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Issue 78 - October 30, 2004: Be Progressive

Discussion in 'Songs To Watch' started by Demonspell, Oct 30, 2004.

  1. Demonspell

    Demonspell cheating the polygraph

    Apr 29, 2001
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    dead between the walls

    Scratching the surface to find the best new and underexposed music.

    “I will spend the rest of eternity trying to figure out BE”

    Issue 78 – October 2004

    Apologies for the delay and lesser number of artists covered than usual, I haven’t been hearing as much new music recently and there have been serious health issues in the family that have been occupying my time recently. The review that follows is a long one, show some patience…

    Pain Of Salvation – BE summary and analysis:

    It’s hard not to think of this long-awaited opus as an elaborate act of self-mythologizing on Daniel Gildenlow’s part. Conceived as a full stage production accompanied by a nine-piece orchestra with visuals and costumes (soon to be available on DVD), concept dealing with no less than the meaning of life and the relationship between God and mankind and spanning evolutionary time from creation to apocalypse (and uncertain rebirth), replete with Latin song titles…everything about BE screams “grand artistic statement” in flashing neon, and even some of their own fans have condemned it for being pretentious. But there have been just as many overwhelmingly positive praises for what Daniel calls “the sixth world” (counting 12:5). I’m going to refrain from immediately getting into the album track by track and instead deal with some of the most common criticisms of the album, the first being the frequent use of narration and extraneous sounds on the album. At worst they negate the impact of the music, as on the population count over the album’s best riff in Deus Nova. Both riff and plot device make another appearance in the brooding then raging Nihil Morari once again offset by samples meant to illustrate the damage inflicted upon the earth by industry, but work much better in this context. At other times they’re just awkward (the opening piece Animae Partus and the infamous “car scene”), or are conceptually interesting padding to the album (the “God’s answering machine”) bit. The other common criticism is that the album takes forever to get going and has no real momentum, especially in its first half. While I think this is partially another way of saying “I want more metal!”, sometimes this album is too eclectic for its own good (an odd accusation coming from a seasoned progger, I know). It is true to an extent, worst offender being Nauticus, which comes across as a parody of folk spirituals and Daniel’s sharecropper voice here is just irritating, and the puerile “car scene” that follows makes it worse. Definitely my least favorite POS song, and fortunately the only thing on BE I find offensive. But there are others that suffer from emphasizing concept over music, like the pleasant but insubstantial classical piano piece Pluvius Aestivus, meant to symbolize natural beauty and placed early on in the album after Deus Nova and the uncharacteristically upbeat folk tune Imago. And then there’s the longest and most theatrical tune in the Broadway-ready Dea Pecuniae. It’s overly flamboyant and vocally excessive, but that’s part of the point, as it’s told by the tale’s villain Mr. Money, a strutting asshole who symbolizes all sorts of destructive values. I enjoy most of the tune, as Daniel relishes playing the character and carries the tune almost single-handedly with his over the top performance. In between all this is one of the album’s few quote-unquote rockers in Lilium Cruentus, a meditation on the loss of innocence which sounds the most like their previous two albums of anything here. Another song with sufficient amounts of metal is Diffidentia, which similarly alternates between aggressive and delicate sections to great effect, both the simple yet foreboding main riff and the mournful reprise of Nauticus (which gives the latter song a reason to exist) are among the most memorable moments here. But the ultimate highlight may be the ballad Iter Impius, sung from Mr. Money’s point of view as he awakens to an abandoned, ruined world. It is just as devastating as anything from The Perfect Element and the orchestration adds to the sadness of the tune, and it becomes more intense towards its end, as Daniel adds some fierce ad-libs to conclude things. Ironically, the song was not written by him but pianist Fredrik Hermansson. Between these two are Nihil Morari and two shorter pieces, the latter of which has Daniel singing in falsetto over a church organ. Iter Impius is a difficult track to follow, but Martius does a good job, beginning as an ominous march and shifting gears completely into an agreeable jazz-folk thing with one of the album’s best (only?) instrumental breaks and a joyful reprise of Imago’s main theme, before ending in a percussion jam just like on TPE…until the final narration brings things to a close: “I AM!” Be is a work of godlike aspirations (for me, the closest comparison point would be The Wall), but ultimately proves that Daniel is, in his own words, more human than he wishes to be. It is deeply flawed and inarguably pretentious, yet comes close to succeeding upon its ambitions alone and is undoubtedly a fascinating piece of work, and while not all of the musical treatments work, I have to respect Daniel for attempting to express such a lofty concept and daring to incorporate so many genres, and in its best moments the album soars. Besides the occasional overstepping of boundaries, the only really valid criticism you’ll hear from me is that time-honored aphorism: Less talk, more music. I’m not bothered by the near-complete absence of progressive metal because I expect POS to be difficult to categorize and I refuse to judge Be against their previous output. Accept it for what it is and you’ll find it to be a rewarding listen.

    Fates Warning – FWX review:

    The tenth album by the prog metal veterans is their first in four years and marks the end of Mark Zonder’s long and distinguished tenure with the band. Other changes include Joey Vera becoming an official member (finally) and their other frequent contributor, Kevin Moore, does not appear on the album. None of these have any real impact upon the album, which continues in the path that Disconnected took, a mixture of a contemporary approach to hard rock and an increasingly electronic-heavy emotional progressive rock. However, there are no real epics this time around and the arrangements are generally simpler. Opener Left Here is a stunner, and summarizes everything fans have come to expect from this phase of the band, built around an expert layering of acoustic guitars and electronic textures and featuring one of Ray Alder’s finest vocal performances. The hard rocking Simple Human, the advance mp3 from the album, follows. Next is the brooding River Wide Ocean Deep, a great example of their more understated side, its minimal arrangement eventually gains intensity in great fashion and is one of the best songs here. Obligatory ballad Another Perfect Day has just enough passion to connect with the listener and avoid sounding hollow, and Ray sounds very good here. Heal Me is the closest thing to an epic here, divided into three distinct sections, the opening has a great vocal melody (“I wither and fall silent now”) and the middle section finds them experimenting with Eastern modes. A reprise of its opening brings the song together and leads into the ambient instrumental Sequence 7 (track 6, naturally enough), which sounds very much like something Kevin Moore would do. The next three tracks are a bit average compared to the first half’s highlights: Crawl is another modern hard rocker, A Handful Of Doubt is another resigned track reminiscent of APSOG (nice backwards guitar in the opening and harmonies on the “time” parts), and Stranger With A Familiar Face a cross between the two styles, with a catchy galloping chorus. What’s left is Wish, the most recent in a long string of downcast album closers and arguably the most progressive track here in terms of arrangement, built around a rhythm reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s solo albums and featuring some poignant piano and guitar solos and another fine performance from Mr. Alder. Eventually we’re left with some spare notes from Matheos’ guitar, a fitting conclusion to the album.

    Age Of Silence – The Concept Of Haste, Acceleration: The name of this recent signing to The End may be new, but the participants will be familiar to followers of avant-metal: Solefald’s Lazare, who does all of the vocals here, Andy Winter of Winds, and the ever-ubiquitous Hellhammer. The music here is very much in the style of bands like Arcturus, except more streamlined and relying on synthesizers instead of orchestration, and the common theme of workplace dehumanization helps make this a good stopgap release between Solefald albums.

    Amon Amarth – Where Death Seems To Dwell, Arson: Whether you consider these guys to be a pure Viking metal band or not, there’s little argument that they’ve become one of the more consistent bands in metal, to the point where their releases don’t have much to distinguish themselves from one another. The music on Fate of Norns does recapture some of the edge of their earlier albums and has some of their sharpest riffs ever on the two tracks mentioned here, but only succeeds on the simplest of levels.

    Anti-Depressive Delivery – End Of Days, Voyage Of No Brain Discovery: One of three concurrent releases on the Laser’s Edge label, this is an intriguing prog project with some ties to the Norwegian metal scene and featuring a darker sound with lots of heavy guitar tones and vintage keyboard sounds.

    Chain – Never Leave The Past Behind, Last Chance To See: Second project under this name for the suddenly prolific Henning Pauly, whose penchant for huge productions is evident all over the double-LP length chain.exe, the former track opens with a bombastic chorus and develops into a meticulously arranged rocker. The latter track is a heavily orchestrated ballad, on which the always creative Mike Keneally guests on vocals.

    Crotchduster – Mammal Sauce, Let Me Into Starfish Land: A bizarre side project of the tech-death act Capharnaum, released on the Willowtip label. The absurdity of the concept behind this band hardly prepares you for the manic nature of these songs, the former featuring an idiotic yet infectious refrain and the latter loaded with perverted lyrics delivered in a hilarious manner, all the while changing genres every ten seconds.

    Deadwood Forest – Dry, The Pioneer: The forced pun in this now inactive band’s first release Mellodramatic should give you an idea that this is a prog throwback band, along with the involvement of Anglagard’s Mattias Olsson. Besides the faithful arrangements and warm sounds of analog equipment, there is more than curiosity value here, especially in the depressing feel both of these songs have.

    Disarmonia Mundi – Colors Of A New Era, Demiurgo: This melodic death recently released an album featuring the voice of the much-maligned Soilwork on vocals, from which the former track hails. However, the songs I’ve heard from their debut Nebularium are more successful in avoiding the melodic death trap, the latter song features a good supply of slashing riffs and doesn’t lapse into typical Gothenburg annoyances…

    Falkenbach – Donar’s Oak, Homeward Shore: Two more tracks from this one-man Viking metal band’s latest album, which is a bit weaker than the previous two IMO but together form an excellent trilogy of work. Along with Moonsorrow and mid-period Ensalved (expect a review of Isa in the next issue), this band is unmatched at capturing the cold northern atmosphere.

    Goatsnake – Black Cat Bone, Easy Greasy: Stoner rock act on the Southern Lord label, operating on the more rock oriented side of the genre, if Sunno is music to accompany an acid trip (although merely listening to their drones makes me feel sufficiently buzzed), these guys would be music to knock back a few beers by in the front yard, as they lay the no-frills riffs on thick…

    Grails – Word Made Flesh, Dargai: One of several post-rock projects on the highly respected Neurot Recordings label, both of these tracks are from a 2004 release. Unlike many bands in this genre, the songs here resist the urge to follow a single theme for what seems like an eternity, instead favoring more compact and less ethereal arrangements.

    Isis – Backlit, Wills Dissolve: Panopticon, the heavily anticipated followup to 2002’s Oceanic, is already generating just as much euphoric zeal as its critically lauded predecessor. And with good reason, as they have taken the broodingly heavy yet highly panoramic sound explored on their earlier albums and perfected it, resulting in a sound that demands total immersion. The use of vocals here is kept to a minimum, but doesn’t fail to lessen the dramatic impact here. Expect this album to appear on numerous best of 2004 lists, including my own.

    Jag Panzer – The Mission (1943), Starlight’s Fury: Casting The Stones is another solid release from the veteran US power metallers. The former track once again draws upon Mark Briody’s debt to Iron Maiden, as the melodic guitar work and WWII-inspired lyrics help make this the album’s most anthemic track, and the latter track is anchored by a slashing lead riff and has another extremely memorable chorus, and is a good showcase for gifted guitarist Chris Broderick’s technical abilities.

    Mike Keneally Band – Pride Is a Sin, Choosing To Drown: Dog is the latest release from this multi-instrumentalist who has built a cult following through a series of eclectic and fascinating releases. Some of the tracks here are more straight forward than on past albums, such as a the former track, an infectious rocker with some great vocal melodies and as an added bonus excellent use of Bruce Dickinson’s favorite instrument, the cowbell. The latter track is built around a complex rhythm played in what I’m sure is an odd measure, but manages to be just as catchy.

    Lair Of The Minotaur – Burning Temple, Lion Killer: A recent signing to the Southern Lord label, these guys have one mission apparent from their demo Carnage: to kick your ass as hard as possible. Both tracks are dominated by pummeling riffs and violent outbursts at the microphone, played at slower tempos to satisfy doom lovers, but the songs are clearly of the expulsive variety.

    Lamb Of God – Blood Of The Scribe, Omerta: Last year’s much-praised As The Palaces Burn earned these guys a major label deal and Ashes of the wake has seen a major promotional push ($9.99 in most stores) and similar rave reviews. Both of these tracks further prove that these guys owe just as much to thrash as to hardcore, although elements of the latter are still evident in the riffing that dominates the album.

    Leviathan – Deciphering Legend, A Bouquet Of Blood For Skull: One of a series of black metal bands from California whose output has been as impressive as anything Scandinavian in recent times, this project’s sole musician Wrest refers to this music as suicidal black metal. Which is definitely an apt description for the eerie atmosphere of these tracks from Tentacles Of Whorror, punctuated by marauding primitive riffs, dark ambiance, and some of the most demonic vocals I’ve heard.

    Lilitu – Only The End Of The World Again, Desolation Breeds: A recent signing to The End, this Atlanta-based band has been very successful at promoting themselves through constant gigging, two self-released albums, and word of mouth on the net (including this site). The music here is unusually close to melodic death for someone affiliated with The End, but there’s enough drive in these tracks, especially the former, and elements of doom to assure that they won’t be accused of genericism by most.

    Mercenary – World Hate Center, Supremacy v2.0: The recently released 11 Dreams attempts to improve upon their highly acclaimed Everblack album in all possible ways, and largely succeds. The former track opens the album (after a short intro piece) with some of their most propulsive riffing to date and showcases the band’s ability to borrow from death metal while remaining consistent with their own sound. The latter eight-minute track is one of several here to throw multiple riffs at the listeners, and the choruses here reach an anthemic quality at times, alternately persuading listeners to raise the flag and tear it down…

    Mnemic – Deathbox, Dreamstate Emergency: Despite having significant nu-metal elements, this band’s debut got its share of decent press upon its release last year. The followup The Audio Injected Soul (dumb title) seeks to improve on it, and shows some signs of promise, especially on the latter track, which has some powerful riffs and incorporates electronics with a degree of success, but overall this is a sound that has run its course.

    Mono – Halcyon (Beautiful Days), 16.12: Along with Sigh, these post-rockers are the best music I’ve heard from the land of the rising sun. Their third album follows in the same vein as their previous two, the former creating an elegant atmosphere through minimal melodies while the latter (which actually is a few minutes short of 16:12) is a great example of these guys’ ability to slowly build dramatic intensity in their compositions, approaching metallic levels of heaviness at points.

    Parallel Or 90 Degrees – Gods Of Convenience, An Autopsy In Artificial Light: Veteran UK proggers who have toiled in obscurity for nearly a decade, although they have gained additional exposure through leader Andy Tillison’s participation in The Tangent. The former track is typical of their sound, lots of slow builds and use of piano and electronic textures, and features lyrics highly critical of organized religion. The former track expands on those elements (especially the last) and spreads them out over a multipart epic.

    Michael Pinella – Enter By The Twelfth Gate, Cross The Bridge: A completely solo release by the man whose keyboard tones are largely responsible for putting the symphony in Symphony X. The classical influence is all over the release, even going as far as to compose a piano concerto, but there’s also some well-placed synth work here as well. While I can’t really get into this except as background music, it succeeds on a compositional level and keyboard freaks will likely adore it.

    Samael – Moongate, Inch’allah: After an extended absence and a prolonged dispute with former label Century Media, Xytras returns with Reign of Light. Anyone hoping for a return to the raw black metal that established them will be disappointed, as the album continues in the electronic path of Eternal. Having never been a huge admirer of this band, I’m not the right person to be writing about them, but I can say both of these tracks will appeal to fans of their previous work and anyone who isn’t automatically opposed to the use of electronics in metal…

    Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – Gunday’s Child, The Donkey-Headed Adversary Of Humanity Opens The Discussion: This avant-prog collective has built a strong cult following through its heavy and sinister debut and reputedly astounding live performances. Their second album Of Natural History will enhance their reputation as it is every bit as intense and nightmarish as its predecessor. The latter track is infinitely more attention grabbing as its title, as the mixture of near-death metal brutality and near-King Crimson technical proficiency will floor unsuspecting listeners. The former track contains more delicate sections, but can be equally jarring, especially in the twisted nursery rhyme vocal delivery and its use of unconventional instrumentation, including some self-assembled percussive devices.

    Thought Industry – Jack Frost Junior, The Fairy: Outer space is just a martini away. That was the third of the five albums released by this idiosyncratic tech-metal turned alt-prog act, and doesn’t sound much like the albums released on either side of it, but it did begin a move towards more melodic and compact song structures later fully explored on their most recent album The key difference between this and Short Wave (the latter track hints at the sadness prevalent there) is that the songs are more energetic, evident in the addictive chorus of the former track.

    White Willow – Storm Season, Nightside Of Eden: Critically acclaimed Norwegian prog act whose fourth album Storm Season is much more modern sounding than its previous releases, frequently incorporating heavy riffs, but still firmly rooted in first generation prog. The former track, available on their official site, is an exception to both, it’s a shorter track in more of an electronic style.

    Xasthur – Slaughtered Useless Beings In A Nihilistic Dream, A Walk Beyond Utter Blackness: One-man black metal project from California, Malefic has been very prolific in producing suicidal black metal, in kinship with the aforementioned Leviathan. The former track projects feelings of pure hatred in its grimmer-than-thou atmosphere, while the latter is one of several dark ambient excursions to be found on their albums, this one sounds exactly like its title.
  2. Evan_R

    Evan_R Member

    May 15, 2001
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    Excellent review of "Be" Demonspell. Personally, I'm finding myself becoming more and more sucked in by Be, and liking it more with each spin. It's simply one of those albums that needs to be taken in as a whole, and in one sitting. As far as the concept goes, I am not even trying to figure it out, I'm just enjoying the album. My only true complaint with it is the same as one of your own, the car scene, although I have a feeling it will would better on the stage, which we will soon get to see on the dvd.

    As for Fates Warning, I am having a little more trouble getting into that one, but I'm far from decided on it.

    Anyway, another great list, keep it up.

    Best wishes to you and your family.

  3. McBrain's Brain

    McBrain's Brain New Metal Member

    May 18, 2003
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    I've been out of touch with the music scene for so long... DS, if you had to recommend the three best bands you've found in the past year, what would you recommend?

    To illustrate how out of touch I've been, I did not realize that PoS had released 12:5 or BE until I read this column.

    So yeah, I'm lookin for some new music, so what would you recommend?

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