Sunday, September 30, 2012

VYST - Try Again. Fail Again. Keep On Trying. Keep On Living. Gain While Giving. (2012)

Full Length, Vendetta Records
January 1st, 2012

Genre: Hardcore
Region: Germany

Here's a surprisingly awesome shard of hardcore I only just came across. What made me take interest was that VYST contains members of Throwers, Glasses, and Perth Expressand by extension of those last two bands, at least one member of Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon, one of my favorite bands ever. So naturally I had to check them out as I'm always interested in hearing what the members of such a phenomenal sludge act are up to after its demise..

The drummer of Glasses and Perth Express was also in MISOTPW if I'm not mistaken, and while he's not on this record he has joined the band and will appear on their soon to be released new EP "Bad News Travels Slowly". Regardless of this bit if information once I gave this record a spin I was immediately impressed. VYST will surely join the ranks of other great new German hardcore acts if they haven't already.

Try Again. Fail Again. is a half-hour of darkly tinged hardcore with some great ferocity displayed in each of the nine tracks featured here. They dip into moments of melody on some of the longer tracks like "Towards the Cliff", "They Run", and "Count Me Down" and their briefness makes them all the more powerful.

The production is quite good also, everything rings clear and sharp bringing out the heaviness of some of the slower, crunchy passages. Vocals are wonderfully raspy and hoarse, rending his throat as he runs through issues both bleak and uplifting, contemptuous and angry. Nothing that hasn't been said before but it all suits the tone of the tunes here. Speaking of tone, the guitars sound great as they roll and slice through some very catchy rhythms.

VYST don't rely on dissonance. Merely powerful riffs that move from high speed punk to a moment or two in sludgecore territory (almost) to a short melodic or melancholic (sometimes clean) section — briefly there will be in a few songs a rough tremolo passage just touching on something blackened. Not enough to take over at any point but you can here some of this in "This Is All Exhausted" which is the only track with a simple breakdown to end the song as well, but a tremendous riff before that.

I think the last four tracks stand out the most for me. Especially "Towards The Cliff" where things slow down a bit in the beginning and gain some mass as the riffs pound, and that same riff from the start returns with a vengeance in the latter half; augmented a little and for the better, with a great slow fade. "They Run" has some similar captivating strengths, a real nice clean section and melody peppered throughout.

Not injected with the blazing sludge found in Perth Express and yet not being as strictly hardcore as Glasses, VYST have found a comfortable middle ground with a very minor blackened-crusty influence without completely falling into the ever-popular splinter genre of dark hardcore; and it works very well.

Actually they probably have more in common with their brothers in Throwers than the other two groups which is more on the dark dissonant side of the sound (and which I will eventually post up here as well). There's some excellent arrangements to be heard on Try Again..., very catchy and abrasive, fast with some hammer-blow heaviness sprinkled at just the right moments. Quite an enjoyable listening experience all the way through but nothing that could be said to be "off the beaten path". Just solid, head-bang-inducing hardcore.

I definitely recommend listening to what VYST offer up here. And they present it as a "name your price" download on their bandcamp so either snatch it up for nothing or be generous and throw them a few bucks for their hard work. And as I said, the new EP that's going to be released features the drummer from Glasses/Perth Express/MISOTPW so be sure to check it out. It feels a little more complex and angry from the one track up at the moment

DOWNLOAD (Bandcamp)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tesa - IV (2012)

Full Length, OSK Records
October, 2012

Genre: Atmospheric Sludge/Post-Metal
Region: Latvia

Tesa is a unique entity in the post-metal and sludge arena. The Latvian group (specifically on HeartBeatsFromTheSky) managed to create a magnificent blend of sludge and post-rock that flowed smoothly between and intertwined genres, touching beautiful, shimmering and melancholic cleans drenched in a multitude of effects before flattening the listener with jagged swaths of heaviness with a very subtle hardcore undercurrent.

They did this within the span of a half-hour. The loud peaks were intoxicating while the quiet valleys were haunting and serene — making use of effect pedals with great expertise so as to not make it an exercise in tedium, complimenting the tremendous writing. HeartBeatsFromTheSky exists in the space between multiple genres and remains one of my favorite records in the last decade, soaring celestial beauty every minute of its length. Complex and yet so simple, exploding vividly and looping back on itself in the final moments to the opening tremolo riff creating a journey you're compelled to revisit over and over. I plan on giving it a proper review pretty soon in fact.

That record came out in 2008 and I've both longed for and feared the emergence of their next effort. Tesa are a quiet band. They tour a lot but they don't let much slip until the final weeks of any sort of news. My fears lay in the fact that while they're obviously beyond musically competent, and have grown by leaps since their first EP, I couldn't see much rising above HBFTS in their catalog; let alone comparing with it. Despite that nagging doubt I've been eagerly waiting for something new and here it is presented as the simply titled record IV.

IV is practically the same length as HBFTS but containing only three songs. However, much like HBFTS, each song blends into the next so as to create the illusion of one 35 minute track. The big question is does it top or even stand strong with that record? And on the first couple of listens I have to say it falls just short of HBFTS, taking a more minimalistic approach at times (but not by much) with more emphasis on long atmospheric builds; builds which do not reach the same quaking, unearthly conclusions of their previous work but remain pretty, atmospheric and heavy both all at once and then separately.

IV is not a disappointment despite having said this. While there's nothing as inebriating as the final moments of their last record even with terrific climbs here it still touches on sounds that not many other bands do. The record undeniably has some crushing riffs and rhythms with excellent drumming and deep bass. Refined and backed by once again strong writing it shows that they bring a truly unique heaviness in their approach, if slightly augmented from their last entry.

The first and second tracks are more reminiscent of their previous creations. "I" opens with distorted heavy riffs before quickly jumping into mid-paced rhythms — switching off between this and a slow-down to crush you. Much simpler or straight-forward without the emphasis on effects to twinkle up the quiet moments which soon approach.

The drop out comes suddenly and slides back up following the rising tom hits, and we return to an aberration of the opening rhythm for a time, slightly faster. This is the halfway marker where things start to resemble the quiet beauty of HBFTS, as the towering cleans on several guitars gently guide us toward the end: one wailing in the right channel behind cycling noise, soft crashing cymbals and the fragile chords of the second guitar. The final minute things get louder while the sustain whining driven by effects remains, and the song ends as static grows until all is quiet — announcing the second track.

"II" picks up so softly, with ghost chords and notes reverberating as a far off buzz of an organ or synth fade up and down behind them. It reminds me not only of some of the final tracks in HBFTS but also of Braveyoung's We Are Lonely Animals in its minimalistic, spectral ebbs and emphasis on clean, reverberating strokes. It is captivating in its calm atmosphere like a placid lake early in the morning, and eventually as ripples form from the surface being breached things become more powerfully heavy.

As we approach the mid-point the song changes direction, back to the crunch of sludge while the one channel holds a beautiful tremolo melody alongside the crushing blows. This is what Tesa does extremely well and it's sustained the remainder of this song, growing more distorted, loud and saturated in static as the melody and heaviness play out. This is a point where we see Tesa can still bring about a monumental climax but just through a different formula. It hits a peak and holds as the cymbals explode, winding down in the final seconds to break the barrier of the last track.

The final 18 minute song is a (at first) very quiet experience and then transforms into a noisy, slow, and heavy expedition. With the length of this track I was concerned because I know Tesa to have kept their writing tight in the past with shorter songs filled with excellent turns and complexity cloaked in a deceptive simplicity. They know how to progress while keeping things from getting out of control, with a perfect segue ending to open the next track.

My worries are quickly dissuaded though as they keep their strong style of writing intact here, and nothing becomes masturbatory or too drawn out for me. Very well controlled and flows smoothly without tiring. Opening with sustained buzzing synth which carriers over from the last song, this one is largely clean and takes a similar approach as the last song: tranquil, creeping elegance but with a constant electric drone behind the slow and quiet bends and plucks.

As the toms begin, ramping up alongside the feedback and droning bass we're expecting a burst to come but it is delayed for a quiet moment of contemplation — and then the sludgey riffs break through as the droning second guitar continues. The rhythm drops out but returns shortly, a little more quiet than before, stopping occasionally for a quick dive into a slow, trembling section.

All the while the second channel gains volume in its wailing drone as we hit the mid-point, the drums slow and finally the drone begins to lessen to a shining howl. Here rhythmic waves of riffs and undulating bass begin crashing hypnotically, holding steady as that background drone begins to climb again — until the noise in the last few minutes creeps back from the outskirts to overwhelm the riffs; leaving us with the howling wind, lapping waves, chimes and creaking wood as the instruments fade. In this final track Tesa show that no matter the length they can control themselves and create something memorable, leaving only the best on display.

With IV Tesa have once again shown they are not following the pack in the post-metal genre, even though in my opinion this is as close as they've come to sounding like their peers. And yet they still are an unmeasurable distance from those peers. In fact they still sound better and far more different with their perfect mixture of genres and sounds, masking a complexity within a straightforward formula. They hold their sound, remaining peculiar and apart despite the minor departure from the brilliance of HeartBeatsFromTheSky. Admittedly that's holding them up to a ridiculously high standard that they've set for themselves. Even for Tesa it would be hard to capture that brilliance twice but they come close here.

Support Tesa. This band treads the gulf between sludge, post-rock/post-metal, and hardcore like no other with exceptional writing and dense atmosphere. While IV is not as jaw-dropping as HeartBeatsFromTheSky it is certainly worth your cash and I recommend listening to it than purchasing the CD. They will lead you on a trek through the sparkling darkness like no other band.

Go over to OSK Records and pick up a copy, or email them to do the same. You can also pick it up and stream it at Impure Muzik. The site is in Russian so if you have issues contact them since it's all through paypal in the end.

DOWNLOAD (Zippyshare)
DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chelsea Wolfe - Live at Roadburn (2012)

Full Length, Burning World Records
September, 2012

Genre: Gothic/Psychedelic Folk/Folk/Ethereal Wave
Region: USA

I recently saw Chelsea Wolfe with Marriages and Russian Circles, and her along with her band mates soaked the venue in soft doom and penetrating gloom. I would love to see her again and suggest you all do the same if she passes through your area.

In the absence of getting another chance to see anytime soon, here we have a new live record to sustain us — coming close to a month before the release of her acoustic record Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs.

This is Chelsea Wolfe's performance from April 12th of this year at Roadburn. Her set contains six tracks from Apokalypsis and two from The Grime and the Glow, including the phenomenal acoustic track Halfsleeper (the opener) which is performed on the electric guitar with subtle contributions from the rest of the band; making it all the more haunting and beautiful. Though it still does not quite match her performance for Terroreyes for me:

Regardless it's the perfect way to open her set and it's still one of her most mesmerizing songs to date. I shouldn't need to talk this record up. Quality is great, the set is a great selection and her performance is flawless.

A wicked live record from a spectral music anomaly. Grab this from Burning World Records ASAP, the gold version is gone but the black is still around.

DOWNLOAD (Mediafire)
DOWNLOAD (Zippyshare)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Planks - Funeral Mouth (2012)

Full Length, Golden Antenna Records
October 12th, 2012

Genre: Sludge/Hardcore/Blackened Sludge
Region: Germany

It wasn't until a little while ago that I became aware Planks were working on a new record, it crept up on me.

Funeral Mouth is this German act's third full length and it manages to build quite well from their sludgy hardcore foundations by adding a little more atmospheric, blackened influences and blending them all quite seamlessly. It ends up with a slight post-metal tinge without the padded song length, reliance on effects and abundance of shimmering instrumentals. Planks (alongside Black Freighter and Perth Express) are not too far removed from Canada's Titan but with this they've managed to step out a little and separate from the pack ever so slightly.

It isn't a huge departure but the differences are noticable structurally and in terms of emphasis on atmosphere, rather than pure steam-rolling heaviness. The vocals stand out quite a bit, passionate and mournful with a wicked deathly and deep rasp while alternating to semi-clean yells with a subtle melodic touch — nothing cheesy and they fit quite well. They're more muted and haunting than in their last release a lot of the time and with that the effect it has on you is different. In "Agnosia Archetype" the chorus stands out a lot as it flows with the melodic riffs and compels the listener to repeat it along with the vocalist, and in past records the style was more loud, gruff.

Guitars still have a wonderful thick tone with a tasteful use of effects and the percussion is clear, strong and very much in the hardcore vein. The bass is right up front playing off the guitars nicely, smooth with a great punch — occasionally left for a short interlude before blasting into the fervor.

When it comes down to the rest music their writing ability has not faltered one bit. Songs on Funeral Mouth still retain the sharp twangy elements and high energy, trampling passages, but this time situated among droning reverb soaked chords or tremolo sections when not dragging you through the hazed sludge. Planks manage to make this interesting by not stretching songs or sections within and harmonizing all elements very well. They effortlessly traverse slower paced and atmospheric soundscapes before injecting the hardcore venom into it to ratchet up the intensity.

Admittedly compared to The Darkest of Grays which was more straight-forward, crunchy, aggressive sludgy hardcore the feeling has changed just a bit and hardcore influences mentioned are not as prominent. Of course this aspect still rears its head at least once in each track (especially in the later songs) but augmented, not as chunky or prominent. It stays dark and heavy regardless. The blackened, hectic energy is still lingering but it feels more controlled and this doesn't hurt the record at all. We also get quite a few lingering quiet sections between the stormy attack every other song, breaking up and building up things well.

The two opening tracks spread things out a little more than the core of the record, the first being slow and dark bleeding into the second with feedback which is where we can hear the black influence more clearly in the drums and riffs; slowing down as you progress to breath out the sludge and reining that back in with a few clean sections before returning to crushing.

Funeral Mouth also has a lot of satisfying grooves throughout as one would expect. Some excellent examples would be in the previously mentioned "Agnosia Archetype" but also in "An Exorcism of Sorts": staring with a clean bassy build, shifting into heavier areas quickly once the vocals come in while the slow drum beats cut a nice notch to get comfortable in. By the middle we have a series of heavy slams and descents drenched in a murky blackened mist. The track which follows it up ("Kingdom") brings back more of their older style as well, muted gallops and flurries of twang sneaking in and feeling quite satisfying.

This is the case for the core of the album but with the mutation in style (however slight) the groovy moments are less about pounding you and are more gradual, tame and spaced.

A few instrumentals appear as they did on previous releases: one as an opener, one as a very short, clean outro;, and right before that the longest track "The Spectre" takes this form as well. Like a lot of their tracks this one hits various territory, never becoming overbearing in terms of effect usage and in fact hits the crust early in the song, but retains a heavy atmosphere. The middle has some great riffs, tumbling at a nice pace and morphing from that groovy sludge into a addictive harmonized and repeating riff with the grumbling bass follows below.

I definitely like this one. Maybe not quite as much as The Darkest of Grays but it is a pleasant surprise from Planks. Like a lot of genres the sludgecore can be fairly limited in terms of direction (especially when in high demand as it is more so these days) and while Funeral Mouth isn't taking any huge leaps it's a pleasurable listen and builds well on what they've previously created.

If you like Titan but wanted something a touch more atmospheric and blackened then you'll enjoy this. Head over to Golden Antenna Records to preorder a copy right now, or check out either their bandcamp or Cvlt Nation to listen to it in full.

DOWNLOAD (Zippyshare)