Happy Halloween, fellow music nerds! As I’m sure you’ve seen, we didn’t do any big, special features for the occasion, so I took it upon myself to review two scary death metal albums for this week’s Review Rundown. There’s other tricks and treats as well, so let’s get to it! Ten albums, five writers, 100% music.
Norwegian sad boy extraordinaire boy pablo has returned with another sad, retro collection of reverb-y bedroom pop.
In terms of theme, I’m kinda on the fence. At points, this feels like the audio equivalent of some rich high school kid posting a basic-looking selfie on Instagram with a caption that expresses some kind of vague teenage yearning or sadness. We children of the millennial/Gen Z persuasion refer to this as a ‘mood’. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any tracks on Soy Pablo that are catchy as hell.
“Feeling Lonely”, which has the lyrics of said Instagram selfie, is an undeniably dancy disco romp. The guitar lick, which sounds like something in the vein of Real Estate, is what really grooves on this one. The washy guitars and downtempo synths on “Sick Feeling” are nice, but the lyrics on the second verse feel kinda creepy to me, asking a girl for ‘another kiss’. I’d like to make the excuse that singing in English may present some problems for boy pablo, but that wouldn’t exactly suffice here.
At the end of the day, that’s all Soy Pablo is: a big mood. Something I see scrolling through Twitter, maybe smiling to myself, before scrolling on. It’s fine, but that’s all it is.
Kenny Segal – happy little trees
‘Didn’t you just review this guy’s album, like, a month ago?’
No, not this time. That was Milo’s most recent album budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies. But a few of these beats on happy little trees did wind up on that album (“adultswimtypebeat”), so I see why you drew that conclusion.
‘So Kenny Segal just released some of those beats?’
Those and more, and it makes for a pretty nice beat tape. “big decisions” is an interesting cut. It relies heavily on a few slow, antiquated wind samples, then transitions into a whirl of hi-hats and snare. I love the endearing pianos on “debushy”; the way they meld together on the low end like crashing waves. The bass and sax go well together, too.
I wouldn’t dare to lump this album in as a lo-fi hip-hop album (the songs are much longer and more detailed), but it definitely carries a relaxing mood.
‘One last question: How do you think Bob Ross would like this record?’
Oh yeah, he’d paint to it. Bob would vibe to these beats for sure. Bob Ross would want you to listen to happy little trees.
Voivod, Montreal’s first real metal band, have come a long way for their fourteenth studio album. Katorz (2006) and Infini (2009) are the last albums to contain riffs by Denis ‘Piggy’D’amour; with the guitar parts on Target Earth (2014) being wholly written by Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain. One could say safely that The Wake shows Chewy’s development as an artist in the space he has taken.
As for the title, perhaps The Wake refers to the numberless progressive and metal bands that show the influence of Voivod. However valid that interpretation might be, the band has not put on such airs of superiority as they did in the days of 1989’s Nothingface album. The years have been rough and challenging for them, and The Wake shows their penchant for more than just surviving, but thriving as well. It appears to be a return to the same tropes that populated Voivod’s earliest albums: catastrophe, apocalypse, survival, conflict, chaos, enigma, stupor, etc.
Is it prog? Naturellement. Perhaps not so over-the-top as Target Earth in this regard, The Wake still shows Voivod waving that flag high. The Wake has a naturalistic sound: few overdubs, guitar solos rarely played with backing tracks, very little reverb except when called for, and so on. Is it heavy? Not so much; sure, Chewy powers the chords every now and then and Michel ‘Away’ Langevin shows an occasional knack for the chaos on their first four albums; but the power comes with great restraint. This is content over aesthetics; composition over virtuosity.
Measure for measure, a worthy successive chapter in the ongoing Voivod epic.
As I continue to remind everyone in Review Rundown, the term ‘classical music’ encompasses more than just the bevy of dead, white, European male composers and their work oft preserved as museum music. Puce Mary is the artistic name of Danish composer Frederikke Hoffmeier. She combines elements of industrial music, musique concrète, spoken word, and noise to create mini-sonic collages of symphonic magnitude. The cover image of The Drought evokes the Biblical Eve, with invoked pecuniary symbolism intermingled with the knowledge of good and evil. Whether or not this symbolism works as a second-order signification on the music is for listeners to judge.
Less obscure would be the haunting tension on this album. Puce Mary makes good use of drones, tones, and unsettling jabs to create buildups, crescendos, and cadences in each of The Drought’s nine tracks. They often, but not always, flow successively as “Red Desert” does into “Coagulate”. The former song is a meditation on dread, all but oblivious to the disaster happening around she who meditates. The latter is a perfect fusion of terror and wonder; the musical expression of defecating in one’s pants and feeling one’s heart palpitate while marveling with amazement at some surrounding spectacle of beauty. “The Size of Our Desires” follows with its own immersion – night baptism – of weirdness.
For those who need it, Puce Mary offers more proof that fresh, intellectually challenging music is out there for those who seek it.
Earlier this year, Minus the Bear announced that they were calling it quits, which broke my heart. They tried to fix it by releasing a final EP entitled Fair Enough. This EP is basically leftovers that didn’t make the cut from their last album Voids. But if you remember, they released a B-sides album, Lost Loves, in 2014 and the album was filled with absolute bangers.
Fair Enough has only four songs, but it has a little bit of everything. The opener “Fair Enough” is a beautiful ballad with these lyrics, ‘I don’t feel love/I can’t feel you anymore‘, which can be a double entendre for a relationship and also vocalist Jake Snider’s passion for the band. This and “Dinosaur” are both very mature and chill songs, in the style of Voids and Omni.
The highlight of the EP is “Viaduct”, which brings me back to the Planet of Ice days. Guitarist Dave Knudson really shines on this song with technical uptempo riffs and an excellent solo. This song represents Minus the Bear the best out of the four on this EP. Fair Enough closes with “Invisible (Sombear Remix)”, which is a remixed song off of Voids, which has the remix album Interpretaciones del Oso feel to it. A world without Minus the Bear will be empty, but they left us a little something to remember them by with Fair Enough.
Lay Your Love Down is a beautiful EP from Redwood, a quintet hailing from the UK. Clocking in at 19 minutes over five songs, they fill this EP with music to keep the listener captivated the whole time. With a nice mixture of math rock, indie, and alternative, Redwood showcases their chops and songwriting skills. Three of the members share vocal duties, which creates many excellent harmonies throughout the EP.
Lay Your Love Down opens with “In Your Arms” which sounds like a Covet song before building into an intense chorus. “Mother” feels like if could have been on Spark Large by the Swedish indie duo Marching Band. The heaviest song is right in the middle. “Denaline” features a lot of guitar tapping in the style of Minus the Bear.
Most of “Magnolia” reminds me again of Marching Band and their ability to use gorgeous vocal melodies. “Yellowstone” is a really cool closer. Beginning with just acoustic guitar and vocals, then building into dissonant distorted guitars over the same repeated lyric from before.
If you’re looking for a dope EP from a talented group of dudes that remind you of Minus the Bear by their shredding skills and Marching Band by their vocal harmonies, look no further.
If there is a genre that I think needs more attention, it’s post-black metal. Using the ferocity of black metal within the vocals and lyrical inspiration, and the cinematic atmosphere of post-rock, the genre never bores me. Avast are a band that are taking these ideas into some epic and expansive new directions. Bringing Norway’s rich black metal heritage to bear within their dense post-rock sensibilities makes a for sound that’s recognizable but has greater depth than many other attempts I’ve heard.
The title track is just a hair under nine minutes and traverses a dynamic ebb and flow with real maturity. The vocals stand up a bit more in the mix and than most in this territory which I find to be apt and refreshing. After the lovely instrumental, “The Myth”, we’re treated to one of the darker compositions on the record which dials up a larger than usual helping of black metal. “The Birth Of Man” still has plenty of crashes and swells to remind the listener that their listening to Avast, but remains one of the heavier and darker songs on this album. My favorite song on Mother Culture is the punishing “The World Belongs To Man”. The vocals hit a new high in intensity and the composition in itself sounds years beyond what one would expect on a debut.
This is an album that I fear will be tragically overlooked, so go buy this and join me in being uppity about hearing it before anyone else.
Open Mike Eagle – What Happens When I Try To Relax
When it comes to current hip-hop artists, Open Mike Eagle is one that is always fighting for the top spot of my personal list. His ability to transition between flows, sense of melody, and hooks have reeled me in time and time again, so when I saw that he dropped a new EP, I was keen to pipe it into my ears as soon as possible. Kicking off with “Relatable (OME)” the backing track is rife with synth and echoes of the creating an wide canvas over which OME can rhyme. The track is a seemingly satirical expression of relatability, sending up a society who leans into their own supposed idiosyncrasies, only to find out they’re like everyone else. I, for one, can relate.
What Happens When I Try To Relax is also a showcase of how well Open Mike Eagle can morph his style. “Every Single Thing” takes on a deliberate delivery, while “Microfiche” splits the difference between rapid and relaxed. As a whole this is an enjoyable set of songs that will be a hit with fans, and contains the potential to create new fans as well. If you’re looking for a diverse hip-hop record that delivers a variety of styles and is slightly out of step with the mainstream, get on this one.
Outer Heaven – Realms of Eternal Decay
Grotesque. Menacing. Heavy. All good things when it comes to death metal. Outer Heaven bring all of this and more with Realms of Eternal Decay, an album that’s laser-focused on bringing the sonic brutality. So much so that there isn’t room for much else.
“Bloodspire” has a terrifying melody that’s aided by what sound like faded strings hanging in the back of the mix. It’s very foreboding and massive like I would imagine a literal bloodspire to be, creating some nice spacing in a type of sound that typically is crushing and constricting. “Decaying Realms” chugs along like a damn tank engine, reminiscent of some of the great stuff bands like Gatecreeper have produced recently. “Pulsating Swarm” brings that menacing sound I referenced earlier with slow riffing to lead us into the meat of the song, almost to a death-doom degree. Most songs are riff piles with raw, guttural vocals painting hellscapes of destruction and, yes, decay.
It gets a little samey from song to song with multiple listens, but its short length makes that a bit more forgivable. Consistency is nice and this is likely a great positive for Death Metal™ fans, but I’d like a little more diversity in approach. I still enjoyed this more than other heralded death metal efforts this year, and that’s ultimately what matters. The Realms of Eternal Decay are more welcoming than they sound. Solid debut!
Bloodbath – The Arrow of Satan is Drawn
Whenever I review a band that I have a past with, I try to jump around their catalog a bit so I can better contextualize their new efforts. In listening to Bloodbath’s last album, Grand Morbid Funeral, I got lost in the moment and thought it was their new album. That isn’t really a good thing.
Chalk it up to unfamiliarity with The Arrow of Satan is Drawn, really, and, to be fair, that probably sells what good stuff that is on here a little short. If nothing else, it does speak to their consistency! The supergroup has been meandering for a couple albums now. This one has higher peaks than Grand Morbid Funeral, but there’s too much middling, filler content to be great.
To cut to the chase, “Wayward Samaritan” is a highlight with great melodies and good variations in percussion. It’s a little thrashy in the intro which pleases me. “Warhead Ritual” is nice, too. Ambiance, sampling, and good grooves set the tone for a track that should’ve been a single. Instead, we got “Chainsaw Lullaby” with lyrics like ‘Violent twitch, growling pitch/Mechanical terror is out on the prowl, bitch’. Damn.
It’s a Bloodbath album. As we go on, that’s beginning to mean less for innovation in brutality and ferocity, and more for by-the-numbers callback death metal. The Arrow of Satan is Drawn has some cool stuff to offer, but the band is in need of an overhaul if they wish to keep up with their younger contemporaries.