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LOVEBITES Clockwork Immortality

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.90 | 5 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Japan’s power metal scene is something I’ve gotten some enjoyment out of in the past, mostly from the likes of Galneryus, MinstreliX and Aldious, but I’ve never been fully hooked on it. The latter of those three bands is an all female power metal band, which has almost become its own scene in and of itself in Japan, with that particular band leading the way, while others have risen up to follow suit. The latest such band, emerging in early 2017, is Lovebites, who released a four track EP in May of 2017, before releasing their full length debut, Awakening from Abyss, in October of that same year. Just looking at promotional photos of the band, and seeing five beautiful women in white dresses, one certainly couldn’t be blamed for thinking the band isn’t out to break any trends. However, overlooking the band and lapping them in there with the likes of Aldious and Cyntia would be a massive mistake, one which I thankfully managed to avoid making, as after seeing glowing reviews for their debut, I decided to give it a listen for myself, and suffice to say, I was not disappointed! The band has their own unique sound, which I’ll go into more detail about in the following paragraph, but essentially, they play a mix of Euro power metal and speed metal as well as some classic heavy metal elements, with just a tiny amount of the kind of J-Pop influences one would expect from the scene, to help keep that distinct Japanese flavor fully in tact. They made quite the splash with their aforementioned debut, before quickly following it up this past June with another four track EP, Battle Against Damnation. Unlike their first EP, which was essentially a mini preview of their full length debut, this one contained four new and entirely separate songs, which to date have not been reused, so it’s very much worth collecting on its own, especially since it very much kept up with the songwriting quality of their debut and some stunning moments of its own. By this point, the band had already established quite the worldwide following, and they managed to sign a deal with Arising Empire to release their second album in Europe, which should help them branch out even further. Between that and a recent European tour, it seems that band has come a long way in in just over a year and a half! Moving on, though, their second full length album, Clockwork Immortality is now here, and it’s every bit as awesome as I was hoping it would be!

One thing I was interested about when hearing this album for the first time, was whether or not it would have the same feeling of the debut, or if the band would reduce the heaviness a bit and become more like their peers. Needless to say, that hasn’t happened in the least, and so fans who were blown by the band’s previous work, should be just as pleased with this album. For those who’ve never heard the band before, they play a surprisingly hard hitting brand of power metal, led by dueling guitarists Midori and Miyaka (with the latter also playing keyboards), and the two of them are clearly the stars here, playing everything from some crushingly heavy thrash riffs, to straight Euro power metal melodies at times, to some classic Maiden style galloping riffs, to some absolutely incredible solos, where the two constantly go back and forth trying to outdo each other, and the results are always epic and absolutely stunning to listen to. Bassist Miho and drummer Haruna originally played in the now disbanded Destrose, and so they already have experience in the scene, and they both do an excellent job with the rhythm section, with the bass in particular being very noticeable in the mix, and so fans of the bass should be pleased with that.

I first discovered the band with Awakening from Abyss, and started the album from the very beginning, so I was immediately blown away by the thrashy riffs presented near the start of the first full song “The Hammer of Wrath” on that album. While there isn’t anything quite that aggressive on this release, the guitar work is still as impressive as ever, and there’s definitely still some very hard hitting riffs, especially on the likes of “Mastermind 01”, “M.D.O” and “Journey to the Other Side”, which are conveniently placed together to make for one awesome trio of heaviness. The songwriting is just as impressive as on the debut, with a perfect balance heavier tracks and more melodic tracks. The majority of the songs are very fast paced, as expected, but the band does throw in a couple of surprises, including one lighter track with some strong J-Pop influences, as well as an epic ballad, which closes out the album. Everything here is amazing, with the heavier tracks all being equal parts heavy, epic and catchy, while some of the more melodic sections are absolutely beautiful, and of the course the instrumental sections are absolutely stunning. The album is an absolute delight from start to finish, just like their first album was, and everything is perfect, from the performances to the songwriting and the production.

Another area where the band might surprise some people is the vocals, for a couple of reasons. First off, most bands in this scene tend to favor lighter, more pop infused vocals, where lead singer Asami has a very deep and powerful voice, which fits perfectly within a metal backdrop. She’s equally impressive singing on frantic, hard hitting thrash infused sections as she is singing lighter, catchier sections. While her voice is pretty deep most of the time, she does hit some really high notes on occasion, and these sound just as impressive as everything else. One other way in which the vocals differ from many Japanese bands in general (and one thing which I think helps me enjoy the band even more), is where many Japanese bands either sing entirely in Japanese, or use some kind of mix between Japanese and English, Asami sings entirely in English (with one exception on their first EP) and her pronunciations are generally quite good, with her accent being more charming than distracting. Usually when I listen to Japanese metal bands, I have to focus entirely on the music while ignoring the vocals, but with Lovebites, that isn’t the case, as Asami does an excellent job, and I find her vocals to be consistently charming, engaging and at times beautiful.

Obviously, going into this album I knew I loved the band’s overall sound, and so the one area that had even the slightest chance of coming up short was the songwriting, especially given how quickly the band has been working lately. Thankfully, any worries about a rushed release or a lack of strong creative ideas are quickly thrown out the window, as the songs here are just as engaging and as fully fleshed out as anything the band has done in the past. Obviously, the opening of Awaken from Abyss is going to be near impossible to top, but the band sure gave it their best effort here with “Addicted”. The track starts out with some very nice acoustic guitar work for close to a minute, before the full band kicks in and the heavy riffs fire up for the first time. The song moves along at a blazing fast pace and has a very classic Euro power metal feel to it, with fast, driving guitar work, fun verses, and a fast, addictive and very catchy chorus. Obviously, once the solo sections kicks in both guitarists go all out to great effect, and overall it’s an amazing track, which gets the album off to a flying start. Next is “Pledge of the Savior”, which keeps the momentum going. It’s another very fast paced track, with faint traces of those galloping riffs I mentioned earlier. It’s a slightly lighter, more melodic track than the opener, but it still moves at a blazing pace and it still has some great riffs, as well as another super fun chorus, and an excellent instrumental section. The guitar work in between verses is particularly awe inspiring, and overall the song is amazing. The lead single for the album is “Rising”, another very fast paced track, which is the lightest track up to this point, with some absolutely beautiful melodies. It’s the first track here to include some symphonic elements, mostly in the main melody and a bit during the chorus. It stays fast for most of its duration, only slowly down briefly for an epic bridge section, featuring piano work which Miyako says was influenced by the legendary Frederic Chopin, and this combined with Aaami’s vocals, help make for an epic lead in to what is probably the best solo section on the entire album, with Miyako and Midori both going all out and unleashing one stunning solo after another. Overall, it’s an absolute stunner of the track, and so the fact that it probably isn’t even one of my top three favorites here, just goes to show how amazing the album is on the whole!

The first surprise of the album is next, as “Empty Daydream” is one of the lighter songs here, having quite the distinct J-Pop feel to it. It’s a slower track, with some very nice, melodic lead guitar work, and it has slow verses, as well as an extremely light and catchy chorus. It’s one of the softest tracks the band has ever done, and yet it still has some excellent guitar work, especially during the solo section, which is the only point where the track starts to approach their usual heaviness. It’s such a fun and catchy track, though, I can’t help but love it the whole way through.

Fans hoping for more of the band’s heavier side will be quite pleased with the next portion of the album, especially the next three tracks in particular. First is “Mastermind 01”, which has a lead riff that brings the likes of Grave Digger to mind, and it stays quite heavy throughout the verses, while still giving room to a very melodic and catchy choruses. It definitely showcases the band’s heavier side very well, though, with some very hard hitting riffs and another stunning solo section. Next is my personal favorite, “M.D.O”, an absolute killer of a track, which comes charging out of the gate with some very thrashy guitar work during the verses, and it moves at an exhausting pace that doesn’t let up for a second, with a chorus that remains hard hitting, while managing to throw in just a bit of that J-Pop charm, to help make for something absolutely irresistible, and impossibly addictive! The solo section remains very heavy, and is of course amazing as usual. The softest of these three tracks is “Journey to the Other Side”, which still manages to pack in some heavy riffs during the verses, before giving way to a melodic, emotional and absolutely beautiful chorus, where Asami gets to shine. These three tracks all perfectly demonstrate what makes this band so special, as they have a classic metal edge to them, with slight thrash influences, while still staying within Euro power metal territory, as well as mixing in just enough of that distinct Japanese charm to help them stand out from the pack. The fact they have stunning guitar solos to top it all off, is just icing on the cake.

Moving towards the end of the album, “The Final Collision” is slightly lighter than the previous three tracks, and has more a classic Euro power metal sound to it, with more of a focus on keyboards, slight symphonic elements, and another super catchy and very melodic chorus, as well as another excellent solo section, as always. Out of all other Japanese power metal bands I’ve heard, Lovebites come closest to Galneryus in their sound, and while nothing here quite invites that comparison as much as “Under the Red Sky” from Battle Against Damnation, “We the United” is in similar territory, with a slight neoclassical feel to the guitars and keyboards, as well as an overwhelmingly upbeat feel to the main melody and chorus, which of course the aforementioned band is notorious for having. The chorus is the kind of epic, super catchy and uplifting music fans would expect from the scene, and the band delivers it perfectly, while also throwing in some classic heavy metal style riffs at times, as well as yet another stunning solo section. Closing out the album is “Epilogue”, a seven minute ballad which is actually very atypical, both for the band and for ballads in general. It doesn’t really have a chorus, so much as it has a slow buildup during the first two minutes, with Asami leading the way with very soft vocals, accompanied by Miyako’s piano, before slowly giving way to an epic solo section, featuring some absolutely beautiful work from both guitarists, where the music has more feeling to it than any lyrics could possibly convey. This eventually leads to a section with some very powerful and absolutely beautiful vocals from Asami, before again going back to some more amazing solo work. Overall, it’s an absolutely stunning and beautiful track, which closes out the album perfectly.

I was expecting great things from Clockwork Immortality, as Lovebites managed to become one of my favorite bands almost overnight with their previous full length album, and I’m happy to say they have not disappointed me in the least, as this release is every bit as intense, beautiful, super fun and fully fleshed out as anything they’ve done in the past, with the same perfect blend of Euro power metal, classic heavy metal, some slight thrash influences and the kind of J-Pop charm fans of the scene would expect. The band has been working very fast as of late, so you’d think they’ve more than earned a bit of a break at this point, but whenever they put out more new music, I’ll certainly be excited for it, because they have proven themselves to be one of the most promising and most refreshing power metal bands in the world over the past year and a half, and I hope they can continue to do so for many more years to come!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/01/13/lovebites-clockwork-immortality-review/

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM The End of Chaos

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, knowing little about a band’s past, and their legacy can be a good thing in helping me to enjoy their newer releases without any expectations or preconceived judgments. Such was the case with American thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam when they released their 2016 self-titled release, which served as my introduction to the band. With nothing else to compare it against, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy, intensity, and overall strong songcraft the veterans were able to deliver on what appeared to a comeback album of sorts. I’ve since briefly checked out some of their past works, and suffice to say, their first two albums, Doomsday for the Deceiver and No Place for Disgrace, are considered classics for a reason, being pure, raw thrash at its finest. Unfortunately, things went downhill after that, with some of their later albums incorporating elements of heavy metal and groove metal, with varying success, and between that and constant lineup changes, nothing the band has done since has even come close to matching their first two releases. It wasn’t until 2016, with their aforementioned self-titled release, that the band finally seemed to be back on track, as it was a full on return to their thrash roots while having a more modern and more polished sound. With that release serving as a great introduction to the band, I was excited to see what they would do next, and thankfully their upcoming 13th full-length release, The End of Chaos, is almost upon us, and it’s certainly a treat!

Like its predecessor, The End of Chaos sees the band continuing with a full thrash sound, except that where the previous release still contained faint traces of their heavy and groove metal elements, this one is nothing but pure thrash from start to finish, rarely letting it up or slowing down in the slightest. If anything, it feels even closer to the band’s origins, while still being as polished and having the modernized sound of its predecessor. There are some slight tempo changes on some tracks, and some of them move at a more moderate pace, but for the most part, this is pure straight-forward, speedy and very hard-hitting thrash, with some excellent riffs, great solos, and fun choruses. There are times where the band injects a bit of extra melody into the songs, which is a nice touch, and overall the album strikes a perfect balance between heavy, uncompromising thrash, while still being accessible and having some excellent vocal lines. It has a very “dumb fun” feel to it, with some of the lyrics being pretty silly and kinda dumb, but in a way that works well for the genre. Thrash obviously isn’t known to have particularly well thought out lyrics, and this album is the same, so fans can expect a ton of F-bombs, a strong tough guy attitude, lots of anger, and just overall nonsense, but in a fun way that fits the music quite well. There’s nothing overly complex or experimental here, as it feels like the band just wanted to make a pure thrash album, and in that regard, they sure succeeded, as the album is consistently great and it moves at a fast pace throughout, with one crushing riff after another.

One thing I especially enjoyed on the previous album was the voice of Eric “A.K.” Knutson”, as he has a very deep, very powerful voice with a ton of grit to It, and it fits the music perfectly. He’s certainly changed a lot over the years, as his voice has become much lower and deeper, but he retains the same power and intensity as ever, and he certainly sounds just as great on this release as he did on the previous one. There are bursts where he tries singing a bit higher, and these are the only times on the album where his voice feels a bit strained, as he just can’t quite pull it off convincingly anymore, but aside from that, he does a great job throughout, and his lower register is certainly as awesome as ever.

While I greatly enjoyed the self-titled release, I found it had a couple spots where it dragged just a bit, as it seemed to peak early, lose a bit of momentum and then it got back on track again in time for the end. The End of Chaos doesn’t have that same problem, as while it does get off to an excellent start, once again, it manages to stay very consistent, with its biggest highlights being spread pretty evenly throughout the album. Opener “Prisoner of Time” is certainly one of my favorites, as it starts off with a nice jam session for the first 40 seconds, before going full throttle and never looking back. Once the song gets going, it settles into a nice rhythm, moving at a moderate to slightly high tempo, with the kind of hard-hitting riffs one would expect from the band, before opening up a for a strong, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Eric really shine. Next is “Control”, a faster song with some even harder riffs, where the band masterfully demonstrates their thrash chops. It moves at a relentless pace through its verses, with some especially nasty riffs during the lead into the chorus, which proves to be one of the most melodic and most catchy on the album. It also has a nice solo section in the middle and is a very fun track overall. The first single is “Recover”, a slightly more melodic track, which still moves at a nice pace and has some great riffs during the verses, as well a nice but very brief solo. My only problem with this track is the chorus, which has a nice main melody, but it keeps repeating the same line over and over, and that’s something I don’t quite like, unless it’s on a particularly hard-hitting thrash chorus, which isn’t the case here, as it’s more melodic, and it just gets too repetitive for my tastes. The song is still great, overall, though.

Next is one of my favorites in “Prepare for the Chaos”, another faster-paced track with some particular punishing riffs. It has an excellent lead into its chorus, with some very hard-hitting riffs and some simple but fun vocal lines, before the chorus itself proves to be more melodic and epic. The verses are very fun, with the second in particular being a perfect example of the kind of “dumb fun” lyrics I was talking about, almost falling into guilty pleasure territory, except the music itself is far too great for it to fully earn that description. The momentum keeps up with “Slowly Insane”, a brief but extremely fast and very aggressive track, with some of the best, most classic thrash sounding riffs on the album. It’s a pure thrasher from start to finish and has an excellent extended solo section, where the two guitarists really get to show off their skill. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album. After that is the darker, but still heavy “Architects of Hate”, which moves at a good pace during its intense verses, before slowing down for a darker, more sinister chorus. It’s not as immediately engaging as some of the other tracks here, but it’s still a great track in its own right. The second single of the album is “Demolition Man”, and it’s another one of those very simple, yet fun, pure thrashers, where the lyrics are kinda silly, but in a fun way that works out well. It’s also another example of strong, heavy verses paired with a melodic and very catchy chorus.

Moving towards the end of the album, “Unwelcome Surprise” is my absolute favorite, as it’s a frantic, very heavy and very powerful track, with excellent thrashing riffs, powerful vocals, and a stupidly catchy (and maybe just plain stupid, but awesome) chorus, where Eric constantly proclaims “I bet you didn’t see that one coming”, and no, I probably didn’t, as it’s certainly an awesome and ridiculously fun track. It has excellent verses, a great instrumental section and probably my favorite chorus on the album, just because of how silly, yet fun it is. After such a big highlight, “Snake Eyes” proves to be solid, but not quite up to par with its predecessor. It’s still as fast, hard-hitting track, though, and it has some excellent riffs and is generally a ton of fun to listen to, I just find it doesn’t really stick with me much in between listens. The only other song here I have the same issue with is “Good or Bad”, a song which alternates nicely between slow verses and a fast chorus. I find the verses enjoyable, but the chorus just doesn’t really hit me the way most other songs on the album do, and Eric’s vocals feel just a bit strained compared to normal, so I usually end up forgetting about the track when I’m not listening to it. In between those two is “Survive”, which does not have that problem at all, as it has a somewhat slow, but very melodic and catchy chorus, which proves to be one of the best on the album, as well as some fast, heavy and intense riffs during the verses. Closing out the album is the short but awesome “The End”, another very hard hitting track, which moves at a blazing fast pace during its verses, before giving way to a slow, melodic and very enjoyable chorus. It’s a great track and it closes out the album in strong form.

I may not have much experience with Flotsam and Jetsam, but I certainly enjoyed their previous release a lot, as well as the bursts I’ve heard of their first two, and The End of Chaos is definitely another killer release, featuring just under 50 minutes of pure, hard-hitting thrash from start to finish. It picks up where the self-titled release left off, and if anything it’s even faster paced and more aggressive throughout. If this album is any indication, 2019 could be a great year for thrash, and either way, it proves again that Flotsam and Jetsam still have a lot left in them, so hopefully, they can keep the momentum going for a few more albums yet!

originally written for myglobalmind.com:https://myglobalmind.com/2019/01/06/flotsam-and-jetsam-the-end-of-chaos-review/

BORN OF OSIRIS The Simulation

Album · 2019 · Deathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
Back in 2011, Born of Osiris performed an admirable feat: they brought a heightened sense of futurism and adventure to a then-stagnant genre. The Discovery was an incredibly welcome breath of fresh air that, unfortunately, will always cast a shadow over the band’s subsequent work because of its ambition. Still, they certainly keep trying and trying to recapture the spark that The Discovery gave off and Tomorrow We Die Alive regrettably lost. After all, the concept of taking deathcore into more experimental and adventurous avenues is something that I’ll always be behind. By all means, let’s take the genre somewhere that forces it outside of its comfort zone! And besides, many of these substantially “djentier” deathcore and modern metalcore bands have usually been the ones who continue to push the boundaries, stemming from artists such as After the Burial and Veil of Maya. Well, luckily, Born of Osiris’ new effort The Simulation sees them back in action with their best album since The Discovery. Granted, there’s really no more death metal in there. For that matter, many of the songs ride a low groove that sees them moving even further into djent territory than before. So why does The Simulation work so well?

Because it has a runtime of only 25 minutes, which means it has less time to pack in all of its exciting riffs and experimentations before quickly getting the fuck out. As such, you’re greeted by enough twists and turns to make your head spin. There are a few quiet moments of atmosphere throughout, such as the frantic little symphonic intro of “Disconnectome” or the entirely of interlude “Recursion,” but for the most part, these moments of space and contemplation are constantly butting heads with the meaty riffs underneath. By far, the best section to feature this conflict comes from the outro of “Silence of the Echo,” whose melodic solo lends the heavy chugs and power chords with a beautifully spacy counterpoint. It actually reminds me of The Faceless’ Planetary Duality days, and that’s not the only moment that made me think of that album. Every time “Disconnectome” breaks into a melodic solo or goes through a hyper-fast blastbeat section, it really does sound reminiscent of the sci-fi tech-death from that era of The Faceless.

Thankfully, Born of Osiris don’t forget their roots on The Simulation, paying plenty of homage to what made them a household name in deathcore while still continuing to experiment with their formula. If I had to pick out the best change this time around, it’s that the guitar leads or more fluid than ever. “Analogs in a Cell,” “Silence the Echo,” “Disconnectome,” and “Cycles of Tragedy” are all imbued with fantastic soloing that both technically impresses and constantly shifts between neo-classical and jazz fusion stylings. Also, the variety in the drumming is really impressive from time to time; “Disconnectome” in particular (yes, I know I’m bringing up this song a lot) features a ridiculous amount of tempo shifts, and they’re all surprisingly tasteful and natural despite how abrupt they are. The Simulation isn’t a perfect album - the slower tempos can become pretty one-note, and the short runtime obviously means some people will want a bit more meat - but it’s definitely the most solid album the band have put out since their initial heyday. It’s a really fun little adventure that - much like Reign in Blood - is very easy to replay again and again because of its lean length and addictive riffing.

SKINLESS Savagery

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.08 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Savagery" is the 6th full-length studio album by US, New York based death metal act Skinless. The album was released through Relapse Records in May 2018. Skinless have been active since 1992 but disbanded in 2011. They however reunited in 2013 (with a couple of lineup changes) and released their 5th full-length studio album "Only the Ruthless Remain" in 2015.

Stylistically "Savagery" is a combination of brutal technical death metal and more groove laden core influences. So it´s probably an album that old school death metal purists won´t be satisfied with, but those who enjoy brutal grooves in their death metal may find something of interest here (it actually says a lot about the influences on the original material here, that Skinless have opted to cover a Crowbar track as a bonus track). While the band occasionally play fast, most tracks are kept in groove laden mid-pace and occasionally slower paces. The vocals are a combination of deep unintelligible growling and higher pitched screams and the occasional use of an aggressive shouting vocal type.

"Savagery" features a raw sound production, which suits the music pretty well (although maybe slightly too murky in the end), and the musicianship is on a high level on all posts, so "Savagery" is a quality release on most parameters. It´s not an album I remember much from when it´s finished though, and it´s in the songwriting department Skinless could improve. It´s not that there aren´t tempo changes and generally good variation within tracks, but there aren´t that many hooks to hold on to and the effect laden brutal growling style becomes a bit one-dimensional after a while (it´s definitely a nice breather when they use the other vocal styles). A 3 to a 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

SIGH Heir to Despair

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.95 | 2 ratings
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Warthur
Mirai Kawashima's come over a little Ian Anderson. Not to a full Jethro Tull-ish extent, mind - but there's an outbreak of flute and piccolo on this Sigh album that's just as interesting an addition to their sound as when Dr Mikannibal first brought her saxophone onboard. For a good long while, the sound of Sigh has been guided in part by the particular direction that Mirai's wanted to take his multi-instrumentalist experimentation in; just look at the credits for this and their past few albums and you'll see how much he's changed his portfolio from release to release. So the addition of flute this time around may sound like a small thing, but as an extra ingredient in Sigh's bizarre mashup of classic metal and black metal and progressive rock, it ends up being an interesting through-line which ties the album together.

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UNICORN HOLE Twenty Pieces O' Shit From Twenty O' Seven

Album · 2007 · Cybergrind
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
UNICORN HOLE - Definition : Not so different than one's corn hole, only referring to a Unicorn's corn hole. Spewing rainbows & other fantasy type%^ish.

Grindcore and South Park worship with electronic embellishments all under one roof!

Cybergrind anybody? UNICORN HOLE has some of the best!

20 fucking awesome examples of immaturity jetting by in less than 10 minutes!

Screamed vocals, grind^core metal freneticism fucking with you mind!

ELECTRONIC wankery in full effect!

Song titles that take longer to read than track lengths!

From South Carolina, so hurricane strength intensity!

Chiptune? Metalcore? Grindcore? Me not know :o

Summary:

This is basically a declaration of not giving a flying fuck.

This core designed album is about giving the middle finger to everythoing.

Fuck conventions, even metal ones.

Electronic based grindcore with dripping attitude.

Not too bad really.

Definitely a rainbow killer.

Mission accomplished.

Fuck yeah.

Blip.

:/

MOONSORROW Kivenkantaja

Album · 2003 · Viking Metal
Cover art 4.22 | 19 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
MOONSORROW had already come a long way after starting as a laughable lumpen gathering of pissed off stray cats that found their way into the lo-fi underworld’s recording studio but quickly found that black metal sounded a tad more original when played with Nordic folk and quaint drinking songs. While not the inventors of the style, the band nevertheless channeled its potential into more fertile grounds and added epic atmospheres, irresistible melodies and legendary subject matter revolving around Norse mythology, paganism and the world of the Vikings. While concocting a satisfying anthemic and heroic style on their first two albums “Suden Uni” and “Voimasta Ja Kunniasta,” MOONSORROW suddenly got the progressive bug and created an even more intense larger than life album with the third release KIVENKANTAJA (“Stonebearer") which showcased a triumphant evolution in compositional fortitude and a knack for pulling out all the punches. Folk tinged extreme metal would never be the same.

In addition to the now established folk remedies and black metal bantering MOONSORROW found a new source of inspiration from neighboring Sweden in the form of Bathory’s Viking metal classic “Hammerheart.” Gone are the blatant drinking song jigs in grim reaper fashion and in are more nuanced compositions that offer the grandiloquence of galloping guitar riffs, epic percussive drive, synthesized cumulous cloud covers and chanting vocal exchanges that alternate between the raspy harsh metal vocals of Ville Sorvali and the powerful clean vocal style of Henri Sorvali backed up by a cranking choir effect. Vikings may have been Norse in origin but MOONSORROW with Finno-Ugric origins proves they have what it takes to summon the proper aural spectres to join their Western neighbors in a good game of pagan ritual worship and pilfering plunder but despite the Viking metal tag so carefully attached to their resume, the band itself insists that their style is nothing more than “epic heathen metal.”

Epic indeed right from the getgo as vocal chants and atmospheric creeping is suddenly rudely interrupted by the twin guitar stomping power of Henri Sorvali’s and Mitja Harvilahti’s pristine precisionism as they navigate the choppy progressive Viking waters and chug out the percussive counterpoints in rhythmic mode save the stray guitar solo fluttering into the sonicscape. Likewise the melodic development is provided by the one two punch of the myriad vocalists in cahoots with the keyboards which provide not only the proper ambient brume of mood setting schemata but also cranks out the extra touches of horn instrument sounds as well as wild woodwinds. Sticking to the Viking metal playbook despite contempt for the term, MOONSORROW bedazzles and enchants with the lush tapestry of folk instrumentation heard from the accordion, jew’s harp and fiddle (through the dirty little finger’s of guest musician Jaakko Lemmetty "Hittavainen.) Add the fretted and fretless bass of Ville Sorvali, the multitude of electric, acoustic and 12-string guitar strums and the percussive prowess of the skin and cymbal smasher in chief, Marko Tarvonen and most a exciting sonic storm is guaranteed to please the metalhead’s sensibiltiies.

Stretched out into five tracks of epic heathen metal splendor, KIVENKANTAJA is stuff that far reaching progressively inclined metal dreams are made of. While the Gregorian chant rich opening “Rauniolla (At The Ruins)” provides a rather gentle false sense of tranquility, the following “Unohduksen Lapsi (Child Of Oblivion)” provides the proper soul crushing metal bombast to keep the headbangers happy all the while layers of synth-drenches atmospheric touches ooze by in the background as the guitars stomp their way into the heat of battle. KIVENKANTAJA is where the classic sound of MOONSORROW gelled into its permanent state of awesomeness as all the ingredients and simmered down into a delectable stew of metal palatability. While the album keeps a great pace of mixing the heavier elements with the softer more sensual folk remedies, the final track provides a departure with a pure Pagan folk ritual along with the feminine divine goddess charm of guest vocalist Petra Lindberg. KIVENKANTAJA is equally as divine without missing a beat and cemented MOONSORROW’s status as one of the premier folk metal bands of the millennium.

THE HAUNTED Made Me Do It

Album · 2000 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 5 ratings
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"Made Me Do It" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Swedish thrash metal act The Haunted. The album was released through Earache Records in October 2000. There´s been a couple of lineup changes since the self-titled debut as lead vocalist Peter Dolving has been replaced by Marco Aro, and Adrian Erlandsson has been replaced by Danish drummer Per M. Jensen (Invocator, Artillery).

Stylistically the music on "Made Me Do It" more or less continues down the same path as on the self-titled debut. That means aggressive thrash metal with occasional melodic death metal traits. Slayer is the most obvious influence, but there are naturally also some traces in the music of the Björler brother´s former act At The Gates. The change on the lead vocalist spot isn´t that obvious as Peter Dolving and Marco Aro at that point had a relatively similar vocal style. Distorted and aggressive raw singing that occasionally touches semi-growling territory. Aro also experiements with clean (well...effect laden) vocals on "Hollow Ground" and succeeds in doing so.

"Hollow Ground" is as a result one of the standout tracks on the album, but tracks like "Bury Your Dead" and "Leech" could also be mentioned among the highlights. All material on the 11 track (the Japanese version features a bonus track), 36:09 minutes long album are of a high quality though and "Made Me Do It" is overall a consistent quality release. It´s relatively varied too with both fast-paced thrashers, and more mid-paced heavy tracks. A few tracks even feature some atmospheric moments.

Another great asset is the skillful delivery of the music. While everything is delivered with militant precision there´s also a great organic touch to the playing, which provides the material with an important human touch. That is further enhanced by a raw, powerful, and organic sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. So upon conclusion "Made Me Do It" is a quality sophomore studio album by The Haunted, that isn´t terribly different in sound and style to their debut album, but which still comes off as more developed and catchy. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

FATES WARNING Chasing Time

Boxset / Compilation · 1995 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 7 ratings
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"Chasing Time" is a compilation album by US progressive/power metal act Fates Warning. The compilation was released through Metal Blade Records in July 1995. Fates Warning were formed under the Misfit monicker in 1982 but changed their name to Fates Warning in 1984. Up until this release they had released seven full-length studio albums. Each of those albums are represented with at least one track on "Chasing Time" (some with more). In addition to the original studio tracks "Chasing Time" also features a two previously unreleased tracks in "At Fates Fingers" and "Circles". The former is an instrumental and re-arranged version of "At Fates Hands" from "Perfect Symmetry (1989)" while the latter was recorded in 1993 but shelved. Some parts of the track would later appear as part of other tracks on "Inside Out (1994)". On a maybe less interesting note "We Only Say Goodbye" from "Parallels (1991)" appears here in a remixed version.

So "Chasing Time" is more or less a best of compilation with a few rarities thrown in to make it a worthwhile purchase for the hardcore fans of the band too. The latter part of the band´s audience need not go out of their way to get "Chasing Time" in my opinion though, as the rarities are only moderately interesting. "Chasing Time" is more a release for the casual listener, who gets an easy way to get into Fates Warning without having to listen to seven full albums of music, and for that purpose the compilation works really well. You get a fairly good idea of the music style on each of the band´s releases. The tracklist is not chronological, which might confuse new listeners, but to my ears the choice to arrange the compilation like that actually works pretty well. You can always argue if the right songs where picked for the tracklist or not, but as it is it´s a pretty good presentation of Fates Warning up until 1995. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

VEKTOR Outer Isolation

Album · 2011 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.18 | 34 ratings
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"Outer Isolation" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Vektor. The album was released through Heavy Artillery Records in November 2011. It´s the follow up to the critically acclaimed "Black Future (2009)", which really put Vektor´s name on the map. Vektor were formed under the Locrian monicker in 2003 but changed their name to Vektor in 2004. They released the "Demolition" demo album in 2006, which is often mistakenly considered their debut album. Like the case was on "Black Future (2009)", several tracks from "Demolition (2006)" have been re-arranged and re-recorded for "Outer Isolation". More specifically "Fast Paced Society", "Venus Project", and "Tetrastructural Minds".

Stylistically the music on "Outer Isolation" more or less continues where "Black Future (2009)" left off. It´s technical/progressive thrash metal with sci-fi themed lyrics and imagery. Vektor are strongly influenced by Voivod, but artists like Destruction and late era-Death also come to mind. So the music features a good balance between old school raw thrash metal and more sophisticated technical/progressive elements. The vocals are high pitched screaming which remind me of a higher pitched Chuck Schuldiner (Death) on "The Sound of Perseverance (1998)". That means effect laden and processed to the point where they are bordering inhuman territory.

The 8 tracks on the 51:43 minutes long album are all well written, intriguing, and powerful metal tracks, and while Vektor aren´t completely there yet, they are well on their way to creating a unigue musical style. Sometimes their adventurous songwriting takes them in slightly too many directions, and if I have to mention one small issue it would be that the tracks could have prospered from a few more repeated hooklines. When Vektor incorporate more instant cathiness to their music like they do on for example "Echoless Chamber", they show promise of a more compact and memorable future direction, that could get them far.

"Outer Isolation" features a powerful and raw, yet detailed and clear sound production, which brings out the best in the music. So upon conclusion this is a great sophomore album by Vektor. There´s been development since "Black Future (2009)" but not too much development (which means there is still continuety of sound and style), and "Outer Isolation" very much feels like the natural successor to the debut. As mentioned above I still feel Vektor haven´t completely found their "sound" yet, and they are clearly still in a development phase. Sometimes that´s the phase of an artist´s career, where they produce the most interesting material, but sometimes it´s just part of the journey towards something greater. In that regard it´ll be interesting to see after more album releases from Vektor where "Outer Isolation" places itself in the band´s discography. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

MAGIC PIE Motions Of Desire

Album · 2005 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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As the new renaissance of the progressive rock 90s churned on into the new millennium, it seems everyone was getting in on the act and the Scandinavian countries of Europe produced more than their fair share of some of the best new acts to emerge in the newer waves of the progressive rock world. Norway's MAGIC PIE was one of many to take the retro approach which adopted as many styles from the golden era and piecemeal them together into a fine tapestry of tradition all the while keeping the updated stylistic approaches and superior production values in full play. The band began as a cover band but soon gained enough confidence to begin crafting their own compositions out of the templates of the past masters. They soon released their debut album MOTIONS OF DESIRE in 2005 which was touted as being one of the best prog releases of the year and successfully gained them an instant following by those who would become instantly addicted to their heavy organ drenched riffs and rhythms in well-crafted musical territories where catchy earworms danced side by side with choppy angular prog accoutrements that harkened a blast from the past while tacking on the current passions of the present.

MAGIC PIE is a sextet coming from the south-eastern city of Østfold on Norway's eastern border with Sweden, another nation of seemingly endless musical talents that contributed to the fully fueled prog revival in the 90s with talents such as Ånglagard and Anekdoten. Each musician is a master of his respective instrument with Kim Stenberg leading the way with his crafty guitar oriented songwriting structures feeling equally at home on both happy-go-lucky rhythmic chord strumming or sizzling face-melting solos. Another prominent feature of the MAGIC PIE experience is the prominent use of the dreamy keyboards which emulate organs, mellotrons and all the atmospheric aspects of classic 70s prog. Gilbert Marshall, while a virtuoso in his own right on the keys is in no way a Keith Emerson type but rather focuses on the more ambient textures of Genesis' "Wind & Wuthering" era as well as Deep Purple type hard rock keyboard bombast. There are also many sections that would feel right at home on neo-prog albums as the textures often are superimposed on the band to augment a heightened melodic counterpoint. MAGIC PIE also employs two vocalists. Both Erik Hanssen and Allan Olsen complement each other as they sing in unison or cleverly craft madrigal polyphonies that offer nods to Gentle Giant without sounding like total ripoffs.

MOTIONS OF DESIRE is a lengthy beast consisting of eight tracks clocking in at almost 75 minutes. The opening track "Change" is a truly ambitious monster of a prog track clocking in at over twenty minutes and zigzags through many moods, textures and musical parades, however like the rest of the album is based in melodic rock that is more heavy than not that to me sounds like it inspired by some of the 70s classics like Mott The Hoople, David Bowie and other melodic rock giants, at least in compositional structuring. MAGIC PIE doesn't just stop with their melodic roots as the template but its how they build upon these different riffs and rhythms, tones and timbres and construct some of the most emotional drenching meets technically demanding tracks that have both the ability to weasel their way into your consciousness with their hooks but also bedazzle with their technical wizardry that not only delivers frenetic guitar and keyboard solos but run the gamut of completing the prog lover's workshop course by including crazy time signature change segments as well as polyphonic visions of 70s prog perfection.

Overall i find MAGIC PIE has that post-Morse Spock's Beard or Flower Kings symphonic prog sound as they carry out sprawling melodic segments that morph into different ones at least for the mellow and dreamier aspects of the album such as the neo-prog sounds of the title track and "Dream Vision. The band are perfectly capable of dishing some heavier parts and tracks with the highlight coming on the lightning technical speeds and bombast of "Illusion & Reality - Part III: Final Breath" with all the modern day virtuosity you could ask for. There are also parts such as the alternating rhythms in "Change" that display a rather flamenco rhythmic flare as well as ska rhythms emerging periodically. MOTIONS OF DESIRE contains an additional track "Full Circle Poetry" that is just over fourteen minutes in length as well as a sprawling three part themed chunk of time dedicated to "Illusion & Realty" that between the three tracks hit over the eighteen minute mark which gives this album all the pomp and overweening progitude that caused the genre to peak and ultimately decline during the heyday. MAGIC PIE unapologetically resurrects these ambitious attributes in full glory and runs away with it.

MAGIC PIE seems to catch a lot of flack for seemingly being "souless" and "insincere" as they unapologetically borrow riffs and rhythms that pinpoint to a time in the past but i can't help but to really love this one. Every track flows with the perfect amount of all ingredients finding their way into the mix. While the music isn't designed to create a new direction in prog, it certainly succeeds extremely well in stitching all of the ingredients together and making a bona fide retro prog sound that i find pleasing from beginning to end. I enjoy all the musician's idiosyncratic plays on the past masters as well as the more sophisticated approach of adapting them to the modern age. Both vocalists work in tandem and it's usually impossible to distinguish that there are indeed two vocalists participating. With a knack for interesting compositional zigzags through stylistic changes that intuitively keep the tracks exciting, i find MOTIONS OF DESIRE to be an excellent piece of modern prog that straddles the perfect fence that divides the dreamy folk placidity and the heavy energetic rocking side of their style. MAGIC PIE are genii at melodic flow as they manage to create a super lengthy album (a feature i usually shy away from) and keep me entertained on repeated listens. Strong melodies, strong compositions with respectful reverence to tradition. My kinda album!

MOONSORROW Voimasta ja kunniasta

Album · 2001 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 13 ratings
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Considering themselves “epic heathen metal,” the Helsinki, Finland based MOONSORROW followed in the footsteps of bands like Skyclad and Amorphis to incorporate local folk music flavors into extreme metal and in the process found ways to carve a new niche for themselves. While the band began more as a Norwegian second wave black metal clone, brothers Ville and Henri Sorvali really stepped up their game for the debut “Suden Uni,” which showcased a more sophisticated approach of melding together the aforementioned elements however on their sophomore album VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA (“Of Strength And Honor”), MOONSORROW really took a quantum leap in quality and although i didn’t find the debut the least bit uninteresting, on this this one a new synthesis of the disparate sounds certainly did rise to the next level.

While “Suden Uni” was profound, VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA introduces the world to a more epic approach of black metal and ethnic folk fusion with a step towards more progressive pastures. One of the distinguishing features of this second full-length offering is the arrival of second guitarist Mitja Harvilahti who along with Henri Sorvali gives the band a much fuller twin guitar attack sound. Dare i say that VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA also dishes out much more memorable folk hooks as well? Everything seems to click for the band and their much lauded and idiosyncratic approach to folk metal comes into fruition here. Except for the short instrumental intro, the tracks are quite lengthy ranging from seven and a half minutes to nearly fourteen, however the repetitive folk hooks are mesmerizing even as the black metal bombast pummels the senses.

Generally speaking, MOONSORROW at this stage are clearly a black metal band with the characteristic traits of orotundity that includes incessant tempos, buzzsaw guitar action and tremolo picking as well as shred vocals, percussive blastbeats and muddy distortion however the folk elements take it into an entirely new direction and not just for novelty’s sake. This is a true marriage of ethnic folk and black metal. The folk aspects take the metal into more melodic sophistication that allow the chord progressions to carry a deeper meaning as well as the keyboard rich atmospheric backdrops that have been toned down since the previous album. While “Suden Uni” allowed clean vocal non-metal segments to find their way into the mix, VOIMASTA JA KNNIASTA is pretty much an intense black metal fusion all the way through with only a smattering of acoustic guitar intros and breakdowns popping up from time to time. Clean vocals are reserved for the backing vocals only.

MOONSORROW mastered here a nice collection of five tracks that each have a distinct personality. Some such as “Hiidenpelto - Häpeän Hiljaiset Vedet (”Field of the Devil/The Silent Waters of Shame") focus more on the melodic developments while some like “Aurinko ja Kuu (The Sun And The Moon)” break out a more thrashy metal heft and emphasis on the heaviness without sacrificing the folk intricacies. The true treat is saved for last as the sprawling epic “Sankarihauta (Warrior’s Tale)” begins with sensual ocean wave sounds and slinks on through several developing features which include a health dose of blackened folk metal prowess, a distinct folkened melodic escapade sallies forth into the heat of battle and nice a alternating mix of atmospheric oomf between the metal stomps and acoustic folk inserts. Overall VOIMASTA JA KUNNIASTA is an excellent development in MOONSORROW’s history but personally i don’t think it’s better, just a nice different path to embark upon.

MEAT SHITS Pornholic

EP · 1990 · Pornogrind
Cover art 0.50 | 1 rating
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Grindcore was only beginning in the mid-80s with bands like Carcass and Napalm Death mixing crust punk with thrash metal and making it even more extreme. While characterized by fast tempos and distorted chromatic riffing with incessant blast beats, the style also became known for its depraved subject matter which focused on everything from gore and forensic pathology to death and rape. While the this style was just getting started, the California based MEAT SHITS took it a completely different direction. Away from the morbidity and into the porn industry.

The band formed in 1987 and released a crap load of demos and split releases with PORNOHOLIC emerging as the first EP. With little musical talent amongst the members, MEAT SHITS had a different strategy. Simply shock the fucking shit outa everyone by being as offensive, politically incorrect and obscene as possible. With themes that ranged from violence against women and gays to sex with children and the dead, it’s no wonder that this band made a lot of people’s SHIT list.

MEAT SHITS pretty much follows a simple formula. Take samples of porn movies and mix in heavy violent grindcore riffing with unintelligible grunts. The songs are rather short and to the point but since there is no point they whizz by like swarm of abrasive locusts. While only 12 minutes in length, the EP has 90 tracks. To be honest i’m not really sure where they begin and end because it doesn’t sound like 90 tracks unless the video is incomplete.

This was pretty much the beginning of the pornogrind subgenre of grindcore. MEAT SHITS would continue to crank out a slew of offensive EPs and albums with their full-length “Fuck Frenzy” emerging in 1992. This is fun to listen to once but it’s really bad music with really bad porn samples. I personally don’t find any appeal in this but for all you sickies out there who can’t get enough porn in your music, then this one’s for you.

Oh yeah!

Septic Vomit on vocals

Fart Box on guitars

Cunt Slime on bass

Sphincter Boil on drums

ENTER SHIKARI Take To The Skies

Album · 2007 · Electronicore
Cover art 2.50 | 3 ratings
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Once the 21st century hit, all the “core” styles of metal really starting to get experimental with emphasis on cross-pollinating completely unrelated musical styles. One of the more successful of these came in the form of electronicore, also known as trancecore or synthcore which took the traditional metalcore instrumentation and style including breakdowns and married it with a heavy use of sequencers, samplers, synthesizers and other effects hitherto only experienced in electronic dance music such as IDM, psybient, psytrance and dubstep.

One of the first bands to go this route was the English band ENTER SHIKARI that formed out of the ashes of the hardcore band Hybryd. After a series of short EPs (“Nodding Acquaintance,” “Anything Can Happen In The Next Half Hour,” “Sorry You’re Not A Winner) the band which consisted of four core members and another five to provide “gang” vocals, released their debut TAKE TO THE SKIES in 2006 and has become famous for achieving significant chart success as a completely independent release on their own Ambush Reality.

Mostly due to touring and internet interaction with the fanbase, TAKE TO THE SKIES eventually went on to sell over 200,000 copies. This debut takes the liberty to re-record many of the demo tracks and spruce them up with better production. The success of TAKE TO THE SKIES naturally opened the doors for a whole legion of followers with bands like Crossfaith, Fatal FE, FACT and I See Stars finding new ways to add even more elements such as brostep, emo-pop, eurodance and even djent. As a pioneer in the genre ENTER SHIKARI pretty much sticks to melodic metalcore as its base and then adds healthy doses of synthesized trance music.

TAKE TO THE SKIES attempts to forge a new style of hybridization that marries two completely unrelated musical genera but in the end feels like a rough draft. The metalcore aspects are pretty mediocre in their delivery with Roughton Reynolds’ vocals mostly being performed in a clean style of singing rather than the expected frenetic screaming. Oddly enough the band reminds me of Linkin’ Park in the sense that they find a middle ground between metal presentation with more atmospheric backdrops except they don’t muster up the same sort of catchy hooks.

Overall this album doesn’t quite gel the two styles together very well and at an almost hour’s playtime gets rather dull by the time it’s done playing. None of the musicians have the chops to pull off a really stellar metalcore performance and the silly call and response “gang” vocals are actually quite annoying. Likewise the trance parts are rather bland with only a generic haze as opposed to full-on interesting keyboard stabs that add some meat to the product. In the end, i’m quite underwhelmed with ENTER SHIKARI’s first offering. It’s a big yawner for me.

2 HEADED CAT VS. UNICORN OCTOPUS WTF?

EP · 2005 · Nintendocore
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Joining the not so crowded arena known as Nintendocore which is a strange hybridization of melodic metalcore and Chiptune sampling from video games, the bizarrely named Dallas, Texas based 2 HEADED CAT VS. UNICORN OCTOPUS followed in the footsteps of bands like HORSE the Band and Sky Eats Airplane to create some very strange music! This is pretty much the one-man band project of SX who plays keys, guitar, bass, drums, provides vocals of many styles and the incessantly frenetic video game sampling.

This debut EP is aptly titled “WTF?” which is exactly what you’re thinking while listening to this! While more texturally electronic than metal, 2 HEADED CAT VS. UNICORN OCTOPUS stick to the grindcore playbook when it comes to album length and this one is a mere 15 minutes and 10 seconds long with five screaming tracks that whizz by at the speed of light. This is heavy electronica indeed and lies somewhere between a standard raging metalcore band like Killswitch Engage and some of the most frenetic psytrance like Infected Mushroom except all the sounds are from video games!

For such a short album this is refreshing different and surprisingly diverse. While electronic sounds always provide a greater palette of sonic textures to paint upon the core canvas, the music itself ranges from the expected metal bombast as well as having soft lulling parts with soft gentle atmospheres. While the heavy parts are in full steam though, it sounds like an old school retro arcade with a million video game churning all those wonderful bloops and bleeps and electro-jingles only on hyperdrive!

Hardly a genre i’ve delved into, 2 HEADED CAT VS. UNICORN OCTOPUS has certainly woken me to the myriad possibilities of this sort of hybridization. Surprisingly this is pretty interesting stuff as it nosedives right into the electronic moshpit as if Atreyu crashed the rave and everybody just went along for the ride. While some might find this annoying, i have a taste for these sorts of extremities and really love all the SX just goes for it not giving the first flying fuck what anyone thinks. All i can say is WTF????

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