DEMONSPELLS SONGS TO WATCH Scratching the surface to find the best new music. Issue 79 December 2004 Writers note: Once again, I apologize for the unacceptably long delay, once again I attribute it to the list, and UM in general, being a low priority on my part with ongoing family issues and plain old procrastination. I plan to make up for it by immediately beginning work on the obligatory year end list, which will be in the same format as last years special only Im going to make an attempt at ranking them rather than taking the easy way out by doing it alphabetically. While Im on the subject, please check out Royal Carnages top ten lists, both the staff picks on the website and those of the regulars on the forum. And now, the songs Aeon Spoke Pablo At The Park, Nothing: Above The Buried Cry is the first full-length release by this project led by two of the brains behind Cynic, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, though youd be unable to discern their involvement from listening to the music. This is very far removed from technical metal, instead opting for a warm indie-rock sound. The former track has an obvious pop hook in the chorus, but retains a melancholy feel, while the latter has some vague prog leanings and sounds a bit like Porcupine Tree. Samples available at official site. Angra The Shadow Hunter, Winds Of Destination: Temple Of Shadows has been receiving rave reviews over the net, which goes to prove never judge an album by the first song made available from it or even the first three you hear. While the albums first half in particular does have its generic moments, the two songs here lean towards their more adventurous side, the former being their most epic track since Holy Land and the latter being equally complex and featuring some great instrumental sections and a cameo by Hansi Kursch. Arena Bedlam Fayre, Opera Fanatica: With Contagion, these British neo-proggers went for a less bombastic and harder-edged sound. On Peppers Ghost, due out next month, they try to combine that approach with the more epic feel of their previous albums. The former track has some riffs that come close to prog metal territory, while the latter thirteen-minute track goes headlong in the classic prog direction, replete with classical influences and huge choruses. Atrox Methods Of Survival, System Failure: After losing Monika Edvardsen and her distinctive (and polarizing) vocals earlier this year, the rest of this avant-metal band immediately set about writing new material, and has made two songs with their new male singer available on their redesigned website. The latter is one of them, and while being strong musically, doesnt have the same strangely compelling atmosphere that earlier tracks, like the latter track that opens Orgasm, had. Black Bonzo Lady Of The Light, Brave Young Soldier: Sweden has been known for producing progressive rock band whose sound strongly echoes that of the seventies, and this one definitely has a spiritual connection with that era, but in a more hard rock vein. The impassioned vocals and arrangements on these songs, loaded with Mellotron and Hammond, immediately bring the likes of Deep Purple to mind and are hard to resist, especially the former thumping rocker. The latter is an epic track just as successful at sounding like a lost gem from thirty years ago. Chroma Key White Robe, Before You Started: In one of the oddest sources of inspiration Ive heard of, the latest release from Kevin Moore began when he found a surreal student film from 1955, slowed it down to half speed, and wrote an alternate soundtrack for it, released as Graveyard Mountain Home. The music (best experienced with the film, included as either a Quicktime file or DVD depending on the edition) continues in an ambient/post-rock direction and incorporates ethnic influences Kevin has picked up while living in Istanbul, especially evident on the latter track. He also plays guitar on a few songs, including the soporific former track. The entire album can be previewed on the official site. Colour Haze Zen, Antenna: Theres an unusually large amount of stoner rock to be found in this issue (at least compared to previoius ones), and this band is no exception. They have at least five albums to their name, but so far the samples on www.stonerrock.com (check out the mp3 jukebox, its an awesome resource) are my only exposure to them. On this evidence, theyre experts at capturing the trippy desert atmosphere, both compositions are mostly instrumental and have a heavy psychedelic influence. Damnation Destructo Evangelia, Night Eternal: Swedish black metal with a decidedly raw feel, no symphonic pretensions to be found anywhere here. Bathory is the obvious reference point to this band, their latest album contains a cover of a Quorthon composition and their logo uses the same typeface. Musically, both of these songs are true to the spirit of black metals golden age, and the riffs are strong enough to sustain interest over eight minutes. Dark Tranquillity The New Build, My Negation: The first great album of 2005? Quite possibly, judging by these tracks and the advance press that Character (awesome cover art by Niklas of course) has received. The former opening track makes it clear that DT is out to make this album a more aggressive beast than Damage Done, and makes its intentions clear by opening with a blastbeat and keeping the focus squarely on its imposing lead riff. But dont mistake this for regression on their part, as the more intricate latter track proves that their songwriting abilities are far above any of their followers. Fall Of The Leafe Enemy Simulator, Guilt Threat: Their latest album Volvere is one 2004 release that has been largely ignored, partly because the label that released it, Rage of Achilles, folded later this year and because this band falls into the promising yet frustrating category. The music here has much to recommend to it, built around the sort of wandering yet hypnotic guitar lines utilized by Katatonia and frequently contains ambitious lyrics and arrangements, but unfortunately is largely lacking in the all-important memorability factor: it sounds great when playing, but fails to leave much of a lasting impression, also brought down by a weakness in vocals. Garden Wall The Giant And The Wise Man, Ekpyrosis: Italian progressive rock band that has existed in obscurity for over a decade, but has obtained its share of accolades, Ive seen them referred to as the genres most underrated band. That can be said about anyone, but based on these tracks on their debut Principium (the only one Ive heard as of this writing), theyre definitely deserving of greater attention. The former track is a highly memorable Genesis-inflected rocker, while the latter is a multipart epic with some dark atmosphere and technically adept performances. Grails Broken Ballad, Word Made Flesh: Instrumental act on the Neurot recordings label who has gained lots of attention for their sound which blends influences from progressive rock, jazz fusion, and post rock. The former track leans most heavily towards the last influence, relying on a beautifully understated melody, while the latter, available at the Neurot homepage, is a darker and more intense composition. The Hidden Hand Desensitized, Black Ribbon: The name Wino needs no introduction to followers of all things stoner, this power trio is his latest project. And the emphasis is definitely on power, as his trademark devastatingly simple riffs are the foundation of their second album Mother Teacher Destroyer. There is more to this album to recommend than heaviness however, as the excellent Sabbath-inspired jam in the former and the cosmic feel of the latter track (a highly successful stab at space rock) are major highlights. Hope Of The States 66 Sleepers To Summer, Black Dollar Bills: Yes, this is on a major label and heavily hyped in the mainstream press and they had a charting single (gasp) in the UK, so its a major violation of this columns guidelines. But ever since hearing it in a Village record store, Ive been drawn to this album. The music here is an ambitious but accessible combination of your typical British melancholic pop rock and the more grandiose side of post-rock, often surrounding its songs in dense orchestration, and it succeeds musically and emotionally, which of course is all that matters. House Of Aquarius Apes & Blood, Out Of The Hands Of Your God: Stoner rock entry #17 in this issue. While Ive grown to enjoy the genre a lot more recently, writing about it in a descriptive fashion is tough, especially when the bands dont stray too far from the usual template. With bands like this, its better just to let the crushing riffs do the talking, and the eight-minute title track is a monster. Both songs available at official site. I.C.E. Onward Banshee Legions, Apocalyptic Blizzard Regime: Somebody didnt get the memo that Immortals image was not to be taken seriously, or at least failed to realize how easily laughable they could be (those Photoshopped Abbaths still crack me up). With an aesthetic obviously derived from them and song titles with the patented Dimmu Borgir non sequiturs, this band would be quite the easy target even if their music wasnt as unoriginal as their image. The latter track does have a great riff though and fans of Immortal may very well enjoy it. Isis Wills Dissolve, Syndic Calls: Since Ive spent much of the unacceptably long interval between this and the previous column joining many on UM in restless praise of Panopticon, I wont go into any long speeches here beyond describing why I think these are arguably its greatest triumphs. The former, one of several songs here which doesnt include vocals until past the halfway point, reaches the level of early 70s Floyd in pure atmosphere, especially in the jazzy section midway through. The latter track is in my opinion the most successful in applying the meandering soundscapes into a dynamic song structure, best evident in its latter half, when a mesmerizing extended break gives the way to an explosive conclusion, featuring Aaron Turners best vocal moment on the album. Kinski Schedule For Using Pillows And Beanbags, Bulky Knit Cheerleader Sweater: Not exactly post-rock or indie but somewhere in between, this band specializes in creating lengthy soundscapes that take delicate melodies and expand on them in any way possible, the 11-minute plus latter track from Airs Above Your Station being a quality example. The latter track is from an interim release of improvised material, released with a disclaimer: this isnt the next record. Lake Of Tears Black Brick Road, Crazymen: Like Amorphis, this band has been seeking after a retro-seventies sound on their last few albums with mixed results. Their latest Black Brick Road follows in that path, and as usual it falls a bit short, but there are some worthy songs here, especially the title track, a midtempo track with great use of organ and a feeling of sadness in its chorus. The latter track is one of their heaviest songs since their early albums. Leviathan Tentacles Of Whorror, The History Of Rape: The third album from Wrest is my definite choice for the best black metal release of the year, and one of the more psychologically disturbing albums Ive ever heard. Between the cold and nihilistic production values, some of the most authentically tortured vocals ever put to tape, and some creepy trips into dark ambient territory (best evidenced by the section which closes the latter track and the album), this album will kill any good feelings you have within minutes. Mechanical Poet Bogie In A Cole-Hole, Strayed Moppet: Code666 has become renowned for putting out albums that defy genre categorization and releasing them in unique formats (see Negura Bunget). Woodland Prattlers, the debut from this Russian band qualifies in both categories. Its been heavily hyped in progressive metal circles, and both the song titles and the comic book style album graphics should instantly remind listeners this is not typical prog fare. The music here takes a much darker and more theatrical approach to progressive metal, the multi-layered sound here suggests Devin Townsend doing a fantasy-based rock opera. But they manage not to sound too excessive and dont forget to offer some great riffs and soaring choruses. Former track available at www.code666.com Moonlight Dobranec, Tabu: I dont know any background information about this band besides that theyre from Poland and on a label called Metal Mind. The music here is quality female-fronted progressive metal with dynamics similar to that of the beauty and the beast contingent (without male counterpoint vocals though), with lyrics in their native tongue. Nightingale Still Alive, A Raincheck On My Demise: Fifth album by Dan Swanos increasingly AOR-ish main project, and the first not based on the ongoing story concluded on Alive Again. With one exception, the latter track is intended as an epilogue to the Breathing Shadow saga and has a chorus and bridge that will stay lodged in your brain for days. The latter track has some nice interplay between the keys and guitars, and like the best songs from this band manages to be highly accessible without sounding overtly commercial. Live recordings of most of the tracks from Invisible can be heard at Dag/Toms website. No Sound In The White Air, Wearing Lies On Your Lips: One-man prog band from Italy whose leader runs a Porcupine Tree fan organization, and that influence is obvious on these recordings. Both of these songs are highly atmospheric and reminiscent of that bands more subdued side, and the dark undercurrent that appears in most of SWs material can be found here as well, especially on the latter track. Nothing Chapter V: Todash, Feather Of The Opopanax: Jason William Waltons other involvements have been overshadowed by Agalloch, which of course is understandable but dont make the mistake of thinking of them as mere side projects, especially since he has put out just as much music under this banner for his dark ambient material. The music here is foreboding and can be uncomfortable to listen to at times, but can also be calming in a perverse way. Samples available at www.eibonrecords.com, song titles taken from the fifth volume in the Dark Tower series. Psyopus The Long Road To The 4th Dimension; Death, I : Ideas Of Reference has quickly become one of the more hyped debuts of 2004, and has gained respect from followers of both technical death and hardcore. Musically speaking, it is somewhat easy to see why it would appeal to both camps, the songs are very frenzied musically and work in some progressive touches, and are delivered at an extremely fast pace and with the intensity of hardcore at its most potent (i.e. the latter tracks pounding concluding section). Samples available at official site. Red Harvest Teknocrate, Anatomy Of The Unknown: Internal Punishment Programs is the latest release by this long-running and highly respected industrial metal act. The songs here are a bit more straightforward and de-emphasize the electronic treatments, as on the latter track, but often retain the confrontational nature of previous releases and have strong futuristic elements, the former being a more creative track. Reverend Bizarre Doomsower, Fucking Wizard: Ive only had a passing acquaintance with this band so far, but based on everything Ive seen written about them and what Ive heard, their essence can accurately be described in one small word: DOOM. Fiercely unapologetic in their embrace of all things heavy, both of these songs are designed with the purpose to crush the listener with one monolithic riff after another. Latter song available at www.stonerrock.com Note: Their discography can be confusing, especially since their last two EPs are actually well over an hour long. Karl Sanders Whence No Traveler Returns, Awaiting The Vultures: For many listeners including myself, the most captivating parts of Niles music come when they take the focus off the brutality and incorporate elements of Egyptian/Middle Eastern traditional music. This solo album from the bands creative force goes entirely in that direction. While its definitely a further indulgence on his part, his fixation on ancient Egypt does create some evocative music, and will be well appreciated by both Nile fans and anyone interested in Middle Eastern tonalities. Both songs available at www.relapse.com Sleepytime Gorilla Museum Phthisis, FC The Freedom Club: Even if youre familiar with this collectives unrelentingly dark debut, it may not fully prepare you for the aural chamber of horrors that is Of Natural History, which takes the morbid fascinations of the debut to greater extremes both aesthetically and musically, the latter track being a ten-minute track that has the basic structure of a prog epic, but unfolds in a decidedly bleaker fashion and contains some disturbing lyrics (inspired by an anti-government manifesto). The latter track isnt quite as experimental as the others, but its clashing riffs, unconventional rhythms, and forceful vocals keep it aligned with the rest of the album. Sweep The Leg Johnny Only In A Rerun, Insomnia Pays: Although I personally detest the term math rock because of its implied pretensions, this band is a good example of the genres attempt at combining technical complexity with a intensity closer to that of punk, the songs here work at a frenetic pace and effectively combine horns with the raging guitar work. Samples available at www.epitonic.com Vulgar Unicorn A Thousand Julys, Its Not How You Play The Game : British prog band who have at least four releases to their name, but so far these songs from this years Persona Non Grata are all Ive heard of them, though I am familiar with Bruce Soords other group Pineapple Thief (who also have a new one out, and in a bizarre move have reassembled their album after a limited edition has already been released.) The music here can be described as progressive rock with a more modern edge, the songs here have their fair share of tempo changes but remain highly melodic. Yyrkoon Surgical Distortion, Occult Medicine: Yet another melodic death band, besides hailing from France and having a name taken from the Elric chronicles, whats there to keep these guys from being dismissed on site? While this wont be mistaken for a genre-breaking release anytime soon, the band has obviously learned their lessons well and the songwriting here is strong enough to sustain interest for more than a few seconds, the latter title track sounding like prime Dark Tranquillity and the riffs are sharp throughout. Yume Bitsu The End Of Pain Is Near, Where Fog Blurs And Covers; Emptiness Prevails: Hailing from Oregon, this bands style of music could be accurately described as equal parts shoegazer and space rock, their compositions have a tendency to drone and wander, especially on the lengthy latter instrumental, its ambience being perfectly described by the song title. The former track is a bit more accessible and has a repetitive vocal hook that adds to the hypnotic feel of the track.