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Posts Tagged ‘aesthetics’

Re-Review: Monstrosity – Millennium (1996)

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/KZc1qAFCMyA/maxresdefault.jpgTime sure flies, doesn’t it? Millennium had the honor (?) of being the topic of my first non-introductory post on Invisible Blog, therefore predating pretty much all of the traditions I established over the years. My opinions on it have evolved over the years, but I figured it might be good to give this a more informed and more detailed look given just how long it’s been since I first listened to this. After all, my initial rationale for listening was entirely due to this being the spawning point for George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, who promptly joined Cannibal Corpse after recording this album.

Compared to Cannibal Corpse, at least their contemporary albums, Millennium showcases a more clinical, technical take on death metal, favoring intricate rhythmic interplay and a hint of melody. It’s definitely not the faster, looser style that CC seems to have preferred at the time. In fact, I still think Deicide, especially on Legion is a closer match for this substyle of death metal, at least on a deep structural level. Monstrosity unfortunately has to labor under a deeper, bassier, muddier production that I don’t feel is particularly well matched to this specific style. To be fair, the mixjob is competent and actually shines on the slower parts of this album (in particular, “Fragments of Resolution”), but to push the Legion analogy further, I’d apply that album’s overall sound to this one in a heartbeat if I could.

Despite my initial lunge for Monstrosity’s music, Millennium took more time to gel in my brain than initially expected. Despite out-teching most of its apparent inspiration from the early ’90s, this is still a sparse sounding album that doesn’t have many gimmicks to distract from its death metallic bread and butter (the closest, perhaps, being occasional bass solos). When Monstrosity succeeds here, it’s because of a few things – first, they have a relatively expansive sense of songwriting – not full on prog, but varied enough to help keep the metal interesting. Corpsegrinder helps, too, although his expertise here is more in providing a standard death metal growl and doing it really well than being especially dynamic. This album’s MVP, however, is probably the drummer – one Lee Harrison who has briefly performed with a couple of more famous acts, but has generally spent his musician time here in Monstrosity. He exemplifies the instrumental prowess and varied performances that make Millennium worth a listen more than any of the other band members. I have to preface my praise of drummers with the claim that they usually don’t draw my attention, and this is no exception, but it does not in any way diminish his contributions to the skilled instrumentation that propels this album.

The novelty of Millennium‘s music and lineup have long since worn off, but ultimately, this album is solidly built, and it will hold your attention with (ironically) its attention to detail.

Highlights: “Devious Instinct”, “Manic”, “Mirrors of Reason”

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Jannick Top – Infernal Machina (2008)

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This is a Magma album in all but name. Jannick Top played bass for Magma for a few years before going off to form his own series of projects. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again –  performing with Magma has wide-reading and permanent effects on your musical approach, and in some cases may result in you forming your own band. Infernal Machina is admittedly separated from Top’s contributions to the band by over 30 years, but its similarities to its ancestor are no less for it, and zeuhl fanatics who haven’t already listened to it are probably already grabbing copies as we speak.

Inconveniently, Infernal Machina is broken up into twelve arbitrary sections, which make little sense in isolation. This isn’t unheard of for the Magma ecosphere, so it sets expectations – this album only really makes sense if you listen to a large chunk of it in one sitting. To be fair, you can reasonably break Infernal Machina into two or three sections (depending on your system of reckoning), but there are no real gaps in the tracks, so it’s best to assume a united composition. The pacing is admittedly quite slow – Jannick Top apparently relies even more on grooves and repetition and improvisation to drive his tracks than Christian Vander’s already jazz-funk inflected writing for Magma proper. Add to that a generally “heavier” sound from plenty of distorted rhythm guitar, hyperactive percussion, and the occasional dissonant wails (Part VI) and you have something that sounds very different from your stereotypical Magma album despite sharing much of its DNA.

In fact, Infernal Machina shares so much of its theming with its magmatic predecessors that it might be a crutch. The reuse and recontextualization of previous leitmotifs from Magma’s discography/mythology I can understand; I’d go as far as to say the mainline Magma members made excellent use of this on Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (this album’s rough contemporary, and the sole reason computers have a ‘copy’ function). That album was composed largely of previous Magma material that had already been recorded in chunks, but that worked because the enhanced production, careful transitions, and better pacing made everything gel together. It also helps that Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré emphasized the dramatic, dynamic side of Magma. Infernal Machina problematically falls short in terms of overall organization and coherence, though. At times, it feels like it relies more on the shock value of its relatively novel instrumentation than any real interesting content.

I was expecting to enjoy Infernal Machina rather more than what ended up happening, if only because it initially read as more ‘brutal’. Even stripped of those expectations, though, it still falls short as a continuation of Magma’s legacy. Those who want heavier zeuhl will have to look elsewhere.

Highlights: “Part VI”, “Part VII”, “Resolutio”

Enforcer – From Beyond (2015)

Enforcer-_From-Beyond.jpgOne of the weaknesses of my deluge of content at DMU is that if I wanted to get my review of an album out when people were still buzzing about it, I had to really book it. This didn’t give me a whole lot of time to analyze and digest the music. Case in point: Enforcer’s From Beyond. My initial appraisal was fairly positive – I was able to appreciate the album as a tribute to early ’80s traditional and speed metal, although with few aspirations beyond that. There are tons of competent rehashes of past metal glories these days, though. What does Enforcer bring to the table? Is it worth it? Why am I in the habit of ending the first paragraph of these reviews with a question?

The first sign Enforcer might be onto something good was the fact I put From Beyond into my listening rotation after its ‘review’ period. Admittedly, that might’ve just been because the total package is well polished, as previously mentioned. The album’s production is generally excellent; while there’s not much space for the bassist, everyone else is clear and audible. The distortion and overall aggression levels aren’t as intense as some of the recordings this one seems to channel, but they’re fine for the genre. The musicians here perform well, too – the guitar parts in particular catch my interest with their heavily ornamented riffing reminiscent of some of the more technical NWOBHM bands. I could poke some minor holes here, but Enforcer’s approach here is definitely viable for what they’ve set out to do.

Ultimately, what cinches the deal for me is that Enforcer is very good at writing pop metal, admittedly with (or perhaps because of) some occasional concessions to more complex and ambitious songwriting. They definitely stick to a set of basic formulas, and in particular to song title choruses like paste sticks to the teeth of kindergartners, but the execution is top notch. It inspires me to pull out my usual turns of phrase for when a band is good at writing pop music- “microvariations” in particular, and also a brief shout out to Enforcer’s ability to play in keys other than those their guitarists tune to. That shouldn’t be an issue for metal bands, but a lot of times it is, and in other recordings it often ends up bugging me more than it should. But that’s definitely not a problem here.

So I’m willing to say that Enforcer won my attention by doing their job really well. I wouldn’t be surprised if they built up their craft over their previous albums, and nor would I be surprised if any future work continued down this shining path.

Highlights: “Destroyer”, “Undying Evil”, “Below The Slumber”

Revolution Void – Increase the Dosage (2004)

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Here’s an album that’s very important to me for completely different reasons than usual! First of all, I discovered this band because someone decided their music ought to be in the Flash game Amorphous. Then I learned that they distributed their music free of cost through Jamendo, and tried to do the same for my own initial efforts. Then I dumped this album in the custom music folder for SimCity 4 and built a thousand metropoli to the backing of its electronic jazz fusion. It’s not exactly the usual path my music appreciation takes, but a little historical variety is worth it in the long run, if only for the stories it lets me tell.

So to get it out of the way, Increase the Dosage is a well mixed hybrid of jazz music and electronic music. It leans more towards the former by virtue of song structure and the overall style of instrumentation, as far as I’m concerned. The synthesizers, though, make for both a smoother (as in smooth jazz) and more aesthetically varied experience… they tend to do the latter in a lot of the content reviewed for Invisible Blog, don’t they? Overall, a relatively straight, if sometimes broken and complicated rhythm section and plenty of pads end up backing more improvisatory lead keyboards and brass. I’m not familiar enough with the modern jazz ecosystem to say how typical this is, but there’s no reason it can’t work. It’s definitely not the free-est jazz I’ve ever heard, but a solid backing section gives the solo parts on this album more space to work their magic. It takes a very different sense of band (read: King Crimson) to pull off completely improvised music, anyways.

If my decision to shuffle this soundtrack amongst the music of SimCity 4 wasn’t enough to tip you off, then let me make it explicit – I enjoy Increase the Dosage and think it’s a worthwhile album. The decay of my jazz knowledge since it peaked in middle school does make it hard for me to talk about specifics though. Two major aspects of this album stand out to make it particularly good. First, the music retains a good sense of overall structure, with good use of dynamics, rhythmic shifts, and similar to keep things varied without losing aesthetic coherence. This last bit is especially important because RV’s second major success is in fact building up an enticing atmosphere; everything here fits the ‘high tech cityscape’ feel that the album appears to be going for. It doesn’t strike me when a work of music’s strengths complement each other so directly that often, but it’s worth a note, and the album is worth a shot. Plus, you can legally download it for free on Jamendo. Surely it’ll be good enough that you upgrade that to some sort of fiscal support?

Highlights: “Factum par Fictio”, “Double the Daily Dose”, “Weekend Amnesia”

Blut Aus Nord – The Work Which Transforms God (2003)

the-work-which-transforms-god-53f308335a34a.jpgQuite a bold claim for an album title to be making, am I right? The Work Which Transforms God is the second of Blut Aus Nord’s “industrial” albums, taking the band’s mastery of otherworldly ambience and contorting it into unholy nightmares. As a general rule, it is dissonant where the band’s earlier works were consonant and melodic, chaotic where the previous ones were orderly, but it otherwise retains most of the musical language of those illustrious works. This juxtaposition of genres and the band’s success in keeping their dreamscapes alive are almost certainly the best reasons to give this one a shot, but is that enough?

The impression I get from The Work Which Transforms God nowadays is that it’s scatterbrained compared to its predecessors. This is mostly from a perspective of composition; TWWTG is unyieldingly consistent in its overall production – which tends clean and sterile with hints of dissonant wailing and gnashing of teeth in the distance (more on that later). It’s the songs that wander all over the place, cramming together every stylistic variant you can wring out of a black/industrial metal fusion. On some level, I suspect this makes for a shallower experience, but I’ve long since established that I’m a sucker for this sort of fusion. It’s an easy way for Blut Aus Nord to worm their way inside my head, even if the ‘industrial’ side of this album is more towards the crushing, sludgy, even monotonous sort of music popularized by bands like Godflesh.

In short, this is an album where I can’t really bring myself to accept what could actually be a pretty serious flaw because everything else pushes my buttons. I wonder what that says about me? The other elements really are on point, though. The ambience in particular is delightfully sick and twisted, and not even through especially arcane techniques, although the combination of dissonant riffing and broken beats is presumably harder to get working than more conventional techniques. Blut Aus Nord sometimes manages to recapture the songwriting prowess of their earlier work here, making for a few tracks that retain some value as I penetrate their dissonant depths. However, too much of this album either dissolves into incoherent nonsense, or otherwise stagnates into a death march (read: “Procession of the Dead Clowns”). That definitely wasn’t a problem before.

I guess it could be worse – I’ve heard that this album’s successor (MORT) goes completely off the rails. Is the lesson there that it’s good to have some boundaries in your creative efforts? Probably. The lesson in The Work Which Transforms God is (arguably) that you should be careful when experimenting not to lose sight of how to organize your results.

Highlights: “The Choir of the Damned”, “Axis”, “The Howling of God”

Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010)

folder.jpgI’ve labeled a couple of the albums I review on Invisible Blog to be ‘exaggerations’ of their predecessors and ancestors, but Eparistera Daimones might be the first I’ve covered where the creator (Tom Warrior of Celtic Frost fame) would definitely agree. I remember that my initiation into metal music came about the time that he started this project. Tom tells us that Triptykon was planned from day one to continue Celtic Frost’s overall approach on Monotheist, but was also intended to make things even heavier, darker, and more aggressive.  Sounds like an easy, crowd pleasing, almost populist plan! You know how those go.

Eparistera Daimones wastes no time stating its intent, leading off with the 11 minute “Goetia”, and following it up primarily with extended songs in a similar vein. This might not be the best idea, since Monotheism‘s monophony places some limits on the band’s songwriting options from the bat. Triptykon, being essentially Celtic Frost, though, at least recognizes this problem and uses the same differentiation techniques that its predecessor employed – massive dynamic shifts, vocal histrionics (male and female), tinges of electronics, and so forth. Despite all my claims of similarity, there are at least a few new ideas here, at least relative to this incarnation of Warrior’s musical efforts – “One Thousand Lies” comes to mind for its velocity in what is otherwise a funeral march of an album. Still, this one’s for the doom metal enthusiasts – if slow and crushing isn’t to your tastes, you face an uphill battle trying to acclimate to this one.

To be honest, I was expecting to be more critical of Eparistera Daimones in this review. Its failure to solve the systematic problems that plagued its predecessor are admittedly pretty damning. I think what undermined that impression, though, is the fact that it at least stays the course. It doesn’t add further flaws (which could’ve happened – this album was brought to you by some of the people who made Cold Lake), and at some points it even makes small refinements to the new Celtic Frost formula that help a bit with the overall results. In short, there’s nothing overtly and immediately wrong with this album, and I actually do like quite a few of the tracks here. I’m not sure I’d put it even on the level of Monotheist, though. Maybe I’m just being petty and removing imaginary internet points because this album is a redux, but there’s not much I can do about that, short of a concerted effort to be less arbitrary as a reviewer…

Highlights: “Abyss Within My Soul”, “One Thousand Lies”, “Myopic Empire”

Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers… (2015)

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Some months ago, I described Sarpanitum, at least on this album as a bastard child of Mithras, on account of the two bands sharing some members. At the very least, this incarnation sounds like it was influenced by Mithras; I lack the familiarity with this band’s previous album I’d require in order to extend that hypothesis. Blessed Be My Brothers was something I considered reviewing during my tenure at DMU, but I never got around to it, and in the end it fell on more critical ears than my own. A mere 18 months later, I can now write coherently about my experiences. In Invisible Blog terms, this is not all that much of a delay.

If you’re familiar with what Mithras sounds like, you’ll have reference for about half of what Blessed Be My Brothers does – this album shares the same base of Morbid Angel (Steve Tucker era in particular) flavored death metal with a wall of sound production and some ambient/psychedelic sounds mixed in. Sarpanitum’s major addition to this formula is a focus on consonant melodies… about half the time. They literally swap between the more percussive/atonal riffs and melodic ones on a regular basis. This is both a blessing and a curse – song sections are individually very strong, and when properly sequenced it makes for effective illustration of the album’s lyrical themes (the crusades in the Middle Ages); a clash of armies if you will. When it doesn’t work, though, Blessed Be My Brothers takes a turn for the random and nonsensical.

It looks like Sarpanitum ended up taking a more difficult path than its musical kinsmen. Usually, I would say that not resorting to genre bending is harder than the alternative, but Mithras was already engaged in this sort of thing to some extent; Blessed Be My Brothers just pushes it further. One thing I can say for sure is that this album made a very strong first impression on me – the mix of extreme death metal antics (with better, if admittedly more conventional vocals than the Mithras formula, too!) abruptly giving way to the metaphorical heavens opening at the 1:30 mark in “Glorification Upon the Powdered Bones of the Sundered Dead” is not the sort of technique I can easily resist. Sarpanitum puts in at least one of these in each song, and they were enough to hide the cracks in the compositions for quite a while. Even figuring out where the songwriting needed extra thought and care isn’t going to make these individual sections disappear. Ultimately, they’re enough for me to recommend this album, but who knows how much more shelf life this album has left in it?

Highlights: “By Virtuous Reclamation”, “Glorification…” (I am not copypasting that again), “Malek al-Inkitar”