Sunday, January 20, 2013

Blizzard at Sea - Invariance [EP]

Blizzard at Sea is part of the wave of progressive bands that have been pulling influences from sludge metal, black metal, hard rock, metalcore, atmospheric rock, doom metal, classic rock, hardcore, post rock, and other various progressive genres. This movement, which has been led by progressive rock band Isis, is considered by some to be one of the most unique metal progressions of all-time. Now, we have another band that can be considered part of this movement that has released a four-track EP titled Invariance.

Because this isn’t being written by someone who knows a lot about this type of music (some call it “atmospheric sludge”), don’t expect to see a lot of historical shit and factual information about influences and other bands. Instead of educating you about the genre and the band, I am going to specifically lay out why this EP is one of the best pieces of progressive music I’ve heard since I started listening to heavy metal. I also believe that this record could also possibly be appealing to those that aren’t fond of sludge metal and it’s different variations in general (like myself). That aside, as always, I’m going to treat this like just about every album I review; so let’s get to it.

Probably one of the most interesting of Blizzard at Sea is not the complex song structures, but more so how everything is layered. One can’t exactly know for sure if this was intended unless they ask the band themselves, but seemingly without turning down any of the instruments, there are parts where a single member sticks out from the others. For example, there are certain parts where the drums are a bit overpowering, and then the guitarist will play a chord that just rings out with so much intensity. When this is happening, you can tell that the drums aren’t playing less or with less volume. It’s an interesting quality that happens in all of the tracks, whether it be unintentional or one of the many feedback tricks invented in the 1970s. And this doesn’t only happen with the guitar, the vocals, bass, and the drums have moments where the rest of the band seems like background noise.

The music itself isn’t very chaotic. It’s definitely loud and noisy (one of the primary characteristics of the genre), but not really thrashy and fast. But all of the experimentation that’s taking place has pulled the band’s sound in a different direction than the traditional slow, thick, heavy, and noisy sound that’s just known as sludge metal. There are parts in all of the songs that have a hard rock feel, especially the intro to Closed Universe. Because I’m not 100% sure what exactly their influences are, I can’t say that I’m completely accurate on this statement, but it sounds and feels like the atmospheric and often times relaxing sound that Blizzard at Sea’s music has is due to influences and inspirations from post rock, black metal, metalcore, and doom metal. But then again, isn’t that what “atmospheric sludge” is? Although there are few bands that have been playing this style of music for quite some time, the majority of the genre’s bands are young, most with only one album or a couple of EPs and demos under their belts.

If you block out the vocals, it sounds like the type of music that would only have singing. But instead, you have primarily mid-ranged growls and yells with a few sung lines here and there. All in all, Blizzard at Sea has not only blown away the atmospheric sludge fans, but have shown me an entirely new sound. The ambient and intellectual darkness that this band has managed to craft has given this EP my score of 17/20.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Absvrdist - Illusory

Upon first look, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about Absvrdist. But once you notice that Lyle Cooper, the legendary drummer for technical death band The Faceless is the drummer for Absvrdist, it completely changes the story. A problem that a lot of people have with grindcore in general is monotony, often times appearing in the drums. Either that or a complete lack of skill in one or more of the musicians. Whether this is just a simple side-project or the next big grindcore act in the making remains unknown due to minimal publicity and the rigorous tour schedule The Faceless has endured since the band released their newest album, Autotheism. Regardless, Absvrdist have given us a unique and creative grindcore treat titled Illusory, which is something that can be deceptive or misleading (therefore causing “illusion”).

Absvrdist seems to be very keen on calling themselves “blackened grindcore.” Being the black metal enthusiast that I am, that seems like a pretty interesting concept considering that, as far as I’m aware of, it’s never been done before (no, Anaal Nathrakh doesn’t count). Because the duet has been so outspoken about this “blackened grindcore” thing, it’s mentioned in almost every review that has been written on the album. Here’s the issue that people are having: yeah, the album is great, but what was that about “blackened” you said? Because I can’t hear any signs of black metal on this album! Ok, maybe that was an exaggeration, but you get the picture. There are obvious efforts at fusing black metal and grindcore during the album. For example, the track Amongst Humans has an atmospheric guitar lead that sounds like something from a black metal album along with low-key black metal-ish blast beat drumming. The guitar line strongly reminds me of Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog by Wolves in the Throne Room, which is probably (I’ll never know for sure) the song that inspired that particular intro. Besides that, the number of black metal-inspired moments is low.

So, because Absvrdist most likely over exaggerated the true amount of black metal influence this album has, I’m going to treat this just like any other grindcore record. The two members of Absvrdist have played together before in a Texas-based progressive death band called Erzebet, releasing a 5-track EP in 2005. The member responsible for the lead vocals on Illusory is unclear, as are a lot of things about this band. But whoever does the lead vocals (consisting of growls and nasty screams) is good. The screams sound similar to several thrash black bands I’ve heard, sort of having a thrashy sound to them. Many people find these types of screams much more pleasant to listen to, as opposed to the really obnoxious (but often times appropriate) high-pitched shrieks you hear in bands like Wormrot, Gridlink, and the earlier Pig Destroyer albums. The growls aren’t anything SUPER unique, but they fit in well with the surrounding chaos the music creates.

Along with that, there are occasional inhaled grows and very strained yells that, although unattractive, fit in well with the music in the same way the growls do. A good song that demonstrates the contrast between all of the different vocal styles used would be the first track, Repulsive. But the vocals aren’t where all the action is at.

The drums are where 60% of the interesting shit is. Of course, knowing the drummer and his skills as well as I do, I’m not surprised. But the question gets brought up, why grindcore? It’s not anything new that Lyle can play fast, as demonstrated on Planetary Duality and Autotheism. It makes sense that since he’s the type of guy that likes brutal music, he probably needed an escape from all of the progressive and much slower stuff The Faceless has done on Autotheism. So yeah, he probably had a lot of energy for playing fast and chaotic that needed to be released, so him and his friend from Erzebet. But honestly, there’s no telling as to why this grindcore project just popped up out of nowhere. But the whole black metal/grindcore thing makes sense because besides The Faceless, Lyle has been in both a black metal band AND Erzebet, which plays an interesting combination of grindcore, black metal, and death metal.

The drumming sounds like the drumming from The Faceless. This is good because it’s more than just constant blast beats! As much as I love blast beats, they can get old and boring VERY quickly. The drumming is filled with color, creativity, chaos, and experimentation. If it weren’t for the excessive use of the cymbals, it would be difficult to tell that the drums belonged to a grindcore record. Because the drums are interesting by themselves, everything else acts as icing on the cake. Now we move on to member number two, who is responsible for vocals, guitars, and bass.

The bass tends to hang out in the lower end the whole time. There isn’t a whole lot of action going on with the higher strings and playing chords. This seems to be a fairly common thing in grindcore because the guitars tend to be high-pitched (for some reason) and it helps bring out the low-end if the bassist generally plays only lower notes. The bass has a tiny bit of distortion to give it a gritty sound that can be heard on its own in the ninth track, Delusion. The guitars have a fuzzy distortion that blends in perfectly with the sound of the cymbals. There isn’t exactly anything about the guitars (or bass) that I would consider to be special or unique except for one thing. The instruments on Illusory couldn’t be any tighter. The unfortunate thing about grindcore is that, in most cases, one or more of the musicians repeatedly falls out of tempo or screws up in some way. In Absvrdist, it’s the exact opposite; these two guys are true musicians that know what the fuck they’re doing. Obviously, Lyle’s drumming is on-the-spot 100% of the time, and Marlon has proved himself to be a great guitarist and bassist that has both skill and creativity.

Absvrdist is one of the best grindcore bands I’ve heard in months. In fact, one of the best grindcore bands I’ve EVER heard. Although I feel that their “blackened grindcore” description is an overstatement, there are a couple of black metal-inspired sections on the record. Illusory has everything a grindcore enthusiast could ask for: blast beats, obnoxious yells, ridiculous tempos, and less than half of the songs lasting more than two minutes (several tracks being less than 30 seconds). Illusory also has things in store for the people who AREN’T too big on grindcore, including tight musicianship, instrumental skills, influences from other bands and genres, much more than constant blast beats, and a shitload of creativity and experimentation. Illusory gets my score of 14/20. 

Upcoming Reviews

Happy new year. It's 2013, a very appropriate time to make the first upcoming reviews post for the month of January! Here are some bands that I might or might not review:

Strychnia (thrash death)
Trauma (death metal)
Gutted (death grind)
Beherit (black metal)
Cannibal Corpse (death metal)
Foreboding Ether (technical death)
Absvrdist (grindcore)
Firewind (power metal)
Asphyx (death metal)
Murder Construct (death grind)
Pierce the Veil (screamo)
Varg (thrash black)
Arsis (technical death)
Insomnium (melodic death)
As You Drown (deathcore)
Altar of Pain (death metal)
Sabaton (power metal)
Hellraizer (death metal)
Inhume (death grind)