Sunday, August 30, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Controlled Bleeding/Sparkle In Grey (Split)- "Perversions Of The Aging Savant" [CD & Digital Editions] (2015)

So I discovered this release after poking around on the Controlled Bleeding facebook and decided to give it a whirl. For those unfamiliar, Controlled Bleeding (and founding member Paul Lemos) have had a widely varied career, but perhaps are best known for noisy industrial assaults, ambient passages, and Wax Trax!/Nettwerk type Industrialized EBM. I was previously unfamiliar with Sparkle In Grey, prior to purchasing this album. You can order physical copies (digipack CD, limited to 300 copies, some signed by Paul Lemos) or digital downloads here. The split has 10 tracks, 6 for Controlled Bleeding, 4 for Sparkle In Grey, with the CD and digital versions having 1 unique bonus track from each artist. That means each release has 12 tracks, with 14 total available for purchase from this split/session. I bought the CD, was pleased, and downloaded the 2 tracks unique to the digital version.

The split is broken up into 2 parts, the 1st being "The Perks of Being a Perv" AKA the Controlled Bleeding section. The 'Intro' track has some chill acoustic guitar devolving into bizarre bongo and distorted voice madness, followed by the head-bobbing drive of 'Garage Dub;' a bass guitar riff droning behind some snazzy jazzy drums and a reverbed-to-psychedelic-fuzzed-out guitar lead that's quite exceptional. I haven't heard anything quite like it this side of 60's Germany. Maybe I'm just ignorant of experimental rock post-'Krautrock' movement, but this definitely felt like it could belong to that time and mindset. 'Spingtime In Brooklyn' is a tender and calming keys and tripped-out guitar type of tune. I really dig it, but my version of springtime in Brooklyn (having lived here for 4+ years) would be far angrier, probably much more in line with the vibe of the next track, 'Perks Pt. 1' which is a nasty Merzbow-meets-Throbbing Gristle noise-punishment endurance test. This is followed by the mildly noise-to-calming guitar-jazz ambience of 'Birdcanned Pt.1.' Good come down there, with just enough variance to keep you paying attention for the next track. 'Birdcanned Pt. 2' starts with distorted chicken vocals leading into demented near-No-Wave jazz insanity.

Sparkle in Grey take the helm next with 'The Rant Of The Idiot Savant- Idiot Savant Pt.1-4.' Pt. 1 is tender keys and strings with strange found-sound background textures that feel like slipping into a depressive fugue in a haunted house. Pt. 2 takes it into a more beautiful direction, perhaps as the fugue turns into personal fantasy with lots of strings, subtle keys, and interesting percussion. I say interesting because the recording sounds very low-fi, adding some dirt to the otherwise very clean track. Perhaps the very grounding element of percussion, time-keeping, prevents the track from pulling away from reality entirely. It seamlessly flows into Pt. 3 which keeps most of the same elements, except they become eclipsed by terrifying noise bits that would be most unsettling to listen to in the dark, alone. It's like the suspension from reality's distractions begun in Pt. 1 has now lead to hellish introspection, personal demons loosed over a near-pristine daydream. The track drops elements out until it's reduced to only keys for a somber and lonely finish. Pt. 4 takes a new direction with a loud, wet bass drum and jangly guitars. The suspense is higher if you've listened all the way through Pt.'s 1-4, as you don't know what might come next. It slowly builds and adds/subtracts elements, never really reaching a hard climax, but satisfying nonetheless, finishing with a reduction to only a jangly guitar and then many seconds of silence. Perhaps this is the sound of working through and resolving underlying psychological issues uncovered with by a meditative fantastic-turned-phantasmagoric fugue through music. May your experience be so enlightening.

BONUS TRACKS (AKA 'Extra Perversions'):
CD Version: Sparkle In Grey 'Melvano Pt. 1'- combines eerie strings, bongos, cymbals, and found-sound water samples to produce disturbing atmosphere.

Controlled Bleeding 'Live In Brooklyn, 2012'- more psychedelic guitar riffs and textures. Dreamy, transcendent, highly recommended.

Digital Version: Sparkle In Grey 'Iurop Pt. 2'- an instrumental track containing more strings and jangly guitar over jazzy drums (recorded in a dirty low-fi style). It feels very chill yet energizing; it's refreshing like a cool drink on a hot day. It's really a great track but wouldn't have fit in the 'Savant' progression on their portion of the split. Definitely worth picking up if you enjoyed their tracks on the split proper.

Controlled Bleeding 'Untitled Trang Song'- a really fun song that's easy to dance to and very upbeat in composition. It's basically some pleasant female vocals with a repeating progression over jazzy drums and bass lines, with some fuzzy, tripped out guitar making its appearance towards the end. It's a bit repetitive, but the repeated bits work so well that I can't get enough of them; the portions which deviate make the return more powerful.
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Overall, a great release to put on and chill out to, I like to use it to wake up while I'm exercising or walking in the morning with the rising sun. It's varied enough that it keeps my attention but not so abrasive that I have to give it my full attention; I bob along with its passages as I move about doing whatever else. For me, this will be a release that I don't put on every day, but when I want it, nothing else will do.

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

Saturday, August 22, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Tau Cross "Tau Cross"

Another awesome super-group collaboration for 2015 (see my upcoming posts on Gruesome and Johansson & Speckman), Tau Cross most notably (to me) combines the mighty D-beats of Away on drums and on loan (from space-thrashers Voivod) with the stirring vocals of Rob "The Baron" Miller of crust godfathers Amebix.

I ordered the colored vinyl version (orange and green splatter) that adds to the atmosphere of the cover photo, setting a tone of Autumn, of fulfillment, death, and preparation for rebirth; which are common lyrical themes on the album.

 "Lazarus" kicks off the album with a crustier sounding Killing Joke riff that Voivod space-prog-ified. In other words, EXACTLY what you want in this album. Minor chords add some darkness and early Death Rock undercurrents mixed with recent Amebix stylings. Prepare to sing along when the Baron bellows out the chorus, LAAZARUUUS!!!!

"Fire In The Sky" opens with a brief keyboard intro and drops the guitar, but fast. The riff and keyboard/guitar interplay make for another catchy song.

"Stonecracker" baffles and delights me in that the riff feels like an Amebix appropriated KMFDM riff (specifically I'm thinking "A Drug Against War" and "Light"). Away's hammering is very 80's here, and I love every second of it.

"Midsummer" is depressive as hell with another great Baron-chorus to stretch your vocal chords on. Some more Killing Joke beats and flavor surface towards the end of the track before bridging back to the main riff progression.

"Hangman's Hyll" gives us another depressive sing along, you'll be remembering all your lost and dead friends, tearing up. Practically guaranteed. Should be on the cover with a warning sticker, methinks. The vocals here sound a bit muppet-ish at times, which is always a bonus for me, even if they sound more Bert than Cookie Monster.

"We Control The Fear" relies mostly on acoustic guitar riffs with some electric guitar and drums adroitly inserted to punctuate central moments.

"You People" feels more like Tau Cross did a mid-period Prong cover, not too fast, decent chorus, but not my favorite from the album.

"Prison" has some more Killing Joke vibes mixed with early Voivod (say, "Rooaar") drumming and gang vocals. Pretty solid.

"Sons Of The Soil" has some trippy guitar/synth effects behind the Baron's rasp until the Muppet-vocals return. A very slow, pensive song. Minimal aggression but quite enjoyable.

"The Lie" picks it back up but I find it to be the weakest song on the album, the least memorable.

"Our Day" has a minute-and-a-half of buildup before breaking into some decent speedin' an' hollerin' but also not my favorite track.

"The Devil Knows His Own" closes the album out with some depressive Baron-vocals and acoustic guitar, not much else (excepting a cello). This would have worked much better if the previous songs were stronger, but the second half of the album brings you back to earth while the first casts you into the sky, perhaps now ready for the long hibernation of winter, until the next harvest of this very exciting collective.

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

CONCERT REVIEW: High On Fire, Pallbearer, Lucifer, Venomous Maximus at Irving Plaza, Saturday August 15th, 2015

I know it's been a while since I've posted much, but I promise I've got a ton of album reviews in the caverns, ready to spread their wings and spread aural rabies via your computer screen. Life has also been super busy but it's stabilizing now. Why so personal for this post? Well, it was a personal show. I've already seen High On Fire (with Goatwhore, great show!) and Pallbearer (twice), so why so special? Company. There's nothing like sharing a show with a friend (especially one you don't get to see often), both rocking out like idiots to some great tunes. If you can throw in some great pre-/post-show food (we did), then better still.

So, all that in mind (and likely now forgotten), let's move on to the actual review. Venomous Maximus played an energetic set, but I found the traditional Heavy Metal riffs a bit too dull. Their best feature was their frontman and rhythm guitarist, he needs a filthier, speedier Motorband behind him and his career is SET.

Lucifer delivered some (to me) uninspired 'occult' Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, very much still in vogue. I found great amusement in their practice of explaining song titles like "Morning Star" and "Azrael." If you don't know what these terms traditionally mean, you've got a LOOOONG way to go down the occult path my friend. Perhaps they are a good gateway band. To each their own (lefthand?) path I suppose.

Pallbearer continue to bore and frustrate me. I can really dig an act that has a slow burn, a huge buildup (see Black Shape of Nexus, a SUPER slow German Noise/Doom band), but there has to be a payoff! Pallbearer zigs when I want them to zag, seemingly dropping the casket at the least opportune time. Or, perhaps a more accurate metaphor, considering my Death Metal proclivities, Pallbearer drops the casket right into the hole, delivers a brief sermon and everyone goes home. No casket-smashing leaving a rotting corpse exposed to the rainy, storm-ridden elements; no tombstone-crushing hammering, no Mausoleum-heavy atmosphere,. Though I will say that their vocal harmonics are tighter now.

THEN, FINALLY, High On Fire. Their set was fairly heavy on the heavies, meaning faster songs. Their sound was spot on, better than the albums, especially for older releases. Perhaps it was the power trio, or the excellent sound, or maybe Matt Pike's new facial hair, but a distinct Motorvibe was in the air, and I picked up on more Motorhead influences in the songs than I had previously noted. And about Matt Pike... what a fantastic performance! I've even seen Sleep twice, and this was BY FAR his best performance. His playing was tight and the solos were incredible! If you have even a passing interest in his work, go see High On Fire on this tour!

In the spirit of making briefer, more focused posts, I'll leave you with that, hopefully tantalized and drooling enough to go see High On Fire, even if just for them (like me) and take a buddy, make it a night (also like me), and other commands (to be just like me)!

*Review copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*