Friday, 29 January 2016

Megadeth- Dystopia

Artist: Megadeth
Album: Dystopia
Record Label: Tradecraft/ Universal
Release Date: 22nd January 2016

Mustaine's re-shuffled cohorts' 15th LP is patchy but often-times exhilarating and well-crafted

A widely held (and rather correct) opinion among many corners of the metal community is that the genre needs (and has for a few years now) a solid boot up it's behind in terms of excitement and innovation; an At The Drive-In, or someone to capitalize on the momentum gained by Mastodon in recent years. While it has probably always been certain that said kick isn't going to come from Mustaine & co., with 2009's Endgame Megadeth delivered a firebrand opus to rival their glorious early '90s period. Given the disappointment of both Thirteen and the piss-weak Super Collider preceding it, perhaps aspects of the more gratuitous receptions of their 15th LP Dystopia have been down to the fact that it just isn't rubbish. That being said, this is most plausibly the band's strongest effort since Endgame

It opens with the bull-dozing 'The Threat Is Real', and right from the off Megadeth sound like a masterfully oiled and re-vitalised machine. In an interview with Metal Hammer's Dom Lawson, bassist Dave Ellefson spoke excitedly about the reported chemistry betwixt the band's re-shuffled line-up, saying of Kiko Loureiro and Chris Adler (also of Lamb Of God) that "they can play anything we put in front of them". The compositions certainly "click" better together than on its predecessors, and as its title alludes, despite being littered with Mustaine's dodgy politics it's an album of its time. 

The title-track is the most inspired track the band have written and performed for years, the track's tunefulness doing nothing to soften the glorious craft of sharp riffing and the second half's grooviness. Adler's drumming and Loureiro's blistering solos continue to fit the mould in to the rampage of 'Fatal Illusion'. 

From this point on however, Dystopia suffers from ego-mania syndrome. One can imagine the newer band members wanting to avoid putting up blockades around any slightly less fruitful ideas that the chief song-writer might have, even if the record almost always sounds collective in spirit. No matter how allegorical they are Mustaine's clumsy lyrics about how "forbidden fruit tastes sweeter" and horrible, the jarring fancifulness between the verse and the chorus betrays some cracks in the framework. Despite its potentially patronising core sentiment the neat song-writing on 'Post-American World' provides the album's most definably catchy moment. 

The six minute 'Poisonous Shadows' seems to be drawn from more personal and perhaps heart-broken experiences, and as such material has never been Mustaine's esoteric stomping ground the track comes off as cumbersome. 'Lying In State' brings nothing to the table in terms of some much-needed refreshment as its point of arrival, though 'The Emperor' manages to do so by emphasising the band's explosive melodic streak in rollicking form. 

It is not the case that to hope for another masterpiece from Megadeth is to set oneself up for disappointment. Dystopia is often exhilarating and well-crafted and is the most approachable the band have sounded possibly ever. It's another very good record that slots nicely in to their catalogue as worthwhile, which many people have been crying for since 2009. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Grieved- Grieved

Artist: Grieved
Album: Grieved
Record Label: Prosthetic 
Release Date: 22nd January 2016

Swedish quartet's second full-length is a familiar but bleakly electrifying one 

Swedish quartet Grieved are so steeped in both the lineage of their native country's music scene and a more universal grasp of Hardcore that if cut they would probably bleed down-tuned, disgustingly sludgy riffs and d-beats. Thick with nihilism and emotionally charged, their self-titled 2nd LP engages in a pleasing amount of depth and scope.  'Fogbound' and 'Drain' assert a vice grip-like aggression through their myriad of riffs and tempos, while the spaciousness on 'Losing Touch' recalls some of the atmospherics endorsed by Black Breath on 2012's Sentenced To Life. It's a sound and aesthetic that's been done to death, but even so the blood-pumping moments remain electrifying late in to the game (see penultimate track 'Asunder').


Key Tracks: 'Fogbound', 'Drain', 'Asunder'
For Fans Of: Brutality Will Prevail, Madball

Savages- Adore Life

Artist: Savages
Album: Adore Life
Record Label: Matador
Release Date: 22nd January 2016

London quartet approach sexuality and liberal politics in a more mature and structured way on album No. 2

When considering the foundations upon which the initial punk movement structured itself, in the UK at least, London-based quartet Savages seem to fit the bill resplendently. Overt and confident sexuality, a large appetite for musical confrontation via discordant spirit and noise and a seemingly anti-establishment energy were all bursting from the seams of the all-female group on both their debut album Silence Yourself and in their interviews. Whereas, say, The Sex Pistols creative impetus came from total disengagement, Savages' comes from the desire to create an expressionistic testament rather than a knee-jerk middle finger, and that certainly sits at the basis of Adore Life

Considerably more crafted and mature than its predecessor, Adore Life is more about informed criticism than spit-drenched, youthful abandon. Delving deeper into society's nihilistic perceptions of sexuality and love, it's a record that often tones down its *ahem* savagery in favour of more poignant deductions. Calling from both personal experience and four studious minds, this is not necessarily a bad thing. 

Front-woman Jehnny Beth sets the record's afront almost immediately; over Gemma Thompson's grinding guitars on 'The Answer' she coos "sleep with me, we'll still be friends" before goading "I saw the answer, will you go ask her?". Over the galloping goth-rock-indie-disco of 'Evil' she casts a searing eye at more conservative attitudes towards same-sex union, and on the wholesomely slinky, slow-burning waltz of 'Adore' (despite her regret-ridden offerings) she largely rejoices in all-encompassing, universal and human passions as she sings "I understand the urgency of life". 

'Slowing Down the World' sees her maintaining absolute control over her sexuality at both a fleshy and more considered level, almost mocking her unnamed lover as she asks "is it for you I beg? Is it for you I pray? Is it for you I lay down anywhere?". Her approach to the desperate need for love and everything in entails on closer 'Mechanics' is a staunch statement of liberal intent and defiance; "When I take a man... or a woman... they're both the same... they're both human". 

It might be quite deliberate, but the fact that only 'The Answer', 'Surrender' and 'T.I.W.Y.G' buzz with the cascading, blood-pumping rawness of Silence Yourself sticks out like an ever-so-slightly sore thumb sometimes. It might seem like a natural progression, but the instrumentation on 'Evil' comes across as unfortunately ordinary, and 'Sad Person' is rigidly sensible. 

With all of the more adult sense of maturity in tow, Adore Life is still packed with character, idiosyncrasy and righteousness. It doesn't spill over its self-imposed brim with snarling attitude, but it has a more cut-and-dried politics that still wears its going-against-the-grain ethos whole-heartedly on its sleeve. Savages still come across as immovably courageous in their self-conviction, and that should be the crux of their wide-spanning USP. 


Key Tracks: 'Adore', 'Slowing Down The World', 'T.I.W.Y.G.'
For Fans Of: Sleater-Kinney, Grave Pleasures 

Friday, 22 January 2016

Aborted- Termination Redux EP

Artist: Aborted
Album: Termination Redux EP
Record Label: Century Media
Release Date: 15th January 2016

Destructively searing and groovy business-as-usual from Belgian Grind veterans 

"Hell is nothing. Hell is only a word. Reality is much, much worse". So begins Termination Redux, the 5 track EP from Belgian grind/ death metal legends Aborted that precedes their new full-length later this year, and with this application of old school atmospherics the tone is set for the pillaging to come. Largely business as usual for the band, Termination Redux is at almost every turn fabulously groovy and skull-crushingly aggressive, as well as being performed with surgical precision. Besides the title track, best of all is the impossibly blood-pumping back-to-basics savagery of 'Bound In Acrimony', which sees them dig up and toy with grind's Hardcore roots. If this is anything to go by, it's going to be a big year for grindcore.  


Key Tracks: 'Termination Redux', 'Bound In Acrimony'
For Fans Of: Brutal Truth, Cattle Decapitation

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Future- Purple Reign

Artist: Future
Album: Purple Reign 
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: 17th January 2015

Increasingly massive Atlanta Rapper returns to his same old shallow, inconsistent and rather dull stomping ground on his new mixtape

Despite the amount of musicians who attempt it, creating a narrative or character for oneself in musical form is stubbornly difficult to define and achieve. It's possible to argue that all in-depth, organic song-writers create a vision that slightly extends reality for effect, but to create an entire identity is usually left to the purview of the novelist, or the poet. Read any interview with Atlanta, Georgia rapper Future and he'll come across as articulate and deeply passionate about the music he makes. As is the case with anything creative though, there's a disconnect between perceptions of what is and isn't art. 

On his new mixtape Purple Reign it's certainly true that Future somewhat succeeds in creating an aesthetic. Bass heavy, rhythmic trap sensibilities are fronted by airy, atmospherics synths throughout the twelve tracks on offer here in a way that, for half the record anyway, is cohesive and en vogue if not unique. The smooth and reserved but layered groove of 'Hater Shit' and the noisy, glacial clangs that swoon in and out of 'Salute' are two production highlights. Like a handful of other tracks on the record, they allude to something that transpires as a vision, occasionally a real creative endeavour. Ultimately though, one's enjoyment of any hip-hop LP should largely boil down to how much they buy into the artist's fervour, and unfortunately this is where Future leaves this reviewer cold. 

Following his tumultuous break-up with r'n'b singer Ciara last year he displayed a surprising level of vulnerability and introspection to the press for a man constantly writing about depraved shagging and codeine highs. On his last full-length album DS2 he exploited that sensitivity further, allowing emotion to resound as he battled against the ongoing heartbreak. Whether Future feels as though the dirty laundry has been aired or he's saving more personal soul-searching for his next album, on Purple Reign he's back to his old stomping ground; debauchery. The crux of it is this; not only is his lauded approach to auto-tune not THAT creative, but so uninspiring is his cadence on the majority of the tracks here that if one doesn't feel the need to wash one's soul clean of trap completely for two weeks then 808's and hi-hats must be the new punk rock. 

It would be slightly churlish not to point out some of Future's attention to detail. "I was trying to tell you I was losing, I was gonna tell you I'm improving" he offers over Nard B.'s glitzy, wholesome beaton 'Inside The Mattress', before going on to assert that "If I did it for you it came from the heart". He taps in to a modicum of remorse on closer 'Perky's calling', a 3-piano-chord led track that rounds things off hazily. 

But for the most part Future positions himself (deliberately perhaps?) as the poster boy for the irony-ridden self-construction of modern mainstream hip-hop. "I can pay your bills right now, how you love that?" he quips in 'Drippin (How U Luv That?)'. And besides one moment of personal candidacy about his uncle's jail sentence the Rick Ross-pimp-mafioso style story-telling on 'Never Forget' is both formulaic and worryingly patronising as at one point he indulges "these Jewish lawyers and accountants, that's the life I know". 

Ultimately though the glossy appeal all starts to fade into a blur and Future's acid-drenched sex raps start to become flavourless so quickly that you wonder whether those rare moments of soul-mining were of any consequence in the first place. 

The problem with Purple Reign is that, if all of this excess is him playing a role then the lack of fluid consistency leaves more of a sense of confusion than any sort of tangible personality. The questions it poses are far less about how much of an enigma he is and more about whether or not his music makes sense. Self-belief is a dodgy tool if you're not surrounded by anybody prepared to say "no". 


Key Tracks: 'Inside The Mattress', 'Hater Shit'
For Fans Of: Migos, Travis $cott

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Hinds- Leave Me Alone

Artist: Hinds
Album: Leave Me Alone
Record Label: Lucky Number Music Ltd
Release Date: 8/1/2016

Youthful Madrid four piece provide an authentic encapsulation of their age on debut full-length LP

Leave Me Alone, the debut full-length from all female Madrid- based quartet Hinds, is a bit like losing your virginity; almost completely devoid of originality and resonant depth but charming in its own ramshackle way. Primarily concerned with the pursuit of cheap booze and sex, the 12 tracks of jangly garage-rock provide an authentic encapsulation of a period that everyone goes through. Sometimes jealous ('Warts'), often shallow and occasionally steamy ('Bamboo'), Leave Me Alone provides catchy, quick-fire fun. 


Key Tracks: 'Easy', 'Bamboo'
For Fans Of: The Black Lips, Courtney Barnett

Monday, 18 January 2016

Out-Of-Body Volume: Spectres And More Reviewed Live

Bristol record label Howling Owl have often-times in the past been a staunch reminder that independent music can still align itself with a fiery backbone when it's done with the deft touch of sincere passion and energy, and their annual New Year// New Noise event is the most organic kind of showcase of that. With it's third installment held at the snazzy, new age Arnolfini Gallery at Bristol quay side, some naysayers might judgmentally point fingers and shadily bring out their "hipster" based jokes; sure, the venue itself is a flashy landmark, but both its atmosphere and artistic countenance seem tangible. The bizarre costumes and big-screen videos that roam around and occur in between musical sets might seem outlandish, but in truth their no more man-made than the song-craft on offer her tonight.  If anything this evening serves as a staunch middle finger to the notion that anything with a collective but niche identity bows to that rather superfluous counter culture.

It's perhaps dubious to indulge in thoughts of a band's successes and flaws on the basis of three songs, especially in a live context, but REPO MAN's twisted noise-rock is in its fully ambidextrous element tonight. Raw but exhibitionist at the same time, their Jesus Lizard- covering- free-jazz oeuvre seems to have a cacophonous depth. Even if understanding of their off-kilter time frames and tortured sax solos seems to fall short of some of the punters, the band seem constantly in control of their own art.

That last assertion can be applied a-thousand-fold to brutalist techno duo CHRONONAUTZ, whose thunderous kick drum fires in to action almost instantaneously after Repo Man's set. On their 2015 debut Noments they seemed to combine a core element of righteous danceability with sometimes formless experimentation, and wisely it's the more banging and fluid element to their sound that they choose to emphasize tonight.  There's no telling whether this is the debuting of solid new material or improvised variations on studio-prepared work-outs, and although there's screeching abrasiveness in spades the sound levels are set at the perfect dial to pick up the texture in their music as well as dance like there's no tomorrow.

Sandwiched between two furious bouts of severity, RHAIN's lilting piano balladry may seem on paper like a slowing of momentum, but her spell-binding performance is anything but. The fact that she reduces pretty much the entire room to complete and utter silence while playing is a testament to the fragile beauty of her art, especially during the likes of 'Pavlova' and 'Tall Ships'. Structured perfectly at 5 songs in length, her set and inter-song chatter is crucial in highlighting the very human and down-to-Earth atmosphere of the entire evening, despite it's potentially pretentious connotations on paper.

SPECTRES (pictured above) arrive on stage forty minutes after they're initially scheduled to, and truthfully if it wasn't for the God-send of friends alerting me to the joys of Uber, I wouldn't be writing about them. A couple of days prior to this they uploaded a studio video of them performing new track 'End Waltz', a melody-less, terrifyingly violent racket of a tune. Tonight they begin with the mighty 'Blood In the Cups', and right from the off the band's energy and presence discern's the song's motorik and almost punk-rock artistry through the searing feedback.

Things are only to get more abrasive though; as the band pummel out new material from forthcoming album Dead (out in March via Sonic Cathedral), the sometimes head-splitting intensity points towards more wild and savage affairs to come. It's often hard to distinguish a melody, but this is an exercise in volume designed to lift the audience out of their bodies and in to a state of paralysed bliss. They begin penultimate track 'Sea Of Trees' in a faithful manner to the original album version, before turning their set in to a proper occasion by inviting a plethora of friends and fellow musicians to join them in their quest for extremity. With seven guitarists and four drummers onstage, it brings to mind Oxford math-rock/poppers Foals' party-centric finale of 'Two Steps, Twice' at the O2 Academy a couple of years previously, but this is celebration in a far more primal and, by default, human form.

They close on 'Lump', one of the most forth-rightly nasty moments from their debut, and as the vicious proceedings are brought full circle it's hard to feel anything but a ringing sense of ecstacy. For both Spectres and Howling Owl, and indeed venue proprietors The Arnolfini tonight has been a wonderfully executed occasion. Bristol's heritage as a swooning hub for music and decadence is long and rich, but tonight is a reminder that, as easy as it is to be cynical about aspects of the music industry, things produced out of sheer enjoyment can still have a large and personal impact.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

David Bowie- Blackstar

Artist: David Bowie
Album: Blackstar
Record Label: ISO/ Columbia
Release Date: 8/1/2016

The Master returns with a strange and idiosyncratic but beautifully relatable and human experience

There's a bit during American comedian Reginald D. Hunter's Live At The Apollo set from a few years ago where he talks about turning 40. He mentions the kind of inherent introspection that (apparently) comes with arriving at middle age, and the invariably mountainous task of working out what's left to achieve. Now post-70 years of age, David Bowie has enough to ruminate on. Like many elderly men not ready to even think about slowing down though, on Blackstar, his 25th solo full-length, there's a sense of keenness for the future as well as a deep mining of the past. 

Although the first couple of listens of Blackstar may seem like Bowie at his most outlandish, absurd and debauched, it's purely him at his most expressionistic; analysing past choices and events and trying to work out what the next step is and maybe even how long he's got left to achieve it. 

If his last album, 2013's The Next Day was him embedding his classic song-writing ability before delving deeper into his psyche, then Blackstar is his first full-on foray into his actual comfort zone. Structurally it recalls his '70s heyday; the 7 track, sometimes extenuated song-length oeuvre recalls the likes of Station To Station. Compositionally though the persuasion is almost post-modern. It tantalisingly straddles a weird alternate reality, somewhere between glitzy, honky-tonk New York and the dystopian vision of his 1986 film Labyrinth. The 10-minute title track which begins proceedings, for example, is complete with acid squelches and distant but resonant orchestration, all presided over by indulgent sax solos and understated prophecy from Bowie as he slurs "on the day of execution, only women needn't smile". 

If one was to be lazy one might suggest that lyrically Bowie has taken a leaf out of later-era Scott Walker's book, but the sense of time and personal strife is far more idiosyncratic than that. On ''Tis a Pity She Was a Whore' he continually suggests that the world of excess he delved in to (and all it's culminating regrets) were "my curse, I suppose". On 'Lazarus', which sounds curiously like a slightly more organically textured Wild Beasts song, he sounds both lost and depraved. "I've got scars that can't be seen... Everybody knows me now" he mourns before becoming more specific in his imagery; "When I arrived in New York I was living like a king... I was looking for your ass". 

On the previously released 'Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)' which musically is like modern Breaks done with guitars and old school, hallucinogenic grit, he seems to be referencing the well documented health battles he's been fighting for the past few years as he sings "Sue... The clinic called... The X-Ray's fine". One might argue that his singular, masterful experimentation on this song alone, let alone the album, is a signifier of his fiery strength. 

The loaded connotations of 'Dollar Days' span the width and depth of his mind palace, at all times both ambiguous but rigorous. "I'm dying to push their backs against the grain and full them all again and again" he songs in the chorus. Is Bowie finally aware of his legacy and identity? Does he regret the Americanisation of his career, or is it the distant shores of Britain that he's "dying to forget"? 

Although Blackstar is a piece of work deeply rooted in memory it's almost always voyeuristic in it's underlying regard for the future. There's a deep sense of pathos throughout the record that seems as though Bowie has been more inclusive of the listener this time around. He's taking one on a journey, but this time he's inviting them to sit beside him and aid him in mapping out the road ahead. It's for that reason that the album is consistently moving, exciting and, perhaps most resonantly of all, human. 


Key Tracks: 'Lazarus', 'Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)', 'Dollar Days'
For Fans of: Bryan Ferry, Gary Numan

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Krallice- Hyperion EP

Artist: Krallice
Album: Hyperion EP
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: 1/1/2016

New York Progressive BM stalwarts re-confirm just how gloriously powerful they can be

New York-based black metal quartet Krallice are a band with progression a significant part of their gene pool. Featuring among their line-up guitarist Colin Marston of legendary tech-death band Gorguts (among others), their crisp but often long, ambidextrous compositions have largely enthralled the blogosphere and, in true USBM fashion, managed to keep elitists at arm's length. 2015's Ygg Huur, their last full-length, was full to the brim with their destructive technical ability, but the three track Hyperion EP reclaims the soulfulness and atmosphere of their earlier work in spades. 

Apparently recorded in 2013, the material here traverses the line in terms of aesthetic between the two LPs it was sandwiched between. Their blinding connection and understanding as a unit is still fully apparent, but this re-shifts the focus back on to the sound-tracking of flights of fantasy through jaw-dropping landscapes. The scope of the title track is almost cosmic, especially as a lingering, thick synth haze rounds the track off. Their progressive tendencies come into the fore refreshingly on the meandering, sinister dirge that strikes the heart of 'The Guilt of Time', and the hypnotic riffing in the closing 2 minutes is as epic as the band have ever been. 

On the 10-minute closer 'Assuming Memory' the walls of tremolo picking are at their most formidable, rising without remorse or restraint. The mist of feedback and textured synths has a sense of history and depth that many modern, unconventional BM bands seem to always be striving for and fall short. 

Following the release of Ygg Huur it's hard to say whether Hyperion is a signifier of material to come. While we can slightly hope so, this EP is an exhilarating, beautiful little document that shows just how powerful Krallice can be when they're dealing with vision and emotion above how tightly they can play. 


Key Tracks: All of it
For Fans of: Liturgy, Wolves in the Throne Room