Monday, June 18, 2007

eighth wave

Aemae -- MAW [isounderscore]

This is scary, teeth-grinding stuff; where Aemae's previous releases were more droning in nature, this one is considerably noisier, grating stuff, especially on "PDE," which is built on harsh snippets of glitch electronica and reverb applied in the interests of sonic ugliness. There's some of the wind-tunnel drone aesthetic used to such eerie effect on the previous album, but here it's used to envelop and break up the distorted, crunchy sounds of digital noise. The use of space and passages of muted sound, even silence, is still prevalent, which only makes the harsh sounds that much more jarring when they come crashing in abruptly again. The sound on "Confound Me" is closer to that of earlier releases, with droning hum and warped tones resembling the processed sound of wind rattling through metal pipes and vents; on "Spectral Psychosis," the pipe-driven sound is augmented by what sounds like a buzzing, efx-laden violin -- the tonally disparate sounds rise and fall, working with and sometimes against each other, incorporating brief passages of silence before the sound begins to mutate, growing noisier and uglier, even harrowing at times. The sound on "Bad Entity" is more subdued and ghostly, with slow drones that ebb and flow like wire music, bearing the closest resemblance to the sound of previous releases, and is the most eerie-sounding piece here. The closing track, "The Bell Contour Memory," reprises the jarring glitch sounds of the opening track, using abrupt harsh sounds that come and go without warning over a distant rumble that draws closer as the noise content grows more extensive. With this release, Aemae continues to broaden its sonic horizons while remaining true to its grounding in experimental electronics and the unusual application of drone, silence, and minimalism.


Birdflesh -- MONDO MUSICALE [Candlelight USA]

Sweden's Birdflesh have a peculiar sense of humor, even for grindcore -- they dress up on stage in colorful (to say the least) constumes and record tunes with titles like "Wigdestroyer" and "Handicapitation," and appear to have a healthy appreciation for the theater of the absurd. This album (their third full-length, not counting a flood of splits and demos) is a prime example of classic grind, at least from the apolitical (and more humor-obsessed) wing, with 25 short bursts of manic riffing, grunting and shouting, endlessly frantic drumming, and the occasional purloined sample. There's nothing subtle or nuanced about it, just a steaming blur of downtuned riffs and ranting, mostly played at hyperspeed; they slow down every now and then to grind away in tortured fashion, sure, but that's just so you can realign your vertabrae before the hurricane of sonic destruction commences once again, urging you to snap your neck trying to keep up. For the grind-metal fan who cares less about politics than flat-out sonic immolation.

Candlelight USA

Black Sparrow -- LEGS HEAVY WITH POLLEN [dead sea liner]

More whole-grain drone goodness from UK drone label dead sea liner, in four longish slices. "Whispering Smith" is a subdued field of drone in which electronic bees hum as scratchy noises dither off and on; "Almost as good as a blizzard" proceeds in a similar vein, but with a drone that sounds more like processed white noise that gradually increases in volume, sounding very much like an approaching blizzard, and accompaniment of sorts in the form of what sounds like plinking piano notes and muffled thumping about. The drones on "When was yesterday?" are louder and more high-pitched, wailing squeals that rise and fall as grinding noises enter the fray, until the entire thing ends abruptly, seguing into the album's longest track, the exquisitely-titled "there's nothing like a friendship based on fear," where a cyclotron drone is enhanced by tinkly noises and bell tones as different sounds, noises, and textures gradually appear over the track's sixteen minutes.

Black Sparrow
dead sea liner

Canvas Solaris -- CORTICAL TECTONICS [Sensory]

Georgia's Canvas Solaris are one of the more recent entrants into the instrumental-metal sweepstakes, a genre that's starting to get a tad crowded, but they stand out by being one of the better ones. For the uninitiated, this is a sophisticated fusion of extremely complex technical metal and progressive jazz-rock, as equally indebted to Voivod and King Crimson as to math-rock pioneers Don Caballero and The Dillinger Escape Plan. Sure, they shred with the best of them, but they also are not afraid to incorporate world beat rhythms and pure jazz into their epic rock (there's only six tracks on the full-length album -- they like to explore as many different directions as possible). Unlike a lot of metal-heavy bands of a similar nature, they are not afraid to be subdued, even quiet, when the mood strikes them -- tracks like "Interface," with its muted, world-beat percussion and jazzy guitars, aren't even metal by any stretch of the imagination -- but they are also perfectly capable of monstrous metal chops (most notably evident on "Berserker Hypothesis" and "Gamma Knife") built on a ridiculously convoluted rhythm section. And then there's the epic of epics, the seventeen-minute closing track "Reticular Consciousness," which segues seamlessly from metal to jazz to other strange avenues of complex sound, adrift on a sea of endless riffs and sonorous tones; they manage to pack more moods, textures, and riffs into one song here than most bands manage on entire albums. More progressive jazz than metal, but still with plenty of heaviness, this should hold enormous appeal for prog-rock and technical-metal fans alike.

Canvas Solaris
Sensory (a division of The Laser's Edge)

Cathedral & Rum -- SURREAL TYPEWRITER [self-released]

Singer / songwriter Chris Hartford and co. are back with twelve more songs that sound like the work of an alt-country band fond of distinctly un-country experiments in sound and electronic frippery. The whiskey-soaked songs of love and loss, drinking, and the country are nominally built around traditional instrumentation, but they also throw in the use of Chapman stick, DJ scratches, and found sound to create surreal sonic vignettes akin to a more acoustic-based version of the mutant aesthetic Tom Waits championed on his still-unclassifiable album BONE MACHINE -- in other words, the folkish country aspect is definitely there, but the addition of drones, scratchy sounds, and other peculiar sonic effluvia make it distinctly different from any traditional form of country music you could ever imagine. At times reminiscent of a stripped-down version of the early Black Heart Procession albums, the sometimes chaotic sound is carried by Harford's distinctive vocals, and while the extraneous sounds might be distracting to some, they don't overwhelm the actual songs, instead adding layers of texture and mystery to what would otherwise be exercises in far more traditional-sounding country rock. Strange but compelling stuff, and far more accessible than the description (which doesn't really do justice to the band's unique sound) might indicate. Check out their Myspace page and hear it for yourself.

Cathedral & Rum


This four-track ep, a teaser for the upcoming full-length release FRAMING ARMAGEDDON, includes one new track, "Ten Thousand Strong," and a newly-recorded version of the "Something Wicked" trilogy ("Prophecy," "Birth of the Wicked," and "The Coming Curse") that originally appeared on the 1998 album SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. Guitarist and songwriter Jon Schaffer apparently felt compelled to re-record the trilogy to take advantage of new singer Tim Owens, best known as the guy who filled Rob Halford's shoes in Judas Priest while Halford was apparently trying to become the new Trent Reznor (and who was given his pink slip when Halford came to his senses and rejoined the band), and Owens is certainly up to the job. I have never heard the original version of the songs in question, so I have no basis for comparison, but the material here certainly sounds good (and heavy). The reworked trilogy of songs is strong stuff, and the new song is every bit as good as the older material -- in fact, without advance knowledge of the history of the songs in question, there would be no way to tell they were composed in different eras of the band. This is epic fantasy metal with lots of time changes, bursts of aggressive speed, and songs that aren't too far removed from the heavier and faster moments of Judas Priest or Iron Maiden -- there's plenty of melodic content mixed in with the speed and fury, too, and if the song quality here is any indication of what's coming down the pike, Iced Earth fans (and devotees of fantasy metal in general) should have plenty to look forward to when the new double-album epic finally arrives.

Iced Earth


Kamelot, along with My Dying Bride, were one of the first bands to successfully weld symphonic goth rock to melodic metal, setting the stage for the explosion of symphonic metal bands that burst forth around the turn of the century. Kamelot prove on this album that they are still at the forefront of the genre, with complex, progressive song arrangements built on soaring keyboards and operatic male / female vocals that abound with melodic guitar. One of the things that sets them apart from most other bands in the genre is their use of violin-like keyboard sounds, a tactic that reaches back to the traditional sound of classical music; at the same time, their sophisticated use of highly melodic guitar lines woven into the keyboard flourishes gives them a highly lyrical sound. The vocals (provided by singer Khan and various guests) are never less than excellent, and the forceful playing is both highly proficient and diverse; the songs are complex and every bit as bombastic as the band's reputation would lead you to expect, leavened with a wide variety of textures and exotic instrumentation. Fans of their previous work will not be disappointed, and devotees of other equally lauded symphonic metal bands who haven't heard this band before would be well advised to check out this album.


KeyDragon -- DRAGON PROPHECY [self-released]

Yes, the album really is obsessed with dragons -- pretty much all of the fourteen tracks here are devoted to the subject -- and while the band could probably stand to work on their presentation (the graphics are kind of amateurish and the production, while not awful by any means, is a little on the lo-fi side and doesn't represent the band well, especially given the kind of music they're making here), the band is not bad, assuming you have a high tolerance for dragons. Their sound fuses elements of metal, darkwave, and goth -- think Lacuna Coil, Type O Negative, etc. -- and they have the good sense to base everything around their most obvious asset, singer Tamara Venus Star, but music this bombastic, with this many disparate elements, really needs better production to come across in its best light. This is not a bad band by any means, but it's often hard to tell what's going on in the background, and the male singer's deathlike growling vocals are no match for Star's, which makes for a jarring vocal approach at times. The keyboards and bass are also often obscured in the mix, which is too bad, because interesting things are happening back there. This is not bad, but it would have been much better with improved production (a few songs about something other than dragons wouldn't hurt either).


Memfis -- THE WIND-UP [Candlelight USA]

This is the debut album by Swedish art-metal band Memfis, with a sound that incorporates elements of death metal, technical metal, the epic drone-ambient sound favored by the likes of Neurosis and Isis, and an unorthodox approach to songwriting that mixes the DNA from these disciplines in severely mutated ways. Songs that begin with burning chrome guitars and a classic death metal sound suddenly break out into neo-gothic interludes; searing melodic guitar lines fade into ambient washes; brief snatches of electronica lead into metallic fury; slashing, stop 'n start rhythms give way to momentary acoustic passages that turn back into blazing metal again. How they're going to keep track of all these changes live (outside of endless rehearsals) is anybody's guess, but their approach certainly keeps the songs from becoming stale, and while this approach is not exactly new at this point, they are relatively artful in picking unexpected moments to segue from one sound to the next, and do it without disrupting the overall flow of the songs. This is ambitious, arty stuff to be sure, but it never bogs down in pointless self-indulgence and the arty, mysteriously gothic / symphonic parts and tangents are offset by a relentless metal attack that's equal parts energy and anger. Considering this is the band's first release, it's telling that their lofty musical goals succeed more often than not, and their ability to weld several different genres into one coherent whole should help them immensely in finding a wide audience.

Candlelight USA

The Mighty Vitamins -- TAKE-OUT [Public Eyesore]

Even by Public Eyesore standards, this is pretty whacked-out stuff, sounding like a fragmented free-jazz collision of Nihilist Spasm Band, early Pere Ubu, and a Salvation Army band tuning up while passing around a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, especially on the opener "Get A Good Job," in which someone (via a field recording, perhaps?) rants in comical fashion about the need to find better employment while the band seemingly disassembles its instruments in the background. Improvisational in nature and experimental by design, this is cryptic stuff for unconventional listening. The four-song "Kaw River Suite (four songs for dance)" are a bit more "together" in their construction but hardly anything you could dance to, despite the title, employing heavy drone on the first segment, minimalist playing and unnatural sounds on the second, scratchy instrument abuse on the third, and the repetitive use of trilling motifs and more instrumental minimalism on the fourth. The sounds do often resemble the noises made by birds and river animals, but forget about the dancing shoes, okay? The remaining six songs cover similar sonic territory, some in more noisy and disjointed fashion than others, and while there are a lot of interesting sounds and strategies at work throughout the varied pieces, almost none of it even remotely resembles "normal" music -- in fact, much of it sounds like the work of psychotics turned loose in a music room. Still, there's a cunning (if alien) sense of playful humor -- a joke in progress that they're daring you to decipher, perhaps -- and a nebulous method to the madness that keeps it all from falling apart, not to mention the sense that the band knows exactly what they're doing even if they're hiding it from you. Strange, perverse, morbidly compelling in an irrational sort of way... it's definitely a Public Eyesore release, all right....

Public Eyesore

Pro-Pain -- AGE OF TYRANNY [Candlelight USA]

Pro-Pain was formed in 1992 by ex-Crumbsuckers bassist Gary Meskil, and while their debut FOUL TASTE OF FREEDOM sounded sort of like nu-metal before the term even existed, over the years they have morphed into more of a traditional hardcore band. This album (their tenth), is definitely in the hardcore camp, from the punk-metal sound to the politically-motivated lyrics. In fact, this album is a concept album of sorts revolving around the excesses of the Bush administration and the war on terrorism, as typified by songs like "The New Reality," "All For King George," and "Impeach, Indict, Imprison." The band has always been fond of political lyrics, but on this album they take the concept to a new level with their explicit focus on current events, including a song about the war in Iraq ("Iraqnam") and several others that directly or indirectly reference the war on terrorism and the erosion of civil liberties. The lyrics aren't exactly going to make Bob Dylan lose any sleep, but Meskil rants with genuine anger and conviction, and the music in definitely anthemic, fist-in-your-face stuff, straddling the line between speed metal and hardcore with unwavering intensity. There are no ballads here, just track after track of crushing heaviness and hoarse shouting about everything that's wrong with the country at the moment. Nuanced it isn't, but there's plenty of energy and catchy riffing (especially on "Iraqnam," one of the best tracks) to match the unbridled anger.

Candlelight USA

r.s.r. -- BLACK BOX [dead sea liner]

The highly mysterious r.s.r. (a band? a person? aliens with black boxes? who knows?) appears on this 3-inch cdr with exactly one untitled 21-minute track, but what a track it is. Black, swirling drone and white noise processed beyond redemption create a dark and apocalyptic sound that sounds like power lines revolving in slow motion inside an enormous wind tunnel far out at sea; there is no human element present here, just a moaning, droning noise schema that plays out in minimalist fashion. About halfway through a stuttering machine rhythm of sorts begins to develop amidst the howling, glacial drone wind, and toward the end, a pulsing strand of something approaching wire music becomes prominent in the mix as well, adding a celestial element to the sound... one that ends with a few seconds of what promises to become a new rhythmic element, just as the track ends. The ghostly, disembodied sound of this track not only proves that less is often more, it makes me wish I knew more about r.s.r. Excellent material worthy of drone worship.

dead sea liner

Spheric Universe Experience -- ANIMA [Sensory]

It's weird, it's progressive, it's metal... so naturally, it must be French. The strangest bands come from France, and this is no exception -- epic progressive metal in the vein of Dream Theater and Symphony X, but with an operatic vocalist straight out of the school of power metal and churning guitars to match. They frequently work up a hefty dose of speed into their symphonic metal, and there's plenty of complex, shifting dynamics (along with some intriguing samples and found sounds here and there), but it's not all just proggy noodling -- tracks like "Neptune's Revenge" burn with speed and energy, while the melancholy intro to "Stormy Dome" more closely resembles classic darkwave before turning into full-on symphonic metal. Their fondness for layered sounds and heavy keyboard use keeps one foot in gothic territory, while their penchant for speeding metal and complex rhythms is squarely in the progressive metal tradition. They even manage to marry technoish keyboard sounds to monster riffs in "Heal My Pain" and make highly effective use of the piano through much of the album. Bombastic and melodic, with excellent execution and good songs, the album succeeds as a symphonic adventure without being overly pretentious.

Spheric Universe Experience
Sensory (a division of The Laser's Edge)

Matt Weston -- RASHAYA 3-inch cd [7272Music]

Matt Weston is a Chicago percussionist and composer with an impressive pedigree, including collaborations with Kevin Drumm, Le Quan Ninh, Bob Marsh, Jim O'Rourke, and Jack Wright, among others. The five tracks here are variations on the outer limits of percussion freed from the tyranny of the beat, compositions that have more to do with the exploration of the tones of the kit and the sounds available from different forms of percussion than with traditional rhythm. The different pieces take different approaches, using different elements of percussion in addition to the kit itself, but all are, for the most part, relatively subdued -- this is not heavy drumming we're talking about -- and highly mindful of the use of space and tone. There's definitely more of an emphasis on unconventional uses of percussion (and, to a lesser degree, electronics) and a certain sparsity of sound than there is on traditional rhythm or composition -- which is not to say that the songs are formless and aimless, but they are definitely more improvisational in approach than rigorously constructed pieces, which lends an air of unpredictability to the proceedings. At the same time, despite the apparent lack of a readily discernable structure, the tracks hardly sound unplanned or chaotic, but more of an approach that is far less random than it first seems. In other words, interesting, highly listenable stuff.

Matt Weston

Matt Weston -- RESISTANCE CRUISERS 3-inch cd [7272Music]

The second of two new releases by Weston on the new experimental label 7272Music, this one features four tracks combining subdued (if sometimes clattering) and unpredictable percussion with electronic drones (on "it's your career"), inexplicable squeaking sounds (on "lonely drive, crowded street," which also features a severe jump in the drumming dynamics that will jolt you right out of your chair if you're not careful, as well as "spying became you"), and noise / glitch electronica (on "rose is the color of your envy"). The drumming is largely sparse and subdued (with an occasional foray into more thunderous sound, just to keep you on your toes), with more emphasis on cymbals and percussion than the actual drums -- it's a sound built on the sparse use of instruments and unpredictable spaces between sounds rather than traditional rhythm, a sound rooted in a vision of the drums as a generator of tones and the juxtaposition of sounds rather than a more traditional view of the drum as a rhythmic instrument. Think of it as a series of loosely controlled experiments in randomness, or the exploration of drumming at its most free.

Matt Weston

Sunday, June 3, 2007

seventh wave

Brazzaville -- EAST L.A. BREEZE [Vendlus Records]

Led by saxophonist David Brown, who wrote most of the songs for this album on guitar while touring in Beck's band in 1997, this band plays an ornate brand of sophisticated pop in the vein of Steely Dan, Tom Waits, Ute Lemper, Leonard Cohen, David Baerwald, and Spain, with smart, near-jazzy songs about beautiful losers and other doomed types performed by an exceptionally versatile and talented band. The songs are baroque and detailed, filled with lush orchestration that never goes overboard, and like the work of Steely Dan (but without the arch, inside-joke attitude) or David and David (but songs that are nowhere near as sparse), the focus is on drifters, grifters, and tragically romantic characters who populate mythic stories. The feel of most of this material ranges from playful to reflective, but always relatively restrained -- this is not a band that jumps around to bring the rock, if you know what I mean -- but just as often beautiful in a melancholy way, with melodies that are sweet and memorable without turning saccharine and playing that is both tasteful and evocative while remaining understated. This is jazz-tinged pop for sophisticates, and with fifteen songs (the final three are bonus tracks), there's plenty here to appreciate.

Vendlus Records

Darsombra -- DELIRIUMS & DEATH 3-inch cdr [Public Guilt]

Darsombra is actually former Meatjack guitarist Brian Daniloski using mutant guitar, drone, and loops to create forbidding dark-ambient quasi-metal soundscapes, and the two long tracks on this 3-inch cdr (the second in a series of limited three-inch releases on Public Guilt) are seriously ominous slices of experimental doom-rock. On "Periphery," enormous-sounding detuned guitar and drone loops form the bedrock over which lots of other stuff is piled on in gradual increments, including rhythmic loops and a schizophrenic's nightmare of processed voices in increasing layers. That track segues seamlessly into 'eyes in eyes," where the growing death-drone eventually culminates in some seriously scary screaming and thumping. This is what Neurosis would sound like if they were less obsessed with being magnificent artistes and more interested in making you pee in your pants. Essential stuff, hear me? Limited to 100 copies, so you should probably act fast.... Bonus points for the nifty-looking three-panel letterpress booklet and mylar insert -- this is nice packaging.

Public Guilt

Daymares -- CAN'T GET US ALL [Selfmadegod]

Poland's Daymares offer up a serious (and often frantic) mix of hardcore, punk, and metal on this album, their first full-length release. For a band that's only been in existence for a little over a year, they certainly have their act together -- this is heavy, intense stuff. Metallic riffing, hoarse hardcore vocals, and busy drumming make them sound extremely scary indeed, like a forbidding cross between Entombed and the Cro-Mags, maybe; the guitar sound is straight-up death metal, but the song structures and drum patterns are closer to hardcore and punk much of the time, which makes them much heavier than your average hardcore band, but more rhythmically varied than a lot of metal bands, and as a result the songs frequently sound like barely-controlled explosions of pure misanthropic anger. The sound is raw and vicious without being underproduced, and a serious commitment to melodic playing and catchy riffs keeps the punishing wall of sound accessible even when the vocalist sounds like he's trying to heave up his spleen. The attack is relentless, the fury uncompromising, and the cumulative result of all eleven tracks played back to back is something akin to being run over by a steamroller. Not for the first time, I'm compelled to wonder what it is about Poland that breeds such heavy, savage-sounding rock bands....


Destructo Swarmbots -- CLEAR LIGHT [Public Guilt]

Better make yourself comfortable before throwing this on -- the four tracks here take fifty minutes to play out, and they're in no hurry to get where they're going. In fact, the opening track takes up a good three-fourths of the album. As the cover art suggests, this is the sound of stars exploding in slow motion, radiating intense light that takes years to reach the Earth. The "band" is actually one guy (Mike Mare) from NY, although for live performances other players are sometimes involved, meaning that a live action could be a solo work or feature an actual band. Either way, Mare is definitely the head visionary in charge. "Banta" is a long, drawn-out (forty minutes!) exercise in spaced-out psychedelic ambient noise, a droning, drifting soundscape for journeys through the far, frozen reaches of outer space, or perhaps a journey to the center of your mind; either way, this is truly excellent music for zoning out. The three remaining tracks are considerably shorter and a bit grittier, while still plenty enamored of the almighty drone and psychedelic shimmering. This is probably as close as you'll ever get to outer space without ingesting lots of acid. The man's droning psych pimp hand is strong...!

Destructo Swarmbots
Public Guilt

Eddie the Rat -- ONCE AROUND THE BUTTERFLY BUSH [Edgetone Records]

This is hallucinatory stuff -- the members of this quartet (at least on this disc; the group started out with just one member and has at times included as many as 15 musicians) play an odd mix of unusual instruments (cajon, Balinese gansa, lobro), traditional instruments (bass, piano, recorder, glockenspiel, bass drum), and homemade gadgets, and often they play different tempos simultaneously. It should be a hideous mess, but it isn't; for one thing, the compositions are slow and spacious enough to leave everybody plenty of room to move, and while the members frequently use different tempos at once, those different times work well together. Incorporating elements of jazz, classical, folk, and gamelan music, the resulting tunes are strange and disorienting yet highly listenable, built on solid rhythmic foundations despite the bizarre instrument choices and eccentric compositions. Two vocalists (male and female), each with a highly individual approach, just add to the complex layers of peculiarity. Think of it all as avant-garde music for waltzing, perhaps, or art-damaged folk music by way of hallucinogenic drugs. The lock-step rhythmic interplay is what makes it work; the unusual vocal harmonies and unexpected dynamic shifts are what keep it interesting. For such an out-there ensemble, you'd be surprised how accessible it all is. Sun Ra would approve.

Eddie the Rat
Edgetone Records

Hans Fjellestad -- SNAILS R SEXY [Accretions]

Armed with a Moog, theremin, and vacuum tube processing equipment, Hans F. returns for his fourth Accretions disc with drone on his mind. The material on this disc was developed over the past year or so while playing live dates on tour around the world, giving him plenty of opportunity to experiment and shape the sound of nine tracks here before going into the studio. The results are extremely drone-oriented, with plenty of textural noise thrown in as well -- this is prog-rock by way of Merzbow, drone with distortion, synthesized tonal mayhem. The sound is far more organic than the instrumentation would imply -- some tracks like "crush goddess" sound more like blown-out amplifier worship than anything you would expect from a synthesizer or theremin -- and there's a haunting dimension to the tonal quality not normally found in electronic music. Noise and glitch sounds play an important role in many of the tracks as well (especially on "calle calla"), but the main focus throughout the entire album is on pure-tone drone, with a sound frequently swaddled in warm fuzz. The drone worship is offset by more experimental tracks like "ex vivo," in which notes from a Steinway piano are sampled, processed, and mutilated via synthesizer to bizarre effect, and "french door bird," which is filled with sounds like mechanical birds and peculiar, stutterting synth rhythms. Mostly, though, it's about the sounds you can only get through Moog hardware and theremins (and the joy of perverted experiments in noise). Interesting stuff from a guy who appears to be full of surprises at every new turn.

Hans Fjellestad

David Galas -- THE CATACLYSM [Vendlus Records]

If this is highly reminiscent of Lycia, that's hardly an accident: Galas was once a member of said band, and began writing this album when Lycia broke up in 2000. (As it happens, shortly after the album was finished in 2005, Lycia reformed and Galas has begun playing with them again, although he fully intends to pursue a solo career as well.) Inspired by the photography of Elena Filatova, the Ukranian motorcyclist who started her website to document her travels through the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear plant nearly twenty years after the disaster there, the album has a suitably apocalyptic feel that probably owes as much to Neurosis as to Lycia. Neo-folk guitars and prominent darkwave keyboard washes compete with thunderous guitars and plodding metal beats, with occasional snippets of field recordings and other incidental sound, with so many layers of sound that his deep, ponderous vocals are often buried back in the mix. The orchestration is lush and the sound epic, vast, and heavily layered; there's a lot going on here at any given time, but the mix and production are clear and intense, keeping the individual parts distinguishable despite a serious dedication to sonic overkill. At 19 songs, the album is a lot to process, but not all of the songs are actually songs in the traditional sense; many of the tracks are more like bridges between songs, often instrumental and filled with exotic-sounding samples and effects; as a result, the density of sound and severity of attack ebbs and flows in an organic fashion, preventing the album from becoming unbearable in its intensity. The album is certainly festooned with plenty of unusual effects and peculiar sound bites, but at the core it's classic darkwave, and at its more upbeat moments bears a striking resemblace to FLOODLAND-era Sisters of Mercy, not a bad thing at all. Between the harder-rocking, more metallic moments, though, there's plenty of goth-tinged brooding and dark-ambient backgrounds, giving the album plenty of texture and pure old-fashioned spookiness. Given how much is going on here and the obvious work that went into making it spool out in seamless fashion, it's not hard to imagine how it took Galas five years to finish the album. The resulting piece of work is definitely better for the lengthy gestation, and more bands should work this hard at getting things right before presenting their work before the public.

David Galas
Vendlus Records

Harm Stryker -- S/T 3-inch cdr [Public Guilt]

A duo from Richmond, VA, Harm Stryker kicks off a new limited-edition cdr series on Public Guilt with this intriguing slice of audio collage art. The single untitled track opens with a brooding, buzzing drone eventually gives way to a growing cyclone of layered noises, screeching, and glitch sounds, with cut-up sound and sweeping sonic violence that builds to a frenzy before abruptly quieting again, at which point they begin to build new sound collages from an initial hiccuping drone. Textured noises and a cut-up approach to sonic architecture are the cornerstones of the duo's aesthetic -- they eschew overly harsh noises, for the most part, in favor of urban sound bites and glitch-laden noises, assembling the pieces in layers that flow freely in terms of texture and density. Over the full length of the piece (just under 17 minutes), they incorporate a number of extremely different and interesting sounds, including screechy tape manipulation, found sound, and processed electronics -- it all adds up in a striking way, with an evolution of sound that remains vital and interesting right up to the unexpected ending. Limited to 100 copies.

Harm Stryker
Public Guilt

Hell Within -- SHADOWS OF VANITY [Lifeforce]

Thrash metal lives, as this Massachusetts group forcefully proves with their third album. The nine songs here are filled with relentless, absurdly fast double-bass drumming and speedy melodic guitar, with a sound that manages to be modern and still unquestionably rooted in old-school thrash. Singer Matthew McChesney sounds to me like he was weaned on the first couple of Metallica and Megadeth albums, but he's a better singer than Hetfield or Mustaine ever were (even if he does occasionally have to work at keeping up with the ridiculously fast rhythm section); the rest of the band appears to worship just as equally at the altar of 80s thrash, but incorporate some more modern touches into their highly precise cyclone of sound. That they're tight is without question -- the drummer is not only incredibly fast but busy, sounding like he has four arms, and the other players have no problem keeping up with him despite the breakneck pace (they must all be eating their Wheaties every day for breakfast). While their chops are impressive, they could stand to work on their songwriting a bit; the album's one big drawback is that there isn't exactly a tremendous amount of variation between the songs, a problem that's compounded by their tendency to play at full-throttle all the time. After a while it all turns into a thrashing blur of constantly pounding drums and machine-gun guitar with McChesney howling over the top, to the point where the songs all bleed together. (Of course, the same can be said of a lot of classic thrash albums, so I'm not sure how much difference that makes to hardcore rattleheads.) Despite the lack of variety from one track to the next, they're definitely worth checking out for those in search of a relentless audio beating.

Hell Within
Lifeforce Records

Nihil Communication -- WE ARE VIOLENT [Edgetone Records]

This is minimalist, droning dark-ambient music, with a sound anchored in simple but tonally unnerving drones that are leavened with jarring noises and inexplicably mysterious sounds -- much of it conjures up the sound of boats lost at sea in an impenetrable fog, sending out distress signals that are swallowed by emptiness and go unheeded. Despite the album's title, the violence here is mostly implied; while there are plenty of odd sounds happening in the sonic swamp, this is mostly about the power of dark drone and sustained hum, and while the erratic extraneous sounds hint at a violence that could come at any moment, that violence never actually happens. Waves of dissonant sound gather and break, sometimes taking on the character of sweeping wind and churning waves crashing against a faraway shore, but the sound never becomes truly explosive enough to qualify as violent. The main attraction here for true ambient enthusiasts is the pure minimalism of the proceedings; there's very little actually happening here, but what is at work is completely captivating, enshrouded in mystery a brooding sense of alienation amid vast, empty spaces open to the inexorable forces of nature and not much else. This is a cold, dark, droning sound almost completely devoid of human intervention -- it's not hard to imagine this being the tape recording of a hostile alien environment being slowly consumed by the elements. It doesn't exactly "rock," but it's not even remotely new-age, either. Haunting, provocative soundscapes built on mystery and the maxim that less is more.

Nihil Communication
Edgetone Records

Silver Daggers -- NEW HIGH & ORD [Load Records]

They rumble out of the starting gate sounding like a freejazz band channeling both Pineal Ventana and the Coughs, but it soon becomes apparent that they have their own ideas about postmodern deconstructionism or whatever the hip kids call this stuff these days. With a severely hyperactive drummer, alto sax and trumpet, and plenty of frantic shouting, the upbeat (very upbeat!) songs sounds like a tribal fusion meltdown in progress, but when they slow the pace and stretch out, they turn out to be on the drone trip as well -- this is the first time I've heard sax and trumpet used as drone devices, which makes for a mighty interesting sound. They don't slow down very often, though; most of their time on this album is spent is the throes of hopped-up rhythmic possession (maybe it's an L.A. thing, or maybe they just drink an awful lot of coffee -- like a lot of Load bands, they sound like their tours should be sponsored by Folgers). This is a mind-melting fusion of jazz, tribal music, spidery no-wave bass flapping, and pure hallucinogenic freakout, a rabid frenzy of sound probably capable of inducing seizures in the meek. Wild and weird; the audio equivalent of recording while jumping around on pogo sticks. Like a party in your pants, only far more frantic and high-pitched.

Silver Daggers
Load Records

Twentyagon -- LUIGI [Worldeater]

Twentyagon return with more bouncy, cryptic music for hallucinating robots and kazoo waltzes for wind-up dolls. Imagine techno-laden electronica rooted in surf guitar rhythms with instrumentation that includes flute, bass, harmonica, accordion, and broken drums in addition to instruments more suited to conventional rock, then factor in lots of dark-ambient background snippets and incidental noises behind the rocking robot sounds, and you still have no idea how genuinely weird this band is. This is the sound of giggling musicians turned loose in a studio full of wildly disparate sonic toys after smoking blunts laced with angel dust. Which is not to say it's unlistenable -- on the contrary, the preponderance of bouncy rhythms and a genuinely demented musical vision make this lots of fun to hear. (They're also smart enough to keep the songs brief, which prevents them from wearing out their welcome.) A lot of it sounds like old-fashioned waltzes transformed in bizarre fashion for the electronica generation, with plenty of fuzzy basslines and efx-laden sounds (not to mention background noises that at one point includes a barking dog) to lend an air of the unexpected to the proceedings. I don't know if they're still doing music for ADULT SWIM, but this is certainly surreal and perky enough to be appropriate for that show. More proof that you can be unspeakably weird and catchy at the same time.


Udo -- MASTORCUTOR [Candlelight USA]

Yes, it's that Udo, the former singer of Accept, and this album -- the band's fourteenth since he left that band for a solo career in the early 80s -- is pretty much what you might justifiably expect given his pedigree. This is pure old-school power metal (it sounds an awful lot like mid-eighties Judas Priest, in fact) with lots of heavy riffing and blinding solos, plus Udo's highly recognizable vocals. The band he's assembled has the metal madness down to a science, especially the rhythm section, and while the lyrics are every bit as ridiculous as the ones he used to write for Accept, Udo sure does sound good singing them, especially if you worship Rob Halford (and I do; so does Udo, from the sound of it). It's true that they are not exactly original (did I mention that they sound a lot like Judas Priest?), but they are dead serious about bringing the rock; it helps that they have a really punishing drummer, and that their guitarist favors massive metal riffs. They do have a couple of soppy ballads that don't work as well as the more rocking cuts, but fortunately those moments are heavily outweighed by the more seriously crushing metal madness. They sound like their "musical development" ended around 1982, but given some of the more horrible excesses of nu-metal and the splintering of metal into about a million subgenres, few of which actually rock consistently in a classic metal sense, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you miss the glory days of power metal, when women wore lots of Lycra and men kept their balls to the wall and every album was pretty much required to have "midnight" in at least one song title, then this album was recorded just for you.

Candlelight USA