Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Xibalba @ Manchester, Star and Garter (01/10/13)

Tonight sees the Star and Garter playing host to two of the best bands currently operating in the hardcore underground. While their sounds may differ, they are united by their unrelentingly heavy takes on the genre. But first, it's the turns of local supports, SWINELORDS (7) and BELOW (7). The former perform a tight set of d-beat rage to a practically empty room while the audience fills out a bit for death metal mob BELOW. An injured frontman limits their stage presence somewhat but a line-up featuring members of local hardcore heroes BROKEN TEETH and SURVIVAL ensures audience interest and they incite the first of many pits over the night. Not bad going for a band with only a demo to their name.

Next, it's blackened Italians HIEROPHANT's (9) turn. Keeping banter to a bare minimum, they allow the music to speak for itself playing highlights from both their self-titled debut and this year's coruscating "Great Mother : Holy Monster". When they signed to Bridge Nine, eyebrows were raised with them being the heaviest band by far on it's punk dominated roster but their output has never been anything less than devastating and, live, they're absolutely ferocious. Taking a base of proper metalcore (the kind doled out by the likes of HANG THE BASTARD and BROTHERHOOD OF THE LAKE) and splicing in elements of crust, sludge, black metal and oppressive atmospheres, they deliver their assault in different ways but never let up on all-encompassing weight.

Finally, XIBALBA (8) take to the stage. Their particular brand of hardcore is purpose made for provoking moshpits and they don't dissapoint. That they roped in Southern Lord wner and half of SUNN O))), Greg Anderson on several tracks on most recent album, "Hasta La Muerte" gives you an idea of just how heavy they are. Having said that, they don't fall into the trap of generic chugging or hardcore cliches. Nor do they feel the need to resort to the needless macho posturing that too many hardcore band rely on. Instead they deliver a set of devastating, beatdown heavy vitriol. Pretty much the entirety of their set speeds by with a few slower, ominous tangents which only serve to highlight how heavy they are at full pelt. Finishing on a furious rendition of fan favourite, "Cold", XIBALBA savage the crowd's ears in the best possible way.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

65daysofstatic @ Manchester, Sound Control (23/09/13)

Space jazz, frantic slabs of synth, hyperactive guitars, freewheeling drums and, um, "a selection of love songs about Paris". WIth that, we're introduced to the crazy world of THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND (8), Brighton's answer to THE MARS VOLTA. Having first caught the attentionof the math-rock world through their inclusion on last year's "Sea Monsters 2" compilation, they signed to Blood & Biscuits for the release of their debut EP, "Horizons / Rapture" in February.With only one EP worth of material to choose from, it's a testament to thei versatility the amount of musical ground they cover across their set. High octane tracks like "Abraxical Solapse" get the criminally sparse crowd moving while they also touch upon more plaintive, chin stroking moments on the likes of "Hollow Mountain".

The venue fills out substantially for main supports, Australian post-rockers, SLEEPMAKESWAVES (7). For their first time in Manchester, they already seem to have a decent fanbase over here. Signed to Birds Robe, in their native Australia, they're label mates with 65DOS but their take on the post-rock genre is closer to RUSSIAN CIRCLES with subtle dance elements of tonights headliners. While some of the subtleties of the record may be lost in the live environment, they make up for this with their energetic delivery. Heavier riffing rubs shoulders with long form melodies and across their sprawling tracks they create beautiful soundscapes. They may not be peddling the most original sound but they're one of the best bands currently in the scene.

Despite the other bands' best efforts, for most of the assembled crowd, tonight is all about 65DAYSOFSTATIC (8). Their set is a perfect balance between rock guitar, dance beats and swirling ambience. Their latest album, "Wild Light", is only a matter of days old but their confidence in new material shines through making up a large proportion of tonight's setlist. Their confidence isn't misplaced either, new tracks are recieved just as warmly as classics like "Retreat! Retreat!" and "Radio Protector". Next year, their debut album and modern classic, "The Fall Of Math" will be a decade old but tracks aired from sound just as innovative and exciting today. 65DAYSOFSTATIC truly are a one off in the world of math/post-rock and, in the live environment, they consolidate this with a captivating set.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Esmerine- Dalmak

Coming back after a six year hiatus in 2011 with "La Lechuza", a tribute to a friend of the band, ESMERINE hit new heights. The subsequent touring took them to Turkey where the fertile local music scene provided further influences to add to their idiosyncratic mix of post-rock, folk and world music. Containing at their core two members of some of Constellation's best known acts, ex-GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR drummer Bruce Cawdron and SILVER MT. ZION's Rebecca Foon are this time joined by Jamie Thompson (UNICORNS, ISLANDS) and Brian Sanderson as well as a host of guest musicians. With instruments such as bendirs, darbukas and erbanes, it's fair to say that this isn't your standard rock album and it's this culture collision that allows for such a unique sound.

Opening gambit, "Learning To Crawl" is a minimal string led introduction before the intricately layered two-part "Lost River Blues". An extended melody is underpinned by slowly fluctuating and morphing rhythms. While the lead melodies are more introspective in tone, the marimba gives a warmth and upbeat feel while rhythmic mantras build to a fever pitch. Next, "Barn Board Fire" again utilizes the post-rock techniques of loud/quiet dynamics and intricate textures woven throughout to brilliant effect before the sparse "Hayale Dalmak" with an insistent pedal note holding together the looser sound. One of the album's centerpieces, "Translator's Clos" is another two-parter which again utilizes repeated rhythmic patterns and Eastern drones similar to OM but with lots of ornamentation. With a mixture of Western and Eastern instrumentation, the scope of sound is immense going from classical to something more recognizably 'rock' and from dense to minimal and back again constantly with a perfect balance between repetition and change.Following this, "White Pine" is another stripped back affair with cello and marimba before the album's conclusion, "Yavri Yavri", which is the closest to the "La Lechuza" sound ESMERINE venture while still firmly rooted in "Dalmak"'s Turkish influences. It's intricately layered but at the same time subtle with long sustained notes giving a meditative feel.

Overall, "Dalmak" is a beautiful album with much more depth than your average 'rock' album and unlike anything you've probably heard before. If you're looking to expand your musical horizons with something a little different then you'd be a fool not to give "Dalmak" a listen. (8/10)

"Dalmak" is out now through Constellation

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Various Artists- Sea Monsters 3

2013 sees the third incarnation of the Sea Monsters festival-come-showcase of the best new music Brighton has to offer. Covering a dizzying array of genres, while the "Sea Monsters 3" compilation features an abundance of electronic artists, there's something for everyone with punk, grunge, psyche, hip-hop and folk all jostling for space across the two hours running time. With 25 tracks from all corners of the Brighton music scene, this is a perfect introduction to the diversity and talent on offer.

An early highlight comes in the form of LUO's "Fears" which twins gentle piano with glitchy electronics and comes across like a stripped down THREE TRAPPED TIGERS. "Aquarius" by SOCCER96 is a more intelligent take on the EDM scene which is currently dominating the charts complete with keyboard sounds inspired by retro arcade games. The highlight of disc one, however, are NEGATIVE PEGASUS and THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND with "Natural Jazz" and "Abraxical Solapse" respectively. Both bands have completely different yet equally brilliant variations on the psyche genre with "Natural Jazz" displaying a clear ONEIDA influence which sets expectations high for the follow up to last year's brilliant "Looming". On "Abraxical Solapse", the highlight from their debut EP "Horizons/ Rapture" THE PHYSICS HOUSE BAND mix math-rock and free jazz into their psyche melting pot to create a truly unique sound. The disc concludes with the angular post-hardcore of BROKER and, probably the best known act here, GNARWOLVES playing pop-punk the way it should be; loud, fast and fun.

Disc two starts with a hip-hop double bill from SUAVE DEBONAIR and RUM COMMITTEE, both acts perform with the requisite energy and swagger but the lounge jazz backing track on RUM COMMITTEE's "Bar After Bar" clinches the deal. The brilliantly titled "Hard Being Strange" by PLASTICINE provides a light-hearted take on indie while LOOSE LIPS' "Dr Evil" recalls a time when emo wasn't a dirty word which suggests a diet of early-TAKING BACK SUNDAY and pre-reunion BLINK 182. The stripped back 90's indie of "Little Rope" isn't the most original of sounds but TIGERCUB pull it off well enough and, with a grunge revival in full swing, they seem ideally placed to gain momentum in the coming months. Out of the bands showcased on disc two, though, it's ABI WADE who proves the highlight with her simple singer-songwriter material uplifted with subtle electronic touches and a cello. As is always the case with compilations like this, the quality varies from track to track but if you keep your finger hovering over the skip button on your stereo, there are hidden gems to be dug out whatever your musical taste. (6/10)

"Sea Monsters 3" is out now through One Inch Badge

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Palms- Palms

While you may not be familiar with the name PALMS, there's plenty of prestige in their line-up.Consisting of Aaron Harris, Jeff Caxide and Bryant Clifford Meyer all formerly of recently departed post-metal legends ISIS (among various other projects) joined by DEFTONES vocalist Chino Moreno, PALMS produce a different type of post-metal to what you might be accustomed to which allows them to more fully explore their ambient leanings while still creating epic soundscapes. With Moreno and ISIS being mutual admirers of each others output, this collaboration isn't as outlandish as it initially seems and Moreno's wide vocal range from gentle crooning to impassioned screams perfectly complements the loud/ quiet dynamics of the music.

"Future Warrior" introduces itself with a dreamy synthesizer before gentle melodies introduce themselves with the harsher side of Moreno's voice only fleetingly making itself known before "Patagonia" introduces a much more tense atmosphere with Moreno singing about "a hole in space where the demons wait" over guitar work which slowly builds up and morphs, constantly threatening to kick into something devastatingly heavy but maintaining restraint throughout. On "Mission Sunset", instrumentation drops in and out to create a sparse soundscape before the chorus showcases the whole band performing as a unit with a passion that's clear to hear. Overall the sound is very positive and Moreno's unique way of writing lyrics, almost like poetry rather than a song, provides another fascinating focal point other than the musicianship. "Shortwave Radio" is the least immediate track here with unexpected chord progressions and melodies, but all the better for it. It's the first real opportunity for Caxide, Harris and Clifford Meyer to flex their post-metal muscles while still maintaining the shoe-gaze sound of the rest of the album and, whether he's singing or screaming, Chino Moreno's vocals exude pure emotion. Following this, penultimate track, "Tropics" seems fairly straightforward but the band members' idiosyncrasies shine through more subtly before the slow, dreamy "Antarctic Handshake" concludes the album. More ambient and with more of an emphasis on synth than elsewhere on the album, it provides a suitably gentle finish. While the album covers similar musical ground to Moreno's hit-and-miss TEAM SLEEP project, it is much more consistent. Granted, it's not yet scraping the dizzying heights of "Oceanic" or "White Pony" (and whether it'll be lumbered with the dreaded 'side project' tag remains to be seen) but "Palms" is never-the-less an intriguing introduction to what could be a very exciting prospect. (7/10)

"Palms" is out now through Ipecac 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Deafheaven- Sunbather

In certain circles, it's fair to say that "Sunbather" is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Following on from the bruised brilliance of their debut album, "Roads To Judah", and a split with BOSSE-DE-NAGE, for their sophomore album, DEAFHEAVEN continue to tread a path entirely of their own. Somewhat unfairly the band have been lumbered with the post-black metal tag leading to inaccurate comparisons to scene luminaries ALTAR OF PLAGUES and WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM but their sound is more akin to post-rock taken to it's extreme with beautiful melodies and harsh blackened noise. While "Sunbather" may be more positive in it's outlook than previous DEAFHEAVEN material, it is still a fully immersive emotional tour-de-force. 

Despite the guttural black metal growl and rampaging riffs that introduce "Dream House" it still manages to sound triumphant and strangely optimistic with the band showcasing their mastery of dynamics stripping the song back to a clean LANDSCAPES-esque melody before reintroducing the distorted guitars to a clarion call of "I want to dream". Following this, "Irresistible" is the first of several instrumentals interspersed across the album. A polyphony of melodies wave into one beautiful tapestry of gentle guitar and piano. Next, title track "Sunbather" reintroduces the cathartic vocals which carry a whole depth of emotion unheard of in 'conventional' black metal. Melody is used more subtly along with the devastating guitars, complementing the music but still allowing the heaviest parts to bludgeon the listener before taking a melodic tangent to keep you on edge throughout. Next is the second instrumental, "Please Remember" which dabbles in spoken word and acoustic guitar and pitches itself somewhere between CULT OF LUNA and GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR before the fifteen minute cinematic scope of "Vertigo". Beginning with a riff that wouldn't sound out of place on the 'Inception' soundtrack, "Vertigo" slowly builds up allowing each successive layer introduced ample time to develop. It's hard to pick out a highlight when each track is so perfect but the execution of "Vertigo" is amazing keeping up momentum throughout it's running time and providing the purest distillation of DEAFHEAVEN's post-rock/ black metal fusion. Following this is the third and final instrumental, "Windows", which finds the band back in GY!BE territory with minimal instrumentation creating an ominous tone accompanied by a sample of a street preacher. Final track, "The Pecan Tree" lays waste both aurally and emotionally with an impenetrable wall of noise ending with the harrowing confession, "I am my father's son/ I am no one/ I cannot love/ It's in my blood". It may be too early to call 'album of the year' but rarely does such a perfect album come along and the bar just got raised to dizzying heights. A future classic? An instant classic more like! (10/10)

"Sunbather" is out now through Deathwish Inc.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Kawabata Makoto's Mainliner- Revelation Space

KAWABATA MAKOTO's name is best known as the guitarist and group leader in tripped out Japanese psyche lords ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE but previous output by his other band; a self described 'psychedelic solid free attack group', is much fetished by fans of Makoto and following over a decade of inactivity, the surprise announcement of a new album is enough to make any psych fan quiver with excitement. While Makoto prefers to keep an air of mystery around such details as the album's recording (a refreshing attitude as any reviewer who finds their inbox constantly bombarded with trivial press releases can attest), what we do know is that, along with Makiti and drummer Koji Shimura is a newcomer on bass and vocal duties, Kawabe Taigen.

As far as statements of intent go, the eleven minute guitar freakout that introduces "Revelation Space" takes some beating. Straight from the jump, the title track sees the power trio firing on all cylinders with Shimura and Taigen providing a rhythmic backbone to the free squall of Makoto's feedback drenched guitar. Next, "Taitan" brings more ear-splitting levels of feedback with a mantric drum and bass groove building to a fever pitch while Taigen's ethereal vocals inject plenty of atmosphere.However, his vocals have an entirely different effect as he howls like a man possessed over the punked up wall of noise that is "D.D.D". Taking the riotous energy of GUITAR WOLF or THE STOOGES and pushing it to the precipice of insanity, it's delirious two minute duration rushes by before you know it. Penultimate track, "The Dispossessed" (which is exclusive to the CD release) takes the sheer power of the previous track and stretches it to a touch under ten minutes of breathless unhinged riffing and a repeated six note pattern which comes across like BLACK SABBATH on steroids. All that's left then is for the sprawling twenty minute epic "New Sun" to conclude matters. Basically, "New Sun" collates everything you've heard before into one final torrent of brilliantly obtuse noise. KAWABATA MAKOTO delivers a barrage of riffs which range from all out sonic warfare to patterns where repetition is pushed to the fore like ONEIDA at their heaviest. The rhythm section alternately keep control with tight grooves and deliver a series of unpredictable twists and turns with the tempo building to a breakneck speed. When Taigen's vocal arise, conveying a depth of mystery in just a few syllables,it seems both at odds with and the perfect fit for the frantically paced music with it's slow and deliberate unearthly quality. Fans of Makoto will delight in the fifty minutes of psychedelic escapism on offer here and, while newcomers may be initially put off by the in-your-face directness of the music, given half a chance "Revelation Space" pulls you into it's spiralling insanity for an enthralling journey into the heart of psyche. (9/10)

"Revelation Space" is out now through Riot Season