Thursday, 26 June 2014

Horns Aloft!: 5 Recent Metal Albums Reviewed


As you may have been able to work out, the ability to write for this site has been mightily rare over the past year or so. How much time I have to dedicate it over the coming months remains unclear, however one thing that certainly hasn't dissipated is my passion for music of all genres and sub- genres alike. Such has been the influx of fantastic new music in 2014 thus far that it would seem remiss not to acknowledge any of it. 

Although I'm sure nobody gives much of a shit (and quite right, too), I've decided to embark on a series of pieces that will feature 5 mini- reviews of albums that I've heard in 2014. There will be a Metal segment, a Hip Hop segment and miscellaneous segment that'll focus on works from the worlds of Indie, alternative and probably some Electronic music too. Some of the albums covered in these segments may have been out for some months, but they're all records that have forced some kind of reaction out of me, and unfortunately for you lot I feel the need to dispense a portion of that reaction. 

Anyway, quiet at the back there! Enough chatter! The first of these segments in the first edition of the Metal edition of this series. I hope to get the Hip Hop and Misc editions up over the course of next week, with a second Metal edition to follow some time after. Perhaps in the not too distant future I'll find the time to go back to writing proper reviews (the words "proper" and "review" should always be taken with a pinch of salt when regarding my writing). Until then,

Horns aloft! 


Agalloch- The Serpent & The Sphere

On 'The Serpent & The Sphere', all the characteristics that have defined Agalloch as one of the most favourable USBM stalwarts are here in abundance; their thunderous, cosmic scope, the sharp acoustic dalliances, the slight romance with synths as well as lyrical themes of deities, folklore and general star- gazing mythology. However, much of the epic coda that made records like 'Into The Painted Grey' so powerful is somewhat missing from the core here. Quite often Agalloch don't reach the absolute magnitude they've previously relished in. That being said, Celestial Effigy soars with seamless grandiosity, and the utterly spell- binding 13 minute instrumental Plateau of the Ages brims with all the vastness its title suggests and ends on a particularly heart rendering segment of harmonised tremolo picking. 


Anathema- Distant Satellites

Far more to do with a Radiohead- meets- Sigur Ros brand of sonic mass rather than anything Metal related these days, Anathema's sumptuous romanticism soars as expectedly as magnificently on 'Distant Satellites' as one would hope. What makes it so awe- inspiring is that, in all its scope and ambition it seems so seamless, as though it's the only thing that makes sense. It builds its own languorous world and wraps its planet- sized arms around you and refuses to let you go until you're totally a part of it. It's the kind of album that was made for all corners of the spectrum; perhaps a peaceful night in with a significant other and several bottles of wine, or perhaps across one of Iceland's sprawling glaciers.  In more down to Earth terms, if you don't weep at least once during 'Distant Satellites' then there's nothing for you. 


Eyehategod- Eyehategod

For a band renowned for incessant drug- guzzling and writing songs about the supposed favoured redneck past- time of incest, on their first album in 13 years Eyehategod sound monumentally focussed. All the riffs and grooves here are smothered in their trademark marshland- caked fuzz and filthyness, but on tracks like the Hardcore crossover opener Agitation! Propaganda! and later the dystopian political disenchantment of Flags and Cities Bound  prove that they have plenty of fearsome societal deconstruction to throw around too. And in Trying to Crack the Hard Dollar and Nobody Told Me, 'Eyehategod' boasts some of the best, most monstrous riffs the band have ever written. 


Martyr Defiled- No Hope No Morality

Exactly the kind of prospect and album that Death Metal purists will turn their righteous noses up at, Birmingham bruisers Martyr Defiled wear the "Deathcore" tag unashamedly on their sleeves on 'No Hope No Morality'. True enough, they sincerely buy into the breakdown- heavy mentality, but this is an example of this kind of music being performed exactly as it should be. There are moments of insidious atmosphere (Demons in the Mist), nails-on-the-blackboard brutality and defiance (616), heartbroken bitterness (Under The Influence) and Neverender even has a HOOK. You'd have to be pretty stone- hearted to not be moved into neck- snapping action by at least some parts of 'No Hope No Morality'. 


Trap Them- Blissfucker

For all Black Breath's hulking rock 'n' roll vibes and all of Nails' blistering nihilism, there isn't one band in the wave of crust- indebted, hardcore inflected Metal bands that comes as close to reducing the human race to a pile of smouldering shame and faeces as Trap Them. On 'Blissfucker', the band pummel that home perhaps harder than they ever have before. The glistening riffing on Gift and Gift Unsteady  and the epic but bleak-as-all-Hell 7 and a half minutes of Savage Climbers prove that there's plenty more to the band than crusty meat- headed chug, but it's the violent moments that hit home the hardest, like the terrifyingly feral Habitland or the furious Death Metal of Former Lining Widen the Walls. This kind of righteous hopelessness gives Behemoth's 'The Satanist' a serious run for its money for Metal record of the year. 


Next time on Horns Aloft!: Mastodon, Mayhem, Feed the Rhino and more. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Half- Arsed History: 300: Rise of an Empire Reviewed


Film: 300: Rise of an Empire
Director: Noam Murro
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey
Age Rating: 15+
Release Date: 7/3/2014

When Zack Snyder made the first 300 film, it was always clear from the outset that it was something delivered with tongues firmly placed in cheeks. Upon the film's release to the mass public this turned out to be one of the most favourable things about it; stylish, intensely homo- erotic (though it can be debated as to how far Snyder would have perceived it as so) and action packed, it somehow managed to balance an OTT fanaticism for the modernism that engulfs special effects in cinema in the 21st century as well have a fairly level headed approach to entertainment. 

When regarding its sequel (or indeed, prequel; yeah, it's THAT question again) 300: Rise of an Empire, one begins to wonder where the lines between entertainment and sheer self- indulgence become blurred. Directed by Noam Murro, there's a slight switch up certain aesthetics here, admirable in the way that it tries its hardest to draw a concrete distinction between itself and its predecessor. The action scenes are still largely extra-ordinarily choreographed; they're not so much based on the male physique as they are on actual swordplay.

Murro's ambition for special effects pales in comparison to Snyder's however; the blood effects are supposed to be more gruelling and perhaps less unrealistic, though they only succeed in being less watch-able. Although the fight scenes are to an extent always enjoyable, they just don't have the same purposeful vigour that made those in 300 so perpetual. 

The next point of contention is the story line. The premise of a second 300 film always seemed slightly questionable due to the fact that they all the protagonists died in the first one, however it was also obvious that this would probably have a limited amount to do with its predecessor. The links betwixt the two are heavily imposed enough to make sense. However, the back story here of transformation into a God and an entirely naval- based campaign, although fabricated, still seems somewhat half- arsed. It seems the film falls into the trap of valuing flashy and fleshy occurrences over actual substance, only those said flashy scenes aren't enough to hold the film up. 

And then there's the acting. Sullivan Stapleton takes centre screen as the Greek warrior protagonist Thermistocles, and if you can get past the occasional dip into his native Australian accent then he's merely wooden. Eva Green is playing the role she was supposedly born to play as the villainous sea commander Artemisia, but she brings so little charm to the performance that rarely is she enjoyable. And Lena Headey's slow- burning, clunky delivery of clich├ęd philosophy and historical narration does little to redeem her just as troubling performance in the first film. 

If there is something positive to be taken away from 300: Rise of an Empire, it's that not at any point does it attempt to ram down your throat any notion of historical accuracy, or even morality. The film knows it's ridiculous, and wears this like a badge of honour. However it's hard to value that above the fact that the film is, more than anything else, hackneyed and shallow. 

Rating: 4/10