Matthew Collings – Splintered Instruments (2012, Fluid Audio)

20130303-153657.jpg 7 out of 10 stars

Consensus: On his debut album, Matthew Collings creates an electro-acoustic world of melancholically melodic and neoclassically-tinted ambient-noise rock soundscapes, which are also harrowingly intense and full of enough raw emotion that makes “Splintered Instruments” stand out slightly from the crowd.

The world can be a terrifying place. History has proven this time and time again. As humans, we have allowed ourselves to co-exist in societies and governments, working together to protect the lives and rights of one another. However, just as we can co-exist with one another, we despise one another. Mankind is inherently evil, as all men were born sinners, and just as we can show a force of compassion and love, an equally violent and reckoning force is waiting to cause the nuclear apocalypse of billions of innocent people around the world.

In the same way that these forces equal one another, so do the forces between ambient and rock music. Ambient music is often meant to be an indirect haze of emotion, devoid of rhythm and form. Whether these emotions are happy or sad, they mostly tend to have a calming, healthy effect on listeners, putting them in a better state of mind. Ambient music, though, is a niche genre, as most people do not want to spend a minute listening to something that calms themselves down. Instead, they want something upbeat and to the point. At its most accessible, rock music fills that void, as billions of listeners hear its direct lyricism and simple three-chord structures everyday. In the last few years, the two genres have somewhat coincided with each other, but they have never fully impacted one another to create something different.

Now comes Edinburgh-based producer and composer Matthew Collings, whose debut album “Splinted Instruments” addresses the distinction between neoclassical ambience and disturbing rock directness. Collings stated that he felt a violent force inside himself his entire life, and that he wanted to finally get it out of himself. Collings isn’t the first to feel this intense force; sound artists and musicians like Michael Gira (Swans), Ben Frost, Merzbow, and Lustmord have dedicated their lives to creating intense emotional soundscapes that sometimes transcends the relationship between sound and its physical properties. Collings, however, has created an album that is intensely emotional and sonically disturbing, but also creates a vein of melancholy and accessibility that ambient music rarely sees.

The soundscapes are vast and immense, partially helped by the contributing musicians and the post-production mastering taken by Ben Frost and James Plotkin on this album. Noisy shoegaze guitar, broken vocals, ethereal bells and strings, skittering percussion, and harsh electronic noise permeate most of the first half of the album. Whether it’s the rigid beat opening “Valisia”, the incredible strings and guitar textures in “Subway”, or the massive dissonant crescendo leading to the unnerving and literally bone-crushing crunch in “Crows”, Collings shows that his music is not a force to be reckoned with. Only the strong survive halfway through the journey. The second-half, however, is more beautiful and melancholic. Violins, vocals, piano, and a clarinet provide an excellent acoustic counterpoint to the rather icy electronics in “Pneumonia”. “Paris is Burning”, however, plays the same melancholic texture with upbeat rickety percussion and heavy guitar processing. If anything, this song should be the backdrop to an extended chase sequence that reveals something about the life of mankind. The last song, “Routine”, is even more sorrowful. The saddening electronic drone that opens the piece suggests a guilty state of mind. The prepared piano and resonant percussion later on even worsen the feeling. At it’s conclusion, the broken trumpet-trombone duo even further reveal that even at mankind’s more civilized nature, there’s still an animal inside, waiting to get out.

In conclusion, “Splintered Instruments” is an album that is certainly enjoyable and succeeds in its musical ideas and raw, unfiltered emotion. Collings proves himself to be a composer with a keen ear for sound design and melancholic melodies,smoke of which makes the album stand out slightly. Those who are already well versed in this niche, however, may find the album’s sound to only last for a few short listens before they want to hear something a little more extreme. For Collings, however, this is certainly a great stepping stone, and one that will hopefully lead him to explore more sonic textures and emotion. If an even deadlier force is eager to come out of him, then who knows what sort of music will come out next. Certainly worth a listen.

Album: Splintered Instruments

Artist: Matthew Collings

Genre: Neoclassical ambient industrial/noise rock

Now available to purchase either digitally or in a beautiful physical package via Matthew Collings’s official site.

My Bloody Valentine – m b v (2013, Self-Released)

10 out of 10 stars

Consensus: After 21 years, My Bloody Valentine delivers the long-awaited follow-up to their 1991 seminal masterpiece “Loveless”. It’s not only well worth the wait, but at times, it even exceeds “Loveless” and proves to be quite possibly album of the year.

 

Hopefully, My Bloody Valentine needs no introduction. The Irish alternative rock group has been around since 1983, and at a time, with only two albums under their belt, they became one of the most influential bands of the 1990s. In particular, 1991’s “Loveless” is considered by some to be the best album of the ’90s, with many preferring the album’s surreal hazy guitar work and psychedelic production over the simple punk rock tunes of Green Day, early Radiohead, and the Seattle grunge of Nirvana. “Loveless” literally raised the bar of what was previously thought possible in rock music, and was said to be the seminal album of a new genre called “shoegazing”.

“Loveless”, as said, came out in 1991…21 years ago. For a long time, there had been rumors of a successor to “Loveless”, but Kevin Shields, the founder of MBV, had driven himself insane trying to create something better than their critically acclaimed masterpiece. It’s said that he had recorded and shelved several albums’ worth of songs between 1996 and 1997, and every time he had prepared a deadline for the new album’s release, it would never show. The band broke up, but later reunited for a tour in 2008, gaining new fans. Around that time, Shields claimed that a new album was in the works, but it still left one question unanswered: When would it materialize?

Last November, Shields announced there would be a new album by the end of the year. It never happened. However, a Facebook post on December 21st claimed the album was fully mastered and ready for release, and last Sunday, Shields announced the album’s release to be within two or three days at a warm-up show in London. Since then, the excitement has grown, with everyone wondering if they will actually get to see the day when a new MBV album arrives.

Luckily, in our day and age, it’s very easy to announce and release an album without the help of a record label and traditional marketing. Radiohead and countless other artists have proved this with flying colors. Almost 24 hours ago, MBV announced they were preparing their new website and were releasing the album at midnight GMT. After several server crashes from hungry fans, petitions for the White House to fix the website, countless Twitter and Facebook rants, and the active competition for major music news publications to get on the action, the new album, “m b v”, finally materialized, 21 years later after “Loveless”.

Now with the new album finally out, several questions are emerging from fans and critics alike: Is this album worth the 21 year wait? Is “m b v” better than “Loveless”? Is this a good contender for the best album of 2013?

For me, it’s YES. A HUGE YES at best.

The opening track “She Found Now” is not at all the hard-hitting “Only Shallow” that opened “Loveless”, but rather a beautiful and blissful acoustic-like shoegaze ballad akin to “Sometimes”. To me, there is no better way to begin “m b v” than to start quiet. The next track, “Only Tomorrow”, still has a subdued mood, but the distorted glide guitar riffs, the angular chord progression, the quiet repeating drum loop, and Bilinda Butcher’s dreamy vocals sound as though it could have existed in the world of 1990s dreampop or a Slowdive album. Furthermore, the track feels as though it could be some sort of jazz fusion tune at times, with the strangely intriguing and evolving chord progression that occurs throughout. “Who Sees You”, however, is a huge reminder to audiences why MBV is so influential. The haunting vocal melodies, the warbling and jazzy summer-like guitar progression, and the distorted drumming…if anything, it reminds me a lot of Boards of Canada. MBV was a huge influence on BoC, but if listeners of both groups couldn’t pick out the direct influence before, then this song will make everyone see just how influential this band truly is on today’s musical landscape. Furthermore, it’s also one of my favorite tracks off the album, and I especially love how the track just ends unexpectedly, sort of like the opener track off of Portishead’s “Third”.

“Is This and Yes” is a mellow soundscape that brings the album back to a quiet state with an electronic organ drone, a soft drum beat, and Butcher’s haunting vocals. It sounds more like a filler track to me, but in all honesty, it’s a filler track that works wonderfully and sounds absolutely gorgeous. “If I Am” then brings back the smooth jamming of the second track, but with an awesome sounding wah-wah guitar that is unlike any other guitar sound I have ever heard in my life. It’s sounds as though it was taken from a funk record in the 70s, but with loads of reverb and distortion put on the guitar sound before the wah-wah pedal. It’s a pretty surreal effect, but ultimately a sonic effect that I enjoy a lot. The next track, “New You”, is a song many fans might recognize, as the band opened their warm-up gig in London last Sunday with this track. The driving, dance-able drum and bass groove is unmistakably 90s indie-dance sounding, with catchy vocal harmonies, subdued guitar effects, and a haunting flute-like melody. The whole track could technically be 2013’s “Soon”, except that the album doesn’t end here.

It’s important for me to note that at times, the first half of the album sounds as though it could have been released two or three years after “Loveless”. After all, how many of these tracks are actually new tracks from the past year or two? It’s hard to tell, but it’s very possible that some of these tracks are from 15 years ago, when Shields first tried to record the new album. Sound-wise, though, the mix sounds a little clearer, with the vocals more upfront and the drum beats cutting through the mix in comparison to having the guitar “layers” covering everything. Although, on “If I Am”, the mix sounds pretty similar to “Loveless”, which is pretty nice to hear considering that the album so far lacks any ground-breaking sounds. However, where it lacks sound-focused songwriting, it excels as far as progressions and melodies go. Regardless, this is some of the best music I’ve heard in a very long time.

“In Another Way”, however, is where the band starts to move past what they started on “Loveless”. The freaky high-pitched guitar noise at the beginning of the track is something I haven’t heard since MBV’s “Ain’t Anything” phase, and as a whole, the track is pretty piercing loud. Shield’s brand of glide guitar is present as ever, as is the loud drum beats and Butcher’s haunting melodies. However, the track also seems to evoke old Irish/Celtic folk tunes, with the main synth string melody sounding heroic, but at the same time possessing a sense of yearning and melancholy. I actually almost cried during this melody. It just brings out a lot of emotions in me. “Nothing Is”, however, is a MONSTER of a track. If you try to imagine how the looping drum beat and the guitar riff would sound live, well, then you’d probably see MBV moving into a direction akin to industrial noise groups like Swans (I’m specifically thinking of their “Mother of the World” track from last year’s “The Seer”) and the early hypnotic rock rhythms of The Velvet Underground. What’s important here, though, is the crescendo throughout the track. The last time I heard a crescendo this loud in music was in the works of Ben Frost, Glenn Branca, and Rhys Chatham. It’s just awe-inspiring.

Finally, we reach the end with “Wonder 2″…if “Soon” was one of the best endings to a rock album ever, then “Wonder 2″ is about to beat it and all other album endings by a LONG shot. It’s rumored that Kevin Shields had made an album with drum and bass influences on it, but on this track, that rumor becomes true as day. The break-beat throughout is smothered with psychedelic flangers and phasers, as well as a TON of distortion. Also, it sounds as though there are several guitar layers on the track, just like what people thought with “Loveless”. When all these layers come together, along with Shields’s vocal melodies, the outcome is just an unexpectedly strange and beautiful conclusion to an already great album. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aphex Twin and a few other left-field DJs played this track out to audiences live at festivals, as it would certainly be a great fit to their sets. The final minute, however, is just insane, in that the track crescendos and the layers mutate together to create something completely mind-blowing and out of this world. Finally, the windy, resonant break-beat is all that is left, in that it continues to build until, like the third track, it suddenly stops, opening up a vacuum of silence to signify the album’s end.

Is it possible that “m b v” sounds as though it could have been released YEARS ago? Perhaps, but it’s understandable that Shields was determined to create an album that does not follow the third album trap of being worse than MBV’s previous works. Some people may think that “m b v” isn’t as strong as MBV’s albums 21 years ago, but to me, this album is a very logical progression of what the band is all about. For some people, “m b v” might not be better than “Loveless” and may not have been worth the long wait, but in my honest opinion, “m b v” is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a very long time. Where MBV doesn’t expand on their palette of sounds, instead, they improve on their songwriting and create hands-down the best songs of their career, and possibly some of the best songs ever written in rock and pop music. But when the band does expand on their sounds in the last half of the album, they absolutely kill the competition of creativity in rock music, and have once again raised the bar and sit high on a pedestal in the alternative rock scene.

“m b v” might not be an instantly memorable album for some listeners, and most regular rock and pop listeners will not understand the hype behind My Bloody Valentine, especially if they never understood “Loveless”. What’s important, though, is that My Bloody Valentine did not intend to make “Loveless 2″. They instead wanted to remind the world who they are as a band, and right at the end, they showcase in several new colors why they are one of the most influential rock bands in recent history. “m b v” fulfills all of that and more, and even if most people don’t understand it, the album is certainly the most unusual rock album of 2013, just as “Loveless” was the most unusual rock album of the 1990s. It’s quite simply not possible for any album released this year, nor any release of the past decade, to have the attention to detail, the amount of catchy musical moments, and the sheer mind-blowing and forward-thinking creativity that “m b v” already has. I can guarantee you all that.

This is without a doubt the best album of 2013 (note: I didn’t say that this the best of the year so far…I mean that literally, this is as good as music will probably get this year, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has put this album on a pedestal), and so far, the best album of the millennium. Every person should stop what they’re doing at this moment and listen to it. Even if they don’t understand MBV or like the album after listening to it, at least they took the chance to listen. This is an album that is worth 46 minutes of your time. Don’t hesitate on it.

Album: m b v

Artist: My Bloody Valentine

Genre: Alternative rock/shoegazing/dream pop/industrial post-rock/drum and bass (on the last track)

Self-released on February 3rd (UK) and February 2nd (US) via MBV’s official site.

Airplanes Over Johannesburg – These Figures In The Shadows, These Friends Of Mine (2011, Self-Released)

I hope everyone has been having a great summer. Even though I am still, as of now, very far behind on this site, I’m still very much in tune to the latest music, and have also been buying some music myself. As I said before, it is hard to respond to every submission. I know every reviewing site, even Pitchfork, claim that they get a lot of submissions, but now, I have a deep respect for each and everyone of them, seeing now how many submissions I have received. I am very grateful that you have chosen The Death of CDs to help promote your latest release, and I promise to get back to as many submissions that I can.

So, what woke me out of the long sleep of reviewing music? A new EP from the post-rock project Airplanes Over Johannesburg, “These Figures In The Shadows, These Friends Of Mine”. Airplanes Over Johannesburg is no stranger to The Death of CDs, as I reviewed his debut EP, and whereas I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped, the ideas on the EP were very strong, and as a whole, it made for a great introduction to his music. This new EP was written around the same period as the last EP, but there is something definitely new about this one. Whereas the last EP focused mainly on hypnotic, minimalist guitar riffs, with some variety in melodies, instrumentation, and harmonies, this EP adds even more instrumentation and layers of riffs, which sound altogether cinematic and emotional. Overall, it’s definitely an improvement to the last EP, even right from the first minute.

The EP begins with “D28K”, a delightfully cinematic and uplifting composition filled with piano, music boxes, synthesized strings, and fantasy-like percussion, also held together by a somewhat off-kilter guitar riff plays underneath. Distorted guitar hits and tremolo-picked, almost tabla-sounding clean guitar riffs enter later on, picking up speed near the end of the track and multiplying in layers, and ending out nicely. “Standoff In A Haunted House” has some of the same instrumentation, with the basic guitar riffs, music box hits, and more synthesized strings, but it also has a much darker tone, filled with ominous drones underneath and, whether or not it was intentional, some of the guitar riffs in the middle of the track sound out-of-tune, but as they are played, they sound more attuned to some exotic microtonal scale from another country than to simply have been bad tuning on the guitarist’s part, which in many ways makes the track a much more interesting listen. “Hello Child, Can You Hear Me?” begins with a haunting music box melody and soft string pads, before a very beautiful guitar melody and ringing chimes open the track up to a whole new sonic plane. Halfway through the track, more guitar riffs and variation occur before right around the end, a deafening screech of feedback gives way to heavily distorted guitar riffs that push the track to yet another sonic plane before segueing into the classically-influenced synth strings and beautiful guitar harmonies on “An End To A Beginning”. Here, the track dies down to minimal guitar riffs and huge reverberated drum hits, which over time with each layer of guitar and synthesized strings build up to become a very beautiful wall of sound, in which it dies down to end out this EP.

Overall, Airplanes Over Johannesburg’s “These Figures In The Shadows, These Friends Of Mine” shows great improvements over their debut EP. Whereas the former included very minimalist and hypnotic clean guitar loops (and some distortion), drums, and some string work here and there, this EP contains more variety in instrumentation, more harmonies, more effects, and a much clearer song structure, which makes much of this EP sound as close to being cinematic as possible. The minimalism is still here, in that the basic ideas for riffs sound great, but the ideas here are fleshed out, and are almost always built up by more melodies and riffs to make that idea sound even more gorgeous, instead of being looped in an hypnotic fashion on the last EP. I chose to follow Airplanes Over Johannesburg to see where it might head in the future, and I’m glad I did, because I am really enjoying this EP. 8.5 out of 10 stars.

Album: These Figures In The Shadows, These Friends Of Mine

Artist: Airplanes Over Johannesburg

Genre: Experimental post-rock

Self-released in 2011

You can download the EP here!: http://www.mediafire.com/?cr3fdc21dfdvmeg

August Burns Red – Leveler (2011, Solid State)

Before I begin this review, I would like to thank all of you who have supported this site in one way or another. Those of you who have read the reviews, as well as those of you who have taken the challenge to actually submit music for review. I still have, as of this point, 6 or 7 submitted albums to check out, which have added up since April or May. I am also thanking those who have submitted for patiently waiting for me to get around to their stuff. It’s taken a long while, but I hope to be caught up by the end of the month. But for now, I have to yet again postpone some reviews because of this monster. Yes, it’s a monster. It’s probably one of the most anticipated albums of the year for me, at least in the metal genre. I love August Burns Red, the metalcore band from Lancaster, PA. Jake’s screamed vocals take metalcore to a new sonic plane, JB and Brent’s guitar playing are lightning fast and yet are so in sync that it’s insane, Dustin’s bass adds the perfect low end to the music, and Matt’s drumming is so technical but exciting that, well, his drumming in general is some of the best in the genre. Each release they’ve come out with has progressed tremendously, moving from general heavy metalcore into melodic guitar riffs that reference to post-rock bands such as Explosions in the Sky. The lyrics have matured, the musicality has become more technical and well thought-out, and as a whole, the band has pretty much pushed themselves to break as many rules as possible, but yet still make an accessible sound without letting the fame and fortune go to their heads. Now, their latest release, “Leveler”, which came out today, is pretty much their best record yet. It moves backwards into the heavier territory of “Thrill Seeker” and “Messengers”, but at the same time pushes forward the melodic post-rock riffs from “Constellations” and moves even further into territories that the band hasn’t even explored yet…until now. Most of the metalcore genre has gone downhill in the past few years, and besides perhaps Bring Me the Horizon’s last album, “There Is a Hell, Believe Me, I’ve Seen It. There Is a Heaven, Let’s Keep It a Secret”, which pushed the metalcore sound into more experimental territories such as glitched choirs and other elements, courtesy of Sonny Moore a.k.a. Skrillex, the metalcore sound seemed to become so general and predictable. “Leveler”, however, is metalcore’s salvation. August Burns Red are at their best here, and in my opinion, this is probably the best metal album of 2011. Read on to find out why.

The album begins with the distorted feedback and epic guitar riffs of “Empire”. This opener shows that after 2 years, ABR still has the heavy sound that they are known for. The insane double bass drumming, the hellfire fast guitar playing, and Jake’s screams are at their best here. However, the lyrics talk about standing firm against everyone else, decisions affecting the future, and changing history, which is exactly what this album does, and 2 minutes into the track, the whole band introduces a new element: the entire band gang-singing, followed by JB’s lightning fast guitar solos. Overall, this is about as strong as a metal album is going to get. If you’re going to show that you’re still a metal band, but can break rules and expand boundaries, how else would you do it than by starting with this insane track? A very strong opening. The second track, “Internal Cannon”, shows the band dipping further into experimentation, beginning with minor guitar work, more screams, and insane technical drumming, working into a heavy breakdown before more insane guitar work. Then, just when you think something big will happen, instead, what follows a minute into the track is a short acoustic interlude filled with Spanish-like guitar riffs and nice percussion, which is followed by even more metalcore madness. My favorite part, however, is the break two minutes in, where Spanish-sounding post-rock guitar riffs drenched in a nice reverb can be heard, followed by more percussion and acoustic guitars, before then opening up into yet another insane guitar solo. It is rare for a great track to follow the opener, but here, ABR delivers an amazing second track. The next track, “Divisions”, is more of a progressive metalcore track, filled with unusual time signatures, atonal guitar riffs, and some more great screaming from Jake, in which the lyrics reveal about speaking to God, saying how pain can devour people, and asking for forgiveness. The guitar solos here are great, and everything is top-notch. Though having heard this track before, and having not cared for it as much as most of the other tracks, this time around, it sounds just as great as most of their work. “Cutting the Ties” is another ABR track that pretty much throws back to their classic sound: the technically challenging drumming, low end guitar work, and some more insane solos occurring throughout. However, the thing that makes it different happens close to 2 minutes in the track, in which clean reverb guitars are heard for a while, before progressing into a slow, heavy, and distorted, but beautifully melodic section. Later in the song, the riffs actually enter a major and happier key that ends the song on a nice note. It shows yet again how ABR can keep the metalcore fans entertained, but can also infuse other textures into their music in order to make it interesting. I also love the lyrics here, which relate to how you can pray to God, but it doesn’t seem like he’s answering back. However, being patient is a great thing, in that he will answer back soon, but just not immediately. “Pangaea” begins with more insane guitar work and epic arrangements in the drumming. This is definitely ABR at their heaviest, fastest, and definitely their most melodic. Just when you expect a certain chord to be struck or a certain element to occur, instead, something else happens that totally blows you away. It is somewhat predictable in what sections will come next, but in terms of the musicality and textures, it always contains surprises around the bend. “Carpe Diem” starts with a droning guitar riff, along with more melodic guitar riffs following in, sort of in the same way that a post-rock song would progress. A strong drum beat keeps the song going before the distorted power chords eventually enter, along with Jake’s screaming vocals, as well as for a first, more backing screams from Dustin, in which they seem to speak to each other back and forth. There’s also in the clean break a beautiful slide guitar solo, which makes this song even more great. Yet again, ABR’s experimentation takes control, but yet still stays in check with the heavy sound that they are known for. This is also their most melodic and beautiful song to date, which shows much of the influence post-rock such as Explosions in the Sky has had on them. “40 Nights” returns to the classic ABR sound: raw, full of energy, and a lot of minor guitar riffs. However, the emotions that ABR cause here on me is unmatched by any other metal album I have heard. The tremolo picked guitar solos in this track are very melodic and beautiful, and to be quite honest, it almost brings me to tears every time I hear them. “Salt & Light” is pretty much the most optimistic track they’ve ever made. They are dealing with beautiful guitar chords here, along with some spoken word sections that seem to yell and scream, and overall, I would say that this is about as close to pop music as they have gotten. That isn’t to say that it’s at all a bad thing, though, because they handle the new direction on this track in a very nice way. The gang-singing  near the end of the track is also amazing. I would say that if you wanted to show that ABR is not a typical heavy metal band, show them this track. It’s one of the best on the album so far.

“Poor Millionaire” is also another favorite of mine. This is more classic ABR, but the lyrics here, which speaks of a man who is very rich and pretty much has everything he could ever want, but spiritually, his relationship with God is very poor, well, it’s hard to deal with lyrical content such as this, but ABR handle this very well, and also deliver some great guitar work and drumming. This is such a fun song, in that the guitar solos just shine throughout the middle of the song, showcasing a lot of virtuosity and beautiful riffs, and the song as a whole is arranged very well. “1/16/2011″ is a short clean interlude, which actually is made in remembrance to a local incident that happened on that date, in which 4 boys from Manheim Central High School were killed in a car crash. I live in the area, and it was a very tragic incident, so ABR is great for making it well known that we should never forget what happened, and the interlude as a whole is sort of a break just to remember these boys. It then leads right into “Boys of Fall”, which showcases more of the classic ABR sound, but still contains the sense of unpredictability, which is exactly what happens. The guitars pound across the stereo spectrum, the solos are just as beautiful as the rest of the album is, and overall, this is a great track. The last track, “Leveler”, ends the album out strongly, filled with some of the heaviest guitar work and drumming that the album has showcased. The lyrical content is great, and near the end, the drumming is about as technical as it gets, before it ends out the album with a bang. It is also worth mentioning that if you buy the deluxe edition, you get 4 bonus tracks: an amazing acoustic version of “Internal Cannon”, an insanely beautiful post-rock rendition of “Pangaea” performed by the Lancaster-based band Bells (which also features the original vocalist of ABR, Jon Hershey), a great and eccentric piano cover of “Boys of Fall” by Zachery Veilleux, and of all the funniest things that ABR could put on an album, an exclusive MIDI version of “Empire”, which shows how ABR composes their songs before going in to record it.

Overall, August Burns Red’s “Leveler” is a monster of an album. Basically, ABR had this vision for the album: backing off the emphasis on epic breakdowns, focusing more on melodies and texture, moving backwards into the heavy tones of their older albums, and moving forward into uncharted territories, all at the same time. My initial idea after hearing from many early reviews on this album, as well as the 4 singles they released ahead of time for this album, was that there weren’t going to be as many breakdowns as their previous works, but that they would focus more on experimentation and pushing their sound to as far as they were willing to go, in spite of their huge commercial success worldwide, as well as at a time when metalcore seemed to be dying. Here, “Leveler” delivers wholeheartedly, going way beyond any of my expectations, affecting me more emotionally than any other metal album has done before, and proving once and for all that heavy metal is not all about the epic breakdowns or dark content. This album delivers just the opposite: mature and sophisticated songwriting both lyrically and musically, some of the most technically drumming and melodic guitar riffs that ABR has composed to date, and above all, a positive attitude that differs from, say, the dark and almost Satanic-like ideology of bands like Burzum and such. If you thought that ABR let the fame and fortune go to their heads, prepare to be wronged on with this album. They could have gone anywhere with “Leveler”, but the direction they chose was a great one. This is definitely, for me, the best metal album of 2011. “Leveler” has set the bar for metal in general so high that I doubt that any other band will be able to break it. This is an album that makes me wonder why no other metal bands have done this in the past. Why haven’t others strayed away from the dark content that metal is so notoriously known for? Why haven’t others pushed the limits in metal? I know of a few that have, but they haven’t gone quite as far as this. If you expect this to be in my top 10 albums of this year, you’re pretty much going to be right so far. Highly, highly, highly, HIGHLY recommended listening. I can’t stress that enough. 10 out of 10 stars.

Album: Leveler

Artist: August Burns Red

Genre: Metalcore/post-metal

Released in 2011 by Solid State Records

Available now at all major retailers!

Airplanes Over Johannesburg – There’s Beauty In The Violence/There’s Beauty In The Silence (2011, Brainstream Records)

Airplanes Over Johannesburg is a new solo project from Ottawa, Ontario based-guitarist Curtis Berndt. His music consists of instrumental post-rock guitar symphonies that slowly take their time to reveal stunning melodic riffs, along with the presence of extremely distorted guitars and some strings here and there as well. His debut EP, “There’s Beauty In The Violence/There’s Beauty In The Silence”, just about describes the music perfectly by itself: a slowly evolving EP where textures and melodies in sound reign over the virtuosity and shredding abilities of the guitar.

The EP begins with “Don’t Fly Too Close To The Sun On Wings Of Wax”, which is a direct reference to the Greek myth of Icarus, with beautifully composed guitar riffs, alongside an underlying guitar pulse, which acts as the bass of the song. Later on in the song, string samples can be heard along with the slowly evolving guitar riffs, and near the very end, an explosion of ultra-distorted guitar occurs, along with tremolo-picked guitar riffs that immediately jar the listener out of the trance-like state that the rest of the song has set up. “Young At Heart/Old In Soul” is the next track, in which it begins with a slow drum beat, as well as riffs that seem to continue from right where “Don’t Fly…” left off. The song slowly builds up through minimally beautiful guitar riffs to a quiet section of distant tremolo-picked riffs and slow guitar arpeggios that act again as a sort of pulse for the music. The guitar riffs slowly become more and more complex until near the very end, they slowly die away into silence.

“Snow Angels In The Ashes”, the shortest track on the EP, begins with distorted feedback before very beautiful and melodic guitar riffs interplay with each other, along with more of the distant tremolo picking, before again slowly fading out 2 minutes later. “Airplanes of Johannesburg” ends the EP out with slowly evolving guitar loops, which interplay melodically with each other, and are enveloped in a slight delay effect. Yet again, low guitar drones make for a sort of pulse or bass in the song. In the middle, the melodies become more complex and beautiful, before eventually fading out into a drone, at which the EP ends.

Overall, Airplanes Over Johannesburg’s “There’s Beauty In The Violence/There’s Beauty In The Silence” has a great production for being so lo-fi, and showcases some great ideas. The combination of melodic guitar loops is beautifully arranged, and can pretty much prove itself to be post-rock material. Unfortunately, the thing that bothered me the most with this EP was the repetition. The ideas here are great, but they seem to repeat and drone on way too much for my liking. Post-rock usually progresses into huge climaxes, but here, there are only usually one or two changes in melodies and texture throughout each song. The ultra-distorted guitar at the end of “Don’t Fly…” definitely excited me, shocking me out of the trance that the song previously introduces, and kept me listening for more, as well as the drums in “Young At Heart/Old At Soul” kept things moving along for me. But otherwise, the melodies repeat themselves way too much, and at times make me want to hear something different happen in the song. Well, something different does happen, but not quite in the way I expected it. Then again, maybe it is supposed to be repetitive? Maybe it’s supposed to put me in a dream-like state of mind? Truthfully, I can’t tell. The production is great, and the melodies are very beautiful, especially in the way that they interplay with each other, but the arrangement of the songs overall fell sort of short of my expectations. If it weren’t too repetitive, I probably would have enjoyed this EP more. However, I would still like to hear more from Curtis in the future, because the way he layers guitar melodies is magnificent, and he certainly has a lot of great ideas in that aspect on this EP. I just would have wished that there was more progression in the tracks. 7 out of 10 stars.

Title: There’s Beauty In The Violence/There’s Beauty In The Silence

Artist: Airplanes Over Johannesburg

Genre: Post-rock

Released 2011 by Brainstream Records

You can download the EP for free here!: http://www.mediafire.com/?l8v63o989y4qk88

The Fierce & The Dead – If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe (2011, Self-Released)

If you are an avid reader of this site, then you already know how much I enjoy the hotly debated genre of post-rock. Much of the music I have reviewed from the genre have been intensely atmospheric symphonies filled with ambient guitar, melodic basslines, and soft drums that all build incredible crescendos, in which they reveal very emotional climaxes. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of this. However, let it be known that post-rock did not begin with these ambient rock soundscapes. Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and many other bands pioneered this side of the genre, but there is another side to the scene. A darker and more intense side that goes above and beyond the lush guitar work. Slint heavily influenced the genre with their dynamic compositions that range from clean guitars, light drumming, and whisper-like spoken word to highly distorted and squealing guitar solos, heavy hard rock drumming that sometimes contains complex time signatures, and harshly screamed vocals. Godspeed You! Black Emperor was also a huge influence, in that though they had ambience in their works, they knew when to drop bombs of atomic-like heavy rock on listeners. In the past few years, not much of this side has turned out. The influences are there, but it is not as prevalent as back in the 1990s. The Fierce & The Dead, a relatively new (as of last year) project from London, England, comprised of guitarist Matt Stevens (also acclaimed for being a looping guitarist, able to compose huge walls of noise from only the live recorded loops from his guitar), audio engineer, producer, and musician Kev Feazey (who plays bass on this album, by the way), and drummer Stuart Marshall (a busy drummer who has played everything from surf rock to hardcore), is bringing the intense side of post-rock back with their debut album, “If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe”. The usual ambient soundscapes are still here, but they have way too many noisy and fun surprises up their sleeves that at times even challenge just what the style and genre of this album is. Though sometimes, that is a good thing, because why would anyone want to try to spend time categorizing what the album is, when, in fact, they can just take the music as it is: a brilliant and noisy masterpiece unlike anything that has come before it, bringing back the remnants of Swans, Slint, Napalm Death, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and so many other bands all into one 37 minute journey?

The opener, “Flint”, is one of the strangest atmospheric openings I’ve ever heard on an album. It starts with heavily processed guitars, filled with twang, delay, and reverb, along with so many other combinations of sounds, ranging from distorted drones to white noise, and coming from a variety of instruments, including the cymbals of the drum set. The track seems to have no sense of beat or rhythm, except for an improvised bass line that then starts a smooth drum beat along with beautiful guitar riffs, which sometimes attacks clear as a bell, while at other times, it just swells in and out of the mix. Often, distorted guitar and bass enter the mix, and alternate between the two, while soon ending out quietly, which starts the album out great. “Part 2″, which may be a hint to their previously 19-minute release, “Part 1″, begins with smooth drums and off-kilter bass and guitar riffs, though they are never the less just as beautiful and cinematic as the opener. Later on in the track, heavily distorted guitar and bass riffs, along with some symphonic choir-like samples enter the mix, giving the listener a thought of the theme to a film that was never made. More emotional guitar solos ensue throughout, sounding almost like they have somewhat of a Western flair to them, before eventually ending out. This track again shows how emotional The Fierce & The Dead can make their music without using so much ambience to shapes the dynamics of the track. “The Wait” is a beautiful and happy-sounding guitar piece with a lot of guitar riffs and chords going on, as well as a soft beat in the background, and what may sound like ambient synths and some piano and organ as well. It gives a nice break from what has happened in the album, but it gives no trace of what is about to happen next.

“H.R.” is where the album picks up the speed, beginning with strange and dreamy sounding guitar riffs, a nice bass riff underneath, and a soft beat. It is hard to tell what the chord progression is, as the riffs seem to mesh together to the point where they become one. A harder beat then ensues, continue the strange riffs either further until eventually, an extremely distorted and speedily picked guitar riff takes over the track, almost in the same matter that a guitar solo would dominate in a punk rock track back in the 70s. It’s hard for me to say anything more than that, as the track is an experience within itself. “Hotel No. 6″ is an ambient interlude featuring droning and mysterious guitar riffs that weave in and out to create a relaxing atmosphere, and yet again, it provides a nice break from the rest of the craziness going on in the album. However, there is still an unexpected turn around the corner. “Landcrab” is where the band shows their influence from grindcore and heavy metal, and it is intense as ever. Insanely fast and sharp drum hits, distorted guitar grooves, melodic yet dangerously noisy guitar leads, and melodic bass lines occur throughout the 2-minute long track. I can’t help but get the feeling of an intense fight or scene from a Western-inspired action film while listening to this, though maybe listeners have other ideas for the track.

“Daddies Little Helper” is a soft, dub-inspired track featuring light drumming, catchy bass lines, and short guitar strums before leading into beautiful guitar riffs and ambient soundscapes underneath the beat. Also, later on, saxophonist Terry Edwards makes a guest appearance, which shows how much jazz has also influenced the band’s works, in that Edwards’s saxophone licks range all over the place: from the styles of  John Coltrane and Miles Davis to Anthony Braxton and John Zorn. All in one track. It is a nice change of pace from the rest of the album, and is quite a fun song to listen to. “Woodchip” is yet another ambient interlude, only this time, it is composed only with samplers, synthesizers, and effects, which gradually changes from beautiful and lush to bleeps and creeps by the end of the track. “10×10″ begins with a soft drum rhythm, a melodic bass line, and ambient guitar swells before later on, clean guitar riffs pile on top of each other one by one, leading then into a faster section with more atmospherics and beautiful guitar work. The most surprising aspect of the song, however, occurs a little over a minute into the song, with an arpeggiated and distorted acid house bassline entering into the mix. There is a break that occurs with more atmospheric guitar riffs, before later on, all the elements previously introduced in the song combine to create an explosive and unforgettable climax. A beautifully arranged track. The last track, “Andy Fox”, begins with ambient noises before a creepy piano riff and more ambient guitar and string-like sounds appear, along with the bass riffs. The track builds steam when the drums finally enter, and the song flows at its own pace, before building up with more riffs, as well as more smooth saxophone riffs from Edwards, which sounds like a misty bar at midnight in the streets of a huge city. The track yet again builds more steam, as the guitar riffs grow even more louder, and the saxophone riffs become more and more intense and paranoid, similar to John Zorn’s works such as in “Spillane” or with his band on their self-titled album, “Naked City”. The album then slowly closes out with the ambient guitar loops, and soon, the album ends.

Overall, The Fierce & The Dead’s “If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe” is one of the more solid releases I’ve heard in a while. It brings post-rock back to its roots, as well as incorporating other genres such as avant-garde jazz, heavy metal, and progressive rock. It doesn’t focus on making ambience as much as it does in making emotional and cinematic music. It could quite literally be a post-rock album, but I don’t even think the term is strong enough here. Quite simply, “If It Carries On…” is the soundtrack to the film that never was. A Western-themed action epic of sorts, complete with huge fight scenes, steamy romance, and dark images of misty city bars in the dead of night. Maybe this is going too far. Maybe I’m over-analyzing. Or maybe, just maybe, I might be hitting the nail right on the head when talking about this album. I sincerely enjoyed listening to this album, as some of the tracks really caught my attention, such as “10×10″, “Landcrab”, “Andy Fox”, and “H.R.”. The other tracks were also exceptionally well made, willing to create ambiences and scenes of their own, which makes this one of the most intriguing and must-have independent instrumental albums of the year. Highly recommended listening. 9 out of 10 stars.

Title: If It Carries On Like This We Are Moving To Morecambe

Artist: The Fierce & The Dead

Genre: Instrumental post-rock

Self-released May 16th, 2011

You can pre-order the physical copy of the album (copies will be shipped out by June 13th), or buy the digital copy for a name-your-own-price deal now at http://thefierceandthedead.bandcamp.com/!

Damn Robot! – Hunang Skrímsli (2011, Hawk Moon Records)

Last month, I had reviewed an impressive compilation entitled “Hawk Moon Records: Volume II“, which promoted some of the best up and coming artists in the post-rock genre. A few short days after receiving this compilation, I was informed that one of the artists on the compilation, Damn Robot!, were releasing their debut album on May 16th. After enjoying their song on the compilation, “The Great Landfill In The Sky”, I had to hear this new album. Damn Robot! is a project from Hampshire, UK consisting of brothers Rob Honey (Oceanus, Inachus) and Tom Honey (Good Weather for an Airstrike). Their sound is a delightful mixture of electronica, trip-hop, ambient, post-rock, and other genres in-between, which sort of reminds me of the music of Futuro Primitivo, one of my favorite artists who works in the field of post-electronica, except that Damn Robot!’s music contains real instrumentation along with the electronics. Their debut album, “Hunang Skrímsli”, which from translating the phrase through different online translators, I believe it is Icelandic for “Honey Monster” (if I am wrong with this translation, please let me know), shows a great beginning for this duo of brothers, showcasing their love for all of these different genres by combining them into one 33 minute album.

The beginning track, “A Smile Spreads Across My Face”, begins with emotional string and synth pads before a soft bass and downtempo/trip-hop electronic drums enter the mix. Strangely, this song reminds me of something that could have been played in the film “28 Days Later”, perhaps at the end of the film or so. Later on, a break reveals quietly plucked guitars and more ambience, before it heads back into the trip-hop mood, and eventually ending out with low arpeggiated synth lines, ambience provided by strings, and some other percussive effects here and there, before eventually leading smoothly into the second track, “The Great Landfill In The Sky”. This track was already provided on the Hawk Moon compilation, so therefore, I will repeat what I have said about the track from that review here: The track begins with soft ambient drones before going into an electric piano progression, soft electronic beat, and a spoken word sample that sounds to be in a foreign language. Ambient drones keep building on top of each other underneath this foundation before later in the track, guitar riffs washed in a lush reverb can be found before adding back in the beginning elements, as well as some more soft synth leads. Near the end, some people can be heard yelling, which then leads into the interlude, “(Pass) The Switch Over”. Here, the sounds of a radio being tuned to different stations can be heard, ranging from news broadcasts and talk shows to musical jingles. The fourth track, “No Slack, But Luckily The Seats Go Back”, contains some deep bass drones and reverberated percussive elements, along with some more guitar being heard in the background, which eventually leads into a beautiful and very emotionally played guitar solo. Eventually, this leads into a break, where the guitar slowly fades away while the ambient drones continue on. However, when the main beat comes back, some minimal vocals come in, along with some variations here and there, as well as some very trippy effects. This is a very soothing track that plays with your mind a little bit, but in a good way.

“These Plugs Need Adaptors” is yet another interlude featuring tuned radios, but there are so many different styles of music in this small track, featuring heavy metal, atmospheric rock, insane techno music, and chill-out music among other things. “Electric Sheep I Can’t Tell Whether Or Not This Is A Dream” is actually an ambient dance track featuring stuttered beats and synths, ambient arpeggios, and some delightful house-like chords here and there. It is a refreshing change from the ambient post-rock and trip-hop style that most of the album has. It actually reminds me of some of the tracks that Orbital and Aphex Twin produced back in the early 90s at times, in that it successfully combines house beats with ambient atmospheres. “Antics” begins with a finger-picked guitar lick washed in a beautiful reverb, in which eventually more guitars enter. A huge beat performed on acoustic drums, a light bass line, and some other ambient effects here and there can eventually be heard. Some vocal samples are present as well. Overall, this is yet another change in the album’s combination of pure electronics and guitars, though there is an electronic kick drum and bass present at times, but it is yet another relaxing track. The final track, “Errors of the Pacifist”, which is the longest track at almost 8 minutes long, begins with soft electronic chords, which seem to be played backwards, before eventually, the beautiful chords are played forwards. Some electronic trip-hop beats enter the mix later on, as does a very smooth bass riff, some guitar work, and a strange sample that sounds very similar to a didgeridoo. During the ambient break, some more strange samples can be heard along with the chords, before it eventually leads yet again into the trip-hop drums, along with a lot of varied glitch effects that breath life into the track. Near the 2 minute mark, the tracks ends out slowly with what might be 30 seconds of silence. At the end, a reprise of what sounds like the beginning track is heard, in which arpeggiated synths, trip-hop drums, and a strangely frightening processed vocal sample are present. This short track within a track builds up steam a little bit, but then ends out, thus ending the album.

Overall, Damn Robot!’s “Hunang Skrímsli” shows a promising beginning for this duo, in that it combines electronica, trip-hop, post-rock, dance, and other genres into one album. The production here is stunning, and the songwriting and arrangement at times is superb. However, I will admit that I was expecting perhaps a more dynamic album, so to speak. Usually, post-rock is minimal, but it builds up steam with its dynamics and density of sound. However, that isn’t present much on this album. This is more like an pure ambient album with occasional beats, smooth basslines, and stunning atmospherics. It’s hard for me to exactly know what to think of this debut album. Apparently, I’ve heard that Damn Robot! are planning to perform gigs, so I’d love to know how that will turn out, but by listening to this album, you really have to be into the style to enjoy it. I love all of the genres that are present on this album, but its combination seems to be more minimal than I had initially thought. If you’re a fan of these genres, you’ll find something to like on this album. There should be something for everyone to enjoy on this album. 8.3 out of 10 stars.

Title: Hunang Skrímsli

Artist: Damn Robot!

Genre: Ambient post-rock/electronic/experimental

Released in 2011 by Hawk Moon Records

You can buy the album starting May 16th at http://hawkmoonrecords.bandcamp.com/ Also, you can pre-order an extremely limited edition CD (only 17 copies available in the world at the moment) at http://hawkmoonrecords.bigcartel.com/product/damn-robot-hunang-skrimsli-cdr

Detailed rating:

  • Production values – 10 (Overall, the album is great with the production, in its ambient effects, sound samples, guitars, and so forth)
  • Songwriting and Arrangement – 7 (Some of the tracks on this album are great, and some have variation so that it keeps the listener listening. However, most of the album is pretty minimal in approach, and like I said, I wasn’t exactly expecting that. However, it is a promising album nonetheless)
  • Enjoyment – 8 (If I had listening to this at night or on a rainy day, I probably would have understood this album better. However, I listened to it at 3 in the afternoon on a sunny day, so I’m not sure it was exactly the right time to listen to it for me to enjoy the most out of it. Nevertheless, I enjoyed what Damn Robot! have done on this album, and I’d be interested in seeing how they’d pull off their live gigs after hearing these lush tracks)

Various Artists – Hawk Moon Records: Volume II (2011, Hawk Moon Records)

In all the time I’ve reviewed music here, I don’t believe I’ve ever reviewed a compilation. Luckily, I’ve gotten the chance to review this incredible compilation, “Hawk Moon Records: Volume II”, which is a collection of ambient post-rock tracks from artists that are up and coming in the genre. Some of these artists I’ve already heard of before, such as Lowercase Noises and The Echelon Effect, who makes some incredibly emotional and dynamic compositions in the genre, and I am happy to see some new, previously unreleased material of theirs on here. However, the nicest part about listening to this album is that luckily, this album has also given me the chance to discover some artists that I had previously never heard of before. It is hard for me to sum these tracks up without going through each one (as I usually do with all my reviews), because each track has a different feel and style, though all related to the vein of ambient and post-rock that the compilation revolves around for almost 40 minutes. Hopefully, you, as the listener, will also have a chance to check out this compilation, because it is certainly something you don’t want to miss.

The first track, “Sun”, which is by In Lieu, the solo project of 21 year old multi-instrumentalist/producer Martin Ruffin, begins with a beautiful ambience of synth pads and some reverberated piano. Eventually, some soothing vocals and a soft electronic beat enters into the mix, but they never interfere here in the beginning with the ambience that continues to shine and glimmer throughout. Further in, the intensity builds as more traditional drum kits and higher-ranged powerful singing take over more of the mix. Finally, the song builds to a huge climax containing hard, military-like drumming, distorted guitar riffs, and the presence of some glockenspiels, in which the song builds yet again with more and more noisy distortion, before ending out in an ambient soundscape. Overall, the song really caught my attention, and was, I believe, the perfect choice to begin the compilation.

The second track, “FL150″, which is by the UK-based project The Echelon Effect, contains an ambient opening with light guitar riffs and distant sound samples, which could range from radios to TV stations. As the track progresses, glockenspiel melodies and some electronic beats in the background unveil themselves to the listener, and the riffs become more layered and complex. Suddenly, powerful drumming, melodic guitars, and intense synthesized strings drop on the listener unexpectedly, almost like a soundtrack to a film. It then quiets down to the soft plucks of guitars, lots of studio effects, and more sound samples, before eventually building up intensity in the last minute of the song, and then finally ending out in a quiet fashion. Overall, this is yet another great example of post-rock, as previously demonstrated by Mogwai and other artists that were claimed to have worked in the genre.

“The Great Landfill In The Sky”, the third track on the compilation, is performed by a new project entitled Damn Robot!, which consists of the brothers Rob and Tom Honey, who have worked respectively in the projects Inachus and Good Weather For An Airstrike. The track begins with soft ambient drones before going into an electric piano progression, soft electronic beat, and a spoken word sample that sounds to be in a foreign language. Ambient drones keep building on top of each other underneath this foundation before later in the track, guitar riffs washed in a lush reverb can be found before adding back in the beginning elements, as well as some more soft synth leads. Overall, though it is not as dynamic as the first two tracks, it still can be categorized as post-rock simply because of the way that it uses traditional (and some non-traditional) instrumentation in an ambient matter to create a soothing soundscape of drones, textures, and quiet riffs. In fact, if there is any dynamics here, it’s the foreign vocal sample, since at the end of the track, people can be heard yelling. Overall, it works to calm down the listener from the first two tracks of the compilation, giving them some time to relax.

“The Cure”, the fourth track provided by the Sussex band “…And The Earth Swarmed With Them”, contains an even more ambient approach, consisting of only melodic melodies from guitars and either vibes or keys, processed with delay and reverb, as well as the sounds of the wind in the background, which together create a slightly unsettling effect, but is nevertheless beautiful. It is also the shortest track on the compilation at around only 3 minutes in length, but nevertheless, it is still a great addition to the compilation, showing that post-rock can be ambient as well as still preserving the rock roots. However,the fifth track, “Yardsticks”, which is by the Liverpool-based atmospheric instrumental rock band MinionTV, is the longest track on the compilation at over 7 minutes long, and begins with actively buzzing and rhythmic synths, moving in stereo around the listener, but still being as connected to drone as most of the album is already. Eventually, a tremolo picked guitar enters the mix, along with some other strange and otherworldly sounds seeping in and out. Eventually, the song picks up steam with a fast moving and electronically manipulated drum rhythm, along with distorted ambient guitars and more strange sound effects that are almost reminiscent of Joy Division’s works. The song builds up further and further with more waves of ambient lead guitar, until the drums fade out, leaving behind ambient lead guitar, a huge wall of sound, and the buzzing synths, which over time gradually die down until the track ends. Overall, this is one of the more interesting listens, and I’d certainly want to hear more from this band soon.

“Blood and Toothpaste”, which is by multi-instrumentalist Alex Previty’s solo project On Escalators, takes post-rock to another level, combining not only the ambience at the beginning of the track, but after a while, the track immediately becomes complex with math-rock drum rhythms and melodic distorted guitars, similar to what Slint did with “Spiderland”, but without all the dissonance of that album, showing yet again just how powerful post-rock can truly be. Also, unlike most of post-rock’s minimalism, the song constantly changes throughout without much repetition, building tension as to what is going to happen next. In the middle, the song immediately becomes slower and closer to what most of today’s post-rock music sounds like, along with beautiful clean guitars and light druming, in which the drums slowly build up the tension only to unveil more ambient drones to end the song. Overall, like the last song, this is definitely another interesting listen with a lot of variety going on in one track, and I will certainly be looking out for this project as well.

“The Days of Winter”, which is by the New York-based Circadian Eyes, the solo project of Bryan Collins, begins solely with slow piano rhythms, which over time change into more complex and upbeat rhythms closer to modern pop, rock, and classical music. However, a light kick drum builds up the tension of the track, progressively getting louder along with some synthesizer pads, and eventually reaching a beautifully nostalgic climax before ending out with piano. It is a nice change of pace from the rest of the album, and I believe it was a good choice for the compilation. The last track, “Let In The Morning Light”, which is by none other than the New-Mexico based Lowercase Noises, the solo project of Andy Othling, begins with beautifully lush guitar chords, a softly stuttering electronic beat, and some electric piano. The instrumentation works really well here, and creates a very relaxing atmosphere. Eventually, both acoustic and electronic drums can be heard, which builds up to a nice, slow-moving pace featuring more brilliant ambience. In the middle of the song, a very interesting synth lead can also be heard, which I haven’t really heard in most of Andy’s music, unless of course, I was focusing too much on the atmosphere of the song to notice it before. Towards the end of the song, all of the elements heard in the song come together to create a very stunning climax before ending out quietly with electronic beats and electric piano, in which the album ends.

Overall, “Hawk Moon Records: Volume II” showcases some great post-rock music from the latest up and coming artists. Though I had already heard The Echelon Effect and Lowercase Noises before, and I really enjoyed their contributions to this album, the rest of the songs really surprised me in the way that though they were all very ambient overall, they each took post-rock to a different degree, from Circadian Eyes’s simple piano melodies, Damn Robot!’s drone-y ambience and …And The Earth Swarmed With You’s minimal atmospheres to On Escalators’s math-rock influenced grooves, MinionTV’s epic cinematic soundscapes, and In Lieu’s huge dynamic range. Every piece on here is unique in their own way, and I thoroughly enjoyed each and everyone one of them. If you are someone who has never heard post-rock before, let alone heard of any of these bands before, you should take it upon yourself to get this album. It is a great entry point into the realm of post-rock, because I can guarantee you that once you listen to this album, you will be hooked to the genre, and want to hear more, either from the artists that are featured on this album or from others who work in the genre. Highly recommended listening. 9.5 out of 10 stars.

Title: Hawk Moon Records: Volume II

Artist: Various Artists

Genre: Ambient/post-rock/electronica

Released in 2011 by Hawk Moon Records

You can download the album for free here!: http://hawkmoonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/hawk-moon-records-volume-ii

Isis – Panopticon (2004, Ipecac Recordings)

“It was self-deprecating, but it also exemplified what we wanted to do.” – Aaron Turner of Isis talking to the New York Times on the meaning of “Thinking Man’s Metal”

Thinking Man’s Metal. Post-metal. Metalgaze. Steel. They all mean the same thing. A genre combining post-rock and heavy metal, but trying at the same time to stay away from heavy metal conventions. Downtuned distorted guitars, heavy atmospherics, gradual evolution of song structure, and a minimal emphasis on vocals occupy the songs here on Isis’s 2004 album, “Panopticon”. It’s an album that knows when to play and speak slowly and quietly, and when to rock out hard and heavy, shouting and screaming loudly. In fact, Isis here knows how to do it very well. It’s a shame that Isis broke up last year in 2010, but what they managed to leave behind is plenty of albums that break the conventional approach of heavy metal. This album, out of all of them, is my personal favorite.

A panopticon, strangely enough, is a form of prison. A central observation tower surrounded by windowless cells, terrorizing prisoners with the fear of constant surveillance. This is the central theme of the album, and Isis manages to recreate that fear. The album starts out loudly with the track, “So Did We,” which has already managed to become one of my favorite songs of all-time. Downtuned guitars, slow but heavy drumming, and vocals screaming “Our skin worn thin, our bones exposed, life reduced to ticks” in a 6/4 time signature start it off. And then all of a sudden, the volume quiets to clean guitars and bass, playing melodic and minimalist inspired riffs. You rarely ever hear heavy metal like this, but here, the sound is dominant, gradually moving into an explosive chorus where the vocals are shouted in a clean manner (“From forest caves and azure skies, we crashed upon this earth. The years they passed and so did we, but, resistance would be brought.”), and the lead guitar is actually played clean with reverb rather than heavy metal’s usual screaming licks. Then, there is a sense of calm before the storm, where there is more clean guitar before distortion builds up into an explosive ending of power chords and atmospherics that ends the way it started. Overall, this is probably one of the strongest songs I’ve ever heard a metal album start out with, which is a good thing.

“Backlit” starts out softly with very melodic and uplifting licks alongside a light beat, which slowly rises up over time to an explosive climax containing clean shouted vocals and distorted guitars before dropping suddenly to a break of clean and distorted guitar licks, which suddenly lead to yet another climax that alternates between growled vocals and dissonant guitar and clean vocals and melodic guitar. If only most metal could sound like this. The song then turns yet again into a quiet section full of math rock complexity, building up with melodic guitar solos and then finally hitting a rhythmically complex guitar solo before going yet again into screamed metal before ending out suddenly. “In Fiction” starts slowly and cinematic-like, with clean, melancholic guitar solos over a light drum beat and distant chorused guitar chords. As post-metal usually does, the song builds up slowly over time, becoming more and more layered and distorted, with some vocals entering in the middle of the song, and finally, at its climax, huge guitar power chords, harmonized vocals, and some great bass lines in the mix as well. The second climax also includes some memorable guitar lines that sound as though they should be played over an slow motion action sequence, or even just in a film trailer. A great track nevertheless.

“Wills Dissolve” contains ambient synth sounds at the beginning, alongside a melodic guitar and bass duet that sound closer to the sounds of Godspeed! You Black Emperor or Mogwai, as well as having sort of a feeling of uncertainty with its dissonant sounds at parts. The melodies around the 2 minute mark are also spectacular for as minimal as they are, and the metal hit at the 3 minute and 18 second mark is fabulous, along with the screamed vocals and melodic guitar melodies that occur near the end of the song. This track segues into “Syndic Calls”, which contains an ambient guitar loop before heading into more melodic guitar figures. The strange guitar effects make for a nice touch, and the muted rock rhythms in the middle of the song make for a great build-up into the climax. The break in the middle of the song contains some very nicely produced reverb guitar before building up in complexity and layers to the second climax, where clean vocals prevail and the drums and guitar hit as hard as metal music usually does.

“Altered Course”, which features Justin Chancellor of Tool on bass, and is the longest track on the album running almost 10 minutes exactly, starts out differently from the rest of the album, in that it begins directly with distorted guitar and heavy drums, along with a reverberated and distorted melodic guitar line seeping through the cracks of the song, before leading into a huge climax of loud drums and heavy guitar. The break contains a very interesting chord progression, in that the last chord sounds very off from the rest of the song, but obviously, it needs to be in order to create the creepy, unsettling mood that heavy metal usually has. The rest of the song consists on breaking down from the climax established at the beginning of the song, moving into ambient territories through keyboards, sound effects, and the like. A very different song from the rest of the album, but it works. The final song, “Grinning Mouths”, begins right away with heavy guitar and drums, along with the occasional strums of some clean and overdriven lead guitar, which lead into a nicely contrasting section of clean guitar and light drumming, which again build up near the 4 minute mark to create a huge wall of growled vocals, distorted guitar, and loud drumming, and afterwards, a complex section of both clean lead guitar and distorted rhythm guitar, moderately fast drumming, and some good ambience going on in between the cracks of the song. The second climax sounds very cinematic, and could easily be used in a trailer for an epic film of some sort. The song gets more complex as keyboards, muted heavy metal guitar, and extreme drum fills collide to create an even bigger climax before finally ending suddenly, and so the album ends.

Overall, “Panopticon” is one of the best examples of post-metal from the past decade. The contrast between clean and distorted guitar, clean and screamed vocals, minimalist melodies and complex rhythms, and quiet atmospheres and loud noisy climaxes can be found all throughout the album, as can a sense of fear and uncertainty, which goes along with the theme of the album quite well. The sound is very cinematic, and could almost be used in an epic film, that is, if it goes with the right scene. Isis spent a good deal of time polishing this album to make it sound unique from most of the heavy metal albums being released at the time, and in the end, it shows. Recommended listening for fans of heavy metal, minimalism, post-rock, progressive rock/metal, sludge, doom, etc. 9 out of 10 stars.

Album: Panopticon

Artist: Isis

Genre: Post-metal/post-rock/heavy metal

Released in 2004 by Ipecac Recordings

Available now at all major retailers!

Good Weather For An Airstrike – Jigsaws (2011, Hawk Moon Records)

After reviewing Tom Honey’s (a.k.a. Good Weather For An Airstrike) “A Winter” EP last month, I was hooked to the music and was hoping to find more to listen to. The music striked a chord with me, as it was highly reminiscent of the feelings of winter, and after all the snowstorms in my area at the time of reviewing that EP, it was just a perfect match. Luckily, almost a week ago, Tom released this new EP, “Jigsaws”, which contains 6 tracks and almost 45 minutes of drone and ambient bliss. This is almost an evolution of the sound on “A Winter”, as though the smooth processed drones are still here, some of the tracks have a sound that recalls Tim Hecker. It is an intriguing and soothing listen that still keeps the main idea of the project: to help alleviate the issues caused by suffering from tinnitus, which causes a ringing sensation in the ear and can often result in difficulty sleeping.

“Lab” begins with Tom’s familiar processing of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, with the static-like yet evolving layers of harmonies that he is known for. It is hard to detect just what sounds or instruments that he has used (I would guess that strings have definitely been used here, though) because the sounds have been disguised so heavily that it sounds more like a shoegaze blur of lulling emotions. It’s yet another perfect example of Tom’s dronology with the GWFAA project, and opens up the album quite nicely. “February” is where it reminds me more of Tim Hecker’s works, though without all the noisy glitches that Tim implements. It starts just like a blur, but very quickly, it starts to sound subtlely rhythmic through the effects that Tom has used. Nevertheless, the rhythmic layers make a perfect contrast to the drones that occur through the piece, and it is a stand-out work. Subtle, yet immersive. “Takes Flight” is sort of a short interlude, in that it only lasts for less than 3 minutes, but yet, more drones can be found here, in which they slowly evolve to climaxes on a microscopic scale.

“In Our Small Garden” is almost 8 minutes long, and full of interesting drones. The harmonic swells in the beginning slowly envelop the listener like a blanket, and throughout the piece, it warms the listener up, layer by layer, until in the end, it slowly cools down to an end. “Together” is the longest piece on the album, running 20 minutes long, but just as soothing as the rest of the album already is. The low drones in the beginning slowly fill up the piece, until at around 5 minutes, a slow and beautiful chord progression occurs for a couple of minutes, before in the end, bell-like drones fill the gaps before ending out softly. A very SOTL-esque piece, but yet contains the GWFAA style that Tom has refined over his career. The last piece, “First Step”, sounds like an ascent into Heaven, with very beautiful harmonies along the lines of Brian Eno’s works, though occurring instead in slow motion. Beautiful drones and subtle noise fill all the gaps of the composition, with no space detectable. The middle of the piece is quiet, though in the end, a climax occurs that is very similar to many post-rock compositions, in which the sounds swell up to create a huge wall of sound, before trailing off and effectively ending the album.

Overall, Good Weather For An Airstrike’s “Jigsaws” is a spectacular album, and about just as great as the “A Winter” EP. When I had hoped to hear a longer GWFAA release, Tom answered with this album, and met all my expectations. Beautifully produced and containing some interesting rhythmic effects in “February”, this album shows a further evolution in GWFAA’s sound, and it keeps me wanting to hear more like this from him in the future. If you are looking for an album that will help induce sleep, are a fan of GWFAA, or are just a lover of ambient and drone music in general, you won’t be disappointed with this one. Highly recommended listening. 9 out of 10 stars.

Album: Jigsaws

Artist: Good Weather For An Airstrike

Genre: Modern classical/ambient/drone

Released 2011 by Hawk Moon Records

Available now at: http://goodweatherforanairstrike.bandcamp.com/album/jigsaws