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

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