Sunday, October 12, 2014

More 2014 Album Reviews

Before I continue on with my list of my top ten favorite metal albums, I feel compelled to review a few albums that I have come across over the last few months. As before, my album reviewing criteria is that they are either discovered on, or they are local bands. I have come across quite a few releases through the busy activity of the forum, and of course there are a few phenomenal releases from my area as well. There is quite a bit of undiscovered material that is waiting to be heard.

All of these reviews are from 2014 releases, however they are not reviewed in any particular order. I've had a list compiled of titles from this year, but as of right now, I'm simply picking them from the list at random to review them. I will get through all of them eventually.

GARDENJIA - Materia Oscura
Released August 10

In today's metal music, tastes are more diverse than ever. The progressive/djent scene has become very marketable, despite the fact that many acts among these ranks fail to truly stand out as remarkable or unique. Italy's Gardenjia breaks that mold a good bit with their newest album "Materia Oscura". I discovered this album through one of the band's members posting their link to their Bandcamp page. I had a listen, and was left with pretty good impressions.

This album has very strong progressive and djent elements, lined with extremely rich atmospheric textures and harmonies. From what I can tell, the underlying theme here is outer space and the universe. The ambience lining this album portrays the space feel very well. Since I am a sucker for great atmosphere, this definitely got my attention. The guitar riffs are common performances in this genre - low end punchy riffs on extended range guitars, and thick, protruding drum production. The guitar tone has a slight hint of mud to it, but that mainly boils down to my personal preference. During the duration of all of the album's seven tracks - each spanning from 6 to almost 10 minutes - there are layers of spacey colors and textures, by way of clean guitars and keyboards. Another notion worthy of mentioning is the fact that there are no growls or harsh vocals. Every bit of vocal performance is tastefully harmonized and sits in quite well with the mix. The vocals are set a bit back in the mix so they aren't overpowering. In fact, most people may think the vocals are a hair too quiet, but I would disagree. Combining the subtle but effective vocal harmonies with the encapsulating spacey atmosphere makes for a very interesting, well-done piece of work. The guitar work occasionally shines through with some very tasteful solos, all the while displaying an immense amount of skill. They provide very clean shred, but only when necessary. Nothing is over-the-top or too flashy with this band. The progressive nuances stem from the fact that each track does not follow suit to a single typical songwriting formula. You won't hear the same measures twice, but they pulled it off very well without sounding obnoxious and overbearing. The songs all possess a great natural flow to them.

Near the end of the album, the melodies and harmonies get a bit more bizarre and dissonant. Maybe this was executed intentionally, but it seems as if you slowly drift off more and more into deep empty space as the album progresses. Whether that was their goal or not, they made it work pretty well with the overall theme. So, if you are seeking out a solid metal record donned with progressive, technical, ambient, djent and clean vocals, this album is definitely worth checking out. Gardenjia's "Materia Oscura" is very well done and will be an enjoyable release time and time again. 

Final Verdict - 85/100

AND LET THE CLOCKS RELAPSE - And Let The Clocks Relapse
Released July 20
 "And Let The Clocks Relapse" is a 4-track debut EP from a group of the same name, from the UK. This EP as a whole is a somber, flowing display of rock with the occasional hints of progression and ambience. This EP has a very strong hint of Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree influence, among others.  The tracks are well written, lightly following a formula by maintaining choruses here and there. The spaces in between are a bit more experimental and free flowing, often layered on top of subtle atmosphere.

The songs are mainly comprised of acoustic guitars, vocals, subtle keywork, drums and the occasional bassoon. The overall mood of this EP is fairly grey and melancholic. There are a few short moments where the tracks move into a bit of a heavier direction - roughly 3 minutes into "Something Else", for example. The track takes a dissonant change and enters into a very Porcupine Tree-like jam, adorned with a keyboard-driven choir effect. The EP as a whole takes on a "less is more" mentality, and a pretty mellow, chilling record came to be as a result.

The artists makes use of interesting harmonies and counterpoints between the voice and guitar work. The occasional dissonance makes for a somewhat grim mood setting, enveloping the record in a grey atmosphere. The songs are chill and down-tempo, and it serves quite well if you need to unwind a bit.

My only real complaint about this EP is that the drums lack a bit of dynamics. There are moments in the tracks where they would serve the song much better if they were played much more softly. To reduce the impact just a touch would enhance the chill atmosphere so much more. Aside from that, this EP is very well produced and executed. I look forward to hearing more releases from And Let The Clocks Relapse - perhaps a full length album?

If you want a subtle yet effective, mellowing record, I highly suggest you check out this EP. As a bonus - it's available at any price you choose on their Bandcamp page.

Final Verdict - 80/100
And Let The Clocks Relapse on Bandcamp

CAYNUG - Inner Dissonance
Released September 27
The newest album "Inner Dissonance" marks the third full-length album from the one-man German metal project, Caynug. Dominik Kowalczyk, the mastermind behind the expressive metal outlet, once again releases and album that portrays a variety of emotions, much like his earlier efforts. And once again, he does not fail to deliver some angry, low-tuned, crushing tunes. The end result is a very well produced, crystal clear and melancholic record, bringing his raw emotions to the foreground for all the word to experience.

The album kicks off with a chilling, ambient intro which instantly sets the mood of the album. It serves as a quick peek into the darkness and grim nature of Dominik's expressions that adorn the record. Followed by the earth-shattering low riffages in the following songs, he bellows out his most true-to-form vocals yet. He often varies from clean vocals, shouts and guttural growls. He records with a 6-string baritone, projected through an absolutely punishing guitar tone, accompanied by a distorted bass tone which only emphasizes the sheer heaviness of the stringed ensemble. Subtly wrapped around the performance are gentle layers of ambient and atmospheric textures, and it adds a great deal of depth to the music. The programmed drums returned with similar samples as his earlier albums, and the programming remains just as convincing as ever. They blast through the mix clear as day, and sits in the overall mix just perfectly. If Dominik's sole pursuit was to record some insanely crushing metal punishment, he succeeded.

The riffs seem to vary a bit more in comparison to "Imperfection". The low-end chug riffs are still there, of course, but he also experiments a bit more with higher-end single note riffs, in a very groovy and tasteful manner. The opening riff for "Fuck You", for example, is groovy and infectious, and sits at a bit of a faster tempo than most of the other tracks. This kind of style can be heard a bit more often throughout the album.

The album as a whole is one long emotional journey from start to finish. The meaty portion of it is raw, angry and relentless. Dominik holds nothing back with this album. As you make it to the very end, you will reach the tracks "The Limit" and "Release", respectively. These two tracks are a smooth, mellow cooldown from the punishment you previously endured. These last two tracks are very chilling and calming. This only proves the venerable dynamics and songwriting ability that Dominik possesses. The track "Release" is a damn near perfect way to end an emotional journey of an album. Subtle, flowing spacey melodies accompanied by a slow drum groove, and then it ends.

Overall - very well done album. A damn solid release. Caynug's catalog has proven to be very consistent, and I have no doubts that future releases will follow suit. Dominik's work is available on Bandcamp for any price you choose, so do yourself a favor and check it out. And of course, if you are able, support the artist. You will not be disappointed.

Final Verdict - 90/100
Caynug on Bandcamp

HADEAN - Atraxia
Released June 19
After a few minutes into listening to the newest EP from the Massachusetts-based band, I felt a bit misled. It's mainly due to aesthetic reasons, however - the cover art led me to believe I would be listening to a spacey-sounding record, which seems to be common among a lot of today's progressive metal bands. Perhaps that's an unfair misleading on my part. Regardless - my initial impression after a few minutes into the first track, is that these guys emphasize a lot on melody and structure. Of course, this is a good thing. Along with a clean guitar intro, they utilize a glockenspiel which is quite the rarity. Again, not what I was expecting, but it was a pleasant surprise. The first track has a good build up, right into the verses, where the music starts to take off.

Hadean shows a pretty strong sense of groove and melody, accompanied with hardcore-ranged harsh vocals. The mix, however, is a bit off. The vocals are buried pretty deeply underneath the dominating guitars and bass. The drums sit in the mix fairly well, although I think the kick drum is a touch lacking in some parts. The rhythm guitars and bass could come down a notch, and vocals up. The low-end growls aren't too bad, but I personally am not a fan of the higher-up hardcore screaming vocal work. I don't think it fits very well in this context. Their usage of saxophones seem to fit pretty well in the music, and add an unusual and oddly pleasing twist to the overall sound. It makes me think a lot of Estradasphere's work.

Another thing that caught my eye is the track lengths, since I am a sucker for long tracks.  The first and third tracks are over 14 minutes in length, with a 3-minute track in between. Hadean does display a few elements of progressive prowess, but to be honest, they need a bit more up their sleeve to make such long tracks work. There are quite a few sections that become a bit repetitive, and could otherwise work well as separate tracks. They clearly possess the skill and taste on their instruments to make the long tracks stay a bit more fresh and more evolving. They are in the right direction with this EP, but they can push it a bit further.

So, to sum it up - this EP has some pretty jam-out grooving moments that catch your attention. The mix, although not terrible, needs a bit of tweaking, and some sections of the longer tracks should change up just a touch to keep things fresh. Other than that, this EP is fairly well done.

Final Verdict: 70/100
Hadean on Bandcamp

SPHERE OF ABILITY - Sphere of Ability
Released August 21   


Sphere of Ability's EP of the same name is the first official release by the band hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia. The cover art and name of the project definitely fits the bill for modern metal themes. At first glance, you may think that the cover art was hastily put together - and perhaps it was. But once you research a bit and go to the band's Facebook and Bandcamp pages, you'll see that they are clearly being comical. They are producing modern djent-laced metal, all the while poking fun at it. For thall and lulz and all that jazz. I think it's funny, too.

Moving on to the meat of this album - the music, obviously. After you get past the short intro of the first bass notes in the opening track, you get thoroughly punched in the face by a crash of 8-string low notes, and absurdly dominating drums. The mix on this record is pretty bizarre, right from the bat. The programmed drums are pretty crudely put together, with one constant velocity. They could greatly benefit from velocity dynamics to take the robotic effect out of it. The bass and kick drum are crushing all around. In headphones, the low end is enough to distort the sound a bit, without EQing. In a stereo with subwoofers (I gave this a listen in my car which has two 12" subs), it is insane. There are a few bass drops here and there that are pretty outrageous. But oddly enough, I think it fits this style of music. The music is low-tuned, rhythmically charged 8-string djent material - needless to say, it's the popular thing nowadays.

Sphere of Ability utilizes a decent amount of keyboards to emphasize a cold, desperate atmosphere at times. Choirs, dissonant melodies, diminished intervals... almost black metal at a few moments. Of course, this kind of melodic work pleases me greatly. So this EP gets a good thumbs up in that regard. The songwriting and musicianship are pretty well polished. Sphere of Ability have a pretty solid grasp on creating a cold, spacey sound. They also delve in pure ambience as well, like the track "Space Rain", and they do a pretty good job at it.

Overall, Sphere of Ability is a pretty solid, enjoyable listen if you're a fan of the modern djent metal craze. This fits the bill nicely. The overall melodic theme and sounds of darkness and desperation are what floats my boat the most - they nailed that sound. Production-wise, this needs some work. Reprogram the drums to make them more varied and realistic. Turn down the kick drum a good bit, and tweak the bass overall. Leave the bass drops in the tracks, because they do fit quite well. But the rest of the time, the bass is just too dominant. Everything else is fantastic.

Final Verdict -  75/100
Sphere of Ability on Bandcamp

Ok folks, that is enough reviews for now. But don't worry, I have plenty of more albums to go through for this year, so check back soon!

- Vhyle

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Top Ten Favorite Metal Albums Ever - Part I

Time to break up the monotony a bit, and post something that I've had intentions to post for quite some time now. I want to discuss my 10 most favorite metal albums ever. Please don't misconstrue - this isn't my opinion of the 10 BEST albums, but only my favorites. These albums have made significant impacts on my life in various forms, and I'd like to share them with you fine folks.

I've been listening to metal for a significant chunk of my life, and as one can imagine, I have come across quite a few albums over the years. Narrowing down the 10 most favorite albums from such a timespan is a hefty task. So, this is why I'm posting this in two parts. This will take a bit of contemplating, but eventually it will be done. These albums are not in any particular order.

OPETH - Blackwater Park (2001)
To be very frank - this album changed my life, literally. I discovered the band (and subsequently, this album), back when it was new in 2001. I was a mere sophomore in high school. I had been dabbling in the art of playing guitar for only a year or so, and drums for about five. Around that same time was essentially the same breaking point where I discovered death AND black metal. I had listened to extreme metal for maybe a year, if that, by the time I happened upon this masterpiece of an album. I had briefly ran across Opeth's name a couple of times on the internet, so one day I purchased this CD on a whim at a music store, because I simply knew of the name. After a couple of listens, it hit me. I have discovered some of the most eloquent, beautiful, well-crafted "wall of sound" death metal I've ever heard. Up to this point, my exposure to extreme metal was fast, brutal, noisy and crushing, but never quite as progressive and astonishing. The layers of guitars adorned with the distinct yet clear enough tones that brought out the genius counterpoint and chord-blending compositions of Akerfeldt and Lindgren. The open, atmospheric drums that are set at just the right distance from the musical foreground. The music just encased me in a complete world of sound, where mental imagery of scenery never became so clear until then. It blew my mind. Being very new at the guitar then, it completely changed the way I approached playing the guitar, songwriting, and my mentality of death metal altogether. I learned that death metal didn't have to be blazing fast and crushing all the time. I learned that there is beautiful contrast to be found between the switches of distorted guitars and clean/acoustics. Clean vocals. During this time, I was already familiar with Dream Theater and the wonders of progressive metal and rock, but hearing this album at the time showed me that you can combine progressive rock and chilling death metal. I remember distinctly hearing "The Drapery Falls" and "Dirge for November", and the eerie chills those songs gave me. And to be honest, they still do to this day; especially the latter. During the verse riffs in "Dirge for November" I become so encapsulated by the dark, dreary atmosphere, it sucks me in like falling into a bottomless well. I don't feel its release until the track is over. After that, I come out of another plane of mental existence, and reality sets back in. It's a very strange but satisfying outcome of that track.

Regardless - Blackwater Park is an absolute masterpiece of an album, regardless of what genre you may be discussing at the moment. I honestly can't fathom why Mikael Akerfeldlt, the man himself, declares that the album is "alright". It was mindblowing, and life changing to myself, and probably many other listeners. In my opinion, it was the absolute prime of Opeth's career. It is a solid progressive death metal masterpiece, from start to finish. I would not change a tiny thing on this album. It is perfect. And with such an extensive metal catalog that I enjoy on a daily basis, that speaks volumes for the album.

EMPEROR - IX Equilibrium (1999)
This album - that lies in such a strong and influential catalog of work - is my favorite release from the almighty Emperor. But it also made the list of my favorite metal albums of all time, because of the significant impact it made on me. This album, alongside Dimmu Borgir's Stormblast (also on this list), were my momentous introductions to the sinister, enchanting world of black metal. I listened to this in high school, already primed and enthralled by the exposure to extreme metal. So this album already means a great deal to me for those reasons alone. Now, speaking within Emperor's discography, I still believe it holds up very well to their earlier works. Many fans disagree with that. I dare say that each Emperor album is a masterpiece in their own regards.

Being new to black metal at the time of giving this an initial listen, I was immediately captivated by the bizarre production. The drums are impacting, energetic and fierce, and yet they are portrayed in a very distant, large-sounding production element. The guitars are harsh, gritty and merciless, and are accompanied perfectly with the also-distant keyboards. During this time, I have never quite heard anything symphonic and refreshing. It just drew me in. After "Curse You All Men!" ended, I was lured in even further with "Decrystallizing Reason" and its increasingly prominent keyboard work. After fully absorbing this album, I realized a side of metal that I have been missing out on for so long. I was hooked after that. This album opened the gates to such a sinister new world of metal to me, and I am grateful for it.

DIMMU BORGIR - Stormblast (1996) 
This album was the other culprit, right alongside IX Equilibrium, that spiraled me into black metal. I was 17 years old when I first heard this album; a meager sophomore in high school. Just a very short time period after delving into the world of extreme metal. Actually, thinking back on it, I heard this album before Emperor's IX Equilibrium. So technically, this album is THE first divebomb I took into black metal. It made a great impression on me. Starting off with a very wintry, distant piano intro, then flowing into a very unique-sounding, raw heavy section. The drums and guitar tracks have a very strange, wooden production quality - even stranger by today's production standards. Their use of symphonic elements was never overused in any portion of the album. They knew exactly what to do with them, and when. The organs at the end of "Alt Lys Er Svunnet Hen" is such a great moment in any symphonic black metal track, for example. It fits extremely well, and it has proven itself to be timeless. Moments like these are exactly why this album as a whole is timeless to my ears. This album was a great start to discovering a whole new world of metal, so I will always have a soft spot.

METALLICA - ...And Justice For All (1988)
I think it would be a pretty fair assumption that classic Metallica would be on any metalhead's top lists of favorites. My case is no different. I discovered this album through a friend after I even listened to their later works, such as ReLoad. This was the step into hearing what Metallica "used to sound like". This album captured me with the awesome, instantly identifiable guitar tones and riffs. The music was mechanical and energetic. Back then, I had zero knowledge on what goes into mixing and production. All I heard was fast, tightly executed thrash metal with angry-as-hell vocals, and I fell in love with it. The drums were punchy, and the kick drums were unlike anything else I have heard at the time. Honestly, I would almost say that still holds true. And also to this day, I still love the odd production. They did a great injustice (pun not intended) to Jason Newsted by practically eliminating the bass out of the mix, but of course that was 26 years ago so I won't go into that beaten-to-death topic. Regardless, this album is an absolute classic to my ears. Even if those old farts don't record music to this caliber anymore, they are responsible for timeless records in metal, and that is quite alright with me.

ZYKLON - Aeon (2003)
The discovery of this blackened death gem came a good bit later in my life, marginally beyond my high school days. I can't remember exactly the time period when I found it, but it made a significant impact on my metal catalog. I heard it first from when someone linked a video to "Psyklon Aeon" on a guitar forum, so I gave it a spin. My face was melted pretty quickly. The drumming sounded quite familiar to me. After some quick research, I found out it was none other than Trym Torson of Emperor fame. Not only that, he was accompanied by his brother in metal, Samoth, also from Emperor. By the time I heard this album, I was already a long running fan of Emperor, so that boosted this album to greater glory in my eyes. These guys brought forth a perfect blend of black and death metal, with punishing instrument performances and an equally punishing production. It's definitely not crystal clear, but it presents the violent nature of the music quite well. "An Eclectic Manner" is a track that dabbles a bit into the industrial side of things, and honestly is a perfect album finisher. The track sounds straight from the soundtrack of some post-apocalyptic, dystopian epic, and it closes out the punishing music flawlessly. This album had a great impact on my guitar playing as well, with combining black and death metal riffs to near-perfect ratios. Aeon is a fantastic record, through and through, and it will stick with me through the rest of time.

Alright, that's as far as I will go with this top ten list. I will post the next five albums in the near future. I may even make a third list as close runner-ups, because it is extremely difficult to narrow down a list down to a mere ten favorites, when there are so many albums out there that have spoken to me so strongly. Check back often for more updates!

- Vhyle

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Milestone for Algarothsyum

Saturday, May 17th, was a small yet significant milestone for my solo project. Taken place at The Jammery in Trenton, KY, I played my first live show with Algarothsyum. And it went over quite well! Of course, I have been playing live shows for years now with various bands from my past, however this was the first time performing entirely solo. It was quite a blast, and it was very well received. 

I've had a few questions on the process of performing a solo project live. It's actually pretty simple, all in all. A week or so prior to the show took a bit of preparation. I had to pick the tracks I was going to perform, and change the mixes on them. I deleted one rhythm guitar track, moved the other guitar track to center (as opposed to hard left and right pans), and deleted all leads and solos, since those are the parts that I would actually be playing. A few songs contain riffs that started with no percussion, so I had to make hi-hat count-off measures to stay in time. I also reduced some of the cavernous atmospheric effects, to give the backing tracks a bit more clarity in a live setting. All I had to do was play along to the backing tracks which played through a PA from my laptop. After a minute of sound checking, it was show time. The show went off without a hitch, and great times were had by all!

A video was made, however it was unfortunately cut too short because the phone died.

I shared the night with Consulting the Arbiter, Dividing Skylines, and Iraconji - who are all great Tennessee local metal acts that deserve your attention! All bands played fantastic shows, and I definitely look forward to playing again. In fact, I have another show on the 24th at the same venue, for the Trenton Throwdown, Part II. 

Next week, I hope to film the entire set.

- Vhyle

Monday, February 3, 2014

Album Reviews - January 2014

Alright folks, I've decided to start back up with doing album reviews. There is too much good music out there, especially in metal, that goes unrecognized. 2013 was an absolutely phenomenal year of metal, and I would be here for days posting album reviews of that year. But I will instead focus on what's ahead - the rest of 2014. I realize the post title states "January" when it is in fact February at the time of writing this. By the end of February, I should have yet another review completed, and so on.

My primary goal is to review albums of bands that are either local to my area (Clarksville/Nashville, TN), or bands and projects that I've discovered on various online forums and outlets, mainly (otherwise known as SSO). I frequent SSO, as the forum contains heaps of very talented musicians, luthiers and technicians with an ever expanding knowledge base of music and recording. I've happened across many fantastic albums, released by forum members on SSO. Of course, if I stumble upon a gem elsewhere, I will review it to spread the good word.

As I said before, I'm focusing on albums of 2014. With this first review, however, I'm making two exceptions because I found them to be very solid releases, especially near the end of 2013.

With that said, let's get this started.

OPHIUCHUS - Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc
Ophiuchus is a band that I discovered live, at a show in Nashville. They performed with Iraconji (another Nashville metal act) and Acrassicauda. The show was mid-October, and Ophiuchus was celebrating the release of this fantastic new album, titled "Sic Gorgiamus Allos Subjectatos Nunc". I had no prior experience with this band that calls Nashville their home, and I was extremely surprised as I witnessed their performance at the Exit-Inn.

One of the most prominent thoughts I had during their performance was how much they reminded me of early Dissection. Which, if you ask me, is a very good thing. The album does not fail to provoke such similar thoughts. The album clocks in at a hair over 28 minutes, spanning eight tracks of a fiercely executed, solid blend of black and death metal. In retrospect, the album is fairly short with such a timespan, but that is definitely no shortcoming with the quality of the music. The album starts off immediately with the track "An Abrupt End To Sorrow", with a solid aural kick of punchy drums and tremolo picking, only to quickly transfer over to brutal blast beats. It's an immediate display that the band cuts right to the chase. Andrew Wampler's mid-range vocals emit a fairly strong resemblance to Jon Nodveidt's work with Dissection, often accompanied by the lower guttrals provided by the rest of the stringed ensemble. The vocal delivery is simply powerful, overall. A few tracks in, you reach "The Tithe" which I find to be my personal favorite from the album. The tempo simply doesn't let go, with the guitarist's picking hands seemlessly keeping up with Josh Sharber's relentless drum work. That track in particular reaches a climactic moment, with an epic barrage of the wall-of-chords sound and machine gun double kick, and an ensemble of guttrals from the whole band. The album has quite a few chilling moments like these. The band also displays a knack for more lower guttral, straightforward brutality with the following track "Most Supreme Evil". Ophiuchus has a very strong grasp on displaying a wide range of dynamics, in the sense of going from the most extreme black metal and death metal ranges.

Overall, the album's production is pretty clear. Each guitar has a very prominent role in extreme left and right channels, despite sharing very similar guitar tones. Andrew Wampler and Alex Ezekiel both clearly have great command over their guitars. The guitar tone definitely doesn't hold back in terms of distortion, displaying a slight bit of mud and a touch of high-end shrill during chord arrangements, but I do say that in a positive manner. The overbearing of that kind of tone works very well with the ferocious theme of the album's music. It IS black metal, after all. The guitar solos sound like they get a bit lost in the mix, but there are only a few solos on the whole album. The solos resemble a lot of thrash metal influence. The drum production is superb, with a slight touch of the tradition studio-esque reverb, continuing the tradition of the nature of this style of metal. All drums are clear and prominent in the mix, especially the kick and snare drums. The performance itself holds nothing back - Josh Sharber is a beast of a drummer, simply put. The blast beats are executed flawlessly through the whole album. The bass work, provided by Harley Autry, is audible and follows the guitars very well. There are a few moments where I would prefer to be just a touch more prominent, but it sounds good nonetheless.

Ophiuchus is one of the more unspoken metal bands from Nashville, and that is a shame. These guys deserve much more recognition than they seem to get. I've witnessed their performances live a few times, and they are just as solid on the stage as they are on the album. Not to mention, they are nice, modest dudes to talk to. Purchasing their CD after I first saw them (and a shirt!) was definitely well worth it. If you can get a hold of this album, please do yourself a favor. As I mentioned before, the entire album is about 28 minutes, but listening from end to end feels much longer. A very solid release, overall.

Final Verdict - 90/100
Ophiuchus on Facebook

INFERI - The Path of Apotheosis
Inferi are bit more well-known and established as a metal band, but honestly not by much. This is the Nashville outfit's third full length album, and they have refined their sound to something absolutely intense and stunning. The band plays a healthy mix of melodic death, black and a bit of technical metal, while displaying years of instrument mastery, and leaving out the obnoxious squees and meedlies that seem to oversaturate anything that is considered "technical". Inferi is sporting an altered lineup, featuring current and former members of Enfold Darkness. Oddly enough, even though Inferi has more albums, and arguably better songwriting, Enfold Darkness remains to be more well known. Mostly due to record labels, but I digress.

If you're familiar with Inferi's catalog, their first two albums, while pretty solid efforts in melodic death metal, were seriously lackluster by inconsistent drum work, bad vocal performances and subpar production. But you can tell they had a lot to offer. Now, we have their brand new album, "The Path of Apotheosis", and it is by far the album we have been waiting for from this band. The musicianship and production values have been upped significantly, and they have released this crushing masterpiece of an album. Mike Low and Malcolm Pugh provide the masterful guitar work throughout the album, saturated in crystal clear, superb tone. Every note is articulated beautifully. One of the first things you notice is that each track is lined with neoclassical-like, soaring guitar solos, very reminiscent of the lead work from the likes of Necrophagist and Obscura. They fit the songs perfectly in an epic, almost soundtrack-esque manner, right alongside the crucial, atmospheric keyboard work. The keys provide symphonic backings to these downright relentless, punishing metal tracks. The drum work is robotic, exceeding mindblowing tempos with absolutely insane double kick, blasts and gigantic drum fills. The battery is brought forth by Jack Blackburn, of Vital Remains and Enfold Darkness fame. The drum work is top-notch, however my only real complaint is that they have the bit of the programmed/triggered sound, with no variation between strokes whatsoever. I know he is playing everything behind the madness, I just wish they would have dialed back the robotic sound just a touch. Nonetheless, the drums are phenomenal. The drum production is set back a bit in the mix, which to me is ideal when performing symphonic-style, epic metal like this. It enhances the overall open atmosphere. The vocal performance is much improved over earlier Inferi records, bringing forth a good blend of mid-range death and black-worthy highs. The vocal duties shared by Malcolm Pugh, Josh Harrell, and bassist Matt Brown have come a long way, and they definitely serve the new album justice.

So while you're waiting for Enfold Darkness to release their next album, whenever that may be, go give the new Inferi album a listen. In my honest opinion, it blows Enfold away. They have much more to offer. "The Path of Apotheosis" is an absolutely killer album, and I for one am very happy they were able to pull themselves out of the silence, and create such a killer follow-up to their first two lackluster records.

Well done, Inferi. This is exactly the kind of thing we need to see more from Nashville. This lets the rest of the world know that we are NOT all about country music down here.

Final Verdict - 95/100
Inferi on Facebook
Inferi on Bandcamp - stream the new album here. You will not be disappointed.

Cognition is a project concocted by fellow member Sean Hollowell, and Chase Caldwell. "Aura" is an EP that brings forth a very ambient, space-influenced atmospheric release that weaves in and out of a flowing realm of jazz, experimental and drone influences. All string duties were covered by Sean, and drum programming efforts by Chase. Jon Mize, another fellow SSO member, provided the nebula-esque cover art that definitely enhances and outlines the theme of the record.

The entire EP has a very free flowing feel to it, with smooth clean guitars taking the forefront, followed by the drum programming and many other atmospheric touches. A quick note to take about this EP is that Sean utilizes an 8-string guitar, yet no metal is demonstrated throughout. The tracks have subtle fades from one to the next, easily bringing the listener into the space-themed atmosphere. The atmosphere is greatly enhanced by long, droning jazz-like melodies in somewhat of a "white noise" effect. Guitar parts float about with pleasant chord work, fingerpicking and tapping (in fact, a pick is seldom used on the record), greatly yielding a free floating atmosphere. Production quality on the guitar is superb as well. Every note can be heard clearly, underneath the layers of atmospheric textures. There are many meditative moments on the EP, and as a whole, it is an excellent accompaniment to someone's relaxing or chill playlist. Some of the guitar riffs could be mistaken for a bass to an untrained listener, as a lot of the main riffs are performed on the 8-string's lower registers. There is many uses of ear-pleasing jazz chords and phrasings, with aural effects slowly droning in the background. To conclude the listener's journey through the 20-minute play time, the EP ends on a very pleasant spacy drone with the self-titled track, slowly fading out into nothing.

My only issue with it is the drum programming. While they're not bad and they fit the structure of the songs very well, they need a little bit of work on the dynamics; adjusting velocities when the part calls for it, the use of accents and ghost notes to further the jazz element. However, on that token, it's my understanding that the drum samples were free, so that doesn't offer too much to the programmer as far as dynamics are concerned. I can't really fault them for that. Other than that, this EP is excellent, and I believe to be an exciting start of the career of this ambient project. I'm anxious to see what's next from Sean and Chases' collaborations. What I hear are some musicians who are not afraid to branch off into a whole different, rarely-touched direction with 8-string guitars. I am a big sucker for ambient, atmospheric projects, and Cognition definitely has my attention. Keep an eye out for these guys.

Final Verdict: 85/100
Cognition on Facebook
Cognition on Bandcamp

CAYNUG - Imperfection

This record, being released on 27 December, just barely missed the 2014 requirements that I had personally set forth for these album releases. But, I made an exception. One, because this album is phenomenal. Two, because it's only a few days shy of 2014. It really deserves to be talked about for this year, and years to come. I discovered it on a day after its release, and without an ounce of regret.

The biggest thing outlining this 15-track album is raw emotion. Dominik Kowalczyk, the sole mastermind behind the project, projected such raw emotions and thoughts throughout the record, that were greatly influenced by his personal life in 2013. Evidently, it was a pretty rough year for Dominik. What better way to express your frustrations of your turmoils by singing and screaming your heart out in a throe of raw emotions?

After the creepy ambience of the intro track, the second song begins with a phase-induced drum beat, setting the pace. After that, you are immediately crushed in the face with one of the meanest, snarling low-tuned guitar tones I've ever heard. Low registers reach beyond 8-string range, although Dominik evidently played a 6-string baritone throughout the guitar. The songs are accompanied by a lot of underlying, eerie atmospheric textures. Choir effects are utilized quite prominently throughout the album, and with great dramatic effect. Dominik's vocal work reminds me a lot of early Jonathan Davis (Korn, if you really didn't know that), equating to such emotion as well. Everything is very present, and all the textural nuances and atmosphere can be clearly heard at any time, due to the superb production of the album. The drums, while programmed, are very authentic and lively. The contribute wonderfully to the open breathability of the songs.

One of my personal favorite displays of vocal emotion, choir and atmospheric textures, would be the track "Overcome". Although the tempo is slow, there is a lot going on throughout the track. The vast majority of the album operates in such a manner, topped with Dominik pouring his guts out with his unique vocal work. The track "Fools" and the following Chubsnub cover "Shattered" (apparently the original song isn't released yet) through you for a bit of a loop, since both tracks are hip-hop inspired. Although they maintain the dark moods that outline the rest of the track. Following that, "Internalized" is one of the most purest display of emotions. The vocalist's pain and unease can be heard pretty well. And I applaud him for being able to capture it so well.

Ending the album, you have "My Path" which is purely an operatic capture of vocals and choirs that brings me chills. "I Found My Way" is another track that divulges a bit from the album's norm, with an electronic drum beat, distant choirs and lead vocals not uncommon from a track from a radio-friendly 1990's band of some sort. These two tracks bring the listener back down from the emotional journey, and end the album on a more positive note.

Overall, a very solid album. It's eerie, creepy, dark, depressing, and heavy as hell. For fans of anything that grooves, or relates to heavy metal, psychedelic, doom or nu-metal, you really need to check out Caynug.

Final Verdict: 90/100
Caynug on Facebook
Caynug on Bandcamp

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Algarothsyum - The Obsidian Towers

I suppose it's a bit odd to post this a month after the fact, that the new Algarothsyum album is officially released. "The Obsidian Towers", the second full length album from my project, was released about 10 minutes after midnight on January 1st, 2014. The entire undertaking took about five months - recording, drum programming, mixing and mastering, and artwork. There were a lot of struggles and hardships along the way. Many struggles of my personal life have carved some of the textures in the music, such as periods of anxiety and depression. There were many days that made the album's progress a bit difficult. Upon the album's completion, I felt very drained. It took a lot out of me, mentally and emotionally. Every note has a meaning. Nonetheless, the end product is well worth it. I am proud of the album. I sincerely hope you, the fans, enjoy the work.

It's already established that Algarothsyum is a continuing concept of a man's struggle of his survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. As I have already posted before, I am in the midst of writing a story that follows the legend of said character. "The Obsidian Towers" is a continuation of the story where "Wastelander's Epoch" left off. I have the outline of the story already compiled, which allows me to continue writing new music for the concept. The story itself will fill in all the many fine details. As far as the writing itself, there has been little progress made due to schedule and time constraints of my busy life. Regardless, it will be completed one day.

My ideas and concepts I had while approaching the composition of "The Obsidian Towers" were more textures, atmospheric elements and more progression. The songwriting took a slight turn as I used an Ibanez 7-string and the addition of keyboards, compared to the lack of keys and 6-string guitars from the first album. I wanted to paint an even bigger landscape with the music. I personally feel like I successfully achieved this. Each track has a lot to take in. It will take several concentrated listens to fully ingest all the small nuances that are going on in each song, and that was my intention. I wanted the listener to be fully involved. I feel the album is personally enjoyed best with good headphones, because there are some things that could be missed on a stereo. If you enjoy the album, I highly suggest listening to it with some good headphones. Leave out all other distractions and give it a listen.

The entire album lasts about 57 minutes, which is a few minutes shorter than "Wastelander's Epoch". However, there is only seven tracks. This obviously calls for long track times. During the composition process, the track times honestly did not feel as if they were to exceed 8 minutes. I wrote with the music with a flow that I felt was ideal, and they simply turned out to be long. That's ok anyway, because I love song songs. I love songs that constantly change and tell a continuous story, even with a lack of vocals.

Also, if you notice, the last track is a cover of "A Kiss To Build A Dream On" which was originally recorded by Louis Armstrong back in the 1950s. I did that to pay a tribute to one of my favorite games of all time, Fallout 2. The early Fallout games are major players into why I have such an obsession with post-apocalyptic themes. So I felt compelled to perform an instrumental take on that track, to give a little something to the Fallout fans out there.

I've gotten a few questions about the artwork. I did the artwork with colored pencils, and it took about 3 days to complete. The only changes I made on the computer were I changed the contrast a bit, and added text. I felt like doing the cover art with my hands this time, instead of using software. It feels much more personal this way, and has more meaning to me. I felt it to be much easier to portray the mental imagery I had from the music by hand. I'll most likely continue to do artwork in this fashion.

Anyway, I sincerely hope you enjoy the new album, "The Obsidian Towers". You can download a copy of it at any price you choose, with the link below:

Although a donation is not required to download the album, it is always GREATLY appreciated! I write and record this music for the sheer enjoyment, and to share my ideas and visions with the world. If you choose to donate, that shows me your selfless support for not only my music, but for the many other independent musicians out there, that also release music for their enjoyment. I put in a lot of hard work, sweat and heartache into my music, and regardless of the troubles along the way, I am always determined to finish it and release it for any price you choose. This applies to so many talented, undiscovered bands and solo artists out there as well.

Following the release of this album, I'm taking a break from Algarothsyum and redirecting focus to a few other projects I have lined up. I'll post more details on those in the near future, so keep your eyes peeled. I also plan on posting album reviews of a few unknown bands and artists that greatly deserve the recognition. I may start doing that again regularly, if it pans out well.

Now, enough of that. Enjoy the new album, and take place in the continuing saga of travelling through the wastelands.

- Vhyle