Metal Music Reviews from siLLy puPPy

EXTREME Extreme

Album · 1989 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.10 | 8 ratings
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Coming from Boston, USA, the funk glam metal band EXTREME formed from the ashes of several other bands imploding before they barely got started. Gary Cherone (vocals) and Paul Geary (drums) from a band called The Dream, Pat Badger (bass) from a band called In The Pink and guitarist Nuno Buttencourt coming from Sinful. Once the four hooked up and began writing songs, the chemistry was complete and quickly caught attention in the live circuit of the Boston region. While forming in 1985 it only took a year to win the Boston Music Awards in both 86 and 87. This caught the attention of A&M Records turned PolyGram in 1988 and soon thereafter the band was signed and released their eponymous debut album catching the wave of the 80s alternative funk metal scene coupled with a glam appearance.

Despite the attempts to pigeonhole EXTREME into any sort of categorization however they were actually quite distinct from other bands of the day with their tracks consisting of catchy Van Halen-esque guitar riffs accompanied by funky syncopated counterpoints. Nuno Betterncourt was a particular developed guitarist offering super fast and technically advanced guitar soloing much in the vein of Eddie Van Halen. These guitar antics are most pronounced on “Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today)” and the track “Play With Me” the latter of which took parts of Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca in A minor” as the intro and outro with a sizzling classical infused solo in the middle. “Play With Me” track was featured in the films “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Jury Duty” which helped get the band some greater national attention. Also, Gary Cherone had a deep voice sounding a lot like Paul Stanley of KISS and the band also employed three-part harmonies especially on the slower ballady tracks such as “Watching, Waiting” and “Rock A Bye Bye.”
 While exhibiting a funk metal approach to the compositions, EXTREME comfortably fit in the glam metal scene as well with the standard gaudy hairspray and stretch pants of the day but mainly with the catchy pop hooks wrapped up in heavy rock riffing and extended soloing. On this debut album the band was still struggling to shed their influences which despite having a fairly unique sound still has plenty of sections that sound like they would fit right off a Van Halen or Queen album. The band also displays their love of genre jumping with not only classic heavy rock but the more subdued slower tracks as well but nothing near the more expansive free reign of their second album “Pornograffiti.” The album enjoyed moderate success selling over 300,000 albums with the help of the singles “Little Girls,” “Kid Ego,” "Mutha (Don't Wanna Go To School Today)" and "Play With Me" which found airplay on MTV and select radio play.

EXTREME is a fairly pleasant album to experience. The musicians are all tight with Nuno Bettencourt showing a highly developed sense of melodic virtuosity beyond the standard of the day. The tracks have an innocent playfulness to them as they are all associated with childhood experiences and the rhythms are not only catchy but have a bouncy carefree delivery save the two slower tracks. This debut album is actually a pretty accomplished recording but there a few issues i have with it. First of all the production is a little lackluster and sounds a bit too thin as if it was released on an MP3 before they existed. Secondly the band tends to try too hard to be other bands on any given track and a unifying chemistry hadn’t quite gelled yet as they were still getting their feet wet. All in all, EXTREME is a decent debut for a band that had a larger musical palette than most of their contemporaries. This debut was successful in garnering enough attention that would allow their followup to break them into the mainstream.

XYSMA Yeah!

Album · 1991 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.05 | 2 ratings
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XYSMA was a short-lived band that formed in 1988 near the Finnish city of Turku and has been cited as one of the earliest example of the much loathed term “death’n’roll.” The band’s name has the charming meaning of “material resembling bits of membrane in stools of diarrhea.” Now yeah! That’s fucking metal! I think :o

Despite living in Finland, the band had close ties to the Stockholm scene and were buddies with the legendary Entombed with whom they cross-pollinated ideas, thus going down similar paths by linking rock’n’roll meets Sabbath type compositions with the old school death metal scene. At this point XYSMA had a mix of grindcore as well as early traces of the death’n’roll that would be more prominent on their second album “First & Magical.”

Their debut album YEAH! lies somewhere in between Sabbath, death doom, grindcore and old fashioned death metal with lots of changes between tracks and even within individual tracks. At this point the band was a quintet. Janitor Mustasch as vocalist dished out the typical guttural growls of the old school death metal scene however a few clean vocal utterances occur. The demos showed clear influences from bands like grindcore era Carcass and Napalm Death.

XYSMA had an interesting sound and its easy to see where they were going and create a rather unique mix of styles. The tracks are short with only one hitting over four minutes. The riffs are fast and furious and fit into the old school death days. The drums are the weakest link with a lazy sludge type of drumming pattern without much variation however it’s the compositions that take on aspects of old fashioned rock’n’roll in the song styles.

It’s apparent the band was on to something with YEAH! However, somehow it misses the mark feeling like a rather mediocre batch of tracks that never simmer down into the proper nourishing broth. Death metal riffs alternate with Sabbath laced guitar runs and occasional grindcore bursts of freneticism all seem randomly strewn together without much thought as how to tie them together. There’s even an acoustic opening on “Uranus Falls!” Stool sample time maybe? LOL,

While sometimes verging on brutal, YEAH! mostly floats by in the mid-tempo range with grungy guitar riffs and a rather weak percussive drive. The bass is also almost buried in the mix and the vocals do become a bit monotonous. Unfortunately XYSMA had all the elements to craft a killer metal album but hadn’t quite mastered the maturity to place all those pieces into the right places. Hardly a bad listening experience, YEAH! does deliver a nice slice of old school adolescent rawness however it sort of misses the mark in comparison to other established acts of the era.

PORCUPINE TREE The Sky Moves Sideways

Album · 1995 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 17 ratings
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Although it all began as a joke, by the time Steven Wilson and his now official band called PORCUPINE TREE made it into the 90s, the popularity of their Floydian inspired space rock was taking off like a rocket ship to the moon. After a number of demos and two fully fledged space rock albums to get their feet wet, the band was really more of a solo project but starting with this one, a real band was in play with a style that reached the culmination of the psychedelic space rock sound on the third album THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS. Your listening experience for this one may depend on which side of the Atlantic you reside because of the fact that two different versions exist. THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS was the debut album in North America and showed the band mastering their full potential as they also unveiled various aspects of the different styles they would take on future releases. The European version which came out first contained the seventeen minute track “Moonloop” as the second to last track whereas the US release nixed it in favor of a shorter running time. Since the US version is the one i’ve grown attached to, it is the one i prefer so all my gushing admiration for this album is based on it.

It was never any secret that 70s Pink Floyd was the biggest source of inspiration for Wilson and company and that was never more true than on THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS which has been compared to “Wish You Were Here” for having two sprawling tracks that begin and end the album with shorter tracks sandwiched in between, however a careful listen will yield all kinds of influences from the Floydian world up to “The Wall”. Likewise, all the tracks flow together relatively smoothly making it in reality a long series of movements that culminate into larger suites and extended musical motifs. Although Steven Wilson remained ringmaster and creator in chief even at this point, this was very much a real band effort on album number three which allowed a blossoming of musical expressions to make a much richer album than the previous two. Most importantly added to the lineup was ex-Japan keyboard wizard Richard Barbieri who deftly mixes his best Klaus Schulze styled progressive electronic backdrops over the hypnotic space rock grooves. Likewise, Wilson’s alter ego in the art pop outfit No-Man found him a steady drummer with Chris Maitland filling the spot. With all musical spots freshly manned with eager talent, PORCUPINE TREE was ready for prime time and THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS shows them honing their chops into highly addictive seductions of sound.

THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS starts off rather chaotically with sputtering electronic effects that belie Floydian space groove that soon steals the show. A false flag to throw the listener off? Not sure, but once the Floydian rhythmic flow begins, it grooves with a vengeance. While the “Phase 1” of the title track gently rolls on with a sensual rocking groove as “The Colour Of Air” movement strives to lull the listener into a hypnotic state, it does however evoke a call and response that makes me want to scream “Hello, Is There Anybody In There?” at times. Perhaps too comfortably close to “Comfortably Numb,” but even with such brazen Floydisms slapping the listener in the face, somehow the electronic wizardry derails any cached earworms from the past and keeps PORCUPINE TREE sounding like distant cousins of the Gilmour and Waters team rather than mere imitators. The near nineteen minute suite churns on into a gentle space rock groove with Wilson belting out his unique fairy tale narrations before the track goes into an upbeat psybient and psytrance mode that summons a high intensity percussive drive and multidimensional atmospheric turbulence in the “Wire The Drum” movement. Tribal drums meets staccato keyboard sequences while a bouncy bass illustrates spaced out blissful melodies. The suite finds resolution with the “Spiral Circus” finale which drifts off into the clouds and exits with a soft acoustic guitar riff with a fluttering flute run flapping around like a pretty butterfly in the breeze.

Sandwiched in the middle of the lengthy title track suite that begin and end the album are three shorter tracks (plus the “Moonloop” jam if you have the European version). “Dislocated Day” debuts a more familiar sound heard on future PORCUPINE TREE albums and the first of the band’s career to demonstrate heavier rock with hefty guitar riffs, biting percussive drive and much increased tempos. This also provides the gateway into their progressive rock leanings that would culminate on albums like “In Absentia.” “The Moon Touches Your Shoulder” on the other hand is a totally chilled out acoustic guitar on codeine type of track with a catchy melody and poetic lyrics from Wilson’s most chilled singing style. “Prepare Yourself” is nothing more than a short spaced out bluesy soloing sequence that serves as a fluffer for the the “Phase 2” of the title track, unless of course you have the European version with “Moonloop” inserted between. This track is my least favorite and i’m happy to have the edition without it (or at least thrown onto the second bonus disc). It is nothing more than a drawn out spacey sequence of synthesized loops and effects.

The final “Phase 2” is begins much like “Phase 1” with non-committing electronic atmospheric effects only finding stability after a drum roll coaxes them down to Earth. The opening “Is…Not” segment displays more love of classic Pink Floyd as it generates a heavy connection to tracks like “Have A Cigar” with restless electronica and eventually a banging bass. Once a melodic development is allowed to form, it bursts onto the scene with a dramatic guitar riff which calms the atmospheric presence into an obsequious counterpoint. Nice guitar work on this one for a while but eventually as “Off The Map” continues the suite, an estrogen filled siren seduces a rambunctious guitar to come out and play. As it arrives it begins to perform a rather spunky blues workout around the ostinato bass line. It performs all kinds of tricks yanking every emotional heartstring with a mere bending of a note or two. It gets wild and woolly before the track slowly wends down as it reprises the initial Floydian bass dominated riff that began it all, not after more bizarre excursions into ambient electronica however.

On THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS, Steven Wilson and PORCUPINE TREE not only joined the ranks of the progressive rock revival that was unfolding alongside bands like Anglagard, Opeth, Dream Theater and the neo-prog bands like IQ and Arena but were also fundamental in the revival of good old fashioned 70s psychedelic space rock alongside other space tripping bands like Ozric Tentacles. While Pink Floyd was still around in name only, it was really just a David Gilmour solo effort milking of the enterprise and tarnishing of the name with mediocrity in the form of albums like “The Division Bell”. PORCUPINE TREE on the other hand were uploading an entirely new operating system into the space rock paradigm by adding all the relevant 90s influences of neo-psychedelia and chilled out electronica such as trip hop and as well as bass heavy stoner rock in tandem with the tried and true chill pill elements of 70s psych and electronica.

While never really intentionally wanting to steal the baton away from the great Pinksters, somehow on THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS, they did just that and created one of my personal favorite albums by the group and the absolute best of the 90s output. The 2 CD re-release is well worth the time as it has a brilliant alternative mix of the title track suites as well as the “Moonloop” tracks that went missing on the US release. I’ve been holding off on reviewing this one since i couldn’t decide if the Floydisms are too derivative or not but when all is said and done, they are no more derivative of Pink Floyd than Floyd was of the blues artists who came before them and this is one of those rare albums that i literally never tire of because Wilson’s brilliant mixing and production skills weave such a massive sonic web around any similarities that it keeps them in their own unique musical territory while respectfully conjuring up warm fuzzy memories of the past. This is where PORCUPINE TREE came to fruition as a band and a trend that would only continue to develop into a more distinct musical entity.

DEEP PURPLE Who Do We Think We Are

Album · 1973 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.38 | 46 ratings
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DEEP PURPLE was always a strange act. A rather random cast of characters starting as a pool of talent arranged in a similar way to pop acts like The Monkees, somehow found its own soul as one member after another built upon what came before and finally beginning with their 1970 landmark album “In Rock”, the band had hit upon the perfect chemistry. This was the period that has been designated the Mark II era of the band’s long and changing career and was the time when Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitars), Jon Lord (keys, piano, organ), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums and percussion) were one of the most successful bands alongside Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in the nascent world of hard rock and early heavy metal. The band sold albums by the millions and couldn’t book enough shows to fill the demand of their dynamic live performances. Their success was the envy of musicians far and wide and one of those rare acts that seemed to appeal to all whether they preferred hard rock, prog, soul, jazz or classical. This band simply had a universal charm.

And then there was the negative side of the equation. After the success of their multi-platinum release “Machine Head,” DEEP PURPLE became living legends and toured like there was no tomorrow under the management’s brutal dictatorship and constant pressure to perform. All was not well with the PURPLE ones after the whirlwind tours across the world had finally come to an end. Exhausted were they and that is exactly when the pressure reared its ugly head. Instead of the sensible idea of allowing the band to recuperate from their enervating and demanding live performances, the record company and all the money grubbing whores who profited dearly from the band’s phenomenal success instead pulled out their slave driving whips and put the band immediately back in the recording studio to pump out a followup album which resulted in the very frowned upon WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE which to this day still divides hardcore fans like the DMZ between the Koreas.

As the tale goes, the infighting between management and members resulted in major schisms that led to Ian Gillan jumping ship only a few months after WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE was released. Citing fatigue as the main culprit which led to all the other issues at hand, the band carried on the best that they could although agreeing on tracks to include on the album was one of the major points of contention. The rather short album consists of a mere seven tracks and includes one of the band’s most famous tracks “Woman From Tokyo” which narrated the famous Japanese tour that also yielded one of the most celebrated live album recordings of the entire rock era with their hugely popular “Made In Japan.” After that famous single, what we mostly get is another six musical compositions that have sort of fell to the bottom ranks within the greater DEEP PURPLE canon, and that is indeed a true shame because i happen to be one of those who actually loves this album although i will readily concur that WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE is indeed one of the weakest releases within the Mark II lineup.

Often cited as nothing more than a series of disconcerting efforts and passionless pits of uninspired drudgery that showed the band playing their older material by the numbers, i see this album from a different point of view. True that this without doubt could have been a better album given all the vital circumstances needed to create a “Machine Head 2,” however even taking the album for what it is, this is one excellent album filled with classic PURPLE material. For one, i don’t want a sequel of a previous masterpiece but rather a new set of tunes that take a bold new approach to the sound laid out from what came before. WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE does just that with heavy guitar riff oriented bluesy rock in tandem with the excellent keyboard accompaniments and yet more strong vocal performances from Gillan. There is no slacking off here that i can detect.

After the initial “Woman From Tokyo” the tracks continue with an interesting array of heavy rock that is more blues oriented than on their previous albums but not too far off the cuff of other Mark II albums when all is said and done. “Mary Long” is an exception listed below (me no likey) and while “Super Trouper” doesn’t jump into the typical heavy DEEP PURPLE rocker, it does however have a unique fragility to it with a very catchy melody and smooth instrumental interplay that is more sophisticated than the average DP track. “Smooth Dancer” is an absolute gem with a heavy emphasis on a nice guitar riff (reminds me of what “Nobody’s Home” would sound like on the future “Perfect Strangers) with excellent keyboard interplay in the form of a rather honky tonk sounding piano run. The melody creates one of my absolute favorite DP tracks of their career. The keyboard solo is also quite adventurous as Lord is a relentless madman.

Next up: the phenomenal “Rat Bat Blue.” This is yet another masterpiece of music in the band’s long career with a heavy blues riff that adds some interesting progressive rock time signature workouts at key moments (albeit brief). Honestly it sounds a tad like “Rock ’n’ Roll Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer only without the lame cheesiness and elevated to a higher arts position. Brilliant grooves, excellent vocal interplay and one of Jon Lord’s most treasured sizzling keyboard performances in his entire career that makes Keith Emerson look like nothing more than a piano student who wants his mommy. “Place In Line” takes the pure blues route that sounds more like a John Lee Hooker track than the DEEP PURPLE the world had come to know, however despite this sidetrack into a sorta “Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues” that sounds a tad Janis Joplin, this track finds resolution as it ratchets up heaviness. A major faux pas for some but for me this merely finds a band paying tribute to a style of music that inspired the members all the while adding their own voice. I find it quite satisfying myself. Last up: “Our Lady.” Spacey organ intro is followed by a semi-ballad that maintains a thick organ presence and sounds a bit like a 60s psychedelic band of some sort. Not one of the best tracks of the album and definitely not a wise ending choice but i find this one to have a nice groove and beautifully intricate melody as well.

Here are a few reasons i can detect as to why this album has received such a bad rap. 1) Reputation. Yeah, this album has gotten trashed by everyone over the years to the point that someone who had never listened to this album would assume that the band was trying to record covers of The Partridge Family or something. 2) The album cover and title are admittedly awful and give the impression that all the stale and soulless tunes that have been purported to exist surely must be as such since the cover is about as inspired as a adipose laden ass sitting on a plexiglass coffee table. 3) There are some bad moments on this one although not nearly as bad as one would expect. Unfortunately one of these musical faux pas’ s comes as the second track “Mary Long” which is a rather insipid tale doubt a girl losing her virginity and even hosts a major no-no of stealing the riff from Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff” for certain parts of the track. 4) This is different than “Machine Head” and has a completely different energy. Riffs are varied, solos (both guitar and organ) are more varied. Everything is more eclectic and more ideas are strewn about which makes some people feel uncomfortable i guess, especially when the relativity factor is part of the equation (that being it followed the brilliant consistency of its predecessor.)

A perfect album this ain’t. There are so many ways this could’ve been a better album but i personally love this one a lot and find it a testament to the fortitude of a great band at their absolute worst that is still able to crank out excellent music despite wanting to pull out a semi-automatic rifle and blow everyone else around them away. While i would never tout this album as the pinnacle of the band’s career in any way, shape or form, i do find this to be woefully underrated, under-appreciated and misunderstood. While i will probably never convince anyone to the contrary, i cannot find the horrible aspects of this album that i have read about forever. This is an excellent album that only could’ve been much better with some rearranging of tracks and a few more months of recovery after a lengthy tour. However, as fate would have it, the band would splinter, Gillan would exit stage right and David Coverdale would usher in the Mark III phase. True that we cannot change history but we can alter our misguided perceptions of a great album that’s been deemed inferior for too long.

Four stars because the strengths are so much greater than the weaknesses.

IRON MONKEY 9-13

Album · 2017 · Sludge Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Existing in the concrete jungles and unheard of for almost two decades, the Nottingham simians IRON MONKEY swing off their vines and onto the world’s stage once again. Having formed in the 90s when sludge metal was in its infancy, the band followed in the footsteps of Eyehategod, Acid Bath, Buzzov-en and Grief when they finally released their debut album in 1997. The band got their feet wet with their eponymous debut that displayed their primal ability to deliver the sludge metal treatment like the big boys with all the caustic fury and hypnotic distortionfests turned up to 11. After an initial positive response the sludge apes quickly pumped out their second release “Our Problem” which was not only met with critical acclaim but remains one of the hallmarks of late 90s sludge metal. As is too often the case, the band became plagued with personal and music industry disputes and soon the MONKEY go bye-bye leaving a mysterious void in the potential that seemed would never find a second life.

Having been almost forgotten as a mere footnote in the growing annals of metal history, IRON MONKEY has left the thick over-grown jungles and released an album of new material. Despite existing in a rather truncated history in their early stages, IRON MONKEY still had their share of lineup changes and with this resurrection there is no exception. This comeback was orchestrated by two of the original founding members: guitarists Jim Rushby and Steve Watson. This decision is somewhat of a gamble since original hardcore punk inspired vocalist Johnny Morrow surprisingly died in 2002. Also adding to this dubious reformation was that the original drummer John Greaves wasn’t invited to rejoin the new MONKEY spanking club. Undeterred, the band has reemerged as a mere trio with Rushby adding vocal duties to his resume and Watson trading in his guitar for bass. New to the mix and picking up the drumming duties is Scott Briggs who brings his hardcore punk sensibilities to the table from his stint with the crusty punkers Chaos U.K.

One of the most immediate head scratchers for those of us who accumulated IRON MONKEY’s mere two releases and the twofer comp release is that 9-13 uses the exact same album cover artwork as the 2-CD compilation “Our Problem / Iron Monkey” which is obviously going to cause great confusion and could possibly invoke a flurry of cursing in paragraphs for the uninitiated who happen to accidentally order the wrong product unknowingly. The product inside though is quite different than the two albums that precede it. This is the new IRON MONKEY that has grown out of the old. While incorporating the expected template of grinding sludge riffery and adrenaline fueled feedback frenzies all dressed up with misanthropic vocal tantrums, the band has certainly opted out of dirge doom drudgery and added a more hardcore punk infused energetic delivery that ultimately leads back to the days of such early birds like Discharge which is a welcome change since the early albums were lacking that extra ass burning drive that this one seems to have.

In fact, the opener “Crown Of Electrodes” misleads by insinuating that the band has gone hardcore and crust altogether. The following “OmegaMangler” does nothing to dispel that conclusion. Finally on the title track which is third on the queue list, the old IRON MONKEY begins to shine through as the punk infused drive yields to the distant sludgy jungle calls of the past with that unmistakable Sabbath-esque doom shuffle and high octane distortion cranked up for full pyroclastic feedback flows. On “Toadcrucifier - R.I.P.P.E.R” we’re treated to an extraordinary bout of feedback abuse before the energized bluesy sludge shuffle steals the limelight. “Destroyer” tears the roof off the joint as it delivers one of the most unrelenting and uncompromising heaviness of the band’s entire career and one that sounds like the ultimate crowd please in a live setting. Ditto for the following “Mortarhex.” “The Rope” is perhaps my favorite track of the lot as it delivers an instantly evil-as-fuck riff supplemented by Rushby’s more than adequate for the job vocal delivery. In fact, Rushby does an excellent job at replacing Morrow as he has perfect control over the gargling grunge and sludge mood setting management that this style of metal requires. “Doomsday Impulse Multiplier” continues almost by the numbers, the full sludge effect. “Moreland St. Hammervortex” takes a stab at creating a lengthy near ten minute closer guaranteed to leave a caustic acrid taste in your mouth with intended results delivered.

In the end, i understand why IRON MONKEY felt they had to leave the jungle and jump onto the world’s stage once again. As the internet allows older music to be exposed to a wider world audience, their first two albums have gained more recognition than they did at their time of release and there has always been a sense of unfulfilled destiny as the group mysteriously disbanded seemingly forever. Overall, 9-13 provides a platform for the two founders to uncork all that pent up sludgy rage that has been simmering for two decades and unleashes it in full metal fury and for once doesn’t sound overly derivative of early sludge masters Eyehategod or Acid Bath. Here they exude a volcanic explosive energetic release that in some ways blows away their 90s output. However, the whole thing still comes off as rather retro as countless sludge bands have long surpassed IRON MONKEY in their ability to perform their metal jungle gym routine. Despite the recycled album cover that is supplemented by recycled 90s sludge tricks of the past, these guys trimmed down to a trio do a surprisingly excellent performance of a nice modern punk infused retro sludge metal routine.

Although bands like Neurosis and Intronaut, for example, have long ago taken the sludge metal paradigm to more progressive pastures leaving the 1.0 version of the sub sounding a little one dimensional, IRON MONKEY nevertheless exudes a revitalized energy on their latest 9-13 despite not offering a great deal of variation in terms of compositional development. If old school feedback and fuzz coupled with crushing riffs augmented with the classic angry vocal effect is your poison, then 9-13 won’t disappoint but if you don’t exist in an anachronistic bubble of another era, then this one just misses the mark at finding a top tier status under the infinitely more sophisticated bar that modern metal bands have raised so high. In the end, 9-13 will ignite the pistons, grease the spark plugs and rev the engines and produce the full adrenaline effect that only this sort of raw, filthy and primal type of metal can induce, but after 18 years i would have expected some sort of upgrade in compositional development. As it stands 9-13 will have to serve as a decent but not outstanding slice of super heavy sludge metal from one of the underground classics of the 90s. Whether IRON MONKEY deserves a position in the 21st century as a contemporary sludge metal act remains to be seen, but i have to admit that i’m a sucker for this sort of primordial manic outburst of energy without the overly complex layering of effects at times.

TÝR How Far to Asgaard

Album · 2001 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.70 | 5 ratings
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While the tiny little territory called the Faroe Islands may hardly be on anybody’s radar as far as the world metal music scene is considered, this little rugged subpolar archipelago located just north of the UK and equidistant between Norway and Iceland could be considered an extension of the Scandinavian music scene in general. With only a population slightly over 50,000 inhabitants, the tiny territory has produced a significant number of metal bands alone (as well as other musical genres) ranging from Heljareyga, Hamferð, Vernon, Synarchy, Asyllex, Hatursvart, Terji to this review’s subject of choice TÝR which has managed to poise themselves as the islands’ greatest musical export. All these musical connections result in the fact that the Faroe Islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark with close ties to Copenhagen as well as the rest of the Nordic lands. The culture traces its language and history back to Old West Norse from the Middle Ages and the language is closely related to Icelandic which makes it one of the closest linguistic connections to the old Viking tongues of the past.

Not surprisingly the subject matter TÝR is almost exclusively steeped in Viking lore, mythology and history. Their name itself is derived from the god of law and justice in the Norse religion and the music is heavily steeped in kvæði, the traditional folk music of the Faroe Islands which consists of stanzas plus a chorus sung between every verse. The band was formed in 1998 when Heri Joensen and Kári Streymoy decided to get together and jam which resulted in a similar outlook of creating a style of musical that was designed to break down the walls that have been erected between the various styles of metal the that have been created thus the music of TÝR is a unique blend of power, doom, progressive, Viking, folk and traditional classic metal. The debut album “How Far To Asgaard” may sound like a tribute to the Lord Of The Rings style Tolkien-based themes but in reality “Asgarard” is one of the Nine Worlds and home to the Æsir tribe of gods in Norse Mythology. For the debut Pól Arni Holm was recruited for vocals and Gunnar H. Thomsen for the bass parts.

While TÝR would develop quite the epic progressive metal sound on subsequent albums, on the debut, “How Far To Asgaard” displays their knack for mixing all the styles of metal ingredients dispersed throughout the metal universe around a mostly traditional Faroese folk style of compositional construction complete with homegrown musical scales and quirky time signatures. The album starts off feeling more like a doom metal release with chugging and slowed down tempos as “Hail To The Hammer” and “Excavation” delve into the Viking world lyrically and plod along with downtrodden doom inspired riffs constructed with a folk feel and a progressive metal methodology of incorporating high register vocals and challenging time signature jitteriness. A classic 80s metal feel comes into the picture as well as the metal aspects tend to have a somewhat classic compositional style with verses, choruses and virtuosic guitar solos. The mix of all these styles may sound quite strange at first and it took me a few spins for “How Far To Asgaard” to sink in as i found i needed to calibrate my sensibilities to its quirky idiosyncrasies but after i did so found myself really loving the intricacies of how these tracks were constructed and the melodies become quite catchy once you catch the Faroese vibe.

My favorite tracks are those that think outside the box such as “Ten Wild Dogs” which uses a hammer on guitar lick as the guitar with a slightly warped sense of rhythm yet existing in the general framework of the established fusion sound TÝR have created. While the tracks are definitely metal based with Faroese folk mixed in, the track “Ormurin Langi” is a metal version of a traditional Faroese song and if anyone if familiar with some of the Pagan leaning black metal bands of Norway, Sweden and Finland such as Enslaved and Moonsorrow, this traditional style of Nordic folk music should sound quite familiar. The lyrics are mostly in English on “How Far To Asgaard” but native Faroese is also used in some choruses and of course on the traditional. Here’s another debut that i find myself against the grain on. True that it requires a little indoctrination to the subtleties and an education into the ethnomusicology folklore that it derives from, but once i put this on while driving on full audio emersion, i found i loved this one a lot as it’s some of the most authentic fusion of ethnic folk music and modern day metal i’ve ever heard and doesn’t resort to some of the beer chugging bards of future albums. Nice harmonics, instrumental counterpoints and history lessons. Excellent!

“How Far To Asgard” has been released twice. One with the original ominous purple sea album cover with the rune inspired band logo and again with an artistic vision of the Faroese landscape with Vikings gazing out from the clouds above. This second version re-released in 2008 on Napalm records after the band found more worldwide success contains the two bonus tracks "Ólavur Riddararós” and “Stýrisvølurin" which are two more examples of traditional Faroese folk music dressed up in metal clothing and are highly recommended. Not only do i like the second release better for the artwork and extra two tracks, but all the bad production gripes i’ve encountered regarded this album seem to have been rectified on this second go at it. While it’s taken me a while to get into the music of TÝR, i have to admit that after hearing a few albums, it was this debut that made it all click and now i’m hooked.

MASTODON Cold Dark Place

EP · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.77 | 4 ratings
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Following 2017’s full release album “Emperor Of The Sand,” Atlanta based sludge metal outfit MASTODON gave hardcore fans another slice of their unreleased material on this four track EP titled COLD DARK PLACE which came out in September digitally and on CD but also as a limited edition ten-inch vinyl edition that came out at the end of October 2017.

COLD DARK PLACE is basically the leftover tracks from the band’s last two album session. “North Side Star,” “Blue Walsh” and the title track all date back to 2014 from the “Once More ‘Round The Sun” sessions and “Toe To Toes” comes from the latest “Emperor Of Sand” sessions.

There is nothing on this EP that you wouldn’t expect. Nothing here is experimental or out of the parameters of the band’s established style that was displayed on the retrospective albums that these were initially recorded for. MASTODON has been toning down the heaviness in their music ever since the 2011 album “The Hunter” and COLD DARK PLACE shows the band continuing their journey into less metal territory with more emphasis on progressive rock.

While most tracks are on the borderline of progressive rock and metal, “Toe To Toes” is exceptionally mellow for MASTODON’s overall sound. There are more clean vocals displayed on this EP than on any proper album. Overall i’m not too keen on MASTODON’s direction that they’ve been going.

While metal bands mellowing out and going prog rock isn’t anything new or something i’m against in any way, MASTODON seems to be getting stale with super predictable tunes that cruise on auto pilot. This EP is okay with nothing being offensive but i find it quite boring compared to the greatness they unleashed a decade ago.

ZU Jhator

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The Italian band ZU is one of those bands that is entirely pointless to categorize because throughout their two decade career they have fully embraced their diverse palette with an extra emphasis on experimentalism. For the most part though, this trio of Massimo Farjon Pupillo on bass, guitar, piano, synth, Tomas Järmyr on percussion and Luca T. Mai on baritone sax, electronics and vocals hasn’t strayed too overly far from the amorphous free-form drone compositions with extreme metal clothing that incorporates harsh guitar distortion, heavy percussion and hellish Zorn inspired sax attacks. While totally unique in any regard, ZU share their chameleonesque genre shapeshifting once again as they continue to go Ulver on us and completely throw a curve ball with their 15th release (counting the collaborations) JHATOR which retains the meditative practice that they are famous for but drops the aggressive brutality that typically supports it and opts for a more relaxing and contemplative soundscape.

The title JHATOR is a Tibetan practice of sky burial funeral practice of placing a corpse on top of a mountain to decompose and allow the natural world to reclaim the elements that compose the body. This “excarnation” of allowing a body to be scavenged by carrion birds and natural bacteria is practiced extensively in areas such as Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Mongolia and Bhutan. This album contains two expansive tracks that sound as if they are the soundtrack for such practices as the moods and styles fit the bill perfectly. Unlike the more metal meets jazz oriented albums that ZU is famous for, this one straddles the line of post-rock type sprawling soundscapes that incorporate ambient synthesized atmospheres with experimental electronic simulations of animals, spirits and natural events accompanied by traditional Eastern instruments such as the Japanese koto (21 stringed versions as well as the 17 string bass koto), gongs as well as other unorthodox instrumentation such as a hurdy gurdy, amplified tuba and Flugabone which all requires an extra eight guest musicians to pull off.

It’s almost as if the band members went on a spiritual retreat to the Himalayas somewhere and gained inspiration in the most profound ways as the sprawling meditational tracks perfectly convey the message in pure instrumental form. The first track “Jhator: Sky Burial” opens with gong strikes followed by an electronic insect swarm of some sort that signifies the inevitable return to the Earth and the ultimate recycling of the corporeal being into the natural systems that surround us. The build up of the over 21 minute track is tantamount to the most apocalyptic sounding Godspeed You! Black Emperor material with a dreadful drone effect characterized by the subtle flux of the instruments in tandem. The second track “The Dawning Moon Of The Mind” signifies the decomposition stage and utilizes its twenty minute plus existence with a darkened droning synth background with what sound like distant angelic forces mediating and chanting while the electronic noises sputter around. The exotic instruments break in from time to time to offer ceremonial intermissions as the otherworldly dirge continues.

Despite having been around for two decades and known for not only dipping into the metal, jazz and progressive rock worlds with their cross-genre skipping eclecticism, ZU still remains a bit under the radar as being slightly too off-kilter for the average genre dweller. ZU is far too overreaching to be easily pegged into any of those genres and with JHATOR, they completely reveal completely new aspects of themselves as they effortlessly navigate the expansive narrative soundscapes that convey the message of the ancient Tibetan ritual. This album totally eschews any metal aggressiveness, any jazz syncopation outbursts or progressive rock excesses. JHATOR is exclusively grounded in soundtrack type epic sprawling tracks that simulate post-rock but come off more as deep tribal ambient type music that finds inspiration from ancient wisdom rather than from modern day society. This one is almost like a musical painting where each note is equivalent to a paintbrush stroke that exhibits its effect for an allotted period of time. Strange and hauntingly beautiful, JHATOR is a bizarre experiment from ZU that works out remarkably well.

MR. BUNGLE OU818

Demo · 1989 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.24 | 3 ratings
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MR BUNGLE released their fourth demo OU818 in 1989 after three previous demos that showed the band debut as a death metal band on “The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny” and then took a complete stylistic shift on their second demo “Bowel Of Chilly” as they completely dropped the style in favor of a Fishbone inspired fusion of ska and funk rock, however it took them a couple demos to warm up and finally scored a cohesive band sound on their third demo “Goddammit I Love America!” On OU818 they continued to hone their sound into an undeniably addictive eclectic mix that at long last sounded like no one else on the music scene. Not only did Mike Patton get his vocal act together but compositionally speaking, the band began to fuse progressive rock into the jazz-fusion and funk metal mix.

The title OU818 was a play on the popular yet lame Van Halen album of the day titled “OU812” which found the Van “Hagar” sound rapidly failing and becoming stale. This is the point where both Danny Heifetz would replace Hans Wagner on drums and Bär McKinnon would take over Luke Miller’s role on horns. The classic lineup was complete and the chemistry is magic at this point. The band had even taken it upon themselves to handle the production and it really does sound much better than the three demos that came before. While the debut demo was clearly rooted in the metal world, the band took a hiatus for the next two with only snippets of heaviness but the heavy riffing returned on OU818 with bombastic outbursts of funk metal riffing interspersed between the surreal soundscapes that sandwiched them.

OU818 is in effect a rough draft of the eponymous debut album that would appear on the Warner Brothers label in 1991. Of the six tracks aboard, four are almost nearly completed tracks from the first album which include: “Squeeze Me Macaroni,” “Slowly Growing Deaf,” “The Girls Of Porn” and “Love Is A Fist.” The remaining two tracks consist of the opening “OHUE818” which is a snazzy little intro with Patton emulating a radio DJ talking shit about the new demo and dissing the Van Halen album that was current with electronic music sputtering on in the background. While the main staple is the ska infused funk rock and metal that they had been developing, MR B had diversified its sound manyfold finding not only more metallic riffs interspersed about but a clear John Zorn influence raging on in the horn section especially on “Love Is A Fist.”

The final track only appears on this demo and despite a track name like “Mr. Nice Guy” sounding like a possible alteration of an Alice Cooper classic, it is in fact a ska funk number with jazzy guitar riffs, a beefy bass line and an overall similar sound to the riffs heard on “The Girls Of Porn.” MR B also has entered sound effect territory with the classic dialogue from the 50s school skit about how not to be a MR BUNGLE finding its way into their world as well as sudden genre shifts and time signature freak outs run amok. Overall this is an excellent demo and the best of the four as it sounds like a fully formed mature MR BUNGLE has emerged from the death metal and early Fishbone clone sounds of only a few short years before. So impressive is this demo that it caught the attention of Warner Bros who would release one of the weirdest albums of their label’s history. While this is excellent as a demo, it still lacks all the perfecting touches that a major budget provides and since four out of six tracks are on the debut in a much better finished product, this remains excellent but not really essential. Very well worth the time to explore beyond just a hardcore fan curiosity though.

MR. BUNGLE Goddammit I Love America!

Demo · 1988 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.75 | 2 ratings
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MR BUNGLE released their first demo “The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny” in 1986 primarily influenced by the emerging thrash and death metal scenes and created a lo-fi punk feeling noisefest but soon thereafter must have realized how much they sucked at it and started listening to the funk ska rock of Fishbone and early Red Hot Chili Peppers and the rest was history when they turned all funky ska rock on their second demo “Bowel Of Chiley.” While the band completely changed their sound up, they weren’t ready for prime time for sure as the whole affair came off as a little amateurish despite some interesting moments. On their third demo release GODDAMMIT I LOVE AMERICA! the band was more comfortably adapting to the more recognizable sound heard on their debut album of 1991. On this one Mike Patton and company had totally developed their swinging ska sound with the occasionally driving heavy funky metal.

The tracks are all crafted primarily with funky guitar riffs, a beefy funk bass and Mike Patton’s vocal acrobatics have already gained the power to veer all over the place like a circus performer. Also heard in the mix is their quirky carnival music that blends so well with their amusement park stylistic approach. GODDAMMIT I LOVE AMERICA! is a huge step above the first two demo in terms of songwriting as well as production. This is the first demo that would find two of its tracks to be more refined and polished and released on the debut album. Both “Egg” and “Carousel” are essentially already presented here in their full glory although they are clearly in need of some fine-tuning mostly in Patton’s vocal abilities as he hadn’t quite found the proper dramatic flair to grace each passage. This is especially true of “Carousel.” On “Egg” there are interesting differences that can lend a clue as to how the track evolved into the huge monstrosity that it would become.

The rest of the demo is filled with similar sounding songs in comparison with those two that would appear on the debut album but none quite having the strong attraction of the one’s chosen. Tracks like “Bloody Mary” and “Waltz For Grandma’s Sake” aren’t that bad actually however they sound a lot more like the ska funk rock band Fishbone who were doing a similar style at the time. At this point the three big names Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn and Trey Spruance are all on board with their respective talents as well as some early bunglers on the horn section including Luke Miller (who replaced Scott Fritz) on various horns and Theobald Lengyel on sax which gives the band a healthy sultry swing that had improved significantly from “Bowel Of Chiley. Gone as well are the comparisons to a mariachi band as the band has taken on a proper band sound of its own.

It was a wise choice for MR BUNGLE to walk away from the death metal that they displayed on their debut. Here they sound like they were made to create this interesting swinging, funk metal hybrid music that still incorporates some of that punk and metal freneticism from time to time. “Definition Of Shapes” is probably my favorite track on here that didn’t graduate to the ranks of the debut album but possibly didn’t cut the mustard because it has some of the same riffs as heard on “Egg” and also plays around and even briefly throws out some “Another One Bites The Dust” riffs by Queen with the end mixing funk rock with the track “Need You Tonight” by INXS. “Incoherence” is a nice little rocker turned into a beer hall polka mixed with punk angst. Overall this is a good demo well worth hearing once but just shy of essential and very much improved over the first two releases. This one was released only as a cassette and still hasn’t made it onto a CD format.

MR. BUNGLE Bowel of Chiley

Demo · 1987 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 2.32 | 3 ratings
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The second MR BUNGLE demo emerged only a year after the first and found the band shedding their death metal skin and began to take on a ska funk rock sound that was part of the alternative underground of the 80s most notably mastered by bands like Fishbone, Red Hot Chili Peppers and 24/7 Spyz amongst others. Likewise with a sound shift came a new cast of characters. While Mike Patton, Trey Spruance and Trevor Dunn were riding the BUNGLE carousel for the long run, others like Jed Watts and Martin Fosnaugh jumped ship after only one demo. While Theo Lengyel wouldn’t remain with the band till its demise, he nevertheless appeared on all the early demos. The is also the only appearance of Scott Fritz who played trumpet.

So different in style is the second demo BOWEL OF CHILEY compared to the previous “The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny” that it sounds like a completely different band with only Mike Patton’s signature vocal style giving a clue as to who this band is. While the first demo was rather short in length, BOWEL OF CHILEY is a full album’s length with different tracks taking on different identities ranging from ska and funk rock to (occasional) avant-garde metal and just plain weird rock. While the the next two demos showcased many of the primeval forms of tracks that would be reworked and released on the 1991 debut album, this one contains almost exclusively compositions that would never see the light of day on any album with the sole exception of “Carousel” which sounds very primitive compared to the masterpiece it would become. While the main melodic riff was already developed, Mike Patton’s vocals weren’t and the whole thing sounds like a drunken romp at a Mexican mariachi party.

Speaking of mariachi parties, “Evil Satan” probably sounds the most like a Mexican tequila march and fully in sync with the swing revival fad of the 90s with a dash of alternative rock guitar added to the recipe. Nice trumpet work though and this tracks sounds a lot like Fishbone only not nearly as good as their debut EP from 1985. “Jumping” has some great jazzy guitar work from Spruance although Patton doesn’t quite pull off the Ethel Merman thing with his scatting. The track “( )” (no, Sigur Ros didn’t come up with that!) is probably my favorite as Trevor Dunn displays his full bass playing fury as does Spruance churn out the most funkified guitar riffs that turn into heavy funk metal. Also Patton seems to have mastered his vocals and overall the track is just more interesting and varied. It sounds more professional and closer to the avant-garde funk metal prowess of the debut album. It’s also a sneak preview into the world of progressive rock with some wickedly cool time signature deviations and compositional fortitude.

There are two versions of this demo. The first was released as a cassette and meant to be what it was released as: a demo. It contained twelve tracks from “For No Reason” to “Freight Train.” The popularity of the band in the 90s found the demand for their demos to be re-issued so lo and behold a CD version emerged in 1997 with five extra unreleased tracks with cute names like “Far In A Bag” and “Snap, Crackle, Pop.” Although an improvement and a welcome stylistic shift from their lackluster death metal days, BOWEL OF CHILEY is a long way from prime time and finds the band able to write a few catchy songs, most of the tracks come off as amateurish and mediocre. Add to that that they still haven’t mastered the art of performing them. Patton’s vocals are particularly awful and he hadn’t quite learned the techniques he was grasping for. An interesting historical artifact for those who wish to dig deep but not really of interest for anyone else.

GORGOROTH Under the Sign of Hell

Album · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 12 ratings
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One of black metal’s purest forms of primeval rage appeared on GORGOROTH’s third album UNDER THE SIGN OF HELL right smack dab in the middle of the 90s demented era of the second wave black metal frenzy. While clearly inspired by the likes of Darkthrone and other Norwegian church burning miscreants (hmmm… i wonder who THAT could be :?), this short but slightly over thirty minute long outburst of pure eeeee-vile kvlt freneticism drops its sonic intensity upon the listener like a bomb on Hiroshima razing all to the ground and leaving anyone still breathing only to fester in torturous anguish following its radioactive wake.

While not stylistically different from the first two GORGOROTH albums, something shifted here. Inferno, Pest and Grim somehow created the perfect triumvirat of black metal angst with pummeling distorted guitar and bass riffs in tandem with some of Pest’s angriest and most ferocious vocals to appear on any GROGOROTH album accompanied by the frenetic blast beat fury of Grim at breakneck speed. Likewise the compositions are more diverse than ever with not only the expected frenetic energy infused headache music but include elements of black’n’roll, Scandinavian folk (even clean lyrics like Enslaved would utilize to full effect) and even dreadfully dark ambient segments.

The short nine track album is punctuated in the middle with great success by a bizarre and utterly deranged delivery of pure eeee-vile with the backmasking rich collage of sounds on “Postludium” which exhibits the anguished and tortured sounds of hell with moans, groans, indecipherable pleas with sonic swirls of sound in the firestorm pits before once again revisiting the frenetic distorted apocalyptic visions of the world of black metal drenched in the muck and murk of lo-fi bleakness.

“Ødeleggelse og Undergang” displays the band’s stylistic explorations as it treads doom laden sonicscapes interspersed with thrash riff attacks that employ ample melodic chord change shifts rather than relying simply on aggression alone which BTW remains on full display during this is fury is frenetically unleashed. Despite lasting a mere 32 minutes and 53 seconds, UNDER THE SIGN OF HELL is a frighteningly complete listening experience bringing the listener to the brink of what they can tolerate as the album exploits every fear factor of grimness and is one of the few black metal albums that effortlessly succeeds in descending me to the underworld and leave me feel suffocated while i’m experiencing it.

I’m a huge fan of GORGORTH on all their journeys of changing it up over the years, but they hit a high note (or should i say satisfying low one) on UNDER THE SIGN OF HELL where they delivered on all the beastly best of what makes a hardcore black metal album so utterly satisfying without an iota of compromise and no fucks given about the consequences. Lo-fi beastly fun for the whole family. Well, the Adam’s Family that is! Oh, and forget about that nonsensical 2011 re-recording of demonic excrement. There never has been a need to re-record this because it’s perfect as it is. True kvlt black metal is SUPPOSED to have warts rolled around in goat feces. WTF were they thinking?

COMA CLUSTER VOID Thoughts From A Stone

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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After becoming one of underground metal’s most up and coming revered tech death bands of 2016 with their debut album “Mind Cemeteries,” the multi-national COMA CLUSTER VOID unleash their second offering to the world of sonic sadomasochism seekers with THOUGHTS FROM A STONE which while at running length of only 21 minutes and 40 seconds could possibly be thought of as an EP but in reality i haven’t seen any reference to it as such by the band themselves so despite clocking in a roughly half the time span as their debut, i would have to assume that this is in fact their second album. While the time length has been shortened, the number of musical cast members has gone up by two. While the five members on the debut all make a reprise, they have also expanded their roles beyond their retrospective instruments or vocal duties. This meaning that there is more of a classical music approach in the intro and other segments strewn throughout that find bassist Sylvia Hinz also playing recorder and guitarist John Strieder tearing it up on the violoncello. Two guests appear with Alexa Renger on violin and Anthony Lipari adding yet more guttural death growls and other vocal utterances.

Once again COMA CLUSTER VOID are on a mission to create the harshest and most atonal dissonant din there is to be experienced. While mostly centered on the bizarre surreal tech death soundscapes of Gorguts’ “Obscura” for their source of proggy inspiration with flurries of zigzagging math rock time signatures run amok, the heavy bombast also brings the kings of dissonant djent-fueled orotundity, Meshuggah to mind but it’s those slowed down creepy jarring atonal chords and arpeggiations that always point the finger to Deathspell Omega’s most demanding listens. While not quite as murky and layered as bands like Portal and Pyrrhon, the distortion that bleeds to infinity adds an extra layer of tension that only becomes ratcheted up to the ultimate creepy climaxes. While the tech death metal parts are fairly similar to the first album, what really sets this one apart is the use of the chamber rock classical music pieces which start to sound like Kayo Dot’s most experimental earlier albums however it’s the semi-spoken declarative poetic proses uttered by both male and female members that gives it a sense of urgency and unique flavor.

Personally i find THOUGHTS FROM A STONE to expand fairly well from the debut as it takes all the extreme elements set forth and adds new layers of surreality, brutality and technical complexity which all conspire to unleash a startling spine-chilling sonicscape of extremes. Perhaps my favorite is the ending “We Are As Low” which is a jangling distortionfest mess of chords, eerie atmospheric dread and guttural growls trading off with Diamanda Galas-esque types of litanies of horror and anguish. This is the type of complexity that requires acclamation as it is the equivalent of transversing an oxygen-starved environment while climbing Mt Everest. The elements exposed here are built upon the complexities of the high tech arts that preceded and will surely leave the uninitiated into this cult of chaos utterly bereft of any connection to a musical experience whatsoever. Proggy as hell and brutally extreme to the max yet an almost undetectable thread of beauty that stitches the whole thing together. Another winner in my book. COMA CLUSTER VOID is the real deal.

COMA CLUSTER VOID Mind Cemeteries

Album · 2016 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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If you wish to advance past the avant-garde atonal brutality of technical death metal such as the landmark Gorguts album “Obscura,” then it is not with that band’s following albums that is the path to the ultimate expression of progressive metal orotundity is furthered as Luc LeMay and his pioneering band would tone things down ever so slightly and drift in a slightly more accessible direction. While the desire to one up the great Gorguts has been attempted by quite a few tech death metal bands over the last two decades, very few have matched the intensity and sheer bleakness of that pioneering album of sombre and uncompromising hopelessness and intimidation. Coming from Germany is is the extreme tech death metal band COMA CLUSTER VOID who offer a serious contender for the Canadian classic with their debut album MIND CEMETERIES which delivers a veritable frenetic intensity worthy of its title.

The band is the project of John Streider who plays a down-tuned 10-string guitar and is the main composer of this maelstrom of progressive brutality. The band is completed with the bass playing of Sylvia Hintz (yes! women play tech death metal too) and Chris Burrows’ ferocious percussion attacks that effortlessly groove and roll around the swirling freneticism of the endless stream of dissonant string action swarms. While the music is of the utmost avant-garde experimental death metal most reminiscent of “Obscura” era Gorguts, all the complexities are turned up several notches creating one of the most forbidding musical experiences in the entire metal universe. The vocal duties are shared by Mike DiSalvo (formerly of Cryptopsy) and Austin Taylor (of the band Dimensionless). The pair trade off between in sync frenetic torturously screamed rants to semi-spoken declarative prose that at time sounds like some of the mystic Satanic revelations of Deathspell Omega. There are occasional clean Pagan folk type vocals as well but they are muffled by the incessant din.

The album begins with the bleak ambient atmospheric opener “Prologue: I Am” which sets the tone for an utterly devastating attack of sonic fury to come before the first disharmonious delivery of atonal distortion churns out of the guitar and bass which for better or worse act as a single instrument for the majority of the album’s run making it indistinguishable where the 10-string guitar ends and bass continues in the lower realms of the bass octaves. Burrows is an absolute beast on the drums as he effortlessly keeps the beat to the unsettling time signature deviations at blastbeat speeds with jazzy fills that frenetically outpace the anguished angular rhythmic assault of the guitar riffs fueled with distortion that stretches to infinity. While the album is rather unrelenting in its delivery, a small hiatus occurs in the middle with the slowed down intermission “Interlude: I See Through Your Pain” which while set in ambient mode yet still find the atonal guitar strums interrupting any attempt to regain sanity.

COMA CLUSTER VOID offer up an extremely demanding listen with MIND CEMETERIES and sound like they took many cues from the masters of the extreme by utilizing the compositional prowess of Gorguts, the atonal fury of Deathspell Omega, the distorted multi-dimensional surreality of Portal and Mitochondrion and take it all up a few more notches believe it or not. Personally i didn’t think that could be done but they prove here that this angular zigzagging can indeed be cranked up on the extreme-o-meter. Needless to say, that this isn’t your parents’ heavy metal. This is some sort of freakazoid science experiment akin to a genetic mutilation that occurred from some secret extraterrestrial genetic experiment that got loose and is driven to create as much havoc as the laws of the universe will allow. This one is only for those who can immerse themselves in the most brutal, the most progressive and the most surreal soundscapes that have been crafted by demons. Definitely not a sing-a-long album but one that will surely blow your mind and ear canals to boot.

VEXOVOID Call Of The Starforger

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Given the fact that Vektor has won the increasingly finicky metal community over so unanimously means serious business considering metal bands are a dime a dozen this far into the 21st century where there are far more copycats than fertile imaginative product. It has occurred to me that surely there must be some band out there somewhere who would jump on the blackened thrash bandwagon in similar vein to what the Arizona tech thrash band has achieved so gracefully. Well it turns out that there is indeed an assembly line in the works out there. In this case coming from the fertile wine growing regions of Sienna, Italy, the tech thrash band VEXOVOID who despite copping their name from a Portal album (thus showing their allegiance in many forms to the tech thrash world) sound like a dead ringer for Vektor in almost every way right down to the sci-fi based themes and eerie space album cover artwork.

The band released only one EP “Heralds Of The Stars” in 2014 but recently released their first full length album CALL OF THE STARFORGER three years later. When i say this band sounds like Vektor, i’m not kidding in the least. This band has a PHD in Vektor-ology and has learned how to mimic every little nuance that the first V-band has developed over the years right down to Danny Brunelli’s imitation blood curdling vocal screams that nails David DiSanto’s signature style. Similarly the music is practically identical in compositional form and delivery. The caustic blackened tones delivered in a stampeding thrash gallop all point to Arizona’s top dogs is rather uncanny as VEXOVOID has all the chops to pull off all these technical antics off with ease. CALL OF THE STARFORGER not only incorporates all of the aggressive bombast in perfect mimicry but they carefully craft out atmospheric passages as well.

While i’m not keen on blatant ripoffs of other band’s styles, i have to admit that VEXOVOID matches their muse exceedingly well and even sounds like they could pull off a usurping of the throne if only they had developed this style first. While Vektor is without a doubt the primarily band of worship here, there are also nods to “Rust In Peace” era Megadeath as well as the true pioneers of sci-fi thrash Voivod. As i’m writing this review and listening to this album, i’m torn between being highly impressed with the outstanding musicianship that cranks out some of the best 21st century technical thrash apart from their heroes of worship Vektor themselves but i’m also left with a slight bad taste because it’s sorely lacking in any sort of original stamp whatsoever. So what i’m left with an impression that this band is physically ready for prime time but needs to have a few epiphanies in order to glean some inspiration or reflection on their own identity. Well worth hearing and recommended as an up and coming band that will hopefully find its own voice on its journey. It certainly is dripping with potential and a great listen if you can stomach such copycatism.

DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA Pacifisticuffs

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 3 ratings
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Very few bands in the overcrowded world of progressive rock / metal manage to develop a highly unique and utterly original sound right from the start and even fewer manage to keep the legions of copycats from jumping on the bandwagon, but fourteen years after their formation, the bizarre avant-swing-symphonic-metal-rock group DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA still manages to exist in a musical universe all their very own. After long speculation of whether or not the band would continue after the departures of vocalist Annlouice Loegdlund and percussionist Petter Karlsson, the band kept the rumors at bay by declaring that they were still an active musical group yet somehow the years slipped by with no new album. Finally after a mere half decade DOS returns with their fourth album PACIFISTICUFFS. While originally slated for a 2016 release, the countless delays and technical difficulties in the mixing resulted in a year long delay from the original target. But at long last towards the end of 2017, the album has finally emerged and sounds exactly like what one would expect as a followup to their 2012 album “Pandora’s Piñata.”

As with all the DSO album, PACIFISTICUFFS is quite the sophisticated project that may not be apparent upon a casual listening experience. The band once again take the disparate elements of swing revival and symphonic prog rock as their main canvasses to paint upon but include the usual metal guitar riffs to add the extra heft albeit the latter are much less pronounced as opposed to their earlier heavy guitar-laden riffing. This album still retains all the DSO characteristics that came before but there are a lot more genre diversions as well. The most prominent of these is a heavy emphasis on Balkan gypsy folk rhythms and musical scales that add that polka-esque oom-paa-paa feel to much of the album. Some of the brass sections also carry a klezmer type of flavor at times and there are even parts that dip into Elvis Presley country-esque territory (“The Age Of Vulture Culture”) and tango (“Cul-de-sac Semantics”) as well as occasional banjo outbursts. The symphonic tracks are quite grand with lush violin and viola passages that make you forget you’re listening to a rock based album at times. This is quite the assembly of musicians and contains a huge army of personal on board to bring about this album. There are not only eight members credited to be official members but an additional eleven musicians that add the touches of violin, viola, double bass, clarinet, tube, additional percussion and backing vocals. The production department is no less impressive.

While DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA gets lumped into the avant-garde metal camp, i have to emphasize that this is not really a metal band at all but an avant-garde swing revival band that just happens to incorporate aspects of metal into their overall sound. For those who only rely on the metal bombast to keep their interest, then PACIFISTICUFFS will surely disappoint because of the fact that the metal parts seem to play much less of a role this time around. True that tracks like “Superhero Jaggnath” have ample bursts of guitar riffing prowess but for the most part, this album is more of a silky smooth studio album that some may call overproduced and overweening in its pompous operatic outbursts that at their peak don’t sound too far off from some of the zeuhl band Magma’s most in-yer-face moments. Also as always, DSO focus their full force on over-the-top catchy melodies that become exaggerated by the pomp and awe of the many backing elements of swing, rock and symphony. Both newbies vocalist Kristin Evegård and drummer Johan Norbäck integrate perfectly into the band with Evegård sounding exactly like her predecessor in every possible way. On a side note, the non-album track “Jigsaw Hustle” which appeared in 2014 as a lone single has been rerecorded and shows the diverse palette expand even further into the disco revival world. The track reminds me a lot of ELO’s “Out Of The Blue” era.

After only a couple listens to PACIFISTICUFFS, i’m utterly amazed at how well it all flows together so seamlessly where every little touch is disciplined and the puzzle pieces placed in a precise order in order to achieve the desired effect. All the delays in the mixing room were worth the wait as the production is absolutely crystal clear and instead of all the disparate instruments sounding like a big muddy mess, each has found its niche in the greater sonic picture as if a great conductor is hiding behind the scenes as to ensure that nobody jumps the gun and gets all jiggy on us. PACIFISTICUFFS will not win over any non-believers for sure. If anything it will scare off all but the most serious music nerds who are fans of the many genres on display here. For me, this album ranks as one of the band’s most ambitious and taking the logical path of progression past 2012’s “Pandora’s Piñata.” It’s hard to know what to call this anymore since the tracks vary so much and no element dominates the soundscape for long. Not every track contains metal, nor swing nor symphonic chamber rock. Some contain all three but no matter which of these holds the reins at any particular moment, they are always accompanied by unexpected elements guided by memorable and captivating melodic developments. I do believe that DSO have proven that they are no mere novelty and that they have the chops to pull off some of the most mind-bending genre juggling there is to be heard.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 273 - Guillotine Furnace

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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For those of us who are actually keeping up with the prolific world of BUCKETHEAD, it is a chore indeed to keep up with his incessant flow of albums in the never-ending PIKE series but after his release of “Pike 272 - Coniunctio” at the end of August, 2017 there has been an unexpected multi-month silence from the chicken lover most likely due to a touring schedule where i finally got to see dude in a live setting. While 2017 will not come anywhere close to his million albums of 2015, finally in December, BH releases his 30th album of the year

PIKE 273 - GUILLOTINE FURNACE. This is another one of those albums where every track has the title of the album only with an added “Part 1” all the way up to “Part 8.” And like the majority of these types of albums, all these parts are really just, well, parts of a much longer track that takes up the whole album that clocks in at 28 minutes and 3 seconds but each “part” is really just snippets of smaller “parts” so in effect this is basically a bizarre display of surreality in full avant-garde mode

“Part 1” starts things off with a clucking keyboard part before a little solo erupts and gives way to a barrage of riffs interrupted periodically by electronic noises of various sorts. Sometimes these can deviate into pure ambient passages that totally shifts the mood into another musical universe. After a few of these it’s apparent that this is one of those albums that shifts around from different styles willy nilly with no rhyme or reason. The initial guitar riffs pop in from time to time to remind you that the music no longer resides there but then it bounces around from funk to post-rock to blues rock and so forth

As “Part 2” begins it shifts from the bombastic soling that the previous track exited with and provides a serene ambient soundscape before erupting into alternative metal, industrial metal and some sort of avant-garde funk metal that is followed by good old fashioned funk for a while and then more riffing. Things change it up often and quickly as one style sticks around for a short time and then is replaced by another. Sometimes being weird electronically tinged funk and at other times being face-melting solos over bluesy metal. It only gets weirder and wilder with more disparate genre styles and experimental features peeking in and out of the incessant parade of changing-it-up

While “Part 3” begins with a processed funky bass followed by an eruption of guitar virtuosity, it becomes apparent that i would have to write a million word review to catalogue every single style shift that occurs with this one so in short, there’s no need to chronicle this wickedly wild roller coaster ride into the avant-garde. This is one that is best experienced to believe as it’s just too fertile and ambitious for words to convey. Just expect a wild ride where nothing stays same for long. The melodies change, the dynamics change, the tempos, the genres, the rhythms, the instruments, the time signatures, they all change it up and often

This is not the first style of eclectic excess that BH has done in this fashion but it remains one of my favorite types of albums where absolutely anything goes and the only constant is the unexpected. Another renegade egg has hatched and is growing up quickly into a beastly monster that cannot be contained. Be warned. This is really a musical trojan horse trying to take control of our brains. Oh my, i suddenly feel the urge to drive to the country and hang out with chickens. Oh nooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!

NILE Black Seeds of Vengeance

Album · 2000 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 24 ratings
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While NILE hit the ground running on their debut release “Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka” which found the band utilizing the Egyptian mythology that Iron Maiden flirted with on their “Powerslave” album, it was their second album BLACK SEEDS OF VENGEANCE where they really started to take the ideas laid down on the debut release and organize them into a more cohesive package that began their slew of epic feeling death metal releases. In the lineup department, this was a volatile period of the band’s existence with band leader Karl Sanders having to replace percussionist Pete Hammoura because of injuries sustained during touring. In to save the day was Derek Roddy who was a seasoned drumming veteran at this point after playing in several bands including Hate Eternal. He would fill the role in the drum department only for this one album before he would be replaced by the great George Kolias. Another great change in the band’s sound came with the addition of the second guitarist /vocalist Dallas Toler-Wade who added a new heft to the band’s already heavy sound. The new two-guitar lineup granted the expansion of rhythm and lead counterpoints which the band exploited superbly.

While “Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka” found NILE with a relatively unique sound in the burgeoning death metal camp that glutted the 90s, one aspect of that release that was missing was a true sense of cohesion with well laid out concepts that flowed in a rather logical manner. The album was more simplistic in the composition department and retained an element of the punkish innocence that was a leftover from the demo days. On BLACK SEEDS OF VENGEANCE, the twelve tracks on board take all the disparate elements present on the first album and arrange them in a more logical and seductively pleasing manner. Firstly the lush Middle Eastern orchestral parts are no longer separated from the brutal death metal bombast and the two are allowed to mix and mingle at various points of the album. The technical aspects have also increased as the tracks are not only more varied in sound but the unorthodox song structures take more liberties to twist and turn in myriad directions superimposing the ritualistic serpent marches with the atonal caustic freneticism of the lightning fast guitar riffs and blastbeats. Likewise Derek Roddy delivers a more technical percussive workout offering more variation in the jaw dropping drum rolls and percussive bombast.

While the death metal orotundity has exponentially increased its technical virtuosity, it too diverges from the power driven speed of the debut and offers crushingly slow death doom passages that allow sustained chords to sustain in unison with Turkish gongs as well as creating thrash palm muted passages to parade through the serpent’s temples as the compositions are more infused with an exotic Middle Eastern flair and finds the band expanding their use of musical scales and experimental string tunings in various keys. Likewise the orchestrated exotic flair of the Conan the Destroyer soundtrack parts exhibit more variation this time around as well with extra musicians on board to offer tastes of exotic instruments and eerie choral vocals that conspire to create one of the most surreal death metal experiences of the turn of the millennium. The attention paid to the atmospheric possibilities in conjunct with the portentous ferociousness of the growled vocals and instrumental death metal assaults is quite artfully achieved. Tracks such as “To Dream Of Ur” offer up the full potential of these cross-pollinating aspects with strange growly chants, exotic Middle Eastern stringed instruments and death doom tempos that allow the tracks to build up to crescendoes before transitioning to more aggressive passages.

BLACK SEEDS OF VENGEANCE is rather unique in the NILE canon as it is the perfect transition album that finds the band shedding their old school brutal death metal skin and dressing it all up in their tech tuxedo of death in which they would continue to perfect on future albums but something about this second release continues to draw me back for returned visits more than any other NILE album. I believe that it is the album that most uses the death and doom metal elements to emphasize the Ancient Egyptian musical feel rather than the other way around. Every aspect of BLACK SEEDS OF VENGEANCE seems to revolve on keeping the listener anchored in the fertile pharaoh ridden shores of the river that sustained the ancients and all their mysterious ways. This one has more time dedicated to these non-metal aspects including chants and periods of eerie mummy raising rituals. The bombast of the metal simply reinforces the themes and mythology that the lyrics and exotic scales construct. For my money, BLACK SEEDS OF VENGEANCE is one of the best NILE albums in their discography and while albums like “Annihilation Of The Wicked” may be more technically advanced, they are still simply variations of the syncretic ideas laid out on this sophomore album. This album is EXCELLENT!!!!

NILE Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka

Album · 1998 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.85 | 29 ratings
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It was bound to happen eventually. When Iron Maiden released their landmark album “Powerslave” in 1984, it not only displayed a classic metal band in full form in the midst of their long creative peak that would span the rest of the decade but it also sowed the seeds that fertile imaginations could take several steps further. In other words, “Powerslave’s” album cover imagery insinuated a fully developed concept album about the world of ancient Egypt and the mythology and power structures that enabled it to endure for centuries, however in reality the album was a collection of unrelated tracks ranging from military airplane maneuvers to medieval sword fights. After the years went by, Iron Maiden never revisited the Egyptian themes again and finally in the 90s a young death metal band from South Carolina would release the mummies from their chambers and resurrect these themes and create an entire career based on the squandered opportunities of Maiden’s voyage into the land of the sphinx and Alexander The Great.

NILE started out as a mere old school death metal band and as evidenced from their demos were nothing out of the ordinary in the beginning. However somewhere in their nascent years the band discovered not only the fruitful possibilities of cross-pollinating Egyptian themes with intense and brutal technical death metal, but went several steps further and added orchestral segments to their music that incorporated the feel and musical scales of the far away lands where the pharaohs once roamed. NILE debuted with a bang on AMONGST THE CATACOMBS OF NEPHREN-KA where they immediately set themselves apart from other old school death metal clones and established a fascinating hybridization of the brutal death metal genre with music and lyrics inspired by Ancient Egypt history, mysticism, religion and arts coupled with healthy doses of H.P. Lovecraft sci-fi veneration.

The title of the album is a reference to Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” where NEPHREN-KA was a fictitious Egyptian Pharaoh who committed horrendous atrocities to fuel his cult worshippers that ultimately resulted in his actions to be erased from the historical records only to be unearthed in the CATACOMBS where he was buried. The music on the album mostly exudes the brutal technical death metal that NILE has become synomous with but also displays their knack of developing the orchestral instrumental parts that originated on Morbid Angel’s “Domination” and put an Ancient Egyptian spin on them. There are also classical inspirations such as the intro of “Ramses Bringer Of War,” a clear references to Gustav Holst’s “Mars Movement” from his best known works on “The Planets.” The Middle Eastern sound is quite strong with additional musicians lending a hand on bona fide thigh bone flutes, Turkish gongs, Damaru human skull drums and eerie sounding choirs. In fact, the whole affair somewhat comes off as a more technically developed Morbid Angel death metal album making an appearance on the Conan The Barbarian soundtrack as the orchestral parts remind me of that movie.

While NILE would continue to hone and craft their sound and ratchet their complexity and sophistication up several notches on the ensuing albums, their debut AMONGST THE CATACOMBS OF NEPHREN-KA is an excellent album in its own right with heavy distorted death metal chops blastbeating their way into your nervous system while Karl Sanders pummels away on the guitar with his death growl vocal style. In this early lineup of NILE, it was Chief Spires on bass and Pete Hammoura on drums and while he didn’t quite match the intensity of George Kollias’ speed, he more than displayed the adequate stamina to churn out satisfying death metal chops. This debut perhaps does not stand above the more accomplished albums that follow but is still one not to be missed. True that the tracks are generally shorter and more to the point without the compositional prowess of albums like “Annihilation Of The Wicked,” but AMONGST THE CATACOMBS OF NEPHREN-KA delivers the goods in a totally satisfying way that adds the mystique of the tales of another time and place with brutal death metal outbursts fortified with lush excursions to a feel of the silk road.

SATANIC BLOOD Satan Boven Alles

Album · 2004 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Almost two decades into the 21st century black metal has taken a wild ride into many disparate channels of creative outlets with some merging with other genres such as Oranssi Pazuzu effectively becoming psychedelic black metal while others are intent on never leaving the second wave of the 90s and insist on remaining kvlter than kvlt and in the dungeon for eternity. Such is the case with the Dutch underground black metal outfit SATANIC BLOOD which exists in the same demo ridden dungeons that pretty much every other 90s act emerged from, however in the case of this band, they seem to never want to leave. In 2003 they released one 2-track demo and then this one so-called full release SATAN BOVEN ALLES in 2004 before releasing another live album and then breaking up and fading into the abyss from whence they emerged.

While the music itself is a fairly familiar romp through the extreme cauldrons of vileness and dark arts mythos, what really helps them stand out from the crowd are the ridiculously long band member names as well as the titles of the tracks that look more like entire paragraphs in a murder mystery novel. Just check out THESE monstrously long band member names: Radiant Death Bringer of the Serpent Daily (bass), Destroyer of Souls Who Fell Into the Yawning Abyss of Eternal Chaos (drums), Unholy Sodomizer of the Virgin Lambs (guitars) and Masturbating God on the Stench of Burning Death on vocals. Well, ok now!

Also check out the song tracks such as “When Betraying Those Travelling on the Infernal Paths of Devil Worship and Satanic Dogmatism, Be Prepared to Bleed for Their Hatred as Its Consequence.” And who says kvlter-than-thou-ism is dead? LOL. Stylistically this is some fairly wicked stuff and probably reminds me most of Deathspell Omega only utilizing only the lowest of fidelity techniques for that truly sickened maggot crawling feel of hellish dungeon pit black metal. Musically the band churns along a rather monotonous guitar and bass driven riffing that serves as the main freneticism to the mix while the drums are actually more subdued with only the cymbals emerging from the din. There are lots of beastly noises that emerge from the pits of hell only to prove that they are suffering in eternal agony as the band provides the soundtrack to their utter fiery dismay.

Masturbating God’s vocal style is more of a narrative one as he utters indecipherable prose over the musical madness but not in sync which is where the Deathspell Omega comparisons come in. The entire musical section is nothing more than a backdrop to his angry rants about who know’s what. What i like about this one is that the tracks all have a steady flow but are distinct from each other and the drumming style is totally unlike what’s usually heard in black metal. There are only sporadic blastbeats and hyperactively fueled hate. Instead the percussion churns along in a mesmerizing fashion as if there is a sense of surrender to the dark forces that the band members have been inured to however there are periodic episodes of heavy percussive attack that do emerge from the muddy murk, it’s just that they are usually subdued while the cymbal action is more pronounced. While this style has been done to death, i really love it when it’s done well and SATANIC BLOOD provides a flawless falling from the heaven’s into the eternal bloodbath’s of hell by checking off all the extreme second wave checklists and then adding an extra dose of SATAN. Love the beastly moans and groans as well!

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS We... The Enlightened

Album · 1999 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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THE ELYSIAN FIELDS took an extraordinarily long time to follow up their debut album “Adelain” with a four year gap between their first offering and their sophomore release WE… THE ENLIGHTENED which came out in 1999, but it makes a lot more sense when you realize that this was not a normal type of band in any way whatsoever. This was a band that was initially composed of two music nerds who only wanted to make music in their spare time and never even once performed their creations in a live setting. Mostly this was due to the ambitious nature of the music itself and the unwillingness to collaborate with any sort of label in order to increase the band’s membership required for such live events to suit the sounds heard on the albums.

This was a passion and a hobby that only happened when the music allowed and in this case it took four long years to unleash the next chapter of the band which this time around found the addition of the third member Marinos A. who joined the Greek extreme metal band to add more guitars and keyboard skills to the mix which was an excellent idea because WE… THE ENLIGHTENED took all the signature sounds of the debut album and takes every several levels further. He would also help in the composition department which also saw many positive turns for the better.

While “Adelain” introduced the burgeoning 90s extreme metal scene to a totally new way of hybridizing not only metal genres but disparate influences ranging from new wave, classical and electronica (well, for those who were paying attention), WE… THE ENLIGHTENED further expands all those boundary crossing adventures and expands its tentacles even further all the while creating more sophisticated compositions, more intricate melodic developments and a much broader range of dynamic shifts, expansive soundscape horizons and metal hybridization possibilities. As with the debut THE ELYSIAN FIELDS deliver melodic based tracks that generally speaking utilize the melodic hook of a Pagan folk based keyboard riff as the main anchoring and then infinitely expand the dynamics and textures of the music around it.

The other constants making a reprise is the mix of death and black metal influences with other meanderings into thrash, doom and gothic metal territories. While the band did a great job at expanding the typical role of keyboards in an extreme metal band on “Adelain,” some of the antics on this one were just plain unprecedented at the time. The closest comparison would probably be early Emperor with biting caustic metal riffing accompanied by the pacifying effect of melodic keyboards however THE ELYSIAN FIELDS make the keyboards much more of an acrobatic player in their sound with key riffing so intense that it makes Keith Emerson wankery seem obsolete.

I’ll explain in detail the progressions of my two favorite tracks in order to demonstrate how sophisticated the band’s sound has become at this point. “Until The Cries Rise In The Heart” begins with a rather doomy sludge riffing pattern with a melancholic keyboard riff as a counterpoint but quickly picks up the tempo with the raspy vocals ushering in the black metal riffing and blastbeats. The keys increasingly display a more classical feel but drop out as the tremolo guitars, bantering bass and blastbeats are joined by Bill A.’s frantic angry vocals. After a couple of minutes the metal drops and the track morphs into a melodic yet high tempo piano run with thrash metal guitar riffs. The vocals exhibit a wide range of semi-spoken and shouted lyrics before the keys go fuckin’ crazy and sound like they’re ready for take off on a Philip Glass field trip before being joined in by the extreme metal riffing and vocal bantering. The interchange between melodic counterpoints is quite sophisticated as well as addictive.

“Arcana Caelestia” begins with howling wolves and then a thrash metal guitar attack with black metal vocals before morphing into a tremolo picked power metal type of riff that alternates with a more black metal oriented sequence. The vocals remain wickedly raspy and evil as the metal bounces back and forth between the stylistic shifts. The real surprise comes in as the metal turns into an epic soundtrack theme with military march style drumming and then finally a slow and melancholic organ and acoustic guitar passage. The interplay of tremolo guitar picking and keys returns and goes through a series of melodic repetitions before the earlier thrash metal riffs make a reprise but the track picks up speed on the last minutes with the intensity ratcheted up with the guitar, bass and drums and the keys go insane all the while Bill A. is coughing blood.

While those 2 are the most extreme and varied tracks, the others are carefully crafted and exhibit many stylistic shifts as well like a restless chameleon parading down a psychedelic street fair. While speed and aggression often rule the roost, they never usurp the throne of the melodic development but on the other hand always keep it intense and edgy. Add with that plenty of tempo drifting into doom, goth and even what sounds like early porto-metal chord changing domination and you’re in for one brilliantly composed album. While the comparisons to other Hellenic black metal acts such as Rotting Christ are valid in certain areas especially in the vocals, at this point THE ELYSIAN FIELDS delivered some of the most unique sounding metal in all of Europe.

Needless to say, this band has been woefully underrated, tearfully under the radar and utterly forgotten as time has marched on throughout the ensuing decades. While this lack of recognition is somewhat understandable since this is a band that has never played live and existed in a small European country far away from where most of the action was taking place, it is still dismaying that it has never seen the just dessert of its fruitful labor and quite sad that in this modern era that this unique band hasn’t seen some sort of resurrection in popularity for its most unique contributions that could possibly give it the subgenre tag of “chameleon metal.” Personally, THE ELYSIAN FIELDS has become an unexpected favorite band in my world with WE… THE ENLIGHTENED finding its way to not only the top of their four album canon but also ranks fairly high on my absolute favorite melodic extreme metal album list. This is one that should not be missed. Don’t let the melodic tag fool you. This is brutal and gentle at the same time in ways you’d never expect.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS Adelain

Album · 1995 · Melodic Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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While the Scandinavian second wave of black metal was in its full glory, the lesser areas of Europe were busy gestating their own version of musical misanthropy in the form of extreme metal ranging from the death and doom dirges of maximum distortion to the blackened pits of fiery hellish metal that served as the soundtrack for Hades. Eastern European black metal bands may have been few in number in comparison to their northern neighbors but nonetheless some persistent aficionados of the style churned out some memorable albums. Greece has never really been on the forefront of any musical movement perhaps since the homegrown folk styles such as rebetika, however lurking in the shadows arose a few well known extreme metal bands such as Septicflesh and Rotting Christ. One of the lesser known but no less worthy of recommendations were THE ELYSIAN FIELDS who may have taken their namesake from the conception of the afterlife in Greek religious philosophies but were very much a part of the here and now of the 90s when they released their debut album ADELAIN in 1994 after a couple of attention getting demos.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS created one of the most unique forms of melodic black metal in the 90s despite sounding somewhat familiar in comparison to its Hellenic counterparts of the scene but yet somehow drifted into its own unique arenas that took disparate sounds and made them their own. The band very much developed their sound in conjunct with bands such as Rotting Christ and Varathron but somehow fell off the radar while the others rose to the ascending throne of the world’s attentive ears. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS gained a loyal following in the early 90s as they released a few demos and demonstrated a unique interpretation of the black metal scene. Dominated by heavy aggressive guitar riffs and blastbeats that offer a backdrop for the angry raspy vocals to lash out against, this melodic black metal band’s sound was actually centered around a melodic keyboard riff that served as the anchor for the full fueled fury to dance around. In this regard THE ELYSIAN FIELDS took the same approach as the Ukrainian band Nokturnal Mortem did on their debut demo turned EP “Lunar Poetry” which uses a simple melodic hook on the keys to generate a never ending stream of aggressive riff changes and second wave black metal fury.

Also unique to the band were its exemplary ability to utilize aspects of death, gothic and doom metal in their musical cauldron to create a larger than life experience that mixed the typical blackened metal aggression with piano laden spoken word segments and more moody slower parts that created a unique contrast. At times during the slower parts the band can bring a doom metal band like My Dying Bride to mind but during the heavier parts the vocalist known only as “Bill A” is a dead ringer for Sakis Tolis of fellow Greek band Rotting Christ as do their crunchy guitar riff attacks mimic periodically throughout the album. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS also had a knack for a poetic prowess like few others of the day and created a more epic feel with their lyrics rather than simply blasphemous or misanthropic passages. Having been well steeped in the traditions of the Ancient Greek mythologies, this band utilized their exposure to these hidden worlds quite effectively and likewise utilized the proper mood setting musical principles to amplify their power. While the following album “We.. The Enlightened” expanded the overall sound manyfold, ADELAIN remains a typical melodic black metal 90s album that while not quite as frenetic as what Emperor or Cradle of Filth were pulling off back then, maintained a heavy sound with only certain moments where the full speed of their fury was uncaged.

THE ELYSIAN FIELDS remains one of the forgotten obscure Hellenic black metal bands that has fallen through the cracks to the point of true obscurity but more than deserves a resurrection from the vaults as the band crafted some excellent melodic black metal with death, doom and gothic touches. The piano and keyboard accompaniments are purely evil in their minor key hauntings and usher in the perfect storm of extreme metal savagery with devilish guitar distortion that alternate between tremolo picking and doomy sustained chords that linger on to infinity. This is an excellent taste of extreme Greek metal from the 90s and in my opinion much more sophisticated than what Rotting Christ was cranking out at the time with their early releases. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS knew just how to craft their compositions with the proper ingredients to create something not too far removed from the overall second wave black metal scene but yet with enough touches to make it sound totally original at the same time. Highly recommended.

INSIDE THE SOUND Wizard's Eyes

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 2 ratings
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Although the Ukrainian band INSIDE THE SOUND began merely as a side project of guitarist / keyboardist Max Velychko (most notably from Modern Rock Ensemble as well as Karfagen, Sunchild and Hoggwash) and bassist Dmitry Trifonov while working on other projects, the promise of fusing all the love of their disparate genres of music proved too tempting not to engage in a fully realized development of the band’s potential. While sort of put on the shelf for a few years with only sporadic recordings emerging, they found enough quality material to release a debut titled “Time Z” in 2010. What may have seemed like a one shot release as the years slowly sputtered by, it turns out that Velychko and Trifonov were simply taking their sweet time to carefully craft the perfecting qualities that took the template laid out on “Time Z” and further expand into unthinkable arenas. The result is that finally in the year 2017, INSIDE THE SOUND has finally released the second long awaited album in the form of WIZARD’S EYES and although i wasn’t aware of this band at the time of their debut, i have to say that for fan’s who were holding their breath for a new release can finally exhale and take in an exhilarating new inhalation of some of the most pleasing progressive symphonic prog meets metal i’ve encountered in a while.

While “Time Z” laid down the foundations of an Allan Holdsworth type of instrumental progressive rock sound complete with heavy rocking guitar laced with jazz-fusion compositional styles, WIZARD’S EYES takes everything that came before and perfects them and then adds a plethora of new ideas and sounds to the mix. The core trio remains the same with Velychko performing exquisite guitar workouts and atmospheric keyboard nuances while Dmitry Trifonov returns for bass duties as does Max Didenko on drums. New to the band is Dmitry Yeryomin who contributes an expanded role on the keyboards and adds a whole new layer of intensity to the band’s symphonic and atmospheric touches that the debut album only hinted upon. Also new to the band’s sound is the inclusion of four guest musicians, each offering a unique stamp on the band’s already established and accomplished sound. The biggest contributors are Indranila who adds his Indo-raga charms on acoustic sitar and Vedic chanting as well as Nila Goal who supplies a nice touch of tabla that is interspersed judiciously throughout the album. The track “Friends” receives the royal treatment with two more guests in the form of Antony Kalugin on extra keys and Daniel Ilyin on electric violin. The combo effect of all these musicians in tandem creates some of the most divinely pleasing melodic progressive metal that while does include some steaming hot metal outbursts, more often than not tends to merely simmer in progressive rock stews.

While the album is touted as a prog metal journey into instrumental fantasy worlds of epic proportions, WIZARD’S EYES is far more varied and magical than that mere title insinuates. Graced with superior production techniques and intricate compositional flows, the album begins quite nicely with an almost soundtrack type of orchestration that slowly but surely ratchets up the the drive and intensity that finally erupts into a more heightened tension as it bursts into a heavier form of rock with great care paid to every detail. The opening track “Intro: A Secret Journey” truly sounds like a jazz-fusion project of the great Allan Holdsworth only on a higher energy level with a Steve Vai sort of prog metal infusion that at times reminds me of some of the more adventurous antics on his “Passion and Warfare” album. While the jazz meets metal thing is the underpinning of it all, the music is laced with intricate symphonic polyrhythms and counterpoints that add smooth atmospheric suavity to the metallic guitar riffs and jarring time signature workouts. “Dreaming Deja Vue” ratchets up these very attributes of the music with exquisite instrumental interchanges and driving dynamic shifts. “Fantasia” is more of a jazzy ballad with sensual piano lines providing the melodic underpinning while the guitar solos are the most reminiscent of Vai on the album.

“Friends” is a quirky number that provides a smooth jazz sort of feel that veers off into more spacey territory and delivers outstanding key and violin solos. “Empire V” reveals a subdued influence of Eastern European folk music as the melodic developments hint of the virtuoso guitar compositions of Serbia’s Borislav Mitic however Velychko displays some of his most creative guitar soloing on this track that successfully creates a lighter than a feather weightlessness to the sound. “Haribol” is the most exotic sounding track with the inclusion of the sitar and Vedic chanting that offer a taste of musical curry and naan. “Horizon” delivers yet another midrange rocker while the title track provides the album’s most scorching hot metal track complete with rapid fire guitar riffing and percussive overdrive as well as interesting counterpoints delivered by the exotic flair of the keyboard approaches. It also offers some of the most intense progressive time signature workouts making it one of the most daring tracks to be heard. For me the weaker tracks on the album arise at the end as “To The Sky,” “Outro” and “The Cold Spring (which is considered a bonus track) seem to run on auto pilot where the album needs to go out on a bang but instead finds a comfort zone.

INSIDE THE SOUND has crafted a beautifully manufactured product on WIZARD’S EYES that displays all the details and loving touches that all the years of creation incur. The musicians are of top calibre and meld their respective talents together in a seamless fashion with strong compositions to boot. The production is crystal clear and offers a plethora of subtle touches that make blasting this on full decibelage a true delight. While this is almost a perfect product for me as a huge lover of both Allan Holdsworth and Steve Vai, i have to admit that sometimes the influences are a wee bit too strong in their direction despite the compositions maintaining a fierce independence streak that gives the album a unique charisma. Overall an impressive sophomore offering from the Ukraine with only a few tracks at the end fizzling out the excitement of hearing these dedicated musicians hard at work. WIZARD’S EYES is indeed a magnificent display of intricate musicianship that shows a true depth in musical tastes. The term progressive metal will surely be misleading because while the progressive term remains a constant throughout the album’s 51 minute and 44 second run, the metal part does not partake as much with the majority of the album falling somewhere in the orchestrated ambient rock universe with the metal riffing and soloing only emerging part time. While personally i would prefer a few more heavy hitting numbers, i have to admit that the skills displayed on this album make me think of what i wanted the Liquid Tension Experiment albums to sound like because the care and scrutiny of every detail is impressive indeed. A worthy and heavier companion piece to the Modern Rock Ensemble project. Excellent.

BUCKETHEAD In Search of The

Album · 2007 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
My longest review EVER!!! I deserve a puppy treat for this one ʕ•́ᴥ•̀ʔ !!!

Anyone familiar with BUCKETHEAD will already be fully aware of how prolific his output is. In the early days it may not have been as obvious because of the fact that many of his projects weren’t under his own name and instead fell under pseudonyms such as Death Cube K or as collaborative efforts with Brain, Travis Dickerson, Jonas Hellborg, Viggo Mortensen, Cobra Strike, Cornbugs, Deli Creeps, El Stew, Giant Robot, Praxis and many, many more! Throughout the early naughts, BUCKETHEAD had steadily been shifting to create more music under his own moniker and in 2007 he finally went for broke by releasing a huge boxed set which was only the first of many solo and collaborative releases of 2007.

IN SEARCH OF THE is a behemoth of a musical marathon with a staggering 13 albums in total and was placed into a new category called a “special release.” This was also an attempt to create some of the most direct artist to fan projects possible as every single edition consisted of hand burned CDs with spontaneous artistic doodles as album covers created by BUCKETHEAD himself therefore no two sets were alike. In hindsight this ambitious effort would prognosticate the never ending Pike series and could possible be deemed as a proto-Pike set of sort for it has a similar vastness in scope. On this one there are a total of 92 tracks with the shortest being only 33 seconds and the longest 45 minutes and 1 second.

The project is quite clever as each CD is titled a letter of the title IN SEARCH OF THE and collectively clocks in at a whopping 9 hours 27 minutes and 37 seconds however believe it or not it all actually began as a much more ambitious endeavor. It was supposed to be a massive undertaking consisting of 30 CDs that spelled out IN SEARCH OF THE DISEMBODIED SOUNDS…….. :OMG! As fate would have it, the project proved to be too taxing for even the indefatigable chicken lover as his popularity rose and even his robot dance moves couldn’t generate enough to please a rabidly hungry fan base. Luckily this was trimmed down but it’s still a super massive blackhole of attention sucking life energy to get through it :P

Only somewhere around 1000 copies were actually made so this is another case of YouTube being your best friend (unless you were lucky enough to find a set) if you even dare to tread on these grounds because admittedly this set is not for the feint of heart! All discs have untitled tracks with Volume 11 hosting the most (11) whereas Volume 13 (E) contains the least (1). The music varies as much as BUCKETHEAD’s vast musical arsenal in his special place in his own musical universe. There are no credits given so whether every instrument was played by BUCKETHEAD or if other artists contributed remains a mystery.

Although all tracks are officially untitled, some hardcore fans have decided that tracks without titles were unacceptable and needed some serious spicing up so they created their own project of naming every single one of the 92 compositions. Amazingly all of these titles fit the bill fairly well that presumably would even delight the chicken loving creator. Here is a list of all the volumes with all the tracks including the unofficial default names that have adopted by all chickens big and small. This means that both Jersey Giants and Belgian D’Anvers can effortlessly refer to their favorite chicken dances in perfect gallus gallus domesticus harmony!

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I: 44:19 (Volume 1)

Track 1 (0:54) “Sonic Slaughter” is a strange horrific ambient intro with screaming guitar

Track 2 (14:51) “Pollywogs Dancing On A Quilt Of Faces” is the longest track and begins with a funk bass line and clean guitar with wah-wah. The tones are clean, warm and friendly and it only sputters along at a mid-tempo pace. After three minutes the guitar gets brave and starts soloing. After several minutes the bass line remains the same but the guitar gets more jittery and erupts into bluesy solos that range from appropriately tasteful to full on dissonant space metal. Nice track but outstays its welcome.

Track 3 (2:58) “ Jengamoose” completely changes things up with a medieval guitar intro before jumping into a drumbeat with an electronic swirling haze like something off an early Hawkwind album. Then it gets weird. A guitar and different types of percussion battle it out as the ambience swirls on in the background. Halfway through it becomes a Joe Pass type of jazz guitar with lo-fi drumbeats and some sort of metal pan type of percussion. More happens in this short tracks than the over long second one.

Track 4 (2:31) “Appenzel Pointed Hood Hen” has a canned monotonous drum machine beat with an avant-garde guitar dissonantly (and out of tune) trying to create some sort of melody with a bop jazz bass. In the middle it just breaks down into a bunch of electronic sounds with a random guitar guitar plucked.

Track 5 (0:41) “Trail Of Misconception” begins with beautiful chimes and a symphonic sounding synthesizer melody which builds up even more counterpoints but is short and an intro for next track.

Track 6 (15:02) “Sourced Autonomy” is the longest track and starts hard and heavy with a heavily distorted grungy guitar with all kinds of freaky effects. The drums and bass are heavy while the guitar just goes nuts from the get go. The riff is super heavy and fast with a distorted wah-wah type of effect and the soloing is frenetic and crazed. Despite the length of this track the energy level remains on full flame with incessant whizzing up and down the guitar scales while down-tuned riffing chugs away beneath the high pitched sizzling solos. Close to the six minute mark some jittery electronica joins in as the guitar soloing gets absolutely crazier and even faster. After a while the electronica turns into a funky riff while the guitar remains on overdrive and after a while the soloing becomes stranger but never lets up for a second. Whew! This is probably the loooooooongest uninterrupted guitar solo i’ve ever heard and the energy level remains intense for the 15 minute duration. My fingers are bleeding just listening to this :o

Track 7 (1:44) “Transmission Miscommunication” is a freaky little electronica number with pulsating electro weirdness. Sounds more like some weird 50s electronic pioneer but strange processed guitar parts come bleeding through and they screeeeeeaaaaaammm!

Track 8 (5:33) “Angiobanjiplasti” sounds more like an 80s Legendary Pink Dots type of psychedelic track with electronic drums and strange freaky keyboard runs. Chimes join in so does weird electronic noises. It keeps a steady beat but then breaks down totally and avant-garde keyboard runs tinkle away while a buzzing thing hovers in the forefront and then a steady drumbeat and funky keyboard run joins in followed by a weird processed guitar. The funky keyboard starts “talking” and then everything cuts out and a wind chime type of sound sets in with an ambient background which goes on for a while and fades out. Www-eee-i-rrrrr-ddd ! ! !

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N: 44:49 (Volume 2)

Track 1 (1:26) “Pullets On Parade (Million Chicken March)” is a little synthesized keyboard anthemic march with weird timings and a cool guitar solo

Track 2 (10:49) “Flying Finger Fury (In The Coop)” is a bass-heavy funk rock extravaganza with some serious Hendrix finger channeling mojo wanking out in wild and woolly wah-wah mode. While the funk never ends and churns out over the ten minute mark, the guitar noodles around bit and conjures up some coolness in the mix however perhaps a bit too long of a track despite keepin’ a serious groove

Track 3 (2:58) “Hanged Man's Lament” begins with the peal of a bell and a slow creepy organ and then turns into a drum trade off that is sort of a military march only staccato style meaning a drum roll trades off with silence. Interesting but feels like an incomplete interlude

Track 4 (2:09) “Robot Foot Pursuit” is a bouncy and funkified number that starts off with lightning quick funk bass, drum machines and eventually adds some avant-guitar rhythms. Reminds me of some of the DJ electronica mixed with funk on “Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse”

Track 5 (15:49) “Blue Marbles Moon” is a more relaxed number with mid-tempo groovy bass with a peppy keyboard riff and a clean guitar melody mixin’ it up. As the longest track swallowing up two thirds of the real estate, this one really takes its sweet time escalating any kind of tension. It is fairly repetitive with a monotonous funky vibe, recurring peppy keys and guitars adding some much needed flavor. Needless to say, despite being well produced and a pleasant listen still carries on a wee bit too long however it’s easy to hear a lot of future Pikes on this one, yep, my least favorite kinds that just loop to infinity

Track 6 (3:18) “Droid Factory Conveyor Belt Ambush” begins another “Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse” type track with a DJ electronica beat with electronic weirdness but quickly adds a slower ambient counterpoint that sounds like a totally separate sort of epic soundtrack beneath. The DJ beat drops in and out and seems totally out of sync. Some tinkly pianos add another of weirdness. I love the juxtaposing forces on this one. It shouldn’t work but it does

Track 7 (6:04) “The Beheaded” is another funky number but a weirder one. It has funky guitar playing over a rather chaotic stream of noise churned out by frenetic drums. It then gets wild with the guitar being played backwards. There’s a pulse of rhythm that tries to keep it all cohesive but it really just gets freekin’ weird really. The funk guitar makes a reprise at the end while the noises hiss in the background but ultimately gets extremely experimental again before gaining control at the end

Track 8 (2:16) “Memories Of Forgotten Dreams” is a creepy dark ambient track with all kinds of mentally scarring noises going for the jugular for panic mode. Avant-garde and angular rhythms dual it out with jarring synthesized horror film soundtrack type ambience. Subdued screams and muffled electronic “pig oinks” add to the extremely bizarre effects which end this second volume in a very www-eee-i-rrrrr-ddd way

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S: 43:27 (Volume 3)

Track 1 (14:51) “Funkaslunk” is as funkadelic as the name suggests with a super slappin’ bass line that even George Clinton would approve of! This starts off as basically a bass line that slaps on in complexity with a rather hollow disco beat and while the beat remains steady, BH gets more weirded out on the bass lines doing all kinds of funky acrobatics. Around the six minute mark the bass is replaced by guitar (i assume, at least it sounds like it) does some freaky stuff and then back to the bass getting weirder and weirder. Around the eight minute mark the repetitive percussion picks up a few beats per minute. Around nine minutes it becomes distorted into weird effects and alternates with the slap bass. After swallowing up a third of this disc it just abruptly ends. Could’ve been trimmed down about five minutes but was actually pretty good!

Track 2 (2:16) “Down A Darkened Hallway” creates a stark contrast with strange dark ambient ethereal synthesized sounds, some sort of dark chime sounds and finally some jazzy drumming as it all fades out. Strange growls appear and echo and then weird electronica makes jarring percussive attacks along with other strange sounds

Track 3 (3:48) “Slow Shifting Highway / Memories Of Forgotten Dreams” is completely different again with super spacey echoed guitar parts that slowly turn into a rather funky rock type of track. Sounds very 70s with semi-distorted guitars providing a simple riff with a strong drum and bass behind them. It alternates with the echoey space intro. Nice melody and nice track all the way around

Track 4 (7:32) “A Dead Brains Pulse” has a super bass riff, the kind you hear in hip hop with all the subwoofers shaking their sheet. While the deep bass bounces on theres a bass guitar doing weird things and a guitar part in the background doing weird guitar things like strange scales, licks and slides. Gets a funky bass added at the end. Cool track but a little too long

Track 5 (4:24) “Listening Device” continues the deep bass effects but adds a dark ambient electronic effect around it. This one is much more surreal and then a sizzling guitar whizzes by at a million miles and hour not doing any type of musical scales but simply buzzing like an insect. A keyboard seems to be talking while the heartbeat type of bass rhythms blasts the subwoofers. As it all ends a strange rumbling occurs while the guitar and electronica just freak out totally. It gains in intensity, takes little breaks and then the boombox bass comes back. This is one strange number

Track 6 (10:31) “Wormhole Collapse” is not really a surprise when it starts off in funk mode! Funky synthesizers that sort of slide in and out of tune sounding like a funk concert on some sort of mind altering substance. The drums sound real and not electronic. There is an alternation between the synth funk and the guitar lines. A deep bass line also reverberates a funky riff. As the track progresses, the bass riffs get more daring and acrobatic. I don’t know how BH can get so much out of a simple funk riff but manages to do so on this one :o

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E: 42:30 (Volume 4)

Track 1 (3:20) “Raging Nugget” is actually a funky nugget with a funkified synth line playing with the bass and a nice cool cat drumbeat. It remains in funk mode and ends with a nice guitar solo.

Track 2 (7:07) “The Machines Shall Remain” is very strange. Kind of jingling chimes, a tinny “talking” synth riff, different percussion. This is utterly alien and sounds more like a soundtrack for a cartoon or something. The keys remain melodic for a while but then it turns into a kind of jungle tribe percussion call with the processed guitar slinking and sliding all over the fucking place! It ends with noise. Wow! This is perhaps one of the absolute coolest tracks i’ve ever heard from BH. Utterly bizarre, alienating and mind-blowing :o

Track 3 (9:02) “Milk Plus Synthemesc” has a “normal” drumbeat but the bass and guitar are playing totally weird counterpoints. The bass is lower than normal while the guitar sounds slightly out of tune. The bass line remains constant while the guitar gets to freak out in totally wild ways before becoming somewhat funkified. It’s actually pretty cool how the bass slowly ratchets up the funk-o-meter while the guitar just goes plain fucking nuts at times. It becomes a frenetic lightning bolt that whizzes by at a million miles per second. Whoah!

Track 4 (3:29) “1984 Beat-Bumpin' (Tribute To Darren Robinson)” is as the title suggests. A big fat boom box beat however it’s accompanied by an unlikely counterpart. Some sort of folky keyboard run. The beat drops out and it becomes chaotic but then it picks back up again only more subdued. This one is sort of randomly strewn together.

Track 5 (5:21) “Domo-Kun's Nightmare” is a dark ambient equivalent of an emotional breakdown with dark synths sloshing around with random buzzing sounds. It never really goes anywhere. It sounds like globs of liquid dripping and then someone hitting pipes with a wrench or something and then like an underwater adventure.

Track 6 (3:29) “Silkie Bantam” is normal music, uh, for BH that is! This actually has a guitar, bass and drum set playing together. There is a melody, a rhythm and a rather bluesy feel. Unfortunately after all those wickedly cool tracks, this one seems rather mediocre. Nothing more than a little bluesy rock jam and nothing more.

Track 7 (3:58) “Ectoplasm Circus” is drums and…… well, more drums. Oh wait! Here comes a synthesizer. It’s sort of melodic but sounds like someone learning how to play. The drums are energetic at least. Finally some weird guitars, oh my…. this is getting waaaay strange. The drums have changed. Wow, everything has changed. This started out pretty lame but has become very, very, very, very, very weird. It ends with funk. I LOVE IT!!!!

Track 8 (6:39) “Visiting Rights” has a heavy bass drum beat with tinkling chimes that alternate with some sort of staticky sounds. Electronica whizzes in and out of the scene. Kinda sounds like chicken clucks. The bass drum is mostly consistent, the chimes intermittent but when they both drop out the electronic synth goes whacko and creates some sort of “alien” soloing. Very bizarre track on a extremely bizarre Volume of this massive CD set ;P

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A: 42:27 (Volume 5)

Track 1 (10:35) “Fractal Shadows” is a rather mellow rock number that has a spacey clean guitar mixed with bass and drums and is an indicator of many Pike tracks to follow. It’s a rather non-offensive little light number that takes a simple melody and chord progression and repeats with a little guitar variations along the way. Not a bad track by any means but doesn’t warrant a length of over ten minutes.

Track 2 (1:14) “Red Eye Spider Cloud” is as weird as the title sounds. Strange erratic percussion with some electronica chirping away around it. Totally experimental and bizarre.

Track 3 (4:48) “Liquid Tungsten Robot Factory” is an industrial noise track and it sounds like it could be machines talking to each other via electronica and a guitar line. Another totally out there wild child. A funk line somehow emerges from the din. Basically sounds like Coil plus an avant-garde guitar riff and electronic noodling.

Track 4 (10:11) “Bucketbot’s Bass Binge Buddy” is a more normal track with a super funky bass line and drum both playing at a slow tempo. Basically drums stay slow and bass shows off once in a while but stays funky. Not too much going on and definitely not interesting for over ten minutes.

Track 5 (5:00) “Atomic Butterfly” is a strange little synthpop type of number with a floaty keyboard riff fluttering around like a, well pretty bug that flies! It has intermittent breaks where it becomes ambient and then techno drumming gets down and dirty. A funky guitar with effects eventually does a little funky dance with it all while ambient keys frost the horizon. The track ultimately falls back to the synthpop riff that it started with.

Track 6 (1:40) “Sander’s Retort” is another funky number only the bass is kind of tinny and in mono while a drumbeat that sounds like someone plays a can commences. It then all stops and weird randomness occurs and then it picks up again. Short and pointless really.

Track 7 (1:58) “Percolates Jazz… The Last Drop” is also short but more interesting as it has an industrial percussive sound mixed with a series of clicks and a jazzy guitar wailing away. The tension is thick as the counterpoints are stark and freaky. A classical keyboard sort of plays along even though it’s in its own world.

Track 8 (2:54) “A Moment I Can Give” is a mellow little rocker that sounds a lot like the opening track. A melodic clean echoey guitar is joined by a bass and drum and all proceed at a nonchalant pace down a bluesy placid path to nowhere.

Track 9 (4:03) “Funeral Parlor” is a strange electronic reverberation to infinity as notes slowly repeat and slowly fade away. Not much happens. It’s just a series of notes that repeat the electronic reverb dance but it’s effective.

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R: 45:00 (Volume 6)

Track 1 (19:45) “Eye Of The Storm” is the behemoth of this disc swallowing up over half of its real estate. It begins with a steady drumbeat and a frenetically strange guitar riff that can’t make up its mind if it wants to make psychedelic weirdness or shred like a muthafucka. Spacey Hawkwind-like synth sweeps raise their pitches behind the guitar shredding which begins to dominate as the sizzling solo gets ever faster and faster. At ten minutes in the frenetic soloing is still going on with only minor breaks popping up with the spacey electro-ambience flowing along in the background. The drumbeat pretty much stays the same tempo even as the guitar gets more furiously fast. At eleven minutes a background synth line does create a more calming layer as the guitar quickens. After nearly twenty minutes of this, all i can say is ENOUGH! This track is totally monotonous. It proves BH’s ability to sustain shredding for long periods of time but this is not a very interesting track. The drumbeat is boring. The electronic parts are boring and even the shredding is just the same riff played over and over and over and over and over again. I love intelligent shredding but this is super-meh :(

Track 2 (3:42) “Unhinged Paradox” begins with a funk bass but then quickly changes into a dungeon synth type of industrial track but wait a cheerful piano enters but then disappears. Oh, i see. It’s one of those tracks where several different unrelated instrumental parts are played and then layered over each other but then sometimes they all play together. This is weird i say! It becomes more of a dungeon synth track after all that chaos settles. Dark synth runs and strange higher register synth parts as well. I’m lovin’ this one. Could be a Coil or Throbbing Gristle track.

Track 3 (4:30) “Last Light” goes the complete opposite direction and has a fluffy happy vibe. It’s a clean guitar with bass and drums and is mid-tempo rock with a slightly spacey effect. Melodic and peppy without being too energetic. Nice guitar parts. Not too different from what BH would recycle on many of the mellower Pike albums and this one works very well by balancing all the elements quite well.

Track 4 (1:11) “Dig Up From Underneath” conjures up a trip hop type of beat accompanied by a deep bass line and a jazzy guitar riff

Track 5 (15:46) “Amputee Shuffle” is the second longest track but for sure the best fan given name of these untitled tracks! It starts off with a funky bass and guitar with jazzy drum rolls. While this one is very much similar to the opening lengthy track, there is one fundamental difference. THIS ONE IS ACTUALLY INTERESTING! The drum rolls may not vary greatly but they are interesting even upon sustained repetition. The jazz guitar is cool and the varied nuances are exquisitely brilliant. The bass gets more hard bop style as it progresses and even becomes much more audible. More than half way through the bass becomes more melodic and less jazzy. It harmonizes notes and almost sounds like it’s singing. Despite the length this one is really cool as it morphs from jazz to blues towards the end. Love the bass as it becomes a chuggin’ force to be reckoned with.

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C: 41:13 (Volume 7)

Track 1 (2:58) “Grease On My New Shoes” starts out as a mid-tempo alternative rock type of track with jangly guitars, a prominent bass line and steady drumbeat. The guitars eventually add a more energetic riff and then turn into a more subdued sustained note bend type of lick. When the riff returns it’s more metal sounding with the distortion turned up.

Track 2 (16:40) “Solitary Psychosis” is the lengthy beast on this volume and swallows up a good third of the album. It begins with an erratic keyboard sound and is followed by a guitar that riffs and solos around the off-kilter time signature. After a while all stops and a solo freaks out but then turns back into the groovy rock. The synth line becomes more aggressive and weird and takes over the guitar. Some synthpop type riffs emerge as well. As it continues it gets stranger with the guitar performing bizarre acrobatics with a strange synth run bubbling away in the background. It sorta alternates with a more “normal” bluesy riff on speed but goes back to weird. The beat is fairly nonchalant and consistent as all the craziness unfolds over it but sometimes it’s left to just do it’s thing without any other instrumentation over it. This one goes on for a while but is actually quite cool. After a while i realize that the overall melodic underpinning is very much of carnival music with all the crazy stuff layered over it. It doesn’t become apparent until a keyboard part solos towards the end. This is a primo example of a lengthy track that is well worth existing!

Track 3 (4:14) “Flaming Pinãtas / Burnt Candy” is a synth funk track with electronic drums. Maybe something Herbie Hancock would have done on “Future Shock” even. Becomes more trip hoppy as it goes on with some backdrop guitar antics emerging.

Track 4 (4:20) “Tower Of Insanity” begins with bluesy rock guitar and somewhat antsy drums that really want to jam hard but the guitar wants to go no wave, dude! The drums say, your mama. I wanna jam MF! Guitars say in yer dreams farkface. Drums say i’ll do it my way thank you much. Guitars say i will hypnotize you into submission. Drums say bite me. Guitars say ok let me get the hot sauce. Drums say don’t mess with me bitch. Guitars say hmmm lemme think bout dat. Drums go ballistic and can’t hear guitar but guitar make meditation chord go vroooooom. No one lived happily ever after and everybody died.

Track 5 (1:52) “Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys” is woefully tuned down so low in volume that i can’t hear it! OK, this is obviously some sort of demo turned into a track. Basically jazz guitar that is on practice mode. It begins and stops. Quite boring and pointless to add this.

Track 6 (11:03) “Easter In The Batcave” begins with an ambience in the background that sounds like a storm brewing and some chimes tinkling along. Electronica whizzes in and out of the scene as well as guitar riffs. Very musique concrète as it rolls along. The different roles of instruments just sort of fade in and fade out. There is no percussive groove nor any melodic development, just sound collages that sort of gel together and then fall apart. Eventually the guitar gains enough steam to perform some totally weird string gymnastics that words cannot convey. Sort of has a funk groove but in an alternative universe. It almost sounds like the guitar is emulating R2D2’s robot language patterns from Star Wars in its sonic peaks and troughs but also goes through other totally strange acrobatics including normal riffing like Hendrix type blues rock that sort of spontaneously emerges and then turns weird again. It becomes more dramatic towards the end with symphonic classical additions popping in and the guitar getting more jittery and unpredictable. This track is fucking brilliant!

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H: 41:37 (Volume 8)

Track 1 (10:20) “Oishii” starts things off with a steady bass, choppy drum pattern and echoey clean guitar riff that creates a recurring melody. As it carries on the bass and drums gain a little speed and the riff changes things up a little every so often but basically this is a repetitive looped melody that carries on for way too long. Nice but not OMG

Track 2 (2:26) “The Orpington” starts things with an irregular house drumbeat and is followed by a blues guitar line that has some funk in it. The percussion goes haywire at a million miles an hour while the guitar remains unfazed in its nonchalant playing style. This is basically a little improv number that has no real purpose but gets really weird as it ends.

Track 3 (5:27) “A Day In The Park With Herbie” is completely different with a heavy bigbeat type drumming session with a drone type synth line in the background. It all changes and a funky bass enters the equation while the drums tame down a bit but still sound like something off of a hip hop album. It changes again and becomes some sort of nursery rhyme melody based in classical music with an obsequious drum behind it. This one is just weird really as it changes into a series of weird electronic noises, avant-garde guitar work and tinny percussion twangs but turns up to the same bigbeat mix that started it.

Track 4 (9:55) “Switch Way” is the second longest track and begins with a steady drumbeat and a synth funk reminiscent of “Head Hunter” era Herbie Hancock only a bit sped up. It deviates a bit from the funk by breaking into solos but pretty much continues the synth funk thang for the entire near ten minutes which is a bit too long.

Track 5 (2:30) “Treasure Section” has a strong trip hop type of groove but also has a jazzy horn (probably synthesized) along with quickly played staccato keys. Has a real catchy groove and is slightly hypnotic as it allows the jerky keys to relax so atmospheric ambience can flow in

Track 6 (0:33) “Wire Bop Pumpkin” is a super short drumbeat with jazz guitar

Track 7 (3:32) “Captain Kangaroo's Ether Hypnosis” is finally a track without percussion and is a weird electronic piece that has different sounds a sorta spooky riff that reverbs. It sounds like it’s in a trippy sound chamber where sound is bended. Sounds like a blueprint for the countdown to Halloween series of 2015.

Track 8 (4:36) “In Search Of The Bigeminy Junction” is another funk track although with a very lo-fi production. Percussion is rather tinny with a guitar that is trying to be jazzy with a funky beat to it. It becomes more avant-garde. The percussion is looped and remains the same while the guitar gets wild and woolly. Basically sounds like BH is practicing next a metronome really.

Track 9 (2:14) “Cybernetic Chickenheads & The Scavenger Slunk Run” is an avant-garde noisy little bugger. Strange guitar is subdued and sounds like an angry cat with an unrelated series of drum rolls. There is also hyperactive keyboards that just go crazy and drown everything else out. It devolves into noise and musical gibberish. Great way to end it all.

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O: 42:39 (Volume 9)

Track 1 (9:23) “Bullfrog” begins with an energetic drumroll and then is joined by a fuzzy funky bass line and a fuzzy distorted bluesy guitar riff. It repeats in a repetitive loop and over four minutes in the guitar starts soloing more recklessly while the bass and drums continue to robotically carry on in the same manner. This is basically a nine minute plus jam type of track and although it’s okay, it isn’t anything terribly exciting either not to mention too friggin’ long.

Track 2 (4:23) “Escher Relativity” has a very strange vibe as the given title implies. It is basically an energetic drumming pattern with a guitar intermittently cranking out some somewhat atonal riffs. The drumming sounds like a warmup to a further solo but continues the same and then suddenly it stops and everything changes. The drums become more subdued and a clean echoey guitar strums away for a while. While the guitar is very atmospheric and dreamy, the drums continue to crank it out as if existing in a different genre altogether although they are subdued as not to overtake the mellower aspects of the track.

Track 3 (5:18) “The Poison Hand” begins with “singing” synth notes that sound like a choral chant while electronic percussive sound bloop and bleep away. It abruptly changes into a steady mid-tempo drumbeat or sample maybe with improvised electronic keys tinkling away. Sounds like a rough draft of some initial idea. It then changes up the electronic drumbeat and key sounds again and keeps doing so every so often for the rest of the track. It’s eventually joined in by the guitar and becomes more “rock” like albeit experimental rock. Nothing lasts long on this one and it gets even weirder and more outlandish. I like this one. It’s highly dramatic and freaky.

Track 4 (16:52) “Robot Chicken” swallows up nearly half of this disc and sort of sounds like it continues where the last track left off. On this compilation BUCKETHEAD seems to love to engage in avant-funk rock tracks that last for a long period of time. This is yet another one of those with a steady drumbeat and what sounds like a keyboard that is distorted but it could be a processed guitar as well. Basically the drums stay steady while the melody carries on through variations. Actually it might be a guitar and keyboard alternating. Sometimes the melody changes into a familiar pop song like “Push It” by Salt N Pepa :o Overall this one is pretty cool in it’s experimental improvisational way but the running time certainly seems excessive. Actually it sounds a lot like the electronica vs metal experiments on “Somewhere Over The Slaughterhouse” except without the metal. That meaning the riffs sound recycled somewhat.

Track 5 (6:37) “Tunnel To The Light” thankfully changes things up. A distorted downtuned guitar riff crunchily creates a staccato riff while a keyboard performs acrobatics around it but nothing too wild at first but definitely in syncopation but then the floodgates open and it thinks it has joined Cirque du Soleil. The crunchy guitar only changes up occasionally while the high notes of the keys (or processed guitar) slink around like a downed power line in a mud puddle. This one has a strange impractical tension to it but becomes nice and “normal” at the end with the instruments playing nicely together. Pretty weird!

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F: 42:31 (Volume 10)

Track 1 (5:13) “Aldebaran Strikes Back” begins with a heavy trip hop type beat with epic horns backing it up and stuttering ghostly keyboards. Simulating the Star Wars experience a little as the background interacts with an epic melodic keyboard line. The drum remains steady and unchanging. After a couple minute a guitar solo erupts in a robotic way and fades in and out changing its dynamics.

Track 2 (9:35) “Down In It” is the longest track and follows in the footsteps of other monstrously long tunes on this massive release by gettin’ all funky on us again. While a funk bass prances around, the guitar is bluesy and distorted. After the proper introduction, the bass gets super fast as does the guitar and gets all aggressive on us. It backs off and goes back to the mid-tempo into style. There are also some of those cool Hendrix styled “the sky is crying” type of wah-wah guitar licks and some great feedback moments. Overall this one outstays its welcome as it doesn’t have enough variation to warrant its running time.

Track 3 (6:45) “The Ludovico Technique” is a very strange progressive electronic track with different synthesized sounds “talking” to each other. There is a deep bass drone and higher register riffs erratically tinkling away. A steady drumbeat joins in while a violin sound fills the spaces behind the other noises. It changes again to a pure ambient sound with no percussion at all and becomes some sort of chamber classical piece. Sounds sorta like something Mozart would have written. This carries on as it fades in and out for a quick millisecond and continues until the end of the track.

Track 4 (1:13) “Hole In The Feeding Tube” is a short jazzy track that sounds like glass jars being struck for percussion very rapidly while a jazz guitar strums along at a more relaxed pace.

Track 5 (6:45) “Aces Of Galaga” sounds like a Baroque piano run (a la Bach) with some other electronic noises competing for attention as they totally bloop and bleep out of sync with the music. The classical music gets overwhelmed by the electronica and a bass comes in and starts a funk riff. The electronica begin to sound more like a video game being played with some of the squeals fairly startling. Guitar solos even manage to find their way into the whole cacophonous din. It just gets weirder and weirder as the guitar solo sounds processed and the tempo is sped up and slowed down while the clunky electronic video game simulations unfold around them. Strange indeed. Game Over.

Track 6 (3:36) “Bot's Lament” sounds like another video game but less frenetic with only a single series of processed notes creating a bizarre avant-garde riff at a slow speed with some notes bending. Turns more into a dark ambient synth sound. Maybe a theme track for Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark? Nah, too weird for her. Would definitely go well on one of those dark ambient Halloween albums.

Track 7 (7:13) “Strange Visitation” starts off with a classic record scratching noise that then turns into a strange riff that sounds like a harpsichord. Rather X-Files feeling only much weirder. It’s definitely a weird piano sound on a synthesizer but the scale is so exotic. After the piano tinkles on for a while it stops and a drone synth note sustains for a while, like for minutes actually up to the end of the track. Weird :o

Track 8 (2:07) “Evil Lurks Within” begins rather like the previous track did, that meaning an avant-garde atonal piano riff with a scary edge. It’s accompanied by intermittent ambience and bangs. Short but sweet. A true contender for scariest track that BH has conjured up :/

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T: 42:29 (Volume 11)

Track 1 (2:56) “Binge Buddy Lounge” begins as a funky rocker with steady drums and a funk bass line. The guitar takes its time joining in but when it does it’s a clean echoey series of chord plucking but eventually turns into a funk guitar counterpoint for the bass. It also engages in some light soloing while the bass line changes it up a bit. The guitar gets more bluesy.

Track 2 (4:21) “I Never Made It Without Biting (AKA Bloodblister Popcorn)” begins with a very slow drumbeat that slowly picks up speed and then a guitar strums a distorted chord over it while the drums remain energetic. As the drums continue, it does indeed start to sound like a popcorn popper as the same guitar chord strums and arpeggiates but remains the same notes.

Track 3 (1:10) “Electronic Zookeeper's Revenge” is a short electronic frenzy of bloops and bleeps with a steady hip hop type drumbeat. The electronic sounds start to dance to the beat.

Track 4 (4:04) “Delirium Chamber” begins with atonal tinkling on the piano and remains that way for a while but suddenly turns into crazy electronic noises bending their pitches as a thematic bass riff creates a soundtrack vibe. It changes it up again and sounds like underwater music of some sort. The bass returns with clicking sounds.

Track 5 (6:10) “Animatronics Séance” is as strange as the name suggests. It has a sort of tribal electro-beat while a squealing electronic note slides. They dance together and when they pause a bubble pops sometimes. Of course, it totally changes into random electronica sputtering away but the drumbeat retains that tribal jungle call. It just gets weirder and weirder as it goes on.

Track 6 (3:14) “Slunk Funk” is, well waddaya think it is?!!! A freakin’ funk track of course. Funk bass, funk guitar and drums! March on! I think we’ve heard this before rather recently in fact. Bluesy guitar with wah-wah and feedback. Too soon for this reprise. Next.

Track 7 (3:24) “Funeral For A Fiend” is an interesting synchronized riffing process. Sorta flamenco / Spanish guitar runs but very avant-prog as well. Strangely tuned guitars that do strange things. The tone is clean and the runs are rapid. A guitar(s) only track, this one. Cool. Almost sounds like the fast intro part to Rush’s “La Villa Strangiato” only out of tune.

Track 8 (3:50) “Chicken Cleaver Duty” a drumbeat and ambience turns into a techno beat that gets attacked by another drumbeat and then both fade away while the ambience returns but a chaotic drumbeat comes back and recomposes itself into the techno beat with faint ambience in the background. An explosion occurs and all stops. Now we hear what sounds like chickens clucking only on instruments. The techno beat gets faster and then gets slower. A weird guitar solo takes over at the end with only some cymbal action.

Track 9 (4:05) “Sugar Booger Auditory Wax Candy” is a spooky Halloween sounding melody on synthesizer but not dark ambience like some of these. This one is more playful Adam’s Family type of stuff. The guitar joins in and does fancy little licks with pauses in between. It remains a guitar only affair for most of its endurance.

Track 10 (4:25) “Random Order” is a pop dance number with heavy hip hop bass drumbeats and tinkly chimes providing a cute little melody. Well until it turns into a dark ambient drone with a smooth guitar but wait! It changes again into a keyboard riff and then a toy drum with jazz guitar and then……oh what’s the point in going through the list. The given name of the track is just as it suggests. It’s like a sampler of different styles totally unrelated but all existing in the weird BH universe. I love these kind of wild rides. It’s like a musical kaleidoscope.

Track 11 (4:46) “Scabscratcher Shuffle (They Buried Him Alive)” continues the avant-jazz guitar with an intermittent tinny clang both punctuated by silence. The jazz guitar becomes more recognizable as a jazz riff and electronic percussion intermittently keeps a beat. The guitar builds up a cool swing and syncopation as if this is a real track only slightly muddied under the tone. It develops into a more bluesy form of jazz. A nice ending and a reminder that BH is a serious musician and not just an avant-weirdo who conjures up some of the strangest experimental sound collages ever. Great track.

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H: 49:44 (Volume 12)

Track 1 (3:12) “Animatronics Workshop” kicks off with funk bass, unenergetic drumbeat and a guitar that only wants to play half the time meaning it just supplements a few notes here and there. It’s rather a half-funk number. The guitar becomes more agitated and adds more notes but it’s like a the blues with only certain notes emphasized. The bass remains nonchalant but has a nice tone. The guitar turns into a jazzy blues lick by the end. Way cool!

Track 2 (10:48) “The Organ Grinder's Mishap..” takes us in a different direction with an energetic tom-tom drum and cymbals cranking out while a clean echoey guitar slowly strums away. After a couple minutes it completely changes gear and turns into a synthesizer plunking away like a popcorn popper with a single guitar chord repetitively strummed. After the plunking ceases, the guitar plays on alone but actually sounds like it might be a harp actually. But it stops and weird electronic noises come in and then it goes into a rather experimental ambient mode with occasional drum crashes. The layers of electronic effects increase and everything utilized to create tension. After a while it changes up and shrill notes start to blast away and then begin to sound like the theme track to the “Jaws” movie (or maybe “Psycho”) and then it freaks out totally. It then becomes lullaby guitar music.

Track 3 (2:15) “The Last Tooth To Be Pulled” begins with upbeat drum driven synth funk with weird note slides on processed guitar that seem to be talking to each other. It stays weird and funky till the end.

Track 4 (10:16) “Alektorophobia” is a tripped out ghoulish electronic haunting that has a startling dramatic electronic bass crash that comes and goes. Perfect for Halloween! A steady drumbeat kicks in after a while. It abruptly changes into a weird galloping electronic sound with other synthesized notes adding a strange melody but after a while changes back into a sort of bigbeat type sound with heavy drumbeat and melodic synth line. It continues to get freakier with reverbing notes and then atonal polyphonic touches. It stays weird and freaky. This one is horrifying but i love it anyway.

Track 5 (2:57) “Electromagnetic Interference” begins with a bunch of clicking sounds and a talking “something” while jazz guitar is played in the background. Extra percussive things included. Track 6 (3:33) “The Sticker On Endorphins” is a strange series of electronic notes that sound like a 70s primitive video game. Melodic patterns do emerge briefly at times but mostly a drone type of note that comes and goes.

Track 7 (1:19) “One Last Breath” has tinkling guitars with note bends which simulate breathing i guess.

Track 8 (15:19) “Monsta Kreep-A-Thon Mk. II / The Revenge Of Mutant Slunkzilla” turns out to be another lengthy funk-a-thon with wickedly wild bass slapping away with a killa processed guitar tone that makes the monstas come out. Monsta funk is where it’s at after all. Yet another lengthy funk attack on this endless multi-disc release. This one stays funky as the bass remains a constant perpetual loop with different segments but always recurring. The guitar has permission to go for broke and creates some wild ass acrobatics within the confinements of the funk riff. It goes on far too long but the guitar manages to keep things interesting despite the length. A nice background track but not OMG or anything of the sort.

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E: 45:01 (Volume 13)

Track 1 (45:01) “The Butcher’s Last Dance”

is the grand finale of the 13 volume monster release with one ginormous one track lasting 3/4 of an hour. It begins with a rather unexciting electro-drumbeat and a few guitar slides but then it changes into a military march drum style with the guitar doing bluesy lick acrobatics around it. The guitar lick is replaced by either a keyboard or a totally processed guitar but basically doing the same thing. OK, it’s clear now that the guitar is simply changing tones and timbres and effects but basically juggling the same duties over the military percussive march. Sounds like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” actually. The guitar parts get weirder and wilder.

Ten minutes in and the military march percussion continues as well as the guitar doing it’s antics around it. There is no bass to be heard or any other instruments. This is BH jamming on guitar around a monotonous metronome type of percussive style. Very impressive stuff as he gets funky, he gets down and dirty in the soloing department and dishes out all kinds of feedback and bluesy fury often in the Jimi Hendrix tradition. Around the 15 minute mark, this is all going strong as the march never ends and neither do the guitar gymnastics which get quite wickedly freaky at times.

Twenty minutes in, same military march but the guitar effects are getting more bizarre and bordering on electronica bloops and beeps but enough guitar twang keeps it grounded in the guitar world but it makes me wonder sometimes as everything becomes more atonal and video game sounding. There is even a very warped solo around “It’s A Small World After All,” you know, the Disneyland attraction. The guitar stops soloing and starts arpeggiating chords instead in a squeaky clean tone. The drum march continues unabated.

Thirty minutes in and it seems the military march is here for the entirety of this last disc finale but the guitar parts are getting more adventurous in not only unconventional soloing techniques but more reckless in distortion, tempo, timbre and are now aiming for the most bold and daring freakiness allowable by law. At this point i’m diggin’ the guitar parts but the percussive parts are becoming quite annoying and monotonous. The dichotomy has never been more clear at this point! Perhaps this is a lesson in how humankind has cut itself off from the nature rhythms of the universe. I dunno. Just sayin’!

Forty minutes in and guess what? The military march remains unchanged. The guitar parts have become unrecognizable as guitars as they not only ratchet up extreme speeds but create a surreal counterpoint to the monotonous percussive march. Never before have i heard two musical parts drift so far apart but i guess a half hour of pounding in a marching rhythm gives liberty to do such? By the time we get close to the end, the guitar sounds like a motor engine revving up at great speeds.

This is actually a brilliant strategy for a huge behemoth of a track but not exactly something that invites a repeated listen very often. However given the circumstances it does make this 13 CD release go out with an extraordinary bang.

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Total Time: 9 hours 27 minutes 37 seconds! Whew!!!!

What can i say about IN SEARCH OF THE, the ultimate multi-disc release? There is more than enough OMG outstanding material to be discovered here. There is also a lot of mediocrity as well, however, i think the joy of the treasures certainly outweighs the tracks that may not constitute greatness yet certainly don’t qualify as unlistenable. After sitting through this in its entirety it is quite clear that many of the eggs that would later hatch and constitute the never-ending Pike series were first laid here on this expansive set of experimentalism. In the end this behemoth of a release is just too bloated for an essential label but certainly is a notch above merely good. 3.5 sounds fair and each of the 12 volumes can easily be heard on YouTube but personally i love this one enough to actually seek out the physical copy. No clucking kidding, folks! And DO remember to give me a puppy treat for this one ;)

RUINS Symphonica

Album · 1998 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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In the ever changing weird world of Yoshida Tastsuya and Hisashi Sasaki came yet another RUINS release in the busy year of 1998 when they released four albums (“Refusal Fossil,” “Vrresto,” “Tohjinbo” (as Derek and the Ruins)” as well as their eleventh album SYMPHONICA which found the duo expanding their sound a bit by adding keyboard player Kenichi Oguchi and not one but two female singers, Emi Elonola and Aki Kubota. The tracks included are remakes from earlier RUINS albums with “Thebes”,”Infect” and ”Big Head” coming from “Stonehenge,” “Praha In Spring” from “Burning Stone,” “Graviyaunosch” from the same titled album and “Brixon Varromiks” and “Bliezzaning Moltz” coming from the “Hyderomastgroningem” album. The results of these additional characters at play creates one of the most fulfilling RUINS experiences to date and offers a greater expansion into the world of prog and a sound even more reminiscent of their primarily zeuhl inspired influence of Magma. With the extra touches of the keyboard there is also a rather avant-prog approach as heard by the Italian band Area as well in some of the unhinged riffing touches and the male vocals remind me of the crazy vocal antics of Demetrio Stratos as well in his more outrageous form.

As usual Yoshida and Sasaki pound out their most frenetic Magama inspired zeuhl rhythms cranked up on overdrive and turned up to “ultra-freaky,” however despite the hyperactive freneticism that RUINS so deftly churns out at light-speed, SYMPHONICA as the name implies has a more smoothed-around-the-edges feel due to the suave effects of the keyboards that help craft one of the most “accessible” RUINS albums in their canon if that adjective can truly apply to anything that RUINS pumps out. While clearly closer in sound to traditional 70s Magma on such albums as “Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh” with the female singers creating a comparable operatic frenetic whizzing up and down the musical scales, RUINS as expected takes it all to the next ten levels and beyond by pumping out more bombastic rhythms laced with angular time signature frenzies gone absolutely wild with keyboard runs jolting around as quickly as Yoshida’s percussive limbs pound incessant chops about.

While being crazed and technically demented seems to be the primary goal of the RUINS experience, on SYMPHONICA there are plenty of passages that simply allow notes to sustain while the divas grace the listener with utterly pure vowel sounds approaching glass shattering magnitudes. This is a really impressive album as all the members are extremely playful and a rather tight unit as the vocals, keys, bass and drums can play in complete unison or meander and leap frog around each other creating bizarre musical atmospheres. While the two long time members have always been an impressively tight unit, the magic of this album derives from the stylistic diversity and virtuosic deliveries of Kenichi’s mastery of the synthesized effects. Likewise the duo diva effect of Aki and Eleonola not only match the magnitude of their Magma influences but take them places those pioneers never dared venture. This is one of the most adventurous zeuhl releases i’ve ever heard and despite the usual freneticism of a typical RUINS release seems a little more disciplined here as the crazy parts are mixed stylishly well with more contemplative and “normal” aspects of the music. This is one of my favorite RUINS releases. The extra musicians add the very touch many of their albums lack.

DAMAAR (دمار) Triumph Through Spears Of Sacrilege

Demo · 2007 · Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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So you think black metal is exclusively an anti-Christian type of bombast solely for pissed off Europeans to spout off their venom? Don’t tell Muslims who have adopted the lo-fi sacrilegious and misanthropic styled discordant furor for their very own. While not exactly conquering the Islamic world, there are a few examples of top notch black metal erupting from all over the war torn regions of the Middle East in all its chaotic distorted din. Janaza and Seeds of Iblis come from Iraq and the black metal band Al-Namrood defies all odds and emerged in the unlikely theocracy of Saudi Arabia but perhaps nobody and i mean nobody erupts in full vitriolic fury more than the war metal band DAMAAR (which means “destruction” in Arabic) from Beirut, Lebanon that released a mere demo turned EP titled TRIUMPH THROUGH SPEARS OF SACRILEGE in 2007 and then like a mirage in the sand completely disappeared leaving this sonic assault as the only evidence that they ever existed however other Lebanese black metal acts like Ayat and Veinen have certainly attempted to match this ruinous havoc.

If you think you’ve heard bombastic black metal brutality then you haven’t heard anything if you haven’t had DAMAAR erupt out of your speakers leaving war metal wimps like Teitanblood, Blasphemy (whom they cover here and blow away in the process) and Archgoat in the dust. With tracks like “Preaching For Mass Suicide” and “The Goatphoenix” this band channels all their war torn fury into an eruptive pyroclastic frenzy of raw energy that is some of the most brutal and intense sonic savagery ever committed to release and perfectly emulates the chaotic swirl of incessant violence that has plagued the region at large where they reside for time immemorial with the biggest middle finger towards the religious dogma that dictates the repressive stranglehold of a truly free society.

TRIUMPH THROUGH SPEARS OF SACRILEGE is a mercifully short sonic journey into a gun barrel as it’s being fired in successive rounds as the incessant pummeling of blastbeats of Napalm’s drumming act in tandem with the buzzsaw distortion of Nunrider’s guitar and Heathen’s bass while utterly ravaging rhythmic jackhammer approach to thoroughly deplete the listener of any possible signs of hope from eternal bondage of chaotic devastation while Heathen’s vocals provide some of the most intense rage i’ve ever heard in a black metal act and he has a greater vocal range than most. Technically this was only released as a demo but some of the best black metal comes in lo-fi underground packages and DAMAAR really stands out as one of the best. If you love the most hyperactive and brutal aspects of black metal, it doesn’t get any more punishing than this short journey into the bowls of hell.

BORN OF OSIRIS The New Reign

EP · 2007 · Deathcore
Cover art 3.27 | 10 ratings
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The Chicago based deathcore band BORN OF OSIRIS had quite the difficult time choosing a name as in a mere short period from 2003-07 they chose and rejected the names Diminished, Your Heart Engraved and Rosecrance before finally settling on the Egyptian deity who was the Egyptian god of the afterlife. During that time they produced a few demos under all those names but wouldn’t release their debut studio EP - THE NEW REIGN until 2007 as BORN OF OSIRIS. Although the band started out more as a metalcore outfit they began adding more death metal elements such as the abrasive growled vocals as well as the expected rhythmic breakdowns more suited to the death metal scene however all those core elements are retained. This band somehow latched onto the progressive world as it seems to pop up as such although the progressive touches take a back seat to the brutal metal aspects in the forefront.

BORN OF OSIRIS deliver a typical death metal meets metal ore = deathcore sound with the expected death metal riffs and blast beats while retaining all those core breakdowns with all the hardcore punk infused energy and brutality, however what sets this band apart from the rest of the pack is that it utilizes atmospheric keyboards to create a backdrop of ambience and also throws in a few unorthodox sound effects on the side. Ronnie Canizaro’s vocals are nothing out of the ordinary nor are the staccato riffs of Lee McKinney however Matthew Pantelis dishes out some melodic lead guitar parts along with squeals and little tricks and trinkets to add a sprinkling of more class metal to the mix including a few solos here and there.

The percussion seems to be the weakest part as i’m not hearing the OMG drum abuse i would expect for a deathcore band, or at least not to the extend that i would prefer. Yeah, there are blast beats now and again but generally the percussive parts are fairly by the books and not overly exciting. Overall the tracks are all fairly similar with only the keyboards and lead guitar differentiating them in any significant ways. Deathcore is certainly not my favorite subgenre in the metal universe and BORN OF OSIRIS doesn’t dish out a whole lot of originality to make me change my mind on that one. This debut is a nicely delivered near 22 minute display of metal energy with some atmospheric elements thrown in but in the end it’s all fairly predictable and doesn’t even come close to blowing me away.

BORN OF OSIRIS The Eternal Reign

EP · 2017 · Deathcore
Cover art 2.50 | 2 ratings
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After their short EP debut studio release “The New Reign” which appeared in 2007, BORN OF OSIRIS roughly released a new album every two years but somewhere along the way the band decided that they just weren’t happy with their debut EP and it desperately needed to be re-recorded and repackaged, retitled and released once again. Come ten years later and the newly named THE ETERNAL REIGN accomplishes this goal by taking all eight tracks back to the studio and polishing them into deathcore perfection with even a bonus track in the form of “Glorious Day” to finish it off with bringing the new playing time to a whopping 23 minutes and 50 seconds.

Well, what can someone exactly say about a brutal deathcore band trying to re-record and album. How about…. REALLY? Ok, first of all, i’m rarely a fan of any band re-recording an album because of nitpicky imperfections no matter how legit they may be due to the fact that for every inch of error is erased, so too is a pound of passion that made the album stand out in the first place. However in the case of BORN OF OSIRIS who utilize a brutal deathened core sound designed to bang your head and make your ears bleed with slight touches of sugary atmospheric keyboards to make the bitter just a little sweet, i have to shake my head and ask the obvious question: WHY BOTHER?

To the casual listener this won’t sound a bit different as all the growly screams, all the distorted guitar riffs, solos, drum blasts and metal accoutrements are pretty much following down the same path. Where this second rendition of the EP does differ is in the “extras” department namely in the ambience and keyboard effects that add new riffs here and there and stand out as more prominent features of the band sprinkled across the album but nothing added makes this a substantially better album where it counts, namely in the songwriting department where all the tracks sound just as average as they did the first time around. I have to admit that the percussion has improved over the original.

Perhaps it would’ve been a better idea to focus on new music instead. The only redeeming aspect of this album is that there is one new track titled “Glorious Day” which is the best track on the EP which only serves the purpose of showing how far the band has come in its technical prowess and ability to make tracks more interesting. Hmmm, maybe that’s the point? I dunno but this track shows a more adept ability of blending all the core elements with more classic metal sounds, more sophisticated atmospheric embellishments and even the drum parts are more diverse than elsewhere. Unfortunately it lasts a mere two and a half minutes so hardly worth tracking this down for a mere bonus track which is good but not outstanding. Nah, this is mostly a waste of time.

ENSLAVED E

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.19 | 8 ratings
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It’s always an exciting day when one of your favorite and most consistent metal bands releases an album and continues that exciting thrill of anticipation of whether they will continue their lengthy run as ambassadors of the extreme metal scene after more than two decades on the scene or the unthinkable of botching their rein and utterly teeter off that precarious precipice that they ride like a skateboarder sliding down a staircase railing. As the decade runs closer to its end Norway’s ENSLAVED took only two years to craft yet another installment into their progressive black metal universe after the release of 2015’s “In Times” which left more than a few loyal fans divided over exactly where they saw the band was heading next. While true that the album continued down the path of the expected quality material, there was still that lurking nagging feeling that perhaps ENSLAVED is just one tiny step away from completely derailing into pools of stagnation and ultimately becoming the feared and dreaded parodies of themselves. In 2017 the band emerge from their cocoon of secrecy and let loose their 14th full-length studio album E.

With an album title so truncated to one mere letter, it automatically triggers that WTF response and thankfully Ivar Bjørnson has explained this nebulous concept to smother any possible misconceptions in their nascency. E apparently has a dualistic meaning, firstly being a letter of the Latin alphabet but is also a reference to the rune Ehwaz which is depicted as our letter M (note both letters on album cover painted by long time associate Truis Espedal.) Ehwaz simply means horse and the relationship with humankind’s most endearing animal friend that celebrates one of our longest cross-species collaborations. Once you get past all the horse symbology, the title and tracks included expand further into the symbolisms of the duality of humankind and nature as well as fear and subconscious drive all wrapped up in the expected Viking imagery constructed through poetic prose in both gurgling raspy utterances as well as clean Gregorian chant inspired harmonies that exude a beauty and beast combo effect only this is bro style.

As evidenced from the sneak peak video for the first track “Storm Son,” ENSLAVED have entered new sonic arenas indeed and have once again taken all the different styles they’ve accumulated over their vast career and simply expanded them into new territory as if they take their Viking expansionist roots and simply apply those principles to conquering new musical territory. As E begins, i was expecting the immediate bombast of heaviness before meandering into softer passages of folky and ambience atmospheric touches but E takes a totally different approach than past offerings. This one begins with the sensual sounds of birds and the blowing of a gjallarhorn before horses whinny and clomp along insinuating a battle scene to come, however the track unexpectedly delivers a clean dreamy guitar riff that delivers the ultimate head scratcher making me wonder if these guys have pulled an Ulver on us and went post-rock or some non-metal direction as the repetitive riffs churn on augmented by an atmospheric ambience swirling around every arpeggiated note. Goodbye black metal ENSLAVED, hello progressive rockers who have always lurked beneath the noisefest. Oh, wait there’s those raspy vocals on top of the clean angelic choral. (then once again the riff ratchets up in intensity but this isn’t quite the metal i was expecting) as Grutle Kjellson takes the lead with his raspy evil-as-fuck vocal style. As the synthesizers swirl around and the staccato guitar riffs pound on like Teutonic marches on Prussian plains it seems that ENSLAVED has gone Opeth on us and finally divorced the black metal aspects that have carried them this far into the 21st century minus those raspy vocals of course. But wait! This is progressive black metal and nothing happens too quickly in this world. Finally at seven minutes in the black metal guitars and bass kick in with synchronized drums and yeah baby! Oops, i jumped to conclusions. This is black metal for PATIENT fans :p After a rough start things seem on track once again although the atmospheric synths and staccato guitar riffs are totally uncharacteristic of the ENSLAVED sound. This band has decided to carry on into new even more progressive arenas. Will the fickle black metal fans like this? Probably not. As “The River’s Mouth” takes the baton, the black metal groove is back at first but alternates substantially with the progressive metal segments that sound more like something out of a post-metal sludge band’s canon than anything ENSLAVED has tackled. It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is a band always looking for parameters to overstep while breaking rules and worshipping runes and on E the floodgates have opened.

Many surprises lurk on E which is of course the key ingredient (surprise that is) to keep things spiced up. For example, “Sacred Horse” begins like a hippie dippy folk track for a few seconds but then bursts into the more familiar extreme metal sound of past glories. “Axis Of The Worlds” has a very different sort of groove than the band is used to with a much more sophisticated labyrinthine and circuitous riffing methodology that ratchets up their progressive rock aspects even further and with the mellotron organ sounds that accompany may raise the red flag for a progressive pollen attack for those allergic to the world of progressive rock but somehow once again the band walks that thin line between the black and prog worlds all the while including some bizarre electronica sputtering in the background reminiscent of electropop bands like Röyksopp whose cover they tackle with the rhetorical self-directed question “What Else Is There?” “Fathers Of Eolh” is probably the most un-ENSLAVED sounding track on E with its heightened 5/4 timing sludgy riffs, ambient shoegaze backdrop and liturgical proggy vocal styles mostly delivered in a clean, clear yet turgid display of interweaving compositional parts that are laced together in various alternating ways. “Hiindslight” is yet another progressive metal behemoth that tackles hitherto unexplored arenas as it churns out complex guitar riffs that range from brutal to sensual and graced by the raspy vocals of Kjellson. This is the track that will for sure act as the sunlight that scares the black metal vampires into their coffins as it incorporates a whirlwind of progressive features including the unthinkable use of flute and saxophone. “Djupet” is another more traditional track tacked on to appease the hardcores.

You may be wondering just how progressive can they possible get. Well before you get your knickers in a twist and cry out that they’ve totally gone Opeth on us, it should never be forgotten that ENSLAVED was always a progressive black metal band which began with their debut album “Vikingligr Veldi” and despite tamping down the progressive qualities on their next three albums, “Frost,” “Eld” and “Blodhemn” they nevertheless persisted under the surface before finally erupting once again in full pent-up fury on 2000’s “Mardraum: Beyond The Within” only to have the progressive aspects outweigh the black metal from “Monumension” and the albums that followed. The fact is that unlike Opeth who utterly abandoned their extreme metal roots to focus exclusively on progressive rock, ENSLAVED never for even a single album smothered the black metal out of their overall sound. While it’s true the black metal has taken a back seat to the progressive side of the coin, it’s more akin to the band having a new lover move in while banishing the ex to the basement only to be chained up but kept around because she’s still useful for all those chores around the house.

Yeah, the black metal may be the ugly ex-wife who is forced to perform as an indentured servant but she still has a role to play while ENSLAVED’s promiscuous Hugh Hefner tendencies take on a musical libido all their own. Keep in mind that the band’s name is ENSLAVED and not “Emancipated.” Set free the black metal and we’re left with an Age of Aquarius la-la-la singalong feel good album. Now that wouldn’t be very metal now would it? While ENSLAVED has not gone Opeth on us, it can be argued they’ve followed in the same footsteps another fellow Norwegian and gone insanely Ihsahn on us instead. You don’t believe me? For anyone who has kept up with Emperor’s frantic frontman as a solo artist, you will hear lots of parallels with albums ranging from “The Adversary” to “Arktis,” not only in the highly complex time signature rich riffing styles but in the addition of unorthodox metal instruments with the inclusion of flautist Daniel Mage and sax blower Kjetil Møster on the tracks “Hindsight” and “Feathers Of Eolh” and also the inclusion of fellow Norwegian Einar Kvitrafn from the Nordic dark folk outfit Wardruna. OK, i lied. There is one moment of going Opeth and that is the short use of mellotron style keyboard sounds at the end of “Sacred Horse.” This is probably one of the parts of the album that doesn’t exactly sound like it’s at home here and i concur that this should have been aborted before birth, but we should never let a few moments of awkwardness destroy the big picture.

Ultimately i’m finding E is about contrast and tension. There are simple clean parts that are unlike anything the band has done but somehow after slowly emerging elements, the band always resolves itself with the heavier and more frantic dynamics delivering fairly balanced compositions that perhaps can carry on a wee bit too long at points but still never entering the extremities of the uncomfortableness zone. It goes without saying that ENSLAVED alienated the one-dimensional kvlter-than-thou crowds long ago when the scales tipped in the progressive metal direction and with E, the band challenges their fans once again and therefore the close-minded, musically illiterate and those who simply get complacent in a particular phase will probably piss all over this one, however if dissected like a laboratory rat in order to scrutinize the inner parts, E is actually the logical next frontier for ENSLAVED to venture into. As the band continues to mature it would be pathetic for them to linger in pastures already explored and personally i much prefer a band to delve into new arenas despite less than perfect results than stagnate in festering doldrums of inertness. E may not constitute the absolute pinnacle of the career of ENSLAVED but i’m finding this to have much more of a return value than “In Times” and offers yet another creative and excellent rung in their long ladder of musical development since their humble beginnings during the second wave of early black metal.

ORTHRELM OV

Album · 2005 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.35 | 5 ratings
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The metal universe has always been about borrowing disparate ideas and methodologies from other varied musical genres from all around the world. After all, the whole genre began by taking the psych laden blues rock of the 60s and dragging it down into the darker recesses of the sound spectrum to conjure up some of the most gloomy and sombre human emotions to emerge in its wake and simply cranking up the distortion level with darker lyrics. So it’s really no surprise that as the simple blues inspirations became exhausted in the 70s that new fuel needed to be consumed for the metal machine to take musical inspiration and ignite so it will burn like a forest fire unleashing new hitherto unthinkable possibilities. ORTHRELM, the avant-garde music duo of Mick Barr on guitar and Josh Blair on drums had been leading up to this triumph of sonic glory called OV since their debut in 2001. While the metal world cross-pollinated like a lava flow smothering the fertile lands below a volcano it continued to ratchet up its complexity level and as it began to reach the unthinkable heights of the pinnacle of progressive rock, it was beginning to seem like there was nowhere left to go.

That’s where forward thinkers like Mick Barr come in. On ORTHRELM’s 2005 landmark album OV, the duo exponentially lifted themselves above the sheer math rock wankery that their earlier albums are known for. While classical music has certainly been a major part of the hard rock and heavy metal universe ever since Ritchie Blackmore incorporated it into Mark II period of Deep Purple, never before have the two extremes of virtuoso guitar shredding and the classical minimalism of artists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass ever come together until Barr and Blair released this album of polarizing extremes in the form of the OV album in 2005. Never before has an album of incredibly virtuoso shredding of guitar with the bombast of unthinkable drum abuse coalesced into a minimalistic music form that could result in a meditative practice if consumed correctly. As wild as it sounds, this album is in effect a wild ride into two musical extremes which incorporate guitar shredding with extreme minimalism simultaneously.

Despite being limited to a mere guitar and drums, Barr and Blair are veritable beasts on their instruments of choice doing unthinkable things at a million miles per second throughout pretty much the entirety of the 45 minute and 43 second single track that makes up the album OV. After several albums of pluming their feathers and ruffling them up to impress the music fans, on OV, the duo known as ORTHRELM finally delivers the promise they had been hinting at without sacrificing the intensity that they had been implementing all along. What’s cool about OV is that it goes through a series of passages that begin with a minimalistic chord progression to wail on for several minutes and seduce you into the feel of the composition and going though various changes before finally letting loose towards the end with a series of intense riffs, shredding bombast and excruciating deciblage. This is metal unlike any other and only continues the duo’s unique musical language that only they alone truly understand.

OV is a trumph in many ways. Not only does it undoubtedly indoctrinate Mick Barr into the world of fastest shredders which should not leave Josh Blair off the hook for some of the sickest drum abuse in the entire music history books but also proves that creating unthinkable speeds is not tantamount to a lack of regard for sensuality. While on previous albums ORTHRELM did seem to generate random patterns of musical intensity, on OV everything seems like the perfect cross-pollination of the most intense musical shredding session one can think of in the context of a relaxing vipassana retreat. As the single track rolls by it is engaged in a very mindful interaction between the two instruments that change up the parts ever so slightly but then without warning they divert to some new arena of musicality but always mindful of each other’s role in the overall scheme of things. OV successfully ratchets up the tension to a fulfilling climax by the end of the album where the guitar and the drums practically become one with another and take on enough roles to simulate the intensity of a full band. OV is one of those albums that must be heard to be understood. It’s simply too far removed from the context of any possible labeling.

ORTHRELM II / II

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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ORTHRELM made quite the debut in 2001 by not only releasing their first EP but also three albums as well. While the lengths may make one consider EP status, considering how technically crazed the music is makes it quite acceptable that they didn’t churn out over lengthy album. After two albums titled ORTHRELM I and ORTHRELM II comes the third installment with a brown-hued cover un-intuitively titled ORTHRELM II / II which like the second edition consists of 48 short tracks with most not even reaching the minute mark with only one clocking in at over two. The duo of Mick Barr on guitar and Josh Blair on drums continues to crank out some of the most aggressive combo of guitar shredding meets proggy math rock.

ORTHRELM II / II continues to follow the trajectory of the previous releases and like the No. II continues the punk-infused energy concentrated into short tracks but on II / II the duo branch out in the dynamics significantly more but not playing at the speed of light all the time. Untitled track #12, for example, is actually mostly slow and focuses on nerdy math rock time signatures for the first minute before exploding in pyroclastic math rock flows all over the place. While Barr and Blair began this project merely imitating each other on their respective instruments, at this point they’ve taken their roles by the horns and actually create separate but equal parts although they tend to remain in sync in regards to tempo. Track #21 kinda sounds like an atonal attempt at the classical artist Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee”

On this one they begin sounding more like the Japanese band Ruins as Barr tones down his incessant shredding and actually engages in more punk chord energy and more bass oriented riffing. In some ways they remind me of a stripped down Psyopus or Behold…. The Arctopus as the math metal elements are more prevalent. Personally i think this is the best they put out in the year as it contains all the shredding you could ask for and more, all the snazzy jazzy drumming possible and also more variety in not just compositional structure but how different segments flow within a track. While still very much only the interest of extreme music lover craving punky metal elements married with nerdy math rock, this one offers a bit more outside of the chaotic speedfest that ORTHRELM has made their own by developing their own musical paradigm. While this is much better in variety it still sounds limited due to only the guitar and drums as the sole instruments.

ORTHRELM II

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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On ORTHRELM II, Mick Barr and Jason Blair focus more on 48 extremely short tracks with most not even hitting the minute mark but at least one over the unthinkable two. The punk influence is strong on this one because instead of Barr shredding like a crazed madman nonstop for every track all the time with Blair’s bombastic percussion along for the ride, these tracks are actually less frenetic (relatively speaking) to the previous releases however the technicalities of the math rock are more prevalent with more attention shown on the mindful meandering of the sonic storm into more patterned dynamics with Barr’s guitar parts used for special effects rather than simply shredding like it’s the end of the world.

One of the most noticeable developments from ORTHRELM I to ORTHRELM II is that Barr isn’t afraid to riff on the bass notes of his guitar and actually utilizes punkish power chords instead of incessant tinny treble shredding all the time. Likewise Blair has pushed his technicalities into more focused arenas that find more diverse colors in his percussive playing abilities. Perhaps the brevity of the tracks allows the speed to develop tracks more efficiently so that the members don’t feel they have to linger on in robotic monotony for too long and likewise when they are on fully fueled spastic mode where everything is whizzing around at a million miles per second, the tracks tend to be very short some with some lasting less than ten seconds. The 2 minute and 34 second 24th track stands out the most because it contains little frenetic chunks of chaos punctuated with silence before turning into the seemingly formless pummeling parts.

This is hardly the stuff of most music lovers’ dreams. This is reserved for only the most adventurous musical techies out there who crave the most extreme cross-pollinating features of brutal extreme metal with punishing prog math rock. I wouldn’t go as far as many in saying that this is void of all emotional content. That is never true of music. This is definitely not warm, fuzzy feel good music in any way and reflects a sense of bleakness and helplessness as if highly advanced technologies have suddenly taken over the planet. This is in the realms of the surreal where Barr and Blair have virtually created their own musical lexicon with a syntax spoken by no other therefore the music will come across like listening to poetry in an obscure indigenous language that has never been heard before. For those into divorcing everything familiar, this is an interesting ride indeed but at the same time the monotony of only two instruments is what keeps this from being totally exciting in my book.

ORTHRELM I

Album · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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ORTHRELM I picks up after the debut and develops the song structures significantly. Whereas “Iorxhscimtor” focused primarily on Mick Barr’s extraordinary shredding skills and Jason Blair’s bombastic drumming style, little emphasis was placed on the math rock infused compositions. While that EP debuted the duo’s idiosyncratic musical language that will remind you of no other, ORTHRELM I creates a more varied palette of musical madness despite everything being on extreme hyperactivity mode with ceaseless shredding and skin pounding. The production is also of better value with less of a harsh noise intensity and a somewhat more smoothed out veneer.

Barr has stated in an interview that this music reflects the chaoticness of infinitely small and represents the quantum jumps of molecules at the most fundamental level of the construction of the physical universe. If there were to be any comparison at all it would have to be with the Japanese band Ruins who for the most part are also a noisy duo trying to create some of the harshest and unorthodox music chaos possible. ORTHRELM simply takes this same approach and injects it with steroids, cocaine, crystal meth and gallons of caffeine. This music is a nonstop math rock shredfest that is totally designed for the most unnerving reactions and a display case for the inhuman physical prowess of the two members hammering out some of the most intense sonic destruction possible.

While the magnitude of these two playing this stuff is thoroughly impressive, i can only feel that it sounds incomplete with only two band members. I would prefer to hear other instruments whizzing about creating unthinkable counterpoints that take the music to another level since only two instruments whizzing about at full speed becomes a bit monotonous. Yes, i’m a lover of extreme music of all forms and virtuosity is a sign of high art. ORTHRELM succeeds in creating high art at a low level meaning they opt for an intentional lo-fi DIY operation that takes some of the most disciplined skills in the musical kingdom and divert them into a form of controlled chaos. Extremely impressive but not something that beckons a return listen often.

ORTHRELM Iorxhscimtor

EP · 2001 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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ORTHRELM is one of the many side projects of Mick Barr who is probably best known for his work with the avant-black metal band Krallice but has a rather prolific output under different band names including Crom-Tech, M.N.D.L.B.L.S.T.N.G, Mossenek, Quix*o*tic and The Flying Luttenbachers just to know a few. ORTHRELM is basically a mere duo with Barr on guitar and Josh Blair on drums. The not so easy to pronounce debut IORXHSCIMTOR was their debut EP that showcased their most unorthodox avant-garde metal sound which not only displays Barr’s uncanny ability to shred up a storm on the guitar but also the highly experimental compositional styles that show no relationship to any form of classified musical style. This sonic assault seems to exist in its very own universe.

IORXHSCIMTOR is a short EP only lasting 16 minutes 28 seconds but packs in enough energy for 100 brutal death metal albums and a few hardcore punk albums on the side. While the shredding of guitars is incessant and every single note whizzes by at a million miles per second, the compositions are actually rooted in a very nerdy technical form of math rock with bizarre time signature changes and atonal chordal progressions. While Barr performs unthinkable guitar gymnastics on the guitar, Blair blows the roof off the house with his virtuoso percussive performances as well more than keeping up with Barr. In fact the duo pretty much play in sync with one another no matter how chaotic the noisefest becomes.

Despite the music being turned up to 11 almost all the time, there are moments of just plain math rock that do little dances in bizarre time sigs with peculiarly arranged notes juxtaposed next to one another. This is the epitome of extreme avant-garde metal as the tempo is about as quickly played as humanly possible while the noise factor is ratcheted up to extreme irritation mode. This will definitely bug your parents and it’s unlikely that anyone except the most hardcore adventurous music lovers who crave every aspect of the disparate strains of extreme music all in an orgy together will even remotely like this. Personally i am a glutton for punishment and find this appealing but fully admit that this is indeed extreme for the sake of extreme without much thought put into diversity amongst tracks.

BUCKETHEAD Octave Of The Holy Innocents (with Jonas Hellborg & Michael Shrieve)

Album · 1993 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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The album OCTAVE OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (which is a mixing of two Christian biblical accounts - “Massacre of the Innocents” referring to the infanticide of Herod the Great and the term OCTAVE which refers to the eighth day after a feast) is a crossroads for the three distinct musical careers passing for a brief blip in time. The album was constructed and initiated by the Swedish jazz-fusion bassist JONAS HELLBORG who after working with the likes of Shawn Lane, John McLaughlin and a whole list of others decided to put together an acoustic trio of performers to cross-pollinate his jazz-fusion style with other musical talents.

On drums is the veteran percussive talent of MICHAEL SHRIEVE, the percussionist extraordinaire who helped usher Santana to worldwide fame when he wooed a new generation at Woodstock as the youngest performer in the entire event. Also on board was some new blood in the form of the strange chicken loving guitarist BUCKETHEAD who after only one album under his belt was already making waves in musicians’ circles. This is in fact only the second album he played on in 1993 at the tender age of 24. Instead of releasing the album under a solo billing, HELLBORG democratically gave the album credits to all three participants.

OCTAVE OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS is an all acoustic instrumental affair with five lengthy tracks clocking in over the 42 minute mark. BUCKETHEAD plays exclusively acoustic guitar whereas HELLBORG plays acoustic bass and adds keyboards occasionally. SHRIEVE sticks to a traditional drum set and steers clear of any of the Latin rhythms of his Santana days. The music on this one is primarily set within the context of HELLBORG’s style of jazz-fusion progressive chording and virtuosic bass slapping techniques. The tracks are well constructed jazz-fusion pieces that allow extended jamming sessions to let all three instrumentalists strut their stuff.

The fifteen minute opener “Rana And Fara” swallows up a whole third of the album and runs the gamut of extreme placid tranquil build ups that peak and trough and ultimately cede into more technical and energetic workouts. The true technical prowess is displayed on “Death That Sleeps In Them” where all three performers engage in jazz-fusion workouts that are literally melting strings and skins alike and display the newbie BUCKETHEAD more than able to keep up with the big kids on the block. “The Past Is A Different Country, I Don’t Live There Anymore” is a much more reflective piece that stretches out to over nine minutes and reminds me of some of Mahavishnu Orchestra’s more serene moments which obviously rubbed off on HELLBORG during his days with John McLaughlin.

“Child King” is probably my favorite track on the album as it traverses through flamenco meets jazz type workouts with a touch of Classical Hindustani in the mix. SHRIEVE exercises some of his most adroit drum and cymbal action on this one. “Kidogo” is an energetic closer that shows an exciting tension in the contrast of HELLBORG’s bombastic bass compete with the drums while BUCKETHEAD creates atmospheric slide effects and other mind-bending riffage. OMG! This is truly an album of top notch professionals at the helm and they all perform with each other spectacularly. There is not a shred of ego to be felt and each musician perfectly complements the other for the entirely of the album’s run. A very exciting stripped down piece of musical art here.

BUCKETHEAD Left Hanging (with Travis Dickerson)

Album · 2010 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Yet another collaborative effort of BUCKETHEAD in 2010 and the fifth overall with TRAVIS DICKERSON. While this one is primarily a DICKERSON album, the chicken lover has received equally billing. This one is mostly a bunch of unreleased tracks from previous sessions of the “Dragons Of Eden” and “Population Override” albums as well as sessions from the other musical collaborations of the bands Thanatopsis, Axiology and Gorgone sessions. Because of the different sessions involved, this one has many drummers credited. BUCKETHEAD handles bass and guitar, DICKERSON plays keyboards and the drum duties are divided up between Brain, Ramy Antoun and Pinchface.

LEFT HANGING follows in the footsteps of the other BUCKETHEAD & DICKERSON collaborative effort that also included Brain (who is on this album but receives no equal billing) in that it continues the jammy jazz-fusion psychedelia of the “Dragons Of Eden” album. Back are the jazzy chord progressions and the psychedelic 70s mellotron sounding organ runs as well as the fusion bombast of the three respective drummers on board. Noticeably absent from this one is the haunting chamber rock cello added on “Dragons” which gave that a more distinct and unique sound. LEFT HANGING sounds more like a typical jazz-fusion outfit from the early to mid-70s at the zenith of the prog rock heyday.

Unfortunately this one isn’t quite as interesting because it sounds too traditional compared to “Dragons.” Everything is played excellently with BUCKETHEAD not only delivering some mean guitar workouts but some funky slappin’ bass runs as well. DICKERSON dishes out some nice contrast of mellotron drenched organ runs along with more funky keyboard runs a la Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters” era. Despite sounding like this is some long lost artifact from the 70s, it sounds authentic and organically constructed as all the musicians seamlessly jam and play off each other with ease. Despite the fact these tracks were all recorded during different sessions, they all connect fairly well and actually add more flavor to the overall feel of the album.

As someone who is well versed in jazz and jazz-fusion of the 60s and 70s, LEFT HANGING is by no means a top notch sort of album in that rich field of cross-pollination however this is a very engaging album that is excellently performed, nicely produced and elegantly retro to boot. Jazz-fusion is a type of subgenus that has a varying spectrum with some leaning heavy on the jazz side and other on the rock. I would say that BUCKETHEAD & DICKERSON are definitely closer to the rock side of things on LEFT HANGING with tight steady rhythms that for the most part are absent of strong syncopation and other overtly aspects of jazz. However the chord progressions and some of the dynamics are definitely out of the jazz playbook. The percussion is more of a simple rock beat and fails to engage in a jazz context. This is a fun album to listen to but i’m not as fond of it as “Dragons Of Eden” however there are a few surprises that will shock you!

BUCKETHEAD Captain EO's Voyage

Album · 2010 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.52 | 2 ratings
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After a reference to CAPTAIN EO on the album “A Real Diamond In The Rough” titled “The Return Of Captain EO” which refers to the 3D sci-fi film by Michael Jackson, BUCKETHEAD revisited the idea with a whole album, his 29th, titled CAPTAIN EO’S VOYAGE with lots of references to Jackson’s life. This album also begins the trend of releasing albums first digitally and then following them up with a physical format at a later date. The album also signified a departure from the TDRS record label and is performed only by BUCKETHEAD on guitars and Dan Monti on bass, drums and production. Yep, that even appears to be Michael Jackson on the album cover. The movie was associated with Disneyland which is another weakness for BUCKETHEAD whose whole idea for BUCKETHEADLAND was constructed. He has been purported to spends lots of time in the Magical Kingdom and on this release he pays tribute to both artists and theme park in one shot.

This one is on the mellower side of things but sustains a fairly strong drumbeat. Overall CAPTAIN EO’S VOYAGE is a rather psychedelic rock type of album with echoey guitars, snail’s paced bass lines and intricate compositional developments that go beyond the usual mellow BH album styles of simple repetitive chord progressions that outstay their welcome. This one has more variety between tracks as well as dynamic shifts between the mellower aspects of BH’s music and the more rockin’ out however nothing on here approaches metal whatsoever. This is strictly a slowed down form of rock with psychedelic and even post-rock elements along with the occasional funk bass line. The tracks are instantly catchy and melodic while the guitar licks and solos are on the bluesy side of things. This one is cool in that the guitar, bass and drums seem to be happy existing in their own world instead of simply following a leader.

This one is pretty cool in the fact that it adds new ways to incorporate the clean echoey guitars and keep the tracks sounding distinct from each other. Whether it has any connection to the actual movie is beyond me since i’ve never seen it (and most likely never will) however this album has a playful feel to it and somehow it seems to fit with the theme. While this will never go down as my favorite BH album by any means, this one is a pleasant roller coaster ride, albeit a gentle one for those who get motion sickness too easily. Despite these mellower ones not topping my BH faves list, i have to admit that they are a nice recalibrating effect to put the others in perspective therefore even the ones i like lesser seem to have a purpose. This one may not excel beyond the original “Colma” album in performance but it’s not a bad try.

BUCKETHEAD Brain As Hamenoodle (with Brain)

Album · 2010 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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While BUCKETHEAD was releasing more albums under his own name exclusively he was also continuing to release collaborative efforts as well. In 2010 he and his friends Bryan “Brain” Mantia on drums and Melissa Reese on keyboards unleashed three collaborative releases. Two of these were massive boxed sets where all three got equally artist billing whereas the third one is only attributed to BUCKETHEAD and BRAIN since it doesn’t feature Melissa Reese despite it fitting in with the other “Kind Regards” boxed sets. The album titled BRAIN AS HAMENOODLE is yet another experimental album that focuses on minimalistic bass and drums. I have no idea what the title refers to although i suspect it has something to do with the fact that previous albums were titled “Chicken Noodles” and the HAM part refers to Brain’s personality in some way. This is pure speculation.

The album starts out with some girl uttering gibberish that ends with the term HAMENOODLE and then the funk session begins. This whole album is basically BUCKETHEAD slapping away on the bass and BRAIN pounding on the drums. Surprisingly despite the limited instrumentation this one has a lot of differing styles. While the opening “Meet Hamen” has a clear funk vibe, the following “Brad P” is more laid back with a slow groovin’ bass that lets the percussion to have a hyperactive spastic attack. All in all this one reminds a bit more of the band Ruins only more on valium and without the zeuhl. After all that band has done many albums with nothing more than bass and drums and constantly finds new ways to invent that sound. Unlike that band there are no vocals to be found here. Only progressive rock meets funk workouts where some segments work better than others.

The comparison to Ruins is more than just a fleeting feeling. The extended jams that range from calm and placid to full-on freak outs is exactly the kind of freaky stuff that Tatsuya Yoshida would come up with. This album allows BUCKETHEAD to fully raise his freak flag on the bass and he nails it doing the craziest things as he does on guitars. BRAIN is equally competent on the drum set and is a master of changing things up. He has been rather reserved on many of his collaboration albums but on this one he really lets loose with a nonstop series of rhythmic assaults that seamlessly meld with the bass. While this isn’t quite energetic enough to be considered metal there are energized moments that pass as heavy rock but for the most part this one remains in funk rock mode with other excursions into the avant-garde and beyond. Better than it sounds but not the kind of stuff i’m going to seek out many repeat listens either. Unlike a typical Ruins album, it doesn’t quite have the zany zeal and over-the-top aesthetics that make their albums so much fun.

BUCKETHEAD Spinal Clock

Album · 2010 · Non-Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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For his second release of 2010, BH went a totally new direction with his 28th album SPINAL CLOCK which has been purported to refer to the chicken lover’s back injury that occurred earlier in the same year of release. This album is unlike anything else in BH’s vast canon and is the beginning of BH becoming a one-man show. All nine tracks are basically avant-garde banjo tracks although BH also includes guitar, bass and percussion and handles all musical duties solo. This was also the beginning of his artist direct to fan phase where he only issued 300 personally signed copies and then by popular demand extended that to 500 however, the album has never been released and is another case of U-toob being your best friend.

“Lafayette’s Landing” begins with a droning buzz that sounds like a progressive electronic album is in the works. It slowly ratchets up the brooding atmosphere when finally a banjo emerges after an established bass line leads the way. This is some seriously slow moving activity here as the bass line gently thumps away and the banjo intermittently plucks out a lick or two and then vanishes into the darkness. Likewise “Whale On This” follows suit with a heady strange minimalism and extends on for almost 10 minutes by basically just shifting from weird to classical tune riffs to even Americana folk but it all seems rather pointless as if this were nothing more than trying out an instrument in the music store to test its playing ability. In between these snippets is often just noisy percussive nothingness that ruins any sort of flow.

This one is fairly disappointing because i would’ve hoped that some banjo music could be taken to unthinkable arenas in the chicken lover’s hands but this one is basically alternates between droning pulses of repetitive bass lines and random parades of sounds that include periods of percussion, bouts of silence and other non-linear types of sound delivery. I’m pretty opened minded and crave BUCKETHEAD’s experimental albums more than anyone but this one is not executed very well at all. Yeah, it sounds like one of those pointillistic type albums that reminds me of Karlheinz Stockhausen in many ways but this one is so minimalistic as to be rendered fairly pointless and devoid of any listening pleasure. Nice try, BH but this one will surely go down as one of your most bungled efforts. Even the the spastic banjo licks and nice melodic meandering at the end of “Spinal Cracker” are too little too late. Recommended only if you want weird for weird’s sake with nothing tangible to grasp.

BUCKETHEAD Shadows Between the Sky

Album · 2010 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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The year 2010 was a pivotal one in the twenty year career of the bizarre entity known as BUCKETHEAD. As the naughts proceeded Mr. Chicken Lover began releasing more and more albums under his own moniker with four being released in 2009. The very next year he would through this prolificacy explode as he would he would not only release three albums but also release an innocent little untitled album that was also known as “Happy Holidays From Buckethead” around Christmas time as a limited edition but unknowingly would launch the entire Pike series to follow. SHADOWS BETWEEN THE SKY, his 27th album is the first of the year and after a couple of strange avant-garde xenochrony type releases, BH reverts back to the same style as “A Real Diamond In The Rough.” Like most of the albums released in this period, BH is joined by Dan Monti on bass and drum programming with Monti and Albert handling the production duties.

This is another fairly mellow album that could be compared to the “Colma” album of 1998. It is primarily constructed with clean guitar riffs, bass and percussion. Unlike previous albums of its ilk, this one has traces of flamenco as heard on the title track and more energetic percussive outbursts as well giving it more vim and vigor than other examples of BH’s mellow musical journeys. While there are some great dark tracks like the slowcore “City Of Woe” which almost sounds like a spaghetti western that has been thawing after a cryogenic deepfreeze, many tracks such as “Rim Of The World” and “Sea Wall” are pretty much the mellow BH by the numbers routine with somewhat nonchalant clean guitar melodies that sort of have a verse / chorus structure and offer really nothing new in the vast BH palette.

“Sled Ride” is pretty cool as it is more upbeat with echoey guitar riffs, a nice atmospheric haze softening it out with energetic drums that offer more than a lazy march to the melody type of scenario. “Scenario” is proof that a truck can be mellow and still interesting as it has variations in its development and has nice riffs, echo effects and overall production dynamics. It is neither showy nor energetic but has captured the spirit of what it’s trying to accomplish. Overall SHADOWS BETWEEN THE SKY is a mixed bag for me. There are some decent tracks but there are just as many okay but not outstanding ones. It’s not a bad album to throw on when you’re in a mellower sort of mood and fans of BH’s slower material will love this one a lot more than i do but i have to admit that for his mellower albums that this one is decent if not consistent.

BUCKETHEAD Needle in a Slunk Stack

Album · 2009 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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File under: loony bin weirdo music - the sequel (add the metal please)

On his 26th album and 4th and final of 2009, the chicken lover known as BUCKETHEAD did something rare and followed up one style of an album with another of the same. NEEDLE IN A SLUNK STACK (derived from the famous phrase ‘needle in a haystack’) directly follows in the predecessor “Forensic Follies” footsteps and once again utilizes xenochrony using recycled samples from previous releases, however unlike the “Follies,” this one includes original drum tracks unlike the recycled percussion. The individual tracks are listed on Wikipedia for which albums they borrow their elements from but the lion’s share come from “Inbred Mountain,” “The Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock,” “Slaughterhouse On The Prairie” and “Island Of Lost Minds.” Like the last album this one features BUCKETHEAD on guitar, Dan Monti on drum programming and the painstaking production tasks performed by Monti and Albert.

Stylistically this one is actually quite different because of the fact that the percussion is totally original allowing the samples of guitars, electronica and other accoutrements to layer over the beat which allows a more free flowing style rather than the rather strangely stilted staccato flow of “Forensic Follies.” That is not to say that all that freakiness doesn’t emerge here and there but there are more periods of “normal” BH sounds! Overall this one is simply less choppy (relatively speaking) and even has full on metal attacks such as on “Carcass Cable” on all the way through it is entirety which while the guitar riffs are recycled contain enough heft to create decent head banging tracks. To make this one work differently than the previous there is a lot of effort placed on the drum programming which i have to admit is handled quite beautifully with intricately precise time changes that are incredibly executed with full metal fury.

This is obviously one for the most adventurous of musical rollercoaster riders in BUCKETHEADLAND. These unorthodox xenochrony effects would even leave its inventor Frank Zappa wondering what kind of sonic assault he has been subjected to however like lots of bizarre avant-garde music, this one is based on an underpinning of blues riffs, funk or whatever and then dropped out leaving only the strangest elements to be heard. The metal riffing tracks are the easiest to digest but there is certainly more flow in this one. Personally i find this stuff fun to play guitar around since the “normal” elements have been subdued, it’s a free-for-all for creative improvisation sessions. While i wouldn’t expect to want to hear another album so soon after one of similar ilk, NEEDLE IN A SLUNK STACK approaches the sampling process in a totally different way which displays the different forks in the road by simply replacing the sampled percussive parts with totally original ones. Another underdog i’ve adopted in my collection of the weirdest and sickest music to be heard! Not as out there as “Forensic Follies” but not far behind :)

BUCKETHEAD Forensic Follies

Album · 2009 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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File under: loony bin weirdo music

Anyone familiar with the eclectic world of BUCKETHEAD should expect anything in his long canon of musical wonderland however even within this unusual musician’s bizarre something emerges that is even unusual for him. One of the strangest albums to be unleashed was the third album of 2009 titled FORENSIC FOLLIES which takes the avant-garde and experimental to new extremes. This was another one of those albums that was sold only at live shows and features Dan Monti on bass and drum programming as well as Monti and Albert sharing production duties which is a major part of what makes this album so unique.

The album primarily relies on xenochrony which is a studio-based technique that was invented in the 60s by Frank Zappa who learned how to extract different musical elements from previous albums and find a new way of putting them together on a future release. Perhaps the most famous of these was “Joe’s Garage” and “Thing-Fish” which were just as weird and misunderstood as FORENSIC FOLLIES seems to be. There is a whole list of which tracks were borrowed from on the Wikipedia page of this album and the list is long but it seems like the lion’s share is divided between “Island Of Lost Minds” and The Elephant Man’s Alarm Clock.”

While listening to this one, it is by no means apparent that these sounds are sampled from previous material as the sound samples are so short and staccato that it’s all rendered unrecognizable. It is however a veritable trip into the psycho-ward as this free form flow of noise, guitar bloops and bleeps, power chords and other electronic effects seems rather random yet at times patterns of sanity emerge. This album is truly experimentalism for experiment’s sake only and although i’m the biggest proponent of unleashed creativity flowing wherever it has free rein, i’ll readily admit that this one may not have the most staying power after an initial listen.

Having said all that, FORENSIC FOLLIES has a wickedly turgid charm all its own. It’s not that it’s formless per se. There is an admirable attempt to keep a rhythmic flow going with the percussive drive whether it be from the drum programming or the methodology of stitching the samples together. There is even funky underpinnings at times. This is the kind of stuff i love throwing on when i’m in the most adventurous musical moods. This is avant-garde weirdo music like no other and for that bold and daring move i support this freak show in full glory. Basically this music isn’t meant to be made for emotional connection and earworm burrowing effects. This is for those moments when you just wanna get all freaky wit yer badass self! In that regard, this is pretty brilliant and i support this underdog 100% although i admittedly have to be in the right mindset to subject myself to this however i do have an appetite for such madness ;p

BUCKETHEAD A Real Diamond in the Rough

Album · 2009 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.02 | 2 ratings
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With the release of his 24th album and 2nd of 2009, BUCKETHEAD dedicated this one to his legal representative Stan Diamond and thus is titled A REAL DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH. Yet another album with BUCKETHEAD handling guitar duties, Bryan “Brain” Mantia on drums and Dan Monti on bass. He also handles the drum programming on some tracks. Like many of his “tribute” albums, this one is a warm sentimental collection of tracks that focus on emotion inducing stripped down melodies that are calm and reflective rather than bombastic and experimental. The album is much like earlier albums “Colma” or “Electric Tears” that take a journey into the placidity of atmospheric melodic tracks. Unlike those there a few upbeat guitar parts with heavy distortion and more energetic riffing. The production is crystal clear.

Tracks like “Dawn Appears” are as slowed down and ambient as the name suggests and have clean guitar parts, snail’s-paced tempo and very melodic developments. Others like “Separate Sky” offer more variables that add greater dynamics including more rocking out and fuzzed out feedback. “Sundial” is a nice peppy series of popping echoey guitar lines that without percussion creates an interesting effect for its short duration. “Squid Ink” relies as much on the heft of percussion as it does on the ultra clean textures of the guitar riffs and clean production techniques. “Formless Present” takes the slowing down to the ultimate level providing a sample of slow core guitar riffing while “The Return Of Captain EO” takes on a heavy bluesy rock style.

For the most part A REAL DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH is could hardly be called a rock album at all and focuses on chilled out clean guitar oriented tracks that slowly mediate rather than pulverize. There are nice tracks to be heard on this one but for me there are too many slower tracks that sound as if they could’ve been leftovers for previous albums of the similar style and even when BH rocks out, it feels purposefully held back. On top of that the album doesn’t flow to my liking as the placement of certain tracks doesn’t make sense in the big scheme of things. Fans of BH’s mellower albums will probably dig this more than i do and as i stated, there is plenty of decent material here but there also seems to be a lot of recycling going on in the creativity department as well.

BUCKETHEAD Slaughterhouse on the Prairie

Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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I just love some the album titles BUCKETHEAD comes up with for his less than traditional albums. On his 23rd solo release he opted to pay tribute to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous book “Little House On The Prairie” and mangled it to become SLAUGHTERHOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. This one has BUCKETHEAD handling guitar while Dan Monti is along for the ride on bass and programming (i assume the drum machines are included as the drums sound pretty canned here.) The first two tracks “LeBron” and “LeBron’s Hammer” were dedicated to LeBron James’ 24th birthday and were originally free downloads. This album also introduces the term “Pike” in the track “Pumpkin Pike” thus in retrospect possibly a clue to the endless series that would debut the following year. The year 2009 saw four solo albums with SLAUGHTERHOUSE being the first and a warmup to the prolific productivity egg laying antics of the chicken lover from here on.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE is another one of those alternative metal type albums with heavy grungy guitar riffs accompanied by bass and drums. It is mostly in fast tempo and aggressively in-yer-face with plenty of BUCKETHEAD’s tricks and trinkets up his sleeves like sizzling solos, squealing licks and unorthodox riffing that take on experiment time signature deviations and are just plain weird at times. Overall SLAUGHTERHOUSE is not the most original of albums and sounds a lot like “Albino Slug” in this regard with a ton of recycled riffs from yesteryear appearing in a new packaged format. While progressive experimentalism is present as on most BH releases, this one has more by-the-numbers type of tracks and pretty much plays it safe as a nice inoffensive alt metal type of album. Some of the time sigs are cool at times though.

Like “Albino Slug,” SLAUGHTERHOUSE is a decent listen with all the tracks having distinct personalities and allowed to unfurl in their own funkiefied manner however this one has the disadvantage of sounding a little samey by the end of the playing time, however overall i like this one a bit more than “Slug,” simply because there are more interesting variations despite the timbres, tones and forcefulness remaining in the heavy alt metal zone. Favorites are “Blood Bayou” (somewhat experimental), “Don’t Use Roosts If You Raise Broilers” (more experimental) and “Robot Checkerboard” (wickedly cool experimental and funky) whereas the rest are cool but not as so. This album definitely needs more variety and is a prognosticator for the plethora of Pikes down the road that would incorporate a few killa tracks and a bunch of lesser than so. The thing that saves this album is all the weird echoey effects and fluid rhythmic drives that are surreal in many ways.

BUCKETHEAD The Dragons Of Eden (with Travis Dickerson and Brain)

Album · 2008 · Non-Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Another day, another album in the BUCKETHEAD universe. Well, at least in 2008 when this one was released he was spending more time collaborating on others’ album rather than releasing his own. Technically the chicken lover only released one album “Albino Slug” under his own name that year but with the same exact line-up as that one he released THE DRAGONS OF EDEN which in this case gave equal billing to both TRAVIS DICKERSON (keyboards) and BRAIN (drums). Not credited in the billing but contributing the cello is Cameron Stone. Keeping in line with his restless eclectic nature, the chicken lover creates something unusual in his canon by tackling the jazz-fusion category with THE DRAGONS OF EDEN which from the look of the cover made me think that this might be some sort of Traditional Chinese music type of album! So wrong i was :P BTW, the album title comes from the Carl Sagan book from 1977.

THE DRAGONS OF EDEN has a rather retro 70’s funk rock meets jazz-fusion vibe accompanied by a funk metal guitar riff and a seemingly out of place lugubrious sounding cello that haunts the otherwise jocularity of the feel good funk vibe. Add to that traces of boogie woogie and other piano tinkling along with retro mellotron sounding organ runs and we are in for a somewhat familiar but also strange wild ride! All the tracks are instantly infectious as the funky jazz nature of the tracks reels you in and lets you settle into the pace of things rather quickly. Some of the keyboard runs are straight out of the Chic Corea playbook and it all sounds like an odd mishmash of a organ dominated prog brands of the 70s with Return To Forever coming to mind, however nothing gets super complex on this one as all the tracks are very light-hearted and free flowing into jam band mode. The whole affair sounds like an organic spontaneous flow of energy during a few short rehearsals so don’t expect something highly developed.

The result of all the mixing of genre styles allows a very surreal experience for this one. I can’t think of a single jazz-fusion type of album where psychedelic early 70s organs so energetically dance around the funky rhythms and guitar passages accompanied by a prominent chamber rock type of cello sound. The four musicians leapfrog around each others’ leads so gracefully and despite the music being fairly simple to grasp becomes quite complex just by certain instruments passing the baton to the next and then backing up their fellow band members. This is one of the most pleasant and even uplifting types of jazz-fusion albums i’ve ever heard. It doesn’t have a shred of technical alienation that some types of music do and on the contrary has a very warm inviting feel mostly due to the fuzzy warm organ parts that make me feel like there are fresh cupcakes at Grandma’s house! If you told me this was some unknown artist from the early 70s, i’d totally believe it but this album came out in 2008. Great retro job guys! This is a great one at sounding retro but totally original simultaneously.

BUCKETHEAD Albino Slug

Album · 2008 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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The only album to come out in 2008 under the sole moniker BUCKETHEAD although ALBINO SLUG was recorded with Dan Monti and Travis Dickerson as was “The Dragons Of Eden” (although they got artist credit on that one.) ALBINO SLUG is the 22nd solo album of the chicken lover and was originally only available for sale on tour but since has been made available through TDRS Music. To make things even more convoluted in one of the most ridiculously complex canons of the music universe, on 18 March 2009, a seven minute solo was added to the track “Forgotten Trail” when the album was released on iTunes. As of current date, the album will be re-released once again on 15 Nov 2017 it will be given a new title, new cover artwork and the tracks “Redeem Team” and “Siege Engine” will be re-recorded. Whew!

Unfortunately the packaging, rebranding and minutia of ALBINO SLUG are much more complex than the music that it contains. This is one of BUCKETHEAD’s more straight forward alternative metal type of albums with less emphasis on progressive elements, experimentation and wild frenetic unhinged episodes. For the most part this one is a by-the-numbers guitar / bass / drums affair with repetitive chord sequences and bluesy lead guitar solos over the grungy metal haze. The tracks are generally quite short with the eight minute plus “Siege Engine” being the sole exception and that easily could’ve been trimmed in half and then it still would’ve been too long as it has little variations and just coasts on a 4/4 parade of a repetitive riff. Tracks like “Pink Eye” offer a bit more variation in terms of surprises and time signature deviations but still retains an alternative metal approach. “Flee Flicker” is also a nice little unusual number with an unusual rhythm accompanied by the expected alt metal guitar and a sizzling solo.

While there are a few bona fide moments of interest on ALBINO SLUG, overall i just feel this to be a bit lazy in the BUCKETHEAD universe. While nothing is overtly horrible and unlistenable, neither is it refreshing, creative and innovative in anyway. This is simply BH’s techniques going through the recycling bin and thrown back out and recorded. At this stage before he was pumping out a gazillion albums a minute, his albums were much more varied and often generated more mood shifts. ALBINO SLUG just covers the gamut of crunchy alt metal chords with a few freaky things thrown in here and there to keep us from thinking this is an experimental Foo Fighters album or something. Good but doesn’t blow me away either. Luckily there is always another BUCKETHEAD album to check out!

BUCKETHEAD From The Coop

Album · 2008 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Technically the third “special” release of the prolific career of the eccentric BUCKETHEAD but in reality nothing more than the early demo tapes that were recorded in 1988 while a young Brian Carroll was a mere maggot of 19 years old, however even at this stage he was possessed by aliens or something and already had amassed supernatural guitar playing powers. Even on these earliest of recordings his techniques are quite developed as he callathumps down the genre highway pumping out his famous shredfests, country bluegrass pickings (covers from Lester Flat and Earl Scruggs), techno dominated guitar jams, classical meets flamenco (Tarrega covers) and good old fashioned metal and rock.

While the production is fairly primitive as to be expected from just a mere simple recorder of the era. The tracks are basically just snippets of practice sessions with only a couple reaching four minutes. This compilation was released by popular demand on CD exactly 20 years after the tracks were laid down to tape. This is definitely one for the fans who want to dig into the vaults and hear how BH had already set in motion all of the familiar styles and idiosyncrasies that had made him the freaky rock star that he would become including all those two-handed arpeggios and solos.

I certainly wouldn’t call this essential listening but for a mere collection of demos, it is obvious even at this early stage that he who wears a BUCKET on his HEAD was quite the accomplished musician already seamlessly fusing funk with rock, electronica with jazz, classical with flamenco and the avant-garde with the OMG! A very worthwhile listen indeed. BH handles all guitar, bass and drum machine duties. Many of the ideas presented here will be quite recognizable for anyone who has sampled even a fraction of the BH canon. Nothing will come as a shock except how good he was at a young age.

BUCKETHEAD Chicken Noodles II (with Travis Dickerson)

Album · 2007 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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So yummy is one edition of CHICKEN NOODLES that another was in store! Yep, BUCKETHEAD and his partner in crime TRAVIS DICKERSON hooked up for yet another free-stylin’ session of guitar and keyboard improvs in full jam form for another battle of the blues and jazz. Basically what we get here is DICKERSON making his Fender Rhodes Piano while BUCKETHEAD adds his jazzy clean guitar workouts. The album is much like the first edition only the tracks are slightly more energized as they jam on to infinity. There is a veritable 60s retro vibe going on as it reminds me of those extended instrumental passages in The Doors albums.

So what we get is a series of melodies that are either initiated by DICKERSON’s keyboards or taken by the horns via the guitar route. The tracks vary in tempo and style but are connected in timbre and volume dynamics. There’s a nice warm feel to the jams as they are clearly pouring their hearts and souls into the music and not worried about creating too slick of a final product. The minimalism allows them to focus on the melodies at hand and these two veterans pull it off with style and grace like pros. While some of the tracks are short, “Concentric Motion” and “Oyster Crackers” clock in at over nine friggin’ minutes! These are the tracks that possibly outstay their welcome a bit but when all is said and done, this is one of those nice gentle albums that plays in the background while you engage in some other activity.

Given the nature of the music, i wouldn’t call this stuff essential by any means however it is certainly well played and engaging in doses of full attentiveness but mostly i find this to be great supplemental music in the chicken lover’s vast canon of craziness. While guitar and piano outburst can occur from time to time, this is pretty much an egalitarian romp through jamsville while melodic counterpoints are simply allowed to dance around together like gin fueled hillbillies in Appalachian dreams. Nothing to take seriously here, just nice jam sessions that carry on for various amounts of time. Not my favorite BH release by any means but certainly an entertaining listen if not exactly essential.

MARILYN MANSON Mechanical Animals

Album · 1998 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 31 ratings
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With an album cover displaying a disturbed creature looking like the love child gone wrong of a grey alien and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) from the X-men movies, MARILYN MANSON (the man) steered MARILYN MANSON (the band) into strangely surreal territories after blowing their wad with the apocalyptic visions of their previous album “Antichrist Superstar” which was in reality the culmination of a trilogy released in reverse order. Did anyone not tell you these guys were weird? The band’s third studio MECHANICAL ANIMALS finds itself neatly tucked between the three albums that make up the rock opera and either way ends up at #2! Thematically speaking no one could have figured out the storyline at the time of release and probably no one cared but musically the band takes on the totally different realm of glam rock mixed with the usual goth tinged industrial electronica, ominous nihilistic melancholy along with the Nine Inch Nails guitar oomf only not magnified to extreme metal proportions. The result of this shift is a dramatic change in style and mood and finds the album perfectly exemplifying the theme of the Bowie-esque (think Ziggy Stardust) androgynous Omēga becoming addicted to drugs and fame after coming to Earth and turning into a rock star.

Everything about MECHANICAL ANIMALS sounds, well MECHANICAL actually. The album begins with the valium space flair feeling “Great Big White World” which finds Portishead type downtempo type beats accompanied by electronic atmospheres that are eerie and utterly detached from reality. The guitars are tuned to a twangy echo with the usual catchy glam pop type of melodies that MANSON crafts so well and are instantly gratifying. “The Dope Show” song and video are the perfect anecdote for this tale of shedding the dark and finding ways of breaking through the detached drug addictions that fame and fortune brought Omēga and his band and how they ended up becoming trapped into the cycles of consumerism, narcissism, addiction and ultimately detached surrender. The video likewise shows a shocking genderless figure struggling to maintain sanity in the artificial world that has seeped into every aspect of its existence. The slower tracks bring out strong hints of 70s Queen and Bowie with Pink Floyd space rock effects to heighten the atmospheres while the heavier tracks such as “Rock Is Dead” retains the perfect holy trinity of Nine Inch Nails bombast, Prodigy laden big beat electronica and MANSON’s predilection of Alice Cooper style shock rock only tinged with a gothic flair reminiscent of Bauhaus or The Cure.

MECHANICAL ANIMALS is a woefully misunderstood album and one that i admittedly lagged into accepting in my own musical world. After the bombast and pomp of “Antichrist Superstar,” the dopey mope of MECHANICAL ANIMALS came as the undesired antithesis of the heavy industrial metal sound that preceded. This album must be taken in context of the story at hand however upon first listen i had zero idea that a context was to be had. I just didn’t like it. Over time this album has grown on me and while some deem it MANSON’s best and some the worst, i personally find it no better or worse than its predecessor and should be judged on its own merits and not in relation to the albums that bookmark it. It is clearly an anomaly in the MANSON canon and one that he has admittedly refrained from repeating but the mood, imagery and theme of the album are perfectly suited for the overarching story at hand. However like every MANSON album, much like the opposing dichotomy of the name that graces them, there are moments of utter brilliance and likewise moments of extreme mediocrity.

Musically speaking, MECHANICAL ANIMALS is a very catchy, groovy industrial rock type of album but there are few tracks that rub me the wrong way. Slow burners such as “The Speed Of Pain” are a little sleepy and melodically bland with little payoff and some like the single “I Don’t Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)” are a little too close to the Bowie playbook and have a bass line far too close to Bowie’s “Fame” and the authenticity of the track eschews me as it resides far too close to its influence for my liking. Overall MECHANICAL ANIMALS is another excellent album from MARILYN MANSON and one of the last consistently good ones to be honest. The tracks are the perfect 90s angsty anthems with all the industrial heft and electronica wizardry frosting every cadence and stanza. A slow burner in my world but one that has finally turned up the heat and boiled down into a consistently interesting listen minus the few flaws that still rub me the wrong way.

SEPTICFLESH Codex Omega

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.93 | 4 ratings
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As the Greek economy continues to crumble into the eternal fires of Hades threatening to take down the entire European Union in its wake, a few signs of life still resonate from the fertile Hellenic soils amongst the olive stomping ceremonies and the esoteric speeches of Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis explaining in great detail how in vivid detail of how we’re all just plain fucked. There is no doubt that extreme metal bands were ahead of this umpteenth wave of eternal doom and pessimism on the nature of humanity’s utter stupidity and some such as Greek’s own SEPTICFLESH have constructed a soundtrack or two in its honor even in the most remote nooks and crannies of this here global village.

Although the list of symphonic death metal bands isn’t huge ( i think the list only includes Aeternam, Arch Of Hell, Atrocity, Brymir, Dark Lunacy, Dawn Of Tears, Depressed Mode, Dissonance In Majesty, Dominia, Empyrean, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, Ex Duo, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Gorgon, Hollenthon, Inactive Messiah, Irreversible Mechanism, Kalisia, Karlahan, Mayan, Meadow’s End, Mechina, Odes Of Ecstasy, Ouroboros, Persefone, Red Descending, The Monolith Deathcult, SEPTICFLESH, Serenity In Murder, Shade Empire, Sidious, Skyfire, Waltari, Whispered, Whorlion, Wintersun, Vesania, Xerath ) because of the short time it has had to branch off of its parent death metal world, SEPTICFLESH was well ahead of this game in the field of having incorporated symphonic touches to their extreme metal passions all the way back on their second album “Έσοπτρον” in 1995.

Since then the band has dipped in and out of the symphonic atmospheric world of metal and opted for death doom or Gothic metal at times but starting with 2003’s “Sumerian Daemons,” the band latched onto a symphonic death metal sound all their own. Whereas some of the aforementioned bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse for example went for a brutal death metal approach with a philharmonic aggressiveness to back it up, SEPTICFLESH went for a more traditional death metal sound with an orchestra to primarily add atmospheric touches. Following three years after their tenacious symphonic taste of bombast “Titan,” the Greeksters conjure up another dose of high octane fueled death metal meets a full orchestra on their 10th studio album CODEX OMEGA which pretty much continues down the path of full return without much to add, however when the elements of impending doom lifted so gracefully by the Czech Republic’s FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague, gosh the apocalypse just doesn’t seem so bad!

SEPTICFLESH are masters of codifying the opposing forces of bombastic death metal and lush symphonic classical music into allies which united somehow bring a form of musical harmony to the universe. Stylistically CODEX EFFECT isn’t much different than the previous offering “Titan.” Both contain exquisitely hideous cover art, death metal bombast punctuated by the charismatic growls (and clean vocal declarations) of Spiros Antoniou and death metal riffing and percussive blastbeats that could conjure up ALLLL the mosh pitting demons of the world. They also contain the most sensual atmospheric symphonic effects possible even accompanied by a complete choir that despite existing on polar opposites of the musical spectrum somehow perform the great dance together although both musical realities are in reality subordinate to the nexus of Antoniou’s beastly and charismatic domination.

However, despite the similarities between CODEX EFFECT and “Titan,” there remains one fundamental difference. That being that despite everything “Titan” had going for it, it was lacking in the most basic prerequisite of all, namely interesting compositions. Apparently the band got the memo about this trivial little faux pas and decided to correct the matter in the three year gap and succeeds in creating a very listenable album indeed.

One of my main gripes with SEPTICFLESH is that they produce outstanding music that culminates on the first side of the album and then slowly fizzles out into generic forgetfulness. They seem to be the symphonic death metal version of Soundgarden who suffered a similar fate. On CODEX EFFECT, the band seems to have paid attention to the pacing of the myriad elements involved in the project in order to make an easier to follow album’s length of material. I find the material on CODEX EFFECT to be some of the best the band has ever conjured up and granted that they are merely perfecting their style rather than adding any new experimental touches, i find this to be a satisfying listen from beginning to end unlike the majority of the prior canon.

At this point SEPTICFLESH is an institutional force in the death metal world having been around for well over a quarter of a century and while some band’s peak and fizzle out and fade away into obscurity, SEPTICFLESH on the other hand takes notes on their past mistakes and opts to learn from them rather than ignoring that they existed. CODEX EFFECT shows the band on top of their game with not only some of their best death metal hooks laid down to digital form but likewise construct some of the most conducive philharmonic shadow effects that perfectly gel with the greater groove. CODEX EFFECT is a great return to form after a rather lopsided “Titan” and a series of albums that while great initially seem to run on autopilot after several tracks in. I’m finding this to be a great comeback and a reality check in realizing the shortcomings of previous works and how they could have been better.

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