The Human Abstract—Midheaven (2008)

The Human Abstract—Midheaven (2008)

The Human Abstract—Midheaven (2008)

Details

Recorded at Red Bull Studios, Santa Monica, California, USA, and Johnny Yuma Recording at Henson Studios, Hollywood, California, USA. Recorded by Jesse E String and Nicolas Essig. Produced by Leonard Simone and Jesse E String. Mixed by Jesse E String. Mastered by Michael Verdick.

Wikipedia

Band

  • Nathan Ells—Vocals
  • Dean Herrera—Guitars
  • Andrew Tapley—Guitars
  • Brett Powell—Drums and percussion
  • Sean Leonard—Piano, B3, Mellatron and Prophet 5

All bass by Sean Hurley except “Breathing life into devices” by Dean Herrera and Sean Hurley; “Metanoia” by Dean Herrera.

Tracks

  1. A violent strike
  2. Procession of the fates
  3. Breathing life into devices
  4. The world is a tomb
  5. Metanoia
  6. The path
  7. Echoes of the spirit
  8. Calm in the chaos
  9. Counting down the days
  10. A dead world at sunrise (additional vocals by Shenkar)

Review

The Human Abstract are yet another band that I’d never heard of. Formed in Los Angeles, California in 2004 they disbanded in 2011 having released three albums and an EP; “Midheaven” was their second release.

The band seemingly took their name from the title of a William Blake poem published in 1794 in Songs of Experience.

I threw the album on one evening while I was cracking on with some other work and gave it a half listen. It was more melodic and progressive than I was expecting.

Listening to it again in the car a day or two later I found myself caught between two opinions of the album. On one hand I liked the progressive nature of the songs as they wandered where they willed, but there is a lot of post-nu-metal shouty-style rawk that I really don’t connect with.

But fear not, I discovered that if I just keep listening then the progressive element of each song comes to the rescue and quickly whisks the song in another direction.

“A violent strike”, the opening song is a case in point. There must be two or three moments that I really don’t like and just as I’m reaching for the fast-forward button the song morphs and heads in another direction.

Curiously, “Breathing life into devices” (track 3) has an almost pop feel, verging towards gospel and pseudo rap about two thirds of the way through. Not exactly my cup of tea (although I don’t drink tea) but I can appreciate what they did.

There are a few, I guess power ballads might be the best term on this album. “This world is a tomb” is the first. It’s a beautiful song with plenty of piano. “Calm in the chaos” is the second, which rides along an acoustic guitar chord progression for the most part before twisting into an almost mathcore riff. The last is the final track, “A dead world at sunrise” which quietly brings the album to a close.

Conclusion

There are plenty of things for me to like on this album. But then there are enough elements that jar with me to not fully embrace this album as a classic. But it’s not them, it’s me. Definitely a keeper, though. Next…!

Review score: 80%

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16—Drop Out (1994)

16—Drop Out (1994)

16—Drop Out (1994)

Details

Engineered and mixed by Jeff Forrest at Doubletime Studios, San Diego from January–October 1994. All music created and produced by -(16)-. Special thanks to Chris Elder.

http://16theband.bandcamp.com/

Band

  • Cris Jerue—Vocals
  • Bobby Ferry—Guitar
  • Tony Baumeister—Bass
  • Jason Corley—Drums

Tracks

  1. Trigger happy
  2. Pumpfake
  3. Tocohara
  4. Sniper
  5. Felicia
  6. Fucked for life
  7. Bloody knuckles
  8. Butterfly labels
  9. Seeds and stems
  10. 16

Review

I find it amazing how some albums just make sense. Even on the first listen. There is no wrestling with it, there is no listening to it again and again, trying to tease out its finer nuances, trying to appreciate its hidden meaning. This is one of those albums for me.

It comes as no real surprise that I’ve enjoyed this album as I gave Curves that Kick (1993) 95% and Bridges to Burn (2009) 90% and perhaps there is an element of familiarity with -(16)- that makes me feel like I’m coming home listening to this album, but that can’t be the whole picture.

Sludge is a fusion of doom and hardcore punk, which sounds like it should be kind of bipolar genre: weaving an uncomfortable path between bass-y, slow and depressed riffs and in-your-face, energy. But it works. What does that say about me that I connect with it so readily?

This album gave me the same excitement that hearing Helmet for the first time did. There is an eagerness about the music, and energy that is contagious. It’s not so much drop out as a pick me up.

This album, like their others, still has a strong Helmet- and southern-metal-vibe, with what sound like drop-tuned, stop-start guitar riffs. But it’s not all about the guitar, the bass guitar comes to the fore though on many of the songs, such as ‘Sniper’ and halfway through ‘Felicia’.

Conclusion

Another winner from -(16)-. They have managed to produce an album that makes me feel as though I’ve been listening to it for years, rather than just a couple of days. Good work.

This project has been amazing for unearthing bands like -(16)- that I would never otherwise have heard. I’m still so grateful to Calum for gifting me this enormous pile of CDs for free.

Review score: 95%

Video

Big Elf—Money Machine (2000)

Big Elf—Money Machine (2010)

Big Elf—Money Machine (2000, re-released in 2010)

Details

Produced by Bigelf. Recorded at Room 222, Hollywood, August 1997. Engineered by Ian Lehrfeld and james Bennett. Mixed by Kevin Wilson and Damon Fox at Mad Hatter. Mastered by David Schultz and Digiprep. All songs written by Fox / Butler-Jones (except the covers!).

Originally released on Record Heaven label, Sweden in May 2000. Re-released on Powerage Records, August 2010.

www.bigelf.com

Band

  • Damon Fox – lead vocals, keyboards, guitar (1991-present)
  • A.H.M. Butler-Jones – lead vocals, guitar, piano (1992-2001) RIP
  • Steve “Froth” Frothingham – drums (1995-2010)

Tracks

  1. Money machine
  2. Sellout
  3. Neuropsychopathic eye
  4. Side effects
  5. (Another) nervous breakdown
  6. Mindbender
  7. Ironheel
  8. Death walks behind you
  9. The bitter end
  10. Bad reputation (bonus)
  11. Sellout (live)
  12. Neuropsychopathic eye (live)
  13. Money machine (live)
  14. Sweet leaf (live)

Live tracks recorded at Sodra Teatern, Stockholm, Sweden on 13 December 2000.

Review

As I said in my review for this album’s successor, Hex (2003), this is one of the few bands featured in this project that I’ve seen live: they joined Opeth and Dream Theater on the Progressive Nation 2009 tour. I really enjoyed their honest mix of prog, rock, psychedelia and laid-back stoner metal. Five years later and former-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy is sitting behind their drumkit as a session musician.

Their debut album kicks off with the title track “Money machine”. It opens with a choppy, 4/4 on the beat riff: guitars and organ. “It is so hard to get a break from the money machine,” confesses mad hatter Damon Fox, a full three years before the album was actually released. Right from the start this album feels like a small victory. That they’ve hung on for 14 years and released four albums and three EPs shows that they have have staying power.

I’d forgotten what I’d written in my previous review as I was sketching out this review. I made a note that the album reminded me of Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles mixed with early Black Sabbath. I wouldn’t be surprised if this recorded was recorded analogue rather than digital. It has a very 60s/70s feel to it.

Track two, “Sellout” has an Abbey Road Beatles vibe. Next up, “Neuropsychopathic eye” has a Clutch-style riff. “Side effects” is another Black Sabbath-meets-The Beatles fusion with a chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Dodgy song.

And so the album continues: a twisted amalgamation of psychedelic progressive, pop rock and sneering metal riffs on a bed of Hammond and Mellotron organs. I can see why Mike Portnoy wanted to get involved: this music suits his style of drumming.

Conclusion

I’ve not found a lot of time to listen to this album this week, unfortunately. I listened to it twice through in my car and that really didn’t do it justice. It put me off listening to it at home or in the office, which is a shame because it’s a really solid album.

This album has something of a melancholy feel to it in places (“The bitter end”), it’s thoughtful in others, and the rest of the time it rocks out with the best of them. It was no mistake that Dream Theater chose them for support in 2009.

As a footnote, I was sad to learn that vocalist, guitarist, pianist Butler-Jones fell into a diabetic coma in the summer of 2001, a year after the release of this album, and died. May he rest in peace.

Review score: 80%

Video

16 — Curves that Kick (1993)

16 — Curves that Kick (1993)

16 — Curves that Kick (1993)

Details

Recorded at Double Time Studios, San Diego between February – April 1993. Originally released on Pushead’s label “Bacteria Sour”; re-released on Relapse Records.

Track listing

  1. Curves That Kick
  2. Chum
  3. Resin
  4. Sedatives
  5. Grandpa’s Chair
  6. Apostrophe
  7. Nova
  8. Amish
  9. Mr Mouse
  10. Joe the Cat
  11. Hate
  12. Doorprize

Review

Curves That Kick was the debut album by Los Angeles’ band 16 who, if you like neat labels, fall under the sludge metal category, a fusion of doom and hardcore punk.

16, who write their name on album covers as -(16)-, are another band that I’d never heard of before, but now thanks to this experiment I now have three albums of theirs — Drop Out (1996), Bridges to Burn (2009) and this earlier one, Curves That Kick (1993). And I’m glad I do because from the opening riffs of this album I had a feeling that I’d like it.

On my first listening to the whole album it sounded like a fusion of Helmet, Bleach-era Nirvana, lesser-known San Francisco band Less and even elements of Godflesh. Which to my ears is a winning combination.

There are no unnecessary guitar solos… in fact, without listening to the album again, I don’t remember there being any traditional guitar solos, only overdubbed guitar parts that add texture and depth to the songs.

The songs definitely carry a Helmet-like vibe to them, particularly songs like “Amish”, Hate”, and album-opener “Curves That Kick” with a growling bass tone and twisted, stop-start guitar riffs that relentlessly plough through the songs like slabs of metal. Track 5 “Grandpa’s Chair”, on the other hand, could appear quite seamlessly on just about any later Godflesh album.

That said 16 don’t sound like they are trying to be a Helmet tribute band. They do bring something of their own to the music.

Conclusion

I’m very much looking forward to listening to the other two 16 albums, if this is anything to go by. A very welcome addition to my collection.

Review score: 95%