Friday, November 4, 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: Quorum- "Another World" (2015)

HEADLINE: Russians Channel Sputnik to Smoothly Launch Space-bound Prog Rock(et) Past Exosphere

As I've been mentally off-planet for some time, there's been no reviews, recipes, rantings, ravings, or referendums of any kind. It's time to get grounded! Let's do so by visiting "Another World"
by Russian Spacey Prog Rock outfit, Quorum.

If an H.P. Lovecraft character
 ever summoned benevolent Elder Gods,
 it might look something like this album cover

*Author's Note: I am not very knowledgeable about music in this genre; my knuckles hang too low. Sure, I've got the odd Pink Floyd or Hawkwind album, but I'm not at the Henry Rollins-level of King Crimson worship. I'm more at the Dean Venture-level. That said, if this review does gets you interested in Quorum, EXCELLENT. If this review fails to do so, I ask that you forgive my inept ramblings and check them out anyway.

Handy Russian<->English translations!

Spaceship Quorum cargo, detailed inventory:
  1. Snow- a windy sample introduces this poppy, yet heavy, space trek. It's got a solid and soaring rhythmic drive. If Uriah Heep (the band, not the Dickens character) played on Hawkwind's equipment, it would sound kinda like this song. Also, the vocal melodies remind me of FM's "Phasors on Stun."
  1. Another World- the title (and longest) track opens with an acoustic guitar intro that rips into a searing solo. To me, this complex track sounds like Richie Blackmore and a '90's Tangerine Dream jamming with Pink Floyd's rhythm section, circa Dark Side Of The Moon. Around 10 minutes in there's a heavy, Uriah Heep-type guitar transition before the song's tender conclusion. 

  2. Behold- sounds like early Beatles mixed with late 70's Hard Rock. This track is the most unique to the band (read: I am having difficulty name-dropping here); there's lots of interesting twists on and progressions of the the riffs!

  3. '86- this track, my favorite on the album, has a bit of a Middle Eastern feel to my ears, probably it's the scale or some other technicality too complex to penetrate my Neanderthal skull. Anyway, it sounds like Egypt blasting off into space, propelled by furious keyboard work with some aggressive, hard guitar solo afterburners and Deep Purple retro rockets to land the track's conclusion.

  4. Then & Here- this energetic, string-driven track is CARRIED by some choice bass lines. It is the only track where the keys take an almost entirely supportive role, rather than competing for or dominating the lead.

  5. Motion- this aptly-named (and 2nd longest) track is very technical and heavy; there's lots of transitions and some surprise guitar effects and solid solos. This is my 2nd favorite track of the album! I'd say this is the Prog Rock auditory equivalent of a meteor shower pummeling through a nebula.

  6. Space Wanderer- sounding more like bigger-name American 70's rock, this track is a direct, more conventional, and pleasant album closer.

Quorum can also be found on Facebook.

All review opinions and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2016. 
Now you know where to lodge complaints!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Gruesome "Savage Land"

I managed to snag a vinyl copy in silver, commemorating Relapse Records' 25th anniversary as a label. Congrats, here's to 25 more!

So, back to the record itself, this release collects a Death Metal super-group, most notably to me Matt Harvey of gore-metallers Exhumed and Robin Mazen of doomy deathsters Derketa, for a special project.

Intended as a tribute to Chuck "Evil" Schuldner, especially his work on Death's Leprosy album, Savage Land delivers! Stylistically, the album has an unmistakable Chuck-feel which Death fans should appreciate. All the Gruesome tracks are superb, though none match 'Forgotten Past' for catchiness (in my ears anyway!). Further descriptions of the music would be akin to reviewing Death's Leprosy album (this should be very telling of the quality of Gruesome's writing and production), which would not only be redundant but beyond my skill (I imagine myself as Wayne and Garth, prostrated, crying "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!").

So, instead, I'll extol my appreciation of the loving attention to detail on the Gruesome album. As I'm not much of a tech-head and couldn't tell you about equipment similarities, I'll talk about lyrical similarities, mostly. Savage Land pays homage to Death by opening with the album's eponymous track and also contains 8 tracks total. We get a twist on the song 'Leprosy' in Gruesome's 'Gangrene' with Death's 'Open Casket' now becoming Gruesome's 'Closed Casket.' Both tracks even occupy the same slot in the tracklist, namely #6(66). I also imagine that the album title, Savage Land, is in reference to the song 'Primitive Ways.' Both songs also share similar arrangements as do Death's 'Forgotten Past' and Gruesome's 'Demonized.' These tracks share the same tracklist slot as well. Ed Repka has also been enlisted to create Gruesome's cover art. There is clear intention to mimick elements of his work on Death's Leprosy cover art, as the main compositions are VERY similar. Most noteably, we have as the central theme a close-up of a figure to the viewer's left, with two figures in the background to the right doing something which further tells about the central figure and develops the 'story' of the picture. The Gruesome cover is in fact more brutal, but both covers are excellent.

This release exemplifies, to me, the adage that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I am eternally grateful to Chuck Schuldner for the enjoyment his own work has given me, not to mention the many ways he has influenced my own playing. I now would like to thank Gruesome for making such an excellent and honest tribute to Chuck, while also adding an indispensable album to the history of Death Metal!

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

Sunday, September 20, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Hexx "No Escape" and "Under the Spell" (2015 Vinyl Re-Issues on Metal Blade)

This year, Metal Blade Records released a great treat- re-issues of Hexx's first two albums! I must admit, I wasn't too familiar with this band other than in name until the start of this year when the band came up in discussion with friends.

Anyway, Hexx is a really special and unique band in that they began as a Heavy/Power/Speed Metal band, progressed to include Thrash elements (comparable to Metal Church and Agent Steel, though to a lesser degree), then further developed into a Death Metal band. Of note, their latter line-up included Clint Bower, who's work in Abscess,The Ravenous, and Eatmyfuk I really admire. I'm so glad I discovered this band in time to catch these re-issues! For those of you cool enough to already be fans, these versions come in deluxe gatefolds and in several colors. All are VERY limited (mine are from a 200 copy run!). There's a bonus track from the demo of pre-Hexx band, Paradox on 'No Escape' and 'Under the Spell' has a live version of "Edge Of Death." The sound quality is excellent and has a distinct analog feel.

A detailed interview describing the band's history and releases can be found in the Chilean Death Metal only 'zine, 'Compilation Of Death' 3rd Issue, distributed in the USA by Hell's Headbangers.

 Hopefully, there will soon be vinyl reissues of my favorite releases by Hexx, "Quest For Sanity," "Watery Graves," and "Morbid Reality" to complete the set!

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

ALBUM REVIEW: Laibach- "A Chicken In Every Pot, Laibach In Every City (2015 North American Tour Live Album)"

This is a live, digital-only album exclusively available as a gift to pledgers who supported Laibach's North American Tour 2015 via Indiegogo. It consists of tracks recorded live from the tour and is 1 hour, 52 minutes in length.

Disappointingly for me, no tracks are from the show I attended in NYC, though the set list was the same or at least very similar. Anyway, the album includes the pre-recorded voice which introduced songs and set highlights (for me): The Whistleblowers, B Mashina (yeah Iron Sky!), Bossanova, and encore tracks Tanz Mit Laibach and Leben Heisst Leben.

The tracks are all high-quality and do a great job capturing what it was like to hear this tour. Hopefully, at least some of these tracks will be made available in some form for Laibach fans who missed the tour or were unable to donate (lacking 'Kaptial' harhar).

I would also LOVE more coverage of Laibach's North Korea performance, but that's a whole other story...

Until then, I'll (digitally) covet my copy; Das spiel ist aus!

*Review copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

ALBUM REVIEW: Kommandant "The Architects of Extermination" (limited digipack version, 2015) + "Promo 2015"

The promo mentioned in the post title features three tracks, all album versions (songs 2-4), so I mention it as a cool collector's item only.

The digipack version of The Architects of Extermination comes with a HUGE poster flag and a bonus track ("Killing Word"), which is interestingly placed in the middle of the album, suggesting to me an intention to include it in the first place. If it was simply a track that didn't fit on the album or wasn't in the same style/skill level of the album, it would make sense to place it last, as sort of an afterthought, avoiding album-flow interruption. This inclusion as a middle track makes me very curious to hear the track and speculate on the decision not to include it on the standard CD/LP version; if it didn't fit, it wouldn't be placed in the middle of the album, right?

So, back to packaging. The artwork looks very much like Soviet propaganda art, a perfect choice for the band's aesthetic. The lyrics are mostly unprinted, with some portions available in the booklet. See below image for some ideas about the type of imagery that accompanies Kommandant albums.

As I wait to press play on the album, I'm still hung up on the bonus track, hoping that "Killing Word" might be about Frank Herbert's Dune... we shall see!

1."Let Our Vengeance Rise" opens the album slowly and with much atmosphere building via ambient textures. It develops into a march, presumably as our vengeance rises and organizes. About halfway through, the vocals/guitars/bass/remainder of the drum kit deploy for a slow, heavy, discordant tone-setter.

2. "The Architects Of Extermination," bearing the album title's weight, starts strongly with feedback and vocal madness, as well as a catchy mid-90's Black Metal riff... it feels sort of French (ala Deathspell Omega perhaps). Also about halfway through, there's a song change as tracks drops out and the song becomes briefly very atmospheric and effects-laden, returning to its discordant, blackened meanderings rather quickly. Now that we've been introduced properly to the Architects, we can move on to:

3. "Oedipism" really brings forth an element that was more peripheral on the opening tracks; that of decadence and degeneration. The music is similar to the preceding tracks, but more discordant and eerie, though faster and more structured. It introduces a really demented riff change at 2:31 that seems like the twisted ramblings of madness as structure breaks down. This seems like it could relate to the madness inherent in the tale of ascendancy/decline of Oedipus in traditional Greek mythology. It could also have to do with some Freudian concepts regarding Ego, narcissism, sexual drive, and all sorts of conflict. In any case, I wish the lyrics were printed, but this song is quite deranged!

4. "Acquisition Of Power" returns to almost pure discordance, reminiscent of Blut Aus Nord's "The Work Which Transforms God." The drumming is also the fastest and most intense yet. It is as though the troubling psychological destruction of the last track has led us to a vicious, neurotic bid for power. The last 1:14 minutes are really intense, with a slow militant marching beat adding maximum heaviness.

5."Killing Word" changes pace, and is the most structured song on the album, it is highly syncopated, and feels most like some Industrial-Metal hybrid. Maybe Godflesh behind enemy lines, brainwashing foes. It feels like a march mixed with degeneration, with serpentine riffs and disorienting vocals. Perhaps the auditory equivalent of riding the Old Man Of The Desert high on spice? No, I'm not just reaching, I'm shark-jumping. But this is another bizarre, decadent/degenerate track.

6. "And Nation Shall Rise Against Nation" continues in the style of "Acquisition Of Power;" discordant, eeire, comparable to B.A.N., but this time slow, huge, and lumbering in sound. Perhaps like Nations rising against each other, ha! I like the title, very prophetic, in a Revelations kind of way.

7. "Rise And Fall Of Empire" feels like a third part to "Acquisiton/And Nation..." with more discordant guitars and eerie, disorienting guitars/bass/vocals. Seemingly following the eponymous Empire's rise and fall, the song builds until the last minute or so (of 7+) with clean, demented vocals over a fade-out of the other instruments.

8. "Onward To Extinction" follows a similar structure with a quiet beginning, building from a guitar solo (as in by itself, not frenetic string plucking), to a furious mid-bit and a quiet close-out. This track, however, is far more menacing, as it should be!

Overall thoughts: this album takes further the progression of 'The Draconian Archetype' towards less frenzied, more cold, atmospheric compositions. Less Marduk, more Cold Meat label deathly Industrial vibes. The production is much more obscure and actually heavier for its pace.

I feel we can look at Kommandant's catalog as a story; the earlier material is hungrier, fiercer, more militant. It is as though a new regime gathered its forces and launched an assault on listeners, by 'The Draconian Archetype' the regime had won and was taking over, seeking to control the masses. Now, in 'Architects' the supreme totalitarian dictator brainwashes the masses and degenerates into opulence. This new album feels more cerebral versus the more visceral earlier material. It is like an auditory, hallucinatory, subliminal propaganda terror-tactic. It takes a while to absorb, but makes an indelible mark; compared to the iron-gauntlet-to-the-face of, say, 'Stormlegion.' So what about "Killing Word?" It breaks up what I propose to be a quadrilogy of tracks (Acquisition/And Nation/Rise And Fall/Onward). It only makes sense to interject it if the whole album is a concept, then a supposed ruler (who recently acquired power) could in fact rise to such heights of fear and respect that his (or her) name alone could become the impetus for killing. Thus the track would fit here in the story... maybe.

Well, enough Asperger-esque hyper-focus and strangeness on my part (perhaps I've become just as demented as I find this release). I really like the album, and find Kommandant get more and more interesting to me with every release. I'm really excited to see them at Martyrdoom IV this November to experience how these new songs fit into the set and compare to the two times I've seen them previously. Perhaps more about the concept behind the tracks will be revealed via the material's live presentation. In any case, it should be incredible and intense.

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

Saturday, September 19, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Ectovoid "Dark Abstraction" (2015)

Birmingham, Alabama's Ectovoid return from the Other-realms to deliver another slab of demented Death Metal madness!

Ectovoid continue in the varicose vein of their previous LP and demo (they also have a live cassette), with heavier, crunchier guitar production and catchier drums with tighter songwriting. The lyrics continue to obsess over disembodiment, suspension of logic, and overall altered states of consciousness. I find that their lyrics remind me of the latter portion of William Hope Hodgson's 1908 novel, "The House on the Borderland." Fans of H.P. Lovecraft should check out this author, and of course, this band! No tentacle monsters, but plenty of weirdness and experiences beyond comprehension to humanity.

Musically, the band should please fans of Asphyx for their brutality, and guitar production; as well as Autopsy die-hards for their doomier elements and time signature changes. I find the drumming to be a mix of both bands' (Ectovoid has plenty of originality, which is why I like them, but I hear influences I share, which is also why I like them). Fans of Swedish and Finnish Death Metal bands of the late 80's/early 90's should be pleased as well.

The album is cohesive stylistically and all tracks satisfy, with opener "Obscene Altars" doing its job of introducing the album well, however two tracks really stand out, for me. These are "A Prisoner of Paradox" for menacing Autopsy vibes, judicious cymbal use, and HEAVY Sabbathian riff at its mid-point, not to mention a cool guitar solo. "Precipice Of Absolute Chaos" is another favorite and opens with some very slow riffs, conjuring images of someone tentatively approaching the eponymous chasm. This breaks to some ancient Death Metal stylings with an excellent cadaveric "UGH" and more apt cymbal punctuation. The main riff is quite catchy, the song has plenty of hooks, and also has a great closing guitar solo; short, twisted, and effective.

Let me make explicit that though this band can be compared to the aforementioned bands/styles, they are not clones and have their own style. I hear distinct development from Ectovoid's earlier releases, with a deadly Thrash edge creeping in to these songs, adding intensity to the compositions. If I had to use one phrase to sum up the band (and efficiently make several poorly-executed references at once), I'd say they are always reaching for one step beyond death, questing for the ultimate reality.

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

ALBUM REVIEW: Skepticism- "Ordeal" [Vinyl/DVD Edition] (2015)

Alright, so before reviewing the album itself, I'd like to discuss this edition. The album comes in CD+DVD and black, white, or splatter vinyl+DVD.

I obviously ordered the splatter vinyl version. So why the DVD? Well it seems I did misunderstand the guitarist of Skepticism at MDF when we discussed upcoming material. I thought he said that a live album, THEN a new album were going to be released on Svart Records. Turns out, the new album IS the live album. Let that sink in.

This is an album of new material, but recorded ENTIRELY LIVE. There is no 'studio' version of the album, the official version is forever this live performance. Imagine the pressure! "Ordeal" is certainly an appropriate title. The DVD included is the live show, however music videos for "Pouring" and "The March And The Stream" were made for the live versions played after the Ordeal set.

For those to whom Skepticism is already known, the music should come as familiar in style, certainly holding its own against their catalog of releases. For those unfamiliar, prepare yourself for extremely slow, somber, keyboard/organ-heavy Metal with dismal growls and laments. Often working on a formula of 'theme' development and return, Skepticism songs are haunting hymns of annihilation. I found this album to get better and better as it wove on, becoming heavier/more dense and disparaging towards continued self-existence in emotional impact with each song. Perhaps it was just the cumulative effect of the songs' weight.

As the music is very typical of the Skepticism sound, I will focus more on emotional impact and lyrics in this review.

Now for the new songs themselves. "You" and "Momentary" are the first two tracks and flow into one another musically. They appropriately occupy side A on the vinyl version. The lyrics to "You" can be interpreted a number of ways (like most on the album), but is clearly about longing. "Momentary" similarly could be interpreted a number of ways, but seems to be about crushing despair following a brief respite of joy. Perhaps this is the joy of the longing fulfilled albeit all too briefly, leaving a more turbulent waking in its passing.

The vinyl B side and next movement of the album contain "The Departure" and "March Incomplete." So, "The Departure" lyrically presents a paradox of loss; when something departs, it also arrives. Much personal interpretation could be made, but I would like to think it's an ode to fans and friends that have stuck by the band and its members through their own trials. "March Incomplete" also flows right out of the previous track, musically and lyrically (again, this is played live so that >15 minutes of playing with no rest or mistakes!). "March Incomplete" is more of a story about unfinished writing that develops into an existential ponderance on the value of completing a goal or letting it die. Perhaps continuing the story from the first two tracks, "The Departure/March Incomplete" tell the difficulty of dealing with loss, deciding whether it's worthwhile to continue onwards. Matti's scream of "It's an ordeal!" really punctuates this.

The album's next movement answers "March Incomplete"'s question in the following track, "The Road." Lyrically the track is about unwavering dedication to a path, despite opportunity and desire to (de)cease. Matti bleakly adds that "for the journey, I will not be known." What a great anthem for those of us bearing burdens, suffering in silence! Although I enjoy and can deeply empathize with the lyrics to all the tracks, this one is my favorite. It really speaks to where I am and have recently been in my life.
That said, the appropriately-named "Closing Music" track is my favorite musically. It begins with a (funeral) march, building in dynamics, atmosphere, and heaviness to Matti's closing, spoken, remark, "There is only silence!" This brilliant closure finishes a track that is rather clearly about being borne by pallbearers in your casket to the grave site, then becoming fully interred under the earth. "The Road" and the album are indeed completed.

Presumably after a respite and much celebrating, Skepticism closes out the album with excellent live performances of previously released classics, "Pouring" and "The March And The Stream."

Hopefully this album draws you into Skepticism's world and gets you digging into their catalog for more. I feel extremely lucky to have seen them at MDF and hope to get another chance sometime soon. Until then, commiserate along with 'Ordeal.'

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*