November 23, 2017

Phlebotomized - Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact

By Hera Vidal. Phlebotomized is one of those cult bands that disappeared during the late 90’s, only to resurface 16 years later. Their music is what I can only describe as avant-garde, reminding me a lot of Ven Buens Ende and their classic Written in Waters.
By Hera Vidal.

Cover art by Patrick Van Der Zee

Phlebotomized is one of those cult bands that disappeared during the late 90’s, only to resurface 16 years later. Their music is what I can only describe as avant-garde, reminding me a lot of Ven Buens Ende and their classic Written in Waters. However, unlike Ven Buens Ende, Phlebotomized is much more approachable, less chaotic (to an extent), and much more enjoyable. While researching this band and album(s), I saw comparisons between Phlebotomized and Amorphis, and even listened to Tales from the Thousand Lakes to see whether the album had the same sound. I would consider Phlebotomized to be Amorphis’s more flamboyant Dutch cousin – they run in the same sonic circles, but Phlebotomized likes to experiment.

Now, Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact is actually a compilation of their classic albums, Immense Intense Suspense, released in 1994, and Skycontact, released in 1997. Because this is two albums in one, I will be focusing on one album at a time before giving my closing remarks on this compilation.

Of the two, Immense Intense Suspense is the most conventional – that is, it follows the true-and-tried of death-doom, but it does have some quirks to its music including touches of tech death in the guitar, acoustic tones used sparingly throughout the album, and an avant-garde vibe that comes out through the usage of keyboards. What makes the music work is actually the usage of a violin. There are moments were the main focus of the music is a heavy, sludgy guitar that really brings out the death metal. It can be heard throughout the album, warring with the violin, creating an intense wall of sound that doesn’t let up even during the quiet parts of the album. In fact, one can say that the album is focused around the violin, making sure it shines when it can. Throughout the album there's a suspense coming from not knowing what to expect, as it surprises you at every turn. It definitely sounds a lot different than what was available at the time, but, nowadays, you can find similar surprises in album from say, Oranssi Pazuzu or A Forest of Stars.

Skycontact, on the other hand, decided to throw much of the conventional metal out the window and go full avant-garde. Unlike the non-linear musical structure and lyricism that was used in Immense, Phlebotomized decided to fully embrace their quirky soundscape and their penchant for experimentation, forgoing the violin for the usage of synthesizers and fuzzy guitars. This leads to a cohesive structure of music that, while it can go from one place to another rather quickly, can still follow a set theme. One can claim that Skycontact is a full descent into madness and dreams, dense in its complexity and atmospheric in vocal usage. If Immense is the outside world, then Skycontact is Wonderland. The dreamlike atmosphere of this album is something to behold, fully embracing their quirks without losing all of their previous death-doom sound (see the delightfully titled “I Lost My Cookies in the Disco”).

All in all, Immense Intense Suspense / Skycontact is a compilation album that provides ready access to a band’s discography that is highly niche and would need someone else to direct you to it. Depending on whom you ask, either album is polarizing yet accessible. Personally, of the two, I would suggest starting with Skycontact first, as I think it is the most accessible and enjoyable of the two. Given my penchant for progressive metal, that side of the compilation was easier to take in. Overall, the compilation is a great introduction into the avant-garde, and I fully recommend it to those who enjoy a little weird in their metal.


[Note: track 1-7 is Immense Intense Suspense. Track 8-13 is Skycontact.]
Tagged with 1994, 1997, 2014, avant-garde death metal, doom metal, Hammerheart Records, Hera Vidal, Phlebotomized

November 20, 2017

Archspire vs. Gigan

By Calen Henry. Technical death metal is a hard sell for me. Necrophagist's Epitaph is one of my favourite metal albums but little else, save for Virvum and early Arsis has really grabbed me. I've investigated Necrophagist alumni's various projects
By Calen Henry.

Technical death metal is a hard sell for me. Necrophagist's Epitaph is one of my favourite metal albums but little else, save for Virvum and early Arsis has really grabbed me. I've investigated Necrophagist alumni's various projects as well as other tech death royalty (Spawn of Possession, Beyond Creation, First Fragment, etc.) and though I like a lot of them, they mostly don't stick for me. It's ironic, then, that I'm writing a double tech death review for two albums released in the same month, but here we are. Maybe it's because they're both space metal....I do love space metal....

Artwork by Eliran Kantor.

What grabs me about Necrophagist is the successful juxtaposition of neo classical solos over top of filthy death metal riffs. Until Virvum took that template to space on Illuminance, adding synths and leaning on augmented arpeggios, not much else "post-necrophagist" had stuck with me. Archspire take all the parts I love about Virvum and Necrophagist and dial them up while also adding aspects I generally thought I didn't like about tech death; relentlessly fast drums and extreme extended range guitars. I like Relentless Mutation a lot. Archspire have won over this tech death cynic.

Archspire write songs. Above everything else that's what makes Relentless Mutation work. The riffs, solos and vocals all work together to create songs. Faster and more complex songs than most bands, but songs first. There's a flow to the songs that guides the listener through their whirlwind of musicianship. Plus, spacey synths and solos are always a good thing in my book.

The core of the sound is ridiculously fast riffs, inhuman drumming and ridiculous neo-classical solos. They even manage to utilize extended range guitars without coming anywhere close to the "inept Meshuggah" sound lots of bands end up with. Almost unique to Archspire, though, are vocals that keep pace with everything else. The lyric video for "Involuntary Doppelganger" is almost too fast to read. The vocal style will likely be polarizing but it suits the band and increases the cohesion of their sound.

I find Archspire are a bit too "up to 11" to be an all out win for me. Though Relentless Mutation is a stronger album than Illuminance and less overt Necrophagist worship, I personally prefer Virvum's approach because they really embrace the atmospheric side of their sound slowing things way down for long periods. That's not a criticism, though, merely my personal preference. Archspire are extremely talented and write amazing songs.

Given my general tech death cynicism, anyone looking for amazing, creative, neoclassical tech death that absolutely doesn't let up needs to check out Archspire. They've created one of two tech death albums to really grab me since 2005, and that's no mean feat.


Artwork by Dr.Winter.

Gigan sound like Gigan and only Gigan and Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence sounds like Gigan. The closest reference point would be Artificial Brain with a dash of Portal, but Gigan are the undulating, tentacled eldritch space horror to Artificial Brain's soot covered, smoke belching robot overlord. They're also the farthest thing from Archspire despite undeniably being technical death metal. Gigan are the antithesis of the tight tech death of both the neo-classical solo loving side of tech death and the complex dissonance of Gorguts and their myriad followers. They also predate the recent influx of WASDM (Weird-Ass Space Death Metal), having been releasing albums since 2008.

Artificial Brain, Pyrrhon, and various other "Dissonant death metal" are something I usually appreciate but don't really actually want to listen to. I love Gigan, though. They are similar in sound but their approach is more organic; ebbing and flowing through ambient interludes, dissonant madness and massive headbanging riffs seemingly by feel rather than due to tightly constructed songs.

There's an almost lazy feeling to the flow largely due to the amazingly laid back drumming in the face of the buzzing guitar riffs. The drumming creates an overall groove that's unmatched by any other technical band and makes Gigan's flow seem effortless.

Interestingly, though the record features some of the most accessible WASDM riffs in tracks like "Plume of Ink Within a Vacuum" and "Ocular Wavelengths' Floral Obstructions", the album is bookended by two 10 minute tracks that hold nothing back and have no interest whatsoever in accessibility (one of them, "Wading Forwards Through Matter and Backwards Through Time" has to be in the top 5 track titles of 2017).

You have to want to get into Gigan and they don't seem to care if you don't. But they really are among the most accessible WASDM and my personal favourite. There's an addictive weirdness to Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence that keeps me coming back. Essential listening if you're up for the strangeness.

Tagged with 2017, Archspire, Calen Henry, Gigan, progressive death metal, Season of Mist, technical death metal, Willowtip

November 15, 2017

Auðn - Auðn

By Hera Vidal. Iceland has become known as one of metal’s most buzzed-about places, especially since their music scene is home to some of the biggest names in black metal right now. We know that Iceland’s climate serves as inspiration to the raw emotion
By Hera Vidal.

Cover art by Víðir 'Mýrmann' Þrastarson

Iceland has become known as one of metal’s most buzzed-about places, especially since their music scene is home to some of the biggest names in black metal right now. We know that Iceland’s climate serves as inspiration to the raw emotion behind the music, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that anything that comes out of Iceland is worthy of note. However, my preferences lie towards the atmospheric, so when I saw this album, I decided to take the plunge and listen to it.

Auðn is a relatively young band, having only released this album, but they already sound like pros. They are already set in the way they wanted to sound, and it shows. Everything about their musicianship sounds impressive, and it comes as no surprise that their atmosphere is one of the most noticeable things this album has to offer. Auðn’s atmosphere may be cold, but there is also some warmth that is offered to the listener. The warmth stems from the album’s melodic nature, which is strange considering how most atmospheric black metal is supposed to sound bleak and cold. However, the highly melodic sound and the bleak atmosphere provide a beautiful sound that makes it greater than itself. It literally takes the listener elsewhere, and transcends them to a place where they can forget about everything for a while. Given how this album is 36 minutes long, it seems Auðn thought it appropriate to make their debut succinct and enjoyable.

Now, another thing worthy of note is their production value. I try to not focus on production a lot, but their production is so clean and so well-done that one can’t help but notice how elevated it sounds. In my listening experience, black metal albums don’t have good production values, and, if they do, they tend to emphasize a part of their sound while staying relatively the same elsewhere. What Auðn has done is place emphasis on parts that are stressed throughout the tracks, but have also kept the album consistent—there are no stray notes or stray sounds. When these parts are stressed, you can hear all the different elements they have added into the layers of music—you can hear the deep bass, the clean vocals, and the syncopated drumming. For a band whose name translates to “wasteland”, there is nothing desolate or barren about anything this album has to offer. It’s beautiful and grand, which is a big statement coming from a young band.

In short, Auðn is a gem of an album that has a lot to offer and say in the span of 36 minutes. This feature makes the album digestible and enjoyable. The best part is that this album gets better with every listen, and you can always come back to it for comfort. I have a feeling we are going to see more from Auðn, and, when they do decide to release another album, I hope it is just as fantastic as this debut.

Tagged with 2014, atmospheric black metal, Auðn, Hera Vidal