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All instrumentalisation, recording, mixing and artwork by Nathan Michael. Mastered by James Plotkin. Thank you Nicholas, Chris, James, Marc, Adam, Jess and Earth. Released on Profound Lore Records, 2008.
- Nathan Michael—Everything
- Omen I (15′ 27″)
- Omen II (12′ 12″)
- Omen III (11′ 01″)
- Omen IV (12′ 11″)
This is a curious album. It is only four tracks long, but it still lasts over 50 minutes. The album packaging is quite surreal. It looks like a collage, drawing together retro images from, I guess, the 1950s or 1960s, alongside photographs and illustrations of human anatomy, and chess diagrams. And then there is next to no text on the packaging—nothing to do with the album, anyway. Anything that I’ve gleaned about the album or composer I’ve had to find elsewhere.
I tried to listen to the album at first in the car, but I couldn’t hear much above the rumble from the road.
Omen appears to be one piece of music, separated into four parts, sitting somewhere on the experimental / ambient / drone spectrum.
I’ve been searching for a word to sum it up, and I can’t get far beyond “devastating”. There’s a deep melancholia to the music, as it densely flows from one cinematic soundscape to the next. At times I felt as though I was drifting aimlessly on an ocean, beneath a heavy grey sky. It’s definitely not a piece of music to put on to cheer yourself up to.
And yet… having listened to it once and having come out the other end feeling utterly miserable, I just went back and started it again. And again. And I’m now on my fourth listen today. There is something mysteriously human about it; there is something about it that makes it oddly soothing and comforting while paradoxically making you also feel on edge. It’s like sitting down in your comfy fleece trackies and jumper, clutching a mug of hot chocolate to watch The Blair Witch Project.
The music itself is a mixture of guitar (clean and distorted), bass, drums, keyboards/piano, and various sounds, frequencies, waves and bursts of static. Passages are played backwards, and throughout there is a deep drone. Some passages flow, others like those in “Omen III” lurch adding to the jarring. It is simple but uneasy.
Half Makeshift appears to have been the project of Nathan Michael, who stopped recording music convinced that the world would end on 21 May 2011 (the birthday of Great King Rat, for any Queen fans out there; and the birthday of my grannie and her twin sister, for any members of my family out there). Omen then was his last recording: a requiem for the human race. If I’d known than before I might have kept this as the final album to review.
Like much modern choral music, this is a love-it or hate-it kind of album. I’m veering towards the love-it end of that particular spectrum, but I guess I’d need to be in the mood to listen to it. It’s just that mood will likely be depressed.
Review score: 80%
All songs written by John 5. Recorded at the Chop Shop in Hollywood, California, USA. Produced by Chris Baseford and John 5. Executive producer—John 5. Mastered by Undercurrent Studios. Engineered by Chris Baseford. Assistant engineer—Will Thompson. Released on Mascot Records in 2008.
- John 5—all guitars, bass, banjo
- Tommy Clufetos—Drums
- Sounds of impalement
- Heretic’s fork
- Noisemaker’s fire
- Pity belt
- Cleansing the soul
- The Judas cradle
- Pear of anguish
- The lead sprinkler
- Scavenger’s daughter
This is the second John 5 CD that I’ve reviewed, at the end of last year I listened to The Devil Knows My Name (2007) and gave it a complementary 85%. How does this, its sequel, compare?
It’s great! There are still elements of portfolio-of-someone-about-to-graduate-from-the-Guitar-Institute-of-Technology but overall this is a heavier, more focused album in my opinion. With smatterings of finger-pickin’ bluegrass an’ banjo!
The album opens with “Sounds of impalement” which is reminds me of a cross between Stone Sour and Steve Vai. It’s rocky, it’s fun.
Next up is the Alice In Chains-like “Heretic’s Fork” which opens with a riff that’s not a million miles away from “We die young” from Facelift (1990), until it’s reveals its true widdly-heart. A tune that certainly gets my head nodding every time.
“Noisemaker’s Fire” sounds like a bluegrass track that’s been recorded in a room full of cine projectors and dot matrix printers. About halfway through, though, it seems to employ almost exactly the same riff as “Heretic’s Fork”. This gives these couple of tracks a kind of suite feel to it. I like it.
Track 4 “Pity belt” is the first track I would likely skip, to be honest. More bluegrass-style picking along to a drum kit in the background; thin sound; not my thing. However, it inspires the widdle-tastic and very much electric “Cleansing the soul”, so I guess it stays on my playlist.
“The Judas cradle” (track 6) opens with strings and an intriguing arpeggio that soon bursts into a Black Sabbath-style riff that is both dark and haunting. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
“Pear of anguish” features the only vocals on the album, even if those are slowed down speech. More bluegrass style banjo pickin’. A cheesy little portion of silliness.
“The lead sprinkler” sees the album retreat to the darker places once again. More Steve Vai or Joe Satriani-like widdling.
“Scavenger’s daughter” opens with a delicate tune picked out on guitar, beneath the rumbling drums and the frosty winds of Hoth that then explodes into a Slayer-like riff that absolutely rips! The flight of the bumblebee arpeggio runs kind of spoil it a little for me but whenever John 5 returns to the Slayer-like riff he wins me over again.
The album closes with the title track “Requiem”. It’s experimental (squeaks and squeals, reverbed drums, samples of guitar) and really quite interesting. It builds and builds towards the end, and closes with a picked guitar arpeggio (is there any other kind?) that is reminiscent of the intro to Slayer’s “Seasons in the abyss”. It is quite emotive and very atmospheric.
All in all a great album by all accounts. While the banjo and bluegrass-style portions don’t exactly float my boat I can forgive John 5 for these. They reflect his style and his interests (rather than mine), and they are neither indulgent nor played to death. Besides they often inspire the following track, giving a more coherent and interdependent feel to the album. There is always plenty more to interest the listener. And this listener in particular. Good stuff!
Review score: 90%
Music recorded from Autumn 2006 to Autumn 2008 in Oregon, Ohio. All music written and performed by Splinterskin. Illustrations by Saint John. Photos of Splinterskin taken by Andrea St John. Graphic design by Abby Helasdottir. Album released on Cold Spring Records, 2009.
- Splinterskin: Vocals, guitars
- Chanting Bells Call Shadows
- Dancing Dead Men
- The Crumbling Cabin
- Something In The Walls
- Moonlight Rain
- The Thing That Wasn’t
- Broken Down Hearse
- Still At The Windowsill
- The Eyes That Hide
- The Skarekrow (October Roads)
- A Horrible Night To Have A Curse
- Black Bird Sorrow Song
- The Man On The Porch
- A Trail Of Trees
- Wayward Souls
- Dancing Dead Men (Reprise)
Another CD grabbed from my shelves at random, and another week I find myself listening to something that isn’t technically metal but sure embodies the spirit of metal. Splinterskin could probably be categorised at a push under the genre: “Spooky, dark folk metal”.
I have to say that I really liked this album. What’s not to like? Acoustic guitars; haunting violin accompaniments; whispering vocals; and tales of dancing dead men, sounds of scratching behind walls, and forest rituals.
This is an album that elicits the same emotional response in me as the soundtrack to the computer game Dear Esther, written by Jessica Curry. It has a sleepy, melancholic, haunting character to it; like a cross between Richard Thompson, Tom Morello’s incarnation as The Nightwatchman, and Tom Waits.
The lyrics are poetic and incredibly dark, but strangely and beautifully so. It almost transports you to a far off, simpler time in British history when we lived closer to the elements, in the shadow of the forests that once covered these isles. In places there is an almost innocence to some of the lyrics, a child-like non-judgemental inquisitiveness and observation in the words; while still maintaining a air of horror-lite. It’s quite masterful.
If I’m honest, I didn’t really expect to like this album as much as I do.
The turning point probably came when I accidentally left my clock radio to wake me up to a CD the other morning and I came-to around 06:15 with the spooky lyrics of “Broken Down Hearse” whispering away to my right. It reminded me a little of the first time I ever listened to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, lying on the floor in the dark at a friend’s house during a party. I lay in the dark and allowed the music to gently rouse me to life. A gentle, if initially freaky, way to greet the day. An interesting way to really get to know an album. I recommend it. And the album.
Review score: 95%