieker Tomas Hubbard was sighted but not original vocalist Chris Barling, hardcore yeller extraordinaire. I don’t like to say it, but their set turned into mush and ultimately fell flat. I stand by my earlier sentiment that Barling was the better vocalist for them, and was glad to have seen them as such at Holy Roar X.


After a blast of death metal from Venom Prison on the Terrorizer stage everyone and their grindcore sideproject shuffled into the basement to the Mine stage for Employed To Serve, who played a set that was a magic triangle of mental, caustic and catchy.


Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas put on an intense and immersive performance of Mariner on the Jägermeister stage, accompanied a great light show.


Although Black Tusk’s sound on the Eyesore Merch stage was a bit too reverb–heavy, much the same as their sound at their set at The Boston Music Room on Thursday 3/11, their energetic performance of high–energy songs was great and I really enjoyed their set of motorbike anthems.


I’m generally not a big fan of black metal – I generally prefer bands who mix it up with something else (Alcest, Deafheaven, Kvelertak, Wolfmangler) – so I found Abbath, on the Jägermiester stage, wholly unremarkable. My friends said that it was a pretty sloppy performance. I couldn’t tell. I don’t care. Back to the Terrorizer stage, and Enslaved, on the other hand, was a rewarding mix of black metal and prog.


I missed Ingested, but I did manage to get a guest review from a super enthusiastic hesher in the line heading out of the Mine stage:

MDFF: Did Ingested just play?

Hesher: Ingested were awesome, absolutely brilliant, I have no musical talent but you can just tell how good they are as musicians.

MDFF: …I’m sure you do, y’know, everyone has a talent –

Hesher:  – No, no, I have no musical talent, I work in I.T, but Ingested were awesome.

Needless to say, he was very happy and super enthusiastic. I took him for his word.

Back up all the stairs to the Jägermeister stage to catch Electric Wizard. They only played around three songs, but these were the best three songs of the day. It was deep, barrelling, hazy and hypnotic doom, and I would have gladly listened to another set of it, and then another.

Despite the band I bought the ticket being a bit of a let down, it was more than made up, particularly by Electric Wizard, Cult for Luna and Black Tusk. A good day of damnation.

Yob Song by Song: Aeons

Catharsis cover art

Five seconds of silence. Ten seconds of silence. 30 seconds. One minute. Drums begin to creep. A low, spacious bass line trundles along landing with the kick. Thick guitars waver; vibrato, wah, the note choice, all make for a bluesy intro, crawling in like the neighbour’s pet mamba that disappeared from its tank a few days ago.

With the explosion of distortion this crawl turns into a slow, consuming roll. This is music you can see, smell, taste and feel. The guitar tone, thick as treacle and just as slow, combined with the reverb–heavy vocals, conjures a surreal, dream–like quality. Besides the nasal Ozzy–isms and contrasting roaring, Scheidt also deploys a little trick of whispering, then roaring his guts out. Similarly, the wah sounds like it’s breathing in your ear. Don’t be fooled by the distortion; this is a psychedelic song, the heart of the song laying in the lines

Inner sleep
Crushing aeons to dust

It refers to a spiritual epiphany, describing the centring of the soul in meditative terms:

Regain the space
The ageless expanse
The gateless entrance
Inside me

Fittingly, just before the ten minute mark (I wasn’t sure what to call this part of the song; post–verse?) it lightens up, gets all bluesy, using a extension of the descending end part of the main riff to transition from 4/4 and distorted to 3/4 and palm–muted wah via a bass interlude, descending back into the distortion two minutes later.

Yob approached this album with their own sound already in place – you can just tell it’s them – and added a few touches. I’ve heard the remastered version, and I’ve not managed to find a confirmed original recording, but this article here reckons I can sleep easy. Indeed, the more I listen to it the more the word pleasing comes to mind. Upon its release in 2002 Catharsis was apparently Yob’s break–out moment, and I can see why. This song crushes the aeon of 18 minutes into dust.

Review ‘Em All: Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows

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Bought from Amoeba Records, Haight Street. San Francisco you are spoilt! The best music shop I have ever been in.

Metal informed by the lore of dragons, wizards and vikings tends to rely on a traditional songwriting formula and lyrical themes, and unless performed convincingly there often isn’t much sense of adventure or engaging story–telling about it. Yeah, Amon Amarth are OK, but anyone’s favourite band? (Go on, prove me wrong). Although Inter Arma ostensibly are not that kind of metal, the scope of and variation between styles within Paradise Gallows makes it one of those albums that tells a story, in the same manner of Oceanic or even School’s Out. In this case it’s a sprawling, solemn adventure story, standing at 70 minutes, more Southern Gothic than fantasy and lyrically concerned with the hubris and futility of humanity (just look at the artwork). The move between styles, from melancholic country to death metal to doom and onward and back again, makes a listen to Paradise Gallows an undertaking of the best kind.

The plucked, singled acoustic notes of Nomini turn on a penny into a big, twin guitar solo that David Gilmour would love. One and a half minutes later An Archer Into The Emptiness clatters in with blast beats, pinging ride hits, blocky chugged chords and cavernous death growls, with a pinch harmonic snuck in here and there. Transfiguration is a neat demonstration of Inter Arma’s ability to draw on a mix of styles to create something distinctive; with the drums pummelling away it isn’t a slow track, but the amount of space in the guitars and the echoing quality  of the vocals means it’s not a heads–down thrasher. A strange but effective combination. And when the high–pitched black metal shriek comes in it’s freaky music to be listening to in the growing dark. The slow blocky chugging of next track Primordial Wound turns from echoing and clean–sung vocals into cries, with the guitars bursting into a tumbling doom lurch. The Summer Drones, despite the imperative feel of the loudspeaker FX on the intro vocals, brings a slightly stoner, and, suitably, droning feel to the mix. Potomac goes full–on wig out during the guitar solo, which is most of the song; I’d be very surprised if guitarists Trey Dalton and Steve Russell didn’t name David Gilmour as a major influence. Eponymous track The Paradise Gallows slides from post–rock into doom, but even then the melodies suggest a dark country music. Violent Constellations shifts between death and black metal before dooming out seven and a half minutes in, then plays a skronky melody replete with whammy bar squeals. And then it’s back to that sparse acoustic guitar, this time with dusty baritone vocals and a harmonium (a type of organ, it turns out) for closing track Where The Earth Meets The Sky, a dark country ode to an unnamed, guiding but ever–distant force of nature. The point of all this is that each song feels more like a chapter rather tracks #1–9 of generic doom album.

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I didn’t like Inter Arma when I first heard 2013’s Sky Burial, and wrote them off as critical darlings, but was tempted to give Paradise Gallows a listen by the possibility of it sounding anything like how Orion Landau’s artwork looks.

Mixing styles can be effective, but isn’t an end in itself (Hayseed Dixie’s best material is not their bluegrass covers of classic rock numbers, but their originals). Rather, it’s a case of the opposite; Inter Arma have the songwriting ability to push their songs into different areas whilst keeping their songs cohesive.

 

One of my lasting impressions of this album, despite the strong doom influence, is one of space. Bookending the album with plaintive, yearning country, a sound associated with rootlessness, renders upon a scope unfathomable a world of a breadth and nature that leaves those upon its surface scattered bearers of isolation. The best albums create their own worlds whilst coming to shape a listener’s view of this one, and the more I listen to Paradise Gallows the bigger the world becomes.

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Inter Arma = During War

 

Review ‘em All: Fallujah, Dreamless

 

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Although Fallujah’s third album Dreamless was released back in April, I’m reviewing it now as a) death metal with a lot of technical playing isn’t usually my cup of tea/beverage of choice, and this is a highly honourable exception b) it’s cool to be late to the party.

Before I heard a single note, my first impression of Fallujah was that they were generic. My bias was partially fuelled by them being on the roster of Nuclear Blast, traditionally a stronghold of bands with a strong sense of the market they fall into, tried–and–tested and often slightly old–fashioned (whether you think that’s good thing or not) in comparison to the rosters of labels like those of Relapse, Southern Lord or Profound Lore. Furthermore, and maybe this wasn’t the case at first, but certainly by 2016, in being named and defined as ‘technical’, the implication is that whatever type of music it is being applied to (although I’m yet to hear of any type of music except for metal which has a ‘technical’ subgenre) has at some point confused performance with deliverance, ultimately losing all sense of soul. The five musicians who make up Fallujah clearly can play – and that they do – but what compelled me to listen to the whole of Dreamless (and continues to compel) was not ‘this is a good technical exercise from a musician’s point of view’, but, completely surprised by its melodicism, not being able to get single The Void Alone out of my head.

Pulsing, asymmetric riffs with bursts of double kick are matched with reverberating, ringing guitar lines, an abundance of spacious interludes and the snappy growls of vocalist Alex Hofman alternate with ethereal, high–register clean singing of guest vocalist Tori Letzler. This approach is true across the whole of Dreamless, with guest vocals from Letzler and Katie Thompson of prog rockers Chiasma on 7 of the 12 tracks. This pairing of heaviness and weightlessness, besides providing the contrast that a lot of death metal (whether technical or old school) lacks, combines with a lyrical preoccupation upon what waits beyond this life to provide a sense of story–telling momentum. A constant tension between an existential oppression found within this life, and the search for the higher realms of the next life, drive the album. These ontological lyrics, paired with these contrasting sections, at times seem a metaphor for the various twists and turns in the narrator’s musings upon death. In particular, The Void Alone, following a spacious interlude accompanied by

Paradise awaits as I unfold
Bleeding days into the soil

slams back in with double kick and a riff to match. Likewise, The Prodigal Son revolves around a sense of abandonment, the Biblical story cast wider to bring in all of humanity, referring to children, men, fathers and mothers. In this this it is an inversion of the Biblical story, with this theme of abandonment underlining the entire album.

In a case of being more than the sum of parts, Fallujah’s technicality serves to elevate the mood of Dreamless to that of something beyond the everyday; playing which bursts through expectations of human ability more readily lends itself to a sci–fi bent (listen to – and read around – Meshuggah and Wormed for two other good examples). A common criticism of technical bands is that their playing is ultimately generic, indistinguishable from the band that came before and the inevitable next one who play just that little bit faster. In this case, Fallujah’s technicality endows them with part of their own sound, rather than becoming something they are beholden to. Despite this review already containing the word ‘technical’ seven times, this is death metal which is technical but shouldn’t be defined as such. The more predictable (for lack of a better word) comparisons that come to mind are to Cynic, Atheist, and, big words indeed, Death. The guitar solo on Dreamless reminded me of Guthrie Govan, and although this solo is a guest spot from Tymon Kruidenier (of ambient jazz fusion band Exivious), this still indicates the sound and style that Fallujah are aiming for. The choice of guitarists Scott Carstairs and Brian James to use standard tuning on seven string guitars gives their playing a zip and a ping alongside the heft of that low B, and the tone in The Prodigal Son and Dreamless, clean with a touch of overdrive through an amp, sets a foot in jazz fusion territory. More surprising comparisons I found myself drawing, particularly on Abandon, were to The Cure and U2, partially through the regular use of chorus and delay effects to create a spaciousnessSuitably, Peter Mohrbacher’s artwork combines the familiar with the celestial, a giant anthropoid enclosing a world within its chest even as it dissolves into the surrounding sweeps of stars and clouds. On a semantic point, I did find myself wondering why Fallujah decided to call this album Dreamless, given its cerebral nature and philosophical musings; Dream does sound a bit strange, until thought of in the imperative rather than as a noun.

As mentioned, I feel compelled to continue listening to Dreamless, to follow its twists, turns and questions. Given the sense of wonder it moves with and imparts, perhaps its melodicism is its lynchpin, but I think where Fallujah distinguish themselves is in the balance they strike. Cynic, Atheist, Death, and, big words indeed, Fallujah.

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Review ‘em All: Gojira, Magma

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Not entirely sold on the Moonface artwork.

Although I am no longer convinced that Gojira are the second coming of metal (Metallica = the first), I still went out of my way to buy a copy of their sixth album Magma the day it came out. I did have criticisms of Gojira’s last album L’Enfant Sauvage, mainly that it felt linear and closer in scope to 2001’s Terra Incognita than a progression from 2008’s The Art of Dying. With time I’ve tempered that opinion in realising that L’Enfant is still a decent record – in particular, Mouth of Kala sounds like a cave in – but not the revelation that From Mars to Sirius and The Art of Dying were. So, perhaps to an unreasonable extent, I’m stacking a lot of chips on Magma.

Opening track The Shooting Star enters with one of Gojira’s mid–paced, churning riffs, but the first real point of note is that the opening vocals on Magma are clean. Starting the album like this is a symbolic declaration of Gojira continuing to evolve, away from death metal – although there are still elements of this multi–tentacled beast – into whatever they are now. This progression, which I suspect time will prove to be ongoing, is matched by the opening line

on the first light of the day you march on
departure has arrived
don’t look back.

I was unsure about the clean vocals at first, but with repeat listens they’ve grown on me. Silvera starts with a left–turning, bouncing riff that I found myself thinking of as ‘semi–thrash’, and Joseph Duplantier mixes his shouting with clean singing. It also contains not one but two squiggly tapping riffs, and fourth track Stranded incorporates another calling card of Gojira, unexpected noises (whale calls, wooden percussion, wind chimes) this time through the flanged, jangly chorus, which had me thinking, ‘Well, this certainly isn’t metal’, but then Joe Duplantier goes and roars his guts up everywhere and then sings clean as a whistle (no whistling though) in the interlude.

My pitch for this review, as you have probably figured out, is that Gojira are changing and have reached a tipping point. So it’s nice, amongst all the heavy thinking about vocal approaches, song structures and plectrum thickness, to hear what could only be Jean–Michel Labadie’s crunching bass tone on the obligatory instrumental (track number #5 this time round), Yellow Stone. It moves at a stately place, and, of all bands, actually reminded me of Mogwai. It was then even better to hear the next track, my notes for which were: ‘Magma. I have just heard the guitar make new noises.’ Following reverberation riffs and chanted vocals, at the song’s midpoint there is a Ride The Lightning riff that Metallica never got around to writing.

With time, I came to feel that The Art of Dying and L’Enfant Sauvage could have both done with trimming (From Mars to Sirius is fucking perfect). Magma feels concise in comparison, with only ten tracks to the twelve or thirteen on each of their preceding albums and the average song length standing at four minutes and 40 seconds. The longest song, Magma, is relatively short at 6.42. This album is more mid–paced, in addition to the song structures being a little more conventional. This is definitely Gojira’s most accessible album to date, a large part of which is due to the clean vocals. That said, there were also several points on this album that started a one man moshpit in front of my stereo.

This album prompted me to go back to Terra Incognita and listen through their discography to really understand how Gojira have progressed. Listening to each of these six albums, I hear the same band…but different. I apologise for making the comparison once again, but like Metallica, they’ve changed on each album. After several weeks of listening, my impression of Magma is that songs stand out (my favourite being Magma) rather than it being a stand–out album, but in saying this almost feel spoilt for choice; Magma is not Gojira’s best, but it’s still an album I’d be proud to have created and it’s still causing one man pits in front of the stereo.

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Yob Song by Song: Asleep in Samsara

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The circle of riff/life

The definition of ‘Samsara’, although seemingly as subject to variation as any other philosophical term, is roughly the concept of all life and existence moving through cyclical change. One definition I found (via the internet, mind you) was ‘cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence’. Although I don’t think it’s aimless, nor mundane, and is a bit too heavy to think of as ‘drifting’, Asleep in Samsara does fittingly conjure the sense of meandering along through its 17 minutes.

Throat chanting, panning left to right and back again repeatedly, is joined by a fluttery, slow–funk wah guitar. A bell rings lightly. The wah riff drops the wah, stamps on the fuzz box, is joined by the rhythm section, and plays that same riff for over 11 minutes, with a couple of variations. This heavy repetition and sluggish pace leaves little to say about Asleep In Samsara in terms of technical aspects or specific characteristics. Although this main section bridges into a slow galloping riff after 13 minutes, accompanied by an unsourced quote that posits ‘Religion is a poison’, the appeal of this song lies in how it bubbles away, the sense of tectonics shifting, and of a power lurking just beneath this surface, helped no end by the tactile guitar tone.

One effect of listening to a lot of heavy metal, which, let’s not forgot, most people think is weird music, is that sometimes the notion of a song actually lasting for 17 minutes is taken for granted. Like how the preceding track Pain of I is too ugly a song to introduce someone to Yob with, Asleep in Samsara is too long a song to win over a potential fan, and admittedly patience is required to enjoy how long Yob take sometimes. As mentioned, this track is one to be swept along with and sunk into, rather than be looked to for a sense of pace or push and pull, and in this way it defies being pored over. Many of Yob’s long(er) songs derive from a search for meaning, but I think with this one it was a case of we’ve got a sweet riff or two, it’s the last track, there’s no hurry, let’s have fun.

And thus concludes Elaborations of Carbon: something simple in its base form taken beyond into something complex and deep. Compared to later albums, it’s a little more bluesy in the Master of Reality sense of the word, with none of the big, sad songs that Yob would place on later albums. It’s a bit raw, and overly longer at points, but nonetheless a distinctive and idiosyncratic album. Next up: Aeons, the first track of album #2, Catharsis.