Metal Music Reviews from bartosso

HAIL SPIRIT NOIR Oi Magoi

Album · 2014 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 15 ratings
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bartosso
Hellenic wizardry #2

Unlike death metal, black metal has embraced the "post" prefix with open arms as if it were kindling, spawning sub-genres like a freaking rabbit since the late nineties. If black metal were an element, it would be cesium, the most reactive of them all. Successfully combined with post-rock, shoegaze, jazz, electronic, folk and Satan only knows what else, black metal is it when it comes to crossovers. It's all the more admirable when a new act comes around and brings something fresh to the table without the word "post" ever being brought up. And while Hail Spirit Noir do indeed draw from non-metal genres like psychedelic, classic and progressive rock of the 70s, they've managed to carve out a niche of their own.

My very first thought upon my introductory listen to Oi Magoi was "that's what Opeth should have done with their sound". Hail Spirit Noir walk a thin line between the past and the present without ever sounding outright experimental or derivative. That's in part due to the magic of black metal: it helps put stylistic elements out of their context. Black metal is loosely interpreted here, though, and deliberately stripped of its usual ferocity. Oi Magoi is playful and menacing when it needs to be, wrapping its black'n'psy formula in a wicked atmosphere of the 70s dark cabaret and the occult. If you've ever read a horror story by Neil Gaiman, that would be a perfect soundtrack to it. The band provides each song with a catchy main theme but lets each of the in-between sections breathe. Full of left hooks and adventurous trips, Oi Magoi never slips down into pointless experimentation, though. That's how you make things engaging without the usual bloated prog extravaganza. Paradoxically, each seemingly disparate element, from the pleasantly textured clean vocals, raspy growls to carefully chosen synths, contributes to Oi Magoi's consistency.

Slightly longer, punchier and more daring than Pneuma, Oi Magoi founds its glory upon an already excellent concept. Rich in flavors both old and new, Hail Spirit Noir shows a well-founded confidence in their trademark blackened/psychedelic rock sound. What I love most about it, though, is its unwavering devotion to good fun - the album simply oozes cool and it's a hell of a ride each and every time I give it a spin.

CRYPTOPSY None So Vile

Album · 1996 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 28 ratings
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bartosso
They do that rather well, don’t you think?

I often ponder the appeal of extreme music, be it death metal, avant-garde jazz or modern classical, and I always end up with the same conclusion, no matter how hard I try to come up with something fancy. Extreme music is kind of like bungee jumping. It’s an exercise in going beyond what's safe, what's considered correct. Besides being an artistic experience, it's also about reaching beyond the comfort zone, challenging your limits and having fun in the process. I believe this is exactly why it all boils down to grit; no matter how technically proficient you are, how good a songwriter you are, it’s all for naught if you have no spirit, no balls. And fuck me if these Canadian bastards are not amongst the craziest on the planet.

By today’s standards, None So Vile may not seem as brutal as some of the records spawned every ten seconds by the modern extreme metal scene. Sound production has obviously evolved considerably since the 90s and that’s why many classic death metal albums have lost their edge. Not this one, though, or at least not in a way that would make it unappealing to the contemporary audience. I was talking about balls before. They’re made of metal, remember? Dusty and somewhat rusty but timeless, still rocking. The point is that None So Vile is not only brutal on the outside, it’s actually boiling with aggressive, fearless creativity at its very core. The album, and to some extent its predecessor, is a seamless, unprecedented blend of technical death metal, grindcore and classical music. While not overtly experimental, the beast got some bon-vivant swagger without having its claws trimmed down. The resulting record is both deadly and playful - It’s toying with you before ripping your head off.

I might have been too young to remember this, but back in 1996 this album rocked the underground boat big time. It was filthy, provocative and uncompromising but at the same time cleverly arranged and well written. Even if I dig Cryptopsy’s experimental and jazzy Once Was Not a bit more, this album is a death metal classic and it aged incredibly well.

CORMORANT Earth Diver

Album · 2014 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 5 ratings
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bartosso
But then all hell broke loose...

Blacker and more straightforward than its predecessor, Earth Diver is a ride through a land where black metal can be harmonic without being cheesy, where the spirit of classic heavy metal pervades every track without making the whole sound stale, where folk vibes make you think of Opeth without making it sound LIKE Opeth, where everything sounds familiar and yet feels completely unique.

It’s a neverland, a paradise where even cormorants turn out to be nice and productive birds. Their acidic shit makes flowers blossom and dead trees flourish again. In all seriousness, though, I’m really digging Cormorant and while it may seem hard to pinpoint the exact thing that makes them truly great, I think it’s "just" about them being extremely passionate and talented. This guys are genuinely in LOVE with the music they make, and it shows big time. There is not much here you haven’t heard before but the way it is all put together… it’s like a chocolate cake with a secret ingredient, the one you’d pick over any other cake. There’s no filler here, no unfulfilled promises. Even lyrics - an often neglected aspect of metal music - are elaborate and worthwhile, even if not as much as on Dwellings.

While not as breathtaking as the previous album, Earth Diver is yet another proof of Cormorant being among the best songwriters in the business. Bold as it may sound - I’m talking about an obscure, independent band that releases their albums for free, after all - it is as true as a subjective opinion can be. Anything you could possibly want from an extreme eclectic metal album, Earth Diver has it, and more.

BARONESS Purple

Album · 2015 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.79 | 7 ratings
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bartosso
They only brought their shield...

Even though there's some charm to the claim that Purple is in fact a blend of the first two Baroness releases - Red Album and Blue Record - there's not much truth to it in terms of how the album actually sounds. Not gonna argue about the way colors blend, but sound-wise, Purple is first and foremost a step forth from Yellow & Green, a step towards accessibility.

And yet, some elements of the old Baroness sound have remained largely untouched - quite distinctive, shouted although less aggressive, hardcore vocals and pounding rhythmic sludge riffs to name just two. It has never been a very niche band to begin with but they had enough personality going for them - especially their baroque pop sensibilities - to stand out from the post metal crowd. What's always made them somewhat unique, was their ability to mix the American punk background with strong interest for art-rock and adventurous, post metal experiments. Often reminiscent of Mastodon - here more than ever before - Baroness has always been different enough to avoid unflattering remarks in regards to their artistic identity.

Purple is a very focused post-metal record, way more focused than its predecessor, and therefore it has never overstayed its welcome. Still, the streamlined nature of the album exposes the band's leanings towards skillful, yet often banal, songwriting. While by no means deprived of charm and creativity, Purple feels shallow and definitely more suited for a brief love affair than a long-lasting relationship.

KAYO DOT Plastic House On Base Of Sky

Album · 2016 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.91 | 3 ratings
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bartosso
Revisiting the uncharted

This review opens with a title that some of the more perceptive readers might deem absurd and some of the more radical ones, stupid. And yet, the very existence of postmodernism is dependent on how good we are at reshaping the old into the new, making it as refreshing and intriguing as it was when it first came into being. More important still, is the ability of postmodern art to go beyond this premise, set itself in a world of its own and exist there on its own terms. And who else would I ever believe capable of creating an entire world for their music to exist in, if not Toby Driver. Ever since Choirs of the Eye (and for some, early maudlin of the Well, too), Toby's musical identity has been shining through layers of inspiration and styles he has explored. None of what he did has ever seemed either derivative, calculated or entirely spontaneous and the fact I don't really understand how or why he does what he does made me wonder - is it part of the fun? Yes, it actually is a big chunk of it - admiring someone's brilliance while being blinded by it.

It's obvious that Toby has decided to create more focused, more compact albums after Hubardo, arguably the most diverse and, without a doubt, the longest album in his career. Unlike pre-Hubardo records, both Coffins on Io and Plastic House on Base of Sky feature a somewhat vintage sound. Strongly inspired by Susumu Hirasawa and by the 80s icons, with the most prominent being David Bowie, Joy Division, Brian Ferry, Vangelis and the whole era of progressive rock and electronica, Toby does what he does best - he dislocates all elements from their hinges, makes them his own, unique - they are doors to his plastic house. It's especially true on the new record where the border between organic and synthetic became completely blurred. As radical as ever, Kayo Dot takes no prisoners despite leaving their extreme rock roots behind. Plastic House on Base of Sky is a playground for electronic polyphony, unrelenting, rhythmically complex and intense but as usual, a profound feeling of purpose grows stronger with every subsequent spin. This is one of those records that interact with the listener on the most personal level possible, mostly because the artistic process itself knew no compromise. That's why reviewing Kayo Dot albums is so daunting - the band doesn't try to prove anything to anyone. Toby seems to be lost in a maelstrom of creativity and despite fiercely pushing the envelope, he never loses track of what makes Kayo Dot music so engaging: the unrefined, frantically honest emotional charge put into it.

The latest Kayo Dot release catches Toby Driver drifting further and further away from his extreme rock roots, deep into the unknown where the old merges with the new to become something, somewhere. Despite being extreme in a general sense, Kayo Dot was never meant to appeal to metal fans or fans of any other specific genre. I honestly don't know who is this music addressed to, and I doubt it is actually addressed to anyone in particular. All I can say is that you should approach the album with an open mind and discard any preconceptions you have about art-rock, jazz, progressive electronica or synth-pop. Plastic House on Base of Sky is neither of those things. It is more.

CANNIBAL CORPSE Kill

Album · 2006 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.62 | 18 ratings
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bartosso
Killer stuff!

I have had a long, complicated but, all in all, romantic relationship with this album. Not being a die-hard Cannibal Corpse fan, I have never listened throughout their entire output so I don't feel entitled to decide if Kill is or isn't the best album by the notorious veterans of brutal death metal. All I can say is that, after many years of my music taste oscillation and existential crescendos (whatever that means), it ended up being my favorite album by them.

It might have been the case with releases like The Bleeding, but Kill is a rare case of a brutal death album that keeps my attention riveted past the first two tracks. A common problem with many brutal death metal releases is the lack of variation that leads to the chicken pâté syndrome - the first sandwich is delicious, but by the end you feel a little sick. Now, the thing is Kill isn't even that varied. What makes it engaging is that, even if uniform, the songwriting and the clean-yet-organic sound production are both solid throughout. In some ways it's the quintessential modern brutal death metal album. Pleasantly familiar and straightforward structure-wise, it elevates the quality of the bulk of its content with mindbogglingly groovy breaks ("Murder Worship"), passages of technical brutality ("Five Nails Through the Neck") and, most of all, spot-on rhythm variations ("Necrosadistic Warning"). In other words, instead of kicking your ass all the time, it unexpectedly slams your head into a wall, breaks your nose, pulls your eyes out and hits you in the stomach. It basically makes you suffer. Sadly the songwriting gets more generic towards the end of the record and that's actually my only - although serious - problem with the album.

All that being said, Kill's biggest selling point is what made every other Cannibal Corpse album before it so successful. It's genuinely brutal and it doesn't try to prove anything else besides its unwavering devotion to what makes brutal death metal enjoyable - gore, groove and grit. In other words, if Kill were a slasher movie, it would be a good slasher movie. If not for the more generic songwriting in the second half, it would have been a great one.

A FOREST OF STARS Beware the Sword You Cannot See

Album · 2015 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 7 ratings
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bartosso
Beware a double-edged sword...

Today's metal music follows postmodern trends just like any other branch of culture and therein lies the cause of its focus on eclecticism. It's neither a bad nor a good thing in itself but it is, in all certainty, inevitable. Now, some bands have proven capable of turning this artistic philosophy into something truly special and sometimes even innovative. All too often, however, the pursuit of diversity comes at the expense of artistic identity. And well, the new album sees A Forest of Stars doing just that: struggling to keep their unique style intact while adding new elements to the mix. And yeah, well, the whole image sort of went out of focus.

With their steam-powered, victorian/occult/psychedelic, british-to-the-bones “doomened” black metal, A Forest of Stars used to stand out from other post black metal bands. Their sound on Opportunistic Thieves of Spring was both singular and wonderfully consistent - the album simply felt genuine for lack of a better word. Same goes for a little bit more diverse and folky A Shadowplay for Yesterdays which still had a distinct, unique feel to it despite its numerous influences. Adding new elements to the sound they’ve already established was certainly the easiest way to go but also the least fortunate. While the band’s latest offering is not a bad record in itself - quite the opposite, actually! - it falls short of what I wished to hear. The core sound is still as amazing as it used to be. Folk parts are mesmerizing as ever and black metal passages as passionate and ferocious (just listen to the first half of "Hive Mindless"!). Ironically, the first track is the biggest showpiece of what went wrong - none of the tracks that follow are as messy style-wise as this one. To cut a long story short, in addition to the usual elements, there are post-rock, classic prog, psychedelic rock (Pink Floyd), prog metal and avant-metal (most notably Unexpect) influences in the song and the whole album.

All that may sound promising on paper and works pretty well in practice, but after listening to the whole thing I found myself underwhelmed with its obvious lack of focus. You see, the strength of their previous albums paradoxically lies in their ability to build something new and solid upon their diverse influences, not in adding them up. While I can see that the more surreal, elusive and complex nature of the music was intended, the band’s identity totters under weight of the ambition it has to carry.

KAYO DOT Gamma Knife

Album · 2012 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 16 ratings
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bartosso
He could not remember the dream

"Gamma Knife cuts through his skull as soon as he falls asleep. His vision is dim and blurred at first but it brightens with every second and he feels moved by the blissful, eerie spectacle that unfolds before him. The knife suddenly reaches his mind and the bubble bursts. All becomes vivid as the chaos spreads around and all calmness drowns in its foaming depths. How long did it last? Can time be measured in a place like this? He doesn't know. But as the edge of radiation withdraws, he is in a peaceful place again. Soft light soothes his senses as sounds of music sustain his slumber. And it all ends with silence..." Now that I lost most of you with my failed attempt at artistic writing, let's begin.

As by far the most obscure album by Kayo Dot, Gamma Knife is a negative of itself. An amazing case of an album that contradicts itself and yet, by the power of its overarching idea, works wonderfully as a whole. Now, if I just came down to earth for a moment... Gamma Knife is intentionally made that way to create an impact. The album begins and ends with stunningly beautiful and soothing, choral chamber music recorded in studio, but at its core are three tracks recorded live in concert. Could it go any weirder? Well, yes! In short, the middle part is as eclectic, avant-garde and extreme as it could get in less than twenty minutes. It's basically like a surreal 20s film where avant-chamber music meets jazz, RIO and black metal and have a shot of absinthe. The black metal side is somewhat reminiscent of Deathspell Omega and early maudlin of the Well. Compared to other avant metal acts like Ephel Duath, Gamma Knife sounds much more organic and bold in its exploration of avant jazz and chamber music. Strong psychedelic presence in the vein of Swans is also noticeable. However, what binds all these elements together to give them common identity, is the unmistakable Kayo Dot vibe that, like a totem spirit, animates every single album by this band.

I must admit that at first Gamma Knife didn't work for me as well as it does today, and I did not fully embrace its inner dualism until just a few months ago. Just like any other album by Kayo Dot, it's definitely not an easy one to get into but it's all the more rewarding once you do. Less focused on patient theme evolution of Choirs of the Eye and more on tight, aggressive experimentation known from Hubardo, Gamma Knife is a truly unique avant-garde rock ride. Let it sink in and you'll have one damn peculiar daydream every time you give it a spin.

ENSLAVED In Times

Album · 2015 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 13 ratings
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bartosso
Two steps forward, one step backwards

Enslaved is a Norwegian extreme metal band that managed to carve out an admirably big niche for their bipolar "melodic/harsh" black metal, in a similar way Opeth did in the death metal milieu. Every time I try to explain how I feel about this progressive black metal sound, I find myself in an unenviable position of being for the band's ideas but against the way they're executed. You see, I've listened attentively to several of their albums so far (Vertebrae, AEO, RIITIIR and just a little bit of Isa) and the only one that actually (literally?) grabbed me by the ears, chopped them off and poured ten gallons of pure bliss into the bleeding orifices, was RITIIR... well, shit got graphic much sooner than I planned.

The problem I have with Enslaved has already struck me when I listened to AEO for the first time. A good album for sure. Its bold mixture of prog rock and quite atypical nordic black metal is intriguing, but it somehow lacks identity - quite a feat given the sheer originality of the concept - that would make it something more than just a blend of stylistic ingredients. Technically well-written as it may be, music on Vertebrea or Axioma Ethica Odini doesn't feel focused on giving any meaningful artistic impact. Black metal passages tend to drag aimlessly and mellow parts seem oddly misplaced. Now listen, if not for RIITIIR, I'd be tempted to say it's just me, a member of the mentally challenged minority for whom this stuff simply doesn't work as intended. RITTIIR, however, is a testimony to the fact that Enslaved are indeed capable of turning their ideas into an inspired, evocative, well-rounded creation, yet for some unfathomable reason they tend to keep falling short of their potential.

Now, time for In Times. To cut a long story short, In Times is a blend of the semi-classic prog rock sound of Vertebrae with the atmosphere and black metal edge of Axioma Ethica Odini plus a - regrettably - tiny spatter of RIITTIIR's spacious and adventurous eclecticism. Oh, and vanilla prog metal in the vein of Dream Theater's also here, especially in the later stages of the album, and the role it plays is sadly a leading one. Due to this fact, In Times is even more structurally complex than the previous album but that's exactly where the rub is. When form takes precedence over essence, you know something went south, amirite? I mean, some of the more "spontaneous" experiments certainly add to the experience in a good way (e.g. chants and theme progression in "Thurisaz Dreaming" and the fantastic "One Thousand Years of Rain" and "Nauthir Bleeding"), but some of the rhythmic variations seem redundant. And these irregular meters ("Building with Fire")... I mean, come on guys, even Meshuggah usually uses 4/4. It's almost like the band was afraid of being judged by a jury of prog metal elitists that would otherwise deem the album "not progressive enough, 3/10". I mean, give me a break, you made RIITIIR for fuck's sake! And it all worked just fine.

Even though some people seem to be more and more weary of the sound Enslaved keep exploring, In Times does not sound stale to me. For the most part, it is a very enjoyable progressive black metal album with a decent amount of fresh ideas and it certainly will make most die-hard fans headbang in ecstasy or at least nod their bearded (prog)heads in admiration. Sadly, while it's varied and very well written - with more clean vocals than ever - it lacks the human touch that made its fantastic predecessor so good and, well, timeless.

..::Visit my music blog: shrineofllyria.blogspot.com ::..

NEUROSIS Honor Found In Decay

Album · 2012 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.08 | 9 ratings
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bartosso
We follow the Earth, the Earth follows the Stars...

Despite having released ten records of which at least three have become timeless classics of post/sludge metal, the Oaklanders don't rest on their laurels. Honor Found in Decay is yet another step forward in their sustained evolution and I'm telling you, it's good. It's not, mind you, a matter of stylistic progress anymore, at least not in the sense we've got used to. These men don't intend to break the ground anymore, nor are they willing to exhibit the fiery aggression known from their early albums. Still, in my book Honor Found in Decay stands out as the most inspirational Neurosis record since Times of Grace.

Noah Landis. This man is a boiling pot of inspiration and originality, never failing to add a unique layer to a theme or, when needed, take the lead. His synths and samples have always been the gray eminence of Neurosis, the defining element of every album since Through Silver in Blood. Don't get me wrong, though, the band is like a clockwork: take one cog out and it doesn't work. They've been together for almost 20 years and it shows; the incredible bond between them is not just noticeable in Honor Found in Decay, it animates the entire thing. Neurosis is one of those very few bands that can turn a bucket of raw sludge into a blissful, poetic, almost cleansing experience. And they really nailed it this time round. Honor Found in Decay is a heavy, lyrical, Kyuss-tinged sludge metal album, abounding with both tonal and atonal themes that work wonderfully together. When it comes to harmony and disharmony, it is one of their most bipolar records, but the reason it works so well is that there's a consistent artistic vision that keeps the whole thing focused throughout. It certainly is the first Neurosis release to have the old elements and the new ones (mostly the singer-songwriter solo output by von Till and Kelly) work so well together.

Honor Found in Decay is like a night ride through a southern desert, like a poem whispered by flickering shadows dancing around a bonfire. It's unrelenting yet calming; crushingly heavy yet soul-stirring; brooding and soulful but not devoid of hope. While it is not by any means as bold as The Eye of Every Storm was, it sounds much fresher than Given to the Rising ever has. I can safely say that Honor Found in Decay is the most mature and genuine effort by Neurosis in a long, long time. A contemplative, spiritual, understated, poetic, hypnotizing album. And yes, definitely recommended.

..::Visit my music blog: shrineofllyria.blogspot.com ::..

AGALLOCH The Serpent & the Sphere

Album · 2014 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 16 ratings
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bartosso
Spiritual Oregano

Hello and welcome to my first Agalloch review. Open your eyes, raise your arms and behold the beauty of the universe... You may wonder what's the reason for such a theatrical introduction, so I hasten to explain that primo, Agalloch has never started an album with a more exalted track than "Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation" (oh come on, really?). Secundo, the whole album is incredibly solemn. So, I just had to keep pace with the band, you see! The Serpent and the Sphere is the fifth LP from Agalloch, preceded by bleak and raw Marrow of the Spirit. This one on the other hand is much more accessible. And here's why...

Before I tell you why, one more thing. Don't think I'm belittling the concept behind this album. If only for how consistent every Agalloch album is, the band should be praised. As usual music, artwork and lyrics complete each other and create a stunningly atmospheric whole. Still, even though the sound production fits the music on The Serpent and the Sphere pretty well, I can't help but miss the raw black metal sound of the previous record. Agalloch's music relies on atmospheric layers rather than composition complexity and doesn't really need such a polished sound production. It just seems more genuine with a rawer one. Songwriting itself is strong as ever, even if I got a deja vu more than once. While Agalloch don't necessarily get stale, the polished sound would allow of more experimental approach. What we got instead is an atmospheric doom/black metal album that sounds a tad less post-metal. Neo-folk influences, on the other hand seem to have gained more ground. I may not like all the changes in direction but, despite all that, it's a very enjoyable and catchy record. Just another proof that Agalloch's got the magic, no matter what!

Every so often I catch myself turning a blind eye to anything that, in my humble opinion, Agalloch does wrong. Songwriting is sometimes rough, and pathos sometimes too abundant. Yet still this music is so honest and genuine that I can't help but get carried away with it. Even though a little less bold than before, Agalloch still stands out as one of the more original extreme metal acts. All fans of atmospheric metal should give this album a go, especially newcomers, as The Serpent and the Sphere is their most accessible release to date.

..::Originally written for: shrineofllyria.blogspot.com ::..

MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part The Second

Album · 2009 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.90 | 17 ratings
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bartosso
Maudlin farewell

Since it is my 100th review on MMA, I shall celebrate by writing a really long, lousy review, unchained from the usual hasty formula or any stylistic restraints. You will be bored, moved and bored again. Your time will be wasted with the only consolation being that I wasted even more of it myself. Let's do this thing!... given how this paragraph is not long enough yet (that wouldn't look good on the main page, would it.) instead of ending it, let me talk succinctly about the backstory behind Part the Second, the final installment in maudlin of the Well discography. Part The Second was fan funded and it's an entirely independent work with artwork conceived by Toby Driver himself. For those who don't know, he is the mastermind behind all motW and Kayo Dot albums, as well as co-creator/co-founder of Tartar Lamb, Vaura and several other projects. Along with Mories of Gnaw Their Tongues, he's my favourite avant rock composer. Speaking of which, I've just realized my 100th review on a metal site is actually of a non-metal album! This is getting worse by the minute!

Anyway, let's talk maths here. Part the second... but how? In half? Five tracks? Or maybe, judging by the artwork, time is relative, and there's no substantial difference between one second and one day. These are just fragments of the same substance which is apparently infinite. If not for us and our limited perception, there wouldn't be any fragments at all as you can't see contours of seconds, minutes, hours ticking on the clock or years, decades, centuries gradually turning your body into atomic dust. Time's abstract and bound with space. Yet still, we managed to part it, rationalize it. Even though this album looks like it was conceived rationally and divided into 5 tracks, it's not. It's art and art hates rational thinking. Art is based on intuition and driven by feelings. Sounds pretentious? Well, we could certainly have a decent discussion about what is art, what isn't or if it even is a real thing at all. I'm divided on the subject. It seems not to be a real thing but when I start to think it is, I consider art to be something that escapes rationalization. For now. Everything can be explained scientifically and surely will, yet for now there still are some gray areas when it comes to psychology and neurology. I'm glad there are. You have to live in a bubble in order to maintain your sanity. However small the bubble is, you can't let it pop or you'll fall into a trap of trying to perceive yourself from the outside of your own reasoning, which is obviously impossible.

Okay, without going too far into metaphysics, that's what I believe music is for. Not that music, or art in general, has any other purpose than to satisfy the one who makes it. For someone who listens to music, however, it has potential to be a gate into a world where you can understand and feel yourself without falling back on verbal reasoning. Whether music excites you, makes you happy and euphoric or moves you and makes you depressed, that doesn't matter. What matters is that for this brief moment you're free of restraints of your consciousness. I think that's why people often use drugs to "open their third eye", although lucky are those for whom music works like one. As far as I am concerned, some music does. Part the Second does. All that I've written until now was inspired by the album. If your first thought while going through this review was "This guy's high as fuck", then Part the Second really works. I'm sure some of you would gladly see more substantial commentary on the album, though. Here you go. Part the Second, as any abstract work of art, is a grower. I didn't fall in love with it instantly but my subconscious had already known I would have listened to it again. We tend to call it "getting hooked", intrigued by something for vague reasons. That's because you're not yet aware of something your brain already knows.

In terms of influences, it's the most seamless album by maudlin of the Well and Toby Driver in general. Maybe it's just me, but I can't name more than one influence without hesitation. The album surely is inspired by chamber music. Its structure could just as well be described as progressive/postmodern in a broad sense, but chamber music seems more precise to me due to a prominent role of violin passages. On the other hand, it plays with pacing and repetition in a similar way post-rock does. Luckily, you won't experience any straightforward, full-on build-ups that plague post-rock music nowadays. Part the Second is more sophisticated than that and for that reason it may appear as less accessible to some people. Still, to those accustomed to avant-garde complexity, this will be a refreshing experience. Part the Second doesn't do anything superfluous. It's just as complex as it has to be and never gets heavier than it should. What I say may seem quite vague, but this record really sounds as if it were aware of itself. Every sound, every word is there for a reason and for no reason at all. "This guy's higher than I thought". Well, hear me out, please! I believe that the more brilliant the work you create is, the more difficult it is to explain the choices you made. It's called talent. And talent is an unpredictable asshole.

Oh man, I'm fed up with this review so much right now. Nobody's going to read something that long anyway, so why bother? Most certainly because I felt like 100th review was a good occasion to do something different. Part the Second is one of those albums I couldn't review in a decent way, anyway. It's an album that gets to you on a very personal level, almost as if it were addressed directly to you. As if you were the only one to ever listen to it. The world is abstract after all, so maybe you are the only one listening to it? Maybe all is just an illusion? Or not even that. Maybe the bubble you're trying to preserve is all you actually have? Whatever the case, the final effort by maudlin of the Well is a reminder that music... is a drug! Haha, good one, ain't it?! You didn't see that coming, huh? Please, if you enjoy experimental music of any sorts, listen to Part the Second and get high from the experience. But secretly! Seriously people! Music's gonna be banned if someone from Da Guverment reads this review. I have to go, spec ops are at the door already!... [beep beep beep]

KAYO DOT Coffins On Io

Album · 2014 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.26 | 10 ratings
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bartosso
Stellar!

Imagine a silver string stretched out across the room. Every of its seven segments is decked with objects of such a variety in shape, size, weight and colour, that they almost seem to be a random streak of elements, suspended magically in space. You can barely see what's linking them all. Yet every time Toby Driver and his ever changing team puts out an album, you instantly recognize who pulls that string. While Hubardo could be described as a summary of all things Kayo Dot-ish, maudlin-ish and Driver-ish in general, Coffins on Io, just like Coyote before it, is a venture into new territories.

However, while Coyote treads a bumpy path of chamber disharmony, Coffins on Io drives a Mustang '67 convertible along a desolate highway with southern lights in the night sky above and a dead body in the back seat. Every Kayo Dot album features a conceptual basis that provides the whole thing with a core. Even Hubardo was strangely consistent despite its eclecticism. Coffins on Io on the other hand is a rather focused effort. It is indeed an album heavily inspired by retro-futuro artists of the 80s, Vangelis to name just one. Equally noticeable is David Bowie's influence, especially thanks to Toby Driver's charismatic vocal delivery. You can also get some Joy Division vibes, especially in the second track. Brian Ferry also comes to mind. Generally speaking, songwriting is more minimal compared to the previous album and more focused on subtle evolution through repetition of themes. All that gives the album a quite psychedelic character. Still, somehow Kayo Dot once again escapes categorization and despite more traceable influences than ever before, their sound remains singular.

Coffins on Io charms the listener with dreamy psychedelia and retro pop vibes, but as any other Kayo Dot album it requires more than just your attention - it makes you feel in your guts the creative passion that boils like magma underneath the surface of Io. As your perception of the music evolves with every subsequent track, the album does so as well, and before you know it, you're submerged in a polyphonic hell. And what a beautiful hell it is.

KAYO DOT Choirs Of The Eye

Album · 2003 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 53 ratings
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Kayo Dotted

I hate reviewing albums older than 10 years, critically acclaimed, or albums unique to the point where any comparison to other stuff is nonsensical. Guess what, Choirs of the Eye matches every single of these criteria. I've been postponing this for far too long, though. No more silence! No more running. Let's do it! Kayo Dot, the veterans of all things experimental, extreme and eclectic, can't wait to hear me singing their praises. Oh, and I shall... even though I lied, they don't give a shit.

Choirs of the Eye's the first album from Kayo Dot but by no means should it be considered a debut. Toby Driver and his crew were already seasoned musicians back than in 2003, having released three maudlin of the Well albums and some other stuff on the side. Now, this album can't be perceived as metal, or even experimental rock for the very structure of it follows modern classical/chamber music standards. And yes, the pace may remind you of doom metal, some themes draw heavily on black and death metal and soothing presence of post-rock sound is undeniable. Still, the core of this record is the modern classical background of Toby Driver. Unlike many modern composers, however, Toby focuses on the emotional impact and artistic expression rather than form and pure experimentation. And that's exactly what makes this album a deep and thrilling experience.

Kayo Dot is one of those bands that you just shouldn't overlook. If you do, you miss an opportunity to experience something unique and deeply moving. Kayo Dot prove that pushing the envelope can result in something more than a mash up of genres. And if avant-garde experimentation not only with sound but with the very form too doesn't repel you, give it a go. It truly is postmodern music at its finest.

OPETH Pale Communion

Album · 2014 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 39 ratings
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bartosso
Checkmate, metalheads!

Even though the title of this review is intended as a joke, it's still true in a way - Opeth the metal band is no more. The fact of Opeth abandoning their extreme metal roots is of no importance to me, though. I was already disappointed back then in 2008 when Watershed was released, and it was a straight extreme prog metal album. Having recorded two retro albums since 2011, Opeth have become, more or less, a traditional prog band that, for the most part, follows in footsteps of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and the like. The problem is that even Damnation, the least metal of their albums, was still somehow compatible with the so-called "Opeth sound".

Pale Communion opens with "Eternal Rains Will Come" and let me tell you, it's the last song (except for 'River') that bears any conspicuous resemblance to the "pre-Watershed" Opeth. Don't get me wrong, there are no growls or heavy distortion riffs in the album and its heaviest moments sound more like hard rock on speed than any of their early 2000s stuff. There's flow and distinct focus on gripping harmonies in this song, though. Once you're done with it and the rest unveils before you, you feel like a kid that just found out most of the ice-cream fell to the sidewalk. Okay, that may be a little too harsh. Pale Communion is a solid melodic prog album with harder moments here and there. Apart from the two aforementioned tracks the record lacks in riveting ideas, flow and sophisticated harmonic passages known from their earlier stuff. As Heritage, it's a very well-produced and well-composed blend of Jethro Tull's folk rock and King Crimson's grandiose complexity. It is, however, less psychedelic than the previous album and instead marked by a more melodic/folksy character, so pleasantly reminiscent of Nick Drake. There's also a noticeable Steven Wilson influence, but as I always say, whatever Wilson does, Akerfeldt does it better.

Pale Communion is yet another semi-classic prog album - its influences, even though fairly diverse, are way too obvious. This perhaps wouldn't be much of a nuisance if the songs were conceived with a bigger dose of spontaneity that would in turn give more soul and emotional charge to the whole thing. Even though the latest Opeth release is not a pale imitation of classic prog(pun intended), it definitely pales (intended too) in comparison with Opeth's greatest moments. As such, Pale Communion, just as Watershed and Heritage, is a bit of a letdown.

CLOUDKICKER Subsume

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 4 ratings
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bartosso
Even cloud kicking wears off after a while...

I've been waiting for a masterpiece from Ben Sharp since the debut album. His vision of instrumental metal was so fresh at the time, it seemed obvious that one day, as a result of natural selection of sorts, he'd create something spectacular. Instead, Cloudkicker has been threading the same, safe path over and over again since then.

And yet there's no denying it's still a somewhat appealing instrumental rock, even if stale. Sharp's ability to create almost romantic soundscapes within his post-rock/soft-punk and post metal influenced music remains unmatched. It's such a shame, that his inability to eliminate weaknesses from the songwriting is still there, too. The problems we had with Beacons are still valid in Subsume. Repetitive build-ups, stiff progressions and many others are still major issues that make the time spent with Cloudkicker a tad tiresome. As a competent musician, however, Ben Sharp managed to keep things very atmospheric and consistent throughout and for that he deserves some praise.

Apart from "He would be riding on the subway or writing formulas on the blackboard or having a meal or (as now) sitting and talking to someone across a table, and it would envelop him like a soundless tsunami.", no track has actually burnt into my memory. Too much of the same, decent post-metal. Decent yet boring. Boring yet pleasant. Oh to hell with that, it's free so get it and see for yourselves.

BEHEMOTH The Satanist

Album · 2014 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 17 ratings
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bartosso
"I believe neither in god nor in reason... give me a man, let him be like me"

The Satanist was reborn and he spreads the word of the flawed god. It's not a secret that behind all the Behemoth image and occult-based ideology, hides a rather simple yet powerful concept. Instead of looking for the absolute in idealized religious dogmas or the sterile abstraction of science, you should embrace the scarred and imperfect... human.

Even though the message Nergal & Co are spreading is a quite noticeable part of the album, it's the music, obviously, what really matters here. And let me tell you, in terms of originality, production and general flow, this is the best Behemoth album to date. They have at last freed themselves of restraints of their hallmarks. I love how balanced the influences are here - the wind symphonic parts are only where they should be, sound very organic and add tons of atmosphere. Riffs are dense, brutal yet still feel very natural. The band is not afraid to venture into a slower, apocalyptic doom metal sound, or to explore sinister realms of atmospheric black metal. With its flawless pacing, eclectic approach and flying solos, however, The Satanist is first and foremost a heavy metal album. A very heavy metal album. Heavy as hell. Well, anyway...

The Satanist is as inwardly conflicted, full of terror and passion as any of us. I've never really been a fan of the band, but this time round Nergal finally established himself as one of the best blacksmiths in modern extreme rock music. Behemoth's powerful blend of black and death metal was heated in flames of passion and forged with the hammer of creativity. Albums like this usually stand the test of time.

NE OBLIVISCARIS Portal Of I

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 16 ratings
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bartosso
Impressive metal for the win!

Impressive bands have been sprouting up all over the planet in the past few years. Impressive in terms of musicianship and range of influences, they create complex as hell tracks and use impressive array of instruments. Australian outfit Ne Obliviscaris is one of them for sure. I don't really need my music to impress me, though. I want to be moved, shaken even, and it doesn't matter if there's a dozen of virtuosos soloing over each other or just one shrunken guy, playing a wistful song on an old guitar.

Ne Obliviscaris have skills, will and plenty of ambition. The first big fruit of their endeavours is more of a colorful patchwork than an accomplished piece of art, though. Now, I know that's a bold statement and I need some solid arguments to back it up. The guys crafted an intricate melodic black metal album, layered with death metal reminiscent of Opeth and Enslaved. If you add some elaborate violin/Spanish guitar passages, melodramatic (somewhat metalcore) clean vocals and extended-to-the-limits build-ups to it, you have Ne Obliviscaris in all their glory. The band sounds very professional but their pursuit of progressiveness is too obvious. Tiresome overuse of double bass drum doesn't help either. Before squeezing in as many ideas as possible, the band should keep in mind that music speaks for itself. Hence, the phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" doesn't really apply here. While many ideas and themes are great, with some of them reaching the heights of beauty, they often seem detached and don't create a convincing whole.

While somewhat reminiscent of Unexpect, Ne Obliviscaris failed to create a solid basis for their ambitious ideas. Even though the songwriting is quite bold and aspires to grandeur, the music itself feels over the top at times. The album has its beautiful moments though, and I can see why it is praised by lovers of technically complex extreme prog metal. If, however, you're looking for a more mature approach to the genre, Portal of I may disappoint you a little.

OPETH Ghost Reveries

Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 134 ratings
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bartosso
The Storm Before the Calm

I'll put it bluntly, Ghost Reveries is the first Opeth album I've ever heard, back then in 2005, and the last one I truly love. As of 2013, Watershed and Heritage are amongst their least engaging albums in my book. Ghost Reveries was in a way a turning point in both Opeth's career and songwriting style. Even though from the perspective of their older releases the path they chose on the 8th record could already be slightly alarming to some fans, the songwriting is nothing short of amazing here and Ghost Reveries, while a bit more accessible, is one of the finest albums in all extreme metal.

Ghost Reveries is the ultimate proof of Akerfeldt's unrivaled craftsmanship and talent for creating multi-layered epics. I could complain about the more straightforward approach to atmosphere and melody compared to their previous releases, but in terms of songwriting Ghost Reveries is flawless. The band delivers their unique branch of extreme eclectic metal with staggering passion and top-notch performance. As a very open-minded music lover, Mikael is a rather unpredictable songwriter and for listing his influences I'd probably need a separate essay. With its atmospheric and dynamic blend of folk, jazz, gothic and progressive rock, Ghost Reveries is certainly varied enough to be called eclectic. What matters the most, though, is that Opeth is most of all about playing good music. Only art with heart and soul put into it is good and consistent. It's as simple as that, really. No need for light-speed solos and breakneck complexity. Experimentation or virtuosity should be a mode of artistic expression, not a goal in itself. Akerfeldt is one of those rare and precious musicians who know that.

Even though Ghost Reveries is more accessible than harsh classics like My Arms Your Hearse or Deliverance, it redeems itself with some amazing songwriting, ambiance and flow. Somewhat similar to Still Life in terms of atmosphere, Ghost Reveries stands out as another masterpiece of eclectic metal. An absolute must for all you progheads out there.

CULT OF LUNA Vertikal

Album · 2013 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 13 ratings
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Postmodernist Metropolis

I hate to assume a cold tone, but I always considered Cult of Luna to be more derivative than creative. Even though their branch of sludge/post-metal was somewhat original, mostly due to its polarized post-rock/sludge approach, it lacked true identity. It sounded to me like just another harsher, less emotional and less eclectic version of Neurosis. With Vertikal, the band finally took a leap into compositional boldness. Loosely based upon the legendary Metropolis by Fritz Lang, Vertikal is a unique postmodern sludge endeavor.

While Cult of Luna have always been into more diverse, post-rock infused sludge, they put some truly unusual elements into their sound this time round. Embellished with dark new age and contemporary electronica, Vertikal is an album pervaded with austere futuristic ambiance of a modernist sci-fi literature. It might not be a groundbreaking effort, but it's one of the more consistent and original sludge albums I've heard in the past few years. Simplistic nature of sludge, post-rock emotionalism and industrial coldness complement each other smoothly. The original concept was used to create a distinct atmosphere rather than a story and I think it works much better that way. Music is mostly about creating a non-verbal impact, isn't it? Hence, as befits a piece of art, the quality of Vertikal cannot be justly measured. For a sludge album, it certainly stands out as something that managed to stay visceral and organic despite its industrial nature.

I consider Vertikal to be the most accomplished and original album from Cult of Luna so far. Due to the direct approach to its various elements, it stays fresh and accessible throughout, despite the hermetic and inaccessible nature of sludge metal itself. It's an excellent addition to any modern metal music collection and a must-have for any sludge and post-metal fan.

KAYO DOT Hubardo

Album · 2013 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 19 ratings
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bartosso
A lonely Poet and the Eye of Leviathan

Are you proud of yourself, Toby Driver? Are you satisfied with having me as your eternal and devoted follower, speechless in the face of Hubardo's grandeur? If these questions were ever to reach Toby, I imagine the answer to them as follows: "Yes, we did it, we have transmuted the gleaming stone that fell from the moonless sky. Essence and forms blossomed beautifully from the eye of Leviathan and merged into this ever morphing sculpture of sounds. You can almost see it once you close your eyes, open your heart and let the ear follow the chisel."

In a way, Hubardo encompasses everything that Toby Driver has ever done with maudlin of the Well, Kayo Dot and Tartar Lamb, but in fact it is so much more. It's an individual, conceptual work and while it obviously sounds like something made by Kayo Dot, it is more adventurous, dense and technical than anything they've done before. To be completely honest, it's barely possible to describe an album with a total playing time of almost 100 minutes, one that flows like a poem and stirs the soul with a whole range of emotions. A record that stupefies with passionate outbursts of experimental extremity, seamlessly evolving into haunting chamber rock passages or krautrock psychedelia. I can't even fathom out how avant-garde jazz-fusion, chamber post-rock, experimental black metal and psychedelic rock can be so beautifully blended together and approached with so much individuality. More than that, Hubardo reaches and goes beyond any horizons; it crushes boundaries and escapes any classification except for one: Art that comes to existence out of pure need of creation itself; need to channel the ephemeral creative fire into an immortal work. And, as if that weren't enough, the album boasts some of the most intriguing ambiance and concept I've ever encountered. Ah, so much could be said about this surreal, otherworldly atmosphere and the creative freedom of its makers. A freedom so spontaneous, despite the staggering complexity of the music it gave birth to.

I know I'm freaking out and I feel no shame. Hubardo, the seventh album by the avant-chamber-rock/experimental metal band Kayo Dot, is the ultimate proof that music knows no boundaries. It's so singular and passion driven, that any attempt to analyze and deconstruct it backfires on the reviewer. Even though you may stay indifferent to the beauty of Hubardo, you can't deny the sheer compositional prowess of Kayo Dot. As far as I am concerned, my love for this album is so profound, that I feel ashamed by the very fact of publishing this review. A review that will never do Hubardo enough justice.

NEUROSIS Given To The Rising

Album · 2007 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 9 ratings
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bartosso
"I Would Rather Be Ashes Than Dust!"

They are still standing there. Immovable monoliths lashed by storms and parched with scorching sun, oblivious to trends and expectations, the gods of post-metal are still sending shivers down the spine of the world. Neurosis are like a raging storm, consistent yet ever changing, predictable yet still brooding and menacing. No matter how many times you have seen it coming, it fascinates you all the same.

On one hand, the tenth offering from Neurosis is a return to the TIMES OF GRACE sound. Once again raw sludge, doom metal and industrial merge into their inimitable style. On the other hand, post rock echoes of the two previous albums are also audible here. Actually, the only thing that distinctly separates Neurosis albums from each other is the atmosphere. This one is not an exception. GIVEN TO THE RISING is dark and dry like the Canyonlands covered with silver moonlight. A gloomy feel of spiritualism animates this album, shapes its soul in an elegant, understated way. It might be darker and more psychedelic than their previous records, but at the same time it's more sophisticated and restrained in its outbursts of brutality. It somehow reminds me of "There Will Be Blood" by Paul Anderson - sparing with means of expression, almost minimalistic, it's still extremely haunting and evocative.

I can see why this album is revered by the fans despite being a step backwards from THE EYE OF EVERY STORM. Being progressive is not a quality in itself. We often criticize artists for getting stale, but what they really do is loose the passion. If you create music with all your heart and soul, it doesn't really matter if it's progressive or not. Music like that is always fascinating.

MESHUGGAH Pitch Black

EP · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.40 | 6 ratings
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bartosso
An Étude in Z minor

Meshuggah are allegedly from space and they're in fact of alien, post-organic origin. It's just a rumour, but given the nature of their music, that might actually be true! Having been spawning groundbreaking albums, one after another since DESTROY ERASE IMPROVE, the spaceship with the band on board was finally grounded in 2005. After releasing the majestic, avant-garde/post-thrash masterpiece, CATCH 33, Meshuggah ran out of ideas.

PITCH BLACK doesn't surprise. To be honest, KOLOSS didn't surprise either and OBZEN was surprising only because it was the first unsurprising album by Meshuggah (paradox!). The band seems to go round in circles since CATCH 33, and there wouldn't be anything wrong about it, if their sound wasn't so sterile. Groups like Meshuggah simply have no choice but to push the envelope in order to avoid getting stale. The style they invented, often called "djent" by mathcore aficionados, is like a firework - it's great and sparky but it needs other fireworks to have any impact. Shit needs fuel, god dammit! You won't find no fuel here, bro. PITCH BLACK is just another Meshuggah track reminiscent of "Spasm" (NOTHING), "Shed" (CATCH 33) and "The Exquisite Machinery of Torture" (CHAOSPHERE). Jens Kidman reciting a posthuman poem, if I'm not mistaken. The live recording is well done, too, but again, I'm not excited.

It's a decent release. A Meshuggah fan has nothing new to discover here, though. It's free for download so no harm done, but it's still kind of depressing that for last six years or so, Meshuggah have been rehashing the same old ideas over and over again.

KVELERTAK Meir

Album · 2013 · Hardcore and crust
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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bartosso
Bra Saker!

If Google translator is to be trusted, "bra saker" means "good shit" in Norwegian. And that's exactly what Kvelertak's second album is - ass-kicking, dynamic and artistically diverse black'n'roll. I didn't really expect MEIR to even equal the great debut, but now I await Thor to smash my head to pieces with his hammer, as I was gravely mistaken.

The band matured. Without losing anything from the eclectic style known from their first album, they added more air and flexibility to the songwriting. Consequently, the music is less cramped and feels even more adventurous. Under close scrutiny, the black metal element seems to be a little bit less present in MEIR, but that's really a trifle as it's still one of the dominant ingredients. Kvelertak just seem to be a little bit more daring with their eclectic approach to metal, and that's why this blend of black metal, rock'n'roll, punk rock and Nordic folk sounds so fresh. As a side note, all tracks are in Norwegian so I don't understand a single word, but I've never paid much attention to lyrics in that kind of music anyway.

With their second album, Kvelertak show how a metal band is supposed to evolve. They progressed, grew more confident and created an album that is a perfect development over KVELERTAK. Fans of eclectic metal should check this out or pray Nordic gods' forgiveness, as overlooking MEIR may be their last mistake.

NEUROSIS Through Silver In Blood

Album · 1996 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 42 ratings
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Soul Is What Unifies

The pinnacle of sludge, a groundbreaking experiment or a noisy monstrosity - whichever name you choose, it will describe THROUGH SILVER IN BLOOD aptly. Considered by many (myself included) to be the best Neurosis' album, it's one of those records you need to digest before you begin to fully appreciate the content. Once processed by your mind, there's no escape from its hypnotizing beauty.

As befits a sludge band Neurosis are, the music here is based on slow evolution of themes that eventually burst into crushing climaxes. As befits the creative force behind the whole post metal movement, which also applies to Neurosis, those themes and their climaxes are approached with a great dose of creativity. The music boils with abrasive industrial samples and hypnotizing drum patterns that contribute to the album's unique atmosphere. Some other non-metal elements push the envelope even further and infuse the music with emotional charge but I'll leave this aspect of the music to discover for yourself. Most of all, though, THROUGH SILVER IN BLOOD feels so complete and so meaningful in a nonverbal way, that I can't help but wonder how did the band members manage to merge their minds into one collective consciousness and conceive this music.

"The pinnacle of sludge" and "a groundbreaking experiment" are joint winners of the little poll I've conducted among a representative group of one million myselves in as many parallel universes as I could possibly visit at the weekend. This album is a huge and inspirational masterpiece of sludge and metal in general and shouldn't be overlooked by anyone who considers him/herself a fan of experimental metal. Let sludge drip from your ears like honey.

NEUROSIS Times Of Grace

Album · 1999 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 27 ratings
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Graceful & painful

My adventure with Neurosis had some of the most difficult beginnings of all my difficult beginnings. Where there's a will there's a way, though. A way to appreciate something as abrasive and heavy as this music can be. And yet, an immense power of creativity and emotional charge that flows through it, make it an experience one of its kind. The sixth album by Neurosis continues the post-sludge journey started in Souls At Zero and greatly developed on Through Silver In Blood. As with every journey, no stage is completely the same.

Times Of Grace demands lots of focus, although not as much as its predecessor. Whereas TSIB was a gloomy, hypnotizing colossus of industrial sludge, tinged with ominous tribal feel, this time round Neurosis created a record pervaded with austere, somewhat cinematic atmosphere (perfectly mirrored by the cover art). Songwriting seems to be more focused on pace changes and rhythm experimentation than long atmospheric build-ups. I can safely say that despite both albums being more or less on a par, Times Of Grace is more complex and more daring in terms of composition. Not as unrelenting and less groundbreaking than TSIB was at the time, it's an album that takes all previously used non-metal elements and brings them to a new level. It's the path that will eventually lead the band to their most post-metal record, The Eye Of Every Storm.

Times Of Grace is one of the two most praised albums by Neurosis and for a good reason. It's a great successor to the brilliant TSIB and another milestone in the evolution of post-metal. As a multi-layered, intriguing piece of post sludge it's a must for all fans of experimental metal, especially those who are into atmospheric sludge in the vein of Isis or Cult of Luna. Times Of Grace is like a demanding lover, be patient with it and you'll be handsomely rewarded.

BEHEMOTH Satanica

Album · 1999 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.64 | 15 ratings
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bartosso
Apple! Photos! Caca Demona!

The opening track from SATANICA, "Decade of Therion", once became a hit in the Polish speaking part of the web due to a silly yet amusing misheard lyrics video. To this day, the very thought of it gives me a chuckle. Anyway, the fourth album by this Polish band was the first one to truly embrace the sound of blackened death metal, and was a natural evolution from death-tinged PANDEMONIC INCANTATIONS.

I have never been a big fan of Behemoth. Their composition style from later albums relies too much on sheer brutality enhanced by layered guitars, distorted vocals and extremely aggressive and mechanical drumming. SATANICA, however, is a transitional album that contains almost everything that have ever been good about this band. Organic production and dirty, a little blackish sound works perfectly with dark and aggressive blackened death metal riffs. And what an atmosphere Nergal & Co have created here! Distinct apocalyptic feel is the highlight of SATANICA.

Fairly original, well-written and most of all, very atmospheric album and a must-have for Nile and Deicide fans. Recommendable to death and black metal fans alike, as there's much to discover and appreciate for both.

TOOL Lateralus

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 115 ratings
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The Patient holds a Grudge against Ticks & Leeches

The days when I was a die-hard Tool fan are long gone but the fact LATERALUS was a groundbreaking release is as valid as ever. Many consider it to be their opus magnum but the truth is Tool haven't done much to change that. Nothing has been released since 2006 and there's no sign of that changing any time soon. Hence, an obvious question to ask would be "how did LATERALUS stand the test of time?"

I'd say it has passed it with flying colours. LATERALUS is loaded with compelling melodies, ascetic, hypnotizing rhythm patterns and evocative atmosphere but it's the emotional charge - ambiguous, weaved in a kaleidoscope of meanings and symbols - what makes it timeless. Music-wise, the third album from Tool is very eclectic, but unlike many modern prog metal records, it's not a coarse collage of genres. The guys were mixing psychedelia, alternative rock of the 90s and progressive rock of the 70s together until it became a smooth dough of unique flavour. Structure-wise, LATERALUS features innovative character of rhythm section with prominent bass and eclectic drumming, evolutionary structure of tracks and clever polyrhythms. It drags out a bit towards the end ("Triad" is booooring!) but this is the only blemish on the album.

I regret that the title of this review is a lousy pun, but I hope the point I was trying to make throughout it is clear. LATERALUS needs no recommendation and all fans of modern prog, alternative and post metal have already given it a spin. A flawed masterpiece it is. Check it out or die. Amen.

UNEVEN STRUCTURE 8

EP · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.75 | 2 ratings
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bartosso
Clones, clones everywhere...

I don't know why this particular dead end of a style is so crowded, but I guess it's because of its "cool factor". Djent sounds cool, no doubt about it. I remember myself setting my jaw after it dropped on my first listen of CATCH 33. Let's be honest though, the style created by Meshuggah is very limited and it won't evolve any further.

That's why there are bands that combine djent with more accessible sub-genres of metal, ambient or other non-metal genres... but some of them don't combine it with anything. Uneven Structure was one of those bands when they recorded 8. In short, their EP sounds like a stepped-up CATCH 33. It features the same brooding atmosphere, themes and sound production and the only thing these two bands don't have in common is the quality of being brilliant. Don't get me wrong, 8 is a well executed and well recorded album. It sounds more like a mindless tribute than an independent work of art, though. And by "mindless" I mean painfully repetitive and devoid of any innovative elements.

The biggest advantage of 8 is that it's not mathcore, a genre that some people consider intolerable (who could that be?). Still, it's neither catchy nor innovative so if you look for something that sounds like a bunch of bonus tracks from CATCH 33, then go ahead and get it.

A FOREST OF STARS Opportunistic Thieves of Spring

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.45 | 6 ratings
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bartosso
Once upon a midnight dreary...

A Forest of Stars is one of those obscure black metal bands that, despite their amazing talent and inimitable style, don't aim at quitting underground. They are focused on their very own vision of the genre - brooding, minimal and psychedelic, often as haunting as some of the most beautiful poems of the Victorian era.

Opportunistic Thieves of Spring is definitely a grower. Its doom-esque, evolutionary structure and psychedelic atmosphere of ritualistic witchcraft make it difficult to digest at first listen. Once I made the effort, though, I started to perceive the album as nothing less than a masterpiece. Its atmosphere - created with oppressively heavy black metal passages, crushing doom metal riffs, psychedelic violin parts and passionate, rasping recitation of Mister Curse - is unparalleled, unprecedented, evocative and cannot be described with words. The sheer beauty that lies in the very core of this abrasive music is what makes it such an exacting yet rewarding experience.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a one-of-a-kind record and therefore it's hard to recommend it to any particular group of metal fans. Those who like their metal psychedelic and genuinely brooding, should check it out without delay. It's a masterpiece of psychedelic/occult black/doom metal that deserves much, much more recognition than it ever got.

OPETH Still Life

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 171 ratings
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Story of love and revenge

Still Life is definitely a beauty and one of numerous fantastic albums in Opeth's discography. Not as transitional as My Arms Your Hearse and not as successful as Blackwater Park, it still is Opeth at their finest. The songwriting is so solid and atmosphere so sophisticated, that I can even pass over the so-so production and less adventurous character of the whole compared to their previous album.

Opeth's music is based on extreme musical dualism. By going from soft smooth jazz vocals to diabolic growls, Mikael Akerfeldt sets the mood and takes the listener on a dark, almost gothic ride with powerful parts of distortion turning into acoustic guitar passages. And he does that with such intuition and talent that during these over 10-minutes long tracks, there's not a single moment of disarray. Pure soft beauty in turns with excruciating rage is the essence of this record. But this isn't only about feelings but also about musical eclecticism. In STILL LIFE one can find vintage progressive rock song structures, full of extended passages of symphonic guitar harmonies and jazzy rhythm patterns.

It's the only Opeth album I'd recommend to a die-hard progressive rock fan. Vintage feel and absolutely brilliant songwriting combined with extreme metal brutality may turn even the most stubborn fan of Jethro Tull and Yes into a headbanging metalhead. A classic of eclectic metal.

REVOCATION Teratogenesis

EP · 2012 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 4 ratings
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bartosso
Don't listen if you're pregnant!

Thanks to Jonas aka UMUR and the list of the best free & legal metal music, I've discovered Revocation and their newest EP - TERATOGENESIS. Yep, it is released for free and it's great! What a treat! Fast, furious and adventurous ride! Thrashy, deathy, hair scorching bomb blast! Teratogenic roller-coaster it is!

TERATOGENESIS is one of those modern death/thrash metal albums that you're tempted to call progressive but that's not really the case. Every genre can be original to some extent without necessarily being "progressive". The music here is a modern sounding, groovy technical thrash metal with semi-death/semi-thrash vocals, a little bit reminiscent of metalcore screaming. The album boasts quite unrestrained songwriting within the scope of the genre, intriguing diversity of moods and, most of all, an excellent flow. Besides classic thrash metal riffs, the band interspersed the music with clever tech death themes, cool melodic solos and quite elaborate variations that keep your attention riveted throughout.

I haven't heard any of Revocation full-length albums but I'm pretty sure that calling TERATOGENESIS their showpiece wouldn't be an exaggeration. It's an extremely enjoyable piece of technical death/thrash metal that combines tradition with modernity. Essential to all thrash metal fans.

- Available for free download on www.scionav.com/collection/1083/Revocation---Teratogenesis -

CLOUDKICKER Hello

EP · 2013 · Non-Metal
Cover art 1.50 | 3 ratings
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bartosso
Goodbye

HELLO is another EP release from Ben Sharp aka Cloudkicker and this time we get 10 minutes of noise. Oh well, and I thought he took the easy way out with LOOP. As far as drone is concerned, I think it should never be the only component of the music. In HELLO it is the only component though and even though I consider myself a veeeery open-minded listener, this time I just got bored to death. Ben's lucky I'm not American as I'd surely sue him for that.

What else can be said about 10 minutes of drone tinged with post-rock atmosphere? Maybe I'll just present you with my point of view - there actually are drone albums I like. It's not that I hate the genre. Artists like Sunn O))) or Mories (Gnaw Their Tongues, Aderlating, De Magia Veterum) can put drone to a very good use. There are two conditions for that to work, though - it has to be used to create intriguing atmosphere and, as I've already mentioned, it shouldn't be the only element of the music. I'd go even further and say that drone has to be adventurous, ominous or unpredictable. It's like a crawling morph - changing shape in a mind-boggling way. Ben Sharp just abused his amps in a way that might have been entertaining for him, but certainly not for me.

I've always admired Cloudkicker for releasing his music for free. Both his soft, post-rock stuff and heavy, post metal albums are highly recommendable. This time he ventured into a genre without any solid ideas of exploring it though. That's why HELLO is just a boring, noisy and uninspired drag of an album.

- Available for download at any price on http://cloudkicker.bandcamp.com/album/hello -

KATATONIA Live Consternation

Live album · 2007 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.24 | 6 ratings
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bartosso
A studio band

I've seen Katatonia live once in Katowice, Poland and I came to a conclusion that they simply are not meant to be a live band. Since THE GREAT COLD DISTANCE their sound has become so polished, so detailed and rich that every time I hear them live it's just not it. And I don't mean LIVE CONSTERNATION is not a good live record, quite the opposite! All tracks sound pretty good and the musicianship is great.

Personally I prefer the first live recording from Katatonia, namely THE BLACK SESSIONS recorded in Krakow. The magic of a small gig played in a club cannot be overestimated. Still, given the circumstances(a metal fest concert) I think the band created a decent atmosphere.

Another good thing about LIVE CONSTERNATION is the set-list that consists mostly of tracks from TGCD and VIVA EMPTINESS. These two records are my favourite from Katatonia and it was the set-list that made me buy the album. So really, even though it's just a recording of the band's gig on Summerbreeze, and despite the fact that Jonas Renkse is one of the least charismatic frontmen I've ever seen, I think every fan should get it.

RIVERSIDE Anno Domini High Definition

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 71 ratings
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bartosso
5-STEP ESCALATION

Believe it or not, but Riverside performed a miracle here. They redefined classic progressive metal, a genre stale to the point of being almost inedible. Forget Drag Theater and take a look at the ingredients Riverside mixed here: 1.) spatter of oriental music 2.) pinch of vintage space rock 3.) handful of feel 4.) spoonful of talent.

While the album begins with a very good yet rather one-dimensional track ("Hyperactive"), the band gets more and more creative with every subsequent minute just to become hyper-creative around the middle of the record and stay that way till almost the very end. I have some minor objections concerning some lengthy (and a little bit generic) instrumentals but as a flawed masterpiece, ANNO DOMINI HIGH DEFINITION makes you forget about them almost immediately. Really, I'm the last person to enjoy classic progressive metal but Riverside mixed all the best elements of vintage prog metal and infused the blend with thunderous Hammonds in the vein of Deep Purple, space rock synths reminiscent of Ozric Tentacles and art-rock elegance brought in by emotional vocals and wonderful "Gilmour-on-amphetamine" lead guitar passages.

This is indeed a great record, very different from previous Riverside albums - more powerful, dynamic and modern yet still set in their unparalleled emotional style. Created with great passion and imagination, ANNO DOMINI HIGH DEFINITION can be counted among the best prog metal efforts ever made. Excellent work!

CORMORANT Dwellings

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 10 ratings
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bartosso
The Purest Eclecticism

Cormorants usually spend the whole day on eating fish and wreaking havoc on trees with their caustic excrement. Cormorant (the band) proves that you should never judge a band by its name. Their second album is so unrestrained yet so consistent, so focused yet so spontaneous... impossible was made possible and, believe it or not, it's released for free.

With high quality cover artwork come high expectations. By combining sophisticated symbolism of the concept with heavy metal spontaneity, black metal harshness and Opeth's approach to harmonies, Cormorant measured up to these expectations. Even though some of the lengthy instrumentals may be a little bit jarring sometimes, I can't help but love these passages of emotional harmonies and clever melodic interludes. And this time I simply can't pass over the sound production which indeed is great and suits the music perfectly, but it by no means makes it easy to listen to. It kind of reminds me of Grayceon's ALL WE DESTROY - very organic yet extremely clear at the same time, a little bit like a good live recording in a small music club.

Cormorant's DWELLINGS is a very original eclectic metal album and that's a merit in itself. However, it's one of those albums that not only impress you, but also take you on a wonderful ride with great atmosphere and genuine feelings as main attractions. You don't need a ticket - it's free - so go and get it now!

- Available for download at any price on http://cormorant.bandcamp.com -

RIVERSIDE Shrine of New Generation Slaves

Album · 2013 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.01 | 43 ratings
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bartosso
Lunatic Side of the River

Much can be said about Riverside but not that they repeat themselves. They indeed progress with every album and the newest record, whose name's gracefully abbreviated to SONGS, is not an exception.

Riverside have already made an album eclectic to the extent of being inconsistent (RAPID EYE MOVEMENT) and while SHRINE OF NEW GENERATION SLAVES may be their second most eclectic release, they didn't make the same mistake again. There's a certain feel that makes itself noticeable from the first seconds of the opening track until the last notes of "Escalator Shrine". In the very core of the record resides the spirit of the 70s eclectic rock in the vein of King Crimson and Gentle Giant. Glowing with Deep Purple sparkle, the core was furthermore enriched with a big shard of Lunatic Soul (Mariusz Duda's side project) and some modern neo prog-pop elements known from 00s albums by Porcupine Tree. Not to mention some themes reminiscent of the band's debut release, OUT OF MYSELF. So, all in all, from these well known ingredients something quite unique has been created and the band deserves a big round of applause for what they pulled off here.

Riverside is first and foremost about music imbued with genuine emotions and true beauty that comes with it. This is what's been disarming me since their first album, something I've never felt while listening to Porcupine Tree, the band they're often compared to. I've even been able to turn a blind eye to occasional pretentiousness or overlook some more or less obvious similarities to Pink Floyd, Dream Theater or Opeth. They play stuff they love and this unparalleled, spontaneous affection for music has become their trademark. That's why they never let me down.

CATTLE DECAPITATION The Harvest Floor

Album · 2009 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 8 ratings
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bartosso
Every genre has its visionaries

I'm pretty sure that "progressive deathgrind" is an unusual combination of terms, and for a good reason. The scene is dominated by imitators, splashing around in the same puddles of gore and brutality their idols did before them. And that's where Cattle Decapitation steps in, shining like a stallion among hordes of muddy cattle. The band got lots of praise for their 2012 release MONOLITH OF INHUMANITY and even though I love the album, it's THE HARVEST FLOOR that deserves to be called their opus magnum.

THE HARVEST FLOOR is the first proper concept album by Cattle Decapitation and you can hear it already on the first listen. Every track is like a jigsaw puzzle piece, making up a consistent sequence of technical deathgrind songs. And what a deathgrind it is! When you hear that a band is technical, you expect the music to be calculated and cold, impressive yet with the human element being of secondary importance at best. THE HARVEST FLOOR is a brilliant exception to the rule though. It combines proper aggression of deathgrind with purely artistic approach to composition. Twisted parts of technical death metal are interspersed with clever and emotionally charged riffs and build-ups. Vocal parts by Travis Ryan are just like the music - brutal yet clever, complex yet passionate, varied yet consistent and most of all, completely inhuman...

It's an evocative and brave masterpiece of technical death metal, hands down. Fans of Cryptopsy's NONE SO VILE and ONCE WAS NOT, Cephalic Carnage and Suffocation should love this. I haven't been mesmerized by a deathgrind album for a very long time but Cattle Decapitation have brought twisted riffs, frantic shrieks and blast beats back to my life. Thank you guys, thank you for the passion and conviction that what you believe in is right. Thank you for putting it all into this intriguing music. Listen to death metal - stay veggie!

CLOUDKICKER Fade

Album · 2012 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.17 | 5 ratings
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bartosso
Wordless poetry

Ben Sharp continues with his solo, hovering hundreds of meters above the ground, weaving wordless stories about the world from a bird's eye perspective. The only thing we know about the whole creative process, is that it's set in the American airspace. Cloudkicker's third full-length album is just that: American airspace post-rock ambient-djent. That requires some explanation, I guess...

In the previous album Ben Sharp created a simple yet mesmerizing collection of post-rock songs. Even though his latest release may be considered as a return to the roots, it's still a logical step forward from its predecessor. FADE is basically an outcome of putting LET YOURSELF BE HUGE and BEACONS together. The atmosphere is dreamy yet tense, reminiscent of the feeling you get while looking at the world through an airplane or bus window. While on BEACONS the ambiance was determined by the album's dark concept, here it reminds me of loose impressions from a flight or a trip across the States. The feeling of freedom you get while on the road, melancholy and anxiety triggered by a city's night panorama, loneliness in a nameless crowd - all that can be found in FADE.

Even though the music can bother me sometimes with its American pop-punk undertones, post-rock build-ups and crescendos crafted by Ben Sharp are emotional to say the least. Ambient parts impart even more of the ethereal atmosphere to the album, which makes it a soothing listen despite its undeniable heaviness. Most of all though, Cloudkicker finally found a happy medium between repetition and variety of themes. It's a well composed and varied post-metal album and I can safely say it's Ben Sharp's best.

- Available for download at any price at http://cloudkicker.bandcamp.com -

DECAPITATED Carnival Is Forever

Album · 2011 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 14 ratings
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bartosso
Decapitated revived

Almost four years after Vitek's tragic death and Covan's departure due to a slow recovery, Decapitated has returned with 5th record released by Nuclear Blast. I bet that many fans of the band felt a slight prick of anxiety at the sight of CARNIVAL IS FOREVER cover art. Samara from "The Ring" wearing a bunny mask does not bode well. Fortunately, Vogg & Co do not ply us with pretentious metalcore crap. What's more, the cover art actually turned out to be a great complement to the album's obscure ambiance.

Besides being a very talented guitarist and composer, Vogg knows how to make extreme metal sound good. CARNIVAL IS FOREVER assaults the listener with organic, selective and brutal combination of technical death metal, post-thrash metal and... wait, hardcore vocals? Yep, that's what everybody was so upset about. Hardcore vocals are so untrue. I can't say I do not miss Covan's growling, but Rafał's thrash/hardcore roaring is absolutely acceptable. So stop complaining, please.

Having the amazing ORGANIC HALLUCINOSIS still ringing in my head, I was somewhat underwhelmed with the offering from the reborn Decapitated. While they continue with the djenty/post-thrash style known from the previous album, I was hoping for another step towards their own musical identity. Rather than that, they made thrash metal the prevalent element and thereby recorded a post-thrash metal album with a sharp death metal edge. Now, I'm not by any means saying that they lost their identity. Decapitated still sound like Decapitated, a band with style influenced by artists you can easily point at. That's the point, the influences are still a bit too obvious. Besides that, I have nothing else to complain about. CARNIVAL IS FOREVER is a great record that has grown on me after repeated listens. Fantastic riffs and breaks are what Decapitated were always best at. The main theme from "A View from A Hole" is a proof that nothing has changed in that matter.

CARNIVAL IS FOREVER is a great post-thrash/death metal album and if only it was a little bit more daring and experimental, I'd call it a masterpiece. Despite an interesting atmosphere, songwriting is a tad too restrained and I can't help but hope for some more spontaneity from Decapitated on their next stay in the studio.

RANDOM MULLET Remission

EP · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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bartosso
Imagine a pork stew with chocolate and tuna...

Mishmash, a hotchpotch of music styles. In a word, a mess. The second self-released EP from Random Mullet is random indeed. In the negative sense of the word. Don't get me wrong, I love eclectic music, nothing makes me happier than a well done avant-garde with adventurous approach to composition. It's not an easy thing to do, though. An example of how difficult it can be, is available as free download from the Random Mullet's website.

What bothers me most about that music is its nu/alt metal side. Maybe it's just me, but these melodic, nu metal parts just... do not harmonize with those jazzy/avant-garde/whatever-you-call-them ones. It doesn't click at all. Apart from nu metal, Random Mullet is heavily influenced by djent. Some melodic death metal elements are noticeable as well. Not to mention kind of industrial electronic spices. Now, all that seems to be there on its own, without any connection to the rest... A nu metal part here, a jazzy/Ihsahn'ish theme there. Horrid.

Having said that, there's no denying that it's a skilled group of musicians. Even though it is extremely inconsistent and chaotic stuff, the musicianship is good. Both growled and clean vocal parts are (mostly) well performed. So, if you like nu metal combined with... ermm... melodeath, djent, jazz, alt metal, electronic and pop, then I strongly recommend this album to you.

DISTORTED HARMONY Utopia

Album · 2012 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 24 ratings
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bartosso
Six pieces of noble cheese

Traditional progressive metal is often considered to be cheesy, stagnant and derivative. Let's see... "traditional" and "progressive". Not a very fortunate choice of words. Isn't the first one an antonym of the other one? Well, it is, usually. Distorted Harmony managed to bend the rules of semantics though. UTOPIA is dripping with traditional prog metal elements - keyboards, synths and virtuosity. All this, however, is just a wrapping for some really well-crafted, inventive and emotionally charged metal music.

As usual, production is not without significance. What often bothers me about modern prog releases, is that the sound feels overproduced and artificial. Fortunately, UTOPIA's sound is indeed polished yet infused with a healthy dose of organic sharpness and spiced with a pinch of old-school prog rock softness. As a result, all assets of the album - intricate passages, theme changes with underlying symphonic prog basis - are well highlighted.

"Apparently Michael Bublé wouldn't be so dull if he stopped rehashing ideas of Frank Sinatra and started a prog metal band." That's what I thought right after hearing Misha Soukhinin's voice in "Kono Yume". His vocals are one of the best things about Distorted Harmony, no joke! Expressive, well trained and original. Especially when compared to typical prog metal vocalists, trying to sound like James LaBrie or Geoff Tate. Misha's voice reminds me of Michael Bublé (darn, I feel like I shouldn't be saying this) and his timbre suits the music very well. As for the music, UTOPIA consists of six intricate compositions, deeply rooted in classic progressive metal and underlaid with strong symphonic prog rock element. All that tinged with Opeth's eclectic approach to harmony and... some pop catchiness. At times I feel like some of the cheesy parts could have been avoided but as a whole, UTOPIA is a top-notch progressive metal release.

I'm not by any means a fan of traditional progressive metal. I don't like Dream Theater and Queensrÿche get on my nerves. Still, I really like this album. So, even if you're not into this sub-genre of metal music, give Distorted Harmony a chance to, ermm... distort your tastes... clumsy pun, eh?

A FOREST OF STARS A Shadowplay for Yesterdays

Album · 2012 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 10 ratings
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bartosso
All this magnificence has crowded my cranium !

- England, 1892 -

In an industrial town known to most of its inhabitants as Yonder Town, lived a man who was a puppeteer by profession. He was performing every evening, always in the same venue, stooping over his grimy puppets, drowned out by noise and shrouded in acrid smoke coming from a nearby factory. Always wearing the same checked vest and worn-out hat, he became a part of that God forgotten place: a narrow paved street with crooked tenements crowding around like frozen guardians of hopeless lives.

Labourers of ghostly stature were passing by, exhausted and apathetic, going back home only to prepare for another day of hard slog. Their bodies seemed to be separated from the mind, controlled by invisible strings, saving them from falling into puddles of mud and excrement. They didn't even notice that every performance of the puppeteer was different from the other, that he always had a different story to weave. I halted there once, unseen, hidden. I listened to the puppeteer, I watched his ephemeral spectacle:

"Once upon a time there was a lady of no repute, One Miss Crow, who, by force of a certain stranger, had engaged in violent night-time actions, against her very will.

Resulting from this invasion came, an aberration of desperation, a horror in all but name, A stoop-backed boy, short of stature, violent by nature; to be expelled from the womb in late November..."

...

That's how I imagine the beginning of this story. For it's not an ordinary album we're talking about here. Being released by Prophecy Productions (Alcest, Falkenbach), A SHADOWPLAY FOR YESTERDAYS is a musical experience, abundant in soundscapes of an otherworldly nature. That's what happens when the band puts heart and soul into the music. And when it's a Victorian bunch of geniuses. If avant-garde metal with noticeable black, psychedelic and folk element is to your liking, I strongly encourage you to read through the following paragraphs... or just get the album and ignore the rest.

I encountered some negative opinions concerning the sound of the album and I must admit that compared to oppressive sound of OPPORTUNISTIC THIEVES OF SPRING it may seem a bit flat. It appears that the difference between these two records has not been taken into account though. A SHADOWPLAY FOR YESTERDAYS is much less monolithic and thereby more space for psychedelic folk elements has been gained. Songs are multi-layered and full of influences from genres outside the metal one. That's why I find this bright production perfectly suitable for the music. Moreover, the sound is natural and organic which is a big advantage in my book.

A Forest of Stars is a band - or should I say a gentlemen's club - with a vision. Bands of this kind are very rare. Not only a band with a vision creates its own style, weave a concept and infuse it with life. It also makes the whole process irrelevant to the listener, makes him think about the music and concept as one consistent piece of art, completely apart and unique... whew, okay, enough of this loftiness. What we've got here is an avant-garde metal music, infused with psychedelic ambiance of Victorian occultism. All this created with the use of violin, retro-sounding piano, ominous clean vocals, accordion, flute, two different pigs, brooding samples and several electronic devices of unknown nature. Oppressive black metal element, known from OPPORTUNISTIC THIEVES OF SPRING, receded into the background but don't worry, it still has an important role to play. Most of all, however, the way this album flows, how unthinkable it is to listen just to one of the tracks instead of submerging into the whole thing and savour it in its entirety... that's what I think is the most amazing about the Club's youngest creation.

A SHADOWPLAY FOR YESTERDAYS is strongly recommended to all those who love adventurous music. What does it mean? I hasten to explain that the word "adventurous" incorporates - in this very case - dark and reflection-provoking concept, enveloped in an ominous Victorian ambiance and executed with the use of music and emotional harsh vocals by Mister Curse. The music itself is composed in a multi-layered fashion, with impetuous and harsh character, usually attributed to black metal. And, from my point of view, it's just brilliant.

...

"... A fast track to sorrow in a world bred slow. From foetid seed, a poison tree with a venomous bark did grow.

He was to work all the hours his sorry god sent, a resident of fantasy, living a life of lament. He was to have no living lovers, no-one on who to depend. Yet his friends were to call him Carrion, the friends inside his head... "

ISIS In the Absence of Truth

Album · 2006 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 25 ratings
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bartosso
I'm in sackcloth and ashes

Okay, I was wrong. I was terribly wrong. This is not just a passable album. With their penultimate release Isis turned me off initially (in 2006) but I was young and stupid. In the Absence of Truth is indeed a journey one of its kind, a journey set in a peculiar dream in which one experiences both things already seen but those unknown and singular as well. Landscape is blurry and distorted, seen through hundreds of rainy lenses. And there is bleakness.

Every album from the band has different sound that suits its concept and highlights its specific mood. In the Absence of Truth is obviously not an exception. As this is their most "post" and least "metal" record, the sound is more airy and organic than ever before. Its oneiric, gloomy atmosphere is highlighted with organic guitar distortion and naturally sounding drums. Since we're on the subject, the drumming is based mainly on tribal-sounding tom-tom patterns. It may seem a bit repetitive to some, but it suits the mood pretty well.

I took a dislike to this album due to strong Tool influence I immediately spotted in it. I loved Tool at the time and Isis seemed to blatantly imitate them. I was obviously an ignoramus as this is not the whole truth about In the Absence of Truth. While being strongly influenced by Tool's evolutionary approach to composition and unique mood of Lateralus, Isis adds a huge amount of their own style to the music. Sludgy heaviness and genuine depressive mood known from such albums as Panopticon and Oceanic, pervades the record thoroughly. With the opening track the listener's mind is immediately flooded with feelings of anxiety and imminent menace. From now on the music takes him to terrains of sadness and shows him surreal, gloomy visions of life and death. It's an intriguing construct made of sludgy build-ups, atmospheric post-rock passages and emotional post-metal climaxes.

Plenty of post-rock albums oozed through my headphones within the space of the last 3 years and 99% of them bored me half to death. I'm glad I survived long enough to finally appreciate Isis. Although the album is a bit uneven, it has some real post-metal masterpieces on board. And most of all, unlike legions of uninspired post-rock clones, this REALLY is emotional and deep stuff. Let it sink in your mind. It's worth it.

ISIS Wavering Radiant

Album · 2009 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.13 | 41 ratings
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bartosso
Hate-love relationship

My first encounter with Isis took place a few weeks after release of their fourth album, IN THE ABSENCE OF TRUTH, and I didn't like it then. Really, for 4 years I simply didn't like Isis (how dared I?). It started to change gradually a year ago and a few days ago something just clicked. My attitude towards this band has become, well, very positive. Now I know that this band is a damn grower. I needed a whole year to start to appreciate their output, and their last record, WAVERING RADIANT, has become my favourite part of it.

From all Isis albums I've listened to so far, this one has the best production. Mood changes, so frequent in their music, are well conveyed by pounding, organic drums and thick guitar distortion in turns with soft post-rock strumming. The sound is clean and professional but quite organic and pleasantly airy at the same time. Joe Barresi has done a good job as always.

WAVERING RADIANT is the most mature Isis album in every way, and even if it's still not a flawless masterpiece, it has grown on me enough to become one of my favourite post metal albums. While PANOPTICON is more straightforwardly depressive and atmospheric, the ambiance of WAVERING RADIANT is more difficult to define and definitely more intriguing. Old, melancholic and atmospheric Isis is still there but the band seem to plunge into more experimental regions on their final opus. With a subtle use of electronic spices, crushing waves of distortion power chords, post-rock passages and unmistakable vocals, they have created an aura of dark mystery and menacing unknown - all this immersed in an ambiance of psychedelic depression. This genuine, melancholic mood is what I love most about that band.

Aaron Turner's clean vocals are definitely an acquired taste (which I haven't completely acquired) and they can be tiresome sometimes. I still think he has done a good job. Generally speaking it's an excellent metal album - despite some composition shortcomings - and undoubtedly one of the best works in post metal and atmospheric sludge genres.

TRACKS BY RATINGS: 9/10[fantastic!]: Hall of the Dead; Stone to Wake a Serpent; Hand of the Host || 8/10[great]: Ghost Key; Threshold of Transformation || 7/10[very good]: 20 Minutes / 40 Years || OVERALL = 83/100

LED ZEPPELIN Led Zeppelin IV

Album · 1971 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.40 | 135 ratings
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bartosso
My next non-review is about my first musical thrills. Led Zeppelin's albums III and IV are two peaks of band's output and one of the best rock albums ever created, period. Their innovative, progressive approach to rhythm'n'blues and folk remains fascinating despite passing years and I just can't help but wonder: how was it possible to create such masterpieces one after another? At this point the reason behind this text becomes obvious - I'm not going to tell you why this stuff is amazing. There is music that just can't be described with words and given my deep attachment to Zeppelin's output - rooted in childhood which makes being objective even more difficult - I won't try to do it. I just want to express my admiration for this mature, timeless and unique masterpiece of hard rock/rhythm'n'blues. Everyone should listen to it before walking up stairway to heaven.

LED ZEPPELIN Led Zeppelin III

Album · 1970 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.10 | 93 ratings
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bartosso
"Sister, I implore you, take him by the hand!"

Really, it's not going to be a review. It's a bit awkward to me, humble collaborator, to review this incredible album, an album I was listening to as a six-year-old with a flush on my cheeks. I'm pretty sure most of you have already listened to it, or at least heard the cult song written as a tribute to the immigrant (or the emigrant, it depends on the GDP of your country). You have not? Well, people, this is not the most popular Led Zeppelin album, but the most important for sure. With the first two albums, the band presented themselves as highly talented yet not really extraordinary hard-rock band. However, with their third album they divided the critics. To hell with them! To me, LED ZEPPELIN III inspired several generations of eclectic rock musicians, changed their approach to combining metal with folk music and influenced their musical sensitivity. Sounds awesome? Yes, just like the album!

LES DISCRETS Septembre et ses dernières pensées

Album · 2010 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 10 ratings
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bartosso
French shoegaze is so... french

Les Discrets are a band that creates music full of grey landscapes, sounds emerging from a milky fog, shoegazing passages reminiscent of fairy-tale drawings rather than fairy-tales themselves. Released by Prophecy Productions (Alcest, Antimatter), SEPTEMBRE ET SES DERNIÈRES PENSÉES is a dreamy, emotional, very bleak and most of all, quite successful album.

The sound suits the music perfectly. Production is clean yet quite organic and subdued. Guitars sound heavy when it's needed but Les Discrets stick to their post-rock and shoegazing side most of the time. To enhance the dreamy atmosphere, vocal lines are treated with reverb. I must say that vocal style of Fursy Teyssier is definitely an acquired taste, though. He's drawing from both shoegaze and post-punk styles and while I'm not completely convinced of his singing skills, reverb makes his performance more tolerable.

After a few hours with the music I began to realize how diverse influences one can find in the album. At first listen, SEPTEMBRE ET SES DERNIÈRES PENSÉES seems to be an ordinary french post-rock/shoegaze album in the vain of Alcest or Amesoeurs. Obviously, there are similarities among them since all these acts share at least one band member, but Les Discrets seem to be the most interesting of all of them. Stylistically, the band draws from post-rock ambiance and shoegaze arrangements but such genres as post-punk, black or doom metal are noticeable in the music as well. Not to mention very well crafted acoustic parts, deeply rooted in the neo-folk tradition.

Fans of Alcest may love this album. I think it's one of the best efforts that french post/shoegaze scene has to offer. Even if you're not a fan of the style, there's enough of enchanting passages and emotion-provoking melodies, to get interested any fan of atmospheric rock.

UNEXPECT Fables of the Sleepless Empire

Album · 2011 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.03 | 42 ratings
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bartosso
"Demon of the Opera: or, Surreal Rollercoaster: or, Mercy! My head is on the edge of overheating!"

This is an intense piece of avant-garde metal. I mean INTENSE. Unexpect's third full length record is an unrelenting beast, spawned by Ascendance Records. On its musical way it has devoured such genres as klezmer music, symphonic black metal, opera, electronic, jazz, classical chamber music and some other tasty styles that stood on its way. Oh my... It seems it's about to devour... YOU!

Such a dense and complicated record requires a crystal clean production. So, if you're looking for a fuzzy sounding and discordant avant-garde, you won't find it here. FotSE is a perfectly produced album with an impeccable sound. Every instrument (vocals, violin, guitars, 9-string bass... wait, what?!) has its space in the mix and thereby is easily distinguishable in the wave of sounds this crazy bunch bombards us with.

A book could be written about the music played by Unexpect. I must admit that on the first listen I was completely overwhelmed by its diversity and intensity. While the album may seem a bit inconsistent at first, its strange coherence becomes apparent with time. Unexpect are unbelievably talented songwriters and skilled musicians. Their mix of dark cabaret ambiance, modern electronic spices, chamber orchestrations, extreme metal impetuosity and progressive virtuosity, seems to be performed without effort. While sometimes I get an impression of thematic overload, the fact that it's a well-flowing album is undeniable. Most of all though, I think there's something that makes this intricate music surprisingly accessible. It's either beautiful vocal lines by the frontwoman Leilindel or Unexpect's great talent for thrilling passages. Well, both of them I guess.

Extraordinary. Intense, intriguing, technical and... brilliant. List of adjectives goes on and on. With this fascinating creation, Unexpect has proven that virtuosity doesn't have to deprive the music of soul. That should be an important lesson for some leading prog metal bands. I can't help but admire these people, admire them for creating this exacting, surreal and emotion-provoking journey. I'm happy I've set out on it.

TRACKS BY RATINGS: 10/10[masterpiece!!!]: Words; Mechanical Phoenix; In the Mind of the Last Whale || 9/10[fantastic!]: Unsolved Ideas of a Distorted Guest; Orange Vigilantes; The Quantum Symphony; When the Joyful Dead are Dancing; Unfed Pendulum; Until Yet a Few More Deaths do us Part || 8/10[great]: Silence this Parasite; A Fading Stance ||

CLOUDKICKER Beacons

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 22 ratings
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bartosso
Silent film

I have really mixed feelings about that record. Cloudkicker's second album, BEACONS, is undoubtedly a very interesting effort and given the fact it's released for free, it's even more awkward to rate it with 3 stars. I promise, I'll explain myself. But now for something completely different...

Damn those tricky one-man baaands! They use computer generated drums and think they're cool. Well, they are. Cloudkicker is anyway. His drums, guitars as well as bass sound convincing. As for drums, they're not as realistic as drum set from hell in CATCH 33 by Meshuggah, but still realistic enough. Guitars feel a bit too sterile for my tastes but the fact they're heavy and perfectly executed is undeniable. For a homemade album the sound is just amazing.

Less original and more personal yet still technical. That simple phrase describes the music in BEACONS pretty well, but I'll elaborate on the subject in order to seem more intelligent. So, despite being an instrumental collection of songs, BEACONS is a concept album with a story told in... song titles! It's a story about a plain crash, or should I say a desperate report from the crew, just before the crash. I must say that's what's best in the album - dramatic tension that pervades the whole concept is thrilling. It's like a silent film created with sounds instead of images. Stylistically, Cloudkicker went completely opposite way of what I've expected though. Instead of developing his progressive side, Ben Sharp focused on drama and more traditional approach to riffs and melody. So-called djent is still there, but now it's more of a spice than a defining factor. Don't get me wrong, it's an album loaded with excellent riffs and emotion provoking build-ups ("Amy, I love you" shines here) but its repetitious nature makes it tiresome just too many times.

All in all, BEACONS is a solid album with some great features and some really bad ones too. It's still among the best records in djent as it presents a new approach to the style unlike the mass of young djent bands that have nothing interesting to offer (besides making Meshugah's style more accessible and melodic). If you're into post metal, you may love it. Well, get it to find out, it's free anyway!

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