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Album Reviews

Feelin' Proggy Today

ANTA – The Tree that Bears the Equine Fruit

Formed in the south west of England, ANTA play an interesting mix that their Facebook page calls Monster Prog. It took me about five minutes into the first track to start digging up the band info to discover that there is no singer. Ok, fair enough, instrumental music is cool too.

Imagine if you will, a mad scientist who creates a teleportation device, but before he can test it out the front door smashes in and Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and The Doors rush in and all race to cram into the machine at once. Shrugging, the mad scientist hits the send button. Lasers and buzzers and smoke fill the air and when the machine opens again out steps ANTA. Far from grotesque, this mutant combines qualities of all three bands into a rather pleasing retro prog rock experience. Perhaps this is not an album for those “I-gotta-rock-out” moments, but it is an interesting listen to say the least. (Are you not glad I did not say the album bears horse apples ?)

(Sorry, I could not find anything by ANTA on YouTube to post here.)

Quantum Spere - The Space Adventures of Pyjama Boy

Ok, I am getting wise to how this works now. I was less than two minutes into “The Space Adventures of Pyjama Boy” before coming to the realization that I would continue to go vocal-less for the duration of another album. Well, I am feeling pretty mellow still after ANTA, so bring it on, and let us see what we have here.

Prog, like metal, wears many different faces, and while Quantum Sphere definitely hoists the prog flag, they are quite different from ANTA. I am going to go for a brand new genre tag here, how about Djent Jazz Prog? So the same mad scientist from the ANTA review has made a few more tweaks to his machine and is just about ready to have another try, when the recently repaired door breaks in again and this time Meshuggah, Joe Satriani and a jazz band crowd into the machine. Shaking his head, the put-upon mad scientist simply hits the button again. Bada bing, out steps Quantum Sphere.

There is definitely a more djent metal edge to this album, which does indeed have a space vibe. I find it interesting that despite that edge this remains a pretty laid back, chill album. I think fans of this album will be a much smaller niche than ANTA fans. This is a little more specialized. It is pretty interesting, but definitely not something that will appeal to the wider masses.



Bitter Resolve - Bows and Arrows against the Lightning

Hurray for vocals! Ok, so I will stay away from the mad scientist story for this one (though they set me up nicely for it by listing Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Neil Young as influences.) From Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Bitter Resolve sound much more stoner-doom than prog. In fact, the vocals and heavy riffs combine to immediately bring to mind doom legends Trouble. The music bears the Sabbath influence most proudly, while the Pink Floyd makes a lesser appearance.

The production on “Bows and Arrows against the Lightning” is not surprising given the style. I could stand to have the vocals a little more out front and a little clearer sounding, as they are a little hard to hear over the fuzzed out music. There is certainly no shortage of cool riffs on this album though, so I can overlook this minor infraction. I have heard better bands do this style, but I have heard far more bands do much worse. If I were grading this for school I would give this a B-/C+.



fuGhu – Absence

Now here is the payoff I have been waiting for. Fughu are a neo-progressive rock/metal band from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The music tends to stay in the rock/metal realm, and though it progs-out like crazy, it tends to maintain a relatively stable song structure. I spent a couple songs trying to pin down who the singer reminds me of, and I finally figured it out. It is a very slight similarity, but on some notes he reminds me of Eric “A.K.” Knutson from Flotsam and Jetsam. I think it is more the vocal style than the sound of the voice, so I expect most people will read that and after listening to the music think I am crazy. I get that a lot. But once in awhile I make one of these wild stretches of a comparison and someone will “get it” and be like “how did you make that connection? I totally hear it now.”

Of the four albums here, this one is my favorite. It is heavy, yet melodic. It is technical, yet does not sacrifice the songs to toooo much mindless wanking (ok, ok, it is a wank-fest but still, there are songs in there.) This is certainly not my standard musical fare, but I can get behind this album. I can get behind all of them to some extent, but this one most of all. Get yer prog on and check these bands out.

Last Updated on May 17, 2012

Hits: 376

I Saw the Deep – Astronavigation

I Saw the Deep and the album “Astronavigation” are the products of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Laclé. Born and raised in Aruba, but currently based in the Netherlands, Darrell wrote and recorded all the tracks on “Astronavigation” himself; he even did the album artwork. The band fills out to a power trio for shows, but Darrell also performs solo acoustic tours.

Inspired by mythology, the paranormal, classic sci-fi, as well as the ocean and its mysticism, I Saw the Deep delivers an engaging mix of metal and psychedelic prog. I know if I were reading this and someone said metal and psychedelic prog I would likely decide this album was not going to be for me, but let me tell you, I would be wrong. Labels like those are a weak way to describe the music on “Astronavigation”, because as it turns out, I thoroughly enjoy the music on this album.

The bio lists influences that include The Mars Volta, Tool, The Tea Party, Led Zeppelin and Mastodon. I am not much of a fan of The Mars Volta or Mastodon, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see The Tea Party mentioned. “Splendor Solis”, the second album from The Tea Party was an album that made a particularly powerful impression on me back in 1993, and I always felt like it never got the recognition it deserved. Listening to “Astronavigation” I feel I can hear The Tea Party influence in some of the style if not in the actual composition.

I Saw the Deep combines several styles into something that sounds like nothing else I have ever heard. I suppose the monster riffs might come from the Mastodon influence, but these riffs are so much cleaner and more listenable than anything I have heard from Mastodon. These riffs are gigantor-sized yet tight which helps keep a remarkably clean mix. The vocals range from clean to somewhat harsh, but mostly stay in clean-ish territory. Something about these songs also brings to mind old Alice in Chains music. So if you can hear in your mind something that mixes the heavy riffs of Mastodon, the trance-inducing vocals of Alice in Chains, the mysticism of The Tea Party and the psychedelic sensibilities of early Pink Floyd, you might be on the right track for describing I Saw the Deep. All of that combined in a tight sounding package that does not meander around aimlessly makes for a singularly entertaining listen for this reviewer. I am also hearing a little bit of Cobain angst in some of the harsh-edged vocals.

“Astronavigation” turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and one which I am glad to be able to share with everyone. I will definitely be coming back for repeat listens of this album, and I will eagerly wait to hear future recordings from Darrell Laclé and I Saw the Deep. Check out this video for the first track, “Phantom Island.”



Last Updated on May 15, 2012

Hits: 412

Burning Circle – Ruins of Mankind

It has been a rather sparse week for reviews here at Rock Music Critic. I have just been incredibly busy, and more than a little burned out, so writing has been difficult. Plus there are two shows this week: the Opeth/Mastodon/Ghost show which was on Wednesday, and then tonight is Overkill/God Forbid/ Diamond Plate/Suidakra. Buke and I will be doing an interview with God Forbid. So I am of course even more behind schedule now.

I recently received a CD in the mail from Serbian progressive metal band Burning Circle. (Hails to Serbian metal fans!) In the included note they mentioned that after reading my write up of Dio’s “Sacred Heart” album, they knew I was the one to review their album. Well thank you very much for saying so; I get very little feedback, so it is always appreciated when I hear that someone enjoyed a piece. (Readers, feel free to write in and tell me what you love or hate about the site, I thirst for your input!) After such a nice letter I was hoping “Ruins of Mankind” was going to be good so I could speak highly of Burning Circle. I love it when things work out the way I want; because “Ruins of Mankind” is an excellent listen.

Whenever I hear a band for the first time, I try to think of another band that sounds similar. I do not do this to be negative or call them copy-cats (unless one happens to be a certain Russian band that sounds too much like Sentenced) but to give readers a ballpark idea of what they might be in for if they choose to pick up the album. Although, I guess now that I have lately begun including YouTube videos one could just listen for oneself, but old habits die hard. In the case of Burning Circle my first thought was Savatage. I do not think one would ever mistake Burning Circle for Savatage, it is more the fiery spirit and grandiose style that had me making that connection rather than any perceived similarity of sound.

The music on “Ruins of Mankind” is heavy and pounding, as well as beautiful and introspective; these guys have a very dynamic range. The vocals easily handle whichever way the music goes and also range from clean and emotion-soaked to raspy-edged and even more emotion-soaked (another Savatage similarity). The passion behind this music seeps through my headphones into my brain and animates my body. I feel compelled to climb atop my desk and raise my fist to the sky.

“Ruins of Mankind” is a spectacular debut, and one that I hope will take Burning Circle far and wide. Some bands put out their first album and you can tell that they might eventually mature into something great, and some bands spring forth fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, and just blow your mind from the start. Burning Circle is clearly the latter sort of band.

So, please, check out Burning Circle and lend this band some well deserved support. You can head over to their Bandcamp site and download three tracks for free to get you started. Or check out these songs below:



 

Last Updated on May 11, 2012

Hits: 564

Cattle Decapitation – The Carbon Stampede

Here we have one of those bands that people seem to either love or hate. San Diego’s Cattle Decapitation is back with their seventh album, “The Carbon Stampede.” Cattle Decapitation is known for protesting the mistreatment and consumption of animals and several band members are vegetarian. Albums like “To Serve Man” and “Humanure” turn the table on humans, putting them in the same position we put certain tasty animals. I assume this it to remind us of “do unto others as you would have them do to you” and shame us into not eating animals. I can get behind ethical treatment of animals, but as yet I am still a carnivore, so listening to Cattle Decapitation has not always been high on my to-do list. With that said I find it exceedingly difficult find any fault with “The Carbon Stampede.”

Labeled as deathgrind, Cattle Decapitation’s music is not for the faint of heart, no matter your eating habits. To be honest I really have not listened to the band since their third album. When doing metal this extreme I feel you need to have top notch production to keep the mix from becoming a noisy mess, and their earlier material did not pull that off. “The Carbon Stampede”, however, has excellent production and provides enough separation between the tracks that one can make out the different elements that combine to form one hell of a brutal album.

The music is unrelentingly fast and heavy, yet still manages to throw the listener nuggets of melodic guitar work. The vocals tend to be harsher than harsh, but sound incredible thanks to the great mixing. There are various shades of harsh vocal, and even some that are almost clean. Clean vocals seem like they would not make sense with this band, but the little they use does not offend my sensibilities. “Lifestalker” has some clean-ish background ethereal vocals, but then “Do Not Resuscitate” gets back on solid harsh vocal ground again. “Your Disposal” and “Kingdom of Tyrants” go even further into clean vocal territory, but are balanced out with lots of harsh vocals too.

Lately, my go-to extreme metal album has been Job For A Cowboy’s “Demonocracy” but I think “The Carbon Stampede” might just pull ahead of them for those it-has-to-be-loud-and-it-has-to-be-crushing moments. Both albums come to us courtesy of Metal Blade, so somebody is doing something right over there. Check out the track “A Living, Breathing Piece of Defecating Meat” below.

 

Last Updated on May 07, 2012

Hits: 345

Huntress – Spell Eater

Damn! What a way to start a Monday. “Spell Eater” is the first album from California’s Huntress. The first thing that you cannot help but notice about Huntress is the stunning blonde singer, Jill Janus. The second thing I noticed about Huntress was that They. Fucking. Rock. Normally, when I see a woman fronting a metal band I tend to expect one of two styles; operatic, symphonic metal, likely with a gothic twist (Nightwish, Epica) or harsh death metal (Cerebral Bore, Landmine Marathon.) Huntress does not fall into either of these categories. This makes two female fronted metal bands this past month that have defied my expectations; the other being A Sound of Thunder.

The music on “Spell Eater” probably most closely resembles thrash. It is quick and tight with lots of great riffing. It has a nice groove as well, so I find myself bobbing my head and typing as I listen. The mix is not buried under walls of guitar or atmospheric keyboards; it is simply straight up heavy metal. The music alone would be pretty damn good no matter who was singing over top of it, but Jill Janus just tears this album up with her incredible voice. She goes kind of harsh at times, but mostly she ranges from clean to a slight raspy edge. Occasionally, when she does that rasp and goes real high she (like Nina from A Sound of Thunder) brings to mind my beloved Doro Pesch of Warlock. What really turned my head around was the occassional witchy, crackly voice that so reminds me of the ghost voices on King Diamond's "Them" album. Chilling. Listening to this album has literally made my pulse quicken with excitement.

For a first album, this is truly remarkable. I have to believe that this album is going to catapult Huntress to the forefront of up-and-coming metal bands. While there is rarely anything new in metal anymore, there are bands, like Huntress, who come along and just do not remind you of anyone in particular and thus find their own sound. I am fairly certain that if I heard new Huntress on Liquid Metal, without seeing the artist info, I could pick them out. Being able to stand out from the crowd is no small thing in music.

I am happy to say I whole-heartedly recommend this album. Prepare to be devoured by the Huntress. Check out the video for the title track, “Spell Eater.” I try to avoid objectifying women in metal, but damn, Landmine Marathon’s Grace Perry is gonna have to go timeshare with Jill Janus in my heavy metal fantasies. Hubba hubba lol.

 

Last Updated on May 07, 2012

Hits: 302

 

 

 

 

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