Friday, July 22, 2016

Numenorean - Home

By Justin C. I'm going to start this review off a little strangely, so bear with me. The music on Numenorean's album Home is very good. I urge you to stick around and hear me out on why I think so. That said, the band may have shot themselves in the collective foot here
By Justin C.


I'm going to start this review off a little strangely, so bear with me. The music on Numenorean's album Home is very good. I urge you to stick around and hear me out on why I think so. That said, the band may have shot themselves in the collective foot here, because the album cover of Numenorean's Home is an abomination. (What you see above is the outer sleeve Season of Mist is covering the CD with.) You can skip the next two paragraphs of this review if you've made up your mind about this album art already, or if you just don't care.

I'm not going to get into the usual lengthy discussion of whether metal is supposed to be offensive or shocking. Metal can be whatever it wants to be. And we've certainly seen all manner of gross-out WTF-ery that most fans don't bat an eye at. But here's the difference with Home: The album cover is a real crime scene photo of the real, murdered body of a two-year-old girl. The victim is Kristen MacDonald, who, along with her pregnant mother and sister, were brutally murdered in 1970. Her father Jeffrey was convicted of these murders.

Now, you can head on over to Decibel magazine's interview to get the band's full explanation of the album's theme and why they picked this image. They describe the album as broadly covering childhood innocence lost, as we go through life seeking and failing to find true happiness, only reclaiming our innocence in death. This is fine fodder for black metal, but in that context, I'd argue the photo doesn't even make sense--this murdered girl experienced just a tiny piece of that lifelong arc. The stated concept is rife for thought-provoking images, but I think the band's chosen art direction fails to act as anything more than cheap shock value. I don't buy the "art shouldn't be easily digestible" line they give in that interview as a pre-emptive defense, because this art doesn't challenge our thoughts or worldview, unless your worldview is missing the idea that two-year-olds being stabbed dozens of times is anything other than tragic. But after all my verbiage, I'll let one of Decibel's commenters, T, sum it up much more concisely: "Great tracks, great band, fuck your album cover."

All that aside, the music itself? Compelling. The band falls into the general area of post-black metal, and you'll see a lot of reviews use Deafheaven and Alcest as touch points. Deafheaven is a fair reference, although I'd argue Alcest is not. There are bands out there that try to ape Alcest's ineffable, dream-like quality, but I don't think Numenorean is one of them. I hear more of a melodic DSBM vibe here, like Woods of Desolation. The sound of the vocals being just on the edge of breaking reinforces that feeling. Numenorean makes big, anthemic, yearning black metal, and of all the bands that are working with this, I think they're one of the best. They draw on the pure intensity that Deafheaven uses, but (and it pains me to say this as a Deafheaven fanboy) they excel at album writing, allowing tension and release without the use of annoying filler tracks that Deafheaven has come to favor.

"Home" opens up the album with a downright sunny-sounding riff and a push and pull throughout its length, dancing between quiet and loud. It's a tactic that can fail spectacularly if you're not careful, making for a grinding and repetitive listen, but they use it skillfully throughout not just this song, but the length of the album, and it gives the music a sense of compelling motion. The album almost rushes by, in spite of some over-ten-minute-long songs. Numenorean also manage to blend black metal and pop/alternative rock almost seamlessly. I'm a sucker for this kind of thing--how do you mix that sensibility with blast beats and tortured screams roiling over top? It's no mean feat, and Numenorean's take on it is one of the best I've heard.

As you'd expect, the album takes a darker turn as it progresses, matching the band's stated theme. "Thirst" has a darker, more "classic" black metal feel to it, and after a brief respite in "Shoreless," "Devour" rolls in with an even darker feel, mixing in some low growls and shouts in the vocal lines. "Laid Down" is appropriately both ferocious and elegaic, marking the end of the album and, metaphorically, life, quietly drifting away.

So I'm ultimately torn. I still buy physical releases when I really like the music or the packaging is particularly artful, and in this case, I have the former without the latter, and I won't be adding the actual CD to my collection. I’d never suggest banning something like this, but I don’t want the physical artifact in my life, either. I'll just pay for the bits and move the cover straight to the digital trash can. I can see this album sticking somewhere in my regular rotation because I love how the music transports me, but the cover photo is going to haunt me, but not in the way good art should. It's a brilliant album, and here's to hoping Numenorean can follow it up with something equally compelling, but without staining it with an abhorrent visual.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It’s Not Night: It’s Space - Our Birth is but a Sleep and a Forgetting

By Majbritt Levinsen. I’ve had the worst writers block! I haven’t been able to put words to anything I’ve been listening to lately and I haven’t been listening to much music either.
By Majbritt Levinsen.

Art by Travis Lawrence

I’ve had the worst writers block! I haven’t been able to put words to anything I’ve been listening to lately and I haven’t been listening to much music either. I’ve been doubting myself over and over again and had pretty much come to terms with the fact that I would not be writing anything for a very long time. But then this album came along and something scattered...

Yes, this is some of the best instrumental heavy psychedelic dreamy stoner space desert rock I've heard in a long time!

The intro "Nada Brahma" is filled with meditative grooves and intertwined spoken words which gently prepares your mind for the journey to inner and outer space you are about to depart on. After the intro the massive "The Beard of Macroprosopus" wells over you like a hot desert wind, and you are carried off to an exotic location where you can almost visualize ghostly belly dancers under a star bestowed night sky. It is transcendentally spacey, intense, organic and almost like a live jam, and this can be said about the entire album.

"Across the Luster of the Desert Into the Polychrome Hills" offers a slow and gentle build up where the percussion sends my mind off on a trippy time-travel back to a time when even I was hardly born. It all ends in a sonic adventure with intergalactic space cruising mode activated.

Both "Starry Wisdom" and "Pillars in the Void" starts out with a slower pace, but where "Starry Wisdom" takes on a happy playful groove that eventually descends down into a slower and darker atmosphere, "Pillars In The Void" takes a darker path right from the beginning. That path takes a wonderful turn around the 6 minute mark and shoots you in hyper-speed way out past the terrestrial planets, out towards the gas and ice giants.

"The Black Iron Prison and the Palm Tree Garden" closes off the album with some slow all engulfing dark psychedelia that will make you wonder if you should headbang in slowmotion or meditate. I think I did a combo and enjoyed every second of it.

All this measures up to some great psychedelic space desert rock with a warm and fuzzy aura and a vast galactic scenery.

INN:IS is a trio based in New Paltz, New York, with Kevin Halcott on guitar, Michael Lutomski on drums and Tommy Guerrero on bass. Special guest on track 2 and 6 is Rick Birmingham on fiddle, he also produced the album together with the band, and also recorded and mixed the album.

If in doubt: Our Birth Is But A Sleep And A Forgetting is a highly recommended listen!


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sundays of Misfortune 6: 17th Street

By Andy Osborn. Any band that switches a key member with almost every release invariably starts to look like a solo project over time. There’s a reason we jokingly call the thrash giants Megadave
By Andy Osborn.

In 2014 Hammers of Misfortune made their non-Metal Blade discography available on Bandcamp. In the Sundays of Misfortune series Andy Osborn guided you through all of it. Recently a new Hammers album was announced (pre-order here), and Metal Blade uploaded 2011's 17th Street to Bandcamp. And so, two years later, here's Andy's conclusion to Sundays of Misfortune.


Any band that switches a key member with almost every release invariably starts to look like a solo project over time. There’s a reason we jokingly call the thrash giants Megadave, and there’s no question who was the mastermind behind Death before his untimely passing. Although it was already becoming clear, 17th Street settles any debate that Hammers of Misfortune belongs to John Cobbett. With their third lead vocalist in as many albums, it’s yet another major reincarnation of the premier Bay Area non-extreme metallers.

17th Street showcases John Cobbett’s skills as a musician and bandleader, but also as a nucleus able to attract incredible, unknown musicians to his cause and get them to put forth otherworldly performances. This is proven by new vocalist Joe Hutton, previously of southern-fried doomsters The Worship of Silence, who steals the show. His buttery tenor was tailor made to fit with Hammers’ unique style, and the album seems crafted specifically to showcase his talents. Tracks like "Staring (The 31st Floor)" and "Summer Tears", the latter being a full-on ballad, show him front and center as the band plays with their newfound introspective, slowed-down style.

Compared to most of their earlier material, 17th Street is a laid-back affair. It only borders on metal, and leans more towards a prog-infused hard rock. There are fewer fist-pumping riffs and epic choruses filled with chanted harmonies. It’s more stripped-down and straightforward, but still retains the band’s unparalleled approach to their singular sound. Like the previous double album, the organ is as ubiquitous as the guitars, as both trade leads and give the nine tracks a twisted, playful spine.

The album’s first single and defining track, "The Day The City Died," is the most quintessential Hammers song of the bunch. A bit faster than the most, it’s at once uplifting and utterly depressing. An ode to gentrification, it’s a goodbye to the Bay Area that so many artists, musicians, deadheads, and bohemian types once knew and loved. Even though it was written five years ago, it perfectly captures the upheaval caused by the unending influx of tech money which continues to this day and makes life near impossible for those on a blue collar salary. Hammers have never been a political band, but John Cobbett moving to the Bay has defined a large part of his life, and each line is unsurprisingly dripping with equal parts sadness, frustrating, and gratitude.

It may not be the Hammers of old, but it’s a solid addition to their discography and a fantastic introduction to Joe Hutton. John Cobbett’s tasty licks and solid songwriting continue to be the center of the Hammers of Misfortune universe, but also prove his uncanny ability to nurture and showcase talent. The band continues to dance on the line between prog, heavy metal, and rock, and their first album for Metal Blade is a welcome addition after their previous experimentation.