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Posts Tagged ‘comparative’

Enslaved – Frost (1994)

folder.jpgEvery band has their difficult albums. By the standards of Enslaved’s early career (pre-2000 or so), I’d say Frost is their point of peak inaccessibility. While it still clearly belongs to the drawn out, ritualistic and vaguely symphonic take on black metal that stereotyped Enslaved in their earlier days, it’s also the beginning of a push towards a more aggressive and direct approach. Without much in the way of Eld‘s obvious progressive rock-isms or Blodhemn’s terse blasts of intensity at all costs, Frost is surprisingly frosty. At least that’s appropriate.

If you ask me, Frost‘s challenges compared to other Enslaved albums boil down primarily to its increased dissonance and emphasis on aggressive, angular sounding riffs. While it takes a few minutes of deceptively calm albeit aesthetically appropriate intro to get to this point, the first actual track (“Loke”) puts all of Frost‘s cards on the table – by retaining the core elements from previous albums but also providing more moments of blasting intensity, we end up with a more dynamic album. It certainly feels like the songs here are more diverse and varied than before,  even if part of that is simply their greater numbers coming to bear. Usually, when a band expands on their formulas like this, I call it an improvement. I imagine most of my readers are expecting that judgement from me about now, but remember how I described Frost as challenging?

When I say Frost is one of Enslaved’s more difficult albums, I’m speaking from personal experience. I did not care for or understand these songs when I first listened to them. Things have certainly changed since then, to the point that I can derive some enjoyment from Enslaved’s approach here and otherwise view this as something other than an eldritch monstrosity in the band’s discography. I still won’t deny that it took me a while to warm up to Frost, and some of the complaints my past self had still hold weight with my present self. These are mostly related to how the songs are written; the main problem is that Frost stumbles and stutters when it comes time to transition between song sections. A lot of bands seem to go through phases where they struggle to unite ideas into a coherent whole. This wasn’t a problem on Vikingligr Veldi and before, but the Enslaved that wrote that was more interested in writing songs focused on ambience and gradual evolution, and as a result it was easier for them to make sound decisions there.

Most of Frost‘s difficulty does seem to result from it being an especially liminal album in a discography that’s not exactly prone to repeating itself. Still, if you want to hear the band’s roots performed with more vigor and grit than before, this is probably the best place to go.

Highlights: “Fenris”, “Yggdrasil”, “Jotunblod”

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Gargoyle – Kaikoroku (1992)

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1992 might not be quite accurate for this recording. Kaikoroku is a quick little EP of rerecorded tracks from Gargoyle’s earliest days (i.e the late 1980s), brought up to the production and instrumentation standards of its contemporaries. If I hadn’t learned about this prior to listening, I’m not sure I would’ve figured it out from listening alone, since the revisions make for tracks that fit in almost seamlessly with the rest of Gargoyle’s early discography, except perhaps for having fewer obvious musical asides. More importantly, Gargoyle’s power/thrash metal core is present and running at full power on this EP, so your little trip down (a revised version) of memory lane should be a pleasant one.

Even though we know where it fits in the chronology, it’s hard to say exactly where Kaikoroku fits in the grand scheme of Gargoyle. After some consideration, I’ve decided that at least of the albums I’ve listened to, it feels like a middle ground between many of the trends Gargoyle exemplifies. While I’d definitely like to hear more extremely fast, intense material along the lines of Furebumi, this EP doesn’t exactly slack. In fact, with the exception of the midpaced “Dying Message”, I’d say it’s more consistently fast and furious than the studio albums that immediately surround it. If you’re like and you want to hear that from Gargoyle, you’ll agree that it’s a good thing. You’ll also get the band’s skillful use of consonant melody to enhance songwriting depth.

Since Kaikoroku is almost as stereotypically Gargoyle as you’ll get (and I therefore expect it to appeal to you directly to the degree that you appreciate the band), you might be wondering what the point of listening to Gargoyle in the first place is. It comes down to a few factors, again assuming an interest in their general substyle. First of all, they’ve got an insanely charismatic vocalist in Kazuhisa “Kiba” Tochihara, who fills these albums with his barks, growls, screams, and occasional softer singing. Think Lemmy from Motörhead, only more so. They’ve also managed to acquire their share of skilled guitarists, who excel particularly at writing diverse sets of riffs and stringing them together into songs. Furthermore, while the band usually sticks to standard pop/rock songwriting, they have a knack for pacing and adopting this to the demands of metal instrumentation. As I mentioned in previous reviews, it took them a while to master the softer stuff, but since that’s not exactly present here… it’s not a problem.

While I wouldn’t put it above Furebumi, the Kaikoroku EP is still a compact (sharp?) high point in their early discography, and it would at least make a good second acquisition.

Highlights: “Hunting Days”, “Jaaku”

Mithras – On Strange Loops (2016)

a4112459181_10.jpgSome months ago, I wrote about a band I like to describe as the “bastard sons of Mithras“; it wasn’t long after that the actual Mithras released their own followup to Behind the Shadows Lie Madness. To get it out of the way – Mithras clings to their signature sound here, with the obligatory reminder that doing so isn’t innately anything. Sounds like an open and shut case of ‘more of the same’, doesn’t it? I noticed after extended listening that On Strange Loops does in fact resemble its predecessor on a broad level. The small changes it makes to the Mithras formula are enough to make for a smoother, but otherwise broadly similar listening experience.

On average, I appear to mention a band streamlining their music every 3-4 months, and that’s exactly what happened on On Strange Loops. Mithras has always had a pretty obvious lineage from Morbid Angel, albeit with a less seethingly chaotic and more melodic take on that signature sound. The melodies are now more prominent than before, but without any boost to the harmonic backing, you’ve still got the sparse but consonant riffing that defines Mithras. You still get heavily effect-driven (“spacey”) leads on a frequent basis to keep your attention and feed you ear candy. The only really new element here compared to the last album is the addition of clean singing. This is more for dramatic effect than anything, but it’s still a neat addition that opens up some new songwriting possibilities. If you’re familiar with previous Mithras material, you won’t hear much out of the ordinary here.

Ironically, if I had simply went straight from the last Mithras recording to this one, I probably would’ve given this album a conditional recommendation and moved on. Instead, the aforementioned Sarpantium had to muck things up with Blessed Be My Brothers. Its sin (if you can even call it that) was to show us all how the Mithras formula could be improved. While I wouldn’t label that recording a complete triumph due to some flaws in its song construction, it adds enough improvements and shares enough performing musicians that as far as I’m concerned, it gets to usurp On Strange Loops as the true successor to Mithras’ legacy. This album is almost threadbare in comparison. In the strictest sense, I shouldn’t be judging one recording on another, but in practice, my critiques and analyses are informed by the sum of my experiences. That means that staying the course and making minor adjustments/improvements isn’t enough to keep Mithras afloat anymore. The goalposts have moved, folks.

Highlights: “The Statue on the Island”, “Part The Ways”, “Time Never Lasts”

Summoning – Dol Guldur (1996)

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It took two albums for Summoning to find their sound. After that… they persisted. Dol Guldur won’t shock you if you’ve acclimated to the signature approach of Minas Morgul. Instead, it continues those sounds, refines them, and streamlines out some of the silliness of its predecessor. The similarities, in short, are numerous enough to make judging whether one of these albums is better than the other a difficult task. Is it even worth the effort? Ultimately, you’re here, I keep a regular schedule on Invisible Blog, and that’s why you’re reading about Dol Guldur.

To be fair, Dol Guldur makes some significant changes to how Summoning sounds, but it does so in ways that aren’t immediately obvious and didn’t occur to me until I’d digested the album. Probably the biggest actual change from Minas Morgul on this album is that Summoning has doubled down on the slow, even doomy tempoes. Minas Morgul wasn’t exactly caffeinated overall, but it had a few sections of blastbeats and such that made for more varied pacing. Dol Guldur‘s more heroic sections have a ponderous, almost contemplative sound to them, whereas the darker tracks turn into funeral dirges. Meanwhile, the guitarwork that binned Summoning alongside black metal acts has been scaled back in favor of more keyboard orchestra; for better or worse, they’ve upgraded their sound patches so they don’t sound quite as low budget/kvlt. All of this adds up to a sound that’s less stereotypically like the band’s black metal origins, and in some ways more like a hypothetical score to a Lord of the Rings film. At the very least, this explains the OVAs on Youtube.

Even if the sounds have changed, Dol Guldur is written in a similar fashion to its predecessor, or at least that album’s slower sections. The arrangements continue to imitate the motifs of an orchestra as much as the instruments themselves, and relatively simple playing technique is matched by more depth in the song structures. I suspect, however, that the songwriting takes more of an ambient form than even before. First, I noticed that tracks here simply fade out, whereas on Minas Morgul they had more sharply delineated endings. That on its own would be a trivial difference, but when combined with the tempo shifts, reduced guitar, and generally lengthier songs, it points to something changing deep within the heart of Summoning. Without deep listening to even more Summoning albums, I can’t really say if this is a trend that would continue, but it does seem like I was able to shed a light on exactly how Dol Guldur differs from its predecessor after all.

Despite all of this, the two albums aren’t enormously different, and fans of one are almost certainly going to appreciate the other as well. My initial reaction was to favor Dol Guldur for its polish and depth, but in recent years I can also make a case for the variety that Minas Morgul brings to the table. I suppose you could just listen to both of them and make your own decision as to which one pulls ahead.

Highlights: “Nightshade Forests”, “Elfstone”, “Unto a Long Glory…”

Univers Zero – Ceux du Dehors (1981)

Ceux+du+Dehors+cover.jpgDoes Ceux du Dehors (which I usually refer to by its translated English name, “The Outsiders”, because I can’t tell French from fromage) have an identity of its own? I can hear the most rabid of Univers Zero’s fans calling for my blood for suggesting it, but you can’t deny that its approach is somewhere between the albums it’s chronologically sandwiched between. I couldn’t tell you why that ended up happening, but gradual evolution perhaps isn’t unheard of. If I had to be more specific, I’d offer that Ceux du Dehors instrumentally takes more after 1313 than Uzed, but it offers some of the streamlining and lighter tone of the latter while also absorbing some of the nightmarish seething chaos of Heresie. In short, it’s at least a good jumping off point for exploring this band, at least if you value getting a little of everything they did in early on.

It might just be the instantaneous introduction of “Dense”, but what I’ve noticed about Ceux du Dehors is that it emphasizes speed and technical playing to an extent that seems unprecedented in Univers Zero’s work. While UZ hasn’t put out a halfheartedly performed album to the best of my knowledge, it still makes for an interesting divergence from the norm. A few tracks showcase a more lethargic, ominous style for counterpoint and balance, and even “Dense” trades in its density of notes for density of oppression for its sludgy coda. I don’t particularly have an opinion on whether the enhanced technicality is a good thing, but it it does seem to be this album’s calling card.

If you aren’t willing to check out Ceux du Dehors on account of velocity alone, though, then what reason is there to check it out? If you asked me, I’d say this is where Univers Zero finally figured out how to write effective shorter songs, which has to count for something. On “Bonjour Chez Vous”, for instance, they abandon the pointless noodling of earlier efforts to write something that feels more focused and coherent. It’s probably also worth noting that this attempt ends up sounding more consonant and melodic than a lot of preceding Univers Zero pieces – as previously mentioned, this is a trend that would continue in their later material.

Being so archetypal does remove a lot of its potential for distinctiveness, but if you’re at all interested in Univers Zero, you’ll most likely find Ceux du Dehors to be just as essential as their other albums. The high standards the band sets continue here.

Highlights: “Dense”, “La Corne Du Bois Des Pendus”, “Combat”

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”

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”