Extol – S/T

Extol’s self-titled was released via Indie Recordings / Facedown Records.

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Tracklist:
01 – Betrayal
02 – Open The Gates
03 – Wastelands
04 – A Gift Beyond Human Reach
05 – Faltering Moves
06 – Behold The Sun
07 – Dawn Of Redemption
08 – Ministers
09 – Extol
10 – Unveiling The Obscure
11 – Sting Of Death

It is hard for a band to leave their indelible mark on a listener’s psyche post-2000. Simply put, there are just too many bands at it. The mighty riff attack of the 80’s and early 90’s have stayed gold all long, beyond which there’s been a lot of, well, quite unremarkable releases. Either falling victim to creative stagnation or just being plain average at best. Unfortunately with the internet, more of these got fed into our systems, exasperating as it is. Yet there is a light at the end of every dark tunnel.

Extol seems to be a band that has remained relatively unscathed in the fray. For their brand of metal have always paid homage to progression and has never really played the same album twice. Something even the progenitors of the great genre find themselves doing.

Extol’s self titled and 5th full length, after a hiatus of 8 years, have already had the hype train running all over the interweb. As is the case, every hype train meets with partial to complete derailment. Well in this case, they just seemed to hint at derailment, while in reality never amounting to more than a wobble. Extol’s flag of progressive/melodic death metal still flies high. All the years of relative idleness, have not let their level of musicianship into a state of decline. The self-titled is still a case of hitting the stride like all their releases. Soulful and equally melodic leads, thrash technicality and above all, their signature abruptness runs the gamut through the album. The abruptness here, refers to the extremely unpredictable structural changes of their songs, changing the flow and dynamics within each song, effectively bolstering the overall replayability. This particular point has grown to be a bone of contention amongst most technical metal albums, as they can easily descend, and quite often at that, into senseless wankery. Extol on the other hand, use their technical wherewithal intelligently and follow it up with a sublime melodic lead or a groove. This befuddles the listener, as much as it invokes appreciation. And this alone warrants the record more reruns.

The grand point of convergence, where the band, the album and the song are all share the same title, is probably the catchiest track from Extol’s entire discography. The massive yet infectious melody permeating throughout the entire track will leave you in awe at Ole Borud’s uncanny ability, to pen down some of the finest melodious riffs there is, a la Undeceived.  Espovell’s clean vocals, dexterous in execution, add an air of lightness to each song. Wasteland and Faltering Motives are other fine examples of Extol’s craft. On the contrary, opener Betrayal, Behold the Sun and Ministers are decent tracks in their own right, but does lack the mysterious charm beheld in the rest. Things come to a happy ending with the eloquently crafted ‘Unveiling the Obscure’.

In all, the self titled is equal parts a progression and a throwback. Although not quite the next ‘Undeceived’, it does come a close second. And that is no small feat indeed.

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Hope for the Dying – Aletheia

Review of the new album from Hope for the Dying titled Aletheia, released via Facedown Records.

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Tracklist:
1. Acceptance
2. Reformation
3. Iniquitous
4. In Isolation
5. Through A Nightmare, Darkly
6. The Lost
7. Visions
8. Serenity
9. Open The Sky

Much maligned due to its relative creative stagnancy, metalcore has been pushed down the annals of history as simply just another ‘flavor of the week’ phenomenon. Much of the bands of yesteryear that rather frivolously worshipped the genre, have now either moved on to greener(for now) and djentier pastures or shed their roots completely or better, stopped being a band altogether. The few metalcore heavyweights that remain will run their course before the very same kids who adore them now will find more interesting bands as go up the aesthetic ladder.  Despite the pitiable state of the genre at the moment, the hope now resides in a vibrant Christian metalcore set which includes the likes Becoming the Archetype, Oh Sleeper, Norma Jean, Advent and the once legends Zao. Then there is the relative genericide from the much established acts  As I Lay Dying (their name has finally got up with Tim), August Burns Red and The Devil Wears Prada. The former set takes the cake for being a tad more creative than the latter half. Yet still all these bands have churned out a few good records over the years but all that seems to have come to a standstill in the last few years. Even the new Killswitch Engage record failed to evoke any sort of interest beyond its release date.

This is where Hope for the Dying comes in. They are a mishmash of metalcore and melodic death metal with song lengths that go beyond the usual metal norm. Calling them metalcore would be a blatant ignorance for they are much more than that. Splashing grandiose symphonic elements onto a seemingly intricate riff tapestry makes for one enticing bunch of songs.  It should be! Right? Well, although this was the modus operandi, being notably epic, on their last full length and sophomore effort  “Dissimulation”, it never clicked for me. For one it sounded much too forced with the overbearing keyboard sections reminiscent of latter day Dimmu Borgir, which I reserve a personal disgust towards. The riffs seemed to be going nowhere albeit hinting at something great but in the end falling well short of realization.

Aletheia is concise and sees the band with a single directive. Songwriting. They weeded out the almost ridiculous amounts of keyboard symphony, and replaced them with well timed and more subtler and yet majestically potent key ladened parts. The change in style is drastic for the symphonic elements take a back seat and the riffs, finally, come into the fore. Josh Ditto who handles both the vocals and the keys concentrates more on his vocals which albeit show signs of improvement still remain average at best. With most tracks going beyond the 5 minute track it makes good breathing space for the riffs and leads to fully explore and set themselves. With innumerable melodic hooks and seamless transitions this does enthrall the listener. These long wrought melodies are substantiated by heavier segments for traction which unlike its predecessor does not seem forced at all. Cool acoustic passages spring up at exactly the right moments, the best among them being the intro to In Isolation and the extremely cathartic instrumental Through a Nightmare, Darkly. Acceptance and Open up the Sky will probably go down as some of the best songs all year.

With a baffling yet blissful amount of shredding on a single album, spot on keyboards and stellar songwriting sees another band not letting ambition drown out its delivery. Aletheia sees Hope for the Dying on the threshold of self – realization.

Anciients – Heart of Oak

We apologize for the dip in our review rate… Gosh! You ought to know that we’ve got lives as well!!

That said, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Anciients titled Heart of Oak, released via Season of Mist.

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Tracklisting:

1.  Raise the Sun
2.  Overthrone
3.  Falling in Line
4.  One Foot in the Light
5.  The Longest River
6.  Giants
7.  Faith and Oath
8.  Flood and Fire
9.  For Lisa

Somewhat disingenuously described as ‘progressive metal with extreme metal elements’ or ‘progressive stoner metal’, Anciients’ music is modern sludge in the Baroness/Mastodon vein. Remember how quickly those two bands went from crossover powerhouses to meandering, dentured versions of their old selves? Anciients manage to capture the spirit of their forerunners right on the cusp of that shift, not quite putting out the intensity of Remission-era Mastodon, but rarely achieving the bloat of Baroness’ Blue Album.

 

 

They’re good musicians – there’s no denying it. They have complex, involving guitar melodies, mile-wide riffs and a powerhouse rhythm section. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the energy and musicianship of this material. Still, ‘Overthrone’ sounds too much like an attempt to channel the chug and vocal delivery of ‘Leviathan’. Building from a clean, melodic opening, ‘Falling In Line’ has a compelling ferocity and a nicely eastern-tinged solo as well. The puling bassline provides a great underpinning to the questing, flowing dual-guitar lines. ‘The Longest River’ mixes in classic metal melody and touches of both Baroness and Opeth in music and vocal delivery.  ‘Faith and Oath’ showcases some of those extreme metal influences with an opening that could almost have been battle-ready old school death metal with a slightly different sound. However, we’re soon back in the loping, noodly modern sludge space. The vocals are too cheesy for my taste, both the melodic, soaring voice and the cartoonish cookie monster growl, but your mileage may vary. The rest of the songs are basically cut from the same cloth, apart from the flowing, melodic jam ‘For Lisa’.

Anciients have a lot of talent. Nearly every song contains great riffs, intricate and effective arrangements and balls-out brilliant playing by everyone in the band. I’m less convinced about their song craft, and about the derivative nature of their music. This style of melodic, epic sludge metal hasn’t proven to have much staying power, with the pioneers of the genre rapidly diluting their own formula. Perhaps the prog aspirations will prove to be Anciients’ saving grace, compelling them to move away from the fortuitous but somewhat shallow pool of zeitgeist influences they’re currently channeling. They certainly have the chops for it, and perhaps it’s time there was an alternative to the Dream Theater paradigm of prog metal.

Stream the entire album below:

Supuration – CU3E

Today we have the Old Disgruntled Bastard reviewing the new album from Supuration titled CU3E, released via Listenable Records.

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Tracklist:
1. Sinergy Awakes 05:42
2. Introversion 04:06
3. The Disenthrall 02:17
4. Consumate 06:00
5. The Incongruents 03:33
6. The Delegation 05:24
7. Data Dance 05:04
8. The Flight 03:39
9. The Climax 05:09

‘I have sat inside the tub half filled with water. I have run the flat of the blade over my skin, felt its gelid menace slither invitingly across my veins. I have watched the waters turn russet with the slivers of a thousand unconsummated dreams. Moments like aeons I have spent hovering over my erstwhile shell, watching my mother cradle my head in her arms. Without mooring, I have languished, lost and confused, in limbo, an infinitesimal point of energy with no anatomical compass, yet a mute witness to the senseless pain, internecine and futile, that I have  inflicted on myself, and my kith and kin. I am suffering a second postpartum death, a severance from Mother Life herself, seeking a way out of this interstitial, cosmic funhouse, to escape past failures and misgivings that haunt me from around every corner. Has it been seconds or seasons, has time ceased to hold all meaning? Weary and discombobulated, I wander in search of …what? Salvation? Reunification? Termination?

I see something in the far distance, refulgent as it draws close. Closer still, and I can now see it is a cube. It cuts through me in a painless embrace, imprisoning me inside its translucent walls. I look out through them and realize that I have lost all sensation of space. We bob in a sea of nothingness, though not in desolation for there are other cubes around, just like mine. Containing others, just like me?’

That, to paraphrase, is the starting premise of Supuration‘s Cube saga, now in its third installment, each spread ten years apart from the other, but one that, I presume, has been expounded on in the band’s other incarnation as S.U.P. (Spherical Unit Provided). Supuration’s under-appreciated debut from 1993, ‘The Cube’, displayed a perfect balance of death/doom metal, tinged with elements from traditional heavy metal and thrash, sifted through a distinctly Voivod-ian sieve. The follow-up ‘Incubation’ elaborated on the story from a pregnant woman’s perspective, each song denoting a month in the gestation cycle, the seed inside belonging to the character from the debut, now in the throes of rebirth. It is an intriguing concept, but Incubation, while still being memorable, went too far in compromising the subtle grittiness of the first LP, adopting a more intrusive goth-metal sentimentality that was all the rage in the mid-90s.

Fortunately, CU3E sees Supuration returning to the style of their debut, amplifying the rougher edges yet adamantly, and refreshingly, refusing to entertain any modern-day fads. This is fervently old-school metal, in tone, matter, and spirit. Supuration‘s technicality doesn’t derive from any overstated prowess at instruments, but from an understanding of dynamics and a powerful harmonic unity. Often, power lies in words that aren’t said, in notes that aren’t played; Supuration demonstrate the axiom to the fullest. They are a band of words and images, and I imagine their approach to songwriting provides the optimum platform for dispersing their ideas.

Supuration aren’t an overly aggressive band. Sure, there is a seething undercurrent of darkness and mystery in their music, but these are songs that could be called mellow, idyllic even, though admittedly by a somewhat twisted imagination. The drumming rarely steps outside established heavy metal norms, almost never resorting to death metal staples. The music is a hybrid of Scandinavian death metal, early works of the Peaceville doom trio, and the more accessible sound that they, along with the likes of Rotting Christ, Moonspell, Septic Flesh, and others, went on to adopt as the 90s wore on. It serves well to remember, however, that Supuration were their contemporaries in every possible manner and not just con artists that arrived at the scene post-event.

Ludovic Loez’s vocals during the cleaner, robotic sections, are heavily inspired by Snake from Voivod, as is the band’s use of dissonant, “pulsing” chords, so common on Dimension Hatross and Nothing Face. It seems a happy coincidence that both bands have released  great, come back albums this year. Supuration also make sparing use of choirs to emphasize a certain dreamlike quality so central to their lyrical concept. The songs work well enough as stand alones – ‘Consumate’ has a main refrain that reminds me of Metallica‘s Orion, ‘The Delegation’ has a chorus infectious as the Spanish Flu, and there are classic hooks scattered throughout – but there is a central thread running from start to finish. CU3E is an album, first and foremost, a quality rarely found in modern heavy metal. And therein lies Supuration‘s greatest triumph.

Just a beautiful old school metal album that has a little in it for everybody.

Bovine – The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire

Jayaprakash Sathyamurty checks out the new album from Bovine titled ‘The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire‘, released via FDA Rekotz.

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Tracklist:
01. Barium
02. Ghost Chair
03. Thank Fuck I Aint You
04. Heroes Are What
05. The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire
06. The Battle Of The Sinkhole
07. Aneugenic
08. I Will make You Real
09. Military Wife
10. Not Another Name

The postcolonial dilemma: is this metal at all?

At first listen, Bovine might seem to sit in the neo-sludge metal camp ushered in by Baroness and Mastodon’s crossover success. Throw in some later-day stoner influence, mainly from the Josh Homme camp, and there you go. Certainly, once the brooding, minimal intro ‘Barium’ is over and ‘Ghost Chair’ bursts in, its sheer aggression and energy make for a most satisfying package. The vocals vary between a tuneful, soaring style and more tortured shouting. The guitars are massive and tight and the drums are slamming. There’s a great change in pace towards the end, and a final blast that is full of righteous intensity. It’s during ‘Thank Fuck I Ain’t You’ that I start thinking about Mastodon’s slow dilution of their own sound, Baroness’ drift from the poised artistry and heaviness of the Red Album and, well, of Muse. The soaring, modern Brit rock vocals, the bouncy bravado of the riff – it really isn’t too far away from the sound of Devon rockers.

‘Heroes Are What’ further underscores the modern rock sensibility with its clean opening, complete with those slightly anguished vocals that became a mainstay of the genre after Jeff Buckley’s success. The song then takes a swift turn into faster territory, but it’s more rocking than slamming. The riffing style itself is starting to grate on me a bit with its jaunty singlemindedness, a far cry from the intricacy of Mastodon in their prime, nevermind the acid-and-barbed-wire approach of the original wave of sludge acts from the NOLA area. The title track ups the ante a bit with a driving yet restrained build-up and more complex, probing melodies. Sure, it’s Leviathan Lite, but it’s a good song. ‘The Battle of the Sinkhole’ manages to make the most of a few transitions between moderate and fast passages, and has some great drumming. ‘I Will Make You Real’ is a standout, like the title track, heavy, layered and not without a certain subtlety. ‘Military Wife’ hints at some hardcore influences, along with a few glitchy effects. It has some very effective riffing too – much more convincingly heavy and interesting than the more alt/grunge fare that was all over the first half of the album, and the shifts in tempo really work this time. ‘Not Another Name’ is marred  by the fact that the band’s more shouty vocals just don’t have that much repeat value.

Bovine is a band that has a lot of buzz about it at this point, and I can see their mix of sludge, stoner, grunge and modern rock influences finding favour in a lot of places. Perhaps it’s a measure of my own preference for the more trudging, misanthropic aspects of the sludge idiom and my lack of enthusiasm for the linear qualities of modern rock that make me somewhat less sensitive to this album’s charms. So it’s a classic YMMV deal: if you like the sound of the mix of styles I’ve alluded to, this is a superior example of its kind. If not, well, Eyehategod should have an album out any year now.