Open The Skies—Conspiracies (2007)

Open the Skies—Conspiracies (2007)

Open The Skies—Conspiracies (2007)

Details

Produced by Mark Daghorn, Karl Groom, and Open The Skies. Engineered by Mark Daghorn and Karl Groom. Recorded at Red House Farm and Thin Ice Studios. Mixed by Karl Groom at Thin Ice Studios. Mastered by Dave Aston at The Digital Audio Co.

Band

  • Josh McKeown—Vocals
  • Steve Lumley—Guitar and vocals
  • Kieran  Brannigan—Guitar and vocals
  • Jamie Willis—Bass
  • Chris Velissarides—Drums

Tracks

  1. Intro
  2. A silent decade
  3. Fear has no voice
  4. Keiko’s last smile
  5. He spoke of success
  6. Interlude
  7. Silhouettes on street corners
  8. Change
  9. So season two
  10. Just for you
  11. Yours faithfully
  12. We could have had it all
  13. A second from insanity
  14. Reduced and charming

Review

Open The Skies sounds to me to be very much in the post-nu-metal, post-emo “screamo” or metalcore genre. They seem to have a foot in both hardcore punk and metal. In the early 80s a similar fusion took bands in the direction of thrash, these days it seems to lead them into the realms of metalcore.

After an initial twenty seconds or so of sound effects this album blasts into life with a terrific pounding riff, a tremendous over-driven guitar tone, and a nice melody. After that sadly the album peaks a few songs in and, with a few exceptions, the album sees itself out with a collection of homogeneous, screamo-by-numbers tracks.

“A silent decade” (track 2) pretty much contains everything that could be really great about this album. It has power, it has delicacy, it has the riffs, it has dynamics, it has a fusion of clean and screamed vocals. “Fear has no voice” (track 3) follows a similar winning recipe. The highlight for me in this song is the stop/start bouncing passage where the band sings as a chorus.

The trouble with much of this album is so much of it sounds the same. For example, listen to “So season two” (track 9) and then jump to almost anywhere in “Keiko’s last smile” (track 4) and it sounds as though you are on exactly the same song. Which is, of course, a credit to the guitar tuning, the recording engineering and mixing, but it doesn’t really make for a particularly interesting album.

And it’s not just those two songs. You can quite easily jump between tracks and you begin to see the whole album as modular. It’s like a box of audio LEGO pieces that can be interchanged between sets.

“Interlude” (track 6) is a rather beautiful short song that breaks the homogeneity. But after that break it’s back to the recipe.

Another break to the advertised programme is “Yours faithfully” (track 11) which is an acoustic song that reminds me in equal parts of early Manic Street Preachers and Soul Asylum.

Curiously, the closing track “Reduced and charming” (track 14)  seems to be more in keeping with the first couple of tracks than the filler in the middle, including an all-band-singing-in-chorus section.

Conclusion

Despite its very promising opening this album suffers primarily from a lack of ideas. I think this album could have benefited greatly from being significantly shorter, compiling the best ideas into few songs and focussing on those.

As it is most of this album sounds like the same song sung with eight sets of lyrics. If I feel compelled to listen to this album again I may simply create my own EP from the six remaining songs that hold some interest for me.

I believe that this is Open The Skies’ debut album. As debuts go it is certainly promising. The musicianship and song-writing are certainly strong, in my opinion the music could just benefit from a few more ideas and variety.

Review score: 60%

Russian Circles—Station (2008)

Russian Circles—Stations (2008)

Russian Circles—Stations (2008)

Details

Recorded at Studio Litho in Seattle, Washington in December 2007. Produced, engineered and mixed by Matt Bayles. Mastered by Ed Brooks at RFI. Management: Cathy Pellow and Sargent House. Released on Suicide Squeeze Records.

http://russiancirclesband.com/

Band

  • Mike Sullivan—Guitar
  • Dave Turncrantz—Drums
  • Brian Cook—Bass

Additional musicians

  • Morgan Henderson—Double bass
  • Matt Bayles—Keyboards and organ

Tracks

  1. Campaign
  2. Harper Lewis
  3. Station
  4. Verses
  5. Youngblood
  6. Xavii

Review

Looking at my music collection, in light of listening to this CD, I realise that I have very few instrumental records: the most obvious being Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Shutter and the occasional track from other albums. Perhaps I ought to make a compilation of all my instrumental tracks and report back with a list, as a comment. My point, though, is that I don’t have too many bands in my collection to compare this to.

I had two immediate thoughts when I first listened to this album. One was that I loved it; the second was that it reminded me of ShutterAmplifier and Jesu. With comparisons like those how can you possibly go wrong?

One of the great things about progressive albums is that the songs are longer than most, so even though there are only six tracks on this LP it still clocks in at a very reasonable 43 minutes 23 seconds.

The album starts quietly, like a single note fluctuating in the darkness, joined by an arpeggio that weaves itself around the tone. It sounds like the dawn, like an album waking up. It’s quite beautiful. And then only two and half minutes after the main song has begun it ends. “Campaign” creeps up on you, wows you, and then disappears again into the darkness.

“Harper Lewis” opens with the kind of drum pattern and tone that makes me long to be a drummer. Joined after forty seconds my the kind of bass ‘bounce’ that takes me back to performing on stage with a few bands and why I loved, loved, loved playing the bass: a simple, understated but highly effective bass line.

The pace quickens on the title track “Station”. The distorted guitar riff about a minute in provides a metronomic wall of sound for the bass guitar to dance in and out of. This is a song that can’t fail to put a smile on my face every time I listen to it. But then just under five minutes into the song it begins to slow to be replaced forty seconds later by another theme. A palm-muted guitar picks out a new rhythm and melody.

If there was one song that most reminded me of Jesu it is the next one, “Verses”. A majestic bass line, legato guitar squeals that I presume have been teased out with an EBow, and then the most exquisite melody picked out on a clean guitar. Check out the unofficial video below, featuring video from NASA and the international space station.

“Youngblood” is a seven and a half minute exercise in arpeggios, chugging distorted guitars and… well, I love it. It has a subtle melody that sounds ‘sour’ in places.

Finally, “Xavii” begins with a picked melody that reminds me of a Steve Lawson track. The song is laid back and melancholic (or maybe I’m just projecting my own mood today) and very reminiscent of Shutter with its crystal clear guitar melody. It’s quite a beautiful song to close the album.

Conclusion

I had never heard of Russian Circles before. I had bumped them to the top of my list because I loved the name and I found the album cover intriguing, and I’m glad I did. This is definitely an album I will be playing again; a lot. And they are definitely a band I will be looking out for in the future. There really isn’t anything I can fault on this album, so I’m going to give them a full 10/10.

Review score: 100%

Video

Endorphins—Where Evil Lies (2006)

Endorphins—Where Evil Lies (2006)

Endorphins—Where Evil Lies (2006)

Details

Recorded at Chemical Sound Studios in Toronto, Canada in July 2005. Produced by Ian Blurton. Engineered by Rudy Rempel and James Heiderbrecht with Dean Marino. Edited by Chuck Carvalho. Mixed by Church Carvalho and Michael Amaral.

Released on Urgent Music Records, 2006.

http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Endorphins/6649

Band

  • Michael Amaral—Vocals and guitar
  • Mike Antunes—Guitar
  • Rob Amaral—Bass
  • Patrick Santos—Drums

Tracks

  1. Flux
  2. Welcome to my Hell
  3. And God sent suffering
  4. Diagram
  5. Haunting them
  6. 26 hours
  7. The rise and fall of Lord Hades
  8. Ex
  9. Taste of blood
  10. Living in the shadows

Review

Endorphins was a thrash/groove metal band from Toronto, Canada who split up in 2008, thirteen years after being formed, with one EP and this their first and last full-length album under their metal-studded belts.

You know they say you should never judge a book by its cover? I’m going to be honest and say that I judged this album by its and didn’t expect to like it. I’m not usually so critical about covers but I really didn’t like this one: the colours, the image, the font, even the band name. (I keep thinking it has something to do with dolphins.) Did I get out of bed the wrong side this morning?!

Biologically, endorphins (endogenous morphines) are brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters that are released during stress and pain to reduce our perception of pain and create feelings of euphoria; they act in a similar way to opiates such as morphine and codeine (which metabolises as morphine in the body).

So… which is it to be: pain or euphoria?

Well, as a gentle smack in the face to my design snobbery, it’s really not bad at all. I was pleasantly surprised. The production is solid, the four-piece are well balanced in the mix, the guitars have a full, meaty crunch with plenty of bass dialled in. The vocalist Michael Amaral has a throaty scream, but it’s controlled (like Lamb of God’s D. Randall Blythe) is it’s not just indiscriminate shouting.

Very often when I listen to a band I’ll think, “Oh, this is Godflesh meets Entombed with a sprinkling of Death” or something similar, to give me a ballpark of where it fits in the wide world of rock n’ roll. I’ve struggled to be so specific with this album. It definitely has elements of old school thrash (as well as new old-school thrash outfits like Evile) but with nu-metal and punk elements thrown in for good measure.

The open tracks “Flux” and “Welcome to my Hell” are fast-paced, get-your-blood pumping songs that really make an impact. The latter even features female vocals (courtesy of Jennifer McInnis) which brings an almost ethereal, European dynamic to it.

I’m really impressed with the songwriting on this album. The riffs are different enough to keep things interesting, and the songs are short enough to keep my attention. It’s such a shame that Endorphins split. I’d really like to have heard where this progressed to: the difficult second album.

Just over half way through the pace changes and “26 hours” (track 6) opens with what sounds like an FM radio, before a rolling clean riff and drum pattern fades in and we’re treated to something more atmospheric, more experimental. It’s more rock than metal but I really like it. It reminds me of Inverness, instrumental prog band Shutter meets Pantera’s cover of “Planet caravan”.

Interlude over. Back to the face-ripping metal. The album plays out pretty much as it began: interesting riffs, foot-to-the-floor thrashing.

Except that—and this is my first major criticism of this album—”26 hours” has a profound impact on the album. It changes the pace and feel. It’s like being gently lulled into a state of relaxation only to have a bucket of ice-cold water poured onto you as you lounge on the sofa! If anything, “26 hours” is an album closer.

Placing that track at 6/10 makes this album feel too long. And it’s not: it’s only 12 seconds shy of 45 minutes. It would even fit on one side of a C90 cassette, that’s how old school it is!

I had a similar experience with Mastodon—The Hunter (2011) when I argued that track 3 “Blasteroid” was in the wrong place. It’s funny how your perception of how balanced an album is can be thrown by even just one track.

Conclusion

I’m sorry Endorphins split, they certainly showed spirit, courage and promise. I guess that 13 years was maybe long enough for them to keep plugging away with ‘only’ an EP and a LP to show for it. But then, you never know what their goals and ambitions were.

Whatever the truth, their legacy is a solid metal album (with a rather dodgy cover).

Review score: 70%

Antigama — Resonance (2007)

Antigama — Resonance (2007)

Antigama — Resonance (2007)

Details

Recorded and mixed at Studio X, Olsztyn, Poland in December 2006. Recorded and mixed by Szymon Czech and mastered at Elephant Studio by Szymon Czech. All songs written by Antigama. Words and electronic sequences written by Lukasz Myszkowski. Released in May 2007 on Relapse Records.

Band

  • Lukasz Myszkowski (Vocals)
  • Krzysztof Bentkowski (Drums)
  • Sebastian Rokicki (Guitar)
  • Michał Pietrasik (Bass)

Tracks

  1. Pursuit
  2. Seismic report
  3. Ecstasy
  4. Neutral balance
  5. Order
  6. Pending
  7. Remembering nothing
  8. Barbapapex
  9. Psychonaut
  10. No
  11. After
  12. By and by
  13. Shymrok
  14. Types of waste
  15. Asylum
  16. Unreachable
  17. Stars

Review

A shorter review of this album might read something like: for fans of Order of the Leech-era Napalm Death hijacked by someone playing utterly random jazz (if that’s not a tautology) on an electric piano on track 8, and on guitar on track 13.

A longer review might just say the same thing but in a more drawn out way. So here goes…

When I first played this album this album I had two thoughts. The first was immediate relief that I’d found another album that I liked. The second was “Wow! They sound incredibly like Napalm Death”.

Of course, Napalm Death are the godfathers of grindcore so it is perhaps inevitable that you can hear an influence or two. But I’ve just been playing Antigama‘s Resonance and Napalm Death‘s Order of the Leech (2002) back to back, and on random play, and it’s remarkable just how hard it is to tell them apart.

If anything the production on Resonance is much better. It has a much crisper sound, it’s a less muddy sound.

Not everything is played at a hundred miles per hour, though. “Psychonaut” (track 9) is a heavy, slowed-down affair; almost doom metal in places. It doesn’t quite have the soul of Down but it’s getting there. It’s like the sound of a grindcore band being played deep underground (undergroundcore?).

And then there are two completely random sounding experimental tracks, “Barbapapex” at track 8 and “Shymrok” at track 13. “Barbapapex” reminds me of the silliness at the end of the Galactic Cowboys‘ song “Speak to Me” from their 1991 self-titled, debut album, where someone reads out a school dinner menu which ends, “…and for the Catholic students: FISH!”

“Shymrok” has a more Soulfly feel, or even like something from Andreas Kisser (Sepultura)’s solo album Hubris (2009).

Conclusion

For this project, each week I try to listen to my album-of-the-week at least once a day. My Last.fm stats are revealing:

  • Antigama — 45 tracks played
  • Napalm Death — 43 tracks played

I really like the early-/mid-2000s era Napalm Death so this hasn’t been a difficult week to listen. I now even have this album on my phone to listen to in bed and, again, that has to reveal something.

Review score: 85%

Bonus

Here’s the undergroundcore track 9: Psychonaut

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcAM2n2pDWc]