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Posts Tagged ‘juxtaposition’

Igorrr – Savage Sinusoid (2017)

folder.jpgLongtime readers here at Invisible Blog may be familiar with my affinity for Whourkr and their breakneck electronic/metal fusion work. Gautier Serre seems to favor this permutation on those ideas nowadays, though. Like most Igorrr albums, Savage Sinusoid throws in a healthy portion of snooty French cafe music and whatever else comes to the musician’s mind, awing simpletons and hardening the arteries of reactionaries. Add to that a pair of histrionic vocalists, and you’ve got a robust formula for a recording that (at least initially) sounds like it has none. Talk about the Great Deceiver! My initial expectation for Savage Sinusoid was that it would sound at least somewhat like Serre’s earlier… …whourks, at least in the sense that it would draw on extreme metal technique to some extent. That turned out to be partially correct.

The album certainly puts its most metallic foot forwards with its opener – “Viande” focuses almost entirely on the processed guitars and high pitched screams that the Serreverse likes using to build metal music, but serves as more of an extended intro than a full fledged song. The sound collage kicks into full gear immediately afterwards, neatly summarizing Igorrr’s strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, the metaltronica is very much on point when present – even when you account for my personal preferences, mixing the two to create a chaotic and violent aesthetic seems to be a band specialty. The problem with Savage Sinusoid is that it also throws in (for all practical purposes) the entire history of Western art music for shits and giggles. These songs’ constant insistence on having something new for the listener robs even the more effective instances of their chances to develop. This is a pretty common problem with this approach, and it’s probably not going to stop anyone from trying, but I must continue to emphasize how common of a trap it is so that future generations may find a solution.

Savage Sinusoid does, however, have one particularly superlative element, in the performances of its dueling vocalists. Perhaps that should be two elements. Either way, they are a strong point, and apparently long term collaborators of Gautier Serre. His previous works have had skilled vocalists before (expect my reference to Whourkr’s debut full length Concrete to glow incandescent blue once I find the time to write about it), but having two who can pull off this many styles is at least technically impressive. They’re also very charismatic performances who do everything in their power to entertain us; I actually got to see the band live, and amongst other things, they spent much of their set dancing across the stage like Pornographer Cain. Anecdotes aside, these strong performances justify deeper listening to songs here that would otherwise come off as ridiculous and nonsensical.

So maybe the album does come off as goofy at times – I deserve to have some fun in my life, right?

Highlights: “Houmous”, “Opus Brain”, “Cheval”, “Apopathodiaphulatophobia”

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Disharmonic Orchestra – Not to Be Undimensional Conscious (1992)

not to be undimensional conscious.jpgOnce upon a time, Austria was the center (figurative, not geographic) of a large and powerful empire ruled by the house of Habsburg. Now, it’s the birthplace of one of the most confoundingly named albums in the history of humanity. Despite this, Not to Be Undimensional Conscious isn’t half as strange as its name might suggest; it takes the form of a musically adventurous death metal album with fewer trips into the bizarre and obviously avant garde than you might expect. In short, while the brief rapping section in “The Return of the Living Beat” begs to differ, Disharmonic Orchestra has more in common here with the planet’s contemporary techdeath offerings.

Not to Be Undimensional Conscious gets to join the ever growing armada of obviously liminal albums reviewed here on Invisible Blog. A lot of this is because its more sanely named successor (Pleasuredome) was the sort of more experimental recording this one’s name lead me to expect, but signs of that future were already present here. This album is driven by its tension between the chunky, abrasive mix and its convoluted, strange writing. The album sounds clear enough that its angular riffing and abrupt song transitions can shine forth, but I can’t help but wonder if it might’ve been better served by a cleaner and more orchestrated sound. Spheres by Pestilence makes for a good comparison, but Disharmonic Orchestra isn’t trying to push the envelope quite as far here.

Ultimately, if you want to enjoy DO #2, you need to be able to attune to its take on death metal. If you like constant code switches between the band’s death/grind roots and the more bizarre and dissonant riffs, you’ll probably have a good foundation for appreciating what they’re trying to do with their songwriting. I feel like the rest of the package isn’t especially notable, though. The possible aesthetic mismatch is one thing, but this album has some of the most acceptable performances I’ve ever heard without pushing into meaningfully good territory. It’s not studio perfect, but it’s reasonably close by the standards of 1992. About the best I can say is that there’s prominent basswork, and a decent chunk of variety in the percussion. The weak point is probably the vocalist – Patrick Klopf has a good mid-ranged death growl, but he doesn’t do much to vary it in even subtle ways, making for a monotonous performance. Oddly enough, this stood out the most on my initial listens, perhaps for its unending cadence.

In recent years, Not to Be Undimensional Conscious strikes me as the foundation for a good death metal album – something you could elaborate on and expand to get something both interesting and pleasingly skull-crushing. Without that extra effort, though, you’re left with something bland at best.

Highlights: “A Mental Sequence”, “Groove”, “Idiosyncrasy”

Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975)

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Nothing to see here, folks. Just one of the most famous rock albums of all time. Odds are that if you’ve spent a significant amount of time in the Anglosphere, you’ve at least heard “Bohemian Rhapsody”, though I’ve my doubts as to whether you can safely listen to the rest of this album without being hunted down by vengeful radio executives seeking to enforce ever greater homogeneity on their audiences… aside from that, this is still a continuation of Queen’s previous albums. A Night At The Opera‘s major achievement in that context is to ratchet up the prog rock side of Queen’s sound to what is probably a career high. Progressive rock is good, so that’s good, right?

For what it’s worth, A Night At The Opera isn’t far removed from previous Queen albums despite the shift in its emphases. You’re still getting an experience that balances precariously on the edge of its own hard rock edge (!) and its glammy pomp and circumstance, but the arrangements have become more elaborate than before. “Bohemian Rhapsody” really is the album in miniature, seguing from (amongst other things) piano ballad to an elaborate vocal “opera”, with some heavier rock sections gluing everything together for good measure. Again, this overall style of composition wasn’t new for Queen, but this album does showcase a more cohesive take on this sort of genre bending than, for instance, “The March Of The Black Queen” in spite of its greater ambitions. It’s good that Queen kept pushing further back in their heyday.

While this might be due to radio overplay, I actually find the most enjoyment in A Night At The Opera‘s deeper cuts. They are responsible for most of this album’s aesthetic diversions; they also give Roger Taylor and Brian May chances to take lead vocals for variety’s sake. In general, Queen favors aesthetic diversity over cohesion here, while using conventional pop/rock structures more often than you’d think. This comes up a lot on Invisible Blog (and my claims that it does so aren’t far behind in number either). For what it’s worth, though, Queen seems to be pretty good at obsfuscating this fact with their flair. I’m not entirely sure if these structures are more conventional than previous Queen albums, but it does mean that songs that aren’t intentionally extended and prog oriented feel more streamlined than before. The band eventually switched their entire output to the pop styles, so it might be for the better that they got in a bit of practice on these earlier recordings.

Regardless of how many antecedents of future Queendom you can find on here, the mixture of extra progisms and musical elaboration does add crucial longevity to A Night At The Opera‘s shelf life. Previous Queen albums were good, and this one isn’t much different, so you can get an idea of why this became popular.

Highlights: “Death on Two Legs”, “I’m In Love With My Car”, “The Prophet’s Song”, “Good Company”

Kreator – Extreme Aggression (1989)

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A long time ago, I took German classes in school. Kreator is a German band, so I figured I could name drop them during one of my homework assignments. I think I did pretty well on said assignment, but it’s been many years. Digressions aside, Extreme Aggression has the bizarre honor of noticeably less aggressive and extreme than its predecessors. It sort of makes sense when you think about it – you can pick any year around that dawn of the final decade of the second millennium and reasonably label it “peak thrash”. If Kreator’s personnel (or management) decided they ought to soften their sound a bit, it would explain why the album is so inappropriately named, but we shouldn’t dwell on that too much.

As far as I’m concerned, Extreme Aggression does have a few tricks up its sleeve that previous Kreator albums didn’t. Perhaps most notable is that it’s got the most extremely aggressive dissonance of anything they’d released to that point. This is essentially the peak of the Kreator riff (read: consonant major keys interval arranged in dissonant, even atonal patterns) in Kreator’s music – when Frank Blackfire joined up for Coma of Souls, they essentially disappeared. This extensive dissonance was more than enough to grab my interest in my earlier metal listening days. Even now, it adds a lot of color and flair to what is otherwise a fairly polished and streamlined speed/thrash album.

While I miss the extreme aggression of this band’s previous work, Extreme Aggression actually benefits from its streamlining. Admittedly, this is in subtle ways – it generally manifests as a steadier, more coherent sense of songwriting than before, with fewer awkward asides, better transitions between song sections, and higher riff density than before. This actually combines very well with this era of Kreator’s guitar creativity – to overextend the previous color metaphor, honed technique allows Kreator to effectively use a wide palette for stronger aesthetic/emotional effect than before. The rest of the instrumentation is not as varied, and the loss of Ventor’s vocals in particular robs the band of one of their most powerful weapons. However, I’d argue that it’s more than sufficient that it plays a good supporting role for the fretwork, at least in this case. In short, it’s the combination of the signature riffs with a better songwriting foundation that makes me keep coming back to this album, even though the loss of production values does not at all suit it.

To be fair, every one of these golden era Kreator albums has something in its favor. Metalheads can’t really go wrong per se. I would argue that Extreme Aggression takes longer to gel in your head, but the payoff is worth it.

Highlights: “No Reason To Exist”, “Stream of Consciousness”, “Some Pain Will Last”

Anatomy of VGM #16 – Tyrian (1995)

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This feature is based off the definitive release (Tyrian 2000), and the AdLib version of the soundtrack.

It might not be a major theme here on Invisible Blog, but I have never been a big advocate for Yamaha’s OPL2/OPL3 sound chips (often sold as part of an AdLib sound card), at least not in isolation. FM synthesis has a very particular sound that’s well suited to certain styles of music, but many of the compositions for these chips (read: An enormous compilation of DOS games) disregard this, to questionable results. As a result, the gap between good and bad OSTs for DOS games is enormous! Tyrian is very definitely on the good side, and it is my go to game for anyone who wants an idea of what an expert can do with an Adlib.

Tyrian‘s music is about equally split between fast paced, upbeat synthpop/rock songs and more evocative, theatrical filmscore type music. Most of the tracks here were written by Alexander Brandon, who would go on to write more ‘tracker’ type music for games like Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex throughout the ’90s. A few were handled by one Andreas Molnar, who also apparently served as the sound programmer (at least for the Adlib version of the music). Tyrian‘s musical prowess is the result of their close collaboration, as the tracks here both play to the strengths of the OPL chips and demonstrate solid writing. The most obvious example of this is the variety of audio effects Brandon and Molnar pull off – ADSRM tricks in the instrumentation, screaming pitch bends to simulate guitarwork, pounding echoing percussion where a lesser sequencer would be limited to mere taps and tinkles. These types of tricks help add aesthetic flavor to the music at hand.

Since Tyrian‘s music exists in more forms than Adlib in an attempt to support more sound cards, we have to take a closer look at the writing to get to the heart of why it’s so well regarded. There’s a few factors here – I mentioned the broad types of music it contains, but for its length it’s an especially varied soundtrack, constantly exposing the listener to new musical ideas as they blast through the game’s generally short levels. In general, it holds these together with a focus on simple, direct, poppy writing focused on hooky motifs. Probably the best example of this is “Rock Garden” – a rather obviously named rock song that puts the OPL to good use with surprisingly realistic guitars (given the technology). It’s also based around two riffs with alternating guitar and organ solos. There’s not much there, but what IS there is as expertly honed as a carved diamond. The less rock-oriented tracks maintain this focus on leitmotif, from the soaring chords of the Asteroid Dances, to the complicated interplay of synth in “Tyrian: The Level”, to the driving energy of “Gyges”, and so forth. In short, while you could easily do more ambitious things with the Adlib, this comes off as more of an example of how to push a subset of its abilities to their limits.

The rest of Tyrian is good too, and you can play it for free nowadays due to the generosity of its creators. The other systems in the game could fill weeks of coverage here on Invisible Blog if I were so inclined.

Sigh – Scenario IV – Dread Dreams (1999)

folder.jpgI used to be certain that Scenario IV was the black sheep of Sigh’s discography, but nowadays I’m not as sure. It’s admittedly at an awkward point between the nominally still black metal Hail Horror Hail and the psychedelic retro rock masterpiece that is Imaginary Sonicscape. Listening to all three gives me a better perspective on how this one fits in. In short? Scenario IV is the simultaneously the best and worst of both worlds, which is admittedly a stiff order for any album. It’s exceedingly ambitious, and there’s a lot of content that you could potentially latch onto and enjoy, but how does it all tie together?

Essentially, the problem with this album is that it’s too scatterbrained, even given Sigh’s generally experimental approach to music making. If I had to guess, the amount of trademarked asides here is about the same as before, but in a lot of cases, the glue that incorporates them into the songs is slim to nonexistent. This is especially problematic in those liminal spaces between tracks where it feels like Sigh just threw in whatever fragments they felt like using with no regards to what fit the overall feel of the album. This wasn’t really a problem on the surrounding albums, so what happened here? After I stepped back a bit, I realized that these asides weren’t taking a whole lot of time in and of themselves, but they were also interspersed with more conventional sections that  still felt more fragmented and random than before. I don’t know what caused that regression, but these combine to make for an album that feels incoherent and confused.

If Scenario IV had dialed back the musical excursions a bit (like on the last album), or even focused on writing content to match it (which they did on the next one), it might’ve made for a stronger, more cohesive experience. The individual riffs and instrumentation here fees like they were written for the earlier, darker, doomier flavors of Sigh; I’d say they would work very well on the earliest material if they were given surroundings that met their needs. There is also a good chunk of more direct, hooky writing on here that somewhat resembles what we’d hear on Imaginary Sonicscape, but those portions of the recordings suffer from a producer who was most likely trying to imitate the older material. As a general rule, Scenario IV sounds dark, brooding, and muddy, even when it probably shouldn’t… which is another strategic flaw in an album that can’t really afford to have more.

Overall, while a few tracks manage to master their unique constraints and difficulties, Scenario IV is a disjointed mess that generally fails to unite its disparate elements into a coherent whole. It certainly isn’t Sigh’s high point.

Highlights: “Infernal Cries”, “Iconoclasm in the Fourth Desert”, “In the Mind of a Lunatic”

Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus (1992)

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It probably shouldn’t be surprising how quickly Amorphis departed from the death/doom metal that fills The Karelian Isthmus, given how many bands similarly morphed into more standard rock combos… but it is! Amorphis had an ear for the epic and melodramatic here that as far as I know was thrown out after their first few albums. The question of why so many bands followed similar career arcs (make a “progressive” death metal album, then make something else) is outside the scope of this review format. Still, we’re left with a melodic and surprisingly elaborate take on death/doom from a band that even a year ago was far filthier and less refined, and that’s where we start.

To be fair, by the time Amorphis properly got into the studio album game, they’d not only established their own skillset by recording some earlier death metal (demos, and the Privilege of Evil EP, even though that wasn’t released until some time later), but also had a corpus of established Scandinavian comrades to pattern themselves off. As a result, I’m not surprised by how polished The Karelian Isthmus sounds. Its deep yet clear guitars and deep growls courtesy of Tomi Koivusaari particularly stand out. The occasional use of keyboard patches for texture are also noteworthy, as they add depth and dynamics to these songs without distracting from the overall approach. To be fair, later incarnations of Amorphis would dramatically expand on the keys.

The compositions here are certainly ambitious, at least going by the number and variety of sections the average song goes through. Overall, they’re similar to the earlier, bludgeoning yet atmospheric sort of death metal of the earliest ’90s, though Amorphis does seem to favor magic over mayhem in their aesthetic. One thing I particularly like about The Karelian Isthmus is how it successfully avoids the standard pop verse/chorus material in favor of greater structural variety. A lot of bands that try to expand beyond this still end up clinging to these basic song structures (I’m looking at you, Death). The caveat here is that while Amorphis has written many an individual riff and many types of riffs to build their songs, this is another album where the transitions between them end up awkward at best. There’s occasionally something to be said for these abrupt transitions, but I’m not certain it’s particularly appropriate for this type of music. It’s actually a pretty serious issue that the band wouldn’t really learn to work around until Elegy some years later. What I’ve found in my personal experience, however, is that the other aspects of the songwriting (variety in general and the strength of individual sections) helps make up for it. Some isthmuses aren’t nearly as fortunate!

With all of that in mind, it seems reasonable of me to assume that I personally like Amorphis’s debut more than what my analysis of it would lead me to believe. Still, it particularly excels at creating its huge, mythic atmosphere. Regardless of what you think of the underlying compositions, this is a superlative worth studying.

Highlights: “Grail’s Mysteries”, “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu”, “The Lost Name of God”