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Posts Tagged ‘juxtaposition’

Strapping Young Lad – Alien (2005)

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When it comes to Devin Townsend related content, I have to admit that it took me quite a while to warm up to Alien. I wouldn’t have expected that to be the case, honestly – it predates both Ziltoid the Omniscent and Deconstruction by mixing both his extreme metal and progressive rock styles, and is more intense than either, even if it does so by mostly emphasizing the former. You’d think that I (even my past self) would fall on this like a swarm of locusts, so what gives? Unfortunately, I don’t remember what I was complaining about in the past…

As mentioned, Alien leans more towards the Strapping Young Lad aesthetic – listening to it is a good way to get your daily extreme metal dosage, between the incisive guitars, shrieking Devy, and the always appreciated percussion work of Gene Hoglan. If you’re familiar with previous SYL material (City is a good bet), you won’t be too surprised what by what’s on display here. The production is a bit trebly and hissy for my tastes this time around, but it’s still appropriate for this sort of band. What strains it, most likely, is the massively enhanced keyboard/symphonic presence. I’ve hinted at it before, but for whatever reason, a decent chunk of Devy’s other interests leaked into Alien, resulting in the only metal album I’ve listened to that incorporates xylophones into the songwriting.

The instruments aren’t the only part affected, as Alien usually has more complicated and intricate arrangements than its SYL predecessors. When you combine this with the stereotypical SYL sound, you get a potentially overwhelming album that’s definitely draining to listen to listen to all at once (even without the 12 minute info dump at the end). I don’t remember experiencing similar distaste for Deconstruction, though, but I have two hypotheses as to why that was the case. First, my experience with Alien predated the release of that latter album by about a year. Second, Deconstruction does have the benefit of 6 extra years of experience and education on Devin’s end. A meeting of more experienced and ready minds can definitely come in handy, and for whatever reason Alien really does feel more … alien than a lot of SYL content, even once I’ve gotten more accustomed to its approach.

Ultimately, time heals everything, and just as I was able to appreciate a great many albums more once they’d sunk in a bit, so was I able to warm up to Alien‘s charms. It might help that I’m receptive to the works of Devin Townsend in general. I still think the first half of this album is better than the second, though, so I guess we’ll have to deal with that.

Highlights: “Skeksis”, “Shitstorm”, “We Ride”

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Solefald – In Harmonia Universali (2003)

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Solefald’s first three albums were, for better or worse, consistently informed by the sounds of black metal. On first listen, I thought that In Harmonia Universali rejected that, but a closer listen revealed that change was mostly limited to the vocals. Merely not shrieking and screaming your way through a metal album is enough to lighten and soften the end product. Regardless of how you feel about this stylistic change, you can’t deny that In Harmonia Universali is a different permutation on the stereotypical Solefald sound, with greater emphasis on complicated vocal arrangements and a further expansion of the “instrumental experimentation” angle.

Extensive listening has, as promised convinced me that the black metal edges of Solefald’s sound still (un)shine through to some extent, even if the songwriting is brighter and possibly friendlier than before. Some of the more obvious instrumental tropes – tremelo riffing and blastbeats in particular – show up on occasion. However, even when these do appear, they are in utter subservience to the rest of Solefald’s instrumentation – in particular, In Harmonia Universali showcases a lot of piano and saxophone, although often more as accentuation than actual song driving content. I’d say the real winner here is Lazare, who gets to spend the entire album singing multitracked harmonies with himself. These are almost always the high points of the songs in which they appear.

I’m not going to go as far as to say that this album can be benchmarked solely by counting Lazare’s parts, but the thought has crossed my mind at times. One of the much-explored caveats of relentlessly varying your instrumentation is that if you screw up, you can end up with ridiculous bullshit gibberish. This hasn’t really been a problem in my previous experience with Solefald, but In Harmonia Universali has a serious lack of sanity checks that could’ve prevented some of this stuff from going out without being properly baked. On the other hand, I feel like this album also has very high peaks – when everything meshes together, the results are excellent, and they make you me wish Solefald had focused their efforts in that direction. This rollercoaster ride of overall song quality makes me question the foundation of Solefald’s songwriting, especially when other genre-blenders can do everything more cohesively…

So in short, In Harmonia Universali is really good when it’s good, but “Dionysify This Night Of Spring” was a huge mistake.

Highlights: “Mont Blanc Providence Crow”, “Christiania”, “The Liberation of Destiny”

Flash Fiction Month #2, Episode 1: Stage VI

Flash Fiction Month is back! The rules are the same as last time each of this month’s posts will be a self-contained story, most likely of about the usual 400-500 word length. I make no guarantees of subject, style, or anything else. You can read last year’s installments here.


Six years ago, I found a discolored patch of skin on my leg and went to see the doctor. Turned out that I had a malignant melanoma that I’d luckily caught very early on. We excised it, I did my share of chemotherapy, I recovered, and then I went on with my life, seemingly unharmed but for the need to schedule extra maintenance checkups with my doctor to make sure it didn’t come back.

Six months ago, I got a strange envelope in the mail with no return address. It contained a musty, foul-smelling piece of paper stained with brown ink that vaguely resembled words, but was otherwise completely unintelligible. At the time, I thought it was a prank gone wrong, so I tossed the letter out in the garbage. It slipped my mind soon after – I had a lot of important projects going at work that I didn’t want to leave hanging.

Six weeks ago, however, I received a much more disturbing letter. A pair of lawyers (Richard and Simon Dowling, who had colonized late night TV with their advertisements and burnt their phone number into my mind) sent me a letter informing me that one of their clients had demanded restitution from me for “unlawful separation”, and since I had refused to provide it, I was now required to appear at my local courthouse.

“This has to be some sort of joke, right?” I asked them in a call I placed soon after. Read more…

Autechre – Chiastic Slide (1997)

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With a discography as sonically diverse as Autechre’s, you can easily find some forsaken soul to declare each recording an outlier. If you want to apply that to Chiastic Slide, then you should zero in on its ‘dirty’, heavily sample and noise driven soundscapes. Compared to the cleaner sounds of the albums before and after it, Chiastic Slide is a sonic anomaly for sure (even if the accompanying Envane EP shares its auditory patina), but the actual songwriting on here is roughly comparable, hitting a good midpoint between the nominally accessible Tri Repetae and nominally more difficult LP5. In the end, it got socketed into the discography, but not without a lot of spirited fan discussion about what role about what sort of role going full Chiastic Slide had in Autechre’s discography.

The funny thing about Chiastic Slide is that it actually isn’t all that chiastic – i.e there is not much on this album that is truly symmetrical. The song structures, for instance, tend more towards evolution than repetition. In fact, this album’s songs showcase some of the most striking and abrupt transitions of Autechre’s discography, at least in this relatively early stage. After all, it starts off with “Cipater”, which for all purposes fades in an entirely new song over its initial set of musical ideas. Some of the tracks admittedly develop more organically, but at the very least, beginning with the abrupt mood shifts and thunks is a major departure from before.

Autechre has never been a heavy band, at least by the standards of modern death metal, but the overall more abrasive, nastier sounds on here have in themselves been a major draw for me. As mentioned, “Cipater” has its thunks, and is followed up with straight up static noise (“Rettic Ac”). The more overtly sampled soundscapes here are suited to this; even if Autechre has done much with distorted and chopped up samples in their lifetime, it’s rare that they push the idea so far. This noisy aesthetic even leaks into the calmer and more soothing tracks – “Pule” in particular never reaches any explosive peaks, but its ever growing moans and creaks under the surface make for the sort of vivid synesthetic imagery that Autechre channels at their peak. In general, this sort of contrast makes for interesting tracks; I am definitely a fan.

In the end, I’m not sure if I would put the entirety of Chiastic Slide on a pedestal. The main problem is that some of the tracks in the middle drag on without much payoff. However, when this album excels, it reaches high peaks, and those should more than pay the cost of admission.

Highlights: “Cipater”, “Cichli”, “Pule”, “Nuane”

Massacra – Final Holocaust (1990)

ea3f83c41abbde39c01ddc365a7.jpgA French take on death metal! For whatever reason, Quebec seems to be the metal capital (at least per capita) of the Francophone world, but the actual nation of France has certainly made its contributions to the genre. Final Holocaust is another one of those liminal recordings from when death metal was first breaking into the mainstream – like many of its companions, it’s clearly faster, more technically demanding, and more polished than its immediate predecessors.  This only goes so far, though – Massacra’s debut is defined specifically by the internal tension between older, more overtly speed/thrash style/technique and the musical advances of death metal.

Such formal description belies the obvious brutality of Massacra’s music. The musical emphasis is more on riff development and complexity than rhythmic power, and Final Holocaust is driven by the sort of elongated and heavily ornamented riffs that only really get acknowledged at a site like Death Metal Underground. There’s plenty of them actually crammed into the songs, although I have some concerns about the way they’re ordered. I’m not sure how much of that is due to the tempo shifts – while the drums aren’t especially technical, the songs here are full of tempo changes that don’t divide cleanly into integers. If you’re not careful with those, you can end up with disjointed sounding songs, even if you’re like Massacra and don’t have a lot of other abrupt shifts and dissonances involved. Definitely a point of caution for bands in a similar style – work on the riff glue as well as the actual riffs. The production here is interesting, too. Most notably, Final Holocaust sounds treblier and generally higher pitched than your stereotypically bassy death metal recording. This is a very clean, almost dry and chalky mixjob. I’d say it’s very appropriate for the style of music here, primarily because it sheds a bright light on every nuance of the guitar technique. Given how much strumming and tremelo these guitars have, that’s pretty satisfying. Everything else is suitable, and pretty good for 1990, although otherwise not particularly noteworthy.

Maybe it’s because of the reasonably standard production and overall songwriting methods, but Massacra’s debut ended up being one of those recordings with a very long fuse/clicktime. If you take your time and give these tracks a dedicated listen, you’ll find much to like in Final Holocaust‘s musical language, flaws in song transitions aside. Unless you’re completely in love with this style, though, it might take a while.

Highlights: “Apocalyptic Warriors”, “War of Attrition”, “Eternal Hate”

Devin Townsend – Terria (2001)

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I’m beginning to think Terria is the archetypal Devin Townsend album from which all future works spring forth; at the very least, all of his solo content (well, maybe not the “heavy” stuff like the Ziltoids or Deconstruction) can be compared to something on here at some level. With that in mind, it might be best to try and understand Terria in isolation, analyzing it as if it were my first exposure to the stereotypical Devin Townsend sound, but given that such is far from the case, that sounds intimidating and needlessly difficult. I can’t guarantee it’ll happen, but if I play my cards right, you should at least be able to understand the what and why of Terria

Terria walks a fine line between ambient acoustic pop and heavy “progressive” metal (those times that I wrote for DMU makes it hard for me to use “progressive” as anything other than a marketing term), using its lengthy duration to explore all the ways you could combine these ideas or keep them separate. We get a series of extended songs and reliably sedate pacing, with occasional excursions into more aggressive, driving content. The mixing and production unites all of the content here, which is understandable given Devin’s instantly recognizable style of composition. Ultimately, there’s a good deal of structural variety, but the long length and occasional extended compositional asides will make a deep delve into Terria‘s depths an intense undertaking.

It’s immediately ironic that I use that phrasing – as far as I’m concerned, Terria has a lot of filler, but its peaks are huge. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the more driving and up-tempo parts of this album that keep it in my collection. For instance, “Olives” and “Mountain” make for a very drawn out and contemplative introduction, but when the pay off is “Earth Day”, a 9.5 minute epic that encapsulates every style Devin has done right over his career, it’s easier to give even the less immediately gripping tracks a chance. One benefit of listening to this album in one go (as opposed to going the singles route with the highlights) is that it really nails the laid back, contemplative, possibly pot-hazed atmosphere it appears to be going for. Whether that’s something you want in your life is something you have to decide for yourself.

I’ve mentioned in the past that if I want to listen to Devin Townsend, I usually favor the heavier, more SYL flavored side of his discography. If that ever changes, though, there’s always Terria. Not to be confused with Terraria under any circumstances.

Highlights: “Earth Day”, “Canada”, “The Fluke”

Averse Sefira – Tetragrammatical Astygmata (2005)

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You know, Texas is an absolutely fascinating state. I might be biased because I lived in Round Rock for two years when I was a child, but it never ceases to amaze me that the little nation that once could has overcome inept governance and a cavalcade of dangerous microclimes to become one of our country’s leading exporters of black metal. Tetragrammatical Astygmata is interesting because it’s an especially chaotic and dissonant contribution to the genre that’s also surprisingly accessible and hooky. Is that my musical preferences expressing themselves again? Probably. Don’t be surprised if the rest of this review reflects my biases as well.

While the more dissonant chunks of black metal raise a lot of questions about where metal subgenres begin and end, Averse Sefira’s musical languages shares enough of the rest of its surface (high pitched vocals, less emphasis on percussive variation, etc.) to otherwise fall into blackened realms for marketing purposes. Two things make this band click – their songs have a preponderance of individual riffs organized into varied structures, and the whole chaotic/dissonant angle is used to reinforce coherence and expand their musical language. These ideas are integrated effectively enough that I actually had to sit down and give these tracks a deep listen in order to figure out just how they were pushing the envelope. Averse Sefira obviously isn’t the first to play with these ideas, even within black metal, but I always appreciate a band that can pull it off.

A lot of Tetragrammatical Astygmata‘s musical elements, in fact, are like this – an accessible facade with turmoil under the surface. Even this isn’t all that novel, although you’re still more likely to find music with little more to its name than surface noise or deep lore. For instance, the production is at the liminal point where raw aggression gives way to studio polish, with a clear mix allowing listeners to appreciate every nuance of the instrumental work without detracting from its overall extremity. The vocals and lyrics are also worth a note – the actual words spoken are sparse, abstract, well spaced, almost slam poetry. Still, they’re delivered with enough conviction (…if maybe not that much diction) that you’d actually want to look at the lyrics and analyze them, at least if you’re particularly into the lyrical/ideological aspects of metal albums.

Those of you who’ve been reading along for the last few years and whom are also familiar with this album are probably silently nodding. I can sense it – you probably saw the cover art and thought something along the lines of, “That’s something our author would definitely enjoy”. Averse Sefira isn’t all that well known as of 2017 (although they presumably had some moments of relative fame), but if I’ve done something to popularize them by writing about their work, then surely something good has come of today, right?

Highlights: “Detonation”, “Helix in Audience”, “Mana Anima”