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Posts Tagged ‘aesthetic’

Mysticum – Planet Satan (2014)

Mysticum - Planet Satan artwork

When we last left Mysticum, they were preparing the release of Planet Satan. In the interrim, I managed to convince myself that this album didn’t come out until 2016, and that therefore it was a reasonable but overlooked choice for my DMU tenure. Instead, it’s been available since 2014, so I’m definitely behind the times here. You can therefore consider this review something of an attempt to fix a hole in my backlog.

Planet Satan is basically what Mysticum’s previous album should’ve been – better produced and mixed. I say this with full awareness of black metal musicians’ affinity for lo-fi recordings. Sometimes, that’s a desirable trait. In Mysticum’s case, though, the “industrial” aesthetic is better served by a cleaner sound. It isn’t entirely pristine, to be fair – Planet Satan‘s production channels much of its predecessor’s trebly hiss, but on equivalent stereo equipment the end result is more balanced and louder. The vocals are the major benefactor here – the screams and thickly accented ranting here are prominent enough in the mix to drive songs, but everything else has been boosted, making for an overall better sounding recording.

To be fair, there isn’t much on this album that would sound out of place on In The Streams of Inferno¬†if it’d been recorded on the same equipment as that effort. I want to say that the songwriting here is more coherent, but this is a very minor change at best. The songs actually feel more compact despite the album’s greater length, although I’m not sure if that’s just a result of them grabbing my attention more effectively. One thing that is for certain is that there are fewer abrupt asides, and that when new instrumentation is introduced, it’s integrated into the actual songwriting more effectively. These aren’t especially complicated songs, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the overall rhythmic simplicity makes for a strange, inexplicable effect at times (is this, perhaps, the psychedelia that people have been claiming Mysticum channels for the last few years?). On the other hand, I consider it a good thing that a so-called industrial black metal album strikes a balance between a mechanical aesthetic and the other moods I typically associate with black metal – blasphemy, hellfire, derangement, etc. That last bit is probably Mysticum’s true strength, and one that not many bands have been able to capture on their own terms.

In short, Planet Satan pretty much obsoletes everything else Mysticum has created, by virtue of being essentially the same but shinier. Some bands lose crucial elements of their sound when they try to refine it, but not this band.

Highlights: “LSD”, “Far”, “Fist of Satan”

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King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (1974)

folderYou know what? Let’s keep the ’70s binge going. King Crimson has exerted a massive influence on my listening habits… and perhaps some on my composing habits as well. They pushed me simultaneously towards progressive rock and heavy metal, and I can safely say I have listened to more of their discography than people that haven’t listened to as much of their work as I have. That almost means something.

Starless and Bible Black lands square in the middle of what is usually considered King Crimson’s golden age. The band made free improvisation a major part of their sound in the mid-1970s, and that is particularly emphasized on this album. Much of it, in fact, is constructed from (slightly edited) live recordings from the band’s concerts. Some of the simpler, more orderly tracks were constructed in a recording studio, but this remains something very close to a live album except for its basis in original material. However, Starless and Bible Black‘s improvisations are unusually coherent (if not necessarily orderly) given how they were constructed from nothingness. There’s two keys to this – first, the aforementioned editing, but secondly and more importantly, the instincts of the musicians. Percussionist Bill Bruford and bassist/vocalist John Wetton play a major role in providing solid backing for the rest of the band to play over, although they’re not afraid to occasionally disrupt that role. Ironically, “Trio” showcases Bruford doing absolutely nothing and earning credit for “admirable restraint”; the result is a fairly noncharacteristic and soft ballad.

Even in their improvisations, King Crimson does not stray too far from typical rock and jazz sounds, but on this album (along with its predecessor and successor), they reach decibelage and drama levels comparable to a great deal of early heavy metal music. This, however, is mostly at the edges; Starless and Bible Black is also a very subdued album at times. Its dynamic range is perhaps to be expected given its genre, but some of the extremes (such as “The Mincer”, which is soft and foreboding) are particularly interesting, as they often shade into significant dissonance and other things that press my musical buttons. Still, the final song on this album (“Fracture”) serves as an excellent climax – it wraps up everything this incarnation of the band strived for in a neat, 11 minute package, and should be considered a career highlight for everyone involved in its production. I have strong feelings about it in particular; I think it was what sealed me as a fan of the band. I also managed to get the ‘Stealth Legend’ achievement in Audiosurf by playing Ninja Mono with it, but that’s another story. Even on its own, it would be worth the price of admission. However, this album does have a lot to offer to progressive rock fans, especially those in favor of King Crimson’s ‘improvisatory’ period.

Highlights: “Lament”, “The Night Watch”, “Starless and Bible Black”, “Fracture”