Friday, 27 July 2012

Mutilation Rites - Empyrean

01. A Season of Grey Rain
02. Realms of Dementia
03. Ancient Bloodoath
04. Fogwarning
05. Dead Years
06. Broken Axis

Mutilation Rites is a band from NYC.  They are kind of a cross-over band, blending Black Metal with Thrash, Crust Punk, and Doom.  They have been together since 2009 and already gone through numerous lineup changes.  Finally, this year, they released their debut LP, "Empyrean". I picked up their new album at Profusion Records in Montreal while on vacation and was intrigued, yet slightly disappointed.  This band shows great potential, but there are several issues, which I will discuss.

There are a lot of interesting things going on here.  The blending of Crust Punk and Black Metal always works well, IMO, and MR does a decent job of this.  They are always throwing in other influences as well, such as some very DSBM* passages and some really doomy riffs occasionally.  They even throw in some Stoner Metal sounding stuff from time to time, with a really Early Mastodon/High on Fire type feel.

The drummer here is obviously fairly technically skilled, switching between different speeds of blast beats, double bass, punk beats, fills, and slow doomy smashing.  There was only one time on the album I really got the feeling that the drummer kind of lost his finesse, and was actually kind of amazed they left it on the album, but I guess it lends to the overall "raw" feeling of the production (albeit more Crusty "raw" than BM "raw").

There are some really great riffs on the album, and the guitars in general sound good.  Songs such as "Fogwarning" are packed with awesome riffs and really get you paying attention.  Even some songs that aren't really riffy are enjoyable due to the creation of atmosphere through the guitar, such as "Dead Years" and the depressive atmosphere it creates.

There are some serious issues with the album however, that really keep me from loving it.  Starting with the vocals.  Now the vocals aren't all bad, in some of the Crust sections they seem to work perfectly, but in the majority of the music the vocals feel hollow and flat.  If I were to draw a comparison I would compare them to Varg Vikernes' vocals off of the self-titled Burzum album, but with the raw power and body scooped out of the center, leaving only the raspy, hollow shell.  They aren't horrible but they're not very good either.  I caught myself wishing the vocals weren't even there at some points, so I could  better enjoy the guitar work, and THAT is a big issue in my opinion.

Another serious issue is the composition.  I love variety, and I love blending of styles, but it has to be done consistently and smoothly.  The way the styles are blended, especially in the "A Season of Grey Rain" and "Realms of Dementia", leaves the album feeling non-cohesive and clunky.  It's like a jar of chunky peanut butter, but the chunks of peanuts have been replaced with chunks of raw onion, it's unexpected and it just doesn't work, leaving a bad taste in your mouth.  You can tell that the band has great ideas, and great potential to do something very interesting, but just doesn't know how to put it all together yet.  Even the best songs on the album suffer from these issues albeit a bit less.  I feel like these sections weren't planned well but the band just got lucky in a few spots.

The other issue here is the length of the album - it's too short.  If I'm paying $20 for an album and it only has 6 songs and slightly over 30 minutes of music I feel ripped off.  It feels more like a long EP than a full length album.

In conclusion this is an album that shows potential for a new band.  They have good ideas and obviously have a lot of influences and interesting concepts to bring to the table, they just have to figure out how to put them together in a more coherent way.  Their technical skill is fairly good, but there are a few serious offenses that need to be corrected as well.  In my opinion this band was not really ready to release a full length album, they needed to put more time into forming a solid concept of a sound before just hitting record and selling the results.  Given time however, I believe Mutilation Rites can become a wonderful band with some really interesting music.

65% - Potential shown but needs improvement

Monday, 16 July 2012

Drudkh - Кров у Наших Криницях (Blood in Our Wells)

01. Навь (Nav')
02. Борозни Богів (Furrows of Gods)
03. Коли Пломінь Перетворюється на Попіл (When the Flame Turns to Ashes)
04.  Самітність (Solitude)
05. Вічність (Eternity)
06. Українська Повстанська Армія (Ukrainian Insurgent Army)

Drudkh is a band from the Ukraine.  Their main style is Black Metal, but they incorporate folk, rock, and post-rock influences as well, lending to their trademark sound.  Their lyrics are usually Ukranian poetry written by famous poets such as Taras Shevchenko.  The two albums that have gotten the most acclaim are 2004's Autumn Aurora and this, 2006's Blood in our Wells.

Blood in our Wells is an interesting beast to conquer.  From my personal experience, the first time I heard it I felt it sounded very similar to Filosofem-era Burzum(not that I don't love Burzum), and wasn't incredibly impressed.  Oh how my opinion has changed.  I was determined that there had to be more to this album, as I had heard great things, and I forced myself to listen to it again and again.  After about 4-5 listens I began to understand why this album has received such praise.

Once one can listen past the initially overwhelming droning sound of the production quality a whole new world of riffs and chord progressions begin to surface, creating what I now see as a brilliant sonicscape.

Drudkh's primary vessel is black metal, but they weave so many other styles into their sound on this album.  The first song, "Nav'", is simply a folky intro with acoustic guitars and some Ukrainian folk instruments I can't identify.  This track is short (only 2:30ish in an album of 10:00'ers) and leads into the breathtaking track "Furrows of Gods".  This song much going on.  Of course it has the wonderful droney ambience of the rest of the album, but also incorporates wonderful acoustic guitar interludes and even acoustic guitar over blastbeats and chugging bass riffs, which surprisingly don't drown it out at all.  This is very unique, seldom do you hear acoustic guitar in black metal, especially alongside blastbeats, and it works surprisingly well.  There are also some incredibly melancholic electric guitar solos inserted at the perfect moments, bringing some climactic moments to this altogether epic track.  The one riff, at around 7:10ish, has been stuck in my head for a good week now with no sign of leaving any time soon.

"When the Flame turns to Ashes" takes a bit of a different turn, starting off with a much more straight-line ambient black metal feel.  It does still feature the occasional guitar solo and has a very interesting acoustic interlude in the middle of the track, but maintains a much more consistently ambient feel overall than the previous track.  The vocals on this track are great, and remind me of some of Quorthon's vocals from "Blood Fire Death" or "Hammerheart".

"Solitude" starts with a deceptive little folky riff, which soon breaks into probably the fastest riff on the album (albeit not incredibly fast by black metal standards).  This song slows down fairly quickly, however, and gets to the point of the track, which is evoking the feeling of it's title, "Solitude".  There is still a lot going on here, however, with constant solos and some very doomy and melancholic feeling riffs.  The vocals match perfectly here as well.  Roman Saenko's gruff growls seem to act like a chameleon, blending perfectly into the mood and tone of every track on the album.  Here the vocals remind me quite a bit of other "wilderness metal" acts, such as Agalloch.

"Eternity" is the second real standout track on the album.  Starting with a really strange folky intro and dropping into a straight ahead rock riff, which then evolves into a fairly metal sound with double bass and a soaring guitar solo.  This song is a ton of fun, with a kind of rock/post-rock atmosphere that at some moments reminds me of the Pixies, others of gy!be, and on and on.  This track is an unexpected departure from the pace of the first 3(discluding Nav', which is an intro) songs and acts to reinvigorate the listener for the last part of the album.  It definitely still has the "Drudkh" sound however, and isn't different enough to disrupt the cohesion of the tracks on the album.  The ending of this track is something to point out on it's own as well, as the progressive nature of the riffs seem to build and build to a climactic finish.

"Ukranian Insurgent Army" is an instrumental outro, with by far the doomiest feel of all the tracks.  In my opinion I would have named this track "Solitude", as it has an incredibly depressive and lonely feel to it.  (Which I guess could be how it feels to be part of a Ukrainian Insurgent Army).  This song slowly leads the album to a close, and leaves the listener wanting more, leading me to have this album on repeat for the greater part of 3 weeks.

In all, this album is a wonderful composition of ambient folky black metal and deserves it's acclaim.  Drudkh flawlessly intertwines numerous genres and instead of disrupting the flow, as some other attempts by other bands have done, brings it all together into a brilliantly cohesive piece of art.

This album may be a tough nut to crack for some, but it's well worth cracking.  It's like breaking open the hardest walnut only to find gold inside.  I definitely recommend this album to any serious listener and advise you to give it 7-8 listens before you fully form an opinion on it.

I'm switching up the rating system I've been using as well, as I feel that a rating scale from 1-6 is a bit hard to apply to all releases and will be dropping it in favour of a % system.  Also, I'll be putting tracks of note in red and the rating in yellow, for those skimming over my reviews.

In light of this I'd like to give this album a rating of

90% - Editor's Choice Recommendation