Sunday, October 14, 2007

Iciclan - Frozen Dimensions

Iciclan is a pretty unique band, not because of the music they play, which is basically highly Immortal-influenced brutal black metal with a few death metal elements and mid-paced rockish sections scattered throughout, but because of the band's ideology. Frozen Dimensions is a concept album about a creature that eats ice every ninety years to survive. The short description I provided may not sound appealing, but it's way more intriguing than the themes a lot of other black metal bands confine themselves to.

The music on this album is extremely concise and to the point. At twenty-four minutes, there isn't any room for filler tracks or even fills throughout the songs, for that matter. Songs are mostly made up of blast beats and riffs that are almost exclusively tremolo picked. As I mentioned before, this album is completely filler-free. The only fills present are flurries of tom rolls played at every little opportunity and speedy double bass kicks played at breaks in song verses, most noticeably on 'Ice Eater'. Riffing is played with a great deal of tightness and precision. None of the riffs ever fade out before the next riff simply because riffage is constant. The guitar tone and riffs are pretty melodic, but the savage speeds reached throughout songs like 'The 16th Cycle', with it's relentless blast beats and chainsawing tremolo riffs, strip the guitars of any easily discernible melody. Drumming is very consistent and tightly performed. Whenever the drummer isn't furiously blasting away, he's pulling off heaps of seemingly random tom fills and rolling double bass kicks rhythmically interspersed with snare, cymbals and occasionally tom hits every three or so kicks.

There are a few death metal elements present on this album, like the death metal lyrics on 'Twisting Ear Then Embrace', the guitar solo on 'An Ancient Place' that wouldn't sound unusual in a death metal song and the growls that are often double tracked with the vicious black metal shrieks to created a cool layered effect. Twenty-four minutes doesn't seem like very much for a full-length, but the detailed concept of the album alone provides enough material to qualify this as a fully thought out album, not to mention the complete absence of fillers.

Frozen Dimensions doesn't waste time with pointless ideas, musical experimentation, intros and outros or ambient interludes. Just look at bands like Xasthur, who have hour-plus running times but only thirty minutes worth of ideas present in any given album. Iciclan doesn't try too hard be unique or different, they just do what is necessary while sticking firmly to their black metal formula and leave it at that.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bane of Isildur - Bane of Isildur

Bane of Isildur labels their brand of melodic death metal as 'triumphant war metal'. This perfectly describes the feeling and atmosphere present on the band's self-titled EP. The music has an essentially uplifting sound, creating moods and images akin to triumphing in battle. As I mentioned in the first sentence, Bane of Isildur play melodic death metal, that's exactly what it is; death metal that's designed to be melodic in sound and structure, not estrogen fuelled melodeath or Gothenburg.

The music present on Bane of Isildur's self-titled EP isn't overly complex or layered; it's quite easy to pick out the individual elements that make up the music: one down tuned guitar, a higher tuned guitar playing clearer notes, bass, drums and vocals. This isn't a bad thing though as the production, composition and more than competent performance make the music sound fuller and richer than my synopsis of the music would imply.

Songs generally start with a short instrumental intro up before the vocals kick in, like the songs 'The One', which starts with some mid paced cymbals and bass drumming in sync with thrummed riffs. Once the intros are out of the way the verses of the songs are very up tempo and intense with songs like 'Arise Triumphant' that make use of fast 4/4 patterns and double bass sections supporting both guitars as they both play the same riff. Songs are, for the most part, structured like this (with the exception of 'Grey Skies of Winter', which is essentially filler free and straight-forward): they start with a mid-paced intro followed by a verse, which is then followed up by an instrumental passage before another verse or blast beat section begins. The music isn't pure death metal, after all, the music has more of a Norse mythology/viking centered aesthetic than a regular death metal band, so the band has sacrificed some of the elements that would make the music purely death metal in favour of more triumphant, upbeat melodies, and even a few riffs that wouldn't sound out of place in a heavy or power metal album, like a few of the riffs scattered throughout songs like 'Howling Winds of Eternity' and 'Grey Skies of Winter'. That's not to say that the music isn't death metal either; blast beats and tremolo picked riffs among other traditional death metal elements are present on the entire EP, though they can seem a bit tagged on in places. The intro track is a good example of death metal instrumentation, albeit a bit modernised, with the constant bass drumming propelling death metal chugs along for most of the song.

There are two distinct guitar styles used here: a heavy, distorted guitar that forms the foundation of the music chugging underneath a cleaner guitar that plays more complex and melodic riffs. The distorted guitar tends to play straight chords and tremolo picked riffs that are more inclined to work in sync with the percussion, though that isn't the case throughout the entire EP, while the clean guitar plays higher notes and riffs that alternate between different chords both smoothly and rigidly as well as tremolo picked riffs. Bass is present in the form of short stretches of low-end rather than clunking strings underneath the guitars, and often follows the guitars along. Drumming is solid and not overly intricate and provides a good base for the structure of the music. Drum work makes use of a lot of steady 4/4 drumming composed of alternating bass and snare hits backed by tinkling cymbal work in the longer instrumental passages and blast beats backed by tremolo picked riffs, with cymbals often being second in priority to the rest of the percussion work. Double bass is very propulsive and makes use of lots of short little double bass fills as well as long mid-paced runs that drive the instrumental passages along. Vocals are well suited to the music: a raspy growl-roar that is clear enough to be able to make out lines of the lyrics without having to read from a booklet. Occasional double tracking is used, for example at the beginning of 'Howling Winds of Eternity' or other lines beginning while the other fades out, like on 'Grey Skies of Winter'.

Bane of Isildur have, if nothing else, provided a solid leg to stand on with their debut EP. They don't try to be innovative or experimental, but the music they play isn't dull either, apart from a few overlong filler sections. It's a pretty good, solid effort for a first release and Bane of Isildur is definitely a band worth keeping an eye on.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Demental - Tales of Alienation

Tales of Alienation describes Demental's music perfectly: completely alien. It's not surprising that they hail from Canada, home of bands such as Gorguts and Augury. The music to be found on this album is unrelenting, aggressive and alien in sound and nature. Just listen to the creepy intro track and you'll hear that this something completely different from your standard death metal band.

Drumming is the driving force of this album and bass drumming forms the base that the drumming is structured around. The most prominent feature of the drumming are the bass drums; a good deal of the fills are completely performed on the bass drums; fast double-bass rolls and constant double-bass drumming are present throughout the album. The rest of the drumming consists of crashing cymbal abuse, occasional tom rolls, short and long snare driven blast beats, militaristic snare rolls, fast, rhythmic snare fills and combinations of alternating snare and cymbal hits. Guitars are, of course, a prominent feature of this album, but rather than the riffs being the main focus of the music, riffs and drumming cooperate together, augmenting and driving each other along. Riffs are more often than not melodic tremolo picking filled with squealing guitar licks in between and aided by the bass, which acts a third guitar, more noticeably in the infrequent 'calmer' sections of the album, and chugging stop-start riffs between section changes in a song. There are three different vocal styles used here: a guttural, gurgling growl, medium to high pitched raspy screaming/growling reminiscent of black metal and occasional clean vocals, which usually develop into or build up to the previously mentioned scream or growl. The songs, which are produced clearly, are quite fast and intense; the album is a mere twenty-four minutes in length, but it feels like a full album because of the complete absence of filler tracks or sections in any shape or form. When a song changes into another section, everything stops for a fraction of a second, then blasts into the next section. This may sound as if the band is awkwardly jumping through their songs, but these stop-start parts are completely natural in their context; the ferocious, unrelenting nature of the songs wouldn't allow for subtle, smooth transitions without slowing down the songs and and taking up way too much time. Vocals alternate between the aforementioned growl and raspy half-scream, half-growl seamlessly, with whole sections being either a scream or growl or the two different vocal styles alternating sentences or even words. Drums and guitars are always doing something, whether they're performing the main body of the drumming made of the blast beats, the whirlwind of tremolo riffing, chugs and squeals, double bass runs and cymbal bashing or the little bass drum fills and tom roll.

All the songs flow naturally rather than rigidly sticking to a one-way song structure, almost to the point of improvisation. The only thing giving away some hint that there are song structures are the stop-start section changes. The music played on Tales of Alienation certainly wouldn't pass as progressive, but they aren't repetetive due to the unconventional structures of each song; for example, if a blast beat section has just finished, you won't hear that same blast beat section in that song again. Some may argue that at twenty-four minutes that this album should be an EP, but to clear this up, look at Reverend Bizarre's Harbinger of Metal EP; it's seventy-three minutes long, but the band still considers it an EP because it contains only three 'real' songs. The same principle can be applied here: Tales of Alienation is densely packed with 'real' songs. It's difficult to bring up any songs that stand out from the rest, not due to excessive repetition but because of the speed and intensity of the songs, and because so much material has been densely packed into such a short running time, it's hard to discern any particularly memorable moments on this album.

Demental manages to play a unique and interesting style of death metal, both musically and ideologically with imagery dealing with things such as possessions, aliens and various related ideas and subjects while still retaining their death metal formula and without resorting to using instruments atypical of metal ala Nile. It's an interesting release well worth taking the time to check out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Roadkill Sodomizer - Killing Machine

When I saw Roadkill Sodomizer listed as 'industrial black metal' I thought it would be black metal with industrial elements, but once I listened to their debut demo, 'Killing' Machine', I realised that this is not industrial BM like The Axis of Perdition, which was my initial pre-listen comparison, but black industrial - obscure black metal elements fused with industrial cacophony.

This isn't the beat heavy industrial that the genre label implies; the music has a really chaotic industrious sound to it. Songs like 'Empty' and 'Warfare' are industrial in the sense that they convey an atmosphere filled with images of harsh, drab landscapes completely covered in factories and smog. All songs have an uneasy, heartless feeling to them; it's like an audio equivalent of wandering aimlessly through grey, drab cities with strange noises and unfamiliar sights assaulting your senses.

The music initially sounds pretty flat and low-fi; MIDI keyboards and drums, occasional guitars, harsh noises and low growls, black metal screams thrown together in an apparently thoughtless manner. But upon further listening it's apparent that everything was done that way intentionally to create that harsh, industrial vibe; the flat, dry sounding MIDI instruments are much more representative of the monotony of an inustrial society than warm, rich analog tones. The music has very little to do with black metal. Flitty keyboard tinkling that sounds comic at first combined with solid, pounding synthesized noise form the base of the music, with industrial infused black metal blast beats buried under the cacophony making appearances in songs like 'Sybian Torture', a murky, bassy, obscure track with only the constant programmed cymbal ticking to cling onto and keep you from being completely immersed in the sickness of it. Vocals, used as another instrument to add to the industrial madness of the music, are usually distorted screams, or like on 'Technophobic Dillusions', are tortured, alien growls and moans blurting out disturbing nonsense. There's an eight-and-a-half minute harsh noise track at the end of the demo, and listening to it seems like a melodic respite after the mess of fast-shifting noise and obscurity of the previous five tracks.

This isn't going to please many people; it's anti-music and amelodic in nature, and a lot of people aren't going to 'get' this demo. If your tired of bands claiming to be industrial and want something that conveys that feeling of bleak hopelessness and looking for something to grab onto, or are looking for something 'sick' or unusual, then Roadkill Sodomizer is for you.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Leviathan's Mandible - Desolate

'Desolate' is an unrelenting four-and-a-half minute demo from a three piece US death grind outfit by the name of The Leviathan's Mandible. At only four minutes and twenty-seven seconds, the demo is completely filler-free and to the point.

Production is clear and sharp, letting all the instruments come out clearly while still retaining a slight sludginess to the riffs. This demo is completely bass-less. I think this is a good move, because I can only see a bass guitar in the mix being completely cumbersome and slow for the furious tempos reached on this demo. Riffing is a vortex of tremolo picking, smashing chugged riffs and squealing guitar licks. The riffs are very prominent and thrashy, and only ever slow down for about 10 seconds throughout the entire demo. As I've mentioned in the beginning of this review, there are no fills, just a furious barrage of riffs, blast beats, screams and growls until the end. Drumming is made up of copious cymbal smashing, fast hi-hat runs, pummeling double bass runs and smashing blast beats. Vocals are semi-distorted screams and unintelligible guttural roars and growls. The parts that stood out for me are are the guitar squeals alternating with vocals and snare hits on 'Constructs of a God Complex' and the slow, pounding section made up double bass runs, chugging riffs and cymbal crashes at the beginning of 'Slither'.

Overall this is a quality piece of modern grindcore, and the demo can be downloaded from their MySpace page, so there's no reason not to give the demo a listen and support a grindcore band that displays a great deal more competence then the countless gore/grind projects floating around out there.