Monday, January 17, 2011

5 Quick Negative Album Reviews

Even though I listen to so much music, the quality overall is pretty damn stellar. Only a handful of albums and artists ever raise my ire. Because of this, I'm grouping what little I didn't like together. It makes it easier for me, and I hope, for you.

Mahatma - Gilgamesh
Pretty much every time I listen to an instrumental band - of any genre - I always draw reference to the Cloudkicker article I wrote a while back and the good and bad with instrumental bands. I really need to write a stand-alone article about this subject, but until then just know that Mahatma embodies what is bad with the instrumental genre. The majority of their songs on Gilgamesh are droning, repetitive doom songs, with the same rhythm repeated seemingly endlessly for eight or nine minutes. The opening track “Blood On Uruk” is a perfect example; when I was listening to this song, I mistakenly thought I had chosen the first track from the Under The Sun album, Man of Sorrow (which will get a review here soon). While I thought it was “Stride” (the first track off Man of Sorrow) I was ok with it, because it sounded like the intro for a movie, when the hero is walking up a road with the credits spliced in. I figured it to be an intro piece, and the fact that it was that repetitive and dull didn't matter, because soon the good music would chime in. Eventually I figured out it was Mahatma I was listening to, and my expectation that the album would get better was cast aside. The disc did not get any more interesting when it moved to the second track, and most of the album fell into this, dull and repetitive, category. The only two songs that stood out in any way were “Enkidu's End” and “Find The Sacred Herb.” The former was a good rock song, it was energetic and had several different melodies and styles, while the latter was more akin to the rest of the album, but it had some sweet grinding guitars, just simple chugging throughout, but it made the whole picture work. The rest of the disk, just throw it away, or use it for background noise for TV or movies, when you just need some filler while the characters talk or drive or something.
Elder - Elder 
Ok, this micro-review is going to be a bit back-and-forth, and it's not fully negative. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Elder of late, how they make some great doom metal with sludge tendencies, so I decided to give them a try. I was really disappointed with the beginning of their self-titled album, tracks one through three specifically. These songs had some jamming music, but the vocals were semi-hardcore and in the 'should be a woman' pitch-range. The songs were ok, great with music, shitty with vocals, and so my excitement quickly went away. But then I got to track four, "White Walls," and all of a sudden, it seemed like a man had taken over singing duties! Here was still the great music from the band, but this time with some great vocals to match up with, here was the Elder that I wanted to hear. I get a band wanting to try new things and get your name out there - maybe there were actually two separate singers - but the hardcore-esq vocals of the first half of the album were atrocious, I don't know why they would choose those over the sound of the later songs. Masculine Elder makes some pretty damn good music, and it's this version of the band I want to hear more of, leave the feminine/dude-in-skinny-jeans singer at home next time.

Ironwood - Storm Over Sea
I was referred to the Ironwood album, Storm Over Sea, after reading the positive review by Angry Metal Guy. His description of a progressive metal band who "largely draws on folk metal and blackened folk metal," left me intrigued. It sounded similar to a description of Agalloch, and if I could find a similar band to those amazing black-folkers I would be very happy with the year. So I hastily procured myself a copy of Storm Over Sea and listened with fevered anticipation for what I was sure to be my new favorite band; what I was greeted with was anything but. The band is definitely progressive, there is no doubt to that, many of their songs have long play times, and pretty much every song moves through time signatures, tempos, and styles frequently and often without warning. This is all fine and good, as I do love some progressive music. What was horrible about the record, however, was the way they pulled everything together. Most of the album was filled with blast-beat drumming, sketchy and frantic guitar, all overshadowed by the slow, semi-droning vocals. For the most part the vocals were clean, with only a few sections and songs being a bit more guttural, but I was ok with that, it added a layer to the music. It was just the clash of styles, with slow melodies being paired up with thrash/NWOAHM beats and vice-versa. Hell, the second song, “Infinite Sea,” moves through  segments of nothing but screams and acoustic guitars, while the songs before and after follow the 'when in doubt, blast-beat' approach. The whole album is very eclectic, jumping from one extreme to another.This was not an album for me, not really a genre for me. I don't know why I love Agalloch as much as I do, but so far I have found no comparable band that can hold a candle to the group. Certainly not Ironwood, oh god, no way.

U.S. Christmas - Run Thick In The Night

U.S. Christmas has been on both sides of the fan fence recently, half of what hear is that they are amazing, and the other half is how they suck and/or are overrated. Honestly I had never even heard of them before probably November of last year, so I really couldn't claim one side or another. Looking to rectify this I acquired their entire discography, but so far have only listened to their latest, Run Thick In The Night, and I'm not sure when I'll get to the rest. U.S. Christmas - with no better description available - is a post-metal band with some ability. I've never been a big fan of the genre, there are just too many styles that fall under the post-metal banner for me to understand it all, and U.S. Christmas is an interesting addition to it. The songs on Run Thick In The Night are all over the place, with some being very atmospheric/kind of droning, and others being almost rock n' roll. The album is an eclectic mess, with only a few tracks that I deem as decent (the more straight-forward rock ones). This is another band that falls within the 'I probably shouldn't review' category, mostly because I don't like the droning melodies of many acts within the post-metal moniker. The band does show some promise, and I will get to the rest of their collection eventually, it wasn't so bad that I would never listen to them again (I'm looking at you Ironwood).

White Hills - White Hills
White Hills is a big bag of meh. I listened to both of their albums back to back, and their first, Glitter Glamour Atrocity, is a tranced-out psych affair, barely one decent song on it. Their follow-up, 2010's White Hills, is considerably better, but still ranks as average. While the songs on this release have some semblance of song-structure (something their debut was missing), it is still a trippy-psych-stoner extravaganza. The first half of the album is decent, long songs but there is a melody and some good music. The second half of the disc returns to the style of it's predecessor, with seemingly-never-ending acid-jams and some spoken word clips mixed in. Just like I didn't like the Swamp Sessions album, I don't like the trippy songs off of White Hills. If; you're a fan of the style/genre then this would be a solid release, but if you like some solid stoner jams and groove, White Hills really isn't going to be up to snuff for you.

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