Archive for September, 2018

Album of the Week 39-2018: Doom – Still Can’t The Dead


Some albums are much better than they are supposed to be. With the death of fretless bass wizard Koh Morota, Doom had lost a key member. In addition, their last album before disbanding, releaed seventeen years prior to ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, wasn’t all that good. And yet, ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ is almost as good as the band’s classic work. Frontman Takashi Fujita shook off most of his electronic and psychedelic tendencies and decided to make another unconventional, experimental thrash metal record. With maybe slightly more pronounced hardcore influences, but that might contribute to the album’s somewhat more contemporary nature.

First things first: new bassist Takatoshi Kodaira does a phenomenal job filling Morota’s shoes. He is not quite as good melodically, but it is obvious that he has studied Morota’s work closely.  He even gets the chance to show off his virtuosity in pieces like the middle section of the otherwise bleak, doomy masterpiece ‘The Folly And Splice’, though overall, he is slightly less prominent in the mix than Morota was. Then again, that’s like comparing your winters to those on Antarctica. By employing a similarly styled bassist who apparently is a fan of Morota, Doom has all the ingredients for a classic Doom album.

And by almost any definition, it is. Sure, there are marginal stylistic differences with their earlier work, most prominently the fact that the jam-like sections are dropped in favor of tighter compositions. But overall, ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ leaves very little doubt that we are dealing with a Doom album. The electronically tinged overture ‘Introduce 99s Life… Getting Lies’ might be a little misleading, but it is followed by an array of crude thrash riffs that switch between brutal, uncomplicated hardcore picking to chord work that almost feel like bluesrock violently pushed through a meat grinder. And of course, Fujita’s trademark snarl is all over the record.

The songs on ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ are generally long, but feel shorter. The ‘Grin’ era Coroner-ish title track, for instance, rages on for over nine minutes and doesn’t have that many riffs, but manages to draw the listener in repeatedly by subtle touches, like verses that abruptly stop before they appear to be over and bass and guitar parts that constantly shift rhythms in relation to each other. ‘All Your Fears’ deserves to be long for maximum impact of the brooding danger in its mysterious atmosphere, while ‘All That Is Gone’ appears to be blunt at first, but reveals its subtleties through multiple listens. That middle section is uncharacteristically melodic and heartfelt. Fujita’s solo in particular.

Instrumental tracks ‘Ibiza’ and ‘Siesta…’ are fairly obvious tributes to the memory of Morota with Kodaira’s prominent melodic work on the fretless bass, but they work very well to offset the abrasive, almost noisy nature of the rest of the record. The latter half of ‘Siesta…’ has the whole band firing on all cylinders, but really, that could be said about the whole record. ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ is a great work of contemporary progressive thrash and despite the fact that it contains all the familiar Doom elements, it manages to be quite a surprising listen. The concrete urban jungle of ‘Incompetent…’ has become a debris-coated wasteland on ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, but that should hardly be a complaint.

Recommended tracks: ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, ‘The Folly And Splice’, ‘All That Is Gone’

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Album of the Week 38-2018: Voivod – The Wake


After ‘Target Earth’ being much better than it had any right to be and the excellent ‘Post Society’ EP, Canadian sci-fi thrashers Voivod had a reputation to live up to. They proved that they could still write a song that their late guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour would be proud of. But could they continue his legacy in a satisfying manner? Hearing ‘The Wake’ leaves only one possible answer to that question: a resounding yes. Most impressively, Voivod decided not to lean back and release ‘Target Earth II’, instead treating us to an album that pushes their progressive tendencies to the fore.

Just like on ‘Target Earth’, Dan ‘Chewy’ Mongrain plays so many twisted dissonant chords and almost fusion-esque melodies that it’s barely noticeable that D’Amour is no longer there. The riff work is notably less thrashy though; ‘The Wake’ opts for a somewhat more spacious sound and therefore feels like the natural successor to ‘Nothingface’ or ‘The Outer Limits’ rather than ‘Killing Technology’. Every song feels like a little adventure on an extraterrestrial planet where anything can happen, without ever sounding as chaotic or busy as many of the other bands of the Québécois metal scene, as Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s rhythms are generally laid-back rather than hyper aggressive.

It is interesting to see how every song unfolds, as many songs open with a riff that will claw its way to your brain and once the verse-chorus structure is established, the band moves into more experimental territory with a section that almost feels like a particularly tight jam. ‘Iconspiracy’ is the most notable instance of this, which after appearing to be one of the more intensely propulsive tracks on the record moves into an almost cinematic b-section with a string quartet, followed by what is arguably Mongrain’s best solo on the record. ‘The End Of Dormancy’ follows a similar path, forsaking conventional structures for an approach that builds riff upon riff.

Because of this approach, it is more difficult to pick highlights than it was on ‘Target Earth’, as ‘The Wake’ is best listened to in its entirity. It is impossible not to mention closing track ‘Sonic Mycelium’ in that context, however. It never feels quite as long as its running time of twelve and a half minutes, though it has a number of interesting shifts in mood and intensity. The track reprises several musical ideas that appeared earlier on the album with a completely different atmosphere and just when you think the returning string quartet concludes the album in a ‘Grand Fugue’-like fashion, Mongrain and bassist Dominic ‘Rocky’ Laroche return for the open ending.

For a band to be truly progressive, they’d have to try out new things without completely alienating their sound. That is exactly what Voivod does on ‘The Wake’. In a way, it is to ‘Target Earth’ what the holy diptych of ‘Dimension Hatröss’ and ‘Nothingface’ was to ‘Killing Technology’. Those who did not like the band before will probably still be unimpressed by the almost spacey atmosphere and the relatively montonous vocals of Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger, but anyone who loved the progressive sci-fi thrash Voivod got buried under justified praise for should be happy with how remarkably and weirdly good ‘The Wake’ really is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Always Moving’, ‘Sonic Mycelium’, ‘Spherical Perspective’

Album of the Week 37-2018: Atsushi Sakurai – Ai No Wakusei


With his amazing voice being the defining factor that it is in Buck-Tick, it is quite surprising that no one in the Japanese record industry pushed Atsushi Sakurai to release more solo albums than just ‘Ai No Wakusei’. It sold reasonably well, but it would be logical to assume that Buck-Tick took up most of his time, given that their second career peak started shortly after its release. With several of the song titles containing references to his contributors, it is likely that Sakurai was inspired by the people he worked with. That also explains the wide range of styles here.

A different songwriter and different musicians on every track sounds like the album could turn out quite messy and to be honest, it kind of is. After Wayne Hussey’s sublime gothic rock of opening track ‘Sacrifice’ and Raymond Watts’ heavy industrial rock with Arabic string interlude in ‘Yellow Pig’, the album is all over the place for a while. There’s electronic tracks (‘X-Lover’), sparse funk highly reminiscent of Prince (the surprisingly cool ‘Smell’) and J.D. Thirlwell – perhaps better known as Foetus – contributed the hyperactive, chaotic jazz of ‘I Hate You All’. That could throw you off, but it’s worth hanging on.

The album settles for a certain groove during its latter half, that groove being low-key rock with a distinct dark vibe. It is public knowledge that Buck-Tick guitarist Hisashi Imai was inspired to write a more gothic-leaning album (the incredible ‘Jusankai wa Gekko’) after hearing Sakurai’s solo performances in support of ‘Ai No Wakusei’. And with songs like the menacing ‘Hallelujah!’, the incredibly dynamic ‘Shingetsu’ and the brooding majesty of ‘Yokan’, a reworking of his excellent collaboration with Dutch electro-goths Clan of Xymox, it is clear why Imai heard the impact Sakurai could have in dark, gothic surroundings. His deep, emotional baritone is tailor-made for it.

However, that does not mean that ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is all dark all the time. ‘Taiji’ has an optimistic chorus with subtle guitar work and a gently purring hammond organ in the background, while as a whole, the track is simply a powerful, well-constructed pop rocker with several surprising climaxes. ‘Fantasy’ is an upbeat electro-based track and the semi-title track ‘Wakusei’ has a bit of a positive ring to it, despite being built upon crunchy power chords and reverb-drenched lead guitar parts. ‘Neko’, which I assume is a tribute to Sakurai’s cat, even closes the album in a surprisingly soothing manner.

Somehow, ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is one of those albums where you don’t know what to expect even after you have heard it. But that is part of its charm as well. What the first half of the album lacks in terms of flow, the album as a whole more than makes up for in the individual quality of the songs. It is also not quite as vocal-centric as one might expect from a solo release by a singer as characteristic as Sakurai. A decade later, Sakurai would team up with several ‘Ai No Wakusei’ contributors to form The Mortal, but in name, this is truly the only album where he could do whatever the hell he wanted and one thing is for sure: he ran with it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Yokan’, ‘Smell’, ‘Taiji’, ‘Shingetsu’

Album of the Week 36-2018: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog


A twisted riff, an overall gloomy vibe, haunting vocal harmonies… Opening track ‘The One You Know’ leaves very little doubt that we are listening to Alice In Chains. This could be interpreted as a lack of originality, but since Jerry Cantrell and his cohorts single-handedly developed and perfected this style, why bother doing anything else? Especially since ‘Rainier Fog’ finds the Seattle-based band doing their own thing so well. Though it lacks the urgency that their comeback album ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ and their masterpiece ‘Dirt’ had, it is more memorable than its predecessor ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’.

When original lead singer Layne Staley died, it took Alice In Chains surprisingly little time to find their footing with William DuVall. As a result, the band sound really comfortable with their own style this time around, especially in jam-oriented tracks like the Zeppelin-esque ‘Drone’. That also means the miserable darkness of songs like ‘Frogs’ and ‘Down In A Hole’ is not quite reached here, though the absolutely gorgeous closer ‘All I Am’ does come close with its somber acoustic basis and eerie electric touches. Due to its powerful dreary harmonies in both the vocal and the guitar department, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’ is another song that would not have sounded out of place on an early Alice In Chains record.

Though good enough, ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ was short on true highlights. By contrast, ‘Rainier Fog’ has a few songs that immediately stick, the title track being one of them. It moves from a typical Alice In Chains mid-tempo rocker with a great chorus to a cathartic tranquil middle section that truly highlights the dual lead vocals of DuVall and Cantrell. Furthermore, ‘The One You Know’, the particularly powerful ‘Red Giant’ and – surprisingly – especially DuVall’s composition ‘So Far Under’ have all the trademark Alice In Chains elements in place without having the band sounding like they are on auto-pilot.

One area where ‘Rainier Fog’ truly outshines its predecessor is the ballads. Initially, all but ‘All I Am’ seemed to suffer from the same flaw as the ones on ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ – being good, but unremarkable – but repeated spins bring out their qualities. ‘Maybe’ fluently goes through several moodswings and ends up being one of Cantrell’s best ballads by sheer unpredictability, while ‘Fly’ is a rather typical Cantrell ballad, though its chorus and guitar solo are delightfully climactic. Even the relatively upbeat ‘Never Fade’ manages to be highly convincing, with great performances by both DuVall and Cantrell, culminating in what is easily the most unforgettable chorus on the record.

Like most of Alice In Chains’ albums, ‘Rainier Fog’ is a bit of a grower. It appears to be immediate at first spin, but there are too many subtleties here to play it once and then toss it aside. Fortunately, the album has plenty of replay value. Aside from the incredible songwriting – this is Jerry Cantrell, after all – the great production does wonders as well. Sean Kinney’s drums sound very natural and even Mike Inez’ bass isn’t buried beneath everything else. With Alice In Chains’ style being as distinctive as it is, ‘Rainier Fog’ is unlikely to draw new listeners in, but it is indispensible for people who loved them before. It might even surpass their expectations.

Recommended tracks: ‘All I Am’, ‘Rainier Fog’, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’, ‘Red Giant’

Get your jazz on with Gitarist!


Having done six interviews at the North Sea Jazz festival in July, there’s a serious focus on jazz in this month’s issue of Gitarist. If you see only five, that’s because we will feature Belgian jazz legend Philip Catherine in a larger article in next month’s issue – you heard it here first!

That doesn’t mean this month’s artists are not worth reading about. What about widely beloved guitarist Bill Frisell? I had the opportunity to talk with this extremely friendly musician about his massive discography. Also, after being impressed thoroughly by Roosevelt Collier’s unconventional work on the lap steel with Bokanté last year, we could not pass up upon hearing he played the festival again. Oz Noy and Adam Rogers are big names in modern fusion and Pascal Danaë combines delta blues and Guadeloupian sounds in this remarkably full-sounding trio Delgres. If you want to know more about their sounds and approaches, these interviews are the way to go.

Besides that, we have a large special about improving your guitar playing technique, my colleagues have spoken with Guthrie Govan and The Pineapple Thief and there are loads of album and gear reviews. That should still your guitar appetite until the next issue.

Album of the Week 35-2018: Acid Black Cherry – Black List


Solo projects are an odd phenomenon. Technically, they could highlight a vision someone is not allowed to display in their main band, but they are often a disjointed mess. Acid Black Cherry’s debut album ‘Black List’ has all the symptoms of the latter – a rotating cast of musicians, a wide range of styles – but ends up being much closer to the former. The strict direction of main man and sole songwriter yasu keeps the whole thing from spiraling out of control. Realizing the importance of the first strike, ‘Black List’ is a minor J-rock classic and likely yasu’s best work yet.

In essence, the music on ‘Black List’ is not as far removed from yasu’s former band Janne Da Arc as one might expect. The differences are almost cosmetic rather than fundamental. On ‘Black List’, Acid Black Cherry is somewhat heavier and considerably more theatrical than Janne was, but the focus is still mainly on highly melodic rock songs with instantly hummable choruses, energetic but not too complicated riff work and a strategic use of light-and-shade workings. The approach is not too dissimilar to what Gackt has been doing for the last decade, but notably less predictable and therefore better.

While it would be easy to blame the immense artistic value of ‘Black List’ on the contributions of big names in J-rock – including Luna Sea’s Sugizo, La’cryma Christi’s Shuse and Siam Shade’s Daita and Jun-ji – the truth is that yasu’s songwriting and arrangements are simply really good. Arrangements are worth mentioning, because it’s exactly the fantastic use of keyboards and strings that adds some class to the surprisingly dark, menacing nature of the fanatastic opener ‘Sins’ and the bass and horn arrangements that lend an authentic jazzy edge to the manic ‘Black Cherry’, as wildly as it rocks most of the time.

On ‘Black List’, the genre-hopping is its forte rather than its flaw. The dark, dangerous vibe that made me love ‘Sins’ so much is revived on ‘Murder License’, while ‘Bit Stupid’ is an infectious, breezy and funky pop rocker. ‘Fuyu No Maboroshi’ is a particularly theatrical ballad, while ‘Shojo No Inori’ is a fun melodic hardrocker that would not have sounded out of place on one of Janne Da Arc’s later albums. Occasionally yasu’s particularly light and thin voice is a little grating, but overall, it’s remarkable how well it works on the harder rocking tracks on ‘Black List’.

Despite releasing more quality material throughout the years, Acid Black Cherry would never again release an album as good as ‘Black List’. Some serious overproduction drags most of their albums down, though none of the original albums is less than enjoyable. Though a lot of effort has gone into the production and arrangements of ‘Black List’, this album truly is enhanced by the effort. There is a bit of a risk that western rock fans might find yasu’s voice a little off-putting, but the fact remains that ‘Black List’ is a fantastic album. It even sounds like one rather than a loose collection of songs. That alone is already rather impressive within the J-rock realm.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sins’, ‘Shojo No Inori’, ‘Murder License’

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