Hey everyone! Review Rundown is back. You know what that means: reviews, and lots of them. Five writers, ten albums that are out for your consumption, all worthy of listening to and discussing. We kept it a little shorter than usual, but the critiques are still on point. Enjoy our latest offering? Feel free to check out past volumes via this link!
As opposed to what their name implies, Optimist’s music is everything but optimistic (which actually becomes quite obvious after a short glance at the cover art). On their sophomore full-length record, Vermächtnis, the German four-piece created a monstrous hybrid somewhere in between death metal, grindcore, and blackened hardcore that is aiming for exactly one thing: destroy absolutely everything that gets in its way. Over the course of the 26 minutes Vermächtnis spans around, the band relentlessly maneuvers through a compilation of blast beats, beatdown sections and straightforward, hardcore-typical guitar riffs. Lyrically, vocalist Kevin Otto takes a rather nihilistic approach dealing with death, the end of time, or fucked up humanity in general.
While the production seems rather rough at first, I have to say that it fits the overall atmosphere pretty well. What took me some time to get used to, though, is the production of the vocals that kind of sit on top of the mix. Apart from this little flaw, I don’t find anything else that really bugs me.
Sure, Optimist don’t reinvent the wheel with this record (I’m pretty sure they don’t even want to), but if you’re a fan of pissed-off, heavy music in general, you will surely have a good time with Vermächtnis.
It’s February, it’s dark most of the time and it’s pretty damn cold. Yep, it’s the time of the year where black metal feels just like the right thing to listen to while I’m grumpily trampling through my hometown’s snowy forest complaining about literally everything about this season (you may have guessed it already – I really fuckin’ hate winter). Luckily, there are bands like Der Rote Milan out there that make these times more bearable for me.
On their latest output, Moritat, the German black metal unit provides some highly atmospheric, modern (post-) black metal that feels a lot more mature than their debut LP Aus der Asche back from 2016. Diverse song structures with just the right mixture of blast beats, massive chords, and atmospheric interludes as well as soaring melodies and interesting lyrical themes ensuring you’re not losing any interest throughout the six songs Moritat has to offer. A very crisp and modern production, especially on the vocals, perfectly completes the 40-minute-long effort.
To sum it all up, in a year that already blessed us with great black metal releases, Der Rote Milan managed to create an album that really stood out to me and I’m sure that will also please any fan that is into this kind of music.
Wow, another ‘Swancore’ release.
That may seem a little caustic to come out of the gate with, but I just don’t feel like I need to mince words here. Humble Abode have managed to shove their way into an already oversaturated scene without bringing anything new to the table. I’m not trying to insinuate that everything new has to be original, but with Manic Mansion, there is nothing new or original. “Status Quo Syndrome” speaks volumes for the record in that it’s simply just another standard release. The high-pitched vocals that have become synonymous with that style of post-hardcore aren’t winning me over, and the screams are lackluster at best. I just have a hard time finding any truly redeeming qualities from this release.
The core issue I have with this release is that it is essentially following the same formula that so many other similar bands have. If we look to groups such as A Lot Like Birds (RIP) and Hail the Sun, we can see a clear resemblance. That is not to say that bands are not allowed to have influences, but with Humble Abode, it feels more like a carbon copy of many of the aspects that made those bands popular. Manic Mansion just feels like another cash-in with hopes of making it big off a style that has already been made. It’s a decent release for a young band, but without creating something unique to make it their own, I don’t see this album making any waves anytime soon.
Quick side note: are those masks in this video just not a straight rip-off of The Sound of Animals Fighting? Like, come on.
Brave The Waters – Chapter II – Days of Solitude
This album is just super interesting. Directly following the motif of its predecessor Chapter I: Dawn of Days, there is a story being told here without any words. While Chapter I had a more positive energy around it, Chapter II does its name justice in just how alone it makes you feel. Creating an environment of emptiness and near-nothingness helps shape the mood to one of solitude and desolation. This is an album that sounds like winter, and is a perfect addition to your rainy day soundtrack.
It’s really the atmosphere that makes this record so majestic. There is nearly nothing more than a guitar and backing bass to carry everything. Yet even with this, the aura brought by this is nothing short of astonishing. The heavy reverb paints this open space, like you’re in a large concert hall with the music bouncing all around you. Tracks such as “To Be Alone” and “Endless Pursuit” illustrate this beautifully. Chapter II shows an extraordinary amount of skill to bring a full-bodied sound to this release with just two members behind it. I am hoping that we will be able to hear more of this journey that Brave the Waters is writing, but only time will tell.
How to describe an album like Hollowed? Avant-garde prog/experimental rock from Liége, Belgium. Pretty dark stuff. Romantic, as well. Their whole image misleads you to think that their music is scary and obscure, but it’s actually, well, surprisingly beautiful. Yeah, sure, it’s pretty dark and kinda scary. Sometimes you’ll think you’re staring into the abyss, but that’s fine. Just let it in. It will make your life better.
Let’s get a closer look into the aforementioned abyss. There is a morbidly romantic touch on these tunes, which I obviously can’t resist to fall for. There is a big sweet spot in my musical heart for the layers of noir, the beauty which lays in the shadows. It’s abrasive, subtle, twisted, warm, and cold. Hollowed closes with a great feeling for the journey the listener started. It may end with the band’s last notes of “Shelter”, but that’s when it starts to divulge itself in your mind.
Erlen Meyer is a cool band from France which play a mixture out of slightly mathy post-hardcore and black-ish post-metal. Not sold? Why are you not sold at that point? Did you read my first sentence? You did? Well, read it again. On paper, this album is already a no-brainer for me. Even mediocre records from those realms can grab my attention, now imagine how much enjoyment this mixture with actually powerful and passionate vocals, thoughtful and captivating songwriting, and the right amount of something extra special can get me.
You guessed it: a lot. This particular band plays their already captivating premise in such a flawless fashion, loading their dense soundscapes with brilliant flair. Easily one of my favorite records so far this year, and hopefully they will get more attention as the year goes by.
Noctambulist – Atmosphere Of Desolation
Gorguts is one of those bands that seems unrivaled in their violent, dissonant, yet somehow somber approach to progressive death metal. Often copied, but never replicated, it seems this year the band has found their equal in Noctambulist. Noctambulist, draw from the same attributes I just mentioned, have brought us a bleak and unforgiving listening experience that fully immerses the listener in black grime.
The title track “Atmosphere Of Desolation” presents itself as a fast-paced, thrashing beast, clawing itself into the listeners ears as if in trance. Growling vocals send through a light reverb effect pulling the song even closer to a vortex of madness. But under all the sludge and dissonance there is still a serene sense of melody which brings a somber flow to the song. While the adjectives ‘violent’, ‘abrasive’, and ‘raw’ would certainly fit here, the band does something not a lot of dissonant death metal acts can pull off, which is making the album sound pleasant and smart while still upholding these tropes of abrasiveness and violent emotions. If you like your death metal fast, heavy, and intelligent, this is the band for you.
Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
In all my time with the site, I haven’t reviewed a lot of folk. Actually, I don’t think I really reviewed a single folk record until now. But if I could only review only one album of every genre, my pick for folk would be Better Oblivion Community Center. Why? Well, when you hear the first track it should really be a no-brainer. Like so many songs it starts with an acoustic guitar riff. Almost sleepy sounding female vocals come along as well, giving off a warm and comfortable atmosphere. The track has still a lot of air, but don’t worry, it will fill this emptiness with everything romantic, wholesome and nice right away.
Male vocals begin a duet with the already-present female ones and shortly after they come in, they bring soft synthesizers with them. Electric drums with a delay and a slide sound from what sounds like an analog synth fill the room previously left to the ambiance. This is a song that could work well sung around a campfire as well as on a big stage. And just like this track, the whole record feels just as connected to all the things one could feel good about.
Well, here we go. This is one of the most talked about bands in recent weeks, with the release of their latest album amo. No strangers to controversy, at least among their fans (oddly enough), BMTH have once again made large shift in their sound moving even further from their deathcore/metalcore origins. With this shift, we get even more electronic and pop influences, along with some surprising featured guest spots from the likes of Grimes and Dani Filth (Cradle of Filth). While there are traces of metalcore and hard rock still present on the record, most notably on “wonderful life” and “heavy metal”, this comes off more as an electronic pop record than anything else. Although this isn’t what is expected or desired from BMTH in many cases, I think the album works incredibly well overall.
Along with the success of the album, there are also a handful low spots as well. “medicine” is a song that tries a little too hard to be clever while expressing some adolescent emotions, clashing some of the more mature themes that this record addresses. “sugar honey ice & tea” leans hard into the cringe as well, at least in my opinion. While I think that this band and album will forever be divisive, there are moments that genuinely work with some nice vocal turns, guest spots, and melody.
Mercury Rev – Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
The marriage of rootsy folk music with lush borderline psychedelic pop soundscapes is genuinely a pairing that makes me giddy just typing this out. This is exactly what Mercury Rev have done on Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited. With a litany of guest vocal performances from the likes of Norah Jones, Phoebe Bridges, and Lucinda Williams, from start to finish there is simply gem after gem making up the tracklist. The opening track “Okolona River Bottom Band” is a true tone setter for the how the album will play out. Jazz instrumentation, strings, haunting harmonies, and a moody atmosphere makes the performance of the song quite memorable.
“Tobacco Road” is another standout track where the instrumentation recedes and allows Susanne Sundfor’s crisp vocals to charm the the listener. “Refractions” with guest Marissa Nadler ups the haunting factor as it employs strings and the theremin dances to and fro’ in the background, with just a hint of western guitar. This record is truly a journey as it moves from song to song, each with standout guest vocals, one that will stand up as one of the year’s most memorable records for me.