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 Sevenstring.org (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 - Aura (EP)
Cognition is a project concocted by fellow Sevenstring.org 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 Sevenstring.org 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

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