Wednesday, 19 February 2014

My Favourite Vocalists

So, I'm not going to rank anything like top ten or stuff because this list is going to be subjective enough as it is, but I'd like to go over some of my favourite vocalists from a bunch of different genres and why each of them are my favourites.

The Hard

Tobias Netzell - In Mourning/October Tide/Majalis/Contortion

Tobias Netzell is one of my favourite death metal vocalists due to his range, technique, and delivery.  Netzell ranges from a low growl to a higher end scream and (rarely) some clean vocals, sometimes all in the same song.  His vocals are powerful, roaring, and 100% consistent.  Netzell never falters even when holding incredibly long notes.  His delivery can be punchy, soaring, and grinding, and never fails to please.  While not as unique as some of the others on this list, Netzell is consistently above average and provides a solid link in the chain of professionalism that his acts present.  In Mourning is one of the most consistently solid melodic death metal acts I can think of and Netzells performances solidify their reputation.

Rainer Landfermann - Bethlehem/Pavor

I won't say much about Landfermann, due to my last review, but what I will say is that his performances, though few and far between, are breathtaking.  His raw, uninhibited, hellish vocals define whatever music is backing them and create a sonicscape of pure despair and anger.  His unique style is rarely copied (or attempted) and for good reason, I can't imagine how this guy hasn't lost his voice yet.

Orjan Stedjeberg/Hoest - Taake/Thule/Deathcult/Ragnarok

Hoest isn't just one of my favourite vocalists, he's one of my favourite musicians in general.  His continued commitment to traditional but innovative black metal is matched by his vocal and instrumental skill.  His inhuman banshee shrieks are powerful and passionately delivered.  I've yet to find one song that he's worked on that I don't like, and a lot of that is due to his vocals.  He also contributes some strange but appropriate trademarks to his work, such as his grunts and shouts that frame many of his most powerful performances.  In general nothing this guy does is bad.

The Soft

Neil Young

Neil Young is a living legend.  Neil's been making music, good and bad, since 1968, with no sign of stopping anytime soon.  His trademark nasal, off-key crooning seems to perfectly highlight whatever kind of music he seems to be playing, whether folk, rock, country, disco, or some hybrid of all of them.  His voice can be almost breathless or almost shouting depending on the intensity of whatever he is playing at the time and always maintains his well known sound.  If I were to compare his voice to an instrument it would be a harmonica, it's loud, annoying, bracing, but yet melodic, beautiful and able to accompany just about anything.  Neil Young manages to be incredibly irritating and captivating at the same time, and that's hard to accomplish.

Beck Hansen

Beck has been making a lot of different types of music for a long time and what's maintained throughout is his voice.  Beck can do just about anything, whether it's rapping, breathless spoken word, shouting, screaming, and beautiful melodic singing.  Being a musician of many styles Beck has had to adapt his vocals to many different genres over the years and is never afraid to tackle new styles and new techniques.  Like Neil Young, Beck often manages to be incredibly annoying and yet completely awesome at the same time, and I guess that's the kind of thing that appeals to me, because he's on this list as well.

Spencer Krug/Dan Boeckner - Wolf Parade

These two vocalists with their similarly nasal, but totally different voices are what made Wolf Parade one of my favourite bands for a long time.  These two guys have perfectly complimenting voices and that's hard to find for two vocalists in the same band.  Krug's almost whiny, wavering, high pitched wailing flows seemlessly into Boeckner's equally wavering, equally whiny mid range crooning, both of which compliment the electro indie rock of Wolf Parade.  The band may have broken up, but the three albums they did put out highlight the vocal talents of these two guys and are well worth checking out.

Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson is the mastermind behind many of the best prog rock projects of the last decade and most well known for his role as writer and vocalist for Porcupine Tree.  Wilson's voice is powerful but calming, strong but weak, an enigma of dynamics.  Wilson's vocals, like some others I've mentioned, seem to seamlessly frame the multitude of different styles he performs.  I don't really know what else to say about Wilson, so I'll just post an example.

The Inbetween

Mikael Akerfeldt - Opeth/Bloodbath/Katatonia(BMD)/Storm Corrosion
Akerfeldt has always been in my top five vocalists for a good reason, his range and talent at multiple vocal styles and his songwriting skill.  Akerfeldt often moves from an intensely deep and growling death metal roar to his breathtakingly beautiful and soaring singing voice and back and forth and back and forth all within the confines of a single (all be it generally long) Opeth song.  He is also fully capable of staying in one dynamic range, lending a pure doomy death performance to Katatonia's Brave Murder Day or a pure clean performance to Opeth albums such as Damnation or Heritage.  He was also the lead vocalist for the technical death metal act Bloodbath, where he held nothing back with some of his most brutal and roaring harsh vocals.  The main thing that sells Akerfeldts vocals for me is how he, like Rainer Landfermann, puts 150% effort into whatever he's doing and never has a "weak" performance.  When Akerfeldt is on, he's on, and he's always on.

Stephane Paut/Neige

Neige is basically the father of the subgenre of "blackgaze", a hybridization of black metal and post-rock, often shoegaze elements.  Neige has dozens of projects and is always working with different people and in different countries, though usually in his native language of French.  Neige is capable of some of the most beautifully dreamy shoegaze inspired vocals and also of some very powerful high pitched black metal style screams.  His adeptness at hybridizing genres is highlighted by his ability to mold his vocals to whatever he does, like many others on this list.

Jonas Renkse - Katatonia

Renkse has had a very interesting career as a vocalist.  Listening to his early work and his later work is a completely different experience and one would be hesitant to believe it was the same guy singing.  Renkse started off his career with Katatonia as a very harsh, emotionally dynamic, and passionate screamer.  Due either fortunately or unfortunately to his poor technique Renkse damaged his vocal chords and was unable to continue doing harsh vocals.  At this time it was unclear whether Katatonia would have to find a new vocalist or what Renkse would do with the news that he was unable to scream anymore.  Amazingly Renkse transformed his style into a clean, singing style, while still maintaining the doomy style necessary for his work.  Over the course of a couple albums his voice grew and changed, and while the interim was sketchy the final product is an ever improving and hauntingly beautiful singing voice.  From The Great Cold Distance onward his voice has been astonishingly melodic and the effort he has put into honing his technique is readily apparent, this is a guy that is serious about being the best singer he can be and not taking "no" for an answer.  How many vocalists completely lose their voice and then take a new approach, completely transforming and putting endless amounts of effort into developing a new technique?  None come to mind other than Renkse, and what's come of it are some of the most haunting and moving vocal performances in the hard rock/metal world in recent history.

Mike Patton

Who better to end the list with than Mike Patton?  Patton has performed with just about every kind of musical act you can imagine and his unique vocal style seems to work for just about anything.  I don't know of a single vocalist that has performed as a part of or accompanying so many different musical acts or with as many different styles.  If you can name a style or genre Mike Patton has done it, and done it well.  It would be an injustice to post a single video for Mr. Patton, so here is a link to a search of his name on YouTube.  You'd be hard pressed to find something that isn't well performed, no matter when, where, or what it is.  Patton is simply one of the most consistently professional yet inconsistently bound by genres or styles.  Simply put, he does everything.

So yeah, that's my list.  Obviously your favourite vocalists aren't all going to be on this list, that's why it's my list, but if you think of a vocalist that I've neglected that you think I'd be enamored with please feel free to send suggestions my way!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The blogs would have you believe

that salbutamol can't get you high.  It can, and it's short but sweet.  Fuck/

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Bethlehem - Dictius Te Necare

Bethlehem is an odd group.  I'll just start there.  They've gone through more vocalists and more stylistic transformations than just about any group of the same age, and they show no sign of slowing down anytime soon.  Today, however, I'm going to be writing about Dictius Te Necare from 1996.

Bethlehem were one of the pioneers, if not THE pioneer, of an odd sub-genre referred to as "Dark Metal".  Many would simply list it as one of the facets of DSBM, but it's something more than that, it's a fusion of the most harsh facets of DSBM with the crushing downtrodden aesthetic of doom, and the constant changes in dynamic common to progressive or melodic death metal.

Dictius Te Necare is probably the best example of this odd little sub-genre that I've found, and subsequently one of my favourite all time albums.

To even bring up Dictius one must speak of the vocals on the album.  Rainer Landfermann contributes one of the most dynamic, frantic, and frankly insane vocal performances in recent history and the album is really defined by his performance.  From the first second of "Schatten Aus Der Alexander Welt" the listener knows there will be something different about the vocals on this album.  The album erupts into a driving rhythm and is immediately accompanied by the piercing shrieks of Landfermann.  No less than 30 seconds later the beats drops straight down into a plodding, almost grungy doom passage and Landfermann's vocals begin to show their range, dropping into what almost sounds like weeping proclamation and leaping straight back into the shrieking banshee wail that began the album.  Landfermann never lets up on the listener, shouting, shrieking, and weeping his way through the first track with reckless abandon, accompanied by ever changing melodies and rhythms ranging from punkish sounding black metal excerpts to slow doomy sections (accompanied by whispering and weeping), to straight ahead heavy metal riffs.  To say that SADAW sets the tone for the album would be an understatement.

The next track (not typing them all out, they're excessively long) follows a much more traditional doom formula which Landfermann's shrieks and mad rantings transform into something more than the sum of its parts.  The odd sections with piano and the sounds of water flowing with subdued growlings break away into driving rock with only the heavily distorted guitar sound to tie it into its metallic roots, however soon we're dragged right back into the mire of sludgy doom and rantings, which suddenly explode into pure black metal which frame the vocals in a much more traditional setting.  Without warning we're pulled back into a punky section with synthesized wind sounds and then right back into the mire we go.  This track is like being stuck in quicksand, constantly grasping for help, but always being pulled further and further back into the descending murk.  My only complaint would be how long the track seems to stretch on, especially towards the end.

The beginning riff of Aphel - Die Schwarze Schlange heralds what is to come, and the listener is not left disappointed.  30 seconds in the track explodes into blastbeats and shrieking, but then again at the 1 minute mark drops back into a rock beat, and then down into subdued acoustic and mad ravings, and then exploding back into blastbeats and shrieking, and then right back into the plodding doom of the previous track.  Starting to get the idea of the dynamics of this album?  Up and down, up and down, in and out, sideways, upside down, inverted, whatever.  I hate using the cliché of a "roller-coaster", but that's what it's really like.  This whole album is a roller-coaster ride through the bipolar manic-depressive nature of pure suicidal torment.  "Dictius Te Necare" does mean "Kill yourself", so that does kind of make sense.

I'm not going to go on to explain note by note the whole album, but there are some huge standouts throughout.

  • Verheisung is the most "normal" song on the album, but it has a driving groove that's infectious and provides a mid-album plateau which does wonders for the all around cohesiveness of the album.
  • Verschleierte Irreligiositat has some of the darkest, doomiest sections of the whole album.  The madness and passion of Landfermann's vocals again permeate the track and are framed well by the instrumental accompaniment.  The grimy driving section towards the middle of the track is one of the best "headbanging" sections on the album and definitely one of the most melodic.  Great track.
  • Tagebuch Einer Totgeburt is another approach to the doom aspect of dark metal without going to the extent of griminess and rawness that Verschleierte or Die Anarchische do.  It includes much more of the solo guitar/piano passages with more of the weeping/raving vocals and much less of the "metal" content and shrieking.  The true depths of despair are explored in the haunting passages of this track.
  • Dorn Meiner Allmacht is a long and grinding finale to the album.  Landfermann explores the high end of his shrieks and screams as the track plods along and the rage and hatred are as palpable as ever.  He also explores a low end growling aspect which hasn't shown itself much on the album and just furthers the question of "where won't his voice go?".  Towards the middle of the track is a guitar section that just SCREAMS Brave Murder Day era Katatonia and really cements the mid 90's doom aspect of the album, though also accompanied by almost Emperor-like synthesizers.
The other factor I HAVE to mention is the fact that this album is in German makes a huge difference.  German is such a harsh and yet floral and expressive language, and the nuances of the language lend themselves perfectly to the soundscape that Bethlehem is working to achieve.

I heartily endorse this album and its respective genre and REALLY want another album of ANYTHING with Rainer Landfermann's vocals.  The closest I've gotten is his appearance on Anaal Nathrakh's Passion, which shows that his vocal ability and style have only fortified over the years and that he could easily perform on an album like Dictius Te Necare again, and makes me wonder why he hasn't.

The b-sides from this album are also completely worth the time as well.  The song Schuld Uns'res Knoch'rigen Pfaltpferd, which isn't even on the album, is my favourite Bethlehem song of all time and also includes Rainer Landfermann's characteristic vocals.  The song was featured on the soundtrack to Gummo (coincidentally one of my favourite movies), and I don't know how it didn't make its way onto the album.  There's also a cover of "Where Eagles Dare" by Iron Maiden, titled Wo Adlers Wagen, again featuring Landfermann which is also totally worth checking out.

Let it stand that Landfermann is one of if not my favourite vocalists and I would drag my balls through a mile of broken glass to hear another Bethlehem album with him on it.

Please make another album you crazy, genius motherfucker

Monday, 3 February 2014

Deathgrips - No Love Deep Web

Ah, Deathgrips.  So hyped, so hated or beloved, so divisive, so potentially, stomach churningly pretentious, but then somehow the 3edgy5me, "lol let's put a penis on the cover" aesthetic fades into the background and the unique, actually genuine approach to music begins to emerge and make one forget all the "bullshit", the fashion statement, the "too punk to show up at their own show" shit, all that stuff, and that's remarkable in itself.

So, let's approach this album a bit differently.  I don't think it needs the same kind of track-by-track that I gave the last album, I'll mention a few tracks that stand out, but the overall aural aesthetic of the album is congruous and flowing enough to not need to mention every track individually.

There are a couple (read several) factors that will turn people right the fuck off of this album.

  • The dick cover
  • The pretentious ideals of the group in general
  • The dick cover
  • MC Ride's signature angry hobo punk rap vocals
  • The di- alright, you get it
  • The droning buzzy bass
  • The electronic hyper processed beats
  • The way the whole things sounds put together
Now you'll notice some of that is in red.  This is because those points are exactly why I love this album and Deathgrips in general.  MC Ride looks and sounds like a drugged up hobo that by all means should be wearing an "THE END IS COMING" sign and standing in Times Square hollering in the same voice he uses on the album.

You gon get raped
Who took my coat?
Ride has 3 "egos" that he uses in general, talking Ride, hollering hobo Ride (the majority of the vocals), and drunk Ride.  Some of these are superimposed over each other and though an unexperienced listener may not understand what the fuck is being said at any point of time, Ride actually implements a LOT of the "maintstream rap" repeat stuff until one can remember it after a single listen lyrical work intertwined with incredibly disillusioned, complex, and rife with reference material that kind of says "hey, if you're into us you can figure out what I'm talking about, if you're not that interested you can remember it's [the song with the catchy hook]."  If you really get into the music though, both of those aspects become equally important.  Like a LOT of good music Deathgrips' material, especially on this album, sound like a wall of noise coming at you and you can either get out of the way or try to figure it out.  Once one can conquer the "wall", however, the subtle genius of the album appears.  This is utterly inaccessible music with an incredibly accessible format for both the beat and the lyrics.  This is rap-cubed - hypercomplexified and yet incredibly standard at the same time.  There isn't much separating the format of the lyrics and "rapping" from much more mainstream material other than the incredibly dirty presentation and dark electronic buzzy beat finish.  Once one listens to a bunch of this stuff one realizes that it really isn't as "out there" as some might think.  This is rap taken to one of its logical conclusions, exaggerated electronics, exaggerated vocal intensity, exaggerated raw production, like I said, rap-cubed.

Let's talk about some of the songs now.  The album opens with one of the more definitive tracks on the album, "Come up and get me", which sets the pace, tone, and aesthetic expectation for the album perfectly.  "No Love" is a baseball bat beatdown of a rap track, whose memorable and repetitive hook balance and complement the grinding, buzzy bass beat.  This is one of the "anthem" tracks on the album, one that fans will groove to.  "Whammy" picks up the pace and is one of the quicker tracks on the album, also containing a lot of repetitive samples and hooks.  One of the more "catchy" tracks for sure.  "Stockton" isn't a far cry from some much more traditional "gangsta rap" offerings and lends some of the "street cred" aspect to the album, IMO.  "Artificial Death in the West" is a great track to end the album with, much more subdued and low profile than every other track on the album.  This track prominently features "talking Ride" with only samples of "hobo Ride".  This is by far the most calm track on the album, almost over simplified in its production.  I hate to make Radiohead comparisons two reviews in a row, but the beat in this one has a lot of Kid A nostalgia for me for some reason, maybe just how I'm thinking about it right now, I don't know.  Either way, the album carries the same kind of raw, buzzy, street feeling throughout and only minorly deviates in either direction aurally.

Don't have much else to say about it right now, other than it's worth checking out if you're a fan of rap, raw productions, great beat work, or (relating to the last point) the work of Zach Hill in Hella, which is a great electronic act btw.

First post of the NEW Zushakon Review - DyE(Taki 183)

Hello no one.

I've decided to resurrect this blog for personal purposes and I don't give a fuck if anyone actually reads it, I'm gonna write it because I feel like it.  Lately I've been dealing with tons of anxiety and have been unemployed since November and as a result have discovered lots of music I've enjoyed and continue to enjoy and I'd like to share some of it with whoever (or no one) reads these posts.  Enjoy, or don't, I don't care.

I'm not gonna lie, I've smoked a bunch of pot in the last 3 months, and popped a bunch of (prescription) pills, and when I'm in "chill" mode, nothing quite does it for me lately more than French chillwave act DyE.  DyE is producer and performer Juan de Guillebon's musical outlet for the last couple of years and so far has only produced one "major" work - the album/mixtape Taki 183.  You can find most of his tracks online (if not all of them) legitimately free to download.

Taki 183 is initially a disheveled and incongruous mass of buzzy dark electronica mixed with some really smooth and haunting chillwave material.  Upon repeat listens though, one begins to anticipate the change in dynamic that each song presents and begin to appreciate them in the format they're presented in.

The album starter "Nike" is an odd collection of what almost sound like windows 95 era computer noises mixed with the same dark buzzy base that permeates the album.  The sudden explosion of several melodies of the aforementioned noises at the 30 second mark will no doubt confound and turn off many listeners the first time through, but the distorted and complex rhythms eventually start to make sense and present what eventually becomes a catchy and bouncy series of electronic riffs that make more and more sense with every listen.

"Fantasy" is the song that you'll know, if any, from this album, due to the masterfully animated and produced music video by Jeremie Perin which went viral a couple years ago.  The haunting high level melody and the almost breathless vocals WILL get stuck in your head and you WILL put this song on repeat (especially if under the influence of well, oaisjdlasfjdoisjdf, stuff...)  This song is no doubt the masterpiece of the album and if you're gonna start anywhere it may as well be here.  I can't really put into words what the song does for me, but it borders on the sublime, and that's not something that many songs can really do.  I'll take the risk of sounding pretentious and over-complementing of this track, I don't care, it's that good.

"Cristal D'acier" again pulls on some really old school electronic sounds to produce a punchy and bloopy beat that feels like a rollercoaster ride through a mid 90's microsoft screensaver.  That's all I'll say about this one.

"Vader" is a really (and eponymously appropriately) dark and disjointed track.  There's almost a kind of Deathgrips-esque disjointedness to it and it just kind of "exists" for 5 minutes of rolling beat and seemingly (hate this fucking word) random melodic elements.

"Immortals Only" kind of takes traits of the background melody of Fantasy and a very Idiotequesque background beat and just peruses through it's 3:42 playtime.  It's a fairly forgettable track in the mix of things, but not "bad" by any means.

"Hole in Ocean" is the first reappearance of the vocals we first heard on Fantasy and takes the logical pathway of a more chillwave styled track with less of the (for lack of a better word) bleepbloopiness of the rest of the album.  Not quite as compelling a track as Fantasy, but the vocals still sound wonderful and kind of invoke a bit of a Tears for Fears/Depeche Mode 80's vibe which ties in great with the retro computer sound aesthetic of the rest of the album.

"Mattias & Charlotte" bridges the gap in the album between the "chillwave" songs and the "bleepbloop" songs and ties it together with a kind of poppy melody and beat that isn't wholly appealing but not wholly unappealing at the same time.  It's an ok song and kind of flows with the rest of things.

"Dark White" heads straight back into atonal dysphonic territory with a really harsh background buzz and eerie detuned cavernesque vibe, and right when you think it's gonna drone on for a while it just ends, it's only 1 minute long.

The eponymous track of the album rounds out the bleepbloop aesthetic and has really wacky synthesized cat snarls thrown in at odd times with the completely off key and unpredictable melody that just kind of shows up at random intervals.  This track defines the extremes of the robotripping compunightmare melody slaughter that DyE defines the album with.

The album closer "Star Vac" begins with an appropriately spacey passage and then pulls a bit of a Nike in the way it erupts into disjointed melodies, but in a much more sedated and appropriately finalizing sense.

When the album ends, should you have in on repeat, it flows back into itself in a very engineered fashion that leaves you wondering where in the album you are if you weren't to be familiar with the track orders.  There isn't nearly the same kind of conclusion and restart feeling you get from most albums, but it is still present, you just might not notice it if not pointed out.  This album is a wacky one for sure and most importantly presents a perfect microcosm of the process of musical exploration.  The track that most likely led you to the album in the first place, and may seem missed during some of the weirder moments of the album on the first couple listens, now itself feels out of place in the grand scheme of the album.  If it weren't for Hole in Ocean, Fantasy would be completely alone in its aesthetic on the album.  Though, just like most genre bridging "accessible" examples of music it remains the home base for ones exposure to Taki 183 and DyE's work in general.  Fantasy is to Taki 183 what Opeth is to death metal, (and what Ghost Reveries is to Opeth for that matter), it is what Beck is to indie rock, what Pink Floyd is to prog, what Bob Dylan is to folk.  It's the reference point for new listeners of the album, and a wonderful track to boot, but more importantly it facilitates the aural experience of the rest of the album and gives even long time listeners a reference point to fall back on.  It is Everest's base camp of this album and explores a really interesting idea in album construction.

All in all, give the album a shot, preferably while messed up on something, or just really relaxed (which for me requires being messed up on something).