Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tuomas Holopainen - The Life and Times of Scrooge

Suck Tales! A-WOO-OO!

This can't be real...

No seriously, this is like, a Simpsons joke come to life, right?  This is shit you'd find in the Achewood Underground.  There exists, in this universe that you and I both occupy, an album, brought to you by the creepy dude from Nightwish who keeps whacking off to Disney movies and kicking pretty cougars out of his band when they won't blow him, an hour long symphonic album based off of motherfucking Scrooge McDuck.  Like... did the guyliner seep into Tuomas's bloodstream and poison him enough to make him completely shit-tits bonkers but not enough to mercifully kill him?  I mean, I just keep stuttering and using far too many commas and run on sentences here because my brain is just still struggling to process the colorful disaster in front of me and I just what.

But do you want to know what the worst part is?  The absolutely, indisputably, irreversably worst part about Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck; Written and Produced by This Really Fucking Unnecessarily Long Title?  This is going to sound crazy, but you know exactly the kind of over-the-top cornball nonsense you imagine when you hear that the MILF Hunter from Nightwish was making an album about fucking Duck Tales?  Yeah, this album has none of that.  I mean come on, are you fucking serious?  With a premise so goddamn ridiculous as Scrooge McDuck and his epic adventures before Donald had to join the navy and leave those three shitty kids in the care of the neglectful dickhead and produce the defining ohrwurm of late 80s/early 90s children, this should be much more stupid.  I know, I can't believe BH is knocking an album for not being as dumb as he expected, but really, this album doesn't even have the balls to be as utterly fucknuts wrong as the premise leads you to believe.

Maybe I just had my mind so set on hating and berating this from the instant I heard about it that the fact that it's actually decent is just pissing me off and my brain is just twisting logic to fit my prejudice?  I wouldn't say so, considering it's bad in just an entirely different way.  Yeah, I fully expected this to be an overly bombastic chili con queso, but instead it's just a goddamn snoozefest.  This is essentially the sound of Nightwish with all of the traditional rock elements removed.  You expected this to sound like the poppy shipwreck of post-Wishmaster stuff?  Not today, homeboy.  You get none of those stupid singalong moments, nor any of the kitchen-sink ballyhoo that you'd expect when Tuomas would get full control of a project.  No, this is just relaxed, symphonic lullaby music through and through.  It's lame as fuck because the mood just never changes.  "Glasgow 1877" starts off with a dreamy, sweeping epicism that brings visions of a magic carpet ride over Agrabah, and then for the next hour you're treated to that exact same theme.  It's just so goddamn dull, who the hell thought an orchestral album with absolutely no progression would be a worthwhile endeavor?  It's why metal songs need bridges, hooks, solos, fucking anything to keep it from sticking to one riff throughout the entire album, otherwise you'll end up with Six Feet Under.

And yeah, pointing out specific tracks for anything is kinda pointless since this whole thing is just one uninteresting blur of calm strings and pleasant piano.  I'm not gonna knock this for not being particularly daring or adventurous in of itself (I mean you should have know that Tuomas wasn't going to break any barriers here), but when the theme, as retarded as it is, is based on the adventures of a specific character, I shouldn't feel like I'm taking a dull sightseeing tour instead of embarking on journeys to ancient lands with the guy.  I guess it's nice lullaby music, but the whole experience is so static and bland that it just ends up being a waste of time to listen to.

On one hand, I know I'm probably being unfair for expecting this album to be something it isn't, and Tuomas clearly put his heart into this, but on the other hand it's just so fucking aggravating and uneventful that I still feel justified in hating it.  Nothing ever seems to move anywhere, each track begins and ends on the same note and everything in between is completely inconsequential.  This is an album full of nothing, just bursting at the seams with dead air.  Nothing on it sounds bad, all the instruments sound just fine and are arranged in ways that aren't confusing or anything, the female vocals are gorgeous and soothing and the male vocals are... well kinda shitty, but that's really the only technical aspect I can say sucks.  Everything else is just... there.  It's ten ballads in a row with no sense of adventure or loss or excitement or sorrow or anything.  It's a completely emotionless hollow of nothing.  And believe me, even if you hate Nightwish, at least something happens with that band.  It might be terrible, but it elicits some sort of emotional response out of you.  I can't see anybody even vehemently hating this, and the only reason it's getting a really low score has more to do with the absence of anything good as opposed to the abundance of anything bad.

There's no real ending to this review.  I could say it's symbolic because there's no real end to the album, since it just kinda putters out as weakly as it starts, but really I can just chalk this one up to laziness and a lack of anything worthwhile to say.  I wrote this purely because I thought my title was funny, fuck you.

RATING - 15%

Saturday, April 5, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Jon Macak (ex-Diamond Plate)

Longtime readers of mine know that I shifted from a throne atop the mighty penis of Chicagoan thrashers, Diamond Plate, to a spot in the gutter, silently cursing them as they flew away.  What that basically means is that I was a gigantic fucking fan of the band before they just suddenly started to get worse and worse, with Generation Why? being a huge disappointment to me, and Pulse being so brain numbingly dull/stupid that I've only been able to listen through two or three times.  The apex of my frustration with the band was likely reached when founding member, Jon Macak, was suddenly and mysteriously replaced with the unknown Matt Ares, another young guy with a much worse voice and completely bland delivery.  Recently, it dawned on me that Macak likely didn't hightail it to Istanbul after his time in Diamond Plate finished, so I took it upon myself to track him down.  After a few years, he finally relented and agreed to sit down with me for a spell on the condition that I stop throwing rocks at his car.  What follows is the surprisingly unsexy encounter.

I used the old logo because fuck you that's why

BastardHead: Well I suppose the logical place to start would be: the metal fandom hasn't heard much from you since 2012. What have you been doing since your departure from Diamond Plate? Any new projects on the horizon we can look forward to?

Jon Macak: Well mostly I've been keeping my ear to the ground waiting for the right opportunity to present itself while continuing to get better at what I do. I did not want to jump into anything unless I knew it was worthwhile and unfortunately that took about a year and a half. So I do have something coming up but as of now that information is classified!

BH: You tease! Can you at least throw us a bone in the sense like... is it gonna be along the lines of what we know you for or is it gonna be a different direction than thrash? Or is the answer still "shut up and wait", haha.

JM: Well its a little early to pin it down into any subgenres, but it's heavy and I enjoy what's been done so far. I think that's about as far as I'll go, so shut up and wait! 

BH: I'm a patient man, thankfully. I suppose I should just get the elephant in the room out of the way early. Your departure from Diamond Plate really caught a lot of fans off guard, including myself. Was that a decision that you kind of knew was coming down the pipeline, or was it as much of a shock to you as it was to us? 

JM: Well I certainly do my best to avoid drama, but to me there's nothing wrong with being honest. It was the biggest shock of my life. I pride myself on being very self aware and mindful of what is happening around me and I had absolutely no idea that it was coming.

BH: Any particular reason as to why? The press release had a vague mention of "musical differences", so would it be safe to assume that since Pulse wound up being much more experimental and proggy that the other guys were pushing for that direction and you were aiming to keep it more straightforward and heavy?  

JM: That would be the most obvious thing that you could draw from such a broad statement. In reality I would say "musical differences" is pretty far off from what the problem actually was. I won't get too far into the details but if I had to summarize everything I would chalk it up to a disrespectful lack of communication and understanding on their end in combination with me being a bit too trusting and naïve. 

BH: I can feel ya there, it's never good to have that surprise launched on you. Well working backwards from there, I personally didn't like Generation Why? NEARLY as much as the preceding demo and EP. I felt like the youthful exuberance was traded in for a more calculated precision, and I felt like the music suffered for it. Now obviously you guys were all very proud of the record at the time, but now that a few years have gone by, is there anything you would have changed about the process or the end result if you could do it all again? Or do you still think it holds up to the vision you guys had at the time? 

JM: We worked extremely hard on it, and to me it was our best effort up to that time. Obviously there's no debating it because you (and others) undeniably got things from the EPs that you did not get from the full length. Looking back on it, however, It doesn't excite me the way it did when we were working on it. We absolutely put our all into it and did our best, but the songwriting for the most part just wasn't anything exceptional. Personally I was ok with that because I felt like that was the best we could do while being so young and inexperienced and that the knack for songwriting would be the next step in the progression of the band. In hindsight I always thought, "ok, the first album had some moments but the next one is really going to be on another level". 

And there's another aspect that makes writing music such a delicate process. A lot of people loved the EPs, and they will always have some charm in my opinion, but we were hell bent on what we considered "getting better" but some of the fans didn't perceive it the same way.

BH: I thought you guys already had quite a knack for songwriting myself. "Relativity" is a beast of a track. Was there any one member who was sort of "the leader" when it came to the songwriting process? Or were most of the songs written by committee? Simply jamming on some riffs and letting the songs go naturally or were they planned out ahead of time?

JM: We were always together when we wrote, everyone was free to make suggestions. Based on our history and personalities I usually conceded to Jim and Konrad for quite a few reasons. There were times when we were young that I tried to be more proactive in the creative process and did not get the type of warm responses that I'd hoped for. I think that caused me to be a bit more self conscious and tentative with presenting my ideas. And on top of that it seemed to me that the other guys cared more about being in control than I did so I was comfortable with the fact that my best role would be to let them do most of the talking and contribute with little tweaks here and there when I knew that I had a really good idea. That was with the instrumental side of things, lyrics were a more independent process. I wrote a good amount of them, Konrad wrote a good amount, and Jim wrote some too.   

BH: So I personally first saw you guys open for Destruction in Mokena back five years ago, and your stage presence and energy just blew me away. After that I caught every show I could, and as such I watched you guys grow and mature and move on to bigger shows and stages. Since you have experience with doing a real North American tour, would you say that was more exciting for you than trying to prove yourselves against legends like Overkill and Sanctuary? Or was it more fun for you guys to be the underdog with the hometown crowd on your side? And furthermore, were you guys as warmly received across the country when you traveled? 

JM: That to me is what was always the key to our potential. Even though the songs were never on the same level as some of the bands we toured with, our performance always seemed to get through to people. Whether people like the songs or not they can get into a band that they know is playing their asses off onstage. So my idea was that if we could just get the songs where we wanted them to be that there would be no stopping us because people always seemed to get into our live show. Pretty much every crowd we played for around the world responded positively to our live performances, we always wanted to be the best band on the bill. 

BH: One thing I'm always interested in is an artist's FAVORITE albums/bands/whatnot, as opposed to just their influences. Like, anybody with ears can hear the Megadeth and Overkill and whatnot in the music, but if you've got a quiet night and you're gonna plop down in your comfy chair and light up a cigar, what albums are you reaching for? 

JM: Well being brought up in such a die hard metal scene as Chicago's, heaviness was king growing up. As I've gotten older I've learned to appreciate the bands that were true to themselves but are so immensely talented that they managed to become huge still. It's a very delicate balancing act between trying to make music that will attract as many fans as possible while still writing music that you love to play. A few off the top of my head that might surprise you: Audioslave, Sublime, Alice in Chains, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Avenged Sevenfold. 

BH: Man I grew up on Sublime and still spin that self titled on occasion, no shame!

JM: It's golden.

BH: I've kind of re-gotten into Alice in Chains as well. Black Gives Way to Blue is much, much better than it logically should be.  

JM: That's absolutely true. It was a very pleasant surprise for me.

BH: Haha, well I know I just mentioned that influences are boring to talk about, but I think there's a bit of a difference when it comes to the initial spark. Was there any one record or bassist that kind of delivered a "eureka" moment to you and made you decided that this was what you wanted to do?

JM: Cliff Burton was the first one, and I'm sure that goes for just about any metal musician. After that I got really into Dream Theater so John Myung would be up there as well. But as far as a guy that opened my eyes at just the right time to help me become a better player, I'd say Billy Sheehan. I discovered him at the most perfect stage of my playing and his lessons that I found online gave a me a lot to practice at a time when I was in need of new things to learn.

BH: Cliff was my first one as well, so you got that right, haha. Well that's about all I got for today. Thanks a ton for playing along, any parting words?

JM: Anytime dude, I appreciate that you reached out to me about this. I've been in exile for about two years and it feels good to talk about music again. And for anyone else reading, especially musicians, keep it real. Don't let the music industry turn you into a politician.

Interesting shit there!  I've been speculating internally about what the whole deal with Jon's sudden departure was, and it was definitely great to hear his side of the story for a change.  Since leaving the band, Jon's definitely been quiet, so I'm very pleased with the fact that he was willing to sit down with a professional dick-joke-maker like myself and shed some light on his time with a band that was poised to become kings of the world, but somehow derailed with alarming speed around the time he was replaced.  Massive, MASSIVE thanks to Jon for playing along and answering some stupid questions for me and for y'all.  He genuinely would not let a single detail slip about any upcoming projects other than the fact that there was one, so I'm just as in the dark and excited as the rest of you are.  In the meantime, here's a throwback to when they were all a bunch of adorable little children with no real idea what a vagina looked like:

PS: I saw Diamond Plate open for Vektor and Exmortus three days before Christmas in 2009 at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago.  Before the show, I met Jon outside and attempted to make some small talk.  I asked "Hey, how old were you again?", to which he responded "How old was I?  Well I was four".  My friends still make fun of me for that. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hades Archer - Penis Metal


There are some things in this world that deserve the utmost praise; the things that naturally gifted people can accomplish with enough hard work (like landing on the moon with less computing power than a TI-83 calculator), little marks of genius that only the insane would stumble upon (like finding out that if you sniff the gas right before whipped cream comes out, you'll get high for five seconds), and what the bottomfeeding scum of the universe dream up in a flash of fluke brilliance (like whoever invented r/tittydrop). Sometimes, all three will morass into one grody, sticky glob of god-knows-what, like whatever stoned Chilean savant wandered into band practice one day and said "Guys, we absolutely must name our next release Penis Metal." And with that, Hades Archer blundered into what is hands down the greatest release title of all time.

And does the music inside hold up? Ehh, kinda. All Hades Archer truly is is competent. No individual aspects of the band stand out, the songwriting is pretty generic (if energetic), and the vocals are of the more lazy croaking style of black metal, of which I'm not a fan. I can give props for the EP being so cohesive, with the entire thing melding together as one solid fifteen minute explosion of blasphemy and noise, but beyond the heinous cacophony there isn't much I can really hold high as exemplary. The riffing is certainly not flaccid, but it isn't particularly rigid either. The percussion pounds away in that constant battery of one dimensional blast beats that anybody who has heard South American black metal before is surely quite used to. I do like the hypnotic throbbing in "Gloria Rex Infernus", but it's one of the few moments where Penis Metal isn't just shooting ahead at full speed. It works as a nice, very brief reprieve in betwixt all the harsh walls of noise. The title track also stands out for one of the only acceptable one-phrase choruses in the history of metal. Man if you can't rock out to PE-NEES ME-TAL PE-PEES ME-TAL, then I don't ever want to be your friend.

Otherwise it's nothing special apart from the obvious aesthetic genius. Typical bestial black metal with almost zero outside influences (you aren't going to find any thrashy riffs here), but I do admit that it's pretty charming in its enthusiasm. It's fifteen solid minutes of Chilean black metal and there isn't much else to say about it apart from the stunningly brilliant title and art. It's just a lot of fun to rock out with your cock out all willy nilly. Dick cock wiener schlong schwanzstuckers tallywhacker KNOBEND MEMBER STAFF WILLY BOABY PEEN DINGALING KNEESLAPPER TURTLENECK TODGER TROUSERSNAKE.




Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Slipknot - Iowa

The most important avant-garde death metal album ever

You're gonna think I'm crazy, but hear me out when I say this: Slipknot's second album, Iowa, is a fucking masterpiece of avant-garde death metal.  We metal fans, as a fandom, owe the existence of bands like Portal, Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega, and pretty much any band who has decided to buck convention and take a path of twisted morbidity over the beaten path over the past decade or so to Slipknot.  Everything music was, Slipknot wasn't.  They dared to take the harsh tones of Morbid Angel and the groove of Bolt Thrower, blended with the harsh groove of Jungle Rot, slather it with a prominent and important aesthetic (not unlike so many pioneers of black metal like Mayhem and Dartkthrone), an outlook of sheer nihilism and a creative use of percussion, and just put it all together with a craftmanship yet unseen.

I mean really, think about it.  This gets pegged as yet another casualty of nu metal all the time, but how many nu metal bands sounded even remotely like Slipknot?  Even on their first album, the Stainds and Mudvaynes and Linkin Parks and Alien Ant Farms and Papa Roachs and yadda yakkity yoo of the world were sonically worlds apart from the ground Slipknot was treading.  They were heavier than anybody in the mainstream at the time, and they used that visibility to push the envelope straight over the edge of the cliff.  I mean really, how many platinum selling, grammy winning albums can you name that start off with a cacophony of blast beats and incomprehensible screaming like the beginning of "People = Shit"?  Everything about this just screams "We will not conform, we will not be consonant or pleasurable.  We are here to sonically decimate your eardrums and you will all buy it and enjoy it like good little maggots".  This is abrasive and confrontational to the point of utter genius, while at the same time retaining a powerful groove that entrenches every last note into your memory, burrowing into your consciousness like a cerebral bore, fragmenting everything you thought you understood about music into a morass of negativity and hatred.

All nine members of the band are fully utilized, with there being creative and well-placed turntable scratches and samples all over the place in tandem with the creative rhythm section.  The drum production is over the top and nothing short of genius.  The snare has a really sharp *pop* to it and it just stands as a metaphorical razor piercing the band's musical skin as often as possible, much like the mentality the band was surely going through at the time. Tensions between members were very high at the time, and it shows in how dark, abrasive, and nihilistic the entire ordeal is.  Listen to something like "Disasterpiece" or "Heretic Anthem" and try to tell me that that isn't pure, genuine hatred spewing out of Corey Taylor's mouth like a bile hydrant.  So much of the album's runtime is spent barreling through droves of nihilistic fervor, beating down every living being in your way, slitting throats and fucking wounds.  Not only is this far, far too antagonistic for logical mainstream radio play (even in 2001, arguably the height of nu metal's popularity), but it's just simply too heavy, too out there, and too bleak to be called anything other than "avant-garde death metal".  And I'm sticking to that claim.  Not only is Iowa precisely that, but it's also the best album the genre has ever seen.

I mean really, what other metal band at the time could so brazenly pummel listeners with clearly Sandoval-inspired drumming while at the same time maintaining scalpel-sharp hooks and then throwing in the occasional knee buckling curveball like "Gently", "Skin Ticket", and "Iowa".  Those three songs lend the most credence to my claim of avant-garde death metal.  Would a band that was allegedly so mainstream and kid-friendly really throw in not one, not two, but a whopping three extended, atmospheric tracks that focus on an oppressive, suffocating aura like that?  Those tracks, most especially the title track, are some of the least accessible things I've ever heard.  Rumor has it that while recording the vocals for that track, Corey was curled up on the floor of the studio, naked, cutting and vomiting on himself in order to get the proper amount of anguish for his part.  Really, that's fucking dedication, and the result is more than worth it.  You know how much I adore In Somniphobia by Sigh for being such a brilliant representation of insanity during a man's last moments?  "Iowa" is exactly that, but eleven years earlier.  I can't praise it enough, it's the band tearing down the walls of convention and taking a big smelly shit on people's expectations.  How can fans of metal, fans of spectacle, fans of anything not adore this?

I can point to any song to make my point.  Iowa has a little bit of everything. Catchy hooks in "Left Behind", blistering extremity in "People = Shit", powerful grooves in "New Abortion", skull squeezing heaviness and heart melting insanity in "Iowa".  Just... everything they do strikes bullseye, and Celtic Frost's resurgence owes everything to this album.  Take the best parts of War Master, Altars of Madness, Music for a Slaughtering Tribe, and pretty much everything else that fucked a boundary with an iron spike, and you'll end up with this, the album responsible for Monotheist, Hangman's Hymn, In a Flesh Aquarium, Eparistera Daimones, Miss Machine, and countless others.  It's hard to go on at length about why the popular opinion on this album and band within the metal scene is so unbelievably fucknuts wrong, so all I can really do is hope you take my word for it.  Listen again, listen for the subtleties, the variety, the bravery, hooks, aggression, nihilism, everything.  Throw your preconceived notions out the window and let Iowa sweep you away into the land of one of the most influential death metal albums of all time.

I'm not joking, don't be a fool.

RATING: 100%

Friday, March 28, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Markov Soroka (Eternium/Slow/Aureole)

Welcome once again, to this stupid thing my friends.  I'm not mad you could attend, but are you high, are you high?  Continuing with my new excursion of sitting down and talking to people who would much rather be screaming in the studio than to talk patiently with a hairy critic with a bum eyeball who yells at geese, I managed to track down the ever elusive and always busy, Markov Soroka.  Most of you probably know him as the guy behind Eternium, but to me he's also the guy behind (in my opinion, two superior bands with) the funeral doom project, Slow, and the Darkspace project, Aureole.  He's a tricky little gopher, but I smoked out his foxhole and managed to stop him long enough to ask him a few questions.

Bitch has too many fucking logos

BastardHead: Well let's start off with a sort of obvious one here.  You gained your initial visibility via Eternium, but nowadays you've been pimping two other projects as well.  Care to give us a brief rundown on everything you've got going project-wise?

Markov Soroka: Well, Eternium has always been the main "issue" and story in my mind, but others seem to cross and turn inside my mind. In the last few years or so, I've been getting "voices" or whatever sane word inside my head that tell me their stories, so to speak, but not get off topic, here is a current list of my projects, and what the style of each one is:

Eternium - Symphonic black/death metal (now Melodic black metal/doom metal)
Slow - Funeral death/doom metal
Aureole - Atmospheric/Ambient black metal.

A few other active projects involve collaborations with members of some German bands, and various splits coming out with a few of the above projects.

BH: I was actually unaware of the collaborations.  Any light you can shed on that or is that still under wraps for the moment?

MS: I can't really reveal much about the projects on a public scale, mostly because we're not totally sure of whether or not it's happening, so I don't want to get the hopes up of the (few) fans that might actually enjoy the music we respectively write.

BH: Absolutely fair enough.  Now, you've referred to Eternium as your main deal.  How long has that been going on for you?  The first demo is almost two years old now, which places you at a pretty young age at the time.

MS: Eternium's doing quite well, actually. I've been having setbacks, but I'm due to start recording the new EP soon. The EP will address the 23:45 minute gap in between Aura Titian and Aura Sentium, where Amethyst dies and travels to another realm. It's not really revealed where she actually went while she was dead, so that EP is going to address that. I've had a few setbacks in the regard that it's proving hard to have found a drummer, but I recently spoke to one that I will be able to work with, so I'm excited about that. The genre is taking a new direction into something I'd call "melodic black/doom metal," since almost all if not all death metal influence has left.

Well, I actually started to write the songs when I picked up guitar for the first time. At the time, when I was around 13, I listened to nothing but Cradle of Filth and Amon Amarth and all of that stereotypical stuff, so you can see the influence pretty prevalently in the song "Aura Sentium" which I actually wrote at 15 years old, if I remember right. I don't think age is a big deal nowadays, but I'm glad that people listen to my music regardless of me being young.

BH: I don't think age is important either, personally.  I just find it interesting when artists have had ideas swirling in their head for eons before finally getting a chance to release it to the world. Anyway, Eternium is somewhat notable to me for the fact that it started as a solo project of yours, expanded into a full band for about a year, and then faded back into a solo project.  Was the intent always for this to be a one-man deal and the band was more for the purpose of live shows? Or was it more of an experiment that you didn't feel worked out as well as you'd hoped?

MS: What happened with the members was that I was moving around a lot, and some of the other members were trying to write for the project, and it kind of put me off. These stories I got in my head were something I felt personal, and it didn't feel like the other members could portray that. It sounds pompous, but music is all I really have. I have written all of the Eternium music, and I feel like it should stay that way. I still respect them and talk to a lot of them, and I can never thank them enough for their support and motivation.

The above, and the fact that I'm constantly moving from place to place makes it inconvenient for it to remain a band. It doesn't feel fair that I'm doing that to them by keeping their hopes up. There's always situations at home, and I have to leave or be kicked out, so I'm just trying to retain my life in order before getting the hopes up of others.

BH: Speaking of those stories in your head, one criticism I've heard towards your music (and one that I really don't disagree with) is that it seems like whenever you get a new idea, a new project springs up.  Have you ever considered blending the atmospheric black metal and the funeral doom or all these other styles you play into one project? Or do you feel the stories you dream lend themselves to particular styles and that's why there are three projects swirling around in parallel right now?

MS: Actually, I believe that the stories of each individual project are unique and should be portrayed. Eternium is doing this heavily, as well as Aureole. I've had a few ideas here and there for Slow for another album, as well. Blending the genres? Hmm, I'm not sure. It would have to be if it feels suitable for the story. Unless you mean if the worlds of Aureole and Slow were to mix somehow, which would be an absolute messing with the mind, but I have yet to find any evidence that they do.

BH: Haha, I was just using them as examples really.  It's pretty clear which three styles you're working with here, and I was always curious if there were any plans to not keep them as cut-and-dry as they have been. Well anyway, another thing I've noticed was that Aureole recently nabbed a deal with a record label that's wholly removed from what Eternium works with.  I know fuck all about how the music business really works, but was that another thing you wanted to do, or was Blast Head not interested in Darkspace worship?

MS: Put simply, some labels specialize in other genres better than others. I was a bit cautious with the Blast Head deal in the initial time Eternium was offered it, since it was mostly known for brutal death metal, but it received a positive response, and Paul has been one of the greatest supporters I've ever met. As for my other projects, Aureole recently got signed to Fallen Empire Records, which I was familiar with because they had released one of my favorite atmospheric black metal albums, Xothist's self-titled album. I knew that if I aimed for that label, then the same fans of Xothist would listen to Aureole first, and that excited me because I really felt like they would like this sort of material. Slow is actually on two labels currently, Metallic Media, and Black Plague Records. It's just a matter of branching out as well, I love meeting and working with new people that are truly devoted to the cause of music.

BH: Networking definitely does seem to be one of your strengths (other than simply writing good music, of course). Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I recall hearing an Aureole track a long while back that was much more in the vein of Sargeist than Xothist.  Was that a gradual change or was that more of a "eureka!" moment?

MS: Haha, yeah, I released that track too prematurely because I wanted people's reactions to the production, or maybe I was just a teenager who wanted some attention for his projects, but that was definitely much more Sargeist-influenced. However, if people are wanting that style more, they shouldn't fret; the second Aureole full length is being recorded and it's a mix of the current Aureole and the past Aureole, which will feature artwork by Luciana Nedelea, rather than the Ariella Vaystukh on the current record in production.

It wasn't much a gradual change, but for the current Aureole release, that was actually 5 or so days of improvisiation. I had a lot of free time, so I just wrote and recorded on the spot, and apparently I had turned out something good. I usually don't like telling people this part because it almost makes me sound pretentious in some way, haha.

BH: Well pretension was debatably the subject of my next question, haha.  Most people who talk to you notice that you tend to visualize and experience music more than just listen to it.  How does this play into your own projects? I guess a better way to word that would be "Does the story/visuals lead the music, or vice versa?"

MS: I'd definitely say yes, the reason I play music in the first place is just because I've realized that it's my favorite thing I can do, and by extension that means it's the best art-form that I can give justice to these voices and visuals that I sometimes get of my own, but I really want people to visualize stuff as I do. I feel like every artist feels it to some extent, or "good" ones, in my opinion. Those who do not appeal to stories or some kind of back-line in their imagination while writing music usually end up writing bad music. Some people have suggested that I am not like others, but I do not believe that. I think everyone has the potential to "see" things in music. Or maybe I'm just insane! Who knows? I'm under the notion that people who are crazy only think they're getting saner, but I suppose that can be questionable.

BH: So that's mostly it, any future plans with any of the three projects you've got going on right now? Maybe plans to assemble some more cronies and hit the stage again in the future?

MS: I actually have been offered a few festivals to play, believe it or not, obviously I have to turn them down. I'm actually hoping to have Aureole play live with some interesting stage setups. Future plans for the projects include further releases in all of them, with some passive wants to play live, but I have a few other things I'm participating in, so maybe!

BH: Very excellent. Well I've only got the fluff questions left.  One thing I'm always interested in is an artist's "favorite" albums, not much so their most "influential".  Anybody can hear the influences at play in your music, but if you've got a nice quiet night to yourself, and you're gonna plop down in your comfy chair and light up a cigar, which albums are you reaching for?

MS: Well, as I have been doing this interview, I've actually been listening to Moon (Aus)'s discography. I usually am always on the hunt for new music, and I've really been enjoying this year's albums so far. Those who know who I am generally know that I am infatuated by The Ruins of Beverast, so that's always a safe assumption. Lately I've been listening to less metal-oriented bands though, and have been listening to more calming and less percussive things. For instance, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is something I've been really liking ever since discovering.

BH: Most importantly: Rin or Lilly?

MS: Rin. Lilly is second, because Rin's craziness will always ensure she is creative. Maybe she gets voices, too!

BH: Well that's about all I got, thanks for playing along.  Any last words before I hit the ejector seat on you?

MS: Keep listening to music! To write music, you have to listen to a lot of it. Also, I'd like to give a shout-out to some projects that deserve some recognition! Utstøtt, Glass Shrine, Mare Cognitum, Borgne, Kawir, Halberd... Sorry if I missed you, I'm not very rested.

And there we have it, the drugged out lunacy of an accidentally brilliant kid.  I personally think I rated Eternium a tad too highly when I reviewed it (it lacked staying power and the Tengu parts are still really stupid, it's closer to mid 70s score now), but I'm not just sucking up when I say that I really like the Esoteric/Mournful Congregation worship of Slow and the Darkspace/Xothist spacey BM of Aureole.  Definitely be on the lookout for Unsleep and Alunar, respectively.  Also, since I'm a super important guy and all, I've actually heard some previews of Glass Shrine and Halberd (two bands in his shoutout that haven't released anything yet), and those are both very good as well.  Glass Shrine is a style of black metal that focuses on the pretty and uplifting (the man behind it compares it to bands like Furdidurke and Cirrhus, but I've never listened to those bands so I'll just take his word for it), and Halberd is a fucking brutally grimy take on what they call "beanie worship" (basically Monotheist era Celtic Frost and Tryptikon) very death, much doom, mega deep roaring vocals, definitely another band I'd love to get the opportunity to interview when the album gets closer to release.  So basically this interview has a lot of good small-time stuff hidden within it, and you should totally check them all out whenever possible.  Massive thanks to Markov for sitting down and BSing with me for a while.  Check out some previews of Slow and Aureole, while you're here.

(not linking Eternium because you already know them and these two bands are better anyway)

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Evening with The Bastard: Andres Felipe Murillo (Prajna)

So lately, I've decided to try expanding my craft a bit.  Y'all know me for my reviews, it's my bread and butter and certainly what I feel I'm best at.  But life is dull if you never try new things, and for that reason, I give you An Evening with The Bastard, my new segment where I interview people you've probably never heard of.  Today, for the inaugural edition, I sat down with the drop dead sexy Colombian weeb behind one of my most anticipated releases of the year (The Summer Eclipse, by Prajna), Mr. Andres Murillo.

BastardHead: Well I guess let's just get it rolling then, thanks for agreeing to be my guinea pig. Anyway, let's start with the first thing most people notice, the name itself.  What exactly is the meaning behind it?  It's certainly not a common word.

Andres Murillo: "Prajna" is Sanskrit for 'wisdom'. However, I just picked it because it seemed like a pretty cool-sounding word, and it actually has nothing to do me. I didn't even know how it was correctly pronounced until a few months ago; not that I care.

BH: Narrowly avoided the Catamenia debacle I see.  Now, most people don't usually care too much about a band's entire history (how and when you started and whatnot), but Prajna is interesting in the sense that it started as a full band and later became a one man project of yours.  What was the motivation behind that and what do you feel makes the one man approach more effective for you?

AM: We recorded a 4-track EP back in 2010-2011. It took almost an entire year of work and coordination, and those songs weren't very technically demanding, so to speak. When we started thinking about recording a full-length, my bandmates spent around a year and a half learning and perfecting around four songs - the album is 10 tracks long. It was clearly going to take way too much time, and I've never been too comfortable about playing live (due both to personal preference and how just generally terrible the local metal scene is), so I decided to just record everything myself. By playing every instrument the way I generally intended to, I managed to tweak the songs as they were being recorded, add more arrangements, and generally have a lot more freedom than I would have had with other musicians. Thus, I managed to record 10 tracks in around the same time that we recorded the EP in.

BH: Well you actually managed to preempt my next question with that one, but I'll ask anyway in case there's more to elaborate; Colombia isn't necessarily known as a haven of great trad metal like England or something.  Did the local scene do anything to shape the band's sound?  Either because of or in spite of the scene or lack thereof?

AM: There's a pretty large trad metal scene in Colombia, the problem is that, well, it's not very good at all. I've never been or wanted to be connected/associated to it, so Prajna's sound is very different to what you'd normally find over here.

BH: So the scene is populated with cheap Iron Maiden knockoffs?

AM: If only! I already write cheap Iron Maiden knock-offs, but that's not what you would find in the Colombian trad metal scene. In my opinion, it's filled with very talented musicians who don't have a clear idea about songwriting, and for that reason don't write very good songs.

BH: Haha, always an eternal plague with smaller scale bands it seems.  When you made the jump to solo artist, did you end up writing Summer Eclipse entirely on your own, or where there some songwriting holdovers from the previous members?

AM: Most of the full length's songs are old. Old as in they were done around the time the EP was first released!

Now, most of the songs 100% my own both music and lyrics-wise, but there are a couple with shared credits. "Mystic Sign" was originally a song by Sebastian, the ex-drummer, who wrote the main riff and the harmony after the guitar solo; but it was a little bare-bones when he showed it to me, so I ended up re-arranging it and adding a bunch of other stuff. in the end it was the last song I finished! He's a very talented guy, and probably the only one I wish would have stayed to record the album.

"Killing the Vice" was originally written by Jorge, the ex-bass player, but that one was just too amateurish except for a couple of very good ideas that remain in the final product; particularly the harmony with the changing time-signatures before the climax. I obviously gave him songwriting credits for that, because stealing ideas is not nice.

Finally, "Nowhere" is actually a cover! with very few added elements from my part, to be honest. It's a song by Keita Haga, included both because I think it closes the album in a very good fashion and for personal, geeky reasons.

BH: Have you looked at my fucking notes or something? My very next question is about "Nowhere". I recently read through the VN Tsukihime on the suggestion of a very talented and sexy human being, and couldn't help but notice that the credits song also happened to be the same thing that rounded out Summer Eclipse.  Is that an isolated incident or are there other nods to anime and Japanese culture strewn throughout that most listeners probably wouldn't catch?

AM: There are a lot, actually. I've always been a fan of anime and Japanese video games, so of course there had to be plenty of references that the average, normal human with healthy hobbies might never catch. They're mostly in the lyrics, but I'd say the general tone and idea of the album, if there's any way to put it, is very Japanese. To anyone not very, very familiar with the sources, though, they'll just look like strange lyrics for a metal album.

BH: So when is this gonna see a release? I've been looking forward to it for a while and I can't imagine most fans of the style wouldn't fall in love with it as well.

AM: I don't really know. The songs are done, the mixing is done, the mastering is done, everything is done! The issue is the pressing for the physical copies; over here there's a minimum amount of CDs they can press (around 300), and I just don't have the money at the moment to pay for all of that. The release will have to wait until either I save up or manage to get enough donations/pre-orders to cover the costs.

BH: If anybody would like to donate, how would they go about that?

AM: Well first they'd have to have money. Money is exchanged for goods and services. Once that important requirement is met, they can PayPal some dollarydoos to me at my email: Sketchy as hell, I know, but I guess that's what I get for living in Colombia and not having access to a crowdfunding option.

BH: I apologize on behalf of my country for owning the internet.  What does the future hold in store for Mr. Murillo?  Be it Prajna or any other musical endeavors you may have?

AM: I love to write, arrange, play, and record music. It's probably one of the things I enjoy the most in the world, so I usually do that when I'm not studying or busy with other real life unpleasantries. I have a YouTube channel where I upload all the terrible music I make every so and so (, but there's definitely more Prajna to come after this full length. I have more than an entire album's worth of songs to work through and perfect, so even though I can't tell you when it's going to happen, it definitely will at some point.

BH: I'm definitely going to be looking forward to it.  Before we wrap up here, one thing I've always been curious about are musicians' favorite albums and such.  Not necessarily most influential to you (anybody with ears can hear the Iron Maiden, early Helloween, and Fates Warning in Prajna), but just your general favorites.  If you're gonna sit back on a big comfy chair and light up a cigar, what albums are you reaching for to accompany you?

AM: Of course, Iron Maiden's entire discography is a favourite of mine, as well as Fates Warning's first few, but if you want to go deeper than that, I'd start with my favourite album from last year: Light Bringer's Scenes from Infinity. It's definitely the kind of album I'd like to write if I had the required skills.

There's also Héroes del Silencio's El Espíritu del Vino, which is Spanish hard rock, and Kukui's Leer Lied, which is j-pop. The Rozen Maiden soundtrack by Shinkichi Mitsumune is up there for me as well, as well as the Touhou Project soundtracks by Team Shanghai Alice. On the more metal side of things I love Crimson Glory's first two albums and the Marriage/Atreus albums by Virgin Steele. I could go on forever and across several other genres, but those are probably the ones most special to me.

BH: And most importantly: Rin or Lilly?

AM: Lilly master race. Rin is an autistic weirdo.

BH: Let it be known that you're a man who hates personality.  Well then, that's about all I got.  Anything you'd like to end on?

AM: Well, thanks for the opportunity to be interviewed by the famous BastardHead. I've been reading your reviews for years so it's a strange, fuzzy feeling. I hope the few (I'd rather them be lots, though!) people who listen to the album like it and feel some kind of special connection to it. Hit me or Mike for a download link if you want to listen to it before it's released, though!


Well there you have it, folks! Trust me when I say that Prajna is one of the better acts mulling about right now, and almost certainly the best thing in South America.  The link to donate is right up there, but if you have a short attention span, just Paypal some money to  It's totally worth it, believe me.  I donated and you should to!  Anyway, a big thank you to Andres for playing along and being my guinea pig for my first whack at this interviewing thing!  Y'all really should check out his stuff.  Prajna is legitimately gunning for a very high position on my year-end list for 2014, so just take that as a solid recommendation.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slough Feg - Digital Resistance

Rome wasn't felled in a day

I think I'm pretty much done getting hyped for Slough Feg.

I know, that's an extremely bizarre thing to hear coming from me, considering I've reviewed three of their albums to date and none of them have scored below 96%.  And hell, I've planned on hitting Hardworlder a few times and that would just keep the streak alive.  But no, today I find myself reluctantly bringing down the axe.  It's been something in the pipeline for a while, and I really shouldn't be too horribly surprised at this, but it's still very disappointing to say: Slough Feg's ninth album, Digital Resistance, is kinda shitty.

I can really sum up the album really well by paraphrasing something Scalzi has said in interviews recently.  Basically, he says that the early albums were the result of him trying really hard to prove himself as a musician and songwriter, so he put in a shitload of effort into going over the top and being as ambitious as possible to craft albums unlike any other.  He feels like he accomplished it on Traveller, so ever since then he hasn't been wracking his brain so much when it comes to their sound, and he's been much more content and laid back about his music, just writing what feels comfortable to him.  On one hand, that's very respectable for an artist to say "I don't want to compromise myself and will only write and release music I'm comfortable and happy with".  On the other hand, it just shows that he's much, much better when he's putting 1000% effort into writing things.  It's pretty clear to me that the ambition and urgency of their early work took a bit of a nosedive after Traveller eclipsed damn near everything else Scalzi had ever and will ever touch.  Atavism had much less epicism and more of a dirty rock n roll vibe, while Hardworlder managed to regress a bit by keeping a fairly laid back rock style with a slathering of an epic space opera.  Ape Uprising and Animal Spirits just felt... nondescript to me.  The Thin Lizzy vibe was more amped up than ever, and the albums seemed to dictate their own pace, lolling around wherever they felt like going, lazily drifting to whatever they felt like doing with no regards to pacing or themeing.

Digital Resistance continues this theme, and I just can't bring myself to give a shit anymore.  Mike Scalzi, for all that wild haired, foul smelling brilliance he emanated in the band's early days, simply doesn't try to write songs anymore.  No, he waits for songs to write themselves.  As a result, I just found myself waiting four years after two mediocre/forgettable albums for another collection of meandering half-songs.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm clearly not the target audience for this album, since the only song that sounds like it could have found itself on any previous records would be "Laser Enforcer", which is a great, upbeat rocker with tons of hooks.  It's exactly the kind of thing Slough Feg is good at.  The problem is that every other track on the album is just... bizarre.  I like the dark jubilance of "Habeas Corpsus", the eerie grooving of "Ghostly Appendage", and the sheer head bobbing funkiness of "The Price is Nice" but even though I like all of those songs, most of them feel unfinished.  Like they're missing layers or sections are repeated/put in as placeholders before the actual bridge is finished or something.  Most of the album happens of little consequence while at the same time being head scratchingly confusing. It's like every song is "Troll Pack" from Down Among the Deadmen, except that track was a neat diversion on that album since it was one song. Not eight.

I don't even know how to describe this, honestly.  There are a lot of soft parts that are cacophonous and hard to follow while simultaneously being groovy and bouncy without being energetic or interesting.  It's a big melting pot of everything and nothing all at once.  If you don't sit down at the table and write your music or set up in the practice space and jam, instead opting to sit around drinking Skol and watching Red Dwarf, patiently waiting for inspiration to strike you, you're going to end up with a bewildering mishmash of galloping percussion and clean, uninteresting guitar parts like this.  The band doesn't feel like they're trying at all, instead just half-heartedly recording every half baked idea that pops into their heads without refining them or making them coherent in any way.  There's no logical flow, neither between nor within tracks, and everything seems to go through these really bizarre, contorted motions without any hint of passion or emotion.  Digital Resistance is like a very perplexing interpretive dance routine where the performer twists himself like Voldo and pops water balloons filled with jelly with a tack taped onto his penis to a with a look of dead-eyed blankness on his face to a soundtrack of utter silence before bowing out to an empty auditorium.  It's strange and uncomfortable, but you can't help but feel like all the nonsense meant something to the performer.  I fully believe that this album is very important to Scalzi and his cronies, and means something profound to him.  But to me, as an outsider, it's a very deliberately meticulous maelstrom of bewildering nonsense that never goes anywhere worth going.

If you liked the more primitive Animal Spirits or the more daring Ape Uprising, I can see Digital Resistance working for you.  For some, this is a bold and experimental metal album that rests in that forever unclassifiable zone that Slough Feg perpetually exists within; an introspective delving into Scalzi's existence in seemingly wide-awake REM sleep.  For others (like me), this is just the fifth album in a row to find the youthful exuberance of the band sorely absent, instead replaced by a bunch of old men toying around with any idea that pops into their head without any sort of meaningful filtration.  Yes, I'm fully aware that Scalzi is indeed an old man now and will never recapture the lofty ambition of Traveller or the drunken vibrancy of Twilight of the Idols again.  But hell, Atavism was still urgent and Hardworlder was melodically sensible enough for the laid back style to work marvelously.  But Digital Resistance just sounds like the band isn't trying.  It's a series of things that happen with no consequence other than me scratching my head and saying "This is... uhh, cool I guess?"

Old fans should check out "Laser Enforcer" and I guess "Magic Hooligan", and maybe you'll like a handful of the weirder songs like I do as well, but for the most part, you can pretty much accurately deduce whether or not you'll like this album based entirely on your opinion of the post 2003 stuff.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, I've finally learned my lesson and won't be fooled a fourth.

RATING - 40%

Friday, February 7, 2014

Whispered - Shogunate Macabre

Premature Ejapulation

Years ago, I stumbled across Whispered.  The idea of a band taking the Children of Bodom/Ensiferum hybrid style, making it heavier, and injecting the folk influences with traditional Japanese melodies/instruments just sounds like the kind of thing that was invented with the sole purpose of appealing to my insanely specific and fringe-stupid eccentricities.  Really, how does that not sound like the most awesome thing ever?  Over the top ridiculousness, crazy soloing, and pompous bombast with an Oriental flavor?  God damn I'm getting hard just typing it out, it's so beautiful.  So of course, you can imagine my disappointment when Thousand Swords wound up being completely forgettable.  I feel like this is a style that, while not impossible to fuck up, is at least close to impossible to make boring.  There are so many untapped wells of inspiration that could be unleashed within such a concept, and yet these Finns just relied on the same tired old tropes we've been hearing for over a decade at this point.

Well now, four years later, they've finally gotten around to releasing a followup, 2014's Shogunate Macabre.  And frankly, this is exactly as awesome as I had hoped Thousand Swords was going to be.

I can't stress enough how fluently melodic and simultaneously intense the album is, abusing hyperfast blasting and frenzied shamisen runs at every turn.  Tracks like "Jikiniki", "Fallen Amaterasu", and "Unrestrained" showcase this the best, being uncontrollable bursts of energy, loaded with more hooks than your dad's tackle box.  Part of me feels like they overuse the technique where the guitars ride on an extremely fast, single note tremolo while the drums blast at sextuple time underneath haunting choirs, but they pull it off so well every single time that it happens that I really just can't fault the band for doing it so often.  It's like the slow, epic bridge in every single Gamma Ray song ever or that super slick drum pattern that Melechesh uses so frequently, it's just a nice little trademark of the band as far as I'm concerned.  Add those unrelentingly pummeling moments with oodles and oodles twangy melodies and ballistically precise melodeath/power riffs and Hatebreeder-style leads, and you've got a recipe for sublimity.

One thing that this nailed over its predecessor is doubtlessly the pacing.  Thousand Swords was spaced out with a lot of very long songs with very little happening within them, and as a whole the entire album felt bloated and unnecessary.  Shogunate Macabre fixes this by compacting the songs into much more manageable lengths, almost entirely devoid of any pointless noodling (though that still does unfortunately rear it's head at times, like the completely out-of-left-field saxophone solo in "Kappa").  The more concise structure lends itself to much more memorable songs, since the hooks are more efficiently sprinkled throughout each song instead of struggling through long periods of nothing to find them.  The way the album is organized, with three fast songs, three mid paced songs, and one more fast one before the epic closer, has a lot of potential to go horribly awry with how cut-and-separate it is, but it manages to instead keep the album flowing with a natural current.  It feels like an organic adventure as opposed to a collection of tunes (which isn't inherently good or bad, mind you).  The slower songs inject some interesting bits from time to time, like the aforementioned sax solo or the frequent clean vocals in "One Man's Burden", though I can't say the songs are improved too horribly much due to their inclusion.  I won't say they're meandering or unnecessary, just that the faster songs with huge doses of melody and ridiculously catchy leads and hooks are far more fun to listen to, is all.

Granted, I realize I'm drooling over this because I meet a very specific set of requirements for this album to have this effect on me.  I'm willing to bet most metal fans don't whack off to a soundtrack of Victory Songs and They Will Return while playing Samurai Warriors and spending the free time trying to understand Kiba's ridiculous accent in order to warble along with any given Gargoyle song.  I realize I'm a strange guy who loves the sound of Japanese traditionalism and the notoriously noob-friendly territory of melodic death/power metal like Bodom, Kalmah, Skyfire, and such.  So really, your mileage my vary, but for me, in regards to my personal eccentricities, this is the kind of album I've been silently praying for for years.  Shogunate Macabre delivered on the promise that Thousand Swords skimped on, and I couldn't be happier for that.

RATING - 89%

Friday, January 31, 2014

Lost Horizon - A Flame to the Ground Beneath

Sam Jewkowsky

This is another one I don't think I'll ever fully understand.  Lost Horizon, once upon a time, was probably the most hyped power metal band in the universe (at least on the corners of the internet I frequent), and they're still cited as one of the few examples of great Europower from people who can't stand Europower.  Now I, as a noted Europower fanatic (stop lying to yourselves and embrace Rhapsody and Nightwish already, dammit), this filled me with conflicted anticipations.  On one hand, surely they must be one of the most impressive bands in the style if they can transcend fandoms so seamlessly, but on the other hand, there must be something wholly different about them that makes them so easily removed from their geographical scene.  After nearly a decade of listening to this album roughly once a year, I think I can finally speechify my feelings towards Lost Horizon.

They rule, they suck, they're middle of the road, and most of all, they're disappointing.

Honestly, I still struggle to give a concrete answer as to how I view them from a qualitative standpoint.  I think there's a ton of potential at play, and there are some stunningly brilliant moments thrown around from time to time, but there are also long stretches where I find myself checking how much time is left in the song because it's just starting to bore me so much.  The band tends to be both awesome and lame at the same time, and at the end of the day I think the most poignant phrase I can use to describe them is "wasted potential" or "high-quality disappointment".

I know I have a habit of letting hype taint my views of a band, but I'm not even letting that in when discussing Lost Horizon.  They're so disappointing to me because Daniel Heiman is, without a doubt, one of the most talented vocalists I've heard in all of power metal.  Seriously, I don't think I've ever heard a more sublime balance of power, control, and range.  There are guys who have some qualities but lack others, like Joacim Cans of Hammerfall who is magnificently controlled, but wimpy as shit and sports what seems to be a half octave range, or Jens Carlsson of Persuader who sports a fairly impressive range and enough power to provide electricity to a small village, but sometimes flays wildly around like he's just lost himself entirely (in this case I don't view it as a bad thing, but from a technical sense it's not as impressive as Heiman).  Heiman is incredibly strong and incredibly clean at the same time, punctuating his performance with eardrum bursting high notes surprisingly tastefully.  He also uses his voice as a third guitar for many moments, notably "Highlander", where he has several moments of choreographed flourishes where his voice is carrying a melody that most other bands would logically use a guitar for.  I seriously cannot stress enough how impressive he is as a vocalist and how tastefully he showcases his talents.

This is such a bloody shame because the rest of the band is about as by-the-numbers and dull as you can imagine.  This band gets a lot of love from non-Europower fans for odd reasons like "they're Europower without the faggotry" or "they're just better, obviously", when really this is about as gay as any random Italian flower metal band.  I don't know what qualifies as the "gay" elements in the style, but there's no lack of major scale melodies, huge synths, soaring vocal melodies, double bass, catchy choruses, it's all here.  The only difference is that all of it is dialed back to the point of tedium.  The band takes the idea of Swedish/German flower metal and just saps all of the batshit insanity out of it.  There are no booming symphonics, only subtle keys.  There are no obscenely poppy or catchy numbers, just moments where you'll catch yourself subtly nodding your head or tapping your foot.  There are no grand sweeping choruses, only simple melodies that, while effective, just kind of happen at a pedestrian pace and never do much to grab the listener.

But BH! You've basically just described German speed metal, which you always say is your favorite niche scene!

Yeah, kinda, except not at all.  Flower metal is usually just the foundation of that early speed metal I love so much with dozens of layers of sugary fun on top.  Constant double bass, huge melodies and bombastic orchestrations.  The problem is that Lost Horizon doesn't have those superfluous elements, nor do they even have that base.  They're not fast, they're not over the top, and they're not ridiculous or fun.

But BH!  That just sounds like USPM then, since it's based more on riffing prowess than melodies or vocals!

And oddly enough, USPM fans really seem to flock to Lost Horizon.  I can kind of understand why, since (while guitar/synth melodies aren't completely absent  (check something like "Think Not Forever")), the guitars seem to take a rhythmic focus most of the time.  If you take the goddamned immaculate vocals out of the equation, you're left with almost nothing of interest.  The rhythmic showcase is dull as shit because there are almost no interesting riffs to be heard.  This is why I can't fathom the USPM fans adoring A Flame to the Ground Beneath so much.  Blue collar USPM bands like Omen, Jag Panzer, Helstar, Manilla Road, and others are just loaded with neck breaking and creative riffage.  Whenever the pace picks up to a higher tempo, Lost Horizon just does the generic flower metal thing of just simple chord progressions with a ton of palm muting, and whenever it's at a more mid pace (which the band seems to be most comfortable with), it's just dull chugging or uninteresting meandering.  I feel like the band themselves understood that Heiman was the main draw here, and so nearly everything they do is simply a backdrop for his vocal acrobatics.  There is pretty much only one thing I can give the band credit for outside of the obviously brilliant frontman, and that's that the solos are insanely good.  When the guitarists decide to just let loose, holy crap they can really melt faces. 

I keep comparing Lost Horizon to scenes they're not really a part of, but the reason for that is that they come off to me like they're trying to play one style with the vision of another at times.  It's hard to tell which is leading which, but it comes off as kind of awkward.  Are they trying to take the over the top bombast of Europower and filter it through the more sophisticated lens of USPM?  Or are they taking the simplistic, down-to-earth attitude of USPM and putting it through the more grand scope of Europower?  It feels like both at times, and it just comes off as a worst of both worlds.  And really, the only reason I'm trying to compare the two styles is because of where the band's popularity stems from.  The real scene they fit into perfectly is the northern European prog/power scene, with bands like Tad Morose, Morgana Lefay, and Pagan's Mind.  Granted, I don't really like any of those bands all that much for the same reason I find myself so conflicted with Lost Horizon.  Musically, they just bore the crap out of me.  A Flame to the Ground Beneath is loaded with great moments that all involve one member, and the rest of the band does next to nothing interesting or worthwhile.  There are a whopping six real songs that aren't ambient interludes, and half of them are 8 minutes or more.  They're structured creatively and Heiman is entertaining as always, but they just drag on for what seems like forever, and whenever it's at an instrumental section I just find myself yawning, waiting for the singer to come back.

That's the biggest problem with A Flame to the Ground Beneath to me.  It's focused on things like "maturity" and "songwriting", and I'm putting those words in "air quotes" because they so frequently seem like codewords for "boring" and "not at all entertaining".  Maturity is paying your mortgage on time and reading the newspaper every morning over coffee, having fun is spending all of your money on beer and samurai swords and reading fantasy novels before leaving to go join your friends for an all night session of "let's see who can climb this tree and jump into the lake with the most backflips".  I know what I'd rather do, is all I'm saying.  It's no different here, the songs are presented as something like a "thinking man's metal" but it just comes off sloppy and trite until Heiman shows up and wails like a banshee.  The problem is that so much of the album's running time is taken up by mid paced banality, with no instrumental segments seeming to try to break out of the greater whole of mediocrity.  There are moments of great songwriting, like the chorus of "Lost in the Depths of Me" or the final stretch of "Highlander", but on the whole it just feels like filler in between the vocal showcase.  Honestly, all of the most cliche parts (when the band goes for a more straightfoward section with double bass and big melodies) are all the highest points of the album.  This is a band that could benefit from being more predictable and typical.  Honestly, if they embraced the ideals of sugary, over-the-top flower metal, they could easily reign as a top tier band.  I get that fun wasn't really the aim of the band, but this isn't fun to listen to.  There's no sense of entertainment from the vast majority of the album.  Something like, I dunno, The Crimson Idol isn't fun at all, but it's rewarding in some capacity.  A Flame to the Ground Beneath is not rewarding in any way apart from the one obvious element that I can't stop fawning over.

I've been struggling to quantify exactly what percentage rating I'd give this album, and it's really because the good parts are extraordinarily good, but the majority of the album is just not worth listening to.  This was initially going to be part of my Jerking the Circle series (back when it was supposed to be seven reviews in seven days, before I got impatient), but I really can't bring myself to bestow the series title onto this because I kinda like it in a way.  If you took Heiman out of the equation, and replaced him with literally any other vocalist, this would score unbelievably low.  Like 20 or 30 percent.  But that's where the draw of the album comes into play, because he is so damn good that he makes the unbearably dull instrumentals and uninteresting songwriting just seem like a goddamn masterpiece.  But since he is the frontman, there is at least a small amount of enjoyment to be gleaned from the album.  I really, really wish he could find a more energetic and entertaining band to front, because he deserves to be in front of something that can actually get your blood pumping.  So in the end, a score in the fifties will have to suffice.  It's not a negative score, because this isn't a bad album, but it's not really worth recommending apart from the experience of just sitting in awe of Heiman's voice.

RATING - 55%

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lvcifyre - Svn Eater

Reviews like this don't just happen

Oh lord... here it comes again... I can feel it.  This rumbling, this warm, distant cacophony from deep within my gut.  It's becoming a frequent thing, especially over the last several years.  Perhaps it's the enhanced amount of fiber in my diet, or maybe it's simply a new routine I've been working myself into.  But regardless, this feeling is unmistakable.  I try fighting it, but the buzz grows louder with every passing moment.  I hear the dim rememberings of voices past and present in the darkest cockles of my subconsciousness.  "Dude, just go", "You won't regret it, seriously!", "I can tell, this one is going to be different", "Bill, I just shit myself".  Eventually, I can't fight it any longer, as the buildup has been immense.

I run to the bathroom.

Initially, the slow churning and grinding was moving along at a rather deliberate pace.  It felt as if the demons inside were preparing for their assault moreso than actually carrying it out.  Maybe it was a bluff?  Maybe there was no such violent attack planned in the first place? It felt like an eternity, I sat there, jaw agape, neck straining, waiting for something, anything to materialize.  All I could hear and feel were the distant rumblings of an all-too-familiar entity; a slowly awakening beast, sleepily pawing at the light at the end of the tunnel, trying to remember why it was even awakened in the first place.

It took slightly over nine minutes of drawn out, rumbling foreboding.  I felt the walls begin to bow outwards, and I knew it was time to put down my Gameboy and brace myself.  The Volcano Badge would have to wait, for I had my own Vesuvian catastrophe to worry about.  I curl my toes and and clench my fists, bracing myself for the inevitable supernova.  And sure enough, it delivered.  The initial eruption of burning malice was nothing short of inhumane.  It is a pain of the most middingly pleasurable kind.  The kind of thing I would not subject myself to frequently, but when it happens on its own, I gladly endure it, for I know the spoils are usually worth the struggle.  This blackened wretch of filth wasn't doing much to stand out from the other floods of vitriolic scorn that I find has become ever so prevalent as of late, but it was proving itself formidable nonetheless.  This violent purge was based in the death of all things, as if the very essence of life was pouring out of me.

Like most experiences of this nature, what lasted was a forty to fifty minute expunging of bubbling vehemence.  Despite the upfront nature of the beast, it (like most of these nasty things) feels to be off in the distance when in progress.  Despite the fact that the pummeling ferocity of the experience might cause me to grab the edge of the toilet seat for support while my skin flushes and all strength drains away in a maelstrom of fiery hatred from within the confines of my own bowels, it all feels to be emanating from a distant cavern in which I have zero plans of spelunking.  In a way it's almost frustrating because at no point in this expulsion did the pace ever change after the initial crescendo.  A fifty minute plateau of virulent sadism ends up being a rather unfulfilling sequence of events when there is so little time to breathe between the suffocating atmosphere of malice.  From the beginning to the end, you could have taken any snippet of this whole ordeal and played it back to me, and I'd've never been able to tell you how far along in the torturous endeavor I was.  I would take a minor courtesy flush every once in a while, but it's only a temporary reprieve from the demonic malediction.

And of course, when it all was over, I felt unsatisfied.  Color began to return to my cheeks and feeling to my fingers, but after the cleanup, there was no story to be told.  Yes, I'm well aware I'm telling you this story now, but this has become such a frequent occurrence that this really could have been any one of the dozens of other times I've sat through such an experience.  I mean, it's not something I dislike.  The beefy tones of utter demolition as they resonate off the porcelain are satisfying in that they rarely sound like there is no greater passion behind the push, and the far-off ululating of the demon at the forefront of this almost always sounds like something to be feared, but the utter indifference to the ideas of pacing and thematic variation within the vast annals of my lower intestine just end up being overwhelmingly dull.  At the end of the day, all I can really say is that I took a really big poop.  The poop wasn't more impressive than any of the other big poops I find myself experiencing, and it's quite a decent poop, but it's a poop I've pooped many times before, and if nothing else, maybe eating some Cap'n Crunch Oops All Berries to the stew some more vibrancy in hue would be welcome.

And I just wrote an entire review comparing Lvcifyre and the Dark Descent Records/OSDM Revival scene to taking a really nasty shit.  What have you done with your day?

RATING - 70%