Sunday, 17 February 2013

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - 'Push The Sky Away'

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push The Sky Away
Bad Seed Ltd. (BS001CD)

Some five years on from the last Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album, 'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!', and three years after the second and final studio album from Grinderman - a short-lived, smaller scale Bad Seeds side project - the band return with their new release 'Push The Sky Away'. It's a record which comes in stark contrast to its predecessors; 'Dig…' and the two eponymously titled Grinderman albums were raucous, psychedelic garage-infused rock records, and one could've been forgiven for thinking that Cave had abandoned the more restrained, mellow and, at times, very tender stylings of his millennial output in favour of the sheer volume and general badassery of his more 'classic' era. Not so.

Musically speaking, 'Push The Sky Away' has more in common with the sombre 'The Boatman's Call', and perhaps 'No More Shall We Part' than with Cave's more recent works. The songs here are, for the most part, sedate and low key. This is not to say that the album is short on thrills; it simply demands the attention of the listener so that he or she can fully appreciate its various subtleties, whereas songs like 'No Pussy Blues' mercilessly forced their way into the listener's conscience.

Reportedly, the majority of the composition for the record took place in the studio, with the whole band working together on Cave's half-formed ideas, and transforming them into full band performances. This approach has not been 100% successful, as a couple of the songs here are somewhat underwhelming and perhaps underdeveloped, such as 'Wide Lovely Eyes'. However, when it works, it works superbly. A prime example of this comes at the climax of the album, with the 8-minute 'Higgs Boson Blues'. It has to be said, the song bears a strong resemblance to Neil Young's 'On The Beach', but despite - or perhaps because of - its world-weariness, it's still able to transcend the senses and leave an impression, sinking its anchor directly into that mysterious part of the human psyche where music is truly felt.

The influence of Dirty Three member and longtime Bad Seed Warren Ellis should not be overlooked; his loops are peppered throughout the entire work, and along with his lyrical violin arrangements, they really help to build the strong atmosphere which permeates much of the material here. These elements, in conjunction with Martyn P. Casey's ominous, rumbling basslines on the likes of 'Water's Edge' and 'We Real Cool', are reminiscent of Ellis and Cave's evocative soundtrack work, particularly for the 2005 John Hillcoat film 'The Proposition'.

'Jubilee Street' is the album's standout, though; it's a lengthy, weighty track, based on a simple four-chord pattern, which gradually builds and culminates in a wash of screaming violins and haunting, wordless vocals, while the song's unmistakable groove struts its way through the noise. However, as is so often the case with Nick Cave, it's the lyrics which truly shine. Via a gripping narrative, Cave delivers a very modern social commentary which depicts the grim and gritty reality bubbling beneath the 'bread and circuses' fa├žade of contemporary life.

As Nick Cave's prolific and chameleonic career takes another turn, the 55 year-old - with a voice which has noticeably matured since the last Bad Seeds outing - shows on 'Push The Sky Away' that he still very much has his finger on the pulse. Whereas, in the past, Cave has relied on gothic Americana, love and death for inspiration, he now increasingly displays a defined social conscience. Lyrical references to Wikipedia, Hannah Montana and the Higgs boson may be a far cry from the blues-tinged, Old Testament themes of old, but they are certainly not in any way contrived. This is a sickeningly intelligent man continually striving to make music fit for the chaotic world in which he resides. Long may it continue.

'Push The Sky Away' is released on 18th February.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Masochist - 'The Extent Of Human Error'

The Extent Of Human Error
UKEM Records (Cat Number:- UKEM-CD-010)

Hailing from West Yorkshire, Masochist combine the hard-hitting brutality of death metal with the harsh, dirty tones of grindcore. The young 4-piece are evidently more in tune with the steely acerbity of their home county's industrial heritage than with the green and pleasant landscapes of its moors. Having formed in early 2012, the band immediately set to work on concocting their initial material, and emerged in November with their accomplished debut EP, 'The Extent Of Human Error', released on the UKEM label.

'Born Fucked' starts the EP with a sample from Kubrick's 'Full Metal Jacket', and the scene is set for fourteen minutes of bitterness and misanthropy. The old school death/grind formula works well; it's reminiscent of classic Autopsy in its willingness to vary its tone and pace, at times sounding more sludgy and despondent than razor sharp and raging. Closing track 'Mass Machine Operative' perfectly demonstrates the band's apparent taste for the welding together of differing styles, ranging from a moderately paced intro to full on grind brutality, all flavoured with a chugging death metal sensibility.
Having already gigged with the likes of Merciless Terror and Necrogrinder, Masochist have amassed themselves a busy schedule, and threaten to conquer the underground scene with their uncompromising live performances. 'The Extent Of Human Error' is an intriguing debut release, and the death metal underground awaits a followup; it will be interested to discover if the band can live up to that promise over the course of a full length release.

'The Extent Of Human Error' was released on 17/11/12 on the UKEM label, and can be purchased from the UKEM website, or downloaded from the label's BandCamp (both linked below).

UKEM BandCamp

Sunday, 3 February 2013

My Bloody Valentine - 'MBV'

My Bloody Valentine

It's finally here. The 'Chinese Democracy' of indie music. It has been 22 years since My Bloody Valentine's extraordinary masterpiece of mindfuckery, 'Loveless', emerged from another solar system. In those 22 years, the band have signed a deal with a new label, allegedly recorded and then shelved several albums worth of material, split up, reformed, and toured extensively. Now, after repeatedly raising and shattering the hopes of their fans worldwide, the band have very suddenly presented 'MBV' (stylised as 'm b v' - how postmodern). It's available for streaming on their official website, with an option to pre-oder the physical release. To say that the band's main figurehead, Kevin Shields, was a perfectionist would be a massive understatement.

The question is, is it any good? Following up Loveless - especially after more than two decades - is certainly a tall order. The first thing to be said is that this is no lazy, uninspired 'Loveless Part 2' kind of deal. In fact, it has as much in common with the band's first full length, 1988's 'Isn't Anything', as it does with their more defining album, and yet it also has an identity all its own. The likes of 'Who Sees You' and the gorgeously ethereal opener 'She Found Now' seem to be modelled on that unmistakeable Loveless guitar sound, complete with fiendish chord changes. Other parallels with that album can be drawn elsewhere; it's in the heavy reliance on samples throughout, and of course the delicious blending of Shields' vocals with the semi-whispered tones of Bilinda Butcher, who sounds as blissed out as ever.

Those similarities with Loveless, though, could perhaps be accounted for by the fact that some of the recordings on this album supposedly date back to 1996, prior to the band's initial split. More in line with Isn't Anything is the more prominent, organic drum sounds which pervades most of the album. In amongst all the guitar noise, this really impacts on the feel of the music; on Loveless, the drums were barely audible, but here they truly dominate. If anything, most of the music seems to  have been written around pre-existing, groove-laden drum tracks - perhaps best exemplified on 'Only Tomorrow' - rather than the drums having seemingly been added as an afterthought.

There is plenty on MBV to give the album its own unique flavour. Not only does it seem to take in many of the best elements of the band's first two albums, but more and more newer sounds become apparent the deeper one delves into the work. 'Is This And Yes' features Butcher's unintelligible vocals over an almost ambient synth and bass drum backdrop, and 'If I Am' is a wash of wah-like effects and hypnotic drumwork, which seems to both reference the band's past whilst simultaneously thrusting the listener into its future. However, it's the closing one-two punch of 'Nothing Is' and 'Wonder 2' which delivers the most thrills. The former is essentially a three-minute drum and bass loop, and pairs perfectly with the latter, which, frankly, is an astonishing and abrasive way to end the album. It has the revelatory, mind-bending sonic inventiveness of 'To Here Knows When', and all the knowing triumph of Loveless' classic closer 'Soon'.

Loveless comparisons were inevitable. It was such a landmark album, and such an anomaly in the musical landscape of 1991, that it would be foolish not to compare and contrast, and to consider whether or not this new album will have the same impact in 2013 as its predecessor did all those years ago. Loveless meshed the guitar terrorism of Sonic Youth and The Jesus And Mary Chain with some of the prevailing dance music trends of the time, and as such, this actually feels like a logical progression; it has all of the guitar-based elements which would be expected from My Bloody Valentine, but it's delivered with a modern dance aesthetic. This truly sounds like an album which has been in the making for sixteen years, and it's such a diverse mish-mash of layers and styles, that it's hard to tell if this is the sound of Kevin Shields' mind as it is now or as it was back in 1996. Nevertheless, it is a phenomenal listen, which is nothing less than what the music world has been so keenly anticipating for so long.

'MBV' can be streamed at My Bloody Valentine's official website. You can also pre-order CD and vinyl copies of the album, which will be released on 22nd February.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Foul Body Autopsy - 'The Epidemic Sickening The World'

Foul Body Autopsy
The Epidemic Sickening The World

UKEM Records (Cat Number: UKEM-CD-011)

Tom Reynolds' Foul Body Autopsy - conceived in Leicester in 2009 - is unquestionably one of the leading names in the current wave of one man bands in the realm of extreme metal. With the help of the burgeoning UKEM label, Reynolds unleashes his third EP 'The Epidemic Sickening The World'. Dealing in technical death metal, this diligent musician has gathered himself a strong following in the underground scene, thanks in no small part to his appearance at Bloodstock in 2011.

'The Epidemic Sickening The World' is a short (and certainly NOT sweet) three track release clocking in at just under 9 minutes. The intro track 'Outbreak' begins innocently enough, with the distant sound of children's voices, but suddenly things turn much more sickening. Air raid sirens, breaking glass and a choir of terrified screams enter to usher in a hideous apocalypse.

The EP's title track suddenly hits, and the moment of gratification arrives for those craving brutality in a more musical fashion. Along with the closing third track, 'The Last Days Of Humanity', the song delivers an aural exercise in furious riffing, and enough complex, technical proficiency to hold the attention of all but the most demanding djent connoisseur. On top of all this, the music is delivered with a hard-hitting production which truly brings out the full crowbar-to-the-head effect of the material.

That's not all though! If you can stomach it, there are three bonus tracks included, all of which have been recorded prior to the production of 'The Epidemic…'. The standout of these is the 7-minute epic 'And The World Looked On In Horror', which blends the established Foul Body Autopsy elements with slower, doomier riffing and a moody middle section. 

This EP should prove a crowning achievement for Foul Body Autopsy and for UKEM, both of whom appear to have enough ideas and enough brutal inspiration to allow themselves myriad successes in the future.

'The Epidemic Sickening The World' is available from 1st February at the UKEM website and Foul Body Autopsy's Bandcamp page.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Great Depression is coming!

As you may or may not know (you probably should), I'm in a band. Well actually, I'm in three, but I'm talking about my first band Torture Garden today, and will be doing so quite a lot in the foreseeable future. So get used to it! Basically, we're working on what will the biggest and most important album of our career; The Great Depression. It will be a massive double album, and I'm here to tell you all about it, as is Adam, who has already posted about its lyrical themes on his blog over at Infantile Disorder.

The heart of this band has always been myself and Adam. I've always written the music and he's always written the lyrics. On our previous recordings, Adam has always performed lead vocals (apart from that one duet), and the instrumentation has almost exclusively been provided by myself, with very occasional help from friends. This time though, we've decided that that kind of sucks, and we'd like to get more people involved. Almost since the beginning, we've had other musicians in our 'band' (I use that word loosely, since we've only ever played live once and probably never will again), and now we're going to make them do some of the work! Helping me out with guitars will be Calum Glover, who used to play in Acts Of Sorrow. Our bassist Pete has been our longest serving bandmate…and yet he's never played a note on any of our recordings, preferring to play live instead (oh dear). So, we might try and persuade him to play bass, but we have a couple of other people in mind too. Or maybe I'll do it. That's undecided for now…all in good time. Our main priority at the moment lies with the drums. We are pleased to announce that our good friend Hayley Morgan - who has previously been associated with the band, and now plays with Severed Heaven - has agreed to perform drums on the album! Any additional instrumentation will likely be done by myself as usual.

So, where are we up to? Well, the songs are all written, save for a couple of final tweaks with arrangements and stuff. Production of the album has officially commenced, and some recording has been done. In fact, one song, 'Of All Evil', is almost complete already. It's been a fairly easy one to record, and has mostly been done at home, but most of the album will require different recording locations, and this is one issue we're working on right now. We're on a very tight budget, so extensive time in a professional studio environment is out of the question. Needless to say, this issue will be resolved soon, and once it is we will be able to progress rapidly.

In any band, it's vital that the mood of the music justly reflects or enhances that of the lyrics. With The Great Depression, the bar has been set very high indeed. As with the lyrics, a lot of the music that makes up this album was actually written many years ago, bubbling under the surface. I've had to sift through my old riffs and ideas, and compose some new ones, in order to concoct the perfect sonic accompaniment to the album's lyrics, which are at times horrific, and at others hopeful and defiant. This album will be quite a revelation to those familiar with our previous work, and hopefully to those who aren't. We have never sounded like this before. Not even close, really. We have been referred to as 'doom metal', 'gothic metal' and other such examples of counter-productive sub-genre wankery in the past. Those tags never quite worked for me anyway. This new album is not an absolute departure for us, but there are so many more elements to our sound now. We are more diverse and yet more coherent, heavier and yet less heavy. I'll leave out the specifics for now…but don't worry, we're not collaborating with Lou Reed and we haven't quite done a Morbid Angel…or have we...?!

One thing I will say is that, where our previous releases have suffered from less than satisfactory production values (poor recording quality, amateurish mixing, etc), this time I actually know what I'm doing! So, for one thing, I won't drench the entire mix in reverb, meaning everything will come across louder and clearer.

Stay tuned for more updates! I will discuss the material in more detail in future entries, as well as reporting on our progress, of course. Meantime, check out the links below for information and that.


Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives




Saturday, 17 March 2012

Bludvera - 'Terrorform' EP

'Terrorform' (2012)
(thrash metal)

Bludvera, Liverpool's finest thrash metal export, formed in 2008 in the wake of a resurgence of interest in the genre. Quickly making a name for themselves on the live scene, they released their debut EP in 2010. This was followed by a string of high profile gigs, including support slots for Evile and Onslaught, among others (read my review of the Onslaught show here). The icing on the cake came in the form of a triumphant set at Bloodstock Open Air last summer, following a hard-earned Metal 2 The Masses victory. With all this under Bludvera's collective belt, anticipation for their new EP was high.

The cheeky young Scousers have delivered. Terrorform is consistent, and powerfully produced, influenced equally by the American 'Bay Area' and Teutonic thrash scenes. Aptly, vocalist Scott Clayton's impassioned tone hovers somewhere between that of Slayer's Tom Araya, and Mille Petrozza, the charismatic frontman for Kreator. Backing Clayton is a thunderous rhythm section, capped off with blistering, skilfully arranged guitars, all performed with supreme technical ability.

The EP begins as it means to go on, with 'Reanimate', a furious burst of gang vocals and lightning fast lead work. The highlight comes with 'Citizen Monopoly', which exhibits a social and political conscience, its lyrics seeming to lament the powerlessness and disposability of the common man. Musically, the song is also highly accomplished, with various well-crafted twists and turns. Elsewhere, 'Parasitic Death Sentence' is perhaps the most dynamic song on offer, both in terms of tempo and volume, while the lyrics again deal in social commentary. The release climaxes with 'Conjure The Dead', which is made for head banging and is sure to be a live favourite.

In summary, Terrorform is an an excellent, and highly accomplished release, fully representing the scope of Bludvera's technical abilities and the vitality of their live show. If thrash is your thing, there is no way you can't like this. Even if it's not, Bludvera are certainly a force to be reckoned with and their talent is undeniable. These boys will go far.

'Terrorform' is available to download in a variety of audio formats for a minimum of £3 at CD copies will also be made available in the near future.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Whiplash Promotions presents Gorgoroth, Vader, Valkyrja, The Sickening

The Masque, Seel Street, Liverpool - Thursday 10th November 2011

In Whiplash’s biggest show since Deicide, legendary Norwegian black metal outfit Gorgoroth arrived in Liverpool fully intent on shocking your grandma. Notably, Vader returned just five months after their first Whiplash appearance. Crazy! Valkyrja and The Sickening are lesser known names, but each made an impact of their own on The Masque’s audience…

With the venue already filling up nicely, Gorgoroth’s fellow countrymen, death metal act The Sickening, began the evening’s entertainment. New to many, including Gorgoroth, the band have actually been active for some eighth years now, and released their full length debut Death Devastation Decay in 2009. They’ve certainly had enough time to hone a stage act, and that they have done. Unfortunately, their music is not as impressive, grinding away relentlessly without offering anything that hasn’t been heard from countless other bands. It just kind of passed by me. Well executed but generic, unfortunately. Punter reviews were mixed, and it seems The Sickening are what might be called a ‘Marmite band’.

Valkyrja - hailing from Stockholm - were received much more favourably, and with good reason. With a raging black metal fury, their music feels vital and alive. This band are not going through the motions by any stretch, and they seem to thrive off the thrills of their audience, as their songs have plenty of twists and turns to keep us on our toes. I liked this band’s passion. They may not be breaking boundaries, but in today’s musical climate, playing with enthusiasm and feeling is an innovation in and of itself. With two full length albums under their bullet belts, Valkyrja’s work is accomplished and finely tuned.

Polish death metal veterans Vader had undergone a lineup change since their last appearance in June, and now feature English drummer James Stewart from Divine Chaos. Despite not finishing - as they did last time - with their fantastic ‘Black Sabbath’/’Raining Blood’ medley, their set was just as enjoyable on this occasion. Perhaps their newest arrival has reinvigorated them somewhat. Who knows? I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of Vader, but they certainly delivered the goods with aplomb, and a highly assured performance which the fans absolutely loved, and that’s what counts!

Touring in support of the re-recording of their 1997 release Under The Sign Of Hell, Gorgoroth are currently led by re-recruited vocalist Pest, who appeared on the original album. As with any corpsepaint-clad, Tolkien-worshipping black metal band, there is more than a slight whiff of the ridiculous about Gorgoroth. They don’t let that bother them though. Perhaps they’re in on the joke, or perhaps they take themselves so seriously that they’re grimly unaware of just how amusing they are. Nonetheless, they put in a fine performance, and the packed Masque Theatre lapped it up. Raw and unrelenting, their stage presence - and particularly that of Pest - is awesome, in the truest sense of the word. Unsurprisingly, the band’s set is heavily laden with tracks from Under The Sign…, which is pleasing, given that it represents the band at their peak. Meanwhile, we wait for their new material…

All in all a highly successful show for Whiplash, with bands and fans alike leaving happy. Unfortunately, the ‘Black Christmas’ all dayer, which was scheduled for December, has had to be postponed. This means that this was the last Whiplash show until February, when Ulcerate play at Whiplash's new home, the recently reopened Lomax on Cumberland Street. See you there!

Photo courtesy of