Well, we’re in September now, and it’s time for Review Rundown. It’s a special one, too, as we have two newcomers – our staff writer John and PR wizard Inter will be contributing! You know the drill: ten albums, five writers, all this stuff is already released so you can check it yourself. Let’s get to it!
Bread, and butter, and metalcore. Salt, and pepper, and metalcore. Beans, and rice, and metalcore. Meat, and potatoes, and metalcore. Two guitars, one bass, a drummer, and a singer; play metalcore.
Uptempo riffs, mid-screamed vocals, a sense of groove, atmospheric keyboard ‘back-lays’, serious Architects vibes, and the de rigueur breakdowns make this album a work of metalcore.
I think you get the picture by now that Earthists play metalcore. Add in some blast beats under riffs that really ought not be accompanied by such, but somehow work anyway and one could say this album is somewhat original by the standards of metalcore. Some of the more rhythmically interesting and adventurous songs on Lifebinder like “Memento Mori” have main riffs that were played with the palm firmly pressed down on the guitar strings, but on the whole, the album does not djent enough to be called anything but metalcore.
Perhaps it might be grating to read an album review in which every sentence ends with the word ‘metalcore’. Indeed, it was a challenge to write a review that so heavily emphasizes metalcore. By the same token, it must be a real challenge for Earthists to have made their second album one that is so unabashedly metalcore. This is a fine addition to your streaming library if you happen to be that big a fan of… wait for it… metalcore.
Mass Culture – Primal | Ephemeral
Greece’s Mass Culture have their work cut out for them. Post-metal is one of those subgenres that suffers from over-definition. Years of sludge from Neurosis and the relentless perfection of Amenra and Eryn Non Dae have left the fields of endless despair seemingly uncultivatable for those who are new to the scene. Luckily, Mass Culture have been around since 2011 and only released their first full-length album now, and it is as thoughtful and mature as a debut album can be.
Primal | Ephemeral makes sludge easy to digest. With only eight songs in 37 minutes, people could mistaken it for a more conventional metal or hardcore release. The songs neither drag on nor brood. Instead they have a sense of urgency and constant tension that imparts up on their endings a sense of release rather than relief. Even the album’s longest song, “Dismantling The Knots” (at seven minutes) lacks the repetition that seems almost required for sludge. Indeed, that song’s riffs are the most straightforward ‘metal’ on all of Primal | Ephemeral. Mass Culture added some Sabbath vibes to “∏” for good measure. The other songs take on the post-metal staple of playing identifiably hardcore riffs at a slow or medium pace.
It’s easy to dismiss Mass Culture as just another sludge band, but they show enough thought and artistry in Primal | Ephemeral to make it justified listening for people who love this kind of music. The only criticism: Mass Culture offer this album for free at this time of writing (cf. Bandcamp link above); they ought to have enough confidence to charge at least a pittance for something this good. Take advantage while you can!
Upon first listen of Cheyenne by Conner Youngblood, I was completely feeling it. Then I began to do some research about this young man, and learned something that blew me away! Youngblood doesn’t just do the vocals on this record, he does far more than that. He is a multi-instrumentalist, in fact he plays every instrument you hear on Cheyenne. Some of the instruments used (other than guitar, bass, and drums) are a harp, tablas, and a bass clarinet. There are actually no guests on the record.
It’s hard to lump this project into a genre. It’s folk, it’s ambient, it’s indie, it’s R&B. One thing I’m sure of: it’s truly beautiful. Youngblood spent two years traveling the world so many songs are named after places like “Cheyenne”, “Los Angeles”, “Stockholm”, and “Sulphur Springs”.
Moments of the album remind me of Bon Iver; hell, there are even dream pop sections reminiscent of Cigarettes After Sex. Cheyenne is super chill and it gets better after every listen. This cat is an absolutely gifted musician and an incredible singer.
Though there are no filler tracks, make sure to peep “The Birds of Finland”, “Stockholm”, “12 lbs”, and “Red.23”. If you want an album to relax to, this is your jam of 2018!
toe‘s latest number, Our Latest Number, is only four songs clocking in at about twenty minutes, but it features their signature fun math rock vibes. This Japanese quartet has been making music together since 2000, and they haven’t lost a step.
The first track is an instrumental with an electric and acoustic guitar playing cool harmonics that they cleverly named “Dual Harmonics”. It builds intensity and momentum, and hits nicely when bassist Yamane Satoshi jumps in about halfway through the song.
The remaining three tracks have their similar feel to them, channeling some American Football. The EP isn’t completely instrumental with vocals featured on two of the songs. “The Latest Number” sounds like a Japanese Minus The Bear song, probably the funnest one of the bunch.
Drummer Kashikura Takashi shines especially on “Etude of Solitude” with cool shuffles over tasty riffs by guitarists Yamazaki Hirokazu and Kashikura Takashi.
The finale “F_A_R” is a ballad that also features vocals. Piano is the main instrument in the song. The EP ends with a snare march and the piano building in dynamics and then it drops off completely to piano and vocals to finish it off.
This isn’t toe‘s best work but it’s lots of fun!
Math rock is some of the most energetic and effervescent music that you can pipe into your ear holes. As a genre, it’s one of the most consistently entertaining styles that you can listen to, but often herein lies the issues. With so many good acts and solid records, sometimes it’s difficult to isolate a genuine standout. Here comes Murphy Radio with their self-titled debut to tip the scales in their favor on being a standout math rock record of the year. With ten tracks that usually hover around the four-minute mark, this album is like a cool treat on a hot day. With bright guitars, sliding bass lines, and vocals interspersed throughout, it’s hard to come up with a reasonable criticism.
The mid-tempo “Hippos” is one of the early standouts on the album. Pleasant melodies along with a soaring chorus make for a great song, but also add some much needed dynamics and pacing to the flow of the album. “Summertime Loneliness” is a song that takes things down a notch as a short and sweet acoustic number along with a choir of nighttime insects which provide backing vocals. The bigger moments on this album standout as well. “Sports Between The Trenches” and “Graduation Song” are among the meatier compositions to be heard on Murphy Radio. As a whole, this is a confident, well-paced record that shouldn’t be missed!
Mako Sica / Hamid Drake – Ronda
Collaborations, in many cases, are simply cross-promotional opportunities that lack genuine artistic merit. Of course this isn’t always the case, and thankfully with Ronda, this certainly isn’t what’s afoot. Famed percussionist Hamid Drake has paired up with the free-rock trio Mako Sica to create a massive, sprawling record that is rife with improvisational cuisine. With five tracks, and clocking in at around one hour, this is a dense and meditative record that is as much as experience as it is a piece of music. Yes, this type of statement can get overblown and seems like a box quote meant to get you to buy the record. Well, I want you to buy it, so that adds up. It’s worth every penny.
Beginning with “Dance With Waves”, a 15-minute opus, these two acts show why their pairing is a match made in heaven. Enchanting rhythms that underlie a bevy of styles carry this song into a multitude of directions all while being consistent within its own context. With a bit of jam rock, lounge jazz, and Latin beats to boot, this record playfully flirts with a variety of genres all while refusing to be anything but fantastic. If you’re a fan of spacious, atmospheric music you simply cannot miss this album.
Don’t blame me for being snobby. This is album is a fucking masterpiece. Sorry, I need to swear to undergird this. And nobody is listening. What’s wrong with you? Private Life is the new project featuring Sam Chown of SHMU and This Will Destroy You‘s Christopher Royal King. Now imagine a mixture of synth-heavy, shoegazy psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and cyberpunk. Intrigued? You should be!
It’s simply breathtaking how effortlessly the duo combines a wide variety of style to a very cohesive and homogeneous sound, while giving each and every song its very own persona. The atmosphere on the album reaches from 60s/70s kraut/psychedelic rock to 80s synthwave, but somehow manages to sound contemporary and relevant. The songs and their arrangement on the album have such good pacing; elegant, energetic, mature, but with a sprinkle of juvenile, experimental charm to it. Overall, the whole album is incredibly well-balanced, weird enough to please my inner music nerd, but not too weird to come along as complacent or cerebral.
If you have some sympathy for the aforementioned styles of music, or if you are overall interested in progressive and psychedelic music, this album is a must-have for every music enthusiast who want to end the year with a snappy ‘I told you so’ towards their ignorant friends. Just kidding. Tell your grandma about it, she will probably love it.
Trevor Powers – Mulberry Violence
You know the feeling, when you turn on a record and you know instantly that it’s not just a good record. Not just a bunch of quality songs you might enjoy for some days, and turn to the next one. No, this is the feeling of sounds that really embrace you, not just please you. Real intensity.
The thought that this can happen all the time, with every new record you listen to, is one of my key motivations to constantly try out new music. Gladly, my first listening session with Trevor Powers’ new album Mulberry Violence gave me exactly what I needed. A hush at first, a small inkling, progressing into something deeply profound. Magic. Sometimes, it’s the mystery – the things you don’t understand – which makes something special.
Trying to put into words what this record is all about, sound-wise, compositionally, and lyrically is a complex talk, and it would be merely an impression of the greatness which enfolds while experiencing the richness and depth of Mulberry Violence. It’s the sense of intimacy and breadth, which go hand-in-hand in an impalpable way. Do yourself a favor and check this record, even if you aren’t into… well, screw that. Check this record.
I’ve heard a few bands really go for the death/doom atmosphere this year, but I’ve yet to hear it done as well as Convulsing.
It was hard to find the words to describe Grievous. Immediately, you might notice its cavernous ambiance. Heavy guitars and slamming drums envelope you like an expansive nullity. It’s spacey, but without the grandeur of the final frontier. It’s more like the Marianas Trench. The darkness of “Beaten” is a blunt force with savage vocals scraping against your ears. Black, rusted guitar melodies lacerate you during “Relent”. Lyrics are appropriately desolate, painting greyed landscapes of inescapable death and despair. It’s the darkest of poetry, which complements the rattling of the music. Listening to this album is like falling eternally, the blood in your body chilling enough to make you shiver while your stomach churns into a void similar to the one that’s swallowing you whole. All of this, amazingly, is orchestrated by one man.
The album culminates in a spellbinding, haunting cover of Porcupine Tree’s “The Sleep of No Dreaming” that I can’t bring myself to spoil. Just listen. Grievous is abysmal, not in quality, but in depth. The atmosphere pulls you down, then the weight of the instrumentation crushes even further. You can’t prepare for something like this.
What the hell could I possibly say about Jesus Piece that they themselves don’t say with their full hand face-slap of an album, Only Self? This being a debut album, the band seeks to make a good first impression with heavier-than-heavy riffs, blistering vocals, abyssal atmosphere, and more.
“Curse of the Serpent” is pit music. – grinding guitars, thick bass, and drums that pummel out rhythms slowly. You can practically smell the boot leather from flailing kicks. “In the Silence” builds a menacing atmosphere with spacier sounds and reverb that doesn’t quit. And if that wasn’t enough, the band literally just goes full post-metal/doom with a pair of album closing tracks “I” and “II”.
That’s the interesting part here. You expect hardcore such as this to be absolutely unrelenting aggression, and… well, it is, but they leave room for more. On a debut, to me, that says they want to keep things interesting from the jump. I’m listening, Jesus Piece.
In the end, Only Self is like getting suplexed through a glass table, then left in a quiet hospital while your own thoughts and residual pain eat away at you. Its chaotic start gives way to a comedown that’s anything but a reprieve. A hardcore highlight of 2018 for sure.