December 29, 2017

Jupiterian -Terraforming

By Ulla Roschat. Jupiterian, from São Paulo/Brazil offer their second full-length album Terraforming. This is forty minutes and six songs of Doom/Sludge laced with Black Metal and a pinch of noisy industrial sounds. The term "terraforming"
By Ulla Roschat

Painting by Caue Piloto

Jupiterian, from São Paulo/Brazil offer their second full-length album Terraforming. This is fourty minutes and six songs of Doom/Sludge laced with Black Metal and a pinch of noisy industrial sounds.

The term "terraforming" instantly evokes images and sceneries of Sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories/movies. I understand the album as a story about a terraforming process, a dangerous venture, a feat with a huge emotional and physical impact. There's fear, exertion and pain, but also triumph and hope. In a mix of tribal rhythms, percussive sounds, chimes and chants, but noisy, bleak industrial sounds as well Jupiterien create a weird setting where ritualistic invocations of unearthly powers seem to blend with an alchemistic and technical process.

These elements, juxtaposed and almost contradicting are characteristic for the album and create a kind of omnipresent uneasiness that gets perfect amplification by the earth shaking massiveness of the walls of sound with hypnotic rhythms, heavy, abrasive riffs, powerful, roaring, savage vocals and dissonant melodies. This uneasiness is constantly growing from song to song.

While the opener “Matriarch” is a perfect intro to the atmosphere, the following song “Unearthly Glow” gives more hints to the disturbing chaos to come. The melodies here are of an overwhelming melancholic beauty, and a ridiculously catchiness. Woven into raw, distorted sludgy riffs their emotional impact is immense and both build a fragile balance and exciting tension, Black Metal infiltrations and industrial noise elements disrupt the balance and everything topples and slips shortly into chaos, and “Forefathers” enhances the sense of industrial bleakness.

On the title track "Terraforming" chaos reigns anyway. A huge droney background is infused by eerie ambient noises. The song feels unhinged and structureless. It cummulates to an apex of chaos and unsettling horror. All seems twisted, warped, bent and distorted and the atmosphere gets filled with a sense of torment and pain. The song obviously marks a point of transition, the actual process of reshaping, shifting, ... the "terraforming". Here the involvement of Mories from Gnaw Their Tongues is prominent and he enriches the album with his own flavor of eeriness.

The heaviness of the two remaining songs is even more depressing than ever before on the album. The clean quiet sounds in the beginning of “Us and Them” seem to offer some peace and calmness, as if the painful process had a cleansing effect, but droning, pummeling, driving drums and black metal fury destroy all hope for peace and the song builds up in a powerful climactic structure and unrelenting triumph. The final song “Sol” solidifies this triumph with its majestic melodies and rhythms.

Terraforming is extremely heavy from start to finish. The atmosphere is so dense and the sound so massive that there should be not a bit of space left for any motion, or even something dynamic or progressing, but miraculously Jupiterien manage to infuse all the heavy with a whole lot of dynamics and beautiful melodies that bring quite a variety of different nuances and moods to charge the atmosphere. There's an overall sense of a lurking danger and impending doom, an uncanny eeriness and darkness and a deep melancholy - a shamanic brew that reaches for your soul right away and slowly grows into a hypnotic spell.

The Track "Us and Them" is featured on The Wicked Lady Show 153

December 20, 2017

Zola Jesus - Okovi

By Justin C. Regular readers will know that occasionally this blog features what I call metal-adjacent(tm) acts. It's not metal, but it's somehow connected. Maybe Kevin from Gorguts has an avant garde ukulele side project<.
By Justin C.

Regular readers will know that occasionally this blog features what I call metal-adjacent(tm) acts. It's not metal, but it's somehow connected. Maybe Kevin from Gorguts has an avant garde ukulele side project. Maybe it's a dark singer-songwriter who's a favorite of metal fans. In this particular case, though, it's a bit of a stretch. But, in a recent Decibel editorial, Neill Jameson mentions a "...diverse range of music from doom to various subgenres of punk to whatever you’d classify the gloomy sounds of Chelsea Wolfe and Zola Jesus..." A black metal musician mentioned Zola Jesus: metal adjacency achieved!

I'm a long-time fan, so if this turns out to be as much a love letter to the music as a piece of criticism, then so be it. Zola Jesus is the project of Nika Roza Danilova, a woman who took opera lessons as a child but then turned that voice toward creating some of the most unique pop music out there right now. You can find quite a bit of info and critique about her work on the interwebs, but most of it's wrong. I say that because I think Danilova's influences are so diverse, and her meshing of them at this point in her career so seamless, that when everybody tries to do the standard, "She sounds like x and y," x and y turn out to be just tiny pieces of what she's working with. Yes, she's opera-trained, but her voice--the power of which could be harnessed to power a small-to-medium-sized American city--lacks the baroque ornamentation and filigrees typical of opera. It can sometimes seem unadorned, if it were not for the tasteful application of vibrato and the overwhelming emotional heft that's so evident in her singing. Yes, she often uses very heavy drums and bass, but neither make her "industrial pop" or "gothy dance music." Never mind the fact that, although she does use a fair amount of electronics in her recordings, she also uses live drummers and the occasional trombone on stage. So I'm not going to get hung up on any more twisted genre classifications. At its heart, it's genuinely inventive and well-crafted “pop,” as inadequate as that word can seem in the face of her music. Sometimes it's spartan, sometimes intricate, and it's always truly special.

Photos by Kmeron.

Zola Jesus's latest, Okovi (which translates roughly to "shackles"), was written while Danilova was struggling with a major depressive episode, and while some of those close to her struggled similarly. She's been candid about that struggle in an article on Bandcamp daily. Danilova wears her heart on her sleeve on this one, so it's not surprising that she wrote this during such a rough time. "Exhumed" opens up with viciously bowed strings--in a rhythmic pattern not unlike one of the mid-song riffs of Metallica's "One"--and Danilova herself provides a piercing howl that would have overshadowed Robert Plant's intro to "The Immigrant Song." The lyrics talk about fighting tooth and claw, literally: "Open the jaw and sink in deep / Force it open and claw the grip." The song slowly builds and adds a counter line, urging someone to "Let it sink / Don't let it hold you down," a symbolic action that most of us who have suffered from depression would recognize.

"Siphon"--a song written about someone close to Danilova who is also suffering from depression--has a chorus that's both chilling and hopeful, when Danilova pleads:

Cause we'd rather clean the blood of a living man
We'd rather lean over, hold your warm, warm hand
We'd love to clean the blood of a living man
We'd hate to see you give into those cold, dark nights inside your head.

The refrain, when a choir of harmonized Danilovas sing, "Won't let you bleed out / Can't let you bleed out," is enough to warm even my cold, dead heart, and I defy anyone to listen to it and be at least a little bit moved. Most music--at least most honest music--is about trying to express some feeling, maybe something ugly or just downright difficult to verbalize any other way. Expressing it might be as necessary for the artist as breathing. For me, Zola Jesus goes even beyond that--it feels like a genuine reaching out, even if that may sound a little melodramatic. Her music pushes me out of the somewhat-flattened range of emotions that often come with antidepressant use.

Earlier this year, I talked about how harrowing Cavernlight's album was, which covered similar emotional terrain. I've long been moved by everything Zola Jesus has produced (and luckily, a large chunk of her discography is on Bandcamp), but after spending the better part of this dreary holiday season with Okovi, I've come to see them as two sides of the same coin. Two albums expressing the same terror, rage, and maybe hope.