Thursday, May 29, 2014

Artificial Brain- Labyrinth Constellation(2014)

Artificial Brain- Labyrinth Constellation

Labyrinth Constellation is the kind of album which is just fucking miserable to write a review about.

Artificial Brain's debut full length is so instantly likeable, so warm and dissonant and fuzzy that is just immediately slides into a comfortable spot in your listening rotation, playing though it's "just right" playing length and throwing dozens of killer riffs and dynamic composition changes at you that it gets boring.  It is simply a perfectly crafted album from top to bottom... and that's what also makes it at times feel so unessential.

This isn't really a fault in the traditional sense.  This is an album not only of  technical skill but also chock full of ideas and just a hint of uniqueness to it.  Labyrinth Constellation fits rather snugly into the realm of hyper dissonant, hyper technical Death Metal with ever so subtle Black Metal and Industrial Metal elements, but not only athletically and aesthetically dominates much of it's lesser competition in the genre(Read: Vermis), but also offers enough personality to feel like something new.  Between all the Gorguts-cum-Deathspell Omega of Labyrinth Constellation lives the brutally muscular soul of Breeding the Spawn and Effigy of the Forgotten.  Imagine an art house Suffocation, thrashing through dozens of complex riffs and seeking face melting zenith while throwing lots of dissonant, melodic undertones at you from all sides.  It's works too damn well, and that's largely the problem.

There is very much a cold, calculated and mechanical nature to the album, despite it's thick, inviting production and heavy reliance on atmosphere.  Even at it's most unique, melodic and fuzzy, Labyrinth Constellation feels like a mapped out emotional journey that tries to trick you into thinking it's not on rails by moving fast and with lots of (un)wreckless abandon.  Certain sections seem to repeat themselves, and the tempos move quickly but are interchangeable and refurbished across multiple tracks.  Often times, I try to predict how a song will go and then see if the album can surprise me.  Labyrinth Constellation is the least surprising album of 2014 so far, even compared to much more traditional and much inferior albums.

It seems like a small thing to harp on, but it's a big deal in the margins of Death Metal history.  Labyrinth Constellation is an album seemingly custom made for me to adore with levels of fanboy faggotry; and album for me to lay on my custom hyperbole all over and annoy most metalheads who vastly prefer Jumpin' Jesus to anything made after 1994.  And I really very much enjoy the album.  I love the gargantuan brutality, the skin flaying dissonance and effortless atmosphere.  And any album featuring Will Smith of the truly legendary Biolich on vocals is a keeper for me.  But Labyrinth Constellation also feels...unworthy.  Something about it fails to achieve the heart of my stars, and although it soars high, Labyrinth Constellation in the very end finds itself burning up and crashing toward an unforgiving Earth.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gridlink- Longhena(2014)

Gridlink- Longhena

It's always interesting to hear a band when they reach the curtain call.  Longhena is Gridlink's declaration to the world: they are no more, history is devouring them and all they will leave behind is the resonance of their art through the ages.  They frankly don't give a fuck what anyone thinks, because this is it.  One last shot at codifying their identity into sonic form and leaving it for the masses to judge and disseminate among themselves.  Longhena feels very much like an album made for the musicians who created it, and we all get to bask in that freedom of not giving two flying fucks.

You can probably guess what Longhena is all about.  Grindcore, like much of Extreme Metal(yes, it's Metal), is very much a genre of tradition and paradigms.  Longhena has not need for such things, and both are ripped to shreds in melodic, Heavy Metal riffs and longing ambient pieces.  In fact, it's debatable whether Gridlink were even trying to make a Grindcore record here, or rather just some sort of distillation of their musical taste's and influences which includes healthy doses of Traditional Metal, Grindcore, Prog Rock and Ambient, all vigorously whipped together with a futuristic, Japanese cyber punk flavor and Jon Chang's legendary vocals and powerful, poetic prose.

Jon Chang.  If I can fanboy out for a moment, I need to talk about Jon Chang.  Not the man, as I don't personally know him, but Jon Chang the vocalist.  If the end of Gridlink means one sad thing for me, it's the idea that this might be the last we hear of him as one of the defining vocalists of his generation.  Many love his style and many hate his style.  Others find it unimpressive.  But when Chang provides vocals for a project, everyone know it is him: his manic, inhuman shrieks and throaty guttural grunts are simply unmatched within Extreme Metal in general, and when I was grinding out vocals for some shitty Grindcore band that I really loved playing in(even if we were shitty), I tried to channel Chang in every performance.  I tried to channel the wrath, disgust and complete humanity that Chang gave us on The Inalienable Dreamless.  Often, when praising vocalists, especially Extreme Metal vocalists, we praise them for how they seem to have transcended their humanity and transformed in raging beasts, subterranean demons or longing banshees.  But Chang's gift comes from the overwhelming, soul crushing humanity of his vocals.  This is what makes him special, and for me the greatest Extreme Metal vocalist ever.

It helps Longhena that this is the best Chang has sounded since his time with Discordance Axis.  It was hard not to noticed a down tick in intensity with Gridlink's previous releases and with Hayanio Daisuki, though this can be chalked up to the obvious throat damage of Chang's unhinged style surely has brought.  But like the unhinged and off-kilter style of Longhena the album, Chang is clearly pulling out all the stops, throat be damned.

Grindcore be damned as well.  From the opening sparkly and bouncy riff of "Constant Autumn," to the whirring Heavy Metal dual melody attack of "Ketsui" to the somber, dissonant Prog Metal sections of "Island Sun," Longhena declares itself separate from the classification.  "Thirst Watcher" provides a moment of quiet introspection early in the album, as clean guitars twirl and dance with muted electronic sounds and a howling violin, and it certainly stands out as unlike anything you would have expected.  Longhena does have some solid moments of what's mostly Grindcore: "Chalk Maple" is still highly melodic, but feels like a good Tech Grind songs and features some brilliant guest vocals from Paul Pavolich of Assuck fame(man, this album can't be more awesome.)  "Wartime Exception Law 2005" blasts through a mere 29 seconds of techy, lush Grindcore and dissonant, off axis musical twisting, feeling pretty close to something off of Amber Gray or Orphan.  Takafumi Matsubara is a relentless shred master, which he showed with Hayanio Daisuki, but he also shows a brilliant affinity for technical, metallic Grindcore riffs and discordant compositions.   

There is an undeniable current of beauty that flows through Longhena which gives it a feeling that seems so totally alien to Extreme Metal.  Dare I say, Longhena sounds very... happy at times.  Not that is doesn't have it's dark and somber moments("Island Sun"), but there is a very noticeable positive slant to the entire experience.  Gridlink are having a hell of a lot of fun on with this material, and it's impossible not to smile along with them.  It's all helped by a sparking, crystal clear production, but it feels perfectly appropriate considering the energy and positive vibes of the material.  It's one of the most listenable and enjoyable, and highly addicting, releases I've heard, and without question the best Grindlink album.

Longhena is the musical equivalent of a walk off grand-slam; it's rare, it's powerful and it fucking wins the game.  My love for Grindcore and for Discordance Axis always kept me involved in Gridlink, but I'll  be the first to admit I was not a massive fan of the project.  It felt too much like Discordance Axis to me, just more Japanese and clean, and yet it lacked the massive intensity and wrath of hateful conviction.  This makes Longhena also sorrowfully bittersweet, as it appears in their last moment Gridlink had developed a sound which helped them stand apart from the legacy of earlier progeny and walk a new, undiscovered musical path.  Yet Longhena feels largely complete, as though nothing is really missing.  Gridlink are gone, but Longhena remains and will be heard and appreciated for years to come

i.e. this is how you go out with a fucking bang


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Inquisition- Obscure Verses for the Multiverse(2013)

Inquisition- Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Inquisition releasing a new album isn't just a big deal among the initiated in the cloak and dagger crowd.  It's a time of furious infighting over Dagon's vocal transformation from early releases like Incense of Rest to more recent releases like Nefarious Dismal Orations.  It's a time when the zealot seeks to destroy "the false"and disinterested, who ask: "What's the big deal?  Now Sunbather, that's awesome."  It's a time of comparisons between different era's, different guitar sounds and different song writing techniques spanning a career of consistent excellence and divisive interpretations.

Obscure Verses for the Multiverse is not just another release.  It's an event.

Don't mistake this for hyperbolic praise for Obscure Verses.  It's merely an observation.  In truth, Obscure Verses is as rock solid and listenable as any release they band have produced, occasionally ascending to something greater.  It's melodic, dissonant, big and ballsy, featuring the cleanest and punchiest sound the band have ever produced, though not quite as sonically massive or warm as Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm.  It's got equal appeal among traditionalists, Black Metal newbies with a hard on for Marduk and those craving walls of atmosphere; this is the most Populist Inquisition release to date.

This isn't a bad thing: Inquisition, newly minted to Season of Mist and releasing Obscure Verses with the biggest budget the duo have ever enjoyed, have every reason to expand their audience.  The fact that they are doing so while remaining 100% true to the sound and style that made them the dark God's of Black Metal atmosphere and intensity is all the better.  This is vintage Inquisition magic: riffs, riffs and more riffs, filtered through a fog of cosmic gas and inter- dimensional diffuse and regurgitated by The Old Gods into sound waves big enough to smother lungs and snap bones.  Dagon rants and raves in alien tongues like an extraterrestrial minister lost in a demonic trance, while a wall of dense sound crashes down upon you.  The budget may be bigger, the guitar sound cleaner and the drums punchier, but this is simply Inquisition rendered in a new light.

Dagon's guitar is a weapon of mass destruction; a mighty axe, crafted from the nucleus of a long dead comet.  It is the lifeblood of Obscure Verses, the center of it's might gravitational pull, and strikes with the force of planetary inertia.  Which is both the most excellent aspect of Obscure Verses and it's biggest failure: this is perhaps the least imaginative and dynamic Inquisition release to date.  Outside of some surprising vocal variety on "Darkness Flows Toward Unseen Horizons," this album feels largely like a complete rehashing of the bands previously ventured paths.  It's hard to argue with the results in the long run, but when stacked up to a discography of almost endless brilliance and consistent redefinition of their sound, Obscure Verses feels like the second time for the first time in the bands legacy.

Yet if Obscure Verses doesn't completely dominate your listening for at least a week, hang up your spurs and buy a Lorde album... or Black Eyed Peas.  Whatever the kids are listening to.  This is such a purely energetic album, bristling with a true love for Metal and what makes this genre so god dame awesome is on full display.  The band are such master technicians, such master song writers and craftsmen, that anything they touch will exude an artistic confidence and listenability few bands can match.  Obscure Verses is more a testament to the artist who created it than the art itself.

Rating: 8/10