Saturday, January 17, 2015

Acrania - Totalitarian Dystopia

Crinn is fucking sick of hearing about this band. Sick of every deathcore fan he knows bugging him about this album. Acrania is a British deathcore band that is going to get very big once they start doing some serious touring. As if the hype generated by this album wasn’t enough, once they get on some major festival or tour like Maryland Deathfest or Summer Slaughter, they’re going to find themselves in a similar place that Thy Art is Murder is currently in. And it’s not just the diehard underground metalheads that are raving over this album, I’m seeing this band mentioned by mainstreamers (people that only seem to know the biggest deathcore bands) as well, which of course is a good sign for them, but in all honesty, I don’t think that they are as good as people are holding them up to be. But regardless, let’s jump into this.

Their drummer is of a very fast, highly triggered, over-compressed, and artificial-sounding style similar to that of Infant Annihilator, but is mostly heard by technical death bands like Brain Drill, Slaughterbox, Rings of Saturn, and Vale of Pnath. So in reality, this style and sound of drumming is still very new to the deathcore world. Whether or not that is a GOOD thing, I will leave up to you since my opinion on it is fairly neutral. What I can say about their drummer is that, like the rest of his band mates, despite being very young and having very little professional experience, demonstrates a ridiculous level of skill. But skill alone has started to become a little too acceptable lately, the creativity element becoming less of a concern amongst the metal community. As long as you are able to play something that most other people are physically unable to play, people will buy your music. The Acrania drummer does demonstrate some creativity, especially with fills, but 90% of what he has going for him is just pure skill. Like his blast beats that can be heard in every song (especially in the beginning of the first song, an instrumental similar to that of Fleshgod’s In Honour of Reason), they’re phenomenal, but not unique in the slightest bit. And that leads me to the point of the overall structure of the songs.

The structure of each song is weak. There, I said it. Shoot me if you like, but to me, the songs sound…..confused. They’re either way too predictable or they’re so unpredictable that the band sounds confused. Luckily for Acrania, the different sections and structural elements that they use have enabled them to just slap any of them together at random and still have it sound pretty good. But it still sounds aimless, which is in a way okay because this band is brand new and they have eons to improve their creativity and songwriting skills. Because the key to writing good songs is structuring them in a way that gives them a lot of replay value and just makes the songs memorable in general. None of the songs on this album have that in any sort of way. I gave this a listen because I recognized the Par Olofsson artwork and decided “why not?” and I completely forgot what it sounded like after those first two initial listens. Whereas plenty of other bands have songs where I will replay it over and over after the first listen because I can’t get enough of it and then I will remember what the song(s) sounded like for at least a week after that first session. So weak structure and an overall lack of memorability is the big issue that this album has, NOT FORGETTING that this is only their first album and they can easily fix that in the next round.

Although none of this stuff is very memorable, I will say that their vocalist is excellent. He has a VERY wide vocal range and he fucking uses it. He can make a lot of different sounds and he fucking makes all of them. He is an example of a musician that literally takes his performance to his full capability and strives to do everything he can do and then some. When I am listening to this album, his vocals are the main attraction, and is probably why Unique Leader have been making some money off of them. Almost any sound you could imagine being used by a death metal vocalist is used in this album. Even sounds that aren’t familiar with deathcore music. As well as that, many different speeds are used, which is something that A LOT of death metal vocalists attempt and fail at. Many will either just go balls-out fast 24/7 or just go along with the chugging of the guitars. But this guy is fucking good at everything he does and he’s pretty much the only reason that I would listen to their next release.

The guitars have nothing about them that I want to waste my time typing about. Survival Sequence has some pretty cool guitar work, but that’s the only thing about them worth mentioning that I can think of. Just thank fuck they aren’t over-compressed like 80% of all the other deathcore albums being released nowadays.

Acrania have brought forth what is obviously to their full potential for the time being. It’s not super impressive, but it sure as hell has been making a dent all over the world because people won’t shut up about it. The songs are either too predictable or just fucking confused, but their knowledge of different deathcore song elements has helped the confusion and inexperience work in their favor. All this band is right now is skill. Their drummer is so good that it’s almost hard to believe that this is first actual legit album. If you’re a diehard fan of deathcore or downright brutal music in general, give this a listen because it’s fucking powerful. But I’m looking for something a little less…boring, per say. 10/20 as a good solid average score for this one. Let’s see if they can improve their creativity next time. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Agalloch - The Serpent & the Sphere

Not being the type that keeps in close touch with their fans through frequent social media and website updates and interview appearances, Agalloch has proven to be a somewhat difficult band to follow. Their tours are always small and there is never a significant amount of effort put into promoting them. Yet their dedicated cult following that reaches all ends of the globe fills every venue that they perform in and spend time and money searching for their often times hard-to-find albums and merchandise. The announcement of their latest album appeared almost out of nowhere, with no prior teaser or warning. But woe, and behold, The Serpent & the Sphere appeared on shelves during the summer of last year, marking their second release through Profound Lore Records. This also continues the 4 year gap pattern in between releases (obviously the band takes their time in crafting their works of art), and in effect ending a very bothersome and impatient wait for myself since discovering them a year after they released The Marrow of the Spirit in 2010.

Due to the fact that they aren’t nearly as sporadic and seemingly lost like most progressive and experimental bands in the world appear to be, there will forever be endless opportunities for Agalloch to take their musical direction in without compromising any major aspects of what they have already established. Some progressive bands strive to do something completely new with each album; a risky, but bold step. When listening to each of Agalloch’s albums in order, you can hear the gradual turns their sound takes over the course of time. Pale Folklore being literally the raw blueprint of their sound, and after going in a much more folk-oriented direction with the two following albums, swing to the other end of their spectrum, their black metal side. The Marrow of the Spirit toned down the acoustic and folk stuff that had attracted all the hipsters and put much more emphasis on their actual metal side. More distorted guitars, more blast beats, but still having that beautiful melodic atmosphere. The Serpent & the Sphere basically takes that step even further, with more raw instrumentation that doesn’t get caught up in guitar and vocal effects.

The reason for this direction is a total mystery to me. Usually, when musicians start playing around with their guitar pedals too much, they get lost in it and rarely ever choose to turn back and go to their roots (aka Alcest). The vocals on this album (for the most part) seem to be totally void of any reverb or other effects, which makes it sound like a lot of the amateur underground local band demos and EPs I have in my collection. Not implying that it’s a bad thing, but it just sounds like the vocals from a low-budget EP. But regardless, it gels fairly well with the polished guitar distortion and soft drums. There’s also the increased use of whispered lyrics during softer parts that almost always grow into full-on screaming that’s then followed by the rest of the band picking up.

The Serpent & the Sphere is the first album by this band where I can hear the bass guitar at all times. Even when listening to it on shitty earbuds or laptop speakers, I can still hear the growl of the bass guitar strings vibrating against the frets. Agalloch is a black metal band, so production and sound quality isn’t going to be something that has a lot of time and effort invested in. But for some reason they had the bass guitar mixed in a very common way in which it basically blends in with the rhythm guitar and adds a massive lower end to it. But on this album, it’s totally separate. Once again, not sure why they felt that this was the album to do it on, but it’s nice to actually have an audible reminder that they have a bass guitarist. As far as what the bassist actually does is mostly just those Steve Harris-style triplets following the drums and base chords with the occasional sweep or walk that breaks away from the primary chord structure.

I know this is my first review in at least five months, so I apologize if my writing is a bit choppy and unorganized. If you haven’t seen it already, The Serpent & the Sphere is the fifth best album of 2014 according to my year in review list. What Agalloch will do next will remain a total mystery and, if the pattern continues, we won’t find out until 2018. But until then, I will be here, eagerly awaiting their next masterpiece. This album, obviously, gets 20/20.