Monday, June 25, 2018

Album Review: Hamferd - Tamsins likam

Not content to let Tyr be the only metal band representing the Faroe Islands on the international stage, death doomers Hamferd have released their second full-length album. Their approach to death/doom is as slow and bombastic as ever but five years between releases and a deal with Metal Blade has changed the band’s sound considerably. Similar elements may be at play, but the journey here is far darker and more atmospheric than that of their debut.

True to the meaning of Hamferd, a Faroese term for sailors lost at sea, Tamsins likam is a very ghostly album. It shares Evst’s universally sluggish tempos with matching harsh-clean shifts, but the production lends itself to a more subdued, organic sound. The guitar tone is dark and lurks mostly in the bottom end while the melodic vocals opt for a lower pitched delivery that still provides enough contrast to the deep growls. There is a sense that the musicians are holding back though it is done to suggest contemplation rather than technical inadequacy.

The actual songwriting is harder to get a feel for than the music’s aesthetic, but the tracks flow cohesively well enough to reveal their highlights. The first two tracks have some solid buildup but “Tvistevndur meldur” stands out for its bass heavy crawl while “Frosthvary” offers smooth balladry. The near eleven-minute “Vapn i anda” may be the album’s strongest track, somehow getting even more drawn out than everything that had come before it.

It may take a few extra listens for the songwriting on Hamferd’s second album to really soak in, but the band’s dedication to a haunting aesthetic is enough to draw one’s interest and keep them invested in the meantime. While the lyrics may be in a language that most of us will never understand, the restrained musicianship is stirring enough to convey the tales it tells. Fans of all things death/doom will want to check this one out and I could imagine this piquing the Viking metal’s crowd curiosity as well.

“Tvistevndur meldur”
“Vapn i anda”

Final Grade: A-

Monday, June 11, 2018

EP Review: Frayle - The White Witch

Frayle’s debut EP sounds like what would happen if Chelsea Wolfe took the plunge into full on doom metal. Vocalist Gwyn Strang doesn’t quite share Wolfe’s vulnerability, but her delivery is just as hypnotic, boasting a mysterious aura that is strengthened by the dreamlike filter. Multi-instrumentalist Sean Bilovecky’s monolithic chords and sparse drumming provides a similarly haunting atmosphere though the results feel more like Triptykon’s slower moments than anything off Hiss Spun.

Thankfully the Cleveland duo has some strong chemistry and a very balanced dynamic. Despite the compositions’ relative simplicity, the drones never feel like they’re merely there to serve the vocals and the vocals are integrated deeply in the mix without being drowned out by everything else going on. It’s a setup that seems easy to screw up and I’d be quite curious to see how it sounds in the live environment.

The White Witch’s lack of songwriting variety is the only real nitpick I have for it. It’s certainly not a deal breaker with this being four songs and all, but it would’ve been great to see even more dynamic contrasts and pulsating rhythms. I imagine this will be addressed on a proper full-length album and there are excellent songs on here in the meantime. “Let the Darkness In” starts things off on a creepy yet welcoming note while “Things That Make Us Bleed” features the EP’s most striking hooks.

Overall, Frayle’s debut EP is a strong sampler of what to expect on a proper full-length album. The somewhat derivative sound makes the duo feel like yet another entry in the exponentially growing “soft female vocals over droning riffs” niche, but their chemistry goes above and beyond most of their peers. It’s the kind of release that one listens to with the expectation of further expansion but it’s good enough for fans of this style to appreciate on its own terms.

“Let the Darkness In”
“Things That Make Us Bleed”

Final Grade: B

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Album Review: Ghost - Prequelle

I like to think of Ghost’s fourth full-length album as the Lick It Up of their career. The band won’t follow KISS’s no makeup phase anytime soon but their mystique as performers has completely faded. Now that the dirty laundry has been aired and the Nameless Ghouls of years past revealed that they did have names after all, bandleader Tobias Forge had to be sure that the music keeps talking as much as his satanic pope (Or I guess he’s a cardinal now?) gimmick.

Ghost’s transformation to pop rock is complete but Prequelle isn’t the hellish dance party that the singles suggested. On the contrary, it’s a surprisingly somber affair as the track listing is dominated by bombastic power ballads like “See the Light” and “Pro Memoria.” The lyrical tone has gotten incredibly personal to the point where the occult aesthetic feels more like a thin mask than a source of provocation. It’s enough to make one wonder if the band had Adele and the latest Kesha album on their playlist when putting this together.

Fortunately, even Ghost’s pity parties retain the varied styles and sinful catchiness that has made them infamous. Traces of their metal past can be found on the opening tracks as “Rats” stands out for its hissing vocals and Maiden-style guitar intrusions while the bottom-heavy stomp on “Faith” would’ve fit snugly between “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” and “Cirice.”  “Dance Macabre” may be yet another one of the band’s disco doom anthems but I feel no shame in listening to it on a loop since its initial release.

Prequelle isn’t the ten variations of “Dance Macabre” album that I was hoping for, but its somber execution of the pop rock formula does make for a compelling listen. The sound isn’t too drastically different from Meliora and the more emotional approach isn’t dead serious by any means, but it’s a logical progression for the band and its creation must’ve been a cathartic experience. I may have to keep waiting for the satanic Eurodance rock album that I want for some reason, but those who have enjoyed Ghost’s previous efforts won’t be too alienated by this.

“Dance Macabre”
“Pro Memoria”

Final Grade: B

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Album Review: Against the Grain - Cheated Death

Against the Grain has stayed true to their vision of Motor City speed rock but they’ve made some modifications to their sound since their 2009 inception. 2015’s Road Warriors included more slow moments than its two predecessors and signing a deal with Ripple Music is enough to make one wonder if the group’s fourth full-length album will feature more stoner rock exploration. Those musings are realized on Cheated Death, but they aren’t as dramatic as one would think.

At the very least, this album is easily the band’s most melodic to date. As if the polished production job wasn’t noticeable enough, the vocals are much cleaner than before and the songwriting also places greater emphasis on defined hooks and mid-tempo blues than before. There’s still plenty of room for the band’s tried and true speed runs but they seem to have more in common with the likes of Monster Magnet and The Obsessed this time around.

It’d be easy to deem this a trend hopping move, but in reality, it reflects how much the band’s combined influences all have in common with one another. Stoner rock’s most primal roots may be in prog and 70s rock, but it was punk that really fed into its most aggressive, fuzz driven urges. Against the Grain has always been a band that was too metal for punk and too punk for metal, so them not being psychedelic enough to be stoner just makes for another fun little descriptor.

It’s also hard to complain when the songs on Cheated Death are this damned catchy. Songs like “High Heeled Woman” and “Into the Light” are sure to be live staples thanks to the energetic deliveries of their infectious choruses. “Devils and Angels” is also worth noting as its more subdued tempo in conjunction with its raspy vocal puts it somewhere between Clutch and Joe Bonamassa.

If Cheated Death isn’t Against the Grain’s best album, then it’s by far their most accessible. It really feels the band has come into its own between this album and Road Warriors. They offer the same mindless fun as past outings but there’s a noticeable effort to work toward a more unique sound. Hopefully this does prove to be a breakthrough for them; it’d be nice to see them blow some bigger acts offstage.

“Last Chance”
“Devils and Angels”
“High Heeled Woman”
“Into the Light”

Final Grade: B+

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Local Love: Drude - Drude

Originally beginning life as Burn the Army, Drude of Indianapolis, Indiana has a lot more going on than the progressive sludge label would suggest. It’s certainly an accurate tag but the trio’s self-titled debut album has a great deal of variety for only featuring five songs. The dynamic shifts and meditative atmosphere show post metal influence, an occasional classic doom riff will occasionally shake things off before returning to the ether, and the vocals deliver the enlightenment through cannabis lyrics throughout a fair ratio of hardcore shouts and Dopesmoker-style chants.

Going along with that, the group’s musicianship reflects a great deal of chemistry. While the guitar draws the most attention due to its dominance in the mix and powerful tone, the drums deserve a lot of credit for making style transitions seamless with their steady mix of tribal rhythms, speed blasts, and pounding buildups. The bass also has a solid presence and helps support the guitar during the most exploratory segments.

But Drude’s songwriting method is what ultimately helps them stand out among their peers. The tracks take on an almost improvisational style with each one showing off a variety of influences but no discernable structure. Riffs come and go, progressions change with no warning, and the band spends the entire time making you wonder if they were making it up as they went along or if it was meticulously rehearsed down to the finest detail. A lack of recurring motifs can make the songs seem less memorable but the album’s transcendental atmosphere and almost twelve-tone technique make it demand to be experienced in real time.

While Drude’s self-titled album may be a little tough to get into due to not relying on traditional catchiness, the voyaging song structures in conjunction with the band’s impeccable chemistry make it worth exploring. Its thirty-six minute runtime also proves beneficial as the songs flow in a way that never feels overwhelming and offers solid replay time. It’s a good album that I bet this scores even higher when listening to it while really high.


Final Grade: B