Archive for the ‘ Music ’ Category

Album of the Week 49-2018: Fields Of The Nephilim – The Nephilim


A significant portion of Fields Of The Nephilim’s fan base still considers their sophomore album ‘The Nephilim’ their best album. And while I personally prefer its follow-up ‘Elizium’, it is not hard to understand why. It certainly delivers on the promise that the band’s somewhat underdevloped debut album ‘Dawnrazor’ occasionally showed. Despite frequently being accused of merely copying The Sisters Of Mercy, their second album features Fields Of The Nephilim crafting its own sound that is indebted to gothic rock as much as it is to psychedelic rock and the soundtracks of the westerns they modelled their stage garb after.

Despite the fact that it’s obviously the same musicians playing on them, the original three Fields Of The Nephilim albums each are a world of their own. ‘The Nephilim’ is significantly more refined and cenimatic in scope than ‘Dawnrazor’, but not as ethereal and melodic as ‘Elizium’. The derisive “gruff Andrew Eldritch” label that Carl McCoy often got is not entirely unjustified here, but though I prefer his cleaner approach on ‘Elizium’, it certainly fits the desperate, yet somehow defiant mood of ‘The Nephilim’. The production is ambitious, adding a layer of keyboards and samples in a way that doesn’t even feel like an added layer, but rather an integral part of the songs.

In addition, the band had not yet shed its Morricone-isms on ‘The Nephilim’. And while it would be easy to incorporate those into the overall sound in a way that sounds like they were trying to be clever, Fields Of The Nephilim does it rather seamlessly, enhancing the atmosphere instead. Opening track ‘Endemoniada’ is easily the best example of this. More than half of the track is spent building towards the explosive, but brooding main section through low-key arpeggios and slide guitar bits that seem to suggest a solitary desert night. The dynamics of the song are nothing short of incredible.

‘Endemoniada’ is hardly the only highlight here, however. More concise tracks like the venom-filled ‘Chord Of Souls’ and the incredible ‘Moonchild’ would soon become live staples and the combination between McCoy’s intense vocals and Tony Pettitt’s equally melodic as atmospheric bass lines provide the basic structure for ‘Celebrate’ and the classic – though slightly overlong – ‘Last Exit For The Lost’. Elsewhere, Tony Wright and Peter Yates make the most out of the broad two guitar approach, often by mixing chiming arpeggiated chords and massive reverberating riffs, as evidenced by the dark, shimmering cinematics of ‘Love Under Will’ and ‘The Watchman’.

With all the elements Fields Of the Nephilim employs here, it is hard to end up with an album that sounds pretentious or simply laughable, but somehow, it works. ‘The Nephilim’ cemented the band’s reputation as the new hopefuls for fans of the darker end of the rock spectrum in the late eighties. Even the less notable songs on ‘The Nephilim’ are very much worth hearing and work wonders for the dynamics of the album. It also finds the perfect middle ground between the raw aggression of ‘Dawnrazor’ and the psychedelia-infused ambition of ‘Elizium’. An excellent album by a band that would never be content doing what others have already done.

Recommended tracks: ‘Endemoniada’, ‘Moonchild’, ‘Celebrate’, ‘Love Under Will’

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Interview: The Asian taste of Sigh


Eccentric is probably the best word to describe Sigh. Their sound is anchored in extreme metal – black metal particularly – but is rife with influences from other genres. Progressive and psychedelic rock, classical music, jazz, electronic music… All of these are elements that have been appearing in their experimental music since the mid-nineties. “Black metal encompasses almost every musical genre“, says singer, multi-instrumentalist and band leader Mirai Kawashima. “All kinds of bands from Blasphemy to Alcest and Deafheaven are often categorized as black metal. Black metal is so non-limiting that it does not describe any musical style at all. Also, obviously, what we play is not thrash or death metal, so we stick to the black metal tag.

November 16th sees the release of Sigh’s twelfth album ‘Heir To Despair’. On it, the extreme metal has almost been put on the background in favor of distinct influences from progressive rock and East-Asian folk. “The seventies prog vibe has always been there, say since ‘Gastly Funeral Theater’ (1997)”, says Kawashima. “I love crazy prog stuff from the seventies and I am a vintage keyboard collector. Also this time, I tried some flute, which must give a more prog feel to the album. Actually, ‘Graveward’ (2015) was supposed to be a very prog album, but during the recording, I got into more orchestral stuff and the direction of the album drastically changed.

As for the Asian feel, I’ve been experimenting a lot with the traditional Japanese way of singing and wanted to incorporate that into Sigh’s music. And this time, most of the lyrics are in Japanese. I can sing much better in Japanese, as I do not have to care about the accurate pronunciation, unlike when I have to sing in English. Also, I thought the Japanese lyrics could give a different atmosphere to the songs. And to be honest, not much is left for me to say in English after ten albums…

Expectation

When Kawashima announced the release of ‘Heir To Despair’ on social media, he said that everyone would hate the album. Allegedly, no one who heard it liked it. Have the reactions been a little better in the meantime? “So far only ‘Homo Homini Lupus’ has been published“, Kawashima explains. “And actually, it’s got a lot of positive reactions. However, the song does not represent the album in any way. The feature of ‘Heir To Despair’ is an Asian taste and the use of flute. ‘Homo Homini Lupus’ does not sound Asian and does not feature the flute. People liking ‘Homo Homini Lupus’ means there’s a bigger possibility that they are going to hate the album.

Not that Kawashima cares: “Especially right after the album release, the audience reaction is rather misleading. When ‘Imaginary Sonicscape’ (2001) came out, more than half of the reviews were more than bad. People were thinking that we were a black metal band and the album did not sound black at all, so they were confused. But seventeen years have passed since then and ‘Imaginare Sonicscape’ must be one of the most popular Sigh albums. When people listen to an album for the first time, they just listen to the gap between their expectation and the actual music.

Objective

‘Heir To Despair’ has a remarkably clean, almost polished sound. The contrast with the raw production of ‘Graveward’ could hardly be greater. This is not the first time that there is such a sizeable difference between the sonic approach of two consecutive Sigh albums. “I believe it pretty much depends on the direction or the theme of the album“, Kawashima explains. “The theme of ‘Scenes From Hell’ is hell, so we wanted a hellish production. The production of ‘Heir To Despair’ was kind of an experiment. ‘Graveward’ was engineered by our own guitarist, which I must say was a big failure. I’m not saying he was a bad engineer or anything, but he was too biased. Obviously he wanted his guitar to be heard more than anything and he knew too much about the songs, which excluded objectivity.

In order to maintain that objectivity, I left it up to our Canadian engineer Phil Anderson this time. Of course I wanted some of my playing or vocals to be more audible, but I didn’t say anything about it, as it was an experiment of objectivity. I guess it worked very well.

Insanity

A thematic approach is Kawashima’s modus operandi anyway: “The concept of this album is about insanity. I’ve been wondering what insanity is these days. Of course, there are some real mad people of whom everyone can tell that they’re mad, but insanity is not always that distinctive. It’s just a matter of where to draw the line between sanity and insanity and it is one hundred percent arbitrary. When you are insane, you cannot tell that you are. I don’t think I am insane. I think that what I am saying in this interview makes perfect sense, but there is no way to assure that. Completely insane people probably think they’re talking completely logical.

The artwork by Eliran Kantor perfectly describes what I wanted to express with the music. The woman looks happy, but everything else on the artwork is wrong. The plant is dead and the room is a mess. As I said, insanity is not always very distinctive. Some people look very normal while having a deep darkness inside their mind. And that is the real horror.

Spontaneous

Since Sigh commenced activity in the late eighties, the band has been centered around Kawahima. More often than not, these kinds of line-ups tend to be highly unstable, but Sigh always maintained a relatively constant line-up. Save for the arrival of guitarist You Oshima in 2014, the band has not had any line-up changes for over a decade. “I’m sure there should be better players“, says Kawashima. “But what makes them peculiar is that they are all crazy in some way, which works good for Sigh maybe. They are all really hard people to work or communicate with. It’s truly frustrating that I have to deal with them, but maybe that is proof that they are artistically unique. At least I hope so.

Yet, it is Kawashima who is pulling the strings. “I write most of the songs and all the lyrics“, he explains. “As for ‘Heir To Despair’, half of ‘In Memories Delusional’ was written by our guitarist You Oshima and I left all the guitar solos up to him, but I can say that’s the only compositional input from the other band members.

My method of composing varies. Sometimes I compose playing piano. Sometimes I just come up with the ideas walking down the street. I usually keep collecting those bits and pieces and assemble them into a song on MIDI. Then I keep listening to the demoes and change or rearrange them until I am a hundred percent satisfied with it. Then I pass it on to the other members. The songs on ‘Heir To Despair’ were composed very spontaneously compared to the past ones. I usually use a lot of musical theories to arrange the songs, but this time I did not think about theories that much. I just kept writing without thinking that much.

Success

Compared to many other Japanese bands, Sigh has a reasonable degree of succes worldwide. “It’s just a matter of how you define success“, Kawashima nuances. “I personally do not think Sigh succeeded at anything. Anyway, I just thank Euronymous (guitarist of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, who was murdered in 1993). When we were hunting for a label around 1992, he was the only one who showed interest in us. I am not even exaggerating anything. I sent the demo to every label in the world and nobody but Euronymous wanted to sign us. So without him, Sigh probably would have ended up a demo band. He liked us, then the black metal boom happened. Nobody or nothing else got us that.

Since being signed to Euronymous’ Deathlike Silence Productions, Sigh has been performing all over the world, albeit not that frequently. Not even in Japan. Yet, Kawashima notices a difference in preferences: “Here in Japan, our most popular album is obviously ‘Hangman’s Hymn’ (2007), so when we play here, we play more songs off this album. In Europe and the US, I believe they want to hear earlier, more black metal stuff, so when we play abroad, we play a lot from ‘Scorn Defeat’ (1993). In the coming weeks, we will play some shows with Dimmu Borgir, Gorgoroth, Samael and Sinsaenum and we will play only songs from after 2007 and almost all the songs are fast. That’s what the Japanese audience wants.

Album of the Week 48-2018: Lovebites – Clockwork Immortality


Since Lovebites’ debut album ‘Awakening From Abyss’ was a serious contender for my album of the year last year – it was basically a coin toss between that one and Firewind’s ‘Immortals’ – and their EP ‘Battle Against Damnation’ also seriously impressed me earlier this year, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ was an album I anticipated eagerly. Fortunately, it is another quality record that finds the middle ground between traditional heavy metal and contemporary European power metal. Due to its slightly more streamlined production, the immediate impact is not as strong as with ‘Awakening From Abyss’, but the many excellent songs reveal themselves soon enough.

To get my criticism out of the way first: most of the songs on ‘Clockwork Immortality’ are paired stylistically and I’m not sure if that is beneficial to the flow of the album. It starts out with two strongly European-tinged power metal tracks, which are followed by two lighter, melodic tracks, the two most aggressive tracks on the album and two songs with distinct melodic hardrock elements. I think ‘Clockwork Immortality’ could have been more balanced if the songs were spread out more evenly over the album. It’s only a minor problem though, as the songwriting and performances are top-notch here.

As I said before, some of the songs need a little time. First video ‘Rising’ did not make the best first impression, but makes perfect sense within the context of the album. My initial thoughts about the following ‘Empty Daydream’ were that the track was only saved by its futuristic prog middle section, but though I still think it is somewhat overlong, the melodies and Asami’s vocal performance are excellent. However, the more metallic material, like the powerful uptempo guitar feast ‘Addicted’, the the vaguely Loudness-ish borderline thrash metal of ‘M.D.O.’ and the equally melodic as intense ‘Pledge Of The Savior’ definitely had more immediate appeal.

Quite surprisingly, my favorite track on ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is ‘The Final Collision’. That is surprising, because it was the power metal that drew me towards Lovebites in the first place and the song has more in common with minor key late eighties hardrock. Asami gets to show different sides of her incredible voice and the climactic chorus is the single finest moment on ‘Clockwork Immortality’. The guitar arrangements are impeccable as well, but the same can be said about the entire album. Midori and Miyako are all over the album, though they appear to be less focused on soloing and more on strong harmonies and layering contrasting parts this time around.

While ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is not quite as good as ‘Awakening From Abyss’ and ‘Battle Against Damnation’ were, it is about as close as it gets. Lovebites is experimenting on a few tracks and rather successfully on most of them. The entire band is on fire, with especially Asami and Haruna having massively improved their skills. Funnily enough, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ shows that Lovebites has the European power metal sound down better than a lot of actual European power metal bands. If that is your thing, ‘Clockwork Immortality’ is well worth your attention.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Final Collision’, ‘Addicted’, ‘M.D.O.’, ‘Pledge Of The Savior’

Album of the Week 47-2018: Navarone – Salvo


Despite working with pretty much the same team as on its predecessor ‘Oscillation’, Navarone’s fourth album ‘Salvo’ is a completely different beast. Instead of releasing another carefully arranged production full of subtle intricacies that slowly reveal themselves over repeated spins, the quintet opts to focus on their live energy. Understandable, because that has certainly been one of the band’s biggest strengths throughout the last decade. The result is a record that may not have as many surprises as ‘Oscillation’ did, but with the set of powerful rock songs the band came up with this time, that should hardly be a problem.

With ‘Salvo’ being the kind of “live in the studio” record that many seventies hardrock bands excelled at, Navarone is more focused stylistically as well. That does not mean that all the songs sound similar – giving every song its own character is a specialty of the band – but it does mean the majority of what you will hear consists of uncomplicated, riff-driven hardrock with strong choruses that are memorable without exception. There aren’t even any ballads. The dark, minimalistic southern blues of ‘Fire’ – one of the album’s most experimental tracks – is probably the thing that comes closest to one.

Occasionally, ‘Salvo’ is reminiscent of the better work that Slash did with Myles Kennedy in recent years. Not just because Merijn van Haren en Kennedy are among the very few excellent rock singers of this era or because of the massive Gibson sound of Kees Lewiszong and Roman Huijbreghs, but also because of the fact that the songwriting has similar sensibilities. ‘The Strong Survive’ has that typical energetic feelgood vibe that the opener on a powerful rock record should have, while the grinding, moore moody ‘Waste’ is one of those deep cuts that could just develop into a classic over time.

Navarone was never about blindly copying their influences though. ‘Another Way’ has a fairly unique approach in its combination of classic and contemporary rock styles, not to mention an awesome build towards its chorus. It’s the one song that would have made sense on ‘Oscillation’ as well. The fairly accessible ‘SøReal’ sounds like a nineties rock radio hit without directly sounding like any of the songs that actually were, while the crushing riff work of ‘Mind’s Eye’ is borderline metallic in nature. Sure, the Black Sabbath kind of metal and the overtones are more contemporary rock than anything esle, but that only contributes to the unique nature of that excellent track.

Most amazing is the fact that Navarone brings all these elements together in a manner that does not sacrifice any of their catchy, recognizable songwriting. ‘Salvo’ has a very pleasant flow, likely more so than any of their other records. Many of the younger rock bands notably try to appeal either to old schoolers or the modern rock crowd. What Navarone proves once again on ‘Salvo’ is that it’s perfectly possible to have a multi-generational appeal if you just write and play the right songs. Highly recommended to anyone who mopes that all contemporary rock is inferior to the classic stuff.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mind’s Eye’, ‘SøReal’, ‘The Strong Survive’, ‘Another Way’

Album of the Week 46-2018: Aria – Proklyatiye Morey


Aria was Russia’s first big heavy metal band and still the country’s best. In fact, the band has been experiencing a second youth in recent years, despite a majority of its members being around sixty years old. Bassist Vitaly Dubinin and founding guitarist Vladimir Holstinin have never stopped writing excellent material and with the best Aria singer to date in the shape of Mikhail Zhitnyakov at their disposal, their exciting, often dramatic heavy metal songs are pushed as close to perfection as it gets. ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ is no different, though it does feature Aria treading surprisingly progressive waters at times.

First things first: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’ is probably the best opening track on any 2018 heavy metal release. With eighties heavy metal oozing out of every pore of the song, from its gorgeous twin guitar intro riff to its uplifting chorus carried by Zhitnyakov’s powerful tenor, the song sends chills down my spine I have not felt since Accept’s ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’ six and a half years ago. Sure, Aria has a history of fantastic openers, but ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’ certainly compares favorably to earlier masterpieces like ‘Proshay, Norfolk!’ and ‘Cherny Kvadrat’. Simply the perfect way to open the album.

The rest of the album follows a pattern similar to Iron Maiden’s latter day works. There’s a few shorter, punchy songs alternated with some longer, more progressive tracks. Aria’s songwriting is more consistent, however, and ‘Proklyatiye Morey’ definitely has a better sense of dynamics. Despite lasting an hour and fifteen minutes, the record hardly ever feels that long, because the band never forgets to insert memorable hooks into even the longest songs. In addition, the more concise songs like ‘Era Lucifera’ and the excellent ‘Vsho Nachinaetsya Tam, Gde Konchaetsya Noch’ bristle with strong, catchy melodies and spirited performances.

Picking highlights is difficult, but the nine minute ‘Zhivoy’ is amazing. It starts out like an epic, somewhat hopeful ballad, but then moves through a darker tranquil passage before turning into a defiant heavy metal song. ‘Baryag’ also is epic heavy metal at its finest, bringing to mind the better moments of Maiden’s ‘Brave New World’. ‘Ubit Drakona’, on the other hand, has a more seventies hardrock feel, underlined by some subtle Hammond organ underneath the simple, but brutally effective riff work. ‘Ot Zakata Do Rassveta’ is another delightfully uncomplicated headbanger with a surprisingly aggressive vocal line by Zhinyakov in its chorus.

While it is tempting to call an album this long overlong, the songs speak for themselves. The semi-ballad ‘Dim Bez Ognya’ is slightly longer that it should be, but too good to be dismissed entirely. The title track is even the longest Aria song to date, but is a pretty convincing, doomy Maiden-esque track. What counts is that Aria continues its line of consistent heavy metal albums and plays with the energy of a band half their age. Heavy metal albums this good are pretty hard to come by this day and age and therefore, it is good that Aria is as reliable as ever. Even when they’re taking a few proggy detours that are as surprising as they are enjoyable.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gonka Za Slavoy’, ‘Ot Zakata Do Rassveta’, ‘Zhivoy’

Album of the Week 45-2018: Sigh – Heir To Despair


While Sigh started out as one of Japan’s first extreme metal bands, they have become one of the country’s most unpredictable bands. Though black metal is never completely gone, their highly experimental albums can contain anything from jazzy breaks to film noir soundtrack interludes and electronic beats. In a way, ‘Heir To Despair’ is one of the more accessible albums the band has released so far, but they once again follow a completely different direction than ever before. As long as you don’t expect a symphonic black metal record, the oriental melodies and traditional heavy metal riffs may enchant you.

A brief genre description for the music on ‘Heir To Despair’ is as difficult as ever, but progressive East-Asian folk metal covers most of the bases. The inclusion of main man Mirai Kawashima’s flute gives certain sections a distinct seventies prog feel, while the shamisen of guest musician Kevin Kmetz – along with the general atmosphere of the melodies – gives the album what is arguably the most oriental vibe ever to be heard on a Sigh record. And yet, the eighties metal feel of the guitar riffs is also there. It is a mix of influences that is as unlikely as it is successful.

Some people may be surprised by the relatively large amount of clean singing on the record. In addition to employing several traditional Asian vocal techniques such as throat singing, Kawashima has put down a handful of excellent, haunting vocal harmonies. The brilliant midtempo opener ‘Aletheia’ is full of them, for instance. A daring opener, as it does not ease the listener into the album’s sound, but drops the new sound on them immediately. ‘In Memories Delusional’ balances more traditional heavy metal sounds with more folky touches and strong hamonies and may be an excellent starter if you have not heard the excellent thrashy metal of ‘Homo Hominis Lupus’ yet.

Elsewhere, the album can get a little weird. The electronic rhythms of the ‘Heresy’-trilogy can have a dubby feel due to the use of reverb, while most of the band’s influences are crammed into the three tracks. That is just a short detour though, since as a whole, ‘Heir To Despair’ is one of the most consistent Sigh albums both stylistically and in terms of quality. The album ends with two exceptional extreme progressive metal tracks that are filled with excellent ideas and sudden shifts in atmosphere. A very climactic ending to an album that isn’t exactly short on interesting musical ideas anyway.

The most remarkable thing about this, however, is how Sigh managed to streamline all of those ideas. Sure, the trilogy is an obvious departure in terms of overall sound, but ‘Heir To Despair’ has a very pleasant flow for an album with such a wide range of influences. Sure, the pristine production helps, but in the end, it is a triumph for Kawashima in terms of songwriting and arrangements. This is a must for fans of adventurous metal, but even progressive rock fans who don’t mind a bit of extra grit could find something of their liking here.

Recommended tracks: ‘Aletheia’, ‘Hands Of The String Puller’, ‘In Memories Delusional’

Album of the Week 44-2018: Kinniku Shojo Tai – Za Shisa


Despite being somewhat unpredictable stylistically, Kinniku Shojo Tai has been experiencing a very solid run recently. More so than during the latter years of their original run, in fact. Some of their recent albums are slightly better than others, ‘Omake No Ichinichi (Tatakai No Hibi)’ in particular, but none of them is less than enjoyable. ‘Za Shisa’ is another convincing entry into their discography, which currently counts over twenty studio albums. The general vibe is slightly more relaxed and less crazy than on their previous records, but anyone who liked their melting pot of influences before will certainly enjoy ‘Za Shisa’.

Kinniku Shojo Tai’s unpredictability is a result of every band member bringing something different to the table. ‘Za Shisa’ features a relatively large amount of the playful funk rock riffs that guitarist Toshiaki Honjo specializes in. Everything muscular, classy and melodic is the work of Fumihiko Kitsutaka, who in my opinion is one of the world’s greatest guitarists and arrangers. Founding bassist Yuichiro Uchida usually is responsible for the weird progressive and psychedelic stuff, while his co-founder Kenji Otsuki yells, speaks and sings everything together. That sounds like it may not work, but ‘Za Shisa’ proves it does.

The first peak of ‘Za Shisa’ arrives quite early. The elegant melodic hardrock of ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’ is Kitsutaka in its purest form with a gorgeous chorus, after which the darker, vaguely Middle Eastern tones of the climactic ‘Occult’ account for one of the album’s most atmospheric moments. What follows is the most metallic track of the album; the aggressive speed metal of ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’ would not have sounded out of place on one of the band’s earliest releases. And like on those albums, the creative use of piano and dynamics lends gravitas to the energetic aggression.

After that, the album takes a slight dip. Not that ‘Naze Hito Wo Koroshi Cha Ike Nai No Daro Ka?’ and ‘Uchu No Hosoku’ are bad songs, it’s just too much consecutive tranquillity. The pace is picked back up quite quickly though, with the subdued seventies rock feel with spoken verses of the awesome ‘Marilyn Monroe Returns’ bringing Thin Lizzy’s ‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’ to mind. Uchida’s songs ‘Kenji No Zundoku Fushi’ and ‘Parallax No Shisa’ have the dynamic, haunting quality he excels at. The former has a pleasant stomp, while the way the guitar line and piano melody teasingly dance in unison on the latter is only the beginning of its ominous atmosphere. ‘Next Generation’ and ‘I, Toya’ are pleasant upbeat rockers.

Though ‘Za Shisa’ feels somewhat more laid-back, Kinniku Shojo Tai is still as weird and reluctant to stick to one genre as ever. As always, it may require some time to sink in, but it is a rewarding album for repeated spins. If you have not heard of the band before and need a western reference: imagine if Queen had embraced punk and further developed the metallic leanings of their first few albums. Now add a dash of Japanese weirdness to the mix. Sounds impossible? Tell that to them. They have been doing it for over thirty years.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shogeki No Outsider Art’, ‘Zombie River ~ Row Your Boat’, ‘Occult’

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