Sunday, July 30, 2017

QUICK HITS: Dying Fetus - Wrong One to Fuck With

Grammar Wizard is disappointed

I have a bit of a weird relationship with Dying Fetus, since I consider them to be a praiseworthy death metal institution, but at the same time I really only think they have two bona fide classics (Destroy the Opposition and Reign Supreme) and don't really listen to them all that often.  They've always been plagued with production and inconsistency issues and those two albums are the only two where everything really came together properly and created absolute fucking monoliths of technical slamming death metal supremacy (though keep in mind I haven't heard Descend into Depravity so maybe there's three).  Regardless, after an agonizingly long five year wait, they're back with their old, slimy logo and ridiculously gory cover art gracing their newest opus, Wrong One to Fuck With.  Despite ending with a preposition and driving me absolutely nuts in the process, Wrong One with Which to Fuck is another phenomenal trek into the particular niche that Dying Fetus fills so well.  That sublime way they straddle the lines between brain dead slam, hyperviolent grindcore, and needlessly wanky tech death is showcased in full force here.  While there aren't many moments as instantly attention grabbing as the breakdown on "Praise the Lord" or the first riff on "Revisionist Past" (though "Fallacy" obviously tried to recapture that magic), there is a lot to like here.  It's hard to write about Dying Fetus (hence why this is just a Quick Hit) because they've basically stuck to their guns and reused a similar template for all of their albums, despite the fresh and energetic way they tend to assemble the parts within the template.  You know what it's gonna be.  Slams and sweeps and blasts and tremolo alternating with each other twelve times per minute while they just overload your senses with brutality.  I can say I like the oddly distant lead that opens "Weaken the Structure", the breakdowns are killer on every track but stand out a bit more on the title track and "Panic Amongst the Herd", but pointing out examples is rather pointless because every song more or less sounds the same.  This isn't really a problem though since Dying Fetus just fucking kills at this style so it comes off more like a plateau of endless brutality.  I'll say it's not quite as good as Reign Supreme just because the songs are a bit longer and makes the album a little bit more of an endurance test, but the music contained within is just as good.  Don't sleep on this, they're absolutely back.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons

The Borest Seasons

I mean, we all knew this was coming.  I had to review this, screeching about Jari Maenpaa is pretty much my entire claim to fame at this point.  So yeah, this is being written purely out of obligation, because I don't want to.  Not because I have to eat crow over guaranteeing this would suck and I wound up wrong or something, because this does suck.  It's just sucky in a slightly different way than usual.

Y'see, The Forest Seasons is, to put it lightly, boring as shit.  There are a few neat things about it, and like always, Jari is at his best when he's just throwing caution to the wind and being as huge and grandiose as he possibly can, but the problem is that there are startlingly few moments like that to be found here.  Don't get me wrong, this album is big, but it's not really exciting in any way.  That's really the album's biggest flaw, there's just... very little here.  The few good tracks they've put out over the agonizingly long years ("Beyond the Dark Sun", "Winter Madness", "Sons of Winter and Stars") all have a few things in common.  They're all blisteringly fast, massively bombastic, loaded with either flashy guitar theatrics ("Beyond the Dark Sun"), over the top orchestrations ("Sons of Winter and Stars"), or both ("Winter Madness").  All the shitty songs (every other song Jari has touched since leaving Ensiferum) are plodding and dull and go nowhere.  Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, ya know?  There are no good songs on The Forest Seasons.  They're all the latter type of song that seems to just fucking drag on and on and on and never actually go anywhere or do anything exciting.

I've always said the reason Wintersun is so frustrating is because Jari is seemingly incapable of writing to his strengths.  He's really good at super fast and super melodic magniloquence.  Similar to how Dio only works when there's some semblance of mysticism behind him, Jari only works when he's powering forwards with pomp and energy.  What he's not good at is atmosphere.  He simply has not managed to write a song throughout the two decades he's been in the spotlight that built itself on sounding like it was greater than itself.  He tries to throw hundreds of layers of strings and keys and horns and anything else he can think of but none of it ever amounts to anything.  Wintersun is deceptively shallow, and this album sort of lays it all bare for the listener to realize.  Beyond all that flash and guitar wizardry, there's very little solid songwriting.  "The Forest that Weeps" is a great example, as it's sort of a metaphor for the entire album. It boasts a choir section that features some heavy hitters like Heri Joenson, Markus Toivonen, and Mitja Harvilahti, but when you look at the rest of who is featured you see it's filled with nobodies like some random dudes who played in Norther, the bassist of Ensiferum who left around the time Jari did, and pretty much every single member of Turisas.  That's The Forest Seasons and pretty much Wintersun's entire career in a nutshell.  A couple great moments surrounded by a veritable horde of "who the fuck cares?

There are good moments scattered around.  I genuinely think the final two and a half minutes or so of "Awaken from the Dark Slumber" are great, and there's a fast section around four and a half minutes into "Eternal Darkness" that is pretty sweet, but that's like four minutes out of 54.  That choir in "The Forest that Weeps" sings a really bland stanza that sounds like it doesn't fit into the song at all, and it's no better when Jari sings it solo.  And rounding out the group is the token quasi-ballad, "Loneliness", that just drags the fuck on and on and progresses precisely zero inches from the starting line by the end.  90% of the album is mid paced and droning, even when the drums are blasting.  I'll give the dude some props for stepping outside of his comfort zone and trying something new, but it didn't connect at all.

Jari is a bullshit artist of the highest order, but one thing he absolutely did not lie about was that this is a much more "earthy" and subdued album than the two preceding it.  There's a surprising amount of meloblack influence (particularly in "Eternal Darkness") and it's much more guitar based than the booming symphonics we've grown to expect.  And in theory, the idea of Wintersun ditching the overblown symphony is a really cool prospect, because "Beyond the Dark Sun" rules fucking divine and it's all about the guitars on that one.  The thing is that the opener from the self titled is super kinetic and succinct.  It had a point to make and so it made it quickly and effectively.  Nothing on The Forest Seasons is done quickly or effectively.  Everything is dragged on to marathon lengths, as all four tracks fall between 12 and 15 minutes, and it's just a chore to sit through attentively because it just sounds like he's throwing a surprisingly thin amount of ideas at you and just trying to impress you with the sheer amount of it.  It's so odd, it's like the band is simultaneously doing too much and too little at the same time.  It's darker than before, yes.  It's heavier than before, yes.  It's better than before?  No.

I genuinely can't decide if this is the best or worst Wintersun album, because it comes off as both.  On one hand, the darker approach is a welcome change, as it sounds more sad and hopeless than the puffed up nonsense of their usual fare.  On the other hand, it's pretty much boring the entire way through with no random highlights like "Winter Madness" to make the album worth coming back to.  But in that respect, it means it's easily the most consistent album they've written to date, but that also means it's just consistently boring.  What's more frustrating?  An album full of lame songs with one or two great ones that end up being tragically miscast on an otherwise dull album, or an album that's consistently bland the entire way through and ending up pointless overall?  I guess "Eternal Darkness" is alright but it's pretty much just a bizarro version of "Battle Against Time", with its endless blastbeats and tremolo picking, played twice in a row.  It's almost commendable to cram so much content into four songs and yet make all of it so inconsequential and unmemorable.  That was always Wintersun's problem, but they'd usually fluke out and nail it at least once per album.  Not this time, this one whiffs pretty much the entire time.

I'd say it's a shame, but not really.  Wintersun continues to be this weird bastard hybrid of Nickelback and Kpop.  Nickelback because they're not necessarily offensively bad, just really, unbelievably, excessively lame, and Kpop because it all sorta sounds the same and follows an obvious template with very few tricks, but fans are absolutely fucking wild in their unending devotion to mediocrity. 

Whatever, Wintersun exhausts me nowadays.  This is what happens when all of your efforts goes towards production values (which are great, by the way) at the expense of songwriting.

RATING - 25%