Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hyperion - Seraphical Euphony

Written by Andy Osborn.

Cover Art by Alex Tartsus

The term ‘Dissection clone’ gets thrown around a lot. While not necessarily an insult, it attempts to classify the many bands trying to recreate the glory of Storm of the Light’s Bane; one of the most game-changing albums in modern extreme music. It may not have been the first to fuse gorgeous melodies with the frostiness of black metal and death metal guitar wizardry, but it certainly was (and arguably still is) the best. The album immediately and obviously influenced Dissection’s Swedish cohorts like Dawn, Vinterland, and Sacramentum, but its grasp reached much further than those short-lived bands of the 90s. A second wave of these talented tremolo titans later appeared with the likes of Thulcandra, Dark Fortress, Istapp, and - of course - Watain.

It’s not hard to see why this sub-sub-genre is so often emulated. It’s complex, intense, and absurdly fun. The songs are built upon ridiculously catchy guitar leads that are ever-changing, and most bands make a game out of how they can construct, rearrange, and inject more intrigue into the foundations. There’s a defined set of ingredients, but the recipe is open-ended enough to allow for endless experimentation. But for every one of the well-known acts that do the style some sort of justice, there are ten more that play a sloppy, second-rate bastardization of it. It can be hard to wade through the murk.

So it’s rare when a debut comes along and nails the sound, but Hyperion did just that. Hailing from - nevermind, you can guess where - their debut, Seraphical Euphony, is an absolute monster, and the result of hard work and patience. Sticking it out in various forms for almost a decade, they waited until the stars (and their tumultuous roster) aligned before putting this amazing record together over the course of two years. It’s something the world was waiting for, we just didn’t know it yet.

While the aforementioned slur certainly applies, the band does so much more than play a sound that’s been obsessed over for two decades. The six-piece dive in with full force, worship their masters, and attack the style with such confidence it feels like they’re one of the progenitors. What they bring to the sound is a bag of tricks that seems to never end. The most prominent of these, acoustic guitar interplay, was featured on the original Great Work, but Hyperion use it to an extent that never feels contrived or thrown in because they ran out of ideas. For once it actually works as in intro to an album, and it acts as a perfect homage to “Where Dead Angels Lie” on “Flagellum Dei”.

Rare for the style, keyboards also appear throughout the album, though they’re used appropriately; as an Emperor-esque accent rather than a bombastic crutch. But the secret weapon Hyperion employ is one that just makes so much sense for their sound: a triple guitar attack. The fact that this isn’t just studio trickery and can (I assume) be replicated live is a dedication few bands have. Their melodic leads are brought to a whole new level when doubled in size and can shift to play counterpoint off each other while the rhythm section barrels forth without any loss of harmony.

It’s not only these flourishes or even the songs themselves that impress, but the album as a whole. It’s presented in such a way that proves it wasn’t random assortment of tracks thrown together. While the first three proper tracks are fairly similar is style and substance, Hyperion switch gears halfway through the album as “Moral Evasion” first soothes with some light piano then explodes into epic melodeath to keep things interesting and show they have a few more influences at play.

After this halfway point the band tries a few new things and, unsurprisingly, they work. There are more solos, tempo shifts - okay, maybe a tad too much acoustic guitar - and the band even tries their hand and gang vocals at one point. It’s as if they’re growing over the course of the release and exploring who they are as a unit, and it’s beyond impressive. “Blood of the Ancients” closes out the whole thing with a brilliant finale as every member launches a full-scale assault on the senses to overwhelm before abruptly disappearing.

Hyperion set out to play a style that’s easily dismissed, and they impress on every level. For a debut to be so precise in its intent and execution is rare, and this new Swedish guard is doing much more than making their countrymen proud - they’re forging a new path out of old tools. Every second is engaging, and the album's individual parts are just as rewarding as the sum. If Seraphical Euphony isn’t the best work in this style in its twenty year history, it makes a damn convincing claim for it.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Friday, February 5, 2016

Odyssey - Voids

Written by Professor D. Grover the XIIIth.

Greetings and salutations, friends. I, your venerable Professor, have joined you today to discuss a band near and dear to my own heart, Spokane-based instrumental trio Odyssey. I've been a vocal proponent of the group since hearing their Schematics EP several years ago, and an album and two additional EPs later we find Odyssey releasing a second full-length, titled Voids.

Over the past few years, the trio (consisting of guitarist Jerrick Crites and the Brothers Hilker, bassist Jordan and drummer Lukas) has been quite active, not only with Odyssey but also as three-fourths of the instrumental rock group 3H, a band that also features the talents of the Hilker clan patriarch Fred. In a remarkably short time period the three have honed their considerable talents to a fine edge, expanding their prog-metal sound with rock influences and establishing a solid identity as artists.

This brings us to Voids, a release that pulls together the stages of the band's evolution into a single cohesive package. Voids deftly mixes the bass-grounded heaviness of the early years with the more guitar-oriented experimentation of the group's recent releases, and the finished product is a perfect culmination of everything Odyssey has been building toward to this point. The album features some of the band's heaviest material since Schematics ("Before There Were Eyes To See", "Delineation"), but there's plenty of room left for extended guitar soloing and stripped-down melodic passages.

Odyssey have never been shy about their influences, and Voids seems to derive a fair amount from Dream Theater and Rush, but these influences are never heavy-handed and don't feel forced. They're a natural part of the band's DNA, an insight reinforced by familiarity with Odyssey’s previous work, and like any great band, the integrate the music that has inspired them without becoming mindless imitators. Crites and the Hilkers possess the necessary level of talent and creativity to pull off such an integration and make it look easy in the process.

In a previous review, likely from the long-defunct Number of the Blog, I discussed how Odyssey play music for the love of music, because there's not really a lot of money in prog metal, and I stand by that statement now. Listening to Voids along with their previous works, it's really apparent that there's a constant drive to better themselves as musicians and songwriters, to progress their sound organically without losing the identity that makes them unique. They create this music out of passion for their craft, and although it may seem like a cliche, that doesn't make it any less true.

It's been my great pleasure to witness firsthand (well, sort of) the evolution and growth of Odyssey. With the sheer number of bands fighting for your attention on a daily basis, it’s easy to become jaded and cynical when it comes to music, grumbling about the good old days (even if you were in diapers for the good old days). But it can be comforting to know that there are still bands like Odyssey who are out there making quality music for the simple joy of creation. To borrow a phrase from The Stranger in The Big Lebowski, “I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' they're out there. Odyssey. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nonsun - Black Snow Desert

Written by Karen A. Mann.

Listening to Black Snow Desert, the debut from Ukrainian instrumental doom/drone/blackgaze duo Nonsun, is like taking a pilgrimage through a constantly changing landscape. The journey is long, and at times quite arduous: The album comprises two CDs, with the shortest song topping out at 8 minutes. The sounds contained often fit the album’s title: dark, cold and empty. Songs build slowly, and often plod to their crescendo. There’s no shortage of scraping, screaming and crashing sounds. But after those crashes, the sonic landscape often shifts, and moments of pure, shimmering beauty emerge.

What makes Black Snow Desert such a compelling listen is the band’s ability to create opposing ideas -- harsh vs. soft, dissonant vs. melodic, empty vs. full -- and mold them into a coherent yin-yang fabric of sound that demands engagement from the listener. This isn’t music that you can just turn on as background music and then go about your business. There’s too much to miss, and the payoff from fully immersing yourself in the sound is too great.

Black Snow Desert begins with “No Pity for the Beast, No Shelter for the Innocent,” a 15-minute plus opus that slowly builds with droning guitars and distant cymbals. Veering into shoegaze at its warmest, fullest parts. The album alternately plods and glides along, through colorful, shimmering and exotic passages on “Peace of Decay, Joy of Collapse,” and scraping destruction on “Heart’s Heavy Burden.” It finally throbs, then explodes to an end on the final track, “Rest of Tragedy.” You can’t help but feel slightly spent at the conclusion of Black Snow Desert, but as with any good trip, you’re eager to make the journey again.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]